Basic Free Role Playing System - v0.02 - ROM, 31/May/96

These are some bits from the FRPS project, which seems to have collapsed, so...

A sample game system that only uses a few six-sided dice and a standard deck of playing cards is described below.

Warning! It starts off pretty philosophical...

This is an attempt at a Basic version of the Free Role Playing System (FRPS). It starts with a look at one philosophy from which a Role Playing System (RPS) could be considered, and proceeds to a simple set of rules which should allow a sufficiently complex game to be interesting to be played.


This looks at gaming from the point of view of the interaction of a player with a game. How the game itself operates is not considered, whether by means of a computer program, or being presented by a human referee. It is also not considered in detail whether there is one or more players.

At the basic level there is 'perceive'. If the player does not have this then they do not know what is going on in the game. This does not in any way change the game, just informs the player what is going on in it. It is similar to watching a film on 'traditional' TV, you can choose whether to watch it or not, but you cannot change the action, or even which part of it you are observing.

In return there is 'perceived'. This allows the game to know the player is there. Without it the game has no input from the player at all. In the simplest case it merely tells whether the player is watching or not, and no other details about them. You could call this like a play, the actors know the audience is there, and may act differently depending on their presence, but this does not change the basic course of the play.

A more complex thing is 'mobile'. This allows the player to move around their point of view within the game, so that they can watch different parts of the action. This likely interacts with 'perceived', so that the game knows which part of the action is being observed. This does not change the game, unless the game alters based on which parts of it are observed. This is rather like being able to move around a game board, and look at it from different points of view, or switch between the viewpoints of different actors in a film, or maybe characters in a videogame.

'Do' allows the player to alter the game by 'doing'. What happens when 'do' is used depends on what part of the game the player 'does', it is up to the game to decide what happens. This does not in any way imply that the game can effect the player, except by altering what they 'perceive' as a result of what they 'do'. On its own this is a rather god-like capability, that is rather like poking the game with a stick to see what happens, and knowing there are no consequences to the player.

'Effected' is the counterpart of 'do', in that it allows the game to alter the player's interaction with it in some way. With this the 'mobility' of the player's point of view may be restricted, there may be consequences in 'doing' certain things in that you are then unable to 'do' others, or that you can 'do' nothing for a while, or the game will never again allow you to 'do' anything. The ultimate effect is that the game will not allow you to 'perceive' it either temporarily, or ever again in future; your interaction with the game is terminated. The means by which this tend to work is that the player has a 'character' which is their representative within the game, and various attributes of this change, which govern how the player may interact with the game.


From the above philosophy various games rules ranging from the simple to the complex can be devised.

'Do' is usually split down into different categories, each one of which interacts with a different part of the game.

'Mobile' interacts with 'effected' to become the rules by which you are allowed to move around within the game.

'Effected' governs things like whether the player is allowed to perceive various parts of the game, because their 'character' could not, because there are limits on the _character's_ perception, for example the character is asleep. This also covers things like injury rules, which might mean the player finds the character is incapable of certain things, or in the worst case is dead! 'Effected' may also mean that the game changes the character over time, so that the character can 'do' more or less things, or becomes better or worse at them.

A Sample Game

This is just one example of how the above rules might be used. This game does not have any characteristics from which various forms of doing things are derived, it just has the things that may be done.

There are a several abilities, which not all characters are required to have. These are:

Fighting: This governs the ability to compete in combat, in hand-to-hand with weapons or without, in ranged combat where the opponent may not have the means to fight back, and in indirect combat where the opponent may not even know who they are fighting. The means are required for the particular form of combat, which is typically tools which act as weapons, but may be use of body parts like fists, teeth or claws, or other built-in abilities, and armour and the ability to dodge or parry attacks are all considered in this. Exactly which forms of combat are available depends on the game.

Practical: This governs the ability to change the world and use what is to be found in it for survival or personal improvement. This does not govern cooperating with other people, but does concern most forms of job or employment. Knowledge of the world or things in it falls under this. For example a character could be very good with 'fighting' or 'people', but to use this to make money they would also need to be 'practical'. Exactly what is possible with practical ability depends on the game.

People: This governs the ability to cooperate with people and to understand or change their opinions. Knowledge of people's behaviour falls under this. This does not provide employ, 'practical' is required as well for this, and does not give any combat abilities.

