So I've been working on a game for the past few months and I've just finished the revisions inspired by my first play test. I'm sharing it here, so you can see what I've been up to since my last post.
Oh, and keep in mind that this is still a rough version, I'm pretty sure it isn't finished quite yet.
The Rivers Do Not Flow
A Game of Street Magic by Darren Kumka
The underpass was barely illuminated. Four people stood around a fifteen year old red sedan. The only noises that filled the early morning meeting were the faint noise of cars passing above, and a loud obnoxious slurping.
Chance opened the trunk and slammed it shut a moment later. They were tall and dressed in too much denim. Their short hair was hidden under a baseball cap. As they moved, their shoulder bag clinked, hinting at the many jars and containers stuffed inside.
“I guess you did the right thing, talking to us. I’m not sure what that is, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t a dog.”
Jess sucked on the straw of her gas station slush, once again filling the scene with a loud slurping noise. “Well, I couldn’t just leave it on the road after I ran it over. Can you do anything for it?” As if to disprove the necessity for her question, the car began shaking as a loud unnatural growl emanated from the trunk.
Felix stretched out his arms and cracked his knuckles, showing off his extensive tattoos as he did. He scratched his thin beard and pulled a box cutter out of his back pocket. With a practiced motion, he cut his hand. He dropped the box cutter and opened up the trunk, flinging his blood inside. As it left his skin, the blood transformed into something resembling sparkling, molten silver. The creature was half way out of the car when it collapsed on the ground, asleep.
The creature was definitely not a dog. It had four legs and was roughly the size of a german shepherd, but that is where the similarities ended. It was hairless, for starters. The legs were structured more like an insect than a mammal and its mouth was full of an enormous mass of needle-like tongues
From behind Chance, Parvati spoke up “Well, now what do we do with it?”
They turned around and adjusted their hat, “Now? You help me get the thing’s legs.”
WHAT WE DO
The Rivers Do Not Flow is a tabletop roleplaying game. With these rules, we create characters and frame scenes which come together to create a narrative. One of the players is responsible for playing all of the minor and supporting characters as well as establishing scenes. This player is the Game Master, or GM.
The other players (typically between 3-5) take the role of Street Magicians. These characters are young, typically no older than their mid-twenties. They have a set of magical abilities called a Practice. These characters tend to have rough lives and/or pasts and their magic is a series of compromises. The question you should be asking as you play is “What is my character giving up by living like this?”. For simplicity, we will refer to these players as The Players, despite the GM also being a player.
Play takes place over scenes. Scenes are generally categorized as something happening in a place. For example, If multiple characters are in a nightclub after hours, talking about their plans, that is a scene. We have usually seen enough movies and TV to know when a scene has ended and a new one has begun. If you are having trouble, ask your fellow players. A set of scenes taking place over one period in which your group has sat down to play this game is called a Session. A Session may be as short or as long as your group likes, but tend to be several hours long.
This game tends to use you and we when addressing the reader, but will occasionally use ‘They’ as a singular pronoun. This is a deliberate choice and an attempt to be inclusive towards people of all genders.
To play, you will also need at least one sheet of paper per Player, at least one pencil and twenty-sided die, one four-sided die, and three six-sided dice. Ideally, each Player should have their own pencil and dice. The GM will not need dice. When dice are listed in these rules, it will be notated as (Number of Dice) d (Number of Sides on the Dice). This looks like 1d20, or 2d6. Occasionally, the number of dice will not be mentioned. If you see this, assume only one die is required.
The GM establishes the obstacle. The Players then state how they will attempt to overcome the obstacle. If the GM agrees this can reasonably overcome the obstacle, then the Player rolls a d20. They are attempting to meet their Role Under (or RU).
An RU is determined by adding the skill and the relevant attribute together, along with any bonuses or penalties the GM gives, depending on how easy or difficult the task is. If they roll equal or lower to their RU, they succeed.
A roll of 1 is always a success, and a roll of 20 is always a failure, regardless of modifying bonuses or penalties.
GMs should only call for rolls when there is a chance of failure. They should not call for a roll to drive to work, unless there is a screeching monster in the back seat. If there are no skills that exactly match what the player is trying to do, work with your group to determine which skill is the closest.
BOONS AND CURSES
The key to success is stacking things in your favour. Failure is often the result of being sloppy. This section deals with the various Bonuses and Penalties a player can accumulate on their rolls. All modifiers cannot add or subtract more than 5 from the total RU. With that in mind, Bonuses and Penalties stack, unless they are the same kind of bonus. For example, if you took twice the time and got help from a friend, you would roll with a +5 Bonus, but if you took twice the time and you took a little extra time, you would only get a +3 Bonus.
Regardless of whatever penalties or bonuses you have on a roll, a roll of 1 is always a success, and a roll of 20 is always a failure.
- +1 Taking a little extra time
- +2 With help from a friend, following a plan
- +3 With beneficial (but not crucial) equipment, Taking twice the time
- +4 Dedicating days to it
- +5 Taking twice the time with beneficial equipment
- -1 Rushing things
- -2 Hindered by an enemy
- -3 Lacking crucial equipment, Taking half the time
- -4 Taking a fraction of the time
- -5 Taking half the time without crucial equipment
DAY BY DAY
At the start of the Session, the GM assigns each Player a Connection. Player spend their Connections to establish scenes which they guide. For instance, they can declare a scene will be about pursuing their goal, and the GM arranges the scene such that they are able to pursue their goals. The only threats that will occur are those related to the character’s actions.
If it would be impossible for the character to participate in a scene, the GM delivers a Hook. A Hook is a detail that sets up the sort of scene the player wants to establish.
The GM assigns new Connections after every Player has spent all their Connections. If the GM desires, they may declare that a period of time is Downtime, in which players spend their remaining Connections before being assigned a new set. The primary use of Downtime is so one or more players cannot horde their Connections. If the GM thinks that the fiction will not allow Downtime to occur for a large portion of the Session, the GM may assign the Players additional Connections.
Characters deal Harm when they succeed on attacks. At the GM’s discretion, certain social rolls may be considered attacks that deal Mental Harm. Weapons deal Physical Harm. Mental Threats deal Mental Harm.
