Here they are – your questions, answered just as if I was Miss Manners, only with less common sense.
Andy Kenrick asks, “The game’s all about reigning something or other. How will the rules help support this, and how will the usual bugbears of games like this be handled- ie resource management and the logistics of PCs running a country?”
I’ve tried very hard to give the PCs the fun and interesting parts of governance — tough decisions, leadership, real ‘buck stops here’ stuff — while hand waving all the plodding and dull everyday routine of tax levels and administrivia. Organizations have stats – highly abstracted stats. When you want your Company (that’s what a REIGN organization is officially called) to do something, you roll a dice pool and look for sets. The trick is, Company dice pools are usually low, and they shrink fast. Even a mighty empire needs the personal touch to reliably achieve its goals, as described in the next answer.
The ever-reliable Chris Cooper says, “I’d like to see an overview of your REIGN political ganging. How it works? What sort of conditions and modifiers alter its use? Projected, how do you see its use in terms of an extended campaign?”
I’ll give an example from a huge, year-long, kind-of-a-drag-at-the-end D&D game I was in, “Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil.” In that bad boy, you go one on one against all the Forces of Eeevil down at evil central. But let’s look at it from a REIGN perspective.
Instead of one big dungeon, you have the Cult of Elemental Evil, and you stat them up. Instead of a red-haired berserker and a few crazy halflings going in to upset the apple cart, there’s… your Company. Maybe you’re just the next door neighbors, the Village of Hamnet or something, and you’re not fond of all the body parts washing up in the river. So the village gets some stats too, and compared to the Fellowship of Evil Elementals, their stats suck. How are their chosen champions supposed to stop the nefarious plan?
The champions wind up doing a lot of the same stuff the D&D characters were doing – going and kacking evil magicians and sowing dissention in the ranks, et cetera. But the difference is that (1) the village can, at the same time, be trying to swell its stats by enlisting allies or hiring mercenaries or, hell, convincing the neighbors to set up a trade embargo against the Elementals’ orc servants who are always a couple days late paying their bills – without the PCs having to personally get involved. Furthermore, (2) the village can roll its Company stats against the temple encampment when the local militia pays a call. If the PCs have done an excellent job of softening up the Temple, the militia gets crazy bonuses on its rolls. If not, well, the red dragon probably eats them all.
In short, when the PCs get involved and succeed at their missions, the company rolls extra dice to resolve actions those missions support. You sneak in under cover of darkness and poison enemy wells, and your invasion the next day is going a lot easier. Alternately, the Company can go along without PC help and try to accomplish things on its own. Will the village be able to convince the local king this is a serious problem without the PCs? Maybe, maybe not. Is your oily persuasive character more effective talking to the king, or sneaking in on that assassination mission? You decide. It’s your funeral.
I see extended campaigns proceeding like any long-term game, but with a wider scope. Instead of just stacking up gold pieces, you’re creating a legacy – and if one of your PCs snuffs it, the Company can go on.
Sometimes, of course, the PCs perform brilliantly and the Company whiffs its roll. Oh yes. I see that as more of a feature than a bug, because character really emerges when you’ve done everything possible and had it go wrong. Lots of scenarios recognize the pressure of being at the end of a catastrophe, and they put the characters in untenable positions where they’re fleeing for their lives, unjustly persecuted and so forth. In REIGN, however, its far more likely that these fascinating plot developments f eel personal. You’re not stuck behind the eightball because of GM fiat. It’s your disaster. Or, when your Company unexpectedly hits that 2×10 with two dice, it’s your miracle.
Frank Sronce asks, “So, if the basic concept of Reign is people being in charge of major organizations, as opposed to being able to take out castles by themselves, what sort of limitations do you intend to put on sorcery/spell-casting?”
There are wizards who can turn themselves into hundred-foot-tall pillars of fire and dance out onto a battlefield raining death on all who stand before them. But they’re (luckily) very rare. The more powerful magic is in the default setting, the higher the Difficulty you’ve got to beat. To cast Cataclysmic Transformation, you have to spend twelve minutes dancing, make a Sorcery roll with Height 9+, and then keep dancing as long as you want to stay changed. Now, during the twelve minutes that you’re winding up the pitch, you can’t do much of anything else, and anyone sensitive for miles around is going to feel you sucking juice towards you. The enemy troo ps don’ t even need another magician: They just need fast units who can close the distance. If they’ve seen Cataclysmic Transformation before (and they’re disciplined enough to not just break and run) they may just fall back and wait for you to tire out. It’s not like you can dance indefinitely, and it’s not like your army is going to be terribly close while you’ve got the dial stuck on “scald.” Once you tire out, it’s going to be you against anyone you failed to kill.
