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Pandemonium RPG

***Work in Progress***

Pandemonium is a role-play game with a slightly different feel: No dice are required; instead, the game uses a pack or packs of standard playing cards. You could also consider it as a combat game with just enough RPG tacked on to have interesting chracters and to get from one fight to another, however I suppose I would rather you didn't:-) If you have any comments, questions or queries, please email If you use it, please tell me your experiences!

Feel free to adapt, change or add to the system any way you like. However, I would ask: please put a pointer to the original document and email address here. Oh, and do please tell me about it.

No campaign world currently exists for the game; the GM will need to create his own. The core rules do not even assume the existence of magic, or any advanced form of martial arts. However, a proper magic system, one or two systems for "supernormal" abilities that aren't strictly magic, and full martial arts rules, can be found in my list of add-on modules.


In Pandemonium there are five "statistics" (also known as stats or even attributes) which every player character has. These are: You choose your stats by dividing 20 points between them. All stats must be at least 2 and no more than 6.


In Pandemonium, every skill is based upon a stat, and replaces it when making checks. If you do not have the skill, use the basic attribute score instead. For example if I have Knowledge 4 and Herb Lore 6, then I can test my herbal knowledge at level 6 but other subjects at level 4.

To decide upon your skills, you have 20 points again, divided up between your stats in the same way.You cannot spend more than half (round up) your points for any stat on a single skill.

A suggested list of skills is:

NB:- For example, if I have Dexterity 5, I get 5 points to specialise in Dexterity skills. I could therefore have Riding 8 (3points), Set snares 6 (4points) and Stealth 6 (5points). All other dexterity skills would be tested at level 5.

Skill checks

To pass a skill check, you must play a card of the suit (determined by the stat the skill derives from) less than or equal to your skill level. For example, to pass a Healing check with Healing score 7, I must play an Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 of Spades (Healing comes from Knowledge).

For extra difficult tasks, the GM may specify a lower limit on the card I play - e.g. if I was healing a badly injured person who looked like they were about die, the GM might require "at least a 5" - so I would have to play a 5,6 or 7 of Spades.

For opposed checks, i.e. one person against another, the one who plays the highest card, that is less than or equal their skill and the correct suit, wins.

Other Numbers


Most campaign worlds have gods, and people who worship them, somewhere! So I have stuck in a few here. Most people will follow some god (who may occassionally help them in times of dire need), some will be priests (this means they can conduct services, preach, call upon the god's followers to help them, etc - much like a modern priest), and a few will be clerics (where they have been divinely blessed with special powers, and live their lives as a shining example of all the religion holds to be true, go on campaign, etc.) You should choose if you want to be a priest or cleric before you start creating your character. There may be many other gods who do not have clerics and priests, for example in some cultures there is a god for each craft.
GodPriest benefitAdditional clerical abilities (choose one)
War+1 WS, Endurance skill (Body) 2
  • May never lose weapon / be disarmed
  • Bonded mount
  • No drawbacks from wearing heavy armour
  • Nature+1 Body, <natural environment> lore (Knowledge) 2
  • Animal communication / empathy / friendship (play any card)
  • Bonded mount
  • Summon creatures (take an <natural environment> lore check for increased effect, otherwise play a card)
  • Healing+1 Aura, Healing skill (Knowledge) 2
  • Healing skill restores health equal to the number on the card, not just 1
  • Healing aura - all in party regain 1 health / hour
  • Full rules for a god of Magic are in the add-on list.

    A bonded mount is a strong, courageous horse (or other creature if the GM allows) of exceptional intelligence, completely loyal to the cleric at all times (unless the cleric breaks his vows...). The "bond" is partly an empathic link, partly complete loyalty and unswerving devotion. The cleric will take equally good care of his/her mount.


    The combat system is a game in its own right; it is eminently suitable for a "three musketeers" type game, or, with the special moves rules, for a completely unrealistic, highly cinematic, mortal-kombat style game. It can be used for a "league" of duellists as well - you could have "friendly" duels, where there are no after-effects, and "league" duels where characters die and gain experience.

    In combat, as in most circumstances, the players play cards from their hand. A card can either inflict damage upon other players, prevent damage from being inflicted upon oneself, or allow you to draw more cards (and increase the size of your hand). In some circumstances a card can do several of these.

    The three basic moves are: Hit, Draw cards, and Block. The first two can only be used when you have the initiative, i.e., are not about to get hit. A hit is simply an attack on another character (be it with a sword, dagger, fist, broken bottle or chair; according to the value of the card and what there is to hand) that will do damage equal to the face value of the card if the victim doesn't stop it. Draw cards allows you to replenish your hand by drawing cards equal to the face value. A block prevents damage to the player up to the face value of the card, from one hit only.

