Ludic Fragments: the MOSAIC Strict Manifesto

As I begin to see the broader picture, as I start to grasp its full extent (or maybe, that its extents are limitless), I become obsessed by the detail. We can pull that part out and look at it more closely: while Marx (not Karl, one of the other ones) was (maybe) right that the frog is no longer a frog and the joke just isn't funny any more... my word... do we understand it!
Credit to photographer by Kenneth Murray, but let us not forget the Romans that made it, nor the ancients who came up with the concept of mosaic itself... 

Sometimes, however, those parts just seem to pop out of place and come away none the worse for it. A fragment of mosaic might not look like the dorsal fin of a fish when examined in isolation, but it can still be beautiful in and of itself. That hole it left behind? Well, I can still see that the fish has a dorsal fin, the picture remains intact. I can see an inviting rabbit hole emerge on the side of a hillock, with a white rabbit whispering "Ship of Theseus! Trigger's broom! The Sugababes!" but as this is my first post I shall endeavour to maintain my [iconoclastic] flow...


My fixation with this mosaic metaphor (which I'm stretching beyond all recognisable shape) exists  because of  Michael Prescott of Trilemma Adventures. If you're not familiar, he's the creator of these beautifully illustrated one-page adventures and writer/illustrator behind an array of old school (and old school adjacent) material. Additionally, at some point last year he published the MOSAIC Strict design principles, which later burrowed into some primordial part of my imagination and began to fester and gestate... 

After a lengthy pregnancy I was finally able to deliver my parasite/baby earlier today, in the form of an animist MOSAIC strict magic system. The sawbones and midwives have done a great job of stitching me back together again, and now I feel I am in a comfortable position to start proselytising.

But what is it?

Let us shilly-shally no longer: it is an acronym. Allow me to ham-fistedly regurgitate how that acronym breaks down for you below, even though I have already linked a post that does it much better and shall do again here.

M is for modular: a MOSAIC strict text does not stand alone, it is used in conjunction with other texts to make a game. It is a piece of the picture, not the picture as a whole. 

O is for optional. No one text is mandatory: the group decides which texts they wish to use to play their game. 

S is for SHORT. The text may not be longer than 1500 words, including copyright notices, attribution etc.

A is for ATTESTED. This is important. For it to be MOSAIC Strict, the author has to state that it is MOSAIC strict! Screwhead's Laws of Strength post would meet all the criteria for MOSAIC strict if (and only if) they attested that the system was MOSAIC Strict! Liches Libram re-wrote Kneipen & Knappen FKR character creator so that they could attest to it being MOSAIC Strict.

I is for INDEPENDENT. While each text is modular and other texts are likely to be required to run  a game, no text can rely on mechanics in other texts to function. For example, I can't base my initiative rules around a the skills system of  2400, because that creates a state of dependency which isn't the MOSAIC strict way.

C is for CORELESS. I think this element is so well described in Michael Prescott's post that I'm just going to quote it verbatim:

This isn't a separate rule, but a consequence of Independence that I need to be really clear about: There are no core rules and no character sheet at the bottom of Mosaic Strict, no standard interface of compatibility.

Coreless: assume nothing else is in use beyond free-form play

A game text could define a character sheet and still be Mosaic Strict, but any other document that requires its use is not Mosaic Strict.

A game text could define a universal resolution mechanic and still be Mosaic Strict, but any other document that references that resolution mechanic is not Mosaic Strict.

There's no central document or required rule at the heart of it all, only free-form play role-play and whatever assumptions a particular group brings with it.

I googled "chaos", it gave me this

Talk to me about your feelings...

Rulings not rules, reducing the amount of player facing mechanics, (sometimes) letting the fiction decide before the dice... these are all elements of the RPG experience that visitors to my tabletop (real and imagined) will quickly become familiar with. However, I've always held off on the (apparent) total free-form nature I perceive in the FKR scene.

There were a few moments that really turned things around for me, and I can probably recount them here:
However, I think it was MOSAIC Strict that has provided me with a framework upon which to hang the ideas I'd... borrowed from these luminaries. Ironic, I know, given that it's about not having a framework.

Anyway, I'm a little obsessed with it now. Let me share a little something with you.

It's a close combat system.. really it's a brawl system... inspired by Daniel Sell's Troika! initiative and Liche's Librum's own MOSAIC Strict combat system:

Melee: MOSAIC Strict Combat System


It is assumed that the combatants form two or more factions engaged in an intense and chaotic close combat situation, including:
  • foot and cavalry clashing at the epicentre of a mediaeval battle
  • a bar-room brawl in a frontier town
  • gangland skirmish in a hive-world's undercity
  • ritual combat between two rival clans' champions at a tribal meet etc.

