Sunday, September 25, 2011

"New and Magic land" -- an RPG about pioneers

I started this RPG last year, then forgot about it. The 500 Word RPG Challenge last week reminded me of it, and I decided to dig it out again. I spent the day polishing it up. It's not done yet, but this document covers all the mechanics pretty well and should be more than sufficient for playtesting. Check it out, and tell me what you think!

PDF at Google

New and Magic Land
By Joshua LH Burnett (c) 2011

New and Magic Land is a story game that follows the lives of a group of settlers as they struggle to survive their first year in the frontier. By default, the game is set in the American frontier sometime in the 19th century, but there is no reason the game cannot be set in a different time and place. The settlers could be exiled elves trying to eke out an existence in the orcish wastelands, star-faring colonists terraforming a savage new planet, or any other setting where a small group must carve out an existence in hostile territory.

One player will serve as the Gamemaster (GM), and the other players take on the rolls of settlers. The PCs are not the only settlers in the story. There are numerous other settlers with them. Some NPC will form important relationships with the PCs, others will remain nameless extras. The PCs, however, are the most narratively “important” settlers in the group. They are the stars of the show.

Making your Settler
Give your settler a name so we know what to call him.

Your settler has two pools, which represent your settler's physical and spiritual resources. Your Pool Score will rise and fall as game progresses.

Grit represents your settler's fortitude, resolve, strength, and health. It is used in all physical conflicts.

Heart represents your settler's spirit, willpower, wits, and psyche. It is used for all non-physical conflicts.

Split 10 points between Grit and Heart. A 1-9 split will make a settler who is dangerously vulnerable in one area. A 5-5 split will make a character that's kind of boring. Tray and find an interesting balance.

You will spend points out of your Pools in conflicts. When you roll in Conflicts, you always use your Pool's current score. If you have a Grit of 7, and you've spent two points out of that Pool, you'd treat it as a 5 in conflicts.

If either pool is ever reduced to 0, your Settler is out of the game. He may be dead, crippled, insane, or too heartbroken to continue his or her story.

Aspects are words or short phrases that describe your settler's qualities, talents, and vocations. If I were to say to you “Tell me about your character,” these were the things you'd tell me. Try to keep Aspects short, but evocative.

Examples: Strong Back, Schoolmarm, Gossip-Monger, Winning Smile, Smooth Talker, Lumberjack, Expert Tracker, Well-Read, Rich Family.

Choose three Aspects and write them down on your character sheet.

No one lives in a vacuum. Your settler lives in a community with several others, all sharing struggles, triumphs, and tragedies. Some will be other PCs, others will be NPCs. Name and briefly describe three people and rate one at +1, on at +2, and one at +3. One of these relationships should be with another PC.

Before you came to this new frontier, you had another life elsewhere. What did you do there, and why did you leave? Figure out your reason for leaving your old home and write it down on your character sheet. The GM gets extra dice to use against you if a conflict involves your Past, so she'll be using your Past against you a lot, so make sure it's something interesting.

Each season, you will set a goal for your settler. Succeeding in these goals will help you fulfill your dream. Your dream is your long-term goal. It's what you hope to accomplish by moving out to the frontier. If you achieve your dream, you “win” the game. It shouldn't be something that can accomplished easily, but something that will require hard work and dedication. It's the thing you'll do that everyone will remember. Figure out what your dream is and write it down on your character sheet.

You'll have the chance to re-evaluate your dream at the end of each season, so don't feel locked down by your decision. Still, this is the most important thing in your settler's life, so think about it carefully.

Examples: Start a school. Broker peace with the Indians. Find a spouse. Have a baby. Find Black Zeke's lost treasure. Break my addiction.

Playing the Game
New and Magic Land plays out over several seasons through the course of a year. It starts with the Travel season as the settlers head towards their new lands, and continues through fall, winter, spring, summer, and ending with the settlers' first Harvest Festival. At the end of each season, the players will check to see if they've achieved their goal for the season. Successful goals help build towards a settler's Dream. During the Harvest Festival, the players will see if they've managed to accomplish their Dreams. After that the game wraps up and their stories end.

