In the Court (ItC) is a role-playing game that gives to social dynamics, the attention and detail that such things as combat have typically enjoyed in other games. It is primarily concerned with social maneuvering and politicking, probably in some sort of court with high-born characters. Beyond social skills, ItC also emphasizes character motivations. Some of its other atypical features include multiple characters per player, scene framing, and other rules for organizing play.

This document are organized to familiarize you with the basic mechanics of the game first. Then, these mechanicsare steadily expanded upon with more complexities. The final third discusses techniques for actually playing, including getting set up, and how to organize things.



There are 15 abilities. Each ability describes skill in a particular area (there are no additional “skills” beyond these). Every ability defaults to level zero, and go up or down: -4 to 8 is the typical range. There are two kinds of abilities: social and physical, most are social.

Abilities also have edges: each edge is an area which the character excels in, compared to his general performance with the ability. A character gets three levels of edge for one point.

A new character probably spends about 20 points on all of his abilities. All 13 abilities are listed below with a brief description and some example uses. Possible edges are included in italics.

Social Abilities

Acting – Being able to feign an emotional state other than your own, or even to impersonate someone else convincingly, in terms of movement and general speech patterns (directly telling falsehoods uses the lying ability).

Argument – The art of arguing points convincingly, either formally or informally. Useful when haggling, or when trying to convince someone to do something. Legal Prosecution, Haggling.

Charm – To flirt and make advances at the opposite sex, and thereby get in someone’s favor, or maybe lure them into doing what you want.

Conversation – The ability to make polite conversation, to appear friendly, to introduce one’s self, and to seamlessly escape from an unpleasant encounter.

Learning – Knowledge of academic subjects and current politics. Mostly of use to impress similarly oriented people, or to discuss complex subjects with clarity.

Empathy – The ability to read other people, and to get information from them, by asking the right questions in the right way, or listening well, and interpreting what they say. Listening, Compassion.

Etiquette – Knowing the proper ways of dealing with people in an ultra-formal situation, like a royal ball or courtroom, and of speaking to one’s betters. Includes speech, body language, appropriate dress, and so on.

Lying – Both the ability to actually tell a falsehood convincingly, and without any tell-tale expression, and also to tactfully dodge questions and skirt issues.

Presence – One’s tendency to steal focus in a social situation; to have one’s ideas listened to over the din of crowded room, and to have one’s orders respected. Grand Entrance, Battlefield Orders, Crisis Management.

Streetwise – the Ability to fend for yourself outside the upper circles of society; to know where to find things in a city, including illicit goods, and knowing how not to draw attention to yourself.

Wit – The clever use of words, in games of conversation, riddles, or the hurling of insults.

Physical Abilities

Athleticism – General physical prowess in terms of strength, endurance, and agility. Stealth, Climbing, Riding.

Combat – Training and natural talent in physical combat, both armed and unarmed. Wrestling, Swordplay, Pistol.

Beauty – Physical good looks and common body language. Beauty is different in that losses in beauty contests cause injury in the social realm, while beauty is itself affected by injuries from the other physical abilities.


When one or more characters wish to demonstrate their aptitude in some area, or are required to, a contest is called for. First note who is and is not participating in the contest. If one character, or one group, is clearly initiating the contest (that is, being active), that side declares its action first. If the nature of the contest has not already been made clear (e.g. is it a contest of witty jokes, or a question of who knows more about a foreign country?).

Then, each contestant, starting with the active participant, states what he is trying to accomplish – or what his desired outcome would be – in general terms (if the contest is already well defined, nothing may need to be said here; “winning” is understood), and the abilities he will be using for it. Any ability that is relevant can be named, though the GM can overrule these. This continues for each participant. If there is no clear active/inactive distinction, and no clear chronology, then order of declaration should be randomized.

Each participant’s player rolls two six sided dice. The lower value of the two should be subtracted from the higher (if they are tied, the result is zero). All abilities being used are then added onto this number to get to result of the attempt. The total results from all characters are compared, and whoever scores higher wins.

A contest that is not between to players will be between a player and the GM. He may roll for another character in the game, or for the intrinsic difficulty of the task, based on the environment and other factors (for instance, sneaking around a house could be opposed by +1 for the guard, +1 for the many lanterns being used, and +1 for the dog, for +3 total). Note that the baseline from which oppositions begin is not 0, but -5, since at that point no roll will equal anything (in our example, -5 + 3 = -2, plus the roll).

