The Face of Angels

Author: Clinton R. Nixon
Version: Pre-release 3
Copyright: 2007 Clinton R. Nixon
License:This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.5/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 543 Howard Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.
Playtesters:Vincent Baker, Judd Karlman, Joshua Newman, Eric Provost, Lisa Provost, Victor Gijsbers, Remko van der Pluijm, Paul Bakker, Wilco Smits, Jason Morningstar, Remi Treuer, Ben Lehman, Alexis Siemon, Rob Lucas, Michael McIntyre, Michael St. Clair, and John Kim.

Contents

Introduction

The Face of Angels is a fiction game. In it, you'll get to play characters in a story about inhuman powers and human relationships. That sounds all high-brow and literary, but it's not so much. It's more like a cross between superhero comics and teen drama movies.

Everyone playing will tell the story. The story that will be told, though, already has a structure; there is a fixed beginning, a structure for the climax, and guidelines for the end. In addition to that structure, there's a card game that will be played whenever anyone wants their character to do something that would be more fun if the results were uncertain. Because of the structure and the uncertainty, this isn't just sitting around making up a story with friends. This is as fun as storytelling, with all the excitement and suspense of watching a good movie.

What you need to play the game

This game is best with four to six people. Three or seven people could work, but results may be less satisfactory. One of these people will organize the game and play all the supporting characters, while everyone else will play one main character. The former player is called the World player, as she plays "the world" of the game. She's not like a director of a movie or anything, though: she doesn't get to tell the rest of the players what to do with their characters. Those players are called character players, because that's what they do.

You will need one deck of playing cards and a pack of index cards. You will need a large writing surface: I recommend a piece of poster board. You will need pens or markers. Everyone should choose their own color to write with.

About the story

The story begins with a group of high-school friends and acquaintances on graduation night. While spending time together, a mysterious light flashes in the darkened sky. Each character will see this differently, but all of them will be invested with a inhuman power that grants them special abilities. In play, they will be discovered by the world, attempt to change the world, and then the world will attempt to destroy them.

Good references for this story are the movies Powder and Phenomenon. The tone of these should be combined with stories like the movie The Breakfast Club, where a group of high-school kids who wouldn't normally bond together have to in order to overcome the world. Other useful references for this game are the comic book Rising Stars, and the novel Shadow of the Giant by Orson Scott Card. The first and foremost influence, though, is the novella Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, one of the finest stories of alienation and humanity and superpowers ever put to paper.

Before play

Preparing the game record sheet

Take that piece of poster board or other big writing surface you have for the game. Draw a giant circle on it. This should come close to, but not quite touch, two opposite sides of the paper. Make sure everyone's picked an ink color to be theirs.

Deciding on the World player

One player is going to have to be the World player. This role is just as fun as everyone else's, but it is different. Your responsibilities will be:

  • Opening and closing scenes. Just like in a normal story, this story will be made up of discrete scenes with a definite beginning and end. (The alternative to this is a narrative that follows the main characters without breaking anywhere, which we will not be doing.) As the World player, you have final authority on when a scene begins and ends, although you should ask for and take suggestions from everyone else.
  • Playing the actions and reactions of all the supporting characters. A lot of the time, you'll just be reacting. It will not be very often that an unnamed character will act toward a main character. (By "unnamed character," I mean a background person, the sort that would be called "sports fan #2" in a movie.) Each character player have several named characters to be their friends and enemies, and you will play them a large part of the time.
  • Resolving disputes. If anyone has a question about the way the rules work, you need to be the arbiter and interpreter of the rules.
  • Helping everyone stay focused and have fun. The rules of this game depend on everyone having a similar goal. Everyone should be invested in having fun and telling a cool story together. When two people's idea of what will get them there diverges too much to co-exist, it'll be your job to help them out.
  • Directing traffic. In this game, everyone will get a chance to say what happens. One of your jobs is to designate who gets that chance if there's any confusion.

Before the game, go ahead and decide who will play this role. It's not any harder than any other role, and you don't need any special experience to do it, but you do need some leadership ability.

There's no set method to pick this person. In my experience, someone will step up and take on this role, and it should be obvious to the group whether they'll be able to handle it well.

When and where does the story start?

Before the story begins and we find out who the protagonists will be, we need to set the stage. In this game, the characters may well change the world, so we need to know what world they live in.

The first half of this is deciding in what year the game's fiction starts. The characters will be graduating high school as the story begins, and the recommended way to pick this year is to pick the median year that all the players graduated high school themselves. This helps get everyone invested in the game and familiar with the real-world history.

