This section defines how to play the game, from rolling the dice to using skills. The basic unit of game time, order of play, and what players can have their characters do on a turn are explained. Suggestions for determining the difficulty of actions are offered, including some examples.
The introduction offered an overview of how the game works, so some of this may look familiar. However, this chapter clarifies a lot of special situations that undoubtedly will come up during play.
A die code shows how good a character is in a particular area, how harmful a weapon is, how useful a Special Ability or tool is, and so on. Each die code (also known as a value) indicates the number of six-sided dice you roll (1D, 2D, 3D, 4D, 5D, etc.), and sometimes an added bonus of "+1" or "+2" — referred to as pips — you add to the total result you roll on the dice.
An Advantage, Special Ability, or piece of equipment may provide a bonus to the roll. If the bonus is in the form of a die code (such as +1D), then you add the listed number of regular dice to the amount you would roll. If the bonus is in the form of a number (such as +2), then you add the amount to the total that you rolled on the dice.
Example: A shovel adds 1D to digging attempts. A character who decides to dig a hole uses her lifting skill. If your character has a lifting skill of 4D, you would roll five dice to determine how well your character dug the hole with the shovel.
Whenever any player, including the gamemaster, makes any roll, one of the dice must be different from the rest (in size or color). Designated as the Wild Die, this odd die represents the vagaries of life — like the direction of the wind affecting the flight of a bullet — that are too small to warrant their own difficulty modifiers.
If the player has only 1D to roll, then that one die is always the Wild Die.
If the player rolls a 6 on the Wild Die, this is called a Critical Success and she may add the 6 to her total and roll the Wild Die again. As long as she turns up Critical Successes on that die, she may continue to add them to her total and continue to roll. If she rolls anything other than a 6, she adds that number to the total and stops rolling.
If the player rolls a 1 on the initial toss of the Wild Die, this is called a Critical Failure, and the gamemaster may chose one of two options for the result, depending on the gravity of the situation.
When using the second option, make certain the complication chosen relates to the task attempted. It should serve as an extra, minor obstacle the characters must now deal with or, more often, as a place to insert a bit of comic relief. Only on rare occasions (such as numerous poor decisions by the players) should a complication be without solutions or even deadly. The complications can also serve as opportunities to bring nearly invincible characters down to a more reasonable level.
Note: Unlike rolling a Critical Failure initially on the Wild Die, no complications occur when a 1 shows up on later tosses of the Wild Die in the same roll.
The average person fails at average activities nearly half of the time. Characters aren't average people, so they need ways to beat those odds. Thus, they have Character Points and Fate Points, which represent those surges of adrenaline, sudden insights, and other unexplained helpful acts of chance.
Players may not trade Character Points for Fate Points, nor may they trade Fate Points for Character Points. A player may only spend her Character and Fate Points on her character's rolls. She may not spend more Character or Fate Points than the character has listed on her sheet. Except when allowed by the gamemaster for exceptionally cinematic situations, players may not use Character Points and Fate Points on the same roll.
Whenever a player makes any roll (attribute, skill, damage, Special Ability, and so on), he has the option to spend Character Points to increase the total rolled. He may spend one Character Point for each extra Wild Die rolled, to a maximum decided upon by the gamemaster and based on the challenge level of the adventure. (For adventures with easy challenges, the maximum is two; for more cinematic adventures, the maximum is five; for universe-shaking ones, the maximum is unlimited.)
A player may choose to spend Character Points before or after he makes a roll — or both — but always before the gamemaster determines the result. The gamemaster need not tell the player whether he should spend more points to improve a roll.
Extra Wild Dice gained from spending Character Points each work like a normal Wild Die except that a Critical Failure counts as a 1; it does not adversely affect the roll. Because of the special nature of Character Point Wild Dice, the player may wish to roll these dice separately from his normal Wild Die.
Once used, the character loses the point. Players get Character Points for their characters by overcoming obstacles, roleplaying well, and having fun. They can also use Character Points to improve skills (see the "Improving Characters" section for details).
Each players' character has a personal moral code, generally involving a sense of honor and justice. The devotion to this code is represented by Fate Points. Violating that code takes a little bit away from that nature, which is represented by a loss of Fate Points.
