Making d20 not feel like “D&D”

I want to take the base, open sourced d20 system and rewrite the rules to be pretty much a new game. I want to keep a lot of things that players will instantly know and remember from playing any other d20 system (stats, modifiers, skills etc) but get rid of the things that make many d20 games “D&D-like”. In no way am I trying to make “D&D but different”, but a variant rules of the base OGL d20 rules set. This isn’t even a unique idea; systems like True20 and Mutants & Masterminds already do a similar concept. But, I’m broke, and I want to custom tailor the system to my liking. If you don’t like it, tough shit — I’m doing this for my amusement and for the people who are interested they’re free to comment and suggest things as I work on this.
Basic Outline of What I’m Trying to Accomplish:

Objective: Rewriting the d20 OGL rules to not be focussed on levels or classes. Rewrite them in a way that is fairly scalable, can work with any mood or setting any GM wants to run, keep the familiar concepts and tactical nature of the system while also loosening it up to focus more on character development in terms of story progression and skill advancement than levels and classes.

What I want to keep:

  • Base Mechanic: 1d20+Skill+Modifier vs. Difficulty Rating
  • Core Abilities: Strength, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha. Scaled 3-18+
  • Basic Combat Mechanics: Initiative, rolls to hit, threat to crit….a system that can run in the abstract or use miniatures for the more tactically inclined. If you’ve played D&D 3rd edition, I want you to feel at home in this system.
  • Skills & Feats: I want the long skill lists, and I want them to use the same dice mechanics. I want Feats to remain, but will probably be used more like other systems “Merits” and “Edges”. I’ll probably remove mechanics such as cross-classing penalties, as well as consolidating some skills together for simplicity.

What I want to get rid of:

  • Levels: Let’s say I’m running a modern/near future game involving criminal investigations. A cop chases a suspect down a crowded street, pulls out his gun and lets go a few rounds. I don’t mind the criminal limping away…what I do mind is the criminal taking 3 critical shots but still barely flinching as he has 8-10 Hit Dice. On the same token, I don’t like the idea of the grizzled experienced cop being about to shoot wildly into a crowd and manage to land insane shots like it was nothing. Levels detract from realism after a while. I want a system where regardless of experience, a close quarter gun fight or being jumped by a few hoodlums is just as dangerous as when you started your career. You can trump them with knowledge and skill, not by having more hitdice and better attack bonuses because you’ve survived 20 sessions straight. This also means that regardless of what the players are up against, I want them to feel they have a chance.  I don’t want them bean counting level differences when being faced with a mob boss, for instance.
  • Classes: I don’t mind archetypes. I don’t mind templates and concepts to work towards. But I want a system where the player is free to branch out and learn the skills and talents they want without being restricted by the rules. I know, d20 is very laxed even with its classes, but I just want to open it up more where the player feels like they truly have options for advancement of the character they want to play. Sure, this may theoretically lead to swashbuckling mages….but remember Jacks of all trades are Masters of none.
  • XP System: Since I’m ditching the levels and the classes, the XP system is going with it. Instead I want something more like Shadowrun Karma systems or the Storyteller system’s Experience hand out: Points you use and save up to upgrade your skills, buy new ones, improve your stats etc.

What I’m debating on keeping or modifying:

  • Vancian Magic System: By default, I don’t even want there to be a base power list except for Feats. Still, it would be silly to imagine an RPG system based on d20/D&D 3E to not want to have powers or spells of any kind, or rules to allow it thereof. If I did decide to write some base rules on Spells, how should they function? Would it be worth keeping the default Vancian magic and “Spells Per Day?”  How would I balance the lack of levels? Treat everything as base level 1? Require the user to maybe pick up a Feat per caster level? Wouldn’t that defeat what I’m doing? Or would it still be accepted and forgivable?
  • Hitpoints: Right now I’m thinking everyone gets a “hit die” based on race. Humans get a base d8 hit die. Bigger humanoids/creatures get bigger dice (consider a hobbit having a d6, an elephant having a d12). It wouldn’t just be HP+Con modifier, maybe an additional flat +10? Maybe hit die + con rating? In order to obtain more HP, you may purchase a feat for an additional HD. If I did that, should it be capped? Once? Twice? Available at char creation? I figured some settings would offer additional methods to stack more on (cyberware, genetic mutation etc). If I do keep the HP system, I will be adding conditions and penalties as you lose them.
  • Armor Class: Not the first time this has been altered in a d20 setting. Should I stick with regular AC rules, or instead go for base attack difficulties which vary based on circumstance, and instead Armor is used for soaking damage?

These are just the current drawing board thoughts. I want to emphasize again that this isn’t me trying to brew up a variant way to run D&D 3E or even d20 Modern for that matter. Complete compatability with previous d20 system rules isn’t a priority in this endeavor. Instead, I just want something more custom-tailored to the styles and worlds I want to run while still using a set of rules that many can dive in and grasp.

One thought on “Making d20 not feel like “D&D””

  1. for your combat, use a hit probability system for “AC” and use armor to soak damage. Hit probability can be a stat that you buy into as your character advances. based of dex, modified by shields, circumstances, etc.

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