Are You Feeling Lucky Punk? – A Review of Tombpunk RPG


Lo-Fi Roleplaying

Author: Alan Bahr
Publisher: Outland Entertainment
Page Count: 102
Available Formats: PDF & Print
PDF (DTRPG) – $9.99
Print – Not Yet Available

Everyone likes a challenge from time to time. A common challenge for RPG authors is to write a fully functional RPG in the simplest terms possible, using the “less is more” more approach—taking a minimalist approach to an artistic expression. Stripping down one’s creation to the bare bones and having it remain comprehensible is a difficult process. Alan Bahr, the author of Tombpunk, took on this challenge. Did it work? Let’s see.

From Tombpunk‘s inception, Alan Bahr created a set of goals for himself to adhere to.

• Keep the rules quick, dirty, to the point, and deliberately incomplete.
• Don’t sweat rules for everything. Provide just enough rules to play.
• Keep the tone straightforward and conversational.
• Avoid the possibility of power creep.

For this review, I used the PDF, which was graciously provided by the publisher at Rolling Boxcars’s request. Tombpunk is available in print as a digest size booklet as well. The PDF was easily viewable on my 7″ tablet without any need for magnification.  The book’s layout was sparse, as is its contents, as one would expect with a minimalist look.  Filling in the gaps are numerous beautiful line-art illustrations and a humorous comic illustrated by Nicolás R. Giacondino. The art really captures the feel of old-school dungeon crawling.

Tombpunk is a fantasy sword and sorcery roleplaying game written in a simple conversational tone enabling easy comprehension of the rules. It uses a d12 as its core dice mechanic for character attribute tests along with the “Advantage and Disadvantage” (2d12) mechanic found in many modern roleplaying games. Characters have three attributes Might, Grit, and Deftness which roughly represent their strength, resolve, and agility. Attributes are used throughout the system for weapon attacks, spells, defense, and other tests. In addition to attributes, characters have other resources that they may test: Courage, Will, and Coin. Courage tests a character’s resolve in a frightening situation. Will denotes a character’s spiritual strength against unholy creatures. Coin abstractly represents their wealth.  Each of these Resource Tests uses a D6 in which rolls under their value equals success. Courage and Will are straightforward in their meaning while Coin goes deeper.

As an abstraction of wealth, when a character wishes to purchase an item, they must roll a Resource Test against their Coin. If the result is equal or lower, the item is purchased. If the result is over, the item is still purchased, but the character’s Coin value decreases by one, signifying they overspent. Characters are free to purchase any available gear and acquire hirelings at the cost of one Coin per month. Treasure collected from an adventure is abstracted similarly to that of Coin. Characters receive treasure points when they clear a dungeon which they can turn into Coin at a rate of one treasure for 1d3 Coins. Coin is very important in Tombpunk, for it is life. Every week that passes, Player Characters must deduct one coin for living expenses—food, lodging, etc. Every month each Player Character must pay one coin in taxes to their lord and another in an adventurer’s tax. The lightening of one’s coin purse is a clever way to motivate continual adventuring among the party.

Character creation in Tombpunk is very simple and quick. I was able to roll up a character in less than five minutes. The book does not provide a character sheet, but Tombpunk characters are simple enough to fit onto an index card. Players choose from three simplified character classes: Warrior, Shepards, and Ritualists. Warriors (fighters) encompass men-at-arms and thieves, Shepards (clerics) are spiritual guides, and Ritualists (magic-users) are weavers of arcane power. Characters are humans by default, but there are optional racial rules to adapt them to be dwarves, elves, or halflings. Each character class has its own strengths and weaknesses. Each character class changes attributes values, resources, and provides special abilities to make each class unique. A special trait tied to character classes is the amount of damage each class is capable of.

In Tombpunk, weapon types are merely flavor for the game’s story. A weapon’s damage is predetermined by one’s character class and any qualities of the damaging weapon. Characters apply qualities to their weapons at character creation and may later purchase more with Coin. The book outlines thirteen different qualities that may be applied to a weapon. Some qualities add plusses to a weapon that may be purchased more than once to increase its overall effectiveness. Other examples are “Armor Piercing,” which ignores the defender’s armor, or “Brutal,” which allows the player to roll two dice for damage and using the larger of the two results. Not all qualities are linked to a weapon’s damage. Some provide increased ranges like “Reach,” others provide “Light,” which allows a player to make attack rolls against their Deftness instead of the default—Might.

