Not everyone reading this document will have experience with roleplaying. If this is not your first RPG, please feel free to skip to the next chapter, as the basics change little from system to system. However, even if you have experience, this chapter lays out an overview of how the system works.
What is Roleplaying
Roleplay is the act of playing out a part (or role) within a scenario. Typically roleplaying of any kind involves at least one participant who sets the scenario and at least one participant who reacts to the scenario. In a roleplaying game these roles go by many names, but in VERS these roles are player and gamemaster (GM for short). A group of players is called a troop.
Roleplaying games are different from acting in that an actor knows his lines beforehand, as well as what stimuli his character will be facing. Roleplaying games are also similar to writing, however an author typically works alone when creating their story, or at least has final say on its content. With a roleplaying game only the GM has any idea what is coming, and even the GM does not know what the players will do once the session has started and each player works together to create a story. The GM sets up the scenario, then the players have a chance to react to the initial scenario. The GM then reacts to the player’s actions, tweaking the scenario to reflect the effects of these actions and thus setting up a new situation that the players have to react to. Each player has to make up their part as the game progresses in a constant give and take with the GM.
The most basic element in any roleplaying game is how the characters, both those played by the players (PCs) and those played by the GM (NPCs) interact. Without a framework to work this out the whole exercise devolves into multiple narratives which do not affect each other, or in which endless arguments are had over how the characters actions affect each other. If you ever played an imagination game as a child where you and your friends were superheroes or something like that, you probably have experienced this. An endless litany of "No way! That is not how those powers work!" or "That can't happen to him! Nothing ever hurts him!" and so forth.
To get around that, we use a rules system that is basically just an agreed on contract that we all we will do things in a certain way so that things are fair and we can create together and all be on the same page. The core of that is the way characters interact. What can they do? How often? What challenges are there to it? That is what a rules system, like the one you are reading, is for.
So, roleplaying games are a method to create stories in a collaborative environment. What is the most important thing in a story, at least to most people? Characters! To help facilitate this ever changing story, each character has a description (usually referred to as a “Character Sheet”) that features both numeric measurements and other details relating who a character is and what they are capable of. This character sheet forms the framework by which the GM and players build the narrative and make decisions for that character.
These numeric measurements are called ranks, and the more ranks in one category the more talented, well-trained, or powerful the character is in that area. The deeper details of those categories will be explained in Chapters 2 and 3, but for now just think of them in the abstract. These ranks are purchased at character creation and can be upgraded as the game goes on.
|Rank 0 Examples|
|Rank 0||Measurement||Equivalent to|
|Mass||16 kg||A huge bag of dog food|
|Distance||2 m||A tall adult male|
|Volume||0.2 m³||A book shelf|
|Density||1,024 kg/m³||Water, or the human body|
|Time||2 sec||A simple action|
|Speed||1 m/sec||3.6 km/h (a slow walk)|
Ranks do not always correspond to exact numbers. Somethings, like how strong a character is, can be estimated or simplified down in a rational manner into a rank system, while other things like how smart or charming the character is cannot be easily boiled down in such a way. To achieve this, these components are abstracted out into a system of relative values. These attributes are given an average rank of zero, with people who are more intelligent, strong, etc getting higher ranks and those who are less intelligent get negative ranks.
Each rank is double the value of the last, so a character with rank of 1 is twice as good in that area as a character with a rank of 0, which is itself twice as good as a rank of -1. Or to look at it from the other direction, a -1 is half as good as a 0, which is in turn half as good as a 1. Some attributes, like Strength, are tied to more concrete and measurable things. However, even this does not change how the ranks are used, each doubling the last, etc.
This ranking structure underlies all measurements in VERS, with the following table laying out what rank 0 is for the major physical measurements the character is likely to encounter or need to know.
Character points (or CP) are the units of measure of a character’s growth after character creation. They are the currency used to purchase attributes, skills, and advantages as the character learns lessons and becomes more experienced. As time goes on in the game, the character will accumulate more character points with which to grow their abilities, emulating the way that real people grow over time.
