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Deep Blue: A Diceless RPG v0.7

Deep Blue is a story-oriented, diceless roleplaying system. The players and the referee work out a story together, with new elements brought in all the time.

One of the big issues with a roleplaying game is coming up with the character concept. With Deep Blue, conceptualizing a character is simple. If you are well and truly stuck, you can simply use yourself as a model.

A character in Deep Blue starts out as a simple, normal person. Going to school, driving a taxi, shuffling kids to activities, working in the office, or what have you.

Sounds dull, doesn’t it.

Don’t worry, this isn’t Essays and Economics. In Deep Blue, each character has powers that he is unaware of. These powers manifest within the game whenever a key point in the plot would make it dramatic.

Every character has a pool of Character Points (CPs) that can be used to manifest these powers, either to discover a new power or use one he has recently discovered. Naturally, discovering a new power costs more points than using one established already.

How many CPs a character starts with depends on the setting. A generic Earth setting (like our own, but with latent powers) typically uses characters that start with 10 CPs. A game with typical superpowers will probably start with 2-4 times that number. In fantasy, a wizard will start with 20 points or so.

TRAITS
There are four trait-pairs that governpowers: Focus-Spontaneity, Hubris-Humility, Creativity-Traditional, and Boldness-Restraint. Your score in these traits determine how well you can use your powers and how strong they are. Together, trait-pairs will total 10; in other words, if you have a 3 in Focus, your Spontaneity will automatically be 7. When one trait in a pair is lowered, for whatever reason, the opposite trait is raised, and vice-versa.

It should be noted early on that a low score in any of these traits is not a “bad thing.” A character with a low score in Creativity, for example, is not stupid. He is simply systematic in his approach to problems. He is better at logic than intuition. A low Boldness score does not indicate fearfulness, but careful planning. Such a character would “play it safe” when it comes to dangerous situations.

Each Trait has a score between 0 to 10. A score of 5 is unremarkable for either the trait or its opposite. A score of 0 or 10 probably indicates some sort of compulsive behavior the character has. A character with a Focus of 0, for example, would be incapable of completing all but the most basic and simple of activities before he loses interest and moves on to a new project).

Focus-Spontaneity: Focus describes your dedication to completing a task. The higher a Focus score is, the less likely a character is to be able to interrupt something he is working on. However, Focus also measures dedication to a plan or an idea. Characters with high Focus scores are dogmatic and are difficult to sway. Characters with high Spontaneity, on the other hand, are willing to try new experiences. A high Spontaneity score indicates a high level of impulsiveness and an acceptance of change, while a high Focus score resists change.

Hubris-Humility: Hubris is essentially pride. An unusually high Hubris score usually indicates such self confidence as to exclude any reliance on others. However, an exceptionally high Humility score means the character does not admit himself capable of anything. Low Hubris, taken moderately, indicates Humility. Characters with high Hubris prefer to grandstand and be in the limelight. Characters with high Humility prefer to be behind the scenes and not receive any attention.

Creativity-Traditional: Creativity measures a character’s ability to come up with original applications, solutions, or constructions. A high Creativity score is representative of a character that chafes without new ideas. He revels in thinking “outside the box.” A high Traditional score prefers to make use of resources that already exist, and tried and true methods of execution.

Boldness-Restraint: High Boldness scores indicate characters that jump into problems regardless of the risk involved. Gamblers have high Boldness, for despite the possibility of loss, they are willing to try for a large gain. High Restraint characters are not necessarily cowardly. They are merely conservative. They will evaluate, at length, all the factors to try and predict the outcome.

Assigning Traits
During character creation the player assigns traits as he desires, keeping in mind the combined total of 10 for each trait-pair. The referee may also assign a maximum score for initial scores in traits based on the setting and style of campaign he wishes to run. A score of 7 in a given trait is a good maximum for “real world” campaign.

POWERS

Like, traits, Powers are rated with a minimum of 0 and maximum of 10. They are controlled by a related trait.

I have no intention of making an exhaustive list of powers. The nature of Deep Blue is to make up powers as you go. When your character is in a tight situation, and there seems to be no way out, spend some CPs and manifest a new power. The more creative the power, the better. Of course, the more generally useful and powerful, the more CPs it will cost. A great deal of this is using best judgment. While the referee will have the final say in the matter, all the players should be involved in the discussion about how the power works and what the cost should be.

Below I have provided below two example powers (based on superheroes we know and love) to demonstrate the relative costs a power should have.

