WHAT IS THIS?
It’s a roleplaying adventure game. Which means that it’s a game where the players will take on the roles of characters in an imaginary world, while one of them (which these rules call the Guide) will take on the part of the world itself, playing out the other denizens of it, describing scenes, and acting like a sort of ‘referee’.
THE IMAGINARY WORLD IS A CASTLE
The imaginary world of the game is a castle so big that the characters have never seen the edges of it. They may have traveled for days along corridors, finding new territories and regions, but for all intents and purposes, the castle is the whole world of the game. There are gardens and woods in great courtyards, and vast labyrinths of subterranean corridors, host to degenerate tribes and lost monsters.
THE CASTLE IS NOT IN GOOD SHAPE
Most of the castle is overrun with a profusion of ugly, horrid, and very minor monsters - many of whom are led by stronger monstrous leaders. However, that’s not the most significant problem. In truth, the ancient feudal civilization that built and still (at least in name) rules the castle is in sharp decline. In times long past, a countless number of noble families were given the power to rule, each from their own tower. These rulers were and are called Princes, and the territories they control are called Principalities. Most of the great towers house about a town’s worth of population. And most of the tower hierarchies and families are broken; ancient laws are disobeyed, nobles too aloof to notice or too impoverished by long conflict to resist are overtaken by other powers, and so on.
ENTER THE HEROES
There is a law on the books that states “Princes shall make every effort to aid heroes of the realm in resolving the issues of the realm”. And the players of this game are bona-fide, certified heroes of the realm; they have the paperwork to prove it. Now, that doesn’t mean that they’re pure of heart, and all that; they may be some of the most grubby, ill-mannered, maligned, and downright greedy heroes around. That’s okay. But they are heroes, and cleaning up the realm is their job, it’s the thing that characters do in the game. This also doesn’t mean that most Princes will (or can) agree with the law, or that the job will be easy. It won’t be.
1. People, Place, Props: You’ll need at least two people; one will take on the job of being the Guide; the others are players. You’ll need somewhere to play that is fairly free of interruptions. You’ll need to have at least some of these rules printed out (notably, the characters) And you’ll need a big pile of tokens (buttons, poker chips, pennies, glass beads, whatever), a few six-sided dice, and some way of keeping notes (usually, pencil and paper). It’s nice to have a shallow bowl in the middle to toss tokens into and pull from, but not required.
2. Characters, Situation: Each of the players will need to choose one of the five characters described in these rules, and familiarize themselves with that character. The Guide will need to prepare a situation for adventure for the players to get involved in.
3. Play: Once the Guide has the situation in-hand, the players have characters, tokens and dice are out, and players have characters, the group can get down to the business of actually playing. Play lasts until the group needs a break (you can come back to it later), or the situation is resolved, and the story is done, in the opinion of the group.
Episodes of Play
Playing the game is divided up into episodes. In each episode, the heroes journey to a new tower, run afoul of the situation there, and attempt to set it to rights. Typically, this involves first figuring out what’s wrong, then taking it apart on step at a time, often culminating in a showdown with a villain that sits at the root of the problem.
It’s the job of the Guide to create these situations, and it’s the job of the heroes to resolve them. In general, each situation will have:
- A Villain (with Thugs): Most towers have someone that holds the real reigns of power. Sometimes, it’s a scheming advisor. Other times, it’s the dragon living down under the town that demands regular feeding. And anything in between. In addition, the villain typically has thugs, lesser servants that will harass and fight with the heroes. The thugs might be horrible little monstrosities - or they might be a group of citizens that benefit from the presence of the villain, or even the Tower Guards. The job of the heroes includes getting rid of villains, one way or another.
- A root problem: In addition to the villain, there’s usually some serious weakness which the villain exploited to begin with, in order to get power. The heroes will almost certainly be confronted with this, too, and this one is generally not something that can just be beaten down, unlike the villain and cronies.
- A bunch of minor issues: Being heroes, the characters will likely also get a whole host of minor issues thrust in their faces – like judging ad-hoc court cases between squabbling merchants, and all manner of similar froofrah. How, or even if, they choose to deal with these issues is not a matter of ‘playing correctly’; these should be included simply so that players can show off (and decide!) how their characters think and how they view their job as a hero.
AN EPISODE GENERATOR?
