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Species Traits

Species traits are meant to represent the cool things that different species can do, like fly, shapeshift, breathe water, or use part of their body as a tool. Many species traits are connected to properties of the character’s body, like wings or gills, and can be used any time it is appropriate (no roll needed). Other species traits boost skills, and therefore dice rolls are required to use them. For example, the species trait Heightened Senses gives a character extra information when they are successful on rolls using awareness skills. In addition, there are a few species traits that encompass things that characters get from their individual ancestry, culture, community, or family, such as learning an additional skill or having immunity to fire.

Please keep in mind that skills and abilities associated with a species traits do not automatically come with that species trait. For example, the species trait Flight makes a character capable of flying, but that doesn’t make the character skilled at flying under challenging circumstances. If you want a character with Flight to be good at flying, they need to also be trained in the Flying skill.

In contrast to species traits, vulnerabilities represent things that make life more challenging for the character, like a Poison Sensitivity or having a Water Absorbent Body. Most vulnerabilities are linked to the character’s species or ancestry, but some are individual to the character. Vulnerabilities are optional because tracking them often requires more work than tracking species traits.

If there is a quality that you definitely want your character to have, be sure to represent it with a species trait, skill, ability, or vulnerability. In order to keep things fair, each character starts out with one species trait. If you want additional species traits, then skills, abilities, or vulnerabilities will need to be traded for them. These options are explained in the “Questions About Species Traits” section below.

This is a digital artwork of a yellow and green budgerigar sitting on a branch with a tiger head that is the same color as its yellow feathers.

This is a digital artwork of a yellow and green budgerigar sitting on a branch with a tiger head that is the same color as its yellow feathers.

 

 

Options for Species Traits

All characters start out with one of the following species traits.

Extra Skill: In your childhood you learned a specific skill. Choose an additional skill from the skills list.

Skill Aptitude: You have an aptitude for a skill which grants a special bonus when you are using that skill. Choose a skill and choose what your bonus is. It can be an additional benefit you receive on full successes (two successes), being able to use that skill in unusual circumstances (decide what those are), or doing that skill unusually quickly. For example, a character with an aptitude for stealth could move quickly while being silent.

Skill Focus: When growing up you had the opportunity to focus on developing a specific skill. Choose a skill. Three times a day, your character is prepared when they use that skill.

Heightened Senses: You have extremely keen senses. When using your senses for Awareness Skills (Insight, Perception, Survival), your character gains additional information on full successes (two successes).

Additional Sense: You have a sense that most species do not have. This sense gives you information that others without that sense do not have. For example, you could sense electric currents or have an internal compass. Decide what this sense is. Next work with the game master to figure out what kind of information this sense gives you and what limitations it has. Within those limitations, you can use your additional sense to gain sense-specific information from awareness skills. For example, a character with echolocation can use Perception to perceive nearby things in total darkness.

Telepathy: You can communicate directly with the minds of nearby people. This allows you to send information to others and receive their replies. Telepathy works best if you both know the same language, otherwise communication is vague.

Enchanting Song: Your singing has a magical quality that attracts people. When you focus on a specific person while singing, you enchant them. No roll is needed, but vocal singing can only enchant people who hear it, and signed singing can only enchant people who see it. The enchanted person is magically drawn to your song and wants to experience its emotion, beauty, and power up close. However, this is a desire, not a compulsion. If the enchanted person is busy, has something important to do, or doesn’t feel safe, they can choose not to follow your song. In addition, an enchanted person who follows your song is aware of their surroundings and retains their free will. For example, they will not move into an obviously dangerous area, and can choose to turn back at any point.

Amphibious: You can easily transition between being on land and in water. All of your gear is waterproof and is designed to function in both air and water. Choose whether you hold your breath for a long time or you breathe both air and water. Those characters that can hold their breath for an extended period of time are able to use that capacity in a range of different circumstances, such as holding their breath to avoid inhaling an airborne toxin.

Doesn’t Need to Breathe: Certain species, such as magical constructs, don’t need to breathe. This means that they can’t drown or suffocate. They are still affected by airborne chemicals, but the effect is different and less severe than it would be for a breathing creature. For example, a clockwork construct will not be poisoned by a noxious gas, but the gas could corrode the metal in their joints.

Immunity: You are immune to something. Choose one immunity off the following list. Your immunity applies even when magic goes awry.

  • Fire.
  • Cold.
  • Wind. You can choose to make wind and other strong movements of air flow around you, rather than hitting you. Any time that you are hit by a strong wind you can choose to use this immunity. If you don’t make that choice, the air affects you normally.
  • Being knocked over. Even when powerful forces affect you, you can choose to remain upright.
  • Being lifted off the ground. When you are touching the ground and choose to stay that way, you can’t be picked up or lifted off of it by any means.
  • Direct harm from poison. Poisons cannot directly harm or kill you, but you still experience their side effects, such as pain or dizziness.
  • Side effects of poison. Poisons still harm you, but you do not experience any other effects from them.
  • Plant growth that impedes movement. This means that any plant growth, whether it is magical or mundane, is unable to slow you down or otherwise block your movement. For example, plants that entangle can’t grab onto you, and dense, thorny hedges don’t harm or hinder you.
  • Magical effects that slow you down, restrain you, or prevent you from moving. You still experience any other effects from the magic.
  • Direct harm and fatigue caused by extreme weather. Keep in mind that extreme weather can still harm you indirectly. For example, a desert’s heat won’t affect you, but you will still need to have a source of water.
  • Magic that makes you perceive things that aren’t there. Be sure to tell the game master when you are using this immunity.
  • Magic that prevents you from perceiving things that are there. Note that things can still be hidden from you by mundane means. Be sure to tell the game master when you are using this immunity.
  • Fear. You still feel fear, but it never takes over or clouds your ability to make decisions.

