Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Getting Things Done In Demon City

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Players: Your character sheet represents the main differences between your character and you. Other than that: they’re a person, they can do anything that people can do, and the game is about them doing those things. They can call a friend on the phone, talk while punching, eat a burrito, etc. The game system tells you how to handle things when success is in doubt.

A large part of the Demon City system is based on simulating the kinds of struggles that characters typically experience in horror movies and other horror fiction. In those struggles, it’s usually important who is better, but how much better is less important. For example, a 90-pound weakling is likely to fail to dodge a supernaturally puissant tentacle from the Ninth Archon of the Black Dimension and be knocked off a roof into a dumpster, but the 90-pound weakling’s about equally likely to fail to dodge a punch from the school bully and end up in the same dumpster. How much better, faster, stronger, smarter matters in military simulations and superhero games, but only which side is better matters much in horror. In horror, fights are tense but relatively quick and decisive—as are many other contests. 

As in most tabletop RPGs, Demon City proceeds according to a simple underlying scheme: the Host describes the situation(s) the characters are in, the other players say what their respective characters try to do. When an outcome is in doubt and failure might have interesting consequences (not necessarily more interesting than success—just interesting at all), the rules and cards get involved. (Cards also can get involved whenever someone—usually the Host—thinks letting the cards pick something would be more interesting than picking themselves, but we’ll touch on that later.)

Simple example: Marty might come home late and drunkenly fumble at his apartment door lock before getting the key in, maybe even dropping the keyring in the process. But eventually he'll get it open, so there's no need to throw a card…

...unless (whether or not Marty knows it) Marty's brother is lying on the other side of the door about to bleed out. If he gets through right away he’s saved his brother in the nick of time (interesting) and if he doesn’t, his libertine ways have heartbreakingly, if indirectly, brought on the death of his brother (also interesting)—that's when you'll want to make a throw. 

You might well ask what happens in situation where failure would be interesting but success couldn’t. For example: a player uses a psychic power to “read” a bullet and discover who killed the victim in the first scene—and the murderer turns out to be someone in the room. Success here would mean the adventure is over before it even begins and the Host set up the adventure poorly (see: The Fudging Talk in the Host Section). The Host needs to try to not set up situations like that.


We’ve already seen one use of the tarot cards—the Character Deck—in character creation. Once actual play begins, the Host should (in some secrecy) make two new decks out of the tarot cards:

The Player’s Deck, at least in the beginning, contains only cards with suits (wands, cups, swords, pentacles)—the “Minor Arcana”—and none of the Court Cards (Pages, Knights, Queens, and Kings). The Player’s Deck cards should represent each value 1-10 (it doesn’t matter which suits are included right now). Aces are worth one—it needs to have any three aces of any suits, any three twos of any suits, any three threes of any suit, etc all the way up to ten. 

After a while, the deck will also include a few special cards the players might have gained as rewards—these might be from the Minor Arcana’s Court Cards or cards from the Major Arcana (cards with names like The Hierophant (5), and Justice (11)), these rewarded cards are called Significators or Significator Cards.

However, that’s not important for now—mostly the deck will just generate numbers 1-10. Exceptions will be dealt with later. 

Place the Players’ Deck shuffled and face-down somewhere where all the players can get to it. All the players use the same pile—there should also be room for a discard pile.

The Host has something called the Horror’s Deck. The Horror’s Deck contains cards valued 1-10 that match the ideas that are underneath that day’s adventure, plus some special cards—mostly from the Court Cards and Major Arcana—that match the specific Horror (the major antagonist) underlying the story that underlies that day’s adventure.

Details on precisely which cards to put in a Horror’s Deck depend on the scenario the Host creates, but for now that also doesn’t matter. The main thing is: The Host also uses their Horror’s Deck to generate random numbers and they will also mostly be 1-10.

The Host should shuffle their deck and put it face down where they can get to it, and have room for their own discard pile.

One of the decks must include The Fool—which is worth 0. It normally is shuffled into the Players’ Deck. However, if the scenario the Host has created contains a creature which is specifically associated with The Fool then it may appear in the Host’s deck instead—the details of why that might happen will also be dealt with later.


Normally in Demon City what each player and the Host do is pull a set number of random cards from the top of the deck, lay them out, and use only the highest one they’ve thrown as the value for whatever they’re trying to do. High numbers are good and represent a more successful effort. 


Some game rules reqire that only numbers 1-10 be generated (no high cards), in this case pull a card and just ignore any card that isn’t 1-10 when throwing. This is notated “C10” as in “Throw C10 to see how many people are at the bar”.


Occasionally there is also something called the “C100” which is where you throw a pair of cards, with the first card being the “ones” digit and the second being the “tens” digit. On a C100 throw, unlike the C10, the “10” is read as 0, unless both cards come up 10 (10,10), which indicates “100”. Everyone, even the Host, throws a C100 using the Players’ Deck—because it can be impossible to get repeat numbers (like “77”) out of the Host’s Deck.


