Better Angels is a One Roll Engine game where the PCs are conflicted supervillains: conflicted because the source of their powers is a possessing demon gleefully trying to get them to sin so it can drag them bodily to hell. It’s a way to justify classic four-color supervillain shenanigans. Of course you put the hero in a death trap and then leave the room rather than just shooting him, and make sure you commit crimes with high property damage in front of the cameras rather than quietly in the dead of night: it appeases the demon with your grandstanding without actually killing anybody.
I’m running this soon as well, so here’s the rules summary I put together for my players’ reference.
Characters take actions by assembling a pool of d10s. Roll all dice and look for matches. In a matched set, the number of dice in the set is the Width and the number on the dice is the Height. For example, four 6s is a set with width 4, height 6, or 4×6.
The width of the set is the most important element, and indicates speed and power. Wider sets go first if timing is important, and have a greater effect.
The height of the set indicates quality, and is often used only to break ties or for miscellaneous rules effects. In many cases, a 3×5 is better than a 2×10.
Some powers grant Master Dice, which allow you to add a die of any value after rolling (essentially widening any set you rolled).
Contested actions use the defender’s set to remove dice from the aggressor’s set. A set must have an equal or greater height to cancel dice (e.g., 3×5 cannot cancel a 2×6). In combat or other fast-paced situation, a set must also have equal or greater width (or the attacker just goes too fast to be stopped).
You can make a Called Shot by dropping one die and setting another die to a fixed number before rolling, hoping to roll more of the same number as on the fixed die.
You can take Multiple Actions by dropping one die per extra action and hoping to get multiple sets.
If timing matters, players declare actions in order of Cunning (using Knowledge to break ties).
Extra Time, Weapons/Tools, Surprise, and Secrets can grant Advantage of up to +3. Advantage can be added as extra dice for your pool before rolling, or saved to increase the width of a rolled set (and you can split it between uses if you have multiple points of Advantage). The amounts of advantage are:
- Extra Time: 2x as long (+1); 3x as long (+2)
- Weapon/Tool: Small and concealable (+1); serious and noticeable (+2); really big and/or nasty (+3)
- Intellectual Surprise: Circumstantial evidence (+1); conclusive evidence (+2); damning evidence (+3)
- Surprise Attack: Cunning Greed/target’s Cunning Espionage; both get sets (+1); ambusher set 2x vs no set (+2); ambusher set 3x/no set (+3)
- Secret: Minor secret (+1); Secret worth effort to conceal/deny (+2); Life-endingly horrible secret (+3)
Strategies and Tactics
Instead of attributes and abilities, characters assemble their dice pools based on Strategies (bolded green) and Tactics (italicized purple). These are personal virtues and sins that can and will frequently fluctuate in play due to damage. Permanent character abilities are limited to Specialties and demonic aspects and powers. In the examples, the sin is on the left, the virtue on the right:
Cunning/Patient – Greed/Generosity – Espionage/Knowledge
These are generally used for mental conflicts. Running out of Patient makes you go berserk.
- Patient Generosity: Making long-term investments
- Patient Greed: Long cons, forgery, hacking, cracking
- Cunning Generosity: Buying illegal goods, bribery, conspicuous spending
- Cunning Greed: Petty larceny, lockpicking, hotwiring, shoplifting
- Patient Knowledge: Research, knowing things
- Patient Espionage: Investigating, casing, bugging communications, staking out
- Cunning Knowledge: Defusing bombs, jury-rigging, quiz games
- Cunning Espionage: Spotting ambushes, noticing opportunities, other quick perceptions
Sly/Open – Cruelty/Courage – Cowardice/Endurance
These are generally used for physical conflicts. Running out of Open kills mortals (and isn’t ideal for hellbinders).
