For Simple Coin: Four Tales of Sword Noir

Calum scratched at his stubbled cheek. Mandas wasn’t his friend. The Blackhands certainly weren’t his friends. Why hire him? “What are you offering?”

“I need something collected. I figured you’d need the work.”

Mandas the Grunt was a real boot-tread for Josak, the local boss for the Blackhands. What worried Calum was that since Mandas wasn’t collecting, that meant Josak didn’t want his own involved.

“Who’s got what, and who wants it?”

“You know Tanos Six-Toes?”

Tanos worked for the Mashaam, the other major Night Guild. He had lost four toes in a fight with a whore. No one could actually explain how he had lost the toes. The two Night Guilds warred incessantly, and if Calum got between them, the scavengers wouldn’t find much to pick off his bones.

“You know I can’t touch one of the Mashaam,” Calum said.

Mandas’ leer widened. “How would they find out? I mean, if Tanos isn’t around to tell them and all.”

Tales of Sword NoirThese are tales of Sword Noir. Characters’ with shifting—if not entirely absent—morals. In these dark places, hope is frail or completely absent. Trust is the most valued of commodities–life is the cheapest. In these pages, grim leaders weave labyrinthine plots which entangle innocents. And then there is the magic—powerful, certainly, but it extorts its price as surely as the moneylenders in the alleys and on the docks.

For Simple Coin is a short fantasy fiction collection. You’ll find stories that have been published in On Spec, Forgotten Worlds, and AtFantasy, as well as one entirely new tale. The intent of the stories is to meld the heroics of sword & sorcery with the attitudes of hardboiled detective fiction.

If you enjoy this style of fiction, look for Sword Noir: an RPG of Hardboiled Sword & Sorcery, coming soon from Sword’s Edge Publishing.

For Simple Coin is now available at RPG Now.

Sword Noir Sneak Peek: Qualities

This is your first sneak peek at the actual rules in Sword Noir: an RPG of Hardboiled Sword & Sorcery. That’s not counting the development of the game at the Accidental Survivors forums. I mean, that was a real sneak peek. Sneaky von Peeky.

Following the preview is a question asked by someone who got an early look at the rules and my answer to it. This should give you a peek not at the rules but at the thinking that went on while developing the rules.


When creating a new Quality, that Quality begins at Good. Advancing a Good Quality to Great would cost another rank; from Great to Exceptional another rank, etc.

A Quality is a descriptive word or phrase, as discussed above. There is no limitation for creating a Quality, but the idea is to build on the character’s Concept. The GM may disallow a Quality too broad, such as “Fighting,” or may require the player pay extra ranks to create and advance, such as requiring three ranks just to create the Quality at Good.

By the same token, a Quality that is too narrow, such as “Fighting Terriers with a Stick” will have little application in the game.

“Stick fighting” or “Quarterstaff” would be good Qualities to represent martial prowess with a specific style or weapon.

A unique or special item or piece of equipment may also be a Quality, and this is discussed later in Items.

All Qualities, like most Aspects, are attached to one of the Traits. “Spent Time Among the Northern Barbarians” might be attached to Physique on the understanding that the culture is about strength and endurance, or it might be attached to Will because it is the barbarian’s force of will that elevates the character within the tribe.

Whenever a Quality is used to modify an action, the Trait to which it is linked is used as well. If the character has “Spent Time Among the Northern Barbarians” at Good (+2) and it is attached to Physique, which the character has at Great (+4), then when using the “Spent Time Among the Northern Barbarians” Quality, the total modifier would be +6. For more information on Tests, see Tests.

During any Test, only the Qualities attached to a single Trait may be used. Since Concept and Background are not linked to a Trait, they may be used in any Test to which they apply.

For example, let us say the character has “Stick fighting” at Good linked to Agility, which is also Good. The character further has “Hard Hitting” at Good linked to Physique at Average. The character’s Concept is “Mercenary bodyguard” at Good. In a fight, the character could use “Stick fighting” or “Hard Hitting,” but not both, because the two Qualities are linked to different Traits. The character could use “Mercenary bodyguard” in either case, given that the Concept is certainly tied to combat.

Regular and minion characters do not receive Qualities beyond those already covered in Aspects and Traits.


In general, a character has whatever is reasonable for that character to have in terms of equipment and wardrobe. Items need not be listed, but certainly can be in order to add a level of granularity otherwise absent from the character description.

Some items, though, will be Qualities. Things like a signature weapon, a magical device, or a particularly well-made tool could be taken as Qualities. These items will modify any action in which they are used for their purpose–Good lockpicks would not modify an attack and an Exceptional sword would not help when baking a cake.

An example of an item that could be a Quality would be Gandalf’s sword, Glamdring, in the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. The Grey Mouser’s sword, Scalpel, would not be a Quality because this is merely the name the Mouser gives to whatever sword he happens to be using.

Quality items are intrinsic to the character, and if they are lost or removed, it should only be temporary. The character should be provided with a temporary Quality of equal rank to compensate for the temporary loss of the item.

Even though these Qualities are items rather than inherent features of the character, the Qualities are linked to Traits, just as are all other Qualities.

After reading this, Graeme wrote:

I have a bit of a problem with having Quality Items being permanent. I understand that they are intrinsic to a character but if a magic sword is lost into a bottomless chasm in the course of role-play, I don’t see why an equivalent Item would show up. Also, a GM wouldn’t be able to use a PC’s prized possession as a quest hook if it were somehow stolen or lost – the character of that PC might just wait for the equivalent to turn up.

My answer to that is:
The bottom line is that Quality Items are permanent because that is fair to the player. It might be a great plot hook or story to take Glamdring from Gandalf, but Gandalf’s player—by making the sword a Quality—has told you, the GM, “I don’t want to lose this sword.” I want to respect that, because I think then the player will have more fun. No matter how cool the scene or story element is that grows out of losing Glamdring, and no matter how much the player enjoys it, the player has basically been victimized. The player has complete control over one thing in the game—the character. I want that control to remain in the player’s hands.

If the player is a dick and actually throws the sword into a volcano or sells it or trades it or something, screw him. He loses it. It’s obviously not important to him or he wouldn’t have done that.

The rules are actually designed on the assumption that the players and GM all trust each other, and that they accept the social contract of the game. Exploiting the rules for an advantage—unless this is done in cooperation or collusion with the other players and GM—breaks that social contract.

Now, as the GM, your rules are the rules of the game. It’s that simple. One option I think I could throw in there would be temporary Items. This would allow the GM to reward players outside of the Advancement rules with stuff like magic equipment. Those could then be lost, stolen, what have you. If a player fell in love with her sword, and wanted to keep it forever, the player could then buy a Quality Item for that sword, making it permanent.

Arcane Kingdoms

Across the seas or perhaps trackless deserts, places of legend in stories told by sailors who have seen the edges of the world, these Arcane Kingdoms are beyond the knowledge of many. But here, collected in these pages, is all the information known of these realms.

For now.

Arcane Kingdoms offers descriptions of seven nations in a PDF with 27 pages of content.

The purpose of Arcane Kingdoms is to provide a small amount of information on a collection of nations that could be used in your game. How these are used depend on what you need. If you are running a “points of light” campaign, your players’ characters may find themselves near the edge of the map, and begin asking what’s beyond that. You may need a background for a mysterious character, some place beyond the confines already known in your campaign. One of your players may want a character who likewise comes from beyond the known lands.

Basically, this saves you from thinking up some foreign lands, for whatever purpose they might be needed.

Arcane Kingdoms is system neutral and includes no system or mechanical information. You can find it at RPG Now and Drive Thru RPG.