Characters receive harm when they fail rolls. For instance, if they fail an attack, or the GM calls for a Defy or Will roll which they fail. If they are in a position where succeeding on a roll is impossible, they may trigger harm.
- Unarmed 1d4 (Brawling)
- Small, concealable 1d6 (knife, hammer)
- Large 2d6 (pipe, bat, machete)
- Large, conspicuous 3d6 (sword, nail bat)
- Small, concealable, loud 3d6 (Handgun)
- Large, conspicuous, loud 3d6 (Long gun)
The weapons above are listed in several categories. These categories are made up of descriptors:
- A Small weapon requires only one hand when using it to fight
- A Large weapon requires two hands when using it to fight
- A Conspicuous weapon is one that is difficult to conceal and draws attention
- A Concealable weapon is one that is easy to hide from casual observers
- A Loud weapon cannot be used without alerting many people around you
- Conflict 1d4
- Loss of All Physical Pain 1d6
- Damage to Health 1d6
- Lesser Supernatural Horror 2d6
- Greater Supernatural Horror 3d6
WHO WE ARE
This section is a guide for creating characters that the Players will inhabit over the course of play. Below is a quick summary of the steps involved in creating a character.
Step 1: Identity
Identity is defining who your character is as a person. With the exception of choosing a goal, these details don’t have any mechanical weight on their own, but are used mostly to shape and guide the choices you make in the remainder of the process.
Step 2: Attributes
When defining your character’s attributes, you roll two six sided dice and record the number. You do this six times. You then choose five of the numbers you’ve written down and apply them to the attributes of your choice. These are your attributes, they form the base of who your character is, and how they take action in the game. If none of the numbers you’ve rolled are above a 7, you may choose to repeat the process and roll an entirely new set of values.
Step 3: Skills
Skills are what your character knows how to do. There are five categories of skills, corresponding to the five attributes. The categories determines which attribute is used when rolling the skill. When choosing your skills, you have a pool of twelve points. Skills cost a number of point equivalent to their level. You may only take skills up to the third level, Journeyman, at character creation.
Step 4: Well-Being
Sometimes characters get hurt. By calculating a character’s well-being, we can see how much harm they can take and still keep going.
Step 5: Practice
This section is an overview of different methods by which your character does magic. A Practice consists of two Schools of Magic and a Source. The section WHAT WE LOST has the full rules on the Schools of Magic and Sources.
Also contained in this section are Advancement rules, for determining how your character improves of the course of multiple sessions.
When creating your character, the first step is establishing their identity. Their identity is who they are at their core. It is their age, gender, appearance, and their personality. It is what they’ve done, and what they want to do.
A streetwise teenage runaway?
A starving artist trying to escape their toxic family?
A rich socialite trying to connect to an emotionally absent loved one?
An office temp with anxiety?
A bullying victim with a vengeful streak?
Work with your group to establish the age range of your group and what connects them. Are they classmates at the same high school, do they live in the same apartment? Are they strangers drawn together by fate?
What pronouns does your character use? How does your character look. Consider their features as well as how they dress.
What is your character like? How would others describe them? How do they think of themselves? How do they act towards people they love? Towards people they hate?
What are some major events in your character’s life? What events have shaped their personality into what it is now? You don’t need to come up with everything that has happened in your character’s life, leave room to expand the character’s history in collaboration with the other players.
Players should develop a goal for their character. This is something significant they want to accomplish. This could be anything from “Get my sister off drugs” to “Get revenge on whoever is stealing my lunch from the work fridge”. If you are having trouble thinking of a goal, consult with your group.
The final part of identity is deciding on a name. Choose something that has meaning for your character, or just choose something that sounds good.
The Attributes are inherent qualities that help define the character.
To determine your character’s Attributes, roll 2d6 Six times. Add the two dice together to get the value of that roll. You then choose five values to apply to your Attributes. If none of the values you’ve rolled are above a 7, you may roll a new set of six values.
The Attributes are:
This measures how well you have adapted to your new life. Rough determines your capacity for violence- but not killing- and your ability to perform criminal acts.
This measures how easy your life was beforehand. Soft is used for skills that require mundane technical knowledge or education. It also governs how much money you can scrape together.
This measures your connection to the magical world, but also your capacity to read emotions. All characters have some knowledge that they can perform magic. A character that is very Attuned can identify monsters, rituals, and detect magic.
This measures your connection to the human world. A Popular character is skilled at dealing with people, and will likely have high social intelligence. This is the Attribute you use to convince someone, or to know someone who can help you.
This measures the harm you’ve suffered in your past. Scarred is used for avoiding harm, either by resisting it, or by hiding from the source. This Attribute also represents your capacity to kill another human being. A very Scarred character is not someone to underestimate.
Skills are divided into five categories. These categories dictate which Attribute you combine them with to determine your RU.
There are six levels of skills. You are able to purchase skills up to JOU at character creation. The skill levels (and their abbreviations) are:
- Amateur (AMA)
- Apprentice (APP)
- Journeyman (JOU)
- Professional (PRO)
- Master (MAS)
- Inhuman (INH)
At character creation, you may distribute 12 points among your skills. Skills cost a number of points equal to their Level. For example, if you wanted to take Tech at Apprentice Level, you would need to spend 2 of your 12 points.
Burglary: Breaking and entering, thieving, picking pockets, and other criminal skills
Scrap: Fighting unarmed and with hand weapons such as knives or clubs
Intimidate: Persuading others through implied or direct threats
Savvy: Knowledge of the culture of the streets
Driving: Knowing how to use and perform basic repair on a motor vehicle.
Tech: Use of phones, computers, and all manner of technology
Scratch: How much spending money you can muster.
Education: General knowledge of mundane subjects such as history or mathematics.
Denizens: Knowledge of creatures of the mystic world and being able to tell fact from myth.
Empathy: Discern lies, read intentions and understand the emotional resonance of a place or group.
Ritual: Knowledge of magical processes and effects performed by humans
Sight: Detection of magical forces and anomalies
Convince: Sway someone to your side through lies or rhetoric.
Community: Draw on others for favours or equipment.
Etiquette: Knowledge of social niceties, including how to politely deflect requests.
Impress: Sway someone's opinion with a display of skill or personality.