Example: Heroic characters receive Fate Points for doing good, such as protecting innocents, bringing an evil character to justice (regardless of the justice system's final decision), preventing damage, and saving a life (except the character's own). Heroic characters lose Fate Points for performing evil actions, such as stealing, maliciously destroying property, taking a life, and other terrible acts, especially if they use Fate Points to accomplish that harm.
Individual ethical codes may differ from the heroic code, but the more well-defined the code is, the easier it is for the gamemaster to determine when to reward Fate Points — and when to take them away. When a player feels she needs even greater help for her roll, she may spend a Fate Point to double the number of dice she normally gets for that roll. However, the player only rolls one Wild Die. Furthermore, anything that's not part of the character — weapon damage die codes, equipment bonuses, and so on — is not doubled.
Example: Your character has a devices skill with a die code of 4D+2. Normally, you would roll three regular dice and one Wild Die and add two pips to the total. But this time, you want to make sure the villain's siege engine can't complete its purpose, so you spend a Fate Point. This allows you to roll seven regular dice and one Wild Die and add four pips to the total (for a total of 8D+4, or twice what you'd normally roll).
Usually, a player may use only one Fate Point per roll per round, though a character may improve several different actions in a round with several different Fate Points expenditures. Particularly beneficial or malicious deeds presented and roleplayed well by the player or gamemaster may allow additional Fate Points to be spent on a single roll.
In the general course of play, a Fate Point is useful for one roll only. However, once per game session, a player may choose to spend a Fate Point climactically, which doubles all of the character's rolls for that round. The gamemaster also may allow players to spend Fate Points climactically several times during the highest point of the adventure (the climax).
Players may only spend Fate Points before making a roll. Furthermore, double the initial number before applying any die code penalties and bonuses.
Once used, the character loses the Fate Point — but she may earn it back at the end of the game if it was used for a deed that supported her moral code. However, if the character used a Fate Point to go against her moral code, the gamemaster may decide that it costs an additional Fate Point.
As characters become more experienced, the gamemaster may include further restrictions on Fate Point use. Gamemasters might allow moderately experienced characters (those with at least 6D in several skills) to spend Fate Points only on actions that promote the story line, while highly experienced characters (those with at least 9D in several skills) might be permitted to use Fate Points only during climactic moments in the campaign.
At those times when there's a chance that a character may fail at an action, that character must make a skill check. The player decides what she wants her character to do and which skill is best for accomplishing the task (sometimes with the help of the gamemaster). The gamemaster determines a suitable difficulty number, which the player must meet or beat by rolling the number of dice in the skill and adding the results.
If a character doesn't have dice in the skill required to attempt an action, she generally may use the die code of the attribute under which that skill falls. This is sometimes referred to as defaulting to the attribute or using the skill untrained or unskilled. The gamemaster may include an unskilled modifier to the difficulty. This modifier takes into account that people who aren't trained or don't have experience in certain tasks usually have a harder time doing them. Typically, this modifier is +5, but it could be as low as +1 for simple tasks or much higher for complex plans. The gamemaster may rule that some situations, such as building a ship or reading a complex map, are impossible for anyone to attempt without the proper training and the correct skills.
When attributes are given in the text along with the skill, such as in spell descriptions, resisting Wounds, and so on, do not apply the untrained modifier. This also includes most uses of dodge and fighting in combat situations, attempts to find clues in a room with search, and resisting interaction attempts or mental attacks with mettle.
Sometimes it makes more sense to base a skill on a different attribute than the one it's under by default. In such cases as the gamemaster designates, subtract the skill value from the attribute value to get the number of skill adds. Then add those skill adds to the new attribute and roll away. Some example alternate skill-attribute combinations (and the reason for using each attribute) include:
Generally, time in a roleplaying game doesn't matter too much. A character may spend several hours searching a library, though only a minute passes as far as the players and gamemaster are concerned. To keep the story line moving, sometimes it's necessary to skip the tedious parts.