The “Broken Places” article and PDF form, which are also available from Amagi Games (and are also free and public domain), detail a method that can be used to create some kinds of episodes easily; the Guide may need to spend a little extra time detailing villains, thugs, and places to have fight, or might improvise those “on the fly”. However, this method creates only one kind of situation; the Guide will need to change things up in order to provide a real variety of different ways that things have gone wrong.
Who’s In Charge?
Once play starts, players will direct and play their chosen characters, attempting to fulfill the goals those characters have as the events of the game progresses. The Guide will administrate everything else. In terms of “who’s supposedly in charge”…
- Players have authority over what their characters want to do and on what actions those characters will attempt.
- The Guide has authority over the setting, situation, and so on, including whether or not the characters succeed at whatever actions are attempted (though they’ll often use dice to determine this).
HOW “BEING IN CHARGE” ACTUALLY GETS USED
There’s a big difference between being in charge of a thing, and actually using that authority. At a silly extreme, a player couldn’t state that their character sat down without the Guide agreeing that this had happened. The Guide would need to walk with the players through every single action that was taking, checking to make sure that the character tried to put on their clothes in the morning.
In real play, players and Guide often declare things that someone else is in charge of, simply as a matter of course. It’s when they go further into that territory than is comfortable, or assume something that the person inn charge of that thing doesn’t agree with, the person can call them on it. But for the most part, players and Guide contribute things in a steady flow, concentrating on their own part without being especially finicky about it.
If someone is pushing the line, you can just tell them “I think you’re pushing”. Let the person doing the describing make their case, or not. People can generally tell when someone’s working the system; when they are, call them on it, talk it out, and fix it. It’s what you need to do in any system; here, it’s just out in the open. More often than not, though, especially with completely new players, the difficulty runs the other way. Many new people are hesitant to step out and start pitching ideas and describing actions with confidence. With such players, relax, and be generous.
The Flow of Play
Almost all of the game is played verbally. It’s common for the Guide to describes scenes and characters, speak as characters, and talk with the players about rules. It’s common for players to describe character action, speak ‘in-character’, and discuss the same rules with one another and the Guide. This breaks down into three basic “modes”:
In this mode, the Guide sets a scene, the players describe what their characters are doing, the Guide states how this affects the scene, telling them what happens next, and back and forth it goes. If the Guide described some ruins, a player might say "I explore the ruins, looking for anything interesting". The Guide might check with the other players to see what they're doing at the same time, and then jump to the first interesting thing in the search, or the first thing that interrupts it. Or the Guide might ask the player what they think is interesting, to tailor the results. So, the Guide is adding new details to the setting all the time; and while they have the original situation to work from, this is the way things are supposed to be.
Sessions will include portions where players take on their characters, speaking as if they were those characters. These may be lengthy discussions, or quick exchanges of a few words. Moving to this kind of play is easy; if the Guide mentions that the Scout runs across a huddled peasant holed up in a ruin, the player might state “What in the name of the realm are you doing there?” as if he were the Scout. When someone begins speaking this way, it’s normal to go with it, speaking as the characters. This can end just as naturally, returning to the back-and-forth of description. Smooth changeovers, without any real division, are standard.
USING THE RULES
Play will also change over to and from speaking as, and for, yourself, when dealing with rules use. Some people will minimize these “breaks”, while others will want to enjoy them in detail. This is, like much else, a matter of style that a group must try to grow into on their own
Scene to Scene
The Guide sets a scene by describing it, pure and simple. This description will start with a basic sketch - the characters are on the rooftops at night, or in a tavern, whatever the case is. It will move on to the most overall sensory impression; by describing the darkness of the night, the noise of the tavern. A few more details of setting, describing the street below or the tables and crowds around them, finish that sketch. After making that sketch, the Guide will almost always go on to add an active element - something that is happening that is there for the characters to interact with, whether that’s someone to talk with, enemies to fight, or whatever thecase may be.
