Thoughts on Hardcore Mode

Greetings fellow travellers, sit down on the rock and drink some the last clean water in the world. (ha ha). Don’t worry it’s not as if anything matters down in this dark place anyway.

I had this idea of having an optional rule set for “hardcore mode”. Where the characters have low HP and the players should not expect their characters to survive too long in the campaign/adventure.

Inspired a little bit by Mörk Borg OSR-ish games that have come out in the last few years.

I like the “You can name your character but it will not save them” type of a mindset. (Dying worlds are fun.)

I want it to be a sort of semi-standard thing.

How would you modify the stats players have to make it fun but also deadly?

  • The “Dice Explosion Runaway” is also something to consider perhaps limiting? Or is it just a reflection of how deadly the world is?
  • PC HP should be very low? Or should just the damaged and banes just be more deadly?
  • What other considerations should we make?
  • Perhaps limit the extraordinary ability stats? (Removing some stats)

Players should not expect to ever leave a dungeon alive, so there must be some way of barter for items either for wealth or for the characters stats with a spirit? (This is something I saw in a Mörk Borg stream). Or perhaps have “Rougelite game like” shops in that magically appear at random?


// Gustav.

Honestly, HP is already low for OL, especially compared to other games, I’m not sure you would need to do that.

Explosions pair with the low HP, where even a low level can knock out a high level.

Lethal Damage exists to make things more deadly, and is a choice for GMs to use or not use. Having traps and/or creatures that use Lethal Damage will increase deadliness.

Having Creatures/NPC that attack downed players will increase deadliness b/c of finishing blows, which GMs normally will use sparingly and only if it really makes sense (and they want the characters dead).

There is also fatigue of course.

You can have PCs that are powerful (not restricting stats), and it still be deadly, it just depends on the feeling you give to the setting/crawl, how you make encounters.

The more pressing questions are, if they aren’t expected to live, what is the point? Having to constantly create characters to just go back in and die… again? Perhaps you could elaborate more on what you are wanting from this?

OL doesn’t focus as much on items, and more on players and their abilities. Items can enhance for sure, and in this case, expendable and consumable items would make the most sense, to give a tool to use in the moment to boost or aid.

In OL, you shouldn’t limit stats or remove boons or banes, instead you should describe the world, and the way it works. Then players can build their characters to fit into that setting and world, and the GM can help make sure it makes sense for the world. Players can be creative and surprise you with ideas of how to use things.

For example, if you were playing in a wild west setting, at first it might make sense to get rid of the boon Flight. However flight is another way for levitate (in DnD/fantasy terms) or feather fall. With a Cloak, a rope, or other device, they could drop from heights without harm, or even build a hang glider to fly (with the natural “makes sense” limitations).


The more pressing questions are, if they aren’t expected to live, what is the point?

That is the point. In settings like Mörk Borg or Vargåldern (The Wolves Age) (Not translated) the world is bleak, rotten, dying or right out doomed.

In The Wolves Age, the world has fallen and is just a rotten husk, towns forgot what they were called, castles only referred to as The Castles (or the like), and NPCs only by title (Bartender, The cook, The Lord, etc), and bands Adventurers are both a surge on what little is left of civilisation and it’s only hope…

Of course I should have thought of the of the level scaling in the rules. Just bump it up a level and two for each encounter… (or if we are doing what some are doing: things exist in the world, and it’s up to the players to figure out if they can manage to fight those enemies there and at that time, or if they can figure out something else.)

And home brewing some doomsday clock is not hard…

Well thank you for your insight anyway.

// Gustav

I think you misunderstood. What is the objective? Are you trying to die? Then the point is that you aren’t expected to live, but that it is highly unlikely.

Are you trying to make it back from the dungeon? Are you trying to get treasure? What are you hoping to achieve by playing? It may very well be that it is how you die, I suppose? Or how far into the dungeon you can get?

I get the bleak world, but there is usually a point to you doing stuff, and it isn’t to die.

Knowing the objectives can help inform, and help towards how you might homebrew and shape things. That was why I was asking the question (which I wasn’t clear on in the original post, so my apology).

I posted this over on the discord and it generated some discussion, I was hoping some people would post here, but looks like they haven’t just yet.

Clocks (such as from Apoc World or Blades in the Dark for my reference) are great ways to create tension and worry about time for sure, great tools.

Could even use one that has a chance to tick for every encounter (whether you fight it, or hide/move to the next room) to symbolize the building stress of dungeon crawling. A Will/Presence roll (or other Attribute that makes sense) to whether it ticks the clock or not, with the CR potentially getting higher the longer you are in the dungeon.

This kind of experience is what Older versions of D&D were more geared toward. There many people who like a game that is very lethal and still run games based off version of “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” where their characters only last a session or two. This is part of the fun of that system though since “rolling” new characters is an exciting thing that embraces the randomness. If what you want out of a TTRPG is an arcade experience where you kill monsters and get killed a bunch, then It’s possible (and I hope I’m not out of line) you might need a different game system. Open Legend is a game about telling stories, so you can’t separate game mechanics from the story in this system. You can tell a gritty and lethal story just by having everything deal lethal damage in OL, but it’s always good to have the right game system for the right player.


At a high level, 5E D&D gradually creeps toward a combat traffic jam, with massive hit point reserves being pitted against (typically) slower growing damage potential. When I designed the Open Legend mechanics, my goal was the opposite. Hit points and damage capability both go up, but damage has the steeper incline on the parabolic curve. Because of this, it is increasingly likely to be taken out (or take out a foe) in one hit. This is where the dying and lethal damage rules come in. Because you might have a GM roll a 50 against a character at first level, I flattened lethal damage to simply incapacitate but not kill you.

I think @Tahuhali makes a great point about the randomness of stat generation. My first Advanced D&D game in the 90s was pretty weird because my GM used the “Skills & Powers” rules (which were beloved by power gamers) and he let us re-roll stats as much as we wanted during character creation, so you could pretty have the best stats, just had to have the patience to re roll infinitely.

The point here is that the “hard mode” idea in OSR games has always been ignored by house rules, even when people do play old school versions of D&D.

If you want that feeling in Open Legend, I would just remove the rules around going unconscious and change it to be

0 hp = unconscious
-10 hp = permanently dead

The exploding dice will do the rest to make your characters disposable and their lives meaningless.

But @Tahuhali is right, this is the opposite of the goals of Open Legend.

I would say the goal for the game is to help mechanics get out of the way of creativity, while still allowing for a meaningful strategic experience in combat and character creation without combat power creep resulting in never ending combat at high levels.


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