Characters have three Attributes represented by dice ranging in size from d4 to d12.
Strength (STR): Represents physical power, toughness, and endurance.
Dexterity (DEX): Represents speed, reflexes, and precision.
Willpower (WIL): Represents mental focus, toughness, and endurance.
These represent both a character’s prowess and current status. If STR ever drops below a d4 the character is at risk of death. If DEX drops below d4 the character is at risk of paralysis. If WIL drops below a d4 the character is at risk of catatonia.
Grit is a character’s ability to avoid being harmed. It represents a combination of defensive capabilities, awareness, and luck. It is not a measure of health, and losing Grit does not indicate injury has occurred.
Dice range in size from d4 to d12. If an effect tells you to step a die up or down, move it right or left along this track:
0 <-> d4 <-> d6 <-> d8 <-> d10 <-> d12
Dice cannot be larger than a d12, a die stepped down below a d4 is at zero.
When you want to do something, describe how you go about it and the GM will tell you if it’s possible, and inform you of any obvious consequences of your action.
If the action carries risk or uncertainty, you’ll make a Save by rolling your appropriate Attribute die and trying to beat:
- a 4, if the risk comes from the environment.
- another creature’s Attribute die if they’re directly opposing you.
If you win by rolling higher, you’ll get what you want and avoid the risks.
If you lose by rolling lower, you’ll suffer the consequences and likely fail your task.
If you tie by matching your target, you’ll have to make do with a compromise, tough choice, or success while suffering consequences.
If you have to make a Save with an Attribute whose die is at zero, you automatically lose.
If you’re in a good position, but something could still go wrong, your Save is enhanced and you roll a d12 in addition to your Attribute die, and keep whichever is higher.
If you’re in a rough position, and the best you can hope for is only partly mitigating the risks, your Save is impaired and you’ll roll a d4 instead of your Attribute die.
Magic broadly comes in two categories: spells and rituals. Spells are immediate but usually less powerful, whereas rituals take time to perform but can have sweeping effects.
Anyone can cast spells and perform rituals, they just need a Grimoire to store them in. Some other types of magic are unique to specific Callings. If another character wishes to learn them it would require finding an instructor or source in game.
Grimoires are bulky tomes which can store any number of spells and rituals. Spells and rituals can be copied from one Grimoire (or other source) to another, but doing so takes time (about an hour), resources (fancy pens and ink), and removes the magic from the original source.
Rituals can be powerful and long lasting, but are often time consuming and inconvenient to perform.
To perform a ritual, read it out of the Grimoire while performing any required actions and sacrificing any required components. Performing a ritual takes at least ten minutes, unless otherwise specified. Rushing the process may be possible, but will always carry a degree of risk.
Spells are quick and easy to cast, but tend to have flashy and fleeting effects.
To cast a spell, hold the Grimoire in both hands and read the spell aloud.
If you have Grit, set your Grit to zero to cast the spell.
If you have no Grit, make a WIL Save:
Win: The spell is cast successfully.
Tie: The spell is cast successfully, but your WIL is stepped down.
Lose: Your WIL steps down. Either you are knocked unconscious, or the spell misfires (your choice).
When you cast a spell against a creature that is actively trying to avoid it, if the spell deals damage simply use that damage as a normal attack.
If the spell does not deal damage, roll your WIL as though it were an attack. If that attack deals Direct Damage, your spell takes effect instead of causing a Critical Damage Save.
When engaging in combat time is tracked in increments called Rounds. A Round lasts about 10 seconds, or enough time for someone to run across a room and perform one significant action.
During each round, each side of a conflict takes a Turn to act. Within a side’s Turn, each individual can act in whatever order they choose, although all declared attacks are resolved simultaneously (see below). During a Turn a character can move about 40 feet, and perform one significant action (make an attack, use an item, cast a spell, etc.). Any actions that carry risk require a Save as usual, usually against the creature you’re engaged with.
If it’s not clear which side should act first, each player should make a DEX Save vs the opposition to act before them.
To make an attack, roll your weapon’s damage die. The target of the attack subtracts their armor and reduces their Grit by the remainder. If there is no excess damage, the target was able to avoid or otherwise defend against the attack. If there is more damage dealt than the remaining Grit, the excess damage becomes Direct Damage.
