Thoughts on Designing a Game

A couple weeks ago I came across this little image:

Brought to you by Pluto Water … and if you don’t know what that is, click to find out

It belonged to some form of baseball game. You’d spin the arrow and find out if you got a single or strike, etc. I imagined some kids back in the “olden days” whiling away a Sunday afternoon with this game. and this inspired me to write Pen & Paper Baseball, a companion game, so to speak, to Pen & Paper Football (available now).

I’m in the process now of testing the game rules, and I’m pretty happy with them. I need to “adjust the mixture” a bit, but overall I have a working set of rules, I’ve designed a fantasy league to test them with and … and this is most important … I’m having fun doing it.

So – here are a couple things to keep in mind when you’re designing a new game or an add-on or adventure to an existing game.

ONE – Make a Rough Draft

You have to start somewhere. Conceptualize in your mind what you’re trying to simulate, come up with an easy way to do it, and then put it down on paper. It will change, but you have to get the rough draft down before you can make it better. Do not get bogged down in the minutia right off the bat – work on the overall concept and do it in broad brush strokes. The details will come later.

Once you have a rough draft, play it. This will show you where the obvious errors lie, and may point you in a completely new direction. With my baseball game, for example, I initially decided on a single dice roll to determine the broad spectrum from strike to ball to foul ball to grounder to fly ball, etc. This worked in general, but the details were wrong. I tinkered with that single roll quite a bit before I decided I’d have to do it in two rolls – one to see if the ball was struck by the bat, another to figure out how hard it was struck and a third to figure out the direction. I tried to pack too much into a single roll, and the game really demanded it be spread out a bit. Simplicity is always the goal, but you can also oversimplify.

TWO – Think About Player Agency

A good game should involve meaningful choices made by the players. Candy Land, as great as it is for spending time with little kids and helping them learn their colors, is not so great a game for adults because it involved no meaningful choices.

For my baseball game, there are fortunately some meaningful choices built into the game being simulated – should I try to steal a base, do I throw out the runner heading to second or the one heading to first, etc. At this point, my rules don’t have quite enough meaningful choices, so I’m now engineering an additional choice to make the game more interesting. I’m not sorry I waited to do it. My current set of rules has allowed me to get quite a few of the probabilities right – chances of throwing a strike vs. a ball vs. the ball getting in play, chances to catch a fly ball, etc. Now that the basic rules are working, I can play with modifying them.

THREE – Don’t Forget About Random Chance

Chess is a great game, but it’s all about choices. Awesome for strategy … but maybe not the best simulation of warfare, which is rife with random chance screwing up brilliant strategy and tactics. You want to achieve a balance between player choice and random nonsense – after all, every batter is planning on hitting a home run, but few actually manage it. In the game simulations I’ve run so far, I’ve had some wonderful random chances figure in to make the games exciting – unexpected home runs tying up games in the ninth inning and line drives that were certainly going to win the game for a team being surprisingly caught out.

FOUR – Do Your Research

Do your research. It can come after you have made your rough draft, but it does need to happen. I have a massive database of firearms, aircraft, automobiles and tanks that I built when I was designing Grit & Vigor because, frankly, I didn’t know nearly enough about those things to design a simulation that felt right. Most of that data remains unused … though it won’t forever … but all of it was vital to getting the game real enough – and I mean “enough” – that people could make informed decisions within the game about what to do. I did a tremendous amount of research into professional football games for Pen & Paper Football – from numerous eras – to get things like the likely yardage gained on different types of running plays pretty close to correct. Not exactly, mind you, but pretty close and accurate enough that somebody who understands football can make an informed in-game decision about whether they should run or pass in a 3rd down and 4 yards to go situation.

Even if the game you are working with is fantastic, many of the physical laws of the universe are going to apply, or at least are going to apply until magic enters the picture. If everyone has a good chance at jumping 20 feet forward, what’s even the point of having magic. Do your research – it’s important and will not be wasted.

FIVE – The Fun Factor

Some folks are genuinely happy with exacting, detailed simulations of things that take hours and hours to play. I’m not. I like games to be light, fast and fun. I like games that leave enough time in between rolling dice and making decisions for chatting and snacking. I like fun, and I try to make games that allow groups of people to have fun without too much investment of time and money – because we never seem to have quite enough of those things, do we?