    For the above moves, suit does not matter. However for all moves (except drawing cards) the colour (red or black) is important: if the attack and defence are the same colour, the defender has the next turn; if they are different colours, the attacker may attack again.

    The three basic moves (to which we can add "pass" and "draw a single card" where you have no cards in hand and it is your turn) are avilable to all characters: a simple unskilled NPC just uses these moves. However more advanced moves can be assigned to suits with points from Weapon Skill:

    For example, if I learn Stab and put it on hearts, whenever I play a stab I can choose to play a Stab, Hit, Block, etc. Other suits are unaffected. Players learn a number of moves equal to their WS, for all weapons, and equal to the skill specialisation for each weapon. For example:
    Weapon Skill 4 - Slash (Clubs), Parry (Spades),Lunge (Diamonds), Counterattack (Hearts)

    Bow 5 (no moves - see below, under shooting

    Dagger 5 - Stab (Spades)

    Longsword 6 - Evade (Diamonds), Renzoku (Spades)

    Thus when I am using my longsword, I have six moves I can use (slash, parry, lunge, counterattack, evade and renzoku); if I am using my dagger, I get Slash, Parry, Lunge, Counterattack and Stab. If I were to use some other weapon, I would get the four moves listed under Weapon Skill only. If I were to fight unarmed I would have no moves - Hit and Block only.

    If you are cardless, you may draw one card only if you have the initiative. Your best bet is probably to spend a victory point and redraw you hand. Or to hope any opponents ignore you and attack someone else, or also have no cards.

    See a sample fight and characters if you're stuck.

    As you can see, those without moves will stand little chance - but a trained swordsman would butcher a non-combatant. You always have other options on your turn - be it drawing cards, or making suitable skill checks to run away, jump through a window, zap them to death with magic or whatever.


    This is simple - just make a skill check for the weapon, with any suit; you do the number of the card in damage, adjusted by the weapon if appropriate. At long ranges, or for difficult to hit targets, the GM can impose difficulties, i.e. a minimum number for the card. More details are in the optional rules section on ranged weapons.


    Experience is represented by Victory Points (VP). For each league duel you win, you gain 1 VP. In quests, the GM sets the victory points gained by the players. All players begin with one victory point. These are kept until needed, or spent at once:
  • (1 VP)increase a skill by 3 points for one check only.
  • (1 VP) redraw entire hand (out of turn) - useful in combat
  • (1 VP) escape all damage from one hit, spell, dose of poison, or whatever. In combat this can be used to save you from being knocked out or killed.
  • (1 VP) seize the initiative in combat. You can attack immediately. Play afterwards continues as normal.
  • (New score VP) Increase a skill by one, e.g. going from 5 to 7 costs 6+7=13 VP.
  • (New Score times 2 VP) Increase a stat by one. All skills you have learnt are unaffected e.g. if I have Aura 3, Preaching 5 and Con 4, and I spend 8 VP, afterwards I have Aura 4 and Preaching 5.
  • Weapons and Armour

    or,the Optional Rules List

    The game works well enough without any rules for weapons and armour - i.e., treating all close-combat weapons as the same - or with just the rules for secondary weapons, but some GMs may wish to add a little more detail in order to distinguish between, say, 10-foot long pikes and flick knives. In which case, all, some or fewer of these rules may be applied - just pick the ones that appeal to you:

    1. Secondary weapons (e.g. where you fight with a dagger as well as a sword) - You get extra cards equal to your specialization (i.e. skill level not including WS) in your secondary weapon, and can use it to play moves learnt with those points (not those learnt with WS points). You can also use it at the same time as your primary weapon, i.e. block with one and attack with the other; however, if you win the initiative on the block, you can't attack twice simultaneously!
    2. Shields - these work much as secondary weapons. You get an extra card to add to your hand in combat, and use the shield to play additional moves as well as your weapon. However there is no shield skill to learn: two moves are always available, Shield Parry and Shield Bash. These are both available on a number of suits, depending on the shield, and are identical to the basic Block and Hit but apply bonuses depending on the shield being used:
      Buckler+1Clubs and Diamonds
      Small+3Clubs and Diamonds
      Large+5Clubs, Diamonds and Hearts
      Body+7Clubs, Diamonds and Hearts
      Tower+9All suits

      For example if I am using a Small shield, I can play a Shield Bash (to add 3 to the number on the card to attack) or a Shield Parry (+3 bonus for defence) whenever I use a Club or a Diamond. I can use my shield to hit or block with Hearts or Spades but there is no bonus.

