Does the world need another dungeon game? There’s D&D, you know, in all its official forms, and there are all the OSR variants on D&D, retroclones & all that. There are the indie mini games. And so on, and forever. Every designer, more or less, I suspect, has a dungeon game or two in them.
So, no. The world does not need another dungeon game, not from the angle of another *dungeon* game. But from the angle of “make your art, man, and get it into the world,” then, yes. Of course.
I didn’t have any particular desire to write a dungeon game. Certainly not one in the design space of D&D, which seems like a major undertaking. There are plenty of those games, and I have a few, and there are one or two others I might pick up in coming years.
There are reasons beyond the artistic experience to write a new game, even in a world crowded with games, and especially in the crowded dungeon game area. One is: “I think need a game that X” & X is pretty specific, and I don’t want to spend a lot of time hunting X up in the crowd of games.
Another is: I’d like to fill a need that someone I personally know has, and one way is to give them a game. Like what? Like someone is spending a lot of time in waiting rooms & is bored, and could use something simple to pick up and put down to pass some time with the other person they are waiting with.
So back to the X.
What I wanted to write was a document that would walk someone without TTRPG experience through the process of what play is, how to create & equip a character, and how to resolve uncertainty about character actions without overwhelming them with options, or–worse–theory. I also wanted the game play to be quick: everything from chargen, through resolution, and on to “oh, crap, I–the player–made a mistake” without punishing the character or derailing play. This last one felt especially important since pick up and put down was especially important–there was already enough derailing play potential in my imagined audience.
So, not a D&D style dungeon game. To start with: no classes. Every character has the opportunity to fight, cast magic, and sneak around.
My imagined audience also included the idea that this is a 2 to 4 player experience, and that one of the players would be have at least a little TTRPG experience, would take on the role of referee (but might be new at that role), and would be teaching the others. For this part of the audience, the game also includes some referee guidance.
And what, you may impatiently be thinking, did I give my imagined audience? Here is a list of mostly imperatives, though the tone is lighter in the document, because, honestly, people should do what they want when they’re playing.
I gave them 4 stats, called characteristics. These are Strength, Magic, Skill, and Health.
I gave them 4 scores, which they are instructed to distribute to their characteristics in any way they like. The numbers are 5, 4, 4, and 3.
I told them that when there is a chance of failure *and* if failure will carry consequences, the referee will tell them to roll a 6-sided die (or maybe a couple of them, and why will be explained at the time). I told them that they want to roll at or lower than the relevant characteristic. I told them the the consequence of failure is temporary reduction in the score of the relevant characteristic, and that all characteristic scores reset after a good night’s sleep.
I told them to pick some spells from a spell list later in the document, and to choose a particular number of them based on their Magic score.
I told them what the characteristics are, broadly, good for, and a few examples to get their imaginations running.
I told them that Skill is a resource, as well as a characteristic, and how to use it to protect Health, or to make sure they have the gear they need in a pinch.
I told them they can have up to five items of gear, and gave them some examples of gear they might carry carry around with them.
I told referees not to be jerks about things. To only call for rolls if there is a chance of failure, *and* if failure carries consequences. To have some idea of the scenario they are putting the characters in, but to go with the adventure the other players are creating. To goose the action if the other players are having trouble finding an adventure.
I explained how, mechanically, magic and combat work. The combat part includes guidance on characters running away, which is really an important part of the game, because if a character only has 5 Health, then every hit they take is significant.
Although characters do not advance in level, I gave the referee some ideas on how to reward play over time. The big one is every 3-4 adventures to let the player improve one score by one point, up to a max of 5. This works out to 12 to 16 adventures before a character is maxed out.
I gave the referee some guidance about how a 1d6 roll gives certain outcomes, and how 2d6 take the better or worse outcome (advantage or disadvantage) changes things, and how 3d6 take the middle changes things differently.
I gave the referee a brief list of magic items to get the imagination flowing. In this game magic weapons are, generally, a bad idea because a d6 mechanic means there is a risk of overpowering the characters.
I gave the referee a brief list of sample monsters they can start with, and then use to create other challenges for their players.
I gave the players a brief list of story hooks to get things going, or keep things moving, but that are still simple enough that they can pick up and put down the story as their life in the waiting room demands.