The Unnamed Fantasy Game


(Stormcaller3801 ) #1

So, I’m working on a high-fantasy Forged in the Dark game, and I figured I’d share details about it here, to try and solicit feedback, questions, and advice.

The project started when my efforts to build a D&D world of my own liking led to becoming more and more dissatisfied with 5th edition D&D- ultimately I decided I needed a different framework to build on, something where I could put all the bendy bits where I wanted them.

Part of that ended up being revising the fluff of the world further away from D&D’s standards- so while there’s humans, dwarves, elves, and other familiar race names, the actual races themselves are rather different.

The elves have airships, alchemagical firearms, and gothic architecture; their aesthetics of beauty favor extremely pale skin, while most sport symbols on their foreheads that declare allegiance to one of numerous religious Orders; they are what I think as ‘medieval noir.’

The dwarves are more Riders of Rohan than Mines of Moria, being a nomadic people who follow their herds from one grazing ground to another as the seasons change. While they are skilled with metal, their lifestyle means that they are better known for their work with wood and leather. One of the more notable quirks of dwarves is that upon death they turn to stone, becoming a boulder of roughly the same size as the dwarf in question.

There’s more than that, of course- ten racial packages to start. These are just samples.

And by packages I mean that I’m breaking apart playbooks into multiple packages that can be assembled- heritage packages represent your race and cultural inheritance. Career packages are closer to the traditional playbooks. Backgrounds will likely be the same. Everything will provide options to choose from, along with suggested picks as the most commonplace. Meeting an Orc who isn’t Tough As Nails is memorable, although not impossible. Choosing not to take it will have had a profound impact on your character’s life- you get to decide what that means.

I’m using complex social rules in the form of Strings, Entanglements, and Circles- an Entanglement is roughly equivalent to a Contact, in that they’re someone you continually run into. Strings are similar to in Monsterhearts, but less complex and can become knotted Strings which are hard to get rid of. Circles are organizations that function rather like Entanglements, but allegiance to them and drawing on their resources can result in owing quite a few favors.

Magic is complex, in that there’s both spellcasting and ritual magic. The Spellbinder package is the career package that’s focused on magic, and with the initial Special Ability, you pick a kind of magic to know, such as necromancy. Additional kinds can be learned, but these function closer to advanced abilities, with each having its own requirements to learn and master. Ritual magic, meanwhile, is easier to come by, but is less portable, and less immediate. It can be quite useful, but there’s times when it’s simply not the right tool for the task.

And as for the purpose of the game- entertainment. I want the rules and the world to be almost a theme park of options, to be enjoyed as you see fit. You could go with a pure urban noir theme amongst the elves, or something closer to Celtic myth with the Kordh. You can emphasize social, or something more brute force against monsters inhabiting the wilder places, or whatever else you feel like. I want this to be a toolbox you can use to play the game you want, in a world of my devising. Nothing more, nothing less.

For some reason, I’m doing layout on it as I write it, though, so it may take a while.


#2

Interesting stuff. I’m all ears because I started working on my own (little) fantasy hack of Blades, so I’m very excited to see your material.

One thing I’m particulary curious about is your take on the action ratings. Are you planning on sticking to the 3 attributes and 4 action ratings per attribute style of Blades or doing something different?


#3

I too am looking forward to hearing more. I have a fantasy hack that is fairly far along. I’ll try to share it soon, but I have a modern action hack on the front burner.


(Stormcaller3801 ) #4

So far the writing for the game itself has been working off the SRD, and trying to figure out what to incorporate, change, or remove. Work’s kept me pretty busy, along with some recent family stuff, so I’ve largely been working on it on the weekends.

Past material I wrote for D&D that I’m going to revise/recycle can be found at the following links:

I was originally going to add to it, create three new actions and expand the action dot maximum to 5, so that attributes and actions still had the same potential number of dots. My three additions were Piety, Succor, and Taming.

However, after a lot of thought, I decided that I didn’t really want to add them. I didn’t feel that they added something useful to the game, and removed them again while dropping the dots back down again. Instead I ended up renaming a few of the actions to better suit the mood that I was going for. The list ended up as follows:

  • Brawl
  • Command
  • Consort
  • Craft
  • Finesse
  • Hunt
  • Prowl
  • Study
  • Survey
  • Sway
  • Weave
  • Wreck

With Craft being fairly self-evident as a Tinker alternative, and Weave being a general understanding of magical theory and the ability to manifest very minor spells. Bigger, flashier magic is the provenance of special abilities, advanced abilities, and a large chunk of writing that’s yet to be done.


#5

I’m very curious about how you handle racial modifiers to characters. Are you treating them a narrative elements (i.e. backgrounds), or are there mechano-narrative settings that cannot easily be changed (like in DnD)?


(Stormcaller3801 ) #6

Heritage packages (at the moment) include a set of three actions and three special abilities, with a suggested (very common) SA indicated.

All three SAs get written on the character sheet, while the player chooses one of the actions to put a dot in. That replaces the standard ‘choose an action to put a point in to represent your heritage’ in the FitD SRD. The heritage package and a career package together form the equivalent of the standard playbook.

