This page is essentially a Kickstarter-styled pitch to get people interested in joining the playtest of Tribute Aleph. I apologize if any of the following comes across as overly hyped. If anything seems implausible, I hope you will join the playtest, near the bottom of this page, and see for yourself. -R. Scott Kennan
- Tribute is an upcoming Role-Playing Game (RPG) design toolkit and series of games that are built to explore character motivations, cause and effect, and to emulate different genres and styles of play using the same flexible engine. Key rules include "Tribute"- A way for the game's participants to reward each other's choices with a triumphant moment of spotlight time, and audience participation rules whereby any Witnesses can also award Tribute when you entertain them.
As the games are released, you'll gain new tools to begin to make your own versions of Tribute by combining parts of the existing ones in new ways. Eventually, there will be a Tribute Creation Kit, which will contain all of the tools that have been released to that point, and more.
Tribute is a general-use RPG Toolkit, suitable for any genre. When it's released, you will be able use it as a complete RPG, choose from its rules to make your own more focused games, or play the ones provided by Yetzirah Games and any others who join the fun. By using and combining 33 named rules bundles called Keys, you can build anything you need, at any level of detail.
The Keys are named using English words that are simultaneously nouns and verbs, such as "Counter" which refers to a Meter (like a Health Meter) of any kind when it is a noun, and which refers to a reaction that lets you place an arbitrary Effect (a rules-supported adjective) when it is a verb. The Counter Key's Effect is negation (but not necessarily permanent destruction) of whatever it is applied to.
When trying to understand what Keys are, think "Key Words". Each Key is more than just one rule; it's a small bundle of rules for handling a certain type of situation, akin to a full chapter or rules section in any other RPG- except that each one fits on one page or less in the rulebooks. There are 33 Keys, and with them you can model any phenomenon you can imagine. Rather than choose your character's abilities and equipment from a limited list that can't cover every concept, you can build anything you need from the Keys- your way. You can, of course, prepare specific lists of such things for your campaigns, and share them with others. A benefit of this approach is less redundant memorization than other games require. By looking at how you use the Keys in whatever you're modeling, anyone who knows Tribute will be able to easily interpret how anything works on the fly, without memorizing anything else.
The earlier example Key, Counter, represents the generalized and universal principle of negation, resistance, and reaction. It's like the basic, (I hit you, you resist and possibly riposte to deal damage) combat chapter in another RPG, that fits on one page with a bit of expansion on its ideas in a sidebar.
Essentially, it's a fancy word for all of the ways to say "no" in the game. Tribute has no redundancy, at least no intentional redundancy (playtesting will iron this out). There is only one way to do any given type of action in the game- if you need to negate, resist, or directly respond to something mechanically, you'll have to use some aspect of the Counter Key. This design principle might seem rigid, but it allows for a few things;
Relatively easy in-depth exploration of a concept, like what a fantasy world where magic is based on Bonds, or a grim world where all important actions are about ablating some form of resistance would be like. To accomplish these kinds of things, you'll usually only have to reference one rules section per concept.
A concrete way to build whatever you desire without unintended consequences.
The ability to clearly see all aspects and angles of anything in play without unwanted surprises.
A lower need for intricate rules mastery and less advantage to players who usually find all of the exploits in a system. Everyone's on the same page, at the same level.
The ability to easily excise anything that you don't want rules for in your campaign, and the ability to instantly add balanced rules support into your game for anything that needs it. The Keys are crafted to remain balanced when they interact with each other no matter which ones are missing- each is self-contained and has no unintentional interactions with any other Key. If a Key mentions a different, missing Key's Rules, simply ignore those rules.
A Kabbalah-inspired Game
The Keys are based on my understanding of 33 principles of Lurianic Kabbalah's model of reality. This is not Hollywood, Hermetic, Christian, or Gnostic Kabbalah, which all have very different goals, and draw different conclusions. Lurianic Kabbalah is a traditional Jewish form of mysticism, which is not very concerned with practical magic or manipulating reality (The Golem notwithstanding), as much as understanding and working with it, and yes, ultimately seeking unity with The Creator. My interpretations of the concepts in the game are not perfect representations of the beliefs of the Jewish Kabbalists, and should not be considered any sort of final word on Lurianic Kabbalah. I just did my best not to lie about these ideas.