If you're having trouble figuring out a year, any time in the 1980's is great. Not only is it a time period almost everyone's familiar with, but it's chock full of good history.

The second half of this is deciding where the game's fiction is actually physically set. The recommended way to do this is to take the town you're playing in and figure out its characteristics. Is it a small town or a big city? Is it fairly conservative or a free-spirited college town? Is it near a coast or in the middle of the country you live in? Change one of these things in the town for the game. The town in your fiction doesn't have to be real - you can pick a real place that resembles this town you've imagined, or make up a place.

Making the story yours

Before the game starts, the group needs to sketch out a little about what the game will be about and where the game will go. Of course, you already know it will be about people who start as high school graduates and become, for all intents and purposes, gods. But that could go a lot of places. Where do you want it to go?

Every player, including the World, should write down on an index card one to three things they want to approach in the game. These can be issues, themes, or even a certain type of "color." (In this sentence, color means a style of visualization. Think of the way media presents itself. Take the superhero movies Unbreakable and Spiderman. Both have similar stories in some ways: a normal person who finds out they have an amazing power and they decide what that means their responsibilities are. But they look and feel very different. One might be called "high-swinging action" and another "gritty realism.")

Everyone should share these with the group. Out of these, you should find the ones the most people are interested in having in the game. Feel free to discuss and chat and debate - in a friendly way! - the merits of each issue, theme, or piece of color.

By consensus ruling, some of these will be picked to be in the game. (By "consensus ruling," I mean by agreement among all participants.) The World should write these down on the game record sheet. They go in the very center of the circle. Once they've been written down, draw a circle around them.

The group will probably also have some lines they don't want to cross. That is, with all this power-getting and issue-addressing, you're going to have the chance to step into some high-octane stuff. Some people can get uncomfortable, and that's ok. But, you should know up front. Going around the room, each player should state whatever they don't want to see in the story: sex, torture, welfare policy, puppies being hurt, or whatever. These don't go up for consensus ruling. If someone says they absolutely don't want to see something, it shouldn't be in your story. You can discuss them, though, especially if someone else wants to see a particular thing, but be very aware of each other's feelings here. The World should record these on the game record sheet. They should be written outside the circle on one short edge of the sheet. This designates where the World will sit, too, so go ahead and take your place there. You have a new job – make sure these lines are respected.

Finish up the game record sheet

Split the circle game record sheet up like a pie with a marker. Obviously, there's a hole in the middle of this pie. Draw lines so every player, including the world, gets a equal-sized slice. The world's slice should be in front of the "uncrossable lines" you wrote down before.

As the first step of play, each player besides the World will make up a protagonist character (PC). This will be a character you will play the role of for the entire game. He or she will start as a high school senior on graduation night, but may be anything by the end of the game.

Character creation

What does the World do?

The World is not going to have a lot of solid things to do in character creation. Her role is to help everyone understand what they have to do and to give lots of suggestions.

Choose a personality type

Your character will fall into one of four personality types: a specialist, a supporter, a leader, or a weirdo. Each one of these personality types is represented by one of the face cards. You will pick a face card in this step to represent your character.

You do not have to make your decision based off anyone else's choice, but you should feel free to discuss what type of character you're interested in playing with everyone else.

Jacks are specialists or skilled individuals. They might be good in auto shop, at computer programming, or accomplished athletes. The point is that they excel above and beyond others in a particular area. Make a note of the area in which your character is skilled.

Queens are good at making friends and being a supporter. They might be members of the pep squad, friends of the most popular kids in school, or on the yearbook staff.

Kings are natural-born leaders. They are the most popular kids in school. They might be captain of the football team, the head cheerleader, or the head of the chess club.

Aces are freaks and weirdos. Remember, A stands for Ally Sheedy. Write down what makes your character an outsider.

Once you've chosen, write this down in front of your pie slice, outside the circle.

Describe the main characters

Once you have the personality type chosen, the other details about your character should come pretty easy. You need to answer all the basic things that are obvious, but a complete detailing of your character will best come out in play. What you need to know at this step is what your character's name and gender are and what social group they identify with.

Once you've done this, write at least your character's name on the game record sheet in front of your pie slice, outside the circle.

Pick starting relationships

Each character player should now make two relationships for their characters. One of these relationships is the character's friend and the other is a foe. (“Friend” and “foe” can mean many things here: “ally” or “mentor” for “friend;” “enemy” or “nemesis” for “foe.”) Each one of these should have a name and a short phrase as their description.

