Gameplay involves overcoming various challenges, each with a difficulty of 4-6 (easy, standard, or hard). Most should be difficulty 5, but the GM may decide that some challenges are easier or harder.
Players roll 1-3d6 depending on their archetype. If a die equals or exceeds the difficulty, they succeed—if not, they fail. If they equal or exceed the difficulty on 2-3 dice, it’s an exceptional success.
If the player rolls “1” on all of their dice, the result is a critical failure, and this is always _very _bad—the GM should come up with a particularly interesting complication to introduce to the scene!
Some challenges require extra effort to overcome. This is represented using effort tokens; each die to equal or beat the difficulty removes a token, and the challenge is defeated once all the tokens are gone. PCs can usually work together to overcome such a challenge, and it will require several rolls; failing any of these rolls will have consequences.
Failure & Success
A challenge has four possible outcomes: exceptional success, normal success, normal failure, or critical failure.
These results are relative to both the character and the situation, as decided by the GM, and neither the worst-case nor the best-case outcomes should be so extreme that they require suspension of disbelief. A master thief would never believably _fail _to pick a simple lock, but it might take her longer than expected, or lead to a complication. Likewise, an unarmed scholar couldn’t defeat a dozen elite warriors in melee combat—at best, he might make a clean escape.
If someone is attempting to translate a magical text, and they have absolutely no background in magic or the language used, then even an _exceptional success _will probably provide them less information than a scholarly mage would obtain on a normal failure!
However, there must always be some price for failure—otherwise, the players shouldn’t be rolling! This price is usually obvious—the character might be spotted while trying to sneak past a guard, miss in combat, or fail to climb a tree. The GM could also remove one of the PC’s resolve tokens, or perhaps introduce a complication to the scene.
A critical failure is always very bad, no matter how skilled the character, and often represents a stroke of bad luck. If the character would lose one resolve on a normal failure, they should lose two resolve on a critical failure.
Narrate the Outcome
Don’t simply announce that a character has failed—describe the consequences of their failure, and try to explain what does happen rather than what doesn’t. Instead of saying the character “critically fails to pick a lock,” describe how the tip of the tool snaps off inside the lock. Don’t just say that the character “fails to dodge the attack”—describe how the foe lunges at them and slams a fist into their jaw.
Defeat & Afflictions
Characters are defeated when they run out of resolve, and the victor (player or GM) decides their victim’s fate.
Defeated characters gain an affliction appropriate to the situation, such as a broken arm, a phobia, a bruised ego, etc. They recover all of their resolve, but are usually unable to actively participate in the remainder of the scene—they might be unconscious on the ground, fleeing in terror, or just too injured to continue.
Afflictions are described by the victor and are treated as temporary quirks (or permanent quirks if caused by a critical failure), except the GM decides when to apply them. A PC with more than three afflictions is retired from play, although they can be brought back if one or more of their afflictions are cured.
Death is a matter of narrative. While a player might decide to kill their foe in combat by giving them a fatal affliction, the GM should always warn players if a challenge could result in death.
Certain afflictions (e.g., “fleeing in fear”) are removed automatically at the end of a scene, but others may last hours, days, or longer, at the GM’s discretion. A PC with a suitable perk can spend karma to cure an affliction (e.g., “regeneration” to heal a wound)—but _permanent _afflictions cost _permanent _karma (unless converted into quirks using advances).
Most challenges consist of PCs working together against external threats, but on occasion, they may wish to oppose each other. If this occurs, both players roll as normal, but each should treat the other’s highest die roll as the difficulty of their own challenge (i.e., highest roll wins).
On a tie, the player who matched the difficulty with the most dice achieves a normal success (e.g., 4, 4, 4 is a normal success against 4, 4, 3 or 4, 3, 3). Should the players each roll the same number of matching dice, try to interpret the result in a way that favors both sides equally.
If both players roll a critical failure, then each suffers a terrible outcome.
There may also be situations where two NPCs have a direct confrontation with each other, rather than against PCs. The GM can usually just decide the outcome, but if an unpredictable result is desired, ask the players to roll for the NPCs.
