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The Eagle and The Horse

hippogryph system

The Eagle and The Horse

Let’s get this out of the way up front: this system is highly derivative and breaks little new ground in tabletop roleplaying design. That’s intentional. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature. The Hippogryph System had to feel familiar and comfortable. The way it operates had to be simple and intuitive. There had to be a solid foundation that gave us common ground for discussion, yet still leave room for you to tinker, create, and modify it.

To me, all arguments about tabletop roleplaying systems come down to what the proper balance between wargaming versus storytelling should be. Some people firmly fixed rules with only a hint of character development and plot. Others want a story-first approach, with a few mechanics to reinforce the needs of the unfolding tale. I want to explore the middle ground. The focus here isn’t on the eagle, which in this metaphor is the storytelling, with its artistic hopes and lofty ideals. Nor is it on the horse, the rules set with its wargaming pedigree and the steadfastness and dependability that come with it. I want to look at the whole creature, the hippogryph. I want to explore what this amalgamation of a beast can be.

The Hippogryph System began as a hybrid of the D20 SRD and Fate Accelerated. Wargaming and storytelling. Locked-down and free-form. The horse and the eagle. Not a conversion of one to the other, but a whole, new thing incorporating the strengths of both. I like how it turned out. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it for what it is.

Middle Ground Between The Eagle and The Horse

I want to explore the oft-overlooked middle ground. The focus here isn’t on the eagle, which in this metaphor is the storytelling, with its artistic hopes and lofty ideals. Nor is it on the horse, the wargaming-pedigreed rules set with its steadfastness and dependability. I want to look at the whole creature. The Hippogryph. Rather than get caught up with distinct and separable parts, I want to look at what this allegorical amalgamation of a beast can be.

The system you’re about to read began as a hybrid of the D20 SRD and Fate Accelerated, another contrasting pair. Wargaming and storytelling. Locked-down and free-form. The horse and the eagle. What I’ve tinkered with was never a conversion of one to the other, but incorporating the strengths of both. Over time it evolved into its own thing, albeit with the marks made by the original influences still clear. It eventually became the thing that I needed it to be, and now I share with you.


About the Hippogryph System

Hippogryph is a d20-based, story-driven tabletop fantasy roleplaying system. It is the collision of the D20 System and Fate RPG, but like the legendary creature it is more than the sum of its parts. This isn’t off-brand D&D with Fate aspects stapled on, nor is it a collection of feats, spells, and class abilities translated into Fate terms. Hippogryph is a unique system that blends established legacy fundamentals with flexible, DIY story game ideals. Info Page ¦ DriveThruRPG ¦ Our Shop


About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.

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Tabletop Roleplaying as Creative Outlet

hippogryph system

Tabletop Roleplaying as Creative Outlet

Most dedicated roleplayers create characters and build worlds. Even when we know, with near-absolute certainty, that we’re never going to use them. We do this because it’s fun. It is an act of creative expression on par with constructing Lego sets. Building model kits. Taking crayons to coloring books. It isn’t too far removed from keeping a bullet journal not just to organize information, but for the satisfaction derived from writing things down, crossing things off of lists, and doodling. These activities are relaxing, therapeutic, and the serve no greater purpose than generating the enjoyment derived from doing them.

Dungeons & Dragons

My frustration with Dungeons & Dragons has always been that, aside from characters, the rules for creating many elements are missing, scattered across many books, or difficult to work with. I understand the business model of selling books full of pregenerated monsters, spells, or magic items. Yes, there’s a need for a common baseline because of tournament play. Let’s be serious, though. What percentage of roleplayers do much gaming beyond the home game and maybe an occasional convention? To some degree “making stuff” has gotten a bit easier over the years, but it still feels like they want to obfuscate the process in order to sell me more manuals, guides, and handbooks.

Fate

If you think I’m going to transition immediately into praising Fate, well, you’re only partially right. I love the concept of aspects, and the ability to make up whatever you want from whole cloth. What I don’t like is the near-complete lack of rigor around it. You can pick through various books to find examples. There’s a bottomless supply of advice available on creating good aspects. However, I’ve yet to run any iteration of Fate with a group of casual or new players where someone didn’t ask me for list of abilities they could choose from.

There’s a middle ground in there, between strict pick-lists and wide-open toolkits. Thus, the dichotomy of the Hippogryph, part grounded horse and part soaring eagle, makes itself known once again. The balance between providing ready-made solutions and leaving things open to player creativity was one of the first design goals of the Hippogryph System.

