Solar System

Solar System © Eero Tuovinen 2008 (you can buy a copy and some Fudge dice at the official website),
based on The Shadow of Yesterday © Clinton R. Nixon 2005 (online as a wiki).
All separately unattributed textual portions of this work are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
This pure HTML version was adapted by Lapo Luchini in June 2009.
You can also read the English/Italian wiki version as made by Janus Design.

Heroic tales to men are akin to water to fish or skies to the fowl. Join us now at this twilight of our world in telling tales of our own.


The Solar System is a roleplaying game rules set for heroic tales and fantastic drama. It is well-suited to storytelling and adventure in far and fantastic worlds of your own devising or procurement. The rules of the game are flexible, smart and all-around excellent for roleplaying that comes up with the most touching of tales.

Solar System originated as the rules-set of the beloved roleplaying game The Shadow of Yesterday by Clinton R. Nixon. I myself was rather impressed and even a bit jealous when Clinton came out with the game in 2004, derailing my own, similar design plans. Since then it has brought me great pleasure to be able to work with TSoY here and there, most remarkably in bringing out a Finnish version of the game in 2006.

It was Clinton’s intention from the start to join the open culture movement with his game, which has gone through several iterations of the Creative Commons license through the recent years. I struggled for a long while with my own misgivings over taking another designer’s work and making it my own in a major publication, but as Clinton has been steadfast and most supportive towards such undertakings, I finally decided to take up the work with this booklet you now hold in your hands.

The Solar System as described herein is the version of the game I myself play today. I hope that it will be most useful and illustrative for the reader, whether he be a veteran of many roleplaying games or just looking for an affordable starting point in this wonderful hobby.

— Eero Tuovinen

What is Solar System like?

Solar System is a rules set for heroic tales and fantastic drama, akin to movies. The protagonist characters are important and colourful, striking deep into the issues of the game setting. Unlikely things happen to them, leading to exciting adventure and heartfelt dramatic situations.

The rules of the game emphasize character growth and change; all Solar System stories are to a degree growth stories where the protagonist seeks for and finds a place for himself in the world, often changing it in the process. The players get to make choices over not only what their protagonists do to the story, but also what they become as a result.

Due to the sinuous nature of the growth story, Solar System games are most often played in the form of campaign narratives — series of meet-ups wherein the players develop a multi-faceted story with minor meanderings and build-up to crucial turning points for the overall campaign. Most typically the group of players participating in the campaign consists of a handful of players: three at minimum and six at most are recommended.

One of the players is called the Story Guide, which is most like the traditional roleplaying authority role of the Game Master. The Story Guide has the responsibility of playing the supporting roles in the grand narrative the group creates — often enough that means directing the various antagonist forces arrayed against the heroes of the piece, as the Story Guide seeks to give rise to growth opportunities for the heroes.

The other players, meanwhile, each adopt a heroic protagonist, the player character, as their own medium of input into the campaign. Players express the thoughts and deeds of these most significant individuals for their own enjoyment and that of the rest of the group. Furthermore, the players have an opportunity to mould the course of the grand narrative with the choices their characters make for good or ill of their fictional self, comrades and the world.

Also, what is roleplaying?

Should the reader match the description of that increasingly elusive beast, the first-time roleplayer, then a most hearty welcome to you! Roleplaying is one damn fine hobby, if I may say so, providing this our age with some badly needed respite from the everyday humdrum, and perhaps even more seductively, an opportunity for creativity in a world where art is more and more marked out as the territory of professionals only. A hobby and pastime that facilitates creation of fine, entertaining art with your friends is an excellent one indeed!

While the sampled example of roleplaying offered on the next page is certain to illuminate the reader as to the general points of roleplaying, much more instruction and even personalized advice is available on the Internet. Being attentive to this booklet and looking for additional information from other sources is sure to fill in most gaps in your knowledge. Like any new hobby, often the best way to get familiar with roleplaying is to find a local hobby group or club and participate!

Starting a Game

A group of friends intrigued by Solar System roleplaying should seek to gather together for a suitably idle eventide in a relaxed atmosphere, bringing with them some notebooks, writing utensils and perhaps some snacks and music. I find poker chips or other tokens useful as well. Oh, and around a dozen Fudge dice.

The Fudge dice might be unfamiliar to the reader, as they’re a rare curiosity only used in some few roleplaying games. They’re also pretty cheap and available from specialty stores. Or, a crafty person might wish to make his own by being creative with normal dice and marker pens: the Fudge dice are just six-sided dice with two ‘+’, ‘–’ and blank sides each in lieu of the pips.

With the dice and friends at hand, the group can then get into the task of the first evening, which is to choose and focus a setting and create some player characters for the campaign to come. It is most likely that at this point one of the players is ready to assume the mantle of the Story Guide, but feel free to let the player roles live until character creation truly commences.

Choosing a Setting

It is often the case that one of the players (the prospective Story Guide, perhaps) has some notion of what the setting of the forthcoming campaign should be. The setting is the generic fictional framework in which the game would be played: the environment, culture, general background upon which the player characters are built. A famous example of a fantastic setting is J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, but something as mundane as Chicago during 1930s might make for fine stories as well, perhaps something along the lines of Eliot Ness’s experiences with the Untouchables.

The setting used in a Solar System campaign may well be intricately elaborate or, especially, just wide in the sense of having many things of varied nature. It might just as well be little more than a general agreement on genre and style: a fine campaign could be begun by agreeing on a “generic space opera” setting and starting to brainstorm characters, for example. The important thing is that all players need to have some sense for the setting; whether this is achieved by using an already familiar setting, circulating choice reading material among the group before the first session, having somebody narrate pertinent points to the rest of the players or just thinking up the setting as you go, it’s all good.

If the group is playing with Solar System for the first time ever, it is recommended that they do so with a setting specifically created for the purpose, as this greatly speeds up play and provides support in rules and play both. The excellent Shadow of Yesterday is the original sword & sorcery setting for Solar System, providing a wide variety of exotic cultures and creatures in a world with no gods or monsters, just people struggling to remake their everything after a great cataclysm. The Shadow of Yesterday is an easy recommendation for Solar System, as it comes with ready-made setting-specific mechanics for use in the game, making for an excellent starting point into dramatic adventure!

Groups interested in procuring a ready-made setting for the Solar System will do well to seek for The Shadow of Yesterday and other fine options in the Internet, where other hobbyists have already published their ideas and notions for adventure utilizing the Solar System.

Adapting a Setting

If a group has shared history with some other games or simply like the same novels or movies, they might already have a suitably dramatic setting in mind for Solar System adventures. Such classical staples of fantasy adventure gaming as the above-mentioned Middle-Earth work nicely as a common background, as do the Young Kingdoms, Glorantha and other loved milieus of fantasy literature and gaming. Likewise, historical settings based on virtually any era are excellent choices, as well as future fantasy from cyberpunk to space opera.

When a new setting is being adapted for the Solar System, some extra work is required in developing mechanical crunch inspired by the setting into the game; this process is explained in depth in chapter “Secrets and Crunch” on page 58. Especially the Story Guide should be ready to facilitate character creation by inventing and affirming central points of the setting into crunch; this is a really fun undertaking, but it takes some experience with the rules, so I don’t recommend it to first-timers with the Solar System.

Making up a setting

If the group is really confident in their skills of mutual story gaming, they might wish to make up a setting as they go along. Somebody just throws out an idea that everybody can work with and there they go, building up material and making decisions as needed.

Remember, when making a setting for the Solar system, you want it to be dramatic in that there is room for human choice, suffering and reward. The setting should also be epic in the sense of allowing for great changes wrought by the protagonist characters. Finally, the setting should be adventurous, as events come about in a colourful and cinematic manner.

When making a new setting out of whole cloth, remember to start small. More can always be established by the players as they create their characters, and by the Story Guide when he develops the situation for play.

What was said above about adapting crunch holds true for creating a new setting as well, although it is notable that many interesting things can also be created simply by mixing and matching existing mechanics from other Solar System settings.

Scenario play

When a group does not have time for a campaign of several sessions, the Solar System is hardly the ideal game. A oneshot session can be best used for learning the rules by making some idle characters just for the fun of it, perhaps running some sample conflicts as well. Perhaps the players are then better prepared for the game later on!

Regardless, when a quick one-shot session is required, the best bet is to have the Story Guide prepare a scenario: straightforward situation, ready-made (or almost so) characters and lots of prepared elements, all according to chapter “Story Guide” on page 69.

Focal Points

After the group has found a setting everybody is happy with, it is vitally important to agree upon some added focus. Almost always a setting is much wider than one particular campaign could hope to encompass in a meaningful manner, so it is important for the group to discuss the general setting and choose some particular focal points therein to focus their campaign.

For example, in the world of the Shadow of Yesterday, Near, there exist a number of disparate human cultures in conflict. The first step to any campaign in Near is for the players to choose a particular cultural situation, or perhaps an interface between cultures, as the focal point of interest for their game. When they create their characters, not all might represent the culture or cultures in the focal point, but every character will have some interest and agenda towards the common point of interest. This is good, as the world of Near is too wide for everything in the setting to be utilized to full extent in the course of one campaign.

Other settings might certainly involve different points of interest. For example, in a scifi game it would be quite reasonable to agree that a particular space station, focal point of a desperate peace effort, might serve as the central point of interest. Another game might be all about the Albigensian heresy in 13th century Aquilonia, even while the setting itself encompasses the whole of Catholic Europe.

The group might want to identify more than one focal point for a slower and wider-ranging campaign, but beginners at the fine art of dramatic campaigning are probably better off with just one, important and interesting point. And even when focal points are many, they should all be most pertinent for several characters, not just one. If points are scattered too far and wide in character creation, it is better to revise the focus of the campaign to correct.

The focal points picked for the particular campaign are just a starting point, note, and need not be particularly pursued after character creation. The intent here is to negotiate a starting situation wherein all player characters will be loosely involved. Further on it will be the job of the Story Guide to weave together the stories of the characters in intricate manner.

Some settings, by the way, are genuinely narrow enough to require no further framing. This is often the case for settings made up on the spot, as the players naturally attach their characters to whatever idea was first proposed as the basis of the setting. Sometimes settings based upon literary works are similarly single-minded: for example, it is very likely that a game set in the world of Frank Herbert’s Dune would find a natural focal point in the eponymous planet itself and the mysterious Spice found therein; players would need to actively avoid the point to succeed in creating disparate characters.

Variant Rules

The Solar System is considerably fluid; there are many places where a given group might wish to deviate from the standard rules in different details.

Variant rules are described throughout this booklet in an effort to point out some simple and effective variations that might prove pleasing for an individual group and a specific campaign. In all cases it is recommended that the group first consider the default solution and understand why it works the way it does, as only then may the validity of a variant suggestion be judged.

Overview of the Game

Once the group is happy with their idea for a campaign, it’s natural to start thinking of player characters, the protagonists of the campaign: what are the interesting people in this setting like? Is he a scholar too curious for his own good? Is she a soldier without a cause? How are the characters tied to the setting we just spoke of?

However, players with no prior experience with the Solar System will find a general overview of the game and its rules system useful. As mentioned in passing above, Solar System is a semi-traditional roleplaying rules set: the group establishes a setting and some player characters, who then go on to interact with different situations set up by the Story Guide. This interaction happens by the virtue of rules, like so:

Abilities (page 10)

All characters have a range of Abilities, chosen by the player to match with the character’s fictional background in the setting. For example, a character might have the Ice Hockey Ability to signify his skills in the game of ice hockey. The Abilities define the arena of conflict: tense, uncertain and conflicted situations in the fiction created by the game are resolved by characters using their Abilities. Thus a campaign wherein Ice Hockey is used might potentially end up resolving situations by characters going at it in the rink.

Pools (page 15)

Abilities are all associated with Pools, which are a character’s discretionary personal resources: a player might opt to spend points from a character’s Pool to improve his chances in using an Ability. The character refreshes a Pool later by interacting with other characters and in general having a good time. Traditionally, an Ability’s association with a Pool is signified by marking down the Pool’s abbreviation after the Ability name. For example, Ice Hockey (V) would mean that Ice Hockey-the-Ability is associated with Vigor, a Pool representing physical stamina.

Secrets (page 58)

While all characters have Pools and Abilities, each character might have his own array of Secrets, special skills and tricks only available to a chosen few. Secrets are used by the play group to create interesting rules-mechanical asymmetries in the conflict system and other rules; play is more fun when a witch and dragon work by different rules, one might say.

Conflicts (page 36)

The main concern of the Solar System in play is resolving exciting conflicts between interesting characters. The character resources above are all utilized in full by the players in conflict. The conflict rules are pretty extensive, but their purpose is simple: player characters end up in dangerous situations, have to choose their goals and then decide how much they want to sacrifice, how much to suffer, for those goals. A character might even die, provided the stakes are high enough!

Keys (page 50)

Solar System is fundamentally a game for growth stories: player characters have these things called Keys, which direct and channel a character’s growth process. As the game progresses, a character then grows in power, which allows the player to make increasingly weighty choices in the setting. This process ultimately ends with Transcendence, the character breaking all boundaries and finishing his story with a lasting mark in the world.

Story Guide (page 68)

One of the players is elected the Story Guide before characters are created. The Story Guide will have many tasks, with only the first being to chairman the other players through character creation.

Introducing Crunch

As the above overview implies, Solar System is a very modular rules-set: each campaign will have its own set of modular rules out of which characters are created. Especially Abilities, Secrets and Keys are routinely fiddled with all the time as a campaign progresses; you start when determining the setting, continue as characters are developed and finalize the rules-environment during play, as necessary.

This modular rules-array situated on top of the general rules is termed, traditionally enough, “crunch”. Learning to create it is useful especially for the Story Guide, and especially so when the group does not have a ready-made setting for the system at hand.

The easiest way of picturing the role of crunch in Solar System play is as points of contact between the rules-system and the imagined fiction of play: the story we narrate to each other while playing is one thing, and the rules-procedures like Ability checks and conflict rules are another. Each bit of character crunch, like an Ability, is one point where the rules and the fiction get to touch: when a character acts to charm a pretty lady, the rules use the Romancing (I) Ability to determine how well he succeeds; the resolution process, in turn, directs play towards interesting consequences.

The Solar System, when fully utilized, will have many points of contact between the setting and the system: when characters do things and make decisions, they will trigger all kinds of interesting mechanical activities. Then the mechanics will further drive play, implying directions for the story to go. Thus the system and setting support each other and that’s why it’s important to have plenty of interesting crunch around; without it the two parts of play could drift so far apart that the group’s interest in one or the other part would be betrayed.

Examples of how mechanics tie into fiction in the Solar System are found in chapters “Character Creation” (page 10) “Keys & Experience” (page 50) and “Secrets & Crunch” (page 58), which deal with the major categories of crunch in the rules. Here we continue to take a quick look at some points concerning crunch at the beginning of play.

Initial Crunch

How much crunch is and should be available at the beginning of a campaign differs somewhat based on several factors: a ready-made Solar System setting obviously obviates the problem, while a group looking to start from an empty table will have the work and play of setting up their own crunch ahead of them. This is easier to do before the first session of play (perhaps a newcomer to the rules-set might wish to contact me, so we could walk through the steps together?), but it’s possible to do on the fly if the players have prior experience with the Solar System.

Chapters “Secrets and Crunch” (page 58) and “Story Guide” (page 68) include considerable advice for preparing material, including crunch, before and between sessions of play. The task is considerably trickier when you need to do it on the run, though, so perhaps I’ll dedicate a few words to the topic.

Ability Landscape

The Ability landscape of a setting consists of a general sense of the means of resolution the characters of the setting have available. A generic modern setting, for example, would include Abilities such as Violence (V), Litigation (R), Firearms (I), Rhetoric (I), Sex Appeal (I) and Commerce (R) among others, as those are all ways of conflict resolution in such settings.

Should a campaign begin with nobody having created a “list of common Abilities” to pick and choose from, the players will fare relatively well by inventing Abilities on the spot — creating them is quick and easy, as players just need to imagine ways their characters could use to resolve different crisis situations.

When creating Abilities on the spot, keep an eye on their scope and variety: Abilities in the Solar System reside in a sweet spot where they have significant meaning as skills and practices in the setting, while also being generic enough to be interesting as issues of identity. As a general rule of thumb, make your Abilities represent some sort of concrete skills, and avoid having Abilities that can be used in every situation. Thus an Ability like Intelligence (R) probably wouldn’t be very interesting, as it could be considered relevant for almost any situation while being really vague about the cultural details of that “intelligence”.

Usually a good and varied setting includes around 10-20 different Abilities commonly available to most characters. When inventing Abilities directly for characters, most players end up with 5-8 Abilities listed for their character.

Key Landscape

The Key landscape of a setting concerns the themes and dramatic pacing of the campaign. A very common way of playing in this regard is having players invent their own Keys to fit the player characters.

Some settings will, however, benefit from pre-created or normative Keys. For example, having all space marines in a space opera setting share the Key of the Space Marine is a fine technique for emphasizing given themes of spacemarine-ness (whatever those might be in the setting at hand). The chapter on Keys dwelves further into these issues.

Secret Landscape

The actual challenge in starting a campaign of the Solar System from an empty table crunch-wise is in the Secret Landscape, which varies strongly between settings and is rather non-trivial to create on the spot. Individual players may develop their skills to become very, very good at improvising complex crunch, but generally a group going with on the spot improvised crunch will end up with a straight­forward implementation of the Solar System; this is not a problem, and it might even be the best choice for a first campaign for a group that does not prefer lots of rules, but it’s best to be aware of the outcome if you choose to begin a game without preparing crunch elements.

Assuming that the group does not mind straightforward crunch, most Secret creation on the run will probably center on simple variants of the Secrets of Equipment, Specialization and Training introduced on page 86. The game will run fine with as few as these three, so a beginner group will get by fine without worrying about the more involved opportunities provided by the crunch system. More options are easy to introduce as system expertise grows and players move on to more complex campaigns.

Character Creation

Player characters are the central protagonists of the fictional matter developed in a Solar System campaign. All players (apart from the Story Guide) create characters as their sole and primary province of play, through which they mainly experience and act in the setting.

Each player has the primary power and responsibility in developing his own character, but the work is still cooperative between the players: listen to each other and tell the rest of the group of your character, for they are really your audience in this undertaking, whose pleasure and entertainment greatly depends on your creating an interesting and touching character — a genuine protagonist of stories to come!

The players might well wish to use a special character sheet for recording the mechanical aspects of their characters. Just such a sheet may be photocopied from the end of this booklet, or found in the Internet easily enough.

It should also be noted that while character creation is all about inventing and describing a fictional persona and background, players should avoid overdoing it at this point: the intent is to develop enough of a foothold for the players to begin their story, not to nail down everything interesting about the character all at once. The Story Guide is in excellent position to direct the other players from a neutral viewpoint, in turn exhorting and reining in their creativity in this regard.


The first order of business in creating player characters for the Solar System is to define their Abilities, which is simply to say, decide upon the particular strengths of the character in question when they seek success in their fictional undertakings.

