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Russell House Rules Core

I decided to put together the core of my personal house rules after years of collecting, tweaking, and trying out various DIY D&D approaches. The notion with these rules was to boil it down to only the things that will be true in just about every campaign I might want to run, rather than trying to capture all of the cool setting-specific rules I might change up. I managed to compress all of that down into six A5 spreads, including character generation, which I’m pretty proud of.

What’s not in here? Campaign-specific stuff including equipment lists, monster lists, detailed treasure lists, sanity rules, that kind of thing. I’m planning on all of that being modular as I move forward, which helped drive some of my decision-making in which rules to include.

Which gets to the last point: there is shockingly little that is original here. I’ve mostly cobbled together the ideas of people cleverer than myself, detailed below.

You can get the pdf of the rules here, or you can read the rules in blog form (no sweet spreads or art deco style, though) below.

Rules Outlook

I put together these rules to have my preferred mishmash of “base” D&D rules all in one place. The thought is that these are the rules I’ll use regardless of setting, and I can bolt on specific modules for different campaigns. There’s nothing very original here, and I tried to document where I got all this stuff below - if you see a rule that came from your blog or a G+ discussion and I missed you, let me know!

  • Every rule should encourage the type of play desired
  • Rules should be modular and avoid interconnectedness except when totally necessary
  • Rules should be as simple as possible and no simpler
  • Rules should be as compatible with old school modules and rules as possible, make it easy to adapt, use, or add on to
  • Use “incomparables” as much as possible rather than straight numeric modifiers
  • Gain comprehensiveness through accumulation of optional modules, not through a tightly integrated system


These rules are very much the product of the fantastic DIY D&D/OSR scene, and just about nothing here is totally original. Especial thanks to the following:

  • Arnold K and his GLOG for how to approach XP & Leveling, inspiration on skills, HP and recovery, and general design philosophy
  • Gus L for his take on exploration, encumbrance, exhaustion, light sources, weapon characteristics, and Fighting Options
  • Brendan S for the original “overloaded encounter die”
  • Delta for the Target 20 approach to combat mechanic
  • Chris Hogan for the monster profile, calling attack bonus “weapon skill”, and treasure generation (especially pocket change)
  • Logan Knight for lots of great conversations on fiddly rules stuff
  • James Young for surprise rules and introducing me to usage dice, though I can’t remember where he found them
  • Arnold, Gus, Brendan, Logan, and others for lots of different takes on encumbrance
  • Jim Raggi for LotFP’s grappling rules and the core of my skill approach
  • Anne Hunter for the idea of “held surprise”
  • Fifth Edition D&D for Advantage and Disadvantage
  • Of course, the original games and the great hobby they created - this is my attempt to still have “y’know, basically D&D” but with all the little tweaks and house rules I prefer

Making a Character

Roll Attributes

Roll 3d6 seven times and assign six of the results as you like. 

If you want to be hardcore and please both your referee and the dark gods of heavy metal, or are playing a level 0 funnel, roll 3d6 in order, no substitutions. 

Choose Race

Choose a race from those available in your campaign and note any abilities or modifiers granted from it. If you’re stuck or unclear on options, just go with human.

Choose Class

Choose a starting class template from those available in your campaign and note any abilities or modifiers granted. Note that you’re not locked into this choice forever - you can pick different templates as you level up.

Determine Starting HP

Roll 1d6 and add your Constitution modifier. Note this as your maximum HP.

Determine Weapon Skill and Bow Skill

All adventurers start with 1 Weapon Skill and 1 Bow Skill. Some class templates will add to one or both. If so, add them up and note them on your sheet.

Determine Unarmored AC

Default Unarmored AC is 10. Improve it by one point for every point of positive Dexterity modifier. Your class template may also modify your AC.

Determine skill slots and starting skills

You have skill slots equal to half your intelligence, rounded down. By default, characters begin with three “Just in Time” Skills at rank 1- at any point during play, you can declare that your background prepared you for this situation or gave you some knowledge and define a relevant skill, which is now fixed. Your class template may add further skills. No skills can have a higher rank than your level. 

Some campaigns may have fixed skill lists and/or alternate methods of generating starting skills.

Money and Equipment

Players begin with 3d6 x 10 base coins and may purchase any equipment on the available starting equipment list. Equipment lists will vary by campaign, as will the standard coin. Some campaigns may instead have gear packages or gear based on careers.

By default, all characters begin play with a Blanket (1 slot), a Waterskin (1 slot), 3 Rations (1 slot), and Flint & Tender (0 Slots).

Record equipment in your gear slots, note your “ready” default weapon, and adjust your AC based on any armor worn. 

Pick or Roll a Name

Select a suitable name for your character, either from your own imagination or using a random list suitable to the campaign.



Characters have six attributes that describe their basic abilities. Attributes are not as important in these rules as in some versions of the game, which is intentional.


Raw physical ability and athleticism. Add your strength modifier to any melee damage rolls. Your gear slots are equal to your strength. Test strength to resist damage that can’t be dodged.


Coordination and limberness. Add your dexterity modifier to any ranged damage rolls. Your modifier also affects your armor class, with a positive modifier improving AC, and a negative modifier lowering it - careful not to get mixed up since AC is descending. Test dexterity to avoid damage that could be dodged.


Health and toughness. Add your constitution modifier to your HP every time you level up. Test your constitution to resist poison or disease.


