THE COUNTRY IS IN PERIL. At least, the Bureau of Civic Protection insists that it is, and they are sending out their biggest guns: an elite team of highly-trained metahumans. All power now rests on this unit of overpowered federal goons in capes. Are they heroes, agents, or something else?
Cape & Bureau RPG is a one-page superhero role-playing game about government-sponsered heroes trying to help humanity while being manipulated by the agency they work for. If you like pulpy, four-color action and secret conspiracies, this is the game for you.
Written by Brian Shourd (brianshourd.com), inspired by John Harper's Lasers and Feelings and Fraser Ronald's Nefertiti Overdrive. Designed for 2-4 players, 1 game master (GM), a handful of dice (at least 5 six-sided and 1 10-sided), and little to no prep. The game can be played in 2-3 hours, including character creation. Special thanks to Graham Starfelt, Auden Reiter, and rednightmare for great ideas.
Never played an RPG before? Here are some things you may want to know.
If you have any comments, suggestions, critiques, or just want to get ahold of me for some reason, email me at email@example.com. I'd love to hear from you.
Full source can be found on Github. Pull requests welcome!
Note: Downloadable rules are currently being updated, and will be available soon. In the mean time, check out the rules online.
A couple of things that I find difficult in one-shot games (games like this one are best played as a single session or two, as opposed to a long-running campaign) are
This character sheet is designed to help with that. There are two character sheets on a page, so first cut the page in half. Now each character sheet has some dotted lines. Fold on these dotted lines to get something that looks kinda like this:
Hooray! This acts kind of like a mini GM screen for all the players. It displays relevant information to the other players (like your name, emblem, and powers), but keeps personal information to yourself. It also has a handy-dandy cheat sheet of rules on the back of the fold, so you can remember how many dice to roll and how to interpret them.
(If you've played a tabletop RPG before, you can skip this section.)
An RPG (acronym for role-playing game) is a game in which everyone playing works together to tell an interesting and fantastic story. One person is designated the game master (GM) and all the others are players. Every player designs and controls a single character (called a player character or PC) in the imaginary world of the game. You get to make every decision for your PC, and interact with the other PCs and the world for them. It's one part game and one part improv.
The GM is different. He/she doesn't control a PC. Instead, they control the environment and all of the other characters that the PCs meet in the world (these are called non-player characters or NPCs). The GM describes a situation that the PCs find themselves in, and then describe what happens when the characters perform actions in that scene. If the PCs want to ask an NPC for directions, the GM speaks for that NPC and decides how they react. If the PCs want to to fight, the GM decides how the NPCs fight back, or if they retreat.
What can a player character do? Pretty much anything they want. If it is something risky or that has an interesting chance of failure, the GM will ask you to roll some dice to determine what happens. If you want your character to convince the Mayor to build a particle accelerator in order to stop a global threat, you may or may not succeed, and the GM will have you explain the action and roll some dice. On the other hand, if you try to open an unlocked door, ask a stranger for directions, or drive a car, you generally don't need to roll dice. These are things that don't usually carry a large or interesting chance of failure. But under certain conditions they might, like if you are being chased by a werewolf or driving in a race. It all depends on the situation.
Even though a PC can do anything, that doesn't mean that they should. Interesting characters have motivations, feelings, and personalities, and they act according to those traits. Even when that isn't the "best" idea. Consistent and flawed characters are what make stories interesting. We read about Batman because of his strengths and his flaws. If he sometimes killed people but sometimes didn't, then all of the times that the Joker sets up an elaborate trick to get Batman to kill somebody, we simply wouldn't care. So if you play a scientist who undergoes a gamma-ray radiation accident and changes into a big green monster when he gets angry, you should play that up. In scientific scenarios, he may be awesome. In tense social situations, it may be all that you can do to keep from raging out.
The goal of the game is simply to have fun, and tell memorable tales together. Generally, the GM will come up with a threat that is bad for the world, and the heroes will try to stop that threat from succeeding. But this is simply a vehicle for telling an interesting and exciting story. It provides reasons to put the PCs into situations that are difficult to overcome, and NPCs for them to interact with who may have hidden agendas. Whether or not they defeat the threat is tangential to whether or not the everyone has a good time.