Good Abilities are always such that they resolve conflicts of interest between characters in an exciting manner. Conflicts and handling them in the course of play are discoursed upon in more depth on page 36 in chapter “Conflict Resolution”, but for now it is enough to remember that we want our characters to have Abilities bestowed with powers of resolution. In this way players might regard a character with the rather practical Ability of Cooking with suspicion, unless the setting of the campaign truly involves master cooks resolving conflicts with their mighty flambés. (Which matter is not entirely unknown in our rich and diverse modern narrative tradition, I should note, so perhaps it is wise to not be too judgmental of inventive Abilities!)

Abilities are highly individual in that the players may invent and pick freely which Abilities their characters should have, all according to the setting of the game: if the character hails from the frozen northlands, Skiing is far from unreasonable; a wily merchant-type person would certainly know Bartering, likewise. The group may decide themselves what kind of Abilities are appropriate for the campaign setting and character background at hand. The Story Guide is again in an excellent position to judge on these matters due to his status as a faciliator.

However, while Abilities are individually flexible, they also provide opportunity for useful structure and setting ties, which should be developed to their fullest extent. For instance, should the game setting include an exceptional culture of Origami masters, it might be well appropriate to decide that the Ability of Origami crafting would only be available to characters hailing from among those people. Similarly, it might be that the Ability to operate Blaster Weapons would be available only to high nobility of craftworlds in a certain type of science fiction setting. Thus the Abilities gain implications and identity weight they otherwise would not have.

A ready-made setting for Solar System includes an extensive treatise on Abilities suitable for characters with different backgrounds appropriate for that setting, as well as plenty of ready-made Abilities. For our current generic purposes there is a sample list of Abilities and how they might work in the game on page 82. While the list is not outright usable in any single campaign, the group should have little trouble culling it for ideas that fit their particular game setting much better.

Ability Ranks

While Abilities are very flexible in definition, each Ability a character has always comes with a set rank, a level that represents its significance in the campaign. Starting player characters already possess some formidable Ability ranks, and they will generally rise as the campaign progresses and characters come into crossroads where their choices matter in ever more significant context.

The five ranks of Ability are, from lowest to highest, Mediocre (0), Competent (1), Expert (2), Master (3) and, finally, Grand Master (4). Each has a descriptive name as well as a numerical value used by the game mechanics.

There is no Ability rank to represent below-average Ability because the ranks are not directly representative of character competence in fiction, but of their capability in resolving conflicts utilizing their Abilities. Being incompetent in the use of an Ability is either just descriptive colour, or signifies that the character does not possess the Ability in question at all, making the character unable to triumph with that Ability.

Heroic Event

The players will probably have some rough idea of what kind of characters they want to play. The first decision to make on starting up a new character is to declare a Heroic Event appropriate for the character concept. This is just a simple image, a short scene that establishes what the character is about.

All Solar System characters are heroic in that they are significant. Thus each is first and foremost introduced by a Heroic Event that defines some little character back­ground and what the character is good at. This is an opportunity for the player to signal the rest of the group over what excites him in the character concept; the collected Heroic Events of the player characters taken together form a kind of thematic declaration, a virtual trailer for the upcoming campaign.

Mechanically the heroic event is significant in that it determines the character’s first Ability: the player chooses a suitable Ability that reflects the heroic event and sets it at a rank of Expert (2). Thus the heroic event hints at the strengths of the character.

Although all characters start with the same Ability ranks, this does not mean that they have to be exactly as “strong” in the setting fiction: a king and a little girl both start as “experts”, but what that rank means in the fiction is a matter of context. The rank merely depicts the “story weight” of each Ability, which is equal for all characters at the beginning of the campaign. The variant here discusses starting with non-equal characters.

Likewise, the Heroic Event does not have to be in the character’s past; the player may equally declare that the event is foreshadowing for the upcoming campaign or even just a dream the character hopes to achieve one day.

Players are free to first figure out the “best Ability” for a character and then narrate a Heroic Event on that basis, if that feels more natural. Narrating the event should not be skipped altogether, though, as it is useful in establishing background and context for the character.

Example Heroic Events

Variant: Greater Heroes

The group may decide to start with varied character power levels by rating each character’s Heroic Event based on its significance as either personal (1), communal (2) or universal (3), depending on whether the event affects only the character’s immediate family, his community, or the whole setting — the heroic Ability rank follows the significance of the event, so different characters get different Ability levels.

This variant is appropriate if the players truly wish to play characters in different stages of dramatic growth; the decision does not affect character competence in the fiction so much as their Ability to resolve conflicts and progress towards Transcendence: a more powerful character is less constrained and pressured by the setting and more responsible for his own choices. A probable result of the variant is that characters reach Trascendence (see page 54) at widely differing times, which provides different opportunities and challenges for the campaign as whole.

When using this variant, set Background Abilities at one rank below the Heroic Ability and Cultural Abilities yet another rank down.

Character Background

While the Heroic Event is a simple idea or a quickly flashed scene, Character Background is a more comprehensive narration. The player describes his character’s general lifestyle and the high points of his life in a couple of sentences. The goal is to build upon the Heroic Event and explain why, how and who got into that particular situation described earlier.

All Solar System characters are dramatic in that they have a history; the character might be young, but that just casts his short life-story into greater emphasis as the few events gain in weight. Likewise, an old and experienced character still has high points to his life that, from the viewpoint of the present, can be considered formative and important. The character background is an opportunity for the player to shortly outline what kind of nature the character will have in the game, based on the choices and experiences the character has from his past.

Mechanically the character background determines three Abilities at Competent (1): the player chooses Abilities that represent the significant phases and experiences of the character’s life.

Players may wish to first simply choose three appropriate Abilities and then figure out the kind of background that fits with them. This is all good, as long as the background is found entertaining and sensible.

Example Character Backgrounds

Variant: Experienced Characters

The group may decide to differentiate between more and less experienced characters by estimating how eventful a character’s background is: the player defines one background Ability for each separate phase or facet of life described in the background, so that each character begins with 1-5 background Abilities, depending on how accomplished or long a life he has led.

This variant means that characters will differ greatly in how flexible they are in their endeavours, which might be interesting if the group wants to frontload character development: less experienced characters are not significantly less able to overcome challenges, but they develop differently from widely experienced ones: a more experienced character will have more leeway in choosing different paths during the campaign, while an inexperienced character is encouraged to stick with what they already know.

Cultural Identity

When the Heroic Event and Character Background are defined, the array of Abilities is finished by describing the character’s Cultural Identity: what nation, gender, race, religion, guild or caste are his by birthright or choice? Most of this should already be obvious from the previous steps, so this is just detail work.

All Solar System characters are defined somewhat in terms of culture, which the identity is all about: the character should not be a homeless, fatherless pawn, but a being with values, beliefs, social ties and a whole range of peculiarities drawn from the particulars of the setting. The cultural identity is a wide array of elements that may be used later on to develop and define the character during the campaign.

The Cultural Identity has little immediate mechanical impact: the player is encouraged to write down Abilities central to the character’s cultural identity, all at Mediocre (0). Later the player may choose to develop these Abilities further, but for now they are mostly to remind of where the character comes from and what is his birthright.

It is notable that not all Mediocre (0) Abilities need to be written down, as characters are always assumed to possess a wide range of common (for the setting, anyway) Abilities, all at Mediocre unless otherwise specified. However, in all settings there exist more exclusive Abilities not everybody is assumed to know or even be aware of; it is good for the player to write down such Abilities for his character, as they define and describe his cultural identity. For example, most people today do not learn anything of horses or horseback riding as a part of their everyday experience. A character born to a ranch might, however, be a Mediocre (0) rider simply by virtue of his childhood experiences. Whatever makes most sense for the group is good.

Example Cultural Identities

Passive Abilities

After all other Abilities are jotted down, it is a good moment to define three special Abilities, the Passive Abilities: these Abilities differ from others in that every character possesses them by virtue of their humanity. All three — Endure (V), React (I) and Resist (R) — are concerned with passive reactions to travails caused by outside forces for the character; they are essentially about protecting the character’s personal integrity in some manner.

A beginning character gets one Passive Ability at Expert (2), one at Competent (1) and one at Mediocre (0), as chosen by the player. Typically the order of preference is rather obvious at this point, as the player already has a firm image of the character, his strengths and weaknesses in mind.

The Default Passive Abilities

The Default Passive Abilities

While the default Pools work well for most kinds of adventure settings, experienced players might wish to try something new by redefining the Pools, especially if the setting at hand assigns little significance to physical vigor, say.

New Pools should also have associated Passive Abilities, refreshment conditions (see page 24) and width enough to associate with many different Abilities. Pools by their nature focus and structure the types of interaction in the campaign rather strongly.

The following are some examples of different Pools that might be considered for certain types of campaigns:

Usually all characters should have the same Pools, but sometimes a character is so fundamentally different than others that he does not. A machine-intelligence might have just Fuel as his only Pool that associates with all of its Abilities, for example.

Dividing Pools

All characters have, in addition to their array of Abilities, three Pools which depict their reserves of strength. The Pools are Vigor, Instinct and Reason, each associated with various Abilities as depicted earlier: it’s usual to write any Ability names with a shorthand reference to the Pool associated with the Ability. It is easy to notice, for example, that the Passive Abilities introduced above each associate with one of the Pools.

Characters may spend Pool points in Ability checks to improve their chances of overcoming challenges, while Pools may be renewed during separate refreshment scenes. (Both concepts explained in depth later, on pages 32 and 24, respectively.) Although the individual Pools do not need to formally limit the nature of the character, some typical associations are as follows:

At character creation each character receives 10 points to be distributed between the three Pools. All Pool have to have at least one point, but otherwise the player may determine the distribution freely. The Pools are full at the beginning of the game.

Choosing Secrets and Keys

The next step in character creation is to simply choose one Secret and one Key for the character. As these are both major concepts in the Solar System, it is best to introduce each in its own chapter, at page 50 in “Keys and Experience” and page 58 in “Secrets and Crunch” respectively. For character creation purposes it is enough to say that all characters may have one of each type of benefit to begin with.

Finalizing the character

The last step of character creation is a matter of overview: is the character interesting enough to star in a movie? Does he have potential for great conflict? Do you know what he is about, what his purpose in the forthcoming campaign is? Are the other players interested in the character as a protagonist? Change anything from the last steps to make the character better at this point.

As a part of this process the players may distribute five Advances among the Abilities, Pools, Secrets and Keys of the character. Advances are a currency of character development more thoroughly explained on page 52 in “Gaining and Using Advances”, wherein you’ll also find out what those five Advances will buy. This is an excellent opportunity for giving mechanical weight to the most interesting facets of the character, whether Keys, Secrets or Abilities. Alternatively, the player might opt to save some Advances for later and spend them in play, instead.

Variant: More Advances

An obvious variation is to start new characters with more Advances. This should not be done, however, just from a perceived need for character competence: default beginning characters are easily competent enough for most purposes.

Likewise, new characters need not be brought up to match with more experienced characters when players join the group in mid-campaign. Characters in the Solar System need not start or stay on the same level of advancement with each other.

A good reason for a more experienced group to start characters with more Advances might be for purposes of pure media emulation: if the group plays a game set in the Middle-Earth and genuinely want a player to play Gandalf the wizard, then the wise course is to set Gandalf up with whatever Abilities, Secrets and Keys he needs to perform. The same holds true for other characters drawn from existing fiction: such characters are already familiar to the players and therefore do not suffer from dilution of significance associated with loading a newly created character with too many Advances.

Initial situation

After all characters are more or less finished (or earlier, for that matter, if inspiration strikes), the group needs to bring it all together for play. There is a checklist of questions the players might wish to use for this purpose:

Most of these details are probably already obvious from character generation, but that last one warrants further thought: the choice facing the player is whether his character is at rest when play begins or if he is already moving. The difference is in whether the Story Guide should kick the character into action or whether the player wants to do it himself.

A player might decide that his character is at rest when the game begins because he wants the Story Guide to surprise him. It’s also possible that nothing particularly compelling came up in character creation to destabilize the character’s life. Either way, it is left up to the Story Guide to surprise and disrupt the character’s routine existence.

On the other hand, it is quite possible that a character is “already moving” at the beginning of play, should the backstory and setting point that way. If the character developed into somebody who’s on the run from imperial officers in a distant and strange land, it’s quite conceivable that the player can’t answer questions about the character’s everyday life and what he’s probably doing as the game begins — he is already living in a crisis situation where nobody could say what happens next.

Often enough players have a certain story in mind when they create a character. Starting the game in the middle of that story is a surefire way to get to play it! The player has more control here as regards the initial situation of the game, which might serve some players rather well.

It should be noted that the choice between starting at rest or already moving is not over whether exciting things will happen to the character or not — the choice is merely over whether the player or the Story Guide determines how the life of the character goes out of whack.

Examples At Rest

Examples already Moving

Player character party

Historically, roleplaying games use what is known as the “party structure”: player characters either already know each other or come together during the first session and thereafter form a party, like the Fellowship of the Ring in the Lord of the Rings. All players in the group cooperate to make this happen, creating their characters into persons who need the other characters and want to follow the group around. This is rather an entrenched convention, not the least because roleplayers find it useful for plying their craft:

You can use a party in the Solar System as well if you want, just discuss it with the rest of the group and set the characters up to have an overriding common concern that keeps them together.

However, also consider the alternative: Solar System is very well suited for individual characters who each have their own, completely individual goals and pathways through the campaign setting. A friend recently called this style of play weave play, as the Story Guide needs to weave the stories of the character together without the characters themselves being a team. There are several benefits to weave play as well:

The secret to not having a party is in being interested in the characters of other players, just like if their stories were a movie and you the audience. If you’re only interested in getting to play your own character, then of course you’ll find play dull if everybody needs to take turns; but if you follow the fates of the other characters as well, offering advice and commenting on their foibles, you’ll find that being in the audience can be a nice change of pace with no responsibility for a while. This and other techniques of play are discoursed upon from page 20 onwards, in chapter “Playing the Game”.

Furthermore, once the game begins, whether there is a party or not, the characters do not necessarily have to stay with it — or they might form a party without advance planning! There are lots of shades of gray between completely party-focused play and every character being an individual. Even if there is a party, be sure that the Story Guide will focus on each character’s personal interests separately, as that’s his job. And not only that, but if there isn’t a party, the Story Guide will work to have the characters affect each other in different ways regardless.

Character Creation Summary

Alternatively, mix and match the steps to arrive in a character creation method that works for you. Some people want to develop the Character Concept fully and then make the mechanical choices to fit the concept, for example. The character creation procedure is broken down into steps to make the process easier, so anything that works for you to create better characters is good, as well.

Playing the Game

When the players have worked out a setting and created characters, it’s time to start the actual game. It is possible that this could happen directly after character generation, but far more likely is that the group adjourns and reconvenes at another time to actually begin the campaign — much depends on how long the players take in agreeing upon a setting and creating their characters.

Actual play of the campaign is organized into 2–4 hour sessions, played weekly or however often the players want to. Campaign length depends greatly on the players and the events of play, but a typical Solar System campaign takes anywhere from three to a dozen sessions. Often enough a long-term game group will also connect individual campaigns played in the same setting into longer arcs, but that is hardly required to experience the game in whole.

Starting up the session

The Story Guide has a central role in starting a given session, as he is largely responsible for developing the situation encountered by the characters the other players run. Such a situation is always consistent with setting and character nature, interesting and flows well with what has gone before. This is probably the hardest part of being the Story Guide, but practice makes it easy.

The issue of scenario preparation is handled in depth on page 69 in chapter “Story Guide”. For now it’s enough to note that the Story Guide is likely not flying blind when he starts the game. Even if the first game session follows directly after character creation, a lunch break or similar might be in order to allow the Story Guide to gather his thoughts.

Assuming that the Story Guide is comfortable with his preparation for play, he will proceed to address the other players in turn, describing the situation the individual character is involved in. For the first session this starting point is heavily dependent upon the earlier discussion about whether the character is at rest or already moving when the game begins; further into the campaign the Story Guide will likely just recap the last session’s events to remind everybody where play was left off last time. Then it’s time for the first scene.


The scene is a very useful concept in getting a handle on how play proceeds around the table in the Solar System. All the players have their own characters who are of course important, but not everybody can have attention at the same time. Whose story does the game follow from moment to moment?

The typical solution to arranging the content of play is to loan some terminology from film making. The Story Guide frames the scene when he describes where a player character is and what is happening around there. A character might be in the scene or not, as not all characters are together all the time. A player might cut the scene when everything interesting in the situation has been resolved and the group wants to move on.

Different groups and different campaigns will have their own ways of doing things, but it is typical for the Story Guide to frame scenes in turn for each player character so as to allow each an opportunity for participation. Play of scenes might proceed in order around the table, or scenes might be framed when an interesting idea for such is thought up. Sometimes characters appear in scenes together and they might even end up primarily interacting with each other rather than the setting — it all works as long as the characters all get attention.

Narration in Free Play

Players are constantly adding to the shared fiction when playing. Each player decides what his character does, while the Story Guide decides how the rest of the setting and secondary characters act. Even while every decision is in principle made by some particular player, it’s important to foster a culture of openness: everybody has a voice and may make suggestions, nobody is put to the spot without his friends being there to offer ideas and suggestions. Ideas are free-for-all, even while choices are made by each player independently.

The Story Guide has backstory authority discussed on page 74: he can decide what happened before the player characters got to the scene at all. If there is a disagreement over who gets to decide something, it’s probably either a conflict or a backstory authority issue.

Tasks in Free Play

So, the Story Guide sets up that first scene, establishing a situation for the player character. He might be minding his own business all peaceful-like, but now something interesting and noteworthy happens.

What goes on next is free play, simply put: players with characters in the scene describe what their characters do or think, the Story Guide plays any secondary characters, other players offer opinions and suggestions on the goings-on. The players might act dialogue for their characters and so on.

Groups differ greatly in how much free play they prefer, and a single campaign will also have different stages in this regard. Usually a scene might have anywhere from one minute to a quarter hour of free play before the players move on.

The players and the Story Guide each have a job to do in free play. Here’s what you are doing as the Story Guide:

The rest of the players either have their characters involved in the scene or not. Character players have an important job:

Finally, the rest of the players are Audience. It’s an easy job, but important nonetheless, and omitted at your own peril.

The goal of free play, apart from enjoying the characters, situation and the setting, is for player characters to passionately drive towards their goals while the Story Guide problematizes these choices by introducing uncertainties and ethical conun­drums. The actual matter of play is generated from the interaction of the characters with the situations they end up in. Such interaction comes in roughly two forms, choices and conflicts.

Choice as content

A player character, as an imaginary person, will have convictions and beliefs he will strive to fulfill. We, as an audience, are interested in what those choices might be — drama is created when the character judges a situation and acts upon his understanding. The role of the player is to express and advocate for the character, depicting the thoughts and deeds of the protagonist to the rest of the group, his audience.

Often enough much of the content of play consists of events that prepare a character for making a choice he would not have been ready for earlier: the Story Guide strives to set up situations that problematize the values of the character and introduce different viewpoints on the matter of play. Thus the choice might well extend into several scenes worth of development as characters explore their options.

Keys, described in depth in “Keys and Experience” on page 50, play an important role here, as they reveal how the player views his character and mechanically reward him for certain choices over others. The Story Guide simplifies his job immensely by directing the choices he presents in the fiction towards the Keys of the character: will the character do this sort of thing if that’s what his Keys require? Which Key will he choose when he has to choose between two? Will he get rid of a Key that leads towards corruption?


