Setting Up

Giffyglyph's Darker Dungeons is a modular toolkit you can use to help add a little grit and danger to your D&D 5e games.

Rather than focus on new content (classes, monsters, spells, etc.), this supplement expands the underlying mechanics of 5e with some brand new systems to let you customize your game in whatever fashion you like. If players are tearing through your dungeons and monsters without fear, this toolkit might help to put some bite back into your adventures.


There are 7 major themes that this supplement tries to address with a variety of new features and mechanics:

  1. Attrition: Everything breaks, eventually. Characters gain wounds, lose limbs, and go mad from stress, while gear becomes chipped, damaged, and broken.
  2. Inventory: A restricted inventory is an interesting inventory. Carrying just the right item can mean the difference between life and death—so choose wisely.
  3. Survival: Everyone needs to eat, drink, and sleep. Basic survival is a core theme of many adventures where starvation and exhaustion are a genuine threat.
  4. Time: It takes a long time to achieve something significant. The world evolves as weeks, months, and years pass by. Downtime is an important part of life.
  5. Travel: The wilds are dark and dangerous, and long-distance travel is a core part of the adventure.
  6. Wealth: Gold is important and everyone wants it. Wealth is the key to power—or at the very least, the key to a life of comfort.
  7. Agency: Players drive the game forward—their actions, choices, and consequences determine what happens throughout the game.

How to get Started

It's easy to start using Giffyglyph's Darker Dungeons in your D&D 5e game—just follow these 5 simple steps:

  1. Pick the features: Decide which rules to include in your game. If you're modifying an already-active game, trying adding just one or two features at a time so players aren't too overwhelmed.
  2. Talk with your players: Tell your players what you'll be doing and why. Some of the features in this supplement change the default 5e experience, so you should make sure that all players are aware of what you're changing and be comfortable with it.
  3. Experiment: You might find some features don't fit with your particular game or setting after all. That's ok, not every rule works for everyone—swap features in and out as best suits your table, or change rules to create your own custom variant.
  4. Have fun: Start playing. Enjoy your game!
  5. Feedback: If you have a notable experience using this supplement in your game, I'd love to hear about it. Constructive feedback is greatly appreciated, so let me know how it worked out at your table. Thanks!

Modes of Play

This supplement contains many features and tweaks, and not all are equal—some impact the game and tone more drastically than others.

For convenience, the rules have been grouped into three broad modes of play: Radiant, Dark, and Astral. Pick and choose the features that are the right fit for your own game and start playing.

Mode 1. Radiant

Radiant features can be dropped into almost any 5e game without any significant tonal changes. These introduce small tweaks and changes with a focus on immersion and non-combat activities.

  • Ammunition Dice: Track ammunition using abstract terms and ammunition dice.
  • Assistance: Allow characters to assist each other with passive bonuses and prevent characters rerolling for multiple tries at the same task.
  • Cheat Fate: Allow characters to escape certain death with rare and elusive fate points.
  • Degrees of Success: Add a success-at-a-cost option for characters to make failed rolls more interesting.
  • Inventory Space: Add a slot-based inventory system that focuses on item size and placement.
  • Knowledge Checks: As the GM, roll character knowledge checks in secret to provide misinformation and misleads if they fail.
  • Long-distance Journeys: Make long-distance travel more interesting with a Journey phase and travelling responsibilities.
  • Open Skill Checks: Decouple skills from abilities, allowing any skill to be used with any relevant ability modifier for variety.
  • Potions, Flasks, & Oils: Add new consumables for players to find and buy on their adventures.
  • Social Interaction: Allow Intelligence and Wisdom to be used appropriately in social situations, enabling non-Charisma characters to contribute more.
  • Tools: Make tools and proficiencies more valuable by granting additional bonuses.

Mode 2. Dark

Dark features make combat more dangerous and life generally harder for characters. Use these to darken the tone of your game or put more strain on resources.

  • Dangerous Magic: Make magic a bigger risk for your casters with magical burnout and consequences.
  • Deadly Disease: Make sickness and plague a serious threat with escalating diseases.
  • Death Saving Throws: Make death a bigger risk with persistent death saving throw failures.
  • Item Quality: Track the quality of items, affecting their value and how they are treated by NPCs.
  • Lingering Wounds: Add persistent wounds to ensure falling to 0 hit points has a lasting impact.
  • Mortal Injuries: Add mortal injuries to make players fear falling to 0 hit points from your big bads.
  • Rest & Downtime: Add a more realistic time scale to your game by making a long rest take 1 whole week.
  • Stress & Afflictions: Track the mental well-being of characters and any potential breakdowns.
  • Survival Conditions: Track the physical state of characters to highlight resources like food and water.
  • Training: Make characters pay gold and train with a mentor if they wish to level up.
  • Wear & Tear: Track equipment damage and allow characters to repair and temper their gear.

Mode 3. Astral

Astral features change core parts of the vanilla 5e experience. Use these if you want to modify some of the underlying mechanics of your game.

  • Active Defense: Replace monster attack rolls with player defense rolls to make your players feel more active and engaged during combat.
  • Active Initiative: Allow players to choose who acts next for more dynamic combat by replacing turn-based initiative with active initiative.
  • Active XP: Reward players with XP for finding treasure and bringing it back to town.
  • Feature and Spell Changes: Change some character features, skills, and spells to modify power levels to better support low power gameplay.
  • Intelligent Initiative: Switch initiative to use INT instead of DEX to make intelligence more significant.
  • Race & Class Changes: Tweak your races and classes with a variety of small updates for some improved balance and to better support the other modules in this supplement.
  • Random Character Generation: Create new random characters using a d100, 3d6, and a set of random tables.
  • Rookie Characters: Create classless rookie characters for a low-powered, dangerous adventure.

A GM wants to make a small tweak to their existing campaign and just replace the vanilla inventory system. They choose the Inventory module with the Quickslot variant—later switching to the Containers variant once everyone becomes more comfortable.

A second GM wants to make long-distance travel more involving in their game, and chooses the Journey Phase module. They also add in Survival Conditions to highlight the need for food and water. Later in the game, the GM references the Deadly Disease module when the party ends up in a foul, rat-infested sewer.

A third GM is creating a brand new Lovecraftian-themed campaign in the "West Marches" style. After talking it over with their group, they opt to use the entire ruleset. After a few sessions, the GM decides they miss rolling dice for monster attacks—they drop Active Defense and return to the vanilla mechanics.