Tuesday 4 November 2008

Dominion Rules by MAB

Dominion is a mechanics system for low fantasy and quasi-historical settings. It is a low-crunch rules system written and managed by a Mysterious Anonymous Benefactor (MAB)*. Dominion has a long and varied history that includes contributions from the Illuminators Guild (site unavailable at time of writing). You might as well torch your columns of AD&D and run Dominion instead.


Dominion is based on the D12, which is refreshing. Based around the old friend of roll-under-the-skill-value, and add modifiers. 12 is an automatic fail. There are 6 statistics called Attributes: Vigour, Agility, Stamina, Intuition, Intellect and Luck. Ranged 1 to 4 for humans (other races are available), which seems like a rather low resolution. Luck allows you to choose to have a bonus to any given resolution during a round. Attributes do not change during the game. You do not get smarter, quicker or stronger. Skills are based on Attributes (as you might expect).

There are also three Composite Attributes, which are the sum of two other Attributes. For example, Combat Composite is a combination of the character's Vigor and Agility and controls all the usal fighting, running and gadavanting around. It's very simple to do, add two Attributes together and divide by two. You don't do this often, and rounding is taken favourably. All explained with simple examples. The skill list is far from obscene, detailed and athletic in build. If you were to create your own setting, you'd not need to think very much or add to the list, MAB is far ahead of you. Advancement points..., well, yes.

Character creation

Character creation is performed in six familiar steps: Decide on concept, roll on the generation table (more later), determine the Attributes, calculate the Composite Attributes, work out Advancement Points and apply the advancement points. Each step of character creation is dealt with careful consideration, a running example shows how a character might be built throughout. Characters are not pressed into classes but instead styles (archetypes) are presented to help start the flood of creative juices. The character generation table gives a random bonus to the character. They aren't feats as you can't choose them. The table has different benefits for different races, which is a nice touch.

Attributes are point assigned but there is an element of randomness so some starting characters might have higher attributes than others. Advancement points are then used to bolster those Attributes that you might be worried are a little low to fit your character concept.

Doing stuff (Task resolution)

Each round is constructed from a series of stages. Order of action or initiative (Timing Stage), declaring actions (Strategy Stage), rolling skills (Modifier Stage) and dealing a world of pain (Resolution Stage). Each stage is well described with examples. Combat is an extension to this, with an plethora different actions the characters can take, each well named and focussed on a cinematic stabbing, slashing, singing swords and crunching shields. Injuries come in different types, which reduces the lethality of the system and gives a random from "'Tis but a scratch" territory through to "Look, you silly bastard, you've got no arms left. What are you going to do, bleed on me?". "Magic" is dealt... actually, that's not fair. There is Godly-power through priesthood, which makes priests useful and then Magic, which is the old fashioned witches, wizards and so on. There are 125 spells. Enough to skin your teeth into? Up to the gums.

The book

Dominion's PDF is 301 pages and beautifully laid out in a facing page format. I recommend that if you print out Dominion, you would do well to print 'duplex' (on both sides) else you will have blank pages. The serif font is both appropriate and well type-set, a touch difficult to see on a monitor (read: my rubbish monitor) but prints beautifully. The graphics throughout are stunning. Contributing authors are credited but MAB has done a splendid job collating and placing the images. I do wonder if MAB's true identity is amongst the names. A feature of the self-contained-edness of the book is the inclusion of a fully features fantasy/quasi-medieval armour and weapon lists. In keeping with the rest of the book, every item of equipment is well explained with bonuses and enchantment. Beasts also have their own section with their own actions that can be use, accompanied by an illustrated bestiary. It came as no surprise that the book also includes guidance for creation of your own beasts.

The language is concise and in plain English. If I was a gambling man, I might guess that MAD was a technical or scientific writer.

Thoughts on Dominion

The system uses metric measurements for everything. Being a SI unit loving scientist; being British and Britain being geographically in Europe, you might think I am jumping up and down with joy. But no. I use a horrid mix of miles for distance, feet and inches for height, kilos for weight, feet for altitude, pints for beer, birth speed in cows per square ironing board and so on. I like that Dominion is up front about its units. I'd like to see more items on the generation table. I appreciate that 12 was chosen to keep the dice count low but I think you will find that someone who can get hold of a D12 will have a D20 handy. The audience is likely to be veteran GMs thirsty for something new and free.

It falls into the unfortunate trap of redefining a commonly used terms using Attributes , rather than use 'Stats' and so on. I would argue that it's not really needed to retain individuality. If I were to print the whole book, I'd worry about the page count. The margins are large, as is the text size. Some of the pages have a few words and a vast expanse of white. You would rightly argue that white space makes text easier to read but when you're printing at home, the cost needs some consideration.

MAB admitted that Dominion is on a back burner after filthy pikey cybersquatting scumbags took the original domain and real life got in the way. The website is well produced and I imagine that if MAB wanted to expand it to form a community, he/she/it/borgit would be of a high quality. It's a pity that there isn't a community surrounding Dominion as I think it deserves one.

And finally

Dominion feels like a life work. It has that maturity and depth of a game that has evolved, aged and tightened over time. What throws me about Dominion is that it's nearly a complete game!. Let me qualify that. The system is complete. If you were to pen a setting for Dominion, there's little left to do: a map, some colourful NPCs and a history. As Si Crocker would say: "Bosh, sorted". I am thrown because you expect Dominion to have a setting when you get to the end and it's slightly upsetting that there isn't one. Like then ending of the film Batman The Dark Knight, you're stranded clamouring for more but unfortunately, there isn't any. Ever written your own campaign setting as a GM? You've probably done more than enough to equip Dominion with one. My flailing text isn't doing Dominion justice, I can only hope you giving it a chance will.

* MAB wished to remain anonymous, if you know who MAB is then please do keep it to yourself and let the rest of us retain the thrill of an unsolved mystery. Many thanks!


Stan said...

I had never even heard of this. Even if I never play it, I'm pretty sure that I'll get some use out of it.


Rob Lang said...

If you do, please come back and let us know how you used it, Stan. It's always good to hear of how people get on with free things on the web.

Samuel Kilsholm said...

i had played with my two sisters and they are only 11 and 8 years old and where GM and im 13 years old so its pretty simple

Rob Lang said...

Samuel, praise indeed! Thanks for your comment. Did you use all of the rules or did you skip some bits to make it more interesting for your sisters?