Tuesday 1 October 2013

Dangerous Time House Rules


Adventurers die or become grizzled battle-masters of their own making. There are no classes. Combat is risky and bloody. Experience is not ablative armour, but a resource to be carefully husbanded. Marching order is important. Rolls happen in the open.

These are D&D house rules inspired by the spirit of Chainmail via Brendan and Jack Shear, with a bit of the wargamer's breeziness regarding casualty removal. They've recently been cross-checked by Five Ancient Kingdoms and they can be ported right onto those rules I think, but parts could easily be looted for any old game. I hope they prove useful to someone and I would value any feedback tremendously.

These have been continue to be edited for something like clarity. 

SECTION 1. Making Adventurers (including simple encumbrance and flexible XP rules) 
SECTION 2. Doing things in the game (including the skill roll)
SECTION 3. Combat (the hit and save tables as well as weapon traits and armour rules) 


Adventurers are made however you like, as long as they've got six attributes – for example STR, INT, WIS, DEX, CON and CHA. The spread should be between 3 and 18. (The gods favour 3D6 in order.) 

4 – 5
6 – 8
9 – 12
13– 15
16 – 17

A starting adventurer will also have one hit dice, some form of equipment which determines her past experience or expertise, and one or more weapons. The sum of these and other things carried determines an adventurer's encumbrance. The effect of expertise and weapons can be elaborated through play, you don't need to decide before you start.

There's a table for weird dark ages adventurer background here.


Hit dice represent an adventurer's skill, determination and will to survive. Hit dice influence how hard an adventurer is to take down in combat, adding to both attack and defence value. But the √©lan that hit dice represent will frequently be expended in the course of adventure; they're a resource as well. Hit dice are expended in one of two ways: 

  • Any number of hit dice can be added to a save roll, turning the basic 2D6 roll into a 3D6 or 4D6 roll;
  • A hit dice can be expended to add +1 to any other roll.  

Hit dice expended in either fashion are used up until restored by rest or other means. 


A character's STR determines how much she can carry. This capacity is abstracted into encumbrance pointsAnything carried by an adventurer 'costs' one point of encumbrance. This includes objects like a sword and scabbard, a shield, a lantern or a flask of oil. Anything that's at hand or accessible on the person encumbers. Usually, 100 coins or part thereof is one point if carried in a sack or purse (though some coins or currencies are larger or smaller). Armour adds encumbrance equal to the level of protection it affords.

Every point of encumbrance over an adventurer's STR characteristic applies a negative modifier to all rolls – skill, hit and save.

Any of the very small or light things an adventurer carries can be thrown into an adventurer's bag – like a backpack or large sack. A bag and anything in it costs two encumbrance points. Though anything in a the bag stuff will be pretty inaccessible during combat. A skill roll will be required to find what you're looking for and it will take a full round. Also remember that an adventurer's bag counts as one object and it can get lost or stolen, with all that stuff inside it.


Adventurers can call upon past experience, skill or expertise once per session to roll 3D6 and pick the best two dice when making any skill roll. Expertise cannot be applied to an adventurer's rolls to hit or save. It can, however, be used in combat manoeuvres, to flee or withdraw from danger, for example. When adventurers begin they have one area of expertise. Anything can be chosen, but a good determining factor is the adventurer's background or starting equipment. This first area of expertise can be elaborated through playing the game too - and declared at the appropriate moment. 

It's up to players to determine their expertise and to say when it's applicable. The only rule is that any one area of expertise can only relate to a single attribute. For example expertise in hunting could be connected to WIS (and could potentially be called upon whenever an adventurer's intuition or experience with beasts is tested) or DEX (to build a trap or avoid them) or it could be connected to CON (to survive the elements, to resist the effects of venom). It's up to the player to determine the faculty her experience as a hunter enhances, but once it's set, it's set. 