Choice leads to conflict; sometimes immediately, sometimes later on. Conflict play is a very elaborate part of Solar System, which is an action rules set at heart: often loving attention is heaped upon descriptions of exciting chases, tense arguments or deadly duels, which are some examples of conflict between characters in play.

When player characters end up in conflict with each other or secondary characters, the Story Guide may invoke the conflict rules, which are described in great detail starting on page 36, in chapter “Conflict Resolution”. Generally speaking, conflicts are a matter of great stress, tear and wear for characters: they burn up their resources, especially their Pools, which are depleted in conflict. Abilities play a dominant role in resolving who gets their way in conflict situations, but willingness to sacrifice progressively more drastic resources often ultimately decides the conflict.

Although it might seem that way, players are not actually disagreeing when their characters go into conflict; the characters might be passionate about how they’d like a situation to be resolved, and the players might well sympathize, but ultimately everybody is there for cooperative entertainment — the task of each player is to not compromise the interests of their characters, but this does not mean that the players themselves are trying to make each other fail somehow. The relationship between the player and the character might be most comprehensively described as one of advocation.


Choices and conflicts both have consequences, which means that they direct play towards new scenes. Sometimes characters choose not to follow up on an opportunity, sometimes they irrevocably lose what they had; often new opportunities are opened by choices and conflicts as well.

This continuity provides much of the structure for on-going play in the Solar System: scenes follow each other as sensible consequence from previous events. Play might jump back and forth between different locations and characters as different player characters are followed, but even then the Story Guide makes an effort to provide connections. More advice on tying scenes together is provided on page 73 in “Framing Scenes”.

An important consideration is that there is no one player who determines how consequences play out and where the next scene leads play. While the Story Guide has the task of framing new scenes, continuity of consequence and character choice provides the array of possibilities. Usually character intent as depicted by the player provides more of a determining agent for the direction of play than the Story Guide ever should.


As described on page 50 in chapter “Keys and Experience”, the most important long-term consequence of the events of play are experience points that characters collect by participating in events relevant to their own identity. In the long term experience may change a character’s identity or increase his ability to influence the world around him; ultimately it leads to Transcendence, the end of an individual character’s story.


Another basic consequence is negative: characters making the wrong choices or losing dangerous conflicts are in danger of suffering Harm, which reduces their immediate efficiency and may ultimately threaten death or other nasty and permanent ends. Essentially, a character’s story may end prematurely for a character who decides to risk it all.

Secondary characters react

Unlike the above, this sort of consequences, while very generic, concern only the fiction: support characters always have opinions on the deeds of the player characters, so the Story Guide should make sure that whatever the player characters do, there are secondary characters reacting to it in different ways: some will come to debend on the player character, some to resist him. Thus the storyline progresses with little effort.

Pool Refreshment

As intimated above, conflicts are pretty hard on poor player characters — they get beaten around and have to spend Pool points to succeed in getting their desires, especially at the beginning stages of their stories. What such a weakened character needs is a Pool refreshment, which is to say, he needs to get some rest!

Characters refresh their Pools by relaxing and letting their guard down, simply enough. Drama-wise this is an opportunity for a slow point in the action, as a suitable refreshment scene is not about struggle or action at all. Rather, it is an opportunity for developing character and looking for new directions to take the campaign.

Individual Pools are refreshed in slightly different conditions, like thus:

As can be seen, a character pretty much has to interact with others to refresh himself. This is intentional — such situations are great for introducing new secondary characters or other human interest. Likewise it’s clear that the same activities might well refresh several Pools at once, which is just dandy.

When a player wants a refresh for his character, there are essentially two situations: either the character is already well positioned with his friends at hand and a mutually acceptable pastime in mind, in which case the scene can just proceed normally, or the character might be at loose ends and explicitly going to look for a refreshment. In the latter case it’s up to the Story Guide to frame a refreshment scene and let the character make some friends.

There are two specific narrative motifs that the Story Guide should consider when a refreshment scene arrives:


Harm is a very important concept related to conflicts, character capability and the overall story — a character with too much Harm is in danger of dying or getting removed from the game otherwise!

All characters have a Harm track consisting of three Minor levels (1-3), two Major levels (4-5) and one Mortal level (6). (Check the character sheet on page 81 to see what it looks like!) When a character suffers a given level of Harm, the player crosses that level off and marks down the Pool related to the Harm. Each level causes penalty dice for the character: a Minor level causes the character to suffer one penalty die to his next Ability check; a Major level causes one penalty die to all Ability checks associated with the same Pool; a Mortal level Harm causes a penalty die to all Ability checks and forces the character to spend a point from the Pool associated with an Ability to use it at all.

(I know that I haven’t discussed penalty dice yet at this point. They’re explained in detail on page 32 in chapter “Ability Check”, but for now it’s enough to know that Harm makes it more difficult for the character to succeed in his endeavours.)

As for the setting, Harm may represent any negative effects upon the character’s integrity. Physical bruises and wounds are typical in action stories, but mental anguish, doubt, shame, erosion of social stature or just losing face might be depicted by Harm. Ultimately this depends on the Pools used in the campaign, as each Harm is associated with one.

Harm is obtained from fictional events: the Story Guide may declare that a given course of events will result in Harm for a character. This decision is always made before the Harm happens so as to allow the player to react and declare a conflict. Thus the Story Guide might warn a player that having his character fall from the cliff-side into the river will be cause for level 2 Harm, which information would then be available for the player when making an Ability check to climb up.

An important special case is when a character suffers Harm of a level he already has marked earlier: in that case the Harm is bumped up one or more levels into the first empty slot. Another special case is when a character comes out of an extended conflict: all the Harm in the Harm tracker shakes down at that point, so that all the Harm the character received so far moves to fill any empty levels below their current level.

The most common juncture for declaring Harm is in determining the stakes of a conflict, where it naturally belongs. Sometimes Harm comes first and the player might even decide to not contest the Harm, provided that the character is getting what he wants otherwise.

Level of Harm caused by events in the fiction may range all over the place, from level 1 for minor annoyances to level 6 for going through something that would break a man. In conflict it is not atypical for Harm to be assigned asymmetrically to two sides: an unarmed man attacking one with a gun might threaten with just level 1 Harm while risking level 4 himself.

Healing Harm

Harm is healed in two manners, by natural healing and Ability checks. The former is simple: the player needs to spend Pool appropriate to each level of Harm equal to the level to heal that Harm. This is mostly done between scenes. (If the character doesn’t have high enough Pools, the player may pay in parts and jot down the progress.)

Healing by Ability check works by having a character make an appropriate Ability check (depending on the type of Harm and other conditions in the fiction) to heal the target: the healing removes a level of Harm equal to the result (or the highest level under the result); if all Harm is higher than the check, nothing is healed.

Only one healing check may be made per scene, and a character may only be healed once with any given method per session. The Story Guide may encourage players to figure out new treatments and other story content when they want to heal a character with multiple healing checks in quick succession.

Bird’s Eye view

Looking at the above description of the play process, an overview emerges: the Story Guide has the initiative in thrusting player characters into exciting situations in the story, wherein their choices then lead to consequences that dictate new scenes. Choices that lead to conflicts cause characters to suffer Pool expenditures and Harm, which in turn require refreshment scenes to overcome. The end result is a cycle of play where choice, conflict and refreshment scenes alternate in a flexible manner, depending on the choices each player makes. If all goes well and the players appreciate each other’s input, the end-result should be an exciting story-creation session!

The following chapters provide the core rules material of the Solar System, the conflict rules that are used to resolve tense and uncertain situations that player characters often face. After that, on page 50, the experience rules describe how characters change and develop as the result of play. Finally, in chapter “Story Guide” on page page 68 there is some more concrete advice on how a session of play is arranged to satisfaction.

Unless the reader is looking for a particular topic at this point, it’s probably best to continue directly to the next chapter which lays down the groundwork for how Abilities are used to resolve situations the player characters encounter in their adventures. Before trying to play the game it’s important for at least one player to have a firm grasp of how and why the Ability checks and conflict rules work as they do.

Ability Check

Basically, the Ability check is the core resolution mechanism in the Solar System: whenever players want to find out whether a character succeeds in a tight spot, an Ability check may be used to find out.

Most Ability checks are made in conflict against other characters as described on page 36 in chapter “Conflict Resolution”, but there are other uses for the Ability check as well. For example, a character might wish to use his secret alchemical lore to brew a love potion; should the group want to know whether the brew was any good, an Ability check could be a nice idea for finding that out.

To make a simple Ability check, the player chooses an appropriate Ability for the character to use in the check and rolls three Fudge dice. (I introduced the dice on page 4, remember.) The Fudge dice results are added to the value of the Ability to find out the check result. As Abilities range from Mediocre (0) to Grand Master (4) in value while the roll ranges from -3 to +3, the Ability check result is a value from 0 to 7. (We’re not counting negative results at all, they’re all zero.) Attached find a table of the different results and their significance.

Transcendent Ability checks are discussed in more depth on page 54 in “Transcendence”, as they are extremely important in an on-going campaign. Other than Transcendent results, most of the time players are most interested in whether a given Ability check succeeds or fails. Any positive result means that the character was successful in doing what he was trying to; this does not necessarily mean that the character succeeds in his overall goals, but the immediate task was successful and perhaps even amazingly successful. In practice the overall effect of a character’s success in Ability checks is determined by the conflict resolution system described in chapter “Conflict Resolution”.

However, a great deal of useful play can be derived from simple Ability checks alone when the character is in a simple and straightforward situation: the player just chooses an Ability, rolls the dice and announces whether the character succeeds in his deed. Climbing difficult cliffs, successfully piloting a starship on a routine run, filling tax return forms correctly or whatever interests the group in the character’s activities can be resolved with a simple check to find out how well the character does.

When an Ability check should be used is largely a matter of taste, any player may call for one when he would find it interesting to find out how a given character does in a situation. Obviously players don’t need to make checks in situations that aren’t interesting: checks should be used only when resistance from the setting will be welcomed as a friend and ally to the group’s dramatic efforts, not when it might bog down play by providing ultimately meaningless results.

When an Ability check is considered, the Ability a character uses is always the one most suitable for the situation in the fiction. For simple Ability checks this is obvious most of the time: if the setting has a Climbing (V) Ability or similar, then that’s most certainly the one to use when a character is trying to scale a cliff, for example. The Story Guide may help the player to pick the correct Ability by clarifying the situation facing the character.

Ability Check Results

0 Failure The character does not benefit from his effort.
1 Marginal The expected routine result.
2 Good Some bragging rights among comrades.
3 Great A matter of personal pride for the person.
4 Amazing Others give kudos to the result as well.
5 Legendary The deed inspires stories and songs.
6 Ultimate Breaks conceived norms of human capability.
7 Trascendent The deed transforms the world, permanently.

Timing and stakes

Ability checks always arise from free play: players describe action in a scene and at some point the Story Guide calls for the check. Or perhaps a player takes it up. It is important to note that until and unless the dice hit the table, all this talk is just speculative — players are trying to find out what the check would be like, they’re not committing to have their characters act in a certain way.

This is an important point when the players, Story Guide included, go into a give-and-take about the details of an Ability check: an Ability might be picked for the check only for the Story Guide to recommend something else based on the situation, or there might be penalty dice involved (more on those later). At the very least the players need to all be on the same page about the scope of the check, why it’s being made, it’s stakes. All these matters are negotiated freely before the check and before the player or the character commit to any particular course of action.

The stakes of an Ability check are worthy of elaboration, important as they are: each Ability check is made for a reason, which is called its stakes. Players should always know why an Ability check is being made, if for no other reason than to have their character refuse to risk it. Being aware of the stakes enables the group to consciously determine the scope of the check.

Narrating success

Those varying levels of success can be used to great effect in introducing interesting consequences to any Ability check where the degree of success might make a difference. The group, and especially the Story Guide, are in a good position to use the level of success as an inspiration in narration.

A Failure (0) result does not have to mean that the character’s efforts just fizzle; most of the time failure in the Solar System should be a cinematic affair full of dramatic consequence. A character who fails in a Climbing (V) check isn’t going to just “not get on the top of the cliff”, he’s going to fall down from high and break his collarbone, being stranded alone and wounded in the wilderness.

A Marginal (1) success might sound dull and predictable, but what it actually means is that the Story Guide is welcome to add a little twist, some complication to the success. The character might indeed get to the top of the cliff, but it might take so long that night falls during the climb, for example.

What characters really want is a Good (2), solid success, as that’s something to be proud of. Colleagues won’t find flaws in it, it’s the real thing. A bit dull, perhaps, but secure, as nobody’s going to interpret it as anything but solid fulfillment of the stakes.

A Great (3) success is essentially master-level, it’s good and a little bit more, yet. The player would be well within his rights to describe how his character not only succeeds, but also does it in style. Getting to the top of the cliff is a given, but the character might as well find an easy route up, one that makes a second climb nigh trivial for him later on.

An Amazing (4) success, as the chart says, is something that onlookers would be astounded by. A character making that kind of check deserves to have a solid edge further in the scene — finding a sheltered cave in the cliffside to spend the night could be a positive twist supplied by the Story Guide, for example. Not exactly what the character tried to do, but a further positive development for him nonetheless.

A Legendary (5) success goes into the realm of heroic fantasy in many ways, influencing the character’s whole situation in a positive manner. New and even slightly unrelated opportunities might appear — meeting unexpected allies or friends waiting at the cliff top might reflect this dramatic influence, for example.

Characters making Ultimate (6) Ability checks should not have to check the same Ability again in this session, barring dramatic circumstance or player initiative. It would be reasonable to decide that a Climbing success at this level overflows into long-term success, making the whole cliff-climbing a non-issue for the rest of the journey.

Finally, a Transcendent (7) check, as the name implies, really means that the character broke the limits of what the Ability actually means. Every Transcendence is different as described on page 54, in chapter “Keys and Experience”; the character’s story is clearly at an end, but it’s up to the player to describe how.

While the above guidelines are certainly useful when considering the meaning of a character’s success, they’re nothing to worry unduly about in routine checks; all Ability checks are not created equal, sometimes you just need to know the number and not have to care about any extra consequences it might signify. On the other hand, thinking a bit about the “something extra” that the degrees of success provide is a great way of giving definition for an otherwise vague and unexciting situation in play.

No suitable Ability?

Sometimes characters do not have an Ability suitable for a situation. There are two different possibilities here:

The latter situation seems pretty blatant, but that’s all a matter of degree in some settings. For example, if the campaign setting includes special individuals with psionic abilities, it’s kinda important to know whether a person can resist the psionics in any way, or whether trying such would be an automatic failure. How intricate these questions become depends on the setting more than anything.

In general, the rule of thumb is that if a character should be able to try something but the group can’t name the Ability that would be used, the default assumption is to make the check with a Mediocre (0) Ability. It’s not necessary to name the Ability when making the check, it’s enough to know that it exists in some form.

Narration of Ability Check

The rules do not determine who should describe what happens after an Ability check. As far as the Solar System is concerned, the narration is a valueneutral task: the group chooses the ideas that best represent the mechanical results and enacts them into the fiction. If players feel a need to determine who gets to decide on the details, that’s probably a sign of somebody using the Ability check process to push a partisan agenda.

Regardless, if there is some disagreement as to how play should proceed from the Ability check, the check result can be interpreted by the player who called for the check in the first place. Often this is the Story Guide, simply because one of his tasks is to set up resistance and challenges for the characters, and thus many Ability checks originate with him.

Bonus and penalty dice

The basic Ability check is a simplistic randomizer that gives results very close to the Ability rank most of the time. Bonus and penalty dice are a powerful tool for changing the situation. These are normal Fudge dice that are added to the three rolled in an Ability check.

Whenever a player has one or more bonus dice in an Ability check, he rolls them right alongside the three default Fudge dice. After rolling, the player picks the three best results for his check and discards the rest of the dice. With penalty dice the procedure is similar, except the player picks the three worst dice and discards the rest.

Bonus and penalty dice are attained from many separate sources, but perhaps the most common one is spending Pool for effort: the player spends one point from the Pool associated with the Ability to add one bonus die to the roll. A player may do this only once per check, but more bonus dice might well be gained from elsewhere as described later on.

If the player ends up with both bonus and penalty dice in one roll, they simply cancel each other out on a 1: 1 basis. An individual check will never have both bonus and penalty dice in it when the dice are rolled, in other words.

An important detail is that bonus and penalty dice may be added to the roll either before or after the initial dice are rolled. Extra dice after the roll are simply rolled immediately (unless cancelled) and the player picks the three best or worst results normally. While the exact order of additions and their timing in relation to rolling the dice affects the final outcome, the players may choose their play freely for simplicity’s sake; just add each batch of dice and reduce to three until everybody is happy or unable to modify the result any further.

Variant: Complex Extra Dice

Some tactically inclined groups might be bothered by the free order of dicing in Ability checks; bonus and penalty dice added later in the process have more impact on the final result, which might cause annoying tactical conditions.

A simple way to counteract the tactical benefit of dribbling the bonus dice into a check is to instate an extra surcharge of one Pool point on each batch of extra dice after the initial roll. This way players are encouraged to add their dice before the initial roll, or at least to add dice in as few batches as they dare; adding dice one by one would cost a prohibitive 1 extra Pool point per die.

Alternatively, a group might develop Secrets that worked with the stages of Ability check resolution, as described in chapter “Secrets and Crunch” on page 58. Those tools make it relatively easy to balance the check procedure to one’s liking.

Circumstance penalties

The most common type of penalty dice is freely adjucated by the Story Guide: whenever a character is trying something under considerably adverse conditions, the Story Guide may just decide that this requires a penalty die. For really hard deeds the Story Guide may assign two penalty dice as circumstance penalties.

It is important to realize that the adverse conditions here really need to be so significant as to be obvious to a movie audience viewing the action: something like driving an old car with clunky transmission in a car chase hardly bears consideration, we should be discussing driving at night without lights on an unfamiliar road to get even one penalty die. Not having breaks at all or putting a blind man at the wheel is more like it for two penalty dice in a car chase situation.

Both external factors and lacking tools may be considered for circumstance penalties, so having a somehow faulty car or just a blinding storm are both fine, as would be trouble with the driver, such as a blindfold.

The Story Guide should remember that if he really, truly feels that two penalty dice is not enough for some outrageous stunt, such as escaping in a car without a fourth wheel (or the engine block, whatever it takes in your genre to make a car truly unusable), then it is more than likely that the deed to be considered is simply impossible — the character simply fails in such a futile endeavour, should the player wish to try it in the first place.

Supporting a check

Sometimes characters have several Abilities that could be used for a particular deed, or parts of it. In these situations the Abilities are ranked and checked in order: the result of each check turns into support dice for the next check in the series, so rolling a Good (2) check in support provides two bonus dice for the next check, for instance. Pretty simple, so far.

