* Y @
The Sapio System is a roleplaying game ruleset that utilizes Spiral Dice. It is a lightweight, flexible framework for telling the stories of one or more characters controlled by players, in a world managed by a game master (GM). The “Spiral” name reflects the mechanics embedded in the dice, which inject complications or drama into scenes as the characters move through the shared imaginative space.
Sapio leverages the dice to create a dynamic story from a few simple elements. Character descriptors are quick to craft and are the primary influence on how likely a character is to succeed at a given task. Actions taken by the characters are not confined to skill lists, so characters are free to “try anything” in response to challenges they may encounter. Finally, Action Sequences provide a cinematic framework for tense group moments like combat or chases, with constantly evolving action aided by the complications from rolling Spiral Dice.
The Sapio System draws on many sources of inspiration which will be familiar to veteran roleplaying game players. In its “tag-based” Professions and Qualities, it draws inspiration from FATE and is similar to Barbarians of Lemuria. Its custom dice draw inspiration from FATE and Genesys. Its narrative design is heavily influenced by the “Powered by the Apocalypse” games.
The first portion of this guide is addressed to the players and should be read by both the players and the GM. The second portion should be read by the GM and is addressed to them.
The Sapio System (v0.6)
In Brief, How Sapio Works
The next section will tell you how to create your character elements, and subsequent sections will provide detail on Luck, Special Talents, and other mechanics.
When your character attempts something where the outcome is uncertain and there are consequences to failure, your GM will ask you to describe how you go about it and what you intend to accomplish. Then, the GM will tell you the target number (TN) for your roll. You start with one Spiral Die, and will invoke character elements to pick up additional Spiral Dice, adding them to your dice pool. A larger dice pool increases the character’s chance of success. Once the dice pool is built, you roll a check to determine the results.
*(Hits): These symbols denote progress towards and above success. You need to roll a number of these equal to or above the TN to succeed.
Y(Spare): These symbols denote the presence and degree of (usually) beneficial effects encountered or triggered in the course of attempting an action, and offset with Spirals.
@(Spiral): These symbols denote the presence and degree of complications encountered or triggered in the course of attempting an action, and offset with Spare.
After the check, the GM narrates the consequences of success or failure, taking into account net Y or @. Net Y allow the rolling player to introduce a beneficial twist, while net @ encourage the GM to introduce a complication.
Special Talents may change how the roll proceeds, either by adding dice, changing TNs, or generating automatic *, Y, or @.
A character may also have accumulated several points of Luck in the course of play, which the player may spend one-for-one to add additional dice before rolling.
If another player describes how their character helps and invokes an appropriate element, add an additional die to the pool.
A character may have Injuries or Stresses which increase the TN for the roll.
Characters in Sapio
The Elements of a Character
These are the elements that comprise your character (known as a player character or PC) mechanically:
A Profession, consisting of two words and describing the primary set of skills your character possesses
One or more Specializations under that Profession, each corresponding to a single skill or area of expertise
One or more Side Professions, each consisting of two words and describing a secondary set of skills your character has
One or more Specializations under each Side Profession, each corresponding to a single skill or area of expertise
One or more Qualities, (usually positive) descriptors of your character’s mental, physical, social, spiritual, or arcane traits
In addition to character elements, your character also has the following traits:
One or more Special Talents, unique abilities of your character
A Principle and a Worst Impulse, each of which is a short phrase describing your character’s best and worst nature
Characters in Sapio are built out of elements which represent what they can do, and to some extent, who they are. To create a character, first come up with a concept for a character that fits into the setting of your game, as presented by the GM. Before you put concrete elements in place, think about what type of person might be enjoyable to play, whether for their adventurous daring, social acumen, fighting prowess, interesting outlook, or whatever else interests you. Once you have a clear picture of an interesting individual, you will translate their description into elements.
Professions and Specializations
Main Professions: A Main Profession is the package of skills that your character possesses, based around a concept like “Shopkeeper” or “Arcane Knight” or “Desert Commando.” Your character’s Main Profession is central to the concept of the character, so you should carefully choose the wording and work with your GM to be clear on the associated skill set. The Profession should be two or less words, and encapsulate what you want your character to be good at. This does not have to directly describe their actual day job - it should evoke the core talent set that defines them, even if their means of making money does not.