Hide: The capacity for stealth by remaining undetected or by blending in.
Will: Resisting mental trauma and the application of willpower.
Defy: Resist physical trauma and applying brute physical force outside of combat.
Killing: The ability to use guns and your psychological capacity to take a life.
We track physical and mental well-being. These are divided into four categories.
Physical Pain: Scarred + (Higher of character's Rough or Soft Attributes)
Mental Pain: Scarred + (Higher of character's Popular or Attuned Attributes)
A character that reaches 0 Health is Dying. Unless they receive immediate medical attention, they will die.
A character that reaches 0 Stability is Breaking Down. Unless they are immediately sedated and removed from the Mental Threat, they will Break Down. While a Break Down is not as permanent as death, it still requires several years to recover from. This means, in most cases, the character is essentially unplayable.
Pain recovers easily and is lost first. Pain recovers fully after the character has a chance to rest for an hour.
Recovering 1 Health or Stability require either an uninterrupted night's rest, or a day spent tending to their wounds. While a character has Health or Stability damage, the corresponding pain track is halved (rounding up)
Making an attack against an opponent with no Physical Pain left involves rolling the Killing skill.
Your Practice is how your character performs magic. You build it by combining your choice of two Schools of Magic and a Source of Power. The full rules for Schools or Magic and Sources of Power can be found in the section: WHAT WE LOST. Listed below are short summaries of the Schools of Magic and Sources of Power.
After you’ve decided on your Practice, unless your Source is Prophecy, roll 1d4 and gain the result in Power at the start of play. You only gain this bonus Power in the first session the character appears in, to represent the magical Power they’ve gathered before the events of the game began.
SCHOOLS OF MAGIC
Talisman: Imbue items with magic that increases a skill.
Animism: Make pacts with spirits that you can call upon for favours
Rites of Possession: Take possession of fundamental aspects willingly given to you
Rites of Summoning: Call otherworldly creatures with powerful hungers into your service
Gutter Alchemy: Create powerful potions with significant drawbacks
Gutter Mimicry: Transform into urban or feral animals
Returned: Interact with and control ghosts
Seeker: Find hidden magical spaces and pathways
Charmed: Control your luck, and the luck of others
Glamour: Create tangible illusions which are stronger the easier they are to believe
Chronomancy: Manipulate time in certain limited ways
Arcanist: Manipulate the flow of magic
Hexes: Create conditions that your enemies are punished for violating
Flesh Works: Manipulate living tissue
SOURCES OF POWER
Good Luck: Reroll successes to gather Power
Taking Time: Spend hours working magic
Sacrificed Blood: Exchange Health for Power
Seizing Power: Exchange Stability for Power
Expensive Reagents: Make Scratch or Community rolls for Power
Bargains with Spirits: Make Social rolls for:Power
Prophecy: Gain a set amount of Power for the entire session
Scraps of Power: Gain Power when others spend Power around you
People in tough situations have to learn and be adaptable. Gain 1 Experience for each of the following events that affected your character during the session:
- Disconnect from your life to perform magic.
- Help another character reconnect with someone they neglected.
- Something from your past interfered with your life.
- You solved a significant problem in your life with magic.
- Your reliance on magic caused a significant problem.
- You used your magic for something petty and personal.
- You made significant progress towards your goal.
Each Player is also able to nominate another Player for something their character did that was impressive or enjoyable, like a good bit of roleplaying, or a creative use of their magic. This nominated Player gains an extra point of Experience.
If your character completes their goal, choose a new goal when you receive Experience.
You may spend 1 Point of Experience in order to increase the Level of a Skill. The highest Level that can be bought with Experience is Master.
You may spend 3 Points of Experience in order to increase an Attribute’s value by 1. The highest an Attribute can be is 12.
You may spend 8 Points of Experience in order to expand your Practice. You can tap into a new Source of Power, or use a new School of Magic.
WHAT WE LOST
Listed in this section are some of the various traditions of magic. When creating your character, you choose two of them and a method by which you fuel your magic. These factors combine to create your Practice. If you want, you can give your Practice a name.
Magic is separated into Projects. When you want to do something magical, tell the GM what you are trying to do, and if they agree that your Practice allows you to do it, you may begin the project. You must put at least 1 Power into the project when creating a project but do not need to complete it in one sitting.
Magic is separated into Projects. When you want to do something magical, tell the GM what you are trying to do, and if they agree that your Practice allows you to do it, you may begin the project. You must put at least 1 Power into the project when creating a project but do not need to complete it in one sitting.
SCHOOLS OF MAGIC
A School of Magic is, foremost, a way in which you perform magic. You exchange power for effects based on the theme and guidelines set out by your School. Schools are both things you do, and things you are, to varying degrees. There is nothing inherent about a School of Magic, you must spend Power before anything happens. That said, Schools of Magic are also an inherent part of who a person is and can’t be lost or removed. Some of the Schools suggest how they are a part of you in the text, but it differs from person to person.
A baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. A feather, a glass bead, and a key hang from twine woven into the grip. It enhances your fighting skill as long as the angry ghost is still bound inside.
In the center of the origami crane, hanging from the rear view mirror, is a bloody thumbprint. When you add a few drops of blood to the gas tank, you can drive this old junker like something out of an action movie.
A Talisman is an item imbued with magical power. In legend, these are the dragon-slaying swords and the glasses that let you read the language of angels . In the city, you make due with what you have.
Each project is a distinct item. When you choose the item, describe how you personalize it. The item increases your level in a particular skill, up to a maximum of INH. The skill is set at time of creation. The Fetish increases your skill level by 1 per Power used per day. If the item has 2 Power, it can be used to increase the skill level by 1 for two days, or by 2 for one day.
You sprinkle a dust made from ground keys into the dirt along the chain link gate, and ask it to open. The padlock falls to the ground with a gentle clink, in recognition of payment rendered.
You met the King of Hounds on a moonless night. He fed on your lost wallets, missed connections, and time spent in traffic jams. Now, feral dogs sing hymns to you when you pass and when your boss pisses you off, they come in the next day with a bite mark, and a new story of a crazy stray.
Most everything has a spirit. Places, objects, animals. The only things that do not have spirits are sapient beings, like humans, but also other, stranger beings.
