Karst is played as a shared dialogue between the players and narrator. The rules outlined here provide a framework—guidelines—for conducting this dialogue and resolving dramatic situations using creativity and chance.
The Two Rules
In truth, there are only two rules to the game of Karst—the rest are mere suggestions.
The first rule is to be reasonable. There are many places in between the rules as written and the stories you tell that have been left up to your taste and judgement. It is assumed that you will approach these areas with good faith, whether as a player or narrator. Where there are unspoken rules and uncertainty in the text, search not for loopholes, but apply common sense rulings instead. Better still, view these gaps as opportunities to incorporate ideas that fit the needs of your game and story.
The second rule—which builds heavily upon the first—is to serve the story. The goal of the game is not for one party or another to “win,” but for you to tell a story together. No matter your role in the telling, it is your objective to nurture the narrative and help it along, adding your own marks in the process.
In truth, these two rules are one: Karst is played together.
No matter how else they are formed, the stories told in Karst are made up of scenes. These are the events and interactions that matter to the players and their understanding of the story; in almost all scenes, at least one player’s character is present.
A scene is a dialogue. It typically begins with the narrator describing a situation. Next, the players ask the narrator any questions they might have about the scene or state any actions that their characters are taking.
The narrator answers player questions as they see fit and describes the outcome of character actions, noting how the scene has changed as a result. If there are other characters in the scene, the narrator describes their actions as well.
This continues back and forth until the scene reaches a conclusion, transitioning to another scene or ending the current chapter of the story.
If a player wants their character to do something, they say so; this is called an action. The narrator describes the result of the action or invites the player to do so. Sometimes, the narrator will determine that the character has failed or is unable to perform the action, describing instead the failure.
Creative or reasonable actions should almost always be rewarded by the narrator. This encourages emergent storytelling and engagement more than anything else.
When the narrator can’t decide the outcome of an action, they can call for a roll of the dice to determine what happens. This is called an action roll. Action rolls are the core dice-based mechanic of Karst.
To make an action roll, the player or narrator rolls a six-sided die on behalf of the character. If the roll is a six or higher (as a result of modifiers), the action is a success. Otherwise, it is a failure. Though modifiers can add to or subtract from the roll, if the die shows a one, the action automatically ends in failure. Similarly, if the die shows a six, the action is successful; no matter the odds, there is always a chance if the dice are to be rolled.
Action rolls can be used for many purposes. When a horrible thing is about to happen to a character, a roll can sometimes be made to avoid part or all of the effects; this is known as a reaction roll, or rolling to resist. Opposed actions, too, can be handled using action rolls: both parties make an action roll and then compare the results to see if one side prevails over the other.
When the outcome of an action roll would not be immediately apparent to the character performing the action, the narrator can roll in secret, revealing the result when it is appropriate.
Use action rolls sparingly: Players are meant to be rewarded for their creativity; characters are capable folk, and rolls are not made just for the sake of rolling dice. Limiting action rolls to the big moments in a game also makes their outcomes more memorable and impactful. That said, it is your game to play; if you like rolling dice for every action, go for it.
Scenes are generally free-flowing discussions, but when some form of confrontation arises between characters, the scene becomes an altercation. A slightly more structured procedure for handling actions, an altercation can be used at any moment of dramatic tension within a story.
Rounds and Order
An altercation is made up of successive rounds. During a round, each character is given a turn to act. In these tense moments, the order in which different characters act becomes vitally important. To determine the order of action in each round, every character involved must first determine their order score. This is done by way of an order roll.
At the beginning of a round, each player with a character in the altercation rolls a six-sided die, often with modifiers. The narrator does the same for any other characters involved. The highest score goes first; those with the same score act simultaneously.
Altercations sometimes start in a surprising manner. If the narrator thinks there is a chance that a character would be caught unaware by the beginning of an altercation, then the character must first succeed at a surprise roll—a type of action roll—or they will be surprised and unable to act during the altercation’s opening round.
