Monday, December 15, 2014

Roll and Read: a method for solo RPG play

Solo RPGs can be an interesting diversion, entertaining when the regular game group isn't around. And like playing chess with oneself, they can also be a way to test skills and scenarios. But managing complex rules and a full cast of characters can be too demanding when you're running it all by yourself, which is why many solo rpgs tend to abbreviated or minimal rules.

This isn't a post about seeding scenarios or figuring out a way to generate and resolve decision points. This is just a simple method for running a scenario and managing characters with minimal book-keeping and maximum speed.


Since the solo player generates and runs all characters, some are run as protagonists (as traditional player-characters), and the rest are encounters (as helpers, hinderers, enemies, and otherwise).
Protagonists should get a description. This can be detailed, a character sheet from another game, or just a brief tag (wily wizard, hardened ranger, calculating vac-trooper). Most other characters get a tag only, unless details are required.
If the description is brief, there's more room to explore who and what the character is. If the description is detailed, there may be more options, but the character is more defined before play.
All character have one rating, an abstract measure of their Resources [Res x]. Resources are an abstract representation of their Stamina or Hit Points or Hit Dice or Wounds or Luck, or whatever in-game credit is expended until the character is exhausted.
Protagonists might start with at least 2 or 3 Res, more if they have higher 'levels'.
Encounters can have individual Res, or group Res to represent a mass challenge. The Res in any scenario should roughly balance.

For example, the solo gamer might plan a scenario with:
A tough ranger [Res 3]
A clever hedge wizard [Res 3]
A nimble halfling [Res 3]
against a
Wolf Pack [Res 6]
Dire Wolf [Res 2]

Running the scene

This method is based on running notes.
Head up a note with the scene title: "Menacing Wolves," "Crossing the Swamp," and so on.
There is no initiative as such; just begin with the move that makes sense and move on to the next in order.
Each active character gets a 'line' each round, until everyone has taken a turn. The line is a brief tag or note of an action. Against any line, you can also note the counter-action, outcome or response.

For example:
The scene is "Menace of Wolves"
The first line is "Light the fire – wood's too wet!" (our halfling's first attempt to light a fire is a roll of 2, incomplete)
Then, "Spear throw – glancing hit" (the ranger's attack is a roll of 3, marginal)
And so on...

These lines are used to track turns and order actions, and estimate position if the player chooses not to use a battle board and miniatures.

Roll and read

In place of the usual rules and balancing of modifiers and multiple dice rolls, the player rolls once for each action and interprets the result.

Gauge what the character will most likely achieve, given their abilities and tactics.
For example, an armed ranger will most likely drive-off or even kill a ragged wolf, whereas a scrawny hedge wizard is likely to only keep the creature at bay, and at best wound it (but with magic, on the other hand…).

Then roll and read. The traditional pips on the dice hint at the result.
⚀ 1  Blocked, a failure or mishap
⚁ 2 Incomplete, a problem, breakage, or partially accomplished
⚂ 3 On the line, marginal, doubtful, or achieved at some cost
⚃ 4 Square, as expected, unremarkable
⚄ 5 Solid, a strong achievement, with some advantage which may be exploited
⚅ 6 Exceptional, full resolution, with a significant advantage
Resolve each action according to the roll and the likeliest result.

There are two other options:

  • If the character seems massively advantaged by skill or circumstances, then roll two dice and read the highest.
  • If the roll seems like sheer bad luck or the result would run against all reasonable expectations for the character, then spend a point of Res to reroll (representing the character's effort and resolve). If this roll is a 6, then the Res point is not lost.


In combat and other conflict, where the roll is low enough that the acting character is read as being hurt or wounded, deduct a point of Res. When the last point of Res is lost, the character is out of play for the rest of the scene. The player can then decide whether the character continues on play or is discarded.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A micro-review

A system for Tony Dowler's perfectly compressed micro-dungeon maps?

Try the ultra-concise Deeds & Doers.

Only players roll – 'to do' – when there is a significant risk.

The DM applies injuries and conditions with judgement, not hit points.

A game you can hold in your head.

Fantasy dungeons, sword and sorcery, all by suggestion. Pick your source; then where, who, why.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Here's a D20 adventure game

Basics and characters

Write down your character name and then a description. Make it concise or detailed. Include some skills or a calling/profession.
Roll 2d6 and add six. These are you Health Points, or HP. Write them in near the top. Hits wear them down. When you have no more HP, you cannot take a hit without serious consequences.


