Fate of the Nephilim: Character Creation

Fate of the Nephilim

A quick note about the information presented below: I’m not going to be explaining all the ins and outs of the Nephilim game. If you’re really confused by stuff, I urge you to grab the pdf of the game to follow along. You can get it at the Chaosium site, and the entire line is available at RPGnow. It’s well worth the purchase. And Fate Core is available from Evil Hat Productions. Also very much worth it.

I sat down with my Nephilim pdf the other night, and looked through it, making a list of things that I would have to address in converting the game to Fate Core 1. Below is my list, along with my initial thoughts on how I might convert that element. This is early days, yet; I expect that I will find the list changing, as I find things to add or decide that items on the list really don’t need special attention, and definitely I expect my approach to individual elements to change.

Past Lives

As mentioned, I think that the past lives can be addressed as modes, as seen in Atomic Robo RPG. Between Nephilim and Chronicle of the Awakenings, there are 27 different eras for the characters to pick for their previous lives, each of which has five or six different classes of person. Creating an individual mode for each of these potential incarnations is not only a lot of work, but many of the modes would be very similar.

I think that a simpler approach would be to create a basic mode for each general type of person in each broad category of eras: Ancient Warrior, Medieval Aristocrat, Modern Serf2, etc. Maybe give each mode a set of five skills, of which the player must pick three – that’ll allow some customization of each mode.

There are some great random tables with each life that I think are useful/interesting enough to keep: class of the simulacrum, stasis item for the first incarnation, and stasis event. Now, I think it’s important that the players have the option to choose those things themselves during character creation, but I also think that having the random options available is useful for those who don’t have a really good idea or just want to let part of the character creation rest in the hands of chance. Using those tables straight from the Nephilim books works fine, as there are no mechanical trappings to them.

An important consideration is how many past lives each character has access to, which brings us to Ka.

Ka

Ka is the central mechanical definer of the Nephilim character. During character creation, you spend Ka to buy past lives, meaning you are making a determination between the skills available to your character and your character’s raw power. In that respect, Ka maps nicely to Refresh. I’ll have to so some thinking and juggling to come up with the right number of starting Refresh – how many incarnations do I expect the characters to start with? What does each incarnation cost? How about stunts? I may go with the standard 3 Refresh, a few free incarnations, and a few free stunts3. Or, maybe giving everyone a big stack of Refresh but making them pay for everything is the way to go. Have to think about that.

The catch is that Ka is more than just the power currency of the game. It also has different flavours – the elemental affinities of the characters that do a lot to define identity, outlook, and abilities.

Elemental Affinities

Each character has their base Ka, as noted above, plus five types of elemental Ka: Air, Earth, Fire, Water, and Moon4. These different Ka ratings govern magical ability with those elements, as well as the Metamorphosis of the character. Your dominant Ka, the element that you most identify with, then you have the neutral-favourable element, the neutral-unfavourable element, the minor opposite element, and the major opposite element.

I think it may be my best bet to divorce this from the overall Ka rating above, maybe turning it into a simple set of bonuses and penalties ranging from +2 to -25. This allows the ability to apply the Ka element modifiers to anything having to do with that element, including the symbolic associations with physical and mental abilities, where Fire Ka adds to feats of strength, and Water Ka adds to agility stunts, etc.

That’s sounds pretty powerful, though. Especially if I allow any stunts to boost the bonuses or ameliorate the penalties. If I do go that way, I think it would have to be a static thing.

Which means that basic method of Metamorphosis won’t work.

Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis is the way in which the spiritual and magical growth of the character changes the physicality of the host body. In the main rulebook, this change is tied to the elemental Ka increase. Chronicle of the Awakenings offers a different system, based on emotions. Thus, instead of the Djinn getting hotter as its Fire Ka grows, it becomes hotter the more energetic it is.

So, I’m thinking the emotional system works best. Especially if each of the emotions is an aspect, with maybe a track of three boxes. Each time the emotional aspect is invoked or compelled, the player gets to mark a box. When all three for a given emotion are marked, that part of the metamorphosis is fulfilled, granting whatever benefit that gives6.

There’s also the possibility of pairing the emotional aspect with its opposite, and unmarking a box whenever that opposite aspect is compelled or invoked. Or maybe just unmarking a box when the character acts according to the opposite emotional aspect. That starts to look a little fiddly to me; maybe best if I increase the number of boxes in the track to five. I guess it depends on whether I want the up-and-down of the Metamorphoses, and how awesome the benefits are.

Skill List

I may need to make some era-specific skills: Fighting (Ancient), Fighting (Modern), etc. Not sure, though; have to think about the benefit of such things versus the dilution of the skill point pool. Also, I don’t necessarily want a miles-long skill list on each character sheet.

There also need to be skills for the three magic types: Sorcery, Summoning, and Alchemy. Of course, I’ll have to figure out how those systems are working in Fate Core, as well.

There definitely needs to be a Ka Vision skill.