The 33 concepts modeled in the game represent my personal interpretations of the mystical aspects of the 22 letters of the Hebrew Aleph-Bet, the 10 Sephirot (spheres) of the Tree of Life, and Da'at- an emergent property of the Tree of Life which translates as "Knowledge".
The "R." in my name stands for "Ronald", not Rabbi. I'm not Jewish by birth or upbringing (though I may have Jewish ancestors), therefore, I'm an outsider looking in, using the information that the Jewish community has published for the world to benefit from. I'm not co-opting Jewish Kabbalah- the information is freely available online and in books, and Kabballists are usually happy to talk about it with anyone who's earnest. A lot of my interpretations are unorthodox; Rabbi Asher Crispe, who has helped me at times, said that Tribute was a "New Kabbalistic technology". All that said...
Tribute is not trying to change your belief system
You don't need to know, learn, or even be interested in Kabbalah to enjoy the game, and Tribute isn't trying to convert you to Judaism. I myself am somewhere on the agnostic spectrum of things. I chose Kabbalah as the source to model the game on because it covers all of the concepts I wanted my game to have and more. Learning Kabbalah took a lot longer than I expected to get the game to this point (13 years), but I hope you'll find it was worth it.
If the Kabbalah part of the game does nothing for you, then think of the Keys as Platonic ideals of the forces of reality which can manifest as things, actions, or effects.
If you are interested in Kabbalah, however, the game might offer some perspective on the surface concepts.
WHO'S TRIBUTE FOR?
Not everyone, that's for sure. However, if you fall into any of the following categories, Tribute might be for you:
- You're a gamer who's interested in Kabbalah.
- You enjoy prototyping games, like a tightly focused one or two-page game using only one of Tribute's 10 (situational) conflict resolution systems and not much else, possibly to explore the ideas of one of the 10 Sephirot (circles) on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.
- You want a lot of mechanical engagement when you play an RPG. You want to get down to the "bare metal" sometimes.
- You want to be able to gloss any aspect of the game that isn't important to you.
- You want a game that does things differently, but for a purpose, and in a way that works.
- You enjoy abstract game rules that can model a lot of different, but similar things, without requiring any exceptions.
- You just want a balanced game engine that works for whatever genre you want to play.
- You want to customize your character or campaign to be exactly how you imagine it, without compromise.
- You want a game where what you're fighting for can be as important as what you can do.
- You want a game that can be drifted to your group's play style easily.
- You want a game that rewards the interesting choices you make for your character with more than just Experience Points; giving you a moment in the spotlight that feels earned.
- You enjoy games like Fudge or Fate (including the idea of the "Fate Fractal") but feel they're too light for all of your needs.
- You enjoy games like Gurps, Hero System, or JAGS but wish they had more rules-supported customization options.
- You like games like Tavern Tales or the Powered by the Apocalypse games that give you rules for types of actions but let you narrate what they do in the game world.
- You like that song by Tenacious D and want a game that could only be written once every hundred thousand years or so.
Those are just a few reasons you might be a redneck. I mean, enjoy Tribute.
What It's Actually Like
The core gameplay loop in Tribute is "Using Factors to Make Moves to place Effects." As complex as it might seem at first, every rule in the game is about this loop. It's similar, but not identical to the loop in the Powered by the Apocalypse games. Tribute's Moves are a bit less predefined, while allowing for more specific rules-engagement.
Each Key has three main sections; Rules for what it represents as a Factor (noun), Rules for how you Make its Move (verb), and what its Effect (adjective) is.
These sections are not directly linked to each other, even though they belong to the same Key. The Key is just a bundle of related rules, which represent the the different aspects of the Key's concept. You can use any Key's Factor (or multiple Factors), to Make any Key's Move, to apply any Key's Effect. There's a bit more to it, like the requirement of some Power Factor (a generalized approach to a situation) for any Move you Make, but these are the basics.
