Chapter 5: Gameplay
Creating a character is only half of the system. The next element of the game is how to use that character to achieve things. The basic mechanic of gameplay in the Darkrealm system is Testing. Taking a Test involves narrating the action that your character is going to undertake, by describing both the intended outcome of the action, and how he goes about it. The player then selects a combination of character assets (talents, traits, skills and so on) that best reflect his description of the action, and rolls dice to achieve a total number called the Test. He then compares the Test to a number called a Difficulty. If the player can achieve a number equal to or greater than the Difficulty with his Test then his action is successful. If it is lower, then the action is unsuccessful.

Black and white success or failure are not the only thing that a Test tells us about the outcome of an action. The margin of success or failure can also tell us a lot about the result of the test. Exceeding the Difficulty by a large number on a test will achieve a better result than a marginal success, while failing to exceed the Difficulty by a large margin will result in worse consequences of failure than a small margin.

Players can take measures to assure their success, or meet with obstacles that hamper their success, in the form of Advantage and Disadvantage. These are additional dice rolled at the time of the test that increase the random element of the Test.

Gameplay also encompasses the Turn structure in which the game takes place, which is strictly adhered to by all players to keep the game consistent, fair, and allows players maximum autonomy in narrating their own successes and failures without needing guidance from the director.

Announcing a Test

When a character wants to do anything, to take any action in game that has meaningful consequence or narrative weight, it is considered a Test. First the player announces what his character wants to achieve, and narrates how he will achieve it. Then he selects a Talent that best reflects the action he has described. This can be any Talent, so long as the description of how the action is undertaken justifies the choice of Talent. He may then choose to add the value of up to one Skill, and up to one Character Trait or applicable Tool, and all applicable Statuses. He then rolls two six-sided dice, with one designated the Bonus Die and one the Penalty Die. He adds the result of the Bonus Die to his Test, and subtracts the result of the Penalty Die. Many players prefer to use different coloured dice so that there is a clear predetermination between Bonus and Penalty Dice. This gives him a total value of his Test.

(1 Talent) + (1 Bonus Die) + (1 Penalty Die) + (0-1 Skill) + (0-1 Character Trait or Tool) + (all applicable Statuses) + (0-3 Advantage Dice) + (0-3 Disadvantage Dice) + (0-1 Hero Die) = TEST TOTAL.

Setting Difficulties

Once the Test has a total, we can now determine how successful the test was. This is done by comparing the Test to a numerical value called a Difficulty, which represents how inherently hard it is to achieve the stated outcome. The director assigns these Difficulties, but it is generally expected that he will furnish the most obvious Difficulties in a scene at the beginning of an action round (see Sequence of Play below for more detail) either by stating their full numerical value, or using the headings below to indicate a range in which the Difficulty falls.

  • Mundane (-10 to -6): Very simple acts, only likely to fail under duress.
  • Simple (-5 to 0): Actions that might go wrong with poor luck or in poor circumstances.
  • Easy (1-5): Actions requiring no real level of skill or ability.
  • Normal (6-10): Actions that require an element of natural ability, education, or luck.
  • Challenging (11-15): Actions that require a moderate level of skill or natural ability, and a degree of preparation.
  • Formidable (16-20): Actions that demand a high level of skill and talent or extensive preparation.
  • Difficult (21-25): Actions that demand both skill, talent, and preparation.
  • Very Difficult (26-30): Actions where even the most able might fail.
  • Extremely Difficult (31-35): Actions where only great skill, luck, and preparation will succeed.
  • Nigh Impossible (36-40): Actions that demand a combination of exceptional luck, preparation, skill, and natural ability.
  • Superhuman (41+): Those actions that are beyond the generally accepted scope of human ability.

Refer to the appendix at the end of the Tome of Lore for a list of common role-playing actions for a list of sample difficulties that should guide first time players and directors in what to expect.

Director's Option: Limited Use

Action Complexity

Whether or not an action is attemptable, and whether or not the advantages of a Skill (the numerical bonus, and the multiple objectives) can be applied to it is determined by adding a Complexity to a Difficulty. Complexity denotes the level in a relevant deployed Skill a character must have in order to attempt the action at all, and in order to use the bonuses granted by that Skill. Complexities are generally provided by the director alongside Difficulty, and share the skill level notations. Thus a Complexity can be Untrained, Beginner, Intermediate, Expert or Master. Thus an action might be described as Beginner 21 or simply as Beginner Difficult.