For instance, a Main Profession of “Roof Runner” tells everyone that your character is adept at moving from building to building along rooftops. You might expect that your character will be good at acrobatics, quickness and agility related endeavors. Your character will probably also know the city’s layout, have a good sense for gauging distances, and know their way around building exteriors. They may work as a Gas Station Clerk during the day, but that’s not what defines them!
When building the dice pool, players may invoke their Profession to pick up two dice if it is fully applicable, or one die if it is partially applicable. A Profession that is not relevant to a given action contributes no dice to the pool. Therefore, make sure that you and your GM are on the same page about what your Profession means and will contribute full or partial dice to.
Side Professions: A Side Profession functions just like a Main Profession, but contributes only one die to the pool when invoked. This represents something else your character is good at, allowing space for your character to have a multidimensional skill set. In relation to your character concept, this might be a skill set that their upbringing gave them, or that they pursue as a hobby, or that they do for their job - whatever extra dimension you wish to bring. As part of character advancement, a character can gain additional Side Professions.
Specializations: A specialization is a single skill or topic within a Profession that your character excels at. When you imagined your character concept, you probably envisioned them doing something (like firing a gun or entertaining a room), and those are perfect candidates for Specializations. The Desert Commando might have “Wilderness Survival,” and the Arcane Knight might have “Pyromancy.” Your Roof Runner might take something like “Leaping” to reinforce their high-flying nature, or something like “Quick Escapes” to indicate that they slip away from danger easily.
You may invoke your character’s specialization to add a die to the pool when it is applicable. As part of character advancement, players may choose to learn additional Specializations within their Main and Side Professions.
Your character likely has a few traits that define them. When you think of your character, you probably envision a few positive attributes that set them apart, and these are what should become your character’s Qualities. Qualities are (usually) adjectives that define your character even outside of their skill set, applying to a wide range of situations. Your character may be strong, smart, beautiful, eloquent, or just plain slippery. Our Roof Runner is probably “Agile,” but perhaps they are also “Perceptive” or “Durable” or “Likeable.” Qualities may help bolster their Main Profession or round out their capabilities in other arenas.
Note that Qualities should not be so broad that they could conceivably apply in any situation. For instance, “Lucky” and “Competent” are so generic that they could apply to anything, and therefore should not be used.
On a given roll, a quality may be invoked to add a die to the pool if it is relevant to the situation. Only one Quality may be invoked for each check.
*In a setting with magical or divine abilities, characters possessing these abilities must take both a specific Quality and a Special Talent to use them
Special Talents are unique abilities for a character that differentiate them from others with similar Professions and Qualities. Your character is extra special in some way, where their nature or good luck always conspire to give them a little boost. Unlike other character elements, Special Talents do not have to add dice to the player’s die pool when rolling.
Each one is a way to “break the rules” in some way, and they can be customized within each session or campaign. The GM will work with you to determine what is permissible within the setting. They could be:
Something a character can always do, such as find something or know something
Weather Sense - This character always knows what the weather will be tomorrow
Small Contraption - This character can always create a small useful contraption from parts stored on their person
A situation in which a character adds bonus dice. Note that for this type of Special Talent, the GM should make sure the situation is not common (ideally applicable less than ⅓ of the time for relevant rolls).
One with the Forest - This character adds a bonus die to all checks made within temperate wooded areas
Friend of the Dwarves - This character adds a bonus die to all social checks made to interact with dwarves
A situation in which a character always reduces the TN for a check
Hide in Plain Sight - The TN to hide for this character is never more than 4
Usually Bloody - This character may ignore the TN increase from a single Injury
A situation in which a character modifies the results of the roll
Deadly Aim - This character generates one additional * if they succeed in a check to shoot a bow
Lucky in Love - This character adds Y Y to all checks related to romance or seduction.
Codification of other abilities not encompassed by Profession or Hobby, especially supernatural or magical ones
Teleportation - This character can take a minor Stress (fatigued) to teleport a distance of up to 100 ft.
Spellcaster - This character can cast magical spells
Note: Special Talents affect die rolls, but they are not invoked like character elements, and therefore may not be used to help another character. Special Talents only apply when your character is focal.