When you use the Keys to model something (a noun), you don't usually use them directly. The intention is that you combine the Keys which contribute to your desired phenomenon, and name it something else, like a "Health Meter".
It will be possible to play with every Key Tribute presents, or to choose only the ones that support your campaign's goals, or even the parts of the ones that meet your needs. The System is being built with metagame dials and knobs that will allow you to make it your own; emulating genre tropes like the flexibility of the campaign's reality, defining the level of detail you want, and setting the game's tone and intensity in a way that is backed up by mechanics.
Things work the way you build them to
In many other Effects-based games, you may sometimes find that there are no specific rules for something you want to do. For example, if you wanted to create a character who could turn to mist and fit through things like keyholes, but there was no "Mist Form" ability available (many games have this kind of ability, but bear with me).
If you weren't willing to write a new set of rules and see if your GM was all right with them, you might choose to find the next best thing. Looking through the rules, you might find that the closest ability is called "Phasing", which lets you pass through objects. It comes with a bit of baggage, however; you cannot be targeted while phasing (which makes it expensive), nothing can interact with you, and vice versa.
You actually thought it might be cool if you had to struggle with strong winds, and could blow objects around, but you decide to pay the large cost of Phasing, and deal with it. Maybe in order to affect things, you add "Telekinesis" (at a bigger cost), but you're still not targetable. If you discuss it with the GM, he or she might adapt the rules to your needs, and maybe give you a discount. I'm not saying it can't work.
However, Tribute does things differently. If you want a power to work a certain way, you build it with the Keys that make it do so. In the Mist Form example above, you'd change your character's "Channel", or medium/material/wavelength, which in this case means "Solid", to "Gas".* Since Channels determine legal Factor and Effect interactions when they are used in a game, it means that anything that can affect a gas affects you in Mist Form.
Next, you'd work out the ability to squeeze through small openings, by building a Power in that magnifies certain physical Access (opening) Factors relative to you, when they appear physically in the scene. This aspect of the power might actually be part of your campaign's version of the "Gas" Channel, already.
Finally, if you really wanted to do something fun, you might make the gas you turn into toxic, and add an attack power.
You don't have to go this far with the things you build, but if you need to or want to, Tribute can handle it. Conversely, if you're using broader Keys like Powers, alone, you can still get these kinds of effects, just without concrete rules support. The looser you play Tribute, the more you need to discuss things with your group.
*Incidentally, Tribute has examples, but no required official Channel types, like "Firey", "Sonic", "Ethereal", or "French" - you build, or use the ones made by others, based on the needs of your campaign. This would usually be part of campaign setup. Enough basic examples will be provided that you won't have to deal with it if it's not helpful.
For Players and GMs alike
Tribute’s designed for players, as much as GMs. The goal is to front load many player choices- "I want to make a character who can do these things, that way, and who gains Experience in these ways..."
In-play choices are the purpose of the game. By having a potentially rigorous, but easily read "world physics" a character can make meaningful choices as to how to approach a problem. If the way things worked under the hood was obfuscated, there'd be a lot of guesswork regarding potential outcomes, and choices wouldn't be as meaningful.
You don't need to make your game's physics rigorous, just choose which aspects you want the players to have to make meaningful choices about. That's what the Keys are- rules for (determining) what the outcome of a decision to do X is.
The choice to deal damage comes from only 1 Key- Counter, which is 1/33rd of the game. The other 32 Keys are about other kinds of choices.
By removing the rules mastery advantage that some games have, which require players to understand hidden interactions, (like the ways things like a particular skill, feat, and power interact to grant a potentially “broken” advantage), everyone has a chance to make those meaningful choices. There's only one way to hurt someone (as in damage), and you have to mean it. In fact, the default option for permanently killing someone requires you to make a choice to spend a point of Experience, otherwise the enemy comes back eventually. This is meant for major villains, but if you did it to the "Goblin Sappers" you just fought, you wouldn't be fighting any more goblins of that type. So, it can be a character choice, or a player choice, like "we're bored with Goblin Sappers"...
