Saturday, April 12, 2014

Games to Play in the Dirt #2: RPG

Games to Play in the Dirt #2: RPG

A role playing game (RPG) is basically a collaborative story with each player being assigned to dictate the actions of a character. One of the players serves as a narrator to tell the story and arbitrate the rules. Generally, these games are played on a tabletop and require a few hours of initial setup and somewhat intense record keeping. This is a quick and dirty RPG system that can be used when short on supplies or lacking the collection of books that most RPGs require. This can be played at home or anywhere the mood to play a game happens to strike. Expect to play for several hours as resolving an entire story can take some time.

Ages: 8+
Players: 3-6 (may be played with more, but some players may feel left out if the group gets too large.)

-Writing materials, one sheet of paper and one pencil/pen at the very least.
-Dice one to five, the more the better. In lieu of dice, a hexagonal pencil with numbers written on the sides may be used. For a dice-less variant see below.

The Narrator

Among the playgroup, first see who is willing to narrate. The narrator should have a basic idea of a setting, an antagonist, and an objective for the players to interact with. If no one player has an idea, then vote amongst the group for these elements of the plot. The narrator will then define what types of characters will fit into the story being played out. The player with the most experience in RPGs or storytelling would normally be a good choice to be the narrator, but the desire to perform as a narrator is often more important than experience. The narrator should be ready to answer a player's questions about the setting and current scene. If asked something that is not part of the predetermined plot, the narrator can arbitrate immediately or assign responses to a die roll and leave it to chance.

Character Setup

Characters will have three governing statistics, a job, and a hobby to determine that character's strengths. The statistics are mental, physical, and social. The job may be any money making activity that the narrator permits given the setting. The hobby may be any special area of interest the character has that the narrator permits. Normally a hobby is much more specific than a job.


Players will write the letters M, P, and S on their paper standing for mental, physical, and social, respectively. After each letter, the player will assign a number between one and five to each statistic, the total of all three added together cannot be more than ten. These numbers represent the number of dice that are rolled by the player in order to determine success or failure, so it's unwise to have lower than a two in any of the statistics and a three provides a good chance of success.


The job is whatever a character primarily does for a living. This job will give a bonus to the character whenever it attempts to perform an action using skills associated with that job.


The hobby is something that a character does frequently, often for entertainment, but not as a primary means of making money. The hobby will give a lesser bonus than a job to a character whenever it attempts to perform an action using a skill associated with the hobby.

Items and Equipment

A standard feature of many RPGs collecting items and equipment that will aid the character throughout its adventures. It is up to the narrator to dictate the effects of any items or equipment that are collected by the characters. The players should write down any items they find that they wish to keep. Depending on the type of storyline for the game, the narrator may allow the players to freely equip themselves during character creation, or the narrator may require the players to roll an unopposed mental check for some equipment that does not seem like the character would normally have. The difficulty for an item check is dependent upon how unlikely the character is to have such an item.


The narrator will introduce the story and explain how the characters have come together. Using non player characters, the narrator can interact with the players to give them objectives, hints, or assistance on their way. The narrator will go first by describing the location and then dictating the actions of the non player characters involved of the scene. Turns will proceed clockwise from the narrator's position giving each player a turn to act. When every player has taken a turn a new round begins with the narrator.


Just as in a novel, the flow of time is dependent upon the amount of action taking place at that point in the story. If the group is in a situation where they will be safe for a relatively long period then they may perform actions that take advantage of that extended period of safety. If there is a lot of action going on, then each turn is what can be done within a few seconds. In combat a turn is generally a short move and a single attack. All actions in a round are considered to be performed simultaneously, therefore if a character is attacked and incapacitated that character may still perform its action for the round.

Holding an Action

If a character is not ready to act on its player's turn then the player may declare hold. If hold is declared then the player may wait until the end of the round to choose an action for the character. This is valuable in allowing a character to better react to a developing situation.

