Dark Dungeons, part 1

Black Leaf waved frantically at her companions to get them to stop their whispered conversation, and ever so gently pressed her ear to the door. She could just make out the faint sounds of chanting in a long dead language.

She turned back to the rest of the group, and motioned them back to a safe distance; wincing as Oeric stomped back seemingly oblivious to all the noise his new armour was making.

Okay, this is it guys!” she whispered after creeping away from the door;

From the sounds of it, that priest is through there; and he’s just starting the ritual. If we burst in and attack, we should be able to rescue the kids before…”

Black Leaf didn’t finish her sentence. She didn’t need to. They all knew what would happen if they didn’t stop the priest.

There was a brief moment of silence as they were all lost in thought, before Gretchen broke the tension in her usual quiet and reassuring way:

Okay, I know none of us have done this sort of thing before, and I know we’re all scared; but we all fought very well against those goblins on the way in here. You make me proud to be a member of this team, and I know we can do this. Elfstar—you be on the look out for those skeletons that we heard about. We haven’t seen them yet, so they may be guarding the place and you have a good chance of being able to keep them away from us. Oeric—you and I will charge in and start fighting. Black Leaf—follow us in and try to sneak around and release the kids while the priest is occupied with us; then see if you can stab him in the back. Al—You haven’t used your magic yet, so you hang back and I’ll trust you to use it whenever it seems best.

Everyone ready? Then let’s go.

3… 2… 1… NOW!”

Black Leaf tried to control her breathing as she ran into the room after the others. Adrenaline had kicked in and she was fighting to keep calm and controlled.

She saw the priest look up in surprise as the large warrior and the dwarven woman charged straight at him. He had an orcish bodyguard, and—damn it—there was another orc guarding the prisoners.

Taking advantage of the distraction of the charge, Black Leaf ducked into the shadows at the side of the room and crept towards the orc guarding the prisoners. He was foolishly dithering between keeping at his post and going to join in the main fight. Slipping behind him unseen, Black Leaf stabbed him in the gut with her dagger; forcing it up between the leather bands of his armour. As she did so she saw an arrow made of some kind of magical glowing force streak across the room, curve round the priest’s bodyguard, and slam into the side of his helmet; making him stumble and causing the magical energies he was summoning to disperse.

Maybe they would succeed, after all…

***

Baroness Black looked at herself in the mirror and admired her reflection. The dress had cost her a small fortune, but she could afford it now. And it was worth it. The queen herself had commented on it during the investiture ceremony.

Just yesterday she’d been plain old Black Leaf. But now she was a baroness. And all for slaying a dragon.

Well, that wasn’t strictly true. The dragon was just the latest thing they’d done for the King Elberet. There was also the matter of the trolls; and that assassin cult that they’d destroyed; and the vampire with the undead army…

She shuddered at the memory of the undead army. Undead really weren’t her thing and she’d actually died fighting those awful spectres. Luckily, Elfstar had been able to revive her before she turned into one herself; but she still had nightmares where she could feel their icy touch and feel her life being sucked from her.

Black Leaf shook herself out of her reverie, and got changed out of her finery into more comfortable garb; chuckling to herself at the absurdity of finding armour and weapons more comfortable than fancy dresses. Still, there was work to be done. The king was no fool, and the posh new titles that they’d all received had come with adjacent land grants. Land that was, not coincidentally, wild, dangerous and untamed. They were going to need to work together if they were going to clear the land and attract settlers; and they were supposed to be meeting with the royal cartographer tonight—and Black Leaf was damned if she wasn’t going to sneak a look at the maps beforehand to make sure there were no big surprises in store.

***

Countess Black listened to the village elder’s plea. He was very grateful for the extra guards that she’d assigned to the area, and the petty banditry had now been brought under control. However, the remaining bandits had allied with a local orc tribe: using the orcs as muscle to raid towns and then selling the trade goods—and slaves—that the orcs acquired. The guards were simply not able to cope.

The countess sighed. With Lord Thalx testing her borders at every turn she had hardly the army to spare as it was; and she certainly didn’t want to hire the Grey Eagle mercenaries again after the trouble that Count Oeric had had with them.

She held up her hand for the elder to be quiet, and beckoned over her herald.

Jabe, go see the new sheriff and find out what the going rate is for adventurers these days. We only need a bunch that can take out orcs and bandits, so we’re looking for reasonable experience—we don’t need to pay for dragon slayers or anything silly like that. If it’s over 2,000 gold then come back and check with me first, otherwise go ahead and make it known that we’re hiring. You know what you’re doing, so I’ll leave it up to you to work out how to find adventurers without alerting the bandits that we know what they’re up to. If the bandits have been selling slaves, we may need to follow this up by checking out who they’re selling them to—so get the adventurers to report to me before they set off.”

