Like many people, the first RPG I played was Dungeons and Dragons. For much of the market, D&D remains the only way to fly, which is why D&D will always be the market leader. It’s also a pretty well known fact that I wrote a bunch of stuff for 3rd edition D&D, as well as even more material for the D20 system, which was compatible with 3rd edition D&D. I wasn’t a fan of Fourth Edition, which is why we parted ways shortly after it was released. More recently Fifth Edition came out, and I think they really outdid themselves by coming up with a system that stays true enough to the classic system to be identifiable as the same game, introduces some cool new mechanics, and maintains a level of compatibility with older versions of the game. I really like 5th edition, and I hope WotC keeps it around for a much longer time than the past couple editions.

As much as I love D&D, and respect the new version, I’m working on my own RPG. I’m doing this for a few reasons, the first of which is that I’ve always felt that for a game designer, making your own RPG is like the final exam. Make a good game and maybe no one will play it, but you can at least say that you actually made a game as opposed to simply adding to someone else’s game. Second, I’ve always had my own ideas for how a good RPG should be designed, and what would make it fun to play. I want to explore these ideas and make a system that holds to my design philosophies.

So, what  am I up to?

I’ll go ahead and spell out the basics.

First of all, it’s a D% system. Now, one of the big criticisms of d100 systems in general is that they tend to be over-complicated, where the game designers micromanage modifiers to the point where the game becomes a matter of accounting. There are some good examples of this, but that’s not the game I’m making. Aside from breaking out the percentile dice to handle the core resolution system, my belief is that the best RPG systems are streamlined, with the most minimal degree of complication of possible.

In its current form, the key six attributes are bought with a point buy system at character creation. These attributes can range from 10 (you can go lower and gain some extra points to spend on other attributes by doing so, but you pick up some serious disadvantages if you do) to 40 at character creation. You also get one attribute point per level, and attributes can be advanced to a maximum of 50. The system is classless, which means your character concept is based on which attributes you sink the most points into, the skills you pick, and which special abilities you pick. Skill points are Intelligence based, and you can allocate them as you like, with a cap on them per level. The skill is added to the appropriate attribute to determine your skill level. The maximum skill + ability score is 80, and as a d% system, your goal is to roll under the number. This number is further modified by its Difficulty rating, which ranges between Routine to Nearly Impossible. Each of these classifications has a standard bonus or penalty associated with it, which is then applied to your skill check. Combat is handled in the same way as skill checks, with the attack roll being modified by the opponent’s Defense score. Armor subtracts from your defense but gives you an amount of damage reduction.

The advantages of this system: It’s easy to understand, and it’s streamlined. Your abilities don’t need modifiers-they’re simply added to the function in the game to help determine the number to beat. Rolling low is always better than rolling high (with one exception, which is when you have to do a skill roll-off with an opposed skill check). Difficulty ratings are easy to calculate because they’re given a simple difficulty descriptor along with a numerical value that’s always the same (there are some additional modifiers, and GMs are allowed to add or subtract ad-hoc modifiers to fit the circumstances.

Potential problems that could be uncovered during playtesting: Skills might prove too difficult for characters who don’t specialize in those skills. Right now it looks good on paper, but only a thorough playtest will prove this out. If the math does prove problematic, the best possible solution would be to either change the difficulty numbers associated with the varying degrees of Difficulty, or to increase the number of Attribute points you get to spend at character creation.

This is a lot of work, and as I do it I’m constantly evaluating difficulty and playability against realism. Very likely, roadblocks will be uncovered through the playtesting process. Maybe leveling won’t scale well. Maybe skill checks will present a problem. Maybe combat will have hiccups. I won’t know this until people are actually playing it, and at present, the game isn’t even close to fully designed. In fact, I have a lot of work ahead of me just to get it to a state where it’s playable.

After seventeen years as a freelancer in the field, this is the final exam for me. I think I can pull it off and this game is going to be a lot of fun. If not, then I’ll have learned something about myself and my ability to design roleplaying games.

