Passable Rules

In an ideal world, with an excellent GM and very good players, these rules might be usable for an RPG of heroic action. "The difference between theory and practice is larger in practice than in theory."

Characters are defined by some number of attributes, each ranked from Deficient through Mythic. An attribute may be given a "+" to indicate that it is at the top end of the range for its ranking. This is a blatantly humanocentric scale, so nonhumans may not fit the descriptive text; a troll could be rated at Extraordinary Strength even though he's the runt of the litter.

There is no fixed list of attributes; players should rate their characters on the qualities important to the character and to the player's conception of the character. No mechanism for limiting abuse of this power is provided in this version; the GM must have a spine. Maybe two.

Any task attempted using an attribute gets some number of base successes, determined by the ranking of the attribute, which is then modified by the roll of four dice. Note that no character is rated Deficient+; if you're deficient, you're deficient, and no hedging. However, that ranking might come up due to shifting down a whole number of steps from a + rank, or somesuch.

This is sort of a log-scaled system, with three full steps being a factor of 10, so numbers illustrating the scale have been helpfully added to the chart. In practice, however, the log scaling is usually applied in a relative way (one step higher than what you have is twice as much, and it's not important what that step is). Yes, I do realize that 10^(1/3) is not 2, 10^(2/3) is not 5, and so forth. But it's close enough.

The "Halved Rank" column shows what you get if you reduce the number of steps that rank is away from Average to half (equivalent to taking the square root of the number and finding the corresponding rank). This rating is sometimes used in place of the actual rank, as explained below.

RankingDescriptionBase
Successes
NumberHalved
Rank
Deficient Completely pathetic 0 0.5 Def+
(Deficient+) 1 0.7 Def+
Average The human in the street 2 1 Avg
Average+ 3 1.5 Avg
Good Employable; natural talent or some training 4 2 Avg+
Good+ 5 3 Avg+
Great Trained talent, better than most ever get 6 5 Gd
Great+ 7 7 Gd
Extraordinary The upper end of human ability 8 10 Gd+
Extraordinary+ 9 15 Gd+
Heroic Action movie heroes 10 20 Grt
Heroic+ 11 30 Grt
Legendary Distinctly superhuman 12 50 Grt+
Legendary+ 13 70 Grt+
Mythic Way beyond human 14 100 Ext
Mythic+ 15 150 Ext

Basic Action Resolution

Action resolution is based on successes. As shown on the table above, the rank of the attribute you are using for an action gives you some number of successes. You then roll four dice to introduce some variation. Each 1 or 2 you roll reduces your successes by 1; each 5 or 6 you roll gives you an extra success. (You can also use FUDGE dice.) The possible range is thus 4 less to 4 more than your base successes (up or down up to two full ranks).

Any action will have some number of required successes; you have to get at least that many successes to accomplish your goal in even the most marginal fashion. If you have additional successes, they can be allocated to improving your performance in whatever ways seem reasonable; most actions can be done better or faster, some may have other axes of improvement. Unlike in other games, you allocate your additional successes after you find out how many you have, so you can look as good as possible.

The number of successes required for an action depends either on some attribute of the person resisting the action, in which case it is equal to the base successes for that attribute, or upon the GM's judgement of what attribute rank would have about a 50/50 chance of success, in which case it's equal to the base successes for that rank (or, the base success for the rank a full step below the rank that should normally be able to succeed fairly reliably). With very few exceptions, this number is used as-is and not rolled for.

Bonuses and penalties can be applied either as fewer/more required successes, or as more/fewer base successes for the character; since one is subtracted from the other, these are equivalent.

Exciting Action Resolution

That is to say, combat. Combat is played in rounds of about 5 seconds or so, each of which consists of several phases:

  1. Tide of Battle roll (GM)
  2. Initative rolls (all characters)
  3. Actions (all characters)
  4. Post-round cleanup (varies)

Tide of Battle roll

At the beginning of the fight, and sometimes thereafter (maybe every round, maybe not), the GM rolls one die for each side involved in the battle. Usually this is two, but sometimes things get complicated. If the die for a side turns up 6, that side gets an advantage: a fallen combatant rejoins the fight, reinforcements arrive, an attack will have a particularly exciting effect, someone remembers she did pack extra ammo, etc. On a 1, something bad happens: a failure of morale, a failure of equipment, one combatant gets run over by a truck, any attack that misses will go horribly awry, or anything else the GM's sadistic imagination can devise.

