Archive for May, 2010

Fetters of the Great Chain

2010 May 22

The Great Chain of Being connects everything that exists in a just hierarchy of responsibilities. However, in practical day to day life, you don’t really need to invoke the Great Chain itself. That’s overkill.

The Great Chain has a number of subsidiary incarnations, lesser reflections of Heaven’s will that govern most encounters. For example, filial piety governs the relationship between children and their parents. Loyalty governs the relationship between vassals and their lord. Respect governs the relationship between teacher and student.

Even more specifically, local fetters of the Great Chain bind people and spirits together in a much more personal or individual fashion. This woman is not just a parent but YOUR MOTHER. This spirit is not merely a local god but TIGER TIGER, the embodiment of the land your home village is dependent on for survival.

So, while the Great Chain connects everything, some connections are much closer than others and offer much more immediate leverage. If you invoke the Great Chain of Being, Heaven will get around to resolving the problem eventually, but it may take several hundred years and could involve wiping everyone out so there’s no longer any problem or record of the problem.

However, if you invoke a more specific fetter, either a general relationship (a shaman’s duty to intervene between people and spirits) or a very specific one (this shaman is YOUR SHAMAN, with a personal duty to you), the results will be much quicker and coming, either in providing you leverage to demand that someone else do (or not do) something, or in creating negative consequences for them spurning your just demand.

On the GMs side, then, the Great Chain and its fetters serve as guidelines for determining what happens next. You know how, in Dogs in the Vineyard, town creation is a process of following the pride or sin and seeing how it develops through the world? That’s what GMing a game of Ghost Opera is like. When characters and NPCs do things, you simply follow how these actions affects the Great Chain and its more specific fetters, which is easy to do since you and the players are going to be invoking the Chain all the damn time. And then you generate new situations based on the ripples created in the Chain.

For example, if a character demands that their village shaman intervene in the spirit world… and the shaman refuses, that creates unresolved tension — injustice, from the perspective of the Great Chain — between the shaman and their village. There’s also spillover affects, since injustice in inter-village relations (or any other relations) invokes responses from the natural and spirit worlds. And the rules will then provide the GM an opportunity to have more bad things happen to both the shaman specifically and the village as a whole.

Sure, the shaman can keep defying the Great Chain and its fetters… but not indefinitely. Eventually the social, natural, and spirit worlds will build up such a huge array of forces against him that the shaman will surely be crushed, either killed outright or violently diminished. However, the Great Chain is both patient and inexact in handing out justice. The personal problems of the world are “like straw dogs,” totally immaterial. If it takes several years and involves massive amounts of suffering by people and spirits, Heaven doesn’t really care. Heaven is not compassionate; it simply dispenses justice on a macro scale. The fallout comes down all around, punishing both the shaman and the people and spirits that allowed his folly and arrogance to continue unchecked.

It is generally in the interests of people and spirits, then, to resolve injustice before Heaven does. The Great Chain exists not simply to punish or restrict them, but to guide them towards righteous behavior and make it perfectly clear where injustice is. The Great Chain is very noisy. When you push against it, it makes a loud metal jangling, which eventually carries up the Chain to greater powers: lords, local spirits, and, eventually, the ancestors, the dragons, the king himself, the high god Di, and Heaven itself. In fact, now that I think about it, Heaven doesn’t really even need to intervene itself. Before that, storm spirits, wild animals, soldiers, monsters, dragons, and the like will have solved the issue for it.

Half a Character Sheet, Revised Rules

2010 May 2

Okay, Enough Layout for Now

2010 May 2

Time to actually write this thing.

That’s More Like It

2010 May 1

I think the game is just gonna be called “Nine Suns” now. It says what the game is about and also isn’t easy to confuse with John’s “Ghost/Echo.”

Ghost Opera: Mechanics In Brief

2010 May 1

Here’s a summary of how the game works. It’s basically a diceless, deterministic resolution system hacked together from a lot of other cool games plus some random ideas that struck me this week. I dedicate it to Sage, who was somewhat skeptical about deterministic resolution.


To make a normal move, you say what your character thinks, feels, says, or does. Then the GM says how other people and spirits respond.

To press your advantage against someone, tell the GM that:
– you are better at this
– you believe more fiercely
– you have a cleverer plan
– maybe some other stuff?

The GM may say, “Oh yeah? Tell me about it…” or “Really? Are you sure?” But you ultimately get to decide.

When you press your advantage, the other party has to choose between these options:
– succumb to you
– resist, at great cost to themselves
– defy all fairness and disrupt the Order

If multiple people press their advantage at the same time, you have to choose multiple options (duh) and you can’t choose the same one twice. (So, like Dogs, three-in-authority wins every time).

