Town Creation for Lawmen v Outlaws

Here are some simple rules to create a town for Lawmen v Outlaws (or any other wild west roleplaying game) collaboratively. The advantage of creating the setting collaboratively is that you start off with a setting the players are already familiar with, interested in and connected by virtue of being co-creators. Also, it cuts down on the GM’s prep and that can’t be bad. The full, free rules for Lawmen v Outlaws can be downloaded here:

The following Lawmen v Outlaws town, Badger’s Bluff, was created using a Google Jamboard with the group playing over the Internet, as one has to do these days, The virtual Post-Its work pretty well for this excercise from a practical point of view, though it’s not extactly pretty.

For reference, the light blue area is the town, the yellow circles locations outside town.


  1. Each person in turn picks a location (including the GM)
  2. Two locations should be in town, one location out of town
  3. For each location create a Tag – a short descriptor
  4. One of the Tags should be a personal connection (including working at, owning or being friends with the owner)

The end result is not a list of all the locations of the town, just some of the more important ones.

Badgers Bluff Map

For inspiration, some typical wild west locactions include:

Town Locations
Assay / Claims Office (implies mines)
Barber Shop / Bathhouse
Boarding House
Boot Hill
Church / School
Cigar Shop
County Courthouse (larger town)
Dance Hall / Theatre
Doctor / Dentist
General Store (or other)
Jeweller / Watchmaker
Livery / Stable
Opium Den
Photographic Studio
Post Office
Railroad Station (implies railway)
Saloon (often more than one)
Sheriff’s Office & Jail
Telegraph Office

Out of town locations
Ferry station
Lumber camp
Native encampment
Natural feature (mountain, river, etc…)
Open range
Roadhouse / Way station
Trapper cabin

More than just rules?

Some games just give you a cool world and rules to resolve actions within it. Like a large box of generic Lego, how exactly they are to be used is left to the GM and the players.  Other games are more structured. The game might  provide clear guidance regarding what the player characters are expected to do, instructions on how and when to transition between scenes, a default framework for how adventures unfold or even subsystems to manage and track longer term goals.  

Looking at the games released as Polar Blues Press, I can see I flip-flopped a fair bit on this issue.

Of these games, Bounty Hunters of the Atomic Wastelands clearly has the most complete structure of play of the lot. Bounty hunting, as a core activity, provides a clear role for the party and a built in framework for inserting adventure hooks. The gradual deterioration of players’ equipment, the vehicle upgrades and Mad Max roadwar encounters provide an additional framework with alternate goals and rewards for play. And the way these two frameworks interact is significant.

I was pleased with the design but from watching other GMs run Bounty Hunters of the Atomic Wasteland and odd bits of feedback, these frameworks largely seemed to get ignored. Most GMs seemed happy with the action resolution rules, but in practice already had their own way of running games. They didn’t need or want the extra layer.

So when it came to Cyberblues City I changed my approach. Initially I just provided the bare bones action resolution rules. There were a few suggested concepts for the party, but no hard and fast instructions about what the characters do in the game. It was very much a box of Lego kind of game.

That might have been the end of the story, but a year or so later, I came up with a setting idea for Cyberblues City. It was a gonzo future London ruled by a cyborg queen Victoria. This could have been packaged as an expansion for Cyberblues City; making it clear it was a possible setting for the game rather than the setting. But, in a free PDF,  it seemed to make little sense to split the rulebook from the setting, so I bundled them together in Cyberblues City Deluxe. To this day, I still don’t know if that was the right call. It makes the product both better and worse at the same time. At least the illustrations are better in the new edition and it is still the funniest thing I’ve ever written.

The point being, Cyberblues City really has no inbuilt framework for play at all. That makes it bit harder to just pick up and play, even for me. To run it I need to sit back, come up with a fresh premise and some sort of adventure all by myself.