When you create a project you choose a spirit to make a pact with. The spirit is a place, object, non-human animal, or, at higher levels, a category that encompasses multiple instances of one of those categories. You are unable to form pacts with any intelligent supernatural being. After selecting the type of spirit, your GM determines its Rank. At this point, you may work with your GM to give the spirit a name if you want.
When you give the project enough Power to equal the Spirit's Rank, the Pact is complete. At this point, you may call on Favours from the spirit as an action without needing to roll. You simply pay the cost of the Favour plus the Spirit's Rank.
Examples of Spirit Ranks, and Favours are listed below.
Rank of the Spirit
- Particular Gate, Individual Dog
- A Nightclub, The Spirit of Southside's Powerlines
- A Neighborhood, The King of Hounds
- Basic function of the Spirit (Gates open or close, Cars shift gears)
- Advanced function of the Spirit (Dogs hunt your enemies, Cars drive themselves)
- Outside of the function of the Spirit (Cars fly, Powerlines hunt your enemies)
RITES OF POSSESSION
Your Ex-boyfriend works double shifts, he was tired all the time. With a few hours of preparation, you took his Sleep. Now he isn't tired anymore, and you have something to keep the loan sharks off your back.
You prayed, and prayed for someone to help your sister with her addiction. Then came the voice that told you to just ask her for it. She gave it to you. You're not sure who to drop this in, but the next person who pisses you off is going to regret it.
Each project is a Trait. A general guideline is that this is something the person does, like sleep, or using a skill. You can take traits from those who give consent. They can agree and offer up something, or you can take it by force if they trust you. Consent given under the influence of magic does not count. Your GM and the character giving up the trait determine which traits are available.
Each trait taken has two effects. The first effect is its absence in the donor. They are no longer able to do the action. If you take their Sleep, they can no longer rest and by extension, no longer need to rest as long as you possess the trait. In addition, you can drop the trait into another person of your choice by paying a compounding amount of Power, which starts at 1 for most traits and increases by the starting value each time it moves around. When all the initially dedicated Power is expended, the Trait returns to the donor. The trait also moves back to the donor when the current owner, or the original donor dies or would die without magic.
RITES OF SUMMONING
Eight hours spent in prayer, two spent dancing. Your voice was hoarse, but it was finally arriving. It looked like a person at first, until you noticed the teeth. They were long and needle-like and couldn't possibly fit in that mouth, but they did. Somehow. The thing rolled its neck and stared at you.
You flicked open your lighter and burnt the cloth of gold flags You held them until the fire reached your fingers. As it drifted down to the ground, the fire grew larger, and hotter. From the center stepped crawled a six-limbed creature composed entirely of fire. It left burning marks wherever it touched the alleyway as it scampered towards the drunks with pipes hedging you in.
You've cobbled together a collection of instructions that let you call beings from somewhere else. They aren't people, or animals, or even spirits. They serve your whims as long as you keep them fed.
Each project is a Pawn. A Pawn is a physical creature called forth by the summoning rites. When you summon a Pawn, describe what it looks like, and how it is visibly unnatural. Work with your GM to determine what special ability its nature gives it. The GM then declares what it feeds on which is either something difficult to acquire or a mundane material in large quantities. Each day, the creature must be fed, either with material or Power. If they go a day without being fed, the summoner loses control of the Pawn.
A Pawn is built by paying 2 Power, plus 1 Power for every level in a skill they possess, up to Inhuman level. They roll attributes as a normal character and possess standard Well-being. When the Pawn takes actions, you roll for them as long as they are under your control.
On the stove top, you mixed datura seed, cheap vodka, mercury from a broken thermometer, and ginseng. You poured in your good luck, a golden liquid painstakingly gathered from days of misfortune, and set it to cool. You drank it when you heard the engines rev down the street. You passed out halfway through the drive-by and you woke up surrounded by flattened bullets with a splitting headache.
Cross legged, you mashed wild mushrooms into a paste with some crushed adderall and powdered pearl. A few minutes after you swallowed the paste, you left your body. You floated through the city, seeing many wondrous sights. You lost all sense of time until you woke up, sticky from a bleeding nose.
Each project is an Elixir that can be used once. When you choose the effect of the Elixir, describe what you combine to create it. Your GM then selects or creates a backlash for you. When you create the elixir, you dedicate a certain amount of Power towards it. Unless otherwise stated, this dictates how many rounds the effect will last. If creating an Elixir effect, consult with your GM to determine if this Elixir will have a non-standard duration.
- Elixir of Immunity: While the Elixir is in effect, the user becomes completely immune to harm from one source such as traffic, or gunfire.
- Elixir of Sight: While the Elixir is in effect, the user's soul leaves their body and is able to travel to any space on the planet without magical protection, and observe what is going on there. Their spirits are immune to physical harm and they are invisible and intangible to non-spiritual beings. Spiritual beings may still cause mental harm by attacking the soul. The user's body is effectively unconscious and cannot be woken up while the soul is traveling. This effect lasts 10 minutes per point of Power.
- Elixir of Health: While this Elixir is in effect, the user is unable to take harm to their Physical Pain. This effectively means they are immune to physical damage that does not bypass Physical Pain.
- Elixir of the Homunculus: Colloquially known as a 'Goblin Bomb' this Elixir has no backlash. If drank, it causes 2d6 Physical Harm directly to Health. It is intended to be thrown at enemies. When the Elixir is opened or the container broken, a small, vicious humanoid manifests. Roll for their Rough and Scarred Attributes. They have a Killing skill of Journeyman and attack the nearest target with the intent to kill. They are effectively always armed with a small, concealable weapon and always roll Killing to attack. They are immune to Mental Harm and vanish when they take enough Physical Harm to kill them, or the Elixir's power runs out. You make the rolls for them, but the GM has final say on their actions.
- Elixir of Love: The user will fall in love with a person (known to the creator) who is named at the creation of the project. This Elixir takes effect regardless of the target’s sexual orientation. This effect lasts for 1 week per point of Power. Use of this Elixir is looked down on by many Alchemists for various reasons.
- Elixir of Superiority: The user finds that a particular skill (selected by the creator at the creation of the project) increases by 3 ranks, up to a maximum of Inhuman while the effect of the Elixir lasts.
