Tuesday, March 12, 2024

The Index Card RPG Master Edition


I have seen this one discussed online for a while now and I finally decided to take a look. The short version is that it's a lighter d20-based RPG that I suspect gets used as a set of mods for other games at least as much as it gets played on its own. It is very focused on 5E-style d20 mechanics.

The book itself is a smaller-format hardcover that's almost 400 pages long and has a couple of those sewn-in bookmarks we're all coming to know and love.  The interior is black and white with a splash of red here and there. The art style used for the illustrations here works really well with the black and white approach.

  •  The actual rules take up a little over 100 pages. This is divided into a basics chapter that introduces the core game mechanics, a section for players on creating characters, then a GM section on running the game. 
  • This is followed by a monster section that covers a decent range of critter types in its 30 pages
  • The next section is one of the more interesting parts of the book where it covers 5 settings that can be used with the game.

    • Alfheim is a fantasy setting and is the most detailed setting of the bunch. Assume standard fantasy type tropes with a few tweaks. There's a big war going on so it's not as static as some fantasy worlds can feel.
    • Warp Shell is a science fiction setting that blurs into magic in some ways, centered around giant living ships the PC's will be using (the "warp shells" in the title)
    • Ghost Mountain is an interesting concept that I will sum up as "what if Purgatory looked a lot like Deadlands".
    • Vigilante City is a gritty superhero setting which has been sold as its own system (part of the Survive This! series from Bloat games) but I like this version better than the original.
    • Blood and Snow is an ice age fantasy game that's more survival level than high fantasy. Weather and terrain are more important factors here than in a typical D&D type game and monsters are mainly normal prehistoric creatures. It's interesting and different and a nice addition to the mix of options.

      All of these take up 20-40 pages each and include a lot of material on the setting, character types, some relevant gear, and feel like an actual usable setting for a game. In a long-running campaign you would eventually have to flesh out some areas I am sure, but there is plenty here to begin and run for a short to medium campaign.

  • Next is the magic chapter which is useful in most of the settings mentioned above. Magic is less of a sure thing here than in D&D with more die rolls and options for bad things to happen under certain conditions.
  • Finally we wrap up with a section of random tables for use in prep or in play - loot, monster characteristics, etc. much of it divided up by setting.
So it's a pretty solid one-volume guide for running potentially several different RPG games using the same base mechanics. So what are the mechanics? 

The ICRPG character sheet

First, it's the same six stats that D&D and most d20/OSR games use: Str/Dex/Con/Int/Wis/Cha. It does do away with the "score" and just uses the modifier. It's not new but it's the less-taken approach even now. You start with 6 points and can distribute them however you wish and 1 point = +1 bonus with that stat. 

Checks are made with a d20 + relevant stat modifier vs. a target number determined by the DM and higher is better. There are not a bunch of modifiers beyond this. The idea is that circumstances could make the situation Easy or Hard which would a -3/+3 to the target number. That's it, really. There is no skill system here - it is strictly ability scores and then powers in some settings.

The other part of this game's approach is the expansion of the damage mechanic to cover many other situations with "Effort". Here the concept is that after rolling a Check, say trying to repair something, you would then roll another die to determine how much you accomplished, much like the hit roll/damage roll we are all familiar with from D&D etc. The most basic effort uses a d4, weapons or tolls give a d6, Guns use a d8, Magic/Energy effects or weapons use a d10, and an Ultimate uses a d12. This Ultimate status might come from a power or from a natural 20 on your Attempt check and it is added on to whatever other Effort die you are using. Basically anything that is not a simple pass/fail type of task uses this system. Something like a skill challenge from 4E D&D would be resolved this way. 

The final part of this task resolution system is Hearts. The amount of Effort required to accomplish something - and monster hit points - are rated in Hearts which are 10 hit points each. This is a very videogamey reference point but it works within the context of the game. Much is made of this saving time by not fiddling with monsters having 10-11-12-13 hp and everyone just having 10 or 20 or 30 or whatever multiple of 10 you use and that's fine - I would not call it revolutionary but it does keep things simpler, especially when you expand the mechanic to cover all of these other types of tasks beyond beating a monster into unconsciousness. Characters begin with 1 Heart by the way, and can gain more as they advance. 

Characters defined by the stats mentioned above along with a race (Life Form) that influences stats and background, and then a class (Type) that gives certain abilities from the start and along the way as well as some starting gear to keep things simple. I'd say there are enough choices here to make it interesting. There is an additional set of "Mastery" abilities that once chooses after rolling enough natural 20's that ties back to the character's starting ability and makes it stronger and others can be chosen after that initial accomplishment.

Overall if I'm comparing it to something else it's on the level of The Black Hack and similar games - lot's of lighter mechanics, lots of aiming to speed up play and less need to consult the book on how to resolve things. I appreciate the goals and if your group is not terribly concerned with crunchiness in their rules this is a game worth looking over. I think it may find it's highest and best use as a set of add-ons or modular replacements for a 5th Edition D&D game as that is clearly where it is coming from. 

For example, ranges are not measured in feet or squares but as Close, Near, or Far - or Out of Range. The hassle of counting movement speeds and weapon or spell ranges seems to be an issue for some people and this game presents one way to let that go. Other RPGs use a similar system and this one looks like it should work well within these rules and could be dropped in with some minor effort I would say to d20 style games. 

I really like the overall approach, the art style, and in particular the Vigilante City setting has a lot of potential.

As an example of its adaptability I've been reading these rules while also ploughing through Mechwarrior 3rd Edition/the Classic Battletech RPG which is an exercise in extreme detail. After our initial run-through of my starting scenario I'm going to work up a set of ICRPG setting type rules and see if those could work because the real focus of that campaign is in-cockpit mech fighting where we use the Battletech rules for the majority of the time. For out-of-cockpit time I'd like something that flows a little easier. I was considering Savage Worlds - and I still am - but I think the ICRPG would be an interesting approach as well. The lack of a skill system is an obstacle but perhaps not an insurmountable one. More to come there.