Now, one of the mainstays of the Nephilim skill list is Life Experience, where each incarnation grants a separate skill to know about stuff in the incarnation era. I think this may be better in Fate Core as just a list of incarnation eras on the character sheet, showing which eras the character can apply their skills to. That would also mean I don’t have to create era-specific skills, so I like that idea. Let the character use skill points to buy familiarity with the modern era after a few sessions, when it starts to get boring that they don’t understand cars and cell phones.

Stress

Physical stress is good as it is. Mental stress is fine, but for flavour, I think renaming it as Spiritual stress works better in this setting.

I’m toying with the idea of adding a Ch’awe track to model the magic point system from Nephilim. On the other hand, it might be better to adopt the stress costs of magic from DFRPG, applying the cost of casting to Spiritual and Physical stress tracks. I think I’ll have to take a look and see what other things in the game would impact Spiritual stress before deciding if I need a third stress track, or if that means that Spiritual stress is kind of redundant and useless.

Possession

I will need to figure out what kind of character stat block I use for the possessed body, including what kind of skill list it has. And then I’ll need to create several of them7. This is where I’ll have to do some thinking about Solar Ka, and how it affects the possession attempt. And what skill8 the character will use to attempt possession, and what skill9 the target will resist with.

Actually, if I decide that Solar Ka is the fate point pool that the target has, that makes it useful in resisting possession, but also more flexible than that. That may be the way to go.

Using the simulacrum’s skills should be slightly problematic, as it is in Nephilim. Don’t know how to model that: Spiritual stress hit, maybe? And incorporating those skills into the Nephilim from the simulacrum can probably be done with skill points received through milestones. One of those skills, maybe, is the general knowledge of the modern world, which would allow the Nephilim to add the modern era to the list of familiar eras. That could work.

Obviously, Shouit should occur when the Nephilim takes too much Spiritual stress. Should it be a consequence, or the result of being taken out? Have to think about that.

 

That covers most of the character creation issues. I’m gonna keep thinking about them. I’ll be back in a few days to take a look at the other stuff in the game that needs to be converted. It’s mostly to do with the wonderful, flavourful10 magic system.

  1. No idea what I’m talking about? You should read the first post in this series. []
  2. Yeah, that’s not the right name, but you get the idea. []
  3. Three, three, and three? The UA fan in me likes that set-up, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. []
  4. There’s also Solar Ka, Black Moon Ka, and Black Solar Ka, but those are all NPC concerns, so I can pretty much ignore them. At least, for now. []
  5. +2 dominant, +1 neutral-favourable, +0 neutral-unfavourable, -1 minor opposite, -2 major opposite. []
  6. I’ll have to work out some examples, of course. And maybe three is the wrong number of boxes. []
  7. Or come up with a system where players can quickly and easily build their own. []
  8. I’m thinking Will. []
  9. Again, probably Will, possibly with a Solar Ka bonus. []
  10. But very complex. []
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3 Responses to Fate of the Nephilim: Character Creation

  1. Rob Rendell says:

    Very cool. I remember reading the Nephilim book back in the 90s and thinking it was an amazing setting, but also never ran it or played it.

    Some random thoughts – take them or leave them 🙂

    * I think that starting with some default free number of past incarnations would be simplest… the whole past incarnations thing is such a big part of the game.
    * I don’t own Atomic Robo so I don’t know the specifics of Modes, but I hope that each past incarnation would be like the chronological phases of Fate 2.0 character creation, where you detail the events of that phase and choose an aspect based on your experiences, as well as whatever skills you learned. I can also imagine the character creation session… “I’m going to incarnate in Ancient Egypt, was anyone else there?” and their phases being entangled like a Fate Core phase trio.
    * Your description of Elemental Affinities made them sound like FAE approaches 🙂
    * For Metamorphosis, have you considered just having a specific Metamorphosis stress track which doesn’t clear very often? A compel of one of your emotion aspects would basically involve an “attack” on that stress track, and if you take consequences they reflect the changes to the host’s body.

  2. I don’t know Nephilim, but I’m already loving this series, and looking forward to seeing more.

    A few pointers that may or may not be useful…

    * For a starting point on how to do Possession, consider checking out Ryan Macklin’s Fate conversion for Eclipse Phase. A transhumanist sci-fi game might not sound like it has a lot of thematic cross-over, but the section on body-sleeving sounds like exactly what you’re talking about.

    * I think you’re on the right track that modes should be grouped by “character class” (for want of a better word) rather than period – you can always use the mode’s corresponding aspect and stunt to style them for a specific time or setting.

    * Elemental affinities sound like they could be tricky… but as a suggestion, if you’re worried that they could get too powerful if they are flat bonuses, how about a skill rating for each one that allows players to choose the best of their skill or elemental affinity? So, if a character has a Fire Affinity of +2, they won’t gain a bonus to punching if their Fight is already +3, but they’d gain a very useful boost to shouting someone down when their Provoke would otherwise be +0.