Basically, for most tasks which have their final outcome decided by a throw of the cards, either:

-the player whose character is acting throws vs an Intensity number (static throw), or
-the player and Host each throw vs one another (opposed throw)

…and if the player gets a higher throw than the Intensity or Host’s throw, the task gets done, if not, it doesn't and some potentially interesting consequence of failure ensues.

After cards are thrown they lay on the table until the next throw, at which point the old cards are placed facedown in a discard pile (the Host has their own and the players have their own) and new ones are drawn.

When a pile of cards is used up, shuffle the discard pile and start over.

Intensities, Static Throws and Opposed Throws

The Host should decide the Intensity number based on how hard the task would be for anyone on a scale of 1-9 (it’s rare to throw better than a 10 without some kind of magic, including Significator Cards—discussed later). Tasks within what a person (or a person with a given Skill) could be reasonably expected to do are ranked 1-5. Tasks that are supernatural or extreme—that even a very fast, smart, strong etc person might very likely fail at—are ranked in the 6-9 range. A host may also give multiple Intensities for tasks which can have greater and lesser degrees of success. For example: a Host might decide that in a certain archive a Research throw of 4 might reveal a suspect’s criminal record but a throw of 7 will reveal they have an entire second identity. 

Having the Host use an opposed throw even for the difficulty of dealing with inanimate objects (opening a lock on time, locating a file, climbing a wall) tends to personify the environment--the electronic lock is programmed by someone and Marty's attempts to crack it are pitted against the skill and effort put in by that programmer of the lock. It also—for mundane tasks which are ranked 1-5—makes the task harder. When there is no way to imagine any animate force actively resisting or if it just seems like it shouldn’t be too much of a thing—like in the example of Marty drunkenly scrabbling at his own lock with his own key--the Host should stick with a Static throw.

Throws that aren’t opposed are also called “tests” or “checks”.

With tests and checks, the active player must throw higher than the Intensity to succeed—a tie indicates failure.

With opposed throws, on the other hand, a tie usually means the situation becomes more complicated.

There are some hitches, though:

Only Your Own Highest Card counts

There are many cases where the sides throw multiple cards. The only throw that matters for each thrower is the highest one. So if you throw a 6 and an 8, your result is 8, the 6 doesn’t matter. Ignore the 6. If the opponent gets a 5 and a 9, the 5 doesn’t matter. The opponent got the highest result—a 9 which beats your 8, so the opponent wins.

There are a few exceptions that’ll be noted later.

Extra Throws

If a task has some factor introduced that makes it more likely one side will win (if someone has a head-start in a footrace, for example) then that side gets another throw. This is called an extra throw. You can have any number of extra throws representing distinct advantages (ie advantages that would, individually, still be advantages in themselves even without the benefit of the other advantage--like: a head-start in the footrace plus your opponent is running over uneven ground? That’s 2 extra throws). Throw more cards.

Extra throws do not normally represent the scale of an advantage: each distinct advantage is worth one throw, it doesn’t matter how big your head start is, it’s still just one extra throw.

There are certain kinds of situational advantages that come up so often, it’s worth checking for them every time:

High Stat Throw 

All character stats (Characteristics and Skills) are ranked from 0-9 (or possibly even more if the supernatural is involved), high numbers are good. 

In static throw vs a target number, if the stat is higher than the intensity the Host assigns to the task, the character gets an extra throw.

If two characters (player's characters or a player's character and an NPC) are competing at a task (say, searching for a dropped gun) then whichever has the higher stat gets to throw an extra card.

Overlap Throws

If a character has multiple skills (at any rank) that would apply to the same situation—for example, trying to find out if a corner store is a drug front (Streetwise) in a city where the character has Local Knowledge—the Host may allow the character an extra throw for each additional skill that would apply. Again: may. The Host doesn’t have to allow this in every case based on how hard the task is meant to be.

Two caveats:

-You can’t use a specialized and general version of the same skill on the same task—you can’t use Athletics and Volleyball on the same throw, for example (Volleyball is a bonus skill you get after Athletics—if Volleyball applies use Volleyball only), or Science and Biology (Biology is a bonus skill you get after Science), or Humanities and History or Languages and French (etc).

-Overlap throws only apply outside Action Rounds (usually combat situations).

Distraction Throw 

If a task targets someone who is distracted (pickpocketing someone who is watching a car crash happen, for instance) or doesn't know they are there the perpetrator also gets an extra throw.

Lost Throws

Generally, external problems which make the task harder (like Marty being drunk while trying to open the door) are worked into the Intensity number of a task (in a static test) or given as an extra throw to the opponent (in an opposed test), but if there is some reason they can't be or haven't been already (Marty then tries to open the door left-handed), the Host may subtract throws (down to a minimum of one throw ) to account for problems—these are called lost throws.

If, in an opposed throw, an asymmetry can be represented by giving extra throws to one party or taking lost throws from the other, default to giving the extra throws.

If one party in an opposed throw is at minimum throws (one throw ) and distinct disadvantages keep piling on, add extra throws to an opponent’s throw.

Be careful not to give and take throws to represent the same asymmetry. Like if Marty (drunk) is racing to open the door before Nena (sober) don’t give an extra throw to Nena for being sober and take a lost throw from Marty for being drunk.


