INTRODUCTION to CAST of HEROES
Cast of Heroes is a pen & paper role playing game.
It is designed to allow play in any period or genre, though this particular supplement is focussed on space adventure. In that context it facilitates a ”space opera” treatment of science fiction, rather than hard science.
It is an ”RPG-lite” set of rules, making it suitable for quick set-up play and for introducing new players to role playing. Character generation can be completed in a minute or less, as can designing a space ship. All events are described verbally, with dice supporting, so there is no need to memorise lengthy rules or tables.
Inspiration for these rules has been drawn from: And One For All by Greg Hallam of Anubis Studios, RISUS by S. John Ross and Wushu by Dan Bayn.
Cast of Heroes is free. Please drop us a line if you do use these rules and tell us how you went. If you want to develop a commercial product from these rules, again, please contact us so we can advise the crediting boilerplate that we ask go in your work.
The goal of Cast of Heroes is cinematic role-playing, an often used term these days that boils down to: ”a system which rewards stunts rather than penalising them”.
The rules are minimalist, with a single mechanism that runs through every type of event resolution.
The basic mechanic of Cast of Heroes is the process of building a dice pool with 6 sided dice by making verbal ”arguments”. These arguments describe events as if they have happened. Every detail added to the description of the action adds one die.
Unlike similar game systems, in Cast of Heroes the dice must be rolled as the arguments are made. So on the first argument 1 dice is rolled. On the second, 2 dice are rolled, and so on. Arguments can continue and the dice pool can grow until the player quits making arguments or rolls one or more 1’s.
Ordinary six sided dice are used throughout. A good handful is needed by every player.
Interpretation of the dice is by the Silhouette method: no matter how many dice are rolled by each player, only the score on the highest single dice is compared, with the following caveat:
* multiple 6’s increase the score by one. Thus: a roll that includes two 6’s is counted as a 7, a roll that includes three 6’s is counted as 8, and so on.
Characters are defined using ”clichés”. These clichés may be thought of as character classes, if you find that an easier way of considering them. Each cliché covers and includes a basket of skills: everything that you can think of that might be applicable, and you can make a reasonable argument for.
Clichés are inclusive, rather than exlusive, representations of a character’s skills. They are based on what springs to mind when considering what a character could reasonably do ”as if they were viewed as movie characters”. Many of the clichés seem to overlap as a consequence. A Barbarian and a Martial Artist can both attack with pointy objects, for example. Think of a Bruce Lee movie and a Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and tell me honestly that you cannot clearly see the different skill sets.
Should any dispute arrise during play when a player tries to stretch the boundaries of a cliché too far, it is up to the other players to demand a reasonable explanation of the extension.
The system is elastic, but not infinitely so, otherwise there is no point in having a ”skill” system at all.
Clichés are used when making arguments. They create a buffer before you have to roll the dice.
You have 10 points to select clichés. You can have any combiniation of clichés. You may select the same cliché many times, indicating greater focus in those areas. However, no single cliché may be greater than 4.
The following list of clichés is representative. For some games this list will be too great or too few. Feel free to delete or invent more, always checking with the GM and other players before including new ones.