Which leads us to Lawmen v Outlaws. I wanted to do a Western. At first I found it a bit daunting because it is such a broad genre. The key for me was to narrow it down to stories of lawmen chasing outlaws and of outlaws evading lawmen.That instantly provided a clear answer to the question “What do the characters do in this game?”.

I still didn’t have much of a framework for how Lawmen v Outlaw adventures were meant to unfold. I tinkered with some town creation rules to support play, but that wasn’t going anywhere (though I may revisit it). 

In the end I landed a very ridiculously simple formula around which to structure lawmen style adventures. And it all hinged on these two  simple sentences.

“It was an ordinary day like any other when…” followed by  “Turns out that…”

What this captures is the simple universal truth of a lawman adventure – there is a status quo and then something happens to disrupt it. Thus the initial call to action is set.

The “Turns out that…” part is a reminder that what is introduced in the call to action, isn’t the whole story. There needs to be a twist or complication otherwise all one is left with is a very short and predictable adventure. 

There is more to Lawmen v Outlaws adventure framework of course. All this illustrates is that , flimsy as it is, this is still a functional framework which, for the time being at least, seems like a happy halfway house between the comprehensive structure of play in Bounty Hunters of the Atomic Wastelands and the absence of any such thing in Cyberblues City, especially in the context of rule light, pick up and play style of games.

Designing Extended Challenges: The Core Rules

In this link, or below the “read more” tag, are the rules for running 13th Age Extended Challenges

Which means I’m finally done!

Or, perhaps not.

These rules only really cover running the challenges – great if you have an adventure module in hand that uses them, but given as we haven’t released any of those yet not all that useful.

So the new goal is that next week I’ll provide a set of guidelines for building Extended Challenges suitable to your party’s level – along with some examples.

After you read the rules below let me know what you’d like to see in the encounter building guidelines: and what you think the rules have missed!

Continue reading

Designing 13th Age Extended Challenges 4 – Non-binary Stakes

First in sequence – Second – Third

First, a note: In discussion after last week’s post the feeling was mixed, but overall it seemed that the advice was to provide both versions – complexity with Aid Another actions and risky checks; alongside a slimmed-down version – which honestly isn’t actually more work in this case, because it saves me the difficult job of deciding which is superior!

So, item 4 on my original list of targets: non-binary stakes. I’m leaning a bit into step 5, fitting the game, too because ultimately I don’t think that the issue of non-binary stakes can be properly addressed outside of the mechanics of the game in which this Extended Challenge system is to be implemented.

Most, though not all, systems have resources that can be lost (such as hitpoints and spells) or penalties that can be gained (such as wounds and fatigue). These are fertile ground for costly successes.

With 13th Age there are three main internal resources that we can look at when it comes to the PCs: hitpoints and recoveries; daily abilities; and icon dice. I’m going to start at the end:

  • Icon Dice: These elements allow players to influence the narrative of the game. They generally aren’t given specific mechanical weight, but there’s a strong argument for the sort of narrative change they offer granting a success – our group often uses them in both combat and extended challenges for rerolls.
  • Limited-use Abilities: Spells, prayers, songs, whatever form they may take plenty of classes have abilities that can only be used once per full rest. Taking as a given that even a multi-day extended challenge won’t allow for full rests 1) expending these abilities also seems like the sort of thing that could bring about an automatic success – or potentially allow the opportunity for a double-success.
    Of course most such limited-use abilities are very combat-oriented – but encouraging players to use them creatively can be great fun. Rather than summoning his ancestors to help him battle a great foe, the Barbarian summons them to help dig a deep pit – and has to use a charisma roll to persuade them that this is a suitable task for them to give their all.
  • Hitpoints/Recoveries: A lot of extended challenges include a natural element of danger, risk to life and limb. Which means that a common consequence for failing at something risky, or for taking too long, should be the loss of health – represented in 13th Age by both Hitpoints and Recoveries.
    Which to use depends on the timescale of the challenge, and its nature. If short rests are going to be easy to obtain due to the timescale of the challenge, allowing the heroes to spend their recoveries to regain lost hitpoints, it’s generally best to just skip the middle step. But if they’re not, if the extended challenge is taking place on a timescale of minutes, or even seconds, rather than hours or days, attacking hitpoints can increase the urgency of the situation 2)Parties with a healer – which is to say, most parties – will be able to dodge this question most of the time by expending healing powers. That’s great, because it lets the healer do their thing. – and present a challenging choice of whether to spend an action on recovering hitpoints rather than progressing towards the goal, a choice that’s built into combat.