Magical Nature: You have an inherent magical quality that is expressed in two minor magical effects that you can do. These minor magical effects can be used without risk of failure, which means that no roll is needed to use them. However, if you incorporate one of them into a more complicated action, you will need to roll to accomplish that action.

In addition, some minor magical effects have a specified duration while others don’t. If no duration is specified, then the effect wears off at a story appropriate time, usually at the end of a scene. When the effect does wear off, non-magical outcomes, like healing and harm, remain. You may take this ability multiple times, but you must choose a different type of magic to be attuned to each time.

Choose two minor magical effects off the following list.

  • Light a small flame in your hand or on another body part of your choice.
  • Make a magical light that hovers near you.
  • Fill a cup with drinkable water. At the end of the scene any unused water vanishes.
  • Create a small gust of air.
  • Amplify your voice.
  • Become extremely light for a short period of time.
  • Become extremely heavy for a short period of time.
  • Heal minor damage to a plant by touching it.
  • Become nonthreatening to shy animals.
  • Once per day, you can transform your body to have a specific animal body part, such as claws, camouflaging skin, or gills. When you take this ability, choose what this body part is. This choice is permanent.
  • Make one cosmetic change to your appearance. This change can be anything you want, as long as it only affects your appearance. For example, you could switch to a different hair style or change your eye color. Each change lasts as long as you want and there is no limit to how often you can make new changes, but you can only have one change happening at a time.
  • Shrink to half your size. Note that you will have one eighth of your previous weight.
  • Heal minor scrapes and injuries with a touch.
  • Feel when undead beings are nearby.
  • Detect one specific emotion. Choose an emotion, such as surprise, sadness, anger, or joy. This choice is permanent. Any time you choose to focus on detecting this emotion, you know if a nearby person is feeling it.
  • Send a secret message to one nearby person. This can be done in any language that you both know. Only the person that you select receives your message.
  • Always know where north is.
  • Double your speed for one minute. You must rest before you can do this again.
  • Double your strength for one minute. You must rest before you can do this again.
  • Make food taste better.
  • Create a nonverbal phantom sound. Anyone near you can hear this sound.
  • Telekinetically control a small object for one minute. This is done by touching the object and then focusing on it. For one minute you can levitate this object and move it around with your mind.
  • Magically clean an object. This is done by waving your hand, or a different appendage of your choice, over the object and focusing on it.
  • Sense which nearby items are magical.

Limited Shapeshifting: You can shapeshift into a single form. This transformation happens automatically without requiring a dice roll. Most often this trait is used to shift between a humanoid and an animal form, but other options are possible.

Malleable Form: Your body is made from a flexible substance that you can reshape at will. This allows you to morph your body into abstract shapes, squeeze through small holes, and shape your body into a rough approximation of a creature or object your size. However you can only take on shapes of limited complexity and a creature the size of an average humanoid can’t fit through a hole smaller than a chicken egg.

Note that reshaping your body is different than shapeshifting. Like an octopus reshaping its body to fit through a small hole, your size, weight, speed, and form of movement don’t change. In addition, the surface of your body stays the same so that you always have the same external markings and appearance.

Natural Armor: You have armor built into your body. You still need training in physical defense in order to use your armor to its best advantage, but it is always on you and does not interfere with sleep.

Regeneration: You heal rapidly. By eating a lot of food and resting for one night, you can heal all of your injuries. When you wake up you are completely healed. It is up to you whether or not you are left with a scar.

Flight: You are physically capable of flying. It is up to you whether you have wings or a magical form of flight.

Additional Limbs: You have more than four limbs.

  • If you have additional grasping limbs, such arms, trunks, prehensile tails, or tentacles, then you can hold and manipulate additional objects with those limbs. For example, a character with four arms can climb a rope and shoot a bow at the same time.
  • If the additional limbs are legs, then you can move more quickly than a two legged person of the same size and ability. In addition, your additional legs help you keep your footing. This means that you are considered prepared when doing tasks that involve staying upright or keeping your footing, such as moving over a slippery surface without falling.

Built-in Tool: You can use part of your body as a tool for one or more skills. Choose one of the three options below for the benefit your built-in tool gives you.

  • Option #1: Your built-in tool can be used for two skills that require tools. Choose those two skills. You never need to carry tools for those skills because your built-in tool is always with you. For example, retractable claws are tools that can be used for the Climbing and Melee Combat skills.
  • Option #2: Your built-in tool can be used for one skill that requires tools and it grants a special bonus to that skill when you use it. Possibilities for this bonus include granting an additional benefit on full successes (two successes), being able to use this skill in situations where it wouldn’t normally be possible (decide what those are), and allowing you to work unusually quickly. For example, a gecko lizard-person could have climbing tools built into their hands and feet that allow them to stick to any surface, including climbing on smooth surfaces that aren’t normally climbable and climbing upside down.
  • Option #3: Your built-in tool can be used to grant a special bonus to two skills that don’t have required tools. Choose those two skills. Possibilities for these bonuses include granting an additional benefit on full successes (two successes), being able to use this skill in situations where it wouldn’t normally be possible (decide what those are), and allowing you to do something unusually quickly. Bonuses can be different for each skill. For example, frog legs could allow a character to use Athletics to jump unusually far and use Swimming to move exceptionally quickly through the water.
  • Ideas for Built-in Tools: Claws, horns, thorns, stingers, octopus skin, ink sacks, gecko hands and feet, frog legs, webbed hands, and silk glands with spinnerets that produce spider webs.

Poisonous Skin: Your skin, scales, fur, or feathers contain a poison that can harm people you touch. This has benefits, but it also causes problems. Decide what the standard effect of this poison is. The effect should in some way limit the capabilities of any person or animal affected by it, without being completely incapacitating. For example, the effect could be chemical burns, swelling, muscle spasms, paralysis of the contacted body part, debilitating nausea, intense pain, or sedation.

