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Core Rules

The core rules for 9P are simple and easy for the GM to use. Characters are described with skills that have numeric skill ratings. A character's skill ratings are often modified by bonuses or penalties. Most skills are actively used; some proactively provide immunity to certain dangers by elusion.

As characters complete adventures and grow stronger their skill ratings increase and they also learn to use talents.

The rules about skills and talents also apply to NPCs.

The flow of the game is described using turns, successes, and losses.

Using dice is an option for people who prefer adventuring to include more luck.

Traits help make characters and monsters distict using flavorful exceptions to the core rules.

A one-page summary of these core rules is included as a handy reference.

Discuss the 9P core rules at the Story Games forum.

The people playing 9P have different roles. One acts as narrator. The others are each in charge of one protagonist. The narrator describes the setting and controls everything in the story except the main character. The other people make all of the choices for their character.

For historical reasons, this type of cooperative storytelling game is called a role-playing game or RPG, the narrator is called the Game Master or GM, and the other people in charge of the protagonists are called the Players.

The final two traditional acronyms are calling the main characters Player Characters or PCs, as opposed to the characters controlled by the GM who are called Non-Player Characters or NPCs.

The rules for 9P are designed for a GM and one Player. The rules also work with multiple Players.

Player Rules link to here link to tables of contents

Consider a short example of play:

Boxley and the Giant Lizard

Player: Boxley grunts at the giant lizard and swings her sword. If only she still had her bow!

GM: The lizard avoids Boxley's blade, but doing so causes it to veer aside in its attempt to bite. It does, however, manage to graze Boxley with its right foreclaw and knock Boxley off balance.

Player: Boxley is bleeding from a scratch on her arm, and recovers her balance. She spits and uses her magic jumping boots to leap atop the boulder. Then she waits for an opportune moment, yells, and jumps down to stab the beast in its back. Hopefully the combination of elevation and a sudden, forceful blow will do the trick.

GM: The lizard is too quick. Boxley does land on its back, but in the split second before the sword blade hits the lizard shakes violently and then rolls. It gets to its feet slightly faster, and lunges.

Player: Boxley tries to jump aside.

GM: She does so easily. The lizard lunges again.

Player: This is going nowhere. Boxley jumps onto the boulder again. Can she see anything about the lizard's behavior that might help her?

GM: The lizard pauses, panting and glaring at Boxley. It paces back and forth, swishing it's tail. As you watch it you notice it is sniffing intently, even though it can still see Boxley.

Player: Boxley takes a stink bomb from her backpack and throws it at the lizard.

GM: The lizard hisses in anger and confusion when the stink bomb explodes.

Player: Boxley repeats her diving attack.

GM: This time Boxley connects. The lizard screams as Boxley's sword sinks into its shoulder.

Player: Boxley pulls her sword free. She tries to sneak behind the lizard and then charges it.

GM: The lizard is so disoriented from the stink and from its wound that Boxley is able to get behind it unnoticed. Her charge connects, wounding the creature by its left hip.

Player: Whew. Boxley jumps atop the rock again. What does the lizard do?

GM: The lizard coughs and hisses, then starts to walk away with a limp in its left hind foot. What does Boxley do?

Player: Boxley follows it. She could probably kill it now, but if it is retreating to its lair she might find something interesting there.

Notice that neither the GM nor Player ever mentioned any part of the game's rules.

9P has no rules for the Player! The Player just describes what he or she wants the PC to do, one action at a time.

This allows the game to flow and feel like how authors write a story. Adventures are full of surprises! The plot is non-linear. Characters do unexpected things. Protagonists grow in unpredicted ways.

The Player is welcome to learn the rules. But the rules are really for the GM. The Player only needs to know what his or her PC is like.

Three Example Character Concepts

"My hero is like Robin Hood in the Errol Flynn film. He is energetic, physical, and charming. He is the best archer, and a very good swordsman. He is pretty observant. He is not an acrobat, but he can swing from chandeliers or safely jump down from a high place."

"My heroine is like Kerowyn from the Mercedes Lackey stories. Maybe she even has some kind of magic sword. She works as a mercenary. She is a dangerous swordfighter and a capable team leader. She values honor and fair play. She could teach and inspire people. She rides a horse very well. I want her to be good with all animals, not just horses."

"My hero is a fantasy equivalent of James Bond played by Sean Connery. He always knows the right thing to say. He is good at fighting but not a champion. Actually, he is quite skilled with a bow but would rather wrestle than fight with a sword or dagger. He knows a lot of things, especially about people and society. And if he does not know something he knows who to ask. He is a little sneaky, but prefers to use a disguise and not need to sneak. He is very perceptive. If there is a bad machine he knows how to take it apart."

In those three examples a PC was based of an established literary character. That was only to make the examples clear. Most often a PC will be an original character created by the Player.

The GM will ask questions to help the Player refine his or her character concept. While doing this the GM will create a list of the PC's skills and assign numeric ratings for them. The list is not a secret. The Player may refer to it, but should not need to.

During the character concept discussion the GM might also advise the Player to emphasize or deemphasize certain skills or talents. A new character should be capable enough to survive the first adventure, but not so extraordinary that he or she has insufficient ability to grow better as experiences prove his or her mettle. In other words, the Player decides the details of his or her character at the start of the story. But the adventures will influence the Player's decisions about how the PC grows. A fun part of the story is how the GM and Player learn what the character becomes!

The reference most helpful to the Player is a paper used to keep track of the PC's inventory. What does the hero wear and carry? Does he or she have a house or animals? What else is owned but not carried around? What alchemical recipes or chem symbols are known?

During the story, the Player's job is to describe what the PC tries to do. Be daring, dramagic, and confident! Try to keep the pace of the story quick and exciting.

The rules are only an aid to help the GM decide whether the PC and NPCs are successful in their actions. The rules surround the story with an unobtrusive layer of structure that provides consistency and a shared understanding of what might reasonably happen.

On one hand, the GM's rulings are more important than what the rules say. A fun GM prioritizes helping a thrilling and dramatic story unfold, and does not always follow the rules. On the other hand, when the rules lead the action in an unexpected direction, a wise GM trusts that the story will naturally flow into places even more colorful and memorable than what was planned or predicted, and does not sidestep the rules to protect the prepared plotline.

Skills link to here link to tables of contents

9P uses "skill-based" rules. As characters gain experience and power they increase in proficiency with any of the game's skills and talents. (This is different from a RPG in which characters instead advance through "levels".)

Brawn

Base

Effective

Acrobatics/Climb

_____

_____

Speed increases by _____ (÷2 squares)

Melee/Press

_____

_____

Attacks injure ____ more opponents

Shoot/Throw

_____

_____

Point blank range is ____ (×3 squares)

Wrestle/Disarm

_____

_____

Can endure ____ more major losses

Brains

Bargain/Wonder

_____

_____

Wondrous feats have ____ skill

Identify/Lore

_____

_____

Herbs heal ____ times faster

Intuition/Provoke

_____

_____

Fast talking lasts ____ hours

Stealth/Track

_____

_____

Shadow use increases by ____

Harmony

Animals/Wilderness

_____

_____

Animal control has _____ skill

Block/Dodge

_____

_____

Reduce ranged attacks by ____

Exit/Escape

_____

_____

May ignore ____ group members

Perception/Etiquette

_____

_____

Reduce surprise attacks by ____

Technology

Alchemy

_____

_____

Identifying potions has ____ skill

Chemstry

_____

_____

Golems have ____ possible skill

Machinery

_____

_____

____ spot bonus & duration multiplier

Transmutery

_____

_____

Works at a distance of ____ meters

Other

Racial Ability

_____

_____

For purely aesthetic reasons the skills are sorted into four categories of Brawn, Brains, Harmony, and Technology. These categories normally have no effect on game play. (But they could. For example, the GM could put into the story an enchanted belt that grants whomever wears it a 2-point equipment bonus to Brawn skills.)

There are sixteen skills that each have a corresponding talent. There is also one extra skill for using the character's racial magical ability, which has no associated talent.

(This table of skills uses a lighter colored line for the places to write the effective ratings for the last five skills, which almost never benefit from modifiers.)

Why so few skills? This mimics the exaggerated prowess of protagonists in classic "heroic opera" pulp stories and films. In this genre, heroes and heroines demonstrate unrealistic expertise at broad categories of real-life skills. For example, Yu Shu-lien fights expertly with any melee weapon, James Bond uses all pistols with equal mastery, Benedict of Amber optimally leads any army on any battlefield, and Buckaroo Bonzai can expertly drive any vehicle.

Because characters are described with only a few numbers, the GM can readily improvise NPCs. This helps the story go quickly and encourages a focus on creativity and exciting actions.

Each character has a numeric base rating in each skill (between 0 and 8) that measures his or her ability. For some skills the effective rating will be higher because of bonuses from equipment, situational advantages, etc. Any time the rules do not specify base or effective rating, the rule is about the effective rating for that skill. A clever adventurer is alert for ways to use items or situations to his or her advantage.

9P includes a sample setting named Spyragia. It is very easy to replace this sample setting with any other setting. Usually only the four skills that describe how characters interact with technology need changing.

These rules sometimes refer to half of a skill's name when doing so aids contextual clarity. For example, these rules will sometimes discuss "the Wrestle skill" instead of "the Wrestle/Disarm skill".

In these rules skill names are always capitalized. Thus helps differentiate situations from skills. For example, while bargaining a character will certainly use the Bargain skill, but will probably also use the Identify and Intuition skills to appraise the value of items, and perhaps also tactically use Press or Provoke.

This style of paragraph is used for comments. During the first section of these rules in which the skills are described all commentary is reserved for optional rules about using miniatures and maps with a square or hexagonal grid to add tactical thinking to combat situations. The maps used are generically called "battlemats". (Paizo publishes some pretty and affordable ones called Flip-Mats.) Many people are able to appreciate the added clarity and detail provided by miniatures and battlemats without noticeably slowing the shared free-form storytelling. Since 9P uses SI measurement units, battlemats are assumed to have squares or hexes of two-meter side length. As with all rules, the GM and Player should feel free to cooperatively adapt or ignore these battlemat rules as they desire. In other sections of these rules these commentary paragraphs provide more generally useful comments.

These rules about skills, talents, and skill use are "core rules" both because they are almost independent of setting and because they are the general rules that get trumped by more specific rules. As one example, the core rules state the general rule that no character starts with any talents. However, the rules about Spyragia's eight intelligent races provide an exception to that general rule: members of each race start with one point in a certain talent as part of their racial heritage and expertise.

Brawn Skills link to here link to tables of contents

Acrobatics/Climb

This skill is used to safely and successfully jump, fall, roll, climb, etc. Acrobatics is used when moving along or onto horizontal surfaces. Climb is used when moving along or onto vertical surfaces.

Characters with greater skill rating can jump farther, fall safely from higher distances, and climb trickier surfaces. As a rule of thumb, at higher values a character can:

This skill is also used to avoid threats or obstacles that impartially affect a large area, such as diving away from an explosion, avoiding harm in a rockslide, or leaping from an out-of-control mount (in contrast, Block/Dodge is used when threats specifically target the character).

Like all defensive actions it "wins ties" when used to avoid a threat because the source of danger must have a higher skill rating to cause losses.

Acrobatics is never used to attack. To attack by leaping upon an opponent, use Press or Wrestle.

When using a battlemat, a character using Acrobatics may move up to 3 map squares. A character using Climb may move 1 map square.

If the GM creates his or her own setting to use with the 9P rules then the Acrobatics/Climb skill may be too general. For example, adventures in a mountainous land covered with snow and ice might benefit by having additional and distinct skills for Ski/Snowshoe and Ropes/Ice-Climbing. There is nothing sacrosanct about having sixteen skills!

Melee/Press

This skill is used for hand-to-hand combat with sharp or blunt weapons.

Unlike Acrobatics/Climb, its rating is only meaningful for comparing the skill ratings of combatants (it does not correspond to any specific, measurable quantities).

Melee refers to fighting with a normal balance of offense and defense: attempting to cut or bludgeon the opponent without leaving one's self vulnerable. The Melee skill can also be used with weapons that ensnare, such as a net, whip, or bolo.

Press refers to a brief, aggressive and forceful advance that provides an advantage if the opponent does not react appropriately to the extra intensity, but can be disastrous if the opponent is prepared or handles the pressure effectively.

Press also applies to situations beyond combat. As examples, a surprising and energetic push could also help while haggling, debating, racing on foot, or picking a jammed lock.

