Jazz 4e EN

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Arrow up 16x16.png Jazz


What is Jazz?

Jazz is an attempt to create a roleplaying game system which is flexible and easy to use. Jazz, like its namesake, is inspired by and incorporates concepts from many sources.

Jazz assumes a basic familiarity with the principles of role-playing. I haven't gone into great detail describing what a roleplaying game is, or defining what "Health" is, for example. These sparse spots may be filled in as time goes on, but feel free to use your best judgment if something doesn't make immediate sense to you. Jazz is intended for my personal use, but feedback and suggestions are welcome. If you think a section is unclear, or needs more elaborate explanation, do feel free to drop me an e-mail with your suggestion.

Significant portions of this version are based on ideas from Sean Weir, particularly the "trait pyramid".


Characters in zero G have a penalty unless they shouldn't.

The trait pyramid

Write up 3-6 aspects of your character. Sort of like a resume, but also like a one-sentence plot synopsis of a TV episode. It's less about what the character can do, and more about who they are.

Trait Pyramid

  • Jaded ex-gunslinger, trying to lead a moderately less violent life.
  • Hotshot pilot whose confidence gets them in trouble.
  • Adventurous scion of a family of respected (and distinctly un-adventurous) academics.
  • Long lost geist of an Old Commonwealth scout/survey starship, returned to a galaxy they no longer know -- and in which they no longer belong.
  • Pyrokinetic who worries about how much they like burning things.
  • Antisocial telepath, trying to stay away from people for their own sanity.
  • Brilliant alien (Zniss) sophontologist, obsessed with the creation of intelligence.
  • Super-soldier with an indestructible (and miraculously aerodynamic) shield.
  • Man from another time who doesn't want to kill anyone: he just doesn't like bullies.
  • Tiny, trenchcoat-wearing detective with the most powerful handgun in the universe.

Those are just examples: write up your own.

Pick one that is "great". The character gets a +2 bonus when doing something with their great trait.

The rest are "good". The character gets a +1 bonus when doing something with one of their good traits.

Signature gear

You may also have signature gear. Signature gear helps you to do things, but it can also be taken away during an adventure. Fortunately, it is just as easy to replace after the adventure is over.

  • Each piece of gear can have a bonus of +1 or +2.
  • The total of the bonuses of all signature gear must be +3 or less.
  • Gear bonus does not stack with a trait bonus: pick the better bonus.

Example gear

  • Armored costume (+2)
  • Custom pistol (+3)
  • Laser sword (+1)
  • Lockpick set (+1)
  • Magic-eating sword (+2)
  • Palmtop computer (+2)
  • Sniper rifle (+1)
  • Trick billy club (+1)

Doing things

Each round, the player characters take their turn in the order the GM asks them to. On their turn, each player character may move around and do something.

After the players have each taken a turn, the GM takes turns on behalf of everyone else.

Then it's the players' turns again, and so on.

Additionally, players may spend plot points and seasoning points any time the GM allows them to.

Example things to do

  • Analyze a clue
  • Answer a question
  • Avoid being hit (by either the previous attack or the next one)
  • Build or create something
  • Deprive someone of a piece of gear
  • Deprive someone of their turn
  • Grant someone your turn
  • Heal someone
  • Harm someone
  • Modify or repair something
  • Move faster or farther than usual
  • Protect someone (from either the previous attack or the next one)

Rolling dice

Roll 2d6 and add a trait bonus or a gear bonus. If a character can apply one of their traits and a piece of their gear to the same task, use the higher of the two bonuses, and then add +1. If your character tries something beyond their competence and without the proper tools (and the GM allows it), roll 2d6, but do not add any bonuses.

  • Costly success (6) = bare minimum success, at a significant cost
  • Good success (9) = quid pro quo, the result matches the effort
  • Better success (12) = bigger, better, faster, more (pick 1)
  • Best success (15) = bigger, better, faster, more (pick 3)

Costly success

The character accomplishes the barest minimum that could technically be called "success". For example, if the character wanted the answer to a question, perhaps the answer is vague or cryptic. Similarly, if the character wanted to cause harm, the target suffers at most a single Health point of damage, no matter what the attacker and defender roll for damage and defense.

However, there is a meaningful cost. Perhaps a piece of the character's signature gear is destroyed, or perhaps the effort required caused a Health point of injury to the attacker. Perhaps they have put themselves at a disadvantage, and they will suffer a -1 penalty on all rolls until they are able to get a good night's rest. Perhaps a nervous ally chooses that moment to change sides.

If the character has plenty of time and is under no pressure, they may turn a costly success into a good success by spending ten times as long on the task.

