Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Kill it With Fire RPG Rules

Latest edid: Earl of Crode is gone, as is talk of racial classes. Sorry, Earl, but I decided player freedom was more important than the false dichotomy of racial flavor.

This is the first post of the whole darn blog, wherein I will detail the beginnings of my retro-clone and give you a basic rundown of the rules. The rules simple enough that I can get their skeleton into one smallish post, but in the future fancy PDFs will be slightly bigger/prettier.

Also the rules are free for private use, but don't republish them elsewhere without my permission, especially for filthy lucre, okay?
Kill It With Fire!
The RPG with an old school feel and six-sided dice all over the place.

The Philosophy:

A simple to get into, modular RPG that involves a minimum of exploitable features, a maximum of player freedom, lots of chance tempered by quick, easy, and predictable math. Six-sided dice are the dice of choice for this game to match the above goals, but other, more exotic dice are possible for experienced and die-curious groups.

Kill It With Fire! is an adventure game to be played primarily in the imagination of the participants. Each player will have different goals, such as to get treasure or kill a legendary monster. After they have achieved their goals (or died trying), they may retire their in-game avatar if they so choose and start a new one, or make new goals. Adventure games can rarely be completed in one game session, so it is important for a referee player to keep a record of events that should be summarized at the start of each new session. The referee is also the person responsible for deciding the specifics of the shared game world, plot hooks, the actions of non-player characters, and ruling on situations that the rules don't cover. He or she should not be a jerk.
The Basics

You are represented by an avatar: a character that inhabits a shared game world and is much like a character in a novel, movie, or comic. These characters are only as realistic as you feel like making them, but they have some limitations that are generated at the character's creation. The referee also gets a say in limitations, so you need confer with them.

Whenever the character has a challenge with important chances of failure, the controlling player is going to roll some dice. The dice in question are assumed to be six-sided, but this is a modular game that encourages variations on the rules. Speaking of which, there are optional rules all over the place for you to check off if your referee has dictated their use in your group. Always consult with the referee, for they control the tone of the game.

Traits

For attacks in situations where your character must fight, you will be trying to roll high numbers by adding some modifiers based on one of your character's traits. Successful attacks also generally let you roll for damage, which would of course ideally be high. For other situations, i.e. all non-attack checks, you will generally be trying to roll low, within the same traits’ limitations.

The assumed traits for each character in the unmodified rules are the following:

  • Prowess: a measure of strength, athletic might, acrobatics, and battle aptitude
  • Brains: your intelligence, awareness, levity, sanity, aplomb, and experience
  • Body: how hale you are and how much punishment you can take
  • Coordination: one’s speed, finesse, balance, hand-eye coordination
In addition, there may be other traits that are limited to certain kinds of characters. These will be noted in the Classes section.

□ Optional rule: You can replace the above traits with those of other classic games you may be familiar with. You’ll have to figure out how to calculate your defenses with the referee in this case.

□ Optional rule: Your group may use additional traits regularly, such as luck, wealth, psionics, ki, honor, social status, or comeliness. Or the referee may see the need for such a trait and have you roll it on the fly, thereafter having it be a referencable part of your character. There are blank spots on the character sheet for these.

When you get a new character sheet, you need to determine the traits your character has. The way to generate each trait is to roll one die apiece for them. If you roll a six, keep a note of it and set that die's value to five (we'll cover what that notation of rolling a six will be used for in the Checks section). Characters can never have a six in a trait, for there is a limitation in the game world's physics. However, situations in game may temporarily allow a trait to increase to six or beyond, as will be detailed in the Checks section. If a trait would somehow permanently be changed to a 6, instead set it to five and make a note of it, as above.

In any case, the basic character sheet will have an illustration of a die with five pips (dots). You may fill in one pip on that illustration for each point of trait that you rolled.

As each trait more or less represents a percentage of chance that a check will succeed, a trait of 1 is considered poor, while a trait of 5 is considered excellent, but try not to get hung up on using these numbers to simulate reality; this is a storytelling fantasy game.
Checks

There are two kinds of checks in the game. A check is when you roll dice to see if you achieve a success at something with a chance of failure.

Combat checks

To attack something, you will need to make a check against the appropriate defense of your target. When you roll an attack, you will usually roll three dice and add an appropriate bonus based upon the key trait involved, and your current hit dice (hit dice will be explained later). Other bonuses may be involved, but generally the rules deal with such things by adding more dice to the mix rather than flat numbers.