Adventurers improve through the attainment of good old experience points (XP). A first-level adventurer begins with 0 XP; a second-level adventurer has 1000 or more; a third-level adventurer has 2000 or more, etc., with XP requirements doubling thereafter. The level of an adventurer chiefly signifies how many hit dice she has – one per level. It also affects how hard she is to hit in combat. 

On every even-numbered level, an adventurer can swap one characteristic point for another. A point may be removed from a character's INT and applied to her STR, for example (a common switch for adventuring types, sadly). On the attainment of odd-numbered levels, a adventurer may claim a new area of expertise related her adventures or acquire knowledge of a new weapon trait.   

The expenditure seizure of treasure through adventure provides XP at a rate of 1 XP/unit of currency. XP can also be gained by fulfilling a vow set by the player. A vow can involve anything worthy of the adventurer (theft, revenge, travel to X place, etc.) but it must be specific and only one vow may be achieved either per session or per level. Vows provide XP equal to the adventurer's last attained level. However, once a vow is made, an adventurer only gains 1/2 XP from finding treasure until her vow is achieved.


All weapons (and some other equipment) have distinguishing traits representing how dangerous they are to enemies and how difficult they are to use
Adventurers know the traits of any weapon that they begin with. Other traits need to be learned through play, by acquiring new weapons and by practicing their use. 

Using a weapon with unknown traits makes that weapon count as if it has the light trait in addition to any other traits it possesses. Once a weapon trait is learned it can be applied to other weapons too. 

Adventurers only apply bonuses and penalties based on the traits of their main weapon. A second weapon used in melee counts as an off-hand weapon. Some of these traits are. 
  • Blades win tied hit or manoeuvre rolls by one point.
  • Clever weapons allow the wielder to use her DEX mod. instead her STR mod. when rolling to hit.
  • Choppers ignore light armour and can break shields on successful double hit rolls.
  • Crushers treat heavy armour as light armour.
  • Cumbersome weapons incur two points of encumbrance to the wielder.
  • Dangerous weapons hit their wielder on missed doubles as with a desperate weapon.
  • Desperate weapons allow opponents to roll to save on 3D6 instead of 2D6.
  • Entanglers can be used to cause D6-DEX mod. points of encumbrance to an opponent for as long as the attacker maintains the hold. The defender must manoeuvre to free herself.
  • Great weapons need two hands to use and do damage equal to the highest attack roll die.
  • Light weapons cause 1 damage; if used as a second weapon it causes +1 damage to the total.
  • Long weapons may choose to strike first against charging opponents.
  • Masterwork weapons increase the odds of preserving a hit die, ie. a masterwork (1) chopper allows the preservation of a hit die used to attack if the roll is a 5 or 6, not just a 6 as per usual.
  • Missile weapons attack foes at near range and far range with a -2 modifier to the hit roll. Note this means foes who are charging or start the round at near range can be targeted.
  • Muscled weapons apply the wielder's STR mod. to the damage they inflict.
  • Simple weapons add +1 to hit rolls under 7 but -1 from rolls over 7.
  • Slow weapons strike last.
  • Thrown weapons can attack foes at near range.
  • Warrior weapons do damage equal to the second-highest attack roll die and can be used two-handed to inflict +1 damage.
  • Wild weapons negate the benefits of shields and the like.
Adventurers starting with exotic backgrounds or claiming an unusual practice may choose two traits for their strange weapon.

Here are some examples in no particular order: 
  • A steel sword is a warrior blade, while a saexe, dirk or dagger is a light blade which might be off-hand too.
  • A misericorde is a light crusher.
  • A mancatcher is a long, warrior entangler. Put to any other use it is a desperate weapon.
  • On axes: a regular axe is a light chopper and a waraxe is a warrior chopper. A woodchopper's great axe might be simple, as well.
  • Bows are light, muscled missile weapons.
  • Some spears are long, light thrown weapons – heavier ones not meant for throwing are long warrior weapons.
  • Most flails are light, wild weapons; only rarely are they warrior weapons and these are invariably dangerous.
  • Crossbows are simple warrior missile weapons. Heavy ones are also cumbersome crushers.
  • An iron-banded broom is certainly not a warrior weapon but it might be a clever, light weapon or it might be a long, light weapon – construction and use vary considerably.
  • A cage of finches is clearly a desperate weapon, best put to more subtle use, but if that's how you use it, so be it.
  • Fists are desperate weapons, but they're nearly always at hand.


