Playtesting A Really Simple Dungeon Crawl

My oldest loves playing board games, from Super Dungeon Explore to Forbidden Desert to Carcassonne, and my youngest has taken a very keen interest in my minis, dice, and other gaming bits, and even occasionally fires up Chronicles of Mystara despite not having a grasp of the controls (or even the controller).

I figure it's only a matter of time before they want to try out a role-playing game proper, so I've been working on a kind of "really simple dungeon crawl" as sort of a transition game. Something that doesn't have a lot of "math", fiddly bits like feats, or lists of weapons or armor to choose from.

I've been looking to board games like Super Dungeon Explore and Descent, as well as more mechanically simplistic role-playing games like Gamma World and Fright Night for inspiration, and after a several nights of designing and writing we took it for a few playtesting spins.

Before I get into the mechanics I want to go over what the characters look like, as it'll clarify what I'm talking about in terms of gameplay.

For starters you've got four stats (currently): Might, Agility, Intellect, and Willpower. I want to change Willpower to something more "cleric-y" (maybe Discipline?), since right now each stat is keyed to a "classic" archetype: fighters rely on Might, rogues Agility, and wizards use Intellect for their magic. They start at d4, d6, or d8, though maybe at some point I'll make a really focused class that starts with a d10.

Then you've got skills. I'm (also currently) mostly pulling from 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons for this, so you've got stuff like Arcana, Perception, Religion, and Thievery, but there's also Weapon (though I might break it up into Melee and Ranged). Like stats they're also represented by dice, starting at d4 (if you're untrained) or d6 (for default proficiency).

Finally at 1st-level, aside from your default stats and skills, you have one main thing that separates you from everyone else. For example fighters can choose to be way better at shrugging off blows or hacking monsters apart, clerics can choose from a variety of ways to buff others (though there is no healing), rogues are more mobile and have more skills, and wizards can do various things with their magic depending on which school(s) they have access to.

Initially I wanted the character sheet to take up at most a notecard's worth of space, but now I'm thinking of whipping up a kind of digest-sized, trifold layout. Something to give ample space to draw their character, as well as fit graphics of the dice and all of the talents. If there is multiclassing, it would also be nice to have blank space to write in other talents.

The core mechanic of the game is similar to d20 games in that you roll against a target number to see if you succeed or fail. One way it differs is that you don't roll a d20, but two or more dice, add them up, and see if you meet or beat the number. Another difference is that the players roll the dice regardless as to whether they are attacking or defending themselves, and typically are the only ones rolling the dice (though some monsters have random modifiers to their stats).

When you wanna do something you build a dice pool using the relevant stat and skill, so attacking a monster would be Might + Weapon or Agility + Weapon, forcing your way through a door would be Might + Athletics, and hiding would be Agility + Stealth. When it comes to defending your armor determines what die you add to your Might or Agility: no armor is a d4, light armor like leather is a d6, scale armor is a d8, and plate is a d10. Shields just add +1 to your roll.

Some race abilities and talents add more dice, but you always just take the two highest dice (well, I suppose you don't have to if you really don't want to).

Playtest Notes
During the first playtest I gave each monster an Attack and Defense pool of their own, so that you rolled against each other. Unfortunately this caused the first encounter, which only featured two lizardfolk, to drag on for a while. So in the second encounter I reduced their pool a bit, but while this made things go somewhat faster it still dragged for longer than we would have liked.

For the second playtest I gave each monster a static Attack and Defense value, which you rolled against when defending yourself and attacking it respectively. This sped up things quite a bit, and also allowed their party of three (Melissa was handling two characters at once with ease) to tackle nearly twice as many enemies in a much quicker time frame.

Right now monsters look like this:

Lizardfolk Warrior
Attack: 7
Defense: 5
Wounds: 2
Special: Lizardfolk attempting to hide in water add +1d4 to their Difficulty.

So, if you wanna hit him you gotta get a 5 or higher, and if you want to avoid getting hit you're going to need a 7 or higher. He's got two wounds, so it'll take two hits to take him out. The special line is a place to note any noteworthy abilities that the monster has. In this case when the GM determines how hard it is to spot the lizardfolk, it gets an extra tacked on to the 1d4 to the Difficulty.

Other stuff could include:
  • Gains +2 Defense against slashing and piercing weapons (for stuff like skeletons).
  • Takes -4 Defense against silver weapons (therianthropes).
  • Cannot be harmed by non-magical weapons.
  • An ally gains +1d6 to it's Attack.
  • Can make an attack against two adjacent characters.
  • If a character fails it's Defense roll by 2 or more, that character is grabbed until it escapes (Difficulty 9). Until the character escapes, each time the monster takes an action the character automatically suffers a wound.
  • Regains 1 Wound on it's turn.
  • When it inflicts a Wound, the target takes -1d6 to it's next Defense roll.