Next, decide what happens when the poison is mild enough to not significantly reduce the capabilities of any person or animal affected by it. Usually, this is a milder version of the standard effect. For example, if the standard effect is paralysis of the contacted body part, the mild effect could be tingling or numbness.

Now decide whether there are signs that indicate to others that the character’s skin is poisonous, such as colorful markings or a distinctive smell. If so, most people and animals will do their best to avoid physical contact. This will reduce accidents, but it may also limit some of the benefits that come with having Poisonous Skin.

Any time the character’s skin touches a person or animal, whether intentionally or not, roll a six-sided die to determine how the poison affects them.

  • 6: The poison has an unexpected or unusually severe effect. This effect will seriously limit the capabilities of the poisoned being, possibly incapacitating them.
  • 4-5: The poison has its standard effect, which in some way limits the capabilities of the poisoned being without incapacitating them.
  • 2-3: The poison has its mild effect. It is uncomfortable for the poisoned being, but their capabilities are not significantly affected.
  • 1: The poison has no effect.

Poisonous Skin is a useful defense—if a hostile person or animal touches the character’s skin, they risk becoming poisoned. This poison can also be used offensively with the Unarmed Fighting skill, or covertly with the Stealth skill. However, having Poisonous Skin also causes problems. Accidents are possible, especially in crowded areas, and they can lead to serious social consequences. While wearing covering clothing prevents accidents, clothing can slip or be torn as the result of a failed roll or partial success. In addition, covering up Poisonous Skin makes its benefits harder to access.

To represent this complexity, Poisonous Skin is listed as both a Species Trait and Vulnerability. Characters that will primarily receive the benefits of Poisonous Skin, without many of the limitations, should take it only as a Species Trait. Characters that will primarily experience it as a limitation should take Poisonous Skin only as a Vulnerability. Meanwhile, those characters that will equally experience the benefits and limitations of Poisonous Skin, should take it as both a Species Trait and a Vulnerability.

Plant Talker: You can communicate with living plants. This is done by getting close to the plant and using a verbal or signed language to speak to them. Only you can perceive their replies. Plants know about some of their properties, what they are currently experiencing, how they’ve been interacted with recently, and significant events in their past, such as droughts, fires, floods, and major injuries. Their descriptions of the people and objects that interact with them are basic and they can’t give you information about actions that did not directly affect them. The exception to this is magical plants. Some magical plants are more aware of their environments. These plants also have their own desires and goals. This means that their cooperation needs to be earned or negotiated for. Negotiating with magical plants uses the Deception, Diplomacy, and Intimidation skills.

Animal Talker: You can communicate with one category of non-magical animals. Choose whether you can talk to mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, or fish. Any time that you get close to an animal of your chosen type, you can use a verbal or signed language to communicate with them. Animals can give you basic descriptions of people and events, but they are primarily focused on food, danger, members of their own species, and anyone they consider to be family. However, just because you can talk to an animal, doesn’t mean that they will cooperate with you. Negotiating with and persuading animals uses the Communicating with Animals skill.

Ghost Touched: You can perceive and interact with ghosts and other incorporeal beings. This means that you hear and see any incorporeal beings that are present in the same location as you. In addition, whenever you choose to, you can physically interact with incorporeal beings as if they were corporeal.

Incorporeal Form: You can take on a form that has no physical substance. When you become incorporeal, all of the objects you are wearing or holding (including magical items) become incorporeal with you. Those objects stay incorporeal until your incorporeal form wears off. Incorporeal people and objects pass right through ordinary, corporeal people and objects without physically interacting with them.

While incorporeal, you are harder to notice, and as result you are prepared on stealth rolls to avoid being perceived by corporeal people and animals. You are also able to go through non-magical walls and barriers, however magical barriers block you. In addition, incorporeal people and objects are solid to each other.

Decide what your incorporeal form is like. This form doesn’t have to be anything like your corporeal form, but it should have an associated sight, sound, and smell. For example, you could be a glowing pink cloud that smells like roses and rumbles like distant thunder.

Choose one of the following two options.

  • You can become incorporeal once per day for five minutes. At any time during this five minutes you can choose to end this effect and return to your corporeal form.
  • You can become incorporeal once per day for thirty minutes. When the thirty minutes ends you return to being corporeal, however you can’t end your incorporeal form early.

 

 

Questions About Species Traits

What are the species in Magic Goes Awry like?

Just like humans in the real world, every non-human species includes racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity, as well as diverse genders, sexual orientations, body types, and appearances. Every species has neurodivergence, disability, and chronic illness, as well as broad diversity of physical and mental traits. In addition, there are characters that have mixed ancestry from multiple non-human species, such as characters who are part elf and part dwarf.

In Magic Goes Awry, species traits help create vibrant species with unique physical and mental characteristics, while simultaneously recognizing the diversity within each species. The goal here is to give players the space to create fun, unique species, while making space for disabled characters and avoiding racial essentialism. So, even though each species has certain traits that are more common, there aren’t any traits that are shared by all members of a species.

 

Do species traits have to match what is expected for the character’s species?

Feel free to give your character any of the species traits. However if there is something you definitely want your character to be able to do, make sure to take a species that represents it, otherwise it won’t exist in the game world. For example, if your character is a five-foot-tall sapient parrot, there is nothing wrong with giving them Heightened Senses instead of Flight. However if this parrot person isn’t given Flight, then they can’t use their wings to fly.

The reason for this is game balance. It is important that each player character has an equal number of cool things that they can do so that each character gets a chance to shine. Species traits were created as a way to keep track of the cool things that characters get from their species, ancestry, culture, community, or family, so that every character has equal access to them.

 

How do you get more than one species trait?

