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Tag Archives: ORC

ORC action resolution can be scaled up or down in complexity to meet the needs of the situation. The more important a roll is to the plot, the more complexity should go into it. In this way, ORC can scale from rules-light to crunchy to meet the needs of the situation and the desires of players. For example:

Situation: Cam is cooking a meal for himself and his friends.

Resolution: Since Cam is reasonably intelligent and/or has at least one level of the cooking skill, the GM doesn’t make Cam roll anything and instead says that he succeeds at making a tasty meal.

Situation: Cam is cooking a meal for a dinner party. One of the attendees is a girl that he wants to impress.

Resolution: The GM makes Cam make an AWR +skill +1d20 roll to see how good the meal is (the higher the result the more she is impressed).

Situation: Cam is trying to get a meal at a trendy restaurant and has been given a chance to cook something for the head chef.

Resolution: The GM makes Cam make an AWR +skill +1d20 roll, allowing Cam to choose the difficulty he is trying to meet, and also allowing him to add in a +6 for having his own special tools and tackle-box full of rare spices.

Situation: A serial killer has kidnapped Cam’s parents and hidden them somewhere in the city, threatening to kill them unless Cam cooks the best meal that the serial killer has ever had.

Resolution: The GM sets a Legendary difficulty, and allows Cam to start assembling various plusses: from dosing himself up on smart drugs and Bright, from using his special tools and spices, from strong-arming his way into the city’s fanciest restaurant and taking over their high-tech kitchen, from calling on his old cooking mentor for advice. Other actions (often involving their own skill rolls) made by Cam’s friends can also give plusses: his Runner friend is racing around the city at top speed gathering the freshest ingredients, his Needle Punk friend assembles a cocktail of tasteless drugs to put in the meal designed to increase the serial killer’s appreciation of it, his Thief friend has broken into the serial killer’s home to see what he has in the fridge to get a sense of his tastes, and his Math Addict friend does internet research on studies of the effects of environment on appreciation of food and is redecorating the dining room in a way calculated to maximize the ambiance. The end roll is the result of an entire game session worth of activity.

ORC is a Role Playing Game rules system.

  • ORC character creation is fairly crunchy, but its crunchy for a reason.
    • The rules are primarily meant to model physics and biology.
    • ORC gameplay is easy to learn and quick to use.
    • All rules work from the same basic mechanic.
    • The rules can scale from light to crunchy based on the needs of the story.
    • The most complicated part is combat, because the combat system allows for people to use real-life strategies and to employ every resource available to help them win.
  • ORC is not a generic system designed to be able to be instantly dropped into any setting.
  • ORC is designed for realistic, low-powered gameplay (as opposed to legendary, superheroic, comedic, etc. games).
  • ORC character creation must be specifically tailored to each game setting.

ORC Downloads


The full ORC ruleset plus a complete set of mundane modern day skills, jobs, equipment, advantages and disads.
Download Now (1 MB pdf)
Creative Commons License
Modern ORC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.


Vanilla ORC (1 MB pdf)

The plain character creation and play rules stripped of any setting-specific stuff.
Creative Commons License
Vanila ORC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.


Vanilla ORC en Espanol

 Part 1: Character Creation - Part 2: Basic Mechanics
Part 3: Health Attributes - Part 4: Drugs, Disease and Poisons
Part 5: Combat - Part 6: Skills
(thanks to Víctor Jiménez Merino and Daniel Fernandez for the translation)


ORC Combat Cards: Street Combat Set (pdf)

Do ORC combat in card-game format with cards for common FWTD street skills and weapons.

Vajra games are not generic-genre games. Fates Worse Than Death is not “here’s a generic cyberpunk game where you can do anything you could in standard-cyberpunk-world.” It’s a very specific setting with very specific differences from standard cyberpunk. Now, I’m not trying to denigrate generic-cyberpunk, but if you’re trying to GM generic cyberpunk you don’t need me to write a book to tell you how. Just download one of many wonderful free generic rule-systems and tell your players “we’re doing generic cyberpunk” and everything will proceed beautifully.

I offer a service. Like a maid or a chef my job is to do the things you don’t have time to or don’t feel like doing yourself. My service I offer is this: I detail a setting, tell people what can and can’t be done in the game universe, and I put the setting in the book so that players and GMs can read it and play in a shared universe.

Vajra games have ‘crunchy’ character creation. You have to choose your skills from a list instead of making them up, same with equipment. This does make character creation a little bit longer, but there’s an important benefit to doing so. It lets players know what their character can and can’t do within the confines of the game universe. This wouldn’t be necessary if the setting was pure-generic and everyone already knew what was possible in the game universe, or if the game setting and what’s possible is the product of constant negotiation between players and GM but, as I said before, if you’re doing that you don’t need to buy a book.

Does Tibet need a long equipment list? Yes, it does, unless the players either already know what kinds of equipment and technology 1959 Tibetans have access to (I wish they would have told me, it would have saved me hundreds of hours of research), or if they don’t care (‘Don’t worry, I’ll use my unnamed-generic-object to save us!’ ‘Yay!’)

