an action-forward, quick-build TTRPG
Use this free Character Keeper
You play as mercenaries in a fallen kingdom, taking violent jobs from cloaked figures. You've done it all before… break a man out of prison, hunt down a roving werewolf, assassinate a traveling dignitary.
But now you have to trust your instincts and find your own conscious.
Sometimes the most dangerous jobs are the ones you turn down.
The Golden Rule
This is a game; it's meant to be fun. If anybody stops having fun, take a break and reassess.
The Silver Rule
Everything can be killed by a spear. The reality of Bastards is concrete and utterly knowable. Monsters have major organs and loppable necks. Even ghosts—called Albretz—have corporeal, though invisible, forms.
The characters are Hammers in a land of Nails.
The Copper Rule
Your characters are at least as intelligent as the most intelligent player at the table. (The GM is a player, too!)
In a world where monsters are real, children would be taught about silver daggers and wooden stakes before they learn to tie their shoes.
Genre, Tone, and Comfort
Before each session, the GM and players should have a discussion about their story's genre and tone.
In a grimdark tale full of literal and figurative monsters, scenes can quickly slide from action/suspence into horror. The GM should be mindful of common phobias (spiders, snakes, body horror, etc) and topics (harm to animals and children, genocide, imprisonment) that can make players uncomfortable. If the GM is planning an encounter with a giant spider, it's worth the minor spoiler to say so before the session begins.
D6 Dice Pool
When your character does anything risky, you will roll between one and four six-sided dice (d6). Any time you roll the dice, we call that a check or contest.
Each individual die has a 50% chance of rolling a Hit.
1 2 3 4 5 6
When rolling more than one die, it's possible to score multiple Hits in one check.
If you roll zero Hits, the check fails and the character takes Penalties.
Each character has six primary stats called Actions. The six Actions are grouped in pairs and each pair corresponds to a Reaction.
Players can declare at anytime that they are taking an Action.
If the Game Master (GM) wants to throw something at your character, or if your character leaps into danger, the GM will have you roll a Reaction.
- You choose when you want to take Action
- The GM chooses when you need to React
The six Actions represent a much broader swath of possible abilities. Related verbs are listed with each Action. As an example, the muscle groups and level of fitness required to Run would also be engaged to Swim.
- RUN — hustle, sprint, swim
- LEAP — tumble, sneak, climb
- STRIKE — tackle, stab, kick
- HEAVE — wrestle, lift, hurl
- AIM — target, launch, scan
- SPEAK — barter, calm, sway
During charcter creation, you'll allocate a fixed number of points (typically ten) to the Action scores. One point equals one die. If you allocate three points to Run, then every time your character Runs, Hustles, Sprints, Swims, etc, they'll roll three dice.
Rolling four dice on a check has a 94% chance of at least one Hit. You will never roll more than four dice.
50% 75% 88% 94%
one die two dice three dice four dice
These corresponding figures are called derived stats. You cannot change them directly.
- DODGE = Run + Leap
- BLOCK = Strike + Heave
- REDIRECT = Aim + Speak
The GM has final say, but you're encouraged to play towards your character's strengths. If you're asked to roll Block, but your Dodge score is better, you can ask to roll Dodge instead. The GM will allow it or explain why this check requires a Block.
You can "Ready a Reaction" when you anticipate danger. When you roll your next Reaction check, add one die (+1D) to the dice pool.
NOTE TO PLAYERS
You can never roll more than four dice. If your Reaction score is already 4 or higher, there's no mechanical benefit to Readying a Reaction.
Everything you do has a consequence. If you want to take an Action that has no risk of failure or that has no consequence to the failure, don't roll.
When a check fails, the character suffers a penalty. The GM determines if the failure results in a Bruise or an Alarm.
- BRUISES — physical damage, mental strain
- ALARMS — sirens, suspicion, ruffled feathers
NOTE TO GM
Keep the Penalties abstract. Perhaps the characters are not aware of the Alarms they're setting off. The Players of course will be aware of their Alarm total and this should influence the fiction.
