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