***

Black Leaf looked over the precipice at the whirling vortex of energy below and smiled.

No problem.”, she said, “There’s a bit of an overhang but I can climb down, no problem.”

Her face suddenly turned pale.

But THAT is a problem!”, she shouted—pointing behind the rest of the party.

The other spun around and were shocked to see a swarm of flying creatures rounding the corner, each one a ball of tentacles the size of a man.

Looks like someone doesn’t want this artefact destroyed…” muttered Aloysius and started preparing some kind of spell.

***

Black Leaf’s spirit form flew down and surveyed the scene.

Her followers had quite an army down there, and they looked like they would need all the help they could get if they were to win the battle. Those gnolls were tough, and unusually organised.

She knew why, of course. Grakklak Bonegnawer had been doing his best to inspire his race to greatness, and had worked hard to get his creations to unite their tribes. She respected that, and had told him so. But she wasn’t going to let the gnoll empire march over her people’s lands. Unfortunately her attempts at diplomacy with the Immortal patron of gnolls had failed, so here she was.

Black Leaf thought briefly about manifesting her embodied form and routing the gnolls herself. After all, even an army of gnolls would be no match for her Immortal power. The thought quickly passed. There would be many eyes watching this battle, and being caught directly interfering on the prime plane would cause her no end of trouble…

No, there were only two choices. She could appear as Azelda the Mighty, a mortal dragon body that she donned occasionally to dispense oracular advice from, and hope that Azelda could help turn the tide of battle; or she could appear in a vision to her priests and warn them to retreat and fight another day. Flying over the enemy lines, she realised that Grakklak had over extended himself; a serious mistake to make. His famed troll-smasher brigade wasn’t here and neither was Urlak, his preferred mortal form. They must be aiding the other front in his battle. Trust a barbarian to attack on two fronts at the same time, overconfident as always.

Although he had no reason to know that Azelda was really one of Black Leaf’s mortal forms, he really should have known that the dragon would help the Halderites in their time of need and prepared for her to be in this fight. Not doing so was a bad mistake.

With a smile, Black Leaf flew into a nearby cave and shifted form to her mortal dragon body. She would lead the army from the front, and help them win the battle at the cost of Azelda’s life. It was worth losing the form to set such an example for them. She could easily make another, and she was confident that Grakklak wouldn’t try anything while she was recovering.

Chapter 1: What is Dark Dungeons?

Welcome to Dark Dungeons!

If you already play table-top role-playing games (and particularly if you acquired Dark Dungeons because you’re already a fan of the original game that it emulates) you can safely skip this chapter.

On the other hand, if you’re less familiar with table-top role-playing games then some explanation may be in order.

What is Dark Dungeons?

Dark Dungeons is a Retro-Clone Role-Playing Game. This book contains the rules of the game, and the only other things that are needed to play are pencils, paper and dice.

What is a Role-Playing Game?

Role-playing games have been around since the mid 1970’s.

When they first started, they had their roots in war-gaming (moving model armies around in simulation of historical battles) and descriptions of role-playing games would have used those war games, along with such childhood games as “Cops and Robbers” and “Cowboys and Indians” as reference points.

However, now that we’re in the second decade of the 21st century, times – and cultural reference points – have changed.

For most people today, the term “role playing game” is usually found abbreviated to “RPG” and is usually preceded by the letters “C” (becoming “CRPG” or “Computer Role Playing Game”) or “MMO” (becoming “MMORPG” or “Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game”).

In this genre of computer games, the player takes on the role of a character in an ongoing storyline – usually the main protagonist of the story.

The game consists of trying to get the story to progress towards its climax, often involving combat and problem solving.

Table-top role-playing games like Dark Dungeons have a similar basis, except that the game is controlled by a human Game Master rather than by a computer, and rather than the action taking place on a computer screen the action takes place in the imaginations of the players.

While this may sound like a step backwards at first glance, it is much more flexible and adaptable. On a CRPG, you are limited to telling the single story that the game designers wrote. You can’t go “off the map”. In a table-top role-playing game, however, you are not limited to fixed stories. The Game Master and the players can between them create an infinite number of stories, limited only by their imaginations. The Game Master can create whatever scenarios and situations they want to, and the players are not constrained to only doing what has been anticipated.

If they want their characters to do something, they don’t have to simply hope that some designer wrote it into the game. They simply tell the Game Master what their character is trying to do and the Game Master can improvise in a way that a computer never could (although the rules and guidelines in this book cover most common situations so that they can be handled in a consistent manner).

