Donjon: Basic Concepts

How to read this book

We've tried to make this book as easy as possible to read. You'll find a few identifying marks throughout the book. Whenever you see indented, italicized text, it contains an example of the concepts being discussed.

This is an example of, strangely, an example.

You'll also note shaded boxes throughout the text. These boxes contain one of the following:

  • Dials: These are options that the players and GM can decide to "switch." Each box will tell you whether a dial can be switched in play, or if it must be switched before play.
  • Player tips: Some of the concepts in Donjon may have implications that do not seem apparent at first. Player tips contain notes from the author that explain concepts in further detail and help the player to play Donjon most effectively.
  • GM tips: With the players having so much power to narrate in Donjon, a GM needs good tips on how to keep them in line. GM tips are full of ways to beat down characters (and players.)
  • Design decisions: These explain why certain rules are the way they are in Donjon.
  • Tables: Exactly what it sounds like - these are reference tables for running Donjon.

Glossary of terms

Ability: A special function of a creature. These are the qualities that define a character or opponent and make them unique. Each type of creature in Donjon is made up of different Abilities.

Attribute: The raw capabilities of a creature. This is a common language used to describe how strong, smart, alert, quick, tough, and influential a character or opponent is. Attributes are common to every living thing in Donjon.

Class: A character's occupation or role within the group. "Fighter," "Librarian," and "Wizard of Nod" are all suitable Classes.

d20: A die with twenty sides. These are found in hobby stores or behind the bookcase of any gamer.

Donjon: This is different from the dictionary definition, which is a keep in a castle. "Donjon" in the context of this game is an enclosed area in which the player characters move and en- counter trouble. This is the area in which an adventure takes place.

Game Master: This player, instead of creating and playing a character, creates the adventure and controls all the opponents during the game. Also known as a GM. In order to show her the utmost respect, I recommend calling her the Donjon Master.

Median: the middle number when arranging three numbers in numerical order. For example, 2 would be the median of the numbers 1, 2, and 5. This is different from the mean, or average.

Narrate: This is just a fancy word for "deciding what happens."

Non-player character: Also known as a NPC. This is a fictional character that is not controlled by a player. Instead it is controlled by the GM and is used to interact with the players' characters.

Player character: Also known as a PC. This is a fictional person that a player creates to use as his proxy - like a Monopoly piece - in the game world.

Race: This is not the same as in the real world. In Donjon (and most fantasy role-playing games), a Race is actually a different species, usually anthropomorphic. Goblin, ogre, centaur, or human would all be Races.

Saving Throws: These scores are your ability to resist the ill effects of magic.

Scene: This is the basic unit of game-play in Donjon. A scene is the whole of any encounter in the game. This encounter does not have to be favorable or unfavorable, but merely a cohesive interaction with the environment which results in a decision. Examples of scenes are a conversation with an NPC, finding an obstacle in the PC's path and finding a way around it, or one
entire combat. Merely seeing something interesting, walking down a path, or entering and exiting a room without doing anything do not constitute scenes. Scenes are sometimes called encounters.

Test: This is an actual roll of the dice. When you roll dice and the Game Master rolls dice, and you compare the rolls, that is one Test.

Rolling the dice

Donjon uses dice pools for its resolution system. When you see a score referenced in this text, it is referring to a pool of dice equal in number to that score, and all examples in this text assume these dice to be twenty-sided dice, or "d20's."

For resolution in this game, you will be asked to compare rolls (called a Test.) This is the core of the game, and is a modification of the technique used for resolution in the role-playing game Sorcerer.

Here's how it works. Each player rolls a number of dice depending on the situation. (This is almost always an Ability or saving throw score, plus its associated Attribute.) The two rolls are then compared for successes. Each player looks at his highest die. The player with the lower roll loses, and all dice that the winner has higher than the loser's highest die are called

If both players have the same highest die, set that die aside, and look at the next one. Repeat until there is a winner. The winner takes all his tied dice as successes, as well as counting all normal successes. If by chance, all dice are tied, both people add an additional die to their pool, and compare successes. If by far chance, this results in another tie, repeat until there
is a clear winner.

This is not as hard as it sounds. Look at an example:

Player rolls 5 dice: (4, 7, 9, 11, 12)
GM rolls 4 dice: (6, 12, 15, 18)

The GM wins, and her dice that rolled 15 and 18 are successes, for two total successes.

Another example:

Player rolls 5 dice: (3, 11, 12, 13, 15)
GM rolls 5 dice: (5, 8, 10, 13, 15)

The player wins with four successes. The 13's and 15's were tied, so the player and GM looked at the next die. The player's 12 was the highest die, and his 11 and 12 were higher than the GM's 10.

Dial: Die size

Twenty-sided dice do not have to be used in Donjon. A group of players may use any size of dice as long as they all use the same size.

The size of dice makes two differences in the game: the variation of successes, and the amount of ties. With a smaller- size die, there is a slightly greater chance that a player rolling a smaller number of dice than another player will win anyway. With twenty-sided dice, the outcomes are more predictable. The increased frequency of ties that comes with smaller-sized dice causes the number of successes in any Test to be higher.

Make sure and decide what size of dice you will be using before the game begins. Using sizes other than twenty-sided is frowned upon by the author, however, and "pure" Donjon players may feel free to mock dice deviants relentlessly.

Deciding what to roll

Almost every roll in Donjon will be a combination of an Attribute (outlined in Chapter 2: Character Creation) and an applicable Ability. Your GM will help you decide what to roll, but you should get the hang of it easily.

There may be many things you want to do that you do not have an Ability for. In that case, you will roll just an Attribute.

The Law of Successes

The Law of Successes is the most important rule in Donjon. The Law of Successes states:

1 success = 1 fact or 1 die

What this means is that for every success you get on a roll, you can decide to either state one fact about your action, or carry that success over as a bonus die into another related roll.

For example, Jonathan has stated that his character is looking into the forest for something. He has not stated what the character is looking for, only that he is using his powers of perception to see what's out there. Jim gets three successes on his roll.

He has to decide what to do with these successes. He decides to state two facts: he sees a small group of orcs, and they are busy making a fire. He takes his last success and uses it as a bonus die when rolling to sneak up on the orcs.

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