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Author Topic: Ruins & Realms Tactical RPG  (Read 498 times)


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Ruins & Realms Tactical RPG
« on: September 26, 2019, 01:07:08 AM »
So, since I got several requests to do a post about the game system I've been developing, I figured I should probably do that and this would be the appropriate board on these forums to do so.

Development of Ruins & Realms got it's start in late 2014 when it became clear that the promised "modules" to allow it be played in a style more reminiscent of 4E (i.e. the pledge of D&D for everyone) was nothing but vaporware. While it might not be huge, that meant there was a market for an encounter/tactically focused RPG that was not underserved by currently supported systems.

At the same time, I had absolutely no interest in just making a retro-clone of 4E. Instead I chose to to focus on creating a spiritual successor to 4E by applying the same development process to 4E that the 4E development team employed when looking at 3E. "Question Everything. Be Willing to Kill Sacred Cows." Take a good hard look at your mechanics and if they're not the best way to accomplish your goal, then change it.

A lot of things changed. Some surprising things didn't. The overall direction trended away from narrative elements (ex. real time durations instead of "end of encounter", no meta-currency, etc.) and towards a more simulationist sandbox-friendly system. The leveling math became linear rather than quadratic ("hit points" and damage scaled with level, attack and defense values increased only slightly over the system's 15 level range) both to allow opponents to remain threats longer and to allow mass combat without needing to employ any conversions from a PC or opponents' normal statistics. Complexity was generally paired down and one of my goals is that, unlike 4E, all the player options for the system would be in Player's Guide rather than any held back for later products to minimize the cost of entry for the system. Likewise, the GM's Guide includes all the rules they'd need, including how to build your own opponents, traps, afflictions, etc. (follow up adventure site books will include new opponents, traps, etc. but they'll be built using those rules... you'd paying for the convenience of not having to build them yourself rather than because you need them to run the game).

Along the way the system picked up sufficient differences that the OGL became redundant (it provided me no benefit while actually preventing useful forms of marketing)... its about as close to the d20 System as Palladium Fantasy is to O/AD&D. I'd already had to completely dump hit points for Edge and familiar class names due to all the inherent baggage of them, so it was a relatively short hop to finish the break. An added benefit was that it forced me to NOT rely on the bog-standard D&D monsters, but to go back to basics and pull directly from the mythologies for inspiration.

In terms of character building itself, you choose a species (determines your attributes and basic traits), a class (determines your combat abilities) and a background (determines your non-combat abilities, including skills). Everything is selected by default (attributes use arrays), though optional rules exist if you want to roll for attributes, your species, background and/or class group.

Also by default PCs qualify as one-in-a-million 'big damn heroes' from the start (a conscript has about 5 Edge, a city guard about 10, a starting PC has 25-30, though a max level PC has only 95-114 so there's not nearly the inflation you see in a lot of systems), which is why a starting human PC can be balanced with a starting dragon PC (both are about about 1-in-1,000,000 compared to the overall population). There are optional rules for playing negative level PCs all the way down to conscript level skill if you want to do a "zero-to-hero" style campaign though.

Each species is a broad category with several options for it. This is because one of my initial goals was to include the ability to create every playable race from 4E and then some coupled with my aforementioned pledge that players will only ever need the Player's Guide to build a character. The broad list is as follows;

Beastmen covers an array of species (including centaurs, crocodin, kobolds, minotaurs and wolfen among many others) created as slaves by the First Empire. Through revolution and an alliance with the Astral Gods they won their freedom and have maintained their fierce independence ever since. Examples: centaur, crocodin, dracos, goblins, kobolds, minotaurs, myrmidons, wolfen.

Dwarves are descended from Men warped into a slave race ideal for the hellish mines of the Demon Empire. The process was effective, but unstable as limbs and organs withered at different rates. The dwarves invented arcane powered prosthesis to counteract this flaw and used their wonders to build and maintain their realms in The Deep.

Eldritch are primal spirits who were too cowardly to take a side in the war between the victorious primal spirits and their fallen brethren who became the demons. For their cowardice, they were exiled to the Mortal World until they can prove worthy of being a protector of Creation. Locked into forms ranging from humans with elemental features, to talking beasts, sprites and even giants and dragons, they have lived at the fringes of the world since the dawn of history. Over the ages many Eldritch gave up all hope of returning to the Primal Realms and seek their own ends in the Mortal World, yet some of the greatest heroes of any age are those Eldritch who still take up the cause of redemption. Examples: brownies, dragons, dryads and drus, giants, sylphs, undine, unicorns, werebeasts, wycks.

