Unlike many RPG rules manuals, I’m not going to begin with such basics as “what is a role-playing game” or “how to use dice”. If you’re here, I assume you have some experience with those things. Also, the language in this section assumes you are already familiar with the basics of tabletop role-playing, so a glossary is not given for some common terms (like d6, for instance). If I rewrite this for a more general audience I will add those sections, but for now I’ll set that aside.
- Alera Nova Dice Mechanics
- Dice Pool
- Hit Count
- Success, Touch and Failure
- Character Types in Alera Nova
- Races and Classes
- Other Character Elements
- Basic Character Information
- Racial Magic
- Derived Traits
- Other Traits
- Experience Points
Alera Nova Dice Mechanics
Alera Nova uses only 6-sided dice, in order to reflect the 6 elements (earth, air, fire, water, steel, wood) common to Aleran life. These dice are rolled to generate hits, and the number of hits are counted to determine whether or not a roll is a success and by how much, by comparing it against that roll’s hit count. Each element of the prior sentence is important, and deserves explanation.
Most of the time your character will roll a number of dice, that specific number being called his dice pool , corresponding to the sum of one, two, or three different traits – such as rolling your Strength, rolling your Resolve+Metalcrafting, or your Passion+Swordfighting+Firecrafting. If in the preceding examples your character had a Strength of 2, Resolve of 3, Passion of 4, Swordfighting of 2, Metalcrafting of 1 and Firecrafting of 3, then you would roll 2d6 (Strength 2) for the first roll, 4d6 (Resolve 3+Metalcrafting 1) for the second roll), and 9d6 (Passion 4+Swordfighting 2+Firecrafting 3) for the third roll. This will sometimes be modified by either favorable or unfavorable conditions, such as trying to fire an arrow at an opponent that is hiding behind cover or trying to navigate a stretch of wilderness with the benefit of a map. Circumstances like these usually add or subtract 1 or 2 dice, but can rarely add or subtract as much as 5 dice.
The difficulty of a roll is the number that a given die must beat in order to count as a hit. The default difficulty is 3. Unless something states that it has a different difficulty or that it changes some difficulty somehow, assume it is 3. A roll with a difficulty of 3 is one in which every number higher than a 3 (so 4, 5 and 6) is a hit. Difficulties fall within a fairly narrow range, with only very powerful abilities able to modify them very much. If a roll would have a difficulty of 0 or less, or 6 or more, then its difficulty is instead fixed at the last reasonable number (1 or 5), with every additional step that would have happened either reducing or increasing that roll’s threshold by 1 as appropriate.
The Threshold of a roll is the number of hits that a player must meet or exceed in order to succeed on that roll. This is important, because it means that there are three possible results of any roll. These results are discussed below.
Success, Touch and Failure
A Success happens when a character gets more hits on the dice than that roll’s threshold. It will have its effects spelled out or set by the GM , but it is generally whatever effect the party making the roll was trying to achieve. Each additional hit past the threshold gives some additional benefit, such as increased damage or movement. Many actions have some minor, temporary benefit that makes it easier to succeed in subsequent turns, which occurs if a character makes even one hit on a roll – called a Touch. If a character makes no hits at all then the roll is a failure. The GM may, at his discretion, apply some other negative effect to a failed roll that is dramatic in some way. Often, an outright failure also ‘resets’ the threshold of an extended roll, undoing the progress that a player might have made toward bringing that roll’s threshold to within an attainable value.
Character types in Alera Nova
Alera Nova tells the story of a world populated with a mixture of races, split into classes and professions across those racial lines. As such, there are multiple dimensions to your character, some evolving as your story evolves and some ever-present. They are:
Races and Classes
These are the perpetual aspects of your character. Race is a designation for different species, as there are at least five sentient species on Carna, three of them playable as PCs. Class is your character’s social position within his home society, and varies widely from race to race.
Alerans are the basic race of Carna. They are descended from a group of Roman citizens who were trapped many generations ago, and through a process unknown even to them were deposited on Carna. There are three classes within Aleran society – the Paganus, Urbanus, and Nobilis. Paganus are the peasants and common folk of Aleran society, whose strength is their adaptability, pragmatism, and/or their physical capabilities which, unlike the other classes, have generally been honed more because of their familiarity with manual labor. Urbanus are the city-dwellers of Aleran society – still ignoble, but considered a step more civilized than the Paganus. The Nobilis are the most genteel of the classes of Aleran society, being descended from one of the high noble families of Carna. They are generally given the best of everything, but this lack of struggle and hardship usually makes them surprisingly frail when they are put to the test.
