This chapter contains advice and rules for narrators of a game of The Twilight Kingdoms. The advice presented below is intended to help narrators create a unique experience that leverages the setting presented in this book, but is by no means a set of hard and fast rules. The remaining sections in this chapter present rules for how and when to affect character progression and how to balance difficulty.
Thematic Games in the Kingdoms
A game of The Twilight Kingdoms should feel heavily thematic – the rules and setting are designed to weave together naturally. While the story and location of any individual game will vary dramatically, there are quite a few thematic elements that should be leaned on to help the setting feel unique.
The inclusion of the regions mechanic in the rules is intended to support small fantasy worlds. It is, of course, perfectly acceptable to have your story take place in a small part of a very large world, or even across a very large world. However, the Kingdoms tend to be more thematic and magical when there is one twinkling swamp, and one deep woods. Each realm does not need to be represented with an endless map – keeping the world small will make the entire experience feel more enchanted.
Regardless of the size of the world your story takes place in, regions are intended to be used in certain ways. Each region has a detailed entry, this is something that players will likely have read through and will eventually be familiar with. The guide details each region, so as your players travel across the world, be sure to indicate when they are near or are entering a new region; this will serve to immediately set a mental image of their surroundings, and clue them in to what sort of encounters they might expect.
Each region specifies which mortal races and fae are most commonly found in certain regions. Further, the Bestiary provides a table of all creatures (mortal, fae, horror, beast, and threadless) and what regions they are commonly found in. Having the characters encounter things they expect in the regions they enter is good to reinforce the shared mental picture of the setting – having them encounter something they don’t expect is great for a surprise twist in the story, but should be the exception, not the norm.
Some mechanics reference particular regions; if possible, be sure that any player that has need of those mechanics gets a fair shake at using them.
The land is dripping with magic – Revel, Mirror, Fae, and Dawn powers are everywhere. This should be actively incorporated into any story. Weird creatures, animated mops, and evil sorcerers should be common. Don’t worry that a magic-wielding NPC doesn’t align to the actions defined in any of the tales or even the common actions – those are for players, and serve as a good basis for NPC templates; NPCs can and should have unusual abilities that feel fantastical.
Use Fae Liberally
The fae are everywhere, and they are always up to something. Some have grand schemes, which could be the plot of an entire campaign. Others are mischievous little troublemakers who are just around to mess up someone’s night. Players should encounter them often and should grow to rapidly distrust them.
Any wrong done to a fae, or to the vassal of a fae lord, likely won't be forgotten soon. If a fae is allowed to escape back to their estate or the estate of their lord, they should resurface again, stronger, and with a lust for revenge. Reintroduce a previously defeated fae when the group has nearly forgotten them – the reveal of an old enemy as the mastermind, or even just as an obstacle will help to further sow distrust and suspicion of all fae characters.
Should a fae invite the characters to its estate in Fae’rela, be sure to really set the stage of what the estate looks like. Every estate is different, they can be as large as a continent or as small as a single room; they may be hazy with fog, bright with sunlight, or dim with flickering candles. There may be other creatures there, illusions, mortals, or strange creations. The individualism of each fae shines in their actions, but manifests in their estate.
Use Monsters Sparingly
Beasts and horrors detailed in the Bestiary are meant to be terrifying creatures that are the culmination of a fair bit of storytelling. These creatures are not commonly roaming the countryside – the world would be very grim indeed if this were the case. When something shows up to feast on the flocks of a small village, everyone takes notices – the locals will be scared, treasure hunters and glory seekers may come from afar, entire harvests or revels can be disrupted by the presence of these creatures.
As such, the players should also feel a sense of uniqueness when they encounter an actual monster. That uniqueness is further emphasized by modifying the creature’s template, as discussed below.
Adventures in Other Realms
Fae’rela, home of the fae is tightly coupled to the Kingdoms, and its influence is felt readily by the population of fae that inhabit the land. That being said, the ways to Fae’rela are closely guarded, and journeying there is at the invitation of a fae only – and those invitations are rarely acquired.
Any journey to Fae’rela should be a suitable climax to a long-running story involving many characters and plots, and should not be taken lightly. The average inhabitant of the Kingdoms would be hard pressed to believe that Fae’rela even exists. It is the rarest of individuals who have ever been there, and even rarer to have returned in one piece. Fae’rela, as a setting for an element of a story should be used with care, and with appropriate dramatic weight.
