The Solar System

the ridiculously awesome system that powers The Shadow of Yesterday

Author: Clinton R. Nixon <crnixon@anvilwerks.com>
Version: 2.0a
Date: 2005
Copyright: The Solar System is copyright 2005 Clinton R. Nixon. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.
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Table of Contents

Characters

Characters represent all sentient beings in your game. While not every stranger met by the players' characters may be fully fleshed out in terms of mechanics, all characters that could be created in the game should be able to be created with these rules. In order to define who a character is and what that character can do, there are four mechanical pieces: Pools, Abilities, Secrets, and Keys.

Pools

Pools are resources the player can spend during the game in order for their character to push harder, do more, and perform amazing feats. There are three pools: Vigor, Instinct, and Reason.

Vigor represents the character's reserves of physical power, wherewithal, and mental toughness. Characters with high Vigor are often known for bulging muscles, scarred faces, calloused hands, the "thousand-yard stare," and crushing strength.

Instinct represents the character's reserves of animal-like reactions, both physical and social. This ranges from cat-like reflexes in combat to pheromone-like sexual attraction. Characters with high Instinct are often known for their graceful motion, penetrating eyes, amazing hearing, stunning appearance, or sexual prowess.

Reason represents the character's intelligence and mental power. This could range from book knowledge to an uneducated, but highly practical mind. Characters with high Reason are often known for their vocabulary, ability to identify plants and animals, skill at games of chance, or power over others.

Pools are measured in points, and each pool ranges from one to infinite points, although a pool of more than 10 points is highly unusual. During the game, these points are spent to get bonus dice or activate secrets, but are not permanently gone. The scores on each player's character sheet represents the maximum points in each pool, and players will get a chance to refresh their characters' pools to their maximum.

Abilities

Abilities are representations of a character's skill with tasks both learned and innate. Some examples of abilities are Sailing, Tracking, Sword-fighting, and Oratory.

Abilities are always associated with a pool. This is shown by writing the name of the pool - or an abbreviation - after the ability name, like this: "Stealth (Instinct)" or just "Stealth (I)." This pool is the resource from which characters draw their strength with that ability. This pool can be used to increase one's chances with an ability. Some game effects apply to all abilities that are associated with a specific pool.

There are three abilities common to every character. These are called innate abilities. They are purely reactive, and cannot be used to initiate action. They are only used to protect your character. They are:

Endure (Vigor)
This is your character's ability to push on and persevere though pain and fatigue. It is used to test the limits of a character's physicality and fitness.
React (Instinct)
This measures the quickness of a character's body and mind. It is as much "how quick the character notices something" as "how quick the character moves."
Resist (Reason)
"Resist" is the strength of a character's will, and is used to prevent compulsion of a natural or supernatural type. This includes physical compulsion: "Resist" would be used for a character to keep his cool under torture, for example, while "Endure" would be used to see how long he could stay conscious under the same torture.

All other abilities are dependent on the game's setting. Many abilities will be considered open abilities, which means any character can take them. Some, however, will be closed abilities, which depend on a prerequisite. This prerequisite is often the species a character is or a culture the character has been exposed to.

Abilities are ranked with adjectives. An ability can have the following ranks: Nil (that is, you don't have this ability), Novice, Greenhorn, Journeyman, Master, and Grand Master. These adjectives do match up with a number, which is used in resolution.

Ability Rank Associated Number
Nil -1
Novice 0
Greenhorn 1
Journeyman 2
Master 3
Grand Master 4

Secrets

Secrets are special abilities a character can learn that augment abilities. These are often preternatural, sometimes magical, and always better than normal. In order to use Secrets, points from a pool are normally spent, meaning that Secrets can be used a limited number of times before that pool is refreshed.

Secrets can be better explained with an example:

Example

Secret of the Hidden Pocket
This character is adept at hiding objects on his person. No matter how carefully searched the character has been, he may pull an inexpensive, small (hand-sized) item off his person with a successful Stealth Ability Check. There is no need for the player to have written this item on the character sheet previously. Cost: 1 Instinct.

The available Secrets are dependent on the game's setting. Like with abilities, there are open Secrets and closed Secrets.

Keys

Keys are the primary method of increasing a character's abilities. These are goals, emotional ties, or vows a character has. By bringing these into the story, the player gains experience points (XP) he can use to advance the character, increasing pools and abilities, or learning new Secrets and Keys.

Again, an example will illustrate this better:

Example

Key of Conscience
Your character has a soft spot for those weaker than their opponents. Gain 1 XP every time your character helps someone who cannot help themselves. Gain 2 XP every time your character defends someone with might who is in danger and cannot save themselves. Gain 5 XP every time your character takes someone in an unfortunate situation and changes their life to where they can help themselves. Buyoff: Ignore a request for help.

The Buyoff shown above is a special bit about Keys. Whenever a player has a character perform the action shown in one of the Buyoffs, the player can (this is not mandatory) erase the Key and gain 10 XP.

The available Keys are dependent on the game's setting. Unlike abilities and Secrets, the number of Keys a character can have is limited. A character can have no more than five Keys at one time.

Creating a beginning character

Making your character is the one of the most important parts of playing a role-playing game. In doing so, you not only define the person you want to play, but you determine what that play will be about. Through a combination of character concepts, species, cultures, and Keys, every player gets to contribute to the content of the story.

Concept

In order to start creating a character, a concept needs to be built. The character concept cannot be generated in a vacuum, however; characters must fit together with a certain zest that makes them click, little motors ready to feed off each other. This isn't to say that all characters need to be alike, of the same species and culture, or even from the same place.

