Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Setting: Draco (First Age)

Common to both Terra and Draco are mysteries and questions about what came before the First Age. On Terra, this question took the form of, "Why did we seem to lose so much knowledge about the past?" On Draco, the question is, "Where did we come from?"

Human civilization on Draco is limited primarily to one continent, Contel, on the southern hemisphere. Contel is divided into seven nations, an in each nation is an extension of the Dragon System, a spiritual engineering project that grants living beings access to "magic". The origin of the Dragon System, although within the limits of cultural memory, remains a mystery; the people who traveled the continent and built the temples among what otherwise amounted to anarchy are described most clearly as "Hardened sages, bitter in temperament, preoccupied with an idea they are not wont to explain, and more than willing to do violence to any who oppose them."

The seven nations of Contel are Azael, Tiyoma, Ooria, Daeyul, Alyon, Seyona, and Yora. They contain, in order, the Elemental Dragon Temples of Fire, Thunder, Wind, Earth, Wild, Water, and Void. The last, Yora, is also the home to various religious orders; by dictate of the Yunian Order, all known religions must base their operations there. This is, apparently, not unrelated to the spiritual phenomena that occur around religions on Draco; spirits known as Angels may haunt a person or object, and use magic (with some difficulty) to aid or hinder them. The churches, and some specialists in Yora, exist to give order to this process, making it a somewhat saner proposition. The main church of a religion is considered home to the Archangel, and it is believed that the calmness and Void-element nature of Yora helps them keep a clearer mind, making them sane and helpful rather than evil or vindictive.

The Yunian Order, previously mentioned, is a society of masters spread across Contel, but centered on the city of Aeda, the capital of Daeyul. They accept into their order anyone who is a master of any skill--in other words, anyone who can meaningfully contribute to the Order's own library of knowledge. In return, everyone who is accepted into the society can access this library, barring only a few taboo subjects.

Aside from Contel, there are two known continents, both vaster in scope. The first, Anstra, is mostly on the northern hemisphere, and is easiest to reach from Contel via the port at its southern tip; the second, Katran, extends across both hemispheres and is by far the largest. Katran is mostly reached by travelling east from the edge of Anstra, and is little explored. Anstra (being easier to circumnavigate by boat) is well enough mapped as far as coastlines go, but the interior is too dangerous to explore for most people. (There is also a fourth, smaller continent, undiscovered in this era, which has no intelligent life.)

Both are home to various feral populations of Evoloid halfbreeds, and naturally are also home to a few roaming Evoloids per se. Evoloids, a miraculous (or, by other accounts, freakish or demonic) race, are wont to bring races out of being mere animals by granting them intelligence and a human-like form--by mating with them, a process about which the less is said, the better. This, like the Dragon System, is one of the strongly peculiar situations on Draco, which was clearly engineered by someone or something, but the history of which is not known.

The Evoloid halfbreeds, who are often feral but (by all accounts) can be civilized given effort, vary quite a bit in their properties based on not only individual history, parentage, etc, but also by the species (plural) which are mixed into their genetic code. This becomes extremely complicated (and awkward) considering that halfbreeds can always breed with other halfbreeds, even of different lineages.

Evoloid halfbreeds are largely shunned or viewed as second-class creatures by the human population of Draco, although they are considered a fascinating research opportunity by many Necromancers, who view their complicated genetic code as an adequate base for bio-transformation magic. Generally, they are not allowed onto the continent of Contel, unless they have received a pass from the few human settlements on Anstra, certifying them as sufficiently civilized. Similarly, the Evoloid race is given short shrift, although there is no such thing as a "Feral" Evoloid; they seem to be genetically predisposed to being gentle, even affectionate. It is wholly unique to their population, indeed, that they get along with every animal species, and every plant species, that has been tested. Only intelligent creatures (feral halfbreeds not among them, although "civilized" halfbreeds are) seem wont to do them harm.

When speaking of race, there are three other peculiarities on Draco, none of them related to Evoloids. First is Proto, a peculiar substance with the appearance of soft white clay, which nonetheless is a living substance. It is notable in that its properties can be changed by spellwork to appear as, and have the properties of, virtually any other form of biology, from bone to flesh and fat to wood, spore, and mold. It is psychoreactive--so highly, in fact, as to be very dangerous to the touch, as it can accidentally become part of your anatomy, but responds in peculiar ways to your emotional state. It is highly prized by enchanters and necromancers for its varying uses and abilities, but is perhaps most widely known for being the base of several kinds of necromantic (and horrific) viruses, collectively called Proto-viruses or psi-viruses.

Second, and related to proto, are the Fae. Most common in the deep forests of Anstra, these are small (3"-9"), winged human-looking creatures. However, their biology is distinctly non-humanoid, and can only be described as repurposed Proto; they have no organs, and must feed by either a form of osmosis, or by absorbing "magical energy". Perhaps most notably, Fae are parasitic; they can attach themselves (not physically, but spiritually) to a creature, becoming Fae-ra, and in this form they slowly learn complexities of language, culture, tool use, magic use, etc, providing of course that the host knows such things intuitively. They do not speak, but have a limited form of telepathy, which can be expanded through practice to be the mental equivalent of speaking out loud (such that it can be heard by most or all people in an area). In all cases, Fae-ra do not exert any real control over the hosts, instead becoming by all accounts a willing tool of theirs. If two people, both possessed of Fae-ra, fall in love (as has happened only a handful of times), the Fae-ra will apparently merge (spiritually) over time, becoming a psychic link between the two hosts.

Fae can attach to more than just intelligent creatures, however; they can attach to trees, animals, feral halfbreeds, etc, and rather than taking on human-like intelligence, they become essentially a copy of the host creature in all but form. Tree Fae-ra, for example, will usually fly above the trees, soaking up sun, and have little to no interest in goings-on. Note that it is possible (and looked askance at)
for a non-intelligent Fae-ra host and an intelligent one to merge as described above. Mystery surrounds this, but the only real records of this being observed end as follows: "[the subject] claimed, with all sincerity and straightforwardness, that there was nothing amiss in his relationship [to the wolf], and that the two simply had a working relationship that made them inseparable... one is left to assume, from observing them, that this is the case, but I think I have no desire to explore further in any case."

The third mysterious race is the Gritten, who seem exclusive to the rocky northern wastes of Anstra. They are wholly crystalline in form and structure, and all attempts to use any magic to observe, monitor, or affect them meet with instant and complete failure. They seem to operate as a hive-mind, and seem in many ways insensitive to all else around them, except the use of magic, which attracts their attention. Nothing comparable to them have been describe anywhere else on the planet. They are, however, alive, and shamble around the rocky wastes aimlessly. Their forms are only vaguely humanoid, and vary from day to day. Little if anything more is known about them.

Profile: Seyona

Seyona (the water nation) is the easternmost nation on Contel. It is by all accounts a feudal nation, with a large number of noble houses, and also a nation of trade and commerce; although they are a large importer of goods, they are also a great exporter, usually of finished, enchanted, or refined goods. It is structured in many ways as a magical-industrial nation, with large, offensive, and opaque structures along the main trade routes which are dedicated to some industrial or magical task. All the main cities are walled, and most are controlled by some noble faction or other, often to the exclusion of outsiders. Most frequently, a given citizen's allegiance is not to the nation of Seyona, but to their local Lord or Lady.

Merchants are, according to some, a separate and higher caste in Seyona, but this does not appear to be literally or legally the case. The only particular accommodations which Merchants receive over others is unfettered access to cities, and this is still, in some cases, restricted only to market districts. Nonetheless, crime by travelling merchants is a frequent problem, as they are likely to be gone from any given city before the crime is discovered.

The magic of Seyona is predominantly Water, consisting largely of enchantments, bindings, magic circles, and manipulation of an object's magical self. According to reports widely circulated in the Yunian Order, it is also by far the least balanced nation of the seven, elementally speaking, to the point where most Void-element casters do not wish to live there.*

Seyona has a substantially above-average population of necromancers, although they are forbidden by the Yunian Order, largely based on the misconception that Necromancy is, in practice, a form of enchantment (and therefore Water magic). Such practice remains a criminal activity, but as there is no small amount of corruption in the nation, in many places it gets by under the radar.