Further down, you have three rolls: Fighting, Skill, and Magic. These have a base value of 6+.
For a random character, roll three d6 and assign each die to a roll.
For a bespoke character, distribute 11 points between the rolls, giving at least one point to each roll.
Now sort out what gear you have with your GM.

What would you use those rolls for?

Use that fighting roll in combat, to see if you hit something, or if you can avoid being hit. This also applies to physical challenges.
Use that skill roll to sneak, tamper, fiddle, search, and do anything associated with your craft.
Use that magic roll to cast magic, if that's in your power, resist magic if it comes to that, and otherwise recall fine points of lore.

Running adventures

In most cases, when characters are tested or challenged, choose an appropriate roll. If the character makes the roll, equalling or exceeding their number on a d20, they are successful.
Apply modifiers that fit the situation. Add points to the roll number to increase the difficulty, or deduct points to lower difficulty. A range from +5 to -5 should represent most conditions.


The system is intended for quick pick-up-and-play gaming, simply adapting any module or adventure or idea the GM has at hand. Hence, characters can begin with any adventure and level of expertise the GM requires.
However, if the game runs into campaign play, you can begin with an experience level of 0: adventurer. This can go up to 5: hero. The difference between a character's level and the challenge of a monster or task can be used as a modifier.

Running combat

Assume that a character's fighting roll represents the sum effect of their skill, weaponry, and armour matched against a middling foe.
Order of attacks and defence in each round of action depends on the tactical situation, so that's for the GM to decide, though generally the characters with better fighting rolls get to go first.
In each round, characters get a chance to attack and hit using their fighting roll.
The GM will decide if the foes they face have a "chance to hit" (a roll based on fighting) or simply hit automatically, as some powerful creatures will.
If a character is hit, then they can use their fighting roll as a save to try and block, parry, or dodge the impact, if their fighting style and the situation allows.

At the end of the round, deal damage to anyone who has been hit:

Light weapons: d4 (knives, staffs)
Skirmishing weapons: d6 (axes, daggers, darts)
War weapons: d8 (swords, arrows, spears)
Heavy weapons: d10 (great sword, pike)
Magical or terrible weapons: d12 (dragon claws, wraith-sword)

If a character has armour that is proof against a particular attack, then the GM can account for this by temporarily dropping the damage category (so a sword (d8) striking mail might do lighter (d6) damage).


Magic is tricky, so take your time over it. Magic effects each world differently. As a GM, you can't allow magic that would shortcut play, but magicians should be able to use their magic as effectively as other characters. 
Perhaps there's a price for gaining access to magic, such as a permanent reduction in HP or other rolls.
When you have worked out how magic works, assume that characters can effectively cast a handful of basic spells they know using a magic roll. Spells of greater power, or outside of the magician's ken, are progressively more difficult to cast.
Magic should be risky. If a roll fails disastrously, then inflict an interesting twist, side-effect, or even damage on the hapless caster.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Perilous creatures

Arihmere, as has been mentioned, is known for its haphazard and unlikely collection of perilous beasts. Here are a few, presented for use with Sword/Play.


Could be mistaken for men in the distance, for they go on two legs. But their backs are broad and shaggy and their arms are longer, and they have only four digits on each hand. Their faces are like those of goats or sheep, though they have no horns. Grimelocks are silent; no one knows if they speak, or make their thoughts known only by grunts and howls. They are not needlessly cruel or given to mischief, but rather heedless and touchy, and they will slay any being they find within their territories. They weep during battles.
They have no true smith-craft, but arm themselves with spears and axes beaten out of stolen blades.

SKILLS: Tireless, Silent, Hunter


Naggs fly out of darkness, from caves or deep clefts in the ground. They have leathery wings, stretching as far as the arm-span of a man, but their beaks are long and blade-sharp. They attack by diving and are very swift, but cannot fly if wounded. They hunt for blood and sport, like wolves, and are most dangerous in packs where they will harass and slash before stooping to the kill.

SKILLS: Fly, Slash


Diminutive vermin, little taller than a man's knee. They scamper about in wastelands, preferring fens and marshes, where they hunt and scavenge. Oftentimes, they will attach the glowing seed pods of a knafer tree to a branch, creating a tiny, greenish light that they parade to lure the curious and unwary into sinkholes and other crude traps. They are cowardly, quick, dangerous only to those they trap when they mob their prey in large numbers, armed with sticks and sharpened stones. A trillit hole can often contain unregarded treasures as well as the leavings of their victims.