Example: Lothar the barbarian is attacking a ghost with his magical sword. The sword’s magic grants an extra die to attacks that targets ghosts. His attack's description says he uses his prowess trait as a bonus, and he has the ghost cornered, adding a circumstantial bonus that the referee says is worth one more die to the attack roll. So his usual three attack dice and his two bonus dice are rolled, and their result is added to his prowess and number of hit dice to see if he matched the ghost's defense number.

If you roll three ones, you automatically fail at the attack no matter what your bonuses or how many other dice you roll for the attack check! If you roll three sixes, you not only hit no matter what the target defense(s) were, but also get a bonus result, as dictated by your character and its paraphernalia's combined descriptions. Decide which bonus to use when you roll this way. If you somehow have enough dice to roll three 1s and three 6s, it's a wash.

Non-combat checks

Attack checks are not the only kind of checks in the game though. If you are making a contested check, follow the rules outline here.

To see if you succeed at anything besides an attack or a non-contested roll, you will need to roll one die. The result of your roll has to be equal to or under the amount of pips you have in a given trait that is appropriate for the situation at hand. In most situations a six will therefore be a failed roll. Of course, if you temporarily have six pips for some reason when you make a given uncontested check you don't even need to roll as you can't fail.

Some classes give you extra dice for certain kinds of checks. In such cases, each die is another chance to roll at or below your trait, rolled at the same time as the first die. The dice aren’t added to each other or anything like that (only attack dice are added to each other), they are just separate chances for success and one successful roll is all you need, but the referee may elect to describe awesome results for multiple successes. The referee could also narrate checks that were made by a wide margin as awesome or bare successes if they so choose, but they cannot rob a player of success if that is what they rolled.

Example: Understanding arcane glyphs on a wall need a brains check to be deciphered. A character that belongs to the wizard class has an ability that allows an extra die in these situations. Sarah the Dark is such a wizard , so her player rolls two dice on her check. She gets a 4 and a 1 against her trait score of 3, so the 4 is ignored, but the 1 succeeded. She reads the hell out of those glyphs.

You also get an extra die for non-combat checks if you rolled a six that you had to discard during character generation. This is why you made a note during character generation. Between this, class, and item traits, and other bonuses, you may get to roll several dice on certain checks.

You can, in theory, make as many attempts at a check as you have the resources to do so, but the referee will warn you if you are running out of time, energy, chances, etc. The referee will have to decide the logistics of any checks in the game and what the results, be they be successful or not, mean.


Example: A player is trying to figure out what an ancient artifact does. He fails his check. The referee rules that he can try the check again after a week of research at a good library.

One last thing: Some checks may be ruled to be outside of the scope of some characters or classes. For instance, the arcane runes from the previous example will most likely require you to have a background that would allow you to even make an attempt at deciphering them. A referee may rule that a barbarian character doesn't have the education for it, or a misplaced time-traveler may not even know what runes are no matter what his intelligence trait is.

Combat
Sometimes things just can't be settled over a flagon of ale, and some creatures really need to be burned with fire till they are killed dead until expiration.
Attacks and Abilities

Each class and race in the game will let you learn one (sometimes more) special attacks and/or ability during generation and at certain levels of experience (you start the game as a level 1 character).

Each ability describes what it does, has some keywords that may interact with other elements of the game, and its effects. An ability that is also an attack will list the trait you used to make the attack check (usually Prowess), and the kind of defense(s) you need to beat to hit a target.

By default, attacks do one die of damage if successful, but if they don’t this will be detailed in the description. All damage also shares the keywords of the ability that generated it.

Everybody has the default ability to attack with a mundane (non-magical) melee weapon or a ranged weapon. All melee weapons, including bare fists, are assumed to use your Prowess as a bonus and attack a target's Dodge defense. All ranged weapons, even poor hurled dwarven “allies”, are assumed to use your Coordination as a bonus and attack a target's Dodge defense.

Some weapons may work differently, but this will be explained in their descriptive text.

To use an ability, you should describe your intention, make a roll, and then narrate how well your ability worked (or how poorly it failed) based on your roll. The referee will do the same for non-player characters.

A referee can describe how targets react to the results of your attacks, but you get to describe the gory details of a well placed blow as long as your description doesn't detail things beyond the scope of the ability, such as pushing when a ability doesn't mention pushing, or disemboweling a guy that still has hit points. The referee will tell you what result you need for your attack ability to hit, and if it finishes the target off. You decide how the monster dies, or if it is simply knocked out, disarmed, brought to its knees, etc. Deciding the later kind of options can make for interesting story ideas and allow you to demand answers or fealty etc. from bested foes.