There's not a set process for how concept generation works, but it should be done as a group, in a relaxed atmosphere, preferably with whatever gets your imagination flowing, whether that be coffee, beer, music, or whatever else. Talk amongst each other, and don't think of your idea as sacrosanct: take suggestions from other players and give them back. Remember that in creating these characters, you create the landscape in which you will play.

At the end of generating character concepts, you should have a few things:

  • An idea of where your character is from.
  • A few sentences about who your character is and what he cares about.
  • A description of your character's appearance, also short.
  • A name. This is totally not optional. Pick a name before you write a number.

Many role-playing game texts will tell you to have a nearly complete idea of who your character is before play. I don't think that's necessary, though. You and your friends will get to know your character during play. What that character did before-hand is of some interest, but even those details will emerge during play easier than before play. If you were reading a book, would the author expect you to know the main character before-hand?

What you do need to know is this: what species this character is, where he's from, what he's good at, and what might be important to him.

Species

Not all games will have different species, depending on the setting. If your game doesn't, you're good to go here. If your game does have many species, you have the following questions to ask yourself when choosing a choosing one:

  • What nifty abilities and Secrets can I get because of this species?
  • How does this species fit into the culture we're playing in?
  • How does this species interact with the other characters' species?
  • What does this species represent to me? Why would I want to play this sort of character?

Culture

You will have to decide on a culture that your character is from. You and your friends have probably decided on an area in which the game will start before play, and your characters will likely come from that area and its surrounding cultures. Playing a stranger to the culture you begin play in can be fun, too. Your group will have a lot more information with your setting.

Pools

Once past the heavy-thought areas of concept, species, and culture, the fun number action begins. First up is your character's pools.

Divide 12 points among your character's pools, with a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 6 in each. (Note: this maximum is just for character creation; your character may end up with a pool later much higher than 6.)

Abilities

All characters start with the three innate abilities. Set one at Journeyman level, one at Greenhorn, and one at Novice.

Then, choose from your setting material more abilities that are available to your character. You should choose one at Journeyman level, three at Greenhorn, and six at Novice. This is just for a starting character, fresh out in the world. If you are playing more experienced characters, you'll get the chance to increase these later.

Secrets and Keys

Before play, players can choose one Secret and one Key for their characters from the setting material.

Further Advances

Lastly, players start with a number of advances for their characters. This is determined by the group before play, depending on how powerful characters are to be at the beginning of the game. The standard number is five. To figure out how to spend them, read below.

Character advancement

Each advance that you get can be banked toward improving your character's pools, abilities, Secrets, and Keys. The costs are below.

Advancement Cost
Add an ability at Novice level 1 advance
Increase an ability to:  
  • Greenhorn
1 advance
  • Journeyman
2 advances
  • Master
3 advances
  • Grand Master
6 advances
Add a point to a pool (up to 10) 1 advance
Add a point to a pool (greater than 10) 2 advances

Add a Secret

You must be taught the Secret by someone who knows it.

1 advance
Add a Key 1 advance

You can never increase the same thing twice in a row. That is, you cannot increase the same ability or pool twice in a row. You need to do increase something else in between. In addition, you cannot buy two Secrets or two Keys in a row.

Sample characters

These sample characters are from the game The Shadow of Yesterday.

Violet (starting)

beginning spear-lady

Species:Human
Culture:Khale
Gender:Female
Notes:Violet is on a mission to prove to her tribe that women can fight just as well as any man.
Advances:5

Pools

Vigor:4
Instinct:6
Reason:3

Abilities

Endure (V):Novice
React (I):Journeyman
Resist (R):Greenhorn
Spear-Fighting (V):
 Journeyman
Guerilla Warfare (I):
 Journeyman
Aim (I):Greenhorn
Music (I):Greenhorn
Stealth (I):Greenhorn
Sway (I):Novice
Athletics (V):Novice
Woodscraft (R):Novice
Tree-Bond (I):Novice
First Aid (I):Novice

Secrets

  • Secret of Speciality

    Spear-fighting vs. men

Keys

  • Key of Bloodlust
  • Key of Conscience

Violet (after some adventures)

beginning spear-lady

Species:Human
Culture:Khale
Gender:Female
Notes:Violet has left her tribe to travel in the world with Oliphant. After nearly being killed, he taught her that killing isn't always the answer, but killing Ammenites - well, someone's got to do it.
Advances:20

Pools

Vigor:6
Instinct:7
Reason:3

Abilities

Endure (V):Greenhorn
React (I):Journeyman
Resist (R):Greenhorn
Spear-Fighting (V):
 Master
Guerilla Warfare (I):
 Journeyman
Aim (I):Journeyman
Music (I):Greenhorn
Stealth (I):Greenhorn
Sway (I):Greenhorn
First Aid (I):Greenhorn
Athletics (V):Greenhorn
Woodscraft (R):Greenhorn
Tree-Bond (I):Novice

Secrets

  • Secret of Speciality

    Spear-fighting vs. men

  • Secret of the Signature Weapon

  • Secret of Imbuement

    spear +2 harm when fighting Ammenites

Keys

  • Key of Bloodlust (bought off)

  • Key of Conscience

  • Key of Fraternity

    Oliphant

Oliphant (starting)

young goblin in love

Species:Goblin
Culture:Maldor
Gender:Male
Notes:Oliphant loves morphing things and is off to find the secret of moon-metal. He is in love with Violet.
Advances:5

Pools

Vigor:7
Instinct:2
Reason:3

Note: Goblins can start with higher Vigor than normal, but less Reason.