The other main difference between a table-top role-playing game and a CRPG is the social aspect. Although many CRPGs allow the player to control a whole party of characters rather than just a single one, they are still largely solitary affairs. Table-top role-playing games are generally designed for groups of players to play together and Dark Dungeons is no exception. Although it can be played with only a single player and a Game Master, it plays best with 3-8 players playing together, each controlling a single character. Interaction between the characters controlled by the different players, as well as non-scripted interaction between the characters controlled by players and characters controlled by the Game Master, is one of the chief elements of a table-top role-playing game.

How do you play?

Before starting, one person will decide to be the Game Master. That person is responsible for establishing a setting for the game (either creating their own or using a published one). The other players create characters that live in that setting. The characters have a set of abilities which represent their capabilities; for example how strong they are or what sort of magic they are capable of using.

Then, normal play consists of the Game Master describing the situation that the characters find themselves in, and the players responding by telling the Game Master what their characters are doing.

In many situations, this is all that is required, but to provide structure and consistency to the game, this book provides rules covering what characters can do in various situations.

Additionally, many situations involve random factors, where a character has a chance of successfully doing something (which may vary depending on their abilities) rather than being automatically successful or relying on the Game Master’s whim; for example, when fighting with monsters.

In these situations, the rules tell you which type of dice to roll and how to interpret the results.

What is a Retro-Clone?

Dark Dungeons is not just a role-playing game. It is specifically a retro-clone. That term also needs explaining.

Like the paraphernalia used in any other hobby, role-playing games (and their rule books) are subject to the forces of both fashion and business. While some manage to last for decades with a small following, others go out of print and become unavailable; either because they are no longer fashionable or because the companies that made them no longer exist.

This is a problem for the hobby, partly because old games often quickly become “collector’s items” which keeps them out of the hands of people who would otherwise enjoy playing them; and partly because intellectual property and copyright laws often prevent fans from providing support for a game that the original publisher is unable or unwilling to support themselves.

This is where “retro-clones” come in.

Retro-clones are designed to fill two functions. Firstly they allow new people to have the experience of playing the old game even though it is long out-of-print and may be hard to get hold of; and secondly, they allow fans of the old game who wish to continue to support it now that the company that produced it no longer does (but who cannot legally produce material that is explicitly for the game) to produce material that is instead designed for use with the retro-clone of the game, knowing that it will also be compatible (with some minor changes in terminology) with the old game.

There are two principles that such retro-clones rely on.

Firstly, in Europe and America, it is not possible to copyright the game mechanics of a game. However, it is possible to copyright the “artistic presentation” of those game mechanics – i.e. the way they are described and the specific terminology they use.

Therefore, using the same principle as “reverse engineering” a piece of technology, it is possible to produce a new game in which the rules are identical to those of an existing game, but in which those rules are presented in a completely new manner that does not infringe on the artistic presentation used in that existing game.

Secondly, Wizards of the Coast have published a System Reference Document (or SRD) under a license called the Open Game License (or OGL). This game license allows anyone to use the rules—and more importantly the terminology—of the SRD in their own games and game supplements, providing that those games and/or supplements are themselves released at least partly under the OGL.

Without the first principle, a game released under the OGL would have to either copy the SRD mechanics or have wholly original mechanics.

Without the second principle, a game released with mechanics similar to an out-of-print game would have to have completely new and unfamiliar terminology.

However, when both principles are put together, a retro-clone can be produced that combines the familiar mechanics of an out of print non-OGL game with the familiar terminology of the SRD.

Dark Dungeons is such a retro-clone. The terminology used in this game is taken from the SRD via the terms of the OGL, and the game mechanics of the game very closely match the game mechanics of a specific out-of-print version of the world’s most popular role-playing game.

However, to avoid issues with trademark and copyright laws, that game is not mentioned by name within this work and no specific compatibility or endorsement with it or with any other existing role-playing game is claimed.

Chapter 2: Into Dark Dungeons

Dark Dungeons is a large book, and can seem rather intimidating; especially if you haven’t played before. This chapter explains the sort of things that Dark Dungeons characters do over the course of their adventuring careers, and how the book is laid out to mirror that story path.

Rags to Riches

Adventurers start their careers as inexperienced and under-equipped novices. Over the course of their career, they will become far more powerful and capable – this capability being measured in terms of their “level”. They start at 1st level and can reach as high as 30th to 36th level before (hopefully) becoming Immortals – whereupon another 36 levels of experience await them.

However, even first level adventurers are a cut above the normal person. Adventurers are assumed to have been trained by (or undergone apprenticeships to) older mentors. Therefore even at first level they have a better than average ability to fight and maybe even the ability to cast a simple spell or drive away minor undead with the power of their faith.