 


About the Hippogryph System

Hippogryph is a d20-based, story-driven tabletop fantasy roleplaying system. It is the collision of the D20 System and Fate RPG, but like the legendary creature it is more than the sum of its parts. This isn’t off-brand D&D with Fate aspects stapled on, nor is it a collection of feats, spells, and class abilities translated into Fate terms. Hippogryph is a unique system that blends established legacy fundamentals with flexible, DIY story game ideals. Info Page ¦ DriveThruRPG ¦ Our Shop


About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.

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Coming Up Next: The Hippogryph Codex

hippogryph system

Coming Up Next: The Hippogryph Codex

A hippogryph the poster child for two things that, by all logic, should not go together. Yet somehow, they merge into a new entity that not only works, but elevates both components. It’s a strange hybrid creature, combining elements of a giant eagle with a horse. Various cultures over time have used the hippogryph as a symbol for everything from the perplexing nature of religious belief to the immeasurable power of romantic love. For me, it represents how the whole can be more than the mere sum of its parts. It’s lofty yet grounded, poetic yet practical.

I named this project Hippogryph because it’s full of such dichotomies. The hobby at its core is the melding of wargaming and storytelling. My strongest influences are both heavier legacy games like Dungeons & Dragons, and lighter, free-form systems like Fate Accelerated. My goal is to leverage the strengths of each element, use them to compensate for their collective flaws and drawbacks, and create something singular, entertaining, and useful.


About the Hippogryph System

Hippogryph is a d20-based, story-driven tabletop fantasy roleplaying system. It is the collision of the D20 System and Fate RPG, but like the legendary creature it is more than the sum of its parts. This isn’t off-brand D&D with Fate aspects stapled on, nor is it a collection of feats, spells, and class abilities translated into Fate terms. Hippogryph is a unique system that blends established legacy fundamentals with flexible, DIY story game ideals. Info Page ¦ DriveThruRPG ¦ Our Shop


About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.

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Problems the Hippogryph Codex is Solving For

hippogryph system

Why create a new tabletop roleplaying system when there are so many others already on the market? It’s a good question. I have specific design goals, and reasons for crafting things the way I did. There are a number of problems the Hippogryph Codex is solving for. Today I’d like to share a few of them, to help answer that question of why I bothered.

Comfort and Familiarity

The reason I built the system around the D20 and Fate Open Game Licenses isn’t because this is a quick cut-and-paste job. It isn’t. This isn’t a conversion of one system into the other. It’s not D20 with aspects bolted on, or Fate crammed into a classes-and-levels matrix. I wanted to work with concepts that my target audience would already be familiar with.

Because people are already familiar with the core concepts, I can focus on what’s different. The things that I want to say with the system, that are creatively and philosophically important to me. I don’t have to reinvent the entire wheel to do that. I can use the bits and bobs of other systems, remix them, and build a new thing out of them.

A Creation-Forward Mindset

Half the fun of tabletop roleplaying is making things. Character creation, worldbuilding ,adventure prep, you name it. Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t necessarily make that difficult, but it’s not exactly easy either. I get it. They want to sell you sourcebooks. The information on creating your own classes, feats, spells, magic items, monsters, and so on, is all in there somewhere. I wanted to streamline the process. Instead of infinite lists to things to choose from, the methods for quickly and easily creating your own stuff is up front, out in the open.

The flip side of this is that while Fate makes that part easy, it lacks a certain amount of rigor. When I’ve run Fate-based games the biggest complaint, especially from new players, is the lack of picklists. They want more examples. It’s not that they don’t want to create anything. They just don’t want to have to create everything if they don’t want to. The system is also a bit too freeform for some folks, too.

I needed to balance rigor with flexibility. There had to be consistent blocks to build with, but the freedom to make whatever I wanted out of those blocks. That’s where the melding to the horse and the eagle comes together to form the hippogryph.

Speed of Play

Angels and ministers of grace defend us from combat round that take forever to get through. That extends to any other sort of rule, for any other type of challenge, as well. On the other hand, no, I don’t want things to be entirely freeform and open to interpretation. I wanted more player agency in determining results, but not an extreme that’s vague and confusing. A nice mix of stable, consistent rules and storytelling is what I was after.

When I say speed of play, I don’t just mean combat. I mean being able to spend as much time on any sort or interaction as the players choose. It shouldn’t be a matter of using the rules for crunchy parts, and completely ignoring the rules for roleplaying. The system should always be there in the background, as invisible as possible but ready to be called up and used at any time, for any reason.


