Chalk Outline is a lightweight, flexible rules system for roleplaying games (RPGs) thet grew out of a modified version of the Silhouette rules system published by Dream Pod 9 the author used for one-shots and short games.
The principle of the game is that "everything is a skill" - with the exception of a small number of Advantages that grant unique perks, the division between a character's basic attributes and learned skills present in many RPG systems has been (almost) entirely removed. This makes the rules extremely quick to pick up and characters quick to construct, making the system ideal for the short-notice games it was designed for.
Skills are usually ranked from 0-4, though higher level skills may be possible in more high-powered games. For reference, the rough levels of competence implied by different skill levels are summarized below:
- Rank 0: Untrained: You have no knowledge in this field, or perhaps only the barest theoretical backing. You are likely to horribly fluff any attempt to use this skill.
- Rank 1: Basic Training: You have been trained in how to use this skill, but you have little practical experience. You are much less likely to horribly mess it up, but your results are still very variable.
- Rank 2: Professional: You have had a few years of practical experience to go with your theoretical knowledge of this skill; you can usually expect good quality results from your use of this skill.
- Rank 3: Veteran: You have a long period of confident use of this skill behind you. Unless you are under heavy pressure, the chances of you really messing anything up using this skill become extremely small.
- Rank 4: Master: You are quite possibly a legend in this area of activity. Failure becomes unlikely, and even under extreme pressure you will usually deliver top results.
- Rank 5+: Superhuman: Perhaps a few people in a century gain rank 5 in a skill; at this level you are pushing the bounds of human possibility. Not getting an excellent result on your skill checks starts to become less and less likely. Rank 6 and higher is the realm of truly superhuman or divine beings.
The task resolution mechanic is simple: take a number of standard six-sided dice (D6) equal to your rank in the skill you are using. Roll them. Pick the highest and add any relevant bonuses or penalties, such as those from advantages or wounds. If this equals or exceeds the Difficulty Threshold set by the GM, you have passed. The difference between the threshold and your roll is the Margin of Success (or Margin of Failure if you failed the roll), which may have additional effects.
There are some small exceptions to this mechanic:
- If you roll more than one 6, each 6 after the first adds one to the result of your roll.
- If if all your dice roll 1, the die counts as a zero. Then add bonuses and penalties. This also counts as a "fumble", which may have a special meaning in some circumstances.
- If you do not have any ranks in the skill, you instead roll two dice and pick the lowest value. Multiple sixes do not add to the result, and if either die is a 1 you count as having rolled a zero.
Opposed checks involve both parties rolling a relevant skill and comparing results; the highest value wins, with a Margin of Success equal to the difference. Should the the opponents get the same result, the party who can be described as the "defender" usually wins. This will vary from situation to situation.
If you are sufficiently skilled, you can trade dice from your skill to alleviate penalties on the roll; this generally sacrifices reliability for a greater maximum result. For each level you reduce your effective skill by (to a minimum of 1), you may ignore 1 point of penalties on the roll. You may not reduce yourself to an Untrained (i.e. rank 0) level.
Combat is divided into rounds of roughly five seconds each. At the beginning of each round, each participant rolls their Combat Sense skill to determine initiative, with each participant acting in order from the highest down. In the case of ties, the participants involved act in the same instant, or at least close enough that they cannot interfere with each others' actions.
Attacks are contested rolls between the attacker and defender. The attacker uses an appropriate skill to the weapon they are using, while the defender either Dodges or uses an appropriate skill if he is in close combat. If the attacker wins, he deals damage equal to his Margin of Success plus the Damage of any weapon he is wielding, minus the Armour of the defender.
Damage and Death
As standard, characters have five Wound Boxes, each with an associated penalty, and an equal number of Dying Boxes:
-0 -1 -1 -2 -2 D D D D D
Each point of damage received crosses off one of these boxes. Characters suffer a penalty to all their skill rolls equal to the highest penalty associated with a crossed-off box, unless the skill specifies otherwise. Once the character's first Dying box is crossed off he collapses and begins to die of bleeding. Each round another box is crossed off; if there are no boxes left to cross off, the character dies!
First Aid and Surgery can help mitigate wound penalties and stabilize a dying character. See the description of the Medical skill for details.
Each player starts the game with a pool of Emergency Dice, as decided by the GM. The default is to start with four dice. These represent the little edges that set the PCs (and sometimes important NPCs) apart from the flock; that bit of luck, of fate on their side, that makes them heroes.
Emergency Dice are most commonly spent to add additional dice to a roll which has gone badly, but they have several uses. You may spend an emergency die to:
- Add another die to a roll you have just made, after rolling the dice but before picking the highest result. This cannot be done on a roll which was Untrained (i.e. rolling two dice and picking the lowest). You may spend as many Emergency Dice as you have available in this way, one at a time.
- Ignore 1 point of penalties on a roll, before rolling the dice. This can be done on Trained or Untrained rolls. You may spend as many Emergency Dice as you have available in this way, but this can only cancel penalties not generate bonuses.
- Count as having an effective rank of 1 in a skill you are Untrained in, before rolling the dice. This skill is rolled normally as a Trained skill and can be subject to the first use of Emergency Dice above.
Optionally, and depending on your GM and the style of game you are playing, you may also be able to spend Emergency Dice to affect the plot in some way, such as allowing a weapon to be conveniently at hand or for a rickety, decaying bridge to choose this moment to collapse. This should be discussed with your GM on a case-by-case basis. If GMs are using this option they are encouraged to set some guidelines as to what uses of Emergency Dice in this way are acceptable.
Emergency Dice do not have a set refresh time; for a one-shot, they generally have to last you the langth of the game. In a campaign the standard is to buy them with experience points, though this may vary from setting to setting.
Example Skills List
This list shows the skills and advantages used in a modern-day military / horror game.
Everyone gets these skills at rank 1 for free.
Feats of Strength
Really Advanced Skills
These skills can only be bought if you have an advantage allowing you to do so.
Ignore 1 point of penalties on ranged attack rolls.
+1 to the result of initiative rolls.
Ignore 1 point of penalties on melee attacks and parries.
Tough as Nails
Gain an extra -0 health box.
+1 to melee damage and the result of feats of strength rolls.
You may use pistols in melee without penalty.
Ghost on the Wind
You may move at normal speed without penalty to your stealth rolls.
+1 to the result of Perception rolls.
+1 to the result of Drive and Pilot rolls.
+1 to the result of Agility. rolls.
Knows Too Much
You may gain ranks in the Occult Knowledge skill.
+1 to the result of Academics and Science rolls.
Take half the time for mechanical / technical tasks.
You may ignore 1 point of your target's wound penalties on Medical rolls.
+1 to the result of Computer rolls.
+1 to the result of Tactics rolls.
+1 to the result of Charisma and Contacts rolls.
Social Position (specify)
Gives authority in some situations. +1 to the result of Leadership rolls.
One Born Every Minute
+1 to the result of Subterfuge and Empathy rolls.