RPG Basics

This document is in need of update and expansion.

We've got a fair amount of RPG system information available on the wiki. This is a very short guide to getting you started on the essence of what you need to know — essentially, how the system works for dealing with one-on-one conflicts.

Framing Conflicts

If it's just you and a friend roleplaying in a room, you don't need a system — you probably know and trust each other enough to just roll with things. But while it can be fun to just roleplay with a group of friends, if you want to interact beyond that circle — if you want a MUSH that's more than a collection of cliques that happen to share the same general world setting — then you need an agreed-upon basis for deciding what happens. That, in essence, is why we've got an RPG system.

Some bits of roleplay are what we call color. Color is the stuff that happens in a scene that isn't a conflict and doesn't really change anything. Since a MUSH is a highly descriptive-oriented environment, though, color has its own potency — what you can pose happening as a result of your character's actions is part of what makes your character distinctive.

Other bits of roleplay are part of a conflict. In a conflict, something is contested. That something is known as the stakes. Something happens to the stakes as a result of the conflict's resolution; that something is known as a consequence. Conflict is the heart and soul of drama. Conflict is what causes the world, and the characters within that world, to change; conflict is what creates meaningful story.

The problem with conflict is that it can be hard to resolve. Different people tend to have different ideas about what "should" happen in a conflict. Our RPG system is designed to help people negotiate the outcome of a conflict, and to make the scope of the conflict, its stakes, and its consequences explicit.

Stats: Figuring Out Contests

When two players get into a conflict, they have to first decide what the conflict is about, and then each choose how they're going to go about resolving that conflict.

The most common type of conflict resolution mechanism is the contest. A contestis appropriate when two people act in opposed ways in a scene, and need to figure out how that scene resolves.

There are four stats that each cover a particular approach to conflict: Force, Grace, Wits, and Resolve. Each of these four stats has a numerical rating from 1 to 15, representing, roughly, "mediocre" to "godlike". Because they cover approach — the "how you do it" rather than "what you do", there's lots of flexibility for interpretation. You can use almost any stat in almost any situation. Which you use is a matter of how you want to pose the scene.

To resolve a contest, each player chooses a stat to use, representing their approach to resolving the conflict. They do this with:

+compare opponent using stat

Each player's numerical rating in both stats is added up, adjusted for other factors (including a random factor), and compared. The winner gets to ask for one or two consequences, depending on how much they won by.

Gift Bonuses: Augmenting Stats

Character abilities that aren't covered by the general scope of stats are known as Gifts. Gifts encompass "skills", "powers" and "magic", and more — they're basically a catch-all for "stuff that's special about this character".

Some gifts grant a bonus to a character under a specific circumstance. A player can, if his opponent agrees that the special circumstance is applicable to this conflict, use that gift in a comparison. He does this with:

+compare opponent using stat with gift

Like a basic +compare, each player's numerical rating in each stat chosen is added up. Each player who uses a gift is given that gift's bonus (tier 1 bonuses are roughly +3, and tier 2 bonuses are roughly +6) to his total, and each player can use more than one gift (though there is a limit to how effective gift-stacking is). The totals are adjusted by other factors (including a random one), a winner is determined, and both players are told how many consequences have been earned.

Consequences: Resolving a Contest

Consequences are essentially facts about what happened as the result of this scene's conflict. They're deliberately limited in scope — they must be singular, conclusive, and, generally, should give the loser more play rather than less play. Consequences are subject to negotiation and agreement between the two players. Negotiating a consequence is based on what both you and your opponent want to see as an overall outcome, and not on the exact mechanics of getting there. The blow-by-blow of a fight, for instance, is color — but its resolution, what's changed for one or both players at its end, is a consequence.

In other words, the consequence you name should be what you're looking to get out of this contested encounter. When you talk about that up-front, you're articulating your dramatic goal and/or what it's going to take to make you feel satisfied as a player. You and your opponent can then discuss options for what will make the scene satisfying for you, and still enjoyable for them to play.

Fun is a mutual responsibility. We're all telling stories together. Everyone needs triumphs from time to time, but everyone also needs setbacks in order for triumphs to be meaningful. If you are "playing to win", you will not only frustrate yourself, but you will likely upset the other people that you're playing with. Certainly, you want to put forth the in-character effort to achieve your goals — but you also want to make sure that you're not doing so by steamrolling other people's chance to enjoy the game.


Focus represents in-character time and effort (although more abstractly, it can also be used to represent story significance). Focus is basically the "currency" of the RPG. It refreshes quickly, and you have to spend it or lose it (there's a cap on how much you can have at once). A lot of longer-term things that your character can do — making mundane preparations, training a character improvement, preparing magic, etc. — are paid for with Focus. When you spend Focus on something, you're basically saying, "This is what my character's spending his time and energy doing."


