Four Colors al Fresco
A Roleplaying Game of Pulp-Style Superheroes in an Alternate Renaissance
Table of Contents
Explaining the Basis of this EntertainmentCharacter Creation 3
Wherein We Meet the Main CharactersRoleplaying 7
Playing a Role; Being a Hero; Contributing to the Story; GrommetsStoryguiding 8
Wherein We Become Acquainted with the Storyguides RoleStorypath Cards 11
Wherein the Balance of Play is ExplainedPanels, Pages, Issues, Miniseries, & Titles 13
An Explanation of the Structure of the Entertainment; Use of Hooks; Between-IssuesRolling the Planets 16
A Mechanical Aid to the Beleaguered or Unsure StoryguideDegrees of Success 22
An Optional Set of Rules for Greater Mechanical DetailItalia 23
Wherein the World of the Entertainment is Given a Brief Overview, Including Lists of Significant PersonagesAppendix I: Glossary 24
An Explication of the Terms Special to this EntertainmentAppendix II: Example Descriptors
List of Powers, Both Known and Supposed, with Possible Power Stunts; List of Weaknesses, Both Known and Supposed; List of Traits; List of FlawsAppendix III: Names 26
List of Italian Names, Male, FEmale, and Family; Lists of Names for Other PeoplesAppendix IV: Quickstart Rules
Simplified Explanation of How to Describe a Character; Character Worksheet; Character SheetAppendix V: Designers Notes 34
An Explanation of Why this Entertainment Has Been Created; Evolution; InspirographyAppendix VI: October Open Game License 36
Four Colors al Fresco
woodelf & Epidiah Ravachol, designers
, cover artist
woodelf, typesetter & layout artist
Akira Barnes & Dan Bongert, additional contributors
Michael Bourne, playtesters
Special Thanks to
Alex Weldon, Travis Casey, & Klaus Æ. Mogensen, for help with the probablities
Jonathon Tweet, Robin Laws, ... for making us wonder what else might be out there
Copyright © Anno Domini 2001 by woodelf & Epidiah Ravachol.
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the October Open Game License, Version 1.0 or any later version published by the RPG Library; with the Invariant Sections being Appendix V: Designers Notes and Colophon, with the Front-Cover Texts being Four Colors al Fresco: A Roleplaying Game of Pulp-Style Superheroes in an Alternate Renaissance, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
A copy of the license is included in the section entitled October Open Game License.
An editable copy of this document may be found at <http://webpages.charter.net/woodelph/Gaming/Astrology/index.html>
This game is a roleplaying game (RPG). RPGs may be very different from the games you are used to, in some fundamental ways. First of all, not everyone has the same role in the game. Most of the participants will be the players. They will each take on the role of a single character. These characters are much like the central characters in a book, movie, or comic bookthey are the ones around whom the action revolves, though there are often other important characters present, and they themselves may not be present for every scene.
For each Issue1, one of the characters will take on the role of the Storyguide. As the name implies, it is her job to guide the unfolding story that you will tell. She must assume the roles of all of the characters that the other players are not playing, define the world around the characters, adjudicate the characters actions, and often provide the scenario.
Together, the Storyguide and players create a participative, collaborative, extemporary, storytelling amusement. That is, the point of the game is to enjoy yourselves while together creating a story off the top of your heads. Everyone has a say in how this story unfoldsthe players manage the Main characters and the Storyguide everything elseand nobody really knows ahead of time how the story will turn out.
Secondly, the part of the game that makes up the rules is actually a relatively small portion of the game, unlike in many other games2. What is much more important for understanding and playing this game is understanding the assumptions that underlie these rules:
Further, there are a set of assumptions about the descriptions of characters that are very important:
- The players3 have complete authorial control over their personal characters in matters that are unimportant or uncontested. In the case of inanimate objects, the closer a thing is to the character, the more control the player has over it. In the case of other characters (not controlled by other players), the less significant and more appropriate the action, the more control over it the player has.
- The Storyguide4 may contest a players authorial control of her character in matters that are significant or contested, at which point the rules for Planets and Traits come into play to resolve the outcome.
- The Storyguide has authorial control over everything else.
- Players may assume temporary complete authorial control (including other objects and characters, but excluding other players characters) by playing Storypath Cards.
- The game is played on a dual level, where the players both inhabit their characters and craft a story that the players can appreciate. At the level of the characters, genre conventions should be the primary basis for reality and should inform the characters decisions. At the player level, appropriate literary trappings (framing stories, cliffhangers, issue/title distinctions, variable consistency) should shape the narrative on a broader scale.
Whenever a term first appears, it will be briefly defined in a footnote. If not all of the terminology is completely clear at this point, dont worry about it; as you read the rules and learn the terms, remember these principles, and they should become clear. A complete glossary of game terms, with more-detailed definitions, appears in an appendix.
- Planets5 are a measure not of the characters internal capabilities, but of how the universe around the character reacts to her. A character with a very high (small die6) Known is not necessarily learned or intelligent, and a very physically fit and powerful character could have very low (large die) Static and Dynamic scores.
- Similarly, Traits7 are not in any way linked to a particular Planet. Once character description is finished, the effects and uses of a Trait (and relationships to particular Forces8) should be considered only in light of the players description of how the Trait is being used and the situation at hand. Powers9 and Weaknesses10 are related to their source Force, but since the player will only rarely be rolling a die for that Planet, see the next point.
- Descriptors11 generally decide an action, when applicable. Rolling the Planets is only used to decide actions that the Descriptors do not govern, or when two characters are too close in ability to decide the results from comparing their Descriptors.
- There are no absolute or objective hierarchies. In particular, the dice used for the Planets do not sit upon a scale, so someone with a d4 in a Planet is not necessarily more governed by that Force than someone with a d10--it depends only on the relationship within the Planets of a given character. Likewise, Descriptors are not rated in any way; decisions of relative power in that area are generally decided by a combination of dramatic fiat and narrative comparison.
The first thing that needs to be done to play a game of Four Colors al Fresco is the creation of characters. Everyone in the group should create a character. It is important th
at these characters be able to work together, at least some of the time. So they should not have any inherent incompatibilities (one can only breathe under water, while another cant breathe under water) nor any unresolvable differences (a fanatical Catholic witch-hunter and a Church-hating witch).
In general, it is assumed that the characters are heroes, rather than villains. Not all heroes need be a shining example of truth and purity, however. Heroes with a shadowy past are perfectly in-genre, as are heroes with a strong moral code that is somewhat at odds with the dominant religion or law. Vigilantes are acceptable12, but they push the edge of the envelope, and care should be taken not to let the game slip into the grays of moral ambiguity. While the details are up for debate, on a broad scale this is a world of absolute morality, where the good are Good and the evil are Evil, and only very rarely can someone find a place between those two extremes. Heroes do not kill or allow innocents to dienot even for the greater good.
Ideally, the characters should share some sort of unifying group or experience (a team that serves the Cardinal; they all have been repeatedly bested by the Seven Deadly Sins). This group is what will form the
basis of the Main Title13 for the game. Not all of the Issues will take place within this Title, nor will they all include all of the characters, but you will generally want to include most of the characters (generally, all but 1) in most of the Issues, and this provides an excellent way to explain their companionship. Other methods can of course bring the characters togetherfriendship, common threat, or coincidenceand the nature of the comic-book universe is such that such contrivances need not impinge upon suspension of disbelief14.
The common quality that all Omegas have is their f
undamentally unbalanced nature. Most people are balanced in their interactions with the worldthe Forces of the world affect them all equally. What makes Omegas special is that something has happened to upset this balance. The Forces of the world no longer affect them in equal measure. They may have greater affinity for the ruling actions of some f
orces, and they defy the normal laws of at least one of the Forces. In the process, they gain what the rest of the world see as superpowers.
The first step in creating your character is to come up with a superhero concept. This should revolve around a power, or, very rarely, Powers. Once you have the Omegas Power in mind, you should figure out which Force this Power violates, and thus which Planet she has Wed. It is also very important at this point to come up with the Omegas name. Once you have a name and Power, and a good idea of which Force the Power violates, you are ready to begin determining the characters game representation.
The first step is assigning the Planets. One of the Planets ratings you will have already decided. For the Planet of the Force that the Omegas Power stems from, you assign an W. Because that Force does not govern the character normally, she is out of the sight of that Planet, and the degree to which it governs her can not be represented numerically like the other Forces.
Next, you should consider the Omegas nature in other ways, and assign the rest of the Planet ratings. For each Planet, you will assign a die type, normally from d415 to d20. This is the die that you will roll for that Planet when using the dice to resolve actions. A smaller die type means that that Force governs the characters actions more strongly. However, all that really matters is the relative sizes of the dice for a character, not their absolute size. When attempting an action, all of the Planets will be rolled, and the results ordered from least to greatest, so the larger the die, the less likely it will be near the top of the Hierarchy.16 For example, someone with d20 Dynamic, d10 Static, d10 Passion, and d10 Known would find Static besting Dynamic roughly as often as someone with d12 Dynamic, d6 Static, d6 Passion, and d6 Known. However, the smaller the die size, the less variable the results, so, using the example just mentioned, the person with the d6 Planets would find them tying much more often than the person with three d10s. Also, other aspects of character creation and action resolution favor, slightly, smaller dice. So, within your character concept, it is generally better to take the smaller dice types, if there is no particular reason not to.
