Monday 14 June 2021


Now that almost all that’s left on our character sheet is the various terrible fates that may end our graverobbing career, what other options are still open to us?


An adventure game staple for good reason. Who doesn’t love a good creative use of a flaming torch and 10 ft of hempen rope. Ball bearings! Glue! This is the good stuff.

In the 0.4 update  to GRAVEROBBERS (link goes here once it’s live…) I’m adding an optional rule (all rules are optional, being in trouble is a fake idea) for an inventory system, which is a revised version of the Encumbrance system I came up with here.

The aim is to really focus in on those items. You’ll care more about them when you have to pick and choose! Players are much more likely to be aware of what they do and don’t have, and therefore actually use those things, when they’re having to make tough inventory management decisions. Of course, these can become boring very quickly - which is why I’ve tried to keep things super simple and slot-based. Hopefully it makes a useful addition.

Having so little by way of mechanics to begin with, that new inventory really does draw focus on the character sheet. It’s making me think about how I might further develop this item economy and really build it in as part of the overall structure.

F’rinstance, all(ish) starting items in the Bare Bones will now come with a suggested black market price, doing the duty of an equipment list from classic games. Of course I am wary of putting a currency system into anything, but this is a game about wealth and money and power anyway

So here’s me thinking about just how central this item/inventory system can get. It’s already a suggestion, but could the Day Phase card draws be explicitly just about getting items? Make it the Black Market Phase (as opposed to… the Red Moon Phase for heists? Idk), every purchase is a draw, that’s what draws are for now? Much more gamey than the current “resolution mechanic”-esque card draw, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

(I’ve been very impressed recently looking into Ava Islam’s game Errant, which has a lot of lovely gamey and procedural rules like these that don’t feel as obtrusive as a freewheeling jazz boy like myself might imagine? That’s the key word, I think “procedures” rather than mechanics or rules. Anyway, here’s Chris “Bastionland” MacDowall looking through Errant, definitely worth a watch-along.)

Then again, a phase that’s just “item shop” seems too limiting given the scope of actions available in a freeform game, even if there’s going to be an emphasis on items. Which, again, got me thinking (what doesn’t, folks, am i right, folks,) of the other things on a character sheet.

Here in GRAVEROBBERS land, aside from Odds and Inventory we’ve got your Crime, clothing and of course player notes - setting details, info gleaned through adventure.

And what are these if not… items?

In other games you might have more on your sheet - languages, spells (the closest GRAVEROBBERS comes to either is the Third Eye). These little tidbits - “I can speak Goblin”, “I know the King’s middle name”, “I can make fire with my fingers” - they’re items, just like “I have rope”, “I have a torch”. They’re little, fictional truths  that you can whip out and use creatively. Same thing.

This contrasts with the other bit of the sheet. Unlike what we might typically call “mechanics” - stats, Odds, AC - they’re opportunities as opposed to restraints. Well… they’re restrained (you have a rope, it says “rope”, you don’t have a snake, it doesn’t say “snake”), but they’re not things that are happening to you in the same way as big nasty RULES, they’re chances to make things happen.

So if your card draw is “just” about getting items, but “items” are everything on your sheet that’s not a RULE - trinkets, contacts, information - then…? Yes this is functionally back where we started, but there’s something to this framing, I think. If we can make it more explicit, more procedural - 

- but here I am, talking about potential future updates when the new update isn’t even out yet. Stay tuned!

Monday 7 June 2021


 In the upcoming 0.4 update to the Bare Bones of GRAVEROBBERS (I’ll edit this when it’s out!) the system is getting its biggest mechanical change in a while, so I thought I’d go over some of the reasoning there rather than just sticking something in the patch notes. This is inside baseball, nerdy design talk, but hopefully it’s of use to someone!