This system is derived from the initiative system in Daniel Sell's Troika! It diverges greatly, as no additional resolution mechanics are required: the initiative system IS the combat mechanic. Experience and/or ownership of Troika! are not prerequisites for using these rules.

You will need:

  • Numerous tokens in a range of colours. Dice from your unnecessarily huge dice collection could fulfil this function. 
  • two or more players: a GM controlling multiple combatants, and  or more other players controlling an individual combatant ( a PC).
    [NB: this could easily be adapted for GM-less, troupe or skirmish play]
  • 1d12 to determine random events (No other dice required! It's a miracle!)

To Begin...

Each player (including the gm) chooses a colour unique to them
  • Each PC takes a number of tokens of that colour accordingly:
    • 1 for their combatant 
    • 1 additional token if the combatant is especially fast, strong, well-armed etc.
    • …remove tokens for  if the combatant is tired, drunk, injured, under the influence of narcotics etc. (remove one token for each that applies)

  • The GM takes the following tokens:
    • 1 token for every untrained and unarmed but actively involved combatant (angry old man; unruly child; crafty barmaid etc.)
    • 2 tokens for every armed but untrained combatant (unruly child with a kitchen knife) or unarmed but competent combatant (burly miner; seasoned barmaid etc.)  
    • 3 tokens for every competent and armed combatant (member of the city guard; seasoned bar maid with an electrified cattle-prod) or unarmed elite combatant (off-duty bodyguard; a ronin trying to enjoy a quiet bath between redemptive quests) 
    • 4 tokens for every armed elite combatant (active special forces operative; fully armoured member of the king's guard; sword-wielding champion of the Northern Wastes; barmaid's mother brandishing antique ivory knuckle dusters) 

All tokens are placed into a “hat” along with a unique token to form the pool. It helps if the tokens all have the same form to prevent foul play... or not, if foul-play is to be encouraged!


Doric, Merv and Leela — a party of adventurers recuperating in a miserable frontier inn after a punishing dungeon crawl — are confronted by their fellow drinkers, eager to relieve their guests of the weighty burden of all that dungeon loot.

Doric, Merv and Leela's players start with one token each. Both are armed (+1 token) combat veterans (+ 1 token) of exceptional skill (+1 token). Additionally, Doric is uncommonly strong. However, he is also nursing a sore head after an earlier encounter, cancelling out any additional advantage. They each have 4 tokens of their chosen colour.

The GM has 8 combatants, all armed with improvised weapons and tools. Around half are healthy adults (3 tokens each), the rest are half-starved (two tokens each). The GM adds 20 tokens of their chosen colour to the pool.

Finally, the GM adds a unique token to the pool. 

Sack of a Town, Sebastiaen Vrancx

Combat Round

  • A blind draw is made from the pool: the colour of the token dictates whose turn it is.
  • The player does not return that token to the pool.
  • On their turn combatants may commit any action desired in the time it takes to swing a punch.
  • All attacks are considered to be successful. There are no to hit or damage rolls: if a combatant is attacked, they immediately go down (see below). However…
  • On their turn a combatant choosing to defend cancels out any one attack against them or another combatant (including their opponents) that round.
  • A combatant's token may be drawn two (or more) times in a row representing the chaos of close combat.
  • If a combatant is defending and their turn comes up again they must decide to continue defending or perform a new action (they’re not be able to cancel out a future attack if they do this) 
Play continues in this manner until:
  • Only one faction remains standing (the other combatants have gone down or fled)
  • The unique token is drawn, signifying an interruption


Whenever the unique token is drawn a random event occurs, after which all counters are returned to the pool. 

Roll 1d12:

