Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Dungeons & Hit Dice: A New Ultra-Retro Old-School Role-Playing Game

Dungeons & Hit Dice cuts the nonsense out of your fantasy adventuring and distills the Original Game to its true core so that you can get the most authentic dungeon experience.

Your character needs only one characteristic: your number of Hit Dice, also known as your level. The goal of the game is to kill monsters and take loot, which gives you level-ups. You get more hit dice as you go. Collect the highest number of hit dice to prove you are the Most Skillful Player!

Character Creation

To make a character, start by writing the number 1 on your character sheet. That’s your initial number of hit dice. Hit Dice do not represent stamina or durability. It represents the mysterious ability to avoid getting hurt.

Then pick your Class to determine what Value your Hit Dice have. Here are the four Classes and their Hit Dice Values:

d4: Spelly. Spellies are the artillery force of the party. They throw fireballs but they do poorly in melee.
d6: Searchy. Searchies are good at paying attention. They find hidden stuff that nobody else notices. They also can open locked boxes, which nobody else can open. They can also climb walls, even sheer ones. Despite their cool abilities, they are a little bit wimpy, though, for game balance.
d8: Holy. Holies restore lost hit dice and scare the undead, but they can’t use weapons with sharp edges because too much blood is unholy and also gross. They like to bash bad guys with maces or hammers instead.
d10: Fighty. Fighties can hit hard with anything they pick up. Fighties are the best at fighting.

To complete your character, combine that number 1 with the Hit Dice Value. A beginning Spelly, for example, has a character sheet that says “1d4.” A beginning Fighty has “1d10.”

Don’t worry about how low that initial numeral 1 is! You start off really weak but that makes the game grittier. Also, it will soon go up if you don’t die! You can get to be really powerful in this game if you are good at it.

In Advanced Dungeons & Hit Dice, you can choose to make your character an Elf, Dwarf, or Halfling. That means you can see in the dark. Also, Elves are a little bit short, have pointy ears, and like wine; Dwarves are pretty short, have beards, and like beer, and Halflings are really short, have hairy feet, and like ale. (Humans are the most adaptable of them all: they drink anything.) Popular combinations include the Elf Spelly, the Halfling Searchy, and the Dwarf Holy. A traditional party will have at least one of each.


Your maximum die Value indicates how many inches your miniature can move on the board in one turn. Spellies can move 4 inches, Searchies 6 inches, etc.


To hit a foe, roll your die Value times number of Hit Dice. For example, a two-hit-die Fighty rolls 2d10 and calculates the sum to attack.

The monster that you hit does the same thing to defend itself. It rolls its Value times number of Hit Dice. For example, a Kobold has 1d4, a Goblin has 1d6. A Hobgoblin has 1d8. An Orc has 1d10. The chiefs of each of these creatures has 2 hit dice, so like a 2d10 Orc Chief. An Owlbear has like 3d8. Dragons can have like 6d12. A Demon Lord might have 6d20.

If you beat the bad guy’s total, it loses a Hit Die (its ability to avoid getting hurt). A combatant on his last Hit Die is finally able to get hurt. One more smack and he’s a goner.

If your foe has no more hit dice, congratulations! You killed it! XP for you!

If it is still alive, it’s angry and it invariably tries to hit you back. Do the same thing but now you roll to defend yourself.

Combat proceeds by turns, with each side taking a turn walloping the other, one after the other, until one side has lost all hit dice and dies.

Because the game is ideally made up of taking turns rolling to hit each other, back and forth, you probably should spice it up with narration, like how you hit the bad guy. That makes it more fun.

The Searching of Searchies and other Searchy Tricks

They say a Searchy has big eyes and sticky hands. Your Searchy will find hidden things, open locked boxes, or climb slippery walls by rolling his Hit Dice. If any of the dice shows a 1, he succeeds.

The Magic Balls of Spellies

The purpose of Spellies is to throw fireballs. They can throw fireballs a number of times per day equal to two times their Hit Dice. After that they are pretty useless and should stay back.

The fireball does d12 damage times the Spelly’s number of hit dice. The range is their Hit Dice times Value (4). For example, a Spelly with one Hit Die can throw his fireball 4 inches on the board, but a Spelly with 3 can throw it twelve inches on the board.

If you want to make your fireballs into something else, like iceballs, energyballs, thornballs, acidballs, or some other kind of balls, that’s fine, because the main thing that Spellies do is throw spells that hurt things at a distance. This game is all about creativity so make up your own kind of balls to really bring your Spelly to life.

