Feb 24, 2015
Ascendant ~ Heavy Metal Fantasy
There are literally hundreds of role playing games on the market. Most have their start with Dungeons and Dragons. Ascendant is no different in this but it is different in the fact that it is a scalable game that will allow you to still enjoy characters at extreme power levels. The game offers many new innovations while keeping the feel and excitement that Dungeons and Dragons instilled the first time you played it. Ascendant is a free download and if you like what you see, you can buy a physical copy at Ascendantrpg.com. Bodlar Danger Leben tells us about his creation:
How did this game come into existence?
I grew up Dungeon Mastering AD&D 2nd Edition, from the age of 11. Eventually also Game Mastering for games in the White Wolf and Palladium universes(among others). I’ve always preferred to play from behind the screen by building worlds, stories, and challenges for my players. Like the rest of the gamers from the early eras of AD&D I’ve grown up. While I’m a huge fan on Dungeons & Dragons it is a game designed to also be available to a younger audience. D&D is a pillar of the hobby and the reason I’m even into it at all. It has been an absolutely fantastic life altering game for me. Then eight years ago I was feeling really frustrated with all the newer games I was playing. I longed for something a little more grown up with better scalability. So I had the seemingly innocent idea that I’d just write my own game. I had no idea the game design rabbit hole went so deep! Thousands of hours of work, and hundreds of hours of testing later I feel like it’s finally ready for the public.
Tell me about your play-testing.
The first iteration was barely playable, but I managed to convince some friends to alpha test it with me. Those early sessions gave me some pretty tremendous insight which eventually led to the Ascendant Beta v0.1. I had a really clear picture of what I wanted out of the game and how to get it. That point was probably about a year after the initial idea. With a whole lot of life experiences that managed to get in my way I kept working on it whenever I was able to. All in all I’ve done 5 or 6 rounds of private testing phases. Then taking that information back to the drawing board to resolve kinks. One of the more recent phases a couple years ago resulted in a massive balance sweep where I analyzed as many of the game variables as possible. Running stats, abilities, and damage through tons of spreadsheets to get the progression and balance closer to what I wanted. The most recent iteration has been mostly cosmetic though there were plenty of tweaks too. With this one I’ve arranged the game to be as easily read and played by a player of any level of gaming experience. Some of the tables and ability listings seem redundant in the book at first glance. However, I wanted my players to be able to open the book to a single page or two any time they needed information to level their character without all that flipping back and forth.
What makes Ascendant different than the myriad of other tabletop RPGs on the market?
The leveling system is a gated skill tree system with the “gates” being Ranks, of which most character skills have 10 levels per Rank. The game currently goes up to Rank 5, so a skill like “One Handed Weapon” has 50 total levels of progression. There’s an even bigger gate between Rank 2 and 3 when each of the starting 6 character archetypes must work up to picking, and buying into, a specialty class. All of the classes have access to a list of generic skills like “Health,” “Power,” or “Magic Defense.” Then within their class they have a set of specific skills to pick from. Most characters wind up leveling anywhere between 8 and 14 skills depending on the character and level of progression. The advantage of a leveling system like this is that the player gets full control of what they want more of every time they get experience points to spend. There’s also the ability to cross class into other skill trees as you level up, with some limitations of course.
