2d20 for Fading Suns

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Based on a suggestion from another Fading Suns GM, my preferred method of using the Victory Point system was with two d20s instead of one. The gist of the system (apart from accenting and wyrd mechanics explained at the link) was:

  • Roll 2d20, keep the highest die that’s still a success.
  • The roll is only a critical success if one die roll the target number and the other is also successful.
  • The roll is only a critical fumble if one die rolls a 20 and the other is also a failure.

Doing this changes the success rate pretty drastically:

Target 1d20 Success 2d20 Success
1 5.0% 9.8%
2 10.0% 19.0%
3 15.0% 27.8%
4 20.0% 36.0%
5 25.0% 43.8%
6 30.0% 51.0%
7 35.0% 57.8%
8 40.0% 64.0%
9 45.0% 69.8%
10 50.0% 75.0%
11 55.0% 79.8%
12 60.0% 84.0%
13 65.0% 87.8%
14 70.0% 91.0%
15 75.0% 93.8%
16 80.0% 96.0%
17 85.0% 97.8%
18 90.0% 99.0%

Just looking at the chance of success, it’s interesting how much it suddenly curves to look much more like a White Wolf-style dice pool mechanic than a percentile mechanic. Importantly, in my mind, this means that it’s not as drastically necessary for players to try to absolutely max out their skills to regularly succeed: in practice, a trait total of 10 is supposed to be pretty good for a starting character, and now that character has better than a 50/50 shot on rolls. It’s immersion-breaking in the extreme for the system to pretend that you have a good trait and then fail on it half the times it’s important, at least in my opinion.

Additionally, this method puts a curve on fumbles and criticals. In 1d20, you have a 5% chance of a crit and a 5% chance of a fumble, no matter what. In 2d20, the chance of crit goes from 0.3% at TN 1 to 9.3% at TN 19, while the chance of fumble does exactly the opposite. Effectively, the higher your TN, the bigger your chance to crit and the smaller your chance to fumble, which seems more logical.

The other interesting thing is what it does to expected success totals:

Target 1d20 Avg. VP 2d20 Avg. VP
1 0.0 0.0
2 0.0 0.0
3 0.3 0.4
4 0.5 0.5
5 0.6 0.6
6 0.8 0.9
7 1.0 1.1
8 1.1 1.2
9 1.3 1.5
10 1.5 1.7
11 1.6 1.9
12 1.8 2.1
13 2.0 2.4
14 2.1 2.6
15 2.3 2.8
16 2.5 3.1
17 2.6 3.3
18 2.8 3.7

The chart above is the average number of victory points for a successful roll (not counting criticals). The numbers don’t look terribly different, save that the 2d20 is slightly higher. In practice, this is because, with 1d20, success VPs are completely flat: if you succeed on 1-10, you a successful roll has a 10% chance for each result. In other words, any time you succeed, you will roll less than half your best result half the time. Conversely, with 2d20, you have at least a 75% chance of rolling over the halfway mark (because if both dice are under the target number, you choose the larger result).

Old school game design looks at the 1d20 and declares it adequate: the higher your score, the higher the chance of success and the result of success. But looking at the raw numbers doesn’t cover the feel at the table, where excessive swinginess results in player disappointment. Over multiple rolls, a flat die result evens out, giving an advantage to the better character, but how often do characters make multiple rolls on the same skill outside of combat? In practice, a player may get once chance to shine with a given non-combat skill per session, and, with a flat die, the result of the roll can feel almost completely disconnected from the score. Using 2d20 to curve the result creates a situation where, even on a single roll, a higher score feels meaningful.


D&D/Pathfinder: How much is +1 worth?

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A friend of mine is looking to play a dual wield fighter (I did try to talk him out of it), and was curious about the tradeoff between attack and damage: i.e., which feats should he take, when should he power attack, etc. So I started thinking about the math.

Basic Premise: In d20, unless you can only miss on a 1, each +1 is an additional 5% of your base effectiveness, per roll.

This is pretty easy to calculate:

  • Each roll has a chance of success based on the number you need to roll on the die to succeed. If you succeed on an 11 or better, that’s half the possible rolls on the die, so you have a 50% chance of success. If you only succeed on a 16 or better, you have a 25% chance of success. And so on.
  • Because there are 20 possible results, each represents 5% (100%/20).
  • Each +1 to your roll makes you 5% more likely to succeed (e.g., you go from needing a 11+ to a 10+ to hit, going from 50% chance to 55% chance to succeed).
  • Thus, over time, you can add 5% of base effectiveness (e.g., 50% hits at your normal value vs. 55% hits at your normal value). If you do an average of 10 damage, a +1 is going to give you half a point of damage per attack.

Attack bonus is, thus, more effective over time the more damage you do, base.


Basic Premise: In d20, each +1 damage is an additional X damage, per roll, where X is equal to 1 times your chance of success.

This is a similar calculation:

  • As above, over time you can base your expected damage on the chance to hit: if you hit 50% of the time, you will do 50% of your base damage over time.
  • At 50%, each point of damage is, therefore, actually worth half a point of damage per attack.
  • Meanwhile, if you have a higher or lower chance to hit, the worth of the point of damage scales accordingly.

