There are six things your character might hold dear. You and your friends will each choose one for yourselves, and they must be unique – they cannot overlap between characters. Faith, patriotism, love and duty are all tightly bound in the choice. It is literally the Soul of who your character is.

In play you will be forced to destroy these things you collectively hold dear when your characters fail under pressure. The destruction will probably – but not necessarily – be metaphorical.

The things your character can hold dear are:

Your religious life is central to who you are – your parish priest, your local church, Warsaw cathedral, the local soup kitchen, not to mention your personal relationship with the Lord. It is also possible to lose your faith in world communism, should your character be inclined that way. Either way, losing this represents a personal spiritual crisis of the first order.

This includes the resistance, the Home Army, and anything related to the larger struggle for a free Poland. If your country is your Soul, you are a zealous patriot. Losing this might cause a character to shirk their duty, or perhaps not contribute to Missions effectively.

Dear Warsaw, Poland’s great city and the only place you have ever known. Every square and alley is dear to your heart. This includes family friends, teachers, doctors, and all the people and places that make your home, Home. Once one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, to see it callously torn apart is heart-rending.

This is principally your immediate family – mother, father, grandparents, brothers and sisters. This includes your extended family – cousins, aunts and uncles, as well as more distant relatives. perhaps even displaced family you didn’t even know you had.

This includes your crew and perhaps some dear friends who are not in the Grey Ranks – probably older kids now in the regular resistance, or maybe some younger hell-raising Zawiszacy. If your friends are the most important thing in your life, losing them will no doubt turn you into a bitter loner.

Your first love is a special person, probably someone active in the Grey Ranks. For this person to be your Soul reflects great passion, or possibly unhealthy obsession. Losing your first love is absolutely devastating, as it should be. Your first love will never truly be replaced, although you may love again.


Unlike your Soul, your Heart is a reflection of the opinion of others. Each character has two aspects, and they are chosen by other players. Like Soul, there can be no duplication – each choice must be unique to a single character.

As an awkward teen, your character will begin the game with negative Heart aspects, but they will transform into positives over time. Before the Uprising is finished, every character should have the chance to come into their own. Everyone will grow up fast.

With your input, your friends will choose the two aspects of your character’s Heart – perhaps she is Weak and Talkative, but will grow into a Strong, Articulate young woman.

You will choose one of your two Heart aspects to use during each Scene. You will use it in both Vignette and Mission, ideally finding a way to include it in your descriptions and conflicts.

Heart aspects have dice associated with them. Both begin at d4, and one the player uses in the Scene is incremented at the end of the Scene by one die size. When a Heart aspect increases to d8, it switches from the negative to the positive. The maximum size for Heart aspects is d10.

You can also choose to not increment your Heart die size, sacrificing this benefit in exchange for a free re-roll in the future.

There are sixteen suggested aspects, but feel free to invent your own as well.
At first you seem awkward, or maybe repellant with body odor or bad breath. Maybe you are just plain goofy looking. In time your true beauty will emerge.

Clumsy, slow, and inaccurate – that’s you. When it counts, you’ll prove that you can hammer tacks with a rifle and slip through the rubble without a sound.

You’re the one who is out of shape, maybe a little fat or a little skinny, maybe hungry or sick. You have hidden reserves though, and will grow strong as an ox once the fighting starts.

Some say you are a shrinking violet, or that you won’t bear up under pressure. The truth is you are capable of steely resolve and are as tough as nails.

Everybody thinks you are preoccupied, thoughtless, or just brazenly trusting in fate to keep you safe. Over time you’ll show them that you are capable of making good plans and staying safe.

You’re the jumpy one, the worrier, the one who gets over-excited. You can do better, and there will be a point when you find a still place within yourself and let go of all the chaos.

Maybe you do come up with half-baked schemes and crazy ideas. Maybe you look a little ridiculous to everyone else. You’re smart, though – and your intelligence will save lives one day soon.

It’s hard to miss you for some reason – maybe you’re just loud and annoying, or maybe you are drop-dead gorgeous. Either way, you’ll acquire a knack for fading into the background, whether evading a random cafe sweep or setting up a sniper’s nest.