The order of the checks is determined based on how the player describes the situation: if any Abilities are used in the deed in a clearly consecutive order, it’s pretty natural to have those follow each other in sequence. If Abilities are in play both at once, then the less important Ability is checked first. If the Abilities are equally important in the situation and used simultaneously, then the stronger Ability is checked first. For example, if a character tried to intimidate somebody and supplemented it with blackmail dredged up from the Internet, the natural order is to have the player check Internet use (R) first and then Intimidation (V), as that’s the order of action. When a character is trying to supplement his Fighting (V) with Riding (V) for mounted combat, though, the Abilities are used simultaneously and thus Riding might be checked first, were it deemed less important in the exact situation.

Players may chain Ability checks as makes sense in the situation, but any failures in the supporting checks cause dire consequences: if the failing Ability does not play a critical role in the situation, the next check suffers a penalty die, but if the Ability was actually necessary for the deed, then the whole deed fails.

Ability checks may also be supported by other characters: the players just describe how the characters work together and chain the Abilities normally. As before, the check order is shuffled based on the order of Ability use in the fiction.

Supporting Ability checks with other Abilities is perhaps the easiest way to earn bonus dice to an important check, but remember that a single check may only ever get support from one source: multiple sources need to give their bonus dice to each other and have only the penultimate check provide bonus dice for the last and most important check. In practice this means that actively hunting for a lot of support Abilities isn’t worth the effort.

However, the Story Guide has the pregorative to allow exceptions to the rule of only one support chain: when a character is supported from two completely independent directions that couldn’t sensibly support each other (and thus be the part of the same support chain), he may allow separate sources of support dice. Situational call, that, and whatever makes sense for the group should rule.

Variant: Gift of Dice

The right group will find it very rewarding to increase the number of bonus dice flying around by instituting the Gift of Dice, a way for the players in the audience to comment upon play.

At the beginning of each game session, distribute 20 Fudge dice between the players, Story Guide included. (Or use tokens instead of actual dice, of course.) These dice can then be given out as bonus dice to any but the player’s own character at his discretion. Excess dice are lost at the end of the session.

The Gift dice enable the audience to participate even when their characters are not in the scene. They allow players to express their sympathy for characters. It’s an all-round good deal if you just remember to actually use the dice.

An alternative is to pool all the dice in the middle of the table and let anybody give gifts to others from this common pool, but only one die per check per player. This might work even better as long as the players remember to act as sympathetic audience and not partisan tacticians when using the pool.

(If you play very short or long sessions, try 5 dice + 5 per hour of play or so instead. Or just refill everybody when all but one player have spent their gift dice.)

Recording Effects

A player may opt to make a special kind of Ability check called Effect — or rather, the player looks at an Ability check he just made and decides to record it as one. Any Ability check that is not used for other mechanical effects (such as supporting another check or activating a Secret) may be recorded as an Effect immediately after the check is made.

Effects are little notes players make for themselves on their character sheets; they remind the player of the deeds and preparations a character might have made. So if an Ability check was made to see whether the character succeeded in brewing a love potion and the check came up Amazing (4), the player would write “Brewed a love potion 4/R” on the sheet. Or just “Love potion 4/R” for that regard; the player chooses how to describe the Effect, as long as it makes sense for the situation and he remembers to mark down the associated Pool and check result from the Ability used to create the Effect.

Recording an Effect costs a Pool point from the Pool associated with the Ability the character used, so any old Ability check is probably not worth the trouble to record.

The reason for recording Effects at all is that the player may call on the Effect later on to provide bonus dice to any check that pertains to the Effect; he just marks down how many dice the Effect loses and takes those as bonus dice. When the Effect loses its whole value the player may cross it off altogether.

(Another way to use Effects is to put them up as obstacles for other characters; more on this in “Solo Conflicts” on page 40.)

Using Effects

Effects are great for when a character knows that he’s going to be facing adversity: he might stock up on tools suitable for the job, hire mooks to help him out, set up traps for that monster that’s going to call at midnight or make whatever other preparations he has in mind. An Effect might be used all at once (especially when it’s the kind that is not useful for a second shot) or spread out over several checks. The character might also have his Effects stolen or give them to others voluntarily; a scientist whose notes disappear during the night would lose the Effect tied to them, for example. Or the character who made that “love potion 4/R” might give half of it (two dice’s worth) to another character easily enough.

Characters may also sometimes declare an Effect out of something another character did: when a character makes a motivational speech, for instance, it would make sense that the audience can take the result of the speech as an Effect representing the motivation. Only one character may make an Effect of each individual Ability check, however, so several characters would have to share or distribute the Effect between them. The Pool cost is always paid by the character who gets the Effect.

There is no particular guarantee that a character gets to use any Effect he makes, it all depends on whether a suitable situation comes up later. Furthermore, Effects are transitory: players remove all Effects associated with a particular Pool when they refresh that Pool, unless they pay one Pool point per Effect to preserve it. The idea is that the character who lets down his guard feels confident enough to discard any temporary preparations he might have made; Effects are not actually a part of the character concept like Abilities or Secrets are.

Effects are sometimes required or generated by Secrets, as per page 58 in chapter “Secrets and Crunch”. As a general rule, Effects and Ability checks can be used interchangeably wherever that would make sense; an Effect is essentially just an Ability check result saved for later need, so whenever it makes sense in the fiction for a character to be able to switch an Effect for an Ability check or vice versa, go for it.

One more point should be made about Transcendent Effects: an Effect created by a Transcendent (7) Ability check becomes a permanent, non-transitory setting-feature as part of the player’s Transcendence narration, as per page 54, “Transcendence”. Such Effects lose their nature as character-specific Effects and become normal, permanent features of the setting.

My check is resisted!

If a character is going to do something important and another player is all agitated about it and wants to have his character interfere, then congratulations, you have a conflict. Conflicts are explored intimately in chapter “Conflict Resolution”, starting on the next spread. To tell the truth, the conflict is really the primary reason for having these Ability checks in the first place; this overview of how Ability checks are made is here in a separate chapter just because it’s more clear to lay it out this way.

Conflict Resolution

When two characters in the fiction have a conflict of interest, there is a whole array of rules available for seeing how that plays out. Conflicts are one of the high points of drama in the game, as characters with convictions clash in different ways to find out whose will and strength triumphs. Thus conflicts provide for sudden reversals in the progress of events and the all-important closure as well.

The Solar System uses Ability checks to find out which character wins a given conflict. The notion is that the character with stronger Ability is going to triumph, unless the weaker has luck or greater will to victory on his side. Ability checks are used for some other things as well, so they were explained in depth in the previous chapter.

Initiating conflict

Conflicts happen when a player declares such as he notices that a disagreement between characters in the fiction might be characterized in terms of conflict. This requires for the characters to have intents that are clearly in cross-purposes in the immediate scene. They need to want for contradictory things, in other words.

The exact events in the fiction that are represented as conflict might involve violence, arguments, challenges and competition; the essence of conflict is two characters in opposition.

When a conflict is declared, the players of the participating characters well might wish to describe the goals of their characters so nobody misunderstands why the characters are in conflict. The purpose of the conflict resolution procedure is to find out which character gets their way in the situation.

The conflict itself is resolved with opposed Ability checks: the players each make an Ability check normally and compare their results, with the better result triumphing. But first, the conflict needs to have its stakes clarified.

Conflict stakes

The Story Guide has the specific responsibility of declaring the stakes of the conflict after hearing the goals of the characters. This is a slightly intricate issue, so pay attention.

Normally, when a conflict is initiated, it is pretty obvious what the conflict is for: a character wishes to bed another, say, and the conflict is over whether he manages to convince the other character to play along. The goals of the characters are rather unambiguous in this sense: whatever the characters want to do, that’s usually what the conflict is about. In these cases the Story Guide just nods and gives the go-ahead for players to proceed with resolving the conflict.

The most typical situation where the Story Guide needs to clarify the stakes is when a player’s declared goal is too shallow. For example, a player might describe that his character is going to shoot another character. All well and good, but that is not actually a goal, it’s just what the character is doing to achieve his goal. Is the character trying to stop the other from hurting him? Is he trying to subdue the other by wounding him? Is he trying to kill the other character? For conflict resolution the Story Guide needs to find out and bring these intentions on the table, as the players will need to know what they are resolving when narrating the conflict sequence.

Another situation where the Story Guide needs to modify the stakes from the intents described by the players is when a character wants too much. For example, a character might want to rob the emir of a valuable jewel kept on the bosom of emir’s daughter. Can the player just declare a conflict over this and resolve the exciting situation in one roll? This is a matter of leverage, propriety and scope.

Leverage, propriety and scope

When a character can try to succeed in something, he has leverage. A character who has wings might try to fly because of those wings, for example. A character who has sneaked into the bedchambers of emir’s daughter might try to steal a valuable jewel. Leverage is being in the fictional situation that allows a character to attempt a given goal in the first place.

When a character’s declared goal is kinda sudden and unexpected in the context, it is a matter of propriety. This is not so much about moral judgement most of the time, but rather about the norms of the fun game — a very typical campaign norm is that named, important characters are not killed just like that, off-hand. So in this kind of campaign the Story Guide might question the propriety of the goal and perhaps clarify that while the character might seem to die, he might also come back later as the result of a miraculous rescue, a common motif of adventure stories.

When the group thinks that some matter of fiction should not be skimmed too quickly, it is a question of scope. If the emir and his jewel are not important, the group might think that it is a swell idea to have the daring thievery resolved in one conflict — just roll Thievery (I) against the emir’s Suspicion (R) and be done with it. If that pace is too quick, however, the group might wish to insist on a smaller conflict scope — finding out whether the character can even get into emir’s seraglio, or how he outwits the guards, or how he charms the emir’s daughter — these are all fine and exciting conflicts on their own, well able to branch in unexpected directions.

When determining the stakes of a conflict, the Story Guide should keep an eye on all of leverage, propriety and scope: is the character in position to try for this goal, or should he first maneuver into position? Is the goal an appropriate event for the genre? Do we, as a group, want to skim or slow down over these events? Making these decisions is not as difficult as it might sound, and the rest of the group will certainly have their own notions. If in doubt, go with the goal declared by the player — if the emir’s jewel is just a step in some interesting story, take care of it in one conflict and move on.

Selecting Abilities

As mentioned earlier, a conflict is just a matter of compared Ability checks: the character with the best check wins the day. However, choosing the Abilities most pertinent in a conflict might be tricky: if a character is tracking a bear to tame it, will he need Animal Handling (I) to handle the bear or Woodcraft (I) to find it?

The answer is that the choice of Ability condenses the overall situation into one turning-point where everything hinges in balance. The notion that great feats of Ability actually resolve conflicts is basic to the Solar System; it’s not the weather outside or price of tea in London that resolves conflicts, but rather the immediate, dramatic clash of Ability during one moment.

The turning-point is sometimes important as a concept simply because different characters would benefit from different Abilities. For example, if the bear (not wanting to be tamed) is weak-willed but good at hiding, it would benefit from getting to match its Hiding (I) against the woodsman’s Woodcraft (I), other things being equal.

In practical play the turning-point might often be obvious in that the players have an actual scene at hand, with actual, uncontested narration going on. If the Story Guide narrated the woodsman encountering the bear out in the woods, the bear would actually forfeit the hiding option by making that appearance. That’s quite possible when the bear (or the Story Guide, or even the player) doesn’t know that the woodsman would decide to try to tame it.

Other times, when characters are aware of each other and have room to maneuver, the resolution is different: if the bear knows to keep out of the way of the woodsman, it’s obvious that the woodsman needs to find the bear to even have an opportunity to try taming it.

Where the turning-point in setting up a conflict lies is ultimately up to the players who take initiative in narrating matters and shaping the fictional situation. A large part of the Story Guide’s job is to make sure that scenes are framed and characters encounter each other in conditions that allow for exciting conflicts. Even then, however, the player who takes the initiative often gets to choose not only his own Ability, but the Ability his opponent will use as well!

Of course, Abilities may support each other in support chains as described in “Supporting a Check” on page 33. Sometimes the Story Guide might even explicitly require this, such as when a character first needs to find the bear before befriending it.

Ultimately, the matter of choosing the correct Ability checks is first and foremost an aesthetic issue for the group to suss out. The choice that makes the most sense in the fiction is the right one, be that just one Ability check or several chained checks. The best Abilities to use are often not the ones the character is best at, and the Story Guide shouldn’t hesitate to encourage the players to use that untrained, Mediocre (0) Ability if that’s the one that actually makes sense, considering what the character is trying to do in the first place.

Always Using Your Best Ability

Some players might question why they couldn’t just use their character’s best Ability all the time — after all, an Ability like Swordfighting (V) goes a long way when it comes to getting out of pickles!

The first answer is that the rules very well assume that the characters are going to rely on their strengths! The whole point in having different Abilities is that they characterize the kind of things the characters usually choose to do when given a choice.

The second answer is that what the character does in the fictional situation depends on which Ability you choose: if you pick Swordfighting, then the situation needs to be described to involve swordfighting, which might make your character a jerk or a brute.

The third answer is that the player might not always wish for his character to win — it’s entirely possible to advocate for your character’s vile passions while hoping as audience that he’ll fail. Besides, the character’s story is more interesting if he both wins and loses believably.

Resolving the conflict

When stakes have been defined, Abilities selected and the situation described, the players may make their Ability checks. The group gets to narrate the events according to who rolled highest: that character achieved his goal (or as much of it as the stakes concerned, anyway) in whatever manner seems appropriate.

Mostly narrating conflicts is simple, but a word on stomping other characters: while a given conflict might force a character to act in a certain way, this is always interpreted as a temporary loss of control, not wholesale limitation upon further behaviour. For example, “I flirt with him and lure him to my room tonight” is a fine goal in conflict, but it implies nothing about how the other character reacts in the morning; he might be happy, mortified, angry or however the other player chooses to depict the event.

Tied conflicts are fun, too: if both sides get the same Ability check result, the group is encouraged to narrate the situation in a way that frustrates or fulfills both sides equally. Perhaps something comes up to interrupt the characters, or they come to negotiate the situation (verbally or not), so that the conflict need not play to the finish. Or, you can just roll again if nothing particularly inventive comes up.

The Joy of Tied Conflict

Tied conflicts are a great tool for pacing stories, frustrating characters who try to resolve their problems. They’re especially common with low-Ability characters whose stories are just beginning. Consider ties carefully.

An interesting notion is that a tie warrants Story Guide interception in the form of an overbearing new condition that annuls the conflict: the floor gives in and drops both duelists into an underground river, for example.

Another good idea is that perhaps both characters can get what they want, at least partially. Perhaps the two spies trying to drink each other into stupor both let slip the information the other side was looking for.

Ability checks in conflict

The result of an Ability check is calculated normally in conflict. Often both sides have successful Ability checks but one side fails in the conflict — this is really easy to narrate, the mutual success with the Abilities just means that one side’s success is made ineffectual somehow in achieving his goal, or perhaps an otherwise flawless maneuver was blocked by the even better play of the opposition. Liberally following the narration guidelines on page 29 in chapter “Ability Check” is sure to make for an interesting scene!

Most of the time you don’t see lead heroes in fiction making goofy mistakes that allow their opponents to triumph — much more likely it’s random bad luck or the opponent being even more able that causes a character to be frustrated. Follow this same principle with the Solar System: your opponent’s victory does not mean your own incompetence, there are plenty of other reasons for why things might turn the way they do.

When Ability checks are used in conflict, the winner gets to use his Ability check result for recording an Effect, supporting another check, activating a Secret or other mechanics that might require a successful Ability check. The loser’s check is considered to fail in this regard.

Several characters in conflict

When several characters are supporting each other in conflict, it’s easy: just use the rules for supporting Ability checks.

However, when there are more than two characters in conflict and they actually all have different goals, the situation is a bit different. Have all the separate parties make their own Ability checks and then compare them all: the strongest party gets their way, but others might also get part of what they were after if the goals are not completely opposed. In each case the stronger party triumphs over all weaker parties when figuring out who gets their way in the situation.

Solo conflicts

It is relatively rare, but sometimes a character needs to make Ability checks to overcome unliving obstacles on his path. The rules for Ability checks in chapter “Ability check” on page 28 largely deal with this already; just pick the appropriate Abilities and check them to see how the character does against the obstacle. Any result apart from Failure (0) means that the character succeeds in the “conflict”.

However, there is a situation where a mere success might not be enough, and that is when a character ends up going against an Effect (page 33) established earlier. When that happens, the character needs to get a check result higher than the Effect’s value. It’s just like if the character was going against the character who created the Effect, the situation is just delayed somewhat.

Going against Effects might happen when a character sets up Effects as traps or other obstacles from the start, or an Effect might just happen to come between a character and his goals inadvertedly. The Story Guide may well decide to make certain extraordinary, lifeless features of the setting into Effects (perhaps created some time ago by secondary characters); this option should not be over-used, as Effects can be very powerful.

Effects that go against characters in conflict might erode, akin to how characters suffer Harm in conflict: the Story Guide may determine that an Effect that loses a conflict against a character takes Harm by lowering its value, if it’s not just outright destroyed by the triumphing character.

The group should keep in mind that conflicts without active opposition are only rarely appropriate or necessary; if the situation is such that the character may be assumed to succeed without significant consequence sooner or later, then running a conflict over it is unnecessary. This is the same as saying that conflicts should have significant stakes, and when such may not be formulated, the Story Guide should take that as a sign that no conflict is needed in the first place. Thus climbing walls, interpreting old documents, masquerading as somebody else and other feats of skill are only pertinent solo conflicts when failure carries some weighty consequences.

Secondary characters in conflict

Secondary characters run by the Story Guide are perfectly able to participate in conflicts; most conflicts are usually between player characters and secondary characters.

Secondary characters acting against or for player character interests may engage in conflicts. However, secondary characters do not run conflicts between themselves — the Story Guide just decides what happens between secondary characters, at least insofar as he happens to play them all. (Some Secrets might allow players to control secondary characters, so the actual rule is more exactly stated by requiring there to be more than one player participating in conflict.)

More information about running secondary characters can be found in the chapter “Story Guide” on page 75. The chapter also discusses the reasoning behind having different events occur by Story Guide decision.

I lost the conflict!

Sometimes characters lose conflicts that the players would rather not, as the results might be embarrassing or even fatal for the poor character. Luckily, there is a specific out in the rules: the player may decide to extend the conflict to retry in detail. Such an extended conflict is then played out in blow-by-blow detail. An extended conflict has great potential for Harm and Pool attrition for characters, and it also takes a bit of time compared to a normal conflict. Usually only the most important conflicts are extended.

Opponent Cannot Oppose

The issues of leverage and propriety cut both ways in conflict, so sometimes it’s possible that a character objects to an event, but cannot do anything to oppose it.

While characters (and players) have many rights in the Solar System, they do not have a right to conflict just because they dislike the turn of events. This does not mean that the burden of proof is very heavy, however; if being able to stop another character is at all conceivable, the character may try, even if the result seems very unlikely.

An example I like to use is one of a jungle man getting sued in court. Presuming that the jungle man has a hostile attitude towards legalities, doesn’t speak the local language and won’t even appear in court, he cannot really stop another character from getting an injunction against him; the attack simply happens in a venue he is not equipped to defend himself in at all. The lawyer would probably still need to make a successful Ability check, though.

While a character might not be able to do anything immediately against an opponent who chooses the turning-point of the conflict smartly, that doesn’t mean that the character cannot extend the conflict (see the main text). The classical example is a physical attack that comes as a surprise: the attacker might get the initial check unresisted, but the target will surely extend the conflict.

