Reviewed by Aaron Smalley, Copyright© 2000
Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion
With all the recent hoopla about the "Open Gaming Movement", including such new players in this area as the Wizards of the Coast's D20 as well as the ones that have been around for a while such as FUDGE, one relatively new entrant into this arena is Dominion Games with their recent release of Dominion Rules 1.0 (DR) and Illustrated Dominion Rules 1.0 (IDR) (both covered under their Dominion Rules license [DRL]).
DR is available in html format or as a free download in a pdf format that has a commercial quality layout. It can be found at the Dominion Games web site at http://www.dominiongames.com. The illustrated version contains simple but talented artwork provided by the Illuminator's Guildhouse. You can see samples of their work at http://www.illuminatorsguild.com/.
IDR is about 250 pages long (with the text-only version being slightly shorter), and is organized into 15 chapters. It has a very well organized table of contents, as well as having extensive hyperlinks embedded within the document for easy navigation. I will give an explanation of the coverage of each chapter, then give an overview of the pro’s and con’s of the entire system as a whole.
The first chapter provides an introduction to DR, including an explanation of what an RPG is, what a "Dominion" is (their term for a game setting), needed items (rules, D12, paper, pencil and players), a brief bit on units of measure, and of course their legal notice.
The second chapter discusses character development, the first step of which includes the development of a character concept (and a brief description of "character styles"). The next step is generating the Attribute Stats, which is a very simple and quick process (can be done in under one minute). They include sample Character Generation Tables to help create somewhat random character development, despite the system being based on a "purchase by points" system of skill development. The next step is the use of Advancement Points to purchase skills and equipment. It is assumed that characters start out with their basic equipment needs fulfilled, with the exception of weapons and armor (which are purchased with the above mentioned Advancement Points). This allows players a fair amount of flexibility in creating a character based off of their character concept.
Chapter three starts with an explanation of the six Attributes and how they are tied to the attribute specific skills and the "Composite" skills. This brief chapter explains the importance of choosing your attribute scores carefully as this will play a major part in determining the characters abilities and skills later. Also covered is the use of extra Advancement Points for "Lucky Breaks". These Lucky Breaks are a sort of bonus to an existing skill that can be used at crucial times, similar to what some RPG systems refer to as "Fate", "Karma", or "Fudge" points.
Chapter four, "Skills" explains the system of skill resolution and how Action Penalties come into play when making Skill Rolls. Also covered are "Non-skill actions" and "Unhoned Skills". The skill system used in DR is based off of the characters' Attributes. Each attribute has skills that are built off of the linked attribute score, so if a particular attribute is high, the linked skills also start out higher. The list of skills in DR in by no means exhaustive, and is actually somewhat small. But the last part of the chapter explains how to go about creating new skills to round out what is needed for the GM’s setting. After all, DR as a system is still a work in progress by the very nature of its open gaming license.
The next chapter covers advancement. This is a very brief 2 pages, since DR does not use a "level" advancement system like so many other RPG’s do. Instead, advancement is performed by the GM awarding Advancement Points in small numbers for successful adventuring. These are the same Advancement Points that are used in character creation, and as such equate directly into improvements of skills once enough AP’s are accumulated. However, a wise player will keep a small reserve of AP’s available for use as "Lucky Breaks".
The sixth chapter explains the "Order of Play" in DR. This is handled by the use of "Rounds", which are further broken down into "Stages" which determine what type of actions or what part of a particular action can take place within that stage. At first, this system of stages seems a little cumbersome, but after a short play session it becomes quite easy to deal with, and the logic behind it becomes apparent. These stages are comprised of: Timing (initiative), Strategy (action declaration), Modifier (used to determine if any bonuses or penalties are applied to the skills based on other abilities or skills), and the Resolution Stage (the actual action portion of the round). Another interesting part of this system is the ability to perform multiple actions within one round; however, the more actions that are attempted the larger the penalty that applies to each (and every one) of these actions.
Chapter seven covers the all-important aspect of combat. It explains the use and effects of the various combat skills and how they interact with each other. Unlike many other RPG’s, DR does not have skills that focus on a specific weapon, instead they focus on strategic use of general weapons. Due to this fact, it is assumed that any character can pick up any weapon and use it effectively, as long as they have the skill "Strike" or "Missile Strike". Another strategic skill that can help out a character is "Feint" which is a sort of fake out that may allow a character’s next strike to be performed at a bonus. Although, as previously stated, the act of performing two actions (a feint in conjunction with a strike) incurs a small penalty. Other combat skills include Disarm, Brawl, Parry, Dodge, and Block. Rules also exist to cover the use of "Called Shots", for aiming at particular parts of your opponents body. Movement is also covered under this chapter due to its importance in a combat situation.
