Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Let's Build an RPG! Dragonette (WIP, pt.1)

AI Generated baby Dragon
by Alana Jordan
Pixabay License
 So, my four year-old is getting very jealous of the time I spend playing Basic Fantasy RPG with his big brother, and demanded that I teach him how to play. Naturally,  I reached for a copy of Tiny Dungeon 2e, but when I explained that he only needed the six sided dice, he protested:

"I want ALL THE DICE!"

So, I started making something up on the fly in my head that I knew would suit his tastes,  be simple enough for a four-year-old to learn, but use ALL THE DICE. And while I was at it, I wanted to make it a more-or-less OSR Compatible game for my own ease-of-use and to prime him for more complicated games later.

So I started playing and developing the rules as I went hobbledehoy from mechanics I love. It took me about 10 minutes to decide all of these things, but a couple of hours to write it all down, between sessions of packing, unpacking, cleaning and moving that has consumed my entire life for the last few weeks.

My working title for this project is:


Hit Points

Hit points are a pain, but they also work as a system. Besides which, my son is already obsessed with "Hit Points" because his brother is always talking about them. There is no escaping them now.

I started with ICRPG, I figured using the Hearts system to set clocks on challenges was ideal. One heart equals 10 HP. A task can have no heart 🖤 (1 HP) a half heart 💔 (5 HP) or a number of full hearts ❤ (10 HP). Based on how big a challenge it ought to be.

Hearts makes it easy to estimate difficulties on the fly. Classic D&D monsters get 1 HEART per 2 HD,


Any task is rolled as a d20 to get over a Target set by the difficulty of the situation. 

  • EASY 8
  • HARD 15
  • VERY HARD 18

Here, I will part from ICRPG and say use advantage or disadvantage dice is appropriate. You may stack multiple advantages or disadvantages as up to 4 d20s rolled at once. I.e. you roll up to 4d30 taking the highest if you have 3 or more net advantages,  or rolling g 4d20 and taking the lowest if you have three or more net disadvantages.

This is good and easy.

If you succeed, you reduce the HP of the obstacle. 

"Damaging" Obstacles 

The die you roll is based on how you are solving the problems:

  • HANDS (bare fists, raw talent, etc.) d6
  • HEAD (tools, weapons) d8
  • HARMONY (magic, faith) d10

This is a little more generous than ICRPG, but offers less variation.

I wanted to go with Hands, Head, Heart, but the use of HEARTS in other parts of the game made that too confusing. 


I would rather follow in the footsteps of Knave or Cairn here and have three stats. Let's call them TOUGHNESS, AGILITY, and CHARM. Those are easy enough to work with.

I will skip an Intelligence stat here. If I am going to create a TTRPG for my kid, I would rather he use his own brain with much more material puzzles.

I am trying to cut way back on the math here, do Let's make it simple: Stats can be WEAK, AVERAGE, or GREAT. If you have a WEAK stat you always roll with disadvantage on apropos rolls. If you have GREAT stats you roll with advantage. 

A Character can have one GREAT and two AVERAGE  abilities,  or two GREAT and one WEAK ability.

I am trimming down the math here. As a result I want to be really generous with stacking advantages. This will make sure the game pays off if the player tries to apply clever solutions or if players work as a team.

Characters will have ❤️ hit points to start, just like ICRPG.  This makes characters roughly as tough as level 3-4 B/X D&D Characters.

I will skip leveling entirely at first. This is an introduction to TTRPGs, and keeping adventures simple is part of the goal. I will put lots of items in tables to handle character advancement, granting extra hearts as needed.


I am going to make Inventory the engine of character advancement in the game. It is easy to keep track of and I find kids become very enamored of their magic treasures.

To keep it simple, I will have PC carry 5 "Ready" Inventory slots. Anything that is in those slots grants benefits. Otherwise, they have 10 "Backpack " slots that grant no benefits. 

Inventory of small items that are bundled together will handled with HP as well. An item that can be depleted, like a sack of treasure, the ammo for a weapon, or the oil in a lam has a heart.

NORMAL USE costs 1HP. For example. using a torch for a turn, using a lantern for 2 turns, shooting a bow to sling a rope across a chasm, buying a small item, or using a supply of food and water for one day.

MODERATE USE might deplete a d6 HP. Examples might include, buying a suit of armor or a weapon with some treasure, bribing a  weak monster, shooting a ranged weapon multiple times in an extended battle, using a lantern to start a fire, throwing lit lamp oil, sharing rations with a starving creature, etc.

HEAVY USE might deplete a d8 of HP. Examples include: buying a minor magic item with treasure, firing a ranged weapon in a mass-scale battle, making a roll towards buying a property, bribing a nobleman or powerful monster, losing rations in a flood or after being exposed to food-rotting magic.

EXHAUSTIVE USE depletes using a d10. Examples include donating a slot of treasure to help a group of poor families, buying a siege weapon, using oil to star a massive blaze, bribing a dragon or demon, getting a roll towards buying a castle, using torches to build a bonfire.

