I have been brooding on, and experimenting with, my own rpg rules since I was 13 and the last few years and especially months it all finally clicked. Due to reading OSR products as well as watching Youtube videos. Yesterday I tried out my own system and character record sheet for first time and I don’t think I will ever go back. I am writing up the rules to share with others but might take a bit before they are properly done. I also commissioned a character record sheet which the designer did a truly great job on, I will open source/share that in a few weeks.
Rules / how I play:
- No initiative, essentially everything happens at once with a few exceptions, I used a 60 second hour glass/sand timer, during those 60 seconds all my players have to tell me what they are doing and they can not change it. Every round still represents 6 seconds. See this video for the finer points and how things resolve: https://youtu.be/y_mxYKzEjms?t=432
I wish I had played like this since day one, it truly speeds up and simplifies combat tremendously, which in turn makes it far more exciting/scary and chaotic in a good way, imo all this is far more realistic. It also frees up way more session time for either new battles or for what I prefer: more role-playing and collaborative world-building. I prefer to, on average, spending half of each session or a bit less on combat.
- Magic I have discussed in another topic on this forum. Essentially: players have to find or be taught or be granted (deity) spells except the first few most common and basic spells. No spell table. There is a spell “attack” roll, with the DC going up if player casts more spells within a short time frame or repeats a spell, if the first d20 “attack” roll hits my DC/AC/Target number then a second d20 roll is made to see how effective the spell is. I vary effects and dmg according to this second roll. Critical misses or hits are possible. If the first roll is not a 1. but just below my target number, the spell simply fizzles with no ill effects.
Extremely short and simplified spell list and descriptions, the spell level of each spell corresponds with the character level. A 5th level Wizard can cast 5th level spell, subject to the rolls and stipulations above. Any overpowered spells simply are moved a level or more up. Potentially game changing or breaking spells will have a very high DC or require rare and expensive magical components that are consumed, irregardless that the Wizard has the required (same) level to cast these spells.
- Low power level, but that goes for both players and the monsters and NPCs. Fighter has Hit Dice 1d8 and does 1d8 damage with any weapon he uses. Thief / Cleric use 1d6 for both, Wizard 1d4. In order for my Wizard to have survive ability I will grant him a “Ghost hit point” and “Shield” type spell next session, both spells only very temporarily grant a few extra hit points or AC bonus. Characters do get their maximum hit die at first level and there is a Con bonus.
Dex bonus adjusts Attack bonus for ranged weapons, but not damage, Str bonus adjusts both attack bonus and damage, this is to make sure the fighter stays balanced/useful, including at higher levels. Characters can only do one spell, thing or attack per round, but in a few levels the fighter will get the ability to spread damage over 2 opponents and a few other such tweaks that make his melee attacks more powerful, versatile and useful without requiring more rolls or slowing down the game.
Only Fighters can wear armor that grants AC 14 or above without it affecting their core competencies, magic users and thieves will be negatively affected when using their special class specific skills if they are wearing heavier armor types.
Anyone can use any weapon (subject to the info at 3.), but within reason: a halfling will have issues and penalties with a halberd, if a player picks up a weapon they are very unfamiliar with (emergency) I will very likely raise their target number needed for a successful attack.
I am not using saving throws at the moment since I decide damage/dice for every spell anyway, depending on circumstance, rolls, level of the caster or the target etc. I am still on the fence whether I should have saving throws, perhaps for poison and such it is necessary.
I use the “themed room” approach of Index Card RPG: for simplicity’s sake and fast play, every tasks or enemy in most (not all!) rooms or areas have the same challenge rating/AC/DC.
I do use Awesome points (=inspiration) as well as Advantage / Disadvantage and I give bonuses or penalties to rolls when people roleplay well, or describe things well, have a clever plan etc.
Of course in pivotal battles or if there is a boss type character I adjust ACs and DCs, but in most situations it is a huge time saver and much clearer and less confusing for myself as well as players that they know exactly how hard an encounter or area is from the get go using the themed room approach. As Prof DM notes, this approach also really solves scalability problems at higher level and makes combat with quite a enemies easier to run and resolve.
For character generation I use the: 4d6, drop the lowers die result and players assign these scores freely to any of the 6 abilities method. However, after rolling I do add up/subtract the bonus results and make sure everyone has the same net bonus. This means there is plenty of variability and some randomness to the stats of characters, yet their power levels are ball park commensurate, not overpowered and players have more than enough choice to play any class or type of character they want.
Starting equipment and money is extremely limited on purpose. 6 Cp each, one weapon and 1 or 2 -no more- very basic tools of their trade/class, no armor except the fighter who has basic leather armour. I found this instantly made them want to find jobs/quests of any kind, made them bond or share quicker, gave them many small but clear intrinsic goals and allowed us to dive into the game faster. It also makes the early game very challenging but rewarding.
I made and use the “Ultimate Dungeon Terrain” which highly simplifies ranges and visualization during battles.
All the above means, I adjudicate, decide a lot of target numbers and outcomes using a simple d20 system where every task is between 1 and 20 in DC. No DC 27 in this game. My system does require plenty of fair and informed GM decisions and being reasonable but, I find that faaaar easier to do rather than know, partially remember and interpret/apply complicated and long rules that differ for many situations and every spell. This system would not be suitable for people who love spells or rules to be extremely predictable, or for GMs who do not want to decide a fair amount on the fly, nor for power-players who like high stats or multiple, stacking high bonuses and more rather than less rules.
I will certainly still tweak some things, yet so far, most enjoyable to run session I have ever played and the players all very much enjoyed it too. We didn’t look at the 5e PHB rules or even my own written rules at all once we build characters together, which was at least 3 times as fast as building a 5e character. We roleplayed a ton. I do allow subclasses but I make sure that any game mechanical advantages these classes have are mirrored by having some disadvantages, a Ranger would be far better at wilderness survival and tracking checks for instance but do worse in cities with the different type checks that are required there.
I focus a lot on Archetypes however: a Foodie or Cook is a kind of Archetype, Pig farmer, Knife collector, Han Solo like swashbuckler, Socially awkward but kind-hearted soul, (wannabe/starting) Assassin, Bookwurm that wants to see the world and 1000s more are all possible archetypes. Players are free to choose pretty much any Archetype, in order to create RPG opportunities and to distinguish them from the other characters, regardless of class. I do translate these into some fairly rare small bonuses that can ramp up if a character reaches 5th level. If every character has an archetype, these bonuses balance out fairly well.
Next sesh I am also implementing a very simple skills system, all it does is allow characters to get a +1 if they get pick a skill and if they specialize in it a +2 bonus on certain checks, lets say a voracious reader, bookwurm character tries a general knowledge or history check she will get the bonus on the attempt while a character who is good at hunting and butchering would not etc.