student 20 Productions

Random Thoughts of a Game Developer

Been a While, Hasn’t it?

Hello, Internet. It’s been a while.

What’s been going on, you say? We’ll just go with “a lot”.

My fiancee and I ran into some financial problems, and those were pretty distracting. I mean, everything’s looking up now, and our future seems fairly bright, but it got pretty hairy there for a while. No worries in the long run, though.

Beyond that, I’ve spent the last several days babysitting for a friend. There have been four extra kids around here, and while two of them aren’t too bad, the other ones are a frakkin’ handful. I’ve been exhausted at the end of every day. I’ve made almost no progress on game development, and mostly I sit around and do as little as possible when the kids are gone. I’m trying to figure out how the Mom has the energy to get up out of bed every morning. I won’t lie – I’m impressed.

In any case, before this babysitting gig, I managed to get going on a proper sourcebook for my Essence campaign setting and get the basic mechanics for an Essence game system. I thought that any readers I might still have would enjoy some of what I’ve been working on. I have a rather complete description of the Greathoof Equus race, complete with naming conventions and cultural notes. If that sounds interesting, the Excerpt can be found by clicking on “more…” below.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on basic mechanics for the Essence system. I’m stealing from the work I’ve done on several other systems, so if any of this sounds familiar, that’s the reason.

Basically, it’s a heavily Skill-based point-buy system. When making a character, you select a race, and then you get 100 Character Points, all of which are used to buy Skills. Those Skills are “tagged” with various Stats. For every 5 ranks in a Skill (this varies a bit per race), the Character gains +1 to all Stats that Skill is tagged with.

Skills are divided up into overall “tiers” of expertise: Apprentice, Journeyman, Expert, Master, and Grand Master. Each Tier has a separate cost structure – the higher your skill, the higher the CP cost per level.  Being at a higher tier allows you to win ties with lower tiers (so if an Apprentice and a Master both get the same result on a roll, the Master wins), among other benefits.

The Skills can be combined with any Stat bonus that’s appropriate to a situation. The total of the Stat used and the Skill is the Character’s Competence. You can let that number ride – relying on Competence alone – or you can Reach for something more.

To Reach, you convert some portion (usually all) of your Competence into dice. Which dice? That’s up to you. Each die added to the roll reduces your Competence by 1/2 the die’s maximum value. Say, for instance, you had a Competence for a check equal to 10. You could reach by adding a d6, lowering your Competence by 3. The result would be a roll of 1d6+7. You could also change the 10 to 1d20, 2d10, 1d10+5, 1d6+1d8+3, or however you like.

I’m thinking about restricting it to a single die type per roll, and perhaps only allowing you to Reach with your full bonus, or as much of it as you can with the type of die your using. So, with the 10 Competence from above, you could roll 5d4, 3d6+1, 2d8+2, 2d10, 1d12+4,   or 1d20. I’d be doing this to help keep things simple. I’ve thought of other ways to streamline it, but I don’t want to spend all day listing them. Basically, the system is setup so that, as long as you’re willing to take average results for your skill lever, you never have to roll dice. Of course, sometimes average just won’t do…

To continue, for every 10 CP spent on Skills, you gain 1 Trait point, which can be used to purchase Traits – analogous to Merits/Flaws, Advantages/Disadvantages, or even Feats from other game systems. This part is still pretty rough; the way it sounds, all Characters would start with 10 Trait points, since you get 100 points just for Skills; you don’t actually have to  spend all your CP during character generation, and it can be advisable to reserve a few for reasons I haven’t well defined yet (they’ll be equivalent to Action Points in other games/systems, but I need to hash out the details).

That’s the basics of Character Creation so far, along with partial mechanics.`So… that’s fun, right?

So… the Greathoof Equus. Without further ado…


Massive and well known for their innate (actually, genetically coded) sense of honor, the Greathoof are the gentle giants of the Diathen – and the civilized raced of Tyrce, for that matter. With an incredible sense of family and undying loyalty, Greathoof make both wonderful allies and implacable enemies.

