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Started by ZaonDude, October 18, 2002, 02:18:13 AM

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Hey all,

My first post here at the Forge. I'd like to introduce a new Sci-Fi RPG called ZAON. The core rules book provides a peek into the thoroughly fleshed-out universe and play setting also known as 'ZAON', offering you the chance to harness a variety of science-fiction play styles all within one coherent universe—a universe held together by a powerful blending of space opera and hard science fiction. ZAON incorporates plausible future technologies together with realistic game rules carefully balanced with the excitement, political intrigue, and popular style elements most of us have come to enjoy in mainstream science-fiction television and film.

Another thing we're doing a bit different than most is we're incorporating film-quality visual effects for the book's interior artwork.

You can check out the game and its artwork here:

But, anyway, I'm posting because I'm seeking some help/ideas with two areas currently troubling me.

First, the game is shaping up pretty well in terms of being a great generic setting, with some parallels to Bab5, SW, and some Trek, but I'm having trouble finding something truly and uniquely 'ZAON' in the setting.

Second, having trouble developing an initiative system that is fast enough while addressing enough of the 'realities' the current in-place system does.

So, would love any help in that area y'all would be willing to offer!

Good Times!
My latest scientific theory: The Rings of Saturn are comprised entirely of lost airline luggage.

Eric J.

First, I thank you for the privilage to be the first forgite to welcome you!
I would infer that you've been viewing posts here already, and would advise you, and any other first-time poster, heavilly to get a feel for the atmosphere before really becoming part of it.  Now I ask you what I feel to be the most important thing about any RPG. What is the premise for your system/setting?  Why should we play it instead of having a Star Wars-Babylon 5 (ugh)-Star Trek RPG marathon?  There is difference in all sci-fi in the creation of it.  In Star Wars, is was epic fantsy elements in a sci-fi environment.  In Trek, it was to create a solid sci-fi TV show to explore human ideas in alien cultures.  B5 probably has something unique about it too.  You've given us some elements about your universe, but I'm not shure how "political intrigue" in your universe will differ from dunes.  Would you please reply with info on your stances on specific topics, such as GNS, system mechanics, and your premise.  If your premise is trulley, to blend other elements together you trulley won't have any of your own elements whithin your system.

As for initiative, I would ask you what the players do first.  Is your game to be a system of opposed rolls, or a simple matter of skill checks?  This an many other options are before you.  Good luck.


Pyron, I 'spose I would best answer your question by saying that ZAON is primarily a Star Wars alternative, but with the best elements from other sci-fi settings plus a considerable amount of its own. In Star Wars much of the history/future has already been set in stone; the fame and glamor captured by the heroes already defined in that setting. This is a blank slate but with every bit as heavily detailed in setting as Star Wars.

Perhaps it's just me, but if I sit down to read a Trek RPG book, that last thing I want to see or hear about is the exploits of Kirk, Picard, and the like. I want to know about the setting and all the adventure that awaits me.

Also, I've always found cool ships, interesting aliens, and kick-ass equipment to be the best points of sci-fi. ZAON aims to introduce as much of these three as it can—all new to the gaming world. Perhaps think of it as tapping those who know the Star Wars setting and all the cool things in it, but finding a similar but all-new setting ready to be explored; full of cool stuff. ;-)

We hope that film-quality art, intriguing and diverse aliens, and interesting politics will capture a loyal audience.
My latest scientific theory: The Rings of Saturn are comprised entirely of lost airline luggage.

Andrew Martin

Quote from: ZaonDudeSecond, having trouble developing an initiative system that is fast enough while addressing enough of the 'realities' the current in-place system does.

Welcome to The Forge!

How fast is "fast enough"?

The reason I ask is because I've been on the quest for a fast combat system which, naturally, includes a fast initiative system. In play tests, I can get a ratio of around 1:1 to 1:10 (seconds game time to second real time) in my S combat system, depending upon the number of actions of PCs, with groups of 4 - 6 players (RPG mode), and 6 - 8 figures per player (skirmish/wargame mode).
Andrew Martin


Good question. I don't believe I've actually timed play. I probably should. Most people describe the ZAON system as reasonably fast to fast. I would like initiative to be among the fastest resolutions during play.

Also, I realized that I missed a question from the previous poster regarding GNS, etc:

ZAON is certainly a balance, but the foremost goal is playability and fun. Second isn't exactly simulation, but rather assurance that the rules do not violate the player's sense of reality. Therefore, the rules system is as 'hard' as I dare make it, as realistic as I dare make it, but playable above all. The system is fairly lethal meaning cool heads should prevail, but combat is plentiful and safe enough if one is prepared (armor).

