how would you do d20?

edited January 2006 in Story Games
I mean come on, this is the forum to talk about it, baby!

Say you had a moderate budget and plenty of time. What would you do? I know there's people here who don't hate it through and through. What do you like? What would you keep/remove/add/change?


  • Oh, and just for Andy: how would you specifically make it a "story game?"

    Or can you?
  • D20 is mostly just a resolution system. D&D is a full-fledged game, as are many D20 and OGL games. The issue, unsurprisingly, is reward system and cycles. Change that and you change the game. So, yeah, it definitely can become a story game.

    How? And how would I do it? I'd probably create something very similar to Spiritual Attributes. Grant bonuses for relationships, traits, and goals, etc. And, I'd create some kind of system that flowed through those things.

    Oh, and I'd make it some dark, evil shit. Demon haunted northlands, warlords and PCs, and "Elric copier!" complaints would abound.
  • edited January 2006
    Oh, and just for Andy: how would you specifically make it a "story game?"

    D&D is dead to me. DEAD TO ME!!! (^.^)

    Okay, maybe not that bad. But a couple times I was thinking of turning D&D back into a game I want to play, but each time I came to the realization that it was just easier to use another game. Around that time games like PTA, DITV and others were released, so I never had to go back and try.

    Mainly, I think that's effectively the issue with the thing: It's easy to fuck with d20. But to do it well to make it acceptable to other d20 players, you *can* be creative with the thing, but you DO have to make sure everything 'balances out". If you don't, your work looks sloppy or shoddy. The problem occours when you don't give a rat's ass about balance, and are just working to bend d20 over your bed and spank it: That's cool and all, but eventually you'll realize that you've gone so far that it doesn't resemble the game anymore, so why bother trying to keep it d20?

    Back to work for a little, and in an hour or two I'll post some d20 'Andyfixes' that I rolled around wtih (largely unplaytested) which might make the game more accessible to folks like me.

    EDIT: To answer that Story-games bit: To make D&D into a story-game, you need to:
    * Remove rules for drowning, vacuum and falling, and a lot of other environmental/natural disaster stuff. It all has to be difficulties set at GM discression.
    * Experience needs to be changed somehow: No experience for killing or completing missions, rather levelling up has some other sort of criteria.
    * The game needs to play out in scenes and acts. There's got to be a lot of jumping of traditional boring parts (buying gear, etc).
    * Players have more control over setting/adventure. Perhaps some sort of Universalis-like sub-mechanic.
    Hmmm... what else would get people to say, "D&D is fun, but I wouldn't call it a Role-Playing Game"?

    I'm not saying that the above would make D&D FUN/PLAYABLE, but it would make it cross the line into the area where, on popular forums, it would be discussed, "I don't think D&D is a real Role-Playing Game, because it does this/lacks that".

    "Story Game" was kind of the reaction to those games where people on RPGNet go "That's not a role-playing game!" (Capes, Uni, Polaris, Roach, etc).
  • Since I started the thread, I oughta post to it I spose.

    The thing I was imagining would be reward where you get cool stuff no matter what, and your guy's life isn't quite so terribly in jeopardy. Instead of every level seeming the same, there'd be larger and larger stakes like in Trollbabe, so first your guy is saving a town, then saving a city, etc. In this game you wouldn't be focusing so much on challenge, so instead the stakes would also get more melodramatic. Instead of "aha, I unleash a beholder on you," I can say, "aha, if you screw this up, the prince will die."

    I'd strip down some of the rules in a manner similar to Clinton's "fighty game," where your level in "rogue" gives you a bonus to X things, plus some cool feat-like abilities on top of that.

    I really need to make a fantasy heartbreaker, I think. Maybe that'll be my new in-between game project.
  • I really like the idea of progressive stakes. That's good stuff. Jonathan Walton's d20 Greek Hero game (Argonauts) used this approach, and also tied character death to your level. The higher your level, the closer you were to your doom (but you also kicked more ass). You could start at any level you wanted. Pretty nifty.

    I want a risk vs. reward combat system. Almost all D&D combats are won or lost before they begin, due to chargen and equipment/spell strategies. Instead of that, I want something that gives me exciting in-the-moment choices that force me to balance immediate risk with immediate reward, and also long-term risk vs. long-term reward. Donjon's treasure system is a good example of long-term risk vs. reward.

    Of course, I want stakes resolution (instead of task) on micro and macro scales. The Shadow of Yesterday is awesome at this.

