But First We’re Going to Talk About Another Game At Length

posted by Barudak Original SA post

Dark Revelation is a d20 system RPG by Chris Constantin and Jason Cable Hall and edited by Joe Amon and published in 2014. Set in a twice post-apocalyptic world, it asks players to make their way in this hostile but still rebuilding landscape. It is available for free along with a host of expansion material and the developers blog

Part 1: But First We’re Going to Talk About Another Game At Length

Dark Revelation is billed, and copyright by its creators, as a “Hodgepocalypse” focusing on a world where the apocalypse let all manner of things not originally from this world trundle into it and become real. Ranging from the dead rising from the ground to magic in its many forms to cats running factories to produce anime for no-one its all here. Sort of, anyway. We’ll get to that.

Before we dive into this review I have to cover off on something in a bit of detail. This game is based on the d20 license, and it permeates everything to do with how you experience this product. If you aren’t familiar with what d20 license is, it is an agreement that allows other publishers to use certain Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition materials, copyright words, and rules, even in for profit works, so long as the publishers comply with the terms of the d20 license agreement. This means the rules of Dark Revelation are just as dense as Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition which pushes Dark Revelations to over 400 pages.

The game uses photographs for mood rather than specifics which I dig

The real issue here isn’t the length per se though, it’s what copying the d20 rules does to your book layout and useability. If not familiar with the Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition system, it is an extremely rules heavy game that requires no less than three several hundred page starter books in order to actually play. That issue, therefore, crops up here as well where after 400 pages of reading you have no real direction for what an adventure looks like, quite a substantial bit of setting details, or how magic works at all.

If you want to do something as simple as, say, fight something with the characters you build using the core book you need to download and read Dark Revelations - The Roleplaying Game - Monster Manual: & Book of Danger. That is also exactly how the title of the book appears in the google store, and yes that is a really confusing place to have a colon and ampersand next to each other. You might think that maybe all the monsters accidentally fell out and all that’s left is the danger but it’s the exact opposite actually, the book only contains monsters and not a hint of non-monster based danger. At least the title is correct inside the book.

Compounding this problem of many books to play the game is the devs have a fairly active blog where they publish additional content and errata regarding the works. It is an odd thing to say but the devs being so active and producing so much material for their game has made it difficult to use and understand what the game is about and how it should feel and play. Since this game is a passion project and based on the d20 license there isn’t a great solution for the devs. It might be worth investigating releasing a book of just the setting/low level monsters/character creation/an adventure or two to help people get a mindset for the full product or people already familiar with the d20 system.

In addition, the amount of d20 in this book is going to impact how this review will work. Given that d20 is used across a variety of books and is publicly available, I’m not going to cover large portions of the rules. If, as far as I can tell, the rules are identical to the core d20 material I’m going to skip it. This means that despite this book being over 400 pages there isn’t going to be nearly as much to cover as you might think.

Now to talk about something different than d20, editing. I know Joe Amon is the only editor of this book and that this isn’t a paid product, but as a person who does a quite a bit of proofreading and intelligibility checking as part of their work I can’t let these things go uncommented on. On the very first page of the book there are attributions for the roles of “Layout and Typesetting” and “Illustrations” with no names following them just blank space. With a start like that is should be no surprise that the book is littered with typos, spelling errors, and inconsistent formatting and as we will see in the lore section next time this will make very straightforward things very difficult to parse.

Next time: We’ll finally start discussing the book and talk about how the world ends. Then, how it ends again.

I Got Two Apocalypses and I Ain’t Ashamed

posted by Barudak Original SA post

Dark Revelation is a d20 system RPG by Chris Constantin and Jason Cable Hall and edited by Joe Amon and published in 2014. Set in a twice post-apocalyptic world, it asks players to make their way in this hostile but still rebuilding landscape. It is available for free along with a host of expansion material and the developers blog

Part 2: I Got Two Apocalypses and I Ain’t Ashamed

Ok with all of that preamble out of the way, let’s actually start talking about Dark Revelations. The game kicks off with something I appreciate, a checklist for what is new versus the standard d20 rules as well as a commitment by the game designers, which they’ve done, to continuously update this product based on player feedback. This is great for a reader familiar with d20 looking for what this brings to the, ahem, table but its very dry and lacking the cohesive pitch on what exactly this game is about and what these rules help accomplish. This lack of set tone and goal for the game is going to be an ongoing problem.