- The user takes 1 Harm directly to their Health
- The user takes 1 Harm directly to their Stability
- The user falls Unconscious for 10 minutes per Power in the Elixir immediately when the Elixir's effect ends
- While the Elixir is in effect, the user takes 1d4 Mental Harm per interval of duration (per round for most, but per 10 minutes for an Elixir of Sight) and hallucinates vividly. They may be unable to distinguish reality from delirium while under this effect.
Your necklace of pigeon feathers was bound together with strands of pure good luck, as you put it on, you felt your skin prickle with rapidly growing feathers as you shrank down to the size of a dove. With a hop and a jump, you took to the sky.
In a small pot, you combined the blood of an urban deer with your own. Your brush had a handle made from antler and the bristles were rawhide. In careful patterns, you painted your skin with the mixture until you could no longer hold the brush in your new hooves.
You are able to borrow the forms of mundane, urban-dwelling, non-human vertebrates. You appear as a wild or feral version of this animal. Work with your GM to determine the process by which you obtain these forms. Whatever process you develop, it is messy and/or troublesome and requires a significant investment. Wearing a skin you prepared yourself or offering your flesh to your chosen animal are examples of processes.
Each project is an individual form you can adopt. When a project runs out of Power, you must obtain the form again and you remain in whichever form you were in before the project ran out of Power. It costs 1 Power to make a simple transformation or to return from one. These simple forms have one special ability, maybe it is a feral dog's bite or the wings of a pigeon. Making and returning from more complex transformations costs 2 Power or possibly more, if the GM determines that the form has more than two abilities, or abilities that are particularly potent.
You cut along the scars, remembering your time in the hospital. As the blood fell to the floor, you could see the person on the operating table stand up, their body left behind. While the pipe that had impaled them was removed from the corpse, the ghost still had it, running through their gut. You held out your hand, and a spectral hand took it.
It was just piss-poor luck that those assholes noticed you leaving work. It was 3 am, and there was no one else on the bridge. When they rushed you, you were ready. You had a friend here. They had a string of bad luck that ended with them falling off this very bridge. Your friend remembered how the fall felt and your attackers slammed into the railing, almost falling off sideways.
You died and came back. Except, it didn't work perfectly. Maybe you spent too long dead, maybe you only came back by possessing your own body. However it happened, you are still partially dead. This does have its advantages. You are able to speak to ghosts and acquire their services. In a city, many people die every day so there is always a multitude of spectral dead unseen to mortal eyes. Finding a particular kind of ghost may require research, although some unscrupulous Returned simply make the ghosts they need.
The powers of the Returned are separated into Internal and External Projects. Internal Projects reflects your partially dead nature. External Projects are ghosts that serve you. When you use a Project you spend 1-3 Power and gain the powers of all Levels up to the corresponding Level for that scene. For example, spending 2 Power would grant you or the ghost the abilities associated with Levels 1 and 2.
- See: You are able to see ghosts, spirits, and astral travelers
- Speak: You can communicate with ghosts
- Spirit: Your body becomes ghost-like. You can no longer affect or be affected by the physical world. You must spend 1 additional Power in order to be seen by normal people.
- Reveal: The ghost is able to create images and sounds as well as make themselves visible and audible to humans
- Rage: The ghost is able to manipulate non-living physical objects. They are limited to what they could have moved in life, but do not need to touch the objects to move them.
- Remember: At this level, the ghost is able to access a unique power connected to their death. For example, the ghost of a drowning victim could make it hard to breathe when they are near, or they could conjure great torrents of brackish water. When you obtain the service of a ghost, you learn what their unique power is.
You pressed your bleeding thumb to the wall and traced out a symbol. When you were done, the dirty bricks split apart, revealing an alley overgrown with kudzu.
It started when you needed to escape your ex. Anger, whiskey, and a hammer do not mix. Then they were there. That nice person on your floor. You could never tell what apartment was theirs, until you saw them standing at its door. When you had time, and asked your landlady, she told you that there wasn't a ninth apartment on your floor, regardless of what you said you saw.
Unlike most, you know that there are secret paths between places. More than that, you know the secrets to opening them. Granted, opening the way requires you to pay a price for every soul that crosses the threshold, but some of them are shortcuts and make moving around the city very easy. You can also cultivate a hidden place as a hideaway, somewhere accessible only through magic.
When you begin a Project, describe the following: where the Path starts, where it ends, how you enter it, and how the Path looks. If the Project is a Hideaway, describe instead how you enter the space, what it looked like originally, and how you've changed it. Entering a Path or Hideaway costs 1 Power for every living soul that you allow to pass the threshold. For double that price, you can enter another Seeker's Path or Hideaway if you know how.
You stood on the roof, looking down through the window of your former best friend. You watched him open the door and let your ex-boyfriend through. You watched, and watched as the date became a string of disasters. Dinner was burnt, your former friend said all the wrong things. It was beautiful.
The lotto tickets had let you down tonight. Not a single payout. As you drove down the highway, you swerved to narrowly miss the semi-truck that almost sideswiped you. You breathed a sigh of relief. That was close.
Your magic allows you to manipulate the flow of luck in the universe. You are able to spend 1 Power in order to re-roll a failed roll. In addition, you are able to spend 2 or more Power to force someone else to re-roll. If you are targeted by someone else attempting to force a re-roll, you may spend an equal amount of Power to negate the attempt. If you or your target fuel their practice with Luck, you cannot use this ability on rolls that have been used to have harvested Luck.
Blood dripped from your finger, stretching into a single thin line that you wove between your fingers like a cat's cradle. You threw the pattern wide, and it drifted down as a scarf that shimmered like an opal.
Heirloom silver sublimated in your hands, drifting off to some unseen space. Stepping out from behind the screen was a perfect replica of yourself. They moved like you, sounded like you. You sent them out of the room quickly, it was unnerving looking at yourself like this.
You are able to weave together the threads of fantasy and belief called Glamour into complex illusions. When you create a Project, describe what you are creating. Your GM then determines how much power that requires and you can spend that value to manifest the illusion for a scene. Characters that observe your illusions can break down the Glamour by rolling Will. This roll has a penalty based on how realistic and unobtrusive the illusions are. The illusions have the same impact as corresponding real effects. A sword made of Glamour cuts the same as a sword made of steel. Another Glamour user, if they break the illusion by rolling Will, may choose to steal the power and create their own illusion.
