Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

9 July, 2011

Weekend Design Challenge: the return!

So, I figured I’d pick a little project to get me to post more regularly on here. I figured it might be nice to give some of you a glimpse into how a design project might work. I’m putting this under the “Weekend Design Challenge” category, but the challenge is mostly for me to post more often. :)

The project is to turn the d20 system (used for Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition) into a classless system.

I figured that some people might want to follow along at home, so here’s the plan. I’ll post on the weekends (for some definition of “weekend”). I’ll post something about the work I’ve done, and then give a bit about what the topic is going to be for the next post. If you’re interested, you’re encouraged to do your own work during the week and post up your thoughts in a comment or trackback. (Note that I don’t get some trackbacks from some places, notably Blogger. If your trackback doesn’t show up in a day or so, feel free to manually leave a link in a comment.)


Wizards of the Coast did something pretty daring for the 3rd (and 3.5) edition of D&D, they created the “Open Gaming License”. The goal was to mimic some of the “open source” licenses to allow people to create derivative products easier. This was a big concern, as previous owners of D&D were not always kind to people making derivative products. One of the big strengths of D&D has been that it is so flexible that you can create a bunch of interesting house rules to customize the game the way you see fit. The OGL was a way to make it easy for people to create products.

As a side note: it was very successful. The tabletop RPG industry was completely dominated by d20 books for a while. One could argue that perhaps it was too successful, as it lead to a lot of products of dubious quality despite creating a lot of great products as well. It’s interesting to note that the newest edition of D&D uses a much more detailed license; I couldn’t do this project with the 4th edition rules as explained by the license, as it only covers print or digital equivalent (.pdf) sourcebooks.

A nice hypertext version of the system resource document (SRD) can be found at

My goal

My goal is to take the system and develop a “classless” system. To give it some context, let’s say I want to make a single-player RPG (downloadable or Flash) and wanted to use a system that was familiar. A game that uses the (unaltered) d20 rules is Knights of the Chalice.

So, why take a class-based system and make it classless? Masochism. Er, wait, I mean, personal preference. In university, I created a classless system for 2nd edition D&D that I used a few times, so I thought it would be fun to try it again. (And, if you go searching around in my old homepages, you’ll get the mental scarring you so richly deserve.)

Next week

So, the most important thing to do is research. Next week, I’ll post up information I’ve found after doing a bit of research. Do your own research and get ready to post up!

(And, yes, I know there are a few classless d20 systems like this out there already. I want to do the work myself, but I’ll show some of the other options next week when showing off my research.)

(Note that it would be best to hold off posting your own research for now so that people can try to work independently, then we can all compare notes next weekend. But do leave comments and suggestions about the project overall this week. Thanks!)

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  1. I’ll be following along I’m sure.

    Comment by Sara Pickell — 9 July, 2011 @ 10:10 PM

  2. Check this one out:

    We have been using and developing this one, based on 3e for years. It’s pretty stable now. We also recently implimented a classless magic system to replace the old slot system and a damage reduction for armour to replace armour class modifiers. Both of which work very well.

    There is some extra stuff here:

    We have made a few more small modifications which aren’t listed here, but I’d be happy to answer questions by email if you like.

    Gobble gobble.

    Comment by BobTurkey — 10 July, 2011 @ 1:27 AM

  3. BobTurkey: Yeah, there’s a few systems out there. I’m doing this as a personal exercise. I hadn’t run across your system yet, so thanks for the links! Feel free to comment on the future posts to share your perspective.

    The Rampant Coyote also has an article about using D&D rules for computer RPGs:

    Comment by Psychochild — 10 July, 2011 @ 10:46 AM

  4. Late to the party, but I just came across this.

    The simplest (not necessarily easiest) solution I can think of would be to allow players to level up skills directly upon gaining a character level. Let them pick (n) first ranks of any skill for free upon character creation and then award (x) point per level. (x) could very well be the character’s own level, for example, so at level 2 the player gets 2 skill points to distribute, 3 at level 3 and so on.

    The first question that comes to mind is what to do to avoid overpowered characters at 20 when they earn 20 skill points, but that could be limited by how deep we want to make each skill in terms of skill ranks, so the choice to spread those points or overspecialize is always present as the character levels up. As long as we make sure the total amount of skill points earned from 1 to 20 is nowhere near enough to gain max rank on every skill available, it -should- work fine.

    Unless I’m completely missing the whole point, this makes it a classless system where players are not confined to any archetype/skill groups and simply pick and choose what skills they want to develop as they go from the whole available pool. Yes, there is the problem of the potential Mage Priest in Plate, but then we’re talking about balance. It all comes down to how many skill points you want to give them to play with and how expensive you want to make each skill rank.

    Comment by Julian — 17 July, 2011 @ 5:44 PM

  5. Weekend Design Challenge: Research

    [...] the design of a classless d20 setting, this week we'll look at research. Feel free to add your own in the comments if you found something [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild's Blog — 17 July, 2011 @ 10:40 PM

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