From there, we go into the games setting, starting with the section “Before Revelations”*. It’s written theoretically in universe by a Teacher's Assistant which is an odd profession for your lore master and doesn’t read like anything any professional would write and instead is mostly just overwrought but completely vague prose. In addition to the main text, there is a sidebar that consists of someone very vaguely interviewing the author of the section that has no real connection to the details the main section is talking about. It also highlights another problem that is ongoing in this book; the games tone is all over the place. The main text talks of horrific end of the world and how traumatizing it is while the sidebar is goofy and consequence-free.

From our author, we learn in that in the past of when the author is writing, humans lived in a technologically advanced consumer society. It’s downfall began with the splitting of the atom and the 20th Century American government reaction to foreign powers attempting to surpass it with a massive technology and weapons program. If you think that the games past is occuring in our 1950s sorry you lose, the games past it is describing is actually happening in an alternate universe future timeline of 2040.

In Dark Revelations, nuclear power however splits more than just atoms and is capable of splitting open the fabric of reality. The United States, not realizing that perhaps this is not a great side effect, decides to go whole hog and causes the apocalypse which unleashes all our collective unconscious into reality. Or maybe it lets things which were real and just hidden manifest to humans clearly, the book says both things nearly back to back and struggles to ever clarify which is which when talking about anything going forward.

Dark Revelations, to its detriment, can’t commit and ends up having both to be true simultaneously. Not only does this raise a lot of questions later when say religious figures get involved, it makes a lot of sections hard to parsel. For example, this is 50% of all writing on the first Apocalypse that occurs in the game:

“The skies opened as much that had been imagination had now been brought into reality. Abominations created by the media and fiction came to life bringing their terror to the Earth. Additionally, many things from other places in time and space were dragged to Earth and left there. It was hard to tell what was real or not, which only increased the hysteria”

First, that is verbatim so that bizarre first sentence is exactly what the book says. Second, you might note that the first sentence of the paragraph says “had now been brought into reality” while two sentences later it says “it was hard to tell what was real or not”. It’s all real, you literally just said so! Third, the other half of the apocalypse is just a hand wavy “new things existing caused all of society to collapse” with absolutely no detail as to why or what or how. In fact, the only source explaining why the first apocalypse causes the world to end is tucked away in the timeline for this setting at the end of the chapter.

After the first vague but bad apocalypse, human civilization begins to rebuild within a framework of new, undefined “neighbors” as the book calls them. This period of rebuilding lasts for a confusing amount of time before the second apocalypse. I mean it when I say confusing because this book has a timeline and I still can’t figure out how long this period the book refers to is.

You see, the timeline in the book uses two different measures of time, the first uses our current system and goes from 2040 to 2150. The other is called Post Revelation Times and goes from 1-6. Now, you might think that the PRT follows immediately after 2150, but the first timeline has a period of time in 2060 to 2061 labeled as “Time of Revelations” so shouldn’t the PRT calendar be from 2062-2068? Even ignoring that and assuming the first calendar transitions to the second calendar, the first one ends by saying, quote, “The era of the “first peace” lasts half a century” but the time on the calendar for that time period is from 2112 to 2150. Does the first peace actually last to 2168 and then the new calendar starts or does it cut off at 2150 and the “lasts half a century” bit just completely wrong? Even worse the first date on the PRT calendar starts with “After what seems like an endless era of conflict [...]” so maybe it doesn’t start at 2150 because the previous thing was an era of peace.

Whenever and however long this period is ends when the armies of the dead lead by “The Fallen Lords” rise up and try to conquer the lands of the rebuilding sentient species. This is the second apocalypse which the game names this time as the “Necromantic Wars.” This world shattering conflict gets very little description here, honestly its about the length of this paragraph, doesn’t include any details on why it happens or what the goals of the Fallen Lords are, and ends with a coalition of living countries defeating the undead with magic.

The dead rising and leading armies against the living gets exactly as much buildup and detail as I just gave above, so don’t think I skipped or skimmed something to get here. Don’t worry, though, that timeline I mentioned before which appears 20 pages later from this section has a lot more details about it. For instance, it makes it very clear the Fallen Lords were the cause of why the first Apocalypse was so bad and destroyed huge swaths of the United States. You might think that having a recurring antagonist group that have basically ended the world twice might be worth mentioning the first time they show up and end the world, but Dark Revelations disagrees.

