The Arkana defines a character. The 3×3, 9 cell table that represents a character’s base capabilities is the Minor Arkana. The rows of the Minor Arkana represent the Acts, the columns represent the Areas. When a character resolves any given task they do so by combining an Act and an Area into a Phrase and making a Check. These rules, called the Arkana Engine, govern the use of the Arkana.
The Acts: Enhance, Control, and Diminish
The Areas: Body, Mind, and Spirit.
The nine Phrases formed by combining an Act and an Area represent what the character might have to do to themselves or their surroundings in order to succeed at whatever tasks they carry out.
In each cell of the Arkana where an Act and an Area intersect lies a value from 2 to 6, called a character’s Base Scores. Each Base Score signifies the average level of success that the character can achieve with the associated Phrase when using it to resolve a task.
A character’s Base Scores start at, and may never permanently be lower than, 2. At character creation the player may spend a number of points assigned by the Arbiter, if any, and raise their individual Base Scores to meet the requirements of the game.
In the margins of the Arkana lie each Act and Area’s Mastery Score, taken as the average Phrase Score of the corresponding row or column. For all Masteries, less than .5 rounds down while .5 or greater rounds up. The left margin shows the three Act Masteries. The top margin shows the three Area Masteries.
Act Mastery determines the number of dice a character rolls to resolve a task, while Area Mastery determines a character’s maximum Wounds and Focus.
Body and Spirit Mastery determine a character’s maximum Wounds, showing the two ways in which a character’s toughness and resolve are depleted by damage and stress. Track Wounds for Body and Spirit separately, if either reaches the limit then the character is incapacitated. Whether by death, madness, or cowardice, an incapacitated character can no longer continue and retires from play.
Mind Mastery determines a character’s Focus, representing their willpower and reflexes. Unlike wounds, Focus recovers from moment to moment, acting as a buffer to damage and a resource to leverage.
As a whole Kit represents the items a character uses to resolve their tasks. Kit rating represents the type of Kit that a character has a knack for.
Kit comes in three types: Armor, Tools, and Weapons. The Rating for each can be either + (Gain), 0 (Null), or – (Loss). A character’s Kit Ratings modify any Checks they make using that type of Kit, at the Arbiter’s discretion.
At character creation the player must either raise the rating in one type of Kit to + and leave the rating of the other two at 0, or lower the rating in one type of Kit to – and raise the rating of the other two to +.
Equipment slots mark pieces of Kit that a character keeps immediately at hand. By default a character has five Equipment slots.
Pack slots denote pieces of Kit that a character has on their person but not equipped. By default a character has five Pack slots.
Pieces of Kit take up a number of equipment/pack slots equal to the number of hands the Kit would require to hold or use. A two-handed sword, for instance, fills two pack slots. Likewise, at any time a character may only actively use one kit slot for each free hand.
To resolve a task, the Player declares what they are going to do and agrees upon a Phrase with the Arbiter to best represent it, then the Arbiter considers the difficulty of the player’s task and sets a Target Score for success. The player references their Arkana to find the Phrase’s Base Score and makes a Check.
The Player always rolls a number of dice equal to the Act Mastery corresponding to the Phrase being used. The dice may land on Gains (die values 5 & 6), Null (values 3 & 4), or Losses (values 1 & 2). Each Gain raises the Base Score by one and each Loss lowers the Base Score by one. Null dice are ignored.
The final value after applying Gains and Losses to the Base Score is the Result Score. If the Result Score meets or exceeds the Target Score then the task is successful.
-If the player’s Result Score is only 1 below the Target Score then task should succeed, but with complications.
-If the Base Score meets or exceeds the Target Score without rolling, the Arbiter may choose to consider the Base Score as the Result Score of the attempted Task. If the Task is critical to the narrative, the Arbiter should request a rolled Check regardless of Base Score.
In some cases one or more characters may Assist an ally by making a single Act Mastery roll matching the supported Phrase. Any Gains remaining after subtracting Losses apply to the Result Score. Assisting does not ever lower the Result Score of the task.
Typically, a character cannot successfully attempt a task if the difference between the Base Score and the Target Score is greater than the character’s Act Mastery. In these cases an Arbiter may allow the character to attempt to cast a Spell. Spells can represent the use of magic, or they can represent heroic effort. Either way, Spells always represent a character risking their own well-being to generate results outside of their normal abilities.
Spells are made up of two Checks: Cause and Effect. The Cause is the Check made by the character in an attempt to create the desired Effect. The Effect is the Check that would be made if the character were attempting a mundane task. In effect, the character is Assisting themselves.
The two Checks are made in order, with Cause modifying Effect. The Cause Check is made as an Act Mastery roll, with no specified Area. The player should declare the Act they wish to use, and how that Act affects the Result Score of their Effect. Any Gains from the Cause Check raise the Result Score of the Effect Check. The Effect Check is made with a full Phrase as described above in Task Resolution.
Spells cost Focus equal to the Target Score of the Effect Check minus the Base Score. In addition, any Losses from the Cause Check are added to the Focus cost. If the cost of a Spell exceeds the character’s current Focus then the excess cost is added as Wounds to either Body or Spirit.
