Over many years Paul Elliot of Zozer games has been responsible for dozens of quality role-playing games and supplements. Two of his games: Zenobia and 43 AD are in my top ten of my favourite RPGs. His Traveller material is outstanding.
How does this game stack up against previous outings? I’ve played Action Dice — just once — and it was a big hit with my group, despite one sticking point. I wouldn’t call it a deal breaker because you can house-rules it away and Paul has since a workaround.
Will you like Action Dice? Probably. Maybe? First and foremost, the game pays homage to the game-books of old, it’s fast and easy for the referee to adjudicate or further the plot on-the-fly. It’s rules light. If that’s not your jam, move on.
I’ll try and skim through a few details that might help you decided whether this is a PDF keeper or a delete.
What do we get? A 30-ish page document using a large font, it’s stretched across more pages than needed. The layout is minimalist but that seems to fit the game’s tone — light. Art is used sparingly but to good effect. As usual Paul’s writing is good.
The game’s mantra is set out in the first page: Don’t roll the dice unless it’s necessary, do improvise, don’t add extra rules when you can just wing it without the headache. The intro also tells us that the dice rolling isn’t the game, the interaction is. That’s not strictly true, it’s the dice that makes the role-playing a game.
Next we have the key area of the game and this is where my issue lies.
Three attributes: SKILL, FATE and HITS — Hits rather than Stamina but same-as. For SKILL and FATE, roll one die, ignore a six then add 5. HITS are 2 dice +12. You then get to add one discretionally point to either SKILL or FATE or 2 points to HITS. This gives your character a range of 6 to 10 (or 11) for SKILL and FATE, 24 for HITS. The minimum is 6, 6, 14 — +1 for the discretionary.
There is a point-buy system offered added at the last moment. For the time being, let’s pretend that isn’t there as diced characters is the author’s preferred option.
Next comes ROLE one of the bits that elevate this game beyond all the many previous attempts to bring Fighting Fantasy to group play. Your character’s ROLE gives you a peg from which to hang your concept. You’ll cook up some distinguishing features, gear and areas of defining abilities. If the area of expertise falls within your character’s ROLE you use the previously generated SKILL. If not, SKILL is reduced to 6 for the purpose of dice rolling.
And that’s my problem. Your ROLE may be, “lauded professor of archaeology”, and when using abilities related to that ROLE you use the character’s normal SKILL. If the ability is unrelated, your effective SKILL is 6. As mentioned above, if you’re unlucky your character might have a SKILL of 6 meaning she’s just as incompetent at firing a machine gun as he is at excavating ancient rules. You’ll need to fix that. The points system does straighten it out.
Checking for success is a chinch, if you are testing FATE or SKILL unrelated to combat you roll 2 dice, for a success you’ll need a result under the character’s rating rather than “equal to or less then”. In combat you throw 2 dice add your SKILL and compare the result to that of your opponents. The highest total wins that round. I don’t like to chop and change between different mechanics in such a simple game but it works well enough.
The game covers critical success, fumbles and other common events that will take place in your gaming session. Simple and well-conceived.
There are useful examples of powers and spells, a good base for your own creation. The default setting is low-power but you can change it up if you’d like; low work for me. Combat covers all the bases but a single hit always scores 2 points of damage unless the weapon is a rifle or pistol where a die is rolled to determine HITS lost.
Vehicle combat and explosions are included. There’s nothing so satisfying as blowing something up, particularly a main battle tank or Mech.
Enemies are up next and a good number of examples are provided. They run from SKILL 5 for a thug or goblin up to 14 for a dragon or jet fighter.
The game comes with some sample settings. I love Tank World, a post-apocalyptic environment where the only thing standing between salvation and utter doom is the player characters and the tanks they pilot. Nice. Next there’s a section on creating adventure-packed with ideas to fit the plot around the action scenes, rather that the reverse. It fits.
There’s an adventure generator to assist the imagination-challenged ref. but it’s bit too light to get my juices flowing. Closely related is the section on solo play. Action Dice is based on danger and excitement so prevalent in the game books so yes, good idea. The system presented here is not as robust as that featured in the latest version of Zenobia on which it is based so you could certainly crib ideas from there.
The book rounds out with a very good section on improving your characters through experience points. However, this chapter tells us that character improvement is slow and steady as the characters are already at the pinnacle of their careers. If that’s so, I pity the poor archaeologist from my example above, she peaked at primary school.
That’s it then, a great game that does exactly what it sets out to do — create a freeform action role-playing games that’s as simple as it is inclusive.