Rough Magic 3e EN:Introduction

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An Evening At Pierre Noir's...

"I keep telling Jorge to fix that latch, and now see what blows through the door." Marlene smiled that incendiary smile that Faust remembered, and slid a lowball glass across the counter to him.

"Thanks," he said, emptying the glass in a smooth motion. "And more of the same."

"I vas hoping to see you again, soon, John," Marlene says, her throaty Prussian accent making his name sound like a growl.

"Oh, did I fail to cover my tab last time?"

Faust slid onto his old stool, and glanced around Pierre Noir's. A pretty good crowd for a weeknight, which explained why Marlene was behind the bar with the bartender rather than back in the office or out here socializing with the clientele. The green leather of the booths and stools had been reupholstered, but the brass trim was the same. Not much had changed, much like Marlene herself.

Faust gave her a long look up and down, "I love what you've done with the place."

Faust met Marlene a long time ago, when he was new to Camaret-sur-Mer. She suspected her husband of cheating, and wanted to know for certain. Magic kind of certain. She was right, of course; most spouses who suspect have good reasons for it, or they would be able to look the other way a little longer and maintain their denial. The hex pushing business is not one where you keep your illusions about human nature very long. In Faust's experience, most married couples had at least one of the pair cheating. Sometimes both.

The problem was, Marlene was not the sort of woman who would tolerate that. She didn't ask much of Pierre, but fidelity was definitely on the list. The story that came to Faust was that she had confronted him with the photographs and demanded that he stop. You had to give her that: she was actually going to give the guy a second chance. He should have made better use of it. The next time he pulled out his little soldier in front of his belle du jour, she noticed a black spot on it. A week later he was dead, eaten up from nose to toes with cancer. The local constables wrote it off as "natural causes". Marlene mourned for one month to the day, then never mentioned Pierre again. And when she opened "Pierre Noir's" with the insurance money, if anyone thought the name was in poor taste, no one said anything.

At least, that's the story the way Faust heard it. He stopped doing that kind of work not long after.

"I was hoping you'd come by soon," she purred. "You know, word gets around fast. I heard yesterday morning that you were coming back, and by last night there was already someone in here looking for you. Two people, as a matter of fact. Some things don't change, hmm?" Her eyes twinkled through thick black lashes.

"Anyone you know? Official inquiry?"

"The first man I don't know, but I would know if I saw him again. Indian, expensive suit. Pretty voice. He didn't say why he was looking for you, but he didn't beat around the bush. He came right out and asked if you'd been in. I told him I hadn't seen you in years, but he could leave a message." Marlene smiled wryly. "He left a card." She handed the card to Faust, her fingers brushing his.

BAILEY, DYKSTRA, ERLICH, & VEGA. That's all the card read: no phone number, no address, no mention of their business.

"Lots of help, isn't it? The other fellow was a regular, named Troy Donacce. He's a bravo, hired muscle. Sometimes he takes skip-tracing cases, but for the most part I don't think he likes doing that much leg-work. He prefers to take cases where he doesn't have to work so hard, collections: you know what I mean. He isn't very discriminating in his choice of employers, in my opinion. He didn't say why he was looking for you, either, but he did say that he needed your help with a case. He looked... nervous. You know the look? The look of a man who has been hired to babysit a cat, and then he discovers it is a tiger."

"His problem, I guess," Faust shrugged, pocketing the card... after a quick tap to make sure it wasn't a magical trace. Clear: no hex tags.

Marlene stopped and looked sideways toward the door, remembering the man who had staggered out through it just the night before. "He looked sick, too. His eyes were red, puffy. I felt sorry for him, and offered him some coffee, but he was in a hurry." She shrugged, and slid a gin & tonic to the man on Faust's left. On the way back to her side of the bar, her hand passed across silver coins on the bar, and they vanished without so much as a "clink".

"Well," Faust smiled, lifting his glass in mock salute. "I'll keep him on my dance card."

What Is This?

Rough Magic is a role-playing game of magic, mystery, and guns in 1960s Europe. Think of a cross between Casablanca and Angel Heart.

Play is very loose, and players are encouraged to take initiative rather than simply hanging around and waiting for someone to kick in the door. Players are also encouraged to flesh out the setting and be creative, rather than passively accepting what has already been described.

What Is A Roleplaying Game?

Every roleplaying game has a section at the beginning that attempts to explain what a roleplaying game is, and Rough Magic is no exception. So let's get started! As trivial as it sounds, two distinct elements set "roleplaying games" apart from other things which are not roleplaying games: roleplaying and game play.