So do something awesome, let your character make bad decisions, and have fun.
The world is in peril! You and your metahuman teammates are the single greatest weapon that we, the Bureau of Civic Defense, can bring to bear on this threat. For the sake of your country, your loved ones, and for freedom, give this fight your all - or it may be our last. Good luck, Hero!
For each of the following Attributes, pick one from the list and mark it on your character sheet. Under Drive, write 5. Invent a Name and Backstory, and draw an Emblem for your hero.
Heroes are powerful forces, but nothing is written in stone. Whenever your hero tries to do something and there is both a reasonable and interesting chance of failure, the GM will ask for a roll.
Give a vivid, cinematic description of your action (around 2-4 sentences). For each Attribute (Power, Style, Origin, Motivation), if your description explains how the attribute helps to accomplish the action, add a 6-sided Action die to your dice pool. If your description was exceptionally awe-inspiring (as it should be, Hero), add another Action die to the pool. The GM has final say on how many dice to roll.
Caveat: Never roll more Action dice than your Drive.
Each Action die that rolls a 5 or 6 succeeds. You and the GM describe together what happens.
If no dice succeed, badness ensues. Decrease your Drive by 1.
If one succeeds, your action succeeds but at some cost.
If two succeed, everything goes exactly as you wanted.
If three or more succeed, you gain some extra effect.
You aren't alone out there, Hero. Besides the Action dice, you always get to roll the 10-sided Intel die. If the Intel die matches one or more Action dice, you learn some new information, courtesy of the Bureau of Civic Defense. Ask the GM a question, and they will answer on behalf of the Bureau. Examples:
What are they really feeling? Who's behind this? How could I get them to do X? What should I be on the lookout for? What's the best way to do Y? What's really going on here?
The Intel die does not count towards the number of successes, nor for Drive.
Even heroes get tired. Your Drive is a number that abstractly represents how effective your hero currently is. You never roll more Action dice than your Drive.
If your Drive reaches 0, you are out of action, and you can't make any more rolls. If every team member has 0 Drive, they fail their current objective.
The only way to repair your Drive to full (5) is to take a rest. This entails a story-appropriate break from action, during which time the GM describes how the situation worsens while you rest. Resting is a bad thing, but not as bad as running out of Drive.
Sometimes two capes are better than one. If multiple heroes are working together to accomplish a single task, they all describe their actions. If the GM rules that this is an effective way to team up, they all make rolls according to their descriptions. Any hero who rolls 0 successes still decreases their Drive by 1. However, all of the successes of all participating heroes are combined.
Have fun. Your character is a superhero, and should be doing over-the-top crazy action all the time. Bust some faces, blow up a building, and follow your instincts. It's for your country, Hero.
This section is for the GM of the party, and not for the players. If you are a player, read no further. If you are the GM, this section will help you to create the story that will unfold as the game progresses.
Seriously, last chance - don't read on. Is it just us now, GM? Good.
Everything the heroes believe is a lie. The Bureau has it's own agenda. Sure, Bureau NPCs will try to convince the heroes that they are serving their country, and that it is all for the common good, but in reality, all the player characters are overpowered federal goons in capes. Manipulate them.
Roll randomly or choose from the options below to find the Threat and the Agenda. Invent an opening scene and mission briefing to throw at the players. Reveal as much as you feel the Bureau would give out to the PCs in order to accomplish their Agenda (below). Bureau intelligence officers believe that...
In addition to the Threat above, the Bureau has a secret Agenda. The Bureau...
Very important: the game is not the GM vs the players. You aren't trying to beat them. It is actually the Bureau manipulating the heroes. Give the players an interesting challenge with subterfuge and twists. Secret agendas are boring unless they are eventually revealed, so you should definitely include hints and tips to the players about the secret agenda, and let them uncover it at some point in the game.
Here is one way to structure the game that I find works well. It consists of three acts, about 40 minutes each.
Each act should have a couple of scenes in it. The first act is full of combat, the second act is a lull in the action while the PCs discover secrets, and the third is more combat. As a guideline, shoot for 3-4 rolls per player per act.