Once you have assigned the dice to your Planets, the next step is to detail your Power, Weakness, and Quirk. The character has one Power, one Weakness, and one Quirk for each Wed Planet (normally only one). All three of these must tie directly into the nature of the Force in question. Powers, Weaknesses, and Quirks fall outside the normal bounds of reality. They should be somehow exceptional, either in nature or degree, which is why they are not normal Traits. The Power is, as the name implies, an advantage to the character. Many Weaknesses tie in to the Omegas Power in some way, limiting it, negating it under some circumstances, or defining a counter to the Power. But this is not necessary, and many viable Weaknesses are merely related to the Omegas Power, while some have nothing to do with it. The Quirk is a supernatural Descriptor of the Omega that is, on the whole, neither advantageous nor disadvantageous.
Once the Planets are assigned and the Descriptors stemming from the Wed Planet are detailed, the next step is to determine the rest of the characters Descriptors, called Traits. For every non-Wed Planet, the character will get a number of Traits as determined from the Descriptors Chart on this page. Traits may be anything the player desires, but they should all relate to the Planet that they are derived from. It is up to the SG to determine if a Trait is appropriate for the Planet in question, and if it is too powerful or too limited.
Not all Traits are created equal. In particular, there are two special kinds of Traits; Flaws and Power Stunts. A Power Stunt is a special use of a Power
that governs something that is neither clearly outside of nor clearly within the purview of the Power. By devoting a Trait to it, the player assures that her character can use the Power in that way. A Flaw is a Trait that is a hindrance to the character in some way. Except as the Descriptor Chart dictates, as many or as few of your Traits may be Flaws or Power Stunts as you wish. With some die sizes, you are required to have one or more of your Traits be Flaws.
When recording Traits on your character sheet, do not make any indication of the Planet they were derived from. The Planet is only a tool for character creation, and has no bearing on the Trait in play.
Once you have decided upon all of your Traits, and recorded them on the character sheet, there are only a couple of finishing touches to completing your character. First you should draw your initial Storypath Cards from the deck, and record them. All Omegas begin play with as many Storypath Cards as they have non-Wed Planets. If you are going to be using the same dice all of the time, its a good idea to record the color of each die next to the Planet, especially if you have more than one Planet of the same die type. Finally, you can come up with your Omegas Title. Often, this is the same as her name, but it neednt be.
You will notice that the Ws origin isnt mentioned above. If you wish, you may decide how your W got her Powers, but it is very common for that to only be revealed (and thus decided) at a later date, usually as a pivotal point of a Miniseries. On a related note, anything that is not detailed at this point is not part of your character. All that is known about the character is encapsulated by the Name, Title, Planets, and Descriptorseverything else is in flux, and will only be solidified later.
As the name of the game implies, the principle point is to play a role. But there is more to a roleplaying game than just this, or it would simply be improvisational theater. As one of the players, your job is multi-faceted. You have two sets of priorities, the meta-game, and the in-game. The meta-game level is the one most like what you are familiar with from other gamesit is the level of playing the game as a game, and is most like storytelling. The in-game level is more like theater, and carries with it responsibilities much like acting.
On an in-game level, you want to assume a roleyour Main characterand attempt to get into the mindset of that character. At every point, as your character, you are looking at the situation and responding as she would. At the same time, on the meta-game level, you want to do and say what will make for the most enjoyable story. Often, these two aspects to playing the game are referred to as the character and the player, emphasizing their primary points of view. As may be apparent, it is easy for these two points of view to come into conflict. Luckily, there are a number of tricks and techniques that help to mesh them.
First, especially since this is a larger-than-life, super-heroic, black-and-white story, you need to start by building a character that fits that mold. If your characters ideals and beliefs are carefully constructed, you will often find yourself choosing, as your character, the path most interestingwithout any need to step back and consider things from the detached player perspective. Likewise, when you play the character, you can then more easily do what will make for an interesting story, without compromising the integrity of the character. So, there are several general principles that will usually help in constructing a character. First, the character should be a hero. That is, not only should she be good, but she should be actively good, going out of her way to confront evil, injustice, or wrongdoing. And she should not, generally, spend too much effort considering the wisdom of her choices, at least not in terms of immediate ramifications. This is not to say that wise characters are discouraged (just the opposite, in fact), but a true superhero does not hesitate to fight the villainor track her to her lair, or thwart her nefarious plotjust because it might be dangerous or difficult. She will, of course, be cautious if there is a risk of collateral damage to innocent people, or if she is not certain that she has the right person, or if there is some other reason that direct, immediate action is ill-advised. Just usually not because charging headlong into combat against superior foes is suicidal.
Most, though not all, superheroes have a shtick. Your shtick is a very short (usually just a few words) summary of who your character is, as a superhero.
Vengeful master sleuth and inventor; super-human man from another planet; blind martial artist; super-fast; the physique of a human-sized spider; millionaire inventor.
An equally important consideration when designing your character is niche: each character should be unique. In a group of characters, each character should be clearly the best (among the group members) in some area. This makes it much easier for the SG to give your character spotlight time. This unique niche often stems from the characters shtick, but it could be secondary to it. The easiest sort of shtick is being best at something, or at least exceptional. Strongest, fastest, smartest, cleverest, most faithfulthese are the sorts of shticks.
As stated previously, one of the participants in a roleplaying game has a special role to play. She will take on the role of Storyguide (SG). Who this is can vary from Issue to Issue, though often one person will continue being Storyguide for an entire Miniseries.
It is the Storyguides job to guide the story. She is not telling a story for the amusement of the other participants, but is just providing the framework within which the story occurs. Her role is different, perhaps greater than, but not more important than, that of the players. Her primary responsibility is to play all of the other people that the characters meet, and describe the world around them. Often, she will also be responsible for setting up a scenario or at least providing the broad outlines of a plotor, better yet, just a plot set-up.
Much of the time, one of the Main characters or the groups previous exploits will provide the hooks to get them involved in the Issue, making the set-up as simple as coming up with a recurring villains next nefarious plot, or figuring out what someone important to the Main characters is doing now. Other Issues can come from considering the latest trends in the world around the Main charactersperhaps a change in the political or social winds will affect them.
There are a number of important aspects to SGing, but they all fall into two broad categories: in-game and meta-game. In-game aspects are the techniques and concerns as seen from the perspective of the characters involved in the game world. Meta-game aspects are those that take place on the level of the players, and are not directly perceivable to the characters. The Storyguide should strive to always guide the game in such a way that it is satisfying at the meta-game level, while also being sufficiently in-genre at the in-game level.
Meta-game concerns primarily revolve around using appropriate frameworks to guide the story, such as determining what constitute Panels and Pages, ensuring that the feel of the Issue is appropriate for the Title it takes place within, and attempting to guide the story to utilize appropriate literary conventions, such as cliffhangers, flashbacks, and dramatic irony. Also, Meta-game concerns include making sure the game is enjoyable, by making opponents and obstacles appropriate, by creating Issues that are thematically interesting to the players, and by adjudicating actions fairly. Another important meta-game concern is respecting the players visions for their characters. While, strictly speaking, only what is on the character sheet is canon, it is very poor form to knowingly define an element of the character in a way that conflicts with the concept or background the player had in mind. The player, of course, is free to establish any element with a Storypath Card (via retcon), and players should be given greater latitude when adding details or Traits that conflict with established precedent.
The Cardinal is played as an upstanding former clergyman, who has chosen to use his power to uphold justice and the Word of God. The SG should not, as a plot element, say that he knows an underworld crime boss due to his well-hidden shady past, as this infringes on the players idea of The Cardinal as beyond reproach. She could, however, say that The Cardinal once took confession from this crime boss, back when she was just an amateur housebreaker. The player saying the first thing, however, would be allowed, since The Cardinal has no Descriptors that specifically contradict this.
Most in-game concerns have to do with upholding the genre conventions of 4-color superheroes. In their service, retroactive continuity (retcon) should be used in preference to being bound by a previous Issue; villains should frequently have Powers that address the heroes Weaknesses (and vice versa); moral absolutism should guide the actions on all sides; and heroes and villains should reap what they sow.
There are a number of ways to pass on the role of Storyguide. The current Storyguide may have her character show up at the end of an Issue, thus signifying that she does not intend to run the next Issue. She may likewise (temporarily) remove one of the players characters from the
scenario17, thus sig
nifying that it is that persons turn to be Storyguide next time. Especially in the latter case, you should make sure its acceptable to the other players before turning over the reins. Ideally, everybody should take approximately equal time at being Storyguide, but if everyone is ok with it, theres nothing inherently wrong with some of the players rarely or never Storyguiding18.
