Dungeon crawling rules for Forbidden Lands

Authors: German, Perico, Sirvent, Sku, Tolanss, Tolanss

Puedes leer esta entrada en español aquí

At the end of May 2021, we finished our Ironsworn cooperative campaign, and the summer break caught us early and with desire. Until the end of September 2021, we didn’t start the regular sessions again. Perico and Sirvent were reading Forbidden Lands during that summer break, and they loved it.

The Mutant Year Zero system with a fantasy setting and the sandbox that the game proposes had been quite interesting for them, and they decided to play it during this season and, of course, to play it in cooperative mode.

At that time, there were no official rules to play Forbidden Lands either alone or cooperatively; However, Fria Ligan is developing them as part of the Bestiary Kickstarter’s Stretch Goals; and they are being developed by Matt Kay, the same person who played a good handful of games on his Youtube channel 3 Skulls Tavern.

So to play, we had to find our rubric, and we put together some of the elements that Matt uses, with stuff from the previous Ironsworn campaign and tidbits from other game systems we had played before.

But during all this preparation, none of us realised that the game didn’t have a mechanic for dungeon crawling, so, literally, the game rules don’t contemplate it. It only talks about exploring the wilderness and social interaction. And the worst thing is that we discovered it with surprise when we started to play our second game and found a dungeon.

We thought that using the mechanics of Wilderness exploration for a Site was not very appropriate. We had to stop the game and start thinking about more suitable rules to examine this kind of place.

Over the course of several games, a mechanic that is a bit of an amalgam of different sources was refined and adjusted. They fit pretty well with the sensations we like to experience while playing.

The mechanics work, are fun, create tension and can be used in a solitaire, cooperative or directed game.

Below we list the steps, and then we will go into detail on some concepts.

Site exploration mechanics:

  1. Generate the Site.
    1. Determine the objective you are searching for.
    2. Generate locations on the Site.
    3. Choose the Risk to be taken when exploring the Site.
      1. Assign size to the Risk pool by 1/4 of the locations that compose it.
  2. It takes one turn to explore a location (there are approx. 24 turns in a Quarter of a day); if the location is considered large or if there have been encounters, more turns can be spent as you see fit.
  3. If you have not been to the location before:
    1. Check Light (if applicable).
      1. Roll a Yes/No Oracle.
      2. If not lit, roll for Torches to see if they are consumed.
    2. The character acting as a Guide in this location rolls Lead the Way. In addition to considering whether or not there is a success, the roll must always be read as an Oracle.
      1. Failing the Lead the Way roll reduces the size of the Risk Pool by one die.
      2. If the roll is a success, nothing additional to the Oracle reading occurs.
      3. Oracle reading (levels accumulate, e.g. having two successes also implies what happens with one success):
        1. Oracle with more successes than banes:
          1. One success: add a die of to the Advance Pool.
          2. Two successes: Find an oddity.
          3. Three successes: Find some treasure.
        2. Oracle with more banes than successes:
          1. One bane: Nothing happens.
          2. Two banes: Random encounter.
          3. Three banes: Waste! Roll for a Consumable (Water, Torches, … ).
        3. Successes and banes cancel each other out. Complication!
          1. Either activate a trap if it exists.
          2. Or activate the Risk Roll.
  4. When narratively significant, Check Progress (Roll the dice from the Progress Pool and read as a Yes/No Oracle):
    1. Only one roll can be made per room.
    2. The roll consumes an entire turn.
    3. If the roll fails and there are unmatched banes, the remaining banes will reduce the Advance Pool by one die each.
    4. In case of success, you find the target you were looking for in that room.
  5. If the Risk Pool is reduced to zero dice, the Risk for the location materialises immediately.
  6. If the Location has to be abandoned for any reason, the Advance Pool is halved, but you can keep the remaining value for future explorations.

Description of Concepts

Oracle Reading

When an Oracle reading is to be performed, roll 6 six-sided dice.

Successes and banes cancel each other out.

If a situation is favourable, an automatic success can be added, and if it is unfavourable, an automatic bane.

The reading of the oracle will depend on the type of situation that has originated it; for Yes/No questions or exploration in Wilderness, we use Matt Kay’s Oracle table:

Oracle reading for the exploration of a Site:

  • Oracle with more successes than banes:
    • One success: Add one die of to the Advance Pool.
    • Two successes: Find an oddity.
    • Three successes: Find some treasure.
  • Oracle with more banes than successes:
    • One bane: Nothing happens.
    • Two banes: Random encounter.
    • Three banes: Waste! roll for a Consumable (Water, Torches, … )
  • Successes and banes cancel each other out: Complication!
    • Either activate a trap if it exists.
    • Or activate the Risk Roll.

Remember that the results «accumulate» so that if you get three successes, you get the advance die, the oddity and some treasure.


On the one hand, Risk can be considered from the point of view offered by Rob Donoghue in his blogpost on risks as storytelling mechanisms.

What will happen that will prevent (or hinder) you from reaching your goal?

  • If you’re not quick, you risk being delayed.
  • If you are not clever, you risk wasting resources.
  • If you are not forceful, you risk ineffectiveness.
  • If you are not direct, you risk miscommunication.
  • If you are not sneaky, you risk revelation.
  • If you are not careful, you risk overkill.

On the other hand, you could also consider Risk to mean that some kind of monster will assault you (which is usually what we tend to choose in our games).

Advance pool

As you get positive results on your Oracle readings on the Lead the Way rolls, you accumulate dice in a pool.

This pool is used when you decide, following the narrative, to stop and check if your target is in the current location, for which you use Check Progress.

Risk pool

The dice pool that is established when you generate the Site, you can estimate that, it’s made up of as many dice as 1/4 of the total locations of the Site you are exploring.

If you don’t know the number of locations beforehand, you can set a range between 2 and 5, depending on the «estimate» of size suggested by the narrative.

This is a pool that cannot grow, only decrease. It is a sort of countdown to doom. It is reduced by failing the Lead the Way roll AND/OR by activating the Risk Roll.

If the pool is depleted, the pre-set Risk materialises.

Risk Roll

An unusual complication occurs if reading the Lead the Way roll as an Oracle cancels out the successes and banes.

One of the possibilities is that the Risk Roll is activated, so take the dice from the Risk Pool and roll them.

Each bane that appears causes that dice to be removed from the Pool.

If all dice are removed by this roll, the pre-set Risk immediately materialises.

Checking Progress

When it is narratively interesting, a Check Progress roll can be made. Take all the dice from the Progress Pool and roll. If you get at least one success you have located the site objective.

If no successes are rolled, each bane rolled causes that die to be removed from the Progress Pool.
This can be done at multiple locations on the site, as long as there are still dice in the Progress Pool, but never twice at the same location.

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