Friday, May 5, 2023

Toward a System for Four-Color Sword & Sorcery

I've been thinking about cobbling together a system for a Bronze Age of Comics Sword & Sorcery rpg, a rarefied genre, perhaps, but one I'm quite fond of. I figure it will be a Frankenstein's monster of ideas from Year Zero Engine games, Broken Compass, and a few things from 2d20, maybe. Like all of those games, I'm thinking its a d6 dice pool system. The base roll will be akin to the Attribute+Skill of those systems.

The attributes with the appropriate flavor came relatively easily:

  • MIGHT: Force and physical power.
  • DARING: quick motion and boldness of action.
  • INTELLECT: Intelligence and reason.
  • INSTINCT: Intuition and perception.
  • CUNNING: Deception and manipulation.
  • PRESENCE: Charisma and force of personality.

The skills though have been much harder. I was never able to get the list as comprehensive and right-sized as I wanted. Ultimately, I decided to go the direction of some of the 2d20 games and the Atomic Robo rpg (which uses a form of Fate) and go with something a bit broader than standard skills. I settled on calling them "Domains."

  • SWORDS: The use of weapons and the general application and defense against violence. It also covers a practical knowledge of armor, weaponry, martial styles, tactics, and strategy. 
  • DEEDS: Acting boldly and physically to alter or navigate the environment or withstand its rigors. It is used to climb or leap, push on despite exhaustion, or smash physical obstacles, but also to pass detected, hide, or hold one’s drink. 
  • WILDS: Wisdom taught by the wilderness and living close to nature. It covers discerning the best way to move through difficult terrain, finding or building shelter, and tracking and reading sign, but also interacting with wild and domestic animals and knowledge of plants. 
  • CITY: Knowledge born of the habitations of humans and their societies. It covers a character’s learning and ability to find and acquire new information, but also their sophistication in regard to social graces and etiquette. 
  • WORDS: Relating to and communicating with others. It is used to influence, inspire or sway others through impassioned or reasoned arguments–or lies, or to discern the intent of others doing the same.
  • SORCERY: Knowledge of the arcane or occult arts. It covers the reading of mystic tomes, the recalling of esoteric lore, the performance of spells or rituals, and sometimes resisting the effects of magic.
The astute reader will note they form pairs of sorts. I think 36 possible combinations of the Attributes and the Domains covers pretty well most relevant skill areas. Some are obvious like Might+Swords being used for melee attacks, but others are perhaps less so but hopefully make sense, like Intellect+Wilds being used to navigate by the stars or identify medicinal (or poisonous plants). Some combinations might seem equally plausible for some actions, but I see that as a feature not a bug.


SF said...

What Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser comic are those panels from? (obvs not the Mike Mignola one I read decades ago...)

Trey said...

The ones DC did in the 70s.

Dungeons & Possums said...

This is, naturally, very up my alley. I agree with multiple ways to skin a cat being a feature, not a bug. It honestly feels a bit like a system that could have come out of the 70s or early 80s. If FASERIP was a modest success I see no reason this couldnt have been contemporary. I really enjoyed this!

Narmer said...


Anzon said...

Shades of Omar Golan's "Barbaric"

Claytonian said...

I mean, the Marvel 4 color system was the basis for TSR Conan, right? Maybe look at that one.

Dennis Laffey said...

Reading the list of Domains, I can't stop thinking "DEEDS NOT WORDS" but that may just be me.

Interesting ideas here!