Basic Mechanics

Basic Mechanics Defined

The basic mechanics are based on 10-sided dice and the concept of the Dice Pool as a limited and expendable resource. It’s recommended that each player have enough 10-sided dice that they can form a dice-pool from their character’s highest Attribute and highest Skill or Proficiency (so no Dice Pool exceeds the actual number of physical dice available – avoiding forgetful lapses of how many dice have been spent and how many are left). Ideally, a single easily distinguishable color of d10 will be set aside for Attribute pools (I recommend Red).

Event checks are made with dice drawn from a pool rolled against a Target Number (TN). Each die rolled can be counted as a success if its result is equal to or greater than the Target Number. Certain tasks may require only one success, others may require multiple successes (see the discussion below of the categories of checks). The total number of successes can be compared to a given objective to find a Margin of Success/Failure (MOS). The default TN, unless otherwise mentioned, is 7; while this may seem a little skewed, as a default die roll only has a 40% success rate (7-10 on a d10), it allows for greater leeway in modifications of the TN through functions of the system.

Dice Pool

The basic dice pool is formed from a number of dice equal to an Attribute + a Skill + Miscellaneous dice (including Specialization dice, if any). One's Attribute dice represent the total amount of effort a character may spend. While this seems obvious when attempting a single check (climbing a rope, for example, would be rolled from a dice pool of Agility + Athletics), it is an important when attempting multiple actions simultaneously (see below).

Margin of Success (MOS)

The MOS is the difference between the highest number of successes rolled (the check winner), and the highest number of successes rolled by an opponent (in a contested check) or the number of successes needed (in a static check).

Penalties / Bonuses

Dice Pools and Target Numbers can be affected by a whole host of factors including injury (Pain and Shock), attempting multiple actions at once, and other conditions that affect a character’s capability to act or the difficulty of the action. As a rule of thumb, modifiers (positive and negative) are separated into categories of Internal and External

  • Internal penalties/bonuses come from factors that directly inhibit or improve a character’s ability to perform a task (trying to pick a lock with a bandaged hand), and are applied to the number of dice allocated from a dice pool for a given task.
  • External penalties/bonuses come from factors that make the task itself objectively harder to do (picking a lock in very poor light), and are represented by modifying the Target Number of a check.

Exploding Dice

Whenever a die shows a 10 (a 0 on most 10-sided dice), reroll that die and add the result of the new roll to 10 – because of exploding dice, TNs higher than 10 are reachable (though very difficult).

Fumbling / Botching

Sometimes checks are not only failed, but outright bungled, botched, or fumbled. Whenever a roll is failed (no successes are rolled) and two or more dice rolled 1s, the roll is considered to have been fumbled – with results as determined by the Gamemaster.


Unless specifically stated otherwise (which happens rarely), any fractions are rounded down.

Definitions & Discussion


A character’s most basic strengths and weaknesses are defined by the eight primary attributes: 4 Physical Attributes (Brawn, Agility, Toughness, and Health), and 4 Mental Attributes (Presence, Wits, Intelligence and Will).

Attribute Thresholds

Attribute Thresholds mark the limits of easily attainable potential. Attributes may be increased beyond this point, but this becomes increasingly difficult for each point an Attribute rises above its threshold.

Derived Attributes

The Derived Attributes (Reflex, Knockdown, Knockout, Move, and Fatigue) are secondary attributes that (usually) are not increased directly, but are instead constructed from primary attributes.

Sorcerous Attributes

The Sorcerous Attributes (Power, Sight, Art, and Capacity) are a special set of Derived Attributes that are only possessed by characters with the Sorcerous Blood trait (any tier).

Multiple Actions

Multiple simultaneous actions are a special case. Attempting multiple actions illustrates the limited resource approach of this system. For purposes of multiple actions, there are a couple additional steps to forming the dice pools for these checks.

  1. Any set of simultaneous actions may only use the Attribute pool once, regardless of which Attributes are used by the checks. The Attribute pool is the average of the Attributes used by the different checks – if attempting two different Agility-based checks, the Attribute pool = Agility [(Agility + Agility)/2], if attempting an Agility-based check and a Presence-based check, the Attribute pool = (Agility + Presence) /2, etc. In this case, unlike the standard rounding rule, round any fractions up.
  1. Splitting attention between multiple tasks makes each task more difficult. Each action attempted beyond the first has an Activation Cost of 1 die paid from the Attribute pool (effectively, the Attribute pool limits the total number of simultaneous checks that can be made at once, since each check draws its Activation Cost from the Attribute pool).
  1. After the Activation Costs have been paid, allocate dice from the Attribute pool to each respective check pool. After dice are allocated for each check, each Attribute die is matched 1:1 with dice from the respective Skill pools. If there are more dice in the check’s Skill pool than Attribute dice allocated to the check, divide the remaining Skill dice by the total number of simultaneous checks and add the resulting number to the check pool – when only attempting a single action, the entire Skill pool is added to the check pool, regardless of the size of the Attribute pool (the remaining Skill dice are divided by 1).