Extended Conflict

Most conflicts are transitory matters of moderate scope and propriety. Those few and worthy that could be considered major turning points, however — those deserve our attention in detail.

Any player apart from the Story Guide may declare that he wishes to extend a conflict his character participated in and turn it into an extended conflict. A conflict is always extended only after the initial Ability checks, and it may be done regardless of whether the character won or lost. An extended conflict will then commence, allowing characters to settle their differences in a detailed blow-by-blow manner.

Why extend?

There are two reasons for escalating: one is that you’re unhappy with the result of a lost conflict and wish to have your character strive hard to turn the outcome. Another is a matter of stakes manipulation: as discussed in chapter “Conflict Resolution” on page 37, there are some conflict goals that might be inappropriate for an outright conflict. Extending is a way of bringing those conflicts in play, regardless.

For example, the matter of propriety is very much a campaign issue. A heroic pulp adventure game might have the notion that you can’t really, for sure, kill off important characters. Reichenbach Falls might not actually be the end. Similarly the superhero actually permanently abandoning his lady love for another is probably not something to resolve with a simple conflict check. These kinds of campaign-specific norms may often be overridden by escalating — what was inappropriate as an off-hand event becomes the centerpiece of an extended conflict.

(There are also, of course, things that players might want to never entertain as a possibility in their campaign, especially if there are kids participating or the events might clash with the intended tone of the campaign. These possibilities need never be accepted as stakes for conflict, simply enough.)

In either case an extended conflict means that the involved characters go into full-body contact with the rules system, burning resources to overcome each other, often consuming their own well-being to succeed. This is fun stuff if the conflict is weighty enough, but if the stakes are not involving it might be just dull — lots of dicing and detailed description of the events, but if nobody cares about the stakes it’s all likely to get boring quickly. So think carefully before extending, and be sure to remember to give up when the time is right.

Scope and stakes in extended conflict

When a conflict is extended, the result of the original conflict is annulled in a way: whatever the stakes were, they’re still on the table after an escalation! This might mean that the players have to “rewind” the narrated action a bit, but most of the time it’s enough to note that the seeming victory was just a lull in the action before the real conflict begins. So a character might stand up exhausted from his wrestle with a bear, only to watch in horror as the bear rises as well, to coin an example.

At the beginning of the extended conflict the Story Guide makes sure that the goals of the characters are clear. It is entirely conceivable that a character might change goals between the initial conflict and the following extended conflict; the situation has suddenly grown more serious, after all!

The goals of the characters are even more important in extended conflict than they are otherwise, as players are allowed to change them mid-way into the conflict. Action also shifts the narration around the scene, so it’s not a given that the conflict will retain it’s original form. A wrestling contest might turn into a chase which might become a matter of hiding from a tracking hunter — essentially, the extended conflict sticks around however long the characters stand opposed, regardless of whether their opposition changes form in the meantime.

Negotiation phase

Extended conflict is resolved in rounds of Ability checks; essentially the characters butt heads as long as they dare, until one side gives up or is overrun.

Each round begins with a negotiation phase: players each describe what their characters are doing this round to further their goals. They also declare the Ability the character uses during the round. The negotiation phase is so named because it’s not a matter of second-guessing the opposition; the players discuss the situation and describe actions that make sense to all. There are several factors the players need to declare for their characters at this point:

Ability used: Just like a normal Ability check, the player chooses the Ability. However, extended conflicts are so immediate that characters do not have time for support checks from other Abilities. Thus the player only needs to choose one Ability.

Opposition: The players of the participating characters need to determine whether the actions of their characters are directly opposed or not. Each pair of actions is either opposed or parallel in this manner: opposed actions cancel each other out, while parallel actions go around the opposition and have their full effect against the other party. This is purely a situational matter and the players should pick whichever makes more sense for the situation: if one character is trying to convince the other with Charm (I) while being beaten with Fighting (V), say, then the action might well be parallel as the two efforts do not really impede each other. On the other hand, if both characters opted to use similar Abilities, the chances are that their actions would prove opposed in the fiction.

Effect: Each player needs to decide for themselves whether they want their character’s action to provide Harm (explained back in “Playing the Game” on page 25) or bonus dice for some other action. This is again largely a matter for the fiction: if the activity of the character somehow tries to directly achieve his goal, then Harm is the obvious effect, while bonus dice are more satisfying for actions that concern setting up an edge for later in the conflict.

While this might seem tricky at first, pretty soon players will routinely declare “parallel Fighting for bonus dice as I seek the high ground” or whatever makes sense at the moment. Note that the players may change their action in reaction to what others say they’ll be doing: the negotiation phase only ends when everybody is happy with their declared action.

If the players keep switching their actions around because they want different action types, the Story Guide helps them resolve the disagreement. Ultimately the player who wants opposed actions will need to make a defensive action or back down.

Finally, remember that it might be easier at first to just have the players tell the Story Guide what their characters are doing, which the Story Guide can then convert into rules-speak for them. The extended conflict is the most detailed part of the Solar System rules, so it might feel tiresome for some at first; best to use it sparingly and only when escalation really is the word of the moment.

The defensive action

The defensive action is a special action available during the negotiation phase. It is always made with a passive Ability (one of Endure (V), React (I) and Resist (R)) and it’s always an opposed action for bonus dice. Furthermore, it’s the only opposed action for bonus dice — other Abilities may only generate bonus dice with parallel actions!

The defensive action is always, by Ability definition, a passive action that doesn’t achieve anything proactive in the fiction. The character might cover in fear, jump nimbly aside, ignore pain and continue whatever he was doing, for example. By its nature the defensive action is always available to the character regardless of conditions — the opponent might be able to force a specific passive Ability, but there is no situation in which a character couldn’t make the defensive action, even if there is nothing else he can do in the fiction.

Furthermore, the defensive action has one very cunning use: the player who declares the defensive action may immediately change his character’s goal in the conflict. Thus a character might find out in the middle of an extended conflict that the masked avenger assaulting him is actually his wife; certainly a cause for pause and re-evaluation of priorities! The Story Guide (or any player, really) is well within his rights to require a character to spend a round in a defensive action when the character’s goals change.

The Default Passive Abilities

Endure (V)

The character’s capability for enduring physical pain and fatigue, whether caused by climate, injury or great exertion.

React (I)

The character’s ability of thinking and acting quickly and clearly, as useful for seizing initiative as noticing hidden things.

Resist (R)

The character’s strength of will and resolve in the face of adversity, stress or social pressure alike.

Resolving actions

Resolving the actions is simple after the players have sussed out the negotiation phase: everybody just makes an Ability check for their character with the chosen Ability, with each check having full effect according to action type.

There are two notable differences between normal Ability checks (as depicted in chapter “Ability Checks” on page 28) and those made in extended conflict. One is support checks: a character may not use multiple Abilities to support a check in extended conflict. Instead, the player needs to make an Ability check for bonus dice and spend those dice on the next round if he wants to use multiple Abilities.

The other difference are surprise dice on the first round: the winner of the conflict that was escalated into the extended mode gains bonus dice equal to the difference between his and opposition’s checks on the first round of the extended conflict. This depicts his initial upper hand before the conflict gets really under way.

The action type negotiated during the negotiation phase determines what each player’s Ability checks do in the conflict:

Opposed checks are deducted from each other so that only the higher check is left. Specifically, the higher result is lowered in degree by the lower result as far as extended conflict effect goes (but not for purposes of narration or Transcendence, for example), while the lower check disappears entirely. Parallel checks do not affect each other at all, they both take full effect.

Harm checks cause Harm to their targets of level equal to the check result, while bonus dice checks grant bonus dice for the character equal to the result; these dice have to either immediately support another character’s ongoing action, or kept and rolled in the character’s own check during the next round.

In other words, an opposed check for Harm causes the difference between the opposed checks as a Harm level to the opponent (assuming you rolled higher in the first place), while a parallel check for Harm causes a Harm level equal to the full check result. Likewise, checks for bonus dice cause either the difference between opposed checks or the full parallel check as bonus dice.

Player or Character Gives Up?

As elsewhere in these rules, it’s important to note how I use my terms here: it’s the player who gives up when a conflict turns against the character. This is not accidental.

Some players might be reluctant to give up in an extended conflict because the character thinks that the situation is important and would strive “to the death” to defend his view. All well and good, but this need not be the player’s angle. It is quite possible that a character fighting to escape from evil cultists, for example, fights to exhaustion, while the player decides that he can’t actually win the conflict and thus gives up — or perhaps he isn’t even that interested in belaboring the point when it’s much more exciting to have the hero get captured!

What’s more, the character “fighting to his utmost to escape” does not need to mean that the player’s mechanical resources are exhausted. A character’s Harm track especially is a rather abstract measure better used as a “drama tank” than a fictional measure. Thus the character might be injured and exhausted without having a blemish on his Harm track, or vice versa!

Rolling a tie

If opposed checks tie each other, neither takes effect. Instead, the characters tire each other out in an extended struggle — both players need to immediately spend an extra Pool point from the associated Pool of their Ability or drop out of the conflict out of sheer exhaustion (or other reason, whatever makes sense in the fiction).

A tie is a great opportunity for the Story Guide to change the situation — some time passes and other characters come into the scene, the conflict participants move into a different location or a temporary effect in the conflict environment runs out, for example. Ideally each tie heralds a drastic enough shift in the fiction to cause the characters to reconsider either their goals or methods: the new conditions might force a character to use some other Ability than the one he’d used so far, for instance.

Parallel checks can’t tie each other per se, as they take effect independent of each other. Even then, a group might decide to have Failure (0) result in parallel checks require a Pool point for the character to spring back up into the fight.

Ending a round

After the Ability checks are made to determine what happens, the group should take a moment to narrate what happens in the fiction: each character either succeeds or fails in what they are doing, and their actions change the situation around. This has implications for the next round of resolution, as players need to choose new actions and new Abilities, so describing events in dynamic manner is key for having an exciting extended conflict resolution.

The end of the round is also a typical moment for a player to decide to give up. This is a very important concept, so important that the Story Guide should probably make it a habit to ask at the end of each round whether any participant (himself included!) wants to give up on behalf of their character.

Should a player decide to give up, the conflict ends with the opponent’s victory. The situation is narrated with the latest character goals in mind. If some disagreement about the consequences of the conflict remain, the extended conflict continues until all players with a character in the scene accept the overall outcome.

Another way for the extended conflict to end at this point is if one party has suffered Harm at level 7, past Mortal (6). Such a character cannot continue and drops out of the conflict automatically, too tired and injured to go on regardless of the stakes. Furthermore, such a character’s fate is now in the hands of the victor, who may determine any conceivable consequences, up to and including death for the loser. (Any other permanent fates are quite feasible as well depending on the situation; being crippled for life or losing one’s soul, for example.) This is a powerful incentive for giving up earlier.

Finally, the conflict always ends if a character cannot fulfill required conditions to continue. Typically this is a matter of paying Pool for acting when suffering a Mortal level of Harm, or when tying the opposition.

If the conflict does not end yet, however, then the players start a new round, beginning with a new negotiation phase. This continues until the conflict ultimately ends, one way or another.

Unacceptable Actions

The rules of leverage, propriety and scope hold for actions in extended conflict just like they do when stating conflict goals. A noteworthy special case is that a character cannot negotiate for an action that sidesteps the goals of the conflict — so a character trying to save his sister from the cult priest couldn’t just declare an action to kill the priest, as success in that action would presumably resolve the conflict itself. Instead, all actions need to be framed in terms of effort and only narrated after seeing how much Harm the character does and whether the opponent might wish to give up.

Whether an action is unacceptable or not is, contrary to intuition, a case-by-case issue. The opponent may always object if he thinks that the action leaves his character too strenuous grounds for continuing the conflict. The choreography of conflict is formed by all the possible activities that characters might perform in their efforts at forcing the opposition to give in; the choreography is conceptually constrained by effectiveness on one side and fairness on the other; anything a player might declare as conflict action needs to somehow help his character overcome the opposition, while at the same time being considered fair by the opposing player.

The philosophical basis in running an extended conflict is that the opponent has the right to have his mechanical weight present and accounted for until forced or convinced out of the conflict according to the formal mechanics. Characters might maneuver for advantage with entertaining and smart moves, but that results in conditional penalties for the opponent, not shortcircuiting the conflict rules. The only way to close another character off from conflict is to fill his Harm track.

Special actions

Sometimes characters do things that are not immediately for Harm or for bonus dice, insofar as the action’s effect is concerned. Usually this comes up in relation to Secrets, as detailed on page 58 in chapter “Secrets and Crunch”: a Secret might allow a character to do things that do not fall into either of those two categories, such as attacking his enemy in some way that does not cause Harm.

Another typical situation is when a player wants to create an Effect in the middle of an extended conflict — this is likewise allowable, as long as the character’s action makes more sense as an Effect than simple bonus dice for his next action.

The simple rule of thumb in resolving such special actions is to treat any action that requires an Ability check as the character’s action for the round, unless the action is explicitly phrased as not requiring a round in extended conflict. (Thinking of Secrets here, as they can include their own rules for this kind of thing.) All sorts of other minor action, such as speaking, moving around and so on may happen during a round or between rounds freely as long as they do not require an Ability check.

A special action is opposed normally, should the opponent have the means. Whether an action to cast a spell, say, would be opposed or parallel would depend on what spellcasting looks like in the setting as well as what the opponent was specifically doing.

All actions with Ability checks have a concrete mechanical effect in extended conflict. It might be Harm or bonus dice or reducing an opposing success (as happens with opposed actions), or it might be establishing an Effect, or any number of other things. In general, every Ability check will spend its result in something, there are no mechanically meaningless actions.

Multiple characters in extended conflict

When multiple characters participate in an extended conflict, the procedure gets a teeny bit more complex. The basic structure is the same, however.

During the negotiation phase the players need to figure out who their characters are targeting with their actions and against whom the actions are opposed and against whom parallel. These factors are determined based on the fiction: a physical attack is against whomever it is targeting, while defending the good name of the heiress is opposed against any attempts at slandering her, whether one or many.

The tricky part of this is that a given character may well end up either attacking or defending against several other characters. Who attacks whom is adjucated based on the described actions. While this is simple in theory, it might cause some slight problems in practice for a new group. Thus, some specific situations:

Choosing targets

A character’s target for Harm is usually the character whose action opposes his, but this need not be the case when a character protects another. Even then, though, the protector might force the Harm to be directed against himself, depending on the described situation.

Attacking several targets with Harm

When a character’s action affects several other characters, the check result is compared against each separately. Thus, dropping a big rock on several characters with an Amazing (4) check would cause each a 4th level Harm, unless somehow opposed on individual basis.

A defender might well act to save several characters at once, just as the attacker might try to Harm several. Whether a character can protect others beside himself, or needs to choose who to protect, depends on the situation.

As both multiple-attacking and multiple-defending depend on the situation, neither are usually possible without explicit advance preparations. Let the Story Guide make the call when a situation might be interpreted either way.

Defending against several attacks

When several characters act to Harm an individual character, the defender’s action might oppose several of the attacks, just like above. Each opposed attack would get deducted separately by the defender, which might result in several Harm for the defender, one Harm to several attackers, or some combination of both.

Defending against several characters is, of course, just the reverse of attacking several characters. As a rule of thumb, Defensive Actions should be able to oppose all or most attacks simultaneously, unless they come in wildly diverse forms.

Acting for bonus dice

As mentioned earlier, a character making an action for bonus dice may opt to roll the bonus dice immediately into another character’s check during the same round.

When a Defensive Action is opposed by several characters, the action generates bonus dice according to the strongest opponent’s result.

Variant: Teams

You might find this method both simpler and more fun in multiple character extended conflict. A group of characters may declare themselves a team when their goals are all similar. Members of the team gain robustness in defense, but lose out on some flexibility.

A team always makes one Ability check for Harm each round instead of each character getting to act separately. One character is chosen to act for the team each round. The others may make Defensive checks or parallel checks for bonus dice as situation warrants.

The team members may spend Pool for each other and split Harm: whenever the team suffers Harm, it’s level may be distributed into smaller Harms (a 4 into two 2s and so on) for multiple team members. If the team can’t agree on Harm distribution, the primary character takes the full Harm.

Leaving the team or joining it in the middle of conflict requires a Defensive Action to change intent.

Against Effects

Effects can play an important role in extended conflict as well, even to the extent of being the only opposition to a character who extends a solo conflict according to the page 40. Another possibility is that a character brings one or more Effects with him to the conflict.

While Effects can be called upon for bonus dice normally in Extended conflict, their values can be used directly against an opponent as well. Effects do not act, however, only resisting when a character is forced against the Effect by circumstances. For example, an Effect representing a wall, “Wall 3/V”, would not act at all in extended conflict unless a character tried to break, climb or go around the wall.

When the Effect represents something proactive, such as a mob of angry citizens, think of “active” in terms of personal initiative. A mob as an Effect is about as capable of directing its strength as a rolling boulder would be; the character leading the mob might set it to a general direction, but other characters who maneuver out of the way might never need to face the angry extras directly.

When an Effect does get to act, it’s owner determines normally whether the “action” is opposed or parallel and whether it is for Harm or for bonus dice. The Effect does not make an Ability check, however, but uses it’s current value directly, instead.

When a character supplements his own action with an Effect, the character needs to make his own Ability check and use the Effect as bonus dice. The line between the Effect acting independently and the character using the Effect to supplement his own action is sometimes a bit hazy, but you can’t go wrong by following the group’s notion of what makes sense in the fiction.

When a character acts to disable an Effect with Harm, the Harm is directly deducted from the Effect’s value. Thus Effects are rather frail and will succumb near-immediately to parallel actions, if such can be attempted: while a computer program represented by an Effect might prove a difficult opposition for a hacker, taking a sledgehammer to the computer itself as a parallel action is sure to reduce the Effect to nothing in short order.

Against Nothing?

Against Nothing? When a character fails in a solo conflict (page 40) that is not against an Effect, the extended conflict is nigh trivial: the character simply needs to make one successful check for Harm to win “against nothing”. Rolling a Failure (0) is considered a tie against “nothing”, though, so the character might still lose by running out of Pool points or having the conditions change as narrated by the Story Guide; hostile characters might arrive, for example, and turn the extended conflict into a real challenge.

Almost certain victory in extended conflict with no opposition is an intentional feature of the Solar System; player characters are assumed to be competent or lucky enough to get by somehow, unless the opposition is actually interesting.

Strategy in Extended

Extended conflict is a good idea when the character wasn’t using his best Ability in the initial clash or he had bad luck. The luck of the dice will even out with several consecutive checks. Opposed checks are a good idea for characters with more staying power, while the stronger party should angle for parallel checks. Bonus dice for your own checks are only efficient if you plan to win with a few high-power blows, perhaps supplemented by Secrets.

Change goals as the situation warrants. Negotiate with the opposition and try to find a goal against which they are willing to give up. Often winning is as much a matter of credible Ability as of managing to suggest a turn of events where both characters get what they want.

Use narration actively to your benefit: the success or failure of individual actions changes the situation, often influencing different approaches.