Cleverness and reasoning ability. You have a maximum number of skill slots equal to half of your intelligence, rounded down. Test intelligence to advance skills and to save against spells. Depending on the magic system used, intelligence may affect your ability to cast spells.


Mental fortitude, willpower, and common sense. Add your Wisdom modifier to your initiative rolls. Test your wisdom to resist horror, illusion, and mental domination. If you ever have need of mental or spiritual hit points of some kind, add your Wisdom modifier to the total. 


Leadership, likability, and social skills. Add your Charisma modifier to reaction rolls, hireling Guts rolls, and your maximum number of hirelings, with a minimum of 1.


Each attribute has an associated modifier, described in the table below.

Ability Modifier
3 -3
4-6 -2
7-8 -1
9-12 0
13-15 +1
16-17 +2
18 +3

Use as Saving Throws

Attributes are used to make any saving throws. If something seems clearly like a raw test of an ability and not involving any skill, try to roll equal to or lower than the ability score on a D20. These rolls are subject to advantage and disadvantage like any other, which may be determined by racial abilities, class abilities, or circumstances. 


All human and human sized characters have a movement score of 12, unless otherwise modified. Wearied characters move at half movement rate. For things requiring coordination or athleticism, roll a save against movement as if it were an ability.

Hit Points

Hit points are really “don’t get hit” points, and are an abstract representation of skill, luck, and toughness, but not always the ability to take literal wounds. All characters have Hit Points based on a d6 hit die, which they gain at every level up. New hit dice are rolled at level up and the new maximum recorded. A character’s constitution modifier is added to HP at level up, and some class templates add additional hit points. Hit points are reduced by successful attacks. When a character reaches zero HP, any additional hits will cause wounds.

Death and Dying

By default, taking damage beyond 0 HP causes a wound - this can be anything horrible in keeping with the nature of the attack. A second wound will kill a character.

Note that some campaigns will replace wounds with death and dismemberment tables, death saving throws, or other approaches to tweak the levels of lethality.

Recovering HP

A full night’s rest (no watch shifts) with a a cover of some kind (roof, tent, et cetera) and a warm-enough blanket recovers all HP. If you don’t have a comfortable place or have to wake up in the night, only recover 1d6+level HP. Once per day, a good square meal (one ration’s worth per person) recovers 1d6+level HP. Recovered HP cannot go above a character’s maximum.


Healing from lethal damage is trickier than recovering HP. As a balance between realism and playability, most wounds can be assumed to heal with one week of downtime with appropriate care. If magical healing is available, that may allow faster healing.

Weapon Skill

Weapon Skill measures a character’s ability to hit opponents in melee combat. When rolling to hit, players add their weapon skill to their attack roll.

Characters start with a weapon skill of 1 and add +1 at every even level. Some character templates will also increase weapon skill.

Shooting Skill

Shooting skill is like weapon skill for ranged weapons. Players add it to their attack roll when making ranged attacks. 

Characters start with a shooting skill of 1. Some character templates increase shooting skill, but it does not otherwise improve. 

Character Skills

Characters have a number of skill slots equal to half their intelligence. Skills are rated from 0 to 6. A skill cannot rate higher than a character’s current level.  To test a skill, roll 1d6 and add your skill - a total of 6 or more passes. Some skills can be attempted by anyone adventurer and can be rolled even with a skill value of 0. Every time a character attempts a skill, mark a check next to it. When that character has at least a week of downtime, they may choose to test to advance any one skill that has 3 or more marks next to it. If so, erase all check marks and roll an intelligence save (roll equal to or under Intelligence). If this save is passed, advance the skill to the next rank. 

Gear Slots

A character can carry as many significant items as their strength value before becoming encumbered. You absolutely can’t carry more than your 1.5x your strength items. Especially large items (like two handed weapons or larger) take up two slots or more. Armor takes up one slot for every point of AC better than 10.

Character Weariness

Whenever the exploration die comes up “Tired”, each character marks a tired pip. Encumbered characters mark two pips. When all three pips have been marked, a character becomes wearied and receives disadvantage on all rolls. If a character is both wearied and encumbered, they additionally take a -4 penalty on all rolls (so, roll two, keep the worst, and subtract 4. Good luck with that).


Characters can recover from one tired pip by taking an exploration turn and sharing around a ration (maximum 8 people). To recover from weariness, a character must take an exploration turn and consume an entire ration themselves. Note that in both cases, characters must also have water to drink.


Characters may hire additional help. In most settings, manual labor will be available, and sometimes hirelings willing to fight. They will need to be compensated, either by a flat fee or a share of any treasure recovered. They begin play with a personality and goals determined by the game master, and have a Guts of 7. Each character can retain the services of 1 hireling plus a number equal to their charisma modifier, with a minimum of 1. 


Gaining Experience

Characters gain experience by obtaining treasure through adventurous means - looting dungeons, pulling off heists, getting rewarded for rescuing royalty, and so forth. One experience point per one standard coin. Characters also gain a small amount of experience from killing enemies (25 XP per HD). 

Some campaigns may introduce alternate or additional methods of gaining XP as a way to encourage different play styles.

Leveling Up

Every character gains certain things when leveling up, represented in the chart below. For the first four levels, characters gain a class template per level, but none thereafter. Note that HP and Weapon skill can be modified by other sources, such as class templates and attribute modifiers.