Similarly, the world of mirrors, Sh’than, should also be approached with caution. While an invitation to Sh’than isn’t required, access is still locked behind Mirror magic that is exceptionally uncommon. Some actions do allow for this access, and they should be used as described, but barring those mechanics, introducing other and regular access to Sh’than will reduce the gravitas and danger it presents.
Finally, Zh’vael is the most enigmatic and bizarre of the realms. Travel to Zh’vael should feel wholly unusual and otherworldly. What characters might even be doing there, what they hope to accomplish, how they intend to navigate the void, and how they plan to return, should all feel suitably cosmic in scale.
Player Character Progression
Players have two vectors of progression as they navigate the story told by the narrator: SP and machines. Story Points (SP) are by far the most common – SP should be awarded frequently throughout any play sessions, and it doesn’t take many for a character to purchase a small upgrade. Characters don’t have “levels” or other similar milestones to reach, they get incrementally better frequently – a skill is mastered, a talent is unlocked, or some other small change occurs that gives them a slight edge.
Machines are enchanted items that players can occasionally find or construct. They provide situational or conditional benefits, which can help guide a character’s progression, or may simply be useful at the right place and time. Machines are part of progression but are much rarer; where SP is frequently awarded for participation in the story, curios are part of the story themselves – a character must physically find a machine or its components, meaning the narrator had to allow the machine to exist at all.
Story Points are all player character’s primary means of progression, so they should be awarded fairly regularly so characters can steadily upgrade themselves.
SP should be awarded for two things: encounters and good roleplaying. An encounter is any discrete chunk of story that has a clear beginning and end. Encounters should be small things – a dire situation is typically an encounter, but so too is an audience with the king, or a heist. A dire situation may spring from an encounter, and so might be considered only part of a larger one. Regardless of where you, the narrator, choose to draw the line, at the end of an encounter, players should commonly receive some amount of SP.
Good roleplaying is another avenue of SP award – characters have a specific background and are existing in a thematically rich world. They should behave appropriately (by and large). Further, characters will eventually reach their breaking point in one or more attributes: the condition they gain can be manifested in their roleplay and actions (for example, a character who is afraid might be very hesitant to approach something threatening, rather than going full throttle).
When awarding SP, consider both how much has occurred since the last award, and how well the players embodied their characters. As a rule of thumb, an award of 3-4 SP per medium to large encounter, with an additional +1 SP for good roleplay (awarded individually rather than to the group) will allow characters to bank towards new and exciting upgrades. In addition, entries in the Bestiary suggest SP to reward when defeating certain foes - this is a guideline, but not a hard and fast rule.
Naturally, as the narrator, the pace is up to you. If you’d prefer that the characters rapidly accelerate, award more SP; if you’d prefer that they stay low in power, award less. As there is no hard and fast set of SP awards written into the rules, it is entirely on the narrator to determine the rate of growth and how practical maintenance is.
Typical Progression Paths
As characters make their way through an increasing number of encounters, the typical path that their progression should take will evolve. When a character first starts, they will get a free tale unlocked, and they will spend their initial points on a handful of talents, some training, or a perhaps a few defensive upgrades. As they progress through encounters, they will begin to spend their story points in different ways.
Expect that characters will continue to focus on either acquiring new talents or applying key upgrades to skills they wish to focus on, in the early parts of the story. At some point, they will reach a turning point where investing more upgrades into these same skills or defenses will feel prohibitively expensive, at which point they will begin to pick up more situational talents that they have avoided.
Following this stage, characters should begin to have a few low power machines. Be sure to provide these rewards as players are starting to run dry on easily upgraded actions, so they feel that constant sense of progression and reward. It is fine to not reward any curios for several encounters but keep an eye on how players are spending their points. At this point, players may also be looking into purchasing a new tale.
As characters reach an “end-game” level of power, they will be spending their points on maxing various skills, or unlocking more and more tales to select particular talents that synergize well.
Recall that story points can be banked for future expenditure. Players may opt to keep a cache of them in the hopes of finding a curio to immediately dump them into. Keep this in mind when rewarding items to players and be aware of their current stock of unspent story points.
