Rule-sets (#1)

I’ve been doing quite a bit of research since my gaming group suggested we try some pulpy, two-fisted adventures in the style of Indiana Jones. This research consisted mostly of binge-watching the Indiana Jones series, getting my hands on a copy of the 1984 TSR Indiana Jones tabletop role-playing game, and reading design theory essays like these excellent pieces by Justin Alexander and Robin Laws. The former research foci were mostly for rule-set content, and the latter for developing a way to make Indy-style adventures fun, interesting, and open-world (this is where TSR objectively failed).

These efforts have produced the very early stages of the Tiny d10 Indiana Jones-style rule-set: Indy.


Tiny d10: Indy

Set shortly after the turn of the 20th century, Tiny d10: Indy is a pulpy, action-packed rule-set designed to put players in the shoes of gallant glory-seekers, globe-trotting adventurers, and unlikely heroes as they travel the world in search of fame, fortune, and intrigue.

Nationalities

A character’s nationality, to some degree, determines his or her attitudes, aptitudes, and perceptions. The four primary nationalities in Indy represent some of the major players of the world stage during the ‘20s and ‘30s.

American – Charismatic, determined, and tenacious, Americans gain a +1 power point bonus and the persuade skill.

British – Charming, sophisticated, and sharp-as-a-tack, the British gain a bonus character ability and the charm skill.

Chinese – Thoughtful, wise, and swift of mind and body, the Chinese gain a +1 magic point bonus and the acrobatics skill.

Russian – Collected, strong, and calculating, Russians gain a +1 hit point bonus and the intimidate skill.

Professions

Professions represent only archetypes of occupations that existed during the turn of the century, and are specifically vague to allow greater period-specific flexibility, and to give players more creative input.

Each profession begins with two starting profession abilities. After selecting a profession, players should choose one additional ability from the additional character abilities list.

The Academic

Academics are well-educated, well-read, and generally widely-respected. They are astute and scholarly, though sometimes absent-minded. Example professions include university professors, researchers, doctors, and scientists. Academics have a toughness of 5 (T5); use lightweight weapons only; use featherweight armor only; and gain +3 magic points.

Academic Starting Profession Abilities

Touched by the arcane – in your studies, you discovered an untapped well of ancient, hidden power. Through much effort, you gained the ability to use these arcane forces, and you begin with 2 spells.

Arcane resilience – all spells targeting you are challenge rolls; if you win the challenge, the spell has no effect.

The Explorer

Explorers come from all walks of life, getting by on their wits, brawn, good luck, and good looks. They are often heroic and compelling, though sometimes rash. Professions include pilots, guides, soldiers, and guns-for-hire. Explorers have a toughness of 7 (T7); use heavyweight weapons & below; use heavyweight armor & below; and gain +2 hit points and +1 power point.

Explorer Starting Profession Abilities

Brawl – When engaged in hand-to-hand combat, deal an additional 1 damage per successful attack.

Hard-boiled – gain a +1 bonus when attempting to coerce, intimidate, or dissuade a person.

The Occultist

Occultists possess a deep, personal knowledge of the strange: paranormal events, global conspiracies, alien visitation, or something more. Example professions include private investigators, occult practitioners, or just normal folk who were “touched” in some way or another by a strange and inexplicable event. Occultists have a toughness of 5 (T5); use medium-weight weapons & below; use medium-weight armor & below; and gain +2 magic points and +1 power point.

Occultist Starting Profession Abilities

Touched by the strange – you were exposed to the paranormal, and it has changed you forever. Your extrasensory perceptions are enhanced, and you being with 1 psychic ability.

Psychic resilience – all psychic abilities targeting you are challenge rolls; if you win the challenge, the ability has no effect.

The Thief

Similar to explorers, thieves come from all walks of life, and have a wide variety of sometimes unsavory skills. They exist at all echelons of society, and can range from suave and debonair to hardened and formidable. Example professions include spies, mobsters, pickpockets, and treasure hunters. Thieves have a toughness of 6 (T6); use medium-weight weapons & below; use lightweight armor only; and gain +1 hit point and +2 power points.