Damage bonus is, therefore, more effective over time the greater your chance to hit.


Obviously, these two premises stack very nicely: if you have a higher attack, you’ll deliver your base damage more often, and if you have a higher damage, it will benefit more from having a high attack.

But what if you have to choose? Greater Weapon Focus or Weapon Specialization? Activate Power Attack or stick with regular hit bonus?

In these situations, attack bonus becomes more valuable the higher your damage already is, and damage bonus becomes more valuable the higher your chance to hit already is. Obvious based on the premises above, right? But where is the breakpoint?

Base Damage 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20
Value of +1 Attack 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1
Necessary Roll to Hit 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20
Value of +1 Damage 0.95 0.85 0.75 0.65 0.55 0.45 0.35 0.25 0.15 0.05

Effectively, at around 10-11 points of damage and having to roll 10-11 to hit, a point of damage and a point of attack are roughly equivalent. Lower base damage is equivalent to a higher chance to hit when trading off.

What about 2 damage? Power Attack in Pathfinder gives you +2 damage for each -1 attack (with one-handed weapons).

Roll Needed to Hit
Damage 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20
2 19 17 15 13 11 9 7 5 3 1
4 9.5 8.5 7.5 6.5 5.5 4.5 3.5 2.5 1.5 0.5
6 6.3 5.7 5 4.3 3.7 3 2.3 1.7 1 0.3
8 4.8 4.3 3.8 3.3 2.8 2.3 1.8 1.3 0.8 0.3
10 3.8 3.4 3 2.6 2.2 1.8 1.4 1 0.6 0.2
12 3.2 2.8 2.5 2.2 1.8 1.5 1.2 0.8 0.5 0.2
14 2.7 2.4 2.1 1.9 1.6 1.3 1 0.7 0.4 0.1
16 2.4 2.1 1.9 1.6 1.4 1.1 0.9 0.6 0.4 0.1
18 2.1 1.9 1.7 1.4 1.2 1 0.8 0.6 0.3 0.1
20 1.9 1.7 1.5 1.3 1.1 0.9 0.7 0.5 0.3 0.1

The chart above shows the ratio of the value of 2 Points of Damage to 1 Point of Attack. So if you’re doing 2 points of damage and hit on a 2+, 2 points of damage is 19 times as good as +1 attack. Meanwhile, if you already do 20 damage and need a 20 to hit, 2 points of damage is less than 10% as good as +1 attack. The breakpoints are in red: past that number, you shouldn’t Power Attack (for example). If your chance to hit is decent, though, you need huge amounts of base damage to make Power Attacking a bad idea.

The more you know!

Dungeon Crawl, Part 3


Game Systems

Core System

Most systems in Dungeon Crawl work on one of three principles:

  • 3d6 + Bonus, try to equal or exceed a target number for success
  • 3×6, try to roll equal to or lower than an ability score:
    • For a high difficulty roll, choose the highest die
    • For a moderate difficulty roll, choose the middle die
    • For a low difficulty roll, choose the lowest die
  • 3×6, try to roll high:
    • For a very effective weapon or tactic, choose the highest die
    • For a normal weapon or tactic, choose the middle die
    • For a less effective weapon or tactic, choose the lowest die

As mentioned earlier, some rolls, such as for attack and damage, will use the same result on three dice for more than one effect.


Feats cover most situations in the game that are not combat. Based on the difficulty of the Feat, roll 3×6, keep the appropriate die (higher is more difficult), and compare the result to the appropriate ability score. If the result is equal to or lower than the score, the Feat succeeds. What success and failure mean is up to the GM.

Character with a 6 ability will normally never fail at even High difficulty Feats. This is intentional, as those characters are the pinnacle of quality at that ability, and shouldn’t have much difficulty with tasks surrounding it. However, when Wounded (see Dying and Recovery), the character’s abilities are lowered for the purposes of Feats, so failure has a chance to creep in. Even when success is assured, simply succeeding doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences of success or that it happens instantly (e.g., a rogue with Reflex 6 will be able to pick any lock, even a High difficulty one, but doing so may take several rounds and might provoke notice from the lock’s owner).

Feats generally cover tests of adeptness or resilience. What they don’t cover are perception, logic, cleverness, knowledge, and craft: these things should either be awarded automatically by the GM if appropriate to the character’s background and player’s descriptions, or should be left up to the player to roleplay as desired. There is no die roll in Dungeon Crawl to separate lies from truth, solve a riddle, or remember a monster’s weakness; however, a clever player may figure out how spells or Feats can make all of these things easier.


