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Domains of Shadow: Requesting Criticism for an Original System

Nathan C.

Villager
Domains of Shadow is Tabletop Roleplaying System that was specifically designed to create stories that would be streamed to a larger audience. It was based on some observations I had while playing in and watching actual plays for other TTRPSs, where I recognized potential in them to become a professional form of the theatre arts. Thus, Domains of Shadow is intended to avoid the need for excessively long amounts of time to tell a complex story, frequent out-of-character talk, and an awkward flow due to a focus on minute details, all of which have a tendency to show up in other systems and make them unenjoyable to a large audience. To serve these ends, Domains of Shadow has a focus on cinematic pacing, dramatic effect, player agency, and streamlined rules. As the name implies, the system is oriented towards the genres of traditional 19th Century Gothic Horror and Shakespearean Tragedy.

I do not plan on making a profit of off this system and will be giving everyone free access to it. Here is a link to the third draft of the Guidebook for Domains of Shadow. Here is a changelog detailing the changes made between the drafts. And here is the Character Sheet.

The purpose of this thread is to discuss the flaws in this system and how it can be improved. Any kind of analysis or criticism you have are appreciated. I want this to be a well made system that will serve its intended purpose, so negative criticisms and comments on what could be improved are especially valued. When giving analysis, please keep in mind that Domains of Shadow is meant to tell stories that would be streamed. Building a dramatic and interesting story is its main goal, and competition and strategy are barely a concern in this system at all.

If you wish to actually play some sessions on this system over the next few months, you can join the following Discord Server. Criticism from people who haven't played the game is just as welcome as well, though.
 
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John Dallman

Adventurer
You need a copy-editor. The current text is rather hard work to read, which I suspect is why you aren't getting much feedback. Get it overhauled and made more readable.
 

Nathan C.

Villager
You need a copy-editor. The current text is rather hard work to read, which I suspect is why you aren't getting much feedback. Get it overhauled and made more readable.

I had a feeling this might be the case. I don't exactly have a dedicated partner on this project, nor enough spare money to pay a copy-editor, but I will work to find something. Will make a second post when the second draft is done, but that will not be for some months. Could you give a few sentences to describe what grammar issues are giving you the most trouble?
 

John Dallman

Adventurer
Domains of Shadow is a tabletop roleplaying system that was designed based on observations made while playing in and viewing productions of other tabletop roleplaying systems.
A long sentence, which does not flow nicely. "Productions" is not a natural word for game sessions, and the repetition of the three-word phrase "tabletop roleplaying systems" really weights the sentence down.
There is a potential in these systems to become not just games, but an actual form of theatre arts that is broadcast to a wide audience and discussed as a genuine form of fine arts.
Long sentence, pretentious language, and a claim that, as a role-player of 41 years experience, I find very doubtful.
Unfortunately, this potential is often not recognized because tabletop roleplaying games are prone to requiring excessive amounts of time to tell an elaborate story, frequent immersion breaking out-of-character talk, and an awkward and stilted flow that focuses on minute details.
A really long and turgid sentence, lots of jargon, and what seems to me like a fallacious argument. When gamers focus on details, it's usually because they don't understand the events that the GM is trying to portray, and they ask about the thing that makes the least sense to them.
Domains of Shadow is a tabletop roleplaying system which was meant to address these problems.
A short sentence, but it's spoiled by having the same three-word phrase again.
Most of the ideas behind the system where not entirely of my own creativity, and are instead inspired by elements of other tabletop roleplaying games such ...
Spelling error "where" should be "were". Grammar error, should be "of my own creation" rather than "of my own creativity". Unnecessarily complex sentence construction. If you put the list of game titles in alphabetical order, it will read more smoothly. You need to acknowledge all the games' trademarks.

Here's a re-written version:

Domains of Shadow is a tabletop roleplaying game (TTRPG) with a new purpose. It tries to provide entertainment to spectators, as well as participants. To do this, it concentrates on keeping the story flowing, and maintaining the participants' interest. Normal TTRPGs are prone to slow pacing, frequent halts and too much concentration on details for spectators to be able to treat them as improvised theatre.

Most of the game's ideas were inspired by other TTRPGs, including Call of Cthulhu, Dungeons and Dragons, Never Going Home, Paranoia, Ten Candles, Unhallowed Metropolis, the World of Darkness family, and, most importantly, Fiasco.
 

Nathan C.

Villager
A long sentence, which does not flow nicely. "Productions" is not a natural word for game sessions, and the repetition of the three-word phrase "tabletop roleplaying systems" really weights the sentence down.

Long sentence, pretentious language, and a claim that, as a role-player of 41 years experience, I find very doubtful.

A really long and turgid sentence, lots of jargon, and what seems to me like a fallacious argument. When gamers focus on details, it's usually because they don't understand the events that the GM is trying to portray, and they ask about the thing that makes the least sense to them.

