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NichG's picture
Joined: 2006-07-08

A little more than half a year ago, I realized I didn't really like DMing 3.5ed D&D. It wasn't quite doing what I wanted as far as Planescape, or gaming in general. I've tried my hand at 2ed D&D in other contexts, but getting players for that is difficult due to the general feeling of obsolecence (at least, where I am). And from what I had heard (and have now confirmed), 4ed D&D really isn't for me, and goes the wrong direction for what I want to do with Planescape.

That said, I played in a few campaigns using AEG's roll and keep systems (7th Sea and L5R) and I liked the way that flowed. So, I went and made a conversion for Planescape, and I've been running that for the last five or six months. I've run a total of 20 games now, and it seems to play decently well, so I figured I'd post about it. This is going to be a rough overview, but if people are interested, I'll post a more detailed description.

What I wanted to achieve was the following:

* Upper-rank fiends/celestials/dragons/what have you are always more powerful than any individual player character, by a wide margin. A one-on-one fight against such a being with the PC using no tricks should end in a loss for the PC. Even a decent sized party should not be able to just brute force their way through such beings - so a group trying to defeat a Balor in some context is going to have to be clever and plan to trick it, quest for the means to defeat it, reason with it, etc if they have any hope of emerging alive.

* Magical items should not be as common as in 3.5ed D&D, or even 2ed. Rather, there's a separation between 'common magic' and 'dweomercraft'. Common magic is things like household charms, or the one-use stuff you can find/buy in Planescape: Torment early on. An example of common magic would be the Hand of the Dead charm, which is a skeletal hand upon a chain of beads that you hang on the hilt of a nonmagical weapon. When you strike at an incorporeal being with that weapon, one of the beads shatters, and you can make contact with the weapon. An example of dweomercraft would be the Resounding Horn of Eogthath, which, when winded, begins to destabilize nearby structures, eventually leading to collapse/cave-ins/etc. Dweomercraft items are _always_ unique, and the creation of one requires significant sacrifice from whatever mage produced it (ten years of research and labor, permanent and irreversible loss of a point of a trait, etc).

* The power curve should encourage breadth rather than depth. There should be a strong diminishing return in any one direction after a point. A master swordsman will still easily defeat a peasant or beginning character, but a master swordsman who has spent 200xp on swordfighting will not be twice as good at it as one who has spent 100xp on it.

* Different forms of magic should feel different. My basic principle was that there are those who ARE magic, those who borrow the magic of other beings, and those who create magical effects by understanding the rules of the multiverse.

The first are the planar races and exemplars - a fire genasi has a bit of magic in them, and can tap it. Similarly, an archon's abilities are just their innate magical nature. Such innate magic is very free-form and adaptable. The second are clerics, paladins, druids, etc. They borrow magic from their deity, channelling its power using their belief. The third are arcane casters, combining words, gestures, symbols, diagrams, etc, to bring about effects.

I expanded the abilities of planar races, so that an X genasi has very broad control over X and can spend xp to become more potent. So a starting Air Genasi can create little breezes, and an Air Genasi who puts a lot of xp into their air abilities can fly, create tornados, send messages on the wind, calm a storm, etc. An earth genasi could wave their hand and form a bridge, tunnel through earth, or cause all the dirt in a house to gather in a single corner...

Arcane casters on the other hand are very specific. If they have a spell, it does a very particular thing, and isn't very adaptable in the same way that a genasi's control is. For instance, instead of Polymorph there'd be a series of spells such as Become Cat, Become Hawk, ... As far as damage goes, I've tried to make it so that a wizard with a certain level of skill and trait will do about as much with a single target spell as a swordsman with a certain level of skill and trait. Also, all spells are more or less 'at will', though they may require a longer time than one action to cast. Teleportation takes 30 minutes, summoning a creature takes multiple actions and you need to strike a deal with the creature or cast a spell to control it, etc. Spells tend to not have durations, but instead require concentration to maintain, so spamming buffs doesn't really happen (the wizard would be unable to do much else than maintain one buff on one person).

Divine casters are very different. Based on their deity, they get special abilities associated with the deity's domain. Clerics can spend 'Belief dice' (more on those later) to perform healing, cure diseases, etc.

They can channel their deity's power to smite the particular anathema associated with their deity's domain (this replaces alignment for smiting, though obviously a cleric with the Good domain would consider Evil creatures anathema, but you could also have a cleric with the Knowledge domain consider those who burn books anathema and be able to smite them). Channeling can also have various other at-will effects depending on domain (a cleric of a sun god could produce light at will, with the light getting stronger the more xp they put into the ability).

They can also perform rituals such as wardings, blessings, animating undead, etc - these are time and resource consuming but have great effect. Raising the dead is _very_ hard but still possible, requiring some degree of questing at the minimum.

