zilch / agony









At the start of combat, determine the order of initiative. This is in order of speed, which is your Spades (or 1/2 Spades if Slowed). (For more randomness, +1d6 to this for each character. Or roll a single +1d6 for all PCs and another +1d6 for all monsters.)


Dominoes: Remove any blank-end dominoes before the start of the game. If you prefer, you can roll two d6s instead to simulate a domino. Or you can roll 1d8 + 1d4, treating the d8 as the "greater end" and the d4 as the "lesser end" regardless of the actual rolled values.

At the start of each round, each active character should announce their Stance for that round. Certain Conditions may limit your choice of stance. Draw a domino without looking at it and place it face-down so as to represent your Stance for that round.

StanceDomino placementConsequences
(Totally Offensive)
Vertically above your Clubs card Both ends of your domino are considered offensive pips; you are Defenseless for the round.
Horizontally above your Clubs card The greater end of your domino is offensive; the lesser end is defensive.
Horizontally above your Spades card The lesser end of your domino is offensive; the greater end is defensive.
(Totally Defensive)
Vertically above your Spades card. You must take the Defend action this round. (Therefore, you may only choose this stance if capable of making at least a std action this round. If you lose your ability to perform a std action before you take your turn this round, your stance reverts to Cautious.) Both ends of your domino are defensive.

In a surprise round, only those characters aware that combat has started get to draw a domino and act. The others are inactive and Defenseless.

Turn your domino face-up at the start of your turn. You may turn it over earlier only if you need to see the domino's pips to make a or -based save or defense.

Combat Actions

After Stances have been selected, proceed in initiative order through characters until each active character has had a Turn. This completes the round.

1 Turn = 1 Full Action and as many Free Actions as makes sense. 1 Full Action may be converted to 1 Standard Action + 1 Minor action. 1 Standard Action may be converted to 1 Minor action.

Full Actions

Two-Weapon Fighting (2WF): If you are a Fighter or Rogue, you may fight with two light weapons or one heavy & one tiny weapon. You may divide your offensive pips as you see fit (min: 1 pip) between two Attacks this turn, making one Attack with each one-handed weapon. You may see the results of your first attack before targeting the second, and you may take a step between the two attacks.

Although usually used for melee combat, these rules can also be applied to equivalent ranged attacks. For example, a fighter could use them to throw a dagger and swing a sword, or even to fire a shortbow twice in a turn. As a Heavy weapon, a longbow would be too large to fire twice. Slings and crossbows take too long to reload regardless of size.

Ready: Only possible with a Cautious stance. You may make one Standard Action at a later time, after your current turn but before your next turn. If you specify the conditions you are watching for, you may attack just before that event, even if this is during another creature's turn. Otherwise, you may chose to act after any event. (Readying can be particularly useful in preparing a riposte melee attack on flying or invisible creatures for when they attack you. While you cannot anticipate an invisible attack, you can attack immediately after it while you still know the location of your foe.)

Retrieve: Find and pull an item from your pack. Requires a free hand.

Standard Actions

Attack: Use a physical weapon (including unarmed strike) to attempt to damage a single target. Compare your (Clubs + offensive domino pips) to your target's (Spades + defensive domino pips). If you equal or exceed your target's defense, you hit.

When you hit, you deal damage based on your weapon. In addition, for every 5 points that your attack exceeds your target's defense, deal +1 dmg. This base damage may then be modified if you are of a different Size than your target.

Charge: If in a Reckless stance and not Slowed, you may Charge as a Standard Action, moving up to your speed and also making a single attack at the end of the move.

Special Attack: Announce that you are making a Special Attack before resolving the attack. If you hit, you deal no damage. Instead, you roll a relevant contest. This is usually a Clubs roll on your part, with either Clubs or Spades for the defender, depending on how they are defending. If you win, you inflict a special effect on the defender.

Examples special attacks include: Bullrush (force your opponent back a number of squares equal to 1 + the number of points you won by); Disarm (opponent drops a held weapon/item), Grapple (you are now Grappling your opponent); Trip (your is opponent falls Prone or is pulled from a mount).

Certain modifiers may apply to the contest. For example, it may be hard to Trip a quadraped or impossible to trip a giant snake. Also, some creatures have abilities that let them automatically succeed at certain special attack contests.

Cast: This is essentially an Attack made with magic. See Magic for more.

Defend: Focus on protecting yourself, thereby gaining the advantage of your Guarded stance.

Use: Use a held item. For example, drink a potion, pour an oil, etc.

