Wednesday 13 November 2013

Five By Five by Jeff Moore. Again. Why? Because...

Déjà vu is a sign that they've changed something in The Matrix. Don't panic! No need to check to see if the doors or windows are still there, this déjà vu is caused squarely by a re-review. I've reviewed Five By Five before and it was so good that I shaved my head, grew a beard, started a cult and sacrificed a whole software engineering team of virgins. There is now a new version (#3) and I can see the engineers have already started running.

Five by Five by Jeff Moore takes a simple mechanic with some delightful properties, builds a system on top of it and then shows you how to play it with example settings.


Characters scooped from imagination goo are baked into Traits. A Trait is a thing you're good at doing. Combat Traits cover getting oily and hacky and can be of type Interrupt, Attack, Defend or Resist. Non-combat Traits cover everything else from flying defusing a ticking atomic bomb in the last 3 seconds through to throwing together a gourmet three course feast from the tins at the back of your cupboard.

The Trouble Trait is curious, it's the Trait that defines what you're bad at. That's joyous! Think of the fun you could have, especially if you collaboratively create your characters: let the players give the Trouble Trait to other player characters. *Evil Laugh*


The core of Five by Five is that it uses D6s but you count 6 as 0. So you get a D5. To do any action, you roll two of these blighters and multiply the result. Each Trait has a rank, which is a target number and you have to roll under that. The fact that you have a zero in there means that 30% of your rolls are always a success, no matter how rubbish you are at something.

The pesky GM will toy with the target number depending on the lunacy you're getting up to and critical fails are rolling the same number on each die. Karma points are used to make tasks easier and are earnt by using your Trouble Trait.

Choppy, Stabby, Smashy

Combat is new in Five by Five. Those characters with an Attack Combat Trait will hit more often. Damage is recorded by wounds, the bigger the weapon and crapper the defending armour is, the more chance you're going to get hit. You have a few other choices to do with combat styles and those choices augment your chance of hitting. It's got just enough tactical choice to make it interesting without getting bogged down in tonnes of rules.


There's a GM section, lovely Creative Commons art and TWO, yes TWO example adventures! One set in high fantasy and one for a supers campaign. My usual complaint about generic systems is that without a setting or two, it is very difficult to understand how they might be used. Five By Five now picks that complaint up off the floor and nails to the wall for all to see. There's a contents and an explanation of the mathematics at the back.

Prolific like Silicon

Jeff creates in the way other people breathe. He is blogging new ideas and extensions to the rules all the time. They are options, of course, but how lovely to have options at all! Jeff supports his game with the same effervescent vigor by which he creates them. If you follow blogs (duh!) then follow his, the gush of ideas is thrilling.

Not Perfect

I'm almost impossible to please. I like the stark black and white graphics but prefered the old two-column layout. I would rather like a border too, when printed black text on a borderless page gets a little lost. Sometimes the graphics inline don't really match with the meaning of the text and although I appreciate this is difficult with Creative Commons imagery, one must take care of where to put the images. The text headings should be different sizes to indicator chapter and section. There is a little too much preamble before the game begins. It has its own website, so it doesn't have to be all in there.

Combat needs more examples and I think the language sometimes strays away from being generic (such as Sword and Board not being appropriate for Sci Fi campaigns). That's a problem that most generic RPGs have. The use of "segments" in combat also got me thinking about the use of non-standard language in RPGs but that's a post of for another time.


Five By Five still ranks with my favourite generic RPG systems. It uses a solid core mechanic that is easy to pick up and has some brilliant mathematical outcomes. Enough crunch to be a system without smashing your teeth.


Michael Taylor said...

I don't know what "Creative Commons art" is or more importantly where it can be found, but I suspect it's something that a lot of authors of Free RPGs would like to know more about!

Any chance of a post educating us on this?

Rob Lang said...

Hi Michael, thanks again for the comment.

Creative Commons art is art that is release with the kind of license that you can use in your game without paying anyone. Different CC licenses exist but it's a way of an artist to give away their art for free without being taken advantage of.

You can find my slightly old list of Public Domain and CC art libraries here:

Unknown said...

This warms my heart! Michael Taylor is looking at a game I've been looking at... now I know I'm heading in the right direction!