Level HP Templates Max Skill Weapon Skill XP
1 1D6 1 1 1 1
2 +1D6 2 2 1 2000
3 +1D6 3 3 4000
4 +1D6 4 4 1 7000
5 +1D6 5 10000
6 +1D6 6 1 14000
7 +1D6 18000
8 +1D6 1 22000
9 +1D6 26000
10 +1D6 1 30000
1 +2 5000



When the players are exploring a dangerous environment like a dungeon, play is broken down into turns. A turn is not a fixed amount of time, but instead represents the amount of time it takes to perform a significant dungeon exploration task such as picking a lock, breaking down a door, or searching a a reasonably sized room. When in doubt, assume it’s roughly ten minutes. Roll the exploration die every turn - I recommend having a different player roll every time to make real the tradeoff between the actions they take and potential costs. 

Exploration Movement

During exploration turns, players can move up to their movement x 10 in linear feet, which assumes a careful pace, checking for traps, taking the time to map, and so on. See the combat section for movement in combat. 

Hoofing It

Player characters can double their exploration speed if they opt to hoof it, but this opens them to a 2-in-6 chance of being surprised by foes. While hoofing it players may not map any new areas and are more likely to be caught unaware by traps.


If characters are being chased, each group rolls 1d20 and adds their movement score. The higher score wins the pursuit. The pursued group uses the lowest movement score available, while the pursuers use the fastest movement rate available. While in a pursuit, PCs may not map and should be told minimal details by the referee. Absent a clear intention declared at the start of the pursuit (“head back the way we came!”), the referee will determine randomly which directions PCs take at intersections.

If desired, pursuits can be resolved on an individual basis, with each character rolling separately and adding their own movement. NPC or monster pursuers should still only make one roll. 

If the PCs are pursued by NPCs, dropping things that the pursuers find valuable (like treasure for intelligent pursuers or food for beasts) causes the pursuers to make a Guts check. Failure indicates they stop to gather the desired goods. Obstacles like flaming oil or caltrops can also discourage pursuit, causing a Guts check modified by the severity of the obstacle at the referee’s discretion. Players can make their own decisions on how to deal with similar obstacles left by NPCs or monsters.


Gear Slots

Characters can carry a number of significant items up to their Strength score before becoming Burdened. Characters absolutely cannot carry more items than Str x 1.5. Anything tiny (could fit in your mouth or closed hand) does not count as a significant item, and bundles of some items count as a significant item (for example, a number of arrows equal to one usage die, or 3 torches). Large items, such as two handed weapons, take up two slots. Armor takes up one slot for each point of AC it improves.

Money and gems take up one slot per 1,000 coins or gems - basically it only matters for giant hoards.

Effects of Burden

*Burdened *characters suffer disadvantage on any physically challenging roll - combat, pursuits, stealth, and so on. Additionally, when the Tired result comes up on the exploration die, encumbered characters mark two Tired pips instead of one.


Since so much of this game takes place in underground places unfriendly to surface dwellers, light is very important to explorers. 


In the absolute pitch blackness of an underground place with no light sources, civilized people do not do well. No skill rolls can be attempted, and players suffer double disadvantage on all other rolls, including combat, saves, and pursuit rolls. Hirelings must make a Guts roll at disadvantage to do anything other than panic or collapse, unless the darkness was intentional (such as dousing all lights to avoid attention). 

Player characters in the dark have a 2 in 6 chance of surprising NPCs or monsters (and vice versa), and no one can be targeted by missile weapons in the dark.

After a full turn in the dark, characters gain advantage on any Wisdom saves to listen.


Dim light is provided either by inadequate light sources like candles or from inadequate total illumination. In dim conditions, most characters suffer disadvantage on all skill checks and attack rolls. The exception is stealth rolls, which are at an advantage in dim conditions. Some class and race templates will allow characters to ignore the disadvantages of dim conditions. 

Player characters have a 2 in 6 chance of surprising NPCs or monsters in dim conditions (and vice versa), and individuals can only be targeted at close range by missile weapons. Hirelings take their Guts rolls at a disadvantage in dim conditions. 


With adequate light, the PCs and their allies receive no penalties, but it is impossible to surprise NPCs or Monsters unless encountering them through a newly opened door, on a roll of 1 in 6. 

Light Amount Effect on Skills Effect on Other Rolls Surprise Chance Missile Targeting
Dark None allowed Double Disadvantage** 2 in 6 None
Dim Disadvantage* Disadvantage 2 in 6 Close
Lit None None None*** Any

*Except Stealth, which gains advantage

**Except for testing Wisdom to listen, which gains advantage

***Except through closed doors

Light Sources

These are the default light sources, but may be changed or supplemented depending on the campaign’s equipment list. 

Candles: Provide dim light to one character in a radius of 10 feet. Can be stuck to helmets, wedged on the top of backpacks, and otherwise affixed to allow hand’s free use. Six take up one gear slot.

Torches: Allows three characters to be lit, and three more to have dim light, and shows clearly for 30 feet. May be used as a crude weapon, doing 1d3 damage with a 1 in 6 chance to set things on fire. Unless specified, characters are assumed to place torches on the ground in combat and to recover them after. May be used to light flammable things on fire as a free action. Three take up one gear slot.

Lanterns: Provide enough light for two characters to be fully lit, and two more to have dim light. Can be attached to belts or harnesses, but if this is done, they will be hit on a successful attack roll of 15 or higher. Can be thrown as an improvised firebomb, destroying the lantern and doing 1d3 damage on the first round, and 1d6 every round thereafter, extinguishing if a 1 is rolled for damage or if the target or its allies takes action to put out the fire. A full oil flask provides two pips worth of Lantern depletion before running out of fuel. Takes up a gear slot.

