|The Six-Page Rulebook
|(c) 1999-2007 by Pieter Simoons
After over five years of playing and mastering roleplaying games, I found myself getting more and more dissatisfied with existing systems. Of course this is a matter of opinion, but the several systems I've played are hard to learn, often requiring you to page through many chapters of text in order to make a character, some of them lack realism, and many of them have rules or mechanics that don't make much sense. I've tried fixing existing systems with house rules, but finally realized that I should make my own system. That's when Simplex was born.
I set several aims for the Simplex system. The first, obviously, is simplicity
. Rules should be understandable, consistent and easy to learn. Experience shows that I can explain rules and character generation to a somebody who has never roleplayed before, in fifteen minutes. The second goal is realism
. For one, characters should be roughly balanced, to avoid power play. For another, the characters should have a plausible powers for human beings. As a result, combat tends to be more dangerous than in most RPGs. The final goal is development
. Players should be encouraged to make a character with personality, and work towards developing personality and skills. Indeed I've seen my players thinking ahead in what they want to learn, and changing their attitudes towards each other's characters as the story goes along.
There are thirteen character attributes
. These are ranked one through ten, with five being the human average. If a character attempts something, a test
can be made on any of these attributes, by rolling two dice (2d6) and adding them to the attribute rank. The test succeeds if the total equals or exceeds the difficulty
test is difficulty 12; this is something that most people can do most of the time, such as climbing a tree. An average
test, something that requires skill to do consistently but is possible to amateurs, like hitting the target in archery, is difficulty 14. A difficult
test might be climbing a vertical wall, or hitting the bullseye, something that only the trained can succeed at, or difficulty 16. Situational modifiers apply; for instance, tracking a deer may be average (14) normally, but difficult (16) in twilight, and heroic
(18) during a blizzard.
There are a wide variety of traits
or skills, generally representing specialization within an attribute. Traits start at rank zero; the trait rank may be added to attribute tests when applicable. For instance, climbing is a trait related to the attribute agility, so a character may add his rank in climbing to any agility test involving climbing. Having rank zero in the trait is the same as not having that trait. There are no trained-only skills: a character may always test on an attribute regardless of whether or not he has ranks in a traits. However, tests with difficulty 16 or higher are practically impossible to the untrained.
For opposed tests
, such as two characters in a running contest, there is no set difficulty; rather, the highest result wins. In case of a tie, the character with the highest rank (in attribute plus trait) wins, because skill beats luck. For a non-playing character, the storyteller may simply assume a seven is rolled. For instance, an average human as agility five and no running skill, so outrunning him gets a difficulty of 12.
Opposed tests need not use the same attribute or trait for both sides. For instance, in hide-and-seek, one side uses stealth and the other uses perception. Because such things as sneaking, persuasion and intimidation tend to be difficult, the resisting side should get a +2 bonus to their test.
A roll of two sixes is called a critical
, and always succeeds if physically possible, generally in a spectacular way. A roll of two ones is called a fumble
, and always fails, generally in an unexpected way. This could involve character clumsiness, but also external circumstances; for skilled and competent characters, it tends to be the latter. For instance, a rookie tracker rolling a fumble might become entirely lost; an expert tracker might be distracted by an angry bear.
tasks include swimming in calm water, accurately throwing a ball, calming a tame dog, driving a car, not getting drunk after a couple of beers, simple card tricks, or force marching for several hours.
tasks include configuring a computer system, recalling an address you heard last week, concentrating during a firefight, leaping over a chasm, succesfully disguising yourself, or resisting poison gas.
tasks include cheating at cards, swimming in a storm, climbing a smooth wall, piloting a helicopter, tracking a rabbit, staring down a dragon, performing basic surgery, or untying your own hands tied behind your back.
Most tests indicate whether a character can do something; such tests may not be repeated. For instance, if you fail a test to lift a boulder, you are simply not strong enough, and trying it again won't help. Some tests indicate whether an action succeeds this time, such as hitting an opponent in combat, or searching a book in a library. Such tests may be repeated, but each repeat costs time, and sometimes, money or materials.
If a test can be attempted by multiple people, the storyteller should take care that the difficulty is somewhat higher, or that only the most skilled character can attempt it, with a +1 bonus per person helping him. Without this consideration, any task could be completed simply by having enough people attempt it.
In calm situations, the storyteller should not generally require the characters to make tests for their actions. Instead, he could keep a list of their attributes around, and assume that a character of high intelligence has no problems using a computer to access the internet, or that a character of low agility is not capable of balancing on a rope. This applies especially to social situations: rather than simply making a test, it is far more interesting to play out the dialogue, with reactions potentially depending on the character's charisma.