Following this second Apocalypse, the remaining survivors now have strong alliances with each other and “know there is a world much larger out there”. Wouldn’t they know that already what with the previous apocalypse happening a scant 90 years before and introducing dimensional hopping aliens and fairies to earth and a group of undead hell-bent on killing all living beings? The apocalypse which, in the timeline 20 pages later but not in the section describing it, had massive battles between the undead and humans who mastered the art of witchcraft? Or the fact that the survivors have functioning tv stations and broadcasters who do live specials on relics of the past from the apocalypse to their viewers at home?

Remember when I said the game has an issue with establishing its tone and goals? This whole section of the setting lore is the exact stuff I’m talking about. The game has a copyright term for its setting, “Hodgepocalypse”, but at this point the game still hasn’t defined what that means and all the lore we’ve seen so far is extremely light on any details beyond “there are necromancers”. The game feels a bit like a unstuffed teddy bear, you see what it’s trying to be and how much work went into the details of the cloth but it hasn’t got enough fluff to give it the proper shape.

Next Time: TV stations require populations of more than a thousand subsistence farmers to operate

*Humans literally invent their own demise and this game has nothing to do with the Christian Holy Texts, so Revelations just seems like such a weird choice of term to me.

Seriously, Who is Watching TV?

posted by Barudak Original SA post

Dark Revelation is a d20 system RPG by Chris Constantin and Jason Cable Hall and edited by Joe Amon and published in 2014. Set in a twice post-apocalyptic world, it asks players to make their way in this hostile but still rebuilding landscape. It is available for free along with a host of expansion material and the developers blog

Part 3: Seriously, Who is Watching TV?

With the world ended twice, it’s time to take stock of the current status quo, or at least the status quo of what used to be the United States. Despite there being 90 years between the two apocalypses and the second one involving entire armed regiments of soldiers and attempted use at nuclear weaponry and the last air combat vehicles on earth*, the majority of people in this setting live in small communities of less than 1000 people. These communities somehow deal with wandering monsters, magical events, and roving bands of slavers while simultaneously being able to purchase electricity from outside source, running factories, and have TV sets tuned onto one of the many TV stations in the game.

We’re then reminded that a lot of knowledge and artifacts have been lost but again, it has been 90 years from from the first apocalypse and during the second apocalypse people were able to get fighter jets and ICBMs into the air which requires a level of infrastructure I’m not sure the designers of Dark Revelations really appreciate. Oh and cargo ships apparently still come from China and large scale industrial factories exist so there has to be a large scale market somewhere and stable enough governance to make a journey across the pacific ocean by sea profitable, much less the massive futuristic cities. You know what, let’s just move on.

Roads have collapsed but an organization called the Cybercult believes it is their religious duty to maintain the roads of the world and is busy building new, seemingly pointless ones. This, this I like. Unlike the other parts of the setting which are just-so elements with no thought this is obviously that the designers wanted a lot of car driving in an empty, hostile world and came up with a suitably weird group that magically popped into existence that does a weird thing everyone just accepts as normal now.

After that there’s a note that electronics have mostly faded away and need to be redeveloped using quartz-based technologies but unmaintained skyscrapers are everywhere and just fine and work great as wind turbines. I should also note that unfortunately the Cybercult isn’t involved in explaining why a setting starting in 2040 has so many useable gas burning vehicles much less gas burning vehicles that don’t need electronics to function properly.

Built two apocalypse tough

After that it i way too much detail on weapons. In a section that could be summarized as “most modern weaponry still exists, there are some futuristic but rare exotics like laser guns” it instead is multiple paragraphs explaining in detail we don’t need. I don’t think this game has any rules requiring an understanding of how the settings laser guns work but there is an entire paragraph describing the physics followed by paragraphs describing napalm and what the acronym LAW stands for even though theoretically this setting doesn’t exactly have a bunch of tanks rumbling around that characters will need to deal with.

After that overview of the US’s current status, it’s time to finally dive into what the current political orders ruling over parts of the former United States are. Except it isn’t because the by far most detailed one, the Democratic Peoples of the Potomac, isn’t in this section its after the rest of the world and written in far more detail. I think the writers expect that players will either spend most of their time there or start their adventure there but it isn’t ever said and it coming after everything else just makes it all the more perplexing.

