Drylands Rules (PDF)
Also get the introductory slideshow (no promises on quality / readability, it’s from ~2008 Open Office): Slideshow
Drylands is an involved project of a post apocalyptic world set off by the end of the oil era. The timeline starts in 2006, when the end of affordable oil began. Through various political, societal, and strokes of bad luck the use of oil ground to a halt in 2019. The American president announced as such on April 19, 2019. Riots and vandalism started at the proclamation, police abandoned their posts, and society started to break down. 2020 to 2022 were considered the darkest years since the world wars. By 2025 an unrecognisable America had emerged, cut off from outside contact, and pattered by acid rain, covered in ruined cities, and populated by tough survivors.
Instead of using meaningless paper barter is an acceptable way to trade. However an evolved strain of wheat has emerged across America, the seeds of which can survive polluted soil and live on very little water. These seeds are so valuable they became the new currency, called Foundation Seed. The seeds are self terminating once planted, unless exposed to natural salt water. Which means the east and west coast controls the majority of Foundation Seed production.
Players take on the role of survivors, and battle across the ruined Dakota Belt to try to make a living.
I started writing Drylands in 2006, and finished (or rather moved on) from the project in 2009. My flagship game Dinosaur Cowboys would soon follow. As with my systems of the time I created the Drylands rules as a bunch of separate documents. At the time Drylands was the first “real RPG” I had written in a long while, and although the rules may seem an incremental update, there were actually a lot of changes and improvements as a designer that I learned through this project. I also ended up with a game that almost played better as a straight up skirmish, which you can see continued in the early versions of Dinosaur Cowboys. In fact a lot of concepts of Drylands helped shape Dinosaur Cowboys, so I’m grateful to this game.
The game is action point based, mostly drawn from Fallout 1 & 2. Movement is 1 action point, shooting or attacking varies by the weapon, etc. Characters have skills (like Climbing) that can be used in either a Competing (player vs enemy) or Challenge (player vs environment) setup. All skills were checked on a D8. Moving is very similar to Dinosaur Cowboys and my other terrain based game, with facing having a factor, Difficult Terrain doubling the cost, etc. Armor took a more modern approach of reducing damage, instead of making someone harder to hit. The armor had a bunch of variants, such as “Always on” armor, percent armor (that had a chance to apply), threshold armor (would only apply if damage was above/below X), and armor vs certain damage types. Hitpoints were done by location, which made for a nice looking character sheet.
Combat was resolved by using D20s as a base to-hit. But there were two types of modifiers: Static and Modifier Dice. I really like the concept of Modifier Dice and would like to revise and revisit the idea in the future. Basically you use 1D4 for each Modifier Dice. So you could have 1D20+2D4+2 as a to-hit. There was some math involved in simplified the modifiers (so if you had +4D4 and -2D4 you’d just do +2D4), which was tedious. Unfortunately you have to total all the dice and compare, which ends up with a bit more math than I’d like. I think if I was to rework the system I’d have Modifier Dice count as a success (or maybe a +1) 50% of the time, like on a 3-4 of a D4 or something, so then you could tell at a glance. Melee was again split from ranged and used a “both attack” mechanism. I blame Warhammer 40,000 for my continued reliance on such an approach.
Inventory was a bit different. I still lugged the traditional weight burden, but I also introduced the idea of “Space Limits” where you can’t have more than 3 Large weapons or 1 Armor per location. This is the infant version of the Dinosaur Cowboys burden/inventory system. Otherwise the usual food, weather, and travel were still limping along.
Character generation was point buy, using Advancement Points (rings a bell like Improvement Points from Dinosaur Cowboys eh?). The game also had Talents (passive or once-per-combat use abilities focusing on ranged) and Techniques (special attacks for melee). Weapons could be upgraded by applying modifiers (like a Range Finder, Extended Barrel, etc.). And of course there were Drugs…a lot of the names came from my much earlier game Existence. I had a bit more around withdrawal and addiction effects in this case.
Drylands also featured one of my first “quick charts”, which summed up modifiers, action point costs, etc. all in one place.
So many. Without the lightbulb changes in my development style that I got from Drylands my favorite game Dinosaur Cowboys wouldn’t have happened. The simplest would be having a title page (seems minor right?) that eventually lead to me moving to a single document rulebook (not sure why it took so long). A lot of terminology was refined and carried forward, such as “entity”. The concepts of difficult terrain and the like weren’t new, but having them all in a single game really helped clarify my thoughts. Similarly aimed shot, attacking into melee, facing, elevation bonus, weapon fumbling resulting in a jam/reload, the idea of talents/special attacks instead of Feats, template weapon lists instead of specific, inventory space instead of weight, scaling point buy, and even mundane stuff like specifying number rounding.
As for a world/history view, I kept to my usual global warming being a factor, the USA being a focus of a post apocalyptic event, and the concept of rich/poor being split by region (in this case Foundation Seed produced on the coast vs the interior, much like high tech Neotechnoists vs Dusters in Dinosaur Cowboys). Note I don’t even live in the USA, but I think the variety of states, traditions, density, urban vs rural, and terrain/climate makes for a perfect setting.
The game also taught me the importance of good art. Although I didn’t quite make the connection of inserting images into the rules (probably because when I first started making rules I just used plain TXT/RTF files). I did have a slew of “theme” images in a folder related to the project, and used in the introductory slideshow (posted above).
Drylands played pretty well, considering the level of complexity. But an important lesson was that setting up a full terrain table (instead of using a paper grid of squares, or a hexagon board, or just imagination) really lent itself to a skirmish style wargame. In a lot of ways Drylands played like that already, just slower, and would pave the way for trimming the fat and making the initial Dinosaur Cowboys prototype.
As a tribute I use the term “Drylands” a lot for posses in my Dinosaur Cowboys game. I also used some of the characters I brainstormed for this game, and miniatures I painted. For example an early playtest in Dinosaur Cowboys involved the Drylands Posse fighting in Wyoming, right up to an almost current Drylands Expedition gang with the old crew of Quidel, Khulan, and Trista.
I still vividly remember a miniature going into a Crouch Stance behind a ruined car in the middle of a valley. Bandits were firing down from both sides, and the combat was tense, with lots of movement and jockeying for position. Definitely a solid game experience marred by slightly too complex rules. I’m okay with complex rules that have a point, but just being “crunchy” for the sake of it is pointless. Similarly if lighter/trimmer rules can achieve the same gameplay experience and level of fun I’m always in favor of simplifying.