Armour is graded light or heavy. Light armour includes studded or ringed leather, waxed wicker and kelp, auroch hide, chain shirts, hauberks and the like. Heavy armour includes full suits of iron or steel plate, giant crab chitin, or surcoated mail and so on. Armour provides a bonue to a combatant's hit defence value equal to its level – 1 for light and 2 for heavy. It also provides a bonus to certain save rolls. In return, armoured adventurers apply their armour level as a penalty to most skill checks.

Shields include bucklers, kites and round shields of oak, iron, zinc and lizard hide. A combatant fighting with a shield adds a further +1 to her armour level. Shields do not provide this bonus to saves or in the round when the wielder charges. Likewise, no penalty is incurred for carrying a shield when attempting a combat manoeuvre. 

1.7 MAGIC 

Magic (or sorcery) is mysterious. Its practitioners are widely feared.  Teachers of the magic arts are believed to exist but need to be sought out and convinced to part with their knowledge.  


Adventurers can and will try anything. But wherever there's a risk of failure, players roll 2D6 to determine the outcome – this is called a skill roll. When the risk involves hitting a violent opponent the roll is called a hit roll. If the roll is an attempt to survive some life-threatening violence the roll is called a save roll. (Hits and saves will be explained in section 3. COMBAT, below.)

2d6 Roll Skill attempt: For example, when picking the lock (2D6+DEX mod.)...
2 or less Catastrophe You break your lockpick.
3 – 5 Failure You fail and the lock is seized.
6 – 8 Delay You can feel it on its way – it will take another turn.
9 – 11 Success The lock opens with a satisfying click.
12 or more Extraordinary success Success. Gain expertise with picking tumbler locks.

The slightly different rolls to hit and save are described in the combat section. Any pair of snake eyes are always a result of two regardless of modifiers. Likewise, natural box-cars are always a 12. The use of hit dice or expertise dice carry slightly greater risks and rewards. A skill roll of 12 grants new expertise. 


The basic 2D6 roll is always modified by various factors. The most common is an adventurer's relevant attribute modifier (which range from -3 to +3). Hit dice, levels, encumbrance, armour, and relative position can all modify these rolls as well.


Players take turns to describe what they're doing, or what they're attempting to do. Turns occur one of the following scales:
  • Fighting happens in rounds, which represent either ten-seconds or “when the next thing happens”.
  • Danger time is when individual actions count. Turns represent approximately ten-minute increments, or enough time to search for traps in a corridor, to explore a ten-by-ten foot room, etc. A marching order is called for and danger is frequently encountered.
  • Adventure time turns typically represent half-day increments in which adventurers can typically do one main thing in pursuit of adventure: travel, rest, hunt, seek out rumours, etc. Expended hit dice are restored at a rate of 1/turn of adventure time on a successful CON skill roll. Adventurers may enter danger time when things go wrong. A marching order is frequently called for.
  • Safe time is when any declared amount of time may pass and more or less anything done; expertise may be applied or acquired; expended hit dice are restored; levels from acquired XP are attained. Safe time occurs in conditions of safety.
Players should always know when they're in danger time, adventure time, or safe time.


All combatants and any relevant features in the area are assumed to be in one of three abstract spatial relationships to each other: close, near and far. Close targets are within easy reach and – if opposing – are considered engaged in melee. Near targets are not engaged in melee but are in range to charged, spoken to and shot fairly easily. (In dungeons, near range is typically the extent of an unshielded torch or lantern.) Far targets are in the back rank, obscured in the shadows, near the far side of bowshot, etc.

