Peking Space Opera Blues

Task Resolution

Types of Tasks

There are three sorts of tasks a character may attempt in PSOB: trivial, impossible, and interesting. Only the last involves dice.

When a character attempts to perform a trivial task, such as picking up a book, opening an unlocked door, or driving down to the grocery store, no dice are rolled. The character succeeds at the task and the action moves on.

When a character attempts to perform an impossible task, such as running along a laser beam, building a hyperdrive out of sedimentary rock and animal hides, or walking through a solid wall, no dice are rolled. Everyone stares at the offending player for a moment, and then action resumes as though the incident had never happened.

Interesting tasks are those at which the character has some chance of success but also some chance of failure. Note that a trivial task may be made interesting by the addition of unhelpful circumstance: opening a door is much more difficult when it's locked, and picking up a book is much more difficult when it's clutched in the slimy paw of the master villain.

Dice in PSOB

In PSOB, a character's skill is the primary determinant of what she can do: an expert will always do a pretty good job at an easy task unless some adverse circumstance intervenes. Even without an explicit penalty, however, there is always some variation in how well someone will do at a specific task. In PSOB, this is simulated by rolling dice each time a character attempts a task. The dice used are six-sided, marked on two sides with "+", on two sides with "-", and blank on the other two sides, read as +1, -1, and 0 respectively. If these dice (called FUDGE dice) are not available, ordinary six-sided dice may be substituted, reading 1-2 as -1, 3-4 as 0, and 5-6 as +1. The result of the roll is the sum of the two dice, a number from -2 to 2 inclusive.

Determining Success or Failure

An interesting task is described by an Action Value (AV) and a Difficulty. The AV is the acting character's relevent skill, plus any modifiers from schticks, the situation, or the GM's better judgement. The Difficulty is set by the GM according to the situation, but will usually be between about 0 and 10. In opposed rolls, the Difficulty will usually be the defender's relevent skill, and thus typically between 0 and 10. The GM is of course free to set the difficulty to whatever she feels appropriate.

Roll the dice and add the sum to the AV: this total is called the Result. If the Result is less than the Difficulty, the character fails at their task. Otherwise, they succeed. The amount by which the Result exceeds the Difficulty is called the Outcome; a larger Outcome means more success. The exact nature of this superior success depends on the task.

Ordinary Tasks

For tasks which are not opposed by anyone and have no obvious Difficulty, the following scale can be used.

0: Trivial
An ordinary person with only a basic familiarity in the field can do this routinely.
3: Routine
Someone with basic training at this can expect to accomplish it.
5: Difficult
Anything less than a skilled professional will have trouble.
8: Impressive
Only someone of outstanding skill and talent can expect to succeed at this task.
10: Heroic
Even someone of outstanding skill and talent will have difficulty; only for the best of the best can do this reliably.
15: Legendary
Stories will be told for years of anyone who can accomplish this feat.

For many tasks, the role of the Outcome will be explicit (eg, the Outcome is added to the damage of a successful attack). If this is not the case, look up the Outcome on this table to get a qualitative measure of the degree of success. Obviously, the exact details will depend on the task and the situation.

resounding success, producing better results, taking less time, or winning the acclaim of the character's peers
0: Marginal
Not failure, but that's about all you can say. Another roll might be necessary to actually make progress.
1: Passable
Everything that was necessary is accomplished, but the results are not durable, stylish, or otherwise impressive.
2: Solid
Everything that was necessary is accomplished in full, but nothing more.
5: Resounding
Everything necessary is accomplished, and is done in less time, produces better quality results, or wins the acclaim of the character's peers.
10: Overwhelming
Utter victory: everything above and as much more as could possibly be achieved given the situation.

Opposed Tasks

In a task where two characters are in direct opposition, one will normally be active and the other reactive. The active character is the one who makes the roll, and the Difficulty will be equal to the reactive character's AV. EG, if one character is trying to shoot another, the shooter is the active one, and her Difficulty is equal to the target's Dodge. If both characters are active (eg, a race or other symmetric contest), both characters roll and the one with the higher Result is the victor. Look up in the difference between the two Results on the table above to see how crushing a defeat was inflicted on the loser.

Social Interactions

Social interactions in which both parties are willing to do what the other asks generally need no roll. However, in PSOB, the characters will often find in necessary to change someone's mind using Intimidation or Charm. The difficulty of this task is based on the subject's depth of commitment to not doing whatever it is the character wants, referred to as her spine.

