Misery Bubblegum is a roleplaying game designed to address the question "Who will you let influence the person you become?" As such, there will be things from normal RPGs that you don't have to worry about, and privileges from normal RPGs that you will not enjoy here.
Your character cannot die through misadventure. The game is, after all, about the character's continued development and you cannot develop very far from the grave. Except in settings where death is a temporary set-back, in which case you may well die (and be reborn) several times over the course of your career.
However your character can become a person you despise. The game is about who you let influence you, and to encourage that the rules say that you (as player of a character) are the one person who gets no direct input into how your character develops. That's why choosing the people who will change you, and how, is so very important.
In many RPGs you are under constant threat of dying, but are always safe from losing control of your character's personality. In Misery Bubblegum you are always safe from dying, but under constant threat of losing control of your character's personality.
In order to play, you'll need 16 dice, all the same color. Your color. Other players need their own colors. You'll be trading these dice around, but the ones of your color will always have a special relationship to you.
You'll also need a copy of the character sheet on the next page, and a flat place to put it. Much of the mechanics of the game centers around moving piles of dice from one place to another on the sheet, so it can't be folded in your pocket while you play.
All characters have, at all times, three pools of dice: Passion, Nerve and Intuition. The dice in the pools represent pretty much what they sound like: The degree to which the character can (in their current mood and circumstances) trust to their own passion, nerve and intuition.
Each of the pool-types has a number permanently associated with it (usually between 1 and 6). This does not represent (for instance) how Passionate the character is. It represents how good they are at making Passion work for them. A character with a 1 Passion can be desperately, madly, insanely passionate… it's just that they're so far over the top (or so unused to expressing the emotion, or whatever) that whenever they cut loose with their full passion they make trouble for themselves and everyone around them.
You will also have a pool on your sheet labeled "Misery." You don't need a Misery rating. Every character has an unlimited capacity for Misery, but since those dice come from your other pools, the more Misery you're carrying the less able you will be to use your other attributes.
You have a pool on your sheet labeled "Influence." This is where you keep the dice that other players give you. Again, you don't need an Influence rating. People can be as influential as others let them be.
Assign numbers to each of your Attributes. 1 means an attribute that constantly gets you in trouble, and where you will constantly be growing and evolving. 6 or higher means an attribute where you are pretty much static. You don't cause yourself trouble, but you also don't grow.
Now take your sixteen dice. Distribute two to each other player, to be put into their Influence pool. Distribute the remaining dice among your Attribute pools as you see fit.
You can also take this time to add descriptive details to your character: A name, whether they're smart or stupid, faerie or mundane, what sort of battle-mech (if any) responds to their voice-coded summons, whether they're too weak to stand without aid or possessed of the strength of the Olympian gods. That sort of narrative color can help you to know how to play the character and set their difficulties appropriately.
When you want your character to do something, you'll decide how hard what you're doing is, for your character, from one to six. Say your character wants to climb a sheer wall. If she has no athletic ability and is wearing stiletto heels, you might put the difficulty at 6. If she is a ninja clad in climbing gear, and knows the secrets of Spider-Fu, you might put the difficulty at 1.
Once you know what the challenge level (for your character) is, you pick a number of dice from one of your three pools, and roll them (in the "Roll" area on the character sheet).
You separate the Victory Dice (those with value equal to or greater than the challenge) from the failing dice. If nobody chooses to oppose you, your character succeeds at what they are trying, so long as you have at least one Victory.
If somebody opposes you (either a player opposing you with their character or the GM using an NPC or the environment) then they also roll dice from one of their pools. They can choose their own difficulty, again from 1 to 6. So if the rock wall is slime-covered and decrepit then the GM might give it a 1 difficulty to be an environmental hazard. If it's a terraced brick wall, just made for climbing, then the difficulty of opposing your climbing might be six.
Whichever of the two of you has more Victories determines whether the character competently completes the task they attempted. If you have identical number of dice then the player with the greatest sum decides. If this also ties then the person who called for the roll in the first place decides.