Note to Playtesters: the old version of the Multiple Simultaneous Actions rule is included here for comparison, other playtester notes refer to this rule (and my dissatisfaction with it) – the new rule is the one currently in effect above.

[Old Rule]To attempt multiple actions simultaneously requires the base Dice Pool for each action be divided by the total number of actions being attempted. Attempting to steer a ship while engaging in a bitter rapier duel would require both the [Sailing] and [Blades: Rapier] dice pools to be reduced by half. This reduction happens before any other adjustment to the dice pools occur.

Mechanics example 1a:

Billy Bones is climbing a rope to the top of a ship’s mainmast – while no more agile than most men (Agility 4), years spent aboard sailing vessels have served the old pirate far better than most (Athletics skill 5). Bones’ player rolls 9 dice to determine how well (and how far) he climbs.

Example 1b:
Billy Bones is climbing the same rope while trying to remain unnoticed by the sentry on deck. While no one would ever accuse him of being a coward (not to his face, at least), he has found it useful in his line of work to be hard to see at times (Sneak 3). Bones’ player pays the 1 die Activation Cost from his Attribute pool (down to 3 dice) and allocates 1 Attribute die to climbing the rope (relying on his Athletics skill to pick up the slack) and 2 dice to the Sneak attempt (trying to remain unobtrusive to the bored sentry below). Bones’ Sneak check pool is 4 (2 dice from Attribute pool + 2 matching dice from Sneak skill) and his Athletics check pool is also 4 (1 die from the Attribute pool + 1 matching die from the Athletics skill, the remaining 4 dice in the Athletics skill are divided by 2 (the total number of actions) to add an additional 2 dice to the check pool).

Example 1c:
Bones is climbing the rope, hoping to remain unseen by the sentry, and trying to coax his pet monkey to give him back the key to the captain’s lockbox. While not the most sociable of scallywags (Presence 3), Bones is a reasonably experienced animal trainer (Craft: Animal Training 3). Bones’ player starts with an Attribute pool of 4 (average of Agility + Agility + Presence) and pays 2 Activation Costs for the additional checks, then allocates 1 Attribute die to both the climb and sneak attempts. The check pools for each of Bones’ checks are: Athletics 3 (1 Attribute + 1 matching Skill + (4 additional Athletics dice / 3 total actions)), Sneak 2 (1 Attribute + 1 matching Skill), Craft: Animal Training 1 (3 skill dice / 3 total actions). Billy Bones is going to need a lot of luck to pull all three checks off at once – the costs of simultaneous actions add up quickly.

Event Checks

In general, there are 3 broad categories of checks:

  1. Static (or Simple) checks – where the check is against a static number of successes. Perhaps the classic example would be attempting to pick a lock of a given quality (a good quality lock might require 3 successes, etc). This is generally a very boring mechanic and should be used sparingly if at all.
  1. Contested (or Opposed) checks – where the check is made against a competing check, with the greatest number of successes indicating the winner and the difference between the two success totals is the MOS. The classic non-combat example here would be a Thief attempting to sneak past a Sentry. This is arguably the most enjoyable and dynamic type of check from a game-player’s standpoint, so the system will primarily be focused around this type of check – without conflict or opposition, the need to roll is very minimal. Even the previous example of picking a lock could instead be done either against a prior roll by the Locksmith (time-lapse roleplaying!) or perhaps, assuming the lock is within the character’s skill, make the check about the situation, not specifically the task. Specifically, I’m looking at exploring this “situational opposition” a little more – take the following as an example:

Mechanics Example 2
Argos is being chased and finds himself at a locked door, his only means of escape.
Argos’s player states: "My intent is to get through the door before the guards show up. The task will be to pick the lock, using my [lockpicking] skill."
The GM replies: "What's at stake is that the guards catch up to you before you manage to get through the door."
The player and the GM roll. If Argos is successful, he manages to pick the lock and get through the door before the guards arrive. If he fails, he loses the conflict, perhaps still able to pick the lock, but just as the guards arrive…

  1. Extended (or Complex) checks – which is actually a series of checks, either Static or Contested, that take place over time to reach a certain goal. An example of an Extended Static check could be the crafting of armor or even researching a spell. The Dramatic Conflict rules from Spycraft are an excellent example of a Complex Contested check.
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