Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Run of Good Luck

No, I'm not suggesting that we re-envision trolls in the image of Thomas Dam's weird troll dolls. That's a step too far for me, into the goofy. These things were a fad when I was a kid, very ugly figures with long straight hair, and they are one of several modern cultural touchstones for a troll. Despite that they have no particular mythic or literary antecedents and just wind up as goofy looking things. I did check them out while looking for material to write about trolls (I intended to write a post about gnolls, but then I wanted to do one about trolls first). No, the reason I wanted to start with a picture of a troll doll was that these were originally called "Good Luck Trolls."

One of the themes that I think has come across in the last few posts, and is touched on a bit in the second issue of Dungeon Crawl, is that I feel a fantasy world should be magical deep down, not just in the magic items but in the way the world actually functions. There's an element of this in Runequest but that's different from what I am going for here; I want a fantasy world closer to what I called back four years or so ago medieval naturalism, conforming to the way that pre-modern people actually thought the world worked. After all, I just went into a series of posts last month talking about moving among the celestial spheres

So today I'm thinking about good luck charms, specifically what processes can make something into such a charm and what that might look like in a game.

If we talk about most theories of magical thinking, a good luck charm should be something that is invested with good luck at some point in its history. For instance, a charm may be something given to a character by a parent or lover shortly before their death or a long separation - either of which creates the kind of bond that generates good luck. This is one way in which good luck charms are created: a gift that becomes precious begins to accrue luck about it.

Another way is that something is the very first thing acquired; a broke PC might hold onto the first silver piece he ever gets, keeping it in his pocket for years. It will slowly acquire the same properties and become a magical coin. This can also happen when something saves a character's bacon, or is found shortly before the character survives some traumatic event - say, a random piece of jewelry found in a dungeon just before a PC survives a dragon's attack might be imbued with the luck of survival, and scarred in one place. If the PC hangs onto it, then it becomes a good luck charm. You can't really force these things though, this kind of good luck charm should almost seem accidental to the PC. No character should ever have more than one such charm at a time.

Over time - a month or more is a good timeframe - such possessions should have a 1-in-6 chance of becoming functionally lucky. At this point, they slowly gather up a charge, never more than one per month and never more than a total of 3, that can be used to cast a Bless spell that impacts only the character with the charm. A good luck charm can hold 1-3 charges based on its use; it cannot be overused but it only holds a second charge after the first is used, and only gains a third charge after two more are used.

When the good luck charm has at least 2 charges, it can also be sacrificed entirely to save a character's life. A blow or other event that would take a character below 1 hit point can be avoided entirely, but the charm is totally destroyed in the process and no trace of it remains. This can be a moment of intense personal reflection - and gratitude to the little object that saved your life. Which fits perfectly with medieval naturalism.

Of course there's a downside. If a character loses a good luck charm, they subsequently have bad luck until it is recovered. This should result in periodic Curse spells effective on the character at the referee's discretion. If the charm is permanently destroyed the bond is broken and no further effects, good or bad, will result from it. But hopefully it was at least memorable.

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