Variant D&D 3rd rules

Started by Drul Morbok, September 23, 2012, 01:44:56 PM

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Drul Morbok

Hi everybody,
some time ago, I stumbled upon the D&D sourcebook unearthed arcanna, an I really liked some of the variations they proposed. So I just wondered if anyone playing more or less the D&D system has tried some of those..or if not, what you think of them. I especially liked two of them, and I'm thinking about adopting them, so I present them here. But please feel free to write just about everything that comes to your mind about such modifications.

- Replacing the D20 by 3D6. Same average result, but more moderate results, and less extreme ones. I think this might, on the one hand, make planning adventures more predictible when it comes to setting DCs. This might be personal, but I also think it's more realistic, or at least conceivable this way...most of the time, characters perform about what they are expected to be able to, and the more extreme results thend to be rarer, and also more differentiated...a natural 3 resp 18 is just about 10% as likely, so it really means soething. An natural 4 resp. 17 are still impressive, but less significant.
Just my subjective point of view - I prefer this random distribution.

- Upon casting a spell, the caster has to make some roll about some DC, with a cummulative penalty for every spell cast so far, as well as mabye other modifiers, not quite sure, I forgot the exact implementation.
The main idea was that spellcasters where not limited anymore by some set numbers of "spells per level", but rather by some more flexible and abstract concept of "level of exhaustion". They'd be free to cast easy spells all of the time, or just a few mighty ones, no matter how often they already tried to cast, they'd be alway free to try to cast once more, with some chance of succeding, and some chance of failing. The bigger the failure, the worse the consequences....

Of course, that's more than just house rules; I'D expect them to have some serious impact on how players will take their approach, so it has to be handled carefully. any of you have tried those variants, or some other? And if not, what do you think about it?
In my opinion, one of the really great things about the D&D s3rd system is its modularity - you can easily implement such changes. It needs some - well, rather a lot - of forethougt and math to keep things in whatever balance they are, but I feel it moght be worth it.


David Roomes

I remember Unearthed Arcana from way back when. Great book. I loved it. Although it's been years since I've opened it up and I honestly don't remember those rule variants. Ok, actually, now that I'm thinking about it, it suddenly occurs to me that they re-released Unearthed Arcana (you mentioned 3rd edition in your title) and I'm talking about the original Unearthed Arcana. Don't know if I've ever looked at the re-release.

Anyway... 3d6 instead of 20, interesting idea. Not sure if I would use it, but I'm glad people aren't afraid to mess around with the core mechanics of the game - the dice and the probabilities.

The spell casting thing... love that. I have always disliked the idea of a "set number of spells" and I have often offered my players various spell point systems. But I had never thought of a spell casting system based on "exhaustion". I really like that. It seems like it would be more realistic than a simple point system. The more spells you cast, the more "tired" you get and the harder it is to cast spells correctly. Love that. Simplicity, realism, yeah, I am totally going to use that next time I game. Man, I need to write that down... :)  And yes, that encourages mages to use lower powered easier spells and makes the bigger spells riskier and would require more preparation and such. Love that!

Yes, I use rules variations all the time. I like tweaking gaming rules with a number of house rules. Have done it for years.

I think a good gaming system SHOULD be very modular so that it can be easily customized by any gaming group to suite their preferences and style.

David M. Roomes
Creator of the World of Khoras

Drul Morbok

Glad you like the magic thing...I might say that this is one of the best ideas to modify the basic rules I ever saw. In the same book (yes, it's for D&D 3rd, or maybe 3.5, I never actually thought about there being more than one edition), they also propose a similar modification to the damage system: Every time you get hit, you make a saving throw (or whatever named die role), and everytime you fail, you get a penalty on further such roles, maybe depending on by how much you miss it. If you fail by a large enough value, you're knocked out.
Just thought you might like this one, too...

About he magic rules: I forgot what they said, because I made up my own system...well, let's say I'm on my way towards it  :D
So right now, I'd appreciate any opinion on it - here it is. I'll try to keep the wording as self-explanatory and D&D-like as possible, although the resulting wording might somehow be strange if actually in use...