Each ability has multiple features. Most of these features are mentioned elsewhere, but they are summarized her for reference:

  • Fortitude:
    • Characters roll against Fortitude for Feats of strength and resistance.
    • Spellcasters target the character’s Fortitude to inflict poison, diseases, and wracking effects.
    • A character’s base HP is derived from Fortitude.
  • Reflex:
    • Characters roll against Reflex for Feats of agility and acrobatics.
    • Spellcasters target the character’s Reflex to inflict most aimed and area effects.
    • A character’s movement rate (overland and when using the Move action in combat) is based on Reflex.
  • Will:
    • Characters roll against Will for Feats of perseverance and concentration.
    • Spellcasters target the character’s Will to inflict mind control and confusion effects.
    • A spellcaster’s base SP is derived from Will.
  • Vigor:
    • Characters roll Vigor for Feats of physical endurance.
    • All characters regain HP and, if a caster, SP at a rate per hour equal to Vigor.
    • A character attempting to recover from Wounds may make one test against Vigor each day, success removing a Wound (The test is normally Hard, but becomes Moderate with full rest, and Easy with full rest and a healer’s attention).
  • Luck:
    • Characters roll Luck as a Feat to avoid completely randomly inflicted effects.
    • Whenever an NPC, monster, or effect chooses a random target (but will definitely choose one target), each potential target rolls 1d6 + Luck; the lowest roll indicates the target.
    • A character can permanently reduce Luck by one level (to a minimum of 1) to avoid certain doom.
  • Charm:
    • Characters roll Charm for Feats of persuasion (easy, moderate, or hard based on how convincing argument was)
    • Characters roll Charm as a Feat to see if hirelings will take a dangerous action (easy, moderate, hard based on the danger of the request).
    • Characters cannot attract more personal henchmen than Charm.


Combat takes place in rounds of roughly three seconds. Actions alternate between player characters and their enemies, each acting as a group.


Each round, one player and the GM roll 3d6 for initiative. On a tie, compare the highest die, then the middle die, then the low die (reroll if it’s a complete tie). Certain circumstances might give a bonus or penalty to the result.

The side that won initiative gets to act first. When the player characters act, they can briefly discuss their tactics if this seems reasonable, then actions are resolved clockwise from the GM. When the GM’s characters act, they act in the order required by the GM.

Since initiative is rolled each round, a group that goes last might go first the next round, essentially getting two turns in a row. Care should be taken to make sure turns aren’t skipped.


On any character’s turn, he or she can choose from several actions:

  • Attack: Use a melee weapon to attack a character in reach or a ranged weapon to attack a character in range. See the Attack section.
  • Move: Move a number of spaces (roughly 5 feet) equal to Speed. Movement may include a Feat (such as testing against Reflex to avoid obstacles or leap a pit), though the GM may require spaces of movement to be “spent” to perform the feat if it seems like it would slow the character down.
  • Spell: Cast a prepared spell, spending the requisite SP.
  • Dodge: Stand still but add you Speed to your AC on the opponents’ next turn.
  • Charge: Move up to your speed and then make a melee attack against a target in reach. Your AC is reduced by 2 during the opponents’ next turn.
  • Brace: Prepare to receive a Charge. Your AC is increased by 2 against any enemies that Charge on their next turn. If you have a weapon, such as a spear, that you can set, you deal +2 damage if you attack and hit on your next turn.
  • Guard: When wielding a melee weapon, designate a specific individual within reach who you are guarding. On the attackers’ next turn, if anyone attempts to attack your ward (who you can also reach), you may immediately make an attack against that target at a +2 bonus. If you hit, the target loses its intended action. You may make one such attack per Guard attempt (i.e., if multiple individuals try to attack your ward, you may only attack one of them).
  • Cover: When wielding a ranged weapon with which you have at least one level of Weapon Proficiency, you may cover one space within your range per level of proficiency (all spaces must be contiguous). If any enemy moves into a covered space, you may immediately make a ranged attack against at a +2 bonus. If the attack is successful, the enemy loses the rest of its movement. You may make one such attack per Cover attempt (i.e., if multiple individuals try to cross your area, you may only attack one of them).
  • Reload: If your weapon, such as a crossbow, requires a complicated reload, you muse use an action to do so.
  • Feat: You may attempt any Feat which could logically take place within a combat round of three seconds. The GM may rule that a particular Feat requires multiple rounds of using this action.
  • First Aid: You may give First Aid to a wounded character, preventing him or her from bleeding to death. See the Death rules.
  • Retrieve Item: If an item is buried in your pack or otherwise inaccessible, it may require one or more actions to retrieve it.
  • Use Item: You may use an item that is ready to hand, using the rules for that item.
  • Prepare: You may begin or continue an action that takes multiple rounds, such as a spell with a longer-than-normal casting time. These actions will typically require a certain number of turns in a row spent Preparing before they can be used.

Attack and Defense

To make an attack roll, the player of the attacking character rolls 3d6 and adds any applicable bonuses, such as from weapon proficiency. If at least two of the dice have a result of 6, and the result hits the target’s AC, the attack is a critical hit (see below).

The target’s Armor Class (AC) is equal to 10 plus bonuses from armor, shield, and other sources. The result of the attack is compared to the target’s AC. If it equals or exceeds this number, it is a hit. The attacker will consult the 3d6 roll as a 3×6 roll to generate damage.


If an attack successfully hits, the attacker deals damage. Based on the size of the weapon (small, normal, or large), the attacker chooses the low, middle, or high die from the 3d6 roll used to make the attack. This result, plus any bonuses, is the damage dealt to the target: his or her HP is reduced by that amount. If the target is reduced to 0 or fewer HP, see the Dying rules, below.

