This review is a little different from my other ones because it is neither a game I've had for a while nor is it something that was requested. I'm going into this one blind, except for the fact that this RPG originated as a comic book (also named DIE). In the comic, the main characters are transported to/trapped in an RPG world. This book is the underlying rules system of that RPG world (and made by the same people who made the comic series). I really enjoyed the comics so I sought out this RPG. It came out earlier this year so it is fairly new.
The PDF is 416 pages so this one is probably going to take a while (although as normal I'm going to post it all at once so you won't know any better anyway).
I think this is the first RPG book I've reviewed that has had a content warning. "Content Warning: Murder, torture, food, hospitals, teenage drama, animal abuse, terrible gm practices, body horror, murder (in self-defence, corporate exploitation, undead, cannibalism, plagiarism, zombies, obsession/parasocial relationships, workplace disagreements, body modification, loss of control, gaslighting/false memories, please for euthanasia, unreality, abusive managers, stress and deadlines." Watch out, this game has FOOD!
Table of Contents:
- Author's Note
- Introductory Comic
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Rules
- 3. Paragons
- Emotion Knight
- 4. Master
- 5. Rituals
- 6. Running DIE
- 7. Building DIE
- 8. Bestiary
- 9. Campaign
- 10. Scenarios & Social Groups
- DIE: Total Party Kill
- DIE: Video Nasty
- DIE: Con Quest
- DIE: Do You Remember The First Time
- DIE: Development Hell
- 11. Appendicies
- Appendix 1: Player Masters
- Appendix 2: Starter Grimoire
- Appendix 3: Second Session Prep Example
- Appendix 4: Gameography
- Appendix 5: Futher Culture
- 12: Index
A point of clarification: I will be using DIE for the name of the game, Die for the name of the world in the game, and die as the singular form of dice.
This is basically the author talking about the comic and the RPG and about how they were written concurrently because they each impacted the other. Also apparently this RPG was kickstarted and I missed it.
For once I actually read the intro comic because I know these people make good comics! It's good (although not necessary).
There's the standard explanation of what this RPG is (which includes talking about the comic, the real one not the intro one). Paragons are the classes of this game (if you couldn't already tell).
This game is not just recreating the comic, it's a system to let you make your unique version of the DIE story. "You make your own social group of messed up, real-world humans. They're dragged to a world which echoes your own strengths and weaknesses, failures, losses and successes back at you. It is your fantasy world, personally and horrifically yours...". Tell me that doesn't sound awesome.
"Each of these visitors is transformed into their own unique versions of the iconic paragons of the series". As expected, the list of paragons in chapter three are included, however Masters from chapter 4 are on the list. Yes, the GM is also a player.
Also apparently the game ending requires everyone agreeing that the game ends so that's interesting (and also how it works in the comics so I'm not surprised).
Haha, the "What is a Roleplaying Game" section tells you to watch an actual play video. Modern problems require modern solutions. There are also tidbits about how to use this book (everything past Chapter 3 is for the GM), a note on different tones the game can take, some terminology explanation (they use dice to be singular and plural and I hate that, also encounter gets a definition and the standard D&D stat names are used).
There is also a Setting section which has an explanation for the world of Die and how things happen the way that they do. It is labeled as a spoiler for both the DIE comic and for the players of the game so you're not going to get any extra information from me about it.
There are two levels of game to this game. The first is when the players are playing characters on their version of Earth (called Personas). Eventually the Personas enter the world of Die and are transformed into the Paragons while still retaining the personality (and baggage) of their Personas.
There are no real rules for Personas, when the characters are on Earth it's all roleplaying and conversation. Luckily the game doesn't stay that way because then it would be a storyteller game and I would hate it (here's hoping that this doesn't turn out to be a storyteller game).
As previously mentioned, the traditional stats of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma are used. According to this page, the only listed uses for the individual stats that might not be seen as D&D standard are that Wisdom is for understanding of the world, spirituality, and most things involving gods while Intelligence includes things involving computers. Stats range from 0-4. 2 is average, 3 is normal human maximum, 4 is significantly better than anyone on earth. 5 is beyond human (and I'm assuming for epic monsters or some such). An given example is that a character with a Dexterity of 4 and no training in gymnastics is at least as good as Olympic gymnasts, and thus with training would be better.
