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schismatic free rpg entering draft 3 feedback needed

Started by poppocabba, May 02, 2001, 02:20:00 AM

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I am getting draft 3 of all the playtest materials ready for release for my convention playtest coming up in june, and I would like some feedback on what we have so far.below is an early draft of the setting overveiw.
anyone that is interested please contact me for a full copy of the playtest materials with supplemental reference texts

Players are superheroes in the 19th century Europe of a substantially different Earth. Europe is the one bastion of human dignity in rights in a world otherwise dominated by inhuman gods with the power of creation.


Sometime before the beginning of civilization, there arose either demigods or superheroes depending upon your interpretation. These found that their power increased as they gained worshippers; there thus arose a battle for worldwide dominance, which continues to this day. New heroes arise - or are created -

constantly, while others who had previously seemed immortal and invincible are destroyed.

When these gods become especially powerful, they become capable of altering the nature of the peoples that worship them, twisting them into strange shapes which endure long after the god himself is dust. The remnants of races of defeated gods are everywhere. Further, all of these races can interbreed, and the more they interbreed the more of their distinctive features they lose, and the more human they become. However, humanity has long been considered

mongrel idiots, the bottom of the genetic barrel, on most of the world, far inferior to a regional god's special creations.

Almost a thousand years ago, the gods that ruled Europe were destroyed in a climactic battle with each-other, leaving the humans in this region to their own devices. While left to their own devices, humanity has done rather well. The surrounding gods didn't realize that mere humans could be a threat until humanity was -at least almost- ready to defend itself.

One reason for this may be the emergence of a new, more personal religion in the region even before the downfall of the old gods. This religion claimed that there was a greater God, superior to all the lesser gods that walked the earth, for whom humanity was the chosen people. Thus, most superheroes or demigods who arose in the region thought of themselves as Saints or Divine Champions, rather than as gods unto themselves.

Many educated people have decided that perhaps this God really is a fiction. However, lack of belief is considered not only heretical, but traitorous to the human race, and so any dissenters would be well to keep their opinions to themselves.

Note that this religion isn't exactly Christianity, lacking, for instance, Christ - it's far more akin to a somewhat more personal version of Judaism, with a little Mithraism thrown in. However, for practical purposes in the game you can pretty much assume it's the same thing, even if it's philosophically pretty much completely different.


I'd originally intended this as a fantasy superhero RPG, but the more feedback I got, the more the technology level slipped upwards. So:
In Europe, the technology is roughly late 19th century.

Electricity exists, and is used for gadgets, but there is no electric lighting. Richer city dwellers use gas lighting, poorer use candles or oil; heat is by coal in the cities and by wood in the country. Trains connect major cities and industrial areas, but most of the countryside is just accessible through bad dirt roads.

Lighter-than-air craft are used for warfare and heavy hauling in back-country areas. Heavier-than-air craft are much rarer and dependent on powerful magics. However, in many other countries large flying creatures exist which are used for aerial support in combat.

Overall, probably 70% of the population is agrarian, 20% in manufacturing, and 10% in service industries of one sort or another. In most other countries, upwards of 90% of the population is agrarian, making Europe an industrial power.

While workshops and sweatshops exist, manufacturing isn't very sophisticated; for instance, there are no assembly lines. Generally, one individual takes production of a piece through from start to finish.

Metallurgy is generally poor; steam boilers are possible through the addition of an inner rubbery coating extracted from a plant which only grows in the tropics. The combination of these boilers, an energy-dense pseudo-magical rock that can be burned at high temperature for a long time, electrical devices, and a slight amount of magic, allow personal powered armor, giant robots, and the like. Moroever, while extremely bulky emplaced heavy weapons - machine-guns and cannon and the like - exist, for the most part individual firearms are single-shot breech loading at best.


One substantial difference between Schismatic Europe and the real thing is that, because of its monopoly on superheroes, as well as the continuous strong outside threat, the Catholic church never lost its grip on Europe. Europe is officially still one, great Empire ruled from Rome. The reality is very different, of course, but Rome still has at least as much power as, say, the U.N. does in the modern world.

England and France are ruled by heavily constitutional monarchies; Spain and Sweden are more absolute monarchies, Italy is a collection of city-states, and Austro-Germany is ruled by an impersonal bureaucracy with a titular monarchical head.

