Players and shared storytelling
Like other conventional tabletop roleplaying games, a group of four to six people play together.
One of them, the Guide, is tasked with running the game.
- Choosing and describing the events, challenges, and places the Travellers will encounter.
- Acting out the lives and dialogues of people the Travellers will meet along the way.
- And acting as the referee and final word on what happens in the story.
The others, the Players, each embody a Traveller. A character who has set out to carry their Burden to the Monument.
- Deciding and describing how their Traveller behaves in the events, challenges and places they go.
- Acting out the life and dialogue of their Traveller.
- Working with the other Players to understand the relationships between the Travellers.
The Guide and the Players all work together to weave a compelling story. While the Travellers may have their differences, and the Guide may put treacherous obstacles in their path, the Guide and the Players are not competitors or adversaries, rather co-authors of a shared story where arguments and setbacks are the spice that will hopefully make their fellowship and accomplishments all the more flavourful.
The goal is in sight from the beginning, and when reached, the campaign ends. Burden is intended to be a fairly short experience, around four sessions, no more than six.
Each session will be a small self-contained story, resolving most or all of the stakes and tension by the end, but leaving the party changed.
If your player group would prefer to play a shorter or longer campaign, be forewarned that the mechanical balance might be off. When running a shorter campaign or a one-shot, the Guide will probably want to throw more difficult challenges at the group, and choose harsher outcomes for failure. On the other hand, when running a longer campaign, it might be wise for the Guide to weave in some "lucky breaks" for the Travellers and maybe even give them a chance to reset their Hurt.
The rules of Burden
Creating a character
Your Traveller has five Core stats, Brawn, Grind, Poise, Oracle, and Tremor.
Start with 2 in each of these, and distribute 8 points between them, with a maximum of 6 in any stat.
Pick a Modifier to apply to a Core stat. The modifiers are: Guarded, Cursed, Skilled, or Forced.
Your Traveller starts the game with 12 Vitality and 0 Hurt.
If you like, you can represent these numbers with six-faced dice.
You have access to all of the Base Talents.
Pick an Archetype, you will have access to all of their Talents.
You may swap out up to two of your Archetype's Talents with Talents from other Archetypes.
Core stats represent the skills and abilities that your Traveller will rely on to make their way to the monument.
Brawn represents the core strength and athleticism of your Traveller, their ability to run fast, climb high, move weights and break things. A Traveller with high Brawn can pull off incredible feats of physical prowess, win fights against wild beasts, and literally carry their allies out of danger.
Grind represents the temerity, relentlessness, endurance, and sheer force of will of your Traveller, abilty to resist pain & hunger, to push their mind and body through to the bitter end. A Traveller with high Grind can keep trekking despite broken bones, stand defiant in the face of threats, and help their allies resist the sweet temptation of abandon.
Poise represents the mindfulness, wisdom, and wit of your Traveller. A Traveller with high Poise can outsmart opponents, recognise danger before anyone else, understand the subtle mechanisms of the world around them, and use their knowledge to navigate desperate situations.
Oracle represents a strange connection your Traveller has to the spirits, higher powers, gods, or however else they explain their twists of fate. A Traveller with high Oracle can peek beyond the veil of the future, turn the odds in their favour, and benefit from supernatural protection.
Tremor represents your Traveller's attunement to the distortions of reality caused by the ending of the world. A Traveller with high Tremor can create minor rifts in the fabric of spacetime, disappear or move objects, phase through solid matter, and create pockets of frozen time.
Modifiers are a way for you to personalise your Traveller. You can pick one that will apply to one of your Core stats, changing the way your Traveller will rely and manage that ability.
A Guarded stat lessens the cost of failure, while making success more difficult. Travellers with a Guarded stat have an aversion to loss, and accept a certain level of hardship as a compromise.
A Cursed stat is remarkably powerful, but is fickle and dangerous. Travellers with a Cursed stat can perform outstanding feats, but tend to hurt themselves doing so, or lose all confidence at the slightest provocation.
A Skilled stat is precise and calculated, but overconfidence leads to grave mistakes. Travellers with a Skilled stat are efficient, using no more energy than necessary to succeed, but when they miscalculate, they suffer grave consequences.
