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Twists and Themes
Themes are the bread and butter of this game. They allow players to manipulate the game in ways that are appropriate to their characters, in exchange for suffering setbacks of one kind or another.
Your character is created with a rating in each of the six Themes below (Plot Immunity, Intrigue, Empathy, Magnetism, Comprehension, and Romance). The higher your rating, the more you can accomplish by spending a Twist.
Your total in all your Themes is called your Import, as it measures how important your character is to the plot. Characters with higher Capabilities have lower Import. Use the table below to find out what your total Import is, and then distribute that into the individual Themes.
Highest Capability Import
For instance, a Taoist whose highest score is Metatech 5 would have a total Import of 8. She could then distribute that to Romance 4, Intrigue 2, and Plot Immunity 2. Once chosen, a character’s Themes are fixed for the remainder of the game, and only use of Twists can change that.
No Theme can be rated higher than 4. There are level-5 effects available, but they are so powerful that you must take a Complication (see below) to achieve them.
In addition to their ratings each Theme must have a Descriptor, which tells when it can be used. A few sample descriptors are listed for each Theme. Twists can only be spent through a Score whose descriptors match what you’re trying to do. For instance, the Taoist above might have Plot Immunity (Allies). She could use this to have a particularly tough friend take a bullet for her. She could not use it to shrug off a wound she had already taken. However, the reverse would be true for a Spacer with Plot Immunity (Tough as Nails).
Each game session your character starts with one Twist, which can be spent “through” one of the six Themes. You can get more Twists by taking complications: you describe problems that your character must overcome. Generally, only rough descriptions are necessary. Your GM will fill in the rest. The higher your Import, the less dangerous your Complication will be.
The following section gives a quick once-over of each Theme, telling you what you’ll need to create your character. More details and advice for how to use all of this can be found starting on page 114.
Plot Immunity is your way of telling the GM that you’re not interested in a particular storyline, or that you’d like the current events to be over and done with so you can get back to other parts of the game. Many times the problems you’d take care of with Plot Immunity can be solved by your party anyway, given a little legwork and perhaps some trading favors... but Plot Immunity does it all in a minute of game time instead of an hour. It’s just a question of how much you enjoy that particular problem.
Themes and Scope
Themes are intended to have a great deal of power. They are also intended to have a relatively narrow scope. This means that they typically only affect a couple of people, work in the short term, or preserve the status quo.
It is possible to use Themes to impose longer-lasting changes on the game world. You can do this by crafting Story Triggers (see page 160). This is an excellent use for “leftover” Triggers at the end of a session, as well as being a good way for players to cooperate. Story Triggers are not easy or quick to create, but they have the potential to completely alter a campaign.
Plot Immunity Scores
1. Evade likely off-screen death.
2. Evade minor problems with an obvious solution. Evade certain off-screen death.
3. Evade major problems that have an obvious solution, or minor one without any obvious solution. Evade likely on-screen death.
4. Evade major problems with no clear solution. Evade certain on-screen death.
5. Have events off-screen make the current catastrophe simply go away. Note that for dealing with a single problem, this is a great way to utterly write yourself out of the plot and have no fun. However, it’s a good way to handle multiple crises at once. Just step off-screen.
The player must state any “obvious solutions,”and the GM must agree with them. A note to GMs: players without Plot Immunity should not be treated as if they have a “kick me” sign on their back.
Tough as Nails, Allies, Badass, Overlooked, Resilient, Invisible, Too Insane, Support Network, Family Ties, Deus Ex Machina, Redshirt Sacrifice, Overconfident Foes
Perhaps the most dangerous Theme, Intrigue embroils your character in politics, intelligence work, and all manner of unethical activities. Admittedly, there are such things as clean politics, and spying for a good cause... but in reality, such things are so rare as to be unheard-of. Each use of Intrigue pulls your character farther and farther into webs of deception and subterfuge, and as they say, once you’re in you can never really get out. Buying Intrigue for your character is a sign to the GM that you’re interested in cloak-and-dagger stories, with vast conspiracies where layers of truth and falsehood become almost indistinguishable.