Consider this player awareness as a representation of character intuition; e.g. hairs standing up on the backs of their necks, an empty feeling in their stomachs, lurking paranoia, noticing smirks in the crowd, etc.
Every 3 Bruises lowers your Dodge and Block by 1.
Every 3 Alarms reduces your Redirect by 1.
The most dice you'll ever roll at once is 4. If your Run score is 3 and your Leap score is 3, then your Dodge score will be 6. You wouldn't feel the effects of Reaction Reduction until you suffer 9 Bruises.
A Boost grants +1 Hit on any check. A player character can take a Boost after the roll.
Each player character begins each session with 4 Boosts. To replenish: 1 Boost takes 1 hour to forage or a successful Barter check at market.
Your characters are professional adventurers, you do not need to keep an inventory of what they carry. If it's reasonable to assume they have it, they do.
The Stash represents flexibility in the reasonableness. Once per session, each player character can declare that they have a Stash nearby and introduce a basic equipment kit or one unusual item.
You will be staying out in the woods. You have a Stash nearby with a tent, skillet, and bedrolls equal to your party number.
SAMPLE UNUSUAL ITEM
You discover that Lord Withers is a werewolf. You have a Stash nearby with silver-tipped quarrels and an old crossbow.
While not exactly hammerspace, the Stash is designed to be generous towards the players. The primary goal is to alleviate prep stress. Your character has supplies hidden all over the place.
It also solves for grave misfortune. If a player is washed over a waterfall and loses all of their gear, they could use their Stash to re-equip their basic kit.
An acceptable stretch of the rule: A character locked in prison may use their Stash to say, "I'm sure somebody's hidden a crowbaw in here."
An unacceptable stretch of the rule: A queen's offered a reward for the return of her prized amethyst. A player would not be able to use their Stash to say that they have that very amethyst.
The GM will announce when you "enter combat." The GM will announce the start of each combat round by number. The players will declare their Actions and roll simultaenously. Turn order is determined by the dice. After all the players have attacked, the remaining enemies attack. To defend, each player rolls a Reaction.
Use only when precise turn order is absolutely necessary to the story
There are three seconds in each combat round. Hits land on the second equal to their die result.
too slow ⚃ ⚄ ⚅
Enemy Hit Points
Non-Monster enemies are called Goons. Goons attack in groups. Each group of Goons has a Boss, invariably the last Goon standing.
Each individual Goon has Hit Points (HP) equal to the Round Number. Goon HP reset at the start of each Round.
The Boss has HP equal to the original size of the group. Boss HP reset only when there's a pause in combat.
Groups of Goons vary betwen 2–6 in number. No matter how massive the infantry, the GM will break down enemies in groups no larger than 6.
EXAMPLE GOON HP
On the first round, a character rolling four dice can drop four Goons by rolling four Hits. In the second round, rolling four Hits will only drop two Goons.
Monsters attack alone. Their HP reset when they're able to flee. Injured Monsters flee on any Round where they suffer no Hits.
Golem 12 HP
Werewolf 10 HP
Vampire 8 HP
Troll 6 HP
Ghost 4 HP
Exceptions will arrise. Skeletons and Zombies, for instance, are Monsters who typically swarm in groups and will never flee.
Fifth Round Reset
After the fourth round, any surviving Goons flee. If only a Boss remains, they parlay. If the parlay fails and combat resumes, their HP reset and combat begins again at round one.
After the fourth round, a Monster can choose to flee or parlay. Regardless, at the fifth round, the Monster resets their HP.
Hand-to-hand combat is exhausting, tedious, and deadly.
After all player characters attack, the remaining enemies attack. If your player character is being targeted, you must roll a Reaction to Block or Dodge it. You only roll one Reaction against the sum of damage aimed at you.
