Karst is a role playing game inspired by the classics—new and old. It features simple rules, an emphasis on discovery through storytelling, and a haunted archipelago filled with animal folk and terrible secrets. The rules are lightweight and easy to modify or use with other games, systems, and content.
The object of the game is to create a story together.
To play, you will need a narrator and one or more players. Each player acts as a character within the game world, while the narrator controls the world itself: setting the stage, describing it to the players, and determining how the world responds to the actions of the characters.
The stories of Karst feature a diverse cast of characters, supported by a simple and flexible system of customization. The characters in your stories may be common folk, famous adventurers, or anything in between.
In Karst, you will be talking and writing things down. Sometimes, you will roll dice. Advice on how to conduct the game is sprinkled throughout, but much is left up to you and your group. This includes almost all details and specifics about journaling your efforts—something that is highly encouraged. Karst was originally created as a way of telling stories through journaling and live play.
This is a game about discovery and memories. Adventures recorded as entries in diaries, characters embodied as sketches in journals, recovered loot carefully noted down in ledgers and logbooks, hand-drawn maps of islands charted: all chapters in the story of what once was. The Karst Archipelago is now gone and forgotten; these fragments are all that remain of its memories.
This text concerns itself mostly with guidance around creating characters, stories, and scenes; when to roll the dice (rarely); and what things might affect those rolls. It also contains information about the Karst Archipelago and its inhabitants to help you learn about the setting and provide roots for your stories to grow from.
Additional books and pamphlets published by the Karst Archipelago Historical Society and other contributors contain more information about the world of Karst. Karst is an open canon, and we sincerely hope you end up adding to this body of work; a few guidelines for contributing to it can be found on the copyright section in the About page of this website.
Karst does not have a huge emphasis on dice, but they are a useful tool for resolving uncertainty. As such, you will need a few six-sided dice and some fancier ones that have four, eight, ten, twelve, and twenty sides. It can be helpful if everyone has their own set, or at least one six- sided and one twenty-sided die each.
When you roll the dice, in Karst, a higher number is always better. Dice rolls will often have modifiers, positive or negative. After rolling, adjust the result by adding or subtracting any modifiers. A modifier may not bring the result of a roll below one.
From short adventures in an evening’s time to sagas played out over months or years, the game of Karst is about creating stories. Stories may be singular or made up of many chapters, part of something larger or with smaller tales inside.
There are many shapes to stories, but almost all have a beginning and an end—though neither may be obvious, especially at the outset. The narrator may have the start of a plot in mind, or things may be open-ended; the conclusion of one story may be the beginning of another. Stories are yours to weave however you like. Inspiration can be found throughout this publication, from Rumors and Legends in the Karst Archipelago chapter of these rules, to the Worldbooks section of this site and the introductory tale Shipwrecked on Gygalos Island—found within the upcoming print copy of Karst.
Rising up in broken stillness from the placid Mirror Sea, the many islands of the Karst Archipelago stand alone, between the sea’s vast expanse and the splendor of the Impossibly Blue Sky above.
It is said that long ago, the Three Distant Shores were one and there was no Mirror Sea, but in time they grew apart and so the sea was born. Whence came the Karst Archipelago—left behind or arisen since—matters little to most inhabitants. What does, however, is that the Three Distant Shores—the ancestral homelands of the archipelago’s folk—have seemingly vanished.
No ships have arrived from these three shores—the Eastern Woods, the Western Sands, and the Southern Swamps—in over a generation; few still cling to the hope that they ever will again. Already an independent lot, the folk of the archipelago have taken this isolation in stride.
Colonial outposts have become island states, and loose alliances of fishing villages have transformed into merchant kingdoms, but for each community that has flourished, an equal number have perished—or worse. Pirate dens have grown into cutthroat hives, while scores of villages and whole islands have fallen silent, abandoned or overrun.
Inhabiting these islands are six kinds of folk who have come to the archipelago from their various homelands, each for their own reasons: the eekhorn, grevlings, lagartos, serpos, veldlings, and visita. Some settlements and islands may have more of one folk than others, but, by and large, the circumstances in the archipelago have drawn folk together rather than apart.
These folk lead all sorts of lives: there are many who have never left the isle of their birth; there are dauntless sailors who spend their lives at sea, setting foot on land but once in a fortnight; merchants, vagabonds, and roustabouts; the itinerant and holy, lost souls from islands near and far; fortune-tellers, soothsayers, sorcerers, witches, crackpots, and cranks; farmers who tend manicured hills and fishers who sail the midnight sea; bakers, artisans, tailors, and musicians; nobles and peasants; stewards and stevedores; treasure hunters and pirates—countless backgrounds; countless tales to tell.