Advancement Systems In RPG Design


Image result for leveling meme

I recently had a fun conversation with a friend of mine who is designing a tabletop RPG about what kind of advancement system to use for his game. It got me thinking about the pros and cons of all of the various methods games use for character advancement, mostly in tabletop but also drawing from video games. I thought I would lay out the various options as I saw them and discuss each in turn, both as a way to organize my thoughts a bit further and also to show the wide variety of methods there are out there.

How you use an advancement system for your game is a core question both for game designers and also for those running games. Many advancement systems leave a lot of flexibility based on play style – one D&D game for example might have characters leveling every four or five sessions of play, and another might have them leveling every session. One is a story of slow development where there have to be a lot of rewards that aren’t experience points while the other is a roller-coaster ride to power that won’t leave as much time for character development, since everyone will always be learning and trying out their new abilities. Designers should let GMs know where they think the “sweet spot” is for their game, as this can be a very helpful guide. Trial-and-error also works, but can lead to a lot more frustration among players.

Experience and Leveling (D&D)

Of course, the granddaddy system, the default in most people’s minds, is leveling. You accumulate experiences points doing whatever it is that the game wants to reward, and when you hit a particular break-point you have a sudden increase in your character’s abilities. This is true of many RPGs whether on console or tabletop, and was the method introduced by D&D and many of the very first tabletop RPGs forty years ago.

The important thing here is that the game gives experience points for what you want players and characters to be doing most often. In fact, if you want to know what a game is about, look to what it rewards – and if your game rewards something that you don’t want your game to be about, change your experience system. (This is true for all of the advancement methods I’ll discuss, and also true for any reward system or cycle you have in your game, period.) Reward the behavior you want. Don’t give experience points for killing monsters in your supposed political intrigue game.

You also want to have your level progression lean toward incremental and not be too jarring. Unless it is an intentional aspect of your game, a character shouldn’t be twice as capable after achieving a single level. Not only is it ‘unrealistic’, it is jarring to the fiction. Suddenly, things that were dire threats to you last session are a breeze now because you crossed an arbitrary threshold. Thing through how often you think characters should level – multiple times per session? Every two or three sessions? Every month of play? Etc. And tune your game accordingly.

Incremental Leveling (D&D 4E, D&D Online)

Kind of a subset to the above is something I really liked about Dungeon & Dragons Online, and how it used leveling to make the experience of play more similar to other MMOs (where there tend to be 100 or so levels, each only slightly different from the others). I’ve written about it here in the past, but in brief, DDO took each level in D&D and broke it into 10 mini-levels that were incremental points between. So, for example, instead of being 10% more likely to hit an enemy, you would be 1% more likely at each increment. Instead of 10 hit points, you would get 1. Ten of those increments would add up to a full level that one might recognize from the tabletop version of D&D.

D&D 4th Edition did something similar by making the three tiers of play explicit. First the Heroic tier, from level 1 to 10, then the Paragon tier from 11 to 20, and then the Epic tier from 21 to 30. At each tier different abilities became available, and it was intentional that there be a bigger difference between 10 and 11 than between 9 and 10 for example.

Advancement through Failure (Powered by the Apocalypse games)

When thinking of earning experience or character points or whatever it is that makes a character advance, we often think of achievement. Starting with Apocalypse World, there have been a series of games that root advancement in failure. Generally speaking, in games based on AW, you mark experience or gain experience when you fail in a roll. This is in part so that you can ‘fail forward’, so to speak, and I’ve also found it to be an encouraging aspect of these systems for people who feel like they don’t roll well. It’s also fun to crap out on an important roll, knowing it’ll hurt, but sit back and say, “You know, I learned something today…”

This is really just an example of another type of behavior  you want to reward – specifically, the behavior of taking risks in-game and using abilities you aren’t very good at. However many abilities a game might have, a given character will usually only use maybe a half dozen of them regularly. Characters tend to be specialists in RPGs, and players tend to want their characters to succeed, meaning players will want to only try things their characters are good at. This is doubly true if they only get experience points, or only move toward advancement, when they succeed. Actively rewarding failure is a good way to encourage players to have their characters try new, dangerous, and often entertaining things.

Edit: It was pointed out, correctly, that it is specifically Dungeon World that grants xp for failure, not Apocalypse World.