Power Example: Flight (min Hubris 4)

4 Extended jumps (over tall buildings, for example)
5 Clumsy flight (think The Greatest American Hero)
6 Traditional superhero flight
7 Perfect or superspeed flight
8 Perfect superspeed flight

Power Example: Self Multiplication (min Spontaneity 4)
4 Create a temporary mirror image of yourself
5 Create multiple illusions of yourself
6 Project an image of yourself that you don’t need to concentrate on to maintain
7 Project an image of yourself that can work by itself, but can’t physically interact
8 A single “double” of yourself
9 Multiple “clones”
10 A permanent separate being springs into existence

Use of powers
When you want to use a power you have already used in the past, you must think about exactly what you want to do with it. The more complicated or extreme the application of the power, the harder it will be to use. Once you have declared that you will use the power, you are committed to it, whatever the consequences.

Together, the group decides what trait the power requires for use and the minimum required score in that trait. You must have that number or greater in the trait to use it. If this is the case, you have succeeded and you are able to dictate how it works. Be descriptive, and explain what happens. The referee will, of course, moderate, but you have a lot of latitude in your description.

Failure: if your trait score is less than the minimum score needed, something has gone wrong. If this is the case, you have lost control. The referee describes what happens as the result of your attempt. It is possible you will still achieve the ultimate result you wanted, with perhaps something unpleasant happening as well. However, if you have missed the target by large number, then there will be drastic consequences — possibly injury or even death. The player group may choose to point out that the referee has taken too much liberty for the degree of failure, but again, the referee is the final arbiter.

Example 1: Cornered by a strange monster that has chased him and his friend to the edge of a cliff, Stephen decides to manifest the power of flight. He actually only needs to jump — across the cliff or down to the ground below, but he wants to take his friend with him. Normally an inhuman jump such as this would require a minimum Hubris of 4, but they agree that since he will be carrying someone, it will be a bit more difficult, and that it will be a minimum Hubris of 5. Since Stephen has a Hubris of 6, this is not a problem, and he escapes the beast. Stephen’s player announces that he grabs his companion and leaps to safety on the other side of the chasm.

Example 2: Tasha is fighting a gang of teenagers who are trying to take her purse. She hopes to be able to confuse them, or possibly fight them off by creating a double of herself. She decides that she won’t need to actually fight them with the doubles, so she creates 3 illusions “selves;” since she won’t be able to concentrate, she needs them to be able to work independently. Together the group decides this will require a minimum Spontaneity of 8. Tasha’s Spontenaeity score is 4, and she fails to manifest the doubles. The referee then describes what happens. Because she failed by four, he rules that she has become distracted by her own attempt, allowing one of the gang members to grab her and pin her arms behind her.

Manifesting a New Power: In the normal course of events, you do not have powers. However, in the game of Deep Blue, new and strange things can happen. Manifesting a new power (one that you have never used before), costs CPs. When you first manifest a power, your group should decide what the minimum trait needed for that use of the power. Multiply this number by 2 to find the cost for manifesting the power in CPs.

If you have the CPs available to purchase the power, you have done so. However, you can still fail to use it correctly (as seen in Use of Powers above). If you do not have the CPs, nothing happens, and you have wasted some in-game time (as appropriate for the situation). Note that if the CPs are available, you must purchase the power, even if you will fail in your attempt. Once you have announced that you will manifest or use a power, you are committed to the attempt.

Example 3: Lillian is an elf wizard trying to foil an attack by a rival sorcerer. Before he arrives, she creates a temporary clone of herself to distract him while she sneaks up from behind. She has never used the duplication power before, and the group decides that this will require a minimum Spontaneity of 8. Thus the cost of manifesting the power in CPs will be 16. (8 x 2 = 16). Whether the attempt will succeed will depend on what her Focus score is.

Example 4: Electroman decides that to capture the villain who is escaping he will need to fly. He is not worried about grace however, as long as he can get close. This will require a minimum Hubris of 5, meaning that manifesting the power will cost 10 CPs. (5 x 2 = 10).

As you can see, it is easier to manifest a power at its weakest stage first, but since most powers manifest at the mercy of circumstance, this is not always possible.

When a new power can manifest: The obvious way to get around the expense of manifesting a new power is to do something small and insignificant with the power when you use it for the first time. However, this is not always possible. Powers only manifest during times of great stress — combat, danger, and so forth. The story being told at the time will reveal these times of stress. Compelling player reasoning is encouraged, but the referee has the final say regarding whether the circumstances warrant a new power. During these times it’s true that you could still use a “low end” manifestation of the power to get a reduced point cost, but this will have narrative consequences as well: if the player does not manifest a power significant enough to overcome the problem he faces, then he has wasted in-game time and the problem may overcome him.