Tribute is not played in a White Room
In other words, while Tribute gives GMs powerful tools to create exactly what they want, they can’t control it completely, once the players get involved. If you want to use Tribute to create worlds you can control, use it to build a world for your novels. That is not meant as an insult- it’s an actual recommendation.
I'm not trying to write a "perfect game" where the player can't change anything. The GM relies on the players to keep the game moving. He or she needs to keep them happy (by entertaining them, not capitulating), or they won't give him or her any Tribute, which helps to keep the game's pacing on point (If it's part of your game). Not getting any Tribute is a sign to the GM that they might need to work on player happiness, which derives from a host of things, including player choice.
A GM can plan problems for the players, but can't easily try to force specific solutions. He or she can metagame based on what the players are like, usually, or the GM can chose only the Keys for their Spin that they want the players to use to solve problems, but they can't easily force a specific player choice.
Forcing a player choice can be done, but you have to mean it. You need to invoke specific keys like Resolve, which can force a situation to an immediate resolution. This means that you should recognize when you're doing it as the GM, and think about whether you need to.
Tribute is about Situations, and solving problems
Usually, the GM chooses a situation, without a specific set of required actions. Effects that need to be placed (called a Plan), maybe, but not a course of action.
For example, let's say the situation is about Annexation (The Annex Key), represented by a monster that devours things and uses their abilities. Perhaps it's an undead that tears the limbs from those it defeats and attaches them to itself. There might be several ways to approach this particularly disgusting monster:
- Bash it over and over, knowing that it can heal itself unless you (commit Experience to) destroy it before it does so.
- Somehow join with it and control it from the inside.
- Separate every part of it, leaving it powerless, and then contain it somewhere.
Or any number of other solutions. The above might be what the GM expects, but the players can try anything they want.
Did you notice anything about those solutions? The last one is the solution Hercules used to defeat the Lernean Hydra- which is an iconic example of an Annexation problem. The Power Keys are about types of problems, as well as solutions. That doesn't mean that you solve any problem with its own Key, quite the opposite. The Key creates the problem, and you need to solve it in some other way.
Everything is out in the open
The Keys tell everyone exactly what you're *really* doing in the game. A GM can easily understand what he or she is making, and a player can do the same for their character.
This is a double edged sword. It reveals bad actors, in the political sense. The sense of people who are not acting in the best interests of the group. If a GM is doing something negative to the players, it's obvious what that thing is.
GM's NPC: "Everything's fine. All is well".
Player, regarding their character: "You're using the Annex Key on my Mind. Things are definitely not fine."
NPC: "Do not worry. I'm trying to heal you."
Player as their character: "I know, but make sure you only reconnect the broken things, not take over my mind, Ok?"
Player as themselves: "I'll Know."
GM, as herself: "I know. But if the NPC does it, it's on the NPC, not me. You knew that this species can be very evil or very good without anything in between before you agreed to let it mess with your mind."
Player: "You're not helping."
GM: "I know."
If a player is saying that all they care about is exploring their character's beliefs and exploring the setting, but they keep putting points into one Key that they believe will let them dominate the game in that department, like Counter, everyone can see what they're doing. They want to protect themselves (a possible lack of trust in the GM or the world), retaliate, or deal the most damage possible, depending on which aspect they spend their points on. This is only a problem when the Player or GM tries to be dishonest about it.
Otherwise, it can help people define and express their actual agendas at the table. Which is a good thing.
Do not try to psychoanalyze your players with the Keys, though, just use them to understand the player's agendas in the game. When in doubt, you still need to talk to the player to really figure it out.
It's still possible to create Mystery
There are ways of keeping the Keys in play a secret, but they can always be revealed. You can't prevent people from finding them, but they might have to do some work. The Access Key, from Tribute Tav (see the next section) is the direct way to reveal something's Keys. Figuring out the ways to gain its use might be part of a puzzle.