‘Crunchiness’ is the most expedient way of teaching players about the game universe. Yes, character creation takes a while, but players in Fates Worse Than Death, for example, aren’t going to choose an arm-cannon cyber-implant or ‘making-heads-explode’ psychic ability only to find out that’s not how things work in that game universe. Some explanation of the game universe by the GM is still necessary, but at least players know what their character can and can’t do.

So, to sum it up, if you don’t need someone else to write you a setting, then you don’t need crunchiness, but if you want your players to know what they can and can’t do in this particular setting, then ORC’s crunchiness will be good for you.

Some people dislike character classes because they say they are too restrictive.

I don’t think character classes, if they are done right, need to be “restrictive.” I know that character classes have been done poorly in the past, but that’s no reason to discriminate against something with great potential.

First off, non-character class systems often come with the advertisement that you can be anything you want, and this is seldom true.

In any game, your character is part of the game universe. If you could just decide that you belong to a race of cat people, that changes the game universe (it means there’s a race of cat people in this game universe). If the GM has not yet made up the game universe, that might be fine. In most cases, though, the GM has requirements for what he or she needs characters to be, yet they are often afraid to tell you what those requirement are for fear of seeming “restrictive”.

When done well, character classes are the fastest way to let players know what the game world is about. There will always be people coming in to the game who don’t know what the game universe is about. It is not fair to ask these people to create a character with no guidelines, because the player can’t know what his or her relationship with the game universe will be.

If you have character classes, then starting players know what their basic options are. They can choose the general segment of society they want to belong to, and they can read a short description of how that segment of society lives and how it interacts with other segments of society.

If it’s a good character class system, it will give each class advantages but not restrict anyone to anything (for instance, in Organic Rule Components, different types of skills are cheaper for some classes than others, but everyone can buy every skill type). If it’s a bad character class, it will tell characters what weapon they have to use and what skills they can have (but nobody still plays game systems that archaic, right?).

Finally, character classes are realistic. This is the point I feel most strongly about. In any society, people are restricted to roles. Those roles don’t necessarily correspond to what the person wants to be, or what they think of themselves as, but they do effect how the person lives his or her life. In some cases occupation might be a better term than character class, but this is not always so. Your role in society effects what duties you have every day, what access you have to money, special equipment, skills. Roles can change, but at any given time you have to fit at least one societal role (even if that societal role is ‘hermit’ or ‘outcast’ or ‘wandering madman’).

I think that this realism enhances game play because it prompts players to think interesting questions about their characters, like: Does you character like his or her class? Are they good at what they do, or bad at it? Does your character have plans of excelling in his or her field or of becoming something else? Is the character this class by choice or was he or she forced in to it?

Yes, character classes are restrictive, but life is restrictive, society is restrictive, and any good game is restrictive.  Character classes just lay the restrictions out on the table and let people get on with choosing their options in a somewhat realistic manner.

From a post to Burn Immediately.

I’d like to talk a little bit about the philosophy behind the ORC rules. I don’t expect anyone to agree with the philosophy, but I’d rather have people who don’t like the rules to think that it was because I have a different philosophy than because I have no philosophy.

My goal was to support a sort of gameplay that people over on the Forge would call “simulationist.” Probably most game designer’s rule systems are a reaction to early game experiences they had. Some of my un-favorite game experiences were times when I wanted to try to solve a problem using my real world problem solving skills (e.g. “I know! I take a coat hanger, unfold it, stick it in the hole and try to catch the mechanism.”) but was told that all that mattered was my dice pools (e.g. “Okay, roll your Trap Disarming skill. You don’t have that? Then roll straight INT. You only got 15? This is a 40 difficulty trap, you don’t even come close.”) I’ve always thought most rule systems interfere too much in gameplay. So I tried to make a rule system that would hang back and would mostly only be used to answer physics questions (e.g. “I want to pick him up and throw him out the window, can I do that?”) or biology questions (e.g. “I just got stabbed again, can I still stand?”). I did see the need to add in a skill system (you just can’t have good character creation without skills, in my opinion, because what a person knows how to do is a major defining factor of what they are) but I specifically said that people can try to do things without using a skill, at which point it just falls back to dice-less narration.

I wanted ORC to be enough like reality that it would be intuitive to people who are familiar with how things work in the real world. I don’t want people to have to know the rules to know what the results of their actions are going to be. That’s another thing that bugged me in my formative roleplaying experiences: I would do something, and something completely unrealistic would happen, and the GM would defend it as “that’s just the rules.” So I tried to mimic the real world rules of physics, biology, etc. as closely as possible. Of course, I quickly found that trying to mimic reality with game rules is like trying to draw a circle using only straight lines and right angles: the more intricate and complex you get, the closer you get to doing it, but you will never get there. So I tried to create what I thought was the best balance between perfect realism and the rules not being too complex. My general pattern was to create a horrendously complex way to simulate a certain action (e.g. breaking cryptography) and then go back and try to simplify and streamline it. Another concern was the “aesthetics,” what programmers would call the “elegance” of the rules, but that was a distant third, which is why many of the rules, although they work well and aren’t too complex, are kind of ugly.

