At its heart, Saga Machine consists of eight basic stats and two central mechanics, appropriately called the action mechanic and the consequence mechanic.
From there, the core is supported by numerous subsystems, each tailored to the specific genre and themes of the game in question. For example, Shadows Over Sol comes with both engineering and hacking system, as befits as science fiction game, while Against the Dark Yogi has a system for channeling cosmic energies.
There are eight central stats in Saga Machine
, four physical and four mental. Each stat ranges from 1 - 10 for human characters, while titanic monsters can have stats reaching up to 20. The stats are as follows:
- Strength (Str): A character's strength is a measure of her muscle and physical power. It helps determine how much she can lift, how hard she can punch and what she can push around.
- Dexterity (Dex): A character's dexterity is her coordination, flexibility, agility and balance. It helps determine her athletic ability, aim for attacks and manual dexterity.
- Speed (Spd): A character's speed is a measure of how fast she moves, her reflexes, her reaction time and her ability to get out of the way when malicious people are trying to beat her head in.
- Endurance (End): Endurance is a measure of a character's toughness, health, constitution and stamina. It helps a character resist disease, keep from losing consciousness and keep from getting winded after a long jog.
- Intelligence (Int): Intelligence is an indicator of how quick a character learns, how much she knows and what her capability is in terms of logical reasoning and deduction. Put simply, intelligence is used to know stuff and figure stuff out.
- Perception (Per): A character's perception is a measure of how alert she is, how good her senses are and how aware she is of the world around her. Perception also includes a component of her speed of thought.
- Charisma (Chr): A character's charisma is her force of personality, presence, bearing, social skills and appearance all wrapped up into one. It's used when trying to make friends, influence others or strike a deal.
- Determination (Det): Determination is a character's resolve, mental fortitude, willpower and grit. It's used when resisting fear or mental effects, pressing on despite the hopelessness of the situation or seeing things through to the bitter end.
In addition to these eight stats, most Saga Machine games feature a skill list, with somewhere in the range of 20 - 25 skills. The individual skills vary with the genre and setting.
The first central system in Saga Machine is the action mechanic. By default this uses a simple deck of poker cards, although an alternative d10-based mechanic is available in Against the Dark Yogi: Campaign Options and in Shadows Over Sol, as an appendix.
The mechanic is simple: Add the character’s stat, plus a relevant skill, plus the value of the card flip, and compare this total to a target number. Higher is better. Sometimes how much a player succeeded or failed by is important. This is known as the magnitude of success or failure (Mag).
Every Saga Machine game features some sort of “luck” trait, variously called Karma, Edge, Moxie or Luck, as best fits the genre. This trait determines how many cards the player gets to hold in her hand. Cards can be played from hand to influence actions in different ways. Otherwise, a player making an action may always choose to play from the top of the deck.
All of the numbered cards, ace though 10 (aces are low) are worth the value printed on the card. Face cards - jack, queen and king - are worth +1, +2 and +3, respectively. When a face card is played, flip over the top card of the deck and add its value to the face card to get the flip’s total. Finally, when a joker comes up, the action in question is a critical failure, but the player gets to refresh her hand!
Finally, every stat has an associated suit. If the player plays a card with the associated suit, that action is said to be trump! It gains a bonus, usually in the form os playing a second card from the top of the deck and taking whichever value is higher. Card suits may have other effects as well, including triggering different options or helping to determine damage in combat.
The second central system in Saga Machine is the consequence mechanic. Consequences are Saga Machine's way of representing lasting effects in the system. These effects can be placed on either characters, objects or the scene itself. For example, tripping another character may result in a “prone” consequence for the target, setting a forest on fire results in an “on fire” consequence for that forest, etc.
Consequences come in three parts: an effect, a duration and a severity. This tells what the consequence does, how long it lasts and how severe the effect is, respectively. All consequences have the same hierarchy of severities: light, moderate, severe and critical. Consequences may apply modifiers to actions or have other indicated effects.