Examples of Illusions:
1 Power: Hand-held object, a whisper, a faint smell, a gentle sensation
2 Power: Person-sized object or objects,a conversation,a prominent smell or sensation
3 Power: Change the appearance of the entire scene, a deafening noise, an overpowering smell or sensation.
When you were a kid, you had a recurring nightmare about standing in a circle of robed figures who would spend the night arguing among themselves and eventually declare as one ,in a deep baritone, that you were not ready. You never understood what being ready would mean. Then, you noticed the knives you used at your job never got dull, and whenever you were on shift, your customers never had to wait.
You draw on flow of time itself to power your magic, like the wind turns a windmill. Time slows to a crawl and you slip out the door as the gun wielding people enter the convenience store.
You have control over the flow of time. Your options on how to use this magic are limited as there are only a few safe options. Those who experiment with Chronomancy are often dragged off by strange creatures from outside the flow of time. The mere fact that no Chronomancer has ever successfully turned back the flow of time leads some to theorize that anyone who succeeds is retroactively wiped from existence.
You are able to create three categories of project.
- Age/Restore: You are able to age an object into uselessness. Complicated objects are useless instantly. Simpler objects or those that are resistant to the elements may take a short time to become useless. Alternatively, objects that have decayed may be restored to perfect working order in a similar fashion. This effect costs 1 Power, but may, at the GM’s discretion cost more if the object is particularly large.
- Time Flow: You are able to alter the flow of time in a Scene. You may either increase or decrease the flow of time. Effectively, events inside the scene take twice as long or occur twice as fast relative to the outside. This effect costs 2 Power.
- Temporal Abatement: You are able to slide sideways in time. Functionally, time stops for you. You are unable to affect beings or objects while you have frozen time, but you can move to a place that would otherwise be accessible to you and appear there instantly from an outside perspective. This effect costs 3 Power.
This morning, the prophecy decreed that you would spill coffee all over your roommate Jeff. You are very glad you did, as the power you gained from your destiny flooded into your body. You swing your bat at the spirit of disease, and it connects, sending rotten teeth flying.
It took weeks of following the amateur around as they practiced their rites. Finally, it paid off, they called forth a being from elsewhere. An unnatural thing in the shape of a flock of birds. Pulling on the very concept of ownership, you severed the connection and fused it to your spirit. The monster was yours now.
You have the ability to manipulate magic on a fundamental level. You are less like the all powerful wizards of legend, and more like a phone phreak or hacker. In your case, the weird system you examine is magic itself.
There are two kinds of projects for Arcanists. The first manipulates another project. Once this type of project takes effect, they are permanent. The second type of project modifies the Arcanist, these last for a scene.
- You are able to cut a project off from Power. You pay an amount of Power equivalent to the Power of the targeted project and must succeed on a Will roll against the Project’s owner. If you succeed, The project loses all Power and deactivates instantly. This project is permanent in duration.
- You are able to shift ownership of a project. If the current owner and the recipient are willing, then you must spend Power equal to the project’s Power. If either the recipient or the owner are unwilling, the cost is doubled and you must succeed on a Will roll before ownership is transferred. Transferring Ownership means that, for all intents and purposes, the project is treated as though the new owner created the project. They suffer any consequences of failed projects and can offer power to renew them. This project is permanent in duration.
- By spending 2 Power you are able to increase your Sight Skill by 3 levels up to a maximum of INH. This project lasts for a scene.
- By spending 3 Power you are able to physically interact with spirits, ghosts, and astral travellers. This project lasts for a scene.
She was covered in amulets and other magical talismans, each conveying a skill in some kind of combat. You could feel the spare power radiating off of her, waste created by inefficient magic. With a twitch of your eye, she froze mid swing and began bleeding from several wounds that appeared from nowhere.
Your grandfather called it the Hexwell, a roiling pit of curses, sealed away in some long forgotten corner of the world. You don’t so much draw on it for power as you cautiously release it in the direction of those that have spited you, just as your family has for generations.
You have the ability to curse others. Common sources for this practice are being a descendant of a long line that can cast Hexes, or being hexed yourself, especially at a young age.
Each project is a hex. Hexes have a Strength and a Trigger. The Strength is the effect the Hex will have and the Trigger is the conditions under which the Hex takes effect. The character determines the Strength and Trigger, and work with the GM to determine the base cost. The GM then gives a method by which the victim can end the hex. Killing the character that created the hex is always an option, as is the character choosing to voluntarily end a hex they have cast. Magical energy connects the Hexer to the Hexed and someone can follow this connection with a successful Sight roll. Hexes may also be bound into an item. The item effectively becomes the Hexer and as such, destroying it ends the Hex.
Hexes may be delivered in three ways. The basic method is by Speech. While in earshot of the target, the Hexer speaks the curse, laying out the trigger for activation and the consequence for breaking those conditions, as well as the means to remove the Hex. The Hexed does not need to understand what the Hexer is saying. In the case of deaf or hard-of-hearing Hexed, if they are within the Hexer’s earshot, the Hex still takes hold. The second method is by the Evil Eye. The Hexer must be able to see the Hexed. They pay 2 additional Power, and the Hex is delivered. The third method is by Token. The Hexer requires a piece of the body to be Hexed (something like hair or blood will work), they destroy this token and the Hex takes effect, wherever the Hexed is.
Examples of Hex Strength:
1 Power: Hexed is Hit with the strength of a small, concealable weapon. Hexed falls asleep for 30 minutes
2 Power: Hexed is Hit with the strength of a large weapon. Hexed falls asleep for 1 hour.
3 Power: Hexed is Hit with the strength of a large, conspicuous weapon. Hexed falls asleep for 2 hours.
Examples of Hex Triggers:
0 Power: Confine the Hexed to a city, The Hexed may not take life
1 Power: Confine the Hexed to a neighbourhood, The Hexed may not initiate violence
3 Power: Confine the Hexed to a city block, The Hexed may not participate in violence
You called on The Collector of Lost Things and filled your fingers with borrowed magical energy. As the scaled monsters leap at you, you tore into bodies which offered no resistance to your touch. Exhausted, you sat down. It was going to be a long night. After all, you needed to get rid of the fingerprints you left inside the monsters’ bodies.
