Plight of the New RPG: Shattered Dawn - Part 2
  • Plight of the New RPG: Shattered Dawn - Part 2


    I discussed the plight of the small, new RPG publisher last time. Today I’ll talk about some design choices in Shattered Dawn (SD).




    I’ve thought about ways to drastically simplify RPGs for a basic RPG intended to be included in a board game. The Shattered Dawn guys have greater ambitions than that, but their choices and mine have several similarities.

    They wanted to focus on the “arc”(story). I’d say, focus on the adventure, which isn’t quite the same thing. So they chose the route of quick-to-create characters that evolve in detail over time, rather than the “crunchy” character generation of games like 3e D&D and Shadowrun. Wizards of the Coast did the anti-crunch with 5e D&D, to a lesser extent, by limiting choices and offering character backgrounds to choose from.

    There is no ability number generation in SD, and only three numbers that seem like ability numbers: stamina (used up by such actions as running, and rapidly regenerated over time), health (hit points), and potency (manna for magic/spell points, more or less). There are five “frequent” abilities, but they were hardly used in the games I played. In my simple RPG, there are no ability numbers at all, though there are hit points.

    There are no classes/professions. Everything is skill-based. If you want a sneaky/stealthy character who can cast spells, you don’t choose magic-user and rogue as classes, you just pick skills that achieve what you want to be. You get two new skill slots per level, and you rise in levels quite rapidly. (The latter is just about inevitable with modern gamers who are often used to rising rapidly in video games.) But the advanced skills are level limited. The second tier of any skill cannot be attained until the character’s sixth level, and you wait until 12th to be able to take a third tier. This means the character will have 10 different skills as they reach 6th. (Level cap is 50th.)

    The skill system for my basic RPG doesn’t have that level limitation, but it’s only made for 5 levels, for scenarios rather than a campaign. Some skills preclude use of others in my system, I didn’t notice that in SD (I don’t have the rules, so I cannot check).

    In SD you also get 60 points to allocate amongst your three main numbers (which all start at 50) when you rise a level. This means you can rapidly attain hundreds of hit points, but damage is commensurately higher. As third levels we fought a “boss” with 420 health.

    There are people nowadays who much prefer larger rather than smaller numbers, even if they are the same functionally. +5 in a d100 system is the same as +1 in d20, but somehow excites them more. So larger numbers makes some sense. For my RPG-for-a-boardgame, I stuck with simple single digits (and 2d6 for dice rolls).

    In SD you’re allowed to fire into melee without danger of hitting your own people. The designers chose this as a simplification (it certainly is), but for me it’s a big blow to immersion, because it’s so ridiculously unlike real life. After the first encounter my scout character with Marksmanship found a good bow, and did 51 damage per hit (there are no dice rolls for damage). That was +30 for the skill, +15 for the bow, and 6 for each arrow. As some compensation, a bowman gets fewer attacks than a melee warrior (who can attack with both hands without penalty!).

    Not rolling for damage, but only to hit, speeds up melees of course, so that you can get on with the story.

    SD is using their setting (“expansive lore”) as a major attraction to buyers. Their website says “Shattered Dawn is a story driven game.” They emphasize story by calling their GM guide the “ArcMaster Guide”. I’m used to story arcs as being overarching themes behind everything that’s happening, such as “In the war of Good vs Evil, you’re supporting the Good in the city of Tonilda and environs. The ‘home’ of Evil is northwest, in the Land of Chaos.” But in SD “arc” is synonymous with “story”. A significant part of one of the two books is about their setting, and they offer a poster-map ($25) as a supplement.

    Most of the early RPGers were wargamers, but now most new players are not boardgamers at all, or at least not wargamers. There is much more emphasis on story and less on competitive game in RPGs. SD appears to be appealing to both camps as much as possible with its emphasis on story, even as it is played as a game (with a board and pieces, though that’s optional) rather than as a storytelling/story-generating machine.

    This article was contributed by Lewis Pulsipher (lewpuls) as part of ENWorld's User-Generated Content (UGC) program. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
    Comments 11 Comments
    1. MNblockhead's Avatar
      MNblockhead -
      [QUOTE]Most of the early RPGers were wargamers, but now most new players are not boardgamers at all, or at least not wargamers. [/QUOTE]