Goons deal damage equal to the round number. Up to four Goons can attack one player. In the fourth round of combat, it's possible that one player character would be Dodging or Blocking 16 Bruises
If your character is not being attacked, you do not need to roll a Reaction.
Bruises suffered = (Round number x Attackers) minus Reaction Hits
EXAMPLE GOON FIGHT
A group of 4 Goons attack you. You roll 2 Hits, which drops 2 Goons. 2 Goons remain, each threatening 1 Bruise. You roll Reaction and get 1 Hit. You suffer 1 Bruise.
On round 2, you roll 3 Hits, good enough to take down 1 but not both of the Goons. You roll Reaction against Bruises. You get 1 Hit, so you take 1 Bruise.
On round 3, the final Goon is now the Boss, with 4 HP (original group size). You roll 3 Hits and decide to take a Boost for an additional Hit. The Boss drops.
Select an Archetype to establish your character's expertise. The Archetypes endow a unique Action score.
HUNTER — Ranger HUNTER — Slayer
RUN ▣ RUN
LEAP ▣ LEAP
STRIKE STRIKE ▣
HEAVE HEAVE ▣ ▣
AIM ▣ ▣ AIM ▣
WARRIOR — Cavalier WARRIOR — Prizefighter
LEAP LEAP ▣
STRIKE ▣ STRIKE ▣ ▣
HEAVE ▣ HEAVE ▣
SPEAK ▣ ▣ SPEAK
ROGUE — Burglar ROGUE — Assassin
RUN ▣ ▣ RUN ▣
LEAP LEAP ▣ ▣
AIM ▣ AIM
SPEAK ▣ SPEAK ▣
SCHOLAR — Bard SCHOLAR — Alchemist
AIM ▣ AIM ▣ ▣
SPEAK ▣ ▣ SPEAK ▣
You build your character by selecting their Gear.
When you select Primary Weapon, Offhand Weapon, Backup Gear, and Costume, your selections provide Action scores.
If you lose your weapon, you don't lose your Stats. The Stats represent the type of person who's capable of wielding those weapons.
If you pick up a new weapon, you can choose to change your Stats if this new weapon will become your everyday carry.
If you're using a two-handed weapon (‡), you must select that weapon for your Offhand as well. If you're using a hand-and-a-half weapon (†), you have the option of wielding a separate Offhand Weapon.
Bastard Sword † Strike Heave Zweihander ‡ Strike Heave
Polearm ‡ Strike Heave Spear ‡ Strike Leap
Quarter Staff ‡ Strike Run Longbow ‡ Aim Heave
Shortbow ‡ Aim Leap Crossbow † Aim Run
Butterfly Sword Strike Heave Shillelagh † Strike Heave
Cane † Strike Run Great Axe ‡ Strike Heave
Bearded Axe † Strike Heave Longsword Strike Leap
Backsword Strike Heave Dueling Sword Strike Leap
Curved Sabre Strike Leap Hacking Blade Strike Heave
Warhammer Strike Heave Steel Mace Strike Heave
Steel Flail Strike Heave None Run Leap
Bastard Sword † Strike Zweihander ‡ Heave
Polearm ‡ Strike Spear ‡ Strike
Quarter Staff ‡ Strike Longbow ‡ Aim
Shortbow ‡ Aim Crossbow † Aim
Butterfly Sword Strike Shillelagh † Strike
Cane † Strike Great Axe ‡ Heave
Bearded Axe † Strike Kite Shield Heave
Heater Shield Heave Tower Shield Heave
Round Shield Heave Buckler Heave
Side Sword Strike Parrying Dagger Strike
Swordbreaker Heave Sai Strike
Pugio Strike Gladius Strike
Katzbalger Strike Dirk Strike
Rondel Dagger Strike Punching Dagger Strike
Hand Axe Strike Kukri Strike
Club Heave Flail Heave
Nunchaku Strike Whip Strike
Net Heave Throwing Stars Aim
Throwing Daggers Aim Throwing Axe Heave
Boomerang Aim Cane Strike
Bear Claw Strike Grappling Hook Leap
Either roll a die or select a Physique.
