Friday, June 20, 2008

Reign of Discordia Design Diary 3 - Setting Elements

Before I get going too far into my latest design blog entry, I'd just like to say that the setting book has had a really, really good first 24 hours. One of the most important stats is that it is #1 on the True20 category top seller list at RPGNow! I'm told that no Non-Green Ronin product has ever been #1 in that category before. For those who rushed out to buy it, I want to offer you a heartfelt thanks. It seems a bit ridiculous when you think about how long I've been in this industry, but RoD is my first solo book-length project, and it makes me happy to see it doing this well. I hope it continues, because I'd like to still be working on this setting years from now.

So today I'm going to address focus. Many settings have, in my opinion, too tight of a focus. I've said before on various messageboards that Reign of Discordia is an everything and the kitchen sink type setting. What I meant by that is that I wanted narrators and players to be able to use this setting for every sub-genre of space opera that you can think of. I wanted it to cover everything from Star Wars style swashbuckling to the grittiness of Firefly, and everything in between, but I wanted it to have elements that were familiar to the scifi fan.

I'd like to present Star Wars as an example of a wonderful setting with too tight of a focus for an RPG (no offense to anyone who enjoys it or has worked on it). The main problem I see with it is that the official story by George Lucas focuses excluslively on the life and times of Anakin Skywalker. Episodes 1 - 3 focus on his young life while episodes 4 - 6 focus on his later adult life. Lucas has said that as far as he's concerned, once Anakin is dead, the story is over. Sure the background setting exists, and it is fantastic, but the flaws that I see with using it for an RPG is that no matter the contribution your characters make, they will never be central to the story, they will never be the ones to ultimately help the rebellion win, and they will never have the same talent with the force as the Skywalker clan. That means that when playing this game, you are essentially agreeing to make youself into a supporting character at best. I know a guy who was running a Star Wars game set between episodes 3 and 4, and he says that for some inexplicable reason, the enthusiasm to continue the game dropped to zero as soon as they hit the point in time where a couple of droids showed up on some backwater moisture farm.

It's easy to define the focus for Reign of Discordia. The largest background factor is that the central government for over a thousand worlds fell five years ago and nobody has stepped up to fill their shoes. The infrastructure that was built during the rule of the Imperium has rapidly broken down and people are suffering as a result. There's a lot you can do with that alone, but there are a couple of other major storylines going on as well. First, you have the R'Tillek, the lizardlike former enemies of the Imperium, which, for reasons that have yet to be explained, are intent on destroying the former Imperium member worlds. The second is that the Humans and the blue skinned Human-like Lamogos, once close allies, have fallen out of favor with one-another, which has sparked a nasty cold war.

So already we have three major things you can do with your campaign, all of which can function independant of the others: work towards restoring some sort of order in the galaxy, work against the R'Tillek, and take a side in the Earth - Lamog cold war. Of course a good narrator will be able to work all three into a campaign..

As far as emulating other sub-genres, I included the Frontier Worlds. These were worlds that were wild and untamed when the Imperium still existed. They were the next generation of colony worlds, but they never became self sufficient. Due to the fall of the Stellar Imperium, they've become cut off from supplies, and they would probably be in even worse shape if it weren't for independant cargo haulers. A group that enjoys Firefly could easily create a campaign set in this area of space alone. Characters in this sort of campaign will also likely engage in salvage operations. Since the cost of buying new spacecrafts is so high, the easiest way to upgrade a ship is to salvage a wrecked one.

Emulating Star Wars is another easy one. The Imperium may be dead but the Lamogos Star Navy still exists. These guys don't own the galaxy anymore, but they still like to act like they do. When one of their fleet commodores decides that he has an interest in something in a planetary system, they tend to pop into space along with a bunch of capitol ships and utterly disrupt everything in their attempt to achieve their objectives. The fact that their world has little to do with their matters little. They're so much more powerful than most other worlds that they can still ride roughshod over the local systems and their militaries. Sometimes they're after a person, sometimes technology, sometimes they're trying to force a trade agreement. The list goes on and on about what their motivwes might be on any given day, but the heroes will find themselves working against them more often than not. (As a quick aside, not all Lamogos are like this. You can easily have a Lamogos hero, and there is no shortage of good aligned Lamogos throughout the known worlds).

For those who enjoy a more Babylon 5 type feel, I provided the Rover's Beacon space station. This isn't exactly the last best hope for peace. Actually, since Imperium funding dried up, they've had to scrape by in any way they could, which in this case, means allowing raiders to use the place freely. It isn't quite a sanctioned base of operations, but raiders are allowed to dock at the station, keep quarters, and conduct business there, so long as they don't disrupt the usual station operations. It's also a big center for commerce in general, so they get a large number of Humans and aliens from throughout the known worlds passing through regularly. So far my campaign has been based around the space station because it provides an excellent home base for the heroes.

