Domain Game - Beta Playtest

Designer: Stephen Parkin. Version: 2 Dec 2018

Table of Contents


This is a story game in which you control, develop, and test a Domain, a polity like a company, a faction, a union, a movement, a political party, a settlement or a city, a colony, a kingdom or country, an alliance, an empire, a world, or a galactic empire.

You will need way to record information (pencils and note cards work great, or else an organized online forum) and a set of polyhedral dice (or similar random number generator) like those used in Dungeons and Dragons.

In design parlance, this is a mechanics first game—you'll frequently use the mechanics to prompt and guide what you narrate. It is also a baton passing game, meaning that you'll take turns talking and being in the spotlight, so to speak. Finally, it is a GM-less game, meaning that players have equally distributed authority and parallel roles, rather than the asymmetrical division of authority found in traditional wargame-based RPGs.

These rules are crossreferenced, with parenthetical references pointing to the relevant section.

Rule 1. Time and Turns

1.1) Overview: On each Turn, players take turns making three Actions (Rules 5-7) and briefly narrating what activity the Domain makes regarding those Actions, including their success or failure. After completing their Actions, each player must follow the Crisis procedures (Rule 8).

1.2) Actions: Actions are rooted in the fiction and have fictional consequences. They also invoke mechanical effects. Each Action taken may be accompanied by any amount of additional fictional detail, but a basic narrative (of a few sentences) must be included. The narrative should be adapted to the outcome of an Action, usually by beginning to narrate, reaching the crux, mechanically resolving the Action, and completing the narration with respect to the indicated mechanical outcome.

1.3) Actions: Players must take three Actions per Turn. With the exception of the Personnel Actions (Rule 6), each specific Action may only be taken once per Turn. (Development Actions may be repeated if they apply to a different object—for example, Improving two different Assets or attempting to boost two different Statistics. See Rule 5.)

1.4) Turns: Each Turn covers one season (three months). The game will very quickly cover years and decades.

1.5) The "Time Dial": For certain game ideas, players may choose to modify the pace established by a single Turn's length. Before the game starts, a Turn may be determined to be shortened to a month or even a week, or else be extended to a year, a decade, or even a century (e.g. for a game about vampires or immortals). Playing with the "Time Dial" can thus provide more intimate, faster-paced games, or else a slower, dynastic, generational style of play.

1.6) Order of Play: The Order of Play for each player's Turn is as follows:

  1. If the player is the first to play this "year" (1.3), each Neutral Domain gains +1 to a random Statistic (Rule 2.9).
  2. Take three Actions (1.1).
  3. Resolve "Crisis Fallout" (8.10).
  4. Check for a "New or Escalating Crisis" (8.1-2).

Rule 2. Domains

2.1) Statistics: Domains are represented by four game Statistics, each of which is rated from zero to 100:

Military and political power. Armies, ships, fortifications or held strategic locations, armaments and war technology (including intelligence).

Cultural and diplomatic strength. Reputation, ideology, internal political support/morale, soft power, sway in public opinion and the greater community.

Economic capacity. Raw materials, commodities, finished goods, wealth, capital, finances, market access, taxation, industry, means of production.

The integrity and general strength of the Domain. Literal, geographic size and bulk, but also the size, cohesion, vitality, and general skills of its population. Includes any given area of de facto dominion—so, vassel or client states, colonies, dominated "allies," and so forth.

Creating a New Domain

2.2) Give a new Domain just a sentence or two of details. Many more details will be added through play. To generate Statistics, distribute the following scores among your four Statistics: 40, 50, 55, 65.

2.3) Next, create three Level 1 Agents (Rule 3) and three +1 Assets (Rule 4).

2.4) Finally, create three Connections from your Domain to other Domains. Connections are relationships and history: alliance, rivalry, envy, favors owed, etc. Connections are used to kickstart narrative interaction between Domains.

Example Connections:

  • Has been betrayed by so-and-so in the past.
  • Maintains an old alliance with so-and-so.
  • Has a prosperous (or rocky) trade relationship with so-and-so.
  • Is a former colony of so-and-so.
  • Wants to take over so-and-so's such and such.
  • Will end this war/rivalry/feud with so-and-so, one way or another.

Non-Player (Neutral) Domains

2.5) Neutral Domains: Each Neutral Domain has a short description and the same four Statistics as player Domains (2.2). To generate a Neutral Domain's Statistics, sum 4d12+25 for each Statistic, and then—if desired—switch any two scores.