Weariness in Exploration

Getting Wearied

Any time the Tired result is rolled on the exploration die, every character marks a Tired pip (two if the character is encumbered). When all three Tired pips are filled, the character becomes Wearied.

Effects of Weariness

Wearied characters suffer disadvantage on all rolls and halve their movement value. This stacks with any other disadvantage affecting the character, forcing them to roll twice, keep the worst, and subtract four (most commonly encountered as the combination of overload and weariness). 

Removing Tiredness and Weariness

Characters may erase one Tired pip by spending an exploration turn sharing around a ration (maximum of eight people per ration) and drinking water. Wearied characters may erase all Tired pips and remove their condition by spending an exploration turn eating a full ration each and drinking water. Waterskins have a usage die of D6 when full. Sleeping through the night (or at least for several hours), even with a guard shift, will remove all Tired pips.

The Exploration Die

The exploration die is rolled every turn in a dangerous environment like a dungeon. It may also be used for wilderness exploration, although some modifications would be appropriate, especially regarding light depletion. I recommend the players roll the exploration die, in the open, to make real the tradeoffs between courses of action and resource depletion. It also makes things easier for the referee.

1D6 Exploration Die Result
1 Random Encounter
2 Environmental Encounter or Sign of Random Encounter
3 Torches/Candles Depleted
4 Lanterns Mark 1 Pip (2 Pips to Depletion)
5 Magic Dissipates
6 Tired - All Characters Mark One Tired Point, Two if Encumbered

Random Encounter

The referee rolls on an appropriate encounter table and follows the rules in the encounters section for determining distance, surprise, and reaction rolls.

Environmental Encounter

Something relevant to the area being explored is revealed the characters, or perhaps just something atmospheric. Where possible, this should give the players more information and improve their agency. If appropriate, this may be a sign of a potential random encounter, such as the tracks of a beast or grafitti left by intelligent monsters, in which case the players may be able to track the sign to the encounter’s lair. 

Torches/Candles Depleted

Any torches or candles being used as light sources go out and are used up. New ones can be retrieved and re-lit on the next exploration turn without preventing an action.

Lanterns Mark 1 Pip

A lantern filled with a full flask of oil takes two pips to go out. Mark one pip each time this is rolled. Refilling a lantern takes an exploration turn, as it is significantly fiddlier than lighting a torch. 

Magic Dissipates/Countdown

Any ongoing magical effects step down one level or completely dissipate. This may also be used to keep track of “ticking clock” scenarios, such as the completion of a ritual in a number of check marks.


Each character marks one Tired pip, while encumbered characters mark two. Please note that this includes hirelings. Once a character has accumulated three tired marks, they become Wearied and suffer disadvantage on all rolls and halve their movement. 



When characters move at normal exploration speed, they can normally not be surprised. If they are hoofing it or if the foe is very sneaky, they have a 2-in-6 chance of being surprised. NPCs may be surprised by PCs if they work to be stealthy and are not well-lit in a dungeon. It is possible for both sides to surprise the other, in which case every one stands around shocked for a moment but otherwise the surprise is canceled. Some creatures or skilled NPCs may have a higher chance of surprise, and players may increase their chance of surprise if they take particular precautions, such as exceptional concealment, dousing lights, and so on.

A group that surprises another group has a free round to act in any way they choose. Monsters and NPCs should make a reaction roll as normal. After the first round, if the encounter continues, roll initiative as normal.

Held Surprise

Surprise need not mean fighting right away. Any group that surprises the other “has the drop on them” and can hold surprise: if the meeting turns to fighting, the group that surprised the other still gets a free round to do as they please before the other side can act.

Reaction Rolls

When NPCs or monsters become aware of the player characters, they should make a reaction roll. Depending on the circumstances, this may or may not be modified by a PC’s Charisma - for example, a group of NPCs surprising the PCs would not be modified, but if both parties warily approach each other and the PCs shout out something re-assuring, the Charisma modifier would apply. The modifier of whichever character acts as spokesman should be used. Reaction rolls may be re-tested when significant decisions are required, such as accepting or rejecting a deal, deciding to reveal information, and so on. In these cases the reaction roll should be modified by the spokesman’s charisma and any relevant circumstances, such as the quality of the player’s arguments, bribes offered, what the referee knows about these NPCs, and conditions in the area.

To make a reaction roll, the referee rolls 2d6, adds any relevant modifiers and consults the table below:

2 or Less Violent
3 Angry
4 Threat
5 Warning
6 Guarded
7 Neutral
8 Neutral
9 Positive
10 Helpful
11 Amicable
12 or More Friendly


During encounters, time is focused in on rounds, rather than the longer exploration turns. As with turns, this is an abstract measure of time that covers roughly doing one thing that matters (such as an attack). Use rounds even for non-violent (initially) encounters to represent back and forth and potentially good times to re-check reaction rolls. Generally assume that an encounter ends up taking a full turn unless it is exceptionally long.


Each character rolls 1d6 and adds their Wisdom modifier. Monsters and NPCs are assumed to have a Wisdom modifier of 0 unless otherwise noted in their profile. Characters, NPCs, and Monsters act in descending order of Initiative, which is re-rolled for every round.