"Injury, Defeat & Death" is the title of the eighth chapter. One interesting part of this chapter is their take on defeating an opponent, which in most RPG’s generally occurs when your opponent dies. With DR, the typical defeat in combat results in incapacitating or wearing down your opponent rather than killing them outright. Illness and Disease is also covered in some detail, as is healing and recovery. A common problem that many gamers have with a "hit point" system is the fact that an experienced character can withstand more damage and thus hold up better in combat. But then it sometimes takes longer to recover from those injuries due to the fact that your average healing skill or magic only heals a set number of points per use. Thus, there is some disparity within most systems. Dominion Games has developed a simple yet practical way of dealing with this disparity. DR handles this with the use of WithIn (Withstand Injury) and WithMag (Withstand Magic) skills. It is a skill that equates to resisting the effects of a damaging event or magic. There is already some discussion about a minor alteration to this skill for DR 2.0 (due out next year) for those that feel that the skill gives too much of an advantage to the defender.
Chapter nine, "The Armoury" covers in a fair amount of detail the use and effects of weapons and armor on combat. Unlike many systems where combat is comprised of two separate rolls (a "to hit" roll and a "damage" roll), DR uses a single roll to determine both. The system of bonuses and penalties that apply to different weapons and armor are intended to encourage variety. Each weapon and armor type has its own advantages and disadvantages (like in most systems). This system, however, doesn’t lure most players into selecting from a relatively small grouping of weapons. The strategy that a character uses in combat will determine which weapons are the best for that character, and all weapons have their uses here. The coverage of armor is a little bit lacking in the current version of the rules; work is already being done to rectify this situation for DR 2.0.
The next chapter explains the DR take on religion, which has some major differences from most other RPG systems. Neither magic nor spells are a part of the "Priestcraft" skills; instead, they use a system of eleven skills that allow the characters to channel their deities' energy through their bodies. But having a high skill in a particular area does not guarantee that an effect can be created, as there is also the issue of following the beliefs of ones deity, as well as the characters "Fervor" (religious channeling stamina). Using this system it is a simple thing to customize priests to particular religions or areas of expertise. There are also rules for handling a "Forsaken Priest" (one who has angered or not lived up to the expectations of the deity).
"Witchcraft" is the title of chapter eleven, giving an impression of the magic system being dangerous and risky. The name also reflects the distrust the general populace has in magic, to the extent that the wielders of the arcane arts are often persecuted. This is exactly what the creators of DR are aiming for, as they want to return the feel of magic to that of an arcane and mysterious art that most are afraid and distrustful of. Most RPG"s have created the feel of magic as being an everyday thing, thus "cheapening’ the feel of the magical arts.
Magical manipulation has been broken down into eight separate skills, each with a particular domain of magic: Alchemy (the power to change something into something else), Arcana (secret or hidden knowledge, supernatural phenomena, etc.), Conjuring (creation of temporary items), Enchantment (giving unnatural abilities or exceptional qualities to a person, place or thing), Hex (making a person, place or thing flawed or unlucky; the opposite of Enchantment), Illusion (distort or manipulate the senses of a living creature), Sorcery (create direct physical damage to something; also referred to as "Black Magic"), and finally Summoning (causes people, creatures, or items to go to the user of this Witchcraft skill). The use of these skills is covered in this chapter, as well as what magical effects fit under which skills. The biggest problem that I see with the rules is the fact that a GM needs to keep a close eye on the players who use Witchcraft, for it appears that this is one area where some may try to throw the concept of game balance out the window. However, a careful GM should be able to deal with this in an appropriate way.
Chapter twelve covers "Spell Books", with the chapter broken down into eleven different books. The first of these "Books" covers general spell-casting rules. The next eight cover spells that fit into each of the eight Witchcraft skills, with samples of spells for each. Book ten covers "Composite Spells" which are ones that don’t clearly fit into the previous eight, or that can easily be a combination of two or more of the previous eight. Book eleven covers how to create your own spells in a step-by-step process. With DR being the work in progress that it is, this encourages users to develop new spells and then to submit them to Dominion Games for future versions of DR.
Chapter thirteen gives a brief explanation of "Beast Rules" as well as a few examples of beasts. Again, this is a case of not having very much detailed information in this section, as the developers want to draw in the ideas of users of DR to help fill in the gaps. I have also heard that they are designing rules for what they refer to as "Beast Rules" for DR 2.0.
The next chapter covers possible player character races. This is a quick discussion of their suggestions for using the most common humanoid types as characters, such as elves, dwarves, and halflings.
"Notes for the Games Masters" is chapter 15 and contains exactly that. Suggestions on how to handle various types of characters or creatures, assigning Advancement Points and a variety of other advice is given throughout this section.
Lastly, there is a copy of the DRL at the end of the document, which explains what can and can not be done with DR. It is a fairly open content license that gives the user the ability to create and distribute variations on the rules that they provide. However, it is best to read the DRL for yourself if you plan on using it, to see how it fits with your intended use.
Overall the DR system is simple yet fairly realistic is its simulation of a fantasy gaming system. It lacks a lot of the details that other systems have, but the developers emphasize the fact that it is a work in progress that needs more fleshing out and detail. They openly say that they hope people will help to improve the system and make it one that will stand the test of time. All in all, I feel that Dominion Rules is worth giving a try. Since it is free to download, there is no loss in taking a look at this RPG that has some serious potential.