Looking for feedback on my rules-light RPG (WIP, updated)

I’m looking for any kind of feedback or even playtesting on my RPG. It’s incomplete, and I’m unfocused in terms of the design, so… big grain of salt. That being said, here it is:

In a nutshell

Glasspunk is a roleplaying game about characters that are unique, proactive and volatile. The world, played by a Game Master, is always in motion.

You may create your own setting or get inspired by your favourite media, but the world is always full of peril and opportunity.

You act in the world by saying what you do, and sometimes you roll dice against the GM or another player to see if you succeed.

You have a higher chance of succeeding by rolling “bigger” dice (d4 → d6 → d8 ->…) when the action is relevant to your character and circumstances. When bad things happen, sometimes you take Harm, which you have 6 of. You regain it by taking Downtime and planning or bantering with your comrades. Tokens help you have more power and influence over the unfolding story, protect your friends, or have flashbacks. You get those by having your character go overboard with their traits or taking Downtime.

Characters

The game centers on a small group of intense characters exploring and changing the world around them as they flip between in-your-face, real-time adventuring and zoomed-out preparation for their next move.

  • Barker, the dwarven warrior, charges at the luminous alien monstrosity axe-first, consumed by rage, going out in a blaze of glory.
  • Orry, the witch, yells an incantation that alters time around her, slowing her enemies to a crawl… and one of her allies too.
  • The autocannon rattles at the hungry horde, but the undead inch forward, and ammo runs thin.
  • While their crew unwinds at the local pub, Rook spends the night researching a fascinating new poison at the temple library. Going foraging for roots in the deadly Wilds Below wasn’t part of the plan, but they’ll try to convince the squad to take a dangerous new detour.

Two things shape how likely any character’s action is to succeed:

  1. Truths about them defined on their character sheet or Stuff they have
  2. Exploiting advantages that come and go

You can make any kind of character you want, and you should bounce off ideas between the GM and the players to establish a tone first. When you feel you’re on the same page, here’s how you create a character.


Truths

A Truth is a phrase or sentence that indicates something currently true about your character.

The first Truth is your “core” truth, and you should put a 6-slice “clock” (imagine cutting a pizza in 6 slices) that gets marked when you get hurt, demoralised, or otherwise affected negatively. This is your Harm Clock.

What makes a good truth?

It gives a clear image of who they are and why they rock

The first truth, especially, should be your “one-sentence pitch” of the character. Why are you excited to play them? Why should the others be excited to play with you? What motivates them?

When in doubt, say something simple, and keep adding to it, perhaps ending with “but, …”

  • “I am a knight exiled for unspeakable crimes”
  • “We are a swarm of meta-devils who speak as one”
  • “I am a father… who hunts monsters as a job… but my rifle is haunted”

It hints at their drives or dark side

Goals come and go (for delicious XP rewards, too), but the core drives of someone are more permanent. If money, fame or revenge drives them, then what are they willing to sacrifice in its name? What don’t they value?

  • “I am a vengeful sailor with a peg-leg”
  • “I need to prove that I’m the strongest of the gang”
  • “I’ll pay any price for knowledge”

It helps build the world and its conflicts

If a Truth is allowed on your character sheet, then it’s true. Simple as that. As such, it could define the world around your character, and can kick off several sessions on its own! You can ask each other questions based on your Truths during

  • “I am a desert witch from the valleys of Charrorak”
    → How does magic work? What does it cost? Where is Charrorak?
  • “I have meta-devil friends everywhere.”
    → What are meta-devils? How do they all know you?
  • “Hottest hacker in the district”
    → Who did you piss off? How did you get your reputation?

You can think of several uses for it.

Truths will define and boost your actions in the game, so make sure you have more than one use for it.

  • “Good at shooting” → boring
  • “Lonely hunter” → might work better for when you want to track something or work your mysteriousness/awkwardness socially.
  • “I’ve lived my whole life among beasts and I only trust my bow.” → what you’re looking for

You’ll write one such truth to define your character broadly, then you can write more during play. Leave some space between them, or write them on different post-its or areas of your character sheet. You’ll be able to add Details.

It can be external, but is more or less permanent

You can have your signature weapon, talking spellbook, pet, vehicle or a squad of followers (consult with your group) be one of your Truths. Add a Clock or several that describes their state: health, loyalty, morale, corruption, etc. Briefly discuss what it means to tick down the Clock so that it actually has an impact in the game.

