Turning Dnd into a Roguelike

I love roguelikes.

Ever since I was introduced to the genre with the game Pixel Dungeon I have been hooked on them. Roguelikes have had a recent resurgence thanks to games such as Faster Than Light, Darkest Dungeon, Enter the Gungeon, and many more taking the roguelike genre in fresh and exciting new ways. A roguelike, for those of you who don’t know, is a genre of video games in which there are 2 things present. 1.) Randomly generated content, and 2.) Permanent death. Roguelikes have challenged players for years ever since Rogue came out in 1980, and continue to expand what video games are capable of to this day.

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My friend and I both played a lot of Pixel Dungeon back in the day, around the same time we were both heavily into Dnd. One day we came up with the idea of turning Dnd into a roguelike. We had a bunch of ideas, and we used a ton of paper, but it ended up going nowhere. The slow pace of Dnd doesn’t fit the faster-paced nature of a roguelike. It wasn’t until recently that I began thinking about the idea again, and wanted to see if it could actually work. And finally, after spending so long on tinkering something with my friend, I finally think I have something that can work.

This is going to be a longer than usual article, so I’m going to split it up into two parts. This week I will be covering how creating characters needs to change to better fit with the fast and fluid roguelike gameplay, and then next week I will discuss what goes into randomizing this kind of dungeon. The goal is to have this ready by the time Halloween rolls around so that if you want to try out Dnd as a roguelike you have a chance to do so. With all of that out of the way, let’s start hacking Dnd, and turn it into a roguelike!

First, let’s start off with the basic idea. The ancient Dungeon of Yendor has recently appeared in the nearby town. Legends of untold treasure await anyone who dares to venture inside. Hundreds have entered, but none have left successfully. At the end of this dungeon awaits the Amulet of Yendor, an artifact that promises untold power. Traversing the 26-floor dungeon is no easy feat, but for those who can achieve it, they can become like gods. Each time you traverse a floor deeper into the dungeon you will level up once and take a short rest. Every five levels you will encounter a boss floor, and a chance for a long rest. Defeat the bosses, and travel to the bottom of the dungeon to obtain the fabled amulet and defeat the evil force known as the Dungeon Master!

Character Creation

One of the main challenges of converting Dnd into a roguelike is character creation. In Dnd, character creation is a long process filled with love and care. In a roguelike, you press 1-2 buttons and immediately get into the action. Creating a faster process of character creation is important in allowing each game to be started as quickly as they might end. In order to speed up character creation, one of the first thing you have to do is remove options from the players.

Now, options are great and are in the game for a reason, but removing options is important for starting games quickly, and for a roguelike that is a very important aspect of the game. Players will be less likely to play if the character that they spent an hour on is killed in less than 10 minutes. But, we don’t’ want games to feel samey either. Character creation is important for keeping everyone different and exciting.

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So, here is my solution. Randomize everything. Randomizing everything is important for roguelikes, because it allows for fast character creation, while still keeping everyone feeling fresh and different from each other. To help with randomizing everything, I’ve had to simplify a few things and cut a lot of steps out of the character creation process. While this may sound like a negative thing to do, keeping things simple, and having a character sheet small enough to fit on a 3×5 card are my top priorities. Let’s start with the table I created for all of the races in Dnd.

  • Feel free to ignore this entire section and create characters the traditional way if you so choose. This method is simply here to ensure fast and efficient character creation, in the face of the meat grinder that is a roguelike.

1. Race

(Any option in parenthesis can be chosen after the class is determined).

  1. Dwarf: +2 Con, +2 (Wis, or Str), 25 ft spd, Darkvision,
  2. Elf: +2 Dex, +1 (Wis or Int), 30 ft spd, Darkvision,
  3. Halfling: +2 Dex, +1 (Cha or Con), 25 ft spd, Darkvision, Lucky
  4. Human: +1 to all
  5. Dragonborn: +2 Str, +1 Cha, 30 ft spd, Breath Weapon
  6. Gnome: +2 Int, +1 (Dex or Con), 25 ft spd, Darkvision, Minor Illusion Cantrip
  7. Half-Elf: +2 Cha, +1 any, +1 any, 30 ft spd, Darkvision,
  8. Half-Orc: +2 Str, +1 Con, 30 ft spd, Darkvision, Relentless Endurance
  9. Tiefling: +2 Cha, +1 Int, 30 ft spd, Darkvision, Hellish Resistance
  10. Your Choice (you may choose your race after your class is rolled)