Magical: This governs the ability to change the world by means that are not available to a character that is just 'practical', but possibly producing similar effects. Not all characters can actively use this (i.e. have the ability), but the world and all characters tends to have some resistance to its effects. This does not give any ability in combat with things produced or altered by magical means, or provide employ, or allow working with people apart from changing them magically, or finding out details about them magically. Exactly what is possible with magical ability depends on the game.


The mechanics of trying to do something are quite simple. The thing to be done is given a rating and this is compared with the ability. If two characters are directly competing then their two abilities in the appropriate area are compared.

If the difference is greater than three then unless it is a directly competition between two characters then what ever it is is automatically done or not done. If the difference is three or less then three six-sided dice are rolled, the rating is added to the total, and the ability is taken away. If the result is 11 or less then whatever it is has been done, if greater than 11 then it has not.

An exception to this is the use of the 'magical' ability. It is normally assumed that anything or any character that does not have a noted magical ability has a chosen fixed value, for example three. This represents the world's and non-magical character's automatic resistance to anything magical.

Character Creation

Any number of schemes are possible for character creation, including random rolls and points assignment schemes.

For example, a six sided dice could be rolled for each of the abilities 'fighting', 'practical' and 'people'. If the character does not desire to be magical then they have a chosen fixed value of three for the purposes of resisting magic only, otherwise they may reduce the numbers they have rolled on their other three abilities and use this to increase their magical ability from zero, to a maximum of six.

Another example might have a fixed number of points being divided between the abilities 'fighting', 'practical' and 'people'. The value varies depending on the sort of game that is wished to be run. For example, if it is assumed that an average person has a value of two for the attributes (and the standard three in magical (resistance) ability), then the characters might be given seven points to divide, for a more heroic campaign ten points, and for a high-powered campaign where the characters are great heroes, thirteen points.

If the characters wish to have magical ability they are allowed to spend their points on this as well, but they are not given any more points. It is recommended that no more than six, or at most seven, in any starting ability be allowed for any character, and an ability of zero should be considered very carefully, as it may be almost unplayable.


This is quite simple. If a character is the loser where fighting goes and is thus struck then they are considered to be 'wounded', and their fighting ability is minus one to a minimum of zero. If a character that is wounded is struck again then they are 'disabled', and may not continue fighting (they might be allowed to continue with minus three fighting ability to a minimum of zero). If a character that is disabled is struck again then they are dead.

After a while a disabled character may become just wounded, and a wounded character may become fully healthy; use of practical ability may speed this up, as may magical ability. The referee may rule that between days and months are required to return to full health by natural healing, and infected wounds may result in death if they are not properly treated.

Complicating Things

For more detail each point in an ability might be assigned a meaning, for example each point in 'fighting' ability might be a different combat style or weapon (group). Specialisations might be things like trading in 'practical', with an effective higher ability of plus one or two in this area, but a more general minus one or two.

Combat might be changed so that unless a character has fighting ability three or more then 'wounded' counts as 'disabled' (though still with only minus one ability), and if struck again then are dead.


This is a system based on the use of a single deck of standard playing cards which still has the two jokers left in it. The deck is thoroughly shuffled and the magical ability is the number of cards dealt to each character that wants to use magic. Their magical ability is also the number of cards they are allowed to discard and ask for replacement cards to be dealt for. The use of magic requires that a character have a card which is a seven, a value less than or equal to their magical ability, or a higher card counting down from a king no lower than their magical ability.

For example a character with magical ability three is dealt three cards, and up to three of these may be discarded and asked to be replaced. They then have a set of three cards. The cards which they may use are ace, two, three, seven, and king, queen and jack. If they had magical ability four then they could use fours and tens as well; magical ability six allows use of all cards.

The jokers change things so that if one is dealt to a character then it and all current cards must be discarded, the deck re-shuffled, and a new set of cards dealt which must be accepted as is without any replacement. This is intended to represent the unpredictability of magic, and a referee might optionally ignore this rule by removing the jokers from the deck, or weaken it by removing one joker.

In the simplest system each card has a single use, and is returned to the deck after use. When new cards may be drawn depends on the campaign style and the individual magic style of the character. One example would be that sunrise is the time that new magic is gained, or after the character has meditated for one hour per point of magical ability, or after they have searched for replacement magical materials such as herbs or stones. If the character has any existing magic then they may choose to retain it and just be dealt new cards to replace any they have used or wish to replace.