A Forced stat can be pushed far beyond expectations, for a price. Travellers with a Forced stat stop at nothing to achieve their goals, even if it means carrying permanent scars and letting a part of their soul die.
Vitality and Hurt
Vitality represents a Traveller's current ability to continue on their journey. Wounds, hunger, poison, dehydration, and despair all cut into a Traveller's Vitality. If their Vitality runs out, their journey is over. Perhaps they have succumbed to their wounds, or no longer have the health and energy they need to make another step.
A Traveller can rest in a safe place with abundent food and drink to regain Vitality.
Hurt represents the indelible trauma, both physical and mental, that a Traveller has accumulated. When resting, a Traveller's Hurt prevents them from being able to fully recuperate. Perhaps their Hurt will dissipate in the years following our story, but for now, they have a journey to complete.
During the game, some actions and moves a Traveller will make will be risky or challenging. In order to determine whether or not they are successful, the Guide will ask for a dice roll.
The roll will have a specified Difficulty and a related Core stat.
To perform the roll, the player chooses how many points to spend from the related Core stat.
Roll two six-faced dice, subtract Difficulty, and add the spent points.
Spent points are removed from the stat pool.
Interpreting the roll
- 6 or less: Failure - A setback befalls you.
- 7 - 9: Partial success - You succeed, but there is a cost or a setback.
- 10 or more: Success
- Guarded: On a Failure roll, regain the spent points. A 12+ is required for a full Success.
- Cursed: Spent points are worth double. On a Failure, lose all remaining points. On a 15+, gain Hurt equal to spent points.
- Skilled: Spend points after rolling. On a Failure, consequences will be harsh.
- Forced: Spend up to 3 Vitality points, worth double, on the roll.
When a Traveller finds themself in a safe place, with food, drink, and shelter, they will rest. Resting is a passive activity, a Traveller can continue to go on about their business, as long as they're out of harm's way. Resting for a day or so allows the Traveller to regain lost Core stat points and some Vitality.
- Regain any spent Core stat points.
- Divide your missing Vitality by 2, rounded up.
- If that number is greater than your Hurt, update Hurt to this new number.
- Regain Vitality up to 12 minus Hurt.
Archetypes are broad categories of the sort of people Travellers might be. The descriptions provided are there to serve as inspiration or flavour. Your Traveller may use an Archetype without fitting the description.
Your Traveller's Archetype gives them access to a set of Talents that set them apart from ordinary folk.
Their body moves efficiently as they leap from rock to rock. Their motions are snappy, yet fluid as they climb the cliff face faster than most can run on flat ground. They reach the summit and
Their wounds are caulked with salt. A blindfold protects their eyes against the toxic spores hanging in the air. They step, making no sound except for the short, calculated puffs of their filtered breathing technique.
The Pathfinder survives. Their body is but a vessel for their soul, their mind is simply the device they must control to keep moving on. To others they seem to be acting on instinct, but pathfinding is anything but; only a complete mastery of flesh and spirit can ensure the survival of the soul.
Pathfinding is the art of staying alive and in complete control of one's body and mind. Pain and fear are the tools of the lost. When travelling the shifting lands, lost is as good as dead...
The Pathfinder is calm and determined, not by nature, but by necessity. A good Pathfinder is constantly aware of all threats and opportunities, surviving the worse through sheer spite.
The air crackles around them, charged particles springing into existence and collapsing. Gravel and sand shift around as if whipped up by thousands of little storms. The smell of petrichor follows them wherever they go.
The Splitter takes advantage of the rifts that have been forming throughout the world. Splitting is a constantly changing art, the nature of the distortions change too quickly now for any meaningful knowledge to have value. Instead, splitting is a skill, an intuitive feel for the eddies and currents of spacetime itself.
Splitting is terrifyingly dangerous. When twisting the fundamental forces, unpredictable phenomena can occur, and random changes to the nature of matter, energy and time tend to produce catastrophic results.
The Splitter wields immense power, but their control over it is limited. A wise Splitter will reserve the use of their skills for otherwise desperate situations.