Game Design Wickedly by John Wick – episode 3

Virtues & The Hero Pool

While talking to Jessica about what kind of game she wanted, we explored the idea of a mechanic that would make the group feel like a group. I really like the system in Spirit of the Century that makes everyone link up like they were part of the Wold Newton World.

(If you don’t know what I’m talking about, first, shame on you for being a gamer and not knowing what I’m talking about, and second, that’s what Google is for.)

We’re going to have something similar (I’ll talk about that later), but we also really liked the idea of linking the characters by beliefs. In other words, linking the characters by what they believe it means to be a hero.


And so, we came up with a system that bonded characters together by a common morality. Not only that, but we also inserted a mechanic that would reward those behaviors and discourage players from acting otherwise. Here’s how it works…

We came up with fourteen Virtues. Virtues represent your character’s beliefs. Is your character generous or greedy? Honest or deceptive? Obedient or willful? These are the choices you are about to make.

We listed the fourteen Virtues in seven pairs. You underline five of the fourteen Virtues; you can pick any five you want, but you can’t pick two from the same pair. In other words, you can’t be lustful and chaste.

Jessica and I thought for a while about what Virtues to use, and we came up with these. This is not the final list, but it is a good working one. Good enough to playtest and see if they work.


The daring character, on the other hand, relies on skill and talent to put herself through trouble. She knows that plans never survive first contact with the enemy and that more often than not, acting first is better than acting too late. She relies on quick wits rather than foresight, fast reflexes rather than strategy. She also knows that fate, like any other woman, is more impressed by acts of daring than acts of caution.


A chaste character is not necessarily virginal, but she is very thoughtful about the romantic relationships she enters. She considers her lovers carefully and only surrenders her emotions to those she feels closest to. A chaste character may also not be interested in romantic relationships, but may be focusing her time things other than romances.

A romantic character, on the other hand, is open with her emotions and affections. Love is something to be shared openly with all who are willing. She throws herself madly into relationships, diving in head-first. A romantic character focuses her life on her lover(s), giving them time, attention and anything else they need.


A charitable character gives of themselves to strangers, whether that’s time or money. When a beggar asks for a dollar, he gives them ten. He doesn’t throw anything away, but drops it off at Goodwill. He isn’t irresponsible for his giving, but he always considers the plights of others before he considers his own problems.

A selfish character, on the other hand, believes that charity starts at home. He knows the world is a big, dangerous and impersonal place, and if you don’t take care of yourself, nobody else will. He won’t refuse to offer help when he can, but when it comes to looking out for #1, everything else falls by the wayside. After all, if you can’t help yourself, how can you help others?


A forgiving character keeps no grudges. She will be careful about people–especially those who have burned her before–but in general, once the hurt is over, she drops the issue. She isn’t a sucker: she won’t trust someone who has hurt her in the past, but she also won’t look to get even. Life is too short for carrying pain around.

A vengeful character, on the other hand, is not so quick to absolve another of their sins. The only way to make sure nobody screws with you is to make sure everybody knows what happens when they do. A vengeful character can believe that justice is too impersonal or that the system doesn’t adequately answer for the injury. Finally, a vengeful character doesn’t always seek revenge against those who wrong her… just the ones who deserve it. Sometimes, folks just need a killin’.


An honest character believes that the truth is always the best answer and that lies only complicate problems rather than solve them. Yes, the truth may be painful, but like getting a rotten tooth pulled, short-term pain results in long-term health. Honesty is the foundation for everything. After all, if you can’t trust someone, how can you build a relationship in the first place?

A manipulative character, on the other hand, knows that dishonesty is not virtuous or vicious, but a tool used to maintain peace. What is the end result? If a lie saves a relationship, then the relationship is saved. A manipulative character doesn’t lie because lying is fun, but because it is sometimes necessary. It is all in how you use the lie that makes it a virtue or vicious.


A modest character believes in keeping his deeds and accomplishments quiet. He also knows how to put everything he accomplishes in a larger context. Yes, there are individual victories, but nobody does anything in a vacuum. He also knows not to lose his perspective on his place in the world. He is only a single man. Yes, he is capable and yes, he is strong, but without others, he is alone. And a man alone can accomplish nothing.

A proud character, on the other hand, believes he must shout his own accomplishments from the rooftops or they will get lost in the clamor of the world. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Authors put their names on the covers of books, don’t they? Painters sign their names on their paintings. If you don’t promote yourself, who is going to do it for you? Pride is a good thing: it keeps you going even when the whole world tells you that nothing you accomplish amounts to anything.


An obedient character knows that sometimes you just have to do what you’re told. Other people know better than you do, and when they speak, you’d better listen. There is virtue in following orders, in subduing your ego, and being a part of a larger machine. It is important to know your place in the world, because if you lose it, you lose everything.

A willful character, on the other hand, blazes his own trail. He doesn’t always bite his thumb at society’s rules, but when they constrain his freedom, he sure does. Liberty is everything to the willful character. Liberty to speak, liberty to think, liberty to protect himself. Society is important, but never more important than the individual.


A trusting person character the best of people. She assumes when people tell her things, they’re telling the truth. She assumes the people in government are doing their best. She isn’t gullible, but she believes that people are like her: struggling to get along in the world. Not only does she trust others, but she gives her trust freely. Yes, she may get burned, but how can you go through life assuming everyone is out to get you?

A skeptical character, on the other hand, does not trust people. She assumes everyone has their own best interests at heart and will act on that belief. She doesn’t trust anything until it is proven to her–least of all what people tell her. She does not give her trust easily, nor does she expect others to trust her. She knows that what people say, what people do and what people believe are three different things, and the only thing you can trust is what people do.

Group Virtues

We also talked about Group Virtues: Virtues held by the entire group. (Forgive me; sometimes you have to spell out the obvious.) For example, if everyone in your group picks forgiving, then forgiving is a group virtue.

We suggest the group decides upon three group virtues that all characters in the group share. The remaining two virtues are individual virtues that the players can choose on their own. You’ll see how group virtues come into play in the next section.

The Hero Pool

The hero pool is a pool of dice that sit in the center of the table. During the game, any player can draw any number of dice from the pool to add to their current dice before a risk or a contest. That is, if you have no dice for a risk, you can draw one die from the pool. That one die counters the no dice rule.

As the game begins, the Narrator adds a number of dice to the hero pool equal to the number of players in the game (not counting the Narrator).

Adding & Taking Dice

A player can add one die to the pool whenever she takes an action that fits one of their virtues. For example, if one of your virtues is reckless and you take a reckless action, you add one die to the hero pool.

If you are playing with the group virtues rule, whenever a character acts on a group virtue, add two dice to the pool.

Whenever a character acts against his virtue… nothing happens. He doesn’t get to add any dice to the pool.

However, if you are working with group virtues, if someone acts against a group virtue, the Narrator takes one die from the pool.

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And that, in a nutshell, is how the Virtues and Hero Pool work. Next week, we’re going to start talking about the really groovy stuff.[/sociallocker]


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