Consensus Fantasy, the Piecepack Matrix Game

Players 1-20
Length 30-180 minutes
Equipment Required 1 or more piecepacks
Designer ChrisEngle and RonHaleEvans
Version 0.4 contest final
Version Date 2018-07-01
License CC BY-SA 4.0


Consensus Fantasy is a generic roleplaying, storytelling, and wargame system. It can be played solo or with a group, with or without a gamemaster. It makes a freeform, improv style of play possible, and includes some simple miniatures rules, which can easily use the piecepack.

Consensus Fantasy is based on Matrix Games, which are a good match for the piecepack. Like the piecepack, they seem small, but are infinitely adaptable to playing many kinds of game and telling many kinds of story. With Matrix Games, you can run very complicated stories, from rescuing a hostage to saving the cosmos (or both!) in only a couple of hours -- or play campaigns that go on for years. Matrix Games have decades of play and have been used by the British and U.S. armed forces, among other institutions, to run political and military "serious game" simulations.

Matrix Games were invented by Chris Engle. Ron Hale-Evans adapted them to the piecepack and wrote these scenarios. Consensus Fantasy was also influenced by Tana Pigeon's Mythic Game Master Emulator.

The round at a glance

1. Players move the characters they control. While moving, players can talk and roleplay with one another.

2. The gamemaster asks the players to each make one argument about what happens next.

3. After each argument is made, the gamemaster decides how strong it is, and whether it will cause conflict (fighting between characters) or trouble (lasting bad effects). This is totally up to the gamemaster! No arguments automatically cause conflict or trouble.

4. After all the arguments are made, the gamemaster decides which arguments are competing with (inconsistent with) one another.

5. An argument's strength determines what needs to be rolled on a piecepack die for it to happen. Players roll one die for their own arguments. If they roll any of the target numbers, then the argument happens. (If an argument will always fail or always succeed, they don't roll for it.)

STRONG 3,4,5,A

Piecepack dice have six sides: N 2 3 4 5 A, where N means "null" and A means "ace". In Matrix Games, nulls count as 1 and aces count as 6. N is an automatic failure and A is an automatic success. If you roll either of these special values, roll again. (But don't roll again when settling competing arguments or conflicts.) If your second roll is another special value, this is what it means:

  • NN = "no, and..." extra failure
  • NA = "no, but..." a positive side
  • AN = "yes, but..." a negative side
  • AA = "yes, and..." extra success

The gamemaster determines what these results mean by making an argument for an unexpected event. (See Unexpected events.)

6. Players only roll once to see if their argument happens unless their argument is competing with another argument. Competing arguments cannot both happen. Only one can. Players settle it with a dice rolling contest.

Two or more arguments can be in competition. Each player rolls for their own argument. Arguments that fail their rolls drop out of the contest. Keep on rolling until only one argument is left. If all of the arguments fail then a new contest begins. One argument must succeed.

7. Successful arguments happen. They change the "matrix" of the world by adding to it, taking something away, or altering it.

8. Conflict and trouble arguments that happen cause extra rounds of arguments to find how they come out.

Conflict causes extra rounds of arguments.

Common conflicts: combat, recruiting new characters, stealing things, magic, politics, building things, arresting people, trials

The gamemaster decides who is involved with the conflict and how strong each player is. The strongest player gets to make an argument about what happened in the conflict. The gamemaster decides how strong it is and the player rolls for it immediately. If it happens then the conflict is settled. If it fails then the next strongest player gets to make an argument. Players keep on making arguments until one succeeds. The gamemaster can decide that a conflict argument causes another conflict.

Trouble also causes extra arguments.

The gamemaster decides who is affected by the trouble and what status it gives to those who fail to deal with it. Each affected player gets to make an argument about how they deal with the trouble or why it doesn't affect them. The gamemaster rules on the arguments' strengths and if any are in competition. Players then roll to see if they succeeded in avoiding the trouble.

Players who fail must use their regular arguments to fix the trouble or live with the consequences.

Now begin the next turn! Don't be afraid if you're making it up as you go along. That's how Matrix Games are played!

For more detailed rules, see MatrixRules.pdf.


You are a small, greedy Pomeranian named Humphrey. Your human is offering you a Meaty Treat to learn a trick called "dance." When she plays "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees, she wants you to stand up on your hind legs and wave your front legs with a big grin on your face.

Can you do it? You've been training for days, and the gamemaster rates your chances as Strong (3,4,5,A on a piecepack die).

3,4,5,AYou succeed. You learn the trick and get the Meaty Treat.
N,2You fail. You can't learn the trick.
NNYou fail! You backflip, fall on your face, and cry. You refuse to learn any other tricks for a month.
NAYou fail, but you do spontaneously learn to dance to "The Liberty Bell", the theme to Monty Python's Flying Circus.
ANYou succeed, but you'll only do the trick when nobody else is watching, like the frog in that Warner Brothers cartoon.
AAYou succeed gloriously, and also learn to dance across the room to "Boogie Oogie Oogie" and "Shake Your Groove Thing". You get two Meaty Treats and a tummy rub!

Unexpected events (through bookpokery)

The Consensus Fantasy system generates unexpected events by interpreting words picked out of books. To create unexpected events, open a book to a random page, and with your eyes closed, place your finger on a random word. If you find it necessary, repeat this procedure a few times until you have collected enough words to inspire your argument for the unexpected event. (See below.) After that, judge the strength of the argument and roll for it as usual.