None of this is revealed to the players until it actually happens, of course. However, the GM may wish to reveal the roll of selected ToB dice to lure the players into making rash decisions or show them the shape of their doom.

If the PCs have among their number someone with impressive tactical ability, the GM could let them roll their own ToB die. In theory.

The ToB dice may not be appropriate for very structured combats where random factors are kept to a minimum (ie, duels).

Initiative rolls

Once the GM has stopped cackling over the ToB dice, every combatant rolls on whichever of her attributes seems best suited to determining how quickly she acts. Given the freeform nature of attributes, there is no one attribute or even list of attributes that can be named now, but the attribute that is about to be used to whack people (Martial Arts, Gunslinging, etc) is a good one to fall back on. Initiative is more a measure of how fast the character thinks than how fast her body moves, so Quick Thinker would generally be more appropriate than Agility, but not always.

Regardless of what attributes are rolled, every character should end up with some number of successes. To this number, add any successes she had left over from the previous round (but no more than three). Each success gets the character one Action Point.

Actions

Now you get to use those action points to do things. Repeat the following three steps until no one is able to act:

  1. Determine who has the most action points
  2. If that character has 3 or more action points, she acts (or declares a hold)
  3. The character who just acted loses 3 action points (or 1 if she held)

The one exception to this sequence is defensive actions. Any character can, in response to being attacked, perform one defensive action that is relevent to the attack. Defensive actions in response to attacks on other characters are probably okay too, being heroic.

The round is, obviously, over when no one has more than two action points. Any remaining action points can be added to the character's total for the next round. The round could end earlier, if at any time everyone who has 3 or more action points says they aren't going to do anything more this round. However, no more than 3 action points can be carried over to the next round. If, somehow, a character is reduced to fewer than 0 action points, that number is applied as a penalty to her initiative roll for next round.

If there are multiple characters with the same number of action points, they act in whatever order seems most agreeable. However, if they all defer to each other, consider them to have all declared a hold.

Declaring a hold means that you're waiting for something to happen before you do anything, and you should say what it is you're waiting on ("I'm waiting for the hostage to get out of the helicopter before I fireball it."). If you want to interrupt that action, rather than just waiting for it to finish, you will need to roll some attribute for quickness (perhaps the one you used for initiative, perhaps one more specific to the action) against whoever you're trying to pre-empt, and they get +2 to their base successes.

The notions of 1-ap actions and continuing actions could be imported from Nexus, but probably won't be. Instead, simple actions like drawing a gun will be incorporated into the associated "real" action, taking only an extra success, and continuing activities like driving will take an action when something exciting comes up, or perhaps just the first action of every round must be spent dealing with it.

Observe that a random bystander, with Average initiative, will probably get fewer than 3 action points on the first round of a fight, and not be able to do anything. The action points will carry over to the next round, though, and when added to a typical roll, will the let bystander come out of shock and beging panicking. Anyone with Avg+ or better initiative will most likely be able to take at least one action every round.

The kinds of actions you can perform in combat, and how to resolve them, will be addressed below, along with deviations from this simple scheme.

Post-round Cleanup

Anything that needs to resolved on a round-by-round basis is dealt with now. This includes continuing damage (burning, drowning, etc), and anything that lasts for a certain number of rounds. Depending on how creative you've been, it might include other things as well.

Spatial Aspects Of Combat

Range and movement are handled mostly abstractly. The basic unit of distance is the fullmove, defined as the distance an Average person can move in one round. Someone better or worse than Average can move as many fullmoves as the number for the halved rank of her appropriate athletic attribute. This is the total distance she can move in a round, regardless of whether she does it all at once (taking an action to do so) or a bit with each action (as combined actions; see below). All this assumes normal walking or running movement; exciting movement like climbing, flying, or swinging from chandeliers will usually require a whole action.

Range is also measured in fullmoves. Out to one fullmove is close combat range; within this area, people can attack each other more or less without having to worry about weapon ranges.

