I started to play RPG when I was 15 years old and I still love the game. I already wrote a book of rules in Portuguese (a RPG game about vampires) and now I decided to rewrite all the rules in English.
What does RPG mean?
If you don't know what RPG is I will give a very brief explanation on the specific type of RPG that I love. It is a game that can be compared to an interactive book. I say an interactive book because in a book you have a written history and you use your own imagination to see the scenes. In the game, it is interactive because you control the actions of the main character (the character you will be playing), yet you continue to "see" the history using your imagination and, instead of reading a book with a small list of possibilities you will be "with the author of the book" (called the game master) while he describes the scenes. You will only be responsible for one character, not for the entire history, so you can still have surprises. Finally, we should remember that it is a game, not a history completely built by a single person, so it has rules and most games have more than one player (so, there will be more than one main character).
My RPG system
While playing RPG I inevitabely read a lot of rules, used them, was victim of some badly written ones and revised them when I was the master of the game. I revised rules so often that there was a moment that people started to say that I should write my own rules... which I eventually did.
In fact, creating my own rules was a great exercise. Many systems say that we can ignore the rules if they are becoming a problem in the game, but they don't really explain why the rules are how they are and, so, changing the rules is a problem. Also many people argue that rules should be secondary in a RPG game, that the fun and the history must come first. While I agree with the fun idea, I must say that rules exist to help in those situations that not even the master is sure on what should happen. Surely there are keypoints in the history that will happen independently of any rule, but what about conflicts that may end-up killing a character? Especially if that character is a main one? Is it fun to lose a character by bad rules? I am pretty sure it is not, and there is where rules are very important.
In portuguese, SERP3NTE is an acronym that really looks like SERPENTE or, in English, SERPENT. I didn't manage to make it an English acronym, but I still want to keep this name.
The system was created for a vampire game but it was never really limited to vampires, so I will start by presenting the system as a generic system for RPG games and later I will present specific rules to play vampire games (and other kinds of games, like Heroes games).
As SERPENT is the RPG system, it is extremely related to rules. You can of course ignore most of the rules if they aren't adding fun to the game, but they should exist for those problematic moments when fairness is important. To make it clear, this is one of the main points of the SERPENT system. It is entirely built to be fair. In many situations realism is ignored to make the rules simpler or to achieve fairness. I don't care if the real world is not fair, the rules exist to make good games and the unfair part may exist in the history built by a specific master, not in the rules.
So, the first point of the SERPENT system is Balance. Except for rare situations (with valid reasons) two contrary Powers used against each other with the same number of successes should kill each other. It is not fair to choose one power to be stronger than the other on most situations, so this will not happen in this system.
Also, a very problematic situation is caused by powers that are fully effective at level one or with a single success. So, another key point in the SERPENT system is progressiveness. All the powers should start weak and become stronger. So, no, you can't have a level one power that makes your character completely invisible.
And, even if this does not directly affect the rules, I will try to explain the decisions that I made when designing the traits of the game and even the "how" the Powers work. Having such reasoning it is easier to create new Powers or even to correct existing ones.
Roleplaying and Rollplaying
RPGs are known by the use of dice and rolls to decide almost everything. Such characteristic created the joke about rollplaying instead of roleplaying. This is also the reason why many people say that the important trait of a RPG game should be the history, not the rules. If some actions are obviously possible without restrictions there is no reason to make rolls. You don't need rolls to allow your character to walk or run. Of course sometimes we may fall by distraction, even if we walk everyday, but if it's not important to the history, don't lose time doing such rolls.
Also, if your character has a trait (like an addiction) that he is not trying to overcome, don't ask to roll everytime to see if he follows his addiction. Roleplay it. That is, he will follow his addiction most of the time.
So, considering all the players are already respecting their own characters (and we will see rules for their creation later, as we should not give all advantages to one character and all the disadvantages to another for no reason) we will still have rules to follow those traits. In SERPENT all the rules try to help the players to roleplay their characters accordingly. As it is not enough to talk about a topic without giving details, I will give an example that happened a lot in Vampire: The Masquerade (from White Wolf). Don't get me wrong, I started with such game and I love it, yet I had a problem with this particular rule.