When you receive Direct Damage you must then make a STR Save to avoid Critical Damage.
When you receive Direct Damage, make a STR Save against that amount to avoid Critical Damage:
Win: The damage is minor, you are not significantly harmed.
Tie: You take Critical Damage, but remain upright.
Lose: You take Critical Damage and become incapacitated.
When you take Critical Damage step your STR down, if your STR is already 0 taking Critical Damage is lethal.
An incapacitated creature is knocked down and completely helpless. Without assistance they will die within an hour.
If you make an attack that is at an advantage (against an unsuspecting target, from higher ground, etc.) it is enhanced. Roll a d12 in addition to your other dice, and keep only the highest result.
If you attack while disadvantaged (through cover, while blind, while restrained, etc.) it is impaired. Roll a d4 instead of your other dice.
Attacks with the blast quality affect all targets in the area. This can refer to actual explosions, to fireballs, to whirling blades, or to a giant’s swinging club.
All attacks against a single target are rolled simultaneously, and only the single highest die is dealt as damage. This applies both to multiple attackers, and to single attackers wielding multiple weapons.
You may make an impaired attack alongside a minor action, as long as you could plausibly do both. Such as attempting to disarm a creature, knock them off a cliff, or similar. If your attack is enhanced you can instead make a normal attack alongside your action.
When an NPC faces daunting, terrifying, or dangerous situations they should make a WIL Save to see if they persevere:
Win: They push through the fear.
Tie: They hesitate, falter, or flinch.
Lose: They refuse to go further, or flee the danger.
In battle, NPCs make Morale Saves the first time they take Direct Damage, the first time one of their companions is downed, or if the tide of battle turns obviously against them.
Morale Saves are also made when an NPC is presented with a situation dramatically outside their understanding, or hirelings being asked to put themselves at significant risk.
As with all Saves, a Morale Save can be enhanced (a courageous leader, promise of significant reward, being particularly oblivious) or impaired (being directly threatened, the situation is hopeless, the evidence of danger is immediate and obvious).
Attacks that are reduced to zero damage by armor are deflected or completely harmless.
An arrow pinging off your heavy armor.
Attacks that reduce Grit but do not cause physical damage are dodged or repelled.
A sword thrust caught by your shield and turned aside.
Attacks that cause Direct Damage have gotten past armor and defense to make an actual impact on flesh.
Blocking one thrust, while a second slips past. A successful Critical Damage Save means the injury is minor.
A dagger slashing too fast to dodge, leaving a bleeding cut across your shoulder.
A failed Critical Damage Save means the wound is serious. Such wounds will likely inhibit the wounded character even after they’re stabilized.
A spear stabbing entirely through your leg, causing you to collapse while gushing blood.
By default all Direct Damage is dealt to STR. In some circumstances mystical energies or psychic horror might deal Direct Damage to WIL, whereas attacks that seek to entangle or slow would deal Direct Damage to DEX.
In these circumstances make a Critical Damage Save as usual, but using the affected Attribute rather than STR.
Dropping to zero dice in any Attribute means risking serious and lasting consequences.
Taking Direct Damage to an Attribute at zero dice means:
Death for STR.
Paralysis for DEX.
Catatonia for WIL.
In all cases (but particularly death) these are not conditions that can be easily rectified by simply catching your breath and require medical or magical expertise to be treated.
When you have a few minutes to catch your breath and drink some water, you restore all of your Grit back to its maximum. Doing so in a dungeon or hazardous environment may expose the party to danger.
As long as you haven’t taken Direct Damage to them, Attributes at zero dice are recovered to a d4 with first aid after catching your breath.
Further Attribute loss is restored one step per day of rest in safety and comfort, or faster with appropriate medical or magical expertise.
If you are without vital needs for a full day (food, water, rest) you are deprived and cannot regain Grit or Attributes.
Concentrating on a spell to maintain its effect also causes deprivation until it is ended.
When your character dies, they approach the Black River where Death greets them.
Describe who Death appears as to you, and what you can glimpse beyond the Black River.
Then, roll a d6:
1: You are taken across the Black River by Death.