A unified ability cost pool, simply titled, “Power.” Every character uses Power in a similar way that a wizard would use a “mana pool.” Each ability costs Power to use and when your character runs out of Power you can’t use your special powers any more. You can regain Power by meditating, resting during the day, or sleeping at night. Even the physical combat style characters in Ascendant use power for their special abilities. This gives a check and balance to allow for some really cool abilities, without getting bogged down by the players over using them. They have to weigh their situation versus how much power they have to decide if they want to use an ability or save them for a more difficult challenge. It also means that characters can spend more of their experience points to gain more Power in order to use their abilities more often. The trade off here is that those points aren’t being spent to make their abilities any stronger.20 Specialty classes! That’s right, Twenty. All of which have their own exciting and specific flavor. Since this is already getting long winded enough I’ll just mention the Weapon Master. It’s always bothered me how one dimensional a lot of games make warrior classes. This is definitely not the case with Ascendant. When setting out to design all of the classes in the game I wanted each one to really shine and have multiple fun and exciting abilities. The Weapon Master is your rampaging bad ass berserker style warrior. Fully armored to the teeth wielding a giant two handed axe. With the capability to do massive attacks that send a short range damage shockwave to multiple enemies in front of him with his “Power Attack” ability. The Weapon Master can “Enrage” which causes him to grow significantly in size, and increase his damage, temporarily. Some other abilities available to them are “Keen Strikes” which greatly increases his bonus to hit temporarily, or “Bull Rush” which instantly charges the character quite a ways to a monster with a free beefed up attack. Even their regular attacks hit very hard in between using their special abilities. You an see the other 19 specialty classes on my website www.ascendantrpg.com/classes.html. Also each specialty class, upon reaching the pinnacle of Rank 5, has the ability to unlock an “Ultimate Ability.” Which is a signature, massive, once a day, super power that really adds some fun flavor at the high end of the game.Stat creation is not randomized. Everyone gets the same amount of points to distribute on character creation. In Ascendant, though, this is merely the beginning. Again going back to Generic Skills, any character can spend experience points to level any of the 7 stats in the game up with their experience points. Which allows for greater character scalability.I’m really proud of the combat system. Which does away with randomized damage entirely. I fully understand and appreciate the ideology behind randomized damage. However, it seems to me one of the biggest points at which combat slows down. Between adventures the damage of your attacks almost always goes up a little bit, or even a lot, when leveling your character. When duking it out with several nasty monsters you simply roll your d20 for an attack, add your bonuses, and if you meet or beat their defense you hit. If you beat their defense by 10 or more you get a critical hit(doubling the attacks damage), and if you miss by 10 or more you fumble(giving the target a free counter attack). You tell the GM how much damage your attack does, or the GM can even keep a note of each character’s attacks to apply it himself. The other advantage of removing damage rolls is scalability.One of the big limiting factors with your standard RPG is that in order to scale damage up you add more dice. While rolling 3, 5, or even 10+ dice for an attack seems really fun the first few times it starts to take a long time. Plus any time you add more dice to a roll you wind up flattening the damage curve on that ability anyway. So why not take that the next step and just flatten damage entirely? In Ascendant most characters start out hitting in single or lower double digits. A dagger might hit for 8 damage and a nuke spell for something between 20-30. By the time a character levels up to Rank 5 you have daggers that can hit for well over 100 damage and big nuke spells hitting between 400-600 damage. Who wants to roll enough dice for a 600 damage spell every time they attack? Ok, that might be cool once or twice, but it would become no fun really fast. The hit bonuses scale similarly from +5 or so, starting out, all the way up to +50 or more. Also, if you’re fighting something much higher than your character a natural 20 does not always guarantee a hit. Conversely if you are fighting something much weaker than you a natural 1 does not guarantee a miss or fumble.The characters are responsible for making all of their own items. It’s not your traditional crafting style system, though. You select your characters equipment with a points based system that correlates with how much experience your character has. Since the world is in such disarray it is implied that the characters create all of their own equipment magically in the time between adventures.
The players are also responsible for helping to rebuild their town. There is a town building system that allows the players to upgrade their town between adventures.
Why did you choose archetypes as opposed to a more free form character design process?