Ongoing Point-Buy (GURPS, WoD)

Leaving aside “leveling” altogether, there is the system where experience points are points that one can spend to improve specific abilities. This system is easier to customize, and can be less jarring. When a character levels, they often increase a number of different abilities and capacities, but with a point-buy or character point advancement system, the player can choose to improve some abilities and not others.

Often the choice for the player is whether to spend advancement points frequently on minor new abilities, or to save up the advancement points to buy more powerful abilities. In all World of Darkness games, as well as in GURPS, players are presented with this decision at the end of each session. Some players will want to advance a little bit each session, while others will save up for big abilities. Many will alternate between the two based on how they want their characters to develop.

For these and similar systems, the question for game designers becomes one of pricing. Pricing decisions can be a function of demand, how popular an ability is likely to be, as well as impact on the story. Check out what I wrote about frequency and payoff a while back, and think about how low-frequency and/or low-payoff abilities should be cheaper, in a point-buy system, than high-frequency and/or high-payoff abilities.

Advancement as Currency (Shadowrun, sometimes GURPS)

Often a subset of the point-buy system is when the points you use for advancement can also be used as in-game currency. This adds a layer of decision-making for the player, since they can either have the immediate payoff of spending a point in-game, or the quick payoff of spending the point on some small incremental advancement, or the delayed gratification of saving up for a powerful ability.

Shadowrun is the best example of this I could think of with its karma system, where you can spend karma in-game for benefits, but karma is also what you spend on new abilities for your character. GURPS has a version of this, where you can spend character points earned in play (or even left over from character creation) to do something in-game like have a suddenly wind-fall of cash. The big challenge here is human psychology. It is easy to, without thinking about it, use up a lot of your potential for advancement in-game, making up for unlucky rolls or ensuring your character shines in particular scenes. Players who don’t like to trust to luck will also tend to make more use of things like karma than others. This can lead to a discrepancy in advancement over time. Not necessarily a flaw, just something to consider.

Advancement by Use (Torchbearer, Call of Cthulhu, Skyrim)

Some games do away with experience points or character points granted for victories in the story or for certain player behaviors and simply link advancement to skill-use. The two biggest examples of this I could think of from tabletop games are Call of Cthulhu (the percentile versions) and the various games based on Burning Wheel, the most recent of which is Torchbearer. These systems take a bit more tracking than the ones above, but you don’t have to worry as much about pricing abilities or tuning the leveling system.

A system that links advancement to ability use seems to work better for less high-fantasy or high-powered games, at least where tabletop RPGs are concerned. And even in Skyrim, your Shouts are earned by completing the main storyline’s quests, or by exploring dungeons, rather than advancing based on use. In fact, that is probably a limitation on a system like this for a tabletop game – it would add a lot of complexity to do any kind of calculation – i.e., to make some abilities harder to raise than others based on use. I can also see limitations here – what to do about fantasy tropes like wizard spells, or psychic abilities, which are usually much more powerful than other abilities? Should your Cooking ability advance the same way that Fireball does? Maybe, but I can see a problem there.

Another challenge here is going to be ability-spamming. Players are going to be trying to use every conceivable ability as much as possible during a session if ability use is what is rewarded. This can have a similar effect to rewarding failure, mentioned above – it will make players branch out more in what they want their characters to try. It can also get repetitive, as in each session every character takes a moment to make a Photography roll, and then an Academics roll, and then a Gambling roll, or whatever. (I’ve definitely seen this come up in Call of Cthulhu.) A designer can find ways around this spamming issue, like limiting the total number of abilities that are counted in a given session, but it can definitely be a problem. On the other hand, this system does model reality pretty well (you get better at what you practice) and does reward a much more broad list of activities than leveling systems tend to.

Milestones (Fate Core, Parsec)

I’m sure other systems do this, but the example I came up with was Fate Core for a system that rewards characters based on reaching particular points in the story. (I mention Parsec because that game, which I designed, includes a system where players define obstacles and characters advance when those obstacles are faced in-game). A lot of video games do this with the main storyline or main quest-line – do whatever you want, take however much time you want, but you won’t advance until you get to a particular part of the story. This is, of course, significantly easier for a video game where the story is laid out ahead of time by the designers and writers.

But most games have an over-arching storyline of some sort. The DM or GM has come to the table with some kind of plan, much as players love to deviate. And a system like this could be an alternative to railroading, or designing every adventure as a box canyon. You can have more of a sandbox situation, but one that only rewards certain story milestones. Carrot rather than stick, so to speak, or honey rather than vinegar.