There are two very important rules regarding character points: One, finalize all CP expenditures before the game session begins, and two, the character may only advance an attribute, skill or advantage by 1 rank at a time. Of course, this is up to GM discretion. GMs may, as an optional rule, only allow upgrades to something your character has actually used in recent game sessions; progress doesn’t come from not using those skills, after all! It is also recommended that the GM require certain periods of training time to upgrade skills or even regular practice to keep them from degrading.
There is no “best by” date on character points. Saving CP for a larger purchase is a great idea. Just keep in mind that stashing them for longer means being less on par with other characters and the GM’s enemies. CP is for spending!
VERS divides time into two equally important types: conflict driven time and dramatic time. The biggest thing to about each type of time frame is that they encompass different types of narrative. Dramatic time is for exposition, travel, and player interactions and it measures time in scenes similarly to a play or television show. Conflict driven time, on the other hand, is for action like combat or chases and it measures time in turns and actions which have discrete lengths.
For example, dramatic time is when the players navigate through town shopping and talking to the various residents, but when a group of thugs hired by the corrupt mayor accost them in an alley there is a switch to conflict driven time. Resolving that conflict, either with the players triumphant or with their character’s waking up in a dank jail cell, the GM uses dramatic time to move the story forward again. Sometimes dramatic time segments get chained together to tell increasingly bigger, more intricate non-combat stories, such as a stealth mission or a series of personal encounters based on character back-stories. Accordingly, sometimes action sequences get chained together to form a more dangerous or harrowing evening in which survival is not guaranteed, such as a chase from the mafia interspersed with shootouts and escapes.
Conflict Driven Time
Conflict driven time is divided into turns. A turn is roughly 4 seconds long, and is further subdivided into actions. Actions are the most basic units of time in combat. A character can make a single complex action (CA) or three simple actions (SA) in a turn. There are also free actions which essentially take no time, but the GM should limit the number of free actions a character takes to two per turn. Finally there are reactions, which a character can only make when it is not their turn, used for reactions.
In addition to the above, a character can choose to make extra actions beyond those prescribed. Each additional simple action in a turn gives the character a -3 penalty to all rolls taken for the remainder of the turn. This penalty is cumulative, with each additional simple action growing that penalty by 3.
Below we have common examples of all four types of actions.
- Speaking a phrase: Speaking a word or short phrase aloud, such as “Stop,” “Hands Up!,” “Halt!,” or “Surprise!” would be a free action. Complete sentences and the like are not free actions.
- Dropping an item: A character can drop any item in her hands as a free action. The character can not drop a strapped, tethered, or tied item, and a dropped item cannot be aimed or directed.
- Taking a step: A character may take a single step (on average about 1 meter of movement for an adult human), but only if they make no other movement on their turn.
- Swallowing: If a character has an object in his mouth he may swallow it as a free action.
- Interpreting hand signs: If someone is communicating through gestures in a system the character understands then it is a free action to get the message. Common gesture systems are sign language and military signals, both of which come in numerous varieties just like spoken language. Both the interpreting character and the character making the gestures need knowledge of the same communication system for communication to happen.
- Speaking a sentence: A character can speak a sentence as a simple action, such as “Sven, he’s behind the wood pile!,” “I think that sound is getting louder,” or “Where did he go?” At the GM’s discretion the speaking character may speak while performing another action, such as speaking while moving, but characters can’t spout out philosophical debates in the middle of combat for free.
- Tossing/catching an item: Throwing an item to another character or into a specific place is a simple action, as is catching a thrown item. The character must have the item in hand and free of any restraints in order to throw it as a simple action.
- Moving: Each character has a movement ability determined by her attributes (typically 5 + Agility + Size + Athletics, but advantages can change this). A character can move this distance as a simple action. The character can combine movement with another action by taking a -2 penalty to the combined action.
- Making an attack: A character can make a single attack as a simple action on any character or object within her reach (including the reach or range of her weapon).
- Using a potion/taking a pill: A character may take a drink, a single bite, or place an object in their mouth as a simple action. This includes swallowing.
- Making simple hand signs: While a character can understand hand signals as a free action, making them is a bit more complex, with simple phrases/ ideas taking a simple action. For examples of simple phrases, see “speak a phrase” above.
- Readying a prepared item: A character may draw a weapon from a holster/scabbard, or another object from a similarly convenient carrying solution such as a bandolier of potions.
