Learn to Play HPS Rules

Playing the High Plains Samurai Roleplaying Game is a shared storytelling experience powered by your imagination and that of everyone else playing the game. At its heart, this game is about players taking on the role of the Writers telling their version of the One Land, its people, and the events that will become legends for generations to come. With the co-operation of the Director (the GM), all Writers will be the driving force of the tales told during play with the mechanics acting as a structured form of play to facilitate the storytelling process and the dice throwing in a random curveball to keep everyone on their creative toes.

Stories in the One Land are about surviving the deadliest events and unforeseen consequences against a fantastic backdrop of diverse backgrounds, abilities, and violence. As a Writer, this is about telling your version of a story set against the backdrop of the One Land. The Director is there to help everyone keep everything moving in the direction desired by all players during that first session and to challenge the Writers and their characters. In a world where characters can conduct electricity from within or race past the speed of sound, there is a lot of room to try out some ideas and come up with a story all your own.

While the complete rules to play HPS are provided in the High Plains Samurai Roleplaying Game core rulebook and High Plains Samurai: Legends, a summary of the mechanics are below.

  • To get a sense of how the High Plains Samurai Roleplaying Game is played, check out these helpful actual play recordings. Please note some of these recordings use earlier mechanics and have changed since the date of their recording but the concept remains the same. 


 You Are The Writer Of Your Own Story!

In the High Plains Samurai Roleplaying Game, you are a Writer and that means you get to drive the story forward while the Director reacts and presents the world based on your descriptions. Don’t ask if something happens, tell us! The only time the Director will block anything you create is if it conflicts with an existing element in the story, known as an initiative. If someone has already initiated something into the story, they can ask for a rewrite. Anything defined in the rules, including the material provided in the High Plains Samurai Roleplaying Game core rulebook (releasing late 2018) and High Plains Samurai: Legends, are part of the Director’s initiatives.

Descriptions & Details

On your turn, you will provide a description from your character’s POV. Think of a description as a paragraph in a story where the character gets the spotlight to move the plot forward.

Within your description are a number of details, individual actions that provide something interesting about your character or help move the action forward. Think of a detail as a sentence in your paragraph. Only those sentences that add something to the story count as a detail. You can always add extra fluff into your description. Use your details to build up the action and allow you to roll the maximum dice against your opponents.

  • Kate thinks for a moment before leaning forward with a sly grin on her face. She has 3 details to apply in her character, Xai’s, next description. As she speaks, her fingertips mimic the actions of her character. “Xai leans forward and places her fingertips gently on the table. The camera pulls back between the assorted mugs, chips and playing cards to reveal the mug of beer with Samuel’s hand over the handle. We then see several trails of ice sliding across the table from Xai’s fingers right towards Samuel’s mug before wrapping around the mug. As Samuel picks up his drink, the camera raises up with the mug and we see his beer is frozen solid. He stares at his mug, dumbfounded. And he never sees the dagger come flying across the table to land directly in his right eye.”

    The first detail is Xai using her icy qi power to freeze Samuel’s mug. The second detail distracts Samuel from Kate’s third detail that cuts straight to the point by attacking Samuel.


Once a player has provide a description on their turn, another character will provide the outcome. They are the resulting consequences, reactions, and events that occur as a result of the description.

If a Writer provides a description, the Director will give the outcome. If the Director provides a description, a Writer will give the outcome. After each outcome, another character will be able to provide a description until all characters have gone in a round.

  • Kate makes a complication roll, which places the outcome in Samuel’s favour. Brendan rolls with the punches and brings in his own surprise for the outcome.

    “The dagger stops a mere inch away from his open eye, hovering in midair and vibrating slightly. As the camera shifts its focus, we can see the young woman sitting next to Samuel has her hand out to the dagger. She blows softly and the dagger disintegrates into dust.”


All characters have stats known as potentials, measurements of what makes them unique in this world. At the start of each turn, you will choose which potential will shape your description. Each potential demonstrates three key features you’ll need to tell your character’s story.

Dice Value 
Ranging from a d4 to a d12, these are the dice you’ll use for complication rolls (see below). To roll this value, you must max out your details in the description. 

What you use to prevent a complication roll against your character. Defence values range from 1 (automatic) to 9 and are always odd numbers. 

