Card Crawl


This is an extremely lightweight D&D-esque system designed to provide extremely fast-paced character creation and combat. It’s intended to replicate a lot of classic dungeon crawl-style play: characters become less disposable and more interesting over time (but are easy to replace at low level) and players might alternate PCs as some of their “stable” are unavailable for particular adventures.

All character detail is handled with cards that can be reduced to a packet after play (but unlike some card systems, many of the cards expect players to personalize them). At the beginning of each session, players arrange their cards into several “sheets” of up to 3 x 3 cards (card binder sleeves are probably helpful) which can actually alter the way the character plays each session (by rearranging skills and their bonuses and weapon combos).

I only got the character cards done before I got distracted; I’ll hopefully get back around to adding the other cards later.

Core System

  • Roll dice + skill bonus
    • 2d6 for Cautious action
    • 1d12 for Aggressive action
    • Cautious vs. Aggressive only matters for description of action (player basically trades higher average and minimum for less chance at high numbers)
  • Difficulty:
    • Against Opponent: 6 + Opponent skill
    • Against Environment: 6-18
    • Tie goes to defender
  • Margin of success matters

Character Creation

  • Take one race card
  • Take one +4/+4 character card (or a second race card if the first race was Human and the player wants to be a half-X)
  • Take one +1 attack
  • Take a 1 point, 2 point, and 3 point Defense card (or larger if the GM wants a lower-lethality game)
  • Take one piece of basic gear.

Character Cards

Outside of character creation, cards have a cost equal to highest bonus x 10 (most cards are 8 points divided between two skills, min 1, so a +4/+4 costs 40 points and a +7/+1 costs 70). A player can only have one race card (two if a half-human), and only one of each other category of card.

Each card has a place for the player to write a name, focus, or description; a special ability; two skill bonuses; and two skills. The bonuses are on right and bottom, skills are on left and top. When you place a card adjacent to another horizontally or vertically, the sides combine to form a bonus (ignore any skills or numbers on sides that are not adjacent). Players can arrange their cards as desired at the start of each session but must have one card in the center and can only build one card out from that card (to a max of 9 x 9). Many of the skills are deliberately vague, and the player should be allowed to use any skill that could remotely make sense for a situation, within the GM’s tolerance.

The cards are here.

Until you’ve purchased a card, you do not have whatever the cards represent: no name, no title, no class, no backstory. For example, a player that chooses Human and Elf to start is just “The half-elf” until he buys a class and becomes “The half-elf Fighter.” He may eventually purchase name and backstory elements as well, but until the card is purchased, it’s a mystery to everyone.

Attack/Action Cards

Each card costs the innate bonus of the attack x 10. You have to buy cards in pyramid (e.g., 2 at +1 to buy a +2, 3 at +1 and 2 at +2 to buy a +3, etc.). Some require a class card as a prerequisite for purchase (e.g., Fighter attacks).

Each has a combo bonus on the bottom and right. Higher bonuses come from cards that are harder to use. If you use the attack successfully, if your next action is the attack to the right or the bottom, you get the bonus. Like character cards, attack cards can be arranged as desired each session, but must have one in the middle.

Each has an attack with a base attack bonus involved and an effect.

The difficulty of an attack is usually equal to 9 unless otherwise modified.

Defense Cards

Each card costs the number on the card x 10.

Each card has a rating 1-9. These cards aren’t arranged, but just kept in a stack. When the character is hit by an attack, he or she must discard defense cards with a total rating at least equal to the margin of success (e.g., roll of 11 vs. difficulty of 9 must discard 2 points of cards; that could be two 1 cards, or a 2 or better card). A player may have to discard a large card if there are no smaller cards that exactly total the damage.

Each card has a special effect. The player can tap a defense card to gain the effects of the card. The card can’t be used again until untapped (including to expend for soaking damage). A long rest untaps the cards.

A player can only use defense cards equal to total usable character and attack cards (i.e., three for a starting character and up to 18 for a character with two full 3 x 3 grids of cards). A player with more defense cards must select which ones to bring on the adventure.

The character is Incapacitated at 0 cards (even if some cards are just tapped). This may or may not mean death, depending on the situation, but usually means the character is just unconscious if any cards are tapped rather than expended.

Healing can restore 1 card (equal or less than the value of the healing effect). If you’ve been healed, you can’t be healed again until you’re damaged again. Otherwise, defense cards return due to natural healing (at slow rate based on speed GM wants characters to be out of play between adventures).