At the beginning of each new Season, the settlers should decide what their Goal is. This goal should help build towards their ultimate Dream. For instance, if your Dream is to start a school, good Goals might be to actually build the school or recruit teachers. Write down your Goal on your character sheet.

Each Season is played out in a number of scenes. The players and the GM each take turns setting up scenes--who is there, and what is going on. Players should set up scenes where they try to accomplish their Goals. The GM should set up scenes where complications hinder the PCs' goals or threaten the community at large.

A character is pretty much free to do whatever they want until someone, either the GM or another PC says they can't. When this happens, we have a Conflict.

Conflict Resolution
A conflict happens whenever someone stands in the way of someone else's success. Here's how we resolve Conflicts:

Set the Stakes
What's at risk here? How do you want things to end? What do you want out of this scene, and what does your opposition want? Both sides of the conflict must discus and agree upon the stakes.
If I win, this happens.” “Okay, and if I win, this happens.”

Choose Grit or Heart
Depending on the nature of the conflict, choose whether you are risking Grit or Heart. If one side of the conflict in the GM, he will use the Season's Conflict Pool instead (see below).

Gather Dice
New and Magic Land only uses standard six-sided dice.
You get one die automatically.
You get one die for each Aspect that's relevant to the conflict.
You get one-to-three dice if the conflict is with, is about, or otherwise involves one of your Relationships.

You can also burn Victory Dice you've previously earned (see below) to roll extra dice. If you do this, the GM will create a complication for the scene. A complication could be a sudden thunder storm, an innocent bystander wandering into the line of fire, or anything else that might make the conflict “interesting.”

The GM rolls one die automatically.
The GM can get more by taking out of his supply of Drama Dice.
For each Drama Dice she uses, she must describe one Aspect that the opposition has. (For example, she could spend two Drama Dice and describe a grizzly bear as being “Ferocious” and “Full of Claws and Teeth.”) I'll talk more about Drama Dice below.
The GM gets two extra dice if the Conflict somehow involves the PC's Past.

Is another PC wants to assist either side, they can add dice equal to their Relationship with either the PC or the NPC. If you help and your side loses, your Relationship will still suffer (see below).

You can burn a Harvest Die (see “Season's End”) at any time to automatically succeed in the conflict with no chance of escalation. An opposing PC can spend on of his own Harvest Dice to counter this. Narrate your desperate action!

Roll Those Dice
Both sides roll their gathered dice.

Sixes explode, which means you roll them again and add the result to the original six. This can happen multiple times if you keep rolling sixes.

Take your highest die result (remember those exploding sixes) and add it to the Pool you chose.
Always use your Pool's current score. Glass beads are good for tracking this.

The side with the highest total wins the stakes and gets to narrate the results of the conflict.

In the case of a tie, we have a stalemate and neither side gets their stakes. The GM narrates.


If you got the lower result, or there was a tie, you can draw out the conflict try again.

The loser of the last roll reduces the Pool they risked by one. (Grit or Heart for PCs. Conflict Pool for the GM.)

Then we escalate the stakes. The conflict continues, but the stakes are higher. If you were in a wrestling match, instead of just pinning your opponent, now maybe you'll break his arm. If you were trying to avoid catching an illness, now maybe your entire family will get sick. Things get bigger! Results get more dramatic!

Roll the dice again and calculate the results as before.

Losing sides can continue to spend Pool and escalate the stakes higher and higher until one side finally concedes defeat and the conflict ends.

If you spend the last point out of your Pool, you still may win the Conflict, but your settler's story has ended. Narrate how he's come to his end.

Rewards and Loss
If you fail the conflict, any relationships that you used are reduced by one. Narrate how the relationship has weakened.

If you win, you can increase a relationship that you used by one. Narrate how the relationship has grown in intensity.