Abilities

Endure (V):Novice
React (I):Greenhorn
Resist (R):Journeyman
Adaptability (V):
 Journeyman
Discern Truth (R):
 Greenhorn
Transformation (I):
 Greenhorn
Enthrallment (R):
 Greenhorn
Enhancement (I):
 Greenhorn
Pray (V):Greenhorn
Freeload (I):Novice
Destruction (V):
 Novice
Theft (I):Novice
Scrounging (I):Novice

Secrets

  • Secret of the Addiction

    breaking stuff

  • Secret of Adaptability

  • Secret of Body Weaponry

    stone mohawk, +1 armor when scrapping

  • Three-Corner Magic: Living Morph

Keys

  • Key of the Affliction

    Violet

Oliphant (after some adventures)

magical and heart-broken goblin

Species:Goblin
Culture:Maldor
Gender:Male
Notes:Oliphant loves morphing things and is off to find the secret of moon-metal. He is in love with Violet.
Advances:20

Pools

Vigor:7
Instinct:2
Reason:3

Abilities

Endure (V):Novice
React (I):Greenhorn
Resist (R):Journeyman
Transformation (I):
 Master
Adaptability (V):
 Journeyman
Discern Truth (R):
 Journeyman
Enhancement (I):
 Journeyman
Pray (V):Greenhorn
Enthrallment (R):
 Greenhorn
Destruction (V):
 Novice
Freeload (I):Novice
Theft (I):Novice
Scrounging (I):Novice

Secrets

  • Secret of the Addiction

    Breaking stuff. This addiction is conquered.

  • Secret of Adaptability

  • Secret of Body Weaponry

    stone mohawk, +2 armor when fighting Ammenites

  • Three-Corner Magic: Living Morph

  • Three-Corner Magic: Secret of the Invisible Hand

  • Three-Corner Magic: Empower Others

Keys

  • Key of the Affliction

    Violet

  • Key of Unrequited Love

    Violet

Captain Shin Qui (starting)

a spaceship captain from a theoretical SF game

Species:Human
Culture:Sino-Hindi Alliance
Gender:Male
Notes:Captain Shin Qui owns a Bumblebee-class freight ship, the Tranquility, and takes his rag-tag crew of mysterious souls around the known systems transporting goods of dubious legality.
Advances:5

Pools

Vigor:4
Instinct:5
Reason:4

Abilities

Endure (V):Journeyman
React (I):Greenhorn
Resist (R):Novice
Command (R):Journeyman
Scrapping (V):Journeyman
Bolt-Thrower (V):
 Greenhorn
Pilot (R):Greenhorn
Haggling (I):Greenhorn
First Aid (R):Greenhorn
Crime-wise (R):Novice
Sway (I):Novice
Savoir-Faire (I):
 Novice
Deceit (I):Novice

Secrets

Secret of Imbuement
The Tranquility provides the Secret of Speciality to whoever pilots it. +1 bonus dice to outrun the law.

Keys

Key of Vengeance
The Sino-Hindi Alliance destroyed the Rebels of Buddha at the Battle of Point Tranquility. Shin Qui was a Sergeant of the Enlightened with the Rebels and since has hated the Alliance.

Captain Shin Qui (after some adventures)

a spaceship captain from a theoretical SF game

Species:Human
Culture:Sino-Hindi Alliance
Gender:Male
Notes:Captain Shin Qui owns a Bumblebee-class freight ship, the Tranquility, and takes his rag-tag crew of mysterious souls around the known systems transporting goods of dubious legality.
Advances:30

Pools

Vigor:6
Instinct:6
Reason:5

Abilities

Endure (V):Journeyman
React (I):Greenhorn
Resist (R):Novice
Command (R):Master
Scrapping (V):Master
Crime-wise (R):Master
Bolt-Thrower (V):
 Journeyman
Pilot (R):Greenhorn
Haggling (I):Greenhorn
First Aid (R):Greenhorn
Deceit (I):Greenhorn
Sway (I):Greenhorn
Savoir-Faire (I):
 Novice

Secrets

  • Secret of Imbuement

    The Tranquility provides the Secret of Speciality to whoever pilots it. +1 bonus dice to outrun the law.

  • Secret of Disarm

  • Secret of Counter-blow

  • Secret of Evaluate

Keys

  • Key of Vengeance

    The Sino-Hindi Alliance destroyed the Rebels of Buddha at the Battle of Point Tranquility. Shin Qui was a Sergeant of the Enlightened with the Rebels and since has hated the Alliance.

  • Key of Conscience

  • Key of Unrequited Love

    Shin Qui has fallen in love - but not admitted to himself yet - with Black Hole Dancer, a sacred medicine woman/prostitute from the Sky Reservations that has taken passage on the Tranquility.

Resolution

In role-playing games, when a player wants their character to perform an action with an uncertain outcome, we have to resolve that action. In the Solar System, almost all resolution is what we call conflict resolution. It's a bit of a confusing term: don't all role-playing games have rules for resolving conflicts?

That's true, but many resolve conflicts piece by little piece. If your character's fighting someone, for example, each hit might be a separate task that gets resolved in some games. Using the Solar System, the entire fight is resolved at once, and then we describe how it went down. Those ups and downs may still be described, but the outcome of the entire conflict is what the system determines.

The Ability Check

The way we determine outcomes in the Solar System is called an Ability Check. When performing an uncertain action, the player needs to state his basic intention for the character and the ability they are using. (They don't have to have this ability on their character sheet, but, as you'll see, it helps.) This is not a full description of the action, as the dice provide a randomizer that let the player know how well this action happened. After stating the character's intention and deciding on the relevant ability, the Ability Check is made.