- Speaking a simple paragraph: For communicating more complex ideas such as “I know you have a good heart! Don’t let your rage and frustration consume you!” or “I’m giving you a final chance. Put down your weapon and back away!” This still does not allow you to deliver a Shakespearean monologue.
- Making a double move: A character may move twice their normal movement distance as a complex action. This is equivalent to “hustling” or “double timing it,” and is the quickest a normal character can move without taking losing the ability to defend themselves. A character can move four times their normal move speed outside of combat, but they have no active defense.
- Making a full-out attack: A character can make two attacks (such as a shield bash followed by a sword swipe, swinging with two weapons, or just making two punches) against any target in reach or they may make a single more powerful attack that grants a +4 bonus to their damage.
- Making complex hand signs: A character can convey more complex concepts via hand signs as a complex action. For examples, see “speaking a sentence” above. A character wishing to convey more complex information must be out of combat.
- Retrieving a stored item: A character may retrieve a stored item from a pouch or pack as a complex action. A pack that contains a large quantity of items may take longer. Rummaging through a large storage device like a chest is an out of combat action.
- Dodging or blocking an attack: Anytime a character uses Dodge, Discipline or the Parry skill to protect themselves from an attack or environmental hazard this is a reaction.
- Activating a defensive advantage or ability: These three abilities, as well as any others built with the Reactive aspect can be used as a reaction.
- Make any type of opposed roll against another character: Anytime a character attempts to thwart another’s skill use with an opposed roll, this opposed roll is a reaction.- **Dodging or blocking an attack:** Anytime a character uses Dodge, Discipline or the Parry skill to protect themselves from an attack or environmental hazard this is a reaction.
- Activating a defensive advantage or ability: These three abilities, as well as any others built with the Reactive aspect can be used as a reaction.
- Make any type of opposed roll against another character: Anytime a character attempts to thwart another’s skill use with an opposed roll, this opposed roll is a reaction.
Dramatic time is more akin to that used in books, plays, or television. Dramatic time does not have a set length but is exactly as long as it needs to be to get the job done. The smallest unit of dramatic time is the scene, followed by the episode, the arc, and the series.
A scene is a series of connected events, usually within the same geographic location and concerning the same characters. The most common clue that a change of scene is happening is that one of those two pieces of information changes.
An episode is a series of connected scenes that progress towards the overarching story goals and plot points, but which also tell a smaller story with their own beginning, middle, and end. Episodes often correspond directly with a single session of gameplay, but may spread across multiple sessions of gameplay depending on how involved the tale being created is. At the end of each episode the GM gives out base character points and the players take turns giving out 1-3 CP to their fellows based on their favorite moments in the story. More on character advancement in the character creation section.
An arc is a series of connected episodes, and details a single plot or story from beginning to end. Other systems may call this an adventure. Not all plot points and story threads should be resolved at the end of an arc, and in fact, a well designed arc should always ask as many questions and it answers, leaving the players wanting more. Given the travel times in the real world, even in most sci-fi settings, many arcs will take up several months, and often have several months of downtime between them.
The longest amount of dramatic time, a series is the total story time of a group of collected characters. Some RPGs refer to this as a campaign. Most series follow a larger overarching plot that ties the events of the game arcs together into a cohesive narrative, routinely taking years of game time to resolve. While many characters only have a single series worth of stories to tell in their entire lifetime, others may have several series worth of adventures.
Each player has the ability to interject a flashback within the typical flow of the game. This can set up a plan to circumvent an issue ("Thankfully, we thought of this issue last night!") or to otherwise change the current situation. This allows the semblance of thorough tactical planning without actually having to take the time away from the more fun parts of the game to do it. If your group enjoys planning sessions, however, this need not interfere, but can be the icing on the cake to a well planned heist.
There are two hard rules to the flashback rules: First, information that is already known cannot be changed (i.e. we already know the detective is alive, so we cannot flashback and assassinate them last night). Second, only things within the player character's sphere of influence can be changed or setup in this way (i.e. the player does not have control of the weather, so cannot use a flashback to change the weather).
If possible, any flashbacks should be played out as a scene, not just rolled for. It is a powerful narrative tool, and should be used to enrich the narrative, not strip away drama.