If the Referee is playing Advanced Dungeons & Hit Dice, you can make Spell Walls starting when your Spelly gets 4 Hit Dice. Spell Walls hurt anybody who touches them (lose a Hit Die). They can be made of whatever you like: fire, stone, energy, force, bones, thorns, whatever. It’s a power you can use only once per day. Otherwise it would unbalance things.

The Superpowers of Holies

Holies can hold up a holy symbol and growl sanctimoniously at the skeletons, zombies, mummies, and vampires. Roll their Hit Dice against undead creatures, who roll their own Hit Dice. If the Holy wins, the creature runs away scared. A scared zombie is quite a sight for heroes!

Holies also get another superpower if they beseech the DM every morning. If the DM favors the beseeching, then for every Hit Die that a Holy has, he can restore somebody’s lost hit die once per day. If you beseech the DM more often than once per game day, it gets annoying, so you’re limited to your Hit Dice in total of restorations every day.

Character advancement

This is the part you have been waiting for: how do you get more power? The answer is XP.

You get 10 XP for every Hit Die of the foe killed times the Value of its die. For example, an Orc Chief with 2d10 is worth 200 XP.

Also, you get one XP for every gold piece (GP) you drag out of the dungeon. If the Dungeon Master does not leave enough GP around, you should complain because it slows down the level-ups.

Players have to divide XP among their colleagues. Because XP are the goal of the game, keep fractions of XP when you divide them.

You get a new Hit Die with every level-up. You need two thousand XP to get the first level-up. Then four thousand, then nine thousand, and so on. It’s exponential: every subsequent level-up is the current Hit Die number squared times 1000.

Advice for Dungeon Mastering Dungeons & Hit Dice

The Dungeon Master (DM) draws a complicated map with rooms and tunnels and doors that are stuck (unless declared loose). The whole dungeon should be tricky and hard to describe. This is to confuse the players as a challenge. But they should try to map it, even if you can’t explain it well.

To make things easier, every dimension should be a multiple of ten feet. All corridors and tunnels are a comfy ten feet wide. Any space more than ten feet wide is a room and it gets a number on your map.

Then the DM puts a bunch of monsters in some rooms and some traps in others, mostly pits that nobody triggered before. All the wandering monsters have memorized where the pits are, so the pits stay hidden.

Some monsters and traps should be easy to beat and some should be tough. The DM’s job is to pick monsters that the players can beat, but only barely. You have to balance it. If you send monsters that are too hard against the characters, they will realize you’re a jerk, but if the monsters are too easy, then they will realize you’re boring. So make it balanced or your friends will quit playing with you.

To minimize the possibility that your players realize you’re a jerk, tell them that player skill means knowing when to run away. It’s on the players to figure out when they should run away, and you won’t make fun of them if they do. Just remind them that if they get killed, it’s not because you’re a jerk and the monsters you put there for them were too hard. It’s because they lack player skill. They should have realized how dangerous it was.

Every monster guards some treasure, at least just a few coins. The cool monsters should have a lot more. Make sure there is enough to go around so that the players get enough XP to get more powerful. That will keep them playing and going back into your dungeon.

Some other games have sissy story backgrounds that nobody cares about. A Master DM who plays the real, original way does not need a story because the players make up the story with you as you go. That’s called “emergent” stories. Also, the dungeon is a mythic underworld. A myth is a story that is meaningful without making sense. If players think the dungeon is doesn’t make sense, remind them that this is all a part of the hero’s journey. They should look it up.

Next year, I’ll be publishing the Realms of Rando Game World Expansion Tome. It’s full of tables of random stuff that can happen to give you an authentic fantasy experience so you can just throw together a game while the players sit there watching you rolling dice every few seconds for random adjectives and nouns and even verbs to make dungeon-suitable sentences and descriptions. There is no need to plan anything. The tables will make up dungeons for you. If you back me on Kickstarter now, you’ll get the fancy faux leather cover version of Realms of Rando. It’s so full of tables you won’t believe it. You will never need to think about it beforehand because my tables do the imagination and planning for you.

Advice to the Player on Winning the Game

If you get more Hit Dice than any other player, you are the Master Player. You win—until somebody gets more hit dice than you. Therefore, allow other players to take risks without seeming to chicken out. If they die, you get more GP, which means more XP! You get more powerful faster if your friends die and you live.

This game is the product of extensive playtesting with an uncountable number of players. If you have a problem with it, then you clearly don’t get how role-playing games are supposed to work. This is how it has been from the beginning, and any innovation is a deviation from how it was meant to be. If you want to play the authentic way, then do the things I say while having fun.

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