These are all hacks of the basic game D&D 3.5 rules, not including house rules I’d like to incorporate into a game of Hack20 I’d actually run, like FYIA points for example (ask me to explain – no link anymore because they aren’t age-appropriate). But here, I’m looking for minimal changes.

Hack20 is distinct from Real20, The Game With Balls, which is a stand-alone game of epic heroism and putting dragons in head-locks.

The purpose of Hack20 is for me to find a way to simplify D&D and sort of salvage it so that I can run the game, and have it be fast and fun, while not throwing out all of my D&D books or creating a whole new system (which I’ve done a few times over anyway). It is my hack of the D20 rules; hence, Hack20.

What I have so far:

Only d20s

Some things I can determine right out the gate. Only d20s should be used in this game. All other dice are converted into 1/2 the number of sides on the die. So all references to rolling a d4 become just an automatic result of 2; d6’s become an automatic result of 3, and so on. This eliminates something that slows the game down considerably right there. I’ve also just gotten done playing in a long-term campaign where there were no random damage rolls, and it was awesome, and I and the other players didn’t mind at all. I think that once you lose the damage roll, you’ll like the time it saves you more than the randomness.


Skills are also simplified a great deal. You choose a number of skills determined by Class + Int modifier, and those are your skills. Your bonus for all of those skills is your level +3 + ability modifier. For other skills, it is always just a straight attribute roll as a default.

This will make a lot of characters more focused in their skill choices, but that just means that you won’t have as much overlap. If you’re playing a lot-Intelligence character, then make sure you pick something fun that you want to be good at. Besides fighting, of course.


You always add your level to any damage you deal with spells, attacks and so on. I just like this rule because it represents how you become more dangerous as you gain in levels, getting better at doing what it is you do. So a 10th level Rogue who picks up a sharpened stick is suddenly dangerous – and that’s cool. You should be dangerous all the time at level 10, not just when you have your magical equipment, spell buffs and so on.

Attacks of opportunity

ARE GONE. Bye-bye, confusing rule that never makes the game more fun to play.

Ranged attacks can’t be taken against targets in an adjacent square. If you want to threaten a caster’s square for when they cast a spell, then hold your action and threaten then when they try to cast.

This means that Concentration is basically just useful to maintain a spell when you are damaged during casting – which is fine with me.

If you just love the idea of attacks of opportunity as people swipe at you when you run past or try to stand up, then maybe add Reflex Attacks. Everyone gets one Reflex Attack per round to take when they have a new chance to do so – so not against their current foes, but if someone runs by or gets knocked down, they can. This attack should do half damage, I think, because it isn’t focused and is just a spur-of-the-moment thing when you see a sudden opening. Then, if you have Feats that grant more Attacks of Opportunity per round, you can just have a higher number of Reflex Attacks. But you still don’t have to think about and argue about what provokes an attack of opportunity and what doesn’t.

Swift and Immediate Actions

Are going to be ignored as far as I’m concerned. If you want immediate powers, take Quicken Spell as a Feat. Or, use Swift and Immediate actions in your game, if you think they’re fun. I know a lot of the supplements in the 3.5 line use them, I just feel like its one more extra thing to keep track of and slow down combat.


Who cares? You don’t have to care if you don’t want to. If you do, its your hour paging through the Players Handbook to find out how much a pet chicken costs. If you don’t, I think you’re just avoiding the situation where you’re at a cliff and no one wrote down “100′ silk rope” on their character sheet, so the fun ends until you can find some rope.

This change will also change how Encumberance is handled. You’ll basically have armor check penalties, movement penalties from heavy armor, and that’s it. But, hoestly, do you really enforce Encumberance rules in your game? I don’t see a lot of games where this kind of rule is enforced, so it’s ok with me to say that you have a backpack, and in that backpack are whatever useful odds and ends you would think to bring along on your dungeon-delve or adventure.

If you want to challenge the players to come up with creative uses for equipment, then you can make them roll to see if they remembered to bring something obscure.

