Burn Bryte Core Mechanics

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Inspired by Brandon Dixon’s awesome post about the incredible Swordsfall mechanics, I thought I would spill some (virtual) ink in this post to divulge a bit about the Burn Bryte core mechanics.

People new to the blog might be asking, “What is Burn Bryte?” Oh just a new science fantasy RPG I created with Jim McClureKat Kuhl, and Darcy Ross for exclusive use on the Roll20 platform. I’ve written about the setting of Burn Bryte and the advancement system in previous blog posts. Now that we’ve had a chance to refine the core mechanic and combat of Burn Bryte through playtesting, I’d love to share a lot more of it with you. Burn Bryte isn’t out yet, but it is coming soon!

Side note: If you want hear these mechanics in action, listen to Kat’s Autonomic podcast. She’s running a game using the same system as Burn Bryte.

Over-the-Top Science Fantasy

Burn Bryte is a science fantasy game inspired by some of the designers’ favorite stories, like Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy, Jupiter Ascending, The Expanse, Voltron, Gundam, Outlaw Star, and Saga. These are stories about competent, heroic characters facing impossible odds. During dramatic, comedic, or action scenes in these stories, complications can pile up, the odds can seem overwhelming (ridiculous even), but the heroes always seem have the tools to handle anything life throws at them. We wanted to create a game that captured that idea.


Burn Bryte is a skill-based RPG, similar to FATE in that skill rolls drive most of the game’s action and story. Every character has the following 18 skills:

  • Computers
  • Engineering
  • Knowledge
  • Medicine
  • Perception
  • Streetwise
  • Athletics
  • Melee
  • Power
  • Ranged
  • Skullduggery
  • Stealth
  • Deception
  • Decorum
  • Empathy
  • Performance
  • Presence
  • Suavity

Each skill has a die size associated with it: d4, d6, d8, d10, or d12. The larger the die size, the better you are with the skill. Burn Bryte assumes characters are competent heroes, so rather than rolling to see if a character succeeds, the game asks you to roll to see if you fail. How does that work?

When you make a skill roll to perform a task, the skill roll has a complexity, which determines how difficult the task is to overcome. The higher a roll’s complexity, the harder it is to perform. The GM determines a roll’s complexity, which can be as low as 2 (easy) or as high as 7 (ridiculous). Outside of combat most skill rolls have a complexity of 2 (easy), 3 (moderate), or 4 (hard). The skill roll’s complexity determines the number of dice you roll.

When you make a skill roll, you roll number of dice of the skill’s die size equal to the roll’s complexity. If you roll the same number twice or more, known as rolling doubles, the skill roll fails.

For example, Luwe the glean (an alien species in Burn Bryte) wants to attempt to leap across a chasm. She tells the GM she wants to use her d8 Athletics to leap across the pit, and the GM tells her that skill roll has a complexity of 3. Luwe rolls 3d8 and rolls a 5, a 3, and a 7, so she succeeds. If Luwe had rolled a 5, a 5, and a 7 or a 6, a 6, and a 6, she would fail the roll because she rolled multiples (or doubles) of the same number.

Justifying Skills

Unlike many other RPGs each skill in Burn Bryte is not designed to be used for specific purposes. Instead skills are used as ways to approach the challenges that face the player characters. They are intentionally broad so that players may choose from a variety of different skills to solve a problem the way they want to solve it. This freeform use of skills gives freedom to the players to tell complex and differing stories with each roll (and try some ideas that just might be crazy enough to work).

For example, a character could certainly use the Melee skill to attack someone with a laser sword. They could also use the Melee skill to intimidate someone during a negotiation by flaunting their weapon or to impress someone with fantastic feats of finesse.

Here’s another example. Imagine a group of characters trying to cross a chasm in a cave. One character might use the Athletics skill to jump across the pit, another could use Engineering to figure out the precise place to kick off the cave wall to make it across, another could use Computers to jury-rig a broken flying robot to ride it across, and a fourth character might use the Melee skill to ride the shockwaves of their sonic caber (oh yeah) across the chasm. All are valid and have the same complexity.

GMs almost never tells a player, “You must make a Stealth roll to avoid being seen.” Instead the GM should say, “Guards are coming, what skill do you use to handle this situation?” and players can choose any skill they can justify.

Why Not Use the Best Skills?

Since you can justify almost any skill, you might be asking yourself, “Why not always use the skills which give me the highest chance of success?” You could always use your best skills, but that is actually not the optimal way to play Burn Bryte. If you only ever use your best skills, you will never earn Nova points.

Nova points allow a character to take very powerful actions that are far stronger than what can be done with a standard skill roll. Nova point abilities are the best abilities a character can get, and having Nova points is often the difference between success and failure in tough conflicts.

Characters only get a Nova point after they have used one skill of each die size (d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12). The only way to get Nova points is to use a combination of strong, intermediate, and weak skills.

Failure Means Consequences

Whenever a player character fails a skill roll in Burn Bryte, there are consequences beyond simply not succeeding at the task the character tried to accomplish. When your character fails, they might take damage, suffer a harmful condition, break an object, or suffer a setback in the story. For instance, failing to pick a door’s lock sets off an alarm that sends enemies running toward them, or a poor performance for an audience means the governor in the crowd refuses to meet the character backstage after the show. Whatever happens, failure on a skill roll should always have a cost.

The player and the GM work together to create the consequence for failure. If they need a prompt, we’ve created a table of 100 failure consequences to help inspire ideas (check it out below). The prompts are purposefully open to interpretation. For instance, the prompt “something breaks” could indicate an item of value the player character has breaks, that the spaceship they’re on suffers an engine malfunction, or an NPC the characters are negotiating with reaches their breaking point and storms off.