Example: Jesse wants her character, Ritsuko, to climb a wall. Ritsuko is a ninja, and this would ordinarily be an easy feat, but she's recently had a messy breakup with her boyfriend, and her mind's not on the situation. Jesse sets her challenge level at 4. The GM rolls opposition for the slick, dark, wet wall at challenge 2.
Jesse rolls four dice, 2, 3, 4 and 6. The GM rolls three dice, 2, 5 and 5. The GM decides whether Ritsuko succeeds or fails (three dice to Jesse's two).
Each roll has the potential for Misery. Specifically, it may require some of the people involved in the roll to take some of the dice they rolled and put them into their Misery pool.
The Misery total for the roll starts at one for each character who has more of their color dice in the roll areas than the value of the attribute they rolled from. Confusing, huh?
Example: Herbs character, Alfonse, has an Insight of 2. If Herb rolls one or two dice from his Insight (and nothing else happens) then there is no Misery on the roll. If Herb rolls 3, or 4, or 12 dice from his Insight pool then there is one point of Misery on the roll.
Example: Herb rolls two dice. Another player has control of some of Herb's dice and rolls two more of those dice in the conflict. Herb now has four dice on the table, which is greater than his Insight of 2. There is one point of Misery on the roll.
The Misery total can also be modified by what Traits are active and used. See the "Misery" entry under individual Trait descriptions.
The player who wins the action (i.e. has the most Victories) decides how the Misery is apportioned. Doesn't that sound like a job you'd rather have yourself than trust to your opponent?
For each point of Misery, someone involved in the action must take one of their rolled dice and put it into their Misery pool. The victor determines who and how much. The victor cannot assign any player more Misery points than the number of their dice that were rolled.
Example: Alfonse rolls four dice to climb the trellis to his beloved Beatrice's chamber. He is opposed (passively) by Duke Leonard (rolling a die for his castle's security), the protective father of Beatrice, and also by Beatrice herself (who rolls two dice to demurely protest his actions). The roll nets two Misery. Alfonse forces the Duke to take one point of Misery, then takes the second himself rather than cause his Beatrice any hardship. Duke Leonard puts the die he rolled into his Misery pool. Alfonse puts one of the dice he rolled into Misery, and reclaims the other three. He decides that, despite having braved the guards to reach his beloved's window, Alfonse will agree to her protests, and climb back down without so much as a kiss. But it smarts! Oh how it rankles!
So now you know whether the character succeeded or failed. What you don't know, yet, is what success or failure means. Climbing a wall doesn't necessarily mean you get into the fortress: guards might spot you and try to drive you off. Losing your grip and falling on your butt doesn't necessarily mean you won't get into the fortress: you might fall right next to a sewer entrance that you'd never have found if you hadn't slipped. Each thing you attempt has two parts: what you do, and what it achieves.
The dice under the challenge level you chose tell you who determines the meaning of the action. Whoever has the highest total on those dice decides. If that is tied, whoever called for the roll in the first place decides. Winning that does two things: First, you need to define some meaning (by changing or addressing people's Traits) and second, you move your dice around.
When you define the meaning of an action, you get two chances to offer, modify or address a Trait. The first (primary) meaning is at the full Meaning Total of your action. The second (secondary) meaning is at half the Meaning Total of your action (rounding down).
Example: Gary has a total of 6 for the Meaning when his character (Xeno) is thrown into the prison of Lord Harringfast. He addresses Harringfast's level 5 Desire of "My enemies subjugated before me" (the better to influence him from within the cell) with his primary meaning, and offers a new Desire "Respect" for Harringfast's oppressed lackey, Sigfried, bolstering it with two Influence dice he had over Sigfried from past encounters.
Traits come in three flavors:
Each attribute lets you deal with two types of Traits, but not the third. So if you roll an action out of Passion (for instance) then you can affect Roles or Desires, but not Threats. Likewise, if you roll from Insight you can affect Threats or Desires, but not Roles.
