RPG Design - A.D.A. Release May 2023

There is a new release for A.D.A. With it come a lot of changes, which are described below and some random thoughts on why these changes happened.

If you want to skip this and just get to the rules, click here.

Download Rules


The first notable change is from Skills to Approaches. As I have discovered in my playtest, I often asked myself on how I would do stuff and not so much about what I was doing. This made it akward as I had to find a skill to make it fit my interpretation of the situation. Approaches handle this much better.

Interestingly this seems to be a debated topic and skills are oftentimes prefered over approaches. One of the reasons I will cover shortly. But I do this game mostly for me and not to please a "market", so I don't care that much, but it is an interesting read to figure out where possible issues might lie.

I liked one of the responses in this thread.

An all-Special-Forces game would be similar. They all shoot guns, and have a lot of the same training - but how they use those tools will be pretty different.

This fits perfectly the setting. The agency is training everybody so they can do all the same things. Take Warehouse 13 as an example (a show this game is inspired on), they recruit from the secret service. So they all have a particular skillset, but when you look at Myka and Pete, they use it differently. Pete is more hotheaded and into the action, whereas Myka is more calculative and observant (oversimplified).

The current actions are already phrased to answer a what, something that Skills normally would answer. So it is more natural to then answer how. This follows a similar scheme how PbtA games present their actions (or moves as they call it). Their attributes can be seen as approaches (as could the ones from D&D as well if you think about it), and moves sometimes even reference those in deciding on how to use it.

Take the Face Danger move from Ironsworn as an example.

Ironsworn Face Danger Move

The move states the what in the first sentence (or the trigger) but how you approach this action the player can decide.


As I have teased, there is often one particular problem that comes up when discussing approaches: Approach Spamming. This describes, that you can just use the same approach over and over again to solve any problem. Normally people tend to use the approach that has the highest rating to do so, in order to succeed. You have a high Forceful stat? Guess you will use your fists to solve everything. On one hand, this makes sense: Use your strength, but could be rather monotone.

But you could argue similarly with skills. Certain skills are more useful than others, so people tend to try to increase those during character generation and argue their way to use them. And there is clearly a ranking of skills (at least for D&D I would argue that the more situational a skill becomes, it will be less relevant - looking at Animal Handling for example). I sometimes can hear as a GM "But can't I use X instead of Y here, please?" (most commonly Perception vs Inspiration). Just because they have a higher level in skill X. And this is what actually happened in my playtest as well. I tried to fit everything into one skill, because I knew it was the best one. Maybe I did not control myself enough, but it felt like the best decision.

Since we don't have a GM to arbitrate the situation and dismiss certain skills or approaches from being overrused, there needs to be a different tool to counteract this problem. One that I found was the introduction of Risks.

In short they represent additional parameters to the situation to consider before going to action. They act as reminders of things that could potentially go wrong and what will happen if you fail your action. So a risk of Delay means that if you should fail this action, you might miss important things - for example a train you are trying to catch. By using an approach to mitigate this risk, when you fail, you won't suffer this particular risk (other things might still happen). Having exactly 6 approaches and risks, you can even roll to see which one is "active" and form a story around that.

This can also act as guide when suffering consequences. The unmitigated risks show what will happen so there is less guesswork when comming up with consequences. Something I still sometimes struggle with.

Taking Harm

The change to approaches had far-reaching impacts on other things in the game. One of which is how "damage" is taken and how to remove it again (or heal).

I clarified what it means to take harm. Before it wasn't that clear (and it wasn't clear that it could be taken as a consequence). So there is the general terminology of Taking Harm and its associated rules.

Secondly was to decide what it actually means to take harm. Previously you would get a condition and if enough conditions were accumulated you were broken and gained scars. This is how it normally works in Year Zero Engine (YZE) (or more particularly Vaesen) style games. I liked it because it incorporated the FATE conditions so that players don't have to come up with aspects for their injuries and provided a system to have long-lasting effects via scars.

This doesn't work entirely anymore. The reason is that conditions were linked to traits, which no longer exist. An idea is to take the injury directly on the approach. This then reduces the next roll for that approach. Forbidden Lands does this as well (another YZE game). Thematically this represents for example strained muscles from using Forceful. There are some limits how many injuries you can get though. This also brings the information for injuries on the character sheet up to where the approaches are. So it is easier to find out with one view how your roll is affected.

What also changed is how this whole being broken thing works. Again this is a remnant of Vaesen and probably works best if you have multiple characters in the game, as they can help each other if they would be taken out. When playing with only one character this is no option, taking away player agency. So I want to try out having more "health" in general but then removing the agent from the case once they get enough injuries. There's still some limited treatment options, but I'm considering even removing those. There should be some tension of having a powerful artefact that is difficult to handle.

Which brings me to the permanent changes to a character with scars. I really like the concept. Especially when the scars are giving you bonuses in exchange for some disadvantages. You kind of get character progression through your scars. One way I can see how you gain these is after each case, there are no more scars during the case. Similarly to as above, if you would gain a scar and nobody was around to tend to your serious scar, well you would die automatically. O could imagine that your approaches are fixed after character creation, but scars let you "redistribute" these stats afterwards.


Some other small things that changed.

Banes are gone. They somewhat added additional bookkeeping without any real benefits. They represented a direct consequence, whereas I like having more delayed consequences. That means that eventually they will catch up with the agents and introduce more conflict into the case, but shouldn't be a direct pass-fail kind of thing. This also gives a bit more player agency, as they can approach the new conflict in a new way and maybe overcome it. There's still some form of direct consequences in injuries, but banes oftentimes represented a double consequence (you would get a condition and a bane). And in contrast to injuries you have to apply the bane, whereas with injuries you still have the choice in using a different approach.

Character personality has changed a bit and there is no more High Concept. In the end everyone is an agent, so they way they should differentiate themselves is more by the motiviation, than in what they are (getting more into the why). There is now also a mechanical way on using the Motivation and the Flaw that give some benefits (representing the compel in FATE).

Last but not least, there is some adjustments on the character sheet itself. Naturally there needed to be some room, for the new approaches. But I also wanted to add more information on the sheet itself, so that everything is clear by just looking at it. I might also add some more rules reference on there (e.g. pushing gives +2 dice to the roll and increases Notice). So you know what you can do, when looking at the sheet and only need the rules to maybe check for clarifications. I've read a great article on how to design character sheets and I think I can improve mine in these regards. This is also something to be applied for the case sheet for sure.


There is some things I want to change with character profiles and character generation in general. The profile now only is determining the possible abilities you can assign and thus don't really differentiate a character that much anymore.

I'm leaning into a similar system that Ironsworn uses, in having assets that give these different abilites. So profiles could be one type of such assets. Another could be gadgets, artefacts safe for field use, like the Farnsworth in Warehouse 13.

Download Rules