So, as an exercise in new thinking, I've written this small system. It's a very small step, but I think it's taking me in the right direction.
A man named James Allen said, "All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts." This is the idea upon which Theatrically Zen is centered.
In Theatrically Zen, a character is capable of performing any action of which she can conceive. There are no traits to represent skill or ability in any one area. No dice are ever rolled to determine success or failure.
The only obstacle a character faces in completing any given action is the hindrance of the mind. There are five hindrances of the mind: greed, anger, torpor, worry, and doubt. All characters are affected by each of the five hindrances to some degree. To reflect this, all characters begin with a rating of 1 (one) in each of these hindrances.
"The obstacle is the path." ~ Zen Proverb
Upon creating a character, the player is burdened with 6 (six) points which she must distribute among her hindrances. The higher the rating of a hindrance is, the harder it is for the character to overcome that hindrance.
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action." ~ Martha Graham
During creation, each character is also alloted 20 (twenty) Karma Stones. Karma Stones are the currency of action in Theatrically Zen. When the character attempts an action, the player describes her intent to the Game Master and bids the number of Karma Stones she wishes to invest in the action.
The Game Master holds a deck of cards, each marked with one of the five hindrances. The number of cards in the deck is not important, so long as there is an equal number of cards for each hindrance. The larger the deck, the less frequently the Game Master will have to shuffle.
Once the player has bid her Karma Stones, the GM determines how difficult the action is. She will then draw a number of cards equal to the difficulty of the action.
The drawn cards are then compared to the character's hindrance ratings. If more than one card is drawn, the ratings are added together. If the number of Karma Stones bid by the player is greater than or equal to the collective hindrance rating of the cards, the player is successful and a number of Karma Stones equal to the hindrance rating of the cards is returned to the player. Any excess Karma Stones are lost. If the character fails, all the Karma Stones that were bid on that action are lost.
"Any master of his craft knows that it is not his oponent he is fighting. It is himself." ~ Chae Richardson
Because of the theatrical nature of Theatrically Zen, competitive actions with NPCs are typically resolved in the same way as unopposed actions. The difficulty of the competitor is determined by the Game Master.
However, from time to time a player may find herself in a competitive action with another player, or with an important opponent whom the Game Master has assigned her own hindrances. In this sort of competition, each player bids Karma Stones as usual and the Game Master draws a seperate card or group of cards (depending on the difficulty she has determined) for each competitor.
If one competitor fails her challenge and the other succeeds, the successful competitor wins the competition. If both players succeed their individual challenge, the competitor who overcame the smallest total hindrace has won the competition. In the event that both competitors were challenged by the same hindrance rating, all Karma Stones are lost and additional Karma Stones must be bid to continue the competition.
"It is easy to kill someone with a slash of a sword. It is hard to be impossible for others to cut down." ~ Yagyu Munenori
Though combat may involve many individual actions, it is treated as one action taken by the character. At the beginning of combat, the player bids Karma Stones as usual. For each action taken within that combat, the Game Master will draw cards based on the difficulty of the action being taken and compare them to original bid. The player may increase her bid during combat, but only before the next drawing of cards.
The character lives or dies by the circumstances and realities of the world created by the Game Master and the players. If the Game Master determines that the character has encountered a fatal situation, the character must attempt to overcome the drawing of five cards in order to survive. Even if the character survives, all the character's Karma Stones are lost.
"Nurture your minds with great thoughts. To believe in the heroic makes heroes." ~ Benjamin Disraeli
Karma Stones are earned through the actions of the character. Whenever a character acts in a way that reflects one of the Ten Perfections, the Game Master may reward the player with Karma Stones. These rewards can generally be divided into three categories.
An exceptional action is one in which the character adheres to one of the ten perfections to a degree beyond the average person, but does not necessarily risk anything of herself. An example of an exceptional action would be offering a meal to a homeless man.
A minor or serious risk is an action through which the character adheres to one of then ten perfections at personal risk. It is up to the Game Master to decide whether the risk is minor or serious. An example of a minor risk may be sparing the life of an enemy. An example of a serious risk might be honestly confessing your guilt in a trial.
The ten perfections are generosity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, resolution, loving-kindness, and equanimity. A better understanding of what sort of action each of these ten qualities refers to may be found in their meditations below.
"When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bounds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be." ~ Patanjali