Start with your genre & themes, basic player character concept(s), and core oracles. From there, you can add on modular "patches" that fill out your system or tool and provide alternate play and use options.
Motif is designed to not only accept, but encourage this "plug and play" approach. It is even reflected in the core mechanics as flavors. Embrace it.
These types of mods focus on the general action and main questions involving it.
A core feature of most tabletop roleplaying games are character stats that modify the dice rolls. Motif games typically use broad descriptive traits and/or careers and skillsets. Traits and skillsets may be comprised of defined lists or open-ended for players. Consider your genre, themes, and protagonist concepts when creating lists or providing examples.
Modifiers may also be introduced by circumstances or conditions suffered. Even an expert thief facing a cutting-edge security system could have a harder time of it. Someone with a broken leg trying to escape a situation may face difficulty. On the other hand, things may be easier with help, particularly good tools, or so on.
Modifiers in Motif typically range from -2 to +2. The assumption is that a greater modifier should typically be an automatic simple, modest cost success or failure.
For perspective and simplicity's sake, let us assume we're asking binary yes/no or success/fail questions with the low half (1-3) no or bad and the top half (4-6) yes or good on all dice. A -2 means you only have a 1 in 6 chance of a yes or good result on that dice. In contrast, a +1 means a 2 in 3 (4/6) chance you will get a yes or good result.
Modifiers may be applied to certain dice or all dice. Some bonuses may also apply to a die of choice before or after a roll. Some penalties or curses may also force a player to choose certain dice to take a penalty before the roll.
In a similar vein of player choice, especially strong skills may allow a player to rearrange their dice after the roll. Especially weak skills or harsh penalties may result in the dice being arranged in the least favorable order.
Variations of the rearrangement concept can focus on broader gameplay or the core play loop, such as other players determining the dice order of rolls or a GM offering a story point or alternative benefit for a shift in dice order.
Unlike like traditional RPGs and SRDs, Motif does not usually make a notable distinction between combat and other scenes. It zooms in and out with timing, in pace with the focus and action. Generally, things can be taken as sequences of events, whether a montage or time-sensitive dramatic scene.
Motif does not follow conventional rounds and turns with blow-by-blow action. Even when zoomed on "action sequences", the pacing is still broad. A single roll or "turn" is a full series of actions, interactions, and attempts. In a single "round", all actions presumably happen simultaneously.
Where turn order matter, we recommend dividing each round into three steps: Talking, Doing, Conflict. By default, PCs gets one action of each. Talking is any kind of communication. Doing is active or interactive effort that is unopposed or not a conflict. Conflict is any kind of opposed or aggressive action, not merely fighting or traditional combat. Can spend a Doing action for an extra Talking action and a Conflict action for an extra Talking or Doing action.
As needed per effort, each player rolls. On failures or costly results impose consequences as appropriate, such as a gunshot wound in a gun battle. On successes, the objective is achieved, progress is made, or consequences are imposed on enemies. With mixed results, both sides are at least partially successful but also suffer consequences from the other.
If after all players go there remain NPCs or scene features left to act or impose conditions, they carry out their actions for free or players may receive defense rolls. On defense, players do not usually get any additional actions and cannot impose additional consequences on their opponents. It is usually a flat roll (no modifiers) or -1 on all dice. You may have players roll for each threat or roll once against all remaining opponents.
Failure, per usual, results in cost, harm, or consequences. Consider allowing a strong success to result in better positioning or some other advantage. Also count flavor benefits and results as per normal. While they may not impose harms, they may be able to otherwise gain.
Conflict between main characters is generally discouraged in most Motif builds. If it comes up, usually the defender or the character with the weaker roll is the one to roll.
An example of a rule discouraging conflict is providing a defensive bonus of +1 to all dice and/or the benefit of rearranging the dice after the roll when attacked by a PC.
If your game or subsystem encourages competition or conflict between the player characters, carefully consider how the oracle system and player facing rolls work within it. Shifting intentional conflicts into subsystems and competitions instead of direct conflict is recommended. Resource and prestige systems are good examples of opportunities for managed inter-player conflict and competition.
Most roleplaying games have some way to track harms or stresses. Motif games usually do as well, using "Conditions". By default, conditions are universal. A social injury of being "intimidated" is treating under the same limits and general rules as physical harm of "gunshot wound". However, you may use separate tracks for different types of conditions, such as one each for physical and mental well-being.
