Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Bardic Struggle

Having figured out what the bard's art does [the gentle reader is not bored of these constant posts about the bard, are they?], I'm free to map out how the bard creates art and how to measure the effects of the art created.

The most obvious thing to do would be to create a study/skill called "create art," in which the bard would gain points.  As the points mounted, the bard would create better and bigger art, in a very linear manner.  This is standard RPG design.

Frankly, I find this remarkably stale.  In it, everyone's path is precisely the same, there's no room for personality and we don't even have the flexibility of being able to choose from a wide range of spells.  It is dull, dull, dull design and it is exactly the reason why the bard character comes out so flat.

Remember what I said before: we want the player to feel what it is like to be an artist.  Part of that feeling is a sense of inadequacy that the bard must start with, then overcome by virtue of multiple possible strategies.  It is the same inadequacy that a spellcaster feels at not having enough spells to protect themselves or the fighter feels at being easily thumped down to zero hit points.

Only the goal here is to restrain the bard from being able to make art like a Fable character pounding a hammer on a forge.

The very pinnacle of creation game play.

To that end, I've decided to frustrate the bard all to hell by dividing up the creative process and spreading it over several studies in the same field.

Because a character in the Senex Campaign is a bard, who has chosen poetry as their art form, this post will deal with that particular example.  Other art forms will require a moderate adjustment to this formula (which will be interesting to do), but I see no reason to worry about that until I get a player character interested in pursuing one of those other forms.

Too, I should explain that a bard has four fields of interest, three of which are not creative.  So for this post we're specifically speaking about how a bard makes "art" and "product," and not how a bard researches matters in depth (which will produce other effects I will eventually create), how a bard teaches others (the college option) or how a bard gets into the world of business (as a producer, agent, stage manager or general techie).  I'm building the "bard" character so that one does not even have to create to be a member of the class.

Let's just stick to what we usually think of as a bard.

The poet who chooses "Artistry" as the field has four choices of study: conceptualism, creativity, performance and practicality.  I'll just quickly run these down.  Conceptualism is the effort to make work that pleases oneself, the sort not likely to be understood or appreciated by others.  Creativity is the ability to think theoretically about art, to understand what it is but with no capacity to actually make work.  Performance is the ability to present work, but without a personal comprehension of how that work is made.  Practicality is the ability to make useful work that an audience on the whole would like, but doesn't allow the first sense of aesthetics.

In short, they're all meaningful . . . but they are all distinctly lacking if the poet wants to write really terrific poetry.  To do so, the poet needs all of the above!  And this is where strategy arises.

At first level, the poet can pick one of the four ~ but only one ~ in which case the poet will gain enough points to be considered an "amateur" in that particular study (+1d12/level above 1st).  As an amateur, the poet will be able to write conceptual poetry for themselves (potentially massing enough work for later on when it can be refined and published).  The poet will have the capacity for creativity without actually making any work.  The poet will be able to perform, but it will be other people's stuff.  And finally the poet will be able to write nice, practical poems, along the lines of greeting cards.

BUT, the poet also gets 1d8 -1 points of knowledge per level in the other three studies.  10 are needed for amateur ability, so the poet might become an amateur in one of the other three at 2nd level.  The poet might not.  The odds say that probably one of them will reach amateur status by the time the poet reaches 3rd level ~ and probably all of them by 5th.

Conceptualism + Creativity will mean inspirational, self-styled poetry that could sell if published (conceptualism without creativity, not a chance).  Conceptualism + Performance would be the opportunity to meaningfully recite one's own personal poetry in public, increasing the poet's personal sense of worth.  Conceptualism + Practicality has the possibility of making an empathic connection to other persons, so that poetry written only for the poet might also strike other specific persons the same way.

Creativity + Performance does not increase the poet's repertoire, but it increases the level of the performance, changing that 1% x.p. bonus to 2%.  Creativity + Practicality improves the quality of practical work and its overall worthiness.

Finally, Performance + Practicality contributes to one's personal fame and listener donations.

Remember, at the same time, we are talking amateur status with each of these.  As one becomes an "authority," the pattern changes again.  It takes 30 knowledge points to become an authority, which one can do with a primary study by 3rd level ~ but it can easily take 8 levels or more to become an authority in something with an average of 3.5 points per level.  And that drag will be felt, particularly if the character just can't get their practicality up.  There's only so much one can do as an amateur.  To create really meaningful work, one has to increase one's knowledge and thus one's capacity for skilled artistry.

See, we can't make inspiration, great poetry (Sukha), if we can't work ~ and one of the skills that comes with being practical is "focus."  That is, the ability to sit and work and work and work without turning aside from the project and getting distracted.  If we can't do that, if all we can do is frivolously dick around, we'll never startle the world.  We'll never make our party as happy as they'd like.

But if we don't have conceptualism in our bucket, we'll be miserable.  Making our own art makes us feel better, it gives us a greater sense of value, it supports us when times are tough.  And if we don't have performance in our bucket, most will never know that we're a great poet.  This is 17th century.  People don't read!

And if we don't have creativity, we'll never have the inspiration anyway.

So figuring out what we can do will depend less on our skill set and more on our limitations.  We will be waiting to learn things we don't know, to make things we can't make and to hope one day we'll figure out just the hell all this shit works.

Like an artist does.


Maxwell Joslyn said...

So there's a lot of crossover between artistic studies for the bard, unlike for the other classes. Which on the one hand means it takes a long time to "unlock" all the combinations of various studies at various levels, but on the other hand means that often a new level of ability in one area of artistry will mean benefits in all the other areas, too. That would be a lot of fun as a player: "look, getting a bonus in such and such means all this other stuff starts to work better too."

Alexis Smolensk said...

In fact, it is there for the other classes. It is only that the spellcasting features or the combat features are already built for those classes. Consider the thief with stealth ability and also backstabbing ability, who can practice guile and then set up a trap. Those things work in combination and no one thinks about it.

Each of the individual skills with the bard work individually, too ~ but I also need to create a whole other framework that those skills affect individually, because none formerly exists.

You'll note I created similar frameworks in the sense of morale, gaining henchmen, healing and forms of damage, etcetera ~ because there had to be a greater amount of connection with those things, too. This one just looks different because it is very non-familiar, given the long term standardized structures that exist in most role-playing games.

Maxwell Joslyn said...

Certainly a thinking player can find all kinds of ways to combine the capabilities granted by their studies: being stealthier or more sure-footed will expand the places in which one could set a trap, for instance.

When I said "benefits in all other areas" I was referring to upgrades like "Creativity + Performance does not increase the poet's repertoire, but it increases the level of the performance, changing that 1% x.p. bonus to 2%." I don't remember reading these kinds of crossover benefits between studies in your previous material. But, point taken: maybe I'm being myopic by only asking about effects from one study on another. What does it matter what part of the rules a sage study tweaks, whether it is HP recovered from resting (Medicine - Aid Rest) or attack rolls (Puissance - something) or another study outright (Creativity boosting Performance)?