Thief Starting Profession Abilities

Quick-draw – you gain initiative in all combat scenarios, and +1 to reflex-based challenge rolls.

Instinct – you gain +1 to all perception checks.

Additional Character Abilities

In Tiny d10: Indy, there are no class/profession-specific abilities (beyond those with which characters start). Instead, any profession can learn any ability from the following list, again allowing more flexibility as characters grow.

Battle – lock anytime an opponent attempts to flee or leave your immediate area during melee combat, you gain an attack against it.

Deceptive – gain a +1 bonus when attempting to deceive or mislead a person.

Distract – free action; conduct an aspect challenge against a target; if you win, the target is distracted for one round, and suffers a -2 attack penalty.

Dual-wield – dual-wield handheld firearms and make two attack rolls during your combat turn (each attack suffers a -2 attack penalty).

Egghead – gain +2 intellect permanently, suffer -1 power.

Enlightened – permanently gain +1 intellect.

Evade – dodge a successful attack. Cost: 1 power point.

Fast – you become fast in speed, and may move 30-35 feet per movement sequence in combat.

Feint – if an attack fails, immediately attempt the attack again; the target suffers -1 toughness. Cost: 2 power points.

Fists of fury – during melee combat, forfeit your next move action to attack twice during your combat turn.

Hard to kill – once per combat encounter, if reduced to 0 HP, gain 2 HP.

Hero’s constitution – permanently gain 2 hit points.

Hero’s spirit – permanently gain 2 power points.

Lie detector – gain a +1 bonus when attempting to perceive a person’s true motives or claims.

Lucky – re-roll any result of 1. Cost: 1 power point.

Marksman – gain a +1 attack bonus when attacking with a firearm or deal an additional 1 damage per successful attack with a firearm.

Petty thief – gain a +2 bonus to attempts to steal, conceal, or pilfer something.

Power-player – permanent gain +1 power.

Quick-footed – permanently gain +1 reflex.

Smooth operator – permanently gain +1 aspect.

Strong stomach – you are unaffected by even excessive amounts of alcohol; if poisoned, you gain a +2 bonus to your save against it.

Sweet-talk – gain a +1 bonus when attempting to charm, flatter, or persuade a non-hostile person.

Two-fisted – always roll two dice and keep the higher result.

Well-connected – you always know someone, somewhere, who can help you out in a pinch.

Well-read – gain two know skills.

Arcane Spells & Psionic Abilities

In Tiny d10: Indy, magic is replaced by the twin forces of arcana and psionics, both of which still rely on the use of magic points to cast or invoke. The below lists comprise a basic collection of these spells and abilities.

Arcane Spells

The arcane is a poorly understood realm that seemingly overlaps our own, and those with a knowledge of its existence may interact with it in a limited capacity using spells and incantations uncovered from dusty tomes and ancient manuscripts. Arcane spells are cast by academics and use the intellect bonus.

Arcane shield – summons a shield black as the night and glittering like the stars; grants +2 toughness for the duration of the combat encounter. Cost: 2 magic points.

Channel – you may channel a demon of your choosing (see the Demonology section), imbuing your body with its powers and and using them to your advantage. Cost: 2 magic points and 1 hit point for every round or minute channeled.

Domination – gain full control over the target’s mind; aspect challenge to succeed. Cost: 2 magic points.

Invisibility – become completely invisible for 1d10 x your level minutes, or until you attack a target or cast an additional spell. Cost: 1 magic point.

Life-drain – inflicts 1d2 + 1 damage, which you gain as temporary hit points; for the next 1d10 rounds, each point of additional damage the target suffers is also transferred to you. All temporary hit points are lost at the end of the combat encounter. Cost: 2 magic points.