Presenting scenes is a skill that takes practice; any scene that is worth going into must be interesting in order to appeal to both the players and their characters. Guides should pay attention to this, learning to describe well, and structure descriptions smoothly. Not all scenes deserve attention. Characters sleep. They eat. They walk down the block. But most of the time, nobody at the table will care how the characters slept, or the details of how much they ate, or other such trivia. Most of this will just be glossed over with “You sleep. You wake. The next day…”
Equally important to the skill of setting a scene well to the Guide is the skill of knowing when to set a scene at all. A simple guideline is that a good scene always includes at least one of the following items, and often has the potential for two or more of them:
- A challenge or conflict of some kind, whether one based on tokens or even simply where there’s a choice the Guide thinks the players will want to make as their characters.
- Something that they characters ought to know which is important to the current situation.
- A chance for the characters to acquire something that they might want, or get closer to achieving a goal.
- Something that the Guide knows would be important to one of the players; an event which that specific player can really get into.
BRIDGING AND PLAYER INITIATIVE
While the Guide describes the changeovers from scene to scene, players will often make it clear through action what the next scene should be - “We go talk to the old man he told us about”. Players will also occasionally ‘cue’ scenes with action; if the Guide is describing the transition with a few details, and a player declares that they want to do something about one of those details, that’s a player initiating a scene, and means it’s time for the Guide to set it up. Both of these are not only normal, but should be expected.
Using the Dice
When you're doing easy things, the Guide will tell you what happens next. When you try to do impossible things, the Guide will tell you "no". But when you're trying to do something tricky-but-possible, things get interesting. When this happens, the Guide may decide to bring on the dice. If the thing you're doing is fighting, there are specific rules for that. The rest of the time, the Guide will just make it up. Here's how it works:
The Guide will name up to three dangers - things that might happen when you try whatever it is you're trying. "You might fail" is pretty common, but isn't at all required; sometimes, it's going to be about outrunning the blast, instead of being about successfully detonating the bomb. See"common dangers", next page.
Each danger will have it's own difficulty number (though they may be the same, they don't have to be). A difficulty of 2 is "easy". Difficulty 3 is "tricky". Difficulty 4 is "hard", and 5 is "very hard". Difficulty 6 is "incredible", and 7 is "barely possible". Difficulty 8 is a sign that the Guide doesn't like you.
To "make a throw", roll two regular (six-sided) dice. Take the lower die result, and compare it to your difficulty. If the result on the die is equal to or higher than the difficulty, you succeed on the throw. There are, of course, a couple of common things that can make this just a little more complicated…
Two possible bonuses exist to a throw, each of which grants a +1 to the die. These are the "edge" bonus and the "ideal" bonus. Your character's type and role both describe conditions in which they 'have an edge' – if they do, they get this +1 bonus to the roll (multiple edges don't exist; either you've got an edge, or you don't). The 'ideal' bonus is a bit tricker to get - you need to have the right equipment, and be operating in the right situation, in order to gain this bonus. Take a look at the page on gear to see how this bonus can be gained.
On any throw, if you wish, you may take a point of Stress in order to use your highest-rolling die instead of your lowest-rolling die.
YOU MIGHT FAIL
Possibly the most obvious danger; some actions just might not work. Guides are encouraged to stretch just a little to avoid overusing this danger; while it's often appropriate, it's not always interesting. A ramped-up version of this is "You might fail, and make it impossible to try again."
IT MIGHT HURT
Actions that might hurt inflict three stress on the character if they fail this throw. Truly, incredibly dangerous actions may possess this danger repeatedly; jumping off a fourth floor balcony to go sliding down a guideline might hurt in several entirely different ways, after all.
IT MIGHT BREAK
Usually applied to use of enchanted gear; if the throw fails, the item in question usually just stops being enchanted. This danger can be applied to other situations as well, though, as "It might REALLY break", or “It might mess up your kit until you have time to fix it.”.
YOU MIGHT START A FIGHT
Usually applied to tense social situations, but could also be used as a danger in some other situations.
IT MIGHT MAKE SOMETHING ELSE HAPPEN
Making off with the ill-gotten tax money that is being used to fund the horrible smithy that the villain is working on might also disrupt funding to the orphanage he uses as cover. Blowing up his hideout might collapse that hideout onto a row of nearby shops. Messing with the magical fountain in the middle of town might turn you into a frog. Some effects like this will "just happen", and be described by the Guide - but most side effects will instead be dropped right into the action itself, as dangers to overcome. Any action that happens over several hours or longer should probably have a danger like this attached to it, if one can be dreamed up in time to toss it in.