SKILLS: Sneak, Hide, Quick


Ancient, vile predatory spirits, that lurk in old tombs and bury-grounds. Having no bodies of their own, they dress themselves in grave-shirts, dust and bone, creating a vague mockery of the forms of the dead with cold blue eyes. Blades cannot wound them, unless spell-bound or forged of deep-steel. Their touch burns like ice. They cannot travel in daylight, and the wind and sun will destroy them.

SKILLS: Lurk, Terrify, Freeze


Ungainly, at least half again as tall as any man, with bulbous heads and features, and bones that are often uneven or ill-shaped. Ungainly and awkward in movement, they are easy to strike, but their thick hides and dense bones make them difficult to wound, and their great strength and terrible two-handed swords are to be feared. Surly and solitary by nature, they are unusually deft metal-smiths. They forge treasures and weapons of great worth, which they guard ferociously.

SKILLS: Smith, Greatsword, Massive strength

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Beyond Arihmere

Although the old realm of Arihmere is unfortunate enough to contain more than its share of dangers, there are many notable realms beyond its borders.

South: The Sundering Wars

Cordaigne, once known as the Captured Kingdom, was held entire by the Theran Empire, but the empire is now divided, and both successor states, east and south,  claim a patchwork of provinces and cities within its borders. As though the separation were not chaotic enough, the brawling Andaran Princess and the nominal King of Arihmere intervene in the simmering conflict, siding with one side and the other, warring and aligning, claiming and ceding territory, every year.

North: The Fell Lords

A hundred years ago, or more (for historians argue the dates as much as they doubt the events) it is said that Haladrin the Good was the only king ever to unite Arihmere under the one banner. Naturally, he was murdered by an ambition noble, Streigil, the Lord of Vosse and Cabel. Streigil did not rule alone, for he had nine (or eleven, or twenty three) dark lords at his side to impose his terror, and a witch-wife besides. Naturally, there was a revolt, and Streigil was struck down in battle (some say, slain). But his lords would not accept defeat, and turned to sorcery and infernal pacts, and three years later the Lord of Vosse and Cabel (or his revenant) returned to the throne with his wife as Queen and First Minister.

Whatever the truth of it, the Lady Streigil was finally undone by blade and magic, and her Fell Lords retreated far into the north. Most likely they perished among the fens and mountains, but in the north they say that the Fell Lords still rule among the black forests and dead lands where the pastures wither, planning their return, when they will recover the master and his lady from the deep, secret barrow where they were interred.

The Copper Road

The Wolve's Lane is but the end of a long road, winding from the far, forgotten south-east, from mountains, steppes, deserts and rivers and boundless forest, from sprawling kingdoms, empires, satrapies, protectorates, khanates and republics. Through all of this runs The Copper Road, named for the earliest coins that travelled between its markets, before even steel was forged.

The Arrant Sea

The Arrant Sea is wild, cold and clear. Most ships follow the shore, but there are uncounted islands and strange landings out there. For three hundred years, the Reaver Thegns have come from over the horizon, raiding or seeking kingdoms to steal, and every once in a while, the great armoured backs of the Heviathands, bristling with walls and turrets, heave into view from the shore.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

On the realm of Arihmere

Arihmere is a varied country, and its terrain includes wild coastlines, valleys and moors, and rugged mountains. There are many manors and villages, watch-towers and castles, and a handful of villainous cities and deep ports.

The peoples of Arihmere, townsman and peasant alike, have long settled within stout walls and hedges. Under the manorial system, most commoners are protected by the arms of a nobleman and his knights. But the realm is divided, tugged in many directions. In the south, the impetuous King Martyn spends the campaign season mired on the Sundering Wars, draining his treasury while he clings to the ancient title of king in the city of Warrensworth. At odds with him, but scattered along the north marches, the great houses bicker over precedence and territory, in the shadow of the Withered Lands.

In truth, Arihmere, like most of the Harrowmarch, has never been under a single law, but a subject of incomplete rule, from the ramshackle empires of the Erduath and Kees, to the clannish realms of the Ellfolk, to the Reaver Thegns and the witch-realms of the Leaden Lords before their fall. Much of what is known or said of the history of Arihmere is mere guesswork, were it not for the old pits and works of these lost domains.

