Master The Index Card RPG In This Collected Edition

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When thinking about using a generic RPG system at my table, I think that simpler is better. Rules sets are easier to adapt to specific genres when there is room to add things. It’s stronger to add in ideas rather than pull things out. Remove mechanics, and it can be a challenge to see how it damages parts of the rules before it’s too late. I’ve seen Index Card RPG bandied about as an excellent rules light system. Modiphius recently published a Master Edition collecting and integrating various elements of the system and sent it along as a review copy. Is it cutting edge or does it fold under the pressure? Let’s find out.

Index Card RPG Master Edition is a 400-page rulebook designed by Hankerin Ferinale featuring black and white line art by Brandish Gilheim. Both the rules and the art are bold, yet simple. Characters are built a recognizable skeleton of a skeleton of d20 rules: six traits defined by modifiers and a special trait or two determined by their origin, class and gear. For those who wish to embrace the chaos, there are tables to roll on for the two main settings included with the book: a fantasy called Alfheim and a space opera called Warp Shell.

Characters take actions by a d20 against a target number between 10 and 18. The number stays the same regardless of the target: if a scene’s target is 15, that’s the number for the rogue to pick the lock, the fighter to hit the dragon, and so on. The action can modify the target by +/- 3if its easy or hard: if the fighter is aiming for the dragon’s eye, that’s +3 but worth more damage for example. On a success, the player does the thing if it's a yes/no question of winning. If it’s an extended task where degree of success matters, the player rolls an Effort die based on their skill and equipment. This is most easily spelled out for combat: fists are d4 effort damage, weapons are d6, and so on. The d12 is reserved for Ulitmate Effort, which is added to a roll if the player rolls well or if a hard roll pays off, such as our fighter trying to put one in Smaug’s eyeball. The effort is applied to the character’s Hearts, which are grouped in multiples of 10. Empty the heart of points, and the creature goes down/the task is resolved

The d20 + effort dice system is surprisingly robust. It’s easy to see how these dice could be applied to other instances in a game.A trash talking bard could do as much damage as a fighter to the right creature. Social combat could easily be modeled here as well with the character’s knowledge of manners represented as different die types. Index Card RPG implies this as well, though I would have liked more hard and fast examples on how to judge what Effort die is worth rolling or when the effort system should be used.

The game also offers plenty of other options on how to use those dice. Need a timer counting down until the magic dohickey explodes? Set a d4 where players can see it and lower the number by 1 every round. Want to simulate a battle on a rumbling volcanic planet? Roll a d6 at the top of the round and add the number to all difficulties as the ground shakes players off their feet. If players don’t like those rolls, let them take support actions to try and bend those rolls in their favor. The book is chock full of great examples of how to add ideas and modify the rules. It’s also a clever course in encounter design that encourages GMs not to make their battles white room grinds, but have environmental details that shake things up and elements that players can use in unusual ways to turn the tides of battle quickly.

The art feels like someone doodled all over the book with a Sharpie, but luckily that person was a very, very talented line artist. The art supports the overall mission statement of Index Card RPG: bold, punchy choices made in the moment to keep flipping through rules to a minimum and the table moving forward in play to a maximum. Character rules and features should be able to be summarized on a single index card. If a rule isn’t working out, tear up the card and make a new one. The settings in the book each have a page that summarizes the important points in a way that feel like you could write each setting point out on an index card, pass them out to players at the top of session zero, and fill in your version of the world as you make characters.

A lot of rules ideas exist in the setting section which has more info on the main settings plus three more: a street level supers game, a weird Western and a post apocalypse. There’s also more information on the fantasy and sci-fi settings, with a suggestion that all these worlds are linked for players who want some sweet, sweet kitchen sink crossover action. The settings make a great impression for the space they have with just enough info to hook the GM but not so much that the player’s eyes glaze over when it comes time to show things off.

Unfortunately, the editing of the book is kind of a mess. It collects several stand alone volumes and it shows. Info on the two big settings are split between two sections of the books. Rules suggestions are sort of tucked in wherever they fit and even sections aimed at specific ideas are a little random. This is also a book without an index, so folks from whom that’s a dealbreaker should be aware. The good news is that it’s easy to make a ruling at the moment, comb the book later for the official and them keep whichever ones works better.

Index Card RPG Master Edition is a great choice for someone looking for a simple system, a clever guide to encounter and game design, or even someone looking for a shiny trick or two to take back to their favorite version of d20.
 