Conditions are simply narrative labels. They are what they say on the label and impede or influence actions as common-sense dictates. A broken leg is a broken leg. Being sweet-talked is being sweet-talked. Follow the obvious and intuitive consequences of a given condition.
The same applies for healing and recovering from conditions. Fast talk from a suspect may immediately wear off after a brief time or the end of the scene. Manipulation from a long-time mentor may take a much longer time to overcome, even if the face of evidence. Treatment may impact outcome. Different types of PCs may also have different recovery capabilities. Apply common sense and follow the context.
Characters usually have a limit to the number of conditions they can bear. In most Motif games, exceeding this limit results in being pushed aside, passing out, or otherwise put out of action for the rest of the scene. We recommend a limit of 3 to 5 conditions for most games.
Conditions may be divided into two or three severity levels. Characters may be knocked out of action by any level of Condition, as long as they exceed their capacity.
Alternatively, they may instead only be bumped out of the scene when filled with the most severe conditions. In that instance, if they are full up and receive another harm, replace or upgrade a pre-existing less severe Condition.
Conditions may turn into "Scars" when healed, if severe enough or left untreated. A character may by default hold as many scars as they can conditions. If they would exceed their limit, they replace one with a more severe version.
It is recommended that players are given a clear warning for situations where the risk of injury is severe enough to risk death or permanent retirement. Players should also hold the choice of retiring due to overwhelming scars.
You may alternately use a basic system of generic "Hits", which is best for simple light games. You may also include variable damage, in which case a more traditional system of health points or a health ladder may be more appropriate.
Outside of commonsense limitations or difficulties, we do not recommend general penalties for stresses and injuries. This often results in a "death spiral" where a bad sequence can result in increasingly impossible survival odds. If anything, we suggest going the opposite route. The more injured someone is, the harder they fight.
This set of mods is focused on additional player character options. These pieces and those like them help round out characters and add play options or shift game emphasis. Some, like additional Resources or Expert Rolls, may be added as a game layer on top of standalone TTRPG.
Resources are helpful things that a PC has available to them. You can detail and divide them in any number of ways. We divide them into Stuff, Stones, and Stats.
Stuff is just your common stuff. Some you may not need to note, like having tea in the cupboard. Other stuff may be equipment carried and recorded. This is perfect for most tangible and individual scale things or factors that simply do not need to be recorded.
A player may perhaps spend some stones on getting better equipment, but they do not need spend stones for what they have or pick up in the course of play. What they have is what they have, simple as that.
Stones are variable resources, represented by a counter or "stones", such as goodwill or favors you can cash in on (spending the stones). Used for factors that are flexible and easily subject to change based on actions. They usually have conditions or principles for which they are gained and lost.
They can be spent for whatever that resource reflects. Secrets stones can be spent for hidden, lost, and rare information and whispers. Favor or Prestige stones may be spent as one could for calling in favors or upon a good reputation, typically requesting support or help. They are excellent for emphasizing certain themes and types of social interactions.
Stats are ratings or levels assigned to things, as in many traditional RPGs. It can be used to emphasize certain play elements or a way to measure scale. We typically use a 3 or 5 step scale to measure the strength of a resource. It can be an overall scale of utility or power, expressed in individual sub-stats, or both. A social tie may have Loyalty (how close to you or loyal, which affects how helpful or generous) and Assets (wealth and/or influence, how risky or expensive of aid they are willing to offer for the right price). It may also or instead have a general scale rating. Personal facilities, strongholds, equipment access, information access, and many other factors can be handled in this way.
Those are examples. The idea can be expressed in countless ways. Think about what best fits the tone and approach your project. The key is seeing all of them as resources available to PCs. Not all resources must have a practical use. Depending on concept, "useless" resources may make sense. For example, take a sitcom game resource of an impressively extensive social network. It may rarely, if ever, find the actual right person for the job.
Expert rolls are an interesting way to influence the world based on strong skills, ties, resources, and so on. The perspective is expressed from the in-character point of view.
In instances where a talent, skillset, or other character sheet attribute applies, simply roll as you would for any other roll using it. An architect looking for a back exit may say, "These types of buildings usually have a back exit because of fire codes. Is there an accessible one?" They roll their architecture, law, or other relevant skill. Weak or close success indicates a yes at a cost or inconvenience, a clear or strong success suggests a nearby available exit.
