Dungeon Raiders

A simple, infinitely extensible RPG

gaming rpg

If you're in the mood for some classic RPG adventuring, look no further!

Brent P. Newhall is an astonishingly prolific creator of games, game materials, blogs, and more, who has, among many other clever things, produced a charming little high fantasy role-playing game called Dungeon Raiders. Based on classic Dungeons & Dragons, this tiny downloadable game system hits just the right balance between an old school dungeon crawler and an improved old school dungeon crawler.

There are no assumptions about your personal degree of gaming experience in DR. There is little attempt at realism. That's not the point.

By any modern assessment, this would be considered a rules-light system, and as such, it's an attractive alternative for GMs shopping around for something quick and easy to learn; a game that will allow action, setting, or plot-centric adventures to run smoothly, without a heavy rule set bogging things down. Like any rules-light system, DR requires either an inventive GM at the helm, who's comfortable with improvisation and on-the-fly detailing, or a degree of prep-work and fleshing out.

To quote from the author's introduction:

I wrote Dungeon Raiders to experience the construction of a classic Dungeons & Dragons retroclone. I wanted to mold a simple system out of the earliest editions of D&D. What would it look like?

It looks a lot like this! There's a certain itch, for a certain kind of gaming group, that this game scratches. Maybe more than one, on both fronts: those who are looking for that nostalgic feeling of the original game (original boxed set version that is); those who are entirely new to RPGs in general, and are seeking a low barrier to entry; and those who are short on time, but big on creativity.

It's an easy and rapid process building a dungeon adventure with these rules; possibly so much so as to be concurrent with the players creating their characters at the start of the game session. With just a couple of minutes prep time, some paper and pencils, a few figurines or tokens (optional), a set of polyhedron dice, and this tiny EPUB rule set, an entire evening of fun can ensue.

Creating Characters

This process is simple, straight-forward, and familiar to anyone who has ever played D&D or one of its descendant games.

Characters are made up of the following elements:

  • Class: One of four different professions.

  • HP: Or Hit Points. The amount of life a character has before they die.

  • Attack Die: This is the type of die the player rolls for their character to see if they hit in combat. In DR, it varies, depending upon the Class of the character. This is a rule that hearkens back to the earliest iteration of classic D&D.

  • Damage: (Optional) Any extra damage this character does when they successfully hit a foe in combat.

  • Ability Scores: These are the classic six statistics. Every character has Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.

  • Alignment: The moral and spiritual code of the character, which guides them through life.

  • XP: Or Experience Points. The representation, in numbers, of how much a character has learned about the skills of their Class, and about life, in general. Enough XP, and the character goes up in Level.

  • Level: Related to XP, each Level represents an improvement in the Character. At each new Level, they get more HP, and get better at doing their jobs.

And that's it. All player characters are human in DR, so modifications for racial differences do not come into it; another nod to the original D&D box set.

The Classes in the game are: Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, and Cleric. Each start with a set number of HP, and have their own Attack Die. As can be imagined, each Class has a specialty. Fighters fight. Rogues use stealth and cunning to avoid their enemies, and liberate them from their wealth. Wizards and Clerics cast magical spells, though of rather different sorts. It's interesting to see the odd preference that Rogues get in this game. It's stated several times, in several places, that Rogues get certain bonuses the other Classes do not (Saving Throws, Ability Checks, and more). One can see where Mr. Newhall's preference lies!

XP and Levels are handled very simply. Characters start at Level 01, and gain an additional Level for every 2000 XP earned through adventuring. XP is earned by defeating enemies, and finding treasure. Every gold piece (or its equivalent in value) that the party gains throughout the adventure is worth 1 XP.

For each Level gained, Fighters roll 1d6 and add the result to their HP. All other Classes roll 1d4. Additionally (and this one's great!), at each level gained after the first, all Characters deal an additional 1 HP of damage to enemies in combat. This doesn't include magical spells or other such effects, but it does include even such poor hand-to-hand combatants as Wizards and Rogues, representing the inevitable fighting knowledge they've gained on their previous adventures. So, for example, a Level 01 Wizard, fighting with a dagger, inflicts no extra damage with it beyond normal. At Level 02, though, they do 1 HP of extra damage on a successful hit. At Level 03, they do 2 HP extra damage; and so on. This could easily add up to a fearsome attack after a few levels.