In the case of a tie (around 10% of the time or more for two contestants, depending how many throws are involved) the Host must think fast: the situation becomes more complex, but not in a way that immediately decides the contest. The task can be attempted again in the new situation right after. For example: if Marty (hacking an electronic lock) and the Host (throwing for the electronic lock programmer) tie as he's trying to open his door then the Host might declare that blood has begun to seep out from under the door and a bystander has noticed it. This might help Marty—“What’s going on!?! Let me help!” or might hurt “What are you doing over there! Stop!” —but its certainly made the situation more complicated, which is what should happen when there’s a tie.

Critical Successes and Failures

If anyone throws The Fool as their highest throw (ie, they are only throwing one card and they throw The Fool) then they have a critical failure or “fumble”.  Things go about as poorly as they could—like Marty accidentally kicks his keys under the door.

If anyone throws a card with a value higher than 10 (and higher than anything it’s competing against) they have a critical success. Criticals mean the task goes about as well as it possibly could have (for example if Marty critically opened the door then the Host may say he definitely gets to his brother in time without having to make an extra throw to find him in the dark apartment.) Critical successes and failures require that the Host improvise fast.

PCs also get a critical success if their Significator card comes up (for them specifically) and would have won the contest anyway. Significators are special cards that Characters can get as rewards, more on them later.

If a character’s Significator is the Fool, then treat the Fool as a Significator worth 22 points for them.

Raising Intensities vs Lost Throws

Hosts may wonder how to know whether a task’s Intensity should be represented by a high intensity (ie throw 6 or better) or by lost throws (like throw 5 or better with one lost throw ). Broadly: Intensity is a measure of “Who would find this easy?” everyone with a Stat above the Intensity would find it easy, everyone with a Stat below the Intensity would find it hard. Lost throws are about modifiers to that situation specific to that moment or the person trying.

Intensity 0 or 10

In a static throw, if the target Intensity is 0 then it’s an auto-success, if it’s 10 it’s an auto-failure unless there’s some supernatural thing (like a Significator Card) involved.

Simultaneous Action

This all gets more complicated in situations when different characters are trying to do different things that all affect each other at the same time. Combat is the most common situation like this but it could also apply to, say, trying to fix a radio antenna before a metastasizing Crysoloth destroys the building it's in. Like most games, Demon City has special rules for that, coming up next…


Like in most RPGs, special rules are used to resolve Action—that is, simultaneous, urgent, overlapping activities involving multiple parties all trying to act before some terrible thing happens. A footrace isn't "action" as defined here because the competitors usually aren't interfering with each other. A car chase can be, though, because cars can cut each other off, knock each other off the road, etc. And combat is always action.

This combat system has some specific characteristics in play, distinctive to this game—characters get knocked out of the fight and then get up again a lot (often unnoticed by their enemies, who have gone on to menace other characters), sometimes characters try but don’t get to do anything for many rounds at a time, and it’s chaotic and hard for players to coordinate their attacks. These things are on purpose. If you don’t like them or would like to adapt the Demon City system to a different subgenre, you’ll want to tweak the rules. I encourage it. I’m extremely attractive but not infallible.

Action Rounds

If you’re not familiar with traditional RPGs: Action is measured out in things called Rounds. Think of it like a single comic-book panel or a shot in a movie--the Round exists to establish what happens in the next “panel”. Each character tries to be the next to successfully do something, playing out the Round decides who that is and how it happens.

If you’re familiar with traditional RPGs: there's no “initiative” in Demon City but there are rounds. Action's generally going to be over in fewer rounds than you might be used to.

In Demon City, each participant in the action typically competes to get their thing done first and often only one thing happens per round.

From the character’s point of view (inside the fiction), a round represents a slice of time up to six seconds but possibly less, but for players (outside the fiction) it will likely take longer than that to play out a round.

The actual length of a round in seconds in the game world is determined by how long it would take to perform the action that “wins” the round.

For example, if Billie is trying to shatter the Burning Fiend’s glass eyes with a hammer before the Fiend can scald Billie’s face and Billie wins the round, then the round takes a split second: the split second it would take for a hammer to collide with a head. 


This Action system has things called ”Clashes”—a competition between people (or living corpses, or whatever) trying to act at the same time. Not everything in an Action Round is necessarily involved in the Clash, but the main action is. The most important thing about a Clash is only one side in a conflict can succeed at a time. You shoot or are shot, punch or get punched, etc. If you're shot, you don't get to shoot back until the next Round (assuming you live).

Everyone announces what they're going to do before making any throws to actually do it. It’s slightly counter-intuitive but there's a payoff in that it more closely reflects the fast-but-tense way combat works in horror and crime fiction. Oh here comes the car! Oh here comes the bullet! Oh here comes the eel-faced girl! It all resolves at once.

This is a change from how most RPGs work: in a Clash, you don’t announce then throw, you wait til everyone has announced, then you throw. 