Details

Sometimes, a Truth is a good starting point, but it begs for some additions. Other times, a Truth can be flat-out overpowered (“I am a wizard!”) by having no well-defined limits or costs. That’s when you’re looking to add details.

To alter a truth, do one or more of the following:

  • Change the Truth itself partially
  • Make the Truth more specific or split off an ability into another Truth
  • Add a Clock reflecting a resource or progression relevant to the Truth:
    • the Harm clock of a companion or vehicle
    • the magical reserves or materials of a mage
    • the chaotic influences that get released by a dark power
  • Limit a truth, by:
    • making it more specific, e.g. limiting magical abilities to one or two themes
    • specifying the magnitude of the effects it can have
    • adding a cost, whether personal or material
    • adding a dark side or compulsion that a power enforces

Details can be:

  • neutral details such as “I have my father’s bow(…)”
  • negative/limiting ones like or “My magic only deals with fire and ash” (for a Truth about magic)
  • positive ones like “I can see through the eyes of birds” or “I know a guy for everything”

You may add as many neutral and negative truths as you want, or when any player is interested in details about it during Downtime(explained later). Positive details make a Truth more specific, and new ones can be gained through play.

E.g. “I can practice magic” → add details:
+ I can talk to the recently deceased.
+ I can brew potions with minor positive effects, given enough time and supplies.
- Sometimes, my potions have the opposite effect than intended.

Items and inventory

Your starting Truth might suggest what items you start with. Discuss with the GM and other players how loose you want to be with inventory, and what you track. You may want to track each bullet, significant items only, or not track inventory at all.

This is how we do it. If you do it differently, congratulations on inventing a Hack of Glasspunk.
Your starting inventory is as follows:

  • (character archetype) Stuff (can be “turned” into a mundane item) O O O O
    • name it something like “Witch Stuff”, “Hacker Stuff” or “Dad Stuff”
    • mark off a use to “turn it” into a common, low-value item someone like you would have on them
    • one Shiny is worth 4 of these
  • Shiny (currency) O O
  • An uncommon item with a descriptive Tag (like [heavy] or [jagged])
    • something you’d have that isn’t “just stuff”. Grandpa’s revolver. A Potion of Screaming. A handful of rats that didn’t make it as a Truth.
  • An uncommon item with a descriptive Tag

Optional: Tier economy

A way to handle value pretty simply is to split items (and rewards) into Tiers. An item of one tier is roughly equal to 3-5 items of the lower tier.

  • Tier 0 items are scraps. Low-value things that anyone could own: Rope… A bag of flour. Clothing. Food for a day. “Stuff”. Only limit these to encourage creative problem-solving or survival play.
  • Tier 1 items are common, but more significant: A decent weapon. Food for a few days. A handful of silver coins or bullets. Some herbs. An artisan’s services for a few hours.
  • Tier 2 items are uncommon: A sack of gemstones. A few days’ rent. Custom alterations to your weapon. A few days’ pay for a weak follower. Useless magical oddities.
  • Tier 3 items are valuable: A decent mount or sleek set of armour. A few mercenaries following you around for a few days. A couple new spells.
  • Tier 4 items are expensive: A vehicle or small house in the slums. Mounting an autocannon on your vehicle plus ammo to last for a while. A small vacation somewhere exotic.
  • And so on and so forth.

You’ve got your character. Now how do you actually do stuff in the game?
Glad you asked.


Core Moves


Action Roll

When you act upon something directly, or avert a danger, it’s an Action.
Sometimes, the outcome is an automatic hit or miss based on the fiction:

Endie wants to shoot the last living enemy, who lies wounded on the floor, right next to her. It just happens, no roll.
The knight swings his sword at the stone golem. There’s no roll. Its stone skin takes no damage, and the GM might react as the golem who grabs the knight or his weapon.

Otherwise, it might fail, be opposed, or have interesting, uncertain consequences. The player rolls against the GM or another player. The highest number wins.

The GM rolls a die of their choosing (d4 easy, d6 average, d8 tough, etc.), while Players follow this process:

d4 → [d6] → d8 → d10 → d12

  • Start with a d6.
  • Describe how you do it. This description of your action isn’t “just for flavour”. You get to imply what side-effects you get by acting, such as disarming, intimidating, or finding hidden things. Be generous and intense with your statement. Remember, though, it’s just what you intend to do, until the dice fall.
    • If you have a Truth or Stuff relevant to your attempt, step up your die.
    • If you’re in an Advantageous position because of the environment, a weakness to exploit, information you have, etc., name it and step up your die.
  • Suggest what the risk might be.

