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Please help me find a defining game mechanic for my homebrew world


As the title says I am searching for a mechanic which will have a universal impact in my campaign setting. As universal gaming mechanic I mean something like the corruption/hope points of the The One Ring game or the madness checks from Cthulhu's Chaosium etc. Something that all the players will have to take into account when they are creating their characters and when they are adventuring. I want something that will give my world a distinct identity.

A few words of my homebrew world. Lets call it "cursed lands" and it a post-apocalyptic sword and sorcery dark and gritty fantasy world. There are no races (no elves, dwarves, etc), but there are a handful different human cultures which serve as mechanically as races. Its main premise is that the (old) gods have cursed the humans and then left the world. The curse of each god before leaving was a twisted inversion of that gods portfolio. So, for example, the god of Death will grant its followers with immortality but these people gradually would loose the will to live making them living zombies. The god of Sun would blind its followers, the god of Hunting would twist humans and animals into powerful monsters which would scourge the land and the god of Wisdom and Knowledge would turn its followers into orcs destroying everything that had to do with civilization (this is actually the event that gave birth to orcs in my world), and so on.

Now 300 years after, the civilization starts to rise again and make its first steps in a sundered and very dangerous world. There are few, very distinct cultures which are trying to survive in this very precarious cursed place. However, the magic has started to flow again and new gods have emerged. In any case the gods at the moment are not universal but still linked to a distinct culture. You can imagine the continent as a wild, untamed and ruin-filled land in which only a 10-20% have been reclaimed.

Having the above summary in your mind, do you have any idea how to implement a game mechanic which is tied to the aforementioned intro? The most obvious path is this mechanic will be related with the old curses but i don't know how to start and how to implement it. Of course i am open to other ideas.
Any help will be appreciated!
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It's not a personal mechanic like corruption or humanity or sanity, but maybe something like Dominion in Ars Magicka (which I was only ever at best vaguely familiar with, and am struggling to remember).

How it might apply in your setting would be if you decided to run it in something a bit like a hexcrawl wilderness-exploration/taming style. As a PC cleared land for settlement by his native culture, their deity would gain Dominion over that land, countering the 'curse' aspect of the Cursed Lands concept, at least as long as they can consolidate and hold the gain.


Rules Monkey
Perhaps the old gods left something behind to monitor and maintain their curse. Now whenever people perform certain actions they can attract the attention of this monitoring entity, and gain a lesser version of one of the old god's curses.

Things like using the returning magic, using supernatural abilities or certain skills/feats, or even praying to the new gods.

You could do it via an accumulation of "curse points" gained when performing those actions, and when you have enough curse points you gain a curse.

You could make it complicated and track different categories of curse points, depending on which old god doesn't like that particular action, and opening the characters up to gaining several different types of curses. If you gain the same curse again, you get a greater form of the curse.

You could have a cleansing rituals to remove the taint of the curse points, etc.

This means using your supernatural abilities comes with a risk, so people are less likely to rely on them as much.


Once A Fool
The good news is that you already know what the curses do. From here, you just need to figure out when and how the PCs can acquire them.

You could attach it to PCs' actions, of course, but it might be better if you instead tied it to power level. This would shift the suggested theme from what would amount to a moral/ethical/ideological struggle to a struggle against inevitable doom. And, also, it would be much easier to track.

As each character levels, they struggle against (or embrace) a gradual transformation brought on by one of the curses (perhaps determined by the player -- perhaps not). Each stage of the transformation would offer benefits as well as their unfortunate side-effects, of course. And there ought to be some in-game ways to delay the transformations, if not outright reverse them. Just in case the PC chooses to fight it.

I think that's how I'd do it. There would be a real and ever-present reminder that the old gods might be gone, but their curses -- their legacies -- remain.
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Perhaps the gods left behind a kind of "psychic residue," which influences certain situations and has a kind of diminishing effect on everyone. Maybe you have a chart in which the characters must make a roll when triggered by certain kinds of events or places.

Let's say it is d100. I don't know how many gods there were, but how about 20. 1-80 on d100 has no effect. Each point from 81-100 refers to a specific god, and when the PC rolls it, he or she takes in a bit more of that god's residue. Once the residue hits different thresholds, various changes start to take effect.

Or maybe you don't roll on a chart at all, but the god is determined by the place and situation. Maybe when a PC almost dies, it is the God of Death; or when a PC has sex, it is the deity of love. Etc. The PC must save vs. the residue.

Or something like that.


Your world uses strict application of the encumbrance rules.
The gods pay close attention to what people carry on their persons.

Seriously, you will be the only one to have a campaign that distinctive.

...do it.

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Staff member
It would be a bit involved, but worth it if you did the curses kind of like the 3.5Ed Geomancer's Drift mechanic. As the PC gains levels, the Curse gradually gets stronger. If it is every level, you should make the progression gradual, or give the PC a chance to avoid having their Curse strengthen. Say...a 5 or 6 on a d6 roll? (Or some such.)