More intense scenes require more detail. In these cases, time slows to units of five seconds called rounds. Each character may take one action in the round with no penalty. Unless the character has skills or special abilities, additional actions increase the difficulty of performing each task; this concept is dealt with later, in the "Multiple Actions" section. Once a round ends, the next one begins, continuing until the scene ends (with the task completed, the opponent subdued, and so on).
Since all characters in a scene are making actions in the same five second round, the actual length of game time taken up by an action is usually less than five seconds. This is obviously the case when a single character is performing multiple actions, but it is also true when one character reacts to what another character is doing. Actions in rounds are not simultaneous (actions out of rounds sometimes are).
Once rounds have been declared and depending on the situation, the gamemaster applies one of three methods to determine in what order everyone goes. Determining initiative does not count as an action.
The first method is to allow whoever makes the first significant action (such as those surprising other characters in an ambush) to act first in the round. The characters retain the same order until the scene ends.
The other two ways start out the same, by requiring the characters involved to make Acumen rolls to generate initiative totals. The gamemaster makes one Acumen roll for each character or group of characters he controls, depending on the number and how important each character is to the adventure. The character with the highest roll takes her action first. The character with the second highest roll then takes his action, and so on. After the last character performs her action, the round ends and a new one begins. Note that a character rendered unconscious, immobile, or otherwise unable to act loses his action for that round if he hasn't taken it already.
The gamemaster may chose then to have everyone roll initiative once for the entire scene (the faster method) or roll at the beginning of each round (the more realistic yet slower way).
The gamemaster and players may use Character Points, but not Fate Points, to increase their initiative rolls if they want. Spending one Character Point, for example, allows the player or gamemaster to add the result of one extra Wild Die roll to the initiative roll.
In the event of ties, or if the gamemaster chooses not to have the players roll to determine initiative, comparing attribute and skill die codes can decide the order of actions. The character with the highest value in the characteristic goes first, and so on. Once a character has a spot in the order, it doesn't change, regardless of how other characteristics compare. Ties are broken by moving to the next factor and looking at those values. The order: (1) ability or talent that allows the character to go first, (2) Acumen, (3) search, (4) Agility, (5) dodge, (6) special equipment or situation that allows the character to go before another character.
A character does not need to declare what she intends to do until her turn comes up in the round. Once the character decides to take her turn, she may use as many actions as she wants, but her player must determine the multi-action penalty for the total number of actions that the character wishes to take in that round. The character does not need to declare when figuring the multi-action penalty what she intends to do with all of her actions. Note that waiting counts as an action (once per each time the character wishes to wait). The character may take no additional actions once the multi-action penalty is figured. Any actions calculated into the multi-action penalty but that the character did not use by the end of the round are lost.
A character may take a few actions, wait, take a few more, wait again, and so on, as long as the player has declared a sufficient number of actions in which to do everything she wants her character to do (including waiting).
A character may only interrupt another character's action if she has waited and after that character has made the skill roll and spent any points but before the gamemaster declares the result.
Example: A character surprises a pickpocket. Because she got the jump on him, the gamemaster decides the character may act first in this round. The character decides to wait and see what the thief will do, choosing to take one other action this turn. The pickpocket takes a swing at her, so the character decides to dodge. If the character has no ability that gives her extra actions, she may take only one action without penalty. She chose to do two, so each action is at -1D. Since her first action was waiting, which doesn't require a roll, the penalty for that action is ignored. However, because dodging requires the roll, it does get the -1D penalty.
Only a few instances exist in which the gamemaster may permit a character to "move up" her turn and react to another character's actions. These include catching a thrown object, resisting certain mental attempts, and other situations that the gamemaster deems appropriate. These do take the character's action, though the player can declare that her character will perform multiple actions in the round. For the most part, having a turn later in the round than another's simply means that another character could take advantage of the situation faster.
Characters may attempt to perform several tasks in a single round, or, if the action takes longer than one round to complete, in the same minimum time period. The more they try to do, however, the less care and concentration they can apply to each action. It becomes more difficult to succeed at all of the tasks. Thus, for most characters, for each action taken beyond the first, the player must subtract 1D from all skill or attribute rolls (but not damage, damage resistance, or initiative rolls). Thus, trying to do four actions in one round gives the character a -3D modifier to each roll. For characters with an ability that increases their base number of actions, the multi-action penalty doesn't take effect until the character uses up his allotment of actions. For example, if a character with an action allotment of eight per round wants to do nine actions, each of the nine actions is at -1D.