The nature of the victory must then be described. This ultimately may fall on the GM, but the winning player can make statements about how he won if he chooses to. All contests are somehow relevant to the situation in which they were undertaken; the results should somehow affect this situation: favorably for the character who won, and unfavorably for whoever lost. If the difference between the different roll results was very high, the loser may suffer effects beyond those of the situation; see the damage section.

Matilde’s character, Elizabeth Atwater, is at a dance being held by the Duke, who she is trying to impress. She is talking to one of the Duke’s friends, trying to learn more about her fancy. Roger is the GM.

Roger: “Sir Duncan appears reluctant to talk about the Duke, and more interested in flirting with you himself....”

Matilde: “Well, I’ll try to ask about the Duke in subtle ways then. Using Empathy.”

Roger: “Okay, fine. I’m going to roll Sir Duncan’s own Empathy, in case he realizes you’re only interested in the Duke.”

Matilde rolls 2d6, and gets a 3 and a 5. Subtracted 3 from 5, her roll result is a 2. She adds on Elizabeth’s Empathy ability, which is at level 6, for a total of 8. Roger also rolls 2d6, and gets two 4’s, for a roll of 0. He adds Duncan’s own Empathy score of 4 for a total of 4. Elizabeth has won by a good margin.

Roger: “You win.”

Matilde: “The dim-witted lecher. I lead him on a bit, and then subtly ask about the Duke by bringing up the connections between him and Duncan.”

Roger: “You find out all about the Duke’s military career, and a little about his recent political dealings....”


One of the important aspects of contests is that the effects of one can very easily have an influence on subsequent related contests. Some times it will be clear when performing one contest that more will need to follow: for instance, first introducing yourself to a noble lord, then chatting him up, then finally asking for some important information. Other times, a contest will obviously have a connection to something previously.

In either case, the margin of success from the first contest will carry over as a bonus to the character’s attempt in the second. If the two contests are only partly related, the GM may decide that only half of the margin of success (or some other fraction of it) can be applied as a bonus. Occasionally, a whole string of contests will be related, and bonuses can successively carried over from one to the next.

While Elizabeth is still talking with Sir Duncan when the Duke enters the room. She wants to break off this boring conversation and talk to the Duke, but also doesn’t wish to appear overtly rude to Duncan. Matilde is going to roll her Conversation, and asks if she can get a carry-over from the past success, since it clearly put her in control of the situation.

Roger allows half of the margin of success to carry over. Matilde rolls the dice, and gets a 2. To this she adds Elizabeth’s Conversation ability, which is a 5, and half of the previous margin of success (which was a 4) for another +2, making 8 total.


Frequently in a contest, a player will be pitting his character’s abilities against those of another character, controlled by the GM or even another player. In these cases, the GM adds the abilities of the character to a roll just as a player would. However, in many cases, there may not really be a character to act against at all. For instance, a player’s character might be trying to climb a courtyard wall: there is no person who directly stops this from happening.

In these cases, the GM still rolls two six sided dice and adds a number to it. This number is generically called the “opposition” no matter if it comes from a character’s ability, or somewhere else. If there is not character, the GM will decide on a number that reflects the difficulty of the task. Frequently this will involve coming up with propertied, abilities in a sense, to attribute to the environment. In the example above, the wall could be sheer, and damp. Its sheerness could be rated at 3, and its dampness at 1, therefore making the total opposition to climbing it -1 (-5 + 4 = -1). Keep in mind that no opposition at all is really opposition of -5, not 0.

Barry’s character, Simon de Croix, needs to get into the boathouse because he suspects his lover is in there with another man, but the door has been locked shut. Therefore, he will have to break in with force. Barry will use Simon’s Athleticism ability, which is a 3. He rolls a 6 and a 4, giving him a final result of 5. The GM has decided that the door is fairly heavy, although the lock is small, for a total opposition of 1. The GM rolls and gets a 3, for a total of 4: Barry, and Simon, have won. “Okay,” says the GM, “Simon shoulder the door once and it won’t give. He looks around and finds a rod which he uses to lever it open without much difficulty though.”

Ascribed Qualities

In some instances, a player character will want be opposed in a contest by another character, but that character does not exactly have any ability to pit against the player: it is either the situation involving the character that is generally opposing, or some quality of the character’s personality, that is not defined by an ability. In these cases, the GM may create qualities, which act as abilities, and ascribe them to the opposing character. They work just like any other kind of opposition. A quality can be nearly anything: too much beer, a dislike for blondes, or a tendency to be bored by academic conversation. The GM may in fact have to ascribe qualities for players’ characters as well, obviously with their help.

