Tuesday 10 August 2010

Five By Five by Jeff Moore, making me excited about generic lite systems

Wait there a minute, friend! Jeff has updated Five by Five so I re-reviewed it.
"Hold it right there, limey ginger guy! You don't like generic systems very much. You say there is nothing between them and need a setting to make them novel." - Anonny Mouse.

You would be right, dear reader. Truly generic systems missing example settings leave me sighing forlornly. I wouldn't recommend anyone writes another one. I've always proclaimed it and I've always been wrong.

Five by Five by Jeff Moore is a free, lite and generic roleplaying game system that uses player specified traits to represent the character's ability. What makes Five by Five novel is the use of these traits and multiplication. Yes, as in multiplying stuff together. Like you did at school. Intrigued? Keep reading...

Character Generation

Your character is made up from three Traits, hit points and the neccessary adornments to make them appear real, such as a name or number of buttocks. Each Trait describes something special that a character can do relevant to the setting, such as 'Circus Performing' or 'TV Chef'. Each Trait is assigned an adjective and an associated value that represents how good you are at that Trait.

Your eyes have narrowed, you're frowning. You've seen this before. You're thinking there is little of novelty here. You're right. Stick with it. The onus is placed firmly on the shoulders of the player to think up these Traits. A fulsome list of Trait examples are provided at the back of the book but I envisage any campaign is likely to need its own set, putting the work back on the GM or player.

There are also Intensity Traits, which boost the power of another Trait. This is handy when you are trying to make a Trait powerful at the cost of taking up one of your preciously few Trait slots.

*Character advancement is dealt with by players and GM keeping track of when they roll doubles (2 of the same dice). These doubles are then saved and spent to increase your traits between sessions.

The intention here is for your character to be born from the fires of conversation. Performing tuning algorithms on character builds is your aim but to create something that you can play. A helpful example character build is included.

Mechanics - The Novel Bit

Generic systems rely heavily on their mechanics to for their novelty and Five by Five is no different.

Five by Five uses a 'D5'. Before you reach for your clutch of dice and a an angle grinder, know that a D5 is a D6 where the 6 counts as zero. To perform an action, roll two D5 and multiply them together. If the product is below or equal to the the trait's value, you pass.

I like this system because 30% of the time, the outcome is 0, which means that even for actions for which you do not have a Trait, there is still a reasonable chance you might pass. Modifiers are applied by the GM bumping the Rank up or down.

Combat begins with siezing the initiative - if you succeed then you act before the NPCs. If you do not, then you act after the NPCs. Between the players, it does not matter who goes first. Damage, healing, movement, dodging, running away and healing is all dealt with neatly and with no nasty "adding more mechanics in the back door" surprises.

The mechanics also include rules for using miniatures if you are of that bent. My players are not, having luncheoned expensively upon several Warhammer 40K armies.


Five by Five proudly sports a very good GM section. Generic systems typically stumble when it comes to examples of rule use and character creation because they are so tied to the act of being generic. Jeff neatly circumvents this problem by offering general advice on creating your Traits and also advice on what to create for a setting. By raising sign posts to setting creation, you get a feel for how the game plays.

The layout of the book is excellent, clear text and wonderful artwork provided by Skorched 'Urf Studios Modern Figures Sketchbook Series. The license is CC-BY.

A very clear bias

Jeff is a friend of mine. One of those internet friends I cherish and if we were ever to meet in a bar there would be a race to buy the other man a drink. Jeff is a free RPG powerhouse and the fact I've not reviewed one of his RPGs before is so statistically inprobable that a mathematician somewhere will be writing a journal paper on it by now.

Jeff has been making use of my Guide to Organising a Free RPG to build this game, which is exceptionally flattering. If that wasn't enough, Jeff has done so publically on his blog. Having followed the designer's development diary has been fascinating for me, so reading the finished product was the icing on the cake. Given that, I'm going to have a bit of a moan.

No example setting aside...

One of the facets of all generic lite systems is that they throw a lot of the effort of game design onto the player and GM. Five by Five is another example of this - although Jeff does his best to mitigate the extra work with examples. As a GM, it is not just a case of creating a setting background and a series of adventures for your campaign (a GM would normally do), you also have to craft example Traits, equipment, spells and all the other trappings your players will expect. There are many non-generic rulesets fitting your desired genre that provide that for you, leaving you the task of world building.

As a player, not only do you have to get to grips with the new system but you have to create Traits for it too. If the setting is wild, hairy and new then that task is made all the more difficult. Chances are the setting would be wild and hairy else you would probably be using another ruleset.

The unfortunate paradox facing all lite generic systems is that where you save time by having a small system and few pages to leaf through, you have to put more effort in because less has been done for you. If you or your player group do not mind this additional effort then ignore my blathering.


I usually recommend Fate, Sketch or Risus as good free, generic systems. They satisfy me in wholly different ways and in my mind stand above the masses that jostle for attention. I would not have advised Jeff to write Five By Five but he didn't ask me and I'm glad he didn't. It is an excellent, novel system that deserves a place in my usual recommendations for GMs seeking a system for that campaign idea they have been gestating.


Jeff W. Moore said...

Thanks so much for the review, Rob. I really appreciate it. I do plan to write a genre book for Five by Five eventually or maybe others might do it since the game is CC-BY. Thanks again. A wonderful review.


Jeff Moore

evildm said...

Hey guys,
I want this but I dont want to join scribbed. Is there another way to download??

Jeff W. Moore said...

Rob warned me that folks might need alternate links to gain access to my games because some folks don't like Scribd. I have it in Google Docs and will post that link on my site. I will have it done tonight!

Jeff W. Moore said...

Done. Click on the Get Five by Five Link on my blog main page and you can find links for both Scribd and Google Docs ... will that work?


Jeff Moore

Larry Straining said...

I have been fortunate to know Jeff and to be in his gaming group for around 10 years now. Of course this means that I also get to play Five by Five with the author. Are you a fan of fantasy, I recommend Five by Five. Are you a fan of space, I recommend Five by Five. Are you a fan of Hello Kitty, I recommend Five by Five. I really enjoy that this system can be applied to any setting. I look forward to the game nights this is brought out because I know it will be a lot of fun.

Unknown said...

Thanks. Way cool mechanic.

Rob Lang said...

@Larry - Thank you for supporting Jeff, it is good old fashioned playtesting that allows designers like Jeff and I to polish our games. Since I wrote the review, 5x5 has become one of the standard mechanics I recommend to designers hunting for a system.

@Nero - Great! Thanks for the feedback. :)

Jason Scanlon said...

You may have caught this already, but isn't the chance of a zero less than ten percent? Not a criticism, I actually think it's more reasonable.

Jeff W. Moore said...

No. A zero result occurs any time a "6" is rolled on 2d6. When rolling 2d6 there are 11 in 36 possible outcomes involving a roll of 6 on at least one die: 16, 26, 36, 46, 56, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, and 66. Since the 5x5 roll excludes "doubles" results, we throw out the 66 result, leaving a 10 in 36 (5 in 18) chance of rolling a zero. That's roughly a 28% chance to roll zero.

Rob Lang said...

Ha! Jeff got in there before me. Thanks for your comment, Jason and thanks for the clarification, Jeff.