Only equipment and weapons suited for quick multiple actions may be used several times (up to the limit of their capabilities) in a round. Items with little or no reload time, like hands or small melee weapons, are one example of this.
A character may not rely on any skill or attribute reduced to zero.
Each entry on this nonexhaustive list counts as one action taking no more than five seconds to perform. The gamemaster may decide that certain types of actions offer a bonus or special effect and, thus, have requirements to perform. The suggested skill to use with each action is included at the end of the task's description.
Bash: Hit an opponent with a blunt weapon. (melee combat)
Catch: Stop the movement of a thrown or dropped object or person. (The catcher must act later in the round than the person doing the throwing or dropping. This is one of the few cases where a character may "move up" his turn.) (throwing)
Choke: Grab a person's neck and gripping tightly. (fighting)
Communicate: Relay plans or exchange complex ideas and information with other characters (more than a few words or one sentence). (an interaction skill or only roleplaying)
Dodge: Actively evade an attack. (dodge)
Entangle: Throw an entangling weapon at an opponent. (throwing)
Escape: Break a hold. (lifting)
Grab: Latch onto an opponent. Depending on where the opponent was grabbed, he can take other actions. (fighting)
Kick: Strike out at an opponent with a foot. (fighting)
Leap: Jump over an opponent, onto a table, or any other such maneuver. (jumping)
Lunge: Stab forward with a pointed weapon, such as a sword or a knife. (melee combat)
Move: Maneuver 51% of the character's Move or more around the area. The gamemaster should call only for a roll if the terrain is challenging or the maneuvering complex. During some rounds, the gamemaster may decide that existing factors dictate all movement, regardless of length, require an action. (running, swimming)
Pin: Trap an opponent by either holding him to the ground or tacking a piece of his clothing to a wall or other nearby object. When pinning the whole opponent, this is the same concept as tackling. Pinning prevents the victim from using the fastened part. (fighting, melee combat, marksmanship, throwing)
Punch: Strike out at an opponent with a fist. (fighting)
Push: Forcibly move an opponent. (fighting)
Ready a Weapon: Draw or reload a musket or bow, unsheathe a knife, and similar actions. This generally does not require a skill roll, but the gamemaster may chose to require one related to the weapon in question for particularly stressful situations.
Run Away: Flee from the scene. (running)
Shoot: Fire a missile or projectile weapon. (marksmanship)
Slash: Swing an edged weapon. (melee combat)
Tackle: Bodily overcome an opponent. Once tackled, the opponent can do no other physical actions other than speak or attempt to break the attacker's grip. (fighting)
Throw a Weapon or Object: Toss something at an opponent. (throwing)
Trip: Quickly force one or both of an opponent's legs upward. (fighting)
Use a Skill or Ability: Perform a quick action related to a Special Ability the character possesses or a skill he wants to use. A character may not use a Special Ability he does not have, though he may use a skill he has no experience in (possibly at a penalty). Note that some skills and Special Abilities take longer than one action or one round to perform, so trying to do them in five seconds incurs penalties.
Waiting: Watch for a better opportunity to perform an action. This does not require a skill roll, but it does take concentration.
Free actions are anything a character can automatically perform except under the most extreme conditions. They don't require a skill roll or much effort. If the gamemaster thinks a task requires concentration (and has a possibility of failure, thus requiring a skill roll), it's not a free action.
A few examples of free actions include:
Additionally, the following player actions do not count as character actions:
In some situations, two or more skills may suit the task at hand. The gamemaster can declare that only one is suitable for the current circumstances. Or he can choose the primary one and decide which other skills are appropriate secondary, or related, skills that the character can use to improve his chances with the primary skill. The gamemaster sets difficulties for each skill. The character first performs the related skills, and then he attempts the primary one.
