Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mystic Empyrean

Game Premise
Create, Discover, Become

Once, long ago, the world of Empyrean was whole and going through a golden age of peace and prosperity. But then something shattered the grand cornerstone of reality and the Aether, a mist inimical to existence itself, swept over creation. Now there are only a few small pockets of reality left, realms that fight against the unmaking of everything.

But all is not lost. Eidolons, beings with hearts of Anima, the building block of all things and great powers to match, seek to recreate reality, assembling the cornerstone piece by piece and pushing back the Aether bit by bit. But how shall reality be reformed and how shall the Eidolons be changed along the way?

Game Overview
Mystic Empyrean is a game with a setting that is pretty much a smorgasbord of wonder. Picture infinite worlds, cities riding on the backs of elephants, mountains made of clockwork, floating islands of crystal sailing through a rainbow sky, an entire continent built on a giant tree. Now picture an equally infinite number of races, from sentient dog people to cyborgs to ashen-skinned arsonists with oddly shaped feet. All of these Realms and Nascent races are possible. You, as an Eidolon with a heart infused with the building block of creation, have superpowers based on your emotions, are almost impossible to kill, can shape the world around them and are tasked with remaking reality, thus making you even more awesome than the worlds you explore and the people you interact with.

The game is very much narrative based and makes use of a rotating GM. When a scene is set up, establishing questions are asked in rotation, with the whole party setting the facts and issues. This is probably going to be a turn-off for fans of more traditional RPG players who appreciate the firm hand of the GM (or GMs who like control) but is pretty standard fair for these sort of shared narrative games.

Mystic Empyrean makes use of a resolution mechanic known as a Balance Tool, which might be a deck of cards or a bag of coloured beads. Every action is associated with one of the seven Elements, which are arranged along a wheel. When performing the action you draw from the balance tool, with the result dictating how you get to narrate the outcome. Drawing that element or Anima results in a Perfect Success, the two on either side a Near Success, the two on either side of those a Neutral outcome and the two opposed elements or Aether a Failure.

While there is a lot of emphasis on groups creating their owns realms and nascent, you could easily run an entire campaign based off the ones in the book, which were created by Kickstarter backers (I also backed this game but not quite enough to create content for the game). My one gripe is that a couple details could stand to be a tad more concrete, such as at what point an Eidolon's heart takes so much damage they die or a bit more info on the Aether.

The Character
Step 1) Concept
Because your character's stats are based very much on who they are as a person, having a clear Concept is very important.

I think I want a sort of darker character for this game. Andragi comes from a world where he was a member of the political class, through which advancement could only be made by destroying the reputations of those above you. Andragi excelled at this. When he became an Eidolon he simply adjusted his skill set to a much greater scope. He tends to get recruited by Eidolons who need someone cut down socially or discredited, which can be useful when attempting to influence the politics of a Realm or one of the great factions. He's of a nascent race called the Serureev that appears pretty human-like, except for being somewhat taller and thinner, incredibly long yet graceful eyebrows and hair that is often floor length and comes in a wide variety of shades.

Step 2) Persona Traits
An Eidolon's form is shaped by their personality and talents, the Anima allowing these to manifest as Persona Traits that both change their form and give them special powers. During a scene where a character displays a particularly personality trait, such as acting in a brave or greedy fashion, they get points in that persona. Once they reach seven points they get that Persona Trait at the Superficial Level. If they continue to act in that manner, that trait will get more powerful, but also come to define their entire being, giving them limitations as well as powers.

There are several methods for deciding what Persona Traits your Eidolon starts off with, including a Draft Method by which your fellow players write down traits they associate you with (which probably needs the right group). I'm going to use the Constructed method, the most traditional method where I simply pick four traits to start off with at superficial. Andragi is quite obviously a Gossip, which gives him the Of Many, One trait. This means he's actually composed of a tiny horde of beings, in his case a swarm of prismatic butterflies. He's also Faultfinding, giving him the Infinite Eyes power which lets him open up myriad eyes all over his body that let him see through objects and people. I also see him as somewhat Fashionable well versed in popular ideas and appearances, granting him the Cosmopolitan trait that lets people see him as a friend or confidante unless they're already enemies or have disavowed. Finally, Andragi, shows a lot of Malice when tearing others down, making the Deathly Grin trait appropriate. This gives his eyes a black sheen and also lets him freeze people in place with fear while eye contact is maintained.

Step 3) Balance
Everything, from living things to Eidolons to entire Realms contains a Balance of the seven elements, Fire, Light, Electricity, Water, Stone, Darkness and Air. When resolving an action, an Eidolon may make a number of draws from the Balance Tool equal to the Balance they have in the element the action is associated with. So an Eidolon with 3 fire in their balance who is trying to tear an enemy limb from limb may make up to three draws.

You start off with 1 point in each of the elements and then get an additional point for every persona trait you have associated with that element. Infinite Eyes gives me an extra one in Light (it's about finding the truth), Cosmopolitan and Of Many, One gives me another two in Air due to being about social interaction and Deathly Grin gives me one in Darkness due to its association with fear.

Step 4) Background
This bit here is just your standard character background. So, Andragi comes from a realm where the only form of advancement in bureaucracy is to essentially destroy the career of one of your immediate superiors by finding faults in their methods. The logic is that you need to have a certain amount of knowledge in the area you're critiquing and also will be able to avoid those previous failures. Andragi is more than a bit of a sociopath and thus both excelled at and relished the task of demolishing livelihoods with a few choice words. He even devoted his leisure hours to it, lacking many true friends to do things with. He was so good at doing so, in fact, that he drew the attention of the Great Spirit of air and became an Eidolon. Since then he has travelled all over Empyrean and has been responsible for leading to the collapse of several leaders and regimes. He has become known as the bane of tall poppies everywhere. Like all Eidolons he seeks the restoration of the Grand Cornerstone, but he reasons that those that do so should be able to handle a little criticism.

Step 5) Creed
An Eidolon is also defined by what they believe in and strive for. Their Creed is a belief system that can be summed up in three lines. Whenever they go against their Creed in a substantial way they suffer a Heart Wound, a wound that can permanently scar and disfigure them, possibly leading to major personality shifts.

Here is what I think Andragi's Creed should be”

1) The word is mightier than the sword.
2) Nothing is sacred and everything has its faults.
3) Strength comes from lacking or hiding faults, not overcoming them.

The Finished Product
Andragi, Slayer of Poppies
Fire 1, Light 2, Electricity 1, Water 1, Stone 1, Darkness 2, Air 3

Cosmopolitan, Superficial (Fashionable)
Deathly Grin, Superficial (Malice)
Infinite Eyes, Superficial (Faultfinding)
Of Many, One, Superficial (Gossiping)

Creed
1) The word is mightier than the sword.
2) Nothing is sacred and everything has its faults.
3) Strength comes from lacking or hiding faults, not overcoming them.


How I'd Run It
This does seem like it would be pretty fun to run straight, with realm creation, exploring the slowly re-emerging world and ultimately rebuilding reality. Like I said, you could do a pretty solid campaign with just the stuff in the book (races include giant sloths that shit coal to power war machines and puppets controlled by shadow monkeys), let alone the crazy shit your players come up with.

However, I was playing Psychonauts while I read this (if you haven't played it, check it out, it's seriously awesome) and it gave me an idea. You could use Mystic Empyrean to run a game in that style, psychic agents entering people's mindscapes to solve problems and help restore sanity or find information. Your talents and personality gives you powers within other people's heads, each mindscape is infused with its own traits and emotional influences. Only real adjustment needed would be to replace the elements with something slightly less mystical, maybe just colours.

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