Random Ramblings of a Mad Man: What the heck is the Axiom System? Part 1 of 2


“The Axiom System is the system I designed for my new game I AM ZOMBIE and the whole line of games that will come out after it: what we are currently calling ANØMALY, published by my new game company, Make Believe Games.

My goal was simple: get anyone playing in under one minute, without sacrificing any tactical depth for advanced players. All the players need is to pick up 5 cards, and they can start playing, with a very simple and straightforward set of rules. Advanced players may introduce harder ones, chips and complex rolls if they want, but the essence of this system is to inspire roleplay. We have seen complete beginners immersed in the narrative within minutes, competing with dice and cards, using the rules they learned on the fly.

The single rules are called Axioms; they were designed to work with any number of games: 20 years from now, cards from our first game will still be usable due to clever, universal and modular nature of our approach. Players can get creative, combine Axiom modules from different games and tailor the game to their liking.

The core concept of the Axiom System is that, like a modern board game, it has simple and elegant rules; its complexities are front-loaded, and not piled on at the back end, with a lot of exceptions andmini-systems. While the dice-rolling conventions are slightly more involved than in most RPGs, once you know them, everything just flows.

In Axiom the dice are not just a way to determine whether you succeed or fail. They work more like a series of bets, and there are a number of factors at play in every roll. Will you gain Brainz or Chaw? Will you beat the Hazard number and not hurt yourself or a friend? Do you reroll those low numbers or play it safe? Will you use a Twist to skew the odds? All of this make each and every every roll (and reroll) a compelling tactical decision.


The Axiom System also warps what a turn really is, and thus makes the flow of the story more interactive and surprising. By deconstructing the turn, we made a unique initiative system that not only unfolds the story organically, but makes sure no one gets bored. You start your turn simply, and then on each of your rerolls-which are made on another player’s turn-you pile on the details. You can ‘spend’ successes (called boosts) as descriptors to add to the story. The drama of the scene builds step-by-step over the course of the turn, and having to wait to see what happens rachets up the tension.

The core advantage of this system is that people have many different goals in mind, and thus many different ways to both measure and achieve success. It’s not about simply making a roll, and every micro-decision carries risk and can potentially change the game and story later on.

You can make a character in minutes, and yet each persona is interesting and compelling. Not only the ultimate pick-up game, I AM ZOMBIE is a great venue for experimentation and improvisation; you can pick and choose which Axioms you want to play with, and use just them, adding more over the course of the chronicle.

We have worked for years on creating a fluid and interactive storytelling system that remains as simple and elegant as the ID cards themselves. A system so clean and easy to learn and play that a newbie Narrator really doesn’t need to know much about the rules. In fact, the rules and the players can sort of run themselves under Axiom. The only thing the Narrator really needs to worry about is… THE STORY, ITSELF.

But what is required to run a story with out new, groundbreaking Axiom System?

  • Cards – Standard game consists of two decks of 54 cards, each with unique art and simple to understand, yet in depth assortment of skills and powers. This is a powerful role playing and gameplay tool, that will grow in it’s reach as each new game with Axiom System comes out. Players will be able to combine cards from any game to build their characters.  
  • Axioms – Core module lays down the basic rules shared throughout our games. Each new title may introduce new module with new rules. The system is designed to allow players and designers to choose and combine any modules they like, to create new and exciting experiences.  From combat heavy tactical games, to light roleplay oriented experiences, our goal is to support them all.
  • Dice – No game would feel complete without them. Our six-sided dice has four numbered sides and two unique symbols. Player has to match the roll with the difficulty of the task, rolling unique dice opens up new dangers and possibilities.
  • Chips – To spice up the game and introduce new levels of tension and creative dynamic, we provide players with two types of chips. Good ones and Bad ones. Each of them can affect the gameplay, be used in combination with cards or as a storytelling tool by using situation described on their back. Chips are awarded through dice rolls.
  • Field Manual – It is our vision that Field Manual should be free of rules and dry descriptions. It is charged with one goal: Immerse player into the rich, intricate game world with as much style and depth as possible. Written completely from the point of view of fictional characters, full of beautiful, evocative art the field manual is a part of our games worlds, an item that exists within its fiction.


In terms of the type and style of rules, for my entire career, from Ars Magica to Vampire: The Masquerade to the whole Storyteller system, I have been trying to get roleplaying games to be as simple as possible, so that both GM’s and players alike can focus on storytelling. My concern has always been that too often rules get in the way of fun, and that arguments about rules can interrupt and even end a game session.

For the writers and developers of the game I have now explicitly defined what the Axiom system game is, and what  parameters it should follow.

In Storyteller the core dice rolling conventions were always the same. This is also true in Axiom, this will never change game to game. These rules will be tweaked over the next year or so perhaps, but will be standardized and exactly the same rules used game to game. We are still feeling our way around with these rules and we may be fiddling with a few things, mostly to simplify and remove confusion; but the idea is once we have refined these rules, Axioms 1-8 will have pretty much the same wording game to game.

In Storyteller you had the attributes, and they were originally meant to stay the same, game to game, and that is true for Axiom as well. We have 5 traits/colors, they will all stay the same game to game except that black/purple color trait will have a different name and a slight different meaning each game. If player mix and match ID cards from different games, they will always get to add up all their black/purple cards together to make a roll, even if they are from different games.

In Storyteller the Abilities were very similar each game, many are in all the games (the categories: Talents, Skills, Knowledge stayed the same), and there was always carry over of some others from game to game. In Axioms this is the same, each game will switch out 3-7 ‘standard’ skills for unique ones, specific to that setting, but most carry on over every game.

This is vitally important because of the foundational idea of the Axiom system, which wasn’t able to build into the Storyteller system,  is that players can easily mix and match character between games. This is represented by easily and automatically combining ID card from different games to use in the same character. 10 years from now a player should be able to have a character made of 10 cards from 10 different games, and still play without any difficulty (it might not be smart, in terms of min-maxing, but they should be able to do it). Some people just love experimenting and playing around, and we will not only allow it, but encourage it.

At the bottom of the character sheet in Storyteller is where things were allowed to be radically different game to game. Stewart Wieck came up with the whole Quintessence/Paradox circle, a radical deviation from the straight line of boxes, but it was okay since it was at the bottom of the page. In Axiom, designers can do whatever they want with powers, they are free to make a unique system. The same with whatever kind of rules they want as their “Sanity, humanity, Syndrome” rules. Axiom games should all have some sort of character “limitor”, a rules system, which restricts and defines a character by threatening to remove them from the game, or something similar, but how it looks and works, is up to the designer.

Axiom is like Storyteller in that it’s focused on narration and storytelling rather than mechanics; you have rules, but they are just a tool to deal fast with complex situations and go back as soon as possible to pure narration and roleplaying.

Axiom is like GURPs in that its modular, scalable and 100% intercompatible between games. Use rules from any GURPS supplement and combine them together, and you can unique a totally unique setting.

Axiom is like Magic: The Gathering in that pretty much any card can be combined with pretty much any other card to make a unique deck/Character.

Basically, you can do what you want with it. It’s at the same time tools and base materials to create every type of game, and story, you desire. And that’s exactly what we wanted it to be, and we hope it will help you writing and running (or playing) the best stories of your gamer careers.

Mark Rein-Hagen”