They think you just like to hear the sound of your own voice – maybe you’ve got a dramatic flair, or perhaps you’re just outspoken. Maybe you’re a whiner. But eventually your way with words will become a real asset.

People think you are stand-offish and a little self-righteous. You’re a little shy, a little taciturn, a little sarcastic. Beneath the bristly exterior you’re brimming over with warmth and wry humor, though – probably black humor, but refreshing just the same.

Sure, you haven’t been around the block like some of the others, you’re a little provincial and spend more time talking than doing. That’s all about to change. Love and war are just around the corner.

You aren’t very interesting. You’re probably unfashionable, maybe a bookworm or overly religious, a little naive. When people dig a little deeper though, there’s a fascinating person underneath just waiting to get out of the home-made clothes.

Despite your reputation as either a complete failure at everything you attempt or a loud-mouthed know-it-all, or both, you are actually really good at some things. Astonishingly good.

At first your slavish devotion to the Underground is a little creepy, a little off-putting. But your zealous demeanor reflects a genuine, passionate loyalty, and that’s worth it’s weight in gold. They’ll see that eventually.

Everybody thinks you labor under a curse – if something can go wrong, it will, and specifically to you, at the worst possible moment. But God has a plan for you, and in the end He’ll keep you safe. Your luck will change when he decides it is time.

You may take more than your share, and you may be a little wasteful and inconsiderate, but you give back more than you are given, by far – you’ll show them just how good you are at scrounging up essential stuff.


Place a token or write initials for each character on the grid, initially in the center d4 space.

Every player should choose a Situation element from the table indicated by their character’s position on the grid. For Scene One, this will be table E5.


Grey Ranks takes place across nine Scenes, typically over the course of three play sessions. Each Scene consists of a collective Mission, during which each character gets a moment of spotlight time for their individual Gambit, and a Vignette, which is a personal moment and often framed as a flashback.


Players first choose a leader for the Mission, who will frame the overall mission based loosely on Situation elements and his own ideas. The Leader position should rotate – it is a metagame consideration and does not reflect actual command within the crew (although it could be structured that way – individual crews have a lot of organizational flexibility). The Leader has three jobs. He outlines the Mission, awards a re-roll as he sees fit if the previous Mission was a success, and he determines the Weak Link at the end of the Scene.

A Mission is a success of half or more of the individual gambits were successful.


Each player contributes two dice to a scene pool.

One die is the size indicated on the player character’s position on the grid. For Scene One, this is always d4.

The other die is the size chosen from the two available Heart aspects. Each player will choose one of their two Heart aspects to use and contribute that aspect’s die size to the Scene pool.

Each player in turn openly chooses any die in the pool for themselves. When every player has a single die, each player then allocates a remaining die to another player. They may then allocate their two pool dice to Mission and Vignette as they see fit.


Every player has two moments in the spotlight during each Scene, their Vignette and a Mission gambit. The goal of these spotlight moments is to frame a situation that will end in a conflict for which success and failure are both options. When the moment of conflict is reached, one of the player’s two dice is rolled. The goal is to exceed the current Scene number on the die.

A roll over the scene number is a success.
A roll under the scene number is a failure.
A roll that ties the scene number can be a success or failure at the player’s discretion.


Depending on the circumstances, dice can be changed in size up or down, incremented by one or more numeral up or down, or re-rolled entirely. There are seven ways to change a die roll.

If your character is fifteen, always increment your Vignette die result down by one and your Mission die result up by one. If your character is seventeen, always increment your Mission die result down by one and your Vignette die result up by one.

Example: Mike’s character Jadwiga, who is 15, has a d8 allocated to her Vignette. Mike rolls a 6, which is immediately adjusted to a 5 due to her youth and inexperience. She’ll do better during the Mission, where her blind enthusiasm will allow her to take insane risks.

The first time a Situation element is included in a Scene, the die for that Vignette or Mission gambit is, at the player’s discretion, bumped up or down by one.