Using a ranged weapon beyond its base range reduces the base successes of the attack by a number equal to the multiple of the base range: -2 at twice the base range, -4 at 5 times, etc. The base range for handguns and thrown weapons is 1 fullmove, for bows and crossbows is 2 fullmoves, and for rifles, 5 fullmoves. Use of a scope or equivalent doubles this, but requires an action to sight in (which does not negate the possibility of a setup action; see below).

Oh, all right: a fullmove is about 20 meters. Happy?

Combat Actions

Attack

To attack someone, use whatever attribute seems most appropriate to the kind of attack you're using. The required number of successes is equal to the base successes of the target's most appropriate defensive attribute. This number is referred to as his defense value.

As with other actions, you can allocate any extra successes you get beyond the required ones to extra spiffiness. If you don't get any extra successes, you inflict only a basic hit (about which more below). One extra success can be spent to do full damage. Additional successes can be spent on bypassing armor, increasing damage, converting a clobbering attack to a killing one or vice versa, whacking more victims, doing something stylish in addition to the attack or a variety of exciting special effects (knockback, grab, disarm, etc). All of these possibilities will be explained below.

Attack Type and Power

Attacks come in two main types, clobbering and killing. Clobbering attacks are those like fists and rubber bullets that primarily render the victim unconscious; killing attacks, such as swords and guns tend to, unsurprisingly, kill or at least maim the victim. Note that it is possible to inflict fatal damage with a clobbering attack; it just takes more work. There are also nonlethal attacks, such as tasers, but these are comparatively rare; it's difficult to incapacitate someone without really hurting them. Other sorts of attacks, such as telepathic assaults or petrification attacks, may also exist, but follow more or less the same pattern (nonlethal/clobbering/killing) depending on the permanancy of their effects.

Regardless of the type, an attack has a power rating, which indicates how much hurt it inflicts without any additional successes being used to increase damage. A bare-handed attack normally does clobbering damage and has power equal to the halved rank of whatever attribute covers physical strength. Since the attribute that gives you great martial arts prowess already gets you successes you can use to increase damage, it would be excessive for it to also give you base power. Using a smallish weapon increases the power by half a step; using a large weapon increases it by a full rank. (The theory here is not that bigger weapons innately do more damage, but that big strong people use bigger weapons to make full use of their strength, so "small" and "large" are relative to your strength and size. If you're not sure which category a weapon falls into, consider anything usable one-handed as small and anything that requires two hands as large.) Using a weapon may also convert the attack to killing damage. Something small but sharp like an ordinary knife adds no power, but does convert the attack to killing damage.

Muscle-powered ranged weapons work similarly but typically do a bit less damage: something like a bow or a javelin has power equal to the halved rank of your buffness, a crossbow or something else that can store up a lot of energy will get you an additional one or two half-steps (depending on how long it takes to "charge"). A small thrown object is usually one half-step below your halved buffness.

For quick reference, here are the power rankings of each sort of weapon for each rank of the wielder's buffness:

Buffness
Attribute
Base H-t-H
Damage
Small
Weapon
Large
Weapon
Thrown
Weapon
Def Def+ Avg Avg+ Def
Avg Avg Avg+ Gd Def+
Gd Avg+ Gd Gd+ Avg
Grt Gd Gd+ Grt Avg+
Ext Gd+ Grt Grt+ Gd
Her Grt Grt+ Ext Gd+
Leg Grt+ Ext Ext+ Grt
Mth Ext Ext+ Her Grt+

Weapons that provide their own energy have a fixed power depending on how much energy that is. Modern firearms rank about like this:

Power Example Weapon
Avg+ Wimpy handgun (.25ACP)
Gd Handgun (9mm, .45ACP)
Gd+ Heavy handgun (.357Mag, .44Mag)
Grt Light rifle (5.56mm)
Grt+ Heavy rifle (7.62mm)
Ext Elephant Gun
Ext+ Machine gun (12.7mm)
Her Light autocannon (20mm)

And so on up to main tank guns at Mythic power. High-tech weapons will have higher power consummate with their advanced engineering and physics; primitive firearms will be a half-step or so less (and probably another half-step worse against armor; see below).