Of course, that assumes they don’t have siege engines. Cataclysmic Transformation is indisputably badass, but it offers no protection from being blanketed with flung stones. One widely practiced tactical axiom is, “Keep it simple: Kill the magicians first.”
In the widest and simplest sense, Cataclysmic Transformation provides a bump up to a Company’s Might. But big stuff like that is really rare, for many reasons, not the least of which being that you can get the same effect more reliably from hiring a whole bunch of troops – and you don’t have to worry about your platoon being poisoned by one lucky assassin.
Harjit Kanth wants to know, “How flexible will the magic system be in terms of being able to dial from low magic to high magic settings. If I want to play early Renaissance Europe with limited magic I want to be able to do that. Conversely if I want to set up a high magic setting will the game allow me to do that?”
Yes. There’s a default magic system that’s pretty specific to the default setting, but the game is not predicated on magic being there. I’ve tried, at some level, to have elements of the magic cancel one another out. For instance, in the default you can be a specialist or a generalist. If you’re a generalist, you have to take a lot more time to cast the big, useful spells. If you’re a specialist (also known as an “attuned sorcerer”) you can’t cast spells from other styles. You can be broad or deep, but not both.
I’ve got some advice in the Magic chapter on how to handle magic as an element in any game, but basically I’ve tried to keep the system balanced without magic. That way, if you add an internally balanced magic system (that’s basically what that advice is about) the whole thing stays kosher without magicians being the only ones who can do the really awesome stuff.
One more magical question from Kyle Marquis: “What sort of magic will be available in REIGN that will allow the PCs to influence their political attributes, and how will the system work? I’m curious to see how you’ll handle the complications that magic will inevitably throw into the rules for armies, loyalty, and training.”
I didn’t include mind control or personal influence magic in REIGN because it didn’t feel right. Magic is highly thematic – one type of magic deals with wolves and moonlight, another strength and mobility, a third with trapping souls inside weapons. Swaying the minds of the masses just didn’t seem… appropriate. There’s a Skill for that, after all. It’s called “Inspire” and you can use that to rally people to your cause, fill men with a passion that makes them willing to die for your flag, or convince a mob to disperse without taking their rude punishment on your misunderstood pal. It seemed redundant to have magic changing people’s minds when there were already mundane ways to do it.
That’s not to say magic won’t influence your Company’s numbers. If you have the sorcerous chops to make your troops immune to pain, that helps. But there’s a drug that does that too. If you want to make their weapons preternaturally sharp, great. Or you could just hire a master weapon smith. You can bless the land, making it blossom forth with great fruit and bounteous harvests… but a dedicated bureaucrat can accomplish the same thing by building some dams, roads and bridges. Magic does a lot, and its versatile, but it doesn’t do everything better than any expert can.
From Dan Montgomery comes the following penetrating inquiry. “Are there oportunities to run tightly focused military styled missions in this setting? Rebel cells tend to have a loose-and-fast command structure. Can I easily get the rigid, simple objectives my Ritalin-Munching party needs?”
REIGN is designed to handle leadership, and it’s built on the assumption that the PCs are the leaders. However, there’s about a paragraph that addresses turning that assumption inside-out. Instead of leading the Company, the PCs can work for the Company. They can still build it up and make rolls when it does things without them, and they can still alter rolls when it does things with them. But one option is for a PC group to decide, “Y’know what? There’s a whole aspect of the game I don’t care about. I want to make my Company take out that trash.” Don’t like figuring stuff out? Crank up your Company’s Influence and tell your spymaster, “Hey, find out who I should punch about this.” Don’t like fighting? Raise Might and send Major Carnage out to raze White Plume Mountain. Don’t care for all the day-to-day of legal judgments and fiscal planning? Pick high Sovereignty and Territory and let the land flourish under your benign neglect.
In short, you can use the more traditional RPG model where the PCs are powerful agents of an authoritative patron. But in REIGN they can make the rolls for the patron’s action – and it’s the PCs’ activities that influence the patron’s success or failure, not just the judgment of the GM. (There’s still GM judgment involved, of course, since it’s her call how much their actions improved the Company’s chances. But it’s less tyrannical.)
More typically, the PCs are the authoritative patron. Or can become one.
Colin Chapman, (whose name I think I know from RPG.NET?) says, “To what extent will power rules be utilised in order to create appropriately “epic” characters? Will they be more constrained than the likes of Godlike or Wild Talents?”
