Remixing D&D is Still D&D

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Charles McEachern posted on his site some ideas for reworking D&D. The roll-under idea reminds me a lot of Searchers of the Unknown, so I wanted to see what all the ideas in one place would look like.

To make this easy, we'll start with my favorite D&D in miniature ruleset, Microlite 20 Legacy. If it looks like it works well, maybe we'll expand it out to my ruleset of choice, Swords & Wizardry.

Reworked M20

There are 3 stats : Strength (STR), Dexterity (DEX), and Mind (MIND). Roll 3d6 for all stats.

Per the original article, there are no stat bonuses. That means that rolling 4 dice and dropping the lowest makes feels too powerful. More on that in a moment.

There are just 4 skills : Physical, Subterfuge, Knowledge and Communication. For each skill, a player has ranks of advantage, disadvantage, or zero. Advantage allows the player to roll extra dice in their attempt to succeed at a task. Having advantage means you roll a number of extra dice and use the lowest result. Disadvantage also allows the player to roll extra dice, but this time the highest result is used. If a character has a skill of zero, no additional dice are rolled, the result of the lone die stands. There is a maximum of 5 dice of advantage.

For example, if a character's Skills are Physical 2A, Subterfuge 0, Knowledge 1D, Communication 1A. Any task that is Physical allows the player to roll two extra dice and have advantage. The lowest result of the three dice is used. However, any task that tests a character's Knowledge adds one extra dice to the roll, but the highest result is used. Any task that require Subterfuge adds no extra dice to the roll.

The GM chooses which stat applies to the character's chosen task. Climbing, for example, would provide extra dice per the Physical skill and require the player to successfully roll-under the STR stat. Finding Traps would use the Subterfuge skill to determine advantage or disadvantage and require a successful roll-under the MIND stat.

Since everything is resolved by roll-under stat, skills work differently. I thought about having a +1 represent an advantage of 1 extra die and -1 a disadvantage of one extra die, but that seems confusing to have -1 use the highest result of two dice. So, I made it 1A and 1D.

Note that there are no “saving throws” in this game; use the Physical skill rolling under STR for Fortitude saves and the Physical skill rolling under DEX for a Reflex saves. Saving against magic depends on the spell. The Communication skill rolls under the MIND stat for Charm or Enchanting type of spells. (This is the closest thing to a Will save.) The Physical skill rolls under the MIND stat for any kind of attack spell. The Subterfuge skill rolls under the MIND stat for any kind of detection spell. The Communication skill rolls under the MIND stat for any kind of Divination spell, including spells like ESP.

Saving Throws change the most from M20 because level cannot be used. The interesting thing, though, is that there is variation to the types of spells that affect characters more than others. More on that later.

The classes are Fighter, Rogue, Mage, and Cleric. Characters begin at Level 1.

Fighters wear any kind of armor and use shields. They start play with 1 die of advantage in the Physical skill.

Rogues can use light armor. They start play with 1 die of advantage in the Subterfuge skill.

Rogues have a special ability to perform a sneak attack. By using their Subterfuge skill to roll under their DEX stat, they have a chance to do extra damage. Their Subterfuge skill rank determines the number of extra dice used for an advantage to roll for damage.

Magi wear no armor. They can cast arcane spells, and they start play with 1 die of advantage in the Knowledge skill.

Clerics can wear light or medium armor. They cast divine spells. They start play with 1 die of advantage in the Communication skill.

Clerics have a special ability to Turn Undead. By using their Communication skill to roll under their Mind stat, they can make undead creatures run away and possibly destroy them on the spot. Their Subterfuge skill rank determines the number of extra dice used for an advantage with twelve-sided dice. If the result is greater than the undead creature's hit points, it is destroyed. This is counted for each undead within range. If the result is less than their current hit points, the undead creature will take damage if it does not flee.  A Cleric can use this ability a number of times a day equal to their level.

This gets tricky with Turning Undead. Normally the DC is the undead's hit points, but that doesn't work in this system. Using the workaround posted above, hit points will need to be lower for creatures overall. This could work well. After all, dragons in Dungeon World only have 16 hit points. It's all in Damage Reduction...

I was really happy with how the Sneak Attack worked. Thinking about how the Rogue uses Advantage to determine damage makes me think of how to change magic items. After all, without bonuses or penalties to rolls, there are no +1 swords, right? However, there can be 1A swords and 2A swords. There can even by 1D cursed swords.

Races

Humans choose one level of advantage to one skill.
Elves get +1 to their MIND stat
Dwarves get +1 to their STR stat
Halflings get +1 to their DEX stat

Since advantages stack, humans can get a real head start at 1st level.

Magic

Magi can cast any arcane spell, and Clerics any divine spell, with a spell level equal or below 1/2 their class level, rounded up. They have access to all arcane or divine spells in the spell list.

When Magi cast a spell, they use the Knowledge skill to roll under their MIND stat. Clerics use their Communication skill to roll under their MIND stat.