There are also four defensive stats which are derived from other stats. Guard (seems to be like Armor Class) is based on Dexterity and is depleted when hit. Health (pretty obvious what this is) is based on Constitution. Willpower resists emotional manipulation and is based on Wisdom and Intelligence. Defence (okay, this one is like Armor Class so Guard doesn't have a D&D equivalent) starts at 0 and is not derived from other stats.
As an aside, this book was written by UK people and my spell checker really doesn't like the word "defence". Defense is much better.
Action resolution goes through the following steps:
- If there's no significant chance of it not happening, it happens. (Example: Taking a drink)
- If it is absolutely impossible, it doesn't happen. (Example: Eating a prison door in one bite to escape)
- If a skilled character uses those skills on a task in a situation with little immediate pressure and little interest in failure, it happens. (Example: A hacker tries to hack open a door with no time limits or imminent combat)
- If a character uses a Paragon ability that has its own set of rules, use those rules.
- If none of the above apply, turn to the Core Mechanic.
Here's where we learn that DIE uses a dice pool system. The Core Mechanic goes as follows (as a broad overview).
1) The GM determines and announces the difficulty. Most tasks are 0, tasks that would stretch the limit or normal human capabilities are 1, tasks that exceed the limit of normal human capabilities but are technically possible are 2.
2) The character gets a dice pool of D6's equal to their relevant stat. Any class abilities that impact the dice pool are applied.
3) The GM decides if any advantages are present, +1 die to the pool per advantage.
4) The GM decides if any disadvantages are present, -1 die to the pool per disadvantage.
5) Roll the dice in the pool. If there are no dice in the pool, roll two dice and pick the lowest. Anything that shows a 4 or above is a success.
6) Remove a number of successes from the rolled dice pool equal to the difficulty. If there are more successes than the difficulty, choose which are removed.
7) If any successes remain, the action is successful. Any remaining dice showing a 6 or higher can be used to activate an additional special effect (called a special) if the character has a relevant one to use.
That all seems pretty standard except you have to beat the difficulty level, not just meet it.
Specials mainly come from a character's class and weapon and can only be used once per roll. In addition, some specials require multiple successes of 6+ to activate. Also the Master has specials which require a 20 on a roll of a d20.
Also once per session each player can use a "real-world" flashback to recall an event of their Persona to reveal something new and gain an advantage to one task.
But wait, there's more!
In combat, Initiative = Dexterity and it isn't rolled. Turns go from highest to lowest Dexterity. Combat is over when all relevant characters agree it's over, if someone is still fighting and wants to fight then it's still combat (I don't know how it would be any other way really).
DIE uses an abstract system for combat range, no minis on a map here. Characters are either in Melee range (adjacent to each other), Close range (throwing range, one move action to get to melee), Medium range (ranged attack range, one move action to get to close), or Far range (can't shoot unless you're some kind of sniper, at least two moves to get to medium). On your turn you get one move and one action (and you can take your action to move again).
As your action you can attack (difficulty equals the target's defence, number of remaining successes at the end of the roll equals number of hits, if you roll zero successes and someone could possibly attack you then they do and you automatically get hit). Getting hit removes one Guard (which refreshes at the beginning of each combat). When Guard is 0 then attacks remove health (which is called a Wound). If attacking with an area of effect attacks, dice are rolled once and successes are applied to each target individually. If you're casting a spell and the spell requires a roll to see if you cast it then you roll once and that determines both casting and attacking results.
There are also some special things you can do with your attack. You can delay it (and/or your move), or ready it to react to another action. You can combine your attack with the attacks of other characters, using the highest dice pool out of everyone and gaining an advantage per extra person attack. You can add a disadvantage to do non-lethal damage (doesn't have a different track, just doesn't kill at 0 health). You can add a disadvantage to split your successes between multiple opponents. Also if you roll extra successes after downing a target you can reduce the remaining successes by one and move the remaining successes to another target.
There are also rules for critical failures, extra successes, "failing forward" (success with cost/partial success/success with complication), multiple success targets (example: you didn't roll high enough to get someone to do something but you did roll high enough to get them to do if if you bribe them), success rewards based on the number of successes (like combat granting hits per success), task abstraction, situational specials (those things that happen on leftover 6+ rolls), and an example of combining some of the above.
