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Archive for September, 2011

As Bearers gain experience and power, there are several routes for them to pursue. The simplest and most straightforward is to gain what they already have, but bigger: to gain more Greater Powers, or increase their hand size. Both of these suffice for modeling the growing synergy between a Bearer and her Archetype, a greater familiarity with the way magic flows through the channels of one’s self.

But there are other ways to mark a puissant Bearer. When one walks in a world steeped in magic, one learns about the natural manifestations of it that fall outside of one’s initial purview. You find spontaneous occurrences of the magical nature of the world – and sometimes you can take them up as your own, just like harvesting a flower you find along the side of the road.

Bearers can spend time learning what is broadly termed High Magic, forms of manipulating dream-energy that rely on ritual and willpower in contrast to the innate and intuitive way in which Powers manifest. To use running as a metaphor, High Magic is a marathon, and requires deliberate focus and training to achieve, while Powers are the natural sort of running that people may or may not have an inborn knack for.

Wonderments are marvels of natural magic that do not “belong” to the Archetypes, and as such may be attained and even traded. Bearers become their keepers, taking on responsibility for maintaining and protecting them in exchange for access to them. Because magic comes from dreams, these can be truly unusual resources: a form of joy that can be used as a weapon, or a floating library that catalogs all the matter in the universe.

Weirds either arise spontaneously or can be forged by a Bearer; the thread of one’s own fate is knotted and woven with magic to reinforce it in specific ways. These are not without cost: one must usually abide by an oath of some sort to maintain the magic, but gains the strength to affirm their destiny in return. Bearers often carry Weirds that dictate the manner of their death, which protect them from other misfortunes, or swear binding vows to accomplish a task and gird themselves with magic that enhances their capabilities when moving toward that goal.

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I like tossing in little throw-away details to illustrate ideas in House of Cards, but I’m of the mindset that too much information stifles the reader’s own imagination. To take just one example from the text, while discussing the strangely alien and capricious nature of the courts of the Comtes, I added the flourish, “In the court of the Masked Prince of Luthiers, for instance, a dismal place shrouded in gloom, a laugh causes rubies to rain from the sky – which is punishable by death.” The sentence is weirdly specific and yet leaves its context all but unsketched and full of questions.

Almost immediately, I got feedback from readers saying, “Tell me more about that!” That’s a nice thing for a writer, admittedly, but my reaction right away is to say, “No, you tell me more about it!” For me to dictate a fully fleshed-out setting with maps and distinct locations is not really in keeping with the ethos of House of Cards. Think of the creature in Alien: it’s effectively terrifying because we know only a little about it, and we instinctively fill in our own details – what’s scariest to us personally. Setting material in House of Cards is provided with a similar technique in mind: I want players to see a hook in the text and then spin it off into whatever unique thing their minds conceive, which is by nature going to be more interesting to them than whatever additional material I might put out there.

(But, yes, there will be more on the Masked Prince of Luthiers. Eventually.)

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Women Artists Rock!

First, I’d like to announce that Sara Otterstaetter and Grace D. Palmer have graciously signed on to provide illustrations for House of Cards. Feel free to peruse their portfolios at the respective links above.

Second, this news ties into an initiative I’ve been silently brewing for a while. There’s been a lot of energy spent this summer discussing issues of women in the world of gaming: how they’re portrayed, how they’re treated, how included they are in our hobby. While there are many aspects of this debate for which I have no real stake, it’s important nonetheless simply as an issue of human decency and courtesy to make moves, however small, to improve the situation of women, even in a tiny corner of modern society (i.e., the pen-and-paper RPG community).

It’s what we can affect that matters, really, and as someone who’s producing a game, I can make decisions over how I want that game to be produced. In this particular case, I have deliberately opted to seek out the assistance of talented women at all levels as a small but practical means of approaching the topic. Many of you who have been following this game’s development have no doubt done so because you crossed paths with Parenthesis Press’ fantastic PR director, freelance social media consultant Sarah Hope Fitch. Besides Ms. Otterstaetter and Ms. Palmer, discussions with several other wonderful female illustrators are ongoing. Wherever possible, I want House of Cards to be a product of listening to and acknowledging women in gaming, as an example if nothing else.

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