I know some people believe that game rules should be so simple that one should never have to look up a rule in the course of play. I disagree. I see the rules as more of a court of final review. The first judge is the GM using dice-less narration (e.g. “I do this.” “Well this happens.”), but if the GM doesn’t trust his or her ability to judge the outcome or something, then he or she turns to the basic mechanics (e.g. “Can you lift that thing? I don’t know, roll STH + 1d20”), and finally, if something is so complex and important to the game outcome that the GM doesn’t want to base it on just an attribute + 1d20 roll, then a more complex procedure can be looked up in the book. E.g. overcoming an addiction may be a seminal moment in a PC’s game-life, and a GM might not want to have it be just a plain WIL+1d20 roll, he or she might want it to be a long ordeal, possibly the central drama of a whole game session, where several factors are taken into account. So, in short, I believe it’s okay to have a rule so complex it needs to be looked up, but I think that should only happen rarely, e.g. you should only have to look in your book once a game session, or less.

I realize, the more I play ORC games, and the more feedback I get, that I could have done a lot better job of meeting my goals. One big mistake was scattering rules through the book so that people have to flip to different parts of the book to remember how to do things (e.g. “now how does a Freak’s psychological shock attack work again?”). Another mistake was having the “look and feel” of the mechanic vary too much across situations. It would have been better if readers got the feeling there was just one mechanic and instead of “different rules” there were merely a number of suggestions of different ways this same mechanic could be used in different situations. And finally, I think I put in too many little niggling rule-lets, little obsessive-compulsive details that are too tiny for players to remember but not important enough to look up, e.g. the fact that a Seismic Analyzer can transmit it’s data (unencrypted) within 200 ft.

Although I’m not prepared to do a major “fix” (I still want to keep new books compatible with older books) I am trying to make a cleaner, simpler, more aesthetically pleasing implementation of ORC in newer books. I hope that players will find each book has a better implementation of ORC than the last.

ORC is the Creative Commons licensed role playing game rules of Fates Worse Than Death, Tibet, In Dark Alleys and other great games.

Step One: Come up with the concepts for each class, including what they tend to be good at and tend to be bad at. For instance, in a highschool RPG, the classes might be:

  • Geeks: Good at tech, science, intellectual stuff. Bad at athletic, charm, agility based stuff.
  • Jocks: Good at athletics skills (including wrestling). Bad at tech, science, intellectual stuff.
  • Stoner/Skaters: Good at vehicle and stunt based skills, creative skills. Bad at tech/science/math.

Step Two: Divide skills in to general categories, based on what you want classes to be good and bad at. For instance, in the highschool game there might be Athletic, Creative, Social, Stunt, Intellectual. Then figure out what the average highschool student would pay for each type of skill. For instance, people might pay 6 skill points for Social, Athletic, Intellectual, 9 for Stunt and 5 for Creative. The cost should be based on how rare you want those skills to be and how useful the skills are.

Step Three: Figure skill costs for each class. Try to make sure they are fairly balanced: people who pay more for something should pay less for something else. They don’t have to be completely balanced if characters are getting bonus advantages or disadvantages.

Step Four: Are there any advantages or disadvantages that any member of the class has? If so, list these as mandatory advantages and disadvantages. For instance, Jocks might get the free advantage “Athletic Build (+2 STH, +1 SPD, +1 BDY)”. Stoner/Skaters might get the mandatory disadvantage “Hated By Authority.” Also, are there any advantages and disads that one character class has access to? For instance, maybe only Geeks can buy the advantage “Taking College Classes” for 3 Bonus Points.

Step Five: Are there any special skills that only one class has access to? For instance, maybe Stoner/Skaters have access to “Drug Resistance,” which only they can buy, and maybe it costs 5 points per level.

Step Six: Figure out how much money and income each character class gets. Do any get special equipment for free or can certain character classes get certain types of equipment cheaper than everyone else? For instance, Stoner/Skater might get “free $100 in skateboards and skateboard accessories, can buy additional skateboard equipment for %75 normal cost.”

Step Seven: Look at the character classes again. Do they seem balanced? If not, can you give them anything special to make them balanced? Not everything that makes a character balanced or unbalanced has to be in a stat or bonus characteristics. For instance, Geeks might have an especially bad reputation in the game, as described in the character class description. Or Stoner/Skaters might have a very tight-knit community, always willing to lend each other a hand. Maybe Jocks seem to have every advantage, but they also have greater responsibilities. These little things can make character classes balanced. If a character class is completely not balanced, but you want to include it anyway (someone might want to play it at some point) just stick in a note saying “this character class is unbalanced.”