Those in power throughout the world of Half-Handed Bastards are obsessed with their status, which unfortunately means that everybody else is, too.
Roll or select your Status.
- Noble — You're the bastard of some count, baron, or landowner
- Army — Whatever you were before you were a soldier doesn't matter now
- Drone — A clerk, scullion, chapman, farmer, barkeep, courier, etc
- Crook — Once a crook, always a crook, pal
- Trash — Poverty and bad luck have revealed the truth of the world
- Freak — Devout iconoclast, libertine, and/or rebel
After each job, each player adds +1 Action score at will.
A Most Complicated Peace
After a tumultuous civil war, the Kingdom of Murno has been invaded, its armies enslaved, its land divided, its people forsaken.
The worry began with the sudden death of Prince Edelbret the Lionheart; bitten by an asp while on a boar hunt. The king's daughters warred for supremacy as Old King Hollern ailed. Gere Starzingen and his brother Walfrip, supported by the Counts Palantine, overthrew and executed the Venorvowen princesses.
Adjacent kingdoms stretched their borders, trimming away the riches of the once-dominant Murno. Only a dozen cities remain in the narrow kingdom, now ruled by a Triumvirate, all titled kings.
Murno's borders seem to be vanishing.
West of the Ghant River lies Fromach — sworn enemies of Murno no matter who's in charge.
To the north, where the Ghant meets the the Lower Vonnar, the free city of Anzol — ruled ineffectively by a patchwork of trade agreements, treaties, and ancient grudges. The Anzolites are fiercely patriotic when threated from without but can't agree on anything. Anzol has never been invaded.
To the northeast, the hillands of Prastia — a vast empire distracted by internal conflicts. Prastian leadership grants Duchess Tanziaxl full autonomy over the Murno border.
To the southwest, Lurian — a theocratic kingdom with an ancient dynasty desperate to rid the world of the heretical Murnoans. The Holy King is bitterly despised by the scholars of Nilthorn, the warriors of Margrest, and the small towns of Thrabe and Nabbold. Southwestern Murnoans considered themselves in a cold war with The Holy King.
To the southeast, Arzena — the recently decided civil war's left the land haunted. Clan Doneen ruled northern Arzena for nearly a century until of Arzena outlawed "hill music" and began arresting any folks carrying horns. Doneen shepherds and tribe elders who carry ceremonial horns were targeted specifically.
King Gere the Rotten of House Starzingen
Carydon, a wealthy town with a fabulously protected keep
lusts for war, ineffective at garnering support, favors his military advisors with lavish gifts
over-reliant on trade with the free city of Anzol, despised by the locals, incapable of controlling his four sons, allowed the Church to subsume the old library, sends criminals into military service in the hills, recently hanged a Thrabian zealot, the riverlands are lousy with werewolves, three assassins caught in the last two months and no trace of who keeps sending them, gangrenous
King Walfrip, the King of Lime, of House Starzingen
Wentzmor, a mining town on the side of a dead volcano with an elaborate dungeon
prefers silence, tends to avoid local matters, paranoid of overthrow by the Counts Palantine, collects dissidents in his dungeon
owes a great debt to the miners union, is hostile towards the Taftan League, rivals bitterly with his brother through messengers, at least one of his advisors is a vampire, a few of his prisoners are Yazakir, thinks of Karulus and all Palantines as unworthy leeches, insomniac
Margrave "King" Karulus the Tame, first Margrave of the Counts Palantine
Edgmont, a wealthy city known for its vibrant culture
wants to be loved by the locals, denies any wrongdoing in the coup, hates the Starzingen Kings and their awful children,
