The first Roleplaying Game that I played with my kids was Mermaid Adventures by Eloy Lasanta. Since I first played that game, Eloy has gone back and taken the basic system for Mermaid Adventures and turned it into a full roleplaying system, a system designed to handle any style and genre of game. That system was published as the Pip System Corebook.
In this detailed read review, I take you through the Pip System Corebook chapter by chapter to discover why this is such a great system for children or players new to roleplaying.
Note: This is a read review. I have not had a chance to get this RPG to the table as either a player or a Guide.
Disclosure: Eloy himself provided me with a review copy of the Pip System Corebook no other compensation was provided. Some links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support this blog and podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
A bit about the Pip System Corebook from Third Eye Games
The Pip System Corebook was created by Eloy Lasanta with help from Carol Darnell, Derek A. Kamal, John D. Kennedy, Martin Manco, Crystal Mazur, Amanda Milner, and Jacob Wood. It features artwork from Jacob Blackmon, Kennedy Cooke-Garza, Gary Dupuis, Gunship Revolution, Jeremy Hart, Widodo Pangarso, Shaman’s Stockart, James Shields, Rian Trost. It was originally funded on Kickstarter and published in 2017 by Third Eye Games.
This core rulebook is available in hardcover, softcover and PDF formats. What I am reviewing here today is the softcover book.
My copy of the Pip System Corebook is a digest-sized paperback book that is very well bound with a relatively thin cover that is just thick enough. After a few reads, the cover does curl upwards a bit but I’m betting that having it back on my shelf between a few other RPGs for some time will quickly fix that.
The book is 144 pages long and includes everything you want in an RPG rulebook. There is a full table of contents, an index and a character sheet. The book is in full colour, featuring a lot of excellent evocative artwork that shows diverse characters and scenes from a number of different genres. The text is larger than usual, reminding me a bit of a kids’ book, which is something my ageing eyes really appreciated. The text is in a pretty standard two-column format for the majority of the book with this only being broken for things like charts and sample characters.
Overall I found the book to be well written, easy to read, and clear. My first read-through only took a single afternoon.
Before I dive into the book chapter by chapter, I think it’s worth noting that this is a generic roleplaying system created to let you play games in any type of genre or setting. Character creation is generic to all settings but other rule sections are split into four core genre types: Fantasy, Modern, Sci-Fi, and Spooky. These are presented as guidelines and suggestions on how to do things to capture the feel of a specific genre but players are free to mix, match and mash-up as they like.
A chapter by chapter break down of the Pip System Corebook
Introduction: A welcome to the Pip system and RPGs in general
The Pip System Corebook starts where you would expect it to, first by talking about what a roleplaying game is and then going into exactly what the Pip System is. It covers the Pip System play dynamic which is a traditional player and Games Master set up with the Games Master being called the Game Guide, GG, or Guide.
A similar deviation from common RPG terms is also used for NPCs or Non-Player Characters, calling them Extras instead. I like the justification for this, which is that the player characters are the stars and everyone else should be seen as only an Extra.
This chapter gives an overview of what’s to come and introduces the basic system of rolling a number of white dice and a number of black dice and hoping for more hits on the white dice than the black (I’ll dive more into the system, as the book does, later).
A glossary is included which is a nice touch as there are a number of terms used that may not be familiar to people without much RPG experience.
Chapter One: Making Characters – How to make a Pip System Character
There are three steps to making a Pip System Character: choosing an archetype, choosing skills and qualities, and rolling on some random charts.
The Pip System Corebook presents sixteen different archetypes. Choosing an archetype determines your characters Physical Health and Mental Health, gives you three starting skills, two skills at 2 and one at 1, provides a special ability unique to that archetype and finally gives you a hindrance also unique to that archetype.
The archetypes include: Adventurer, Artisan, Brute, Chef, Child of Nature, Faithful, Jacks, Magic User, Marksman, Noble, Performer, Politician, Sleuth, Tinkerer and Warrior.
After picking an archetype, players customize their character using build points to buy skills and qualities. Skills and Qualities are ranked 0 to 5 with 0 representing an untrained level of skill and 5 representing an expert. Each rank costs one Build Point except for the fifth rank which costs two points.
There are fourteen skills in the game and each one is presented with three example qualities. Qualities are basically like skill specializations. For example, a player may put points into Coerce and then later put points in the Liar quality under Coerce. A character’s level in a quality can never be higher than their level in the related skill.