Modifying Skill Rolls

In Burn Bryte skill rolls can have their complexities modified by character special abilities, Nova abilities, positive and negative conditions, and equipment. More on those in future blog posts!


Burn Bryte‘s combat system is divided into three phases:

  1. Phase 1: Enemies Declare Actions
  2. Phase 2: Player Characters Act
  3. Phase 3: Enemies Move and Resolve Actions

Phase 1: Enemies Declare Actions

The GM almost never rolls dice in Burn Bryte. During Phase 1 the GM declares which player characters enemies intend to attack and other actions they wish to take. Roll20’s token markers make it easy to remember which monsters are attacking which characters. Before these enemy actions resolve the characters get to act.

Phase 2: Player Characters Act

During Phase 2 the player characters can act in any order they choose. On each player character’s turn, the character can take any number of actions they choose until they decide to stop or fail a skill roll. Almost every action a player character takes during combat requires a skill roll. The first skill roll they make on their turn has a complexity of 2. The next has a complexity of 3 and so on. Player characters can use skills to attack, counter or dodge incoming enemy attacks, gain Advantages (more on those in another post), gain extra movement, use special abilities, and more. As long as the character succeeds on a skill roll, they can keep taking actions, but if they push their luck too much, they fail and end their turn after suffering the consequences of failure as described above.

The Adrenaline Effect

During combat the complexity of skill rolls fluctuate and are dependent on the number of actions a player character has already taken. Outside of combat the complexity of skill rolls are static. You may wonder, “Why does a chasm that requires a complexity 3 skill roll to cross outside of battle become a complexity 2 skill roll during combat if crossing it is my first action and a complexity 4 skill roll if crossing it is my third?” The answer is the adrenaline effect.

During life-threatening combat (not a situation engineered by the player characters for easier skill rolls) player characters start their turn with a boost of energy that helps them focus, making the first task they perform easy. This energy boost also allows them to take multiple actions, but the more a player character takes on in a turn, the more difficult it is for them to perform tasks.

Phase 3: Enemies Move and Resolve Actions

During Phase 3 enemies move and their declared actions from Phase 1 resolve. Any enemy attacks that weren’t countered by the player characters in some way (usually with a skill roll or by knocking out/killing/scaring off/etc. the enemy making the attack) deal damage and/or effects.

One More Preview

So those are the basics of the Burn Bryte core mechanic and combat, but I wanted to share one more thing with you that might be useful in RPGs beyond our science fantasy baby. Remember that GM failure table I mentioned earlier? Here it is for your enjoyment.

Failure Prompts

d100 Failure Prompt
1 Something breaks.
2 Something is destroyed.
3 You get hurt.
4 You hurt an ally.
5 Enemies arrive.
6 An enemy is back in the fight.
7 You stumble.
8 You lose something.
9 An enemy gains an advantage.
10 You get stuck.
11 You offend someone.
12 A damning secret is revealed.
13 You cause a scene.
14 You cause an accident.
15 Something explodes.
16 Something wears out.
17 A fire starts.
18 Something shakes.
19 Something stops.
20 Your luck runs out.
21 You can’t try that again.
22 You make a mess.
23 You attract the wrong kind of attention.
24 You let a friend down.
25 You make an enemy stronger.
26 Something scares you.
27 You miss the mark.
28 You get tired.
29 You become impaired.
30 Something pulls you away from the action.
31 You get separated from allies.
32 You are suddenly alone.
33 Something works differently than you expected.
34 You can’t sense what’s in front of you.
35 The plan falls apart.
36 Something goes haywire.
37 A problem solved becomes undone.
38 An old wound reopens.
39 A good thing turns bad.
40 A bad thing gets even worse.
41 You lose your stuff.
42 You lose focus.
43 Something gets dropped.
44 You suffer a massive distraction.
45 You get screwed.
46 Something pops loose.
47 You lose traction.
48 Your mind goes blank.
49 Karma comes to get you.
50 Karma comes to get an ally.
51 You look like a total loser.
52 You lose steam.
53 Something bad infects you.
54 Something bad infects an ally.
55 Your stuff gets stuck.
56 You accomplish your goal too hard.
57 You lose all hope.
58 You expose yourself.
59 You expose your allies.
60 You must choose between hurting yourself or an ally.
61 You freeze and cannot act for the next round.
62 You temporarily cannot communicate with anyone.
63 Your failure makes you weak.
64 Your allies lose faith in you.
65 Your enemies charge you in your moment of failure.
66 Nothing makes sense to you anymore.
67 You crack up.
68 Something you thought was true is a lie.
69 You are proven right about something you want to be wrong about.
70 Your defenses drop.
71 You knock over an ally.
72 You break an ally’s stuff.
73 An ally becomes an enemy (even if just for a moment).
74 You cause an ally to get stuck.
75 You and an ally crash into each other.
76 You relive a painful memory.
77 This failure is personal.
78 Your priorities change.
79 There’s a new problem you must solve.
80 You open a can of worms.
81 Something tears.
82 Your confidence disappears.
83 Something jams.
84 Something beautiful turns ugly.
85 You get burned.
86 You burn an ally.
87 Your latest success is undone.
88 The latest success of an ally is undone.
89 You succeed at the cost of an arm and a leg.
90 You go over the edge.
91 You believe a lie.
92 The joke is on you.
93 You must choose between saving two allies.
94 You must choose between hurting two allies.
95 You can’t stay here.
96 Your nightmare becomes reality.
97 Something breaks beyond repair.
98 This failure leaves a scar.
99 The thing you fear most happens or appears.
100 The worst happens.

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