Following up on my blog post from a couple of weeks ago, I have been doing some research into various RPG systems that I would like to play. Some of those purchases and inquiries are starting to come to fruition and there has been one system that has really caught my eye.
Cairn is a New School Revival system, which if I am being honest, I don't know exactly what that means. The term is used online often in conjunction with the Old School Revival (OSR) terminology, which references the D&D methods and designs from the early eighties. I'll talk about that more in another post, but I wanted to highlight a bit of what has caught my eye with Cairn. I'll be summarizing a bit on my interpretation, so this may not entirely be the designer's intent with the system design.
"Cairn is an adventure game about exploring a dark & mysterious wood filled with strange folk, hidden treasure, and unspeakable monstrosities. Character generation is quick and random, classless, and relies on fictional advancement rather than level mechanics.
The entire rules set is about 24 pages and can be downloaded over at cairnrpg.com. There is some very nice design aesthetic as well around the character sheet and pamphlet.
One of the key things I would like to try and do with Cairn is to explore some of the tropes and mechanics that D&D 5e either falls short on or that our play group has not explored. For the purposes of my planning, I have solidified around three main concepts that I would like to explore with Cairn.
- Make wilderness survival matter. When characters venture out into the wilderness the management of their resources and the risk/reward to exploring should be tied into the system. The further they explore, the greater the treasure reward could be, but also the higher the risk. Getting back to a safe haven after your adventure should be considered in their resource management
- Make money matter. D&D 5e hands out a lot of money and after a few levels, characters have more than they can possibly spend. Additionally, living expenses become a chore and a waste of time when they have hundreds of gold burning in their pockets. Cairn's limited inventory system may not only help the player spend their money, but also manage all of the items they have and make considerations as to what is most useful for the adventure they are entering into.
- Explore character advancement outside of the traditional “leveling up” system. There is a concept known as “Foreground Growth” where the characters can grow and advance through in the world and their adventures, not from resting overnight. I love the idea of exploring the concept your direct encounters and experiences lead to specific growth. Perhaps you had a close encounter with a Hag in the wilderness and as a result you learned about their critical weakness.
This would be my first time running a system like this, so I am hoping to build the campaign around an adaptation of "The Lost Citadel" by Green Ronin Publishing. I am hoping that the concept of a single, last human city will help to facilitate this campaign style since the adventurers will have to head out into the wilderness and try to make their way back. Adventuring further from the city can result in increased risk and increased reward.
Cairn has a lot of nice hacks built by the community to further some of the dungeon and hex crawl mechanics. I think that would be really fun to dig into an explore as a core component of the campaign.