Example: Gnort the Putrid’s player wants to attack a goblin. On his turn he announces: I point my wand at the goblin and prepare to ram hellfire down his throat. The referee says that he will need a 10 to hit the goblin’s defense. Gnort’s player rolls a 13. “Verily, flames do lick his tonsils like a very talented and fearsome lover! For…” (he rolls) “4 damage!” The referee confirms that the goblin’s hit dice are exhausted, to which the player adds, “He lets out a fearsome shriek as his brains boil out of his ears!” Another player laments that they no longer have anyone left to interrogate, but the deed is done.

The flow of battle

Combat takes place in everyone's imagination, but if your group is really into tactics, you can use visual representations and measurements and complicated rules and other things. The basic rules only cover imaginary environs. If you want to get next to someone to engage them in melee combat, and the referee agrees you are close enough, you can do so. See more about movement below in following sections.

When one creature attacks another, combat is initiated. Everyone gets a chance to react, but if the initial attack was unexpected, roll for surprise first by having the attacked party roll a Brains check, adding an extra die if the attacker drew a weapon in front of the target as part of their action (i.e. a quick-draw). If the target succeeds on their Brains check, they noticed the attack in time to muster a proper defense. If they fail, the attacker gets to add an extra die to their attack check.

After the attack or event that initiated combat is resolved, it's time to check who does what for each round of combat, in which all ready and able creatures, entities, traps, etc. may act. Everyone should roll a contested check using their coordination or brains (players choose which). Whoever gets the highest roll with their check's dice may go first. If there is a tie, have each person check again in the same manner till one is left with a higher, passing check.

Other characters may go when that first player has finished and decided who they want to go next. As previously stated, everyone will get a chance within each round, so players will often elect choose their fellow players next and to have non-player characters go last. That's fine.

Acting out of turn is only possible with certain actions. Some possible combat actions are listed below (you should consult your referee about how to do actions not listed here).

During your turn in a round you can find the time to do something like one of the following combinations of things (in the order that is needed):
  • Perform an ability/attack and move.
  • Perform an ability/attack and do some minor action, such as quaffing a potion or open a door.
  • Move and do something minor.
  • Defend a fallen comrade (physical attacks will be redirected towards your defenses).
  • Kill a defenseless enemy (just watch your back!).
Outside of your turn on a round you can try something like:
  • Talk, warn, threaten, taunt, and cajole.
  • Make a melee attack against an enemy breaking off melee with you* or trying to ready something such as a bow next to you, or trying any other action that would let their guard down such as quaffing a potion or staggering to their feet while next to you. You get one less die than usual for this attack check.
  • Make a melee attack against at an enemy in melee with you that was just hit by something besides you or that has just gotten three 1s one their attack check. You can only do this if your turn hasn't come up yet this round, and then you lose that turn.
*: Creatures that can't leave your reach for some reason, such as being pinned by you in a corner, can't usually leave melee with you.

You get an extra die to your attack against a creature if it is currently engaged in melee with someone else. However, if you miss with a ranged attack this way, the attack check is compared to a random target in combat with your intended target. If it hits and it is logically something that could do damage, the hit effects go to the new target(s).

The Character Sheet
Some of the things below will be on PC player's sheets and need a little explanation. KIWF is a bit different than most adventure games, so pay heed to how things are handled.

Hit Dice

You start the game with hit dice equal to your Body trait’s pips plus your level. At each level you get one more. Hit points, which are rolled afresh each combat by rolling out a number of dice equal to your current remaining hit dice, are an indication of your ability to see a combat through, and they are a pretty abstract concept. Hit dice indicate how much energy you have left in a more general sense, and your ability to resist certain effects. They will be revisited in the Health section.

□ Optional rule: Instead of rolling hit dice for each combat, set all of your current ones to their highest value.

Defenses and other things dictated by your traits

Your character sheet should have indications about certain things that will need to be looked up from time to time. Your traits form the basis for these other qualities.

There are three defenses for attack rolls to try to match or overcome: Dodge, Wits, and Toughness (see attack descriptions to know which one you are trying to hit when you make an attack). The referee should know everyone’s defenses, and give information on monster defenses if attacks are rolled against them. To calculate your defense scores, you have to add up numbers as below:

  • Dodge: the sum of 10, your current number of hit dice, the pips on your Coordination trait, and the penalty of your armor pips.
  • Wits: the sum of 10, your current number of hit dice, and the pips on your Brains trait.
  • Toughness: the sum of 10, your current number of hit dice, and the pips on your Body trait.