Players are encouraged to explore their class ability options before taking on additional species traits. This is because some class abilities, such as Shapeshifting Magic, grant capabilities similar to species traits, like Limited Shapeshifting. When exploring this, keep in mind that most abilities require dice rolls, while most species traits happen automatically (no rolls needed).

That said, there are three ways for characters to get additional species traits. The most common is taking the Extra Species Trait ability, which is available to all characters. Another option is trading two skills for one species trait. Alternatively, characters that take a vulnerability also get an extra species trait.

 

Are custom species traits an option?

Yes. There are options for creating custom mechanics that benefit characters, like species traits, that impose penalties on characters, like vulnerabilities, and that balance a benefit with a penalty. See the “Custom Mechanics” section for the full details on custom traits.

 

 

Vulnerabilities

A vulnerability is a specific disadvantage that the character has in certain situations, such as having a Poison Sensitivity, Periodic Brain Fog, or a Sunlight Reactive Body. Many vulnerabilities come from the character’s species or ancestry, but some, like Intermittent Chronic Pain, are unique to the character. In addition, certain vulnerabilities are negative traits, like a Character Flaw, or positive traits, like a Vow of Honesty, but most are simply facts of the character’s life, like a Weak Body Part. The thing that all vulnerabilities have in common is that they make life more challenging for the character. In order to balance this challenge out, each vulnerability also comes with an extra species trait.

Because vulnerabilities can be hard to keep track of, some of them involve the Injury System laid out in “The Details,” and they also require more involvement from the game master, they are optional. If you want to give your character a vulnerability, it is best to have a conversation with your game master. Both the setting and game style have a big effect on how often certain vulnerabilities will come up in gameplay, so be sure to talk about this. For example, a character with a Cold Sensitivity will face many challenges in a snow and ice adventure, while a character with a Heat Sensitivity could face none. Similarly, a game style that goes from one action scene to the next without pause will have a big effect on a character with an Easily Fatigued Body, while a game style with pauses between every action scene might have no effect on them. Ideally the character’s vulnerability will affect them sometimes, without becoming overwhelming.

Many characters with vulnerabilities can take preventative measures to protect themselves. For example, a slime-person with a Water Absorbent Body, can use an umbrella, waterproof coat, and galoshes to prevent themselves from absorbing rain. This same slime-person can wear a drysuit in order to travel under water. Similarly, a character with a Cold Sensitivity can wear thick, insulated clothing to keep themselves warm. All characters with vulnerabilities start out with any non-magical protection and recovery gear that is helpful for their vulnerability.

Another reason that game masters need to be comfortable with vulnerabilities is that some vulnerabilities only come up on failed rolls. This is because many vulnerabilities, like a Sunlight Reactive Body, can be effectively addressed by the character using proper protective gear. While the use of protective gear is great, if the vulnerability never comes up in gameplay, then it won’t feel real. This is where failures come in, because protective gear can get knocked off or damaged as a consequence of a failed roll, creating new challenges for the characters. If involving vulnerabilities in failed rolls is hard for the game master, players can help by suggesting outcomes for failed rolls that include their character’s vulnerabilities.

When a character’s vulnerability comes into play, the character won’t be able to start recovering until the situation that brought up their vulnerability is resolved. For example, if a character with a Cold Sensitivity falls into an icy lake, they can’t start recovering until they are somewhere warm and out of their wet clothing. Recovery takes time, but it is possible to speed recovery up with effective gear or the clever application of skills and abilities. For example, a character with an Easily Fatigued Body can always carry a fabric pad and blanket so that they can speed up their recovery by having a comfortable place to rest after intense physical exertion. Similarly, a character that has a Heat Sensitivity can carry extra water so that they can wrap a wet cloth around their neck and cool down faster.

Some vulnerabilities are long-term, like Intermittent Chronic Pain, while others can be grown out of, like a Character Flaw. Long-term vulnerabilities can be used to represent specific experiences of disability. Please be aware that there are many ways to represent disability, and vulnerabilities are just one option. You can find a more complete set of options in the “Custom Mechanics” section.

Which vulnerabilities a character can grow out of is left to the player and game master to decide. However, be aware that it is considered disrespectful to have a character grow out of a long-term disability. When players choose to have their character grow out of a vulnerability, steps must be taken to keep things balanced. Upon removing one vulnerability, the character must give up one ability, two skills, or one species trait. For games where the characters advance their capabilities after major plot events, a vulnerability can be given up instead of the character gaining a new ability or species trait.

Here is a list possible vulnerabilities. For each vulnerability that your character takes, give them an extra species trait.

Vow of Assistance: You have vowed to always help those in need. Any time a person in need asks your character for help, your character must provide assistance. However, as long as the need is effectively addressed, the way your character helps is up to you. Someone is in need if there is an urgent threat to their well-being, or the well-being of someone they love. This threat doesn’t have to be violent. For example, starvation and lack of shelter are urgent threats to well-being. In addition, a threat can be mysterious or abstract, as long as it is specific and immediate enough that there is a clear action that can be taken to address it. For example, oppression isn’t a specific enough threat to require assistance, but a violent group planning a hate crime is.

Vow of Honesty: You have vowed to never lie. The details of this vow are up to you, but it is important that it is a personal vow—there should be nothing external forcing your character to keep it. This means that others have no guarantee that your character is living up to their vow, so belief in their word is a matter of trust.

A Vow of Honesty does not mean that your character has to say everything that they think, though it can if you want it to. Generally, it is possible for characters with a Vow of Honesty to keep a secret as long as they aren’t deceptive when they do so. For example, if a character with a Vow of Honesty participated in a jewel heist yesterday, then it is fine for them to keep that fact to themselves, as long as no one brings it up. So, if someone asks that character what they did yesterday, it is okay for them to say, “I don’t want to talk about it.” However, saying, “I didn’t do anything important yesterday,” is a lie that would break their vow. Similarly, mischaracterizing yesterday as, “spending time bonding with their friends,” would be bending their vow.