Overall it's relatively rules light but still comprehensive. There is more GM interpretation and decision making about checks and results than in standard D&D but it looks pretty decent to me.
As previously mentioned, Paragons are the classes of this system and they are as follows:
- Dictators are artistic diplomats who manipulate emotions with horrific magical words.
- Fools are swashbucklers, rushing into danger and relying on their supernatural luck to survive.
- Emotion Knights are warriors who feed one sacred emotion into their arcane, sentient weapons to devastating effect.
- Neos are techno-magical rogues, stealing the elusive Fair Gold to power their cybernetic gifts.
- Godbinders are clerics who prefer to make deals with their gods to get miracles.
Then there is the Master which is reserved for the GM.
Character advancement has three options in terms of how you can run it.
- Option 1: There is no advancement because the standard games are 2-4 sessions.
- Option 2: Your players hate not advancing so there are some class specific quick easy advancement options.
- Option 3: You're playing a full campaign so you can use the leveling system (1-20). Starting at level 1 is expected because of the nature of the game (real people pulled into a fantasy world). Starting at higher levels would mean your characters have been in the world before.
For a full campaign with leveling, leveling has nothing to do with experience. The world of Die has 20 regions, you master a region (as determined by the GM or maybe a future chapter about campaigns but usually completing a major adventure in it) means gain a level. Leveling in this game is nothing like you are used to. Every paragon has an "advancement map" which is laid out basically like this.
You start down at the bottom, it says start and is filled in. Every time you advance (level up), you pick a region that shares a spot with a region you've already filled-in. You then fill that region in and claim the reward listed in it. In addition, levels 3, 6, 9, and 12 let you add a point to one of your stats (to a max of 4), and when you reach a level equal to the number of sides of your class die you get a class die advance. What's a class die you ask? Read on!
Each paragon is associated with a specific die. D4, D6, D8, D10, and D12. Nobody gets D100 and the D20 is for the Master. Paragon abilities will use the paragon die, bigger dice doesn't automatically mean better.
I'm not going to go over each paragon individually because they're all interesting and that would take too much time. Instead I'm going to go over them generally as a whole.
Each paragon starts with a 2 in all stats and 2 extra points to distribute as you wish (with the preferred stats of that paragon listed for you). There is also starting equipment and appropriate clothes/armor with any rules for the equipment as needed. Then we get into paragon abilities and choices, which includes a whole lot of information and questions related to role-playing from a player perspective as well as a group and game perspective. This isn't a storytelling game but it is clearly just as grounded in roleplaying as it is in mechanics.
We then move on to the advancement map which includes a lot of ability names of things that are on the map and what they do (all choices are mechanical but some also come with questions that have to be answered and should be done in collaboration with the GM).
It's all very interesting although it will require a large amount of player buy-in in terms of willingness to roleplay and willingness to understand what their character does because there is no equivalent to a fighter who just gets some minor plusses and has no real choices in terms of combat options.
Update: I have been asked to give an overview of a Paragon so here we go. We'll do the Fool because it's the simplest (yes, when you read it remember this is the simplest).
The Fool's class die is a D6 (yes, the same die as the standard dice in the game and there's some text about elsewhere in the book). They get to add it to their dice pool any time they're acting foolish, and when it is in their dice pool they gain a Special to add another D6 to the dice pool. Playing a fool means fucking up other people's plans because you want your special class powers so you don't die.
Now, take your fancy (but not really) D6 and draw a circle on one of the sides using a non-permanent marker. If you roll a circle something lucky happens. You can define the lucky thing, but the GM can tweak it. If you decide that all enemies are buried under rocks then probably you and all of your friends are too because that's a bit much. If you roll the die and don't get a circle, add a circle somewhere else. Also if you did roll a circle, erase all of the circles except one but add a cross to a different face. Rolling a cross means something bad happens to you or the people around you, then all of the crosses get erased. Also there is advice for how to handle D6's that are bad for drawing on (and what to do if you run out of blank sides).
If things get super crazy in a bad way you can hand your D6 to the GM to escape from a situation by using your crazy good luck (that you just handed away). The GM can hand the D6 back at any time by making an entirely unfair event not worse than the good luck was good (because bad luck is luck too if you haven't figured that out by now). Also if you want your D6 back RIGHT NOW just deliberately cause a disaster to get it (like by having dinner with the king and saying out loud that you want to steal all of the silver).
