Searchers of the Unknown is a one-page take on old school D&D, built on a simple premise: Any character can be boiled down to a five-item stat line of the sort used for monsters (like “AC 12 MV 10′ HD 3 HP 12 #AT 1 D d8 sword”). In a clever bit of design, armor class (AC) pulls double duty, as being more armored makes you tougher to hit, but also makes it tougher to run, sneak, swim, or climb. I’ve long loved how this mirrors the dynamic of equipment load in video games like Dark Souls and Fallout, and have been dying to hack Searchers to take that dynamic just a bit further. Something finally clicked, so now I have to playtest Searchers of the Undead, or whatever I end up renaming this one-page soulslike hack to. And, just to make sure it still worked okay even without the undeath and souls and stuff, I tweaked it a bit to make Heroes against the Unknown, for players who like passing around tokens and describing daring feats.
The core of Searchers is still there in both, but it’s worth calling out what’s different….
AC and HD
In Dark Souls, even just putting on a pair of pants poses an implied question: Do you travel light for speed and agility, or do you load up for durability and damage output? Those games take not just your armor weight into consideration, however, but also your weapon weight. To reflect this, and the fact that parrying and blocking with weapons are key to defense in Dark Souls, weapons have an AC bonus, and armor has lower AC to compensate. I also flipped the order of things, with “ascending AC” reflecting that the stat also represents weight carried. And while I was at it, I might have killed a sacred cow or two in renaming “armor class” to “armaments carried” (since it’s not just armor), and in changing hit dice from d8s to d6s (since death is temporary, and the other new rule described below increases longevity).
As long as I was getting carried away with that, I figured I might as well muck with tradition further in Heroes. That game completely replaces the concept of “levels” and “XP” with a milestone-based advancement system around doing increasingly impressive “heroic deeds” (HD).
I don’t think a soulslike game needs a stamina system, but I can’t seem to bring myself to make the one without the other. The basic rules should look pretty similar to Grave, my soulslike Knave hack, if a bit more prescribed. I see these Searchers hacks as games that an experienced referee might run for newbie players, or for a group looking for a quick pick-up game. Giving narrower, built-in uses might be welcome in easing the creative demands on players, I figure. We’ll see if that assumption holds up in play.
Searchers only offers the fighter as a character type, but it seemed pretty easy to adapt to a “classless” system where the items you find determine the kind of archetype you play. To that end, I threw a few basic spells into both games, with the requirement that you’ve got to hold a spellcasting item (which provides only minimal AC or damage output) and spend stamina to cast. Casting frequency is explicitly limited for some spells, but is otherwise left kind of vague for groups to tailor to their preferences.
As I mentioned, I have yet to test these in play, so if you beat me to it, let me know. And if you have any name suggestions, I’m all ears. “Soul Searchers” is apropos, but I don’t want to seem to promise an emotionally complex story game when I’m delivering a one-pager about an undead adventuring party killing monsters and stealing souls. That said, if you do get a little choked up playing my game of cadaverous ne’er-do-wells, definitely get in touch so we can be pals.