In Vampire: The Masquerade most vampires have Humanity (and some may have alternative Paths of Enlighment). Humanity can be seen as how good the character is (or how much the character keeps his human feelings and remorse). In most respects it is logical: Most humans can't simply kill another person. We are not talking about laws (and going to the prison), but people will feel remorse of doing such bad action and most vampires still keep that attitude. The problem comes when your character decides he should kill someone else (another character, we aren't talking about real people killing each other). In such game, the character can freely kill another character and, later, there is a roll to determine if the vampire lost Humanity or not by doing such act.
Did you see the problem? If not, I will make it clear. Humans will probably feel guilty before killing someone else and, if they do, they will also feel remorse (even if they still have logical reasons to convince themselves they did the right thing). But the rules aren't helping in that, they are simply applying a possible "punishment" after the action, which in fact makes the character feel no remorse if he loses Humanity.
In SERPENT, if the character has such Humanity trait, he will have penalties to actually do the bad action. It is expected to roleplay that but, if you don't, then the "rollplaying" can still force the good roleplaying, as the roll may decide that your character feels remorse before taking the action and stops it in the middle.
The actual rules
The rules are divided into Character creation, Character development and In-Game. But, as we must understand the game (and the traits used in the game) to actually create a good character I will present the In-Game rules first. In the creation rules, details like the character background will be explained and also I will try to explain why those are important, but now let's see the SERPENT In-Game rules.
The traits in this game are divided into Attributes (which are the main traits that everyone has, even if at the minimum levels and are used to determine the number of dice to rolls), Facilitators (which are more specific traits, usually achieved through education and training and that are usually used as the easiness of the dice rolls), Specializations (which reduce penalties of specific facilitator tests), Powers (or simply magic powers, which is almost a must in RPG games), Merits and Flaws (which usually aren't progressive to be considered attributes or facilitators) and Morals (that help determine what is right and wrong for the character).
Attributes are so basic traits that having one of them at zero may be considered a complete inability to something. For example, having an Intelligence of zero a character is simply unable to think and, consequently, unable to do any voluntary action. Having a Strength of zero the character has no strength at all to move his muscles, which is far worst than having atrophy.
To the SERPENT system there are only two kinds of attributes: Physical and Mental. There aren't social attributes, as the "beauty" of a character is considered a physical trait while being good at manipulating other people is considered a mental trait, even if both may affect the actual social interactions of the characters. The physical attributes are Agility, Life, Precision, Resistence and Strength. The mental attributes are Determination, Intelligence, Magical Resistence, Perception and Social Influence.
Of those attributes, the ones I think deserve special explanations are:
- Life: A resistent character usually does not get sick frequently and is also more resistent to physical damage. Yet, after the character gets sick or is hurt, it is the Life that determines how well the character will recover. Also, this trait usually determines how many years a human will live before dying by natural causes.
- Social Influence: This attribute can also be called manipulation but, in fact, it involves manipulation and charisma. This trait determines how good the character is at convencing people that are "neutral" to them. But, as persons may have all kinds of prejudices, rolls involving Social Influence are frequently subject to bonus or penalties caused by other factors (like beauty, religion, reputation, skin color etc).
In the future I will probably write a description for each attribute, also showing some examples. But for now, let's keep things small.
All traits in this game go from Zero to Eight, where Zero is complete incapability and Eight is a real master (humans usually only achieve values of Five if they become history for some special trait). So, the strongest man in the world (considering normal humans) may have Strength Five.
Without any rolls we can use the attribute levels to determine some things (for example, a Strength Two person can easily carry 40kg of weight, while a Strength Five person can carry 250kg of weight). Yet, in most situations we will deal with dice rolls. Such rolls are usually made by the sum of two attributes for voluntary actions and by a single attribute by involuntary ones (Perception and Resistence rolls are the most common involuntary actions, as even a sleeping character can perceive things to wake-up or can resist attacks). The difficulty of the tests are usually determined by a facilitator, which we will see next. Considering that the greater the level of the facilitator the easier the test becomes, I decided to say easiness instead of difficulty of the tests. That is, the level of a facilitator is usually the easiness of a test.