Combat and Zones
When a fight breaks out, the first side to declare action goes first – which means all players or all enemies. When the players go (which may be first, or not), they may go in any order they like; once they have all had an action, the other side has a go, and so on, until the fight ends naturally (there's nobody left standing and on the field on one side, unless they've surrendered and their surrender has been accepted by the other side – or talks have broken out).
Every battlefield is broken up into zone. If the battlefield is a slum, then the zones might be the streets, the rooftops, and the wall around the slum. Each zone must be connected to at least one of the others, though the connections can be one-way or require a throw to move through. It should be clear when setting up a battle what can be seen from each zone. Finally, it should be clear what the terrain is like (cramped, open, busy, or mixed?) and how much the scene moves (placid, shifting, or turbulent?).
When your turn to act comes up, you take one action, and only one. The available actions are: Attack, Assist, Shove, Harass, and Move. Speaking during a fight doesn't require an action, and can be done at any time.
- ATTACK: Attacking is a throw, with the only danger attached being "you might fail". You may attack any character in the same arena as you; if attacking ranged, any opponent you can see. The difficulty is 3, +1 if the defender has an "ideal outfit", +1 if they have a "heavy outfit", and +1 if they have an "enchanted outfit". If you hit your target, you inflict stress on them.
- ASSIST: When you assist, roll two dice, and leave them out. Any ally in your zone (or one you can see into, if your weapon is ranged), may exchange their dice on any throw with yours (physically swapping them), until your next turn.
- SHOVE: Just like an attack, but success means, you move the target to an adjacent zone (you can go too, if you want) instead of inflicting stress.
- HARASS: This works like an attack. If you succeed, for the target, conditions are never ideal, and they don't get an edge, until they move, or your next turn.
- MOVE: You move to a zone that is accessible from the one you are currently in. This isn't usually a throw, but an interesting battlefield might have dangerous (and fast!) ways of moving across it.
Stress and Scars
Stress is the “bad stuff” of the game. It’s what the tokens represent. If you have three tokens, you have three stress. Stress can be gained by failing throws that have the danger of "it might hurt", by being hit with attacks, and by taking it voluntarily to use your high die instead of your low die. You can take up to ten stress before you MUST get rid of it; if you take stress that puts you over ten, you must get rid of it immediately. There are a limited number of different ways to get rid of stress – each character has a special one, and additionally…
Once per episode, when your character has time, they may spend a few hours resting and getting patched up. When they do so, their current stress is cut in half (round up). If your character takes one or more scars while playing through the episode, after resting, this option becomes re-useable one additional time.
Any time that you have more than five stress, and have more stress inflicted on you, you may choose to be knocked out. You do not take the stress from that hit or hurt, but are unconscious for the rest of the scene. Your defense is 2, but anyone attacking you takes one stress each time they hit you. From, er, guilt.
Upon receiving a hit or hurt, adding in that stress, and going over ten, you may immediately cut your current stress in half by taking a scar. Scars are lasting negative alterations to your character (they last at least the whole episode), and once they have three, that's all the scars they can take. You can create your own scars, if everyone in the group agrees that they're nasty enough. Here are a few example scars:
- Lost Eye: You can't use ranged attacks or weapons if you have this scar.
- Missing Hand: You can't use heavy weapons at all if you have this scar.
- Bad Shoulder: You can't shove, and have -1 defense if shoved.
If you are pushed over ten stress, and refuse to get knocked out (or already are), and refuse to take a scar (or already have three), you die. You need not die on the spot; you might wander off and die a week later of wounds - but you cannot make throws, fight, or be healed; you're a goner.
There are five heroes of the realm; each player will take on one of these roles. Further heroes may be invented by anyone who is in the mood to do so, but these should follow at least mostly the same format, and should be agreed by the group to be about equal in usefulness to those given. The characters, as described, are rough outlines; it falls to the player to give their character a name, make up entertaining details about them, and describe how they came to be one of the heroes of the realm. Players should also note how their band of heroes came to be traveling and working together (in slightly more detail than “otherwise we would die”). These outlines contain some rules babble, all of which is explained in the last few pages. Go back, if you need to.
You are an enchanter of items. Your gear should be described as magic stuff, like wands and such.
- Edge: You have an edge whenever you use enchanted equipment - however, with weapons, this only applies to ranged weapons.