2.6) Agents, Assets, Crises: Neutral Domains do not have mechanical representations of Agents (Rule 3) or Assets (Rule 4), and they are not subject to the Crisis procedures (Rule 8). Use common sense to adjudicate any Actions that target their Agents or Assets; for example, turn "Degrade an Asset" results into Statistic degradation, or generate a fictionally appropriate Asset for (e.g.) Theft or Sabotage Missions.

2.7) Initial Neutral Domains: At the start of the game, create Neutral Domains until there are at least six total Domains (counting both player-owned and Neutral Domains). Players can cooperatively create Neutral Domains, or they may take turns generating them.

2.8) Creating Domains in Play: During play, generate the Statistics for new Neutral Domains at the moment when a player first interacts with them mechanically. (It is possible, and recommended, to refer fictionally to possible Neutral Domains for many Turns before mechanical interaction requires that their Statistics be formally generated. This keeps bookkeeping to a minimum.)

2.9) Growth: At the beginning of each Turn, each Neutral Domain gains +1 point to a random Statistic.

2.10) Neutral Leaders: During play, if a Mission is taken against a Neutral Domain, roll 1d4+1 to randomly generate an effective "Leader" Level that persists for the Turn (see Rules 3.3 and 7.7).

2.11) Elimination: During play, a Neutral Domain is eliminated if the sum of its Statistics is reduced below 100.

Rule 3. Agents

3.1) Attributes: Agents are the notable personages and spotlight characters in each Domain. Mechanically, each has a Name, Level, and Role. Agents' Levels are rated 1-5. Roles are short descriptive phrases that describe an Agent's background, skills, character, or other relevant information. Additional information about Agents is generated through narration during play.

3.2) Agents and Actions: Each Agent may participate in just one Action per Turn, and no more than three Agents may be given orders (having the mechanical effect of applying their Level to a roll) per Turn. When Agents participate in an Action, they use their Level to improve the chances that the Action will succeed. See the specific Action descriptions (Rules 5-7) for more details.

3.3) Captured Agents: As a result of failure on a Clandestine Mission (7.26) or because of an opponent's successful Abduction Mission (7.32), an Agent may be captured. While captured, Agents are still "owned" by their originating players and they still count against the maximum number of allowable Agents (3.6), but they cannot be used by the original owner for any Actions except for being the target of Ransom (7.23) or Rescue (7.32) Missions. Captured Agents cannot be retired (3.5) until they are freed. Captives do not count against the capturing player's roster limit for Agents. As long as the capturing player has space for a new Agent (or makes space with Retirement), captured Agents are transferred into the control of the capturing player when their Morale (3.4) is reduced to zero, e.g. as the result of a successful set of Conversion Actions (6.6).

3.4) Morale: When captured, an Agent is listed on both the home Domain's and the captor Domain's record sheet with three points of Morale. The captured Agent loses Morale whenever a Conversion Action (6.x) succeeds against her or whenever she is subjected to a failed Ransom (7.23) or Rescue (7.32) Mission. When the captured Agent loses her final point of Morale, she transfers into the control of the capturing player and becomes one of that player's active Agents. If there is not room on the capturing player's roster for an additional Agent (3.7), that player must either make space with a Retirement (3.5) or else immediately retire the converted Agent.

3.5) Retirement: Players may retire an Agent at any time (without spending an Action to do so). When one does, add the Agent's Level to a relevant Statistic. (For example, a Spymaster might improve Might or Influence. A Businesswoman might improve Resources. A Political Leader might improve Might, Influence, or Territory.)

3.6) Limits: Each Domain is limited to a roster of five active Agents at any given time. Agents cannot achieve a Level higher than five.

3.7) Leaders: At any time, you may designate one Agent to be your Domain's Leader. Only one Agent may be the Leader at any given time, and a designated Leader remains such until replaced or the designation is explicitly removed. Leaders provide a defensive boost to the Domain: add three times their Level to the Target Number for any aggressor's Actions (Rule 7.9).

Rule 4. Assets

4.1) Overview: Each Domain will create and control many different advantages. Assets identify the elements that each player finds most interesting, relevant, and gameable about her Domain.

4.2) Tag and Bonus: Assets are listed as a short descriptive tag and a passive Bonus (starting at +1, and upgradeable to +5; Rule 5.6-7). An Asset's Bonus is added to any relevant Development or Mission Actions (Rules 5 and 7).