Creative works change over time.

This is a fact most of us acknowledge, and it even has a name: retconning. The problem with this practice is that it then draws into question whether something that came before is cannon or not. For example, in Star Trek V, we see the Enterprise-A travel to the center of the galaxy. Forget all the God stuff in this movie, this is a major cannonical problem. Prior to this movie, we had seen the ship travel to the Great Barrier at the edge of the galaxy, and this didn’t present a problem due to the fact that the Earth is actually located near the outer edge of the Milky Way. The edge of the galaxy would be within reach to a ship with the warp capabilities of the original Enterprise. However, the same cannot be said of the center of the galaxy, and this raises a few questions. The first question is why there would be a great barrier at the center of the galaxy. The second question is how the Enterprise could possibly reach it in a day or two when it should have taken Voyager sixty years to get home. The third question is what’s with great barriers and godhood in Star Trek anyway (as you’ll recall, Gary Mitchell started becoming godlike after they crossed the Great Barrier at the edge of the galaxy in the original series episode Where No Man Has Gone Before)?  The answer, of course, is that despite a few scenes that were kind of fun, Star Trek V is kind of a piece of crap, and non-cannon. Unless you count the inclusion of Nimbus III in the Star Trek Vanguard series of novels, that movie is never mentioned again throughout all of Star Trek. As a side note, Vanguard was written by authors David Mack, and the writing duo of Dayton Ward and Kevin Dillmore, and the three of them have made a bit of a habit of taking some of Star Trek’s less than wonderful episodes and spinning novels off from them (one could call them mini-retconns) and using them as premises for amazing books (see David Mack’s use of Flint from the less than stellar episode, Requiem for Methuselah, in his amazing Cold Equations trilogy of novels). But, I digress from this little tangent into a different science fiction property. What does this have to do with the price of tea in China?

With nearly ten years of Reign of Discordia under my belt, I’ve realized that some of the creative decisions I originally made just don’t hold up to scrutiny; either that or my sensibilities have changed over time. Whatever the case, I’ve decided to implement some changes to the setting, and the purpose of this post is to go over them, and briefly explain why those changes have been made.

It’s Lamagos, not Lamogos. This is a spelling change rather than a pronunciation change. The reason is that with the original spelling, it would be a little too easy for the reader to misinterpret the pronunciation of it as Lə-mō-gōs when the intended pronunciation is Lə-mɑ-gōs. Since the letter A represents this sound better than O, I changed the official spelling. Because of the fact that the Lamagos have their own alphabet, this is simply a translation change rather than a full retconn. In addition to these considerations, the spelling was changed prior to the writing of the first Reign of Discordia novel, and the source material is being changed to match. There are still instances of the old spelling on the site, and they will be changed over time as I find the rest of them.

Population sizes of most worlds has increased… a lot. This is a full retconn, and there’s a reason for the massive population increase of the Known Galaxy. Initially, my thoughts were that few worlds would have populations in the millions or greater due some having harsh environments, and the difficulty of moving massive quantities of people from their homeworlds to settle other planets. Some of the planets listed in the core book as major worlds have populations not much larger than my home town of Pullman Washington. It eventually occurred to me that my assumptions were deeply flawed. First, the population of Earth exploded in the 19th and 20th centuries, going from approximately one billion people to seven point five billion. In other worlds, introduce something to eliminate the early onset of death (antibiotics), and a lot more people survive and reproduce. A mere fifty years is all it should take for a small seed population to explode on a new planet. As for the harsh environments of some worlds, human beings, and therefore any intelligent beings, should be resilient enough to adapt to harsh environments by building shelters, growing food, purifying water, and generally being self-determined to not die. Somehow, New England has a high population despite the fact that it doesn’t have one pleasant season in the entire year. Another reason this is a consideration is that if these are major worlds, it’s assumed that they can generate enough revenue for the local government to construct starships to defend their planet with. I happen to know how much it costs to build one fast-attack submarine, and I’m pretty sure that my hometown doesn’t generate enough money to buy even one of those over the course of a decade. I feel that even in the space age, starships built for war would be priced similarly, and that means a planet needs more people to be considered major. To have a thriving space-born community, planets need a thriving population, which means every worlds needs to have inhabitants numbering at least in the hundreds of thousands or more. Besides, the thought of desolate worlds with one small population center and then entire continents devoid of people kind of bores me. If you happen to be one of the people who liked those small population sizes, fear not! There are still planets with only one or two small settlements-they’ve just been downgraded to colony worlds, and are too small to mention in the core book (in other words, game masters are welcome to make them up as they see fit).

