Grand Adventure Mechanics

Posted on Thu Sep 17 2015 -- grand-adventure

I'm looking at a design for Grand Adventure that focuses around Action Cards (a modified version of Spell Cards from Inept Sorcerers), and two new rules I'm still fleshing out, called Spotlight and Discoveries.

Action Cards

Player characters have skills, which progress from 1 to 5 or so. PCs will start with only two skills, and learn more through Discoveries.

Each skill provides two to four Action Cards — nouns, verbs, and modifiers - that give the character specific ways of interacting with the world.

The starting skills are:

  • Brave, which provides two verbs: "Face…" and "Resist…"
  • Wits, which provides two verbs: "Avoid…" and "Know About…"

There are a stock set of noun cards: "Me", "Here", and specific nouns introduced through narration (like "The Dragon" or "The Sword"). Every player has access to every noun in play.

Modifiers could be thought of as adjectives. Examples would be "Quietly", "Brutally", and so on.

Each Action Card has a cost. Noun costs are based on their overall threat level, or some specific resistance skill — for example, a Dragon might have an Action Cost of 20, while a Slime might be only 1. The starting verbs all have a cost of 3 or so.

Players roll 1d6 per point of skill they have in the verb they've chosen. They sum this number, and if they beat or equal the total Action Cost, they succeed. This gives us an average roll between 3.5 (1d6) and 17.5 (5d6).

Action Cards can have specific effects. For example, "Face" (and any successors or specialties, like "Attack") will deplete some kind of health, while offering some counter-damage in return.


Say that someone doesn't have enough juice to make a given action happen. The GM can push a twist — a complication, problem, or just unusual addition — which comes with one or more dice, depending on how risky the twist is to accept. If the player accepts and rolls the dice, the twist comes to pass.

For example, our hero with Brave 1 is going to Face a Slime. He rolls 1d6 (Brave 1) against an Action Cost of 4 (Face 3, Slime 1). However, he only gets a 3.

The GM offers a twist: 1d6 for the hero to lose his weapon in the slime, and have to chase after it for a bit! The player accepts, and the Face action succeeds.


Spotlight evolved out of the Cues system I posted about awhile back. The premise of Cues is that in a scene, there's only a few key things for each person to roleplay or worry about, and we should have a mechanic that puts those things front and center.

Cues didn't work by themselves as a resolution mechanic, but they can be combined with Action Cards. So here's the result:

Every player has three or so Spotlight slots — Action Cards which they are most interested in emphasizing. These can be changed at certain intervals, such as the start of a scene, but probably not more frequently than that.

When you are rolling dice, including any twist dice, one of your dice becomes a d10 for every Action Card you used that's in the Spotlight. For example, if our hero from earlier wanted to focus on his fighting ability by putting Face in the spotlight, he'd roll 1d10 (averaging 5.5) to 3d10 (averaging 16.5), to 3d10+2d6 at maximum skill (averaging 23.5).


My previous post got me thinking about how to specialize and develop characters. I wanted each PC to feel unique, and I wanted a diverse group of characters. I didn't want each gaming group to face a high creative cost to deliver on that promise, though.

Discovery is some piece of narration that leads a player character to develop a new skill, and/or acquire new Action Cards. For example, Liner (a brash, physical sort) and his childhood friend Tana (a more thoughtful and intelligent sort) are traversing ruins.

Liner discovers an ancient crystal sword that gives him two things:

  • The Fight skill, which unlocks two new actions, "Attack…" and "Protect…"
  • The "Crystal Sword" action card itself

Tana's deciphering of the ancient runes on the walls gives her two things:

  • The Magic skill, which unlocks "Cast A Spell To…" and "Ward Against…"
  • The "Magic" action card itself

Characters can change their spotlight choices on a new Discovery. Liner chooses to spotlight the sword — he thinks it's cool — while Tana wants to spotlight "Cast a Spell To…", because she wants to try out different effects.

Later, Liner must parry a monster's attack meant for his friend, so he rolls "Protect Tana With Crystal Sword". Because the sword card is in play, he gets to promote one of his d6 rolls to a d10. Tana, in turn, will "Cast a Spell To Know About Monster", getting a d10 to discern its weakness and inform Liner.

The "Fight" and "Magic" skills and their respective Actions would be part of the core game. However, the GM could work with the players to come up with new skills and actions. For example, perhaps Tana's player wants her to become a Summoner, conjuring mythical creatures from the aether. The GM and player work out a new skill "Summon", a new pair of actions "Summon…" and "Banish…", and a single new summoned creature called "Naos" for her to bring forth. Tana is then able to Discover this lost lore in-game and resurrect the secret arts of the Summoner!

Going Forward

There's a few big unanswered questions.

  1. Is there any benefit for rolling over the Action Cost?
  2. How do people level up or otherwise improve?
  3. Is there anything other than "knock down monster HP", Bothers-style, that actions can do mechanically?

I've got some tentative answers to these, but I want to explore my options a little more first.

The model has some nice clarity to it. If you want to get better at some general thing, improve the skill for it. If you are using the same action card often, spotlight it. Each verb should come with a suggested list of stock twists, to help the GM out, and each verb should have some pretty distinct rules. But I'll talk about those in another post.