4.3) Activated Asset Bonuses: According to the Action mechanics, Assets may be Activated (put into overdrive) to provide a larger Active Bonus, equal to +1d6 points per point of normal passive Bonus (Rule 5.8).

4.4) Burning Assets: Assets may be spent ("burned" or deleted) to permanently increase a Stat (Rule 5.9).

4.5) Limits: A Domain may not have more than ten Assets at any time. To create new Assets, burn existing Assets into Stat points (Rule 5.9).

Rule 5. Development Actions

The four types of Development Actions improve your Domain and provide more mechanical tools to address problems.

5.1) Target Number: The Target Number for a Development Action is always equal to 100+. If your final calculated result is equal to or higher than 100, you succeed.

5.2) Roll: The base Roll is 1d100. The Roll will be modified by the factors in the remainder of this section, but a "natural" (raw, ummodified) result of 1-5 is always a failure.


5.3) Rolls are modified by a relevant, associated Statistic. For "Gain an Asset" (5.6) and "Improve an Asset" (5.7), add the Statistic's score to the Roll. For "Improve a Statistic" (5.9), instead add the difference between the score and 100.

5.4) If an Agent is assigned to participate in a Development Action, add two points per Level to the Roll.

5.5) If an Asset is relevant to a Development Action, add the Asset's passive Bonus to the roll. If the Asset has been Activated (5.8), instead add +1d6 points per Bonus.

List of Development Actions

5.6) Gain an Asset: Create a new Asset. New Assets always start at +1 Bonus.

Examples of Appropriate Fictional Approaches:

  • Build/Develop Military (Create Might Assets): levy armies, build weapons of war, pass articles giving military power to the political executive, rouse the population
  • Build/Develop Economy (Create Resources Assets): establish mines, build roads and infrastructure, etc.
  • Colonize/Expand (Create Territory Assets): annex neighboring land, grant citizenship to outsiders, pass laws encouraging procreation, etc.
  • Invest in Human Capital (Create Relevant Assets): Universities or opera houses may be Influence Assets. Public housing may be a Territory Asset. Parks may be Influence or Territory Assets. Training citizens in professional trades—e.g. apprenticeship programs—may be a Resources Asset, etc.
  • Research (Create Relevant Assets): Create new tools, technology, instruments. Creates a relevant type of Asset—military ships boost Might in the oceans, etc.
  • Explore (Create Territory or Resources Assets): Based on what you find.

5.7) Improve an Asset: Increase an Asset's Bonus by +1 (to a maximum of +5). For each point of current Bonus, subtract five points from the Roll—higher-rated Assets are more difficult to improve. The Bonus from the Asset to be improved does not modify the roll, but different Assets apply if they are relevant (and they may also be Activated to further increase the chance of success).

5.8) Activate an Asset: This Action requires an Agent to complete, but occurs automatically (without a Roll). Instead, add +1d6 per point of Bonus (instead of the passive +1 to +5) to another relevant Action later this Turn.

5.9) Improve a Statistic ("Burn an Asset"): On a success, delete an Asset related to the Statistic to be improved (as the Asset is expanded into a core component of the Domain's identity), and then permanently increase the Statistic by +1d6 points per Bonus of the burned Asset. Bonuses from the Asset to be burned cannot be added to this Roll, although other Asset and Agent bonuses work as usual.

Rule 6. Personnel Actions

Personnel Actions are special actions that allow you to gain new Agents, to improve your existing Agents, or to interact with captured foreign Agents.

6.1) Roll: All Personnel Actions require a base 1d10 Roll. If the 1d10 ever shows a natural (unmodified) "1", then the Action automatically fails.

6.2) Agents: If an Agent assists in the Action as a trainer, recruiter, or interrogator, add their Level to the Roll.

List of Personnel Actions

6.3) Training: Designate an Agent to attempt a regimen of training that will result in an increase in Level. Roll higher than twice the trainee Agent's current Level to increase her Level by +1.

6.4) Recruitment: Roll 10+ to recruit a new Level 1 Agent.

6.5) Interrogation/Torture: Roll 8+ to degrade a captured Agent's Level by one point; subtract the captured Agent's Level from the roll. Interrogation/Torture Actions may only be taken against captured Agents that you have had in your possession since the beginning of the Turn (i.e. that were captured in a previous Turn), and you may only take one such Action against each captured Agent per Turn.

