Fantasy TTRPGs- Starting a Dungeon

Dungeon crawls. Why do they exist and who would build such a thing?

Giving the dungeon, and the module, a backstory.

Whether I’m creating a typical five room dungeon or a massive underground mega sprawl, the first question that always comes to mind is: why? And the why actually goes both ways. Why would anyone in their right (medieval fantasy) mind want to build the complex, possibly underground at all? Furthermore, why would a group of characters want to go into a dank underground complex full of terrible traps and drooling, slobbering monsters?

Now, not every dungeon adventure the party is going to face is necessarily underground. It could be a hedge maze, an old manor, a shipwreck, or something even stranger. The question always remains, why is it there?

Who built it and for what purpose?

Not every dungeon is built for a reason. Some occur naturally. But every dungeon is inhabited for a reason. (Or worse, abandoned for a bigger reason.) I mean, every creature needs a home, right? Even drooling, slobbering, scary monsters gotta live somewhere.

But a true dungeon, a real stereotypical fantasy underground complex, springs to life with a legitimate reason of some sort in mind. I find it important to decide on a cause before I start construction so I know what the centerpiece of the place is going to be. Bear in mind, a truly huge dungeon would take thousands of man hours and gold coins or lots of magic in order to build it safely. Guards and traps are extra, of course.

Then we come to the who. Sometimes it’s obvious from my GM/DM’s perspective that said BBEG or villain needs a cool lair. Sometimes (Out of character) I need a particularly deadly place to stash some epic loot the party might need some time down the road. Other times yet, it’s just for flavor, like a sidetrack or incidental.

The builder’s in-character motive always comes to mind as well. Maybe it’s a tomb full of stone soldiers constructed in memory of a forgotten general. Perhaps a power mad necromancer needed a secluded place to build his golem in peace. (Darn villagers with their torches and pitchforks…) It’s possible a well meaning group of beings long ago wanted to seal away a gate to their realm. It could be the lair of an innocent Ancient Red Dragon that just wanted to keep it’s modest filthy lucre mountain safe before he can donate it to the orphans. Maybe a group of well meaning good samaritans wanted to seal something truly horrific away forever and throw away the key. Still another reason might be to bury a powerful artifact away from those who would abuse its power.

These are mere examples. We could go all day and night coming up with cool reasons to build a dungeon. The history and lore should play an important role in the next step: getting the player characters in the door. To be continued…

Some Lesser Known Alternatives to D&D Fifth Edition

This is a short list of lesser known, less discussed generic rules lite RPGs. If you like D&D, but want to try something new, these are worth a glance.

D&D 5E is a great game and a wonderful introduction to the hobby of roleplaying. Here are some new ways to branch out:

FATE by Evil Hat Productions
  • Index Card Role Playing Game aka ICRPG from Runehammer Games. This is a simple set of rules similar to D20/D&D. It has fewer things to keep track of, which is why your whole character fits on an index card. It’s handy for multiple genres, but excels at fantasy.

    The print copy of the Master Edition is available from Modiphius. I’ve bought into the Second Edition of the game and I absolutely love it! It’s easy on the GM and fun for everyone in the group. If you like the items and monsters in D&D, it’s definitely worth looking at ICRPG.
  • FATE. from Evil Hat Productions. This game has a lot going for it and cool artwork. If you love the roleplaying element of D&D, then this is probably a good system for you.

    It’s easy to learn, easy to run and has cool dice. Honestly, any D6 can work, but their plus, minus, and blank dice are pretty cool. It’s another rules lite game where you can go as in depth or as vague as you’d like. I love it for its simplicity and adaptability as a writer and as a GM.

    I’ve discussed FUDGE on my blog before here. It’s FATE only simpler and a little more adaptable yet. You can literally play any world or campaign you can imagine or steal from. Best part is- It’s FREE! It’s a little older, but very fun.
  • ICONS by Steve Kenson. This is my go-to superhero game these days. It’s got some elements of FATE in the ease of play and dice mechanics. The character creation and abilities have been expanded upon a few times during its run as the Assembled Edition.

    As Steve Kenson once admitted, it’s not even the first RPG he’s ever designed. It’s not even the first superhero RPG he’s ever written. Mutants & Masterminds is a classic and genre-defining game worthy of mention elsewhere. ICONS is a labor of love, as far as I can tell.

    The thing I love most about ICONS is it takes most of the mechanical elements away from the GM so all we really have to focus on is good storytelling. It can be played as campy or as serious as the GM and group desire. The Dan Houser artwork is loveable and very comical.

    While it is a superhero game at heart, I’ve seen ICONS adapted to some pretty interesting subgenres within supers/comic book gaming. Just because it’s intended as a four color comic book world, doesn’t mean it can’t adapt to sentai anime, fantasy supers (He-Man,) spacefaring heroes, or steampunk dystopian post apocalyptic roleplaying. (*Yeah, that’s a thing.)
  • What’s Old is N.E.W, N.O.W, and/or O.L.D. from EN Publishing. There are actually three core books in this series depending on which genre you might be interested in. OLD is fantasy. NOW is modern. NEW is science fiction. All three combine to get some very interesting genres/campaign settings.

    EN World is a D&D fan site from back in the day. Morrus, WOIN’s creator, is a crack game designer on top of everything else he does. He’s definitely got his hands full on any given day. I sometimes wonder how he does it all.