Tribute will be presented in three stages, collectively called "Tribute Source". Each stage builds on the last, adding new Keys and new levels of detail. You can stop at any stage and play it with only the Keys you like.
The following are descriptions of the three stages of the game's release. Under each heading is a bulleted summary of the section after it. It's you just want to know the basics, read this section and skip ahead, either to the second paragraph, or the next stage. The rest is explanation and detail.
- Tribute Aleph gives rules for Powers, which define What you can do (broad goals, like injure or check the target, take control of something, etc.).
Tribute Aleph is about what you can do, broadly. It is the lightest of the three stages, and focuses on 10 Powers; broad capabilities like the aforementioned Counter Power Key, and others like Focus, which can model skills by making desired results more likely, and the eponymous Tribute Power which allows you to reward another player's choices by giving their character the ability to transcend their normal limits and have a climactic and breathtaking moment of spotlight time . Think of Neo's "No" Moment in The Matrix, Harry Potter fighting Voldemort, or Eddie Morra in Limitless.
The included Tribute Spin (a playable game made from parts of Tribute- see below), "Tribute Powers" focuses on the Keys included in Aleph as broad character capabilities that can manifest in ways that the player narrates, rather than specific prebuilt Powers like an energy bolt. Investment in the 10 Powers determines your role in the group, without defining how your Powers manifest; you're just broadly good at those types of things.
The following is a Tribute Powers character sheet, in progress. Details are subject to change, and the same information can be presented on a more traditional character sheet that might take half a page.
- The circles are the current list of Powers in the game, except for "Experience", which is not a Power. Each Power is rated on a scale of 1-10 relative to comparable entities (characters, monsters, etc) in the game world.
- Each Power (Except Tribute) can have one Effect placed on it, like Countered. Each Effect can have one Augment (a normal Effect placed on another Effect) placed on it, like Lasting, which would make the Countered Effect last until it was intentionally removed.
- The arrow boxes on the left of each circle represent the player defined Licenses (like player-narrated tools or qualities, rather than rules-based Keys) that provide an "Excuse" to use a given Power.
- The arrow boxes on the right of each Power are Power-specific trackers.
- Tribute Mem gives rules for Values (motivations): Why you're doing what you do (Issues, Bonds, and Resolves, the latter of which are drives or decisions ), and rules for Licenses: which determine When and Where you can use your Powers. These are the things that authorize you to do what you do (like tools, attributes, some special plane of conflict like the mind, some sort of medium you can use, etc.).
Tribute Mem is about why you do what you do, and when you have the authority to do it. It adds a moderate, but useful level of detail to what you can build with Tribute. It supplies the game's three Value Keys to define your character's motivations which affect your success or failure when they are relevant, and the 7 License Keys that help you justify and define when you can use your Powers.
The included Tribute Spin, "Tribute Causes", is about exploring and rewarding character motivations, and Cause and Effect. By building more specific Powers, and defining your character's nature, you will contend with problems and get to their roots, whether their nature is internal, or external.
- Tribute Tav gives rules for How you do what you do. Along with rules for basic Maneuvers like movement or grappling, it gives specific details on the parameters of your Powers like reach, duration, charges, etc.
Tribute Tav is about how, exactly, you do what you do. It's the firmest, most detailed stage of the game. It introduces 12 Keys called Maneuvers, which help you define and even benchmark anything you need. It adds the potential for movement rules, very specific effect durations or delays, and other precise aspects of game play.
The included Tribute Spin, "Tribute Maneuvers" is about solving problems with precision and tactics, and is suitable for games that use technobabble, or when you want to solve problems by addressing their specific features.
THE GAME PLAN
Once Aleph, Mem, and Tav are fully playtested and released, I'll focus on creating Settings and additional Tribute Spins and try to create a community where Tribute players can share their own creations. Tribute Source will be released under some form of open license, possibly even Creative Commons. I may charge for things like Settings and specific Spins, but I want the core game to be completely free, at least in its digital format.
The Closed Playtest- a.k.a "The Inner Circle".
