These are all questions which we’ve been asked about Maskwitches/The Silver Road more than once. Most of these relate to making the jump from more traditional roleplaying games to the minimalist story telling vibes of The Silver Road rules. We present them here to help you play the game.
- Why aren’t there any hit points?
- Doesn’t that mean my character can’t die?
- Why are characters only good at things and bad at things? What if they’re in the middle?
- Why does the game work this way? Why not make a more traditional game?
- What’s the most common thing people miss when they first play?
- Why are there no official character sheets for any of the Silver Road games?
- Any plans for a 5e version of Maskwitches?
Why aren’t there any hit points?
In The Silver Road rules as presented, there’s no need to record “hit points” or “wound levels”.
In this game a character being injured isn’t such a special or different occurrence to any other that it needs its own set of rules. It is just something to be narrated. What happens because someone is hurt, and what it means for the story is what matters.
This can feel huge if you’re not used to this kind of play. The stakes are entirely different, and your prior tactics and habits at the table might not be relevant.
Some traditional roleplaying games, while devoting many pages to the specifics of combat and injury, sometimes curiously express injury only as numbers, often with no discernible effect beyond “your character is this many steps closer to being out of the game”.
In The Silver Road injuries exist only as described. They exist only as an impact on the story. A bit like… every other part of the story!
Unpacking more specifics of why there are no “hit points” in The Silver Road requires a little bit of a circuitous route.
In The Silver Road/Maskwitches rules, if a player character doesn’t overcome an obstacle because they failed their roll, they then suffer a consequence.
A consequence will state something like “someone is hurt”.
In this instance, the player who failed their roll gets to narrate who is hurt in the scene, and how. And it can be anyone.
- The “someone” who is hurt might be your character as the active player.
- It might be another player’s character.
- It might be an Non Player Character already established as present in the scene.
- It might be an Non Player Character you invent for this purpose.
- It could even be someone who isn’t present. If you do experiment with this kind of stuff we recommend you go steady. It’s moving the story “stuff” away from the events that are unfolding, and it can lessen what you have to work with at the table. But it’s entirely within permissible play.
We’ve even seen a canny player, attempting to overcome an obstacle in the form of an enemy, narrate that this direct opponent, the actual obstacle itself, is the one who is hurt! They still don’t overcome that obstacle, but it can make for some cool narration: your experienced warrior character still hurts their enemy in the fight, but that enemy is not overcome as an obstacle, and continues to fight, although now hurt.
Equally, we’ve had lots of impactful moments where a skilled warrior failing their roll causes one of their companions to be hurt in the scene. This is becoming a standard happening in our games, and the reason untrained combatants fear combat. It creates a really interesting dynamic. In our main play group, injuries are shared around, and the players keep an eye on how battered their characters are becoming. They narrate things accordingly. Some folks enjoy the “Bruce Willis in Die Hard” style of being ever more beaten up. Others prefer a sort of Sam Gamgee, pastoral care approach: “We need to rest!”.
If player characters in The Silver Road had numerical hit points that would change the nature of the game dramatically. It’s far less easy to spread the narrative around the table if you’re taking hit points away from another player, and moving them towards being “out” or less able to “complete” the adventure. If you fail a roll when there’s hit points, it becomes logical, kind, and the right thing to do to take responsibility and lose your own hit points. Rather than narrating something else. And that locks each player into their own character, and prompts them to take actions to preserve their pool of points.
The Silver Road isn’t intended to work that way. The Silver Road is all about the shared story, rather than preserving the health of “your guy” via tactical moves, or the right mechanical choices. What matters here is shared creativity.
It’s also worth pausing to consider things outside of games. In novels or movies or comic books, characters don’t lose a numerical amount of “health” when they’re hurt, and thereby take a step closer to death along a linear track.
In fiction, we most often see that protagonists remain challenged but alive until the plot needs them to die, or it becomes dramatic or interesting for them to be in some way incapacitated, at a disadvantage, or suffer through some kind of more serious injury.
Death in fiction is not a thing that occurs when a person’s “health meter” runs out. That’s an rpg convention. And it’s one we regularly enjoy while playing other games!
The Silver Road rules suggest letting that idea go for a while for a change of pace.
Doesn’t that mean my character can’t die?
They can’t die because they run out of “hit points”, at least. There are three main ways a character might die in a Silver Road game.
1: The player decides it would be a good/powerful/resonant/appropriate thing to happen in the story, and they narrate that their character dies.