SKILLS AND TASKS

In any roleplaying game, there are things you want to get done. Sometimes these tasks are routine: buying a commonly available piece of equipment, for example, or driving a car to a new location. Unless there are unusual or extenuating circumstances, these tasks should simply be done. However, what if that piece of equipment is illegal and only available on the black market? Or what if you’re being chased in your car by a motorcycle gang? Suddenly things are a little more difficult.

I am a strong believer in the precedence of story and fun over mechanics. However, simply allowing the referee to decide whether a difficult task is possible will often seem unfair to players, and (let’s face it) people, even referees, are imperfect and occasionally will act capriciously.

At character creation a character gets 3 Accomplishments and 5 Skills assigned. These numbers may be altered by the referee if the character is older or the setting justifies it.

Skills

Just as with powers, we have no intention of creating an exhaustive list of skills. Players and referees should exercise judgment when deciding whether to allow a skill and what it relates too. Skills are things your character has some training and/or experience at. They should not including routine skills like driving a car (though stunt driving would be appropriate) or writing (though contest winning writing talent would be). Example skills include fencing, firearms, computer programming, research, diving, or trivia.

Accomplishments

An Accomplishment is just what it sounds like. Something your character is achieved in his life. Accomplishments are things like gaining a Bachelor’s degree, competing professionally in a sport, or serving a tour of military duty. They are more broadly applicable than Skills (you learn to do a great many things in the army, for example) and can be applied to more tasks. As this is part of your character’s history and personality, you will need to make them relevant to the character you have established.

Performing a Task

When you try to accomplish a more difficult action, a difficulty of at least 1 and usually below 5 will be assigned to it by the referee. For each point of difficulty, you need to have either a relevant Skill or Accomplishment, or pay a CP. In many cases, the referee may rule that you must have a relevant Skill or Accomplishment as part of your “payment” for the task. For example, if you want to write a virus to take down the master computer, the referee should demand that at least one of the difficulty points is compensated for by a programming skill. For difficulties of 3 or more, the character is required to have at least one relevant Skill or Accomplishment.

Example 5: Skill Difficulty “For Instances”
Difficulty 1: Programming a database (requires a relevant skill)
Difficulty 2: Hitting a small target with a firearm
Difficulty 3: Landing a plane at night
Difficulty 4: Jumping your car over the parting drawbridge
Difficulty 5: Assassinating the president and escaping

Low-stress Tasks: Some tasks can be repeated until they are complete, even if someone fails on the first try. For example, writing a program. Even if your first attempt fails, you can rewrite code until it works, assuming you know enough about the programming language. If a character has the time, and the task is appropriate, difficulty 1 tasks can be assumed to be successful eventually. Many difficulty 2 tasks can also be done this way (the example of hitting the target is one, if you have enough ammunition, you will eventually hit the target), but it would be appropriate to pay a CP for automatic (if eventual) success on a difficulty 2 task.

Unusually High-stress Tasks: Many difficult tasks, like a drawn out battle, will take their toll. An extra CP point (but not a Skill or Accomplishment) should be paid by any character in such a situation, even if the task is normally one that would be automatically successful (a karate black belt facing a long succession of simple opponents, for example). This is to simulate the physical, mental, or emotional stress of the task. Please note that a task need not be a “task,” necessarily. Enduring emotional torture may also qualify for the loss of a CP.

ADVANCEMENT

One of the great rewards of roleplaying is watching a character improve or progress. Thus, at the end of each session, the referee should award a CPs to each character. A typical award for standard play is 2 or 3 CPs. Extra Character Points should be awarded to characters who accomplished something difficult or were very original in either description, use, or choice of powers. Characters should rarely, if ever, receive more than 6 Character Points for a single session. A session, however, should be defined not as the time you’ve actually met. It should be defined by a recognizable chunk of a story. If your group breaks early because someone needs to leave, you should not call that the end of a session. The end of the session will be when the adventure, or adventure chapter, ends.

In between sessions, players may also alter their character’s Traits. By paying a number of CPs equal to the highest score in a trait-pair, that trait-pair can be adjusted by one. In other words, if a character has a Boldness 7/Restraint 3, it will cost 7 points to raise Restraint to 4 or Boldness to 8.

Skills may also be advanced between sessions. 1 CP may be spent to gain one skill. However, this can only be done if there is sufficient in-game time between sessions to have learned the Skill.

Character Points never “expire.” They can be saved indefinitely. However, once they are spent, they have been permanently used. They do not regenerate automatically.