Simon de Croix, is trying to find out where his friend disappeared to at the end of the party. Unfortunately, the doorman has become rather tipsy. Barry will roll Empathy to try to talk some sense out of the man. The doorman is not actively trying to resist this, but his drunken state gets in the way…therefore, the GM decides to ascribe to him a “drunken” quality at level 0 that will oppose Barry.


Characters are not just assemblages of skills, but have personalities and desires of their own. Motivations describe the underlying feelings that drive a character to action. Each one describes a single ideal, dream, passion, hatred, moral imperative, etc. Above all, they should be emotional.

In play, motivations help a character to achieve his ends. Whenever a contest is entered and a motivation is relevant, the numerical rating of the motivation is added onto the roll result as a bonus, just like an ability. More than one motivation can be used.

Beginning characters should usually have at least three separate motivators, and spend eight points between them. Note that motivations are very powerful! A character who applies his motivations as much as possible will always be able to do more than one who doesn’t.

Elizabeth Atwater has three motivations:
Desire to marry the Duke (4)
Hatred of her rival, Denise Milbank (2)
Love of her sister Mildred Atwater (2)

Matilde is rolling to see if Elizabeth can attract the Duke over to her with a pleasant smile. Her beauty is 3, so with a roll of 2, she would have a total of 5. However, her desire to marry the Duke makes her work all the harder: she gets a +4 bonus, for a total of 9.


A flaw is some kind of weakness a character has, which extends beyond a deficiency in an abilities. Every time a situation in the game involves a flaw, the character receives a penalty equal to the flaw’s rating for any action he wishes to attempt. Flaws are things that a character cannot control, and probably does not like about himself: for instance, fear of speaking in front of audiences, alcoholism, or a rubber-neck. Flaws usually induce unpleasant behavior in themselves.

When a flaw comes into a contest is generally determined by the player, but the GM can call for its use as well. If a contest is failed because of a flaw, part of the end-of-contest narration should involve the character succumbing to his flaw. Conversely, success implies that he overcomes it.

Characters should have at least four points in flaws, total (meaning that he gets four more points to spend elsewhere).

Simon has two flaws:
Extreme Personal Pride (2)
Jealous (2)

He is embroiled in an argument in the middle of the street, with a man he has a personal dislike for. The man begins to insult Simon and questions his abilities as a soldier. Simon will be rolling his Wit to make a good comeback, but his great pride may get in the way...Barry rolls for Simon and gets a 3. He adds Simon’s Witt, a 1, but has to subtract Extreme Personal Pride of 2; making for a total of 2. Simon sputters and yells curses, but has failed to really best his rival. If only he could control his temper....


Goals are specific applications of motivations: each one is a single thing that the character would like to accomplish himself. Goals can be very small: winning a smile from a knight across the room; or more involved: assassinate the duke before the end of the night. Either way, they are specific. Character have a set number of points distributed between all of their goals, equal to their total number of motivation points. A player can shift points around as seems appropriate to reflect the desired of the character.

When a goal is accomplished, the character receives a number of “Character Points” (CPs). The number of CPs given commonly equals the goal rating, but is entirely up to the GM. When a goal is completed or becomes impossible or undesirable, the goal points go back into an unused pool to be redistributed.

Goals are mostly an aid to players, and the GM, to keep track of what characters are going after at a given moment. Sometimes a character will do something in support of his motivations that are not represented by a goal. This is not necessarily relevant, and CPs can still be given out, as though goal points had been shifted into the task right before it was done, and then shifted back.

When Elizabeth Atwater goes to the Duke’s party, she has only two goals:

Impress the Duke (6)
Find out if her Sister’s fiancée (who is overseas at war) has deserted (2)


When a character loses a contest very badly, he may receive an injury. Injuries occur if the margin of failure (the difference between the character’s total attempt and that of his opponent) is three or greater. I this case, the injury is at level one; every additional point of difference increases the injury by one.

Injuries are incurred for each type of ability (and resources) separately, depending on what the contest was based on. Injuries apply penalties to all subsequent actions in the same realm (social, physical, or resource), e.g. a level 4 social injury causes a -4 penalty to all social contest rolls.

Injuries naturally fade as time passes. Consult the following table for period which must elapse for an injury to be reduced by one level. All injuries of a given type are lumped together numerically.

Social / Mental Physical Resource
5 minutes 2 days 1 week

Some injuries are permanent however. An injury of level 5 or greater causes a permanent reduction in the ability that was used in the contest. If more than one ability was used, choose whichever was highest; the character’s player can decide ties. The ability goes down by one point.