Any time that your characters bends or breaks their vow, it makes them obviously uncomfortable, severely limiting any form of deception they engage in. As a result, the outcomes of any rolls made with the Deception skill are always limited to partial successes. This means that you roll the usual number of dice, but full successes and outstanding successes are treated like partial successes.

Vow of Poverty: You have renounced excess and luxury. The details of this vow are up to you. Decide what it is and how it impacts your character’s life. For example, your character could vow to share everything they have, limit themselves to bare essentials, or give everything they can to people in need. A Vow of Poverty doesn’t mean that your character has to live uncomfortably or neglect their basic needs, but it can if you want it to. The goal is for this vow to affect the way the character lives their life and cause some limitations, without becoming overwhelming.

Vow of Restitution: You have vowed to take action to make up for a past wrong. Decide what this past wrong is and who was harmed by it. Next, work with the game master to figure out how your character is making restitution for this past wrong. Your character’s acts of restitution should affect the way they live their life and cause challenges for them. For example, restitution could include doing a series of side quests for the people they wronged. Keep in mind that restitution must center the needs and wishes of the people who were harmed.

Big Secret: There is a big secret that you are hiding. Decide what this secret is and what negative consequences will happen if it is revealed. These consequences need to be significant enough that there is a strong reason for the character to keep their secret, but also flexible enough that a small number of people learning the secret will make things more complicated, rather than ruining everything for the character.

Periodically, things will happen that risk giving the secret away to those who are observing the character. When a player character observes something that risks giving the secret away, the player rolls whichever knowledge skill is most appropriate to the secret. The result determines how much the player character can deduce from their observation. Similarly, each time a non-player character observes something that risks giving the secret away, roll a six-sided die. If the result is a five or a six, that non-player character figures something out.

There also needs to be a reason for this secret to come up in the game so there is a risk it will be revealed. The best way to do this depends on what the secret is, so there are three options: weave the secret into the plot, create a connected trait for the character to hide, or connect the secret to something the character is good at.

Weave the Secret into the Plot: The game master can do this by connecting the secret to an important part of the adventure plot. The goal here is for some plot events to create a risk that the secret will be revealed. This creates situations where character needs to actively do things to keep their secret hidden.

A good way to do this is to involve non-player characters connected to the player character’s secret in the main plot. For example, if a player character was secretly a pirate in the past, their former pirate shipmates could now be important villains. As a result, the player character will have to work hard to keep these villains from recognizing them. Similarly, if a player character owes a secret debt to a powerful fae being, that being’s interests could be woven into the main plot so that they demand several small, inconvenient favors from the player character.

Create a Connected Trait for the Character to Hide: Here, in order for the character to keep their secret, they need to hide something else about themselves. This connected trait could be directly linked to their secret, or just something distinctive that makes it easier for others to identify them. Either way, there needs to be some challenge involved in keeping this trait hidden. In addition, any time that the character fails a roll, one of the possible consequences is that their connected trait is briefly revealed, causing suspicion.

For example, a character that is secretly in love with an important person could have behaviors that risk giving them away, such as blushing whenever that important person says something insightful. A failed social roll while the love-struck character is with that important person could mean that someone else has noticed the character’s hidden feelings. Likewise, if the player character is a famous person who has gone into hiding for their safety, there could be a distinguishing mark on their right cheek that they need to keep hidden. In this case, a failed roll could mean that the makeup which normally hides this mark has gotten rubbed off, revealing it to an onlooker.

Connect the Secret to Something the Character Is Good At: The character’s secret can be connected to one of their abilities, one of their species traits, or two of their trained skills. Any time that the character uses this ability, this species trait, or these two skills in front of someone who doesn’t know their secret, there is a chance that the secret will be revealed.

For example, a character’s secret identity as a spy could be connected to a distinctive ability, like Specialized Weapon. Then, every time that the character uses their Specialized Weapon in front of others, they risk their identity being discovered. Similarly, the sinister magical entity that secretly grants the character magic could also grant them the species trait Incorporeal Form. The catch is that the form they take when incorporeal is distinctive and looks a lot like the sinister magical entity. Consequently, anyone that sees the character transform into their Incorporeal Form or back has an opportunity to learn about this connection. Likewise, a character that is secretly the mysterious cat burglar that the guards are looking for can’t use their Climbing or Stealth skills in front of others without risking suspicion.

Character Flaw: You have a flaw that causes additional challenges in your life. Choose a flaw and then check that all participants are comfortable with it. Please be sensitive to the fact that certain flaws might bring up bad memories for people. In situations where a flaw might interfere with someone’s ability to participate or enjoy the game, it is important to choose a different flaw.

Next decide how the character’s flaw creates problems for them. Then, based on this, decide which skill is most impacted by the flaw. Any time you roll the impacted skill and get a failure or partial success, your character’s flaw creates additional challenges for them. This could mean that the scale of the challenge that arises out of this roll is bigger than it otherwise would have been. It could also mean that something additional has happened that creates a second challenge for the character. This bigger or second challenge involves their flaw in some way.

For example, if an arrogant character is trying to make a deal with a merchant and fails their Diplomacy roll, not only does the deal fall through, but the character’s arrogance creates the second challenge that the merchant is offended and refuses to talk to them again. If needed, players can collaborate with the game master to determine how their characters’ flaws are involved in the outcome.

The following list has examples of character flaws, with several options for specific skills that each flaw could impact. If you use one of the flaws from this list, choose one skill that it most impacts. Note that other flaws are possible and, depending on the character, a flaw could impact other skills that aren’t on this list.