Above and beyond all of these story and genre concerns, the Storyguide is responsible for adjudicating the characters actions. The most basic way of doing this is through simple Descriptor comparison. Look at the relevant Descriptors on all sides, and decide what occurs. Remember that someone with a relev
nt Descriptor should always best someone without (though the Descriptor-less character is better off than the one with a Flaw Trait in that area), and that a Power should almost always best a Trait. Circumstances should of course be considered, which may significantly alter these simple rul
es. If the results arent clear from such a comparison, then the Storyguide has the Planet scores to fall back on. For rules to help with that, see Section V.
Dont forget that this is a four-color superhero game; this brings with it some specific considerations, in order to maintain the feel. First, obstacles, and especially opponents, should almost always be scaled to match the abilities of the Main characters. The power level of the Main characters, rather than realism, should be what determines the power level of challenges. Secondly, death is rare. Ws almost
never need to be killed in order to be defeatedand a body is rarely found if they do die. Innocents should only die through the tragic error of the Main characters, and other Diceless characters should die only if they voluntarily serve the villainsand usually not even then.
On a meta-game level, you should try to always end an Issue with at least a minor cliffhanger. Even if it is the resolution of a major Miniseries, throw something into the end of the last Issue that opens up a new path or plot. Another meta-game concern is spotlight time. All of the Main characters should be approximately equally important in the Issue. This rule can be relaxed somewhat in the case of an Issue in a Main characters Title, where any other Main characters are Crossovers. But, no matter how improbable, in every Issue each of the Main characters should be faced with an obstacle that only they c
A final concern of Storyguiding is switching Storyguides. Only one person should Storyguide for a given Issue, in order to maintain a consistent tone. You may decide for yourselves, either as a blanket rule or on a case-by-case basis whether you want to maintain one Storyguide for an entire Miniseries. Another option would be to always use a particular Storyguide for the Main Title. But whatever you de
cide, you will eventually have to switch Storyguides.
A couple of tricks while you are Storyguiding will help to make the transition between SGs less jarring. First, if you define a new element of the world, whether a setting, a new Diceless or Guest character, or something else, make some notes. It is important that you write down everything that you have definitely decided, even if it wasnt revealed to the players during the Issue. Be sure and mark what the Main characters know of this. Normally, you will hand these notes over to the next SG if she requests them (she may be planning on an Issue for which they dont matter).
However, theres nothing wrong with having elements of the world exclusively under your control. If you want to keep the secret of one of the villains Powers to yourself, just make sure that the notes you hand over note that that detail is decided, but youre not revealing it. There are two advantages to doing this. First, it can make the game more enjoyable for the players, as they dont have to work as hard to separate player and character knowledge, and they can be genuinely surprised by something. Second, it tends to make the world seem more alive and real if everything isnt interconnected. By having several SGs with plots and/or plot elements that arent shared, they weave intersecting but not interconnected Issues. Its only imperative that you dont have accidentally-conflicting ideas about the world. Its always acceptable to deliberately alter something after the factretcon19 was, after all, invented to describe comic books. As a matter of manners, however, you should try not to retcon other SGs material too oftenit may take away from their feeling of contribution to the shared stories.
Another tool for aiding in the interleaving of Issues from different Titles and with different Storyguides is to drop unused clues and tidbits. Make it a practice to increase the level of detail in your descriptions, and even to throw in minor occurrences that have no significance. One of the players will often mistake these for something important, and, upon learning (from looking at your notes when they SG) that you have not fleshed them out, use them as hooks for their own plots when they next SG. After all, if they are interesting enough to catch the players attention, they are interesting enough to matter. Also, chances are that they will have already come up with an explanation or backstory (which was, at the time, wrong) while playing, so this also cuts down on inspirational effort. As an added bonus, these sorts of details often provide hooks or inspiration for the use of Storypath Cards (see the next section) during the current Issue. And, on that note, dont forget to use the additions of Storypath cards (both your own and others) when next you Storyguide.
As Storyguide, one of your duties is to come up with opponents for the heroes. A special sort of oppontent is the Nemesis20. As the game goes on, and the heroes face different threats and villains, sometimes a villain will prove a particularly appropriate foil to one of the Main characters. Due to issues of motivation and/or powers (preferably both), this villain may become a Nemesis for one or more of the characters. Generally, a Nemesis either selects one hero, or the entire group. Perhaps, if there is a special group of heroes within the group21, the Nemesis might focus on them, rather than the group as a whole.
In general, play proceeds by the Storyguide and the players narrating what occurs. The players have absolute control over their characters, and use their Descriptors to affect other parts of the world. The Storyguide not only has authority over the rest of the world (including all of the Guest and Diceless characters), but over reality itself. She is allowed to decide what happens in any contested situation, which means she effectively has veto power over even a players use of her characters Descriptors.
Doesnt sound very fair, does it?
Well, if your SG is fair-minded, and concerned primarily with everyone having a good time, itll work out just fine. For the most part. But, this is supposed to be a collaborative storytelling game, and giving one person final say over almost everything doesnt really aid collaboration. So, there is a tool for giving the players more control over the story, beyond their characters. Each of the players has some Storypath Cards (initially equal to the number of diced Planets).
If the Storyguide declares a result that you dislike, you may overrule it with the use of a Storypath Card. They may be used to alter any part of the story, regardless of whether or not the players character could have affected the change, or is even involved. In effect, the play of a card gives the player (almost-)complete authorial control over a small portion of the story, just as the SG generally has.
How a Storypath card is used is completely up to the player. The suggestions on them may be used or ignored, and the title may be taken literally or metaphorically (or both)though the title or primary meaning of the card does need to be used. There are only a couple of concrete rules governing their use. First, any player gets veto power over a card used directly on her character. She doesnt need a reason, and is encouraged to veto card plays that would violate the spirit of her character. Second, the SG gets final veto over all card plays, though she is advised not to use that power unless absolutely necessary. Third, the player of the card gets complete authorial control over the outcome. Others may contribute suggestions, but, except for veto of undesired effects on their characters, the player is not required to use those suggestions. Likewise, the SG shouldnt rewrite a use of a card, but should instead veto its use and give the player a chance to do the rewrite herself; the whole point is to give the player authorial control.
Every player starts out with as many cards as her character has diced Planets. When a card is spent, the SG should look at how it was spent. If it is, on balance, to the detriment of that players character, the player gets to immediately draw another card. If it is, on balance, to the advantage of the character, the card is not replaced. Cards are maintained from session to session, until spent. In addition to replacing cards spent as a detriment, the SG may hand out more cards as rewards for success and/or good roleplaying.
In addition to players having Storypath Cards, Titles also can have Storypath cards. Any Main character of that Title can spend these cards, but only during an Issue that takes place in that Title. The section on Titles and Issues has more on the rules governing this use of Storypath cards.
There is one further use for Storypath cards. Blank cards, as you might guess, function as a wild cardthe player may use them to do whatever she wishes. However, a blank card can also be used in a special way. If the player so desires, a blank Storypath card may be played to give a character (usually her own) a new Trait. This new Trait may be explained either with retcon or as a newly-acquired Trait, depending on what works the best for the story.
The balance of power in this game is between the Storyguide, the players, and the Storypath Cards. Under normal circumstances, all of the participants have agreed to abide by the Storyguides decisions, and the Storyguide has implicitly agreed to be as fair as possible, to both the players and the story. Usually, the gentle give and take of simple discussion will resolve any disagreements about the capabilities of a character or the outcome of an actionthere will be no need to use anything beyond the Descriptors of a character and the circumstances she is in to decide the outcome. At worst, the player may have to explain to the SG how a Descriptor is relevant, or the SG may have to rule that a Descriptor isnt relevant in this situation. At no point should the Storyguide take away the players control over their characters22.
But sometimes a player may simply have a different vision of how to steer the story. That is why the Storypath Cards exist. Not as a means to trump or beat the Storyguide, but to have a mechanism to give the player authorial power without stepping on the SGs toes. By using the cards, you clearly delineate who is in charge when, eliminating arguments that stem from each side believing their decision should hold sway.
In Four Colors al Fresco, there are several units of time, all derived from the comic books that are its source. The shortest of these is the Panel. A Page is usually longer, consisting of dozens of Panels strung together, but it may be as short as a Panel, or as long as an Issue. An Issue is an entire evenings play, while a Miniseries is a series of Issues that together comprise a single plot.
Binding all of this together are the Titles, which serve as an organizational scheme for all of the Issues and Miniseries.
A Panel is the shortest unit of time in the game. It is the amount of time it takes to complete one simple action, such as punch the villain, lift the sinking ship, speak a line of dialog, sneak across the room, or witness a lightning strike. If an action is more complex, such as executing a complex martial arts kata or delivering a monologue, it requires multiple Panels. Likewise, the results of an action can take multiple Panelswhile punching the villain might only take one panel, the villain could take several more Panels to fly across the room and smash through the wall. If in doubt, refer to this simple test: could it be reasonably illustrated in a single panel of a comic book?
