Destiny: Why “Destiny”?

[Doing something right requires constant revision. So, let’s try again.]

Why “Destiny”?

Partly because the name Destiny is unique and evocative. It sticks in the memory.

It’s also a nod to a mostly-unacknowledged truth: PC’s are destined for trouble. Like Jessica Fletcher or John McClane, they can’t go to a simple office party without something terrible happening to or around them.

If there was a single vampire in all of North America, it would attack the PC’s, their family, or their friends. And do it while they were downstairs, relaxing, unaware that such an event was even possible.

PC’s are the victims of the best and worst luck imaginable. As action-movie heroes, they’ll get dragged into situations that are enormously dangerous, far more dangerous than most normal people ever experience. Then, despite being outnumbered and out-gunned, they’ll somehow survive, overcome, and emerge victorious.

This notion of dual best and worst luck appears in the rules at several points. The dice roll Hot or Cold. Destiny Deck cards can either Aid or Injure. And Character Traits are either Qualities or Trouble.

Player characters have a destiny: all the interesting stuff happens to or around them. How they deal with it, well that’s the game.

Destiny: “Touched by Destiny”?

Destiny is an action-movie roleplaying game. The mechanics are, by deliberate design, intended to reflect the events of a good action movie.

The heroes of an action movie survive through skill, courage, and plain old ordinary luck. In all cases, things break better and worse for them than most people. Just ask John McClane.

Part of the bad luck plaguing such characters is that they are thrust into situations that are enormously dangerous, far more dangerous than most normal people ever experience. Part of their good luck is that they survive, overcome, and emerge victorious, despite being outnumbered and out-gunned. Somehow, they just win.

A Destiny campaign is less like a single movie, and more like a television series. Supernatural is this author’s favorite example, but one could use The Walking Dead, Alias, The X-Files, or whatever series you love the most. Such series are different than single action movies.

Action-movie heroes get into outrageous trouble once (barring sequels). Television heroes get into enormously dangerous situations again and again. And so do Destiny PC’s.

Touched by destiny” just reflects this facet of their existence. They get into and out of trouble more often than anyone else in the world, whether they seek it out or not.

Call it random chance, luck, fortune, fate, wyrd, or, yes, destiny, it just happens. For whatever reason, the PC’s in a Destiny campaign are destined to get into (and out of) a lot of trouble. (Just as PC’s in any RPG do.)

Destiny: Action Gaming on Infinite Worlds

This is the motto on the cover of the game:

Destiny: Action Gaming on Infinite Worlds.

But what does that mean? Destiny is:

Omni-Genre. 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.

An infinite number of worlds, limited only by your imagination.

Action-Movie. 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.

Destiny is an action-movie roleplaying game.

Heroics. Evil threatens every Destiny campaign world. Player Characters are the heroes of the campaign, those destined to face these evils.

Player Characters are fated heroes touched by destiny.

The game mechanics of Destiny have been written to implement those three goals: omni-genre action-movie heroics. They are designed to be light and fast in play, to — as much as possible — be simple, direct, and obvious.

The core design philosophy of Destiny is:

“Simple rules that allow for innumerable situations, limited only by the Players’ and Gamemaster’s imaginations.”

All else is secondary to that.

Destiny: Leads and Extras

Action movies are defined by two types of characters: Leads and extras. Leads are primary characters, those with the most screen time, with more fully developed characterization. The chief Villain and his henchmen are often Leads, his minions are extras. All Player Characters are Leads.

All characters have Character Traits: evocative, free-form statements used to define mental, physical, or other idiosyncratic facets of the character. Lead characters, being typified by deeper characterization, typically have between two and five Character Traits unique to themselves. Extras usually have between one and three, which may not be unique, and groups of extras (a squad of faceless stormtroopers, for example) may share the same Character Trait(s).

Lead characters also have a chief advantage extras don’t get: Action Points. Lead characters are just lucky. For whatever reason, destiny seems to cheat on their behalf. Action Points reflect just this sort of luck.

(Extras still have a Action Rating, from which they can buy Powers or Stunts. They just don’t get Action Points of their own. “Advanced” extras can even have very high Action Ratings, and thus be quite powerful. But only Leads get Action Points.)

Destiny: Combat Interaction Skills

Action-movie combats are about much more than shoot-outs and explosions. Characters trade barbed insults, knock each other about, and try to stare down or frighten their opponents. In Destiny, these kinds of moments are enabled by the use of Combat Interaction skills.

Attribute: Skill
Dexterity: maneuver
Strength: overbear
Endurance: –
Intellect: trick
Influence: taunt
Spirit: intimidate

Though Combat Interaction skills can be used outside of combat (see the skill’s description in Chapter 3), they have special utility during combat, utility no other skills can match. In combat, players can choose to use CI skills in one of four basic ways.

1.) Distraction. Each Success Rating achieved when using a CI skill causes a -1 penalty to the target’s actions for the next round. (This is the assumed default for CI Skill Challenges.)