Physical Description

Greathoof are massive, standing a full head above their Firemane cousins. Greathoof have the common Equus appearance – a horse-like head, a large, barrel-chested humanoid body, and horse-like legs. Greathoof have only two huge fingers and a thumb on each hand – they lack manual dexterity, but they don’t lack in power.

Greathoof have the same coat variety as Firemane, ranging from white to black to gray to white, roan, and brown. Palomino, tan, light brown, and dappled Greathoof also exist, but are rare. Unlike Firemane, the Greathoof have a variety of mane colors matching their coat colors, although white and black are most common. Both males and females have long, finer hair around their large hooves, usually of the same color as their mane. Male Greathoof sometimes grow beards, which may grow to several inches long.

Greathoof may be massive creatures, but they are fairly short lived. Greathoof reach adolescence at age 6, adulthood at age 12, middle age at age 20, and old age at 40. Few Greathoof live more than 50 years, and none has attained an age over 63.


Greathoof have no cultural nudity taboo, and usually wander their plains homes with little on other than the sky. When company shows up, or they come close to groups of other races, however, Equus dawn clothing of wool or linen. This clothing may be minimal, and it may look like a token effort to make other races less uncomfortable (and it is). With little personal or cultural attachment to clothing, most Greathoof could care less about what color the clothing is, so natural tones abound. Greathoof do appreciate functional garments – tradesmen protective gear, utility belts, armor, and so on – but otherwise they dislike wearing it themselves, and show little interest in what they call the “clothing obsession” of other races. Greathoof also wear little jewelry, although females may wear anklets, navel piercings, and bracelets, while males occasionally have earrings and nasal piercings.


Greathoof have a tight-knit clan family structure. They are incredibly loyal to their families, and proud of their clan names – so proud that in introductions, most Greathoof (and those raised by Greathoof) introduce themselves clan name first. Greathoof value honor over all else. A Greathoof will never break his or her word, will not engage in battle with a weaker opponent, tell a lie, or do anything else to imperil his or her clan’s honor. While this trait makes Greathoof highly trustworthy, it can also frustrate when the large Equus’s clan honor comes before mission objectives. The frustration is most likely shared by the Greathoof, but that won’t cause them to waver in the slightest. Because non-Greathoof raised by Greathoof have been known to be less strict in this area, it is theorized that this sense of honor is inborn to the Greathoof, but its impact on their culture is undeniable.

Greathoof clan structure is centered around the Grandmare (the eldest female) and the High Chieftain (the eldest male). Greathoof have great respect for the wisdom of age, and will generally defer to their elders, although debate and questions are both encouraged. After reaching adolescence and before reaching adulthood, most Greathoof gain a powerful sense of wanderlust, and leave their clans to explore the world; it is during this time that the young Greathoof often engages in adventure, has extensive contact with other races, and finds a mate. The wanderlust leaves them after finding a suitable partner, and the two return to one of the pair’s clans or another. In a sense, this wanderlust never leaves the Equus – the clans spend their entire existence wandering, following the seasonal shifts and going where the grazing land is good.

Role Playing Notes

As a Greathoof, you are a creature of honor. Never break your word (although you don’t have to give it out all the time or anything). Refuse to battle weaker foes unless they have numbers on their side or attack first, and even then, you should usually try to subdue rather than slay. Don’t break oaths. Do not blaspheme the Gods, and do not let such blasphemy slide when others use it. Your personal honor must be answered when questioned, but only your Clan honor must be avenged. Loyalty is a high priority to you, as is finishing what you start. Probably.

Greathoof Names

Greathoof have a complex and honor-driven naming convention. All Greathoof have six names – a battle name, a personal name, a maternal surname, a paternal surname, a clan name, and a true name. The names are listed in what the Greathoof refer to as “Honor Order” – the order of importance of the names, from least to greatest. The Greathoof generally don’t care a fig about insults to their battle names, and will show only mild annoyance to insults on their personal names, and great rage and a desire for vengeance to insults on their clan name. The maternal/paternal surname Honor Order is inverted as to the gender of the Greathoof – male Greathoof show greater reverence for their maternal surname, while female Greathoof show greater reverence for their paternal surname. Either way, an insult is cause for anger and perhaps a fight – but not blood.