Speaking of fighting, DR seems to have adopted some modern concepts of movement and free action. In any given Turn (corresponding to one minute of time), a Character can move up to 20 feet, cast a spell, and attack one enemy, in that order. It's a lot going on for each Character, likely generating a fast, chaotic, and unpredictable fighting situation.

To attack a foe, a Character rolls their individual Attack Die. For Fighters, this is 1d8. For Rogues, 1d6. Wizards roll a 1d4. And Clerics roll 1d6. For each Character, a successful hit happens on a score of 4 or better. Statistically, this gives Fighters a better than 50% chance to hit, while on the other end of things, Wizards (who should probably not fight up close, if they can help it), have just a 25% chance to hit. Fighters get a +1 damage bonus on successful hits, simply because they're Fighters, but as previously stated, all Characters (including Fighters) gain +1 to damage for every Level after the first. Interestingly, the odds of hitting do not change as Characters rise in Level. Barring magic or other effects, a Level 01 Fighter has the same chance to hit a foe as a Level 05 Fighter. The amount of damage they inflict upon a successful hit is different, though, so high level adventurers are still very dangerous opponents.

There are simple rules for death and injury, and simple rules for damage. All Characters, regardless of Class, or of the exact type of weapon used, do 1d6 damage (plus any of those bonuses for Class, Level, or magical effect). The quality of armor is measured in non-magical bonus points, which represent one-for-one reductions of damage per hit.

Example: A sour-smelling brigand wearing +1 leather armor is struck by a Level 01 Fighter. The player rolls 1d6 for damage, getting a 3, then adds +1 because his Character is a Fighter, for a total of 4 HP of damage! The brigand's +1 leather armor absorbs 1 HP of this damage though (which the GM may or may not tell the players), so the actual damage inflicted is only 3 HP.

Saves, Ability Checks, and Magic

Saving Throws are a staple of D&D and similar game systems. Like with everything else, though, Saves in DR are simplified, even with some optional modifiers for added realism. Player's roll 1d20. 10 or less is a successful Save.

Ability Checks come into play when a Character faces a truly difficult situation, such as walking a fallen tree over a chasm, or swimming out of a riptide. In such cases, the player rolls 1d20 against whichever Ability statistic (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma) that the GM decides is appropriate in the situation. Equal to their Ability Score or less, or if they roll a Natural 20 (for no apparent reason beyond an echo of tradition), the Character succeeds.

Magic spells for both Wizards and Clerics are given rudimentary treatment, with classics like Shield and Cure Light Wounds making appearances. Low level spellcasters have enough for adventuring, but higher levels would need much more attention from the GM.

In fact, that could be an apt description of Dungeon Raiders as a whole. On its own, it can't support a regular campaign; there just isn't enough here to go beyond basic adventuring, and in particular, dungeon delving. The rules are excellent for the type of gaming I described at the top of this article, but more extensive use would require the GM's creativity, and a fair amount of work over time.

The Wrap Up

In the Introduction to Dungeon Raiders, Mr. Newhall states: "This entire document, and the system within, is released into the Public Domain." In point of fact, it's not really possible for an author to release their work into the Public Domain directly (at least, in the United States), so it's probably best to see this game as being under a Creative Commons Zero License; but note that the rule book does not explicitly state this. The practical difference is negligible, but it's good to know what's what.

Be that as it may, we've gone ahead and made a slight variant ourselves, that offers up a new cover, and cleans up some of the tables and layout. We have not touched the rules themselves, so feel free to download the EPUB and check out this (new) blast from the past!

Epub icon for Dungeon Raiders 3rd Ed.
Dungeon-Raiders Revised 3rd Ed.

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I run DR at gaming conventions and with friends. It lends itself well to one-shot dungeon crawls. I set out my 1e red dnd book and my 2e book so my players can draw spells and races and other tips from it. It's not always an exact fit, but it's fun and DR is flexible enough to allow for quick adaptation. I especially like the 1GP = 1XP rule. It makes tracking experience and levels so simple. And DR itself makes character management simple. When characters level up, they can level up right there during the dungeon crawl (er, raid), and then continue on as a more powerful character.

Great review!

On solar day 19.2019 by Seth