The Man in Black

The Man in Black
The Rules

The Man in Black


It should be stressed that The Man in Black is not a combat- or action-based game and the rules mechanics reflect this. In particular, the combat rules are not designed to be in any way a simulation of combat. Instead, there are two principal aims: to make combat as quick and nasty as possible; and to make the rules-based elements as unintrusive as possible.

Similarly other rule mechanics are designed to be quick and simple to apply and to intrude upon actual roleplaying as little as possible.

The rules listed on this page come under the following categories:

Character Badges

One of the main mechanics is the Character Badge that each player will wear. Any player who is currently in game should be wearing a badge that will say:
  • Character Name: Who the character is (or claims to be)
  • Profession/Position: What the character does
  • Character Codes: Secret information about the character known only to a few people
  • Character Number: A two digit number, unique to the character, which is in the top left-hand corner of the badge
Some players may have multiple badges, which represents the fact that they are playing another character, have a secret identity or have the ability to disguise themselves. If a player is wearing a badge that says they are "X" when five minutes ago you saw them wearing a badge saying that they are "Y", treat them as different people. If a character has a secret identity (as opposed to a disguise), then the badge giving their real identity should also state their secret identity.

For example, Marshal Stack, the famous UFG law enforcement officer, cannot disguise himself, but does sometimes go around incognito under the name "John Smith". In this guise his badge will say "John Smith" and nothing more. As Marshal Stack, his badge will say "Marshal Stack (secret identity, John Smith)". This is because if you've seen Marshal Stack as himself and he later turns up as John Smith, you will recognise him!

If Marshal Stack could also disguise himself as Fred Jones, he would have another badge saying "Fred Jones". When wearing this badge, any character must treat the player as Fred Jones, unless they have some other way of knowing he is really Marshal Stack.

Note that character badges have no in-game reality, so they cannot be lost or stolen. If you are searching a character, please ignore their character badges. If you find a character badge, please return it to the referees at once and do not act upon any information you may have discovered in the process.


Not all badges will have a profession or position on them since, in most cases, a character's profession is not immediately apparent. However, some characters are easily identifiable, so their badges will say what they do. For example, Al and Vlad, the Bouncers at The Man in Black, will have badges that say "Al/Vlad, Bar Security". Similarly, a notable character such as Marshal Stack will have a badge that says "Marshal Stack, Federation Marshal".

Some characters may also have two badges, both with the same name, but one with a profession and one without. This is so that they can give their official identification when required. For example, Adam Jones is a Federation Intelligence Agent, but most of the time he doesn't advertise the fact, so his badge says "Adam Jones". When he wishes it to be known, he can wear (or even just show) his other badge, which says "Adam Jones, Federation Intelligence Agent". If you see a character with such a badge, you should treat it as an official badge of office and act acccordingly!

Character Codes

Some badges will also have Character Codes on them. These contain information that is not generally known about the character in the form of upper-case letters (A-Z). For example, all the Locals in The Man in Black are known to each other and may be identified by an "L" on their badges. Characters who know who the Locals are will have the following information in their character sheets.

"Character Code L: Locals at The Man in Black"

Please note that under no circumstances are you as a player allowed to tell another player what a Character Code means. You can, however, tell another character information about a character that you have learnt from a Character Code.

For example, you know that the Character Code "S" means that the character is a Secret Federation Agent. You cannot tell another player what the Character Code "S" means, but you can tell another character that Adam Jones, a character you have spotted with a Character Code of "S", is a Federation Agent. Whether they believe you or not is another matter...

Character Number

Each character will have a unique number (or even a unique number for each identity), which is displayed in the top left-hand corner of the badge. This is not to be confused with the Character Codes. It provides a unique method for identifying characters and is also used for the Contingency Envelope and Credit Payment systems.

Contingency Envelopes

Some characters will have Contingency Envelopes. These are sealed envelopes which are only to be opened when the condition on the front of them is met. Some will say things such as "Open at nine o'clock" or "Open if shot". You are on your honour only to open them if the condition is met.