Example: we saw this once in the first scene of an In Spoons, in Knives game. It was a high tension, high action opening, and on a whim a player decided that when their character failed a roll to overcome a gangster in an armed struggle they were killed. It was really shocking stuff, and contributed enormously to the tone of the game. The player quickly took on an NPC as a new character.
Remember that players also have the option to narrate some way in which a “dead” character continues to be part of the story – perhaps in a limbo-like afterlife, perhaps as a ghost. If that changes the tone too much or in a way the other players really don’t like, they might opt to start a new character.
We had a Maskwitches character in one game decide that they were killed, after being hurt several times. They narrated that they found themselves in a weird limbo-like place, and had to answer three riddles posed by the Iron-Boned Crow, and then returned to their body. You can do that.
2: It is possible that the narration of another player could conceivably create a situation where your character might logically (or dramatically) die. This has proved extremely rare in playtests, to the point of almost never happening outside of a suggestion that was agreed upon.
The notes on being kind, and making sure everyone has fun should be carefully considered when this possibility arises. Imposing anything on another player’s character should be handled with care, and in good faith. The precise way such events can take place at your table will depend on your group and play preference. Those sections in the book about playing with kindness are as much rules as any other part.
And, as in option 1, it doesn’t mean the end for that character. And they can be readily brought back to life through the power of narration if so desired. It can turn out that they appeared to be dead. They might have been temporarily and technically dead. And then recover. Their dramatic return or recovery can be a hugely important part of a story.
Don’t forget you can narrate absolutely anything. The limits are only your imagination and what makes a good story for everyone at the table. This might mean a shift in thinking away from the stuff you do when you have numerical resources to look after and can only narrate what “your guy” does.
3: An extreme consequence might state that a player character dies. We’d advise GMs to save this kind of thing for really important and dangerous moments. “Someone dies” is almost always better, and creates more creative outcomes. But in the right game, potentially anything can work to make the story better.
It’s really important to grasp that The Silver Road, by design, just doesn’t use “missing a go”, or losing your character as a means to make the story meaningful. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with those things – they work very well on a great many games. We just wanted to try something else for this set of rules.
When we first considered something so radically different as the driver for engagement and satisfaction with the game, we were unsure. Could it work? Is the only way to really make a character feel like “yours”, and for a story to feel important, for there to be a numerical abstraction of injury and death?
After a lot of play, we’re certain this game provides an enjoyable alternative. It does ask players, if they’re new to this kind of play, to be open to the mental shifts involved. They need to be prepared to try it, and see where it takes them.
And of course it might not be for you! That’s absolutely ok too. If your group really isn’t into the idea, then forcing them into a game using The Silver Road probably isn’t going to go well. It’s entirely possible they might be convinced to enjoy this kind of thing. It’s also possible that they become disruptive and the session doesn’t work. They have to want to try it at least a little bit.
Why are characters only good at things and bad at things? What if they’re in the middle?
The Silver Road doesn’t have an “average ability” setting. Either your character is good at the thing or bad at the thing. This is another mental shift, and perhaps a harder one to explain. Like a novel or movie, the game just isn’t really interested in middling results. Either characters do things with a low risk of temporary failure, or they stand almost no chance to do a thing, and the resulting consequences drive the story in another direction.
In more practical terms, if it’s unclear whether a character is good at something, and/or you can’t use some creative lateral thinking to find an approach to an obstacle that relates to something you’re good at? You’re bad at it.
This is ok because you’re not risking “going out” of the game. You don’t need to expect to win, or make tactical choices to win in the moment. You’re not risking precious numerical resources which you might need later. You’re just riding the wave of the story and responding to it.
If your character has a specific “bad at” aspect, then they are always bad at that thing. The GM might need to mediate on things if they’re unclear or disputed, for the sole reason of keeping the story moving.
If it helps, consider that in this particular moment of the story your character might be good enough or bad enough at the thing to fall into either camp. And a lot can happen to explain that in narration.
You also have the short description of your character to help guide you.
And don’t forget! As a player attempting to do a thing, YOU narrate the effects of the consequence if you fail a roll. And the outcome can be anything you like, provided it relates to the consequence.
You are not missing a turn, or losing a resource, or being punished in any way for failing. It is intended to be just as much fun to fail as it is to succeed. When you fail, you’re essentially given a prompt to work with for what happens next. It’s all about providing information for building an interesting story, rather than things going wrong.
The reward of play in The Silver Road is not something like “I survived the challenges the scenario presented, and used my knowledge of the game rules to do the right mechanical things at the right time”. It’s “we made an amazing story together”.
Why does the game work that way? Why not make a more traditional game?