(Ok so i say mechanical update but it’s really a semantic one, none of the numbers are changing - but then again in a medium made of words, semantics are mechanics, so…)

Up until now the Odds were a PC’s “stats”: Finesse, Fortitude, Violence and Will. After the update these will be reworked into Death, Detection, Detriment and Despair.

as I said the dice/numbers side functions the same way as before, roll for values in character generation, roll xd6 in relevant situations, success means you’re safe and loss means you lose 1 Luck (“HP”). It’s not a resolution mechanic because you don’t “fail” the attempted fictional action (although that’s a valid interpretation) but it brings you closer to the failstate. I went over the rationale and the behaviours it encourages here, some details have changed since then but I think that’s a good explanation.

I’ve already explained the rolls in GRAVEROBBERS as being “more like Saves than Checks”, and this new version makes that more explicit. Characters no longer have things they’re good at! you don’t get to be strong or quick. You get your Odds of Death, in black and white. Good luck.

It’s been said many times that combat is a fail state in adventure/OSR games, or that the answer is not on your character sheet, or that a combat roll or skill check is a last resort rather than a button to press or a key for one of the game’s various locks. It’s my hope with this design choice to “enforce” that somewhat, put it in writing. Imagine OD&D with only Wands, Petrification, Death etc. “Oh are these the cool things you can do?” “No those are all the things that can kill you”. You don’t want to roll!

That’s not all that’s left on the character sheet of course, you still have your items and your notes, character details, in-universe stuff - the things that adventure gamers want to use to overcome obstacles, so why not make that our only option?

GRAVEROBBERS is a harsh, scary (in a fun way!) game, let’s make the character sheet harsh and scary. Of course on the flip side, having the odds written out means there’s always a chance! It’s not all doom and gloom, you know you have these safety nets. Just maybe don’t rely on them too much.

Anyway hopefully some of that makes sense and my intent is clear! Let’s go over the four new Odds - why these, what’s the deal, etc

Death. This is basically the exact same as Save vs Death/Poison in OD&D. The function of a death save has been well established, I’m not exactly doing anything new here! Also on a purely aesthetic level it’s wonderful to have Odds of Death: X written out on your sheet, perfect tone setter

Detection. It’s a stealth game after all! The old rolls triggered on a “caught or hurt”, so here’s the “caught”. I like things this way round more I think! Feels like the logic flows a bit better. And between this and the card system for the House I’ve managed to completely abstract/mechanise the stealth aspects - the idea is that this will have the same function as HP, attack rolls, AC et al have on fighting: Too much fictional positioning in one little moment? tough decision that isn’t as fun if we get to make it ourselves? let’s play a minigame instead. Hide and seek has enough “I saw you!” “No you didn’t” without being played by made up characters in a fictional world! This should take all that out of the players’ hands in a way I hope folks find freeing. You really don’t need to RP or even account for guards and stuff at all, what with the card system automating it all - but I’ll probably talk about that more in future

Detriment. yes I could have just called it Damage but style is substance! This replaces the traditional use of an HP system by accounting for/abstracting all non-lethal damage. So that’s falls and bumps and bruises, but also combat - this is the new Violence roll. Violence already felt nicely bitey and dangerous, now you don’t even get to sound cool, you just roll for “do i get hurt”. Whether you’re attacking or being attacked, as before! All combat is just a Save vs Pain. Can I ward players away from using violence any further?! (maybe, we’ll see lol)

Despair. This replaces Will, but since the saves now trigger based on their individual namesakes rather than a universal “caught or hurt”, this one can show up any time PCs dare countenance the setting’s horrors! Fans of Call of Cthulhu and Mothership will recognise this as a Fear or Sanity save, kind of. Also a nice stand in for save vs Magic. I like that there’s now this explicit supernatural pillar to the game.

In fact, as four pillars of play, the Four Things That Might End You, I think overall we’re getting across the message of GRAVEROBBERS pretty nicely! I like to believe someone unfamiliar with the game can see these four things and get a decent idea of what perils, and what sort of game, to expect right off the bat. Also as touched on above these are the four things that the Dealer and other players won’t have to worry about “running”, decisions they won’t be able to - or have to - make themselves.

You will face the terrible risk of Death, Detection, Detriment and Despair, graverobbers, whether you wish to or not… what will you do?