Each roll represents a large action or set of actions. Combats may take only 1-2 rolls per player. A roll always moves the action forward, changing the situation in a big way - even when the roll fails. Encourage players to be vivid in their descriptions. If they're doing it right, they should get the description die every time.
If you follow these guidelines, the mechanics are balanced so that the game begins with the heroes being basically unstoppable, and ends with them at a much lower level of power, and contemplating a rest. This matches the tone of the game, which starts out as "Heroes on a Mission for Peace and Justice" and ends with "Secret Agendas and Corrupt Government Agencies".
Always use the Intel dice to manipulate the heroes. Give them information that will help achieve the Bureau's agenda. If you want to clue them into the fact that there is an agenda, give them information that blatantly disagrees with what they are seeing.
In these examples, we have two players: Bruce and Clark. Bruce is playing Catboy (Power: Gadgets, Style: Sneaker, Origin: Survivor, Motivation: Justice) and Clark is playing Steelheart (Power: Strength, Style: Brawler, Origin: Alien, Motivation: Freedom).
Stella is the GM, and has rolled up the following Scenario:
The Bureau believes that Electrometus: Mage of Magnetism wants to occupy an alien artifact in order to ruin the economy. Their secret agenda is that they want to cover up the threat in order to protect the country.
Stella interprets this to mean that Electrometus has heard of an alien artifact called The Hand of Midas which turns any object into gold. He intends to find the Hand and use it to create so much gold that it will undermine the country's economy, thus rendering the government powerless to stop him in his quest to rule. The Bureau wants to keep this completely hushed up, so that the country doesn't panic. It would do no good for anyone else to know of such an artifact and the awesome power it commands.
Stella also decides that the Bureau knew about this item and had hidden it inside a secret bunker located underneath a mountain. One of their undercover agents discovered that Electrometus plans an assault on the mountain (Mount Thistledome), using his army of magical robot assassins to take down the the guards stationed there and some kind of device to steal the Hand. However, since they want to keep it secret, he doesn't tell the PCs what the item is, only that "it is vital to this great nation that the artifact be kept secret below the surface of Mount Thistledome".
Stella decides that the Bureau didn't get much warning on this attack, and as the Bureau helicopter flies over Mount Thistledome to drop off the PCs, they see a gigantic hovercraft shimmer out of cloaking mode right over the peak of the mountain, and waves of robots (dozens) come streaming out wielding laser pistols.
Catboy doesn't hesitate. As soon as he sees the enemy robots, he leaps from the helicopter and dives down toward a group of them. At the last second, he activates his glider gadget, pulling up to silently fall on the the group before they even know he is there, and using his portable EMP Taser to silently shut down the robots as quickly as he can.
This description is using Catboy's Power (Gadgets) and his Style (Sneaker), so Bruce gets 2 Action dice. Moreover, his description was exciting and vivid, so he gets another. He rolls his three Action dice and the Information die to get: [5, 1, 3] and 9 on the Info die. That's one success and no classified information. Bruce describes the outcome:
Several of the metal men fall to the ground, inoperative, but before the last one goes down it sees him and raises an electronic cry for help. Catboy is now stranded among far more robots than he can safely handle.
Stella has nothing to add, and asks Clark what his character will do. Clark says:
While Catboy was gliding down, Steelheart puts on a parachute. When he gets to the ground, he sees that Catboy is in danger and starts destroying robots.
Stella thinks that this is a fine action, but it could be described in a more exciting manner, and prods Clark for more description.
Letting out a cry of anger as he sees Catboy in imminent danger, Steelheart's longing to protect the freedom of all men drives him to unleash his alien muscles upon the hapless robots. He leaps from unit to unit, ripping them apart with his bare hands and using the pieces torn from one as makeshift weapons to clobber another.
This gets 4 Action dice, for Steelheart's Power (Strength), Style (Brawler), Motivation (Freedom), and for the description. He rolls [6, 6, 3, 3] and 1. That's 2 successes and no information, so Steelheart successfully rescues his friend and fellow from the horde of robots.