If you're a Battlestar Galactica fam , RoD doesn't have Cylons, skinjob infiltrators, or a ragtag fugitive fleet in search of Earth. What it does have is the R'Tillek, which attack planets, seemingly at random, and kill everyone on the surface with a mix or orbital bombardment and a deadly viral biological agent that so far has been 100% effective in killing all intelligent alien species that have come into contact with it. The entire former Imperium stands on the brink of annihilation from these guys, and diplomacy doesn't work on them at all.

These are just a few campaign models you can follow that are based off of the major space opera shows and movies out there. There are over 50 worlds and roughly 20 major organizations included in the core book alone (with more on the way), all of which have their own problems and specific needs for adventurers. Each can make a great focus for an entire campaign without ever touching the core conflicts of the setting.

Many science fiction games out there rely on licensed properties that have a micro focus (the characters in the novels, movies, or TV shows), always keeping the heroes in the game out of the spotlight. Reign of Discordia was designed as a role playing setting first and foremost, thus making the heroes the focus of the setting.

The Reign of Discordia core book is on sale through RPGNow

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Reign of Discordia Is Now On Sale

Science Fiction the way you love it!

Reign of Discordia is the core setting book in line of the same name by the celebrated game designer Darrin Drader and Reality Deviant Publications. RoD gives you what you need to know about the galactic civilization following the fall of the Stellar Imperium. Future sourcebooks and adventures will further add to the dynamic space opera setting presented in this core setting book.

Within the pages of Reign of Discordia, you can fight against the R'Tillek and their crusade of extermination against the known species, fight to protect the independence of dozens of worlds, participate in the cold war between Earth and Lamog, haul cargo to the Frontier Systems, involve yourself in the various crime syndicates, work for one of the interplanetary conglomerates and engage in corporate sabotage, play a role in the advancement of one of the interplanetary organizations, salvage starships, and engage in a number of other activities that will bring danger and adventure.

* Character rules for a space opera setting
* Six new core races for the setting (Gaieti, Lamogos, Tallinites, Sangor, Relerrans, and the R'Tillek).
* Seven character roles (soldier, naval officer, infiltrator, mentalist, pilot, bounty hunter, and low-life).
* Descriptions of over 50 planets, which comprise the setting's core locations
* Descriptions of numerous interplanetary organizations
* Starship rules for True20
* A range of starships
* A detailed description of the space station Rover's Beacon, which is one of the key locations within the setting.

Welcome to the threatened and turbulent galaxy of 2690. Can you make a difference in these difficult times?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Reign Of Discordia Design Diary 2 - Starship Combat

Reign of Discordia is a True20 setting, and though it really does function as a unique set of rules, it has its roots firmly planted in the D20 SRD (system reference document, for those not in the know). There have been some attempts to get away from that with some products, but to me, the farther one gets from D20's various subsystems, the stranger and less integrated with the rest of the game the mechanics feel. It was therefore my intention to use as much of the starship combat rules from the Future SRD as I could get away with.

This is a sensible plan; after all, why reinvent the wheel? There's just one problem: I don't particularly like the Future starship combat rules. Like much of D20 Modern (to me, at least), the system just came up a bit short. I played some starship combat under the D20 Future rules shortly after it came out, and I specifically felt that the damage rules and the movement rules were deficient.

Starting with the damage rules, what I didn't like was the fact that they went to such great efforts to make everything scale perfectly with standard D20 Modern that it just caused annoyance. Since a point of damage on the character scale was a point of damage on the ship scale, you ended up having to roll a crapload of dice any time you hit with any weapon. Who carries 8 8-sided dice with them to a gaming session? Unless you had the guy at the table who carried a pouch containing every dice he's ever owned, chances are that he's going to sit there and individually roll that eight sided dice 8 times (and even if you do have that guy, what are the chances that he's going to let other players jinx them by sharing with others?). Of course he tallies the die rolls in his head as he goes, and then towards the end, "Oh crap, was that 54 or 56 points?" or "Hey, was that five or six die rolls I just made?" And the one guy who does bring his bag of dice still manages to roll between one and three off the table, prompting rerolls, causing dice collisions between the re-thrown dice and the ones that are sitting on the table, thus changing their values. In other words, it's a royal pain.