Write these non-protagonist characters (NPCs) down on the game record sheet inside your slice of the pie. Write whether they are your friend or foe next to them.

Now, choose one other person's relationship on the sheet to be one of your relationships. You can choose whether this person is a friend or foe of yours. Write this, in your ink color, next to that character.

The World should make their own non-protagonist characters during this step. She should make a friend or foe for every protagonist character. She can have one NPC be relationship to two or more PCs, and that's fine.

All of this stuff should be done out in the open. Talk it up, and take other people's suggestions.

Connect the main characters

At this step, everyone should talk out how the characters know each other, what their general feelings about each other are, and why they'd all be in the same place on graduation night. This should be done as a group, with the World giving suggestions as well as the regular players. The relationships they have are the first place to look for connections.

Make secrets

As the last step, each character player should make up a secret their character thinks they know about each other character. Take an index card and write down the character's name and the secret your character thinks he knows. This should stay hidden until later in the game when it is revealed.

The World does not get to create secrets.

The story arc

The story of The Face of Angels will always go through a prologue, then four acts. As the characters travel through these acts, some of the fundamental rules of the game will change. In each act, you will see sections on relationships, stakes, transformations, and exit conditions. Each act will take about an hour-and-a-half to two hours, and it’s recommended you play the game in five parts - character creation and prologue the first time, and an act each other time you play.

Setting up a scene

Each act will be made up of quite a few scenes. A scene is pretty loosely defined: it's a piece of fiction in one place, usually, in one time period, usually, with the same set of people.

As you play the game, you will get an idea for what scenes should happen. Both the World player and the other players can suggest scenes, although final responsibility for setting them up lies with the World.

However, you will still find yourself in situations where you don't know what to do next. I guarantee this. In these situations, pick a character who wasn't in the most recent scene. Pick or more of his relationships and then make a scene with them in some threatening situation. Either threaten them or have them threaten the character. What is especially great is that it doesn't really matter whether it's a friendly relationship or not - having their enemy's life threatened is a great scene.

This will always work out well, I promise.

New non-protagonist characters in the story

Whenever anyone invents new NPCs during the game, they should write that NPC's name in their slice of the pie.

In general, one can always take a relationship - that is, write the relationship on your character sheet and have it mean something with the game mechanics - with someone their PC has had a contest with or who has been the subject of a contest. If the character is owned by someone else, they have the right to veto your request for a relationship. You cannot take multiple relationships with the same NPC. More than one player character can, however, have a relationship with the same non-player character.

As the game progresses, protagonists can take relationships with organizations.

The anti-jerk clause

Any time someone is doing something technically legal according to the game rules, but it's really making the story break, if the rest of the players think they are being a jerk, you can stop them.

The new rule clause

If you want to do something wacky that you can't see a rule for or against, make it a stake in a contest.

Bridging the acts

Each act will need a bridge between it and the next act. This is free narration that tells what happens between the two acts. It should definitely be representative of the repercussions of the previous act, but does not have to limited just to those repercussions.

Possibly the most important bit of information to come out of the bridge is how much time has passed between the acts. Any amount is acceptable, from no time to any time within the protagonist characters' lifetimes.

While the rest of this game can be competitive at times, the bridge is most certainly not competitive. It's a time to relax and cooperate. The World should ask everyone else how much time they'd like to have passed. Taking their answers into consideration, she should make a decision. Then she should ask everyone else what happened with their characters during this time. Suggestions should be flying around the table! However, this is also a place where the anti-jerk clause may come in most useful.

No contests can take place in the bridge.

Prologue: The Birth

Setup

Take the deck of playing cards and make sure the jokers are removed from the deck. Shuffle this well. When shuffled, deal every player 5 cards.

Place the remaining cards face-down on the table near the game record sheet. This is called the draw pile. When cards are used, they’ll be put into the discard pile next to the draw pile.

Beginning

The prologue always starts this way: it is graduation night. It can be sunset or midnight or sun-up or whenever, but it's that night. The World and the other players need to establish where the characters are. They are all in the same location, but why? Is this location secluded? Is this location full of other people? Why would they all be there? These questions should be answered as a group.

You'll be answering a lot of questions as a group in this game, and you should all always work together to find the best answer. Certain people do have final authority for certain parts of the game, though. When you’re not in a contest - that is, you’re just talking and not using the cards to get your way - each player has authority for his or her protagonist character and all the non-protagonist characters in his or her pie slice. However, in each scene that is being played out, you can only play one character, so if any of your non-protagonist characters are in play, the World will narrate what they are doing.