There are no units of time shorter than the Panel. While a few characters (particularly super-fast Ws) will be able to take multiple actions during a single Panel, the game doesnt track time in units small enough to differentiate them. Also, you will notice that a Panel is not a fixed length. In relation to the world of the game, some variance will occur. As an extreme example, if you have two super-fast Ws fighting, and no other characters involved, a Panel might correspond to one of their actions. At the other extreme, if the only thing happening is an inventor working on a project, or a sneak searching an empty house, a Panel could encompass minutes, hours, or possibly even days.
The only time a Panel becomes anything like fixed is when multiple characters are involved. Even then, it may vary in length from Panel to Panel. But so long as anybody is engaged in a typical-speed action, the rest of the characters use that as their reference point for a Panel. So, if during a fight one of the characters is attempting to build an ornithopter, and another is sneaking out of the room to get the villains secret plans, each of those actions would now take several Panels. In the meantime, the W with superspeed would be accomplishing several actions each Panel. It is in these situations that the Panel can be used to aid in conflict resolution. If two characters are trying to accomplish something where it matters which gets done first, consider their actions in terms of Panels. Whichever can be accomplished in the fewest number of Panels succeeds. Only if they take the same number of Panels (often 1) do you need to directly resolve the actions. Comparing Panels is particularly useful when two characters actions interfere with one another, but they arent in direct conflict.
Pages are a very different sort of time unit. Rather than being designed to segregate actions, or otherwise aid in action resolution, Pages are intended to aid with story structure. A Page is everything that takes place at more-or-less one time, and in more-or-less one place, as an interconnected series of events. In other words, a scene. Pages are special to the game because a great many things are governed by them. Generally, Main characters remain injured or hindered only for the duration of the page. Many Ws have Powers that are limited to the Pageand, if in doubt, you can assume that Powers and so forth end with the Page.
The Issue is an entire evenings (or afternoons) play. It is a unit of time used mostly on the meta-game level, as an element of story. Ideally, the Issue should have a structure, most of which is consistent from Issue to Issue. The beginning of each Issue should set the scene and introduce the plot. If it is the 2nd or later part in a Miniseries, it should start with a brief recap of the Miniseries up to that point. If it is standing on its own, or is the first Issue of a Miniseries, it should get to the main plot as quickly as possible. You might even start it in media res, and then fill in the backstory either through narration or played-out flashback. This is not to say that an Issue should never have a slow or mysterious start, just that such Issues should be the exception.
The ending of an Issue is similarly formulaic. Every Issue should end with at least some things unresolved. Most Issues should end with a blatant cliffhanger. Doubly so if they are part of a Miniseries (and not the final Issue). While the final Issue of a Miniseries should resolve the major plot, even there you should sow the seeds of something newperhaps a hook for the next plot.
Something else that is normally part of an Issues ending is meta-game awards. It is usually immediately after the end of an Issue that the Storyguide hands out any reward Storypath Cards.
The internal structure of an Issue is much more flexible. If your sessions are long enough, you should duplicate the structure of the Issue in miniature, and repeat. So if its an action plot about breaking into the villains lair and defeating him, you can build up to that final climax with several lesser climaxes, as the heroes overcome successively-tougher obstacles and/or henchmen. And if its a mystery plot, they should start by uncovering a little mystery, which when solved leads to a bigger mystery, and so on.
The next-largest unit of time is again one of the story, rather than the game. A Miniseries is any series of Issues which together tell one story. Oftentimes, a story spills over the bounds of a single Issue. As soon as you have a single plot stretching over two or more Issues, you have a Miniseries. The Issues that comprise a Miniseries may come from one or many Titles, and will often come from several different Titles if different Storyguides handled different Issues in the Miniseries.
The Title is not a unit of time, but is nonetheless an organizational unit. A Title is all of the stories about a particular W or group of Ws. In the case of individuals, it is often, but not always, the same as the Ws name, or a close derivative thereof. The most important thing to know about a Title is which characters are the Main charactersthe ones who appear in it almost without fail.
Each game of Four Colors al Fresco will probably involve several different Titles. At the very least, each character has a Title of her own. Usually, there is also a Main Title, within which all of the players characters are Main characters. When someone is Storyguiding, her character will usually be absent. Unless she says otherwise, it is assumed her character is having adventures in her own Title, and she may detail what those are. Oftentimes in dialog once the character returns, when next that participant is a player. Whenever an Issue begins, part of the introduction should be the SG announcing which Title it takes place within. Usually, it will be the Main Title, but it may be in one of the characters individual Titles, with the rest of the characters Crossing Over23.
Each Title has Storypath Cards associated with it. Only the Main characters of that Title may use these Storypath cards, and only during an Issue of that Title. Unlike character Storypath Cards, when one of these cards is used, it is not replenished, no matter how it was used. Instead, any player currently playing a character in an Issue of that Title may transfer one or more of her Storypath Cards to the Title, and then draw a replacement for her hand.
Unlike a character, a Title has a limited number of slots for Storypath Cards. Normally, it has five, minus one for every Main character after the first, but all Titles have at least one slot, regardless of how many Main characters there are. A card may only be given to a Title if that Title has an open slot, and cards may only be removed from the slots by being used (by a Main character, of course).
If you are unable to decide the outcome of something which the Main characters are involved in by considering Descriptors alone, or a conflict between characters is too close to call, you may resort to rolling the Planets. This takes into account the Forces of the universe in order to resolve an action that, on the merits of those involved, alone, is unclear. Rolling the Planets may also be used to give the player a chance when her character doesnt have any relevant Descriptors, but the action is not completely impossible.
To roll your Planets, roll the appropriate die for each of your Planets (except the W Planet), and order them according to the results. It is probably easiest to have a different color die for each Planet, even if they are of different types. Line them up on the table with the lowest-resulting die at the top, and the highest at the bottom. The size of the die (number of sides) doesnt matter. The Force associated with the 1st (lowest) die is the Dominant Force. The 2nd is the Major Force, the 3rd is the Minor Force, and the last (highest) is the Weak Force. Position is the only thing that matters, not value. Results of 4,5,6,7 and 1,6,10,20 are identical (assuming those results correspond to the same Forces in the same order). In the case of ties, the extreme positions are lost first. The following examples24 of reading the Hierarchy should make it perfectly clear.
In example 1, each of the dice has come up with a different value, so the results are straightforward: Dynamic is Dominant, Passion is Major, Static is Minor, and Known is Weak.
In example 2, the two lowest dice have tied. Since extreme results are the first ones lost, it is read as Known and Lost Major, Passion Minor, and Static Weak.
Example 3 is essentially the inverse of example 2. Here, the highest two dice have tied, so no Force is Weak. It is read as Passion Dominant, Known Major, and Static and Dynamic are Minor.
In example 4 we have a pair of ties. Since neither the lowest nor the highest rolls are unique, there are no Dominant or Weak Forces. This would be Dynamic and Passion Major, and Known and Lost Minor.
Example 5 shows a three-way tie with one low die. Lost is Dominant, and Static, Dynamic, and Passion all are Major.
In Example 6 we see an internal tie. In this case, both the lowest and highest rolls are unique, so Dominant and Weak Forces are present. Since Major is favored over Minor, the tied dice are both read as Major. This would be read as Dynamic Dominant, Static and Known Major, and Lost Minor.
Finally, we have the least-extreme case in example 7. All four dice have come up with the same result. There are no unique rolls, so there can be no Dominant or Weak Forces, and since Major is favored over Minor, Static, Known, Lost, and Passion are all Major.
Some characters will have fewer than 4 Planets to roll, due to having more than one W Planet. In those cases, the dice must be read slightly differently. The same basic principles apply, with the addition that Minor is the least-important position to consider. Examples 8-11 illustrate the character with 2 W Planets, while examples 12 and 13 are for someone with 3 W Planets.
In the basic case (Example 8), the character with only three Planets to roll produces a regular result, but without a Minor Force. So this would be read as Passion Dominant, Static Major, and Known Weak.
In the case of a tie, it will be either two Major and a Weak, or a Dominant and two Major. Example 9 is Dynamic and Lost Major, and Passion Weak.
Example 10 shows the other possible tie. This is Static Dominant, and Dynamic and Lost Major.
Like a 4-way tie for a regular character, a 3-way tie means all Forces are Major. So in Example 11, Lost, Known, and Static are all Major.
There are only two possible results for the character with 3 W Planets. Either the dice tie, or they dont. Example 12 shows Dynamic Dominant and The Lost Weak, while example 13 shows The Lost and Dynamic both Major.
There are two complications to the die rolls. The first is the Circumstance die. Circumstance dice sit outside the hierarchy. While they do not disturb the hierarchy, it is important to know how they relate to it. Set up the hierarchy normally, and then put the Circumstance die alongside it, according to its result. Examples 14 through 17 show 4 possible results, depending on the result on a Circumstance die. They range from stronger than the Dominant to weaker than the Weak.
In Example 14, a Major Circumstance die would rule the situation and, while a Minor Circumstance die would not change the degree of the outcome, it would strongly color its nature.