The maximum number of details you can use in your description. Only by applying your maximum number of details can you roll your full potential’s dice value. 

  • Lotus will use her Deadly d8 potential (with 3 details) for the next description in a fight with a warmech outside the gates of Rust. “Leaping up in the air, Lotus lands on top of the warmech’s head. Holding her hands outwards, she uses her telekinesis to grab hold of the machine by both hands before she leaps in front of the thing. Her body spins like a top and this causes the warmech to also spin around wildly as Lotus heaves the rotating automaton over her head and slams it down on the ground in front of her. Then when it lies on its back and struggles to get back up, she cries out with ferocity to unleash the full power of her qi. An explosion of telekinetic energy is unleashed against the warmech, slamming against its metal shell to crack it open and break the damn thing apart.”

    The key detail in this description is the telekinetic explosion designed to damage the warmech, which will trigger a complication roll. The previous two details were flourishes leading up to the key detail to help Lotus look as deadly as she always intended.


Whenever a character attempts to complicate something for another character, these are known as complications and you must use a full description to remove them. Each one is unique and does one of four things.

Restriction: It blocks a character from doing or using something.

Inception: It forces a character to believe something that’s not true.

Penalty: The character takes a step penalty. This reduces the potential’s dice value by one level, such as a d8 to a d6.

Damage: The character takes damage and loses some Vitality (see below).

Complication Rolls

When the Director determines an attempt at a complication, they will call for a complication roll using your potential’s dice value against your opponent’s Defence. (The Defence does not need to be determined by a potential in advance.) If you decide to make a complication roll, there is a chance you will receive a complication so choose your rolls wisely.

Roll your dice. If you meet or exceed the Defence, it is effective and the opponent will take a complication. If it is less than the Defence, it is ineffective and you will take a complication instead.

If you roll an even number, you get to set the complication. If you roll an odd number, your opponent sets the complication.

  • When Mauser landed on top of the vampire’s back and began to jam two wooden stakes into its chest, a complication roll was triggered. With a d10 for his potential plus a bonus for the wooden stakes resources, he rolls a 6 against a Defence of 5. It’s effective and Darius gets to choose the complication. As the difference will not be enough to kill the vampire, Darius goes with a restriction complication. “Since I’m strapped to his back using these stakes in its chest, it can’t bite Darius for as long as he’s there,” Fraser announces.

  • Lotus’ deadly fan attack has hit its mark after rolling an 8 on a d8! With her opponents’ Defence a mere score of 3, she goes for a damage complication and is able to slice 5 Vitality from the group of extras surrounding her.

  • With a small army of ninjas in the temple’s main hall on alert, Darius needs to complicate their efforts to keep him from getting to their master. Rolling a d10 against a Defence of 7, the result is a 3 – ineffective and the ninjas get to choose Darius’ complication. Brendan’s eyes light up and it becomes clear he has a devious idea. “As soon as Darius lets go of the rope, he can suddenly see a series of razor sharp wires lining the temple floor. Let’s call the complication…. Watch Your Step.”


All characters have Vitality to track their impact on the story. When a character reaches 0 Vitality, they are removed from the scene or the story. Whoever brings a character to 0 Vitality makes that choice. At the end of each scene, you will receive more Vitality. You can also spend your Vitality to do the following.

Change the complication roll up or down by 1 (including your opponent’s roll). You can only do this once per roll and some opponents can also shift the same roll.

Remove A Complication 
Spend 1 Vitality to remove a complication with 1 detail. Otherwise, you must use the full description. 

Complication Re-Roll 
You can re-roll your dice. This costs 1 Vitality the first time in a scene and +1 Vitality for every additional re-roll.

  • Mauser fires off a volley of shots from both six-shooters against a Monsoon general and rolls a 6 on his complication roll – it’s effective. But the general decides it best if she chooses the complication and spend 1 of her Vitality to shift it down to a 5. Even though he is already down to 7 Vitality in this fight, Mauser risks it and spends one of his own to bring the complication roll back up to a 6.

  • With his legs tied up from the ninja’s whip, Darius needs to remove this complication and get back into the fight. By spending 1 Vitality, he can use a single detail to remove the whip by shooting the whip with his pistol and the remainder of his description is used to leap back onto his feet and deliver a barrel roll double punch into the ninja’s chest.