These write-ups are the first time many of these groups are given any details much-less names and is the first time you get any sense of what a hodgepocalypse even means since the book is now finally defining what sort of unreal things became real in the first apocalypse. Each of these write ups consists of a two to three paragraph description of the group then their key cities.

The game’s official currency is G-Bills and I’ve decided that that stands for Gun-Bills

Regions of America

Next Time: Hey, is it possible there is more to the world than just America?

*These details not included in the write up, only in the timeline document

And the rest of the world, I guess

posted by Barudak Original SA post

Dark Revelation is a d20 system RPG by Chris Constantin and Jason Cable Hall and edited by Joe Amon and published in 2014. Set in a twice post-apocalyptic world, it asks players to make their way in this hostile but still rebuilding landscape. It is available for free along with a host of expansion material and the developers blog

Part 4: And the rest of the world, I guess

Before we get to the rest of the world, there is a brief section discussing why the United States hasn’t regrouped. Apparently “two full-scale magical apocalypse wars” and “nearly a hundred years since the US collapsed” isn’t quite enough so the authors offer up some more reasons. The reasons like magic weather, dangerous creatures, and demons not wanting to join together keeping people separated is all well and good except not a few pages prior the book introduced a city where “thousands of artisans” flock to ply their trade alongside entertainment arenas known across the land*.

Finally, time to explore the rest of the world. Most of the regions get a one or two sentence overview then a handful of points of interest with a sentence or two of description. On the plus side, a lot of this material is vastly more interesting than what was presented last time in North America and a goes much further to feel like the word is a hodge-podge of different things. On the downside, I’m not sure how players would be expected to ever visit or interact with any of these places given the settings assumptions.

With all that in mind, I’m going to just cover what I think the most interesting of the 34 entries are:
The rest of these entries all have similar problems for me and broadly they fall into two groups. The first is “[x] city is super technological and cutting edge and mega advanced” which immediately begs too many setting questions to ever want to deal with if I ran the game. The second are just too underdeveloped or repetitive to be useable in a game setting, especially when so many of these are so absurdly far away from the protagonists that there's no reason they’d ever travel there even if they knew about it. The worst offender is that there are three different “Kingdom of Dragons”, one as far away as Korea, and only the only one that has anything interesting about it is the one I mentioned.

I really wish Dark Revelations had done more here and gotten as weird as they could. Each one of these places should be totally unique from each other and provide hooks as to why a player might want to go there**. Neko Island is basically the only one that I think accomplishes all this. Players will be intrigued by free stuff showing up at ports all over the world so wherever they choose to play they'll know about it, the promise of untold riches makes the journey worth considering, and of course a mystery when they get there the game master can fill in and have the players investigate.

A cat not ready for the adventuring life

With the rest of the world finished, we go back to North America to talk about the last faction that wasn’t with the rest of the factions in that section: The Democratic Peoples of the Potomac. The name is, somehow, not indicative of it being a tinpot dictatorship but it was until extremely recently one so it almost counts. This country is basically what the preppers would invent if they had to remake America, so its christianity mixed with nostradamus and other conspiracy ideas running a streamlined, smaller Presidency, the removal of jus soli birthright, and of course slavery.

The DPP gets a multiple page write-up but there isn’t a real reason why. There is nothing in the game saying you have to be from the DPP or that the DPP even be in your game, and given that they’re racist, imperialist, religious founding-fathers as gods lunatics I can’t imagine a ton of players are going to be exactly eager to do anything with them but shoot on sight. In addition, one of their charts notes their military power in exact numbers which a) please don’t do this games and b) it has 2,000+ people listed as aircraft pilots. Let’s ignore the amount of logistics needed for this and instead focus on the fact that according to the timeline all of the last known warplanes were destroyed during second apocalypse.

We then get some areas of note and I’m going to skip the population numbers because once again they upset the tone this game is going for. After that its a summary of how the DPP feels about the other factions which isn’t very helpful since almost all of them are “the DPP wants to conquer this to reunite the United States” or my favorite for the Candian factions, “this is too far away”.