One of the nice things about True20 is that you have a completely different mechanic for dealing with damage. You don't roll a handful of dice under any circumstances. This is a good start, but it led me down a line of thought that brought up some larger questions.

Should a guy with a blaster standing on the hull of a ship be able to damage it in any way? True20 has no hardness rules. Toughness becomes part of the measure of hardness, but that still means that a guy could potentially get suited up in a space suit, grab a blaster, float himself over to the hull of a quarter mile-long battlecruiser, and take a shot at the thing. If the battle-cruiser botched its roll, it could take some actual damage from the shot. This doesn't make sense to me. If you take a pistol and shoot at a real life naval warship's hull, is it going to do any damage at all? No way! With the armor that thing has, the bullet is totally bouncing off! The same should be true for starships; after all, they're armored well enough to withstand collisions with small sized space junk.

To solve this issue, I changed the scale. Starship weaponry starts with a damage of 1 and goes up from there. Damage 1 = damage 10 on the personal scale. A guy with a blaster now cannot do damage to the hull of a ship, though a guy with a plasma cannon, or a nuke, can. This also keeps the die rolls nice and low - they're actually the same scale as character combat, which makes the math easy. I was a little unsure about the mechanic after I came up with it, so we playtested it, and it worked extremely well. Starship combat still felt like starship combat, but the level of complexity was minimized.

Next up is movement. What I absolutely loathe about the D20 Future method of movement is that it is exactly like character movement. Starships can start and stop on a dime and size does not affect maneuverability. In my experience, this makes for starships that aren't affected by inertia, and combat becomes very, very boring. So, with that in mind, I fixed the problem.

But wait a minute. All stop. Back the horse up. Isn't one of the design goals of True20 to streamline things and make the game easier to play? Why yes, yes it is. But isn't what I'm talking about actually going to complicate gmae play? Why yes, yes it is. So how can I justify doing this with good conscience? OPTIONAL RULES! You see, the D20 Future starship rules are already about as streamlined as they can get (if you don't take the above mentioned damage dice into account, anyway). There would be no reason to go any further in the direction of streamlining and simplification, but if you're a simulationshit, like myself, there is reason to add complication. So these rules are purely optional, and in my opinion, they make a barely acceptable system both playable and enjoyable.

Optional Rule 1: Acceleration and Deceleration. In the standard rules, ships have a tactical speed. Under the D20 Future rules, they can go from 0 to as many squares as they wish in a single round. As I said, I find this unrealistic in space. To remedy this, the tactical speed remains unchanged, but you now have to accelerate or decelerate to change your speed. Each engine type has a base number of squares it can accelerate or decelerate in a round (minimum 1). This number is reduced by 1 per size above the ultralight starship size. For instance, if an Ultralight starship with a particle impulse engine has an acceleration/deceleration of 6 squares, a Superheavy starship with the same type of engine has an Acceleration/Deceleration of 2 squares.

Optional Rule 2: Maneuverability. It should go without saying that not all ships should be able to thumb their noses at inertia. Ships are assumed to be moving forward as they move around on the battlemat due to their main enginges being located in the back of the ship. A ship that is a quarter of a mile long simply should not be able to make a sudden 90 degree turn, and move a couple squares, and then make another 90 degree turn and go a few more. The new rules are as follows: Super-heavy starships may rotate 45 degrees once per round. Every class below superheavy may rotate an additional 45 degrees per round. Ultra-light starships may rotate 5 times during their move, Light starships may rotate 4 times during their move, Medium starships may rotate 3 times during their move, and Heavy starships may rotate twice during their move. Ships that may rotate more than once during a turn may do so at any point during their move, however, they must move forward one square after each doing so before rotating again.

Again, this is a relatively simple rule, but it adds a degree of tactical complexity to starship movement that is otherwise lacking.

Now frankly, the Reign of Discordia setting is actually relatively rules light. I was interested in creating an interesting setting that people would want to participate in rather than putting a rulebook out there dressed up as a setting (don't even get me started on all the 200 page D20 setting books out there that really only had 30 pages worth of actual setting material, while the other 170 pages were add-on rules that I was usually only marginally interested in). Remember the design concepts behind True20 are that simple and streamlined = good. I've already covered the major rules changes with the first two design diaries. Yes, there are more rules present than the ones I've talked about, but most of those simply involve adapting the Future SRD to True20, and in most cases the changes were relatively minor. In the next design diaries I'm going to talk about the setting itself and how I set out to create something that contained some familiar elements, but did it in a way that made for an interesting and versatile setting.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Reign Of Discordia Design Diary 1 - Healing and True20

Let's admit it, healing in True20 is a bitch. There really isn't any way around it. If you're unlucky enough to be rolling badly on a given night, you could very quickly run out of Conviction points and be sidelined very early in any given game session. It's easy enough to break the rules in a fantasy setting; just give your guy a healing potion and he's back up and ready for more. Modern and scifi games that omit the majority of the supernatural and fantastic elements have a real problem to contend with: the ease of character death.