In addition to this, there are a number of Advanced Qualities that cost two Build Points each. These are more like special abilities and require the character to have prerequisite skills and qualities at a certain level to take. They include things like Backstab, Born Magical, Stunt Pilot, and Hideout.
Players also use their Build Points to buy gear. Gear in the Pip System is very abstracted. Everyone can have any gear they want at level 0. Level 0 gear is descriptive, it doesn’t do anything in the game mechanically. For gear that has a mechanical impact, players must spend build points. Gear is covered in more detail in the next chapter.
Character creation finishes off with a couple of rolls on random charts. There are six different charts for each of the four different genres of gameplay and each chart features six items on it. Players roll one die to determine which chart to look at and another to determine the exact item they get. This is done twice.
The charts range from the Modern Fun Item Chart where you can get things like a Boombox or a Remove Control Car to the Sci-Fi Features Chart that can give a character Implanted Gills or Retractable Reading Glasses. There’s a lot of fun stuff on these charts and it’s highly suggested that players actually use these and roll randomly instead of just picking items off of the charts.
All of the archetypes, skills and gear qualities are summarized on a two-page chart that also includes a bit of extra information like how to spend Progress Points (experience) later.
A character creation example is given, walking you through every step of the character creation process, which is followed by a number of sample characters.
There is also some advice on designing your own archetypes, skills and qualities.
Chapter Two: Gear – Creating weapons, armour, companions, tools, and more
While players will be building and creating gear as part of character creation, this section is broken out in the Pip System Corebook as it’s own chapter. This makes sense once you start reading the chapter and see how dense it is. There is a wide variety of gear that needs to be presented to allow the Pip System to be a generic system that can be used in multiple different settings.
Some basic rules cover all types of gear. First is that gear has a rating from 0 to 5 with different types of gear having different maximum levels. Second is that gear can also have qualities, these are special abilities unique to that specific piece of gear. Both the rank of the gear and the qualities unique to it are bought with Build Points during character creation or with Progress Points once you start playing.
Armor is rated from 0 to 4 and provides a character with defence. Mechanically the armor rating reflects how many black dice are added to the attacker’s pool when the character in the armor is attacked. Armor qualities include things like Cooling which gives a bonus vs. fire attacks or Channelling which allows re-rolls when using magic.
Companions are rated from 1 to 4 and are used to represent pets, guardians, robots and even sidekicks. The rating a companion has gives the controlling character a number of build points with which to purchase skills and qualities for that companion. For example, a CR3 companion would get six Build Points to spend.
Melee Weapons are rated 1 to 3 with each point giving characters an extra white die when attacking. Qualities for Melee Weapons include Hardened weapons which are harder to damage and Piercing weapons which are good against armor.
Spellbooks are rated 2 to 5 and allow characters without the magic skill to be able to cast spells. The rating of the Spellbook determines the level of the spell.
Tools are rated 1 to 3 and give characters bonus white die when used with a matching skill. Tools include things like toolboxes, climbing gear, a disguise kit, etc.
Traps are rated 1 to 4 with the rating determining both how difficult they are to spot and how well they do what they are meant to do whether that be to capture, damage or something else. Trap Qualities include things like Freezing which causes the target to slowly freeze in place and Snare which pins a target until they manage to roll to escape.
Vehicles are rated from 0 to 4 and the rating gives bonus white dice when trying to accomplish maneuvers or stunts with that vehicle. Qualities include Powerful vehicles that cause damage when they run into things and Tough vehicles which are harder to damage. Vehicles are also assigned a number of Hits that represent their structural integrity.
Chapter Three: Game Rules – How to play a game using the Pip System
The basic concept of the Pip System is that dice are rolled for any task where the Game Guide determines that the outcome should be left to chance. The player describes what they want their character to do and the player and Game Guide together determine which skill is appropriate for that Task. The player can then point out any qualities, gear or abilities they have that would also apply to this task. The player then builds a pool of white dice based on these factors.
Next, the Guide determines the Challenge Rating for the task at hand. This number ranges from 1 to 5 with 1 representing a Simple Task and 5 being a Legendary Task. For situations where a character is opposing another character or an Extra, the Challenge Rating will be set by skill and possibly a quality held by that other character or extra. A pool of black dice is built based on these factors.
