Brave, my Knave hack

Here is a link to my hack of Ben Milton's minimalist RPG, Knave 1E. Here is the word document version. You can download this and then edit the text directly. This game was made using two free fonts (Sebaldus-Gotisch and Crimson Text). You'll want to install those so the formatting is retained in the document version. Just like the original, I recommend you print it out. Finally, here is a character sheet for it.

Here is a list of differences between Brave and Knave 1E:

Minor Tweaks

Most of my minor changes were to make the game ever-so-slightly more aligned with 5E D&D in largely meaningless ways. The reason is that I've been playing 5E every week for years and it's ingrained in my brain. The main people who I play Brave with are also used to 5E. I'd like the process of going back and forth between two systems to be fairly seamless, because those tiny differences that've been hammered into me have a surprising power to derail a session's flow. When 5E was brand new and I had just come from Pathfinder, it took me a long time to stop telling my players, "make a Reflex save."
  1. Saving throws are named "Die Checks" again.
  2. To succeed a die check, you now have to roll greater than or equal to the target number, not just greater than. It's the "meet-or-beat" rule.
  3. Standard movement speed in combat is changed from 40 ft. to 30 ft.
  4. Armor is renamed "Armor Class (AC)."
  5. Related, default AC without armor is 10 instead of 11. That means you have a 55% baseline chance to hit someone unarmored, just like in D&D.
  6. An opposed check consists of both parties rolling a d20 check, with the higher succeeding and a tied result meaning that the status quo is maintained. Yes, I know this is less elegant. But remember, some things are preferred just out of familiarity.
  7. Senses and obscurity use the system of "lightly obscured" and "heavily obscured" from 5E D&D because that's actually my favorite rule for that sort of thing.
  8. Damage can be doubled or halved based on the target's vulnerabilities or resistances.
Other minor tweaks not related to 5E D&D:
  1. No more ability defenses/scores. Only bonuses. The original Knave could be played as an entirely player-facing ruleset, but that's never how I ran it and so I just cut that sort of thing out.
  2. Fine motor skills have been moved from Intelligence back to Dexterity, where they're traditionally placed in most games. There's also some other edits to the text of what each ability is used for.
  3. I include and make frequent use of ability abbreviations, because I like them and they take up less space.
  4. Details of item slots are a bit expanded. For example, 7 rations can fit into 1 slot, rather than just 1.
  5. There's now an optional standard array for character creation, in case you're a big baby who's afraid to roll dice.
  6. You can choose to get a random spell at character creation if you forfeit any chance for armor, helmet, and shield. This was merely a suggestion before, but I made it a codified rule.
  7. On the character creation pages, the Starting Gear column is now to the left of the Traits columns because that step comes earlier in the generation process.
  8. A handful of items on the Starting Gear and Traits page have been changed, and the three alignments are more balanced.
  9. I added DCC's funnels as an optional rule.
  10. Healing rates during rests scale with your level now.
  11. There are some falling rules and suffocation rules now. They're not revolutionary or anything, but it's one less ruling I have to make on the spot.

Items and Shopping

At this point, many of the innovations I've introduced have become widespread among OSR games. You have probably come across ready slots and fatigue-occupying-slots in other games by now.

I like shopping as a gameplay activity, but I hate shopping sessions. It has great potential to add depth to a player's decision making, but it has to be framed correctly so we aren't wasting our time with an agonizing improv sketch. I added a lot more stuff to buy, and have item availability limited by settlement size.

Item quality is one of my favorite parts of Knave. I added Fragile and Rubbish as a way to make item breakages even more common. I especially like it as a tradeoff for using a magic starmetal or cold iron weapon, so PCs have to be smart about how often they'll use those special materials. "Why doesn't Geralt just always use his magic sword?" Well, because it's fragile. And putting players into a situation where the only weapons and armor they have access to are Rubbish is a really interesting challenge. Not long-term, mind you, but it can certainly teach a lot of OSR philosophy very quickly.

I've added something called "storage items." When playing the original Knave I constantly ran into situations where a player would roll something like "a sack" or "a backpack" for their starting equipment and would be confused how it works. "Don't I already have item slots for putting my stuff in? What was I carrying all this other shit in if not a backpack??"

For things like sacks and backpacks and bandoliers to be a functional item in this game, they must instead add item slots rather than occupy them. Which is, from a mechanical point of view, a pretty interesting type of item to acquire as treasure. There still needs to be a limit of course. But a Bag of Holding can be modeled in this ruleset very easily: it's simply a storage item that grants 10 slots.