However, they are by no means the only people to have undergone this type of training. Town and city guards may be low level Fighters, and a village may be looked after by a mid level Magic-User. Trained characters are more common in the upper echelons of society where there is less pressing need to work in a mundane job to put food on the table and where such training and experience is considered good leadership material.

Consequently, many castles and large temples are run by experienced adventurers who have the wisdom and worldliness to know what problems need an adventurer’s touch but lack the time to sort the problems out themselves. Such characters make excellent patrons for new adventurers – and many new adventurers aspire to achieve just such a position themselves.

Starting a Life of Adventure

Although it is possible for a Game Master to decide otherwise, the Dark Dungeons game assumes that new characters will start at first level. There are many races – both humanoid and otherwise – in the world, Dark Dungeons assumes that most adventurers will be human; with the occasional demi-human.

Chapter 4: Creating a Character takes you through the process of creating an adventuring character, and includes the special rules that apply to the different classes of character.

All characters will have certain abilities such as skills and weapon feats, and some characters will also be able to cast spells. The next three chapters of Dark Dungeons describe those abilities.

Chapter 5: Ability Checks & Skills contains the rules for skill use and a description of each individual skill.

Chapter 6: Weapon Feats contains information about what abilities a character can get with different weapons (and different levels of expertise at using those weapons).

Chapter 7: Spells & Spell Casting contains the rules for learning and casting spells, as well as a description of each spell.

The First Adventures

Before setting off on their first quest, most adventurers will want to spend some of their money on equipment. Chapter 8: Equipping For Adventure contains price lists and descriptions of a wide variety of equipment and services that characters may wish to purchase.

Some of this – such as building castles – will be way out of the league of starting adventurers, but the basic necessities like weapons and lanterns and rope and so on will prove both affordable and essential. Starting adventurers may even wish to hire men-at-arms to accompany them on dangerous quests.

Once equipment has been bought, the adventurers are ready to go.

Some stories may vary, but it is most common for low level adventurers who are just beginning their careers to start by doing small jobs in their local area.

This could include fighting bandits or local humanoid tribes; or exploring local caves and ruins. Most of these initial jobs and quests will not involve straying too far from civilisation and will involve underground exploration.

Chapter 9: Dungeon Delving provides the rules and guidelines for underground exploration; and Chapter 10: Combat provides the rules for fighting whatever dangers are found in those dungeons.

Of course, such fighting and exploration has its consequences. Some adventurers will be injured. Others will die.

And those who survive will emerge more experienced and hopefully richer.

Chapter 11: Getting Better provides the rules for how characters recover from injuries – both magical and mundane – and even death; and provides rules for the gaining of experience and consequent increasing of levels. It also provides rules for how adventurers can spend their new-found riches on improving their abilities.

Expanding Horizons

After a few adventures, most adventuring parties start venturing further afield. Whether through increased confidence or through necessity, they will start exploring the dangerous wilderness that exists away from civilised areas. The dangers are greater in such areas, but so are the potential rewards.

Chapter 12: Into the Wider World contains the rules for such exploration, and the rules for urban encounters for when adventurers decide to visit big cities.

Power & Responsibility

By the time they reach 9th-11th level, adventurers have probably made quite a name for themselves in their country, and are likely to have come to the attention of the rulers of the land.

It is common at this time (although by no means universal – some adventuring parties continue to wander for their entire career and never settle down) for such adventurers to be granted titles of nobility and be expected to expand their liege’s country into the untamed wilderness.

At this point, the focus of the game switches from mostly adventuring to mostly politics with the occasional adventure. Chapter 13: Settling Down contains rules for both acquiring and running fiefdoms and domains, including managing the economy and both attracting (and managing the happiness of) populace to the new area.

Of course, all the monsters in an area don’t simply get up and walk away when someone plonks a castle down in their territories – so they will need killing or driving out as the land is settled.

Similarly, rival nobles (from the same country or enemy states) may also do their best to make sure that the new upstarts fail.

All this means that life isn’t just throwing festivals and making sure the books balance. There is still plenty of intrigue and diplomacy, and if all else fails there is always the possibility that things will erupt into open warfare. Chapter 14: War! contains the rules for armies and for mass battles.

A Whole New Playground

Eventually, adventurers will set their sights on higher goals than simple temporal power. Immortality is there for the taking!

Whether they have spent time ruling a domain or they have lived the life of a wanderer, particularly powerful adventurers can still find new places to explore.

The mundane world is not the only world in existence. There are other worlds out there and even other planes of existence. At high levels, adventurers can explore these planes for knowledge and riches far beyond anything available at home.

Chapter 15: Out of This World provides descriptions of other planes and of planar travelling.

Of course, travelling the planes also means that adventurers will encounter threats and dangers far greater than they would ever see on the mundane world.

Adventurers will find themselves meeting Immortals face-to-face and getting involved in their plots, along with the machinations of other planar creatures.