A story milestone system can be the way that each of the above systems are handled. The milestone could grant you a level, or character points, or a milestone could even be when the players have used a certain number of abilities in-game. In Fate Core, it functions a bit like leveling, as a milestone is a time you can improve your character as well as move abilities around or change them rather than improving them mechanically. Which brings us to…

Adjustment rather than Advancement (Spirit of the Century, Dresden Files)

In some RPGs, you don’t advance in any way that is marked on your character sheet. The story advances, and your character can change over time, but they don’t get better, or gain new abilities. Whether characters advance or not is a matter of taste, and will determine the kinds of games you play. Some games that include advancement can be played without, especially in the short term, and most games played as a one-shot will not include advancement.

Do you have more, or better, examples? Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments or on Reddit/Facebook/Twitter.


Review: D&D 4th Edition Dark Sun

This is a brief take after my reading of the new campaign setting for 4th Edition Dark Sun.  I have a lot more to say, but I’m trying to be succinct.  If you have particular questions, meet me in the comment thread.

A while ago I got a copy of Dark Sun for 4th Edtion.  I’ve recently finished reading the complete Prism Pentad for the first time, and might talk about those in another post.  Suffice to say – the quirkly illogic of old-school D&D combined with the brutality of the setting to make an interesting read all around.  Not all of the books are equally good (the 4th one is the worst of the lot, and I might even say skip it) but I read the whole five books, which says something.

I picked up the new 4th Edition Dark Sun Campaign Setting, wondering how 4th Edition’s invincible player-characters would combine with the life-is-cheap brutality of Athas.  The answer: you get a lot of 4th Edition wedded to a tiny bit of Dark Sun.

As an implementation of the Dark Sun setting, I think that the new campaign book basically fails.  There is some text about how tough Athas is, but there is very little that actually makes it tough in terms of system.  You have to spend about 5gp a day to live, and if you don’t,  you start losing healing surges from lack of water and so on.  Compare this to the most physically strong character in the books, Rkard the Mul, being laid low by having to walk out in the open for three or four days, reduced to a near-dead state, and Athas really loses it’s bite.

What I wanted was a grim, desperate land where travel itself, usually at best handled by a montage or a couple skill challenge, could kill you just as readily as the overwhelming collection of murderous, psionic fauna.  What you get is a way to drain 5gp a day out of your pocket.  Which, when a first level encounter might net the party hundreds of gold pieces, has little to no sting.

More than anything else, 4th Edition’s take on Dark Sun convinced me that the setting needs it’s own system.  D&D is not about being murdered by your harsh environment. It is not about deceit and back-stabbing and political maneuvering.  Both of these things feature prominently in the Prism Pentad books.

Where Dark Sun and 4th Edition overlap in a sweet spot is in gladiatorial combat.  I could see a game based on a cadre of gladiators in Tyr going really well – you get the monster-of-the week phenomenon without needing a lot of explanation, and you get to showcase what 4th Edition does – small-scale tactical combat with kewl powerz.

Once you leave the gladiatorial arena, though, 4th Ed falls apart as an engine for Dark Sun stories.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 shards of obsidian.

D&D 4th Edition – Character Creation + Hacks Part 2

Long ago, in ancient times, I posted about how I handled 4th Edition D&D character creation with my home group.  Since then, a fine gentleman created a document for the method that I described.  It is available for download here.

It’s a good document and the method worked, for me at least.

D&D Game Day Sept 2009

Yesterday was D&D Game Day, celebrating the release of the Dungeon Master’s Guide 2. I remain conflicted about the DMG2. On the one hand, I read through it, and it actually has a lot of good advice for running games, especially pointed toward breaking DMs out of the ‘standard’ mode (long supported by all traditional rpgs) – that of the DM-as-author and players-as-tactical-combatants who also sometimes get to speak a few lines.

On the other hand, I’m aggravated by the slew of extra “basic set” books that WotC seems intent on putting out there. I mean, are we going to have the PHB5? 10? Where does it stop? When will diminishing returns really kick in? I’m finding that my thinking is moving away from the traditional supplement model of rpgs.

That being said, I can recommend the DMG2 for beginner DMs who want to up their game or for anyone who wants to get a lot of solid-seeming advice on how to run games more skillfully. This is not a crunchy book at all – in fact, it is downright chewy. There is a lot in there to think about, particularly if you are new to games, or are stuck in a kick-in-the-door-kill-the-baddie rut.

