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Ideas for a gamebook-oriented rule system

A topic by No Time To Play created Dec 26, 2019 Views: 776 Replies: 15
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Moderator (1 edit) (+3)

So, this spring I made a (computerized) gamebook. I'm happy with how it came out. Success was moderate, but there's still time. Trouble is, my pet rule system had to be slashed significantly to fit the medium, even though it's designed from the start for computer and/or solo games.

As I hope to make more gamebooks like that, a simplified version is in order, and after some thinking figured out how the stats should work. Not so much combat. Guess I need to read more about similar systems, but they're relatively uncommon.

Please recommend me some RPG rule systems where enemies are treated like static difficulty targets to roll against, rather than active opponents that hit back on their own, casting spells and whatnot. Right now the only one I can think of is D6 Dungeons. (Edit: preferably free because right now my disposable income is rather small. Apologies.)

If it helps, my new system will also deemphasize gear, in order to simplify coding: heroes will be more likely to have a signature weapon than finding semi-disposable loot in every hole. Was thinking to maybe add fancy moves / techniques for them to learn and improve, so as to make combat spicier and provide a progression system at the same time, while not bogging things down with levels or stat increases.

Any thoughts would be appreciated. Right now my ideas about this are somewhat muddled; sorry about that. Ask if you need details.

I like it, it sounds fun, sadly I don't know any rpg systems like that


Have you come across The Black Hack at all?

It uses a 'roll under your stat' mechanic which means it works well for solo play.

Moderator (1 edit) (+1)

No I hadn't, thank you very much! Will take a look. Yeah, "roll under your stat" was a staple of gamebooks back in the day. Wouldn't work for me though, because I want the same dice pool mechanics that worked so well in my previous game.

Edit: that said, The Black Hack is using one of the methods I considered to determine which attributes to roll for each action. I'll follow this trail for a while then!

Is my game, Into the Woods..., the kind of thing you are looking for? All the things you encounter are basically fixed stat blocks that you need to roll against. It has two systems in play:

  1. Target Number - Where you just need to beat the target number with a D6 roll + modifier
  2. Opposed Roll - Where you need the higher overall number on a D6 roll + modifier

Rewards are given out depending on what phase of the game you are in, and are listed on the creature's stat blocks. So to me, that sounds close to what you are looking for at least. The game has been performing very well from what I can tell (compared to other TRPG's and such), so the system seems to have some decent appeal. My game was just a jam project, so it could certainly do with further polish, but it should serve as a solid base. I have an expansion for the game that fixes some things in the base game while expanding some of the content (at a small cost, base game is 100% free). Let me know if you want to look at that, we can probably work something out.

Anyway, I hope this was helpful. If this wasn't the kind of thing you were looking for, then sorry for the unnecessary reply. I'm interested in learning more about what you are making. Being totally honest, I'm not quite sure what you mean by "gamebook-oriented rule system", but it sounds cool nonetheless. Happy gaming, and in this case, creating! :)


I'll have to give it a read, at 58 pages Into the Woods isn't exactly tiny. Sounds about right though, from your description. Meanwhile, to answer your question, I mean a system that doesn't require decisions to be taken for enemies during combat, removing the need for either a game master or AI. Fewer dice rolls are a bonus, though that's much less important when a computer does all the math for you. So I came up with this concept where enemies have an overall combat score (it's not like you should be able to see their exact stats anyway). You roll the dice; if you beat their combat score, you deal damage. If you fall short, you take damage instead. Variety would come from which of your stats you roll against and various (dis)advantages providing trade-offs.

Of course, as always the devil is in the details, hence why I started this conversation. Thanks for the help!

Haha, well very true! My game is not exactly small. Still, I'm happy to hear you are giving it a look, and I'll be extra happy if it proves useful to you in any way at all. Of course, I'd love to hear if you enjoy the game (if you do give it a shot and not just read through it). As to your explanation, yes, that was much more clear! Thank you for that. Sounds like I did get the general idea then. Sounds like a cool game though, so I look forward to how this all turns out in the end.


Oh, 58 pages is small enough, just not possible to figure out at a glance. I left you a comment (and a rating). Other considerations aside, I notice your game does rely on opposed checks after all. And it turns out my rules had a fatal flaw as described earlier. Going to pivot again and try for a rock-paper-scissors system pitting each of the three attributes against a certain other. That should make combat interesting enough: what to do when your favored stat is well-matched by the opponent's?