Finally, there are the dice. In real life there are lots of complex interactions between physics, psychology, and sociology that go into every single event that happens across the planet, with many of those interactions unknown to the people participating in them. The rules system cannot recreate all those interactions without becoming as complex and labyrinthine as reality itself. Instead, the rules deal with the largest, most obvious components to interaction, and dice rolls fill in the blanks. Why did your carrot cake not turn out as well this time as it did last time? Maybe you can pick out the exact deviation, but more likely you have no idea. It was random chance as far as we can tell.
That is where the roll of the dice comes in, generating a slight randomness that not only helps model the tiny fluctuations in real life that determine why things happen in different ways, but it is also a tool of balance and fairness, so that no character is always right, successful, or important while others are not.
VERS uses only six-sided dice (called d6 in gaming terms) for three reasons: they are widely available, coming included with many commercial board games; using one type of dice reduces complexity; and the results of rolling 3d6 creates a statistical phenomenon known as “the bell curve”.
The bell curve concept essentially means that roll results will tend to clump together around the median value. This narrowing of the results reduces the effect of both really high and really low rolls on gameplay. The anticipation of results is also easier for players when making decisions and for GMs when designing episodes, making outcomes feel “fairer”. It also reduces the need for large bonuses or penalties to offset the general randomness of the dice.
All rolls in VERS are what is referred to as “roll under.” This means that lower results on the dice are better. While this may seem counterintuitive at first it will quickly become second nature. Rolls have what is called a competence target (aka CT), equal to the largest roll result that will yield a success. This value is derived by adding the ranks of the relevant attributes and/or skills to the base target of 10. For example, a character who needs to move a huge boulder that is blocking the path needs to make a Strength roll. She has 3 ranks of Strength, so she would have a competence target for her roll of “13/-” (read as 13 or less). To determine whether the character succeeds or not, the player simply rolls 3d6, adds any penalties, and compares the result with the competence target for that action. If the modified result is less than or equal to than the CT the action is successful. That is literally the way every roll in the system is done, with just one simple mechanic.
VERS is unique in that all dice rolls are made by the players. In other words, if the player’s character is performing an action against another (non-player) character, the player rolls the dice. The target character is represented as a penalty to that single roll. If another character is performing an action against the player character, the player character makes the reactive roll. Again, the attacker is represented as a penalty to that reactive roll. In this way, the entire game is player centric; the success or failure of all of their endeavors rests in their hands.
Failure is Not the End
Failing a roll should not automatically mean that the desired outcome does not come to pass, however. Sometimes it makes more dramatic sense for the action to succeed but with some sort of complication, such as picking the lock but setting off the alarm at the same time. The character gets what they needed, but the drama of the story is also heightened, and the characters have a new situation to react against, pushing things forward.
To this end, every time a roll is going to be made, the player needs to state exactly what they want to accomplish, such as "I want to pick the lock carefully so that no alarms are set off," or "I want to leap down from the balcony and roll to my feet." This makes the GM aware of not just what you are doing but what you want to accomplish. Maybe, on a failure, you leap from the balcony and roll to safety, but slip on the dew-covered grass and wind up prone instead. You are safe and unharmed, but you have failed in the overall sense of what you had wanted to accomplish.
Types of Rolls
All rolls fall into three broad categories: active, passive, and reactive. This division is based on two principles. First, who is initiating the action, the player or the GM? If the player is initiating the action it is either an active or passive action. If an NPC or the environment is initiating the action towards a character it is a reaction. Player actions initiated towards NPCs are active, which means they are actively resisted by the NPC's attributes, while actions initiated towards the environment are passive and have a static difficulty related to them.
Better Than Success
Just determining if an action succeeded or failed is not always the most dramatic or interesting. This is where degrees of success come in. Whenever a dice roll results in a success, the roll is said to have degrees of success equal the amount the roll was under the competence target. Similarly, a roll has degrees of failure equal to the amount it went over the competence target. In other words a roll result of 8 with a CT of 13/- would give 5 degrees of success. These degrees of success are used to power stunts, which are discussed in more detail in the Gameplay chapter, but suffice to say they are extra effects of the roll which give them some edge. Similarly degrees of failure can power stunts against the character.