in love with Gulla of House Marfrey, sided with the Yoke & Plough union over the Taftan League in a recent dispute, tends to ignore suggestions from his Palantine peers now that he's a king, has outlawed preaching in public, inadvertently permitted the beheading of a wizard from Gladhurst, levied prohibitive tariffs on all Ripflarian traders, early stages of glaucoma
1.1 The Counts Palantine — cousins, friends, and syncophants to House Starzingen — the highest of them is Margrave Karulus, one of the Triumvirate
1.2 The Taftan League — enormously wealthy merchant council with contracts all across Murno
1.3 Rathfard University — the Edgmont Scholars are quite powerful — Sulzur College Rathfard houses Rhaemac the Curious and Fidallo Dreamsong, exceptionally popular orators
1.4 The Church of Absolute Mercy — an obnoxiously powerful order of mendicants whose influence has only just begun to slip
1.5 The Notary General — a lucrative and influential business in a land of constantly changing titles
1.6 Gladhurst Academy — Secretive school of magic, run by Magus Pryneum
2.1 The Purse & String — tax collectors, most likely unofficial, incorrigible in their duty
2.2 The Yoke & Plough — rallied union of farmers protecting themselves against the wars and unfair taxes
2.3 The Torch & Hammer — Guild of smiths and miners, who are owed great debts for aiding the Starzingen invasion
2.4 The Stone & Square — masons, deeply connected to every town
2.5 The Hoof & Fin — game wardens, the first to warn of war and Monsters
2.6 The Stitch & Cleaver — hospitallers, they keep what they remove
3.1 The Spear of Thrabia — Thrabe, once the seat of power in the region (called Thrabia) before House Venorvowen's invasion three hundred years ago
3.2 The Lionheart Alliance — A secret society of Venorvowen loyalists and Starzingen-foe who continually try to install Venorvowen's grandchildren on the throne
3.3 The Order of the Hārbrog — A monastic sect of assassins with the singular goal of destroying all royalty
3.4 The Cult of the Illuminated Man — Librarians, control freaks
3.5 Owl Creek Abbey — Just outside Nilthorn, mute parsons tend fruitless orchards... Don't drink the wine
3.6 The Midnight Parish — a roving order of nocturnal clergy with fiercely loyal vassals
4.1 The Ripflarian Gangs — Riverfolk, claim to be of No Land
4.2 Canny Gulch Brigands — Unexpectedly organized and principled road agents who hide in the gulch between Ohlzer and Kolth
4.3 The Yazakir — Elite Arzenan soldiers hunting for Doneen leaders hiding throughout the Murnoan Lowlands
4.4 The Baileymen — southern gang infamous for getting folks in and out of Wentzmor dungeon
4.5 The Wooly Draggles — former shepherds who've lost their flocks to Monsters
4.6 Scuzzhounds — gravediggers and hawkers of fine jewelry
5.1 Ilgranto Golal — the child-prince of Holy King Lurian, awaiting his father's death to mount an invasion of Nilthorn
5.2 Massierto — A famous painter and rebel leader imprisoned in the Wentzmor dungeon
5.3 Rhuhau Starzingen — wife of King Gere's third son Braer, on the hunt for the Venorvowen family jewels
5.4 Fyneus Louffmir — rumored to craft golems out of his pottery shop
5.5 Sorvan the Bright — roaming shaman, speaks to ghosts
5.6 Alona Swaundlow — badly kept secret that she's trying to usurp the Taftan League
6.1 House Rosch — Wealthy landowners, they own the land the sheep graze
6.2 House Swaundlow — Textilers, they own the sheep that graze the land
6.3 House Boolkeren — Fortunate prospectors, owners of the once-lucrative Cormuek silver mine
6.4 House Mofrey — exiled Fromach aristocrats ravenous for power
6.5 House Tanziaxl — Duchess Tanziaxl of Prastia successfully annexed Kolth last year without a blade being unsheathed
6.6 Clan Doneen — Refugees from Arzena, losing a ten year war against Archon Valcchus and his Yazakir