About Proper Motion; Some Knacks

Like most RPG aficionados, I’m working on my own game. It’s not ready (of course), nor do I anticipate it being ready for some time. Still, I’d like to share something of the game, the setting, and one of my favorite bits I’ve finished so far.

The Game is called Proper Motion: A Fantasy of Ptolemaic Space. That’s quite a mouthful, so let’s unpack it a little bit.

Proper Motion is a space fantasy game inspired by Spelljammer. Or at least by what I thought Spelljammer was when I read the elevator pitch: wooden ships sailing thru a boundless, infinitely-varied fantasy universe.1 Proper Motion is also the child of Mario Galaxy, whose universe of micro-planets uninhibited by ordinary physics still enchants me every time I think about it.

Proper Motion is a game where humanoid elephants sail wooden boats to a 20’ wide worldlet inhabited only by a peculiarly reclusive frost giant. Or where a motley crew of adventurers sets out into the deadly Gravelands in hopes of finding the legendary Orb of Solid Gold.

It’s a game rooted in an ancient science based on the four elements (hence the almost-gratuitous “Ptolemaic”), and a world so run thru with magic it makes Eberron look practically mundane.

The worldlets of Proper Motion are borne along by the Zephyr, a ceaseless breeze that blows from the bright heart of the universe to the huge belt of dead worlds that encircle it. Between the fiery central Forge and the Gravelands lie millions of planets, varying from a few feet to a few dozen miles across. These worldlets are mostly isolated, but are connected by traders, pirates, navies—Zephyfarers. Adventurers, you might call them.

Proper Motion’s world is saturated with magic. One consequence of this is that each member of one of the seven Zephyrfaring races2 is born with a single innate magical ability—a Knack.

Each person’s knack is totally unique to them. Some knacks are quirky, some dangerous, a few almost useless. But each one defines the character3 of the man or woman born under it. When players roll for their Knack, it should prompt them to ask questions like, “How did my character discover this knack?” Just as the meager possessions of a level-0 funnel character give them an unexpected dose of personality, so a Knack helps connect players to their fresh level one PCs.

Proper Motion contains 1d100 of these unique Knacks. Here are 20 of my favorites:

d20 Knack
1 Adhere: When you touch any two small objects together, you may choose to have them stick to one another. They can be pulled apart easily by anyone determined to do so, but otherwise stick together permanently.
2 Basil Affinity: Once per week, you can consume an ordinary herb for an extraordinary effect. When you consume basil, receive the following benefit: The next creature you touch must make a Spirit save at Difficulty 13+Your Level or take d6 poison damage per day for three days.
3 Bloody Iron: Once per day, you can grip an iron bar and cause it to become covered in blood. Anyone who licks the blood off gains 1 HP.
4 Boiling Palms: When you cup water in your palms, you can cause it to boil by concentrating for a few seconds. This boiling water will not damage your hands, but will burn other areas of your skin.
5 Draw Tattoo: With ordinary pen and ink, you can draw tattoos.
6 Feather Thief: By burning a bird’s feather, you can transform into that species of bird for one hour. Use this knack only once per species of bird.
7 Hammering Hands: You can hammer nails with your bare hands.
8 Immobilize Feline: With a touch, you can render any feline immobile for d6+B minutes.
9 Mirror Sibling: Once per day, you can assume the appearance of one of your living siblings for one hour. Your body changes to perfectly reflect your sibijng’s current appearance, including scars, hairstyle, and so on. Your clothing, however, does not change. Use this ability only when noone is looking at you.
10 Parental Cast: You assume the appearance, mannerisms, and language of any humanoid creature’s parent for five minutes. Use this ability only once per week, only when you cannot be seen, and only for creatures you have seen (you do not need to have seen their parent).
11 Peer thru Metal: Åt will, you can see through a certain metal. Roll d6: 1, Brass; 2, Gold; 3, Lead; 4, Iron; 5, Silver; 6, Steel.
12 Red-Eyed: You can go 1+Endurance days without sleep without any ill effects.
13 Scissor Fingers: When you perform a scissors gesture, you actually cut. Your index and middle finger can snip anything a pair of rusty shears might.
14 Shadowboxing: You can deal damage to ghosts and other insubstantial creatures with your bare hands.
15 Spectral Digit: At will, one finger becomes insubstantial. Roll d10 to select the finger.
16 Stone Speech: Once per week, you may touch a statue and ask it one question, which it must answer honestly. The statue must have a mouth in order to speak its reply.
17 Tiny Tempest: With a gesture, you call a small rain cloud into existence (about five feet in diameter). The cloud pours rain for ten minutes, then quickly dissipates. Use this ability only once per day.
18 Transphase Water: Once per day, you can transform a few handfulls worth of water from one physical phase to another (the phases are ice, liquid, and steam).
19 Unnatural Unawareness: At will, you can suspend one of your senses. Roll d4: 1, Hearing; 2, Sight; 3, Taste & Smell; 4, Any of the above, singly or in combination.
20 Willow Whip: Anyone you whip with a willow branch will be struck with madness for d4 minutes. Use this ability only once per day.
Note: Whenever a Knack description instructs you to roll a dice to select a finger, sense, metal affinity, etc., you do so at character creation.

Image Credits
Mario Galaxy Wallpaper from Puissance Nintendo
Kindori image scanned from Spelljammer: Lorebook of the Void, page 79.

  1. For the uninitiated, Spelljammer was actually a game about wooden ships sailing thru a featureless void en route to other D&D settings. About the only things it did right were space whales and a cheerfully cavalier approach to gravity.

  2. Haltiat, Humans, Jitu Kabouter, Manuk, Slonovi, Yeren. More on all of these some other day.

  3. Ahem.