Sunday, October 3, 2021

Die Trying

Gestate A Murderhobo

  1. Roll an Ancestry. Pick any die size from 1d1 to 1d100. Large dice will probably make for stranger characters
  2. Roll 3d6 in order for STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS, CHA. If your Ancestry has a stat listed, reroll it and take the higher
  3. Roll three times on the Events table (3d20d20). These are the things you did before you became an adventurer
  4. Collect three random items, three rations, three torches. If you want, you can trade the rations or torches for an extra random item

  • Strength - Melee attacks, inventory slots, grappling, breaking, lifting, swimming, jumping
  • Dexterity - Dodging, movement, crafty attacks, hiding, chasing, fleeing, sleight-of-hand, precision work
  • Constitution - Maximum HP, wrestling, overcoming diseases, resisting poisons, long-distance trekking, maintaining concentration
  • Intelligence - Magic attacks, general knowledge, spotting lies, controlling wands, researching spells
  • Wisdom - Ranged attacks, spot the difference, alertness, staying sane
  • Charisma - Saves, meeting new people, intimidation and persuasion from force of will rather than evidence, leadership, dumb luck

"But the character I rolled doesn't have a weapon / a spell / good stats / something else I need! What do I do?"
Your best!

Recommended Rules

Option 1: Roll a d20 under a stat to succeed. 1 is a critical success, 20 is a critical failure.
Option 2: Roll a d20+stat over 20 to succeed. 20 is a critical success, 1 is a critical failure.

X Advancement
Die Trying doesn't have levels or classes of any kind. Instead, you can improve specific parts of your character sheet bit by bit.

Put an X mark next to a stat every time you:
  • Roll a critical success
  • Miss a roll by 1
  • Roll a critical failure and Double Down: The DM will say the result of your crit fail. If you suggest something worse and more interesting, it happens, and you get an X
Once you have three Xs next to a stat, erase them and try to improve the stat: Roll 3d6. If it is over the stat, improve that stat by 1. Some activities might give a bonus to the 3d6 roll, like training during downtime, weird potions, or magical enhancements.

You can also get Xs that can go anywhere on your character sheet. There are several ways to get these "free Xs". This one is the most important:
  • Come up with a unique, interesting, simple and/or effective solution to a difficult problem, especially if it avoids rolling
Here are the other methods:
  • Show up to a session
  • Obey magical compulsions (charm spells, mind control) with vigour and creativity
  • Swear a binding oath (if you break it, lose this option)
  • Create a character portrait / play report / map etc. (I award an X if the portrait is to the best of the players ability)
  • Blow a bunch of treasure on a massive celebration
  • Spend downtime learning from someone better than you at a certain thing (that is where the X must go)
It might seem like the best source of Xs is to roll your stats a lot. This is incorrect. There is a 15% chance of getting an X from rolling dice. There is a 100% chance of getting an X from coming up with an effective plan that avoids rolling any dice.

Once you have three Xs next to a trait, ability, item, or other part of your character, it improves. Adding three Xs to an ability doesn't usually result in a boring numerical improvement. Instead, it increases the versatility, inverts the application, changes the context, or grants a large bonus at a cost.

Likewise, adding Xs to a weakness doesn't just make it go away. Instead, it might allow you to inflict that weakness on enemies, allow you to manage it in different ways, or provide an unexpected benefit under certain circumstances. For more explanation, see the X Advancement Guide.

There is no distinct "Attack" stat. Instead, nearly every stat can be used to make certain types of attacks:
  • Strength - Direct attacks with melee weaponry or fists
  • Dexterity - Sneaky strikes with small weapons
  • Constitution - Wrestling and shoving
  • Intelligence - Wands (...?)
  • Wisdom - Ranged attacks
  • Charisma - Commanding hirelings

All weapons deal d6 damage, and +d6 bonus damage when they are the perfect tool for the job: A spear set against a charge, a greataxe against a swarm of goblins, a dagger while clambering on an ogre.
(Remember, these are all just the Recommended Rules, you can and should change this rule if it does not work for you)

Getting Hit
Option 1: Track the total damage you've taken. Once the total damage goes over your Constitution, you die. Remove damage whenever you heal (these are literal "hit points").
Option 2: You have maximum HP equal to your Constitution. At 0 HP, you die.

Before dying, you can either take one more automatically successful action, or crawl away holding your guts in, to maybe cling to life for another minute or so.

You can choose to suffer an injury or break an equipped shield to reroll a failed defence, so long as it makes sense to do so.

To avoid getting hit by enemy attacks, roll your Dexterity (or perhaps a different stat). For each piece of armour you are wearing, treat your stat as if it was at least 3 x [armour pieces]. If you are surprised, your stats might not apply. If you are in a bad position, your armour might not apply.

For instance, if you had a DEX of 6, but were wearing a helmet (3), leather greaves (3) and a leather jacket (3), you would roll with a minimum stat of 9. A fully armoured knight in a helmet (3), breastplate (6), platelegs (6) and armoured boots (3) would roll with at least 18... at least until they are knocked into the mud and being stabbed through the visor with a dagger.

Brings Snacks
Heal d6 HP for eating a ration at Lunch or Dinner, heal d6 HP overnight, and heal to full by sleeping somewhere safe and eating a ration.

