Red Ink Adventures: Rules and GM Advice

A. Shipwright.

Here is the continually updated link to the rules of Red Ink Adventures.

Here is the character sheet.

After some playtesting, I adjusted some things. So if you’ve downloaded it, do so again. Two pages gets more revision than you’d think.

I also wrote some GM advice for how to run the game, while giving some insider-talk about how the game was designed and why things are how they are. Some are actually “rules” but for the GM. This is how I run most of my games anyways, but I figured I should spill the beans on side issues, like Fortune rolls, Knowledge and Perception checks, and monster generation.

Also, read the rules more than once. It has a short length because every word matters. It’ll take you only 10 minutes tops.

GM Advice (for once you’ve read the rules)

Danger Rolls

Unlike other role-playing games, the “difficultly class” or “target number” of Red Ink Adventures never changes. Getting a “6” is hard. Even with the highest stat, a +2, PCs only have a 50% chance of success. This is by design. Players do not want to roll. Instead, when in a risky situation, players will want to advocate for themselves to receive as many advantages as possible. Remember, if players have two or more advantages, they do not have to roll. Success is automatic. It is your job as the GM is adjudicate whether or not something, be it an item, approach, or position counts as an advantage. 

Advantage (and Disadvantage) 

There is Advantage in this game, like in DnD 5e if you’re familiar with that game, but no rules for Disadvantage (that is, the opposite of Advantage). The game is generally hard enough without taking the lowest die, but you could easily rule in disadvantage. However, you can add these rules to your notes if you feel it to be necessary: “When a situation is extremely risky or uncertain, the GM may grant Disadvantage to the roll. In this case, the player rolls 2d instead of 1d and uses the lowest die. If more than one disadvantage applies to the PC’s action, the action is usually impossible. Advantage and disadvantage cancel one another.

Fortune Rolls

Sometimes the GM will make a fortune roll to see how the situation is established. Select the odds of something happening and roll 1d. Generally start with 3-in-6 and add or subtract for each circumstance in their favor or working against them. Low numbers are bad fortune, high numbers are good fortune. The GM may make a fortune roll to establish the weather, indicate an encounter’s general attitude, or determine if a PC knows something about a monster or region or royal family. Remember: if a PC takes an action that relies on pure chance, they make a CHA Danger Roll, not a Fortune Roll.

Knowledge and Perception

Players must be given information constantly. The GM is their window into the world, their eyes, their ears, and all other senses. Without being told what they can perceive, the players are blind and cannot make informed decisions. This game is generally difficult enough that players don’t also need to be confused and frustrated about what is going on as well. 

In Red Ink Adventures, there are no “knowledge” or “perception” rolls. This is game-changing if you haven’t tried it.

If something is hidden, they cannot see it. They have to look for it. Have players specify how they search a room and look for what’s important. There is a greater need for sleuth-detective work in this game than in other games.

If something is unknown, they do not know it. They have to find out for themselves. Go to library. Ask someone who would know. Leverage your background and contacts to help out.

If your adventure relies on a good perception check or knowledge roll to figure out what is going on, you’re running a bad adventure.

Health and Damage

PCs have 10 Health and it goes quick. There’s no “roll-to-hit” in this game, only straight damage. No PC should die in one blow (unless they do something really idiotic, like jump into a pool of lava). Only a monster with +4 AT rolling a 6 can force a 10 Health PC with no Armor to make a Dying roll on their first attack. This gives players a chance to assess and react before deciding whether to fight or flee.

Remember, only the highest Attack Roll against a target on a given turn deals damage. This is to prevent the PCs from being mobbed and the solo monsters from being mobbed by the PCs. So you can have ten +0 AT goblins strike one PC without Armor (roll 10 six-sided dice and take the highest), just expect that they’ll do exactly 6 damage each turn and that is it.  

Hazard Roll

This rule is purely for you, the GM. It keeps the pressure up on PCs in the dungeon or wilderness.

