Lunchtime D&D: fifth time’s the charm?

It sometimes feels like since I decided to start offering lunchtime D&D games in workplaces, I’ve spent most of my time designing rules.

And it’s probably true. I blame 2020 for some of this, but I also learned a lot along the way. The initial goal was simple: have a robust adventure game for beginners and veterans alike, using the funky dice and some of my favourite old school gameplay concepts.

As you’ll see below, it changed quite a bit over the last three years.

Granddaddy’s D&D: simple original rules

I started running for work friends using a simplified version of OD&D that I was basically ran off the top of my head. I quickly had to make an experience table and other bits (I kept a summary here). I also made pregenerated characters with some fun classes from the blogosphere.

The character sheet below is what I gave the players.

I still like this one very much, but I’m a nostalgic

But of course, hacking leads to hacking and pretty soon our lunchtime DD sessions used an entirely different system. (And the players had to transfer their characters onto new character sheets, and more than once!)

Lunchtime Dungeons: a game for lunchtime campaigns

After a dozen iterations or so, I ended up with a game I really liked for our lunchtime D&D games. It used the six attributes as skills, which are a ranked from d4 to d12, Savage Worlds style. It also had a wounds system where you chose to spend one or more hit dice to avoid lasting damage and d66 special abilities for each of its seven classes as well as d100 origins (most of these I have compiled in my d200 abilities post).

Lunchtime Dungeons worked really well for bi-weekly sessions with a core group, but I realised it was too much crunch for people who showed up once a month, or for the reticent or intimidated who I had convinced to try fantasy gaming just once. Also, in the context of a billable, professional service, what did I need rules for experience and evolution for a 3-session adventure?

And back to the drawing board I went!

Dungeonsnack: a game for short sessions

It didn’t take too long: I refined the principles of Lunchtime Dungeons, dropped most of the polyhedrals, keeping the d20 because it is so iconic, along with the d6.

Dungeonsnack has a d66 table merging origin/former occupation and equipment because after all, your starting equipment is your backstory (an idea that haunted Macchiato Monsters in an unformulated way). I had the idea of printing all 36 entries on character sheets (index cards, actually) so you could just draw one as the first step of the character creation process.

Five of the 36 character cards
Some of the 36 index cards I made as character sheets

Characters in Dungeonsnack have no classes. On top of their former occupation, they start with a random special ability, and they earn skills with levels. These are freeform, but they tie to an in-game event: when you level up, you ask the other players about one time you did something memorable, in a good or bad way. You select one anecdote and the table agrees on a skill.

There are plenty of things I like in Dungeonsnack, and I’ll probably release it as a sort of abandonware thing. At some point. Maybe.

Spell lists are the best lists

As much as I’m a fan of the sort of freeform magic you find in Whitehack (and my own dK System and Macchiato Monsters), I think spell lists are easier for beginners. Spells are tools you can use in many different ways. They are a resource to manage. They add a lot of flavour to a setting and to player characters.

While Lunchtime Dungeons used Lost Pages’ excellent Marvels & Malisons and Wonders & Wickedness spell books, I decided to come up with my own spell list for Dungeonsnack. To do this, I tried to rewrite the Basic/Expert spells (initial versions on this blog). It’s a collection of quirky spells, but I think they convey a weird Jack Vance atmosphere.

Tools for short sessions

Parallel to core rules design, I also worked on prep and pacing tools to make hour-long lunchtime D&D sessions easier to run.

Among the ones that actually worked, the SNAP procedure for sandbox events, which inspired the SNACK sheet you can see below. It’s a very straightforward way to pace a one-hour session and as such, it has been integrated into Dungeonsnack.

How Do I Play Oldest School D&D?

This is actually the game‘s title. I designed it in the spring, a quick stab at a 2d6 system that would let people bring any D&D-adjacent character to my Goblinburg games. When we all ended up in lockdown, there was no way I was asking non gamers to play on a virtual tabletop, or even with online dice rollers. Not with their kids hanging about asking if they could play too.

So 2d6 and one page of rules is all I wanted. Plus an online character creator using perchange.org to save time. As an aside, I like that you can have your character on your phone, and roll dice on the screen if needed.

I ran HDIPOSD&D a handful of times, but no one brought their 15th level Sorcerer/Paladin, so I can’t attest to its capacity to seamlessly integrate characters of different editions and schools of design.

The Ogre Mage’s Oracle

This is the working title for a 1d20 system I’d like to try out soon. A 2d6 system is handy for pick up online play (who doesn’t have a couple of dice somewhere?) but let’s not kid ourselves, D&D and d20 are basically synonymous in people’s minds.

So wondering what could most streamlined 1d20 rules be, I came up with the idea of an oracle: you roll a d20 when unsure of what happens next, hoping to roll high. And the exact result gives the referee an indication of the consequences. Like so:

First draft, as screengrabbed from my notes. Don’t @ me.

If I can slap minimal character creation rules on top of this, including interesting equipment and fun spells, I think I may have made my own Ultimate Grail of Awesomeness for a very specific type of games.

More news soon.

One day we’ll be able to have picnic dungeon crawls again!

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