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  • Writer's pictureThe Tactical Dungeoneer

Sacrificing Sacred Cows

When I approached the design for 1pd20, I resolved to take a fresh look at role playing games. I knew that I wanted a d20 roll-over system, and that I wanted the rules to fit on a single page to facilitate both ease of play and clean implementation for campaign settings. Hence, it's namesake.

Even though a d6 pooling system provides a better probability curve for "realistically" distributed results, d20 is more random and provides greater opportunity for surprise. Both underlying mechanics are great, and there is certainly a place for d6 dice pools in future TD games, but for this system I wanted to include the thrill of rolling a natural 20! In short, choosing d20 over d6 was a prioritization of surprise over simulation.

The impact of simplifying the rules and restricting them to a single page is really a result of the underlying pillar of accessibility. Ease of play becomes a direct result of simplified rules. Not only are there fewer rules to remember, but having all of them on a single page means every RPG built on 1pd20 can include the entire system on the back page. This makes look-up a breeze compared to the tome flipping of traditional RPGs! If by some far-out chance a situation arises and there simply isn't a rule in place to resolve it, always defer to the Rule of Cool. We'll talk about that later.

Ease of play is not our only approach to making the game more accessible. The simplified rules also serve to erode barriers, such as the availability of a Game Master (GM). Not having a GM can be a true game breaker for most RPGs, which brings us to our first sacrificial cow! 1pd20 does not require a GM.

Well, the GM only counts as half a cow, since if you have one you could still play in the traditional GM/player format. I personally even prefer it, but I want to be able to play without one. Heck, I want to be able to play this game solo, so on the altar it goes!

Another common barrier is the daunting amount of preparation required. This obstacle is not entirely the GM's burden, as character creation can often be intimidating for new players and introduces a lot of work before the game even begins. I want 1pd20 to give life to characters on the fly, and within minutes! I want people to pull the game from the shelf, with no forethought, and jump right in with either new characters or veteran characters with tales of past glory.

The real sacred cow here is Ability Scores. Most RPGs define characters using a half dozen or so attributes such as strength and intelligence, assigning numeric values to create a profile of sorts, eg. a scrawny but clever thief. These values form the basis for the character's skills and abilities, affecting how good or bad they are at certain tasks, like shooting a bow or picking a lock or sneaking past a sleeping giant.

Ability scores, the sacred cow on the altar of 1pd20.

Character skill and efficacy in 1pd20 is determined solely by their abilities and character level. Abilities are chosen upon character creation, the options determined by the player's selection of class and race. There are opportunities to gain abilities as the character advances, and most abilities grow in power as they level up. Who needs dexterity to improve your chances to hit with a bow, when your hunter has 3 levels in arching? This approach not only makes character creation a breeze, it brings tangible gains to every level of character advancement. There is no need to wait several levels for a bump in your proficiency bonus.

I never thought I would design an RPG with no ability scores, but I honestly can't wait to play test this one! The further in development I get, the more fun it's shaping up to be! I think it's ok to sacrifice a sacred cow now and then. Maybe even a sacred cow and a half!


A preview of some of the rogue's class abilities, which get more powerful as the player invests in them.

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