Where there are sheet attributes that are not normally rolled, you may use the core oracle rolls. For middling to slightly strong ratings, roll without a modifier. For top tier benefits, use a roll +1 on all dice or rearrange the dice order after the roll. This may also apply to character backgrounds, judging whether to use a flat roll or roll with bonus based on the value to the character and how deep the tie. Making declarations about their home neighborhood would come at a bonus. A place they visited once or a few times might be a flat roll.
This is designed to be system neutral, but it fits exceptionally well in Motif games and RPGs with well-developed skill systems or open-ended careers. The concept is very flexible and easily modified or even replaced with a distinct approach.
Pools are sets of points that can be gained, lost, spent, and recovered. They can be used to power special abilities, grant bonus modifiers on rolls, heal conditions, or any other number of things that special points can do in RPGs.
They usually have a set starting amount based on the character type. They may or may not have a permanent rating and/or a cap. For pools with permanent ratings, the rating is usually the maximum for the spendable points and they typically regenerate at a steady rate, sometimes with options to recover them more quickly by taking certain actions.
Pools without permanent ratings may still have a cap, but they do not usually regenerate points passively. Instead, these pools usually have a list or principles with examples that trigger the gain or loss of the spendable points. Resource stones, described previously, are an example of this pool type.
Pools should emphasize the genre, core themes of your game, or notable truths about the player characters. Only one or a few things need a pool of points for tracking or drawing from.
You may use collective group pools to create an action economy or for zoomed out or extended group actions. Pools can be used to represent a limited number of threats, environmental hazard flareups, or similar factors in a scene. Spendable and refreshable points are a flexible tool.
Special abilities are an obvious feature where the protagonists are spellcasters or epic heroes. However, scaled appropriately, they may be used in fairly simple low-level or local games as well. Like everything from damage to difficulties, it is all relative to the scale and perspective of the player characters.
Abilities are usually divided into two, three, or five levels of utility or power. How fine grained and how big the scale depends entirely on your setting and character concepts. Minor and major or simple, competent, and advanced suffice for most games. However, a game with a large scale or deeply involved hypertech system may benefit from the wider spread of five distinct levels.
It is recommended that each level is described in context of what it can do with a solid handful of generic examples per level. This provides a consistent sense of the power scale and provides some grounded references.
Characters may only have one or two narrow or specific abilities. Other concepts may have a few very broad abilities or several narrow but powerful abilities. They can be anything from pulp fiction style stunts to weird horror magic spells to biopunk enhancements and so on.
Use abilities to make the main characters stand out and shine or to highlight the setting and aesthetic of your game.
Abilities are rarely free. A common option is a cost that draws from a pool or upon a particular resource. This is a fairly common feature in tabletop roleplaying games. As but one possible example, a sorcerer game may have a ritual pool, which gains points as various preparatory rites and ritual phases are completed that can then be dedicated as magical energy into a spell and/or reducing the price of casting it.
Abilities may also instead impose conditions and/or other costs in their use. This is especially a good option in settings with demonic, wicked, or corrupted magic, as well as a good pairing with broken, corrupted, or malfunctioning tech. Using conditions, it also nicely pairs with the trope of overusing abilities or using them when weakened causing the user to be badly injured or pass out.
Costs for abilities may be directed elsewhere or more nebulous. They can also result in changes and statuses. Someone may gain an energy that makes people and animals feel distrusting or afraid of the character. They could lose friends and family. Some of their resources and ties may be lost. The group could acquire a negative reputation or become the target of dark forces. The possibilities are endless and we encourage you to explore them.
The key is making abilities a highlight and seem useful, while also ensuring that they do not sprawl out of control. Too many or too much detail will work against the generally free-flowing nature of Motif. Stay focused.
Dark Talents: These are powers gained from dark and evil forces. Some sought out to study ancient tomes and medieval grimoires to learn their secrets. Some were born with a degree of psychic and magical ability. Others were cursed by demonic powers from Beyond to bind the would-be heroes of Light to the Dark and its alluring temptations of power and freedom.
Individual Talents may only be used once in a given scene.
Major Dark Talents are powerful abilities. Everything has a cost and major Dark Talents demand a price for their power. Each use of them causes a moderate Condition and creates wicked impulses and temptations. Calling upon such preternatural might taxes the body and soul alike. Examples:
Telekinesis. Hold people and throw things with your mind.
Technomancy. "Talk" to computers and chip-based devices.
Exorcism. Forcefully cast out demons, specters, and so on.
Medium. Talk to spirits; command them in a limited way.
