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This Extension was written primarily for a feudal Japanese setting, though it can be adapted to any setting in which the rule makes sense, from a philosophical or social standpoint.
Karma is a concept borrowed from the Asian continent (China and India), not something that was a part of the earlier pure Japanese/Shintô philosophy. Ultimately, it refers to one's spiritual bank account. Good deeds build good karma; bad deeds build bad karma (or neutralize stores of good karma). Although it is often said that a person who suffers in this life must be enduring some bad karma earned in a previous life, this oversimplifies the concept somewhat.
One of the PC's goals is to get and have a store of good karma (or "Karma points"). Each new character starts with 0 Karma Points. Exception: Players may buy Good Karma points (an advantage, providing 1 point of Good Karma per level of the trait) during character creation.
Good Karma can be gained by spectacular events, such as extreme suffering (such as nearly dying in combat, being tortured, losing of his family, losing samurai status, etc.) or particularly notable good deeds.
Anything that qualifies as a "serious loss" in the story qualifies one for a point of karma. Note that characters may voluntarily submit to suffering and still gain karma (e.g., jumping in front of a comrade to take an arrow meant for him). This does not mean a player can willingly submit his PC to senseless torture just to gain karma, however; there must be discretion on the part of the player and the GM.
The maximum number of Karma Points that can be accumulated is 10.
Some examples of acts that would cause good karma are shown below:
Characters start with 0 bad Karma; players may take some bad Karma as a Complication during character creation. Each new character starts with 0 Bad Karma Points. Exception: Players may take Bad Karma points (a disadvantage, providing 1 point of Bad Karma per level of the trait) during character creation.
In a like manner to gaining a store of good karma, characters can accumulate "bad" or "negative karma" by inflicting needless suffering on another. The key word is "needless." Any suffering which is considered justified (GM's discretion) does not cause a loss of karma. Cutting off a friend's badly mangled limb, for example, doesn't inflict bad karma.
A general who has committed his soldiers to war doesn't suffer bad karma from the deaths of his men. If you choose, however, a general callously throwing his army into the face of certain death with no thought to their wasted lives may suffer bad karma. A general marching his army into a small town, slaughtering everyone and burning it to the ground would definitely be visited with bad Karma, for causing so much suffering to innocent people.
It is important to weigh an act not by Western standards, however, but by the standards of feudal Japan and Buddhist and philosophy.
Some examples of acts that would cause bad karma include:
Bad karma has the effect of not only negating good karma, but also of bringing about unfortunate circumstances upon the "holder" of the bad karma.
It's up to the GM whether or not the PCs shall reap any benefits for their goodly and heroic deeds during "this lifetime" or have to wait until the next one; in other words, it's up to the GM whether or not to use this optional rule.
Karma points may be spent during the game. Only one point may be spent at a time, and any karma spent during a game is gone; it does not "recharge" like ki. Positive karma can be obtained again, to be sure, but this would be the addition of a new point for a new action or suffering, not the replacement of one "temporarily exercised."
Note that one can't voluntarily take on a Bad Karma point to do this; if there is no positive karma (i.e., if the PC's Karma points are at zero) then he can't burn anything.
How does one "use" karma? A single point of karma can be spent during a game session to allow the PC to either maximize or minimize one dice roll of the player's choosing. Instead of counting the numbers rolled on the dice, the player can opt to treat the roll as if the dice rolled a total of 3 or 18 (player's choice).
The player can apply a Karma point in this manner to one of his own die rolls or someone else's. If the player is affecting his own die roll, then no die roll is need actually be made; it automatically counts as the highest or lowest natural roll possible (player's choice), though without the added bonus of a critical success.
For example, a player may spend a point of his PC's Karma to maximize the character's own damage roll in combat, or to minimize an opponent's "to hit" roll. In this instance, special modifiers, such as the use of Action Points to boost a roll, do not count; the die roll is just "naturally" the highest or lowest, with no secondary results taking effect.
Players may also spend a point of Good Karma to remove a point of Bad Karma, but this requires the GM's permission.
One must remember that the character does not actually know he is "spending karma"; this is solely a decision by the player.
The spending of karma in this manner, and the manner in which it is accumulated, represents the great cosmic balance that characters are subject to; kind deeds beget good things, and evil deeds beget bad things for the character.
Any bad karma accumulated by the character should be recorded on the character sheet. At any time during the game, the GM may invoke the character's bad karma. Likewise, a player may invoke his character's bad Karma (with the GM's permission). In either case, the Bad Karma point is gone -- it is "used up."
Negative karma that characters accumulate are controlled by the GM. The GM is free to "invoke" a character's negative Karma point, using it in the same manner described above, but in this case modifying some die roll against the character. Players may not use a point of Good Karma to offset a point of bad Karma being so used by the GM. Characters must deal with the "fruits" of their despicable deeds. Karma is karma, neh?
Negative Karma should only be used to enhance a dramatic point of an adventure, however, and ideally in a way that relates to the reason for the gaining of the negative karma. Negative karma should never be used by the GM to "get back at" players; it is a story-telling aid revolving around the characters.
Shirato, a bandit, robbed an elderly woman on the highway, gaining a Bad Karma point. A short time later he runs into a local samurai. Shirato nods to the samurai as they pass each other, but the samurai feels he has not been paid proper respect, and a fight breaks out. As Shirato swings against his opponent, the GM decides to invoke the Bad Karma that Shirato gained for robbing the woman, and automatically makes Shirato's attack roll a 3 -- the lowest he could roll.