Author’s Note, May 2016: I wrote this post before going to Gamestorm last year, but something caught it up accidentally in a pending state and frankly I’m not sure what happened. I haven’t really touched this blog much since then, but I just this morning found it chilling out in my draft queue, and figured I’d read it over and push it out. It’s worth noting that in the days that followed at Gamestorm 2015, we played this twice and jammed out even more new ways to improve the process – I’m most particularly fond of a new “Loot Bag” mechanic that I’ve been writing up after a year away from this particular design project. More posts will follow on this subject, but for now, here’s the old post that got locked, so that maybe folks will find it interesting. End Note
Last year at Gamestorm 2014, a few conversations on “roguelike” gaming experiences led me to come up with an on-the-fly method for character-grinding adventure gaming. With but a single simple Chessex d12 Dungeon Die, a handful of those custom Warhammer Fantasy Third Edition RPG dice, a Swords & Wizardry monster book, and a stack of random characters from Save vs Total Party Kill, we had a rip-roaring time plunging into unknown dungeons (and looting the bodies of fallen compatriots after every battle).
From this was born HAMMERCRAWL! – my nickname for this evolving method of using collated existing tools for immediate, “procedurally-generated” roguelike tabletop dungeon crawling. The idea is to have everything I need to run such a game on-hand in the size of a custom GM screen, or less. This year, I want to give HAMMERCRAWL! a second go at the coming Gamestorm 2015, and hopefully get things into a more well-oiled machine than the previous attempts. To assist with this, I’m keeping notes here on the various pieces and how they fit together.
First off, things that HAMMERCRAWL! is not:
- HAMMERCRAWL! is not core game mechanic: It uses old-school D&D/retroclone rules – pick one of your choice, there are plenty!
- HAMMERCRAWL! is not a system for generating story: If you want Story, you’ll have to add that part yourself.
- HAMMERCRAWL! is not a method for campaign gaming: The various tools here are collected for the primary purpose of one-shot gaming; long-term use of HAMMERCRAWL! might not be fun, unless you and your group are exceptionally masochistic.
Instead, HAMMERCRAWL! is a system for randomly generating the “bottom line” elements of a dungeon crawl: Characters, Dungeon Rooms, Traps, Monsters, and Treasure. And it’s certainly not for everyone, especially those who want a more stable, fleshed-out gaming experience that lasts more than a single pick-up or con-game session.
The Goal of HAMMERCRAWL!
The characters’ main purpose is to venture out into the depths of a dungeon, kill monsters and gain loot, and then make it back to the surface alive in order to enjoy the primary benefit of those rewards: Experience! The longer they stay on a run, and the deeper into the dungeon they go, the greater the reward, and the darker the dangers.
The Tools of HAMMERCRAWL!
So with all of this set forth, let’s look at the tools collected so far:
The Core Rules
In the previous runs with this method, we used my favorite version of the old game, the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia. A big stack of characters were generated via Ramanan Sivaranjan’s Basic Character Generator, ready for the murdergrind of the coming dungeon. Basic D&D worked, more or less, but the big drawback for the group was that first-level thieves were absolutely useless and failed at all the things they were supposed to be good at.
This time around I’m planning to run with a mix of Dark Dungeons and Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Despite the latter game’s focus on being a horrific fantasy game, its re-write of the D&D skills system (among many other such bare-bones simplifications) makes it easier to parse at the table. And even if this perception is just an illusion, its simpler skills come off as being less whiff-driven than those of other retroclone variants.
Plus, there’s an awesome random character maker at that very same website! Now I need a few rounds of pre-con playtesting of the different core pieces of both DD and LotFP, before I can settle on a final result I’m comfortable with.
Using the links above, I randomly generate and print out a stack of 100 characters. When a player sits down at the table, they pull a sheet from the top of the stack and hop right into the fun. When a character dies, their player draws another one, and joins the team a room later, either as a random encounter or as someone already fighting a group of monsters.
The Dice Tray
For a project like this, a dice tray is crucial. I recommend this round one, it’s fun to use and round and everything you need.
The Dungeon Dice
During the first few go-rounds I used nothing more than a simple Chessex d12 Dungeon Die, and it worked well enough. But since then I have been gifted with a set of Dungeonmorph dice, which are far superior in their detail and versatility. I’ve also just received the full set of room cards (and slid them into handy dry-erase sleeves) and a buddy is set to give me the other two sets of dice as well, making my loadout a full complement. They even come with little symbols and a handy key to them, for adding more spontaneous dungeon features on the fly.