Once the location is selected, feel free to have a few moments of free play to establish initial relationships and how the characters relate to each other. Each character should, after some free narration, have an initial contest. This contest should always involve at least one of their relationships, and if possible, two.

How to play out contests

Contests are always between two players, and characters they control. A contest happens when one player says that a character they control is going to do something and another player thinks that shouldn’t happen, at least not without some opposition. Others can jump in and help one side or the other, but the contest is specifically between those two players. The person that wants to make the contested action is the initiator and the person who is providing the opposition is the respondent. In play, often someone will anticipate opposition and state they want a contest, but someone still has to step up and give that opposition.

The initiator is required to set stakes - that is, they say what they want to happen if they win the contest (in this case, played with cards) and what they’re willing to have happen if they lose. It’s a lot like betting with the fates of fictional characters.

In the prologue, one cannot set stakes that involve any other protagonist character's death or loss of their identity, or the loss of any character in anyone else's part of the pie. You can do whatever you want with the characters in your part of the pie. At maximum, stakes can be about one person's fate.

The respondent has to decide whether those stakes are OK. If so, the respondent accepts and then states the pace: that is, are they playing cards for one, two, or three tricks? If not, though, the respondent can change either the condition if the initiator wins or the condition if the initiator loses, but not both. The respondent states the new condition, and this is bounced back over to the initiator. The initiator gets the same choice: change the winning condition, change the losing condition, or accept the conditions and set the pace.

Let’s see an example.

The initiator states what he wants and what he's willing to risk, like so:

"I want a challenge about this. If I win, I want to drive the hooligan out of town, but if I lose I'll lose face."

The respondent can accept these terms and set the pace of the contest, like so:

"Ok. I'll take those terms for two tricks."

Or, the respondent can not accept those terms and say what he wants to get for that risk:

"No way. If you lose, you're driven out of town."

Or, finally, the respondent can not accept those terms, and say what he would be comfortable risking:

"No way. If you win, the hooligan loses face and his friends desert him, but he stays in town."

If the respondent didn't accept the terms, then it goes back to the initiator. He gets the same options: accept and set the pace of the contest, not accept and say what he wants to get, or not accept and say what he will give.

This goes back and forth until someone accepts and sets the pace of the contest.

Once the pace is set, the initiator must act first.

Acting

The initiator of the contest begins with initiative, which means he or she will be deciding what suit the trick is in. He should lay down a card and state his action to achieve his goal. This action must be tied into the card he is playing. The card suits, and realms of action are:

  • Strength/Violence (Clubs)
  • Empathy/Instinct (Hearts)
  • Dominance/Power (Spades)
  • Intelligence/Resources (Diamonds)

Playing the denial of one of these to the other player, especially if you are the World and playing an inanimate force, is totally legitimate.

So, if you were attempting to convince someone to help you, and you played an eight of hearts, you might describe your character appealing to them for friendship or romance. If you played an eight of diamonds, you might describe your character demanding their help. If you played an eight of clubs, you might describe your character pushing them on the shoulder and threatening them. If you played an eight of diamonds, you might describe your character telling them why it is logical to help or you might have your character bribe them.

The degree of "oomph" in your character's action need not be tied to the power of the card. If you do intend to win, however, you will want to play a powerful card. Cards follow the order in a standard card game, with aces high.

Responding

After the initiator has laid down a card, the respondent must respond. At this point, there is only one way to beat the initiator's card: play an equal or higher card of the same suit. (It is entirely possible to play a functionally identical card to the initiator's because of the helping rules below.) You do not have to only play these options, though - you may play any card in your hand. You may want to play an out-of-suit card. Doing so assures you of initiative for the next trick.

You must be able to narrate a response in the realm of action your card represents.

Helping

Other players can get into a contest and help out either side. After the initiator has laid down a card and the respondent has laid down a card, anyone who wants to help the initiator gets a chance. They may lay down a card and describe the action of a character they control.

After everyone who wants to help the initiator has placed a card, anyone who wants to help the respondent can place a card, using the same rules.

Both the initiator and the respondent should take all cards on their side. They will decide which card is their point card, which is compared to see who won. All other cards used to help them are helper cards and add 1 to their point card's value. It is possible to have a card higher than an Ace in this fashion, called Ace + 1, Ace + 2, and so on.

Winning a trick

The respondent has won the trick if his card is equal to or higher than the initiator's and is in the same suit. Otherwise, the initiator has won.

If there are tricks left to play for, the player who played the card with the highest numerical value seizes initiative, whether or not they won. As normal, the respondent wins ties. This means that for the next hand, they are the initiator.

