EPIC Storytelling System

Thoughts so Far
A mess, really...but a starting point too

Hey all….so I am using this post as my preliminary info dump. I have some half-sketched thoughts i am working on but I will be building out my thoughts as I go. this is just to get the ball rolling. Feel free to comment:

EPIC System – Design Assumptions / Guidelines
The system should:
• Be fun to use, not a pain
• support storytelling, not subvert it
• Be easy to learn, difficult (impossible?) to abuse
• Be simple enough to play quickly, complex enough to support individual styles
• Be progressive in complexity, allowing characters to refine and specialize as the game progresses
• Be complete, including all necessary tools to run a game successfully
• Use the White Wolf World of Darkness as a backdrop (pending further development)
• Use existing rules as development guidelines, not hard and fast laws
• Use existing powers and racial features as a backdrop, omitting / adjusting elements that are too full of exceptions
• Feature the ability to cross-combine and develop new powers / re-introduce old powers as a mechanism for more advanced gameplay
• Be cross-compatible, with a focus on usability and cinematic storytelling over power-stacking and min-maxing
• Simple enough that 90-95% can be remembered or deduced instead of looked up
• Flexible enough to allow a Storyteller to quickly adjust challenge levels on the fly

Specific Features I would like to include:

• Cinematic Combat System
o Allowing for/encouraging stunting without making it seem mandatory
o Using a consumable resource to determine efficacy in combat (see Momentum)
o Dividing combat into Meaningful Encounters (Challenges) and Moments of Cool (Exhibitions) through subtle rules adjustments that favor the player in the latter; the Expertise System may be a way to accomplish this
o System should be highly adaptive and permutation-friendly without weighing down heavily, forcing players to think (instead of “Spamming attack 1”) but also keeping things moving and fluid
o Comboing will be a feature of combat, encouraging players to actively support each other when the situation allows it
o Social (Taunts) and Mental (Tactics) Traits will have more active roles in combat, preventing characters with those focuses from being completely marginalized
o Balance is not as critical – characters should feel very powerful when fighting chumps and pressed when fighting more challenging foes
o Momentum: this needs to be worked out but it will functionally use some variant of the Initiative equation. Characters will use Momentum to power their abilities and determine their movesets, wagering Momentum on certain actions and rolling with a more organic system that will allow faster, smarter or more capable characters to act more often or in greater shows of force

• Simplified Abilities Mechanics
o Powers and Abilities will be drawn across broad stroke rules, with specific powers/abilities using more specific rules that will build on a baseline
 Example: all speed adjusting powers will be governed by one set of rules, but specific powers meant to outclass others by way of special training or natural advantages may provide modifiers from the base
o Powers will be more universally applicable with fewer illogical balance limits imposed
 Example: Speed adjusting powers will adjust Initiative, Defense, Speed and combat ability (by way of Momentum). Strength adjustments will adjust Strength and any other factors determined to be strength based (new formulas to Speed and Health will likely be involved)
 Several racial features will need to be recalculated using a different scale to allow for more balance among Traits. This will foster more character diversity
o Enough with Damn Conditions – Conditions should be reduced to just a handful of self-explanatory conditions, with the option to impose grades of condition if absolutely necessary. Tilts are straight out, they can be replaced by Conditions that can resolve at end of combat/Scene

Thoughts/Ideas/Loose concepts:
• Scenes should have Goals – every Scene should have one or more Goals for the characters to achieve. Goals may be party goals or personal goals, typically with each Scene having at least one party goal and one or more personal goals that apply to characters. On a side note, Goals could provide Beats to accelerate character growth (maybe one Beat per Scene if all / some Goals are0 met)
o Reasoning: providing clear Scene Goals gives players direction, and they can attempt to work towards them or establish their own. Goals can be either obvious or hidden, that is up to the Storyteller to define

• Merits simplified to pools that can be used to resolve Goals – Merits will still have dot ratings, but dots represent the number of times a character may use this particular merit to achieve a Goal over the course of the story. A character with Resources 3 may use wealth to satisfy a Goal that might be satisfied using it up to three times per Story. There should still be limits, probably by way of the character’s maximum trait rating (so a Goal may require a Trait Rating pf at least 2 to resolve, but would still only eat up one dot of “uses”)
o Reasoning – Merits are extremely complex character “tweaks” but require a bit too much forethought on the part of players, rendering many of their choices meaningless if the Story does not follow a predicted path. This keeps those Merits from being marginalized and encourages creative resolution tactics leveraging a character’s natural advantages rather than “making shit up”; it also preemptively disarms the sense of some Merits as “required”

• Simplified Merits – Contacts, Allies, and things of that nature will only be a single stat. This is a manifestation of the character’s social and interpersonal skills (a congenial cop may have allies among the police force, but they might also know a couple of reformed cons or have a daughter who is dating a Senator). Merits relating to a job specialty or specific trait will still be specific and need to be purchased separately.
o Reasoning – Merits are complicated, but so are people. This adjustment represents a simplification that again represents versatility and the reality of being part of society; we all have a number of people who would go to bat for us, and truly would need about 50 Merit points to represent our interpersonal connections even somewhat satisfactorily.

