Before time started counting, there was only blackness and the place of the angels. For the eternity that was before our time, the angels were creatures of perfection -- occupied only with imagining wonders. Somehow, a great and terrible illness struck and the angels were grievously wounded. One by one, they withered and fell. As the last angel stood dying, she unlocked the mysteries of their immortal imaginings and, with the sweep of her arms the universe was born.
The world of land and ocean, of fire and rain, of creatures and men, came forth from nothing and the flow of time began. The souls of the angels were gone -- passing to some other world or out of existence entirely. But their bodies remained. Perfect crystalline forms among the chaotic new world. The material of their remains: harder than stone or metal, as clear as any solid can be, always cool to the touch, and fairly dripping with power, came in time to be called Ice among the men of the world. The bodies of Ice, over time and time, met the limits of their strengths. Cracks and breaks caused the form of the angelic bodies to vanish, replaced by rough, sharp chunks. These, in yet more time, were reduced to many, many small pieces. Relics of the dawn of time.
And men did covet the Ice. For with Ice -- with the tiniest sliver of angelic power, men could accomplish great things. But the Ice is too perfect for man to long behold. Too bright is this light from the dawn of time to gaze into without going blind. Those who too long sought to harness the power of the Ice forgot their connections to other men. Men whose great works benefited all others lost track of themselves, withdrawing inside, unable to connect or to care for others. They became islands among men, lost and alone in a sea of humanity. Many went mad, simply stopped eating, and wasted away. Some, as it is told, turned to stone and their remains can still be found in this or that secret place.
In time, a caste of men arose to protect humanity from the blinding light of the dawn. Men who had a gift were born -- able to sense the use of Ice from great distances, to sense one another, they banded together to form The Guild. To collect and destroy the Ice. To protect people from themselves. The early members of The Guild rounded up vast collections of Ice and did what they could to make it inaccessible. It is said that much was dropped into the deepest seas while some was buried in the magma of active volcanoes. There is no record of actual destruction of Ice. And there are those -- the naysayers, who claim that The Guild has merely stolen these relics from honest people trying to get ahead in order to maintain power. Many Guild members have met with untimely death at the hands of an angry mob, but each has sworn an oath of life to honor their destiny.
Ice is a game of story telling, role playing, decision making, and resource management. When you play Ice, no matter your role in the game, your job is to entertain your fellows. Remember this. It will improve your gaming experience. In a game of Ice, one player is the referee and has a number of special duties. The other players are each primarily concerned with operating their character in the shared game world. Both the referee and the other players will sometimes: act "in character" when portraying the behavior of their characters, generate outcome statements during conflict resolution that will guide narration, describe scenes in which one or more player-character appear, provide input to any and all other players about each of these aspects of play or anything else -- typically in the form of "it would be cool if this happened" statements, and manage character resources primarily (but not solely) during conflict resolution. The eferee's additional duties include: managing narration, adjudicating statement generation during conflict resolution, interpreting conflict outcomes, and awarding resources to the other players.
The player characters in Ice are Guild members. The defining characteristic of Guild members is The Sense. Each member has two special sensory powers that the common people of the world do not. Foremost, they can sense the use of Ice, sometimes from great distances. These characters know the exact direction to the sensed phenomena, approximate distance to the user (to be described by the referee in vague terms that indicate distance accurately within an order of magnitude), and the number of relics used during the event. The number of Ice crystals used also determines the range out from the locus of use that such detection can take place. One crystal will disturb the aura for about fifty feet, two for about a mile, three for fifty miles, and four or more will alert all sensitives in the world. The other ability is that anyone with The Sense can detect their peers. If one person with The Sense sees another, she will know it. Children who are born with The Sense are either: recruited, murdered, or hidden very well.
A traditional icon of role playing games is the character sheet. In Ice, you almost don't need one. Mechanically, Ice characters consist primarily of a sack of six-sided dice. Writing the Character's name and history is easier on a sheet of paper, so you should go ahead and do that. It also gives you a good place to record the key to your dice. Ice characters are described with a number of characteristics, each of which must be represented by a die color. You will choose what the characteristics are, how many there are and what weight each is given. Characteristics can be: personal abilities, vices, virtues, personality traits, skills, possessions, or anything else you can think of. The only real limitation is that each must be indicated with a single word. These characteristics represent inner resources that you bring to bear when resolving conflict. There are advantages to having few and other advantages to having many. In addition to the colors needed for representing your characteristics, you should also have a number of clear and black dice available to represent your Ice resources and your islandization. Each character begins the game with one Ice die and one Islandization die.
