Newsies and Bootblacks, a free role-playing game


Being a free role-playing game [1] of fun and adventure in the pseudo-Victorian steampunk-ish world of New Paris.

Newsies and Bootblacks is a traditional (as in you play on a table not on a device) role-playing game I designed on 2010 and then released for free (as in you don’t pay a dime) on the Internet. So, what’s so special about this game?

First of all, the characters. On this game each player-character is meant to be a newsboy, a bootblack or some other enterprising young person.



The game is not available for downloading any more. And those are good news, trust me

An example play session

Martin (game master): “OK, so are you going to follow that pickpocket down to the sewers or not? You have five seconds.”
Tammy: “I say we go. I want my stuff back.” Tammy plays a 12-year- old daredevil kind of newsgirl.
Daniel: “I don’t know. There could be crocs down there, you know.” Daniel’s character is just nine, and not exactly brawny.
James: “Crocs, yeah, come on, let’s go.” James’ character at 13, has all the potential, but no motivation to be a bully.
Daniel: “And what about the ghost we saw yesterday?”
Tammy: “You don’t know if it was really a ghost, do you? And whatever it was, we beat it.”
Martin: “Are you going or not? The pickpocket is running away as you speak.”
Tammy and James: “We go!”
Daniel: “OK, but don’t blame me if you end up in the gator’s belly.”
Martin: “OK, as you go down to the tunnels you realize how dark they are, not to mention damp and smelly. Are you sure you want to go on?”
Daniel: “No.”
Tammy: “What?! Of course we want to.”
James: “I’m with Tammy.”
Martin: “OK, I want all of you to make an Eyes & Ears check. Roll your dice. The target number is 13.”
Daniel: “I’ve got a 14; am I OK?”
Martin: “Yes.”
Tammy: “Oh, oh, I’ve got a 12.”
James: “And it’s an 8 for me. My luck, always my luck!”
Martin: “OK. So Daniel you stop right in time, but Tammy and James walk confidently into a stream of brownish water. It rises up to your elbows. I’m sure you know what kind of water this is, don’t you?”
Daniel bursts into laughter.
Martin: “Now, Daniel, you might have heard something to your back. Make another Eyes & Ears check, please. The target number is 11 this time.”

Download Newsies and Bootblacks: a free role-playing game

Summary Rules

The dice

Newsies & Bootblacks uses normal six-sided dice. They are made stronger or weaker than regular dice, just by the way you read them.

Fool Dice: Ignore any result higher than 4. That means if you roll a 5 or 6 you read it as if it were a 4.
Weak Dice: Ignore any result higher than 5. That means if you roll a 6, you read it as if it were a 5.
Normal Dice: These you read normally; a 1 is a 1, a 2 is a 2, a 6 is a 6, and so on. (Also known as OK dice.)
Swell Dice: Ignore any result lower than 3. That means when you roll a 1 or a 2 you read the die as if it were a 3.

Character Generation

Player-character generation is sweet, fast and semi-random. Your age is extremely important Generally, older characters are stronger and know more stu ff. However, younger characters benefit from a few special rules that make them “luckier”.

Character starting age.

Starting player-characters are 9 to 14 years. Most players roll a die and add 8 to get their starting age. There is one exception, though; if the player (not the character but the real player) is 16 or younger, he or she can simply choose the age of his/her character.


There are six attributes in this game: Strength, Health, Agility, Education, Eyes & Ears, and Charisma, which pretty much do as they say in the packet.

We pay for new dice with attribute points (APs) You begin with as many attribute points as your age, plus seven.

With those attribute points you can buy dice for your character’s attributes. Every weak die costs 1 AP, while a normal die costs two APs. You can also upgrade a weak die to a normal die for 1 AP. Adult characters can have allocated up to six dice in any single attribute. However, these are all non-player characters played by the game master.5. Every attribute must have at least one die allocated to it.


Skills are stats just like attributes, only less broad. Agility (attribute), tells us how well you move in general, while Riding (skill), for example, tells us how good you are at handling a bike.

To generate your skills, first, find out how many skills your character is good at. These are as many as his age minus 6. If your character is nine, he’s good at 9 – 6 = 3 skills. Write them down on your character sheet or a scrap of paper under “good at”.

Then, find out how many skills your character is bad at. These are 18 minus his age. If your character is 12, he’s bad at 18 – 12 = 6 skills. Record these under “bad at”.

Those skills you have not chosen to be either good at or bad at, you are OK at. We will deal with the exact meaning of these on page 37. Right now, all you need to know is that being bad at a skill decreases your chances at completing any tasks associated with that skill because it downgrades your dice. Being good at a skill upgrades your dice.


Chits are points a player can use to buy favors from the game master, such as rolling dice again or making dice stronger. Chits can also be used to avoid death or change the flow of the story, at an increased cost. Every player character begins with 20 minus age chits (20 – Age), so the younger you are, the more chits you’ll get. Player characters can have up to as many chits as twice the starting chits for their character’s age. Only player characters can have chits.

Character creation: an example

Let me guide you as I create a character using the rules I’ve just outlined. First of all, I roll one single die to find my character’s age.

The result is a 4, so my character’s age is 4+8 = 12. I decide my character is a boy and his name is Allan Krebs.