Example: One of the Situation elements in Scene Five is “Gardening with the Grandparents”. Steve claims this and describes, as part of his Vignette, a flashback of flirting with his girlfriend as they tend a row of pole beans. He rolls a 6 and his d6 but, wanting to fail, he adjusts it down to a 5.

Implicitly tying your Vignette to the Mission, or vice versa, allows the second die, at the player’s discretion, to be re-rolled.

Example: Continuing the above example, Steve describes the freshly-churned earth torn up by mortar impacts, and the earthy smell transports his character for a moment back to that flirtatious Vignette scene. Steve rolls his Mission die, a d10, and gets a 2. Since he reincorporated, he re-rolls and gets a 7 – a success.

Choosing not to increment your Heart die allows you to re-roll a die.

Example: Mike rolls a d8 in Scene Four and gets a 2. He decides not to increase his Heart die (which would normally go from d6 to d8 at the end of the Scene) and re-rolls the die, getting a 7 and succeeding.

Invoking the thing you hold dear allows you to replace your pool die for that Vignette or Mission gambit with a d8, or to increment any die by one.

Example: The thing Jadwiga, Mike’s character, holds dear is her faith. In Scene Three, Mike describes Jadwiga attending church amid the bombing during the German invasion in 1939, when she was just a child. He replaces one of his dice with a d8.

Destroying a thing any player holds dear allows you to replace your pool die for that Vignette or Mission gambit with a d12, or to bump any die by three.

Example: Steve, in Scene Eight, is desperate. He doesn’t have the dice he needs to succeed, and failure will kill Janek, his character. He describes the destruction of Warsaw cathedral, the thing his friend Jadwiga holds dear, her very Soul, and exchanges his d8 for a d12.

Leading a crew that had a successful Mission in the previous Scene grants you a free re-roll to any one Mission die.

Example: Steve, as Leader of the Mission, watches Mike fail with a miserable one during his Mission gambit. He grants Mike the team re-roll, earned through success in the previous Scene.

The Scene is over when all the pool dice have been rolled. Each player will roll two dice, one during their Vignette and one during the Mission.

Each Scene will have a Weak Link. Weak Link is determined by Leader immediately after the Scene concludes.

Each Scene will also have an MVP, who is voted on by all the players. The vote is secret – have every player close his eyes, point to the MVP (it can be himself) and then count to three and open eyes. In the event of a tie, there is no MVP. Note that MVP stands for Most Valuable Player, not necessarily most valuable character. It should be a reward for teamwork, but it should also be a reward for exciting scene framing and enthusiasm.

Unlike the other players, the Weak Link moves double – twice in the same direction.

The Scene MVP, as voted on by all the players, may choose to move his character in any direction or not move at all.

At the end of the Scene, move every character on the grid based on success or failure. Everybody has a position on the grid, starting out at the exact center. A character’s location on the grid indicates the size of the die they contribute to the pool, as well as the table from which they draw their next Situation element. Success and failure move a character around the grid. The further from the center you get, the larger your die size and the more desperate the situation choices. If your character moves into a corner and then beyond it, he’s written out of the story.

Winning a Vignette moves a character toward love. Losing moves him toward hate.
Winning a Mission gambit moves a character toward enthusiasm. Losing moves him toward exhaustion.

Winning a Vignette and winning the Mission moves a character up one space.
Winning a Vignette and losing the Mission moves a character left one space.
Losing a Vignette and losing the Mission moves a character down one space.
Winning a Vignette and winning the Mission moves a character right one space.

In the upper corner, where love and enthusiasm meet, is recklessness and martyrdom.
In the left corner, where love and exhaustion meet, await nervous breakdown and shell shock.
In the lower corner, where hate and enthusiasm meet, is derangement and insanity.
In the right corner, where hate and exhaustion meet, is suicidal depression.

Finally, the Heart aspect used in the Scene is incremented by one die size for each player.

Now you’re ready to begin the next Scene!

Grey Ranks: Heart and Soul
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One thought on “Grey Ranks: Heart and Soul

  • October 22, 2006 at 8:44 pm

    Nice. If I didn’t have a paper due on Great Expectations, which I’m procrastinating on right this minute, I’d offer more feedback than that, but it does sound way cool.

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