In connection with the Initiative rules, successful distractions can count for Seizing the Initiative, Pressing the Advantage, or Countering a Press.

2.) Temporary Traits. A character who achieves a Spectacular Success (4 SR) can instead choose to apply a temporary Trait to the target, such as “Unnerved” or “Distracted”. (See Character Traits for a description.)

3.) Provoking reactions. If a character achieves a 4 SR, they can choose to provoke a specific reaction defined by the player (instead of Distracting the target or attaching a temporary Trait). “He runs away, towards the edge of the ship’s deck.”

Gamemasters have the final say on whether the described action is reasonable or possible.

4.) Activate a Destiny Deck card. Some Cold Destiny Deck effects require CI use to activate. (See The Destiny Deck.)

Intelligent use of CI skills can change the course of a combat and, though not capable of killing an opponent outright, they can nonetheless be critically important.

Combat Skill Distractions

Combat skills can also be used to distract the enemy, using the same mechanics as Combat Interaction skills. The player rolls a Skill Challenge for the combat skill, and each Success Rating applies a -1 penalty to all actions taken by the target next round.

This can represent suppressive fire (firearms), a feint (melee weapons), or other attempt to hamper the target.

However, combat skills cannot attach a temporary Trait to a target, provoke a reaction, or activate a Destiny Deck card. Only Combat Interaction skills can accomplish those.

Why have CI skills?

1.) Cinematic moments. They encourage players to taunt their enemies, to try and trick them, to intimidate them. These are more interesting than hack and slash, and more cinematic.

Every action-movie fight is broken up with people making fun of each other, trying to scare the other guy (“Do you feel lucky? Well, punk, do ya?”), and so forth. By making them combat-viable options, such actions are encouraged.

2.) Everyone has a weakness. That villain? Temper. Taunt him, and he will freak out and attack. The Vizier? Secretly a coward. Intimidate him, and he will give himself away.

CI’s ensure everyone has a weakness. If you can suss it out.

3.) Encourage non-lethal strategies. Not all combats have to be a fight to the death. CI’s mean non-lethal strategies can work, which can be of great benefit if the goal is to capture the enemy, rather than kill. “Give yourself up, or we’re coming in!” With a high enough intimidation total, he might.

4.) Synergies with physical attacks. But, often enough, non-lethal strategies work best in concert with physical attacks. Trick the bad guy, keep him monologuing, until you’re in position to attack. Then launch a sneak attack, and wipe him out.

5.) Give non physical characters ways to contribute in combat. Super-scientist, but clueless with a gun? Use your intelligence to trick the bad guys into giving themselves away, or look the wrong way, or make some other mistake.

6.) Discourage dump-stats. Charisma (Influence, in my game) is useless, right? Doesn’t do anything for you. Dump all the points and put them into Dexterity or Strength. Only… without Influence, you are easily taunted. Oops. Now you’re the weak link.

Those are the game design reasons. But all these skills have real-world application as well. Tricks are a constant in war (such as Patton’s fake army). Intimidation is a potent tactic — take the Rebel Yell, the Stuka’s siren, or Mongol ferocity.

Combat Interaction skills encourage cinematic moments and allow players to engage in tactics other than hack and slash. Both of those make Destiny a better action-movie RPG.

Destiny: Declarations

A Declaration is a short, vivid, in-character description of a desired action. “I whip the horses to get the carriage to go faster.” “I leap from the car to the truck.” “I try and clear the jam.”

If the player describes their action in terms of a Declaration, rather than rules-speak, they gain a +1 bonus to a Skill or Combat Challenge.

Example: “I make an Attack Total to shoot with my AK.” This isn’t worth a bonus. 

“I light up the room with my AK.” This sentence, which means exactly the same thing, is in-character and worth the bonus.

This rule gets players thinking more in terms of what their actions are look or feel like in the game world, and less about the mechanics. The gamemaster can help them translate their efforts into mechanical terms (though veteran players probably won’t need much help).

Ideally, coming up with a Declaration should be quick and easy. Players should never have to slow down play to think of one.

Declarations can be as elaborate as the player wishes, but don’t have to be. So long as they are descriptive and in-character, they are worth the +1 bonus.

Declarations are the perfect place to inject a bit of character style into the game. The more life you infuse into a Declaration, the more your character’s style bleeds through, the more color you bring to the game.

Example: “I dive over the counter, my twin pistols blazing away at the enemy.”

Let your descriptions reveal what kind of person your character is. Is your character a brutal no-frills fighter, who goes in directly for the kill, or are they a flashy, high-kicking martial artist who shows off with every blow? When using a blade, are they Conan or d’Artagnan? The game mechanics of the attacks are the same, but the description is very different.

Declarations can be used with Skill Challenges as well, and with the same benefits. Again, they need not be elaborate or lengthy, but should be in-character and vivid.