Minor Dark Talents are very limited powers or but improvements over normal human limits. They are cheaper to use, but still not without cost. Each use of them causes a minor Condition and mild temptations. Examples:
Touch Visions. Symbolic and vague visions on direct contact.
Animal Speech. Communicate with a specific type of animal.
Night Vision. Almost inhumanly perfect night vision.
Limited Mimic. Mimic someone for 66 minutes, 6 seconds.
Domains: The ability to perform miracles. They range the 1^st^ to 3^rd^ "Circle". The 3rd Circle is usually inaccessible to starting PCs, reserved to more advanced characters. Two scales are presented. The first is the general level of power. The second provides a sense of how deeply they affect they wielder and change them, in line with their concept/theme.
Domains are general sphere of influence, categories of things or concepts. Plants, Information, and Love are possible examples. They may be a pre-defined set or open to player creation. If open-ended, narrower Domains maintain the same power level, but should be more effective and/or longer-lasting the exercises of broader Domains.
1st Circle Power: Perform minor miracles and astounding feats of awareness and insight
2nd Circle Power: Permits the performance of small-scale miracles and impressive magical feats
3rd Circle Power: Near entirely command an aspect Creation and essentially rewrite portions of local reality
1st Circle Effects: Modest changes, such as minor skin discoloration, hissing and growling, and radiating warmth.
2nd Circle Effects: Notable effects, such as a distinct unrealistic art-like features, feral behavior, and stone skin
3rd Circle Effects: Radical transformations, such as looking like a vaguely human shaped elemental, radiating emotional auras, and extreme changes in perception & behavior.
Domains are typically balanced with a limited pool to spend on activating the abilities or an oracle roll using cost, strength, and duration (or a set fitting your game).
Character advancement is a common expectation in tabletop roleplaying games. As with other mods and features, we have a few insights for what works well with Motif.
Character advancement can be generally divided into temporary or losable gains and more permanent or difficult to lose benefits. Obviously, that which is used or lost more easily should be less difficult or less expensive to acquire.
If you have a downtime or extended action system, it is often a good idea to integrate your advancement system into that. Allow players to spend or invest downtime or extended actions in training, study, reflection, and so on. If you have a robust resources and pools systems, you may have players invest their resources and expenditures into character growth.
Spending on short-term or more easily used and lost gains should be encouraged or incentivized. However, more expensive purchases should be substantial enough to justify the cost. For example, make it easier to gain lower bonus skillsets, equipment, and social ties than it is to achieve high bonus careers, difficult to lose or destroy items, abilities, pool rating improvements, and so on.
You may also use milestones (convenient interlude points or the end of story chapters) or traditional experience points that may be spent for gains or trigger milestone or level gains. Alternately, you may use a steady per-session XP.
The same basic advancement subsystem could be implemented in different ways or have variant costs in different games. This is particularly common for equipment and social ties or influence. It depends on how fragile or losable you treat them.
If equipment or social gains are generally permanent or long-lasting in your project, we suggest pricing them like permanent gains. You may also divide them into more fragile and longer-lasting categories. Cheap equipment may not be durable or inexpensive contacts may be easily expended or lost. In contract, pricier equipment and social ties may be more durable and difficult to lose.
This can also be applied to character traits. While most RPGs feature mostly permanent traits, some games may have a play economy where severe stresses and injuries reduce or erase traits or simply has a system where traits fluctuate.
If you use milestones, be sure to make milestone markers broad enough to avoid a "railroad" or forced plot in most cases. Milestones work best by "story chapter" or within systems that have a story outline with chapters or steps.
If you are using per-session XP, make a conscious choice between milestone style bumps ("leveling") and free spends where traits cost set amounts and player freely purchase the advantages and characteristics they wish to acquire. Both are valid, but produce a different feel. Resource pools generally use the free spend combined with investment over time.
These mods look at different ways to guide and alter the general gameplay.
Templates are fantastic tools for NPCs, locations, and other such elements. Essentially, they are like little AI engines powered by your pre-existing knowledge of genres, tropes, and story logic. They name the vital characteristics that determine who/what they are and how they behave or interact with the protagonists.
For NPCs and encounters, default templates will usually include factors like attitude, motive, goal, and tactics or approach. A few simple factors put together will result in complex behaviors. A nobleman with a cruel attitude, greedy motive, goal to maximize taxes, and a brutal approach spells out a clear archetype. A robber with a generous attitude, charity motive, goal to alleviate poverty, and a strategic approach also yields a rich and interesting character.
