Thanks to those who expressed interest in my new hyper-light rules for fast combats in dungeons, etc.! This post will offer a peek at the core rules, some of my design thoughts, and maybe even a little sample of play.
Typing this all out felt less clear and short than this all runs in my head. Let me know which aspects here do not seem clear, or make no sense. Then, I dunno, maybe I'll post a sample combat walkthrough. EDIT: I've added an early solo playtest report at the end, but I could do a shorter, clearer example.
WHAT'S THE POINT?
As I reported in a recent post, these little rules allow for things like a party of four PCs fighting 7 trolls, 2 giant water monsters, and a score of goblins in just over an hour (that led to a TPK, but I won't say my young playtesters made the best tactical choices) :-). Again, I aimed to create something light and fast that would facilitate solo play, play-by-email/post/forum, or just quick play in general. Key inspirations were Tunnels & Trolls (here, I wanted to keep the opportunities for individuals making a difference in combat, but shave off a lot of the unnecessary number-adding), PbtA/Dungeon World (variable success, fictional positioning), FKR/freeform gaming (again, leaning into GM rulings about freeform/fictional positioning), and I guess some Troika! (skill system).
I have not yet decided on a suitably pretentious title. If nobody has the decency to stop me, I'll end up calling it something utterly ludicrous, like FEORHBONA (Anglo-Saxon for 'Slayer'), or even FETHAN OND FIFELCYNN ('warbands and monster-kind'). Or, you know, maybe just HOARDS & HORDES.
Yeah. Moving on.
New characters start at Level 2. I'll explain levels in a bit, below.
These rules make it easy to run a pool of multiple characters per player, so feel free to generate more than one if the GM says that's fine. For each character, you just need to choose their role, assign some skills, and write down two Stats (FORCE & DMG).
+ Choose whether you are a Warrior, or not (primarily) a Warrior. As you'll see below, non-Warriors can still be designed to fight well in certain situations. Think of Warriors as experienced line troops who do well in the general fray of combat. Non-warriors might be rubbish in a fight - or, instead, they might just be specialists, like keen-eyed Archers, or perhaps Duellists more comfortable fighting lone foes in isolation.
+ Allocate Skill Points. Warriors start with 5 Skill Points. Non-Warriors start with 10 Skill Points. You can never have more than 7 Skill Points invested in a single Skill Tag (and you'll never apply more than 1 Skill tag to a roll).
Skill Tags for a new character might look like this:
Crossbow Shooter +3
Skills can be freeform, but GMs should not allow excessively broad categories. "Fighter" and "Wizard" are poor choices for Skill Tags; pick something with a bit more specificity, something that won't apply in ALL situations, but may illustrate well why you're quite good dealing with certain situations. "Archer" and "Imperial Fire Wizard" make good choices.
When you Advance, you'll get more 2 more Skill Points each time, but remember that Skill Tags can't ever go past +7.
+ Write down your Force of Arms (FORCE) and Damage (DMG), from the Fighting Levels chart below. Numbers (in parentheses) are for Warrior PCs.
LEVEL FORCE DMG
1 1 (2) 1 (2)
2 3 (4) 2 (3)
3 5 (6) 3 (4)
4 8 (10) 4 (6)
5 10 (12) 6 (8)
6 12 (14) 8 (10)
7 15 10
There are no Warrior Stats for Level 7, because Player Characters max out at Level 6. I may still tweak the Fighting Levels chart, but as initially imagined, you flesh it out by placing peasants, goblins, etc., at Level 1, and then placing the most dangerous kind of opponent possible in your campaign setting as the Level 7 standard. The ratio between the numbers might need to be tweaked from campaign to campaign; the chart above doesn't have a really high power curve, but it's trivially easy to create a higher range by boosting these numbers - or just continuing the scale past Level 7. If I develop these rules any further, that's probably one of the things I'll keep tweaking.
+ Tell the GM what kind of Equipment you'd like. Don't start with anything magical. You can basically carry whatever the GM says is reasonable, and you get to choose whether you are Not Armored, Lightly Armored, or Heavily Armored (the benefits and costs of each are described below, under Combat). Weapon choice does matter, but only in the 'fictional positioning' it enables for relevant Skill Checks. For example, the weapon you're wielding won't really matter for a generic Combat Fray roll. However, if you need to make a Skill Roll to keep enemies at bay in a narrow hallway, you will find that it suddenly becomes very important to know whether you're carrying a club, dagger, or spear.
