The Name Game

For a short while now, I’ve been dissatisfied with the name “Destiny”. It was alright as a development code name, but as a name that encapsulated what the game was all about, it was lacking.

Then, just today, I found out there is already an RPG called “Destiny”, which turned my mild dislike into a decisive opinion: It’s time for a new name.

I’ve got one in mind that I’m mulling over until my brain spits out a definite yes or no. Until then, I’ll keep using the code name.

But “Destiny” is dead. Long live… whatever name comes next.

Initiative, Take 1.5

After discussing Initiative with Winston (in the comments on “Take II“), I’ve revised Initiative yet again. This version combines some aspects of Take II and the original, and hence is Take 1.5 (halfway between each).

Before I post that, some blathering: I based the Initiative system off the psychological realities of battle. I did research into Boyd’s OODA loop, how Initiative (in the military sense) works, and how it underlies all conflicts, even non-military ones.

Take 1.5 reflects all of that… and none of it matters. A game mechanical subsystem has to stand on its own merits. It has to be fun to play on its own, no matter what research underlies it.

This is a common failing of RPG designers, both amateur and professional. (I’m on the amateur side of that line, just to be clear.) We write “realistic” rules that are an overly-complicated mess.

I do not want to do that with Destiny. I am committed to revising and polishing the game mechanics until they’re as simple and straightforward as possible. If I cannot find a way to implement the desired Initiative, I’ll go with a more traditional approach. I hope I won’t have to, but I will.

That said, I think the system is fairly unique (a plus) and I don’t think it’s complicated. Here’s how 1.5 works.

• Sides are called factions. These can be one person, an adventuring party, an individual military unit, an army, a business, a team of lawyers, whatever. (Depending on the nature of the conflict and the scope of this individual engagement.)

• “Initiative” represents one faction having the psychological advantage in an engagement. They are the aggressors, they are driving the pace of the combat, making decisions faster than their opponents. As the combat goes on, their opponents become more and more demoralized and disorganized.

• Any number of factions can be involved in a fight. At any given moment, either none of them has the Initiative or one does. Only one faction can have the Initiative.

• Combat is divided into 10-second rounds. (In basic combat. Round length can vary based on type of conflict and scope.) All participants can act once in any given round. (A change from Take II.)

• When no one has the Initiative, everyone acts in descending order of Dexterity. (In a physical conflict. In a business or legal conflict, this may be Intellect. In a social conflict, this would be Influence.)

• When one faction has the Initiative, members of that faction can act whenever they chose. They can go before everyone, after, or can interrupt the actions of people in other factions. (They lean out of cover to shoot, or stand up to throw a grenade, you shoot them. Some games call this “overwatch”.) If two players on the same faction want to act at the same time, use Dexterity. If that’s tied, their actions are simultaneous.

• When a faction has the Initiative, they can only lose it when someone else Seizes the Initiative. (There are specific rules for this, specifically the “plan and tactics” rules from Take II.)

• When a faction has the Initiative, each successful attack causes the enemy to become more and more disorganized and demoralized. This is represented by the Advantage bonus. This bonus starts out at +0 (the first round the faction has Initiative) and increases by +1 ever time a member of the faction successfully attacks the enemy (using a Combat Challenge or a Combat Interaction Skill.)

• Each round that passes without successfully pressing, the Advantage decreases. The enemy can regroup, reorganize, recover.

• When the Advantage exceeds the enemy’s Morale score, they break. (Morale only applies to extras. Leads, including all PC’s, are immune.)

The key to winning battles is to Seize the Initiative and Press the Attack. Go on the offensive, hurt the enemy, keep them disorganized, and continue hurting them until they are killed, surrender, or flee. “Keep up the scare.” These rules reflect that.

Initiative: Why Do It This Way?

Alright, given the previous re-implementation of the Initiative system, the most obvious question is this: why do it this way?

Let’s take it back to the reasoning behind Destiny’s idiosyncratic approach to Initiative: “Initiative” is a real aspect of real-world combat, one of the most fundamental concepts generals and officers need to grasp (intuitively if not consciously).

In order to fight and win, you need to aggressively attack the enemy, keep them off balance, and keep up the attack until they are defeated. You cannot give the enemy time or space to reorganize or catch their breath. To do so is to court defeat.