    * Life experience – isn’t that just the aspect you create for each incarnation mode? Aspects are true, so if you have the aspect “Priest of Ancient Egypt”, you automatically know where the temples are when you’re in Ancient Egypt. And you can invoke them to Declare a Story Detail if you want something spicier (like knowing a secret entrance into the villain’s temple lair). Invoke when it’s useful, and compel when it’s problematic – like if you’re struggling with modern technology when you don’t have a corresponding incarnation aspect (and you can stop proposing those compels when it stops being fun). All of those mechanics already full within the range of what aspects do normally in Fate Core.

  3. Rick Neal says:

    Glad you folks are finding this interesting. Some responses to your suggestions below. Thanks for the input!

    @ Rob Rendell:

    “* I think that starting with some default free number of past incarnations would be simplest… the whole past incarnations thing is such a big part of the game.”

    It is, but I also want to build in flexibility and choice of the original game – are you a Nephilim with lots of lifetimes but low Ka, or are you a Nephilim with few lifetimes but high Ka?

    “* I don’t own Atomic Robo so I don’t know the specifics of Modes, but I hope that each past incarnation would be like the chronological phases of Fate 2.0 character creation, where you detail the events of that phase and choose an aspect based on your experiences, as well as whatever skills you learned. I can also imagine the character creation session… “I’m going to incarnate in Ancient Egypt, was anyone else there?” and their phases being entangled like a Fate Core phase trio.”

    Haven’t got to the actual mechanics of the character creation phases, but this sounds like a solid idea. Thanks!

    “* Your description of Elemental Affinities made them sound like FAE approaches 🙂”

    I don’t really see that similarity, myself. Approaches are an alternative to a skill list – I like the idea of approaches, but I think Nephilim needs more of a skill list. Thus, the thoughts about a set of bonuses.

    “* For Metamorphosis, have you considered just having a specific Metamorphosis stress track which doesn’t clear very often? A compel of one of your emotion aspects would basically involve an “attack” on that stress track, and if you take consequences they reflect the changes to the host’s body.”

    Possible. One of the things I’m worried about with this conversion is adding too many subsystems. So, a Metamorphosis stress track is simpler than the idea I proposed. However, I’m hesitant to tie it to stress and consequences, because Metamorphosis is at least sometimes a desirable thing for Nephilim.

    @Michael Duxbury

    “* For a starting point on how to do Possession, consider checking out Ryan Macklin’s Fate conversion for Eclipse Phase. A transhumanist sci-fi game might not sound like it has a lot of thematic cross-over, but the section on body-sleeving sounds like exactly what you’re talking about.”

    Thanks for the suggestion! I will have to check it out. Possession is not something that happens all that often in the game – first session incarnation, then when your current body dies – but it is very important to get right.

    “* I think you’re on the right track that modes should be grouped by “character class” (for want of a better word) rather than period – you can always use the mode’s corresponding aspect and stunt to style them for a specific time or setting.”

    Still toying with what bits get aspects and what don’t. Very easy to overload the character with aspects. Then a lot of them never get used.

    “* Elemental affinities sound like they could be tricky… but as a suggestion, if you’re worried that they could get too powerful if they are flat bonuses, how about a skill rating for each one that allows players to choose the best of their skill or elemental affinity? So, if a character has a Fire Affinity of +2, they won’t gain a bonus to punching if their Fight is already +3, but they’d gain a very useful boost to shouting someone down when their Provoke would otherwise be +0.”

    I don’t know. My main concern is that a +2 bonus in Fate Core is big. And the affinities are pretty broad. Now, in Nephilim, elemental affinities help turn your human into a bit of a superhero, and I like that. But that’s earned by building up your elemental Ka attributes. Maybe need to work in a way to model that – possibly a stunt to start making your affinities strong enough to affect your abilities. Or maybe a separate skill pyramid of the elemental affinities, and you can use an affinity in place of a skill when if that’s beneficial and relevant. Still have to think about it. It’s a tricky part of the conversion, and it’s early days, yet. 😉

    “* Life experience – isn’t that just the aspect you create for each incarnation mode? Aspects are true, so if you have the aspect “Priest of Ancient Egypt”, you automatically know where the temples are when you’re in Ancient Egypt. And you can invoke them to Declare a Story Detail if you want something spicier (like knowing a secret entrance into the villain’s temple lair). Invoke when it’s useful, and compel when it’s problematic – like if you’re struggling with modern technology when you don’t have a corresponding incarnation aspect (and you can stop proposing those compels when it stops being fun). All of those mechanics already full within the range of what aspects do normally in Fate Core.”

    Yeah, they do. I’m just not sure how many aspects are going to be on the sheet. I mention up above that I’m worried about too many aspects. I’m also worried about constraining the choices on too many of the aspects – if every aspect from a previous incarnation has to describe who they were then, it cuts down on the number of crazy and interesting aspects that people might choose from that incarnation. That’s another reason for divorcing the life experience (which is largely just a bookkeeping element) from the aspect system.

    But the suggestions you both have made make me think that I need to think about the character creation phases before I move on to the magic systems. I mean, I’ll have to do both, eventually, but deciding on the number of aspects, how the phases work, etc. should help give me more of an idea of the shape of a Nephilim PC, if that makes sense. And that shape will inform the magic system.

    Thanks for stopping by and taking a look!

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