+ Last of all, think of some cool frou-frou details about your character. Or just send them off to fight were-bats.
Ok, now here are two examples of completed characters:
Broag, Level 2 Human Warrior
Wilderness Survival +2
Gear: Light Armor, Longsword
Kel, Level 2 Elf (not a Warrior)
Magic of Smiting Evil +7
Ancient Lore +3
Gear: No Armor, Staff, Holy Symbol
SKILL ROLLS - ACCOMPLISHING STUFF
As usual in such games, GMs should let characters accomplish actions that don't seem risky or uncertain. However, if you need to determine the outcome of a risky, consequential action attempt, make a Skill Roll.
1d20 + one relevant Skill Tag bonus.
6+ = Success for Easy challenges.
11+ = Success for Normal challenges.
16+ = Success for Hard challenges.
As in Tunnels & Trolls, combat has two halves.
+ 'THE FRAY' - this is the general swirl of melee combat. It is handled abstractly and involves variable levels of outcomes based on a dirt-simple die roll.
+ 'SPECIAL ACTIONS' - these involve Skill Rolls when a player tries to tip the odds of Fray combat in their favor, or do something else to modify battle conditions.
Here's the basic turn order in combat:
+ GM describes the current situation, clarifies who is In the Fray, and comments on any tactical notes/expected odds.
- Count up the total FORCE of PCs In the Fray, vs. the total FORCE of foes In the Fray. If the totals are equal or within 1, the next round of combat will have even odds. Otherwise, it will involve rolls at a Disadvantage or Advantage. Note that certain circumstances may let specific PCs roll at a higher or lower level of risk (see below).
- "Ok, so the Fighter and Ranger are still down on the boatramp holding off the fish-men, so they're both In the Fray. They're still outnumbered, so they'll be rolling with Disadvantage - but the Fighter is still standing on top of the cargo-pile, and so I'll give him a higher-ground benefit; he'll roll at Equal Odds. The Archer is up on the shore and has a chance to fire down at the enemies, or to run down and engage in the Fray. What do you all want to do?"
+ Players announce whether they will attempt a Skill Roll.
- Generally, you get 1 shot at a Skill Roll before each round of the Fray.
- GMs, think as freeform as possible here, but also be realistic and logical. If you think the player could realistically pull of what they're suggesting in about 10 seconds, and you think it plausibly could affect the battle, let them try for an Advantage. Otherwise, just tell them No.
- PCs have pretty good odds of pulling off Skill Rolls, but failure brings consequences (1 level of Disadvantage for this round to the player who failed).
- Here are some examples of things players might reasonably attempt:
- "I want to goad the troll to focus on me, so that he and I can fight our own duel, leaving the weaker members of the party to deal with just the goblins."
- "Aaah, I need to get out of the fray! I want to maneuver around to the door and get up the stairs. Hopefully I can shoot down into the fray next round."
- "I want to use my Smiting Magic to blast the troll with a bolt of force."
+ Resolve Skill Rolls, applying any DMG as relevant.
- Failed Skill Rolls impose 1 level of Disadvantage this round on the player who failed.
- Attempts to Damage foes use the Skill Bonus used for the roll as the DMG. For example, a character with Archer +6 deals 6 DMG to a specific foe on a hit. Any excess DMG is wasted if the foe dies. Alternately, a character could rain arrows across multiple enemies, but this only inflicts 50% (rounded up) of the Skill bonus as DMG.
+ GM considers whether Skill Rolls changed who is In the Fray and who has Advantage. Next, players take DMG or roll for combat In the Fray as relevant.
- ok, this is where things start to get really fast. Players roll 1d6 for each of their characters located In the Fray.
- If you rolled with Advantage, then: 1-2=Mixed Results, 3-4 = Success, 5-6 = Great Success.
- If you rolled with Equal Odds, then: 1-2 = Failure, 3-4 = Mixed Results, 5-6 = Success.
- If you rolled with Disadvantage, then: 1-2 = Awful Failure, 3-4 = Failure, 5-6 = Mixed Results.
Great, but what do those do?
'Inflict Damage' - reduce the foes' FORCE by the amount of DMG your character inflicts In the Fray. If you're fighting a composite force of multiple foe-types with different stats, the GM should kill off enemies from the bottom or top of the list depending on how you rolled.
