Existence (2005)

Existence (2005)

Existence Rules (PDF)
Individual sections as PDFs: Characters, Combat, Drugs, Example, Level, Sheet, Skills, World

Existence is a near future game based in the real world, except an asteroid hit the Earth in 2016. Years have passed since then, and the start of the game begins around 2070. Details of each continent is given, allowing for a wide variety of detailed player stories. The players themselves are “average joes” in the sense of not starting as traditional “adventurers”, and instead normally falling into that role through developing situations.

I wrote the game in 2005. I realize global warming is apparently a big factor in all my “real world” based games. In the case of Existence it’s funny to read the world/history section (which goes continent by continent). Some interesting ideas, lots of variety, and enough detail that players could start anywhere in the world.

The rules themselves were poorly formatted, as I still created multiple separate documents instead of a single rulebook. But the character sheet was certainly nice. The game played well enough, with a focus on detailed combat. There were a few interesting systems around character customization such as “Dirty Secrets” that were hidden from other players, and Quirks and Phobias. The system was vaguely based around the Open SRD D20…and I mean vaguely. In the sense of there was a Fortitude and Reflex save, and base speed was 30ft, and Skills were point buy based, and there were Feats, and combat was D20+mods to hit. This was thanks to me playing D&D 3rd edition around the same time.

Stats were created by rolling 4D6 and discarding the lowest for each stat, with a limit of only one stat at 18. The stats were renamed to Strength, Agility, Endurance, Knowledge, Streetwise, Charisma. I added in the concept of +1/-1 to one stat for customization, which is an approach I like even today. You started with a pair of Feats, and could forgo Skill points to get another Feat (which I think is an interesting choice). The Skills were all custom, and had a neat limitation of “re-check” to say how often you could re-roll the same skill check. An artificial limitation for sure, but also a somewhat balanced one. I never did get around to making a Feat list.

Each character had a nationality, so a country of origin, but also a subculture. So for Australia this was “Cityborn” or “Craterborn”, based around the asteroid which impacted the continent. Canada had Touched or Untouched, as they were big into genetic experimentation.

Levelling up involved taking a week off to rest, learn, and practice. I was big into this concept around the time of Existence, but in hindsight all it does is ignore the players. I think I was subconsciously trying to get away from the players having insanely packed days and lives.

Combat was standard D20, more or less, with some good modifiers (like Burst Fire). You could do Aimed Shots as well. There was a Fumble concept, another standard mechanic for me at the time. There was also a Dodge roll, which was pretty much a Saving Throw to avoid being hit by a ranged weapon. I’m no longer a fan of saving throws AT ALL, since I hate going through the effort of resolving a combat (deciding target, counting range, figuring mods, checking defense, rolling, totalling, comparing) then having all that be negated by a single roll. There were Life Points, which are similar to Vitality vs Hitpoints in other systems, and represented critical injuries like losing a limb, getting hit by a car, etc. They could be spent like Fate Points to avoid brutal situations, and didn’t recover until a Level Up.

Drugs were also a big factor, with some awesome names like Fade, Hulk, Shingle, Wish, etc.

I played this game a few times with a pair of friends, who started in Japan as normal office workers, and slowly entered the underworld of crime. That went pretty well, even if it started a bit slow and required me to research a lot of maps.
The only other time was with a friend who wanted a more combat oriented setup, so we started in Russia with guns and an existing drug plot line. That went quite well, and was fun enough.

Overall since the system was based on D20 it performed as you’d expect. There weren’t a ton of surprises or hooks to really draw me in though. Basically Existence ended up as my own take on “D20 Modern”, with my own take on near future world news.

Lessons Learned
If I’m going to just rehash an existing system (D20) then the game likely isn’t worth being made. I enjoy making up my own mechanics too much. And the background and story in this game, while neat, weren’t enough to carry it. Really not a lot of reasons to play this over actual D20 Modern.
However there were a few neat mechanics, like, um, Life Points I guess. And my character sheet creation continued to get refined and honed.