For my part, I came down to the FLGS here in San Rafael and ran a little module for some eager players. It was a lot of fun, and I learned something. 4th Edition runs really well with three players. I used three of the PCs distributed by WotC for use in games running on D&D Game Day (I let the players choose from the 5 there were) and just altered the encounters I’d set up to accommodate fewer PCs. It was probably the most fun I’ve had running 4th Edition D&D – about 3 solid hours of fun and no dragging. Lots of ass was kicked.

So I recommend tossing out the idea of the ‘classic’ 4-PC D&D party for a try. Go with 3 or even 2. I think the game not only works well, but actually better, with fewer players. You can’t throw as much at them, and that is it’s own kind of fun; I just felt like more happened.

How I Made D&D Cooler Part 2: Characters

Here’s an example of a character sheet I sketched out for one of the characters in my D&D game:
[Stolen Image from the Internet]

“Cornelius Finch” Lvl 5 Human Huckster of Evil

Str 12 Con 9 Dex 13 Int 14 Wis 10 Cha 17
HP 22 [ ] , Bloodied 10, +1 Leather 2, Initiative +4
Surges 7, Healing 4
Melee +4, Missile +6,
Fortitude 12, Reflex 17, Will 18
Feats: Smooth Talker, Dodge
Special: Extra Skill, Extra Feat

At-Will: MW Throwing Knives +6 (1d4+5) or +4 (1d4+5), Bluff +10, Diplomacy +10, History +7, Insight +6, Sailing +8, Stealth +6, Thievery +6, Default +3, Bardic Inspiration (+1 to rolls and damage), Helpful Anecdote +2

*Encounter: Entrancement +8

**Utility: Suggestion +8

***Daily: Charm +8, Lesser Geas +8

Pretty simple; I’ll go through it bit by bit. A lot of this is being familiar with the D20 system and working things out organically. As I said before, this isn’t a new system or anything, just a way to play D&D without having fifteen books at the table or having drawn-out rules arguments – basically, beginner-friendly with some Doug-ish twists.

“Cornelius Finch” Lvl 5 Human Huckster of Evil
The class is Huckster of Evil based on the players’ description of his character concept, which most resembled a fast-talking, capitalistic Bard. Levels work the same as usual – his level is his number of “hit dice” and is also added to d20 rolls and defenses as it is in 4th Edition.

As you can see, I kept the usual clunky ability scores, where you subtract 10 and then divide by 2 for the actual bonus. This is just a D&D convention that people are used to.

+1 Leather 2
Armor in this version simply provides DR/-, or damage resistance against everything physical. In this case, I divided the listed AC bonus for leather armor by 2 and that was the DR for the armor. Because it is +1 magical armor, I add 1 to that number, for a total of 2. Easy.

Surges 7, Healing 4
Surges, as I said, are a player resource to boost particular actions their characters attempt. They are like a more versatile version of the action points from Unearthed Arcana and the like. The “healing” rating is a flat number that represents the character’s rate of recovery from Hit Point loss. I get the number by taking their level and adding their Con bonus – in this case, Cornelius’ Con has a -1 penalty because it is a 9. So when he rests for a full night, he gets 4HP back. When someone casts Cure Ligh Wounds on him, he gets a base of 4HP back. When he spends a Surge to have a second wind, he recovers 4HP – you get the idea.

Melee +4, Missile +6
Every character has a base melee and missile attack score, just for ease of reference. In this case, the Bard is trained in either melee or missile, and Cornelius is trained in missile. That means that his melee bonus is equal to 1/2 level + Str mod + Feats, etc. and his missile bonus is level + Dex mod + Feats, etc. He has no combat feats, so the math is simple.

Fortitude 12, Reflex 17, Will 18
In keeping with D20, the Bard has trained Reflex and Will and untrained Fortitude defense. I also used the 4E convention where Fortitude can be modified by either Strength or Constitution, Reflex either Dexterity or Intelligence, and Will either Wisdom or Charisma – that’s a cool little rule. So, Cornelius’ Fortitude defense is 10 + 1/2 level + Str OR Con mod + Feats etc. and his Will defense is 10 + level + Wis or Cha mod + Feats, etc.

