Herein you will find our design notes and other information that isn't really part of the game, but might be of interest to those playing or reading it.
We like to think of this game as what the second generation of RPGs might have looked like if Everway or Heaven & Earth, or Nobilis had been the first published RPG, instead of D&D. In short, if RPGs had grown out of games like Once Upon a Time, instead of wargames. These are its spiritual ancestors, though perhaps not its mechanical ancestors.
We created this game in rather a backward order. It started out with the concept of a game mechanic, and only much later did we begin putting a world around it.
The original precept was to see what happened if we broke a pair of sacred cows of the RPG: focusing on the character, and giving quantitative results. We wanted to see if we could come up with a meaningful mechanic that focused on the setting, and that told us only how things happened, not to what degree. Well, as we experimented with different things, we decided that qualitative results were insufficient for our purposes an RPG resolution system needs to tell you whether or not youıve succeeded, and what we had couldnıt answer that question with any kind of certitude. However, we did come away with the idea of a system that was without hierarchical scales, so that while the system now tells you that X is better than Y, it refuses to tell you by how much.
The focus on externalities is what became the Planets. Most (all?) RPGs consider the world the static, or at least definite, part of the equation, and the character striving is what the mechanics/dice rolls represent. We wanted to see what a system looked like that didnıt take the character into consideration, except perhaps analogously to the modifiers that situation might have on a roll in a "normal" RPG. Instead, it would look at the world half of the world-character interaction. All of those ³random factors² that most game system sum up in the luck of the dice uncertain footing, great distance, a change in the wind; in short, chance would become the focus of our mechanic, while those things that are usually considered under character control skill, natural aptitude, "attributes", etc. would become the chance factors summed up by the die roll. In the end, it didnıt end up quite that way, but it still informs the philosophy behind the mechanics. The idea has been refined into a somewhat-detailed mechanical view of the world around the character the Planets which consciously ignores all other aspects of character.
Once we had the mechanic that became "Rolling the Planets", though without specific forces in mind yet, we set about looking for a setting/genre where this sort of heavy-handed fate intervention would feel reasonable, or even appropriate. A couple of possibilities were tossed around, but we finally settled on low-powered supers, and thought that a pseudo-period setting with supers would be grand fun. We hope you agree on that count. The "pulp" part of the setting came from two imperatives. First, it seemed more appropriate for the setting, and, second, the lower power and less-special-status for supers seemed a better mesh for the pseudo-historical setting with supers having less power, we could minimize the degree to which they had warped the setting.
There are some specific principles that weıve tried to adhere to and convey with the rules. In case they arenıt obvious, here they are:
Further, there are a set of assumptions about the descriptions of characters that are very important:
Oh, and for those of you who care: yes, we have analyzed the probabilities for the dice, at least to a degree. And weıre not telling. This isnıt a game about that sort of thing. It only matters whether or not one die is less than, equal to, or greater than another, not by how much, so suffice it to say that, yes, a d20 beats a d16 about as often as a d6 beats a d4 (within a few percentage points), or for that matter, about as often as a d12 beats a d10, and this holds true so long as you only use the recommended die sizes.
If youıve followed my writings online for any time, you may be aware that I think setting is king in the RPG, and mechanics are just there to bring the setting to life. So why is this game several chapters of rules, and just one paltry chapter on the setting? Two reasons. First of all, this game grew out of mechanics, and the setting game later. The point of this game, at least initially, was to challenge the assumptions of what mechanics in an RPG should look like, and to thus stretch the shape of the RPG as a whole. And most of that comes in areas that are, loosely, mechanics.
Secondly, Italia is meant to be 9 parts feel and 1 part detail. We are trying to evoke a mood, and want you to fill in the details as you see fit, in order to capture that mood in whatever way you wish to. Also, it is supposed to be based on cliches, tropes, and erroneous familiarity. Doubtless, we have different ideas of what "the Renaissance" is like, so by leaving Italia vague, you can better mesh it to your own preconceptions.
A great many things have gone into this game, in terms of antecedents. The most obvious and significant, from a setting point of view, are several comics, while much of the mood can be traced to movies. The mechanics, and the game side in general, come from a mix of RPGs and comics.
So, why are we releasing this as open content? Well, thereıs definitely a bit of hubris involved. We believe that this game marks a significant departure from most, if not all, RPGs published to date. But we also think that it is, at best, a first, rough, expression of an idea. Much as it took several games to really refine the model that D&D originally put forth. If this model for an RPG is to have any real value it must be refined. While there is nothing we could do to prevent others from reusing our mechanics in their creations, we know that some shy away from what they see as "stealing" in an ethical or legal sense. We want to make it absolutely clear that we donıt object to, and in fact encourage, others taking this work and building on it. Our greatest hope is that this really is a different way of looking at the RPG, as we believe it is, and that somewhen down the line we can look back and trace at least one jewel of an RPG back to this genesis.
One of the important elementso of this game is the concept of strong authorial input for all of the players, not just the SG. Partly this is achieved through the character description system, which gives a great deal of freedom, and the dice mechanic, which has a lot of leeway in it. But one of the most overt tools for player authoriality is the use of Storypath cards.
Storypath cards are a set of cards made by 3 Guys Gaming. Each has upon it a title, an illustration, and a sentence or two.
In actuality, you need not use Storypath cards themselves. But if you use a different set of cards, you'll need to figure out what to do for blanks, and be sure and tune the frequency of blank cards; Storypath cards have 2 blanks among 81 cards. The most obvious alternative would be a set of Whimsy cards, if you have one. You could make your own by using the summaries provided at Throttle!, but you'd have to decide on frequencies yourself. The major reason not to use them is that all of the cards are significant--Storypath cards have an excellent mixture of minor and major cards. With only slightly more effort, you could pull the subplot cards out of a Torg or MasterBook Drama Deck, but you'd once again suffer the shift from all of the cards being of major import.
If you're willing to do a bit more work, you could use a Tarot Deck. It has a similar number of cards, and you could insist on the narrowest interpretations of meanings for the Minor Arcana to keep a good balance. The Fate Deck from Saga (DragonLance: 5th Age or Marvel Superheroes Action Game) could probably also be pressed into service, with a bit of effort. With all of these, you'd want to somewhat concretize the meanings, as the decks have fairly archetypal or emotional meanings, rather than concrete actions or things.
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