Table of Contents
The Aether RPG system is my combination of love, spite and dice that’s meant to bring together aspects I love of some fantasy tabletop RPGs, and things I’ve wanted to see more of in games. Many of the design choices are made to answer some kind of frustration I’ve experienced playing or running a game for friends, or to satisfy something I thought was missing. I hope this page will give you a good introduction to why Aether exists, what it does differently, and how it’ll play at the table.
This page is a simple overview of the core rules so you can get an understanding of whether the Aether system is right for you and your play group. For more details, you can check the Character Creation section, or any of the buttons at the bottom of the page. The full playtest document for Aether is still in the works!
What's The Point?
Aether is a game that’s meant to encourage 2-6 players to sit down and tell a good story together. That’s it. It has dice pools for the satisfaction of rolling lots of dice, a character generator that ensures the players have as much influence over their story as the Narrator (game runner), and intertwined rules for combat and social encounters that will allow and encourage you to solve problems in a variety of ways.
What Does Aether Do?
Aether asks you, as the Players and the Narrator, to trust each other. To build characters together, to build an adventuring party together, to face challenges you create together, and to define what heroism means to you, both individually and together as a group.
Then it asks you to put that into practice.
Etiquette And Safety
Before sitting down to play Aether, it’s your job as players to understand that everyone comes to the table for different reasons.
Rule #1: Be respectful. We’re here to have fun, not hurt our friends.
Tabletop roleplaying games have a lot of potential, and can be spaces for both fun and extreme emotional vulnerability at the same time. We as players and game runners have a responsibility to our friends at the table to make the space we play in as safe and as comfortable for each other as possible, because we all come to the table with different experiences and for different reasons. To do so puts us in an extremely open and vulnerable position. It’s everyone’s responsibility to be aware of that going in, to respect it, and to make sure that things don’t happen to impact that vulnerability.
This is why Aether comes with a complete Session 0 package, which walks players through creating characters, creating the party, and more importantly it recommends a number of safety tools that are currently highly regarded and should be used before and during the game. These safety tools aren’t optional. You must use at least one of them, otherwise you’re missing the point of Aether.
There’s a lot of evil out there. Racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and so much more that directly impacts the identities of people. These evils are difficult to face in real life, but one of the beauties of roleplaying is taking that which hurts us, which seems titanic and unassailable, turning it into a singular challenge or entity, and overcoming.
Aether’s goal is to help you define heroism for yourself. Set your challenge, and overcome.
The Roles And The Rolls
As players, you’ll be guided through the process of creating an Aetherborn: a person who has learned to tap their soul and channel it into various powers. You’ll progress through creating your backstory and deciding on specific elements such as a Secret, an Omen (one inevitable bad thing for the game), a Prophecy (one inevitable good thing), as well as your Goals. From that point on, it’s up to the Narrator to weave your backstories together into a thrilling adventure that, eventually, has you overcoming the challenges you’ve set for yourself and becoming a hero in your own eyes and the eyes of your friends.
The role of the Narrator is to take the backstory elements created by the characters, combined with the collaborative worldbuilding done during Session 0, and contextualize it within a setting of the play group’s choice.
It’s the Narrator’s job to take the challenges the players decide on and control the timing with which those challenges appear, and to reward the players when they overcome those challenges. The Narrator also decides some positives and negatives related to dice rolls, and runs adversaries and monsters during combat and social scenarios. The Narrator establishes and enforces consequences for players and their choices.
The number one rule for the Narrator is to enjoy challenging your players, but make sure their success is celebrated.
The Aether system uses d4s, d6s, d8s, d10s and, very rarely, d12s. These are the base dice used to determine the dice pools that you roll in order to determine the outcomes of your actions. Aether uses a dice pool system. Throughout the game, the type of dice you roll and the amount of dice you roll will be determined by a relevant skill. The entire game runs on various skills using various sized dice pools, and the skills simply represent what a player character chooses to be good at.
There are three types of dice rolls in Aether: Skill Checks, Attacks, and Damage rolls. The maximum number of dice you can have in a pool for a Skill Check or Attack Roll is 5. However, the maximum number of dice you can roll for damage is unlimited, because rolling lots of dice for a damage roll on an attack, or to lower a creature’s Morale with witty banter is fun.
