6 hit points and a death wish

gaming tools gm

I play a lot of tabletop RPG and wargames and board games, and I'll admit I'm often drawn to the ones with complex rules, but that doesn't mean I want every game I play to have complex rules. Sure, part of the fun of tabletop gaming for me is seeing how the interaction of rules affect the simulated world of the game, but tabletop gaming is called "gaming" for a reason. Sometimes I actually want to just sit down and have fun. And that's why I developed Havoc, a simple RPG with 6 hit points and a death wish. And I've just released it under the new ORC license.

First thing's first. The fun part. The game itself.

You can watch this article on Youtube.

Havoc core rules fits on one page, but the book I've published on Drivethrurpg.com contains about 20 pages of detail in case you need more explanation, and 40 pages of ideas for the Game Master. I designed the game to answer a few problems I have with most RPG systems. Here they are, one by one, along with how Havoc solves them.

1. Separate genre from rules

The relationship of mechanics and a game's genre is one of the most fascinating aspects of RPG game design. Why do most fantasy games favour a class-based system, while modern and sci fi games tend to use skill-based systems? Is it habitual, because the first RPG used a class-based system, or is there really something to the idea of quasi-historical archetypes and myths that just make sense for that genre? Why does a d100 system seem reasonable for some games but not for others? The list goes on, and it's fun to ponder, but I think it's actually academic.

No matter what genre of RPG you're playing, it all boils down to rolling dice to find out whether what you want your character to do is what your character actually does. Havoc has no genre. Its rules are simple, governing success or failure and little else. Play it in a fantasy setting, a sci fi setting, horror, secret agent, whatever you want.

2. Character creation

Nobody wants to get invited to a game only to spend 2 hours filling out tax forms, and that's what character creation can feel like. Character creation in Havoc is this:

  1. Choose an ancestry appropriate to your game's genre.
  2. Choose a name and three dominant traits. For instance, a spy might be sneaky, charismatic, and athletic, while a librarian might be intelligent, stealthy, and eclectic.
  3. You have 6 build points. Assign them to these three categories: Body, Mind, and Soul. Once you've done that, add 1 to each category.
  4. You have 6 health points.

That's it, start playing.

3. No target numbers

The one thing I tend to hate about being a Game Master is setting target numbers (such as a Difficult Class in Tales of the Valiant or Pathfinder). It feels too much like playing god when I just want to play the world. Luckily most Game Master guides provide examples of what reasonable target numbers are, but in practise you often end up having to adjust them to account for magic items or really high-level characters. You adjust them because you want to challenge your players, but moving goal posts feels like cheating to me.

In Havoc, there are no target numbers. A player rolls the number of six-sided dice listed next to either Body, Mind, or Soul. On a roll of 5 or 6, it's a success. On a 1, you cancel out one 5 or 6.

Rolling one failure cancels out one success, so if you have 2 dice in Body and you roll a 1 and a 5, then you've failed. But if you have 3 dice in Soul and you roll a 1 and a 5 and another 5, you still have a success left over after your 1 cancels out the first 5, so you succeed.

4. No damage rolls

Rolling dice is fun until you have to do it 8 times in a row just to figure out whether you've hit your enemy's armour class, and if you have then how much damage you've done, and if you've done damage then how much extra damage from your sneak attack bonus, and on and on. In Havoc, 1 hit equals 1 damage. Some special items do more damage than that, but it's always a pre-calculated amount.

How do you determine whether you've hit? I already told you: roll 5 or 6 for success.

5. Fast combat

Combat takes way too long in most fantasy and many sci fi systems. Characters have 100 hit points plus a bunch of magic items to keep them alive, and in order to make the combat feel threatening the monsters have to keep getting more and more resilient as characters level up.

In Havoc, player characters have 6 hit points. Most hits only deal 1 damage, so players can take a lot of hits, but rarely more than 5.

Monster stats are the same as player stats, so there's no complex monster stat block to decode or to try to frantically parse during combat.

6. No saving throws

Traps that require saving throws are boring. If you're going to go to the trouble of having traps in a dungeon, then they may as well hit. All traps in Havoc automatically hit. When appropriate, the Game Master can allow a player to roll Body, Mind, or Soul. 1 success cancels 1 damage.

7. Damage equals experience

When you take damage from an enemy in combat, you gain an equal amount of experience points. That's not the only way you earn experience. You can also earn experience by making friends with an NPC, or exploring your surroundings.

8. Everything falls apart eventually

Magic items and advanced technological is single-use. Whether a player character is a wizard reading magical scrolls, a cleric searching for holy relics, or an investigator uncovering impossible alien technology, the powerful items players acquire in Havoc are only good for one use, and then they become mundane. Everyday items that fit a setting can be used as usual, but the really remarkable items that you and I would call "magic" or "impossible" become paper weights after they're used.

This give players a reason to go out into the world and explore. It's why adventurers in Havoc risk life and limb to delve into dungeons, or board abandoned space ships, or go into haunted buildings. Player characters in Havoc are more often looking for health potions than for gold, because gold doesn't really influence that much in any game. What matters is staying alive, and you do that by augmenting your health points and by being more powerful than your threats.

9. Magic just works

Magic or impossible tech don't have attack rolls or a spell DC, they just work. It's a one-time use spell anyway, so who cares. It just succeeds, and you take 1 damage from the strain.

10. License

There's no two ways about it, Wizards of the Coast upended the RPG community and industry at the end of 2022 when they tried to put a stop to open community collaboration. The community came to its own rescue and made it clear that no company owned our creativity, and Paizo (pubisher of Pathfinder) stepped in and paid a law firm to develop a license for our brave new world of corporate near-dystopia. The ORC license spells out what "free culture" and "collaboration" actually means in legal terms, with clarity and precision that the old Open Gaming License was just too naive to have addressed. The OGL was written in a time when people still sort of expected that companies were bound by their promises and legal text. The ORC license doesn't make any assumptions.

The ORC license is a strongly-worded license, but it's easy to use. In short, you make four declarations:

  • Declare that you're using the ORC license
  • Tell others how you want to be credited when they use your content
  • Identify what stuff you reserve for your own use
  • Identify what stuff would normally be considered reserved, but that you're happy for other people to use as long as they also use the ORC license

There's example text in the license itself, so you can copy and paste the declarations into your document and just modify it to suit your product.

Personally, I think Wizards of the Coast should pay Paizo back for the legal fees as a sign of good faith, and it's really the only way they could ever start to rebuild trust with me. Probably not gonna happen.

It's an exciting license to have on our side, and it's even more exciting that we all actually own it. Paizo has released the license into the public domain, which is something Wizards of the Coast never did with the OGL.


I feel like most gamers agree that we're in a golden age of gaming. There are amazing games for tabletop, and we have unprecedented means of distributing them. If you want a copy of Havoc, purchase a copy on Drivethrurpg.com and let me know what you think!

Havoc cover image by Seth Kenlon, Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0.

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