When using a battlemat, a character using Melee may move up to 2 map squares. Additionally, a character using Melee is "sticky" and opponents cannot move away from him or her without using the Block/Dodge or Escape skills. A character using Press may move up to 3 map squares, but must move in as straight a line as possible (the character is charging at his or her foe).

Melee and Press are linked concepts in much of heroic fantasy literature. In Wuxia stories the heroes often train their ability to concentrate and channel bursts of energy during swordfights by deepening their use of concentration and energy while doing calligraphy. Many stories from all cultures connect having focus and energy during swordplay with displaying focus and energy during contests of speaking or bargaining. The English language even refers to "verbal sparring", "parrying his argument" or offering a "witty reposte" counter-argument.

Certainly exercising the body also helps energize and sharpen the mind. But in "heroic opera" pulp stories and films one specific kind of physical exercise—training and practice with melee weapons—is especially effective for preparing the mind to give "piercing displays" of "rapier wit".

Shoot/Throw

This skill is used for distance attacks. Shoot is used for bows, crossbows, and handheld devices created with Machinery. (Seige weapons are operated with Machinery instead of Shoot.) Throw is used for throwing either sharp or blunt objects.

As a rule of thumb, the distance a character can shoot a projectile without penalty is ten times his or her skill rating (in meters). The distance for throwing without penalty is four times the skill rating. Beyond this distance the attacker suffers a 1-point situational disadvantage.

A character can use Throw but not Shoot when adjacent to an aggressive opponent.

When using a battlemat, a character using Shoot usually does not move. The character can chose to move 1 map square, but this causes a 1-point situational disadvantage for the Shoot skill because it is difficult to aim while moving.

When using a battlemat, a character using Throw can move up to 2 map squares.

Weapon range can matter when using a battlemat. Consider a character with a Shoot/Throw skill rating of 2. That character can only throw without penalty at a range of 8 meters, which is four map squares. Many battlemat rooms are bigger than that. That character can shoot without penalty at a range of 20 meters, which is ten map squares. Battlemats of outdoor reagions often have areas that big.

Wrestle/Disarm

Wrestle is for attacks without weapons, whether intending to inflict damage or grapple. It also measures the general physical strength of a character: a higher skill rating denotes deeper reserves of physical endurance and greater ability to resist fatigue, poison, etc. Disarm is for attacks (with or without a weapon) that try to knock away what the opponent is holding.

A character who successfully used Wrestle during the previous turn to grab a foe may use Wrestle the next turn to throw that foe. The grabbed foe is thrown up to three meters away.

Depending upon the situation, a character that is grabbing a foe using the Wrestle skill might suffer a situational advantage bonus or penalty when facing other attacks. Perhaps the grabbed opponent can be used as a shield or hinderance? Or perhaps maintaining the grapple puts the wrestler in a vulnerable position?

As a rule of thumb, a character can comfortably carry a backpack and other equipment weighing at total of fifteen times his or her skill rating (in kilograms) without penalizing physical skills such as Acrobatics and Dodge.

When using a battlemat, a character using Wrestle/Disarm may move up to 1 map square. A character who attacks with Wrestle and then moves could represent dragging a grappled opponent. A character can throw a foe 2 map squares away. Additionally, a character using Wrestle is "sticky" and opponents cannot move away from him or her without using the Block/Dodge or Escape skills.

The rules are purposefully vague about whether Disarm can be used at long distances. Perhaps the GM and Player favor the drama and plot device of a very skilled character being able to shoot a weapon (or doomsday device) from an opponent's hand. Or perhaps they prefer realism, realizing that even professional target shooters cannot reliably do such a feat in the face of danger.

In general, the Wrestle skill is used for feats of pure strength and the Acrobatics skill is used for activities involving both strength and coordination. Gray areas certainly exist, and then the GM and Player should agree which skill to use. For example, running on a clean street would use Wrestle whereas running through a forest heavy with underbrush and branches would use Acrobatics—but which skill would govern a foot race on a track with hurdles? (Also note that fleeing from a pursuer involves much more than simply being a faster runner, and is governed by the Exit/Escape skill.)

Although many skills can be used during combat, 9P has only four skills specifically about combat: Melee, Shoot, Wrestle, and Disarm. Different combat skills may be needed if the GM uses his or her own setting. Perhaps a science fiction setting would instead use Blunt Weapons, Blades, Projectiles, and Lasers. However, a GM altering the combat skills should do so carefully if leading adventures for only one PC, to preserve how combat focuses more on choices about distance and tactics than always using the PC's most damaging type of attack.

Brains Skills link to here link to tables of contents

Bargain/Wonder

Bargain is used to haggle over prices or otherwise steer a conflict of interests to a workable compromise. When haggling, prices usually change by 5% for each difference in opposing Bargain skill rating.

Wonder can be used in two ways. In a receptive way it measures the ability to produce practical attitudes and understandings through feeling the grandeur and drama inherent in a situation: awe and amazement can be a form of thinking, and insight and wisdom can spring from encountering the indescribable. Aggressively, the skill can be used to startle, intimidate, or awe someone with impressive solidity, energetic charisma, and stunning force of presence.

Wonder also measures how resistant a character is to harmful magical mental influences.

During combat, Wonder may be used to intimidate currently nervous enemies. Success provides a 1-point situational advantage for the duration of the combat against any opponents who have already suffered a minor or major loss during that combat.

When using a battlemat, a character using Wonder may move up to 1 map square.

Identify/Lore

This skill measures the likelihood a character knows helpful and relevant facts. Identify refers to appraising gems and jewlery, recognizing famous cultural artifacts, recalling which nobility owns certain jewelry, verifying the authenticity of a signature, and other situations of recalling information about a particular item. Lore refers to knowledge of general cultural information: details about history, society, laws, notable families, religious practices, and so forth.

Either can help a character fabricate reasonable-sounding falsehoods.

During combat, Identify/Lore may be used to recall some helpful technique or advice. Success provides a 1-point situational advantage for the duration of the combat against a specific foe. Sometimes this bonus applies to all foes of a certain type (all Dust Spiders shun fire, all Kobalts of that clan favor their right side, etc.).

When using a battlemat, a character using Identify/Lore cannot move.

Intuition/Provoke

Intuition refers to confidently reaching correct conclusions despite having neither the facts for logical deduction nor an encounter with sublime grandeur to provide awe-inspired wisdom. A practiced intuition includes both experience with accurate hunches and well-developed habits of calming the mind, looking at the big picture, and acting purposefully instead of reacting to circumstances. The skill of Intuition can also be used to instill a false sense of intuition in someone else by subtly planting ideas that the victim will mistake for his or her own insights and hunches.

During combat, Intuition may be used to intuit a helpful tactic. Success provides a 2-point situational advantage against one enemy next turn.

When using a battlemat, a character using Intuition cannot move.

Provoke is the opposite of Press: a brief display of passivity or weakness intending to draw out the opponent. Provoke can provide a big advantage if the opponent reacts to the provocation.

Provoke can apply to situations beyond combat. As examples, a tricky feint or distraction could lead an opponent to do something foolish during a debate, chase, or search.

Consider two characters are in conflict. As a rule of thumb:

Thus Provoke can provide the largest bonus. But compared to Press it is helpful in fewer situations, for opponets will most often be using the normally appropriate skill.

When using a battlemat, a character using Provoke moves up to 2 map squares, but may not move towards the provoked enemy.

Stealth/Track

Stealth is used to hide, move quietly, walk tracelessly, use a disguise, or be physically sneaky in other ways. Stealth is also used for sleight of hand and pickpocketing.

Note that a character using Stealth usually does not know if the skill is used successfully until someone attempts detection.

Consider two characters: the first hiding while trying to use Stealth to move, the second on guard duty and using Perception. As a rule of thumb:

(Normally the sneaking character will not know the Perception skill ratings of those who are searching. The sneaking character must use clues, intuition, and courage to estimate how quickly he or she can safely move.)

Track attempts to follow someone's trail, which often involves the same knowledge and tricks as Stealth. When tracking, Track and Stealth skills are compared. As a rule of thumb, the amount the pursuer's Track skill exceeds the sneaker's Stealth skill measures the speed in kilometers per hour with which the pursuer can follow the trail.

Characters with more Track skill can follow older tracks as well as less visible tracks. As a rule of thumb, the Track skill rating also measures the number of either days or hours before a track becomes impossible for that character to follow it. (Days applies in relatively quiet places, such as a forest during a hot, dry week. Hours applies to frequently distrubed places, such as a town square or a forest during a rainstorm.)

During combat, Stealth may be used to sneak up on a foe. Success provides a 1-point situational advantage against a single enemy next turn. If the enemy is being flanked or distracted by an ally this bonus increases to a 2-point situational advantage.

When using a battlemat, a character using Stealth may move up to 2 map squares.

Harmony Skills link to here link to tables of contents

Animals/Wilderness

Animals applies to training, riding, taming, misdirecting, or caring for any animals, as well as maintenance of a riding animal's tack and other gear. Compare skill ratings to find the victor when racing on mounts of similar speed.

Wilderness applies to swiming, fishing, locating food, setting snares, navigation, and other tasks related to surviving in the outdoors, both above ground and underground. As a rule of thumb, the skill rating in Wilderness measures the number of other people for which that character can provide decent food and shelter.

Block/Dodge

This skill is used defensively to avoid a threat aimed specifically at the character. Both blocking and dodging are normally only effective against the threats from one oppoent.

Block uses a shield, weapon, or other item to ward away harm. Blocking is favored by those weighted down, especially guards wearing heavy armor.

Dodge nimbly avoids the danger and is difficult to do when encumbered.

When using a battlemat, a character using Block/Dodge may move up to 3 map squares, and with sufficient skill rating can freely move away from "sticky" opponents using Melee or Wrestle.

For a solo protagonist, Block/Dodge is of limited use during combat. If a fighter spends each turn being defensive, he or she never attacks and cannot be victorious! However, certain beasts are slow and only attack on every other of their turns. A fighter who blocks or dodges these attacks can safely do his or her own attacks in between. Also, Block/Dodge can be useful if the opponent has a limited number of special chances: only two enchanted arrows, only one stun potion, only three poisoned darts, etc.

Exit/Escape

Exit refers to safely or gracefully getting out of a bad situation. Examples include fleeing from combat, becoming lost in a crowd, using an acceptable excuse to leave a tense conversation, or safely removing a lockpick after noticing the lock is trapped.

The Exit skill is also used to prevent an enemy from using his or her own Exit skill.

Escape refers to gaining freedom from physical confinement. It is usually used to escape from a trap, net, or wrestling hold.

Most attempts at Escape are all-or-nothing situations. The skill rating used to create the source of confinement (Wilderness for a snare, Machinery for a mechanical trap, Melee for a thrown net, Wrestle for a wrestling hold, etc.) is compared to the Escape skill rating. If the Escape skill rating is higher, the character escapes confinement.

When using a battlemat, a character using Exit may move up to 4 map squares, and moves before any other character. A character using Escape may move up to 2 map squares, and with sufficient skill rating can freely move away from "sticky" opponents using Melee or Wrestle.

Perception/Etiquette

Perception measures alertness, awareness, and attention to detail. It is used for all searching, whether a tiny item carefully hidden in a room or a special plant growing somewhere in a large forest.

A character's effective Perception skill rating is halved when the character is not actively searching or examining. Consider two situations involving a character with a Perception skill rating of 4 and a trap that requires a Perception skill rating of 3 to be noticed.

During combat, Perception may be used to notice a helpful technique. Success provides a 1-point situational advantage for the duration of the combat against a specific foe.

When using a battlemat, a character using Perception may move 1 map square.

Bonuses gained from any of the observational skills (Perception, Wonder, Identify, Lore, or Intuition) may be communicated, while they last, to allies. For example, someone could shout "Blunt weapons hurt this kind of ooze more!" or "Attack his hands, he does not know how to use his sword hilt properly to defend them!"

Etiquette is used to successfully navigate social situations. It includes clarity in conversations, ease in making a good impression, skill at getting attention at parties, and success when gambling. It also measures the ability to deal well with unfamiliar cultures, and to impressively manage domestic tasks such as cooking or gardening.

On a battlemat, Perception is very similar to Identify/Lore. But with Identify/Lore the bonus can potentially apply to all foes of a certain type, and with Perception the character may move 1 map square.

