When I sat down to create The Imperial System (referred to as TIS throughout), I had three aims in mind:
- Low reliance on combat, to the point where you could play an entire campaign and never fight anyone
- Characters should start off strong
- Everything should reflect the theme of choice, consequence and responsibility
Every part of the system is built with that in mind. I believe that the strongest games are the ones with fewer mechanics that let you explore the theme of the work from a hundred angles. As such, here's how the game plays...
Character creation in TIS is a piece of two parts, one part handled before you sit down at the table, and the second handled with your group as you start playing.
The playable peoples of Triumvene
For the first part, you pick your peoples from the various options available, and create some backstory around them. You then allocate 40 points into stats, ranging from Talents (Diplomacy, Knowledge and Fitness - the core stats), Professions and Skills, Weapon Skill and so on.
Points can be held on to to help boost rolls in the Breaking Experience piece at the table, but if those aren't used at that point, they're lost.
At the Table
The second part comes in five stages...
A Life Lived
In the first part the players each describe a little about their backstory, who they are, where they've come from, what they're like as a person and so on.
A Breaking Experience
The players take turns to roll dice and find out if they have any particular magical abilities. They roll a dice, and if they roll high end, then narrate a moment of extreme emotion in their character's lives. This can be anything from something terrible like the death of a loved one, to something wonderful, like the first moment seeing their child. These moments are trigger points which gave the character their magical ability/abilities.
Having given the story, the other players in the group decide which category this should fall under, and then rolls of the dice determine what abilities you have.
A Shared Experience
Here each player describes how their character knows one of the others, and an experience you shared together. This grants the other player a skill; so for example if you were trapped in a cove as the tide came in, and another player rescued you, they might get Swimming as a skill.
A Treasured Item
At this point, the players go round describing an item their character carries with them, and its significance. It could be anything from a musical instrument which they enjoy playing, to a trinket gifted by a family member, to their childhood teddybear. Anything goes. This part doesn't grant any particular skill, but helps develop character a little more.
A Secret Held
The final part is where the player tells the GM alone a secret about their character. It could be the real reason they're with the group, something about their character's past, a different reason for why they're carrying the item they've got... Something which gives an interesting twist to the character.
The base mechanic for TIS is pretty simple: roll a d12, add any relevant modifiers, and give the GM the result. If it's greater than the Roll Target (RT), it succeeds. If it's less, something else happens. Here's where it gets interesting though...
Whenever you get a poor roll, if you wish to, you can choose to roll again, at the cost of granting the GM a point of Defiance. For every three points they have, they can choose to make one future roll the players make into any number they choose. Thus whilst you might succeed now, that success comes at an unknown price you'll pay later.
The second part of how we've made TIS work mechanically is by tying rolls directly into the roleplay aspect of the game.
Roleplay Determines Action Resolution
The Talents have been chosen to encourage roleplay. By default, anything that's a physical test (strength, dexterity, stamina and so on) is Fitness, anything that's to do with communication (negotiation, intimidation, flirting and similar) is Diplomacy, and anything to do with knowing something (map reading, how to build something, cultural norms in a culture) is Knowledge. However, those things don't determine how you solve problems, they just give a way for the GM to determine based on what you said, what to ask for as a check.
That's because there's no limits to what Talent or specialisations can be used to acomplish a goal. As a result of this, and that characters are rarely good at everything, players are forced to be more creative with the things they can do well.
As an example, you could intimidate someone with by showing your great strength, or through burying them under your intellectual weight. Equally you could move a large rock with great strength by way of a Fitness check, or you could use your knowledge of levers and pulleys to build something to move the rock, given materials and time, or through negotiation with other people to get them to aid you.
This is where the roleplay aspects come in for determining the stat. There's nearly always some way that you can use what you're good at to get past whatever you face, it just might take longer.
As a GM for Triumvene, you never have to roll dice unless you want to. There's times where you might want to leave how something happens up to the roll of a die. If you do, go for it. If not, just narrate what happens.
The most important thing to do is to keep to the idea of choice and consequence. If players want to do something, that's fine, but there should always be a result of that. That doesn't have to be negative, but they should find out sometime. For example, ff they encourage two NPCs to get together, make a note and have them find out the result of that at some point.
Your job is to provide a world for the players to enjoy, and potential events which fit into the framework of a narrative over time. As far as possible, we've made the system get out of your way in doing that. You set out the broad strokes of what's going on in the world around the characters, the players flesh out the detail in their play, and you create consequences for the choices they make. Provided you do that, and everyone at the table is having fun, you're doing it right.
Gold and Black Tokens
We're taking the idea of the X-Card and extending it slightly in TIS. The role of the X-Card is to be something someone can use to shut down a subject immediately, no questions asked, if they're not comfortable with the subject matter. More information can be found here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1SB0jsx34bWHZWbnNIVVuMjhDkrdFGo1_hSC2BWPlI3A/edit. In TIS, we call this the Black token.
We're also adding the concept of a Gold token, which serves a similar but distinct purpose; when a player takes the Gold token, everyone else has to stop and allow them to talk. It allows for a break if a discusion gets heated and someone feels shouted down, or if play gets heavy and a player is feeling that they're not being listened to. Any situation where someone feels their voice isn't being heard, they can use it and everyone has to listen to them. We've found this particularly useful with newer, less confident and more introverted players, giving them a mechanical "out", with which to help them interact with the game more fluidly.
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