Stars Over Africa
This was my entry from the Iron Game Chef Lives! contest of 2002. This game needs a complete rewrite including examples as the rules text is poorly explained. Very much an early draft version.
“What is it worth to you?”
In a timeless aeon before history began, before Egypt or Babylon, there was a land wrapped in the thick, green embrace of the jungle. From this sweltering womb grew civilizations that pushed back the ever-encroaching jungle with mighty walls of yellow and gray stone and works of wonder, their mystics and priests studied the stars that line the heavens and made marvels of artistic and magical power, including the very cities themselves.
In these cities, extensive courts of noblemen vie against one another for the service and blessings of the wizard-priests and access to their master works, hoping to add the mystic power therein to their own and divine the uses of the magic surging untapped within edifices swallowed by the hungry green jungle. In so doing, they hope to achieve Harmony, and so ascend to the ivory throne of the Seven Cities of the jungle’s womb.
In the untamed jungles there lurk the dangers that keep these ambitious men from their goals, and terrify the citizens who live sheltered within the city walls. Among them are the savage Children of the Green, whose societies were forged by ancient cataclysms in times before men stood upright beneath the stars or could count the diamonds scattered across the night sky…the Children of the Green are demons, claim some, led by fallen gods who were once stars above, now cast or fallen to the black, sweltering earth to search for the power held by its wizards and denied them as gods.
Can you wrest the mystic secrets from the wizards who hold them, and will you do so by force or diplomacy? Will you brave the savage jungle to reclaim ancient places of power and learn their secrets? And even then, do you have what it takes to use your knowledge and power to protect the cities of man from the savage things without? Or will you become one of the Forsaken cultists of the Jungle…or something worse..?
There are seven cities of the interior, some are city-states unto themselves while others rule lands held by the outer villages. Each is known for a single color, there is Iriaem the Grey, Niibiri of the Yellow-Tiles, Caiaero the Sparkling Blue, Shanadar the White (City of the Great King), Rabbullu the Red, and Otunga of the Purple Lotus.
Various noble courts within each city vie for rulership of the citizenry, attempting to outdo one another with their architectural and mystical accomplishments and their creation of providence for their people. It is through design and aesthetic the cities keep the Jungle at bay, through the Harmony contained in a properly executed piece of artwork, be it a mural painted on the inner walls of the palace to keep thieves at bay, or the layout of the city streets to thwart the encroachment of the jungle.
To create a nobleman, first choose a city in which his Court is located, then tie each one of the following Abilities to one of the Keywords which follows. What you tie together decides how your nobleman deals with situations covered by the Keyword.
For example, placing Force with Africa means the nobleman uses force and strength to deal with threats to Africa or his subjects; placing Force with Art means the nobleman uses his edifices and wizards to create strength of arms and bravado, perhaps even creating an army of mystical warriors, or uses a diamond at the top of a great tower that creates a burning beam of magic to be directed against the enemies of the city.
Numerology: foresight and luck.
Africa: glory and benefit to the land and people.
Court: rank among the Courts and ascension to the throne.
Art: the mystical force available to the nobleman.
- A task that deals with Numerology affects the unknown future and planning.
- A task that deals with Africa affects the city, the people or the jungle as an entity.
- A task that deals with Court affects the Court and the Nobleman and their status or rule.
- A task that deals with Art affects structures, edifices and traditions.
Each character also has a Harmony score and a Control score. Split 5 points between these two scores; assign at least 1 point to each.
- Harmony is an attunement with the natural order of things as governed by the symmetry of the stars above, it is enlightenment or understanding, and the wisdom to foresee and allow a course or event to be arrived at naturally.
- Control is worldly power and forcefulness, the ability to bend the natural order to one’s will and hasten or lengthen the time between events; it entails lack of patience and virtue.
Noble Hadid Amir:
The point of “Stars Over Africa” is to achieve enough Harmony and ability to rule the Seven Cities as the Great King, though play groups can certainly alter that to reflect some other grand and worthy quest which serves all Africa and the Seven Cities. To do this, characters must achieve Goals, thereby gaining ability bonuses and Harmony.
The minimum amount of Harmony needed to ascend to the throne of Shanadar is 10. The minimum amount of ability gain needed is set by the group at the start of play, based on the number of rounds they wish to play.