Technology Skills link to here link to tables of contents

The 9P sample setting has a steampunk theme and includes four fantasy crafting skills that allow the creation of inventions which behave like fantastically enhanced versions of real life constructions.

Because the Technology skills are not modeled after real-life activities they require more explanation than the previous twelve skills. They are described in detail elsewhere.

Using any of the four Technology skills requires the character to have both hands free. The character constructs his or her creation by hand.

If the 9P rules are used with a different setting, the Technology skills should be changed or removed. For example, in a futuristic setting the four Technology skills might instead involve computers, robotics, vehicle maintenance, and bioengineering.

Skill Ratings link to here link to tables of contents

Ability with skills and talents is normally rated between 1 and 8:

RatingMeaning
1 Fumbling - An inexperienced person mimicking what he or she has seen others do
2 Clumsy - Peons, pawns, flunkies, mooks, and expendable allies wearing red shirts
3 Rough - Guards, thugs, laborers, and others who get rough practice
4 Polished - Veterans, diplomats, craftsmen, and others showing fine experience
5 Notable - Guard captains, bandit chiefs, master craftsmen, and other experts and leaders in their fields
6 Superior - The local celebrity, someone who is the best in the local region at this skill.
7 Heroic - Most people only meet someone this skilled once or twice during their life
8 Legendary - Most people only tell stories of this degree of skill

Using the nicknames for the numerical ratings is optional. They are included for the GM's benefit: hopefully the skill ratings for most NPCs are immediately obvious from either the adjective nickname or the accompanying stereotype examples.

Notice the four pairs. Fumbling and Clumsy (1 and 2) are for skills rarely or never practiced during stressful situations. Rough and Polished (3 and 4) denote skills used almost daily, often as a professional to earn a living. Notable and Superior (5 and 6) are special and elite, probably unique to any town or region, respectively. Heroic and Legendary (7 and 8) skill ratings do not appear in most adventures.

Skills in SPECTRE

Consider the novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The common SPECTRE agents employed at Piz Gloria were easily fooled and fought by Bond (skill raing 1 in most skills, perhaps 2 in Melee/Press). Blofield is far more clever, perceptive, dangerous, and even athletic than these men (skill rating 4 or 5 in most skills). Since Blofield does not employ a mercilessly tough or trained bodyguard like Odd Job or Jaws, the story lacks a villain who can match Bond's skill rating of 6 in Melee and Shoot. Tracy does match Bond's skill rating of 6 in driving, as well as proving his equal in courage both before and during their brief marriage. Probably no character has any skill rated 7 or 8, although it could be claimed that Bond developed such unparalleled skill in Perception or Intuition during the previous ten novels.

The GM may allow a rare skill of 0 that represents complete ignorance. For example, a NPC visiting from a distant town who has never seen a clockwork machine or seen the Machinery skill used could have a skill rating of 0 in Machinery. A NPC who grew up in a peace-loving commune might never have been in a fight, seen a serious fight, or studied martial arts, and thus have a skill rating of 0 in Melee. But it should be quite rare for someone to lack even second-hand experience with a skill or its products.

Initial Ratings link to here link to tables of contents

Newly created PCs are slightly more skilled than most of the population.

It is recommended that a new PC be given 40 points to distribute among his or her skills, with no base skill rating above 4. The total of 40 points is a guideline that can be fudged to fit how a Player imagines his or her new character. Players should be discouraged from having a new PC start his or her adventuring career with any skill ratings above 4, for that removes much of the joy of watching the PC grow as the story unfolds.

As mentioned above, normally this allocation happens informally while the GM and Player discuss and refine the character concept. However, if a Player wants to make a list of skills and assign points himself or herself, that works too.

Remember than nearly all skills have a minimum rating of 1, because a skill rating of 0 represents complete ignorance without even second-hand experience of that skill or its products.

(It will be mentioned later that a new PC starts with no talents.)

Character Advancement link to here link to tables of contents

As the PC adventures, he or she develops greater skills and talents, and becomes capable of attempting greater challenges.

Adventures will contain especially significant accomplishments: the PC finds an important clue, makes an important ally, reaches an important location, wins an important fight, etc. Whenever the PC successfully completes one of these objectives, he or she receives as a reward two kinds of "tokens". These can be physical tokens or just tallies recorded in character's inventory.

First, the PC earns an advancement token. These are "spent" to increase a skill or talent. Increasing a skill or talent by one costs as many advancement tokens as the new rating.

Advancement tokens can be saved up, spent during an adventure, or spent between adventures.

Second, the PC earns an adrenaline token. These are "spent" for one of three effects:

Adrenaline tokens are usually saved for emergencies. They are only spent during adventures.

When a group of PCs adventure together, they should share the advanement and adrenaline tokens. A solo PC who adventures with NPC helpers or assistants does not need to share the advanement and adrenaline tokens with the NPCs.

The GM may also reward unusually great moments of Player creativity or role-playing with extra advancement and/or adrenaline tokens.

It will be mentioned later that a talent's rating can never exceed the corresponding skill's rating.

Gaining a free attack after killing a foe is similar to an ability in other game systems commonly called "cleave". Its historic root is Dave Arneson's similar "Chop Til You Drop" rule.

Some GMs do not like keeping track of tokens and instead allow the Player, after a successful adventure, to increase any one of the PC's skill or talent ratings by 1.

Bonuses link to here link to tables of contents

Skill ratings can be boosted because of special equipment, situational advantages, group effort, talents, or special items. For example, a nameless pirate crew member (Melee skill rating 2) with excellent armor and an elevation advantage might fight as well as his pirate captain (Melee skill rating 4) who lacks those benefits.

Note that all five types of bonuses can apply at the same time. A group effort can enjoy a situational advantage and also benefit when the group member with highest skill has special equipment, a helpful talent, and has drank magic potion.

Furthermore, the bonuses from how Press and Provoke interact with other skills are a sixth type of bonus.

These bonuses may boost a skill rating above 8.

Equipment Bonus link to here link to tables of contents

Notable equipment provides an equipment bonus of either 1 or 2 points.

Examples of excellent quality include a musician playing a notable instrument, a gladiator wearing custom-made metal armor, or a machinist with an unusually well-stocked workshop. Examples of beneficial enchantments include an archer using enchanted arrows or a blacksmith using an enchanted anvil.

A PC's or NPC's list of skills should keep track of both the base rating (innate ability without bonuses) and the effective rating that includes any equipment bonus. This helps during situations when a character does not have access to his or her special equipment.

Vroy and his Sword

Vroy has a Melee/Press skill of 3. He normally carries an enchanted sword, which is his preferred weapon. So on the character's list of skills the GM writes 3 for his base rating in Melee/Press, and 5 for his effective rating.

Situational Advantage Bonus link to here link to tables of contents

Situational advantages can be almost anything. They can arise from features of the location or environment, such as a foot race along familiar streets, fighting from higher ground, or identifying a very familiar signature amidst forgeries. They can be rewards for past accomplishments, such as when a hero whom a village knows helped save a family thereafter receives a bonus when bargaining in that village. They can come from character background, such as someone trained as a locksmith who uses Machinery to create or pick a mechanical lock. They can be based on what other people are doing, such as allies flanking an opponent or soldiers aided by their commander's superior tactics and inspiring shouts. They can arise because of the opponent's status: it is easier to surprise an unprepared opponent, and a very flamable monster might shy away from a torch.

A situational advantage bonus is either 1 or 2 points.

The GM decides whether each helpful factor represents a small (1 point) or large (2 points) situational advantage bonus. Even if many factors are all working in a character's favor, the total situational advantage bonus for each skill use never exceeds 2 points.

Group Bonus link to here link to tables of contents

When a group of characters simultaneously attempts the same thing the group combines their attempts. The group acts as if it was performing a single action using a single skill rating. The group gets a group bonus to its combined skill use.

Only characters with skill rating of 2 or more can contribute to a group bonus for that skill. (Characters with a skill rating of 0 or 1 are too inexperienced to really help others.)

Fleeing Many Archers

Player: Too many kobalts! Siron flees.

GM: Okay. They do not pursue, but four of the kobalts have bows. They each have time for one shot at Siron before he is out of range.

Player: Ouch!?

Siron's Exit skill rating is 3. The kobalts have Shoot skill ratings of 2. But there are four of them, so their combined attack has a rating of 4. Siron is hit, but does escape.

GM: Yes, ouch. Three miss, but Siron is hit by one arrow before running out of their range.

The group bonus numbers may be less in certain situations when cooperation is not especially effective.

Hiding from a Group of Bandits

Player: Boxley hides from the bandits, behind or in some bushes not far from their camp.

GM: Okay. They search for about half an hour and...

Boxley is quite sneaky and has a Stealth skill of 5. Each bandit has a Perception skill of 3. The GM decides that cooperation helps the bandits search faster, but not necessarily better. So he gives the bandits a group bonus of 2 points (instead of the usual 3 points for a group of five or more). The skill ratings are tied and Boxley is not moving, so the bandits do not find her.

GM: They do not find Boxley. They give up and return to camp.

The group bonus only includes the extra effectiveness of more people trying. It does not include any improvements to tactics used by group members. Thus a pair of warriors flanking an enemy should receive both a 1-point situational advantage bonus (for flanking) and a 1-point group bonus (for having two people).

Talent Bonus link to here link to tables of contents

Talents (discussed in detail soon) sometimes provide a talent bonus for certain types of skill use. For example, talent in the Identify/Lore skill provides a bonus to the Wilderness skill when searching for wild herbs.

When applicable, a talent rated between 1 and 4 provides a 1-point talent bonus, and a talent rated between 5 and 8 provides a 2-point talent bonus.

Special Item Bonus link to here link to tables of contents

The economic rules describe how to adjust the rules for special items such as magic wands or nanotech gadgets. Special items can do almost anything!

Because 9P has a skill-based rules system, many special items grant bonuses to skill use. These are almost always a special item bonus of either 1 or 2 points.

Many Bonus Example

A PC is fighting a ship full of pirates. The PC has a base Melee/Press skill rating of 3. Fortunately, this is boosted by an enchanted rapier (2-point equipment bonus), standing higher on the staircase to the forecastle (1-point situational advantage bonus), and the PC has activated her magic dueling gloves (2-point special item bonus). The PC thus has an effective skill rating of 8, and fares well against her numerous swarthy foes.

Penalties link to here link to tables of contents

Sometimes skill ratings are penalized. There are only two types of penalties: due to inferior equipment, or due to an inferior situation.

Circumstances that cause a skill's use to receive both a bonus and a penalty! For example, a gladiator with exceptional armor but a cursed weapon would receive both a 1-point equipment bonus (for the armor) and a 2-point equipment penalty (for the sword), making an overall 1-point penalty to his or her Melee/Press skill rating.

There is no penalty that is the opposite of the group bonus, talent bonus, or special item bonus. When a special item causes a penalty to skill use, this is a situational disadvantage penalty.

Equipment Penalty link to here link to tables of contents

Inferior equipment can provide a penalty.

As with equipment bonuses, the equipment penalty is either 1 or 2 points. A penalty of 1 point is appropriate for equipment that is improvised or broken. A penalty of 2 points is appropriate for equipment that is cursed or otherwise magically hindering.

Situational Disadvantage Penalty link to here link to tables of contents

Situational disadvantages cause most penalties. It is more difficult to sneak when encumbered, to win an archery contest with an injured arm, and to race on an unbroken horse than a trained one.

As with situational advantages, the situational disadvantage penalty is either 1 or 2 points.

Some disadvantages are long-term conditions such as an illness or a curse. How these conditions affect skill use should be a matter of common sense. As always, the GM and Player should both contribute with the GM having the deciding word about how skill use is modified. Context determines the extent, severity, and duration of skill use modification.

Two Quite Different Examples of Weakness

A princess drinks a mild poison that weakens her. Her muscles feel achey and her muscular strength is slightly reduced. She can recover after two days of healthy eating and rest. Meanwhile, the skills Acrobatics/Climb, Melee/Press, Wrestle/Disarm, Block/Dodge, and Exit/Escape suffer a 1-point penalty.


A prince catches a severe disease that increasingly weakens him as the weeks go by. He will only recover after the disease is cured. Each week all of his skills are penalized further by a cummulative 1-point penalty, until he is bedridden and eventually comatose.

Conditions versus Afflictions link to here link to tables of contents

In the previous pair of examples notice that what affects skill use is the condition of being weakened. It does not really matter to the game mechanics if the affliction that causes the condition is poison, disease, or something else. The affliction matters to the story. The condition matters for skill use.