Donovan Harwick is sitting in on a dinner at Oxford University with some Dons. They are all discussing current politics and matters of theology, which he is woefully ignorant of. Rather than simply try to keep silent though, his player decides to have him try to fake his way through as best he can. He rolls for Donovan’s Learning ability, a 0, and gets a total of 2.

The GM rolls for the conversation level of the Dons in general, gets a 5. Donovan loses by a margin of 3 (5 - 2 = 3). This causes Donovan to receive a level 1 injury: his ego has been hurt.

After a few minutes, the conversation turns to Law. Although hardly an expert, Donovan is studying to become a lawyer, and has a Learning edge of +2 on legal matters. Hoping to recover from his earlier embarrassment, he tries to impress the Dons again. Donovan’s player rolls again, getting a 2. To this he adds Donovan’s Learning, 0, and Law edge, +2, but also has to subtract the injury, -1, for a total of 3. The Dons roll high again, and for a second time Donovan makes himself look foolish!

Once the meal is over with, Donovan steps outside to have a smoke with the friend who invited him. He laments the dinner, but the injuries have by this time worn off.


Most characters tend to be well known for something or another, and this influences the way other people interact with them. Reputations describe a particular perception that is held about the character; this perception may or may not be accurate, it need merely be popular. Character can have many reputations, possibly even contradictory ones.

Each reputation is rated numerically. In any social contest in which the reputation would apply, its rating is used as a bonus or a penalty to the player’s roll; which one depends on whether the character is playing up his reputation or attempting to go against it. For instance, a mighty warlord might be known for cruelty: when he tries to impress a foreign king by punishing one of his own servants, he gets a bonus. Conversely, if the same warlord tried to earn the favor of an innocent young princess, he might get a penalty.

Characters usually have four points to distribute between as many reputations as they wish. Reputations can be restricted to certain groups of people or geographic areas. Restricting a reputation in some way makes it cost half (for one point spent, the reputation is at level 2). Reputations that are negative cost negative points.

Unfortunately, Donovan Harwick has a history of opening his mouth on subjects he knows nothing about. However, he’s known for other things as well:

Unintelligent (1) Brave (2)
Excellent Fencer (1)


Resources are similar to abilities but work a little differently. They describe types of power that a character has outside of his own personal skills, like an important office, or wealth. There are three resource types: Political, Economic, and Military. Political resources might be used to instate a tariff on incoming goods in the land, apply pressure on a duke to retire, or incite the people of a city to riot. Economic resources can be used to buy things, but it can also be used to bolster other resources (see below). Military resources allow a character to quell a mob, capture a foreign land, or beat up a rival.

For any of the resources, what can be accomplished with a simple contest is usually limited. For one thing, doing anything grandiose takes planning and time, so the contest is difficult. Also, except in special circumstances, a player cannot use CPs or his motivations to give a bonus to his roll: the action is too far removed. See the following table for guidelines as to what is possible, and how hard it is.

Opposition Political Economic Militaristic
0 Escape sumptuary laws. Rent a nice place to stay for a few weeks. Having a peasant muscled up.
3 Get a guild to ease membership requirements. Buy some flashy jewelry. Capture a traveling duke and hold him for ransom.
6 Incite one guild against another. Lift tariffs on foreign tea. Pay off a friend’s large debt. Quell a riot with experienced troops.
9 Organize a city-wide revolt. Purchase a villa. Bring about a military coup. Capture a foreign territory.

Failure at a resource roll incurs penalties just like in a regular contest, an “injury” to the resource if the margin of failure was high enough.

There is, however, a way to do more with resources: by “committing” them. To commit a portion of a resource (in terms of its numerical rating) is to devote money, troops, aids, etc. exclusively to a single task for some period of time. Doing so grants a bonus on the resource roll equal to the amount of resources being committed. However, the resource will then be temporarily reduced in effectiveness: whatever was committed is occupied, and cannot be used for other tasks. The committed resources return after a period of time: whatever seems reasonable for the task to be completed, or a week, whichever is longer. If the task fails, the resources usually regenerate in a week or less.

Economic resources are not, in themselves, very useful. However, money can also be used to achieve political or military ends. It can be committed to contests of either other category.

Giuseppe is a great architect of Florence. Unfortunately, one of his rivals has managed to somehow delay a critical shipment of stone that he needs to a commission. Giuseppe does not have the time to visit the city when the shipment is personally, so he has to rely on friends and contacts.

His player will use his Politics resource, which is level 3. Because this is an important task, he will commit one point of it to the task. For the roll then, his Politics is effectively level 4. He gets a 7 total, easily enough to defeat his rival. The GM describes that using a few messengers, he contacts his friends in the distant city, and gets his rival brought up on petty charges. The shipment is still late, but arrives a few days later. Having called in some favors, however, Giuseppe will not have quite as much political power at his disposal for a while. He hopes he doesn’t’ need it again soon.

