Saturday, June 26, 2021

Update on the Super-Fast-Rules, or: Friends, don't let Gundobad name his new minigame FEORHBONA

 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.


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:

    Lore-Master +4
    Persuasion +3
    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.


    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
Swordsman +3
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 


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? 

Ok, so characters are going to end up dishing out their DMG, possibly mowing down large numbers of foes per round. On the other hand, they can take DMG quickly, and if they suffer enemy special attacks, things get ugly. 

'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. 

Or, maybe:

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...


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. 


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. 


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). 


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.

Sample Characters:

Ardvan, Lvl 4 Human noble warrior


Swordsman +7

Courtier +4

Heavily armored; has a longsword and a short sword

Yulus (his apprentice), Lvl 2 Human Archer


Archer +7

Woodsman +3 

Lightly Armored; has a Bow and an axe 

Osk, Lvl 4 Elven Mystic


Magic of Smiting Evil +7 (freeform; may harm up to skill level, may try to push away, etc.)

Lore +4

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


Sneaky Thief +5

Climbing +4

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


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. 

Ardvan: success!

Yulus: mixed results. 

Wizard: mixed results.

Koth: success. 

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). 

Ardvan: success. 

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?) 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

From 0 to epic TPK in 1 hour, 15 minutes: now I call that a successful playtest!

Adventurer - do your shelves tremble at the weight of the Old School Essentials Basic Fantasy rules? Do you despair at the endless slog of combat in Into to the Odd? Do you wish your Scarlet Heroes characters could hit anything? Do you wish your WFRP 1e game involved meaningful consequences for character failure? Do you think BECMI is spelled GURPS? Then rejoice at my glad tidings!!!

Errmm...allow me to start over. So, I wrote a game last week. 

It's just a little thing, but it is playable, it is FAST, and it could be useful in certain situations. 

What's it like? 

It's a LOT like an even-more-streamlined Tunnels & Trolls, but with much, much less math and addition during play. At certain points, it's like, and is inspired by, PbtA systems like Dungeon World. And - if you hold your nose to the wind just right - you can catch a whiff of freeform/FKR gaming, depending on how you play it. 

I don't even have a working title (I kind of did, but my kids assured me it was super-lame). What I do have is a handful of design goals that seem to have worked out! 

I wanted to make something super fast and easy while retaining the importance and agency of individual characters and their choices/actions. I also wanted something that lets heroic characters mow through clouds of minions while still remaining vulnerable. Finally, I wanted a system that offers a convenient, dirt-simple structure but still offers plentiful room for freeform, creative problem-solving in the best OSR and 'fictional-positioning' styles. (To be honest, I also brainstormed a little abstract domain-management game that my kids and I have really been enjoying, and a super-light system like this could interface with that outer game shell really well, too). 

How fast is this new contraption? Today, I introduced my kids to the game and asked them to playtest it with me. In about an hour and fifteen minutes, I explained the rules, gave them 2 pre-gen characters each, and ran an adventure. The party entered one of Dyson's dungeon maps in search of an ancient relic. 

The Scene of our (mis)Adventure
Cartography by Dyson Logos

They fought - and slaughtered - 7 trolls in the dungeon's outer rooms, incurring a few wounds on some PCs. Then they advanced across a boardwalk over an underground lake, where they were ambushed by two hideous 'watcher in the water'-type creatures that had been alerted by the heroic wizard's earlier energy expenditures (a failed magic roll with a consequence earlier in the game). Unfortunately, 3 of 4 PCs died in this fight, in spectacularly messy fashion, leaving a lone, wounded dwarven fighter - who pressed on anyway ... to confront a (literal) party of 20 goblins in the back of the cave-system (I explained that the goblins were eating the leftovers from the characters in my previous, ill-fated, solo playtest). 

The Dwarf killed all but 4 of the goblins, but in the end he lost two limbs and went down. TPK! 

4 mid-level characters vs. 7 trolls, 2 'watchers in the water' (each stronger than a troll), and 20 goblins, and the last surviving PC almost pulled it off. 

All that ... in just over an hour. Whew! 

I believe this little system could be a fine choice for playing a full party solo, or for running a game over play-by-post, with its own slower dynamics. It also (as we confirmed today) makes for a fun, short one-shot dungeon-stomping game (it may move too quickly to call a dungeon 'crawler'). 

If this sounds intriguing, I'd be happy to share more in future. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Setting Concepts the d20 Never (should have) Intended

 Here's a quick (likely not too original) process for getting inspiration for your next one-shot adventure, mini-campaign, or even full campaign setting. 