To the immediate East, occupying Anatolia and the extreme south-eastern Balkans and Greece is the Seljuk Empire, a monolothic but intellectually stagnant Empire ruled by a warrior elite. To the east of that is Khwarezm, ruled by the Safavids. To the North, threatening Europe across the steps, are the Ozbegs and the Kipchak Horde.


European society is every bit as classist in the Schismatic world as the real one. Further, although people recognize that humanity is made up of a mixture of all of the other races, and further that it is God's chosen race, no-one is actually quite certain of what precisely humanity is, and are all extremely jealous of their regional differences. Further, there is sort of a God-given mandate to interbreed with lesser races, which mostly manifests itself as stealing other peoples' women.

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

And welcome to the Forge.

I have a pretty fundamental question for you - why a role-playing game? Why not a novel, or a set of short stories, or a film script, or anything else?

I ask this because setting, by itself, isn't a basis for an RPG. What you've provided is interesting AS setting, but that's all ... regarding your game, I'd like to know more about why a player might be interested in joining a game, or why a GM might be interested in preparing scenarios for a group.

What's the "power hook" that brings your idea into role-playing territory? I'm NOT talking about "marketing hook" at all, which is a different issue.

To me, this is the first and only question that needs to be addressed in the basic stages of RPG design.



(Maniacal laughter as I contemplate running the mental gauntlet against Ron)

Okay, here is where Ron and I disagree.  I think setting *can* be the core element to a game.  Yes, your mechanics have to be there, and yes, you need some form of motivating force out there to kick someone into gear, but you *can* focus on setting (it has been done before, and it can be done again).  

I agree that there needs to be a solid foundation for "why the hell am I here?"-type questions.

You have your own little ecosystem operating here, now throw in a wrench and see what the hell happens.  

I'd love to take a look at the game (from a playtest standpoint).  You have avery in-depth summary posted here, but let's get into the meat of things, shall we?



I'm going to agree with Dav on this, as well.  I think that this is the core of Explorative (yes, I said it :razz:) play.  Someone recently commented to me that Explorative/Simulative play is not rooted in wargames; it's rooted in daydreaming.  "What if I lived in a world where...."  It won't be hard-core Narrativist, but we've established that each prong of G/N/S is a valid design goal.  Right?  :wink:

{ducks and runs for cover}

Seth Ben-Ezra">Dark Omen Games

P.S.  That all being said, I do agree that there needs to be something for the PCs to do that will interest the players, or the game will get boring very quickly.

[ This Message was edited by: GreatWolf on 2001-05-02 14:57 ]
Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown


Ron Edwards wrote:
I have a pretty fundamental question for you - why a role-playing game? Why not a novel, or a set of short stories, or a film script, or anything else?

Dav wrote:
Okay, here is where Ron and I disagree.  I think setting *can* be the core element to a game.  Yes, your mechanics have to be there, and yes, you need some form of motivating force out there to kick someone into gear, but you *can* focus on setting (it has been done before, and it can be done again).  

Ron's question is really the most fundamental, and is not really at odds with what Dav is saying.  He's not saying setting can't be the basis for a good RPG.  Rather, given that you have started with a setting, what makes it condusive to an RPG?  I have developed many different settings over the years, but I've often found that they don't lend themselves to RPGs very well.

Pure historical settings, for instance, don't lend themselves well to RPGs - IMnsHO.  In the _real world_ people are not that different from each other.  Some people are stronger and some are smarter, but taken as a whole, we don't vary that much from the next person.  This isn't so bad when you are dealing with modern day games, but the farther back in time you go, the less a pure history setting lends itself to an RPG.

I believe this is why alternative history and pseudo-history games do much better.  While the setting may not be any better than a pure historical one, these games tend to lend themselves better to RPGs.

I won't pretend to expound on it here, as I don't want to take away from discussion of poppocabba's game, but there is something to be said for how much one focuses on setting as opposed to character development in game design.  This is something we might tackle in another thread - something I know others (Ron for instance, surprise) have developed opinions about.

Jared A. Sorensen

"What if I lived in a world where...."

Okay, fine.  Thing is, what do you do in that world?  If there is a competitive, gamey angle then fine.  If you're exploring relationships and creating a story about those relationships then okay.  But just wandering through the setting is not a game...I'm so inclined toward the relatively new, nigh-heretical view of Simulatonist game design as being a weak, lamer cop-out.