Initiative in the first round of a combat is determined by surprise or by the lead adventurer rolling a skill roll + DEX or WIS mod. In a round combatants may do one of the following – resolved in this order:
  • Charges and melee
  • Shooting
  • Movement
  • Skill attempts and spells
Combatants engaged in melee must fight or flee. If not engaged in melee, combatants can choose to either shoot, move or do something skillful.


A charge is a move from near to close range with an opponent. A charge immediately initiates melee with a hit roll. A combatant receiving a charge can likewise fight and roll to hit, make some kind of manoeuvre, or flee. If neither combatant charged, the biggest engaged opponent (or biggest group) must declare their intentions (fight, manoeuvre, or flee) first.

No matter their intention, all combatants in melee roll at the same time. 


All combatants roll to hit on 2D6 +/- STR. mod. + hit dice/2. Hit rolls are further modified if a combatant is fighting:
  • from a charge this round: +1
  • a surprised opponent: +1
  • a prone opponent: +2
  • a helpless opponent: automatic hit
  • an opponent in a defended position: -1
  • an opponent on higher ground: -1
  • while encumbered: -x
Compare the result to the target's defence value.  A combatant's defence value is 6 + hit dice/2 + armour level. If a hit roll is higher than the defence value, the attack has landed and the target must roll to save. Note that some weapons and situations allow combatants the opportunity to strike first. Combatants that strike first resolve their attack before their opponent. (For exceptions see weapons, below.)


A combatant who is hit rolls to save +/- CON mod. + armour level - weapon damage.

2d6 Roll Save
2 or less Eviscerated
3 – 5 Dead
6 – 8 Wounded (helpless until roused/serious wound if outside of combat)
9 – 11 Knocked down (drop prone/out for a turn if outside of combat)
12 or more Glancing blow


When in melee a combatant may attempt to withdraw from combat or make some other tactical manoeuvre, such as standing up from a prone position. Instead of making an attack roll in melee, she makes a skill check, typically applying either a DEX or STR mod. Her opponent attacks as normal. Highest result resolves first. If a withdrawing combatant is successful, she immediately moves out of close range and into near range. If she fails, she stays in combat in addition to possibly being hit by her opponent.


A combatant fleeing from melee is subject to an immediate hit roll by her opponent. If she survives, she immediately moves out of close range and into near range.


During melee, everyone in close range fights, paired off where possible. Multiple combatants ganging up on a single opponent in melee can make a single hit roll which gains a special +1 bonus/per person if their numbers equal or exceed that opponent's hit dice. The maximum bonus for ganging up is +3.


Resolve shooting like melee fighting for combatants appropriately armed. The highest attack roll lands the shot first. The same formula for hitting in melee applies to shooting, except that the attacker's DEX mod. is used instead of STR, and prone targets grant no advantage to the attacker.

Instead of shooting, a combatant may choose to aim carefully for the round. If she is not interrupted she gains a +2 bonus to hit when she chooses to fire. Aimed shots can also be loosed when a specific thing happens in the following round. Shots aimed against a charging enemy strike first. 


Combatants who are not engaged in melee may move from one range to another. Moving from near to close range with an enemy can be a way to fight in melee in the subsequent round without the benefits and hazards of charging.


Skill attempts are made in the last phase of the combat round. Pulling out an object from one's adventurer's bag requires a DEX check. Other risk-less tasks like dropping or picking something up, drawing a weapon at hand, etc. happen here too.

Some skill attempts have immediate effects or function as opposed rolls in the way that melee is opposed. In this case both parties make rolls and compare the the results in descending order.


  1. This is a startlingly well put together set of rules.

    That's why I am going to liberally rob my favorite bits right now for use in my Carcosa campaign.

    Great work.