After those rules we get a character creation section on picking your trade (Swashbuckler, Bard, Con Artist, Etc) which grants you some addition equipment and/or abilities.
Also there's a "class feature" where if you or your Persona do something that entertains the group or is particularly foolish the GM might give you an extra circle on your D6 if they want (and it notes that annoying isn't the same as entertaining).
Due to the layout of the advancement map, your first advancement from the advancement map is fixed. For the Fool that is an advancement called Clown School. Clown school lets you pick from one of eight options, many of which involve being able to add a cross to your D6 in order to gain an advantage in various social situations (there are also a couple of combat related choices and one for adding a circle to increase your luck).
As previously mentioned, the GM is also a character in this game. This is an antagonistic character, not a member of the party (although there are rules for a player character Master in Appendix 1). Rules for making a Master (using this chapter) are the same as rules for making any other paragon with the exception of advancements. Masters advance when players do but the only advances they get are stat points at the same levels that players gain them. Masters are powerful from the beginning and gain no new abilities.
It doesn't matter what you're expecting from this chapter, prepare to be surprised. This is also the chapter where this game is starting to lose me.
Rituals are the way the game prep is done for a short campaign. The "DIE Rituals Checklist" includes everything that needs to play the game up to and including ending the game. This is another chapter that will get a broad overview but I'm not going to deep dive, it's for the GM and also not my thing. There are also "rituals" that happen in the rituals chapter, probably designed to help get people into the roleplaying mood but I think they sound silly and will gloss over them along with a bunch of other stuff (an example is it is explicitly written down to thank everyone for playing at the end of every session).
Here are the sections:
Preparation - getting the required physical materials for the game together (dice, books, character sheets, etc) and having discussions with the players about the game and what tone/paragons people are interested in.
Prepare the Magic Circle - This is basically the creation of a collaborative document stating what the game will be like and where the limits are so that "we all can craft a story that everyone feels comfortable with and is excited about". This includes tone, inter-party conflict limits, limits on the Dictator role, the kind of ending the game is aiming for, things that shouldn't be included in the game, things that should be included in the game, etc.
Persona Generation - This includes Persona generation (obviously) where each player determines the personality of the person they are playing before they become a Paragon. Then everyone takes a short break to step away from the table (except for the GM).
During the Break - The GM figures out which Paragon is assigned to which Persona. By default there can only be one of any individual Persona which makes a maximum group size of 6 and the GM is always the Master. There is apparently a section on breaking these rules later in the book.
Character Generation - All of the players come back to the table and are now playing the Personas, out of character talk involves raising your hand to reduce random OOC side chatter. The GM gives the players their character sheets and helps guide them through basic character creation choices.
Into Die - Everyone is now in the world of Die and the game actually starts. This includes "magical girl transformations" as Personas turn into Paragons. Also there's an intro combat to help familiarize players with the rules. There's a bit more intro stuff and then the first session closes out. All of this is guidelines and examples, you don't have to run your game this way.
And the rest - There are more sections but going section by section here isn't really going to help things. What follows is more GM prep (narrative building based upon the Persona creation steps previously followed, world building, etc) but not too much prep because this is labeled as a low-prep game. This game is designed to be more off-the-cuff and reactive (which I personally am terrible at running) and the example session 2+ world creation involves player input (which I am personally not a fan of). The example climax involves a lot of post-game roleplaying about Personas after they returned to the "real world" (if they do).
Oh, we get some sample NPC stats (the game is designed to be rules-light so outside of combat stats aren't generally needed).
At the very end of the game there is apparently an Aftercare section in the section on safety tools found in the next chapter. To be honest this makes me roll my eyes. Be adults, playing an RPG shouldn't end in something that sounds like therapy.
6. Running DIE
The standard chapter about how to GM with a twist because players are playing a "real person" who is sent to a fantasy world (and you're supposed to incorporate a lot of that real person's personality and biographical information into the game).