A conflict occurs when different characters in a scene want different things to happen or when the referee decides that something a player has just stated about her character's actions is difficult. Conflicts are resolved by drawing an equal number of dice from the bag of each involved party, rolling some or all of those drawn, and following a process to specify statements about the conflict in turn that are ultimately synthesized by the referee (with appropriate player input) into a narrated resolution. The number of dice drawn for conflict resolution is determined by the complexity of the conflict. A simple static challenge is a three-die event. The vast majority of opposed conflicts will be five die events. The players and referee may choose an alternate number of dice for a conflict when it seems appropriate.
The first step to resolving a conflict that your character is involved in is to draw the appropriate number of dice, unseen from your bag. Before rolling any of these dice, you have the option of putting any number of them back in your bag -- reducing the number that you have available for your roll. (Ice Dice cannot be put back and islandization dice must be.) Once everyone has made their decisions about dice placement, the remaining dice are rolled. Whomever has rolled the most of the lowest roll made (typically ones) is designated first conflictee (ties for most ones are settled by most twos, etc. and finally to the player closest to the left of the player who initiated the conflict) and will begin specifying outcome statements. There are three kinds of constraints on the outcome statements: scope, consist, and order and number, but the following rule always applies: the statement should be as brief as possible with only one actual effect.
These outcome statements will be made by the involved players in six rounds -- one for each possible die result. Starting with the first conflictee, everyone with at least one 'one' showing on a die will make an appropriate statement. The trick to this is making the statement fit the constraints while still steering the story in the direction you want. Also note, each statement is constrained by the statements that came before. If another character swings a sword at yours, your next statement may address a response to that swing, but may not undo it.
The scope available to a player is dependent on the largest number of her dice rolled in a color-number combination. In most cases, there will be only one die of a given color-number combination, but occasionally there will be more. When a player has at most one die of a color-number, the scope of all of that player's statements for the current conflict is personal. Her statements may only regard her character's behavior (e.g. "Alex swings at Barb" or "Christine try to kiss Dalton" -- where the acting PCs are Alex and Christine). If a player rolls two of a color-number, her statements may include multiple characters involved in the current conflict (e.g. "we decide that fighting about it is senseless and retire to a pub to discuss" or "the smith and his boys get the upper hand"). If a player rolls three in a set, the scope expands to include people local to, but outside, the conflict (e.g. "a squad of the town guard rushes around the corner"). And finally, in the event that a player rolls four or more in a set, that player's scope is essentially unlimited (e.g. "a lightening storm blows in" or "The city these traders just left is plague-infested -- the disease is just starting to express on their lead man").
The second, and most difficult of the constraints to work with, is the consist of the dice in question. During the first round (in which rolls of 'one' are being statementized) your statement must pay homage to the characteristics for all dice resulting in a 'one,' by including some aspect of that characteristic. This inclusion of the rolled characteristics is repeated for each round of statement making. Routine contact with Ice channels power from the dawn of time. Acting as this conduit erodes the psychological filters that normal humans have that help in deciding how to react to varied situations. Ice users often have extra personal resources to draw upon, but are only able to do so somewhat chaotically. This is part of the challenge of the game and should be considered: during character creation, and when deciding which dice to put back in the sack after you draw. Consider, if your character is smooth-talking the palace guards and you have to make a statement encompassing "sword" and "acrophobic" you may find it challenging, though hopefully fun.
Finally, it is worth understanding the number of and order in which the outcome statements are made. The first conflictee will start, making an appropriate statement. The player to her left who also has at least one die with the starting number will produce an outcome statement appropriate for her scope and dice. Once everyone who rolled at least one of the starting number has included their statement, increment the die value and repeat, once again starting with the first conflictee if she has one or more of that die number showing. (Frequently, the starting conflictee will have had at least one 'one' and you will have a round of statement making for each of the six numbers on the dice.)
After all the statements have been made (and written down as they are stated, for most conflicts and most referees) the referee will narrate the outcome of the conflict. She too, may not undo or ignore any of the statements. She should understand the intent behind, as well as the letter of, the statements made and narrate a best-fit resolution.
