Thinking Out Loud

all of my ideas are works in progress

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Okay, now this is eerie. Last night, an idea for a new way of playing Pathfinder and other d20 games came to me, fully-formed. A year earlier to the day, I was writing 321 System.

Dumb20 is 'dumbed-down' d20. It's based on Pathfinder, but is general enough that it can be tailored to any other OGL content with ease, and sufficiently compatible you could have half of your players playing Pathfinder and the other half playing Dumb20 without really being able to tell the difference. This makes it a great way to involve younger or more casual players.

The Dumb20 Core Mechanic

Every ability can be expressed as a bonus x1, x3/4, x1/2, or x1/4* of a character's level, and every action can be resolved by 1d20 + ability bonus + an attribute bonus. Since all fractions are rounded down, any bonus less than x1 won't be available until higher levels. This is how attack bonuses already work in Pathfinder. In Dumb20, saves and skills work the same way.

Each class has 'strong saves' and 'weak saves'. In Dumb20, the strong save is 3/4 the character's level, and weak saves are 1/2. This makes strong saves slightly weaker at low levels, and weak saves quite a bit stronger at high levels, but is unlikely to make much difference to Dumb20 players or mixed groups. A wise GM might fudge save DCs for Dumb20 players by -2 for levels 1-4 and -1 for levels 5-8 if PCs are dying too quickly.

Each class has a number of skill ranks per level. A Dumb20 player just picks that number of skills from the skill list (plus a number of additional skills equal to their Intelligence modifier) as 'their' skills, which will not change much as the character levels up. If they're class skills, their bonus is equal to the character's level, and 3/4 if they're not class skills, or a player can choose to sacrifice a skill at one fraction for two skills at one fraction lower. This makes class skills somewhat weaker at low levels that a similarly specialized Pathfinder character, so a GM might similarly fudge down some skill DCs.

All other racial and class abilities work pretty much as written. For any ability that scales with character level, assign it a fraction of character level that best fits. *x1/4 abilities are mostly class features.

Character Creation

So, right now, this might sound like just different math, not less, and more things for the GM to keep track of. Let me show you how an in-progress character sheet might look so you can see how this makes all the numbers very easy for an inexperienced player:

elf fighter 4
+4 (x1) +3 (x3/4) +2 (x1/2) +1 (x1/4)
+0 Attacks
Handle animal (Cha)
Survival (Wis)
Fort save Ref save
Will save
Armor training
+2 Perception (Wis)
Str 13 (+1)
Dex 19 (+4)
Con 13 (+1)
Int 12 (+1)
Wis 12 (+1)
Cha 9 (-1)

The core of the sheet is a 4x4 grid. Every relevant ability or skill is placed in a box representing its fraction bonus (column), and fixed bonus, if any (row). This basic fighter isn't too bright, and only has three skills, two class skills in the (4,0) box, and a cross-class skill with a racial bonus (3,2). Fort save is strong, the others are weak, full BAB, a few class abilities (I'll explain feats later). The attributes and their bonuses are listed below the main grid for a reason.

Want to make an attack? Attacks are in box (4,0), BAB is +4, if it's ranged, add Dex, it's 1d20+8. (I'm sure there will ultimately be a few more boxes, for hp and other commonly-used combat numbers.)

Survival? +4, +0, +1, 1d20+5. Perception? +3, +2, +1, 1d20+6. Appraise? It's not on the grid, so just the attribute, 1d20+1.

The beauty is, when this PC levels up, the player just erases the numbers in the top row, and recalculates them as fractions of the new level. Heck, this could have been the player's character sheet from level 1 without any alteration, it's just taken until they reached level 4 for the 1/4 ability column to become available, and you've never needed to open a rulebook since then.

A lot of feats can be used as-is, often by just moving an ability down a row (or, if appropriate, a column to the left). A GM and player can easily work out before hand that this PC is going to be a killer archer and get all the weapon focus and weapon specialization feats, the GM crosses off half of the fighter bonus feats and puts 'archery specialist' in the 1/4 column, treating it as a linear class feature instead of tracking individual feats.

Alterations to spells and equipment are not necessary for Dumb20, but a player that would benefit from Dumb20 would probably also benefit from a constrained/streamlined equipment list and spell list.

Multiclass characters would probably have a separate grid for each class. You get the bonus from each grid, and sum them. I'm an advocate of summing fractional bonuses, and looking at your classes this way makes it more obvious that a rogue 1/wizard 1 has 1.25 total BAB from their classes, which is better represented by a +1 than +0+0.


Dumb20 is not a complete game system, and it's not meant to do everything that Pathfinder can do. In some ways, it's a hybrid of 321 System and Pathfinder - identifying the 'main things' that make a character work and assigning streamlined bonuses. In some ways, it's just a different kind of character sheet and a shoehorn.

It looks like a great way to make quick and dirty characters, such as at a con, when you just want to get playing instead of combing through sourcebooks for a few hours to create the perfect character, or for medium-importance mid-level NPCs that the GM isn't sure are going to recur yet. Or it could be used for the long haul by a group or a player that likes the idea of Pathfinder, but struggles with hunting for the right number of the classic character sheet or other bookkeeping aspects. It might also be a useful tool for comparing different builds or archetypes of a class, since all the class abilities are available at a glance, or prototyping ideas for new classes.

I'm not exactly sure if or how this work interacts with the Open Gaming License, but I'm pretty sure it's okay for me to use the parts of d20 that I have, and for others to share and distribute them under the same terms. Everything that I created and contributed in this post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License



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