Sic the hound – summons the devil dog, which can be commanded to stalk one target (as per the summon monster spell). Cost: 3 magic points.

Orb strike – attack roll versus toughness; a dense orb, black as the void and glittering like stars, strikes a nearby target with a sickening thud. On an attack roll of 10, whatever part of the target’s body is struck disappears permanently (roll to determine: 1 – head, 2 – torso, 3-4 left arm, 5-6 left leg, 7-8 right leg, 9-10 right arm). Cost: 1 magic point.

Resurrection – Raise a recently fallen body, and restore to it its immortal soul (or as much of it as can be retrieved from the void at the center of all things). Cost: 6 magic points. Note: this can only be performed once per soul, and requires a ritual in order to be successful.

Summon Void Elemental – materializes the void elemental (T8; 9 HP; +1 power): a featureless, humanoid entity comprised of the same material as the shield and orb. The elemental will attack targets as directed by the summoner. Cost: 5 magic points. The void elemental has the following ability:

  • Banishment – on an attack roll of 10, whatever part of the target’s body is struck disappears permanently (roll to determine: 1 – head, 2 – torso, 3-4 left arm, 5-6 left leg, 7-8 right leg, 9-10 right arm).

Teleportation – teleport to any location within line of sight. Cost: 3 magic points.

Psionic Abilities

Psionic powers, also known as extrasensory perception (ESP), enables those who possess them otherworldly abilities like levitation, speaking with spirits, telekinesis, and more. Some are born with these gifts, and others have them thrust upon them through contact with other dimensions and forces beyond our understanding. Psionic abilities are invoked by occultists, and use the aspect bonus.

Astral healing – restores 1d5 +2 hit points. Cost: 2 magic points.

Clairvoyance – a successful aspect check (or at the cost 1 magic point) reveals the location of all living entities within a 100-foot radius.

Hypnosis – influence the thoughts and actions of your target; aspect challenge to succeed. If you succeed by 1-2, the target is highly suggestible, but will not do anything considered “out of character”; if you succeed by 3+, the target is susceptible to all commands (excepting self-harm). Cost: 1 magic point. Note: hypnosis may not be used in combat.

Mental clarity – enhanced focus that clears the mind and quiets the soul; gain +1 to all rolls and your successes yield better results for 1d10 x your level minutes. Cost: 1 magic point (2 if used on a target other than yourself).

Psychic cloud – interrupt the concentration of a target, clouding its mind with waves of disorienting psychic energy; target suffers -1 to all rolls, and failures yield worse results for 1d10 x your level minutes. Cost: 2 magic points.

Pyrokinetic blastattack roll versus toughness; inflicts 1d5 + 1 damage. Cost: 2 magic points. Note: requires a source of fire to manipulate.

Remote viewing – see through the eyes of target within a one mile radius. Cost: 2 magic points. Note: requires that the viewer has previously seen the target.

Strange shock – notions of the strange invade a target’s mind (phantom voices, terrifying images, dread sensations) and threaten its sanity. Inflicts 1 damage per round for 1d10 rounds (or until the target succeeds your spell save); the target is incapacitated while in this state of shock. Cost: 3 magic points.

Telepathy – communicate your thoughts into the mind(s) of a target(s) within eyesight. At the cost of 1 magic points, hear the active thoughts of a target.

Telekinesis – open doors, move objects, attack opponents (standard melee attack) within your range of sight. Cost: 1 magic point.

Demonology

A limited understanding of the cosmology of the universe has been gleaned through the study of arcane and occult artifacts and texts. What is known is this: there exists at the center of the universe a Great Void, and from this void, all things come, and to this void, all things eventually return. There are entities dwelling here, and the Great Void has been their home since before the beginning of time. Called demons throughout the vast majority of history, these creatures have been known to intervene in human affairs in ways which appear (and often are) malicious. But those who know the ancient words may command them, for a short period, in exchange for blood – and perhaps something even more.

