A Tiny RPG System: Flotsam Rules

After a conversation with a friend today, I realised that I should write down the RPG rules system I use for the audio-RPG Flotsam and a couple of other games.

Over the years I’ve used fewer and fewer rules in my games, as we prefer not to get in the way of the story. So I go minimalist.

Flotsam Rules

The game system is deliberately very, very light — no complicated rules at all. If we hit a challenge, you roll a D10. If it’s equal to or higher than the number I give you, you’ve succeeded at that challenge. If it’s lower, you’ve failed. A 1 is always a failure. A 10 is always a success.

You are better at some things than others. Rather than having a complex skill system, we have characters with Traits. A Trait is simply a phrase or a word you’ve written down about your character. For example:

Ratty the Rat

Obsessed by puzzles

Never backs down from a fight.

If you hit a challenge and the number sounds high, if you have trait which you can convince me is relevant, you get a bump to your dice roll. The more relevant the skill, the higher the bump. If, for example, we had a challenge of “Pick the lock”, you could say to me “Hey, I am obsessed by puzzles” and I might give you a +1 or +2, because a lock isn’t really a puzzle. If the challenge was “Solve the crossword puzzle” then I’d give you +5, probably. We’ll be very loose about this.

Ideally when coming up with traits, they should be balanced, so that they can work either for or against you.

For example: see a puzzle? Then you’ll be focused on that and not, for example, the fact that the guards will be on top of you at any moment. So you take a penalty.

Likewise — ‘Never backs down from a fight’ could be a good thing: “Hah, you don’t scare me!” Or a really bad thing “We really should run, Ratty!” “No way!”

And that’s the whole system.

The number of traits that make up the character depends on the particular game. Similarly, how traits are gained (or altered or lost) depends on what plays out in the story.

Listen to Flotsam for a full example!

Ian is a narrative designer and writer of games, films, larp, and books. He is Narrative Director at Ubisoft Stockholm. He is co-founder of Talespinners.