    I want a situation-builder, not a combat balancer. Sure, it's important to scale the opposition correctly, but I want a system for building an interesting problem that these dungeon-delving heroes can solve. Why are they fighting these monsters, and what difference does it make if they win or lose? All that stuff.
  • OK, bedtime soon, but I'll throw in some things I had rolling in my head before.

    Remember how there was Unearthed Arcana, then Arcana Unearthed and the whole mess behind that in 3e? My idea was a d20 supplement called:


    And the front cover would feature like a slightly blurry traced-from-photograph picture of a hand holding a giant lump of dirt.

    Anyway, it was going to be filled with my tricks for making d20 more interesting/playable/etc. Mostly, when I think about it now (I think I had the idea about 2 years back, and gave it up about 6 mos ago), it was mostly sim-fixes or things to make description and acting actually take a role in the game more. It would be a, say, 40 page book or so, with ideas scattered in the pages grouped into categories, and at the end would be a checklist of "which rules you're going to adopt to this session/campaign" (and even have sidebars on how some rules would influence others).

    I started off simple, recommending dice tricks: 2d10 instead of 1d20, and reroll-and-add if both dice came up with the same number (except for 1-1, 1-2 or 2-1, which were "failures").

    Later, I started thinking of things like SAs (each point of an SA, 1-5, allows you to add that many extra d20s to your roll, and take the highest).

    Mostly it was stuff like:
    Coolness rule, stolen from Dread: Do something cool, or describe it interestingly, and you get a bonus 1d20 to your roll (or reroll a 1d10 if you use those rules). Take the higher of the two.

    Same as above, but with chits a little like Gift Dice: You can horde them up for doing "cool stuff", then blow them on the rolls that matter.

    Muses in d20: Each gives you a +1-5 bonus to your die roll towards resolving that action.

    Breaking up actions: Normally combat is the only thing that resolves itself in more than one roll, for most other stuff it's "roll once. Take 10/20 if you need to". Maybe give each conflict an AC and a certain number of hit points that you have to defeat "in three turns of action" to succeed. Make those fucking Rope Use rolls a little more exciting, if they look like combat.

    No feat progression whatsoever. More of a "Pretender" feel for Feats. "Hey, I want Great Cleave" "GM: Hmmm, ok. How about after this dungeon we'll have you go through a montage with a master and learn it?" "Can I have it NOW?" "Hmmm, I'd prefer to wait until after the dungeon, cool?" etc.
    This was basically because Feats were the one thing I hated most about D&D: At the time I picked up the book first, I was moving from Japan to the US, literally starting my career over from scratch, and was planning out my future: "I need to learn this now to eventuall get this skill later. I need to learn basic linux if I want to eventually manage storage, security, or do installs. I need to take these courses if I want to prep for my Certified Engineer exam", etc. To see that kind of "career-choice-pathing" in a game literally drove me nuts. My number one stressor of that time embodied in my once-loved fantasy game. It totally had to go. No "Only get this feat at 12th level if you took X at 6th and Y at 3rd" anymore, just take what you want. Maybe give out a free Feat per adventure, so that people will be more inclined to take those "less useful" feats, etc.

    Nowadays, looking back on Unarcane Earth, I'd want to make more emphasis on moving away from "Win or Game Over" conflicts, and more towards "Conflicts where the stakes aren't always, 'You're slain by the kobolds'". Planning stakes where losing can be fun and interested, where you don't have to want to win all the time. This is VERY hard in D&D, though. I still wouldn't know how to do this. Thoughts on this last one?
  • Well, with d20, I'd do only one thing to the core system - speed up default character advancement. Your money-making proposition is selling player options, so let's get characters getting through those options faster in play.

    D&D...I'd put in some mechanics addressing the story of the party. D&D is pretty damn far from an individual game - it's tough to make a self-sufficient character, and at low levels it's pretty easy for a character to die (plus I'm finding after a certain period I get very, very keen to change characters and try something new). The party, however, endures - so I'd put in mechanics describing the relationship of each PC to the party, looking primarily to maintaining the party as a strong story object in the face of character turnover.

    Not a radical touch, but it'd be easy for a wide range of groups to swallow and be a useful tool.
  • I would chuck prestige classes completely and use modern as the template. i think 3.5 is a travesty.
  • My D20 musings:

    Level Spread

    10 levels, not 20, easier to manage abilities, and every level you get a nifty ability.

    T&T/C&C's "skill" system

    Aka, straight attribute rolls with bonuses for class choices. Makes life easy. Toss out Saving Rolls, just make them like any other skill roll.

