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Dominion Games Interview

Interview by Aaron Smalley, Copyright© 2000

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

The following is an interview with Michael Bourland, one of the creators of Dominion Games Their recently released Dominion Rules 1.0 and Illustrated Dominion Rules 1.0 are free for downloading on the Internet at the above URL, as is the Online Dominion Rules.


GC: Can you give us a brief history behind the development of Dominion Games and Dominion Rules?

Michael Bourland: The Dominion Rules roleplaying system has been in development for several years. Similarly, the idea of distributing it for free over the Internet is one we toyed with since as early as 1996.

Dominion Games, the company that produces Dominion Rules, was created about a year ago.

GC: How many people were involved in the early development of DR?

Michael Bourland: Three friends. The current development of DR is much broader though, thanks to the Dominion Games Development Team. To read more about the DevTeam, or to join it, go to

GC: What is your intent with releasing Dominion Rules under an "Open Gaming" format?

Michael Bourland: As everyone knows, the predominant game in the fantasy genre is Dungeons and Dragons. That was true when we created Dominion Rules, and it is even more true now that Wizards has finally revamped and reinvigorated D&D. We've always known that we can't compete with D&D for market share. And in fact, we never really intended to. We've never been out to make a lot of money, but just to share a hobby. So we decided that the best way to encourage people to move away from D&D--if only for the few hours that it takes to learn Dominion Rules--was to give it away.

Once we decided to give DR away, it was a short step to deciding to release it under an open source licence. We hope that by giving RPG and video game developers broad rights to use DR, we will encourage more people to use our system.

GC: Do you feel that the "Open Gaming Movement" is the wave of the future for the RPG industry? And if so, why?

Michael Bourland: That depends. I'm not convinced that the d20 system is the wave of the future. As Ryan Dancey (VP at Wizards) has always admitted, the d20 system is a way for Wizards to unload the unprofitable part of their business--namely, modules--onto small developers. Why small developers think they can make money where Wizards can't is beyond me.

Still, "Open Gaming" has great potential in another area: dominion development. "Dominion" is our term for campaign settings or fantasy worlds. I think there is great potential in using open source licences to allow players and companies (but especially players) to create online dominions. The advantage of online dominions would be that they could develop almost in real-time: every time you campaigned in the Dominion of X, you could post the results of your adventures on the web for all to see and use. With time, the Dominion of X could grow massively by small individual contributions from people all over the internet and all over the world.

That has a lot of potential. We wrote our open source licence, the Dominion Rules Licence, in a way that allows that sort of development. It's not clear that Wizards' Open Gaming Licence is as generous. We'll see.

GC: What do you feel sets Dominion Rules apart from other RPG systems?

Michael Bourland: DR is not a huge departure from other fantasy RPGs. But it does have some very distinctive features.

The whole system is based on a very simple d12 mechanic. Basically, to do anything in DR you roll d12 trying to roll lower or equal to a given number. Because we have based the *entire* system on this mechanic, DR is very easy to learn.

The Combat system is, in our humble opinion, quite elegant. Combatants have a variety of skills available to them, including Strikes, Parries, Feints, Dodges, and Disarm attacks. They struggle not necessarily to kill each other (though that is always an option) but to defeat their opponents by wearing them down and overpowering them.

The Priestcraft system is innovative. Instead of making Priests little more than holy magicians (as D&D does), DR gives priests specific skills which they Channel from their deities. These include Smite, Wrath, Bless, Curse, Defile, Resurrect and Work Miracle.

Finally, the Witchcraft system is very free-form. While it includes nearly 100 pre-made Witchcraft Spells, it also gives rules for witches to create new spells on the spur of the moment. Furthermore, Witchcraft in DR is very unpredictable: there's always at least a 1 in 12 chance that a Spell will go horribly (or hilariously) wrong.

GC: You mention an elegant way to handle combat. This includes being able to "defeat" your foe without killing them. Part of this is pulled off using your "WithIn" skill/stat, can you briefly explain to our readers how this works?

Michael Bourland: Every character has a Withstand Injury stat (WithIn). Corresponding to this is the Injury stat. When you are unInjured, your Injury stat equals your WithIn. When you are Injured, your Injury stat falls according to the severity of the Injury.

When your Injury stat falls below 0, you begin to suffer Injury Penalties. An Injury Penalty is a penalty applied to all your Skills (except WithIn), making it harder for you to do things. For example, if you have a Strike stat of 8 but an Injury Penalty of -3, your modified Strike stat is 5.

