Welcome to Renaissance, an open-source D%-based fantasy role-playing game focusing on themes of exploration, intrigue and horror!

About the Setting

The setting is an attempt to bring a little bit of Roddenberry-esque multi-cultural optimism to fantasy role-playing — a genre that very often centers around "good" races that look like humans fighting "evil" races that don't. There might be a good reason that most ancient myths cast strange and wonderful creatures as the villains, but modern story-tellers don't have to be constrained by those conventions. We'd rather tell stories about what can happen if a society learns to embrace all those different races and cultures in a way that promotes the dignity and prosperity of all of its members; thus, the setting focuses on the Commonwealth, a just, stable and prosperous society that has includes members of countless races and cultures.

This desire for optimism also drives us to look onward to the horizon rather than backward to the past. Renaissance isn't the story of a world struggling to recover from a global cataclysm or picking through the ruins of a fallen empire; instead, it’s the story of a prosperous people at the beginning of a renaissance — or, as one contributor pointed out, a “Naissance,” since the present moment is the first time the Emerald Plane has seen such a civilization. Their major concerns aren't merely surviving a brutal world or looting ancient ruins; they're the unstable states and hostile empires on their borders, the machinations of powerful spirits with unknown (and possibly unknowable) agendas, and the strange, wondrous and dangerous things they might discover out beyond their frontiers. (If we were pulled into "fantasy-horror" as a consequence of the elements we borrowed from Eclipse Phase, it has turned out to be a rewarding genre to work in.)

We also want the setting to feel like a plausible state for a plausible world. This means that it needs to be historically plausible, at least by comparison to some of the other highly eclectic RPG settings out there. At the same time, we don’t want to the various races and cultures in our game to line up too closely with any existing culture or region from the real world. We don't want to present players with a slightly-rebranded medieval Europe, placed incongruously next to a rebranded shogunate Japan and a rebranded New Kingdom Egypt; instead, we want to drop players into a living, plausible, consistent, alien world.

About the Rule-System

Role-playing as a hobby combines story- and character-building creativity with rule-driven strategy, with some players leaning more towards one than the other. As a game system, Renaissance is intended to sit somewhere in the middle: we want to provide clear enough rules that players know what they can and cannot do, so that strategically-minded players can move five squares, attack with a +20 modifier and do 2d10DV — but that is also open-ended and flexible enough that creatively- or cinematically-minded players can climb the walls of a narrow alley, abseil down a well, kick off a wall to leap over an opponent, buy their way out of jail, use a their fireball power to keep themselves warm in the frozen north, shoot a fleeing target in the leg or break an opponent’s fingers so that they cannot wield a weapon, all achieved ad-hoc, without requiring complex rules or (god forbid!) feat chains.

In order to do this, we've tried to put checks at the center of the system, and we've used skill and attribute checks for as much as we possibly can. Skills and checks give GMs and players a clear picture for how to decide whether a character succeeds or fails at a given task, and how to resolve contests; but they do not enumerate exactly what characters can do, and that's by design. The intent is that a character can use their Survival skill to do anything that a skilled survivalist could do — a category that we have deliberately left open to player creativity (even if we do have some specific examples). (One early tester described the game as "crunchy, but not mechanical," and that's exactly the goal!)

We also want to leave room for GMs and players to add new content. In order to do this, we've tried to leave plenty of room in the setting for GMs and players to slip in their own cultures, locations, factions and items. Once again, there are plenty of setting details that we've left under-specified, by design. We've also broken the rules and existing content up into well-separated components, each making minimal assumptions about what other components say and do; this is to enable GMs and players to introduce new weapons, items, classes and powers, without having to worry (too much) about how thair new contact interacts (or conflicts) with existing content. (Several of the authors are software developers, so we naturally think in terms of separation of responsibility, encapsulation, and dependancy management.)

While we leave GMing style up to you (of course!), we do feel that Renaissance works does not work well with an overly adversarial GMing style. Because the system is so under-specified, players will need to work with GMs in order to do pretty much anything. This means that GMs need to be able to fair with players, and to be willing to enable them when they want to do things that it is reasonable for their characters to do. A GM who doesn't work with their players to help them do what they want to do may leave them with the experience of fighting a bad text-adventure game, unsure of what they even could do, or what will be required, or how to announce it to the GM. (And good players need to trust GMs to be fair arbiters, and to work with them proactively and early so that GMs can run the game efficiently.)

However, because Renaissance incorporates challenging mechanics like a stress system and progressive wound and trauma systems, it generally is not well suited to groups that like "power trip"-style gaming. This is especially true for horror games; horror thrives on limiting the agency of players, at least a little bit. (It's pretty much impossible for a power-trip game to be scary.)

About Adventures

The game is designed to focus on intrigue, exploration and horror. We'd like to support adventures that draw from inspirations like old-school Star Trek, The X-Files or the Twilight Zone; or from Thomas Ligotti short-stories or Sherlock Holmes mysteries; or that play like modern Call of Cthulhu games. Characters will spend time investigating mysteries, researching and analyzing clues, sneaking into strongholds, working social contacts, participating in palace intrigues, extorting or eliminating powerful rulers, and meddling in the affairs of powerful, strange, and mysterious forces.

That's why we've surrounded the Commonwealth with unstable states, hostile powers, and complex politics; and it's why we've given players access to a newly-discovered continent whose southern reaches run off the edge of the map; and it's why we've included powerful Great Spirits whose goals, powers and natures are not entirely known — and may be unknowable.

Optimism and horror can conflict a bit as themes, but the consequences of that conflict can be interesting. One way that it can play out, in the words of one tester, is as a "beatable Cthulhu." While players can encounter strange, terrible and vast forces, they can often confront them if they cooperate — or they can at least make a positive difference.

About the Book

Loosely, the "book" — this website — is broken into three parts.

The first part consists of an "in-world" description of the setting; more than the other chapters, this one is written from the perspective of someone "inside" the world. That means that we've tried to avoid referencing things that someone on the Emerald Plane wouldn't know — for example, we haven't talked about the planet's orbit, even though that's something we thought at least a little about when designing its seasons.

The second part — starting with Basic Rules — contains the mechanical rules of the game. This describes the basics of a checkRenaissance is a skill-check-based game — then it describes the rules for combat, and several of the game's other "systems". Finally, it describes how a character is represented, how characters are built, and lists the various "character options"—the races, backgrounds and features players can pick from when building their character.

The third part — starting with The Five Roles — contains guides, examples and optional rules. The rules from the second part may completely describe how the game is supposed to work mechanically, but they don't really explain how they're all supposed to fit together — they don't explain what a good character is like, what a campaign is like, what kinds of challenges you're supposed to face, and so on. In this section, we fill in some of those details. This chapter is written far more informally than the other two; here, we the developers are talking to you the readers about how we designed the game to work, so that you can make intelligent decisions about how to build characters, write adventures, and run your game.

About Terminology

As a note, in the first part of the text, we've assumed that most of the text is being translated from Commonwealth Standard to English; therefore, we've tried to use names and terms the way a Commonwealth Standard speaker would. We've also made some use of the in-world units "demarc" and "stride". The demarc and stride are old units of distance first used in the Empire of Man, and still used throughout much of the world; the demarc (abbreciated dc) is about 2.6 miles or about 4.2 kilometers, and the stride (abbreviated sd) is about 30 inches or 75 cm. Most of the rules in the rules section use metric units.