That’s a good number of factors that can make one victory feel pyrrhic while another feels glorious, but that’s only the start – only the internal factors.

External aspects that can vary between outcomes are also quite numerous, and vary in the level of mechanical weight they carry

  • Making Future Encounters Harder: Extended challenges are often found at the beginning or middle of an adventure, rather than at the end, and one easy way to provide consequences is to have combat encounters that follow be more difficult the longer they take to complete (and/or the more risky tasks they fail) – for instance an extended challenge to sneak into a castle vault might be followed by fighting your way out with your treasure.
    If you’ve taken too long and made too much noise you’ll be faced with extra guards on the way out, as the alert level has been raised.
  • Different Levels of Reward: Our Half-orc Artificier and his allies have finished at the ball, and they’ve garnered some support. But how much? It could be a few healing potions for the brave adventurers, a magical heirloom, or a whole detachment of elven scouts to aid the party (perhaps represented as a set of icon die to be spent at appropriate junctures)
    In that case I feel like it would be a round-limited extended challenge, with the reward value depending on the number of successes achieved within the duration of the ball – but in other cases you might need X successes, with each round taken reducing the reward.
  • Impacts on the Fiction: This one is a bit of a catch-all, and yet it’s easily forgotten. Yes I’m building a mechanical system here, but that doesn’t mean there has to be a mechanical outcome – the glory of RPGs comes from blending game elements with roleplaying and storytelling – instead the outcome could be something that only impacts the characters emotionally 3)Admittedly, some systems do give such impacts mechanical weight – but 13th age and the F20 family in general don’t.and/or affects the world as a whole; such as the loss of a village to the invading army before the Elven Courts can be persuaded to rally their defences; or the death of one of the hostages that the heroes were seeking to save.

So with all those options in hand, what stakes would you set for your challenges?

1) The abilities may be called “dailies” but extended challenges, and wilderness adventures in general, work a lot better if full rests are required to be more restful than what you’ll get while camping, and taking guard shifts, for 6-8 hours during a full march.
2) Parties with a healer – which is to say, most parties – will be able to dodge this question most of the time by expending healing powers. That’s great, because it lets the healer do their thing.
3) Admittedly, some systems do give such impacts mechanical weight – but 13th age and the F20 family in general don’t.

13th Age Extended Challenges – Making Meaningful Choices

Carrying on from the last two weeks of talk about Extended Challenges (Introduction and Sharing the Spotlight)

So far we’ve been looking at these skill challenges as a series of checks – yes, ones which fit the characters and can be used to craft a narrative, but still simple stat+background checks that pass or fail. But the choice of what stat+background to use is not generally a meaningful one at this point – you use whatever you’re best at that will help in some way; and avoid repeating yourself once penalties for doing so kick in.

It’s a functional system, but not really inspiring; there’s no difference between taking positive action toward your goal and preparation for such action, and no real meaning to cooperation.

So that’s our next step – differentiating between the many ways you can aid your team in achieving the goal.