Character Points

Characters Points (CPs) represent a character’s internal strength: his self-confidence, and power to act. CPs are awarded upon the completion of goals.

CPs can be used to help a character in a contest roll. Unlike simple bonuses though, which effectively raise the character’s ability rating, CPs provide extra dice that can be rolled: each CP grants one extra die to roll above the normal two. The lowest roll is still subtracted from the highest normally. Thus, the use of CPs does not allow a character to perform any better than he usually does (only motivations do that), but they do allow him to perform reliably as well as he possibly can.

Giuseppe finally begins construction on his great dome! The dome means so much to him, that a minor goal was just to get the foundation down: the first milestone. The goal was level 2, so Giuseppe gets 2 Character Points.

A few days later he is haggling with a merchant over the cost of the decorations for his daughter’s wedding. He can’t afford to spend a fortune, but wants it to be lavish. His Argument ability is 2, but this merchant’s is high as well, he suspects. Therefore, he spends 2 Character points to help him.

Giuseppe’s player rolls 4 dice total: 2 that are always rolled, plus one from each CP. He gets a 1, 4, 3, and 6. As usual, he subtracts the lowest from the highest to get 5. Adding Giuseppe’s Argument, he has a total of 7.

Character Change

Characters may change a great deal in the course of play session, chiefly in terms of motivations and goals. Abilities may also go down a little if a bad failure has been suffered. However, characters can in fact improve their abilities, and even gain new ones. This occurs with the expenditure of character points, usually between sessions. By spending three CPs, an ability can be raised one level. Spending one CP will raise or create an edge (at level one).

Flaws can also be eliminated during play, with an additional expenditure of CPs. Reducing a flaw by one level requires three points; if reduced to level zero, it ceases to exist. Alternately, a character can gain additional flaws if his player so chooses, or increase an existing one. In this case, the number of CP redeemed is theoretically also three per point, but these CP must be spent immediately on abilities or edges.

As with any other character change (i.e. changes in motivations or goals), acquiring new abilities or flaws must be justified in terms of the game plot. For instance, for a character to become a swordsman, he must have demonstrated a great urge to do so, and must then have several months free to devote to training, as well as the ability to acquire expert instruction; a nobleman’s busy servant can do none of these things. The other players in a game, including the GM, should (as always) voice any concerns they have.

Simon de Croix has just been challenged to a duel. His opponent, however, has business abroad, and the two have agreed to postpone the duel for three months. Simon goes back to his country house and hires a fencing instructor. He has five CP, so decides to spend 3 on raising his Combat ability, and the other two raising the edge Fencing by two levels.

Since Simon has the time and money to invest in this endeavor, and would reasonably be well motivated to attempt it, the GM gives the go-ahead without any additional rolls (if Simon had been less well off, an Economics resource roll might have been called for). Simon trains hard, and emerges, in three months, with a Combat ability not of 0 (what it was before), but 1, and a Fencing edge of +2, for a total Fencing roll bonus of +3…hopefully enough to beat his opponent.


The primary rule is group consensus. First, the group must decide on the general area they wish to play in: a court in feudal Japan, a robber baron’s hall, the fractured papal court in Avignon, etc. Then its members must together decide no the kind of play they want, in terms of what it will revolve around: detailed politics, romances, factional coups…or perhaps anything goes.

Character Creation

Every player will control one (or more) characters during the game. The first step is defining who these characters are, and why they are important. The best tool to do this with, is the character map. A character map identifies key figures and their inter-relationships. Since this is a game of social and political maneuvering, inter-relationships are very important; they can be familial, political, economic…anything.

There are several ways to use a character map. It is useful throughout play, so at the very least, it should be set up for use then. However, it can also be useful for actually creating characters. For instance, you could start with a king, and then identify the major courtiers in his palace, each of whom could then be created in detail and played by a single person.

A typical character gets 35 points to spend on all his various qualities; flaws count negatively. However, most of the time, each player will control more than one character. One of these will be the player’s primary characters, and the rest will be secondary. There are three methods to character creation:


Each player makes a primary character and some closely related secondary characters, using 65 points total.


Players make a primary character (with 35 points) and then write brief outlines of some closely related characters. These are randomly distributed to other players for them to make (each getting another 30 points).