The Collector – after a sentient creature dies, the Collector will see that its immortal soul is returned to the Void. An arcanist who would channel the Collector will be able to sense death, and even usher its arrival (+2 damage bonus).

The Gatekeeper – as the soul arrives at the Edge of the Void, it is greeted by the Gatekeeper, who knows intimately its every detail. An arcanist channeling the Gatekeeper may learn specific details of the lives of the now deceased.

The Void-walker – infrequently, souls slip from the Void, reentering the world of the living. The Void-walker stalks the mortal world in search of these rogue souls, locating them for collection. Channeling the Void-walker will result in the ability to do physical battle with ghostly or non-physical entities, and enhance all arcane spells (+2 bonus to spell-casting).

The Harbinger – dwelling in the deepest recesses of the infinitely black void, the Harbinger sees all threads of time which have been, will be, and will never be. An arcanist who channels the Harbinger will see a variety of possible futures in great enough detail to follow the path leading to their fruition. Note: the Harbinger’s consciousness is so much greater than that of a human’s – as a result, following the channeling of the Harbinger, the arcanist must save 6 or lose all remaining magic and power points.

The Wishmaster – arbiter of the fates of all, the Wishmaster guides the flow of time and space, stacking the deck, thumbing the scale, and nudging the die. Its favor is arbitrary and fickle, its whims capricious and indifferent. It holds the power to grant every man and woman their wildest dreams, yet withholds it all, administering good fortune in only the leanest portions. Channeling the Wishmaster will result in the ability to see the deepest desires of any man or woman’s heart, as well as the ability to cause profound metaphysical pain, like cleaving a soul in twain. While channeling the Wishmaster, the following ability is available:

  • Soul cleave – odious arcana scars the immortal soul; inflicts 1d5 damage, and incapacitates the target for 1d10 rounds. Cost: 2 magic points.

And that’s the end of it, for now. Things will change as play-testing continues – for instance, I haven’t tested the channel spell, or the associated demonology section. And as I mentioned in the introduction, the key to the success of this rule-set will be dependent on my developing a good adventure design process. Far be it for me to try something TSR couldn’t quite do, but I might as well take a stab at it.

Update: After some deliberation, I’m considering removing the channel spell and demonology section. While I think the mechanics are fun, it doesn’t necessarily harmonize with the mythos of Indiana Jones. Temple of Doom implies the existence of a wide range of archaic religious phenomenon: Kali (goddess of the Thuggee cult) and the magic stone sivalinga (a pagan phallic symbol), for instance. However, Raiders and Last Crusade ultimately suggest that Christian theology has an out-sized influence on the events of human history: the power of the Ark of the Covenant and the trial of the Holy Grail, being examples. This is explored in fascinating detail over at the Imaginative Conservative, and I highly recommend the read.

Anyway, it seems the Great Void is in conflict with central tenets of the established Indiana Jones universe: that is, reality seems arranged according to Christian doctrine, phenomena not withstanding. For that reason, I’ll probably end up removing it in version 2.

2 thoughts on “Rule-sets (#1)

    1. Thanks! 🙂

      And yes, I do plan on writing up at least one short adventure. More than the adventure, however, I’m interested in developing a formula for writing adventures. If you check out the first link in this post, you’ll find a PDF copy of TSR’s Indiana Jones RPG, which includes an adventure. Not to speak ill of the revered TSR, but it’s not a very good adventure – it progresses like scenes in a movie, leaving very little room for traditional, “freestyle” sort of play. Today, there are much better examples of Indiana Jones-like settings (see Trail of Cthulhu, for instance). So I hope to be able to take inspiration from them and build not just an adventure, but a framework for future adventures.

      Regarding demonology, I liked the mechanics, but it just didn’t fit, and really, introduced too much overhead in both functionality and narration. It’s a little slimmer and easier (not to mention more consistent with the world of Indiana Jones) without it, so overall, I think it was a good move to cut it, though you’re welcomed to keep using it, of course! 🙂

      Thanks again for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

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