For those of you savvy enough to notice, you will see that I have removed many options that a character would otherwise have. For example, a dwarf usually gets 2 options Hill Dwarf and Mountain Dwarf. A Hill Dwarf gets +1 Wisdom and the Dwarven Toughness ability, while Mountain Dwarf gets +2 Strength and Dwarven Armor Training. With a roguelike, speedy character creation is a must, so simplifying the option down to just choosing the bonus keeps character creation fast, while still giving the player a small amount of agency.

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The next table I did was for classes:


Spellcasters can cast anything on their list, provided they have the spellslots for it. When leveling up, you will obtain new spell slots which are free to use immediately. Used spell slots do not refresh on a short rest (unless you are a Warlock), but the new ones count as fresh. For example, a wizard uses up both of her spell slots on level 1. When she goes up to level 2 she obtains one new spell slot. She now has one more spell slot that she can use, however the previous two spell slots remain used up until the party can reach a long rest point on the fifth level.

  1. Barbarian: Saving Throws (Str and Con), Proficiencies (Athletics, Intimidation, Nature, Survival), Items (Greataxe, 2 Handaxes).
  2. Bard: Saving Throws (Dex and Cha), Proficiencies (Acrobatics, Deception, Insight, Performance, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand), Items (Rapier, Lute, Leather Armor, Dagger).
  3. Cleric: Saving Throws (Wis and Cha), Proficiencies (History, Insight, Medicine, Religion), Items (Mace, Scale Mail, Light Crossbow, 20 bolts, Shield, Holy Symbol).
  4. Druid: Saving Throws (Int and Wis), Proficiencies (Animal Handling, Nature, Perception, Survival), Items (Wooden Shield, Scimitar, Leather Armor, Druidic Focus).
  5. Fighter: Saving Throws (Str and Con), Proficiencies (Athletics, Intimidation, Perception, Survival), Items (Chain Mail, Longsword, Shield, Light Crossbow, 20 bolts).
  6. Monk: Saving Throws (Str and Dex), Proficiencies (Acrobatics, Medicine, Perception, Religion, Stealth), Items (Shortsword, 10 darts).
  7. Paladin: Saving Throws (Wis and Cha), Proficiencies (Athletics, Investigation, Medicine, Religion), Items (Warhammer, Shield, 5 javelins, Chain Mail, Holy Symbol).
  8. Ranger: Saving Throws (Str and Dex), Proficiencies (Animal Handling, Investigation, Nature, Perception, Survival), Items (Scale Mail, 2 Shortswords, Longbow, 20 arrows).
  9. Rogue: Saving Throws (Dex and Int), Proficiencies (Acrobatics, Deception, Investigation, Perception, Sleight of Hand, Stealth), Items (Rapier, Shortbow, 20 arrows, Leather Armor, 2 daggers, Thieves’ Tools).
  10. Sorcerer: Saving Throws (Con and Cha), Proficiencies (Arcana, Deception, Perception, Persuasion), Items (Light Crossbow, 20 bolts, Arcane Focus, 2 daggers).
  11. Warlock: Saving Throws (Wis and Cha), Proficiencies (Arcana, Religion, Perception, Nature), Items (Light Crossbow, 20 bolts, Component Pouch, Leather Armor, Quarterstaff, 2 daggers).
  12. Wizard: Saving Throws (Int and Wis), Proficiencies (Arcana, History, Investigation, Nature), Items (Quarterstaff, Arcane Focus, Spellbook).

One of the more controversial things I will be attempting with this idea is homogenizing the spellcasters, and making it so that you already know every spell on the sheet. The purpose behind this is to simply speed up character creation even further. If everyone has their character ready, but the wizard spends an extra 2-5 minutes figuring out the perfect spells for the day, it can really slow everything down. By giving them access to everything, it eliminates unnecessary steps in favor of something more fun. The challenge then comes with casting spells at the right time, as opposed to choosing whether to prepare Feather Fall or not.

