Galactic Dragons: Immortal Heroes of the Celestial Aether (Semi-OSR d20)

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Dammit Victor

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Aug 18, 2017
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Based on the interest expressed in What IP/games would you like to see?, I thought I'd start a thread for each of my ongoing gaming/fiction projects to discuss what I'm trying to accomplish.

Galactic Dragons grew out of one of my perennial White Whales-- the need to implement the Player's Option rules for customizing race and class abilities and the Oriental Adventures martial arts rules into a D&D system without some of AD&D's... peculiarities. I started gravitating toward Spelljammer as a default setting, because of course I did, and over time I started incorporating features from Palladium Fantasy and Rolemaster.

The default setting is still in a rudimentary state, but the core of it is that there's a spiral galaxy with one arm dominated by an empire based on the colonial English and Spanish and one arm dominated by the "oriental" mashup of Chinese and Japanese culture represented in Oriental Adventures. The action of the game takes place in the unfortunate spiral arm between them, which both empires consider the object of their respective manifest destinies. About a century ago, the "season of revolution" swept through this part of space, with the majority of colonies from both empires declaring independence and establishing their own alliances and rivalries.

The system starts with a d20 base-- six ability scores, 3-18, regular ability modifiers. You pick your race and your class (working on multiclassing system) and your background and you gain levels. Ability scores increase with level based on your race and class.

That's where we turn left.

Player's Option

There are three vectors of customization available: Proficiencies, Feats, and "Options".

Proficiencies replace skill points and some feats. They're based on the optional skill slot rules from Pathfinder Unchained with a dose of Palladium; investing multiple proficiency slots in a proficiency grants additional bonuses beyond improved skill checks.

Feats are the heftier 5e-style feats, except they are gained automatically. These are not ranked, and I would like to avoid prerequisites

Finally, "Options" are the big one. These add major race/class features, replacing 5e's Subrace/Subclass, 3.X Prestige Class, and 4e's Paragon Path.

The playable races are a combination of Tolkien-standard and Oriental Adventures, but with more sci-fi twists.

Elves have prehensile, sensitive antennae on their foreheads, and cow-like tails like huldra. They are inhumanly fast and alert. They disdain modern mechanical technology, preferring muscle and magic to gunpowder and steam. Elves are driven to excel at anything they attempt and to demonstrate their superiority; despite being biologically immortal, elves' bravado means that very few survive into their third century and they actually become more foolhardy and reckless as they age.

Elves are the least religious species in galactic civilization, largely because there are no elven gods. The last elven deity transcended his mortality a little over two centuries ago and conquered one of the less significant Hells for his home; within a decade, neither the newborn deity nor his personal Hell existed at all. The animosity between elves and dragons is legendary.

Dwarves are dwarves. It's practically a matter of physical law that they have beards, drink beer, and dig holes. Dwarves have a very precise sense of gravitational fields; a dwarf can estimate an object's mass to the pound within a hundred feet, and to fractions of an ounce by touch. An adult dwarf is never seen in public without their armor and a sidearm.

Dwarves are strictly matriarchal, with Clan Mothers conducting industry, business, and diplomacy while their husbands and sons die in deep, dark holes. The dwarven language has three words for "wife": his eldest wife, the Clan Mother; his wives that are a generation or more older than him; and his wives that are his age and younger. The key thing to understand is that all three outrank him. There are only two words for "husband": the father of your children, and the father of your daughters' and granddaughters' children.

Gnomes are terrifying. Gnomes are a combination of various D&D halflings, gnomes, and the fraal; they are pathologically curious and cheerful, helpful and inventive, and utterly fearless. Gnomes are loyal and benevolent, but once they've decided to help someone, they stop concerning themselves with the collateral damage.

Like many other species, Gnomes venerate their ancestors. Instead of building shrines to them and lighting incense, though, they bind the spirits of their deceased ancestors to ritual objects so that the family might consult them for advice for eternity. As horrifying as the other species find this, the gnomes are equally horrified by the concepts of reincarnation and/or allowing the dearly departed to enter "Paradise"

The list of playable species is expected to be considerably longer, to include: Vanara, Kenku, Dromite, Kobold, Saurial, Slaarsh (non-evil psychic cephalopods), Goblin (think hobgoblin mixed with ogre magi), and Orc..
I have had a breakthrough, not so much with the Galactic Dragons setting, but with the quasi-OSR system I intend to use with it.

I have been faffing about with a variety of truly godawful subsystems for automatic ASIs based on your class and race, more akin to Dragonfist's Primary/Secondary/Tertiary abilities or Mongoose Conan's alternating +1 any/+1 all every even level. A lot of fiddly bookkeeping for painfully little benefit and it deprives players of freedom in-the-moment.

I mentioned that the core of my Player's Option emulation comes from Proficiencies, Feats, and Aspects.

Characters get a Proficiency every level and a Feat every odd-numbered level.

But if I increase the frequency of Aspects from two (one race, one class) every 6th level to two every 4th level, I can tie the ASIs to the Aspects: class and race are equally represented, ASIs are spread out over multiple abilities, and players get to choose them.

I'm still wrestling with how to balance my idea that I want humans to have higher average abilities while nonhumans have higher maximums.
My initial thought for my multiclassing system (something I consider nigh-essential in D&D) was that you picked your primary class at 1st level, and then you could take additional classes by spending an Aspect-- so you improve your Class Bonuses, you get a couple of ASIs, and you pick some class features.

But that means, if you want to multiclass after 1st, that you have to wait until your next Aspect to do it.

This is like the 4e default system.

The next thought is that each class has a number of Class Bonuses-- Attack, Defense, Spell, Fort, Ref, Will, &c-- so you could take X number of classes, and your Class Bonuses would be Highest Class Bonus - (X-1). And each class would have a multiclass version, missing some class features, that you could repurchase with the Class Aspects you are already dividing between X classes.

Means that if you multiclass later in your career, though, you actually lose abilities.

This is like the 4e Hybrid system from PHB3.

It occurs to me there's nothing really stopping me from using both simultaneously.
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