The group as a whole thinks up a basic social map, with key figures and related characters. Each player chooses some characters he is interested in, and designs them, getting 65 points total. Alternately, all the different names could be randomly distributed as above. In the end, those characters who are “primary” are separated out by group consensus.


One important aspect of each character is his motivations and goals: these will keep the action going. However, it is especially important to start each game with a bang, so “kickers” are also used. A kicker is some event in a character’s life that has sudden and immediate importance, and which will cause him to act in some way. Usually it will relate to his motivations.

For instance, a kicker could be “Brother was just murdered by unknown assailants.” This provides immediate impetus for a character to do something, rather than just go about his daily routine, or slowly advance his agenda. Kickers are usually things visited on a character from the outside, but they could also be internal (e.g. “Recently found god”) if they directly explain some motivations or goals. Kickers can also be anticipated events (“The king is about to return from a long absence to reclaim his realm.”), as long as it stirs the character to action. Kickers are not optional: at least every main character needs one. Secondary characters may or may not, at the discretion of whoever makes them.

Divvying up Characters

After all the important characters of the game (at least all those needed initially) have been created, it is still an open question as to who will play them. Again, there are several methods (though not all of them are compatible with every creation method from above).


Each player gets the one primary character (probably that he himself made), and all closely related or allied secondary characters.


As above, but a player only plays a secondary character if his primary one is not in a given scene. If both are to appear in the same scene, then some other player (randomly chosen) controls the secondary character.


Players always control the same secondary characters, but they are randomly assigned at the beginning of the game from the total pool. Players might control the primary characters that they themselves made, or also select those at random.


Players play different characters each session, or even switch characters in the same session! At the beginning of each play session and (optionally) after a major scene change, primary and secondary characters are randomized and redistributed. This can be a cyclic process, so that control rotates, or it can be randomized (or a combination of the two for the two types of characters).


The rules so far will have familiarized you with the details of how to mechanically resolve trials and create characters, but they do not really describe how to play: there are many possible ways for a group to play using the above mechanics! This section will describe the act of play itself.


“Narration” is the simple act of describing the world the characters live in: what the palace ballroom looks like, what your character does or says, how he feels at the moment, etc. There is a lot of other conversation between players that goes on in a game, but narration is the end result of most of it, and what ends up driving the plot forward. Narration from a player (or a GM) is not in any way limited to “I,” that is the first person. Some people feel more comfortable in that mode, others prefer third person. Similarly, some people like to be very descriptive, while others prefer to stick to actions and events. What style of narration a person uses is up to him, within the context of the group.

Who has the ability to narrate is determined partly by the rules, and partly just by the group’s common consensus. Most basically, the GM has the power of narration almost any time. It is his job to set up situations, describe the actions of other characters in the world, and so forth. Players can have input into the unfolding world as well though, and not necessarily just through their characters. The following sections will describe how to distribute narrative power.

Order and Setting up Contests

Say that the characters of a group are all at a fancy ball. Each wants to do something: talk to the foreign minister, flirt with the princess, pass a note to the governess….what happens, and in what order? The short answer is, it depends. Wanting to do something is where it all begins though. The usual order to resolving such a want is as follows:

  1. A player announces a desire for his character to do something.
  2. The GM decides the action is possible and whether a contest is necessary.
  3. If a contest is required, the player states what abilities he is using, perhaps reiterating his character’s basic intention.
  4. The GM decides on the opposition, and the contest is resolved with die rolls.
  5. The effects of the contest are narrated, primarily by the GM but with input from the player.

Step one is simple enough: a player makes some kind of statement about an intended action. If possible, it should be very general, like “My character needs to escape…” but sometimes there is no choice but to be fairly specific: “I want to tell him about his brother’s death.” Either one is a statement of intention, and might precipitate a contest. Alternately, a player might simply announce something about his character’s thoughts or goals, but no further stages on the chart are necessary.

If the intended action is easy or will logically occur, then it should, without further questions. The GM can narrate the event himself, but should generally allow the player to do so if he wants to.

Opposition to a player’s character can take the form of a GM controlled character, another player character, or the environment itself. For instance, a character who wishes to reach a guard post must contend with fierce winter storms. Remember that the character intention will by nature be vague, so only general kinds of opposition are necessary: a character trying to steal some jewels should not be opposed by a particular tripwire, but rather by “booby-traps” in general.

Only once a contest is resolved mechanically are precise statements about it made: the exact nature of the character’s attempted action, the opposition, and how they interact may finally be narrated. Appropriate ramifications from the contest should always be included: does the result help the character in his goals or harm him, and in what way – if a contest has no ramifications, then it shouldn’t have been a contest at all!