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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
is a 400-page rulebook

okay I like rules lite but pulled back and frowned at mention of the page count, 400 seems rather excessive for a lite system especially one called Index Card!

the +3 to rolls is also a weird number cause maths = Heavy (lol)

have never seen it though, but the page count and no index are turn offs
 

Aldarc

Legend
okay I like rules lite but pulled back and frowned at mention of the page count, 400 seems rather excessive for a lite system especially one called Index Card!

have never seen it though, but the page count and no index are turn offs
It's a lighter system, but it's also a compilation of materials developed for it. But it helps if you break the book up as three sections: the "Core" part, the GM Materials, and then Supplements.
  • Core System: pp. 5-20
  • Player's Guide: pp. 21-75 (Alfheim & Warp Shell character generation, loot/equipment, spells, leveling, etc.)

  • GM's Guide: pp. 77-118
  • Monsters: pp. 119-153

  • Worlds/Settings: pp. 155-316
  • Magic: pp. 317-369 - an optional more advanced approach to spells
  • Tables: pp. 371-399

the +3 to rolls is also a weird number cause maths = Heavy (lol)
It's not a +3 to rolls. It's a +3 or -3 to the DC. So a scenario with a DC 12, would have an Easy DC of 9 or a Hard DC of 15.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
okay I like rules lite but pulled back and frowned at mention of the page count, 400 seems rather excessive for a lite system especially one called Index Card!

the +3 to rolls is also a weird number cause maths = Heavy (lol)

have never seen it though, but the page count and no index are turn offs
It really is rules-light . . . but has been received so well the game has grown. The "Master Edition" has a high page count due to the inclusion of the campaign material mentioned in the review.

If you are interested in the game, but perhaps a "lighter" version of it (heh) . . . . you can try the 2nd Edition rules (200 pgs), or even the original card-based sets the ruleset evolved from. Check out Runehammer Games on DriveThruRPG.com.

The designer also has an interesting YouTube channel (which used to be called Drunkin & Dragons, now called Runehammer Games) where he posts videos on his gaming style that evolved into the ICRPG. Even if you are playing a different d20 D&D style game, it's a good channel to watch for tips and techniques on how to simplify your games and make them play faster.
 

Retreater

Legend
I got the previous edition of ICRPG. But having never played it, I decided against getting this Master edition until I try the previous book (which honestly, I think is more that sufficient for my needs).
ICRPG occupies a certain niche, feeling almost like a hybrid of d20 and Savage Worlds (generic rules system, increasing die types for your effort dice). And there are some good suggestions like giving "HP" to skill checks and having successes count against them just like a combat.
Still, it's an issue of "why don't I just play D&D?" Especially since the writer very publicly switched to OSE on his YouTube channel just as this new edition was getting promoted.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I got the previous edition of ICRPG. But having never played it, I decided against getting this Master edition until I try the previous book (which honestly, I think is more that sufficient for my needs).
I think that 2e is sufficient too, as Hank doesn't really deviate much from that second book. The Free QuickStart also should work for most people. It was working on the latter that Hank realized that he didn't really need to do a 3e for ICRPG.

ICRPG occupies a certain niche, feeling almost like a hybrid of d20 and Savage Worlds (generic rules system, increasing die types for your effort dice). And there are some good suggestions like giving "HP" to skill checks and having successes count against them just like a combat.
Still, it's an issue of "why don't I just play D&D?" Especially since the writer very publicly switched to OSE on his YouTube channel just as this new edition was getting promoted.
I agree that Hank Ferninale appears to be sending mixed messages about his own system by switching to OSE; however, I don't think that somehow erases the value of ICRPG. IMHO, Hank is chasing the nostalgia of his own early gaming roots as he is also playing OSE in Blackmoor. I'm not sure how long-term that will be. I think that his switch mostly reflects his changing relationship from 5e D&D to OSE rather than his relation to ICRPG.

As to why would I play ICRPG over D&D? The answer is that ICRPG is lighter, quicker, and easier to run/play with a far flatter power curve.
 

Terry Herc

Explorer
Index Card RPG Master Edition is a 400-page rulebook designed by Hankerin Ferinale featuring black and white line art by Brandish Gilheim.
Clarification: it's the same guy - the writer and the artist are the same, with different nom de plumes. It's also "Gilhelm" with an L.

I've run several ICRPG campaigns with 2nd Edition, it's super easy to use and hack existing adventures to fit. I am eagerly awaiting my copy of the Master Edition through my FLGS. A great system.
 