All of the dice are rolled by the active player. A roll of four, five or six is a hit. All hits are counted and if the number of hits on the white dice is higher than the number of hits on the black dice the task succeeds. If the number of hits on the black dice is higher then the task fails. For a tie, the task succeeds but with a consequence, a “Yes, but…” result. If a task succeeds by three or more that is considered an Epic Success which grants the character an additional bonus, a “Yes, and…” result. If a talk fails by three or more that is considered an Epic Failure where the Guide will provide an additional hindrance, a “No, and…” result.
Certain situations, gear, and qualities, can also create burst dice. When a character makes a roll using burst dice, any six counts as a hit and is rerolled. This system is often called Exploding Dice in other RPGs.
If a character has no ranks in a skill and they attempt to do something using that skill, a Chance Die is rolled. This is 1D6 roll with a six resulting in success but a one causing an epic failure.
Every character starts each session with three fortune points. These points can be spent to: heal one hit, add one white die to a roll, add one white die to a roll after seeing the result (costs two fortune), create a narrative advantage, cast an extra spell, or for passive luck.
Fortune can be earned by players for rolling an epic failure, or rolling an epic success and forgoing any bonus, or for creative and immersive roleplaying.
Rules exist for characters working together, as well as extended actions and adding modifiers to the dice pools for a number of things like fear, fatigue, environmental effects, etc.
A more detailed system exists for resolving conflicts, which can be anything from an argument to a starship dogfight. These rules use the same basic system with a few additions. First off there is a simple D6 based initiative system that uses the average of the characters Resist and Athletics skills.
When attacking, the attacker picks which skill they will use and the defender chooses which skill they will defend with. What’s interesting to note here is that it’s a choice, skills are not specifically set for each type of conflict though there are a number of skills that will apply more than others. What this means is that while an attacker may choose to use Strike to hit you with a sword, you may choose to defend with Coerce attempting to distract them with witty barbs.
The other big change in conflict is that the margin of success results in damage being done to the target’s Physical or Mental Health (or Hits in the case of vehicles).
The book also goes into more detail about things like range, aiming bonuses, called shots, auto fire, cover, darkness, grappling, etc.
Chapter Four: Magic – Rules for Magic in the Pip System
Since magic is something you only need for some games using the Pip System Corebook and because magic uses some rules that are different from other aspects of the system, Magic gets it’s own chapter in the book.
Easy Magic is covered by magic items and spellbooks, both of which are covered as part of the gear section of the rules. These types are magic are really no different from any other set of gear in the game and don’t have much in the way of special rules.
Magic Traditions are Advanced Qualities that can be bought during character creation that allows characters to use a more traditional spell system. The traditions include Alchemy, Blood Magic, Faerie Magic, the Pact of Power and Wizardry. Each of these traditions has some rules to set them apart from other traditions.
There is a spell list provided, with each spell having its own set of rules. Each spell also has a tie to one of the Magical Traditions, with a variant of that spell that can only be cast by members of that Tradition. The list contains fifteen spells that run the gamut from summoning a will o wisp to guide you to attack spells like lightning bolt.
In addition to spells and Magic Traditions, this chapter also covers potions, both how to create them and how to use them, as well as a sample set of ready to use potions.
Chapter Five: Enemy Extras – A selection of pre-generated enemies for your Pip System characters to face
This chapter of the Pip System Corebook presents the statistics and game information for a number of adversaries for the characters to face. Each entry assigns the Extra a Challenge Rating, a number of Hits (Extras have just one health stat instead of two), and three abilities unique to that extra.
The chapter starts off with a bunch of generic enemies, useful over many settings, like Thugs. Next up, we have Modern Enemies including the Soldier, followed by Fantasy Enemies like the Golbin, and Spooky Enemies like the Animated Dead, and finally Sci-Fi Enemies like the Predatorial Alien.
Chapter Six: Game Guide Tips – How to run a game of the Pip System
The final chapter of the Pip System Corebook is meant for the Game Guide (the Game Master is this RPG). It explains how the player running the game is both a rules arbiter and a storyteller and discusses how the game should be a mix of both Roleplaying and Roll Playing.
This chapter is obviously written for players who have never run a roleplaying game before and it includes good advice for things like setting up your first game, managing character creation, customizing characters, and running your first session. It talks about different types of stories and story beats and how you should mix them up to keep the game interesting.