The Ability Check involves a dice roll. This roll uses special dice you can find at hobby stores or online called "Fudge dice." They were originally invented for a neat little role-playing game called Fudge. They are six-sided dice; two sides of them have plus signs on them, two sides are blank, and two sides have minus signs. If you don't have any, you can make your own really easily. Get a red and a green marker and some white dice. Color two sides red and two sides green, and you've got Fudge dice. The plus sides are +1, the blank sides are 0, and the minus sides are -1, in case you didn't know.

After you've got weird dice, the process is pretty simple: roll three dice and add them to your character's rank in the ability being used. As you probably remember, each ability rank has a number associated with it. That's what you use here. So, a character who is a Greenhorn (1) in Scrapping that rolls two pluses and a minus on the dice has a total of 2. That's your success level (SL). There's only one trick to this: you can't get lower than zero. It's a hard bottom number, and if you end up with -1 or something, it's just zero.

Just like every ability rank has an associated number, each success level has an associated name.

Success Level Chart
0 Failure
1 Marginal
2 Good
3 Great
4 Amazing
5 Legendary
6 Ultimate
7 Transcendent

That name is just there to help you describe the outcome. It doesn't have a mechanical effect. A Marginal success is all that is needed to succeed at most tasks in the game. A few hard tasks may require a Good success.

Bonus and penalty dice

While a ability score determines the range of your character's ability, bonus and penalty dice are a mechanic to determine the consistency of your character's ability. When making a Ability Check, bonus dice add to the number of dice rolled, as do penalty dice. Roll three Fudge dice, plus a number of Fudge dice equal to all your bonus and penalty dice. Whenever possible, bonus and penalty dice cancel each other out, so if you have two bonus dice and a penalty die before your roll, you end up with only one bonus die.

After you roll, remove a number of your dice equal to your penalty dice, starting with pluses. If you run out of pluses, remove blanks, and then minuses. Bonus dice work the opposite way: you remove minuses first, then blanks, then pluses. More simply, penalty dice take away your highest rolls. Bonus dice take away your lowest rolls.

Players can always spend one point from the ability's associated pool to get one bonus die on a Ability Check. This is limited to one bonus die per Ability Check.

Expanding the Ability Check

The Ability Check is the core of this system and all other mechanics derive from it, this injection of fortune, that serves as resolution for both instant actions and entire scenes. Here we break down the ways the mechanics grow from the Ability Check.

Range and accuracy

As a designer, I firmly believe that randomness is the core of a good RPG system. Bad applications of it, though, are the downfall of many ill-conceived systems. So, if I'm going to screw around with probability, I owe the reader an explanation of how it works in this game.

Every Ability Check in this game can be described in terms of range and accuracy. The term range refers to all the possible outcomes of an Ability Check. As the player rolls three Fudge dice, results from minus three to plus three plus a character's pertinent ability are always the range of a check. Note that a character with no ability has a range with no result better than Good (2), and a character with a Master ability cannot fail. Related to this is the idea of an average outcome, the outcome most expected with any level of ability. Since zero is the most likely outcome on any roll of three Fudge dice, characters with no ability (-1) or a Novice (1) ability can be expected to fail most of the time. Characters do not succeed on average until their ability reaches Greenhorn (1).

Range seems like a simple concept, and it is. It's also very important, though: notice that a character with even a Novice ability always has a chance of beating a character with a Grand Master, albeit small. This is entirely on purpose: with this system, your character has a limit to how good he might do at a task, but it always might be good enough to beat the other guy.

Accuracy is the other parent of an average outcome. Ability Checks can have bonus and penalty dice, as explained in Chapter 2. Each bonus die raises the chance of having a higher result significantly, increasing accuracy. Penalty dice do the opposite, lowering the average outcome, thereby lowering accuracy. Knowledge of the exact statistic is not necessary to play the game, but it's sometimes nice to know that you have a very decent chance of beating a character with an ability one higher than your character if you have a bonus die.

Intention, Initiation, Execution, and Effect

Although the Ability Check seems very simple, there's more involved than it seems at first glance. Every time your character takes an action, there are four steps involved: Intention, Initiation, Execution, and Effect. Here's how these break down:

Intention
The player announces the intended action for the character. No movement or action has happened yet, though. The intention and its consequences may be discussed among the GM and players and changed.
Initiation
The player has committed his character to the task, and no changes can be made now. The dice hit the table.
Execution
The character completes his action. The player adds the dice to the character's ability to figure out the success level.
Effect
The players and GM decide what the effect of the task is, whether successfully completed or not.

Now, that sounds like a lot to go through every time you roll the dice. Normally, this all happens without thinking too much about it, making it quick. A player states, "My character's going to do something," he rolls dice, everyone looks to see how the character did, and a decision about what happened occurs.

The reason I bring up the four steps is because if you never think about them, you can cause tension among the players and GM. Imagine a player, Joe, stating, "Jack, my character, hits the priest right in the chest with a sword blow." Now, following the four steps, you realize this has not happened in the game, but is just Joe stating his intention. (While his statement was technically incorrect, in that he stated it happened, and it was an intention, this is a common way of stating intention in role-playing games.)

Carrying on with this example, though, what if the GM is confused about the four steps? He may take this as initiation, for example, and when he says, "The priest grabs his black mace," Joe might want his character Jack to back off. If the GM thinks the above statement was initiation, though, Joe can't do this, and may get angry at the GM for withholding the information that the priest had this mace.

And in the end, what if the group is confused about effect? If Joe's roll is successful, a confused group might think that Joe's stated intention for Jack is exactly what happens. This is not necessarily so: the outcome of the dice and disposition of the players might determine a different effect.

The point is this: take your time to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to a character performing a task. While the first game or two might run a bit slower than normal because steps are being heavily delineated, the speed will pick up as everyone gets used to following them.