Movement in a Fight

By default, characters can move from one of the below ranges to the next in combat by spending an action, and may move within their current range band for free. If you are getting nitty-gritty with a map or miniatures, assume that characters can move roughly their movement score x2 in feet, or their movement score divided by 3 in inches/squares if using ~28mm miniatures (That’s 4 inches/squares with standard “heroic scale” miniatures or ~24 feet if using a map). Movement can be blocked within arm’s reach of enemies you wish to move past. For any movement that requires athletic prowess (leaping over chasms, out-sprinting an opponent, et cetera) roll a save against movement as if it were an attribute.

Target 20 To Hit Roll

The basic to hit mechanic is “Target 20” which means that a player rolls 1d20, adds their character’s Weapon Skill or Bow Skill, their target’s AC, and if the total is equal to 20 or higher, they hit their target. Monsters follow the same procedure, assuming 1 WS per HD, unless otherwise specified.

Critical Hits and Fumbles

A roll of a “20” indicates a critical hit, which hits automatically and allows the player to choose between either double damage or a normal attack plus some kind of “bonus” like tripping, disarming, knocking over, and so on. A roll of a “1” indicates a fumble, which automatically misses, and either results in a free attack by their target, or something terrible that is situationally appropriate, at the referee’s discretion.

Some class templates, conditions, or other rules may extend the range for either critical hits or tables to include rolls other than “1” or “20”.

Ranged Combat

Ranged combat is resolved the same as melee, except that Bow Skill rather than Weapon Skill is added to the attack roll, and targets may be selected that are farther away. If firing into melee, a miss on an attack roll of 1-5 will hit a random ally involved in the melee, doing full damage.


Touching: Intimately close - grappling or otherwise forced very close together. Can only use close weapons like daggers or natural weapons.
Hand-to-Hand: Standard combat range, right at the edge of each other’s weapon ranges. All melee weapons can be used at this range, but ranged weapons cannot.
Close: Within throwing distance. Ranged weapons can be used on targets in dim or bright light, and characters can move into melee range and attack if desired.
Far: Beyond throwing distance. Lit targets can be targeted with ranged weapons, but not targets in dim light. Spend a round moving to get within Close range.

Fighting Options

Charge: Move at full speed into combat with any unengaged opponent that you can reach. Gain advantage to hit, but note that you are at greater risk from braced weapons. Requires a bit of open space to get moving.
Brace: Get a reactive attack against an opponent that comes within melee range. Most effective with reach weapons where the opponent may not be able to attack you despite coming into range.
Press: Gain advantage on your attack roll but AC is 4 worse.
Defend: Improve AC by 2, but cannot attack this round.

Some class templates may provide additional Fighting Options.

Fighting Conditions

Floored: Knocked prone on the floor. Can defend yourself only. Enemies gain advantage to hit you. Takes a full action to stand up.
Stunned: Prone, dazed. No actions can be taken. Enemies gain double advantage to hit you.
Helpless: Paralyzed or unconscious. Enemies hit automatically and deal wounds rather than HP damage.
Bleeding Out: Player must roll a constitution save every round. After three failures, the character dies. May be stabilized by an ally rolling 1d6 + Int modifier, with a 6 or higher succeeding.

Bare-Handed Fighting

Punches, kicks, and the like do 1d3 damage unless the character has special training (such as through a class template) or possesses natural weapons (like claws or sharp teeth). Unarmed damage beyond 0 HP knocks out the target (Helpless) and only deals wounds if the attacker so chooses.

Fighting Stunts

If you want to do something in a fight other than hurt your foe, like tripping someone, pushing through a shieldwall, climbing onto a large monster, or the like, first make an attack against your foe as if they are unarmored. If you fail, your foe gets a free attack on you. If you succeed, roll 1d6 and add the right attribute modifier (dexterity for something fiddly like a trip, strength for shoving people around, intelligence for faking them out, and so forth). A score of 6 or higher succeeds. The referee may impose modifiers or grant advantage or disadvantage to your role depending on the circumstances. The referee may also tell you risks that may occur if you fail before you attempt your trick, so be ready for those.

Some example stunts include tripping, wrestling, shoving backward, disarming, shoving something in a large mouth, climbing onto a large opponent, and so on.

Guts Rolls

Monsters and NPCs are subject to Guts rolls anytime the referee wants to check whether they would keep going with what they’re doing or quit, such as danger, extremely unpleasant conditions, or taking casualties, in or out of combat. Guts is rated from 3 to 12 and is tested by the referee rolling 2d6, with results equal to or below their Guts passing. It is the referee’s choice when foes will roll a Guts check, but some common reasons are taking their first casualty, being reduced to half strength, losing a leader, or encountering something that might cause fear. Hirelings may make Guts rolls (modified by their employer’s Charisma) when asked to do something dangerous, nasty, or outside of their job description, as well as when combat may not be going well for the players’ group.

Armor and Armor Class

Armor class defines your character’s overall defensive ability. An unarmored opponent has an Armor Class of 9, while one in full plate with a shield has an AC of 2. Descending armor class seems a little weird, but it makes the Target 20 math super easy, so I like it.

Some campaigns may allow piecemeal armor or alternative approaches. The specifics of what armor maps to Light, Medium, or Heavy will vary depending on the equipment list for the campaign.

Armor Types and Values

Light (Leather): 7
Medium (Chain): 5
Heavy (Plate): 3
Shield: 1 Better (so, one lower)

Death and Dying

Characters reduced to 0 HP suffer a wound if they take any further damage before restoring their HP.


Characters that are damaged after being reduced to 0 HP take a wound and are immediately Stunned or Helpless depending on the type of wound and the circumstances. Some wounds may cause the character to begin Bleeding Out. In any case, a second wound will kill the character.