Combat and other conflicts can easily be resolved as regular challenges, but if you prefer to have a turn-by-turn exchange of attacks, use these guidelines.
NPCs as Challenges
The GM assigns foes a difficulty of 4-6, based on their power relative to the PC. Most enemies should be difficulty 5.
Each foe also has one or more effort tokens to represent their resolve. If you have a group of similar enemies, such as a horde of goblins, treat them as a single challenge with extra effort tokens.
Turn order should follow the narrative where possible, and players make all the rolls—they roll to attack on their turn, and to defend on their enemy’s turn.
As a general rule, players should only make one defense roll each turn. If they are facing multiple foes, make them roll against the most dangerous attacker.
Example of Combat
A brawny dwarven battle priest and an agile elven ranger encounter a group of goblinoids while exploring some ruins.
GM: Four goblin archers ready bows, while two hobgoblins draw cudgels. You can attack first if you use ranged attacks. Standard difficulty; you need 5+ to hit.
Elf: I shoot! [Rolls 5, 3, 2]—one goblin drops dead, my arrow buried in its throat!
Dwarf: I draw my warhammer, raise my shield, and charge the hobgoblins!
GM: Okay, but first roll to evade the goblins’ arrows, standard difficulty.
Elf: [Rolls 1, 6, 5]—I easily dodge aside.
Dwarf: [Rolls 3, 5]—an arrow gets lodged in my shield, and I carry on charging.
GM: Okay, you rush the hobgoblins. Make your attack, standard difficulty.
Dwarf: [Rolls 4, 2, 4]—I use my “berserker” perk to reduce the difficulty to 4, then I smash their skulls as I roar with rage!
Elf: New turn? [Rolls 5, 4, 4]—I will use my “marksman” perk and kill the remaining goblins with one arrow! Shish kebab!
A character’s archetype consists of a trait (agile, brawny, or crafty) combined with a concept (usually a profession), and this combination determines how many dice they roll for challenges.
Agile characters roll 3d6 for anything related to quickness, dexterity, reflexes, or stealth. They also roll 3d6 for ranged combat (but see “Combat Styles”).
Brawny characters roll 3d6 for any challenges based on strength, toughness, stamina, or athletics. They also roll 3d6 for melee combat (but see “Combat Styles”).
Crafty characters roll 3d6 when they perform challenges related to charisma, intellect, willpower, or perception. They also roll 3d6 for mental combat (but see “Combat Styles”).
When characters lack the appropriate trait for a challenge, they only roll 2d6. If a particular challenge requires special knowledge that falls outside the scope of their concept and perks, then reduce the number of dice they roll by one.
A brawny barbarian rolls 3d6 to swing a sword, 2d6 to throw a spear, and 1d6 to pick a lock. An agile elven ranger rolls 3d6 to sneak silently through the forest, 2d6 to spot a hidden enemy, and 1d6 to negotiate a legal treaty. A crafty wizard rolls 3d6 to throw a fireball at someone, 2d6 to climb a rope, and 1d6 to swing a greatsword in combat.
A character’s preferred combat style (i.e., melee, ranged or mental) is usually based on their trait. However, this can also be changed if another style better suits the character concept. For example, an agile thief might prefer melee weapons, and a crafty gunslinger would most likely use ranged weapons.
The character’s combat style must be chosen during character creation, and it cannot be changed later.
Note: Mental combat includes magic attacks, persuasion, intimidation, etc.
Context is Important
Crafty characters generally roll 3d6 for social challenges, but that doesn’t mean they’re always better at them.
A crafty old witch normally rolls 3d6, but courting a young man falls outside the scope of her concept, so she’d only roll 2d6 in such a situation. Perhaps she also has a “warty nose” quirk—if so, that might well increase the difficulty of the challenge, or add a complication.
An agile rake normally rolls 2d6, but courting a young lady is well within the scope of his concept, so he wouldn’t lose a die—and he might have a “charming” perk, which could reduce the difficulty of the challenge. He could even spend a karma token to describe the young lady becoming infatuated with him.
