Skills and Classes for the Younger Set

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Two players from my old Dungeon World group are looking to play something different. They have expressed interest in either my White Star house rules (but fantasy) or 5e. They don’t know that my White Star game house rules are essentially Swords & Wizardry classes with The Black Hack mechanics. The only concern for my old school proclivities was a lack of differentiation between characters of the same class.

I know, I know. I believe the memories of a characters’ exploits make them different from other characters, not the character sheet. Yes, it took me many months to train them to stop staring at the character sheet to see what they could do. Still, I feel like it would help them if they had a system that felt more like 5e. Selfishly, I think it would also help me ease into running a 5e game, so maybe we can all win.

I am considering a skill system bolt-on that adds only two rules:

  • You can try a skill, roll per normal rules against the attribute the GM names.
  • If you have the skill, add +2 bonus to the attribute being tested, a roll of 20 is always a failure.
  • You can add a new skill every 3 levels.

The list of skills would be the standard from 5e, but wouldn’t be tied to an attribute. On the character index card, skills would be listed next to special abilities. Since I haven’t had a game go beyond 10th level yet, three skills doesn’t feel like too many. At higher levels, since their primary attribute will likely be 17 to 20, it encourages skills for weaker attributes. This fits with the goal of making characters of the same class feel very different mechanically.

The only difference mechanically between a character with a skill and a special ability is that a character with a special ability rolls with advantage. More specifically, a Conjurer with the skill can roll under Dexterity for Sleight of Hand (which could mean picking pockets, palming a coin, or something) while a Thief rolls the same task with advantage. In fact, using the 5e skills (because they are more broad than 3.5 skills) also gives me tools for building classes.

A Bard is a character that rolls with advantage (Charisma) for Persuasion and Performance tests. An Ranger rolls Perception tests with advantage. Thieves could range in abilities (roll with advantage to deceive, or to gather food while adventuring outdoors.

The benefit I see mechanically occurs at lower level, but the bonus is low enough that it might encourage diversification. I’ll have to play with this some more.

Thoughts on a Zeb Hack

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This is about a project that I'll call The Zeb Hack. It contains thoughts on adding player customization without adding a ton of new rules and subsystems. Why the Zeb Hack? Because the customization changes may appear to be similar to 2e kits.

Don't throw rotten vegetables. I don't like kits, either.

What Brought You to Do Such a Thing?

It's been a while since the Thursday night group met, but one thing that was requested session after session: more granularity in character classes and races.

Playing The Black Hack for outer space weirdness was great, converted White Star classes worked well enough. Everyone had fun running around the universe.

Still, the characters wanted one alien to be different from the other within the Brute or Mystic classes. Having creative license to just describe them differently was fun, but one player in particular enjoyed tweaking things about their character.

Now, I am definitely of the old school, simple rules mentality. I enjoy The Black Hack so much because it is streamlined while feeling like what I ran back in the day.

I think, though, that I can find a happy medium. Specifically, I want to provide mechanical variations between characters without turning it into a min/max game or adding too many fiddly bits.

You're Really Serious About This

Yes. Here are the ground rules.

First, I'm going to add skills. The list will be a pared down list of SRD5 skills. Ten skills maximum, but I hope for six or seven.

Then, I need to define possible bonuses. I decided that in The Black Hack, bonuses should be +1, +2, roll with Advantage. The maximum for any attribute is 20, so eliminating a +3 bonus prevents the rare rolling of a 21 for an attribute. You can't have advantage for an attribute, but that would come into play for class/race abilities. These would be similar to any of the Thieves' abilities in TBH. (Roll DEX with advantage when performing a delicate task like open a lock or disarming a trap.)

How Will This Work?

I want to define race by declaring minimum and maximum attributes. I guess I still could, but it feels more streamlined to add bonuses to attributes. Specifically, I want to define an alien in brief terms like this:

Uplifted Dolphin, WIS +1, Roll DEX with Advantage on all Piloting rolls. Add +1 to CHA on Persuasion rolls.

On the Fantasy side of things, it looks like:

Elf, INT +1, Roll WIS with Advantage when looking for secret doors. Add +1 to STR on Athletic rolls.

Dwarf, CON +1, Roll with Advantage on saving throws against Poison, Add +1 to INT on Stonecunning rolls.

Not everything needs to follow the Roll with Advantage and Roll +1 formula:

Gnome, INT +1 Tinker ability, Add +1 to WIS for saving throws against mind-influencing effects.

Alternate Elf, INT +1 Cast spells in metal armor, Add +1 to STR for saving throws against paralysis.

Humans from Sword's Peak, Add +2 to DEX when attempting to keep balance, Add +1 to INT for Nature rolls, Add +1 to STR for Athletic rolls, Add +1 to WIS for any attempt to control horses or bears.

This Looks Like a Lot to Track

It increases the number of things a character can do to six things. The key is to avoid a race that stacks bonuses on an attribute.

The most complicated race are the Humans from Sword's Peak. Four bonuses to various skill rolls may seem like a lot, but they do provide a picture of what these humans are. They seem to be outdoorsmen with a knack for controlling bears and being light on their feet.

Most races can be generated with an Attribute bonus, Advantage roll, and a +1 roll to greatly simplify things. Since that can feel a bit formulaic, I wanted to offer other ways to build a race, specifically including a complicated build.

Design Goals

I want to create pre-defined lists of Knacks (+1 to a roll), Traits (+2 to a roll), and Talents (Roll with Advanatage) that can be used to generate various races and/or classes. I am working on those lists to make the entire system modular.

I hope the next post can provide more details with class combinations. Any and all feedback welcomed.

The Summoner in PDF

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The Summoner class posted yesterday had a number of errors. Thanks to folks in the Black Hack G+ Community for pointing those out. I really appreciate the support and +1's from everyone. Thank you!

The final PDF can be downloaded here.

This PDF offers a variant class called the Beastmaster as well as more animals for your bestiary. I had fun adding the animals, especially aquatic and aerial creature that could help the Beastmaster. One thing pointed out to me was that it seems summoning animals was done only for combat. I made changes that hopefully will encourage the creature use of various called creatures and animals.

Next up on The Black Hack list of projects is Rune Magic. I plan on using Turkish Runes (a misnomer really). Based on how the runes work so far, there should be a far number of spells added.