The Warrior class benefits the most from the qualities. Warriors at character creation can choose to have two weapons with one quality each or one weapon with two qualities. On top of that, Warriors have a special ability that allows them to temporarily add any single quality they wish onto their weapon for the duration of combat. Shepards and Ritualists also have special abilities that make them stand out. Shepards have four specialties: Praying, Healing, Tithes, and Guidance. Praying restores lost Courage and Will points, while Praying restores a character’s health known as Lifeblood. Tithes grant Shepard’s hospitality at any aligned church, and Guidance allows an advantage on any test at the cost of one Will point. Ritualists have two special abilities: Alchemy and Spell. Ritualists can create alchemical items like smoke bombs, healing salves, and alchemist fire. For spellcasting, Ritualists will need to work closely with their Gamemaster to iron out the details. Other than using Grit to determine if a spell is successful, there are no spells to choose from. Spells and their descriptions are left to the Gamemaster and players to discuss.

Tombpunk has very simple mechanics when it comes to combat. Initiatives are rolled at the start of combat or any action where turn order is needed. Characters have one action per round. An action can be an attack, movement, reloading of a weapon, or any action that takes just a few seconds. Weapon attacks are tested against a character’s Might for melee and Deftness for ranged weapons (unless a weapon’s quality dictates otherwise). When an enemy attacks, they test against their target’s Deftness. Any damage sustained is reduced by the value of the armor worn. There are four types are armor to aid in reducing damage. Heavier and bulky armor types may hinder the wearer. Hitpoints, called Lifeblood, and derived from one’s character class. When a character reaches zero Lifeblood points, they must make a check against their Grit every time they take an action. Failing this Grit check is fatal. Once per day, any character can restore their Lifeblood points to their Will’s value or wait for magical healing. Combat is swift and deadly!

In Tombpunk, it’s assumed that characters will be adventuring in darkened tombs or the like. The idea of darkness is essential to the game, for you see, a successfully adventuring party need not clear out every room of a dungeon to walk away with the treasure. Each dungeon has a darkness rating assigned by the Gamemaster—derived from the number of player characters and other factors. Each time the adventuring group defeats a monster or explores a room, they make a Light roll. A party’s light number is equal to the party’s complement. If successful the Darkness rating for the dungeon is reduced by one. With each encounter, the process continues until the dungeon’s darkness rating reaches zero. At which point, the dungeon is cleared, and the party gets to walk away with the dungeon’s treasure. Players will have to be content with just walking away with treasure as there are no experience points or level advancement in Tombpunk. After an adventuring party leaves the dungeon, its Darkness rating increases each month until it is restored to its original value, making it ripe for plundering again.

This pretty much completes the contents of the book. The rest comprises eight fully started, ready-to-use monsters to fill your dungeon and two micro settings, “The Jerk in The Castle” by Alana Joli Abbott and “Dirty-hand Haven” by Gwendolyn N. Nix. Both micro settings include introductions, setting information, actions taken by its pertinent inhabitants in conjunction with the story, adventure hooks, and original inspiration information to allow the Gamemaster to expand on the settings.

We’ve reached the end. It’s time to look back at the four parameters Alan laid out for himself and evaluate if he was successful.

Keep the rules quick, dirty, to the point, and deliberately incomplete. √

Check! Tombpunk is a quick read, quick to the point, and leaves room for interpretation or modification.

Don’t sweat rules for everything. Provide just enough rules to play. √

Check! Tombpunk has just the right amount of rules to play.

Keep the tone straightforward and conversational. √

Check! Tombpunk is easy to read and comprehend.

Avoid the possibility of power creep.

Maybe. This one I’m not sure of. Though there is no overpowering ability or power creep, a game with ambiguous rules like spellcasting, players and Gamemasters will determine if this idea holds true.

The roleplayer who will enjoy Tombpunk the most is the one who can accept rulings, not rules. A player who is comfortable with a Gamemaster who judges fairly and is not bound to the sacred text of a rulebook. Someone who enjoys a classic feel of perilous dungeon crawling and quick combat resolutions. Tombpunk is an excellent game for a one-shot or a short campaign. It is super simple to learn and comprehend. Character building is quick and easy. Alan Bahr has created a fast, rules-light, high-octane RPG that is quick and easy to bring to any gaming table. As Tombpunk‘s subtitle suggests, it puts forth a Lo-Fi roleplaying experience without sacrificing the fun of a Hi-Fi game.

~Stephen Pennisi

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