Then we get into the Safety Tools section. "Don't play DIE without safety tools. DIE has the potential to go anywhere, and that includes bad places." There are a lot of potential safety tools listed that can be used and a QR code to a TTRPG Safety Tool Kit. If you're not aware of safety tools, it's mainly a bunch of ways that players and GMs can discuss boundaries within the game without actually discussing boundaries because that might make people uncomfortable I guess. I don't have a positive opinion about this being the direction that the TTRPG industry is going. While I don't have a negative opinion of the creators of DIE for including it in the game, it does make the game seem like one that isn't for me. If I can't have an open and honest conversation with my players about their hard limits I'm not going to run a game that's potentially controversial.
We then move on to sections about how to run the game for each of the Paragons (with some information about what kind of personalities can be best suited to each paragon and what possible complications to look for in terms of personalities). We also get information about having the players play as their Personas because the GM wants to know what kind of internal dialogue is happening.
After that we get the variant modes of play mentioned earlier, meaning allowing multiple paragons of the same time or having the GM play something other than the Master. These can change aspects of the game (if you want them to) and be more than just allowing people to play whatever they want.
7. Building DIE
Basically this chapter is for ways to run the game after/instead of running it the Rituals chapter way (they suggest doing the Rituals one first). This includes the option of not having open-ended free-form kind of world creation and just making a world the same way you would with D&D or whatever else (plus some other suggested alternatives). There is also a long section about adventure structure.
The is your standard bestiary plus Paragons native to the world of Die plus some other things that are specific to the kind of story based Persona driven game this is.
This is not just an alphabetized list of monsters and statblocks, DIE is not that kind of game. Each monster has reasons it might be used, "truths" about them, and other information related to why they would show up in the first place. There aren't orcs for you to go fight orcs because they're orcs, there are orcs to serve as echos of the Personas past that are best represented by orcs (and also orcs as racism gets mentioned because of course it does). There's a lot of philosophizing in this bestiary.
The Rituals chapter is basically instructions on how to run a short campaign of DIE. This chapter is how to run a more traditional length campaign. Again, this isn't exactly the same as it would be in D&D or another game.
We still get the script to follow for how to proceed with things that is in Rituals, just adjusted due to the game length being much more open ended. Persona generation is different (and shorter) because the Persona related inter-personal and Persona related world-building stuff doesn't have to be jammed into a handful of sessions. There is also significantly more world-building since players might visit any of the 20 regions of Die. Etc.
We then get into how world-building works in this narrative based game since the world can be a reflection of the Personas and not just based on a module you pulled out of your D&D collection.
Interestingly enough, there's also a big section about what to do with character death that isn't what you'd expect. Remember, characters are people that were drawn from the "real world" that ended up in the game. You can't just roll up a new character (although there is a section about what to do if such a thing is really needed).
However, there are rules for people playing secondary characters (effectively controlling NPCs) in a split party scenario so that everyone can contribute in every session instead of people being sidelined.
There's a lot of stuff that I'm skimming or just skipping, it's only important if you specifically want to run a long form campaign and if that's the case you should be reading this book yourself.
Some of the narrative elements do annoy me though.
10. Scenarios & Social Groups
Where Campaigns is about running a long campaign and Rituals is about a shorter more structured game, this chapter is about running the game as a one-off (like at a convention for example). It also has alternative (in-game) types of groups the Personas could be a part of with different Persona generation structures for those instead of the standard type given in Rituals (which is the "Social Groups" part of the chapter title).
Each scenario also includes it's own scenario specific Persona generation setup. Even if the who game lasts for a couple hours it's still narrative focused after all.
These are the appendicies. My spell checker hates this word too.
We have: The Master as a full-fledged player Paragon, a list of spells that can be used by those who might gain the ability to use spells (also to be used as examples for the GM to create new ones), a full example of session preparation taken from an actual game, some games that influenced the creation of this game, and some things you can read/play/watch/listen to/Google to help you get a feel for how DIE can be.
It is an index.
Well it didn't turn out to be a storyteller game but I don't like it anyway. Anything with the sheer number of trigger warnings (they aren't only at the front of the book) and narrative focus just isn't my kind of game. Then again I want to run Abandon All Hope (previously reviewed) but probably never will because I'd need to know my group pretty well to make sure I don't scar them so I'm not automatically against the idea of trigger warnings. But food as a trigger warning? Really? And an Aftercare section?
It's not a bad system, it works well and seems very balanced, but it is designed for a completely different type of person than I am and I wouldn't really be interested in even playing it. I'm not keeping this in my collection.