If you get into conflict against multiple opponents, it’s crucial to negotiate goals and actions that allow answering several at once. Escaping from the scene is often just such a goal, as running away helps you equally against all foes. If you must go against multiple opponents, set up smart Effects. A “Plate mail 5/V” will take care of most physical defense for a short while, allowing you to perhaps even the odds.

Give up soon and give up often! Losing a conflict in the Solar System has no mechanical penalties, its only meaning is in the fiction. The side that has more to lose will often win by simple persistence.

Keys and Experience

Key of Romance (person)

The character is involved in a romance with another person. Our interest is in seeing what sort of relationship comes of it, or if the characters stay with it at all.

Key of Love (person)

The character is passionately in love with another person. He doesn’t necessarily know what to do with the feeling, though.

A Solar System campaign is centered around the theme of character growth, change brought about by experience and adversity. Player characters begin at relative loose ends and come to find their place in the world when their choices close off other options and shape a more permanent identity for characters who begin as little more than a colourful image devoid of meaning.

The mechanical instrument players use to guide this process of character growth is called a Key, of which each character possesses one or more. Keys in turn supply characters with experience points (XP), which are used by the character to grow in power. The rising power-level of the character in relation to the setting around him leads to independence and increasingly important opportunity to choose, both for himself and others. The logical end-result of this progression is called the Transcendence in which a given character’s story ends after he’s proved his heroic nature once and for all.

But before that can happen, a character needs to have some Keys to define and breed his theme. To the left are a couple of examples of what Keys look like.

As you can see, Keys are simply short rules of some fictional circumstances that award experience points to the character. The Buyoff is a special circumstance as well: when it happens, the player has the option of removing the Key and scoring 10 XP at once. The catch is that characters may never regain a Key once bought off: the buyoff is always a permanent change to the character.

The Key of Romance vs. Key of Love comparison deal here demonstrates that there are different types of Keys, Key frameworks. The two most common and perhaps most useful frameworks are the Dramatic and Motivation frames:

Dramatic Key framework

Keys of this type describe dramatic motifs.

Motivation Key framework

The character is passionately in love with another person. He doesn’t necessarily know what to do with the feeling, though.

The frameworks are used for building new Keys, which is something the play group is rather likely to do along a campaign (just fill in the details!). Keys are often personalized to the characters who possess them, but even then all players in the group need to understand and appreciate the Key, considering it interesting. It is also quite appropriate to prepare a list of likely Keys when starting a new campaign in a new setting, as different genres obviously concern themselves with different themes. Something like the Key of Bloodlust would hardly be appropriate for a setting based on Care Bears, for example.

As the above example of two different romantic Keys suggests, it is often possible to depict almost the same theme with different frameworks. Players may choose the one that better matches their preference or the prepared setting material may suggest one type over others. However, characters should not have overlapping Keys, so no Key of Love and Key of Romance towards the same person. (Of course, two Keys of Love towards two different persons would work just fine!)

For a number of example Keys, see page 84. As the list demonstrates, however, be ready to build your own as well: human issues are as numerous as could be hoped for, so any one list is rather unlikely to satisfy everybody.

Key Abuse

It is not particularly rewarding to abuse the Key experience system in actual play, so for the most part we are not worried about that. The Story Guide is well positioned to take it up if players seem to be confused about the point of play.

A good maxim for gauging Key abuse is whether each Key possessed and scored by a character actually corresponds with separate interesting events and meaningful choices in the fiction. Just having many Keys and scoring them quickly is all good as long as it follows from interesting events in play!

A group experienced with some other roleplaying games might get worried or even distressed with the ease of “scoring XP” in the Solar System — such worry is baseless, the system is intended to work the way it does! The players should plan their actions to maximize experience flow and it’s perfectly normal to have a player score experience several times in one scene. That’s how you play the game.

It is also quite usual that different characters progress at different rates. A player is not failing if his character is slow in gaining experience, just as it’s OK to gain a lot. Experience flow is a function of character development and player awareness of character issues; players who are still figuring out what their characters are really about will have slowly progressing characters, as will players who opt to tone the drama down a bit. In the Solar System, the journey is the point, not the destination.

Gaining And Using Advances

The primary means of gaining experience points during play is for characters to do things or have things done to them — events of play, in other words. Whenever such events happen to trigger a Key possessed by a character, the player should make mention of this to the other players and jot down the number of experience points gained. (Shouting “Bingo!” would be cheeky, but not entirely inappropriate.)

What this means in practice is that players will constantly maneuver their characters into situations that are pertinent to their Keys: this will allow the player to develop the character and the character to gain strength for important conflicts ahead in his story. Such strength may then be brought to bear when it really matters.

Gained experience points are ultimately traded in for Advances, the actual currency of character development. Whenever the player accumulates enough experience points for an Advance, he can just make a note of it and start looking for interesting ways to spend the Advance.

Advances cost 5 experiences points each. Players might like to keep track of both free Advances, which they have not used for anything, and used Advances, which shows how many Advances they have already used to develop their characters; the latter number is not actually used for anything, but groups often enjoy some small upmanship related to the xp hunt.

Advances may be spent on Abilities, Pools, Secrets and new Keys as well. They are all costed according to the table below. While each of those character benefits is paid for in Advances, there are some particular considerations related to each:

New Abilities may only be added when the character has gone through some events justifying the new aspect. Finding a teacher, undergoing physical transformation, working at a new job or concerned study are good examples. This does not concern implicitly present Mediocre Abilities, note: if an Ability is such that the character has some background exposure to it (it’s not entirely inconceivable to his lifestyle or being), it may be added whenever the player gets around to writing it down.

Existing Abilities may always be bought up, even in the middle of scenes, should the player have sufficient free Advances available. It is quite acceptable to invest in an Ability just before you need to use it, for example. However, the same Ability should not be increased several steps at once, should such extraordinary circumstances ever become an issue.

Pool size may be gained at will with sufficient Advances, but the character may only improve a Pool once in each scene. Note that very high Pools are cumulatively more expensive.

Secrets (further explained on page 58, in chapter “Secrets and Crunch”) are exceptional in that they require the character to fulfill specific requirements in the campaign, such as finding a teacher, before the character may acquire such. Many Secrets concern rather specific individuals, such as Secrets only revealed to members of some mystery cult; the character needs to fulfill or get around these default requirements to gain the Secret.

Finally, Keys may be added only if the character has not had the same Key before and the player deems the new Key an appropriate part of his character’s harmony.

Benefit Advance Costs

New Ability at Mediocre 0
Mediocre Ability to Competent 1
Competent Ability to Expert 2
Expert Ability to Master 3
Master Ability to Grand Master 4
Add to Pool size 1
- for each full 10 points Pool size +1
Add a new Secret 1
Add a new Key 1

Advance Debt

In some situations a character comes upon a situation where they should immediately gain some benefit, even if they don’t have the Advances to pay for it. For example, in a fantasy setting there might be a Secret of Nobility that represents special divine mandate bestowed upon the leaders of the people. When a character is then inducted into the noble ranks in feudal manner, the group might deem it obvious that he would gain the Secret in question right away.

If the player cannot pay for a benefit immediately in a situation like that, he goes into Advance debt regarding the new benefit until he manages to pay for it by gaining experience. A character in Advance debt suffers one penalty die for each Advance’s worth of debted benefits activated in play; if the benefit is not immediately utilized in conflict (such as a Key or specific types of Secrets), the Story Guide saves the penalty dice and assigns them to the character’s checks later, as soon as practical.

A character in Advance debt has to pay off the debt immediately when he gains new Advances, and may not acquire any new benefits voluntarily meanwhile.

Of course, the group might also decide that a character fails in learning some benefit — a character studying the Paradoxes of defense might be simply wasting his time until he gains some real martial experience (and experience points), for example.

Variant: Slower XP

Slowing down the rate of experience gain artificially is not a good idea; the system works best when the players score points at the rate they find comfortable. Regardless, the group may find that they want their campaign to proceed slower than the default; this would allow for more setting exploration and development of character depth, which many would prefer to having the campaign be finished quickly.

The simple and quite painless solution to this is to change the default Advance cost: the default cost is tuned to a practical minimum, which means that most groups will find characters gaining several Advances per session. This is easy to change into a more leisurely pace by making Advances more costly.

As a rule of thumb, consider upping the cost of an Advance in five point increments. Always use the same Advance cost for all characters in the campaign and do not change any other constants (e.g. Key Buyoff).

The best way to find a good Advance cost for a group is to start the campaign at 5 XP per Advance and go up at intervals if the characters seem to be gaining too many Advances. Going above 20 XP is probably not a good idea even then, though.

Losing Benefits

A basic principle of Solar System is that characters do not usually lose Advances in a haphazard manner: if a character comes to a situation in the fiction that necessitates losing some benefit, the player regains the equivalent number of Advances. For example, should a character own a valuable item that is represented by a Secret, he’d regain the Advance from the Secret if the item was lost somehow.

The only exception to this general rule is that when characters set aside some aspect of their being in full cognizance, the Story Guide does well to determine whether the character retrieves any Advances. Often a Secret that might be discarded in this manner makes special note of it. The Secret of Nobility, for instance, might specify that characters who commit heinous deeds and are judged for that by their liege lord may be divested of the Secret without receiving recompense. Regardless, the player needs to always know of the potential Advance loss before making the pertinent choices.

A separate issue is that character cannot usually voluntarily remove benefits (and regain Advances) just like that. Removing benefits is only possible when it would make sense in light of the events in the game: giving away a treasure is a common example.


Transcendence is the natural end-point of a character’s story. The current context becomes meaningless for the character who surpasses his limitations and leaves the campaign for something more. It is a combination of mechanical and narrative pressures telling the player that it is time to make some final decisions over who and what this character is about.

The Transcendence happens when the character achieves the result of Transcendent (7) in an Ability check made for any reason. This is only possible for Grand Master (4) characters rolling a perfect result, so a beginning character won’t be achieving Transcendence. However, as a campaign progresses and characters develop strength, it is only a matter of time before one is pushed to break all boundaries in this manner. A player might intentionally delay Transcendence by investing Advances in lateral development, but likewise another player could go directly for the ultimate power. Thus reaching Transcendence might take anywhere from one session to a score of them for a given character.

When a character Transcends, that means the end of the campaign insofar as that character is concerned: the player has until the end of the current session to tie off any loose ends and exert the influence of the character before narrating his final fate: the character might become a powerful secondary character, disappear into legend or get taken into the heavens, all depending the campaign setting and situation.

A player with a Transcending character has the right and obligation to narrate his character’s last moments in the campaign. Generally speaking this means that any outlying issues that concern primarily that character should be determined by the player without further interference from the rest of the group. It is also traditional for the player to narrate one permanent change to the setting wherein the character’s influence turned the world; Transcendence never passes without a mark. Starting or ending wars, overturning a scientific paradigm, healing a culture or inspiring a religion are not out of the ordinary in a campaign with an epic tone, should the player do good with the groundwork, earlier.

There is a bitter side to the Transcendence as well, however, and the player should not forget that. Being too large for the world means that those issues that can’t be set right just by stepping up and declaring a solution will now be left unresolved. A big part of pre-Transcendence play is having the forces of the setting pressure the character into taking his stand and Transcending before he is ready, before he is in place, before he can travel to his home for one more time. It’s up to the player how he deals with these themes, but the whole group is free to proffer suggestions!

Having a character leave the campaign via Transcendence doesn’t have to end the campaign; the player might well create a new character that approaches the setting and the current focus of play from an interesting, new direction.

Variant: Transcendent Play

Usually Transcendent characters do not need conflicts or Ability checks; the player just narrates how the characters goes out of play. This narration might be paced through the session and reach out considerably from the conditions of the Ability check that caused the Transcendence.

However, in some rare situations there might be need for conflict with Transcendent characters, such as when another player character is tangled with the goals of the Transcendent. The following rules may then be used: The player of a Transcendent character never rolls the dice, he is always assumed to gain a +3 result. Conflicts cannot be extended with a Transcendent character. Transcendent characters refresh all Pools between scenes. The only exception is that Transcendent characters conflict with each other normally.

The Story Guide probably should never have secondary characters engage a Transcendent character in conflict.

Variant: Reincarnation

Some players do not feel like having their character Transcend yet. The solution is simple: do not roll a Transcendent check result. Not raising an Ability to Grand Master (or using Abilities at that level only reluctantly) makes this pretty easy. Raising an Ability to Grand Master is like saying that your character’s story is almost done.

Often, though, the better question to ask is why a player doesn’t want his character to Transcend. The reason might be something that doesn’t really fit the ethos of the Solar System, like wanting to immerse in the character persona indefinitely in a campaign without an end. The reason might, however, as well be that the player has more ideas and new stories for the character.

In the latter case a group might, depending on the particulars of the campaign, agree that characters that Transcend in a certain manner might return to play as beginning characters; for example, a character that discarded his body to become an AI in a scifi game might return as a new character. Such returning characters are rebuilt as new characters and do not retain any mechanical benefits. It depends on the particular case how much of the character is still the “same” as before.

(An alternate way of transforming the character is to simply halve all Abilities, rounding down, and lowering all Pools to 1/2/3 points. This method preserves Secrets, which might be important for the character to “feel” right.)

Wrapping up the campaign

The Solar System does not really address how and why the individual campaign actually ends. It is common for a player or the whole group to be satisfied with the game at some point, which is always a good time to stop. This might even be in the middle of a session sometimes, when the players only then realize that all the good stories have already been told and it’s time to wrap up this particular game.

Usually campaigns do not naturally end as long as there are open dramatic issues still unresolved in the game. Some groups might benefit from keeping explicit note of whether there are still knots untied just so they can roughly estimate when the game approaches its end. Keeping the issue on the table good ways before the actual end ensures that everybody is on board when the closure finally comes.

Other groups prefer to plan for the long term, or at least presume that the game will go on for a long while yet with no agreed-upon ending. This usually ends up with the game “drying up” by implicit consensus when the players each individually lose interest and fail to arrange for a new session for some time. This method lacks the explicit and satisfying epilogue a deliberately ended campaign gets, but some players feel that this is preferable to “jinxing” a game by agreeing on an end in advance; after all, the game might continue to even greater adventures if it weren’t amputated un­naturally!

However, assuming that the group is interested in orchestrating an ending, sometimes players have some slight difficulty with characters who Transcend at different times. What should a player do after his character Transcends?

One approach is to simply create a new character and continue play from a new, different viewpoint. This works if there are still interesting angles in the setting and situation to be addressed, and if the campaign is not already winding down. If there is not sufficient space in the campaign narrative for a new protagonist, however, the new character might be doomed to a supporting role from the start.

A variant that works sometimes is for the characterless player to promote a secondary character already established in the campaign into his new character. An important antagonist might be very rewarding to play in the twilight sessions of an extended campaign, as making the character into a player character gives him new depth and direction that might work for some excellent turns. Likewise, a long-term side-kick or ally of a character, perhaps the player’s own, has already established motivations and a role in the story.

Another method is to make the characterless player into a Story co-Guide while the game approaches an end. There’s certainly enough work for several players in framing scenes, playing secondary characters and doing all those other things the Story Guide does. The Story co-Guiding role is also very flexible in that the multiple Guides may split up their tasks very fluidly, ranking from extensive audience partici­pation to intensive directorship. The original Story Guide might even opt to take up a new player character to make the switch complete.

Secrets and Crunch

Secret of Telepathy

The character masters the Memetic Coincidence and may communicate with others mentally. Long range communication or trying to communicate with strangers requires Resist (R) checks.
Cost: 2 Reason per scene to activate.

Secret of Training (Ability)

The character has been formally schooled in the use of the chosen Ability. You may buy however many bonus dice you want with Pool points when using the Ability.

Secret of Literacy

The character knows how to read and write any languages he speaks. Any conflicts related to literacy are resolved with appropriate language Abilities.

Secret of Nobility

The character gains a bonus die to any interactions with other nobles. His blue blood also allows him access to further privileged crunch presumably detailed in other campaign materials.

Secret of Pyrokinesis

The character’s psionic abilities overflow the Memetic Plane, causing crude physical phenomena. The character may set flammable materials in fire with Resist (R) checks, but only when the Secret of Telepathy has already been activated.
Cost: 1 Reason per scene to activate, 1 Vigor per Ability check to burn things.
Requirements: Secret of Telepathy

A central character benefit in the Solar System are Secrets, remarkable special qualities possessed by characters. A given Secret usually provides the character with extra competence or options related to their Ability use. Usually Secrets also require the character to spend Pool points to power them, further encouraging the Pool economy.

Secrets are best explained via a series of examples such as those displayed to the left here. As can be seen, Secrets may allow characters to do things that people normally couldn’t. They are very setting-dependent, even similar things might be done in a different manner from setting to setting. For example, the Secret of Telepathy would fit pretty well in spy-ops weird fiction or pulp stories, but not so well in superhero stories, where telepathy is, generally speaking, much more powerful. It wouldn’t of course fit at all if the setting didn’t include this manner of psionic powers. Also note the flavour explanation, “Memetic Coincidence”, which (along with the pertinent details of how telepathy works) may be replaced with the appropriate flavour for the setting.

Secrets often modify the rules of the game for the character who possesses the Secret. It is also usual for the Secret to have some significance inside the setting — it’s not just a generic mechanical bonus for the character, but rather something explainable and defined within the setting. In the case of the Secret of Training, for example, the mechanical effect is paired with the idea of formal training, thus giving the campaign using it one axis of separation for emphasizing the difference between the lucky amateur and formally competent. Which Abilities would be appropriate to be formally trained in this manner would, again, be a setting matter.

Secrets do not always concern Pool expenditures, they might be purely about character capabilities. The Secret of Literacy would be appropriate for a primitive fantasy setting where literacy might be an interesting game issue, but not enough so to warrant an entire Ability devoted to it. The last sentence of the Secret description may well be ignored for settings where linguistic issues are not actually a matter of conflict at all; in many cinematic settings language issues are actively ignored in preference to weightier matters. The reader has probably noticed this in how Hollywood movie heroes never seem to encounter people who don’t know English when they go to Cairo.

Secrets may have special requirements for when a character may have them or when they can be used. Secret descriptions favor implicit rules implementation and simplicity of description, which means that the advanced implementations of a Secret are not necessarily spelled out in its text. For example, in the case of the Secret of Pyrokinesis, it could be used by the character against hard-to-burn materials with circumstance penalties, although that has not been explicitly stated. Likewise, the Story Guide would be very likely to set Harm as part of a conflict where a pyrokinetic threatened to set another character in fire. In general, any new uses of Abilities defined by Secrets work by the same rules normal Ability checks do.

Learning Secrets

The concept of character advancement is very important in the Solar System, and nowhere as much as with Secrets. While Secrets are not mandatory for a character to transcend, they certainly often are when a character wants to make something of himself. As the experience rules have it, a character can’t get the Secret of Nobility by just declaring it to be so and paying an Advance for it; rather, the character would have to somehow get to be part of the noble class in play, details depending on the setting. For some settings this might even be impossible or nearly so: in the modern era, for instance, especially the highest echelons of traditional European nobility are judicially closed to new entrants.

In general, each Secret should only be introduced into play with a firm understanding of the context it has in the setting: where does it come from? Who know it? How is it transmitted? The answers to these questions are instant fuel for certain sorts of campaign as characters strive to conquer the Secrets they need.