If you want more details on how the dice rolls work, see the Dice Rolls page.
Facilitators are more specific traits than Attributes and, in the rolls, they usually determine the easiness of the tests. For example, to do a surgery a roll of Intelligence + Precision may be asked, with an easiness determined by the level of the facilitator Medicine.
Facilitators are usually the result of training and/or study and are considered "internal" to the character, yet there are some facilitators that are external. Things like reputation, fame and even friends may be considered facilitators in the game, as they may help the character in different situations, yet they are external and, usually, more "volatile", as they can cease to exist by many different reasons (the fame may be lost, friends may become enemies, may move to another town, they can even be killed and so on).
I will not present all the traits at this moment, but an important thing to know is that in SERPENT different martial arts don't have their own Facilitators. To the traits, it is not important which martial art was trained, only the results that may be obtained. So, some of the combat traits that may be developped by different martial arts are: Unarmed attack, Unarmed defense, Dodge, Melee attack and Melee defense. This does not mean it is not important for the character to practice some martial art, as he will need to train something to develop those traits, but it means there aren't overlapping traits, as two (or more) martial arts that can be used to punch.
Also, not all traits should exist in all games. Some traits may be considered secondary and grouped with other traits to avoid spending a lot of points that will be rarely used. An example of such situation is Driving and Pilotting airplanes. Obviously pilotting airplanes is very different from driving cars, but the master may opt that a single "point" is spent in pilotting and the level of Drive is used to both cars and airplanes if there aren't going to be a lot of situations where pilotting airplanes is useful.
The Facilitators are already more specific than the Attributes and they are combined with them while doing the tests. But they are still "generic" in purpose. Even with the combat traits divided into attack, defense, also divided if they are used with bare hands or with melee weapons, there aren't facilitators for specific kinds of attack (like round-house kicks). There is where Specializations come into play. They help in very specific uses of the Facilitators.
The concept of specializations is not new, but the way they are used is (at least to my knowledge). In other games specializations simply allow to roll more dice or make the tests easier. This can easily be abuse to make easy but powerful tasks (like combat) extremely easy. In SERPENT Specializations can only be used to reduce penalties and, so, hard tasks can become as easy as normal tasks, but never easier than normal tasks. So, it is impossible to develop specializations to actions that don't have penalties and a specialization for round-house kicks (for example) can't make them easier than normal punches, as those don't have penalties. If, for that particular character, round-house kicks are easier than punches, that probably means the character is wrong (so he believes that) or that it has some flaw that makes his punches harder.
The Powers, that can also be called Magic (that depends more on the kind of game than on the rules) usually work like the Facilitators, but they allow to do things that normal humans can't do (like fly, change his own body to look like a wolf or bat, create fire from nothing etc) and in normal situations they consume magic energy (that can be blood for vampires, mana or the like, again the name may vary depending on the kind of game, yet the basic rules are the same).
As happens with Facilitators and Specializations, the Powers are usually very broad in what they do, but the more interesting powers are usually specializations of those more generic powers. For example, the Metamorphosis magic allow the character to change his own body to look different, allowing hair to grow (or even to be reduced), to change skin color and, with many successes, to create tatoos or even claws. But it is possible to develop specializations to make specific changes (like Claws) an easy task and, when evolving that particular specialization, making it much more deadly.
One big difference here is that power specializations are, in fact, new powers that depend on at least one existing power (yes, some powers may depend on more than one different power) and also the dice roll will not make it easier to use the previous power, it simply requires the existence of the previous power to be able to learn the new one. Only to give an example, in Metamorphosis it is possible to develop Claws (basic specialization), to assume a stone-like form (intermediary specialization) and even to become liquid or vapor-like, having some amount of control of such form (advanced specialization).
Those levels (basic, intermediary or advanced) only determine the minimum level required on the main power to be able to develop such new power).
As the system always try to be balanced, having the level one usually means making tests with easiness One, while having it at level eight means having easiness Eight. And then, the successes usually determine how well the power works. In general, the powers aren't 100% guaranteed. Even a power that makes a character invisible isn't really doing that, it is probably only making it hard to spot, but still possible. Of course that having lots of successes may represent that no-one will be able to do it.