So stick that in your pipe, see?

- J
jared a. sorensen /


Jared wrote:
"So stick that in your pipe, see?"

-I dunno, tastes stale, but with a certain woodsy flavor...

I think that "If I lived in a world where..." can be a great intro point.  I can even imagine games wherein that is the only real question that needs to be answered in order to have a rip-roaring game.  

I tend to slightly agree with you that Sim. is rather weak as a roleplaying stance, though I think in terms of Setting development, Nar. and Sim. can have blurred lines.  (Dear god, I just typed that without tears streaming from my eyes)

Anyway, yeah, hand the floor back to the point in the first place:  I think there is a strong backbone to that game we see summarized up top o' this thread.

(Ha-ha!  Don't even bother smokin' this one, leave it in the ground to grow and flourish...)



in reply to all you folks,
I think the thing that will draw people into the setting in is the fact that there is social conflict,and plenty of places,and ways to make a stand for or against  the differrent social forces at work.
I also think that it can appeal to the highly limited victorian gaming subset, tired of the same old cliches,but to horror players that like the ambigious morality .
as for the "hook"( if I understand your meaning) I have to say that people would want to play schismatic because:
1-I intend to have a fair amount of depth to the setting, making it more detailed then most free rpgs, so if nothing else it could be a secondary source text for other victorian/swash buckling rpgs

2-the amount of original opposing forces/plot points to chose from, even including the "good guys".

3-the controlled and disctintive use of magic,and the supernatural.
here is the verbage I sent out to describe my upcoming game.
1- The flyers are up,and the soundtrack is completed for our most involved adventure to date!-Schismatic:Real Men Use Muskets. Work started on the system,and setting concepts roughly 9 months ago. I am really looking forward to testing some of the new ideas I have been working on. I have never heard of another game that could bill itself as "The A-Team meets the Enlightenment" (with a original twist). if you would like to a copy of the flyer, I can send it out as a pdf attachment,or you can download it from our yahoo groups site. for the newbies here is the catalog description
In 1792 a crack team of holy warriors was sent to prison by a clerical court for a crime they didn't commit. They promptly escaped a high security fortress to the munich underground, and now they must confront the church they once loved as they attempt to deliver slaves to freedom in the north. Be one of the first to play test a Denver original free rpg before it is  posted to our web site. all players will receive a hard copy of the game as well as an electronic version on a bonus cd-rom


