Starting Out

The First Game: This game grows and develops as you play it, with characters dying, being Renewed, revealing Secrets and gaining new ones, and so on. What follows is a guide on how to play a standard starting game. Once you get used to the rules and the premise, feel free to pick a different Traveller, play without Travellers, play with several Travellers and to add new cards or change old ones.

Wrong-ways and Right-ways: In this game, cards have a different meaning if they are the normal way up or if they have been rotated 180 degrees. The terms used are 'wrong-ways' (rotated) and 'right-ways' (not rotated) because 'upside down' and 'facing up' make it sound as if the card has been turned over to show its back.

Stories and Scenes: Usually, one story plays out over one game session. A story might run short or go for multiple sessions, but in any case must have a beginning, middle and end where things are – for good or ill – resolved. Unless you get bored or frustrated in your Role, you'll keep your Role for the entire story.

A story is made up of many scenes. While over a story you might control many characters, in a scene you will only control one character or group of characters (while the Scholar is a character, the Myrmidons are a group of characters).

Roles

You will need a token or card of some sort to represent each of the four Roles. If there are more than four players, invent some new Roles or double up on old ones. If there are less than four players, take one for each player in this order:

  • Victory: Victory controls the protagonist. Usually, but not always, this means controlling the Scholar. Victory's character is a hero and the focus of the action. Victory hopes to be victorious over Defeat.
  • Defeat: Defeat exists to foil and endanger Victory's character(s) and controls the antagonist. Usually, but not always, this means controlling whatever threat faces the Scholar this story. In some scenes, Victory may face a danger unrelated to the story's main threat – in that case, you control the pressing danger not the main threat for this scene.
  • Love: Love controls friends and allies of Victory's character (not necessarily someone who is fond of Victory's character, although they usually are). Usually, but not always, this means controlling the Scholar's current Companion. Love tries to aid Victory's character, though Love's characters may endanger or threaten Victory's character by accident.
  • Shadow: Shadow controls unknown quantities – that which might be convinced to aid or attack Victory's character. Sometimes, the plot of the story is about resolving whether these mysterious figures are friends or foes.

The players should negotiate between themselves as to who plays which Roles. If there's a disagreement, flip a coin to see who gets what.

Every player but Victory can then choose one of the Power cards (The Box, The Wand or Humankind).

Arcanas

Arcanas are cards that represent different characters and groups of characters in the cosmos. They may or may not show up in the story depending on the choices made by players. Arcanas are ranked in importance based on how many Secrets they have – the Scholar usually has the most, since he starts with five Secrets.

Arcanas can be displayed any way you like, but place them wrong-ways until they show up in the story. Then place them right-ways in the same place or in front of whoever is controlling them.

By all means use the Arcana included here or invent your own. Each comes with one to five Secrets, which are parts of their nature that influence how they act, think and feel. For example, the Scholar has (at least at the beginning): 'The Last of My People', 'Half-Human', 'I Should Not Meddle', 'My Companions Lose Themselves' and 'I am an Enigma Even to Myself'.

At the start of play, each player chooses one Arcana and turns it right-ways. This Arcana is bound to show up in the story at some point.

Starting Secrets

The players talk about what plot they expect based on these Arcanas, where they'd like the story to begin, where they'd like the story to go and so on. They can even provide foreshadowing – the manic laugh of a man thought dead, the shadow of a winged beast on a crowd or the tears of a mother.

Each player then writes a Secret on a piece of paper and hides it from the others. While most Secrets are known to the players (if not the characters), these Secrets are hidden until they are first used. If you can't think of a Secret, keep a blank piece of paper in front of you and write it down when it comes to you. An example Secret for the Scholar could be: 'I know the people on this spaceship are doomed'.

The First Scene

Defeat usually frames the first scene, because it is the nefarious plot of one of his or her characters that the Scholar must check. This involves describing who is present (picking out a number of Arcanas between one and the number of players) and where the action is taking place. Love then distributes the Arcanas between the players as seems appropriate. Shadow may then swap any one player's Arcana with any other player's Arcana.