Seyona is also home to a sororal society known as the Keystones. They keep their organization, members, and practices heavily secret, mostly by use of special Water and Earth magic to create out-of-plane meeting spaces. The magic in question, collectively called Wardwalking, allows travel into objects, although in order to hold even one person completely, the material used must be carefully prepared with Earth magic. These out-of-planar meeting spaces are dangerous, and essentially impossible to detect, when planted within existing architecture. They are typically expansive pieces of stone, which are likely to have several places which can serve as a viable entrance or exit. These locations can also be entirely inaccessible physically, and only can be accessed magically by skilled (and well-informed) use of the Wardwalking spells. (The Yunian order also uses Wardwalking as a means of fast transit across the continent, by making use of leylines, which seem to serve admirably in this capacity)

There is also a substantive problem of human trafficking in Seyona, due to the problems of high population density, Wardwalking as a common practice, high crime rates among traders, and many locations that are off-limits to investigators. Some effort is being made, but by all accounts it is not a high priority. The Keystones, as one of their founding premises, do not tolerate such crime if they detect any hint of it, but it is a particularly difficult crime to track down even once you have the proper knowledge and tools.

*Elemental balance, it is generally understood, requires equal usage of the six elements, and the balance of a location affects the way casters see the world. A heavily imbalanced place will, in fact, allow you to see and understand certain elements better than a perfectly balanced place, but at the expense of losing clarity with other kinds of magic. Void magicians must maintain both internal balance, and some amount of external balance, to maintain their non-elemental clarity, which is a daunting task.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Prophecy and Time Travel

I make this commitment now: the Demonsword Project rules-as-written and setting-as-written do not support travel into the past, and as a direct consequence, do not support prophecy (knowledge of the future, or in other words, knowledge travelling to the past). This seems to be a strange statement, especially when you realize the official canon suggests that time travel may have happened.

The justification for this is iterative time-space--in other words, this moment erases the one that just passed. The past does not literally exist anymore, and therefore cannot be traveled to; similarly, the future does not yet literally exist, and you cannot discover anything about it by prophetic means. By mundane means, by all means try; meet people, learn physics, understand the world and predict it, but it is a guess, not prophecy, binding or otherwise.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Combat and Gameplay

I'm getting ready (I hope) for a playtest, the first since the first test in college. With each iteration, I'm trying desperately to make it be less confusing. Things that seem decent on paper turn out to be less so when I try to explain them, and the more I think about it, the less I like the ideas that had little thought behind them.

All of which is poor justification for all the delay! And I apologize. But the more time goes on, the more I feel like the mechanics are getting better. Part of this is refining the core mechanic, which was unmanagably intricate. If you were to examine some of my documents, and see how the same word is used differently in different places, or could see how even I can't keep straight all the work that needed to be done to finalize a playtest version, you'd understand.

So I'm working on what I guess you could call α2.4, and it's becoming reminiscent of, of all things, Magic: The Gathering. Not what I would have expected of a serious game engine, and certainly not a design intent. Will it work? A playtest will let us know for sure, but it's sure getting easier to make as it goes along.

As stated previously, you have a limited number of skill uses per round, and crits (critical success bonuses) are pooled, until used or discarded (for example by ending your turn). However, the crits now have a flavor, not dissimilar to Magic's colored mana pools. The base system has three flavors--mind, body, and spirit--but more will be added when you apply a setting. Any particular skill can only generate certain flavors--for example, basic sword proficiency does not give Mental crits.

At any point in your turn, you can deploy an Effect by spending crits you have already gained. Like the Magic cards, you may only gain an Effect by spending the appropriate number and flavor of them. Unlike your skill rolls, Effects do not cause the target to get a Defense turn; rather, the time to defend yourself is earlier, when the skill is rolled. However, that does not give you carte blanche to affect your enemy.

Any offensive Effect is described in terms of "damage," usually paired with the intended result. As a trivial example, actual physical damage is termed "Lethal Damage", because the intended result is the target's death. After all other factors are exhausted (armor soak, magic, etc), remaining damage is applied to the character, and they must then Resist it.

A character's Resistance to some given damage is described by a die size, from "Frightfully low resistance" (d4 or d6) to "Very high resistance" (d12, d20, or higher). Whenever they are forced to resist damage, they must roll over the damage they currently have. If they roll over, no effect; if they match or roll under, the intended effect happens. If you have d10 Lethal resistance, taking one point of damage gives you a 10% chance to die. Taking another, on the next round, adds 10%--for a sum total of 20% chance on that roll. Those odds get bad fast--but even one measly point of damage (after armor) can kill you, no matter how tough a character you've built. Of course, not all damage sticks around; Disarm damage, for instance, never stacks, and each attempt to disarm you is taken separately.

That makes DSRPG a fairly lethal system. However, it's also a very tactical system. Any particular character build (until you get to scarily high-experience or expensive ones) has some number of weaknesses. Perhaps your highly-armored warrior is prone to trip attacks, or worse, disarming. Or, perhaps your highly nimble monk is susceptible to attribute damage, bringing his stats down to manageable levels. Preferably, battle won't deal damage (of the lethal variety) every round, but will involve characters trying to find ways around each others' defenses, or trying to force a withdraw.

Interestingly enough, the same mechanic applies quite well to social combat. Convincing someone of a given fact or point of view has a different resistance than changing their attitude. And either may happen with the first social action, or the hundredth; it's hard to know.

The various resistances, etc, will take some ironing out, let alone the wiles and tribulations of the magic system, but it's far more workable than before. I'm enthused, and hope to have something for y'all that's a bit less theory soonish.

(Note: Soonish may not actually be soon)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Skills, Cards, & Battle

The overhaul of the skills system is nice, because it allows me to bring back something I was thinking about adding to the project--a card-like battle structure.

First, to clarify, the number of actions you can take in a round is low--with an Aspect bonus, maybe 14; without it, at maximum Wit (the relevant attribute) you can take 7 actions per turn. This replaces an admittedly messy MP cost / MP total mechanic that I never really liked.

Every skill has a card, which has on it (in addition to quick-reference information like the dice used) a brief list of the abilities the skill allows, as well as the bonuses available should you get a critical success with the skill (or carry crits over from previous actions), and of course, what benefits or hindrances apply at each skill level.

When your turn comes up (or you need to take a defense action), you can look at all the options available to you, using the cards as quick reference. (If you should need details of anything, refer to the core book, or printouts if the GM has modified anything) Then, lay out your cards as you take actions. I haven't decided if it's a hard rule to only use each card (action) once per round; perhaps not. But since only one card is actually happening at any moment, it shouldn't matter.

As you lay out actions, any action which is both unopposed and un-rolled (taken at average value) happens immediately. If the action has a target, the target can at any time choose to oppose the roll by taking a defense action. The person taking a defense action can do any action available to them, including other opposed rolls; if the attacker chooses to take a defense action, it cancels out their previous action, whatever it was.

Additionally, the defender can cancel incoming attacks by using a Defense ability or Movement ability. Using these skills, your defense action's average roll becomes the DC the opponent must meet to succeed. If the defense action has a synergy (explained below), bonuses from that skill may be used to increase your defense.

If the attacker wins an opposed action, their turn continues, and they can keep taking actions until they either use a skill with the Turn Eater hindrance, run out of actions, or decide to pass. If the attacker fails an opposed action, their turn ends immediately, and any unspent critical successes are lost.

Remember that the skill system allows you to accumulate critical successes, and use them later in the round. You must declare how many stored bonuses you are using on an opposed action before the defender chooses whether or not to defend against it; however, you can choose to roll the skill after seeing the defense action. Once you have rolled the skill, you must take the result, even if it is below average.

There are two additional sources of bonuses to your actions. First are items; they may be used manually, or automatically by related skills. If the item is used as part of the skill, it may also have a unique Critical Hit Pool; you can select critical success bonuses from this pool in addition to those given by the skill. Some items, such as armor, apply bonuses constantly or conditionally.

The other source of bonuses are synergy skills. These skills are used for free, without your character spending an action. Generally, synergy skills are specified on an ability or item as "Add one X ability" where X may be move, observe, attack, defend, some school of magic, etc; you are free to use any skill which has an ability fitting that description. If the skill you choose has synergy skills itself, you cannot gain more actions; synergy skills do not stack. You can, however, gain multiple synergy skills in the use of one ability (such as from an item and one from the skill).