Alien Critter Generator

Any viewer of mainstream sci-fi has heard a few alien animal names that consist, usually of three elements. First, is their place of origin. Perhaps a planet orbiting the star Deneb. Then a descriptor – maybe this creature is slimy or dwells in slime. Finally, a noun – perhaps this irascible creature can best be described, like the well-known critter from Tasmania, as a devil. Hence Denebian slime devil. Okay, so how about a random table to do the same and stat the critter out.

1. Venusian
2. Martian
3. Jovian
4. Saturnian
5. Mercurian
6. Plutonian
7. Neptunian
8. Denebian
9. Altairan
10. Cygnian
11. Betelgeusian
12. Polarian
13. Andromedan
14. Cetian
15. Algolian
16. Pleiadeian
17. Rigelian
18. Aldebaran
19. Antarean
20. Arcturan

* Note, if you prefer your beasties to be from distant stars rather than planets, just re-roll if Martian or Venusian, etc comes up. Or make your own table you lazy bugger – what do you want for free? You might also want to alter the critter’s stats based on the conditions of the planet (i.e. high gravity, etc.)

1. OOZE/SLIME: Creature may be covered in slime, granting it DEFENSE +3 vs. grabbing or wrestling attempts. Otherwise, just lives in a slimy environment.
2. ROCK/STONE: Creature may have DEFENSE +2. Otherwise, simply lives in a rocky environment.
3. DEATH: Creature either has a deadly poison bite or +2 hit dice.
4. SHADOW: Creature surprises opponents on a roll of 1-3 on 1d6 in darkness.
5. DUST/DESERT: Creature dwells in the desert, enjoys STRENGTH +1.
6. TREE/FOREST: Creature dwells in woodlands, enjoys DEXTERITY +1.
7. GIANT/GREAT: Creature has double hit dice.
8. CRYSTALLINE: Creature has DEFENSE +2 against all attacks except those from bludgeoning weapons and DEFENSE +5 against ray guns.
9. ICE: Creature suffers half damage from cold attacks.
10. LAUGHING/HISSING: Creature makes a laughing or hissing noise when threatened.
12. SPECKLED/SPOTTED: Creature has speckled or spotted hide. Heck, you could do stripes as well.
13. ACID: Creature has an acidic bite that inflicts +2 damage.
14. FIRE/STAR: Creature suffers half damage from fire and ray attacks or has ray attacks from eyes (weapon rating +5).
15. FANGED/HORNED: Creature has +1 weapon rating to bite or horn attack and +1 to bite or horn damage.
16. VAPOR/MIST: Creature either surrounded by a weird fog (opponents -1 to hit with SHOOT attacks) or creature dwells in misty area.
17. STINK/MUSK: Opponents must pass a Strength test or suffer -2 penalty to hit this creature in combat.
18. SEA/RIVER: Creature dwells in the sea or rivers and is equipped to swim at its normal speed.
19. CLOUD/SKY: Creature has a flying speed one category faster than its land movement.
20. LEAPING/HOPPING: Creature’s land movement is one category faster.

* Other special abilities could include spitting (poisonous spit, like cobra), long-necked, long-legged (faster movement), dwarf (half normal hit dice – probably meaningless for animals with only one hit dice to begin with), burrowing (gains slow burrow speed) and hypno- (can paralyze with eyes)

Stats are for Space Princess – you can no doubt find stats for Swords and Wizardry or Dungeons and Dragons if you just snoop around a bit.