Just some basic things like that. Mostly I'd want to keep the rank-and-file monsters simple, while leaving more complex stuff to the champions/elites and "boss monsters", like dragons, warlords, sorcerers and the like.

Take the lizardfolk champion for example:

Lizardfolk Champion
Attack: 7
Defense: 7
Wounds: 3
Special: Lizardfolk attempting to hide in water add +1d4 to their Difficulty. When the champion attacks it adds +1d4 to it's Attack.

Better than the typical lizardfolk warrior, but still pretty simple and a bit unpredictable to boot.

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  1. You can change willpower for Wits or Spirit

  2. I like this. A friend of mine is developing a scifi rpg that uses a similar mechanic, ability die+skill die, with no modifiers. Its a nice break from the d20+mod+mod+mod, etc of most D&D. Plus with a simple system its easy to be modular and try out different house rules to fine-tune.

    1. @Victor: I was thinking of adding in a Wits stat (something more appropriate for spotting things), but want to avoid making two many stats.

      @Eodrid: That's something I'm trying to keep in mind for my 4E hack. Simple, one, maybe two mods tops. If you wanna see the rules I've got for this one, hit me up on G+ or Facebook!

  3. Have you checked out Dungeon Squad? What you are making seems like an advanced Dungeon Squad. Nice and simple, dice based stats, most actions are based on beating a set number based on monster difficulty. I'm working mashing it together with Myth for simple dungeon crawler.

  4. @Danthulhu: I haven't, but when I googled it I found this:

    Is that it? I suppose calling this an Advanced Dungeon Squad is fairly apt, given the somewhat heightened complexity and differences in mechanics.

    1. Hmm...that Dungeon Squad looks like a hack of On Mighty Thews (or maybe its the other way around).
      I remembered another kids-friendly rpg game,, which has super simple mechanics and exceptions-based powers. Might be worth mining for ideas.
      I find it funny that I keep looking at "kids versions" of games because I'm so sick of complex RPG systems! ;)

    2. @Eodrid: I think I'd heard of On Mighty Thews quite some time ago, but not Hero Kids. Do you own either of them? If so, wanna scope out what I've got to see if I'm on the right/wrong track?

    3. @Eodrid: Also, yeah, that's why I'm making a D&D hack. I want a fantasy RPG that does what I want, without all the extra cruft. >_<

    4. @David Guyll: Yes, that's the one.

    5. @Danthulhu: Okay cool, just making sure I found the right thing. :-D

    6. I'm the worst at replying to things in a timely fashion. I'd love to see what you have so far. I own On Mighty Thews, but I've only played it once. Its so incredibly rules light that it really depends on the group to inject some life into it. Hero Kids you can mostly infer the rules from the pregen PCs on his site. OMT is more like Dungeon World and HK is more like 4E DnD, but in both cases very stripped down. OMT is "I said my characters is better at X, so he gets a bigger die when he does X", Hero Kids has some modular abilities that could be inspiration for what you have so far.

    7. No worries, I'm pretty bad at noticing things in a timely fashion. :-P

      What's the best way to get in touch with you? You can hit me up on G+, Facebook, Twitter, whatever works for you (all links are in the upper-right hand corner).

  5. Hero Kids is from WotC and free on DTRPG I believe. I agree with the other posters that compared your idea to Dungeon Squad, that certainly a cool game and it has inspired many spin-offs. All of the Dungeon Squad spin-offs are totally free too (iirc).

    You might consider Special Abilities/Powers too. For example Cleave or Charge or Panic Teleport. Maybe have the PCs begin with one thing and gain another at Level 4 or improve an existing cool thing by a die size or even a static modifier to give it more presence in the die pool.

    Angry Minis (can be found on 4chan) might also be go to look at. As would Searchers of the Unknown.

  6. @Oxide: I double-checked: it's not from WotC, but by someone named Justin Halliday, and while it is on DTRPG it's not free.

    Currently the classes start with at least one thing that makes them different, and at each level you pick something new and bump up a skill die by 1. At levels 5 and 10 you get to bump up a stat.

    I'll rummage around 4chan and see if I can find Angry Minis and Searchers of the Unknown: the more stuff to look at, the better!

  7. This looks really fun. Let me know if you need a very experienced role player to do some testing with is two young geeky kids to provide feedback :)

  8. @Thomas: Geeky kids are the target demographic! Expect a GDrive share in a tick. :-3


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