Here are most of the  Mechanics so far..
All rolls in Schismatic are made by rolling 2d6, adding one of nine characteristics, and applying difficulty modifiers. A modified roll of 5 or less is a failure, 6-9 is a partial success, 10-12 is a complete success, and 13 or more is a critical success.
This general mechanic is used for combat as well, but with some complications and specialized modifiers; see Combat.
The Pontifex must use his own judgement as to which is the most applicable characteristic to be used with a particular task or to govern a particular skill. However, he should also allow input from the player as to which attribute the character is attempting to use, subject to constraints of reasonableness.
For the most part, a player's call on which stat to use should only be overruled when it is clear that he is attempting to usurp the role of another characteristic. For instance, the player cannot claim his character is using Perception in order to gauge another's reactions, because the characteristic Empathy is explicitly designed for that.
Also, note that while characters can gain skills as part of a career or as a blessing, in general the Pontifex should apply non-proficiency penalties when these are not present only when specialized training is likely to be called for. Characteristics are intended to be interpreted as a broadly based education. See Task Resolution for guidance on these issues.
Article II. Characters
Characters in Schismatic are defined by nine numbers, a culture, a career, and a number of blessings and burdens. This system is intended to be simple and flexible, and to keep numbers to a minimum while preserving the genre ambiance. This system requires discretion on the part of the Pontifex; a character is largely defined by descriptions of who he is and what he can do, rather than by numbers.
2.01 Character Generation
(1) Devise a concept for the nature of your character. If time permits, write an extensive background which gives insight into the character's daily pursuits and personality. The Pontifex will frequently award 1-2 additional points for use in steps 5-6 for particularly well done backgrounds.
(2) Culture
(3) Career (including 4 associated blessings)
(4) Burdens (up to three of them)
(5) Characteristics; place a '6' in the character's dominant characteristic. Distribute an additional number of points equal to eight points plus one per burden to characteristics or additional blessings. Characteristics may be made negative. Characters are thus substantially superior to normal people, on average.
(6) Blessings, from leftover points from (5).
2.02 Characteristics
The nine characteristics listed below are intended to be the only things that a character need ever roll against. Further, each of them should be equally useful, depending upon the situation the characters find themselves in. They are not intended to represent either nature or training, but rather that combination of the two which represents the character's current state of attainment. They may, then, be thought of as the broad areas in which the character has concentrated his time, and thus the basis for all of his skills.
Median in any characteristic is zero. Most individuals will have a score of 2-3 in the characteristic in which they concentrate; exceptional individuals may have a score of 4-5.
Charisma -    How much other people like you, even if you're a real bastard. Personal magnetism. Charm. This is usually the stat you roll on when trying to influence other people.
Empathy -    How well you understand other peoples' motications. Perhaps most importantly, this is usually the stat you roll on when trying to catch people in lies.
Spirit -   The character's faith in God. In a more cynical sense, how strongly the character senses both the structure of reality and the shadow world, and to some extent his ability to manipulate them.
Athletics -    this is general aerobic fitness and muscle tone. Good for climbing walls, running down suspects, and performing acrobatic maneuvers. It makes you somewhat stronger as well, but if you want to be really strong take a special ability.
Cool -    Some people become calm, cool, and collected under stress; others freeze or lose their heads. This skill determines how fast and often the character moves in combat, and can be used as a base for any weapon skill. It is thus the primary stat for combat monsters.
Perception -    The character's basic situational awareness. This is the stat one uses to detect ambushes or tails. It is also the stat used for stealth or tailing, under the logic that stealth is more a matter of being aware of what the person whose attention is being avoided is doing, as well as an awareness of bad footing, etc.
Mechanic -    the character's intuitive understanding of mechanical devices, machinery, steam, and electrics.
Knowledge -   basically, how much 'stuff' the character knows. His degree of general education, and educability, in a context-dependent manner. The general extent to which the character picks up and stores new information, and the degree to which he instinctively and subconsiously analyzes it.
Æsthetics -    The character's creativity and artistic sense. This stat can be used as the base for music, arts, architecture, or even engineering. An engineer with a high æesthetics and a low knowledge would be much better at designing devices than building them.
2.03 Culture
Culture should be defined by a few words, or at most a sentence, which represents the social circles in which the character is most comfortable moving. For instance, culture could be 'country gentry' or 'urban poor' or 'mercantile bourgeousie' or 'melon farmer'.
A character who is in his own social milieu will have a much easier time operating. A character who is 'urban poor' can move through the alleyways of cholera and insurrection almost invisibly, finding refugees, fences, or revolutionaries. Depending on his knowledge, he will have a feel for the power groups on the street. Depending on his charisma or empathy, he will be able to draw information from people who rarely come out into the light. This same character would never fit into high society no matter how much you dressed him up. However, the converse is also true; a character from 'Parisian Aristocracy' might be smooth as silk in the boardrooms and ballrooms of haute couture, but would soon find someone trying to shove a shiv into his back if he tried to move among his social inferiors.
Note also that this is not necessarily the culture into which the character was born; however it is most likely the culture in which he has spent the most time for the past ten years or so. The Pontifex is likely to take into account the details of the characters' background description in these cases.
2.04 Career
Career should be a short description (a few words to a line) of what the character does now. He will then be assumed to be relatively competent with all things closely related to his career, and will be allowed to make rolls against his characteristics with no proficiency penalties to perform tasks related to his career. In some senses (contacts, etc.) this is used as a supplemental 'culture.'
In addition, the player may select four points in 'blessings' to be associated with this career. These should include any specific skills required for the career. For instance, if my career is "Experimental Surgeon," I should at the very least select "Doctor" as one of the associated blessings.