Look at these dinosaurs, yearning to be cybernetically modified

Closing out this section is the timeline I’ve already discussed and referenced a bunch. This is the only part of the setting that goes into actual details about anything and is frankly required reading to understand what is happening in this games setting. It’s also like I noted before, regularly in conflict with other sections of the book and itself, so how reliable it is will have to be up to your playgroup.

Next time: The Apocalypse Didn’t Kill the Alignment Chart

*The book states the population is roughly that of the Wild West era but for the part most Americans think of when they think “Wild West” would be anywhere between 3 million and 10 million people which isn’t anything to scoff at.
**The Four Rules of Locations by Barudak:

In Which a Sasquatch Grows a Mustache

posted by Barudak Original SA post

Dark Revelation is a d20 system RPG by Chris Constantin and Jason Cable Hall and edited by Joe Amon and published in 2014. Set in a twice post-apocalyptic world, it asks players to make their way in this hostile but still rebuilding landscape. It is available for free along with a host of expansion material and the developers blog

Part 5: In Which a Sasquatch Grows a Mustache

With the lore wrapped up we get catapulted into the world of d20 rules. There’s the general introduction of the materials you’ll need, how to read the games notations, some term explanations you get the drift. There is also the included note that if you don’t like some rules you’re free to change them and, well, I kind of wish the developers of Dark Revelation had done more of that.

For instance, there is a description of how to determine your starting character ability scores and what that means. The table demonstrating the values goes well past the starting maximum of 18 up to 63. If you were a player, even one familiar to d20, and saw that table you would immediately think that means ability scores will or can go that high. Instead, and I cheated in this review a little and cracked open the monster manual which is against my usual policy, a CR 20 monster has a highest ability score of 25. Having a chart like this in the game not only takes up space that isn’t needed, it gives players bad inference information.

There are a lot more rules that follow on how to make a character, and my personal nemesis the Alignment Chart pops up. If the Alignment Chart represents how characters behave in D&D’s default society if your game has one apocalypse, much less two, you should take the Alignment Chart and shove it in the bin because that society is gone. It’s made worse because it eats up multiple pages of a 400+ page book and as ever d20 has no actual rules or mechanics tied to it.

Mack the Knifears

Another thing that absolutely should have been cut due to bad inferencing is Aging rules. If your game has aging rules players assume age matters. If they read the aging rules they’ll see they’re bullshit and full of hidden information, such as hiding from players when your character will die from it. As with alignment, nothing ever meaningfully interacts with these rules in d20, so this is another waste of game space.

There is a revised “easy” carrying capacity ruleset included but is massively overcomplicated, full of dozens of multipliers and conditional rules, so while not easy it is possibly stil somehow an improvement over the core d20 rules.

With that behind us, we can actually start building a character and that starts with Races, of which Dark Revelations has some tweaks on existing ones and some new ones. An unfortunate side effect of this book being d20 and not all the rules is it can be hard to accurately gauge how useful any of these races bonuses are. With that in mind I’ve still tried, but if you play this game and find out that actually every single monster is weak versus Obscure Racial Feat 3 don’t blame me:

Next time: A pile of feats and some classes

Class is in Session

posted by Barudak Original SA post

Dark Revelation is a d20 system RPG by Chris Constantin and Jason Cable Hall and edited by Joe Amon and published in 2014. Set in a twice post-apocalyptic world, it asks players to make their way in this hostile but still rebuilding landscape. It is available for free along with a host of expansion material and the developers blog

Part 6: Class is in Session

So with the races wrapped up, time to dive into all the feats that the races have access to. Except, sorry, I’m not doing that because most of these feats are pretty standard d20 feats. They’ve just been recategorized slightly and there are some tweaks and additions, but basically if you’ve played a d20 game you know what you’re in for here. It’s a long list of tiny, situational bonuses that you comb through looking for one that is missing the keyword that limits your ability to abuse it and laugh at the ones like a five feat long chain to unlock the ability to actually fly for the race that has wings. I am going to give kudos to the authors here, they included a nice concise table by both alphabetical and feat category of a summary of what the feats do and what their prerequisites are so at least this section is easily useable both during character creation and gameplay.