A minor character's spine is equal to either the Leadership skill or the Intimidation skill - 2 of the character who gave her the orders or instruction she's following. The average person has a spine of 3 from parents and teachers. Ordinary police, soldiers, and other dedicated people are led by officers or elite who give them a spine of 5. Officers and elite troops are typcially led by a major character who gives them a spine of 8.

A major character's spine is equal to the highest of her Charm, Deceit, Intimidation, or Leadership skills, and never less than 5.

A leader who is actually present can rally her followers, giving them a spine equal to the outcome of a roll based on her Intimidation or Leadership, for the duration of the present situation.

Obviously, the difficulty of persuading someone also depends on what they're being asked to do and what incentive they're being offered. Asking a normal person to commit some awful act such as murder or outright treason would be a -3 penalty to the asker's AV. A strong incentive appropriate to the skill being used might be as much as +3 AV.


Roleplaying Time

Combat Time

During combat, or other situations where multiple characters all want to act and the order of their actions is critical, game time passes in units of three seconds called rounds. In each round, each character gets one chance to act; when everyone has had their chance, the next round begins. See the Combat section for more details.

Nonplayer Characters

Minor Characters

Major Characters


As mentioned earlier, combat is played out in rounds which each take three seconds of game time. Each round consists of a number of phases, which are performed in order.

  1. Roll Initative
  2. Action Phases
  3. Per-Round Effects


At the beginning of each round, each character participating in the combat roll her Initiative; the result is her initiative number. Each character gets one action phase, starting with the character with the highest initiative number and counting down to 0. Any character whose initiative number is less than 0 does not get an action phase that round.

Simultaneous Actions

If two or more characters have the same initiative number, their actions are considered completely simultaneous. If it really truly does matter which one is first, the character with the highest Initiative wins. If all tied characters have the same Initiative, the GM should choose one randomly.

Aborting a Phase

During any action phase, after the acting character's action has been declared but before the dice have been rolled, any character may choose to abort her phase in favor of some immediate action. Most characters can only abort to defending themselves; a character who has the schtick Hair-trigger Reflexes will have one other action she can abort to. The effects of the abort take place before the action phase that it was declared in response to.

If the character who aborts has not yet had her action phase this round, she loses it. If she has already used her action phase, or if she has no action phase this round, she takes a -5 on her next Initative roll. A character may not abort more than once per round, and may not abort more than once between two consecutive action phases.

Aborting to Defense

A character who aborts to defense gains +2 to her Dodge, and may in addition move up to 1/5 of her normal movement to escape danger or reach cover. The Dodge bonus lasts until the character's next action phase; any bonus from the character's new position lasts until she moves elsewhere.

Aborting to Other Actions

A character who has the schtick Hair-Trigger Reflexes can abort to one other action besides defense, chosen at character creation. Typically this will be an attack of some kind (eg, the Gunslinger archetype's Hair-Trigger Reflexes), but it could be anything fitting the character. An abort of this type is handled just the same as an abort to defense, except that it will typically not have effects that persist until the character's next action phase. The action, whatever it is, is performed with a -2 penalty to the character's AV.

Holding a Phase

A character can delay using her action phase until a lower initiative number, if she wants to see what someone else is going to do or wait until someone else has acted. In that case, just treat her initiative number as being whatever one she finally acts on. A character cannot hold her phase until the next round, but if she holds until the end of the round, she gets a +3 on her initiative roll for the next round.

A character who is holding her phase and wants to use it to preempt someone else's declared action (for example, disarming the villain who's about to shoot the hostage before he can pull the trigger) must succeed in rolling her Initiative against the Initiative of the person she's trying to preempt, with a -2 penalty in addition to any penalties for a complex action. On an outcome of 0, the actions are simultaneous, which typically translates to a failure for the preempter.

Action Phases

On her action phase, a character may perform one action and may also move or engage in active defense.

Actions come in two sorts, simple and complex. A simple action is one that requires only one skill, and only one use of that skill, and therefore only one roll. A complex action is one that requires either more than one skill, or more than one use of a skill, or both. EG, kicking someone is a simple action, being one use of the Martial Arts skill, but swinging on a chandelier to kick someone on the far side of the room is a complex action, requiring Agility and Martial arts, and leaping into the air and kicking two people is also a complex action, being two uses of Martial Arts.