First, a roleplaying game involves roleplaying. Generally speaking, roleplaying involves taking on a persona or character and making decisions based on what that character would do in a given situation. Does having a character in a game, by itself, make that a roleplaying game? No. The little dog token in a Monopoly game and a Blood Elf in World Of Warcraft are both characters, but Monopoly and World Of Warcraft are not roleplaying games. Can you roleplay as a dog while playing Monopoly? Yes, and you can roleplay as an elf while playing World Of Warcraft. What keeps these from being roleplaying games is that the roleplaying is not part of the game -- you can't get your Monopoly dog out of jail through unscripted conversation with the jailer, nor can you use roleplaying to convince a cultist in World Of Warcraft to let you pass by without a fight. If the rules of the game do not allow for the possibility that a conflict could be resolved through unscripted conversation (however unlikely that might be), then it isn't a roleplaying game.

Second, a roleplaying game is a game. Roleplaying games are sometimes compared to improvisational theatre, and there are similarities, but improv theatre isn't a game. How can you tell if something is a game? Games have rules that govern things like conflicts between players and whether something a player attempts is successful. Improv theatre is fun, but there aren't any rules like this. As Drew Carey described "Whose Line Is It Anyway?", it's "the show where everything's made up and the points don't matter." It's fun, but it's not a game, and therefore it's not a roleplaying game.

Rough Magic has more rules than some games, but less than others, and an essential part of conflict resolution involves making decisions that your character would make under the circumstances. Maybe those decisions aren't the most tactically advantageous, but if they are true to what your character would do, and if you are having fun playing, then you are playing correctly, because that's what Rough Magic is all about.

If you would like to read more about who plays roleplaying games, and why and where they play them, check out The Escapist -- The Five Ws of RPGs.

The Players

In a roleplaying game, each player adopts a persona called a player character, or "PC". The player characters are imaginary people who inhabit the fictional world of Rough Magic.

In many ways, the player is like an actor who chooses their own part and writes their own lines as the play progresses. The game moderator sets the stage and introduces the characters to their world, but the story is driven by the player characters.

The Game Moderator

The game moderator, or "GM", creates the story and portrays everyone that the player characters encounter during their adventures. These are called non-player characters, or "NPCs". The players help create the adventure by responding to the challenges the GM presents and by pursuing the PCs' own goals. This dynamic creative process creates a story which neither the game moderator nor the players could have created alone.

Ground Rules

A roleplaying game is fundamentally a cooperative activity. The players (one of whom is the Game Moderator) are not in competition. The goal is not to be the most powerful character, or to win every fight. The goal of a role-playing game is to create interesting stories and to entertain everyone at the table. We hope that you are the kind of player that creates interesting characters and enjoys creating stories with your friends.

Use Common Sense

The single most important piece of advice we can give you is that you should use your common sense. If something in the rules violates the way you think your game should work, then override it. If the rules permit something ridiculous, or would prevent something completely ordinary, then override them. Do not be one of those players who adheres to the letter of the rules in defiance of common sense.

Don't use the rules unless you need to.

In fact, if you can play a fun game session without referring to the written rules, you should. Saying "it works like this" is often a better solution than flipping through a rulebook for an answer.

Avoid Rule Arguments

It is in the nature of any human activity that differences of opinion will arise. We've tried to make the rules for Rough Magic as simple and clear as possible, but there's only so much we can do. Sooner or later, there will be a difference of opinion among the players regarding what a rule means, or how a rule should be implemented. There is nothing wrong with this: discussion and consensus are healthy. However, the time for rule discussions is between games, not during games. If a rule discussion takes longer than 60 seconds, the game moderator should make an executive decision and table additional discussion for later. If players balk, the GM should be civil but firm, and move on.

Respect Genre Conventions

Rough Magic is an urban fantasy game, and being an urban fantasy game, it has certain genre conventions. Robert McKee defines genre conventions as the "specific settings, roles, events, and values that define individual genres and their subgenres."

For example, there are no rules for running out of petrol, or for reloading a pistol. It's not that automobiles do not run out of fuel, or that pistols never need reloading. Of course they do, and if a character intentionally empties their revolver, then the gun runs out of bullets just as you'd expect. It's just assumed that they don't normally run out of bullets unless there is a dramatic reason for it. The rest of the time, the character is refueling their car or reloading their pistol when it's convenient to do so.

Another genre convention in Rough Magic is that main characters almost never die, and only when it is for a dramatic reason, while nameless characters go down after a single hit (maybe they die, maybe they don't -- no one cares, because they are nameless characters).

