What is CD10 and CotC?
This system is the best one I’ve ever played bar none! It’s simple and intuitive and fluid! If you’re into Tabletop RPGs I highly recommend giving it a go! It’s a system where you as a GM have the freedom to be creative with your storytelling. Coming up with scenarios and npcs on the drop of a hat without it hindering the flow of the play in anyway! It’s a system where you as a player can explore your character freely. You can do whatever you want without being bogged down by classes, a hundred dice throws or complicated maths!
While the Cinders of the Cataclysm: Primer gives you a quick overview of the setting and world, this article is meant to give you as a role-player or game master an idea of what Celenia is like to play both on its own but also in comparison to some other popular games. Celenia's rules are based on a d10 die (hence Celenia D10, or CD10), and it is the only die you will need playing Celenia. Other dice types (d4, d6, d8 etc) can facilitate randomness for different things and the GM is free to use them should she want to, but no rule in the game ever require anything more than one d10. Though each player is encouraged to bring their own D10 to roll their own checks.
You can find the system in its entirety here: Celenia D10 RPG System.
A GM's game
Celenia is first and foremost a game designed with the gamemaster herself in mind. That doesn't mean that it's any less good for players, but the system and the setting is carefully crafted to allow a creative GM the narrative freedom to do whatever she wants and to adjust things on the fly. It also allows players freedom in how they want to approach things and the system has a couple of unorthodox mechanics, such as skill substitution, blank checks and a rich traits system. Rules are concisely written and avoid complexity allowing you to spend more time playing and less time rules-lawyering. Simple rules keep you in the game and that is something we firmly believe in.
Celenia is a game that through its setting and rules attempts to achieve a high grade of internal narrative consistency. I deliberately avoid the word "realism". Realism in games is seldom fun and high realism games can get slow and complex to play. We do play games to have an experience unlike reality to have fun. Celenia is not a realistic game but it is a game that has its own internal coherency and a game that lets players act as their characters, rather than play to mechanics to succeed.
With that in mind, Celenia relies heavily on the character's backstory and people from their past who have influenced their lives. It offers a consistent and gritty feel to combat where one cannot stand alone against a horde of lesser enemies and expect to prevail. While your character is the protagonist of the story, they are a normal person, not a demigod. Combat is dangerous and as a player you should approach combat much like you would in real life, given the same situation. Avoid it as much as possible, and if you must fight, do your very best to turn the odds in your favor.
For this reason Celenia does not have any hitpoints. It instead relies on a sleek system of injury severity and debilitation tracking. Getting injured debilitates characters and a serious enough injury could put a person out of a fight completely without having them outright killed. To prevent this as a player you must take steps to protect yourself. Defending yourself in Celenia is a very active part of combat, in contrast to other systems where, most of the time, a number like your Armor Class is all that stands between you and damage. You must strive to only fight when you have the upper hand, make use of armor and cover and analyse the situation. A single shot could be what stands between you and death.
The above may make you believe that characters frequently die randomly in Celenia and while this could be the case, the player characters are the story's heroes, and heroes do not die randomly. Think of Star Wars as a movie. The heroes take potshots at stormtroopers and kill them by the hundreds, while the stormtroopers can't seem to hit the broadside of a barn, in spite of Obi-Wan's praise of their skills. Why is this?
The heroes of the story have access to something other people do not. As heroes, they have Hero Points. In any situation, a player may choose to spend one of their hard-earned experience points as a Hero Point. It allows them to do progressively fantastic feats and change fate itself. It allows them to roll an extra D10 for a check, re-roll a check or even outright shift the outcome of a check. Without going into detail on the mechanics, this prevents a character from dying to a random wayward shot and deaths will instead happen because of poor choices that leave the player characters in unwinnable situations. Death becomes meaningful and as a result not of poor dice rolls, but of poor decisionmaking and have a much heavier narrative weight.
No classes or levels
In Celenia every character is unique and they are your own creation. The background and the people they have known in life define them as a person and influence their skill choices and traits. There are no pre-set classes that teach you abilities, skills and offer feats or bonuses. There is no pre-set path from level 1 to the level cap that your character is locked to progress through. You are free to pick whatever skills or abilties you want for your character.
There are also no levels to increase as Celenia does not make use of milestone based progression but instead use fluid, skill-based progression. By participating in game sessions your character gains experience points that are used to learn new skills and increase your proficiency in known skills. It's entirely up to you to determine what your character should focus on and what skills to increase. You do not gain experience points for defeating monsters, but participating in the session. Progression becomes increasingly harder as your character becomes more skilled in something, simulating the difficulty of learning new things about a subject you know well. This promotes the idea for players to branch out and learn new things, rather than becoming a one-trick pony AKA "minmax" character.
In addition, Celenia does not have any base attribute points like strength, stamina, dexterity or intelligence. It instead relies on a system of traits that describe the character in greater detail than any ability score system could. Not having a trait simply means that your character is average in that trait. Not having Strong means that the character is of average strength. Not having Eye Defect means that your character's eyesight is normal. Traits can describe a multitude of things beyond mere physical and mental characteristics and traits can be used in any dice roll where it makes sense to affect gameplay, personality and role-play.
