Destiny is Not a Story Game

Destiny is, at its core, a very traditional RPG. It eschews the storygame “shared narrative” or “shared storytelling” approach in favor of a traditional GM/player split.

Play involves the GM, who prepares the world, and players, who interact with it in ways they choose, the outcomes of which are determined by rolling dice (“bouncing dice” in the parlance of friend of mine). There’s some interesting “fudging the roll” mechanics players have access to, to boost the dice in specific situations, but all in all it follows the gameplay model first established by D&D, and implemented by hundreds of RPG’s since then.

This is a deliberate choice, not an instance of blindly following the received wisdom. Having read several story-games, and seen how they run in play, I prefer the traditional model.

For me, the fun of RPG’s lies in creating a character, and immersing yourself in that role. It makes the game world seem more real. That’s why, when writing up my settings, I ty and work out the fine details of the game’s fictional world, so there’s plenty of details that make the world come alive.

I also try and give descriptions of what living in this world is like: what is it like to touch a sleeping dragon? To call upon the power of a living god? To smell the stench of a marching horde of goblins? As a player, I want the world to come alive, and as a GM and designer I want to help players reach that state of immersion.

(Or, at least, not actively hinder immersion. Not all players like that sort of thing. Which is fine. There’s coolness in making your character more powerful, or mastering mechanics, or any one of the dozen other reasons people play RPG’s.)

When a player assumes an “authorial stance”, they are by deliberate design choosing to step out of their role. This breaks immersion of character, and ruins the vividness of the fictional world. For me, this wrecks the entire point of playing the game in the first place.

Which isn’t to say that I’m trumpeting a “One True Way” of playing make-believe. People who enjoy story games, are welcome to do so.

Your game, your rules, your fun.

I’m just not one of them, and the design of Destiny follows from that.

Destiny

Destiny is my own little RPG, still very much in development. In concept, Destiny is:

  • Genre-Neutral. Not universal or generic, but flexible enough to handle magic, guns, car chases, psionics, cyberware, and much more. Destiny campaigns can be set in fantasy worlds, cyberpunk worlds, the real world, and any other place the GM can devise.
  • Cinematic. As a marketing catchphrase, this has lost all meaning. In the context of Destiny, it means that Player Characters are action-movie heroes, capable of doing great deeds. Not Superman, but John McClane.
  • Action. Destiny is an action-movie system. The mechanics allow characters to emulate the daring feats of an Indiana Jones, Ethan Hunt, or Evelyn Salt. They encourage and reward players who do more than just shoot or punch; witty banter and rapier-fast retorts are often more useful than bullets or blades.

Genre-Neutral Cinematic Action. That is Destiny.

Dead Man’s Land

Six months after the zombies first rose, and humanity still survives. In the far north, in high mountaintops, inside walled Sanctuaries humanity holds on.

Zombies throng the fallen cities of mankind, driven to gather by causes unknown. They crowd the streets and fill the buildings, wandering aimlessly… until a victim crosses their path.

Between the abandoned cities teeming with hunting corpses and the remote Sanctuaries of the uninfected lies a vast wilderness, the land of the carriers. Those sick with the rotting disease, but who have not yet succumbed to their inexorable death, are half-zombie, yet wholly sane.

Without fear of zombie bites or the zombie plague, they wander the wastes, performing tasks no one else can do: scavenging supplies, carrying mail, staging raids into the zombie hives, or rescuing stranded humans, then bringing them to Sanctuary.

Solely the province of carriers — those doomed to death via slow zombification — the wastes between the cities and the Sanctuaries are known as…

Dead Man’s Land.

One Perfect Thing

A note about process, before I dive into the meat. Whenever I’m building a setting, I find myself floundering about until I can identify or create one perfect thing, that one thing which is exactly what it should be. This one perfect thing serves as the kernel of the setting, a solid core around which everything else can be built.

In the case of my revised Tharkold, it was the technomagical virtual-reality Grid. In my Tharkold, the Grid is exactly what it needs to be. Its origin, as a work of technomagic, perfectly matches its nature, in an easily explicable way. More, its nature delineates what all technomagic is or can be. In turn, technomagic underlies the history of the cosm, its mythos, and the nature of technodemons and technohorrors. By getting the Grid right, it ensures that the cosm I build around it is coherent and comprehensible.

