Featured image of post The Brilliance of Tales of Xadia Distinctions

The Brilliance of Tales of Xadia Distinctions

A brief note on how ToX Distinctions are put together

I realized that I haven’t talked a lot about Tales of Xadia on this blog—which is a shame, because it deserves to be talked about, much more than it already is. Aside from the game book itself being a work of art, rules-wise the game is solid. One example of this is the way Distinctions are set up. Not only do they work great for capturing the types of characters you might want to play in the world of the Dragon Prince, but they serve as a good template for setting up Distinctions for another game.

Distinguishing Distinctions

A very common model for Distinctions in Cortex Prime games is to have a background Distinction, a profession or vocation, and the third be some personal quirk or foible about the character. Tales of Xadia does very similar but with a twist.

The first two Distinctions have a number of pre-defined options that provide dozens of combinations. The character’s Kindred Distinction is comprised of the character’s community (basically their nationality) and their family background. The communities cover all of the known human kingdoms plus elves (except Tidebound and Startouch elves), with the family backgrounds giving extra variety to the human characters (elves simply have an Elf community). The Vocation distinction pairs up forty professions with sixty adjectives, along with magical vocations and location-based adjectives accessible to humans, elves, or both. Finally, for the quirk distinction there are 40 prewritten quirks.

A Ton of SFX

All of the Distinctions have SFX and highlight Values, but the split is different than suggested in the Cortex Prime. The combination of community and family in the Kindred distinction give six total SFX to choose from. In this regard, humans are more diverse than elves (since elves will only ever have the Elf family distinction). Meanwhile vocations and adjectives only grant one SFX each, for a total of two SFX per combined Vocation Distinction. This ends up with 2400 combinations not including the magical vocations and location-based adjective. Finally the Quirk Distinction adds a ninth possible distinction. The end result is the same total number of SFX that Cortex Prime suggests, but comes to the total in a slightly different manner. It also means that Tales of Xadia offers nearly 200 SFX total, which is enough variety that it would take a while for players to get bored with them, as well as plenty of examoples for to look at when writing custom SFX.

It Works For Other Games

When I started working on my Bubblegum Crisis-inspired game, Neon Angels, I initially went for “prompt-based” Distinctions. The idea is the player answers some questions and then writes the Distinction based on the answers. It’s a solid technique used in a number of narrative games, but a little heavier than I wanted for what was supposed to be a short anime-inspired game.

As I was reading through Tales of Xadia again for a game I’m planning, I began eyeing the way Distinctions were structured. I didn’t feel Neon Angels needed the large number of options that Tales of Xadia, and I didn’t want to write 200 SFX, but I quickly realized the pattern could be useful. Taking a step back and looking at the distribution of the Distinctions, and how I was already considering handling highlight traits, led me to a good compromise. I hope it enables players to quickly choose Distinctions, and still gives enough options. Exactly how I sorted that out for Neon Angels will be the subject of another post.

The Distinctions Aren’t The Only Great Thing…

But they definitely are one of the standouts in Tales of Xadia. It manages to pack an enormous amount of choices and combinations into a relatively simple package, making it easy for players to choose and create the kind of character they want to play. In the future I’ll dive into the other mechanics and how they perfectly capture the feel of The Dragon Prince, as well as what makes this such a great game for more generic Western fantasy.

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