A character who is Untrained (has a skill value of 0) can attempt any Unskilled or Beginner actions. A character who is a Beginner can use his skill normally for Beginner Complexity actions, or can attempt Intermediate Complexity actions with no bonus for his skill. A character who is Intermediate can use his skill normally for Beginner or Intermediate Complexity actions, or can attempt Expert Complexity actions with no bonus for his skill. And so on.

Advantage and Disadvantage

Sometimes a player will take an action that is more difficult than its base difficulty implies, something where the weight of chance is against him. Conversely he might come up with a plan to weight chance in his favour, either with a prior or simultaneous action, or by use of his environment, or some other asset. In these situations the character rolls additional Bonus and/or Penalty Dice to represent these Advantages and Disadvantages. Advantage adds an extra Bonus Die to the Test, Disadvantage adds an extra Penalty Die to the test. Generally speaking a test is not allowed to have more than three dice of Advantage, or more than three dice of Disadvantage (for six additional dice total), and no single Advantage or Disadvantage should yield more than a single die. But in extreme circumstances a director can use his discretion.

Remember that Advantage and Disadvantage do not cancel one another out. Rather, all Advantage and Disadvantage associated with a test should be rolled. Rolling them still allows for more extreme, and less predictable successes and failures, reflecting the increased unpredictability of multiple modifying factors on a familiar activity.

One Hero Point (detailed in Chapter 7) can also be spent to add a single Bonus Die called a Hero Die to a test, representing a truly heroic effort, and giving players the opportunity to flag actions as being of particular narrative importance to them. That Hero Point must be spent before any dice are rolled, and is expended and lost regardless of the outcome of the Test.

Margins of Success and Failure

With so great a numerical range either side of success and failure, it would be a waste not to explore the degrees by which a character can succeed or fail in an action. When characters announce an action, they also announce a desired outcome. That outcome occurs if they can generate a number equal to the given Difficulty. If they generate a number substantially higher, then the outcome will be better than expected. If they fail, then how severely they fail will be governed by how much less than the Difficulty their Test result was.

  • Catastrophic Failure (-20+): Things have gone horribly awry. Multiple disadvantages are generated, and if the test did not already threaten damage, a threat may be incurred.
  • Terrible Failure (-16 to -19): The action has been staggeringly unsuccessful. Two different disadvantages are generated in addition to the failure.
  • Dangerous Failure (-11 to -15): The action has been unsuccessful, but has also generated a related disadvantage in later rounds.
  • Failure (-5 to -10): The action has failed, but with no further effect.
  • Success at a Cost (-1 to -5): Things haven't gone well, but the test succeeds, however not as well as intended. The player may choose to either pay a characterful price to achieve a marginal success, or treat this result as a straight failure.
  • Marginal Success (0 to 5): The action has succeeded as intended, but in narrating the outcome it should be clear it was a near thing.
  • Success (6 to 10): The action has succeeded entirely and satisfyingly as planned.
  • Improved Success (11 to 15): Not only has the action succeeded, but it will generate a related advantage usable on a future related action.
  • Excellent Success (16 to 19): Things have gone extremely well indeed, the action has exceeded expectations, and two advantages are generated.
  • Phenomenal Success (20+): The action has been an unprecedented success. The character can generate two advantages for use in related actions, or two disadvantages imposed against other characters, or generate one of each.

Sequence of Play

The Darkrealm system is especially friendly to heavy-roleplay and play-by-post games, and so sequence of play is less formal and game-like than other role-playing games. Players and directors are allowed to act in whatever order feels appropriate to them. Characters have a limited number of actions that they can take in a round, so it is often as desirable to wait until later in a round to react to the actions of other players, as it is to act early and control the action in a round by forcing others to behave reactively.


Play takes place in a turn structure, with every character in play having the opportunity to announce all of their actions, and prepare all of their reactions, one after the other until everyone has had a chance to act. This is called a round. Once everyone has acted the round is over, and a new round begins. A round is structured as follows: first, the director sets the scene. He describes any new elements of environment, any new characters entering the scene, and changes in situation. He provides static difficulties for any actions he anticipates the players wanting to undertake. And he wraps up the outcomes of the previous round's actions where relevant. He describes any sources of Advantage or Disadvantage that might be apparent in the scene. And he tells the players how long the upcoming scene is. Generally round duration is either an Action Round, lasting six seconds; a Minute Round, lasting sixty seconds; an Exploration Round, lasting ten minutes; or an Hour Round lasting one hour. Day rounds, and longer delineations of time are common during travel, or between events.