  • Arrogant: Impacts Communicating with Animals, Diplomacy, or Insight.
  • Awkward: Impacts Diplomacy, Deception, Intimidation, or Performance.
  • Blunt: Impacts Diplomacy, Deception, or Performance.
  • Careless: Impacts Arcana, Culture, Technology, Communicating with Animals, Deception, Performance, or Survival.
  • Distracted: Impacts Intimidation, Performance, Insight, Perception, or Survival.
  • Dour: Impacts Communicating with Animals, Diplomacy, or Performance.
  • Impatient: Impacts Communicating with Animals, Diplomacy, Insight, Perception, or Survival.
  • Indecisive: Impacts Communicating with Animals, Intimidation, Deception, or Performance.
  • Inexperienced: Impacts Knowledge Skills (Arcana, Culture, Nature, and Technology) or Awareness Skills (Insight, Perception, and Survival).
  • Meek: Impacts Communicating with Animals, Intimidation, Performance, or any Body Skill that you find daunting.
  • Nosy: Impacts Diplomacy, Deception, or Performance.
  • Naïve: Impacts Deception, Intimidation, or Insight.
  • Oblivious: Impacts Insight, Perception, or Survival.
  • Overconfident: Impacts Knowledge Skills (Arcana, Culture, Nature, and Technology), Survival, or any Body Skill that you are overconfident in.
  • Reckless: Impacts Communicating with Animals or any Body Skill that you regularly take risks with.
  • Rigid: Impacts Knowledge Skills (Arcana, Culture, Nature, and Technology) or Awareness Skills (Insight, Perception, and Survival).
  • Self-absorbed (constantly thinking and talking about yourself): Impacts Communicating with Animals, Diplomacy, Insight, and Perception.
  • Selfish (focusing on getting what you want without concern for others): Impacts Communicating with Animals, Diplomacy, or Insight.
  • Spiteful: Impacts Communicating with Animals, Diplomacy, Performance, or Insight.
  • Zealous: Impacts Diplomacy, Deception, Insight, or Perception.

Permanent Glow: You are constantly glowing. The aesthetics of this glow are up to you. Regardless of how the glow looks, it makes hiding and sneaking nearly impossible. As a result, the outcomes of any rolls made with the Stealth skill are always limited to partial successes. This means that you roll the usual number of dice, but full successes and outstanding successes are treated like partial successes.

Moist Skin: Your skin needs to stay moist and it dries out easily. Anything that dries out your character’s skin injures them. For example, if they stay close to a hot fire for a scene, their skin will dry out and they will become injured. This is based on the Injury System laid out in “The Details.” The Survival skill can be used to apply first aid to injuries. Non-magical healing takes time, but is reliable. In contrast, magical healing is fast, but unpredictable.

  • If your skin dries out for a few seconds, you are at Stage 1 and have a Moderate Injury. Until you are healed, you take a one die penalty to Dexterity Skills.
  • If your skin is dried out for a few minutes, you are at Stage 2 with a Serious Injury. Until you are healed, you take a one die penalty to all skill, ability, and defense rolls that use your body number.
  • If your skin is dried out for a few hours, you are at Stage 3 with a Critical Injury. Until healed, you take one die penalty to all of your rolls.
  • If your skin is dried out for a day or longer, you are at Stage 4 and are Unconscious. Until you receive medical treatment, you stay unconscious and are unable to take actions.

Water Absorbent Body: Any part of your body that comes into contact with water rapidly absorbs it. Wet body parts weigh much more than dry ones, slowing your character down and reducing their strength. Any part of their body that absorbs a large quantity of water moves at half speed. In addition, all Strength Skill rolls that significantly involve a wet body part take a one die penalty.

Cold Sensitivity: Cold has a bigger effect on you than it does on most people.

  • When you are in a moderately cold environment without protection, you take a one die penalty to all Dexterity Skills.
  • When you are in an extremely cold environment with partial protection, you take a one die penalty to all Dexterity Skills.
  • When you are in an extremely cold environment without protection, you take a one die penalty to all skill, ability, and defense rolls that use your body number.

Heat Sensitivity: Heat has a bigger effect on you than it does on most people.

  • When you are in a moderately hot environment without protection, you take a one die penalty to all Strength Skills.
  • When you are in an extremely hot environment with partial protection, you take a one die penalty to all Strength Skills.
  • When you are in an extremely hot environment without protection, you take a one die penalty to all skill, ability, and defense rolls that use your body number.

Poison Sensitivity: The side effects of poison, such as pain, dizziness, and nausea, are more intense for you. Each time your character is poisoned, choose which set of skills is most affected by the current poison. The six options are Knowledge Skills, Social Skills, Awareness Skills, Combat Skills, Strength Skills, and Dexterity Skills. There is a one die penalty to all of the skills in this set while your character remains poisoned.

Specific Damage Vulnerability: There is a type of harm, like fire, cold, or poison, that affects you more severely than most people. This vulnerability is based on the Injury System laid out in “The Details.” Choose the type of harm that your character is vulnerable to. This needs to be something that will come up in the game. Any time your character is injured by this type of harm, the result is twice as bad as it would be for someone else. This means that your character goes up two stages in the Injury System, rather than one stage. For example, if an uninjured character that is not vulnerable to fire gets burned, they go to Stage 1 of the Injury System and have a Moderate Injury. However, if an uninjured character that is vulnerable to fire gets burned, they go to Stage 2 of the Injury System and get a Serious Injury.

Dietary Restriction: Even in ordinary circumstances, getting food you can eat is a challenge. This could be due to a cultural avoidance of certain types of food, a physical intolerance to a popular ingredient, or a need for a specific food that is hard to get. Regardless of the cause, it takes more time and effort to for your character to get food than it does for the average person. This means that challenges involving getting or making food will periodically come up in the game.