Synergy skills are excellent for helping you leverage your character's specialities. For example, a character who focuses on his keen eyesight, and also uses ranged weapons, would make use of the Aim mental skill; in addition to bonuses from the Aim skill, it has the ability Eagle Eye, which has an Observation Skill Synergy; the character can choose any Observation skill he likes, and add the bonuses to the Aim skill. Likewise, the same eyesight-focused character may, in social combat, be in the middle of a tirade about the follys of a tyrant, and use the Gossip skill's Cutting Observation--which also has an Observation Skill Synergy. In each case, the character's eyes give him additional leverage, for free.

Note that as with all good RPG systems, the card mechanic of combat is entirely optional--you can do the same with a book, pencil, and paper, or less. However, I think it adds clarity to what would otherwise be a somewhat jumbled proposition.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Skill System Candidate 2

I've been mulling over the skills system; in the current (prior) form, it's complicated, and also a lot of work. However, most of the ways I've attempted to simplify it only make it harder and harder to explain. This below system seems to be a good mix of strong mechanically and easy to understand, although if you have feedback, I invite it.

Augmented skills no longer exist. Instead, the same function will be folded into the skill system as a whole, without the d12 extra dice for "affinity". Additionally, you can no longer choose to use abilities at lower than your training level; instead, you will automatically use the skill at your current training level at all times. Additionally, there are no longer distinct abilities at every skill level; instead, if the skill grants abilities (actions you can take as a character), the abilities will be the same at every level, but they will be penalized or granted bonuses depending on your skill level.

Every skill is designated as being part of one of three tiers (a term no longer reserved for augmented skills). You can generically call these tiers "General", "Specialty", and "Super-specialty", although I may find better terms for them later. (Magic and other special skills may use different terms for the tiers, if they are appropriate). In order to get a higher-tier skill, you must meet certain requirements; usually, a certain training level in one or more lower-tier skills, and a minimum level in one or more ability scores. Gaining your first level in a higher-tier skill may also require a sacrifice of training levels in the prerequisite skill, unless you visit a skill trainer. Even then, super-specialty skills generally require some sort of quest to acquire. In the event that there are several specialties per generic skill, or multiple super-specialties per specialty, you may train in more than one, but you must train in each separately.

When you gain a higher-tier skill, you find that your abilities in that skill are improved. Abilities in general fall into one of six levels:
  • Untrained - You are severely penalized for using skills at this level
  • Amateur - You have a minor penalty using skills at this level
  • Journeyman - You use skills at this level normally
  • Advanced - You gain small bonus using skills at this level
  • Mastery - You gain a moderate bonus using skills at this level
  • Grand-mastery - You gain a large bonus using skills at this level

These ability levels are related to skill level as follows:

General tierSpecialty tierSuper-specialty tier
Skill Level 0
DC 5
Untrained - -
Skill Level 1
DC 15
Skill Level 2
DC 25
Skill Level 3
DC 35

It is in your interest to gain specialty skills for actions you perform most; this gives you better skills in the long-term.

However, as the name implies, specialty skills have a narrower focus than generic skills. For example, take three mental skills: General Education, Knowledge: Physics, and High Knowledge: Astrophysics. These three skills fit into the three tiers, from general to super-specialty. An HK: Astrophysics roll may tell you a great deal about how you need to maneuver your spaceship to avoid asteroids, capture high-energy solar winds, or avoid dangerous quasars. However, it cannot be used to substitute for a general physics question, and a Know: Physics roll will cannot be used in place of a general knowledge check (for questions outside the domain of physics). Similarly, there should be a drawback to every specialty and super-specialty skill, such that it has an ever-increasing blind spot at higher tiers. As you become more powerful, keep your weaknesses in mind; if you gain enemies, it will be simple work for them to find a way to nullify your advantages, or worse.

Note that the same general rules regarding tiers apply to magic and other (previously augmented) special skills; however, in a way, they are arranged backwards; the skills you have the greatest control over are the higher-tier skills, while at lower levels, you are pigeon-holed into doing a few very specific things.

Draconian magic has three main skillsets per element, corresponding to the three tiers; these three are called Cantrips, Mentalisms, and Spells. They are all psionic styles of magic; the only arcane magic is done with engravings and enchantments, and is not usually used directly. However, you have varying levels of control; with Cantrips, you are limited to instant effect abilities, or in general, ones that require only knowing the ability and having the skill to pull it off--you do not need to control it after it is cast. (You may need to maintain it, but only in an on-off fashion.) In the middle, Mentalisms involve very coarse control; you may be able to tele-kinetically manipulate the fire in the area, or slice with a blade of wind as though it were in your hand, but finer control eludes you. At the high end, you can do much with Spells; you can manipulate things freely and delicately, using light or heavy touches, or making complex shapes. Exactly how capable you are depends on your skill level, of course...

However, there are also other skillsets in each element, and you are free to take any or all branches as you wish by training in each in turn. (Understand, however, that you will typically lose training points in the prerequisite skill when you train in a higher tier for the first time) For example, instead of learning Cantrips for each element, you can learn Auric Effects; these affect your body and your surroundings and are typically used in conjunction with martial arts. You can also learn Dragon summoning skills at the super-specialty (Spell) level. There are other examples, but we'll leave it at that.

In sum:
* You always roll at your training level
* DC goes up with level, so be sure to raise your ability scores!
* Higher tier skills have prerequisites and blindspots, but are powerful
* Augmented skills are no longer special, and not quite as fixed

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Skills and Techs

Although this might change in the final version, here's how the skills system is turning out now.

Skills are broken down into levels (and, in some cases, tiers, with each tier having a full set of levels). Each tier/skill level has a standard DC (difficulty rating), and a standard MP Cost (used to determine how many skills you use in combat). The abilities listed for each level will have that DC and that MP cost, always. Similarly, the XP costs to train a given level do not change.

In general, all the abilities that are listed for a skill will be variations on the same. The main difference is in the special bonuses attached to each level; at the lower levels, they come with hindrances, preventing you from using them effectively, while at the highest level, they offer special abilities.

There are four skill levels, numbered 0-3. Zero level is "Untrained"; first level is "Novice". Second level is "Competent"; at this level, you can expect to start getting skills that are not hindered or which have special effects. Third level contains mastery skills, which will tend to be specialized; either the skill itself will have specialty abilities at 3rd level, or you may select special abilities from a list, which are permanent to your character.

Certain skills are themselves a specialized version of another skill. For example, Martial Arts is a specialized version of Weapon Proficiency. These skills have prerequisites; in order to gain a level in Martial Arts, you must have an equal or greater level in Weapon Proficiency. In return, you may find yourself using abilities at a lower level than you did previously; Novice-level martial arts abilities may be equivalent to Competent-level weapon abilities, for example. Because the DC is lower, you will get more critical hit bonuses on the Martial Arts ability, which is especially helpful when taking multiple actions per round.

When you take multiple actions per round, you are said to be using a technique or "Tech". There are special rules that apply to techs.

First, you can only roll one skill roll per round; every other skill roll takes its AAR value. AAR stands for "All Average Rolls"; Every D4 is counted as 2, every D6 as 3, D8 as 4, and D12 as 6. For commonly used skills, you may want to write this number down for reference. Naturally, if your AAR is not high enough, you cannot perform the skill this way. This is especially important to remember if you take attribute damage, as it can substantially limit your options.

Second, any failed skill (Whether rolled or performed at AAR) ends your round immediately. You retain any unspent MP for defense actions, although the MP you spent on the failed skill is spent normally. Additionally, any ability that has the Turn Eater hindrance (usually seen on 0- and 1st-level abilities) will end your turn immediately, preventing you from using any other actions, including mental and social actions.

Third, if you gain critical success bonuses on any skill, you can refuse to apply them to that skill. If you do, they pass on to the next skill you apply during that round. If you do this, you can chain several skills together, producing a final attack with a stack of additional bonuses. This is especially useful for allowing you to specialize in other skills (Jump, run, acrobatics, perception, aim, etc) and apply these to relevant situations.

There are of course a couple caveats. If you use an ability with the hindrance Crit Eater (Almost all 0-level abilities have it), any critical successes you had previously disappear; they cannot be applied to that ability nor any that follow. Additionally, the GM may rule that certain skills are incompatible, meaning that you cannot use one to gain bonuses for the other. For example, critical success at lockpicking will not allow you to land strikes in a melee, nor will sword proficiency help at picking locks. In addition, any skill that takes more than a round to perform cannot be used as part of a tech; you cannot perform other actions leading up to the start of a long skill, nor chain other actions after its end.