Winning the contest

You play for tricks, describing what’s happening in the scene, until one person has won the specified number of tricks. That person is the winner. There should be some wrap-up narration, and the person who played the highest card numerically in the last trick - not necessarily the winner - is responsible for that narration.

Using relationships

Character players can bring their friends into any contest any time they like. When they choose to do this, they receive an extra card immediately. The relationship can be present in a contest scene without actually making it part of the contest.

The World can bring a character's foes into any contest any time he likes. When he chooses to do this, he receives an extra card immediately. A character player can bring his own foes into a contest as well, but the World still gets the extra card.

There are risks to bringing in relationships, detailed in each act. If you lose the overall contest, detrimental things can happen to your relationship.

In the prologue, there is no risk to bringing relationships into a contest.

Personality types and contests

Each personality type can affect the resolution system in their own special way.

Kings benefit from leading others. When helped, all cards given to them used as point cards give +2 to the point card, if the point card is the one they originally played.

Queens benefit from helping others. When they help someone else, their card adds +3 to the point card if used as a helping card.

Jacks are specialists in a specific area. When the setup or the stakes of a contest are in their area, they can draw an extra card before the contest. If the area later becomes part of the contest, they can draw an extra card at that time.

Aces get a special type of contest called going for broke. When they call for a going-for-broke contest (they must be the initiator to do so), three hands of cards will be played and the winner of the contest will be determined from who won the majority of tricks. If the Ace player loses all three tricks, both sides win their stakes. If this is not possible, then negotiate before the contest for the closest way for this to happen.

Setting up a contest

It makes the most sense to develop a contest early. Whenever one person involved with a scene thinks at all that something is contest-worthy, they should bring it up.

A technique I like to use is to go ahead and state that a contest is going to occur and set stakes and pace, and then return to free play. When free play progresses to a point where it's obvious the characters in the scene are going to have the contest right now, you can jump into the contest resolution system all ready to go and set up.

Gaining powers

After the initial contests, something happens that changes the characters. The player characters are suddenly granted superhuman powers. The World should come up with the actual event, although each character player should come up with his perception of the event. This event should involve some or all of the following: the night sky, light, a permeating feeling of warmth, "ghost-appendage" tingling of wings on the character's shoulder blades, a horrible or glorious face, hands on faces, or the taste of iron and blood.

The player characters are absolutely the only people who notice this event as anything more than a natural occurrence. No other present character does.

As the characters gain supernatural powers, each player has to decide what realm their character's power lies in. They can choose from the following:

  • Strength/Violence (Clubs)
  • Empathy/Instinct (Hearts)
  • Dominance/Power (Spades)
  • Intelligence/Resources (Diamonds)

Whatever suit you pick will be your character's trump suit, which means all cards you play of that suit are very powerful. The combination of your face card and suit is your super-trump, which means it's the best card you can draw in the game. You should write down an area your character's power is focused in. This isn't a specific power, like "shoots firebolts," but an area that your character deals with, like "fire." Any short phrase or one word will do: a character that manifests fly-like abilities, including 360-degree vision, a loud buzzing sound, and walking on walls, would choose "man-fly." When playing the game, you can use your power in narration at any time. It does not, however, beat normal human action unless the card you play is your trump suit.

From now on, if you play your super-trump in a contest, you must use it to invoke your powers and you must pick a transformation from the list provided with the act. This is a way in which your character changes because of the extreme exertion of his powers.

Because powers are gained after the initial conflicts in the prologue, there is no chance for transformations.

Ending the prologue

After every player character has had a contest, and they have received their powers, the prologue is over.

Act 1: The Discovery

About the act

In this act, the protagonists will be first discovering their powers, and the world will be first discovering them. The story will likely be about their reaction to their powers, as well as their family and friends' reaction, and how they fit into their immediate community. Their enemies will begin to emerge.

New rules

The World's hand size

From now on, the World's hand size is equal to five plus the act number. So, in Act 1, her hand size is six cards.

Trump cards

Trumping is simple. Each protagonist character has a trump suit representing the area of his or her superhuman powers. If anyone in the contest lays down a card in their trump suit and then describes themselves using that power, the card counts as a trump card. (It is entirely possible to play a card in your trump suit as a regular card.) A trump card beats anything except another trump card, which it would be compared numerically against.

You cannot play a trump card if you are not playing your protagonist character.

One way to think about a trump suit is as a fifth suit which always wins.

When you help someone with one of your character's trump cards, it counts as a trump.

