Skip to main content

Index Card RPG - Runehammer Games

I don't often review games - I'm usually too busy playing and find it hard to come up with things to say that aren't just lists of rules that I like or dislike, but I'm going to make an exception now and make a suggestion:

You should buy Index Card RPG.

Not so much a suggestion as an unsubtle instruction I guess.   But let me explain why.

Some time ago, no idea how, my YouTube meanderings brought me across a channel about Dungeons and Dragons - The title was as unsubtle as my suggestion - "Drunkens and Dragons - How to play D&D like a big old bad ass."    My interest piqued by the approach I watched, despite not believing anyone could tell me anything new about D&D.

Ah the folly of approaching senility.

The channel was run by one Hankerin Ferinale the nom-de-jeux of one Brandish Gilhelm whose real name is as player-character worthy as his assumed name.   Hankerin (for so I always think of him) presented a series of episodes about room design, rpg theory, rules essentials... all stuff I've been doing for decades.   But he still hooked me, fired me up and got me thinking.   Hankerin presented his ideas with an infectious enthusiasm that could not help but be inspiring.   His focus was on making the gaming experience more direct and more fun at the table and stripping away everything that got in the way of that.   And then he released an RPG that embodied all these principles.   I bought it right away.

Now here's a confession, and an awkward one.   I've never run ICRPG.   I may never run ICRPG.   But was it worth the money?  Hell yes.   Let me tell you why:

If you do decide to run ICRPG you will get a system that allows you to quickly make up distinctive characters in a variety of settings - from the evocative fantasy world of Alfheim to the futuristic space opera of Warp Shell.  Or mix and match them.   Later iterations of the ruleset include a Weird West campaign background and rules for dealing with horror and suspense stories.   All using the same system, all without losing any of the flavour and efficiency of the system.

The rules are as simple as they come but they aren't vague in the way some rules-lite systems are.  It's a d20 Roll Over system but with a few tweaks.  Characteristics are reduced to the modifiers to that roll.  Character type adds more options and bonuses.    Loot gathered during the course of play gives bonuses with conditions based on what it is.     This same rulebase covers combat and non-combat skills alike.    In a move I haven't seen anywhere else before every roll can be handled like combat with a result (success/failure) and an effect:  In combat as we're all used to the effect is damage.  In other skill use you still make an effect roll based on who you are and what you're using and complex tasks can be accomplished in stages... just like taking down a goblin would be in a fight.   Want to pick a lock, a complex lock?  Well make a roll to succeed each turn and each time you do another dice roll moves you closer to the lock popping open.     Since ICRPG keeps the focus within measured turns and there is always a timer ticking down this adds real suspense to any task.

Timers did you say, Finn?  Yes I said Timers.    

I Love Timers

Did I mention I haven't run ICRPG yet and can't see myself doing so for the foreseeable future?  I have about four or five campaigns on the go at the moment using a mix of homebrew and official systems.  I don't want to start something new.    But what I am doing is stealing elements from ICRPG to make things more exciting and Timers is one such element.

What Hankerin does is give every scene one or more time pressures - making them known to the players and overt.   Usually a roll of a dice sets the starting number which ticks down each turn that the player characters act.  When it reaches zero something bad happens - reinforcements, collapsing ceiling, transformation of the floor into angry stoats, something.   It always escalates things.  And that simple little technique adds so much tension you have to try it to believe it.   

I used it recently during a game of Masks.   My group of teen supers were raiding a stealth-battleship to rescue some abducted kids and a climactic battle took place in a room where one of the kids was about to be experimented on (Seraphim's kid brother Tomas, master of extortion and seeing things he shouldn't).   An early move by one of the player characters badly damaged the big lit-up gizmo in the heart of the room and I decided there and then to employ a Timer.

"You can tell it's going to blow in... three rounds."

Now rounds in Masks are pretty vague but everyone kind of knew what that meant.   Suddenly they had to deal not only with the bad guy, the henchman and rescue Tomas from a surgical table where he was strapped but they had to do it all in a handful of actions.

In my favourite moment of the session on the very last round before the Timer ticked to zero, Two-Blade delayed their own escape from the room to slam the bad guy onto the table and lock their arm to one of the restraints.  One mad dash later and Two-Blade got out and slammed the door... the bad guy wasn't so lucky (but you know the old rule - if you don't see the villain's body he's halfway to Acapulco).