When your Injury Penalty becomes greater than a given Skill stat, you can't perform that Skill. Ex. Bilbo has an Injury stat of -8 and a Dodge stat of 6. He cannot make successful Dodge rolls anymore, because his modified Dodge stat is now -2, and you can't roll less than zero on d12! Bilbo may be able to perform other Skills (i.e. those with stats higher than 6), but he can't Dodge.

Now here's how you are Defeated. When your Injury Penalty becomes higher than your highest Skill stat, you can't perform any Skills. You are totally incapacitated, or as we say, Defeated. You might be dead, too. But not necessarily. You die when your Injury Penalty falls to -12 or lower, but if your highest Skill stat is lower than 12 (as it usually is), you may be defeated with an Injury Penalty of -9, or -11, or even -6 for some characters.

For a complete explanation, go to our online rules at and click on Chapter 8: Injury, Defeat and Death.

GC: Rumor has it that after starting work on the Dominion Rules License, you had considered releasing DR under the Open Gaming License, but then changed your mind and continued work on your own Dominion Rules License. What was the reasoning behind this?

Michael Bourland: That rumour is true. We simply felt that the OGL wasn't liberal enough for our purposes. As I explained above, we needed a licence that would encourage players and game developers to take a chance on a relatively unknown RPG instead of sticking with the tried and true D&D system. So we create a licence which is generally acknowledged to be more open that the OGL.

That isn't meant as a criticism of the OGL. That licence is a good one for Wizards. It just wasn't good for us.

GC: Why did you decide to support the idea of multiple "Dominions" rather than aiming to provide a single background setting for Dominion Rules?

Michael Bourland: Simple: players wanted a universal rules system. In fact, the Beta Release of DR was quite a bit more dominion-specific than DR 1.0. We changed 1.0 in response to player complaints. DR 1.0 is quite dominion-neutral now. But we're aiming to make DR 2.0 even more so.

GC: Do you see these multiple Dominions as being linked as if they are all different lands within a single fantasy setting? Or was it a case of wanting to encourage others to develop their own settings for Dominion Rules?

Michael Bourland: There is a lot of potential for players to create multiple dominions and then link them together in one huge world. But it can also be fun to have multiple worlds. There's no reason why we can't do both.

GC: Currently there are only a small number of "Beasts" covered in the chapter on this subject. However you have a bulletin board system where further development of the Dominion Rules takes place, and you are also allowing people to submit ideas via email. Can you give us a hint as to what creatures are likely to appear in the next version of Dominion Rules?

Michael Bourland: The answer is, Any creature you want! We're working on a whole new way of creating Beasts/monsters for DR 2.0. Rather than having only lists of pre-fabricated beasts, we're creating a system whereby players and Games Masters can easily create their own beasts--even on the spur of the moment.

The system will be based on a collection of Beast Skills. These will strongly resemble the current Combat Skills used by humanoid characters. For instance, humanoids in DR attack with Strike, Missile Strike, Feint, Brawling and Disarm attacks, and defend with Dodges, Blocks, Parries, and Retreats. The new Beast system will be based on similar offensive and defensive Skills, but for Beasts.

For example, offensive Beast Skills might include Bite, Breathe Fire, Spit Poison, Petrify, Claw, Gore, Trample and Ram. Defensive Beast Skills might include Flee, Retreat to Shell, Camouflage, etc.

Once these Beast Skills are defined, players and Games Masters will be able to create their own beasts very easily, simply by deciding which Skills they have and how high or low their stats are for each one. And of course, players will always be encouraged to create new Beast Skills (and share them with us!).

GC: In one spot in Dominion Rules it is mentioned that fantastic beasts and creatures are becoming way too common. You hint that mythic beasts should not be hiding around every corner as they seem to be in many of the "Dungeon Crawl" type of RPG's out there. Why do you feel it is important to return these mythical beasts to their rare and fantastic status that they once held, rather than the "one on every street corner" status that they seem to now have in the fantasy RPG industry?

Michael Bourland: First, I have to admit that this passage is an example of *not* being "domininion-neutral"! The creators of DR definitely feel that the fun of fantasy gaming is easily lost when monsters and creatures and non-human races become too common.

But some people like a hack-and-slash game. DR can be used for that, too. But we think it will especially appeal to players who want a somewhat more subtle system.

We invite The Guild Companion's readers to judge for themselves. Come and download your free, illustrated copy of Dominion Rules 1.0 from our web site:

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