The direction of the arrow you follow will also determine how your dice pools change. Whichever Trait your primary meaning effects, all the dice you can claim back from the roll (after whatever Misery you suffer) will go into the attribute pool that arrow continues on toward. So if you roll your Insight Pool, and choose to offer a Desire for someone else, then your reclaimed dice will end up in your Passion pool. If you had chosen to create a Threat then they would have ended up in your Nerve pool instead.
The two Traits you affect must either be of different types (a Desire and a Threat, for instance) or on different characters (modifying Roles on two different characters). They can, of course, be different types on different characters.
To deal with an existing Trait, your Meaning total must be equal to or greater than the current value of the Trait (except in a special case addressing Threats, q.v.). To offer a new Trait, your Meaning total must be equal to or greater than twice the Attribute value of the pool you rolled from, on the character you're creating the Trait for. So, if you roll out of Nerve, and you want to create a Role on a character with Nerve of 5, your Meaning total must be 10 or greater. The Trait will start off with a value equal to the Attribute value it was created for. So in this case the Role would start out at value 5.
Since you'll be the one deciding how challenging everything is for your character, you don't need mechanics to modify that challenge. If your character has a razor katana to make fighting easier, or is incredibly dumb to make thinking harder, you just take that into consideration as you set challenges. You might write it down in notes, to help you remember, but it doesn't need any formal representation in the rule system.
What you get, instead, is a description of your characters inimitable style. These are your characters Traits, their Desires, Roles and the Threats against them. They describe your characters personality… the ways that she uses her talents to deal with the world. So "Very intelligent" isn't a Trait. "Role: Little miss smarty-pants know-it-all" is a Trait a very intelligent character might have. "Threat: Smart enough to think she can get away with anything" is also a Trait such a character might have.
So how many Traits do you start with? How about "None"? I hope "None" works for you. You, as the player of a character, never get to define Traits for your character. Instead, other players get to offer you Traits, along with a bribe of dice. If you accept the bribe, you get the Trait. If you don't want the Trait, you don't get the Dice. Simple, yes? You get to choose whose influence you will accept, but not to grow and change as a person in isolation.
We'll get to how you offer and accept Traits in a little while. For the moment, know that you will (soon) have a number of Traits, each with a number associated with it, one or higher (potentially unlimited). The more you use a Trait, the more its number is likely to grow (as other players are interested in it). Though each of your Traits appears on your character's sheet, they are each associated (forever) with the player who bribed you to add them to your sheet. These Traits will let you change the dice in ways that can both help and hinder you.
To use one of those Traits, you must give one of your dice to the player who originally created and envisioned the Trait. Whenever you act in the ways they envisioned for your character, you give them more power to define your character in the future.
When people give you their dice, they are showing that your character has influence over them, for whatever reason. They have been changed by your character's opinions (for better or worse). This, in turn, gives you more power to influence them… a virtuous or vicious cycle, depending.
You can use these dice in several ways. First off, just holding onto them makes the other person less able to take action without your help, so that's a valid strategy on its own. But there are also ways to throw the dice back into circulation:
Everybody finds happiness in different things. A Desire is something that another person can do that makes your character happy. So "Zoe wants to have friends who understand her" is a Desire. "I want Eric to know how much I hate his guts" is also a Desire. "I want people to try to make me a better person, so I can thwart them by remaining my scummy self"? Desire.
So you're reading about Desires, and naturally the first thing you'll be wondering is "How can I directly satisfy my character's desires?" Wow, that came out sounding… weird. Anyway, you can't. That's not how Desires work. Only another player can satisfy them. And, yeah, the weirdness just gets worse.
Using: When you activate a Desire you may reroll a die, or dice, whose total is no greater than the value of the Desire.
Example: Joe is racing his hover-cycle toward Deadman's Curve. He has a difficulty of 4 to be a competent cyclist, but the curve has racked up three victories to oppose him. He rolls 1, 2, 5, 6, for two victories. He activates his "Desire: Impress Chicks (4)" Trait and rerolls the 1 and 2 for a 3 and 6.