If it is...every 3 levels? The progression can have a steeper slope.

To ensure some variability, like Geomancer Drift, each stage of a Curse should have a small number of different possible effects. So at a given level, the Sun God's Curse might affect one character's eyesight, but another might find his body temperature increase by 10degF, and another might shed light equivalent to a torch.

If, for whatever reason, a character avoids a strengthening of their Curse, then the next time their Curse DOES stengthen, it does so at the level they avoided. IOW, dodging a bullet has a lasting effect.

Ofcourse, some beings or artifacts could temporarily or permanently strengthen a character's Curse...or maybe add a new Curse (at the lowest level). The reverse could also be true, so it would be possible to reduce or remove a Curse.


Steeliest of the dragons
Make a "bounded accuracy", but for this cursed dark-magic business you're talking about.

Each class/PC starts with a given given +1 through +4 and advance additional "+'s" at set levels as they level up [5th, 10th, 15th, etc...).

Maybe something like Fighters [and other Warrior classes] start +1 and increase +2 every 5 levels.
Rogues get +2 and increase +1 every 3 levels.
Mages [and other arcane using classes] get +3 and increase +2 every 5 levels.
[the very rare] Clerics [of the new gods, and other priestly/"divine" classes] get +4 and increase +1 every 3 levels.

Or completely copy bounded accuracy and just make it the same bonus at all times across all classes.

This "Hero Bonus" [or whatever you want to call it] can be used/applied to saves against effects or attacks coming from any "old god cursed" source/magic.


Thank you very much for all your replies. They were really very constructive.
I have not yet made my mind on the exact form of this subsystem but slowly it starts to shape. What you 'll read below is various ideas in a semi-envisioned system.

My intentions are to make a colorful but not overcomplicated mechanic. That means I prefer the rules to be as universal as can be without at the same time being without a character. That also means I don't want many tables or charts (although I think I 'll need a couple of them).

My first thoughts are to categorize and divide the curses. Two types of division: geographical and character based. The first are passive while the second are dynamic.

Geographical: Each land - this has to do with the old gods - has a distinct type of curse that has a permanent effect to the native people. This would be something minor and mostly cosmetic. For instance the people who live in the land that once was prominent the god of Sun might have very pale and sensitive eyes (-1 to perception checks that has to do with the sight). And maybe it would happen something minor when a visitor enters the country. In the previous example a visitor, at least for some time would see the world overexposured making difficult to focus etc.

Character based: The curses can take many forms according to the actions of the characters. I am not sure if i like this, but is the best i thought about:

Physical (Wartouched): For martial characters (no spells). You become more savage and you might be consumed by your instincts. In the end you might end up a sociopath bloodlusty killer.
Magical (Magictouched): For arcane casters. An arcane spell might take a toll on your health.
Spiritual (Godtouched): For divine/"primal"/psionic casters. You might gain distinct curses of the old gods. This means i need to make a table with the old gods and relevant curses.

Cleansing: You might be able to cleanse some of your curse points. This can be done at certain powerful places, maybe from some mythical creatures (ex dragons) and maybe it can wear off if you just stay inactive and live a peaceful life.

How the curses work: There would be a number of thresholds (something like 3-5). When you pass a threshold something with the prominent curse occurs. The dm can dictate or take control of the character for that action(s) and something unfavorable for the party happens. After that event the player can take back the control of his character. Maybe if you pass a certain threshold you gain a permanent trait that don’t wear off with the usual remove curse/(greater)restoration spells (possibly only a wish spell can remove it). (Thank you One Ring :p )

Although i propose a system, I am not sure how someone can gain these curse points. I can see curse points could be gained in ancient ruins/temples where the presence of the old gods were more prominent. But where else and which circumstances would occur in order to gain curse points?

While I present the above system it doesn't mean that this is the best idea I have ever had. Actually I am not sure if like the "character-class" based curses. In general, I can describe it as a soup of half shaped ideas which were mostly inspired by your posts. This mean that if you think something completely different don't hesitate to write it.

In any way I thank you again! :)
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Character based: The curses can take many forms according to the actions of the characters.... There would be a number of thresholds (something like 3-5). When you pass a threshold something with the prominent curse occurs. ...
I am not sure how someone can gain these curse points. I can see curse points could be gained in ancient ruins/temples where the presence of the old gods were more prominent. But where else and which circumstances would occur in order to gain curse points?
You might want something that works a bit like Dark Side points? You can gain a benefit with an action that's in accord with the Curse in your locality (or the one you grew up in, I suppose), but you gain a curse point, pushing you towards the next threshold.

Actually I am not sure if like the "character-class" based curses.
It makes some sense to break it out by caster vs non-caster, and divine caster vs others. Casters and non-casters simply do things differently. Divine casters might have greater vulnerability or resistance depending on how the new gods stack up to the lingering influence of the old.

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