True System Reference Document, Generic Edition

All of the following text is Open Gaming Content.


The Narrator is the player who takes responsibility for running a True SRD game. The Narrator creates the adventure, runs the players through it, takes on the roles of the various characters the heroes meet, and handles any questions about the rules. While running the game is a big responsibility, it's not as hard as it might seem, and providing a fun and entertaining game for your friends can be quite rewarding.

This chapter looks at some of the main responsibilities of the Narrator: running the game, rewarding the heroes, and portraying a world of romantic fantasy.

Running the Game

While the players are responsible for keeping track of their own heroes and deciding on their actions, the Narrator is responsible for everything else in the game. A good Narrator tries to make sure that the game runs as smoothly as possible and is enjoyable for all of the players. Many components go into creating a good True SRD series. The following pages give you the basics, but simple experience is the best tool to help you become a better Narrator.

Assigning Difficulties

True SRD adventures can be broken down into a series of tasks heroes must perform, from piecing together clues to navigating the social intricacies of court to dueling a villain atop castle walls. It's up to the Narrator to assign the difficulty of these and numerous other tasks in the game and to determine the outcome of the heroes' efforts. Fighting has detailed rules, while skills, feats, and powers are covered in their respective chapters.

This section offers some general guidelines on assigning the Difficulty of a task, based on the information from those chapters.

Modifying the Roll or the Difficulty

There are two ways of making a task easier or harder: modify the character's die roll or modify the task's Difficulty. Generally speaking, circumstances affecting a character's performance, like having just the right tools for the job or being forced to improvise, apply a modifier to the die roll. Circumstances making the task easier or harder to accomplish, like a favorable or unfavorable environment or a particularly demanding task, modify the Difficulty. If a condition applies to the character -- like knowledge, health, equipment, preparedness, and such -- it's usually a roll modifier. It doesn't have to be too fine a line, since modifying the die roll or the Difficulty amounts to the same thing in the end: the task being easier or harder to accomplish.

In either case, you don't need to inform the player. In fact, most of the time you shouldn't, since it keeps the hero's chances of success a secret and makes the task that much more dramatic and interesting. If the player asks, you can offer a general idea of how difficult the tasks is, based on what the character would know. Usually an answer like "it's fairly easy for you" or "you think it will be quite difficult" is sufficient.

Circumstance Modifiers

A good rule of thumb is favorable circumstances grant a +2 bonus on a check (or a -2 modifier to the Difficulty), while unfavorable circumstances impose a -2 penalty on the check (or a +2 modifier to the Difficulty). This allows you to quickly assess the conditions in an adventure and assign an appropriate modifier to a hero's check.

Taking 10 and Taking 20

Keep in mind opportunities for characters to take 10 and take 20 on their checks (see Checks without Rolls in the Introduction). Characters can take 10 on a roll any time they're not rushed, threatened, or distracted. Characters can take 20 under the same circumstances so long as there's no penalty for failing the roll. This means you can dispense with rolls for most routine tasks. If a character wants to disable a device, for example, and his Disable Device bonus + 10 is equal to or greater than the Difficulty, don't bother having the player roll. The character just succeeds, so long as there's no great urgency. If the hero is trying to pick a lock as a horde of skeletons bear down on her, the associated stress means the character can't take 10, however.

When coming up with Difficulties for actions, keep the take 10 and take 20 rules in mind. If the Difficulty is low enough anyone can take 10 and succeed, then it may be too low, or the action may be too trivial to worry about.

The 50/50 Rule

Another good guideline to keep in mind is that the chance of an average character (with a modifier of +0) succeeding at an average task (Difficulty 10) is 50 percent. Any time you have an average character do something or want to set a Difficulty that you feel is average for a particular character, aim for about a 50 percent chance of success. If you want to know what bonus is required to have a 50 percent chance of succeeding at a particular task, just subtract 10 from the Difficulty. So a Difficulty 25 action (a formidable task) requires a bonus of +15 in order to have a 50 percent chance of success.

Keep in mind that a 50/50 chance on a task may allow a character to take 10 and automatically succeed at that task under routine conditions. This is intentional; the average character only really fails at an average task when the character is hurried or under stress and can't take 10.

Opposed checks offer a useful tool for comparing the efforts of two individuals in a quick and easy way. This applies not only to skills, but also to things like powers. If two or more characters compete at a particular task, you can resolve it with an opposed check. The one with the highest check result wins. Of course, you can play things out if you want, but sometimes it's good to be able to resolve things with a quick opposed check and move on.

As Narrator, if you find yourself without a particular rule to resolve a conflict or contest, the opposed check is your friend. Pick the appropriate skill or ability, make checks for all involved, and compare the results to see how they did.

Secret Checks

Sometimes it's a good idea to make checks secretly, so the players don't necessarily know the result. This is usually the case for any sort of check where the heroes don't immediately know whether they've succeeded or failed. For example, Notice checks should be made secretly. If the check succeeds, the character notices something. If it fails, then the player doesn't know whether it's because the hero failed to notice something or there wasn't anything there to notice in the first place. The same is true for checks involving powers, like Mind Reading or Visions, and certain interaction checks, so the player doesn't necessarily know the target's initial attitude or exactly how much it has improved.

Altering the Outcome of Die Rolls

On occasion the outcome of a particular roll may seriously impact the game. For example, the heroes are walking into a trap and none of them make the necessary check to notice the danger in time. Or a hero gets in a lucky shot and the villain rolls a 1 on his Toughness saving throw, resulting in a quick defeat. What do you do?

In some cases, you can just go with the outcome the dice give you. If none of the heroes spot the trap, have it go off, but give the heroes an opportunity to escape later on. Even if the results of the die roll are unexpected, so long as they don't spoil the fun of the adventure, feel free to go with them. Unexpected twists and turns can be fun, not only for the players, but also for you when you run the game.