Casting a spell is essentially a skill check. Let's consider the example of a wizard:
Spell acquisition might stay the same or not...but spell slot acquirement is replaced by learning skills. A skill "Knowledge: Phlogiston theory" would be checked for whenever he'd cast a heat- or fire-related spell, plus all modifiers the system might contain. The name and the effect is up to the wizard. He might learn a skill "Knowledge: Oxidation" for fire- and rust-related spells, or a "Knowledge: Thermodynamics" for temperature-related spells. Any wizard would be free to chose the appropriate skill mixture of specialization versus versatility he'd see best fit, and there might by synergy effects or the least as long as there's an in-game explanation for knowing it, of course.

Succeeding at a roll would still occur a penalty to further roles, depending on the "complexity" of the spell, and maybe also on by how much you surpass the check.

Failure would incur the same further penalty, plus different effects depending on by how much you failed, for example:
1-5: Spell succeeds, additional penalty for further checks
6-10: Nonlethal damage, check for spell to succeed, additional penalty for further checks
11-15: Normal damage, unlikely check for spell to succeed, backfire if failed, additional penalty for further checks
16-20: Knocked out, very unlikely check for spell to succeed
21-25: Negative hitpoints, dying, extremely unlikely check for spell to succeed
26+: Torn to pieces, almost impossible check for spell to succeed

Following the exhaustion concept, this effectively means that the more a wizard knows about the workings behind the magic he's about to invoke, the less exhausting it is, since skill levels effectively improve your chances of succeeding. And even an exhausted mage could decide to take the risk of losing consciousness or worse to cast a spell, if he was altruistic, desperate, fanatic, optimistic, ... enough.
There might be a lot of aspects that might modify a given roll, the environment in which the spell is cast, material components, dramatic speeches ("YOU SHALL NOT PASS") or personal motivations, as well as anything else could result in a modifier.
I think all of that might be almost impossible to get into a balanced set of rules, but achievable for given group of characters - and that's what I'm looking for after all.

The reason I mentioned the 3d6 variant is because I like it in conjunction with the variant magic rule.
Spellcasters could rely more on having average results, or at least some of could depend on the circumstances whether to use d20 or 3d6...e.g. wild/chaos/... mages might use a d20, the others 3d6..maybe...

That's the idea so far..I'll keep you updated whenever I actually start such a campaign...and of course I'd like to hear your all's opinions and experiences on it.


David Roomes

Another reason why I like this is because of something that you just stated... a wizard who's in a frantic battle for his life and who is very desperate can still try to cast a spell even though his odds aren't good.

Also, it encourages wizards to stick to low level "easy" spells most of the time and makes casting higher level spells a bit more of a big deal.

Finally, a wizard who knows he is going to have to cast a high level spell would go through all kinds of preparations. I can see this being the reason why some spells involve elaborate rituals. maybe the wizard uses "focusing crystals" and "containment pentagrams" and other fun stuff. Add to that a lot of research and shopping for the finest possible ingredients... going on an adventure to procure a specific item that will aid the spell even further... all of it simply to ensure success for the casting of the high level spell. I like it. Heck even mudane things like being well rested and free of stress or distractions could add modifiers.

Speaking of modifiers, yes, I'm a big believer in what I call "situational" modifiers. The situation at hand can always add a number of modifiers, positive or negative, to a die roll. It keeps things interesting and realistic.
David M. Roomes
Creator of the World of Khoras

Drul Morbok

Yeah, it would subsume a lot of D&D concepts, like concentration rolls for spellcasters, metamagic feats, failure chances for armor and others:
Being hit by an arrow while casting, or trying to cast from horseback would result in situational modifiers, as would casting a spell in armor, and if you want to give your spell maximum effect, increased duration or greater range, cast it with or without vocal or motoric support, it's another modifier.
On the other hand, taking an extra round for casting might give a bonus, as might checking the environment for background effects.

And I never was convinced by "material components" or "foci" as handled in core D&D. If I remember correctly, you either have them or not, and if not, you can't cast the spell. And i remember same strange wording about "assume a wizard to have all components that cost less than 1 gold with him all the time".
Great - so what's the point in needing them if you have them anyway?
But as you said - it's a lot more fun if spellcasting-related stuff is actually equipment that can be improved, bought, traded, and actively searched for.

