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Basic Systems

Trait Ratings

A character's Traits — innate and learned capabilities, called Attributes and Abilities — are defined by a number of dots. Traits are rated from one to five dots; • indicates a mediocre level of skill, while • • • • • indicates the absolute peak of human capability. Trait ratings are recorded by filling in the appropriate dots on the character sheet.

x Abysmal

• Poor

•• Average

••• Good

•••• Exceptional

••••• Superb

Rolling Dice and Dice Pools

You roll dice whenever the outcome of an action is in doubt or the Storyteller thinks there’s a chance your character might fail. Your character’s strengths and weaknesses affect the number of dice you roll, and thus directly affect your chances of success. While the dice are present to give a sense of chance or destiny to a situation that calls for a roll, they do so objectively for everyone, so that every player has a fair shake to succeed at her character’s actions, or to fail interestingly.

That last bit is important. If the potential for failure isn’t interesting, the Storyteller should question whether a roll is even necessary. Calling for a roll slows down the pace of the game session. Moderating the pace of the story can be one of the Storyteller’s best techniques, but Storytellers shouldn’t toss a dice roll into the proceedings just to alter the tempo. If a roll of the dice doesn’t create multiple possible interesting outcomes, there’s not much benefit in calling for one.

When your character takes a dice action, you roll one die for every dot in the Traits most suited to that task. The Storyteller decides which are the best Traits simply by choosing the Ability that best covers the action being attempted.

Attributes (innate capabilities) and Abilities (things you know and have learned) have individual ratings, but are added together to determine the Dice Pool. If your character has a 3 Perception and you put two dots in Alertness, your Alertness Dice Pool is 5. Whenever your character performs an Alertness-related action, you roll five dice.

If your dice pool involves a Trait whose maximum rating is 10 (such as Humanity, Path, or Willpower), you usually can’t add any other Traits to your dice pool.

It’s effectively impossible for a normal human being to have more than 10 dice in a dice pool.

Default Traits

On occasion your character may not have a rating in an Ability that the Storyteller designates. If so, you default to the Attribute on which the Ability is based. So if the Storyteller calls for a Perception+Alertness roll, but you put no points in that Ability, you simply use your character's rating in Perception. This system reflects the idea that someone who improves upon her natural capability through training will generally perform better than someone who tries to get by purely on raw talent.

Personality Traits

Two Traits have no Abilities related to them — Willpower and Inspiration. Each Trait has both a permanent and current rating. The permanent rating (designated by dots on the character sheet) usually stays the same. However, the character's current rating (noted by the squares on the character sheet) can fluctuate during an episode. Dice actions using Personality Traits are based on the character's permanent scores (the dots) not the current ratings (the squares).

Success and Failure

When you roll your Dice Pool, you want each die to match or exceed the Difficulty. The Difficulty is usually 6. So each die that comes up a 6, 7, 8, 9 or 0 (10) is considered a Success. A Success is just that — a positive result, a successful resolution. Conversely, if all the dice you roll come up less than a 6 or the relevant difficulty of the task, your action fails.

There’s no point in rolling dice unless you know what results you’re looking for. Whenever you try to perform an action, the Storyteller will decide on an appropriate difficulty number and tell you her decision. A difficulty is always a number between 2 and 10 (but generally between 3 and 9). Each time you score that number or higher on one of your dice, you’re considered to have gained a success. For example, if an action’s difficulty is a 6 and you roll a 3, 3, 8, 7 and 10, then you’ve scored three successes. The more you get, the better you do.

You need only one success to perform most actions successfully, but that’s considered a marginal success. If you score three or more, you succeed completely. Also, a result of a 10 is always a success, no matter the difficulty number.

The following charts should give you a good idea of how to combine difficulties and degrees of success.