There are no power rules in REIGN the way there are in GODLIKE or WILD TALENTS. The niche for fantasy games with superhuman characters is getting pretty full, what with Exalted and Epic D&D and what not. Your PCs are human. You may be human the way Miyamoto Musashi was human, possessing skills and secrets that let you massacre lesser opponents pretty much at will. You may be human the way Andrew Carnegie was human, starting from nearly nothing and amassing a fortune that reshapes society through pure grit and ability.
The main antagonists in REIGN are, for the most part, also human . If you’re up against a truly powerful and inhuman entity (they’re out there), you don’t stand a chance alone. No human would, no matter how skilled with the sword or gifted with the arts of enchantment. To take down the biggest ‘monsters’ (though that’s a loaded term) can require the resources of an entire country. There are creatures out there that you don’t fight: You have to lay siege to them.
David Barenna writes that he’d like to see“- The table of contents
– Some teasers of the “magic” section
– The character sheet
– An overview of the setting (in terms of sitcoms from the 1970s and 80s, or not)
BTW, have you thought of doing an “Official spoilers” thread in RPG.NET (like the ones WW does for Exalted) in order to raise interest in REIGN?”
I think there are enough magic teasers in here already. (Okay, I’ll give you one more because I’m too lazy to type up the Table of Contents tonight and the character sheet is not yet laid out. You know how sorcerers can permanently attun e themselves to one type of magic? When they do that, their bodies change. So there aren’t any elves or dwarves in the setting, but there are sorcerers who have mutated themselves into centaurs or werewolves… or stranger things.)
As for the setting, there are two continents, Heluso and Milonda. Most of the information you get at the beginning concerns Heluso. You get chapters on each of the following societies, which I will sum up here in five words or less.
DINDAVARA: Prussians with katanas, only black.
ULDHOLM: Pushy, progressive, enchanted trade unionists.
THE TRUIL TRIBES: Primitive, sexually repressed, nomadic cannibals.
THE EMPIRE: Senescent, decadent, inefficient… still dangerous.
As for official spoilers… how does that work, anyhow? I thought self-promotion wasn’t permitted on the open boards.
Benjamin Lee writes, “If the chargen rules are in fair shape, I’d love to see an example of a starting character, and then a ‘snapshot’ of him at key points later in his career as he rises in power and influence- with notes on what the changes mean, and how they can be leveraged into interesting play.”
Okay, hm. To do this, I’ll have to explain Martial Paths and Esoteric Disciplines. Paths and Disciplines replace the powers in GODLIKE and work a bit like Schticks in Feng Shui. They’re not magical, but they improve your Skills by allowing them to do things they normally couldn’t, or by making the things they usually do more impressive and useful. If you take a Martial Path, for example, it starts with a low level technique that lets you get your sword out of its sheath a little quicker and ends with one that lets you whack limbs off much more efficiently than usual.
There are also Advantages, which are a catch-all for stuff like “I’m freaking rich!” or “I got one of those faces that launches a thousand ships.” Disciplines and Paths are essentially specialized Advantages.
Now, I could easily whip up a murder-machine fighter (4+MD in Axe, the Martial Path with Harvest of Cries in it, a similarly impressive Dodge Skill) or a cool lightning-spitting sorcerer. Those are both very valid character concepts. But to show off a different way, I’ll point-build a starting character who’s optimized for leadership.
Using the point buy system (instead of the one-roll system that I sent out earlier, and that’s visible here you get 85 points to get everything. Stats cost 5 points per level, Skills 1 point per, one point to turn a Skill die Expert, 5 points to turn an Expert die Master, and Advantages just cost what they cost. Cool?
I start out with one free point in each of the six Stats (Body, Coordination, Sense, Knowledge, Command and Charm). I’m going to spend 30 points off the bat to raise all those to 2, just to get a bare minimum chance of competence. 55 points remain.
Skills next. I’ll just plop 5 each in Inspire, Fascinate, Graces and Lie. Another 5 in Empathy to tell when people are lying to me. 30 points left.
Esoteric Disciplines come with five levels, and each costs points equal to its level. To get the full raft of a Discipline, it’s (5+4+3+2+1) = 15 points. I could buy two of them and be done, but that’s one really narrow character. So I’ll get the complete course of a Graces path. Graces, by the way, means “social graces.” So this character is sinking a total of twenty points into “the incredible power of being polite.” Having learned the Disciplines named “Respectful Clarity of Speech” he gets Patient Explanation, Sincere Apologies, Negotiation From Gratitude, Set A Good Example, and the really big powerful ability, Restructuring And Retitling. I won’t spell these out here, but they let him boost the stats of his Company and improve its rolls substantially. In terms of making a Company work better, I would say he’s now more powerful than any magician.