To determine the related skill's modifier to the primary skill, the gamemaster subtracts the difficulty from the total rolled with the related skill; this determines the number of result points from the roll. Then he divides that number by 2, rounding up, to get the modifier to the total rolled with the primary skill. The minimum related skill modifier is 1. If the skill total was less than the difficulty, the modifier is subtracted from the primary skill total. If the skill total was equal to or greater than the difficulty, the modifier is added to the primary skill total.
The character may perform the related skills and the primary skill successively, but the related skill modifier is only good for the one initially intended attempt and the character must make that attempt within a short time of using the other skills. Should the character decide to perform the primary skill and the related skill at the same time, he takes the multi-action penalty.
Example: Your character wants to carefully place a trap so that the existing structure enhances the trap's design. You decide that the character first examines the room for ideal locations (using the search skill). Once examination has been completed and the search roll has been made, your gamemaster lets you know that you beat the difficulty by four points. This gives you a result points bonus of +2. You apply the modifier to your traps roll only, which must take place immediately after your character's examination of the wall.
Gamemasters also can use the related-skills guidelines for deciding how well one person can help another person.
A character willing to spend twice as much time to complete a task receives a +1D bonus for the die roll for every doubling of time, up to a maximum bonus of +3D. However, the character can do nothing else or be otherwise distracted (such as being beset by arrows at) during this time.
A character can also attempt to perform an action that normally requires two or more rounds (10 seconds or more) in less time. The difficulty increases depending on how much less time the character puts into the task: +5 for 25% less time, +10 for 50% less time, and +20 for 75% less time. A character may not perform any task in less than 25% of the normally needed time. Thus, to rush an hour-long research of a wizard's library into 30 minutes, the difficulty increases by +10.
Of course, not every task can be rushed. If in doubt, the gamemaster should ask the player to justify how the character can speed up the task.
To save time, gamemasters may chose to roll one action for a group of characters he controls. Any number can belong to the group. Each member of the group does not have to perform exactly the same maneuver, but they do need to take similar actions. A gamemaster could make one roll for a pack of wolves who attack different characters, but he would have to separate the pack into those attacking and those circling if the gamemaster wanted to have them perform those distinctly different activities.
There are two possibilities for assigning difficulties to a specific action: a difficulty number or an opposed roll. Generally, the adventure specifies the difficulty and what skill is needed, but the gamemaster may come across circumstances that were not foreseen. In such cases, use these guidelines to decide what to do.
Certain circumstances (typically involving a character attempting a task without a force actively opposing her, such as climbing a wall or piloting a boat) may call for a static difficulty number. In these cases, select a standard difficulty or use a special difficulty. Circumstances involving an actively opposing force call for an opposed difficulty.
A standard difficulty is a number that the gamemaster assigns to an action based on how challenging the gamemaster thinks it is. Existing conditions can change the difficulty of an action. For instance, walking has an Automatic difficulty for most characters, but the gamemaster may require someone who is just regaining the use of his legs to make a Very Difficult running roll to move even a few steps.
The numbers in parentheses indicate the range of difficulty numbers for that level.
Automatic (0): Almost anyone can perform this action; there is no need to roll. (Generally, this difficulty is not listed in a pregenerated adventure; it is included here for reference purposes.)
Very Easy (1–5): Nearly everyone can accomplish this task. Typically, tasks with such a low difficulty only are rolled when they are crucial to the scenario.
Easy (6–10): Although characters usually have no difficulty with this task, an untrained character may find it challenging.
Moderate (11–15): There is a fair chance that the average character will fail at this type of task. Tasks of this type require skill, effort, and concentration.
Difficult (16–20): Those with little experience in the task must have a lot of luck to accomplish this type of action.
Very Difficult (21–25): The average character only rarely succeeds at these kinds of task. Only the most talented regularly succeed.
Heroic (26–30), Legendary (31 or more): These kinds of tasks are nearly impossible, though there's still a slim chance that lucky average or highly experienced characters can accomplish them.
An opposed difficulty (also called an opposed roll) applies when one character resists another character's action. In this case, both characters generate skill totals and compare them. The character with the higher value wins, and ties go to the initiator of the action.
