Point-Based Approach to Exploration & Combat

I played Valiant Quest [1] with some friends this weekend and it was a blast! We all had a great time constantly tripping and falling over ourselves and getting pushed around by rude goblins. Some of us, myself included, came away from the experience immediately wanting to take bits and pieces from it into something that aligns more with our own preferences in role-playing games.

That being said, here's what I took from the whole experience combined with my time playing the board game Pandemic which also relies on a core spend-X-points-per-turn loop. At least one of my friends is also working on something along similar lines (i.e. inspired by playing VQ), so you can look forward to that too.

One-on-One Combat

You have 4 ◆ to spend on actions per turn. Each party in a battle takes their turns together (i.e. this assumes group initiative rather than individual initiative). On any of the below actions, when you roll a d20 against an opponent but the outcome is a 1, it switches over to the opposing team's turns.

Attack: Hit a target by rolling above their physical defense (e.g. from 1 to 6) and less than or equal to your own attack value, as per Whitehack (e.g. from 11 to 16). Upon a success your target loses 1 HP or whatever.

Defend: Spend this at the end of your turn to force an attacker to spend another 1 ◆ to attack you.

Magic: Cast a spell by rolling above your target's defense (physical or mental depending on the effects of the spell) and below or equal to your score. If the spell is not cast against a target, roll against some difficulty value instead.

Move: Move a square. Maybe more? 3 squares? d6 squares? Whatever seems fun, I don't know yet.

Prepare: Remove the upper limit on rolls for attacks and magic, increasing your chance of success and also allowing you to replenish 1 ◆ upon rolling a 20.

Dungeon Exploration

You have 4 ◆ to spend on actions per turn. At the end of each turn, the referee determines if a random encounter occurs.

Enter Room: Move from one area of the dungeon to another.

Hold Torch: It takes effort to hold onto a torch and keep it lit, so you must do this each turn if you are holding onto a torch or another light source. (This is just so players are keeping track of torches themselves, rolling dice for them if that's the way to go.)

Investigate Room: Ask the referee questions about the area. You are afforded one search roll in case you have no specific questions or hunches; each additional roll requires an additional 1 ◆.

Listen Through Door: Roll to see if you can hear anything through a closed door.

Open Stuck Door: Attempt to open a stuck door; up to three people can work together.

Rest: Heal 1 HP or something. I don't know. Maybe there's a pond for you to fish at?

I would expect the pattern of a turn to be Enter Room / Investigate Room / [Other Action x 2]. The nice thing is that, implicitly, you could pass through four rooms per turn if they're ones that you've already investigated and don't care to look at any more closely. Otherwise, you might pass through and search two rooms per turn, or just one room if you're doing anything complicated in there.


Let's say that for every five items you carry (where an item is an abstract thing, not anything super little or big) your # ◆ per turn is reduced by 1. The effect of this is that when exploring dungeons, you'll probably only want to pass through as many rooms as the person with the least # ◆ is able to. Meanwhile, in combat, you can move more freely.

The Mathy Bits

Something I appreciate about the original 1974 D&D is that movement rates are given on a scale of inches, where 12" represents the base movement of a player character. This rate is then adapted to different contexts. While exploring dungeons, 1" represents 10 feet; while doing combat outside, 1" represents 10 yards. It's handy, for me anyway.

So originally, while playing VQ, I was thinking to myself that it would be cool to adapt the movement rates of OD&D for a more tactical framework. However, this would necessitate smaller rates of movement. The easiest solution is just dividing all rates by three since, with the exception of the gray ooze (movement of 1"), all rates are divisible by three (e.g. 3", 6", 9", 12", etc.). Then you end up with a base movement rate of 4", which can get as low as 1".

These are easy, small numbers that can easily be used in small-scale tactical combat. If you were to have three actions on a turn of combat, as per VQ, moving four squares three times is equivalent to twelve squares overall. So, it's mathematically analogous, but not for a practical reason--it's just satisfying. I also opted to also treat the movement rate as the number of actions per turn, since that would make encumbrance even more pressing. Hence there is a base of 4 actions for turn, which might each allow you to move 3 squares (if that's what would be the most fun; I don't know yet).

I really liked the "Aim" action from VQ, which allows you to spend an action to prepare an attack and improve your chances of hitting. Here I assume a combat rule similar to that found in Whitehack, where you roll above your target's armor and below/equal to your own score. An intuitive way to handle "Aim" in this context is just to remove the ceiling on the roll. This means that fighting-type characters, with higher ceilings, might be more inclined to forgo "Aim" and instead try even more attacks per turn.