'Take Damage' - if you're up against 10 goblins, you take 1 DMG, because Goblins have DMG 1. Temporarily reduce your FORCE to account for any DMG.
'Tactical Advance' - this means that the enemy push forward in some way disadvantageous to the players - not mechanically, but in the fiction. Maybe the fighter standing on some cargo gets pushed off and loses that higher-ground benefit. Maybe the foes isolate the wizard in the corner so that he's in danger of fighting his own mini-Fray against some of the goblins. Maybe the barbarians push you all back from the gatehouse.
A 'Foe Special Attack Effect' can vary by foe type. Think things like:
Troll: On Special Attack Effect, a troll regains 1d6 lost FORCE. If all trolls present are at full FORCE, rip a random limb off a character who incurred the special effect.
Dark Charmer: On Special Attack Effect, the affected PC must immediately pass a Skill Roll or they switch sides, coming under GM control until the Dark Charmer is killed.
Things like losing limbs don't effect your mechanical FORCE/DMG but they do inform the fictional positioning around Skill Checks, making Hard or even Impossible checks more likely. Don't worry, GMs: by the time a player is losing limbs, they're losing plenty of FORCE anyway.
Note that getting a Great Success means you can cancel ONE Tactical Advance or Special Attack Effect incurred by a team-mate in the same round. This has a nice feel in play - a player groans as they roll that 1 or 2, and then sighs with relief as another player gets the 5 or 6...
WOW, THIS LOOKS DEADLY. WHAT ABOUT ARMOR?
Yeah, Armor helps.
Having No Armor...doesn't help.
Having Light Armor means you reduce each instance of Damage by 1. When you attempt a Skill Check that would be hampered by wearing Armor, take a -2 penalty on your roll.
Having Heavy Armor reduces each instance of Damage by 2. When you attempt a Skill Check that would be hampered by wearing Armor, take a -4 penalty on your roll.
Two important caveats:
+ Armor does NOT prevent Foe Special Attack Effects. A troll that can rip off your leg can rip your metal plates off, too.
+ Whenever Armor would reduce an instance of Damage to a player to 0, roll a d6. On a 4-6 result, you take 1 DMG instead of 0.
URK. Um, CAN WE HEAL?
Yes. Refresh up to 1/2 (round up) your MAX FORCE every time you take a short rest. Roll a 1-in-6 chance random encounter check whenever you rest.
Refresh to your full MAX FORCE after a full night's rest. Re-stock at least 1 group of foes per dungeon after a night's rest.
Recover from relevant wounds and Special Effects after a full night's rest in a Safe Haven, after a week-long rest, or between sessions. If you lost a limb, etc., it ain't growing back on its own.
DON'T THINK YOU'RE LEAVING THIS POST WITHOUT A BESTIARY...
Well, ok, a tiny one. For now, at least.
Goblins: Lvl 1. FORCE 1 (per goblin), DMG 1. Special Attack: remove 1 gear item from affected player. If the PCs win this fight and control the ground afterward, the player can reclaim the item, but roll 1d6: 1-2 it's broken, 3-4 it's fine, 5-6 it's fine, but somehow already covered in filth.
Vile Pile (a decaying mass of organic filth...magically mobile and hungry): Lvl 3. FORCE 5, DMG 3. Special Attack: Nausea. Pass a Normal Skill Roll or suffer Disadvantage for the remainder of this combat.
Trolls: Lvl 4. FORCE 8, DMG 4. Special Attack: a troll recovers 1d6 FORCE. If all trolls present are at full FORCE, rip off an affected PC's random limb.
Fire Fiend: Lvl 6. FORCE 12, DMG 8. Special Attack: Roll 1d6: 1-3, Fear-Spear (affected PC must pass a Hard Skill Roll or fall sobbing to the ground for 1 round); 4-6, Feel the Burn (PC is wreathed in flames and will take extra 1 DMG now and every round until they spend the whole round putting out the flames, which also requires a Normal Skill Roll).
FINALLY, AN EARLY PLAYTEST REPORT
Below are some lengthy notes in which I typed out a solo playtest using some sample characters and a map by Dyson Logos. This may interest nobody, but it does illustrate some of the flow of the game, and its capabilities. I could write up a shorter, clearer combat example if that would interest anyone.