A character that is dizzy will have a penalty to use certain skills. A character that is slowed will not be able to attempt skill use as often as normally. Whether the dizziness or slowing was the result of a potion, gas released by a trap, disease, poison, Ooze's spores, Dragon's breath, Witch's magic wand, or a Fuse's belch is important to the story but not the game mechanics.

Below is a list of sample conditions with opposites. Benefitial conditions (in bold below) usually aid skills. Harmful conditions (not in bold) usually penalize skills. Many of these conditions might at first seem atypical for a RPG. But an emphasis on storytelling instead of combat can make potions of cheerfulness interesting, or a cursed hat of overly-outgoing-ness a truly troubling item.

Physical Conditions: energized vs. tired, hale vs. sick, hydrated vs. dehydrated, satiated vs. hungry, sensitive vs. numbed, strengthened vs. weakened, hastened vs. slowed, free vs. ensnared, mobile vs. dazed or paralyzed, focused vs. dizzy or headachey or nauseous, breathing freely vs. coughing or choking, cooled vs. overheated or burned, warmed vs. chilled or frozen, grounded vs. shocked (electrical), true form vs. polymorphed.

Mental Conditions: serene vs. uneasy, relaxed vs. nervous, decisive vs. befuddled, patience vs. impatience, informed vs. confused, self-disciplined vs. hypnotized, wary vs. charmed, cheerful vs. depressed, outgoing vs. withdrawn, courageous vs. fearful, dominating vs. dominated, merciful vs. bitter, caring vs. angry, mindful vs. amnesiac, critical vs. paranoid.

The list of conditions was aided by this discussion at Story Games.

Elusion link to here link to tables of contents

Skills are a most often actively used, as discussed above. But in some situations a high skill rating can proactively protect a character.

Most dangerous situations are qualified with an elusion requirement written in brackets that specifies which skill rating(s) will grant immunity to or exemption from the danger.

Example Elusion Requirements

Landslide [Acrobatics 4 or Escape 5]: these large rocks can be avoided by characters with Acrobatics skill rating 4 or more, or Escape skill rating of 5 or more.

Poison [Wrestle 7]: the poison weakens most characters, but anyone with Wrestle skill rating of 7 or more is so tough that his or her body resists the poison.

Rumor [Etiquette 5]: the slandrous libel will not tarnish the reputation of characters with Etiquette skill rating of 5 or more, who are so well esteemed in the community that no NPC of importance would believe the wicked rumor.

Charm [Wonder 4]: the mind controlling effect does not work on characters with Wonder skill rating of 4 or more, who have sufficient force of personality and experience with strange compulsions to resist the charm.

Floor Trap [Block/Dodge 4 or Perception 3]: a trap fires a javelin at whomever steps on a pressure plate in the floor. A character with Block/Dodge skill rating of 4 or more will avoid the javelin. A character with a Perception skill rating of 3 or more who is actively looking for traps will notice the trap and have a safe opportunity to avoid or disarm it.

Remember that the rules for the Perception skill state that a character's effective Perception skill rating is halved when the character is not actively searching or examining. Perception is the only skill that might be halved when considering elusion requirements.

Situations with elusion requirements often require carefully considering which bonuses apply to the skill's base rating. For example, an adventurer with a magic shield normally receives a 2-point equipment bonus to his or her Block skill rating, but this would not help avoid a javelin trap if the shield was currently strapped to the character's back instead of properly wielded.

Some dangers have a partial elusion in which sufficient skill rating(s) do not grant complete immunity but do dramatically lessens the harm. For example, an avalanche might hurt all characters caught within it, but those with high enough Acrobatics or Escape suffer much less harm.

Elusion replaces the concept of "saving throws" in some other RPGs.

Talents link to here link to tables of contents

Talents are special ways to use skills. Talents set experienced characters apart from other people. Having a talent allows the corresponding skill be used differently, achieving a distinct kind of benefit that can never be acquired through normal skill use. The benefits of talents are never availble from other means (special items, blessings, etc.).

Talents also have a numeric rating. But the numeric ratings for talents do not have adjective nicknames because most people in the game world have no talents (all their talent ratings are zero). All talents start at zero and a talent's rating may never be increased beyond the base skill rating of the corresponding skill. A new PC has no talents.

In most other role-playing games the primary differences between a knight, a woodsman, and a thief would a represented through a set of bonuses and restrictions called a "character class". In 9P the talents serve the same function in a more natural manner.

Brawn Talents link to here link to tables of contents

Acrobatics/Climb

Talent in Acrobatics/Climb grants faster movement. Climbing speed can eventually be increased to normal running speed, and running speed can eventually be doubled.

When moving fast matters, this talent's rating has priority over higher Acrobatics or Wrestle skill rating.

This talent provides a talent bonus in attempts to flee combat, and in some Melee situations when fast footwork helps.

When using a battlemat, a character adds half his or her Acrobatics talent rating (round up) to the number of map squares moved each turn when using a skill that allows movement. (A character using a skill that does not permit map square movement is still not allowed to move.)

Melee/Press

Talent in the Melee/Press skill allows using one melee action to hit multiple opponents. This could be a flurry of quick blows or a powerful, sweeping attack that injures many foes with one swing.

This talent's rating determines the maximum number of secondary targets, assuming sufficient enemies can be reached. (As always, in each turn all movement happens before all attacks.)

Ususally this secondary damage is not as injurious as the damage dealt to the attack's primary target (reduce the Melee skill rating by one when determining losses for secondary targets).

Shoot/Throw

Talent in the Shoot/Throw skill allows making incredibly accurate "point blank" distance attacks. The character suffers no penalties within six times this range (in meters). As examples, their skill use in unpenalized no matter how fast the target is moving, what cover the target are attempting to hide behind, or how windy it is.

In terms of battlemat squares, the character suffers no penalties within three times the skill rating. Remember that each square is two meters.

Wrestle/Disarm

Talent in the Wrestle/Disarm skill denotes toughness and fortitude that allow a character to endure more hurt during combat. This talent's rating grants the character that many additional major losses before being defeated.

Additionally, the character may hold a stationary "sanctuary pose" that temporarily doubles this talent's rating by focusing internal energy. This pose can be useful while being rescued by allies or to survive environmental damage such as a rockslide or collapsing building.

Brains Talents link to here link to tables of contents

Bargain/Wonder

Talent in the Bargain/Wonder skill shows development of wonder so advanced that the character can perform wondrous feats of physical prowess. These wondrous feats allow character concepts that do not otherwise fit into the 9P core rules.

In the sample setting of Spyragia, there are nine flavors of wondrous feats, each corresponding to one of the nine Powers.

The Player and GM can also work together to create new flavors of wondrous feats.

Identify/Lore

Talent in the Identify/Lore skill represents knowledge of herbal medicines. Unlike healing potions, healing herbs are effective even after some time has passed since the injury, and only herbal healing is capable of curing disease or paralysis, or speeding the healing of broken bones or mental afflictions.

The talent's numeric rating is used as a multiplier, by which the body's natural healing rate is boosted if the rights herbs are available. (A rating of 1 allows a character to identify and administer herbal medicines but does not yet provide a multiplier for healing. This still allows stabilizing a disease or poison to prevent further harm, or temporarily soothing a mental affliction.)

This talent also provides a talent bonus to the Wilderness skill when searching for wild herbs.

Intuition/Provoke

Talent in the Intuition/Provoke skill represents the special kind of interpersonal intuition that alows more effective fast-talking, with the beneficial result that people who are fast-talked remain duped for hours instead of only minutes.

Fast-talking is normally done with other skills (depending upon the context any of Etiquette, Bargain, Press, Provoke, or Wonder might apply). This talent provides a talent bonus to whichever skill is used. This talent's rating also shows the number of hours that successful fast-talking will last.

The technique of fast-talking is a skill. But it is a special talent to have the right hunch about whether the target will respond best to a rushed excuse, a call to honor and duty, an emotional plea, a haughty aristocratic attitude, an appeal to nostalgia or sentimentality, a request for a favor that enables saving face, a promise of future compensation, etc.

Stealth/Track

Talent in the Stealth/Track skill allows a character to blend into shadows with amazing ability. It provides a talent bonus to the Stealth skill when shadows are usable. This talent also allows a character to squeeze into shadows with remarkable ease: the rating also measures how many fewer centimeters thick a character appears to be when trying to hide in a shadow (for example, if a character flattened against a wall is actually 10 cm thick, a talent rating of 4 would allow that character to hide in a shadow normally only able to hide something 6 cm thick).

Also, attunement with shadows becomes so advanced that "shadow stepping" is possible: teleportation from one shadow to another. Each meter of stepping takes one minute of preparation while remaining stationary in a shadow. This talent's rating measures the maximum number of meters traveled.

Harmony Talents link to here link to tables of contents

Animals/Wilderness

Talent in the Animals/Wilderness skill allows a character to control tame animals. The rating measures three factors: the maximum length of a sequence of steps the animals will perform, the numer of animals that can be simultaneously controlled, and the maximum difficulty of any requests.

How difficult are requests? The optimal situation would have six characteristics:

An optimal situation has a difficulty of 1. The difficulty increases by one for each of the above six items missing from the situation.

Animal Control Example

With a talent rating of 1, a character could ask his or her own pet mouse to go eat a visible piece of cheese in an empty, safe room. (The instruction has only one step. There is only one animal. The situation is optimal.)

With a talent rating of 4, the character could ask his or her friend's four pet mice (whom the character knows well) to each go to an empty and safe room, pick up some cheese, bring it back instead of eating it, and drop it in front of the character. The mice will not get an immediate reward of food or positive attention from their owner. (The instruction has four steps. There are four animals. The situation has a difficulty rating of 4 because it is not optimal for three reasons: the animals have not done similar tasks for the character, are asked to do the unnatural behavior of giving up potential food, and will not receive an immediate reward.)

Block/Dodge

Talent in the Block/Dodge skill represents the quickness and alertness that allows a character to avoid ranged attacks, even while occupied with another activity. Any ranged attack directed against this character (except for a talented "point blank" shot) has its skill diminished by this talent's rating.

(This is probably the most common talent in the genre of "heroic opera" pulp stories and films. Why else are Stormtroopers, SMERSH agents, and Prince John's bowmen unable to hit heroes who are focusing on fighting, climbing, sneaking, and other tasks?)

Exit/Escape

Talent in the Exit/Escape skill shows defensive combat habits of positioning and evading damage that allow a character to ignore some enemies when fighting a group, to better focus on a single opponent at a time. This does two things.

First, reduce the size of the opposing group by this talent's rating when determining the group bonus.

Second, when the character uses the Block/Dodge skill, it applies to as many additional opponents as this talent's rating. (Normally Block/Dodge only applies to one opponent.)

Perception/Etiquette

Talent in the Perception/Etiquette skill shows a normally heightened awareness that prevents the character from being completely surprised. Any surprise attack directed against this character has its skill diminished by this talent's rating.

Technology Talents link to here link to tables of contents

Alchemy

Talent in Alchemy allows the alchemist to identify potions by appearance and smell.

All potions have a minimum Alchemy skill required to create them. A character can identify a potion if the requires skill to create it is equal or lesser than this talent's rating.

Chemstry

Talent in Chemstry allows creating skillful golems. Most golems have all skill ratings equal to zero. This talent's rating measures the number of points the character can distribute among the skills of a golem he or she crafts.

Machinery

Talent in the Machinery skill aids in noticing mechanical traps and also allows creating machines that work for more than a few hours.

This talent's rating is added to both active and passive uses of the Perception skill to notice mechanical traps. (When passively perceptive, the Perception skill rating is halved but this talent rating is not halved.)

This talent's rating, when 2 or greater, is also a multiplier for the duration a machine will work. Machines constructed without using this talent can still gain extra duration if repaired using this talent.

Transmutery

Talent in the Transmutery skill provides the character with an extra reserve of mental stamina with which to resist the exhaustion of transmutery. This talent's rating measures a number of extra "points" available. When the character suffers drain, he or she first reduces these points; when they are depleted below zero the remaining drain penalizes his or her transmutery skill normally. Once the character recovers from all drain the extra points also replenish.

NPCs link to here link to tables of contents

NPCs are described by their important skills and talents, as well as other information important to the story. For the sake of brevity, everything else is improvised by the GM.

Typical NPCs link to here link to tables of contents

Here is a sample NPC.