Barker the warrior charges the Sun Worm with his axes. Harm and other effects could occur to both, so it’s a roll.
Orry invokes a spell that her Truths indicate she’s capable of doing: talking to the recently deceased.

On a hit (your number is greater), things go your way. Narrate the outcome based on your impact. You may apply a mild side-effect aside from the Harm or progress that results from the roll, such as a combat maneuver tripping an enemy.

The axes carve clean through the belly of the Worm(2 out of 3 Harm left now) as the warrior yells with rage. What will he do next?

On a tie, it’s a mixed result. You get a choice, partial success, or a twist.

The desert witch kneels next to the dead man, and fire starts billowing from his mouth, the smoke winding in the vague shapes of a human form. The connection is frail. She may only ask him one question.

On a miss, the GM is free to narrate what happens. The risk may come to pass, in which case you must make a Sacrifice. If the roll was made to determine the cost of something, rather than the outcome, the player may get a twisted version of what they want.

The axe lodges into the Worm’s hard skin, and its tail comes whipping like a flail, launching Barker several meters away for 1 Harm.


Maneuver

Instead of directly acting something, you may set up an advantageous position for yourself. Ask if you roll or not as per Action Roll, and the outcome may boost your relevant actions.

Examples:

Knocking down an enemy, or positioning for a better shot
Laying out a trap or ambush
Complimenting someone before you haggle for a better deal or trying to find what items they’re interested in


Sacrifice

When you expose yourself to danger, fail, or must pay a price, and the GM doesn’t name the cost, pick from of the following (GM decides how many):

  • Take harm, 1 for a minor setback, 2 for something more serious, etc, up to 6.
  • Take a consequence (a bad Truth with or without a Clock, such as “Broken Leg”, “Cursed” or “Demoralised”). Fiction dictates how serious or lingering the consequence is. It may amplify risks or step-down certain actions, or outright make them impossible.
  • Strain a bond with someone else (e.g. angry, disappointed, distrustful of you, might require dealing with afterwards)
  • Be put in a disadvantageous spot or delayed
  • Something of value is damaged or lost
  • You bring out your dark side. An instinct of yours is blown out of proportion and you cause chaos. This counts as a [[#Hook]](below) and gets you a token.
  • A Truth is disabled until you recover. You may not take actions related to it.
  • Tick a negative clock forward.
  • A new twist or threat emerges.

Use a Token

Tokens may be earned and spent to alter the fiction. They are all gained with Downtime and Hooks by interacting with other characters and the world.

  • Flashback - declare a useful action in the past that doesn’t contradict what has been done so far, e.g. a prepared spell or item, a precaution or contact
  • Boost - increase the impact of a success, after a roll
  • Protect - take on a consequence meant for someone else, and reduce it
  • Insight - a guaranteed success on your next Question/Reveal

Zoom Out / Zoom In

When a scene has a clear outcome, and it feels right to wrap it up, you may do a Zoom out. Resolve the rest of the scene with a single Basic Action that determines the costs or complications of the inevitable success or failure.

Similarly, declare when you’d like to Zoom in and have things happen moment-by-moment. Discuss with the group and reach a consensus.

The fierce warrior pulls out his axe from the head of the Worm. A small swarm of weak imps remain, and the group decides not to play out the victory. A zoomed-out roll against a d4 decides that he mops them up several at a time with his companions, and so the group describes the battle ending in vivid, punchy narration.

Rook wants to spend the night researching poisons at the temple library. It could be interesting to see how long it takes or if they encounter anything unusual, so it’s a roll, but a zoomed-out one. The library is not the focus. They miss against the GM’s d6.
The GM decides that Rook spends a sleepless night with the promise of deadly knowledge dangled above them. So fascinated they are, that they end up getting lost in it. They lose time, and Rook is exhausted, but a new poison recipe is available.
Alternatively, they find a book of poisons, but one of the ingredients can only be found in the Wilds Below, a dangerous underground wasteland.

The group rents a giant beetle and a couple guards to take them safely across a stretch of wilderness. One player suggests that they’d like to zoom in and see what happens on the way there, triggering some Oracle Rolls for encounters and Downtime.