NPCs should also usually have actions, that which they will do when unimpeded, and consequences, possible actions and harms when failing against them in conflicts. They may also reflect special abilities or strong skillsets by creating a penalty modifier for player aggression against them. This is the main way enemy talents are resolved with player facing rolls.
Templates are extremely flexible. Any number of entries and variations can be used to specify the essential questions about NPC behavior: what they do, how they do it, and why they do it. Spelling it out is not only useful for solo and GM-less play, but also makes games easier to run for GMs.
The default template entries are broad and generic (but useful) examples. Individual games or RPG tools might have additional entries or completely different templates entirely. The key is that the templates should be designed to make NPC behavior and feature interactivity as obvious as possible, while sticking to simple descriptive tags.
For example, wild animals and magical beasts may have a few additional template entries to round them out. They could have habitat, temperament, fight triggers, and flight triggers.
As another example, we mentioned locations. Locations may have template features like mood (overall social feel) and crowd (the type of regulars or attendees). For the purposes of "what happens next", use the template to treat the location like a single NPC with a single collective perspective.
Standard NPC entries can usually be used for locations and world features. Motive is easily a brand's mission statement. Attitude applies to the general reception of the PCs in a place.
You can also represent groups as "personas" spelled out in an NPC template, representing the group's behavior as a group or the collective opinions and efforts of its members.
Counters are just that, ways of counting up or down to an event. The progress may be steady, based on the number of scenes or the passage of in-game time. They may also behave more like some pools or resource stones, with specific factors that push the counter forward, hold it in place, or even sometimes turn it back.
Clocks are a currently popular trending example of counters. Using pies or regular clocks to illustrate the count is a fantastic tool. However, counters can also be plain numbers. It can be as simple as "3 scenes" or "3 successful efforts".
Counters are a good way to handle races, chases, and other time-competitive situations. Give each contestant or faction a counter. The first one to finish the count wins. Count advancement can be based on successes (for the PCs) and failures (for the antagonists) from straight rolls, how quickly and cleanly the PCs complete tasks, or any other number of factors. Tailor the counting method to your tropes.
Counters are also generally good for any "race against time" type games and situations. You have a limited amount of time before a bomb detonates. You can only do so much before hunters locate and come after you.
Counters are ideally used to emphasize pacing and timing. They can also be used to represent the inevitable and create dramatic tension. Experiment with countdowns and races.
Tracks, or ladders, are meters or capped characteristics that usually measure from one extreme to another. Health levels are a popular example of a track. Stress and health tracks are also used in many indie games. Tracks can also be used to measure corruption, instability, evolution, ascension, or similar overarching characteristics and goals.
In one point of view, tracks may be considered a variant of counters. However, tracks tend to be more consistent and permanent than counters. They also generally have a stronger tie to the characters and the main plotlines. For example, conditions may be a considered a track.
Generally, as a track is filled up or ladder rungs are "climbed", different factors and character influences will come into play. PCs may gain bonuses as they fight in desperation as a health track progresses. A character may face temptation rolls or penalties on them as their corruption grows.
For the most part, the benefits and consequences should be kept simple. We suggest limiting complexity and granular results to where it hits on your key themes and tropes.
When filled, a track will usually trigger a major event. For conditions, this is going out of action until the end of scene. For corruption, this may be retirement as the darkness claims them. For evolution, they may mutate and gain new traits. The possibilities are as endless as the options for tracks.
Triggers are when certain dice rolls or events trigger a subsystem or reactive events. For example, rolling a 1 on a given die or rolling doubles on the first two dice (both 1/6 chance). For events, it could be things like when the character hits their conditions cap, when a certain track fills ups, or when facing an ambush.
A trigger is simply something that triggers another process or event. The twists and turns path included in the next section is a good example of how triggers may be used.
Triggers may also be used to modify other game elements. For example, we note the possibility of a full track triggering a major event. As other examples, a character ability may be rerolling when they get a 1 on the answer or flavor die or they may gain a certain "consolation prize" or "failure reward" resource or pool points when they roll 2 or less on all dice.
Triggers are convenient ways to interconnect different pieces of your build, set requirements or conditions for the use of abilities, or introduce new elements or more emergent complexity. They are essentially "if X then Y" statements.
They also excel at mechanically making certain themes and elements matter. When thematic traits have requirements or triggered consequences, it is "real" to players. The corruption patch included in the following section is a nice example of a robust implementation of triggers, pools, and tracks.