Elves entered the Mortal World during the Cataclysm that shattered the barriers between realms. They hail from the Astral Realms where they were the embodiments of Men's dreams of themselves. More comely and possessed of astral abilities, many elves believe they are Men perfected, but they are just as flawed as the dreams they once embodied. Most live in a rigid caste-based society echoing their existence in the Astral Realms. Those who reject their place are labeled Dark Elves; casteless outcasts worthy only of scorn by the elves.

Fetches are the shadowy spirit servants of the goddess of death and transition. They travel the world in wandering clans using their shadow-touched abilities to give comfort to the sick and dying and to destroy the undead.

Gnomes hail from the same Dream realm as the Elven peoples, but while elves were the embodiments of the dreams of Men, gnomes embody the dreams of children. They resemble Elven children, but like Peter Pan and his Lost Boys, they never grow up and most live ageless carefree lives in the wilds of both Arcadia and the Mortal World. Those who do take up the life of an adventurer do so for the sheer joy of seeing new things and accomplishing the impossible.

Golems are 'living' relics from the Second Empire of Man. Opting not to create sapient slaves who could rebel, the Second Empire instead created artificial beings of metal and other materials programmed to serve them. The Second Empire was wiped away with the Cataclysm and with it, the ability to reset the golems' programming that kept them from evolving sapience. Now free of those limits, free-willed golems now seek to find their own place in the world in addition to fulfilling the purposes for which they were created.

Humans are the natural native inhabitants of the Mortal World and their history is one of successive rises and falls of mighty empires each seeming to reach higher only to fall further than the one that preceded it. Over time they have bred with their cousins, shadows, reflections, and even the more humanoid Eldritch to create bloodlines with dwarven, eldritch, elven, fetch and mutant traits.

Malfeans are the cursed descendants of demons and mortal women. The first were born in the Demon Empire and used by their demonic parents as overseers of their slave legions. Even millennia after the empire's fall, their descendants still bear the demonic taint as strongly as the first of their line and suffer the ancient blood debts many still feel they owe. At best they are regarded with distrust. More often, they are feared, hated, enslaved or even hunted to pay for the sins of their ancestors and so regard survival as their primary virtue. Like their demonic ancestors their bloodlines are but the echoes of the primal spirits' elemental power; brine, dust, ember, husk, miasma, rust, slush or vermin.

Mutants are the result of the terrible energies unleashed by the Cataclysm. Both man and beast were twisted into fearsome creatures whose mutations persisted from generation to generation. Those who kept their reason and intellect live on the fringes of society and are often pitied for their deformities or feared for the instability of their forms and, sometimes, their mind. Examples: Cyclops, Ettins, Orcs, Ogres, Spikers, Troglodytes, Trolls.

The classes fall into two broad groups; Fighters (who use weapons) and Spellcasters (who use implements). The classes are further defined by general options for the entire class group that determine the two most important attributes for the character. Classes are further differentiated by talents (something between a 4E power and a feat) available to their entire class group.

The Fighter Class Group includes;
Brigand: Uses clever tricks to gain lethal advantage over enemies.
Captain: Uses clever tactics and inspiring words to aid their allies.
Defender: A shield that protects your allies by engaging their foes.
Disabler: Uses flurries of blows to hinder foes in close combat.
Ravager: Uses massive sweeping attacks to bring down their foes.
Sentinel: Uses ranged attacks to provide covering fire to his allies.
Sharpshooter: Hinders foes with precise volleys of ranged attacks.
Sidekick: Grants extra attacks and other bonuses to their allies.
Striker: Brings down foes using precision, talents and offhand strikes.

In addition, Fighter classes choose a Combat Style; Strong (STR), Swift (REF) or Berserker (STR) and a Combat Focus; Daring (PRE), Tactical (INT) or Wary (WIT); which determine most important attributes for their class.

The Spellcaster Class Group includes;
Abjurer: Uses magical wards to protect their allies.
Benedictor: Uses magic to enhance the abilities of their allies.
Empowered: Uses magic to empower themselves in a variety of ways.
Interdictor: Hinders foes using area attacks and minor spells.
Maledictor: Blasts foes with painful magical attacks and minor spells.
Summoner: Summons an ally with a variety of hindering abilities.