A short sentence, but it's spoiled by having the same three-word phrase again.

Spelling error "where" should be "were". Grammar error, should be "of my own creation" rather than "of my own creativity". Unnecessarily complex sentence construction. If you put the list of game titles in alphabetical order, it will read more smoothly. You need to acknowledge all the games' trademarks.

Here's a re-written version:

Domains of Shadow is a tabletop roleplaying game (TTRPG) with a new purpose. It tries to provide entertainment to spectators, as well as participants. To do this, it concentrates on keeping the story flowing, and maintaining the participants' interest. Normal TTRPGs are prone to slow pacing, frequent halts and too much concentration on details for spectators to be able to treat them as improvised theatre.

Most of the game's ideas were inspired by other TTRPGs, including Call of Cthulhu, Dungeons and Dragons, Never Going Home, Paranoia, Ten Candles, Unhallowed Metropolis, the World of Darkness family, and, most importantly, Fiasco.

I can see what you saying now. I might have gone overboard with the lofty marketing language and lost sight of what I was really trying to get at. I will do some more advertising and playtesting and see if anyone else is interested enough in the system to do some bits of editing.

As for your second comment, I am well aware that this project is highly experimental. I understand that my goals for increasing the popularity of actual plays as a form of entertainment will probably not be achieved by me. In all honesty, I am more hoping that some TTRPG Company with a lot more resources than I catches a whiff of Domains of Shadow and decides to create something even better, but even that is a stretch. However, if these goals are ever to be achieved, then someone has to put the idea out there, and no one else is taking that first step. Innovation is never as easy or quick as the enterprising language portrays it to be, but that doesn't mean innovation doesn't happen.
 

John Dallman

Adventurer
However, if these goals are ever to be achieved, then someone has to put the idea out there, and no one else is taking that first step. Innovation is never as easy or quick as the enterprising language portrays it to be, but that doesn't mean innovation doesn't happen.
Oh, indeed. The thing I found deeply implausible was "discussed as a genuine form of fine arts".
 

Nathan C.

Villager
Oh, indeed. The thing I found deeply implausible was "discussed as a genuine form of fine arts".
I think they certainly could be, one day (though I find the word "genuine" was overkill as well). We're already seeing people give more thought to video games, which are roughly about as old as TTRPGs. And at the end of the day TTRPGs, depending on how they are done, still share more than a few similarities with existing forms of theatre and film, which already are held in high regard. Actual Plays are far from the most popular source of entertainment, but they are definitely expanding in demand. Does that mean TTRPGs will likely reach that status our lifetimes? Doubtful, but as I stated before, someone has to take the first step for it to happen.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Oh, indeed. The thing I found deeply implausible was "discussed as a genuine form of fine arts".
There are schools of thought that includes TTRPGs and especially LARPs as a thing that can be called art. The Turku School, a Finnish school of thought that focuses on deep immersion in LARP gaming makes that claim. I'm not saying I agree, but it isn't cut and dried either.
 

John Dallman

Adventurer
We're already seeing people give more thought to video games, which are roughly about as old as TTRPGs.
Video games make a great deal more money, which gives them far greater social significance.
There are schools of thought that includes TTRPGs and especially LARPs as a thing that can be called art.
Oh, I think they can. Getting the arts establishment to take any notice of them is a different matter entirely.
 


Nathan C.

Villager
A second version of the document has just been released, and this one includes artwork! Thank you to everyone who gave advice on what other changes to make for the second draft.
 


Crusadius

Explorer
Just a quick look, I'd add line spacing between paragraphs. I saw what amounts to a wall of text which discouraged me from reading.
 

Nathan C.

Villager
Just a quick look, I'd add line spacing between paragraphs. I saw what amounts to a wall of text which discouraged me from reading.
I believe you are experiencing a problem with how your computer registered the PDF. The Guidebook should have paragraph indentations, sections with headings, and images. Could you send me a screenshot of what you are seeing? If it's truly a wall of text then the file that I am seeing is not what others are seeing. Usually when I share PDFs this isn't a problem, so I want to diagnose what went wrong.
 

Crusadius

Explorer
I believe you are experiencing a problem with how your computer registered the PDF. The Guidebook should have paragraph indentations, sections with headings, and images. Could you send me a screenshot of what you are seeing? If it's truly a wall of text then the file that I am seeing is not what others are seeing. Usually when I share PDFs this isn't a problem, so I want to diagnose what went wrong.

Its got indentation. But no line spacing after the paragraphs. So I feel that its a wall of text making it harder to read.

A lot of rpgs I have, rather than indent the paragraphs, have a space between.
 

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Nathan C.

Villager
Its got indentation. But no line spacing after the paragraphs. So I feel that its a wall of text making it harder to read.