Fourth, there are certain situations in which multiple people can contribute to one Tech. This is prevalent when discussing magic, but also works for knowledge skills, group combat, crafting, searching, and other cooperative tasks. Not all skills will qualify, and the above restrictions apply, can use long skills as long as they're being performed concurrently, or in some preset pattern. For example, multiple crafters of different kinds may work on a project in succession, rather than at the same time. You'll have to ask the GM what sort of cooperation they'll allow.

Fifth, you will notice that certain weapons and skills have a "Crit pool" (term subject to change) that contains unique or rare kinds of bonuses. For example, long or chain-type weapons might have the "Trip" bonus in their crit pool, while an assassin's dagger may have the "Stamina Attribute Damage" bonus. When using that skill or weapon, and ONLY when using it, you may opt to transform a normal critical hit into one of these specials. If you inherited bonuses from earlier in the round, you may use them to select from the crit pool; however, the crit pool is not passed down to the next skill in the line. Unless otherwise noted, special crits do not stack (can only be successfully used once per round, and cannot be used more than once per ability), and you must successfully perform the ability (land the attack, etc) for the crit to take effect.

If the enemy has armor or a magic effect that blocks that specific type of critical, the armor automatically wins, even if the opponent does not take a defense action; however, the armor takes damage from the blow, and so has a limited number of uses. If you notice the armor break when selecting such a crit, the next time you use it, it will likely get through.

Note that the tech system is extremely powerful, and also extremely flexible. It allows characters to specialize in various skills and apply them to related situations; however, it also exposes the vulnerabilities of a given fighting style. If most of your skills revolve around a particular attribute (Strength, perception, etc), you are far more vulnerable to attribute damage; if you rely on some particular skill or item a lot (A sword, the running skill, etc), enemies can adjust the situation to prevent you from using them (Disarming you, spreading caltrops or other hindrances, etc). If you wear armor or make other notable changes to defend your weaknesses, you risk tipping off a well-informed enemy as to what sort of skills you excel at. However, if your style is spread among many skills, you'll have less experience in each of them.

The tech system is also useful for GMs. Since the DSP settings (as currently envisioned) use humans as much or more than monsters, there has to be a way to mix things up without giving the GM extra work. However, the "Monster Manual" concept from the D20 and similar systems gives the players an even chance of having out-of-character knowledge of the fighting tactics and weaknesses of an enemy. For the DSP, therefore, a good GM can choose to create a generic fighting style that a group of opponents use; for example, enemies that use blinding attacks, tripping weapons, martial arts, and swimming skills to drown opponents.

The GM can have any number of mooks (lesser random encounters) that use that style, but facing them will be entirely different than fighting mooks of another style, meaning that they are essentially different monster types. And until the players first see or hear of this fighting style, they can't make any preparation, but once they do, they can start devising countermeasures, and certain characters may choose to specialize in fighting against that style. If that style of mooks becomes a major part of the story, those that specialized in fighting that style become major players themselves.

On the other hand, players that have a glaring weakness in their fighting style and then become famous will find that enemies quickly adapt; they may find that enemies start having armor that blocks their specials, and weapons or skills that overcome their weaknesses. At times like that, teamwork is particularly important, as long as the entire party doesn't have the same weaknesses.

All in all, I really like how it's turning out. There's some drudge work I need to do before it's ready for a playtest (filling out skill lists, equipment lists, bonus lists, etc), but I'd like to see it--and I'd like to PLAY it. It seems like it'll be a lot of fun. I hope you'll like it too!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Profile: Ooria

Ooria (also spelled Uria) is a mountainous nation in the southwest of Contel, on the planet Draco in its First Age. It contains almost no meadows or pastures for commercial farming, and conducts a great deal of trade with Seyona in the east for food. Its principle exports are stone and metal; however, these exports are largely from a few mines and quarries. Most of the population of the nation is spread out in relatively small townships, many of which are unreachable by normal means.

However, Ooria is not a nation of normal means. Its military is divided into two divisions: The Valkyries in the sky and the Earth Monks on the land. Each has a special form of magic that is unique on the continent; the Valkyries store weapons in extradimensional pouches, leap into the sky with air magic, and rain down blades on their enemy, while Earth Monks eschew the normal limitation on earth magic and manipulate stone and dirt at long distances.

Adding to this dichotomy, the Valkyries and Earth Monks face a sharp gender divide; the Valkyries are a female-only military branch, and the Earth Monks are a male-only branch. Institutionally, both are fully recognized and respected by the government, and both are respected and somewhat feared by the populace. There is also a grudging mutual respect between the two, but it is a respect that often comes with doubt, petty arguments, and other friction. The Valkyries are the only all-female military on the planet, and are given commensurate respect.

The Valkyries and Earth Monks both travel through the mountainous nation in order to hold it together. They intercept bandits, find missing people, deliver supplies and mail, assist those who need medicine, etc. For this reason, they are typically trained in many such tasks. The Valkyries are used more for carrying supplies, although the Earth Monks take over in particularly bad weather; the Earth Monks are better at tracking, foraging, medicine, and other tasks, although the Valkyries are trained in such things as well, and can be employed to cover very wide ground at once.

Ooria was by all accounts founded by an Offworlder, one of the few places where they're historically recorded. It is assumed that they came from Terra, but the details are lost to time. In addition to forcibly equalizing gender roles in the country, the founder also made a pact with a peculiar evoloid species, the Laras. Laras are winged humanoids that seem to gain energy or nutrition from wind or altitude; although they can survive at ground level, staying long causes them to waste away and die. Additionally, they are an aggressively empathic race, such that being touched by another living being--especially without permission--is very close to traumatic. They remain humanoid in appearance, and intelligent, but as a species have little interaction with humans.

The pact between Ooria and the Laras is one of necessity for the Laras; the Oorians agree to give them what food, material, and care they need, with minimal contact, in exchange for scavenged goods. Laras, not needing to rest, circulate around the entire continent; they tend to pick at battle sites, abandoned houses, and other untended places, picking up anything that seems valuable and returning it to some central storehouse only they know of. When they must trade something with the Oorians, they trade from this storehouse, or from their own individual stocks. They tend to trade a lot of armor and weapons (not knowing, or perhaps caring that the Oorians manufacture such, and value them less than most), but also may have rings, necklaces, books, bags, etc.

Cino, the capital of Ooria, is on a hollowed-out mountaintop, and is one of the few places on the continent high enough for Laras to live comfortably for long periods of time. It has many floors, all of stone and metal, with the monarch living at the very peak. The monarch's floor is triangular and has supports at its three corners, each leading to the roof of a building below; one building houses the Valkyries, one the Earth Monks, and one houses the civilian government. Although this was clearly done for philosophical reasons, everyone involved admits that the arrangement is exceedingly unpopular and impractical.

Cina more than most is a city that fears both weather and seismic events. They do not have much glass in the city, and the high winds allow rain to get through wooden walls or shutters if they are poorly made; they are also in excellent position to be struck by lightning, although they have sufficient grounding that it's not a problem most of the time. The biggest fear is an earthquake; they are high enough up that any shaking of the earth below creates great torque, quickly becoming powerful enough that no magical support is sufficient to prevent damage. For that reason, a great number of earth mages and Earth Monks are dispatched to the base of the mountain to constantly monitor, ward, and protect the city. By the end of the first era, the city had still been nearly wiped out twice by seismic events, but was rebuilt both times.

News, or lack thereof

AMA just came and went this last weekend. I was invited along at the last minute by friends, and considered bringing DSRPG to the game room for a test.

In the end, I didn't have enough ready for a playtest, especially not since I was working most of the time I was there (manning the club table, if you must know). However, the deadline made me get serious, and it showed me that it's not really all that far from being ready. The biggest problem between me and playtest-ready Alpha 2 is the skill system.

In some ways, I'm not sure what to do with it. Basically, the skill system categorizes abilities into some level of some skill, and pretty much every level of every skill has something. The skills themselves get special bonuses and hindrances, which are themselves distinct from lesser bonuses (from skill criticals, equipment, etc) and lesser hindrances (from equipment, etc); these specials vary in strength, and can be powerful like Aspect bonuses, or barely more than crits.