2-3: Death offers you a deal. If you accept the terms, return to life.
4-6: It is not your time. You return to life.
If you return to life after meeting Death, you are Marked by Death in some way.
If you are already Marked By Death when you die, Death offers you a deal on 2-6.
When your character dies and crosses the Black River, either due to your roll or spurning Death’s offer, the rest of the table should take turns reading your Eulogy in memory of your character’s life.
Afterwards create a new character and rejoin the party as quickly as possible. Expediency
should usually take precedence over realism, although if the party has any retainers, followers, or companions it can be fun to take over that character as your own.
You can carry as much as makes sense in your inventory without tracking it. However, if you are carrying more than two bulky items you are deprived and cannot regain grit.
Bulky items are heavy or awkwardly sized, requiring two hands to hold.
Armor (i.e. 1 Armor) subtracts its score from the result of damage rolls against you. Items, such as shields, that grant bonus armor only apply while the item is held (i.e. +1 Armor). You cannot have more than Armor 3 in total.
Single pieces of armor that grants 2 Armor are rare, and usually carry some sort of drawback or limitation.
Ammunition (arrows, bolts, bullets, etc.) are generally not tracked and considered to be unlimited in supply, unless specific circumstances would lead to it being in short supply.
Unique or specialty ammo is tracked individually.
This is an optional mechanic to add pressure to return to civilization or to focus the game on survival during long trips through the wilderness. It will make deciding what to carry and how many Supplies to bring a focal point of the game. Supplies (bulky) can be purchased in most settlements and cities, and are an abstraction of food, water, and general survival equipment.
Once a day while away from easy access to food and water, the party picks someone to lead the survival efforts. That person makes a Save with an Attribute based on their approach (fishing, hunting, scavenging, etc.).
Win: The party manages to hunt, gather, or scavenge sufficient resources to get through the next day.
Tie: As a win, but everyone is annoyed or uncomfortable due to some cooking mistake or unpalatable ingredient.
Lose: The party is deprived for the next day unless a package of Supplies is consumed.
This Save can be enhanced or impaired as usual based on the hospitality (or lack thereof) of the environment or weather conditions.
Your eulogy is the list of your deeds and accomplishments that will be read at your eventual death. Whenever your character does something noteworthy enough to be mentioned in their Eulogy, write down what it was and earn 1 XP.
These moments can be heroic deeds, desperate acts, cunning plans, or even comical gaffs. They can be shared across the whole group, or individual to just one character. If there’s ever any doubt as to if something counts, the table votes.
Deciding as a table what counts towards earning XP is a way to help set the tone of the game, as well as the pace of character advancement.
Spend XP to unlock abilities and make your character stronger. Spending XP represents your character’s ability to grow and improve using only their own practice, experience, and training.
- Spend 1 XP to gain +1 Maximum Grit (to a Max of 12)
- Spend 1 XP to increase a d4 Attribute to a d6. Each further step requires 1 additional XP to advance (2 XP to increase from d6 to d8, etc.). Attributes cannot be raised higher than a d12.
- Spend XP equal to twice the number of Advanced Abilities you currently have to gain another Advanced Ability from your Calling.
XP is not the only way you will grow and change. You can gain new abilities or skills by seeking out magic, powers, people and opportunities. Gain leathery wings by eating the heart of a demon, open your inner eye by meditating for a week and a day with ancient monks, learn the formulae to the elixir of life by plundering the libraries of the Lich Mage.
Similarly, gaining access to new Callings is done within the narrative of the game. Getting access to a new Calling usually requires significant and intentional effort. Becoming a Witch means uncovering the ancient rites of familiar summoning. Becoming a Sorcerer means finding or summoning a spirit of chaos and convincing it to live in your head. Becoming a Blessed of Water means gaining the favor of a powerful water spirit.
The following process is to help the GM determine how to adjudicate situations, and when to call for Saves. It is intended as a helpful procedure rather than a strict set of rules to follow.
In general roll when all possible results are interesting, and decide what the results will be before dice hit the table.
- The player declares their intent, describing their goal and their approach.
- Determine if the action is possible. Consider the situation, the player’s approach, their tools, abilities, skills, background, if they have help, and any other relevant details.
