Monday, June 23, 2014

The Ultimate Philosophical Question

Art by Ephraim Moshe Lilien

What's the purpose of it all?

Why are we here?

What should we do with our lives?

Profound questions, certainly, and ones not usually addressed in role-playing games.  Characters – particularly player characters – are not burdened with existential curiosity.  By definition, characters exist as “roles” and for every role, there is a reason.  Player characters are – of course – vicarious avatars of the players.  Non-player characters fulfil whatever role the game master requires of them.  Set dressing?  If needed.  Distraction?  Possibly.  Important plot element?  Could be.  Random encounter?  Perhaps.  If nothing else, the setting/circumstance can impose a role.  A new player generates a character to join the party's dungeon expedition at the last moment.  What would be the 'in game' reason for a reasonably sane person to tag along with a bunch of strangers into some dark and dank tunnels likely infested by monsters and traps?  Such a question need not be addressed; of more practical importance is what spells has he conveniently memorized for this escapade.

In Man, Myth & Magic, the purpose for every (player) character is expressly stated.  Page 13 of Book II poses the question, “What is the purpose of life?”  The answer follows immediately:  “In ADVANCED MM&M, the purpose of life is the pursuit of POWER.”  Well, that's unequivocal.  No self-actualization or getting in touch with one's feelings or any of that namby-pamby stuff – just get POWER.  (The rules consistently spell POWER with all capital letters.)  Even for the Greek Philosopher character type, it's all about the POWER.

This answer, naturally, begets the question:  What is POWER?  Herbie Brennan explained in this interview that POWER is “a way of combining the EXPERIENCE points with spell drivers like MANA.”  There are two types of POWER:  gold-related and adventure-related.

For every one thousand gold libra a character accumulates, one point is added to the character's POWER total.  However, “you retain gold-related POWER only so long as the gold remains in your possession.”  Spend (or otherwise lose) the gold and you lose the POWER.  Note that the rules specifically refer to gold, not wealth.  Maybe you have gems and jewels worth 10,000 gold libra, but do they confer any POWER?  If you bury a chest filled with gold, does that gold count as being “in your possession”?  I doubt it. The gold-to-POWER ratio seems to be more trouble than it's worth if you need to keep all that gold at hand; gold is heavy.

Scenarios in (Advanced) MM&M are divided into segments.  At the conclusion of a segment, each (surviving) character is entitled to a POWER roll; the result of d% is added to POWER.  A character that contributed significantly to a segment can wind up with a measly one point of POWER while a character who did nothing can gain 100 POWER.  Well, no one said that the universe is fair.

Every thirty points of POWER a character currently possesses (beyond the first hundred) increases his or her chances of success by one percent (or as the rules have it, “deduct 1 from your personal Failure Rate”).

Adventure POWER (but not gold POWER) can be used to cast spells (or use 'psychical abilities') and activate magic items.  For instance, an 'Astral Projection' spell requires 50 POWER while a 'Lucky Cork' needs 5 POWER per round of combat to be effective.  Such POWER expenditure is not permanent; characters recover POWER spent in this way “by a natural, automatic process at the rate of 10 POWER points per segment.”  However, if a character should “lose a limb” before his or her POWER is fully recovered, then the remainder is lost permanently.

Just how long is a segment?  Knowing the length of a segment would be conducive to budgeting POWER effectively.  Alas, segment length “is relative to scenario content” and is something players are not meant to know.

Finally, POWER is essential for the reincarnation process, but that is a topic for a future post.  Until that time, be good to one another and try not to lose any limbs (whether or not you are at peak POWER).

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