Additionally, the storyteller may want to give perceptive characters more detailed descriptions of their surroundings, or characters lacking in empathy less information about the mood of the people they meet. For these reasons, characters with low attributes are a challenge to play, and attribute scores of one or two have serious hindrances and are best left to advanced players.
Attributes and Traits
The attributes, and some examples of related traits, are the following:
- Agility (climbing, dancing, running, stealth)
- Endurance (resist toxin, fast healing, stamina)
- Perception (ranged combat, car driving, search, track)
- Reflex (unarmed and melee combat, dodge)
- Strength (swimming, rowing, weightlifting)
- Intelligence (art, business, computer use, science, linguistics, strategy)
- Knowledge (memory, research, herbalism, first aid, various expertises)
- Technical (crafts, sleight of hand, lock picking, repair, play instrument)
- Willpower (courage, concentration, pain resistance, magic resistance)
- Charisma (bluff, performance, animal handling, intimidation, etiquette)
- Empathy (intuition, psychology, ride animal, sense the supernatural)
- Persuasion (barter, interrogate, public speaking, teaching, politics)
- Status (network, wealth, reputation, influence, bloodline)
Some differences may need explaining. Agility is mostly about athletics, whereas reflex is mostly about combat. Charisma causes people to like you, whereas persuasion causes people to do what you want them to. Charismatic characters tend to be handsome or beautiful, although it's possible for an ugly character to be striking (i.e. high charisma), or for a pretty character to be cold and unapproachable (i.e. low charisma). Status indicates a character's social standing, as well as income.
In some cases, traits can be related
, such as melee skill for similar weapons, or playing skill for different instruments. If you have a trait at rank zero, you may substitute half your ranks in a related trait for all tests, rounding up. If you have a trait at rank one, you may substitute your full ranks in a related trait. Taking more than one rank is thus not necessary. For instance, if you have five ranks in guitar playing, and one in piano, you use the full +5 bonus for piano tests, and half (+3) for flute playing tests.
Additionally, there are absolute traits
which are not based on an attribute. These represent things that a character simply can or cannot do, without the need for tests. These need not be taken above rank one. Examples include languages known (other than a character's native tongue, which is free), a powerful ally, or membership of some guild, faction or other group.
If applicable to the setting, other absolute traits include possession of a magical artefact, lesser magical tricks known as cantrips, and body shapes
such as having horns, a prehensile tail, cat eyes, or gills, assuming the shape has a game effect and is not merely ornamental. Allowing characters wings or other flying ability is not recommended, and should be expensive in points, or disallowed entirely.
A starting character is built from 100 experience points, which can be used to purchase ranks in attributes and traits, according to the table below. All the points must be spent. Traits may not be ranked above four
initially. At the end of each game session, the character may gain more points, which can be used to increase attributes and traits by paying the difference. For instance, raising an attribute from rank 6 to rank 7 costs 10 points (15 – 5).
A character may only increase an attribute or trait that was seriously used during the session, as judged by the storyteller. At this point, traits may be raised to rank 5 and up, but each trait may be raised only once per session. At the end of each session, a character may choose to lower
one trait, but not attribute, by one rank if that trait wasn't used for a while, and the character gets the points back. This reflects lack of practice.
In addition to attribute and traits, a character may purchase adrenaline
points at the cost of one experience point each. An adrenaline point may be spent on any test to allow the character to roll three dice rather than two, adding all three to the attribute and/or trait ranks. This represents heroic effort, and has a far greater chance of succeeding. Once spent, adrenaline is lost, and the experience is not refunded.
You do not get extra character points for taking flaws or weaknesses, such as being cursed, cripple or paranoid, although you may gain additional experience points later on by roleplaying them well. In general it is recommended for the storyteller to give characters 2 to 6 experience points per session.
|Blind and deaf
|Block of stone
|Eye for detail
|Faster than eye
|Piece of rubber
|Block of granite
|Heart of stone
Combat or other action sequences are played in rounds
, which correspond to roughly six seconds of time. During a round, each character can take one action, such as striking an opponent, climbing a wall, finding something from a backpack, etc. All actions are assumed to take place simultaneously, regardless of who rolls the dice first.
It is possible to do two things at the same time, but this imposes a –2 penalty to both action tests. This includes two-weapon fighting, but it is not possible to strike multiple times with the same weapon. In the rare case that a character does three things simultaneously, this imposes a –4 penalty.