Referees who are worried they will be either too soft or too hard without guidance can use the following chart as a default, but it should be modified by the nature of the attack and the surrounding circumstances:

Roll Wound
1 Severe Head Wound - Helpless, Bleeding Out
2 Severe Gut Wound - Helpless, Bleeding Out
3 Nasty Cut - Stunned, Bleeding Out
4 Maimed/Broken Limb - Stunned
5 Cracked Rips - Stunned
6 Light Head Wound - Prone

Note that this rule may be replaced by some kind of death and dismemberment chart or other approach in some campaigns.

Weapon Abilities

Since all weapons do the same damage, they are distinguished by certain characteristics. Some class templates may specify that certain classes may only use weapons with certain abilities, or that certain abilities are only usable by classes that specify know how. Also note that campaigns may add to, subtract from, or modify the list below.

Heavy: Heavy Weapons have advantage on damage, but require two hands to use and penalize initiative by one, unless the character wielding is inhumanly strong or enormous. Includes huge swords, axes, and hammers, but depending on the campaign might also include rifles or others.
Light: Weapon has disadvantage on damage. Includes most improvised weapons like chairs or broken bottles, but also certain thrown weapons like javelins or knives.
Reach: Can be used to attack from the second rank (over the shoulder of someone in front of you). If Braced, can perform a reactive attack for x2 damage on the first opponent to charge within range.  Close: Not only allowed to be used at Near range, which is usually only achieved by ambush or shenanigans (wrestling), grants advantage on damage. Most close weapons can be used at melee range for normal damage. Includes daggers and most natural weapons.
Reactive: Allows you to interrupt an incoming attack with an attack that resolves first. Especially dangerous when combined with reach in the form a braced spear or similar. Some weapons are only reactive conditionally (like a braced spear), while others may always be (such as pistols in appropriate campaigns). Note that a reactive weapon only grants one attack, unless the campaign rules specify otherwise.
Crushing: These weapons are designed to smash through heavy armor. Any armor granting AC better than 5 counts as 5 against crushing weapons. Note that this only applies if the AC is derived from physical weight of armor - plate, scales, carapace or the like. AC derived from nimbleness, magic, or otherworldly nature is unaffected. In the case of monsters, the reason for a given armor class (and whether crushing weapons reduce it) is left to the discretion of the referee.
Finesse: These weapons allow a much better trade-off between attack and defense. When pressing with a Finesse weapon, only reduce AC by 2, and when defending, you may still make an attack, but with disadvantage. Includes most types of swords that are neither heavy nor cleaving.
Cleaving: These weapons allow an immediate follow-up attack on a nearby enemy after landing a killing blow. Includes light axes, falchions, and scimitars.

Doing Stuff


Skill Slots

Characters have a number of skill slots equal to half their intelligence, rounded down. They may never have more skills than skill slots. 

Skill Rank

Every skill is ranked from 0 to 6, and characters may not have a skill with a higher rank than their level.

Using Skills

To use a skill, roll 1d6 and add your relevant skill - if the result is six or higher, it succeeds. A roll of 1 always fails. Occasionally circumstances may be especially favorable or the chances of your skill being relevant are extremely slim. Your referee may grant you advantage, disadvantage, or a small modifier to the roll, if so. Some skills can be attempted when you are untrained (rank 0) but not all, see below. Every time you use a skill, successful or not, put a check mark next to it on your character sheet.

Improving Skills

When you character has a week of downtime that is not taken up by healing or other full time action like research, they may practice a skill and attempt to raise its rank. Remember that rank cannot rise above your current level. To attempt to raise a skill, erase all marks and make an intelligence save (roll 1d20 and attempt to get equal to or lower than your intelligence) - if successful, increase your skill rank by 1. Some things may improve your chance of learning, such as a knowledgeable mentor, access to appropriate facilities, or the like. If so, make the save with advantage.

Untrained Skills

Some skills, but not all, can be attempted without any training at rank 0. This is the referee’s call, but in general it should be limited to things anyone can try to do without any particular knowledge, like sneaking around, searching a room, or identifying if a structure looks dodgy or not. In the case of knowledge based skills, like history or lore, it is up to the referee how much this field is “common knowledge” - if it’s something almost anyone might have picked up, allow an untrained attempt, but if it requires specific mastery, do not. For example, in the modern world, it would probably be fair to allow someone a check for general knowledge of the Romans, but only an attempt to read a passage in Latin if they have the skill.

What Skills are Available?

By default, skills are left open ended, to be defined as needed in play. Players and the referee can hash out how specific/general skills can be, and what advantages they can confer. Some campaigns will include fixed skill lists, no skills at all, or alternate skill rules. 

What NOT to Use Skills For

Skills should not have a direct use in combat, except occasionally for stealth, and should not be used for persuasion or social skills. 

Advantage & Disadvantage

Many things in the game will give your character advantage or disadvantage on a roll, such as the situation, class abilities, or being encumbered. Advantage means that you roll two dice and keep the better result. Disadvantage means you roll two and keep the worse. If you ever have double advantage, roll two, keep the better, and improve the roll by 4. If you have double disadvantage, roll two, keep the worse, and make worse by 4. 

Usage Dice

For anything that gets used up that isn’t otherwise covered (such as by the exploration die), represent their availability with usage dice. Any time you use the item, roll on its usage die. A roll of 1 or 2 indicates that you step down one die size in the following chain. Rolling a 1 or 2 on a D4 means that you are out of that item and have to purchase more. Items will have a relevant usage die listed next to them. Buying extras takes up an additional slot but increases the usage die by one step. 