The group may also decide on specific ability gains that must be achieved in order to become the Great King, setting this to a specific amount added to one, or more, abilities (frex, +5 to Rulership; or +3 to Wisdom and +4 to Rulership; or a total of +7 spread among all abilities).
For longer campaigns, set goals that must be attained for each city, and declare at least one of these per city must be achieved for the noble to gain recognition in that city and so have even a chance at being named to the throne.
To determine each nobleman’s goal for a round of the game or to determine a mixture of goals for a particular city, roll a 10-sided die to roll and compare the result with the table below. Attainment of the goal results in the bonus listed for the character who achieves it (starting the next round).
|1||Discovery.||+1 to Wisdom||A legendary Diamond mine or an ancient edifice|
|2||Romance.||+1 to Harmony||A courtly wooing or a scandalous affair|
|3||Intrigue.||+1 to Cleverness||Spying, asassination or bounty hunting|
|4||Invention.||+1 to Cleverness||A new edifice, technology or medicine|
|5||Travel.||+1 to Wisdom||Trade, exploration or vacation|
|6||Judgment.||+1 to Rulership||Passing law and meeting out justice|
|7||Horror.||+1 to Force||A disease, earthquake or worse|
|8||Politics.||+1 to Rulership||A smear campaign or diplomatic mission|
|9||War.||+1 to Force||Against another city, Court or the Jungle|
Each Goal Event requires a certain number of steps to attain, equal to the Harmony score of the character. Each step must be narrated by a player, who explains the situation (the setup) of the step and assigns a keyword to it. The narrator is always the character with the highest Control score who is not involved in the quest. If all characters are involved, the keyword is chosen by rolling a 4-sided die and the affected player narrates the situation.
The individual with the highest Harmony during a step always rolls first, however, anyone else can decide to roll a die (modified by their Control score) to go first instead and steal the glory. This invokes the normal roll to see if Control increases. When another player rolls to supersede your place; you may roll again against them to go first, and so on until everyone is happy with or simply consigned to their position in the order.
Players may also make a bid for the goal of another player, hoping to beat them to the finish and supersede their victory, thus gaining more ability for themselves. Any number of players can compete for the same goal, but in all cases they must attempt to achieve their own goal as well. The number of steps for these extra players is always equal to the original player’s Harmony plus one per extra player.
Should the keyword chosen be linked to a character’s Control score, that character may not use Harmony to boost their roll, but their Control score is doubled for the step. Should the keyword chosen be linked to a character’s Harmony score, they may use their Control score, but their current number of steps to gain another point of Control is permanently halved.
The narration of a step should be suitably dramatic and interesting, similar to a scene from a movie.
The initial setup of a situation includes a problem that blocks progress. Based on the results of the roll, the character either overcomes the problem or is thwarted by it: the former results in progress being made towards the goal, the latter results in ending further from the goal, and either may result in no gains or losses towards the goal.
The length of a step can be short (comprising a single action) or long (comprising a scene’s worth of interactions and events).
Task resolution is a simple d10 – d10 system. Modifiers are added to the rolls for each die and the results are totaled; then the chart below is checked to determine if the player moved towards their goal, away from it, or made no progress in either direction.
0 Complete Failure! Disastrous! Reduce Harmony by 2.
1 Failure! Increase steps to goal by 2.
2 Partial Failure. Increase steps to goal by 1.
3 Partial Failure. Increase steps to goal by 1.
4 Neutral Result. No change in status quo.
5 Neutral Result. No change in status quo.
6 Partial Success. Reduce steps to goal by 1.
7 Partial Success. Reduce steps to goal by 1.
8 Success! Reduce steps to goal by 2.
9 Complete Success! Stunning! Increase Harmony by 2.
Note that rolls over 9, while they do provide success, may not provide an increase to Harmony. Instead, use the actual results of the roll to determine if there is an increase to Harmony, and reduce the steps to the goal by 2.
The total of a roll which results in a score under 0 behaves much the same as total greater than 9. Use the results of the actual roll to determine if there was any Harmony loss, and increase the steps to the goal by 2.
Once per quest, a player can use their Harmony or Control score to gain a bonus to a roll.
