Core Oracles

Motif uses as "oracle" system. Oracles are traditionally things like magic 8-balls, pendulums, and Tarot cards. They are ways of answering questions. Like the 8-ball or a pendulum, Motif is based around a yes/no/mixed or maybe questions and answers. It is important to remember that Motif oracles are not just a metric to measure success & failure as is in traditional TTRPG design. They are answers to questions.

The Dice

The core oracles of the "Motif Way" are a roll of three commonplace six-sided dice. The dice are counted in order from left to right or closest to furthest. The default roll assigns simple answer (yes/no/mixed or maybe) first, the strength or impact of the answer second, and a variable "flavor" (or plug and play factor) comes third.

First Die: Answer

The simplest and most common builds place a no on 1-2, mixed/maybe on 3-4, and yes on 5-6. Alternately, using only binary answers, no on 1-3, yes on 4-6.

This die may also be interpreted as cost vs bonus, assuming success on most or all actions or yes for most narration questions. For example, 1-2 costly or disadvantaging, 3 modest cost, 4 weak gain, 5-6 strong bonus or gain.

Second Die: Strength/Impact

1 is little to none. 2-3 is feeble, weak, or limited. 4-5 is firm, notable, or full. 6 is extreme, lasting, or truly severe. Adjust or revise this scale to fit your game.

The manner in which strength or impact is interpreted can have a drastic difference on your game. Is it the direct strength of answer or action outcome? Is it about the lasting or lingering impact of the revelation or effort?

It can also be used to interpret the answers with qualifiers or conditions. For example, it may be used to judge resulting (dis)advantage. Low rolls triggering a cost or disadvantage, high rolls revealing an advantage going forward.

One could also read it as a direct addition to the first die, for example placing but on 1-2, flat answers on 3-4, and on 5-6.

If the direct degree of answer is not as meaningful or makes little sense in your game or tool, you can narrow it down to a more specific type of impact. For example, this die could represent the range of message, strength of social influence, or positioning and advantage. Low numbers should indicate a negative result and high numbers a positive result.

For a toolset or game for which strength at all makes little sense, you may use the extra flavor rolls option detailed later or it could be used to represent a price or cost, obstacles vs shortcuts/timesavers, the amount of time it consumes, how little or much chance opposition has to react, or so on.

Third Die: Flavors

"Flavors" are simply descriptive labels. Low rolls indicate very little or the contrary of that theme or element. High rolls suggest heavy influence or a great abundance.

While very simple in essence, their flexibility and addition of a third dimension to oracle answers add a lot of depth and richness to the responses. They are also an important element for emphasizing the gameplay or themes of your games.

You may also tie subsystems to flavors, exploring the possibilities. For example, instead of a standard distribution, you may have a flavor tied to a given positive trait. Rolling under being bad, rolling over good, and rolling equal mixed.

Favorability is a good "universal" flavor as well as a good default. How favorable is the answer and its consequences to the protagonists? This works equally well for world details and action resolution. It can also produce interesting twists.

Say the player receives a strong yes with very low favorability when asking if they can find an old friend. That could be interpreted as the friend turning on them or happening upon them as they (and now also the main characters) are endangered. That is a good example of how flavors add an extra layer of depth and story motion to the results of rolls.

Discovery (or revelation), drama, safety, usefulness, and weirdness are all good examples of other possible flavors. Experiment with diverse factors and themes.

Present flavors that will be most interesting or useful on rolls. Also consider what broad outcome or answer descriptions fit best with your genre and themes. Normality (or Weirdness described from the other direction) is great for weird fiction and surrealist stories. Safety (or Danger for its opposite) is appropriate in gritty, high risk, and violent worlds. Mix thematic flavors with general utility ones, like Favorability.

By giving players a choice of a few different third dimensions to answer in the oracle rolls, you also provide them with a bit more engagement and game choice. Be aware of this when designing. Standard advice is suggesting that players pick a default flavor to help avoid choice paralysis and overthinking.

Think of the main types of questions players and low prep GMs will ask within the game. Try to ensure that your basic flavor set covers most of the bases, that at least one is useful (if imperfect) on almost any roll. Add extra optional or secondary flavors that serve to provide more theme highlights or are necessary to ensure there is always a useful flavor to choose when rolling.