  1. Attempts
    This action category serves as the backbone of the whole system. Attempts are how you earn successes, they’re things that you do that get you closer to the goal – whether that be navigating through a few miles of swampland, or persuading one of the elven nobles to support your plan to prevent the apocalypse.
  2. Reaction/Mitigation
    When bad things happen, sometimes it makes more sense to try and prevent the consequences, rather than moving towards your end goal. If you’re running low on rations in the jungle and will lose health due to that, you might choose to spend a turn hunting for food rather than hunting for a path forwards.
  3. Preparation
    Another category is preparation – providing boosts to future rolls. Perhaps you need to cross a desert, but rather than just making survival and navigation rolls as you cross you decide to spend an action or two on finding a town and acquiring survival gear – appropriate clothing, sunscreen, water carriers and such like. These supplies will boost all sorts of rolls later in the adventure, whether they be attempts or reactions.
  4. Aid Another
    This category of action could be put as a subset of Preparation – you’re preparing things for your ally to stand the best chance on their roll – but I’ve split it off because it doesn’t work in the framework we’ve got.

Within the system we discussed last week we’ve got room for the first three of these categories – Attempts are simple; Reactions/Mitigation can be done in response to whatever harm comes with the passage of a round, whether that be guards getting more suspicious or supplies running low; and Preparation can give a bonus to many other players rolls allowing you to gather future successes faster – traditionally a +2 bonus to all future rolls (where it’s applicable) tends to work well – but in 13th Age it may pay to look at the Escalation Die used in combat, and consider whether preparation could add and/or boost said Escalation Die

We don’t, however, have room for the common Aid Another which only benefits one ally’s roll; if it requires you to spend your action for the round you’ll almost always be better off just making your own Attempt action.

We could drop it entirely, have all ways to help your allies fall under the other categories. It’s an elegant option, but in my experience some people like making Aid Another checks.

Instead I’d like to revisit a point from the last post: the idea that the penalties should come from rounds that passed, rather than attempts that failed – while acknowledging that if someone is trying something dangerous it may make more sense for a failed attempt to have negative consequences other than outright failing the Extended Challenge.

I put forward the rule that failures wouldn’t be penalised in place because otherwise you could end up in a situation where your presence actively made things for your team. But if we’re adding Aid Another actions they can still be safe even if the Attempt action isn’t. So perhaps that is the answer: if Aid Another exists failed Attempts can have penalties, but Aid Another cannot – at worst you’re not helpful.

But should all failed Attempts have negative consequences? Or only the ones that are particularly risky (like tightrope walking across a canyon)? And if it’s only the ones that are particularly risky, what makes those worth taking? Are extra successes a suitable enticement?

Perhaps the Aid Another action isn’t needed at all, and adding it just makes the whole system more complicated for a minor gain… it’s going to take a bit of pondering and discussion to work out which way works best!

What do you think? Should I lean towards the more tactical end where it matters whether you take the “risky+fast” or the “slow+safe” option, or keep things smooth and simple?

Takeaway from this step:

  1. There are a lot of complexities that can be layered on – but I’m not yet sure which ones are worth it.

Designing Extended Challenges: Sharing the Spotlight while Maintaining Verisimilitude

This carries on from last week’s post Designing Extended Challenges for 13th Age

I’d like to start by thanking people for their input into this development process – Burn Miller pointed me at their blog where I found out about The One Ring’s Tolerance Test system used for social situations in particular. A number of people on the Forge of the 13th Age brought up various aspects of how they run challenges, including introducing me to Blade in the Dark’s clocks – and shadowsofmind on Reddit pointed me at Matt Colville’s explanation of using Skill Challenges in D&D 5e


In my last post I talked about the goals of our Extended Challenge system, and number one amongst them was that the system must encourage every player to contribute to the scene as a whole.

Its position as number one was not accidental – to me it is the most core part of what makes a good challenge subsystem for a cooperative roleplaying game.

The first step in getting everyone to contribute is getting everyone to take part at all. That step, at least, is so intuitive to F20 players that many assumed D&D 4e’s Skill Challenge system had it: Rounds. Each player gets one turn per round, meaning that everyone must act once before anyone takes their second go.

But just having everyone take part isn’t enough to have everyone contribute. Imagine a player character who, during combat, could only throw blunt wooden spoons at their enemies – hitting on a natural 20 for 1 damage. They get a go every round, but that go feels bad because they aren’t actually helping their teammates to defeat the monsters.