Hand-to-hand attacks can normally be converted from killing to clobbering damage (hitting someone with the flat of a sword) or vice-versa (punching someone in the larynx) for one success. Most ranged attacks cannot be converted, unless you want to get into the Shadow thing of creasing skulls with your .45. Attempting this may cause your GM to laugh uncontrollably, something frowned upon by serious gamers.

Armor

Armor has two qualities, protection and coverage. Coverage determines how many successes it takes for an attack to bypass the armor: one for some armor, two for a lot of armor, three for a complete carapace. The coverage rating may bear only a faint resemblence to the amount of body actually covered, especially in the sort of game that has battle bikinis, but it shouldn't be hard to figure out.

The protection of a set of armor is on the same scale as the power of attacks, and indicates the most powerful attack the armor is designed to resist. If the attack power is less than or equal to the armor protection, the armor is completely effective; if the attack power exceeds the armor protection it by one full rank or less, the armor is partially effective. Otherwise, the armor is not effective at all and can be ignored.

For extra complexity, an attack may have a different power for purposes of penetrating armor than for actually hurting people. A shotgun blast has, in toto, about as much energy as a heavy rifle (power Grt+), but since each pellet has only the energy of a handgun round, it should possibly be counted as only Gd+ against armor. It is also the case that armor may have different protection values against different kinds of attacks. For example, armor from the pre-gunpowder era is not very effective at stopping bullets, which is why soldiers didn't bother with armor for so many centuries until materials science caught up. But you don't have to go into this level of complexity unless the GM wants you to.

If, when all the calculations are complete, not enough successes are spent to bypass fully effective armor, the attack is a failure. If the armor is only partially effective, but is not bypassed, the attack will do less damage, but can still be effective.

Defenses against other kinds of attack (magical wards, Iron Mind meditation technique, etc) can be modelled using similar mechanics.

Damage

The damage an attack does is by default the same rank as its power (neglecting any modifier for purposes of penetrating armor). Several factors can modify this, however.

On a basic hit (no success spent for full damage), reduce the damage by one full rank.

If the attack did not successfully bypass partially-effective armor, reduce the damage by one full rank. (Optionally, if the attack's power was exactly equal to the armor's protection, reduce the damage by two full ranks.)

For every success spent to increase the attack's damage, do so by half a rank. (Optionally, if the attack is one that has an obvious way of doing more base damage (eg, an automatic weapon that can put more bullets into the target), the first success spent to increase damage might get you a full rank; beyond that, it will still be two successes for a full rank.)

Now, at long last, you have an actual ranking for the damage done to the victim. Compare this to the half-rank of whatever attribute he uses to shrug off damage (Physique, Abhuman Composition, etc) on the following table, using the best (most damaging) result that applies:

Damage Compared
to Resistance
Nonlethal Effect Clobbering Effect Killing Effect
Less by more than two full ranks Tap Tap Scratch
Less by more than one full rank Stun Stun Stun
Less by no more than one full rank Stun Stun Stun
Equal Stun + Daze Stun + Daze Stun + Wound
More by a full rank Down Down + Wound Incapacitate
More by two full ranks Knockout Knockout + Wound Kill
More by three full ranks Knockout + Wound Kill Kill

The possible effects are as follows:

Tap
No significant damage is done by the blow, but the victim has been hit, and his personal grooming may suffer. Also, things like certain spells that require only slight contact may take effect.
Scratch
No significant damage is done by the blow, but the victim has been hit, and his personal grooming may suffer. Also, blood has been shed, so poison may take effect, passing shark-creatures may go berserk, and so forth.
Stun (includes Tap or Scratch)
The victim immediately loses 3 action points; if this takes him below 0, remove that many successes from his next round's initiative roll. Someone who has fewer than 0 action points remaining cannot be stunned. Any Set-up the victim had perform is lost, and anything else he was doing (like defusing a bomb) is interrupted, with appropriate consequences.
Daze
The victim is reduced by one full rank in every attribute (except ability to withstand damage) until he takes an action to recover his senses.
Wound
The victim is reduced by one full rank in every attribute (except ability to withstand damage) for a base period of 10 days.
Down
The victim is not actually unconscious, or only briefly so, but is not able to do much of anything for a base period of 5 rounds (but never less than two rounds).
Knockout (includes Daze)
The victim is, if not actually unconscious, in no shape to do anything for a base period of 5 minutes, and will be Dazed for a base period of 30 minutes.
Incapacitate (includes Wound)
The victim is in no shape to do anything for the rest of the combat and may actually be unconscious. He is not in immediate danger of death, but this could change if his injuries are left untreated for an extended period, or if he is roughly handled. Even once he is patched up, he will be Wounded for a base period of 30 days.
Kill
Advanced medical technology or powerful healing magic might help, but without one or both, the victim gets one cryptic dying utterance and is then history.