In addition, Spellcasters choose a Spellcasting Path (and sub-path for many of them) that determine the two attributes most important to their spellcasting;
Astral (PRE): Your magical abilities come from pacts with gods and astral powers. Its sub-paths are Faithful (INT or WIT), Militant (STR) and Zealous (REF).
Gadgeteer (INT): You access magic with formulas encoded into arcane devices. Its sub-paths are Big Lug (STR), Monkeywrencher (REF), Mad Genius (PRE) and Troubleshooter (WIT)
Primal (WIT): Your fealty to The Source (Covenant Path) or an inborn connection to it (Sorcery) allows you to call upon primal spirits and channel primal power. Sub-paths include Clever Spirit (PRE), Lore Spirit (INT), Potent Spirit (STR) and Swift Spirit (REF).
Wizard (INT): You access arcane power via spoken formulas and runic gestures. Sub-paths are Lore Wizard (WIT), Social Wizard (PRE) and War Wizard (STR or REF).

Classes are how you fight. Backgrounds are all your non-combat abilities, including skills and other non-combat benefits called Boons. Unlike 4E and 5e where your background is a relatively small part of your character mechanically, Backgrounds in Ruins & Realms are as important, if not more so than your class in defining who your character is.

Due to the decision to include every option in the Player's Guide, the backgrounds are rather broad and are rigorously defined by your selection of skills and boons available to each background.

The following backgrounds are used in Ruins & Realms;

Arcanists are students of arcane magic who employ variety of useful spells.    You probably started as an apprentice to another arcanist or perhaps taught yourself how to perform magic after finding an old spellbook in a dusty ruin or even puzzled out some spells on your own after a talent for magic emerged. The spells an arcanist focuses on aren't useful to attack with (that's what the arcane classes focus on), but they offer a lot of boon to an arcanist's capabilities.

Aristocrats were born into a wealthy and powerful family; a noble, merchant prince or court official. Though not automatically heir to wealth or titles, being part of the upper classes confers both advantages and duties upon their lives that few others enjoy. Some become adventurers as sport or see it as a duty to their realm or family. Others might be fleeing unpleasant duties or their family was overthrown or lost its fortune due to mismanagement or treachery and becoming an adventurer is the only hope of regaining what was lost.

Artisans were craftsmen, inventors, artists or sages before even before they started down the path of becoming an adventurer. Your talents may be derived from practical hands-on experience on your own or as an apprentice or by extensive book learning; you may have even picked up a smattering of minor arcane spells along the way, but first your talents relate to finding practical applications to the knowledge in your head.

Barbarians hail from the regions beyond the walled towns and farmlands most think of as civilization. Your people gather in clans or tribes led by chiefs, elders and wise men or women. Your abilities are focused on survival in the wilds and some are even able to form connections to the primal spirits that dwell there.

Commoners were peasants, villagers and others of low birth before they took up the path of adventure. They often struggle to survive inside a system designed to exploit them and learn talents that help them do so. For all its danger, a single adventure might bring you more wealth than most other commoners would earn in a year of backbreaking labor and those commoners who survive such things often become folk-heroes to other commoners.

Entertainers were actors, acrobats, bards or other types of performers before they became adventurers. You learned all manner of talents to distract people from their dreary existences, even if for a moment. Doing so can earn you the funds you need to survive and that doesn't hurt either. Entertainers most likely become adventurers either as a means of supplementing their modest incomes or in order to find new epic stories to share with their patrons.

Military backgrounds are extremely common among adventurers. You may have been a professional soldier, an officer or a mercenary, but when there's not a war to be fought, there's very little other use for the mastery of weapons, tactics and strategy than to find your own cause to fight for. Or perhaps you were once a guard who decided they could make a better living elsewhere. Regardless, you have learned to apply your talents to support your comrades.

Outlaws are anyone who has no legal protections within society, even to their own persons. You might be a criminal, an escaped slave, a rebel against the current ruler or just someone whom a corrupt ruler took disfavor too. Regardless, you've had only your wits and luck on your side and your talents mostly revolve around surviving in a world where anyone has the right to kill you in your sleep without fear of punishment. Those who survive as an outlaw for any length of time often become legends in their own right.

Religious are the ordained followers of a religion and act as intermediaries between the common man and the worlds beyond. Depending on their faith, they might be priests, religiously sworn knights or shamans and spirit talkers. They learn the deepest secrets of their faith and how to call upon astral or primal power to achieve miracles for their fellow believers.

Travelers are merchants, sailors, vagabonds and others who don't spent much time in one place but travel well beyond the borders most common people know on a regular basis. Without the ties to any one place, the wandering life of many adventurers feels natural to you. Your talents aid you in your travels, survival skills, languages, seamanship and knowledge of distant places.