For example, a character with a +2 Blades proficiency attacks a target when wielding a sword. He rolls 4, 2, and 5 for a total of 13 (the 3d6 result plus the proficiency). The target is wearing padded armor (+1 AC), for a total AC of 11, so the attack hits. Since the sword is a normal sized weapon, the character picks the middle die from the attack roll (the 4) and deals 4 damage. If the target has 4 or less HP, he is now dying.

Critical Hits

Any attack roll that results in at least two 6s and hits is considered a critical hit, and has additional effects based on the weapon type:

  • Blunt: The target is stunned and loses his or her next turn.
  • Slashing: The target is bleeding and takes one point of damage at the end of its next turn and for a number of turns equal to the damage dealt. The target can stop this bleeding by spending a First Aid action on himself or herself.
  • Piercing: The attack may have hit a vital organ. After applying damage, roll 1d6. If the result would be enough damage to take the target to 0 HP or less, apply it (otherwise, nothing vital was hit and no additional damage is dealt).
  • Large: In addition to the effect of whether the weapon is blunt, slashing, or piercing, a critical hit with a large weapon knocks the target down (and, at the GM’s discretion, into any nearby hazards). He or she must use an action to stand up.


Spellcasters typically have to overcome a target’s defenses to affect him or her with an attack spell. Each spell will designate a primary ability score as its target. Each spell will also designate its attack potency as Strong (High), Moderate (Middle), or Weak (Low).

To attack with a spell, roll 3×6, keep the appropriate die based on is potency, and add the caster’s level. Compare the result to the target’s appropriate ability score added to the target’s level. If the result equals or exceeds the difficulty, the spell delivers its effect. Some spells have a reduced effect on a failure.

Area of effect spells make a single roll and compare the results to every target in the area. Some such spells have a Strong effect within a certain area, a Moderate effect in an area beyond that, and a Weak effect at the fringes. In these cases, determine which region of the effect each target is in, and select the correct result from the 3×6 roll.

For example, a 5th level wizard casts Burning Hands at a group of monsters. This spell has a Strong effect that will hit two monsters directly in front of the caster, a Moderate effect against another monster further away, and a Weak effect against two monsters at the fringe of the explosion. The Wizard rolls 5, 1, and 4. At the center, the spell has a total of 10, in the middle band it has a total of 9, and at the fringe it has a total of 6. These numbers are compared to the Reflex + Level of the monsters in the areas of effect to see if the spell hits.


A character reduced to 0 or fewer HP is dying.

Each time the character is reduced to dying, or takes additional damage while dying:

  • Roll a Hard test against the absolute current negative value of HP:
    • If the roll succeeds (rolls less than the negative value of HP), the character dies.
    • Essentially, a character at 0 HP is not in danger of dying, and a character at -6 or more HP automatically dies.
  • If the character is still alive after the test, he or she is Unconscious and also takes a Wound.
  • If the character is Unconscious at less than 0 HP, repeat the test at the end of the round each round.
    • In this case, the character dies if the test is failed, but does not take an additional Wound if it succeeds.
    • Another character can prevent this test by taking a First Aid action to try to stabilize the dying character.
    • Each First Aid action heals the dying character by 1 HP, to a maximum of 0 HP (essentially, healing the character to the point he or she is no longer in danger of bleeding to death).


  • A character at 0 HP heals normally according to Vigor.
    • The character remains unconscious until healed to at least 1 HP.
    • The character retains all Wounds suffered even after being healed.
  • Each Wound currently suffered by the character imposes a cumulative -1 penalty to all Feats based on primary abilities.
    • For example, a character with two Wounds would treat Fortitude, Reflex, and Will all as two points lower than normal when attempting to succeed at Feats.
    • If a character has an effective 0 in an ability, he or she automatically fails at feats using that ability.
  • Once per day, while sleeping, the character may roll a Feat of Vigor to remove a single Wound:
    • While adventuring, the difficulty of the Feat is High.
    • If the character has full bed rest and/or very limited exertion (i.e., is safe and not adventuring or doing otherwise strenuous activity), the difficulty of the Feat is Moderate.
    • If the character is tended by a healer while getting full rest (as above), the difficulty of the Feat is Low.
  • Some magic and other effects may speed recovery of both HP and Wounds.

Dungeon Crawl, Part 2

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Weapon Proficiency Groups

There are twelve different groups into which a character can place weapon proficiencies. Each individual weapon fits into a group based on whether it is small, normal, or two-handed and whether it is blunt, slashing, piercing, or ranged. If the character has a proficiency with a group, he or she gets the bonus when wielding that weapon.

  • Unarmed (Small Blunt)
  • Knives (Small Slashing)
  • Stilettos (Small Piercing)
  • Clubs (Normal Blunt)
  • Blades (Normal Slashing)
  • Spears (Normal Piercing)
  • Staves (Large Blunt)
  • Greatblades (Large Slashing)
  • Polearms (Large Piercing)
  • Thrown (Small Ranged)
  • Crossbows (Normal Ranged)
  • Bows (Large Ranged)

Weapon Qualities

A weapon is defined by its size and type, and deals damage and special effects accordingly. The difference between two weapons that share the same proficiency group is up to the GM’s discretion (e.g., an axe and a sword would by normally identical, but the GM may rule that an axe gets a bonus to cut through wood, while the sword is better for spiking closed a door).