Examples 15 and 16 show some of the possibilities of the more-common results of a Circumstance die falling somewhere within the hierarchy, sometimes tying one of the Planet dice. When it ties a Planet, treat it as having the same position as the PlanetMajor in Example 16. If it falls between steps of the hierarchy, consider it just before the Major position, if it is between the Dominant and Major dice, as in Example 15. If it is between the Major and Weak positions, it serves only to color resultsmuch like the Minor positionunless it is a Major Circumstance die and none of the Dominant, Weak, or Major positions could determine the outcome.
If a Circumstance die sits below the Weak position, as in Example 17, it has essentially no impact. No matter where it falls, remember that a Minor Circumstance die can not determine results, only color them.
The other complication is the combined roll. When two Omegas come into conflict, their Planets interact. Both are governed equally strongly by a Force, except where they are Wed. To represent this in game terms, the dice of their Planets are combined, so that you only roll one die for each Force, which then applies to both characters. Both characters Hierarchies are then read from this set of dice, with each character ignoring any Wed Planets. For each Force, compare the Planet scores of the two characters, and select only one of them. If the characters are working against one another, results get less predictable, so roll the larger die of the two.
The Cardinal (Mercury d8, Venus W, Mars d6, Jupiter d6, Saturn d20) and Renaissance Man (Mercury d4, Venus d8, Mars d4, Jupiter W, Saturn d10) are arm wrestling. You would roll d8 for Known, d8 for Passion, d6 for Dynamic, d6 for Static, and d20 for Lost. The results are Known: 1, Passion: 3, Dynamic: 3, Static: 4, Lost: 5, and are laid out as in Example 18. The Cardinal would have a result of Known Dominant, Dynamic Major, Static Minor, and Lost Weak, while Renaissance Mans result would be Known Dominant, Dynamic and Passion tied for Major, and Lost Weak.
A combined roll is also used for characters acting in concert. The same procedure is followed, but when characters work together, results become more predictable, so use the smaller Planet die for each Force. Again, read both characters Hierarchies, ignoring their respective Wed Planets, but in this case the more advantageous result is used and the other ignored, instead of using one result for each character.
So if The Cardinal and Renaissance Man, as above, were working together to left a heavy stone, they would roll d4 for Known, d8 for Passion, d4 for Dynamic, d6 for Static, and d10 for Lost. If the results were Known:1, Passion: 4, Dynamic: 3, Static: 5, and Lost: 6, the dice would be laid out as in Example 19. The result would be either Known Dominant, Dynamic Major, Static Minor, and Lost Weak, or Known Dominant, Dynamic Major, Passion Minor, and Lost Weak, whichever was more advantageous.
Now that you know how to read the Hierarchy, using the Planets to resolve actions just involves understanding the Forces. The basic die-rolling procedure is as follows:
1) The SG sets the Difficulty for the action, and picks the Favored and Opposed Forces.
2) The SG decides whether or not a Benefit or Hindrance (or both) applies, and if so, assigns the die or dice.
3) The player rolls her characters Planets, and orders the dice according to the results, from lowest to highest.
3a) The player also rolls any Circumstance dice, and compares them to the Hierarchy of the Planets.
4) The SG determines whether or not the action is successful, based on the Hierarchy of the Planets.
Taking each of the steps in turn, well begin with an in-depth look at step 1, picking the Forces. There are two aspects to picking the Forces: how many, and which ones. Generally, we recommend that you start by assigning a Difficulty to the task, and then picking a number of Forces to match that Difficulty. You may, however, just choose the Favored and Opposed Forces, and allow the Difficulty to fall where it may, thus providing the Difficulty naturally. In general, we discourage this method, as almost any Force can be described as governing almost any action, so it will tend to produce the Difficulty you want it tothus leading back to the first method.
The basic difficulty for a task that requires a roll is Moderate. If you are considering using the Automatic or Impossible Difficulty levels, reconsider. In many situations, they are identical to the Simple and Hard Difficulties25. If what you want is a particularly difficult or easy task, assign a less-extreme Difficulty, and apply a fairly small Circumstance Die. If the action really should be automatic or impossible, declare it such, and dont roll. About the only time when those Difficulties are appropriate is in a case of opposed action, when the action would normally be futile or simplistic, but you want some chance for the opponent to fail or succeed, respectively.
Once you have a Difficulty in mind, the first question is which Forces are Favored for an action. These are the Forces that are in alignment with the action and likely to come into play for a successful outcome. The Opposed Forces are those which are most likely to come into play if the action fails. All actions should have at least one neutral Force, a Force which is neither Opposed nor Favored, and thus is given no consideration when interpreting the results. Remember that these Forces are picked with reference to the task being accomplished, and with no regard for the character accomplishing them.
Once the SG has decided, she should tell the player what Forces are Favored and Opposed. At this point, it is the players responsibility to let the SG know if she has overlooked any mitigating circumstances that would alter the relevant Forces. The player may argue for different Forces, but the SG has final say. Generally, the only reason the SG should change the Forces picked is if she has forgotten a relevant Descriptor of the character, or the character changes strategies (presumably to play to her strengths). Ideally, the player will have already taken her characters strengths into account when choosing a course of action, and so the SGs choice of Forces will be well-tuned. Whether or not the SG accepts any of the players suggestions, the Favored and Opposed Forces should be settled upon before the roll is made. It is too late once the dice have been rolled.
The other element that should be decided upon before the roll is the application of any Circumstance (Benefit or Hindrance) dice. Circumstance dice are used for two different purposes. A Minor Circumstance die is applied for circumstances that affect the nature of the outcome, but wont actually help or prevent it, such as wounds, special tools, distractions, and extreme cleverness. When a result is read that includes a Minor Modifier die, the outcome is determined normally from the Planets, but the placement of the Circumstance die is used to help explain the outcome. Remember that Diceless characters cant roll for themselves, so allies and opponents are often translated into a Benefit or Hindrance die, respectively, for the Main characters.
A Major Circumstance die is used for those cases where the actual outcome could be affected. Again, the Planets are rolled normally, and the Circumstance die is placed with regards to the Hierarchy. But if a Major Circumstance die is stronger than (has a smaller value than) all of the Planets, it instead rules, causing failure or success, respectively. At the SGs discretion, it may also rule the situation with other placements, depending on the rest of the Hierarchy. Major Circumstance dice should be used for particularly amazing stunts, very significant Diceless opposing or allied forces, or other major impacts on the possible outcomes.
In any case, the size and type of Circumstance die should be left up to the SG, with player input, of course. Most Circumstance dice should be Minor, and you should mostly stick to the d20 to d4 range. Consider carefully before assigning a Major Circumstance die, because you are lessening the players impact on the story by putting a factor outside her control into the Hierarchy. A character may have both a Hindrance and a Benefit die at the same time, but only 1 of each (whether each is Minor or Major doesnt matter).
Once you have the Forces and Circumstances determined, roll the dice. There are two types of rolls, a basic roll and a combined roll. A combined roll is only used when two characters with dice (i.e., Planet scores) are involved in the same action, either in concert or opposition. A basic roll is used in all other circumstances, even when the character is in conflict with another (Diceless) character.
For a basic roll, roll all of the characters Planets, and order the dice (and thus the Forces they represent) according to their results, from lowest to highestdie type doesnt matter for this ordering. To expedite this, it is a good idea to have a different color for each Planet die, even if they are of different types. Consult the die-rolling examples if youre not sure how to deal with ties and other complications. If you have any Circumstance dice, you can either roll them along with the other dice (provided they are of different colors, so you can keep them separated), or afterwards. Alternately, you could roll Major Circumstance dice along with the Planets, since they are necessary for determining success, and roll Minor Circumstance dice separately, since they only flavor the result.
For a combined roll, look at the characters Planets, and select the smallest die for any that they both have. You should end up with a die for each Planet that either character has, and that die should be the smaller of the two if both characters have it. Roll the dice together and order them, pulling any Wed results to the side, away from that character. Then determine the Hierarchy for each character, using only dice that are not Wed for that character. If the characters are working against each other, each uses her own Hierarchy. If they are working together, they both use the more-favorable Hierarchy.
The final step is to determine the success or failure. This is done by checking the Hierarchy in a particular order. First the Dominant die is checked. If it is one of the Favored Forces, the action succeeds, and if it is one of the Opposed Forces, the action fails. If it is neither, or there is no Dominant die, proceed to the Weak. If that die is an Opposed Force the action succeeds, and if it is a Favored Force the action fails. If it, too, is neutral or non-existent, look to the Major die. Once again, a Favored Force means success, while an Opposed Force means failure. If, after checking the Major position, there still is not a result, the action is considered to have been unproductive; there has been no change in the situation. In most cases, this means that nothing happened (the arm wrestlers are at a standoff, with neither having made any progress), but in some situations doing nothing is tantamount to a bare success (if youre trying to resist someone pulling you down, just not going anywhere is almost a success). If an Opposed and Favored Force are tied in a position, treat that position as neutral and move on. If there are more Opposed than Favored Forces tied in one position, treat the position as Opposed, and vice versa.
