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Author Topic: Rules-Lite System for PbP Games  (Read 828 times)

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Offline GhostwheelTopic starter

Rules-Lite System for PbP Games
« on: August 08, 2013, 05:20:44 PM »
I brew'd up a system for quick-moving rules-lite pbp play a while back, and figured I'd share it with everyone else.

Please tell me what you think, and if you use it in one of your games as a way to have some sort of rules framework while still being rules-lite enough to keep things moving in a PbP game, let me know how it goes

The system was created for a campaign setting called Shattered Haven, and works as follows:

Character Aspects

There are relationships primary aspects of your character that should be described at character creation, though they need not be connected to each other.

Strife: Your character's strife is something that's been happening either recently or for a long time now that troubles your character and causes them stress. Here are some examples:
  • Abusive family
  • Short fuse
  • Drinking problem
  • The government wants me
  • Kleptomaniac
Note that these should be explained further--how has the Strife aspect been troubling you recently? How has it been causing stress? Why is it beginning to bubble to the surface now?

Goal: Your character's goal should be a long-term thing they try to achieve. While this aspect is generally not described as fully as the Strife aspect of a character, it should impact the character in a meaningful way and be one of their primary motivators. Remember that this should be something long-term, and not something that can be done at the drop of a hat. Here are some examples:
  • Find a cure for daughter's sickness
  • Make amends guilt over causing a death
  • Pay back debt to one of the Houses
  • Find out why a certain organization wants you so desperately
Relationships: This aspect describes your relationship with the various organizations within the city of Tilroth. Pick at least two organizations, one of which is friendly towards you for some reason (perhaps they owe you a debt, or you helped them in some way), and one of which is unfriendly towards you (you've drawn their ire in some way).

This is another aspect where you should be as descriptive as possible--why precisely are you friendly or unfriendly with the organizations? What do they want of you? Is there something special about you, something that you might be trying to hide or are unaware of that makes you so attract their attention so?

Dynamic Entry: From the womb of development your character explodes dramatically onto the harsh reality of the world. As a cooperative storytelling game, you are just as important as the DM, and this lets allows you, as a player, to affect the very start of the story. This should describe the start of the first scene for your character, and should be full of action or drama that truly defines some aspect of the character. While this might include other characters, usually it is a solo scene that you RP with the DM. Here are some examples:
  • You hear a knock on the door--the Watchmen have come for you. Were you framed, or did you do it?
  • A vicious argument peaks between you and your ex. Will it lead to just verbal abuse, or something more?
  • Desperately needing the money you exit a bank, your pockets stuffed with coins and cash. Will you escape pursuit?
  • You stand trial for a crime. Passionately arguing your case, will the verdict make you innocent or guilty?

Characters in Shattered Haven have 4 abilities:
  • Dangerous - How well your character fights, be it with ranged weapons, fists, or swords.
  • Watchfulness - How well your character perceives their surroundings, notices things, and picks up clues.
  • Persuasive - How adept your character is at talking to others and convincing them of things.
  • Shadowy - How well your character escapes from unwanted situations, is unnoticed, and flees.
Characters gain +3, +2, +1, and +0 to ability scores, placing each in a single ability.

For example, a given character might have Watchfulness +3, Dangerous +2, Shadowy +1, and Persuasiveness 0.


When faced with a challenge, characters roll 3d6 and add their ability score to the total. Most challenges have a target number (DC) of 12, though depending on the difficulty of the challenge this may be higher or lower.

Chance of success - To find a character's chance of success, take the DC, reduce the DC by the bonus, and look at the following table:

Modified DCChance of SuccessRolling Twice (Better)Rolling Twice (Worse)

Remember that a single challenge can have different target numbers for different abilities--for example, a bouncer might be quite tough to beat up (requiring a 14 to be rolled for Dangerous) but have a routine that forces him to leave his post every 5 minutes (requiring a 9 to be rolled for Watchfulness). Furthermore, if players use their environment or are descriptive and roleplay well, the DM should feel free to add or subtract more to their roll as they see fit. (For example, when using Persuasiveness to shout over the roar of a jet plane when trying to convince a crowd of something.)


Characters can choose two different specialties upon character creation tied to specific ability scores (these should be fairly general). Upon doing a challenging activity that uses a specialty, the character may roll twice and take the better roll.