      I would be interested in seeing some stats on this. Maybe it is regional or just the people I hang with, but in my experience, the board-game renaissance had brought many people to TTRPGs. Wargamers, I believe, continue to be a much smaller minority of gamers due to the commitment of time and money required for many of those games.
    1. DMMike's Avatar
      DMMike -
      Hard to figure out Shattered Dawn when another game is being described at the same time. Also, Arc-mastery sounds interesting. Surely there's more to say about it than it's a synonym for story?
    1. lewpuls's Avatar
      lewpuls -
      Quote Originally Posted by DMMike View Post
      Hard to figure out Shattered Dawn when another game is being described at the same time. Also, Arc-mastery sounds interesting. Surely there's more to say about it than it's a synonym for story?
      I saw no significant difference in practice. But I was playing at a convention, not in a long-running campaign. I've not read all of the rules.
    1. lewpuls's Avatar
      lewpuls -
      Quote Originally Posted by MNblockhead View Post
      I would be interested in seeing some stats on this. Maybe it is regional or just the people I hang with, but in my experience, the board-game renaissance had brought many people to TTRPGs. Wargamers, I believe, continue to be a much smaller minority of gamers due to the commitment of time and money required for many of those games.
      The boardgame renaissance is not wargaming, it's non-wargaming. Wargaming (via board games) is a Baby Boomer hobby, and wargamers are few and far between. There are lots of video games involving war, but mostly so unrealistic that they're not wargames (often, they're resource management games). After all, you can LOSE a wargame, you can't lose many video games.
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by lewpuls View Post
      The boardgame renaissance is not wargaming, it's non-wargaming. Wargaming (via board games) is a Baby Boomer hobby, and wargamers are few and far between. There are lots of video games involving war, but mostly so unrealistic that they're not wargames (often, they're resource management games). After all, you can LOSE a wargame, you can't lose many video games.
      We are not "few and far between"! *looks around* Well, it has been awhile since I could find anyone to play "War in the East" or "Drang Nach Osten". After all, what's the big deal about spending a few months simulating the eastern front in World War II? *sigh* Time for a little age related nostalgia and depression...

      Those were good days. Have to admit I don't have the time to do that anymore. If it takes more than an evening it doesn't get played these days. Well, other than D&D and even then time can be hard to find.
    1. aramis erak's Avatar
      aramis erak -
      Quote Originally Posted by lewpuls View Post
      The boardgame renaissance is not wargaming, it's non-wargaming. Wargaming (via board games) is a Baby Boomer hobby, and wargamers are few and far between. There are lots of video games involving war, but mostly so unrealistic that they're not wargames (often, they're resource management games). After all, you can LOSE a wargame, you can't lose many video games.
      Warhammer - cheesy as it is - is alive, well, and making stupidly high profits via high-priced minis and regular rules churn and player-turnover.

      It's a wargame of the minis variety.

      Likewise, Gaslands is seeing regular play at my FLGS, as are X-Wing and Armada.

      There's no shortage of wargamers of the minis flavor; at the local con, Warhammer players (40K or AoS) comprise about 20% of the gate.

      Sure, there aren't many different minis-wargames - let's count the ones I've seen played at the con...
      Warhammer 40K current edition
      Warhammer Age of Sigmar
      Some game the name of which I don't know, using tablet/phone and tagged pieces for resolution - usually a full table of 8 for about 4 hours on a 2 day con (well, 0.5+1+0.5 days over the 3 days its open).
      Star Wars: X-Wing
      Star Wars: Armada
      Heroclix

      This isn't counting the others my FLGS sells -
      Star Wars: Imperial Assault
      Star Wars: Legion
      Necromunda (the current edition)
      one other FFG that I've not looked at (non-Star Wars)
      Gaslands (Osprey Press)
      Warmachine/Hordes (Privateer Press)

      The people I see walking out the door with them? NOT the 30+ crowd. In fact, mostly the 16-26 crowd. Working High-school students and both working and students in the undergraduate collegiate age range.

      I sumbit, Lew, you're way too out of touch to be pontificating thusly.
      Of course, you should not trust one strident voice on the net who thinks you're out of touch with reality.... go check Gen Con - 7 minis tournaments in 2018. Many sold out.
      https://www.gencon.com/event_finder?...nis+tournament.

      Quote Originally Posted by Gen Con search for Mini Tournament View Post

      Star Wars X-Wing Mini Tournament
      Star Wars X-Wing, 1st Ed
      Thursday
      10:00 AM
      4 hrs$12

      Star Wars X-Wing Mini Tournament
      Star Wars X-Wing, 1st Ed
      Thursday
      3:00 PM
      4 hrs$12

      Battletech Clan Grand Melee
      Battletech, Total Warfare Ed
      Thursday
      6:00 PM
      6 hrs$10

      Star Wars X-Wing Mini Tournament
      Star Wars X-Wing, 1st Ed
      Friday
      10:00 AM
      4 hrs$12


      Star Wars X-Wing Mini Tournament
      Star Wars X-Wing, 1st Ed
      Friday
      3:00 PM
      4 hrs$12


      Star Wars X-Wing Mini Tournament
      Star Wars X-Wing, 1st Ed
      Saturday
      10:00 AM
      4 hrs$12

      Star Wars X-Wing Mini Tournament
      Star Wars X-Wing, 1st Ed
      Saturday
      3:00 PM
      4 hrs$12
      plus 8x Warmachine events
      Plus over 15 Warhammer events about a third sold out.

