Genesys by CitizenKeen
Core MechanicsOriginal SA post Genesys - Chapter 1: Core Mechanics
My first F&F write-up. Been here since 2003 and ain’t contributed shit, so fuck it, let’s do this.
Fantasy Flight Games’s Genesys is the genericized game built around the Narrative Dice System, the trademarked term for the core mechanic of the Star Wars trio of games (Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, and Force and Destiny). Did you like paying for the game thrice? Well, it’s not over yet! Let’s keep paying!
The book advertises itself as One Book. Unlimited Adventures. I mean, that’s true of almost any role playing game, right? “[W]here every roll of the dice lets you tell a story!” I mean, I guess that’s true. The dice mechanic is pretty cool, if you like paying for a whole new table’s worth of dice.
Classic section headings like
- What is a Roleplaying Game, Anyway?
- I’m the Game Master! What Do I Do?
- I’m a Player! What Do I do?
“Playing Genesys requires very few materials.” All you need is this $40 book and a bucket of our proprietary dice! They also point out there’s an app. (I’ve used the app. It’s my favorite dice app. Rolling by shaking your phone and getting a little dice rolling noise and watching the dice bounce around on the ‘table’ before the computer just does all the math-cancellation for you is pretty nice.)
Part 1: The Rules
In this section, the following chapters…
- Chapter 1: Core Mechanics
- Chapter 2: Creating Characters
- Chapter 3: Skills
- Chapter 4: Talents
- Chapter 5: Equipment
- Chapter 6: Combat Encounters
- Chapter 7: Social Encounters
- Chapter 8: The Game Master
"Our game focuses on your characters and the heroic actions they take rather than on measurements, statistics, or other minutiae. Instead of taking a ruler and measuring the distance between characters on a map, you simply need to state, “I’m ducking behind the helicopter to get some cover while I pull out my pistol.”
While I’m always grateful to see stuff like this in a book, I’m very curious to know who is playing Genesys who has never played a narrative game. Either you’re coming at Genesys because (a) you like Star Wars and want to play Fallout, or (b) you’ve heard good things about FFG’s Star Wars games but aren’t really in to Star Wars.
Chapter 1: Core Mechanics
As I said, Genesys uses the Narrative Dice System. It’s the same system FFG used in Star Wars, but they changed the symbols to ones owned by FFG because
You roll a bunch of dice. You cancel a bunch of symbols out. You interpret the results. Roll, rinse, repeat. A classic example of a ‘core mechanic’, it’s used for pretty much everything.
You grab a fistful of dice. There are six kinds, color coded for your convenience.
- You’ve got Boost Dice, which are sky blue six-siders. They represent good situations. Optimal circumstances. Aid from friends.
- You’ve got Ability Dice, green eight-siders. They represent your natural ability and trained aptitude.
- You’ve got Proficiency Dice, yellow twelve-siders. You get them when you’re both naturally talented and well-trained.
- You’ve got Setback Dice, which are black six-siders. They represent bad situations and hindrances. They’re the opposite of Boost Dice.
- You’ve got Difficulty Dice, purple eight-siders. They represent the natural difficulty of a task. They’re the opposite of Ability Dice.
- You’ve got Challenge Dice, dark red twelve-siders. They represent “the most extreme adversity and opposition”. They’re the opposite of Proficiency Dice.
So picking a shitty lock in the middle of the night on the side of a moving helicopter in a hailstorm isn’t any more difficult than doing so in your practice room. But you’re rolling with a boatload of Setback dice. Because of undue circumstances.
The dice have special symbols on them. The symbols are:
What do these symbols mean, you ask? From left to right:
- Advantage, the “up arrow” (even though you don’t really have “up” on dice). It’s an “opportunity for a positive consequence or side effect, regardless of whether your character fails or succeeds at the task they attempt”. (Emphasis mine.)
- Success, the ninja star. You count these up.
- Triumph, the ninja star in a circle. These are your critical hits. They only exist on Proficiency Dice. They do awesome shit and also count as Successes.
- Despair, the X in a chakram. These are your critical misses. They only exist on Challenge Dice. They will fuck your shit up and also count as Failures.
- Failure, the X. You count these up.
- Threat, the… what the fuck is that? A circle with three blades coming out?
You count up your Advantages, and you subtract your Threats. More Advantage than Threat? Extra icing on cake. More Threat than Advantage? Unintended bad shit.
A description of a roll I once read was: A player tries to shoot the BBEG, rolls a Failure with Advantage. The GM interprets this as the player missing because the BBEG tripped. So, you failed in what you wanted to do (shoot the villain), but gained some particular advantage (BBEG is now prone).
Triumphs and Despairs, of note, don’t cancel out. You can get both. Wildly crazy and divergent outcomes are possible.
I’m going to fanboy for a moment (feel free to skip to the end of the paragraph). That bolded shit referenced under ‘Advantage’ is dope. It’s the entirety of the reason to play Genesys. Truly independent two-axis task resolution. The rest of the game is pretty bog standard mid-crunch generic role playing system, but having such wild interpretations of rolls is awesome. The core mechanic is pretty different from anything I’ve seen. The rest is… basic point buy goodness.
Lights, Camera, Action! So the player says what they want to do. The GM mentally builds up a pool of negative dice, and tells the player what it is, and the player builds their pool of positive dice and rolls the giant pool of positive and negative dice together.