Then I need to buy dice to choose his attributes (age + 7). He’s 12, so I have 12 + 7 = 19 attribute points (AP) to buy dice. I decide to buy only weak dice (wd), as they give more bang for the buck. I buy three wd for Strength, two wd for Health (so Allan is a little weak), three wd go to Agility, four wd to Education (I want Allan to be smart), three wd for Eyes & Ears, and the last four wd go to Charisma. No attribute has more than four dice and each one has at least one, as the rules command.

Allan’s attributes are now finished: Strength = three wd, Health = two wd, Agility = three wd, Education = four wd, Eyes & Ears = three wd, Charisma = four wd.

Then I decide which skills Allan is good at and bad at. As Allan is 12, he’s good at 12 – 6 = 6 skills. I choose Academics, Sweet Talk, Observation, Streetwise, Athletics and Shooting. He’ll be bad at 18 – 12 = 6 skills. I choose Pickpockets, Locks (he’s no thief), Vehicles, Mechanics, Crafts, (he’s not good at fixing stuff) and Riding.

He’ll be OK at the remaining nine skills. These are Climbing, Dodging, Fisticuffs, Healing, Performance, Languages, Stealth, Swimming and Throw- ing. I don’t need to write these on the character sheet, but I’m going to do it anyway to speed up the game.

Allan is good at Academics, and that means he can read well enough to not need to check for his Academics skill when trying to read any text in English.

Allan is 12 and that means he will begin with 20 – 12 = 8 chits. His maximum number of chits is twice this number, or 16.

Let’s see about his stuff now. I roll two dice for his clothing, using the Clothes Table and argh, I got an 8!; that means Allan’s clothes are of the lowly D grade. He’s barefoot and his clothes could use a little mending and cleaning, I’m afraid.

Money, that’s what I want. Allan is 12 and I roll an 8 on two dice so I get (12+8)x10cents = 20x10cents = 200cents or $2.00.

I decide to try my luck with the Random Stuff Table, rolling seven times (the maximum). On my first roll I get a 3 and 5, a 3-5 which means six candles. I make another six-dice throw and get six more candles, a pack of expensive sweets, a harmonica (that’s cool) a notebook and a bowl; a curious mix.

Finally, I see to my character’s background. I’m not sure of where I want him to be from, so I roll using the Background Table as a guide. I roll an 11, so he’s from the Inner Expanses. Then, I roll again to determine his father’s and mother’s background, getting a 12 and a 13; they are both missing.
I note everything down on the character sheet and Allan is now ready for a great adventure in New Paris.

Basic Checks

Basic checks allow us to know whether a character has been successful when attempting an action. It is one of the most used rules in every game session, so pay attention.

Make sure you know what action the player character is attempting and what the consequences of that action could be. For example: if a player shoots a rat with his slingshot, the action would be shooting and the possible consequences are either a hit or a miss – and the effects of that hit. The game master might want to ask the player to make sure he understands what he’s trying to do.
The game master is the only one who can determine the consequences of any attempted action.
The game master then determines which skill is more appropriate for the action being attempted.
If there’s no appropriate skill, the game master should choose an attribute instead. Again, the game master’s decision is final.
Use the dice of the attribute linked to the skill, upgrading or downgrading them:
If the character is good at the appropriate skill, upgrade the dice of the linked attribute. Weak dice become normal dice (OK dice), while normal dice become swell dice.
If the character is bad at the appropriate skill, downgrade the dice of the linked attribute. Weak dice become fool dice and normal dice become weak dice.
If the character is OK at the appropriate skill, use the dice of the linked attribute without any modifications.
Download Newsies and Bootblacks: a free role-playing game

The world and New Paris City

The world of Newsies and Bootblacks, a role-playing game, is in many regards, identical to that of the real Earth on the turn of the XIX to the XXth century. The game master can start his game in any year from 1890 to 1910, not bothering with exact dates. There are some differences, the more obvious
being geography: the state and city of New Paris, located on the East Coast, somewhere south of New York and north of New Jersey. Of course that means the geography of the American East Coast is slightly changed to make space for it.

A second difference is that the American Civil War was more bloody than historically known, which had a devastating impact on American political thought.

That has led to the rise of two new parties: the Centralist Party who desires to put an end to the states and reinforce the powers of the president, and the Utopist Party who is displacing the socialists as the leaders of a revolution. Meanwhile, the Republican and Democrat Parties hold the upper hand in the elections, though that could change at the first economic recession.

Newsies & Bootblacks uses the real world as inspiration and a framework on which to weave adventures, not as a defined setting. Therefore, the game master is free to change both the geography and the history of the world as he or she sees fit. That said, it is recommended to retouch history rather than making a complete overhaul. In other words, add islands and some minor eastern European kingdom, or make Napoleon win the Battle of Waterloo. But think twice before adding continents or an eternal Roman Empire.

  • Be a newsboy!
  • Wake up while it’s dark
  • Go sell yer papers
  • Make swell money
  • Live at the Newsboy Lodge
  • Dodge muggers
  • Fight dastardly conspiracies
  • Protect a lost prince
  • Discover foreign spies
  • Find treasure, monsters and worse in the sewers


Miguel de Luis Espinosa