I also think it's perfectly conceivable that mages found some way to hamper the opponent by exhausting him somehow. They could have spells to effectively give another mage a penalty on exhaustion, and magic amulets might protect the wearer by mentally backlashing at aggressive spell casters.

So if you ever build house rules based on such a system, please share them as well as your experiences...I still hope to some day have a group to get a campaign started. Chances are increasing with Autumn coming...

I also want to try another variant:
Instead of "leveling up", I look at which improvement a player would get by getting a certain class level, and assign subjective "relevance values" to each aspect. Than I look at how many XP this level up would have costed, and assign the aspects part of it according to the relevance level.
So, instead of, with 1000XP, get a class level,which means improving base attack, skills, saving throws, hp, and class-specific improvements, a player could get each of these for the according percentage of 1000Xp.
This would effectively remove classes as well as character levels. A character could advance essentially like a rogue, but without learning sneak attacks, and learning more languages. An otherwise ranger-like char might learn a sneak attack, but nothing else associated with rogues. A mage might focus on getting more hitpoints, or try to get along with even less.
The balancing factor is that increasing a certain aspect more than others also means that each advancement is expensive in comparison, because it "equals" a level-up at higher levels. Lacking behind on the other hand would mean that it would be rather cheap to catch up at least a bit. So there will be some balance towards the existing system, but more variation.
I yet have to think of something that encourages variation like a sneak-attacking ranger, but prevents raging monks with a paladin's saving throws attacking their favourite enemies  ::)
But in combination with the variant casting rule, A spell caster might actually gain some spells a lot earlier if he focuses on nothing else, but he' do so by forfeiting several easier spells, and he propably won't be unable to cast the spell safely twice or even once.

The good thing is that my players don't actually want to know about the game system. The want to know about possible background stories, goals, equipment, but nothing about rules. So I'll have them start at level 0, or as commoner, or even without character sheets except description and background story.
Not quite true, I think I start character creation with setting the attributes. Than come the background stories. Than the story start. I have set up some sandbox environmet to start in, where they can chose the learn those basics they want.

So right now I don't have to worry about later on...the only thing I know for sure is that to actually make use of an advancement, you need two things: experience points and a related experience.You only get better at what you do, or are taught, or learn somehow else. Getting an ability doesn't mean you are able to do it, it means that you're now able to take it in, to internalize it. In some cases, you already learn it by adventuring, like improving an existing and well-used skill, or your attack.

Phew, enough for no, maybe more on it later.

David Roomes

Wow. Lots to respond to! :)

Ok, I'll respond to your topics in the same sequence...

I agree with you - I think situational modifiers could replace many other parts of the game and could form a major backbone to a good system. Situational modifiers could apply to almost any roll.

Material components - I never liked them either for the same reason. It seemed like an interesting idea that they never really completed. I think it would be more interesting if material components actually did something. For instance, you can cast a spell without the components, but if you DO happen to have the components, you get a bonus to success. And having high quality components would increase your bonus even further. That way, it might actually be worth it, on occasion, for a wizard to go out of his way to procure an expensive and hard-to-find material component... because it would really help a certain spell.

I like your idea about mages hampering other mages, protection amulets, etc. Metamagic, magic being cast on magic... there are all kinds of things you could do with it.

Long ago I started working on a Khoras role playing system, but I never finished it. One day I hope to dust those notes off and bring it back into the light of day. :)

Regarding your variant idea on leveling up, I'm always interested in those ideas. I'm sure you guys already know (from reading around the site) that I really dislike the whole concept of "character classes". I think that's the thing I dislike most about D&D. I prefer role playing games that are focused on character skills and abilities, rather than on classes or templates. I just think skills are a more realistic way to portray a person. I could write dozens of paragraphs about the various reasons, but I won't bore you with that. I'll keep this short.