Lores represent a character's knowledge and NPC contacts in a certain area. Lores are bought with Focus. Lores have two main purposes: they determine what NPC gossip a character is aware of, and they determine what gifts a character can learn.

The Gossip system is used to spread IC information and rumors, as well as to influence NPC opinion. The higher your lore, the more gossip you'll have access to see. (The more a piece of gossip spreads, the lower the lore levels necessary to see it; conversely, if people suppress a gossip, it requires higher lore levels to see.)

Gifts often have prerequisites, including knowledge of lores. While gifts bought in character generation do not require lores, gifts bought later on frequently do. In many cases, it will be your lores, rather than your available points, that will restrict what you're able to buy.

Tokens: Representing Preparations and Stuff

Our genre is one where clever plans and preparations are fairly commonplace. Also, along with their own bodies, characters typically have some "stuff" that's significant to them — items and property and allies, for instance, which, while they might be mundane, are nonetheless going to be useful in conflicts, and can actually serve as stakes in conflicts.

Stuff and preparations are represented with something called a token. A token's basically a, "Hey, I've got this, and I claimed it at a particular time" note. A token also has a couple of nuances, like the fact it can be "signed" by other players, showing, "I read this and okayed this". A token is basically a way to see that someone's not "cheating" by claiming a preparation that they didn't actually make in advance, and to verify that other players have agreed to something being true.

Creating a token is simple. Just use:

+token/write title

That'll invoke the editor, so you can describe whatever your claim is. When you're done editing, it'll create a token for you with that title and description.

A token that you just write like that is simply color. After all, if it were more than color — if it was something of real story significance, that directly altered the outcome of conflicts — there wouldn't be a way to adjudicate a claim like, "I have a gargantuan army!" You can write a token like that, but by itself, it's not actually going to give you a real advantage in a conflict. If you want a token to be more than color, then it needs to be invested with Focus.

Special Tokens: One-Time Bonuses

Some gifts can create special Focus-invested tokens, representing magical preparations, extraordinary items, and other interesting effects. These gifts all have descriptive text that reads something like, "can create a Focus-invested token that can be consumed for a bonus". All such gifts are marked with either "token-3" or "token-6", as well as "bonus-token", on the Powerbits line of the +gift display.

Without such a gift, you can't create tokens that represent anything non-mundane — i.e., nothing with a magical effect. (Shadowfinding, by itself, does not grant the ability to find items that have magical effects outside of their shadow of origin.) Using one of these gifts, you can represent something non-mundane — what exactly is described in each individual gift description.

Other than the fact that they represent something non-mundane, these tokens are mechanically no different than other Focus-invested tokens. To mark that they're being created by a gift (or several gifts in combination with one another), the command is different, though:

+token/power gift-list spending Focus in title

When you create a token in this way, you'll be taken to an editor to describe it. The creating gift's description will automatically be included in the token display, so you don't need to repeat it in what you write.

Now, when you get into a contest where the bonus the token grants would be applicable, you can expend it for a bonus. To do this, you use:

+compare opponent using stat with token-ID

This is very similar to using a gift for a bonus on a contest. If your opponent agrees that your token reasonably applies to this contest, the number of points of Focus in your token get turned into a bonus to your numerical rating in the contest. The token is then amended to note that the Focus in it has been expended.

Special Tokens: One-Time Special Abilities

Some gifts can create a different type of Focus-invested token — one that represents the equivalent of an RPG ability that can be used a single time. These tokens can't be consumed for a bonus, but because they're pretty powerful, making them costs Focus. These gifts all have descriptive text that makes it explicit whether the token represents this kind of special one-time power, or a bonus, so you should always be able to tell which is which. All gifts of this type are marked with either "token-3" or "token-6", as well as "power-token", in the +gift display.

This kind of special token is also created with +token/power, but it can never used in a comparison. Instead, when you want to use its effect (expending it), and show that that to other players, you use:

+token/use token-ID at list-of-players

A Word on Claims

Considered simplistically, tokens are a fancy substitute for mail to other players. As such, you can no more make arbitrary, non-consensual claims using a token than you could by sending mail to other people.

Whatever you write on a token still needs to be reasonable, within your realm of prop control, and subject to the usual caveats about consent. Other players have the right to object to its usage. Just because you write a token for it doesn't make it true or force other people to accept it, just like sending other players a mail message about something doesn't make something true and force others to accept it.

Other Stuff

At this point, you should hopefully understand the basics of our system.

Read the main entry on the RPG system for details about other stuff that's possible to do. In particular, there are other ways to create Focus-invested tokens beyond the methods described above. But all such tokens still fall under the two rules presented here — for one time, they either grant a bonus, or they grant a special effect (essentially, an RPG ability), as described by whatever system created them, in a specific circumstance — i.e., where other players agree that the token applies.

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