The basic process involves going from room to room, encountering obstacles, grabbing treasure, and moving ever onward. When it’s time to move to a new room, I grab one of the dice from a bag, roll it, and that’s the next room. I then draw the room out on an index card-sized cut of graph paper that I have a nifty book of thanks to a fellow G-Plusser named Gray Pawn. The pieces are all laid out on the table, and the dungeon grows dynamically as the players explore it.
Regarding room exits, one of the interesting features of the Dungeonmorph dice is that every result comes up with up to eight exits, so as to allow the dice to seamlessly connect and the dungeon to infinitely grow. But sometimes that doesn’t make sense for a random dungeon, especially when trying to give it confines. To fix this, my plan is to use a mix of “eyeballing” it and randomly rolling: Roll either 1d8 or 2d4 for each room to determine how many exits are actually there, and then when drawing the room out on the card be sure to leave out the ones that got dropped.
With the tile version of these dice, this process is made even easier. Make sure they’re in dry erase sleeves first (Magic card sleeves work), then randomly pull one and lay it down, blacking out walls and exits as needed for the current layout.
Finally, for each room visited after the first, there is a cumulative 1 in 20 chance that one of the exits of the room leads down to the next dungeon level. There is no set limit to how many such exits there are on a level; when one is discovered, the count resets to 1.
The Warhammer Dice
To tell the truth, this entire project of tool-collection is rooted in my love of the custom dice for the third edition of the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game. Despite growing frustrated with the actual game, I was really drawn to the dice themselves, and even held onto a small set after selling the rest of the game stuff off. I try to use them for other games whenever possible, and from that desire was born the idea of using them to randomly “divine” an entire dungeon run on the fly.
To quickly run through the dice, with WFRP3 you get a mix of seven different types of dice, coded by color: Blue, Yellow, White, Green, Red, Black, and Purple. Each of these colors represents a different purpose, such as Challenge, Luck, Fortune, Skull, and so on. Their different faces have symbols instead of numerical pips, which you can use to divine the outcomes of tests in that game. For this game, the dice translate as:
- Blue Die: The Reward Die, rolled to find new fortunes and treasure.
- Red Die: The “Huzzah!” Die, rolled when the heroes are especially brave and/or foolhardy.
- Green Die: The Caution Die, rolled to reward careful strategy and conversation.
- White Die: The Luck Die, added to the pool for good ideas and plans.
- Black Die: The Dark Die, added when the players’ own actions turn against them.
- Yellow Die: The Die of Expertise, representing solid applied skill and craft.
- Purple Die: The Die of growing Risk. Purple dice can bring great danger and peril.
First we build the Divining Pool:
- Standard Risk: Start with one Purple Die, and add one more for every third level of the dungeon (so +1 at 3, 6, 9, etc).
- Standard Reward: Start with one Blue Die.
- Did they stealthily enter the room? Add a Green Die.
- Did they kick in the door and rush the room? Add a Red Die.
- Did anyone actually say “Huzzah!” when entering? Add another Red Die.
- Did they fore-warn the room’s occupants somehow? Add a Black Die.
- Are they taking any clever precautions or plans (other than the usual trap-checking)? Add a White Die for each “really good idea” they have.
- Do they have any useful tools that might affect the situation? Add a Yellow Die if they are making active use of special gear, such as maps, potions, etc.
Then the pool is rolled away from the peeking eyes of the adventuring players. For HAMMERCRAWL!, the symbols translate to different aspects of the next room, determined as follows:
Hammers and Crossblades: MONSTERS and TREASURE! First off, Hammers and Crossblades cancel each other out one for one. If a roll gets two Hammers and five Crossblades, then that’s a net total of three Blades for that roll.
If there are net Crossblades in the pool, the party encounters monsters and must very likely fight with them. The encounter is rolled determined by the current dungeon level. A single Crossblade represents a single encounter, with each additional crossblade either A) increasing the size of that encounter, or B) adding in another simultaneous encounter group. When the encounter is defeated, roll the treasure as normal (see further below).
If there are net Hammers, then the party finds unguarded treasure! Roll an encounter as normal, but the creatures aren’t there, and they left their treasure behind.
Hammer-Plus: (Yellow die only) Some yellow results show a hammer with a plus. That means to add another yellow die and immediately roll it.
Skulls: GROWING DANGER! Skulls are counted over many encounters, tallying up a growing Danger Meter. Every ten skulls counted since the party entered the dungeon adds another purple die to the base pool for following encounters. The Danger Meter resets every time the party leaves the dungeon.
Falcons: GROWING HOPE! Similar to Skulls, Falcons add to the growing Hope Meter. Every ten Falcons rolled gives the party a safe place to camp for a bit, recovering HP and Spells. This will be detailed in the Part Two post. Reset the count each time Camp happens.