Developing new Secrets

Turn to page 86 to see a small list of generic Secrets easily adapted to specific settings. They can also be used as a baseline for what might be appropriate in terms of character empowerment for the typical adventure fiction settings. While usable as mechanical inspiration, though, putting this array of Secrets into use without winnowing leads to a somewhat colourless game.

All Solar System campaigns are generally predicated upon the group developing their own Secrets in step with their developing understanding of the setting at hand. A ready-made setting such as The Shadow of Yesterday will include dozens of appropriate Secrets and whole sub-systems accessed via the Secret system, but even then the group is presumed to let their understanding of the setting determine what kind of Secrets they let their characters have, not the other way around.

New Secrets are easy to create by modeling them upon the samples in this book and the many hundreds of examples available in the Internet. Generally speaking, the following are some of the baseline effects a Secret might typically have:

An important principle in thinking about Secrets is giving specific mechanics an exciting flavour by aligning the setting’s fictional properties with the Secret mechanics. For example, the existence of the Secret of Training in a given campaign does not mean that it should be available for all Abilities; if such training is only available from government agencies and only for Shooting Guns (I) and Martial Arts (V), that creates a fruitful asymmetry with all the other Abilities in the game and allows a strong character for the government resources.

Advanced Crunch

This booklet, being intended as a generic overview of the Solar System, doesn’t really address the full scope of crunch possibilities of the system. Such possibilities need to be discovered in relation to actual setting concerns, as creating long lists of Abilities, Secrets and such without knowing anything of the setting and campaign framework would be entirely futile. I cannot know what kind of “vampires” or “G-Men” a particular campaign would require, as I do not know what kind of thematic motifs or other concerns they would be supposed to drive.

That being said, creating crunch is fun and useful, especially if you want to start a new campaign without getting a ready-made setting such as The Shadow of Yesterday. Therefore, here follow several examples of how individual fictional concerns might be translated into rules crunch for different campaigns.

The following advanced implementations of the rules-system range over all sorts of rules concepts detailed earlier; the reader should at this point be familiar with the whole array of rules introduced in the preceding chapters to understand what is going on here.

Balancing New Crunch

Balancing Secrets in the Solar System is not very difficult to do in rough terms; fine-tuning, on the other hand, is unnecessary, because the Secret landscape actively evolves during a campaign and never stays exactly the same from one campaign to another.

A Secret might be considered “unbalanced” if all players want to have that Secret solely for the mechanical benefits it proffers. A “non-sensible” Secret, on the other hand, is one that doesn’t make sense to some of the group. If a player has trouble with a Secret, work to correct it before introducing it to play.

If the group deems a Secret too powerful after some play, it’s pretty simple to remove it and regain the Advance. If the group wants to keep the Secret, though, consider increasing its Pool cost by one point and playing a bit more. A balanced cost/benefit situation should emerge sooner or later.

Secret of Equipment

The character possesses a rated piece of equipment, represented by a freely preserved Effect. (If the character creates the equipment himself, he has to create the Effect as well with a suitable Ability check.) The Effect level determines how many ratings the equipment has; the player creating the equipment may choose one of these while the Story Guide allocates the rest. The equipment may be damaged or destroyed by attacking the Effect normally.

Secret of Gadgeteering

The character is skilled at creating useful jury-rigged equipment on the spot using his technical Abilities and available materials. The player makes an Ability check and writes that down as an Effect which represents the equipment. The Effect level determines the maximum number of ratings the created equipment may possess.
Cost: 1 Reason per equipment rating level (1 for a +1 rating, 2 for +2, etc.)

Secret of Equipment Use (Ability)

The character is skilled at making use of available tools. When the character uses equipment Declared by the Story Guide as rated, the player may add higher rating values related to the declared rating, for this character only. The ratings need to be usable with the chosen Ability and have to be specializations of the declared rating. Created ratings last for the scene.
Cost: 1 related Pool for a +2 rating, 3 for a +3.

Equipment ratings

The simple way to handle character equipment in the Solar System is with Effects — a character with a letter of marque might “spend” it in convincing a governor of his credentials, for example, having to reneve it by corresponding with the capital later.

There are alternatives, however, which might become interesting for campaigns where players want more distinction between temporary preparations like Effects and more permanent types of equipment. Or players might simply decide that the Terran Space Service uses Effect values to represent their equipment, while the space aliens use equipment ratings; whatever works for an individual campaign.

The equipment rating is a value in the range +1 – +3, combined with a short phrase describing where it might be applicable. For example, a simple sword might have an equipment rating “+1 to injure men or beasts”. This sword would then be applicable when the character using it tried to injure men or beasts with it.

Furthermore, the equipment’s scope depends on the rating as follows:

A single piece of equipment may have several ratings, of which one is used in a particular situation. An equipment may have at most three +1 ratings, two +2 ratings and one +3 rating.

When the equipment rating counts for an Ability check and the check is successful, the player may add the rating to the check result. This may not increase the result past Ultimate (6), however, and one check may only be affected by one equipment rating.

Additionally, a piece of equipment may be used passively against another character’s Ability check when the rating applies to the situation and the equipment is defensive in nature. Passive equipment use deducts the equipment’s value from the opponent’s check result, down to a minimum result of Marginal (1). The same piece of equipment may never be used both actively and passively simultaneously, but it’s quite feasible to have two separate equipments that both apply to the same conflict check, for example.

Variant: Declared Equipment

If the group decides to use equipment ratings, they might also want to have them appear by declaration: according to this rule, the Story Guide may assign a temporary +1 rating to any equipment at will when he feels that the equipment is conferring a significant advantage to a character. Higher ratings need to still be created in other ways.

The benefit of this rule is that equipment ratings are brought into the game much more frequently and in a more “realistic” manner. It means slightly more responsibility for the Story Guide, however.

Herb Lore (R)

Familiarity with the varied plant life of the primitive society, their effects on humans and growth patterns. This Ability could be used to collect rare herbs or keep a garden. Climate and ecology would make obtaining some sorts of herbs more difficult than others.

Secret of the Apotechary

The character is schooled in creating drugs and thus able to make his drugs infinitely more specific in application by utilizing the apotechary drug effects. The character is also schooled in distilling drugs and may learn the Alchemy (R) Ability.

Alchemy (R)

The character knows how to distill drugs into more pure forms. The resulting infusion is liquid and needs to get into the bloodstream by ingestion or injection to take effect. Only highly skilled apotecharies learn this stuff in less advanced settings.

Secret of Metastasis

The character may add more Apotechary effects to his distilled drugs past the first two at the cost of stability.
Cost: 1 Reason and 1 penalty die to any Alchemy checks with the distillation for each extra effect.

Secret of the Serpent Blade

The character may boil down a drug infusion into a sticky paste with a successful Alchemy (R) check, applicable to edged weapons and preserving near indefinitely, until the edge pierces skin. The infusion Effect is spent as bonus dice and replaced with the poisoned weapon Effect for free.
Cost: 1 Vigor.

Secret of Drug Digestion

Constant use of high-grade drugs allows the character’s physiology to shrug off adverse effects of Apotechary drugs: the player may pay Vigor to lower Harm caused by drug use on a 1:2 basis. The character might still suffer from other ill effects that do not cause Harm, though.
Cost: 1 Vigor per 2 lowered levels of Harm.


Drugs, including medicines and poisons, have pride of place in a great variety of literary genres from pulp fantasy to modern speculative fiction. Being as common as they are, I thought that they’d make a good example of advanced crunch, easily adaptable to most settings in some way. Drugs are also very versatile, able to heal, hurt or simply confuse or entertain, depending on what the people of the setting can do pharmacologically.

Primitive settings use Abilities such as Herb Lore (R) to create drugs. Simple drug is an Effect created by the practice of the Ability. The Effect has an appropriate name such as “Black Poiture” or “Hashish” and is normally usable for bonus dice in healing, poisoning or whatever it is the drug is supposed to do. Players making one-off drugs could just use generic names like “Hallucinogenics” in describing their Effects.

(As always, you don’t strictly need to make the check result into an Effect if the drug is consumed immediately, as a normal Ability check.)

The player may describe what kind of drugs his character is trying to collect when making the Ability check; the Story Guide may then apply conditional penalty dice for rare-seeming ingredients, lacking equip­ment or other conditions.

The method of application for simple drugs depends entirely on the Ability and methods used to create them. Herb drugs are usually chewed or smoked, for example.

Apotechary drugs are the next step from simple Ability use, obtained from the Secret of the Apotechary. A drug created with this Secret works normally as an Effect, but also has special effects from the Apotechary list below.

Each drug created by an Apotechary may have one effect chosen by the player and must have one deleterious effect (chosen by the Story Guide) for the imbiber. All effects last until the end of the scene unless otherwise determined by the Story Guide.

When creating a new drug, the player records its name and effect for further reference. It is notable that while an Apotechary drug is being used, the player does not have to spend the Effect value in any way; he can just use the Apotechary effects. Similarly, the Apotechary effects do not need to be spent when spending the Effect value normally, if the character somehow uses the Effect to his advantage without anybody imbibing the drug; trying to raise money by selling the drug could be one such situation.

When a character takes an Apotechary drug, he makes an Endure (V) check against the Effect value. If the check succeeds, the drug only causes its positive Apotechary effects (the target’s player chooses which effects work, in other words), while failure means that it causes all of its effects and the character suffers Harm equal to the Effect value as well.

A distilled drug is created with an Alchemy (R) check from herbs collected with Herb Lore; the Herb Lore check result or Effect is spent as bonus dice for the alchemy check. The undistilled base drug is recorded as well when creating a distilled Effect.

The benefit of distilling drugs is that the Apotechary may choose both effects of the drug freely and even make them the same effect. The base undistilled drug affects the effects of imbibing the drug, however: when the patient succeeds in the Endure (V) check against a distilled drug, he still suffers the full effects of the base drug.

(A more modern, industrialized take on drugs would probably get rid of separate herb drug and distillation Abilities in favor of Pharmacology (R).)

There are many other things a given setting might do with drugs, but those need to wait for the specific settings to flesh them out.

Apotechary List


Monsters are ever-popular, so let’s see how one might build a set of werewolf rules in the Solar System. This also allows us to highlight the potential role of Keys in distinguishing the moon-mad wolf-man from other characters.

These werewolves are not particularly pop-cultural, but rather the sort you find in old European accounts. They’re blood-mad people reveling in the lycanthropy contracted by deliberate witchery or from another werewolf. The line between a witch, werewolf and a lunatic is completely vague here, and intentionally so.

All prospective werewolves have the Key of Lycanthropy, which rewards the character for signs of lycanthropy in the scenes he participates in. The trick is that nobody at the table needs to know or determine whether the signs of werewolf activity in the story are caused by this character; all wolfy stuff can potentially happen off-stage for a long while, and when the werewolf appears on-stage, the Story Guide may well run it regardless of who it might be as long as the character refuses to reveal himself.

Key of Lycanthropy

The character might be a werewolf; he does not need to realize it himself. Depending on the setting, lycanthropy could be contracted in a totally frivolous manner, such as by not going to church on sabbath.

Key of Bloodlust

The character is a lusty, animalistic and cruel individual.

Secret of Lycanthropy

The character thinks he is a werewolf and that he can change shape when alone in the woods. The werewolf may impose the Key of Lycanthropy with a bite in wolf-form and the Key of Bloodlust by seduction in human form, as per the Secret of Imposition. The werewolf in wolf form has the Ability Bestiality (V) and may not use other Abilities (excepting Passive Abilities) in his wolf-form. Bestiality starts at Mediocre (0) and gains one free Advance for every year the character spends as a werewolf. The character may buy unlimited bonus dice for Bestiality with Vigor.
Requirements: Key of Bloodlust, Key of Lycanthropy

Bestiality (V)

The werewolf’s Ability at tracking, rending, slaying, hiding, scrambling, jumping, swimming and anything else a werewolf might do. Specifically, Bestiality is used to convince others that you really are a werewolf.

Martial Arts

Our last example of how advanced crunch can be used to create more intricate playing fields are martial arts, which have become very popular in many genres during our generation. Similar rules are easy adapt to other popular topics, such as wizardly magic.

A modern setting with fire-arms and such will probably make do with just one Martial Arts (V) Ability, considering that traditional armed and unarmed fighting is not the be-all, end-all of violence in such a setting. As always, other settings would have other considerations; a game focused on Chinese kung-fu might differentiate between internal and external styles, for example.

Martial styles use equipment ratings from earlier in the chapter to make the fighter even more powerful: each martial school is defined by a style matrix of martial ratings. The matrix involves three +1 ratings, two +2 ratings and one +3 rating devoted to issues that are especially pertinent to the particular martial arts style. For a classical example, Shaolin Kung-fu, below.

A martial arts style need not be complete, and not all equipment ratings need to involve fighting in the strict sense. Regardless, an Ability check utilizing an equipment rating from a Martial Style is always made with Martial Arts (V); thus a character might use his martial skills to heal or at least support a healing check, for example, when the art includes medicinal knowledge.

A martial technique is a Secret related to a martial style. Generally speaking, they all influence an extended conflict only, being intended to be used in those important, lengthy martial arts duels. Ideally, a martial artist uses the relatively expensive and powerful martial ratings of his style to win simple conflicts, going for techniques when the conflict extends.

A martial stance is a special kind of technique that sets up an Effect for ongoing benefit in an extended conflict. The stance can’t be maintained for long time periods (between scenes, say) and the same fighter cannot use several stances at once. Otherwise they are like other Effects and may be spent for bonus dice, reduced by others, etc.

The system presented here is easy to extend with new styles and techniques as necessary. A character might easily be an eclectic practitioner as well, forming his own style out of several influences.

Example: Shaolin Kung-fu

There are hundreds of specific styles that claim descent from the legendary Shaolin monastery. These styles are generally external, Buddhist arts with little else in common. I’m no expert on the topic, but for giggles, here’s a sketch of how “Shaolin Kung-fu” might appear in a cinematic game:

Martial Arts (V)

An Ability representing formal training, conditioning and experience in traditional melee and unarmed fighting. Useful for all sorts of punching, kicking, throwing, locking, battlefield movement and such. More esoteric skills such as different martial weapons might be used to some efficiency as well, depending on the context.

Secret of Martial Style (style)

The character has learned a martial arts style and has access to the style’s martial ratings when using Martial Arts (V).
Cost: 1 Pool point per rating level (2 for a +2 rating, etc.) per Ability check. Use Vigor for fighting, Reason for healing and so on.

Sweep Technique (Shaolin)

Shaolin kung-fu has particularly powerful sweeping techniques intended for unbalancing and felling a careless opponent. The sweep can be done for bonus dice or Harm depending on the surface. The fallen fighter needs to get up with a nonHarming action before continuing fighting (unless he can fight from the ground).
Cost: 2 Vigor
Requirement: Secret of Martial Style (Shaolin)

Healing Points Technique (Shaolin)

The character makes one Martial Arts (V) check to heal Harm caused by physical injury. Each injury may only be treated once in this manner.
Cost: 2 Reason
Requirement: Secret of Martial Style (Shaolin)

Shaolin Stance (Shaolin)

A character takes the Shaolin Stance with a Martial Arts (V) check. Turned into an Effect, the stance may be spent to pay the Pool costs for any Shaolin Secrets on a point-for-point basis.
Cost: 1 Vigor and the cost of creating the Effect.
Requirement: Secret of Martial Style (Shaolin)

Water Stance (Shaolin)

A character takes the Water Stance with a Martial Arts (V) check. Turned into an Effect, the stance adds its value as bonus dice to all Defensive Actions the character takes as long as he concentrates on the fight. The Water Stance is also highly efficient against direct martial strikes and will usually defend against those, unless the character chooses to oppose the attack himself.
Cost: 2 Instinct and the cost of creating the Effect.
Requirement: Secret of Martial Style (Shaolin)

Secret of Conditioning (style)

The character has trained extensively in a particular martial arts style and thus gets a 1 Pool point discount for activating any Secrets from that style. However, the character has to train regularly to keep up the conditioning.
Requirement: Secret of Martial Style for the same style.

Secret of the Master (style)

The character has mastered the basic principles of a particular fighting style. He may use any technique from that style for a whole scene without having explicitly learned it previously. (Pay an Advance to keep the technique permanently.) He may also modify the style’s martial rating matrix to create a new style.
Cost: 1 Reason per recovered technique. Requirement: Secret of Martial Style for the same style.

Story Guide

Being the Story Guide in the Solar System is an important job that might be deemed a bit more challenging that being a player. That’s mostly because the game stumbles sooner if the Story Guide isn’t up to the job than when the players are not, though; if you’ve decided to be the Story Guide, be sure to remind the players of how the overall success of the game is up to them as well.

Trying to make a roughly exhaustive list of the different tasks of the Story Guide is a bit difficult, but let’s try it regardless:

While that list of responsibilities is a bit to the heavy side compared to what the other players have to do, surprisingly many roleplayers seem to like the opportunity to flex their creative muscles and engage with the game on this level. As all things, being the Story Guide becomes easier with experience, and it is also very satisfying to be able to facilitate an intricate dance of words and dice for a crew of imaginative and entertaining individuals.

Preparing for play

It is very useful for the Story Guide to know the rules, as well as the reasons for how they are. This is, however, a one-time task. Most of preparations for play concern the more interesting issue of preparing adventures.

There exists a historical precedence of roleplaying game adventure preparation that should perhaps be addressed in the negative: Solar System adventures are not prepared by thinking up a plot flowchart or an obstacle course, which are the two common ideas about how roleplaying game adventures are prepared. In general, being the Story Guide is not about controlling anything at all; think in terms of throwing stuff at the rest of the players and seeing what sticks, rather than trying to control everything yourself.

When you’re the Story Guide and you prepare for a session of play, think in terms of fictional elements that you’d be interested in seeing make an appearance in the adventures and stories of that session. What’s more, think in terms of what the rest of the group might wish to see as well. You might even ask them in general terms, but don’t go into specifics — you’ll all enjoy the game more when there’s a certain amount of uncertainty and neutrality in what you present. Surprise your friends!

Stuff you’re interested in

Remember to prepare material that you find interesting yourself. If the campaign is set in an old-school scifi setting and you’re interested in Asimov robot themes, be sure to plan on robots: develop advanced crunch related to robots, create some robot secondary characters or robot programmers or whatever, put in tense situations involving robots. Have fun with the game.

Follow the focal points

Or, more generally, follow the setting: you as a group started the game based on a setting and some focal perspective upon it, like described in “Starting a Game” on page 4. Be sure to involve the setting and the current focal set-up in your preparations to be relevant; if the rest of the group is all about laser swords and stuff, give it to them.

Also remember that the focus of a campaign will shift over time. Adapt to that. This is stuff you might well discuss with the rest of the group. “So, you guys cool with putting aside that whole laser sword paladin thing and doing space pirates, instead?” is the sort of general campaign planning that might be shared with the rest of the group; after all, the other players have, through their characters, quite a bit of control over what actually is relevant in the game. You’ll save work by asking the others whether you’re interpreting the shifting focus of the campaign correctly.

