Making RPGs Dark & Dangerous Again...

THE SECRET FIRE™ is a brand new, original game system with mechanics that emphasize exploration, roleplaying, and the constant threat of danger as adventurers set forth on perilous quests, engage in lethal battles, and win precious treasures. The design philosophy focuses strongly on imbuing the game world with a specific tone through elements of flavor, simpler rules, faster play, and unlimited flexibility using innovative “literary” mechanics alongside traditional tropes of the fantasy game genre. The overall “feel” of this combination is what sets THE SECRET FIRE apart from all other games.

What Makes the Game Different?

I’ve received several requests to summarize the major elements of THE SECRET FIRE™ that set it apart from other fantasy roleplaying games. So, ignoring the similarities among all FRPGs (a fantasy world setting, medieval-style setting, and so on), let’s review the significant differences between TSF and the world’s most popular roleplaying game, which happens to be a fantasy RPG:

1. ROLEPLAYING MECHANICS. Characters in TSF all possess a Good, Neutral, and Evil trait, one of which dominates depending on the PC’s alignment, but the other two exist within the character as well, and come out from time to time. Players gain Energy Points (second Section 2) for roleplaying their characters, whether choosing to follow or go against their alignment (and its associated trait, for example a Good character following his self-sacrificing Good trait, or a Good character instead acting out his greedy Evil trait). Whichever they choose, they tick one space along the spectrum toward Good, Neutral, or Evil, depending on the morality of the action taken. Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic represent the Stability of the character, i.e., how often they stick to or diverge from their alignment and its associated trait.

In addition, each Ability score comes with an associated Descriptor. For example, Strength ranges from Feeble to Mighty, while Intellect ranges from Moronic to Brilliant. These Descriptors can also be used to gain Energy Points. A Reckless or Foolhardy PC might charge into battle at an inopportune time or pull a lever before the party has decided whether it seems like a beneficial course of action. Just an attempt at roleplaying either a Trait or a Descriptor earns the PC Energy Points — they don’t have to succeed at the action.

2. ENERGY POINTS. Exploration, battle, spellcasting, and other elements of the game can be enhanced by spending Energy Points, a pool of energy for each PC that starts out at maximum at the beginning of a new day (after 8 hours of sleep). Characters can earn extra Energy Points (even above and beyond their starting level for the day) by roleplaying (see #1). Energy Points can be used in any way allowed by the MC (aka, Master Creator, TSF’s version of “GM”) to accomplish Special Effects. A few examples of Special Effects include: pinning an opponent, knocking-out a combatant, re-casting a prayer previously cast, swapping out a spell for one of equal or lower level, moving overland at double-speed, inflicting extra damage on a successful hit, and so on broken into major categories of Exploration, Weapon Attacks, and Spellcasting. The only caveat is that the player MUST explain how his or her character is accomplishing this effect in a realistic way given the current situation. The MC is the final arbiter of what is possible in the game world. For example, a thief wants to pin a gnoll to a stone stelae during a battle in a Stonehenge-type ruin; unless the dagger being used is magical, it defies the logic/physics of the game world for the dagger to pass through the gnoll and dig into the stone deep enough to pin the Gnoll. If the thief were to knock the gnoll down and pin it to the hard ground with the dagger, the MC would most likely allow it. There are limits to how many Special Effects can be used per attack, of course, and when PCs run out of Energy Points, they can always engage in additional roleplaying to earn more (again, see point #1).

3. WOUND LEVELS. THE SECRET FIRE uses a combination of hits (or hit points) and Wound Levels from other games, including several I designed, including INDIANA JONES (D6), THE STAR WARS ROLEPLAYING: REVISED & EXPANDED (D6), and the D6 SYSTEM RULEBOOK, with a few major changes. At each of the five levels — Grazed, Hurt, Wounded, Messed Up, At Death’s Door — the PC suffers some effect, either positive, negative, or both. For example, a +1 to attacks at the Hurt Wound Level, or a critical success on a natural 15-20 or a critical failure on a natural 1-5 at the Messed Up level, bearing in mind, that like all things in TSF, everything stacks. Which segues nicely to:

4. EVERYTHING STACKS! Enough said. No looking up, figuring out, arguing over, etc. Everything stacks.

5. NARRATIVE VS. NUMERICAL STYLE. Players use codewords that represent numerical values to make the entire game, including and especially battles, more immersive.

EXAMPLE 1 (WITH ATTACKER SPENDING ENERGY POINTS): Dave shouts out, “Using my muscular strength, I slash at the Goblin with my longsword Garm’s Tooth, landing a serious blow for 10 points of damage! I finish the attack by slamming my shoulder into the Goblin’s chest, knocking it to the ground!”

EXAMPLE 2 (A PLAYERS RESPONDS TO A SPELL ATTACK): Scott says, “My anti-magic utterly fails to absorb the evil wizard’s rain of fire, dropping me to death’s door!”

All players at the table understand what these phrases/code-words mean and are encouraged to embellish and create entirely new ways of expressing them along with the MC.

