The Codex

Player characters are … exceptional people in a very real, very harsh world. Not one of mythical deserts and castle-laden clouds, or … dragons around every corner, but one of greedy men seeking power, hungry villagers after food and ransom, wandering swordsmen with an eye on conflict, death, and the Riddle, and millions of other people just trying to see tomorrow.
Jacob Norwood

The Riddle of Steel (TROS) core rulebook was published in 2002 by Driftwood Publishing. It was created by Jacob Norwood, a free scholar in the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts (ARMA). Driftwood published a few supplements to the game, many of which included recommendations from players. TROS caused a lot of buzz with its “spiritual attributes” system and its gritty and realistic combat, which some called “the only real-time combat in tabletop RPGs”. Players also appreciated the great support they got through the game’s website, where fans could submit rule modifications and game aids such as character sheets and computer applications to help storytellers.

TROS remained a very popular independent RPG until Norwood sold the rights before serving in Iraq. The books and their supplements have since gone out of print. There remains a fan support base on independent web forums in which Norwood actively participates. It is unknown at this time whether a 2nd edition of TROS is a possibility.


Things are different here. Magic is deadly and powerful – even the weakest sorcerer is a lethal threat. Swordplay is fast, dynamic, and ends in blood – choose your battles wisely. The world that the Riddle of Steel brings you to is more real, more dangerous, and more exciting ...
The Riddle of Steel, p. 5

The Rule of 3 is a motif which is very pervasive throughout the game and world of the riddles. Everything is categorized into three realms of experience – Temporal, Mental, and Spiritual. Players will notice this in Attributes, the application of Skills, and the magic system. It is especially noticeable in the narrative of the game. For example, in the world of Erd the Great Chain of Being is composed of the Higher, Middle, and Lower Wroughts, the Essences are experienced in three Vagrant Realms, and even the campaign guide (see the Archives) is divided into three parts: the Tablets, the Scrolls, and the Tomes.

Gritty realism is the theme of combat in TROS. In a game with no hit points, the first solid blow often decides the battle. Players should be warned that in a more realistic fighting system, drawing steel at every conflict will end a character’s story quickly. While players will feel their character’s mortality more keenly, they will also experience the glory and excitement that come from realistically crushing their foes.

Terrifying is the theme of the supernatural in TROS. Magic is vastly more powerful that in most fantasy games. A great warrior still has much to fear from even an apprentice of the dark arts. Yet, as always, power comes at a cost. In a world of wizard-kings, magicians must take care in who they trust. Even the most powerful of sorcerers die from a dagger in the back.

Passion, meaning suffering, is the theme of roleplaying in TROS. The stories told in TROS are passion plays where the beliefs, instincts, and motivations of characters are tested in a chaotic and morally ambiguous world. These qualities which are tested daily are the character’s spiritual attributes. Around this maelstrom of conflict lies a character’s Riddle.


In TROS players advance their characters as they advance their characters’ stories. Unlike other RPGs, TROS awards no experience points. Instead, characters have dynamic attributes, called spiritual attributes, which increase as their characters make tough choices and attempt difficult deeds to further their story. These spiritual attributes not only help to increase the abilities of a character, they also grant an unseen strength in times of dire need.

Spiritual attributes also serve as flags signaling to the storyteller what kind of stories each player wants to play through. If a character has devotion to a lord as a spiritual attribute, that character’s player is telling everyone that he wants his character to face situations where that devotion is challenged, betrayed, or put into question. By playing his character, the player is rewarded with spiritual attribute points, which he can use to advance his character’s story and abilities.


The most important element of a character’s story is his Riddle, the missing element in a character’s existence. Riddles are born from the mortal fear of death and thirst for immortality. For some it is the Riddle of Steel, the search for what is strongest and most enduring. For others it might be something entirely different.


The Codex is made up of four books. Most players will need to read the first three. Only those who are planning to dabble in the dark arts need read the fourth book.

The Codex is written to be concise. Most sections are made up of bullet point lists. Examples of gameplay help to illustrate the mechanics described in each section. These examples are written in red italics.

  • Book the First: Flesh & Bone will lay out the fundamental philosophies and core mechanics which drive the story forward.
  • Book the Second: Legacies & Legends describes character creation in detail as well as the skills, proficiencies, and gifts available.
  • Book the Third: Blood & Iron records the glory and gore of TROS combat.
  • Book the Fourth: Magic & Mysteries documents the strange world of the sarrumiza and their dark arts.
  • Appendices include detailed descriptions and examples of lifepaths, skills, fighting style proficiencies, martial schools, maneuvers, weapons, armor, and gifts.

The Codex

Legacy of Orphans seanpmcochran