This section will introduce the core ideas of Prime and walk you through playing a pilot episode. We’ll use terms like that borrowed from TV and film to help make things clearer for players new to role-playing games. If you’ve played other role-playing games before, then feel free to use terms you already use (in this case, “session zero”).
Prime is a print-and-play game, so you’re very first step will be to download and print out onto card or stiff paper the various reference sheets and cards you need for play.
While you’re doing that, let’s introduce one of the central concepts of Prime. To keep things simple and focused on the events and characters, rather than rules and references, every quantity or value in Prime is measured on the same, descriptive scale:
None, Minimal, Low, Average, High, Extreme, Infinity
None and Infinity act as the caps on the scale - the vast majority of useful values will lie somewhere on the central five, Minimal to Extreme. Whether it be a Minimal cost, a Low weight, an Average height, a High strength or an Extreme length of time, you’ll need to get comfortable using these descriptive terms for everything that needs a measurement, size or value.
Okay, once you have all your necessary components printed, and understand how to measure things, we can your very first Prime game started, the pilot episode. Every time you sit down to play Prime is an episode, just like a TV series. Each episode can be a stand-alone story set in the same world or setting, can follow on from previous episodes to form one big story, or be a mix of the two. Which depends on the type of story you, as players, all want, and that’s the purpose of the pilot episode.
Like it’s namesake, the pilot episode serves to introduce the genre, world, characters and story. Unlike it’s namesake you’ll be deciding those things yourselves during the episode itself. You’ll do this by discussing between yourselves what you’d like, listening to others’ ideas, then finally the director making the final decision. Which, co-incidentally, is pretty much how you play a role-playing game anyway. Funny that.
Genre and Setting
The first element to decide is your genre, the world in which you’ll be playing. How comedic or not do you want? Futuristic? Magical? Period drama? Modern day thriller? It’s likely you’ll need to compromise somewhat to make everyone happy, and as mentioned above the director gets the final say, but do speak up if you feel really strongly about something.
It’s important to do this with everyone present so everyone has full awareness of what type of game you’ll be playing - if you’re looking forward to manipulating various factions against each other in a political thriller and instead find yourself in a romantic comedy you’re not going to have a fun time.
If this is your first time playing, it’s recommended to pick a pre-built setting. Each one has a list of “moods” that help you pick something appropriate to what you want to play.
Once you know your genre you can then decide on the characters each actor will be playing. This initial process should be fairly quick, answering a few questions about their background to get a feel for who they are. You can fill in some more details later if you want, but for now it’s more important everyone gets to build this foundation with everyone else present - you’ll be spending a lot of time with each other, both as players and characters, it’s important to ensure everyone fits both within the chosen genre and with each other.
The director doesn’t create a character, as they’ll be playing the part of all the secondary characters the lead characters will interact with. If you are the director you’ll again act as the arbiter for the discussion, making recommendations and approving or occasionally vetoing character decisions. Keep the genre discussion in mind, and keep everyone on the same page.
We don’t love attributes, we love persons; sometimes by reason of their defects as well as of their attributes.
Every character in Prime has a core set of attributes. These describe their capabilities; how strong, clever, charasmatic they are. There are six in total:
Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, Poise
There are three pairs of attributes, describing the physical, mental and emotional abilities of the character. Within each pair, the first attribute describes the raw power they can wield in that domain (strength, intelligence, charisma), the second the control or finesse they have (dexterity, wisdom, poise).
As you’re creating a new character, all of these attributes will start at low. Don’t worry, they won’t stay there for long. Answering the following questions will increase some of them depending on the character’s background. It’s important to note all the suggested answers below are exactly that - suggestions. If you come up with an awesome idea for a character that doesn’t slot neatly into the categories below, talk with your director and if you can get them on board with it, great.
What each of these descriptions means for your character will vary tremendously between settings, which is why it’s so important to have a good idea of the world they are living in before trying to answer these questions.
What was your life like for your formative years?
Menial. Hard, unpleasant, unrewarding work. Drudgery, unappreciated, exploited, abused. If you had this kind of background, increase your physical attributes - strength and dexterity - by one level.
Getting-by. Not the best, but not the worst. Sure you could complain about a lot, but you enough to be thankful for too. If you had this upbringing, increase your mental attributes - intelligence and wisdom - by one level.
Comfortable. Your worries were minor, your opportunities and luxuries many. You weren’t at the top of the pile, but it wasn’t out-of-reach. If this was your life, increase your emotional attributes - charisma and poise - by one level.
How did life feel during your formative years?
Unstable. Dangerous and unpredictable, you had to be constantly wary of attacks that could come from any source for little or no reason. There were few if any you could trust. Living like this has raised your strength and intelligence.
Repetitive. Every day the same, unchanging and monotonous. Boredom was your greatest enemy. You’ve developed great self-control and found what entertainment you could within your own mind, improving your wisdom and poise.
Changeable. Where are you? Who are they? Constantly moving, a sea of new faces always around you, you’ve become adept at adapting, making friends and dealing with whatever life threw at you. Raise your dexterity and charisma.