It is not possible to hold lengthy conversations
during action sequences; players are advised to discuss tactics in advance. Also, anything said during combat is likely to be overheard by the opponents.
A character has a defense
score of the average of his reflex and empathy, rounded up, plus eight, plus trait ranks if any, plus 1 to 4 points if the character is wearing armor. To hit a character in combat, the attacker must pass a test with this defense score as difficulty. Situational modifiers may apply for surprise (+2), flanking (+1 per surrounding character), full defensive stance (–2), camouflage (–2), left-handed attack (–1), and so forth.
Thrown weapons have a range of five to ten meters. Pistols go as far as fifty. Bows and crossbows have a range of about 100 meters, and rifles about twice that. Attacks have a penalty of –1 at half this range, –2 at 3/4ths.
For wide-area attacks
, such as machine gun spreadfire, falling rocks, or an explosion, an attack test is generally not needed. Instead, the victims may instead make an easy reflex test to halve damage, or a difficult test to negate damage, assuming there is room to dodge the attack.
For each rank of strength above 6, the character does one additional point of damage in melee. Likewise, for each rank of strength below 4, the character does one point less damage, to a minimum of one. Heavy armor and protective magic can have an absorption
score of 1 to 3 points. A character may reduce all physical damage he takes (except falling, poison and the like) by his absorption score, to a minimum of one point per hit.
Funky combat moves such as tripping, disarming, or swinging from chandeliers are greatly encouraged.
damage is 1d3, basically scratches and just a flesh wound. This includes daggers, rocks, clubs and other light weaponry, scalding water, mild acid, and falls of a meter or two.
damage is 1d6, which is rather painful and bloody. This includes normal weapons like swords, axes and crossbows, boiling water, ordinary fire, holy water against a vampire, and falls of up to five meters.
damage is 2d6, which could land ordinary people in a hospital. This includes heavy weapons like a huge two-handed sword, most firearms, being trampled by a horse, cave-ins, thrown boulders, napalm, dragon breath and falls of ten meters or less, or twice that if you land in water.
damage is 2d6+3 and is, well, deadly. Then again the player characters are supposed to be heroic, so it may just hurt a lot. This includes molten lava, shotgun blasts, explosives, lightning strikes and long falls.
Of course the storyteller is free to vary these amounts. It is also possible for attacks to do more damage than that up to the point where it outright kills anyone (e.g. submersion in lava, tacnuke hits, orbital falls) but this should not generally happen unless you're playing Paranoia.
Wounds and healing
Each character has a maximum health
equal to his strength plus endurance, plus trait ranks if any. If a character takes damage, e.g. from a crossbow bolt, this is subtracted from his health. Health is regained at a rate of one point per night of rest, up to the character's maximum. A character may make an endurance/fast healing test to recover an additional point. Characters do not heal naturally if there is no food or water available.
A character below half maximum health takes a –1 penalty
to all tests; a character below one-quarter health takes a –3 penalty. A character at zero health may spend adrenaline points to raise his health above zero, at 3 health points per adrenaline spent; if the character cannot or will not do so, he passes out. There are no set rules for dying
, since player characters should not die purely as the result of dice rolls. The character may be healed, taken captive, awaken several hours later at one health point, etc, at the storyteller's discretion.
Depending on the setting, herbalism
can be used to heal characters faster. Both are traits based on the knowledge attribute. First, the character needs materials. Medicine can be bought in stores, herbs can be found outdoors. For the latter, the character makes a difficult test each hour, with success yielding 1d6 doses. Some additional time is needed to prepare the herbs or medicine, in effect making potions or pills.
When needed, the medicine can be administered. This needs not be done by anyone skilled, but at this point a difficult test is made by the character who prepared the medicine, to see if the preparation was successful. If so, the character recovers 1d6+1 health points. At the storyteller's option, this system can also be used to treat poisons, injuries and diseases, create addictive strength-boosting drugs, make sleeping concoctions, and so forth.
This is an optional rule for some settings, giving each character a score that shows how stable and rational the character is. This score is called psyche
, and has a maximum of the character's willpower plus knowledge, and cannot be increased by a relevant trait.
If a character encounters nerve-wracking situations, such as fighting particularly gruesome monsters, coming face-to-face with things he fears, or the death of party members or other close friends, this may cause the character's psyche to drop by one or two points over a session, at the storyteller's discretion. Characters with low psyche tend to be nervous, chaotic and verging on paranoid, or twitchy and borderline-insane in other ways if the player desires.