Flavors add variety and diversity to the answers and outcomes. Try to provide not only a broad or diverse set of flavors, but also look at the types of questions and efforts they are best suited for. If your game is intentionally a dungeon crawling pipeline, it is probably OK if most of your flavors are combat and exploration focused. But in other contexts, the same flavor set could be unbalanced or mismatched to the theme. Use common sense and your best judgement.

Oracle Interpretation

In general, low rolls are none, negative, bad, or contrary and high rolls are a lot, positive, good, or extremely. This allows a fairly free flowing system with intuitive results.

Read the dice rolls and outcomes as answers to the questions asked. Keep that in mind.

Root interpretations in your genre and themes. Genre assumptions and the lens adjustment of your themes will deeply impact the meaning of rolls.

A strong result in a small local story is quite different from the meaning in a superhero RPG. Similarly, what is strong failure in a high stakes high action standoff is quite distinct from the same result in a high school drama or sitcom style awkward stare-down.

Extra Flavor Rolls

In some cases, it may make sense to use rolls entirely made of flavors or using the answer die and two flavors. This is useful when defining some features, like loot or equipment. It is also good in cases where the simple answer and/or strength of answer are meaningless.

For example, you may want to decide the condition, efficiency, and features level of a vehicle or machine. Simply assign those to each die and interpret normally.

Oracle Rolls

Start with a simple story oracle roll. We are asking, "Is the inn crowded?" We choose "favorability [to the PCs]" as a flavor and roll 1 (answer), 2 (strength), 1 (favorability). The answer is a weak no with a very unfavorable result. The place is unusually empty, but not for long and in the worst way for the main characters.

Use the genre, themes, and context to determine what exactly that means. In a typical fantasy game, the baddies are about to ambush the party. If playing mystery or sci-fi kids and trying to find a crowded place to lose a tail, you ran into a metaphorical corner. In a horror game, this might be one of those twisted establishments brimming with danger to visitors. And so on.

Looking at an action roll, say we have an occult detective trying to talk down a newborn vampire and they get +1 on all the dice because of a skill bonus. We choose "drama" as the flavor and roll 5, 4, 2. With the modifier, that becomes 6, 5, 3. That's a strong yes with a moderate flavor result. The speech is very effective and the vamp is temporarily brought down from their bloodlust. It is about as dramatic of a scene as would be expected, but not more so and the vampire is left with lingering doubts about the detective.

If the meaning of a roll is not immediately clear: Read the dice as high/low binary without middle/mixed results. Is it clear now? If not, rephrase the question and roll again or move on.

For an example of extra flavor rolls and seed generators, look at regional resources. Their availability is an important or interesting detail in many RPGs and settings. Pick 2-4 regional resources, pick an order for them for the roll, and then roll that number of dice. Low is minimal or none, middle is average for the setting or larger but difficult to access reserves, and high indicates an abundance & easy access (naturally at least; NPCs and creatures are not precluded, but even likely drawn to abundant regional resources). Examples:

  • Minerals: The availability of valuable ores, desired minerals, useful clay, gemstones, and similar resources.

  • Herbs: How common medicinal, magical, and other useful flowers, wild fruits, and herbs are.

  • Animals: The abundance of animals and beasts with useful parts or usable as draft or other work animals.

  • Water: How accessible, clean, and/or abundant water is.

  • Farming: Extant and productivity of farming in the area.

  • Ruins: How numerous, accessible, valuable, and/or untouched ruins, dungeons, abandoned monster nests, ghost towns, or other similar local features are in the region.

Say we are playing a survivalist game in a post-apocalyptic world. The PCs have just completed the previous chapter and escaped the horrors of the valley below. They cross over the mountains to a new land, curious about its attributes.

The group decides restocking medical supplies (herbs), basic needs (water), and scrounging (ruins) are their primary goals. They kiss the dice for luck and roll 1 (herbs), 5 (water), and 4 (ruins). The plants here are not even edible, let alone useful medicine. But there is abundant fresh water and a moderate number of ruins with scavenging potential.

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