A PC on the side of a winning conflict earns one Victory Die. Victory Dice are used at the end of the Season to try and achieve your Goal.

GM and Drama Dice
The GM's duty is to set up conflicts that bring up the settler's past and to drive the PCs into conflict with one another.

The GM receives a limited number of Drama Dice each Season. She spends these to roll more dice in conflicts with e PCs.

Conflict Dice = (Season's Conflict Score) x (Number of PCs)

The GM can also spend Drama dice in PC vs PC Conflicts, if she desires, giving extra dice to one side.

The Drama Dice help control pacing. When the GM has spend all her Drama Dice, it marks the end of the Season, and scenes should wrap up.

There are six Seasons, through which the settlers' story will progress.
Each settler has a Goal for the season towards which they will strive.

The GM will set a Conflict Rating for Season. One season will have a 6. Another will have a 5. Another gets a 4... 3... 2... 1. You get the idea.

The Conflict Rating will determine the Conflict Pool that the Gm will use for any conflicts with the PCs that Season.

The Seasons
The Game starts in the travel season. This season should act like a montage as we cover the important points of the settlers' journey to their new home. The Conflict Rating for this Season in usually low, as the Season should focus on introducing the settlers, their Relationships, and Dreams.

The Fall focuses on the settler's building and settling into their new home.

The Winter focuses on internal conflicts as the community hunkers down for the cold and snow.
Starvation, cabin fever, and interpersonal conflicts are common threats.

In the Spring, the settlers must deal with hostile outsiders and man-made threats—aggressive Indians, bandits, rival towns, murder, etc.

Summer is the time of natural disasters—floods, droughts, disease, and animal attacks.

Season's End
At the end of each season, each settler should gather up their accumulated Victory Dice and roll them. If a settler rolls even a single six, they have achieved their goal and should narrate their success!

If you completed your Goal you get to increase your Pool Scores by 1 for each six rolled (split between the two pools).

If you completed your goal, collect one Harvest Die, for use in Harvest Festival.

If you did not complete your Goal, you reduce a Pool Score by 1.

Each settler gets a new Relationship at +1, or can increase an existing Relationship by 1. Ads +1 to this total is the Relationship is with another PC.

Each settler also rolls a single die and add to total value of all their Relationships (including the new one). Take this number and use it to refresh points spent out of your Grit and Heart Pools.

Reevaluate your Dream. Is it still valid? Have things changed so much that your settler has a new Dream? If so, record that change.

Harvest Festival
The game has been leading up to the harvest Festival. The settlers and their community have survived their first year in the frontier (or have they?) and it's time to celebrate with a week long festival of dancing, eating, drinking, and frivolity! This is a time of fellowship and feasting, not conflict!

Each player takes turns describing their activities at the festival, then rolls their accumulated Harvest Dice. If the settler rolls even a single six, they have achieved their Dream! If no sixes come up, their Dream remains unfulfilled. If they failed, and their Harvest Dice produce even a single one, their Dream has come to a crashing disaster. Narrate our crowing victory, or your crushing defeat.

After the harvest festival , the settler's story has ended.

Dogs in the Vineyard
Apocalypse World
Prime Time Adventures
Farmville (no, seriously.)


  1. Coolness! I was looking at several RPGs on the Story Games forum that had colonizing and player versus environment as a theme (Colonial Fabula and the travel/jouney rules in Ryuu Tama.) So, you timing is excellent. Hmmm, I wonder how well this would play out using the Mythic Game Master Emulator? Maybe giving it that Oregon Trail vibe?

  2. Zircher you pop up in the most interesting places and mention very interesting role-playing tools in passing. I am interested in giving this a go and now I have to track down the Mythic Game Master Emulator as well to give that a look. I wish Zircher's brain was a website that we could just browse to find the interesting bits. (Shudder!!) On second thought, lets not...

    I don't suffer from insanity, I enjoy it.