Other things on your character sheet

Your speed is indicated by your race and limited by your armor and encumberment. See following sections to help you calculate your speed.
Your starting abilities are indicated by your race, class, and maybe items. See the sections of Races and Class respectively for this. There are blank spaces on character sheets to write in abilities. Abilities can also be custom things that you and your referee come up with together.
Equipment. Armor is recorded in the armor section, weapons and their abilities in the abilities section. Treasure and other goodies go in their listed section as well. Everything will be explained in a following section.
Class and race. To be picked out at some point in character generation see the appropriate chapters for these.

Health

You start the game with a set amount of it dice, and get more as you gain more experience. You should note how many hit dice are usually available to you on your character sheet, as well as how many you currently have due to the vicissitudes of the game sessions.

Each time combat is initiated or you would be damaged, you should roll your hit current hit dice. Their total is how many hit points you have available for the current encounter. If you have enough dice to play in the following manner feel free to do so, otherwise you’ll have to write each die’s points down somewhere, like the character sheet. If you have to leave a session mid-battle, note your current hit points left on each die.

Keep each rolled hit die in front of you. When you loose hit points, adjust the highest numbered die in front of you to represent that loss. If you would loose more life than are left on a die from a single attack, ignore the extra damage. Some attacks have followup damage or effects that will remove additional hit points and/or dice, but these are an exception to the rule. If a die’s value dips below one, remove it from combat. If you run out of hit dice, you face death.

At the end of combat, note the amount of remaining hit dice you have left. The numbers on their faces are unimportant, as they will get rerolled at the beginning of each new combat (for a combat to be considered new, it must not be within five minutes of a previous one, so keep your hit dice around if you can since remembering these details can be hard).

At the end of each combat, you also get one hit die back from among those you lost up to your your Body trait's value in pips, so include that in your notations. You don’t get other hit dice back until you have rested for 8 hours. You usually can’t have more hit dice than the combination of your body and level numbers, though temporarily you may due to certain supernatural effects. Remove extra dice beyond your normal numbers at the end of each encounter or combat.

The amount of current hit dice is important to attack checks. You get to add a number equal to your remaining hit dice to each attack check you make. This means severely damaged character may stand little chance to hit an opponent.

Some attacks and checks (usually monster attacks but occasionally player abilities) will have automatic effects on any characters with a certain amount of hit dice.

Example: Gnarlock the Lich has a combat ability that says: “Each target this power hits that has less than three hit dice dice, and others take 3 damage per hit die Gnarlock has.” He currently has three hit dice, so he’s going to do nine damage to each player with enough hit dice to avoid simply dying. They presumably each lose only one hit die though, as the nine damage only is applied to one hit die per player.

Dying

You are in serious danger dying when you run out of hit dice. NPCs just die, but you are still in the action until hit, at which point you can say a final clever line and expire.

□ Optional rule: When hit while dying, roll on the Dying hits table, and you may still be in the action!

If you are lucky, somebody or some thing may have an ability that puts you back in the action. After combat has stopped for the next five minutes or more, you may make a Body check to see if you survived. If you pass, you get one hit die back and come to your senses and deal with any lingering effects dictated by battle abilities, such as being poisoned. If you fail at these, you may die anyways! Life is short for many an adventurer, but there is always some new character to play, so roll a new one!

Don’t rip up your character sheet if you die. Not only is that really immature, but it removes opportunities to bring your character back from the clutches of death if the other players have some brilliant ideas. Also, the party may want to loot your corpse ;-)

Armor

Armor also plays a role in protecting your hit points, naturally. But the heavier the armor, the slower you get, so there is a tradeoff. Armor is expressed in terms of armor dice numbers and pip values for the dice. You may have armament on different parts of your body, but all your armor adds up to give you a unified encumbrance and die total. Abilities and effects that mention pips will apply only to the most logical piece(s) of armor (referee's call).

How armor slows you: you have an armor penalty to your melee attacks and Dodge defense equal to the pip value of your armor. You also take the penalty when you make surprise and initiative checks, as well as other checks the referee feels are suitable, such as trying to swim or dance or whatever. Your base speed is lowered by a number of feet equal to the pip rating as well.

How armor helps you: at the beginning of each combat you get an amount of armor dice equal to a number written somewhere in your armor’s description. Set each die to the pip value, which is also in the armor’s description. The first time you would take damage from an attack, first remove an armor die from play and apply its number as a penalty to said damage. If any damage is left over, it is then applied to hit dice as usual. Your armor dice amount is reset whenever you have five minutes to adjust and repair it.