Super-trumps

Super-trumping only happens when someone plays their super-trump card when playing their protagonist character. He or she must describe the character using its powers in an amazing and transformative manner. In fact, the player must immediately choose one of the transformations from the current act to apply to his character. The entire contest ends immediately with that character winning.

If you have another character's super-trump card, you can use this to affect that character. If that character is in a contest, you can play this card to either help or harm them. You decide which way this decides the contest. If you do this, it counts as the character's super-trump. You get to describe the character using its powers in an amazing and transformative manner if it wins or in a terrible and unexpected way if it loses, and you get to choose the transformation for that character.

The World and trumps

The World, starting in this act, will have the chance to assign trumps to people and organizations. The organization can be no higher than the current level of stakes: therefore, in Act 1, it can only be small groups of people; in Act 2, it can be up to a city; in Act 3, it can be up to a country; in Act 4, it can be as large as you like. The World has to justify this, and it must be done before a conflict starts. The justification can be anything sensible – maybe a person has a tremendous emotional pull on someone else, or maybe a paramilitary group has a suitcase bomb.

There are limitations to this. Only one trump can be assigned per act. In addition, each suit can only be assigned once. The World can use a maximum of one character or organization's trump in a contest.

Revealing secrets

When a player plays a card either against someone else's PC or in order to help that PC, he can reveal the secret of that character that his PC thinks he knows. He must do this in character narration. If that character's player says the secret is true, the card is a trump card. If that character's player says the secret is false, then he must hand his cards to the other player. That player will sort out what he wants and hand back the same number of cards to the character's player.

Stakes

In this act, one cannot set stakes that involve any other protagonist character's death or loss of their identity or powers, or the loss of any character in anyone else's part of the pie. You can do whatever you want with the characters in your part of the pie. At maximum, stakes can be about the fate of small groups of people.

Relationships

If you get bonus cards for a relationship and fail in the contest, that relationship cannot grant you bonus cards for the rest of the act.

Protagonists can take relationships with people or organizations up to the size of a small group of people.

Transformations

If you play your super-trump in Act 1, you must choose one of the following to happen to your character:

  • Your physical appearance changes to reflect your powers in some way.
  • There are gross physical manifestations of your power, so that you are exposed to everyone present.
  • Your power works differently than you originally thought. Re-write the power, but keep the same trump card.
  • Henceforth, there is a distinct side-effect of your power that you must narrate whenever you use it.
  • Bystanders are changed or harmed.

Ending the act

In Act 1, and in all acts afterward, the entire draw pile must have been used up to end the act. If used up, the World should shuffle the discard pile and make this the new draw pile. In addition, there will be story conditions to end the act. If these conditions have been met and the deck has been used up, anyone can suggest the act be ended after a scene is over. If this is seconded, the act is over.

In Act 1, the story conditions are: At least one of the player characters' identity must be exposed to outsiders. Everyone must have used their powers in a contest.

Act 2: The Ascension

About the act

In this act, the protagonists become known to the world at large. Reactions will not be subtle, and people will want to ally with them and act against them. They will have to choose sides wisely, and it's to be expected that they will end up at cross-purposes.

By the end of the act, they will likely be loved or feared by most of the world.

New rules

Stakes

In this act, one cannot set stakes that involve any other protagonist character's death or loss of their powers, or the loss of any character in anyone else's part of the pie. You can do whatever you want with the characters in your part of the pie. At maximum, stakes can be about the fate of organized groups of people, up to the size of a city.

Relationships

If you get bonus cards for a relationship and fail in the contest, that relationship cannot grant you bonus cards for the rest of the act. If the person you were in contest with decides to let you have your stakes anyway, he can flip the relationship - a friend becomes an enemy, or vice-versa.

In this act, protagonists can take relationships with organizations up to the size of a city.

Transformations

If you play your super-trump in Act 2, you must choose one of the following to happen to your character:

  • Your physical appearance changes permanently to reflect your powers in some way.
  • Your power works differently than you originally thought. Re-write the power but keep the same trump.
  • You can no longer interact normally in this arena. Whenever you lay down a card that could be a trump, it is.
  • Henceforth, there is a distinct side-effect of your power that you must narrate whenever you use it.
  • Bystanders are irrevocably changed or harmed.

Ending the act

At least one of the following needs to happen:

  • At least one public outcry against one of the player characters occurs.
  • One of the player characters takes a public position.
  • The world at large becomes knowledgeable about the one or more of the player characters.

Act 3: The Passion

About the act

On the world stage, what will the protagonists do? Furthermore, when their past lives rise up – old lovers and old enemies use their connections to rise in power – how will they react?