now on to the sim argument...
I think part of the confusion is about how I am going to release the rpg. it is going to be a completely free/open-source?/ linkware downloadable rpg with 3 goals
1-to ween people away from the awful state of corporate gaming
2-to give people a goodtime,and a chance to use their help develope their own gaming ideas
3-to promote the existence of my website/club/newsletter.
i am planning the game to be have 3 main downloadable components
1-the setting book with detail setting and plot hooks
2-a native rules book w/character sheet, gm screen,and perhaps an adventure
3- the final book would be a template style duplicate of the first with thoughts/guidelines on setting the game to different rule sets,and some conversion data for other systems
eventually I would like the setting to evolve into something that people feel an active part of with some added material, a discussion group,and newsletter

to be honest with you my heart is really in the setting book,and to me, mechanics are secondary,and should only serve to enhance the setting that in turns enhances the narrative

my developement started with technology as it would begin the basis of a skill set

I don't consider my game a  "real world game" in fact it is a mix of ancient rome, and  european history from 1200-1918.
I also am getting the impression that you are making a distinction between the value of fiction and non-fiction sources,and coming up on the wrong side.I am strongly of the opinion that it is best to distill your games detail from primary sources, because they have more supporting data.-more later

Ron Edwards


OK, you've got the setting and it seems to me you have some idea of dynamics within it that grab interest. I have two points.

1) Interest for doing what? I don't want to wave a wad of G/N/S jargon at you, but basically, this thing has to appeal to a group of people sitting around a table, nominally ready to role-play. I suggest that they are interested in strategizing to win, OR doing the "sim" thing from inside their characters, OR contributing to and creating an actual story. We could describe the setting all day and not get any idea of what the players are there to DO.

2) And related to that, given a cool setting at all (which I respect! do NOT misunderstand me to be poo-pooing setting), you should consider system a bit. If you simply inject a GURPS-like or Rifts-like system, you'll end up facilitating certain answers to question #1 above. If you grab "what you like" from pre-existing games, you'll end up with broken rules, and a confused wad of conflicting answers for question #1 above.

I agree that it's OK to let the setting be the starting point - but now you must ask "what for," answer it, and then make sure the system promotes that answer.



All right.  Looking it all over, I'm saying you have a Narrativist background, with liberal doses of Simulationist.  Wonderful, my style of game.  

I think, with the conversion rules ideas, as well as using your system to enhance the world at large (and by "world", we mean more than setting, we mean society too!) is a good idea.  

My only caution, if you want to call it that, is that in terms of further development through discussions and newsletters, and such, you may have a very fragmented base for people receiving updated material.  I think the newsletter is a great hand-off, but you should use the discussion and outer development to help shape *your* vision, rather than let the unwashed masses run amok with your concept.  Use the newsletter to inform about the better ideas from players (give credit!), and discard the bad stuff.  

All-in-all, I think you have the first "network marketing" game on your hands (no, play-by-mail doesn't count).  It is a good concept that will require a healthy fanbase to sustain, but I think your idea is plausible.  Don't let anyone scare you off.  

I think before moving into a distribution phase, you really need to create your infrastructure for how the developments to your world will play-out.  Distributing the "game" may become secondary (very quickly) to distrbuting fan/supplementary developments.  Hell, give a subscription fee of $3 a month for the update letter, and you have a rather captive audience.

I love it.  (Ron gives the tough love, I give the tender love... :smile: )

Dav Harnish

ps: I'll give you some better feedback once I organize my thoughts a bit more and re-read the files you sent.  Thanks, by the way!


I have found some old files from my co-author j."gabby" west, and they include a church organization chart, a draft character sheet, map,  and some graphics.
also if anyone is interested in a newsletter,and june online testing session let me know, also if we have any denver locals in the group as well ..


I shall have to think of a cute nickname for poppocabba .... gabby, indeed.

Incidentally, this is a very interesting web site,
philosophically. And I have to say that I actually had some of the same concerns some of you did; that, in retrospect, this was a setting in which it was easier to write fiction than run games, mostly because it's an odd enough setting that it doesn't meet many stereotypes, so it's hard for people to get their mind around it right off.

One thing I think we desperately need is a mechanism by which players are slowly introduced to the oddities of the setting (Jorune had (has) this problem, too ....)

There are some fairly evocative bits of short fiction, adapted from some of the early scenarios, that might be illustrative, although I hesitate to throw 3000 words into a post ...


Per the post saying that using traditional fantasy races was a bad idea - I could not agree more vehemently. What I had in mind were subtle changes, but outside the range of current human variation, both in physiognomy as well as in personality.

This is a very early drawing of a subtly nonhuman woman, from some thinking about the setting last year.">