Out < D4 < D6 < D8 < D10 < D12 < D20

Character Growth

Experience Points

All characters measure their advancement in skill and ability through experience points (XP), when enough XP are earned, characters advance in level and gain several perks detailed in the Leveling Up section below. All characters advance in level at the same rate detailed in the chart below.

Standard Level Up Chart

Level HP Templates Max Skill Weapon Skill XP
1 1D6 1 1 1 1
2 +1D6 2 2 1 2000
3 +1D6 3 3 4000
4 +1D6 4 4 1 7000
5 +1D6 5 10000
6 +1D6 6 1 14000
7 +1D6 18000
8 +1D6 1 22000
9 +1D6 26000
10 +1D6 1 30000
1 +2 5000

Earning Experience

Characters can earn experience in a number of ways. The default ways are listed below, but some campaigns may introduce alternate methods of earning experience, such as fulfilling quests, meeting objectives, or others.

Treasure Looted

The primary means of earning experience is through obtaining objects of material worth through adventurous means. This might mean piles of coins from a dragon’s hoard or fine art stolen from a rich widow’s house. In any case, such treasure is worth 1 XP per Standard Coin of value. If it is ever unclear if treasure has been “recovered”, consider whether it was physically returned to a relatively civilized area, or if stolen in a civilized environment, to the character’s lair. Getting ripped off by unscrupulous fences won’t deny characters XP, but being waylaid by bandits between the dungeon and town will. 

The guys from the Thieves’ Guild that Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser ripped off in Ill Met in Lankhmar did not receive experience for their treasure, whereas Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser did, despite eventually losing the treasure, because they got it back home and bought several rounds of booze with it.

Killing Enemies

By default, player characters will receive 25 XP per HD of a dangerous foe killed. This does not distinguish between “monsters” or “people”, but some campaigns may wish to do so, if they have a greater or lesser focus on conflict between “civilized” people. Note that this is intentionally rather small compared to the potential rewards for treasure, because XP for treasure tends to encourage more interesting gameplay than XP for killing. 

Leveling Up

When a character has achieved the required experience for the next level and has at least a week of downtime, they Level Up to the next level. Follow the procedure below at each level up.

Add New HP

Through level 10, roll a new d6 HD and add the result to your character’s HP. Add your constitution modifier to the roll. After level 10, add 2 HP per level.

Check for Weapon Skill Improvement and Add if Relevant

At every even level, add +1 to your character’s Weapon Skill.

Select and apply class templates (max 4)

For their first four levels, characters select a class template from those the referee has made available and apply the appropriate abilities. Each class has templates labeled A, B, C, D. You have to take the templates in order - you can’t pick ‘B’ without ‘A’.

After level 4, characters receive no more class abilities - additional power will have to come from other sources.

Primary Class and Multi-classing

Each class has a “primary ability”. A character’s primary class is whichever one they have chosen the most templates from. In the case of a tie, pick whichever you prefer. Multi-classing is simply having templates from more than one class, and characters will only possess the primary ability of their primary class.

Up Max Skill Rank

Up until level six, note your characters new max Skill Rank to correspond to your new level. Max Skill Rank Six is the highest for any character.

Referee Stuff


Most treasure will be in Lairs of some kind, for which the table below will work, but when in doubt, you may substitute the level of the dungeon or the average player level for the monster HD to create a basic hoard:

HD of Owner Two Above Base Coin (1d12 - 6x) One Above Base Coin (1d6x) Base Coin
1 50 100 1d100 x100xHD
2-3 100 200 1d100 x100xHD
4-5 200 500 1d100 x100xHD
6-7 500 1,000 1d100 x100xHD
8-9 1,000 2,000 1d100 x100xHD
10-11 2,000 5,000 1d100 x100xHD
12+ 3,000 10,000 1d100 x100xHD

Along with the following for non-cash treasure:

Type Die Type Example Value Per Item
Clothing 1d6 vs W Fine apparel and hangings 1d10x5 2 Above Base coins*
Goods 1d8 vs W Well-made useful things 2d10x10 2 Above Base Coins*
Artwork 1d10 vs W Paintings, statues, etc 1d10x20 2 Above Base Coins*
Gem/Jewel 1d12 vs W Gems 1d10x50 2 Above Base Coins*
Magic 1d20 vs W Magic Items Generate as B/X

*Rolling maximum results adds an additional re-roll of same potential value

Monsters & NPCs

One of the many things monsters and NPCs can do is fight the Player Characters. NPCs might have stats similar to PCs if they are important enough, but the below monster profile provides the barebones necessary for combat. NPCs are assumed to be average in every way (attributes = 10) unless otherwise specified, so go with that when you have not prepared specifics.

Monster Profile

The following stat line can be used to summarize the relevant combat statistics for monsters and NPCs. Obviously, good monsters and NPCs will be more than these stat lines with interests, motivations, special attacks, weaknesses, and so on - but this is what you need at a moment’s notice when the dice hit the table.

Mv: How far this thing can move. If roughly humanoid, the standard movement rate is 12, which translates into 120 feet per exploration turn and 24 feet per combat round. Roll this as a save if the monster attempts any kind of athletics.

WS: The monster’s weapon skill is added to its D20 rolls to hit opponents. Usually equal to the Monster’s HD, unless their fighting ability does not match their toughness.