New rules

Stakes

In this act, one cannot set stakes that involve any other protagonist character's death or loss of their powers. At maximum, stakes can determine the fate of a nation.

Relationships

If you get bonus cards for a relationship and fail in the contest, that relationship cannot grant you bonus cards for the rest of the act. If the person you were in contest with wants to, he can flip the relationship - a friend becomes an enemy, or vice-versa. If he decides to give you your stakes anyway, he can kill or grievously injure the relationship.

In this act, protagonists can take relationships with organizations as large as a country.

Transformations

If you play your super-trump in Act 3, you must choose one of the following to happen to your character:

  • You can no longer interact normally in this arena. Whenever you lay down a card that could be a trump, it is.
  • Your power has another effect in addition to what you originally thought. Write the power, but keep the same trump.
  • Your power is effective in a different arena than it once was. Change your trump suit while keeping your power as much the same as possible. This changes your super-trump.
  • Bystanders are irrevocably changed or killed.

Ending the act

One or more of the following needs to happen.

  • A player character kills someone, and it is not kept secret.
  • A relationship of a player character is killed, and the player character is present or connected to the death.
  • A player character exerts his power over a large organized group of humans - a country, state, city, or worldwide group, like a world religion.

Act 4: The Fall

About the act

It's the last chance to change the world. What do you do?

New rules

Stakes

There are no restrictions on stakes.

Relationships

If you use a relationship and fail in the contest, that relationship cannot be used for the rest of the act. If the person you were in contest with wants to, he can flip the relationship, but only from an enemy to a friend. If he decides to, he can kill or grievously injure the relationship.

In this act, characters can take relationships with any size organization.

Transformations

If you play your super-trump in Act 4, you must choose one of the following to happen to your character:

  • Your power has another effect in addition to what you originally thought. Write the power, but choose another trump for this power. This leaves you with two super-trumps.
  • Your powers are completely transformed. Re-write them and choose a new trump suit.
  • Bystanders are irrevocably changed or killed.
  • You can no longer interact normally in this arena. Whenever you lay down a card that could be a trump, it is.
  • Your powers are lost forever.

Exiting

Every player character must be dead, in hiding, controlled, in control, or just like everyone else.

Contest summary

Dealing cards and hand size

The hand size for all players except the World is five cards. The World's hand size is five plus the Act number. (The prologue counts as Act 0 for this purpose.) At all points of the game outside of a contest, players should have a number of cards in their hand equal to their hand size. The World is the dealer and is responsible for the cards.

If ever there are not enough cards in the draw pile to refill everyone's hand outside of a contest, or to draw extra cards inside a contest, the discard pile should be shuffled and it becomes the new draw pile.

Starting a contest

Contests are always between two players, and characters they control. A contest happens when one player says that a character they control is going to do something and another player thinks that shouldn’t happen, at least not without some opposition. Others can jump in and help one side or the other, but the contest is specifically between those two players. The person that wants to make the contested action is the initiator and the person who is providing the opposition is the respondent. In play, often someone will anticipate opposition and state they want a contest, but someone still has to step up and give that opposition.

The initiator is required to set stakes - that is, they say what they want to happen if they win the contest (in this case, played with cards) and what they’re willing to have happen if they lose. These stakes must follow the guidelines for stakes for that act.

The respondent has to decide whether those stakes are OK. If so, the respondent accepts and then states the pace: that is, are they playing cards for one, two, or three tricks? If not, though, the respondent can change either the condition if the initiator wins or the condition if the initiator loses, but not both. The respondent states the new condition, and this is bounced back over to the initiator. The initiator gets the same choice: change the winning condition, change the losing condition, or accept the conditions and set the pace.

Acting

The initiator of the contest begins with initiative. He should lay down a card and state his action to achieve his goal. This action must be tied into the card he is playing. The card suits, and realms of action are:

  • Strength/Violence (Clubs)
  • Empathy/Instinct (Hearts)
  • Dominance/Power (Spades)
  • Intelligence/Resources (Diamonds)

Playing the denial of one of these to the other player, especially if you are the World and playing an inanimate force, is totally legitimate.

So, if you were attempting to convince someone to help you, and you played an eight of hearts, you might describe your character appealing to them for friendship or romance. If you played an eight of diamonds, you might describe your character demanding their help. If you played an eight of clubs, you might describe your character pushing them on the shoulder and threatening them. If you played an eight of diamonds, you might describe your character telling them why it is logical to help or you might have your character bribe them.