A lot of rpgs I have, rather than indent the paragraphs, have a space between.
I don't follow. What would line spacing do that paragraph indentations are not doing already? It's not like paragraph indentations are hard to notice or unfamiliar to readers. Calling it a wall of text seems like a stretch, given that the definition of a wall of text is that it doesn't have indentations. It's also what all of the major TTRPG core rulebooks use, including Call of Cthulhu 7e, Dungeons and Dragons 5e, Pathfinder 2e, Shadowrun 5e, Star Wars REUP, and Vampire: The Requiem. Putting in line spacing would be accomplishing the exact same goal as paragraph indentations, but one that people are less used to seeing and that requires a greater cost in space and paper. Could you tell me what benefit you think line spacing has over indentations?
 

Crusadius

Explorer
I don't follow. What would line spacing do that paragraph indentations are not doing already? It's not like paragraph indentations are hard to notice or unfamiliar to readers. Calling it a wall of text seems like a stretch, given that the definition of a wall of text is that it doesn't have indentations. It's also what all of the major TTRPG core rulebooks use, including Call of Cthulhu 7e, Dungeons and Dragons 5e, Pathfinder 2e, Shadowrun 5e, Star Wars REUP, and Vampire: The Requiem. Putting in line spacing would be accomplishing the exact same goal as paragraph indentations, but one that people are less used to seeing and that requires a greater cost in space and paper. Could you tell me what benefit you think line spacing has over indentations?
Benefit? It breaks up the text and makes it easier to read.

The page I showed is an entire page of text with no breaks. Looking through various games I own, most do not have entire page of text running down it. Some do have paragraph indentation like yours, but also two column layout and most of the time the text is also broken up into sections with sub-headings or the page has illustrations so the text doesn't cover the entire page.

If I use Shadowrun 5E as an example, yes its using paragraph indentation and no spacing between paragraphs, but it's also using a two-column layout and a lot of pages break up the text further with callout boxes and sub-headings.
 

Nathan C.

Villager
Benefit? It breaks up the text and makes it easier to read.

The page I showed is an entire page of text with no breaks. Looking through various games I own, most do not have entire page of text running down it. Some do have paragraph indentation like yours, but also two column layout and most of the time the text is also broken up into sections with sub-headings or the page has illustrations so the text doesn't cover the entire page.

If I use Shadowrun 5E as an example, yes its using paragraph indentation and no spacing between paragraphs, but it's also using a two-column layout and a lot of pages break up the text further with callout boxes and sub-headings.

Please don't read the following with an angry tone. I am actually very thankful to you for giving this feedback and helping out the project so much. I am only arguing to collect my thoughts and receive feedback, not out of any kind of emotional response. It's just hard to argue with someone over text without sounding upset, which is a feeling I don't want to convey.

Many of these handbooks do have an entire text of page running down them though, especially at the beginnings. Like page 4 of the D&D 5e PHB, Page 12 of the CoC Investigator's Handbook, Page 16 of V:tR, Page 19 of the Shadowrun 5e Quickstart, Page 11 of the Pathfinder 2e Core Rulebook, and Page 29 of the Star Wars REUP document. The only times any of those documents had line spacing is when separating sections, which this document already does. And this guidebook does include images on close to half of the pages (45% is close enough), which is actually a higher ratio of pages with images v total pages than most of the systems I have observed.

Keep in mind that these rulebooks also have significantly hellishly smaller font sizes than the standard 12 I am using for Domains of Shadow. The introduction section is of similar length to a lot of other system introductions and prefaces, but in a text size that is more accessible to those of us with imperfect eyesight. In fact, the introduction is actually significantly shorter than some of them (in terms of words), which if looking through the pages I recommended actually shows many examples of that (D&D's is a lot more rambling then I thought it would be). And almost none of these system's starting paragraphs I gave examples of are broken up into headings either, and there really isn't a reason I can think of as to why they would intentionally depart from traditional writing to do so. If this introduction is unreadable, than the introduction of almost every other major TTRPG would be just as unreadable.

The way I structured the introduction is very similar to the way that other system's make their's, they just do it in a smaller text size. I am worried departing from the standard here could very well make it harder to read then if I structured the intro in a way that no one has seen before.

That being said, this double column feature I am seeing in all of these rule-books is interesting, and something that slipped past me. I will need to do some research on why they do that and look into how I can incorporate it. Might have to start using Microsoft Word rather than Google Docs to pull of something like that though?
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
I use office libre to write chapters and then cut and paste it into affinity publisher for double column. One thing that gets over looked is that fonts are not free, such as arial, something to look out for.
 

Crusadius

Explorer
Please don't read the following with an angry tone.

No worries. I'm thinking the reason I'm seeing it as a wall of text even with indentation is possibly because the traditional size of an rpg book is 8.5 x 11.5 inches and the impression I had was that is the size.

Novels on the other hand are smaller and I don't have the same problem. And books such as Shadowrun 5E have a 2 column layout so again I don't have that problem.

Other rpgs published as smaller books (6 x 9, 5.5 x 8.5) also don't give me this impression even with a single column layout.
 

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