Multiple Wound and Daze results are cumulative for reducing Attributes. It is thus possible to be technically still up, but so impaired that you can't actually do anything. Remember that your ability to withstand damage is not reduced by impairment, but your ability to dodge/parry/whatever is.

The base periods above assume Average resilience. To find the actual time it takes to recover, roll some appropriate Attribute (taking any impairment into account), find the number corresponding to the successes rolled, and divide the base period by that number. (Another way to figure this is to reduce the time by one half-rank of numbers for each success rolled over 2, or increase it equally for each success below 2.) Multiple injuries don't increase the base period, but do all reduce the Attribute used to recover, which has much the same effect.

Or, you can use the Alternate Damage System, which is a little more complicated but may produce better results.

Special Effects

Besides spending successes on hurting your enemy more, you can spend them to get a variety of additional effects. The power of a special effect starts equal to the power of the attack (usually a hand-to-hand attack), and can be increased by spending additional successes. Unless otherwise noted, you can do regular damage as well, but successes spent to increase damage don't improve the special effect, nor vice versa.

To disarm someone takes two successes; compare the power of the disarm effect plus four successes to the victim's ability to hold on to their weapon. On a tie, the weapon falls at the former owner's feet and can be picked up on their next action; more successes mean the weapon flies farther away. For three successes, you can take and keep the weapon, rather than just knocking it away. An attack described as well-suited to disarming (like a jitte) might reduce the cost of the disarm maneuver by one success.

To knock someone down takes two successes (or one if you have a helpful attack description) and attack power equal to their weight. One extra half-step of power knocks them back a meter; additional power increases that by one half-step of numbers per half-step of power.

Grabbing someone only takes one success. The strength of the grab is the power of the special effect. To break free, the victim needs to do do an escape special effect with equal or greater power. Once you have someone grabbed, you can do hand-to-hand attacks against them with two free extra successes on each attack until they break free.

Escaping from a grab does not take any successes for the special effect, but the power of the effect has to be at least as great as that of the grab. If you have extra successes, you can use two of them on an immediate countergrab (and the rest to increase the power of the countergrab).

The Very Important One-on-Many Rule

It would hardly be a game of heroic action if you couldn't beat up an entire roomful of goons at once, now would it? Therefore, you can spend successes to apply the results of the rest of your attack to multiple targets. Normally, every two successes moves you up one full step in number of victims: 2 successes lets you hit 2 people, 4 gets you 5, 6 gets you 10, etc. Half-steps with odd numbers of successes are also possible, of course, although 1.5 targets rounds down to 1. Sorry.

If your attack is described as well-suited to whaling on multiple people, the GM may give you a discount, letting you get the first one or two full steps of numbers for only 1 success each. For example, a staff has two ends, so in many situations whacking two people will be perfectly natural (although probably not if, for example, you're trying to fight with a staff in very close quarters). Bare-handed attacks can also go double pretty easily; the clichéd example is grabbing two heads and knocking them together. To get 5 victims for 2 successes requires something like an autofire gun; to get 10 for 3 would take an area-effect attack, or at least a recoilless continuous-fire weapon. You can get more targets than you get a discount for, but additional steps cost the regular 2 successes each.

When doing a multiple attack, you need to specify how many of your successes are being used to get a basic hit, since it is not guaranteed that all your targets will have the same defense value.

Setup

Sometimes you just don't have enough base successes to have a hope of succeeding in an attack. You can get more successes by setting up your opponent, if you have an action to spare. You must specify what action you are setting up, and you can't do anything between the setup and the action you're setting up for. If you do anything else, or if you get hit, you lose any set-up bonus. The bonus usually applies to only one action, but if you have a really good set-up that the victim can't readily overcome, it might last until they take an action to negate it.

