Dungeon Rules: Super Simplified S&W

After running 46 sessions of the Montporte Dungeon Campaign with three different rule sets (in succession, not concurrently!), I am thinking of how or what I would differently in terms of rules. Just as an FYI, the three rule sets were: AD&D 1e, Blood & Treasure, and D&D 5e.

Anyway, this is just a little thought experiment on rules and their impact on play, particularly in a dungeon environment. In this post, I want to write out something that I have thought about for a bit: What if the dungeon (in this case, a megadungeon) was a unique feature in an otherwise mundane and non-fantasy medieval world?

Start with the Sword & Wizardry Core Rules. Allow the players only two character choices: (1) Human Fighters and (2) Human Thieves. In this world--at least on the surface--there is no magic. And there are no elves, giants, or dragons. Just a mundane, medieval world. However, the dungeon and its connection to the mythic Deep Dark fills in the blanks with weird and magical creatures, plus magic items that are not part of the surface world's experience.

There are several objectives in running such a narrow, stripped down version of an already rules-light system:
  • Focus play on exploration, rather than tactical combat.
  • Focus the players to find different and creative solutions to challenges poised by having such limited options.
  • Highlight the sense of danger and weirdness with regards to the dungeon.
  • Magic items become highly prized.

There are lots of challenges to running this sort of stripped down dungeon campaign:
  • YIKES! No healing spells! Part of this could be offset by adding some first aid skills, dropping in healing potions, pools, etc, and/or allowing some sort of slow recovery of hit points.
  • Not much character class choice. 
  • Lack of magic reduces the party's tactical options and abilities.
  • It could just really suck and be boring.

Variations and Options
I have thought of some variations and options:
  • Just have one class--Fighters. Perhaps players could add one or two thief skills of their choice to their characters.
  • Allow all 3 (or 4) character classes from S&W Core: Cleric, Fighter, and Magic-User (and Thief). Just restrict the race to human.
  • Bump up the technology so that player characters have access to early gunpowder weapons.

The tendency with RPGs and gamers is to push for more options and choices in character builds, classes, powers, spells, skills, and abilities. What does a game look like, feel like and play like when the rules go in the opposite direction and provide only very limited options? Does it make it less interesting or more interesting in terms of challenges in play?

Response Posts By Others [Later Edit]
Streamlined Gaming (The Clash of Spear on Shield)
Low Magic With Swords and Wizardry (Bat in the Attic)
Minimalistic Gaming (Gothridge Manor)
Weirder Fantasy (Tales of the Rambling Bumblers)
Megadungeons with Streamlined Rules (Circle of Dar Janix)


  1. I don't equate limited choices in class or a stripped down ruleset as limiting. I believe this can lead to a lot more freedom. A way to role-play with rules getting in t he way. There are no rolls to hide behind so to speak. But like any game, rules heavy, light, or in between, a good GM can make any game a blast.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Tim. It is an intriguing approach, particularly the non-magical part.


  2. Rules - they should reflect the setting you are using at the level of detail you are interested in. From your posts you are not interested in a high level of mechanical detail for characters. So lighter rules make sense for what you are trying to do.

    the main question I would ask what would the exploration of Monteporte look if I was really there. If it is a just a monster filled maze iin the initial levels in a otherwise mundane world then small parties would be quickly be defeated or forced to retreat. With real life levels of healing there no way it could be cleared in a series of expedition by a single group. It would like the various 19th century explorers. Many of their expeditions were stalled for month as they recovered from various calamities.

    The alternative is a methodical organized siege expedition involving lots of characters.

    However if there is a society in the dungeon that can feasibly reached by a single exploring group then that could work and provide a place of respite.

    In either case you need to think about time management and be able to handle long down times for the party to recover. Come up with a interesting way to fast forward when the party is in camp healing.

    1. Thanks for the comment Rob. You touched on a number of points that were part of my thinking. It was just a quick thought experiment. Not sure I would actually run something like this.

  3. I got so enthused reading this post that I started writing a comment and it billowed into a full one-page single-space reply, so I put it upon my blog as its own post.

  4. I think everyone is going to want something to make their character different from every other character, be it a weapon specialty or specific skill or talent.

    As for magic, IIRC B/X D&D rules, as written, were very restrictive on magic. I believe a first level M-U had only one spell in her spellbook. A third could only have the 2 first level spells and one second. You could take that approach.
    Another option would be to borrow the Cantrips from some other version, does the 3rd edition SRD have cantrips? You could have cantrips replace the spells at the first 3 or 4 levels. Sleep could end up being a fifth level spell. Maybe fireball costs a point of CON when cast as a 6th or 7th level spell.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Yes, B/X had crossed my mind. At the back of my gamer mind, Holmes D&D is always lurking (that is what I started on).

  5. If you ran it in 5e, you could expand the list of classes: Fighter (Champion & Battle Master), one type of Barbarian (Path of the Berserker), the spell-less version of the Ranger in the UA, two types of Rogue (thief & assassin). Maybe even the Monk (Way of the Fist). That gives you six or seven options.

    1. Yes. That would definitely work.

  6. Hey - let me know what could have been better in Blood & Treasure. It's getting time to put a revised product out next year, and I'd love to hear your feedback from running it. If you could shoot me an email, I'd really appreciate it.

    1. I will definitely send you some feedback in a private message via Google.

  7. Ok...so who's running this thing on G+?

  8. GURPS being my go to,I immediately think of a low level medieval game I had worked on, without magic of any kind. Characters had short lifespans, but a lot of skills, players were dodgy about committing to slaughter, but treasure lead them on. This is Lankhmar, this is Swords and Sorcery at its core.

    1. GURPS had actually crossed my mind as I was writing this post.

  9. So I have a longish post brewing in response to this (mostly about weirdness and magic) but a couple of quick things:

    I think allowing quick recovery of HP is the best way to go for something like this. D&D HP have never really been an abstraction of injury, rather something like combat readiness. 5e actually has a pretty decent approach to the difference between "I just gotta catch my breath a minute" and "I need a week's R&R before I get my edge back", though IMO it needs a way to simulate long-term injury on top of HP damage. (It's actually got one, in Exhaustion levels, but it's kind of buried in there.) At any rate, keeping HP relatively low (maybe even substituting fixed HP like CON instead of inflating Hit Dice) while allowing relatively rapid non-combat recovery means that individual combats remain quite dangerous, but you can press on with exploration again in short order instead of heading back to the surface or holing up for weeks while you recover. The only point I can see to old-style slow recovery of HP was to make magical healing shine; if you get rid of the latter you should get rid of the former as well.

  10. This is a really cool post, and some further reading shows me that this is a really cool blog. I posted some thoughts on my own blog.

    1. Thanks, Rich. I added a link above to the post on your blog (Circle of Dar Janix).