A major question for me, though, is how to balance it. The DC of a skill goes up 10 when you use a higher level ability (5-15-25-35); if it didn't go up, you would get 2 extra crits for the same roll. That means additional specials, or the lost hindrances, must surpass that in value.

In some places, it's not hard to understand. For example, the Level 0 Weapon Proficiency(X) attack ability "Whack" has no specials and two hindrances: "Turn Eater" and "Crit Eater". That means that you cannot crit with the attack at all, and it will be the last thing you do in a round, even if you have additional MP. Considering that's the "Untrained" level of skill usage, hardly surprising. When you go up to the Level 1 skill "Slash", you lose "Crit Eater"; it's still the last thing you do in a round, but now you can at least make use of a high roll to crit the enemy. It's not until you hit Level 2 that you can make multiple attacks per round.

However, having gotten rid of those hindrances, what makes the mastery level weapon proficiency worth it? If I just add one bonus' worth, it's not worth the increased DC. If I add two, that's a heck of an improvement over previous levels. What's thematically appropriate? Under what circumstances would you use a mastery level sword attack anyway--knowing that the increased DC makes it harder to overcome an enemy's defense action? Are they highly specialized attacks, do they auto-succeed against certain defenses... what are they?

This needs more thought, and there are many similar questions for each skill that must be added. It's a confusing thing.

Monday, May 30, 2011


The Demonsword Universe canon has a number of places in the timeline that should be filled in with books eventually. These detail characters and events that are canonical to the setting. The lists below are not final or official, and represent only currently underway or planned stories.

Canon stories:
* Immortal Dawn (The book of Deus Exterra) - 1st Transition (1st to 2nd Age). A man from Terra, who takes on the alias Deus, meets up with his past. As hints start to surface that Terra is looking for a way to reach him, he goes around warning them that the world he left is one not likely to be friendly. But when the gates between the worlds open, what he sees is not at all familiar, and more hostile than he was expecting...
* Spendthrift of Chaos (The book of Domino Effect) - 1st Age/Terra. At the dawn of industrial holography, a technology poised to change the world, a man fed up with politics decides to start his own holography-based nation in the sky. But when legislation the world over threatens to put control over the most powerful of all technologies, against which there is no defense, in the hands of only a chosen few, he makes the riskiest gamble in human history, before or since: he releases it to everyone, everywhere, no matter their purpose.

Non-canon stories (Worldbuilding):
* Lady Void (Short Story) - 1st Age/Draco. A voidling makes a brief stop in an odd town...
* On the Shoulders of giants - 1st Age/Terra. A new breed of Archon meets the world. (Forge Archon)
* Dojo - 4th age? [post hoc categorization]
* There Are No Demons - 3rd Transition? [post hoc categorization]

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Setting: Terra (First Age)

The First Age setting is centered on what's known as the Pan-Terranic Wars. Technically, there was a long period leading up to the wars that is considered First Age chronologically, but setting information will be principally centered on this era. Note: if the name didn't give it away, the Terra setting is a modified version of Earth, presumably at some unspecified point in our future. It contains various modifications to the landscape (due to wars either in First Age or Zero Age), and none of the familiar faces are around, but the names and places can be kept.

The Pan-Terranic Wars were kicked off by Domino Effect; he provided power, in the form of holographic tokens, to anyone in the world, at random. Because these often ended up in the hands of the destitute, the desperate, and the criminal, there was once again a struggle for power; government forces the world over were no longer the top of the food chain. Terrorists, anarchists, and legitimate revolutionaries all fought, across millions of familiar locations.

Unfortunately, this also kicked off many invasions, secessions, and other military ambitions. Charismatic people the world over tried to gather force, and many were swatted down either by each other or existing Government forces. Similarly, some places folded these empowered individuals into the police or military, although they could, in general, not be forced, except through fear.

The power that Domino's tokens bestowed was "One holographic device of any kind." It became quickly known, however, that a holographic implant which provided superpowers was considered "one device." It did not match up to the power that Domino Effect had (many tried, none came close to success), and in fact it usually only conferred one type of special ability. People with these implants were referred to by Domino himself as Archons, although they went by many common names (Supers, freaks, heroes, demons, monsters, angels, Tim, whatever).

Archons have a number of characteristics in common; they all are granted a limited visual enhancement (notably, this allows archons to write sigils only visible to other archons), are somewhat resistant to damage, and are capable of flight (although many aren't good enough to land without killing themselves, and not all are aware of the capability in the first place).

Additionally, Archons choose a special ability, usually some form of kinesis (pyro, cryo, etc). These powers are not related to the elemental abilities of the other setting (Draco, or the Terra-Draco settings later on); instead, they are increasingly sophisticated programs that evolve with the user's psyche. The better the character understands their ability, the more powerful their abilities become, and the more complex the abilities they can use are.

Archons are not invincible to small weapons fire, much less to stronger military holography. They are generally faster, and their ability to destroy is far higher. For those with certain powers, their ability to create or repair is also far higher; some use this to restore cities, heal people, and so on.

(Although it's assumed that Domino could bring back the dead if he really wanted, it's generally assumed that people past a certain point are gone for all intents and purposes. There are those who try to worship Domino, but nothing comes of it, and he makes an effort to dissuade them.)

It's iconic of this time period that food and shelter are no longer primary concerns of anyone, anywhere--there is enough holographic technology the world over to produce food and potable water from mud and fusion power, and given that sort of power, a roof over your head is nothing. This brought huge swaths of the planet out of poverty, while at the same time enabling psychos in the first and third world nations. Those who had previously had all that they needed to survive became feral, while those who had been feral with hunger and disease were content just to survive without fighting tooth and nail for it. (This is not entirely true in either case, but even partially true as it was, the irony was lost on nobody)

It is to be said that psychos with power were the exception, not the rule. The tokens that Domino spread around the world (dubbed "Pandora Keys" by the enigmatic Mr. Stage) were spread with a literal, mathematical randomness. Some people who received them discarded them; others hoarded or sold them; others used them to create machinery in some literal sense (usually production facilities, but also more transient things, like cars, spaceships, giant mecha, or bad approximations of androids. Unfortunately, Domino did not have the methods necessary for artificial intelligence, and so attempts at such failed in this period).

Even those who did accept the archon package did not tend to fall into the psychotic category as a rule. In particular, people who had any interest in fantasy, sci-fi, and role-playing would often request such things without considering the consequences, and while some of them would go mad or make horrific mistakes, most of them were not psychotic. Additionally, police and military the world over would often take such powers without debate, in order to improve their ability to defend and keep peace (or, in some cases, attack and destroy).

One thing missing from this setting is any sense of genetic or bodily manipulation. Although Domino allowed cyborg implants in some cases (generally, when an existing Archon gets another wish), he would not be party to anything related to chemical or biological weapons, genetic manipulation, mutations, etc. He was also not typically willing to grant mind-altering powers, and when he did, they only affected other Archons, not non-augmented humans.

In speaking of Domino, it would be remiss to mention his occasional interference. Typically, if any particular situation got out of hand (defined as thousands of casualties, or the threat of such), he or his Blackhats would intervene. He was also very quick to intervene when any post-nuclear-grade weapons were deployed, even if they were not based on his technology; these weapons could level cities or worse, and he did not suffer their use under any circumstances. (Although some had speculated that they were the sort of weapons his floating sanctuary, Blackhat City, was vulnerable to, this has been shown false more than once.)

Aside from that, most of the world saw little of Domino. When he did interfere, he made headlines the world over, but the rest of the time, there was more than enough going on locally to occupy any and every journalist. In particular, although he and his city were attacked a great many times by individuals, groups, and even militaries, few such events occurred in populated areas, and even fewer were recorded or reported.

Towards the end of the Pan-Terranic Wars, governments began being populated by increasingly militaristic Archons, and rebellions started getting put down with more severity. Given that what Domino was trying to achieved was in principle equality, he failed miserably.

And if it weren't for what happened next, ushering in the Second Age, that might have been the end of it...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Profile: Blackhat City

Blackhat City is an enormous flying city in Terra during its first age, and continuing into the Terra-Draco wars. Built on top of a 2 mile radius plate of black iron, it has a wide 'brim' around its circumference, and a number of uniformly tall, black buildings in the center; designed, it is assumed, explicitly to look like a black stove pipe hat. It contained what was both the largest and most advanced power source of its era, a large fusion generator contained in a pocket dimension. Its fall marked, and indeed was a part of the apocalypse that spawned the Third Age. It is related to, but not the same as, the Blackhats, an organization of combat-specialist holographists stationed in the city under the direct command of Domino Effect himself.