Next are tips for actually running the game mechanically, with a focus on keeping the game fun. Some topics that weren’t covered previously, like money, are discussed here. Note money is completely abstracted in this game, it’s not meant to be a game about gathering wealth.
A simple experience point system is presented. At the end of each session, players can earn up to five Progress Points for things like showing up to play, roleplaying, using your character’s hindrance during play, etc. Points are spent similar to Build Points during character creation, though things like skills and qualities now cost a bit more.
There’s an interesting bit here about items that I don’t recall seeing in another game. Since players use build points or Progress Points to buy their important gear, that gear cannot normally be taken away from that player. Along with this, if a character picks up a piece of gear during the game they have to lose it for the next session unless they choose to buy it with Progress Points.
Tips are presented for crafting stories, creating extras and getting the most out of those extras with a separate discussion on recurring villains. Setting creation and adventure planning are also discussed.
Finally, the Pip System Corebook presents a simplified version of its rules, perfect for introducing new players and/or kids to the game. I recognize most of these rules from Mermaid Adventures where four Attributes replace the skill system and where qualities can be anything you want them to be, with each giving an additional white die on a roll. The last few chapters of the book are dedicated specifically to playing this game with kids.
Overall thoughts on the Pip System Corebook
I was very pleased with the overall impression this book gives. It is a solid digest-sized softcover book with an enticing cover, a very readable layout with large font size, quality paper, and lots of diverse and interesting interior art. The book was a breeze to read and the game concepts are presented in a logical way.
The actual game mechanics are very easy to learn and explain. Character creation is very simple, and can easily be done before your first game, not really requiring a separate session to complete. The two coloured dice pool system is elegant and very rules light. There’s a definite focus here on the narrative and story with a big push towards just having fun.
As a universal system, I was impressed by what the Pip System Corebook has to offer. I liked how the book presented examples from four different genres (Fantasy, Modern, Sci-Fi and Spooky!) and made it very easy to see how the basic mechanics could be tweaked to fit any game world your players want to play in.
This leads me to the one thing that I think was missing from this book and that’s any discussion on how to decide what your group wants to do with the Pip System. I would have liked a chapter dedicated to having a session zero and deciding what type of game your group wants to play, with tips for determining what the players do and don’t want to see in the coming game and how to pick a setting to fit those things.
Besides not really telling you how to determine what kind of game you want to play the Pip System Corebook does look like it would be a good choice for a huge variety of potential settings and genres. I could easily see using this for any high adventure style game with fast and furious action. What this system does lacks is a lot of crunches which could be a detriment for some settings. Players who like games where every different piece of equipment has detailed statistics and the difference between a 9mm and a 12mm is mechanically relevant may find this system lacking as will players who like an extensive spell or gear list, or players who want to track rations, the number of hours of oil they have left and how much ammo they carry. This game is much more about the story than resource management or min/maxing character builds.
Overall, I was very impressed by the Pip System Corebook. This is an excellent, rules-light, generic system, that can be easily used to run a wide number of different game types and settings. The basic mechanics of a two-coloured D6 dice pool with one colour being good and the other being bad is very simple to learn and to teach. That makes this a great introductory roleplaying system for anyone new to RPGs, including children. The addition of a rules-light variant in the book also makes this a great system for introducing roleplaying to young kids and teaching them about more structured forms of imaginative play.
If you are thinking of getting your kids (or someone else’s kids) into RPGs then I strongly suggest checking out the Pip System Corebook. If you are an educator, you may also want to give this book a look. If you are curious about roleplaying and intimidated by the big games like Dungeons & Dragons or Shadowrun, this is an excellent place to dip your feet into the hobby of roleplaying. For the experienced roleplayers out there, you are going to have to decide on your own if this looks like something your group would like. If you are looking for a rules-light, story forward, generic roleplaying system, this may just be your new jam.
I’m so glad I introduced my girls to roleplaying at a young age and I’m always happy to see games designed for doing just that. The Pip System Corebook is a great way for families and friends to dive into RPGs for the first time without the limits of a specific setting. With this one book, you can tell pretty much any story you want.
The Pip System definitely isn’t the first generic roleplaying system out there. I’ve personally played a number of them, including the venerable GURPS. What I would love to know is, what is your favourite generic roleplaying system? Let me know in the comments!