Examples of Specialties:
  • Dangerous - Fighting underground.
  • Dangerous - Fighting on rooftops.
  • Watchfulness - Picking up clues.
  • Watchfulness - Reading people.
  • Persuasive - Handling those connected to a specific organization.
  • Persuasive - Bribing people.
  • Shadowy - Fleeing on rooftops.
  • Shadowy - Picking locks.
Gaining Specialties

As they go through various trials and tribulations, characters learn to deal with things they've experienced before. At the end of each arc, each player should mention something that affected their character strongly; characters gain a specialty related to what happened, and add it to their list of specialties, though in general this should be even more specific than the starting specialties.


When characters get hurt, are wounded, or suffer they may gain different perils. Each peril is generally tied to an ability (that rises when failed), but this is not always necessarily the case.

Wounds - A character is bruised, wounded, or generally hurt physically.
Scandal - The common-folk are repulsed by your actions and you have an unnatural reputation.
Suspicion - Some organization, the police, or the government is interested in you.
Nightmares - Madness rises in your mind. Nightmares plague your dreams, and sometimes your waking hours.

Each peril track has 7 levels, and once you have reached level 7 you take a -3 penalty to the related ability score until you reduce the track to the minimum possible for your character (usually 0). This penalty replaces all other consequences of the peril track until it is reset.

Should you fail your peril check, you (or someone else in your party) must continue making checks until someone succeeds, though they need not necessarily be the same sort. For example, you might open with Dangerous, then your friend could try Persuasive, and then you could try Shadowy. Every failure grants a chance of gaining peril.

If you are the one who initiated a situation that requires an ability check, you may try to escape the situation instead of attempting to succeed at it, and doing so gives you a +2 bonus to your check, though it does not bring you any closer to your goal.

Wounds Track
  • Lightly scratched.
  • Minor bruises.
  • Major bruises.
  • Cuts and lacerations. The DM may force this character to reroll a successful Dangerous check once per session.
  • Bandaged up. The DM may force this character to reroll a successful Dangerous check an additional time per session.
  • Impeded functioning. Fight like a cornered animal: +1 to Dangerous checks.
  • Barely walking.
Scandal Track
  • Strange looks.
  • Whispers behind closed doors.
  • Wary expressions.
  • Concealed revulsion. The DM may force this character to reroll a successful Persuasive check once per session.
  • Open distaste. The DM may force this character to reroll a successful Persuasive check an additional time per session.
  • Awed horror. Stories abound: +1 to Persuasive checks.
  • Talk of the town.
Suspicion Track
  • Taken notice of.
  • Watched from dark corners.
  • Spied upon.
  • Scrutinized suspiciously. The DM may force this character to reroll a successful Shadowy check once per session.
  • Followed by shadows. The DM may force this character to reroll a successful Shadowy check an additional time per session.
  • Thoroughly investigated. Expectations rise: +1 to Shadowy checks.
  • Constantly observed.
Nightmares Track
  • Strange dreams.
  • Colors at the corner of vision.
  • Strange feelings cloud your senses.
  • Waking dreams. The DM may force this character to reroll a successful Watchfulness check once per session.
  • Walking nightmares. The DM may force this character to reroll a successful Watchfulness check an additional time per session.
  • Impossible to tell reality from madness. Maddened insight: +1 to Watchfulness checks.
  • Thoroughly insane.
Gaining Perils

Whenever a activity is failed, there may be a chance to gain a peril. When this occurs, roll a d6 and compare it to the current level of peril that is in danger of rising. If you roll under the current level nothing occurs, but if you roll equal to or above, your peril increases by one. A 1 on the d6 never causes the peril to increase, while a 6 on the d6 always causes the peril to increase at least by one.

Certain especially perilous actions can raise a peril by more than one at a time at discretion of the DM, or the DM may levy a modifier on the d6 roll to check for a rising peril.

If a character ever has over 7 in a specific peril, they immediately become an NPC, either for a time or permanently (at the DM's discretion).

Losing Perils

You can lose perils through two means:
  • Spending two grace points. Each two grace points spent reduces one peril by one rank.
  • Taking activities that are uplifting, inspirational, restful, or calming (reduce perils by one for every day one does so).
Grace Points

Grace points are a way to track a player's fate, allowing them to bend reality to suit their whim.

Ways to gain grace points:
  • Roll a natural 16 or higher on an ability check.
  • Roleplay well (DM should award one to two grace points to each player at the end of each scene depending on how well they roleplayed).
Grace points may be spent to:
  • 1 grace point may be spent to reduce one peril by one level. (Requires one hour of rest in a safe and secure area.)
  • 1 grace point may be spent to reroll a check just rolled before the DM declares success or failure.
  • 2 grace points may be spent to reroll a check just rolled after the DM declares success or failure.
  • 3 grace points may be spent to automatically succeed at a specific action before rolling.
  • 5 grace points may be spent to automatically succeed at a specific action after rolling.
Grace points may also be spent in other ways at the DM's whim. For example, if a character wants to sneak into a house, the player may ask the DM to spend a specific number of grace points in order to have the guard turned the other way (gaining a bonus to the check, for example) or not be there at all. This may be used at the DM's discretion to allow the players to gain contacts, be lucky in their findings, or have some other exceptional turn of luck in-story.