To defeat the enemy, you need to go on the offensive. When you do so, you have Seized the Initiative.

Reaction time is key:

Col. John Boyd studied air battles, dogfights, and warfare of every kind. […] He conceived a theory, and put the theory to the test. It was a theory about how to fight a battle.

Fighter pilots, the best fighter pilots in the world, came to fight Boyd in an airfield in Nevada. He handed them their asses. Every. Single. Time. They had better eyesight, quicker reflexes, a better intuitive grasp of how to fly: he still shot them down. His critical breakthrough was this:

The battle didn’t go to the person who made the best decision, or who acted with technical perfection. The winner – every. single. time. – was the person who acted the fastest. Period. Quicker decisions beat better (but delayed) decisions.

Or, as Gen. Patton put it: “A good plan, executed violently now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”

– Bill Whittle

Speed is of the essence, hence why having the Initiative is reflected in the speed of your actions: you act twice for every time the enemy acts once. And, when you act, you can interrupt them. They are responding to you.

They run to cover, you see them and shoot while they’re in the open. They charge, you see it coming and hit their flank. They retreat, you harry them as they flee the battle.

With the Initiative, you are in charge of the pace of the battle. You determine what is happening. You act first and twice, they act last and once.

This makes having the Initiative a key benefit in combat. By itself, it gives you enough of an advantage to tip the scales in an otherwise even battle, and makes a victory over superior forces possible.

This drives PC’s and NPC’s to aggressively attack, to Seize the Initiative. It drives those involved to go on the offensive, which is what happens in a real battle. It adds urgency to combat.

“A good plan, executed violently now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”

These rules highlight the importance of making and carrying out plans, thus placing focus on teamwork. More about plans in the next post.

Initiative, Take II

After the first playtest I decided to revise the Initiative rules. This took much longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished the revision last night, so here it is.

Short description: Sides in a combat are called factions. Only one faction has Initiative any given round, and they keep it until another faction manages to Seize the Initiative. The faction with Initiative gets to act first every round and twice every round. Everyone else acts once and last.


  • Combat is divided into rounds and phases. Each round lasts 10 seconds and is broken into 2 phases.
  • Each side in a conflict (characters + allies) is a faction. There can be any number of factions. (By default there are two: Heroes and Villains.)
  • At any given moment in time, either one faction has the Initiative or none of them do.
  • That one faction keeps the Initiative until another Seizes it (rules below).
  • If no one has Initiative, everyone goes in order of descending Dexterity.
  • If one faction has the Initiative, that faction acts first, in Phase 1 (in order of descending Dexterity).
  • In Phase 2, all other factions act simultaneously, in order of descending Dexterity.
  • In Phase 2, the faction with Initiative acts again, whenever they please: beforeafter, or during the actions of other characters. (This functions as an interrupt: when a player or GM declares an action, a character with Initiative can watch them begin, and interrupt the action before they have a chance to complete it.)

Seizing the Initiative

When one side has Initiative, the other can attempt to Seize it. This requires taking aggressive action and achieving tactical surprise, thus disrupting the enemy. To Seize, you must:

  1. Make a plan.
  2. Carry out the plan.
  3. Succeed at an opposed tactics (Intellect) check. (This assumes a typical RPG combat, a party of heroes against multiple villains. Other skills are used in other circumstances. In a duel, you use the weapons skill.)

Most combats involve factions, rather than individuals. Each character involved in a plan is assigned an action: taunting a guard, throwing a grenade, shooting a watchdog.

(Plans must involve more than half of the active members of that faction. “Active” meaning awake and able to participate. In larger scale combat, this is changed to units rather than individuals, but the principle is the same.)

The Seizing rules are a special case of Coordination During Combat. Each character involved attempts their action. Every character who succeeds grants a +1 to the tactics (Intellect) check, in addition to the effects of their action. The more characters who succeed at their action, the more likely the plan as a whole is to succeed.

However, if all the characters fail at their part of the plan, the plan fails (no tactics roll needed). This implies that factions should be intent on disrupting plans, doing anything they can to make sure each individual part fails.

Any level of Success at the tactics roll means you have Seized the Initiative. The next round, your faction acts first and twice.