Ardvan, Lvl 4 Human noble warrior
FORCE 10, DMG 6
Heavily armored; has a longsword and a short sword
Yulus (his apprentice), Lvl 2 Human Archer
FORCE 3, DMG 2
Lightly Armored; has a Bow and an axe
Osk, Lvl 4 Elven Mystic
FORCE 8, DMG 4
Magic of Smiting Evil +7 (freeform; may harm up to skill level, may try to push away, etc.)
Healing Magic +3 (may heal 1d6 on seen target, +Adv if touching)
No Armor; has a stout staff and a short sword
Koth (his apprentice), Lvl 2 Human rogue
FORCE 3, DMG 2
Sneaky Thief +5
Ok shot +1
Has a short sword, light crossbow, and no armor
1 1 (2) 1 (2)
2 3 (4) 2 (3)
3 5 (6) 3 (4)
4 8 (10) 4 (6)
5 10 (12) 6 (8)
6 12 (14) 8 (10)
7 15 10
ENEMIES IN THE CAVERNS:
In the outer chambers, 3 squads of 10 Norkers with clubs and spears, FORCE 15 (1.5 each), DMG 2
In the dark waters:
2 Cave Horror Fiends each FORCE 10, DMG 6 hiding in the water
In the back chambers across the lake, with boats:
20 more Norkers, FORCE 30 (1.5 each), DMG 2
[EDIT: deleted some stuff here dropped in from a second playtest, which didn't belong here]
The party enters the complex from the stairs at bottom left. Koth, the rogue, sneakily checks out the place, avoiding the gaze of watchers up the hall - but the rest of the party triggers a Norker alarm (Yulus’ armor juuuuust made him fail his check to sneak in)! The party flees to the square room with 3 doors near bottom left, where they are attacked from 2 directions. 2 Norkers have run off to alert reinforcements.
The first wave of Norkers assaults the party, but the heroes have the advantage against only 8 Norkers (FORCE 12). Ah well…Ardvan and his apprentice Yulus get only mixed results; the other two (wizard and rogue) win great successes.
All the Norkers here are cut down; but Yulus takes 1 DMG (Ardvan’s armor protects him from the damage). So Yulus is now FORCE 2, and the full party’s FORCE = 23.
The foe also gain a tactical advance: 11 Norkers (FORCE 17) are now streaming in from the south! (these were the ones forming east, nearer the pools). The sound of a third group hooting and screaming to the north draws closer.
Yulus will try to snap off some shots at the Norkers as they charge in. He opts to fire quickly and spread his damage widely. He hits, inflcting 4 DMG on the Norker squad. (now they’re FORCE 13). New melee round:
All heroes fight with the advantage.
Yulus: mixed results.
Wizard: mixed results.
So, all heroes deal damage and the second group of Norkers is wiped out entirely. But Yulus takes another damage - now he’s at FORCE 1, gulp - and the wizard Osk takes 2 damage and drops to FORCE 6.
Meanwhile - tactical advance - the third group of Norkers has sped in from the north and is already bursting into the room atop the heroes!
New round, but first, attempted skill rolls:
Yulus really needs to fall back to safety and ideally get some healing.
Ardvan will try to swing in wide circles as he falls back, buying space for the rest of the team to flee into the room south of them. Then Ardvan will try to hold the door all by his lonesome for a round! Hmm, the Norkers are already right there so I’m imposing a Difficult rating, but he’s swordsman +7, so … oh dear, he rolled a 2, and not only fails but he will be at a disadvantage this next round. Osk the wizard will give up his turn to try to heal Yulus in a hurry. He fails too…groan….
In this next round of combat, Ardvan gets a simple failure and Osk the wizard gets an Awful Failure…oh boy…But Yulus and Koth do get to fight at advantage since they didn’t boff a roll and the team has FORCE 22.
Yulus gets a great success (whew!) and Koth gets a simple success. Together they inflict 4 DMG on the Norkers, who drop to FORCE 13.
But Ardvan takes 1 DMG; Osk takes 2 DMG and is gut-stabbed by a spear (aaahhh!), a nasty wound that will give him disadvantage to pretty much anything until it heals. Now Osk is at FORCE 4. and Ardvan is at FORCE 9. The team is at FORCE 17.
It gets worse…tactical advance for the baddies…Osk the wizard is isolated in a corner of the room by 3 Norkers (FORCE 5), leaving a FORCE 9 to deal with Ardvan, Yulus, and Koth (together, FORCE 13).
