Basic Game Mechanics
The rules presented above are the essential for playing Shinjudo, and every beginner should know them. As you get accustomed to the game, however, you'll find that they're not enough, and some additional rules, especially for combat situations, should be there to help you.
Although characters interact freely with the narrative, their actions are often organized in turns. A character's turn is simply the moment when he can react to the scene around him. After the storyteller updates the description of a scene, players will, one after the other, describe their characters' reactions to it.
The lapse of time between one's turn and the others' is minimal, and their actions should be interpreted as nearly simultaneous. Nearly. In events where speed is key, such as during combat, during chase or when escaping from a fire, the order of event becomes very important.
After all characters have taken their turns, from quickest to slowest, one round of actions ends and another begins. The duration a round may vary according to the situation, but usually takes just a few seconds, enough time to swing a sword, run a short distance or give some orders.
It is usually necessary to determine who acts first in a confrontation. That is done with an initiative check from each character involved, which is really just a reflex check where the character with the highest success acts first. The one detail is that modifiers that apply to reflex checks and to initiative checks will both count towards your initiative.
As Shinjudo game mechanics deal in small numbers, initiative checks will commonly end in ties. In these situations, it is better to avoid using additional checks to untie, rather assuming characters act exactly at the same time. This solution is not always possible, though, so the storyteller will have the last word on the matter.
When in combat, your character will roll a resisted check against your opponent, testing the martial skill appropriate to the weapon he's using against the target's reflex skill. For example, if you're wielding a sword, you should use the sword skill, a spear would require the polearm skill and a dagger, the brawl skill.
But before you roll the dice, notice that combat checks will almost always have modifiers relating to the weapons and armors being used. Modifiers applied to the attacking and defending rolls are called the 'finesse' modifiers and represent the ease of wielding a weapon and the deflection capabilities of an armor.
In other words:
successes = successes of (weapon skill + weapon finesse) - successes of (reflex skill + armor finesse).
If you manage to get a success in the attacking roll, it is time to calculate the damage you caused. Aside from the finesse modifier, weapons and armors also have a 'power' modifier, which is used to calculate damage. To do it, multiply the number of successes you got times the power modifier of the weapon, then subtract the power modifier of the armor from that. The result is the amount of damage caused.
There is one more thing to consider in that equation, though. Weapons have one more trait called the 'momentum', which refer to how much extra damage you can cause by swinging it around. This trait allow otherwise less effective weapons such as clubs and axes to deal devastating damage. To use the momentum, you must spend one turn swinging the weapon (and hence, not attacking), and then you may add the momentum to your weapon power.
In other words:
damage = successes x (weapon power + momentum) - armor power.
Your character has two resistance traits that measure how much stress he can take. The first one, body, reflects his physical constitution, his muscles and stamina. The second one, called spirit, measures his resilience, mental health and life force.
It is usually the case that any damage done in combat should be marked, from right to left in the body trait. Psychological and magical attacks can also damage spirit, but they would require special abilities to activate.
Injury and exhaustion penalties
When you are down to 3 or 4 body points, your character incurs a -1 modifier to all skills due to injuries sustained. Likewise, having but 1 or 2 points incurs a -2 modifier to all skills. The same rules apply if your spirit is injured – instead of damage, we call it 'exhaustion'. Penalties due to damage and exhaustion are cumulative.
Be weary that your character may be damaged due to fatigue, for running with a heavy armor, for example, and may also be exhausted by stress, such as from being deprived of social interaction or being held in captivity. There are no hard rules for these kinds of injuries though, it's up to the storyteller if and when you suffer them.
Characters will heal damage at a variable pace. Usually it takes about a day of rest to heal one point of injury, if resting. The more damage he has, the longer will take for him to recover each point, though, and if he takes extraneous activities, he might not heal at all.
As with many things in Shinjudo, it is a judgment call for the storyteller whether a character has healed or not. Taking into account how the character got his injuries in the first place is also very important (cuts and burns heal slower than bruises, for example).
Characters heal exhaustion at the same pace as injuries – one point per day – just by living their normal lives. Being forcefully secluded or under stress will usually worsen the situation, but meditation, peaceful activities and yes, religious rites, may speed the recovery a lot. See the mysticism skill description for more about healing exhaustion.
If you group is using the rules about 'nonlethal damage', then those will heal much faster – about half an hour per damage point. Normal damage will take about twice as long to heal, though.
If your character has taken more injury points then his body trait, he collapses. It is usually assumed that a character in this condition will die without assistance. If he has taken more exhaustion than his spirit can take, he loses consciousness (in fact, with every ki spent, characters tend to become more apathetic).
In other words, characters do not die due to 'damage points'. In Shinjudo, death can only come by the interpretation of the damage receive – which means it is a subjective call on the storyteller's discretion. Depending on the circumstances and severity of the damage, and if he had adequate assistance or not, the character may live, die or be permanently wounded.
Similar rules apply to exhaustion. Even though dying from it is quite rare, characters might stay in coma for long periods, or may carry psychological scars caused by the trauma, such as post-traumatic stress disorders, depression and phobias.
Additional combat modifiers
Although modifiers from weapons and armors are the most frequent during combat, there are many others to consider. In particular, merits and abilities (which will be explained later on) may grant additional modifiers for combat checks. For example, the combat reflexes ability will provide a +1 modifier to reflex checks, while the strong merit will provide a +2 modifier to damage dealt.
Other environmental modifiers will be determined by the storyteller, and you should be wary of them. Fighting on a higher ground usually gives an advantage, and fighting against (facing) the sun or heavy wind may affect you negatively. Try to use the scene description in your favor.
