Friday, September 4, 2009

The Mechanics of Mind Reading

No Failure

In Dead Running, nothing never happens. Something is always more interesting, fun, and entertaining than nothing therefore something must always happen.

This means tests may never be pass/fail. Any test that is pass/fail, due to lack of creativity from the group, automatically succeeds. Traits are only tested when it will produce one of two outcomes, both of which are interesting, fun, or entertaining (preferably all three!).

Pass/Fail: A fence can be climbed (pass) or not climbed (fail).

In Dead Running, a character attempting the above test would automatically succeed. Failure would mean nothing happened, the character is still on the same side of the fence, and in this game nothing never happens.

Pass/Pass: A security system can be deactivated (pass) or triggered (pass).

This conflict is more interesting because either option produces a change in the story. Dead Running is not about shooting or missing, it's about shooting or getting shot. With a little thought, you can turn any pass/fail test into a pass/pass test. In the above example, not climbing the fence could mean getting caught by security, being separated from the others, or being forced to go the long way.

Mundane Tests

Mundane tests involve any attempt to use Intelligence, Strength, or Charisma to complete a task. Whenever a character faces an Obstacle or Opponent rated 4 or higher, the player must roll an applicable trait die and get a result equal to or higher than the task's resistance. Resistance is determined by the following chart, with the GM serving as the final arbiter:

Resistance Chart























Since only tasks rated 4+ require a roll, a character automatically succeeds at climbing a chain link fence or scaring a child (easy), but a roll would be required to climb a barbed wire fence quickly or defeat a group of armed street kids (difficult).

Narration: If the player rolls higher than the task's resistance, the player
narrates that
character achieving its goal. If the player rolls lower, the GM
narrates an alternative outcome. All narration is final. A re-roll may change the outcome of a test, but once narration begins the test is decided. Additionally, the same test may never be tried twice. At least one of the possible outcomes must be changed to create a new test.

Notice that the GM never rolls dice during Mundane Tests. The GM simply sets a resistance for the task and thinks up an alternative outcome should the player roll low.

Insight Tests

Insight tests are resolved differently than mundane tests. The player calling for an Insight test does not roll at all. Instead, the player uses his own psychic ability to read the mind of his target, usually the GM.

Once the GM announces the opponent's resistance (2-6), a die is rolled equal to twice that resistance (d4-d12) with the result visible to the GM but hidden from the player. This is called the target number.

The player then chooses a range of numbers equal to half the Insight trait of the character. If the target number falls within this range chosen by the player, the Insight test is successful!

Player: "I'm totally plunging. Is the cop really here to help?"
GM: "Okay! That cop's average, so I'll call him a 3. That gives me a d6!"
Keeping the roll hidden from the player, the GM rolls a 6.
Player: "D4 Insight means my range is only 2. Um... I'll go with 3-4!"
Smiling, the GM reveals the roll and the player groans.
GM: "6! The cop feels the mental intruder and pulls his pistol..."

It's important to note, the player may choose a range that 'wraps around' the die such as 6-1 (6,1 on a d6 or 6,7,8,1 on a d8). If the player above chose 6-1 instead, the Insight test would have been successful. Additionally, a d10 Insight will always succeed at reading a novice mind since a range of 1-5 covers any result on a d4.

Narration: As above, the player narrates a successful Insight test while the GM
narrates the alternative outcome of failure (usually a now hostile opponent!).
This means players actually
describe the thoughts they read! In the example
above, the player would determine if the cop was honest or crooked.

With the basics of Insight covered. We can get into the deviations encountered by different uses of the talent:

Eaves Drop - Resolved normally against a single opponent. Against a group, only
the toughest resistance is rolled, but failure alerts the entire group.
Trace - Test once to read the surface thought, test again to ask a question linked
to that thought, test again for another question, and so on until failure.
Plunge - Test to ask a single question from the target.
Devour - Succeeds automatically on dead minds, but requires several minutes.
Nulls will resist unless immobilized or otherwise incapacitated.

Psychics can attempt feats outside their expertise, but range is only a single number.
Eaves Drop can be performed in conversation range, but every other talent requires touching the target.

GM Psychics: When an opponent wishes to read a player character, the Insight test is reversed. The player rolls Insight
and the GM chooses a range of a numbers equal to the opponent's resistance, attempting to guess the player's roll.


Dead Running thrives on suspicion. To encourage suspicious behavior among the characters, suspicion points (tokens, beads, pennies, whatever) are awarded to the player. Each time a character displays behavior or speech that casts doubt on the character's loyalty, another player or the GM can award a suspicion point. One point of suspicion is generally enough acknowledge the player's actions, but a second may be given for exceptionally devious acts that make everyone pause.

The key is not to act like a traitor, whether it's true or not, but to act suspicious. If characters begin behaving too traitorously, they may notice certain players (or even the entire group!) not awarding suspicion for further traitorous acts. If the whole group believes you a traitor, no one will be surprised when you act like one. Don't worry, now you'll start getting suspicion when you act loyal!

A player may spend suspicion in two ways:

Re-roll: 1 suspicion allows the player to re-roll a test they just attempted
Narration: 1 suspicion allows the player to steal narration after any test
(2 suspicion allows a player to steal narration from the stealer, then 3, etc.)

In this way, a player may spend suspicion for a re-roll, overcome the obstacle, narrate something suspicious as the result, and possibly regain the suspicion right back. Boom! Free re-roll! Also, stealing narration when you have a really good idea can lead to your character behaving so suspiciously that you get 2 points, spending 1 suspicion to gain 2!


Anytime suspicion is spent for a re-roll, the token becomes a point of harm and is handed to the GM. Suspicion spent for narration is just placed back in the pile, narration never creates harm. Harm spent by the GM simply returns to the pile of suspicion waiting to be awarded back to the players.

The GM can spend a point of harm to add the 'harmful' quality to any test. Naturally, harmful tests get +1 resistance as per the Resistance Chart. Losing a harmful test carries additional consequence as the player must permanently lower a trait by 1 die size. Although the GM makes the test harmful and narrates the consequence of failure, the player chooses which trait to lower as long as it makes a good story.

For example: Even if Intelligence is used to disable a harmful security system,
the resulting electric
shock could harm Intelligence (fried neurons), Strength (debilitating injury), Charisma (burns), or Insight (altered brain waves).

Any trait reduced below d4 (0) cannot be tested. If a zeroed trait is needed, the character falls to the whim of the GM unless another trait can be justified. Players are e
ncouraged to be very creative about bringing in remaining traits.

The GM should not feel guilty about spending harm. Re-rolls are very powerful and they are the only way for the GM to gain harm. In this way, players actually choose the mission's difficulty by determining how much harm the GM can use.

Harm may be added to a test at any time, but some times are better than others. The GM may deem a test 'secretly harmful' by first describing resistance as 4 (difficult digital lock), then raising it to 5 (harmful countermeasures) just as the player rolls. Harm can be added after a failed test (the angry informant draws a gun). Harm can even increase resistance after a successfully tied roll, thus creating a failure (The barbed wire was electrified too!). Spending harm after a player begins narrating, however, is a dick move. Any GM resorting to it should immediately pass these rules to someone more fun.


Next up, Pacing!

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