* Agent/Investigator (Sneaking, spying, being paranoid, resisting torture)
* Barbarian (Killing people with pointy objects, drinking, riding animals)
* Belter (Prospecting, mining, being alone, not puking in zero-G)
* Bureaucrat (Paperwork, boring repetitive tasks, avoiding responsibility)
* Cargo Master (Making things fit in small spaces, adding up big numbers in his head, good at logic games, constipated)
* Colonist (Eking out a precarious existence, being attacked by alien creatures)
* Computer Geek (Hacking, programming, fumbling over introductions)
* Cop (Enforcing law and order, catching criminals, eating donuts)
* Corporate (Making a money at all costs, flagrant careerism, dressing well)
* Dilettante (Having lots of money, throwing wild parties, sleeping it off)
* Diplomat (Persuading other people to do things your way, and like it)
* Engineer (Fixing starships, performing miracles, speaking with an accent)
* Entertainer (Dancing, juggling, telling jokes, doing it YOUR way)
* Gadgeteer (Building a radar out of a bent fork and some gum)
* Gunner (Blowing things away at long ranges using very big weapons)
* Hunter (Following tracks, training animals, living off the land)
* Jedi (Using archaic weapons, being part of a religious cult, wearing uncomfortable clothes, doing wire-fu stunts)
* Jack-of-All-Trades (Just about anything, but ALWAYS Inappropriate)
* Journalist (Uncovering the facts, slanting them for publication)
* Marine (Boarding actions, assault from orbit, snappy cutlass salutes)
* Medic/Doctor (Patching up your less fortunate teammates, buying drugs)
* Merchant (Finding sellers, buying low, finding buyers, selling high)
* Navigator (Reading maps without having to turn them to face the right way, not trusting computers, back seat driving)
* Pilot (Dogfighting, not blacking out at high-Gs, bragging)
* Pirate (Preying on unarmed merchants, fencing goods, running away)
* Pyschic (Seeing stuff that no sane person should be confronted with, speaking in riddles, collapsing in shock at inconvenient moments)
* Robot (Following orders, boring repetitive tasks, feeling no pain)
* Rogue (Conning people out of their money, stealing things, evading cops)
* Sailor (Sailing, not getting seasick, painting bulkheads)
* Scientist (Discovering Things Man Was Not Meant to Know, publishing them)
* Scout (Exploration and survey, drinking Scout Brew, not following orders)
* Ship’s Captain (Looking stern, shouting terse orders, thinking up fancy maneuvers, being lonely)
* Smuggler (Remembering deserted coves, figuring out complex percentages, boozing, back stabbing)
* Soldier (Shooting things, blowing things up, hiding, partying, catching venereal diseases)
* Spacer (Crewing starships, wearing vaccsuits, painting bulkheads)
* Technician (Fixing everything except starships, breaking and entering)
* Thug/Tough Guy (Beating people up, speaking with an accent, intimidation)
MANAGING THE GAME
The rules are divided into two distinct procedures, corresponding to different modes of play with differing objectives. The first is mode is Interrogative and is in every way indistinguishable from conventional systemless role playing. The second mode is Narrative. In this mode dice are used to resolve opposed actions, and all players contribute equally in the development of the game ‘world’.
Play alternates between modes during the course of a session.
As in: to interrogate.
This mode of play is conventional and typical of traditional pen & paper role-playing. The GM presents facts about the world and directs the characters’ attention to various plot elements, and the characters respond in kind to the elements described.
Play is predominantly verbal, though props may be introduced. Any conflict or uncertainty is adjudicated solely by the GM. No dice rolling occurs, apart from any private mechanism the GM might have for selecting in his own mind from a choice of alternatives.
An example of interrogative play:
* GM: You see a room, 10’ by 10’. There is carpet on the floor and one window in the far wall.
* PC: Is there anyone in the room?
* GM: No. It is empty, but you can smell cigar smoke.
* PC: OK. I go into the room, sticking to the walls, and skirt around to the window.
At any time during interrogative mode the GM may direct the character(s) to make an argument. This specific instruction is the mechanism for moving play into narrative mode.
Similarly, characters may request to make an argument to move to narrative mode when they feel strongly that:
* there is a risk, either to their safety or to the success of their activities, or
* they wish to contribute to the development of the world by introducing new elements or changing the focus of current activities.
The GM may refuse to allow play to switch modes, though this would typically only occur when he feels that a crucial plot element might be missed if the switch occurred at that moment.
As in: to tell a story.
Narrative play differs from interrogative play in that the GM is not solely in control of the world. All players may introduce new information, up to and including new NPCs, external events, even places and equipment.
To control this mode so that a session does not quickly spiral into a chaotic and ridiculous mishmash of competing realities, a system of escalating dice rolls is used.