• Fighting Styles need to be pared down – there are too many of these and they are weird in their rules applications due to balancing concerns. Some are pretty neat though and as a whole they should still be available. NOTE: the better option here may be to devise a simple system of designing your own style; currently I’m thinking a single merit named something like Martial Arts or Combat Training
o Reasoning – I think the key here is to again encourage variety. If a werewolf gains a significant advantage from Style A, then it becomes almost mandatory for all werewolves to have Style A. I am flexible on this point, but I think the opportunity to design a style for someone with sufficient combat skill is rather exciting. Also, people who study several arts blend them in actual combat, so a martial artist is better represented by a personalized style of their own design based on their multitudinous fighting techniques

• Scene Matrix – this is still a nascent concept, but this is the gist of it. Based on action/sci-fi/horror films (and their subgenres, which are the genres we typically use in drafting stories of this nature), scenes are strung together into a cogent tale. Each scene can be fundamentally categorized as character/story/action focused; this trifecta is represented by (borrowed from the Sardonyx system) Intrigue (Character) / Procedural (Story) / Action (duh). In the old system they are Social, Mental, Physical and this is a fairly good way of thinking about them if you can’t keep the other way straight (though the other way is more descriptive of how each Scene influences story pacing and flow). The Scene Matrix obviously limits the Goals that can/should be achieved in it – a Procedural that turns violent becomes a new Action Scene with the goals of the Procedural either put on hold or unresolved.

• Expertise Hack – Some actions are just easy for a trained professional; for example – a master hacker breaking into a system would be pretty lousy if they couldn’t hack their way out of a wet paper bag; this is not so true of the meatball tough guy known for being handy with a bat. This Hack will favor certain characters in certain Scenes and that is ON PURPOSE. The master hacker SHOULD be the one to hack the mainframe, not the shmuck with two brain cells. So in game terms, in any action where a character has an unadjusted rating of at least 5 dice in the required Attribute + Skill pool, she may choose to subtract 3 dice from their final adjusted pool to achieve a minimal level of success, and may roll the remaining dice to further modify their result. In other words, that superhacker CANNOT fail at hacking UNLESS they have less than 3 dice in their final pool OR they choose to roll their full pool hoping for a better than basic success. Note this does NOT apply to rolls combining two Attributes (so Perception rolls must still be rolled)

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The Origin Story of EPIC
Where to Begin...

This system is heavily inspired by WoD (or CofD if you prefer), and has been bouncing around inside my head in its nascent form for years. Basically, with every session, I discovered a bit more about our preferences as players, and what we really liked. Requiem for Rome, in my not-so-humble opinion, was our best game, especially in its first chapters. the game was vibrant and interesting, frequently funny and almost always fun, and not too heavily quagmired by rules-lawyering. Over the years, as we attempted to out-do our previous characters and provide more interesting (and let’s face it, frequently outlandish) examples of characters, we started to get bogged down pretty badly, almost as if we were trying to hack our way into better characters.

This for lack of a better term power-creep resulted in our GMs (myself included) attempting to corner us in new ways, and an escalation of resistance that started to feel mildly claustrophobic. Even for me, with my last game of Beast, I was more tuned into providing deep challenge than deep story, and that felt wrong somehow.

It should be noted the reasoning for better challenge is very sound because it is exactly when we are outclassed that we make our best, most memorable moments of awesome. But I am of a particular, indomitable opinion that colors my own approach to gaming, and it is this:

Hot-headed or lazy players should pay the price; properly prepared players should almost always win, even against seemingly insurmountable odds.

This is kind of a two-edged sword, since proper preparation requires discussion and planning, and one of our group weaknesses is to get bogged down in planning. We have for too long been trying to outmaneuver each other, and we know our predispositions in a challenge; that is a ding against both us as Storytellers and as players, because we have begun relying on particular strategies and tactics to the exclusion of other more feasible or even logical courses of action, due to our deep knowledge of the systems.

This called for a shaking up, a revolution of sorts. So I started breaking things down. In terms of system, WoD/CofD is a great setting with somewhat weak mechanics, especially where combat is concerned. i know this is not errant because the system has been partially overhauled numerous times, while the story remains largely consistent with some tweaks to mood or theme’ this tells me the developers are like-minded.

So the story is not the issue, and the players are behaving like, well, players, so the most obvious target for revamp is the system. Don’t get me wrong – I understand how daunting the mere suggestion of revamping the entire system is, and that’s not exactly what we are trying to do here. What we are doing is developing an entirely new system, taking our cues from some WoD/CofD elements and using their story as our backdrop, because why reinvent the wheel entirely? The goal here is not to supplant or hack the WoD system but rather to cross-develop an alternative system for it (not unlike d20 WoD) that keeps some of what we love and removes most of what we hate.

This is NOT an independent system, per se. It is an evolution of the system tailored specifically to OUR interests as a RP group. It is a way to infuse life into our games without stepping too far outside a system we have invested a ton of time and thought into. A new way of framing an old concept. It is not a house-rule compendium, but a completely new approach, using what we love of these systems as the foundation for making a system we can also love.

I know this was rambly, but I wanted to get it out there. If you made it here, congrats, I hope to hear some feedback.

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