Oracle Roll

When a question is asked that the players have little influence over, the GM may do an Oracle Roll. A plain d6 is rolled for yes/no, quality or quantity of something, etc.:

“Can I find a mechanic in this town?” asks a player. The GM doesn’t have this prepped, but deems it pretty likely, given their setting. “4 in 6 chance”. They roll a d6, and if it lands on 4 or under, the answer is “yes”. Further oracle rolls may determine things about the mechanic. A “no” can be a plain “no”, or “no, but…” as if it were a miss on an Action Roll. Keep things moving. Never have a roll stop things dead in their tracks.


Reveal / Question

When you try to understand the past, your surroundings or potential outcomes of the situation, you can do the following:

  • Ask a question that your character could get the answer to. If needed, describe how your character is gathering information.
  • The GM decides if a roll is required. It can be an Action Roll or Oracle Roll that serves as inspiration.
  • Learn something new about the world, with a potential boost to your next relevant roll.

Examples:

  • Looking for something useful in the environment
  • Understanding what someone feels or intends to do
  • Adding descriptive details to the scene
  • Hanging out at the pub, getting rumours and connections from fellow adventurers
  • Finding a weakness in an opponent with a few probing strikes
  • Communing with your deity for a useful vision

Hook

When you suggest an interesting situation or spark an interesting dynamic based on someone’s Truth or a Bond, and they accept, you both gain a Token . If it’s a self-hook, only you get a Token.

The witch’s player grins, and suggests a Hook about Barker charging into the fray alone, forcing his companions to run after him and cover his ass. They lose the element of surprise, and the tokens better be worth it.
Orry stares at the smoking spirit, and her player says: “What if I didn’t trust my companions, growing up alone in the desert, and instead of shouting a question to the spirits, and whispered it instead so that only I hear the answer?” A token is earned, and the player and GM exchange a question and an answer briefly, in private. The party widens their eyes with curiosity.


Downtime

When you have time to rest and interact with others, you may do any of the following, up to Harm suffered.
Each Downtime action clears 1 Harm and gets you a Token.

  • Make a new Plan (below) or Get the reward for a resolved one
  • Tell a story from your past or ask another character an interesting question
  • Tell a rumour that suggests something about the world: a location, an NPC, or something about a player character.
  • Overcome a light condition or Reveal how to clear a heavier one
  • Advantage and preparation
  • Explore your surroundings, Question or Create things
  • Reflect on your Truths
    • Alter a Truth
    • Add a positive detail to a Truth (costs 3 XP and another limitation or dark side)
    • Boost a Truth (d8 instead of d6 when rolling it) (costs 4 XP, add a limitation or dark side)
    • Add a new truth beyond the first four with a detail (costs XP equal to number of truths so far, add a limitation or a dark side)

Make a plan

Plans are the main way to get XP and guide the game. When in Downtime, take a small paper and fill in the following:

  1. “What do you want?” You get 1 XP when you resolve the situation, even if you technically fail.
  2. “How or why are you going to do it?” (optional for +1 XP reward)
  3. “What is the main obstacle you expect?”

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Are there any specific aspects you’d particularly like feedback on?

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How much it serves the purpose of a “beginner-friendly, structured RPG that allows for unique characters”, how readable and actionable it is, anything that comes to mind.

Re: beginner-friendliness: I think it might help to give the rules a little more room to breathe. You could use more natural-language explanations of how things work. There are a lot of proper, capitalized terms, which can be hard to read—I might see if you can cut down on those.

In particular, your core resolution mechanic is not explained well. I assume that the player fails if the GM rolls higher? You haven’t clarified that.

It’s certainly structured and I can see that it gives a lot of freedom to players in terms of character creation (although too much freedom can be limiting in its own way), but it’s hard to comment on that structure/freedom without knowing more about why you want that for your game in the first place.

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When you say “beginner friendly” do you mean that it is a game for beginner players and an experienced GM, for beginner GMs with experienced players, or for beginner GMs and beginner players?

I did a bunch of updates, and would really appreciate it if you gave it another read. No pressure!

Do hooks have to be disadvantageous like in the example? You state they need to be “interesting” what does that mean? Is it like compelling an aspect in Fate, if not how is it different?

Phrasing it is a bit tough, and I’m still not quite focused enough on what exactly I want from them. I’m thinking… good or bad, it’s highly in-character and significantly alters what’s happening. A mix of D&D Inspiration and Compels in a way. I’m open to suggestions on it.