    More than just hitpoints

    Give folks something like "Will Points" to represent your willpower, and maybe "Renown Points" to represent your social prestige. Damage to these works just like damage to hitpoints, though obviously the role of weapons & armor would have to be changed to fit the context.

    Stake setting

    Ala many other games out there. Also include rules that certain types of stakes are not permissible unless you drive your opponent to -10 points in the appropriate category.

    DitV style hitpoints (will points, renown, etc.)

    At the beginning of each conflict, you ROLL your hit dice and add bonuses- your hp are not a static number- you don't have a fighter with 34 hitpoints, you have a fighter with 4D10 +6 hp. This makes fights more tense, cause you could roll crappy for one encounter and good for another.

    It also doesn't leave someone significantly less powered than another character because they happened to "roll bad" on hp and be forced to stick with it forever.

    This also means that "damage" doesn't carry over between conflicts. Perhaps some kind of penalty die can be instituted? Something to think about.

    If we're going to keep feats...

    I always wanted feats to be something completely metagamey and deal with encounter difficulty & scene framing. For example, getting feats that let you declare the encounter is a level harder (because you want more challenge & xp), or that enemy reinforcements arrive is cool. Or maybe a feat that lets you scene frame getting the drop on foes. Probably some kind of limited use feat, such as once per session or with some kind of interesting refresh mechanic.
  • Man, I'm totally going to steal some of these ideas for the heartbreaker I'm working on now...

    Anyway, my big idea is along the same lines as bankuei. All traits, items, even hitpoints are ranked in dice, ala DitV. Also like DitV, you can pretty much roll whatever trait you want for a given conflict. But here's the deal---when pick a trait to roll, that trait becomes like your hitpoints. If you take damage, those traits become damaged.

    In other words, you must risk traits in order to use them.

    That's my big idea.
  • Man, these are all over the map. These suggestions really show that "D&D" means about eleven different things.

    So, that's my new Step One. Decide what the hell "D&D" is supposed to be. Then focus the system at that. Matt wants light Nar with fighting. I want serious Step On Up and tactical play. I can't tell what Chris wants. Nar/Gam hybrid play maybe?
  • I crossposted with Tim. The "Man" thing in the first sentence is a coincedence, not me trying to make fun of him. :)

    And I LOVE that idea, Tim. Risk a trait to use it. YES.
  • John, it all depends on where you throw the reinforcement/reward mechanics, right? I'd probably just make it Nar with lots of fun tactical bits.

    My wishful idealized D&D is what D&D sold itself on in terms of color- heroic adventurers saving the land, fighting terrible monsters, and wandering into surreal otherworldly places. That's what I would want D&D to be, so that's how I'd use those rules.

    The heroism that only NPCs got from Forgotten Realms, the swashbuckling that only happened in the fiction of Spelljammer, the wacky-coolness of Planescape minus the "oops, you're dead" factor, and the "success against all odds" that was hinted at in Ravenloft. (I never got into Dark Sun, and I know I need to).

    So yeah, that's what I've always wanted from D&D.
  • That sounds good to me, Chris. You do the Story-game version and I'll tackle Step on Up. Go!!

    (let's both just pretend that TSOY and D&D Online don't already exist)
  • Here's what I tried. I keep thinking about updating it, and then I give up.

    Anyone that wants to use any of it, feel free.
  • The hell?

    That link went all funny.
  • ...okay. Replace "Exchange" with "Perfect20" and that's it.

    Vanilla and I don't get along.
  • gives me a "Page Not Found" error.
  • Apparently "me" on text adds your username into the message.
  • I've never really played d20 or D&D, so I tend to want to do very drastic things to it, like the Argonauts stuff that John mentioned (which I may or may not ever finish at this point). My other d20 idea is We Regret to Inform You (the Gamemaster is Dead), a GM-less variant in which you play the characters in a D&D world that's undergoing apocalyptic changes because the GM has died.
  • edited January 2006

    Whoa, lots of ideas.

    I'd want to set a conflict-resolution frame on top of the task-resolution setup d20 has (and likewise explictly limit that to task resolution), formed in such a way that all skills have distinctive tactical values, and conflicts are compartmentalised, but fluid - when you're in "fighty mode", then obviously it's more tactically sound to use The Pointy End Goes In The Other Man than Fast-Talking, but you should have some mechanised ability to force the conflict into "talky mode" or "the town guards are here" mode, where Fast-Talking is the more valuable technique.

    Plus there'd be feats and p0w3rz and all manner of tasty mechanical bling to play around with, but since it's all built on top of a single conflict engine, it doesn't need to be a confusing hodgepodge of edge cases, unless you want it to be.