Formed by Domino Effect using advanced holography, Blackhat City was envisioned to be a worldwide, independent sanctuary for holography researchers, largely as a reaction to fearmongoring and sweeping legislation that was making all forms of such research criminal. Following its revelation, hostilities between him and nations worldwide threatened this ideal, at which point he created the Spare Change project and seeded holographic programs worldwide. These programs were used for both good and evil, but Domino, this city, and his enigmatic band of elites known as the Blackhats made every effort to maintain peace and punish misuse of the technology.

For many months following its inception, the city was empty, and often kept in storage (it maintains a pocket dimension as part of the function of its "engine"; this helps it hover and is used to warp around the planet). During this time, Domino did not have any political following and was widely regarded as an untrustworthy loose cannon at best, and a megalomaniacal terrorist at worst. However, following a sharp change in the political clime, Domino among others felt that many governments worldwide were threatening, kidnapping, torturing, or killing holography researchers, and stepped in repeatedly to save them and offer sanctuary. From that time, the city never sat in storage, preferring instead to warp over unpopulated areas or oceans if it had no legitimate destination. As time went on, it became clear both to refugees and outsiders that Domino had no ambitions of conquest or other malicious ends, and many joined either his city or his direct service of their own accord. The highest known count of the citizens of Blackhat City at any time was somewhere over 90,000.

The principle technologies of the city are its engine and power source, but they are by far not the most important or advanced. The city itself had the most powerful shielding capabilities ever known, and concealed many holographic weapons that made full use of the power source, though they were used but rarely, and only in self-defense. Additionally, it has holographic inhibitor arrays capable of shutting down unshielded holography within a radius of about a mile. It also had top-rate atomic-level fabrication, analysis, testing, and research facilities, along with large materials stockpiles largely acquired by disassembling garbage dumps. Its medical facilities, while added late, also would become top of their class. For the citizens living in it, food and water are unending and waste is completely handled, and various gardens and other places exist in extradimensional spaces.

When the city begins the process of warping, a disclike portal appears to one side of the city, and it begins to move into it using strictly horizontal slide. Depending on Domino's wishes, it may also rotate around the center of the city; this is usually the case when he, or the Blackhats, are at a place on the brim not facing the portal. The appearance of the portal on the other end is concurrent with a distinctive, low echoing boom and a number of electric pops and fizzles. (Domino has stated that the electric noises are a quality control issue originally, but that he likes the noise enough to not fix it.) The disappearance of the portal comes with similar electic spatter, but the noise is more implosive. The portal does not tend to give off much light of its own accord, although it is visible on dark nights, assuming that the other side of the portal is also dark. When warping to space, a modified form of the portal can be used to prevent air from bleeding around the corners of the city.

The city was also, on occasion, used to perform live concerts. Although Domino was not himself a musical performer, in conjunction with Mr. Stage, he became enthralled with the idea of communicating with and manipulating people by means of music. The latter was principally used only in combat conditions, but on occasion, Domino would simply park the city over a city, suburb, or other crowded region, play a selection of music (whatever entertained him at the time; usually inspirational music in genres like rock, metal, pop, etc), and he and his Stage magicians would choreograph their actions to it on the fly. Typically, this included a lot of lights, flying people, holographic graphics, etc. Although these events were impromptu and never announced in advance, and despite the imposing figure of Blackhat city, it is rumored (but never officially proclaimed) that these events never caused serious traffic accidents, fires, deaths, or other calamities.

The city is capable of travelling in hard vaccuum and surviving without outside resources or power, but it never did so for long periods. When it is in space, a crystalline dome covers the entire city, from the brim to the highest buildings. At Domino's whim, it has visited various places in the solar system, but (in offical canon) he never took it interstellar distances. Domino also maintained a few limited, manned research, mining, and storage facilities across the system, which helped recovery during the third age; however, he did not trust them enough to grant the occupants access to superior technology. While many of these facilities were only connected to Blackhat City by portal, some also had their own ships for emergency use.

The destruction of Blackhat City came at the end of the Terra-Draco Wars, during a time known as the Reign of Fire. One criminal, having in their hands the full codebase Domino Effect had been using to perform all of his effects, started a campaign to wipe out all people from Draco on both worlds in an effort to purify them; his weapons were post-nuclear grade, meaning that their expected yields exceeded the capabilities of nuclear weapons. An assault team led by Deus Exterra located the criminal, but were unable to make enough progress to kill him; against all advice, Domino Effect brought Blackhat City in to assist, and by doing so turned the tide of the battle. However, the city's shields were no longer impenetrable, given the weapons the criminal was using, and the city was destroyed. As part of that, the reactor overloaded and destroyed a 50-mile wide spherical crater; as an unfortunate consequence, the blast destroyed a large part of the Dragon System that is the source of power for the people of Draco. Between these two events, dimensional effects appeared worldwide that interfered with the minds of all living things, causing insanity in virtually all cases. This led to the Third Age, and very nearly caused an extinction of all life on both planets. Additionally, Domino Effect, Deus Exterra, Erika Exterra, and many others perished.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Profile: Aelon College

The Yunian Society of Masters (Draco, first age) maintains an exclusive university in the mountains to the southeast of the port city of Aelon in Daeyul. It is a peculiar institution in that there are no requirements of merit, either as a condition of entry or as a condition of graduation; it is maintained as a public service. However, admittance is extremely limited, and students are only allowed to stay a maximum of five years.

All members of the Yunian Order are given one credit per year (at most one credit outstanding), which can be given to any human, humanoid, or other intelligent being the member desires, from esteemed warriors and craftsmen to orphans and common laborers. There is no explicit forbidding of criminals; however, there are Voidlings who oversee the admittance process and screen out applicants deemed to be dangerous.

It is not required that applicants arrive immediately, and indeed many do not; however, understandably, there are only so many slots for the incoming class. Since the total number of Yunians on the continent is quite low, and since the university has two active semesters, this is usually not a problem, but there have been times when some confluence of events caused a larger number of students to apply for entrance than the school than it could support. Where possible, students that cannot be accepted are turned back; the rest may apply for temporary housing--and temporary work to pay it off--until the next semester. The same deal is offered for students that arrive out of season, either too late in the semester to join an existing class or during the down periods without classes.

Classes at the college run the gamut of the Order's knowledge; notably, the school is authorized to teach things that might otherwise be restricted to particular nations, including access to nation-specific Dragons. Only the nation of Tiyoma refuses to give priveledged access, in accordance with their policy of protectionism. Because class sizes are small, it's generally the case that a particular class will have a lot of similar characteristics; for instance, they may have all trained in Demon weapons, or N-weapons, or Void mentalism, or the use of some more specific ability. In many cases, this is because one or a small number of exceptional students changes the normal classes to advanced ones, and others come along for the ride. They are not all equivalent in skill, nor will they all have the same set of skills, but certain similarities within a class will definitely appear.

While classes are not always taught by the absolute masters of any given skill, the teachers are expected to be knowledgeable, and are given first-class access to other Yunians when it comes to asking questions. Yunians are also encouraged to assist, for pay, whenever classes relevant to their expertise are ongoing.

Class selection is something of a haphazard arrangement; certain classes are always ongoing even if no students attend, because those classes are folded into the logistics of college life (farming, cooking, crafts, maintenance, cleaning, etc); students may work alongside the faculty and learn from them, or not, at their discretion. Basic martial and magical skills are likewise always offered; this encompasses wellness, self-defense, and general education in those areas. Other basic classes, like basic education (writing, math, logistics, etc) will be offered if even one student requests or requires it, but the instructors may not be on-call the whole semester if nobody does. Beyond that, more specialty classes tend to require a minimum number of students; only exceptional students can get advanced education without community interest. Classes are grouped by skill level, not student year; it is rare, but possible that a student in his final year will be learning alongside new students, and this effect can occasionally inflate the size of a few rare classes, some of which may only be taught every few years.