However, most envelopes will be conditional on you meeting another character, in which case you will either open the envelope yourself or hand it over to the character in question. Please note that you should only open them or hand them over if you meet or talk to the character whose number is given on the envelope. Again, the condition and what you must do will be clearly stated. For example, "Open if you see character 53" is different from "Open if you talk to character 53".

As before, you are on your honour only to open them if the condition is met. Please don't go around trying to find a particular character if you have an envelope with their number on it. However, as the game goes on, if you find that you haven't opened some of your envelopes and if you are having a quiet game, then this rule can be relaxed. However, be warned - bad things as well as good things can happen when you open those envelopes, so be careful!

Credit Payments

Most transactions made in the game will be electronic. Every character who has a bank account (and if you don't have a bank account, you officially don't exist) will have a bank card. This has your character number and the account number printed on it. Unlike Character Badges, the bank card does exist in-game and can be lost or stolen. You will need the card to make the automated transaction system work, but if you've lost it, don't worry, you can still make transactions!

In order to make a payment, you will need your account number and you will need to be present at the transaction. If you have lost your bank card, note that your account number(s) will be on your character sheet. To receive a payment, the person who makes the payment needs to know your account number; you do not need to be present. However, once a person has your number, they can make any number of payments in your account without your permission or even knowledge, so be careful who you give your number to!

There are two ways to make a credit transaction. The first is automated, while the second method involves a referee making the transaction. If the equipment for the automated system is not available, please see the referee to carry out a credit transaction. Otherwise, use the automated system.

Automated Credit Transactions

There will be a payment terminal (an E-Cap) on the bar in The Man in Black. If you are in the spaceport and need to make a credit transaction there and then, you can make a manual transaction. Please ask the Spaceport Referee for a Transaction Slip, fill it out and give it back to the referee who will carry out the transaction for you.

To use the E-Cap, either swipe your card at the terminal or enter your account number and then select the option to make a transaction. Next enter the account number receiving the payment or get the person receiving the payment to swipe their card. Finally, enter the amount. The details of the transaction will then be displayed for you to review, at which point you may confirm (and the transaction goes through) or cancel (in which case it does not).

You can also check your balance and list the payments made into and out of your account. As before, swipe your card at the terminal or enter your account number and then select the relevant option.

Please note that in the game world you cannot make a payment using someone else's account since you must authorise each transaction with a retina scan or thumb print. Since my budget does not stretch to retina scanners and finger-print readers, I have no way of checking that the person using the card is the card's owner (unless I use PIN codes which will just make everyone's life more difficult). You are therefore on your honour not to make a payment from an account unless it's your own.

Referee Credit Transactions

If, for whatever reason, the E-Cap is not available, please see the referee in The Man in Black (note: please do not use this method to avoid queues at the terminal if it is in use). You will be given a Transaction Slip which you must fill in which forms a permanent record of the transaction. Enter your character number, the account number that the payment is to be made from, the account number that the payment is to be made to and the amount. Then hand the slip to the referee who will make the transaction. For an account balance or list of transactions, simply ask the referee (who will need your account number).

As with the automated method, we have no way of checking that the person using the card is the card's owner, so you are on your honour not to make a payment from an account unless it's your own.

General Skills

If you have a particular skill, it will be specifically mentioned on your character sheet. For each skill (other than combat, which is common to all characters and is described here), your character sheet will contain a full description of what you can do and how you go about doing it. Most skills will be dealt with off-line, ie see a referee. There are no skills such as "evesdropping" - if you want to sneak up on somebody and listen to what they're saying, then you'll just have to sneak up on them.

If you think your character would be able to do something that isn't on your character sheet, see a referee. Don't assume that just because a skill's not on your character sheet that you can't do it. I rarely think of everything beforehand. On the other hand, don't keep pestering the referees with speculative requests. If you do, you'll soon find our sympathy wearing very thin...

Two specific skills will be described below as examples of how things work.

Jump-drive Repair

Reggie is a jump-drive engineer and can repair all manner of jump-drives. His character sheet tells him jump-drive repair is a two step process. The first step is diagnosis. If Reggie is successful in diagnosing the problem, he will know what is wrong with the drive. If he is really successful, he'll also know how to fix it and what parts and tools he needs.

