Dungeons & Delvers: The Core Mechanic

Despite being geared towards kids, Dungeons & Delvers uses all of the polyhedral dice besides a twenty-sider (currently, at any rate).

Each stat and skill is ranked by a die. A d4 is the worst, representing a "poor" stat or lack of proficiency in a skill. In the case of stats, d6 is the average, while in the case of skills means that you're "proficient" at a skill. Both stats and skills scale up to a d12.

Characters generally start with a d8 in their "best" stat, a d6 in two others, and a d4 in their "worst". Each class has three arrays to choose from to add variety. Every character also starts with a number of skills, most often at a d6 (the wizard's d8 in Arcana is the odd-skill-out).

When a character attempts to do something, the GM decides whether you automatically succeed, automatically fail (because it is okay to just say no), or—in most cases—if the outcome is uncertain. The player then builds a dice pool (or just pool), which always contains at least two dice, but depending on your race, class, and what you're trying to do, can include more.

(The "Average" Difficulty is 7, which means that starting characters have good odds at succeeding at the sort of things they're supposed to be doing.)

The catch is that no matter how many dice you roll, you only choose the two highest results. Often this means that extra dice will increase your average but not your maximum result.

For example, a fighter starts with Might d8 and Melee d6 (Melee is fixed, but you still get to choose other skills). If you try to stab a monster you roll 1d8 + 1d6, and try to meet or beat its Defense value. One of the talents that the fighter can choose from is Slayer, which gives you a bonus d6 when wielding a two-handed weapon.

So now the fighter is rolling 1d8+1d6+1d6 (or 1d8+2d6), but since you only choose the two highest results the best you can hope for is still 14, though your average went up by something like 1-2 points.

Other factors can add dice to your pool, like ducking behind cover, using pitons when climbing, drinking antitoxin or using medicinal herbs, and offering a hefty bribe.

Penalties work a bit differently, causing you to discard one or more of your highest dice results after you roll. For example, if you're poisoned you discard your highest dice result from every check you make until it wears off. If you're restrained your Speed is reduced to 0, and whenever you attack or defend yourself you discard your highest dice result.

These stack, so if you're both poisoned and restrained you discard your two highest results. Oh, if you end up discarding all of your dice you just automatically fail the check. Adventuring ain't easy.

A Sundered World is out! If you for some reason don't want the entire setting, you can just snag the races and classes.

The Fighter is geared up and ready to go! Unlike the default Dungeon World fighter, your skills matter more than your special "can sometimes be lost but not really" weapon. There are a variety of fighting styles to choose from, including the ability make a DEX-based fighter.

Grave Goods is the latest magic item compilation in our 10+ Treasures line. If you want nearly 30 undead-themed magic items, some monsters, and advice on how to make your own, pick it up!

Lichfield is available for public consumption. If you want a concise adventure with a Silent Hill feel, be sure to check it out! Primordial Machine is also out, so if you want to catch a glimpse of A Sundered World, now's your chance! Finally, we've updated If These Stones Could Scream.


  1. Have you read the Cortex/Cortex Plus system? Seems like you are rebuilding it. There are also strong similarities to the Savage Worlds system (unsurprisingly, as they both sprung from Deadlands and Sovereign Stone). Sadly, the publisher is remarkably bad at both licencing and support of Cortex.

    1. @glenn: I haven't read Cortex. How similar would you say it is?

      I've heard a few people bring up Savage Worlds (which I also have not read or played, ditto for Deadlands and Sovereign Stone), though my understanding is that you don't roll a bunch of dice and only keep the two highest: it only has the dice as stats-thing going on.

    2. Well... the core mechanic is identical. Attribute, skills, traits, all rated by die type, added together into a dice pool, and you keep the two highest (or three, if you use a Plot point). Difficulties are EASY(3), AVERAGE(7), HARD(11), etc.

      If you are interested, the two books to get are the Classic Cortex Rulebook and the Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide. There is also a pretty decent little G+ group of Cortex enthusiasts.

      It is by far my favorite system, but as I mentioned, the publisher is terrible at support.

    3. @glenn: One of our playtesters asked about being able to keep the highest three results (at a certain level/with a certain talent), but without some sort of currency to prevent it from being all the time I think it'd get out of hand.

      This is more of a "traditional" game, so Plot (or FAte) points wouldn't be something I'd want to use, but in your experience does burning the plot point to keep a third dice drastically alter the results?

      Difficulties in this game start at 5, and scale up in twos (7, 9, 11, etc), but after some recent stress-testing I think I'll need to bump everything up by a point or two, because it feels like at 2nd-level and up the characters can easily succeed against most tasks/monsters.

      Maybe scaling Difficulties by 3 or 4 is in order.

    4. I run a long running (5 years ish) PbP campaign over at cortexpbpgames.com (Brave new World) and I'd say that the plot points/fate points make things more cinematic, but they aren't necessary - if you had instead talents/traits that allow you to keep an extra die in certain situations, it wouldn't break things. Leverage (one of the Cortex Plus systems) had it where you could keep extra dice if the GM rolled a 1... with the caveat that the GM also got to give Complications if you rolled a 1.

      The difficulties I mentioned (increasing by 4 per step) works very well. If you want it to be a little easier, a scale by 3 wouldn't be terrible either.

  2. This is a great deal like Cortex, yeah. My Cortex Plus games were all opposed rolls, not fixed difficulties, but the earlier Cortex Classic games used fixed difficulties as you've laid out. I don't work for Margaret Weis Productions any longer (I'm RPG Director at Atlas Games now) but I still love dice-as-ratings. My recent use of it was in the Demon Hunters RPG, which is basically Fate without Fate Dice, and I'm currently designing the Sentinels of the Multiverse RPG which also uses pools of variable polyhedrals.

    1. @Cam: We initially did opposed rolls, but it made things too swingy for our tastes (a fight against a couple lizardmen went on FAR too long).

      I originally was exposed to stats and skills as dice ratings when a gaming buddy ran us through a simple game during a game day when other peeps couldn't show (though you rolled multiple dice and only chose the single-highest result).

      We're aiming to make a simple game for kids, but wanted to use most of the dice instead of, say, only six-siders (figure that'll make it a better gateway game to something like D&D).

      But, good to know! I'm assuming if another game uses a similar system that it works.


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