I’ve been frequenting the forums over at Indie RPGs lately, and I’ve also been reading a lot of ORE (Wild Talents and Reign specifically) and Burning Wheel. I guess things have been percolating around inside my head. Because, sparked by this thread and the idea of gobble dice from ORE, I’ve thrown together some minimalist mechanics during my lunch breaks over the course of about a week. The system outlined below is supposed to be abstract, minimalist and gritty while still allowing for some good roleplaying and action.

This game uses nothing but d6’s. All rolls are opposed by either a roll or a static difficulty. A player rolls his character’s dice pool and counts up his successes. Whoever or whatever he’s opposing does likewise. The defender’s successes cancel the player’s successes on a one for one basis. If there are any successes left, the player succeeds. Static difficulties (like picking an average lock) work exactly the same way, except the lock doesn’t need to roll, it already has a set number of successes with which to cancel the player’s. The static difficulty is functionally no different than obstacles, difficulty classes, or target numbers in other games, but the concept of canceling successes keeps the terminology consistent throughout the rules.

There are only three stats: Body, Mind, and Spirit.

Each stat represents a character’s “potential” not their absolute ability. Normal range stats are rated from 0 to 6. Stats higher than 6 are super-human. Each stat level greater than 6 (7, 8, 9, etc) grants the player 1 automatic success when rolling skills associated with that stat.

Each stat also calculates a character’s success threshold for all skills associated with that stat. A character with a stat of 0, 1, or 2 counts success on a roll of 5 or 6, a character with a stat of 3 or 4 counts success on a roll of 4, 5 or 6 and a character with a stat of 5 or 6 counts success on a roll of 3, 4, 5 or 6.

The game also includes three “metaskills”, which are kind of like stats and kind of like skills, only every character has them.

“Shake it off” is an average of Body and Spirit
Every time a character is injured or suffers some sort of negative status effect (paralyzation, poison, disease, etc.). He has a chance to Shake it off. After suffering the negative effect, the character rolls his Shake it off skill against the negative effect. If he successfully “shakes it off”, the character successfully ignores the negative effect. If he was attempting to shake off an injury, he still slides up the injury scale (when he’s dead, he’s dead), but suffers penalties as if he was one step lower than he actually is.

“Keep it Together” is an average of Mind and Spirit
Every time a character is injured, is subjected to scenes of horrible suffering or gore, or witnesses the unimaginable, he must attempt to keep it together, or slide one step up the mental health scale. The scale works almost exactly like the wound scale but with complete insanity/catatonia at the top instead of death.

“Go First” is an average of Mind and Body
Whenever two or more characters are in direct conflict, they roll to see who goes first. The person who rolls more successes in their go first roll gets to declare last and act first. If two rolls are tied, the higher body score goes first, if the body scores are tied, the higher mind score goes first. If the characters are still tied, they roll one die, highest first (repeat if necessary).

There is no set skill list, players can just make up skills for their characters. I understand that without a set list, players might feel a bit lost about where to begin, so maybe a skill list like this would help players have a good jumping off point.

Skills levels are equal to the skill’s dice and rolled as a single pool (without adding the stat). Untrained skills start with a number of dice equal to half the associated stat with -1d penalty. This penalty cancels automatic successes first. (Ex.: A character has a stat of 7 and attempts to roll an untrained skill associated with that stat. He rolls 2 dice (half his stat) with a target number of 3. His automatic success is canceled by the -1d penalty for being untrained)
The first level of any skill obviates the -1d penalty giving the player a roll equal to half the associated stat (round down). Every following level adds 1d to skill roll. The player attempts to roll above or tie his character’s success threshold (see the stat section).

Attack and defense
Attacker rolls their attacking skill (sword, brawl, karate, etc) plus any dice granted by the weapon.
The defender rolls their opposing skill (usually one of their applicable blocking skills (natural armor, shield, calloused body, etc) plus one of their applicable dodging skills (dodge, etc.)). Armor adds to blocking skills and subtracts from dodging skills. Like all conflicts, each success cancels one of the attacker’s successes.
If the defender is successful, the attack fails. If the attacker has any successes left, the attack was a success.

On a successful attack, the character who was attacked slides one step down the wound scale:

  • Healthy (No effects. The character is uninjured)
  • Bruised (No effects. This condition fades when the encounter ends).
  • Battered (-1d penalty to all rolls (combat and otherwise).
  • Bloodied (-3d penalty to all rolls (combat and otherwise).
  • Broken (No actions are possible).
  • Dead (No actions are possible. The character is dead. This condition cannot be reduced in any way).

This injury scale has the potential to be pretty deadly. Especially considering that I think some weapons (guns, rocket launchers, a dragon) should have a “penetration score” that slide the would scale a certain number of additional steps on a successful attack. Hopefully, the mental health scale would help keep characters from dying by introducing a “run and hide” component to combat while still keeping combat feeling particularly deadly.

I’m also enamored with the Aspects in Fate/Spirit of the Century and Traits in Burning Wheel.

Here’s a quick little taste from the SotC SRD —

Characters have a set of attributes called aspects. Aspects cover a wide range of elements and should collectively paint a picture of who the character is, what he’s connected to, and what’s important to him (in contrast to the “what can he do” of skills).
Aspects can be relationships, beliefs, catchphrases, descriptors, items or pretty much anything else that paints a picture of the character. Some possible aspects are shown here.

Sample Aspects
• Quick Witted
• Sucker for a Pretty Face
• Rough & Tumble
• Dapper Devil
• Stubborn Like a Mule

In Fate/SotC, Aspects allow you to spend fate points to do things like reroll dice, change the results of dice, and more. Aspects can also be used by a GM to screw you (which has the added bonus of earning your more fate points). In Burning Wheel traits allow you to add dice to pools, give you static bonuses and just color your character in general.

Any more complete version of this minimalist system would have to include some form of character descriptions that could be invoked to add dice to a character’s skill roll.

I’m not trying to create a universal system, but if all goes well, the complete rules would clock in at about four pages without any setting information. I think that perhaps a system like this would sit well with a steampunk game. A game with some light swashbuckling, Victorian intrigue, flintlock firearms and minimal magic. All of this is on the back burner since a fully edited version of Fluidity Project: Elementalism is getting closer by the day.