The Index Card RPG Core rulebook – An “I haven’t played it yet” review.
For an excellent overview of what you are getting you could do worse than watching this video from the creator:
and this one on character creation:
and for session reports try here:
But if you don’t have the spare 4 hours up your sleave or have been banned from youtube for one reason or another, here is my take on what you are getting.
Whilst it is based on a familiar d20 system with six character attributes it puts a whole new spin on almost everything.
The how to play and getting started sections which includes character creation comes in at just under 30 pages which I find comparable to many other “OSR” rulesets, be they original or new, but with all the new twists this is no OSR. But it certainly is simple and open for home brew modifications like any good OSR/clone.
I’ll start with Character creation:
Choose an image (hero card or miniature) and based on that choose a name and background story. Then assign six points to any one of the six standard STATS (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, or charisma) OR the ARMOUR slot, or any one of the EFFORT slots (Basic Work, Weapons Damage, Magic Effect, or Ultimate) and I’ll explain EFFORT in a moment. Whilst I’ll miss the roll 3d6 in order this does mean you can play that characters image/miniature you had in mind from the get go. Each point in a slot adds that number to the relevant roll. Again I’ll will explain on how rolls are judged as success or failure in a bit but for now it’s a d20 roll over system.
You then choose one piece of starting gear from a list of 13 items but nothing stops you from coming up with something and getting your Dungeon Master’s (DM) agreement. Each adds that bonus to a relevant roll or slot, e.g. Meditation Beads (+1 WIS); Weapon Kit (+2 Weapon Effort – Effort? – I’m getting there). You then choose 3 other items to round out your starting equipment from a list 10 items (which can easily be expanded upon). Items include common weapons (player chooses what and a list is provided after the classes), and things like Miner’s Gear, a Shield, or a simple pouch of 50 coin.
On coins, it is a single currency type (be they silver, gold, paper, whatever) and there are no lists of equipment, no prices, to get the good stuff such as armour, weapons, magic, players must find it in their adventures (the loot) – guess what? I’ll tell you about loot in a second too. So what do you do with coins? That’s totally up to you as a player and/or DM. Get a job, get paid 1 coin a day. Bribe the guard – Maybe that’s a week’s wage? (It’s all up to you and your DM).
Each character starts with 1 HEART where a HEART represents 10 points, call them hit points if you will, and a bit later we’ll see how they work.
Finally you get to choose a class and “bio-form”. Within the book there are two world options, a fantasy world and a sci-fi world. Each world offers 9 classes to choose from so that’s 18 classes (Fantasy examples include Blade, Shadow, Mage). But these classes are not what one might expect. Rather a class consists of a 2 to 3 sentence description, a short list of recommended gear, and a starter reward (a nice fancy item that adds a benefit appropriate to that class). But there are no experience points here and no levels. Rather, each class gets a short list of 5 to 7 “milestones” appropriate to that class and these add something special to your abilities. It might be Masterwork boots (+1 Dex), a Heart Stone (add one HEART to your PC), etc. The DM awards PCs Milestones when whenever they feel the time is right.
There are Fantasy Bio-Forms (Elf, Dwarf, Small Folk, Humans, Hill Folk) and Sci-Fi Bio-Forms (Reptoid, Psker, Geno, Xill, even Mecha) and you are encouraged to create your own. Each basically gives a modifier to one of your ‘slots’, e.g. Elf is +1 Dex and +1 Int.
I described character creation before “How to play” because this game is all about choosing something that sounds fun and fits your image/miniature/description. Does it matter what you choose? Hell no! – Just choose what fells right. Now that you have chosen, what does it mean?
The system has a suggested initiative system, roll to see who starts (or don’t roll its always your choice) and then simply go in clockwise order. It like everything else is so simple. It even suggests sitting in the following order after the DM: ‘Tank’, ‘Rogue’, ‘Mage’, and ‘Healer’ with a brief one liner why this might be a good idea. So it’s your turn, now what?
Well you can stay put and take an action, move NEAR and take an action, or move FAR. If you hadn’t guess movement and range is abstract CLOSE, NEAR, and FAR (with FAR being approximately the length of a banana if your using miniatures be they paper or otherwise). The banana reference is straight from the book and demonstrates precisely the object of this game have fun and apply the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid). So Rules As Written (RAW) has range as abstract.
How do I take an action? Roll that d20 of course and beat the current TARGET number. The TARGET number is set by the DM and a suggestion is to set it for the encounter at hand and wack (display) that number in the players faces.
Example: The PC’s having set off a trap are in a room that’s slowly filling with water, several undead skeletons have risen up and are attacking the PCs, the only exit is a locked door and the DM has set the encounter TARGET number to 12. If the Blade (fighter) wants to swing his sword at a skeleton rolls d20 adds the appropriate stat (e.g. STR which might be +2), and maybe something else (magical sword maybe?) and needs a 12 to hit. The Shadow (thief) meanwhile is madly trying to pick the locked door before they all drown! On his turn he too rolls a d20, adds an appropriate stat (DEX) and he needs to beat? You guessed it 12, the current encounters pre-set TARGET.
OK so I succeeded, how much damage did the Blade do? Did the thief pick the lock? That’s when EFFORT and HEARTS come into play. Told you I would get there and describe these game descriptors. Effort comes in 4 forms: BASIC (using your hands a d4), using WEAPONS (a d6), using MAGIC (a d8), and ULTIMATE (a d12 and occurs when you roll 20, a critical when trying to succeed). OK so how many Hit Points does the skeleton have and is that damn door open? Well the skeleton might have 1 HEART (10 Points) which means if that Blade is using a weapon he rolls d6 worth of damage “effort”. He’ll definitely need to swing again before the skeleton is down.