Yulus: Great success!
Koth: mixed results…He drops to FORCE 1!
Osk: Failure. (he drops to FORCE 2).
Now only 3 Norkers are left, in a ring around Osk.
Yulus and Koth fall back and withdraw from the Fray.
Ardvan will try to engage all three and intimidate them from dealing with Osk. HE DOES!
Ardvan hacks mercilessly through the last 3 Norkers. Silence falls.
Ok, time for a rest-break for the party (who just fought 30 Norkers, good grief…).
So, on a short rest, all will heal naturally up to half their max FORCE, rounded up.
Ardvan: stays at 9 FORCE.
Yulus: now has 2 FORCE.
Osk: has 4 FORCE.
Koth: has 2 FORCE.
Right. Koth really needs to use some healing on himself and the 2 apprentices. Koth is the priority, with his gut wound.
The wound gives him disadvantage, but the self-proximity gives advantage, so it’s a straight roll for an 11 difficulty. Aaaaand he rolls a 2 again. Good grief.
Ok, so failed magic rolls need some kind of consequence…hmm. WORK ON THIS.
Ah, the GM ‘secretly’ decides the consequence: the cave horror fiends in the water sense his efforts and are now aware of the party’s presence. They set up an ambush from underwater for now.
Well, depending on the campaign circumstances this might be a good time to fall back and rest up, but let’s say time is tight and the party must press on.
Ok, so they head onto the wooden planks on the lake…and they’re ambushed by cave horrors leaping from the water.
[HOW DO SURPRISE ATTACKS WORK?] Either make a perception check to avoid automatic damage, or make a roll/‘dex save’ to avoid an attack. Let’s go with the latter. [I later decided to just say Skill Roll or take 1 round of Dmg].
Oh schnarf; both cave horrors attack the wizard as they spring from the water and try to rend him and drag him back down underwater. Gulp.
So Osk fails both rolls and takes 12 DMG. THE WIZARD IS DEAD, CRUMBS!!!!
The monsters rise again, all too happy to kill the other interlopers now.
(Huh - that’s neat - I realize now that it would have been a prudent move to keep the archer on shore, standing overwatch, so that he would be safer AND would be in position to launch skill-roll shots at these guys. Lesson learned! Be wary! Yeah!)
Huh; can Koth use ‘sneaky thief’ to attempt a backstab on one, doing his skill level (+5) as damage? I’ll rule that he must spend a round sneaking around and can try it next turn. yeah, he fails the roll.
Yulus the Archer tries to bug out and flee back to bowshot range. Nat 20! Success.
And Ardvan starts hacking at the monsters, against overwhelming odds…he suffers an Awful Failure (but the die ALMOST landed on 6, grr!). He takes 4 DMG, going down to FORCE 5. He also … let’s see, gets an arm ripped off or gets dragged in the water…oh, it’s his left arm that gets ripped right off. Waaaa. Wait, tactical advance too…stay tuned….
Koth also suffered an Awful Failure and simply gets swallowed whole and killed. Buh-bye!
Ok, the last thing is the tactical advance…on of the horrors breaks the planking so that Ardvan is now stranded on his little floating platform.
New (and final?) round:
Yulus aims a shot at a horror. Ol’ one-arm keeps swinging with his sword-arm.
Yulus hits, dealing 2 DMG (woohoo).
Aaaaaaand Ardvan suffers another Awful Failure, dropping to Force 1. Oh, and his other arm is bitten off.
Well, that’s curtains.
Yulus the archers flees from the blood-soaked dungeon, gibbering in terror and grief. He makes it alive back to the Stronghold, where he tells of the nightmare encounters beneath the earth.
Another party assembles….
SO that was fun. It kept combat pretty abstract but actually allowed for a bit more nitty-gritty than I expected, which is nice (probably similar for T&T). The party was totally trounced, but on the other hand they were 4 adventurers (including 2 starting-level characters) agains 30 Norkers and two hideous monsters, so … they did pretty well for a non-balanced encounter.
I do see that the abstract combat allows/requires careful thought about tactical positioning and options. Putting archers where they can do the most good is important (as is covering fire in real life!).
For the next encounter, how about 2d3 trolls have taken up residence in the outer halls, then re-run the restocked dungeon with a new team of heroes (stronger ones, or no?)