Sunday, November 12, 2017

Uncommon Dungeons: Thinking about Design Decisions

Lately I've been fiddling about with my "Uncommon Dungeons" ruleset.  A year ago I wrote about my design goals.  The post is still accurate though there has now been over 50 hours of game played, so little things have been tweaked, most recently by adding an encounter or "doom" die. 

I've played it regularly the last year and besides a few bits of confusion with spells, it's feeling pretty smooth.  Characters are reaching 4th level now, which feels pretty high!

Ultimately it's just another hack like all the others, but I've been laying it out on google docs, squeezing in some old nostalgia art so I can print up a couple of booklets.  It's just 16 pages long including minimized spell lists and a death & dismemberment table.  I've been swapping things about, adjusting fonts and its slowly looking more presentable.  Gear charts are one spread.  Combat on another.  It's all very terse and bullet pointy, but its really only meant for me and my friends.  That said, I think it will feel pretty cool and official to have a physical thing.  In my weekly type V game I don't enforce many houserules because others like to look things up in the books and it feels like its more for those players to play the official game.  When I say it's my "Uncommon Dungeon" game, its a whole different vibe!

Weird Dice Chain and Roll Under Mechanic
I probably didn't think of it myself, but the most unique part is using the roll under mechanic for Ability Checks and Saving Throws, paired with the "weird dice chain" inherited from Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG.  This has worked out great.  Rolling a d30 under an average score of 10 is a similar probability as 2 in 6, which is the old Basic Expert way of doing activity checks.  Gaining Expertise to roll d24 is a significant boost but still a crapshoot unless the character has a strong score.  I enjoy the way it emphasizes the actual 3-18 numbers on the sheet and de-emphasizes recalculating numbers before each attack (it's enough that Fighters have to add their Deed Die to hit and Deed Die+Strength bonus to damage, another rule cribbed from DCC).

Spells & Slots
These have been a little tricky as I've avoided writing up big descriptions and tried to mix up spells from Gavin Norman's B/X Essentials project with Lamentations of the Flame Princess spells (though a player messed around with the Summon Monster spell for a moment and decided, "Not worth it".  I think I will allow a standard "double level bonus" to make the "Dominate Monster" roll a little more doable.  So, a 3rd level Wizard gets +6 to the roll, which seems to make summoning 1 and 2 HD demons a little more predictable.  It's still super hectic though.  Not likely to get used often.

The other tricky piece is spell slots.  I allow spontaneous casting.  Almost purely for layout reasons I don't want to make a "Spell Slots per Order per Level" chart.  I'm trying to use "Order" instead of "Level" for spell power categories.
I've settled on the following:
  • "Spellcasters' (wizards and clerics) power is limited to spells of Order ≤ ½ level, rounded up. A spellcaster may never cast more higher than lower.  Ex. a 3rd level cleric may cast one 2nd Order spell and two 1st; at 4th level: 3 & 1 or 2 & 2"
I hope that's clear and that it works.  I've tried to offer flexibility to spellcasters.  I hope it doesn't make them dominate at mid-levels.  There have been few attempts at Dangerous Sorcery and Divine Petition.

We've just used this for three sessions but I really like it.  It's a unified Encounter roll on a d6, based on ideas from the Dungeon of Signs blog.  A roll of 1 still refers to a further encounter table (and encounter distance), but everything else is contained in a single table.  Suddenly resource management is part of the game rather than a forgotten annoyance.   It takes into account fatigue and rations, torches and lantern oil, spell and potion durations! as well as chance discoveries.  I've had the players roll the die for it which keeps me honest and they are starting to dread 1s and root for 6s.

Roll on Encounter Table and Distance
d6: melee 1, short 2-3, medium 4-5, long 6 & Surprise (2 in 6)
Spells & Potions expire
Torch & Lantern
A fickle torch or candle gutters & burns out; ½ flask of oil has burned
Dungeon Dressing, foreshadowing or useful item.
A clue, secret or curious event
Weary. Rest & eat food or Exhausted (-1 all rolls); roll again
Finally, I've worked up an encumbrance table, again based on the HMS Apollyon rules, but I haven't used in much yet.  We'll see.


I've been using straight B/X monsters, mostly out of the Labyrinth Lord book.

Party for Extra Experience Points
Carousing has been popular, and has inspired a lot of the emergent campaign world.  It is also necessary because at times it doubles the XP for a session.

No one has played a monk yet.  I've messed about with it, offering a Deed Die that adds a variable bonus to Armor Class as well as attack and damage.  Also Mastery(d20) of the Stealth, Athletics and Lore skills and a better chance to use scrolls.  Could be pretty cool, but maybe too much?