Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dominium Campaign: Evolving Rules

An ongoing goal of my campaign has been that it be approachable by casual players, while still presenting challenges to experienced players. I had abandoned D&D after about a year with 3.5, suffering from a bit of game-master burnout and frustration with the amount of prep work that was going into my sessions. After nearly a year hiatus I had an opportunity to run a one-off game for a group of kids “trapped” in a cabin by bad weather on vacation. We had a d6, a pad of paper, and a couple of pencils. I asked each of the kids to tell me about their character, including one (amazing) ability that they had. Needless to say the kids were creative, the session was chaotic, and we all had a blast. Four hours went by in a flash, the weather cleared and the kids hit the beach again.

That experience rekindled my interest in campaigning. But I wanted to do it on my own terms, so I formulated a very simple d20-based ruleset I called “Primitive D&D”. I called my old players and invited them back to the table and off we went.  The rules quickly showed that my hybrid-casual approach needed some polish. With a big group in a campaign, I couldn’t afford to let things fly quite as much as I had with the kids (the adults were much quicker to exploit weaknesses in the system, and worked it over pretty hard, whereas the kids had been happy just to play.)

Fourth Edition D&D had been introduced at this point, so I engineered a transition to that (maintaining all the characters’ basic feel.) We played in 4e form for a while before some of the elements of its design began to grate on the sensibilities of some of the more avid players and their beleaguered game master. I joined a couple of new gaming groups, seeking to get new ideas and perspectives on gaming. From there, I developed a hybrid version of 4e. Powers were assigned a point value, and characters got points that they could spend to do dice of damage, or apply conditions from a menu of options. The point-buy system was applied to both weapon-based combat and magic-use. My players were patient with my tinkering, and happily explored the system. They were able to do more damage than with straight 4e, and so combats went faster. To compensate for more deadly PCs, I used only the “upgraded” monsters from the third Monster Manual, the Dark Sun Creature Catalog, and newer WotC publications. With everyone doing more damage, combats got a little edgier as well. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Not content to leave well enough alone, I decided to step further away from 4e in a quest to provide a system that gave players maximum control over the types of characters they could create. A good friend had just initiated a new campaign using his home-brewed rules and I enjoyed the character creation process so much, I toyed with the idea of adopting the system wholesale for my campaign. His Lords of Chaos rules were well thought-out, flexible (it’s a classless system, using point-buy skills to determine a character’s capabilities), and familiar to me and a number of the players at my table who also played in his campaign. However, they were also fiercely-detailed in their simulation of combat and the encounter construction and game mastering aspects of it seemed daunting to me.

So, I again opted to modify 4e rules, incorporating Lords of Chaos combat timing, non-combat skills, and modifying combat skills and the magic-use system to incorporate the point-based system I had used to append 4e earlier. I maintained a 4e backbone of Essentials feats, conditions, and position and maneuver rules in addition to a lot of 4e terminology to keep the game feel as familiar as possible to my players. I expect the whole system to evolve as we play. And, as long as the changes keep their evolutionary feel, I hope my players will continue to enjoy the ride.

You can find the complete (but still evolving) house rules at the Dominium campaign wiki at Obsidian Portal.


  1. Hi,

    Apologies for the off-topic comment, but I couldn't find a contact email for you.

    I've recently put out an ebook of my writing, called 'The New Death and others'. It's mostly short stories, with some obvious gamer-interest material. For example I have a story inspired by OD&D elves, as well as poems which retell Robert E Howard's King Kull story 'The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune' and HP Lovecraft's 'Under the Pyramids'.

    I was wondering if you'd be interested in doing a review on your blog.

    If so, please let me know your email, and what file format is easiest for you, and I'll send you a free copy. You can email me ( or reply to this thread.

    You can download a sample from the ebook's page on Smashwords:

    I'll also link to your review from my blog.


  2. No worries, James. Thanks for your interest in Telluric Currents. I'll drop you an e-mail.