      Searching for X-Wing brings up over 20 events at gencon. a bunch are sold out.

      Gaslands brings up 3 events. 2 of them sold out. (Ok, all three are one tournament. 18 players.)

      Plugging in miniatures brings up many dozen results, most of which are in fact minis wargames.
    1. Umbran's Avatar
      Umbran -
      Quote Originally Posted by lewpuls View Post
      Wargaming (via board games) is a Baby Boomer hobby, and wargamers are few and far between.
      Cite, please? It would be good to avoid characterizing what various hobby groups are like if you don't have evidence. Don't expect folks to take in on your say-so.
    1. lewpuls's Avatar
      lewpuls -
      Rex Martin's doctoral dissertation (according to Rex, formerly AH General editor IIRC) discussed how board wargaming is/was a Baby Boomer hobby.

      Out of touch? What puts one in touch? What puts YOU in touch? I've attended a variety of game clubs/session in two states in the past year, plus several conventions including PrezCon and WBC, which (compared with something like GenCon) are the last bastions of wargaming. But even there, the wargamers are or will soon be outnumbered.

      Miniatures games tend to be about the miniatures first, not about the games. Warhammer is a game to help entice people to spend vast amounts on often-baroque minis. I know that in Britain, there's still a strong tendency to mean miniatures when someone says "wargames", where in the USA they're usually talking about board wargames. In either case, sales of actual games and game rules are usually quite small.

      I attended GenCon for several years, not the past two. It's a story convention more than a game convention. Board wargame manufacturers often don't even show up (e.g. GMT and Worthington). The events you site for minis wargames are a drop in the bucket at GenCon with its many thousands of events.

      Even in the vast market of video games, the wargames made by Matrix and sister companies sell in quantities of a few thousand (or did when I last saw figures).

      There is no "proof", of course, nothing to cite, no one has the kind of statistics you may want. (Quite apart from the difficulty of defining whether an event or an individual is a wargame(r).) But if you get to enough events, and learn about sales figures, and open your eyes, you can make your own judgment.
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by lewpuls View Post
      There is no ability number generation in SD, and only three numbers that seem like ability numbers: stamina (used up by such actions as running, and rapidly regenerated over time), health (hit points), and potency (manna for magic/spell points, more or less).



      Everything is skill-based. If you want a sneaky/stealthy character who can cast spells, you don’t choose magic-user and rogue as classes, you just pick skills that achieve what you want to be. You get two new skill slots per level, and you rise in levels quite rapidly. (The latter is just about inevitable with modern gamers who are often used to rising rapidly in video games.) But the advanced skills are level limited. The second tier of any skill cannot be attained until the character’s sixth level, and you wait until 12th to be able to take a third tier. This means the character will have 10 different skills as they reach 6th. (Level cap is 50th.)



      In SD you’re allowed to fire into melee without danger of hitting your own people. The designers chose this as a simplification (it certainly is), but for me it’s a big blow to immersion, because it’s so ridiculously unlike real life.



      Not rolling for damage, but only to hit, speeds up melees of course, so that you can get on with the story.

      SD is using their setting (“expansive lore”) as a major attraction to buyers. Their website says “Shattered Dawn is a story driven game.” They emphasize story by calling their GM guide the “ArcMaster Guide”.
      Nothing in that description makes Shattered Dawn sound any more "story-focused" than Traveller or Rolemaster or any other skill-based RPG from the late 70s through mid-80s.

      It's like Christopher Kubasik never wrote this 25-odd years ago!
    1. Charles Rampant's Avatar
      Charles Rampant -
      To be honest, I've been pretty disappointed in this article series. The author seems to delight in making unfounded claims, refusing to give evidence to back them up, and tarring other groups (younger gamers, wargamers, etc) with his own prejudices. His comments here about Warhammer especially bear little resemblance to my own experience of over a decade playing it. Not to mention that the articles themselves are both short and struggle to stick to a single point.

      This website has produced far superior article series' in the past.
    1. Jhaelen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Charles Rampant View Post
      His comments here about Warhammer especially bear little resemblance to my own experience of over a decade playing it.
      They match my experience quite well, though. Three players in our regular board game group are (Ex)Warhammer 40k players. Two of them still buy the Codices but stopped buying minis. Only one of them is interested in actual war games. All of them also play CCGs, though. Myself I've never been interested in war games and regarding miniature games I only played D&D Minis for a while. However, I had bought the minis mainly for my RPGs. So I just played D&D Minis because I could - without any extra investment.

      Anyway, Shattered Dawn sounds interesting. Alas, I'm not playing a lot of RPGs any more.
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