  • Size:
    • Small: A small weapon can be wielded in one hand and is typically the size of a short sword or dagger or smaller. Small weapons typically deal damage based on the lowest die of 3×6.
    • Normal: A normal weapon is anything that doesn’t fit into the Small category that can be comfortably wielded in one hand. Normal weapons typically deal damage based on the middle die of 3×6.
    • Large: A large weapon requires two hands to use for most characters (some larger monsters may be able to wield one in a single hand). Large weapons typically deal damage based on the highest die of 3×6.
  • Type:
    • Blunt: A blunt weapon does not have a cutting edge. Blunt weapons are generally cheaper to make (often being simple wood), but are less effective against rigid armors. They deal -1 damage (to a minimum of 0) against these armors.
    • Slashing: A slashing weapon is designed for chopping or cutting, and almost always features a metal edge. It deals +1 damage against unarmored targets (though some monsters have skin thick enough to negate this bonus).
    • Piercing: A piercing weapon deals most of its damage at a single point, tending to punch through armor and harm organs. It gains a +1 attack bonus against armored targets (including some monsters with naturally thick skin).
    • Ranged: A ranged weapon may be any of the other types (gaining its bonus or penalty). Each ranged weapon includes an increment (in spaces or feet). At this distance, and each additional distance of the same amount, the wielders attacks take a -1 cumulative penalty. Ranged weapons may also be adjudicated as not having a clear range to a target due to obstacles. If another character is an obstacle, the GM may allow the attacker to make the shot at a penalty, but risk hitting the intervening character on a miss.


Armor comes in two types:

  • Flexible armors are made of thin layers of protective material that contort with the wearer. This generally makes them cheaper and preferable by characters that require full-body mobility, but provides less protection against impacts from blunt weapons.
  • Rigid armor, conversely, is made out of interlocking plates of metal or boiled leather, designed not to deform with an impact. These armors provide more protection against blunt weapons, but limit the full range of motion more.

Armor provides a bonus to the character’s armor class:

  • Rigid Armors:
    • Leather: +2
    • Hide: +3
    • Banded: +4
    • Partial Plate: +5
    • Full Plate: +6
  • Flexible Armors:
    • Padded: +1
    • Studded: +2
    • Chain: +3
    • Ring: +4
    • Mithral Chain: +5

If the AC bonus provided by armor is greater than the character’s Body, the difference between the two scores is a penalty to the character’s Speed score while the armor is worn. If Speed is reduced to 0 by armor, the character cannot move effectively, at best stumbling around under the load.

Shields and Offhand Weapons

A character using a small or normal-sized weapon can wield a shield or offhand weapon.

A character with a shield gains an additional +1 AC against attacks from the front (e.g., not against a backstab attempt). If a character takes a critical hit while wielding a shield, he or she can decide to have the shield shatter and treat it as a normal hit. If the shield wielded is metal, roll 1d6: if the result equals or exceeds the lowest die result for the critical hit, it is negated without destroying the shield.

A character can, instead, wield a small or normal weapon in the off-hand. When doing so, the character’s proficiency bonus in the off-hand weapon is added to attacks made with the main hand. No further benefit is gained from the weapon (i.e., it doesn’t attack on its own, just assists the main weapon in opening a target).

Dungeon Crawl, Part 1

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Dungeon Crawl is an attempt to replicate the feel of old-school D&D with a different dice mechanic and slightly more unified rules based around this mechanic. It evolved out of two realizations:

  • Random character generation’s big strength is getting you into the game fast, especially if you roll poorly on a character that subsequently dies. Especially for a game that mimics old-school D&D, rolling up a first level character should be easy and fast at the table.
  • Rolling 3d6 makes a very nice bell curve, as discovered by GURPS, the Dragon Age RPG, and, of course, old-school D&D character generation. Interestingly, the median result of 3d6 creates a similarly nice curve on a range of 1-6.

Thus, the following system.


Dungeon crawl uses two methods of dice resolution:

  • Additive: This is the classic method of rolling dice. After rolling, add all results together to get a result total. When dice are used in this method, they are written in the typical method (e.g., 3d6).
  • Separate: In this method, multiple dice are rolled and then the player selects one die from the total (typically, either high, middle, or low), based on context. When dice are used in this method, they are written using an “x” (e.g., 3×6).

Some rolls will be both additive and separate: the total of the roll will be used for one effect, while the individual dice will be used for another. For example, in combat, players roll 3d6 plus modifiers to see if they hit. If the attack is successful, one of the dice rolled is selected (based on weapon type) to determine damage. For this reason, players should be in the habit of leaving dice as they are rolled, rather than picking them up immediately after getting a result (as the other method of reading the dice may also be required).