Skill Checks happen whenever you say, “I’d like to do (X) thing.”
Attack Rolls happen whenever you say, “I’d like to hit (X) thing.”
Damage Rolls happen if you hit (X) thing.
Difficulty, Tragedy And Triumph
Aether has a difficulty scale for Skill Checks, and specific equations for figuring out player and monster Defense scores. The Difficulty Scale starts at 0 and increases in tiers of 4 for easy reference. The official scale ends at 32, just above the average roll for a 5d12 dice pool. The Defense equations for the monster creator are designed to place monster Defense at points along this scale as well.
The Fate Die is a d12 that is rolled separately from player dice pools. It helps determine Tragedies and Triumphs, which cause complications or advantages that get carried forward narratively. The Fate Die can also be manipulated by some player abilities.
Tragedies occur when you roll the Fate Die alongside an Attack or Skill Check and the die comes back with a 1. Tragedies cause complications on a successful skill roll, and a significant consequence on a failed skill roll. However, even a failed skill check should always move the story forward. Tragedies and failed rolls shouldn’t prevent the players’ success, however they should make achieving that success come at a price.
Triumphs occur when you roll the Fate Die alongside an Attack or Skill Check and the die comes back with a 12. Triumphs cause minor benefits on a failed roll, and they provide a major advantage on a success. For attacks, Triumphs also increase the damage dealt.
Combat revolves around lowering a hostile creature’s Morale to 0, at which point players can take the opportunity to talk the creature out of fighting if they have an Understanding of the creature’s Type (such as Undead, Dragons, Giants etc.). If they have an Understanding, players can begin rolling social skill checks to attempt to talk the creature down. If they succeed a number of times equal to the creature’s Conviction, combat ends and the creature either flees, is captured, or repents entirely and may even ally itself with the players depending on the circumstances. However, if players fail their social skill checks, they may be forced to kill the creature as it continues fighting. If they do so, the players will face consequences in the form of a secondary Omen (see the character creation section) for the player that strikes the killing blow.
Like in other fantasy RPGs, combat revolves around the players rolling initiative, and then choosing who takes which of the slots they rolled in the initiative order. This is to encourage a bit more strategy and to represent how a team of people would be able to react and work together on the fly in stressful situations. Each player starts their turn in combat with a set number of Action Points, which are spent on movement, attacks and other actions they might take. Action Points are regained at the start of a player’s turn, and combat ends when either side is made unable to keep fighting through any means.
Conversation is almost always easier than combat when it comes to the players getting what they want. Each creature has a Disposition (how they behave towards the players), and a Conviction Track, which notes how many Triumphs or Tragedies the players need to roll in order to change the creature’s Disposition to be more positive or negative. lebrated.
Killing has severe consequences in the Aether system. Upon character creation, each player creates an Omen, which is a bad thing that will inevitably happen to their character over the course of the game. Should a player kill a creature, depending on the circumstances, the Narrator may choose to grant the player a secondary Omen as a consequence for murder. This might include things like that player earning a bounty, or the guards attempting to arrest them at some point.
Losing a character can be a difficult thing. In Aether, there are two states where a character becomes unplayable for a period: Comatose and Death. Each character has a Wound track, which tells the player how many hits their character can take once they are Unconscious (at 0 Morale) before they are Comatose. If a player fills their character’s Wound track, the character is Comatose. If the character takes 1 hit while Comatose, they die.
However, neither state is quite the end of a character in the Aether system. It is possible, with certain class abilities or powerful allies, to open a portal into the dream realm or to the realm beyond life itself to recover a character’s Comatose consciousness, or even their very soul that’s held captive in Death. It just might require fighting their worst nightmare or bargaining with whatever entity holds sway over them to save them.
Skills, Attacks And Keywords
Skills are broken into three categories: Combat skills, Social skills and Utility skills. Combat skills involve things like weapons and magical Sigils, and are applied to Attack Rolls made with the relevant attack type.
Social skills include things like Persuasion, Deception and Observation, and mainly deal with how players interact with the people and creatures around them.
Utility skills include things like Crafting, Lore and Religion, and generally deal with how players understand or interact with the world around them.