If you, the player, need information about the setting or the world or advice on how to handle a certain issue, the GM should say, “Who do you want to ask?” Then you pick any NPC in the setting that your character has previously been in contact with and asks them that question, in character, as if remembering a conversation had with the NPC in the past. The GM should answer the question in character as well. The answer may not necessarily be the exact truth, but it’s what the character has learned from others.


Each character has a nature that’s determined by blood, based on their ancestry. For example, the people who serve the Mulberry Throne descend from the ten Corvid Suns who light up the sky and consequently have Raven Nature, which is focused on thievery, scavenging, and morbid curiosity. (Hey, it’s Mouse Guard).

Generally, you can’t use your blood to press your advantage, but the GM can invoke it as a temptation or compulsion (hey, it’s SOTC) or, in other cases, you can use someone else’s blood to tempt them. In either case, it works very much like pressing your advantage, with the victim deciding between:
– succumbing to their desires
– resisting, at great cost to themselves
– defying their blood and taking a point of stress

The number of blood stress that a character accumulates makes them vulnerable to the GM’s meddling, in the following fashion:
– 1 stress: distractions
– 2 stress: fever dreams
– 3 stress: physical signs (like sprouting feathers and claws)
– 4 stress: uncontrollable urges
– 5 stress: obsession

The GM keeps track of the desires you are denying and torments you with them according to your level of stress. But the GM always asks you, for example, “So which of these past desires are you having fever dreams about? Or is it something else entirely?”

If a character ever gains more that 5 blood stress, they have managed to transcend their animal urges, loose all their body hair, feathers, and other animal traits, and become like the spirits themselves, an embodiment of Heaven’s will and the Order. They no longer have a blood nature.


The natural Order of things works similarly to blood natures, but it exists outside characters, being the nature of the universe. Disruptions in the Order form the core of the game, which the characters attempt to resolve (similar to the way that pride creates problems in Dogs) while hopefully not creating too many additional disruptions to the Order in the process.

The Order consists of a series of hierarchical relationships where both parties are expected to act honorably, but the lower party must submit to the higher:
• ancestors before the living,
• old before young,
• men before women,
• spirits before mortals,
• royalty before nobles (adopted royalty),
• nobles before the common people,
• masters before their servants;
• creditors before debtors;
• guests before hosts;
• shamans before non-shamans,
• warriors before non-warriors, and
• people before animals and non-people (including crow-people and eunuchs).

Anybody can invoke the order to push for submission by parties lower down the hierarchy. In situations where there are multiple overlapping relationships making the actual heirarchy confusing (a female shaman invokes her authority over a male warrior), the GM can declare that the Order isn’t taking sides or let both parties take turns invoking the Order on each other.

If someone invokes the Order against you, you must decide:
– to submit to the Order
– to resist, at great cost to yourself
– defy all fairness and disrupt the Order

The GM keeps track of disruptions to the Order that accumulate during the game, which are added to the disruptions that the GM prepares as background for play (like town creation in Dogs). The number and type of disruptions then translate into horrible stuff that the GM does, not directly to the players, but to the human world as a whole, as nature and Heaven try to balance things out from humans messing everything up.

improper hearts weather animals
improper behaviors storms ghosts
improper family relations crop failure monsters
improper village relations destruction dragonborn
improper conduct of a region disasters dragons
improper rule of a kingdom omens suns die


To call on the spirits, you have to:
1. look like the spirit,
2. speak with the spirit’s voice, and
3. and act as the spirit would act.

Spirits can’t tell the difference between humans acting as spirits and spirits themselves, since they can’t distinguish between artifice and reality. So, over time, if humans pose as spirits, they can actually corrupt or change the spirit by acting on its behalf, because they think they are doing what the humans are having them do. This is also why humans make masks and statues of spirits, which they use to pretend to be the spirit or make offerings to the spirit.

Successfully invoking the spirits can be used to gain an advantage, until I figure out if it does anything else.


You can make pacts with spirits or powerful mortals to act on their behalf. In return for preforming some duty for them, in the course of that duty you can act as if you occupy their place in the Order’s hierarchy rather than your own. This is very useful since the characters start out as poor youth from rural turtle-farming families and the GM is likely to regularly invoke the Order all over them. However, if you are not holding up your part of the bargain, the GM and anyone else who knows you are a pactbreaker can invoke the pact against you to gain an advantage or invoke the Order (since pactbreakers are basically debtors, as far as the Order is concerned).

That’s it for now. Gonna try to put it all together more when I put it into layout, along with character creation, GM instructions, and the Level One adventure.