In my initial playtest, I used depletion dice to handle inventory, but it was too many systems. Why use HEARTS for one thing and Depletion for another? I decided to just give HP to any depletable resource.

Injury & Inventory Slots

I am going to take a great idea from Grok?! and Mausritter here: once a character gets down to 0 HP, they start having Inventory slots fill with injuries. A player must choose one Ready or two Backpack slots to fill. The injuries in Ready slots have effects just like items do. In part 2 I will make an example table.  Assume for now they will be situational disadvantage or lost turns,

If you take an injury, and you have no slots, you must discard items to make the difference; these are broken or lost.

If you have no slots left, your character is "out."

Curses, disease, and poison work the same way: if you are exposed, roll a TOUGHNESS  check or lose inventory slots..

Each slot has ❤️ that requires medical care to remove. If a character is resting they can roll toughness to do HANDS to a single slot. A doctor, herbalist, or barber-surgeon may heal HANDS every day that a PC is in their care. A faith healer can heal HARMONY with each magical act, but the limits on magic make that risky.

Speaking of Magic...

I think Knave has a great idea here: magic should create cool, exploitable,  non-damaging effects. In order to cast a spell, it has to be in a Ready Slot. Players make a CHARM roll to cast it. 

If they want to cast it fast, the spell has only 🖤 (1 HP) to cast. But doing so uses up one of three charges on the tablet, Wand, rune, or scroll holding the spell. Just like in Mausritter.  A spell with no charges cannot be cast.

To regain charges, a character must perform some special deed described in the spell.

I am lifting this straight out of Mausritter,  a fantastic fusion of Into the ODD 

Alternatively,  a character's can perform a ritual version of the spell by rolling CHARM to do HARMONY  against  ❤️❤️ (2 HEARTS). This doesn’t use up a charge.

For fun, I will say that there are powerful spellbooks in the game that if kept in an active slot will randomly generate spells overnight using the Maze Rats table... altered for appropriateness for my audience.


In the name of keeping it as basic is possible, I am going to isolate combat to two distances HERE and THER, borrowing from descriptions I have heard of Hankerin Ferinale's 5e: Hardcore Mode (which I have yet to read, but assume it is badass because it is a RUNEHAMMER product.) I may adjust it to a slightly simpler Front/Back system like toe one in Ryuutama later on.

if you are HERE you can make and are subject to melee attacks.

If you are THERE you can only make or be hit by ranged attacks or magic spells.

Players go first unless they have been surprised. They get two actions. They must spend one of those actions to get from HERE to THERE or THERE to HERE.

Simple, fast, and easy to remember is how it needs to be for a four year-old to learns.

0HP for NPCs is unconscious, destroyed, or demoralized. However you formulate it, they have no fight left in them. It also means, that attempts to terrify, confuse, and disarm also depletes their HP, as this is working toward the same goal as bashing them over the head: getting them to stop fighting.

PCs have a DEFENSE rating that starts at 10. If they have GREAT AGILITY it is 12. This is the number a monster needs to hit in order to damage the PCs. DEFENSE may never exceed 18.

Armor takes one READY slot and  a number of backpack slots based on its weight up to 4 for extremely heavy armor. It adds +2 to DEFENSE for each Backpack Slot it takes. Magic Armor adds extra bonuses to its wearer.

Shields in an Active slot increase a character's DEFENSE by +2. They can be sacrificed to ignore all damage from one attack.

Morale & Reaction

NPCs in direct conflict with the PCs, at the GM's discretion should roll a d10. If it is above their current HP, they should try to de-escalate the conflict or flee rather than fighting. Because they still have HP they will keep defending themselves if the PCs  leave them no reasonable choice.

Morale and Reaction Rolls are amazing tools, and I would not leave them out of a game. 

For Reaction  rolls, I will use a standard D&D 2d6 table otherwise, If the PC leading the interaction has GREAT CHARM, roll 3d6 and take the highest two. If they have WEAK CHARM roll 3d6 and keep the lower two.


Okay, that is enough mechanical jiggery-pokery as I needed to start a game rolling. What will make this a functional TTRPG is content, not mechanics in any case. Monsters, Items, Spells, character options: these are what is going to make the game great. So I will build them in the next article.

But here's the thought I want to leave you with. This wasn't hard. I put this game together in 10 minutes initially, Sure, I have read and tested dozens of rule-sets. That is an advantage, but anyone could have done this with Cairn, MotO, Knave, and the ICRPG Quickstart sitting around.

In my next article, I am going to hammer out some tables for Dragonette. In a third, we are going to fine-tine it into something other people can use.


Dragonette is CC-BY 4.0 Brian C. Rideout

Cairn is CC-BY-SA 4.0 Yochai Gal
Grok?! is CC-BY 4.0 Lester Burton
Index Card RPG is CC Hankerin Ferinale with special restrictions and limitations
Knave is CC-BY 4.0 Ben Milton
Mark of the Odd is released under the Mark of the Odd License v0.4 by Chris McDowell
Mausritter is © 2020 Losing Games
Maze Rats is CC-BY4.0 Ben Milton

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