Interpreting Spells
Every spell is composed of two randomly rolled Magic Words. The spell might require some adjustment, reversing the word order, adding an "of", or making it plural, but it should make sense. Spells increase in power with the Magic Dice used based on the total value of the dice rolled, the [sum], and the number of [dice] used. It is usually more beneficial to cast a spell with 2 MD than to cast it twice with 1 MD. For instance, a damaging spell might deal [sum] damage to [dice] targets. A single-target buff might last for [sum]x[dice] rounds.

However, there is additional risk with casting with multiple MD, if several of the same number are rolled:

Doubles, something bad happens (Mishap).
Triples, something bad and permanent happens (Doom).
  1. Failure of magic
  2. Damage and pain
  3. Corruption, body or soul
  4. Spell inversion
  5. Situation changes
  6. Fate Beckons

After any number of MD are used, the caster gains one Instability Dice (ID) for the rest of the day, disappearing at dawn. ID are also d6s and are rolled with any MD used, they don't count for [sum] or [dice], but do count for Mishaps and Dooms. You can cast spells as many times in a day as you like, but you get more and more likely to explode with every casting.

If a spell is cast using an implement (wand, staff, grimoire, orb) and a Mishap is rolled, the implement suffers the effect rather than the caster. Dooms are not blocked this way.

Characters might start with a spell, but no MD, or MD but no spell. A spell cast without any MD is a cantrip, it always has [sum] and [dice] of zero, but still might have a very minor effect. MD used without a spell is an unfocused blast of power. It usually just does something random, but it might be useful.

Like Radioactive Blood
All magical things taste weird. Some might smell weird, a few sound weird or look weird, but a good lick will always tell you if something (someone?) is magical or mundane.

Further Advancement
Since characters don't have classes or levels, it can be difficult for them to acquire new abilities solely through the X advancement system. This is by design. Instead, characters change and evolve through diegetic advancement, actions taken in the world rather than in the rules. Magic items, training, striving against terrible odds, and general exploration of weirdness should be rewarded with character development of all kinds.

Optional Rules

Extra Sources of Xs
Some, none or all of following might apply, depending on the type of game you are playing:
  • Slay a dragon
  • Clear a dungeon
  • End a session as MVP (as voted by other players)
  • End having experienced the most dramatic moment (ditto)
  • End a session with the fewest number of Xs
  • Save the life of an ally
  • Hold a proper funeral for a dead ally (perhaps the more lavish it is, the more of their Xs you collect back)
  • Per major achievement on a dead/retired character

Horrible Things
Stress starts at 0 and is gained through injury, fear, overwork, forced marches, witnessing death and fates worse than death, lack of food, poor living conditions, the terrifying unknown and wet socks.

Stress can be reduced via comfortable beds, luxury foods, spiritual guidance, soap, alcohol, drugs, carousing, gambling and going home. Stress can also be converted into phobias, nightmares, paranoia, despondency, hoarding obsessions and denial. This isn't madness - this is an unfortunately rational response to being stuck in a death-trap dungeon.

If Stress gets above 5, the adventurer will start taking opportunities to reduce their Stress whenever they get a chance, even if you, the player, would rather they do something different. If Stress gets above 10, they will actively seek out opportunities to reduce Stress.

Cashed Up
Start with currency equal to your Charisma stat.

Oh Crap, My Hat!
Destroy or lose a notable and exceptional hat the same way a shield would be broken, or to add d6 to a failed save.

Be Prepared
Gain an extra item of your choice, or improve one of your starting items in some way.
(This rule especially helps with one-shots, since characters can be unexpectedly hamstrung by the lack of any weapon or opportunity to find one).

Option 1: On a critical miss, you have 3 arrows remaining.
Option 2: On a critical miss or critical hit, you've used up half your quiver, then 3 arrows remaining.

Weapon Tags
  • Reliable: Treat the stat of the wielder as at least 10 for making attacks (spears, guns)
  • Brutal: x3 critical damage (axes)
  • Parry: Treat as a shield (swords)
  • Riposte: Choose an enemy, make an attack if they miss (rapier)
  • Trained: Unless proficient, crit failures go even worse than normal, and no other tags apply (rapier, lance, magic weapons)
  • Bashing: Ignores armour (mauls)
  • Wild: Increase the crit and crit fail range by an equal amount (flails, scythes)
  • Masterful: Under certain conditions, deal bonus damage (lance, crossbow)
  • Reach: Stab things further away, disadvantage up close (polearms)


Die Trying was the second game I ever made. Think of this as a remaster of the original. Die Trying is all about scrappy scoundrels and cut-rate wizards doing their best to get rich, or, of course, die trying. The X advancement system results in characters growing steadily more bizarre and diverse as they delve into underground death traps and curse-blasted towers. It uses a basic lifepath system to generate characters that are very often incomplete, missing the equipment or abilities they need to function properly. This is by design. Players will ask themselves "how am I supposed to adventure without [this]?" and more often than not, answer it themselves with style and verve. As discussed in this review of the original Die Trying, this game "is a game of want... it gives you characters that have abilities, but not power, and an immediate need to fill that gap in order to survive".