The purpose of this mechanic is to give a little extra flavor to in-game social interactions based on specific ethical behaviors, promote Drama™, and help make sure that epic, critical action succeeds—plus, I just like the Mass Effect thing anyway. See the original blog post here.
Essentially, this is a limited-use, leveled Higher Purpose (B59; see quotation below) conceptually based on the Mass Effect ethical system. Both Paragon and Renegade scores are accumulated and tracked separately, but passive effects are based on the relative level, the higher score of the two minus the lower (if a character has 5 Renegade Points and 3 Paragon Points, his effective Karma is “Renegade 2”).
Gaining Karma Points
Gaining of Karma points of either ethos is highly subjective, and will be evaluated on an action-by-action basis by the GM. Such action should be something above-and-beyond “normal” in-game behavior—a “hard call.” Gaining a new point should require an “escalation.” For example: if a character gains a Renegade Point for stealing candy from a baby (in the name of justice, of course 😉 ), then to gain another the next time, he’d need to steal the baby’s blanket too—or maybe the whole baby. Karma gains are limited to one point per ethos per session, with no upper limit aside from the escalation requirement (which should be more restrictive the higher the score gets).
Using Karma Points
From Higher Purpose, B59:
You are driven to exceed your normal limits in one specific pursuit. You must state this exactly as if it were a Code of Honor disadvantage (p. 127): “Defend all women,” “Slay all demons,” etc. If, in the GM’s judgment, you are unfaltering in your pursuit of your Higher Purpose, you get +1 to all die rolls that pertain directly to the pursuit of your cause.
Any die roll that can be justified by a given ethos—subject to GM scrutiny—is assessed a +1 bonus to that roll per relative level of Karma. This bonus may be claimed after a roll has been made. Only one Karma bonus may be claimed for any one roll. Additionally, the GM may treat the relative Karma level as a Reaction modifier, essentially a free Reputation, so long as the subject witnesses or has witnessed the character’s behaviors, or has at least, “read his file.”
In a flash, Hero Strongchin (the PC, at Paragon +2) sees that his reckless friend, Slab Fistbump, is about to shoot the surrendered henchman in the face, and decides he must “do the right thing” and stop him. The player and GM agree that this action fits the Paragon ethos, and knowing what the henchman just did to that helpless civilian makes it a “hard call,” grants Hero +2 to his Disarming attempt.
Extraordinary situations might require a more-certain outcome. At the player’s request, instead of the usual flat-rate bonus, he may be granted the use of a standard Plot Point (see associated rules for usage). After such usage, no further Karma bonuses may be claimed for that for the rest of the play-session, and the associated score is immediately reduced permanently by one (this will reset “escalation” to its lower level).
Hero Strongchin (the PC, at Paragon +2) has been imprisoned by the villain. The player decides he wants to make an active use of Karma to force his guard to be sympathetic to the cause of Good™. The player and GM agree that convincing the guard to help Hero escape would be an ethically-appropriate action, and grants him the Plot Point usage, after which Hero’s Paragon score is immediately reduced by one.
Rule of Cool
If the result of an active Karma point use is deemed sufficiently awesome and epitomizes the ethical ideal, the GM may reward the character with an additional Karma point—effectively returning the spent point (though further use will still be restricted for the remainder of the session).
- This mechanic is currently considered to be “probationary” and is subject to adjustment.
- I'm still unsure whether to allow all justified rolls to claim benefit (as per Higher Purpose), or to limit the number of uses per session. There is the potential for abuse if the ethos definition is too broad or vague, so the GM has to moderate pretty closely.
- It would probably make sense to make a note somewhere of what actions a PC takes to gain a Karma Point for “escalation” purposes.
- The lack of an upper limit is probationary