I want to switch into first person for this answer, as the game’s author, because a lot of this is on me, and mostly the answer is “because I wanted to”. I noticed that in fiction and movies, protagonists don’t ever think “I’m about 50/50 at this thing, I guess it’ll be a coin toss whether I can do it or not”.
And I was struck by the idea of (for example) how wild it would be to enter into a sword fight to the death if you knew you won fifty percent of fights. Or 33%.
That kind of meta knowledge started to chafe at my brain. It is important to keep mentioning that I also like and play traditional games. I don’t think they’re “wrong” to work the way they do. There’s just this weird thought that kept coming back. What if we didn’t do any of this stuff at the table?
Then I thought about how good at picking locks the “average” person is. Basically: not good at it at all. And if you’re good enough to stand any chance of picking a lock? You’re good at picking locks. No one is “average” at picking locks in the sense that they have a 50/50 chance of picking a lock. People who have a 50/50 chance are good at it. So let’s skip a lot of nonsense and say that they pick that lock most of the time.
The stories we enjoy don’t ever seem to really be about “average” people in the moments that they are tested. The very fact they’re in a story makes them different. The events that unfold set them apart.
Once I’d started thinking this way, roleplaying games that concerned themselves with fixed and specific probabilities to do things, which were often very close to 50/50 seemed increasingly weird. And like they were trying to make busy work. I do worry a little bit that I broke my brain.
I’ve found often when playing RPGs with friends we just took note of if a roll was low or high, and narrated based on that. The Silver Road was a development of this kind of play, where having the dice guide us, and occasionally throw something interesting into the mix.
I also noted that in a particular series of very popular fantasy books, protagonists always succeeded at the things they set out to do. Even if for “a round” they had to grimace and try a bit harder. And then they did the thing. Initially this struck me as funny and bizarre, and I made a joke one page rpg about this idea. It kept coming back to me though. It wasn’t just a joke.
I wondered if a game that used that logic could work. We tried it, and it did. We’ve had some brilliant games of The Silver Road.
It can be very hard to make the mental shift out of being punished for failing by losing numerical resources, leading to the ultimate “miss a go” of character death.
But just imagine… what if none of that mattered? What if you were telling a story guided only a little bit by dice? Which still have the power to surprise you, sporadically?
What’s the most common thing people miss when they first play?
Forgetting the Magic Numbers and Butting In. (every character has a Magic Number. When it’s rolled at the table, they can “butt in” and give a piece of narration that starts “But…”.
It’s really worth reminding everyone of this rule sporadically. It really bounces narration around the table, and empowers different people at different times to put their spin on what’s going on. It’s well worth remembering it so that play doesn’t just go round and round the table. The intention is for it to be a bit more “zingy” than that.
It’s also a lot of fun to explore the different kinds of butting in you can do. Sometimes it’s about narrating as a team to be kind to your characters, and help them out when things go wrong. They fail a thing but something good also happens. Sometimes it’s fun to set up more troubles. “Your pistol shot hits the target but…” We’ve had a lot of fun with how you never quite know what another player will throw into the mix.
Can I tell you about how I modified your game to add in rules for “average at” and “hit points”?
If you really want to. A bunch of people have done so.
Naturally, I do my best to chat with anyone in good faith. And if you want to make the game work a different way that’s honestly entirely up to you: knock yourself out! You do not need my permission or approval. I also think you should try it as written once or twice before changing it into an entirely different game.
But please do remember if you do take out or change absolutely essential parts of The Silver Road then unfortunately I can’t really advise you on how to make it work – you’ve made it into your own game now.
Why are there no official character sheets for any of the settings for The Silver Road?
You don’t really need one. Your character is a name, a very brief description, 2 things they’re good at, and 2 things they’re bad at. That’s it. Your character fits on an index card or sticky note. You can make a character in a jotter or write it on the mirror in lipstick. Make a character out of Maskwitches cards.
Not having “a character sheet” was also a deliberate design choice, and an attempt to move away from traditional thinking about characters in an rpg. It might make you feel a bit weird. That’s ok. Give it a go. And if you want to make a character sheet, that’s ok too! Again, you don’t need permission or approval. It’s your game.
Any plans for a 5e version of Maskwitches?
As much as I enjoy a spot of 5e, I just cannot conceive of Maskwitches of Forgotten Doggerland through that lens. For me, the way storytelling works in The Silver Road is an absolutely key part of the Maskwitches setting. I just can’t see it working with hit points, classes, and rolling to hit. That’s just not… Maskwitches?
I could see a spin off game in the same world working for 5e. Just like I could see a spin off of BEOWULF working in Silver Road. But not a direct port of BEOWULF itself.