Ultimately, characters have an enormous selection of ways to spend their SP – players should never be concerned with running out of ways to progress, but the increased power level that comes with progression should be expected to be metered. Upgrades provide small incremental changes, but in the end, player characters are still mortal – they will never go toe- to-toe with a behemoth, they simply cannot be that powerful.
By and large, balance is concerned with combat and other encounters that might happen during a dire situation. If an encounter is expected to be outside of a dire situation, there is less concern with balancing player character actions and attributes: if a character is exceptionally good at Deception, they ought to frequently be able to lie convincingly, even to observant characters.
However, when placing the player characters in danger, it is important to be aware of how much danger they are in – what are the chances that one or more may actually die during the encounter?
To begin, the Bestiary contains a template for all of the mortals, fae, beasts, horrors, and avatar creatures that can be encountered in the four realms. These templates serve as a starting point for any encounter that might involve one of these creatures. The attributes are presented, along with any skills, special actions, or additional rules. Creatures in the Bestiary also have some number of differentiae, a set of additional shared mechanics that affect how the creature behaves (typically in a dire situation).
Each of these creatures also has a challenge rating – a number from 1 to 8 that roughly describes how challenging that creature is to defeat in combat. These numbers are intentionally abstract: a 1 represents something that a slightly above average mortal should be able to dispatch with little concern; a 3 represents a challenging opponent for even well trained combatants; a 5 is a truly powerful creature, something that a group of experts working with a solid plan will struggle to bring low; an 8 is a creature of cosmic power, out of the reach of mere mortals.
As player characters don’t have “levels” to track, it is not always clear exactly what amount of challenge to throw at them. While tracking total SP awarded can lend some insight, SP can be banked (not currently spent) or spent on non-combat related upgrades (such as roleplaying skills and talents). Both of those possibilities can cause an SP- based tracking system to far overestimate a character’s capabilities. Instead, a better plan is to gauge player characters over time – start by pitting them against a few challenge rating 1 creatures; as it becomes clear that this can be handled, introduce a challenge rating 2 in place of one of the lesser creatures. Continue to scale up, increasing both challenge rating and quantity to test the limits of your players.
You can also modify any of the templates: while you can directly modify attributes, skills, and actions, the more common modification is to add (or remove) differentiae from the creatures. Want to make a particular vermin more powerful? Consider adding the thorny differentia! Certain differentiae are very challenging to deal with, so be sure that the characters have the tools to handle them (for example, if your group has no real magic users, including an Incorporeal differentia might spell doom).
Note that while all creature templates include some differentia, not all differentia are present in the templates. Additional differentiae are included in the Bestiary specifically to be used by the narrator to modify creatures as desired.
Each mortal entry in the Bestiary is presented as a very generic template; there are bandits, champions, knights, laborers, merchants, nobles, soldiers, and witches. Each of these can be easily extended to a similar power level of mortal (a soldier could be easily modified to be a guard, for example).
Use these templates largely unmodified when you need to quickly access what a basic character of a certain type looks like; if a king’s audience chamber has 20 guards, there is little need to customize each, the standard soldier template will do. However, if one such guard is secretly working with the player characters, and has a name and backstory, you may want to make adjustments to the template (modifying attributes, skills, or actions and masteries).
In the end, mortals have an upper limit of power – their attributes should never be high. Mortals can overwhelm the players quickly by using numbers, as any given mortal NPC is likely slightly less powerful than any given player (exceptions such as a story’s villain aside).
In a dire situation, fae are threatening, but far from deadly. Fae excel outside of dire situations using manipulation, trickery, and curses. Fae do not wish to engage in combat and will leave if they have any opportunity to – most of which can, either by special action, or directly to their estate in Fae’rela.
Balancing fae is less a matter of finding the right set of attributes – if they are cornered, most likely a group of player characters will defeat them. Instead, balance with fae is more about how much they involve themselves (positively and negatively) with the players throughout the story. Are they an endless source of annoyance, a guiding hand, or a danger to everyone around them?
When crafting a fae, it should have a name, background, estate, and a scheme – some sort of goal it wishes to pursue. For sprit fae, the scheme may simply be to play some games, while a fizus fae may wish to raze empires. The actions they have access to, and what they choose to do will impact the players – while fae should be used liberally, be sure that they aren’t presented as all-powerful creatures capable of undoing whatever progress the players are attempting to make.