As time passes, I realize that I really like running mini-campaigns. Right now, I'm running an extended campaign, which is great - my players are exploring an Iron Age alternate Mystara, and are currently mid-jungle on the Isle of Dread. That being said, I've also had some really great times running little mini-campaigns that only last a few sessions, but are just long enough to let quite memorable stories and concepts develop through play. In the last few years I've run mini-campaigns in space, in a kind of fantasy Victorianesque city (this let me work out my Blades in the Dark-inspired urban intrigue itch), in a fantasy urban stronghold inspired by Dark Sun's Athas, or in a gonzo post-apocalyptic dystopia. Some of these were 'meh', but some led to really memorable gaming experiences. The nice thing about running something with a short life expectancy - say, 2-6 sessions - is that you can really lean into developing what you're interested in, play around with it, and then wrap up with a satisfying finish right around the time you are (if like me) getting distracted by some other shiny campaign concept. 

Anyway. Thank goodness for chances to keep the long-running stuff going too. However, for those of us who may want or need some short diversions as well, it's useful to keep the mini-campaign in mind. 

But how to settle on the next mini-setting, when you don't just want to run some 'default' D&D?

During the recent D&D settings sale on DTRPG, I picked up a .pdf copy of the 4e Eberron setting guide just to read, as I'd never really learned much about the setting and I thought it looked fun to check out. One thing I've noticed is that Eberron is often pitched as "D&D, but mixed with Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Maltese Falcon." In other words, Eberron is designed for playing out stories that use D&D tropes in combination with elements from noir mystery or pulp adventure. Not a bad concept. Pay attention here to the use of modern narrative media to evoke a bunch of tropes that quickly communicate what you're stuffing in the blender with your D&D. Those trope-packages can convey an awful lot of potential in a single sentence.  

This afternoon, I was thinking about this, and I wondered what kind of crazy settings I could come up with using a random assortment of narrative media worlds! So I took about 5-10 minutes to brainstorm some stories, books, movies, games, or other concepts that were close at hand, or that I've thought about recently. I then edited them into a questionably-grouped d20 table, which allows for random generation of setting concepts never meant to be! 

So, in what follows, I'll provide my d20 table, then list a bunch of results I got from rolling 2 or 3d20 on the table. Finally, I'll call out a few ideas that looked particularly interesting, and see what it might look like to develop them out to paragraph length. 


Alright, so here's the idea. 

Imagine D&D, but with elements of...

1    Conan's Hyboria
2    John Carter / Buck Rogers / Dune
3    MechWarrior / BattleTech / Pacific Rim
4    WWII - especially the Italian campaign (because reasons?)
5    Necromunda / Inquisimunda
6    A Wizard of Earthsea / The Riddle-Master of Hed
7    The Matrix / Neuromancer
8    The Avengers
9    Tintin / Indiana Jones
10    Mission: Impossible / Sneakers / 007
11    Harry Potter
12    Call of Duty / Rainbow Six
13    Around the World in 80 Days
14    Rock Band / Guitar Hero
15    Sherlock Holmes / Murder on the Orient Express
16    Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. / The X-Files
17    Babylonian mythology
18    The Scarlet Pimpernel / The 3 Musketeers / Pirates of the Caribbean
19    Island in the Sea of Time (in a nutshell: a modern ship and community are time-zapped into the bronze age)
20    Gate of Ivrel (in a nutshell: in what looks like a typical fantasy realm, the portals built by bodysnatching alien pregenitors must be closed for good)


Right. So here are some generated campaign pitches. I actually generated about 2x these, but these are the ones I picked to show. 

"Imagine D&D, but with elements of MechWarrior, Sherlock Holmes/Murder on the Orient Express, and a touch of Wizard of Earthsea..."

"Imagine D&D, but with elements of Conan the BarbarianMechWarrior, and Around the World in 80 Days..."

"Imagine D&D, but with Conan's Hyboria, Harry Potter, and Necromunda..." [WHAAAT...]

"Imagine D&D, but with elements of Babylonian myths, cyberpunk (Neuromancer/Matrix), and a touch of Guitar Hero..."

"Imagine D&D, but with elements of WW2's Italian campaign, Guitar Hero, and The X-Files..."

"Imagine D&D, but with elements of Necromunda, Call of Duty, and Guitar Hero..." [Ok, I just rolled up the Oldhammer Rogue Trader 40k setting, didn't I? Any Eldar Harlequins in the house?]


Ok folks, now I'm going to pick 3 of those that jump out at me, and try to flesh out each one in a paragraph-length setting/campaign pitch. Bonus points for Gryffindor if I can make them really zany, but still be something I might want to run. Let's see...

Oh, and to make this more of a challenge for myself, and to either 1) frustrate you with low-quality writing or 2) inspire you to get more done in short periods of time ... I'm setting a 5-minute timer as I flesh out these settings. 