This dice-rolling process is called ”**making an argument**” and is accompanied by verbal descriptions of the new elements being introduced. Success in the dice defines not only the actions of the PC (as per normal interrogative mode) but creates real elements that become automatically and completely part of the game world.
The GM must accept these additions at face value, just as the PCs must accept his pronouncements during interrogative mode.
Narrative mode play can be ended by either GM or PC at any suitable pause in the action.
Making an argument
A crucial distinction in these rules is the difference between the player acting with initiative and the player(s) without initiative.
When acting with initiative the player constructs arguments. This takes the form of making a series of statements with the goal of performing some act such as attacking, solving a conundrum, or performing some other task that cannot be more easily resolved just by talking it through.
Every statement is deemed to be successful. The player never has to find out if they achived their goal: they always do. The process is used to find out how long they can continue to take actions. In short: whether they maintain their initiative. The player may run, jump, attack, swing and then attack again without limit, every one of those actions being performed to perfection, as long as he maintains initiative.
For every statement a dice must be rolled. On any score except a 1, the character maintains initiative and may carry on. On the second statement he must roll two dice. On his third he must roll three, and so on. This is termed building a pool.
The motivation for this method is that resolution of any opposed role is by the silhouette system. It is advantageous to elaborate on actions before actually declaring the attack to increase the chances of scoring higher than the opposition.
For example: there is nothing stopping a player saying “I draw my gun and shoot him.” However they would only roll one dice because they have done only one thing. To be sure they have done exactly what they said, but the chances of actually defeating the opponent is slim in the opposed roll – it hit, but had no effect.
On the other hand, if he said, “I draw my revolver (1 dice), and spin it on my finger (2 dice), and glare real mean like at him (3 dice), then spit out of the corner of my mouth (4 dice), and then fan the hammer as I blaze away, he would be rolling 5 dice in attack, and he has done something memorable into the bargain.
All of the above being moderated by the following:
Loss of initiative occurs when a single 1 is rolled.
Our flamboyant character, above, would be left spitting and looking cool if he rolled a 1 during his fourth action, and the initiative would pass to the other player (GM).
Mishaps occur when a double 1 is rolled. On a Mishap the initiative has been lost and the player must describe something that has gone wrong.
Calamities occur when a triple 1 is rolled. Initiative is lost as usual, but in this case the opponent describes the misfortune that has befallen the player.
When acting without initiative the player always rolls a default 3 dice. This is a flat “defensive” roll. They cannot lose initiative because they do not have it so a roll of 1 has no effect. However they can still suffer Mishaps and Calamities.
And finally, it is important to note that the GM does not make arguments. He presents, in interrogative mode. He reacts, in narrative mode. If he is active and attacking then he uses a flat number of dice, typically three (see ”Conflict in the braodest sense”, below) and the players react with their default dice. Play has automatically been shunted in narrative mode by this attack, and the PC’s continue from there by making arguments.
How clichés affect the dice pool
When acting with initiative, a character may describe a number of actions (and accumulate a dice pool) up to his cliché level before having to roll dice. When the character’s actions exceed his cliché, he must roll dice.
For example, a character has Pilot 2 and he decides to show-boat by doing some aerobatics. He describes his first stunt,then a second stunt – he now has two dice in his pool, but does not yet have to roll. On his third stunt he rolls three dice as he is now performing over his cliché level. In effect the cliché has acted as a buffer against rolling dice and losing initiative. Of course, when he does roll dice, he now has more chance of rolling Mishaps and Calamities.
When acting without initiative the player may simply add as many dice as his cliché to the default 3 dice for the roll. Again, this increases the chances of victory, but correspondingly increases the chances of having to dramtically describe failure.
A character may perform absolutely any action when making an argument. It’s just that if he has no cliché that covers what he is attempting, he cannot buffer the dice pool.
What the dice mean
So a character has built a pool and attacked, the last roll being that final straw – as it were. The opponent rolls in defense. Dice are compared.
On a tie the player (character) wins. They may make one and only one simple statement about the result.