Balancing Horrors, Beasts, and Threadless
Unlike fae, balancing the other creatures is a matter of understanding their true power in a fight. Nearly all horrors and beasts will attack the players on sight (threadless may as well, although they vary a bit more). In all cases, however, combat is the primary metric of balance.
Some of these creatures, those with high challenge ratings, are not intended to be defeated. While they certainly can be, they are meant to operate on a scale that should terrify the players. When pushing the boundaries of what your players can handle, be sure to have a backup plan unless you are ok with player character death. Be ready to fudge the numbers as the fight goes on, or perhaps use an interfering fae from earlier in the story to tilt the fight in favor of the players (but at a cost the fae will claim later).
Keep in mind that challenging ratings are not linear – a behemoth is not the same challenge as 8 vermin. That being said, increasing the quantity of enemies can produce interesting difficulties as the player’s actions simply become outnumbered. As recommended before, start slow, and get a feel for what sort of actions the players have taken, and how good their characters are at performing them. Most high challenge rating creatures do not seek out civilized lands, so your players would need to be hunting these monsters intentionally, rather than bumping into them in the normal course of things – if they are doing so, this might be an indication that they are ready for a higher challenge.
The upgrade / downgrade system, while present in the rules from the perspective of training skills as well as effects from charms, curses, etc. is also a vector which the narrator can use to modify the difficulty of an individual check. Feel free to add any number of upgrades or downgrades that feel appropriate to a check - typically, add one for each distinctly describable part of a situation (that is not already covered by game rules). For example, if a character is attempting to pick a lock and has very limited time to do it, add a downgrade. If a character is working on their alchemy, and is in a well-lit and spacious environment, add an upgrade. Feel free to describe both upgrades and downgrades for any check that is worthwhile.
Finally, allow players to make the case for an upgrade - you don't need to grant it, but they may have a point regarding why an action should be a bit easier than normal.
Player character each have three virtues, binary attributes of which they always have one of the values. The virtues (motivation, temperament, and adaptability) are meant to give insight into a character's personality. They are intended to guide the players when making character choices, but they also provide mechanical benefits such as bonus effects on various actions, and alignment to machines.
Player characters start the game with each virtue set to the attribute the player desires. At the end of each encounter, zero or more of them can change to the alternate attribute based on the character's behavior - does that character still represent passion, or are they now more focused?
As the narrator, you have three options for handling virtues at the end of each encounter:
Observe the character's actions throughout the encounter, and assign new virtues to each character as appropriate for their changes in behaviors
Allow the players to make a case for any number of virtues to be changed - they should provide you compelling evidence as to what they did, or why they did it, to convince you to allow them to change their virtues
Do not change any virtues - having a game where virtues are fixed does provide a certain limitation on character flexibility, but also creates more focused character decisions
Note that NPCs do not have virtues - they do not benefit from any bonus effects on actions they take. If an NPC has a machine, it assumed they meet the criteria to activate it. Should an NPC acquire (via player action) a machine, it is at your discretion if they meet the criteria to activate it or not. The only exception here would be when making a Champion, if using the optional full player character sheet for that NPC, you may opt to track their virtues as well.
As the game is played, a variety of elements progress in addition to the story. Track each of these elements on the group sheet:
Total SP awarded - when giving out SP, give the same amount to each character, and then track that amount given (don't sum them); if you rarely award bonus SP to individual characters, don't track that either, instead, total SP should reflect the average SP that any character has received so far
Villains - any villains currently in the game, their VP, lieutenants, and minions can be tracked here; see Villains
Passage of time - major timeline milestones can be recorded with a day next to them, to easily mark how long the adventure has been going on for (particularly useful if villains have plans that take a certain amount of time to come to fruition)
Reputation - track the reputation of the group in various regions; see Reputation
End of Encounter Checklist
At the end of each encounter, be sure to do the following:
Provide SP to all player characters
Assign new virtues if appropriate (or allow players to make a case for revising their virtues)
Update the group's reputation if appropriate
Allow characters to roll on any loot tables (in addition to any they might roll on from looting fallen enemies; for example, a warlord's chest)
Give players the opportunity to spend SP or apply any other changes that have now occurred before jumping back into the action