Going from the highest score to the lowest, each character takes their turn, which consists of one action. A character may also walk a short distance or say a few words, but anything beyond that is an action itself.
Sometimes, a character may wish to do two things at once. If both of these actions are reasonable, one action is simpler than the other, and the character’s order score is at least four, the character can do so—but they must subtract three from their order score, acting later in the round as a result.
A character may not generally defer their action—they must act during their turn or forfeit the opportunity. However, a character can prepare an action in response to a specific condition, which must be stated. If that condition occurs, so, too, does the action. Otherwise, at the start of the character’s next turn, the unused action is effectively lost.
At the end of each round, the narrator determines if the altercation should continue. If one side has been defeated, that’s usually the end of things, but there are other reasons why an altercation might end—some more peaceful than others.
The end of an altercation may return the action to the scene at hand, or it may transition the game to a new scene or chapter in the story. In some cases, the resolution of an altercation can even conclude the story—tragically or heroically.
Altercations often turn violent. In these situations—or at any other time that someone wishes to do harm—a character can use an action to attack a target. This target may be another character or an inanimate object.
To attempt an attack, the player or narrator rolls a twenty-sided die. They succeed, or hit, if the result is equal to or above the target’s defense. Attack rolls often have modifiers, based on the participants involved and the situation at hand, but no matter the modifiers or the target’s defense, an attack always succeeds on a roll of twenty and always fails on a roll of one.
A successful attack does damage to the target. Damage is not the only effect that an attack may have—an attack that knocks a character down will stun them for a turn, while a well-placed blow may disarm an opponent—but all attacks do at least one damage, even unarmed ones. For armed attacks, the amount of damage is based on the weapon being used. When a target is unaware of an impending attack, the damage is doubled. Once the damage has been determined, it is subtracted from the target’s health; next, any other effects of the attack are resolved.
If a character’s health is reduced to zero or less, they are immediately knocked out of the altercation and stand a good chance of dying. Similarly, an object that is sufficiently damaged is destroyed.
Injury and Death
The consequences of action are sometimes physical. A character’s health is an abstract representation of their well-being, stamina, fortitude, and resolve—perhaps even luck. Physical injury is not the only way that a character can lose health, but it is the most common. As health is lost, a character comes closer to a breaking point.
A character who has lost some of their health is harried and perhaps lightly wounded—nothing that can’t be cured by a good meal and a bit of rest—but those who have lost all of their health are in trouble. To begin with, a character who has lost all health is knocked unconscious for the rest of the encounter. Worse, they are seriously wounded and have a good chance of dying, especially if left unattended and without care.
Immediately after being reduced to zero health or less, a character must make a death roll. This is done by rolling a six-sided die and subtracting any negative health from the result (to a minimum of one; no modifier can bring a roll lower). If the result is one, the character has died. If the result is a six or above, modified or on the die, the character is wounded but will survive. Any other result is inconclusive; the character remains at death’s door and must roll again at the end of the next round.
A character can use an action to attempt to administer aid to a seriously wounded character, making an additional death roll for them. A successful roll has the same effect as if the injured character had succeeded, but a roll of one will only reduce the target’s health by one further, rather than outright killing them.
There are fates other than death that may befall characters; certain forms of injury, for example, may include effects beyond damage. The nature of these effects should be tailored to each case, as is appropriate and fitting to the story or situation.
A hot meal and a good night’s sleep will restore up to six health, but there are other methods of recovery when one is in a pinch for time. Sitting down for an hour and eating a meal is an effective pick-me-up. Any character who does this regains three health. This can be done up to twice a day, beyond which is a waste of time and food.
Magical spells, abilities, and potions are often the fastest way of restoring lost health, but also the most scarce. Some magical effects are even capable of temporarily increasing health beyond its maximum value.
A character who has lost all of their health but has succeeded at a death roll must recuperate before adventuring again. After being carried back to safety and shelter, they must spend at least a full week in bed. Once recuperated, a character is restored to full health but may have some kind of permanent scar or injury.
