Dying in a decrepit tomb or some twisted mage’s bastion is one of the most time-honoured traditions of the tabletop hobby. New rules-lite RPG Down We Go positions itself as the easiest way for would-be delvers to learn the ropes (and pits and spikes) with an approachable system that has groups delving within minutes.
The Old School Renaissance movement began back in the heady days of Google+ and has been cobbling dangerous delves and creepy crypts since, not just preserving the spirit of stripped-down sword and sworcery but modernising it for newer generations of players. Down We Go looks to fit nicely into that tradition - its player rules are confined to a single page, and Refs (its name for game masters) only have a bit more homework to learn how it plays.
Currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter-alternative Gamefound, Down We Go is the creation of designer Markus Linderum in collaboration with Tony Vasinda and publisher Plus One Exp. Players choose one of four adjective-defined Roles - Sneaky, Mystical, Holy or Bloodthirsty - and band together to plumb the seemingly endless sepelchurs, temples, towers and ruins outside the city of Infinopolis.
Players make all the rolls during combat and use a twenty-sided die to either whack something with weapons and spells or save against a potentially dangerous situation. Damage dealt is tracked as ‘hits’, and anything that reaches its distressingly small threshold - players included - dies immediately and, very likely, gruesomely. Abilities such as lockpicking, healing magic, cleave and invisibility are tied to specific roles, which players can choose at will when leveling up after each successful return.
The party’s ultimate goal is to survive the exploration and bring back enough spoils to keep them fed for another week. All extra goes toward outfitting themselves with less shoddy equipment or investing in one of the ever-shifting city’s major factions, which might offer membership or at the very least forgive them for murdering their patrols the other night.
Explicit play doesn’t extend much beyond the loop of dungeoneering and return, but the system’s simplicity has designed plenty of opportunities for groups to flesh out this weird world on their own. Refs are encouraged to ask the player characters for rumours concerning their destination as a way of generating foes, potential loot and secret twists. The final book will contain three blueprints that have been deliberately designed around multiple random tables that help define the look, feel and smell of a location, along with the monsters and traps players will encounter along the way.
The city of Infinopolis will itself scramble upon every visit, changing its layout and what’s available for normal means of travel. Even the constants will feel altered somehow, bearing heretofore hidden fangs or showing a more beautiful face the group may never see again. Despite this labyrinthine nature, players will always be able to find hungry vendors to buy their loot and a bed to rest for the evening.
Down We Go is illustrated by tabletop veterans Simone Tammetta, Johan Nohr of Mörk Borg and Symbaroum fame, Madeleine Ember & Evlyn Moreau. Contributing designers include Ava Islam, Aaron King, KeganExe and Jeremy Gage, with an accompanying soundtrack created by Los Angeles band Loot The Body.
The Gamefound campaign for Down We Go runs through September 24th and has already surpassed its initial ask of $4,500. Backers can secure a printable version of the rules for $5 (£3.62), while both zine and hardcover editions of the full 48-page book are on offer for $20 (£14.50) and $45 (£32.62), respectively. Shipping for physical rewards is expected to begin in December of this year.