Saturday, February 9, 2013

USR Sword & Sorcery Rules Set

[Edit 06/29/16]: Look for all my USR game products to be released now on RPGNow including new rules and adventures. Future releases will be announce on this blog, of course.

Sword & Sorcery RPG

A heroic role playing game set firmly in the swords & sorcery genre. Your player’s adventures take place in a pre-historic world that predates ours by millions of years. It is a land of humid steaming jungles, vast untamed wildernesses, danger-filled swamplands, and hot dry deserts. All manner of massive man eating beasts roam the unexplored regions of your world and beyond. In this harsh world are sprawling cities teeming with merchants, tradesmen, farmers and hunters. Dotted around the untamed regions are ancient ruins lying untouched.

USR is an easy game to learn but there are optional rules throughout if you fancy making it a bit more advanced. Feel free to add your own rules or change current ones to match your preferences. The most important thing is that you and your group have fun with it.
In the future I will be releasing a number of role-playing games based on the USR system, from pulp action to time-travelling sci-fi, so stay tuned!

I really hope you enjoy this system and have a lot of fun with it. It's always been a dream of mine to get a role-playing system published and put out there for everyone to play.

Scott Malthouse – February 2012

What the heck is a Game Master?

A game master, or GM, acts as the game's referee as well as controlling the people and enemies the players come across. The GM also creates the adventure and the world the players inhabit. Essentially the GM is a god, but don't let it get to your head.
Creating your character

Each player needs a character to take part in the story. Since this setting is specific to the Sword & Sorcery literary genre, characters will play human adventurers. Though there are no particular restrictions on a character learning or using magic, no new character starts the game with magic.

Action – This attribute determines how well-versed in combat the character is as well as how quick and dexterous they are.

Wits – This attribute determines how intelligent and perceptive the character is.

Ego – This attribute determines how the character acts socially. A high Ego means the character is a good leader and able to charm the pants off most people.

Hits – This determines how much punishment a character can take before she dies or is knocked unconscious. Hits are reduced when a character is hurt and can return to its initial score when the character heals.

After you've jotted each of these attributes down you're going to need to assign dice to them. Each attribute apart from Hits can have one (and just one) type of die assigned to it from the following selection: d6, d8 and d10. Your Hits score is derived by rolling your Action and Wits dice – the total being the final Hits attribute score.
Example: Glenn decides that his character ‘Dor Stryker’ is going to be more brawn than brains, so assigns his attributes thusly:

Action: d10
Wits: d8
Ego: d6
Hits: 9

Fleshing out your character

USR requires each starting character to have a background story. I've decided to use random rolls on background tables with guidance taken from the Fiasco rulebook to interpret the results. I'm using Chaosium's Elric! Background table for the first roll and a second roll is made on a long extinct optional background table, which provides another layer of detail.

Sword & Sorcery Background Table; 

01-20 Warrior
21-30 Merchant
31-45 Sailor
46-60 Hunter
61-65 Farmer
66-70 Slave
71-75 Noble
76-85 Thief
86-90 Beggar (Roll for afflictions).
91-00 Craftsman (specify Craft).

Background Details Table;

These tables are used after the adventurer occupation has been determined by the player. Simply roll 1d10 and refer to the descriptions given below. Players are then encouraged to embellish the detail with input from all players. The GM will have to facilitate the final product, but keep in mind, the players are looking to establish the reason they are all together adventuring!

      Beggar                   Craftperson                             Hunter                         Merchant
1    Temple                  City                             Kn: Area                          Bad Associate
2    Spy                        Enemy Merchant         Kn: Animal                       Claim
3    Blackmail              Legacy                        Beasts' Curse                     Antiquarian
4    Tout                       Craft Secret                 Hated by Baron                Slave Merchant
5    Catacombs            Embrss. Witness          Kn: Treasure                      Angered King
6    Corpses Tr.            Dexterity                     Murder Witness                 Caravaneer
7    Victim                   Black Sheep                Resilient                             Ransomed
8    Kidnapper            Murderer                     Animal Companion              War
9    Kn: City                Poverty                        Hunting site                      Taxes
10  Free choice            Free choice                  Free choice                        Free choice

    Minor Noble               Peasant Farmer                        Sailor                           Slave
1    Duelist                     Tax Collector                          Pirate                           Scars
2    Bracelet                    Peasant revolt                          Ports Knowledge      Free Man
3    Royal Court              Peasant Defender                    Corsair                         Torturer
4    Don Juan                  Mercenaries                             Mutilated                    Wizard     

5    Ancestral Weapon      No money                               Watch                          Marked
6    Successful Merc.         Looted                                    Galerian                       Murderer
7    Domain Seized          Very Healthy                          Treasure Island              Miner
8    Rescuer                      Lord's Right                            Shipwrecked               Rescuer
9    Gambling Father          Away                                      Bad Luck                    Storm
10  Free choice                 Free choice                             Free Choice               Free choice

Warrior                        Thief

1    Gates Guard          Last Survivor
2    Mercenary             Secret Passage
3    Crusading Knight    Dexterity
4    Training                 Infamy mark
5    Executioner Grd.    Banned
6    Outcast                  Gangs War
7    Big Battle              Sorcery
8    Temple Guard       Good Job
9    Desertion               Ring
10  Free choice            Free choice

A character may choose three specialisms. Specialisms show specific skills and knowledge the character has acquired through his adventures. There is no set skill list because to cover every genre would take a hell of a long time, so try and think of something yourself and run it by your GM to make sure it's appropriate. For his new character Dor Stryker, Glen could choose 'Hand to Hand Combat' as one of his specialisms.

