A Case For Perpetual Low-Level Adventuring

I’m a fan of the knife’s edge of low-level adventuring. I even dummied up an OSR system called HALLS (High Adventures for Low Levels System) based on the premise of a B/X-like system that caps out at level 4 but allows for a handful of XP sinks. I don’t think what I was doing scales well, however, and the vast amounts of XP required to level up in HALLS put a bit of a drag on that play-reward feedback loop that makes levelling such a focus of gaming.

I really think that the system my friend has cobbled together, loosely based on Warhammer Fantasy RPG, really manages to capture what I was unable to with the D&D based HALLS – a system that allows for constant and continual character development/improvement while maintaining that rain-slicked precipice feeling of the first few levels. Almost every session, we’ve been able to gain enough XP to put a point in something, but every adventure has a substantial amount of risk that doesn’t require massive scaling of monsters, NPCs and treasure hoards. Even my character, with whom I’d only missed a couple sessions over the course of maybe 20 now, while incredibly good at doing what they did (throw knives, steal things, do massive damage, and plan really great parties) I always had to stay cautious, because two solid hits would kill me; when I stopped being cautious, two hits killed me. It’s a system where you can’t afford to get cocky.

The new character I rolled up, though substantially weaker in many regards, was not so much weaker than the rest of the party that I was a load; on the contrary, my new character held his own and killed a cultist or two before fleeing to the back ranks after taking a crossbow bolt to the shoulder.

The way the system calculate character HP (grit), 1d4+3 + CON mod (max 3) + Profession mod (max 2), you’re never going to get a character who take a lot of solid hits. Weapon damage is all d6 based with modifiers (usually -1, occasionally -2, sometimes +1, very rarely +2). Armor reduces damage rather than detracts from to-hit rolls (allowing for a minimum of 1 ‘ping’ damage). You end up with combats where most characters can take at least 2 hits, 3 or 4 if a few are glancing, but you don’t have those long, drawn out mid-to-high level combats where everyone is slowly whittling away at dozens of HP in 1d8 increments.

The relatively low HP means you can throw weak-to-average monsters or opponents at the players, and it will ALWAYS feel like a challenge. Foe creation is incredibly quick. A monster statblock would consist simply of Grit, Movement, Melee, Ranged, Init, and a base save.

A human mook would be something like this:

Grit: 6, Move: 5, Melee: 10, Ranged: 6, Init: 0, Save 10

Let’s keep him simple by giving him a sword that does a flat 1d6 damage.

  • The mook could take 6 damage; any damage putting him below 0 would force a roll on the dismemberment table (for mooks, it’s easier to go with ‘not killed by the wound’/’killed by the wound’).
  • The movement of 5 translates to whatever scale you’re using. 5′, 10′ squares, 5 yard, 10 yard hexes, whatever – he moves five of them.
  • To hit in melee, he’d have to roll equal to or under 10. To hit with ranged, he has to roll equal to or under 6.
  • No mods to initiative, and if a situation forces a saving throw, he has a 50/50 chance to save.

Now, let’s try something more interesting; a spitting spider dog:

Grit: 6, Move: 5, Melee: 12, Ranged: 10, Init: 1, Save: 10

On the surface, it’s not much different. And that’s good! Because it means it’s easy to create new, weird things. But players will be terrified of it, because it’s a spitting spider dog. Instead of biting, the spitting spider dog might use a ranged attack that will incapacitate a victim with saliva. The target would get to make strength check at disadvantage when their initiative came up to break free. I just came up with that monster completely on the fly; took me 2 minutes thinking of something weird and gross that we’d probably run into in the setting. We’d probably fight half a dozen of them; if we got lucky, we’d get away with some scrapes, bruises and one or two broken limbs.

To give you a bit of comparison for what a PC looks like, my character who died looked something like this:

