Dragon’s Dungeon Rules

After a lot of revisions, and tormenting my game group during one-off sessions, I’ve finally crystallized my D&D hack (that I posted about months ago) into a 2-page system. Cool features include:

  • a semi-classless system, using templates and backgrounds for structure and flavour.
  • a wound system, which is basically the same as the hit point system, but does away with all the fiddly little numbers.
  • a port of Burning Wheel’s beliefs, traits, and instincts, and its Wises (in a manner of speaking).
  • a mana-based casting system.
  • a stamina mechanic.
  • a free-form weapon creation system, balanced for 5e.
  • simplified encumbrance.
  • concise combat rules that allows for a lot of tactical thinking and not just swing-swing-miss-swing.
  • non-combat conflict resolution systems – one based off Savage Worlds’ social conflict mechanic, and one from Dungeonesque’s montage rules.
  • a simple and unobstrusive skill proficiency system which allows for plenty of customization if the player wants (inspired by the GLOG and Telecanter‘s House Rules Selection). It includes the Talent mechanic from Advanced Old-School-Style Microlite20.

It’s pretty flexible (in my opinion): you can make just about any class with the right combination of templates, background, wises, and skill selection (and magical powers, for full casters). Races are pretty easy. You can plug in the spell list of your choice, although I have posted my own here.

And, most importantly, I think there’s lots of material for all of you to hack out for house-rules of your own. That’s how this started. I’m just passing more ideas onto you guys.

Download it here.

A Casting Mechanic, and a Stamina System

Based on The Black Hack’s usage die concept:

Casting

Every caster has a spellcasting die (based on their level – d4 at 1st, d20 at 20th). Casting a spell means the caster rolls their spellcasting die after the spell takes effect. If the number rolled is equal to or lower than the level of the spell, the usage die drops one step (and if it was a d4, magic is gone). Sleeping for the night resets the die back to maximum (or only one step, if you wanna slow things down for casters).

As an aftertought, this is probably only good for players if you’ve got DCC dice with wacky numbers of sides, due to the lack of granularity between levels. But I reckon it’ll be great for NPCs – I reckon you’ll want a 50/50 chance of the die dropping after they cast their highest-level spell.

Stamina

Everyone has a stamina die based on their Constitution (or Strength). Whenever they do something potentially exhausting (combat, chasing, climbing, etc.), they roll their stamina die. If it rolls equal or under their encumbrance limit, the die drops one step. If it goes from a d4 to nothing, the character needs to rest NOW. Sleeping for the night resets the die back to maximum (or only one step, if you wanna slow things down for everyone).

  • CON 8 or less: d4
  • CON 9-12: d6
  • CON 13-15: d8
  • CON 16-17: d10
  • CON 18: d12

Encumbrance (in stones):

    • weight under half STR: 1
    • weight under STR: 2
    • weight under STR x 1.5: 3
    • weight under STR x2: 4

    Anything over STR x2 is just too much. Make them roll their stamina die for walking a few steps.

    Thoughts on D&D design

    So, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about RPG design. My goal is mostly towards minimalism. While I appreciate the mechanical elegance in Pathfinder, I found running it to be wearisome (especially with players telling me I was doing things wrong).