6.6) Conversion: Roll 8+ to degrade a captured Agent's Morale (3.4) by one point; subtract the captured Agent's Level from the roll. Conversation Actions may only be taken against captured Agents that you have had in your possession since the beginning of the Turn (i.e. that were captured in a previous Turn), and you may only take one such Action against each captured Agent per Turn.

Rule 7. Mission Actions

7.1) Mission Actions take place when you interact with other Domains or with Crises (Rule 8).

Basic Mechanics

7.2) You must send an Agent to complete a Mission.

7.3) The base Roll for Missions is 1d100. The Roll will be modified by the factors in the remainder of this section, but a "natural" (raw, ummodified) result of 1-5 is always a failure. (Calculate the result as usual to determine whether the result is a miserable failure, instead.)

7.4) The base Target Number for a Mission is 50+. Mission Actions benefit from Complex Results, which affect how Outcomes are calculated (Rules 7.10-12). For Complex Results, you succeed wildly if you beat the Target by more than 20 points (result > 70), and you fail miserably if you fail by more than 20 points (result < 30).


7.5) The assigned Agent adds her Level to the Roll.

7.6) Relevant Assets add their passive Bonus (+1 to +5) to the Roll; relevant Activated Assets (Rule 5.8) instead add +1d6 per point of Bonus.

7.7) Each Mission lists one or two Statistics for each side. Add each of the indicated Statistics to your Roll, and then subtract your opponent's indicated Statistics. If you are attempting a Mission against a Crisis rather than a Domain, and if only one Statistic is indicated for your opponent, subtract the Crisis Rating (8.3) from the Roll. If two Statistics are indicated for your opponent, however, subtract the Crisis Rating and then another 50 points.

7.8) Subtract one point per passive Bonus for any of your opponent's relevant Assets.

7.9) Subtract three points per Level for your opponent's Leader.


7.10) Degradation: Actions may indicate that you degrade your own or an opponent's Statistic, Asset, or Agent. If a Statistic is degraded, permanently reduce the Statistic by 1d6 points. If an Asset is degraded, permanently reduce its Bonus by one point (and destory the Asset if its Bonus would be reduced to zero). If an Agent is degraded, permanently reduce its Level by one point (and the Agent is killed if its Level would be reduced to zero).

7.11) Complex Results: Missions lead to Complex Results, which are more potent than the effects possible with other actions—but the chance of greater successs comes with proportionate risk. If you succeed wildly or fail miserably on a Mission that results in Statistic degradation, you must roll twice for degradation and choose the better or worse result, respectively. If you succeed wildly or fail miserably on a Mission that results in Asset or Agent degradation, you degrade the element by two points (two points of Bonus, or else two Levels) instead of one.

7.12) "Gain an Asset": If a success allows you to "gain an Asset," you must choose an Asset that may be plausibly inferred, in good faith, based on the fiction attributed to the target. Furthermore, the Asset must be of an appropriate type: for "Espionage" (7.27), an information Asset; for "Theft" (7.30), a tangible, moveable Asset; for Diplomatic Embassy (7.18), an alliance or influence Asset; for Armed Conflict (7.16), a reasonable object of spoils; and so forth. Assets are always gained at +1 Bonus.

Overt Missions

7.13) The details of Overt Missions are always known to enemies.

7.14) If you succeed on an Overt Mission, you may choose to degrade one of your target's Statistics as indicated in the Action description, or else you may degrade a relevant Asset or Agent. (If your target is a Crisis, instead degrade the Rating.) If you succeed wildly, the effect is amplified (7.11, above).

7.15) If you fail on an Overt Mission, you must degrade one of your own elements: one of the Statistics listed in the Mission description, an Asset that contributed its Bonus to the task, or the Agent who was assigned to the Mission. If you fail miserably, the effect is amplified (7.11, above).

Clandestine Missions

7.25) On a success, the details of Clandestine Missions are known to the target after the fact. On a wild success, the details are totally masked. The additional effects of success and wild success are listed in the Mission descriptions, and follow the established rules for degradation (Rules 7.10-11 and 7.14, above).

7.26) If a player fails a Clandestine Mission, the assigned Agent is captured (3.3) and may not contribute to play in any way until Rescued (7.33) or Ransomed (7.23) from the Domain where she is held. If a player fails miserably, the assigned Agent is not only captured, but her Morale (3.4) is also immediately reduced by one point.

List of Crisis Missions [IN DEVELOPMENT--HOLD OFF FOR NOW]

7.35) Crisis Missions are internal-facing Missions that may only be taken in response to a Crisis.