If it’s impossible, tell the player. They can choose to revise their approach, or change their intended action.
If it’s possible, continue to 3.
- If it’s possible, then consider if there are any risks to the action.
If there are no risks, or the risks are fully mitigated, the player’s actions can go ahead without a roll.
If the action would entail unavoidable risks, tell the player what those consequences are. They can choose to accept them, or revise their approach.
If there are potential but uncertain risks, continue to 4.
- The player’s action requires them to make a Save to avoid the risks.
If the approach means that, at best, the risks will be only partly mitigated the Save is imparied.
If the approach means the risks are unlikely, but still possible, the Save is enhanced.
If neither a or b apply, the Save is rolled as normal.
- Tell the player the potential outcomes as far as their character could plausibly know them (always err on the side of giving too much information). The player can then choose to roll, or revise their approach.
- Roll the dice, and honor the results.
A starting point for any NPC is 3 Grit, a d6 weapon, and a d6 in each Attribute.
Attributes: d4 is weak, d6 is average, d8 is noteworthy, d10 is strong and d12 is legendary. Adjust attributes only for significant exceptions to the average.
Typical creatures will have 4 Grit, hardy ones 7 Grit, and serious threats 10+. Avoid giving too much Grit or combat becomes a slog.
Use flavor and style to make NPCs stand out, not everything needs unique attributes or abilities.
Making monster abilities that trigger on Direct Damage is a good way to emphasize the threat or strangeness of aggressive NPCs.
Remember that Grit is the ability to avoid harm, not health. It’s a measure of resilience and gumption, not meat.
In general making exact conversions is unnecessary, and following the above guidance will be sufficient.
However stat blocks from Into the Odd, Cairn, or similar games can be used nearly as written. Abilities from 0-8 are a d4, 8-10 a d6, 11-14 a d8, 15-18 a d10, and 18+ a d12.
Damage can be used as is, while HP can be converted directly into Grit. Creatures are more likely to fail Critical Damage Saves and Critical Damage effects now occur on Direct Damage without a save, so slightly increasing the amount of Grit a creature has can help match its intended durability.
If a player wishes to do something with magic that’s not strictly within the text of a spell or ritual, it might be possible with additional requirements, costs, or risks.
Spells, by design, are limited in scope and harder to modify than a ritual, especially on the fly. Simple modifications might require concentration for 10 or more minutes as opposed to the usual instantaneous casting, but anything complex or significant should instead be considered the player attempting to research and develop an entirely new spell or ritual.
Rituals are more open ended and flexible than spells, making it easier for players to modify them to their own ends. If players wish to simply amplify a ritual, that is make them last longer, effect a larger area, or have a stronger effect, it is often enough to either significantly increase the time required to perform the ritual or to increase the amount of any required components. On the other hand, changing the effect of a ritual should require new or different components, or add a new restriction or step to the performance of a ritual.
If the ritual modification seems like it would carry some risk with it, add a WIL Save to avoid a bad outcome.
Spell effects should be fast, flashy, and fleeting. Spells can be cast repeatedly and essentially no cost, so avoid effects that would be annoying or unfun if used repeatedly. Rituals can be more impactful and long lasting. If an effect has the potential to be problematic, add a required component or a requirement that is sufficiently inconvenient to properly temper how often it can be used.
Even more powerful effects can either be embedded in single use magic items, or rituals/items with significant or difficult to achieve requirements to use.
In play, developing new spells or rituals should be time consuming, require strange ingredients or unique environments, and probably carry an element of risk. Each spell and ritual is unique (which is not to say two wizards couldn’t develop similar spells independently) which means something special must occur to spark new magic to life.
Think about the nature of the new spell or ritual, and use that to determine the requirements.
The key to any core Calling ability is flexibility and scope. A core ability should be evocative and interesting, and flexible enough that two players could both choose it without causing an awkward overlap within the party. A good test for this is to see how easy it is to create a number of pre-gens that feel interesting and unique.
Calling abilities should always add options and capability. No abilities should ever limit the options of other characters, the goal should never be to put the GM in a position where they have to tell a player they cannot attempt something because it would step on the toes of another Calling.