The Basic Dice Pool / Characteristic Ratings. So the book now dives in to how to build the dice pool. Basically, any action has an associated Skill, each of which has an associated Characteristic. Skills are rated from 0 to 5, and Characteristics are rated from 1 to 5. So you grab a number of Ability Dice equal to the greater of your Characteristic or Skill, and then ‘upgrade’ a number of dice equal to the lesser value into Proficiency Dice.
So if you have a Brawn of 5 and a Melee Fight of 0, when fighting you’d roll 5 Ability Dice. If you have a Brawn of 5 and a Melee Fight of 2, you’d roll 3 Ability Dice and 2 Proficiency Dice. If you have a Melee Fight of 4 and a Brawn of 2, you’d roll 2 each of Ability and Proficiency Dice.
There’s a sidebar telling us that a player can have a Brawn of 5. A dragon also has a Brawn of 5. It only goes up to 5. And that’s mostly because easy math and buckets of dice, but also there are other things that make dragons dragon-y.
The six Characteristics are:
Difficulty. Then the GM adds Difficulty Dice. Tasks are:
- Simple (0 Purple Dice). Usually you don’t even roll, but when you do, note you still need 1 Success.
- Easy (1 Purple Die).
- Average (2 PD).
- Hard (3 PD).
- Daunting (4 PD).
- Formidable (5 PD). I’m mildly chafed that Formidable comes after Daunting, but whatever.
- Impossible. A sidebar notes that something Impossible can still be allowed by the GM if it’s merely ‘extremely improbable’. Doing so requires a Story Point (not yet described) to even attempt and then it becomes a Formidable Task.
Building a Basic Dice Pool. There’s four pages full of examples on checks and how the dice pools are built. Clarification on when you increase the number of dice versus “upgrading” dice versus adding new dice. (Upgrading means turning an eight-sider into a twelve-sider of the appropriate goodness, or if there are no eight-siders then adding an eight-sider.)
Interpreting the Pool. Some advice on how to interpret Advantages and Threat, though mostly it punts to later chapters. You can ‘spend’ Advantage to activate cool abilities (not described). Your GM can spend Threat to activate cool fuck-yous (not described).
Triumph and Despair. A page highlighting that these are special (not really) things that come up that offer “an unexpected boon or significantly beneficial effect” / “significant complications or dire effects” related to your roll. Some weapons and equipment trigger off of Triumph (not described). A note that while a roll may be a Despair, and a Despair counts as a Failure, you can still Succeed with Despair. Essentially, you were so successful something bad happened.
Other Types of Checks. These include:
- Opposed Checks. When directly opposed by an NPC, instead of an arbitrary GM-defined difficulty, the NPC’s Ability (green) and Proficiency (yellow) dice become the PC’s Difficulty (purple) and Challenge (dark red) dice.
- Competitive Checks. When two characters (PC or NPC) are competing, each make a roll as normal. Success is no longer binary - you count the number of Successes, and whoever was “most” successful wins the competition. Ties broken by Triumphs then Advantage.
- Assistance: If the helper is Skilled, a person builds the pool with the better of the Characteristics and Skill. (So Allison Brainypants has an Intellect of 5 and no Hacking, and Edmund Neckbeard has a Hacking of 5 but an Intellect of 2, when they work together they would roll a 5 Intellect and a 5 Hacking, or 5 Proficiency Dice.) If the helper is Unskilled (neither their Characteristic nor Skill is higher than the person they’re helping), then the GM may allow a Boost die (sky blue) to the person getting the help.
Other Key Elements. Apparently there are Talents and they can help the roll. You’ll find out more later!
There are also Story Points. Narrative Meta Currency representing “destiny, fate, or whatever you like to call it”! These are taken from the Force Points of the original Star Wars system, as I understand it. There’s a Player Pool and a Game Master Pool. At the start of a session, there’s one for each player in the Player Pool and one for each Game Master in the Game Master Pool.
When somebody spends a Story Point, you move it from their Pool to the other Pool. You can use Story Points to do things like:
- Upgrade a Die (turning an Ability (green) die into a Proficiency (yellow) die). Or the GM can upgrade a Difficulty (purple) die into a Challenge (red) die.
- Some special abilities and Talents apparently use Story Points to activate.
- Luck and Deus Ex Machina. Classic Fate point expenditure - “Oh, hey, there’s a gas mask in this broom closet!”
Experience and Development. There’s a quick note about how you spend experience. Character should get about 20 XP per session. You can spend it to:
- Improve Characteristics. During character creation only, you can buy up your raw Characteristics. It costs 10 XP times the next-highest value (so it costs 50 XP to increase an Agility from 4 to 5).
- Skill Training. Skills can be increased for a cost of 5 XP times the value it will be. Non-career talents (?) cost 5 XP more.
- Talents. Talents cost 5 XP per Tier. More apparently explained later.
Derived Attributes. There are four. They all seem combat oriented.
- Wound Threshold. How many Wounds you can take before things get bad.
- Strain Threshold. How much Strain you can take before things get bad. Strain is mental / emotional / psychic stress.
- Defense. How hard you are to hit. Can be different for Ranged and Melee.
- Soak Value. Armor that reduced incoming damage.
And that’s the end of Chapter 1.