Remember that a Major Circumstance die will determine success if it is strong enough.What exactly constitutes strong enough is up to the SG. If it is lower than all of the Planets, it certainly rules, but the rest of the time it is up to the SG to interpret its relative importance from its position, especially with regards to the Opposed and Favored Forces.
If you want a more-detailed result, there are two techniques for getting more information from the Hierarchy. The first, and most important way, is to consider the particular Forces involved in greater detail. While you simply assigned Forces as Favored, Opposed, or Neutral in the basic die-rolling system, here we will consider their specific natures. Which Forces come up where, particularly of the Favored and Opposed Forces, will tell you the nature of the success. A success with Passion (Favored) Dominant and Static (Favored) Weak is very different from one with Static (Favored) Dominant and Passion (Favored) Weak, even though both give the same nominal result. Consider the Descriptors of the characters involved, and take advantage of that distinction to describe both the nature and degree of the success or failure. If the results make sense, their relative magnitude will take care of itself.
Directly comparing successes and making sure that one success is appropriately greater than another is a secondary and rather minor consideration. But if you wish to be more consistent in your rulings, or you just wish finer gradations than simply analyzing the Forces can give you, the Hierarchy (with or without Circumstance dice) can be used to give degrees of success. In general, more Favored Forces in the Dominant and Major positions, more Opposed Forces in the Weak position, and stronger results from Benefit dice mean a better result, while more Opposed Forces in the Dominant and Major positions, more Favored Forces in the Weak position, and stronger results from Hindrance dice mean a worse result. Also, the Dominant position is slightly stronger than the Weak, which is in turn stronger than the Major. A suggested ordering of results is given in the chart on this page, but it is by no means definitive, nor does it cover every possible situation. The chart works from the greatest success at the upper left to the greatest failure at the lower right. Failures are white-on-black and Successes are black-on-white.
The Circumstance dice can also be used to give a more-detailed description of the results. When a Circumstance die ties a Planet, treat it as having the same position as the Planet. If it falls between steps of the hierarchy, consider it just before the Major position if it is between the Major and Dominant dice. If it is between the Major and Weak positions, it serves only to color results, unless it is a Major Circumstance die and none of the Dominant, Weak, or Major positions determine the outcome.
If a Circumstance die sits below the Weak position, it has slightly more importance than the Weak diebut is not inverted in meaning (a Benefit die is still helpful, and a Hindrance die is still limiting). But remember that a Minor Circumstance die can not determine results, only color them.
Another optional rule is to allow multiple Hindrance dice when facing a small number of significant opponents. A separate Hindrance die can be assigned for each opponent, and you can then look at where they fall to individually determine how the opponents did, thus giving a more-detailed result. If a Main character is facing a couple of Omegas for whom you dont have Planet scores yet, you could just treat each as Major Hindrance die, and if their particular Hindrance die is the one that causes the character to fail, or do less well, they are the cause of it, and have succeeded in inverse measure.
Italia is essentially Renaissance Italy as we wish it had been, with the addition of superheroes. Everything is more exciting and more amazing and more dangerous than it was in real life. There are not merely politics, but Machiavellian secret societies behind the scenes controlling everything. The Church isnt just in charge, its right. And the inventions of da Vincis that we know are just the ones he didnt keep secret26.
If you want to add more detail to the world, just follow this simple principle: if it seems right to you, it probably is. This is Renaissance Italy according to movie history. If a few facts get changed to make things more interesting, thats all for the better?
There is, of course, one major change to the real Renaissance Italy to come up with Italia: the Omegas. Like many superhero settings, this one does not fully integrate the superheroes into the setting. The world is not altered to anywhere near the degree it most likely would be with a large body of superpowered persons within it.
Crossing Over: the act of an W, especially a Main character, appearing in a Title that they are not normally a part of.
Descriptors: everything, besides the Planet scores, that expresses your character in game-mechanical terms; essentially everything on your character sheet except for the Storypath cards and Planets (and Name). Some have special names, such as Traits, Flaws, Powers, etc.
Diceless: non-W characters. Characters who are in balance with reality, and thus have no need for Planet scores (and the dice that are used for them) in describing them. Since they have no Wed Planets, they do not have any Powers, but they often still have Traits, and, if played by a Player, will have Storypath Cards. For purposes of helping the SG out, they are classified, in increasing order of Issue importance, as Extra, Walk-on, Recurring, Supporting, and Major (q.v.).
Dominant: see Hierarchy
Dynamic: the Force of action and movement and change. Governed by Mars, God of War.
Extra: a Diceless character, generally without any Traits, who occupies a very minor role in the Issue. Usually doesnt even have a name.
Flaw: A special kind of Trait. Flaws are Traits that are almost always negative in effect, and thus a detriment to the Character. A Flaw is something that the Character would like to be rid of.
Forces: There are 5 Forces that govern the world. They are Static, Dynamic, Known, Lost, and Passion. Like the 4 modern forces that govern our world (gravity, electromagnetism, strong, and weak), everything that happens happens according to the laws of these Forces. However, these Forces are much more archetypal, and more readily observable to the average person. Also, there are some people who are not governed normally by one or more of the Forces, and thus do not abide by its laws. These are the Ws (Omegas) (q.v.).
Guest Characters: all of the Ws other than the Main characters. Usually, there are one or more villainous Guest characters in an Issue, and there may also be heroic Guests, who are not part of the Main characters, but are Crossing Over (q.v.). They are almost always played by the Storyguide.
Hierarchy: The ordering of the dice, and thus their corresponding Forces, when they are rolled. It is the Hierarchy that determines the outcome of an in-question action. The smaller the number on the die, the higher it is in the Hierarchy. The top position (lowest number), which may only be occupied uniquely, is labeled Dominant. The next highest position, or highest if the lowest number is tied, is labeled Major. The lowest position, which again may only be occupied uniquely, is labeled Weak. The final position, above Weak and below Major, is labeled Minor. The Dominant and Major positions are favorable, and indicate success if Favored Forces fall into them. The Weak position is unfavorable, and indicates failure if a Favored Force falls into it.
Issue: a single session (evening/afternoon) of game play. Most Issues contain multiple Pages, and they are often grouped into Miniseries.
Known: the Force of science, reason, and the rational world. Governed by Mercury, Patron of Discovery.
Lost: the Force of the mystical, magical, and forgotten. The source of faith and magic, and the governing Force for esoteric occult knowledges. Governed by Saturn, the Mystic.
Main character: a character played by one of the Players. They are the characters around whom the stories of every Issue revolve.
Main Title: The exploits of the characters are organized in a number of ways. One of those is the concept of Title(q.v.). The Main Title is the Title that includes all of the characters as Main Characters (q.v.).
Major: see Hierarchy
Major character: a very important Diceless character, on par with the Main and Guest characters. She will be named, with a well-detailed personality and background, and a full complement of Traits. She may even be a Main character, and thus have Storypath Cards.
Miniseries: a series of Issues that are all linked together to form a single plot. The Issues of a Miniseries usually are part of a single Title, but this is not necessarily the case, and its perfectly reasonable for a Miniseries to span as many Titles as it has Issues.
Minor: see Hierarchy
Nemesis: a villain who has a particular interest in defeating a hero or group of heroes, and who is often of particular interest to the hero(es) in return.
Passion: the Force of emotions and feelings. Governed by Venus, Goddess of Passion.
Page: a series of events that are all tightly tied together and take place in a short span of time in a single location. Essentially, a scene. A Page may be made up of any number of Panels, including none. Depending on the nature of the activities it encompasses, it wont always be divided into Panels. A Series of Pages make up an Issue.
Panel: the smallest unit of time in the game system. During one Panel, a character may accomplish one simple action, such as making an attack, lifting a sinking ship, or delivering some dialog. More complex actions, such as disarming a complex trap, delivering a monologue, debating a course of action, or laying an ambush, will take multiple Panels.
Planets: the dice ratings on your character sheet. They rate how much the various Forces affect your character; Smaller numbers indicate a stronger influence. also, a metaphorical term for the Forces; each Force is thought to be governed by one of the known Planets.
Players: while all of the participants of most games are referred to as players, here the term has a slightly more specific meaning. The players are all of the participants except the Storyguide (q.v.).
Power: The advantageous special Descriptor associated with your Wed Planet. Powers generally fall outside the bounds of normal reality in the world. A Power should be somehow exceptional, either in nature or degree, so as to keep it distinct from other Traits.
Power Stunt: a special kind of Trait. Power Stunts are special uses of a Power that arent outside of its purview, but arent necessarily an inherent part of it, either. A Power Stunt guarantees the ability to utilize the Power in this borderline area.
Quirk: the Descriptor that stems from an Wed Planet. which is neither advantageous nor disadvantageous on the whole. Like a Weakness or Power, it should be somehow exceptional or supernatural.
Recurring character: a Diceless character that has appeared in several Issues; often starts out as a Walk-on. She is almost always named, and her personality and background are usually at least sketched out. Recurring characters generally have several Traits.