Marat were known as the Northern Barbarians for many years, and were enemies of Alera. The Vord War brought them within the fold of Aleran society, though, and in the generation since the coronation of their own KItai as the First Lady of Alera they have assimilated within Aleran society very thoroughly. Now seen wandering from the southern Feverthorn Jungles to the northern Iceman Wastes, their only constant is their inherited shamanic ways and concomitant connection to the land. There are four classes within Marat society, defined by the kind of Chala (a kind of totem animal) that an individual venerates. The Swiftclaw are lightning-fast, swift of foot and of mind, known above all for their love of the wind against their faces and the freedom of the open plains. The Strongback are tough and full of sinew, strong and proud. The Sharptooth are known for their ferocity and bloodthirstiness, their dedication to the hunt and their peerless skill at dogging their chosen prey to the very last. Lastly, the Brighteye are known for their cunning and inteligence, often bonding with sentient Chala and gaining some of their unique strengths thereby. Each class is further divided into clans, each clan bonding to the same breed or type of Chala. In that way, though a Marat might be Swiftclaw, he is in fact known more aptly as a Horse clan or Falcon clan; as a Herdbane clan rather than a Sharptooth.
Canim are a proud warrior people whose society was almost destroyed by the Vord a generation ago. They are the most deeply divided of the three races of Carna, being grouped into three classes (with a very few having willingly given up their class identity; this is covered later, and is an exception to the normal rules for this point) between which there is very little change, once an individual pup decides his own destiny. The Canim as a whole are monstrously strong wolf-men, nearly seven feet tall at the shoulder with thick fur that varies from family to family, from nearly ice blue to inky black and everything in between. The three classes of Canim society are: the Warriors, who require little explanation; the Ritualists, whose magic rituals keep crops growing and lay waste to enemies on the battlefield; and the Makers, who construct the monumental war machines and massive stone edifices that characterize a Canim city.
Where and how you were born and raised does to a great extent define you, but it is not the only important aspect of your life. What you do, and the choices you make, also have a powerful influence. Professions are all about that. Professions are about the choices your character has made and will make – to join the army, to become a tradesman, to become a criminal thug, and so on – that will open up new avenues and opportunities thereby. They are broken down into three basic categories, with a handful of professions in each category. The categories are Warriors, Rogues, and Townsfolk.
Warriors are (not surprisingly) the bulk of the men and women who make up the armies of Alera. In addition to that, they are the private swords-for-hire, bodyguards, duelists, hunters and trackers of the world. Anyone whose primary preoccupation is with becoming a master in a certain weapon, a certain way of making war, is a warrior. They are broken down into three Professions. Soldiers are the bulk of the army. They learn things like formation fighting, the maintenance of supply lines and the use of a shield in addition to basic fighting techniques. Duelists are the self-made men who make it their business to become the master of one-on-one fighting, of the long blade and the swift cut. They live and die by their sword every day, and make biter business on its edge. Hunters are those men who dedicate their lives to becoming the masters of the bow, of hunting and tracking and wilderness survival.
Rogues are the street criminals, spies, thugs and other covert persons of Alera. They make up the bulk of Alera’s criminal underworld, and all of the Cursors have at least some training in a Roguish Profession to facilitate the gathering of information for the Crown. Rogues come in three basic types. Thugs are the bruisers and rough-and-tumble types on the streets, who are not as dangerous as Warriors one-on-one but who rarely fight without the advantage of numbers and whose talent for disappearing when the odds go against them make them very hardy indeed. Burglars are the cat thieves and pickpockets of the streets, whose nimble fingers and quick feet save them from situations that aren’t quite solved by strikes from the shadows of envenomed blades. Courtesans are a little different, in that they are almost never seen on the streets. However, their talent for social manipulation and subterfuge make them a definite fit into the Rogue category, especially when combined with their facility with disguise.
Townsfolk seem like a boring category to play, but they make up the bulk of Alera’s population and play some very important roles in every society. So it is that many end up in one of the four professions that make up this category, for at least some part of their life. Politicians play many of the important roles in Aleran society, from Senators to Steadholders, from High Lords to Barons. Their role is to lead society, and to carry out (or shape) the will of its people, to get what people need to them, from those they deem less worthy. They are oft maligned, yet it has been demonstrated time and again that they are necessary, that the people may not like politicians in general but often find their particular representative both necessary and admirable. Tradesmen are a different breed altogether, working with their hands to create works of wood or stone or steel, experts of the forge, who are skilled at infusing their works with furies and imbuing them with special properties. Scholars work with their minds instead of their hands, studying Aleran history and philosophy to better grasp the inherent mysteries of things like Furycrafting or military strategy or rhetoric. They make up the bulk of those at the Academia Nova in Appia, south of the old, ruined capital-turned-caldera Alera Imperia. They are also found in other parts of the empire, especially among those nobility or the high merchant class who find manual labor to be unseemly. Finally, Peasants make up the rest of society, typical folk living typical lives, staying safe and living plainly where they can. As a group they have a simple knack for survival, for getting out when things go foul and for finding a safe place to hide when all around them turns to fire and blood and madness.
