While I compile the rules into a coherent written form and flesh them out, I’ll toss a few ideas here to keep some transparency on what’s going on.
The action declaration system is intended to be super-flexible in allowing characters to perform actions, provided that they are capable and willing to use their imaginations and descriptive talents to explain how their fighting skill is going to win the fair princess’s attentions. (I just thought of one in the time it took me to type that sentence, as well as a way to escalate the stakes with keywords: the knight regales the princess with tales of his exploits far and wide, replacing what would normally be a blue die with his more impressive red die [fighting in place of communication]; he then relates to her how his father and his father’s father had used this same trusty sword which now hangs at his side, hitting the keyword for his signature weapon to trigger a plot point and raise the stakes – the malevolent suitor who threatens to usurp the king’s throne by marrying the princess is a sworn enemy of the knight’s lineage!)
That said, not everyone will come up with an appropriate or workable solution on the fly every time, and there are only so many times you can reuse the same ideas. Mulling this over, I came up with the idea of “column shifting” (a term I’m ripping off from the old TSR Marvel Superheroes game, but not the exact mechanic under it). If you’re absolutely, positively stuck, you can simply roll your die for an action at a penalty equal to -1 per column of difference between what you’re rolling and what the most appropriate action column would be. So if you’re trying to use a red die to heal (the worst possible difference, four columns away), you make that roll at a -4 penalty. This stacks with wounds and stress, so you can only expect to succeed at disparate actions if you (a) have a huge die to start with, (b) aren’t hurt or stressed, or (c) your action isn’t way across the chart from where it ought to be. This also reinforces the flexible, neutral nature of green actions, because the worst they can get is a -2.
I also want to create two “phantom columns” for those times when you just can’t come up with a clear way to assign actions to columns. This is mainly for the GM, not for the players, but if you just can’t rationalize any other slot to put an action into, white dice are used for the column of “helping the players” while black dice are used for the column of “hindering the players”. It might even turn out that there’s a mechanic to buy one of these dice with bennies, to represent getting an NPC involved in the action, but that’s still brewing.
So, let’s test-drive this thing a little more. Our mage-thief, who’s now named Lakshmi, finds herself rummaging through the atelier of a wizard looking for rare (and therefore expensive) items, when the wizard’s guardian automaton activates from a hidden alcove!
The gamemaster decides this will be a challenge for Lakshmi, but not too much of one: the guardian is worth 24 points, slightly more than Lakshmi, but besides being a little slower than Lakshmi, it is unimaginative, following its simple programming without any imagination or creativity. Four d6s are assigned with keywords; the guardian has no bonus points (both to keep the fight simple and to represent the automaton’s mindlessness).
Both sides decide what they want to do, and what dice to assign. Lakshmi realizes her daggers probably not going to be great against an opponent that’s all metal and no flesh, so she backs away into the gloom of the workshop, looking for an exit: her player assigns her yellow d6 for the perception attempt and the red d6 conditionally for the attempt to break for it. (Normally, a flat-out dodge is a purple die, because it’s a passive non-combative action, but the gamemaster agrees that the sheer athleticism of Lakshmi’s usual acrobatics in such a small room are pretty active.) The automaton, meanwhile, has just one agenda, and that’s to disable the intruder. The gamemaster assigns only the red d6 as it advances. Because they both have the same denomination of die on their action, they would go simultaneously, but Lakshmi’s player decides that not getting hit is really important, so she spends a bennie to bump her initiative down by one spot to the d4 level, and rolls a 5. There’s an opening under a bench that she could duck through in order to get a clear shot at the door – but can she get to it? The d6 level comes up next – Lakshmi couldn’t bump the d6 for the escape attempt to a faster level because it was contingent upon the results of the earlier yellow die. Lakshmi bolts for the opening, while the automaton grabs for her with its claws. They roll: Lakshmi is unlucky, getting only a 3 to the automaton’s 4, so she takes a wound.
Both characters are out of dice, so it’s a new round. Lakshmi decides to go for broke. Whispering the words of shadow in hopes of blinding the machine, Lakshmi tries to wedge one of her daggers into a seam in the automaton’s joint to impede it. That’s two keywords hit, upping the stakes for the scene, and her green d4 and red d6 assigned. She’d like to also be able to scoot herself across the floor the rest of the way through the escape route, but she doesn’t feel like risking a die of the wrong color without a good justification or taking a column shift. The guardian has magical senses that allow it to try to ignore the shadow spell, so it assigns the yellow d6 to that, and continues to try to grab Lakshmi with the red d6. She throws up the spell, but only rolls a 1! The guardian’s perception roll of 4 at the next step prevents her spell from giving her cover to escape, and with her wound penalty of -1, the undamaged guardian gets to swing first. It rolls a 3, which Lakshmi’s player can either take as wounds due to not assigning a defense die, or drop her attempt to hit the guardian and use the red d6 for that instead. She goes for the parry, and rolls a 6 (which becomes a 5 due to the wound penalty), fending off its clutching grasp with the blade of her knife. But it doesn’t look good for her if she can’t get away!