Skills can be rolled with any Stat when building a dice pool, as long as the player can explain why they should be using a particular stat and a particular skill to the Narrator.
Attacks such as weapon strikes and magical Sigils are the most flexible element of the Aether system. Attacks revolve around learning Keywords (such as elemental damage like Fire, or status effects like Burning) and applying them to your weapons or Sigils in various combinations. It’s expected that players will create a few staple Attacks with the Keywords they know and their chosen weapons or Sigils, which in turn should add some unique and character-based flavor to their actions in combat.
Keywords are what allow the chance for two players to play the same class but have entirely different effects in a combat encounter. They are broken into Elements, Statuses and Utilities. Keywords are most often applied to Weapons, Equipment and Sigils in order to enhance a character’s overall performance, and Keywords can only be learned by taking specific class abilities.
However, Weapons, Equipment and Sigils each have a set number of different Keywords that can be applied, allowing players to create their own specialized attacks and spells that they can use in combat.
The Gameplay Loop
Aether is a game designed for campaign-length play, as many of the elements of character creation and the Experience system is rooted in aspects of character creation that may not come to light in a single session, or a short handful of sessions. As a result, the gameplay of Aether is split into Sessions and Arcs, and both Sessions and Arcs are broken down into their respective Hooks, Builds, Turns and Aftermaths.
Hooks function as both the introduction to a Session and the action occurring around the player characters, as well as the initial event that starts a story Arc in the Aether system. Hooks are broken into four broad categories as well; Quest Hooks, which lead to shorter series of events that aren’t related to character backstories; Story Hooks which are important and directly related to character backstories; Event Hooks which trigger due to specific requirements being fulfilled; And Location Hooks, which trigger when the players reach a certain location.
Quest Hooks are often small side stories that help the player characters improve their skills, grant them more resources and allies, and earn them more information about what’s going on around them. Story Hooks tie directly into the player characters Goals, Secrets, Omens or Prophecies. It’s best to think of Story Hooks as the hooks that can’t happen without the player characters pushing them forward.
The Escalation is both the period of a Session where the players make decisions, ask questions, gather information and generally do all good things that adventurers tend to do. For story Arcs however, the Escalation could be a collection of events, different types of Quests that all grant rewards and lead to a single particular climax, or even a period of downtime where the player characters have the opportunity to do whatever they wish separate from or with the rest of the party.
The Resolution is the climax of any Session or Arc. It can be anything from a big boss battle to a shocking reveal, as long as it does something to recontextualize the Hook and the Build before it. The Resolution is generally an event or set of events, such as a Social or Combat encounter, that directly results in the players earning Experience and other rewards for their actions.
The Aftermath of a Session or an Arc in Aether can be tough. Often times Sessions or Arcs that deal directly with character backstories will be emotionally intense, and a period of cooling off is required after they’re over. This cooling off period can be done in-game, with the characters taking some downtime to process what’s happened, but it can also be done out of game just by hanging out with friends, talking about the session or story arc. Give yourselves the chance to roleplay or talk out what just happened, clarify rewards and Experience earned, and enjoy the aftermath of telling a good story together!
Since Aether is built for long-term, campaign-length play, character progression is a fairly important part of Aether’s systems. Any time players resolve a portion of a player character’s backstory (such as their Omen, their Secret or any of their Goals), every player gains 1 Experience. Any time players resolve a Combat or Social encounter, they gain 1 Experience. All Experience is awarded and kept consistent across the entire party to ensure everyone levels up at the same rate. Every 5 Experience, the players gain a level, increasing their maximum Morale.
Players spend accumulated Experience to increment their Skill Dice (increasing their size), to improve Skills (to increase the amount of dice in dice pools), or to gain new Class abilities, unlocking new powers and Keywords to use. The player level cap is currently 10, however it can go higher should you choose to keep gaining new class abilities and increasing the Difficulty Scale.
Except where otherwise noted, The Aether RPG System and The Aetherscape Setting materials by Eldritch Crow Gaming is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
You are free to use any information from the Aether RPG system or the Aetherscape setting for your own games or projects as long as you credit Eldritch Crow Gaming for the used material.