Retcon: Retroactive Continuity. Claiming that something was always true, and that history is now the way it would have been, had it been true. One method of altering something (usually a character) and maintaining consistency.
Static: the Force of stability and the status quo. Governed by Jupiter, the Eternal Ruler.
Storyguide (SG): the Storyguide is the participant who currently isnt a regular player. It is her job to detail the setting, play all of the extra characters, provide a scenario, and adjudicate actions.
Supporting character: a Diceless character with a regular role in a Title. She is named, and her personality and background are somewhat detailed. Supporting characters generally have quite a few Traits.
Title: the collected adventures of a particular W or group of Ws.
Traits: Descriptors other than your Power/Weakness/ Quirk. Some of these are in turn given special names, such as Flaws and Power Stunts.
Walk-on: a Diceless character who has a very minor, usually one-time, role in an Issue. She is usually only minimally detailed, and has only a few Traits.
Weak: see Hierarchy
Weakness: The disadvantageous special Descriptor associated with your Wed Planet. Many Weaknesses tie directly to the Power, and either limit it in some way, negate it under some circumstances, or provide a way to counter it. But this need not be the case, and a Weakness could work in any way. What is important is that it be somehow exceptional, either in degree or nature, or it would simply be a Flaw Trait.
W (Omega): Someone who is out of the sight of one of the Planets, and therefore not limited to the normal rules of the Force it governs. As a result, they have what we would call superpowers, and are often capable of feats well beyond human norms. Also, Ws are literally unseen by the Planet(s) they have Wed, and thus cast no shadows in their lightthough this lack of shadow is overwhelmed by the light of all the other stars, as well as the Sun and Moon, without a special ability to notice it. Nobody knows who first used the term W, but it is suspected that it was someone trying to be clever and show their learning by making a reference to the end of normal laws where these people are concerned.
Agnola/ Agnolino/ Agnolo
Aluysio/ Luysio/ Loysio/ Aloysius
Andrea/ Andream/ Andreano
Antonello/ Antonio/ Antonolo
Balda/ Baldasera/ Baldassare/ Baldassarr/ Baldese
Bandetto/ Bandino/ Bandoccio
Barto/ Bartoletto/ Bartolo/ Bartolomeo
Bertino/ Berto/ Bertoldo
Bertuccio/ Bertucio/ Bettuccio
Bindello/ Bindo/ Bino
Buccio/ Bucello/ Buffillo
Calvano/ Calvetto/ Calviano
Cambino/ Cambio/ Camillo
Castellano/ Castello/ Catalano/ Cataldo
Cecca/ Cecchino/ Cecco
Ciango/ Ciano/ Ciapo/ Ciardo
Cinello/ Cino/ Cinozzo
Corsello/ Corsino/ Corso
Cristofano/ Cristoforo/ Cristofo
Daniele/ Danieli/ Daniello
Dino/ Dioneo/ Dionisio
Donato/ Donnino/ Dono
Ferrante/ Ferrantino/ Ferretto/ Ferrino
Franceschi/ Francesco/ Francescino/ Checo
Giovanni/ Gian/ Nanino/ Zanino
Giunta/ Giuntino/ Giunto
Grazia/ Grazino/ Graziuolo
Gualterone/ Gualterott/ Gualtieri
Iacopao/ Iacopo/ Jacobo/ Jacopo/ Jacobino/ Iacobino/ Jacobello/ Giacomo/ Jacomelo/ Puzinello/ Bolezino/ Bolino.
Lapaccino/ Lapaccio/ Lapino/ Lapo/ Lappino/ Lapuccio
Lippaccio/ Lippo/ Lippozzo
Mafeo/ Mapheo/ Matheo/ Maffeo
Michael/ Michaleto/ Michele
Mora/ Moreto/ More
Nanna/ Nanne/ Nanni/ Nannino
Nera/ Neri/ Nero
Niccola/ Niccolaio/ Niccoletto/ Niccolino/ Niccolo/ Nicolo/ Nicolaus/ Nicoleto/ Nicolino/ Niccolucci
Noldo/ Nozzo/ Nuccino/ Nuccio/ Nutino/ Nuto/ Nuttino/ Nuzzio
Orinolo/ Orlandino/ Orlando
Paganello/ Paganino/ Pagano/ Pagno/ Pagnozzo/ Pagolo
Pantaleo/ Pantaleone/ Pantalione
Papi/ Papino/ Papo
Riccardo/ Ricco/ Riccoldo/ Riccuccio
Simon/ Simoneto/ Simone
Tomaso/ Thomas/ Tome/ Tommaso/ Tomme
Byzantine Feminine Monastic
Byzantine Masculine Monastic
Amete/ Amate/ Hamate/ Hamet/ Hamete
Cidy/ Cide/ Cidi
Mohammed/ Muhammad/ Maoma/ Mahoma/ Mahomad/ Mahamete/ Mahomed/ Mohamad
Hisein/ Hossein/ Hussain
Constanza/ Constança/ Costança/ Costanza
Francisca/ Françisca/ Françisquita
Lucia/ Luisa/ Luzia
Mencia/ Mençia/ Mencía
Ynes/ Ines/ Ynés/ Inés
Ysabel/ Isabel/ Isabelica
Atamaita/ Mamaita/ Umamaita
Bardiya/ Gaumâta/ Smerdis
We like to think of this game as what the second generation of RPGs might have looked like if Everwayor Heaven & Earth, or Nobilishad been the first published RPG, instead of D&D. In short, if RPGs had grown out of games like Once Upon a Time, instead of wargames. These are its spiritual ancestors, though perhaps not its mechanical ancestors.
We created this game in rather a backward order. It started out with the concept of a game mechanic, and only much later did we begin putting a world around it.
The original precept was to see what happened if we broke a pair of sacred cows of the RPG: focusing on the character, and giving quantitative results. We wanted to see if we could come up with a meaningful mechanic that focused on the setting, and that told us only how things happened, not to what degree. Well, as we experimented with different things, we decided that qualitative results were insufficient for our purposesan RPG resolution system needs to tell you whether or not youve succeeded, and what we had couldnt answer that question with any kind of certitude. However, we did come away with the idea of a system that was without hierarchical scales, so that while the system now tells you that X is better than Y, and X is better than Z, it refuses to tell you by how much, and therefore whether or not Y is better than Z.
The focus on externalities is what became the Planets. Most (all?) RPGs consider the world the static, or at least definite, part of the equation, and the character striving is what the mechanics/dice rolls represent. We wanted to see what a system looked like that didnt take the character into consideration, except perhaps analogously to the modifiers that situation might have on a roll in a normal RPG. Instead, it would look at the world half of the world-character interaction. All of those random factors that most game system sum up in the luck of the diceuncertain footing, great distance, a change in the wind; in short, chancewould become the focus of our mechanic, while those things that are usually considered under character controlskill, natural aptitude, attributes, etc.would become the chance factors summed up by the die roll. In the end, it didnt end up quite that way, but it still informs the philosophy behind the mechanics. The idea has been refined into a somewhat-detailed mechanical view of the world around the characterthe Planetswhich consciously ignores all other aspects of character.
Once we had the mechanic that became Rolling the Planets, though without specific forces in mind yet, we set about looking for a setting/genre where this sort of heavy-handed fate intervention would feel reasonable, or even appropriate. A couple of possibilities were tossed around, but we finally settled on low-powered supers, and thought that a pseudo-period setting with supers would be grand fun. We hope you agree on that count. The pulp part of the setting came from two imperatives. First, it seemed more appropriate for the setting, and, second, the lower power and less-special-status for supers seemed a better mesh for the pseudo-historical settingwith supers having less power, we could minimize the degree to which they had warped the setting.
Oh, and for those of you who care: yes, we have analyzed the probabilities for the dice, at least to a degree. And were not telling. This isnt a game about that sort of thing. It only matters whether or not one die is less than, equal to, or greater than another, not by how much, so suffice it to say that, yes, a d20 beats a d16 about as often as a d6 beats a d4 (within a few percentage points), or for that matter, about as often as a d12 beats a d10, and this holds true so long as you only use the recommended die sizes.
A great many things have gone into this game, in terms of antecedents. The most obvious and significant, from a setting point of view, are several comics, while much of the mood can be traced to movies. The mechanics, and the game side in general, come from a mix of RPGs and comics.
Its not just the concept of a more realistic setting that actually responds to the existence of supers. Also, some of the deconstruction of the superhero, which shows up in the self-parody and tongue-in-cheek references that many of our heroes and villains display.
not just a deconstruction of the superhero mythos, this one also reconstructs it. He rips the foundations out from under the superhero at the very same time that he is building a new foundation, from many of the same parts, put together completely differently. In the end, we see a completely different, yet infinitely similar superheroa postmodern reconstruction of the concept of superhero. Everything underneath has changed, but the flowers are still standing.
The Numerous Comics from which we have shamelessly stolen inspiration (and then some) for many of our stock characters.
