Tuesday 15 August 2023

Option Menu: BREAK!!ing the Rules

BREAK!! rules were created very deliberately. I wanted the rules and systems within to facilitate a certain style of play while creating room for individual and group creativity. Each one is in there because I felt it was the best balance between these things. 

I had some quick personal standards for judging them: whenever Grey would question a particular mechanic, if I couldn’t find an answer for him right away, it could probably go. If the playtesters butted up against a particular thing again and again, it probably needed tweaking or to be cut out, depending. If I re-read something, and realized it was slowing down or overcomplicating the game for not much gain, it was gonezo. It obviously doesn't cover everything, but I’m pretty proud of the result.

But I also understand that everyone has their own preferences or might want to run a specific sort of Saga. In my desire to carve out my vision, I might have blocked off or neglected a possibility someone else might desire. Because of this, I really want people to change things for their own games if they want to. House rules in tabletop RPGS are almost a given and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My only word of caution for them is this - try to give the game a go unchanged at first, just to sort of see how the pieces fit together. This way if you do decide to alter things, you’ll be more mindful of how a given rule intersects with the rest of the mechanics.

To this end, I present a few methods of tweaking BREAK!! with a dual set of purposes:

  1. To explain why each of the rules in here are written the way they are.

  2. To provide an example of how you could change these without the whole thing crashing down.

Even if you don’t plan on changing the rules at all, this entry can be helpful in better understanding some of the existing rules as they are written and intended, so it might be worth looking at anyway.

Without further adieu, I present the alternate rules! 

Some of that Old School Dungeon Attrition

Hearts in BREAK!! are replenished at the end of battle for a couple of reasons. Certainly it renews the boldness of the players, and lets them press forward after all but the most harrowing of experiences. 

But it also means each fight can be considered independently of each other. There is no need to make sure there are a certain amount of encounters to wear down the players for a big battle in the end: adventure sites with very little potential for combat end up being just as viable as ones chock full of them. It gives the player’s freedom, yes - but it also gives the GM quite a bit of leeway as well.

However, fans of other RPGs that involve a lot of dungeons (sometimes dragons as well, I’m told) might miss the loss of the natural attrition that comes from those games’ abstracted measure of character vitality. Some of this can be recovered in BREAK!! as is: there are injuries that can occur from combat normally for example, as well as traps that could cause various forms of damage or lasting status ailments that can give player’s pause. However, if you want to hardcode that classic feeling of a dungeon draining your reserves, I suggest implementing the following:

Staggered Heart Recovery

  • Characters regain a single lost Heart after surviving a perilous encounter. This increases to 2 Hearts if the character is Rank 5 or higher. 

  • Regained Hearts cannot put them above their current Hearts Total.

  • Items and Abilities that restore lost hearts (Such as Basic Potions) may be used outside of combat to restore lost Hearts.

There are some inadvertent changes to the game that come with this system. Healing items in general go from useful to near essential. Conversely, the Putrefy Ailment and things like it become far more dangerous. Repeated encounters can really stack things against the party. Keep these things in mind when designing adventures and encounters with this in play.

Countless Companions (actually just four)

One of the most directly explained rules in all of BREAK!! is the limitation of each character being able to only have 2 companions. It’s a simple matter of logistics. Each companion is another thing both the players and GM have to keep track of, and with the way BREAK!! handles recruitment things could get out of hand very quickly if it’s not reigned in.

As with any rule however, this might not apply to every table. A good example would be if a group is composed of the GM and a single player. In such a case, the limitation might be removed for a lone PC to gather enough allies to go on adventures that would be overwhelming with only one or two companions. It’s easy enough to just ignore the rule, but if you were looking for an intermittent step between that and keeping the restriction as is, the below might be a good start:

Entourage Unleashed

  • A character may have a single companion of each sort (Follower, Pet, Mount and/or Pack Beast) and a single additional companion of any kind, including tamed monsters or recruited Game Master Characters. 

Of course, the needs of each of these companions must still be met, which can be a bit of a pain to keep track as well. If the Game Master wants to simplify things they might just say each is entitled to a cut of treasure or earnings as if they were player characters in a party.

Downtime Abbey

If I have one, consistently driving motivation in design it’s a brevity to things that are not ADVENTURE. BREAK!!’s downtime actions were something I designed when coming to an impasse running long term games - player characters clearly did other things while not exploring exciting new places, solving mysteries, and dealing with the strange and magical as a team, and I wanted to allow players to be able to embrace that. However, these were often individual excursions and meant focusing on one person at the expense of the group. However, trying to hand wave or rush through them in game was also unsatisfying. What to do?

This is why BREAK!!’s Downtime Actions take place after an adventure (usually at the end of the session) - it does not slow the momentum of play, gives each player some time to consider what they would like to do AND the Game Master some time to make sure that it’s significant somehow (or work the results into the next session, in the case of a few of the actions). It slots perfectly into an adventure focused campaign, a short, often idyllic reprieve before the next exciting and dangerous thing.

However, I have since learned some people actually want this stuff to come up as part of a regular session. And in fairness, they have good reasons for it! Some games are slower paced in their fiction: maybe they revolve around a little town the party lives in, or the group really loves crafting or something else along those lines. I’m providing a simple alternate set of guidelines for Downtime Activities for cases like this:

Daily Grind

  • Each player receives a Downtime Action at the start of a session. The time represented is usually a day or two, depending on complexity.

  • If it is warranted (for example, if there are no pressing issues and the party convenes and decides to take a bit of time to prepare for a long journey), the party may opt for a second Downtime Action in the middle of a given session.

  • Naturally these chances go out the window if the session begins in the middle of an adventure site - but in these cases the GM may allow for an automatic Camping Downtime action.

The big considerations that come from implementing this rule are that A) it slows things down considerably and B) Things like Crafting can get out of hand, depending on the resources available to the party. 

While I think these are potentially big problems in a standard BREAK!! Saga, if you are going for a more leisurely paced, down to earth feel for your game this might work out well for it. It might be worth talking to players to help set expectations and get them to work with you to make things more manageable.

And that’s all of them!

Even if you don’t get much out of these, I hope they act as a guideline for how you might alter the rules for your own games if you want to. 

As a refresher:

  • Look at the rule you are thinking about changing and try to grasp how they fit in the greater scope of the game and what they are trying to accomplish. Try to see how they feel when working as written if you can.

  • Think about why you are changing the rules, and what you are trying to accomplish in doing so. It can really help you nail the result.

  • Talk to the other players in your group. Not only can they offer their own viewpoints, but they may be able to offer insight on what sort of things they would like to see.

  • No matter what you change, the important thing is that it remains fun for you and your group. You can always switch back, or adjust things even more if you end up needing to do so.


  1. I think that sort of loose thing is fine for downtime - the unique endeavor option was more or less designed with it in mind, and assuming it's something your whole group enjoys, I imagine it would work out well!

  2. I hope to run a Cloud Empress game using the BREAK!! system.
    The Cloud Empress world uses chalk as a casting reagent but using it drains your life force.
    I was thinking of having it use up half a heart but realized everything in the main rules uses full hearts.
    Have you folks experimented with partial heart loss before?

    1. I avoided partial hearts just to avoid complicating things - you might play around with other things, maybe it applies fatigue?