You poured over photocopied veterinary texts. Your mornings for the last month had been filled with surreptitious body dumping. Finally you were ready. You filled your hands with magical power and wove flesh into a coherent whole. Finally you were left with the fruits of your labour. You had created a city Griffon- half pigeon, half raccoon. Your greatest work to date.
When you are charged with magical power, the living material becomes like clay in your hands. You are able to make sweeping alterations to living beings as easily as throwing a pot. As a side effect, you are able to use your hands to tear through wooden structures and even people as if they were paper.
Flesh works are separated into Internal and External Projects. Internal Projects reflect your capacity to use your touch as a weapon. External Projects are permanent alterations to people, plants, and animals. When you use an Internal Project you spend 1-3 Power and gain the power of the corresponding Level for that scene. When you create an External Project, you describe your intentions and the GM names a price based on the complexity of what you are attempting.
- Your touch deals damage as a small, concealable weapon
- Your touch deals damage as a large weapon
- Your touch deals damage as a large, conspicuous weapon
Examples of External Projects:
- Blending together two small animals into a single being. Costs 2 Power.
- Granting a person a single animal trait. Costs 4 Power.
- Increasing the size of a small animal to roughly car sized. Costs 6 Power.
Listed below are the Sources of Power that fuel your Practice. Power is the generic term for Magical Energy. Maybe it is lesser spirits under your sway, maybe it is harvested faith, or maybe it is a roiling stew of curses that rots away at your mind. Whatever your Source of Power is, you use it the same way, as a sort of metaphysical currency, used to power your magical Projects.
You fuel your magic with your own Good Luck.
When you succeed on a roll, you may opt to reroll in order to gain 1 Power. You can continue to reroll and accumulate power as long as you succeed.
You fuel your magic by Taking Time and carefully preparing.
When performing magic, each hour you spend grants you 1 Power to be used on your current project. You can stop preparing a project at any point and it will retain all the power you have allocated to it until you begin preparing it again.
You fuel your magic with Sacrificed Blood.
You cut yourself, dealing damage directly to your Health equal to the Power you are drawing out. 1 Health gives you 1 Power, and so on. The power is derived from personal sacrifice, and so you can only power your magic with your own blood.
You fuel your magic by Seizing Power.
You draw on some otherworldly source of raw magic. The force of converting this raw power into something usable is a source of great mental strain. You take Harm directly to your Stability equal to the Power you are drawing out. The process of Seizing Power makes you a target for certain supernatural beings with connections to your otherworldly source. At the GM’s discretion, they may introduce antagonists that target you because of how you gather Power.
You fuel your magic with Expensive Reagents.
It costs money for you to perform magic. All those black candles and athame repairs add up. To gather power, you must first take time to roll Community or Scratch in order to buy the ingredients. By default, succeeding on the roll gives you a Packet of 1 Power you can use on a project. To earn more power, you take a cumulative -1 on the roll equal to the amount of power you want. To earn a Packet 3 power, you would take a -2, for example. You may roll under any level of Penalty and gain the corresponding Power. If you contribute two or more Packets of Power on a single project, the one with the most power overwrites any others. All overwritten power is lost.
You fuel your magic by making Bargains with Spirits.
You are able to call upon powerful spirits out in the world. You can roll Convince, Etiquette, or Impress in order to gather a Packet of Power. By default, succeeding on the roll gives you a Packet of 1 Power you can use on a project. To earn more power, you take a cumulative -1 on the roll equal to the amount of power you want. To earn a Packet 3 power, you would take a -2, for example. You may roll under any level of Penalty and gain the corresponding Power. If you contribute two or more Packets of Power on a single project, the one with the most power overwrites any others. All overwritten power is lost.
You fuel your magic as the Prophecy Foretold
You are a chosen hero of prophecy and gain Power during auspicious events predicted by obscure portents. You aren’t sure how spilling coffee on some jerk’s marketing plan is important to the prophecy, but you just go along with it these days. At the beginning of every session, you gain 8 Power. You also lose any stored Power not in a project. You cannot gain Power using any other method.
You fuel your magic with Scraps of Power
You are a mystical scavenger. You can’t tap into the ebb and flow of arcane power by yourself, and likely didn’t even know you had mystical potential until you met other people who can do magic. When someone else in the scene uses a project, you gain 1 Power for every group of 3 Power invested in the project. For example, if someone used a project with 4 Power, you would gain 2 Power.
HOW WE LIVE
THE STORIES WE TELL
The Rivers Do Not Flow is a game for telling stories about people who are young, poor, and magical. Often times these people have suffered greatly in their past, an are escaping from abusive situations. There is a degree in which the themes of the game intersect with themes often found in LGBTQA+ stories. While there is some overlap, the game does not necessarily need to involve those themes. There are other ways in which characters can be marginalized, and we encourage you to think about how marginalization affects your character’s life.
Because of how advancement works, Players are incentivized to complicate their lives with magic and then work together to solve their problems. Introduce problems, both mundane and magical, that stem from their actions. If they appease a spirit by having a loud party, involve their landlord. If they are constantly using blood magic in dangerous situations, have a monster show up that tracks by smelling their blood.
When you frame a scene, you are setting up the action for the players to react to. Start by considering the setting. Where is this happening? Sometimes this flows logically; if the players say they are going to a location, then the next scene takes place there. Unless, of course, the characters are interrupted along the way. When describing the setting, consider adding in other sensory details beside sight. What does the place smell like, what sounds are there, or maybe what does a major feature feel like to the touch.
Allow the Players time to create their own problems. Setting up magic takes time. Don’t push them from one event to another, allow them time for their own projects and goals. Ask for rolls only when the rules demand it, or when failure would be interesting. If the action slows, introduce consequences dramatically. Have armed men burst into the building and start shooting, but allow your players to say “Wait a second, I want to do something”. Create tension, then walk it back and allow the players to try and solve the problems you’ve introduced. When guiding scenes, push your players towards the exciting parts of the action. Skip over boring bits. When you are letting players guide scenes towards their own goals, slow down. Allow them space to breathe and think about their goals and options.