You can even select phrases or sentences from the book, either by putting your finger on a phrase or sentence that exists in the book, or by making one up from scratch. If you're doing the latter, be sure to create a template beforehand so you know what kinds of word you're looking for. For example, you could make a template like adjective noun, so you would first poke your finger into the book, and then find the nearest adjective on the page. To fill in the rest of the template, you would poke the book and find the nearest noun. Finally, you would "glue" the adjective and the noun together. If you select silent as the adjective and week as the noun, your final phrase would be silent week. (These words were taken from the horror anthology Black Wings of Cthulhu 5, edited by S.T. Joshi.) Interpreted as an unexpected event in a horror game, this phrase could mean that all mysterious activity being investigated suddenly ceases for a week or more, leaving the suspense to build. It's too quiet...

Consider your choice of book. One that's related to the scenario you're playing can give more relevant results. For example, a campaign about vampire hunting could use a copy of Dracula as its source of random words (Dracula has the benefit of being in the public domain), while a space opera setting could use a novel from The Expanse series. On the other hand, a dictionary is almost always appropriate, no matter what the scenario, and an unusual book can be interesting too -- what happens if you use a cookbook instead of Dracula in the vampire game?

Note: It's easier to "poke" a bound paper book for words, but it's possible to do so with ebooks as well. Ebook reader software varies so widely, however, that such techniques are beyond the scope of this game. You'll have to experiment.

GMless and solo gaming

You can play Consensus Fantasy in a group without a gamemaster, and you can even play it solo without a GM. Most of what's true about playing solo applies to "GMless" group play as well.

To play Consensus Fantasy solo, you can either start with a predefined scenario and characters, or you can just make them up on the fly. Consensus Fantasy is an "oracle" that can answer any question about your game with a simple roll of the dice. Ask the oracle questions that you would normally ask the GM, such as "Can I hear anyone behind this door?" Treat the question as an argument and judge it strong or weak as usual, then roll to resolve the argument. When you get stuck, insert an unexpected event. In this way, you're acting as your own gamemaster. (In group play, take turns with gamemaster duty.)

You can even use this technique to play other roleplaying games solo, such as Dungeons & Dragons and Call of Cthulhu. Use as much or as little as you want of the other roleplaying game's rules, and fill in the rest with the oracle. Typically, you would use the other RPG's rules to resolve questions specific to its world, such as magical combat, and resolve the rest with the dice oracle.

Finally, you can use solo roleplaying with Consensus Fantasy as a writing exercise, to explore from within worlds you create as you create them. Not needing a weighty gamemaster's tome means you don't need to set aside special time to do this -- you can do it in odd moments as you wait in line, ride the bus, or fall asleep.

For an excellent introduction to solo roleplaying, see the 7.5-part series How to Play an RPG Solo on the blog Tabletop Diversions.


You can use the piecepack to play wargames and dungeon crawls instead of traditional 25-30 mm scale pewter miniatures. (This is the scale of a typical piecepack pawn.) You can also use traditional miniatures or printable paper miniatures with bases in piecepack suit colors alongside your piecepack. Here are some tips.

For more information on miniatures and military matrix games, see the Matrix Game supplement PoliticsByOtherMeans.pdf. Here are some conversions between Consensus Fantasy and PBOM terms:

Politics by Other Meanspiecepack equivalents
stand (100 soldiers)coin or pawn
1 inch1 square (back of tile)
1d6 (six-sided die, 1-6)1dP (piecepack die; N=1, A=6)

Consensus Fantasy Scenarios

Life During Wartimes

A wargame matching armies from different places and times, such as a Roman legion versus a 22nd-century UN peacekeeping force armed only with stunners.


Household pets of every description vie to go viral by becoming Cute Pet of the Day on the fabulously popular ZooTube? video service. Play your own pet!

  1. Some players are humans, and some players are pets. Decide ahead of time whether or not pets can talk to humans. (All the players can talk to one another.)
  2. Humans assign each some clever tricks to learn, then pets argue whether they can learn them.
  3. Make some ZooTube? videos of pets doing their tricks -- make the argument that they can do their tricks under pressure and adversity.
  4. Finally, all pets (and their humans) engage in a dice-rolling competition to see who gets the most ZooTube? views and the big prize!

Below are some example pets, or make your own.

Prohibited Where Void

You awaken in an empty white room with no memory of who you are...

That's it. That's all you get. That's the entire scenario. Use the make-it-up-as-you-go-along features of Consensus Fantasy to determine where you are, what your plight is, and how to escape.

For example, you argue you've been kidnapped. Your gamemaster judges that very strong. You roll a 5. So you've been kidnapped! You argue you've been uploaded into a virtual reality. Your gamemaster rules that weak... And so on.

This is an especially good scenario to play solo.

Passport to the multiverse

The adaptability of Consensus Fantasy and Matrix Games means you don't need to wait for a big RPG publisher to create a sourcebook for your favorite fictional world. You can enter those worlds whenever you want. Imagine being able to visit the universes of

I'm already packed. Let's go.


Copyright 2018 Chris Engle and Ron Hale-Evans. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike? 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) license <>. If you create derivative works, please include the sentence, "Matrix Games were invented by Chris Engle."



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