The degree of "oomph" in your character's action need not be tied to the power of the card. If you do intend to win, however, you will want to play a powerful card. Cards follow the order in a standard card game, with aces high.

Responding

After the initiator has laid down a card, the respondent must respond. There are two ways to beat the initiator's card: play an equal or higher card of the same suit or play a winning trump card. (It is entirely possible to play a functionally identical card to the initiator's because of the helping rules below.) You do not have to only play these options, though - you may play any card in your hand.

You must be able to narrate a response in the realm of action your card represents.

Winning

In the simplest case, the respondent has won if his card is equal to or higher than the initiator's and is in the same suit. Otherwise, the initiator has won.

However, if the initiator has played a card in his trump suit and the respondent has not, the initiator wins. If the respondent has played a card in his trump suit and the initiator has not, the respondent wins. If both have played a card in their trump suit, they count as being in the same suit and the higher card wins, with the respondent winning ties, as normal.

If there are tricks left to win, the player who played the card with the highest numerical value seizes initiative, whether or not they won. As normal, the respondent wins ties. This means that for the next hand, they are the initiator.

Helping

Other players can get into a contest and help out either side. After the initiator has laid down a card and the respondent has laid down a card, anyone who wants to help the initiator gets a chance. They may lay down a card and describe the action of a character they control. If the character they are controlling has a trump suit, that suit determines if the card is a trump card.

After everyone who wants to help the initiator has placed a card, anyone who wants to help the respondent can place a card, using the same rules.

Both the initiator and the respondent should take all cards on their side. They will decide which card is their point card, which is compared to see who won. All other cards used to help them are helper cards and add 1 to their point card's value. It is possible to have a card higher than an Ace in this fashion, called Ace + 1, Ace + 2, and so on.

Trumping

Trumping is simple. Each protagonist character has a trump suit representing the area of his or her superhuman powers. If anyone in the contest lays down a card in their trump suit and then describes themselves using that power, the card counts as a trump card. (It is entirely possible to play a card in your trump suit as a regular card.) A trump card beats anything except another trump card, which it would be compared numerically against.

You cannot play a trump card if you are not playing your protagonist character.

One way to think about a trump suit is as a fifth suit which always wins.

When you help someone with one of your character's trump cards, it counts as a trump if used as the point card.

Using relationships

Character players can bring their friends into any contest any time they like. When they choose to do this, they receive an extra card immediately. The relationship can be present in a contest scene without actually making it part of the contest.

The World can bring a character's foes into any contest any time he likes. When he chooses to do this, he receives an extra card immediately. A character player can bring his own foes into a contest as well, but the World still gets the extra card.

There are risks to bringing in relationships, detailed in each act. If you lose the overall contest, detrimental things can happen to your relationship.

Super-trumps

Super-trumping only happens when someone plays their super-trump card when playing their protagonist character. He or she must describe the character using its powers in an amazing and transformative manner. In fact, the player must immediately choose one of the transformations from the current act to apply to his character. The entire contest ends immediately with that character winning.

If you have another character's super-trump card and they are in a contest, you can help with that card no matter whether you control a character in the scene or not. If you do this, it counts as the character's super-trump. You get to describe the character using its powers in an amazing and transformative manner, and you get to choose the transformation for that character.

Personality types and contests

Each personality type can affect the resolution system in their own special way.

Kings benefit from leading others. When helped, all cards given to them used as point cards give +2 to the point card, if the point card is the one they originally played.

Queens benefit from helping others. When they help someone else, their card adds +3 to the point card if used as a helping card.

Jacks are specialists in a specific area. When the setup or the stakes of a contest are in their area, they can draw an extra card before the contest. If the area later becomes part of the contest, they can draw an extra card at that time.

Aces get a special type of contest called going for broke. When they call for a going-for-broke contest (they must be the initiator to do so), three hands of cards will be played and the winner of the contest will be determined from who won the majority of tricks. If the Ace player loses all three tricks, both sides win their stakes. If this is not possible, then negotiate before the contest for the closest way for this to happen.

Revealing secrets

When a player plays a card either against someone else's PC or in order to help that PC, he can reveal the secret of that character that his PC thinks he knows. He must do this in character narration. If that character's player says the secret is true, the card is a trump card. If that character's player says the secret is false, then he must hand his cards to the other player. That player will sort out what he wants and hand back the same number of cards to the character's player.

Winning the contest

You play for tricks, describing what’s happening in the scene, until one person has won the specified number of tricks. That person is the winner. There should be some wrap-up narration, and the person who played the highest card numerically in the last trick - not necessarily the winner - is responsible for that narration.