At some point, the adventurers will want to join the ranks of the Immortals themselves. Doing so is never easy, and usually involves both finding an existing Immortal willing to act as a sponsor and undergoing an extended quest to prove one’s worthiness. Chapter 16: Questing for Immortality provides details of this process.

A New Beginning

If everything goes right, eventually adventurers will achieve that ultimate goal – they will have become Immortals.

This marks a new beginning for their adventuring careers. Although they no longer care about such mundane things as money and they are – even as newly fledged first level Immortals – far more powerful than most mortal creatures; they are still lowly compared to the more powerful Immortals and creatures of the multiverse.

Adventuring at this level becomes much more freeform, with politics and exploration both playing a part. While most Immortals enjoy playing political games, others are more interested in meddling in the affairs of mortals; acting as patron for clerics and knights and acting as protectors of whole races or even creating new races!

Other Immortals prefer to wander the multiverse and explore the new horizons that such exploring brings. Still others retire from adventuring completely, and simply live a life of comfort and hedonism free of mortal cares.

Chapter 17: The Immortals contains the rules for playing at Immortal levels.

Whatever an Immortal’s passion, Immortality is the final reward for a lifetime of adventuring.

The Rest of The Book

Beyond chapter 17, the rest of the book contains resources for the Game Master. This is not to say that you shouldn’t read them if you’re not going to be the Game Master, but there is no reason for you to do so and you may spoil surprises for yourself if you do.

Chapter 18: Monsters contains the abilities and descriptions of the various types of monster that may be encountered over an adventuring career.

Chapter 19: Treasure contains information about the sort of treasure that might be found, and contains descriptions of many magical items that adventurers can find or even make during their careers.

Chapter 20: Artefacts contains rules for the most powerful of items. Artefacts can be made only by Immortals and are too powerful for mortals to safely use. That doesn’t mean that mortals don’t use them anyway, of course.

Finally, Chapter 21: Game Master Advice contains miscellaneous other advice and tips for the Game Master that don’t fit into any other chapter.

Chapter 3: Basic Game Concepts

The first two chapters of Dark Dungeons talked about what the game is and what the characters (and by extension the players) do. This chapter talks about how you do it.

Dice

In Dark Dungeons, dice will be needed to resolve a lot of situations where the whims of fortune have an effect on the outcome of a situation. As well as the traditional cubic dice numbered from one to six, the game uses a variety of other dice of different shapes. Since these each have different numbers of sides, they are often called polyhedral dice.

If you have already played other role playing games, you may already own some of these dice. If not, you can buy them at your friendly local game store or online. In order to distinguish between the different types of die that you can use, Dark Dungeons uses a standard terminology throughout.

Types of Die

Each die is referred to using the letter ‘d’ followed by the number of sides that the die has. For example, a regular die with six sides is referred to as a ‘d6’, whereas a die with twenty sides is referred to as a ‘d20’.

A normal set of polyhedral dice comes with a four sided die, a six sided die, an eight sided die, one or two ten sided dice, a twelve sided die, and a twenty sided die—or, to use Dark Dungeon’s terminology, a d4, a d6, a d8, one or two d10s, a d12 and a d20.

Therefore, if the rules say that you roll a d20 for something, they mean that you should roll the die with twenty sides. If they say that you roll a d8 for something, they mean that you should roll the die with eight sides. If they say that you roll a d6 for something, they mean that you should roll the die with six sides. And so on.

There are a small number of special cases where there is not a single die that fits the roll that is needed. Sometimes you will be asked to roll a d2, d3 or d100.

In these cases, you must roll one or more other dice and interpret the result.

To “roll” a d2, roll any die and if the number shown is odd then you “rolled” a 1. If the number shown is even then you “rolled” a 2.

To “roll” a d3, roll a normal d6 and halve the result (rounding up). This will give you:

1–2 1

3–4 2

5–6 3

The same halving process can be used with a d10 in order to “roll” a d5.

To “roll” a d100, take two d10s that are easily distinguished and roll them both. Read one of them as the tens digit and the other as the units digit, although if both roll ‘0’ then the result is always treated as 100 rather than 00. Sometimes, particularly with older dice sets, the two d10s will be different colours—in which case you need to say which will be tens and which will be units before rolling. Most new dice sets include a special d10 which has tens already marked on it, so this always counts as the tens die.

If you only have one d10, simply roll it twice with the first roll counting as the tens and the second roll counting as the units.

Example: Marcie has to roll to see if Black Leaf (her thief character) has successfully climbed a sheer wall or not. In order to do this, she needs to roll d100 and get less than or equal to Black Leaf’s Climb Walls ability. Black Leaf’s ability is 87, so Marcie needs to roll an 87 or lower.

