Cairn 2e Player's Guide (July Playtest)

Hello everyone! I’d like to welcome feedback on the Cairn 2e playtest.

If you’re ready to dive in, HERE IT IS: Cairn 2e Player’s Guide July Playtest. And here is the printer friendly version.

The layout is by Adam Hensley, and the editing is by Derek B..

Read on to find out what’s different, what to expect in future versions, and more!


The Player’s Guide is just that: a manual for all players, including the Warden. It contains the core rules and procedures, and can be played right now! Also, did you see that sick cover art by Bruno Prosaiko? Expect more of that.

But let’s get to important part: What’s different?


The core rules are 100% compatible with Cairn 1e. Of course, there are some significant changes in store. Let’s talk about it.

Clarifications, decisions

Over the years I’ve heard a lot of the same questions over and over again, despite the existence of the Cairn FAQ. Obviously, clarity is the enemy of minimalism here. Fortunately I’ve had a lot of time to think things over, rephrase some things, and (finally) hire an editor. The rules are fine-tuned and less “vague” while (hopefully) still allowing for the kinds of flexibility Cairn is known for.


This is a big one. Character generation hasn’t been changed exactly, but expanded. Instead of simply rolling on a table of generic backgrounds, I’ve written 20 bespoke Backgrounds, each with unique tables (Electric Bastionland style!). The tables help determine both character starting gear and implicit (or explicit) abilities unique to each. These take up the bulk of the book (around 60 pages).

A note: none of the Backgrounds presently have any art. Fear not! That’s happening. I’ve hired the illustrious Keny Widjaja to do all of them!

Bonds & Omens

Characters now roll on a global Bonds table. Each entry is fine-tuned to deliver a modicum of backstory and connection with the game world. This is a bit like Debt in other games, but mixed a bit with Bonds and Flags from Dungeon World (though a bit less prescriptive). Gotta love comparing one game to another to explain a mechanic, eh?

Omens on the other hand are (usually) only rolled once by the a single party member. They point to a darkness or aberration on the horizon. This is honestly more for the Warden than anyone else.


Let’s get this out of the way first: a Procedures are rules that provide an order of operation, a framework for rules that can help keep the game consistent, dynamic, and flexible. Or something. Anyway, the current playtest has rules for Wilderness Exploration and Dungeon Exploration! They are a bit different than the way other games do things… but should still feel familiar. Most importantly, these rules (ahem, procedures) are modular, and can be easily dropped if they don’t fit your table.

Implied Setting

I’ve been working on a setting for Cairn. There is only a single page at the moment (at least… in the Player’s Guide) but it should provide a decent framework for setting up a game. It splits the world in two: The Woods, and The Roots. Adventures happen in the The Woods, and dungeons are (usually) accessed in The Roots. Gates are spread throughout the world, and act as portals to The Roots (and make travel fast!).

The Future

The Player’s Guide is ready to play, now. However, there is still a lot I plan to add:

  • Rules FAQs
  • More Bonds, more Omens
  • Spellbook personalities: this is actually almost finished, but I kept it out of the playtest for “reasons”
  • Procedures for Downtime (including foreground growth!)
  • Expanded setting, including an adventure!
  • Adding a TON of art (obviously to the Backgrounds, but also elsewhere)

I’ve already got a big list of typos and such, which are welcome of course, but I’d also like to hear general impressions, play reports, etc.



Dude. These background names are so evocative!!! The layout looks great so far. Not sure about the heavy black/dark gray pages. Those look good on screen but often feel a little flat in print. Might want to lighten those up just a little, but that’s my opinion and not really important to the core text. Gonna read through it this week!