Are You Ready To Play?

Now you know the basics to play the High Plains Samurai Roleplaying Game. As the Director guides you through the mysteries of the One Land, you’ll discover additional features of this game.

Qi Powers 
Can your character fly, shoot fire, or use telekinesis? Many characters are known as qi warriors and have tapped into the chaotic energies that afflict everyone in the One Land. 

Whether it’s your favourite weapon, the teachings of an Elemental Spirit, or a hard learned lesson you never forgot, there’s always something to help boost your chances. Use gear, skills, and other devices to gain step or damage bonuses to complication rolls.

Motivations, Connections, and Hindrances 
What drives your character? What haunts them? What connects them? These can help you gain additional Vitality in each scene and also give the Director something personal to make a scene more challenging. 

  • For this sample play, we will focus on the first round between Xai and Mauser (from High Plains Samurai: Legends) taking on Dollface in their final confrontation. All characters are at full Vitality and stand in the middle of an open street in the middle of Yung Zhi at night. No one has any weapons drawn as they stand almost 20 feet apart, with Mauser and Xai at one end and Dollface on the other. The Director decides to leave the table open to either lead character going first and Mauser decides to make the first strike.

    Using his No One Gets In My Way potential of d8, Mauser has 3 details to provide in this description. He uses his first detail to draw his six-shooter and assigns this weapon to a resource slot with +1 steps (allowing him to roll a d10 with this potential). The second detail demonstrates just how good the gunslinger is when he shoots the revolver from Dollface’s hand just as it teleports into her palm. He follows this up with another shot in the third detail and triggers a complication roll. Dollface uses her Dangerously Unexpected potential to gain a Defence of 7; Mauser rolls a 5. The complication is ineffective and that means Mauser has to take one of Dollface’s choice. The Director chooses No Bullets and provides an outcome where Mauser fires all six shots only to have Dollface suddenly teleport a large metal shield in her hands to block the shots.

    Mauser passes his turn to Xai and she decides to use her You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry potential of d8. First, she uses her frozen qi power to create a sheet of solid ice under Dollface’s feet and knock her down to the ground. Next, she uses her second detail to rush forward and form a large spear of solid ice in her hands. The third detail is the deadly strike as Xai leaps up in the air and gives out a fierce battlecry in her attempt to jam the spear into her enemy’s back. Without any resources assigned, Xai can only roll a d8 and Dollface’s Defence of 7 still applies. Xai rolls the dice… and gets an 8! Going for damage, Dollface loses 1 Vitality as she is barely able to move aside and suffers a bloody gash to her hip.

    But Dollface has a damage trigger, meaning she gets a free detail with a d6 to make a complication roll against whoever harmed her… and that means Xai. The villain swings her shield into the back of Xai’s legs and triggers a complication roll against Xai’s Defence of 5 (from the same potential as her last turn). Dollface only rolls a 4 and the Director decides to spend 1 Vitality to shift it to a 5. Xai shifts it back down to a 4 by spending one of her own Vitality and places the complication, Exposed Back, on her enemy.

    Now it’s Dollface’s turn and she will use her Dangerously Unexpected potential of d10 and 4 details. Before anything else, the Director spends 1 Vitality to apply her Fast and Accurate perk to gain an extra +2 damage bonus on any teleported weapon, which becomes a sawed off shotgun with Dollface’s first detail. The shotgun is added to a resource slot with a +1 step bonus. She then spends 1 Vitality to remove the Exposed Back complication with her second detail and uses the third to spin kick her legs so quickly that her body is brought back into a standing position. (Because bringing her to the ground was not brought on by a complication, she does not need to use descriptions or spend Vitality to stand back up.)

    On her final detail, Dollface aims the shotgun at Xai’s back and pulls the trigger. With her d12 complication roll (including the +1 step bonus from the resource slot), she rolls an 8 against Xai’s Defence of 5. It is effective and Dollface gets to choose the complication, going with damage that will cost the barbarian 5 Vitality (including the +2 damage bonus from her perk).

    At the end of the first round, Mauser is untouched, Dollface has lost 3 Vitality, and Xai has lost 6 Vitality.