Failing the tactics roll means you have failed to Seize (no matter how well individual aspects went). In this case, the plan succeeded, but you failed to achieve tactical surprise.


The above rules are simpler than the original rules. They implement important aspects of Initiative, in particular the speed of reaction (as described under the OODA). They encourage teamwork and cooperation. They emulate real world combat and cinematic combat.

Having the Initiative gives you control over the battlefield. You can act with relative impunity. Being on the downside of that… isn’t fun. This should motivate people to Seize and maintain the Initiative. (Which is how real-world battles and wars are fought and won.)

The Movement and Action rules are designed to fit into this framework. Once finished, I’ll be posting them.

During the next playtest session, I’ll be putting these rules through the wringer. Comments are, as always welcome.

(Note: I’m still open to participation in the ongoing, if sporadic playtest. Anyone interested can email me.)

Destiny: What is This Game?

Action movies are pure fun. Fast-paced, high octane vehicles for excitement and enjoyment, they feature good guys who are good and bad guys who are bad.

Destiny exists to bring action movie excitement to the gaming table.

Destiny is: Bad Boys, The Expendables, and Die Hard. (And, in other worlds, The Avengers, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, and 28 Days Later.) It’s Jet Li, Sylvester Stallone, and Will Smith. Chases, interrogations, and gunfights. Heroes, villains, and innocent bystanders.

Destiny exists to put you in the middle of all that, to allow you to play characters who are heroes, who fight against villains (and their armies of henchmen) and come out victorious.

So how do we do that?

Invisible Rules: The rules of the game are written to be as clear as possible, as simple as possible, and as invisible as possible. The shining ideal is for the rules to get out of the way, so you can focus on what is happening in the game. Things move quickly, when the rules get out of the way.

Tangible Worlds: We want to make your world seem real. When you play, no matter how fantastic the setting, that fictional world should be as palpable and concrete as possible. The game mechanics have been written so you know what each means, in real world terms.

Is your character an amateur, a skilled professional, or the best in the world? Skill Ratings tell you which. When you succeed, is it barely, by the skin of your teeth, or is it a glorious success? The game mechanics make this clear. Wherever your character goes, whatever he does, whatever he learns, you can relate it back to something you know.

Play Your Game: Destiny is written to let you play the way you want to play. Your game, your rules, your fun.

Via Character Traits, you have an infinite canvas available, allowing you to make exactly the character you wish. Via Campaign Traits, gamemasters can run exactly the game they wish, tuning game mechanics to match the game they want to run. (And Chapter 10, “Building Better Worlds”, gives you solid advice on how to make the exact campaign world you desire.)

Above all else, remember this one rule: Destiny is supposed to be fun. Action movies are fun, and Destiny is meant to reflect fast-paced, high-adrenaline, action-movie fun. This is Rule 0, the first and most important rule of the game.

So read the rules, make some characters, bounce some dice, and have fun. That’s what Destiny is.

[The first page of the still-in-progress Destiny rules set.]

Creating Characters

Here are the draft character creation rules for Destiny. I’ll start with the basic checklist, and explain as we go.

To create a character:

  1. Choose a Defining Trait. (A short phrase that encapsulates your character concept. “Rookie cop.” “Zombie Wrangler.” “Masked Avenger.” Everything else is built around this concept.)
  2. Assign Attributes as desired: 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 5.
  3. Assign skills:
    1. 1 Primary skill at +8.
    2. 2 Secondary skills at +6.
    3. 3 Tertiary skills at +4.
    4. A number of miscellaneous skill plusses equal to your Intellect, no more than +2 per skill. (So an Intellect of 8 could give you four miscellaneous skills at +2, eight at +1 or any mix of those two.)
  4. Choose up to 3 Distinction Traits and 3 Difficulties. (These are short phrases describing the character. “Keeps His Cool.” “Trained by a Master.” Distinctions are generally helpful, Difficulties generally cause trouble.)
  5. Buy Stunts and Powers (reducing Action Rating). [These rules are unwritten. They will probably make their first appearance in draft 0.4a.]
  6. Equipment.


After each session your character is given a number of Advancement Points, by default between 5-10. (Though this varies, according to campaign considerations.) It costs (# new plusses) to raise a skill by 1 plus.

Example: Increasing a skill from +2 to +3 costs 3 AP. Increasing a skill from +8 to +9 costs 9 AP.