An Example NPC Merchant

Caul the merchant is capable haggler, but might still be no match for an experienced PC. He has a booth in the small market square near the port. He sells potions: primarily antidotes for seasickness, hangover, scurvy, and Deckhand's Fever. It is a rough part of town, but he finds the people-watching there amusing and relaxing.

Skills: Melee/Press 2, Wrestle/Disarm 3, Bargain/Wonder 4, Identify/Lore 4, Exit/Escape 3, Perception/Etiquette 4, Alchemy 3

Talents: Identifying potions has 2 skill

This description shows that the adventure's designer is not expecting Caul to be very significant in the story. The merchant is described with just enough detail to help the GM improvise the rest of the character.

Significant NPCs link to here link to tables of contents

More significant NPCs have skill or talent ratings that are relative to those of the PC. This allows the adventure designer to communicate a certain level of challenge.

Another Example NPC Merchant

Pael is a decent merchant whose booth in the town sqaure sells alchemical ingredients. But a few nobles know he earns more money as a poisoner for hire. He has been hired to assassinate the PC. He plans to use his short blowgun and a poisoned dart as the PC walks away from his booth. If there are too many potential witnesses, Pael switches to his backup plan and tries to stealthily follow the PC until there is a better opportunity to attack with another dart.

Skills: Melee/Press PC−1, Shoot/Throw PC+1, Wrestle/Disarm 2, Bargain/Wonder 3, Stealth/Track 4, Exit/Escape 2, Perception/Etiquette PC−1, Alchemy PC+2

Talents: Shadow use increases by 2, Identifying potions has 3 skill

Equipment: The high quality blowgun's 1-point equipment bonus is already included in Pael's Shoot/Throw skill. Pael carries two potions: one allows him to fly for one minute. The other provides instantaneous healing of wounds.

This NPC description shows certain aspects of the encounter might reward the Player's choices about PC skills. Pael is fairly sneaky, but a PC very skilled at Perception will notice when the assassin follows. Pael is not very good at escaping from being grabbed or pursued.

Other parts of the NPC description show aspects of the intended challenge. The PC will have an easier time fighting Pael up close than with ranged weapons. If the PC tries to hide from Pael, the assassin is most likey unable to find the PC. If the PC ever chases Pael, preventing the villain from drinking his fly potion will probably be important.

Of course, the GM can always change either NPC if the changes are sensible or help the story. If the PC worked hard to become the region's top alchemist it would no longer be appropriate for Pael to have a greater Alchemy skill rating. Similarly, if the PC is an amazing archer, the GM could provide Pael with both an enchanted weapon and a potion that enhances aim to explain the assassin's greater effective Shoot/Throw skill rating. On the other hand, it would not make sense for a merchant/assassin to have zero skill rating in Melee/Press or Perception/Etiquette just because a PC only has a skill rating of 1 in either of those skills. Or perhaps the GM alters Pael because the Player loves a challenging swordfight with struggles for situational advantages as the combatants make use of the tables, booths, tents, and crowds in the town square, so the GM increases Pael's Melee/Press skill rating and adjusts Pael's plans to provide the type of combat which that particular Player most enjoys.

Resiliant NPCs link to here link to tables of contents

The 9P rules assume the adventure has only one PC. If there are multiple PCs, the rules work well but some NPCs may need slight modification.

The potential problem is that a team of PCs can reliably use a group bonus to increase their effective skill ratings. The GM needs options for keeping contested skill use appropriately challenging.

The first option is for the NPCs to also appear in larger groups. Then the NPCs can have a larger group bonus, or can maintain more smaller group bonuses. This can be fun, but is not always appropriate for the story.

The second option is to increase the skill ratings of a lone NPC. This can produce a challenging "boss villain". But it might make the NPC too dangerous when it attacks.

A third option is to use the traits that involve loss reduction. This allows a lone NPC to have very high defense without a correspondingly high offense.

Turns link to here link to tables of contents

How does skill use work? The first issue is how often skills are used.

Player and GM Turns link to here link to tables of contents

When playing 9P the Player and GM take turns continuing the story. How long is a turn?

The Player's turn lasts until the Player describes the PC's intention to use a skill or item. The Player should be careful to describe intentions, not actions. Usually the PC's plans or desires are immediately successful: they could just as well have been phrased as actions. But assuming success is actually crowding out the GM's turn. Describing intentions provides the GM with opportunities to inject details and complications. Furthermore, intentions are easy to word in exciting and realistic phrasing, and details often make plans more interesting.

(Usually the Player's turn ends because using a skill or item means the Player cannot continue the story without information from the GM about what the PC perceives or what an NPC does. If the PC is alone and in a familiar place, the Player's turn could be quite lengthy since the Player can continue the story without new information.)

Note that using an item may span several Player turns. Slow tasks such as picking a tricky lock, repairing worn-out machinery, setting up a trap, climbing a high wall, bandaging a hurt ally, or crossing a large pile of rubble could last long enough that NPCs had time to do several things.

The GM's turn lasts until the Player (and thus the PC) learns new information. There could be a lot of information (the GM provides lengthy description after the PC enters a new place occupied by strange people) or very little information (the GM shares what the PC can tell about an opponent during the first few moments of a fight). Often the information includes what all the NPCs do and what the PC perceives.

A good GM will alter the length of his or her turn to help the pace of the story. The GM will slow down the pace by providing more detail when the PC has the luxury of slowly looking around and thinking. The GM will foster a sense of urgency when the action is rushed by sharing less detail and concluding with phrases such as "What is your character doing?" or "How does your character react?"

Good Example of Taking Turns

Player: Siron smiles at the thug. "I mean no harm."

GM: The thug draws his sword and rushes towards Siron. How does Siron react?

Siron wants to subdue him but not kill him. He needs to find out who is sending these assassins.

Player: Siron can't question a corpse. So he moves into a compact stance, ready to use his own sword to bind. He hopes to gague his opponent's strength and skill, then disarm.

GM: The thug's swings are forceful but not skilled. Siron parries two blows, and on the third has an opportunity to bind. The thug tries to free his blade but Siron presses in and twists it out of the thug's hand. The thug is definitely stronger than Siron. What does Siron do?

This was interesting and exciting. The Player used details to make his plan more fun. The GM was able to build off what the Player said and also share information about the thug.


Bad Example of Taking Turns

Player: Siron smiles at the thug. "I mean no harm."

GM: The thug draws his sword and rushes towards Siron.

Player: Siron stabs him in the arm, causing the thug to drop his sword.

GM: Okay.

This was boring. The Player stole the GM's turn and weakened the story by doing so.


Boring Example of Taking Turns

Player: Siron smiles at the thug. "I mean no harm."

GM: The thug draws his sword and rushes towards Siron.

Player: Siron turns so the right side of his body faces his foe, and steps back to put his weight on his left leg. He keeps his sword's tip high, ready to block. His left hand is poised, ready to help maintain perfect balance when lunging. He smiles at the thug, letting the lamp light gleam off his gold tooth...

GM: Arg! Enough!

All that detail makes no contribution to the encounter. The GM has almost nothing to make use of when contuinuing to build the story. The story's flow is ruined.

Details are Free link to here link to tables of contents

Even though only one skill or item is used during each of the Player's turns, the turn can include all sorts of "extra" details that do not affect the situation's outcome. Just be sure to avoid hogging the stage as in the previous example.

Archery without Details

Player: Boxley cautiously fires an arrow at the highwaymen from her hiding place behind the wagon.

Succinct and sufficient. There is nothing especially right or wrong about using few words.


Archery with Steps

Player: Boxley cautiously fires an arrow at the highwaymen. She readies an arrow, leans from her hiding place behind the wagon, selects a target, aims carefully, shoots the arrow, and ducks back behind cover.

Verbose but not boring. When the situation is suspenseful the Player often slowly states a series of steps to provide the GM opportunity to interrupt if the bad guys do something unexpected.


Archery with Extra Actions

Player: Boxley quickly looks at the highwaymen from her hiding place behind the wagon, hollering, "Head down, Friar!" She touches her lucky rabbit foot and prays for luck before drawing her arrow. "Your mother stinks of gooseberry!" she yells as she fires an arrow at the nearest enemy.

Many actions, but only the shooting really affected the situation's outcome. If those other actions did affect the situation then they would require their own turn. Perhaps the insult could demoralize the enemy: it would need its own turn and a use of the the Provoke or Wonder skills. Perhaps the lucky rabbit foot is not merely cherished but is actually enchanted and would grant a skill bonus to the archer's next attack: each time Boxley touched it would then require a seperate turn.

Player Questions are Free link to here link to tables of contents

Notice that the Player does not end his or her turn when asking the GM questions. The Player's turn lasts until he or she describes how the PC intends to move the story forward, and questions do not do this.

Questions are important because the PC will certainly have different background knowledge and experiences than the Player. Usually the GM knows more about the setting than the Player, so the Player benefits from asking the GM for aid in brainstorming how the PC would perceive or evaluate a situation.

Therefore smart Players often ask the GM questions such as "Does my character remember if these creatures can climb trees?" or "What does my character think is a fair price for selling the gem?"

It is polite for the Player to use questions to double-check the PC's limits whenever the Player is uncertain: asking the GM about issues of skill or strength up front maintains the story's flow better than creating a plan that the GM deems unworkable because the PC has insufficinet skill or strength. So smart Players ask questions such as "Is my character strong enough to force open that door?" or "Does my character think she could defeat both of them without getting wounded?" The GM might not answer these questions, but it cannot hurt to ask.

The Player may also legitimately ask the GM about perception or hunches, such as "What does my character see?" or "What does my character think are his best options?".

A Less Dominant GM link to here link to tables of contents

The flow of GM and Player turns described above is very intentional about putting the burden of carrying the story forward on the GM. This is because 9P is designed to excel as introduction to role-playing games, and as a kid-friendly storytelling game. When the Player is new to role-playing games or a child then the game is usually more exciting and memorable with a dominant GM role.

If both the GM and Player have experience with role-playing games, and neither is a child, then the Player may assume a greater share of the burden of carrying the story forward. The Player may describe PC actions (more than intentions) and even NPC actions.

Good Example of the Player Carrying the Story Forward

Player: Siron smiles at the thug. "I mean no harm."

GM: The thug draws his sword and rushes towards Siron. How does Siron react?

Player: Is Siron a better swordsman?

GM: Definitely. He can tell that just from how the thug moves and holds his sword.

Player: Siron's smile broadens. "Oh, please!" he groans. He parries one or two of the thug's swings, then disarms him.

GM: Okay. The thug is about to grapple, and definitely stronger than Siron. Fanaticism shines in his eyes. What does Siron do?

This was still interesting and exciting. The Player still used details and had a fun plan. The GM was still able to build off what the Player said and share more information about the thug.

Adventure stories can be at their most exciting and memorable when the GM and Player share responsibility for carrying the story forward. Both need maturity, flexibility, initiative, and comfort in trusting the story to flow synergistically.

Breaking a Turn into Parts link to here link to tables of contents

We have established that the Player and GM take turns continuing the story. These turns happen in pairs. The Player's turn ends with the PC attempting an action. The GM knows (or makes up) what action the NPCs will attempt. Both attempts happen simultaneously. The GM uses his or her turn to describe the outcome of the two attempted actions.

For the moment, skip concerns about how the rules allow the GM to decide success and failure. (Those rules will be described soon.)

What happens in a complex situation when many participants are acting? More structure needs to be established to resolve who acts first and when actions conflict. Here is a summary of the order of actions during any pair of Player and GM turns:

Consider how turns are subdivided in an example combat involving many characters.

An Art Gallery Combat

The PC is Brihn Honeyworth, a captain of the district watch. She received a tip about criminals planning something in the art museum. She is patrolling the museum with four NPC watchmen: Maft, Jezd, Wilx, and Bilx.

The five members of the watch have just crossed the two-story main hall in the museum's stautary wing. Brihn, Maft, and Jezd have ascended the stairs to the room's western balcony. Wilx and Bilx are still on the ground floor, approaching those stairs.

The criminals are three Ogres. Two remain in their hiding places behind large statues on the hall's floor, crossbows ready. The Ogre leader steps out from behind the room's centerpiece: a huge statue of a cruel-looking Bergtroll. "Ha ha!" he laughs, surprising all five members of the watch. "Statue, show us your secret!" He then taps the statue with a short wand.

Unknown to both the watch and the Ogres, a mysterious figure is hiding in the shadows in a corner of the room's eastern balcony.

Combat begins.

Player: Brihn shouts, "Attack!" She studies the Ogre, looking for how to advise the watchmen to fight.