Severe Allergy: You have an allergy that can cause a serious, potentially life-threatening, reaction. Decide what this allergy is and what type of contact triggers it. For example, it could be an allergy to a specific food, like tree nuts, that is triggered by ingesting a trace amount of that food. Or it could be an allergy to stinging insects, like bees, that is triggered by being stung. Another example is an allergy to a material, like silver, that is triggered by physical contact. It is important for this allergy to be something that will come up in the game so that the character periodically needs to take actions to avoid or treat it.

If the character’s allergy is triggered, they will quickly progress through the Injury System laid out in “The Details.” The character has time to take one action before they progress to each stage. For example, the character can take one action before they are at Stage 1 with a Moderate Injury. Then the character has time for a second action before they are at Stage 2 with a Serious Injury, and so on.

However, just as people in the real-world can use an epinephrine autoinjector to stop the progression of allergic response and reverse the symptoms, characters in Magic Goes Awry can use a Jolt Root to stop and reverse serious allergic reactions. Jolt Roots are the woody roots of a magical plant that has been bred to induce a strong adrenaline surge in the body of anyone who holds them. This makes them a life-saving medical treatment, but also makes them dangerous to touch under normal circumstances. So Jolt Roots are stored in sealed, magically insulated tubes that can be quickly opened in an emergency.

Every character with a Severe Allergy has a Jolt Root that they carry with them. To use a Jolt Root, all the character has to do is open the tube and hold the root until their symptoms are gone, then put the root back in the tube. No roll is needed. Jolt Roots can be used multiple times, so if the symptoms return, the root can be used again.

Poisonous Skin: Your skin, scales, fur, or feathers contain a poison that can harm people you touch. This has benefits, but it also causes problems. Decide what the standard effect of this poison is. The effect should in some way limit the capabilities of any person or animal affected by it, without being completely incapacitating. For example, the effect could be chemical burns, swelling, muscle spasms, paralysis of the contacted body part, debilitating nausea, intense pain, or sedation.

Next, decide what happens when the poison is mild enough to not significantly reduce the capabilities of any person or animal affected by it. Usually, this is a milder version of the standard effect. For example, if the standard effect is paralysis of the contacted body part, the mild effect could be tingling or numbness.

Now decide whether there are signs that indicate to others that the character’s skin is poisonous, such as colorful markings or a distinctive smell. If so, most people and animals will do their best to avoid physical contact. This will reduce accidents, but it may also limit some of the benefits that come with having Poisonous Skin.

Any time the character’s skin touches a person or animal, whether intentionally or not, roll a six-sided die to determine how the poison affects them.

  • 6: The poison has an unexpected or unusually severe effect. This effect will seriously limit the capabilities of the poisoned being, possibly incapacitating them.
  • 4-5: The poison has its standard effect, which in some way limits the capabilities of the poisoned being without incapacitating them.
  • 2-3: The poison has its mild effect. It is uncomfortable for the poisoned being, but their capabilities are not significantly affected.
  • 1: The poison has no effect.

Poisonous Skin is a useful defense—if a hostile person or animal touches the character’s skin, they risk becoming poisoned. This poison can also be used offensively with the Unarmed Fighting skill, or covertly with the Stealth skill. However, having Poisonous Skin also causes problems. Accidents are possible, especially in crowded areas, and they can lead to serious social consequences. While wearing covering clothing prevents accidents, clothing can slip or be torn as the result of a failed roll or partial success. In addition, covering up Poisonous Skin makes its benefits harder to access.

To represent this complexity, Poisonous Skin is listed as both a Species Trait and Vulnerability. Characters that will primarily receive the benefits of Poisonous Skin, without many of the limitations, should take it only as a Species Trait. Characters that will primarily experience it as a limitation should take Poisonous Skin only as a Vulnerability. Meanwhile, those characters that will equally experience the benefits and limitations of Poisonous Skin, should take it as both a Species Trait and a Vulnerability.

Location Bond: You have a magical bond to a specific location that you can only leave for short periods of time before the separation causes you harm. With the game master’s help, decide how long your character can be away before they need to return to their bonded location (their limit), and how long they need to be in their bonded location before they can leave again. The goal is for this Location Bond to affect the character and the choices they make, without being a constant problem. For example, in an adventure where the characters take two-week trips, a bond that requires the character to return every two weeks would add urgency to end of each trip without disrupting the majority of the trip.

Any time the character is away from their bonded location longer than their limit, they experience magical harm, progressing through the Injury System laid out in “The Details.” For the first week past their limit, the character is in Stage 1 of the Injury System with a Moderate Injury. The second week, they are in Stage 2 with a Serious Injury, and so on. If needed, adjust the time frame of this progression to be faster or slower, so that it is a better match for the game. When the character returns to the bonded location, this harm goes away.

Here are some additional options to consider.

  • The character can use a special object from their bonded location to double the length of time they can be away, but this object must be protected.
  • Magical treatment or clever use of other abilities can be used temporarily reduce the harm caused by being away from the character’s bonded location.
  • The character can use a ritual to move their Location Bond to a new location, but this isn’t easy. In addition, the character must have a significant connection to the new location before this change can happen. Work with the game master to figure out the details of this ritual and its requirements.

Limited Body Part: You have a body part that lacks the strength or dexterity needed to perform physically demanding tasks. Choose what body part this is. Alternatively, choose a physical capacity, like balance or coordination. Next decide how this limitation impacts your character’s daily life and what skill it most affects. The outcomes of dice rolls with this skill are limited to partial successes. This means that you roll the usual number of dice, but full successes and outstanding successes are treated like partial successes.

Easily Fatigued Body: Immediately after engaging in intense physical activity you become fatigued. Until the character has a chance to rest, the outcomes of all skill, ability, and defense rolls that use their body number are limited to partial successes. This means that you roll the usual number of dice, but full successes and outstanding successes are treated like partial successes.