Marcie has a red d10 and a white d10. She has declared at the beginning of the game that she will always use the red d10 as tens and the white d10 as units, so she doesn’t need to re-specify this each time she rolls.

She rolls both d10s, and gets a 9 on the red die and a 0 on the white die. Therefore her d100 roll is 90, which is more than 87 so Black Leaf has failed to climb the wall. Had the die rolls been the other way around (0 on red and 9 on white), her d100 roll would have been 09 and she would have succeeded.Multiple Dice

Often, you will need to roll more than one die at the same time. In this case, there will be a number before the ‘d’ as well as after it.

The number before the ‘d’ shows how many dice must be rolled. If this number is one then it is sometimes skipped.

When rolling multiple dice in this way, simply add the numbers rolled on each die together in order to generate a single result.

Therefore if you are told to roll “3d6”, you should roll three six sided dice and add the numbers rolled together. If you are told to roll “2d8”, you should roll two eight sided dice and add the numbers rolled together. If you are told to roll “d4”, then this is exactly the same as being told to roll “1d4”, and you should roll a single four sided die.

Dice Modifiers

Sometimes rolls will have additional modifiers. These are straightforward and are simply added or subtracted from the total rolled.

For example, if instructed to roll “2d6+4”, roll two six sided dice and add the numbers rolled together; and then add four to the result. If instructed to roll “1d8-1”, roll a single eight sided die and subtract one from the number rolled.

Creature Attributes

Creatures (including people) in Dark Dungeons are split into two broad categories, Player Characters (often abbreviated to “PCs”), which are the adventurers controlled by the players; and Monsters which are the other creatures and people in the world controlled by the Game Master.

Although creatures and characters controlled by the Game Master are referred to collectively as monsters, they are not necessarily particularly monstrous or hostile. Some of them are simply neutral characters and even allies of the player characters that are controlled by the Game Master. Intelligent monsters, particularly ones that the players interact with socially as opposed to fighting, are often referred to as Non-Player Characters (abbreviated to “NPCs”).

Since the varying capabilities of different creatures and characters can have a large impact on the success or failure of various actions that the players wish their characters to take, these capabilities are recorded as (mostly numeric) values and traits that can be used to modify or provide target numbers for die rolls, or to determine what sort of actions are possible. Since player characters play the largest part in the game and are the centre of most of the action, they have the most attributes. Monsters that are expected to only be in the game for a short while (for example a single fight) are described in less detail.

Ability Scores

The innate abilities of player characters are described by six values, called Ability Scores.

These represent the core abilities of the character and rarely change. These values are Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution and Charisma. In normal humans (and demi-humans), these ability scores will normally range from a minimum of 3 to a maximum of 18, with the average being 11.

These ability scores show the strengths and weaknesses of the character, and are used as target numbers for various tasks (see Chapter 5: Ability Checks & Skills for more details). Additionally, each score also has one or more bonuses or penalties associated with it that are used to modify other die rolls and checks. Table 3-1 shows the modifiers for different ability score values (it includes values much higher than 18, since Immortal characters may have much higher ability scores than normal humans).

Strength (abbreviated to “Str”)

Strength needs little explanation. It represents the raw muscle power of a character. Strength checks are made when trying to perform tasks that rely on raw bodily strength rather than skill, for example when trying to break down doors. Strength bonuses and penalties apply to a character’s melee attacks, and to the damage that a character does with melee or hurled weapons.

Intelligence (abbreviated to “Int”)

Intelligence represents the memory and reasoning power of a character. Characters with a high intelligence will be able to perform difficult calculations and make deductive leaps, whereas those with lower intelligence will only do such things more slowly if at all. Intelligence checks are used in a variety of situations where characters need to reason things out or remember things, particularly with academic or formally taught knowledge.

Wisdom (abbreviated to “Wis”)

Wisdom represents a combination of intuition, common sense, and spirituality. To a lesser extent, wisdom also represents the perceptiveness of a character and their ability to notice subtle clues and things out of place. Characters with high wisdom are likely to possess these traits, and be level headed, whereas those with lower wisdom may be rash or act without thinking.

Wisdom checks are used in situations where characters must notice something, and wisdom bonuses or penalties apply to characters’ saving throws against spells.

Dexterity (abbreviated to “Dex”)

Dexterity represents the co-ordination and agility of a character, as well as the speed of their reflexes. Characters with a high dexterity will be agile and graceful, whereas those with a lower dexterity may be clumsy and awkward. Dexterity checks are used when a character must do something involving balance or fine manipulation.

Dexterity penalties or bonuses are applied to a character’s attacks with thrown or missile weapons, and also to their armour class. Dexterity may also provide a special bonus or penalty to initiative rolls.