No player may ever have more than one Arcana. If there are two seemingly villainous characters or groups in play, then one must go to Shadow – there is always a chance of betrayal. If there are two seemingly heroic characters or groups in play, then one must go to Love. That said, sometimes what seems like two characters or groups is actually a single group – the dread Myrmidon-Azraels Army is a single group even though both the Myrmidons and the Azraels are groups in their own right.

This happens each scene, though only in the first scene is Defeat the one who frames by default.

The players then describe the actions, dialogue and experiences of the characters as the scene plays out. When someone takes a risk, the dice come out.

Rolling the Dice ('Risk')

Victory and Defeat are usually proactive, so they are more likely to roll dice (they often take action). Love and Shadow are usually reactive, so they are less likely to roll dice (they often respond to or are threatened by actions).

Risks are so called because someone takes action that may succeed or fail and may result in danger to either the risk-taker or his or her friends and allies. If there is danger but no action, then people should act to escape or end the danger. If there is action but no danger, simply decide if the action is successful based on what seems reasonable.

When Victory rolls, he or she usually rolls four dice (called 'normal dice' to distinguish them from Secret dice). That's because those dice will be distributed as he or she wishes between four different Consequences.

Goal: The goal is what you hope your character achieves when you roll. A result of 1 means he or she fails miserably, 2 or 3 means he or she fails, 4 or 5 means he or she succeeds and 6 means he or she has extraordinary success.
Safety: The safety is whether your character suffers from some kind of danger. A result of 1 means he or she suffers terribly, 2 or 3 means he or she suffers, 4 or 5 means he or she is safe and 6 means he or she is untouched.
Defence: The defence is whether Love's character or group of characters suffer from some kind of danger. A result of 1 means he, she or they suffer terribly, 2 or 3 means he, she or they suffer, 4 or 5 means he, she or they are safe and 6 means he, she or they are untouched.
Momentum: The momentum is whether you still dominate the scene. A result of 1 means you lose momentum and your foe (Defeat for Victory or Love; Victory for Defeat or Shadow) can immediately frame a new scene. A result of 2 or 3 means you lose momentum and your foe can take the next action in this scene. A result of 4 or 5 means you keep momentum and can take the next action in this scene. A result of 6 means you increase momentum and can immediately frame a new scene. Without 1s or 6s in momentum, a new scene can only be framed when it seems natural to do so. If you don't take advantage of momentum to take the next action, anyone can take the next action.

Defeat cares not for defending Love, and so only rolls for goal, safety and momentum. Whenever Love has no character or group in the scene, bystanders need defending. If there are no bystanders, then Victory also only rolls three dice.

If Love rolls, safety applies to his or her characters and groups and defence to Victory's characters and groups.

What is Suffering?

Low results on safety and defence cause suffering or terrible suffering. Suffering is momentary disadvantage – to be trapped, handcuffed, confused, besotted, wounded, lost, alone, hungry, feverish, hallucinating, and so on. Terrible suffering is long-term or permanent disadvantage – to be scarred, maimed, traumatised, forgotten by all, killed, maddened, and so on.

Suffering cannot give or remove Secrets, but terrible suffering can. So can an extraordinary success (in a goal) or being untouched (in safety or defence). Do not change Secrets every time you get the chance to – do so warily and for a reason.

The Scholar's Renewal should take place at a dramatic and appropriate time. Suffering and terrible suffering cannot kill the Scholar or force him or her to Renew. The exception to this rule is when all players at the table agree that the Scholar's time has come. Then, Victory and Love must fight to keep the Scholar alive and doing good while Defeat and perhaps Shadow fight to kill the Scholar.

Secrets

The only difference between (most) characters and groups is the nature of their Secrets. What their history is, what their hopes are, what parts of themselves they have hidden, what they plan, what they dream about; this is what matters.

There are no statistics for your hobbies, your skills, your talents, your gadgets. That's because in the source material, those things don't really matter. They add colour and spice and are used to explain success after the fact ('I'm a champion gymnast – didn't you know?'), but success or failure has more to do with what suits the narrative than what the characters are capable of.

So how to use a Secret?