1. DEVIL/BADGER: HD 1; DEFENSE 9; FIGHT 5 (claws and bite +0); SHOOT 8; MOVE N; Burrow S; STR 10; DEX 17; MEN 6; KNO 2; DL 2; Special: Flies into rage when damaged (+1 to hit and damage).
2. CRAWLER/CREEPER: HD 1; DEFENSE 8; FIGHT 5 (bite +1); SHOOT 7; MOVE F / Climb F; STR 10; DEX 15; MEN 2; KNO N/A; DL 2; Special: Poisonous bite (1d6 damage).
3. BAT: HD 1; DEFENSE 7; FIGHT 1 (bite +0); SHOOT 7; MOVE S / Fly F; STR 3; DEX 15; MEN 4; KNO 2; DL 1; Special: See in dark with echolocation.
4. DOG: HD 2; DEFENSE 8; FIGHT 7 (bite +1); SHOOT 8; MOVE F; STR 14; DEX 15; MEN 6; KNO 2; DL 2; Special: None.
5. CAT: HD 1; DEFENSE 7; FIGHT 3 (claws and bite +0); SHOOT 7; MOVE N; STR 6; DEX 15; MEN 7; KNO 2; DL 1; Special: None.
6. BIRD: HD 1; DEFENSE 7; FIGHT 3 (talons and bite +0); SHOOT 7; MOVE S / Fly F; STR 6; DEX 15; MEN 6; KNO 2; DL 1; Special: None.
7. HOG/PIG: HD 3; DEFENSE 8; FIGHT 9 (tusks +1); SHOOT 7; MOVE F; STR 16; DEX 10; MEN 4; KNO 2; DL 3; Special: +2 to strength tests to ignore pain.
8. BEETLE: HD 1; DEFENSE 7; FIGHT 5 (bite +2); SHOOT 5; MOVE N; STR 10; DEX 11; MEN 7; KNO N/A; DL 1; Special: None.
9. LION/TIGER: HD 6; DEFENSE 13; FIGHT 16 (claws and bite +2); SHOOT 12; MOVE F; STR 20; DEX 15; MEN 6; KNO 2; DL 7; Special: Pounce (two attacks when it wins initiative).
10. BEAST/ELEPHANT: HD 11; DEFENSE 17; FIGHT 26 (tusks +7 or stomp +5); SHOOT 15; MOVE N; STR 25; DEX 10; MEN 5; KNO 2; DL 12; Special: Trample (all in melee combat must make a dexterity test or suffer 1d6 damage).
11. BEAR: HD 6; DEFENSE 12; FIGHT 19 (claws and bite +3); SHOOT 11; MOVE F; STR 23; DEX 13; MEN 6; KNO 2; DL 7; Special: Creatures hit must make a strength test or be hugged for automatic damage each round until a successful strength test is made.
12. PINCHER/CRAB: HD 1; DEFENSE 7; FIGHT 5 (bite +2); SHOOT 5; MOVE N; STR 10; DEX 11; MEN 7; KNO N/A; DL 1; Special: None.
13. MOLE/RAT: HD 1; DEFENSE 7; FIGHT 2 (bite +0); SHOOT 7; MOVE S / Climb S; STR 4; DEX 15; MEN 2; KNO 2; DL 1; Special: Bite may cause disease.
14. APE: HD 4; DEFENSE 10; FIGHT 12 (claws and bite +2); SHOOT 10; MOVE N; STR 18; DEX 15; MEN 7; KNO 2; DL 4; Special: None.
15. LIZARD/SNAKE: HD 3; DEFENSE 10; FIGHT 10 (bite +1); SHOOT 9; MOVE M; STR 17; DEX 15; MEN 2; KNO 1; DL 3; Special: May be poisonous.
16. ANTELOPE/DEER: HD 2; DEFENSE 10; FIGHT 6 (antlers or horns +1); SHOOT 9; MOVE F; STR 12; DEX 17; MEN 4; KNO 2; DL 2; Special: None.
17. SPIDER: HD 1; DEFENSE 9; FIGHT 4 (bite +0); SHOOT 8; MOVE N / Climb N; STR 8; DEX 17; MEN 2; KNO N/A; DL 2; Special: Poison (2d6 damage).
18. BRUTE/RHINOCEROS: HD 8; DEFENSE 14; FIGHT 22 (horn +5); SHOOT 12; MOVE N; STR 24; DEX 10; MEN 2; KNO 2; DL 9; Special: Charge for double damage.
19. SNAIL/SLUG: HD 2; DEFENSE 4; FIGHT 4 (bite +0); SHOOT 4; MOVE S; STR 6; DEX 6; MEN 2; KNO N/A; DL 2; Special: None.
20. FISH/SHARK: HD 3; DEFENSE 10; FIGHT 8 (bite +1); SHOOT 9; MOVE F; STR 13; DEX 15; MEN 2; KNO 1; DL 4; Special: Blood frenzy (+1 to hit and damage when blood is in the water).