Archetypes are basically your starter classes. Then as you advance you work your way into a specialty class. I had some pretty specific class ideas in mind when designing Ascendant. I’ve always loved games that allow you to take your character through some sort of evolution process. The class specialty idea was very early on in the design process, and in order to get to those I needed a starting point. The archetypes give me solid place to give the characters a starting point and guide them a little bit in a direction of advancement. I really enjoy having identifiable classes in the games I play, showing my D&D roots here. As mentioned before you, can cross into other skill trees once your character has advanced a little bit. So a Weapon Master, could buy into the “Divine” or “Nature” trees to pick up some healing powers if they wanted. This way players that really like this sort of character still have that as an option. Crossing into other classes becomes more and more viable the higher your character progresses due to the cost structure of higher rank abilities.
Most games get boring when the characters become truly powerful. Does Ascendant actually keep your interest with extreme level characters?
Unequivocally yes! I’ve done a tremendous amount of math to determine the scalability of the game system. With the characters doing extreme amounts of damage I have nothing in my way to scale monster’s damage and hit points accordingly. For example, one of the really high end bosses I’ve designed has 16,000 health and hits for 320 damage twice a turn with a +59 to hit. That boss is designed only for characters that have reached the top of Rank 5 and unlocked their Ultimate Abilites, though. A full team of Rank 5+U characters is going to be hard pressed to deal with a monster like that. It is doable, but you’ll be on the edge of your seat trying to keep up with something that tough. All of the monsters built for the game, and future monsters to come are meant to push your characters to the limit. My current group has had numerous fights that really came down to the wire. I love that style of play and it makes the game a challenge, and a lot of fun. With character death also being only temporary it allows me to really push right up to that line.
What is the coolest aspect of Ascendant?
That’s a hard question! All of it? Hahaha. I think if I really had to boil it down to my favorite part of the game I would pick the specialty class system. I love all of the classes I’ve come up with and feel like I really filled the gaps in Pen and Paper games that I set out to resolve.
What can we expect to see in the future of Ascendant?
I have a lot of extremely ambitious plans for Ascendant’s future. During the beta phase I just want to get all the holes and issues with the game resolved. I’ve done a ridiculous amount of math on spreadsheets to make sure things add up proportionately. However, with as many variables as a game like Ascendant has I need to just release it into the wild for feedback. I know there are still several rough edges to the game that I plan on refining, over the next 6 months or so, before we make it to a final release.
During and beyond the beta phase I’m creating an online character building program. One of the potential ways to monetize the game I’ve considered is creating a very low cost premium subscription that will allow you to store several characters to update and recall from within the character builder database online. Which you will be able to browse other character builds and share your own with your friends or other players on the forums. Along with the subscription service I plan on including a geolocation algorithm that will allow you to easily find other players and groups nearby without actually exposing your true location. Through this platform you’ll be able to participate in multi-group adventures or encounters. Or get together to pummel each other if your groups don’t get along nicely, all in good fun of course. I plan to launch a nationwide campaign that will have different objectives that require groups to get together to overcome. Which could be done via video conference or in person. I think it would be very exciting for several groups to get together to accomplish really big goals. Just remember the subscription will never be a requirement to play the game, but will add a greater level of value to a dedicated player that wants to dig into a larger community of players. That way I, and my future team of regional GMs, get some compensation for the countless hours that will be required to run such a campaign. That’s right, I will eventually be hiring a team of professional GMs to help run gigantic campaigns for the game. Want to GM a role playing game for a living? Start playing Ascendant because that is a future opportunity.Another future plan includes a tournament system for both Player versus Player, and Player versus Monster games. Where you would compete against other players by fighting them or comparing how quickly or efficiently your team can accomplish a goal against another’s. All of which would be held at local game stores or conventions. With prizes ranging from bonus months of subscription time up to source material hard copies, swag, or even in the form of store credit.Ascendant is going to eventually go all the way up to Rank 10, which will put players at an absurd nearly god-like level of power. Yet it will still be a challenge! Even beyond that, there will be a sequel to Ascendant which you will be able to transfer your Ascendant character to continue the saga. Your character will reach such an extreme level of power, after Rank 10, they will ascend to another plane of existence with a whole new level of mechanics and challenges.Big campaigns, big community, and big scalability!
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