Two years ago I introduced BITS, a tabletop RPG system that is fast, emergently complex from base concepts, modular, and simple to pick up.
Liter rules than Dungeons & Dragons-like simulators, crunchier than story-foremost Powered By the Apocalypse types, yet not a traditional Old School Revival, the system has been polished by thousands of hours of study and play.
After a lot of poking and prodding, I think it is time we took a look back on two years of development.
Before Getting to the New Stuff
Let’s take a look at what BITS used to be to get a full appreciation of how far the system has come.
Body-Interaction-Thought System was the first draft. The core mechanic comes from two six-sided dice (2d6) plus a modifier to get at or above a tiered step list of threat ratings, while all scores or values aimed to be 0 to 4 🎲🎲
Originally BITS was based off of a simplification of D&D (this is before I learned of the streamlined Old School Revival movement). Body was meant to be the average strength and conditioning of a D&D character, Interaction dexterousness and interpersonal prowess, and Thought as wisdom and intelligence. Any special skills were merely implied by the class a character had, such that rogues would expect to be sneaky, paladins could call in holy favors, and wizards knew magic.
The system tries to tie together any and all subsystems into the 2d6 mechanic, or more specifically, having two dice and a rough guess of the quality of the actors and actions in a situation. Thereby, a subsystem from one BITS game or conversion can be near-seamlessly dropped into another or tweaked with the assurance that 2d6 exist somewhere in play.
Going after D&D was an appropriate start. Not knowing about OSR helped create a design language all my own instead of dropping my work to adopt something ‘close enough.’
Yes, D&D was (and still is) a monster of a system. It is the godfather of all RPGs, “D&D” now being synonymous with “tabletop RPG.” To tackle a full conversion of all the subsystems of D&D (which are by no means consistent, complete, or without a lot of internal complexity) was naïve hubris 😅
As a personal project, BITS introduced me to innumerable games, systems, principles, methodologies, and techniques for putting together not only games, but books and writing, too.
Using the masterclass of game making that is the internet with a search bar, lots of playtests, sample game writing using the system, and the excellent help of many friends, BITS evolved.
A New Kind of RPG
Let me introduce BITS:
- Body – Physical swiftness and brawn. Great for getting about to hit things, so the ‘fighter’ and ‘rogue’ stat.
- Insight – General perception, whether of the environment, another person, or a far-off target, and dealing with it appropriately. The ‘bard’ and ‘archer’ stat.
- Thought – Mind, intelligence, mental strength. The ‘magic’ stat.
- Skills – Also can be called “Specialty.” This is what sets a character apart with special rules or traits that enable a greater depth of customization.
Each of the above get added to a roll of 2d6 to get over a threat level, that level describing how difficult it will be to act against and a large chunk of the stats for the threat:
|Tier / Health / Harm / Quality / Value / Durability|
Roll + BIT
|0||–||Too easy. Nothing. Junk. Absolutely helpless. Might be dangerous in groups, but only with a disadvantage. Lower 50% of a population if counted at all.|
|1||5+||Easy. Commonplace. Padded armor. Domestic animals, the unskilled, conscripts, thugs, minions. Best served in hordes. 20%|
|2||7+||Moderate. Specialized or with skill. Well prepared. Guards, hired muscle, footmen, boot camp troops. 15%|
|3||9+||Hard. Veterans. Been there, done that. Leaders, mercenaries, elites, heavily armed. 10%|
|4||11+||Very hard. Best of the best. Natural killers and masters. Grizzly bears, walking tanks, spec ops, knights. 5%|
|6||13+||Demi-gods. Kings, lords, grand masters, and titular characters. The people that lead wars or have ended them personally. 1% or less.|
|10||15+||Godly. May never appear!|
Not all actions have to be about physical battle. Instead, there are three kinds of trial a character may face threats in:
- Combative – physical violence between creatures.
- Environmental – surviving dangerous conditions.
- Social – convincing others to act.
Each of the above can exist within each other. I digress –
Many of the other questions that I wracked my brain on originally are saved by the modular nature of BITS. Truly a la carte, all options can be put or replaced until the desired game feel is achieved:
- Weapons – Flat damage as the weapon’s threat tier? Or the degree of success? Need kinds of weapons, like piercing and pummeling types?
- Armor – Ablative? Adds to defensive rolls? Reduces damage only? Cares about the kind of damage applied?
- Gear – How much? Need to pick it specifically before an adventure or can call it out at the time it is needed (“quantum”/Schrodinger gear)?
- Health – A flat value? The sum of all BITS? Rolled for? What about mental health or social composure?
- Experience – Milestones? Personal goals? Player party goals? Gained by gold and treasure?
- Economy – Wealth is counted piece by piece? By wealth tiers? Is selling and buying at the tier of the gear, or is it a tier less and more, respectively?
- Turns – Rolled for? How often does it change? Does a BIT apply? Sequenced or simultaneous?
- Partial Successes – Are double-twos automatic fails no matter what? Double-sixes successes? Especially bad or good outcomes? What about rolling exactly the threat number?
- Magic – Do failures come randomly, target the caster, or fizzle out? Anyone can use it or is a specific skill / origin needed? Is there a limit on how many times to use?
- et. al
BITS is a joy to work on. So flexible, I have details and drafts on multiple genres (e.g. sci fi, fantasy, modern day, giant robot, etc.), applications to different popular media (e.g. Star Wars, Star Trek, Avatar the Last Airbender, etc.), and one-page conversions for other game systems (e.g. Mork Borg, D&D, PBtA, Soulbound, Wrath and Glory, etc.).
I am darn well giddy to share with you these things this year!
A Take From the 4Ms
I noticed how in the fictional Warhammer 40,000 universe, everyone was relying on their augmented bulk, their psionic mind, or their control of machines to get what they want.
Thus bore Muscle-Mind-Machine, a draft of the draft of what became BITS!
I could not get 3M to work the way I wanted to as a universal system, so BITS became the next evolution.
But what about the Ms? While working on BITS and reading other game systems, the Ms evolved too into 4M:
- Muscle – strength, toughness, dexterity.
- Mind – intellect, insight, mental or magical power.
- Mettle – force of will, morale, charisma, daresay “soul.”
- Mastery – trainings, skills, abilities, special considerations.
This latest came inspired by Warhammer’s Soulbound, a recent WH RPG that leverages soul-power to bring out divine and demonic judgement. I take that to be a more generic “soul” so that it becomes flexible for different situations where personality matters.
We can add more Ms too: Mortality (health, HP, ability to keep resisting), Memory (background and connection network), Move (how quickly to maneuver), Means (the gear or a ‘growth’ or ‘augment’ that takes up a gear slot), etc.
But that is neither here nor there 🙂 BITS is my go-to, but it is nice to know 4M (or 8M!) is there in my game-making toolbox.
There are always questions in science. Art is only put down, never complete. Game design is both an art and science, thus there always is more work to do.
As mentioned, I am tackling one-page conversions and game’s set in familiar-though-adapted settings. Put them here on the blog, gather courage to upload them on storefronts, buy some cover art – you know, business things 🙂
Let me know if you would care to try out BITS yourself! Especially if I haven’t put the one-pager out from the blog backlog 😁 Until then, enjoy your games and cheers to what you make!
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