* You might want to swap out toad/frog for fish/shark, maybe throw turtles in somewhere.

Some Examples …

ANTAREAN ICE CREEPER: HD 1; DEFENSE 8; FIGHT 5 (bite +1); SHOOT 7; MOVE F / Climb F; STR 10; DEX 15; MEN 2; KNO N/A; DL 2; Special: Poisonous bite (1d6 damage), half damage from cold attacks. I’m picturing a stark white centipede of great size that hides beneath the snow. It has pockets on it in which it stores bodily fluids sucked from victims. It draws sustenance and heat from the decay of these fluids.

POLARIAN SEA BIRD: HD 1; DEFENSE 7; FIGHT 3 (talons and bite +0); SHOOT 7; MOVE S / Fly F / Swim S; STR 6; DEX 15; MEN 6; KNO 2; DL 1; Special: None. Polarian sea birds resemble Earth penguins except they are as large as dolphins and have coloration and habits reminiscent of killer whales. They have horn-like crests on their heads that allow them to make a low-frequency rumbling that can be heard by other sea birds miles away.

CETIAN HORNED SLUG: HD 2; DEFENSE 4; FIGHT 4 (bite +0, horn +1); SHOOT 4; MOVE S; STR 6; DEX 6; MEN 2; KNO N/A; DL 2; Special: None, horn does +1 damage. These slugs are the size of lions and are covered by a shiny, pink segmented shell. The forward-most shell piece has curved horns that the beast can use to attack.

Image from HERE.

Monsters of Space Princess

Here are a few sample monsters – “aliens”, in fact, from the Space Princess game. The game is coming along pretty well – just a bit more writing to do and then some artwork and she’s ready for testing!

Devil Girl
Devil girls come from a female dominated society with a declining male population. Devil girls are undeniably attractive, but merciless in their treatment of others. They wear uniforms of a black, vinyl-like substance that is a surprisingly good armor. Devil girls suffer only half damage from cold, electricity and fire and they can blanket a 60-ft radius area around themselves in complete darkness once per day for 10 minutes. Devil girls are capable of seeing in this weird darkness, but other creatures are not, giving the devil girls a +5 bonus and the others a -5 penalty to attack.

DEVIL GIRL: HD 4; DEFENSE 12; FIGHT 9 (strike +1); SHOOT 9 (ray gun +5); MOVE N; STR 13; DEX 13; MEN 9; KNO 12; DL 5; Special: Darkness, resistance to damage.

Space Amazon
Space amazons are women of tremendous strength and dexterity who are sometimes hired as elite guards in a space fortress, or perhaps were captured and subsequently escaped, living as outlaws in the fortress’s myriad tunnels and chambers. Space amazons stand about 8 feet tall and have green skin, white hair, and long antennae. Large groups of space amazons are commanded by a myrmidia. Each myrmidia has a 5% chance of secretly falling in love with a male star warrior and betraying her sisters on his behalf. If spurned by him, her berserk fury is doubled against him.

SPACE AMAZON: HD 4; DEFENSE 8; FIGHT 10 (axe +2); SHOOT 8 (ray gun +5); MOVE N; STR 15; DEX 12; MEN 12; KNO 10; DL 5; Special: Berserk Fury (+2 FIGHT and +2 damage vs. males).

MYRMIDIA: HD 6; DEFENSE 10; FIGHT 13 (axe +2); SHOOT 10 (ray gun +5); MOVE N; STR 16; DEX 13; MEN 13; KNO 11; DL 5; Special: Berserk Fury (+2 FIGHT and +2 damage vs. males), chance to fall in love, double fury when spurned.

