#RPGaDAY2023, Day 7: Smartest RPG

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

#RPGaDAY2023 Day 7: SMARTEST RPG you’ve played.

[I’m a day late, but started drafting this yesterday.]

Again, a very problematic answer.

By way of preface, let me say that I try to judge my own work with the same measuring stick as other people’s. There are two voices in my head: One is an excitable little child that believes in own its genius, and that enthusiasm is a necessity for art. The other is an adult editor and product-line manager with three decades of experience encouraging and critiquing other writers. That side has learned to tell writers: “This bit is wonderful! But we both know you were lax on this other part. The thing is, the wonderful bit deserves to have the lax part brought up to its level. And only you can pull that off!”

(My youngest daughter recently convinced me that having two people in your head is a neuro-divergent way of coping with creative stress. Common to autism and ADHD. We shall see. At 67 years old, I’m finally seeking counseling.)

So, back to the question: smartest RPG I’ve played?

Lots of RPGs have genius creativity in one feature or another, usually the setting. Only a few have a genius of game mechanics. When the two fit together, it’s magical.

Of those magical ones, I’d list Lost Souls and WEG’s Star Wars (see my previous post.) I’d add Malix Nystul‘s Whispering Vault as third, with its ritual adventure structure, and a dice mechanic that feels just a bit ritualistic itself. Though I think I’ve seen that dice mechanic elsewhere, this was my first exposure to it, and it fits the game.

And I think I accidentally hit that mark, or close to it, with the Bookmark No HP RPG and a few of its settings–likely “Supers! and “Bookmark Cthulhu!” I can’t claim that other things I’ve designed over the years reach that level, but in this case my editor brain thinks my child brain pulled it off.

Of those RPGs, which is the smartest? Right now, I’d have to say that Lost Souls may be the very best.

And nowadays it’s free! http://hauntedattic.org/

Fairytale Fubar

A 200 Word RPG | 3 to 7 players 

(Or buy the biz card version!)

Shuffle a poker deck. Cut for high card. Jokers are 0. Winner is dealer and invents a fairytale quest the group will pursue (kill a dragon, rescue a captive, find true love, etc.).

Deal each player 7 cards; the rest become a draw pile. Turn up the top draw card to start the story. Suits represent attributes: Spades = Grace; Clubs = Brawn; Hearts = Will; Diamonds = Wits; Jokers = Any suit.

Players each lay any card from their hand face down, then reveal simultaneously. Discard those that do not match the current story card suit.

The player of the highest remaining card (if any) describes a scene to match the story card attribute, how valiantly their character succeeded, and how terribly the lowest remaining card’s character (if any) fubarred. (Jokers always fubar.)

Players whose cards matched suit score one point; the “valiant” player scores two.

The fairytale ends in a climax with the 7th story card. The character with the most points becomes court Champion; the one with the fewest becomes court Jester; tied characters kill each other in a duel; any other characters are banished from court and forgotten.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Creatures and Cards!

The one-week Kickstarter to fund illustration by Len Peralta raised nearly twice our goal, adding bonus illustrations and three bonus Heroes! Visit the Lester Smith Games page on DriveThruCards for this deck and others.

The free rules here work with a standard poker deck, so you can discover for yourself how the game plays.

These rules came to me in a dream one night. A bit of family playtesting, and here they are for you!

A fighter, a wizard, a priest, and a thief walk into a dungeon. The dragon says, “Sounds like a party!”

This game uses a standard poker deck to represent 2-4 fantasy heroes battling their way through an underground complex to find treasures and rescue captives. Who will emerge with the most loot and followers?

At game’s end, the player with the most points of diamonds (treasure) and hearts (followers) wins! (Each card counts as its number value; Jacks count as 11 and Queens count as 12.)