Gear and Spell Cards

Gear/Spells grant a special ability (generally used by tapping the card). Gear and spells are acquired from adventuring (casters also get magic attacks that represent more commonly usable spells; spell cards are generally more powerful). A character can only equip a number of gear + spell cards equal to lowest card total of any other group (e.g., a character with 2 character cards, 1 attack, and 3 defense cards can only equip one piece of gear or spell). Any piece of gear or spell that hasn’t been tapped can be swapped between encounters with another piece of gear or spell the character owns and could be carrying.

Like defenses, gear and spell cards are untapped after a long rest.


Enemies have a HD type, an attack bonus, and anything else is a special ability. Roll one HD for each creature in the fight when it begins and eliminate them like defense cards. For example, a four pack of d6 goblins rolls 2, 3, 5, and 6. A hit on goblins of 5 MoS might take out both the 2 and 3 or the 5. Enemies can use their attack bonus as a skill bonus for things they should be great at, half their bonus (rounded down) for things they might be competent at, and +0 for everything else. Beefy enemies might have multiple HD each: group them into clusters for each enemy after rolling and the enemy is incapacitated when all of its dice are gone.

Random Dungeons

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Everyone likes random dungeons! Here’s a simple system for making randomized dungeons that give you some feedback to make them feel like liveable spaces. This is effectively for making dungeons that monsters are currently using as group homes or city-based compounds that the players need to infiltrate.


The first step is to determine how many rooms your dungeon is to have. Is it a relatively simple 6 room complex or a sprawling collection of 20 or more rooms?

Once you get your room number, subtract four and choose the next highest die size (e.g., an 11 room complex gives you a d8). You can vary the size of the die if you want bigger or smaller rooms: the assumption is that smaller dungeons also have smaller rooms and bigger ones have bigger rooms.

Now make a list to fill in of all of your rooms.

If you want more variation, select the first rough 1/3 of your rooms and assign the next smallest die (e.g., a d6 if your main die is a d8) and the last rough 1/3 for the next largest die (e.g., a d10 if your main die is a d8). That way, smaller rooms will tend to be at the front of the dungeon and larger ones toward the rear.

For each room, roll two of whatever die is associated with it and keep the smaller result. Mark that number down in the list. This is the number of 10×10 foot squares the room takes up (i.e., the number times 100 square feet is the space involved). This makes your life very easy if you use Dwarven Forge stuff (which is pretty well locked to a 10 foot grid). If you do your dungeons by hand, you can decide your own meaning for the numbers. The important this is just that larger rooms tend to have more connections and more important stuff in them.

Once you have a size number next to every room, start back at the top. Roll 1d6 and add the result to the room’s size, the compare the total to the following chart to find out what’s in the room:

2 Anteroom/Storage 11 Chapel 20 Temple
3 Guardroom 12 Audience Room 21 Fortification
4 Bedroom 13 Assembly Room 22 Farm/Ranch
5 Latrine/Trash 14 Warehouse 23 Gym
6 Crafting 15 Gym 24 Throne Room
7 Gathering/Kitchen 16 Kitchens 25 Temple
8 Office/Private 17 Barracks 26 Warehouse
9 Practice/Cells 18 Prison
10 Barracks 19 Throne Room

If you wind up with the same thing a lot, feel free to reroll or pick something adjacent.

Finally, we’ll figure out the connections between rooms.

Get a two dice of your dungeon’s size (e.g., 2d8 if you used d8s for your rooms) that are different colors. Pick one to be positive and one to be negative. Roll both, subtract the negative from the positive, and add the result to the room number. Do this once for each size of the room (e.g., a size 5 room will have 5 connections). You’ll likely get duplicates that will be ignored. You can also safely ignore results equal to the room you’re in and results higher than the last room (unless you’re planning to link the dungeon to a lower level, in which case those rooms have such connections). A result of 0 or less means a connection to the entrance/outside.

Once you have all these connections created, go through and scratch out the unusable ones. Circle mutual connections (e.g., if room 4 noted a connection to 6 and room 6 noted a connection to 4): these will be your major room relationships and you’ll lay out the dungeon to try to get these rooms close together. Also note which rooms have a connection to the entrance, as these will probably cluster toward one side.

Now lay the rooms out in some way that you can start tracing out the connections and then easily move them around to simplify the relationship. Visio or any similar brainstorming/charting software is ideal, Word’s connector and text boxes are only slightly less so (note: you can right click a connector arrow and tell it to “reroute connectors” to get the simplest distance once you’ve moved boxes around), and you can use a big sheet of paper or index cards in a pinch. The major goal is something that will let you move rooms around until the connections are as simple as possible and also to move rooms around based on function.