Principles and Worst Impulses
Your character is not just their capabilities; Principles and Worst Impulses define the nuances of their nature. Each of these takes the form of a word to a phrase, and they provide incentives for you to lean into your character’s nature. Our “Roof Runner” may have the Principle “Violence is not the answer” and the Worst Impulse of “Stealing isn’t a big deal,” indicating that they believe you shouldn’t ever hurt others but liberating their valuables is just fine.
Principle: This is the character’s “better nature,” the idea that they gravitate to when helping others.
Worst Impulse: This is the character’s vice, flaw, or bad habit, which inevitably results in trouble for others or themself.
In Sapio, these generate Luck or provide Bonus dice in certain situations.
When a character resolves a situation or achieves a common goal with others, either by making a sacrifice according to their Principle or overindulging in their Worst Impulse, they add a bonus die to their roll.
When a character gets into trouble by pursuing their Principle over their own wellbeing, they gain 1 Luck.
When a character gets into trouble by indulging their Worst Impulse at a bad time, the most inconvenienced other character (focal character chooses) gains 1 Luck.
There is always a cost when a Principle or Worst Impulse comes into play - they don’t add dice or generate Luck just because you are portraying your character. To add a bonus die, the character must “sacrifice” or “overindulge.” Our Roof Runner wouldn’t add a bonus die to a roll just for running away or avoiding violence, but would add a bonus die to insert themself into a dangerous situation to stop the violence. For generating luck, the character must pursue their Principle or Worst Impulse at an inconvenient or dangerous time, or to an extent that it creates issues - they are making a new problem where there was none.
As with calling out character elements when building the dice pool, it is the player’s role to call out when their Principle or Worst Impulse comes into play. Seeing as you get bonus dice or Luck for it, you’ll want to point it out!
Building a Starting Character
To build a starting character:
Pick a Profession
Pick one Specialization under that Profession
Pick a Side Profession, but no Specializations (yet) under that Profession
Pick two Qualities
Pick one Special Talent
After a consequential session, the player may choose from one of the following options for their character:
Learn a new Specialization within their Profession
Learn a new Specialization within their Side Profession or gain a new Side Profession (in addition to their current ones)
Gain an additional Quality
Gain an additional Special Talent
Each selection is an advancement. Advancements should reflect the natural progression of the character within the narrative or reflect a trait the character is showing that isn’t on their character sheet. However, they could also be prior training coming to the fore - you should work out with the GM in that case. The player must select all types of advancement once before being able to select the same one again. This is called completing an advancement cycle. Upon completion of an advancement cycle, the player may additionally do one of the following things:
Change a single word in one of their Professions
Swap a Side Profession with their Main Profession (with Specializations following the associated Profession).
Change a Quality to something else
This change reflects the ability of characters to stray from their initial course and become something else than they started as. Their skills may subtly shift, or they may emphasize one skill set more than another, or their personality and physical qualities may change.
To roll Spiral Dice on a browser, go to The Togetherness Table and click "dice."
Using The Spiral Dice
Spiral dice have twelve faces, with "Hit" "Spare," and "Spiral" symbols on them. You will roll a pool of these dice and count the symbols to determine success at any actions when the outcome is uncertain and there are consequences to failure.
Hit. These symbols denote progress towards and above success.
Spare. These symbols denote the presence and degree of (usually) beneficial effects encountered or triggered in the course of attempting an action, and offset with Spirals.
Spiral. These symbols denote the presence and degree of complications encountered or triggered in the course of attempting an action, and offset with Spares.
Spiral Dice faces
When to Roll
When your character attempts something where the outcome is uncertain and there are consequences to failure, your GM will ask you to describe how you go about it and what you intend to accomplish. State what your character is trying to do and how they are attempting to do it - this step is important for determining the results!
The GM will set a Target Number (TN) between 1 and 5, with higher numbers indicating a more difficult task. In the case of using a piece of equipment, whether a gun or an oscilloscope, the target should be the difficulty of using the equipment to accomplish the task. For instance, searching quickly in a large dark room for a note might be a TN 4, but doing so with a flashlight (using the flashlight to search for the note) might be a TN 2.
You will consult your professions and qualities to determine how many dice to roll (your “dice pool”). The player building the dice pool is the “focal player,” and their character is the “focal character.”