A player may also use their Control score once per quest to increase the difficulty of a task for an opponent, resulting in a penalty to the opponent’s roll equal to the interfering player’s Control score.
Beware of using too much Control, for it results in corruption of the spirit and being cast out into the jungle to live as a cultist or slave or to die at the hands of the Children. Each time Control is used, the player must roll a die, adding their current Control score to check if the score increases. The number of steps it takes to increase Control by 1 is equal to the character’s current Harmony score…treat results of 0-3 as 4-5, treat a 9+ as an immediate increase to Control of 2 points. Should a loss of Harmony result in the character meeting or exceeding the number of steps required to increase Control, then do so.
If a character’s Control score ever exceeds their current Harmony by more than 3 points (ie: four points or more), they are cast out of the Cities…that player may then play or contribute to the play of the Jungle, which seeks to destroy the Cities, pulling them down into ruin and wrapping everything once more in its choking green embrace.
Until one or more of the players join it, the Jungle acts as its own “player” (simply being the opposing force as represented by the second subtractive die rolled for task resolution). When a player joins it, the player(s) acting as the Jungle can use their Control score as described above, penalizing an opponent’s roll.
The Children of the Green
Almost nothing of the Jungle has Harmony.
Rare caches of Harmony do exist within the Green, however, providing temporary Harmony blessings to those who find them. A Harmony blessing occurs when the keyword declared for a step is the same keyword to which a player has tied their Harmony. If the player manages to roll an 8 or better for the step, they gain the Harmony blessing — a temporary bestowment of of a point or two of Harmony, which when added to a roll is used up.
Here are some ideas for what’s “out there” in the Jungle:
- Giant, intelligent ape-savages.
- Snake-gods and snake-cults and giant snakes.
- There are Beast Cities out there, but are they built by preternaturally intelligent animals — or merely inhabited by them, and built by others?
- And let us not forget the Lost Gods, those fallen stars which rule the Green…
More traditional RPGs are done action-by-action affairs, and Stars in Africa can be run this way as well. Merely use the abilities given above as traditional RPG abilities and set the the Goal as a larger adventure the action is taking place within.
A single player should be nominated to be Africa, He Who Numbers the Stars, and is responsible for detailing and narrating all creatures, situations and locations outside each character in the game.
When confronted with an obstacle (be it a creature or situation), a character always rolls a single d10 and adds their ability modifier; this is opposed by creatures and items, each which has a d10 of their own, and their own modifiers (frex, the ape-savages might have a +3 to their Force).
In this sort of game, a player can declare an appropriate keyword tied to one of their scores and the opposition must use the same keyword to determine which ability is used to modify the countering roll. However, in order to do so, the player must roll a die and add their Harmony; if successful (ie: the roll totals above 6) they may choose the keyword.
“Steps” have little meaning in this context, and instead is used to reflect the damage done or effects avoided. Damage is taken directly off abilities. Once a character reaches -5 in an ability, they die. Otherwise, ability damage heals fully after the current Goal has been achieved or abandoned and a new Goal set.
Also, rolling a “0″ or a “9″ does not result in immediate Harmony gains or losses in this type of game, each requires a number of steps to achieve. In the case of a gain, this is equal to the Control score of the individual. In the case of a loss, it requires a number of steps equal to the character’s Harmony score.
Example of Play
We have two players, one choses to be from a court in Rabbullu the Red and another chooses to be from a court of Niibiri of the Yellow-Tiles.
Your nobleman is confronting a band of ape savages amid the ruins of a lost edifice deep in the jungle. The player calling the keyword declares it to be an Africa task. When your nobleman was created, you tied Force to Africa, and so you roll your Force to resolve this task.
Two of the other players are also present, attempting to claim the Temple for their own. They, too, must roll their Africa score, and their handling of the situation is based on what scores they have chosen to go alongside Africa.
The first one to their goal in that round of play is the one who gets the glory. They give one of their abilities an extra point which modifies all rolls made with that ability.
Frex, one of the steps to the goal is surviving the attack of an ape-savage, which is using its Africa. The player checks their character sheet and finds they have linked Africa to Force, so they will roll a die and add any modifiers for Force to the check. The Ape-savage has an Africa of +3, while the player has no bonus to their Force. The roll at this point would be d10 – d10+3, unless the player choses to add his Harmony or Control to the roll.