Trilodites are protoplasmic aliens consisting of a ooze-like interior and a pink, rubbery exterior. Trilodites “stand” about three feet tall, usually on three pseudopods. They often have three additional pseudopods emerging from higher on their bodies that they use as arms. Trilodites can use these pseudopods to manipulate small objects as a human uses hands, and can retract or grow additional pseudopods as they like, though eight seems to be their useful limit. Trilodites have a high sensory awareness, and are thus rarely surprised. Because of their alien structures and minds, they enjoy a +2 bonus on tests to resist psychic powers that attempt to control or influence them. Their elastic forms give them a +2 bonus to DEFENSE to resist attempts to grab or hold them.

TRILODITE: HD 2; DEFENSE 8; FIGHT 7 (weapon +2); SHOOT 5 (ray gun +5); MOVE S; STR 14; DEX 8; MEN 10; KNO 10; DL 2; Special: Resist psychic powers, hard to hold.

Voltans are a humanoid species with slightly pointed ears and bald heads covered with peaked ridges. They are quite strong and very intelligent. Some voltans have red skin, while others have blue skin. The red voltans tend towards contemplation and a love of logic, while the blue voltans are emotional, over-bearing and militant. Blue voltans arm themselves with jagged blades and ray guns and wear steel mesh tunics. Red voltans do not wear armor or carry hand weapons, but do use ray guns.

BLUE VOLTAN: HD 3; DEFENSE 9; FIGHT 9 (weapon +2); SHOOT 7 (ray gun +5); MOVE N; STR 16; DEX 10; MEN 14; KNO 14; DL 3; Special: Immune to fear.

RED VOLTAN: HD 1; DEFENSE 5; FIGHT 7 (open hand +1); SHOOT 5 (ray gun +5); MOVE N; STR 16; DEX 10; MEN 14; KNO 14; DL 3; Special: ESP, stunning grasp, immune to fear.

Spaceship Combat in Space Princess

Alternate title – if you’re expecting Rient’s Fleet Captain, boy are you going to be disappointed!

I’m writing the spaceship combat rules now for Space Princess and thought I’d bounce a few things off of my readers (wow – it feels both cool and pretentious as Hell to say “my readers”).

The Basics: Space Princess’ spaceship combat rules are designed to do one thing – simulate the rescuers of the “space princess” escaping into light speed from the Dark Lord’s minions. That’s it. If the game is successful, maybe an expansion could add more to the rules, but for the game, I want to simulate one thing and one thing only to keep it simple.

The Procedure: As it stands, the spaceship combat procedure works as follows:

1 – Maneuver: The player of the character piloting the escape ship make a pilot test to attempt to stay away from the pursuing ships. If he fails, they come closer (and closer means it’s easier to hit with weapons), if he succeeds they either stay at the same range or fall behind. There are penalties attached to his roll based on how many pursuers he’s trying to dodge, whether there are obstacles to maneuvering (the ground, canyon walls, asteroids) and damage his ship might have taken.

2 – Fire Weapons: Good guys and bad guys fire their weapons. Each hit means a damage roll for the affected ship. These damage rolls are not in terms of “hit points” or “hull points”, but rather an actual effect on the ship. The smaller the ship, the more dire a hit is likely to be. The worst forms of damage are hull breach (can suck players out into space, where they die) or complete destruction of the ship. Complete destruction is rare – the pursuers are usually trying to disable your ship and capture you.

3 – After all weapon fire is resolved, the player whose character is in charge of navigation (scientists are the best at this) makes a roll to see if she’s calculated the proper formula for light speed. The chances of doing this on the first round are very remote, but the difficulty of the roll is lessened with each failure. This means you don’t know how long it will take to jump into light speed (and safety) – should make each such roll dramatic.

That’s the basic procedure. For ship types, I’m keeping it pretty generic. In order of size, they are: Starfighter, Shuttle, Freighter, Blockade Runner, Corvette, Cruiser and Dreadnaught. Smaller ships are more maneuverable, larger ships have better armor (which actually doesn’t make sense in Zero-G, but I’m working off pulp sci-fi and movie tropes, not reality).