To see detailed rules about the Powers, go to the Powers page.
Merits and Flaws
Most traits in the SERPENT system are positive and progressive, but there are always exceptions.
Flaws are usually easier to understand. They are bad traits. In the game they are used to gain more points during the character creation and they may also help in the good roleplaying of a character (and thus they may give additional experience points if well interpreted). Flaws can be of any kind (physical, like not having an arm, mental, like having phobias or added difficulties to some mental tests or even supernatural, like vampires that may be "allergic" to garlic).
And Merits are usually those good traits that can't be progressive, so they can't be considered as normal facilitators. For example, not having to breath is not something progressive (it will be progressive if the character can hold the breath longer than expected, but not having to breath at all, well, it is a merit). Merits usually are only seen as basic, intermediary or advanced, and they have such level at the moment they are obtained, they don't need to "evolve" like normal traits, as they are usually an "have/don't have" situation. In many cases merits and flaws can only be obtained at character creation or when the character has enough magical powers related to such trait to justify developing it.
Morals are traits that can't be considered as definetely good or bad and may be optional depending on the kind of game. Their initial purpose is to put rules on traits are usually seen as the personality of a character.
For example, imagine that a character becomes supernatural from one moment to the other and he knows that he can't be killed and that he can kill anyone with a simple tought. Will he really start to kill anyone he doesn't like?
If your answer is yes, he has the power to do it and he doesn't need to be afraid, then you are not thinking about moral. But if your answer is: He can kill and maybe the society can't do anything about it, but he will probably use such powers to help people, then you are already thinking about moral.
But moral doesn't mean the character will become a super-hero if he has powers. Moral exists on normal humans and usually represent the sub-conscious attitude, usually related with remorse. Maybe some action seems logical to the character, still he has difficulty to do it and, if he does, will feel guilty. That's what moral really is.
To the system, Morals can add or reduce penalties to tests. They don't naturally give any direct bonus (so you will not roll more dice than the unmodified roll thanks to a Moral), but a Moral trait may reduce (or even completely eliminate) penalties caused by fear or even some supernatural powers if the character is doing the right thing for his own moral. On the other side, the character may have added difficulty (and even impossibility) to take some actions that go against his own moral.
For example, a character with the principle of No-Violence may have to test Determination + Intelligence, easiness two to be able to directly harm someone. On the other side, a character that is forbidden to act by a supernatural power may have some automatic successes to resist such power if his purpose is to protect someone.
Cross-overs and playing other systems under SERPENT
The SERPENT system is relatively expandable and can be used to play many different kinds of game. So, it is relatively natural to try to put many different super-natural creatures on the same game.
Considering all the creatures use the same basic rules, doing cross-overs is easy. But, considering there are a lot of other RPG games out there something I am pretty sure people will want to do is to play other games inside the SERPENT system. So, is it possible?
And my answer is both yes and no.
I don't want to be vague so I will explain. The SERPENT system is relatively prepared to support many different concepts, yet its "progressive" system (in which the level one power can do the same as the level eight power if there are enough successes [which is of course extremely rare]) may be contraty to many "static" games, in which each powers may be of different levels from the start (so you "buy" a level 1 power or a level 5 power).
So, if you want to play one of those games inside SERPENT, what do you really expect to do?
- Do you want to "import" the world, organisation, possible mystic creatures and use the SERPENT magic and moral system?
- Do you want to "import" all the things from the previous item, but instead of using the SERPENT magic and moral system you will import the original game system for those, only replacing the magic activation rolls by the SERPENT attributes/facilitators/roll system?
Each one of the options that you make may have its advantages and disadvantages. If you continue to use the magic system of the original game (considering it is a "static" magic system, like Werewolf: The Apocalipse or Vampire: The Masquerade system) only replacing the rolls you will loose the open system in which the "will" of the characters can create new powers, but you will have an almost replica of the original game. If you choose to use the SERPENT magic system with the plot and social structure of the other game you may end-up with a very different game, that only keeps some social structure of the original game, as the characters will have more freedom to develop and use magic. If that's acceptable or not, it's up to you.
To continue... - Work in progress