[Looting the Labyrinth] Quick tactical gamist fun

I was thinking about the black potion I described earlier today: you don't know what it is, if you drink it you die instantly. Obviously, this sucks.

And yet, there are situations in which it is very cool if you do not know whether a potion is a healing potion or a poison potion and you are ready to risk everything on it. Suppose there's is a fight, and if you win you'll get loads of XP and treasure and whatnot, and the only way you can go on and maybe win is by drinking that unidentified potion and hoping that it is a healing potion... but it might be poison instead... so what do you do? And suppose, furthermore, that you roll the dice in order to randomly determine which of the two it is (so there's no GM fiat or predefined malice involved) - how cool would that be? Pretty cool, I'd say.

Perhaps potions can only be identified by drinking them; and perhaps you can set the stakes of drinking them yourself. So you can roll to get a potion of minor healing, but if you fail it will turn out to be a potion of getting terrible cramps; or you can roll to get a potion of major healing, but if you fail it will turn out to be a potion on being changed into a frog, or something. Are you willing to take the risk? And how big a risk are you willing to take?

I think I'd like to play more gamist RPGs. Dungeon crawling, gaining experience, tactical combat - all of that can be mighty fun. I enjoy it when I'm playing CRPGs. (At least up to a point; Diablo is much too tedious for me, but the tactical depth of Baldur's Gate 2 has great appeal.) But I honestly have no idea which system I should use to run that. Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition is far too complicated for my tastes: I want a game where you can make a character in five minutes and don't have to learn 60 feats and 200 spells. That's too much investment. Donjon? I should try it out, but I actually doubt that it has a strong tactical component. Suggestions are welcome.

But of course now the notion has struck me that I simply should design my own. As a suitably bad working title, I've chosen Looting the Labyrinth. If I decide to embark on this project, I would have the following design goals:

  • There are to be fights, treasures and character advancement.
  • Characters can be made in five minutes. Rules should be simple.
  • The focus is tactical combat. With real choices. Everything revolves about this. Did I mention that the game should be tactical?
  • You can run the game on the fly, no preparation needed. That includes the GM: I hate prepping games as a GM.
  • Playing for one evening is good, but you could also keep the character sheets and play with them another time.
  • Advancement not only gives you the ability to choose cool new powers, it should also change the feel of the game. There is simply no real use for it, otherwise.
  • No GM fiat. Choosing the difficulty of the fights and the rewards that can be gotten should be part of the players' strategic thinking. I'm kind of thinking of an Otherkind mechanic here, where you roll dice and then have to choose between getting great rewards or getting weak opponents or moving along to the Big Bad, and stuff like that.
  • Players can always choose to call it a day and return to town, when they feel they couldn't possibly take on a new challenge. (Strategy plays a role here. Will you spend that fireball on the first creatures you meet?) But there should be an incentive for pushing onwards, even when things are looking bleak. (Perhaps rewards get better when you get further into a dungeon? Such a dial would be reset whenever the players return to town.)
I just might do it...

But I should get the new playtest rules of Shades finished first. (I'm more than halfway done.)


  1. One minor note about your superfast character generation preferences -- a great deal of gamist play involves the tactical decisions you make in character generation, hence the complexity and time investment. Making a character is part of playing the game, in this case. I'm sure you can pull off gamist play without this element, but it is there for a reason.

  2. Hi Joshua,

    Sure - it can be part of playing the game. But the trouble with something like D&D is that to create a viable character, especially if you ahve to choose spells from the vast array available, you have to read large parts of the book and think about them.

    I'm thinking of pre-made character classes where you get to, say, choose between 2 of 5 possible special skills at first level. Yes, there is a tactical choice in character creation, but you can read all the information in one minute and make a choice quickly. The real strategy and tactics will be in the adventure itself.

    Actually, I've been working on the game a bit. I'm working top down: I already have a pretty strong idea about what the structure of the overall game and the structure of the individual adventures will look lke; I have the outlines of a mechanic to generate encounters. The actual fighting system is still pretty sketchy. Skills, treasure and stuff is mostly undefined.

    But I must admit that I'm pretty jazzed with what I've made until now. I'll post more soon.

  3. Please do keep us informed. I, for one, would love to play such a game.

  4. It doesn't really offer a solution to GM fiat except (sort of) using the commercial adventures (on the assumption they're well-designed), but I wouldn't skip this opportunity to recommend The Fantasy Trip. Long out of print, but a revised version is now being produced under the title Legends.

  5. Anonymous: I will. I'm actually writing some stuff up right now.

    Elliot: I'll look into it if I get the chance. Thanks.


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