Author’s Blog for February 5, 2020

The Long March to finish the Basics of Play glossary is done! Now all that’s left is the Longer March to finish the rest of the rulebook. Click through to find out more.

The next chapter is Leveling the Playing Field, which will contain most of the game and story control mechanics for the players, like failing forward and spending advantages for extra Discipline on bids.

In the rulebook’s previous draft, these mechanics were all mixed in together with the basic rules in one large chapter that spanned almost 40 letter-sized pages. As I said before, I split them up because some readers found the game too deterministic.

Determinism – in this case, the lack of a randomizer like dice or cards – is a real problem with diceless roleplaying games, because it usually means that the guy with the most resources and biggest numbers wins. Most roleplaying games avoid that problem simply by using a randomizer like dice and having automatic hit rules. No matter how weak your character is in one of those games, you can usually still land a hit on an opponent if you roll a natural 20 on a d20 or stack up enough exploding dice.

Covenant doesn’t have a randomizer, and so that’s not possible. Instead, you spend your character’s Discipline to make bids, and the character with the biggest bid wins.

Frankly, I prefer that. The idea of the underdog winning because of a dice roll – instead of, say, hard work, planning, sticking together, and good old chutzpah – doesn’t sit right with me.

The reverse is true, too. I’ve failed too many checks simply because I rolled a natural 1 on the dice. My character is supposed to be a badass, but he’s also tripped over his own dick three times in a row because the dice don’t like me. If I fail, I’d like it to be because I wasn’t ready and wasted my resources, not because the dice gods willed it.

The problem with this is that deterministic roleplaying games are less popular than randomized ones. Randomized games have plenty of off-the-shelf solutions. Deterministic games don’t have that as much. I’ve had to solve a lot of problems in Covenant by myself. It’s not all bad, because it forces you to think about your game. However, it also slows development to a crawl.


Here’s the last part of the Basics of Play glossary:

  • Scene: A single fight, encounter, chase or puzzle. A story element and part of the story of which the characters are a part. See also chapter.
  • Scene Damage: Any damage to Discipline that is recharged at the end of a scene. Usually represents stress, bruising, damage from stunning or less-than-lethal weapon, losing an argument, or minor embarrassment. See also free Discipline, chapter damage and long-term damage.
  • Size: A number that represents how large a character or item is, based on its longest dimension. Relative sizes impose advantages and disadvantages on Stealth, fighting, and resistance bids.
  • Skinning: How a participant roleplays or portrays the results of a bid or the use of Discipline or an asset. Does not affect the effects, only the appearance.
  • Stake: What a character puts up when xi pursues a goal. If the character fails the goal’s conditions, xi loses the stake
  • Story: A series of chapters with a number of related plot threads. Usually leads a climax where most or all of the plot threads are resolved and the next story is set up. The player characters are usually the focus and main characters of a story and one of its main driving forces. Called a “campaign” in other roleplaying games. See also scene and chapter.
  • Story Element: How Covenant organizes the action in a story. As a rule of thumb, defined by when characters can recharge their Discipline and assets. See also scenes and chapters.
  • Storytelling Control: The ability of a participant to describe the effects of actions. Usually held by the Force Majeure, but temporarily passes to bid winners. The described effects cannot exceed the scope of the character’s actions and bids.
  • Tap: One way to use an asset for a bid. Once the bid is resolved, the asset cannot be used until the character’s next turn in the scene, when it is recharged. See also expend, exhaust, and destroy.
  • Target: A number set by the Force Majeure during a fixed bid that represents the difficulty to overcome and obstacle. The higher the target, the harder it is to overcome the obstacle. Bids must exceed this target to be successful. If the obstacle was made by another character, then the target is the bid xi made to create that obstacle.
  • Tie: Represents a character’s support network, as well as the people and things for which xi will fight. Each tie supplies the character with 100 Discipline. Losing a tie means losing the Discipline it supplied. A character without ties is eliminated.
  • Token: Gained at the end of each chapter. Can be turned during intermissions to gain assets. Can also be turned in during a chapter for bonuses to bids and other actions (see Section 3.0.0, Leveling the Playing Field).
  • Trait: Any inherent quality of a character – including skills, species, and gender – that can positively or negatively affect bids
  • Turn: A way of keeping track of characters and their actions during a scene. Each character gets 1 turn every round, during which xi can make as many bids as xi wants. When every character participating in the scene has taken xir turn, the round ends and a new round starts until the scene ends.
  • Use: Activating an asset so that it can affect a bid. Once an asset is used, it cannot be used again until it is recharged.

That’s it for now. Stop by tomorrow for more.

Published by radiofreecovenant

A podcast about the science-fiction roleplaying game "Covenant" and the urban fantasy novel "Crossing the Line", soon to be published by Black Opal Books.

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