Keep It Simple Silly Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

I started playing D&D back in the summer of 1986 after stumbling across the 1981 Basic Set at a school mate's house and he let me have it. I ran my first game as a Dungeon Master for my two brothers a few days later and haven't stopped since. Over the years our cohort primarily made use of 2nd Edition rules and source books along with a healthy dose of house rules and ideas. We never got in to 3rd, 3.5, or 4th Edition but in recent years a younger generation of role players pulled me into the 5th Edition gravity well and I felt a little hesitant. It wasn't that the rules were terrible, but there was something about it I just didn't like. I felt myself being pulled back to the idea of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons but I saw a lot of value in what 5th Edition brought to the table, so I did what any self-respecting Dungeon Master or Game Designer would do: I salvaged what I liked from both and made my own happy place.

Keep It Simple Silly
First and foremost I am going to say it up front: D&D rules are like women, beer, guns, and cars. No one particular version of any of these is going to satisfy all of us so just accept the fact that I am telling you what works for me. Chill out and don't get all worked up if this rubs you the wrong way, I don't know who you are and I'm not trying to get anyone bent out of shape. My goal was to simplify the overall rules and make the focus of the game about role playing and not ability scores or special powers.

Character Sheets and Other Goodies
I keep all my useful stuff here to include a character sheet and random monster chart I put together. Anything else there may or may not be from other creators you are welcome to use and credit goes to the individual artists or authors. I do have my own modified Skill Dice chart to help my newer fighters understand what and when to use them (plus I modified some slightly).

I allow folks to play any race as defined by the rule book except I limit type to those found in AD&D. Just my personal taste for my world I run, so do with this as you will. Again the focus is to try and steer people away from "cool abilities" races give you and try and keep them more focused on role playing to succeed. We also use a Luck stat, rolled like the others with the same bonus/penalties, which I find useful as a DM. If a player asks "Can I buy magic potions in this town?" and I have no clue, I make them roll Luck vs likelihood ( 5 very likely, 10 likely, 15 maybe, 20 unlikely, 25 very unlikely, 30 one in a million or you can just roll 3D10 and make it completely random). With a little practice and some tweaking it is a nice catch all and saves me from falling into my subconscious DM habits.

Three Classes
In my games there are only three classes. Yes, just three:

  1. Fighters - D10 for hit points, use of Skill Dice pool, an extra attack every 5th level.
  2. Clerics - D8 for hit points, innate Turn/Destroy Undead (Wisdom saving throw, they flee on a fail or are destroyed if their roll is less than or equal to [cleric level + WIS bonus], can cast spells as per standard rules but no memorization or preparing required. Feel free to mess with the cleric if their deity isn't too pleased with them.
  3. Wizards - D6 for hit points, innate Detect and Identify Magic ability, can cast as per standard rules but if a spell is not memorized it always goes last.

The reason for only three classes is that you can start with any of these and then customize your skills in order to produce a Thief, Ranger, and etcetera. You can multi-class anyway you would like, so making a Paladin is a character who is more Fighter than Cleric but has some levels of both. So the skills you pick will largely dictate the powers you have, only some of which, as noted above, bestowed by the class you select.

For Hit Points I usually give the max value of D# plus Con bonus for a character's first level. For future levels folks can elect for the average value instead if they want to play it safe and not roll. Healing is more old school. Short rests are more role play, maybe if someone just needs to generate mana for a single spell etcetera. We don't use the Short Rest, self-healing Hit Dice option. Long rests can heal hit points equal to your hit point die plus your Con bonus. A Healing kit dose weighs one pound and can be used to restore one (1) hit point. Medicine skill bonus can be used to heal different types of conditions, but from a DM point of view this can take days and lots of unique components to work. Characters make CON saves to stay conscious at 0 hit points and fall unconscious at negative HP. Characters who are at a negative value GREATER than their CON are considered dead and beyond normal healing (unless a Spare the Dying spell is cast, in which case we consider that a tether and allow healing to be applied normally - this doesn't mean you can't drag out how long before they regain consciousness).