Each component of a complex action takes an AV penalty equal to the number of components; each of the examples in the previous paragraph would take a -2 AV on each component. For most complex actions, anything more then two or three components is pushing the limit of 'one action'. The exception is attacks on multiple targets: in PSOB, "I gun down everyone in the room" is perfectly valid as a single action.

It's the GM's option whether to have the character roll once and add the result of that roll to the AV of each component of the action, or roll separately for each component. The choice should be made before the roll.

Typical actions during combat include:

Undoubtedly players will think of many other things for their characters to do, but the GM will have to handle them on a case-by-case basis.

Active Defense

A character who devotes her attention to protecting herself increases her Dodge by +2, but takes a -2 to the AV of any other actions. These effects last until the start of the character's next action phase.


During an action phase, a character can move up to her full movement rate in any movement mode available to her, at the cost of a -2 to the AV of any other action she performs during that phase, or up to half her movement for -1 AV. In either case, her Dodge is reduced by -1 until the beginning of her next action phase. She can also drive or pilot a vehicle up to its full movement at a penalty of -2 AV. Driving or piloting does not have any automatic Dodge penalty, but being confined in or attached to a vehicle will probably impair the character at least somewhat. Note that the AV penalty does not apply to any tasks directly related to the form of movement being used.

A character may move up to a quarter of her full movement while performing some other action at no penalty.


An action spent aiming increases the AV of the character's next attack by +2, provided the attack is made against the target aimed at, but decreases her dodge by -2. The Dodge penalty lasts until the attack is made or the aim is negating by the character attacking another target or aborting.


Getting the opponent to surrender or run away is not only morally preferable in many circumstances, but often quicker than shooting them all. The Difficulty of an Intimidation task is the spine of the opponents, but there are many circumstances which affect the AV. If the enemy believes themselves to be outnumbered 2 to 1, the Intimidation attempt is at +2. 4 to 1 odds give a +4, 8 to 1 a +6, and so on. If the enemy believes that they have superior numbers, any Intimidation attempt takes an equivalent penalty. If the enemy is losing, the Intimidation attempt gets +1 to +3 depending on how badly they're losing; if they're winning, there's a -1 to -3 penalty.

A Deceit roll may influence the enemies' perception of the force they're facing, and therefore the modifiers for subsequent Intimidation rolls.


As an action, a leader can rally her troops, increasing their spine (the Difficulty for any Intimidation or Charm tasks against them) to the Result of her Leadership roll.


In its simplest form, one character's attack on another can be resolved with no more than a stress roll of the attacker's appropriate combat skill (Guns, Martial Arts, or Psionics) against the target's Dodge. In practice, however, there are many more factors that come into play.

Hand-to-Hand Attacks

Hand to hand attacks, whether with sword, mandibles, or bare hands, always use Martial Arts. Since the range at the time of the attack is no more than a couple of meters, considerations such as cover, distance, and so forth rarely apply. There may a bonus of +1 or +2 to the attacker's AV for favorable circumstances such as being above the target, or a penalty of -1 or -2 for problems such as facing an opponent with a longer weapon, but usually the roll will be made straight.

The damage inflicted by a successful hand-to-hand attack is equal to the weapon's damage rating (either a flat rating or the character's base damage plus the weapon's damage bonus) plus twice the Outcome of the attack.

Ranged Attacks

Ranged attacks are somewhat more complicated, since there are more factors that affect them. To begin with, ranged attacks may use Guns, Martial Arts, or Psionics as the base skill. Guns and missile weapons such as bows use Guns, thrown weapons (including grenades) use Martial Arts, and psionic powers, of course, use Psionics.

Rate of Fire

The standard in PSOB is for a weapon to be fired several times as part of an attack; this is what is meant by the rate of fire "burst". A burst fire attack can be directed against one target at normal AV, or against a small group as described in Area Attacks, below. It is important to note that, in PSOB, at least one shot of a burst, and probably several, will miss and cause havoc around and behind the target.

Any weapon can be fired single-shot; some weapons have no other choice. Firing only one shot gives a -1 AV, but so long as it hits, there will be no collatoral damage (unless the weapon has an explosive effect).

Some weapons are capable of automatic fire. Autofire can be used against a group of targets as described in Many on One Attacks, or it can be used against a single target at +1 AV. Autofire causes even more collatoral damage than burst fire.

