Original SA post
Searchers of the Unknown
Searchers of the Unknown is a free, short, rules-light game by Nicolas Desaix. The whole thing fits on one page. The core concept of the game is that in old-school D&D modules, a monster can be described in a single line of text:
If it's good enough for monsters, it should be enough PCs, too
Skeleton (AC 7, MV 6’, HD 1, HP 4, #AT1, D1-8 by sword)
All characters are assumed to be
"dungeon crawlers, delvers and swordsmen"
There are no spellcasters in this game
, as clerics are in their churches and wizards are in their laboratories, or perhaps they are the villains, but they're not the ones going into the dungeons.
1. Pick an armor
The game uses descending AC:
No Armor is AC 9 with a movement (MV) of 12 (inches)
Leather Armor is AC 7, MV 9
Chainmail is AC 5, MV 6
Plate Mail is AC 3, MV 3
and a Shield reduces your AC and MV by 1
2. Roll for hit points
You get one HD per level, so a level 1 character rolls 1d8 for their starting HP
3. Choose three weapons, or two weapons and a shield
Small weapons use a 1d4 damage dice, ranged weapons use 1d6, (one-handed) melee weapons use 1d8, and two-handed weapons use 1d10. While there are prescriptions of what the usual weapons for these are (dagger, bow, mace, and polearm, respectively), the game lets describe whatever it is you might want, so presumably you could write down glaive-guisarme as your two-handed weapon if you really wanted to.
4. Number of attacks
You start with 1 attack per round, and gain another attack every 4 levels.
5. Choose a name and a description
The game also suggests describing your race such as dwarf or elf, but this has no mechanical effect.
As an example, Xylarthen is a level 3 Searcher wearing Plate Mail and wielding a glaive-guisarme. His character sheet would then be:
Xylarthen (AC 3, MV 3’, HD 3, HP 10, #AT1, D1-10 by glaive-guisarme)
Each character rolls [1d10+AC], with the highest going first and then descending down the initiative count. Since less armor is higher AC, this means that lightly armored characters have a better initiative. If you have more than one attack, you roll initiative once for each of your attacks.
To hit a target, roll 1d20 and get equal to or less than [enemy AC + attacker level]. As an example, Xylarthen would need to roll a 10 or less to hit the AC 7 Skeleton (7 AC + Level 3 attacker = 10).
You may notice that this means the character is getting +1 attack bonus/THAC0 every level, something which didn't happen until AD&D. It's a small touch, but I like it, as I've always felt that characters keeping the same attack bonus throughout all of the Blue/Red Box was a bit unrewarding.
The other big departure from traditional rules is cleaving: whenever a player-character kills a monster, they can make another attack at the end of the same round.
When you score a hit, roll your damage dice, the subtract it from the target's HP. The game explicitly states that while a monster dies on hitting 0 HP, player-characters are only knocked out and are kept as prisoners. This is a nice touch to prevent the game from turning into character-sheet burning meat-grinders, if like me you're not into that.
After first monster dies, all monsters take a morale check
When half the monsters in a whole encounter are dead, all monsters take a morale check
When a monster is reduced to half HP or less, the individual monster takes a morale check
A morale check is done rolling 1d10. If the roll is higher than the HD, the monster "will withdraw or surrender to get a better position"
This would, again, greatly reduce the lethality of early-game combat, as many monsters would only have a 10% chance of fighting on after taking a check.
5. Rest and Bandages
At the end of an encounter, all hit points are restored.
"After all, hit points reflect the capacity to escape or stand hits".
The game does say though that any character that was knocked out during the encounter might need a longer rest or a potion or healing magic to get back up to fighting form. Beyond the morale rules, this would really ease up on the lethality of OSR D&D, since anything short of a TPK is survivable.
