Simply Free – INDEX CARD RPG: Free Quickstart

INDEX CARD RPG: Free Quickstart

Author: Brandish Gilhelm
Publisher: Runehammer Games
Available Formats: PDF
PDF (DTRPG) – Free

INDEX CARD RPG (ICRPG) is a rules-light neutral gaming system that celebrates the index card, a staple of the tabletop roleplaying hobby. They have seen use as character sheets, monster cards, treasure handouts, mapping, terrain, adventure planning, and general notes. They are the perfect size for table use and are easy to arrange. INDEX CARD RPG uses straightforward game mechanics to capture the simplicity of the index card’s versatility.

INDEX CARD RPG Quickstart includes the 81-page quickstart, Master Edition Core, character sheet, and VTT tokens. The quickstart covers the core mechanics and provides a brief guide for Gamemasters and for creating characters in two world settings, Alfheim: An Age of Kingdoms and Warp Shell: Infinite Space. It’s enough to get new players up and playing but not running their own games. Also included is the 154-paged Master Edition Core, which contains everything in the full version of the Master Edition except for world settings, monsters, and magic sections. It is enough to run your own game with a little work. The Master Edition Core is the main subject of this review.

Though the details of the five world settings are absent, a brief description of each is given. Alfheim is a sword and sorcery, Warp Shell is outer space sci-fi, Ghost Mountain is a weird, wild west, Vigilante City is a mutant superhero, and Blood and Snow is a low-tech primitive ice age setting. The full scope of these worlds is covered in the full version of the Master Edition.

Game Mechanics

ICRPG uses Checks and Attempts for conflict resolutions. Checks are instantaneous actions, while efforts are longer tasks. In both cases, a D20 roll is combined with a stat value to beat a target number issued by the Gamemaster. Appropriate items in the character’s possession may increase the results. Target numbers range from 10 to 18, with a variance of 3 above or below, simulating easy and challenging tasks. Characters pass or fail checks, while each successful Effort places characters closer to their goal; opening a locked treasure chest or defeating a monster. Effort is measured with different polyhedral. A D4 amount of effort for working without tools, a D6 with tools or melee weapons, a D8 with guns, a D10 for magic and energy, and a D12 adds to one of the four die types on critical success (Natural 20).

Combat Initiative begins with the player who rolls the highest on a d20. The order of initiative continues in a clockwise motion around the table. A party’s marching order is also dictated by where a player is sitting. The person to the Gamemaster’s left is at the front of the marching order. Movement and distance are abstracted into four categories, close, near, far, and out of bounds. Close is melee range. Near is the room or area the characters currently occupy, or about 6 inches, the average banana length if using miniatures. Far is the furthest distance a person could move or ranged weapons could reach. Out of bounds is anything past Far.

A character’s health in ICRPG is measured in Hearts, representing 10 hit points. When a character loses all their hit points without instantly dying, they are in the throes of death. They have D4 rounds to live. A party member may attempt to stabilize them with a successful check. During a character’s Dying phase, the player rolls a D20 each round, hoping for a miracle, a natural 20, that will stabilize them with one hit point.

ICRPG delivers several unique optional player advantages and disadvantages. One of which is a Battle Fury die (D6) that increases a character’s chance of success. The Battle Fury die is placed next to a player’s character sheet and acts as a counter. Every time they fail a target number roll, the Fury Die value is increased and added to each subsequent check, increasing the chance of passing. Once they pass, the Fury Die is assumed to be at zero until they fail a check again, starting the process over.

An optional disadvantage for spellcasters is the Spell Burn Die. A spellcaster’s magical energy is slowly drained with each spell cast. Spellcasters track each spell cast with a D4. When they reach four, their limit, their magical powers are depleted, and they must pass a check to continue using magic. If the check passes, the Spell Burn die resets at zero until the next casted spell. On failed rolls, the D4 Spell Burn die decides how many rounds the spell casters will be without spell abilities.

Players looking for a real advantage will want to utilize Hero Coins. At the beginning of the game, the Gamemaster issues each player a Hero Coin, which is an in-game commodity used to reroll any die or add a D12 to any result. Coins may be shared amongst players, but each player may only have one at a time.

Character Creation

Character generation is rapid and easy. The first step is to choose your character’s life form and character type based on the Gamemaster’s world setting. Each world has its own specific life forms, character types, gear, etc. Following this, players write a one-line character background and allocate points to their stats. ICRPG uses Dungeons and Dragons stats; Str, Int, Wis, Dex, Con, and Chr. Any unique traits or bonuses granted by the player’s choice of life form or character type are recorded on their character sheet. Specific settings require adding spells and augmentations like cybernetic implants or Powers. The characters then select their equipment based on the particular choices based on their build so far. The game refers to equipment as Loot. A character’s inventory is limited to 20 items total. 10 items ready to use and 10 items stored away. A character starts with one heart unless otherwise specified.

Once the character is complete, the player may opt to test their newly created character by running them through a trial scenario; a solo encounter. In past versions of ICRPG, each setting had its own trial scenarios, but there is only a generic one included in the free core rules.


The monsters are not included in the free Core Rules. Instead, the author has provided a guide for making your own. The guide is only a few pages but provides an excellent outline for building exciting monsters. The foundational steps are to give the beast a defining word, a personality, and a want. Then pick a tier and a unique offensive maneuver (provided) that will surprise your players. Monsters come in varying degrees of tiers. The higher the tier, the more powerful the monster.

Gamemaster Section

The gamemastering sections advise how to build a scenario and adjudicate at the table. It presents simple and easy-to-digest guidance that every Gamemaster can use. It begins with an oath for the Gamemaster to abide by. The oath is uplifting and outlines basic strategies for a successful gaming session. It then proceeds to walk a budding Gamemaster through the role of running and creating an adventure in straightforward terms. It is slow but diligent. It outlines each step of the process with illustrated diagrams that reinforce the lesson. It is perfect for a new Gamemaster with no experience with roleplaying.

It discusses in-depth story architecture with a helpful diagram representing each part of the story. It then uses three sets of three rules for basic things that each encounter needs, three elements to make an encounter exciting, and three outcomes.

The following section is the most unique, for I have never seen a gamemastering section cover the topic of encounter architecture. Encounter architecture is how you intend the characters to flow through a room. You can funnel the characters through by placing barriers or challenges within the room. Ten examples are provided and directly relate to ICRPG, with room target numbers for each sample.

There is a lot more discussed, timers to create tension, timed damage, calling for defensive rolls, straightforward rules for vehicles, and incorporating horror themes with loss of sanity until finally concluding with a 5-point system for creating an adventure. This gamemastering section should be its own publication. It provides excellent insight and construction advice for creating an adventure beyond ICRPG games.

Final Thoughts

ICRPG is written for the novice roleplayer. It walks the reader through the process of tabletop roleplaying with reinforcing illustrations. The Master Edition refines the layout of the previous overly stimulating editions to a more pleasing arrangement. It uses straightforward game mechanics that are easy to comprehend. Though the use of Hearts, equaling 10 hit points, seems like an over-complication for a very simplistic game. It is the only fault I can find with this almost perfect system. With gameplay so simple, it’s no wonder that ICRPG is such a well-loved game. ICRPG has many supplements and supporting products that will keep the game alive for years to come. If you are new to the hobby or looking for an easy to run and play system, I recommend Index Card RPG Quickstart or the complete Master Edition.


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