Resolving Actions

Whenever a player elects for his or her character perform an action for which there is a reasonable chance of failure, the player will roll a check. There are two types of checks, opposed, and unopposed.

With either type of check players will roll a number of dice equal to the acting character's stat value for the stat that the narrator judges is most appropriate to the action. Under normal circumstances a result of five or greater on a die counts as one degree of success. Sixes are counted as a degree of success and get to re-roll, this is repeated so long as sixes continue to be rolled. If the action is in line with the character's hobby, fours are also counted towards degrees of success. If the action is in line with the character's job, threes or better are counted as a degree of success. When the roll is completely resolved the player will report the total degrees of success to the narrator.

Opposed Check

An opposed check is any time a character is attempting to perform an action while another character is actively trying to interfere with their chance to succeed. Most often this kind of check is seen in combat, however it is not limited to physical contests or even contests using the same stats. Each character will roll a check based on the narrator's judgment of which stat is most appropriate to the action. If one character has more degrees of success than the other, then that character's action is resolved if there were enough degrees of success to complete that action as an unopposed check. If both characters have equal degrees of success neither action is completed. A character can only oppose one other character's action per round as all actions are considered to be simultaneous unless they use their primary action as well to oppose.

Unopposed Check

An unopposed check is made against the inherent difficulty of a task. The narrator will classify the difficulty of an action requiring a check as simple, average, difficult, hard, or nearly impossible. The narrator is free to arbitrate differing difficulty levels for the same task depending on the circumstances surrounding the performance of the task. A simple action requires one degree of success, two for average, three for difficult, four for hard, and five degrees of success for nearly impossible.


Fighting between characters is resolved as a variant of an opposed check. As all actions are simultaneous which character goes first does not normally matter. The exception is the very first round in which combat happens. If a character is not capable of detecting an attacker before the attack is declared then the attacker may strike with impunity on that first round.

As a character fails to protect itself from hostile actions there will of course be negative effects on that character. Damage is dependent on the difference in the degrees of success between the hostile actor and the target.

-1: The target is disrupted, meaning their next unopposed action will require an additional degree of success, or if an opposed check, the first degree of success for the next action will not count.

-2: Target character is controlled, meaning that the character is both disrupted and may only act in reaction to attackers in the next round.

-3: The character is hurt, not only suffering disruption and control, but also the narrator will roll a die to determine which stat is reduced by the injury, that stat will remain reduced by one point until the end of the combat.

-4: The character is injured, the effects are similar to being hurt, however the narrator rolls twice to assign stat reductions. Also an injury persists until the end of the scene instead of the particular combat session in which it occurred.

-5 or more: The character is wounded. This has the same effects of being hurt, however the narrator rolls three times plus one for each degree of success difference beyond five in order to assign stat reductions. Wounds do not heal until the end of the game session.

If one of a character's stats is reduced to zero that character is incapacitated, meaning it is either unconscious, crippled, or in such pain that further resistance is impossible. Until the damage that caused the stat loss is healed, an incapacitated character may not declare an action or oppose an action. If all of a character's stats are reduced to zero, that character is dead.

Dice-less Variant

If dice or a hexagonal pencil cannot be acquired an alternative is for the player and the narrator to each to write down a number between one and six for each die that would be rolled for the check, including those to be rolled by another character attempting to oppose the check. The player and narrator should do this in secret from one another and make sure to be clear as to which set of numbers is for which player's roll. The numbers written by the narrator and the player are then added together. The sum of the two numbers is divided by six and the remainder plus one is the result of that particular die roll. As before sixes will continue to re-roll.


  1. I'm not too sure I understand the concept of ''degrees of success''. Other than that, great system, will try it out soon and give you a better impression!

    1. Normally a 5 or 6 counts as a degree of success if the job or hobby bonus does not apply. If attempting a "hard" difficulty action the player would need to roll four degrees of success.