THE PEOPLE WE MEET
As a GM, part of your role is to play the supporting characters and antagonists. You don’t roll dice as a GM, so your characters will look slightly different. Supporting Cast need two things: A Title and a Desire.
Their Title is what you as the GM refer to them as. The simplest form of title is their name. That said, “The Monster on Tulip Street” or “The Screaming Taxi Driver” are also valid titles. Titles can change, if members of the Supporting Cast become more prominent. If your players get to know “The Monster on Tulip Street” they could learn he is named Hank.
Their Desire is the motivation that brings them into the story. This can be complex, or it can be simple. Maybe Rebecca the taxi driver just wants to deliver her fares. Maybe Hank wants to be made human again, so he can stop eating the neighbourhood’s dogs. Like Titles, if a Supporting character becomes more important, expand their desires. Maybe Rebecca just wants to deliver fares quietly because she is providing for her sons.
With more complex characters, the GM should determine their attributes. While you won’t roll for them, this gives an idea of how strong they are in a given category (which will help for determining penalties and bonuses on actions with or against them), and is also used to determine Well-being. In addition, the GM may want to give the supporting character three or more noticeable traits. Maybe they have a nose ring, or sing to themselves when they’re thinking. Small details bring the characters to life. Lastly, if the characters are supernatural, then detail what their abilities are. If they are immune to flames, that is an important thing about them.
For non-human characters, feel free to skip over giving them Attributes, and just determine their Well-being. Give them a set of behaviours and weaknesses with bonuses and penalties. For example, Hank could have -2 In “Stalking Prey”, and -3 in “Smashing Stuff”, but +2 in “Convincing Others”, with the special trait “Hurt by Music”. When characters are trying to oppose Hank, they will take the penalty or bonus listed to their RU.
In an extended game, taking place over multiple sessions, the GM may choose to drive play by creating Neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods are a way of dividing the city you’re playing in into distinct zones containing interesting characters. Instead of tracking individual buildings and streets, Neighbourhoods allow you to treat your city as a series of themed spaces.
When creating a city the GM notes between 3 and 10 Neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods have Tags attached to them. These tags are simple descriptive words and phrases that list the elements that define them. They are things like the class of the neighbourhood, the zoning, or if it has any mystical significance. Drawing a map can be useful at this point, even if it just an abstract representation using circles to represent Neighbourhoods and lines to represent proximity.
Neighbourhoods also have Kingpins. Kingpins may be antagonists, allies, or just significant neutral parties. Kingpins are rarely solitary, they usually have a social network they can call on for help. Each Neighbourhood has between 1 and 4 Kingpins.
When characters engage with the Kingpins of a certain Neighbourhood, they flag those characters as Rising Stars. Similarly, the Kingpins in adjacent Neighbourhoods also become Rising Stars. The Kingpins in other Neighbourhoods lose their Rising Star status if they have it, and if they were not a Rising Star, they Fade in the Dark.
A Rising Star is a character that is involved in the narrative. If a Vampire is running Southside and the characters get into a fight with her, the important people in nearby Neighbourhoods are going to be interested in the outcome of the conflict and likely get involved in one way or another. If the story is taking place mostly around Southside, then we don’t care as much about what is happening at the docks, since they are all the way across town. Thus, the important characters there Fade into the Dark, and don’t enter the narrative unless the players engage with them, and bring them back into relevance.
THE STRANGE THINGS WE SEE
This section is a table of 50 random story hooks. If you need an idea for a Scene or Session, roll on a d100 and halve the result if it is above 50.
- The Trashbeast Cometh
- Targeted by an Anti-Satanism movement
- Mistaken for an identical group of assholes
- Chupacabra infestation in a character’s home
- Forests and Parks are growing into the city
- The City is reclaiming parks, turning them (plants included) to concrete
- Mysterious stalker turns out to be a mass of intelligent birds
- Mysterious stalker wants to learn magic
- A celestial event means tomorrow night is the perfect night for performing magic
- One of the character’s projects has gone wrong and is causing trouble
- A magical designer drug is getting incredibly popular in the club scene
- Someone’s car is infested with gremlins
- Otherworldly magical tourists are throwing everything out of order
- Spiders everywhere! Literally everywhere!
- Something is luring people into the sewers
- A new religious movement with suspicious motives has set up in the character’s neighbourhood.
- Arcane secrets revealed on public access TV
- A creepy magician has something integral to a character’s project or goal
- Mystical places are filling with water from an unknown source
- Someone close to the characters is replaced with a copy
- The characters need to replace someone close to them with a copy
- An assassin crosses paths with the characters
- The neon signs start delivering cryptic messages to one of the characters
- A magical nightclub is getting incredibly popular with the designer drug scene
- One of the character’s former flames wants to meet up but is ignorant of magic
- There is a fire ripping through the neighbourhood
- The streets are full of ghosts, but these ones are all wrong and don’t react to magic normally
- A group of beautiful but unnerving strangers try to kidnap one or more of the characters
- The subway (or light rail system) is full of monsters at night, use it at your own risk
- Something is stealing bodies from the morgue
- The neighbours are involved in something shady and occult, and they’re really bad at it
- The neighbours are involved in something shady and occult, and you’re collateral damage
- One or more of the characters becomes famous and is attracting paparazzi
- One or more of the characters becomes famous and is attracting seagulls
- The internal spaces of a building familiar to the characters are all jumbled up
- A serial killer is active in the city and someone the characters know is their next target
- Mistaken for the Anti-Christ by weird cultists
- A brewery is haunted by angry ghosts
- This graveyard wasn’t here yesterday, and the gravestones are for people the characters know
- Very poorly sorted recycling births a monster
- Local magician creates a dangerous creature
- Local magician creates a distracting creature
- Creepy puppet theatre reopens under new management
- Someone with unusual motives is buying local businesses
- A construction site uncovers something dangerous and magical
- A construction site uncovers something valuable but mundane
- A rooftop garden gets out of control
- A parade for nonexistent holiday marches through the character’s neighbourhood
- All the birds disappear one day
- Extremely unseasonable weather hits the city