When you invoke a character element, name it and add one or more dice to your pool, as follows:
You always roll at least one die. Pick one die up.
Your Main Profession could be partially or fully applicable, or your Side Profession could be applicable.
If your Main Profession is fully applicable, invoke it and pick up two dice.
If your Main Profession is partially applicable or your side profession is applicable, invoke it and pick up one die
Depending on which profession you are using, you may have a Specialization that is applicable. If it is, invoke it and pick up another die.
One of your Qualities may be applicable. If so, invoke it and pick up another die.
Finally, certain Special Talents, situations, or spending Luck may give you one or more bonus dice. If so, pick the dice up, to the maximum of six dice. If this would increase the maximum beyond six dice, each two bonus dice beyond the maximum instead reduce the TN by 1.
You may only invoke one Profession, one Specialization associated with the invoked Profession, and one Quality for a given roll, even if others might be applicable.
A dice pool can never have more than six dice - one to start, up to two from a Profession, one from a Specialization, one from a Quality, and one or more Bonus dice. If the number of dice exceeds the maximum pool size of six dice, each two bonus dice beyond the maximum instead reduce the TN by 1.
After you build the dice pool, you roll a “check” to determine the results.
Count up the number of * and compare them to the TN - if the number of equals or exceeds the TN, your character accomplishes what they intended. beyond the TN indicate higher degrees of success. Count up the number of Y and @, offsetting them until the net or remains.
Net Y: The player who rolled says what else happens within the context of the scene, usually providing their character an advantage. The fictional effects of should make sense in the scene, and in general should not overshadow success or failure in importance. More Y dictate a larger effect. The GM has final say as to whether the addition makes sense, but should be open to player additions. Examples:
Someone becomes impressed or enamored
Intentionally or unintentionally, the environment is altered
An ally arrives just in time
A foe flees or departs
The character ends up in a good spot
The situation is especially lucrative or advantageous
A situation or piece of information is better than previously thought
The character avoids attention
An ally gains an advantage
A foe is caught at a disadvantage
Net @: The GM says what else happens within the context of the scene, usually complicating or worsening the narrative for the characters. The fictional effects of should make sense in the scene, and in general should not overshadow success or failure in importance. More @ dictate a larger effect. Examples:
The character gains a foe
The environment is altered
A foe arrives or slips away
An ally is put in jeopardy or harmed
A foe gains an advantage
The character or an ally is caught at a disadvantage
A situation or piece of information is worse or different than previously thought
A hard truth is revealed
The character is given a hard choice
A new threat or revelation surfaces
Invoking an Element
When a player invokes a Profession, Specialization, or Quality, that character element is dedicated to the task it was invoked for. If the task is ongoing, that character element cannot be invoked again for a simultaneous task. When a character helps another, the character element they invoke may likewise not be invoked again for a simultaneous task.
The only exception is a character’s Main Profession, which may be invoked for simultaneous tasks after the first invocation, contributing only a single die each time. When invoked a second time, the Main Profession must be fully applicable to contribute this die.
Special Situations when Rolling
Receiving Help: When another character helps the focal character, the assisting player explains how their character does so and invokes an applicable Profession, Specialization, or Quality. The focal player may add a Bonus Die to the their roll, up to the maximum of six dice. If the addition of bonus dice would increase the total pool beyond six dice, each two bonus dice beyond the maximum instead reduce the TN by 1.
Only character elements (Professions, Specializations, and Qualities) may be used to add a die in this way. Special Talents, Principles, and Worst Impulses are not invoked in the same fashion and cannot be used.
Using Luck, or following a Principle or Worst Impulse: When the focal player has Luck available to spend, they may spend Luck one for one to add bonus dice to their pool before rolling. If the character is following their Principle or Worst Impulse in their attempted action, they add a bonus die.
Injuries or Stresses: Stress and Injuries at the Moderate or Severe level (see Injuries section) increase TNs for actions that they are relevant to. A Moderate Injury or Stress increases the TN by 1, and a Severe Injury of Stress increases the TN by 2. Multiple applicable Injuries or Stresses may affect the TN, in which case only the largest penalty is applied.
Special Talents: Special Talents (see Special Talent section) may impact the building of the dice pool in some circumstances, such as adding bonus dice. They may also reduce TNs or generate automatic *, Y, or @.