Types of Ability Checks and how they work

While the Ability Check is the core mechanic that ties this entire game together, it actually comes in several forms, each of which add on a layer of complexity.

The first and most simple type is the unopposed Ability Check. This is used when a player wants his character to try a task in which no other character is attempting any action which would stop him. There are four steps to the unopposed Ability Check, and all other types of Ability Checks.

First, the player states the character's intention. This should be easy: "Pieter is going to try to climb that boulder" is a good example.

Second, the Story Guide sets the difficulty of the Ability Check. This is determined simply. If the task is one that any person could do, even if unlikely, the difficulty is Marginal. The player must get a Marginal or better result in order to succeed. If the task is one that requires specialized training or information, the difficulty is Good.

An example will clarify this further. Let's use climbing - it always seems to illustrate this well. The difficulty is Marginal to climb anything an untrained person could climb, no matter how much effort is required. A tree, a fence, a wall, the side of a house, or a rocky mountain can all be climbed by amateurs. The difficulty is Good if the climbing would normally require specialized training. A hundred-yard sheer rock face usually requires knowledge of belaying, rope use, pitons, and the like. An amateur might, under optimal conditions, make it, but generally this requires training. Therefore, it is of Good difficulty to climb a sheer rock face of any height.

The third step is determining circumstances. This is where bonus and penalty dice come into play. Characters may often have either bonus or penalty dice because of Secrets activated, pools spent, harm taken, or The Gift of Dice, as shown below. In addition to any bonus or penalty dice outlined elsewhere in these rules, the Story Guide may assign one or two penalty dice to any Ability Check. One penalty die may be assigned if circumstances render a task especially difficulty. A penalty die would not be assigned to our example climber above if it were drizzling, or dark, or a bit chilly, but one could be assigned if there was an icy wind and hard rain coming down at night. Two penalty dice can be assigned in the very worst of circumstances. A good measure of whether to assign two penalty dice is if the description of the circumstances elicits a stream of profanity from a player. We're talking about seriously nasty conditions here - hail coming down in the midst of an icy rain while gale-force winds tear at our poor climber in the pitch dark.

The fourth and last step is actually rolling the dice. If the success level is equal or better than the difficulty, the character has succeeded. The Story Guide and players should use the success level to describe how the character performed at the stated intention.

The next type of Ability Check is the competitive Ability Check. This occurs when two or more characters are attempting the same task, but each wants to do it better or faster. All rules for the standard Ability Check apply, and in addition, the conditions of victory are set before the Ability Check: if the Check is over a foot-race, the victor went the fastest; if it's composing a song, the victor made a better piece of work. This should be fairly obvious, but the Story Guide and players can decide together what the conditions of victory are if there's any question.

All players with competing characters make Ability Checks. After Ability Checks are made, any character who succeeded actually completed the task with some proficiency and the player can use the success level to compute any relevant outcomes. The character of the player with the highest total score, however, completed the task better or faster, and the other characters are ranked in the order of their players' rolls. In the case of a tie, the characters' feats are so close in speed and quality that a winner cannot be determined between them. They can either tie, or if the players and Story Guide want to, those players can roll again to see which is the victor.

The last type of Ability Check is the resisted Ability Check. This Check, most common in role-playing games, occurs when two characters attempt tasks that would cancel out each other. Examples include:

  • One character swinging a sword at another character dodging.
  • One character trying to get information by twisting another character's arm, who is attempting to suffer through the pain.
  • One character sneaking up on a character who is keeping watch.
  • One character offering a romp in bed to a character who is trying to deny the pleasures of the flesh.

All normal Ability Check rules apply to resisted Checks. The two players involved make their Ability Checks and then compare their scores. The higher of the two wins: in the case of a tie, the instigator of the action loses.

When narrating a resisted Ability Check, both players' success levels come into account. For purposes of computing results, the winner's success level is used, but the loser's efforts are still significant. An example:

Example

The character Violet, played by Kim, is attempting to drive the character Lore, played by Wilhelm, to his knees with a savage sword attack. Upon rolling, Kim ends up with an Amazing success level, and Wilhelm ends up with a Great success level. Kim's roll wins, but Lore still made a great block. The action is narrated as, "Violet brings up her sword and makes a vicious stroke down, aiming for the lower leg. Lore, anticipating the swing, throws his shield in the way, but the sword crashes down it, the force driving the shield itself back into Lore's shins as he falls."

The losing player must abide by the winner's stated intention for the Ability Check, even if it was "I kill that sorry character." That's not entirely true, though: what sort of game would this be if your character could die from one roll of the dice? To see how to extract your character from any sticky situation you don't like, see "Bringing Down the Pain" below.

Using abilities together

If you want your character to perform a complex action that uses two abilities together, decide with the GM which ability is most appropriate to the action and which is secondary. The secondary ability is used first and the success levels are used as bonus dice on the second Ability Check. The GM and player will have to decide what happens if the first Ability Check is failed: in some situations, the second Ability Check can still be attempted without harm; in others, the Ability Check can be attempted with a penalty die; and in others still, the second Ability Check cannot be attempted.

Example

A character is trying to cut a thong from a guard's belt and snatch his keys, using Swords to chop the thong, and Stealth to grab the keys without being seen. While he is using Swords to actually get the keys free, the Stealth part of the action is most important. The player makes a Swords Ability Check. If successful, the success levels are converted to bonus dice on the Stealth Ability Check. If unsuccessful, however, the keys are still on the guard's belt, so the Stealth Ability Check cannot be attempted.