If multiple players want to do things at the same time, the GM must decide which action naturally would occur first, or must simply resolve the actions in an arbitrary order (with the understanding that they actually unfold simultaneously of course).

In general, it is the GM whose job it is to normally narrate how events unfold in the end. However, this is only by default, so that the “buck” stops somewhere. Players are encouraged to help narrate events, in terms of their character’s reactions, and details of the action. This is not a case of players getting “too much power,” to gain an advantage: they have every much a right to describe what happens as does the GM. If they say something unreasonable, there are other steps that can be taken (just as when the GM says something unreasonable).

Roger, Matilde, Barry, and Eric are playing, with Roger as GM. Simon de Croix and his nephew, Donovan, are sitting in sitting in the parlor of Simon’s brother (not present) with Elizabeth Atwater, who has come to convince Simon not to go ahead with the duel between himself and Elizabeth’s love, Duke Tattersall.

Barry (as Simon): “Enough! Honor demands I go through with the duel, and I am well prepared to do so. The Duke will do his best, and so shall I. I understand your fears my lady, but I can do nothing. Good day.” (dropping out of character) I’ll curtly stand up and motion for Donovan to leave the room as well.”

Matilde (playing Elizabeth): “I’ll ask the young man if he sees nothing wrong with this.”

Eric (playing Donovan, speaking at the same time as Matilde): “I’ll do that.”

Roger: “Okay...Donovan starts to walk out of the room but Matilde begins to talk to him anyway. What will you do, Eric?”

Eric: “I’ll stay and listen to her for a moment.”

Barry: “I get angry, and will yell for Donovan to leave the room.”

Matilde: “I’ll try to yell over him, and ask Donovan directly about what he saw that day in the church.”

Roger: “We’ll need a contest to see who comes out on top in this shouting match. Probably with Presence.”

Matilde: “Can I get my motivation for the Duke to count here?”

Roger: “Hm...okay, that makes sense.”

Matilde: “Good.” She rolls. “Three and five...two total, plus four and one, gives seven.”

Roger: “Barry? How does Simon do?”

Roger: “Presence of three. Simon really doesn’t want Donovan to talk about what Simon thinks he knows...I’ll spend a Character Point here.” Rolls. “Two, Three, and Six, makes four. Total of seven.”

Roger: “A tie. Okay, you’re both yelling and trying to get Donovan to do something...but you mostly just end up yelling incomprehensibly. What do you want to do Eric?”

Eric: “I want to try to gauge how much Elizabeth knows. Using Empathy, plus motivation of loyalty to Simon, since I want to protect him.”

Roger: “Okay. Elizabeth is trying to be earnest, right?”

Matilde: “Right.”

Roger: “So it’s not like she’s resisting…but this is all from facial expression and tone of voice, mostly. So since there was so little conversation, and she’s yelling now, the opposition will be one. Roll, Eric.”

Eric: “Three total.”

Roger: “Okay, two total here. You win, but just barely.”

Eric: “Well, I’m getting pretty suspicious then: that wasn’t just an innocent question, and I bet she knows something about Jacqueline and the church...I’d better get out of the room.”

Resolving Disputes

Sometimes, a player (including the GM) will say something that seems dubious: it does not “fit” with the story, is illogical, or there is some other problem with it. In these cases, the rest of the players are free to voice their concern, and are in fact encouraged to do so. If objection to something is strong enough, a particular player can be “overruled,” and should take back his narration; replacing it with something acceptable (probably with some specific suggestions).

A key thing to remember is the idea of intellectual property. Everything in a game is owned not by the GM alone, but by the entire group jointly. Thus, to say something that the group finds unreasonable is to disregard the group’s rights. Each player has particular rights of his own though, for each controls a character (even if it changes at some point). To player has the right to dictate what someone else’s character thinks, feels, or does; doing so is called “deprotagonization.” On the other hand, players should always be open to insight from others.

When a dispute over what is reasonable seems intractable, a vote should be made, with ties broken by the GM; however, deprotagonization should never be allowed to occur, regardless. Remember though, to keep things friendly, regardless of disputes about the game. If your group can’t get along, then that needs to be addressed outside of the game.

Scene Changes

For the plot to go forward, and for contests to occur, there has to be a physical place for them to occur: characters must be together, free to interact. The scene is simply the physical location, in space and time, where the action is currently taking place. The details of it can be important not just for setting the tone and giving contest to character actions, but also for providing direct opposition in certain types of contests.

