Hot War

Hot War is the little red book of the apocalypse that never was. The thematic sequal to Malcom Craig's previous game Cold City, where the cold war went nuclear and twisted technologies developed by the nazis and refined by Stalin have been unleashed on the world. The setting and rules are tightly integrated, but not inseperable.

Character Creation

The three attributes used to resolve all conflicts are action, influence and insight. An attribute can run from 1 to 5, which represents the number of dice in the pool when the attribute is the one used for the conflict. Starting characters have all three attributes at one and get five additional points to divide between them. Which attribute is used depends on the type of conflict and how it is resolved. Something which may be negotiated between the players and GM.

  • Traits: Negative or positive and describe the character. "Hot Headed" or "Never backs down" are two random examples, but any suitable trait can be created for the character.
  • Relationships: Players have eight points to spend on relationships. A relationship can be positive or negative and has a rating from zero to four, where zero is effectively no relationship and four is the strongest possible relationship.
  • Factional and Personal Agenda: One of each must be chosen when a character is created and it must also be determined how urgently it needs to be resolved. For this purpose it is given a rating which is equal to the number of scenes it must be resolved in. The higher the rating, and therefore more scenes it can be used in, the fewer the bonus dice. As the agendas come to a conclusion they either succeed or fail and the character must choose a new agenda to replace it.

Task Resolution

Hot War uses conflict resolution, where a scene is resolved rather than the individual actions that make up the scene. This is resolved with a dice pool, where the highest roller wins and the number of dice that defeat the opponent improves the degree of success.

While not all scenes need to have conflict, a single conflict must be resolved in a single scene. The GM frames and describe scenes, except for a few specific cases where a player gets that privilege, such as when a player reaches a crisis point or when a scene is related to the agenda.

Once the dice are rolled the side with more successes gets to narrate the outcome. If this is the NPC(s) the GM determines the outcome, if it is a player, the player describes what happens. The narration must match the scene, conflict and number of successes among other things. All the players can have their say, although the winning player decides what goes and what doesn't and the GM always has veto power. There are guidelines for how to narrate the outcomes and maybe most importantly it forbids the GM to "make statements of fact about PCs" and players from "making statements of fact about NPCs the GM has brought into the scene". Neither are the players allowed to make factual statements about what they have discovered as part of a conflict, although they can describe things which allows the GM to reveal secrets that they are after. So no "I hide in an abandoned apartment, open the stolen briefcase and it contains the secret plans", but instead "I hide in an abandoned apartment, open the stolen briefcase which contains sheaves of papers and folders". In such a case the GM is encouraged to reveal information, as it is obviously important to the players, but it is the GM which decides exactly what that information is.

  • Traits: Traits that apply to a scene add additional dice to the pool. Traits that are used run the risk of being lost or altered (i.e. negative to positive, or positive to negative).
  • Negative Traits: Traits always improve the character's chances, but can be negative which introduces a risk of a negative consequence even if the conflict is won.
  • Relationships: The points in a relationship can be added as extra dice to the pool when the relationship is relevant to the conflict. Relationships can also be used against the character, for example in a betrayal, and there are well thought out rules that cover both scenarios and who gets to do what. The difference between negative and positive relationships, is that negative relationships give bonus dice when used to for example harm or bully, while positive relationships give bonus dice when being supportive or helpful.
  • Agendas: The higher the rating, and therefore more scenes it can be used in, the fewer the bonus dice. As the agendas come to a conclusion they either succeed or fail and the character must choose a new agenda to replace it.
  • Tools: Tools and weapons can also be used to improve a character's chances, but this is a flat two dice bonus if it applies.
  • Crisis Point: If an attribute is reduced to zero the character reaches a crisis point. If this is a NPC he is usually out of play at that point. Mentally broken or shot dead depending on the attribute involved and conflict. If it is a PC this is left up to the player. The player can decide to retire his character and describe this final scene or allow the character to survive, but with the loss of a trait and the attribute now only half its original level.

Combat Resolution

There is no special combat resolution. Everything is resolved the same way.

Character Development

Characters develop from the outcome of conflicts. Depending on who wins and by how much, the winner can adjust the attributes, traits and relationships that were involved in the conflict. This can make characters stronger or weaker and change them gradually or dramatically.


Being an alternative history game set in london 1960 there is no magic, but there is twisted technology. Occult creatures and "sciences" discovered by the nazis and most successfully developed by Stalin during the Cold War era before the war went hot.

Publishing Company

Contested Grounds


Hot War rules system is tightly integrated with the setting, although very similiar to the thematic prequel, Cold City.


  • Malcolm Craig


System Analysis

An innovative system that is based on conflict resolution and allowing player narration of outcomes.


  • Well designed rules system that supports the setting and intended style of narrative play, while remaining a game with clear guidelines and rules for handling outcomes and character progression.
  • Holistic system. Once the conflict mechanism is mastered there are no special rules for combat, social conflict or anything else.
  • Integerated character development means that characters develop based on the outcomes of the conflicts they are involved in. Even better, characters are not guaranteed to grow stronger with time, but may be seriously weakened by conflicts they lose without the risk of sudden death.
  • Relationship mechanic means that relationships have a real game mechanical impact and are yet another stat for the character sheet that developes over time.
  • Aggressive scene framing rules should make for fast moving play and helps to keep a narrative focused game structured.


  • Minimal crunch is a feature that some will love and others will hate. It makes little difference if you have a pistol or gatling gun. If it applies to the scene it gives you two dice regardless. Obviously this is something that should be handled by the narration and player and GM negotiations of how the story unfolds, but this may be too vague and abstract for those who prefer statted items and lots of crunch.

House Rules


The book is full of examples in bold, showing how rules are used in play. Indeed the author has done a very good job of explaining how to create and run a game of Hot War, a collaborative process between all the players and GM. There is information on how to determine the tone, dark apocalyptic, BBC drama, etc. How to frame scenes and other very useful player and GM advice for playing Hot War.

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