Doc_Klueless

Doors and Corners
I've run several ICRPG campaigns with 2nd Edition, it's super easy to use and hack existing adventures to fit. I am eagerly awaiting my copy of the Master Edition through my FLGS. A great system.
I have 2nd Edition. It's great for those game nights when we wanted something light that wasn't part of our normal campaign. (Sadly, those nights are long gone. :::weeps:::)

Do you happen to know what's the difference, if any, between 2nd Edition and Master? If any. Or is it just a compilation of 2nd Edition?
 

Aldarc

Legend
I have 2nd Edition. It's great for those game nights when we wanted something light that wasn't part of our normal campaign. (Sadly, those nights are long gone. :::weeps:::)

Do you happen to know what's the difference, if any, between 2nd Edition and Master? If any. Or is it just a compilation of 2nd Edition?
There are some changes with character creation that stood out to me between 2nd Edition and Master:
  • 6 pts. for character attributes, 4 pts for effort bonuses, and Con bonus now counts as Armor.
  • Effort: Magic up to 1d10, Gun Effort up to d8, Tools up to d6.
 

evildmguy

Explorer
It’s stronger to add in ideas rather than pull things out. Remove mechanics, and it can be a challenge to see how it damages parts of the rules before it’s too late.
I find this part interesting because for me, it's the exact opposite. If I have a simple system and try to add in a new sub system or change a rule, I don't know how it will change other parts. if I have a complex system, though, I find it easier to remove something and understand how that will work.

For me, I think of 1E/2E v 3E/PF. 1E/2E was a generic system that's pretty simple at the core. Add in psionics, either version, and it really changes things sometimes in wonky ways that are hard to predict. I think of the other things they did at that time, like break the stats into two parts, try to do piecemail armor, or create spells points. All of those did weird things, like one spell point system allowing a hundred first level spells, or at least twenty third level spells, or two ninth level spells. It made the simple system a lot more extreme, which is tougher to judge or understand how the new parts will fit in with the rest. Adding in the 2E kits really changed things as well. This kit plays well with the core rules but that one means everyone need to take a kit or the character outshines everyone. I'm looking at you, Bladesinger.

3E/PF is more complex and a lot more moving parts but they work together better, imo, and it is easier to figure out what happens if you make changes or use other sub systems. Take iterative attacks. I have done normal iterative attacks with penalties and also iterative attacks without penalties. I understood that it made combat more deadly. Three action economy is another thing that makes combat deadly, with penalties or not, due to more attacks at early levels. Maybe it's because more thought was put into it? Sure, they couldn't see all feat combinations, so there are still edge cases but it's a lot more predictable, imo.

Obviously the OP and I differ on that, which is fine! It's also true that even after starting in 1E, playing in 2E, that 3E/PF1 just hit my sweet spot, so I know it so well.

I also think that this might be too much like FATE and while also a great game, my group never got into it. I tend to have players that like to be entertained, not have to do that much work on the story. They are happy to leave that part up to me.

Thanks for the article!
 


Aldarc

Legend
Still, it's an issue of "why don't I just play D&D?" Especially since the writer very publicly switched to OSE on his YouTube channel just as this new edition was getting promoted.
Addendum: the "switch" to OSE was for Hank's 31 Session campaign, which has now finished. In the recap of the last session, he said that he is "switching" back to ICRPG for his next campaign.
 

Retreater

Legend
Addendum: the "switch" to OSE was for Hank's 31 Session campaign, which has now finished. In the recap of the last session, he said that he is "switching" back to ICRPG for his next campaign.
I didn't mean to come across like I think he should be required to run ICRPG. I really enjoy his content regardless of the system he's using, and as a GM he should definitely run the game he thinks best for his group. I just found the timing odd - like I'd have expected him to be going all-in on promoting his new product.
But you can only expect the unexpected from ol' Hankerin Ferinale.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I didn't mean to come across like I think he should be required to run ICRPG. I really enjoy his content regardless of the system he's using, and as a GM he should definitely run the game he thinks best for his group. I just found the timing odd - like I'd have expected him to be going all-in on promoting his new product.
But you can only expect the unexpected from ol' Hankerin Ferinale.
I understood you. I would have expected the same, but he also said in the same most recent video that sometimes switching systems helps your brain reset. It's possible that he felt like he needed a change of pace or got excited for a chance to try OSE.
 

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