Character Creation

Character Overview

Characters in Dungeon Crawl have only a handful of statistics:

  • Three primary abilities:
    • Fortitude, representing physical might and resilience
    • Reflex, representing speed and agility
    • Will, representing mental fortitude and potence
  • Three secondary abilities:
    • Vigor, representing endurance and healthiness
    • Luck, representing the blessings of fate or chance
    • Charm, representing ability to convince and lead others
  • A class and level, which grants:
    • A certain number of Hit Points
    • A certain number of Weapon Proficiencies added to create an Attack Bonus
    • Certain special abilities related to the class
  • Armor Class, which is generated from armor and shield used

Other than these statistics, all the character’s capabilities are either induced from background or based on gear collected.

Making a Character

  1. Prioritize your character’s primary ability scores: high, middle, and low.
  2. Roll 3×6. Assign the highest result to your high preference, the middle result to your middle preference, and the low result to your low preference. You now have three abilities ranging from 1-6.
  3. For each secondary ability, roll 2×6 and include the result from the associated primary ability. Take the median result of the three dice to generate an ability between 1 and 6. The associated abilities are Fortitude and Vigor, Reflex and Luck, and Will and Charisma.
  4. Choose a Class. Your character begins at level 1.
  5. Calculate Hit Points: Fortitude + Class Bonus (of 1-3), for a first level HP score of 2-9.
  6. If your class grants a Weapon Proficiency at first level, choose the weapon group for which it applies. You get a +1 Attack Bonus when using a weapon from this group.
  7. Write down the special abilities from your class, including what your current bonuses are when using them (as most abilities are based on level).
  8. If you’re playing a caster, select spells.
  9. Ask the GM what starting equipment and/or gold (to buy starting equipment) you have.

Example Character Creation

Bob decides to rank his abilities:

  1. Fortitude
  2. Will
  3. Reflex

He rolls 3×6 and gets 5, 3, 4; he now has:

  • Fortitude 5
  • Reflex 3
  • Will 4

He generates his secondary abilities:

  • For vigor he rolls 5 and 3 and includes Fortitude 5 for a median 5.
  • For Luck he rolls 6 and 1 and includes Reflex 3 for a median 3.
  • For Will he rolls 1 and 3 and includes Will 4 for a median 3.

His secondary scores are:

  • Vigor 5
  • Luck 3
  • Charm 3

He decides to be a fighter:

  • He picks 1 weapon proficiency (Blades +1).
  • He adds 3 HP to his Fortitude for 8 total HP.
  • He notes that he can make a Smash attack: +6 damage but does 1d6 to his character.
  • He can’t yet use Cleaving Blow, but will be able to next level.
  • He can’t specialize until he gets more proficiencies.


Notes on Weapon Proficiencies:

  • If a class gets less than one proficiency per level, the character does not gain the first proficiency until the level listed, and then every multiple of that level later. For example, a class that gets one proficiency every three levels gets the first proficiency at level 3, the next at level 6, and so on.
  • Weapon proficiencies must form a pyramid: in order to put a second level in a proficiency, there must be another proficiencies at the same current level. For example, a character cannot raise a proficiency to +2 earlier than his or her third proficiency (so the pyramid would be +2, +1). Similarly, getting a +3 proficiency isn’t possible until the sixth proficiency (for +3, +2, +1).


Weapon Proficiencies: 1/level

Hit Points: +3 per level

Special Abilities:

  • Smash: After making a successful attack, the fighter can choose to take 1d6 damage (from strain) to deal Level + Fortitude as bonus damage (roll the weapon’s damage normally).
  • Cleaving blow: If the a fighter is facing multiple, lower-level enemies, he or she can make multiple attacks as long as they are all in striking range (if using a melee weapon) or in a straight line along the fighter’s path of attack (if using a ranged weapon). The fighter can attack one target per level in this way, as long as all targets are half the character’s level (rounded down) or less. For example, a 5th level fighter could attack up to five targets of 2nd level or less.
  • Specialization: For any weapon in which the fighter has a +3 Proficiency or better, he or she deals +2 damage. (Remember that, because of the proficiency pyramid, this ability will not be useful until 6th level at the earliest.)


Weapon Proficiencies: 1/2 levels

Hit Points: +2 per level

Special Abilities:

  • Stealth: If a rogue moves at half speed, he or she can designate up to his or her level of total levels of other characters or monsters that will automatically not notice her despite being in an area where they might otherwise. Dim conditions or concealment may increase this number, while being well lit, in combat, or specifically searched for may reduce it. For example, a 4th level rogue can designate up to four level 1 creatures that will not notice her, or one 4th level creature.
  • Backstab: A rogue deals his or her level as bonus damage on any successful hit against a target that is unaware of the rogue, disabled, or flanked by the rogue and an ally.
  • Dirty Deeds: A rogue can always make rolls for thievery-related feats, even if the GM would otherwise be inclined to disallow them. If the rest of the party would be allowed to make the roll, the rogue makes it at one lower difficulty. What counts as thievery-related includes climbing, lock picking, trap disarming, pickpocketing, and so on, but can be added to as appropriate.