Firearms are cool. I've seen lots of OSR rules for them. Mine are very, very simple at the cost of being very unrealistic.

Black markets are cool. They introduce some risk to shopping. Plus, they aren't just things for players to buy. A smart player will read this and realize that it's a list of things they should sell.

I expanded on animals and transport a bit. Why didn't mounts and vehicles have item slots listed before? If a huge part of the game is managing inventory space in a slot framework, and the main benefit to having a donkey or a wagon is more storage space, then surely they should be tied into that slot framework. Well, I've solved that problem. And I threw in saddlebags and barding, too. PCs should own horses eventually.

Rules for Adventuring

Usage dice are a popular houserule originally introduced in The Black Hack by David Black. It's a bit contentious, but part of that comes from people widely misinterpreting how to use it properly. I like it as a useful approximation tool. It makes it easier to track stuff that would normally be hard or inconvenient to measure. For example, if you use something like glue or chalk or oil or caltrops, then the precise supply consumed by each use is tricky to measure.

Unlike David Black, I don't use them for rations or light supply. Those are usually consumed in discrete, precise amounts. But I do use them for ammunition, which also shares that trait. I make an exception because precise ammo management just sucks. Instead, how about you wait until the end of the fight and then roll your ammo Usage Die just once? It becomes part of the wrap-up ritual, alongside looting bodies and drinking potions.

One of my favorite houserules is Advanced Darkness, which I wrote about here. To make the role of darkness more meaningful and threatening, as well as to make light sources easier to implement, the solution is to pull back on the power of light. It's more realistic, more feasible in play, and is more challenging.

Potent potables are a silly mechanic I once wrote about here. This is my fun little rule for drinking alcohol. It's not as simple or realistic as how most other games would do it, but I like gambling mechanics. Drinking booze is the primary method of healing mid-adventure that a knave has at their disposal. I think that's really funny.

And naturally, I found it to be a robust enough little mechanic to rework into other variables than HP and WIS. There are tons of tradeoff potables you can acquire while adventuring! I listed a few common ones in the equipment pages that players should consider buying before an adventure and referees should consider planting in their treasure hoards. You never know when a little bit of bimbo juice will save the day.

I also crammed all my dungeon stuff in right here. It's a simple procedure, and one that I like a lot more than B/X D&D. Lord knows I've written enough about this topic here on my blog. But for all the thought that's gone into this, the main explanation for everything is "this is what works most smoothly in play."

Combat and Magic

For combat, I covered some stuff that often gets neglected. Dual-wielding, mounted combat, the actual range of ranged weapons, etc. I like status effects and find it helpful to include a few common ones. But the big thing is, of course, the death and injury table.

This is a version of "Death and Dismemberment" adapted from Trollsmyth's version (James Brian Murphy), itself adapted from Robert Fisher’s. See, I like "death at 0 HP" just fine. I don't mind a lethal game and I do want my players to be cautious and methodical. I want them to have something to truly fear and I want there to be serious consequences for their mistakes. But after playing that way for awhile I just had to conclude that, yes, there is such a thing as "too punishing."

The death and injury table thus has two benefits. Counterintuitively, it simultaneously makes it easier to survive combat while also making combat feel more dangerous. It extends your lifespan much like death saves in 5E D&D (although it's way more interesting), but it reinforces the tone of violence being comically gritty and gleefully suspenseful.

One of the most DIY-friendly parts of Knave was its approach to magic, but I never found myself taking advantage of that. I codified level-less spells and gave magic a bit of lore text. It's helpful to have some in-universe explanation for magic, just in case it comes up. And of course, I've only included 48 spells. Most are taken from that original list of 100, some are modified, and some are new. The most noteworthy are my inclusion of damage and healing spells. My players are attached to that kind of thing.

I organized the spells into 6 groups, each themed for a different kind of magic user. I frequently use that bit of flavor in-universe, and it's helpful as shorthand when writing scenarios and stat blocks. "The druid can cast any of Merlin's Charms" or "the sorcerer will teach the players one of Circe's Hexes."


This is a compromise. When I first started making Brave, the most original addition was a unique advancement system and class substitute. I like that characters are randomly generated to begin with, and I think it's in keeping with the spirit of the game to continue that philosophy even as you level up. As the scope of Brave ballooned out of control, this idea ended up being expanded into an entire supplement book. To be honest, the class system I cooked up is still probably the coolest original design work I've done. But it's way too much for this. I think it'll need to be the foundation of its own committed system.

So this is a watered-down version that I hope you like all the same.

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