To be in a scene, one has to have “framed” it. Framing a scene is simply a matter of describing it, including what place the players’ characters have in it. Scene framing is a technique that implies something beyond taking active interest in defining setting: the omission of trivial details in between “scene.” A scene is, after all, an arbitrary place and time, and could be anything. What really makes a scene though, is a place and time that are significant to the story. Too often, players can fall into a rut of boringness:

“So…what do you want to do now?”
“Uh, well I guess I’ll eat some breakfast…and then, uh, get dressed.…”

Why not, instead, cut to the next interesting thing? This is what scene framing is all about.

Ending a Scene

Before a new scene can be framed, the last one has to end. Generally, this should occur when nothing interesting is going on there, and when everyone has nothing left to do. A change of scene is often initiated by the GM when he senses these things: he will usually say something like: “Okay, let’s cut to the next scene, okay?” If there are no objections, the scene changes. Players can do exactly the same thing.

Eric has just decided that his character, Donovan, wants to leave the room. It’s apparent that the scene isn’t over yet, even though he’s out of it, however, since Elizabeth and Simon are still yelling over one another. Once Donovan leaves, they both try to conceal how anxious they are, and Elizabeth does her best to politely leave. Simon is alone in the room.

Eric: “I’ll actually leave out the back door, and go to the library or something.”

Barry: “Oh, I was going to talk to him. Too late. I guess that’s that scene.”

Deciding on a Scene

Scene framing is often done by the GM, but can involve heavy player input as well. Deciding what scene should come next depends on what came last, and on what the main characters in the story are planning on doing…that is, what their players want to see happen next. Scene framing should always take the form of a discussion, initiated by whoever called for a scene change. That same person should suggest a new scene if he has one in mind. Generally, the (chronologically) next relevant scene anyone can think of should be the one used. Some times a player will have a scene in mind which is not apparently important to the others, but they may choose to give him some leeway and allow it. The GM, of course, knows that some unexpected event might be important, so will frequently be calling for scenes the players have no knowledge of.

Matilde: “I want to go to the church. Maybe I can find someone else there who saw what happened.”

Roger: “Okay. Anything else before then? No? Okay. The Church of St. Mathew is very pretty in the Autumn sunset....”

Creating the New Scene

When a scene is framed the basics of it should be described. Usually whoever suggested it or the GM starts. If it is a location that the players have never visited before, it should be described. Relevant details like season, weather, time of day, and so on can be made up as necessary, if they were not already discussed. Important items and other characters should all be mentioned, and the players’ own characters, including what they are doing when the scene begins, should be described. If one player runs out of steam while doing this, others can suggest facts to be added to the scene. When there are enough (by common consent), play can resume.

One important thing to keep in mind is that a scene needn’t begin with the arrival of the player’s characters: the king’s annual speech could be half way over when things get interesting. Similarly, there’s no reason for every main character to be in a scene. In fact, this often won’t make any sense, and is why secondary characters exist! If there is no place in a scene for any of a particular player’s characters, he should play some other character who is present, if possible, or he might be allowed to take control of another player’s character. Of course, some scenes only call for two characters, so most of the players will have to sit it out. Try to keep these scenes short, so everyone can get back in on the actions in as short a time as possible. A final note is that while chronological order is usually the norm, no rule precludes the use of flashbacks, or even premeditations (though this is difficult), as long as the players are willing to give it a shot.

Roger: “So you are talking to some lay monks, Matilde. They were busy cleaning up some kind of big mess.”

Matilde: “Okay. Elizabeth is now dressed in something decidedly more humble. The chamber is empty but for her and two monks. Why don’t you two play the monks?”

Eric and Barry nod their assent.


In the Court is still very much in “beta.” I have presumed a fair bit of knowledge on the part of my reader, but still, there may be rules and techniques of play that are unclear or which leave questions…and of course, there may be rules that in practice do not work out as planned, or work out at all. I welcome any all feedback regarding the mechanics, the rules for playing, the concepts, and the writing itself.

Credit goes to the games and designers of games which had part in inspiring some aspect of ItC, and to people whose ideas in conversation had the same. Particular credit goes to Paul Czege (scene framing and ascribed qualities), Ron Edwards (ordering play, narration, kickers and disputes), Jakes Norwood (motivations), Ars Magica (stables of characters). None of the above are necessarily solely responsible for the creation of the ideas listed with them, but they at least influenced by thoughts on them. I should also give thanks to The Forge in general, home of many useful discussions, and maintained by Ron Edwards and Clinton R. Nixon.

Note that I’m still considering alternate titles. The original working title was the anachronistic and yet strangely descriptive “Egomancer,” which I’m still fond of in a way. If you have a good idea, please send it over!