If this is confusing that’s fine—I’m about to explan in more detail:


Action: The Short Version

In the next section, action in Demon City is explained in detail with a note about everything you might ever have to keep track even in the most complex combat, in the order it might come up and all the "What if?s answered. Also, the tarot cards used in Demon City have a variety of things about them that matter besides just the number on them, but for now, only the number is important.

Basically Demon City action boils down to:

1. Everyone announces their actions in reverse-order of agility and resolves any uncontested actions (ie, ones nobody is trying to interfere with).
2. Everybody involved in contested actions collects the cards they’ll throw face down, then flips all at once.
3. If the players get the highest throw, they get to do their things, including the highest-throwing attack on their side. If the Host gets the highest throw, they get to do their things, including the highest-throwing attack on their side.

Action: In Detail:


1. Write everyone’s name down in Agility order

Remember how the Host was supposed to write down PC’s names in ascending order of Agility? Put in the bad guys (and anyone else involved in the Action) in that list, too. 

If there’s a tie, ties are decided randomly and usually stay in that order until the fight ends. The Host can also re-throw ties at their own discretion if some new enemy shows up, if someone is out of the action or the scene changes in some dramatic way.

2. Slowest Character Announces What They Want To Do

Look at the top: Whatever entity involved in the round has the lowest Agility announces what they plan to do.

Everyone will notice this low-Agility slowpoke getting ready to do whatever they're going to do. Higher Agility characters will have their choice of action informed by what the slower one does.

-This can't be an “if-then” and they can’t wait to see what other people are doing, they gotta decide.

-Actions can normally only target one foe at a time--exceptions will be noted when we get around to specific abilities and weapons (like grenades and Waves of Mutilation). 

-You can also try to run up to 30 feet and perform an action, or perform an all-movement action moving you up to 60 feet. Though for the purpose of deciding the weapon throw (see below) against a target who is fighting back your range is the distance you started the round at. (ie You can’t go “I charge in 30 feet while he shoots so the range is now 6 inches and stab him with +1 throw because I have a knife and a knife beats a gun at 6 inches”.”. You can try to attack with your knife, but you making it through the 30 feet between you and them before getting shot is part of what the the coming throw will decide.)

-If a character is Out of the Fight or in a Panic (see below) at the beginning of the round and needs to throw to regain their Toughness or Calm, they throw before announcing their action. If they fail, they might not get an action this round—or ever again.

-If you successfully used an attack or used a defensive action (see below) to dodge, or block, parry an attack in the previous round, you can be anywhere you could normally move (ie not on the ceiling, etc) within 60 feet of your last position relative to the enemy, including behind the enemy or behind cover if you want. 

3. Figure Out How Many Throws They Get And Take Cards Face Down

Once you know how many cards you get, slide those cards face down in front of you—don’t look at them yet.

As with non-Action tasks, the players throw out of the Players' Deck which sits at the middle of the table (and includes their Significator cards), the Host throws out of the specially built Horror's Deck.)

Also like non-Action tasks, you start with one throw and gain (and then maybe lose) more based on what’s going on. These extra throws are a little different in Action than in normal contests:


If a character has a situational advantage (high ground, etc) over whoever they're directly facing off against they get an extra throw.

If the character has any other distinct situational advantages on top of the first one—like their target is both tripping and is handcuffed—you can get another extra throw for each advantage.

As in non-Action tasks, extra throws do not normally represent the scale of an advantage: each distinct advantage is worth one throw , it doesn’t matter if you have 10 feet of high ground or 20 feet of high ground, it’s still one throw .

Note on the extra throw : Combat in Demon City may involve a lot of players and Hosts discussing what does and does not constitute a situational advantage. This is good. This is what the players should be doing: talking about the fictional situation as if it were real so everyone is imagining the same events as much as possible and making interesting decisions about how to use what’s going on to their advantage. 

Weird edge case: in a situation where opponents on different sides have the same kind of advantage over their targets (probably because one of them has a different target) the one with the ultimate advantage gets one more of that kind of extra throw than the inferior foe. So Hiram has high ground advantage to attack Lois but if Max is even higher up the hill attacking Hiram, Max would get two extra throws for high ground on Hiram. This is relatively rare.

There are some common kinds of extra throws you should check for every time:

Higher Stat Throw 

If an enemy you target is targeting you back (they will say this on their turn after an action targeting them is announced), then whoever has the higher stat gets an extra throw. You also get it if the enemy is not targeting you back but your stat is higher than the stat they’d use to resist or avoid your attack. This is usually Agility, although in some cases (which’ll be noted) it’s Toughness and in the case of paranormal or magic attacks it could be any stat—the description of the Supernatural Ability (in the Library section) will say.

It doesn’t normally matter how many points you outclass them by, you still only get one Higher Stat throw .

Close combat actions (kicking, punching, knifing) rely on the attackers’ Toughness (or Hand To Hand skill if they have it—it’ll be higher)—and target the foe's Agility or, if they have it, the foe's Hand-to-Hand combat skill. (If you want your Agility to matter in hitting people, you need to get trained in Hand To Hand, which can be Agility-derived).