The only certainty is that the realm is known for its haphazard and unlikely collection of perilous beasts and strange folks, for its grimelocks and trillits, ourgarths and teamsprits, monstrous wyrms and shy fae, and countless other oddities.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The rough chances

Recently, the tinkerage has been working on a rules-lite system inspired by XD20 and Fighting Fantasy, and developing elements from And Play. The result has been a core concept (you could hardly call it even a mechanic) that could apply to any of these systems, or even to a rules ultra-light game like Sword and Backpack.

Now Sword and Backpack (S&B) is inspiring, but it's barely a system, more like the description of what would happen in play: you describe situations, propose actions, roll dice to decide. But the thought occurs that if you could table just the rough chances of success and failure, and use them consistently, you would have the basis of an RPG. Although most games use tables and extensive modifiers, what we are usually looking for are probabilities that 'feel right' and provide a satisfying balance of success and failure that's true to the circumstances.

So here's the rough chances table:

Very Low
Exceptional (Critical Hit)
Very High
Exceptionally High
Negligible (scratch)

Using the rough chances table:
  • In free-form roleplaying, like And Play or S&B, you weight up the options, pick a chance, and there on the row is your roll for success (d20, of course). Add a few points to make things harder, or deduct a few to make things easier.
  • In XD20, where the lower a STAT the better, the table tells you roughly what the chances are by looking at the Roll column. So if a character has a STAT of 8, chances are good. Want to make the chances better or worse? Select another row and estimate the STAT or modifier from there (so if your STAT 8 character fights a STAT 9 orc, it seems the chances are close; go for a roll of 11 or 12).
  • And, if you roll for effect (higher being better) then use the Consequences column. You can even use this to judge damage.
You can also convert this table for different dice (such as 2d6 for Fighting Fantasy).

The new system, based on the rough chances table, is coming soon... -ish. Still tinkering with it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Soul-bell and the Silent Village - mini-scenario

You reach the village after a long day of adventuring or travel, in high spirits. But the street is dark and cold. You think at first you see a dog rummaging through a pile of kitchen scraps; then you realise that it's a wolf, the first of many.

When you break into a house, you find everyone asleep, in a slumber that cannot be broken. Anyone with witch-sight can see the larvae, the spirit-wyrms, coiled about the bodies of the sleepers. But no common sorcery can dismiss a wyrm without destroying the mind of the sleeper.

Eventually, you might find the broken crypt in the kirk-yard and the body of the poor, damned fool (an adventurer like you) who opened it. Soul-burn is a hideous death.

There are clues scattered about the tomb and notes in the priest-house that might lead you to the legend of the soul-bell. But an interfering priest of the Narrow Faith cast that relic into the ravine a hundred years or more ago, and the ravine is haunted by grimelocks, naggs, and worse.

But it might be worth finding the bell, and letting it ring from the spire before dawn. Before the spirit-worms pupate and hatch...

Monday, April 14, 2014

FF redux - SKILL and WITS

Having one score (SKILL) in Fighting Fantasy for all tests can lead to pretty similar characters with similar abilities across the board, especially if you run your FF with a fixed SKILL, as I suggested in another post.

This is a simple variant for character creation that introduces a new ability, WITS, and a new test for WITS. With a balance of SKILL and WITS, it's possible to create more varied characters that emphasise different abilities, from battle to stealth and cunning.

New Abilities

SKILL: represents general fighting ability, strength and coordination. SKILL is used in fights, and in tests of SKILL which requires force or agility.

WITS: represents resourcefulness, cunning, nerve and dexterity. WITS are useful for tests of stealth, cunning and awareness, and tasks that requires a light touch, such as picking pockets or tampering with locks and traps.

STAMINA and LUCK are unchanged.

Initial SKILL and WITS

SKILL and WITS begin at 6. Then distribute a further three points between them.

GM's Notes

In Arihmere, adding WITS means characters can divide their efforts between combat and stealth. One can master one or the other, or find a near balance, but not both. An armoured knight might choose a SKILL of 9 and WITS of 6, showing contempt for 'dishonourable' tactics, whereas a lightly armed rogue (SKILL 7, WITS 8) may prefer subtlety and stealth in many a dark spot.

You may supplement battle with tricks and traps, but WITS should never be a substitute for clever play. That is, don't prompt a player to test WITS to find a hidden trap unless they are already directing their attentions in a particular direction by announcing a search.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Is there an RPG in this dungeon?