1. Stealth and Stunts
Sneaking around monsters, hiding in shadows, moving silently, climbing walls or swimming are all actions that are easier in light armor than in heavy. To check for success on such actions, roll 1d20 and get equal to or less than [AC + Level]. Xylarthen would need a 6 or less on a 1d20 to perform any of these normally Thief-like actions. The game recommends using a 1d10 instead of a 1d20 if the task is circumstancially easier.
Comparing this to the original game, a level 1 Thief has a 20% chance to Move Silently, an 87% chance to Climb Sheer Surfaces and a 10% chance to Hide in Shadows. A level 1 Searcher with Leather Armor (or a target number of 8) would have a 40% chance of pulling off these actions. Since Move Silently and Hide in Shadows improve by 5% per level in the original game, a Searcher would always be ahead.
2. Saving Throws
Whenever an effect or action or spell calls for a saving throw, roll 1d20 and get equal to or less than [Level + 4]. Xylarthen would need a 7 or less on a 1d20 to avoid getting poisoned, or crushed, or getting toasted by a Dragon's breath, etc.
This is also used for all other generic "ability checks", such as jumping a gap or tipping over a wagon or picking a lock or searching for secret doors.
In keeping with reducing the lethality of OSR modules, anything that could kill a man outright will instead deal 1d8 damage. If it could kill a horse, 2d8 damage. If it could kill an ogre, 4d8 damage.
Even if there are no spellcasters as player-characters, the game still has basic guidelines for using whatever scrolls or artifacts that might be found:
If it's a combat-related spell, it'll last for one fight, or else it'll last the whole day.
The range of a spell is always whatever's in the same room as the caster.
The area-of-effect of a spell is everyone in the room, or one target per spell level, whichever fits better
Damage is treated in the 1d8/2d8/4d8 model of the Dangers section
Every time the player-characters defeat a monster (explicitly not limited to just killing them), they gain 100 XP per monster HD, divided equally among the characters. A character needs [2000 * Level] XP to get to the next level, and there are no limits to levels. A new level means better attack rolls, better stealth/stunt rolls and saving throws, and more HP.
Specifically, the player will reroll all their HD on hitting the new level, then take the new total if it's higher. If it's not, they stay at their current HP level.
There are two main variants to the game:
1. Target 20
Attack rolls are now: Roll 1d20 + Attacker Level + Target AC. If the total is 20 or higher, you hit
Stealth/Stunt rolls are now: Roll 1d20 + Level + AC. If the total is 20 or higher, you succeed
Saving throws/ability checks are now: Roll 1d20 + Level + 3. If the total is 20 or higher, you succeed
This allows you to play with old-school descending AC but approach the math from a "higher is always better" perspective
2. D20 Style
No Armor is now AC 10
Leather Armor is now AC 13
Chainmail is now AC 15
Plate Mail is now AC 17
A shield adds 1 to your AC
Attack rolls are now: Roll 1d20 + Attacker Level. If the total is equal to or greater than your target's AC, you hit
Stealth/Stunt rolls are now: Roll 1d20. If the roll is equal to or less than [AC - Level], you succeed
Saving throws/ability checks are now: Roll 1d20 + Level. If the total is 16 or higher, you succeed
This allows you to play with later editions of D&D or whatever retroclones that happen to use an ascending AC model.
Besides those, there are also variants that add traditional Cleric/Wizard spellcasters, or add mechanical weight to race selection, or even "full conversions" that give the game a sci-fi, cyberpunk or even WW2 setting.
I think the game accomplishes its goal of being "a minimalist way to play D&D", while also getting rid of a bunch of sacred cows such as ability scores.
The morale checks combined with the vastly relaxed healing and recovery rules feel like they might make the game too easy, but otherwise this is something that I could definitely see myself playing.
The character creation is lightning-fast and there's enough room to add whatever flavor or theme you want - someone who wants to play a Wizard might just be rolling standard attack rolls and 1d6 for their Magic Missiles, and circumstantial bonuses for background-related skill checks, and so on.
The only other thing that stood out to me was that despite modifying multiple mechanics to be more average or player-favoring, HP is still randomly rolled.