Extreme Makeover, d20-ish Edition

d20Recently I wrote a somewhat controversial article entitled “Die, d20 die!”  And I got some feedback to the effect of a lot of people enjoyed the d20 system and got a bit irritated that I was bashing it.  Actually, I was bashing the use of the d20 die for statistical reasons not the d20 system as a whole.  And given the title (and the comic book image provided by the GSA editor) that is an understandable misinterpretation; the second “die” in the title was the singular of “dice” not the verb meaning “stop living.”  I actually think the d20 system, particularly Star Wars Saga Edition, and yes even D&D 4e, have some real gems in terms of mechanics. However, there is also room for improvement (there will ALWAYS be room for improvement), and even Wizards of the Coast realizes this because they scrapped D&D 4e and are making some fundamental changes to the d20 system with “D&D Next.”  Actually, the fact that D&D Next does away with base attack bonus and replaced it with expert dice is what made me stop and reanalyze whether using the d20 die as the central mechanic in a RPG was a good thing; and then I remembered some comments GM Chris had made on the Order 66 podcast about the FATE RPG in which a +2, or even a +1, was a fairly big deal.

When I’ve made negative comments about RPGs, I don’t mean that they weren’t good for their time, but rather there are some lessons to be learned about what can be done better in future RPGs, because in my opinion the quality of the mechanics in newer RPGs should always be an improvement over previous RPGs. With that context in mind, I’ve recently started thinking about how I would improve a d20-ish system for a traditional fantasy RPG if it were up to me.  I said d20-ish rather than d20 because the first thing I would do is ditch the d20 in favor of a 2d10 attempt resolution mechanic.  Yes I realize that means slaughtering a sacred cow mechanic (and it’s not the only sacred cow I would bump off), and it couldn’t even be called a d20 system anymore so the “Extreme Makeover” I’m talking about is akin to the Witness Protection Program giving a  petty thief a new identity and plastic surgery that dramatically changes their appearance, but the essential character of who they are is retained. So what would I do?

  • You keep the same 6 attributes used in d20.
  • There are classes but no levels, instead there are 3 tiers: heroic, paragon, and epic.
  • You spend XP to purchase feats, classes and tiers.
  • Training in 1 skill costs 1 feat.  You can learn any skill.
  • You can focus in any skill that you are trained in. Focusing in 1 skill costs 1 Feat.
  • You ditch the d20 for 2d10 which gives the triangle distribution; class skills grant an extra d10; trained skills grant a d10; focused skills grant a d10; spending an action point grants a d10.  You roll the handful of d10’s and sum the two largest.  You can read a little bit more about it in the Die, d20 die! Article.
  • For attacks, conditional upon success you roll for damage with mostly the same dice that are used in D&D (i.e. a longsword deals a d8).
  • Time tracking is done as follows:
    • Each character who is not surprised rolls an initiative check;
    • The character with the highest initiative check goes first; they choose, from among those who aren’t surprised and haven’t acted yet in the surprise round, who goes next, this repeats until everyone who is entitled to act in the surprise round has had a turn
    • The character who goes last in the surprise round chooses who goes first in the first regular round of combat, they can choose themselves;
    • All characters involved in the encounter get a turn each round after the surprise round
    • A round is 15 seconds long and it is sub divided into smaller units of time called actions.  The complete list of actions are: “standard actions,” “move actions,” “tactics,” and “incidentals.”
    • You spend “actions” to accomplish “tasks” like attacking or moving; this is similar to Star Wars Saga Edition in that you can trade you action downs (i.e. you can trade a standard action to gain a move action, tactic, or incidental, trade a move action for a tactic or incidental, etc.).
    • You can’t “ready an action” in this game, but you can react to certain tasks performed by other characters when it’s not your turn (e.g. there are attacks of opportunity, but only if you used the “opportunistic” tactic on your last turn).
    • Combat encounters typically last 5 to 10 rounds.
  • Movement, position tracking, and range is abstract, formal, and relative, a forth coming article entitled “What do you want in a RPG? Part 6″ will define those terms.  The short answer is that movement, position tracking, and range are a near copy of what’s used in Fantasy Flight Games’ Edge of the Empire RPG.  There are 4 range increments: engaged, short, medium, and long.  It takes a move action to move one range increment.  If you’re riding a mount, you can move 1 extra range increment per turn.
  • The game doesn’t use a gridded battlemap but it is still a first class tactical simulator, that’s what the tactic actions are for.  Some examples of tactics are:
    • defensive (provides a small bonus to defense, this is your basic dodge/roll with impact thing)
    • offensive (provides a small bonus to attack rolls but not damage)
    • cover (this is a conditional [on having something to hide behind] step up from the generic defensive tactic)
    • reckless (penalty to defense, but it can boost your base speed and damage etc, i.e. you run in a straight line at max speed rather than dodging and weaving)
    • opportunistic (you can trade your movement for an extra attack if someone provokes an “attack of opportunity”, using d20 lingo; the “reckless” tactic would provoke an attack of opportunity, if there was a back stab/sneak attack option, you’d have to use the opportunistic talent to perform a back stab/sneak attack)
    • flank (another conditional tactic, it’s conditional on two [or more] allied character being “engaged” with the same opponent, both allied characters have to use the flank tactic for either to gain the benefit, the benefit is a combination of opportunistic, offensive, and defensive tactics against the flanked opponent and no one else)
    • aim (negates the cover tactic by an opponent, and provides the benefit of the offensive talent, allows you to perform a ranged sneak attack/back stab [damage boost], but it also provokes attacks of opportunity from anyone using the opportunistic talent)
    • proneprone (acts like reckless against “engaged” opponents, and cover against non “engaged” opponents, but you don’t actually need cover to use this)