    The mechanics of WOIN are simple enough. There is a ton of free online support for the system. Much like FUDGE and Open Legend, you can pretty much piece the game together for free if you want to. Character creation is about as complicated as D&D 5E, but with fewer homebrew sourcebooks.
  • Open Legend by Brian Feister and Ish Stabosz. Like FUDGE, this game is community based and basically FREE. It’s another generic system that does fantasy extremely well. You can certainly emulate other genres with it, as shown in the core book. Mixing genres is easy and practically encouraged.

    I was attracted to this game because of its, well, openness. If you want to create your own sourcebook for it, they encourage it! Just make sure credit is given where due. It takes the idea of Open Game Licensing to a new level.

    Again, it’s a fairly rules lite, easy to learn game. If you can master D&D 5E, Open Legends is easy and fun to pick up. It’s got the wholesomeness of Essence20 and similar games going for it. Roll 1d20+other dice vs Target Number. The spells and equipment are a bit more fluid in this system. It really does look like what a generic set of core rules should look like.
This is what the Open Legend website has to offer. They really go all out.

This is the first of these D&D alternative articles I’m working on. There are so many games that don’t get enough press or really any press outside of the company’s own meager promotions that I think they deserve some press here and elsewhere. I intend to discuss some lesser known game companies in my next article in this series. Lots of indie publishers deserve more screen time.

Until then, stay safe. Stay hydrated. Be good to one another. Thank you for being here. Please go out and try something new today!

Let’s Talk About FUDGE-ing It!

Here’s the awesome fact about FUDGE: It can be used to substitute for ANY RPG System. I’ve seen people adapt preexisting character sheets from other games into FUDGE. You can be as ridiculously detailed as you want, or as easy going as you need with this game. Not only does this game suggest ways to deal with attributes and skills, but it actively encourages you to borrow from other games! Is that amazing or what?

FUDGE is a derivative of FATE from Grey Ghost Press.

As of this writing it is still available FREE on Grey Ghost’s website. I highly recommend everyone go get a free copy of this game and see what it can do for you. I know a couple of other GMs that swear by this system for a lot of things.

This is the title page of FUDGE.

It’s a little older TTRPG, but I think every GM who has ever gotten frustrated with another game system should really give it a look. It’s also a great jumping-in point if you want to design your own RPG from scratch. It’s kind of like GURPS only far less crunchy and as easy to learn as you want it to be.

FUDGE has elements that will look familiar from other games, or possibly we wish they did.

[Editor’s note: I’d give a nickel for good old Matt Mercer to plug this game, but WotC would probably have a conniption fit.]

Here’s the awesome fact about FUDGE: It can be used to substitute for ANY RPG System. I’ve seen people adapt preexisting character sheets from other games into FUDGE. You can be as ridiculously detailed as you want, or as easy going as you need with this game. Not only does this game suggest ways to deal with attributes and skills, but it actively encourages you to borrow from other games! Is that amazing or what?

I was talking to a very wise friend of mine today about converting a well-known mecha and magic rpg into FUDGE. You can use the scaling in FUDGE to cover everything from superheroes to giant space robots. Magic is but a footnote here, too. Yeah, there’s spells and then there’s scaled up spells!

Much like FATE and other universal core systems, you can customize everything.

Sure, borrow from D&D if you like. Or, if that’s not your jam, as may be the case with several members of the community these days, you can make up all your own skills spells, items, and powers. This game encourages players and GMs to get together and combine their brain powers into a giant… well, you get the idea. Grow your game world and campaign the way YOU want to see it.

Like the Elves in Pathfinder? Great, use em. You like the Wolfen in Palladium? Great, add em in. It takes seconds to stat most things up once you’ve been playing FUDGE for a while. Jedi? Easy. You’re literally a couple of power suggestions away. Magic sword? Easy. (Almost as easy as ICRPG, but we’ll cover that another day.) Basically, if you can describe it, you can build it.

Please be thoughtful when building items, spells, and such. GMs will still want to keep some kind of balance, probably… We’re funny that way, us GMs. We want you to have fun, but please don’t one-shot all the monsters with your Wand of Orcus Fireball cannon-thing? Please? That Tarrask had a family. (Typo intentional to protect the innocent.)

Fair warning, combat can be super deadly or a bit abstract depending on how your GM wants to play it. If Mr Tarask steps on your character, well, that might be a Superb wound and back to character creation you go… Much like firing an anime style missile volley onto the Snurfs village. (You get the idea.) Pelting a mech with snurfberries and little tears will still prove futile.

One thing I should mention is that with the way this game comes together, you can use it to emulate many different genres. Space Opera like Star Wars is a good example. You don’t have to go through every book and movie and stat out every single creature and vehicle unless you really have that kind of time. It works superbly for anime style play; being as bold and outrageous as you’d like. You can also emulate Toon style slapstick comedy with just a few rules modifications. Whatever you come up with, you can FUDGE it.

It is so remarkably easy and fun to build things with FUDGE. Please go check it out. I had forgotten how much I love playing around with these mechanics and I love any excuse to pull out my FATE dice.

Hope your week is going well. Please, stay safe and be kind to all you meet out in the real world. (No Snurfs of any kind were harmed in the making of this blog. Their little mushroom houses grew back with a little magic. All is well.)

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