Example 2

Another character wants to approach a wild bear without getting attacked using Animal Ken. In order to help with this, he's going to attempt to remember what bears like to eat and see if he can find some, using Woodscraft. The Woodscraft Ability Check is secondary, and if successful, will add bonus dice to the Animal Ken Ability Check. If unsuccessful, there is no complication; the character just must approach the bear with no food gift.

Bringing Down the Pain

Simple Ability Checks are well and good, and make resolution a quick and painless matter. Sometimes, though, for that dramatic punch, you need something a bit more gritty and focused. In this game, that is an expanded resolution system called Bringing Down the Pain. Bringing Down the Pain is a unique option for players to allow them to not only get out of sticky situations, but focus the story where they want it.

Any player involved in a conflict can Bring Down the Pain after a resisted Ability Check. Normally, a player has to abide by the results of this check. However, when a character belonging to a player - a player that is not the Story Guide - loses at a resisted Ability Check, that player does not have to accept the outcome. Instead, he can ask that the Pain be Brought Down. On the flip side, a player can demand this even when he succeeds at a resisted Ability Check. This not only allows him to zoom in the imagined camera on this conflict, but is the only way to permanently injure or get rid of a major named character controlled by the Story Guide.

The Story Guide cannot Bring Down the Pain. He can request it, but another player involved in the conflict must actually declare it.

When a player declares they are Bringing Down the Pain, action breaks down into a blow-by-blow, gritty basis instead of overall conflict resolution. Both sides of the conflict must make certain their intention - their goal - is clarified and well-stated, for it is very important here. This intention must be clear, but can allow room for differing actions to achieve the goal: "drive away these opponents in battle," "embarrass the noble in front of his peers," or "out-perform this guy on the guitar" are all fine intentions.

After intentions are stated, everyone who has a character involved in the conflict should state what their action will be. Actions can be changed during this stage, where everything, even actions hidden to the characters, is discussed in the open. (In Ron Edwards' Trollbabe, this is called the free-and-clear stage.) Whose actions affect who is important to establish here. Actions can be visualized as perpendicular or parallel actions. What I mean this is:

Perpendicular actions get in the way of each other. If Violet's action is to stab Lore with a spear and Lore's action is to trip up Violet, these actions are perpendicular. They're fighting each other, and part of that is keeping advantage.

Parallel actions do not necessarily get in the way of each other. Let's say Violet is trying to convince Lore to join her ragtag group of misfits. Lore would rather her shut up and is cooking her dinner, hoping the smell of his righteous cooking distracts her. Both of these people can do this at the same time, and the winner will definitely have an effect on the loser, but as far as actions go, they don't get in the way of each other.

There is one other type of action, the defensive action. You can use a relevant innate ability (Endure, React, Resist) to resist what's happening to your character. You cannot deal harm this way, but otherwise it counts as a perpendicular action.

After the free-and-clear stage, everyone rolls Ability Checks for their action. If two characters are taking action against each other (perpendicular actions), this is a resisted Ability Check. The loser at this check takes harm equal to the difference between the success levels, possibly modified by Secrets and weapons. If the actions are parallel, both sides take harm equal to their attacker's success level.

When all rolls are resolved, another free-and-clear stage begins. This continues until one side of the conflict gives up, at which time the winners' intentions happen. The trick to Bringing Down the Pain lies in this rule: in any free-and-clear stage, a player can announce that he is changing his character's intention completely. This could change from "sneak up on my enemy" to "kill my enemy," "best the queen in a war of words" to "seduce the queen," or even "out-play this guy on the guitar" to "magically put this guy to sleep." He does not have to state the new intention until the next free-and-clear stage. During this volley of rolls, he may only make a defensive action.

There is one exception to the idea that it takes a round to change your intention. If you and an opponent find yourself at a stalemate - you have perpendicular actions and roll the same success level - you can both immediately change intentions.

Harm and defeat

"Harm" in this game does not necessarily refer to physical, blood-and-guts rending of flesh and bone. Instead, it is a quality of both the character in the context of the game world and the character in context of the real world. Harm is a count-down of when a player loses control over his character, and can be expressed as any of these things in-game:

  • Cuts and bruises
  • Fatigue and weariness
  • Embarrassment and crushed esteem
  • Loss of concentration and will

Whenever a successful Ability Check is made against a character while Bringing Down the Pain, that character takes harm. The base harm is equal to the success level of the acting player's roll, which can be modified by Secrets or weapons. Again, the type of action being done against the character does not matter - you can take harm from seduction as easily as you can from a sword.

Take that success level and check off the corresponding box on the harm tracker on your character sheet. If that checkbox is already filled, check the next highest unchecked one. You'll see that one to three harm is bruised. This means on your very next ability check, you'll have a penalty die. These add up - if you get bruised twice in a round of Bringing Down the Pain, you'll have two penalty dice. Four to six harm is bloodied. Write down beside the checkbox either "Vigor," "Instinct," or "Reason," depending on the type of harm you took. This is usually determined by the associated pool from the ability used to harm you, but might be different if everyone involved agrees. All your abilities that are associated with that pool now take a penalty die. Seven harm is broken. If broken, in order for your character to perform any action, even defense, you must spend a point from the ability's associated pool, and you still receive one penalty die to this action.

Harm past broken results in the attacker's intention immediately happening.

At any point during Bringing Down the Pain, a player may decide that the harm taken is enough for this conflict and give up. Before a free-and-clear stage, the player gives up the conflict, and his opponent's intention occurs. It is often a good idea to give up before your opponent changes to a more deadly intention.

After Bringing Down the Pain, harm "shakes out." That means that all damage collapses into the low end of the harm tracker. As an example, if you had checks at 2, 3, and 6 on the harm tracker, they'd collapse to 1, 2, and 3 after Bringing Down the Pain. Healing works in this same way: if someone rolls an Ability Check to get rid of your harm (First Aid and Counsel could do this), it removes the harm you have corresponding to their success level, or the highest harm you have if their success level is higher. All harm above their success level collapses down.