Psyche is not particularly likely to increase unless a character makes a major effort to stabilize himself and/or resolve the issues that were bothering him. A character with zero psyche has gone permanently insane, and is no longer under the player's control.
There are two additional attributes, rage
, which start at zero rather than five. Rage tests are used to check for frenzying when the Garou gets angry; gnosis tests are used for spiritual efforts. Additionally, the character has a number of rage points equal to his attribute, which can be spent as adrenaline, and are regained when the character gazes upon the moon. The same applies to gnosis points, which are spent to empower spirit gifts, and are regained through meditation.
The amount of spirit gifts
a character knows is represented as a trait with respect to experience point costs. This is not based on any attribute, and is not tested on. The amount of rites known is likewise represented as a trait.
A character in crinos form has +4 strength, +1 agility, +2 reflex, +3 endurance, and ignores wound penalties to tests. Lupus form has +2 to all physical attributes. Glabro and hispo form use the average of the two adjacent forms.
To reflect the brutality of werewolf combat, a character's full strength rank is added to all damage he does in melee. A character's endurance rank is subtracted from all damage taken except from silver
weapons, to a minimum of one point. A character's health is set at 10 for a human, 15 for a werewolf, plus trait ranks if any. Characters in any form other than their birth form regenerate one health point per round, except for severe damage such as from fire, lightning and silver.
For converting characters from the White Wolf system, note that WW dexterity corresponds to agility, reflex and technical in Simplex, and that WW intelligence corresponds to Simplex knowledge
. If a WW test requires X successes at difficulty Y, the corresponding Simplex test has difficulty would be 2*X + Y + 1.
An additional attribute is faith
. Faith tests are used to perform miracles; a high-faith character can be considered an acolyte or priest. For a faith test, the dice roll is halved
, rounded up, and adrenaline may not be spent on this. Depending on the character's deity, about fifteen miracles should be available at difficulty 11 through 15. Most deities require a certain code of conduct, and miracles may fail if used averse to the deity's cause.
Beneficial miracles tend not to work on unbelievers; the (halved) dice roll must be equal or less than the target's faith for the miracle to work. Of course, harmful miracles work on unbelievers just fine. Miracles are sent by the gods, and generally override, and are unaffected by, mortal spells and magical effects.
As an example, a nature deity might grant the following miracles:
11 - calming animals
12 - growing claws; healing wounds; leaving no tracks
13 - animal empathy; conjure fog cloud; poison antidote; summon small animals
14 - calming storms; rapid plant growth; shapeshift to animal form
15 - group invisibility; summon animal horde; travel by rainbow
A character has mana
points equal to the average of his intelligence and willpower, rounded up, plus trait ranks if any. Mana is spent to cast spells or perform miracles, generally one point per attempt. For a full night's rest, a character recovers mana equal to his faith attribute minus five, or half the ranks of his magical trait, rounded up. A character with both faith and magic uses the higher of the two values; a character with neither has no mana.
Characters are considered illiterate
unless they take the absolute trait of literacy. I've found that the sanity rules work very well in these settings. Psyche defaults to faith plus knowledge.
includes leather (+1 defense), hide or studded leather (+2 def), chain mail (+2 def, 1 absorption) and plate armor (+3 def, +2 abs). Heavy armor may be uncomfortable and impose penalties on agility. Most weapons do light (1d3) or severe (1d6) damage.
This magic system uses two traits. Runecraft
indicates the character's skill at drawing runes, and is used for tests; rune lore
indicates the amount of runes known. Neither trait is not added to any attribute, which can make tests rather difficult. Runes can be learned from heavy tomes through careful study.
Runes are generally drawn into thin air, possibly using a bone, wand or crysknife for style. This costs one round and one mana point, and lasts for about fifteen minutes; difficulty is 12. Alternatively, runes can be painted on a person, carved into stone, etc; this process takes an hour and lasts for about a week; difficulty is 14. It costs two mana points, one of which is not returned until the effect ends. Drawing a rune without obvious audiovisual effects adds +4 to the difficulty. Legend has it is possible to permanently engrave runes using exotic materials and lengthy rituals.
Runes can be enhanced by drawing them in blood. This requires that the runemaster cut himself, costing as many health points as the mana cost. This tends to be viewed as evil and distasteful.
If you are familiar with a rune, you can undo it by drawing it backwards. If not, it can only be undone by disrupting the physical drawing, or by employing a special counter-rune.