Constitution (abbreviated to “Con”)

Constitution represents the toughness and general healthiness of a character. Characters with a high constitution are likely to be fit and healthy, whereas those with a low constitution are more likely to get ill and get winded easily.

Constitution checks are rarely made, although might be in some circumstances where stamina and endurance are important. Constitution bonuses or penalties are applied to the hit point rolls that a character gains each level.

Charisma (abbreviated to “Chr”)

Charisma represents the likeability and force of personality of a character. Characters with a high charisma are born leaders and orators, whereas those with lower charisma may be boring or find it hard to communicate. On a physical level, charisma is unrelated to how attractive a character looks; although charismatic individuals often have better bearing and confidence which enhances their attractiveness.

Charisma checks are often used in social situations. Charisma also provides limits on a character’s leadership potential and provides a special bonus or penalty to the reactions of monsters that the character meets.

Table 3-1: Ability Score Bonuses & Penalties
Ability Score Value General Modifier (Charisma Only) (Dexterity Only)
Max Hirelings Hireling Morale Reaction Modifier Initiative Modifier
1 -4 0 3 -2 -2
2-3 -3 1 4 -2 -2
4-5 -2 2 5 -1 -1
6-8 -1 3 6 -1 -1
9-12 0 4 7 0 0
13-15 1 5 8 1 1
16-17 2 6 9 1 1
18-19 3 7 10 2 2
20-21 4 8 11 2 2
22-23 5 9 12 3 3
24-27 6 10 13 3 3
28-32 7 11 14 4 4
33-38 8 12 15 4 4
39-45 9 13 16 5 5
46-53 10 14 17 5 5
54-62 11 15 18 6 6
63-70 12 16 19 6 6
71-77 13 17 20 7 7
78-83 14 18 21 7 7
84-88 15 19 22 8 8
89-93 16 20 23 8 8
94-96 17 21 24 9 9
97-98 18 22 25 9 9
99 19 23 26 10 10
100 20 24 27 10 10

Fighting

When it comes to fighting, time is divided up into Rounds, each of which represents ten seconds of combat. This results in a level of abstraction where the game does not attempt to model every single thrust, parry and cut.

In a single round, most characters and other creatures will make a single “attack”. Although this is resolved in a single roll, an attack does not represent a single swing of a sword or a single punch. During a round, a character will swing repeatedly and also block, parry and manoeuvre. Instead, the attack roll represents the sum total of this activity (although some characters and creatures may get more than one roll if they are particularly effective in combat). The defender’s Armour Class is added to the attacker’s Attack Bonus, and this (with various modifiers—see Chapter 10: Combat for more details) shows what the attacker needs to roll to “hit” the defender. In the same way that an attack roll does not represent a single swing of the sword, a “hit” does not necessarily represent a solid blow with a weapon.

A hit in combat represents a potentially lethal blow. If a defender is inexperienced or badly weakened and exhausted, it may indeed kill them or knock them unconscious. However, a defender who is fresh and experienced is able to partially or wholly avoid the blow, although not without cost. The hit points of the target will be reduced.

Attack Bonus

A character or creature’s Attack Bonus represents their combat skill. For player characters it is based on their level and class. For monsters it is based on their Hit Dice. Attack bonuses start at +0, which represents a person or monster who is completely unskilled and unused to combat, and increase with increasing ability, to a maximum of +50 or more.

Armour Class

A character or creature’s Armour Class represents how hard they are to hit in combat. A “hit” in combat does not represent a single solid blow with a weapon but instead represents one or more potentially lethal blows.

Armour makes potentially lethal blows less likely, and therefore makes it harder for an attack roll to score a hit. Again, this is abstracted and does not represent the armour making it harder to actually hit the character, merely making it harder to score a potentially lethal blow.

The armour class of a “standard” warrior wearing suit armour is 0, and characters wearing less armour have armour classes that are represented by positive numbers (representing a bonus to an attacker’s rolls) whereas characters wearing more armour have armour classes that are represented by negative numbers (representing a penalty to an attacker’s rolls). It is important to always remember that a lower armour class is better; this is why a character’s dexterity bonus is subtracted from their armour class, rather than being added to it.

Hit Points

The ability of a character or creature to avoid potentially lethal damage—whether in or out of combat—is represented by their Hit Points. These hit points indicate a combination of skill, luck, divine favour, and sheer determination. A heroic character with many hit points will be able to keep fighting and keep dodging potentially lethal blows for a long time, whereas a character with few hit points is inexperienced and is likely to be killed rather quickly by the first or second such blow.

As characters avoid more and more potentially lethal blows, they will still pick up nicks, bruises and scrapes; and they will become more and more fatigued. Therefore, when something potentially lethal hits a character, they take Damage.