By identifying and developing (and, in most cases, overdeveloping) that one perfect thing, it allows me to build the rest of the setting with confidence, confidence that everything fits together, that everything belongs, that everything makes sense.

So, what is the one perfect thing for Storm Knights? Possibility Energy.

Possibilities sit at the core of the game. They are what High Lords are here to steal. Reality storms liberate them, Storm Knights are empowered by them, and Eternity Shards thrum with their power. Possibility Energy underlies the Everlaws, Reality, and the game’s cosmology.

Get Possibilities right, and the rest of the setting follows.

This is Torg

This is Torg:

A dozen separate universes, each called a cosm, each different from all the others in fundamental ways. One is a cosm of High Fantasy, where magic is real — including dragons, magicians, and enchanted blades — and the Honorable fight the Corrupt. One is a Technohorror cosm, where cruel technodemons rule an enslaved humanity. One is a Pulp Supers cosm, where costumed heroes fight costumed villains, gangsters drive Duesenbergs and carry tommy guns, and an insane master villain plots to conquer yet another world. There are many more cosms, one of which — called Core Earth — is just like our world.

Each cosm has different axioms: Magic, Social, Spirit, and Tech. Each also has different World Laws, which describe ways in which each is unique, mechanically and mentally. Together, these comprise the cosm’s reality.

These cosms have each invaded the real world, conquering parts of it and enforcing their reality over our own. The rulers of these invading cosms are High Lords, powerful and immortal beings here to drain Earth’s Possibility Energy, the energy of existence. Without our Possibilities, our world, our cosm, will die.

Players are heroic Storm Knights, rare individuals who can cross the roiling reality storms at the edge of the invader’s realms. They come from all the cosms, and are as different from each other as their cosms are. Yet they are all united by one goal: to defeat the High Lords and free Core Earth.

In Torg, a noble knight, wielding the power of his gods, and a cyber-enhanced sneak thief can team up with Captain Heroic to fight bloodthirsty dinosaur-men in a primitive jungle. They can fight dragons in the magical reality of Aysle, scavenge for lost technomagical relics in one of Tharkold’s devastated and decayed cities, stop the insane Doctor Dimension from vaporizing Cairo with his dastardly Omni-destructor.

They can be from a dozen different realities, and can adventure in each of those realities. They can chase a villain across the globe, crossing from fantasy to cyberpunk to technohorror, all in the same game session.

This is Torg: trans-genre roleplaying across many different realities, fighting to save the world.

Storm Knights

There’s a huge backlog of Storm Knights material I want to post. Before I do so, a fundamental question needs be answered: What is it?

Storm Knights is my revision of Torg. My revision of Torg‘s cosms, my revision of Torg‘s mechanics, my revision of Torg‘s metaphysics. Like the J.J. Abrams Star Trek, like the Ronald D. Moore Battlestar Galactica, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe: it uses familiar elements in different ways to create something like the original, but new.

So, what is Storm Knights?

Storm Knights is Torg, remastered.

Points of Divergence

I’m writing Altered States as an alternate history, which hews fairly close to real world institutions and people (as it is a technothriller setting, and verisimilitude is critical). Alternate histories ask the question “Given event Y, what might happen?” (The unstated parenthetical being “…that makes a good story.”) For example, “What if John F. Kennedy was never assassinated?” The critical event is called the point of divergence.

In the case of Altered States, there are two: VITAS and the Awakening of Magic. The campaign background is built around deciding how the real world might react to those two events. (The unstated parenthetical being “…in such a way that it creates an interesting campaign setting.”)

The first point of divergence occurs in July 2010, when VITAS begins spreading. Up until that event, the campaign world and the real world are nearly identical.

(I say “nearly” because I use fictional characters and organizations in building the background. Other than those, the background material uses real world elements and facts as much as possible.)

The second point of divergence is the Awakening of Magic, which begins in 2011 and culminates in the events of Dec. 24, 2011 (the first public appearance of dragons, and the escape of Howling Coyote from Leavenworth). The Awakening underlies much of the drastic changes in the world, including the NAN rebellion and the emergence of Feral Europe.

Taken together, these two points of divergence underlie the world of 2032. How each of them affects the world is the subject of most of the campaign documents of Altered States.