There's also the rule above that a critical success on a prepared attack gives you an extra action; this is inspired by the press turn mechanism in the Megami Tensei video games, where critically succeeding on one party member's action gives you a half-action to spend on another party member. I anticipate that this point system might be fun if you were to spend your points on multiple party members. Recall the elemental monster from D&D, who attacks its creator if they are not concentrating on controlling it. This can be easily adapted into "Each action you do not spend controlling your elemental results in the elemental attempting an action against you." In short, I think there's fun ways to mess with this.

And what of dungeon exploration? Imagine again dividing the traditional movement rate (12" or 9") by three, so now the movement rates become 4" (40') or 3" (30'). These distances cover movement end-to-end from a decently sized dungeon room. So, I don't think it's a stretch to say that in this new scale, 1" can be abstracted as entering a new area of the dungeon, where players are likely to enter and explore one or two unexplored rooms each turn.

If you were to ground these abstract measurements, 1 ◆ being a couple squares in combat or one room in exploration, in real measurements, you could look towards the original D&D text. It seems as though there was expected to be three characters side-by-side in a 10' passage; e.g. three characters can work together to open a door, or more explicitly on page 12:

There can be places where 300 Hobgoblins dwell, but how many can come abreast down a typical passage in the dungeons? Allow perhaps 3 in a ten foot wide passage, and the balance will either be behind the front rank or fanning out to come upon the enemy by other routes.

This implies a division of the 10' passage not into halves of 5', but into thirds of 10' which is best approximated by 3 meters. So, if characters can spend 4 ◆ moving 3 squares (where each square represents a square meter), this is equivalent to moving 40 feet in a turn of combat. Not bad at all! [2] Existing maps for the classic style of play are usually drawn with 10' by 10' grids, so the maximum effort for this new measure is just to mentally divide those into 3x3 squares of 1x1 meters rather than 2x2 squares of 5x5 feet.

Likewise, spending 1 ◆ to enter a room (where there are 4 ◆ available) can be rationalized as moving 120' / 4 = 30' which is equivalent to 10 m. Handy!

This is just me thinking out loud (or whatever the equivalent is on the written/typed word), so I don't know where this will go. I just wanted to type this out.

[1] https://rosalindmc.itch.io/valiant-quest

[2] Although, I don't know if it's more intuitive to move 3 squares per ◆ or just 1 square per ◆. The above explanation is really just showing how the math works out satisfyingly compared to the original math, but there's no reason to be totally faithful to the original if it's more intuitive not to be. I quite like 1 ◆ = 1 square because then the scale is one tenth the scale used for dungeon combat, and I think it's less overwhelming. If it needs to be justified mathematically, you could just say there are 30 turns of combat per turn of exploration instead of 10 per 1. But that's stupid.

[…] W.r.t. combat movement, since 10’ ≈ 3 m, an easy abstraction would let movement take place between those big 10’ squares where it costs 1 ◆ to go from one to another. I owe this to Ava Islam who thought at first I was going to use 1 m as the scale for dungeon exploration, and suggested why not just have there be 5 people in a 10’ square? So maybe instead, let there be up to 4 people in a big square (implicitly the same as dividing the square into fourths of 5’ by 5’), and bigger monsters can take up more space. Then I can have both 1 ◆ = 1 square and 1 ◆ = 3 m.


  1. This is very interesting. Have you ever played Arkham Horror: The Card Game? It's basically an attempt to turn Call of Cthulhu into a card game and it uses a similar action system. You have 3 actions per round, and you can use those actions to:

    -Investigate for clues
    -Evade an enemy
    -Play cards (which represent items, special abilities, etc).

    In AH, each square of movement is a different size depending on the scenario. If you're investigating a spooky house, 1 move means moving into the next room. If you're investigating a whole city, 1 move means moving to the next district. Making things chunky like this means the decisions are always interesting, even when the scale of action changes. Not sure if a similar approach would work in an RPG or not.

    1. hi there, thank you for your reply! arkham horror TCG sounds really fun, and a clever way of exporting the call of cthulhu experience to a card game :) i feel as though that would work really well for an rpg just because the actions are open-ended enough to leave room for player/referee fiat, but they boil down the expected flow of the game to its bare essentials. the scaling of movement especially reminds me of OD&D, where basically all movement is given in inches and then converted to underground or outdoors scale!


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