Weapon Proficiencies: 1/3 levels

Hit Points: +1 per level

Special Abilities:

  • Spell Points: Will + 1/level
  • Spellbook: A wizard chooses 1d6 starting spells from the first level wizard list. Further spells must be found during play. He or she can learn any spell found in play by scribing it into a spellbook (but he or she may not initially be able to pay SP cost for potent spells). It takes one day per SP cost of a spell to scribe it.
  • Spellcasting: A wizard can prepare a number of spells at a time equal to Will. Replacing a currently prepared spell requires 10 minutes of study for each SP required to cast the spell. Casting a spell deducts its SP cost from the wizard’s current SP total (and the character cannot go negative). Each spell prepared can be cast multiple times, as long as the wizard can pay the SP cost.


Weapon Proficiencies: 1/2 levels

Hit Points: +2 per level

Special Abilities:

  • Spell Points: Will + 1/2 levels
  • Spell Access: A cleric gains access to every spell on his or her deity’s spell list (but may not be able to initially pay for higher potency ones).
  • Spellcasting: A cleric can prepare a number of spells at a time equal to Will. Replacing a currently prepared spell requires 10 minutes of prayer for each SP required to cast the spell. Casting a spell deducts its SP cost from the cleric’s current SP total (and the character cannot go negative). Each spell prepared can be cast multiple times, as long as the cleric can pay the SP cost.

Rolling without Reason: Gamism vs. Narrativism

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I’ve been speeding up my Rise of the Runelords game in order to finish before a player has to move away. This involves a lot of going through the remaining modules and figuring out what I can skip with minimal impact on the story but a lot of time savings at the table. While I’m mostly cutting whole side quests and such that are interesting but mostly thematic filler, another thing I’m noticing a lot more is rolls for no reason. The two examples I noticed in particular are one where Will saves are necessary to force though a set of magical barriers and one where Climb checks are needed to get up oversized stairs. In neither of these cases in there likely to be any time pressure or other consequence for failure: the players will just keep rolling until they get it.

Many modern games, particularly ones with a strong narrative focus, explicitly recommend that GMs not call for rolls unless there is an interesting result for both success and failure. If that’s not the case, the GM is encouraged to simply narrate the result, taking into account the character’s skills. But this method seems at odds with the intuition of a gamist.

This conflict is, in my experience, most evident in the use of the Perception skill (or whatever it’s called in a particular game). Many GMs I’ve gamed with have an innate response of “roll Perception” to most queries for information from the players, even if there is no real time pressure and the GM wants the players to have the information. Conversely, at least for my players, “I search…” statements are automatically followed by lifting a die to prepare for a roll, and they often seem disappointed when I just give them the information (usually, “there’s nothing here to find, don’t bother rolling”).

Put simply, many players and GMs seem to have the core notion that a result isn’t meaningful unless it comes from a die roll. Narrating a result strips out the notion of success against difficult odds. In the RotR examples, even though there’s nothing interesting, narrative-wise, about rolling until you succeed, for the gamist, rolling to see who climbs to the top the fastest is a meaningful difference (even if the disparity in Climb skills makes it obvious who will win). Similarly, some Skill Challenges in D&D 4e seem set up so the adventure can grind to a halt if not successful.

At root, this all comes down to the growing attempt by tabletop games to create mechanics for everything else that are as robust and enjoyable as the mechanics for combat. In many games, but D&D in particular, there’s often very little chance that the PCs won’t win any given fight (unless they jumped something they shouldn’t have jumped). However, the results of combat are granular enough that there are clear gradations of winning: did the party make it through without a scratch or did they get injured? How many limited resources were expended for the win? So far, that experience has not been replicated in the non-combat parts of games (though many systems try with social conflict, to greater or lesser success). It seems to me that, with rolling outside of combat and with Skill Challenges in particular, the goal is to capture the fun of combat in the rest of the game, but, without creating a game with as detailed a list of options and resources for everything as for fighting, this isn’t really possible.

Ultimately, the converse might be easier: simplifying combat so much that it doesn’t differ so drastically from every other skill roll in the game. Would a game where combat was resolved as simply as anything else ultimately streamline the desire to roll for situations without interesting consequences? Or would it just make for a boring game?

Rudiments: Mythic Greece RPG

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Clash of the Titans + long drive means that I started putting together an RPG system expressly tuned to run high-action games set in mythic Greece. As it currently exists, it’s something of a combination of Exalted and Warhammer.



  • Athletics: Body mass, physical strength, and general health; used to determine base damage resistance and to make feats of strength
  • Agility: Dexterity, speed, and finesse; used to determine base defense and movement rate


  • Passion: Outgoing expressiveness and charm; used for many aggressive social actions and resistance to social attacks
  • Presence: Ability to emote and conceal emotions; used for many passive social actions and social defense


  • Intellect: Logical mental prowess and raw intelligence; used to make deductions and resist mental attacks
  • Intuition: Perception and ability to make mental leaps; used to make inductions and defend against mental attacks

In most cases, characters may roll the higher of the two attributes in a category unless the situation specifically calls for one or the other. The result is narrated according to the attribute used (e.g., an attack with Athletics is forceful and direct, while an attack with Agility is quick and precise).