1. Gain knowledge which, while not exactly secret, is not publicly known either.
2. Obtain secret information.
3. Obtain highly classified and protected information. Have a few low-placed spies.
4. Have many spies in areas of low and middle importance. Obtain information whose very existence is classified.
5. Secretly direct a major civilization’s spy network to your own aims.
Eavesdropper, Pillow Talk, Digital, Political, Instant Insider, Stumble Upon, Psychohistorical, Spy, Government Newsfeed
People trust you and confide in you. Empathy differs from Romance and Intrigue mostly in flavor, rather than in effect. All three connect you with other characters in the game, making them willing to help you or talk to you. Empathy does it through personal insight and sharing feelings. Buying Empathy tells the GM that you want to have NPCs that you can really connect with one-on-on, either for friendship or so you can exploit them.
1. Gain an unimportant NPC as a friend. Hear gossip of varying veracity.
2. Help people through emotional trauma.
3. Befriend an important NPC. Hear highly reliable gossip.
4. Befriend major foes or their henchmen.
5. Get someone to start spilling their deepest secrets to you for no good reason.
Reluctant, Bad News, Matters of Love, Trusting Fools, Shoulder to Cry On, Good News, Day-to-Day, Problems, Digital
People flock to your banner, whether it’s ideological, religious, political, or other. Those around you want to be seen with you, or to do things for you. This is the Theme of fame and adulation. Buying this Theme tells the GM that your character is going to be the center of attention.
1. Attract the immediate attention of those around you.
2. Impress groups of people. Gain an unimportant bystander as a devoted admirer.
3. Build a strong but not fanatical following.
4. Attract long-term attention and celebrity. Attract the personal attention of those in high office, and impress them.
5. Attract fanatical attention from thousands locally, or millions across the universe. Gain a high official as a devoted admirer.
Fame, Friendship, Political, Ideological, Physical, Convincing, Memetic, Cult, Pheromonic, Religious, Bullshit Artist, specific cultures or kinds of people
You have a deep understanding of a particular phenomenon, whether it’s part of the human mind or a branch of science. Buying this Theme might tell the GM that you like solving riddles, or it might say that your character will do that for you. Either way, they’re coming at you.
1. Learn how to make something perform one of its basic functions. Solve annoying riddles or puzzles.
2. Learn the basic principles on which something is based. Guess a person’s Core Values correctly (but not their rankings).
3. Learn all of a device’s functions as if you had the user’s manual. Correctly guess events in a person’s past.
4. Invent new uses for an existing device. See the cause and motivation for someone’s behavior.
5. Predict a person’s behavior accurately. Break a code or cipher by instinct.
Intuitive, Logical, Emotional, Forced Monologuing, Explanations Ex Machina, Methods Behind the Madness, Invention, Religious, specific branches of technology, specific profession
You have a knack for falling in love, and other people fall in love with you easily. It should be noted that the intended uses of the Romance Theme are often difficult to distinguish from romantic Complications! Buying this Theme will tell the GM that you want to be involved in stories of romance, love, and passionate relationships.
1. Flirt successfully. Reject unwanted romantic advances.
2. Play matchmaker successfully. Find a onenight stand. Make a unimportant NPC fall in love with you.
3. Start a good long-term relationship. Stun someone with your mere presence. Ruin someone’s relationship.
4. Find someone worth falling in love with. Get one of the major villains to fall in love with you.
5. Get someone to fall madly in love with you after merely catching your eyes from across the room.
Long-term, Short-term, Hopeless, Unexpected, Tragic, Legendary, Sexual, One-Night Stands, Devoted, Manipulative, Loving, specific types of people
More on Themes
The Game Mechanics chapter has more detailed descriptions of each Theme, starting on page 114. It also gives advice for GMs trying to adjudicate Complications and deal with a rapidly shifting storyline.