Now, with out initial feats chosen despite this being a pile of situational bonuses on our character who doesn’t have a base to build on*, let us choose the class our character will be. Dark Revelations has a slight twist on the typical d20 formula for class selection; you pick from a small pool of overarching classes with three disciplines within them. As you level in the overarching class you’re allowed to buy what are effectively class specific feats called talents from either the overarching list you class has access to or the specific discipline within that class you chose. Annoyingly, in the core book of Dark Revelations you only get two of the four overarching classes and the game doesn’t explain that there are actually more classes to choose from. The only reason I know there are more is that a) there is no magic user class in this book despite talking about magic casters in the fluff and b) one of the charts compares some features all four classes against each other despite two of them never being mentioned in the book.

The bigger issue with this system though is, well, it isn’t really any more streamlined than the traditional class approach of d20. Players still have to commit to a discipline within their class and each discipline has further areas of sub focus that it doesn’t feel like there are two classes as much as there are between 6 and 18 classes in this book. Further, these talents don’t replace feats but are instead in addition to them, so there is still the traditional d20 chore of sorting through massive feat lists on feat levels now compounded with alternating and going through your class list on what to buy on those levels. A nice touch is that when talents for a class work with specific rules, even though this isn’t the the section to explain them, the game has sidebars that pop up explaining them so you can understand what the benefit really is.

In terms of how these classes function the Adventurer appears to be the Rogue reskinned with Combatant being the Fighter. As everyone knows these are the two garbage classes of d20 but without having any monsters or spellcasters in this book, though, I can’t confirm if they’ll suffer as badly as their fantasy predecessors. What I can confirm is that the Combatant will be garbage at skill-checks forever because the terrible skill point improvement per level system from d20 has been carried over wholesale.

In terms of class design there are two major issues that crop up, and all of them are things d20 has done badly for a while that Dark Revelations can work on tweaking. The Combatant job role appears to be, as ever, make your basic attack deal as much damage as you can either by stacking as many bonuses as it will hold or playing a berserker. Either way, you’re not really doing a whole lot on your turn that isn’t “I attack”. On the other hand the Adventurer, exactly like its Rogue counterpart in D&D 3rd Edition, is possibly doing even less because their core damage option revolves around building their forever-home inside the skill “sneak attack”.

The second part is randomly included weaknesses for skills that aren’t that strong. The Combatant’s warlord equivalent, Soldier, has a lengthy talent tree focused around providing a grab bag of buffs and temporary HP. At level twenty a character fully invested in this talent tree can grant around +15 temporary HP, +1 to +5 AC, CMD, and Skill Check rolls to the whole party for a 15 turn duration in a single action twice a day and granting the first turn they get this bonus an extra swift and move action. This sounds not too shabby except if at any point someone blessed by this buff loses those 15 temporary HP so are all the other benefits. In a game where a level 20 monster in melee averages well over 20 damage a hit while attacking multiple times and magic damage regularly ignores AC you’ll be lucky to keep the bonus up on anyone in the party past the third turn.

Now this is usually where the third d20 class design issue would crop up; focus-pulling character classes. Without any magic in the core book, nobody is going to distort our adventuring party by using a totally different resolution or skill restoration system. What about classes where all their bonuses and skills are tied into an item or pet or mount? Well Dark Revelations has one of those, the “Transrider”, which is the catch all vehicle piloting class. Normally, this would be a grade-A focus-puller as it its talents are quite useful while mounted but do absolutely nothing if not.

The authors of Dark Revelations, however, seemed like they realized this wasn’t the best idea so enter the humble skateboard and personal mobility scooter. These, Dark Revelations says, counts as vehicles. Suddenly your pilot now gets armor resistance and other defensive bonuses merely for riding a scooter and thanks to talents can travel between 60-80 feet a turn without penalty, hydroplane over small bodies of water, treat the scooter as a weapon they have proficiency with, and ghost ride their scooter into someone then use a feat to automatically get back in the driver seat after the damage is done. There are some issues here with some talents being absolutely necessary to make this class function at all and one talent that lets you claim extra feats as talents being a cruel trap, but come on, who doesn’t want to play the character whose specialty is kickflipping their skateboard at people to disarm them or using their dirt bike to knock every enemy combatant to the ground?

Oh and in the section for the Transrider they mention two species that make excellent Transriders despite both species being neither playable nor ever being explained anywhere else in the book in their 3 remaining mentions. Editing!