Shooting relies on Agility (or Firearms or Exotic Weapons if applicable) and the target’s Agility.

Distraction Throw 

If your target’s not focused on you, you get an extra throw. This can be given if your target is attacking someone else, if they are trying to activate a garage door while you attack, or if they are in any other way not set to defend or attack you back.

It doesn’t normally matter how distracted they are, you still only get one Distraction throw in a round.

Defense Throw 

If you are only actively defending in a round (dodging, running away, etc), you get an extra throw.

Remember: if you successfully use a defensive action to dodge, or block, parry an attack in the previous round, you can be anywhere you could normally move (ie not on the ceiling) within 60 feet of your last position, including behind the enemy or behind cover if you want.

Weapon Throw 

If someone is attacking (or parrying) with a weapon that is better for the specific situation than the one their opponent is attacking back or parrying with, that is worth an extra throw. For example, if two characters are fighting under a twin bed, the combatant attacking with a knife or claws will get an extra throw against a target using a longsword (which needs more room to maneuver), but in most situations it'd be the other way around because the sword has better reach. This is the main way weapons are differentiated in Demon City (and in horror films)--by the situation in which they are most useful. An armed opponent will get a weapon throw over an unarmed one pretty much every time, unless the weapon is unusually cumbersome in that position (like a bow at a range of 3 inches).

For the purpose of deciding the weapon throw against a target who is fighting back, your range is the distance you started the round at.

If you need more details on which weapons are best in which situations, you can look in The Store section in the Library.

Supernatural Throw

If a mundane attack (a gun, a fist etc) is facing off against a supernatural ability (telekinesis, for instance, via magic or psychic ability) the supernatural weapon usually gains an extra throw. For edge cases (Do the claws of a werewolf count? What about the claws of a mutant wolf?) see the individual Horror’s entry later in the book.


If there are difficulties in the situation not otherwise accounted for (by, for example, someone directly opposed already having gained an extra throw) they can be accounted for by lost throws. The most common types of lost throw are the lost throw for a Called Shot (below) and the lost throw for Injury.

Lost throws do not normally represent the scale of a disadvantage: each distinct disadvantage is worth one throw, it doesn’t matter if you are kinda drunk or really drunk—it’s still one throw .

If you have only one throw you cannot lose any more—you always get a minimum of one throw.

Weird edge case: If you have only one throw and voluntarily choose a tricky maneuver which would lose you a throw —like shooting someone in the eye—then you throw two throws and pick the lowest. So, no, if you are bad at shooting you can’t game the system and do a called shot every round.

Lost Throw for a Called Shot

If you’re trying to hit a specific spot on a foe, that loses a throw. Exception:Trying to disarm a foe will not result in a lost card if you also elect to cause no damage or harm with the attack.

Lost Throw for Injury

If you’ve been knocked to negative Toughness during a fight and then successfully throw to recover, you’re hurt and you’ll lose a throw in action rounds until you gain at least one Toughness back.

Note this does not apply if you just get knocked from positive to 0 Toughness or if you started at 0—it only happens after you get hurt.


As in non-Action, if, in an opposed throw, a tactical asymmetry can be represented by giving extra throws to one party or taking lost throws from the other, default to giving the extra throws.

And, as in non-action, if one party in an opposed throw is at minimum throws (one throw ) and distinct disadvantages keep piling on, add extra throws to an opponent’s throw.

Again: be careful not to give and take throws to represent the same asymmetry. Like if Laura has the high ground and Bailey has a the low ground and they’re 10 feet apart, give Laura an extra throw, don’t also subtract one from Bailey.


Often after actually throwing and playing out a round, you’ll likely end up in a situation somewhat similar to the one you were just in—you were trying to burn a grimoire of unholy knowledge while dodging acid last round and you’re trying to do it again this round—so remember how many throws you’re throwing even after they hit the table. Leave the cards there so its clear how many you threw until it’s time to throw again. The next round, if you want to try the same action again you can re-throw the same number of throws without recalculating, or easily add or subtract one to represent a slightly changed situation.

4. Resolved Any Uncontested Actions

If nobody wants to stop a character from doing what they announced and nothing they’ll announce can interfere with anyone else directly, assume it is happening during the round—flip over and evaluate any throws necessary then, as in the Basic Task Resolution section.

This takes place outside the coming Clash. So, for instance, if Alfred and Bebe are trying to stab one another while Ceelo is desperately trying to find the switch that opens the garage door so he can get away, he can throw a Perception throw to search right after announcing his action—his action’s not part of the Clash because nobody’s doing anything that would interfere with that.

Remember throwing your Significator and winning is a critical success and The Fool as your highest card is a critical failure (unless it's your Significator).

Some Horrors get to do special things if they win with a specific card.

5. Other Characters Announce, Collect Throws, Resolve Uncontested Actions

Second-least Agile creature goes through steps 2-4 above, then the third-least Agile, etc. until all characters have announced and any uncontested actions (including just moving) are resolved. 

6. Throw For A Clash

Everyone performing a contested or overlapping action in the same Clash now flips over their cards. The Host can be like “Ready…throw” and make it dramatic.