And for you grognards who want to manage your inventory down to the last caltrop because that’s fun, go for it! In a one-shot, I could definitely see writing down exactly what each character has, and then presenting the players with problems that can be solved by creative use of what you’ve given them in the equipment list.

Magic Items

Every character has a pool of Renown equal to their level. This Renown, not money, is what gets you magical items. When you spend Renown for magic items, you lose it forever, and have to level again to get more.

Magic Items are broken into Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 and Artifacts, and it is always completely up to the GM when they appear in the game. Tier 1 items cost 1 Renown each. Tier 2 cost 2 Renown each. Tier 3 cost 3 Renown each. Artifacts cost 5 Renown each.

If you loot something and don’t have the Renown to take it yourself, that means you have to give it back to whoever the original owner was. If you equip it, it only counts as a masterwork version of whatever kind of object it is, and the owner will be mad that you have it when clearly you are not Renowned enough to carry that kind of equipment.

Items that don’t count: magical items, or alchemical items, costing less than 1,000 gold in the DMG are purchased with your starting cash, described below – as long as the DM is cool with it.

Tier 1: +1 weapons and armor, Wondrous Items and other Items costing less than 3,000 gold in the DMG.

Tier 2: +2 to +3 weapons and armor, Wonderous and other Items costing less than 20,000 gold in the DMG

Tier 3: +4 to +6 weapons and armor, Items costing less than70,000 gold in the DMG.

Artifacts: anything better than Tier 3.

Obviously, this will be a change in the structure of most D&D 3.5 games; certainly in the game as it is described in the DMG. However, I think it is a good way for magical items to actually be magical, and interesting, and kind of rare, rather than just a way to buy yourself some bonuses on rolls.

Also, with the Damage rule above, you will be able to still hang with higher-level monsters without quite as many magical items as you’re accustomed to because even as a lowly lvl 4 you’ll be doing +4 damage with all of your attacks.

Equipment for new characters

Roll for random wealth as the PhB instructs, then multiply that wealth by your level if it is higher than 1st. If you want to worry about money at all, that is, and a lot of D&D players do, so that’s cool.

Tracking condition modifiers and buffs

I’ve considered taking an idea from Descent – using tokens to represent conditions on your character like Stunned or Blinded, or beneficial conditions like spell buffs. Or, instead of tokens, maybe 3×5 cards that you just put on the character sheet itself with the name of the condition or the buff. Whenever I play D&D past level 3 or so, there are often so many buffs and modifiers that each attack roll takes 30 seconds to resolve as the player looks up at the ceiling and says “Ok, I’m fighting prone, so that’s -4, but I have Heroism from the Bard, so that’s +2, and then Inspire Courage gives another +1, and I’m raging, so thats….+2 to hit and +2 damage, basically, but I’m also Sickened because I’m in the middle of an Insect Swarm, so that’s -2 to hit…”

If this person just had some index cards with bonuses and penalties in front of them, it seems like this would be a lot easier to track.

Moving on the battle map

I’m in favor of just stealing from D&D 4.0 and making all steps on a battle map 5′, instead of diagonals being 5′ and then 10′ and then 5′ again. Its just easier to count out, and it distorts the fictional battlefield a little, but I don’t think its a big deal. You can also use the hex grid that is probably on the back of your battle mat, but if you have colored tiles that have squares on them or are using a map from a module, then you’ve got squares only. This also makes areas of effect easier to work out – they’re just big squares, instead of sort-of-circles that are hard to sketch out on the fly.

What have I missed?

3 thoughts on “Hack20

  1. I actually have True 20 already, and I've read through it. It's not bad, but I think it might sacrifice too much of the D&D 'flavor', whereas with these “Hacks”, you can still use all of the D&D stuff in the same way. Anyway, there are some similarities, but obviously I'm biased 🙂


  2. I think this stuff is pretty good. The wealth thing will end up with poor characters by the game's standards, but I know you favor that.

    We'll see if 4e is worth playing or if we're going to all be going back and pulling out our 3.5 house rules like this again.


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