You can force other character to use certain tactics like prone by knocking them down which prevents them from using other tactics like flanking.

  • The Morality system is a near copy of what’s in my 3D RPG.  You can read about the morality part of Karma here and what you can accomplish by spending Karma here.
  • The game also has action points, which can be spent to add a die to a 2d10 roll or move one step up the condition track.  The number of action points you get per encounter depends on your tier: heroic (1 action point), paragon (2 action points), or epic (3 action points).  Action points refresh at the end of each encounter.  Spending an Action point doesn’t cost an action.
  • There are no hit points, instead there is a condition track with 5 positions
    • Full health
    • Lose your incidental
    • Lose your tactic and incidental
    • Lose your move action, tactic, and incidental
    • Lose your standard action, move action, tactic and incidental.
  • There are 4 defense scores: Reflex, Fortitude, Will, and a Threshold.  These work the same way they do in SAGA, damage has to exceed your threshold to cause you to move one step down the condition track.  Critical hits cause you to move 2 steps down the condition track.  Armor improves your threshold (not your Fortitude), and worsens your Reflex defense.
  • Magic is a hybrid of magic in D&D 4e and the Force in Star Wars Saga Edition.  There are 3 types of “spells”; these are:
    • “at wills” (the weakest but you can use them as many times as you want)
    • “encounters” (these are stronger than at wills but you can only use them once per encounter)
    • “dailies” (these are the strongest spells but you can only use them once per day).

Spending a feat buys you a number of spells equal to your Intelligence (for wizards) or Wisdom (for clerics) modifier (or 1, whichever is greater).  You can choose any combination of at wills, encounters, and dailies when you spend a feat to purchase spells.  There are also rituals (which are stronger than dailies and take several minutes to cast); you get 1 ritual per feat.  The available spells and rituals you have to choose from depends on your tier (heroic, paragon, or epic).  You can spend an action point to get an encounter or daily that you’ve already cast back.

So that’s what I would do.  If you look at the above list you will find a lot of similarities with d20 (particularly Star Wars Saga Edition and D&D 4e), but there are also significant differences (I slaughtered a lot of sacred cows).  Now the question is,  ”what would you do?”

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