As for psionics, I haven't been able to find a way to do them that quite makes me happy yet, but I intend for them to have a different feel than the other three types of magic that should capture some of the Dark Sun psychic combat imagery.

* Skill is not correlated to combat experience. The most skilled Guvner/blacksmith/etc should still be able to be totally incompetent in combat. This is a problem with 3.5ed skills, which is rectified by the 7th Sea/etc systems without me having to do very much.

Anyhow, now for the system...

The basic die roll in roll&keep is that you roll a number of d10s and then from the numbers you get, you select a subset of them to keep, and sum them up to get the result of your roll. So if you're rolling 8k4, you roll eight dice and add up the four dice of your choice. Dice can explode on a 10 (roll again and add), so a single die can be counted as, say, a 25, if the player is very lucky.

Each character has five traits (Brawn, Finesse, Wits, Resolve, Presence). These start at 1, though every race will give a modifier to at least one of those traits. The maximum for player characters should be around 5, though you might allow a six in a trait that has a racial boost. The various fiends/huge animals/etc could go as high as ten or so. On any given roll, a character keeps a number of dice equal to the trait applicable to the task (damage rolls are an exception to this, where the number of dice kept is based on the weapon or spell that did damage).

Characters also have skills, which add unkept dice to a roll. So with a Skill of 2 and a Trait of 3, the player rolls 5k3. If a player is rolling more than 10 dice, they slop over by converting two unkept dice to one kept, and converting one kept die into a flat +5. So 12k8 becomes 10k9, and 12k10 becomes 10k10+5.

The trick is that traits are a lot more expensive than skills to boost. The cost of a skill is 2x the new level, whereas a trait costs 2x the new level squared. So taking a trait to 3 from 2 costs 18xp.

Characters can also have advantages, which have a flat xp cost at character creation and give them special abilities (for instance, the Planar Adaptation advantage lets a character be particularly adapted to a single plane, so that they know how to survive there despite native hostile effects. Someone with Planar Adaptation (Grey Waste) would be able to shrug off the grey enough to avoid becoming a petitioner).

Characters can also start with faction affiliations, or training in combat styles, divine magic, arcane magic, etc. A character's race also has an associated cost, which balances out whatever special abilities it grants. So a Fire Genasi costs 38xp to play, but gets the ability to control fire, fire resistance, etc.

Combat goes by rounds that are broken up into 10 phases. Each character has a number of actions each round equal to the average of their traits, rounded to the nearest integer. Each action occurs on a random phase (the player rolls a non-exploding d10 to determine which) but actions can be held and used at later phases, etc. Injuries take the form of temporary wounds which the player must roll a check against (a raw Brawn roll) or the wounds become more serious. After a certain number of serious wounds have been taken, the character is knocked out. The details of this are pretty much identical to the way 7th Sea works.

Each character gets a number of Belief dice (equivalent to 7th Sea's Drama dice) every game equal to their lowest trait. These can be added to any roll after the roll is made but before the consequence of the roll has been told to the player. In these cases, the GM should tell the player what the difficulty of the roll is (either the exact target number, or a feeling like 'you feel like you've almost made it'/'you feel like you have no chance'/etc.) These Belief fice also power faction abilities. One difference from 7th Sea is that you cannot expend a Belief die to immediately heal wounds (this power has been moved to Divine magic, which also works off of Belief dice).

Some examples of faction abilities:

A Signer can spend a Belief die to make a Meditation+Presence check to imagine something into existance. Doing it this way is always more difficult than, for instance, an arcane caster casting the corresponding spell, but certain effects can only be had this way. A Singer who gets a 50 could make it so a particular town always had a different name, and no one remembers differently. Or a 35 could cause someone to have been standing somewhere else the entire time. The multiverse shapes itself around events so that whatever happens feels natural.

An Anarchist can spend a Belief Die to fake the power of another faction (only to the extent of fooling people, not to achieve the real effect).

A Cipher can spend a Belief Die to have their body act independently from their mind. So if they're dominated or charmed, they can pretty much shrug it off.

Anyhow, thats all for now. If people are interested, I'll put the whole thing up as a PDF.

Mask's picture
Joined: 2007-04-22

Sounds interesting - so if it's not too much work for you I'd ask you to upload it. Smiling

NichG's picture
Joined: 2006-07-08

Okay, here they are. I've split them into a Player's Guide and a DM's Guide, to keep surprises hidden and all that.

The Player's Guide is at: http://netfiles.uiuc.edu/ngutten2/www/7thscape_playersguide.pdf

The DM's Guide is at: http://netfiles.uiuc.edu/ngutten2/www/7thscape_dmguide.pdf

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