Starship appearances. Yes, there’s a production story behind this one. After Reign of Discordia was originally written, it went off to the company now known as Gunmetal Games for editing and art. There were some creative differences between me and the artist we hired, and unfortunately for the artist, I win those arguments. The setting is, after all, my vision, and if their interpretation doesn’t match what’s in the art order I wrote, it’s going back along with a request for changes. I actually liked the artist’s style quite a bit, but I would turn things over to him, such as a space station that already had an established appearance in orbit around a gas giant. It turned out, he didn’t seem to understand the difference in scale and appearance between terrestrial planets (rocky planets, like Earth) and gas giants (planets that are mostly made of gasses, usually with banded clouds in the upper atmosphere, such as Jupiter and Saturn). Eventually, despite my efforts at being diplomatic in my requests for changes, the artist quit the project before completion. One of the things he did complete were starships, but frankly, I was never completely happy with them. I described them in the art order as classic in appearance, taking cues from space opera of the 1970s. In other words, I was looking for ships that looked like they could have come from the sets of the original Battlestar Galactica, or Star Wars. What I got were ships that were color-coded and lacking the kind of detail on the hulls I was looking for. Despite my reservations, I accepted the designs that were turned over due to the fact that I had bigger battles to fight on the art front. To this day, I regret not pursuing my vision for these ships rather than settling for what was turned over. I intend to hire a new artist at some point and re-imagine the starships. The basic designs may be similar, but I’ll be looking for greater detail, and a more classic look for these ships.

These are the major changes for now, but I suspect that as work continues, there will be additional modifications to the setting. As always, feel free to offer your own opinions on these topics in the various RPG forums, or my Facebook page.

Back in 2008, myself, in conjunction with Reality Deviant Publications (now known as Gun Metal Games), launched a new science fiction space opera setting called Reign of Discordia, which at the time was exclusively for the True20 system. This was a new product line (in fact, the first product line overseen by me as an IP creator), and it would eventually feature a core book, two adventures, two sourcebooks, and later, a port to the Traveller system, which adapted it to those rules and expanded the setting content. All in all, it did OK. I’m not going to sugar coat things and say that it was wildly successful commercially, after all, it was launched the same weekend D&D 4th edition was released, and frankly, that just wasn’t the best time for a new roleplaying product line to make a big splash if it didn’t happen to be D&D. It did, however, get some excellent reviews, and it sort of acquired a bit of a cult following. Reign of Discordia also received widespread distribution in 2010 due to its inclusion of the Haiti Relief Bundle, which was a very large collection of RPGs put together into a low-priced package to raise money for Doctors Without Borders as they were helping the victims of the massive earthquake in Haiti (a Google search tells me that 220,000 Haitians were killed and over 300,000 were injured).
Continue reading “Reign of Discordia Part 1”

Welcome to the website belonging to Darrin Drader, fantasy and science fiction author, and roleplaying game designer.

This site is back from a long absence that was brought on by the usual list of reasons most authors face periodically; but hey, we’re not here to dwell on the setbacks we’ve faced in the past. No, we’re here to talk about issues that are important to me, including what I might think about industry and (oh no!) political topics. We’re also here to talk about my work, where you can find it, and I might even be giving some material away for free.
Continue reading “Time for a Relaunch”