So here’s where I want to access your brains. I’m thinking about possible damage results on ships. Ships are rated based on Speed (includes maneuverability), Armor, Number of Engines and Different Weapon Systems (laser banks, torpedoes and tractor beams for the dreadnaughts). Here’s my list of damage effects so far:

1 – Engine Damage – penalty to speed/maneuvering; once a ship has lost all engines it is dead in space

2 – Computer Damage – maybe hits different systems – damaged Nav-Computer means you cannot jump into light speed until fixed. Weapon Systems Computer might turn off all weaponry until fixed. Maybe the engines can be knocked off line as well. Possible damage to characters from the boards sparking and going up in flame, a’la Star Trek.

3 – Artificial Gravity Lost – this would potentially damage characters on the ship from things floating about (or from them floating about).

4 – Weapon Destroyed – One of the ship’s weapon systems is destroyed.

5 – Hull Damage – lowers the ship’s Armor rating by one. Probably the best result you can get from damage. Somebody will probably mention force shields here – I’d rather just consider them part of the “armor package” – to keep things simple, if two things essentially serve the same function, I’d rather merge them together.

6 – Hull Breach – chance of sucking people into space

7 – Ship Destroyed – this would be a “roll again, if comes up again, spaceship destroyed and all aboard killed” – it’s old school, so yeah, instant death is a possibility.

All of the results except ship destroyed would be repairable – again, a scientist would be best at this (or maybe somebody invents an engineer class to lend a hand).

Deviant Friday – Joel Carroll Edition

Readers of the Land of Nod should not be strangers to Joel Carroll, the artist who worked on Mystery Men! and oft posted on this blog. While you folks might know him primarily for his superhero artwork, he dabbles in many eras and I actually first discovered him on a site showing some of his D-n-D monster sketches. Check it out, gentle readers …


Rocket Raccoon



This lady would look good in Space Princess. In fact, how about some stats for that game …

Hooked Horror

Displacer Beast

Devil Dinosaur


And I might as well give him some Space Princess stats as well …

Bristolwhip Kaiju Tokusatsu

The Marquis

The Monsters of Space Princess

While I’ve been writing Mu-Pan and plotting out Hell (previews to come soon), I’ve also been slowly filling in the gaps on Space Princess. At this point, I’m about 80% done writing it, having put some yeoman’s work into the monster section yesterday. Most of the beast are re-purposed from Ye Olde Game or d20 Modern, with a couple originals stuck in as well. I still want to invent some more aliens that might lurk in the bowels of a space fortress, but the following list should give you an idea at what adventurers might find in the game. The “danger level” gives an idea of how powerful the monster is.

Now I just need to finish up the starship battle rules, the sample space fortress (or one sector therein) and sort out the art, do some play testing and I’ll have a nice little pulpy beer and pretzels sci-fi game. Should come in at around 50 pages, and therefore be pretty affordable.

Target 10!

When I started writing Space Princess, I decided I wanted to do a really simple game – thus four ability scores, four classes with three “levels” each, etc. When I came up with 1800 – American Empires, I decided to use the same rules concept, and then again with Mutant Truckers of the Polyester Road, especially because MTotPR was going to be a mini-game for NOD. As I played with the concept, I came up with an easy system I’m calling Target 10 – all tests (skill tests, saving throws) and combat involve rolling 1d20, adding a modifier and trying to roll a ’10’ or higher to succeed. The following excerpt shows where the rules stand at the moment. They were written specifically for American Empires.

A test is a roll made to determine whether an action succeeds when the outcome of the action is in question. Every action made in a game does not need to be tested. Getting dressed in the morning, for example, does not require a test. Of course, getting ready in the morning and out the door in 10 minutes or getting dressed with two broken arms might require a test of dexterity.

A test is made by roll 1d20, applying modifiers (see below) and trying to roll “10” or higher.

Man vs. Man
When a test pits one person against another (or one creature against another), the test is modified by comparing the relative skill and raw ability of the two opponents. Each opponent calculates their Test Value (TV). A character’s TV is equal to their modifier in whatever ability score governs the test. If the character possesses the skill being tested (see Classes above), they also add their skill value to the TV. Situational modifiers, as determined by the Referee, might also apply, but should never be higher than +3.

Compare the acting character’s TV to the opposing character’s TV. The difference is the bonus or penalty applied to the acting character’s test roll.

