While it is not recommended that players should be under the influence of multiple oaths at the same time (or indeed start swearing oaths at the drop of a hat), sometimes a character will develop a valid reason for swearing a new oath in addition to an existing one.
In such cases, the oath points for each oath will need to be kept track of separately (and are not transferable between oaths), and the maximum number of oath points a character may posses for each is reduced by 1 for each additional oath that is sworn (to a minimum of 1).
For example, a character who has sworn two oaths can accumulate a total of 2 oath points for each oath, whereas a character with three or more oaths may only have one point for each. In addition, any character that becomes an oath-breaker loses all of his/her oath points - not just those relevant to the oath that has been broken.
Finally, if a character breaks multiple oaths during the same adventure (or on a regular basis), the GM may decide that the character in question becomes cursed. If this happens, the GM gains oath points of his/her own (usually one per adventure), which may be used on the cursed character to downgrade one skill test by one step (i.e. the reverse effect of a regular oath point). This continues until such a time as the character redeems him/herself in some manner (e.g. attempts to fulfil one of his/her broken oaths) or until a sufficient time as passed (as determined by the GM).
Any character that either continually tries to avoid fulfilling an oath, or purposely and wilfully goes against it, is declared an oath-breaker and is subject to the following penalties:
The character loses their entire pool of oath points.
The character may not swear a similar oath again (or until a sufficient time has passed - as determined by the GM).
The character gains a corruption point.
However, for the first few minor offences (and only so long as they are minor offences) the GM might prefer to deduct an oath point from the character in question, as a way of warning the player that their actions are contrary to their character's oath (which may, or may not, be intentional).
In addition, it is also feasible for GMs to allow oath-sworn characters to adopt a simple 'live to fight another day' mindset in certain situations (usually when the odds are stacked so heavily against the character that it would be unreasonable to expect him/her act in a certain way), and to rely on their common sense when these situations arise (for example, a character that has sworn an oath to slay beastlings wherever he/she finds them, shouldn't really be punished for choosing the sensible option and not charging single-handedly into an entire legion of the foul beasts).
It's also worth noting that it is not advisable for GMs to continually try to trick their players into breaking their characters' oaths (but that is not to say that such characters should never be forced to make tough decisions as a result of an oath sworn in haste), and to instead view them as invaluable tools for planning future adventures and scenarios, or even to help drive the story forward if things start to grind to a halt. After all, a player who's character has sworn an oath to slay beastlings, is likely to follow up on any leads that offer him/her the chance to do just that!
Sometimes an oath may be ongoing (as in the previous example), or it may only surface when certain parameters are met (for example, a character that swears fealty to a noble lord may be called upon at several points in his/her lifetime to fulfil his/her vows). In such instances the character's oath might very well last until his/her death, and thus the act of fulfilling the oath is ever present - whether the character directly engages in its fulfilment or not.
In these circumstances the GM may like to reward the player with the occasional oath point (in addition to any improvement points they might normally get for completing an adventure) if he/she feels that the character has performed admirably with regard to his/her oath, or has achieved a notable victory/goal that concerns it directly. However, the GM should try to avoid being overgenerous with such rewards, and only award them for truly memorable moments of play.
In other instances, an oath might have a very specific ending in sight (such as a character that has sworn to avenge the death of a loved one by bringing a particular brigand to justice), and in cases such as these, once the oath has been fulfilled, the player may transfer any existing oath points back into improvement points on a one for one basis. In addition, the player is also rewarded with a number of improvement points (usually 1 to 3) depending on how well they performed while under the constraints of the oath.
For example, a character that did the absolute minimum to fulfil the oath, and then only when it suited him/her, might be lucky to receive one improvement point upon its fulfilment - whereas a character that consistently put his/her oath above all other concerns (including his/her own safety) might receive three or more.
Each oath point can be used to improve the degree of success of a single skill test by one step - but only if the test is relevant to the oath in question. For example, a fumbled roll could be upgraded to a mere failure, whereas a failed roll could be upgraded to a success, or a successful test could be upgraded to a critical success.
Alternately, a character also has the option of spending three oath points to improve the degree of success of a single skill test by two steps (i.e. to increase a failure to a critical success for example).
However, any success that is raised to a critical with the use of oath points is simply regarded as a critical for the purpose of determining the outcome of the test, and any additional benefits of a 'natural' critical (such as maximum damage from combat attacks, a lower magic point cost when casting spells, etc.) do not apply. Also note that, in the case of opposed tests, a character that uses an oath point is considered to have rolled the absolute best he/she could have done for the new result - i.e. a character that raises a failed roll to a success is assumed to have rolled exactly the same as his/her skill value (see page 16 of the main rulebook for more information on opposed skill tests).
Once oath points are used they are gone forever - though players can of course trade in more improvement/fate points to gain additional oath points (or indeed to swear a new oath*) when they become available.
So, if we stick with the previous example (where a character with 3 oath points has sworn to slay beastlings wherever he/she finds them), that character may utilise his/her oath points to increase the degree of success of three separate skill tests by one step (or one skill test by two steps) - so long as those skills pertain to the combating and tracking of beastlings.
As you can see, oath points not only grant characters a substantial boost to certain actions when they need them most, but they may also inspire moments of great role-playing as players strive to act in accordance with the oaths that their characters have sworn. On the other hand, the regular loss of improvement/fate points can be somewhat detrimental to the advancement of the character in the long run, if that character becomes obsessed with fulfilling his/her oath.
The following (optional) rules introduce a simple game mechanic for the Age of Shadow RPG that will allow GMs to add meaningful oaths (with in-game advantages and drawbacks) into their adventures and campaigns. However, before any character is allowed to take an oath, the GM will usually insist that their be an actual in-game (role-playing) reason for a character to do so.
For example, if we assume that a character has witnessed several atrocities performed by the servants of the enemy, then that character might well decide to swear an oath to hunt down and slay beastlings wherever he/she finds them.
Taking an Oath
When a character takes an oath he/she gains the option of trading improvement points and/or fate points for oath points (note that this may be done when the oath is actually sworn, or any time thereafter - assuming that the oath has not been fulfilled). Each improvement/fate point is traded on a one for one basis (so trading 2 improvement points and 1 fate point gives the player a pool of 3 oath points), though no character may accumulate more than 3 oath points for a particular oath at any one time.
Note that in most cases improvement/fate points should be converted into oath points well in advance of them being used as such (usually at the beginning of a game session), and that a character with a store of fate points, for example, cannot spontaneously convert them into oath points at a moments notice.
Over the next week or so I was thinking of posting my notes for some experimental (and purely optional) rules for the Age of Shadow RPG.
The rules themselves concern the taking and breaking of oaths, and attempt to put a simple (and reasonably sensible) game mechanic behind them - thus allowing characters to be a little more effective when pursuing their ultimate goal(s) (though this will not be without cost) ...and maybe even inspire a few moments of great roleplaying.