On the other hand, some die rolls result in anticlimactic or just plain dumb outcomes. In these cases, feel free to change things a little to make the outcome more interesting or more in line with how the game should go. In the above example, you might decide that the villain is only stunned rather than being knocked out, giving the heroes the upper hand, but not ending the climatic encounter prematurely.

Is this cheating? Well, yes, in a manner of speaking it is, but it's "cheating" in order to make the game more interesting and fun for everyone involved. So long as you don't alter the outcome of die rolls unfairly or maliciously and you do it to help ensure the game is fun, interesting, and challenging, you shouldn't have a problem. Besides, the players don't have to know that you change the occasional die roll. That's one of the reasons it's a good idea for Narrators to roll their dice out of sight of the players and then announce the results.

Faking It

Sometimes circumstances will arise in your series that the rules just don't cover, that you're not sure how to handle, or that would just be a waste of time to make a lot of die rolls for. In these cases, feel free to just fake it and make something up. Come up with a roll or rolls you feel suits the situation and go with it, so you can keep the game moving rather than getting bogged down in page flipping and rules arguments. One of the great things about the True SRD system is pretty much everything can be resolved with a simple check. So when all else fails, have a player make a check with the most appropriate trait: an ability score, skill, power, or something else. If the check beats your estimation of the Difficulty, it's a success. Otherwise, it's a failure.

You also can fake it when dealing with certain trivial situations in the game. If there's an important piece of information you want the players to know, don't bother seeing if they succeed at a Search check. You can pretend to make the checks, then just ignore the results and tell the players what their heroes find. Likewise, if a 10th-level hero is going to take out a 1st-level nobody, you don't have to make all the rolls. Just ask the player to describe how the hero defeats her hapless foe.

Saying Yes to Your Players

Players are a cunning lot, so it's a virtual certainty that, sooner or later, they will come up with something for their heroes to do not covered in these rules. It may be a particularly innovative maneuver, a new use for a skill or power, using the environment to their advantage in some way, or something you never would have considered. When this happens, take a moment and ask yourself, would it be fun if what the player is proposing happened? A good way to think about it is, if something similar happened in a fantasy novel, would it be cool? If the answer is yes, then you probably should let the player try it.

Narrators have three major tools to help them say yes to their players' innovative ideas, while keeping them (somewhat) under control:

Making Mistakes

Narrators are only human. Sooner or later, you'll make a mistake, whether it's forgetting a particular rule or overlooking something about a character or an element of the story. Don't worry, it happens, and it doesn't mean your game is ruined!

The best way to handle a mistake is to own up to it. Tell your players you made a mistake and need to make a change in order to keep the game balanced, fair, and fun. Be reasonable and straightforward in handling your mistakes and your players are much more likely to be cooperative and understanding in return.

Heroic Advancement

As heroes go on adventures and overcome challenges they learn from their mistakes and draw confidence from their successes. Over time, they grow and become more capable. They learn new tricks and refine old skills. The True SRD reflects this development through the awarding of levels.

Essentially, after an adventure or two, whenever you feel the heroes have reached a point of development in their story, you can award them an additional level. Generally, heroes should earn one level every one or two adventures, meaning they can go from 1st level to 20th level in twenty to forty adventures total. They only earn a level during a single adventure if it is especially long or harrowing or they achieve a considerable success (in the Narrator's estimation).

Players can choose to apply this new level to one of their hero's existing roles, or they can add a level in a new role (see Mixed-Role Heroes in Chapter 1). Increasing in level also improves a hero's abilities: attack bonus, Defense, saving throws, and so forth. Each hero also gains a new feat upon attaining a new level. see Level-Dependent Benefits in Chapter 1 for details.

Normally, heroes immediately gain all bonuses from their new level, but the Narrator can require some training time or preparation before the heroes improve in level. This is particularly true for heroes adding a new role. They may need the assistance of a teacher or mentor to attain their first level in the role.

The essence of the True SRD rules is actually quite simple. The vast majority of the rules merely expand upon the core mechanic of the system, providing special-case guidelines or situational modifiers. So long as you understand the essentials, you can handle just about any situation.

Those interested in playing in a much more loose and casual style should focus on these fundamentals and not worry about special-case rules or more detailed guidelines. If you come up with an unexpected situation, just choose an appropriate type of check, a Difficulty, and make a roll to see if the character succeeds or not. It's that simple.

Everything in the True SRD -- ability scores, skills, powers, and so forth -- has an associated modifier, or score, a value telling you how strong or weak it is. Modifiers run from -5 (very weak) all the way up to +30 (incredibly strong) or more. You can rate virtually any ability by its associated modifier.

Every task -- from making an attack to avoiding harm to interaction -- has a Difficulty, a value that tells you how difficult the task is to perform. Difficulties range from 0 (so easy it's not worth rolling) to 40 (nearly impossible).

Actions are resolved through checks, a roll of a d20, plus any appropriate modifiers. If the total of the check equals or exceeds the Difficulty, the action is a success. If it doesn't, then it's a failure. The Narrator can easily modify a check by having beneficial conditions apply a +2 bonus on a check and having adverse conditions impose a -2 penalty. This is true whether you're trying to use a skill, make an attack, make a saving throw, or use powers.

Trying to avoid an effect is a saving throw. A successful save means you avoid, or diminish, the effect. A failed save means you suffer the results of the effect.

That's the core of the True SRD: roll d20 + modifiers versus a Difficulty. If you understand that, you can do pretty much anything in the game. The rest is just details. When in doubt, or whenever you want to speed the game along, just have a player make an appropriate check against a Difficulty based on how difficult the task is, and you really can't go wrong.