Good success

The character accomplishes their goal in a satisfactory manner, commensurate with the amount of effort they put into it. For example, if the character spent one turn seeking the answer to a question, the answer is curt but accurate. If the character spent an hour or more researching the question, the answer is more nuanced and detailed.

Similarly, if the character uses their turn to deprive someone else of an action (pinning the opponent with a wrestling maneuver, for example), the character's opponent loses one turn. If the character wants to cause harm, they roll damage (see Damage and defense, below).

Better success

The character accomplishes their goal with aplomb, and their efforts are rewarded. The player may choose one of the following to apply to their action: bigger, better, faster, or more (see below).

Best success

The character accomplishes their goal with aplomb, and their efforts are rewarded. The player may choose three of the following to apply to their action: bigger, better, faster, or more (see below). Note that duplicates are allowed. For example, the player could choose "faster" three times, "bigger" twice and "better" once, and so on.

Bigger, better, faster, more


The character's success affects a larger area or affects more targets. For example, if a character wants to turn an attacker into a pig (with a mutagenic gas, let's say), a good succes will result in the target being a normal size pig for one of the target's turns. Each level of "bigger" could allow the attacker to affect up to 10 additional nearby targets. Alternately, a level of "bigger" could allow the attacker to turn the target into a pig ten times its normal mass.


The character's success has a result of exceptional quality. For example, if a character creates a wall of stone (with magic, let's say), the defense bonus of the wall would usually be equal to the character's trait bonus. Each level of "better" could increase that bonus by +1 (see Damage and defense, below).


The character successfully accomplishes in a short amount of time what would normally take a long time. For example, a full and complete search for an answer to a question might normally take hours. Each level of "faster" could reduce that time to 1/10 its normal duration.


Like usual, but more so. For example, a successful attack usually results in the attacker rolling 1d6 for damage. Each level of "more" adds +1d6 to the damage roll. If the character is trying to avoid being hit, or trying to protect someone else from an attack, each level of "more" could allow the character to avoid or protect against an additional attack.

Damage and defense

If a character successfully uses their turn to heal or cause harm to someone, they roll a d6 and add their trait or gear bonus. The target also rolls 1d6, and adds their trait or gear bonus. The target's roll is subtracted from the attacker's roll, and the remainder is subtracted from the target's Health.

Each character begins the game with 13 Health: 10 plus their highest trait bonus (3). Health may not be reduced below zero. A character with zero Health is unconscious, and they are probably out of the fight. A character at zero Health can die, if the GM and the player agree that they should.

Rest and recovery

Normally, an injured character may recover half of their lost Health (round down, even if the fraction is more than one-half, to a minimum of one) by resting for about an hour. After that, a character may only recover additional Health by getting a good night's rest. Barring some gruesome disfigurement, a character's Health will be completely replenished after a good night's rest.

Some damage is temporary. This is often called "stress" or "stunning". Temporary damage is fully healed after the character has had a chance to rest for about an hour.

Plot points

A brand new character starts with one plot point. They should receive one or two plot points per game from the GM, when they or their character does something heroic, funny, or especially helpful. A character may have no more than 3 plot points at any time.

Plot points do not expire, nor do they recharge. Once spent, they are gone.

All uses of plot points require GM approval.

Example uses of plot points

  • Do something when it's not your turn (in addition to your normal turn)
  • Improve any roll's level of success by one step (good becomes better, etc.)
  • Recover all but one of your lost Health
  • Reduce any roll's level of success by one step (better becomes good, etc.)
  • Recover all but one of someone else's lost Health
  • Surprise everyone by attempting to ______________ (make a roll to attempt something which really should not even be possible)
  • Survive something which really should have no chance of survival (a nuclear bomb, for example; quick, into the refrigerator!)

Gaining experience

You get a point of experience when the GM wants to give it to you (the end of each completed mission, for example). You can spend those points to add +1 or -1 to any roll, up to +3 or down to -3 on a single roll. Points of experience don't expire, and all previously-spent experience points are replenished at the beginning of the next game session.

You can also spend those points permanently to add a new trait or improve an existing trait. Points spent to add a new trait or improve an existing trait are not replenished: they are gone forever.

  • New Good (+1) trait or gear: 3 XP
  • Raising trait or gear from Good (+1) to Great (+2): 3 XP
  • Raising trait or gear from Great (+2) to Awesome (+3): 3 XP
  • Epic (+4) traits and gear may only be awarded by the GM.

Copyright and license

Jazz 4e © 1997-2023 Brandon Blackmoor, Lloyd Montgomery, and Sean Weir. Reference to other copyrighted material in no way constitutes a challenge to the respective copyright holders of that material.

The text of this work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 License. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 444 Castro Street, Suite 900, Mountain View, California, 94041, USA.

Images in this work are licensed individually, as noted in the Art Credits chapter.

Jazz v4.0 EN