More than one of these may seem appropriate, but just pick the one that most strongly describes the character’s situation. If you’re not sure, ask everyone else for suggestions.
What essential part of your life is recently absent?
This is the most important question of the three. What drives the character? What have they lost that pushes them forwards? Whether it’s to recover what’s lost, to find answers or simply revenge, much of the story to follow will revolve around the answer to this question. Make sure it’s something you want see answered too.
Each of the options will lower an attribute by one, and also prevent that attribute from being increased beyond high (instead of extreme, like normal). Whatever happened to your character, it was quite literally life-changing.
Freedom. You are trapped. Not physically, primarily, but metaphorically. Family obligations, a deal gone wrong or a magical curse. Somehow, you need to escape and throw off the chains binding you. Until you do, the powerlessness you feel saps your strength.
Confidence. It was perfect, flawless, you’d thought of everything. But of course you hadn’t. The plan collapsed in ruins, and with it your confidence. Why won’t your hands stop shaking? Lower your dexterity.
Memories. The face in the mirror is a stranger’s. You had a few oddments with you when you were found, but you have as little clue to their significance as those who found you. The hole in your mind leaves you with reduced intelligence.
Home. Everyone needs a home. Not just a place where you sleep, but something intrinsically yours, with welcoming faces and the story of your life scattered around. But that’s gone, now, and with it your grasp of where you belong in the world. Lose wisdom.
Reputation. You see the way they look at you. The sudden turn to whisper to a companion. You’ve heard the rumours, though no doubt there’ll always be more. Until you can clear your name, no one will quite see you the same way. Reduce your charisma.
Trust. It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you. You can only rely on yourself from now on. Everyone else is only safe at a distance, and if keeping them away costs you some poise, so be it.
There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.
Having a foundation for your character’s history should give you some idea of how they relate to the world around them. What are they searching for? Who do they want revenge on? What qualities do they admire?
All of these things and more are tracked with your relationships. These are broken down between five categories: love, loyalty, compulsion, hate/fear and obsession. Alongside the type of relationship you obviously need to track the strength of feeling - a love relationship with minimal strength might describe somebody you’ve just met, whereas that same relationship at extreme would be someone you’d lay your life down for.
Relationships can be to anything - people, things, places or concepts. Acting with your relationships will motivate you to success, but resisting them is difficult. They may also change over time, which is why they are laid out in a circle, with each type of relationship able to transition into another two, while opposing the others.
Based on your answers to the three starting questions, you should be able to fill in several relationships now. People or things you’re searching for. Perhaps you dislike a nation or tribe. Do you have an obligation you must repay? As always, discuss your ideas with the other players, and see if you can start with relationships that include or affect one another. Generally starting relationships should be around average but if it makes sense for one to be stronger or weaker do so.
You’ll gain many more relationships as you follow your story, so don’t worry if you can’t think of many right away, but starting with some will definitely help.
A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals.
Skills are things your character has experience with, or is naturally good at. Like everything, they scale from minimal to extreme, depending on how proficient you are. For now, just pick a couple, either both at average or one at high and one at low. Again, you’ll add to your repetoire during play.
All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.
Most things are replaceable. You can always get another wallet, or buy another pair of shoes. That necklace your sister gave you before she was killed in a car crash though? You’ll tear the entire room down if it goes missing.
In Prime the only inventory you need to keep is of items that affect your decisions. Heirlooms or keepsakes. Tools of your trade that become an extension of yourself as you use them day after day.
It’s recommended you start with two items, though if there’s good reason for having more or less discuss it with your director. It’s also helpful, where it makes sense, to have some of these items be a tool, a type of item that you can use to help with common activites. A mercenary would likely have a sword, a catburglar a set of lockpicks, and so on.
You now have a character with history and attachments to others in the world. You have some idea of what they’re good at, and what they value. If you haven’t already, make sure you name them, and anyone else who’s important to them. It will help to have an idea of what they look like and what kind of clothes they wear, but don’t feel you have to get super-detailed unless you want to.
Help everyone else finish off their characters if they haven’t already, and start thinking about where you want them to go from here. Do you envision a happy ending? Bittersweet? Will they rise to great heights, or save the world while losing everything they hold dear? Your answers can and will change as you play, but being able to give the director some idea of how you’d like things to end will help them give you the best story possible.
Once everyone has created their character this way, you’ve finished your pilot episode. You know your world, some of the people in it, and you’ve practiced the core skills of role-playing games - discussion and compromise.
Before you get together again for your first episode of your first season, make sure you read through the either the actor or director guides so you’ll be ready. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you don’t have to do it right away. Feel to go over anything you’re not sure on from this guide first.
If you have specific questions about how something should work, the rules are there as a reference, but they’re rather dry and probably not too fun to just sit and read as a block (but hey, each to their own, we’re not going to stop you). They’re generally intended for clarifying nit-picky stuff advanced players might need to know.