It is up to the Arbiter to determine the nature of Spells and Spellcasting in their games, such as whether they represent magic or heroic effort, what they are capable of, and how much more difficult they are than a mundane task. To restrict achievable effects, the Arbiter may choose to have individual Spells occupy Pack or Equipment slots, or be expended when used, either permanently or until the character rests. The Arbiter is free to define individual Spells as broadly or narrowly as they see fit.
These rulings, whether they come before or during play, can have significant effect the unfolding story of the game and should be recorded for consistency and reflection.
Conflict arises any time the player characters come under threat. Time is tracked moment to moment as characters act and react to one another, with the lines of battle portrayed through their Positioning. Conflict always has two sides, the Players controlling their characters, or “PCs”, against the Arbiter controlling the environment and non player characters, or “NPCs”. Rounds of Conflict are made up of two turns, Advantage first and Disadvantage last. A character recovers any spent Focus and Actions at the top of the round.
To begin Conflict a die is rolled, 4-6 gives the Players Advantage, 1-3 gives the Players Disadvantage. If one side is ambushing/surprising the other, then ambushing side is granted advantage.
After Initiative is determined each character will take their Position, choosing between Guard and Cover. Position represents the ever shifting front of Conflict, with Guard portraying the clashing front-line and Cover portraying the supportive rear-line. During Disputes and other non-combat forms of conflict the characters’ Position represents the proverbial spotlight, with Guard portraying the primary speakers or actors and Cover representing those in reserve.
Each round a character may use two Actions. Actions can be used to Defend, Attack, Maneuver, or perform a narrative task. Enhance Mastery is used to Defend, Control Mastery is used to Maneuver, and Diminish Mastery is used to Attack.
The Area used to complete the Phrase for each Check in Conflict is determined by the Arbiter. The Result Score determines how much Focus is generated by Defending, Damage dealt by Attacking, Initiative generated by Maneuvering, or the success of a narrative task. Reactions are resolved the same way as Actions, but may only be performed in direct response to an Action taken by the opposing team.
Characters in the same position may use an Action to Assist another player’s Action. Reactions may never be Assisted, excepting reactions to Passing Guard.
Defending is done by making a Enhance Check. The Result Score always generates temporary Focus, potentially exceeding a character’s maximum. If the Defender ends the round with Focus in excess of their Mind Mastery, then they begin the next round with Focus equal to their Mind Mastery.
Armor Kit Rating is applied to the Result Score of any Defense, once for each Equipment Slot occupied by Armor.
Maneuvers are made with a Control Check. The Result Score generates Initiative, tallied towards their side. Moving, dodging, and some other actions not used to attack or defend (as defined below) are resolved as Maneuvers. When dodging an Attack if the Result Score of the Maneuver exceeds the Base DS of the Attack then all Wounds are avoided, otherwise full damage is applied from the Attack.
Advancing from Cover to Guard or Retreating from Guard to Cover uses a single Maneuver. Passing Guard to approach an enemy in Cover uses a single Maneuver, which may be Reacted to once and Assisted by everyone on the opponent’s side. If the Maneuver Check to Pass Guard succeeds then the targeted opponent(s) are moved to Guard to represent the fight coming to them.
Tool Kit rating may be applied to Maneuvers if and only if the Tool in question is relevant for the task and occupies at least one Equipment slot.
Attacks are made with a Diminish Check. The Result Score generates Damage upon the target. The target’s Focus acts as a barrier, thus the character’s current focus is subtracted from any damage they take, with the remainder tallied as wounds.
Weapon Kit Rating is applied to the Result Score of an Attack once for each hand occupied by a Weapon. “Close” weapons may Attack from Cover-to-Cover, “Reach” weapons may Attack from Cover-to-Guard or Guard-to-Cover, and “Ranged” weapons may Attack from Cover-to-Cover and Cover-to-Guard.
Narrative tasks in conflict, such as unlocking a door or Equipping/Packing kit cost one Action. Whether a character must make a rolled check follows the same rules as outside conflict. Whether Packing an Equipped piece of Kit and Equipping another take one or two Actions is at the Arbiter’s discretion, though dropping an Equipped item always costs no Actions.
At the end of the round any unused Actions are used as Maneuvers and rolled towards initiative. Once this is completed both sides tally their total Initiative and compare them, the winning side gains Advantage the following round. Initiative starts at 0 each round.
Spells in Conflict
Two actions are used to cast a Spell, one for the Cause and one for the Effect. The Effect is resolved as either a Defend, Attack, or Maneuver Check and may be reacted to accordingly. A character may choose to use both of their Actions to React with a Spell, and anyone Assisting a Spell takes damage equal to the number of losses on their Check.
When appropriate the Arbiter will allow the party to Rest, giving them a chance to recover from their wounds at a risk relative to their current situation. Once per rest players may their Wounds with a Enhance Body Check or a Enhance Spirit Check, done separately, removing Wounds equal to the Result Score. Players may choose not to heal themselves, instead assisting in another character’s recovery.
The players and the Arbiter should periodically agree upon goals for the party to accomplish, marking milestones in the party’s progress. Upon reaching a milestone the Arbiter will award one or more Experience Points (XP) to each player.
XP can be spent to raise a Phrase Score at a cost equal to the current Score, thus to raise a Phrase Score from 2 to 3 a player would need to spend 2 XP, and to raise a Phrase from 3 to 4 it would cost 3 XP. During play a character can spend an XP to add a single Gain to a Check before or after it is rolled.