Minor Actions

Move: You may normally move a number of squares equal to your Spades. You may also usually swim or climb at about 1/4 that rate. If you take the Reckless stance, your may move up to 1.5x your normal Move rate (running) or up to 2x if in a straight line (sprinting).

Manipulate: Pick up an object, open a door, sheathe a weapon or store a held item in a handy body slot, guide a mount or vehicle, etc.

Shift Stance: Change your stance by one degree, such as from Bold to Reckless or from Bold to Cautious. You are still subject to any restrictions on your stance at the time of the shift, such as keeping a defensive stance if Threatened. You may not shift from a Guarded stance until after you've taken the required Defend action this turn (which means shifting from Guarded is generally useless since you would have no actions left after the Shift).

Stand: Stand up from Prone.

Free Actions

Various brief actions that take very little time or can be easily combined with other actions. Examples: Dive prone, drop an item, change grip on a weapon, draw a handy item, call out a sentence or two, move a step/square (once per turn and only if you have not otherwise Moved this turn).


Zilch measures distance in Squares. A Square can be 1 yard, 1 meter, 5 feet, or whatever. You can also use hexes instead, or just inches on the table-top. Zilch has the following distance categories:

Playing without a grid: Specific distances are occassionally mentioned in these rules for those that like precision in their gaming. However, Zilch assumes a dungeon environment. In the average dungeon, everything is usually Close--except perhaps in very large caverns or outside. This makes it easy to play without a battle map. Rather than tracking squares moved, simply estimate the general distance between two characters. If there is some question of whether a character has enough movement available--such as when a circuitous route is needed or the destination is on the edge of the range category--test Spades to resolve the issue. (Similarly, a Diamonds test can be used to adjudicate the boundaries of magical ranges or areas of effect.

Combat Modifiers


Anchored Unable to move from your current location; nearly always Entangled or Grappled too.
Blind You are Slowed, Threatened, and all targets are invisible to you. (May lose Threatened if blind for a long time.) Other penalties as appropriate; some actions requiring sight may be completely impossible.
Visually Impaired All targets are Occluded to you.
Defenseless Attacks against you automatically hit. (For the more detail-oriented: Ignore defensive pips and treat your Spades as 0 if paralyzed; 1 if you can move your body; 2 if you Move from your current Square; 3 if you run; or 4 if you sprint. Cover) may offer you some additional protection.)
Entangled Hampered and possibly Anchored. Lose the protection of a shield.
Fearful Comes in 2 levels:
Shaken: Threatened.
Terrified: Stunned, except that you may not Move towards the object of your fear. If cornered, this may mean you can do nothing except cower. You may usually resist being Terrified as a standard action; on a success, you are only Shaken.
These conditions may also cover extreme discomfort, such as fleeing from a swarm of biting spiders or a nauseating toxic gas.
Grappling / Grappled / Pinned Entangled.
Movement: If in a grapple with a creature of your size or one size smaller, contest Clubs as a minor action to make an Slowed Move, dragging your opponent with you. If your opponent is two sizes smaller, you can Move freely (though are still in the grapple). If your opponent is larger, you are Anchored.
Grappling: One of the grapplers controls the grapple (Grappling) and can end it as a free action. The other (Grappled) is Threatened and must succeed either a Clubs or Spades test as a standard action to break or slip free. The Grappler may succeed at another grapple contest go for a Pin, holding the victim Helpless (except for making an escape grapple test at -5).
Hampered Slowed, and you may take only a Standard action (and free actions) each turn.
Helpless Physically immobile, Defenseless, and usually Prone. You receive a domino, but may only make purely mental actions.
Slowed Your Movement rate is halved. This also affects your initiative roll during combat.
Prone Considered Threatened and (mostly) Anchored; takes a Stand action to stand up.
Stunned As Threatened, but you may not make any proactive actions except a single Move. (So you may not take a Guarded stance, and the offensive end of your domino will go unused each turn).
Threatened You must take a Defensive or Guarded stance each round that you start Threatened. You may be Threatened by three different situations: 1) you are in melee range of an opponent capable of making a melee attack on you AND you are not wielding a melee weapon; or 2) you wield a melee weapon but are in melee range of two or more melee-capable opponents on opposite sides of you (flanked); or 3) you are subject to some other condition that produces a Threatened state (such as fear, being Prone, being Grappled, etc.).
Unconscious Take no actions of any kind and so receive no domino each turn. Are also Helpless.