- Open Courage: Making a melee attack against superior* foes or overwhelming numbers
- Open Cruelty: Making a melee attack against equal or inferior foes
- Sly Courage: Making a ranged attack against superior* foes or overwhelming numbers
- Sly Cruelty: Making a ranged against equal/inferior foes, making any kind of attack from ambush
- Open Endurance: Chasing, endurance athletics, bracing a door/wall, pinning a target in combat
- Open Cowardice: Kicking down a door, outrunning someone, blocking an attack
- Sly Endurance: Tailing, juggling/tightrope walking, disarming someone in combat
- Sly Cowardice: Climbing, escaping from pins/bonds, passing an object, dodging in combat
* For hellbinders, foes only count as superior when they’re supernatural but the binder’s demon isn’t currently invoked
Devious/Insightful – Corruption/Nurture – Deceit/Honesty
These are generally used for social conflicts. Running out of Insightful removes your base defense against manipulation.
- Insightful Nurture: Understanding someone’s better nature, resisting temptation/seduction
- Insightful Corruption: Understanding someone’s weaknesses, temptations, and urges
- Devious Nurture: Persuading (to do something good), inspiring
- Devious Corruption: Seducing, cajoling, bewildering
- Insightful Honesty: Defending against attacks on the truth, riposting against manipulation to sense what was true
- Insightful Deceit: Resisting appeals to better nature, riposting against manipulation to sense motivations
- Devious Honesty: Gaining Advantage from a difficult truth
- Devious Deceit: Gaining Advantage from a believable lie
Damaging Strategies and Tactics
Conflict generally has an intention to reduce a targeted tactic or strategy. You pick a particular tactic to target (which is usually limited by the type of tactic you’re using), and do damage based on the result:
- Width 2-3: Slide a dot of the tactic into its opposite tactic. If it’s already empty, slide a dot of the parent strategy into its opposite strategy.
- Width 4: Remove a dot from the tactic. If it’s already empty, remove a dot of the parent strategy.
- Width 5: Remove a dot of the parent strategy, even if there are still dots in the tactic.
Aspects and Powers
Aspects are remnants of the possessing demon’s diabolical heritage strong enough to affect the body of the host. The player of the mortal will pick one and the player of the demon will pick the other.
They’re powerful but costly to activate. The demon half always controls activation, there must be at least one point in the aspect’s governing Strategy for it to work, and there are two ways to turn them on:
- The mortal requests it, the demon agrees, and the mortal slides a point off a Virtuous Strategy in payment.
- The demon makes it happen without request, rolls the aspect’s governing Strategy (no Tactic), and turns on the aspect for free if this roll gets a set. If there is no set, the aspect still turns on, but the demon must slide a point from the governing Strategy.
The available aspects are:
- An Utmost Foulness* (Cunning): Turns you into an amorphous (and flexible) blob of nastiness
- Aqua-Form* (Sly): Turns you into living water
- Carapace (Sly): Grants armor that reduces attack Height
- Cloven Hooves (Cunning): Lets you forge demonic pacts with mortals to give them a bonus and you a Tactic upgrade whenever they use it
- Darkness-Shrouded (Devious): Swathes the area around you in inky darkness only your allies can see through
- Flame-Wreathed (Devious): Covers you in fire that deals damage to melee attackers and improves your own attacks
- Ghost Form (Cunning): Grants intangibility that you can selectively turn on and off
- Giant (Sly): Makes you big and super strong
- Glory* (Devious): Makes you incredibly beautiful/terrifying
- Hell’s Engine* (Sly): Replaces a body part with a hellish contraption (chooser picks the contraption, non-chooser picks the body part)
- Horned (Sly): Gives you an intimidating natural weapon
- Invisible (Devious): Lets you turn invisible and get a surprise bonus on attacks
- Legion* (Cunning): Creates unpowered doppelgangers of you
- Non-Euclidean* (Devious): Turns you into a cloud of concepts, allowing shifts in which Tactics get targeted by attacks
- Wings (Cunning): Lets you fly and also temporarily sacrifice the wings to negate an attack
Powers don’t necessarily have a permanent physical structure, and they’re under the total control of the mortal. However, activating them counts as invoking the demon (allowing it to start paying attention and talking for the rest of the scene). The player of the mortal will pick one and the player of the demon will pick one.