As an example, a fire
rune could start fires, protect from cold or set a weapon alight, or if drawn in blood could cast flame at an enemy. A binding
rune could mend broken objects, prevent a door from opening, or if drawn in blood prevent someone from leaving a certain area. An illusion
rune could create a simple audiovisual illusion, that if drawn in blood reacts as if it were alive.
This magic system uses various disciplines, each of which is a separate trait; the ranks in this trait determine what kinds of power the magician commands. A separate trait, spellcasting
, is used for tests; this trait is not added to any attribute. Difficulty is easy (12) for a single target within ten meters, lasting about fifteen minutes, +1 difficulty for doubling the range or duration, +2 difficulty for doubling the amount of targets (16 for 4 targets, 18 for 8, etc). Casting a spell costs one point of mana, and each additional point spent adds a +2 bonus to the test.
For every odd rank in a discipline, the magician gains an additional power. At four ranks and above, he can identify spells from that discipline at sight. At eight ranks, he can cast spells from the first power level for one less point of mana (essentially for free). At twelve ranks, he can cast second-level spells for one less mana.
A sample discipline is creation
. At level one, raw matter can be created, such as stone or wood. At level two (rank 3), simple objects can be created, such as a rope or knife. At level three, the creations are permanent. At level four (rank 7), things can be created at a range, such as over an enemy's head. At level five, complex items can be created, such as a working lock or pistol, At level six, huge items can be created, such as a car.
Other possible disciplines include energy control, telekinesis, mind control, shapeshifting and teleportation.
This magic system uses a single trait, alchemy
, which is based on intelligence. Rather than simply casting spells, the alchemist needs to gather ingredients and perform a delicate process of several hours involving beakers, burners and grinders. A laboratory is not necessary, but it is quite a lot of glasswork and tools to carry around.
In general, alchemical potions are drank, and affect the imbiber, for instance giving him gills, or fire breath, or making him stronger. Potions have a strong smell and taste, and cannot be feasibly mixed through somebody's food. Alternatively, potions can be rubbed on an item, e.g. to harden it, or can be thrown, releasing an explosion or toxic cloud when broken. Space, time and mass cannot be affected.
Alchemy is sympathetic magic, which means that ingredients in a potion have an effect related to the nature of the ingredient. A potion requires at three such reagents; the reagents determine the power of the potion. For instance, for a toughening brew, one might use powdered rock (common/weak), a piece of turtle shell (uncommon/moderate) or a diamond (rare/powerful). To invoke fire, one might use sulphur (common/weak), a will-o-the-wisp (uncommon/ moderate) or a phoenix feather (rare/powerful).
A simple strength potion with three common ingredients (e.g. human sweat, bits of iron, and hair of a horse) could give the imbiber +2 to strength for a few minutes. Using one or more uncommon ingredients (a bear's muscle, piece of granite, bark of an ancient oak) could mean a larger increase and/or a longer duration. Using a rare and powerful ingredient could make the potion last for a year.
Difficulty for making a potion is 16, +1 per uncommon ingredient used, +2 per rare ingredient used, +2 if the character is in a hurry. Using inappropriate ingredients may cause strange side effects, at the storyteller's discretion.
Appendix: Master Trait List
This is the complete list of skills and traits for a variety of settings. For werewolf
campaigns, add the fantasy
group as well, as appropriate. The group of unimportant
skills are things that do not seem to come up very often in-game; it is fine to take them as part of character development, but do not expect to use them often.
Dodge / parry (ref)
Fast healing (end)
Health points (end)
Mighty feat (str)
Resist toxin (end)
Unarmed combat (ref)
Craft / repair (tech, by type)
Expertise (kno, by type)
Lock picking (tech)
Resist pain (wil)
Sleight of hand (tech)
Languages (amount known)
Ally (by name)
Animal ken (cha)
Artifact (by name)
Guild (by name)
Battle technique (by type)
Body shape (by type)
Catch missile (ref)
Flight (agi, if capable)
Weapon skill (ref/pcp, by type)
Astral guidance (wil)
Mana points (wil)
Resist magic (wil)
Rune patterns (amount known)
Cantrip (by name)
Familiar bond (by name)
Ride animal (emp)
Drive vehicle (pcp)
Melee weapon (ref)
Ranged weapon (pcp)
Computer use (int)
Contact network (sta)
Cybernetics (by type)
Gifts (amount known)
Rites (amount known)
Arcade games (ref)
Fire building (tech)
Noise mimicry (tech)