I'm Making an RPG: Orrery

By RJ on 16 January 2023. 


After over a decade of almost purely playing Dungeons & Dragons with minor leaps into other tabletop roleplaying systems, I'm making the switch. Not to any other established game or system like Pathfinder 2E or Savage Worlds, but into a development foray of my own. 

I'm crafting a tabletop roleplaying game called Orrery RPG.

Essentially, it's the best of D&D and a few other games, tabletop and not, woven together to form a compelling whole. Deep character customization, the freedom for World Masters and players to improvise, and a ruleset that ensures everyone at the table can maintain excitement and interest in and outside of structured encounters like battles.

While this is partially in response to the direction Wizards of the Coast is driving the game, it has been a long time coming, especially with the latest OGL nonsense.

In this article, I'd like to explore why I've grown distant and disillusioned with Dungeons & Dragons in general, what Orrery seeks to be, and what my plans are with the system and its development.

Let's begin.

D&D Needs to be Hacked

I hack D&D all the time. Fifth edition D&D is a customizable system, as evidenced by:

  • The myriad products out there editing it.
  • The ability to completely alter the game rules at the table.
  • Its ease of access to all.

For add-ons to 5E, check out the DMs Guild, venture to DriveThruRPG, or just meander through the bios of content creators from Matthew Mercer and Matthew Colville to little creatives like me. Thousands of creators have edited and added to the rules of D&D, contributing homebrew rules, daring new monsters, and compelling plots to the pool of content. These people are the lifeblood of 5E.

I know many readers may think this was added after the entire OGL debacle began, but this was drafted and ready to go on December 20, 2022. That's because it's true...D&D is successful because it has an amazing community of creators and players who love it, or used to love it, very dearly.

As for making up ideas on the fly, just play some 5E and you'll discover what I mean instantly. For the most part, you can change a rule to fit the situation at your table. However, this becomes a problem for those who want something concrete. It's not there in many situations and needs to be ruled by each table. 

This appears in a slightly different manner when it comes to the mechanics of each class, especially martials. Players are responsible for weaving their own interesting abilities or moves, it's not innate in the system. What's the difference between a warhammer and longsword? Besides the damage type and appearance, practically nothing! What is a fighter going to do at level three compared to level seventeen? Attack, attack, attack, and attack. Really, 5E is very hackable because it needs to be hacked.

The end result of the two above points leads to 5E allowing many folks to play and enjoy it. I like that, but it also lends itself to building boredom over time.

However, nearly nothing lasts forever. My desire to play 5E has faded. This primarily stems from me finally being able to play in multiple campaigns for a consistent, extended period of time. On the other side of the screen, I've realized the weaknesses of Dungeons & Dragons, at least in its fifth edition. I'll likely still play 5E, but most of my sessions are moving to my new system to playtest it. The first two happened in the past two weeks and went great.

Succinctly: WOTC is moving the game in a new direction, using lots of double speak and changing the core rules and licensing for the worse.

Why I'm Making Orrery

I'm making Orrery as a love letter to my favorite games of the era (D&D, Pathfinder 2E, Path of Exile, 13th Age, etc), spliced with elements of each me and my players deeply enjoy. I hope all of you will, too.

Simply, Orrery's fundamental tenets are:

  • Deep character and World Master customization.
  • Simple and powerful rules.
  • Improvisational freedom.

Some of its core ideas include:

  • Orrery uses a skill tree, it's classless.
  • Skills are abstract.
  • It's d20-based.
  • Combat is dynamic, deadly, and fast-paced.
  • Magic items are extremely powerful, nearly character-defining, but scarce.
  • Monsters are designed for World Masters to use as is, though they can be edited. World Masters need not do a ton of work to actually challenge players and their characters.
  • Martials and magic users both have awesome actions at all levels.
  • It uses an escalation die in battles, conversations, and delves.
  • It comes wrapped in a setting but can be used in any homegrown world.
  • Ancestry matters. It's not a meaningless choice.
  • Backgrounds are goal focused.
  • Each type of spell-caster has a unique spell list.

For the time being, I'm focused on developing Orrery. Once version 1.0 is ready to go, you'll all be the first to know and the rules will be available. I'm staying cagey as I think this is an unexplored and potentially popular niche in the current RPG landscape. Orrery could be huge.

How You Can Playtest Orrery

As I'm developing and playtesting Orrery, you can too! If you become a patron on RJD20's Patreon, you'll immediately get access to all the playtest PDFs, including the current Orrery Bestiary, so you can play as a World Master or player.

It's not too pretty. There are sections broken. You can likely hack apart the game and create a wildly powerful character. That's what I would like you to do. Give it a try! You can support me for $1 a month and get complete access to the future of Orrery.

Halfway through 2023 is the projected release date for the system. We'll see what happens. I'm going to get plenty of playtesting done.

Want More RPG Tips & Tales from RJD20?

As always, thanks for reading. Please send all inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

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