I hear ya. I appreciate the comment and rating, even if the game wasn't to your taste. I'll be responding to your comment there as well (for the benefit of future folks). Anyway, I was perhaps unclear last night, but yes, my game does rely on opposed checks, but only some of the time. Either way, it sounds like you still got something out of reading so I suppose that's good enough lol. Wishing you the best with your own game of course :)

Moderator (2 edits)

(Rewriting this from scratch since nobody answered anyway.)

So, whatever I tried didn't quite work. My big idea was that you'd have three main stats: Power, Grace and Focus. Power means how much damage you can dish and take. Grace means how well you move, in particular how hard you are to hit. Focus means how easily you notice things, how fast you learn, spellcasting ability and the like. You'd start with two points in each, and get three more points to distribute as you like. Each point represents a d6, so an average score of 3 in a stat means you roll 3d6 for it. Other stats like maximum health would be implicit.

Question is, how to use all that. I considered giving each opponent a combat score as described above, and rolling against that. I considered opposed rolls, in various combinations. Nothing quite worked. The problem here is likely that I keep trying to treat this like a simplified version of my other rule system, and it's the entirely wrong direction.

But what else to do? No idea yet. Oh well, thanks for reading my ramblings, and see you around.


I got it! The trick is to use success counting rather than summing. That allows for fewer dice, too: start with just one point in each attribute, and distribute three more at will. Roll as many d6 as you have points in each attribute. Each 5 or 6 on a die is a success. In opposed rolls, you compare the number of successes. This should work!

Now for combat. I want the point balance to matter, so in a straight fight both opponents roll Grace. Whoever comes on top now rolls Power, and deal as much damage as they get successes. Plenty of room for variation here, like the initial margin of success (from Grace) being used as an extra damage die, or even automatic damage. Anyway.

(Your Power score would also indicate how much damage you can take without collapsing. So a wimpy wizard with just one die in Power would have 2 HP basically.)

The best part? From here on a lot of variation is possible. Like a "charge" action: roll Power directly, and deal damage accordingly. But! The opponent gets to roll Grace unopposed and otherwise handle it like a normal attack. That makes an extreme build with all the points in Power viable, but not overpowered.

As for casting? Roll Focus against the opponent's Grace. If they win, they roll for damage as above. If you win, the margin of success can be used in various ways:

  • deal automatic damage, rationalized as magic missiles, throwing stars or whatever fits;
  • gain a magic shield that absorbs some damage before fizzling out;
  • gain energy, that can be used on subsequent combat rounds to pay for rerolls, extra dice to roll or the like.

To keep spellcasters from just spamming their special attacks, make each success on a Focus roll cost a magic point from a pool; once this pool is depleted, the caster takes damage instead.

As for choosing the strategy of enemy NPCs? Remember that my original goal was to do without a GM or AI when it's not practical to have one, such as in a gamebook. Hence why the default is to roll for attack (with Grace) in response to pretty much any action. But you could also have special enemies, like a charging bull that always, well, charges. Or an evil wizard with a big pool of magic points who keeps shooting magic missiles.

(Of course, magic points could slowly replenish during combat, one per turn or by other means.)

That's all I have for now. None of this has been tested yet, but seems sound and should work. Feedback would be most welcome.

doesn't a high grace trump power almost all the time though?


It shouldn't, since grace by itself can't cause damage, therefore can't defeat the opponent. I'll have to playtest to be sure, of course.

Meanwhile, can anyone recommend rule systems based on counting successes? I'm aware of the one in WoD, but can't think of any others offhand.

(1 edit)

but you only need 1 power to chip them and you can just dodge all their attacks and continually attack

Moderator (1 edit) (+1)

You'd be chipping away very very slowly, and with this system, no matter how high your stats you can always roll zero successes while the opponent can always roll one at worst, and they also have other options. I'd be surprised if there was a problem unless you pitted a character with 4 grace against another with 1 grace, and the latter insisted on a straight fight instead of playing to their own strengths.

Edit: and if playtesting reveals a serious problem, then I can always borrow a page from my other system and grant characters an extra die on their next roll after they've taken damage, or another way to balance things out.

sounds good

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