"Imagine D&D, but with elements of Conan the BarbarianMechWarrior, and Around the World in 80 Days..."

Yeeeeeah. Ok, let's do this. I'm setting a 5-minute timer. And...go...

So there's a big swampy basin with fallen kingdoms' ruins all over the place, of course. And the heroes are couriers or racers or something - it's too dangerous to just travel on foot or boat across the swamp, so PCs are among the elite adventurers who run giant magic golem steeds on circuit uniting the points-of-light settlements in the setting. Let's say there's a 'riders' guild' that keeps trying to muscle in on PC profits, too; and there's a kingdom that is threatening the resource supply of the thing that powers the golem-steeds. So, PCs might do jobs like: carry desperately needed food, intelligence, or medicine to distant communities (Iditarod-style!); plunder ancient tombs they encounter along the way; joust with challengers from the Guild trying to shut down the traffic lanes; or even get called up to fight in battle against the ever-threatening hordes of barbarians or memory-ghouls from the land of Nekheb. Or something. 

1 minute left. 

Ah, and there should be a race to see who can travel around the whole setting-circuit on golem-steedback within...sure, 80 days! Or just a race. Anyway, if you win the race, you win the campaign McGuffin, and if you lose the race, you lose the mini-campaign. That's harsh, baby, but so is Conan! 

(Done with 19 seconds left). 


"Imagine D&D, but with Conan's Hyboria, Harry Potter, and Necromunda..."

Um. Ok, this should be interesting. 

Yeah, so ... angsty teenage PCs are bonded/indentured magic servants (or hey, perhaps some even have a more positive relationship with) different gangs/factions in a great, seething fantasy metropolis that is very slowly sinking into the Marsh That Shall Eat All Things. Naturally, this city is the final bastion remaining to can safely venture just a little ways out into the marshland to plunder ruins of the old cities That Were. Back home in our city, it's all a mess of brutal gang warfare and scheming wizards' factions. Unfortunately it's probably the wizards who got us into this mess, and they are hated something awful. This means that the players's magical characters aren't just ENSLAVED by the gangs...the gangs they serve also provide muscle to protect the PCs from the raging mobs. Oooh, how terribly grimdark. Ok, to offset that, this is also a campaign that focuses on the friendships you make, the bridges you're able to cross relationally, and the good you're able to (try to) do before the world burns (or sinks). Hmmm. 

1 minute left. Not sure how this is doing. 

Oh, and there must be dinosaurs. Plesiosaurs that swim through the flooded streets. Maybe there's an overarching quest to drain/save the known world, unless the GM really feels like hitting the grimdark hard. Weep, lament, cue the violins. My time's up. 


"Imagine D&D, but with elements of WW2's Italian campaign, Guitar Hero, and The X-Files..."

Ok. I had a bit of an inspiration-flash as I was typing earlier, but nobody will know I'm cheating the clock, heh heh...let's build on it. 

So. There's a fantasy war going on. PCs are soldiers on one side (naturally, the 'good guys'). The big picture need is to advance across this war-torn land and win the warn. Unfortunately...there are a bunch of ancient horrors awakenening in the crypts beneath our battlefields...apparently our conflict is waking the dead. Gulp. So, elite PC commando teams need to go dungeon-crawling to make the dead stay dead, rather than becoming an operational threat to our forces. However, the dead don't really die because you ask them to. That's right, you need THE BLAZING POWER OF RIGHTEOUS MUSIC! Hmm, does this mean that EVERY PC HAS TO BE A BARD? Haha, that seems appropriate. 'Combat Bard Commandos of Doom.' Oh, and be sure to watch out for the constant patrols sent by The Other Side. They aren't dead (yet), so your righteous music won't help much against them; that's why we're sending you in with the bow and arrow, sword, and bandages, right? Any treasures found while dungeon-crawling should be reported promptly up the chain of command. You'll do that, right? Won't you? 

Naturally, each new hex into which your heroic army advances will have a different kind of terrible, dead menace underground. The mini-campaign should have a bit of a 'monster of the week' flavor. For best results, make sure some of the underground horrors follow the PCs back to camp, either raiding the fortified camp at night or ... better yet ... possibly possessing the company commander. Are you sure he's still ok?  That last order...


Well, how'd they do? I think #1 looks fun, and #3 could be fun if done well. #2...Not so sure. 

But don't just use my lousy tables or take my worthless word for it! If this looks useful (or at least fun...) then get cracking on your own! Snatch some inspiring media and get rolling ... before you know it, you'll be leading your players through a savage realm in which warrior queens like Miss Piggy ride motorized velociraptors against Elizabethan vampire principals! Or, you know, something like that...

Either 'you're welcome,' or 'I'm sorry.' 

Happy Gaming.