game system

Zounds! is a free game system distributed as a PDF. It is rules light, so should be easy to learn.

I will summarize the rules here & on the character creation page. But I recommend you read the main PDF (at least the 2/3 of it that isn’t meant for GMs).


In Zounds there is one primary rule: does this proposed action make sense in the game world?

Players describe something that they want to have happen (their action or just something happening in the world). If it makes sense according to the primary rule and no one else at the table disagrees with it happening, it happens. It may not have the desired result, but it happens. Dice come into play when we want to see what effect something had, or when someone thinks the drama / fun will be larger if there is a chance that this thing fails.

Example of play

Alice: “Seeing the orcs sneaking down the street, Zifnab casually throws a fireball over his shoulder. It engulfs all of them, leaving the buildings on each side untouched, because he’s just that good—and can make non-spherical fireballs.”

Bob (could be another player or the GM): “Non-spherical fireballs?”

Alice: “Yeah. It’s his signature spell. He uses them to light campfires. I figure he can make ’em any size and any rough shape. So he just leaves a 1-foot gap between the fire and the buildings.”

Candace (GM): “OK, let’s see what happens to those orcs. Roll them bones.”

Candace: (looks at roll) “OK, looks like most of the orcs were singed a bit. Their clothing is smoldering and will distract them until they take a moment to put it out. Two of them catch on fire, drop to the street and start screaming. They’re out of the fight for a while as they put themselves out. But five of them hugged the buildings they were sneaking past and got away unharmed. And there was a hay cart in the middle of the street. You can’t make holes in your fireballs, so it got engulfed. It look like it caught fire—flames are erupting 20 feet into the air. That’s one heck of a torch.”

Alice: “Well, that should attract the guards’ attention. My job here is done. Zifnab keeps walking.”

Roll for effect

Zounds! is a roll for effect system. This means that the roll does not determine whether something happens. If a player or DM described it, it happens. The question is what effect will result from the action.

The effect of any given action is resolved by a single roll. The roll determines the system effect (nothing, hindered, out, overkill). We then interpret that result in the game world.

Example of play

The party is involved in a barroom brawl. Alice (playing Stephen) decides to attack.

Alice: Stephen grabs a bowl of hot soup from the counter [seems a reasonable thing to find in a tavern, so it is there as soon as Alice describes it] and throws it into the face of her adversary.

Candace (GM): Dulcan sees it coming out of the corner of his eye and flicks out his blade. He catches the bowl and guides it to the bar, spilling hardly a drop.

Then we roll for effect. Everything declared happened. The question is what happens next.

Dulcan loses: unfortunately for Dulcan, this distracts him at a key moment and one of the other people in the bar fight gets an elbow past his defense. It hits him in the gut, knocking his breath out and leaving him hindered.

Dulcan loses a lot (gets out): unfortunately for Duncan, you got some soup out of the bowl as you threw it. While he guides the bowl away, he doesn’t notice the plume of hot soup until it strikes across both eyes. Declan howls with pain and leaves the fight for a while to try to clear the scalding soup.


In order to keep the action fast and cinematic, there are a couple of tropes that anyone at the table can use. These are the fade to black and the cut away.

Fade to black is used whenever some scene is starting to drag out. Anyone can simply narrate how the camera is fading to black, focusing in on something and blurring out, or some similar effect. If no one interrupts, the scene ends.

If anyone has anything they absolutely must do before fading, they can interrupt and describe what happens. But after a fade to black is called, the group should try to wrap things up quickly and fade out so that they can get to the next interesting scene rather than spending an hour fiddling around at the potion shop.

Cut aways are used whenever we either have simultaneous action at separate locations or we need some flashback. They can be called by anyone, but will most often be used by the GM.

Feel free to use them if you really need some characterization. There will also be some powers that trigger cut scenes (things of the “good thing I happened to plan for just this occasion” nature).

Try to keep cut aways from interrupting the flow. Wait until the end of an action or set of actions. People generally shouldn’t interrupt cut aways—we will be back to this scene as soon as we get done with the cut scene.

The main thing is to keep the mood right. Don’t cut away from action to a long exposition. Don’t cut away from a deep drama to a comedy show. If you’re going to cut away for a flashback, keep it short and to the point. The best cut scenes are still-life images or a few seconds of action that make real-time actions suddenly make sense.

To execute a cut away, simply describe how the camera cuts away to the other scene. Use visual description in your transitions. Cut aways to parallel action will often look a lot like fading to black and then entering the new scene; I’ll choose some transition that fits the mood.

game system

Koltec AbelCodeMonk