But not really D&D

June 8, 2009

The other big homebrew was a D&D hack I ran for about 6 months around 2000 with my friends in Seattle (another all POC group). I had taken the idea of the “build your own class” stuff from the DM’s book and made my own, allowing players to build martial arts, magic, etc. into their character classes.

(It’s hard to say whether it was balanced in the long run or not, I think they ran through 3-4 levels just fine).

Again, ripped out the magic system for a scaled “element” system, somewhat in the vein of Mage.

While I don’t remember much of the system (which, I guess says a lot), I do remember I didn’t fudge dice so it must have worked well enough.

The biggest thing was I had hit upon my personal “magic formula” of what I like in a fantasy game- a good mix of high action and character development. I had some solid NPCs and it became one of those hallmark games that we still bring up years later.

One of the big things was that I had removed the dungeon crawling from the experience, and no traps, and the players were just amazed at how much could happen in a session when they weren’t forced to check for traps or open up a bunch of empty rooms. (After moving to the Bay, I tried to run a 3E game in 2003, along the same lines, but the new players were completely at a loss how to deal with the game outside of the dungeon crawling mentality…)

While I’d probably not be satisfied with the homebrew designs today, I think it’s pretty interesting that some of the most fun I’ve had with my friends were specifically the homebrews, and probably because I built rules tailored for the kinds of games I wanted to see, and in the process, got a better handle in what I want from a game as well.

A lot of this came out of dissatisfaction with the rules in the Giant Feng Shui Campaign of 1995-7 – and it’s interesting that within my circle (and multiple GMs) we didn’t come to the conclusion “We’re Teh Awesome Roleplayers! We don’t need your stinking rules!” as much as, “That was fun, but I wish the rules actually DID something”.

Perhaps this is a case where limited exposure to game culture prevented us from absorbing all those myths and internalizing them along the way…



  1. In reading this and thinking about it, I realize that all of my best gaming experiences have been with hacked systems. BESM, World of Darkness and D&D are all games I’ve hacked to pieces and then reconfigured, so much so that I don’t really understand the actual rules-as-written anymore, and when I play with others who aren’t used to my hacks, I find myself quoting rules incorrectly…

    I’m not sure most players feel this way, but I just find this imperative in me to hack systems. I’m not sure what it is, but it sure is fun.

    • For sure there’s always the creative tinkerer edge, but I think rpg culture has forced us to all become designers- as so many games have either had contradictory rules, or contradictory stated goals to what the rules did, or incomplete rules, all of us ended up hacking stuff on some level.

      Probably more immediate for you would be to try some more games with different structures- since D&D, BESM, and WoD aren’t that far apart on the structure scale.

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