Without the Timer the urgency would not have been there.
Without the Timer that cool moment would have seemed like arbitrary fluff.

And Timers are just one of the things that make ICRPG so cool.

What's the best bit?

The very best thing of all though is Hankerin's 'voice' which comes through in every part of the game.   He clearly loves what he does and he communicates that with every bit of advice, every example of play, every suggestion for how the game can be used.    If you feel a bit jaded as a GM I challenge you to read this book and not be hungry to get to the table and revolutionise your games either by using ICRPG as is or, as I'm doing, stealing parts from it and frankensteining them into my own games.

He's rebranded his YouTube channel as Runehammer now which you can find HERE and which I recommend to anyone who plays any roleplaying game.  His key mechanics playlist is one of my go to watches when I'm at a loose end and need to get myself thinking about gaming.

ICRPG is about to be released in its second edition, incorporating changes and refinements added since first edition was released, honing it still further.  I'll be buying second edition too and reading it cover to cover.    Runehammer's page on DriveThruRPG is HERE.

Hankerin's very tuned into Thor, which is cool.  I'm more of an asshole Odin guy myself as this over-wordy post probably proves, but let me tell you about Thor.   The Norse saw him as a god who brought fertility and plenty, and of course the god of storms and lightning.    Stick close to Hankerin and you'll give birth to ideas and wonderful stories, and if there is anything worth kindling in you his lightning will cause it to blaze.


  1. Fantastic review that mirrors my thoughts exactly.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

(Old) School’s In For Summer

I recently discovered Lamentations of the Flame Princess mainly due to seeing it mentioned all over the Internet as something worthy of note – people talked about its high production values, innovation, boundary pushing etc and I thought I’’d see what all the fuss was about.

The basic rules are available for free online in an art-free version (which is a shame – the art is splendidly evocative of the feel intended by the author) and I will be honest and say that when I first read through the rules I was underwhelmed.   Yes it was an old school D&D clone, laid out very well, clearly explained and with some nice rule tweaks to tidy things up --- but it didn’t seem to be anything special.   I was a bit nonplussed as to what all the fuss was about.     Then I saw a few reviews on YouTube – IvanMike and QuestingBeast do a lot of old school gaming posts and reviewed a number of LotFP’s products – and it dawned on me that the strength of the game isn’t from the system but from the advent…

Five Lights - An Adventure for Barbarians of Lemuria

I've recently become enchanted by the simplicity and clarity of Barbarians of Lemuria - a role playing game in the Sword & Sorcery genre.

To that end I present "Five Lights" an adventure in which our heroes are called upon to rescue a fair maiden, probably against her will, from a new religious movement.   All things are, as you would expect, not what they seem.

The pdf can be downloaded HERE, and feel free of course to tweak things as you wish to suit your play style and group.

Ssssh, it’s Confidential

Regular readers of this irregular outlet for my musings will know that I’m a big fan of the Gumshoe system by Pelgrane Press.    I’ve got a year-old Night’s Black Agents campaign that shows no signs of slowing down just yet, and a Trail of Cthulhu campaign that is letting me indulge my fantasy of being remotely as good at drawing together Lovecraftian strands into a single narrative as Alan Moore has been in “Providence.”   I’m not, but it’s fun trying, and the Gumshoe system has supported it brilliantly.
I recently picked up the PDF copy of the latest iteration of the system, Gumshoe One2One, in the soon-to-be-physically released CthulhuConfidential.  Gumshoe One2One aims to bring the Gumshoe experience to the specific situation of one GM and one player.  In doing so it’s had to address the usefulness of the pool point system for General Skills and also the often fudged issue of character demise or debilitation in a single player setting.   My Trail campaign has always been just me …

The Star Flung Hammer

A new Sword & Sorcery adventure for Index Card RPG involving a daring expedition into hostile territory and the confrontation of an unexpected cosmic horror.

Something strange fell from the sky into the land of the Jötnar - and those brave souls who went in search of it never came back.  Now doom is prophesied and new heroes must arise to follow the path to danger and glory - but worse things than Jötnar dwell in the mountains, and the secret of the Star-Flung Hammer is nothing that those heroes could have imagined.

Download here