The same is true for our reclusive Half-orc Artificer at the elven ball. Sure, you’re making him take a turn now, but if all he’s going to do is add a failure to his team’s count they’d be better off without him.

So how do you let him contribute anyway?

For starters we could ditch the idea that failing at skill rolls is necessarily going to make things worse. When you miss an attack in combat you don’t hurt yourself or your team, you just don’t make anything better – meaning that the baddies have more time to spend stabbing you. Watching the description by Matt Colville put me slightly away from that perspective – in my home games we use penalties such as the idea of blocks falling he explores that don’t contribute to failing the challenge, merely hurt the person making the attempt.

Given as we’ve already implemented rounds, that seems to be the natural place to move the potential of failing the challenge – rather than keeping track of the number of rolls that have been failed instead we will keep track of the number of rounds that have passed. In cases where outright failure of the challenge is a good answer there can be a simple deadline, for instance “get as many successes as you can in three rounds” – while in other cases there could be a smaller penalty for each round that happens.

So the Half-orc Artificer isn’t making things worse for the party, and may even be contributing a little. For 13th age an 8 charisma and no backgrounds means a normal skill check DC has somewhere between a 1 in 6 and 1 in 3 chance of success, depending on level. Not great, but far from nothing – he may not be good at schmoozing, but there’s always a chance of hitting it off.

Still – we can do better. Any game I run becomes somewhat narrativist, it’s just part of how I GM, and 13th Age is very good at supporting that tendency, so we’re going to lean into that: If a player can come up with a way in which a more unusual background could be useful to the situation, they can roll it. 

On a success, that situation they imagined comes to pass and the skill comes in handy; on a failure it either never comes up, or they don’t manage to take advantage – for instance, the Half-Orc Artificer might be rolling Int+ “Official Master Craftsman in the Concord Consortium” to give an epic description of his latest inventions to an interested elf. If successful, the elf is impressed and moved to support the team that contains such a gifted inventor; if unsuccessful the elf they talked the ear off of has no interest in mechanical devices and was just too polite to say so.

In a similarly narrative vein, we like to allow flashbacks during the challenge, especially during the first round – something that they did prior to the challenge that turns out to be helpful now, such as acquiring the right clothing, or tutoring their allies in the niceties of elven dining.

You may notice that this has a lot in common with 13th age’s Montage System, introduced by Ashley Law – though with more of a possibility of failure – this is something of a case of convergent evolution, and I think is a good sign that what is being developed here fits the 13th Age ethos. Perhaps, then, the guidelines for these Extended Challenges should take a little inspiration from Montages – encouraging players to suggest challenges their allies are suited to overcoming.

Takeaways from this step:

  1. Skill challenges happen in rounds
  2. It’s bad for the players to take too many rounds to achieve success
    1. Failed rolls may have penalties, but won’t lead to failing the challenge
  3. Allow unusual approaches if properly justified
    1. Flashbacks can expand the range of justifiable actions, in interesting ways
    2. Players suggesting challenges that their comrades can overcome is fun.

Designing Extended Challenges for 13th Age

Combat in 13th Age is very structured, but outside combat it is a lot looser. Most of the time, I find this flexibility useful, but occasionally it’s useful to provide more structured and defined challenges outside combat.

In the F20 family of games I first encountered this kind of structure in D&D’s 4th Edition – but it felt half-baked, and often functioned poorly in our games. So, inspired by that game’s Skill Challenges we developed our own style of Extended Challenge for home use; and now we’re developing it further in order to use it in future 13th Age work.

Our home system is a simple skeleton that gets fleshed out arbitrarily for any RPG we’re playing (from buffy to fate): Gameplay proceeds in rounds so that everyone is involved. How many rounds you took to reach your goal is likely to matter; repeating the same action over and over results in an increased DC, or is impossible if there’s no fiction justification; there’s no set list of skills that contribute – if the player has a good explanation for how their action aids the party then it can work; there are more options than just “roll to move towards victory” – ways to boost other players and mitigate downsides.