For at-will abilities, I include basic attacks, basic (first-tier) Feats, and skills. These are all the things you can do in-game, basically, that will have some set effect on the fiction and that you don’t have to pay Surges for.

Encounter powers cost 1 Surge to use, and in this case, Entrancement works like an attack against Will defense much as it functions in the 3.5 PHb – you can use it to distract people with your performance. The difference, to make this potentially useable in combat, is that you can use it against targets even if they are threatened. They take a -2 penalty to their first action after the entrancement is broken by taking damage or a bigger distraction elsewhere.

All of the rules for these powers are made up and discussed with the player in question. I take what is in the official books as a starting point and then simplify and streamline what I find.

Cornelius’ Utility power is Suggestion, and costs 2 Surges to use, like any Utility power in this system. This is also similar to the 3.5 PHb, and can have you “suggest” anything short of suicide.

Cornelius, at level 5, has 2 Daily powers, each of which cost 3 Surges to use. The first he’s always had – Charm is basically Charm Person – the target becomes your best friend for a scene. The second is the new one – Lesser Geas. The player specifically requested an ability to create magically-enforced contracts to function in his scam-artistry. Again, much like what is in the books.

The way I work out how many Encounter, Utility and Daily powers a character has is pretty simple, and I use 4E as a starting-point.

1st Level: 1 Encounter and 1 Daily (and technically, here, if you use the Daily, you won’t have enough Surges to also use the Encounter unless you earn one…)
2nd Level: 1 Encounter, 1 Utility and 1 Daily (and again, you have to choose, since you only have 4 Surges to start a session)
3rd Level: Move one power down on the list and replace it with another – usually move an Encounter power down to At-Will and add a new Encounter power
4th Level: 2 Encounter powers, 1 Utility and 1 Daily
5th Level: 2 Encounter powers, 1 Utility and 2 Daily
6th Level: the character automatically gets a “Prestige Class”, and gets the new abilities from that class

And so on…I haven’t gone past level 6, but you hopefully get the idea.

In playtesting so far, this sytem has led to much faster-paced D&D games with a lot more happening. I also really enjoy having social powers, particularly in Cornelius’ case, so that a player-character can kick ass between fight scenes. Who enjoys being schooled by the local magic item salesmen at level 10? If one character can kill dragons, another should at least be able to win arguments…

How I Made D&D Cooler Part 1: The Basics

In planning to run my current D&D game, I had a few things in mind.

1. I didn’t want to spend more time preparing for the game than playing the game in a given week.

2. I didn’t want to spend multiple sessions teaching the players how to play their characters effectively.

3. I didn’t want to use a battle mat or miniatures, but wanted action to flow quickly while still retaining some tactical detail.

4. I wanted there to be special abilities for things aside from combat, like movement and social interactions and information-finding (much like we’ve working into Heroes of Karia Vitalus)

In achieving what amount to game-design goals working with the skeleton of D&D, I decided to do a few general things and then work each until the details became clear. The first and most complicated of these was simplification – taking the rules and simplifying them, tossing out the necessity of a battle mat and miniatures, and boiling down the hundred-thousand variations on the rules into a few general principles.

The second, easier process was diversification– taking what I’d simplified down and working on it so that it represented what each of the players wanted to play and do with their characters.

Here’s what I mean.

The first think I decided was that there would be two kinds of abilities: trained and untrained. Trained abilities would be level + attribute modifier + other modifiers, +10 is it was a passive ability and + d20 if it was an active ability. Untrained abilities would be 1/2 level, but the rest would be the same. This counts for spells, saves, defenses, attack rolls, skills, everything.

I dropped Armor Class entirely and just used Reflex Defense in its place, adding 1 for a small shield and 2 for a large shield, and factoring in armor penalties from the 4th Edition PHB. The effect armor would have would be to reduce all incoming damage in the amount of 1/2 the armor’s listed AC bonus + any magic modifier.

I wanted to add character level to all damage rolls as well – I’ve found that in 4th Edition in particular, but in any high-level D&D, characters and monsters can pound on each other for hours while they whittle down Hit Points with no discernible in-game effect.

Healing Surges became just Surges, and they were melded with Action Points (allowing adding 1d6 to a d20 roll). I also added an indie game twist stolen from Mouse Guard – you can spend a Surge to succeed with some kind of consequence chosen by the GM. I’ve gotten a lot of fun and mileage from this already, and like the rule a lot.