The first stage of the Tribute Source, Tribute Aleph, is entering a closed playtest. You can sign up below to for an invitation to the Slack Group where you'll receive a copy of the playtest rules.
The Tribute Aleph document is unfinished. I intend to add an example of play, and a complete RPG (Tribute Powers) which is a light, Cosmic Supers/Fantasy game. But I’ve been sick these past couple of weeks, and rather than delay the game further, I thought it was time to get started. The people who really want a toolkit won’t get as much out of an example of play for an arbitrary build, and while a completed RPG would be valuable to them for reference, there is already a completed mini-game in the book. I will finish these for future readers, however.
What is finished now are the complete Tribute Aleph rules. These are not perfect, but you should be able to use them to make lighter games, or maybe you’ll take them in directions I never expected and write something epic. The point is, there’s a toolkit here. It’s useable, because I’ve used it. My hope is that it’s clear enough to its intended audience of gearheads that they (you) can use it.
If I missed the mark at all, we can work it out and I’ll fix any issues, taking your feedback into account. I just don’t want to delay the playtest any further. Please let me know of any issues, questions, or concerns you may have, once you join.
One final warning; if you’re expecting a complete playable RPG without any work to do, full of skill lists, equipment, and specific Powers, you’ll be disappointed. This is more like a more mechanical version of Fudge. There are several choices you’ll need to make to make Tribute Aleph into a playable game. But that’s the purpose of Tribute; it’s being designed to let you make your game, your way.
I'm not running a closed playtest to be exclusionary- anyone who intends to try the game can join the "Inner Circle". However, if you do so, to remain in the group, you'll need to provide feedback on whatever rules you use, and ensure that you're civil to everyone else. If you join the Inner Circle, you will be able to help to shape the future of the game.
As long as you remain in the Inner Circle, which uses a Slack Group, you will receive everything I make for this site for free in a digital format, and as early as possible. I'll also work on offering additional rewards, such as possible print copies given out at random, or the like.
To join the Inner Circle playtest, fill out the form below. Once I have your email address I’ll invite you to the Slack group where you’ll be able to download Tribute Aleph, and we can have our discussions. I won’t sell or use your email for anything, except for the occasional update from Yetzirah Games, and you can unsubscribe at any time. Thank you and I look forward to seeing you in The Inner Circle.
A core purpose of Tribute is to allow you to make your own games with it, each specialized for a specific set of design goals. Games made from Tribute are called Spins. They are a little bit like distributions of Linux; they have the same base under them, but they can be very different in practice.
A well-designed Tribute Spin might not even seem like Tribute at all, with no mention of Keys or anything specific to the game, but the underlying rules come from the Tribute Source.
The first non-Source Spin will be Tribute Masks, or "Masks" for short. Masks is a game where the rules are personified as active forces of nature- such as The Shadow, The Construct, or the The Fool. The Tribute Keys combine in various ways to create the rules for each Mask. When you want to do something, you don that Mask, so to speak. In this game, you are what you do.
In Masks, your Character could be represented by a hand of cards, a stack of actual Masks (!), use a traditional character sheet, or be represented in some other way, such as a small army of figurines.
Tribute should work for any type of setting you want to create for it.
One that I intend to build for Tribute is a street-level mysticism setting where the players embody aspects of reality in limited human forms. Each character is part of a larger concept (lesser selves or avatars of a greater self), and has powers to match, but they deal with Earthly problems such as poverty, drug use, crime, and violence. Most of them awaken to what they are through drugs, insanity, or rarely, the occult. In this setting, getting out of the neighborhood might mean transcending reality altogether.
I'll draw on my own experiences with poverty (and mental illness) and write about it sensitively, and hopefully authentically. It's tone will depend on your group. It could run as poignant, mysterious (what's going on?), action oriented (this supernatural thing is a threat), or even as a supernatural heist game. One thing it won't be is what some call a "Misery Tourism" game. It's ultimate message is that things get better.
Tribute settings don't have to be mystical at all, but the game leans towards the dramatic. Anything from movies or pop culture might work well.