Wednesday, 15 April 2015

A Grittier Domain Game

I am a big Kevin Crawford/Sine Nomine fanboy. I wish he’d been given the job of writing D&D5e using his Stars Without Number engine (crudely: Basic D&D with a Traveller-esque skill system), not for the simple, effective system itself, but for the sandbox tools he could build into the game – whether that is giving the GM the machinery to generating adventures, alien ruins, the actions of factions and domain, or the dark plots of those devoted to Elder Things. 

Now, it might seem strange, given that Other Dust is a post-apocalyptic game set in the far future, but the more that I have considered the ‘Groups and Enclaves’ rules in Other Dust, the more I think that they would be ideal – far more so than the higher level ‘domain game’ of An Echo Resounding – for the kind of fantasy gaming that I understand as being an aspect of distinctive RuneQuest play. That said, to my shame, I’ve always run RQ as more or less percentile D&D. The sort of play that I am talking about is that in which the Player Characters are members of a community (or communities, what with cults, tribes, clans, kingdoms, etc.) and their adventuring is often conducted for the benefit of those communities, not only for the personal gain of the PCs. In other words, Other Dust provides the tools to add some mechanical heft to a grittier kind of OSR domain game.

In Other Dust, Kevin Crawford proposes that the engine (and verisimilitude) of the sandbox can be maintained by running a ‘faction game’, determining and resolving the actions of the various Groups and Enclaves of the campaign region between ‘traditional’ adventure sessions. There are different kinds of Groups – Creeds, Raiders, Polities, Families, and Cabals – and it is easy to see how these could be translated into RQ-esque (or other Bronze to Iron Age inspired) fantasy equivalents. Creeds become (what else) ‘Cults’, Raiders could be renamed ‘Warbands’, Polities are ‘Nations’ or ‘Tribes’, Families stay as they are, or are perhaps are renamed ‘Clans’, and, well, Cabals cover just about everything from secret societies to merchant combines. These Groups have Tiers – ranging from 1 to 3 – which represents the level of their influence over the campaign region.

Groups have resources; Food, Tech, Morale, Influence, and Security, and by exceeding certain thresholds – which depend on Group type and Tier – Groups can earn ‘Progress’, which helps them perform actions, but groups also have a certain level of Ruin, which can impede actions (and might lead to the end of the Group entirely, if not checked). Of course, the best – as in, most fun – way to get rid of Ruin is to solve the problems that generate Ruin points by way of adventure.

Most Dark Ages inspired gaming (and most D&D, in fact) is post-apocalyptic – even in heavily fictionalised settings there is a fallen (Roman) empire, barbarian invasions and ethnic conflict, the spread of an millenarian religion (Christianity), and a place for the wandering ‘hero’ and his warband. I have been looking for *my* Dark Ages game for some time now, and I might have to do it myself by reskinning Other Dust. 

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