Observations are resolved first. Characters attempting to use sensory skills such as Perception, Wonder, Identify, Lore, or Intuition check for success.

The success of observations is always easy to judge. A certain, fixed skill rating is needed for success. Perhaps a Lore skill rating of 4 would allow remembering how to best fight this kind of ooze, or a Perception skill rating of 5 is needed to notice that pirate's slight limp.

Since observations never conflict with each other, characters who try to observe either succeed or fail based entirely upon their own skill.

An Art Gallery Combat: Observation

GM: Brihn call tell from the Ogre's stance and glances that he is protective of his wand. Attacks that appear to be trying to knock away his wand but actually veer to strike him might be especially effective.

Player: Hm. She can't really shout that to her men. She shouts, "Bilx, go for his wand!" and hopes Wilx gets the hint.

Brihn has sufficient Perception skill rating to gain a 1-point situational advantage for the duration of the combat. This bonus could be shared if communicated without spoiling it by letting the Ogre know what they are planning.

The GM had planned for the mysterious figure to use Indentify/Lore about magic statues, or that statue in particular. The GM makes a mental note that this happened successfully.

All movement and communication happens next. Any uses of the Exit skill happen first. Then uses of the Acrobatics/Climb happen. Then movement allowed with other skills, including using the Animals talent to give a pet orders. Any talking or shouting happens simultaneously with movement.

When using a battlemat, positioning and movement is made more strategic by including the complication that some map squares are slow to move through. A map square is called difficult terrain if it contains rubble, dense underbrush, deep mud, a fallen thick tree trunk, etc. Some map squares are only difficult terrain in one direction: ascending a stairway or steep slope is slow, but descending happens at normal speed. There are two rules for movement in difficult terrain. First, any character ends his or her movement when entering difficult terrain. (Note that in difficult terrain Press probably cannot be used to charge a foe.) Second, a character using the Acrobatics skill may jump over the obstacle instead of ending movement early. (Remember the earlier rules for standing and running long jump distances, and that a map square is two meters in side length. An Acrobatics skill rating of 2 allows a running jump over one map square of difficult terrain, and an Acrobatics skill rating of 4 allows a running jump over two map squares of difficult terrain. For standing long jumps the required skill doubles: a skill rating of 4 to leap over one map square, and a skill rating of 8 to leap over two map squares. The maximum movement with Acrobatics remains three map squares.)

If two characters attempt moving into the same map square at the same time, the GM decides if either is successful. Usually all characters are able to move where they desire.

An Art Gallery Combat: Movement and Communication

GM: As Brihn shouts "Attack!" and "Bilx, go for his wand!", Maft and Jezd rush down the stairs. As Jezd runs, he pops the cork off a potion of size doubling. Wilx is closest to the Ogre, and charges him. The Ogre backs slightly so that Wilx barely gets within reach and Bilx is still out of reach. Bilx is now standing near the huge statue. Two more Ogres lean out from behind other statues, aiming their crossbows at Bilx.

Player: Yikes. Brihn ducks down behind one of the balcony railing's pillars.

GM: Not yet. New movement needs to wait until next turn. Let's finish this turn first.

Player: Okay

GM: The last thing that happens during movement is that the huge statue awakens. Its eyes glow blue. It straightens up, and bellows "I was created to smash!"

Player: Uh oh.

No characters tried to move into the same square, so everyone arrives where they desired.

Ranged effects include any non-observation actions that work at a distance.

If there are any characters using Wonder to intimidate this happens first. Then characters using Shoot/Throw attack. Finally, other ranged attacks and effects happen. Characters could use Melee to throw a net or Disarm at a small distance using a whip.

Block/Dodge is considered at this time if defending against a ranged attack.

An Art Gallery Combat: Ranged Effects

GM: The two Ogres with crossbows fire at Bilx. They are on the other side of the huge statue, so it provides Bilx with a lot of cover. One bolt misses completely, and the other harmlessly pierces a hole through his cloak.

It is very unusual for ranged effects to interfere with another. For example, if two archers both shoot at each other then they each hit or miss based upon their own skill—their arrows will not knock each other out of the air. It is equally reasonable for an a gladiator to hit his opponent with a javelin just before his opponent catches him in a net.

Because movement happens before ranged attacks, an archer has trouble when his or her target can move from one source of cover to another each turn. The solution in locations of plentiful cover is for the archer to also keep moving, stealthily if possible. Since an archer can shoot any target he or she can see, an archer skilled enough to have a positive modified skill rating despite the 1-point penalty for moving (and perhaps the 1-point situational disadvantage for long range) with superior move-and-shoot tactics will eventually find and hit the enemy.

As mentioned previously, the rules are purposefully vague about whether Disarm can be used at long distances. If the GM and Player agree that Disarm can work that way then those attacks happen before normally damaging ranged attacks.

Finally, reach effects are all the other many kinds of actions—the ones that require being close enough to touch a target. Melee/Press, Wrestle/Disarm, and Provoke are the most common.

Block/Dodge is considered at this time if defending against a non-ranged attack.

Reach effects frequently do interfere with each other. When the skill ratings differ, usually only the character using greater skill succeeds. When the skill ratings are equal the GM decides if both characters succeed or if they exchange a flurry of feints and lunges without either actually hitting the other.

Using an item is often a reach effect that does not interfere with other reach effects. For example, a character trying to drink a potion or touch another with a magic wand can probably do that if totally unconcerned about his opponent's axe. However, this is extremely dangerous since it leaves the item-user completely undefended. (Because the opponent's attack is unopposed it calculates losses using its full skill rating, undiminished by the item user's skill rating).

These rules are purposefully vague about how much battlemat movement is available to characters using items. The normal guideline is up to 2 map squares. If using the the item requires dexterity reduce the movement to 1 map square. If using the item requires concentration no movement is allowed that turn. For example, drinking from an open bottle can be done when moving two map squares, both opening the bottle and drinking can be done while moving 1 map square, and finding the bottle in a full backpack takes all turn with no movement allowed.

An Art Gallery Combat: Reach Effects

GM: Jezd, away from the foes, drinks his potion of size doubling and grows twice as big. Wilx swings his sword at the Ogre with the wand as that Ogre reaches out to touch him with semblancy. Both hit. The Ogre screams as Wilx's sword cuts deeply into his side. But the Ogre's fingers do touch Wilx's face. Wilx drops, unconscious. The Ogre now wears Wilx's form.

Player: Ick. I hate when Ogres do that.

GM: The huge statue brings down both fists, hammer-like, onto Bilx's head. Bilx crashes to the floor, bleeding severely. What does Brihn do?

Semblancy left the Ogre undefended. Wilx's blow would have defeated most opponents, but Ogres are unusually tough.

Bilx was using Press to charge the first Ogre and attack if possible. The GM decided that only half of Bilx's Press skill rating was able to oppose the huge statue's Melee attack, since Bilx was focusing on a different foe.

Success link to here link to tables of contents

How high a skill rating is needed to be successful? It depends upon the situation, of course. Situations are categorized as either contested or uncontested.

Uncontested Skill Use link to here link to tables of contents

Uncontested situations happen when only one character is using a skill. These situations are the simplest. The GM knows or improvises the minimum skill rating required for success. The character succeeds if his or her skill rating is equal to or greater than the required amount.

The number required for success in an uncontested situation is called the target number. Often excess skill provides superior results.

Target Numbers: Knowledge About a Monster

GM: As you approach the rubble the rocks on its surface flow together to form a small, humanoid shape that blocks Vroy's way.

Player: What does Vroy know about this kind of creature?

The GM replies with information based upon Vroy's Lore skill rating.

Vroy has an effective Lore skill rating of 5, so he is told the first three pieces of information.

A character who fails can often find another plan that allows success: either the originally used skill's rating can be boosted by using better equipment or a situational advantage, or the character could attempt to use a different (but still appropriate) skill.

Uncontested Situation: Getting Past a Door

GM: At the bottom of the stairs is a thick, sturdy door.

Player: Boxley opens it, quietly if possible.

GM: It won't open. Boxley can't see any lock, and the hinges are on the other side. It appears to be designed to open only from the other side.

Player: Hm. The mad scientist must have a secret entrance elsewhere. Oh, well. No quiet now. Boxley forces open the door, running down the stairs if that helps.

GM: The door is too sturdy. It won't budge.

The GM knows that forcing open the door requires a Wrestle skill of 4 or more. Unfortunately, Boxley only has a Wrestle skill of 3. But Boxley need not give up. She can gain an boost to Wrestle by using appropriate equipment: perhaps a lever will help force that door. She could find some way of gaining a situational advantage when forcing the door open, such as weakening the hinge bolts with acid. Or she could try using a different skill: perhaps she stops pushing and gets out an axe, switching from Wrestle to Melee.

Note that most situations are uncontested and have trivial difficulty. Skill use is automatically successful and not even mentioned by the GM or Player. A PC does not need to formally use the Acrobatcs skill to jump a short distance, the Animals skill to calmly ride a pet horse, or the Perception skill to notice obvious features and items in a room.

Contested Skill Use link to here link to tables of contents

Contested skill use happens when multiple characters attempt opposing goals by using skills. Examples of contested situations include haggling over prices (Bargain versus Bargain), following a hidden trail (Track versus Stealth), searching for a deliberately hidden object or person (Perception versus Stealth), and arm wrestling (Wrestling versus Wrestling).

Each turn compare the skill ratings for the skills chosen by the opponents.

Some skills are obviously appropriate to compare. For example, two cautious gladiators are fighting and one uses Melee while the other uses Disarm: the skills are not actually opposite but in that situation only the gladiator with the higher effective skill rating will be successful. (If both gladiators were in a blind rage both their actions could be uncontested and quite successful. The first gladiator could badly wound the his foe an instant before the weapon is seized and yanked away.)

In other situations it is sensible to compare skills that are not so clearly opposite. For example, an alert guard might use his or her Perception skill to defend against a surprise attack. (A surprise attack benefits from a situational advantage bonus and would thus probably be successful to some degree. A more alert guard would be hurt less.)

If a character begins losing a contest then he or she often uses different equipment, employs a new situational advantage, or changes which skill is used.

Most of the time the Player picks which skill his or her PC uses.

An Honest Archery Contest

GM: It is Boxley's turn in the archery contest.

Player: Boxley politely smiles at her opponent as she calmly looses an arrow at the target.

Two characters, standing side by site, are both shooting at the same target. The contest compares which Shoot skill rating is higher.

However, unexpected developments may allow one participant (usually the defensive one) the use of an appropriate skill "for free".

A Crooked Archery Contest

GM: It is Boxley's turn in the archery contest.

Player: Boxley politely smiles at her opponent as she calmly looses an arrow at the target.

GM: (Knowing that Boxley's Perception skill rating exceeds her opponent's Stealth skill rating) As Boxley sets the arrow to the string she notices her opponent is attempting to switch arrows unnoticed.

Player: Boxley lowers her bow and frowns at the cheater. Does the new arrow appear enchanted?

GM: Boxley cannot tell.

The Player intended for Boxley to use Shoot. There was no reason to expect that anything other than shooting arrows would happen the first turn. But Boxley got to use Perception as a "free turn" to notice the cheating.

Many contested situations are not significant to the story. These do not deserve any detail, especially if the difference in skill ratings is large.

An Insignificant Contested Situation

GM: Vroy falls down the pit, and lands amidst a bunch of hungry giant snails.

Player: Has Vroy heard of such creatures? How dangerous are they?

GM: They are as long as his forearm, but move very slowly. He can easily avoid their bites.

Player: Ick. Vroy kills them all.

GM: Okay.

Here is an example of a more complicated but story-wise unimportant situation also resolved in one turn.

Siron Haggles

Player: Siron points to the largest dagger. "How much for that one?" he asks.

GM: After some haggling Siron and the shopkeeper agree on a price of 66 coins.

The GM looked at the price chart and saw that a normal knife has a retail price of 61 coins. This dagger is of above-average size and quality, so the GM decides a fair price is 70 coins.

Siron has a Bargain skill of 5. The merchant has a Bargain skill of 4. Siron's skill is greater so he wins the contest. Since Bargain allows the better haggler to gain a 5% benefit per point of skill rating difference, Siron buys the dagger for 66 coins.

If Siron and the merchant had the same Bargain skill, then Siron would have paid 70 coins for the dagger and both characters would have considered the situation successful.