That last bit you said reminded me of something. I have discussed this idea with other game masters, but I've never seen it done. At least, I have not seen it taken as far as it could be taken. Ok, here's the idea... imagine a game where the players have character sheets which have only the following: their name, their list of equipment and a rough description of what skills they have. The character sheet has NO NUMBERS at all. No hit points or anything else. The idea is that the character sheet gives you only what information you would have in reality. So, if you go into combat, you can swing a sword or shoot a rifle, but the game master rolls all the dice and has all the numbers and stats. So he (or she) tells you if you hit and what happens to the enemy. Also, if someone hits you, the GM doesn't say "you took 5 points of damage". He says "it's a minor wound". So, in actuality, the player only knows in general terms their own health and the health of enemies. Nothing exact. No numbers. Of course, there ARE numbers and rules and tables controlling everything. But that's only for the eyes of the game master. And it's still fair since the rules and numbers are still balancing things out. I think it would be a fascinating way to play. Very real. You can still do everything you normally would in a game - sneak past a guard, pick a lock, climb a wall, battle a monster, cast a spell, swing on a rope, leap off a cliff - but the players never see a number. It'd be more like true interactive story telling. Only the game master sees the numbers.

I would love to try running a game in this style. However, this would be a LOT of work for the poor game master. It would require a huge amount of preparation and the game master would have to make all the rolls. I would be a lot of work and difficult to run a game that way. But imagine how much fun that would be for the players! One day I think I will attempt this. maybe I'll start small, a small low level adventure, just for fun. Also, I would want to simplify the rules where I could to make things go quickly and smoothly. Hmmm... now you've got me thinking. :)

Sorry this turned into such a long rambling discussion. If I ever try this style of play, I will post it here online and let you know how things went.
David M. Roomes
Creator of the World of Khoras

Drul Morbok

Yeah, I like your idea about players not knowing the stats of the characters. In my plannings, I never went as far as you suggested, but it's just consequent.

I often thought that you should withhold much more information from the players that the rulebook says. Of course it's ridiculous to tell a player to make a spot check, because failing it means the char didn't notice anything at all. Same for seeing the result of a search or bluff check (OK, the D&D 3rd DMG mentions those).
But even seeing the result of attack rolls can reveal more than intended. Oh, and by the way, I dislike rolls on skill relating social interaction anyway. Something like gathering informations in taverns and on marketplaces, trying a bluff on someone, impressing, convincing, or imitating someone...the number-fixated approach often reduces those aspects of roleplaying to meta-gane term description and resolve.

So if I make many hidden rolls for them, why should they even have to know the stats I rolled on? If a player wouldn't even know if there was a "gather information" skill, and if so, how many ranks he had, or even if there were skills at all, he might be much more likely to rely on in-game feedback.

But I remember a discussion with a flatmate and player, and he wasn't too excited about having less rolls to make. He insisted on rolling dice being an important part of being a player.
On the other hand, I think he will like it if I just start it that way and convince him by doing - which I hopefully will  :D

Wow, with your helpful contributions, I'm steadily moving towards a set of rules that a) I really like, and b) everyone who knows D&D can comprehend. I think this only leaves the damage system to be renewed. I think I opt for something similar to the exhaustion system.
This would be a good opportunity to rethink the way armor is working. I don't like the idea of physical layers of protection being handled the same as the swiftness to dodge and evade attacks, and whatever else results in armor class modification.

To be honest: My idea is deeply influenced by the RPG Shadowrun, which is cyberpunk fantasy rather than medieval one. They have a rather interesting approach: Attributes don't result in modifiers, attributes (plus sometimes skill levels) tell you how many D6 you get. Checks involve some DC, you roll the number of dice given by your stats, and each die that at least equals the DC is a result. More results lead to better outcomes.
Every natural 6 is "rolled up", i.e. counts as +6 and roll again, so you can reach DCs higher than 6. 

In this system, any weapon would have a something like a thread rating, essentially a DC, and a damage rating in only four categories: Light, medium, severe, lethal.
A sword might have 6M, saying it does (m)edium damage to anyone hit who does not roll any success at all. Every two successes reduce the damage category by one, so a well-armored and robust person might effectively shrug off all the hit. On the other hand, the attacker has to beat another DC to hit you, with the appropriate number of dice, and each two of his successes increase the damage category by one, meaning that an experienced fighter might actually kill a weak opponent in one blow.

If you cast a spell, you suffer something called drain, essentially the same kind of damage, physical or subdual, depending on the spell. Some magic-related skill and some mental attribute tell the numbers of dice you can use to beat the DC set by the spells drain damage. Again with each two successes reducing the damage category.

Not quite sure how to fit that in, but I just feel like sharing so much stuff recently  :-\