Once he's got the tools and spare parts, Reggie can move onto step 2, actually mending the drive. Again, Reggie might be successful, in which case the repair is complete; partially successful, in which he's patched it up, but it will fail again; or he'll fail totally and perhaps make things worse.

This is what it says in Reggie's character sheet:

Starship Drive Repair (Skill)
This is a two step skill:

Step 1: See a referee and play Rock, Paper, Scissors.

  • If you win, you can diagnose the fault and know what parts and tools you need
  • If you draw, you can diagnose the fault, but don't know what parts are required
  • If you lose, you don't know what's wrong with the drive
Step 2: If you know what the fault is and have the correct parts and tools, you may attempt a repair. See the referee and play Rock, Paper, Scissors.
  • If you win, the drive is successfully repaired
  • If you draw, you have patched it up, but it will fail again
  • If you lose, you are unable to repair the drive and might even have made things worse!
If you know what the fault is, but don't know what tools or parts you need, you may still attempt a repair, but your chances of success will be much reduced.

So, how does this work in practice?

Well, Reggie sees a referee and tells him that he wants to diagnose the fault on the drive of Jason Blackwood's ship. Reggie and the referee play Rock, Paper, Scissors (if you don't know how Rock, Paper, Scissors works, follow this link for an explanation). Reggie wins, and the referee tells him that the drive is completely shot and needs a new inductor coil.

Step 1 is now finished, so the referee sends Reggie on his way in search of a new inductor coil. However, Reggie, sensing that a new inductor coil might be a bit of a tall order at short notice, asks the referee if he could make a repair without one. The referee says he can, but it will be more difficult. Basically, the best Reggie can do is patch the drive up, but that's only if he wins at Rock, Paper, Scissors. If he draws, he'll have failed and if he loses, he'll have wrecked the drive and the whole thing will need replacing.

Reggie goes off and quickly decides he's not going to get a new coil, so he comes back and tries the repair anyway. He plays Rock, Paper, Scissors with the referee and they draw. Reggie breathes a sigh of relief. Although the drive's not been repaired, at least he's not wrecked it. On the other hand, Blackwood's ship won't be going anywhere in a hurry and the referee rules that Reggie can only make another attempt if he gets a coil from somewhere.

Reggie goes off to break the bad news to Blackwood and to seek a new inductor coil...

As you can see, the referees are free to make modifications as they see fit, in this case, by making it more difficult for Reggie to fix the drive without the part. Other modifications might be as follows.

For example, if Reggie had never seen the drive before, the diagnosis might have been more difficult, with a win at Rock, Paper, Scissors only allowing Reggie to diagnose the fault. He might then have to win another round to determine what parts were required. On the other hand, Reggie might have spent years on the ship, and know the drive like the back of his hand. In this case, Reggie's diagnosis might be ruled an automatic success, with him only having to win or draw at Rock, Paper, Scissors to know which parts would be needed.

In all cases, the referee ought to tell the player what is required in terms of success or failure. If this isn't the case, please feel free to ask. However, if the referee then refuses to tell you, be assured that there's a good reason for this!

Finally, players are expected to roleplay the outcomes of their skills. Clearly, you can't roleplay repairing a drive, but the referee might keep Reggie out of the game for 10 minutes to simulate him fixing the drive (okay, so ten minutes isn't very long, but it would be boring to send Reggie out of the game for a week and a half!). However, the player would be expected to roleplay Reggie breaking the news to Blackwood, rather than simply saying "The ref says I can't fix it!".

Picking Pockets

"Fingers" is a local pick pocket who hangs out in The Man in Black (she's called "Fingers" because that's what Vlad or Al will break if they catch her at it in the bar!). Her character sheet tells her that to pick someone's pocket, she must first hang around in the vicinity of her victim for a minute or two, then tell a referee that she's tried to pick their pocket. She's also told to tell the referee who else was there when she made the attempt. If she's successful, she'll get an item, perhaps even one of her choosing, but if she fails, she might get caught.

This is what it says on her character sheet:

Picking Pockets (Skill)

If you wish to pick the pocket of another character, you must hang around in the near vicinity of that character for a couple of minutes, either talking to them or staying within touching distance. Then move away and see a referee, telling him whose pocket you have tried to pick and who else was present.