- Ability: You can make an item enchanted for the rest of the episode (or until it breaks). This takes an hour and a throw against difficulty six. Your edge applies. It might hurt.
- Stress: Once per episode, you may discard half your stress (rounded up) immediately after succeeding on a throw in ideal circumstances that you created with your kit.
Born under a strange star, you have sympathetic and healing gifts; almost all your kin are respected heroes that keep their groups together; you probably are, too.
- Edge: You have an edge whenever you’re assisting someone - in effect, anyone that swaps dice with you while you assist gets an edge if they didn’t have one before.
- Ability: As an action, you can take a point of stress from someone and add it to your own.
- Stress: Twice per episode, you may discard half your stress (rounded up) at any time at all.
You are a descendant of the ancient families which founded the castle itself, and you know it.
- Edge: You have an edge when engaged in extended social activity - that is, social events too extended to reasonably play through, but which require a roll. Rumor-mongering, say.
- Ability: Once per episode, you may spend an hour of game time to acquire a thug of your own; describe them and why they help.
- Stress: Once per episode, you may discard half your stress (rounded up) at any time, if the local Prince is on the scene.
You might have been a knight, a mercenary, a monster hunter, or any number of other things before you were a hero. You still hit things. Not much has changed.
- Edge: You have an edge whenever you are attacking, shoving, or harassing.
- Ability: You may attack two separate (valid) targets as your action in a fight.
- Stress: Once per episode, you may discard half your stress (rounded up) immediately after inflicting four or more stress in a single round.
You were probably a criminal before you became a hero. But the writ says, right here, “hero”.
- Edge: You have an edge when trying to chase someone, make a clean getaway, outrun a group, or otherwise move around.
- Ability: In a fight, you may move and harass, move and shove, or move twice, as your action.
- Stress: Once per episode, you may discard half your stress (rounded up) immediately upon succeeding at a throw with a difficulty of six or more.
Stuff You Own
Selecting gear for your character is fairly easy. You have one weapon, one outfit, and one kit. First, choose which type of weapon you have, and describe it. Then do the same for your outfit and kit. Finally, decide which one (and only one) of these items is heavy. If you are ever carrying more than one heavy thing, you can do nothing but move. Once you've done that, you're finished picking your gear. Again, there are rules notes here that are clarified earlier.
Weapons are, well, weapons; thing you use to hurt the other guy. Weapons come in five types - short, regular, flexible, reach, and ranged. Once you've chosen a type, you can describe it however you like. Some rules apply, though. If you choose a ranged weapon, you will never gain the "circumstances are ideal" bonus to attack, but may attack at a distance, into arenas that you can see into. If you choose any other type, you can't attack at a distance, but will get the "circumstances are ideal" bonus to attack rolls some of the time. If you are fighting in a 'cramped terrain' arena and using a short weapon, you get the bonus. If you are fighting in a 'mixed terrain' arena, and using a regular weapon, you get the bonus. If you are fighting in 'open terrain', and using a flexible weapon, you get the bonus. And, lastly, if you're fighting in 'busy terrain' and using a reach weapon, you get the bonus.
- DAMAGE: The point of weapons is to do damage, yes? A successful attack inflicts 2 stress, +1 if the weapon is heavy, +1 if the weapon is enchanted.
Your outfit is what you're wearing. Outfits come in three types – plated, regular, and all-weather. Once you've chosen a type, you can describe it however you like. Some rules apply, though. Depending on the type you pick, you will sometimes get a "circumstances are ideal" bonus to your defense number (which is usually a 3, unless the outfit is heavy; then it's a 4). If you are fighting in a 'placid' arena and wearing a plated outfit, you get the bonus. If you're fighting in a 'shifting' arena (with occasional gusts of wind, but nothing regular, for example) and wearing a regular outfit, you get the bonus. If you're fighting in a 'turbulent' arena (standing in a river, running down a steam tunnel, that kind of thing) and wearing an all-weather outfit, you get the bonus.