With the last 15 points, I’m going to make him a little more survivable… it’s enough to put three points apiece in five Skills, and while the Beauty Advantage would be pretty sweet (if you roll low Height sets with Fascinate or Graces, the Height automatically goes to a pre-set level) let’s keep it simple. Three points apiece in Dodge, Fight, Stealth, Lore and… no wait, let’s change it up and give him a point each in three different Language skills. Pahar, Dindavaran and Uldish, so we’ll assume his native tongue is Imperial. (You get a free Mast er Die in your native language.) That’s good enough for him to converse with native speakers and at least make a friendly try with others.
Our character, then, looks like this
Body 2 Coordination 2 Sense 2
Fight 3 Dodge 3 Empathy 5
Knowledge 2 Command 2 Charm 2
Imperial MD Inspire 5 Fascinate 5
Lore 3 Graces 5
Pahar 1 Lie 5
Advantages: Knows all of Respectful Clarity of Speech.
Is he perfect? Nah, you could tweak him by reducing Lie and Empathy by a point each to promote a die to Expert (giving him 3+ED in each instead of 5), because those are skills where Height matters a lot. I could chop the last two levels of the Discipline set off and get more skills or another die in Charm (the engine behind three of his primary pools). As is he’s sickly, weak, and oblivious to everything around him save the nuances of speech. But if you overbalance a sorcerer you can easily wind up with the same problems. I’ll call him done.
How’s he going to develop? There are several ways you can go, since you buy the same stuff with XP that you get at the beginning. He could up his Charm Stat and get another die in each of his primary pools. Promoting dice to Expert is pretty cheap, and he could stick with his specialti es and get Master Dice or learn more Esoteric Disciplines. On the other hand, he could pick up Sight or Hearing if his enemies like the ambush, or Vigor if he’s constantly getting beaten up and poisoned. If he’s really a team player, he might sink his XP into the Company instead of personal improvement, planning to mostly involve himself with diplomacy and keep his hands soft and unbloodied. Regardless, he probably picks up a couple levels of Plead for when things really go wrong.
Jon Berg, bubbling with inquisitiveness, says, “What I’m curious about is what elements aren’t going to be innovative. The setting, will it be fantastical? Will there be the standard (or not so standard) assortment of monsters and magic? Or will the setting be a blank slate and left completely to the devices of individual game masters? Regarding characters, what will the power level of the characters be like? Will they be schmucks, competent experts in their fields, or total ass-kickers? Will the power level be variable, set at a particular level, or will a steady progression, ala D&D, be the norm?
There’s a default setting, but there’s plenty of room to customize. (I’ll confess, if I was running a Vampire game I’d totally stat up the Covenants as REIGN Companies. The Carthians have heavy Sovereignty and Influence, but the Invictus have it all over them in Treasure and Territory. You could readily do the same with Unknown Armies and put the high Treasure New Inquisition on a collision course with the high Influence Sect of the Naked Goddess.) The abilities aren’t tied to the setting, especially since the characters are (with the exception of freaky mutant enchanters) human beings. You can change a Martial Path’s name to Shinkendo and make the Esoteric Disciplines for the Athletics Skill into “Attended the Olympic Training Center” and run a game in whatever setting you like. (Hell, for a modern day game you don’t even need to change the names on those Graces abilities.) That said, the setting’s there if you want it.
The power level of the characters is left u p to individual groups. Default is 85 points, which is enough to be adequate at a lot of things, or very good indeed at one narrow area. You can start at higher levels, or gradually creep up there, as is typical for RPGs. More interesting, perhaps, are the different tones you can achieve simply by giving the players different point levels for their Company too. Usually, a beginning PC gets 85 points to build his character and one point to contribute to his Company. (Companies only have five stats, rated 1-6. One point is significant.) What’s a game like if they get 85 points for their Company leader, but 3 points for the Company? Or if they get 100 points for the character but have to build a Company from scratch?
This is an element of REIGN that sets it apart, I think: It operates on two levels. There’s the level of the individual characters who, like Frodo and Aragorn, are shaping history. But there’s also the level of nations, and while Aragorn’s a terror on the battlefield, he’s not going to personally slaughter a thousand orcs in an afternoon. If you work it right, your actions let your Company do things it never could… and any Company can do things no mere individual ever could.