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.