  1. Shuffle the four King cards and deal one to each player. These are used to identify which character each will be playing.
    • Spades King is the Fighter, who can play two attack cards each turn and kill more than one monster at a time.
    • Clubs King is the Wizard, who can make a mass attack on monsters anywhere.
    • Hearts King is the Priest, who can heal a wounded follower or rescue a follower from the discard pile.
    • Diamonds King is the Thief, who can steal the lowest numbered treasure card from the player with the most treasure cards.
      These powers are explained in more detail later.
  2. Shuffle the rest of the deck and place it within easy reach of all players.
  3. Begin play with the Fighter, going clockwise around the table for player turns.


Each player goes through these 7 steps on their turn.

  1. Draw: Bring your hand to 5 cards.
  2. Followers: You may play 1 follower (heart card) from your hand to the table in front of you.
  3. Monster(s): You may play any number of monsters (club cards) from your hand, adding 1 monster to each player of your choice and any number on yourself.
  4. Attack: You may play 1 attack (spade card) on the monster in front of you (if there is one).
    • If the attack is equal to or greater than the monster, the monster is killed.
    • If the attack is less than the monster, the monster is weakened—place the attack card on the monster to show how many points remain to it.
  5. Counterattack: If any monsters remain in front of you, they damage your followers. Compare total remaining monster health to total follower health, and discard that many points of follower cards.
    • If any monster points remain, discard that many cards from your hand, then discard the monsters.
    • If instead, any follower points remain, keep that many points of follower cards and discard the rest. If needed, use a monster card to cover part of a follower card, leaving that follower’s remaining health uncovered. Discard the other monster cards.
  6. Treasure: You may play 1 treasure (diamond card) from your hand for each monster killed (see “Kings and Jokers” below). If you cannot play a treasure card for a monster, turn up the top card of the draw pile instead: if it is a treasure or follower, play it in front of you; if it is an attack, put it in your hand for later; if it is a monster, play it in front of you (it will affect your next turn).
  7. Discard 1 or more cards if desired.


Kings remain in front of players, identifying them for the duration of the game. Jokers are a special attack that take the place of a normal attack.

  • Spades King: The Fighter can play 2 attack cards (in step 4) and add their values. Whether 1 or 2 attack cards are played, their total attack value is compared to the total monster cards value, possibly killing 1 or more and weakening another. Mark any remaining weakened monster as usual.
  • Clubs King: The Wizard may (in step 4) either attack normally or use a single attack card to kill more than one monster anywhere in play, even in front of other players. In this mass attack, compare the attack card’s value to each monster individually—if the attack value is equal to or greater than the monster’s value, that monster is killed, otherwise it is not affected.
  • Hearts King: The Priest can (in step 2) either go through the discard pile to rescue a follower and play it or heal a follower by discarding the monster on it. This action is in addition to playing a follower as usual.
  • Diamonds King: Once per turn, the Thief can steal a treasure from another player instead of turning up the top card of the draw pile (step 6). This must be the lowest value treasure from the player with the greatest number of treasure cards (not the greatest total value). In case of a tie, the Thief must take the single lowest valued card among the tied players.
  • Jokers count as magical attacks that kill all monsters in front of you. Play a joker in step 4 instead of a spade, then place it on the discard pile.


  • Play through the draw deck once, then shuffle the discards to make a new draw deck.
  • Play through this second draw deck, then allow each player one last turn with the cards remaining in their hand.
  • Count the total points of treasure and followers together for each player. The player with the most points wins.

Design: Lester Smith. Playtesting: Christine Hofpar, Christopher Hofpar, Cristian Hofpar, Jennifer Smith, Karalyn Smith, Katheryn Smith; Chibi Illos: Peileppe www.peileppe.com (except Thief & Priest assembled by Lester Smith).

Copyright © 2017 Lester Smith Games

Pharmacology Roulette

Q. What fits on a business card and uses all the polyhedral dice you own?

A. Pharmacology Roulette! A crazy little “beer & pretzels” game with a twisted sense of humor for 1–∞ players.

(Caveats: If you play solo you’ll always lose. For ∞ players you’ll need ∞ dice.)

Download the free PDF or buy the biz card version!