Play Rock, Paper, Scissors with the referee.

  • If you win, you can pick the person's pocket of one item at random
  • If you draw, you can either take an item and be caught in the act, or you can fail, but not be discovered
  • If you lose, you fail and are caught in the act
If you win, you may opt to play Rock, Paper Scissors again, with the following results
  • If you win, you can take the item of your choice
  • If you draw, you can take an item at random
  • If you lose, you can take an item at random, but are caught in the act
You may also be required to play Rock, Paper, Scissors by the referee to see if anyone else noticed your attempt. Once things have been resolved, the referee will fetch the item you have stolen. If you are caught in the act, go with the referee and play out the scene.

Note that this skill may also be used to plant something on someone without their knowledge or pass something unseen to a willing accomplice.

So, how does this work in practice?

Fingers decides to steal something from Harley Thronson III, an obviously flash visitor with more money than sense. She spends a couple of minutes pretending to chat him up, then makes an excuse and leaves. She goes to the referee and lets it be known that she has tried to pick Harley's pocket. The referee decides that Harley is an easy target and informs Fingers that if she wins, she can choose an object; if she draws, she gets one at random; if she loses, she gets nothing, or can pick an item, but gets caught in the act. They then play Rock, Paper, Scissors and Fingers wins.

The referee goes off and takes all of Harley's easily accessible items from the player, bringing them back to Fingers. However, Al has had his eye on Fingers and, unknown to her, was watching her chat up Harley. He asks the referee if he saw anything, so the referee brings him back to Fingers. While Fingers is choosing her item (she decides to take Harley's antique pocket watch) the referee gets her to play Rock, Paper, Scissors with Al. She loses.

The referee informs Al that he saw her filch the watch. Al tells the referee that he'll follow Fingers for a couple of minutes before confronting her, so the referee leaves them to roleplay the encounter while he returns Harley's items to him (without the watch, of course) and lets him know that the next time he goes to check the time, he finds that his watch is missing.

Combat Rules

Combat is frowned upon within the game itself and is not a good idea. The Man in Black is regarded by all its customers as neutral territory and if there was ever trouble there, the authorities would quickly shut it down. Therefore, security is tight and those who do get involved with violence do so at their own risk. They won't find many friends in The Man in Black if their behaviour jeopardises things for everyone else.

However, if you do find yourself in a fight, combat will be run according to the rules laid out below. If you can, please ensure that a referee is present, but if not, the rules are fairly simple to follow.

Gun combat

The basic principle of gun combat is as follows. Draw your weapon, point it at your target and shout "Bang!". If it's not obvious who your target is, also shout out their name. If you have been shot, please fall over in a suitably dramatic fashion. A referee will decide on the extent of your injuries, but please remember, guns are nasty things and they tend to kill people.

As a guide, unless you are a terrible shot, you will hit your target. If you are a terrible shot, or the target is actively dodging, you will have to play Rock, Paper, Scissors. At this point, you will definitely need a referee. Other things that might require Rock, Paper, Scissors is making a tricky shot across a crowded room where you can only see your target's head.

The table below will give you some idea about the likely chances of success. The first outcome is if the target is stationary, the second if the target is dodging or it's a difficult shot.

Can't shoot
Fair shot
Crack shot
Automatic Hit
Automatic Hit
Automatic Hit

In general, guns tends to kill people, but just to give you a guide, there are three types of gun:

  • Small Hand Guns (concealable)
    Will usually kill someone, but not if they're wearing body armour
  • Large Hand Guns (Unconcealable, ie people can work out you're carrying one)
    Will kill someone unless they're wearing body armour
  • Rifles (only military personel are allowed to carry these)
    Will kill most people, even if they're wearing body armour

Hand-to-hand Combat

Hand-to-hand combat is slightly more complicated. Each character will have a hand-to-hand combat rating of 1 to 3 (1 being your average man in the street and 3 being a trained killer). There are various bonuses for weapons, surprise, etc. If you're involved in a hand-to-hand fight, then compare your skills. The results are as follows.

