zilch / agony








About Zilch

Author: Zach Tomaszewski (zach @ snarkdreams.com)

As a homebrew almost-boardgame, Zilch uses a wide range of gaming supplies and tokens pilfered from other games. For example, PC stats are represented by laying out 4 playing cards. A rack of Scrabble tiles represents your spells known. Dice and dominos are used to resolve skill tests and combat contests. Read on for more.

Zilch is meant to be a simple dungeon-crawling monty-haul RPG with boardgame-like mechanics but with the optional player options of a full RPG. The idea is to be able to sit down, whip up a few characters with little to no preparation, and have a fun evening. However, because of the RPG options, longer campaigns are also possible.

Some of the diverse specific goals and inspirations include:

Quick lite play
Inspired by Microlite (and similar systems) for simplifying d20 and for the 4-skill system.
Inspired by various dungeon-crawling RPG-lite board games, such as Descent: Journey into the Dark
Classic feel
Old-school traditional dungeon-based fantasy milieu. Easy to customize or tinker with (including changing setting, etc). Rules-of-thumb to apply rather than detailed rules for each possible situation.

Inspired by D&D and d20 for the history of fantasy RPGing and the general milieu.
DM-less play
One person should not be stuck with the role of DM. Instead, the game should be largely generated at runtime, with the possibility of passing the task of adjudicating back and forth each turn. This runtime generation includes the mission/story, the dungeon, and encounters.
Room to grow
When desired by players, should allow for rich, detailed, unique RPG characters that can grow/develop through play. (But should still be simple and fit on a one-page character sheet.) Strategic options in battle. A variety of challenges, opponents, and monster abilities. (There is some tension here with the lite goal.)

Inspired by the various dead and dying "RPG lite" projects of my own with good ideas that needed a home.

The name zilch started as a temporary joke acronym, and, as most such acronyms tend to do, it ended up sticking around. I started working on zilch during a time when I was supposed to be implementing an interactive narrative prototype for my dissertation. Any time spent on zilch was really a distraction from what I was supposed to be doing. Thus, zilch means "Zach's Implementation Lies Cold and Hoary". I also liked it because it is hopefully how much you need to spend to play: just download some free rules and raid your gaming cupboard for supplies!

Recommended Supplies

zilch was largely built around the supplies in my gaming cupboard. Here's what I recommend you use, and what you can substitute instead.

Zilch Rules

Agony rules

It is probably easier to forgo the playing cards and just use the character sheet. The following additional supplies will be needed:


zilch is Product Identity; everything else here is Open Game Content.


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System Reference Document. Copyright 2000-2003, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.; Authors: Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams, Rich baker, Andy Collins, David Noonan, Rich Redman, Bruce R. Cordell, based on original material by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.

Unearthed Arcana. Copyright 2004, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.; Authors: Andy Collins, Jesse Decker, David Noonan, Rich Redman.

System Reference Document v3.5 HTML compilation. Copyright 2007, Sovelior Meliamne & Jason Olaf Jensen.

Microlite20. Copyright 2006, Robin V. Stacey (robin@greywulf.net).

z20. Copyright 2009, Zach Tomaszewski.

zilch. Copyright 2010, Zach Tomaszewski.