A free, or easy, setup doesn't require any roll, just time: spend the action points, and you get 2 additional successes for your action. An example of this would be taking careful aim with a gun.

A hard set-up does require a roll, although hopefully an easier one than the action you're preparing for. Exactly what attribute you use and how many successes you need depends on what you're doing. A hard set-up might be using Repartee to blind your opponent with anger, Agility to maneuver to a more favorable position, Sex Appeal to distract him with a stunning display of cleavage, or Dirty Infighting to kick sand in his eyes. Regardless of the details, if you make the roll, you get 4 additional successes for your actions.

A second set-up action negates any previous set-up. However, the extra action to sight in a long-range weapon doesn't count; it can be combined with a set-up.

Defense

Normally, your defense value is just the base successes for whatever attribute is relevent to avoiding the incoming attack. However, if that's not good enough, you can perform an active defense, which increases your defensive value against certain opponents.

Active defense is a defensive action, meaning you can perform it out of turn when attacked. You can only declare one active defense in response to one attack. However, the bonus lasts until the end of the turn.

The bonus depends on how many opponents you want to defend against. If you only want to defend against one opponent, increase your defense value against him by 3. If you are defending against a limited group of opponents ("The guys who just burst through the door" or "The guys sniping from the roof over there"), the bonus is only +2. If you want to defend against all attacks, regardless of source, you get only +1 to your defense value.

Although you can declare as many active defenses as you have action points for, the bonuses are never cumulative. If you use three actions to defend, respectively, against everyone, against the neo-Islamic bikers who just kicked in your front door, and against their hulking leader, you still only get +3 defense against the leader and +2 against the rest of the bikers (and +1 against the ninja sneaking in through the air ducts).

As with every other part of this system, the description of an active defense can be anything appropriate to your resources and the nature of the attack: dodge, parry, counterspell, duck behind cover, etc.

Combined Actions

Sometimes you'll want to do something that, although technically two separate actions, should really be done as one (quickdraw and fire a gun, swing on a chandelier and kick someone in the head, etc). If one action is so simple that it would not normally require a roll (eg, drawing a weapon), then you just need to spend one success from the primary action. If both actions require a roll, each one needs to spend two successes. You can, after rolling, decide to not spend the successes from one action, but in that case the other automatically fails. (EG, if you don't roll well enough that you can spend two successes from both chandelier-swinging and head-booting and still succeed at both, you can keep those two successes for swinging and automatically fail at booting, or keep the successes for booting, but plummet from the chandelier.)

Walking or running while doing something else is a combined action of the first sort, taking one success from the primary action. Swimming takes an action of its own for land-dwellers, but not for natively aquatic creatures. Flying should be handled in some appropriate fashion.

Mooks, Goons, and Faceless Minions

A staple of the genre is the army of faceless minions who, although adequate for oppressing honest citizens, are grossly inferior to the PCs. Entire groups of such mooks, who typically have identical combat-related attributes can be treated as single combatants for purposes of the combat action sequence, all using the same initiative roll, attacking the PCs en masse, and so forth.

Although mooks are usually only of Good combat ability, quantity has a quality all its own: multiple mooks attacking a single target as a unit get an additional success for each full rank of numbers they have (+1 for 2, +2 for 5, +3 for 10, +4 for 20, ...). In hand-to-hand combat, it's unlikely that more than 5 mooks could gang up on one target (okay, maybe 10 if they're doing the Three-Way Synchronized Cartwheel Of Death), but there is almost no limit to the potential ugliness in ranged combat.


Appendix 1: Probabilities

In case you care, here are the individual probabilities for every result from -4 to +4 on the dice, and the cumulative probabilities for each result or better. If you need to know the probability of getting a certain result or worse, kindly observe that the curve is symmetric.

RollProbabilityCumulative
+41.2351.235
+34.9386.173
+212.34618.519
+119.75338.272
+023.45761.728
-119.75381.481
-212.34693.827
-34.93898.765
-41.235100.000

This file was last modified at 1526 on 09Dec99 by trip@idiom.com.