It’s an important decision because some players will want to generate tokens by making lots of hooks that also positively impact them and avoid challenge.

If the GM doesn’t want to let them do that saying “it has to be interesting” is going to feel bad to the player.

The tokens are a powerful meta-game incentive so deciding what that tool is meant to incentivize is going to be key in altering how the game plays.

I’m thinking that “Hooks” are a way to generate tokens outside of Downtime. In Downtime, they’re encouraged (ideally) to plan goals (and give the GM a bit of a warning shot about where they’re headed) and interact with each other, heal up, stock up on tokens, then go wild on the world. Hooks are going to be… hmm. They have to be a choice with trade-offs right?

I have to think about what it’s meant to incentivise, in a way that isn’t just “playing their characters”. Maybe somehow acting on “triangular relationships”, like two players caring or disagreeing about the same thing? That’d introduce another buzzword and game mechanic into the text but might be worth it.

I’m genuinely impressed with how much you expanded it and added examples, it’s much clearer to read now—the introductory sections toward the beginning are a huge help, too.

It seems like one of your main concerns here is tightly integrating downtime mechanics with the core of the game. I have to admit, I don’t know as much as I’d like to about story games—maybe this is directly inspired by Blades in the Dark or some other game?—but I think “do a downtime activity to heal” is really smart.

It’s also interesting that you don’t differentiate player and GM moves; instead they’re all under one heading. I kind of like that as a change from the PbtA standard.

Is there a limit on how many tokens players can have at once? It might be good to have a limit so that players are forced to spend rather than hoard them.

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Thank you!!! I was thinking of re-integrating GM Moves, but I’m curious what makes you like their removal now…

It comes from thinking that realistically, by calling for a Defy Danger, the GM kind of IS rolling at-will, but they always roll 7-9. Does that make sense?

I’m pondering experimenting with a bit more of a crunchy “initiative system”. Basically, the spotlight is on someone, and they can act. They roll or pass the spotlight to someone else (e.g. “Ok Player Two, NOW!”). On a hit, they keep initiative. On a miss or tie, initiative changes hands to the “opponent”.

My hunch is that I’d want the increased control and decreased complexity of “I’ll go when I want to as a GM”.

I think the GM Moves are brilliant though, so yeah… I want your 2c about both their removal from here and the Initiative system. Or anyone’s 2c.

Oh and of course, the ever-present and debatably useful question curses my mind.
“Is this OSR/NSR/FKR?”

It’s NSR if you feel that the label does it for you. Generally speaking I like @flyrefi’s comment:

(1) You might hear sometimes that we’re “the OSR but with a distaste for crusty old D&D rulesets,” and there’s a grain of truth to that, but really we have a wide spread of tastes (Into the Odd, story games, FKR, weird old RPGs, even some 5E and some old-D&D ruleset people!).

(2) We don’t like strict RPG dogma. We have something of a slogan that @jeffszusz came up with: “Where the best game is the game you like to play, the way you like to play it.” For example, we try to tailor feedback on your ideas to your preferences and design goals rather than our own. This is a great place to be if you feel alienated from other communities and their focus on how everything has to be done a certain way, or if you just want to learn more about other playstyles."

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I’m not sure why I like the moves all being under one heading… It just feels a bit more collaborative and open, not to mention simple.

The crunchier initiative idea sounds a bit more complicated than it’s worth, but maybe I’m missing something in regards to why you’re interested in it in the first place.

Why need to have two ways to get tokens? The downtime mechanic is already cool on it’s own.

OSR - no, this is pretty far on the other side of the spectrum from typical osr design.

FKR - I’m not an expert but I don’t think so.

NSR - yes, I think.

I think this best fits in the narrative/story game bucket if you really feel the need to categorize it.

OSR - no, this is pretty far on the other side of the spectrum from typical osr design.

I don’t know if I agree with that. I think one could run a fairly “OSR”-leaning game with these rules. Depends mostly on the attitude toward the prepared adventure.

Edit: Player action rolls now start at a d6 instead of d4. d4 is too punishing, even for actions that are “possible, but not on your sheet”.

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I was thinking in terms of “would this game be received as OSR by people within the OSR scene?”

It doesn’t really matter though, asking “is this OSR?” Is less productive than exploring the game itself.