Existing in the Opponents section of the GM's Guide are an optional species (the Astral Servitor); spellcasting path (the Demonic Path), and boons (The Boons of Undeath). They aren't included in the Player's Guide because, in the standard setting, Astral Servitors lack free will and the Demonic Path and Boons of Undeath enslave their user's wills; making them all unsuitable for use as PC heroes. They're primarily intended for use in building custom NPCs, but if the GM decides to run a setting of their own where astral servitors are free-willed and/or demons and undead are not objectively evil then the GM can allow them as PC options.

I'll start to cover some of the setting lore and answer any questions anyone might have about the system.


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Ruins & Realms Tactical RPG
« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2019, 04:23:53 AM »
Interesting stuff! Looking forward to hearing more about the setting and system in action.


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Ruins & Realms Tactical RPG
« Reply #2 on: October 05, 2019, 12:55:48 PM »
I apologize for the delay. It was crunch time at my day job and a week and weekend of 16-18 hour days doesn't leave much time for anything else. With that past (and a long nap) now back to your regularly scheduled discussion.

Part: The Second... Setting
The number one element; one might call it the core of the setting's design philosophy; is that it had to be a place that facilitates adventurers existing and adventures happening. Secondary goals for the setting were a coherent kitchen sink where just about any fantasy element or species could be found and presenting a cosmology where both monotheistic and polytheistic religions could exist without either having a definitive way of proving themselves beyond the shadow of a doubt.

I could dive in depth here into the ins and out of it, but here's the view from thirty-thousand feet.

The history of the Mortal World is one of successive empires; most notably for the setting the Demon Empire, The First Empire of Man and the Praetorian Empire; who rose and then collapsed leaving chaos and new species in their wake.

The Demon Empire
The first of relevance was semi-mythical Demon Empire (semi- because it definitely existed, but mythical in that the stories are thousands of years old and all the original texts are carved into the walls of ruins in a dead language only a few scholars can even decipher and even they don't know how to pronounce) which marks the start of anything resembling recorded history.

Per the myths, the Primal Spirits created the world (the Old Faith says that they did so at the behest of The Source, the infinite well of energy at the heart of the cosmos they claim to be an all-powerful benevolent creator deity... while most other religions claim it is simply a wellspring of power without a will of its own), but then quarreled over what to do with the world and the Men (the only sapient indigenous species of the World) who lived in it. One faction conquered the Mortal World and enslaved mankind creating the Demon Empire which reigned for a thousand years until an alliance of free Men and another faction of Primal Spirits banished the Demons to the Abyss.

According to the myths the demons created the Dwarves from Men to better slave away in their hellish mines, bred with Men to create the Malfeans as overseers and with beasts to create demonspawn like Hellhounds, Nightmares and Leviathans. In the wilds the Free Men formed The Covenant with the Primal Spirits claiming loyalty to The Source and gained Primal Magic while in the hidden places of their mines the dwarves created their greatest weapon, the Arcane Web (the foundation of the paths of Gadgeteering and Wizardry) to employ against their demonic masters.

The myths also speak of a band of heroes in this time; The First Adventurers, a human warrior, a dwarven wizard, an embodied Primal Spirit (Stormbringer; the only one whose name is still remembered) and a Malfean rogue who betrayed his demonic masters; who led the war against and ultimately defeated the Demons and the dread Demon Emperor (formerly known as Lightbringer, the most powerful of the Primal Spirits). This is a foundational myth of the setting that is responsible for the cultural acceptance of adventurers/wandering heroes in the setting... the idea that adventurers are a necessary part of protecting and building civilization.

Also foundational to the story of The First Adventurers is the story of the Malfean's betrayal of his companions at the critical hour as they had the demons surrounded in their capitol city. Because of the Malfean's betrayal the banishment of the demons almost failed. Though as with all things, truth of this is complicated. Among Men and dwarves it was betrayal calculated from the first, but as the Malfeans tell it the human and dwarf were willing to sentence every last Malfean still in the city to eternal torment in the Abyss with their ritual intended for the demons regardless of their guilt or innocence and the Malfean sacrificed his life only to delay the ritual long enough for Stormbringer to ferry the malfeans to safety before the ritual was enacted. Malfean religion centers around this event and subsequent pledge by Stormbringer they call The Promise (it is said that for those Malfeans who remain true to The Covenant and The Source, one day a savior would be born from them that would end their curse).

In the aftermath of the war, a third group of Primal Spirits... those too cowardly to choose a side, were punished by the victorious Primal Spirits with exile to the Mortal World where they would be forced to reside until they earned their redemption. They were locked into corporeal forms and thus became the giants, dragons, sprites and other nature spirits hiding in the wild places of the world.