A neat feature of the system is the locked door uses the same rules. Say the DM is being nasty and made the lock a “Tinklerson Special Mk II” of Gnomish manufacture and given it 2 HEARTS (20 points). That means the thief need to do 20 points of “effort” before he has succeeded. If he is using BASIC effort he rolls d4 and has several “turns” to go – how fast is that water coming in? Oh but he rolled a 20 – that’s a critical in other systems, but here it’s an ULIMATE, meaning he gets to roll a d12 and maybe that lock won’t take so long after all? What, he used a spell and rolled a 13? Well roll d8 then …
So now rather than a binary pass/fail system each action will take a numbers of turns before the number of HEARTS (determined by the DM) has been reduced to zero and the obstacle overcome. I’ll leave it to you to see the possibilities such a system opens up. The static TARGET number right there in front of the PCs leaves noting to doubt either – don’t like that? Don’t use it, but I thinks it’s neat.
It doesn’t end there as we have EASY and HARD TARGET numbers. If the DM says the ‘static’ TARGET number should be easier, maybe this is the second time in a row the PC is trying the exact same action, well he subtracts 3 from the TARGET because it’s EASY(er). Alternatively maybe the thief has a broken arm so the DM says it’s HARD and the PC must add three to the TARGET. Crap! maybe he should fight the skeleton and the Blade should just smash the !3@$ing door down! If you are familiar with advantage and disadvantage in 5E and other systems this is similar. Simple and elegant means for fast and furious fun.
Oh and how does the skeleton hit the Blade? DM rolls d20 vs PC’s ARMOUR as the target. ARMOUR starts at 10 and can increase from milestones (level ups) for certain classes, and/or equipment (loot). An equipped shield adds 2 for example, and you can have a maximum of 10 armour (TRAGET = 20). It’s a bit abstract but the goal is not to get bogged down in details.
Spells? They are basically character milestones (that they may start with or acquire later) and can also be found in loot (I’ll get there). Take a look at the Mage class. His suggested starter reward is “Arcane Missile” where he tests his INT (roll d20 vs current TARGET) on an enemy in sight and rolls d8 EFFECT if successful. This means a spell caster can cast whatever spells he knows all day and all night. There is an optional rule to limit this where basically after so many multiple castings you have to take a break for a few turns whilst you cool down. As written I like it as it is but need to see it in play before I commit.
This does mean starting spell casters will have just one spell at the start. Well they can have armour and be just as effective with weapons as any other class so it’s not a biggie. So how do they get more? Loot, the reason the players take the adventurers life in the first place! It is suggested when, but always at the DMs discretion, the players find loot. Often it will be in a locked chest, which has x number of HEARTS (effort) before it is opened. When loot is found there are a couple of d100 tables to roll on to determine what they have found. A “Common” Loot Table where they might find (roll) some coins, or a ferry pole (just like a 10’ pole only shorter); and a “Starter” Loot Table where they might find (roll) some armour, food (that heals), or a new spell. Does that mean my Blade can learn a spell? Yep – he just needs to make an INT roll (WIS if clerical), but once a PC learns a spell from a loot item it stays with that PC and effectively the item is consumed – no one else will be able to learn that spell unless they find it again later. I love random loot tables so this is right up my ally and the creator (Hank) is working on more tables.
Seems like I just used 30 pages to describe 30 pages of rules. But honestly, the system is very simple and flexible. If you like the sound of what I have described above you can’t go wrong with the Index Card RPG. On top of the cool system you get around 7 pages briefly describing a fantasy setting and another 7 describing the sci-fi setting (world primers) each with dozens of adventure seeds descriptions. You then get over 20 pages of DM advice, how to get your ideas on paper, when to make rolls EASY or HARD, using HEARTS, PC rewards (coins, loot, milestones), optional rules, session planning, story and encounter architecture suggestions, additional ideas on how to challenge PCs, and 10 encounter (room) design foundations. Then comes 23 mostly unique monsters including some standards (such as goblins, ogres, and skeletons) with each monster gets a 1 page spread. There are suggestions on creating you own which boils down to “power” descriptors but using the existing content I had documented (and posted) the stats for a mimic based on the AD&D entry – it was so simple!
Presentation is awesome – 121 pages of clear often humorous text with many, many illustrations (Black & White). Perhaps a bit shy on examples, but this is Version 1.1, Version 2 is on the way, and there is a Google+ community where the creator is an active (currently daily) participant. So there is plenty of support and plans for future upgrades and expansions are apparently in the works.
I bet you wish you watched those reviews now hey?
The creator suggests using his Index cards (also available on RPGNow) but by no means do you have to. I have Vol 1 myself and will definitely get Vol 2 soon as I personally love the art style and they will be great for planning stories, encounters, and even presentation to the players to get them immersed. My understanding is he is currently creating Vol 3 specifically for the sci-fi setting given the first two are fantasy themed. What more can I say? I have possibly said too much already but hopefully given you a good perspective of what you are getting. Definitely worth the price of admission to use the system as written (as I plan too) or simply pick ideas from it for your favourite system as others have suggested. This is not DnD or Savage Worlds as we know it but it’s definitely a Fast, Furious, and Fun game on paper and I’m very confident it will remain so in play.
Why not 5 stars? In my mind there is never a perfect game and I haven’t played this one yet – It might be a 4 and a half when I do – only time will tell – but it’s certainly up there in my top ten.