The last thing we wanted to do was put together old homebrew system mechanics, so we threw out everything we had (even what we sorta liked) and got together with some outside mathematicians to help design a new system from the ground up. The result is wonderfully sound mathematically, and fully scalar. Its best attribute is how modifiers are relative to your chances to begin with. In other words, being 'wounded' or working under other adverse conditions doesn't really have anything to do with the task's original difficulty, and so 'multiply' against the normal difficulty, lowering it further, but reducing it such that some chance always remains so long as there was a chance to begin with. For tasks beyond the original scope of the character's abilities, there is no chance; as it should be.
My latest scientific theory: The Rings of Saturn are comprised entirely of lost airline luggage.

Christoffer Lernö

I haven't considererd making a sci-fi game ever, so these thoughts might be too much of a "newbie sci-fpg maker's thoughts", but heck I give it a shot.

I think what ZAON needs is


Look at Star Wars it has a myth, Dune has it, Star Trek has it, heck pretty much any sci-fi movie has it.

What is it? Well it's about deciding "how things came to be the way they are"

A history of the world and what makes it tick.

There are different types of sci-fi. In some we're actually exploring the secrets of the universe, in some sci-fi is just a futuric setting that only weakly interacts with the story. Sometimes it's a mix of both. Whatever the case there is a sort of mystery or enigma at the base of it.

In Star Wars, the force is the unknown, as is what powers the evil side has. In Star Trek the "undiscovered" is the mystery being explored every episode. In Dune there is plenty of mystery in how the sci-fi-mystic way the universe is constructed.

All of these things not only create adventures, but also gives direction to why things look the way they look, why they are the way they are.

Heck, you could introduce ZAON which is the name for the mysterious race that created the universe. Their artefacts and empty space hulks are sometimes found creating great leaps in technology.

You could also introduce ZAON which is a name for a place where the space/time-continuum has broken down. The cause is unknown. However, thanks to these regions hyperspace travel is possible. However, there are people who say that there is something bad with the Zaon, that they are symptoms of a gradual destruction of our universe. There are even people who say that beyond the Zaon lies a mutilverse populated by a terrible evil, sealed away for all eternity. It tries to break free, but aside from a few believers, this is largely ignored.

Zaon could also be the planet were the first contact was made with alien life and so on and so on.

Possibilities are endless. (I just thought it would be fun to use the name you had). However, you see immediately how distinctly different those universes would be? I think that's a GOOD thing. What you need to decide is what type of myth suits you the best.
formerly Pale Fire
[Yggdrasil (in progress) | The Evil (v1.2)]
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Indie-Netgaming member

Matt Machell

Hi Justin, are you the same Zaon guy who posts on RPG.Net, or another?

From what I remember (I looked at your sample rulebook a while ago), Zaon is tends towards encouraging fairly simulationist play (that's not a criticism by the way).

For your initiative problem, I suggest you consider why you think you need initiative. Is it merely to arbitrate which player goes first (as it often seems to be in RPGs)? Or is it for some reality simulation purpose?

The point Pale Fire makes about having a Myth is a good one. But  the core point you really need to consider (and you'll get this a great deal at the forge) is what your game is about. If you have a solid idea of what the game is about, the uniqueness for the game should become self evident.



Hi ZaonDude,

I think Christoffer (Pale Fire) has nailed it.  If you don't want ZAON to be a generic system you have to come up with a myth, a timeline, what have you.  Something that makes the game unique.  

Just off the top of my head, since you have invested so much time in the intricacies of the system, you might look at some mythos relating to some mathematic concept, or perhaps beings or some type of "magic" based around math (and magic meaning some type of mathematical or scientific procedure whose effects would appear to be magic to those who didn't know better).   The only thing that comes to mind for me is the movie Contact with Jodie Foster, how they broke the "alien code" by figuring out the equation was in the shape of a cube (or something to that effect).    

Since math is supposed to be a universal language it should fit a sci-fi setting pretty well.  I know that is sketchy at best but math is just not my strong suit.

But again, I agree with Christoffer---unless you want a generic sci-fi game, you need something to make ZAON unique.  


PS - Pyron, man, that's harsh.  I've been posting here for months and I wouldn't even _begin_ to tackle the GNS issue.  :)

Mike Holmes

On the initiative subject, and considering your stated design goals, have you considered the fastest option of all? Not having initiative? Lot's of games have simplified combat significantly by making combat rounds a matter of opposed combat rolls. The winner of the roll does something bad to the loser. Could be positional, could be a wound, could be a lot of things.

As an added bonus, it makes combat play out much more like cinematic combats. Characters don't take turns swinging at each other, there is a back and forth pendulum of advantage. Non-initiative systems represent this well.

For a nifty example of a game that uses this method, see Paul Elliot's Zenobia. For a game that has initiative, but does it right, see TROS.

Member of Indie Netgaming
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Just read through the PDF download.  First, congrats on some very hefty work.  It looks like you were pretty thorough as far as putting together a sci-fi set-up.