You can only increase a skill by one plus after a session. Advancement Points can be banked for later (if a skill plus costs more than 10 points).

(Advancement costs for Attributes is undefined, right now.)

[Note: Using these rules, it costs 399 points to raise a skill from +8 to +29. That’s a minimum of 40 sessions. This may seem extreme, but a character with a skill of 31 will always succeed at CR 21 (Grueling) challenges and is considered one of the best in all of history, another Einstein, Da Vinci, or Napoleon.]

Complex Creation

The creation checklist above is designed to be fast and easy to remember. People who want some more customization can use the following steps in place of the above:

2. Instead of using the Attribute array, assign 50 points to the six Attributes, as desired.

3. Assign 32 + (Intellect) points in skills, with the following limitations:

  1. No more than 1 skill at +8.
  2. No more than 2 skills at +6.
  3. No more than 3 skills at +4.
  4. All other skills at no more than +2.

These two changes give you more control over your character, but take a little longer.

Altering the Default

The above character creation rules are the default, most campaigns will start with them (or something much like them). Some campaigns will have more skills/attributes (or less).

• A supers campaign, for example, could have an Attribute array of: 50, 45, 40, 35, 30, 25 and skills of 20, 15, 15, 10, 10, 10, and (x4 Intellect, max +8).
• A pulp heroes game might have 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7 and skills of 14, 10, 10, 6, 6, 6, and (x2 Intellect, max +4).
• A child heroes game (Adventures in Neverland) might have 9, 8, 8, 7, 6, 5 and skills of 6, 4, 4, 2, 2, 2, and (1/2 Intellect, max +1).

Both the speed of advancement and the initial starting values can very, based on GM/designer choices. Currently, the values are fairly plausible (assuming professional adults as default characters).

Skills and Difficulty: Internal Logic

Skill Challenges have been built with an eye towards the game mechanics and internally consistent logic. Challenge Ratings are normed against Skill Ratings, so that a specific Challenge Rating is a commensurate challenge for a specific Skill Rating. Also, Skill Ratings are built from both pluses (measured by how much training one has) and the Base Skill (determined by their Attribute.)

Here’s why things fit together the way they do:

The Base Rating for an Average attribute is 2. With Minimal training (or experience), +1, Average people have a Skill Rating of 3, Novices. An Average person with Minimal training is a Novice.

This is a common-sense, easily understood measurement. People with minimal training/experience are Novices. (Even the very talented but minimally trained are Novices: Base Rating 3 +1 = Skill Rating 4. Everyone, even those with potential, have to start somewhere.)

Average people (Base 2) with a Beginner’s training (+4) are Skilled (Skill Rating 6).

Average people (Base 2) with demonstrated Proficiency (+9) are Professionals (Skill Rating 11).

Average people (Base 2) with Expert training (+14) are Accomplished (Skill Rating 16).

Average people (Base 2) with a Mastery of the subject (+19) are World Class (Skill Rating 21).

Again, all of these are pretty straightforward and make sense. You can easily understand why a Master of a subject is World Class.

The rest of the Skill Ratings follow similar internal logic, as do the Challenge Ratings. Challenge Ratings are defined by how challenging they are, in relation to specific Skill Ratings. Difficult Challenges are apt for Professionals, for example. But the dice mechanics also come into play, specifically with how low you can roll.

Automatic Success

A Professional (Skill 10) always succeeds at Routine (CR 0) Challenges, because the lowest you can roll is -9.

Accomplished characters have skills of 16+, and always succeed at Easy (CR 5) tasks.

World Class characters have skills of 21+, and always succeed at Difficult tasks (CR 10).

A Grand Master has a Skill Rating of 26+, and they always succeed at Formidable Challenges (CR 15).

Legendary characters (Robin Hood, at archery) have skills of 31+, and they always succeed at Grueling tasks (CR 21).

In-world, “always succeeds” means the task is effortless. The character is so used to doing this, that they don’t even have to think about it or exert any effort. The player can roll, to get a higher Success Rating, but they don’t have to. Even in difficult circumstances, they will succeed.

It takes a long time to climb the skill curve (by deliberate design choice). But once you do, there are great benefits. Automatically succeeding at low-CR Challenges is one of them.