The Greathoof’s true name, however, is mystical. Given to them by their Grandmare on the Greathoof’s sixth birthday, the Greathoof’s true name is his or her most sacred possession. The true name is only ever shared with a spouse or best friend, and even then only after years of knowing the other. With a true name, one can always find the Greathoof that owns it. There is a black market for Greathoof true names – to the tune of hundreds of pounds of gold per name. A Greathoof can never refuse a request from someone who knows their true name without great dishonor.

Sample Personal Names

Male: Anikairus, Chedinilaran, Chanranikharan, Dennikeriaran, Hekinarius, Kalinarian, Kianarithan, Letinaritan

Female: Anikaria, Chedinlari, Chanranikhari, Dennikeriara, Hekinariusa, Kalinaria, Kianarithi, Letinarita

Sample Battle Names

Battle names are simply shortened versions of personal names used by close friends, when in battle, or by non-Greathoof who (rudely) think Greathoof given names are too long to bother pronouncing fully. While personal names have some difference between gender, Battle names seldom do. The following sample Battle Names are the shortened versions of the sample names given above.

Ani, Chedin, Chan, Denni, Hek, Kali or Kalin, Kian, Leti or Letin.

Sample Surnames

Patriarchal surnames are the father’s Battle Name with a i-, a-, ir- or ar- prefix. Maternal surnames are the Mother’s Battle Name with  a –i, -li, or –nia suffix. So, an Equus whose Father’s Battle Name was Hek and whose mother’s Battle Name was Kia might have the patriarchal surname Ahek and the Matriarchal surname Kiania.

Sample Clan Names

Greathoof clan names often highlight some significant characteristic of the Clan. A few clan names are:

Greathoof, Whitemane, Thunderhoof, Blackfeather, Graystar, Lighthoof, Shortmane, Nofeather

Sample Greathoof Introduction

Greathoof introductions are usually something of a long affair. With so many names, some of them quite long, a formal introduction can seem long to anyone who has not undergone the Solnyr Ritual of Introduction (see Solnyr, page 27). A formal Greathoof introduction varies some between clans, but most sound something more or less like this:

Male Speaker: I am a Stallion (Father, Grandfather, Grandstallion) of the Whitefeather. My name is Anikarius Kalinia Ichan. In battle, I am known as Ani, Bringer of Thunder. It is my good pleasure to meet you.

Female Speaker: I am a Mare (Mother, Grandmother, Grandmare) of the Graystar. My name is Chanranikhari Irmuria Karili. In battle, I am known as Rani, Dancer in Blades. It is my good honor to meet you.

Starting Languages

Greathoof can speak their own language (Equuan – Greathoof Dialect), which has no written form, but is close enough to the Storm dialect that the two races can communicate effectively with either language, and the Storm alphabet can be used to write things in Greathoof[1]. Greathoof also begin knowing Trade Common. Many Greathoof pick up a Human language or two in their nomadic travels. Greathoof place no particular emphasis on literacy in their culture – Greathoof, and those raised by them, begin the game illiterate unless they take the Smart Hero class at first level.

[1] The Storm script is, in fact, so versatile that is can be used to write nearly any language, and is used as the primary alphabet of Trade Common.


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4 thoughts on “Been a While, Hasn’t it?

  1. It’s official. You have enough notes to write a novel. Trust me.

    And… WELCOME BACK TO BLOGGING! Thank goodness. I thought GLADoS had you…

  2. Yeah. That’s pretty much how it happened. But I… finished the tests. I’m not going to… moon over her anymore.

  3. Just as an added note. After a long phone call with a friend of mine (B, for those that know him), Reaching is going to be simplified rather a lot. He pointed out that the innate flexibility of the system was its downfall, not its selling point: while it would work fine as written here at low levels, the higher the Competence, the more complex it gets, as statistic-savvy players start weighing their odds.

    In short, in order to keep game from getting mired in number crunching, Reaching is about to mean something much more specific.

  4. Point of information: Your footnote doesn’t work. Meanwhile, my footnotes don’t work. Must be a family thing.

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