In an opposed task, since both characters are actively doing something, both the initiator and the resisting character use up actions. This means that the resisting character can only participate in an opposed task either if he waited for the initiating character to make a move or if he was actively preparing for the attempt. Otherwise, the gamemaster may allow a reaction roll of the appropriate skill as a free action in some circumstances, or he may derive a difficulty (see the derived entry under "Special Difficulties" for an example).
There are two special and optional difficulties: Wild Die Only and derived.
Wild Die Only: The standard difficulty of an action may be so much lower than a character's skill value that rolling and totalling dice would waste time. However, the gamemaster may feel that the situation is such that a complication could greatly affect the outcome of the scene. In such cases, the game master may require the player to roll the Wild Die. A Critical Success result indicates that some special bit of good fortune occurred, while a Critical Failure indicates a minor complication. Any other result shows that the result is successful, though nothing special.
Derived: Any time one character does something to another character or animate creature or object, the base difficulty equals 2 times the target's relevant opposing attribute or skill and add the pips. Gamemasters may further modify derived values, as the situation warrants. Derived values do not get the unskilled modifier if they are determined from the governing attribute.
Example: Your character attempts to intimidate a street urchin. The gamemaster could use the standard intimidation difficulty of 10 or she could derive one from the urchin's mettle skill, or, if he doesn't have one, the governing attribute, Charisma. If his Charisma has a die code of 3D, then the base derived difficulty is 6.
The modifiers offered in a skill's list or a pregenerated adventure may not cover all the gamemaster's needs. When conditions arise for which there aren't pre-established modifiers, use the chart herein to help at those times. Gamemasters can add these modifiers to opposed, standard, or derived difficulty values.
Gamemasters should reward good roleplaying by lowering the difficulty a few points. The better the roleplaying — and the more entertaining the player makes the scenario — the higher the modifier the gamemaster should include.
Remember that someone without training or experience might, with blind luck, do better than someone with experience — but generally only that one time. There is no guarantee of future success. When a character defaults to the attribute, figure in not only a difficulty modifier of +1, +5, or more, but also adjust the result accordingly; the result won't happen as precisely or stylishly as someone with skill.
If the total rolled on the dice is greater than the difficulty, the attempt was a success. Ties generally go to the initiator of the action, but certain circumstances dictate otherwise (such as the use of some Special Abilities or determining the amount of damage done). The description of the ability, challenge, or activity explains the results.
Result points refer to the difference between the skill roll and the difficulty. The gamemaster can use the result points to decide how well the character completed the task. The gamemaster may allow a player to add one-half of the result points (rounded up) as a bonus to another skill roll or Extranormal skill or Special Ability effect. One-fifth of the result points from an attack roll can be included as bonus to damage. (Round fractions up.)
As characters tackle obstacles, they'll find ones that they can't overcome initially. Gamemasters must rely on their judgment to decide whether and when a character may try an action again. For some actions, such as marksmanship or running, the character may try the action again the next turn, even if she failed. For other actions, such as crafting or bluff, failing the roll should have serious consequences, depending on how bad the failure was. A small difference between the difficulty number and the success total means the character may try again next round at a higher difficulty. A large difference means that the character has made the situation significantly worse. She will need to spend more time thinking through the problem or find someone or something to assist her in her endeavor. A large difference plus a Critical Failure could mean that the character has created a disaster. She can't try that specific task for a long time — perhaps ever. This is especially true with locks and some devices.
The rules are a framework upon which the gamemasters and their friends build stories set in fantastic and dynamic worlds. As with most frameworks, the rules work best when they show the least, and when they can bend under stress. Keeping to the letter of the rules is almost certainly counterproductive to the whole idea of making an engaging story and having fun. To keep a story flowing with a nice dramatic beat, gamemasters might need to bend the rules, such as reducing the significance of a modifier in this situation but not in another one, or allowing a character to travel a meter or two beyond what the movement rules suggest.
You can find the more commonly referenced difficulties listed on the Reference Sheet at the back of this book. With these plus the generic difficulties and modifiers described previously, you can run just about any adventure. Several sections include more, and more detailed, difficulties.