Blood Drops: INJURY! When blood drops are rolled (Red dice only), the team suffered damage or stress of some kind in their charge forward. Roll Xd4 damage (X = current dungeon level) and have the team apply it among themselves.
Hourglasses: DELAY! When an Hourglass is rolled (Green dice only), the team suffered some form of delay getting to the next room. Knock off an additional 1d4 Turns of game time.
Comets: SURPRISE! The enemies (if any) are surprised! Heroes additionally receive +2 to each die roll that round. Surprise and the bonus last for # of rounds = # of comets rolled.
Chaos Stars: TRAP! Roll a random trap, encountered either on the way to the new room, or as part of its composition, whichever makes most sense.
Chaos stars bring traps, and to create them I’m using the handy set of generators at the donjon. But why stop there? Here’s a particularly crazy random trap generator. And if all else fails, there is the 1d20 Tricks and Traps table from the AD&D 1E DMG.
My intention this time is to copy a dozen loadouts of the Donjon traps and combine them into a single set of tables on one or two sheets. Those will be slid into the covers of my World’s Greatest GM Screen, along with other custom sheets I’m working up from other sources.
The current plan is to use the Wandering Monsters table from Dark Dungeons. A single Crossblade means it has basic wandering numbers, two means it has an extra die, and three plus means it is a full-on lair of said creature, when applicable. A bit of common sense is required for working those out on the fly, of course, on a monster by monster basis.
Another option (which I’ve used before) is the Swords and Wizardry monster book, which I already have printed, spiral-bound, and heavily tabbed. It has some nifty random tables in the back, which I can put to good use. The only drawback to that is that the monsters in that book lack standard treasure class details, making the next step a bit trickier.
For Random Treasure, I’m using a Windows program I found ages ago called BECMI Utilities. It generates treasure based on the Rules Cyclopedia “A-O, P-V” treasure classes, which Dark Dungeons also uses. I’ve made heavy use of these very tables in my own long-running weekend games, and am quite familiar with their typical yields.
If I were to use the Swords and Wizardry monsters, a little more effort will be required. I’m still pondering that one.
While putting all of this together, I’ve had other ideas for nifty things that might assist the experience, all of which can also be turned into random rolls. This is just out loud musing for now:
- Random Room Setting: Broken Furniture, Chains from the Ceiling, A tentacle slipping around a far corner, bloodstains on the ceiling, a grate in the middle of the floor, etc.
- Random Foreshadowing: (pending)
- A handful (d10) / a bagful (d10 x10) / a chestful (d10 x100) / a hoard (d10x1000) of coppers/silvers/golds/platinums/gems/arts, etc.
- (Setbacks Table Pending. Ideas: Food spoilage, gear loss, etc in the lower ranks, traps and worse in the middle ranks, insta-death in the highest.)
The key for me is that for any such things to be usable, they need to be immediately on-hand with a minimum of flipping and cross-checking. On-the-fly rapid deployment of dungeon composition is a must!
This system of gaming requires a strict enforcement of timekeeping in the nature of “turns” of dungeon action. In accordance with classic rules, one Turn = Ten Minutes of in-game time, one Round = Ten Seconds, and thus one Turn = Sixty Rounds. This is crucial for keeping track of light sources and special short-duration game effects. Some basic notes of importance:
- 1 Hour = 6 Turns
- Torch lasts for 1 Hour (6 Turns)
- Lantern lasts for 4 Hours (24 turns) on 1 flask of oil
- Light spells last for 6 turns, +1 per caster level
- Each time they move to a new unexplored room, that costs a turn as well.
- Each Combat encounter lasts a minimum of 1 turn, regardless of actual number of rounds. Combats longer than 60 rounds can last more than 1 turn.
- A casual examination of an entire room takes one turn. This does not locate any secrets, but does give a full visual description.
- Searching for Secrets takes one turn per 10×10 area of the room, and uses the Search skill. Characters can split up to search different places simultaneously and save time. For thieves, this will also include searching for traps.
Adventurers with darkvision don’t have to worry about light. But as long as even one single party member requires light, then the entire party requires it. To keep visual track of this, I use a set of white dice to represent light. Each lit torch gets a white d6 (6 turns), with white d10s and d20s combined to represent light spells and lanterns.
Kicking Things Off
The session begins with each player grabbing a random character from the stack. Give them all names, and also give the Dungeon itself a name (this makes it way cooler) – there’s even a good random Dungeon Name generator at donjon. Why are the heroes gathered to go into this Dungeon? Are they seeking general wealth? Or are they after someone hiding deeper down in its dark depths? The answer to these can help flavor future encounters.