Damage reduces the number of hit points a character has left, and if a character takes enough damage they will run out of hit points and be knocked unconscious or killed.

See Chapter 10: Combat for more details on taking damage. Hit points lost to damage can be recovered by either time, the application of first aid, or magical healing.

Monsters have a number of Hit Dice, which shows how many d8’s should be rolled to determine their hit points. Characters get extra hit points each level, at lower levels the additional hit points are rolled on a die (of varying type depending on the character’s class) and the character’s constitution bonus or penalty is added to each roll. At higher levels, characters gain a fixed number of hit points per level (again depending on their class) and no longer also add their constitution bonus or penalty.

Saving Throws

In some situations – usually combat situations – something might have a harmful effect on a creature other than direct damage (for example the petrifying gaze of a basilisk), or it might have a damaging effect that does not rely on an attack hitting the creature (for example a dragon’s fiery breath filling an area). In these cases, player characters and monsters often have a chance to partially or fully avoid the effect by rolling a Saving Throw on a d20.

There are six types of saving throws that between them cover nine of these situations: Death, Death Rays & Poison; Magic Wands; Paralysis & Petrification; Breath Weapons; Rods, Staffs, and Spells. The difficulty—the number which needs to be equalled or exceeded on the d20 roll—is usually based on the level of the defender (or the number of hit dice in the case of monsters), although there may rarely be modifiers.

Although rods, staffs and spells are covered by the same saving throw, player characters only add their wisdom bonus (or penalty) when this saving throw is used against spells.

Experience And Levels

As mentioned previously, the adventuring careers of player characters are split up into levels.

Each character normally starts at level one, which means that they are inexperienced and have never adventured before. Once characters start adventuring, they gain experience. In game terms, this means that they gain Experience Points for doing adventurous things—slaying monsters, recovering treasure, undertaking quests, and so on.

When a character has acquired enough experience points, their level increases. An increase in level is accompanied by an increase in the character’s abilities and attributes, showing that the character is now more experienced and becoming more capable in their chosen adventuring profession.

Character Classes

Even with the same amount of experience, not all player characters are the same. Although they are all assumed to be adventurers, their backgrounds may be rather different from each other. For example a young human that has just finished a five year apprenticeship under a magic-user and has now mastered the essentials of spell casting is going to be very different than a dwarven warrior who has spent every weekend doing combat training in case of goblin attack.

In the game, this difference in background, upbringing and training is represented by Character Classes. Each player character (and some important non-player characters, if they are also adventurers) has a character class based on their background. As a player, you have a free choice of character class for your character, providing your ability scores meet some minimum criteria. See Chapter 4: Creating a Character for more details.

The character’s class determines which sorts of weapon and armour they will have been trained how to use, and also may provide them with various special abilities. There is little difference between the classes at low levels, since all the characters are novices in their chosen professions. However, as characters gain experience and levels, the differences between the classes become more pronounced.

Dark Dungeons has five different classes for human adventurers, and three classes for non-human adventurers. Non-humans have different cultures to humans and different natural abilities, so their adventurers are brought up with different backgrounds and are sufficiently different from human adventurers to warrant their own classes.

The five human classes are, Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, Mystic and Thief; and the non-human ones are Elf, Dwarf and Halfling.

Each of these character classes is fully described in Chapter 4: Creating a Character.

Alignment

All sapient creatures in Dark Dungeons have an Alignment. This represents the philosophical outlook of the creature. There are two opposing philosophical alignments that a creature might have: Order, or Chaos.

Creatures aligned with Order, usually referred to as “Lawful” creatures, enjoy stability, routine, and predictability. They are likely to live in large cities with well defined social mores and caste, class systems or other forms of social stratification where everyone knows their place and there is little social mobility. Such societies can be benevolent and protective or oppressive and tyrannical in nature, but in either case one’s position in society and feeling as if one belongs to a group are often seen as more important than individuality.

Creatures aligned with Chaos, usually referred to as “Chaotic” creatures, are quite the opposite. They prefer novelty and change to stodgy routine, and are more likely to live in small family groups or clans than in cities. Position and respect in such groups is often very changeable and linked to individual traits such as strength or honour. Chaotic societies can be bastions of altruism, freedom and individuality or brutal dog-eat-dog places where only the strongest survive.

Many creatures don’t wholly embrace either of these philosophies, preferring something in-between the two. These creatures are usually simply referred to as “Neutral”.

The constant struggle between Order and Chaos is the struggle between civilisation and barbarism and the balance swings back and forth as empires rise and fall. This struggle is also an inherent part of the way magic works, and there are magical effects and spells that vary depending on whether the alignments of their caster and target match.

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