Intermittent Chronic Pain: You have chronic pain that periodically flares up. Decide what the source of the chronic pain is and what triggers it. For example, the source could be a past injury that didn’t heal properly, the toll of years of physical labor, a traumatic injury, an unusual curvature of the spine, nerve damage, arthritis, migraines, a food intolerance, or another medical condition. Examples of triggers are major changes in the weather, intense physical activity, overexertion if a specific body part, acute stress, and specific foods. After this trigger happens, the character’s chronic pain flares up and the outcomes of all skill, ability, and defense rolls that use their body number are limited to partial successes. This means that you roll the usual number of dice, but full successes and outstanding successes are treated like partial successes. Make sure this trigger is clear, so that you know when your character has a pain flare up.

Periodic Brain Fog: You sometimes have brain fog, which is an experience of not being able to think clearly. Choose a trigger, such as sleep deprivation, acute stress, eating a specific food, dehydration, or a medication. Be sure to clearly define this trigger, so that you know when your character has brain fog. Any time this trigger happens, the character has brain fog and the outcomes of all skill, ability, and defense rolls that use their mind number are limited to partial successes. This means that you roll the usual number of dice, but full successes and outstanding successes are treated like partial successes.

Next, decide how long the brain fog usually lasts. To keep things balanced, the more frequently your character has brain fog, the shorter it should last. This goal is for the character’s brain fog to come up in the game and be significant, without overwhelming the character’s ability to function.

Intense Sleepiness: In specific circumstances you become so sleepy that it interferes with your ability to function. Choose the cause of your character’s sleepiness. This cause should be something that will come up in the game, without being a constant problem. For example, your character could be nocturnal, strongly diurnal, have a medication that makes them sleepy right after they take it, or struggle to function any time they are woken from sleep.

Based on this cause, decide when your character gets moderately sleepy and when they get seriously sleepy. For example, a nocturnal character may become moderately sleepy if they are awake two hours after dawn and become seriously sleepy if they are awake in the middle of the day.

Tranquilizing magic, sedating substances, and magic that has gone awry can cause a character that is moderately sleepy to progress to being seriously sleepy, and a character that is seriously sleepy to progress to being extremely sleepy. Your character won’t become extremely sleepy under normal circumstances.

  • Moderately Sleepy: You are tired enough that it makes some things hard to do. Choose whether Knowledge Skills, Social Skills, Awareness Skills, Combat Skills, Strength Skills, or Dexterity Skills are most affected by being moderately sleepy. The outcomes of all rolls with this set of skills are limited to a partial success. This means that you roll the usual number of dice, but full successes and outstanding successes are treated like partial successes.
  • Seriously Sleepy: You are so sleepy that it is hard to do a lot of things. Decide whether this sleepiness most affects your character’s body or mind. The outcomes of all skill, ability, and defense rolls that use that capacity are limited to a partial success.
  • Extremely Sleepy: You are struggling to remain conscious. This unusual state is due to magic, powerful drugs, extreme sleep deprivation, or a combination of things that are simultaneously affecting you. The outcomes of all rolls are limited to a partial success.

Sensory Sensitivity: You are easily overwhelmed by sensory input. Decide on two different situations that are especially difficult sensory experiences. For example, these could be situations where the character is in an unpredictable and chaotic environment, like a marketplace, and situations where the character experiences one or more particularly intense sensory stimuli, like glaring lights or loud noises. Any time that the character is in one of these two difficult situations for an extended period of time, they become overwhelmed. When both difficult situations happen simultaneously, the character immediately becomes overwhelmed. While overwhelmed, the character has a one die penalty to all skill, ability, and defense rolls that use their mind number.

It is possible for a character with a Sensory Sensitivity to over time become accustomed to a specific, familiar environment that would otherwise be a difficult sensory situation. When this happens, the character no longer gets overwhelmed by that specific environment, even though it still affects them in some ways. For example, a character that is used to their noisy, chaotic home won’t become overwhelmed by it, but might need to cultivate a calm personal space within that environment.

Light Sensitive Eyes: Bright light hurts your eyes and makes it hard for you to see. Whenever your character is in bright light, the results of Insight, Perception, and Survival rolls for visual tasks is limited to partial successes. This means that you roll the usual number of dice, but full successes and outstanding successes are treated like partial successes.

The light of the midday sun is bright light. Also, reflective surfaces, like the ocean or snow, increase overall brightness, lengthening the bright part of the day. In addition, large fires or magic can also create bright light.

Sunlight Reactive Body: Sunlight causes serious harm any time it shines directly on you. The pain this causes limits your character’s mental capabilities. Any time your character’s bare skin is in direct sunlight, the outcomes of all skill, ability, and defense rolls that use their mind number are limited to partial successes. This means that you roll the usual number of dice, but full successes and outstanding successes are treated like partial successes.

Shade or a layer of fabric is enough to protect your character from sunlight. Once your character is protected, the mental penalty caused by the pain goes away and they are left with an injury. This is based on the Injury System laid out in “The Details.” The Survival Skill can be used to apply first aid to injuries. Non-magical healing takes time, but is reliable. In contrast, magical healing is fast, but unpredictable.

  • If you were only exposed to sunlight for a few seconds before your skin was protected again, you are not injured. Instead, you have a superficial burn that hurts, but does not significantly affect you.
  • If you were exposed to sunlight for a few minutes, you are at Stage 1 and have a Moderate Injury. Until you are healed, you take a one die penalty to all Dexterity Skills.
  • If you were in direct sunlight for an hour, you are at Stage 2 with a Serious Injury. Until you are healed, you take a one die penalty to all skill, ability, and defense rolls that use your body number.
  • If you were in direct sunlight for longer than an hour, but less than a day, you are at Stage 3 with a Critical Injury. Until healed, you take one die penalty to all of your rolls.
  • If you were in direct sunlight for a day or longer, you are at Stage 4 and are Unconscious. Until you receive medical treatment, you stay unconscious and are unable to take actions.

 

 

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