World of Esaene (ENWorld)

Monday, February 27, 2006

Themes, too

Continuing on Chris's idea of underlying themes, there are some things I was always big on with the original conception of Esaene.

1. History - there are a few 'big' stories that underlie the world and much of them are considered to be 'folk legends'. However, there are elements of truth in every fairy tale and legend, and separating fact from fiction can unlock some powerful secrets.

2. History, 2 - Everything has a story. That "longsword +1" in the pile of treasure is really the finely-crafted 9th blade of Ythifir the Black, one of the dozen he created for the Guardians of Perisis. It is distinguishable by it's off-center hilt, balanced for left-handed users (which all Guardians were) and the Illusin engraving on the blade. Such a finely-balanced blade moves with the wielder, giving him or her an edge in combat. Usually, stories like that are reserved for the Vorpal Bastard Sword +4/+6 vs Nocturnal Lycanthropes.

3. Motivations - No grand good vs evil story here. Everyone has a reason to do what they do, and people with perfectly legitimate reasons for pursuing their life's goals may often find themselves at cross-purposes. Chris highlighted that alignment is not a major factor. More important to me, people have to have a reason for doing what they're doing, instead of the wishy-washy "that's what my alignment would have me do."

4. Magic - A strange and wondrous thing. Even hedge wizards are treated with great reverence, once the crowd believes that it's not a sleight-of-hand trick.

5. Separation - There's no 'line in the sand' at the edge of the king's lands. But the distance from this land to that land is pretty vast when you have to spend 4 nights in "Injun country" to get there. Adventurers are treated in high regard but are very rare; merchants bringing wares from another land are also treated with great reverence for having travelled beyond the next two hills.

As Chris had previously noted - comments are welcome & encouraged.


Brant and I have been discussing story and theme for the Esaene setting lately. He has already published Esaene under his own rules several years back, but if I'm writing this thing I wanted a bit more creative control. We've decided that, instead of making everything in the world of Esaene, we're going to start with a specific place and work out from there.

Anyway, the themes are not well defined in the game as is. Brant's original idea was exploration and political struggle. I have a lot of ideas, but they need to be fully developed.


  • Boundaries - the area between civilization and the wild is a thin line and one that should be examined. Where does civilization stop and nature begin? What are the problems encountered when they come into conflict?

  • Consequences - There is no alignment in this game. There are plenty of sides and factions who believe they are right. Sometimes they both are. Each action has consequences and no one lives in a vacuum.

  • Struggle - Conflict is always a theme and should always remain - Religious and political ideologies, mercantile wars, limited resources. Everyone is at odds for one reason or another, with the players inevitably in the middle. Peace is boring.

  • Fantasy - Magic and wonder are still important parts to the game, but they come with their dangers. Fairy tales, tragedies, and myths should all have parts. The fantastic should not overshadow the characters though.

Those are the overriding themes as I see it. Anyone have any suggestions or critique?


I've been working on an overreaching mechanic for the system. The Grim'n'Gritty revised and simplified by Ken Hood is a nice system that makes combat very lethal and nasty. The mechanic is very nice and also can be used to streamline other parts of the game, so the mechanics do not get in the way of the story.

The critical mechanic used in the system is a little similar in the set up to what I already have, but the execution at the end is much better.

The base threat range for any weapon (or check) is 10. If you exceed your target number by 10 or more, you threaten a critical - just like rolling a 20 in D&D. Instead of doing extra damage, you can select critical effects with a modifier to the confirmation roll.

Example (Normal D&D vs. Modified GnG)

  • Fighter with Longsword (19-20, x2) - if he rolls a 19-20 on a d20, he threatens a critical and has to only hit the base Armor Class to confirm it - doing double damage (x2).

  • Fighter with Longsword (8/+0) - if the fighter exceeds his target by 8 or more, he threatens a critical. He may select multiple maneuvers with modifiers, such as Disable Arm (-4) and roll his confirmation check at -4. If successful, the target makes a saving throw or has his arm disabled. The +0 is a modifier to the saving throw. High impact weapons, like picks, are harder to make a successful save against.

This can be further extrapolated to other checks.

Skills: Craft (Weapon) - if the user makes his check by 10, he can attempt to craft a masterwork item with a modifier. This is bounded by material costs, of course.
Magic: Power check - if the caster makes his check by 10, he can add metamagic or additional effects to the spell.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Grim n' Gritty

I've been looking over Ken Hood's revised Grim'n'Gritty combat rules. Very nice stuff. I may incorporate more into the game. I want combat to be streamlined as much as possible.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


I've been reading a lot of indie game design blogs lately and there is a lot of great material out there. Here is a great example:

Flag Framing - this is pretty much how the key system works, except I'm tying it into experience and level progression. It is then both an informal-structure role-playing tool and a formal level-progression tool.

The key system is something that Brant, the original designer of Esaene 1st Edition, was really adamant about and I agree with him. It gives both the player and the GM a focus for character development and role-playing. It also covers some fundamental issues with level progression in standard D&D. In theory, a player can choose to take a level of wizard out of the blue. Sure, GMs sometimes will mutter something about finding a tutor, but there is nothing specifically in the rules that says they can't do it.

To advance a level in Esaene, you need the requisite "life" experience (experience points) as well as personal growth (goal achievement). Each level a player must accomplish five goals.

Two of these goals are required - a class goal (meaning an accomplishment that reflects the class you wish to attain. It could be something simple like training or combat for a warrior, or something as extensive as achieving a certain level in a specific skill. In that case, for instance, you may not be ready to train in a specific class until you take the time elsewhere to learn the basics).

The other required goal is a key goal - essentially, the character must deal with a difficult task concerning a key. If the key is, for instance, "Sir Reginald upholds the code of chivalry", then dealing with a situation where that Code is questioned or Sir Reginald has to uphold the Code even when he doesn't want to would qualify. Since keys are player-defined, it allows the player to interject what he or she wants to see in the game as a real mechanic with consequences.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Short break

I'm taking a short break to refresh and come back to the material clean.