If there are multiple confrontations that don’t overlap: it’s possible for a fight with characters squaring off against multiple opponents to be actually made up of multiple clashes, so long as none of the personnel could interfere with each other. So Alfred and Bebe could be kicking Ceelo and Didi and Eve could be punching Fifi and that would be two clashes you’d resolve separately. If, however, Fifi was trying to pickpocket Alfred it would then all be one big Clash because only one of these things will happen first. This is unusual but it can happen—either way you still throw all at once, just handle one Clash at a time.

If there are competing drivers/pilots in a chase there’s an exception— drivers always count as being in a separate Clash with each other, even though each driver's actions could theoretically influence everyone in either car/boat/plane etc. So: each round, unless there's a tie, one or the other driver gets to pull a maneuver each round. This is because your vehicle keeps moving forward even if a character in it acts first.

7. Whichever Side Has The Highest Throw Wins

If a tie for first occurs, then one of two things happens:

-If it's a tie between two characters on the same side (ie, two PCs who are getting along or two hostile NPCs with the same goal at the moment) then the players (if its PCs) or Host (if its NPCs) can decide who will act.

-If it's a tie between characters on opposing sides the situation stays mostly the same as it was before the Clash and the contest stays undecided, but the Host changes something in the situation that affects everyone in the Clash, like: the floor could begin to collapse from the weight of the combatants. Then move to the next Action Round.

8. Highest-Throwing Successful Attack on the Winning Side Happens

The attack doesn’t have to be the highest throw on their side—their side just has to win. If Ann threw highest of all to dodge Bill and Cassie (on Ann’s team) wanted to shoot Bill, she could do that in the same Action Round if she threw higher than Bill’s Agility (her target).

“Successful” means they threw higher than a foe trying to avoid or attack them first.

Attacks include punches, kicks, shots, grabs, disarming attempts, psychic abilities, spells targeted at hostiles, etc.

If the highest-throwing attack on the winning side didn’t throw higher than their foe or target number, then it doesn’t happen—that’s a stalemate for now. They’re trading blocks or in pursuit still, etc.

If the successful attack involves damaging another character the attacker then throws damage (See DAMAGE below).

If something disturbing happens one or more characters may have to throw Calm checks (See CALM CHECKS below).

Only one attack can succeed per Clash—the highest-throwing attack on the winning side. This is true even if the allied attacks aren’t directly conflicting with each other. Demon City combat is chaotic and tense—the dominoes don’t all fall at once.

If, say, Ann successfully kicks Bill (her kick was the highest-throwing action in the clash) and Cassie just wants to dive out of the way of a cannibal ghoul and get her gun she can do that. However, if Cassie wanted to shoot Bill and didn’t throw higher than her friend Ann, she has to wait for the next Clash and try again even if she also threw higher than Bill’s Agility. 

Remember: if you throw your Significator and the card is high enough that it would've succeeded anyway, it is now a critical success. Likewise certain horrors get to do special things if they win with a specific card.

9. Other Nonconflicting, Non-Attack Actions On The Same Side Happen If They Beat Their Targets/Intensities

For example: an escape from a grapple on the winning side succeeds if it threw higher than the enemy.

Resolve any damage or Calm Checks as above.

Remember: if you throw your Significator and the card is high enough that it would've succeeded anyway, it is now a critical success—and some horrors get to do special things if they throw a certain card and are successful.

Unless The Fool is your significator, throwing The Fool as your highest card still means you critically failed--even if your side won.

10. Other Clashes Resolved

If the round involved multiple Clashes, resolve them as in 6-9

11. Start Over

Often only one thing happens per round. If characters are still involved in Action after all that, start over at 2 above.

Once nobody is desperately trying to do anything before anyone else present, Action Rounds are over.



1. Write everyone’s name down in Agility order
2. Slowest Character Announces What They Want To Do
3. Figure Out How Many Throws They Get
4. Resolved Any Uncontested Actions
5. Other Characters Announce, Collect Throws, Resolve Uncontested Actions
6. Throw For A Clash
7. Whichever Side Has The Highest Throw Wins
8. Highest-Throwing Successful Attack on the Winning Side Happens
9. Other Nonconflicting, Non-Attack Actions On The Same Side Happen If They Beat Their Targets/Intensities
10. Other Clashes Resolved
11. Repeat 2-13 Until It’s Over

Extra Throws
1 Throw to start

Extra Throws, including:

-Higher Stat Throw 
-Distraction Throw 
-Defense Throw 
-Weapon Throw 
-Supernatural Throw

Lost Throws including:

-Lost Throw for a Called Shot
-Lost Throw for Injury

…if you can act at all, you always get a minimum of 1 Throw.

If you’re an experienced game master you’ll notice some quirks of this system that make it different than other systems:

-Ties are common: this gives the Host a ready-made opportunity to hike up the tension and add atmosphere.

-Only one big thing happens at a time: this makes action work more like a horror movie or thriller—rather than a flurry of blows, we see one move, then some tension, then another.