Example of Bringing Down the Pain and harm

In this example, there are two players, Matt and Emily. The pertinent parts of their two characters are:

  • 'Emily's character:' Tela, a Zaru assassin. Her pools are currently at Vigor 2, Instinct 2, and Reason 1. Her pertinent abilities are React: Master, Sneak: Master, Deceit: Greenhorn, and Knife Fighting: Journeyman.
  • 'Matt's character:' Gael, a noble from Ammeni. His pools are currently at Vigor 5, Instinct 1, and Reason 3. His pertinent abilities are React: Journeyman, Sense Danger: Journeyman, Dash: Greenhorn, and Viper-Blade: Grand Master.

Gael is traveling down an alley-way when Tela sights him, and slides into the shadows to follow him. Emily states, "I want Tela to sneak up on this guy." She makes a resisted Ability Check of Sneak versus Gael's Sense Danger and rolls a -1 versus his 0, for a total of SL 2 versus SL 2. "Screw that," she says, and spends a point of Instinct to roll a bonus die. Matt has the same opportunity, but wants to conserve his Instinct pool, since it's low. She ends up with a roll of 0, for a total of SL 3 - a Great success!

Up until this point, the action has been taken care of by a simple Ability Check. According to the Check, Emily wins, and Tela will sneak up on Gael, giving Emily three bonus dice to perform an action that uses that advantage. Matt's not having it, though: he wants his character out of here, and away from Tela. He says, "No way. I'm not accepting that outcome. It's time to Bring Down the Pain. My goal is for Gael to notice Tela, and get away from her." Emily decides to keep her intention of sneaking up on Gael.

During the free-and-clear phase, Matt says, "Ok, Gael stops for a moment and scans the area as the hair on the back of his neck stands up." Notice that Gael knows something's wrong: that's because Matt refused the outcome of the simple Ability Check. Also notice that Matt can narrate whatever he wants for Gael's action, as long as it stays within his goal. Emily, confident in her character's abilities, says "I'm going to creep along the wall slowly towards him, staying in the shadows." Another roll is made of Gael's Sense Danger versus Tela's Sneak, and Matt wins this check, with SL 3 (Great) versus SL 2 (Good). Tela takes a harm at level 1 - she's bruised.

Matt says, "A-ha! Gael sees a glimmer in the shadows behind him, and starts to move quickly away from it." Emily asks the Story Guide, "If I throw some rocks to make noise ahead of Gael, can I count them as a weapon, +1 harm to deceive him about my location?" The Guide agrees that the idea's sound, and Emily says, "Tela scoops up some pebbles and throws them ahead of Gael, trying to confuse him as to her location." Her Deceit's pretty low, so she spends her one point of Reason for a bonus die, canceling out her penalty die from being bruised, and nails it, beating Matt's Sense Danger Ability Check, scoring SL 4 (Amazing) versus his SL 2 (Good). With the +1 weapon, that's harm level 3 to Gael.

Matt's in trouble now. He says, "As Gael takes off forward, a sound rattles him, and he spins, looking confused, but shakes it off." Emily says gleefully, "Seeing the Ammenite's confusion, Tela dives and rolls across the alley to get behind him." Matt's worried, but thinks the dice have got to go his way. He says, "Gael spins around, scanning the area for the unseen intruder." Just to be careful, he spends a point from his Instinct pool for a bonus die. They roll, and he gets a SL 3 (Good). Unfortunately, the dice are hot for Emily, and she rolls +3; she's got a grand total of SL 6 - an Ultimate success! That's harm level 3 for Gael, but he's already taken harm level 3, so that's level 4. Gael is now bloodied in Instinct, and has a penalty die to all actions that use it, including Sense Danger. "Crap," he mutters. "I'm changing my intention. Gael's just going to high-tail it, trying to avoid danger."

Emily's grinning from ear to ear. "As Gael runs, Tela's going to flit from shadow to shadow, staying right behind him." They roll, his Dash now versus her Sneak. Dash uses Vigor for its pool, so Matt spends a point. Again, Emily wins: her roll comes up as a Good success versus his Marginal and Gael takes harm level 1. Emily narrates, "Tela moves so quickly, she gets in front of Gael before he can notice. As he runs, he comes face to face with the assassin."

It's Matt's turn, but Gael's got a penalty die. If he gives up, though, Tela will have cornered him, which he doesn't want, especially not this damaged. He glowers, "Gael's running as fast as he can." Emily smiles, "I'm changing intention if he's going to run." Matt figures that he can beat her in a foot-race, so he goes ahead and rolls Dash, with a penalty die, versus Tela's React: she could not sneak, but only defend this turn. With a low roll from Emily, he wins, scoring a mere Good Success Level versus her Marginal. She takes harm level 1, but that's already happened, so harm level 2 - a bruise.

In the next free-and-clear phase, Emily says, "Screw this. Want to know my intention? I'm killing this Ammenite."

Matt's in a real sticky situation now. He's got a plan, though: with plenty more points in Vigor, he can change his intention, and spend his last point of Instinct to defend when Tela attacks Gael this turn, which he knows she will. His Viper-Blade is awesome, and his weapon's +2 versus Zaru. It's risky, but if he gives up this turn, Gael's dead, and he thinks he can scare Emily by dealing some serious damage next turn. He says, "Gael falls back, baffled and frightened by the sudden raise of a dagger. I'm changing intention." Emily says, "I spend a Vigor point. Tela brings the dagger in, stabbing at Gael." The roll is tense, SL 5 to SL 1, with Matt losing. That would be harm level 4, but that's already taken, so harm level 5 to Gael. He's now bloodied in both Instinct and Vigor, and is going to have a hard time getting out of this one.