Looking through the beta rules for Dungeon Robber (the solo, pen-and-paper random dungeon-delving game), the tinkereage wonders if there is not a viable multi-party RPG hidden within these rules.

Dungeon Robber is now online in flash-format as a sort of hybrid rogue-like/OD&D dungeon crawler. It's a fun, often frustrating game, but the thrill of random dungeon creation and solo resource management in the face of arbitrary death by statistical misadventure does not last long.

But looking through the 'rules' behind the browser game, there is enough content to forge a working RPG which would resemble a streamlined version of the original dungeon-crawling system. Take the character generation rules, the classes, and the very compact method for creating monsters based on 'home level', add a simple task resolution system based on the saving throw (with modifiers for hard/easy tasks) and one would have a simple, workable system ready to go.

The only drawback is that combat would have the swift and deadly feel of OD&D. But then, wouldn't raising the threat of monster encounters bring a new feel to the old game?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Simple damage rolls for Fighting Fantasy

The fixed two points of damage for any normal hit against any character in any armour with any weapon in Fighting Fantasy is something of an over-simplification, and damage is usually the first feature of the combat rules to be house-ruled or adapted for advanced games.

But in the spirit of Fighting Fantasy, if you are going to roll another die for damage, why not make the rule as simple as possible?

Rolled Damage for Fighting Fantasy

When a hit is achieved, roll one die. This is the number of STAMINA points the wounded character will lose.


Heavy weapons (two-handed swords, troll clubs) add 1 point to the total STAMINA loss.
Light weapons (goblin swords, short-staffs) deduct 1 point from the STAMINA loss.


Light armour deducts 1 points from the STAMINA loss.
Heavy armour (like plate or a full mail hauberk) deducts 2 points.
A shield deducts one more point from the STAMINA loss if the character carrying the shield makes a successful test for skill.
(The GM may apply the protective value of armour (1 or 2 points) as a penalty to any test for skill involving agility or speed.)


A successful test for luck will cause a 1 point hit, if wounded, or a 6 point hit, if attacking. There is no penalty for failing the test for luck: a hit is bad enough.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tomb of the Bear God [mini-scenario]

Everyone knows that Beyreg the Sneak is a coward, a footpad, a lurker, a petty thief. So when two of the sheriff's men went out to find him in the woods and were found dead, with their skulls broken and their chests ripped up, what could have gotten the better of them?

There's an old tomb that once belonged to the Bear God deep down among the oldest, most tangled trees. Hunters saw Beyreg prowling out there. The reaching roots and storms have finally broken into the side of the barrow. And what could Beyreg the Sneak have found inside the tomb of a lost god?

Winding forest paths, tracks of a monstrous bear; the old, dim tomb and chambers full of bone; strange etchings on the walls, and a violated altar, the great bearskin of shape-shifting priests.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

XD20: notes and house-rules

In the last post, I looked at the super-light, very flexible, D&D inspired XD20 system. Although the XD20 system is very compact and informal, it still carries a few oddities and ambiguities that could be handled with some of the suggested house-rules below. The beauty of the system, and the concept, is that the GM can choose or adapt whatever works.

Update: for an example of an adaptation of the basic principles of XD20, see this system, presently nameless, designed to run simple dungeon and wilderness fantasy adventures with any source at hand.

Character Creation

XD20 rules recommend deducting a roll from the maximum to generate stats, but there's no reason, since lower stats are better, not to roll and add to the minimum, or experiment with different rolls. Rolling 6 + 1d8 gives a wide spread for stats, but 2d6+3 or 6+1d6 give more focus and control.

TAC, PSYCH, and WAH map roughly to physical, mental, and spiritual (maybe just luck) abilities. Then there’s Health. These are easy to rename or reconfigure for different games. TAC (Toughness and Constitution), INT (Intellect and Training), PWR (Presence, Will, and Resolve), and Stamina for instance.

Health: In XD20 the weaker the character the lower the character's Health stat, since Health is based on a combination of the character's lowest scores. But Health, unlike stats, is better the higher it is. There's a nod in the rules towards game balance, but why should a mighty warrior tend to have worse health than an inept hedge-wizard? Instead, Health should start at zero (or 2 or 4 for constitutionally weaker characters with the Mystic/Magical type). Health would then go up (bad) as hits accumulate, and characters with more than 20 points against Health would be knocked out or killed.

This means that current Health can also be used for rolls if the character's constitution or fatigue is tested.