      An additional option, with Large, body or Tower shields, is to "cower" behind your shield and make no attempt to attack. If several people do this, the result is a shield wall. (Each person must) play a card; adding shield bonuses if the card is of the right suit; this is then used as the defence value against all subsequent attacks until one hits, whereupon you have to play another card.

      The main disadvantage of using a shield is encumbrance; the GM might want to rule the "Shield Bonus" is also the minimum Strength (B) skill required to use it.

    3. Armour - this subtracts a fixed amount from the damage every time you get hit. Four types of armour are available: None, Standard (=Leather), Medium (=Chain + Leather) and Heavy (=Plate). All players are assumed to have Standard armour unless they specifically decide they don't want it. The effects are as follows:
      ArmourMinimum Strength(B)Minimum Endurance(B)Damage ModifierThief skills penaltyCost
      None  +2  
      Standard33- 10

      If your Strength(B) and/or Endurance(B) fall below the values in the table, you can still wear that armour. However you must reduce the size of your hand by one for each point below the value in the table. For example, if I have Body 3, no Endurance, and Strength 5 and I were to wear Medium armour, I would receive a penalty of -2 cards (one for Strength and one for Endurance).

      • Many of these rules end up reducing the amount of damage taken by the defender. To make it easier for the attacker - or if you just want more deadly fights anyway - when a hit is scored, the attacker may, instead of dealing damage (perhaps with a large negative penalty), add the unmodified score by which he hit to his next move. For example, a fencer hits a knight in medium armour (-2 damage) with a 9-of-hearts Thrust (+8 attack, half damage), blocked by a 7-of-clubs parry (+4 defence): he hits by 6 points ( 9+8-(6+4) ). Instead of electing to deal 1 point of damage (half of six, minus 2), he elects to add 6 to his next move. He attacks again with an 8-of-diamonds Slash, the knight blocks with a 5-of-clubs Block, and instead of doing only 1 point of damage (8+4-(5+4)-2) he does 7. The bonus may equally be used on a defensive move if that is the first move you play.
      • Strong characters - anyone may increase the damage from a hit by one for each Strength check they pass.
    4. Weapons - the main effect is to give a different set of damage modifiers against different types of armour. The standard +2/0/-2/-4 as given under "Armour" above is used for a normal sword; a heavy club, which does it's damage by crushing, would be affected by armour less, so might be +1/0/-1/-2. Some weapons will intrinsically do more damage than others, however the likely effects against different armour types must be considered. Making a sword sharper (e.g. a katana) will make it more deadly against opponents with little or no armour but will be no more effective at cutting through metal - +4/+2/-2/-4, perhaps. The GM must use his discretion in assigning modifiers, especially in cases where players choose unusual weapons. Further ways to restrict weapons include:
      1. Reach - it is fairly obvious that a man with a greatsword outranges a man with only a dagger. Less obvious is that the man with a dagger can get inside the reach of the greatsword, and turn his opponent's great reach against him. A 6ft long halberd is clearly going to be restrictive in a small corridor, yet a nunchaku, which could asimlarly reach 6ft, is not. Similarly, a 9ft long spear or pike used for defending against cavalry charges outranges the 6t halberd easily. Here, we assume that a combatant who hits his opponent is at the range he wants to be, until he is hit in return. If this range disadvantages his opponent, but not himself, he gets a +2 bonus to every move until the distance changes. If the range difference is more extreme still - a 9 pike vs. a dagger - the bonus can be +4, at which point the pikeman would probably be better off switching to unarmed combat. If ranges are similar - dagger vs. unarmed, longsword vs. rapier, etc. - there is no bonus and no need to keep track of the distance.
      2. Maximum damage - imposes an absolute maximum on the amount of damage a weapon can do, e.g. a single hit from a club, on whatever part of the bdy, cannot do enough to threaten the life of the average person. (Though it can easily knock them out). Only applicable to a few weapons.
      3. Accuracy - for weapons which work by dealing small amounts of damage to small areas of the body, damage caused can be represented by a large penalty to damage inflicted, with a bonus equal (or proportional) to the number of points of weapon specialization the player has.
      4. Other bonuses - (or penalties) applied to particular moves. e.g. fencing-type weapons are very good for doing ripostes. More extreme weapons can impose bans on certain moves being learnt, e.g. unarmed moves. Some weapons may also allow moves that would not otherwise be possible - swordbreakers, nunchaku for disarming people, etc. And lastly some "close-combat" weapons, if correctly balanced, can be thrown as missile weapons.
    5. Missile Weapons - these can have damage adjustments vs. the different sorts of armour (if appropriate) in the same way as close-combat weapons. They also have range limitations, dependant on your Strength(B):