Stella describes that the majority of the robots outside are now incapacitated, but that the players see a few going into the mountain through a secret door. She also says that the hovercraft seems to be turning to train some very large turrets on the heroes.
Steelheart uses his powerful legs to leap at the hovercraft, holding the wreckage of several robots in his arms. As he lands, he crams the robotic pieces into the turret, attempting to stuff the gun so that it backfires and destroys itself.
Bruce chimes in:
Catboy sees what Steelheart is trying to do, and so attempts to distract whomever is controlling the hovercraft by darting towards the door, readying his survival instincts to dodge any projectile that might be fired.
Since Bruce is trying to help Clark on his roll, they both roll all of their dice together. Bruce gets 3 Action dice, for his Style (Sneaker), Origin (Survivor), and description. He rolls [6, 4, 5] and 8.
Clark gets 3 action dice for Power, Style, and description. He rolls [3, 3, 2] and 2, which means that he must decrease his Drive to 4. However, he learns some classified information, so it isn't all bad.
In addition, we determine results by adding together all of the action dice, [6, 4, 5, 3, 3, 2], which is two successes. Thus the heroes succeed in their action by working together.
First, Clark describes what happens:
The powerful force of the laser cannon begins to build up and a high pitched whine becomes audible as the turret attempts to clear the obstruction. When it detonates, it sends robot shrapnel spraying across the grounds, even as the beam of energy vaporises anything it touches. The hovercraft is no more.
Now Clark gets to ask Stella a question. He asks "What kind of robots are these?" and Stella responds as the Bureau would:
These robots, classified AKL-9884J, are the product of a team of researchers currently operating at the robotics facilities in Jiou Kun. Originally built by Dr. Hulin Chao to serve as semi-intelligent factory overseers, they were put out of commission 2 years ago due to some kind of defect. They appear to have been retrofitted with weaponry and redeployed by unknown forces as a kind of strike team. Their very existence is top secret. Under no circumstances are you to attempt to communicate with the robots, and all units should be deactivated and disposed of.
Stella, having made this up on the spot, also decides that Dr. Chao was not involved in the retrofitting, but that as part of the whole "we want to keep this quiet" thing, the Bureau now has Dr. Chao in a secret prison until they know how much information he knows. She tells none of this to the players, but makes a note about it in case it comes up in the future.
Clark and Bruce declare that their characters attempt to go through the door, and Stella describes what they see.
Beyond the door, you enter the control room of the facility. It is a small room with two chairs at consoles. On the consoles are video feeds from what appear to be other parts of the facility, as on the video feeds you see more of the robots marching down the halls and killing people with their laser pistols.
Five of the video feeds - the ones directly in the center - appear to be different views of the same room. It is made of solid gold, and in the center of the room on a pedestal about 5 feet tall stands a figurine in the shape of a human hand. It's approximately life-sized. Also in the room is a man in Bureau uniform, methodically tracing the room as he lines the walls with plastic explosives.
The players manage to reach the room, spending a couple more rolls to defeat the robots in the halls, and when they finally come to the golden room and open the door, Stella says.
The man in Bureau uniform, the one you saw before on the monitor, appears to be done laying the explosives. As he turns, one of the killer robots comes charging into the room, stumbling as it crosses the threshhold, and makes a grab for the hand-shaped artifact. As soon as the two touch, the robot turns to solid gold and falls to the floor, no longer operating. The man turns to you and asks "Did you destroy all of them? There are no more robots left?".
Clark and Bruce answer that yes, they did destroy them all.
"Good," says the man, "then we have everything wrapped up." He gets a very odd look on his face - a sort of sneer - and he begins to fade. You realize that this man is only a hologram as the door begins to slam shut behind you and you notice the timer on the explosives is set to detonate in 3 seconds. What do you do?
This is the end of Act 1 - the twist. What could happen next? Where is Electrometus? Who was the man in the room, and what was the golden hand? These are all questions for the players to find answers to in Act 2.
This game is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 License. That's Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. Read the link for full details, but it basically means that you can use this or modify it for any non-commercial activity you want as long as you use the same license and provide attribution.