Classes with expensive tools or components--such as demon weapon use or various crafts--will usually have class-issue equipment that is rented to the students gratis for the duration. Students are encouraged to bring, buy, or craft their own equipment if they are studying seriously, and students with personal equipment may receive preferential treatment. However, in general, the classes are taught to prevent anyone from being left behind even if others are treated preferentially.

Military- and combat-oriented classes occasionally have outings, in an official capacity, either to deal with minor situations around the continent or to observe significant battles that are predicted or ongoing. Although there are frequently surprises during this trip, and students have sometimes died, it is by all accounts well looked forward to by most students as a practical application of their teachings.

Graduates from Aelon College may be sought after by militaries, or may go back to civilian life. Some, previously destitute, return to being homeless and jobless out of comfort, but only rarely do graduates fail to make good on their education at some point. Some end up becoming members of the Yunians themselves, although it isn't all that frequent of an occurance. Aelon College maintains a list of alums who became Yunians in a magic-resistant wall on the premesis; although it has been damaged and altered, as far as anyone can tell it has been rebuilt without loss or error.

All graduates of the college can entitle themselves Collegiates for the rest of their lives. It is not as prestigious a title as Yunian, but it is well respected most places.

Profile: Azael

Azael is a nation on the planet Draco during its first age. Located in the northeast of Contel, it contains a lot of low, tropical coastlines, which fade into higher grasslands, then hills before finally reaching the high mountains separating it from Daeyul. The territory, though recognized as a nation, is in a stablized form of anarchy containing no governments greater than a township. Due to this, it is a favorite location for smugglers and others who breach minor laws in other nations; however, the people do not tend to accept violent criminals, which is largely enforced by the informal, bipartite militia.

The militia is generally understood to contain two castes, Azaca and Azule. Each caste has their own military traditions, philosohies, and place in society. Although most attempts to sum up their beliefs fail, most outsiders agree that 'liberal' and 'conservative' are about as much as they need to know unless they plan to live with them. Azuleans prefer to keep the peace and maintain order, while Azacans prefer to reform, experiment, and argue. They all agree, however, that so long as all or most people there respect the rest, there is little to no need for government.

Their shared creed, the Azalean Code, insists that citizens be earnest, honest, and forthright, and most citizens are more than happy to oblige. Outsiders often have a lot of bad things to say about Azael, but they all tend to agree it's a very cheerful place compared to most others.

Because of the lack of government, social services and sanitation vary widely, although most places have a community-oriented mindset that encourages cooperation. Little enough (excepting Azacan projects) is ever really planned or thought through; the only true exception is the vast network of roadways funded by foreign traders, without which many otherwise large townships might never have been found. Because of these roads, and because of the large number of traders from Seyona, the nation to the southeast, Azael is not a terribly backwards place, unlike some places in Alyon.

Azael also contains the closest ports to the continent of Anstra, and is frequently used as the last port before and first port after the trip between them. Because most other nations prefer the Evoloid-descendant races to stay out of their own borders, they tend to only settle on that continent; the people of Azael do not typically care, however, and so many settle there or travel between the two freely. The major exception are Laras, winged creatures that are rarely seen at low altitudes, who prefer the mountains of Ooria and Daeyul.

Azael contains the Fire Dragon Temple, and their magical traditions usually involve fire magic. However, they are better known for their militia, who are trained in martial arts only lightly enhanced by magic. The traditional design for elementalist dojos,two-story huts in which the instructor lives above the training space (where it will be endangered if they do not teach proper control) originated in Azael, and is most widely used by the Azulean order.

Because of the proximity to the Fire Dragon, the nation also contains many mana fountains. If a fire-user drinks from these fountains, they are able to manifest a small amount of more destructive fire energy than normal. Although these fountains pop up in other nations as well, they only really seem to affect the use of fire magic.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Themes of the DSP

If there were one theme that explained the whole of the Demonsword Project, it would probably be engineering. The people of Draco developed a form of magic based on spirituality and centralized control; the people of Terra developed a form of holography based on computers and advanced physics. In other words, high-energy "magic" exists on both worlds, and in each case, it's because someone did the work to set up a system. Once the system was set up, they gathered users and information, and refined their techniques. In its own way, the Third Age represents a reboot of the two sides, allowing the collected knowledge to come together as one--although the costs were such that no-one would have done it on purpose.

However, when they do come together, it becomes clear to those who grow up in such times that they aren't two conflicting ideas. What, after all, is the difference between a technological scanner that reads your thoughts by algorithm, and a more naturally grown spiritual entity that learns to read human thoughts by experience? If they both perform the same act in the end, with the same level of control, were they ever really something separate to begin with?

However, it seems in the world we live in that mind and technology, spirituality and computation are discrete things. Call it left- and right-brain, if you will; art and logic, religion and science; or in DSP terms, "Mystic and Chaos". The Mystic side--those who gain power by trusting in the spiritual side of things--learn to do a great deal by trusting powers within them, by communicating with them, and by forming bonds. The Chaos side--the term being taken from Chaos Theory, a branch of advanced math--trust in knowledge, logic, and design. The Chaos side, however, will often fear the Mystic; for trust often means a hands-off approach, one where you never truly know your tools, but can only have faith. The Mystics, in response, will often fear those of Chaos, who never develop empathy, and who never communicate with their heart or soul; how can one come to trust those who forever shut themselves off from you?

Both sides have legitimate fears, and for those who have only ever known half the equation, it can be difficult to switch. However, the DSP also has one additional philosophical point to make, and one which I strongly believe in. It is a concept that the people of Draco call "Void;" it is an element associated with clarity, sensing, and divination. However, its powers are not innate; they are a combination of the other six elements, a combination that must be carefully balanced.

The philosophy of the Void is this: If you are predisposed to walk down any path, or are afraid to walk down any path, there will come a time when you aren't prepared to do what you have to. Indeed, to a Voidling, the sensory ability of that element is simply senses born of the other six elements, all combined into one. Knowing the boundaries of each, keeping them separate, and understanding their relations, allows you to see a great deal more than anyone who can only see a few elements.

It is a strong philosophy in other ways, and that leads me into the last theme of the Demonsword Project, the six elements. They aren't perfect, and in fact I can't say for certain they'll be arranged the same way when the project is finished and ready for launch as they are right now. They're a complex mess of philosophy and associations, but having created them, I respect the balance they represent. I'm sure it's too highfalutin (or crazy) for most people to consider a real philosophy, but I do. The elemental system of the Demonsword Project has been a major factor in how fun I find the project to work on, and as such, it's part of the reason I've kept going at it as long as I have. Even if it's changed, tweaked, or screwed with, I suspect it will continue to exist in some form for as long as the Project exists.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Core Mechanic

The Demonsword Project tabletop RPG is not for the faint-hearted or math-averse; or at the very least, the Alpha 2 version is a bit heavy on the numbers. I have put a lot of effort into making it consistent, perhaps even simple; however it will likely be daunting at first.

The core mechanic is two parts. First, when you want to use some skill, roll the dice associated with that skill and compare against the DC (or, if the roll is opposed, compare against your opponent's roll). If you win, you have successfully performed the skill--however, it may not do what you intend. That's where the second part comes in: bonuses.

Bonuses may come from the skill, from the character, from the equipment, from previous actions, or they may come from rolling 5 or more over the skill DC. In any case, they affect the outcome. Bonuses may make you jump farther, shoot straighter, hit for more damage, craft finer details, sneak more quietly, listen more intently, or any number of other things depending on the circumstances.

The key to this, however, is that you have to roll substantially higher than the DC to get many bonuses. Fortunately, the DC is comparatively low, and you will be rolling a lot of dice. You'll always know what dice you need; the stats in DSRPG are dot based (comparable to White Wolf systems), and each dot is in the shape of the die it represents. In other words, if you have 1 d12 dot, 2 d8 dots, and 3 d4 dots filled in on your sheet, you roll those dice.

The bonus system is a reversal of previous RPG tropes in a few key ways; most notably, it allows you to chain skills in a sensible fashion. If you do a controlled jump off a cliff and land on an enemy, for example, you can easily transform skill bonuses from the jump into skill bonuses in the attack--assuming both the jump and your attack succeeds. Have several spellcasters combining their efforts into one enormous spell? Not only does the Bonus system accept it, the Demonsword system recognizes a special class of skills that makes sense of the logistics, called Augmented Skills. Augmented skills, which I'll get to in another post, represent any skill--magic, cyborg, interpersonal, or other--in which part of the inherent success of the skill relies on someone or something else. It could be a magical companion, a cyborg enhancement, or other mages in a partnership--it doesn't matter.

