This is Color Wheel, a numberless & diceless game mechanic for use in any role playing game. Because it uses concepts familiar to most kids, it's a good way to introduce young children to RPGs. Color Wheel is particularly well suited as a game system for a light-hearted story-oriented role playing game (I recommend Peter Seckler's fantastic "Pumpkin Town," which you can see at memento-mori.com/pumpkintown).
I thought of Color Wheel on the drive home from WonderCon in Oakland. That night, it kept me awake and I actually had a dream that some friends and I were playing. So when I woke up, I decided to write it down. It was more or less an experiment to see how a color wheel might be used as system for storytelling or role playing game.
Mixing your Paints
Color Wheel is based upon...a color wheel! I should probably explain what a color wheel is...
Imagine that there are 6 colored stones in a circle. If these stones formed a color wheel, they would be arranged like so:
<--| Red | Orange | Yellow | Green | Blue | Purple |-->
The primary colors are Red, Yellow and Blue. The secondary colors are Orange, Green, and Purple. If you mix two primary colors together, you get the secondary color that falls in between them:
The person running the game (or if there is no GM, the person hosting the game) should place five colored dice (same size & shape) into a bag or some other non-transparent container. You should have one each of the following colors:
Black, White, Red, Yellow, Blue
You will also need several more Black and White dice (keep these off to the side).
You can also use beans, tokens, poker chips or anything else of the same size, shape...the most important thing is the color of each item.
Colorful Character Creation
To create a Color Wheel character, first come up with an idea for a character you'd like to play. This can be almost anything, but may be restricted by the setting or type of game agreed upon by the group. For this instance, we'll use the aforementioned game, Pumpkin Town - a weird place where everyone's a monster and it's Halloween every single day.
My Color Wheel character for this game of Pumpkin Town is a fish-man named "Gill."
Assign a trait, skill or characteristic that the character excels at to each of the following secondary colors (these are things that the character is especially good at doing):
Orange, Green, Purple
I'll give Gill these traits: Orange (Swimming), Green (Life-saving), Purple (Sports).
Next, assign a trait, skill or characteristic to each of the following primary colors (these are things that the character can do fairly well with a little effort):
Red, Yellow, Blue
I decide to give Gill the following traits: Red (Romance) Yellow (Sushi), Blue (Astrology).
Your Color Wheel character is now complete!
Painting with the Palette
When your character attempts to perform an action, find out which color the action would fall under. Then, pull a die from the bag.
If the action is a primary color (Red, Yellow or Blue), then the character needs to exactly match their action's color.
Example - Gill is working up his courage to ask Cthulu-anne to the Monster Mash this weekend. He decides if the "stars are right," he'll ask her - this is going to involve his knowledge of Astrology (Blue). If Gill draws a Blue die from the bag, he will succeed and will know if it's the right time to ask her out. If the die is Red or Yellow, it means that he didn't get a clear answer - he might even mis-interpret the star signs!
If the action is a secondary color (Orange, Green or Purple), then the character needs to pull a die of either color that makes up that color. Consult the color wheel if you are unsure of the two colors that make up a secondary color.
Example - Gill is playing volleyball with some beach mummies. He has "Sports" as his Purple trait...and since Purple is made up of Red and Blue, Gill needs to pull either a Red or Blue die in order to look good while playing. If the die is Yellow, he could miss a shot, collide with the net or fall onto his face!
If you ever draw a White die, the action is an automatic success, even if you're trying to perform an action that your character does not possess. However, if you wish to save this automatic success for later, you may keep this White die (and put another White die into the bag) and draw again. If you get another White die, you may use it to succeed or keep it and draw again...and so on.
If you ever fail an action, you may spend one of your saved-up White dice to turn that failure into a success. The more White dice you have, the "luckier" your character is.
If you ever draw a Black die, the action is an automatic failure. However, if you wish to save this failure for later, you keep the Black die (and put another Black die into the bag) and draw again. If you get another Black die, you can either fail or keep that die and draw again...and so on.
If you have any Black dice saved up and you draw a White die; the Black die automatically cancels that success and is then removed. Also, the GM may opt to turn any success into a failure by removing one of your Black dice. The more Black dice in your possession, the more "unlucky" your character is.
At the end of the game, any remaining Black dice cancel out any remaining White dice on a one-to-one basis. If you have more Black dice than White dice, all your White dice are canceled and your Black dice are all removed. If you have any White Dice remaining (after being canceled by any of your Black dice), you may trade them in for extra traits. It costs three White dice to gain an additional primary color trait and five White dice to gain an additional secondary color trait.
Example - Gill does end up going out on the date with his tentacled lil' cutie-pie. Of course, all sorts of weirdness and funny things happen before, after and during the dance. At the end of the night, Gill has racked up 2 Black dice and a rather impressive 6 White Dice (!). The 2 Black dice are removed (but not before canceling 2 of his White dice), leaving our favorite amphibian with 4 White dice. Gill can now spend three of them to gain another Red, Blue or Yellow trait...or he can save them for later.
Sometimes, it's not all Black & White
Since Color Wheel doesn't deal with target numbers, modifiers or any other "set" variable, you really don't need a Game Master (ie: a neutral, "third-party") to run the game. When you want to perform an action, simply declare the action and the color associated with that action, and draw a die from the bag. You and the other players can then describe what happens based upon the draw. If the draw is a success, then perhaps you win the contest, make it past the obstacle or look especially capable. If you fail, the result of your action could be anything from humorous to embarrassing to potentially dangerous. Think of this as "storytelling with a net" - it's very freeform in spirit, but your character is still defined by what he's good at (or not so good at!).
I have yet to use Color Wheel in a game (a real, non-dream world game, that is) but I think it should work. If it doesn't, please don't hesitate to email me with your name and address so I can refund your money...ta ta!
And as always, the original Color Wheel and many other games, settings, fragments and fits of mania can be found at Memento Mori Theatricks' home page: www.memento-mori.com.