A specialism is tied to an attribute and gives a +2 bonus to that attribute's die roll when the specialism is used. With Dor, his ''Hand to Hand Combat ' specialism is tied to Action, so he gains a +2 when rolling for Action (d10) when engaging in close combat with hand weapons.

Specialisms are written on character sheets with their bonus in brackets, such as Hand to Hand Combat (+2 Action).

Examples of Specialisms

Action: Athletics, Close Combat, Riding, Intimidating, Musician, Climbing.

Wit: Lore, Deduction, Observant, Disguise, Strategic.

Ego: Leadership, Bartering, Initiative, Charming, Empathetic, Manipulative.

Example of a character

Dor Stryker
Warrior, Executioner’s Guard (rolled on the background tables)
Action: d10
Wit: d8
Ego: d6
Action Close Combat (+2), Drive Chariot (+2)
Ego Leadership (+2)
Dor is the headsman for the Grand Inquisitor of the city of Dipur. He brings the doomed souls chained in the Inquisitor’s dungeons to the end of their misery. Recently, the slaves have begun to refuse to carry the bodies of the executed to the canals. They roll their eyes in fear and speak of the horror in the dark. You will have to find a way to dispose of the decapitated criminals soon or the stink will become unbearable.

Playing the game

Here we look at how the game is played, from how to race chariots against professional slaves to slashing through hordes of undead.

Contested Attribute Tests

There will come a time in every game when a player is put in direct conflict with someone or something. This could be a bake-off, court battle or motorbike race, whatever it is there's a really simple way of working out who comes out on top.

When someone is actively competing against someone else the player makes an attribute test. Both the player and the GM (or another player if it involves another character) rolls a die corresponding to the relevant attribute. If the player was locked in an arm wrestle with a decadent flesh merchant, both would roll their Action attributes. The highest roll wins the contest. On a tie the test is re-rolled until there is a clear winner.

Non-Contested Attribute Tests

Sometimes the player won't be in direct competition with anyone else. Perhaps they're trying to climb a mountain or smith an enchanted sword. Here they must roll their relevant attribute on a difficulty table to see whether they succeed.

For example, Dor is chained to the dungeon wall. He must first break his bonds before he can hunt down the crazed cultists. His player tells the GM that Dor will try and escape from his bonds. The GM asks for a medium Action roll (the chains are old and pitted). The player rolls a 5, which is a success. Dor escapes from his bonds and now stalks the halls looking for vengeance. Coming upon a wide canal, Dor flings himself across to escape subterranean man-apes. This is a dangerous move, so the GM asks for a medium action roll, on the count of the slippery footing and distance to jump. Dor rolls a 3 – and is unsuccessful! Dor bounces hard off the far wall and falls in to the fast moving muck. Escaping the immediate clutches of the man-apes, Dor will now have to try and get out of the dark and foul canal!

Difficulty Table

Successful Roll Difficulty

2+Easy (e.g. Jumping a low wall, bartering for food)

4+Medium (e.g. Riding a horse, rock climbing)

7+Hard (e.g. Breaking into a safe, hot-wiring a car)

10+Very Hard (e.g. Understanding a foreign language, building a robot)

14+Impossible (e.g. Disproving relativity, downing a bottle of tequila without vomiting)

The following combat rules are revised as of 2/8/14


Fighting is handled in the same way as contested attribute tests but with a little extra added on.

All contested combat rolls use the Action attribute during combat.

Close Combat (Hand-to-Hand)

Most close combats are simultaneous, whether one on one, or one against many. All participants are considered both attacking and defending during the engagement. This does not preclude defensive actions being taking by one or more participants.

The attacker is considered the one who rolls highest.  The attacker has scored a hit and the defender's Hits are reduced by the difference between the winning and losing rolls.

For example, Dor is fighting an intruder. Dor rolls 6 on his Action attribute and the GM rolls a 4 for the intruder. The intruder then has his Hits reduced by 2 (6-4=2).

The defender’s damage can be reduced by armor worn, including the defensive value of a shield if brought to bear as well.

Note that armor defensive values reduce damage inflicted, but do not add or subtract from the combat roll while weapon values are added to the combat roll.

If the “attacker” is actually taking a defensive action; such as dodging a blow while leaping out the window, the defender wouldn’t receive any wounds, per se. Instead the attacker would have been successful with their intended action.