6. SANDBOX-STYLE, I.E., NOT NICELY BALANCED FOR YOUR PARTY. The world is the world. Parties may encounter easy obstacles they can overcome in seconds or impossible obstacles that will instantly destroy every member of the group. PCs must take care to figure out which is which and to attempt other strategies before engaging everything in battle, including parley and flight. This is a game of exploration and danger. (As a related tangent, the vast amount of experience points earned by PCs come from gaining treasures and accomplishing quests, with a few points received for defeating or successfully parleying with monsters).

7. RESISTANCES VS. SAVING THROWS/DEFENSES. All attacks are made against an opponent’s Dodge score. All damage, however, is rolled against the opponent’s Resistance score based on the type of attack. For example, a sword thrust hits a ghoul (i.e., hitting its Dodge) and the damage taken is determined by subtracting the ghoul’s Armor Resistance (which absorbs the blow) from the sword’s damage roll, with a minimum of 1 damage. Other Resistances include Anti-Magic vs. Paralyzation, Dragon Breath, Spells; Endurance vs. Poison, Petrification, Death Magic; and Willpower vs. Charm, Psychic Assault, Prayers.

8. THE ELDER GODS & THE CHARACTER WHEEL. The Character Wheel or Mosaic at the center of THE SECRET FIRE character sheet becomes filled in with different colors based on the types of encounters the PC finds himself or herself facing over his or her adventuring lifetime. Other players can just glance at another PC’s Character Wheel to get a sense of that PC’s life up to this point, just like you can get a vibe about someone just by looking at them or spending time with them. The Elder Gods are five primordial “forces” representing positive and negative aspects of their areas of power. They can be called upon for succor – but players who do so find themselves owing them a favor that may called in at the worst possible time. There are also Deities in the world worshipped by the masses who are in turn led by Holy-Men and Holy-Women acting as the representatives of these Deities in the world. Deities and Elder Gods are NOT the same. Deities themselves would quiver in the presence of an Elder God. The Elder Gods come into play in other ways, as well, but those remain the purview of the MC and will not be discussed here for they should remain a secret from the players (one of the benefits of being the MC)….

9. UNIQUE TALISMANS. Everyone talisman (aka magic item) is a unique item, complete with special adornments, qualities, name, and history, in addition to any (relatively simple) magical abilities. Tables help MCs develop and design these items, plus pre-generated items can be selected and used immediately.

10. GYGAX’S VISION FOR THE FUTURE. As Gail Gygax has mentioned on her Facebook page, a screenwriter is currently writing a movie based on Gary’s life using Gary’s unpublished works and various writings about himself from his diaries and his ideas for gaming from his first thoughts about creating RPGs through this last days on this earth from his notebooks. The name of the screenwriter has not been revealed, but he has in his possession the inner thoughts of Gary Gygax on many things, especially his vision for the future of gaming, which happens to be the same as my own sensibilities. More on this topic later (i.e., that’s all I’m at liberty to mention now)….

11. SIMILARITIES & ADDITIONAL CHANGES. TSF has Ability scores, equipment, attack charts,increasing rather than decreasing Dodge score (i.e., higher is better), a unique skill system which requires a PC to roll their Ability score or under to accomplish a task on a number of six-sided dice, with that number of dice based on the difficulty of the task in question (though PCs Trained in a particular skill get to roll one die less when making the roll). Plus, a Montage System allows the MC and players to move through long periods of game-world time very quickly with interesting and randomized results.

12. IMMEDIATE TECHNOLOGY. THE SECRET FIRE will also have a look-up app that DOESN’T require an internet connection (since all data will be stored locally on your mobile device, thereby making the app faster as an added benefit) available for a ONE-TIME price on the DAY the game is released, unlike other gaming companies. More apps and in-app purchases will become available for sale, but none are required to play and you don’t have to sign up for an ongoing subscription.

To sum up, THE SECRET FIRE is a fast, flexible, and familiar yet unique fantasy roleplaying game that focuses on immersion, substituting words for numbers whenever possible, putting you at the heart of the experience. It has a low price point and will be available in PDF, ePub, and hardcopy formats. In addition, we won’t be overwhelming you with books to buy, having a release schedule of one book every four months, or three per year, designed to expand and enhance your game. Apps and other technologies will be available ad hoc at low prices and will be meant to speed up play even further or provide additional enhancements to your campaign.

In addition, the game contains elements that appeal to fans of ALL editions of the world’s most popular FRPG so everyone can go back to playing together. A couple of playtesters have called it a “Universal FRPG,” and were supported in that assessment by award-winning author Michael Curtis:

“I had the opportunity to sit down at my FLGS and playtest a convention scenario for the upcoming RPG Legends & Labyrinths [now called THE SECRET FIRE™]. There is literally something for everyone in the rules, no matter what edition you started with and some very innovative and interesting mechanics to the game.”

Lastly, the game features an Appendix that allows players to continue as a true adventurer outside game sessions by making their own lives and communities better in the real world, gaining themselves additional benefits in the game while making the world a better place for everyone….

P.S. The TSF book itself contain its own secrets to be deciphered and solved. Those who do so successfully will find themselves discovering extra, free content, not to mention the sense of accomplishment for solving the puzzle….