Addressing: When your character satisfies the Desire of another character as part of the outcome of an action, you can Address their Desire. You roll dice from their Misery pool until the total is greater than the level of the Desire. You take all of those dice into your own Influence pool. Each player may only address a particular Desire once per scene.
Example: Yumi lets out a cheer as Joe manages to thread Deadman's Curve. She addresses his Desire, and starts rolling Misery dice: 2, 3… stop. Her total on two dice (5) is greater than the level of his Desire (4). She takes those dice as Influence.
Misery: If your Desire has been used on a roll, and you do not succeed, add 1 to the Misery total for that roll only.
Threats are anything that could stand in the way of the character being satisfied in their Desires or successful in their Roles. So a huge, looming battle-station bent on destroying their planet, that can be a Threat. Their own arrogance, that can also be a Threat. Their honor, and good nature? Threat.
You'll have noticed, above, that there's no real way to thwart someone else's Desire by addressing it (though you can make them miserable by giving them what they thought they wanted). That's what Threats are for! Thwart, thwart, thwart!
Using: When a Threat is activated, the threatened player rolls dice from the Misery pool until either (a) the dice run out or (b) their total is greater than the level of the Threat. Keep these in the "Threat Dice" area. From then, any die which matches one of the dice in the Threat area is not counted toward either the character's Victory total or Meaning total. At the end of the scene, any remaining dice in the Threat Dice are moved back to the character's Misery pool.
Example: Daphne, young school-girl incarnation of the power of Thor, has a Threat "Must conceal my powers from my parents" at level 6. It is activated and rolled, for a 2 (2 total), 2 (4 total) and 4 (8 total, and done). She keeps the 2, 2 and 4 in her Threat Dice area. She then takes an action, trying to make up a clever excuse for why her hair is standing straight up from her head (actual reason? Electrical charge.) She gives it a difficult of 4, and rolls a massive six dice: 1, 2, 3, 4, 4 and 5. However, after Threat-blocking that only nets her 1, 3, 5, barely a success, and not likely to win the meaning of the action away from concerted opposition.
Addressing: If you are playing the threatened character you may reclaim one die from the Threat Dice.
Example: Daphne wins the meaning of the action above, and removes the 4 blocking die from the Threat. It will now block only 2s. She adds the reclaimed die to her other dice.
If you are playing another character you may roll an Influence die of the threatened character's color and add it to the Threat Dice.
Misery: For each active Threat subtract 1 from the Misery total for each roll. The Misery total cannot be reduced below zero.
Roles are the ways that people expect you to act, and accept your authority. So "Champion of Goodness" is a Role, as are "Team Leader", "Useless loser," "Frigid Bitch" and "Troublemaker."
Using: When a Role is activated the player may roll Influence dice (of any color) until (a) they don't want to roll any more, (b) they run out of Influence dice or (c) the total is greater than the value of their Role. Keep these in the "Role dice" area. From then, any of these dice which match a rolled die are counted toward either the character's Victory total or Meaning total. At the end of the scene, the original owners of the dice reclaim them, placing them in any pool they wish.
Example: Gerhardt the Reckless activates his level 8 Role "Heroic Champion" and starts rolling Influence dice from his friend Helga and Omar. He rolls 2 and 4 on Helga's dice and 3 on Omars before he's done. Now if he rolls a 2, 4, 5 on a difficulty 3 action (originally 2 Meaning 9 Victory) it counts as 2, 2, 4, 4, 5 (4 Meaning, 13 Victory).
Addressing: If your character supports the en-Roled character in their Role then you may take a number of dice from their Misery to your Influence equal to the number of your dice in their Role pool. Each player may only address a given Role in this way once per scene.
Example: Helga cheers Gerhardt on, taking two of his Misery dice and adding them to her own Influence pool.
If your character defies the authority of the Role then you may take your dice from their Role pool and place them into your own Misery pool.
Example: From the example above, Omar is sick of Gerhardt playing the hero, and takes his own die back, placing it in his Misery pool.
Misery: If your Role is active on an action, and you do not define Meaning, add one to the Misery total for that roll.