Rough Magic 4e 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.

What Is A Roleplaying Game?

Every roleplaying game has a section at the beginning that attempts to explain what a roleplaying game is, and Bulletproof Blues 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 an ogre 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. It's fun, but it's not a game, and therefore it's not a roleplaying game.

Bulletproof Blues 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 Bulletproof Blues 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 Bulletproof Blues.

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

Be Cooperative

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 experience fun stories and to entertain everyone at the table.

Making the game fun is everyone's responsibility.

We hope that you are the kind of player that creates interesting characters and enjoys creating stories with your friends. With that in mind, here are some suggestions.

  • Encourage each other: If someone does something cool, or has a great idea, let them know. It will make them feel good, and it will let people know what kind of game you find fun.
  • Embrace setbacks: Don't get frustrated if things are going badly. Recovering from a setback makes the eventual victory all the sweeter.
  • Be considerate: Don't hog the spotlight. Take turns being the center of attention.
  • Don't play a jerk: Playing a flawed character can be fun, but don't go so far with it that you make the other players miserable. Being "true to your character" is not an excuse for ruining the game.
  • Respect everyone's boundaries: Roleplaying games can be silly and light, dark and gritty, or anywhere in between. If a topic or a certain plot element makes any of the players uncomfortable, respect that and avoid it. Consider using John Stavropoulos' X-Card, particularly if the players are new to each other.

Use 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 Bulletproof Blues 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

Bulletproof Blues is a superhero game, and being a superhero 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 bullets, or for recharging the cosmic widget from the cosmic widget recharging device. It's not that guns do not run out of bullets, or that cosmic widgets never need recharging. Of course they do, and if a character intentionally empties their gun, 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 reloading the gun or recharging the widget when it's convenient to do so.

Another genre convention of Bulletproof Blues is that the extraordinary technological advances made possible by the superhuman intelligence of super-scientists (not to mention alien technology) rarely make it into the marketplace. Some technology eventually does -- cell phones and 3D televisions, for example -- but these advances are delayed until they can be successfully commercialized. Any advanced technology with potential military applications remains out of the reach of ordinary people, or even of ordinary soldiers. Shadowy government agencies, amoral corporations, and subversive organizations bent on world domination all conspire to keep these advances to themselves, or at least to as small a group as possible.

Core Mechanics


Each character has seven 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
  • 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, or psychic potential
  • Endurance: a character's ability to physically and mentally exert themselves
  • Health: a character's ability to withstand physical hardship and injury

See the Attributes chapter for more information.

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 two six-sided dice and counts the dots. The player adds the result to the character's relevant skill and attribute, denoted in the game text as "Skill (Attribute)". They then add their power or equipment modifier, if any. If this action value (AV) meets or beats the difficulty value (DV) assigned by the GM, the character's attempt succeeds. Rolling a "natural 2" (minimum on two dice) or a "natural 12" (maximum on two dice) has no special significance. Finally, there is no need to roll for routine tasks: characters automatically succeed at routine tasks.

A character may attempt a task in which they have no skill, if the GM says it is possible. For example, anyone can tell a lie, but it takes a skilled woodworker to make a mortise and tenon joint. If a character attempts a task in which they have no skill, the player rolls 1d6 rather than 2d6.

Skill rolls are covered in more detail in the Actions chapter.

2d6 + Skill (Attribute) + (Power or Equipment) vs
Table: Unopposed rolls Table: Opposed rolls
Difficulty Value (DV) Difficulty Value (DV)
12 Moderately difficult 8 + Skill (Attribute) + (Power or Equipment)
15 Remarkably difficult Examples:
Hand-to-hand Combat (Brawn)
Ranged Combat (Agility)
Mental Combat (Presence)
18 Extremely difficult
21 Inconceivable!


If the attacker's attack roll succeeds, the player rolls dice based on the character's Power Level or on the damage rating of the weapon. The target's resistance (Damage Resistance, Mental Resistance, or Alteration Resistance) is deducted from the damage. If the attack is a normal attack, the remaining damage is deducted from the target's Health (or Endurance, if it is a stunning attack). If the attack is an alteration attack or a mental attack, half of the final damage (round down, even if the fraction is more than one-half) is applied to the target (minimum of 1). Roll damage and deduct resistance before dividing.

Plot Points

Each player begins each game session with one Plot Point. A player gains a Plot Point when they do something clever, heroic, or surprising, 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 or to gain an advantage. See the Actions chapter for more information.

Resolving Ties

On a tie, the character who initiated the contest wins the contest.


When a number is divided, round down, even if the fraction is more than one-half. A fraction may not be rounded to less than 1, as long as the original number was more than zero.


action value: 2d6 + attribute + skill + (power or equipment)
defense value: 8 + attribute + skill + (power or equipment)
difficulty value: 12 (Moderate), 15 (Remarkable), 18 (Extreme), 21 (Inconceivable)
game moderator: the player who sets the story in motion, plays everyone and everything in the game other than the PCs, and arbitrates any disputes
non-player character': a fictional character belonging to and controlled by the game moderator
player character: a fictional character belonging to and controlled by a player


action value (AV)
2d6 + attribute + skill + (power or equipment); the action value (AV) is compared to the difficulty value (DV) to determine if the action is successful
coordination, ranged combat fighting ability, and general flexibility
all-out move
base move x 6; requires a move action
Alteration Resistance
the amount the defender subtracts from the alteration damage total rolled by the attacker; the remaining alteration damage is halved
the five basic character traits: Agility, Brawn, Presence, Reason, and Power Level
base move
normal ground movement based on the character's attributes or powers; requires a move action
base value
the numerical value of an attribute when the character is fully healed and not impaired in any way
add 3 to an action value (AV) or a defense value (DV); add 3 to a skill roll
physical might, hand-to-hand fighting ability, and general hardiness
character point
spent to buy attributes, skills, and special abilities for a character
damage rating
the dice rolled by the attacker, based on their Power Level or weapon
Damage Resistance
the amount the defender subtracts from the normal damage total rolled by the attacker
defense value (DV)
8 + attribute + skill + (power or equipment); the action value (AV) is compared to the defense value (DV) to determine if the attack is successful
difficulty value (DV)
12 (Moderate), 15 (Remarkable), 18 (Extreme), 21 (Inconceivable); the action value (AV) is compared to the difficulty value (DV) to determine if the action is successful
double move
base move x 2; requires a move action
ability to physically and mentally exert oneself (Brawn + Presence)
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
ability to withstand physical hardship and injury (Agility + Brawn)
Mental Resistance
the amount the defender subtracts from the mental damage total rolled by the attacker; the remaining mental damage is halved
move action
move the distance permitted by Agility, Brawn, or a movement power; may be a base move, double move, or all-out move
non-player character (NPC)
a fictional character belonging to and controlled by the game moderator
subtract 3 from an action value (AV) or a defense value (DV); subtract 3 from a skill roll
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 or to gain an advantage
an ability beyond what is possible for ordinary mortals
Power Level
technological might, alien potency, psychic potential, and so on
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"); requires a move action
capable of perception, problem solving, self-awareness, and anticipation of future events; a creature which is sentient; a person
allows a character to apply their attributes to solve a specific problem or accomplish a specific task
skill roll
rolling dice and determining the outcome; see the Actions chapter
base move x 6 (another name for "all-out move"); requires a move action
an action value (DV) that equals or exceeds the difficulty value (DV)
normal ground movement based on Agility (another name for "base move"); requires a move action