Items include clothing, armor, weapons, equipment, and gear: the things that characters carry, use, and wear. To help differentiate them, every item belongs to one of three kinds: common, special, or magical.
Most items are of the common variety: these are the everyday tools, equipment, and clothes found throughout the archipelago. Some common items can be more difficult to find or make than others, but, otherwise, there is nothing remarkable about them. Even so, giving individual common items a description and a little bit of personality is highly encouraged.
Special items, on the other hand, are just that: items that are unique, rare, or particularly important to the story. These are usually a specific copy of a common item that happens to be relevant to the story, and can be treated as such, with any details handled on a per-item basis.
Lastly, there are magical items: these extra-special items have been imbued with some form of magical power and are subject to their own rules. Some magical items share identical powers and effects, but each one is a unique and bespoke creation.
Carrying and Using Items
An item’s type determines how it can be used. Some items may be worn, while others can be wielded. All types of items may be carried, whether in hand or paw, strapped to a belt, or inside another item designed for the purpose. Characters can carry five items, two of which can be held in hand or paw. Items that are worn, such as clothing, armor, jewelry, or a backpack, do not count against the limit for carried items.
A character who is burdened with more items than the limit will become fatigued after just a few minutes of exertion, subtracting one from all rolls until they have had a short rest. Those whose abilities are Strong and Tough will persevere a little longer, becoming fatigued and in need of rest after an hour of carrying one or two items above the limit.
Some items are heavier or bulkier than others. These items can slow down or otherwise hinder a character who carries, wears, or wields them, regardless of what else they are carrying. Small items, on the other hand, can be grouped together into bundles of five, which are treated as a single item for carrying purposes.
Certain items are consumed with usage. Others are not inherently consumable but may be used in a disposable manner. Lastly, no item is indestructible—anything can be broken with enough effort.
Information about specific items can be found in the chapter Common Items.
Coins are similar to items and are often used to purchase them. Many currencies can be found within the Karst Archipelago—from the gilded drams of the floating cities to the rare and ancient gold cupos of the First Serpos Empire to the common union crowns minted by the guilds of the Eastern Woods—but there is only one denomination: the coin. No matter the currency, one coin (¢1) is worth as much as the next, and all coins are of a similar size and weight. For carrying purposes, a sack or pouch with up to ¢100 is considered a single item.
The Karst Archipelago is steeped in magic. From subtle illusions to overt transformations, the use of magic is not uncommon, though neither is it an everyday occurrence in the lives of most folk.
There are four types, forms, or traditions of magic, each with its own connection to the cosmology of the world. They are Theurgy, Thaumaturgy, Spiritism, and Deceit. These traditions and the spells they grant are discussed further in the chapter Magical Traditions.
A practitioner of magic is any character who can cast spells. This means that they have developed at least one level of the Concentration knack and a level in any of the four magical knacks—Theurgy, Thaumaturgy, Spiritism, and Deceit—which is how spells are learned. Each level of a magical tradition grants characters the knowledge of the equivalent level of that tradition’s spells. These spells and descriptions of their effects can be found in the chapter Magical Traditions.
As an action, a practitioner can cast any spell they know, with two conditions: they can cast only as many spells per day as they have levels of Concentration, and each individ- ual spell can be cast only once in a day. For this purpose, a “day” refers to the time a character goes between sleeping soundly. The effects of many spells are instantaneous and permanent, whereas other effects may grow with time or fade after a short while.
The methods by which practitioners cast their magic vary, whether gestures, words, or simple thought. In all cases, the act of casting takes only an instant but requires much concentration. If a character is restrained, has already been attacked in the current round of an altercation, or is otherwise harried, it is assumed that they are unable to concentrate enough to cast a spell.
Certain magical items and knacks grant characters the ability to use spell-like powers, though the possession of one or more of these powers does not make a character a practitioner of magic. Using such a power typically requires an action, much like casting a spell, but with rules specific to the item or knack in question. The effects of magical powers are often similar to those of specific spells and are described as being so.