Finally, and almost unnoticed at first, was the Demon Emperor's final curse upon the Mortal World. He so hated the life and light of The Source that he allowed his very essence to be destroyed in the final battle with The First Adventurers, but in so doing his death fueled a ritual of his own design that created The Shadow World, hidden from the light of The Source in the spiritual shadow of the Mortal World from which the echoes of his hatred for creation would seep into and corrupt the Mortal World for eternity. Those souls who hid from the possible judgement of The Source could find refuge in The Shadow and draw strength from it, some even gaining strength enough to reanimate their own corpses and prey upon the world.

The First Empire of Man
The next Empire of note was The First Empire of Man that rose up in the wake of Demon Empire. Again, the specifics are hazy... thousands of years and multiple collapses separate their civilization from that of the present day. What is known is that it was the greatest empire of its day, but its founders had been corrupted by their time as the servants of the demons. They desired the luxuries their demon overlords had enjoyed and needed slaves of their own to provide them. So they turned to the now lost school of wizardry called Biomancy to transform beasts into humanoid slaves called collectively the Beastmen. In their decadence they turned from the Primal Spirits, paying only lip service to The Covenant as they exploited the Beastmen ever more severely.

The myths say the seeds of their undoing came when the Astral Gods made themselves known to the Beastmen. The Mortal World had once been a perfect reflection of The Source, its energies rebounding and returning to it perfectly. But the war with the demons had shattered that perfect reflection and the shards now reflected aspects of that light on the dome of the sky becoming stars and those stars formed patterns and those patterns embodied spiritual truths that were embodied as the gods. They gained strength not from worshipers, but from the degree to which their aspects were present in the Mortal World (which is why the dark god of slaughter can get away with virtually all his followers being killed in battle... its not the presence of follows that strengthens it, its all the mass death that gives it greater power).

Men were lost in their decadent ways, but the Beastmen stirring in their servitude and resentment were ripe to become the gods' followers. So the gods appeared to the different species in animal headed forms they would recognize and granted them power (the origin of the astral spellcasting path) and in the Beast Rebellion they tore down the First Empire and won their freedom. Man, seeing the power of the Beastmen's gods and blaming the Primal Spirits for abandoning them, turned to worship the Astral Gods as well.

The Praetorian Empire and The Cataclysm
The final Empire of note is also the most recent; the Praetorian Empire. By all accounts (stories you heard from your grandparents told to them by their grandparents), it was a globe-spanning magitech utopia with magic on every streetcorner, flying ships and servant golems providing their every need. Whether these servants would have eventually turned on their masters too is something that can never be known because two-hundred years ago an event simply called The Cataclysm obliterated The Praetorian Empire and 99% of its population in a wave of supernatural energies that transformed the land and mutated Men and beasts into monsters. The energies tore the very fabric of reality and dragged astral spirits from the realm of dreams (elves) and death (fetches) into the Mortal World and anchored them there.

Civilization ended in a night. 90% of those who survived were dead within a year of starvation, disease, lingering injuries and violence and a third of those were now twisted mutations soon to be labeled orcs, ogres, trolls and worse. To put this in perspective, the New York Metropolitan area covers about 4500 sq. miles and has a population of about 20 million people. 19.8 million of them died immediately. 180,000 of the ones left died horribly over the next year, leaving 20,000 people scattered in small groups across a ruin-filled region nearly a hundred miles across to rebuild something resembling civilization (with 6700 of them being mutations).

Only clusters of survivors with some advantage (a cache of magitech or powerful spellcasters/skilled warriors, a secure defensive location and/or other critical resources) avoided falling back to the stone age and even those who did for some sort of society held on only by the barest of threads. The ruins surrounding these points of civilization were soon overgrown and infested with monsters. Ruins that held caches of lost knowledge, magic and resources that might make the difference between life and death.

Two-hundred years later, these small Realms are just secure enough that they can start looking beyond their borders and for brave bands of adventurers to go out into the monster-haunted ruin-filled wilds in search of lost wonders, treasures or simply to expand the borders of civilization just a bit further; maybe even found their own kingdom by clearing out a section of the wilds and claiming it as your own.

This is the world of Ruins & Realms... where adventurers are the bridge between the civilized realms and the lost wonders and dangers of the ruins.

Hopefully with less of a delay, we'll start to cover how the system deals with resource management and the action economy and how it all fits into this heroic adventure setting.