SS: The monster’s shooting skill is added to its D20 attack rolls for ranged attacks. Most monsters will either have 0 or 1 Shooting Skill, or it will be equal to their HD, depending on if they are incapable of shooting, can give it a shot (hah), or are trained archers/shootists.

Att: The number of attacks the monster can make in a turn. If more than one, be on the look out for special attacks, which will hopefully be marked with an asterisk or the like.

HD: The number of hit dice the monster has (D6s). For full on randomness, roll a number of D6s equal to this score per opponent to determine hit points. If you’re in a rush, assume 3.5 per die and round down (if you are soft) or round up (if you are hard) for every foe of the same time. If you have to worry about the monster’s “level”, such as for some spell effects, use HD.

AC: The monster’s armor class - this may reflect armor worn, naturally thick hide, great reflexes, or any other number of reasons for being hard to wound. Have some idea what contributes to this before going into a fight, as players may try to take advantage of different characteristics (such as using Crushing weapons against mundane armor or magical weapons against demonic foes).

I: This is the equivalent of a player’s Wisdom modifier and is added to the monster’s initiative roll. The default is ‘0’, but especially quick or dangerous monsters may have more. Usually it is most convenient to roll for all monsters with the same stats as one group. Feel free to go more granular, but it sucks.

Sv: If the monster is ever called upon to make a saving throw, use this number. The default is 10. Some monsters may note that they have a variable save based on the type of danger (such as a very robust but dumb monster getting a bonus to saves against physical damage but a penalty to mental manipulation).

Gts: Most frequently, the monster’s Guts measures its willingness to continue a fight. It is a score from 3 to 12, and to test it, the referee rolls 2d6 - a score equal to or below Guts indicates a success. These rules are usually made on behalf of a group of creatures with the same Guts, which may be influenced by a leader. Occasionally, Guts will be used as a more generalized “will they/won’t they” stat for Monsters, at the referee’s discretion.

Monster HD

All monsters have a hit dice rating that is the equivalent of character level. Their HD are all D6s. Some monsters may have HP adjustments to their HD. HD may be rolled individually per monster or assumed to be an average of 3.5, rounded down (if you are soft) or rounded up (if you are hard). With large groups of monsters, it is usually preferable to assume constant HP for all monsters of identical stats.

Monster WS

Unless otherwise specified, monsters default to +1 WS per HD. Some monsters will adjust this up or down depending on their inclination to kill things. This is somewhat more dangerous than most adventurers, but they need all the help they can get.

Monster Damage

As with characters, all monster damage is equal to D6 per attack by default. Some special attacks may gain advantage, and some very special attacks may roll multiple dice or larger dice for damage. The referee is encouraged to design such monsters sparingly, and to be careful when converting monsters from versions later than OD&D, as D6 HD PCs are much more fragile than their later edition cousins. It is generally preferable for monsters to be made more dangerous through multiple attacks, inflicting special penalties, or affecting an area, rather than upping the HP output for a single attack.


Pocket Change

Intelligent monsters can be assumed to carry some small amount of money about on their persons. Such monsters and characters can be assumed to carry 1d10 x HD^2 in base coins - on a roll of ’10’, roll again for the next highest denomination of coin, and if that comes up a ’10’, give this random schmoe some minor treasure or special item.

Some especially wealthy characters or creatures may have more on them than this, but they should be correspondingly more carefully guarded and/or careful with where they keep their wealth. 


Monsters of the treasure hoarding kind will have more treasure in their lair than on their person. In such cases, you can either place whatever treasure you like, or you can use the following tables to get some ideas.

HD of Owner Two Above Base Coin (1d12 - 6x) One Above Base Coin (1d6x) Base Coin
1 $50.00 100 1d100 x100xHD
2-3 100 200 1d100 x100xHD
4-5 200 500 1d100 x100xHD
6-7 500 1,000 1d100 x100xHD
8-9 1,000 2,000 1d100 x100xHD
10-11 2,000 5,000 1d100 x100xHD
12+ 3,000 10,000 1d100 x100xHD

Along with the following for non-cash treasure:

Type Die Type Example Value Per Item
Clothing 1d6 vs W Fine apparel and hangings 1d10x5 2 Above Base coins*
Goods 1d8 vs W Well-made useful things 2d10x10 2 Above Base Coins*
Artwork 1d10 vs W Paintings, statues, etc 1d10x20 2 Above Base Coins*
Gem/Jewel 1d12 vs W Gems 1d10x50 2 Above Base Coins*
Magic 1d20 vs W Magic Items Generate as B/X

*Rolling maximum results adds an additional re-roll of same potential value

Guts Rolls

Monsters will generally test their Guts in a few standard situations, and also whenever the referee deems it situationally appropriate. Some standard reasons to roll Guts: ambushed from surprise, take first casualty, reduced to half strength, lose leader or champion, subject to infighting. Guts is something of a catch all for determining monster behavior outside of direct reaction to the player characters (for which we have the reaction roll). When failed the referee should have the monsters react according to their base nature, rather than what is best for them: cowardly ratmen might flee a fight despite seemingly overwhelming odds, whereas Ogres might stay and try to eat their foes despite being desperately outclassed and ordered to run away. 


Monsters offer 25 XP per HD when killed by the player characters. Some campaigns may allow that XP for “circumventing” or “solving” those monsters, but by default, such indirect means are intended to be captured by the (faster moving) system of gaining XP for treasure. Some especially dangerous or important monsters may offer more experience, at the referee’s discretion.

Last modified on 2017-12-12