Involve character crunch

Look at the character sheets the other players made: what sorts of Keys, Secrets and Abilities do their characters have? These tell you a lot about the sort of material you’ll want to prepare, as the other players have presumably chosen them according to what they’re interested in. Thus, for each Key, you might ask yourself how that Key might be relevant to the choices the character needs to make about the material you prepare. And for each Secret, how that Secret allows the character an edge in specific situations.

For example, if a character in your game has the Key of Big Game Hunter, you wouldn’t go far amiss to prepare some big game situations. Even if the game setting fully justified having the character get stuck in the middle of Manhattan and going to a dress party instead, you’d be a bit of a fool to counteract player expectations like that. Similarly, if my character had the Secret of Punching Like it Hurts, I’d certainly expect the Story Guide to leave some venue for violent solutions in his preparations.


I write a lot about protagonism, so perhaps it’s wise to define that a bit in case the reader doesn’t do literary theory.

Protagonism is the property of being in focal moral position in a story. The protagonist is the lead character, simply enough; the story-teller follows his exploits and exposes his feelings to the audience to produce drama.

In Solar System, the player characters are always the protagonists. We care what they think and they have the power to make decisions and change the world.

Elements of preparation

Above I discuss the guiding framework for preparing an adventure; I should probably continue on that a bit by describing the kinds of things that are useful to prepare in the first place.


You’ll be needing some imaginary places during play to frame scenes in. It depends on the setting whether you’ll need to prepare such or not. For example, a campaign set in Middle-Earth or some other well known fantasy world might arguably get by with just the locations from the books: a scene set in Minas Tirith, perhaps, followed by another in the Entwoods and so on.

Even if the campaign setting does not really describe lots of specific places, you might get by well enough by improvising. Film noir is an example of a genre that doesn’t put much emphasis on specific places: events happen in pretty generic hotels, pubs, apartments and so on.

Barring those conditions, however, preparing places is often just the thing a campaign needs. You might know beforehand that the campaign is supposed to be all about gothic horror, but also deciding that the first scenes will be framed at a sleepy fishing town and that you’ll be wanting to use a Jewish synagogue in Prague at some point goes a long way towards concrete preparations.

Also remember to give names to any places you invent before play. I have this rotten habit of doing prep in my head, which often means that I know that I’m introducing a hidden jungle city, but then I don’t have any name for it and end up putting together non-sense syllables in the middle of play. The smart Story Guide names what he prepares.


Secondary characters are absolutely crucial to good game prep; as we’ll see later in the chapter, it’s very difficult to function as the Story Guide without them.

When preparing secondary characters, plan folks who can provide antagonism and protagonism for the player characters. Antagonist characters are those who resist the probable goals of the player characters. Supporting characters are those who motivate and question player characters. Of course, the same character might well end up as both antagonist or support at different times.

Furthermore, when thinking of secondary characters, look into giving them real motivations and ties to the setting. While you might prepare a character with an eye towards having him resist a character’s kingship ambitions, his actual role will only evolve in play when the player actually decides whether his character really wants to be the king. If you don’t have good motivations and ties for your secondary characters, you won’t be able to decide upon their actions naturally.


Finally, situations are very useful to prepare, almost as much so as secondary characters. A quick-thinking and expe­rienced Story Guide might do quite well with improvisation, but most will want to create some situations before play.

A “situation” we’re interested in here is an event you can frame into the game according to the advice in chapter “Playing the Game” on page 20. Furthermore, we want such a situation to be both interesting and open.

An interesting situation is created by hooking it into the issues and themes of the setting or a specific character. For example, women in distress are an old standby for Story Guiding, being as that’s the sort of stuff stories tend to include nigh-on universally, due to how we humans are and what interests us. A more specific take might be to have a vampire hunter character find out that his mother is a vampire; this wouldn’t necessarily be so interesting if not for the character’s vampire hunting vocation clashing with his mother’s condition.

The situation you create needs to be open as well, which means that you don’t dictate player character reaction to the scene. Just having ninjas come in and attack the character isn’t a situation like we mean it, really, in that the Story Guide is pretty much expecting a ninja fight at that point. If the character has some reason not to just resolve the situation in the obvious manner (escaping, fighting, surrendering, failing in any of the above), then we’re cooking: if the character could escape from the ninjas by leaving his trusty horse to them, for example, then the situation starts to have some teeth. The smart reader will see how this links up with the advice in “Choice as Content” on page 22.

Examples of Places

Examples of People

Examples of Situations

Variant: Key Elements

Most Story Guides prepare material for play. The group may decide to reward this preparation in the form of Key Elements. When this rule is used, the Story Guide will keep a list of the elements he has prepared for play; these are the Key Elements. Just like Keys, Key Elements reward experience points to the character who trigger them:

When preparing places, people and situations, put them all on the list of Key Elements. During play reward the experience to characters who interact with this prepared material.

The idea behind Key Elements is twofold: it supplements the experience flow from Keys and rewards creating prepared material as well as experiencing it. The Key Elements list might also be helpful to Story Guides like me who mostly work in our heads, as it forces keeping at least a little bit of record if we want to reward elemental experience at all.

Usually the Story Guide will keep his list of prepared Key Elements mostly hidden from the other players, although he might reveal some if he likes. Used elements are crossed over as the characters experience them, while elements that go unused are carried over to new sessions. The Story Guide might find the Key Element list useful as a guideline for making his preparations; if the list from last session is nearly empty, it might be a good idea to add some ideas before the next session.

Adventure map

One more thing about preparing for the game: the above advice might all seem a bit abstract and even difficult if you’ve not done this sort of thing before. Thus it might be useful to consider a specific popular method for preparing a Solar System adventure, called an adventure map. It works like this:

After finishing the adventure map you have a list of places, people and situations connected logically (in the sense that you know how to jump from one to the next during play while still making sense) with both the player characters and your core material. This is usually enough for a session or two; just make a new adventure map when the old one runs out.

If you find an adventure map useful, experiment with other methods as well. The preparations that prove most useful depend on the campaign and the group of players, really, as there are differences in how characters connect to the setting and how the other players react to your provocations. You might find, for example, that you don’t need to particularly connect your prepared material with individual characters, as the other players are more than proactive enough in protagonizing themselves.

Seeding Crunch

A good general trick for adding to your adventure map: develop nice new crunch for your co-players and introduce it via the adventure. Look at each character in turn and develop something interesting for that character: a new spell, perhaps, or a piece of cyberware, or a weird royal pregorative.

Then give these Secrets and other stuff to your secondary characters and use them against or for the characters. Give the players an opportunity to learn the new, sexy stuff.

If you do this right, the players might find their characters developing in directions they did not expect when starting with them.

Framing Scenes

The primary responsibility of the Story Guide during play is to frame scenes as described in chapter “Playing the Game” on page 20. This is where the aforementioned prepared material comes in: places to set scenes in, secondary characters who interact with player characters and so on. Strictly speaking whatever preparations you do as the Story Guide are just to get you over the hurdle of framing scenes as necessary — what sort of preparation you need to do depends on your skills in improvisation and the nature of the campaign.

The overall purpose of framing scenes in the Solar System is to address character issues related to each player character. This is mostly done via plot: the characters move about in the setting, interact with it and change as a result. The Story Guide can facilitate this process by framing scenes that are relevant to the characters; he is not so much choosing the contents of the game session as focusing on the bits that actually interest the play group.

As a rule of thumb, when framing scenes, consider three principles:

Generally speaking, when framing scenes, checking each of the above principles should allow a Story Guide to have a sense for “what to do next”, which is pretty much his most important task in allowing the game to go on. Usually the best bet is to priorize the three principles in the given order: frame a scene for the character who needs the attention, and follow any ongoing story he might have brewing. If nothing interesting is going on, throw in some prepared material.

When framing scenes, note that scene framing powers are consentual in the sense that the framed scene needs to somehow represent character intent: you can’t just frame a scene into which a character would not have walked himself.

Furthermore, the advanced Story Guide will consider issues of dramatic coordination when framing scenes, simply because the scene framing pregorative allows him to be a powerful force for interesting, punchy story. By skipping past irrelevant and uninteresting bits and putting in amazing coincidences and other narrative conventions the Story Guide allows his co-players to cut straight to the issues they are interested in addressing.

Doing dramatic coordination does not mean controlling story content, however; the Story Guide does not need to decide whether a given character is a hero or a villain, or whether the player character is supposed to fall in love and save the princess or not. All this matter of story is the purview of the other players, the reason for their being there and playing in the first place.

Instead, consider the following techniques and priorities of dramatic coordination and note how they do not materially force the emerging plot of the game so much as allow whatever the plot is to come to the fore quicker and with more coordination.

Specific techniques of dramatic coordination

Backstory Authority

An important principle related to preparing materials and framing scenes is the concept of backstory authority. This means that whatever the Story Guide establishes into play, he’s the authority over those elements. And what a player establishes, he’s the authority over that.

Backstory authority comes up in practical application when somebody in the group needs to decide whether the Arcturan aliens can breathe underwater, whether there’s a hospital in town or whether the king happens to be a red-head. Barring any setting sources, the guy to establish this stuff is the Story Guide; it’s just his job to provide meaningful scenes, part of which is to determine the conditions to be such that they facilitate choices and conflict situations.

On the other hand, a player usually has backstory authority over his own character’s background, just because he’s the main guy when it comes to shaping the character’s protagonism. So it’s at least polite to ask a player before revealing that his character used to be a meth addict in Bangkok during the ‘80s. The player will likely accede if the suggestion stays true to the character and is somehow meaningful for the campaign.

The same principle works in reverse as well: a player might well suggest that there could be a hospital in town, and most of the time there is no reason not to go with it. As always, the Story Guide makes his decisions on the basis of dramatic coordination.

Secondary Characters

Playing secondary characters is a most important Story Guide task. As I described above, there are two primary functions you’ll want secondary characters to fulfill.

Pretty much all secondary characters that are not significant in those ways fall into a third category:

Obviously enough the Story Guide won’t know before play which characters end up being support, antagonist or extras. That only develops in play, even if it’s easy enough to point these roles out afterwards.

Mechanics of secondary characters

In principle all characters work according to the same rules, whatever their role. In practice most Story Guides will find that it’s a tad too dull to provide full statistics with Pool tracking and all for their secondary characters, especially as they are working with an essentially unlimited budget and thus need to just set some “believable” numbers for the characters.

The Story Guide has the pregorative of taking short-cuts in creating the statistics for secondary characters. What I do myself is, I give each secondary character a “role keyword” which describes the character’s competence; a normal policeman might be “Police: Competent (1)” and so on. This is simple enough to do on the run as we play.

When my secondary character needs an Ability rating for something, I assign it based on the keyword:

To avoid having to assign Pool relationships, and to avoid excess tracking, my secondary characters only have one Pool. I give each secondary character a low or high general Pool based on how deep his motivation is; around 8 points is “high” and around 3 “low” here. So an extra I haven’t thought of at all before the scene would have Pool around 2-4, while the passionate, multi-faceted heroine would work with up to ten points.

As for Secrets, that’s where most of my mechanical attention goes with secondary characters: new, weird Secrets are easy and fun to introduce via secondary characters who have the background for possessing them. I also give myself the pregorative of adding Secrets on the fly as makes sense for the character, all in the interest of saving me from having to plan the secondary character statistics in advance.

A special note on extras: an individual extra set against a player character might get statistics like above (usually quickly followed by a name and motivation; you can’t conflict in this game without motivation), but when I have many, I invariably promote one into a captain on the spot and only use the rest of the extra mob as an environmental condition. The Solar System presumes that only named characters with individual motives participate in conflicts: represent masses of people as Abilities, Effects or Secrets, instead.

Regardless of the method used in tracking the mechanical state of secondary characters, the Story Guide should always set the statistics for the characters in terms of the setting. So an influential character should have high Abilities, a deeply motivated character deep Pools and so on. This is in contrast to some other games wherein you’re supposed to balance potential antagonists in relation to how strong player characters are; the rules of Solar System ensure that antagonists can’t really overpower characters any more than they should.

Untouchables Characters

An oft-stated feature of the Solar System is that nobody is untouchable and, consequently, nobody is meaningless. The way Ability checks work, even the most mediocre of characters may overcome the most powerful entities of the setting when the conditions are right.

If a given genre needs absolutely overpowering “characters” like fantasy gods, it’s better to handle them via the rules on conflict stakes leverage, scope and propriety: handle such characters not as source of adversity to be conflicted with, but as environmental conditions similar to gravity or light; such gods might cause conditional penalties to Ability checks, but could not be conflicted against in a meaningful manner.

Variant: Shared Story Guiding

As the above discussion of Story Guiding duties demonstrates, the task is composed of several parts that might well be distributed differently in a particular group of players.

Some groups will consider it fruitful to have players share in playing secondary characters, especially if they do not like the pure audience role described on page 22. The benefit is added interaction, the drawback that players might lack the overall perspective into what the secondary character is supposed to be doing to protagonize the player characters in the scene.

Rules and conflict arbitration are duties that nigh-on disappear in experienced groups simply because everybody knows where play is heading, leaving little need for Story Guide regulation.

Perhaps the most distinctive kind of “shared Story Guiding” is the sort where players distribute scene framing and backstory authority, as well as attendant adventure preparation duties. This often works in turns, so that each player acts as the Story Guide in turn on a session-by-session basis.

Finally, any group might wish to establish Secrets that explicitly share Story Guiding tasks in different ways. The Secret of Contacts (page 86) is just such an example, seizing a small bit of backstory authority from the Story Guide.

Running Conflicts

A major responsibility of Story Guiding is the task of determining stakes in conflict, as described on page 37 in “Conflict Stakes”. While an experienced group will get the stakes right most of the time even with the Story Guide just nodding along, it’s not at all rare that the Story Guide needs to insert some neutral consideration in terms of leverage, propriety and scope. It’s common that a player, advocating passionately for his character, strives for a conflict where his character can’t really do anything to achieve those goals (a matter of leverage), the goals are even not appropriate for the style of the campaign (a matter of propriety) and even if they were, it’d be more fun to break the situation down into several sub-conflicts (a matter of scope). It is very useful to have a neutral party formulating the stakes in this situation.

Players might propose some pretty weird conflicts at times, so a good rule of thumb for the inexperienced Story Guide is to think ahead a bit and try to imagine how the player character acts in the fiction to actually achieve his proposed goal. If you can’t imagine how it would happen, ask the player to clarify and elaborate. A player might want a conflict where his character “convinces the princess to go with him”, but I wouldn’t let that stand just like that; I want to hear what the character is saying to convince the princess!

Another, related issue in conflict is the narration of conflict results. This has been touched upon several times earlier (pages 38 and 44, say), but a specific Story Guiding issue is encouraging and guiding player narration: the players should be interested in narrating the details of how their characters win or lose conflicts, but at the same time the Story Guide should be invested in keeping things fair and sensible. Especially backstory authority tends to come up here as anybody might describe how the duke’s guards acts in the situation, while only the Story Guide has the power to decide whether there are guards nearby in the first place.

As the group commits to the fiction and gets comfortable with the campaign, the Story Guide will probably find that he needs to do less guiding in conflict. Stakes-setting and narrational authority are only important in keeping the players on the same page over why they are rolling the dice; when the group communicates well, the importance of this function all but disappears.

Story Guide Stakes

A notable sub-issue in guiding conflicts is that the Story Guide is not at all immune to setting “bad” stakes himself! Rather, he should just hope that the rest of the group has the presence of mind to interrupt him when he starts with the nonsense.

The most typical problem in Story Guide stakes setting comes when the Story Guide has not really thought out the role and motivations of his own characters. Solar System works in an extremely awkward manner when characters do not really act like humans.

The typical example of this phenomenon happens when the Story Guide sets up a fight to the death between a player character and a secondary character without preamble or heavy dramatic motivations. Fights to the death are very drawn-out affairs in this rules-system, as all participants are committed to going through all of their resources before giving up. Starting one without a good, dramatic reason is the height of folly.

The way to avoid mismatching stakes and situation is to not make conflicts out of minor affairs, and to think a bit about what your secondary characters want. The first point helps in genres where player characters are supposed to slay dozens of their foes: just declare a simple Ability check to slay the success level in extras and be done with it. The second point helps whenever you feel like having fanatic ninjas attack and fight to the death: are those ninjas really so fanatic? Why do they attack? What would happen to a ninja who, say, escaped? Why did you put those ninjas in there in the first place?

Rules Arbitration

A final Story Guide task is arbitrating rules. This isn’t a Story Guide task in any rules-assigned way, but in practice it seems to work well that the Story Guide makes the calls on niggling details, perhaps followed by affirming nods from everybody else. As long as nobody questions the authority the game won’t get stuck in questioning details, which benefit does not depend on who actually has the authority.

The most important bit about usurping rules arbitration authority, whether you’re the Story Guide or not, is to be fair, impartial and sensible in arbitrating the rules. If you don’t have a reason for making a ruling, don’t do it.

One interesting stylistic issue as regards rules arbitration is formalist vs. realist rules interpretation. This has to do with case-by-case interpretation of the relationship between the mechanics and the fiction. For example, a realist interpretation of Ability ranks would be that a master swordsman needs to have Master (3) rank in his Swordsman (V) Ability. The formalist take would be that Ability rank constrains fiction only insofar as the Ability gets used and thus the character might demonstrate mastery of the sword — but whether he actually is considered a master swordsman within the fiction (by himself, others or a generic narrator) is ultimately unrelated to the existence of the Ability. He might even not have the Ability at all, losing all swordfights, but still be described as a master swordsman who just happens to lose consistently in practice due to adverse conditions of all sorts.

The point of this discussion is that while realism is certainly instinctual, it is also not what the rules say. The rules suggest that a high Ability rating might imply an experienced character and high level Harm might imply some sort of damage to a character; however, this default relationship is ignored with impunity by players describing action, as actually Ability only confers a propensity to win conflicts and Harm just means that the character weakens and might get removed from play.

In actual play it is wise to follow the default interpretations of what the die rolls and changing numbers “mean” in the fiction. However, it is also very fruitful to remember the case-by-case capability to step outside the convention and follow the rules by the letter, instead. Often this allows, perhaps surprisingly, a more sensible outcome.

Running a campaign

Looking at the Story Guiding process as a long-term task, generally speaking the Guide will find his job becoming easier in the long run: as the campaign gains in depth and texture, there is less need to prepare new elements out of thin air. Consequences of past play carry the campaign as it nears conclusion.

When planning a whole campaign, usually the Story Guide has some notion of what he himself finds interesting in the setting — he has a backstory in mind. Put that backstory in use! Don’t save it up or pace it, but rather disclose it all as soon as you can. The player characters should get enmeshed in your interesting idea from the first session on. Ideally, have them create characters who have lead roles in that idea of yours.

After you get that one good idea out of your system, then it’s time to look at what else might be done in the setting. You might surprise yourself, and the players certainly will.

Remember that you are not telling a story. You are a guide, the other players are telling the stories with the choices their characters make. Your primary task is to set up situations that allow them to make choices that create story.

Table Of Contents

  1. Solar System
  2. Starting a Game (page 4)
  3. Character Creation (page 10)
  4. Playing the Game (page 20)
  5. Ability Check (page 28)
  6. Conflict Resolution (page 36)
  7. Extended Conflict (page 42)
  8. Keys and Experience (page 50)
  9. Secrets and Crunch (page 58)
  10. Story Guide (page 68)