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. 


  1. I'm definitely interested in seeing more, including a draft of the playtest rules you're currently using. Your intro really sold this as a project worth some attention. I think it really struck me though when you very casually mentioned four PCs killing SEVEN trolls like it was nothing.

    You're the only "OSR" person I know of who's also seriously interested in 4E D&D's playstyle and design, so seeing anything you do with those two is exciting.

    1. Thanks! I've a new post up with a peek at those rules.

  2. Replies
    1. That you, Norbert? :-) I've got a new blog post up with those fast-combat rules.

  3. yes please, I'd like some more sir

    1. Thank you, thank you, ask & ye shall receive - see my new blog post.


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