Other contested situations are important to the story and deserve more time and detail. These last several turns and use losses to keep track of the contest (as described in the next section of the rules).

Automatic Successes link to here link to tables of contents

Not all situations compare skill ratings. Sometimes one action has such an inherent advantage that it automatically succeeds.

Consider three examples in which different situations cause a skill rating difference of 3 points to produce three different outcomes.

Siron Cannot Exit

Player: Siron runs from the archer. Time to get away!

GM: Good idea, but it does not work. Out on the open plain the archer has too great an advantage. Siron is severly wounded: one then two arrows hit him, and he can no longer run.

Player: One arrow is deep in the back of his left thigh, and the other nicked a forearm. He stumbles but does not fall, then stops and holds up his hands in surrender.

The archer has a base Shoot skill rating of 4, an equipment bonus of 1, and a situational bonus of 2. Her total modified skill rating is 7. Siron has an Exit skill rating of 3, a much lower number. Siron would be in trouble even if the rules about losses were followed strictly. In this case the GM could make a case that no skill rating comparison was needed, Siron simply cannot escape on the open plain.


Siron Barely Exits

Player: Siron runs from the archer. Time to get away!

GM: Smart idea. Siron runs through the streets and after six quick turns does manage to lose her. However, she is a very good shot and that bow is something special. She wounds him during the chase.

Player: Siron stumbles into a shop's back door and closes it behind him. His right hand presses a cloth hard to his left side, soaking up the blood from the arrow wound so it will not leave a trail. "Beg pardon!" he says to anyone inside, before collapsing.

Without any situaional bonus, it makes sense to use the rules about losses. The archer's total modified skill rating is 5, which is 2 greater than Siron's Exit skill rating. Siron suffers minor losses but does manage to exit.


Siron Easily Exits

Player: Siron runs from the archer. Time to get away!

GM: Easy to do. She was down in the gorge, and by the time she runs out of it Siron can be hidden in the nearby forest. He has heard stories about her incredible skill with a bow, but from down in such a deep ravine her prowess in archery cannot help her.

Player: Whew. Remind me to use this adventure's experience to increase Siron's skill rating for Exit.

No skill rating comparison was needed. The archer cannot shoot out of the deep ravine.

Not Mentioning Skills? link to here link to tables of contents

Notice that in none of the examples so far has a Player ever mentioned which skill his or her PC was using.

This is normal. Mentioning skills is rarely necessary. The GM can nearly always tell what skill is being used even when the Player describes the PC's actions with language that ignores the game mechanics.

This is a big part of what makes 9P an ideal RPG for someone who has never played a RPG before, adult or child. The Player can focus on the story without worrying about the game mechanics. As was mentioned earlier, there are no "Player rules" that the Player must learn or keep track of.

Losses link to here link to tables of contents

These rules have already described how a situations that are not meaningful only deserve one turn. Simply compare skill ratings and find the winner. (Recall the examples of Vroy and the giant snails, and Kyvron haggling over a dagger's price.)

Any meaningful contest could last several turns. Participants keep track of their progress by, each turn, counting the difference in skill ratings.

Two Ways to Use a Higher Skill Rating

The character with the higher skill rating can use this difference in two ways: to cause losses to the opponent, or to cancel out losses he or she might suffer.

Examples of Using the Difference in Skill Ratings

Vroy has a Melee skill rating of 5. He is fighting a ruffian with a Melee skill rating of 3. Vroy's skill exceeds the ruffian's by two. Unless either opponent does something to modify these skill ratings, each turn Vroy can cause the ruffian to suffer two losses.

Imagine that Vroy is dueling the ruffian. No other characters will interfere. Vroy causes two losses each turn. The ruffian will soon be defeated. Vroy is simply overwhelming the ruffian with superior skill.

Next imagine that the ruffian has an ally. As Vroy fights the ruffian, he must also avoid the rocks thrown by the ruffian's ally. Perhaps now Vroy only wants to cause one loss each turn to the ruffian (defeat will take twice as many turns as before) and also use his other exceess of skill rating comparison to negate one loss each turn from the thrown rocks. Vroy is now devoting half his energy to positioning his opponent in between himself and the ally, or deflecting rocks with his blade, or in some other manner mitigating potential harm.

Next imagine that the ruffian is the leader of a criminal gang. Vroy wants to humiliate but not harm him. Vroy decides to inflict no losses on the ruffian, but to potentially cancel out two losses he might suffer if the other gang members witnessing the contest decide to interfere.

When the character is opposed by a group, losses caused by that character only apply to one member of the opposing group.

Defeating a Group One Member at a Time

Vroy has a Melee skill rating of 5. He is fighting three bullies, each with a Melee skill rating of 2. With their group bonus, the bullies have an effective skill rating of 4.

The bullies are not smart enough to coordinate their attacks or fight cleverly. (They do not try to flank Vroy to gain a situational advatage, nor do they use Press or Provoke.) So each turn of Melee versus Melee combat, Vroy's skill exceeds theirs by one and Vroy can cause one bully to suffer one loss.

Because the bullies are all using the same skill, they function as a single opponent. So this is a situation with one-versus-one contested skill use. Vroy does not need to devote any of his excess skill to defense. Each turn Vroy is the contestant with higher skill rating, and "wins" the contest a little bit more.

Remember that each turn has four parts: observations, movement/communication, ranged effects, and reach effects. There is a complication because this sequence has ranged effects happen before reach effects. If a character using a reach effect wants to use some or all of his or her exceess of skill rating comparison to cancel out ranged-type losses, that choice will affect next turn's ranged effects. (Because this turn's ranged effects have already been resolved.)

Examples of Using Negating Next Turn's Ranged-Type Losses

Back to Vroy fighting the ruffian while avoiding the rocks thrown by the ruffian's ally...

The first turn the ruffian's ally acts first, and bonks Vroy with a rock. Vroy and the ruffian act afterwards, using Melee as reach effects. Vroy causes the ruffian to suffer one loss that first turn. Vroy's Player also mentions that henceforth the other part of Vroy's two-point greater Melee skill rating comparison will be used defensively.

Starting on the second turn, Vroy will negate one loss each turn caused by the thrown rocks.

How the parts of a turn are ordered will not otherwise interfere with defensively using an exceess of skill rating comparison.

Two Kinds of Losses

There are two types of losses.

Minor Losses signify temporary inconveniences and setbacks that tell an opponent that he or she is losing. They have no effect on game mechanics (they do not alter skill use, movement, or any other rules).

Examples of Minor Losses

A minor loss in a debate could be speaking clumsily, being caught using a staw-man argument, going off on a tangent, or being laughed at.

A minor loss when fast-talking could be using an excuse the target immediately recognizes as false, or failing at name-dropping because the target knows the important person very well.

A minor loss in combat could be a minor injury or being knocked down, forced back, disarmed, or grabbed.

A minor loss when ambushed could represent being disoriented or unfocused.

A minor loss when encountering something horrific or startling could represent becoming shaken or sickened.

Major Losses show lasting effects that are likely to sway the conflict's outcome.

When a character suffers his or her first major loss during a contest this causes a 1-point situational disadvantage to one or more skills, or a reduction of normal movement rates by one map square. (The GM and Player should agree on a resonable and appropriate result.) This penalty remains until the major loss is healed.

Examples of Major Losses

A major loss in a debate could represent being proved ignorant and wrong, or speaking in a way that causes suspicion and distrust.

A major loss when fast-talking could represent saying something that triggers one of the listener's worst negative stereotypes.

A major loss when using social graces could be violating a taboo or accidentally causing a deep insult.

A major loss in combat could be a severe or crippling wound, having a weapon broken, being pinned while wrestling, or being backed up to a cliff with nowhere to move.

The first two losses a character suffers in any conflict are minor losses. It is easy to recover from minor losses. One minor loss is "healed" each turn the character causes a loss to someone else without suffering any losses.

(Note that resting during conflict in a place of partial safety, or using non-aggressive skills—Acrobatics/Climb, Identify/Lore, Intuition, Stealth, Block/Dodge, Exit/Escape, and Perception— does not normally "heal" minor losses since the character is not causing any losses to someone else that turn. The narrative description of the loss might be remedied (for example, a swordsman who was knocked down then stands up during his next turn) but this does not negate the game mechanic of acquiring the minor loss. However, the story could contain special items that could be used in a partially safe place to heal minor losses.)

A character's minor losses are also "healed" when a character leaves the conflict. This includes defeating the opponents, exiting the conflict, stalling the conflict by retreating to a location the opponents cannot reach, or successfully hiding from the opponents.

A character who has two minor losses and suffers further losses gains major losses instead. For example, a character with no losses who suffers three losses in a turn gains two minor losses and a major loss. As another example, a character with one loss who suffers two more gains a second minor loss and then a major loss.

Most characters are defeated after suffering two major losses. Talent in the Wrestle/Disarm skill allows characters in most physical conflicts to sustain more major losses before being defeated. (Defeat will be discussed more after an example of a longer contested combat situation.)

Most major losses are only healed with special items or in between adventures. However, the story might make it appropriate for some major losses might be cured with sufficient rest: usually either a full night's sleep or a visit to a physician.

Remember that the first major loss suffered during each contest causes a penalty. Healing major losses is important. Starting a new contest when already penalized is dangerous! A well-designed adventure considers how easy an average PC can access such healing. If a Player does not want to risk having difficulty finding healing (that particular Player does not think that type of suspense is fun), he or she can have the PC prepare for adventures by creating or purchasing special equipment to administer self-healing.

Most RPGs that use dice have the PC and the NPC "take turns". They separately attempt actions. Each is active on his or her own turn. Each is nearly passive (doing nothing but recording damage or attempting saving throws) on the opponent's turn.

9P is very, very different. The GM and Player do take turns talking. But the PC and NPCs do not take turns acting! Instead, the GM privately decides what the NPC will attempt before the Player says what the PC will attempt. The two skill ratings behind these two intentions are compared to decide which character is successful, and to what degree.

Conflict in 9P is a lot like a game of rock-scissors-paper with many extra options. Everyone "goes" at the same time. Usually one participant succeeds more than the other.

Time to see what keeping track of losses really looks like! Let's revisit the combat between Boxley and the giant lizard.

Boxley and the Giant Lizard

Player: Boxley grunts at the giant lizard and swings her sword. If only she still had her bow!

GM: The lizard avoids Boxley's blade, but doing so causes it to veer aside in its attempt to bite. It does, however, manage to graze Boxley with its right foreclaw and knock Boxley off balance.

The GM has decided this lizard is huge but not very smart. It will use Melee whenever possible (which it does every turn in this example) until its prey suffers a major loss—then it will charge (use Press) once before returning to Melee.

Boxley and the lizard have Melee skill ratings of 2 and 4, respectively. The difference is 4 − 2 = 2. Boxley suffers two minor losses.

Notice how the GM and Player both contribute to what the Boxley's minor losses actually look like.

Player: Boxley is bleeding from a scratch on her arm, and recovers her balance. She spits and uses her magic jumping boots to leap atop the boulder. Then she waits for an opportune moment, yells, and jumps down to stab the beast in its back. Hopefully the combination of elevation and a sudden, forceful blow will do the trick.

GM: The lizard is too quick. Boxley does land on its back, but in the split second before the sword blade hits the lizard shakes violently and then rolls. It gets to its feet slightly faster, and lunges.

Boxley has a Press skill rating of 2. The lizard is still using its Melee skill rating of 4. Press always receives a 1-point bonus against Melee. The GM decides the elevation advantage is a 1-point situational advantage. So Boxley has a total modified skill rating of 4. The difference is 4 − 4 = 0, so neither opponent suffers losses.

Player: Boxley tries to jump aside.

GM: She does so easily. The lizard lunges again.

Boxley has a Dodge skill rating of 5. The lizard is still using a Melee skill rating of 4. The difference is 5 − 4 = 1. The lizard cannot hurt Boxley as long as she keeps dodging.

Player: This is going nowhere. Boxley jumps onto the boulder again. Can she see anything about the lizard's behavior that might help her?

GM: The lizard pauses, panting and glaring at Boxley. It paces back and forth, swishing it's tail. As you watch it you notice it is sniffing intently, even though it can still see Boxley.

Perception can grant Boxley a 1-point situational advantage against one foe for the remainder of the combat. She already has a 1-point situational advantage from her elevation, so this would increase her bonus to a 2-point situational advantage.

Player: Boxley takes a stink bomb from her backpack and throws it at the lizard.

GM: The lizard hisses in anger and confusion when the stink bomb explodes.