Touching on a Secret: When a Secret is applicable to a risk, you may roll an extra die – a Secret die. Since you now have more dice than there are Consequences, you must discard one and distribute the rest. You can never discard a Secret die (so if you roll 6, 6, 6, 6 on your normal dice and 1 on your Secret die, you must discard one of the 6s).

You can roll more than one Secret die in a risk if more than one Secret is applicable.

Revealing a Secret: Most Secrets are hidden from the characters but known by the players. For one character to reveal a Secret to other characters is a major event – either traumatic or cathartic. A player whose character reveals a Secret can:

  • Reroll all normal dice on a risk
  • Swap which results are placed on which Consequences in another person's risk
  • Reroll a Secret die

In the game, this represents a dramatic revelation that changes everything.

For example, the mad billionaire Simon Pal (Defeat) has readied his laser and is about to destroy the Scholar and his Companion, Iris (Goal 6, Safety 6, Momentum 2). 'Wait,' Iris yells. 'Mister Pal … you are the father of my child'. The revelation of this Secret allows Iris's player (Love) to change Pal's Consequences. She decides he knocks the laser aside with his own body, setting the result as Goal 2, Safety 6 and Momentum 6. They are saved, but now Pal has momentum and he's approaching the Scholar with a dark look on his face and a gun in his hand!

When a scene where a Secret is revealed ends, the character whose Secret was revealed must change to a different player. For example, the old foe moves from Defeat to Shadow or the jilted woman goes from Love to Defeat. This change only needs last for one scene (or even less, if something changes in that scene).

Losing a Secret: When a character's Secret has been drawn upon, explored and challenged during the course of play, it is time for the Secret to be lost – something that can be done positively or negatively. For the rest of the game, when the character is involved in a risk, the results are never rolled. Instead, they are assumed to be 6, 6, 1, 1. If the Secret was resolved positively, the player controlling the character can distribute those results. If the Secret was resolved negatively, another player distributes the results.

For example, the Secret 'I Love Iris' could be resolved by Iris reciprocating that affection (positive) or by the character seeing Iris married off to someone else (negative). The character doesn't have to lose the Secret if either of those things happen, but the player can choose for that to happen if it seems appropriate.

Quirks

Any player can take advantage of the Scholar's personality to change the results of the dice (even if someone else is controlling the Scholar). They do this by swapping one of the normal dice (never a Secret die) for the top card of the Quirk pile.

The closer a Traveller moves to his or her doom, the more powerful and threatened he becomes. Quirk cards can be a potent weapon for or against a Traveller who has Renewed many times.

There are four suits of Quirk cards, named after the Scholar's four greatest virtues and four greatest vices. They are Strangeness/Mundaneness (represented with screwdrivers), Charm/Death (represented with hearts), Truthfulness/Lying (represented with question marks) and Beauty/Hate (represented with stars). The number of Renewals the Scholar has undergone determines the number of cards you take from each suit – you take the Ace, and then numbers up to the Scholar's Renewal score.

For example, the Scholar on his first incarnation would take only the Aces of each suit, as would the Scholar on his second incarnation (since he's only been Renewed once). The default Scholar, on his fifth Renewal, would take the Aces and 2s, 3s, 4s and 5s.

Shuffle all these cards together, turning some wrong-ways randomly as you go. When right-ways, they represent the Scholar's virtues; wrong-ways, they represent his vices. While Victory and Love can take advantage of the Scholar's virtues, Shadow and Defeat can take advantage of the Scholar's vices.

Reveal the top card of the pile. If it is right-ways, Love or Victory can swap a die assigned to a Consequence for that card. The player doing the swapping does not need to have initiated or participated in that risk, but the Scholar must have been involved in one way or another. The player making the swap narrates how that virtue of the Scholar's changed the result.

If the card is wrong-ways, Defeat or Shadow can swap a die assigned to Consequence for that card. Again, the Scholar must be involved and the player must narrate how the Scholar's vice changed the result. Keep in mind that Shadows are unknown quantities – they may have the Scholar's best interests at heart. Maybe the Scholar should draw upon his darker nature sometimes.
7s, 8s, 9s and 10s count as 6s when traded for dice.

Aces can be high (6) or low (1) as the user wishes.