But that skeleton is held together by a set of assumptions that we’ve never written down, so rather than trying to work backward from that I’m here starting from scratch again over the course of these blogs – so as to ensure that the final product holds together in the wild, rather than relying on quirks of my own GMing style.

So here are the explicit goals that I’m going to work toward when creating the Extended Challenges system: 

  1. Sharing the Spotlight:
    In combat every player takes part regularly. In more loose-weave situations it’s common for one or more player characters to end up uninvolved – for instance when socialising with elves the mechanical genius half-orc probably won’t have much to say.
    When big stakes are in play it’s nice to make sure everyone gets some level of input into the outcome. 4th Edition’s skill challenges often punished you for doing so – if the half-orc made a skill check they would make the team more likely to fail, and so their best bet was to stay quiet so there was no chance they’d be called upon to roll.
  2. Verisimilitude
    If the Half-orc Artificer with 8 charisma and no diplomatic background contributes to your elven ball by charming the nobles, things start to feel out of place. It’s important for each character’s contributions to feel like they come from that character.
  3. Meaningful Choices
    At its most basic, combat is a constant repetition of “roll to attack the thing in front of you with your best attack” until either it falls over or you do. If you’re a 13th Age player that’s almost certainly not your preferred flavour of fun – even the simplest class has significantly more going on than that.
    At its most basic a skill challenge would consist of rolling your best background+ability combination repeatedly until you either succeed or fail. That’s no more fun outside of combat than it is in combat, so we need something more to play with.
  4. Non-binary Stakes
    Pass/fail is acceptable for a single roll, but when you’re going to be devoting a meaningful portion of your session to something it’s nice to have some middle ground – some possibility of an expensive victory where the resources expended (spells, powers, recoveries, etc.) put a significant crimp in your ability to move forward, or of a partial victory where you only achieve some of what you were aiming for – for instance, avoiding the guard patrol on your way into the archvillain’s castle, but not making it all the way to his bedchambers before the alarm is raised.
  5. Fitting the Game
    Different games have different feels, themes and mechanical underpinnings. While a skeleton of a system can exist outside of the game in which it is to be used – and indeed, if you follow this series of blog posts I’ll start by building such a skeleton – fleshing it out such that it belongs as part of the game is a vital step. And it’s a step that is far easier if you keep it in mind throughout the process.

Those are the goals, but how can we go about achieving them? I’ve got a few more blog posts coming talking about our approach, but we’d love to hear your thoughts on how to approach such a challenge. Let us know here, or on Facebook.

Fudge – Expanded Situational Roll

One of the GM tools in Fudge is the Situational Roll. This a way to randomly determine aspects of a situation that aren’t based on any character or haven’t been already established by the fiction like “Is it raining?” or “Is there a gas station nearby?”. It all there in the Fudge SRD if anyone is interest.

The following expands on the concept, taking into account the of the event likelihood of the event while still leaving it to chance. After all. the odds to the question “Is it raining?” being “yes” might vary depending if the setting is Seattle or Dubai.

The way this is done is by arranging a set of probabilities as if they were Fudge ranks as in the table below.













To make a situational roll, make a quick judgement on the base likelihood, roll 4dF and the result to the chosen likelihood. If the result is Possible or better (Green) the answer is “yes”, otherwise it is “no”.

So for instance, if a player asked “Is there a gas station nearby?”, the GM might mike an initial judgement that it is Doubtful. The GM roll 4dF and gets +1 which is enough to turn Doubtful into Possible. The player character is in luck!

FUDGEZOR – An Early Preview

According the sites stats, this here should be our 100th post. That might not be very impressive for a site that has been around 5 odd years but I still felt I should make it a bit special.  So what I have here is a first draft of FUDGEZOR, my mutant strain of Fudge. It’s a further elaboration of the Fudge build I used inLawmen v Outlaws turned into a more freeform, generic engine.  The aim is to make it the sort of game the GM never need to read more than once. As such the pre-defined Gifts are gone, as is the “players only roll” approach. In their place there is some stuff, like the weapons and initiative rules.