I've said many times that Reign of Discordia is intended to be a bit like retro-70s scifi. But what exactly do I mean by that? Here are a couple examples off the top of my head. The original Battlestar Galactica was really a pretty dark setting, yet things still looked bright and shiny, and the heroes rarely took a hit. Within a few episodes after this great interplanetary apocalypse, there were discos and upscale restaurants in this "rag-tag fugitive fleet." Wow, talk about seizing the day! How about where everyone suffered under the oppression of the Galactic Empire in Star Wars, yet the characters were irrepressible and naively heroic? Battles were big, blasters were the great peacekeepers, and no matter how dark things got, there was always room for heroics!

Reign of Discordia is not Star Wars, nor is it the original Battlestar Galactica, and there are certainly no disco joints after 99% of the human species has been wiped out. In fact, in this setting Humanity is far from wiped out, though it does face some very serious threats. Despite the political chaos that has shaped the setting and brought poverty, oppression, chaos, and pain to the people, there is room for the irrepressible characters - the heroes, the scoundrels, and the loyal sidekicks. There is room in this setting for swinging across a chasm that drops hundreds of feet into the depths of some industrial beast while people are shooting at you from all directions. Of course, where there is room for heroics, there is also room for unforgiving miserable failure. Suppose Luke Skywalker had swung Leia to the other side of the chasm, only to catch a blaster bolt to the chest, and was reduced to Disabled status. Would that be the end of Luke? In the Star Wars verse, it would be a flesh wound and he'd continue on, even while the guys in full armor take lesser hits and fall down dead.

True20, by default, is a little more deadly than that. The trick was to create a mechanic where there would be less punnishment for doing what you're supposed to be best at: being a hero. Now, I reiterate, if this were a fantasy setting, a simple healing potion would do the trick. The problem is that Reign of Discordia tries to stick mostly with things that can be explained by science. Adepts are present within the setting, but they're pretty rare and they have a limited selection of powers. With no cleric and no healing potions, how exactly is a character supposed to achieve these great heroic feats, even in the face of a good shot by an NPC?

The answer is through feats. According to the core rules, you can make a healing check once per day. If you spend a conviction point, you can make an immediate recovery check, or do one of a number of other actions. Obviously conviction points are important, they're very helpful, and they're versatile, but they are not plentiful. To address this, there's the Bounceback feat in Reign of Discordia.

So what's up with Bounceback? In Die Hard, Bruce Willis walks across a floor covered in broken glass with his bare feat, cuts himself pretty badly, bleeds all over the place, but still manages to go on fighting. In Rambo III, John Rambo takes a bullet to the abdomen, but yet he manages to go on and kick some commie butt. In Raiders of the Lost Arc, Indiana Jones takes a bullet to the shoulder, but yet he still manages to wrap his whip around the bottom of a vehicle and ride along down the road behind it. Sure these wounds might hurt like hell, but they were able to somehow recover from them enough to keep on fighting through sheer stubbornness and force of will. What Bounceback allows you to do is recover two damage conditions once per day. Say you just took a blaster bolt and you're now Disabled - use your Bounceback feat and you're simply Hurt. There's also an improved version of Bounceback, which allows you to do the same thing as Bounceback, except that you can do it a number of times a day equal to your Constitution score.

Finally, when Bounceback and Conviction fail, you have one more tool at your disposal: Biocort. This is one of the items that was ported from the Modern SRD to Reign of Discordia. However, unlike the way that Biocort works in the original rules, rather than speeding healing, it actually can take away some of the damage immediately. Use one dose of Biocort and you get to make an immediate recovery check. Of course this does not guarantee that you'll succeed at your recovery check, and it also doesn't necessarily make normal healing any faster, but it might just offer enough relief for the character to keep on going. However, unlike healing potions in fantasy games, Biocort has its limits. You can use it up to three times per day, but no more or it loses its effectiveness.

The main idea behind these items is to make the setting more fun. It gives the characters what they need to survive long enough to rescue the princess that the R'Tillek have taken captive, or take out the Lamogos soldiers who guard the shield generator.

In the next design diary, I'm going to talk about the ever fun and exciting topic of starship combat, and how the Reign of Discordia rules give you the option to bring a bit more realism to the game than the standard D20 Future rules do.