Heroic Sacrifice - Permanently Losing a Character

Grace points negotiation - when a character voluntarily sacrifices themselves for something or someone they believe in, or if they have a dramatic death in an attempt to meet story goals, they may discuss this decision before going through with it. In this case, the DM may either let them keep some or all of the grace points they had, or give them conditions they can fulfill when sacrificing themselves in order to keep more grace points.

Upon the loss of a character due to heroic sacrifice, all of the players at the table (including the DM) vote secretly on how heroic the sacrifice was on a scale of 0-10. (Each writes down a number on a piece of paper which goes into a bag.) The average (rounded up) is how many grace points the player gets on top of any he would have kept upon creating a new character.


Certain characters in Shattered Haven have the ability to wield uncanny forces that few others have access to. Each type of magic has a different ability score and peril associated with it.

Characters are either trained or untrained in a specific type of magic (and can be trained in more than one), but are considered to always have at least 1 in the peril associated with the magic (which can never be reduced lower than 1) and are considered to have that peril one lower when making peril checks to see if a peril is raised.

Magic can be used in three ways:
  • Minor - Roll your upcoming roll twice and take the higher roll. Make a peril check.
  • Moderate - Reroll a failed check in the appropriate ability. Increase a peril by one.
  • Major - Automatically succeed on a check after having failed. Increase a peril by one, and make a peril check.

Whenever a character would use magic to affect a roll, flavor the scene to have the magic be an inherent part of how they succeeded. Each type of magic helps with one type of roll, and in general is not helpful when not making a roll of that kind (for example, the devil pact from the Arcane magic cannot tell you how to fight better, thus giving you a bonus on Dangerous checks).

Arcane magic stems from secrets whispered by devils in the sleep of specific people. The devils make Faustian pacts that lead to more and more control over a person's life. However, arcane magic is banned by the government and any who practice it are hunted. It can be used to enchant the minds of those with a weak will and know exactly what to say at what time in order to persuade others of one truth or another.
  • Can assist on Persuasion checks.
  • Raises Suspicion peril.

People who can tap into the whispers of forgotten gods are rare. While the voices are usually quite, sometimes they can crescendo into whispers or even shouts that only the individual can hear. But a price is paid for the knowledge, as great rents form in the flesh of those who don't block out the voices completely. Oracles and seers are those who can tap into the divine magic which tells them of secrets they would never have been able to know otherwise, or turns their attention to some clue they might have otherwise missed.
  • Can assist on Watchfulness checks.
  • Raises Wounds peril.

Nature is a strange and terrible beast that has been corrupted beyond all recognition. There are those who have developed a way to connect to nature in a parasitic way, drawing off some of its horrendous nature to become great beasts with enormous strength and the ability to tear through walls. Yet the appearance is something that shocks and repulses despite appearing similar to their original form, which can cause whispers behind closed doors. Due to the mental change, as well as the physical one, this shape-changing is almost always accompanied by bloodshed and death.
  • Can assist on Dangerous checks.
  • Raises Scandal peril.

Meditation and a use of the inner eye has allowed some individuals to step outside of their own bodies, if only for a few seconds, and enter a different plane where they can spy on creatures and even enter others to change their perceptions. The use this though, slowly changes their own mind causing the users of this almost-lost art to slowly grow less in touch with the reality around them. While this psionic might can disorient pursuers or cause others to miss you as you sneak stealthily by, it does not actual change others' emotions or beliefs, or allow you to speak to them mentally.
  • Can assist on Shadowy checks.
  • Raises Nightmares peril.
Player vs. Player

PvP doesn't happen often, but when it does it can be deadly. This works in the same way as other challenges, with a small twist. First, the aggressor chooses an ability with which he will attack, and then the defender chooses an ability with which he will defend. After that, both the attacker and defender roll, adding the relevant modifier below to the defender's roll as well as any miscellaneous modifiers added by the DM due to the description or use of the environment as normal. The attacker's total sets the defender's target number, and on a failure the defender has a chance of gaining a peril, while on a success the attacker has a chance of gaining a peril.