XD20 is vague about combat damage, but effects, and hence weapon damage, are decided by a D20 roll. Bear in mind that even a dagger between plates of armour can kill. But to estimate damage, assign about 6 points for a small weapon or a light hit, 8 for a medium hit, and 10 points or more for a big hit. Pull back for adventure games and push for gritty games. Or just adapt the damage dice from the equipment table in any D&D retroclone.

A high success (based on the difference from the target) should nudge up a low effect roll.

To integrate parries, dodges, tricks and other multiple actions and reactions in combat, each additional roll might be allowed with a -4 penalty.

In the end, cut to the chase for combat: assume that weapons and armour are already integrated into TAC and Level, and only deal out adjustments for major tactical differences or special cases.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

XD20: an appreciation (and thoughts for Dungeons and Dragons)

Since this year is the 40th anniversary of the Dungeons and Dragons system, this year's first post takes a quick look at an obscure off-shoot of that famous game, XD20.

XD20 is an extremely free-form, rules-lite system included in XDM: Extreme Dungeon Mastery, a guide to DMing and RPGs by Tracy Hickman and Curtis Hickman. XDM as a book shows signs of hasty development and editing, as well as containing considerable filler in the form of mostly unusable stage-trickery and dice prestidigitation, but at its core there is also a sound and interesting guide to bringing fun, action, humour and interest back into roleplaying games, as a reaction to the slow, overly-cautious, procedural style of dungeon-crawling play that D&D games can slip into.

This review on is a pretty good summary of the XD20 system, and interested me enough to buy the e-book version through Kindle.

In brief, the 'advanced' version of XD20 generates characters with three scores or stats: TAC (Toughness and Constitution, the only acronym that is explained), PSYCH (intelligence and skill), and WAH (luck, willpower, and magic specifically). There is also a Health score, based on a combination of the other scores. Characters have a few notes regarding skills and abilities (based on their character Type) a Level, and any equipment the DM deems reasonable at the time.

The three scores combine ability scores, bonuses and saving throws, and so lower numbers are better (except for Health, oddly).

The mechanics are even simpler. The player describes an action, and the DM may ask for a related stat and apply any modifiers that seem relevant or entertaining and sets the target number. The player then rolls greater than or equal to the target number on d20 to succeed. If the success or failure has some effect, like damage or magical strength, then another d20 is rolled and the higher the roll, the better. In essence, the DM estimates the chance of success based on a stat or the situation, and sets the target number accordingly.

Combat rounds are unstructured. The only rule is that everyone gets a chance to act in a single round, and damage is fudged – you can roll, or apply a fixed number, or the DM can make something up.

The mechanics may seem sketchy and rather arbitrary, and in a sense they are. But XD20 captures a deep truth about RPG systems which has influenced my thinking considerably: there are only 20 digits on a d20, and most rules in all their calculations, modifiers and tables are ultimately aimed at proposing a number that seems fair given the situation: so why not just cut to the chase, pick a reasonable target, and roll?

The handling of magic has a similar elegance. A magician describes a spell, the DM sets a target number, the roll is made and the effects decided. The Hickmans point out that magic should be consistent with the rest of the rules of the game and the nature of magic in the game-world, not based on exceptions and special cases. This of course requires inventiveness as well as consistency and a great deal of judgement, but it also pushes players and DMs to treat magic as, well, magic, rather than a sort of special in-game munitions in prepackaged units.

Finally, although characters have a Level, there is no material benefit from gaining a level (which happens whenever the DM thinks it should happen). Instead, characters simply face challenges and opponents consistent with their level and the general difficulty of play remains the same.

XDM is clearly based on playing and revising D&D, with its vast lists of specialist classes, optimal "builds", spells, special abilities and feats, and countless modifiers, options and case-based exceptions. After all, everybody knows what a fighter or a barbarian or a wizard should do, what equipment they carry, what they can face at first level or tenth level. XD20 urges players and DMs to cut away the detritus and focus on the action, puzzles, roleplaying and story. With a few scores on the character sheet for fighting, skill and magic, some health points, a few dice, a few equipment tables to adapt and plenty of imagination and judgement, what could be closer to the original spirit of the first fantasy RPG?

Of course, the XD20 system is not perfect, and even some of its very few rules (in particular, how Health is figured) run against common-sense, which can hamper engagement. But its core ideas present a huge amount of flexibility, and I'll be looking at these options in an upcoming post.