Difference in levels
Basically a stand off. Unless interrupted, the fight will last for a while, giving other people plenty of time to intervene and stop the fight, or to take sides. If the fight continues, a referee will adjudicate on the winner, usually by having the participants play Rock, Paper, Scissors. If the fight is stopped, all participants will be Battered and Bruised. If not, the winner will be Battered and Bruised, the loser incapacitated.
A bit of a slugging match. Unless interupted, the one with the higher score wins. The fight will last long enough for immediate by-standers to intervene and stop the fight, or to take sides. If the fight is stopped early on, only the one with the lower score will be Battered and Bruised. If not, the winner will be Battered and Bruised, the loser incapacitated.
A bit one-sided. The one with the higher score quickly wins and incapacitates their opponent. No chance for anyone to interfere.
3 or more
A complete mis-match. The one with the higher score immediately wins and can kill or incapacitate their opponent at their discretion. No chance for anyone to interfere.

Once a fight is over, the winner may do whatever they wish to their opponent, unless they're stopped by someone. This includes killing them or searching their body for items.

The following additions apply in combat:

  • Surprise: Add one to your skill if you surprise your opponent (eg attack from behind)
  • Weapon: Add one to your skill if you have a weapon (eg, knife, club, etc). This does not apply to guns. If you have a gun, shoot them!
  • Additional people: Add half the skill (round up) of each additional person in the fight on your side (only applies if multiple people are attacking a single person)
  • Battered and Bruised: if you are Battered and Bruised from a previous fight, please subtract one from your total combat skill
Breaking off combat

Breaking off from combat works as follows.

You cannot avoid combat, but once combat has been started, you can attempt to withdraw from the combat at any natural break point. For example, if another character intervenes or in a multiple combat, if one opponent is downed, these constitutes a break point. To break off from combat, play Rock, Paper, Scissors with all your opponents and take the worst result.

  • If you win: you get clean away.
  • If you draw: you have to stay and fight
  • If you lose: you stay and fight, but at -1 for having tried to run away (you turned your back...)
Drawing weapons

Drawing weapons in combat works as follows.

If you are involved in a combat and wish to draw a weapon, play Rock, Paper, Scissors with all your opponents and take the worst result (you cannot draw a weapon if you are surprised, but if you are not immediately defeated, you can then draw a weapon).

  • If you win: you draw your weapon and fight as if you always had it drawn. If it is a gun, you may shoot an opponent or threaten them.
  • If you draw: resolve the combat as if you had no weapon, but if you're still standing (ie you don't lose immediately), carry on as if you had a weapon
  • If you lose: your weapon is knocked from your hand and is lost for the remainder of the fight
Guns in hand-to-hand combat

Fighting someone with a gun works as follows.

If you pick a fight with someone who has a gun, or draws a gun during a fight, then they may either shoot you or threaten you. If they shoot you, then that's tough. If they threaten you, you can still jump them, but must play Rock, Paper, Scissors:

  • If you win: you knock the weapon from their hand and fight as if they have no weapon
  • If you draw: resolve the combat as if they had no weapon, but if you lose, they may chose to accept the outcome of the fight as it stands or shoot you instead
  • If you lose: they shoot you
If two or more people jump the same person, each one plays Rock, Paper, Scissors, but the person with the gun can only get one shot off. Combat is then resolved with the remaining people. Alternatively, you can attempt to run away (same rules as above for withdrawing from combat), but if you have to stay and fight, you are shot. If there is more than one person, the character with the gun can only take one shot and must chose which opponent to play Rock, Paper, Scissors with. Everyone else gets away. If one person runs and the other jumps the character with the gun, the one who runs gets away, while the rest of the combat is resolved normally.

Fighting with multiple people is more complicated, but basically, up to three people may attack single person. If more people are involved, they must pair off. For example, if three people attack two people, there will be a separate one-on-one fight and a separate two-on-one fight. If one fight is resolved before the other, the victors from one may intervene in the other.

If you are part of a group attacking a single person, the strongest in the group adds half the levels of the weakest, rounding up once all additions have been made.