No carefully crafted balance or challenge rating
Some games, particularly Dungeons and Dragons and its spin-offs, have a carefully crafted balance system in place to ensure that all classes are equally useful and that you can craft a challenging encounter with monsters that matches the abilities of the player characters. Celenia does not possess such a system. The goal is not for the characters to defeat a monster or to be challenged in combat through numbers and mechanics, but to provide the players with an alternate-life experience.
Gauging character power is difficult by design in a system like Celenia, mimicing real life. The GM should not design an encounter for the sake of having an encounter or providing a challenge, but build her world and adventure as if it was a realistic situation, while still allowing the players a way through the challenges. Combat absolutely exists in Celenia and can be a large part of certain campaigns or sessions, but it is not the focus of the system.
It is, in fact, nearly impossible to determine how much "damage" you will inflict and how many attacks it'll take to down an enemy due to the injury system. It is made this way by design. Combat is much less about strategic application of crowd-control and damage and much more about the narrative and acting as your character in combat. The uncertainty of what is going to happen is what builds tension and excitement in Celenia, rather than providing a clear and concice challenge that must be overcome.
As you read through the rules for Celenia you will often encounter the word "narrative". Celenia is meant to be an immersive, collaborative storytelling experience where story and sense of adventure is the primary goal. This means that many of the rules are guidelines and as a GM you are often required to think on your feet and make a call that is best for the story, rather than having it spelled out clearly in a rule somewhere. This holds particularly true for skills and traits, where a player can make an argument to use a particular skill or trait for a check, even if that wasn't the original intent of the skill or trait. As long as it fits the narrative and situation, the GM may allow it.
Fast, but elegant, rules
The rules are based upon one central concept and the basic system can be learned in a few minutes. Every other mechanic derives from this system. Everything from an attack to a skill check to determining damage is done in the same way. The system is easy to learn and intuitive to use.
This also means that your chance of success in the game is no longer tied to your personal knowledge of the game mechanics, but about your choices in the situation at hand. It is the character who is challenged, not the player. Most of the character's performance in combat is down to their skills and equipment, moreso than their player's tactical knowledge of the system.
The rules offer a swift outcome to any combat, only requiring no more than two dice rolls total to determine if an attack hit and how much damage it did. "Damage" is called Lethality in Celenia and is not a number of dice tied to your weapon, like in most RPGs. Lethality instead varies (slightly) with ammunition type (or melee weapon) and the majority of the damage come from the actual attack check. A more skillful attack will have a higher lethality and a greater potential to injure or kill the target than one that is sloppily performed. A skilled combatant is more likely to defeat their foes not by merit of having a more powerful weapon or more hitpoints, but by merit of being more skilled.
Defense in Celenia is also a very active part of combat and relies a lot on your character's skill and equipment. There is no armor class to overcome to do full damage. Everything is a fluid number reliant on circumstance such as your ability to defend yourself, cover, armor absorption and the skill check of your attacker.
With no piles of dice inflating damage numbers combat becomes swift and easy to calculate, allowing combat tempo to be high and keep the players anchored in the situation rather than becoming a detached strategist until combat is over.
Light on the player
Celenia is a simple system to pick up and play for players. There is no complex tactical system to learn in order to perform and you don't need to be intimitately familiar with the system in order to "build your character right". There are no "builds". There are only people. The rules are light for the player and after only a short familiarisation with how to make skill checks and saves, the player should be good to go and never need to bother with rules again.
For the GM it can get more demanding as Celenia's rules can be open to interpretation and often leave the outcome of a certain situation in the hands of the GM rather than spelling it out directly. Sometimes the GM is expected to bend or even break the rules to fit the narrative. This is by design. In a game like Dungeons and Dragons, you know exactly how far you can move in a round, you know exactly how much movement it takes to stand up, you know exactly what you can do as every action is an action, bonus action, reaction etc. Celenia is more fluid that than, putting more demand on the GM to make abjudication on the fly from common sense and narrative. It is also built and optimized for a "Theater of the Mind" playstyle, using no battle maps, hexgrids or figurines. It's all in your head.
It isn't always clear cut which skill or trait applies to a certain situation or what the difficulty number should be for a particular task. It is up to the GM to be flexible and creative in coming up with what fits the situation at hand. It is a double edged sword in that it offers the GM great flexibility and unparallelled immersion for the players, but also demands more of the GM.
In the end, the system is a rewarding experience for players and GMs alike and it has been praised by experienced GMs like Michael Kesavan AKA "The Dead Aussie Gamer" and Guy Sclanders AKA "The Great Game Master".
If you are curious as to how a session using CD10 would look, a one-shot, alpha-test, adventure was played using CD10 on "How To Be A Great Game Master". You can watch it below. Do note that some of the information within is outdated, as the setting (and system) has continued development over the two years since this was recorded.