About the Hippogryph System

Hippogryph is a d20-based, story-driven tabletop fantasy roleplaying system. It is the collision of the D20 System and Fate RPG, but like the legendary creature it is more than the sum of its parts. This isn’t off-brand D&D with Fate aspects stapled on, nor is it a collection of feats, spells, and class abilities translated into Fate terms. Hippogryph is a unique system that blends established legacy fundamentals with flexible, DIY story game ideals. Info Page ¦ DriveThruRPG ¦ Our Shop


About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.

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Why I Wrote the Hippogryph Codex

hippogryph system

If you can stretch your imagination back to the Before Times, I’ll tell you about why I wrote the Hippogryph Codex. At the start of 2020, when we had no idea we’d end up like (gestures broadly at the world), I took a shot at doing a zine. The title was Hippogryph, a name chosen for its symbolism. It was going to be a hybrid of many disparate things.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links to DriveThruRPG.

Why I Wrote the Hippogryph Codex

The whole, I hoped, would be greater than the sum of its parts. My goal was to use the zine to discuss various ideas I had about tabletop roleplaying and design. To facilitate this, Issue Zero contained a quick-and-dirty roleplaying system. This was going to be the example I could use in future issue, when discussing various topics.

More people were interested in the system than in my discourse. Other issues sold okay, but the venture didn’t do well enough that I could pay the bill doing in. Then the world began to unravel, and I had to pivot my attention to other things. I scrapped the zine after seven issues, and started work in earnest on an expanded version of the Hippogryph System. It wasn’t just about giving the people what they want. It was about reevaluating my own creative needs, and mapping out the next couple of years’ worth of Dancing Lights Press projects.

I Needed a House System

Let’s be completely honest here. I stopped being a third party publisher because there are limits to what you can do when playing with other peoples’ toys. If you want to know why I don’t just write 5e or Pathfinder or Fate material, that’s why. It’s not even about content restrictions placed by the OGL provider. It’s about the expectations consumers have around OGL content.

I remain firmly committed to the Black Box Movement. Not just as part of my business plan, either. I believe that it is a way forward for many creators and consumers. The problem is that fans of most licensed systems are firmly entrenched in the consumerism paradigm. I.e., they don’t care how good a product is, or how much utility it might have at their table. Their primary concern is with trade dress.

They don’t want Pathfinder products that look like Dancing Lights Press products. They want Pathfinder products that look like Paizo products. I don’t want to make Paizo products. Or Wizards of the Coast products, or Evil Hat products, or any other publishers’ products. I have my own ideas, my own values, and my own voice.

To do the sorts of things I wanted to do, both creatively and philosophically, I needed a house system to work with.

It’s a Worldbuilding Venue

It’s no big secret that what I really want to do is write settings. Moving in 2021, you’ll see a lot of movement in that direction. Having experimented with system-agnostic settings in the past… they don’t sell well. I understand the people want to pick up  book and play, without having to convert material to the system of their choice. It’s one of the reasons so many publishers make multiple iterations of the same setting for different systems and editions.

The things that I want to do fall neatly into two camps. Real-world and low-genre settings will be handled by the DoubleZero line. All of the high-genre material, including fantasy, horror, and sci-fi, will fall under the Hippogryph umbrella. Some of the settings will be small, 32-page affairs. Others will be full 96-page sourcebooks. It all depends on the idea, and how much space it will take to express it properly.

It’s Still a Discussion Point

This is where we come full circle, back to the original intention of the zine. I’m going to continue writing about my philosophy of roleplaying design and small press publishing here on the site. The things that I publish will be an expression of those ideals. In many ways, why I wrote the Hippogryph Codex is the same reason I created the mechanics in Issue Zero of the zine. There are opinions that I want to express, and things that I want to say, that go beyond publishing a book and making a living.

Interestingly, even though the zine got a “meh” reception, people have asked me to write about the process of creating a publishing a tabletop roleplaying book. As I create new material, I’ll continue to share those thoughts here. Like the hippogryph of legend, we once again have the best of both worlds.


About the Hippogryph System

Hippogryph is a d20-based, story-driven tabletop fantasy roleplaying system. It is the collision of the D20 System and Fate RPG, but like the legendary creature it is more than the sum of its parts. This isn’t off-brand D&D with Fate aspects stapled on, nor is it a collection of feats, spells, and class abilities translated into Fate terms. Hippogryph is a unique system that blends established legacy fundamentals with flexible, DIY story game ideals. Info Page ¦ DriveThruRPG ¦ Our Shop


About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.