Monday, May 3, 2021

The Accidental Role-playing Game

Tentative inner cover page for
"Deathtrap Lite"; Art by Lady of Hats
Last weekend, I was chatting with Stephen Smith and the rest of the Thursday Night playtest team, and ended up discussing the task resolution system Stephen was using for Thieves in World of Weirth. After awhile, I realized that I had such a complicated idea for tweaks to his system that I needed to write it all down.

After a few hours work I returned to him not just with a tweaked skill system, I had written a whole new game engine, entirely by accident. Looking at the engine, I found myself saying things like:

"If I just use the roll this way, then I have a combat system... "

" If I make this tiny adjustment, I have a magic system..."

"If i use this tool I can keep the game simpler...""

If I turn my head and squint at an OSR stat-block, I can make this whole setup OSR Compatible..."

And I just started writing whenever my kids were keeping themselves entertained. When my little guy is napping, through Saturday Morning cartoons, and in the bathroom. And now I am just a couple of day's work away from putting out a game.

  • It is compatible with the OSR with only a little work: you can use an OSR module with it without too much difficulty. 
  • It does not use D&D's traditional rules for dice rolling at all; it is a fixed-target dice-chain based system. 
  • It is far enough removed from Dungeons & Dragons that I can release it on a true open-culture license. 
  • It features a time-keeping system inspired by the B/X tool but highly simplified and streamlined. 
  • It is mostly player-facing. 
  • Character sheets fit on an index card.
  • Character advancement is organic, and happens when a character does what they do best.
  • It keeps pace with B/X in terms of scalability, but advancement happens more slowly.
  • It has three (non-vancian) variable magic systems with inspiration taken from Knave and The Dozen Dooms.
  • A setting that is human-centric and does not rely on many of the Tolkinian fantasy tropes that inform traditional D&D settings.
  • I already have outlines for a ton of supporting material.
  • I borrow some of my favorite bits of Low Fantasy Gaming, DCC RPG, ICRPG Core 2e, Knave, Tiny Dungeon 2e, and Lamentations of the Flame Princess
I wanted to keep my readers on the loop with regards to my creative process, as I have been very quiet this week, and didn't want to leave the blog without an update. 

I didn't set out to create a TTRPG, one just kind of hatched from my head. I hope it will appeal to some of you enough to playtest it for me. 


  1. I've been working on my own for months. I get a lot of enjoyment out of fiddling with it. The real problem is that I have four and a half basic engines in mind, and keep switching between which one I favor. (d20, d12/2d6, dice chain, and d6 pool [number of dice = skill, target number = attribute].) And for most of them, I waffle back and forth between a fixed target number and opposed rolls.

    I really like the opposed melee attack/damage rule from Frostgrave, but it's too "swingy" for my tastes. Plus I like rolling damage. So I roll d20/d12/2d6 and add my attack value, then subtract the opponents defense value (which is their attack value + shield). For d20, the target is 10. At 15 and 20 there are bonuses to damage. (Armor reduces damage, but never below one). For a result of 5 or less, your opponent hits you for half damage, or full damage below a zero.

    And I like the separate sweat & blood tracks, like from Dungeons & Delvers. (Sweat damage is eliminated by a short rest, which gets progressively longer during the day.) But I have penalties to everything as you take blood damage, plus the save or pass out roll. Oh, and your blood score is equal to your STR, so it doesn't change much as you level up. Sweat is based on CON, with bonuses for class and level as you gain experience and work out.

    I like The Hero's Journey for versatile spells in a simple apprentice/journeyman/master tier system, but I would use spell points and rolls to cast based on spell tier (12/15/18 as targets). Spend more points to have a bonus to your roll. Not enough mana points? Use sweat. Not enough sweat? Use blood. Failed anyways? Roll on the Magical Mishap Mayhem table, with disadvantage if you missed the target by ten or more. Oh, and random chaos spells from Knave. And no clerics, only wizards (who have access to healing spells). Slow magic (rituals) don't generally fail (don't roll a one!), but take hours and silver. They're good for making single-use magic items (scrolls, potions & magic arrows).

    Oh, and I love the "starting out in debt" trope from Bastionland and Tombpunk. What is your failed career? Who do you owe? And the chance to build you own business like in Death is the New Pink and Mausritter (as modified by our esteemed host, of course).

    And all this started out as a mod to D100 Dungeon.

    1. Oh, yeah. Armor either reduces damage by a fixed amount (but never below one), or has an opposed roll versus your weapon damage. Leather = d4, chain shirt = d6, mail = d8, brigandine = d10, plate = d12.

      Shields make you harder to hit, and have different scores versus melee/missile attacks. Small 3/2, large 4/6. Nobody sane carries a tower shield (6/8) into a dungeon, because it gives you disadvantage on absolutely everything except avoiding being hit. It also is encumbering, which reduces your available Sweat. (Goblins use them, of course, but put them on wheels as a sort of mobile wall. But then, they're defending their homes from marauding bands of adventurers. And they favor javelin volleys from behind cover.)

    2. I know exactly what you mean. I have so many ideas... So hard to know which things I want to put in. I have been paralyzed by this on the past.

      I find that what has helped me, and I will go into this a bit in articles, is focusing on player experience first.

      For this one I wanted a clear "Deathtrap" feel: a setting where mazes full of traps felt safe, where PCs can be maimed on on an Unlucky hit, and combat is tense.

      And I wanted tight pacing, fast rules, and an organic system for character growth based on rewarding survival and cunning.

      Finally, I wanted to make a game that still drew enough on D&D that the stat blocks and monsters from a screw job like Tamochan or any given LotFP Adventure could be played as is with less than 15 minutes of note taking.

    3. That, thankfully suggested a lot of rules that could get me the results I wanted.

      Want tension? Use traditional time tracking honed for speed of play.

      Want a hostile environment, use random encounters when players faff around.

      Want Theater of the Mind play that requires little visualization? Zones are ideal.

      Want combat feel horrible, use horrible wound tables.

      The more specific about the game I wanted to play was, the easier it got to make.

      Now, on some levels I did this bass-ackwards because it started with an engine, but the whole point of the engine was fast, simple, Tense play anyway. So I had a good starting point.