But of course, the rake would roll 1d6 to persuade a jilted husband to give him a break, and the crafty old witch would roll 3d6 to convince a young woman to try out her spinning wheel, or take a bite from a juicy red apple.
Characters with a relevant perk can ask the GM for insight or clues about one particular situation, receive a temporary benefit (such as special gear or aid from an NPC), overcome obstacles that would generally be impossible for other people (such as using their wings to fly onto a rooftop), and so on.
The exact benefits and uses of a perk are always at the GM’s discretion, but a broadly defined perk has a wider scope, therefore a more narrowly defined perk (including any perk that is particularly niche for the setting) should have more impact when it does come into play.
If a player wants to use their perk to significantly impact the story, they must spend a karma token to do so.
Karma can also be spent to reduce the difficulty of a challenge by 1—make this decision after rolling, and make sure you narrate how the perk gives you an edge. No more than one karma may be spent in this way for each challenge.
A Deeper Look
If you want to do something that regular people couldn’t even attempt, but which your perk really should allow you to do automatically, you must spend a karma token. For example, using “necromancy” to conjure and interrogate the spirit of a murder victim, or perhaps “investigative intuition” to glean extensive insight into a murder scene.
If you want to do something that isn’t normally possible, but which your perk should allow you to at least attempt, you don’t need to spend any karma, but you must still roll. For example using your “superhuman strength” to lift a bus.
If a perk allows you to automatically bypass a challenge while others have to roll, you must spend a karma token. For example, using “flight” to fly over a river that everyone else needs to swim across, or throwing lots of money at a problem because you’re “filthy rich.”
If the challenge is usually possible for everyone, you can still describe how you use your perk to increase the odds, and may later spend karma to retroactively reduce the difficulty. For example, using your “kangaroo legs” to leap onto a roof, while everyone else has to climb.
If you only use a perk to add flavor to the scene (e.g., overcoming a challenge through magic that others could just as easily overcome through skill), you don’t need to spend any karma. For example, you might shoot a firebolt at a foe, while another character shoots an arrow; the difference is just a matter of narrative.
Always try to think of perks in terms of overcoming challenges. Players only roll if it’s important to the story, but if they can use a perk to automatically succeed without rolling, it costs karma. Likewise, it costs karma to reduce the difficulty of a challenge—but if a perk gives no other benefit, then it _doesn’t _cost any karma.
If a player has no karma, the GM may offer them a complication instead.
Perks generally imply lesser knowledge in any related field. For example, a “car mechanic” would also have some degree of general mechanical knowledge—they might not know much about aircraft, for example, but they’d still have a far better chance of fixing one than someone with no mechanical skills. Similarly, someone with a “swordmaster” perk could apply their martial expertise to other combat situations, a “surgeon” perk also implies general medical training, and so on.
Players can also use perks to assist their friends and allies. For example, a “divine healer” might spend karma to remove a wound affliction from an injured friend, while a “brave commander” might spend karma to inspire a companion, reducing the difficulty of a fear-based challenge.
Assisting someone doesn’t change the standard expenditure limit of one karma per challenge; if you spend karma to aid an ally, they cannot also spend their own karma to reduce the difficulty further.
Although it isn’t possible to spend more than one karma per challenge, a PC can still use multiple perks at once—success and failure are relative to the character’s competencies, so the GM should take all applicable perks into account.
Likewise, just as the impact of a perk depends on how narrowly defined it is, multiple relevant perks should also have more impact than a single perk.
Players must declare their intent to use a quirk before rolling for a challenge. They should describe their character’s actions in a way that incorporates the quirk, and then increase the challenge difficulty by 1 (this can take it above 6).
Players usually recover one karma for using their quirk, but if they succeed at the challenge roll, they may recover one resolve instead (if they wish). Only one quirk can be used for each challenge.
The GM can also offer players karma in exchange for a complication. Should the player accept this offer, use their quirks for inspiration—the professor with “bad eyes” may have overlooked a major clue, while the “mean” thug may have insulted the wrong person.
Of course, complications can also be based on the situation, or perhaps even archetypes or perks. But when possible, try to tie them to a character’s quirks.