Moving Through the Dungeon
Each time the players choose to move forward to a new room of the dungeon, listen to how they plan their progression, and build the HAMMERCRAWL! dice pool accordingly. Roll the random dungeon room dice first, and pick one blindly. Then roll the number of exits, if necessary or applicable. Draw it out on a card, then roll the Encounter pool and divine the results.
Resolve the encounter as normal. When done, ask them what they’re doing next. If they are moving on ahead, then repeat this process.
Backtracking: Each time the party moves back through a room they’ve already visited, there is a cumulative 1 in 10 chance that the room has repopulated with enemies and stuff. If that chance occurs, roll a new encounter as normal. Nowhere is truly safe!
Loot and XP
The characters will gain XP from encounters they defeat, and hopefully loot as well. XP earned from encounters is immediately applied to the character sheet.
Using traditional rules, monetary loot also counts as XP – but in HAMMERCRAWL!, that XP is only applied after the heroes make it back to town with the loot. So when loot is acquired, write down the loot and its value, but do not count it as XP just yet. Heroes can also convert a fraction of the loot to XP as a Camp Action, but this wastes the vast majority of it.
Flavor Skills in Action
Sometimes a player will want to use a skill for something more esoteric. For example, a dwarf might want to use Architecture to learn a bit about the ancient creators of the Dungeon (like, were the Dwarves? How did they die? etc). If successful, make up some narration, then give the player “+1 forward” on their next related skill check down the road.
The Danger Meter: More Purples
As Skulls are rolled, the Danger Meter grows. For every ten full points of the Danger Meter, add one more Purple die to the encounter rolls. This tally resets when the party returns to town.
The Hope Meter: Camping and Bravery
Camping requires light for three turns (unless the entire party has darkvision) – without adequate light for all three turns, the adventurers cannot camp. Camping uses a ration per adventurer. Any adventurer that does not use a ration does not benefit from the camp effects.
When the heroes camp, each hero can choose to do one of the following Camp Actions:
- Heal: Restore one rolled Hit Die of damage per character level. That hero consumes one additional ration.
- Re-Memorize: Recover one daily spell use per character level.
- Invest: Convert one-fourth (rounded up) of their current financial loot value to immediate character XP, discarding the rest. Leveling up requires a separate action, however…
- Level up! If the hero has enough XP to reach the next level, they can apply the effects of that level as a Camp Action. This adds a Hit Die, as well as any other new-level bonuses. Note that it does not heal existing HP loss or restore used spells or abilities (those are separate Camp Actions, above).
- Keep Watch: Add a Green Die to the next room explored.
- Scout Ahead: Roll Search. If successful, add one Yellow die to next 1d4 new rooms explored. If failed, add Black dice instead.
When the heroes choose to camp, the Hope Meter is wiped and starts again from zero.
If the heroes are feeling particularly brave, let them know that they can choose to not camp, and instead keep powering forward through the dungeon. Doing so earns them a Red die added to their base exploration pool, one for every ten full points of the Hope Meter.
Regardless, once they finally camp, the Hope Meter is still wiped and starts again from zero.
There and Back Again: Returning to Town
When the heroes finally return to town (which likely involves backtracking through the dungeon to their original exit), the following happens, in order:
- Restore HP to Max, and relearn daily Spells and Powers.
- If their loot value is enough to level them up, apply just enough to level them up and discard the rest.
- Apply any effects of character leveling.
- If their loot value is not enough to level them up, apply only half of it as XP and discard the rest – you shouldn’t have left the dungeon so soon!
- Restore their standard starting equipment list to full original capacity.
- Return to the Dungeon!
Death and the Grind
When a party member is considered Dead, that’s it, they’re dead. The player draws a new character from the stack and shows up either one Turn or one Round later, whichever makes more sense or seems more exciting.
Looting the Fallen: During active combat, a character can take any one readily-accessible item from a fallen ally as an action. Any more in-depth looting must wait until the action is over and the danger clear.
After combat, multiple PCs may wish to loot their ally at the same time. Handle this as a special kind initiative. Roll off as usual, and then on their turn a PC may take either one specific item or 1d4 random items.
Money loot from fallen allies is always split evenly among the survivors, unless they otherwise work something else out among themselves.
The HAMMERCRAWL! Campaign
I mentioned in the previous post that this isn’t really a system meant for long-term play. However, the more I think on it, I can see certain ideas and possibilities opening up to make this happen. It would certainly be a very methodical and quite humorous game, but it’s not impossible. I’ll give it some greater thought and maybe turn this into a three-parter.