When the PCs rest, waste time, or otherwise attract attention to themselves in a dangerous area, make a Hazard Roll:

  1. Danger. One or more threatening enemies descend upon the party.
  2. Encounter. Someone or something finds the party. Determine their disposition.
  3. Clue. The party hears, smells, sees, or finds evidence of a nearby encounter.
  4. Expiration. Ongoing effects end, torches run out, lanterns need fuel, bellies rumble.
  5. Environment. The surrounding’s state shifts or escalates in some way.
  6. Discovery. The party finds something interesting or possibly beneficial.

Use it as you see fit.

Debt

All PCs start in debt. This is what connects the party. You and the players need to figure out why the PCs have this debt. Did they invest in something big? Did they all decide to party it up one fateful night? Are they working off an expensive bail after almost pulling off a heinous heist crime involving beholder bankers and a dragon syndicate?

When the debt is paid off, the group has two options: retire the campaign or continue play. The debt functions merely as a catalyst for the game. It frames why the PCs adventure, why the group is together, and ties them to the world in some meaningful way.

Suffice it to say that the PC together for the common cause. Because they’re under the constant threat from…

The Creditor

Here’s a great spot for you as the GM to either, A) improvise or B) add your own content. If you use The Creditor table as written, you come up with what they are, who’s a part of that group, and how they operate. I’ve tried to pick names that hit on all three of these points. If, because you have a setting of choice, are prone to make your own content, or hate these possible creditors (stolen from DnD 4e’s Nentir Vale, which might explain your dislike) then make your own. Start with making six factions as a nice, easy, easy-to-roll number.

Also note, just because a faction is not rolled to be a creditor, does not mean that faction no longer exists. They’re nearby somewhere, lying in wait. Introduce them when you need to kick things up to the next level. Give them a dramatic entrance.

NPC Stats

The stats for monsters and baddies are meant to be easy so you can focus on what matters: appearances, abilities, weaknesses, behaviors, and motivations.

Health. Weak=3, Regular=6, Strong=9, Tough=12, Elite=15

Attack, STR, DEX, or CHA. Weak:+0, Regular:+1, Strong:+2, Tough:+3, Elite:+4

Armor. Unarmored=0, Light Protection=1, Moderate Protection=2, Heavy Protection=3, Nearly Impervious=4

Prepping the Game

Come to the game well-equipped with a dungeon fit for exploring. Start them at the entrance to the dungeon. There’s treasure inside. Go.

If you don’t have a dungeon ready, run Tomb of the Serpent Kings for a longer adventure or The Coming of Sorg as a one-off, one-page adventure location.

Bait hooks constantly. Every tavern they go to should have rumors of lost relics and artifacts on the move. Treasure should always be available for the taking. If only PCs were able to get out and find it all… The more choices you’re able to offer your players the better, but don’t strain yourself. If you don’t have a dungeon ready, don’t bait the hook for it.

As a toolkit for improvising, I use the delicious 80+ tables found in Maze Rats, which I link to probably ever week. I think I’m obsessed.

Philosophy of the Game

Players should know: they start as nothing. 

The game is about ACHIEVEMENT, that is, who you become through great trials and dangers.

Your character sheet lays out who your PC is and what they have, but is simply a window into the world. Your character sheet tells you how things are, not what you ought to do. It contains no answers.

Throughout play, PCs don’t get “better” mechanically. There are no tiers or upgrades or lists of feats for players to look through between games, planning and maximizing their next eight levels of play. Adventurers become tougher with Scars, which only happens during play. Adventurers get valuable treasure and unique magical items during play. The game happens at the table.

The “play” is the thing.

This philosophy emerged in my head after I realized that I was tired of players talking about their character five levels from now. And while the mechanics of RPGs can be cool and something to get excited about, that’s not the game. Disgruntled rant over.

Last Word

That’s all for now. A simple adventure game that you can teach to young children (or dim college students). The rules can fit on a single sheet of paper. The character sheet is half of a page. Bring your Monopoly dice. Play in a coffee shop or a bar or some place that doesn’t need to have a huge table or a thousand minis.

Ramble on, adventurers.

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