I Have No Game, and I Must Blog

A fantasy game I would play

S. Ben Melhuish • Wednesday, February 3, 2010 • filed under shelves

Okay, I’ve said a couple of times (perhaps protesting too much) that I wouldn’t choose D&D as my next game. So, you ask, what would I play? Greg Stolze’s REIGN1 may fit the bill. REIGN distinguishes itself from other fantasy games in two major ways: The system of course, but more interestingly the special attention it pays to groups and communities.

(Please note: I have not played the game; everything that follows is from reading only, which can be a little like judging a song by reading the sheet music. Caveat lector.)

To get the system out of the way: REIGN uses the “One Roll Engine” that debuted in Godlike. You have a pool of d10s from your relevant stat+skill; you roll them, and look for matches. The “height” of a match generally determines how favorable circumstances were, while its “width” generally determines the action’s speed and skill. Say you’re attacking with your sword; your Coordination+Sword roll may have been a very lucky 3, 3, 3, 7, 10, 10. You have your choice of matches—the 2×10 would be a little slow, and wouldn’t deal quite as much damage, but it would hit your opponent’s head, while the 3×3 would be faster, and would deal more damage, to the opponent’s off arm. Rolls for Charm+Graces, Command+Intimidate, and Knowledge+Counterspell work analogously. It sounds gimmicky, but when we played our one-shot of Godlike, it turned out to be quite elegant.

More interestingly: A major assumption of REIGN is that the characters are major figures in a “company”, which could be anything from a mercenary company to a cabal of outlawed mages to a small country. (Or a large nation, if that’s the kind of game you want to play.) Companies have their own stats, and the players can bring them to bear on a given situation.

As written, it sounds like the game is expected to frequently shift focus. Perhaps the players’ mercenary company is going to try to neutralize a border fort in anticipation of an invasion by their client state. The characters may do a more-or-less standard RPG scenario of, say, finding and eliminating enemy scouts, or making sure the fort’s gates are unlocked. Then, the players can use the company’s resources to actually take the fort; the company’s Might+Treasure pool is opposed by the fort’s Might+Territory, modified by a bunch of things (including the results of the characters’ actions—unlocking the gate will definitely help!).

Among other things that a company can do for the game, it makes individual characters slightly less important. The game goes on after a character dies, or even after the dreaded total party kill—the company has more people where they came from, to pick up the pieces and fight another day.

I’ve been pondering the role of societies and communities in RPGs for a while, and REIGN is one of the few games (HeroQuest being another) that has this as a fundamental aspect. Players’ characters don’t act in a vacuum, and I really appreciate this game’s focus on the bigger picture.

The included setting is basically just icing on the cake. Though there’s magic, there are no elves, dwarves, or other demi-humans, and the effect of magic on the setting has been carefully considered. (Stolze includes a section in the book outlining how to think about magic, its limitations, and its effect on a setting.) There are other neat touches, such as the fact that killing a helpless foe will produce a ghost that haunts you. This means that villains will be more likely to live to fight another day, and player characters, if defeated, are likely to be thrown in a dungeon (or the villain’s favorite deathtrap), keeping the story moving and giving them a good chance for escape.

The writing is conversational but clear (as usual for Stolze; q.v. Unknown Armies (about which more later), Godlike). Design, layout, and art are also quite good. It may not be your cup of tea, but $20 for the PDF is a pretty small risk to take.

  1. I went back and forth about how to write the name of the game. “REIGN2 is how Stolze writes it, but should I consider that a typographical affectation and write “Reign” instead, or is it as much part of the name of the game as the capitalization of “iPhone”? Given that I don’t generally write “iphone” or “Iphone”, but instead defer to Apple’s intent, it only seems fair to do the same for the game. ↩︎

  2. And now that word is starting to look misspelled (you know how that happens). ↩︎