Next all characters in a scene, be they controlled by a player or the director, take it in turn to announce all of their actions in the round. Anyone who seized the initiative in the previous round announces when in the round he will go (usually first or last), and the rest of the turns take place on a first-in first-served basis. As mentioned above, it can be desirable to go early and dictate the action, or late and react to the actions of others.

Each player can take up to three actions in their turn, and must describe the action and accompany the description with a Test. These actions might be proactive, seeking to initiate an entirely new objective. They might be reactions to a Test made by an earlier character in the round. Or they might be reactions to Tests anticipated later in the round. It is important to note that a character can only take a test in his turn, and may not take actions in reaction to someone else's action during their turn. This means that if he is threatened with damage in a previous, or upcoming turn, he must react to it or prepare to react to it during his own turn. No actions are resolved until the end of the round, when Damage is taken, however when characters have taken a Test in opposition to a static difficulty or a pre-established reaction players are free to narrate their success or failure alongside their attempt.

Regardless of the actions chosen, the character is assumed to spend the entirety of his turn undertaking that action, thus no identical action can be taken twice (though one action can have several identical objectives) in a single round. As with all aspects to game play, the description of the action must govern the choice of mechanics. If a player can't tell the story of what his character is doing in a logical and convincing way, then he cannot justify his actions with rules. Narration always overrides rules material if they should come into conflict.

At the end of the round the director summarizes that action which is unclear, or pertains to characters he controls, and then the round begins anew.

Seizing Initiative

Sometimes a character will want to reserve their ability to take action in a certain order in a turn. This is done by Seizing the Initiative. Any player or the director can announce that they are Seizing the Initiative in the next round. They roll a Test in order to do so, (usually using Talents like Fast, Clever or Perceptive) and unless someone else wants to also Seize Initiative then that player gets to pre-announce when their turn will occur during the scene setting of the next round. Usually they will opt for first or last, though they could conceivably reserve a spot immediately after another character also. If more than one character wants to Seize Initiative then the person with the highest Test to do so gets the benefit. There is no second place - all other play takes place in the usual first-in, first-served turn order.

Actions and Objectives

An action, simply put, is something that takes the duration of the round (regardless of its length) which is governed by a single Test. In its most basic state it has a single objective. Because the definition of an action becomes looser with a character's skills, and a player's inventiveness, it can be hard to nail down exactly what an action is, but generally speaking, a simple action seeks to achieve one outcome, generally amongst those listed below. Multi-Objective actions can be undertaken by individuals with high skill values, and lead to multiple outcomes, either the same or different. The player's Skill level will tell them how many objectives a Test utilizing that Skill can potentially have. But remember, the governing rule of all actions is that they must be narrated in a manner that makes sense, or they are not allowed.

  • Achieve success: This is a yes/no proposition. A character seeks to do something, and will succeed or fail, to varying extent, depending upon his roll.
  • Prevent success: Also a yes/no test, a character wishes to prevent another character's success by opposing him directly.
  • Inflict damage: This is more of a scale, where degree of success or failure is crucial. A character takes an action that will result in inflicting some kind of damage on another.
  • Resist damage: A character is targeted, or anticipates being targeted, by a damage-causing action, and tries to diminish its effectiveness.
  • Reverse damage: As opposed to resisting to reduce the value of damage, a character tries to undo existing damage, and elevate any associated traits.
  • Generate advantage/disadvantage: These actions try to enhance or complicate upcoming actions by adding a die of advantage or disadvantage to them.
  • Move: A character moves from one place to another at a pace determined by their level of speed and caution.
  • Handle Item: A character picks up, uses, moves, or otherwise interacts with an object in a moderately way.