Remember that the aggressor can choose to retreat if he wishes, gaining the +2 bonus when doing so. Furthermore, should he decide to do so and the defender tries to attack rather than retreating himself, then the defender becomes the attacker from then on (and chooses which attack method to use first). If both players decide to retreat they may do so to end the combat. Repeat the rolls until the combat is resolved, either through both characters choosing to retreat, or until one person has over 7 in a peril.

Columns are what the aggressor chose for their ability when attacking, check by the defender's row, defender gains modifier.

Modifier to defender based on abilities:

Character Sheet:







Dangerous: (0-3)
Watchfulness: (0-3)
Persuasive: (0-3)
Shadowy: (0-3)

(Pick two specialties, assigning them each to an ability.)

Wounds: (0-7)
Nightmares: (0-7)
Scandal: (0-7)
Suspicion: (0-7)

Grace Points

(If any, choose one or more.)
« Last Edit: May 17, 2014, 06:30:40 AM by Ghostwheel »

Offline steelsmiter

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Re: Rules-Lite System for PbP Games
« Reply #1 on: August 08, 2013, 05:57:08 PM »
set up a game and I'm in.

Online Sain

Re: Rules-Lite System for PbP Games
« Reply #2 on: August 10, 2013, 04:18:20 AM »
Does this system scream for a Lovecraft themed game or is it just my own obsession of the books that makes me see things in that light? Anyhow, the rules you've devised seem rather nifty. However, I don't think there needs to be a set system for GM to manage resources of their own. If you need something to happen as a game master you don't ask for it to be rolled and simply setting a higher difficulty level for some roll to succeed should be enough to ascertain some encounter is as hard as it needs to be, instead of asking a player to re-roll. It seems wholly unnecessary to give the DM specific tools to destroy players if they do beat the odds and roll that critical hit.

Offline GhostwheelTopic starter

Re: Rules-Lite System for PbP Games
« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2013, 07:55:19 AM »
Heh, that's certainly one way to do it, and I think the system can handle those kinds of games well, but it's made for all kinda of different games with the different aspects working as needed.

The horror points aren't made to make things happen--they're made to show that the world is a challenging place where not everything is as it seems...

The burly bouncer would have been an easy fight for you. But you must have made a misstep, leaned in too close, or maybe your luck just ran out. Regardless, the universe isn't the happiest place, and your luck can fall as quickly as it rises.

In short, it's a way for the DM to give easy encounters a chance to be harder without being unfair or railroading the players--not to make the impossible even more so. And even when used, it's possible for the players to still succeed despite the odds stacked against them and triumph by the skin of their teeth, panting, bloodied and wounded, but still triumphant in the end.

That said, if you feel like it, please give it a try and tell me how well the system seems to work :-)
« Last Edit: August 11, 2013, 09:22:27 AM by Ghostwheel »

Online Sain

Re: Rules-Lite System for PbP Games
« Reply #4 on: August 16, 2013, 07:18:09 AM »
This system seems pretty nice for a campaign that I previously had no ruleset for and had to put on a pause. I'll definitely give these rules a spin, though I can already tell they will work pretty nicely. However, going to scrap the horror points for mine as I don't really see how they add to the game.

Offline GhostwheelTopic starter

Re: Rules-Lite System for PbP Games
« Reply #5 on: August 16, 2013, 07:23:54 AM »
That's fine too, like their name, they're meant to increase the horror/suspense/capricious fate nature of the setting they're in. If that's not the kind of setting you're playing in, there's no real need to use them, since they're quite modular.

Let me know when you give the system a go, I'd love to just watch and lurk and see how it pans out :-D

Online Sain

Re: Rules-Lite System for PbP Games
« Reply #6 on: August 16, 2013, 10:08:06 AM »
It might take a while before I do as I have another campaign running at the moment. I'll give you PM on the sunny day when I get to continue the other one that shall use these rules.

Offline GhostwheelTopic starter

Re: Rules-Lite System for PbP Games
« Reply #7 on: August 16, 2013, 10:10:24 AM »
Sounds good ;D

Offline GhostwheelTopic starter

Re: Rules-Lite System for PbP Games
« Reply #8 on: August 27, 2013, 11:46:14 AM »
After further discussion with more people, I came to the conclusion that horror points detract from the game, and thus took them out. I would like to keep them in, perhaps for another purpose that adds to the system and makes it better... any ideas? Perhaps the DM can spend 3 horror points to inflict a peril upon a character? Not sure, need to think more.

Also, I'm thinking of having character advancement in the form of new specialties gained; good/bad idea?
« Last Edit: August 27, 2013, 11:48:03 AM by Ghostwheel »