Apologies if this post is a little winding; I meant to finish it some time ago and had lost my steam when I came back to it. But, I'll definitely get back into the parts of it I skipped over later. Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The History of Terra-Draco

This isn't the full history of the setting, but it is a decent summary.

The two planets, Terra and Draco, both awakened from the Zero Age with a few peculiarities. Terra, a well-developed planet with a population of millions, found that its entire population had been sleepwalking, sleepeating... without explanation, they had walked through their daily lives for an unknowable period of time. Part of their planet's history seemed to be missing in every form--book, electronic, and biological memory. With little choice, virtually all of them went back to their daily life, trusting that it would all make sense someday.

Draco, a developing planet with far less history, marked the end of the Zero Age by coming out of an age of civil war. Of principle interest, towards the end of that civil war, a mysterious figure had traversed the world, building temples that repelled anyone too feral to think for themselves. As the buildings were completed, people began to be born with mystic powers, powers divided up into seven elements. These powers, they began to understand, were bound to powerful spiritual creatures that dwelled in the temples, which they called Dragons. Awed by the powers they were awakening to, they split their entire continent into seven enormous nations, one temple apiece, and swore off total war forever, for fear of ruining the land itself. They did not, however, swear off combat, and indeed warriors continued to struggle and fight, both in small measure and in clashes between nations.

In this way, Draco continued through their First Age, learning about and expanding upon the Dragon System. Nations began to create their own Dragons, sometimes for good, sometimes to create powerful warriors. The Yunian Society of Masters arose, as did the Void Followers, and many other factions. The personalities of the nations stabilized, and their borders never wavered more than a few dozen miles. The Great Earth Temple was constructed in Daeyul, a giant stone building that stretched to the skies, containing a wealth of mystic and mundane knowledge that would never be rivaled.

Terra, however, had a far different life in its first act. In the First Age, holography began to take off as a means of direct energy manipulation. At first, it was only industrial--creating static, solid structures and machines out of energy that were dangerous and hard to control. But with the first test of holographic weaponry, the entire world was stricken with fear. Not for nothing did it come to be known as "Post-Nuclear" weaponry; they were weapons without limit, capable of breaking the world apart. Legislation was suggested and widely passed, worldwide, to prevent amateurs from dabbling. But with the internet already in place, it was impossible to contain it, and enthusiasts the world over were simply driven into hiding, not defeated.

On this stage, a man received a strange package of information, one that contained a few necessary ideas and equations. Those ideas and equations, along with a few happy accidents, gave him access to holography in ways that had been impossible--including self-sustaining holographic computers, complete with tiny, fusion-based power supplies. Disgruntled by the worldwide panic and their willingness to persecute scientists for their curiosity, he used his power to remake himself into a nearly superhero-esque figure under the alias Domino Effect. He built a giant, flying city on a flying plate of black iron, and dubbed it Black Hat City; it was his sanctuary for all scientists and engineers, his Mecca in the sky.

His claim to infamy, however, was that he scattered coins across the world, coins made of holography. Anyone who picked one up was granted a wish; they may create any single piece of holographic equipment, including ones that gave them their own, limited superhero (or -villain)-like abilities. The coins were distributed absolutely at random, no matter to whom or where on the planet, so that (from his idealistic view) the governments of the world would never again be allowed to ignore the needs of the poor or homeless, or social minorities or wage-slaves, or any other caste whose life had been hell because of uneven distribution of power.

It worked, in a way. After several decades of horrible, bloody civil wars worldwide, most of the world had access to at least food, power, network access, and medicine. Law, however, was strict and draconian; despotic rule had returned, because military might was the only way to keep the world in order. Still, somehow, Domino kept distributing the coins, dubbed Pandora Keys, and--to his own credit--defending cities and innocents from people who would abuse them, wherever he could. And nobody seemed to be able to replicate his abilities; even with the coins in-hand, they lacked the few central concepts necessary to reverse-engineer them.

In the middle of all this, a long-forgotten project resurfaced. The HELIDER project, once believed to be a failed attempt at a power source, had since a while back been understood to be a portal generator. However, their first prototype vanished--along with everything in a mile-wide sphere. As they were conducting studies on its nature as a portal, they began to get anomalous readings, ones indicating the original prototype had re-activated--half a galaxy away. This, understandably, piqued the interest of the world. Although their new prototypes were damaged by the anomaly, they began to reconstruct them, and fine-tune them, hoping to bridge the gap and find out what had happened.

When they finally bridged that gap, a portal opened on Draco, and through that portal, a man returned to Terra after many years absence. He wasn't a part of the HELIDER project; he predated it, with memories of things that should have lied buried in the mysterious Zero Age. He also knew what Terrans were like, and didn't for a moment trust them with the planet Draco, which he had long considered his home. The dystopia, partially caused by Domino Effect, only heightened those feelings. After a series of blunders, even as the two worlds began to be connected by more and more portals, he sparked off a war between the two planets. He returned to Draco and took the name Deus Exterra, and with that name he fought to prevent tragedy wherever he could by attacking those who did evil. Perhaps strangely, he and Domino Effect never truly became enemies, and would sometimes consider each other friends, but they never were truly on the same side.

This was the Second Age. The long war that was fought began as Terra Vs. Draco, but splintered as both sides understood the humanity of the other. People of both worlds could easily fight together, if they believed in each other. However, the fighting lasted for well over a hundred years, as fear and paranoia ruled. Many people fought for good and stability, and for a long time, they were winning. However, in the end, that painful fear and frustration boiled over, and when at last Domino's equations and knowledge sneaked out, a warrior of pure darkness arose that wanted to destroy everything. In the last few battles, the final seals on both the dragon system and holography were unleashed, all in hopes of defending against the threat.

Insofar as they wanted to defend the world, they failed. The final blow shattered the minds of every person on both planets. Holography was iffy; the Dragon Systems were fragmented or destroyed. However, the humanoid races did not disappear, and the planets did not split apart; many of the surface portals had become truly welded shut. They all struggled for sanity for another century and a half, piecing together the knowledge that had been lost, and struggling just to keep alive. This was the Third Age, and it was hell. Scattered remnants of technology were their best bet for survival, but in addition, people began to awaken "shards" of the Dragon System in their own bodies, shards that required a "key" in order to activate. These shards had could restore sanity... but only enough to awaken a person from madness. If they fell back in of their own accord, oh well.

Long after the end, the Fourth Age would begin. It was a time when the world was recovering--plants returned, animals were reseeded from genomes. It was a world of frontiers and emptiness, marked by new potential--but also marked by struggles, struggles over territory and viewpoints and people, and history and life and death. This was a time when there was no distinction between users of magic and users of technology; they were both inheritances of the past, and there was no longer a division between them, much as the two planets had become one in the minds of the people. Whatever struggles they had, they were mundane ones--criminals and international squabbles, not world wars or attempts at genocide.

As for the future, the time beyond the Fourth Age, that story lies beyond the stars...

Welcome to the Demonsword Project

The Demonsword Project is an ambitious fantasy project; at its heart is a story spanning the fall and rebirth of two worlds whose fate intertwined--one immersed in technology, one in magic. This history is split into five settings; two in the Time Before (Demonsword First Age), one in the ageless war they fight when the eventually meet (The Terra-Draco Wars), an age of madness and famine for the survivors of the final cataclysm (Demonsword Shattered Worlds), and the world post-rebuilding (Demonsword Fourth Age). Tying all of these settings together are a magical engineering project called the Dragon System, and a high-energy holographic system known as the Pandora Engine.

Perhaps equally ambitious, the Demonsword Project is also a roleplaying game--one still in the alpha stage of development. This journal is a log of the game's development, but also, an ongoing project in documenting the worlds I've created. It's also, I hope, a place to which I can refer people who are interested; the Project suffers in terms of progress from lack of motivation, and lack of cooperation. The finished form I envision is something I can never achieve on my own, especially what with the playtesting and tweaking that will eventually be necessary.

And who knows, maybe the game will fail. But the world lives on in me, and in the stories I hope to tell, and it will live on until I die. I will keep looking towards the future, so bear with me, and if you like what you see, maybe you can come along for the ride.