Any other result means there is a difference in the highest dice on each side. One side rolled more than the other. For every point of difference the victor may make that many statments about the result. These statements are an escalating argument, just like the process of building a pool with the aim of creating a satisfactory explanation of the victory.
For example, our gun twirling hero fires, and wins by a margin of 3. He can say three things about what just happened. “I hit him in the arm (1), and the impact spun him around (2), so that his gun was thrown out of his hand (3)”. Or he could say, “My bullet struck him square in the chest (1), and he got this quizical look on his face (2), before he collapsed back dead (3)”. And so on.
And all of that makes it pretty obvious that this is a set of rules designed to create dramatic moments, not just colourlessly, mechanically, win.
Wounds, death & dramatic presense
There are no formal rules as such for wounds. Characters do not have “hit points”.
All characters have a Dramatic Presence – this is either predetermined, or assigned by the GM during the game. Typically this will range from 1 for nameless goons and thugs, to 4 or more for PCs or important NPC’s.
During any scene involving opposed rolls between characters, the margin of loss is also the Dramatic Presence the losing character ..um … loses. When a character loses all his Dramatic Presence, he is ”out of the scene”. This MAY mean he is dead, but generally means that he is incapacitated, unconscious, or somehow no longer ”active” in the scene. Each point of loss is a dramatic statement as noted earlier, it is up to the GM and players to create suitably appropriate statements to exit characters from a scene.
Conflict in the broadest sense
Conflict is often interpreted as ”combat”. Physical and/or mental combat is certainly included here, but so are many other kinds of conflict. Dueling banjos, insult competitions, and seduction attempts also count. So do attempts at dramatic tasks such as leaping chasms, figuring stuff out, and piloting a ship. In fact, conflict is anything that a character might try that has a chance of an unexpected result, that is being actively opposed: either by a force of nature or an identified antagonist.
Characters in conflict use their clichés to construct arguments, as described above. In response, the GM may use the following sliding scale to decide what dice to roll when the character’s argument is complete and results must be compared.
When the GM is initiating a conflict, he does not make arguments for the NPC’s or natural events. Instead he uses this table to decide how many dice to roll, and the PC’s use their default 3 dice plus any dice applicable for relevant clichés – PC’s may have to verbally justify why the cliché helps in this instance, but they do not get to add dice for this ”argument”.
|1||A doddle. An easy task such as jumping a 10′ chasm, fighting a bunch of nameless goons, or doing something that the character is obviously expert in.|
|2||Tricky. A tricky though not unusual task (for a hero) such as scaling a sheer surface, fighting a few better quality foes, or trying something new though not-unheard of.|
|3||Ordinary. The default number, used for fighting common-or-garden foes, operating machinery under duress, and performing cinematic movements.|
|6||The stuff legends are made of.|
Particularly nasty GM’s might roll even more dice, if they choose to. However, he must roll at least one dice, otherwise why is he making the poor PC argue at all?
It does not matter if the GM rolls a single 1 in this process. He does not have initiative so he cannot lose it. However, ”Mishaps” and ”Calamities” still apply.
Ships, like characters, are described using clichés. For the technically minded any system can be used to describe the techo detail and create a deckplan, but as far as these rules are concerned the clichés are all that matter.
Players may invoke the clichés of a ship when constructing arguments, using the rating to buffer the dice roll in the same way as their personal attributes.
The character’s clichés (if any) and the ship’s clichés do not add – the roll may only be buffered up to the limit of one of them.
Like characters’, 10 points may be allocated to defining ship’s clichés with no single cliché exceeding 4 points.
Fewer points may be allocated to indicate smaller ships. A shuttle or fighter, for example, may have only 2 points. Conversely, larger ships could have more points to allocate to clichés, or could have ratings higher than 4, but no greater than 6.