Successfully casting a spell of any kind costs a number of hit points equal to the level of the spell being cast.

How's that for a subtle change? Missing the roll on casting a spell costs nothing, successful spellcasting costs hit points. I did this because hit points are lower throughout the entire game. It may be worth generating a Mana Point system, but I'll look at that another time.

Now for Combat:

Hit Points =STR Stat. If HP reach 0, unconscious and near death. Further damage directly reduces STR. If that reaches 0, death.

Roll one d20 using the Physical stat for advantage or disadvantage. Initiative order is determined by lowest roll to highest. Everyone can do one thing each turn; move, attack, cast a spell, etc.

Melee attacks = Physical skill roll under STR stat
Missile attacks = Physical skill roll under DEX stat
Magic attacks = Knowledge skill roll under MIND stat for Magi, Communication skill roll under MIND stat for Clerics.

A successful combat roll does damage. Each weapon or spell has a die to roll for damage. The referee rolls the opponent's armor rating and the result is subtracted from the damage. Damage cannot be reduced to less than zero.

Fighters and Rogues can roll under the DEX stat if wielding a light weapon. Fighters and Rogues can wield 2 light weapons and attack with both in a round if they take 1 level of disadvantage on all attack rolls that round.

If the total advantage on a melee or missile attack is 3 or more ranks a second attack can be made with 2 dice disadvantage applied. If the total advantage is 5 ranks, a third attack can be made with a 4 dice disadvantage.

For example, if the total bonus is 5 ranks of advantage, three attacks can be made. The first has 5 ranks of advantage, the second has 3 ranks of advantage and the third has 1 rank of advantage.

Whew! Now advancement.

Challenge Level is specific to the defeated monsters or the given CL for the trap, situation, etc. Add +1 to the CL for each doubling of the number of foes. For example, 1 kobold is CL 1, 2 kobolds is CL 2, 4 kobolds is CL3.

Add up the Challenge Levels of every encounter. When the total = 10* your current level, you've advanced to the next level. Reset the total to 0 after advancing.

Each level adds only one of the following:
+1d6 Hit Points
1 Rank of advantage
+1 to a stat

Clerics and Magi gain access to new spell levels at levels 3,5,7,9,etc.

Example: The 1st level adventurers have just completed a dungeon adventure, and defeated CL1 creatures, a CL2 trap and the CL3 leader. That's a total of 10 Challenge Levels, so they all advance to level 2. They need to defeat another 20 Challenge Levels to reach Level 3.

This gets hairy in places, but it still works. The PDF with Monsters on the next post.

More Om Magike for M200

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Those that practice Miracles were mentioned in the previous post. This post provides a bit more detail. I also include a bit of rationale for the magic system as a whole.

In Microlite20, every spell as a DC target. This makes both Clerics and Magi skill-based spell casters. In earlier D&D there are no skill-based spell casters in the standard rules. Adding one to Andras or any retro-clone has a much different effect than doing it in Microlite20.

The same is true for any Mana based system. It doesn't exist in earlier D&D, but all spell casters in Microlite20 use their hit points as a mana pool. Varying how the mana is used doesn't do much in Microlite20. In fact, it looks like a record keeping nightmare. (Am I going to cast this as a 6th level Thaumaturge or save a point and cast it as a 4th level one?)

The classes themselves, however, offer an intended tradeoff. This is the element I want to keep. Over time, a Thaumaturge has to pay more to cast the same spell as a Wizard. At 15th level, a Thaumaturge will pay 9 points for a full Magic Missile while the Wizard will pay only 3. The gap closes as spell reach higher levels. At 21st Level, both the Thaumaturge and the Wizard pay 19 points for a 9th level spell. Yet, even at this high level, the cost for the Thaumaturge will continue to increase.

I also want to keep the feel of miracle magic. In other words, Shamans have strange and fearsome powers and Psions are regarded as atheists by the Priests. I like the idea that Psion create an issue of faith for a priest. This is further enhanced by the other changes that will make psionic ability much more similar to Priest spells.

Many telepathic abilities are similar to divination. A psion can determine a person's thoughts, discover the history of a place or item, travel astrally to be in a place far away in order to gather information and much more. Psions can heal. Psions can create things in a similar fashion as the gods (though not nearly as powerful as the gods). There's more, but you get the idea. Many abilities are already similar, so tweak the rest of the Priest spells to fit for psions.

Lastly, just like Priests can have various domains (or spheres in 2nd Edition), I have changed the Psionic disciplines from six to many. Just like 2e had Priests of Specific Mythoi, the framework is in place for GMs to create Psions of a Specific Path. This makes individual psions different based upon which school they attend. This is optional, just like the Specific Mythoi rules, but for a flavorful campaign, it feels a lot more fun.

