Zap! Atomic Ray Gun! RPG

What I want is a lightweight, hack n' zap, 1950s-style pulp sci-fi/early 20th century science fantasy game, or at least the foundation of one anyway.

This was partly spurred on because I came across the 200 word RPG competition, partly to figure out a process for creating role play games, but mostly just for fun.

If you want to skip all the paragraphs where I'm figuring it out, the Z!ARG! rules are at the end of this article.

Building the Game

I like base 12 so we'll use that across the board.

Any dice throws will not be a measure of skill but rather a window onto the world in which we'll play. They don't represent skills, they're more like a sooth saying device. But in a fictional present.

Ray Guns

Okay, so it's got to have ray guns. Because "Zap!". What kind of ray? It probably doesn't matter, rays are exciting so let's leave it to the player to decide.

Now this ray is always going to do the amount of damage you set it to (eg. stun, kill, make feel a bit wobbly) so all anyone has to worry about is getting out the way. Okay, shooting is easy, ducking takes talent. 3d4 feels like a ray. Perhaps the shooter throws those and the victim dodges with 2d6. Highest wins. Sure works for me.

Vehicles, Tech, and Objects

Right, so you're tooled up and bimbling round the universe in... an improbably small spaceship with nowhere for oxygen, rations, or engine but it's got this great dome on the front to see out.

Generally one can get a feel for flying one a vehicle after testing out the controls a little but there's going to be an initial learning curve. Throw 1d12. If >6 you can intuit how to fly the vehicle. If less you automatically stack it. You can check if broken by throwing another d12. If <6 again it's out of action and will need a repair.

Perhaps we can use that 1d12 mechanic for all tech and objects. And maybe 3d4 for non-tangible objects. 2d6 is the standard doing stuff roll. Seems legit.

And your ship always has gravity (unless you don't want it to or it gets hit by a ray gun (3d4 vs 1d12)).

Environment and Hostilities

The air on planets/asteroids/moons is breathable unless it's not. Perhaps we need a procedural generation tool for environment? Perhaps it can be mixed up with how the universe reacts to the characters…

Let's say we use the same mechanic describing both physical and mental environment in which the characters find themselves.

Throw 1d8+1d4 and if <6 the environment/aliens/situation is going to head south. You can attempt to counteract with your smarts (2d6), object (d12), or ray creation device (3d4) if you so wish.

So I guess that means this game is all about contested rolls. Do we need to think about being able to affect those rolls?


You should be able to make anything you want if given enough tea and books. You probably want to invent a new element and name it after yourself, like cavorite. Do you need smarts or just a clever NPC to make it for you. You probably want to do it yourself.

Tell you what, roll all the dice we've used so far: 4d4, 2d6, 1d8, and 1d12. Those can be.... Tendency to not die, likelihood to be prepared, social standing (I'm thinking this might be more an HG Wells thing), and blind luck; in that order.

How do they work? Add something to your roll? Or should they diminish as you go through the game. Let's go with the latter.

Every time you get hit by a ray or rocks fall or your fall, remove a point of TtnD. Every time you should die (but evidently didn't), something miraculous happens that drives the plot along and let's you escape by the skin of your teeth.

Every time you need to have packed just the right thing, take a point from LtbP.

If you need to brave a hostile environment, lose one SS.

Finally, if all else fails, blind luck will see you through. Until it runs out.

Losing all points leaves your character either stranded, dead, or both. Out of the game at any rate.

Core Mechanics

Money is no good as intergalactic currency does not exist; everything is either free, bartered, or uses local monetary system (for which you'll need to barter). Suggest 'conflict' (1d8+1d4) vs... what shall we call the 2d6? 'Save' is too dull....'solution'.

All rolls are gradations of success by the way.

Oh, and you can get a bump of +x for every number >6 of a relatable stat. Wait, we said we weren't going to do that. Will keep that back for play testing.

That leaves us with a number of die rolls. Using to figure out the most likely numbers to come up:

So a ray has greater chance of beating a creature, the environment is more hazardous than a ray, and an object is pretty random.

Character Options

Species. You should be able to make up whatever you like and you get one species bonus which let's you add 1d6 to one of your stats. Flavour to please.

Will think of some in a future post.

Alright, so where does that leave us? I'm going to ditch the >6 rolls in favour of contested die rolls for everything to keep it simple but otherwise I think we've got everything we need for a competition entry.

Zap! Atomic Ray Gun!

Atomic rays are the most advanced discovery in the universe. Ray guns fire different rays but usually have two settings, stun or kill. Spaceships always have gravity and oxygen. You can always breathe on planets, moons, and asteroids and they are always populated by aliens with alien vegetation. The universe needs discovering, go explore.

Character creation

  1. Roll your attributes:
  1. Think of a species, name, and flavoursome skill
    • Add 1d6 to one of your attributes that roughly relates to your skill

How to Play

There are four kinds of Thing in the universe and all Things act and react using contested die rolls (as noted):

  1. Sentient creatures (2d6)
  2. Objects (d12)
  3. Atomic rays (3d4)
  4. Environment (d8+d4)

State which attribute most closely relates to your action, the other player or GM decide on the appropriate Thing that contests your action, then roll.

If you lose a contest, mark off a point from the applicable attribute.

You may choose to spend two attribute points to automatically succeed a contest.

Once all attribute points are lost, you die.

In the case of a tie, favour the player.

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