Over the Edge
I was rereading my copy of Theatrix as this neared completion, looking for inspiration to clean up a few areas. It turns out that this game has more in common, mechanically, with Theatrix than any other RPG Im aware of. I honestly cant tell you how much of this was convergent evolution, and how much was inspiration. I didnt consciously borrow much at all from Theatrix, but I had read it (long) before we even started on this project, so theres no telling how much of it had lodged in my subconsious.
A Final Note
So, why are we releasing this as open content? Well, theres definitely a bit of hubris involved. We believe that this game marks a significant departure from most, if not all, RPGs published to date. But we also think that it is, at best, a first, rough, expression of an idea. Much as it took several games to really refine the model that D&D originally put forth, If this model for an RPG is to have any real value it must be refined. While there is nothing we could do to prevent others from reusing our mechanics in their creations, we know that some shy away from what they see as stealing in an ethical or legal sense. We want to make it absolutely clear that we dont object to, and in fact encourage, others taking this work and building on it. Our greatest hope is that this really is a different way of looking at the RPG, as we believe it is, and that somewhen down the line we can look back and trace at least one jewel of an RPG back to this genesis.
October Open Game License
Copyright © 2000 RPG Library
1633 Leckie Street, Portsmouth, VA 23704-1717
Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies of this document, but changing it is not allowed.
Table of Contents
1. Applicability and Definitions
2. Verbatim Copying
3. Copying in Quantity
5. Combining Documents
6. Collections of Documents
7. Aggregation with Independent Works
10. Future Revisions of This License
11. How to Use This License for Your Documents
The purpose of this License is to make a rulebook, game manual, sourcebook, supplement, or other written role- playing game document free in the sense that everyone is permitted to copy and redistribute it, with or without modifying it, either commercially or noncommercially. Secondarily, this License preserves for the author and publisher a way to get credit for their work, while not being considered responsible for modifications made by others.
This License is a kind of copyleft, which means that derivative works of the document must themselves be free in the same sense. It is based largely upon the GNU Free Documentation License, which is a copyleft license designed for software manuals and textbooks.
We have designed this License in order to use it for rulebooks and sourcebooks for role-play gaming, in the hope that a convenient and complete open license for role-play gaming material will encourage the cooperative creation of a greater variety and quality of games. We recommend this License principally for works whose purpose is instruction or reference for a role-playing game.
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Copyright notice above.
1633 Leckie Street
List of Sidebars
The Forces 3
Which Force For My Power? 3
I Want More Power! 4
Do I Really Need all Those Dice? 5
But Im Well-Balanced! 6
Designing Traits 6
How Not to Storyguide 9
Between Issues 10
Finding Storypath Cards 11
One Panel/More Than One Panel 13
Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Dice? 16
Ive Got a Secret 19
Circumstances Are Everything 20
Thou Shalt Not Determine Degree of Success by Comparing Values on the Dice 21
Tables and Charts
Planets and Number of Descriptors 5
The Hierarchy 16
Degrees of Success 20
Diceless see Diceless Characters
- Power Stunts
Dominant see Hierarchy
Dynamic see Forces
Extra see Diceless Characters
Flaw see Descriptors
- fewer than 4 dice/Forces/Planets
- more than 4 dice/Forces/Planets
- laying out the dice
Known see Forces
Lost see Forces
Major see Hierarchy
Major character see Diceless Characters
Minor see Hierarchy
Passion see Forces
Power see Descriptors
Power Stunt see Descriptors
Quirk see Descriptors
Recurring character see Diceless Characters
Static see Forces
Supporting character see Diceless Characters
- about 11
- for characters 5,11
- for Titles 14
- gaining Traits with 12
- sources for 11
Traits see Descriptors
Walk-on see Diceless Characters
Weak see Hierarchy
Weakness see Descriptors
Combined and Opposed rolls
1 Issue: a given session of play.
2 And, for you sticklers in the audience, RPGs are not, strictly speaking, games at all. A game has victory conditions, while RPGs do not. That is, theres no way to win an RPG. Of course, your characters can win in a particular scenario, but that is unrelated to winning at the game as a whole. At best, you can win by enjoying yourselvesand about the only way you can lose is to fail to enjoy yourselves.
3 Players: while all of the participants of most games are referred to as players, here the term has a slightly more specific meaning. The player are all of the participants except the Storyguide.
4 Storyguide (SG): the Storyguide is the participant who currently isnt a regular player. It is her job to detail the setting, play all of the extra characters, provide a scenario, and adjudicate actions.
5 Planets: the dice ratings on your character sheet. They rate how much the various Forces affect your character; Smaller numbers indicate a stronger influence. also, a metaphorical term for the Forces; each Force is thought to be governed by one of the known Planets.
6 the smaller the die in a Planet, the more strongly that Force affects the character, so the higher the score
7 Traits: Descriptors other than your Power/Weakness/ Quirk. Some of these are in turn given special names, such as Flaws and Power Stunts.
8 Forces: There are 5 Forces that govern the world. They are Static, Dynamic, Known, Lost, and Passion. Like the 4 modern forces that govern our world (gravity, electromagnetism, strong, and weak), everything that happens happens according to the laws of these Forces. However, these Forces are much more archetypal, and more readily observable to the average person. Also, there are some people who are not governed normally by one or more of the Forces, and thus do not abide by its laws. These are the Ws (Omegas).
9 Power: The advantageous special Descriptor associated with your Wed Planet. Powers generally fall outside the bounds of normal reality in the world. A Power should be somehow exceptional, either in nature or degree, so as to keep it distinct from other Traits.
10 Weakness: The disadvantageous special Descriptor associated with your Wed Planet. Many Weaknesses tie directly to the Power, and either limit it in some way, negate it under some circumstances, or provide a way to counter it. But this need not be the case, and a Weakness could work in any way. What is important is that it be somehow exceptional, either in degree or nature, or it would simply be a Flaw Trait.
11 Descriptors: everything, besides the Planet scores, that expresses your character in game-mechanical terms; essentially everything on your character sheet except for the Storypath cards and Planets (and Name). Some have special names, such as Traits, Flaws, Powers, etc.
12 And in many places, all of the heroic Omegas are technically vigilantes, since the law does not formally recognize their authority, but merely turns a blind eye to most of their activities.
13 Main Title: The exploits of the characters are organized in a number of ways. One of those is the concept of Title. The Main Title is the Title that includes all of the characters as Main Characters.
14 Suspension of disbelief is an ability we all have. It is the willingness to ignore, forgive, or accept happenings in a fictional world that would be unbelievable in the real world.
15 Dice in this game will be referred to with the now-traditional shorthand of XdY. This means to roll X dice with Y sides on each die. The d is an abbreviation of dice, and the X is generally left out if it is 1. In some games, you would sum the dice if you were rolling more than one. In this game, if you are asked to roll more than one die for a given Force or Planet, you will take the lowest one, and ignore the others. One further point of confusion: not all dice with a given number of sides actually have that many sides. Three-sided dice are actually traditional 6-faced (cubic) dice, with the faces numbered 1 to 3, twice. Likewise, 5-sided dice are doubly-numbered 10-faced polyhedrons. Ten-sided dice can be found as both 10-faced polyhedrons and doubly-numbered 20-faced polyhedrons.
16 Hierarchy: The ordering of the dice, and thus their corresponding Forces, when they are rolled. It is the Hierarchy that determines the outcome of an in-question action. The smaller the number on the die, the higher it is in the Hierarchy. The top position (lowest number), which may only be occupied uniquely, is labeled Dominant. The next highest position, or highest if the lowest number is tied, is labeled Major. The lowest position, which again may only be occupied uniquely, is labeled Weak. The final position, above Weak and below Major, is labeled Minor. The Dominant and Major positions are favorable, and indicate success if Favored Forces fall into them. The Weak position is unfavorable, and indicates failure if a Favored Force falls into it.
17 By capture, incapacitation, an emergency summons, or whatever.
18 In which case, you should never attempt to force them into the role of SG by removing their character.
19 Retcon: Retroactive Continuity. Claiming that something was always true, and that history is now the way it would have been, had it been true. One method of altering something (usually a character) and maintaining consistency.
20 Nemesis: a villain who has a particular interest in defeating a hero or group of heroes, and who is often of particular interest to the hero(es) in return.
21 A good rule of thumb is: do they have their own Title? If they exist as a group in a Title, then they can be selected by a Nemesis.
22 without a good, in-game reason, such as a villain with mind-control powers, or a Page that takes place within a dream. Even then, great care should be taken when treading upon the players mental images of their characters
23 Crossing Over: the act of an W, especially a Main character, appearing in a Title that they are not normally a part of.
24 Known is a white octagon, Passion is a blue pentagon, Dynamic is a red diamond, Static is a green heptagon, and Lost is a black hexagon. Circumstance dice are a brown triangle.
25 due to Wed Planets altering the odds for a particular character
26 in fact, da Vinci is the not-so-secret founder of the Daring daVincis, a team of Ws that all get their powers from gadgets built by him