A very few weapons can deliver saturation fire, which is like autofire but even more so, especially with regards to collatoral damage. Using saturation fire against a single target gives a +2 AV.

Many lasers can deliver beam fire, which is treated the same as saturation fire except that the AV bonus against a single target also adds to the base damage for purposes of being stopped by armor only.


Ranged attacks take a -1 AV if the target is more than 5 meters away, and another -1 each time the range is doubled: -2 at 10m, -3 at 20m, -4 at 40m, -5 at 80m, -6 at 160m, etc. This penalty may be offset by a weapon's range bonus, but is never reduced below -0. Some weapons have a range bonus of -1, in which case attacks using them take a -1 penalty beyond 2m in addition to the normal penalties.

One-on-Many Attacks

One character can attack several others as a complex action, taking the normal penalty of -N for attacking N targets. The maximum number of targets that can be attacked depends on the kind of attack being used, although the complex action penalty makes attacking more than 5 to 8 targets fairly problematical in any case.

Hand to hand attacks, having limited range but no limit on 'rate of fire', are restricted primarily by how many targets are within reach. As a rule of thumb, on a plane this is not likely to be more than five or six; in free-fall, maybe as many as ten. This assumes all combatants are human-sized, of course. It is expected that the GM will be able to make a reasonable decision.

Ranged attacks are typically limited by rate of fire or ammunition capacity. Weapons with a RoF of single-shot or less cannot attack more than one target per round. Weapons with a higher RoF can attack multiple targets, but attacking 2-5 targets counts as a round at one RoF higher than the highest used against any single target, for both determining whether the weapon can fire that many shots and for determining how much charge is used. Attacking 6 or more targets counts as two rates higher. Technically, 26 or more should count as three rates higher, but this seems unlikely to be relevent.

More explicitly, this means that a weapon capable of burst fire can attack 2-5 targets with a single shot against each, using one round of burst fire capacity to do so. A weapon capable of autofire can attack 2-5 targets with burst fire, or 6-25 with single shots, using one round of autofire capacity to do so. A weapon capable of saturation fire can attack 2-5 targets with autofire or 6-25 with burst fire, using one round of saturation fire capacity to do so.

Beam fire works like saturation fire in this respect: a beam fire weapon can attack 2-5 targets with a shorter pulse that counts as autofire (+1 AV), or 6-25 with an even shorter pulse that counts as burst fire (+0 AV). Note that the AV bonus is added to the weapon's base damage for purposes of determining whether the attack is stopped by armor or not.

Ranged attacks that have no rate of fire, such as thrown weapons, can perform up to 5 attacks as a complex action, provided the user has that many weapons to throw.

Area Attacks

Weapons with a high enough rate of fire (burst or higher) can treat entire areas as targets, attacking everyone in the area in one action. The area of effect for a burst fire weapon is a meter or so across (a doorway), for autofire is a couple of meters (a small group), and for saturation or beam fire is about four meters (a small room). Additional areas may be attacked as a complex action at the usual penalties.

To determine which targets in the area are hit, the attacker rolls as normal, applying all modifiers which would otherwise apply, including the RoF bonus, and then taking a -2 penalty for unaimed fire. If the result is less than 0, no important targets are hit. Otherwise, counting from 0 up to the result of the roll, assign each number in turn to one of the targets which has a Dodge no greater than that number and which has not been hit yet, starting with the target with the lowest Dodge. If no such target exists (no target has a Dodge low enough, or none of the valid targets have been hit), the number is wasted. If every possible target has been hit, stop counting.

If the attack was burst, auto, or saturation fire, each target hit takes the base damage of the weapon; if it was beam fire, each target takes base damage plus the outcome of the roll compared to their Dodge. Regardless of the type of attack, how many targets were hit, or how many targets were missed, all the scenery (objects of Dodge less than 0) should be considered trashed.

Beam weapons can spread their energy over a wider area, hitting more targets at the expense of damage to each. A character making a beam fire attack may reduce the base damage of the weapon by 2, 3, or 4 to multiply the area covered or the potential hits by that number (that is, each number from 0 to the result is applied against multiple targets, instead of only one). This may reduce the base damage of the weapon below 0; if so, targets may end up taking 0 or less damage from the attack.

