The more you survive,
the stranger you get.
Gustave Doré (1832-1883), "Gnarled Monster" from "The days of chivalry, or the legend of Croquemitaine"
A lone, oaken boat violently cuts through bottle green wave after wave. Out of the fog a cove covered with black sand emerges. The island. Drums pierce the fog, like a heartbeat of some unholy beast, and those of you who still believe in divine providence, cross yourselves.
Your sweaty fingers clutch the boat's gunwales; your teeth grit and grind in your mouths, as the bow violates the pristine black beach. Waves lap lazily against the land and you could swear the foam looks like small, human hands, caressing the sand.
As you unload your packs, your swords and your guns, your black powder, provisions and lanterns; as the most sturdy of you lock breastplates upon their mighty chests, the milky fog recedes, unveiling the dreaded stone stairs. Stairs too big for human beings, lead up the rocky cliffs, coiling until they reach a dark cave entrance adorned with blasphemous totems.
Somewhere inside - a priceless, pearlescent crown awaits to be found, longing to yet again feel the sun's touch upon it's carved, gold-inlaid surface.
You tighten the straps of your bags, packs and armor. With lanterns in hands, you and your comrades brave the stairs. A dark procession of hunger, greed, faith, magic and violence, you leave the boat secured on the coast. A cold shiver travels down your spine, as you vanish in the mouth of the cave, never to be seen again on the dark seas of Croatoan.
an OSR game of dungeon exploration and madness
Croatoan is a tabletop role-playing game that draws heavily from the OSR (old school revival or renaissance) movement. Main focus of the game is tomb raiding. Player characters are nameless adventurers living only to steal treasure from ancient, cursed places and survive long enough to carry it back to the civilization.
As they gain levels, they also gain more personality: names, stories and stress-induced traumas and quirks.
While faithful to the spirit of the oldest editions of D&D, Croatoan adds its own flavour: extended survival elements like slot-based encumbrance and punishing wound system.
some rule examples
Roll 3d6 for each attribute. As long as you get at least 0 in all attribute modifiers combined - you play what you roll.
Is the character aligned with cosmic forces of chaos, entropy and constant change? Or is it rather an agent of inertia, of stillness and order? Roll to determine: odd is chaos, even - order.
Dungeoneering is a stressful job. Sometimes a good kick of adrenaline (+1d6 to any test) might help your character when in a tight spot, but the stress it generates keeps stacking, until their mind breaks.
That's why you need to stop, rest and relax from time to time. Smoke some opium or drink camomile - whatever works for you best, but relax.
Before any venture, remember to properly equip your character. There is over one hundred items essential to survival in Croatoan, and only twenty slots per character. And while small items, like compass or a knife take only one square slot (1×1), bigger, heavier things take up more space, like a longsword (3×1) or a breastplate (2×2).
What will you take?
There is no AC nor HP. Instead, Croatoan uses an extensive wound system. Roll once for attack and compare the modified roll against verges. Rolling above the verge results in a hit to a random body part (1d6) with varying degrees of damage:
Injury - not life-threatening on its own, with no negative modifiers.
Wound - serious, bleeding wound. Negative modifiers and constant loss of blood. Wounds should be treated as soon as possible.
Mutilation - limbs fly, guts are spilled. Possible death. Serious negative modifiers. Even if your character survives this, it'll never be the same.
Wearing armor on a body part allows to soak a hit once, or twice, depending on the armor. Then the armor breaks, and you can throw it away.
Points & Experience
In Croatoan you get points for one thing and one thing only: finding ancient treasure and bringing it back to civilization.
That means - no points for defeating monsters (which is good, because fighting monsters is very punishing in Croatoan). The game rewards planning, creativity, ambushing, sneaking and negotiating (with those that can be reasoned with).
Combat should always be a last resort.
Monsters don't use Player Character rules. They have their own: light, quick and simple; assessing only their threatening features and their vitality.
Each of their attacks and activated abilities and spells uses a specific pool of dice with or without modifiers. They also have only two verges: Hit and Critical Hit. The first is simply a build-up toward the creature's Vitality limit, while the second negates one random ability of the monster for the remaining of the encounter. Hit the undead knight critically, and you might cut off it's sword-wielding arm. Each hit matters. On both sides...
Using this system you can easily design a new monster for your dungeon, or convert any creature from your favorite OSR module basically on the fly.
Gustave Doré (1832-1883), "Brute Harpies" from "Dante's Inferno"
Madness & Quirks
Quirks are unusual behaviours and compulsions developed by characters as means of dealing with the stress. Quirks come with additional sets of rules that sometimes have drastic impact on how the character plays. Some quirks have slight drawbacks and equally subtle positive effects, while others are real game changers. Some give new abilities to the characters, others change how Stress mechanics are resolved. The bottom line is this: Quirks are not balanced. They aren’t supposed to be balanced. They are supposed to be random, interesting and fun to introduce during game sessions.
According to the tagline “the more you survive, the stranger you get” amassing Quirks slowly changes and further differentiates the characters. Few examples:
Close any door behind you, or gain 1 Stress. Lock or otherwise block a door you recently went through to lose 1 Stress.
Burning things helps you relax. You lose 2-4 Stress each time you set on fire something that shouldn’t be set on fire.
You laugh loudly and nervoulsy, whenever you gain Stress.
Gustave Doré (1832-1883), "The shriek of Timidity" from "The days of chivalry (...)"
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