I’ve gone back and forth on whether a high-mortality game of repeating character instances needs the rigorous dispassion of the ideal old school referee, or the player action focus of PbtA moves. I think the case can be made made either way, but this time I’m interested in playing with the move structure. So here are some basic moves for a game that tries very hard to kill characters.


When a move tells you to roll, roll 2 20-sided dice and compare them to the appropriate stat.

If both dice roll at or under the stat, you gain the success effect.
If only one die rolls at or under the stat, you gain the partial success effect.
If neither do, you fail.

Desperate struggle

When you are locked in a terrifying hand to hand struggle with someone or something that’s trying to kill you, roll STR.

On a success, pick 2
On a partial success, pick 1

  • You avoid the blow
  • You deal damage
  • You do not find yourself in a dangerous position

Saving throw

When a terrible danger is about to befall you, roll vs the appropriate stat:

STR a danger that physically overpowers you
DEX a danger that can be dodged
CON a danger that attacks your physical integrity
INT a danger to your soundness of mind
WIS a danger that clouds or influences the mind
CHA a danger that inspires paralyzing fear or stark terror, or possession

On a success, you avoid or resist the danger.
On a partial success, you resist the worst of the danger but suffer some limited or lesser effect.


When you interact with an illusion, it mostly behaves as though it were real. Until a character can break the illusion, it ensnares all who see it in its unreal world.

If you believe that something is an illusion, take a decisive action to interact with its unreality. If the thing is real, face the consequences of your action. If it is an illusion, roll INT.

On a success, the illusion is broken for the party.
On a partial success, the illusion is broken for you.
On a failure, face the illusory consequences of your action.


4 thoughts on “Echoes in the Apocalypse

  1. Neat! I’d be interested in playing a game that looked like this.

    The INT/WIS/CHA saves seem like they’d lead to some goofy hairsplitting arguments, so if the design has room to depart from the sacred six stats, I’d consider eliminating one. Why the move to 2d20 roll-under instead of the standard 2d6+?


    1. My thought process ran along these lines:

      Before even deciding on a PbtA structure versus a more OSR ruleset, the two ways to handle stats are to either largely ignore them (with a low bonus gradient like old school rules did), or to directly involve them rather than have a computed derivative of the stat. With a resurrection mechanic that messed with stats so directly, I preferred devising a mechanic that used the actual stat value so that there felt like a difference between a 9 and a 10, for example. The easiest way to do that was a roll-under. For a time, before I decided to try writing moves, I was playing with setting AC based on Dex for light armor, Con for heavy, modified by the chosen armor, but with the move structure that ends up unnecessary.

      The 2d20 came about because moves require three possible results, and generating it off two dice seemed more straightforward than trying to measure a degree of success off a single roll. The curve on this may be a bit wonky… With a 6, you’d get a failure almost half the time, and with a 14, only 10% of the time. Since the point of the rules is disaster, TPKs, and changing up the stats semi-regularly, maybe that’s ok? But that’s a judgement call that would require some play experience.

      I can probably break down the INT/WIS/CHA category of saves a bit better, but the move is intended to be a bit different than Defy Danger, in that the chosen stat is dictated by the threat, rather than the character’s response to it. I haven’t convinced myself that this change is one that “gets the point” of moves yet, or that there still isn’t a general “attempt risky maneuver” kind of move that’s necessary.


      1. Re 2d20: My curiosity runs to a step earlier–why set the stats in such a way that you’d need 2d20 roll-under to get the results you want, rather than using the AW standard of 2d6 plus a modifier ranging from -2 to +3? Six stats ranging from 3 to 18 is an OSR sacred cow, but isn’t crucial for a deadly dungeoneering feel.


      2. As far as that goes, I’m curious how close I can get this to a working state without jettisoning sacred cows. Can I take the implicit assumptions of old-school D&D play that have been spelled out as part of the OSR work, especially parts of the “meta” (here meaning reusing character sheets as a balance to character death, table talk/metagame knowledge), and codify them into something where the meta- portion now resides in the rules? PbtA seems like a good fit for this, because you can turn a lot of what the GM was “supposed” to do (using random encounters to deter inaction/hesitation, by way of example) into bits of PbtA rules, like GM moves or countdown clocks.


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