Along time ago, I stumbled across these cool little set of dice called Rory's Story Cubes. They are standard 6-sided dice with various pictures and symbols on them. They come in three sets, a standard set, an actions set, and a voyages set. Each has some basic themes on the dice. Now there are all sorts of themes.
Since discovering these dice 5-7 years ago I have always wanted to build an RPG game in use with these dice. However, I also hate “Proprietary Dice” with my games so I never got around to it since Rory's Story Cubes are the very definition of Proprietary Dice. Therefore, I never did much more with it.
I have been playing RPGs even longer than I have been playing wargames. I first learned on the good old Red Box Dungeons and Dragons. I was taught at the foot of a Lutheran pastor, and I have never looked back. Since then I have played a variety of systems from Shadowrun, Legend of the Five Rings, FUDGE, D&D of various stripes, Dark Heresy, GURPS, and more. Two notable absences from my list are Call of Cthulu and any of the White Wolf systems. In addition, to these established systems I have played various home-brews and even made up several campaigns on my own on the fly.
To me, the emphasis in an Role-playing game is the Role-playing, as opposed to Roll-playing. In essence, I feel that Role-Playing Games are a shared story-telling experience where the GM sets the stage and scenario while the Players move the action and plot along with their characters. In essence, the GM and Players need to work together for a good game.
In my limited experience, more mechanics actually can hinder a game and railroad players into trying to accomplish certain objectives instead of helping them tell their stories. Accumulating and building in some sort of imaginary game of Minecraft seems to set in, instead of characters growing and developing. That can be fine, but a bunch of extra rules and splat books don't necessarily make a better game. When it comes to RPGs I am a big fan of K.I.S.S.- Keep It Simple, Stupid.
Core Mechanics of an RPG
The key mechanic in an RPG needs to revolve around resolving opposed actions. There comes a point in any RPG, where it will not be clear how to resolve a situation. An NPC and a Player will have opposing goals, and there needs to be a mechanic that determines who succeeds and who fails. That is the only Core mechanic that matters, and everything else is just details.
I have seen some interesting ways this has been done from various Dice systems, Word Ladders, Jenga Towers, Poker Cards, etc. They all have their own advantages and drawbacks. Ultimately, the method doesn't matter so much as long as the players understand it and agree to buy into using it.
In addition, most RPGs have some basic Statistics to measure a characters ability and skills. The stats are usually innate physical abilities, while skills are learned attributes. This is the basic building blocks of a characters' mechanisms.
Basic Characters in this RPG
The basic character is composed of three stats:
Physical- This is a catch all for physical attributes
Mental- This is abilities related to brainpower
Presence- This is all abilities related to interactions
You can divide 8 points between the three categories, with a maximum of 4 in any one category.
Skills are anything you want. Typically, most games have stuff like hand-to-hand combat, shooting guns, gymnastics, playing guitar, building a fire, pre-world war I diplomatic history, etc, etc. In this game, you can choose any skills you want and place a number after each one up to 4, but you can not have more than 6 points of skills.
Of course, a character needs more than just attributes and skills to be a character. You should make a triangle, and then add one personality characteristic on each side of the triangle. For example, Loyal, Folksy, and Disciplined. Then, you should write 2 quirks, eccentricities or habits such as they likes to use a yo-yo, and is a vegetarian. Finally, you should write down 1 reason why people would want this character to succeed such as they are really nice to old ladies.
You now have a character.
Resolving actions in this game is very easy. The GM chooses which Attribute you can roll with, and add any skill dice. Roll them all, the GM will let you know how many dice you can keep based on the difficulty of the action. i.e. If you are going to sweet talk an old woman, you might get to keep up to 3 dice, but if you are sweet talking a gang banger it might be only keep 1 dice.
Before you roll, you grab the dice randomly from a pile of all the Rory's Story Cubes. Roll them, and look at the symbols. Choose the ones you will keep. Use the symbols to explain how you resolved the action and what happened next.
The action is resolved.
If it is an opposed roll, both players roll their dice. You keep as many dice as the GM dictates and it may be different by player. The player that initiated the action starts by telling the story with their 1 dice, then the other player, until all dice are spent.
Lets be honest, most RPGs have combat as a key action that needs to be resolved. Again, it is very simple in this game. Weapons add dice to add, and Armor subtract it prior to the roll. Weapons can be any value based on the setting, and armor the same. For example, in a Medieval setting a viking axe might add 2, and plate armor 4 dice. In a modern game, the same plate might offer 0-1 dice removal. It can vary depending on the setting.
During play the GM or another player can randomly select a dice out of the pool and give it to another player for doing something particularly awesome. This could be good Role-play, a clever idea, a great story, etc.
This player can hold onto that dice and roll it and keep it for any subsequent action/resolution during that night of play. If you want, you can carry them over from session to session. Just grab a random dice from the pool before play begins at the next session.
If you get to 6 dice you can turn them in for 1 skill dice increase, or 10 dice for 1 Characteristic increase.
So there you go. A quick RPG game for you to go out and use. Sure, I recommend having 3 sets of Rory's Story Cubes, or you could use a deck of Tarot cards, or you could use some other way to randomly generate images/emoji's to trigger story resolutions.
I hope you enjoy it. This has been circling around in my head and concept folder for a long time. Now it is out on the page so you can do with it what you want.
You can see why I stick to wargames. In my mind, role-playing games do not need enough structure to make them fun to design. :)
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