I kept At-will, Encounter, Utility and Daily powers from D&D 4E but changed what they meant. At-will powers cost nothing, and include skills, basic weapon attacks and some basic feats. Encounter powers cost 1 Surge to activate and include basic spells, class or racial abilities, second-tier feats (with one pre-requisite, say). Utility powers require 2 Surges to activate and include a lot of movement, social and information-gathering abilities, as well as abilities related to traveling more quickly than usual. Daily powers cost 3 Surges to activate and represent more advanced spells, feats with many pre-requisites, and other powerful abilities.

For abilities I just made up, I used as a rule of thumb 2d6 damage for an Encounter ability and 3d6 for a Daily ability, though I might change this so that it is higher.

Characters start a session with level + 2 Surges and can earn further Surges from the DM by doing interesting things in-game.

I decided to give spells attack rolls like in 4E against the appropriate defense. I also split melee and missile proficiency, since I liked the idea that some classes would be better in one or the other. Fighters, Rangers and Rogues are trained in both melee and missile. Barbarians, Clerics, Druids, Paladins and Monks are trained only in melee. I made it so that Bards could choose to be trained in either melee or missile, but not both, and Sorcerers and Wizards are untrained in both. I also added spellcasting as a trained or untrained ability, to represent pure casters and hybrid casters. Paladins and Rangers are untrained but can still cast spells. As usual, Barbarians, Fighters and Rogues cannot cast spells at all. Bards, Clerics, Druids, Sorcerers and Wizards are trained of course. This means that Paladins and Rangers will be able to use support abilities, but won’t be able to make attacks with pure spellcasting most of the time except against weak opponents – this made sense to me.

I gave each character a healing rate (or “stitch” rate for the one undead PC) that is equal to their level + Constitution modifier. This is the amount they heal when they take a “second wind” (which costs 1 Surge) in combat or when they have a night’s rest. They heal double that amount when they have a full-day’s rest (which of course never happens in D&D). Healing spells like Cure Moderate Wounds use this system – Cure Moderate Wounds heals 2x a character’s healing rate + any bonuses the character has to healing spells.

I kept the Bloodied condition because I like the idea, and decided that similar to Vitality and Wounds from Unearthed Arcana 3E, when you became Bloodied you would be Fatigued or, if already Fatigued, Exhausted, until you received some kind of healing (even if it doesn’t bring you back up over Bloodied).

In this particular game, I had a few unusual characters (which is part of what I enjoy). One of them is an intelligent Ghoul. Another is a Ogre Barbarian, and a third is a Human Bard who has a number of social powers but none that are really useful in combat (the kiss of death in most D&D games).

I also had some more “normal” characters like a Halfling mage-thief, an Orc Cleric and a Human Necromancer. These were a lot closer to what you find in the various books and supplements, and were relatively easy to come up with.

The most interesting for me was the Ghoul, and I think that’ll be my first example in this series. Her name is “Mr. Scram” (I’m not sure why this female Ghoul is a “Mr” but oh well) and she is actually the Human Necromancer’s mother – he raised her out of loneliness but she turned out to be more intelligent and willful than he wanted, and now nags him from beyond the grave.

I decided that the Ghoul would be like a zombie from Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days Later, fast and grabby and bitey and really hard to bring down. It didn’t make sense that she’d wear armor, so I gave her d12 hit dice and a high Cconstitution as well as a trained Fortitude defense and melee attack. I made her claws and infectious bite (3E MM) At-will powers, along with trained Endurance, Intimidation and Stealth. Her Encounter power has been her Paralyzing Stench (3E MM again). Her Utility power is Creep, which I invented. Basically, it lets her crawl along walls and ceilings in a freakish way like critters do in horror movies. Her Daily powers are Devour Flesh, which I invented (she eats living flesh and heals 3 “stitches” as well as cancelling ongoing negative effects) and Bilious Blood, also made up for her (when hit for an encounter, she deals 5 acid damage to her attacker).

Conclusion for Now
This is definitely a way of running D&D that is a lot of fun (more fun than “real” D&D as far as I am concerned, and the players seem to feel similarly) but I couldn’t actually write up in a book or something. This is very much my project achieving my design goals – the best thing these posts can be is a sort of rough blueprint for other people whose friends want to play D&D but who don’t like how much D&D bogs you down.

Next up: Using the Ghoul as an example character and looking at some more details.