Dungeoncrawl: The anatomy of a player character

6 January, 2008 at 11:43 am (game design) (, , , )

Given my concept of a game, characters need to be able to perform certain tasks. For more-or-less arbitrary reasons, I decided to go with skills as the defining factor of characters. “Skill” suggests a value associated with character that can be fairly rabidly increased in play and it further suggests that all characters won’t have all skills (that is, they are not mandatory). All of that won’t be true of all skills.

Attributes (a fixed set of values that chances only slowly if at all) are one way of setting a default for skills, but they should also have mechanical effects in play to be worth it. One common use is to use attributes as hit points (or other measure of resiliency), but I have another solution for that. So, in essence, I don’t see a compelling need for attributes.

The lack of attributes implies another way of resolving simple rolls, which I don’t have, as of yet. It may end up being unnecessary due to the exact nature of all tasks in the game. Further design will tell. A default for skills must also be defined in some way. My current idea is to have a fixed default. If I end up adding rules for nonhumans, they will have different defaults or some special abilities.

Skill: actual rules

Every (human) player character starts with all skills at the value three. There will be a number of skills the player can select at different values. I’m thinking about three skills at 10, three at 7, and the remaining at three. Or something like that. Different combinations allow for more or less powerful and focused chars, so some options are in order.

Getting hurt

Character has an undefined number of tracks, but at least three: Wound track, strain track and rest track. When the number of wounds (the track) equals some skill like toughness, the character is unable to do anything and can be killed with a single action. Essentially: Hit points, but in the reverse direction. Wounds are earned by being hit with sharp, pointy, hot, or otherwise inconvenient objects.

Straing track is a measure of exhaustion, both physical and mental. It accumulates when being attacked, being hurt, being scared, or failing rolls related to straining oneself. When strain equals the sum of two skills, something like toughess and will, something bad happens. I’m thinking a number of possible effects the player can choose between.

Rest track starts at zero and goes up by one when the character rests. The two other tracks can’t be reduced below rest track’s current value. The track is reset when the characters relax and use their loot between adventures. The function of the track is to make resting always a choice: If you do it too often, it simply is not useful any more and you have to get back. It is a soft time limit, in essence. The diegetic explanation is that no matter how skilled a healer you are, the dungeon environment is far from ideal: There are limited supplies, the place is dirty and cold, and it is very tiring to be constantly on guard. Short breaks help for a while, but total recovery demands a good rest at far better conditions.


  1. asmor said,

    I really dig the idea of the rest track. It turns time into a resource for the PCs, but a resource that can be expended, and it means diminishing returns when they do rest.

  2. Opusinsania said,

    It does mean that there is lots of bookkeeping to do. I personally like PDQ, because it has no need for any “tracks”, outside character qualities. Occam’s Razor, and all that.

  3. Tommi said,

    I wouldn’t use PDQ for tactical/strategic dungeoncrawling, personally, though it is a nice generic system. It does have damage that reduces the qualities, which is similar to damage, which is mathematically identical to tracks, though. I don’t remeber off-and how the qualities recover.

    The book-keeping is a nasty side effect that I will attempt to minimise.

    Going by Occam’s razor I would be playing and running freeforms, with maybe (maybe) a d6 to resolve some stuff: 1-3, I get what I want, 4-6: I don’t. Or something equally simple. Rules are not necessary. Complicated ones even less so. That does not imply that rules are not useful or that designing and playing around with them is not useful.

  4. Opusinsania said,

    Actually, following Occam’s Razor you wouldn’t add any rules that aren’t necessary – and freeform wouldn’t probably qualify for the dungeoncrawl-feel you are aspiring for. It’s just a matter of asking which rules are strictly necessary, and most games draw the line after the first track, (or second) mostly because of the book-keeping.

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