Shamans are intended to be fun for the GM. I've almost ported over the D6 Fantasy Spell Building system to D&D. Since that spell building system has options for group casting, big effects, day-long rituals, etc, it becomes easier to build spells that just don't fit into the Vancian system.

For example, to create a spell that places a wall of force around an entire village isn't effectively possible. The spell caster would have to be a triple digit level spell caster to get a diameter that large. Using the spell builder, however, longing casting time and community help can make it possible. Not only that, it can provide a good measure of the appropriate level of this kind of spell.

Work continues on. Hopefully the next post will provide the new disciplines for psions and detailed examples of shaman spells.

Opposed Rolls

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Before going into a post likely to be snored off, I wanted to thank Kevin Sullivan for the stats he generated on this site. The presentation of certain things are more clear there. He also provided me with a good idea on how to generate Class XP tables for Andras.

I had posted on Google Plus about a shortcut method of performing opposed rolls. The numbers do not come out the same, but I figured that they were close enough. What I discovered in studying these numbers points to effects of specific designs. In the end, I think that my design doesn't produce results that are always similar, but that produces results more in line with my design philosophy.

Specifically, the results show that:

  • Characters with equal bonuses to skill rolls under Microlite20 will have a similar, but varied chances of success under my system.
  • The Microlite20 system is affected by relative adjustments to the roll. My system is affected by the actual skill ranks and Attribute score.

Here is an example using the Microlite20 rules as written and comparing to my system.

Listen is Subterfuge + MIND.
Move Silently is Subterfuge + DEX

Aesir is attempting to sneak up on a guard. Aesir has a 16 DEX and a Subterfuge rank of 2. The Guard has a MIND of 12 and a Subterfuge rank of 4. According to the rules, the one with the highest roll wins. Each character receives a bonus to their individual rolls of Skill Rank + Attribute Bonus.

For Aesir, we get 2 (skill rank) plus 3 (Attribute Bonus in M20) to get 5.
For the guard, we get 4 (skill rank) plus 1 (Attribute Bonus in M20) to get 5.

Given these stats, Aesir will succeed 47.5% of the time. The guard will succeed 52.5% of the time because he will win all ties. By rule, ties go to the character with the highest skill rank.

Under the Microlite20 system, the chances of success will not change if the guard has a Skill Rank of 5 and a MIND of 10, a Skill Rank of 3 and a MIND of 14 or a Skill Rank of 2 and a MIND of 16. The adjustment to the roll remains +5.

In my system, success is determined by rolling-under the total of the Skill Rank and the Attribute itself. When performing an opposed roll, the Player Character has to subtract half the total of the NPC's skill rank and attribute. In this example, Aesir's Subterfuge rank plus DEX is 18. The guard's Subterfuge rank plus MIND is 16. Success is determined by Aesir rolling equal to or under 10. In other words, 18 minus 8 (half of 16). This give Aesir a 50% chance of succeeding. This is a slightly better chance of succeeding than with the Microlite20 system.

What I found surprising is that if the guard is changed as I mentioned earlier, Aesir's chances of success are affected.

sub MIND Aesir Wins
Guard 1 5 10 52.50%
Guard 2 4 12 50.00%
Guard 3 3 14 47.50%
Guard 4 2 16 45.00%

All four of these guards are identical according to the Microlite20 system, but the results are slightly different under my system. Nothing is really dramatic in the results, even with very improbable NPCs (do you hire MIND 16 guards? Would a MIND 10 guard have a 5 subterfuge skill?)

For the sake of completeness, let's say that Aesir is opposing a lower skilled guard of average intelligence. Subterfuge skill rank of 2 and a MIND of 10. Under the standard Microlite20 system, Aesir has a 62.5% chance of success. Ties no longer go to the guard, but they don't go to Aesir either because there would be a re-roll. Under my system, Aesir has a 60% chance to succeed.

Why does it give a worse chance? The amount of change is less in my system. If you compare the original example, Microlite20 provided no advantage to Aesir. He and the guard were equal. In my system Aesir had a slight advantage, thus a higher chance for success as compared to M20.

Changing to scores provided Aesir a great advantage. Instead of being even with the Guard, he now enjoys a +3 advantage. That big of an advantage yields bigger results. In my system, Aesir already had an advantage over the first guard. Changing the skill and MIND score had less effect because the amount of advantage changed comparatively less.

Somehow I'm Awake, What Does All This Mean?

Advancement in Microlite20 provides for increasing Skill Ranks and Attributes. This makes the characters very high powered around 10th level. In my variation of M20, characters cannot change Attributes except by magic or optionally by age.

I hope this means that characters can be fun to play for more than 10 levels.

This also means that using Microlite20 as a platform to develop Andras helps me get the bones of the system working well. This will be easier to playtest, especially for newer GMs. This also allows me to playtest a solo version of M2010 (my system). Maybe I have been reading too much T&T lately, but having a solo version plus the Mythic GM appeals to me.

As always, more later.