If you are attacked by multiple people and win, the outcome only applies to the weakest of the attackers (if two are equally weak, you chose). The combat may then continue with the other opponents. Anyone whois officially "Battered and Bruised" as a result of the first round subtracts one from their skill level. Anyone involved may attempt to withdraw at this point.


Fingers the pickpocket steals Harley Thronson III's pocket watch, but is seen and caught by Al, the bouncer. Al relieves Fingers of the watch, but decides to let her off and keep the watch himself. However, he tells her he's going to give it back to Harley.

Fingers later learns of Al's deception and decides to get even. She knows she's no match for Al, so she gets a big club, hides in a dark corridor and jumps Al as he leaves the bar.

Fingers isn't much good in a fight (skill 1), whereas Al is dead hard (skill 3). However, Fingers gets +1 for her weapon and +1 for surprise, so they're equal. A bruising encounter ensues, but before it can be resolved, Harley comes along. Being a gent, he automatically sides with the lady and piles in.

Harley isn't much use in a fight either (skill 1), but Fingers gets half his levels (rounded up) added to her three, making four, one more than Al. Oops. Normally, Al would now get beaten, but he pulls out his flick knife (he couldn't before because he was surprised). He plays Rock, Paper, Scissors with Fingers and wins. Now Al has a score of four and it's back to a slugging match.

Al and Fingers play Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide the outcome of the fight and she loses again (it's not her day!). Al has won this combat and applies the results to Harley as the weaker of his two opponents (see Combat table for result of a fight where scores are equal). Al decides Harley is knocked to the ground and winded (he could have decided to stab him, but he could not have decided to kill him - since Al has no gripe with Harley and has already got his watch, he decides to be nice to him, which is why he knocks him down as opposed to stabbing him).

Al and Fingers then fight again. Both parties have been through one round of combat with a tie as a result, so both are already Battered and Bruised, meaning they take one off their skills. Al is now a base of 2, but with +1 for his knife and Fingers is 0 with a +1 for her club. Since it is a new fight, she no longer has surprise.

Fingers decides it is time to run away. They play Rock, Paper, Scissors and this time Fingers wins and gets away, leaving the winded Harley at the mercy of Al...

Note that if Harley hadn't intervened, Al could have still drawn his flick-knife. He would only have been unable to draw it if he had lost the combat immediately (ie Fingers needed a total of 2 more than Al - a bit unlikely).

If Al had drawn a gun instead of his knife, he would then have had the option of threatening his opponents or shooting one of them. Let's say Al threatens them.

"Hold it, guys! One move and I'll blow your brains out, Fingers!"

Harley, ever the gent, although not very bright, jumps Al and Fingers, being very bright, runs away. Fingers automatically gets away, while Al plays Rock, Paper, Scissors with Harley. They draw, so Al can't shoot him, but gets to keep his gun. Al has a skill of 3, while Harley is 1, so the difference is 2. Al quickly overpowers him, but too late to get after Fingers. He now has the option of shooting Harley, but instead decides to explain that he had been trying to apprehend Fingers, who had stolen Harley's watch. Harley, on seeing his watch, humbly apologises and gives Al a big reward for his pains...

Conflict Resolution

All conflict resolution in The Man in Black is carried out by means of playing Rock, Paper, Scissors, sometimes known as Paper, Scissors, Stone. It works likes this.

You must choose one of three symbols:

  • Rock: Fist clenched into a ball
  • Paper: Hand held out flat
  • Scissors: Two fingers held out, preferably horizontally, not vertically!
The results are quite simple.
  • Rock beats Scissors (blunts the blade)
  • Paper beats Rock (wraps it up - don't ask me why - I didn't write it!)
  • Scissors beats Paper (cuts it in two)

If the same symbols are chosen, it's a draw.

Rock, Paper, Scissors is usually played as follows. After a count of three, all players involved declare, by putting their hand out in front of them, displaying the symbol chosen. Counting is usually done by taking the hand with which you're going to declare, making it into a fist and beating it into the palm of your other hand in time with the count. After the count of three, instead of beating your palm a fourth time, you simply hold out your hand, displaying the chosen symbol.

And that's it (it's far easier to demonstrate than it is to describe, honest!)...

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