Improbable Success: If all dice rolled show ** (regardless of @), but the roll still does not meet the TN, the player may add an additional die and reroll. If the rolled dice also all show ** but the combined * do not meet the TN, repeat.
Luck is a resource that your character gains for enhancing the story through their choices (as opposed to the results of a roll or a GM narration). In addition to gaining Luck through Principles and Worst Impulses, your character can be given Luck directly by the GM for making compelling choices that deepen or complicate the narrative. At the GM’s discretion, it can be used as a reward for specific character actions or milestones. (See Guidance for GMs: Using Luck)
In general, characters should receive between 1 and 3 Luck per session. You can spend Luck one for one to add bonus dice to a roll, up to the maximum of six dice. If this would increase the maximum beyond six dice, each two bonus dice beyond the maximum instead reduce the TN by 1.
Action Sequences are scenes where multiple characters attempt high stakes actions together. These include fighting, escaping a deteriorating situation, or wide-ranging chases. They may be short and immediate, or remain tense for a much longer period of in-game time. A skirmish might last a few minutes, while fleeing through the night could last hours. If characters are collectively engaging in something risky together, it is likely an Action Sequence. These sequences play out using the rules for giving and receiving help, with a few modifications.
Action Sequences in Play
In general, the flow of an Action Sequence is partly structured and partly narrative, with all characters acting at each dice roll. On each turn, the action will evolve as all of the characters and NPCs act. Different characters will take the spotlight and help each other directly or indirectly, but every turn, everyone is doing something!
Think of it like a chaotic action scene in a movie - time continuously progresses as the camera zooms around to each character, stopping on each one to frame their struggle. Actions of characters in the background might include punching their way through mooks, or moving to a new position, or holding up a toppled pillar, or still working on that lock!
Action Sequences proceed in rounds, broken up into turns. A turn operates in narrative time, taking from a few seconds to much longer depending on the scene.
At the start of each turn, the GM frames the current action, telling the players what their characters and any NPCs are doing, and what state the environment is in. Players decide who will be the focal character, and the focal player describes what they will do. In general, the character attempting the most bold, effective, or dangerous action should be focal for the turn. Other players decide what their character will do, either to support the focal character or do something else in parallel. These characters are known as “supporting” characters when it is not their turn, although they may not be directly supporting the focal character. They could, for instance, be charging a group of minions in a totally different direction.
When a supporting character assists the focal character, they may invoke one element to add a bonus die. This assistance may include providing a distraction, or keeping threats busy, or directly giving the focal character a boost of some kind.
Invoked elements remain invoked within a given round, so players must decide whether to invoke them for their own check or to use them to assist others.
Especially helpful support, as with especially helpful assistance in general, may provide additional bonus dice at the GM’s discretion.
All players, even those whose characters are not supporting in any way, describe what their characters do for the turn.
The GM sets the TN based on the difficulty of the action attempted by the focal character
Clever or tactically sound actions should be rewarded with a lower TN
Defensive actions should likewise have a lower TN
The focal character rolls the dice, taking into account any assistance
The GM updates the action, narrating successes, failures, and the actions of the supporting characters in the background and any enemies or NPCs. If the focal character or supporting characters were attempting something risky and failed or rolled @, they might take an Injury or Stress at this point. Then, the next turn begins.
Within a round, each character that is participating in the Action Sequence must be focal for a turn
The round ends and a new round begins when all characters have been focal once
The turn order does not have to be the same on new rounds
If a character is threatened at the start of the round, they must take a turn sometime during the round and roll the dice as a focal character, even if they only intend to hide or run away. If engaging the threat is entirely optional, characters may “enter the fray” at the beginning of any given round, in which case they must take a turn that round.
During these Action Sequences, there are a few rules of thumb for adjudication within each turn:
When a roll directly addresses the group goal of the sequence, successes should always progress the action towards it.
Threats which are ignored should always result in minor injuries, or worse. If a supporting character disengages from a threat to assist, use @ to deal them Injuries.
Actions that are risky and have potentially harmful consequences on failure should deliver Injuries on failure.
@ should be used to add complications centered around the focal and assisting characters, including Stresses and Injuries.
