Cairn was written with the following design philosophies in mind:


The Warden's role is to portray the rules, situations, NPCs, and narrative clearly, while acting as a neutral arbiter.


A character's role or skills are not limited by a single class. Instead, the equipment they carry and their experiences define their specialty.


Characters may be powerful, but they are also vulnerable to harm in its many forms. Death is always around the corner, but it is never random or without warning.

Fiction First

Dice do not always reflect an obstacle's difficulty or its outcome. Instead, success and failure are arbitrated by the Warden in dialogue with the players, based on in-world elements.


Characters are changed through in-world advancement, gaining new skills and abilities by surviving dangerous events and overcoming obstacles.

Player Choice

Players should always understand the reasons behind the choices they've made, and information about potential risks should be provided freely and frequently.


The Warden and the players each have guidelines that help foster a specific play experience defined by critical thinking, exploration, and an emergent narrative.

Shared Objectives

Players trust one another to engage with the shared setting, character goals, and party challenges. Therefore, the party is typically working together towards a common goal, as a team.

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