    I did half of this with Exalted - specifically, the half that levels the mechanical value of all skills and locks them into a semi-cmpartmentalised conflict engine - but I haven't set to differentiation yet.

  • Yeah, I really dig what you did with Exalted, Shreyas. I think that approach would scratch my itch with d20.
  • Would it be unsurprising if I said that if you do what Shreyas says to D&D that, to me, I think you get something quite like Hero Quest? Like in extended contests where you can change tactics.

    In any case, first thing to do with D&D is get rid of the attribute values, and just use the bonuses. Talk about your archaic holdovers.

  • HQ is half of it (thanks John!), but it's nothing to me without those delicious little candy rules.

  • Yeah, I hear ya. I think that's why TSOY has the keys and such. Though they tend to be somewhat generic in their mechanisms, really.

  • Hi.

    I've had a plan about doing a D&D game using the D20 system, which started with a blog post called Breaking Down D&D.

    The point was to take the core action which D&D is focused on -- namely combat with monsters in dungeons and collecting loot -- and make it meaningful in a larger context. In my post-apocalyptic vision, now the fate of humanity is resting on these actions. I'm not planning on changing the mechanics too much, especially because I want to be able to use preprinted D&D materials, though there are some key differences.
  • How would I do d20?

    First, I'd bend it over the sink in a sleazy bar...
  • edited January 2006
    (edited for spelling)

    When we were playtesting PTA, me (the Producer) and another immersion-first playtester were mostly just grooving on the actor mode and really only dropping into PTA's preferred author stance for commercials and the Next Week On segments.

    ( I'm not sure if PTA still has commercials or NWOs. Just in case it doesn't: at that point in the PTA design process, commercial breaks were little enforced story-discussion breaks that anyone could declare. The NWOs were little player-narrated scene-snippets that could occur during next week's play. )

    I really liked that actor-with-author-icing style of play, and I think that those two ideas might be good ways to sneak more authorial stuff into a D&D session. I think everyone wants to get in touch with their inner Movie Announcer Guy, and who doesn't speculate on how things are going to go down during the the commercials? (I mean, those of us who haven't gone all DVD or TiVo.)

    Also, as a GM, I found this stuff supremely practical. The commercial breaks were always very fertile and leopard-looky and were a good way of taking the group's pulse. And the NWO's are a slick slick way of finding out what your players really want from the game, so even if you don't exactly achieve the scene in question (and it might be okay if you don't -- this being a traditional game, the DM will have more power than in something like PTA) then you've still got valuable information to work with when your planning other stuff for your players.

    So yeah, I want to import hunks of PTA into D&D.
  • As far as the re-rolling hit points each adventure goes, I remember someone's comments one time as: "Wow, Noylund, you feel GREAT today!"

    It certainly would change dynamics as the story progresses, if used as a story-maximum. What if the fighters all rolled less HP than the wizard and thief? The Red Death could be going around, and the ones who spent the most time with entrails all over their armor would be sick (less HP).

    It would mean that parties would have to change tactics on the fly, as well.

    I like it!

    El Marcus
  • Heya,

    For me, the most fun aspects in D20/DnD are not dying, taking multiple actions in a round, getting feats, and leveling up. The game I'd design would let players do this...lots!


  • Exactly, Troy. What if you leveled up every time you played? 20 games: 20th level.
  • Adam: implicitly I like the idea of levelling up every game, but the game then needs to be designed to make that manageable for all. In my mind, that would be a disaster for D&D 3e as written, there's too many new spells and powers for everyone to keep up with. Prepping encounters is too hard.

    But then I'm convinced there's too much change even when the characters level up every 4 sessions or so.

    Chris - lots of good ideas. Your thoughts on damage not carrying over from encounter to encounter should actually be expanded to include all resources. One of the things that breaks D20 is when the refresh stops (resting for the night) occur at a different frequency than the every 4-5 encounters the rules assume.

    A nice advantage if resources refreshed every encounter: a lot less to keep track of, and no need to remember what resources were used at the end of last weeks game.

  • edited March 2006


    I want a d20 where the resources refresh on a hard-coded, automatic timetable, not on fiat. I want the refresh rate to be player-controlled.

    Yeah, I hear ya. I think that's why TSOY has the keys and such. Though they tend to be somewhat generic in their mechanisms, really.

    Yeah, this is why I consider tsoy to fall on the side of non-crunchy games. I don't feel like the interactions are intricate and intriguing enough.