ThreeTrivial (scanning a small crowd for a familiar face)
FourEasy (following a trail of blood)
FiveStraightforward (seducing some one who’s already “in the mood”)
SixStandard (firing a gun)
SevenChallenging (locating where those agonized whispers are coming from)
EightDifficult (convincing a cop that this isn’t your cocaine)
NineExtremely difficult (walking a tightrope)

Degrees of Success

One Success Marginal (getting abroken refrigerator to keep running until the repairman arrives)
Two SuccessesModerate (making a handicraft that’s ugly but useful)
ThreeComplete (fixing something so that it’s good as new)
FourExceptional (increasing your car’s efficiency in the process of repairing it)
Five or MorePhenomenal (creating a masterwork)

Naturally, the lower the difficulty, the easier it is to score successes, and vice versa. Six is the default difficulty, indicating actions neither exceptionally tricky nor exceptionally easy to accomplish. If the Storyteller or rulebook ever calls for you to make a roll, but doesn’t give you a specific difficulty number, assume the task is difficulty 6.

The Storyteller is the final authority on how difficult attempted actions are — if the task seems impossible, he’ll make the difficulty appropriately high, while if the task seems routinely easy, the difficulty will be low (if the Storyteller decides you even have to roll at all). A difficulty 3 task is so easy that it probably doesn’t merit a die roll, but a fluke failure or extraordinary success might sometimes make it worth the chance.

At difficulty 10, the results curve becomes very anomalous – indeed, there are a few dice pools for which the likelihood of botching actually increases over having a smaller (and thus theoretically “worse”) dice pool. Be careful when assigning such a high difficulty to an action.

Rule of One

Whenever one of the dice comes up as a 1, it cancels out a success. Take the die showing 1 and one of the dice showing a success and set them aside. In this manner, an otherwise successful action may be reduced to failure.


Bad luck can ruin anything. One more basic of a roll is a “botch.” Whenever one of the dice comes up as a 1, it cancels out a success. Completely. Take the die showing 1 and one of the dice showing a success and set them aside. In this manner, an otherwise successful action may be reduced to failure.

Occasionally, truly bad fortune strikes. If none of your dice comes up a success, and one or more dice are dice showing 1, the roll is a botch. If you score at least one success, even if that success is canceled out and additional 1s remain, it’s just a simple failure.

A botch is much worse than a normal failure — it’s dramatic misfortune.

The specific circumstances of a botch are up to the Storyteller, but they should affect the character adversely and should relate to the action being attempted. The Storyteller decides exactly what goes wrong; a botch may produce a minor inconvenience or might result in wholesale catastrophe. A botch's severity depends on the total number of 1s rolled; the more botches you roll, the worse the disaster. While a single botch may result in only temporary distress, a major botch should result in a spectacular problem.

Total Botches RolledDegree of Botch

Botching is a place where some creativity on the part of the Storyteller goes a long way. There’s nothing wrong with having a botch signify a dropped gun or stalling out a car in a chase, but a botch might also be an odd fluke that happens at an incongruous time or a butterfly effect that may haunt the chronicle at a later point. Botches should create a new dramatic twist to the scene in which they occur. They don’t have to be reliable pratfalls.

Botch Cancellation

If you have a 5 or 6 in the Ability you are rolling with, you may subtract 1 or 2 of the results dice from a botch respectively. It only applies to cancel 1's where you would otherwise botch. This reflects two things. One, your mastery of the Ability reduces the chance of a botch. Two, there is a probability anomally where rolling large numbers of dice in a pool (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12 in this case) disproportionately increases your chance of a botch compared to dice pools of 1 to 6 dice.

Automatic Successes

Your character may be so skilled in a certain task that you need not roll for it. At the Storyteller's discretion, your character has an automatic success if her Dice Pool for an action is at least equal to the Difficulty. So if the difficulty is 8 and you have eight dice or more, your character can succeed automatically — you don't even need to roll. Still, it's merely a standard success; you might want to roll anyway to achieve extra successes.

You may also spend a Willpower point to earn an automatic success. This “free” success is in addition to any successes gained by rolling dice. You won't want to do this too often. While Willpower points are easy to spend, they're not easy to earn. Only one Willpower point may be spent per turn to gain a free success.

basic_systems.txt · Last modified: 2014/03/15 13:29 by storyteller