  1. Think of the children! Everyone is momentarily distracted as an innocent bystander yells for everybody to stop fighting.
  2. ROAR! A wild beast/ out of control drone/ undead monster suddenly crashes into the middle of battle, attacking everyone..
  3. Whoops! A random combatant trips, triggering an awkward domino effect as everyone adjusts their footing. The clumsy sod also drops their weapon, returning one less token to the pool upon the resumption of hostilities.
  4. Wherever you go... it starts raining. It stops raining. The wind picks up. The sun comes out. Oh look a rainbow! There has been a change in the weather that draws everyone's attention for a moment and alters conditions. For indoor battles the weather interrupts via an open door, cracked roof or broken ventilation duct etc. 
  5. Fire! The scenery/architecture/soft furnishings randomly burst into flames.
  6.  Now I'm REALLY mad! A previously downed combatant leaps to their feet, immediately making an attack against the nearest enemy combatant.
  7.  I told you not to trust me... an enemy combatant switches sides, attacking a former ally on behalf of the PCs. Alternatively, an ally of the PCs joins forces with their enemy.
  8. All right, break it up! A higher authority (high priest, civil guard, local sheriff) arrives on the scene and orders all combatants to cease hostilities. Players (including the GM) must decide if they comply: combatants continuing hostilities cause the authorities to enter the melee as a new faction, attacking all sides.
  9. Reinforcements! A random faction (including the PCs) receives additional support, equivalent to 1/3 of their current forces in number (minimum one new combatant). 
  10. Fatigue: each combatant  who has already acted returns one less counter to the pool. If they have no counters left in the pool they go down. 
  11. Scavengers: a group of 2d6 opportunistic animals/ droids/ thieves arrive at the fringes of the battle. They loot/ eat/ kidnap downed combatants as soon as they outnumber the total standing combatants.. 
  12. Cosmic event an angel/ UFO/ spirit/ asteroid manifests momentarily above the battleground. All combatants are momentarily awe-struck before the cosmic event dissipates. If a PC attempts parley as their first action next round, it automatically succeeds in ending combat.
Following narration of the event and the return of all the tokens to the pool a new round of combat begins.

Special Rules

Going Down

Going down means a combatant is unable to participate in the combat in any meaningful way (including yelling warnings, calling for help etc.). Determining the extent of their injuries is beyond the purview of these rules but should make narrative sense given the nature of the conflict and weapons used. 

Running away/taking cover

Fleeing or hiding should be risky: two actions are required to move a combatant to safety. Once they declare that they are hiding or fleeing, they are at risk of being put down until their next turn, after which they are considered "safe". Other combatants may defend them while they are fleeing/hiding.
A hidden combatant may re-enter the fray when their counter is drawn, acting  immediately (attacking an enemy from behind, for example). However, they are no longer hidden and may be attacked. combatants that have fled may only return to battle after the start of the next round i.e. after an interruption.


Shield-bearers choosing to defend on their first turn may keep that "in the bank" even if they make an attack on their next turn.


Armour allows combatants to ignore a number of attacks per round in correspondence to its quality and materiality. Light, poor quality armour allows one attack to be ignored per round whereas  high quality heavy armour allows 4 or more attacks to be ignored. Consider reducing the number of tokens available to a heavily armoured combatant by one or more.


Combatants may elect to parley on their turn. How the enemy faction responds is determined by the GM, but if another PC uses their turn to make an attack before the enemy responds the attempt automatically fails.   


This system abstracts movement and assumes all combatants are close enough to one another to attack and defend enemies and allies as they desire. 
However, it could easily be adapted for a tabletop (real or virtual) using a 5 foot grid,  allowing combatants to make 1-2 square moves as part of their turn.


Players may employ whatever magic system they can agree upon. Consider making the casting of a spell two actions to encourage tactical play (similar to running away, above). 

* * *


Trilemma Adventures:

MOSAIC Strict Spirit Magic

Nothing at the bottom: MOSAIC Strict design principles

Laws of  Strength by Screwhead McDuff

MOSAIC Strict  Character Creation by Liche's Librum

Jason Tocci's Pretendo Games:

17XX by JFUR:

Any Planet is Earth: Industrial/hard sci-fi:

FKR Star Wars: A Galaxy Far Away

My interview with Jim Parkin

Liche's Librum MOSAIC Strict combat:


  1. I knew of, but was not super familiar with MOSAIC prior to these recent posts of yours, so I really appreciate this. While I have not cobbled together a MOSAIC game before, I think the spirit of what it is is generally consistent with how I go about running my games and what I like about OSR/NSR/FKR/DIY-style design and play.

  2. I love this general concept. A couple optional ideas come to mind:

    A player might choose to avoid taking a hit by scrapping one of the tokens they have in front of them. Maybe I have a token for my exceptionally mighty, magical axe. I scrap the token and say that the blow knocked my axe across the room (or the GM or another player can suggest an idea).

    One issue that you might run into are situations where it no longer makes sense for a token to be in the bag, but who wants to go into the bag to dig it out? An enemy casts a slow spell, and now my agility is useless for this fight. You could give the player a "skip" token (for lack of a better word). This means that the next token they draw they have to remove and don't actually get their turn.


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