    We played Labyrinth Lord (with Tomb of Horrors), and it played fast, but it has no mechanical elegance. A lot of people have tried to mesh the simplicity of design with elegance of design. 5e looks really good, but it has a lot of stuff. Certainly nothing close to Pathfinder and its ilk, but sometimes you just want something that’s easy, where all of your character’s stuff fits in your head, etc. 
    Microlite has both, and I think it’s great to introduce newbies to the genre (my wife’s uncle took to the game like the proverbial duck last Christmas), but it has too little crunch. I like the mix’n’match feel of the skills, and I plan to use that philosophy — but 4 skills? I don’t think you can create meaningfully diverse PCs at that level. It’s worse than LL.
    When I was looking up M20, I rediscovered PocketMod booklets. I have 4 of these, and together they summarise: character creation and gameplay, spells (9th levels for 2 classes), monsters, and a GM’s guide. On 4 pocket-friendly pieces of paper. How great is that?
    So, what am I aiming for? Rules that…
    –are short enough to fit on a few PocketMods (like, char.gen, combat, spells, GM stuff).
    –allow for players to make meaningful choices when designing characters.
    –allow players to make solid characters without system mastery or min maxing.
    –simple enough that I have basic structure for anything, but room to rule everything if need be.
    –can be played without any reference to the rules (with spells as the only possible exception).
    Is this possible? I believe so.
    Character creation is going to be modelled off Zak S’s post “Since Nobody Asked Me…Here’s My Type V“, and simple combat with structural room for meaningful combat choices will be based on Sly Flourish’s “Guide to Narrative Combat in Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition.

    Reimagining HP for D&D 5e

    (Aside: if you want to read the version of this I wrote at midnight after a session, it’s on my Tumblr, here.)

    I’ve always disliked tracking hit points for monsters, and I know that it irks my players sometimes. I’ve tried various methods, like poker chips or using percentile dice; but high-level characters & monsters have so many hp, and dice are liable to be knocked around. So, a solution, inspired by the Wound system from Savage Worlds.

    Everyone (PC, NPC or monster) has a Wound Threshold, which is equal the average roll of your hit die and add your CON modifier (and any effects that increase your maximum hit points with level, as from the Toughness feat). Now, whenever you take damage, round it to the nearest multiple of that number. If it’s x1, take 1 Wound. If it’s x3, take 3 Wounds. When you take Wounds equal to your level (or number of hit dice), you start saving vs. death.

    Healing works the same way. Round the number of hp healed that the cure wounds gives you, and heal that many wounds. If you take a short rest, you can heal a number of wounds; you have “healing surges” equal to your level, and regain half that number after a long rest. If you get hit by a wight, and fail the saving throw, the number of wounds you can take is reduced by the same number as you were hit for, etc.

    Now, the practical effect of this is that it averages out damage taken. A solid fighter is likely to have a Wound Threshold of 8. So, if they take 4 damage, nothing happens. If they take damage between 5 and 12, they take a wound, and so on. In 5e, I’ve found that damage outputs are fairly high, and everyone is throwing around damage between 4 and 13 most of the time. Most monsters and most PCs have WTs in this region, so it all balances out in the long run. But wizards and sorcerers are more likely to take a couple Wounds at once, and fighters and barbarians are only rarely going to take more than one in a single hit.

    To adjust the lethality of damage (because, I think, it’s a bit swingier like this), you can fiddle with how you round damage. Up, down, or Swiss-style; my personal backup if Swiss doesn’t work is if the damage is one or two below the Threshold, I’ll round up, otherwise I’ll round down. This keeps foes with piddly damage averages from constantly wounding fighters with 5 damage, while keeping wizards fragile. It’ll take a bit of play-testing, I think. I mean, Ancient Dragons have d20’s for hit points, so that’s a WT of, like, 15, so they’re going to require a LOT of HARD hits. But, then, that’s kinda the point of a dragon encounter, right?

    Do Hirelings need Days Off?

    I was doing up a calendar for my campaign, to keep track of time Gygax-style, and I set up weeks exactly the same as we have: seven days, divided into five official working days, a day off and a holy day. It was simply a convenience.

    But when I was working out how long it would take the PCs’ hirelings to move 80,000 coins out of the bottom of a dungeon (14 12-hour days, in case you were wondering), I wondered whether or not the hirelings would insist on having Templedays off.

    It probably didn’t make that much of a difference (just two more days, and maybe an extra 30gp), but I think it’s important for the verisimilitude of the world. Now I want to make a whole list of actual public holidays. What sorts of verisimilitude-y things do other people do?