The Dead and The Darkened – My 1-hour RPG

Posted on February 23, 2011


Today I was reading a discussion page here in which the thread starter challenged others on the site to create an entire RPG in 365 seconds (about six minutes). Despite this ridiculous time frame, several people commented with rules for complete, working RPGs, some of which I would actually consider playing.

“Ha!” I said to myself. “If they can do it, so can I!”

Unbeknownst to me almost four minutes had passed before I could even whip out Wordpad.

“Okay, maybe I can’t. But what about an hour? That’s still kinda impressive, right?”

“But I can’t make just any RPG,” I declared, once again to myself. “I need to introduce some crazy new mechanic so that I’m not just recycling ideas.”

So I checked the time on my screen, made a mental note, and began writing the rules for The Dead and the Darkened. The story background was pulled out of my ass in approximately 1.000234 seconds, and the card mechanic was half-inspired by, half-stolen from something else I had been reading earlier.

Without further ado, here are the rules in their entirety:


All the PCs are high-school students chosen by The Universe to fight Zemons (Zombies possessed by demons) which plague the earth.


Take 40 index cards. Take ten aside and label them Event. Take aside another 10 and label them Thing. Another ten should be labeled Person. Take 5 and write in big letters SHIT* JUST GOT REAL and the remaining cards IN THE NICK OF TIME…

On each Event card write something that could happen, like “Zemon Attack!” or “History Test!”. The exclamation points are mandatory.

On each Thing card write some object, like “Haunted Pistol” or “Vial of Zemon-B-Gone”. Note the special effects of the Thing if it has any.

On each Person card write some person or type thereof, like “The Principal” or “Professor Crabbs”. Note the class (explained below) of the character is neccessary.

Make sure all of these things are written on the front (lined) side.

* Feel free to Bowdlerize this to crap or something.


Whip out another index card for your character card.

1: Pick a name and description and write them on your card.
2: Divide 24 points among these three attributes: Body (strength, dexterity, fitness), Mind (intelligence, knowledge, memory), and Soul (charisma, willpower, social knowledge). Note these on your card.
3: Pick two Smooth Moves. These are special abilities of your character. Stuff like “Hypnotic Gaze” and “Fireball Attack”. Don’t worry about whether a regular human could do it, ’cause you’re a Chosen One and you can do shit like that. GM may veto any Smooth Move he thinks is too powerful. Note the effects of the Smooth Move next to it.
4: Pick a class. This can be any broad category of person, like “Doctor” or “Computer Geek”. Classes have points representing experience (called levels). All starting characters are only at level 1 in all their classes.
5: Each player gets 20 Hit points and 8 Action Points. Mark these down too.


GM comes up with a quick scenario. If they are unimaginative or lazy, pull out a bunch of those cards mentioned in Setup and cobble together a scenario based on them.
Each player gets 5 cards from the deck. Exclude the SJGR and ITNOT cards for now. There is no need to hide your hand, unless you want to, then by all means do so.
GM describes the scenario. Go around the table. Players must play one of their cards, which then goes back in the deck.
When a player plays an Event, it happens and the GM must now work it into the scenario, be it beneficial to the players or not. Reward unpredictability and creativity though. When a player plays a Person, then the Person is then introduced into the scenario. When a player plays a Thing, then the PC now is in possession of it.

Work the SJGR and ITNOT cards back into the deck and shuffle.

From then on, it works like a normal RPG (however, the players draw a new card and keep their hands for later). When a player tries something with a marginal degree of failure involved, the GM decides what attribute is needed to do it. The player rolls 2d8 and adds the level of any applicable class. If the result is lower than or equal to the attributes number, then they succeed. Otherwise, they fail.
However, throughout the game, the players may still play cards, with the same results. Now, if a player plays a SJGR card, then something happens wildly out of the blue. What exactly happens is the GM’s choice and can be beneficial or not. If a player plays a ITNOT card, they may draw immediately draw 1d6 cards from the deck and play as many cards from their hand as they please. combining cards for max effect is encouraged, e.g. playing “Goo Gun” and “Dr. Death” as one could mean the Doc arrives on the scene holding the slimy weapon.
Players may also use their smooth moves at any time. To use it costs 1 action point, and when their APs run dry they’re outta luck. They may regain AP by resting.
Combat goes in rounds. Each combatant gets a slip of paper and they secretly draw their character doing something. Good technical art is optional. Stick figures are fine. The GM draws the actions of all the NPCs. Your action should include a definite target, be it an enemy, an area, or even yourself. Smooth Moves also count as actions.
At the GMs go, everyone reveals their papers. The GM then resolves these actions. If someone punches someone else and they’re not actively defending, then they get attacked! Tricky actions should be resolved as detailed above. If someone gets attacked, they may try to block or dodge (again, if it’s particularly tricky, and it usually is, then they must roll. If the GM feels it necessary, then they must make seperate rolls to notice the attack and to defend against it). If they succeed, the attack doesn’t count. Successful attackers roll 1d4-1 and subtract it from the target’s HP. GM should feel free to throw in bonuses or penalties to this roll. At 0 HP, a character is dead.
When all is resolved, and there’s still people left who are fighting others (e.g. there are still Zemons roaming the hallways), a new round begins. Characters can try to do things to stop the fight, like successfully performing diplomacy as an action (which can be blocked/dodged just like an attack, by the way. Anything that could be construed as applying/projecting force or change to another counts as an attack).


At the end of an adventure, the GM may hand out experience points as he desires. 2 XP will buy another level of a class. 5 XP will upgrade an attribute 1 point. 10 XP will buy you a new Smooth Move. 3 XP will allow you to carry over one of your cards to the next session. 8 XP will buy you a new class, at level 1.

Stay smart, folks.

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Posted in: Game Designs