* Automated (multiple effects from simple controls, misleading warning indicators, intermittent & hard to trace faults)
* Budget (runs perfectly up till the day after warranty expiry, everything feels tinny, bits break off, has lots of gimmick fittings)
* Bus (room for lots of people, can burn almost any fuel, sloppy steering)
* Cruiser (long & solid, has only one speed, motor hums without complaint, steers like a pig)
* Custom (oversized motor, gas guzzler, garish paint job, leaks fumes into the flight deck)
* Das boot (stealth technology, clastrophobia inducing, smells of urine, fuel and fear)
* Industrial (immune to casual damage, exposed hissing pipes, scraped knuckles when trying to manipulate controls, when something goes wrong it goes ‘boom’, rusty)
* Living (gigantic, makes its own decisions, treats occupants somehwere along the scale: beloved co-religionists – equal partners – trusted advisers – passengers – parasites)
* Merchant (big hold, dented & chipped paint, smells funny)
* Military (bristling with dangerous toys, painted in drab colors, lots of exposed machinery & not much padding)
* Personality (has quirks that only you know, temperamental)
* Police (bigger than it needs to be, can ram and keep going, loses control when maneuvering at high speeds)
* Prestige (everything works, mechanics rub their hands together when it comes in for a service)
* Racer (dangerously fast, constricted living space, takes only the best fuel, hard to keep control of if really opened out)
* Research (unforgiving lighting, rooms full of mysterious machines, shadowy corners, deserted corridors)
* Robust (keeps running despite damage, assembled from lots of mismatched parts)
* Run-in (known faults have been corrected, wear & tear on all surfaces, unfashionable)
* Rust-bucket (has a long and interesting history, held together with duct tape, breaks down inexplicably, vermin infested)
* Scout (big fuel tanks, bulging equipment lockers, girlie pictures in the ward room)
* Sleek (smooth & reflective hull, reeks of money)
* Smuggler (concealed spaces, uncared for, fast, uncomfortable fittings)
* Toy (can turn on a dime, runs on the smell of an oily rag, crumples like tinfoil)
* Unique (hand made one of a kind, extra performance, spare parts almost impossible to get)
* Vintage (genuine spare parts hard to get, nostalgic, needs brute force to manipulate controls, can be fixed with a bit of #8 fencing wire)
* Whiz-bang (state-of-the-art engineering, can do anything faster than a human, computer talks back)
* Yacht (plush fittings, roomy, attracts contempt and envy)
Sometimes, you will select clichés that may appear to be contradictory, for example Sleek and Rust-bucket. Figuring out how both of those clichés could be true generates the backstory – the ship’s personal history. And after all, in space opera, ships are characters too.
The Tiger Class fighter
She was a clean as a whistle, a real delight to look upon.
Military (1), Sleek (1).
The Mongoose long range interceptor
Nothing to look at, but that bird could pursue for days.
Military (1), Scout (1).
Eraser Head, trader
A roomy ship that had most of the kinks knocked out of her before she came into our possession. She wasn’t much to look at, neither inside nor out. Dependable, that’s what I’d call her.
Merchant (3), Smuggler (2), Industrial (2), Run-in (2), Bus (1).
Achilles, Imperial warship
One of the new generation of light destroyers, she can out gun, out run, and out maneouvre almost anything in the skies. But I swear, you could just about put your foot through a bulkhead and heaven help the crew it she is any in a fight where the others shoot back.
Military (4), Racer (2), Whiz-bang (2), Toy (2).
ABOUT OTHER THINGS
There is no provision in these rules for technical specification of weapons and so on. The effects of weaponry, in particular, are described dramatically by the players, as are wounds.
Machines of all kinds have the effects that are described for them during the process of making arguments. Once described, that is the truth for that machine.
The same holds true for everything else in the game universe you create. Any inspiration you can find can be incorporated into your world, without the onerous task of converting its characteristics. Simply argue (describe) it in.
Planets could also be described using the cliché system, and this would be a convenient and humorous thumbnail sketch. However, it is hard to imagine how the ratings could be used in a game – dice rolling – situation. Therefore, we have not generated tables for planet clichés, but this should not stop you from doing so.