Y can be used to remove obstacles, injure enemies besides the central enemy, or allow multiple invocations of elements, but should never be used for direct progress towards the goal of the sequence.
Players in the Action Sequence
The Focal Character: The focal character is at the center of their turn’s action. From the perspective of a film, they are in the center of the frame, even if action is going on around them. When you are focal, you may be locked in battle or hiding in the corner, but it is up to you to narrate what your character is doing, which sets the direction of the turn and the meaning of your roll. You will also decide how to spend Y, if any remain, and remember that you can use it to make the actions of supporting characters more effective (and potentially more interesting). You are charting the outcome of your turn.
Supporting Characters: Supporting characters are off to the side during the focal character’s turn. They are either out of frame or not in the center. When you are supporting, wait for the focal player to describe what their character is doing, and don’t attempt to steal the spotlight by following on with a complex action. If you have a plan to ensnare someone with rope, saying “I am going to go off looking for rope” or “I am readying rope from my pack” is a good supporting action. Saying, “I am going to find some rope, tie a knot with it, and then try to lasso the head baddie” is too much. Similarly, if the focal character is charging ahead, simply saying “I am going to charge in with them” is enough. When it’s your turn, you have the opportunity to make your action more complex. Further, keep in mind that the focal character can spend Y to bolster your supporting action, so leave the complex narration of those situations to them after they roll!
Injuries and Stresses
Sometimes, in the course of their adventures, characters will be wounded or rattled. This harm to the character is tracked as Injuries and Stresses, which follow similar rules to each other. Stresses are temporary conditions or mental states that may clear when the character has time to gather themself and rest, while Injuries are physical wounds that require more time to heal. They are each recorded as one or two words, and labeled as either Minor, Moderate, or Severe.
A character has two boxes for Minor, two boxes for Moderate, and one box for Severe.
A second Minor of a similar nature increases the level to Moderate (erase the Minor and record as Moderate)
A second Moderate of a similar nature increases the level to Severe (erase the Moderate and record as Severe)
A second Moderate or Minor of a different nature is recorded in the second box - it does not increase the level
If all boxes at the appropriate level are full, record subsequently incurred Injury or Stress at the next higher level but do not erase the lower level Injuries or Stresses
A second Severe Injury or Stress debilitates the character - they are unconscious, bleeding out, or overcome to the point that they are not functional
Stress and Injuries at the Moderate of Severe level increase TNs for actions that they are relevant to. A Moderate Injury or Stress increases the TN by 1, and a Severe Injury of Stress increases the TN by 2. Multiple applicable Injuries or Stresses may affect the TN, in which case only the largest penalty is applied.
A note on Stresses: Whether in or out of an Action Sequence, Stresses can add consequences outside of bloody confrontation, and can be used to raise the stakes for a variety of situations. Camping or traveling unprepared, traveling too fast, not sleeping enough, drinking too much, and even intense emotional situations can lead to Stresses. If the GM wants their game to focus on non-combat challenges, they should ask players how they go about situations like these and call for a roll, where they will take Stress as a consequence of failure.
Weapons and causing Injury
When characters engage in bloody confrontations, they often use weapons of differing lethality. A kitchen knife is a less deadly weapon than a katana, for instance. Weapons have a “base” injury level that they inflict. When a character gains a weapon, note whether this level is Minor, Moderate, or Severe. As examples:
Minor: Knife, low draw weight bow and arrow, .22 caliber pistol
Moderate: Sword, large dagger, spear, handgun, hunting rifle
Severe: Sniper rifle, shotgun, chainsaw
When a player rolls to attack someone with a weapon, hitting the TN should result in the specified damage. The damage “upgrades” with additional * in excess of the TN, according to the following values:
Minor -> Moderate: *
Moderate -> Severe: **
Severe -> Death: ***
Character versus Character
Characters don’t always get along with each other, and may have direct confrontations, bloody or not. In the case of a simple confrontation requiring a single roll, the “defending” player sets the TN by invoking character elements. The TN starts at 1, and each invoked element increases the TN instead of adding a die. The TN may only be increased to 5. Players may not add luck to this.
If the two characters are engaging in a fight, the above method should be used, but expanded to an Action Sequence with the aggressing character starting as focal. Both characters go within a round, and elements invoked to raise TNs remain invoked through the round as if they had been invoked normally.