When two characters are both trying to “act”, the character with the higher TV always rolls their test first. If the TV’s are equal, defer to the character with the greater skill. If the skill values are equal, defer to the character with the higher ability score. If the ability scores are equal, flip a coin.

In many cases, the outcome can be determined with a single test roll. In some cases, a Referee can require multiple successes to finally succeed, usually no more than 3. He might even a bad consequence if either or both parties rack of too many failures.

Example: Two venturers, Juan and Susan, are trying to sway an Apache chief to cement an alliance with their country. This requires a test of the Negotiate Treaty skill.

Juan has Skill 9 and Charisma 12 (+1), while Susan has Skill 6 and Charisma 18 (+4). This means Juan has a TV of 9 + 1 = 10 and Susan a TV of 6 + 4 = 10. Since the TV’s are equal, there is no modifier to either character’s test roll. Since Juan has the higher skill, he tests first.

The Referee decides it will be more exciting to require three successes to sway the Apache chief. Moreover, he rules that if the two together rack up four failure before either has succeeded, the Apache chief will call off the negotiation and have both venturers killed.

Juan’s first test roll is a “4”, indicating one failure. Susan now rolls an “11”, a success! Three more failures and the Apache chief loses his cool. Juan now rolls a “7”, followed by a “9” for Susan – two more failures. Juan rounds it out with a “13” and Susan with an “8”. That does it – their arguing has angered the Apache chief, who finds neither of them worthy of an alliance and summons his braves to take them into the desert and bury them to their necks in the sand.

Man vs. Nature
Whenever a test pits a character or creature against the natural world – for example, shifting a heavy boulder or predicting the weather, the actor’s Test Value is compared against a Test Value of 1 to 10 chosen by the Referee. In most cases, the test value is “5”. Nature, in these cases, does not “act”, and therefore does not make a test roll. A Referee can still require multiple successes to succeed and can still impose consequences for multiple failures.

Luck Points
Luck Points are a simple mechanic that allows groups of characters of differing skill levels to adventure together without the more skilled completely dominating play. A Luck Point can be spent to automatically succeed at any test, or, in the case of combat, to ignore an opponent’s success.

Luck Points can be earned while exploring (see Occurrences below), but a character can never have more points of luck than they started with. In other words, low skill characters can never have more than 3 luck points at one time, mid-skill level characters can never have more than 1 luck point at a time and high-skill characters cannot have any luck points at all – they have to rely on their skill alone to survive.

Combat Tests
Combat occurs whenever two or more creatures or characters seek to do violence upon one another, whether their aim is to kill, disable or knock unconscious. Combat is conducted in “rounds”. A round is roughly one minute long. During a round, a character may declare how his character is moving and how (or if) they are acting.

The first step in running a combat round is for all players to declare their actions for the round. Possible actions are as follows:

Movements: Advance, Charge, Flee, Hold Ground, Maneuver, Stand and Withdraw.

Actions: Defend, Disarm, Grapple, Kill, Negotiate, Subdue and Trip.

Other actions are certainly possible – a player need only be limited by their imagination.

The next step is to determine the order of play. Each person involved in the combat rolls 1d6 and adds their dexterity bonus. The highest score goes first and play proceeds through the remainder of the scores. In the case of a tie, movement and actions are considered to happen simultaneously. This makes it possible for two combatants to kill one another during the same round of combat.

The acting character then rolls a combat test (see below).


Advance: And advancing combatant keeps their guard up and moves forward 3 paces.

Charge: A charging combatant goes full speed ahead (and damn the torpedoes!). They move at triple their normal speed (i.e. 30 paces for humans). A charging character does not add their dexterity bonus to their defense score during the round, but adds double their strength bonus to their attack score.

Flee: A fleeing character runs at full speed (i.e. 30 paces for humans), turning their back on their enemy. If they go after their attacking opponent in combat, their opponent’s attack is automatically successful.

Hold: A character that holds does not move at all, unless forced to move by an opponent’s attack.

Maneuver: A maneuvering character attempts to maneuver their opponent into a certain position by the way that they attack – maybe driving them back towards an open pit or maneuvering so that the character gains the high ground or places their back against a wall. When a maneuvering character attacks, they score no damage, but do move their opponent 3 paces in whatever direction they like.