This is still all experimental and untested, even the name might change.I haven’t included my section for supernornal power and other exotic effects as that is still very, very rought. But I figured I’d put it out here what I have so far. If you have any comments, please post them below.

FUDGEZOR – Early Draft

As with standard Fudge everything that matters is measured on an adjective-based scale consisting of the eight sequential ranks listed below. Each rank has a corresponding numeric value.

















Actions are resolved with Tests. In a Test the gamemaster (GM) assigns a Difficulty Rating (DR) to a task ranging from TERRIBLE to LEGENDARY. Players roll the dice and add the result to their most relevant Trait. The task succeeds if this total meets or beats the DR. The degree by which the result beats its DR is called Margin of Success (MoS) and can be important. Results from Tests are capped. The outcome from a Test cannot be worse than TERRIBLE or better than LEGENDARY.

The Dice
FUDGEZOR uses Fudge dice for Tests. If you don’t have Fudge dice you can use regular six-sided dice, referred to as ‘d6’s, instead. Roll 2 differently coloured dice designating one colour as positive and one as negative. The result will be between -5 and +5 which isn’t the same as with Fudge dice but it is close enough.

Character Creation

Character Creation Summary

1. Traits – Assign the following ranks to your Traits; 1 GREAT, 2 GOOD, 1 MEDIOCRE. All other Traits are FAIR
2 Gifts and Flaws – Choose 4 Gift and 2 Flaws so that each Trait has at least one Gift or Flaw.
3. Secondary Traits – Set Hit Points to 5 and Fate Points to 3
4. Gear Up

All characters have the six Traits listed below. When creating a character set one Trait to GREAT, two to GOOD and one to MEDIOCRE. All other Traits default to FAIR. The Traits are:

  • Think – intelligence and education. Use for Tests involving knowledge, logic or when performing highly technical tasks.
  • Move – physical strength, agility and fitness. Use for running, sneaking and lifting.
  • Talk – interacting with people. Use to persuade, intimidate or gather information.
  • Focus – willpower and awareness. Use for perception, tracking, bravery.
  • Fix – manual dexterity and mechanical aptitude. Use for lock picking or repairing things.
  • Fight – all combat related abilities.

Gifts & Flaws
Characters get 4 Gifts and 2 Flaws. A Gift grants +2 to a narrow aspect of a Trait, for example: Scout (Focus +2 for tracking ), Ninja Stealth (Move +2 to move quietly), Master swordsman (Fight +2 using a sword). A Flaw imposes a -2 penalty to a narrow aspect of a Trait, for examples: Clumsy (Move -2 to balance), No head for numbers (Think -2 for calculations), Slowest Gun in the West (Fight -2 with pistols).

Assign Gifts and Flaws so that each Trait has 1 of either.

Players should created their own Gifts and Flaws. They should be very specific. They do not need to have fancy names “Good at X” or “Bad at Y” are perfectly valid Gift or Flaw names.

Hit Points
Hit Points are a measure of how much abuse you can take in a scrap before things get serious. Damage taken temporarily reduces your current number of Hit Points. You start each session with 5 Hit Points.

Fate Points
Fate Points are a resource you can spend when you need an extra boost. Spend a Fate Point to:

  • Get a +2 bonus to a Test even after the dice are rolled; this can only be done once per Test

  • Attempt something usual not specifically covered by the rules.

You can earn Fate Points during play. Gain 1 Fate Point whenever:

  • Your character does something really cool

  • Something totally not-cool is done to your character

  • You roll +4 (+5 if you are using d6s) on a Test

  • Your character get a hot meal and a good night’s sleep (once per session).

You start each session with 3 Fate Points. Unspent Fate Points are not carried over between sessions.

