The Willing

Derek Holland

This is a campaign idea that can apply to many genres and settings. The Willing are those people who suffer to make life better for others. I got the idea a few years ago while reading A Deepness in the Sky. In that novel there is a process called Focusing, which warps the mind and turns a person into a low grade mentat. They are used to work on problems that would defeat most people. And the process can be reversed, but the result is a person with a weakened mind. One scene in the book has two characters arguing over the merits of the process. I wanted to smack their heads together and call them stupid to their faces. One wanted to force people to be Focused as to reduce human suffering. That is pretty vile. The other treated the proccess as EVIL. I wanted to ask him "why not allow volunteers as there are many people willing to give their lives for others?" So here are some ideas on how to use The Willing:

First is the benefit. The Willing may be cyborgs, mutants, uploads, part of a hivemind or even a spellcaster. In game mechanics they get some major bonuses to a fairly narrow field. These may be physical (strength, speed, supernatural power, etc.) or mental (skill bonus, concentration bonus, access to a large mental library, etc.). Whatever the bonus, it should be significant. In a d20 game, it might be a +10 to a skill, +4 an ability score, doubling of the character's movement rate and/or encumbrance, access to a small number of spells up to 4th level or a metamagic feat that has a reduced penalty (maximized for a 2 level bump for example).

Then there is the penalty. This should be crippling in some way. It may be social- the people hate The Willing even though they benefit greatly from them. Trying to just survive in a city may be difficult as there are those who prey on The Willing. Or, more likely, it is mechanical. Whatever bonus The Willing have, the penalty is at least three times worse than that. It could be a physical warping rendering some limb(s) or other body parts useless or vulnerable (blindness, albanism, salt water burns like acid), a mental defect (skill points lost, xp penalty, phobia) or something supernatural (vulnerable to a specific supernatural energy, inability to cast spells of a specific and important school, unable to harm demons that hunt the character).

And finally there is the Oath. To become one of The Willing, the character must follow the ideals of those who grant the benefits. This is not a simple exchange of power for some defects the player may very well ignore. This is something where the character is forced to follow some scheme or ideal. To fail here results in a character that will be hunted down and destroyed by those who gave them the power. Or, it might be hardwired into the mind of The Willing ala a Geas spell. What the plan is depends on the GM, the setting and the source of the power.

The point is the characters who become part of The Willing are going to give up their previous lives, potentially forever, and suffer greatly so that they may have the chance to make a real difference in the world. The Willing should be those who will impact history and be remembered, for good or bad, for thousands of years. They don't have to be heroes, but they have to be larger than life in some way beyond the usual player character.