Stand: Whether the character was sitting or lying down at the beginning of combat or they were knocked down, this movement puts them back on their feet. A character cannot stand if they are being attacked.

Withdraw: A withdrawing combatant keeps their guard up and moves backward 3 paces. They may still attack if their opponent is advancing.


Defend: A defending character increases their DV by dexterity bonus (i.e. they double their bonus) or +1, whichever is higher.

Disarm: A character trying to disarm an opponent does not roll damage against them on a successful test; rather, they knock whatever they are holding (weapon or otherwise) from their hand. The item flies 1d6 paces in a random direction. A disarm attack is made using the attacker’s RAV instead of MAV.

Grapple: A character trying to grapple an opponent does not roll damage against them on a successful test; rather, they lock their opponent in a hold. A creature or character locked in a pin suffers a -1 penalty to attack and defend, and must make a grapple attack of their own to break the hold.

Kill: A character trying to kill scores normal damage against an opponent, and that damage can reduce the opponent’s hit points below 0, killing them.

Negotiate: A negotiating character attempts to engage their opponent in conversation, usually to buy time or simply stop an unnecessary combat from occurring. Only venturers have the ability to negotiate in combat. With a successful skill roll, they keep their opponents from attacking for one round, provided they are not themselves attacked.

Subdue: A character trying to subdue scores normal damage against an opponent, but that damage cannot reduce the opponent’s hit points below 0, leaving them unconscious for 1d6 turns.

Trip: A character trying to trip an opponent does not roll damage against them on a successful test; rather, they knock the opponent to the ground. A creature or character on the ground suffers a -2 penalty to attack and defend.

Combat Tests
Combat tests work like other tests – one compares two values to determine if there is a bonus or penalty on the roll and then rolls 1d20, applying the modifier. If the roll is a “12” or higher, they succeed.

Where most tests use a characters skill + ability modifier, combat tests use three values:

Melee Attack Value (FIGHT) = Hit Dice + Strength Modifier + Weapon Bonus

Ranged Attack Value (SHOOT) = Hit Dice + Dexterity Modifier + Weapon Bonus

Defense Value (DEFENSE) = Hit Dice + Dexterity Modifier + Armor Bonus

When attacking with fist, feet, claws, bites or hand held weapons, the attacker compares their FIGHT to the defender’s DEFENSE to determine the bonus or penalty to their test.

When attacking with thrown items, spittle, pistols, muskets and bows, the attacker compares their SHOOT to the defender’s DEFENSE to determine the bonus or penalty to their test.

As with regular tests, a bonus cannot be higher than +10 and a penalty cannot be lower than -10.

Situational modifiers can also be added to a test roll, as determined by the Referee. Situational modifiers can include a bonus for higher ground, sun in the eyes, etc. They should not amount to more than a total modifier of +3 or -3.

Example: Captain Cole, a soldier, is locked in combat with a leatherstocking named Francois. Captain Cole has Hit Dice 6, Strength 15 (+3), Dexterity 12 (+1) and he is fighting using a Saber (+2). Francois has Hit Dice 7, Strength 14 (+2), Dexterity 15 (+3) and he is fighting using a Knife (+1). Neither gentleman is wearing armor.

Captain Cole has a FIGHT of 6 + 3 + 2 = 11 and a DEFENSE of 6 + 1 = 7.

Francois has a FIGHT of 7 + 2 + 1 = 10 and a DEFENSE of 7 + 3 = 10.

When Cole attacks Francois, he compares his FIGHT of 11 to Francois’ DEFENSE of 10, indicating a +1 bonus to attack.

When Francois attacks Cole, he compares his FIGHT of 10 to Cole’s DEFENSE of 7, indicating a +3 bonus to attack.

Damage is rolled with 1d6, adding the attacker’s Strength modifier if using a melee weapon or Dexterity modifier if using a ranged weapon. In either case, an ability penalty cannot reduce damage below 1.

Ending Combat
Combat continues, round after round, until all combatants on one side are either dead, unconscious or have fled.