  • Heya,

    Yeah it would, Adam. So long as the players still had to earn the level in some way. Leveling up automatically would take all the chalenge out of it and in DnD, challenge is what makes it fun.


  • Hi!
    Well to address the original post, the only things I would change would be to drastically alter feats. Maybe even remove them. Most of the most absurd chargen gaffs (hulking hurler, ad nauseum...) comes from bizarre combos of feats...
    That and I'd do something to even out the levels, make it so low level characters don't die if a rat gets a crit and high level chars can't fight gods and win, lol
    Dave M
    Authot of Legends of Lanasia
  • Dave, I'm curious about that idea.

    Namely, what merits does d20 retain if you remove interesting mechanical differentiation of characters?

  • Hi Shrey
    Well, Ideally, if I were to really try and redeux D20, I'd try and come up with a feat system that was less abusable. But if I had to do a quick edit, I'd just take it out and add some kind of system where players picked something that there characters did well and give a bonus based on lvl.
    I do understand that it is a way to distinguish your character and it is used to balance humans against other races, but it is broken. Moreso than almost any other aspect of the game. And when a part of the system is this broken, it detracts from the other stuff that a game is about...
    Dave M
    Author of Legends of Lanasia (Still in Beta)
  • Personally, I see D20 as a mechanical toolbox that is notable for being painstakingly well-defined. This is a potentially useful thing. I'd expand on it, making D20 more well-ordered and mechanically coherent than it already is.

    I'm actually toying with this project in my oh-so-copious spare time.

    All rolls become 1d20 + skill + modifiers.
    BAB, Saves (including a damage save variant), and Initiative become skills. Skills get rearranged a bit.

    DCs aren't all-or-nothing. Success levels become formalized.

    Magic use gets ported to this - spells require skill rolls to use, and success levels on the use of spells have tangible results. Ritualistic spellcasting enables you to take 10 or 20, as appropriate.

    No ability scores
    Ability are, largely, just modifiers now. Let's be honest about that. We can have Feats like "Great Strength" and "Perceptive" and "Brilliant Intellect" and whatnot.

    No character classes or levels
    All character features would be defined by feats. Feats can be bought directly with experience points. Feats would get rated on a scale, with the more effective/powerful ones being more expensive. Background feats may help define some class-like features.

    Take 5
    You can always take 5 on a roll. Why? Because its funny when someone says it.
  • szilard, have you seen Steve Kenson's True20 and/or Levi Kornelson's Perfect20?

    I think it's a bit of a stretch, really. If you want a simple skill-based, classless system of stat + roll vs difficulty, there are a lot better choices than D20. It seems to me that the reason to pick D20 would have to be for the stuff that comes with it. If you just want to strip tons of stuff out, I think you're better off tweaking a simpler system.
  • szilard: You just described Talislanta. In other words, what John Kim said. :-)
  • John,

    Yeah. I've seen them.

    What I want to keep from D20 is more than the core mechanic. I want to take it to what I see as its logical extreme. I want to make it essentially an object-oriented rpg.

    I'm not looking for something overly simple. I want to keep the fiddly bits (that Shreyas is so fond of) but make them even more systematized than they already are.
  • John2,

    Talislanta is cool for what it is, but it isn't what I'm looking for at all.

    The d20+skill+bonus thing is in some ways incidental. Please don't focus on it. It simply serves as a standard mechanic around which the rest of what I am interested in is clustered.
  • That's cool... I see what you mean.
  • Among the things I would try are:

    Get rid of the stats just use the bonuses.

    Fixed hit points. Everyone gets 10 hit points and damage is based on the quality of the role to hit. 1-5 over base to hit is one point of damage, 6-10 is 3points, more than 10 points over is 7points of damage or something like that.
    then at the end of the combat your character makes a Fortitude saving throw to get back some or all of the points.

    Get rid of the classes and make one universal feat aquirring system encompasing combat and magic. Ten levels and you are whatever you say you are " a pastry chef who speciallizes in magic - level 3"

    Add some sort of hero point system, I like the idea of tying the experience system to the hero point system so the more times you have to bail yourself out the less experience you get.

    You wind up with something a lot like hero quest but more easy to convert to and from.
  • I'd have each player roll their personal D20 at the beginning of the session. Whatever it rolls, they keep that number until they use it for a skill check, saving throw, or initiative. Then they immediately roll again, and keep that number until they use it. Anything not on a D20 gets rolled normally. If your skill + mod + 7 (or maybe 5 or 10) can beat the TN, you don't use your roll and just get automatic success.
    I might also strap this to Perfect20 or Mutants & Masterminds.
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