Pepper & Carrot, Rea, and Fate-based Magic

The Chaos and Evolotions Impossible Triangle, by David Revoy

One of the issues I've had with working on the Fate-based version of Pepper & Carrot is how the magic system works. Magic in Pepper & Carrot is manifested in potions and spells (moreso potions than spells, but that's another story). So in the case of episode 20 there is no show of preparing the potions: potions just happen, and the story moves from there. The only time we ever see Pepper preparing potions is in episode 1 and episode 4 (and to a certain extent episode 2 and episode 3). The group makes potions in episode 9. We also see the efforts of making way too many potions in episode 12 and Pepper working on her potions classes in episode 14. In each of these cases there's very little in the way of showing how Pepper and the rest of the cast manifest the magic into making these potions. They just do it and the story continues. Even in cases where she casts spells there are few details on how Pepper summons up the strength to cast powerful spells (episode 18 shows this in more detail).

In an earlier incarnation of the Pepper & Carrot wiki it mentioned Rea hand how Rea worked inside the universe. Rea is short for "reality" and witches could use Rea to bend reality to their will. It defined Rea as something that a magic-user would need to cast spells. Rea could be acquired by putting effort toward working on a task, or could be purchased through potions and other materials. The wiki specifically stated that it was a unit that could be measured, so you could tell how much Rea a person had. It sort of worked for the fiction, but it didn't set well with me. And when it came time to put that into game terms it made even less sense. Was there going to be a box for "Rea" that someone would need to track? Potions to recover Rea? Costs for casting different spells? How many points would one need to create the black hole in episode 12? How much Rea would one need to make any of the spells in episode 11 work?

The more I thought about it the more I didn't like where I was headed with tracking Rea. What started as an integral part of the characters looked like it could turn into a mess.

A recent article by Johan Herrmann did some digging to the Rea concept. It tried to make sense of Rea in more scientific terms, and gave David and I some food for thought on what Rea really is.

One of the thoughts that percolated was the idea of Rea being something that you're just aware of. I compared it with caffeine. Most folks know when they've had enough caffeine (headaches if you haven't had enough, jitters if you've had too much). But few folks really pay attention at the milligram level to see how much they've ingested. (There are some who do, but most folks aren't as mindful of their consumption. I know I'm not as mindful as I should be.) So if we take the caffeine metaphor and extrapolate it to the Witches of Hereva we start to see where we can mold it to the fiction. Witches in Hereva instinctually know when they are running out of Rea and do what is necessary to fix the issue. Much like the gravitational pull of coffee for me in the morning, a Witch of Hereva would know when they need to come up with more Rea.

How does this work in the game then? Instead of Rea being a number or a box that requires a statistic it then becomes a complication that can be pulled out (either on a bad roll, or when the GM wishes to extract a fate point from the character). It becomes a story beat that characters become aware of when it makes sense to the story. Picture a grand battle where the cast of Pepper & Carrot are up against some big baddie. They're firing off spells, consuming potions, and wreaking havoc. And then the thrilling climax comes along where Pepper is about to deal the fatal blow to the big baddie. Everyone is waiting for the conclusion to this battle.

Which is more appropriate? Looking at the character sheet and realizing you have a 0 in your Rea stat? That's boring. There's no drama in that. You're just left with "I can't cast any more spells because my Rea is at 0". What's more exciting is casting the spell, rolling the dice, and having to take a complication "Running out of Rea". Because in the fiction when the Chaosah Witches ran out of Rea at the end of The Great War really bad things happened.

The other problem with defining Rea as a unit is the underlying metaphor of Rea. Rea is akin to shaping our own reality through effort, emotional engagement, and love for one another. Rea is generated every time David completes an episode of Pepper & Carrot. Rea happens when the translators translate the episodes into a myriad of languages. Rea is in the people engaging with the comic; coming up with new games, fan artwork, and theories about how the whole thing works together. It's a disservice to Rea to make it a simple stat on a character sheet.

After some discussion I re-wrote the page for Rea in the Pepper & Carrot Wiki. I'm sure it'll need some more clarification as the episodes progress but I'm happier with where it is. I also think it makes for more interesting stories to put Rea more into the underlying fabric of the universe rather than something that needs active tracking. And it's also opened up how I can think about Rea in the Pepper & Carrot Fate-based game. Now the only thing keeping players from casting amazing spells and producing potent potions is dice rolls, aspects, and Gm discretion. That's more in-line with the fiction of Pepper & Carrot and the underlying philosophy of the comic and the comic-making process.

I can't wait to write this up in the game itself, but I wanted to get some of the underlying ideas out so I had a record of them to re-read and understand.

(Pepper & Carrot and the Hereva universe: created by David Revoy, with contributions by Craig Maloney. Corrections: Willem Sonke, Moini, Hali, Cgand and Alex Gryson. Artwork: David Revoy. Released under a Creative Commons Attribution, CC-By license. This article and the ideas in it are released under the same license as Pepper & Carrot / The Hereva Universe.)