Characters have three major traits that parallel the attributes. These are used as skills for many rolls and represent both actual competence and perceived competence in the setting. Most careers are gated by a certain prerequisite number in one or more tempers.

  • Glory: The character’s history of battle, used for martial prowess
  • Devotion: The character’s history of loyalty to liege and gods, used for social prowess
  • Prudence: The character’s history of rhetorical acuity, used for mental prowess


Most rolls are a number of d10s equal to the applicable attribute. The player keeps the highest die roll and then adds an appropriate Temper score (e.g., an attack by a character with 5 Athletics and 6 Glory would be the highest of 5d10 + 6).

Physical Combat

Initiative and Actions

Each round, players roll 1d10 for initiative. Heavy armor imposes a penalty and certain weapons and traits might impose a bonus or penalty. If the player rolls 10+, he or she may take an extra action at the end of the round. If the character is wielding an offhand weapon, this roll must only be 5+, but in that case the extra action must be an attack with the offhand weapon.

In initiative order, each character takes two actions on his or her initiative mark. Possible actions are:

  • Move: Move spaces equal to Agility (if not engaged in melee)
  • Escape: Move one space away from an adjacent enemy
  • Feat of Strength: Do something like climb, jump, or move an object using Athletics
  • Build up: Wind up a mighty attack
  • Momentum Attack: Make a melee attack roll at +2 after a Move or Build Up action (same round)
  • Attack: Make an attack roll
  • Defend: Add weapon or shield’s Block rating to Defense until your first action next round (can double up for extra defense)
  • Draw: Remove ammunition from a bag or quiver (knocking a bow or loading a sling does not take an action if the character has a helper or the ammo placed in quick reach, such as planted in the ground in front)

If multiple individuals are attacking the same target, each subsequent attacker in the round gets +1 to hit. If the target is flanked, each flanking attacker gets +1 to hit.


A character’s Defense is equal to 5 + Agility. Many shields impose a small bonus to Defense, and characters taking the Defend action raise their Defense even further.


Armor is rated 1-10 (or even higher) based on its type: soft leather at 1, bronze plate at 10. If the armor rating is higher than the character’s Athletics attribute, the armor is treated as Heavy and imposes a -2 penalty to Initiative. If the armor rating is higher than the character’s Agility attribute, the armor is treated as Rigid and imposes a -2 penalty to Defense.

The character’s total Armor rating is equal to Athletics + Armor. This amount is deducted from the damage of all attacks that hit.


Weapons are rated 1-10 (or even higher) based on type: Knife at 1, Greataxe at 10.

Some weapons, including most blunt and slashing instruments, are Standard and deal damage based on greater weight and impact. Standard weapons are considered Unbalanced if the rating is higher than the character’s Athletics attribute; the character takes a -2 penalty to attack. Any character wielding a Standard weapon with two hands treats Athletics as 2 higher for purposes of the weapon being Unbalanced.

Some weapons, including most spears, sharp blades, and ranged weapons, are Precise and deal damage based on hitting targets in vital locations. Precise weapons are considered Clumsy if the rating is higher than the character’s Agility attribute; the character takes a -2 penalty to initiative.

Some weapons might have special, additional traits such as range or reach.

Dealing Damage

When a character makes an attack, make an attack roll as noted above ([Attribute]d10 + Glory), including any modifiers from the situation or talents. If the attack total exceeds the target’s Defense, it hits.

If an attack hits, add the amount it exceeded the target’s Defense to the base weapon rating. Compare this value to the target’s Armor and deal the overage as damage to the target.

(Hit point system to be determined)

For example, a character with Athletics 4, Glory 4, and a 4 point weapon attacks a target with Athletics 4, Agility 4 and 4 point armor. Neither has any other applicable bonuses or penalties. The attacker rolls 4d10 + 4 and rolls a 7 for a total of 11 attack. This exceeds the target’s Defense 9 (5 + Agility). The attack exceeded the target’s Defense by 2, so the attacker adds the base weapon damage of 4 to that 2 for a total of 6. Unfortunately, the target’s Armor rating is currently 8 (4 Athletics + 4 Armor), so the attack clangs harmlessly off. The attacker will most likely need to roll higher or avail himself of attack bonuses to harm this target.

Other Challenges

Other than combat, characters might engage in several types of challenges during a quest:

  • Athletic competition: Based on physical attributes, the character attempts to win a race, wrestling match, or other Olympic sport
  • Courtly Drama: Based on social attributes, the character grandstands in front of a court, striving to win the favor of lord or peers in an argument with a rival
  • Performance: Based on social attributes, the character gives a dramatic or musical performance to the assembly, trying to prove competence and change the mood of the room
  • Debate: Based on mental attributes, the character engages foes in a rhetorical contest to prove the best solution to a situation; use of Ethos, Pathos, or Logos establishes whether the character uses Glory, Devotion, or Prudence as a skill
  • Craft: Based on mental attributes, the character attempts to create a great work of art or engineering, either to prove the more skilled at embedding themes or the more skilled at making a practical creation

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