Once you have a workable layout, draw it up on a grid. All you have to do now is figure out what the layout seems to work best for, stock it with an appropriate threat, and come up with a reason the PCs are invading. The room layout itself should give you a pretty good indication of how the villains in the place are arranged, and what they might be doing when the PCs invade.


First Example

For my first dungeon, I decide to make 10 rooms and use a d8 (which is a little high, but not much). I’ll actually roll d6s for the first 3 rooms and d10s for the last 3. My results are:

  1. 1 – Latrine/Trash – 3
  2. 4 – Practice/Cells – 4, 3, entrance, 6
  3. 2 – Bedroom – entrance, 1
  4. 2 – Bedroom – 5, 6
  5. 5 – Crafting – entrance, 1, 9, 2, self
  6. 2 – Gathering/Kitchen – 9, over max
  7. 3 – Practice/Cells – 6, over max, 10
  8. 1 – Guardroom – 9
  9. 4 – Barracks – self, over max, 8, over max
  10. 8 – Warehouse – self, self, over max, over max, over max, 4, 7, over max

First off, I lay out the rooms with boxes of relatively the right size and make the connections (Image).

Next, I drag the boxes around until they make some kind of sense (Image). I notice that I have a guardroom that connects to nothing but a barracks and a warehouse that’s on the far side of the dungeon without obvious connections to things places that might be stocked by such a room. However, there is a room that has crafting. I start to think that the entrance to the place is actually the PCs entering through a secret door or a window because the two real entrances (the front door through a guard room and a big door into the warehouse) are too secure.

Finally, I lay it all out in a grid and polish out the connections to what makes sense for my master maze tiles and what gives the maximum usable space (Image).

Looking at this, it seems very clearly to be a defended construction location of some kind. Something is made in crafting room 5 and then stored in warehouse room 10 for delivery. The front of the building is the living space for the guards, and the crafters have the bedrooms at the back. The presence of cells indicates either a small contingent of cheap (possibly slave) labor that works for the crafters or, even worse, that sacrifices of some kind are used to create the goods. There are a ton of reasons that PCs might want to invade such a place and stop its production (or just get proof for the authorities).

Second Example

For my second dungeon, I go with 14 rooms and d10s (d8s for the first 4 and d12s for the last). My results are:

  1. 1 – Kitchen – entrance
  2. 7 – Barracks – 3, entrance, entrance, self, 3, 4, 1
  3. 2 – Latrine/Trash – 5, 2
  4. 4 – Office/Private – self, 5, self, 9
  5. 4 – Barracks – 2, entrance, entrance, 8
  6. 5 – Practice/Cells – entrance, 4, 1, entrance, 12
  7. 7 – Audience Room – 10, self, 6, 4, 4, 10, entrance
  8. 2 – Bedroom – 9, 2
  9. 4 – Latrine/Trash – 6, 1, 5, over max
  10. 9 – Chapel – 12, 4, 6, 13, 4, 6, 12, 8, over max
  11. 4 – Kitchen – 3, 13, 10, 14
  12. 7 – Office/Private – over max, over max, 10, 14, over max, self, 13
  13. 3 – Practice/Cells – 11, self, over max
  14. 8 – Assembly – 12, self, self, 13, 12, over max, 8, over max

Again, I lay it out in relative-sized boxes and plot the connections (Image). This time, I make it a bit easier on myself by making the primary connections big and red and the entrance connections big and green.

I notice that there are a lot of entrance connections, so I try to arrange it so they’re all toward the front: this may be a building with several access points on the facade. I move my primary connections around to preserve the main connections, and wind up dropping several connections that just don’t fit anywhere (Image).

Finally, I go to the grid and wind up making some decisions based on what fits and to streamline the number of access points to the front. If I were running this game for my players, giving them too many ways in would add hours to dithering over how to best assault the dungeon (Image).

The presence of lots of barracks and cells initially suggests a prison of some kind, possibly devoted to a god with the centrally located temple. However, these cells might also be priest cells, and then the map seems to indicate a religious order with a wing of guards that’s attached to the main body but not really part of it. Is this some dangerous cult that’s showing a nice public face while hiding dark secrets? Should the PCs take advantage of being able to bypass the guard wing entirely while risking that they’ll be alerted and attack from behind?