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?


  1. This is very nice. Love the idea of all stats being only reactive saves. Really enforces the style of play you say you're going for.

    Looking forward to the published version!

    1. Thanks, glad it all comes across! The published version inches ever closer…