The Interrobang Diaries: Character Assets

If we only had a wheelbarrow...

First, a note: a reader pointed out to me that another name for the interrobang punctuation symbol is an exclamaquest, which is a good name for a fantasy adventure game insofar as it references questing.

I like Interrobang as a name for the system so I'm going to keep using it... but I have been looking for a new name for the game I'm working towards with it, as A Wilder World accidentally evokes Apocalypse World and its apocalypse-powered spin-offs.

Exclamaquest, though, manages to fit both excitement and fantasy adventure into a single world. Best of all, it yields the abbreviation !?, in contrast to Interrobang's ?!. Since the foundational mechanic of Interrobang is that being on-brand makes you more powerful and effective, I don't think I can pass this up.

So long live Exclamaquest... !?

Character Creation Part 3: Assets

Assets are things that your character has. The most obvious form of asset is an actual physical item, but an asset can also represent a social connection in the form of an ally, patron, animal companion, etc.

The limitations are they must be things that could exist in the game world and that your character could have, which may be more open-ended in some games and at some tables than others

Just as aspects of identity don't cover everything that a character is, assets don't cover everything a character has, only the things that are most relevant to the plot/adventure. 

Every character can maintain a number of assets equal to their Resources. In Vanillabang, the assumption is that your Resources is equal to your Character Rank, which is also the number of points allocated among the aspects in step one, though when running a game that starts out with very low ranked characters the starting Resources may be set higher.

It is recommended but not required, if a player isn't sure how to choose their assets, that they spend them in accordance with how they weighted their character's aspects. A [beautiful] [warrior] with four points in warrior and two in beautiful would probably want 4 points of arms and armor or other things that are useful for warriors, and 2 relating to beauty.

Resources Are Spoken For, Not Spent

You don't lose Resources when you "buy" an asset. It's more like the asset uses up a slot. If you lose or give up an asset, the slot is opened up. The idea is that your Resources represents your ability to maintain a certain amount of things, be it gear, relationships, training, etc. 

What Assets Do For You

Vanillabang by design doesn't include a laundry list of different assets or an exhaustive list of types of assets, but some general guidance for things that might be assets. The idea is that players and game runners will work out what an asset does -- what it means, in some cases -- both before and during play. Some are straightforward (weapons and armor) and some are more esoteric.

The general idea is that an asset either lets you do something you couldn't normally do, or lets you do better at something you could. The former conveys no mechanical bonus; the latter gives +1 to gambit rolls, where applicable.

A very simple example would be weapons. Ranged weapons let you attack in a situation where it would be impossible otherwise; melee weapons let you attack a foe you could reach, better.

An asset that is markedly more powerful may be allowed at a cost of taking up more resources, or having limitations on use. Conversely, an asset that by its nature could only be used once might be more powerful. For instance, if a character has a bullet that was cast from the shards of a bullet they were shot with and left for dead by their double-crossing partner, the game runner may agree that bullet is worth +6 to a roll when it's finally fired.

Only one asset can add to a roll, so if multiple ones could technically apply, the highest one does.

In addition to assets, characters may define up to two tokens, which are things that have absolutely no mechanical benefit in foreseeable circumstances but which act as story hooks, like a map (or part of one) that leads to a fabulous treasure, or a mysterious amulet (or part of one) that serves as proof of a secret legacy.

Defining tokens is 100% optional and a token may be combined with an asset.

A specific game -- like Exclamaquest -- may have more detailed guidelines for assets, with specific categories of things that are available and rules for figuring out the resource value of them.

Assets That Aren't Items

An asset can also be conceived of as a special technique or knowledge, which is especially useful when making a character who is not materialistic or reliant on technology. For instance, a martial artist might have knowledge of unarmed fighting that gives a +1 bonus the same way a weapon would, and a special dangerous technique that can only be used rarely that yields a larger bonus. A wizard might have a spell for conjuring magical missiles that works as a ranged weapon.

The difference between a physical asset and a notional one is basically assumed to be a matter of taste. While there are some advantages to an internal technique or spell (or cybernetic implant or mutation) compared to a physical object, there are also trade-offs, mainly the fact that it can't be shared, loaned, thrown to an ally in need, etc.

While it might be tempting for players to figure out ways to make all their assets intrinsic so they can't be deprived of them... an asset is part of a character, conceptually, and the game discourages game runners from depriving players of them arbitrarily. At the same time, players are encouraged to roll with it if the story calls for them to be temporarily deprived of some of their capabilities as a result of a turn in the story (like a lost battle), whether it's because they have been disarmed, bound, put in a suppression field, etc.

Characters as Assets

An asset may be a contact who provides information, services, or even other assets (informant, fixer, supplier) as needed, a faithful traveling companion, an ally who will show up to lend aid, a patron who supports the character's efforts, etc. Vanillabang does provide some basic guidance for appropriate limits for a 1-resource support character, which again specific games built on the engine might expand upon in setting-specific ways.

Gaining Assets

Within the confines of an adventure, there's no rules for gaining or losing an asset. If you throw away a weapon or get your contact killed, you gain no compensation for the resource(s) freed up. But at the same time, if you pick up a cool new gadget or make a new ally, you don't need resources free to make use of them.

In a one-shot, that's as far as it needs to go, obviously.

For ongoing games, any assets that are lost or used up can be replaced between adventures, either by assuming the original could be replaced if not unique or found its way back somehow if it was, or with a suspiciously similar substitute, or simply by allocating the resources for something else.

You can use this to show growth. For instance, a character who used the special bullet they made out of the bullet that shot them might have a sense of peace amounting to a +1 roll for mental defenses.

Or possibly their thirst for vengeance will blossom into bloodthirstiness instead of being sated, and they now add +1 to all attacks with the gun that fired the bullet.

For assets that are picked up and not lost by the end of the adventure, a character can keep them but can only have assets in their "loadout" for a given adventure equal to their resources. So a contact might languish unmaintained, or a weapon be in the shop, etc., as the character focuses on new things. Or the new thing might be the one kept in storage until it's mastered.

Characters gain more resources as their Character Rank increases, allowing them to keep more of their assets in play (or otherwise gain new ones)

What's the advantage of keeping found assets when you can just make them up? Basically just story stuff. The story connections matter in a game like Interrobang, so a contact or item that has some kind of history might be worth keeping compared to one that is still being threshed out.

An asset must also be something that does or could exist in the world, and if what you're asking for sounds like something rare or unique, the game runner may decide a quest is necessary to acquire it. If you've already got it on hand, though? It doesn't matter if it's unique. You've got it.

For assets that are powerful enough to take up more than one resource, the game runner may allow you to use a weaker version of it, unlocking more capabilities as you free up more resources to afford it.

And that’s character creation in three steps, the mechanics of it. There’s honestly a step 0 and a step 4 afterwards, for establishing things about the world and the connections among the characters, but in terms of the stuff that you need to understand in order to make sense of the rules, that’s it. Identity, spheres and strengths, assets.

Next diary will be about the game as she is played.

Thank You For Reading!

You can receive future newsletters like this straight to your inbox as they go out for free. If you especially enjoy them and you wish to help me continue writing them, you can choose to purchase a paid subscription for $5 a month, or just $45 per year. That’s 25% off the monthly cost!