A kit is a set of tools used to create "ideal circumstances" - when you know that a given task is going to be tricky, a kit is for doing the groundwork in advance. Each kit has a different kind of ideal circumstances that it helps create - describe what these are and how the kit helps you create them. An "infiltration kit", for example, might help in creating ideal circumstances for penetrating an enemy group by cover of night or in disguise, and contain disguises, false travel papers, and so on. Kits never create ideal circumstances for combat, and the group must agree that the purpose and description of your kit makes sense and will be helpful (but not too powerful). Creating ideal circumstances without a kit is a throw of difficulty 6. With a kit, it's difficulty 5; with a heavy kit, it's difficulty 4. The Guide sets how long it takes and the dangers involved; with a kit, dangers tend to be moderated - without one, the Guide is encouraged to be petty.
From time to time, you may have the opportunity to employ enchanted gear. Enchanted items are better! An enchanted weapon does +1 damage. An enchanted outfit gives +1 to your defense. An enchanted kit lowers difficulty of preparations by one. However, there is a drawback. At the end of any scene or combat where your enchanted equipment is used (if anyone attacks you, you've used your outfit), make two throws at difficulty 4 to keep the item working properly, exerting your will, pleading with it, and bashing it correctly against nearby scenery. The danger of the first throw is "It might break" - the item will stops being enchanted if you fail this throw. The danger of the second throw is "It might hurt" – the item inflicts three stress on you if you fail, by venting mystical arcs or power, or drizzling acid, or doing something else bizarre and hurty.
Villains and Thugs
Villains require special rules in fights; they are really, really tough. A villain can take (about 5 stress per hero in the group) before they are forced to take a scar, fall unconscious, or die. A villain always has an edge - always. Harassing a villain can make conditions “not ideal”, but can't take away their edge. In addition to these things, a villain always has some special asset (a handy list follows), plus thugs. Assets include…
- Doom Weapon: As an action in combat, the Villain can inflict one stress on everyone in a zone that they can see into, not including their own person. This does include any thugs in that arena. A doom weapon might look like almost anything, and deal damage with fire, electricity, motes of terrible darkness, swarms of biting rats, you name it.
- Protective Flock: The Villain can call for the protection of a swarm of something nasty. Once it is summoned (an action, if in combat) from it’s haven, it flocks to the Villain, and defend him from blows, reducing the effect of all hits on him by one point each. There are many variations on this theme - hives of giant bees, giant crystals filled with ghostly glowing "drone" spirits, and so on.
- Hazard Bombs: The Villain maintains a special laboratory in which (once per episode), they can produce a pile of one-use items that have an effect on the zone they are thrown into (as many bombs as there are heroes). Effects include as coating the ground in something slippery or sticky (requiring throws to move in or out, or to avoid losing your next turn if you do). A Villain can both move and throw a hazard bomb.
- Force Trap: The Villain may generate a field of force around the zone they are in as their action. While the field is up, ranged attacks can't be made into or out of the area, and nobody can leave - though people can enter. This effect lasts for three "rounds", and then ends on the Villains turn; they can turn it back on as their action.
Thugs work for Villains. Any given Villain usually has about as many thugs on hand as there are heroes in the group, and a significant number of additional "squads" of 3-5 thugs taking care of various things. Thugs have junk weapons and outfits; no zone is ideal (though they still do 2 damage on a hit). Thugs have an edge when they're doing something for the villain, but not with the villain. Thugs can take five stress each and keep going; they always choose to go unconscious if they take more. Most characters and creatures, if combat notes are needed, should simply count as thugs.
At the end of each episode, while on the way to the next tower, each character heals up. They heal one of the scars gained in the episode just finished, if any, and may choose one of the following further options:
- Salvage the Villain’s asset and claim it for their own. Only one character can take this option. Assets are always heavy; they character may swap their existing heavy item for a different one that isn’t heavy.
- Increase the ‘maximum stress’ they can withstand before they must get rid of some, by one.
- Heal an additional scar.
The group may wish to add to this list, especially by inventing further special abilities that can be gained as options. This is left to Guide and group creativity.
Amagi Compatibility Note
This game has been written and arranged to be at least moderately compatible with most of the Amagi Games plug-ins. However, it is notable that the ‘token resource’ of this game is actually a kind of antiresource; the plug-ins that describe token use assume that tokens are positive. So, if use of such plug-ins is desirable, a reversal of terms will be needed to employ those rules; where a plug-in describes gaining tokens, that may be taken as “lose stress” if they are applied to this game, and vice
UNCHAIN YOUR PLAY.