Rule 8. Crises

In addition to playing with and against other players, Domains will occasionally face other sorts of narrative threats. These are operationalized as "Crises."

Example Crises:

  • Might Crises: bandits, pirates, insurrection/rebellion, war, terrorism, attempted coup, political crisis, arms race
  • Influence Crises: diplomatic crisis, hostage situation, reputational threat or damage, ideological challenge, internal dissent or political/constitutional crisis (potentially fomented by external foes)
  • Resources Crises: drought, natural disaster, strike, economic recession or collapse, trade crisis, raw material exhausted, economic competition, boycott
  • Territory Crises: natural disaster, famine, epidemic, insurrection/rebellion/sedition, secession crisis, decolonization, interlopers in the territory, immigration/emigration/refugee crisis, humanitarian disaster

Crisis Checks

8.1) Crisis Check: At the end of each Turn, players always roll a Crisis Check (Rule 1.5). There is a 30% chance that a Crisis Check will be positive; if so, either a new Crisis arises or an existing Crisis becomes more severe (Rule 8.2).

8.2) Intensify Crisis: If your Domain is beset by one or more current Crises, a positive Crisis Check indicates that there is an 80% chance that all existing Crises increase in power: if so, increase the Rating(s) for all existing Crises by +2d10 as they increase in scope, severity, or consequences. If your Domain is not currently beset by a Crisis, or if the 20% outcome is indicated, create a new Crisis (Rule 8.3).

8.3) Create a New Crisis: To create a new Crisis, determine its Rating on the 0-100 Statistics scale by rolling 3d12+30. Then, randomly determine which of your four Domain Statistics the Crisis is "pointed at." If unresolved, it will attack this Statistic (Rule 8.8) at the end of subsequent Turns.

8.4) Narration: The other players will determine the fictional specifics of your new Crisis, usually to be expressed as one to three sentence(s).

Example: Pirates are attacking trade conveys just across your borders (Rating 51 v. Resources).

8.5) Limits: Each Statistic may only have one active Crisis directed toward it at a time (for a maximum of four active Crises against any given Domain).

Addressing and Resolving Crises

8.6) Missions Against a Crisis: Players may address Crises using the normal Mission rules (Rule 7). When they do so, use the Crisis's Rating as its score for the first indicated Statistic called for in the Mission Action description (7.7). If a second Statistic is called for, treat it as equal to 50. Crises must be addressed in a fictionally appropriate way.

8.7) Degrading a Crisis: When a Crisis is degraded by a successful Mission, reduce its Rating by 1d10 points rather than the usual 1d6 points (Rule 7.10). For Wild Successes or Miserable Failures (7.11), roll twice and keep the better or worse result, respectively.

8.8) Resolution: Crises are resolved (eliminated) when reduced below Rating 25.

8.9) Spoils: When a player resolves a Crisis, she immediately gains a benefit related to her crisis management and the narrative that it has generated:

Crisis Fallout Checks

8.10) At the end of each Turn (Rule 1.5), unresolved Crises may cause harm. For each Crisis, roll 1d100 modified only by the difference between the Crisis's Rating and the Statistic that it points at. (Ignore Agents and Assets.) On a result of 50+, the Crisis's Rating is reduced by 1d6 points. Otherwise, the attacked Statistic is reduced by 1d6 points. Note that a "natural" (raw, ummodified) result of 1-5 on the 1d100 roll is always a failure, and therefore results in 1d6 points of damage to the attacked Statistic.

Rule 9. Ending the Game [IN DEVELOPMENT]

9.1) Ending Conditions: The game ends after a set number of Turns, or when a Sudden Death condition (9.2) is met. At the beginning of the game, decide on a game length:

9.2) Sudden Death: Sudden Death is triggered when any player achieves one Statistic equal to 100 and her remaining three Statistics all at or above 50. As long as those conditions are maintained until the end of the following Turn, the triggering player immediately wins first place, and all other players place according to their Scores (9.3).

9.3) Victory & Scoring: When the game ends, players calculate their Scores by adding together their Statistics, their current Agents' Levels, and their current Assets' passive Bonuses. The ranking of Scores determines the final rankings (the player with the highest Score places first, and so forth).

Appendix A: Example Starting Domain


A poor, populous, rough and tumble frontier town on a swift river. Tombstone is a site of internal strife between the sheriff and his allies and the criminal faction led by the town madame. As a whole, the town has designs on the potential gold mines in the next domain over, and wants to become rich enough to attract a railroad company.