STR: 7, Con: 11, Dex: 18, Int:11, Cha:11, Luc:11

Grit: 7, Move: 4, Melee: 6, Ranged: 17, Init: 5

That 17 in range meant that I was good enough at throwing knives that I could attack at disadvantage every time to ‘buy’ an additional d6 damage (for 1d6-2 + 1d6), and the Init 5 meant I could make that attack twice per round whenever I rolled a 3 or higher on a d6 for initiative (0-7, where 8 or higher gets a second attack on the modified initiative roll -8; so, if I’d rolled a 4, I’d attack on 9, then again on 1). Now, I was a bit of a fluke, because I a)had a 17 natural dex that I bought to 18, and poured all of my XP into maxing out my ranged skill profession mod (combat skills can’t be modded higher than +8, and you have to have the advanced profession that allows you to reach those caps). But that’s what a character with nearly 1200 XP looks like (session XP was usually in the neighborhood of 70). Yes, I’d point-by-point built a killer who could put a knife through someone’s throat and skip off into the crowd before the guards showed up, but certainly wasn’t going to be able to take more than a couple blows. In a previous fight, she took a crossbow bolt to the arm; like most folks who take a crossbow bolt to the arm, she was done – time to hide behind the wall and hope her friends could finish the fight without her. The most I could’ve ever got my grit up to was 10, which would’ve taken a classes that would let me raise my Con by 2 and my Grit by 2 (possibly requiring anywhere between 400 and 800 XP depending on how I ultimately went about it). But that could’ve been the difference between suffering broken ribs and the disemboweling she ultimately succumbed to.

Every fight was life-or-death. It was exhilarating!

My DM is working on codifying his core rules into a consultable player’s guide. I’m hoping to convince him that this will be a worthwhile marketable system and offered to help him put together something if he were ever interested in commercially publishing it. I’ll admit, I had a few issues getting used to it at first, but I have a hard time imagining enjoying another system as much.


Free RPG Day – HALLS


Are the first couple levels the best levels?  Spend even more time as low-level characters constantly in peril of dying in the High Adventure for Low Levels System!

There is some grumbling that there aren’t many free OSR-friendly offerings for Free RPG Day.

So, I’m reposting a slightly updated version of HALLS.

I seem to have lost the source files, so the main change is that I fixed a few references to silver from back when it was an SP based system.

It’s not very good or fleshed out, but you’ll find a few things that might raise an eyebrow:

-“wild” elven magic
-item enchantment and magic attunement
-terms like “diocese” as they pertain to clerics
-quasi-compatibility with the B/X Bestiary


News for CatTotW, HALLS, Pickett’s Castle, and Towers of Dream

Since I’m not on Twitter, I can’t really shill for myself very loudly and get any #RebuildInitiative love. But hey, I don’t necessarily have to take advantage of the fact that the bar to call oneself a game-dev has been set incredibly low; I actually AM a game developer, though only the eBook of City at the Top of the World with its sweet hyperlinking action allows me the obtuse claim to the title of video game developer.

I have HALLS (High Adventure Low Level System), which could use some polish, and I did write a B/X Halloween micro-module, as well as a surreal tower mini-module.

But where was I going with this? Oh, right. My exclusive term with Amazon is about to expire for City at the Top of the World. I’ll have a pdf version of City (one which reflects the print version) available at Drive Thru before the end of the month, which means I’ll also be able to have up some of my other gaming titles available there as well.

I’ll probably have some sort of update around the 22nd, at which point I can push all of that stuff live. I want to keep most of my game stuff free, but Drive-thru requires at least one for-pay item, and City at the Top of the World is something I feel comfortable charging for.

Truth about HALLS is that it probably needs a lot of work to make into a balanced system, but it has a few ideas I think that are worthwhile. Anyway, it will probably continue to be free in a pay what you want form.  The main difference is, my stuff will all be in one spot instead of spread across years of posts here at Cirsova.

HALLS: Why I’m not doing anything for NaGaDeMon

I’m not writing a game for NaGaDeMon largely because I just finished writing one.

It’s my first serious effort at writing a system, and it’s kind of slapdash, because I was too lazy to flesh out a bestiary, by which I mean steal OGL monster stats and painstakingly copy stuff that is readily found elsewhere.

Anyway, this little thing is called HALLS, High Adventure for Low Levels System, because all games have to either have an acronym or X & Y formula. I opted for the former.

HALLS is influenced a bit by Holmes and such. Part of why I wrote it was to address complaints about level inflation, HP bloat, and other issues that people have with systems that expand beyond the “Basic” sets.

Unlike the “Basic” sets, this goes up to 4 levels, though HD are capped at level 3.

It’s not entirely compatible with all sets of Rules, particularly spell lists and such, but anything stat-block based can be used in terms of monsters or enemy npcs.

I don’t know that I’ll ever bother polishing this to the point where it’s commercially viable. So, for now, I’ll go ahead and post a pdf. It’s only 14 pages, so you can probably get the gist in about 10 minutes tops.

Download HALLS RPG for Free Here

I didn’t watermark it or anything, but please pretend like it’s copyrighted.