Next Time: Thats Why You Need A Montage

*This is not a complaint about Dark Revelations per se, just d20 in general

Something Old, Something New

posted by Barudak Original SA post

Dark Revelation is a d20 system RPG by Chris Constantin and Jason Cable Hall and edited by Joe Amon and published in 2014. Set in a twice post-apocalyptic world, it asks players to make their way in this hostile but still rebuilding landscape. It is available for free along with a host of expansion material and the developers blog

Part 8: Something Old, Something New

Before we can do all new material, we need to first cover some new features on existing mechanics. By that I mean skills. And by skills I mean <long, drawn out sigh>

For those not familiar with d20 games, your characters use skills for most of their out of combat capabilities, from how long they can swim for to what they know. Since D&D is a bit of a grab-bag setting, this lead to quite a lot of skills that are too narrow in application, some too broad, and all difficult to parse how often they’ll realistically need or should come up during a campaign. But we aren’t playing D&D, and like many of its d20 ilk Dark Revelations includes most of the skill list and then piles on some new ones and none of this really resolves the core issues. Having 8 different sub-skills under knowledge does not balance out that the Combatant is going to suck at their chosen skills compared to everyone else, nor that these very specialized skills add little to the game. Does the granularity separating tinker and sabotage add anything to your character design and how do you prevent overlap? What about Bluff, Disguise, Stealth, and Manipulation?

Of course, some of these skills, like “Knowledge - Dreamtime” also have focus-pull issues. If a player takes “Knowledge - Dreamtime” at character creation well then either there is going to be a commensurate amount of Dreamtime content or that player is just wasting skill points. What happens if no player takes this skill, are you simply not allowed to have Dreamtime content? For the record Dreamtime is never defined*, it’s just a thing that happens in Australia which as you may recall, is pretty dang far from all the actual setting content in this game.

Ok, but what if we did something slightly new with skills? Enter skill Montages. All too often in d20 games, skill checks turn into a singular character doing their skill over and over again and other characters debating what toppings they want on the pizza they’re ordering. Dark Revelations realized this and built a system to help define how to combine multiple skills for different characters to participate into a single overarching action like an on foot chase and how to mete out the challenge appropriately.

The problem here, is two fold. Even with all this work and including other players, skills in d20 aren’t very interesting. The only choice a player makes is “yes, I will roll for this test” or “no, I won’t roll for this test” so adding more steps and rolls doesn’t make it any more engaging or fun, it just makes it take longer. The other part is mentioned above, not all classes are equally good at skills. It’s a nice idea to think that by having four skills needed for a challenge four players will participate, but the Combatant is probably not ever going to participate or, if they are, only ever for one possible skill while Adventurers may be able to do all the skill checks themselves.

Immediately after this, why look at that, it’s even more feats. Some are original to d20 and some are new, but all of them are extremely d20 feat design which means ticky-tacky bonuses and weird draw-backs mixed in with mandatory chains of things to take if you want to be a half-way decent character. Who doesn’t like investing a feat to be able to make one free unarmed attack against an opponent that you tripped in the same turn after investing two other pre-requisite feats? What about having a feat that lets you take ten on specific skill checks? Boy I love spending precious character resources between situational combat and out of combat benefits.

I don’t know if I’ve made it clear enough I don’t like d20 feats.

Next up is how Dark Revelations handles money which is done in a currency called G-Bills which stands for “nothing” but you and I both know its Gold. The G is gold. I’m not disappointed that you did this Dark Revelations, I just wished you owned it because its the sort of goofy thing that feels like what the setting is going for.

Unlike gold in d20, however, there are rules for creating counterfeits and since it’s just a printed currency you could conceivably have an adventure about stealing its plates and inks and making your own legal tender. Hey, wait, if this stuff is currently being printed and everyone understands its intrinsic worth, that means there’s some sort of society that everyone views as stable, trustworthy, and ideologically aligned enough to use their currency as a medium of exchange. Oh, whats that? It’s the official currency of the racist, irredentist religious lunatics who are planning to reconquer all the other countries? Dark Revelations, that is a disappointing idea.

*Yes, I’m aware that Dreamtime and what they’re going for is a real concept, I’m merely pointing out that within the context of the ruleset of Dark Revelations it has no meaning

Next Time: Ain’t Nuthin but a G-Bill Thang