I continue working on reviewing some of the books on my shelf today with the Index Card RPG (ICRPG). This game came to my attention when I reviewed Axebane’s Moldy Codex. It is a fanzine sort of product, but that first issue included a great introduction to the kind of thing to expect from the ICRPG. It had a very classic fantasy / D&D feel, but was working around a set of mechanics I had not seen before. The concept intrigued me enough to purchase the full rules, including the soft cover rule book. That is what we will look at today, and it is pretty interesting I must say!
I want to start with this because it is important to the Index Card RPG in two ways. First of all, the ICRPG is designed as a universal system. This means any type of setting can fit in. Gritty fantasy to magical space escapades are able to be played out by this game. Universal systems are some of my favorite because they always have unique ways of handling the potential for anything. They also tend to come with fun mechanics, but that’s for later. In the case of ICRPG, the universality of the rules is exemplified by including two setting in which to play: Alfheim and Warp Shell. Alfheim is your classic fantasy setting, allowing you to head into dungeons, defeat monsters, and collect treasure. Warp Shell, on the other hand, is a far future where space travel and strange abilities are common. There you search the ruins of once-advanced civilizations for relics. These also reveal a key part of the design of this game: loot. While there is no reason for this game not to experience a broad range of storytelling and depth, this game is designed around delving for treasure and loot. That being said, let’s take a look at mechanics.
The Index Car RPG is a relatively simple game. Everything you do is covered by a handful of stats and a few core concepts. The stats that you have are just like those in the D&D but do not work the same way. Instead of some stats that give you bonuses, the stats themselves are bonuses. Whatever you have in that stat is the bonus you add to rolls. If your strength is 2 than you roll a d20+2. Characters, obstacles, and monsters also have hearts which are simple ways to represent the difficulty of something as well as HP for characters. Every heart is equal to 10 HP. Your other stats are related to Effort. Effort is the amount you contribute to something. This might be damage to a monster’s HP or effort towards opening a chest or the clues to deciphering a code of some kind. Effort uses d4 for bare bones wit and ability, this is what you can do with your mind and bare hands. A d6 is used for weapons, though something like tools (say a crowbar) would easily be used here. In the case where you are using magic or a magic item, than you use a d8 for effort. Finally there is the ultimate die, the d12, which is used when you roll a critical 20. Now how does effort come into play?
Everything the players are up against require one of two types of rolls. The first is the common check which is a strait d20 stat roll that is against a yes/no scenario. These are not things like opening chests (which should be done slow because of traps duh!) but something like stopping a runaway wagon. Anything that has or benefits from degrees of success are known as attempts. An attempt is rolled as a d20 plus the stat, just like checks. The target number for all of these things is, generally, 10-12. Things that are made easier with aid or more difficult for some circumstance are +/- 3. By beating the target number you are able to roll effort. In order to succeed at an attempt you need to beat 10 on that effort roll. Remember 10 is how much 1 heart is worth. The number of hearts for a situation or obstacle do not need to be revealed and, as such, increasing difficulty can be done on the fly by adding hearts. And don’t worry, the rule book has suggestions on this and more. Not only that there are all kinds of suggestions for adapting other games and mechanics to tack onto the game to change the way it plays (such as blunders for rolling a 1).
All in all I really like this set of mechanics. It is simple and allows you to do a lot of things. What is great about it is that you can include any variety of traps, obstacles, and monsters that you can dream up without any need to change mechanics. The most you need to do is create unique effects or attacks for these things. Even then, when it comes down to it we are talking about manipulating rolls: negate magical effort, -2 to weapon attacks, -2 STR, and other such simple effects. The versatility is pretty immense for a game with only a dozen stats. This ease also allows for easily hacking / creating your own stuff or taking stuff from other places to make it yours.
Design & Presentation
This small book has some great production points…and a few not so great ones. Let’s get the bad ones out of the way. Deciphering the rules is a little difficult at first blush. The simple mechanics to the game focus on a specific vocabulary and that vocabulary is used often. While not inherently bad, it does take some effort (no pun intended I swear this time) to make sure you have target numbers versus effort versus hearts versus HP all in a row. They are equivalences in a way, but you do want to be careful to remember that a 12 target number does not mean 12 effort is needed. The game is meant for ease of decisions and rulings, as well as the free flow of a game from one challenge to the next and moment to moment. It is written with that intent and, as much as I love it, the explanations occasionally get lost in the mix. They are there, but take care when reading the rules or you’ll find yourself flipping back and forth. A glossary of terms would help ten times over for this game. That all being said, these problems are a minor obstacle (more an annoyance) and is something I want to warn you about more than anything.
Other than that, I do really love the design of the book. The fact that it treats you like the author is talking to you about how awesome things can be and how easy it should feel really does help. In many places it gets you excited about the game and makes you want to dive into using the system. That is a good thing. On top of that the organization is pretty well done. It is a simple black and white book with highlights of red splashed throughout. There are side bars of multiple types that will help you figure some things out, provide examples, and explain mechanical reasoning. There are tables, bullets, headers, and images to highlight different things and help visualize context. The top of every page also has heading of what it is about, making flipping through a breeze. Finally the art is an amazing combination of old-school style and simple fun, stylized into something that feels good and at home with the game itself.
For anyone looking for a simple, universal system then this is definitely something worth looking into. Beyond the incredibly adaptable rules the whole concept mean that PDFs come with things like monster and character tokens, adventure cards for ideas, and more for easy visuals that mesh with the game. There is a lot you can do with the ICRPG, including picking it up for a random game without much work. If you are interested, hit up the link at the top of the review and check it out ESPECIALLY since the soft cover is less than $5 more than the PDF and that is a steal!