Boxley does something in the story to justify her new situational advantage.

Player: Boxley repeats her diving attack.

GM: This time Boxley connects. The lizard screams as Boxley's sword sinks into its shoulder.

Boxley still has a Press skill rating of 2, now boosted to 5. She receives a 2-point situational advantage (from elevation and having used Perception), and a further point from how Press is inherently useful against Melee. The difference is 5 − 4 = 1. The lizard suffers one minor loss. Boxley heals one minor loss.

Player: Boxley pulls her sword free. She tries to sneak behind the lizard and then charges it.

GM: The lizard is so disoriented from the stink and from its wound that Boxley is able to get behind it unnoticed. Her charge connects, wounding the creature by its left hip.

Stealth can grant Boxley a 2-point situational advantage against one foe for one turn. Boxley is very sneaky, and the lizard is very disoriented. So the GM decides the Stealth attempt succeeds even though Boxley has nothing to hide behind. Boxley's attack again uses a Press skill of 5: a base skill rating of 2, a 2-point situational advantage from Perception and Stealth (the two cannot add to more than two points of advantage), and a further point from how Press is inherently useful against Melee. The lizard suffers one minor loss. Boxley heals one minor loss.

Player: Whew. Boxley jumps atop the rock again. What does the lizard do?

GM: The lizard is coughs and hisses, then starts to walk away with a limp in its left hind foot. What does Boxley do?

Player: Boxley follows it. She could probably kill it now, but if it is retreating to its lair she might find something interesting there.

Not Mentioning Losses? link to here link to tables of contents

Notice in the above example that the GM does not explicitly tell the Player after each turn how many losses each character has accumulated. Some Players instead prefer each of the GM's descriptions of opposing skill use to explicitly include "your character now has two minor losses", "the opponent suffers its first major loss", etc. Either style can work.

Defeat link to here link to tables of contents

When defeat happens the victor usually choses what this looks like in the story. For example, a wrestler could say he securely pinned his foe, a swordsman could say he backed his foe against a wall with the sword point touching his foe's neck, or a warrior with a mace could say he knocked down his foe until he or she was too beat up to rise. Or any of those combatants could say their foe became disarmed and exhausted, or simply killed by a fatal strike.

However, the GM always has the option of declaring the type of defeat. The GM has more detailed plans for how the story will develop, and is therefore allowed to use defeats to guide the plot in a desired direction.

Siron's Defeats

Player: Siron fires an arrow at the bandit.

GM: The bandit screams as the arrow hits. Unfortunately he is not alone, and his friend is both sneaky and wielding an enchanted mace. Siron wakes up in a dark room. His feet are tied, and he has a huge lump on his head.

The PC was defeated by a stealth melee attack. Given that this happened, the GM has a strong preference for how the story should continune. The GM simply keeps narrating about what the defeat looks like and what happens next.


Player: Siron fires an arrow at the bandit.

GM: The bandit screams as the arrow hits. Unfortunately he is not alone, and his friend is both sneaky and wielding an enchanted mace. Does Siron do or say anything as he slumps to the ground, losing consciousness?

This time the GM allows the Player to contribute to what the defeat looks like. Perhaps the GM has a few alternatives in mind for what could happen next. Or perhaps Siron will still wake up in a dark room no matter what he does, but the circumstances of his captivity will change based upon whether he insults, pleads with, or sleep-gasses the nearby bandits as he loses consciousness.

Automatic Defeats link to here link to tables of contents

Notice that a skill rating difference of 4 is enough to end most contests in one turn (four losses is usually enough to cause defeat). Thus notable warriors can dispatch one fumbling enemy with each swing of their sword, and expert merchants can out-haggle inexperienced shoppers in one turn.

One Rat Per Turn

GM: Vroy looks across the huge room. He must wade through a long pit filled with zombie rats to reach the mad scientist. Individually the rats are not significant foes, but there are a lot of them and the mad scientist is holding some kind of ray gun.

Player: Vroy can kill one zombie rat per turn?

GM: Yes. But he doubts that is the best plan.

Remember to only keep track of losses when there is a meaningful situation that involves genuine competition, contest or struggle. A character who wants to kill an unconscious or bound prisoner with a weapon can almost always do so quickly and easily. A witty and honey-tongued princess can insult uncharismatic visiting nobles all afternoon without effort.

Adding Dice link to here link to tables of contents

A diceless RPG system is very convenient for being playable almost any time. The pace is also quick and exciting as the in-game action is not interrupted by real-life dice rolling.

Yet dice have their virtues. Many people find adding luck increases the suspense and thrill of victory. Some storytellers enjoy having a chance for luck to steer the story in a surprising way. And some people just really like the colorful, polyhedral sets of dice common in many RPGs.

Adding dice to the 9P rules is easy and striaghtforward.

First, get a bunch of eight-sided dice.

Second, the dice that roll the values 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8 are called a yes-die.

Third, when the diceless rules use an effective skill rating, roll that many dice instead. Any dice that are yes-dice cause a snowball effect: roll that many extra dice and perhaps have even more yes-dice. (Then stop. The extra dice do not cause more snowball effect.)

The total number of yes-dice is used however the diceless rules would use the effective skill rating.

Target Numbers Revisited: Knowledge About a Monster

GM: As you approach the rubble the rocks on its surface flow together to form a small, humanoid shape that blocks your Vroy's way.

Player: What does Vroy know about this kind of creature?

The GM replies with information based upon Vroy's Lore skill rating. Vroy has an effective Lore skill rating of 5. He rolls five eight-sided dice: 2, 3, 5, 6, and 4. Three of those are yes-dice (the 4, 5, and 6) so he rolls three more six-sided dice: 1, 5, and 6. Vroy has a total of five yes-dice for this skill use.

With five yes-dice, Vroy met or exceeded the target numbers for the first three pieces of information. Vroy learns that information, but not the information that required success with a target number of six.

GM: [shares that information]

Player: Vroy charges and tries to hit it with his sword. Perhaps he can drive it away even if the blows do not harm it.

Vroy has an effective Press skill rating of 5. The GM says to roll six eight-sided dice because Vroy is using Press and the Ooze is using Melee (and the Press skill receives a +1 bonus against normal Melee skill use). The Player rolls six eight-sided dice: 5, 3, 2, 6, 1, and 6. Three are yes-dice, so the Player rolls three more eight-sided dice: 4, 5, and 1. Vroy has a total of five yes-dice. The GM rolls dice for the Ooze and gets only three yes-dice. The Player has the greater amount, by two. The Ooze would suffer two losses, except that it is immune to cutting.

Traits link to here link to tables of contents

The core rules have now been discussed. The only remaining consideration is how to break those rules!

A fantasy setting involves many creatures: monsters, people of fairy tale races, and others. Without exceptions to the core rules these various creatures would present much too similar a challenge to the PC. An interesting setting requires that creatures have different abilities and weaknesses, so the PC must learn to approach and deal with different creatures using differing strategies.

The characteristics of a creature that cause simple exceptions to the core rules are called its traits.

Loss Reduction Traits

A general category of traits decrease how many losses a creature might suffer from a single attack. These loss reduction traits allow creating a more resiliant NPC who can better withstand the group bonus expected from a team of PCs, but without making the NPC too offensively dangerous.

A resiliant NPC could have one, two, or all three of the loss reduction traits.

By default these traits reduce the number of losses by one. The GM can always increase their potency (to a reduction of two or three) to allow an NPC to stand longer before the force of a very powerful group of PCs.

Loss Reduction Traits

Hardy Hide Shrugs Off Harm - When this creature suffers losses caused by a Brawn skill, it suffers one fewer loss.

Shaded by Secrecy and Skepticism - When this creature suffers losses caused by a Brains skill, it suffers one fewer loss.

Halcyon of Harmony - When this creature suffers losses caused by a Harmony skill, it suffers one fewer loss.

Setting-Specific Traits

Traits besides the loss reduction traits are setting-specific.

In the sample setting of Spyragia, the eight intelligent races are mostly defined through their cultures and personalities. Yet each race also has three to five traits. These minor changes to the core rules to help add flavor and give variety to PCs and NPCs.

The setting of Spyragia has nine Powers. These Powers host two kinds of contests that use traits to allow their participants to do supernatural feats, and give one kind of gift that involves traits. The nine kids of champions and the nine kids of monsters are also defined with both narrative context and rule-changing traits.

The wondrous feats that characters can learn are also traits.

A GM who creates his or her own setting should, of course, create new races and creatures by adapting these traits and creating new traits.

In most role-playing games monsters the GM works to make combat memorable by creating monsters that are more than different piles of hit points. The corresponding challenge for 9P is to allow the rules to make monsters more than different piles of skill and talent ratings.

Note that creatures often have abilities with no effect on the rules. For example, if a monster often trips its prey the GM could describe most of the minor losses it inflicts as knocking its opponent to the ground. Since that ability is purely narrative it does not need to change the core rules.

Also, creatures may have abilities far more wild and powerful than what is possible to describe using the language of the core rules. This is especially true in those tricky situations that threaten to infringe upon a Player's control of his or her PC. How to defeat a sentient tornado whose magical "brain" can only be attacked by someone it is carrying away? How to oppose an evil wizard who can hypnotize anyone he sees to instantly take control of their body? Such encounters are possible and potentially fun, but are beyond the scope of abilities that slightly modify core rules.

Core Rules Summary link to here link to tables of contents

You can resize this summary of the core rules as one page reference sheet. The Player can write on the back of the page about the PC's description, background, inventory, known recipes, special abilities, unusual qualities, and other notes.

A plainer character sheet is also available.

NPCs usually have less commentary, so the GM can print an NPC sheet to write about three NPCs per page.

This copy of the skill table contains a column for the effective skill rating in a typical group situation. This can be useful if there is more than one PC, or if a PC has pets that contribute to skill use. Remember that a character needs at least a skill rating of 2 to contribute towards the group bonus for using that skill.

Characters have 17 skills and 16 talents. Base Ratings are between 0 and 8. New characters have no talents and have 40 points to distribute among the skills, with no base skill rating above 4.

Brawn

Base

Effective

Group

Harmony

Base

Effective

Group

Acrobatics/Climb

_____

_____

_____

Speed increases by _____ (÷2 squares)

Animals/Wilderness

_____

_____

_____

Animal control has _____ skill

Melee/Press

_____

_____

_____

Attacks injure ____ more opponents

Block/Dodge

_____

_____

_____

Reduce ranged attacks by ____

Shoot/Throw

_____

_____

_____

Point blank range is ____ (×3 squares)

Exit/Escape

_____

_____

_____

May ignore ____ group members

Wrestle/Disarm

_____

_____

_____

Can endure ____ more major losses

Perception/Etiquette

_____

_____

_____

Reduce surprise attacks by ____

Brains

Technology

Bargain/Wonder

_____

_____

_____

Wondrous feats have ____ skill

Alchemy

_____

_____

_____

Identifying potions has ____ skill

Identify/Lore

_____

_____

_____

Herbs heal ____ times faster

Chemstry

_____

_____

_____

Golems have ____ possible skill

Intuition/Provoke

_____

_____

_____

Fast talking lasts ____ hours

Machinery

_____

_____

_____

____ Spot bonus & duration multiplier

Stealth/Track

_____

_____

_____

Shadow use increases by ____

Transmutery

_____

_____

_____

Works at a distance of ____ meters

Other

Racial Ability

_____

_____

Movement on a battlemap varies by which skill is used. (Talent in Acrobatics/Climb increases non-zero movement rates.)

During each adventure the PC gains advancement tokens to increase skills and talents (usually 4 tokens for solo adventures or 2 tokens for team adventures), along with adrenaline tokens to gain a little "oomph" in three different ways:

The Effective Rating for a skill may be modified by bonuses or penalties, from using Press or Provoke or also from:

The GM and Player take turns to tell the story. The Player's turn lasts until the Player describes the PC's intention to use a skill or item; any other details are free, and Player questions are free. The GM's turn lasts until the Player (and thus the PC) learns new information. Within each turn events are resolved in four stages: first, observations; second, movement and communication; third, ranged effects; fourth, reach effects.

Skill use is categorized as uncontested or contested with rules for determining success. Some skill use attempts are automatically successful. Meaningful contested skill use is resolved by counting losses until defeat happens.

Creatures differ by more than skill and talent ratings because of their traits.

Aside from their active use, skills can also proactively protect a character as described by a situation's elusion requirement.

9P can use dice if the GM and Player desire.