Every character starts with two SAs, one chosen from the heritage package and one from the career package, so it’s not super limiting- and there’ll be options to pick outside of those as well; I’m considering a generic list open to everyone along with something akin to veterancy that’ll allow choices from other career packages.


#7

Very Interesting. I may’ve missed your motivation for including the races you did. I did notice links to supplemental info, and I’d love to check them out when I’ve got a moment today. What sort of meta-narratives are you hoping to layer into your world, and how do you hope they influence the beliefs and goals of your characters?


(Stormcaller3801 ) #8

The racial choices are a combination of three factors:

  • Things that are standard fantasy fare
  • Things I think are cool
  • Things my friends think are cool

So I’ll be adding a few more to the above list, such as elves (because elves are a staple) and succubi/incubi (because a friend always asks if she can play one). But I’m trying to focus on the mechanics right now, before I get back into the fun part. I’m about 50% through adapting the SRD to my ideas at this point.

I’m not sure if I entirely understand the question, to be honest.

My intention at this point is to try and provide the tools necessary to recreate the best experiences I’ve had at a gaming table: creating a character whose personality and explorations have led to finding a purpose or cause, and then giving the character opportunities to grow through the person of that goal- with the ultimate choice of whether the story is a hero’s journey or a tragedy being left up to the player.

But if players just want an excuse to sit around a living room with their friends, eating, talking, and rolling dice, well, I want them to be able to do that, too.


#9

That all sounds excellent.

What I meant about meta-narrative is, what is the history between nations/factions of one racial group as compared to another. Are they clearly delineated, or are there mixed societies? Will you be incorporating cultural frictions from IRL into your setting? Stuff like that.


(Stormcaller3801 ) #10

It varies, I suppose. I’m very tempted to write a giant essay about how they all interact with one another, but honestly, you don’t need that as an answer here.

The Sceadu are very isolationist and xenophobic- they’re half-myth, referred to as the ‘forest folk’ and used to scare children into behaving or as an attempt to explain why something wasn’t as it should be.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have shapeshifters, who don’t tend to hold territory of their own, but take a highly aggressive extrovert approach to other cultures: they create their own districts or wards in other cultures’ cities, openly advertising what they are and acting in predictable ways so as to be comfortably familiar to their hosts even as they’re very much unlike the world around them. Like Disneyland.

Everyone else falls somewhere in between, and there’s differing levels of cross-integration based on cultural clashes, distance, and so on. Very few, such as the elves, have anything resembling a racial nation-state; most are more fractious than that, with multiple political powers that each have their own territory and agenda. Individual personalities, survival, politics, and cultural clashes have led to wars in the past (and present, and future), but it’s far more to do with the world I’m creating than anything in real life.


(Stormcaller3801 ) #11

The crew types for the game (I’ve decided to refer to them as bands) are at this point as follows:

  • Entertainers
  • Explorers
  • Mercenaries
  • Merchants
  • Outlaws
  • Pilgrims

Because the group is expected to travel regularly, it seemed like it would be best to ask why they’d be traveling- whether that travel was in a limited area or as free as the wind. I didn’t like the idea of simply ‘adventurers,’ as that doesn’t fit the world very well, even if you get into the ideas I have for the more savage or monstrous creatures. So I asked myself who would have reason to travel regularly, and came up with the above.

Each one is, of course, fairly open- ‘outlaws’ covers everything from pirates to con artists, for example.

I’m also thinking of decoupling lairs from the band- at least at the outset. Having a lair (stronghold) can be an upgrade, opening up all the other related upgrades. It’s an option, rather than a given, something for groups that want a place to call home, while the ones who want less roots can look elsewhere.

I’m decoupling cohorts as well- the Sceadu are going to have an SA that allows a cohort, and I see no reason why other packages won’t include the option. There’ll certainly be options for adding cohorts to the band, in one form or another, but it’s not intrinsically a group thing.


#12

Have you thought about how high fantasy as a genre meshes with some of the resource economies of Blades?

For example, how are harm and stress handled in your system? In Blades, both are meant to tie into the downtime loop and require committing limited downtime actions to slowly replenish. Are there healing magics or health potions that make healing more immediate in your game? Do characters accumulate traumas and risk “washing out” like Blades characters do?

Similarly, are you sticking with the main action happening in “missions” or “heists”, or trying to represent the more open-world, roaming, sandbox vibe of a D&D-style game?


(Stormcaller3801 ) #13

I’ve split harm into physical and mental, each being tracks identical to the Blades variety, with the same (cumulative) penalties for the different tiers of harm. I’m intending to include methods for restoring health during play, with more grievous injury requiring greater investment to offset; alchemicals that will remove the penalties (but not the harm), spellcasting to remove lower tiers, and ritual magic to eliminate the higher tiers (including death).

Mental harm cannot, in and of itself, result in death- but it can result in ‘going mad,’ which is much the same. I’ve written a short callout noting that this is a fictional construct, and not meant to be an accurate representation of actual mental illness.

Stress is used much like in Blades, but I’m also connecting it to spellcasting. To a certain point, a spellcaster can channel magic without stress accumulating- but pushing beyond that will have associated stress costs.