Multiple characters in a conflict

For simple Ability Checks, having multiple characters involved is easy to handle. If the characters are using varying abilities, each building to help another one, it's handled like one character using abilities together. Decide the order the checks have to be performed in, and have each player roll, with success levels being added as bonus dice to the next player's roll. As with one character, failure at an Ability Check may mean that the overall action cannot continue, that the next player must roll a penalty die on his Ability Check, or that the checks may continue, with no penalty dice.

If multiple characters are using the same, or fairly equivalent, abilities to perform a task together, use the method above, with the following caveats:

  • Failure always means the next player adds a penalty die to his roll.
  • Always roll from the character with the highest ability to the character with the least ability.
  • If a penalty die is given from the Story Guide because of difficulty, it applies to all rolls.

This does mean that having a character weak with the ability helping may hinder the task.

Example

Mike, Wil, and Susan are going to have their characters Miska, Wolf-Snarl, and Skala try to open a stuck door together. All of them are using Athletics to do this, pushing against the door with their shoulders. Their scores are:

  • Wolf-Snarl: Athletics (Journeyman)
  • Skala: Athletics (Greenhorn)
  • Miska: no Athletics

Wil rolls success level 2. With two bonus dice, Susan rolls success level 3. Finally, with three bonus dice, Mike rolls a +1, with a -1 for plus Miska's lack of Athletics, for success level 0 - a Failure.

Wil has Wolf-Snarl growl, "Out of my way, weakling," and grab the door alone. Even with a roll of -1, Wolf-Snarl scores success level 1 and yanks the door open.

If Bringing Down the Pain is the ultimate way to test two differing wills, how to you manage it when more people want to get in on the fun? The standard way is easy: whenever one player declares that he wants to Bring Down the Pain, any character around can get involved. Part of the declaration of intention is who you're planning to affect: your character can only damage that character until you change intention. The Bringing Down of the Pain does not end until only one character is left standing, or all the other players have given up.

The Zeitgeist method of group Pain-Bringing may be an easier and more fun way to arbitrate these situations. If everyone on one side of a conflict has a similar intention towards the other side, you can use the above rules for a group Ability Check when everyone is using similar abilities. In the Zeitgeist mode, anyone can spend from their pools to help anyone else, and damage taken is distributed by the losing side among their characters however they like. Whenever a character is broken, his player falls out of the group Pain-Bringing.

Weapons and armor

Ah, weapons and armor - the love of any player, and an oft-fetishized part of any role-playing game. In the Solar System, harm is, as shown above, an erosion of a character's ability to get his way, instead of always being physical pain and suffering. Therefore, weapons aren't just swords, knifes, clubs, and the like, and armor isn't just padding a character wears on his body. Anything can be a weapon - but only in certain situations.

Weapons add to the success level of a successful action. Armor subtracts from the success level of a successful action done to your character. In both cases, the items can have +1, +2, or +3 ratings. The level of the rating is determined by the specificity of the harm or protection.

  • Weapons and armor with a +1 rating work in specific situations determined by action taken, and often ability used. Examples include:

    • A sword that gives +1 harm in combat.
    • A royal crest that provides +1 protection when involved in diplomacy.
    • A lute that deals +1 harm in attempts to win a crowd while playing it.
  • Weapons and armor with a +2 rating work in situations with a specific type of people, environment, or other restrictions. Examples include:

    • A mace that gives +2 harm against "hard" armors, like plate or chain.
    • The Seal of Maldor, which provides +2 protection against the law in Maldor.
    • A set of snowshoes, which deal +2 harm in attempts to race across snowy areas.
  • Weapons and armor with a +3 rating work in rare situations or against particular persons. Examples include:

    • A dagger forged to kill the Potenate of Ammeni, which deals +3 harm in attempts to kill him.
    • A writ of birthday immunity, which gives +3 protection against any attempt to prosecute a person for crimes committed on their birthday.
    • A set of goggles which give +3 harm while trying to see motion during an eclipse.

An item can have more than one bonus - it can have up to three +1, two +2, and one +3 bonus.

Weapons and armor can occur in the game in two ways. The Story Guide can declare any item in the game to give +1 harm or protection in a particular situation. Alternatively, any player can declare his character's equipment to have a bonus with the Secret of Imbuement. This purchase is subject to Story Guide approval.

The Gift of Dice

At the beginning of each session of the game, every player including the Story Guide receives a number of gift dice equal to the number of players at the table. At any point during the game, one of these dice can be given to another player to be added as a bonus die to that player's current Ability Check. This is most often used when a player's character is attempting something especially dangerous, or the player describes his character's intention in a cool way.

These gift dice are an important part of play and should not be forgotten. They encourage cooperation among the players as much as among the characters.

Pool refreshment

Whenever an attribute is not at its full level, it can be refreshed, restoring it to its full level by the character performing an in-game action.

Vigor is refreshed whenever you engage in an act of physical exertion (including physical abuse, such as drugs, drinking, staying out all night) with another character, specifically for the intent of enjoying yourself. If it is a physical contest, you must win.

Instinct is refreshed whenever you engage in an act of social pleasure (examples: a date, going to a party, playing a game of chance) with another character. If it is a social contest, you must win.

Reason is refreshed whenever you engage in an act of intellectual stimulation (examples: a night at the opera, a philosophical debate, playing a game of skill) with another another. If it is an intellectual contest, you must win.

Note that if no one cares who wins, it's not a contest.