Ingenero is an indie role playing game system written to encourage dramatic role play. When the author of Ingenero approached me about including my Bogeman game in his book, I was skeptical of the project. After all, who needs another game system? I’ve run everything with a title, and my players are accustomed to a set of house rules that draws from every game I’ve run over the past 15 years. Ingenero makes some bold claims, boasting that his rules would enable a group to tell interesting character driven stories like Game of Thrones, without compromising the thrill of dice driven combat. He actually claimed that his system would help combat to play out in a more cinematic and entertaining way. As a GM, I hate it when the dice slows down the action. I love to see the thrill on my players’ faces when the dice start rolling at the beginning of a crucial challenge, but I hate to see it die away during turn after turn of micromanagement. I thought I’d give his game a try.
I gave a quick read through of his rules, and I pulled together a group of friends to try one of my modules in his system. Things very rapidly came together as players started to get rewards and recognition for different things. Players started following through on independent character motivations, and over the course of a single game, their characters started to develop. I was honestly surprised.
Here’s how Ingenero works, basically…
It starts with the characters. Each character has a rather small list of very general traits or experiences. For example in Bogeymen, one player is a Bully. Characters are assumed to have proficiency with anything related to their traits. My Bully rolls lots of dice when he tries to use Violence to solve a problem. He’s not nearly so proficient if the conflict never escalates past words.
The second major part of the character sheet is the characters’ Motivations. These are basically role-playing queues for the player. They are written and visible, and always in your face, so you can remember that your Bully needs everyone to KNOW that he’s the strongest. These will change during play, and when they do, the players are rewarded. Straight up Experience Points for character development.
After that you have a few Goals. These start out with a tie to a character’s Motivations, and give players something to work towards as the game starts. For example, my Bully starts the game with the intention of beating someone up. When he does, the players received Experience Points. If he changes his mind and adjusts his Motivations because of it, the player also receives Experience Points. The important thing is that it gets players thinking about their characters motivations and goals throughout play.
Ingenero has a few other clever tricks up its sleeve. The flow of action is different from traditional turn based role playing systems, and this was developed to keep the action moving forward. During my play test it worked more or less as intended.
Play alternates between a Story phase and a Challenge phase. Most scenes will have both. The story phases are fast and loose, heavy on the narrative, and completely diceless. Players are able to do accomplish the tasks they think they can do with little fuss. The dice only come out when they are about to complete one of their character Goals. This initiates the Challenge Phase.
The Challenge Phase is a clever innovation. Rather than relying on rules that try to simulate life, Ingenero tries to create structure for a good story. The conflicts don’t rely on characters trading blows until someone goes down, instead it rewards diverse action and jockeying for advantage. Physical conflicts tend to work out pretty quickly and with some good description of the action.
Here’s a quick rundown of how Ingenero handles combat.
When there's a challenge, Ingenero keeps the modifiers simple. You determine which proficiency is relevant, and you throw that number of 10 sided dice. Most of the time you'll be rolling against active opposition, so generally it's a game of "who can roll the highest number." You receive a fixed bonus, +1 or +2 to your roll if you are using a Signature Play, and you can bid points from your body or soul stat (for an additional +1 or +2). This last bonus represents your character taking a deliberate risk. If they fail the roll, not only do they fail their attempted action, but their body or soul is reduced by the value they risked for the remainder of the challenge. There are very few other bonuses and penalties to apply after that, and are strictly situational.
When characters are in conflict, Players are Non-Players alike; there are a few "types" of actions they can take against each other.
There are Execute actions, where a character is trying to get something done. Let’s say Joe is trying to flip a switch. If he does, it will dump a truck full of cats over a waterfall (he's a jerk). Fritz the Nazi is trying to Cross Joe (also a bad guy, but his niece's cat is in the truck). And Bob the hireling is trying to block Fritz from blocking Joe (also a Cross).
This is kind of complicated, but it cleans up well. Actions are resolved in order of interaction... which means we start with the bottom of the chain. Bob makes his roll against Fritz's "Shoot him in the knee" roll. They both roll their dice and add the appropriate modifiers. Let's say Fritz beats Bob. In this case, Bob's Cross doesn't interfere, and Fritz' action goes off as planned. His same roll is then matched vs Joe's epic switch flipping skill.
This is why the system is more narrative than real. Because it's a Cross action, if it's successful, it means that Joe will not be able to flip the switch (it doesn't deal damage, and it grants a hefty advantage bonus to Fritz's next action). If it were an Execute action, it would do damage, but not block Joe's action.
Fritz rolled his "Nazi Soldier 4" trait vs Joe's "Dashing Rogue 3" trait. Franz rolls higher, Crosses Joe. Joe takes a superficial would (no damage) but it hurts enough to stop him in his tracks. It's just that easy.
The other actions players can do are Counter actions, specifically blocking an attack against them, and Resist actions, which are purely defensive, and grant an additional +1 bonus. And just to air the dirty laundry there's a -2 penalty for trying the same thing against the same opponent during the same challenge. That being said, the penalties and bonuses are simple to keep track of.
This part of the manual could stand to be a little clearer. Understanding the effects of each of these plays requires the read through of a rather long example. The author could really use a printable cheat sheet for players.
Ingenero's rules also apply this mechanic to Social Conflict. Like Execute and Cross plays, there are different types of actions that characters can make on each other to change or impact a character’s perception of a situation. It’s an interesting approach to arguments and it works out pretty well. It’s worth mentioning that players are always ultimately in charge of their characters actions. If they think their character wouldn’t change their mind after losing a social challenge, that character won’t, but the social challenge system provides a framework by which a player can be convinced that changing their mind is appropriate.
So Ingenero works pretty well at telling interesting stories where characters learn from their actions, and have pretty interesting conflicts. On the other hand, while Ingenero gives players a lot of power over their individual narratives, it also opens the door to abuse. Without a fair GM to keep track of things, a convincing player may be able to create a Super Genius Science Cop, who rolls a ton of dice for combat, social, and everything in between. Bossy players can also sideline the story, by setting and aggressively pursuing goals that take other players out of the action. This can happen in any roleplaying game, but because of its focus on characters, Ingenero is particularly vulnerable.
In our play through of Bogeymen, my players’ inner demons were physically manifest in the haunted house. As they explored the mystery of the house, Ingenero lead them through the path of self-discovery, and by the end of the game most of the characters had experienced a powerful and unexpected coming of age. I was more surprised than my players to see things work out the way that they did. After running this game, I was excited about including my module in the book.
Ultimately, Ingenero succeeds at creating a structure for character driven narratives. Ingenero’s approach makes it possible to work through both action and drama with surprising ease. I don’t know if I will be running all my future games under Ingenero, but I will definitely be adopting some of these ideas for character development and action resolution into my house rules.
Daniel (Sp4m) is a game developer and writer, publishing under the label Good Idea Games. He has contributed his story module Bogeymen to the Ingenero book.