Core Mechanics


Each character has six attributes which describe their basic physical and mental abilities.

  • Agility: coordination, ranged combat fighting ability, and general flexibility
  • Brawn: physical might, hand-to-hand fighting ability, and general hardiness
  • Endurance: ability to shrug off physical and mental abuse
  • Presence: determination, mental combat fighting ability, and understanding of the motivations of others
  • Reason: ability to analyze data, draw conclusions from the facts at hand, and solve problems
  • Power Level: supernatural might, magical potency, psychic potential

See the Attributes chapter for more information.

Rolling Dice

All rolls are skill rolls. When a character attempts a task, and the outcome is either contested or there is some random element involved, the player must roll dice to see if the character succeeds. The player rolls their dice, counts the dots, and adds the result to the character's relevant attribute. They then add the rating of their relevant equipment, if any. This roll is compared to their opponent's roll plus their relevant attribute and equipment. If the player's total equals or exceeds the target number, the character's attempt succeeds. There is no need to roll for routine tasks: characters automatically succeed at routine tasks.

All rolls are skill rolls.

Table: Opposed rolls
Action Total
Target Number
2d6 plus Skill (Attribute) vs 2d6 plus Skill (Attribute)
Re-roll each 5 and 6
Re-roll each 1 and 2
Hand-to-hand Combat (Brawn)
Ranged Combat (Agility)
Mental Combat (Power Level)
Re-roll each 5 and 6
Re-roll each 1 and 2
Hand-to-hand Combat (Brawn)
Ranged Combat (Agility)
Mental Combat (Presence)
Table: Unopposed rolls
Action Total Target Number
2d6 plus Skill (Attribute) vs 2d6 plus Difficulty Value (DV)
Re-roll each 5 and 6
Re-roll each 1 and 2
Culture (Reason)
Finesse (Agility)
Performance (Presence)
3 Moderately difficult
6 Remarkably difficult
9 Extremely difficult
12 Inconceivable!

See the Actions chapter for more information.

Plot Points

Each player begins each game session with one plot point. A player gains a plot point when they do something particularly entertaining or interesting, when one of their character's complications causes a serious problem for them during the game, or when the GM overrides a roll of the dice to make things more difficult for the characters. Plot points are spent to alter the game world, gain a bonus, or gain an advantage in combat. See the Actions chapter for more information.


coordination, ranged combat fighting ability, and general flexibility
all-out move
base move x 6
attack bonus
add 3 when attempting an attack
attack penalty
subtract 3 when attempting an attack
attack roll
dice + attribute; the total is compared to a target number to determine success
the six basic character traits: Agility, Brawn, Endurance, Presence, Reason, and Power Level
base move
normal ground movement based on the character's attributes or powers
base value
the numerical value of an attribute when the character is fully healed and not impaired in any way
add 3 when attempting a task or in combat
physical might, hand-to-hand fighting ability, and general hardiness
character point
spent to buy attributes, skills, and special abilities for a character
combat roll
dice + attribute; the total is compared to a target number to determine success (another name for "attack roll")
defense bonus
add 3 when attacked
defense penalty
subtract 3 when attacked
difficulty value (DV)
moderate 3, remarkable 6, extreme 9, inconceivable 12; dice + difficulty value = target number
double move
base move x 2
ability to shrug off physical and mental abuse
extraordinary competence with a skill, allowing the player to re-roll any dice that roll less than 3
game moderator (GM)
the player who sets the story in motion, plays everyone and everything in the game other than the PCs, and arbitrates any disputes
an exceptional ability that a normal person can have, but that most people do not have
margin of success
the amount by which a roll exceeds the target number
non-player character (NPC)
a fictional character belonging to and controlled by the game moderator
subtract 3 when attempting a task or in combat
a living, breathing person playing the game
player character (PC)
a fictional character belonging to and controlled by a player
plot point
spent to alter the game world, gain a bonus, or gain an advantage in combat
Power Level
supernatural might, magical potency, or psychic potential
determination, mental combat fighting ability, and understanding of the motivations of others
ability to analyze data, draw conclusions from the facts at hand, and solve problems
base move x 2 (another name for "double move")
Société Impériale de Thaumaturgie
the imperial agency tasked with the regulation of magic and magicians, and the enforcement of those regulations
skill roll
dice + attribute; the total is compared to a target number to determine success
base move x 6 (another name for "all-out move")
a roll that equals or exceeds the target number
target number
the number the player must match or exceed on a roll
normal ground movement based on Agility (another name for "base move")