Other Character Elements
In addition to basic character types, there are several other elements that when taken together describe all of the important facts about a character in Alera Nova. They can be broken down into a few categories, and those categories are listed below.
Basic character information
In this section, generally appearing at the very top of an Alera Nova character sheet, are the basic descriptive and definitional elements that help a player to understand where their character fits in to Aleran society. These include a character’s Race, Class_, and Current Profession as described above. In addition, a characters Name and Physical Description are given here along with the various Qualities that make them unique and special. The latter two are described in more detail in the Chapter 2: Character Generation.
The basic, inherent expression of how adept a person is at six areas of life, Attributes are those inborn characteristics which, though they may be trained a little, stay relatively stable throughout a person’s life after they reach full adulthood. Strength measures both a person’s physical strength in things like lifting capacity, and the stamina with which they keep that strength up and working for them. Quickness measures a person’s swiftness and dexterity, their running speed and physical reaction time. Perception measures their awareness of the environment and ability to make accurate measurements. Resolve measure their mental capacity for staying true, their determination and willpower, and a person’s ability to ignore external emotions and stimuli. Passion measures a person’s force of personality, their mental and physical capacity to sway others and bring their emotions to bear. Finally, Empathy is the ability to peer into the hearts of others, to understand the actions and motivations of others and to feel and channel the mental energies of others. These six attributes are normally measured on a 1 to 6 scale, although in many cases individuals exceed that number if their capacity is greater than the normal human maximum (for example, Canim warriors regularly exceed Strength 6, as their inherent Strength is completely off the charts in normal, Aleran terms).
You may have noticed, but two common, basic Attributes were not included in that list. Neither Intelligence nor Charisma was included. That was intentional. These are factors of role-playing and decision-making, and are therefore not things that need to be abstracted with statistics and game mechanics. If you make good decisions, your character is smart. If you can talk to people such that they like or agree with you, you are charismatic. Since it would be incredibly difficult to undo these inherent qualities of your role-playing with game mechanics, I’ve opted not to.
The learned abilities that are acquired through one’s Race, Class or Profession, skills make up progressively more of a character’s stable of abilities as they grow in experience. Things like Swordfighting or Rhetoric or Awareness, Skills encompass a wide range of both knowledge-based and not-knowledge-based abilities and advantages acquired through effort and time accrued learning the various aspects of one’s Race, Class or Profession. They are covered in greater detail in later chapters.
A category that is mostly devoted to the various kinds of Furycrafting one has learned, this section is also reserved for the rituals important to Canim life and any special Marat abilities that are acquired through the Chala bond.
Certain elements of a character, derived at their most basic level from that characters Attributes, are important in either combat or some other equivalent situation. These include the following:
- Initiative, which is a composite measure of reaction time and awareness. It starts as the sum of a character’s Quickness and Intelligence.
- Health, which is a measure of how much energy and vitality a person has and how many wounds they can suffer before being Downed. This also in part determines a character’s maximum Energy. It starts as the combination of a character’s Strength and Resolve.
- Refresh, which is the rate at which the rate at which they bounce back and recover their internal Energy reserves. This starts as the sum of a character’s Passion and Empathy.
There are a few ‘other’ traits on a character’s sheet, which are not derived from a character’s attributes but do matter in combat or elsewhere. Armor grants Protection, which is subtracted from the damage of applicable incoming attacks, and it has a given Durability, which is the number of hits it can take before breaking and becoming temporarily useless. Certain Skills grant Wealth’, which is an abstract measurement of how much money a character has available. Other traits may work like this, or they may not. These details will be spelled out in the appropriate description.
The important pieces of equipment, such as weapons or armor, or various items that deal with plot or other skills, are listed here. The way that one denotes and describes equipment that has been enhanced with Furycrafting or Canim ritual magic is detailed in a later chapter.
As characters learn and grow, they gain experience points. These points are used in one of two ways: they are either permanently spent to learn new Skills or Furycrafting; or they are temporarily spent on certain enhanced items so that their full range of abilities are accessible. When the items upon which experience points are spent are themselves lost or destroyed, those points are refunded in full.