3. Stats

Choose stats with the method that best suits you and your players. If you want a true old-school Dnd experience, rolling 3d6 in order can lead to some wacky builds such as a Barbarian with only 4 Strength. Point buy can work as well, however, it can lead to slower character creation, and 4d6 – lowest can help to create stronger characters. For this type of session, I like to utilize rolling 3d6 and then placing the stats. This allows for a more gritty experience, while still giving players a chance in the face of lady luck.

There, you now have a functional character that can be created in less than 5 minutes. While something like this is not perfect, creating a character in this way is perfect for whipping something up out of nowhere, and getting into the action as soon as possible. Before I end today’s article, I would like to discuss one more thing.

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Perma-Death or Something Different?

One of the biggest highlights of any roguelike is permanent death. Killing off the player and then quickly starting a new run is a large part of the appeal of roguelikes. The problem with trying to translate this system into Dnd lies in the group dynamic. Almost all roguelike video games are single player and for good reason. If the player dies they can start a new game. That is not true of what we are attempting here. If a player dies, their party still has a good chance of proceeding forward and succeeding. For the player that died, this is really unfortunate, as they just get to sit around and wait until the other players either die or go all the way to the end without them. Instead of proposing one solution, I would like to propose multiple and see how others feel about handling this dilemma.

1. Dead Players become DM Helpers

This is the simplest solution to the problem but is one I am not necessarily a fan of. Running a roguelike session is not easy (as I will get into more detail next week), and having the players help is a huge boon for the DM. But for the player, this kind of help tends to be sporadic and less interesting than being a player. They may take over a monster here and there, check initiative order, and look up rules, but ultimately most of the work rests on the DM’s shoulders, and their time will be spent browsing Reddit or Facebook. Having help is important, but that help can be obtained while the player is playing the game as well.

2. Establish Checkpoints for Resurrections

This is where our hack of Dnd starts to stray away from the traditional roguelike definition into something else entirely. The idea is, once the players reach the next level of the dungeon all players who died on the previous floor are resurrected. This goes against the identity of most roguelikes, but something you have to keep in mind is that this is a team based game with multiple players. Having one player sit out because their character died on level 2 is not ideal. Bringing players back after every level keeps the players involved in the game, and prevents anyone from feeling left out. For the sake of a group based roguelike experience, removing permadeath is a necessary sacrifice that has to be made for the enjoyment of everyone.

Coming back from the dead isn’t something that should be taken lightly, however. If purposely dying is more beneficial than staying alive, the players will inevitably optimize the fun out of the game. You also have to be aware of the potential of snowballing. Make the punishment too severe, and the players will never be able to recover after a single death.

Some potential options include but are not limited to 1.) Accruing Exhaustion (might be too severe a punishment), 2.) No level ups if you die (also likely too severe), 3.) losing health equivalent to the number of times you’ve been resurrected (seems the most balanced to me), and 4.) treasure rooms that spawn items specific to the survivors of each floor (rewards good play, instead of punishing bad luck). Personally, I like options 3 and 4 the best and will be trying it during my next run.

*Editors Note: Here is a better explanation of option 3. Upon resurrection, the player will take xHD damage where x equals the number of times they have been resurrected, and HD equals the hit dice of whatever class they may be playing. For example, a Bard has a HD of a d8. They have died twice and the party has now made it to level 3. The bard will first level up, and then take 2d8 points of damage.

3. Any Other Ideas?

Again, this system is still in the process of getting the kinks worked out. I did a test run yesterday, attempting to randomize everything, and we all had a blast. There were a lot of kinks that needed to be worked out, such as realizing that permadeath is simply not an option for this style of game. But the seed of a great idea is still there. I would like to hear everyone else’s thoughts on the matter and see what others can bring to the table. Next week I will be talking about how to handle the actual dungeon itself. Until then, I will do my best to answer any questions you may have, and discuss how implementing Roguelike Dnd can work. Thank you all for reading, I hope you have a great week and an amazing Tuesday!

4 thoughts on “Turning Dnd into a Roguelike

  1. You should check out Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG by Goodman Games. It’s a super fun rules-light system with a lot of what you talk about here including 100% random character generation. In fact it’s a game balanced by randomization.

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