Start of a new design

For the last several weeks, I've been working on a new game design, which I've temporarily called "Killing Monsters and Taking Their Stuff" (KMATTS, for short). Yes, it's a dungeon crawling game. At last! I saw that the market had a gaping void in that genre which has more or less gone unfilled since Gygax and Arneson published their little-remarked Dungeons & Dragons and it sank without a trace.

Unpacking why dungeon crawling appeals to me requires far more personal background than anybody cares about, but I can at least enumerate why it appeals as a game designer. The first is simply that it's a theme that everybody grasps. I don't need a ton of motivation for the players or any kind of backstory, as anybody interested in playing the game is probably already on board with the premise. The second thing that it helps with is that the assumption of direct, possibly terminal conflict is baked in. There's little doubt about where the tension is going to come from; it's going to be wall-to-wall do-or-die combat all the way through. Along with the promise of battle, the conventions of dungeon crawling call for character advancement, which can present an evolving challenge to players, another appealing facet of the genre.

Beyond those attributes, there's also the fact that players are willing to accept all manner of fantastical stuff in a dungeon crawler. The more surprising and rule-breaking spells and monsters are, the more interesting they are going to be to players. Justifying a wide range of unique and disparate effects can require stretching a game's theme to the breaking point, but a fantasy dungeon crawl is infinitely malleable on this front. Players might complain about the balance of things, but they're seldom going to argue that a particular effect shouldn't even be present. It can be quite liberating to work in such a wide-open genre.

I've tinkered with dungeon crawling games for quite a while now, with a much bigger system continually on my back burner, waiting for more inspiration and time to work on it. But during a recent drive across the state, an idea struck me somewhat out of the blue: creating a purely D6-driven dungeon crawling system, where the meaning of the D6 was contextual. Each card in the game would have a list of 6 effects, and a die placed on the card would therefore have different possibilities. The same die moved to another card could have an entirely different effect.

Running forward with this idea, a character could be defined by three cards: a class (with 6 effects), a skill set (with 6 different effects), and a treasure table (with 6 possibilities). You would roll a certain number of dice at the start of your delve, and those become your dice pool. You can spend them to activate the ability on either your class or skill card, with the result that you would have a wide variety of possible characters with a pretty small card pool. The treasure table would mean that the things you pick up would also vary from game to game, again in a fairly organic, simple way.

It seemed like a workable idea, with a fair bit of variety and interest built-in from the combinatorics inherent in pairing up cards. Only problem was that I didn't have the most important single thing in a dungeon crawling system: a combat system.