Example: Grog wears a suit of old Iron Plate. It has a pip rating of 3 and a dice number of five. When combat begins, he rolls his hit dice as usual, and also puts out five armor dice, setting their face-up sides to 3. Let’s say he then takes a blast of eldritch energy from a draconic mage. The damage roll is four. Grog’s player removes an armor die from the table and applies the single remaining point of damage to one of Grog’s hit dice.


The eldritch blast also has a special effect in this case though: it gives a followup amount of fire damage equal to the character’s armor dice (to simulate the sensation of superheated armor). The way the ability is worded, the referee points out that whether or not armor dice have been removed from combat has no bearing on how much extra damage this ability does and five damage are then applied to Grog’s hit die.


In another situation, Grog has to slog through a cloud of agitated bats. The bats have an ability, like many swarms and hazards, that does automatic damage to directly to hit dice, minus armor pips. So in this case, Grog loses no armor dice and takes some reduced damage. Grog just hopes that he can get out of this mess before armor and bones are all that is left of him.

Booty, Loot, and Other Rewards

Adventuring is done with a goal in mind, and often treasure is what characters seek. Monetary treasure and valuable mundane items should be described by the referee and given a gold value to keep play from getting bogged down in talk of coin exchange rates and appraisals.

□ Optional rule: Treasure will count towards encumbrance and sometimes be hard to move, so the player had best employ some trustworthy lackies to carry things.

Treasure

Treasure and rare or magical items are usually found near a challenging encounter such as a monster or a trap. The referee tables have guidelines for treasure. Treasure is generally found in amounts proportional to danger; fortune smiles on the bold!

An adventurer can tell most properties of a magic item by holding it for a few minutes. If you loose hold of your magic items but gain them back, you will need to hold them for a few minutes before you can work their extraordinary abilities again. To keep track of item properties, it is recommended that the referee prepares cards that detail them to hand to players.

Rituals

Most rituals are unique and found in a manner much like treasure, and so it is recommended that the referee prepares cards that detail them to hand to players.

Rituals are things that can be performed by anyone with the knowledge of how they work and any requisite traits, materials, abilities etc. that are required of them. Rituals are found in the same manner of treasure, though you could conceivably pay someone to teach you one.

Rituals may come on tablets, scrolls, encoded into architecture, via tutelage, as visions, etc. Some rituals are for psionic characters and are recorded in things such as crystals, obsidian orbs, alien brains, or other strange things.

Some rituals require their caster to be of a certain morality, race, class, or other such thing.

Many rituals require specific items and even creatures in order to be performed, and such items should be listed in their descriptions.

Example: Flint the mercenary finds an old tablet in a dungeon. A sage (who makes a successful Brains check) points out that it has some hint of sorcery about it that could be unlocked with blood (esoteric information the referee has provided for the successful check). Flint daubs the tablet with chicken blood and the sage, with a new, successful Brains check, interprets the meaning of the now-glowing characters thereon into a series of rites and exercises that could performed by anyone to get the ritual described on the tablet to work. The referee then gives the player a ritual card with a name for the ritual and the specifics of how to do it.

Experience

When you finish a major quest and are out of harm’s way, be that clearing out a dungeon or what have you, the referee should allow your group one die of in-game months to improve your abilities as a reward for merely surviving.

In game terms, this means you move to the next level of your class and gain a new ability and another permanent hit die. Certain class’s levels give you extra permanent attack, hit point, or damage dice beyond the ones you start the game with. Besides the beginning abilities dictated by race and class, one is free to choose any ability listed in their class's section.

You may elect to take an ability from another class you that have the prerequisites and in-game experiences for (the referee will decide what is appropriate here, but you can give them a head’s up about what kind of experiences you want). This is called multiclassing.

Example: Phinious the Sage is a level one wizard. During his adventures in the underworld, he fought off many demons. So he checks with his referee, and gets to okay to multiclass into the Holy Warrior class. He then chooses a Holy Warrior ability, which will help him fight unholy evil the next time he encounters it.

You can’t gain the abilities granted at first level of the class you are multiclassing into though, barring strange circumstances the plot may provide.

Rewards from all the little people:

NPCs that ask the player characters for help often have some kind of reward to give out of gratitude. Check the NPC Rewards table if you are a referee that needs some ideas.

Cursed items

Occasionally you will get a cursed item. Such items will cause trouble for you, but you may not know why it is happening, though you will sense other properties of the item or even false ones. A successful Brains check by a person of an appropriate class will help reveal what is to be done to stop the curse. Items not destroyed by the actions that undo their curses may become useful, or at the very least valuable.

Other optional rules we'll put out there to wet your whistle:

□ Each class has different hit die sizes, as detailed in the addendum.

□ Each class has different damage die sizes, as detailed in the addendum.