The role of Ice and Islandization dice have thus far only been alluded to. The use of Ice by the characters is the only form of magic that exists in the world. The degree to which a character's actions are magical is the degree to which Ice dice are drawn from the bag (or used intentionally in uncontested behavior). When generating statements that consist of Ice dice, you should include a degree of fantasy in the statement. Islandization dice are merely representative of the ineffectuality and self-absorption caused by the use of Ice. Their role in outcome statement generation is limited to providing reduced statement power.
The flow of the available dice is the real mechanic of character effectiveness. As dice are used in conflict resolution, they leave the sack of available resources. This is one reason the ability to put them back is important. Islandization dice are gained through the use of Ice. Ice dice are gained through narrated acquisition of Ice crystals. Islandization dice slowly leave the system. At the end of each game session, each player should remove one of these black dice before recording what remains for recomposition before the next game session. Ice dice leave the sack the same way they get there, by narrating the character doing something with their Ice. It could be as simple as giving the crystal to someone else, but there should be powerful in-game social obligations to rid the world of the Ice rather than just passing it off to some other hapless schmuck. Finally, regular characteristic dice are gained through award by the referee under three circumstances: Any scene in which a character is an active participant ends with the player adding a die of her choice to her sack. Whenever a player, through description of her character's behavior, dialog, reaction, etc arouses exceptional response (often a round of "oooh" from her fellows) the referee should feel free to award a bonus die of some appropriate characteristic. Finally, when a character is played in a way that is particularly evocative of a listed characteristic, the referee can award a die of that type. These awards can be a bit tricky. It is a matter for each group to find a satisfying set of criteria to follow so that awards are none of: too frequent, too scare, or imbalanced. Remember that all the players should always feel free to make suggestions to one another. This includes "reminding" the referee when such awards are appropriate.
Now you know the constraints on the setting placed by this game -- the rest is up to you. Dark ages or renaissance, semi-historic or fictitious world, these are matters of aesthetic and left to you. The ultimate goal of The Guild, if not the player-characters in your game is to return the Ice to the original, pristine, "dawn of time" state in which it was a force of beauty and goodness. You may choose to incorporate any of a variety of philosophies that deal with the metaphysics of Ice and angels or you may ignore those issues and focus another way. The game leaves this up to you.
You also know how to generate characters and resolve conflicts. You may have noted that there is no system in place for damaging characters. It is appropriate for any character to suffer superficial damage as the outcome of any conflict when appropriate. It is also appropriate for any player to indicate through statements that their character is available for more serious damage up to and including death. There is only one circumstance in which the game dictates character death. If at any time, all the dice in a player's sack are Islandization dice (black), that player's character turns to stone. The player has full narrative rights to describe the exact circumstance of the transformation -- given that she, again, may not undo any of the conflict that was just narrated.
By default, the game is be about how to use the Ice responsibly without losing yourself. As your character acquires crystals/shards/pieces of Ice, you should be adding Ice dice to your sack. Any time to get rid of a piece of Ice, remove one. As the characters (often, NPCs), engage in mundane (conflict-free) tasks, they have the opportunity to use Ice to aid them. Because the use of Ice is the point of the game, this use (how and why) and the results should receive some narration. Each time Ice is used for such a task, roll a die for each piece used. Whenever a six is rolled, add an Islandization die to that character's sack.
The selection of characteristics is a bit funny. Considering the extremes, a character with one die each of twenty types will have a more difficult time narrating conflict outcome statements, is certain to have a limited scope in conflict, and has a much easier time gaining dice through play, while a character with twenty dice of one characteristic always knows what to be planning for, has the best chance of broadly scoped outcome statements, and the hardest time keeping her sack of dice fed.
In the first paragraph of the "Set" section above, you read that all players set scenes up. Here's how that works. The non-referee players should each request (or be prompted for!) descriptions of scenes in roughly (or exactly) equal amounts. Interspersed through these scenes are scenes framed by the referee. All the players will be expressing their agenda through the scenes they choose. The referee will also be weaving the stories of the players together and providing entertaining adversity.
This is the first game I ever wrote. I did so in response to this thread at the Forge. I thought for about five days and typed for a few hours, massively editing as I went. I don't think it's a great game -- there were great games submitted. But I like it well enough to keep it around and put my name to it.
Feel free to contact me about this game with any questions or comments
on G+ or by emailing clweeks at Google's big email platform.