-Teaming up is good: If the PCs all use weak attacks that get one card each while the monster has three cards, there’s still a good chance the PCs win the round and one of them get their attack in—the game is meant to make cooperation a pretty good idea—although getting in a monster’s face is always risky.

-Weak attacks can interfere with strong ones: If you’re trying to kick a monster (standard damage) and an ally is trying to drop a vat of lava on them (massive damage), you risk the kick throwing higher than the lava and being the only attack that succeeds that round. Again this is on purpose: if you’re ally is doing something big—get out of the way!…

-…or, better, throw to dodge. Dodging or blocking an enemy’s attack gives you a throw (a chance to throw higher than the bad guy) but doesn’t get in the way of a friend attacking. So distracting an enemy sets them up for your friends’ attack.

-Most attacks do the same initial damage: The tough guy’s punch is more likely to land than the skinny guy’s, but both are equally likely to put you out of the fight they land—as likely as a gunshot. If there’s action in Demon City, it’s always high stakes. However…

-People get knocked down a lot,, but when we get to damage you'll see the intensity of the attack has an impact on whether they get up again and how fast. So the tough guy’s punch may keep you down longer. If you’ll notice, in horror movies people are constantly getting put out of the fight, crawling off, getting themselves together, and getting up again.

-Some things don’t matter sometimes, you have to make them matter: If I’m 10 feet away and have a sword and all you have is a knife I get an extra throw. If, at the same distance, I have a sword and all you have is your bare hands, I still only get one extra throw. At least for that round, it doesn’t matter if you have a knife or not—but, in the next round if you block me and you get in close with the knife, it suddenly will—successful blocks allow you to move in wherever you want the next round. Demon City rewards you for thinking of ways to make the assets you have count.

-It’s kinda realistic and it kind of isn’t: Demon City is organized so that tactical decisions and creative thinking matter, but also so that things are frenzied and chaotic. The rules are the way they are so that both of these priorities can be met while not being too hard to learn or run. If that’s how it feels once you’ve tried it a few times, then it’s working the way it’s supposed to.

Note: the rules above are the version as of May 26, 2018 the comments below pre-date the most recent edit:


Sean McCoy said...

Heads up this is just going to be me saying how much I like all of this.

I love that a broken bottle compared to a fist is about as good as a shotgun is to a handgun. That seems like it would up the amount of franctic scrambling in combat, where you go "Uh shit, I saw Jason Bourne do a thing with a pencil once, is there a pencil around?" "No. But there's a textbook that looks pretty heavy." But that also doesn't stop you from running a game where everyone wants to talk about the difference between a sig sauer an a glock if that's your thing. You get that scene from Pulp Fiction where Butch decides a katana is better than a chainsaw which is better than a bat. That seems like a good thing. In fact that whole act would drop right into this system really easily (donuts vs. a car).

Also I like that if your main stat is agility or sneaking, you're incentivized to use that in as many situations as possible. This has a kind of emergent thing where a cowardly person is mechanically incentivized to be cowardly, because they will have a greater chance of doing that in clashes. There's no like "my character is bad at combat." Your character might be bad at fighting, but that doesn't mean they will necessarily be worse at getting out of this situation alive.

Which means I'll get to roleplay what I would actually do in a lot of these scenarios, which is just constantly run away from things and then babble about how crazy that was and should we look it up on the internet or call someone.

Zak Sabbath said...

yeah, Butch looking at the katana and the chainsaw was a key image in thinking abt this system

Dan said...

Cool stuff! I do think you shouldn't make up dumb names to replace GM, though.

Zak Sabbath said...

I didn't, I thought up a good name to replace GM.

You kind of have a history of dumb drive-by comments though so

Jolly Cooperator said...

Something I've never seen in my limited RPG experience is a rulebook which explicitly lays out important probability distributions embedded in the rules. In 5e, for example, I suspect only a minority of players and GM's intuitively understand how advantage is a bigger benefit for midrange checks than for easy/difficult ones. Granting advantage on DC10 is about equivalent to +5, but at DC19 only +2, etc. You've increased the odds of success by 25% in the former case, about 10% in the latter.

This is neither inherently good nor bad, but it's less obvious than simply adding a bonus. Particularly in cases where there's debate as to whether or not advantage exists, I know I'd personally be conscious of how the decision translates into percentages.

I don't know if I read the Clash section correctly, but suppose the rules allow an opposed roll of up to 5d10 vs 1d10. In a straight-up winner take all situation (ties are re-rolled, no crits or fumbles), the implication is:

1d10 v 1d10: 50% win vs 50% lose
2d10 v 1d10: 68% win vs 32% lose
3d10 v 1d10: 78% win vs 23% lose
4d10 v 1d10: 83% win vs 17% lose
5d10 v 1d10: 87% win vs 13% lose

Everyone understands 1d10 vs 1d10 is a 50-50 proposition. But guesses about 5d10 vs 1d10 would be all over the place.

Zak Sabbath said...

Well they won't be anymore.

I did plan on including probability tables in there, if for no other reason than to let the GM know what kind of numbers to assign when they do static difficulties.

LanceToth said...