Weapons & Other Gear
Characters are equipment with whatever makes sense for them to have. There are no special rules for most gear. Weapons are defined by a Type and Rank. The Type (pistol, sword, kung fu, etc…) determines properties like range or whether it makes noise. Unarmed fighting styles count as weapons if you want them to more than +0 damage.

The Rank ( FAIR, GOOD and GREAT) determine damage and initiative.

FAIR weapons do +1 damage and act first in combat.
GOOD weapons do +2 damage and act next.
GREAT weapons do +3 damage but act last.

The total value of the weapons carried should not exceed 4 (for instance 1 GREAT Shotgun and 1 FAIR Knife, or 1 GOOD pistol and 1 GOOD punching). There are no provision in the Basic rules for attacks striking multiple targets or that have more exotic effects.

Initiative in combat is determined by weapon Rank (low to high) and within the same weapon Rank character act before NPCs. Repeat until one side is defeated, driven off or both sides come to an amicable understanding.

Combat Tests
To make an attack, roll against your Fight. The DR is the target’s Fight score. The attack succeeds if it meets or beats the DR. Likewise to attack characters the GM will roll the attacks using the NPC’s Fight and try to meet the character Fight score.

A Gift that applies to Fight can add+2 to a character’s attack roll, but not to the Fight score for defence purposes.

On a successful attack, add the MoS turns to the weapon damage a deduct it from the target’s Hit Points.

Wounds and Healing
Damage sustained in combat or from other hazards is temporarily taken off the target’s Hit Points. Characters whose Hit Points are reduced to zero are Wounded. They are knocked unconscious and can take no further action that scene. Wounded characters that receive a second wound are Seriously Wounded. A third wound is fatal. Non-lethal attacks do not cause characters to become Wounded when knocked out.

At the end of the scene, characters recover Hit Points as follows:

Not Wounded – Regain full Hit Points
Wounded – Regain half Hit Points (rounded up)
Seriously Wounded – Regain 1 Hit Point
Dead – Regain no Hit Points. Also, dead.

Given sufficient time, wounds heal up naturally. Typically “sufficient time” means “between adventures” but going to see a doctor and resting a while works too.

Some Polar Figures

Some Polar Numbers

As a fun end of year exercise I collated the all-time download figures from this site of the various Polar Blues Press products

The totals look something like this:

Complete Systems
Bounty Hunters of the Atomic Wastelands   2911
Cyberblues City   1591
Mutant Bikers of the Atomic Wastelands   318
Lawmen v Outlaws   97

Cyberblues City – Going the Distance   135
Cyberblues City – A Very Cyber Christmas   119
BHAW – The Ballad of Bad Bob Mcklusky   75
BHAW – Night of the Atomic Snowmen   124

Bounty Hunters of the Atomic Wastelands is way ahead in downloads, partly because it was based on Fate which is always popular but also because it’s been out longer. The numbers for Cyberblues City aren’t too bad either for a Fudge based game; I suspect the review at helped. Lawmen v Outlaw hasn’t got a lot of traction, which is a shame because I think it’s a really good design. The figures for Mutant Bikers of the Atomic Wastelands are a bit misleading because the game the game predates this site by a couple of decades. It remains the game of mine that mostly frequently quoted on gaming forums, but it still nice to see people keep discovering it.

The purpose of posting this is help any hobbyist game designer to get a feel of what can be achieved without much fuss or fanfare. The thing to consider is that if these were commercial games rather than free pdfs, the actual number of copies in circulation would be just a tiny fraction. There is no way I woulud have sold nearly 3000 copies of BHAW, for small publishers, games sales into the 100s are considered a success. As such there is clearly a trade-off between reaching many more gamers with your creations and trying to make get a return for your efforts. I am happy with my choice, but it’s a very personal choice to make.

And while I’m, I’ll leave you with one of the illustrations from Lawmen v Outlaws.

Lawmen v Outlaws

Merry Christmas from Polar Blues Press.