As far as your first question, I do think that people are nailing it.  What sets a good sci-fi (and many other types) game apart from others is story.  At least in the sense of "Will our adventures and exploits MEAN anything?"  IMO, Star Wars, Trek and B5 exist better as movies or TV or independent fiction.  Even Farscape for that matter.  The existing stories have far reaching ramifications for the whole galaxy.  PCs running around doing things can cause some folks to think they are inconsequential to the big picture.

Check out some of the past posts on metaplot and space opera to see what other people said.  7th Sea is a good example of this.  When it was first introduced, there was all this story going on, but later books just made the PCs sort of trivial, as all the major stuff would happen with or without them.

For me personally, I like the idea of cinema in RPGs.  Especially sci-fi.  Make it epic, make it big, make it cool.  But that can be handled in terms of a good GM.  I don't know how much you want to do with this game in the future, although from your posts it seems like you want the players to make a difference, so IMO, you might lay off of a metaplot.  Just introduce some new scenarios, aliens, etc.

As for your second question, initiative depends on what you want to accomplish.  As far as I can see, the init system is simple as it stands.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it.  But if you want to add more cinematic flavor to it, then you might look to Mike's thoughts.

Aaron Houx
Taking the & out of AD&D">Knights of the Road, Knights of the Rail has hit the rails!


Mike Holmes wrote:
QuoteLot's of games have simplified combat significantly by making combat rounds a matter of opposed combat rolls. The winner of the roll does something bad to the loser. Could be positional, could be a wound, could be a lot of things.

I _so_ like this concept.  Justin, you really might want to give it some thought.  I think I first saw something like it in Star Wars WEG and now I really wish we had gone this way with Dreamwalker.  


Le Joueur

Quote from: Mike HolmesOn the initiative subject, and considering your stated design goals, have you considered the fastest option of all? Not having initiative? Lot's of games have simplified combat significantly by making combat rounds a matter of opposed combat rolls. The winner of the roll does something bad to the loser. Could be positional, could be a wound, could be a lot of things.
This sounds close to confusing initiative systems with turn-based combat.  I agree with Mike, going 'initiativeless' is the fastest 'system,' we put that into Scattershot as we began to decompose the idea of 'combat time' being different from 'the rest of the time.'  Since it isn't about 'who hits first' and many different 'non-combat' things can happen, it really becomes a matter of whomever first feels that 'going turn-based' will 'make things fair' calling it.
      As an example, the player character might 'call it' the minute the outlaw walks into the salloon, even though neither has done anything provocative.  It gives both the opportunity to role-play the situation into (hopefully) an advantageous position.[/list:u][/list:u]That brings up the core question though.  What do you specifically want the initiative system to do?  If you had to pull off all the glitz and glamour, and all the other accessories, what do you have left?  (Does it pick how gets to try and hit first?)  I'm not talking about rules; I'm talking functions.  What can't be thrown out?  (Does it decide who's surprised?)  What are the fewest functions that
must be kept?  (Does it choose who gets the initial 'upper hand?')  From that we can give you a better picture of what might be fastest.

Like what Mike said, I'm the big proponent of 'go without' mechanic around here; if you want to explore those ideas, I'd be glad to help.

Fang Langford
Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!

Ron Edwards

Hi Justin,

And it's great to see you here. I've downloaded Zaon, although unfortunately it's now waitin' its turn behind several other games.

Here are some threads regarding the order of actions in role-playing that you might find interesting.
Comments wanted on initiative ideas
The four steps of action
What is IIEC?

Rob Muadib and I have discussed initiative/order for strong Simulationist designs in some detail. He's a great resource for this topic; I'm not sure how actively he checks the Forge these days, but I'm sure he'd be willing to help.


Jake Norwood


Cut down the numbers of rolls. Don't make initiative a matter of a separate die roll (or even neccessarily a die roll at all). Games that have interesting (and fast) takes on initiative:

FVLMINATA (Character's social status determines initiative)
Sorcerer (Players' action/attack rolls determine initiative)
The Riddle of Steel (Player choice and character success determine initiative)

Systems that use token or bidding for initiative are also pretty quick, though none pop into my head at the moment.

"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." -R.E. Howard The Tower of the Elephant



Pale Fire nailed it IMO with his suggestion of adding a Myth.  You need one.  My suggestion would be to place a little more emphasis on the fear of the Great Enemy's eventual return.  Throwing in a bit of Lovecraftian-style mystery/horror about the Great Enemy could be cool too.  Either approach would give your setting a nice hook, beyond the cool S.F. accoutrements already in place.

For initiative, one idea for faster resolution of who goes first is simply to generate INI stats taking into account the superscript numbers.  No rounding, keep the decimals.  Then when combat rolls around instead of rolling for initiative you can compare numbers, higher number goes first.  There should be enough fractional variation to make ties unlikely.  In the case of a tie, then a simple roll-off could be used.  This puts most the time spent determining initiative at the character creation stage; during play it's just a quick number comparison.  Just a thought.

And I am so buying this when it comes out.  Great stuff!