For Example; Skavos the Savage intends to defend against the harsh blows from three desert nomads, as he looks to leap upon his steed. Skavos has a Khazistan Swordplay specialism (+2 Action), and he is wielding scimitar (+2 to combat roll). Each of the desert nomads are armed with their own curving scimitars, and are intent on hewing Skavos down where he stands. Skavos rolls a 5 on his d10 Action die for a total of 9. The nomads, with an Action die of d8, each roll for their attacks getting (4+2)=6, (4+2)=6, and (6+2)=8. Skavos has scored a higher combat roll than all his antagonists successfully deflecting their desperate sword thrusts, and leaps onto his horse to affect his escape..

When Hits reach 0 the character is dead.

Alternatively the GM may rule that the character is merely unconscious.

Hits may be regained through healing, but may never go above the initial score.

Weapons and Armor

Weapons can give bonuses in combat, giving one side the edge over the other. Each weapon gives a bonus to the Action roll when brought to bear. Weapon types are as follows:

Light weapon +1 (e.g. short sword, club, javelin)
Medium weapon +2 (e.g. broadsword, battle axe)
Heavy weapon +3 (e.g. halberd, long bow, two handed sword)

Weapons listed as “First Strike” weapons can receive a reach bonus over an unarmed opponent, or armed with a smaller weapon. For the first round of the engagement the bearer of the first strike weapon cannot receive damage unless a significant hit is scored against him. This bonus capability can only be applied against one opponent. Any other attacker resolves the combat roll normally with both participants capable of receiving, and giving damage.

Armor can be used to negate the effects of being hurt. Each armor type reduces the number of Hits taken in combat.

Light armor -1 (e.g. jerkin, gauntlets, light studded armor)
Medium armor -2 (e.g. scale mail, chainmail)
Heavy armor -3 (e.g. plate mail, enchanted steel)

These examples are by no means the only weapons and armor that you can have in a game. The GM could create a spear that gives the character a +5 charging bonus or a suit of armor that's a -4. Just use the above examples as guidelines and have fun making up your own bad-ass creations.

How combat flows

It's up to you how you want combat to play out. You should give the players an indication of their adversaries’ obvious actions, and then give your players a chance to declare their intent. An attempt to achieve surprise may require a successful Attribute roll, or not, but the result of surprise generally means the attacker cannot receive an adverse effect, wounds or otherwise, from the attack roll.

Using specialisms in combat

Characters can use their specialisms in order to gain an edge in combat situations. For example, the greedy merchant wants to find a volatile potion on the lich king’s dusty shelves to protect himself. As his first action he uses his Evaluate Treasure specialism to try and find a substance which might be useful in combat. The GM says it's a hard difficulty roll and rolls a 7 and adds 2 for his specialism, giving a result of 9 – a success! The GM tells the desperate merchant a bottle of volatile dragon venom is among the normal inert ingredients on a sorcerer’s shelves. He picks up the dangerous venom and flings it at lurching undead horror. The doomed merchant will need to roll an Action die now to see if he hits!

Don’t forget, Characters may create specialisms to enhance the limited set of combat mechanics present.

Ranged Combat

Attacking at distance is done like close combat except for the following modifications.

A minimum Difficulty Rating needs to be achieved for the attack to be considered a hit. This difficulty number is based on the range of the attack. Once the difficulty number has been established any situational modifiers and/or specialism bonus can be applied to the attack.

The target of the attack does not get to apply any weapon bonuses or combat specialisms to their combat roll unless they are within Immediate range.

If both opponents are engaging with a ranged attack then who gets off the first shot needs to be established. This calls for an initiative roll based on rolling both their Action, and Wits die totaled. High roll shoots first. If the defender of the first attack is still standing they are now entitled to return fire, or take some other action. If there is a tie, both attackers get off their attacks, and both attacks will need to be resolved simultaneously.

Difficulty Rating based on Range

Immediate, Easy-02 (Attack is within close combat range)

Short, Medium-04 (Attack is within 10-40 feet)

Medium, Difficult-07 (Attack is within 41-70 feet)

Long, Hard-10 (Attack is within 71-200 feet)

Extreme, Impossible-14 (Attack is over 200 feet)

For example, Bert is a rogue who has the knife specialism. He's facing down a city guard who demands Bert to hold and receive the king’s justice. He chooses to hurl his knife at the guard, hoping to silence the cur with one blow. The GM rules that hurling the knife at the guard silhouetted in the street at short range is a medium difficulty roll. This means Bert would have to score a 4 or better on his combat roll for the attack to even be considered a hit. Bert rolls a total of 8 and on his action d10 attribute die and is successful. The guard rolls a 3, taking 4 (8-3-1 for armor protection) hits! The guardsman is seriously wounded and cries out for his comrades!

Magic in Combat
Magical attacks are Ego attribute based attacks, and therefore are rolled using the Ego die. If the target of the magical attack attempts to make a physical attack at the same time, then which attack goes first becomes important. Just like a contested ranged attack discussed above, initiative is determined by rolling Action die + Wits die. High roll goes first. If there is a tie, both attackers get off their attacks, and both attacks will need to be resolved simultaneously.

For example, the arch mage surprises intruders with his cloud of death spell. The cloud of death is a medium attack spell so the mage receives a +2 on his Ego roll. He also receives a +2 for his Arcane Arts specialism. He rolls a 5 and adds 4, resulting in a total of 9. The group of thieves each rolls their Ego die and apply the resulting damage.