Powers typically have a (fixed dice pool) to activate them. The available powers are:
- Alchemy (Greed): Turns items (or body parts) temporarily into gold (Cunning Greed), and grants a Master Die to use Generosity for bribery (if Greed is not less than Generosity)
- Animal Control (Deceit): As Body Control, but affects animals
- Animal Form (Espionage): Lets you turn into the form of a (usually terrifying) animal, with more powers the higher your espionage (Cunning Espionage)
- Armor (Cowardice): Grants you a defense that reduces the Width of physical attacks (Open Cowardice)
- Arrogance (Cowardice): Provides a passive social defense based on your Cowardice
- Babel Babble* (Corruption): Lets you start a spiel of jargon that attacks listeners’ Knowledge or Nurture (Cunning Corruption)
- Banish (Cowardice): Lets you send something (including a touched target’s body part) somewhere else within line of sight and thirty feet (Sly Cowardice), and grants a set of dedicated items you can send up to thirty miles away
- Body Control (Deceit): Turns human targets into your puppets that you can give orders to (Devious Deceit)
- Clairvoyance (Espionage): Lets you see up to miles away (Patient Espionage)
- Crime-Time* (Greed): Gives you a minute pause in which you can move and everything else is frozen but invulnerable (Cunning Greed)
- Dark Ritual* (Knowledge): Satisfies your demon to grant advantage for the rest of the scene (Devious Knowledge)
- Dead Ringer (Deceit): Lets you copy the appearance of another person you’ve spent time with (Insightful Deceit)
- Dominator Strike (Cruelty): Gives you a customizable ranged attack (Sly Cruelty)
- False Memories* (Deceit): Implants a false memory into a touched target (Patient Deceit)
- Hanging Curse* (Corruption): Curses a target with a ban that will damage a Virtuous Strategy if violated (Patient Corruption)
- Impossible Beauty (Corruption): Gives you advantage to social rolls to influence people (Devious Corruption); could be artistic skill rather than physical beauty
- Ineffable Defense (Espionage): Reduces advantage granted by surprises or secrets used against you based on your Espionage
- Oracle* (Knowledge): Allows you to question the GM about the future or possible actions (Devious Knowledge)
- Psychic Objects (Greed): Lets you create useful objects with size and complexity based on your Greed (Cunning Greed)
- Regeneration* (Cowardice): Recovers damage or shifts to your Open and Sly suffered during a scene (Open Cowardice)
- Retrocognition* (Espionage): Lets you see what happened in a location previously (Patient Espionage)
- Soulless Materialism* (Generosity): Animates objects to fight for you (Cunning Generosity)
- Summon (Greed): Lets you summon visible objects within thirty feet to you, including target body parts (Cunning Greed), and grants a set of dedicated items you can summon to you from up to thirty miles away
- Telekinesis (Deceit): Allows you to move objects/people within line of sight and range based on Deceit (Insightful Deceit)
- Teleport Self (Corruption): Transports you somewhere else within a few miles based on Corruption (Insightful Corruption)
- Terror (Cruelty): Drains Courage at range (Devious Cruelty)
- That Hideous Strength (Cruelty): Gives a melee weapon bonus and lets you perform feats of strength based on your Cruelty
- The Evil Eye* (Cruelty): Allows you to apply a curse at range that reduces target’s dice for several scenes (Cunning Cruelty)
- Wither (Corruption): Shrivels, wilts, corrodes, etc. a touched/grappled object/person (Devious Corruption)
The player of the demon controls access to several other innate abilities common to all demons:
- Devilish Creativity: All hellbinders can make infernally cunning devices (often disguised as scientific inventions, but possibly just obviously magic items). These use a customizable system that costs points from Virtuous Tactics to create the item.
- Appreciating the Numinous: The demon can recognize other hosts of angels or demons (special campaign rule: only when both possessing spirits are invoked).
- Spying: If the demon’s primary Sinister Strategy is higher than its opposite, the demon can perceive all the time. If it’s not, the demon perceives only when invoked. The demon cannot talk to the mortal, even if it can perceive all the time, unless invoked by being given permission to speak or the mortal activates a power.
- Sinful Perfection: The demon can turn one die in the mortal’s pool into a Master Die for a particular roll by sliding the related Sinister Tactic for that roll into the Virtuous Tactic (e.g., if the player is rolling Courage or Cruelty, slide a point of Cruelty).
* from the No Soul Left Behind campaign book