Furthermore, stress is tied to mental harm; once your stress track fills up, you start suffering mental harm instead of stress.

Characters can gain a trauma condition through being incapacitated, and they can be removed . I’m not attempting to create as grim a setting as Doskvol, and I am encouraging players to be more attached to their characters.

I’m eliminating the Score portion of the game session, although I’m keeping Free Play and Downtime. The episodic feel didn’t suit my interests, and I was having a lot of difficulty figuring out how to break game sessions into free play, downtime, and ‘quests,’ where every quest would take no more than one game session to complete.

I’m trying to build something more of a toolbox of narrative options to give to groups, where they can decide what feels right for them, and structure their story appropriately.


(Stormcaller3801 ) #14

So at this point I’ve drafted the core rules and I’ve started working more on the characters.

There’s ten heritage packages, five career packages, and six crew types.

Heritages:

  • Human
  • Elf
  • Dwarf
  • Kordh
  • Sceadu
  • Orc
  • Changeling (name to be changed)
  • Kordh
  • Goblin
  • Pan
  • Succubi/Incubi

Careers:

  • Freeblade
  • Huntsman
  • Spellbinder
  • Rapscallion
  • Confidant

Bands:

  • Entertainers
  • Pilgrims
  • Merchants
  • Mercenaries
  • Outlaws
  • Explorers

There’s still a lot of work to be done, but it’s progressing.

I’ve decided to set up lairs (strongholds) as a two-point band upgrade you can get, which can then be upgraded. There’s no claims or reputation; tier is another band upgrade option which will cost you coin as well.

I’m revisiting how I’m handling special abilities and heritage packages, because of two factors:

While I want to include veterancy (picking special abilities from other paybooks) as an option, I don’t want to have humans who pick up flight, or orcs who can suddenly shapeshift. So I’m wanting to close off heritage special abilities to veterancy.

Second, a good number of the heritage special abilities are cultural and could easily work as personality traits (because they are- they’re just personality traits encouraged by your home culture), so it makes sense to include them in the general list (did I mention there’s an available-to-all general list?) of special abilities.

So, your heritage may give you a dot to place in one of three special abilities, but not all of them will be ‘heritage special abilities.’ Which will largely only affect paperwork, really.


#15

Big Question: Do you have any material that you want playtested/ material that is ready for playtesting?


(Stormcaller3801 ) #16

Not really; I’ve renamed special abilities for the heritage packages but I haven’t done anything with career packages or the band types. Everything’s going in fits and starts, as I get time (and inspiration) to work on it, and as other things distract me. I’ll post something when it’s ready for playtesting, to be sure.


(Simon Hibbs) #17

Interesting stuff, I like the sound of the world a lot. I also think the FitD system offers a lot of flexibility so it’s interesting to see people stretch it.

I have seen other PBTA system try packages of moves though and IMHO it tends to over-complicate things. Just because your would could support a dozen different types of campaign, it doesn’t mean your system has to, and in fact trying to create an all things to al GM’s system risks de-focusing and not doing any one thing particularly well. Take call of Cthulhu, it’s set in the ‘real world’, but focuses of a very specific type of campaign, and is all the better for it.

Take the crew types, they are very diverse so to what extent can you really build a single rules framework to support all those different types of activities? In BitD we have an example of this in the Vigilantes crew. It’s not really al that different thematically from underworld gangs of criminals, and are operating in the same environment, yet the rules changes make it a mini-supplement rather than just another type of crew.

Hey, I could be way off mark. I look forward to seeing what you’ve come up with, but my best homebrew and home modded games have come about when I’ve started with something overly ambitions and then brutally pruned it back down to the essentials.


#18

Makes sense. Do you plan to mess with the pace of progression? I’m thinking about the llimits of character growth in BitD at the moment so this interests me.


(Stormcaller3801 ) #19

Yes… and no.

I’ve modified the way that bands (crews) advance in that I’ve eliminated claims and made having a lair (stronghold) optional, as well as eliminating reputation. Your band’s upgrades (through experience) is the direct method for advancing in tiers, and it’s entirely possible for a band to focus solely on increasing tiers before worrying about anything else. So you could potentially have a band that’s tier 6 and only the starting upgrades. I don’t think it’d be very enjoyable, but you could do it.

For the individual characters, I’ve been thinking that including XP triggers in heritage packages might be a good way to go- so you’d end up with at least one more trigger than you have in Blades (not counting any gained from special abilities) and that could potentially affect the pace. But while I like the idea of tweaking progression to be faster, I’m hesitant to ramp it up because it could devalue advancement- achieving something easily isn’t worth as much to you as a hard-won accomplishment.

As for the upper limits of progression, I can see how at the far end of things you could potentially have characters who can do effectively everything well, filling in every action dot and having whole pages dedicated to the list of special abilities they’ve acquired (since I’m intending to include a list of general SAs that anyone can pick from) over a long and arduous career. However, I don’t see that being very commonplace, and I don’t think I need to really do anything about it: games that go that long are going to have enough narrative engagement that any breakdowns in the systems should be a minor quibble.