Free Actions and Passive Actions

There are a few actions that are significant additions to plot, but not challenging enough to represent with Tests. Most notably these include walking or running, speaking (without trying to persuade, convince, intimidate etc), and looking around. Any of these actions can be taken as one of the character's three actions per turn, and will act as sources of Advantage or Disadvantage were appropriate, but they do not require the player to formulate a Test. If these are needed for an opposed test then just the value of the most obvious Talent is used as a total, with no dice rolled and no opportunity to use Skills or Traits or Advantage/Disadvantage or Hero Dice, though passive tools can still be used. While setting the scene the director can indicate that as many actions as he wishes are not free actions this round (for example in a running race both competitors should be rolling).

A passive action is one that takes place outside of the character's announced actions. Usually it represents actions happening to the character that they have no applicable reaction to. Being attacked without preparing a reaction, being snuck up on without announcing any watchfulness, falling victim to a trap without checking for one, all of these things still need a difficulty to properly represent with rules. In these cases the character uses his most obviously applicable Talent unmodified as his roll. Again, no Skills or Traits can be used, no dice are rolled, no Advantage, Disadvantage or Hero Dice are in play, and only tools with a passive function can be applied.

Multi-Round Actions

Some actions will take longer than the Director-designated turn-length. If this is the case, a character must expend an action to take these actions over several consecutive rounds rather than just one. There is no need to test every turn - a character should simply determine the result of his Test on his turn at the end of the designated number of rounds. The duration, in both time and standard turn length, should be determined during the setting of the scene. Generally speaking, as with all aspects of this game, common sense should override mechanics when this seems wrong, and players are encouraged to self-police in situations where the times listed for an action are clearly wrong for the given circumstances.

Simultaneous Action

Though it has been mentioned in this chapter, it is worth reiterating that there is no consequence to any action taken in a turn until the resolution phase. The exception to this is generating Advantage or Disadvantage, which immediately effects all relevant subsequent actions in the same turn (assuming that was the stated intention). So a character can generate a die of Advantage by using an action to take a run-up before trying to jump a gap in the same turn as the jump for example. But a character who is suffers an injury before his turn to act comes up in the action order, will not suffer any penalty until the whole turn is resolved. This has the most obvious impact during the six second Action Round, where activity is almost literally simultaneous, and all of a player's actions are likely to be happening at the same time as one another.

Where one action clearly has to happen in order to facilitate another (particularly in the case of movement, advantage generation, or disadvantage generation) these actions should be taken in whatever order seems the most logical reflection of a series of events. Remember that a character who fails, for instance, to generate advantage is still committed to the adjacent action for which the advantage was intended. As with all rules, this is designed to keep otherwise messy narrations of reality in unnaturally tidy sections, so if the mechanics impede the narrative logic then they should be ignored.

Multiple Objectives

Characters with higher skills can combine multiple objectives into a single action. If the action uses a skill of level 4 or more the character can combine two objectives. Level 7 or higher allows 3 objectives, and level 10 allows up to 4 separate objectives. The individual skill entries contain suggestions of what these actions might involve, but generally this will make a character far more effective at the task they are undertaking.

Characters must use the high value Skill in the test that uses the additional objectives, and only a single test can be taken and used for both objectivces. If Advantage cannot be logically applied to both objectives it cannot be applied to either and the objectives must be separated into individual tests to use the Advantage. If a source of Disadvantage applies to either objective it will apply to the whole multi-objective test. Hero Points function as normal.

The Tome of Lore: Core Rules for Darkrealm
Chapter 1 Character Creation; Concept; Core Details; Player Interaction
Chapter 2 Talents; The Fourteen Talents; Generating Character Talents; Properties
Chapter 3 Traits; Character Traits; Context Traits; Status Traits
Chapter 4 Skills; The Skill List; Purchasing Skills
Chapter 5 Gameplay; Announcing a Test; Sequence of Play; Actions and Objectives
Chapter 6 Damage; Opposed Tests; Effects of Damage; Recovery; Death
Chapter 7 Development; Awarding Hero Points; Training; Changing Character Traits
Chapter 8 Setting; Tone; Technology & Lifestyle; Religion; Magic; Other Oddities
Chapter 9 Player Races; Civilized Races; Racial Abilities
Chapter 10 Gear; Armour; Weapons; Tools; Animals and Transport; Clothing; Weight and Encumbrance
Chapter 11 Magic; Alchemy; Divination; Talismans and Relics; Fear and Superstition; Spellcasting
Chapter 12 Game Creation;
Appendices Common Actions; Damage Statuses