Many-on-One Attacks

When a group of minor characters makes an attack as a unit, it gets a bonus to its AV according to the number of characters attacking: one minor character attacks at her normal AV, and each doubling of the group size adds +1. Two minor characters attacking together get a +1, four get a +2, eight get a +3, and so forth. Even if they have a fairly low skill individually, a large enough group of minor characters can pose a serious threat.

Note that although in a sufficiently bad situation a nearly unlimited number of minor characters may make ranged attacks on one target, it is unlikely that more than eight or so human-sized attackers will be able to get at one human-sized target in hand-to-hand combat, and then only if they have good teamwork. Smaller attackers or a larger target will of course increase this number.

One-on-Many Attacks

One character using a burst, autofire, or beam attack can attempt to hit multiple targets within a certain area, or alternatively can attempt to hit one target with multiple shots. Note that whether directed against one target or many, such an attack will cause extensive collatoral damage. If it is important to avoid hitting a specific target in the area of effect, the attacker can reduce her AV by as much as the skill she's using and subtract an equal amount from the result of any potential hit applied against that target. The AV reduction can be distributed among multiple targets if desired.

When used against an area, the attacker takes an AV penalty that depends on the size of the area. Then a number of potential hits are applied against the occupants of that area. The first potential hit has a result the same as the result of the attack roll, and the others count down from there decrementally: eg, result - 2, result -4, etc, for a decrement of two. Any results lower than the Dodge of any possible target are discarded. The remaining potential hits are applied against the targets one by one, starting with the lowest result against the target with the lowest Dodge and going until either the potential hits or the targets run out. If the result is greater than or equal the target's Dodge, the target is hit, otherwise not.

A target hit by a one-on-many attack takes damage equal to a simple roll plus the attack's base damage.

A burst attack can be used against a 2-meter wide area, at -3 AV, with a decrement of 2, or against a single target at +1 AV.

An autofire attack can be used against a 2-meter wide area at -2 AV, and can double the area for an additional -2 AV, up to a maximum of 8 meters. An autofire attack used against an area has a decrement of 2. Or, it can be used against a single target at +2 AV.

A beam attack can be used against a 2-meter wide area at -1 AV and -1 damage, and can double the area for an additional -2 AV and -2 damage, up to a maximum of 8 meters. Beam attacks have a decrement of 1. A beam attack can be used against a single target at +3 AV.

AreaAutofire AVBeam AV & Damage

The difficulty of hitting a character with an attack is her Dodge. A character's Dodge can be increased by active defense, or decreased by adverse conditions. A character who is completely unable to move has a Dodge of -3, and no one ever has a Dodge lower than that unless they have the Big schtick. A character who is tied up but can still wriggle around takes a -5 penalty to her dodge; one who is trapped in a small space such as a closet or a car takes a -2. Intermediate situations give intermediate penalties at the GM's discretion.


End-of-Round Effects

Any effects that take place on a per-round basis, such as environmental damage or bomb timers counting down, take effect at the end of the round.


When a character takes damage from an attack or any other cause, the amount of damage is immediately reduced by any applicable armor or schticks the victim may have. If the total damage is 0 or less, the attack has no serious effect, although it may still trash the victim's clothes or ruin her paint job. If the total damage is positive, the victim will be stunned, wounded, or incapacitated (death is a special case of incapacitation). Which of these comes to pass depends on whether the victim is a minor or major character, and on how much damage was inflicted. Each has a specific effect:

A stunned character loses her action phase if she has one remaining round, or takes a -5 on her next Initiative roll if she doesn't. A stunned character may not abort.
A wounded character takes a -1 penalty to her AV for any action, as well as to her Dodge.
Any character who takes three wounds is incapacitated and can take no physical action. She may still be conscious, but the AV of any tasks she can attempt will be at -5.
An incapacitated character who takes another wound is dead. The very best of medical care might be able to revive her, if applied quickly, but this is unlikely to be available in the sorts of places PSOB characters frequent.

Minor Characters

A minor character who takes 1 or more points of damage is stunned.

A minor character who takes 10 or more points of damage is incapacitated.

Major Characters

A major character who takes 3 or more points of damage is stunned.

A major character who takes 10 or more points of damage is stunned and wounded.

A major character who takes 15 or more points of damage is incapacitated.

A major character who takes 20 or more points of damage is killed outright.

Vehicular Combat

Peking Space Opera Blues is copyright 1997 by Trevor Placker. All rights reserved.

This file was last modified at 1635 on 22Jun99 by