For example a character with magical ability three has two cards left, a five and a seven, when the time to gain new magic comes around. They choose to keep the seven and discard the five, as it is of no use to them. As they have an ability of three they are dealt two cards to take them up to a total of three, and may discard a card and ask for a replacement up to three times. If meditation is their means of gaining new magic then holding onto existing magic might reduce the time required to meditate.

The meaning of the cards depends on the suit, and each suit is equivalent to one variety of ability. Clubs are fighting ability, diamonds are practical ability, hearts are people ability, and spades are direct magical ability. Clubs and spades might seem similar, but clubs work against the fighting ability as a rating, and spades magical (resistance) ability. The face cards allow 'special' things to be done.

For example a character with magical ability three uses a two of clubs to attack another character with a fighting ability of four. They discard the card, and their magical ability is compared with the target's fighting ability, so a 10 or less on three six-sided dice must be rolled to succeed. If they succeed then target is now wounded (or disabled or dead if already wounded or disabled). If the card was a spade then the target's magical resistance ability of three would have been used instead.

The face cards do things rather than have a direct effect. For example a jack of clubs might disarm an opponent by knocking the weapon out of their hand, a queen of spades produce a delayed effect magical poison effect, a queen of diamonds cure poison, a queen of hearts cause someone to fall in love with another, etc, or a king of diamonds allow a friend to be lucky at gambling. Players and referee are encouraged to be inventive.

Optionally the higher cards above six (but not the face cards) might also be used for counter-magic, so that a character could protect the appropriate variety of ability from magic so that their magical ability was used as a rating, rather than the normal ability, as long as they keep hold of the appropriate card.

For example a character with a magical ability of five might use a ten of hearts to protect a princess from love magic (or in fact any magic used on her using the suit of hearts). While the ten of hearts was retained then the princess would use an effective people ability of five to defend against people magic, unless of course her people ability was above five when she would use that instead.

Magical healing is a practical (diamonds) ability. By default magical healing should be rolled against magical (resistance) ability, but if the target gives their permission and relaxes to allow it to happen then with a magical ability of at least four it should happen automatically, with less than four then a roll should be made with the magical (resistance) ability being considered to be zero. It might be a little difficult to get the permission of a character that is disabled, particularly if the referee rules that they are unconscious. Magical healing almost instantly changes wounded or disabled into full health or wounded, and hence might need to be done twice. Alteratively a face card might be used to accelerate natural healing so that any amount of injury is fully healed within hours, but not instantly.

Complicating Magic

For more detail each point in magical ability might be assigned a different meaning, for example different aspects of magic such as alchemy or ritual, use of stones or herbs, etc. Specialisations might be things like 'black' and 'red' magic, or 'combat', 'practical', 'people' or 'pure' magic.

A magical specialisation would mean that magical ability was one or two higher depending how specialised, but that only that area of magic would be usable. For example a 'black' specialist could only use clubs or spades, a 'people' specialist only hearts, but they gain the advantage of a larger set of cards.

Some players may choose to say that they need a specific card to produce a specific effect, say a queen of diamonds rather any face diamond to cure poison. The referee should make the effect more powerful in this case, say that a queen of spades will kill a character with less than fighting ability three, or one who is wounded, or at least disable them into a death-like coma, rather than using any face spade to cause a death-like coma in the wounded or those with less than fighting ability three, or killing those already in such a coma.

Restoring the dead to life (disabled) may not be allowed in a particular campaign and if it is then access to resurrection magic will probably be restricted. It is not really 'practical' or the standard healing magic, and is probably far more like 'pure' magic. A specific card, say the jack of spades, might be required, or a referee might say a card combination like both an eight and jack of spades is required, and hence magical ability six.

If there are multiple users of magic then they might be allowed to exchange cards as long as this is done during the period when magic is regained for both of them. Properly co-ordinated they might even regain their magic by different means. Exchanging a card counts as a discard and replacement of a card, and may be done with hidden or revealed cards if the referee allos No more than four users of magic should be allowed to do this at one time, and if any general regaining of magic is done and any of them are dealt a joker then it effects all of them. Please note that this whole exchange of cards system is optional, and a referee may say it is not allowed in a campaign, or even only at specific times more restrictive than are listed.

If there are more than four users of magic in a group then it is recommended that two rather than one complete deck of cards is used, all shuffled together. This might be scaled up for more than eight, but more than eight users of magic together is probably more trouble than it is worth, and it is recommended to break them down into groups each of which use their own single or double deck.

(c) Rory O. McLean, May 1996

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