We use Hero Points, where you earn one every level you gain and if the DM feels like giving you one. They can be spent to give you Advantage, a plus D20, or an Extra Action - however you want to spend them at that very moment. Once you use them they are gone forever, so choose wisely.

We use mana points which is the total value of (spell level) times (number of slots for that level) you can cast. Clerics use divine and Wizards tap arcane so each would have their own mana pool if you multi class. This allows you to spend them as you see fit and give spell casters some flexibility. We also put a limit on the number of cantrips you can cast as equal to your Constitution score (Multi class Wizard/Clerics are drawing off the same score). Innate Cleric and Wizard abilities noted above DO count against this limit. I've gone back and forth on whether to allow the casting of spells higher than what you are capable of, but currently I was leaning toward to have the player roll a D20 for each spell level beyond their capability and that is how many points of damage they take from the strain. So if I had a 5th spell slot and cast an 8th level I roll 3D20 and cross my fingers. Allow it, don't allow it, make it risky - it is up to you. For learning spells I have the wizard roll d20s equal to their level and I roll d20s equal to the level of the spell they want to learn - if their highest rolls meets or beats my roll then they were able to figure it out, and it took a number of days equal to the level of the new spell minus your Intelligence modifier. So an 8th level spell and a 16 INT means it took me 8-(+3) = 5 days to learn.

Each player gets four (4) Saving Throw points to start with and they can spend up to two (2) maximum in any one stat. There are no restriction or limit on how these are assigned. Every level you achieve you get two (2) more Saving Throw bonuses to assign but no more than one (1) per stat.

The way I handle Proficiency Bonuses is rolled up with Skills. Each player gets 12 points to spend, no more than two (2) to a single Skill or Ability, and this covers Skills, Initiative, Armor, Languages, Tool Kits, Mana points, etc. Players then get six (6) points to spend thereafter, but only one (1) point improvements for any one item. Take note that for weapons you are buying skill for use of a particular arm. Want to be able to fight ambidextrously? They you have to put equal points into both Left and Right Longsword, etcetera. We also allow folks to become skilled in shield bashing, D4 bludgeon to start. For Tools having proficiency means that you gain Advantage with your attempt, and additional skill points add to your roll. Not having proficiency with a class of armor you are wearing gives you Disadvantage on everything you do or gives your opponent Advantage if that makes more sense (Saves, Attacks, Spells, etcetera). It is assumed the character can speak their racial language (DM can adjust based on back story). If you become proficient in a language it means you can read and write it with additional points being added to your rolls or checks.

The "So what?"
So why do I do it like this? First off I don't have to go and memorize or keep looking up all the feats and features people get. I see why folks would like that aspect of the system, but it drives me nuts. What you see next is that in order to make a Paladin character you end up hindering yourself from your full potential of power if you just played a straight character. So the end result is people end up playing a "Paladin" only if they are true about the ideals of what one is. As a DM I may take that into account and grant them some leeway in role play because they have done a good job of committing to the part vs people taking a class for the goodies which come with it.

This also makes it easier for me to generate random NPCs. What is that you say? I need to make a 7th level wizard? No problem, 7 x D6+CON hit points, I've got my random spells known | gear | magic items generators online, I get to assign 16 Saving Throw points, and 48 Skill points (to include Initiative, Weapon/Armor/Tool proficiencies, Mana pool, Languages). In general I know that whatever he/she should be good at will probably be at a bonus equal to their level (so a 5th Level NPC merchant would a +5 to merchant type checks), and then you can have two skills at -1 level, 3 at -2 etc on down the pyramid. Boom, done.

Over all I think it forces the players back to actually role playing the situation vs moving or doing things to trigger special abilities and I think it is a much leaner game system. Hopefully you'll enjoy this rules modification. As always, keep it fun and light. Again, these ideas may not be for every one (I've thought about giving out Feats as innate abilities instead of magic items for example) but just like Gary Gygax has told us from the beginning - these are just guidelines, do what you want!

© 2017, Gabriel Landowski