Any specific reason for using d10? In my mind that is a very WoD thing.

Charlie said...

At first I was wondering why Distraction Die is a separate thing from Situation Dice, but the combat section made that pretty clear. I like the cap on Situation dice for a given action during a Clash - you figure that also applies to any Task? I'd figure so, just so the player could argue merits of their positioning, but only so much. 2 positive situational developments and no more, just to head off long modifier debates in advance.

For some reason in your example, I was confused that Alfie got a distraction die, when Betty is the one who is distracted. But obviously if you _get_ a distraction die, it's another die to roll, it's an advantage, because your target is distracted. Maybe reading about the Injury die had me confused, as that's the only 'this is a thing' die that is negative. Is the injury die actually rolled at any point, or does having an injury die always just mean you roll one less die? If it's never rolled, I'd suggest calling it just Injury or Injured, more like a status, and that this state gives you the penalty. I was then thinking of injured fitting in with a couple of other statuses (blinded, on lots of percocet) with various effects, but those are really better covered by situation die.

Oh yeah, I like how even with the 'everyone goes at once' setup, you still have the lowest agility character/entity going first. So the fast folks get time to decide what to do, and can counteract whatever the slow pokes are trying to get done. That seems keen.

G. B. Veras said...

I liked "Host".
It is even better translated to romance languages than GM and Storyteller...

Zak Sabbath said...

2 reasons:

-It generates ties about 1 in 10 times, a little more if both parties are rolling lots of dice, which is about how often I think you'd want ties in horror (the point of ties is to ratchet up the tension)

-It works well with having ability scores go from 1-10 (or in the case of this game 0-9 to be exact) which is pretty intuitive for new players.

Zak Sabbath said...

The Injury die is never rolled--you make a good point, I'm gonna change the name.

Jolly Cooperator said...

Cool. I emailed a spreadsheet to your hotmail account with these #'s expanded out (look for 'Demon City probabilities). Hope you find it useful.

Zak Sabbath said...

Didn't get it:

Zakzsmith @ hawt mayle dawt calm

Colin R said...

The toughness/damage rules are interesting/surprising, if I've understood them correctly. The target's toughness seems to control both how many points you have to lose, and also how fast you lose them. So if you have a Base Toughness of 1, you roll 1 die for damage, and probably take 5.5, and are probably immediately out of the fight at -4.5 current. (I know you can't actually roll 5.5, am just using the average here for expectation purposes.)

But having a base toughness of 2 isn't that much better: one hit probably does 3.8, so you are still probably immediately out of the fight at -1.8 current toughness. Base toughness 3 means a hit does probably 3 damage, so you end the round at 0 current toughness (still up?). Base toughness 4 expects to take 2.5 per hit, so goes down after 2 hits. Base toughness 5 takes 2.2 per hit, so goes down after 3.

Once you reach base toughness 8, the most likely outcome is 1 dmg per hit.

Question: how do you determine damage taken by an invalid with 0 base toughness? Roll 1d10 anyway?

Zak Sabbath said...

Good question--the actual negative number doesn't matter, so any successful hit on someone with 0 puts them in the Injured box.

Colin R said...

So, um, what happens with Alfie and Betty and CeCe? Most likely example: Alfie rolls 8 and Betty rolls 6 and CeCe rolls 5. So, Alfie definitely shoots Betty. And probably Betty doesn't shoot CeCe, because she just got shot? And does that mean CeCe gets away (even though she rolled lowest?)

If CeCe had also been trying to shoot Betty, would Betty get shot twice?

Zak Sabbath said...

Yep, Cece gets away, since Betty got hit before she could act. Alfie, with his high skill and distraction die, saves his friend

And, yeah, if Cece had been trying to shoot Betty (benefitting from Alfie shooting Betty in the the back) would get a successful shot off at Betty .

jmk jr said...

The idea of putting the rules on the left hand page and associated notes on the right hand page is similar to how some engineering guide specifications are printed: two columns to a page with the specification in the left column, the commentary in the right.

Peter Webb said...

this is also how the latest edition of Ron Edward's Sorcerer is laid out... rules on the left page, commentary on the right

Charlie said...

Oh yeah, one tire-kick thing:

So stats range from 0-whatever, 0-9 without something supernatural. Toughness in humans is typically 0-5, with 5 being a top-of-the-world level of stamina and endurance. Is toughness a special case in terms of 5 being world-class, or do all the stats work that way?

I had a bit about how if it was a special case, it might be possible to de-special it by letting 9 be Olympic-grade, but you still only get to roll 5 dice to get damage done. Kind of making the ‘5 dice max’ from clashes a more general rule. With 9 toughness and 5 dice to roll, on average you're 5 hits from being injured, according to Colin's math.

But that is too many hits, since a Clash isn’t the exchange of damage you see in DnD. Armor will further foul that up, and make battles too long with 9-toughness humans around.

OK, I think that tire is good then.

Zak Sabbath said...

Yeah, I think what you're saying is you kicked a tire and it was fine?

Bc all that is as intended

Charlie said...

Yeah you're good. Or the tire is. Either way.