The Shinjudo scenario is filled with a universal energy that gives and maintains life, and which is accessible to characters not only by disciplined exercises but also by willpower or sheer brute force. This energy is called ki, measured by the spirit resistance trait, and it allows the character to do great feats beyond his usual abilities.
Any skill check can have a +1 modifier if the character invests one point of ki in it (or in other words, chooses to take one point of exhaustion). This means, of course, he gets to roll one extra die, which may or may not be converted into a success.
Usually the character may spend only one ki per skill check, and he must improve the mysticism skill in order to channel more energy. Despite this limitation, investing ki will most likely be the main source of exhaustion for your character, alongside activating abilities.
Merits and Flaws
Your character's abilities are defined by more than his skill and resistance traits. To play the game you will have to know a couple more tools to help you to sculpt your character.
The first are the 'merits', which represent characteristics intrinsic to your character, such as being particularly strong or tall, for example. It can also represent traits of a more social order, such as having noble blood, or being well connected, or it can represent a first-rate education or simply wealth.
Merits will most often influence the game as modifiers to skill checks. For example, having the beautiful merit gives you a +1 bonus to every non-hostile social interaction. Some merits, on the other hand, will allow you to perform entirely new actions, such as the sensitive merit, which allows you to sense the supernatural.
No single merit is actually common among the general populace. Someone who is moderately strong or rich doesn't have the strong or wealthy merits, and characters are usually seen as average in any trait not presented in their character sheets. But as it happens, most everyone is below average in one trait or another, and that's where 'flaws' come in.
Flaws are just the opposite of merits, as they represent your character is below average in some intrinsic trait, such as being particularly weak, short or young, for example. Social flaws might make him an outsider to the general populace or an insider in a group that is either hated or that brings significant disadvantage, such as loyalty oaths and tithes.
Merits and flaws are first and foremost a way to mold your character and give him distinctive characteristics. Any bonuses or penalties they give are a secondary matter – you should try to take merits into account as you create the character's background story, when you choose your character's actions and, especially, when you role-play.
The second tool you need to know in order to sculpt your character is his 'abilities'. These are not much different from merits and flaws, but instead of representing the intrinsic traits that define who your character *is*, abilities define the unique things they can *do*.
Abilities never just 'happen'. They are studied or practiced and almost always require some form of tutoring. Also, like merits, there is no such thing as the 'common' ability – a particular school of martial arts or artificer's guild may (and do) promote particular abilities, but to the world at large, abilities are remarkable skills that attest to individual greatness.
In fact, although some abilities are surely more common than others, they tend to be quite rarer then merits. Most people do have at least one merit or flaw, but not everyone has the dedication or opportunity to develop abilities.
Unlike merits, abilities are divided into 'families', which are groups of abilities that are usually practiced together. The armed combat family, for example, carries many abilities to improve the fighting skills of a practitioner, and are usually found among soldiers and samurai. On the other hand, the secrets of the far rarer shapeshifting family allow practitioners to take the form of beasts, people and things beyond.
Each family of abilities can, in turn, be accessible in three different levels – novice, adept and master. If your character gains access to the novice level of a family, he is able to acquire any ability of that family and level, but none of the adept of master levels.
Much like merits, abilities will usually give modifiers to skill checks, or allow a character to take entirely new actions that were previously unavailable. While novice skills are seen just as superior use of mundane skills, adept abilities tend to be extremely impressive to behold, and master ability borders the realm of supernatural.
The Neutrality Principle
In most RPGs, a character skill varies from very bad to very good, with an average skill being arbitrarily fixed. For example, skills might vary from 0 to 5, with 1 being average, or from 0 to 20, with 2 being average. The neutrality principle, simply put, says that average is 0.
There are few advantages in following this principle. The first one is that it facilitates the character creation process, since you don't need to distribute skill points in order to raise your skill to average. And if you can quickly finish your character's math, you can spend more time focusing on his background story.
Adopting this principle has consequences that might be unusual for seasoned RPG players, though. For example, when rolling a skill check in most RPGs, you have to add your Attribute level (strength, intelligence and so forth) to the appropriate skill, than add that to the result of the die.
In Shinjudo, though, we assume most of the character's attributes are average, so you'd be adding zero to your skill check most of the time. For that reason, there simply are no attributes in this game. If you want your character to be strong, you must get the strong merit (instead of giving it, say, 15 out of 18 points in the strength attribute). The merit will give you a positive modifier in any skill checks where strength is important (lifting things or breaking bones, for example).
Likewise, a zero skill rank means you are average, and you only have to add or remove points if you want to be particularly good or particularly bad in a given skill. This leads to the second advantage of the neutrality principle: it makes most rolls a lot easier to calculate because you won't be adding meaningless numbers.
The last advantage, and the best one in our eyes, is that the principle also begs for small variance in numbers – skills almost always vary from 0 to 4 – which in turn makes modifiers particularly important. And to get modifiers, players quickly learn to use their environments, jumping over tables to get a terrain advantage in a brawl, taking aim before firing the bow and studying local etiquette before trying to meet the local ruler. And all of that leads to very interesting gameplay.
Finally it should be noted that while there are no theoretical limits to how good someone can get, there really is a limit of how bad one can be. For example, when dodging a blow, you can hardly do worse than standing still, and it is difficult to know less than nothing about an old legend. That is why you can always increase your skill rank, but you cannot decrease it below -1 ('x' rank). Allowing that would increase complexity in the game in exchange for the possibility to contemplate implausible situations.