|Art by Ilya Repin|
Abd al-Rahman, the nephew of Al-Asma’i said: I called on al-Jahiz and I asked him, ‘Tell me about the qualities of different countries.’ He said, ‘Yes. There are ten cities; manhood in Baghdad, eloquence in Kufa, craftsmanship in Basra, trade in Egypt, treachery in Rayy, crudity in Nishapur, meanness in Marw, bragging in Balkh, and work in Samarkand.’”
This centuries-old passage is confusing for two reasons. One: what is going on here? It seems like an ethnic joke for which the modern reader lacks all context. Why go out of your way to list a handful of stereotypes? There's no punchline.
The second reason is that Al-Jahiz says there are ten cities, but only lists nine. I choose to believe that this is because the tenth city has no name, and the quality of the nameless city is destiny. So when I ran a game which used Al-Rahman's passage as the basis for character creation, I gave it to the players and asked them to fill in a score, 1-10, for each of the ten qualities their characters possessed. After someone noticed that there were only nine, and after I obnoxiously repeated that they had ten qualities, each player eventually assigned a score to this mysterious "tenth quality," hoping it would be very useful if they put a high number in it, and hoping it wouldn't really come up if they assigned it a one.
The tenth quality, destiny, did not have a specific purpose. I had no specific plans to ever have a player roll for it, but I ended up getting to use it when one player acted to fulfill a prophecy, and again when other players wanted to see whether they were "drift compatible" enough to pilot their giant mechs.
(It was a wonderful game.)
|"Mecca? More like Mecha! Am I right?" Art by Ilya Repin.|
I like to keep one number around that has room for extra meaning later; it serves as a sort of foreshadowing, and lets players know that they don't understand everything about how the story works. It doesn't take up a lot of real estate to put a "destiny" number by each character's name on the party sheet. And one day you'll find something that the knob is apt for, and you get to seem like a genius for planning something from the beginning, even though you just improvised it.
The best way to seem like you're prepared for everything is to be prepared for anything.