Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Classy World Building (pt. 2)

The Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia 
Cover Art by Jeff Easley
©️1981 TSR
 This is part two of a series on using character classes to build worlds. For the preamble on how this project came about, see the previous article. The short version is that I have decided to build a collection of classes that express the races, cultures, and religions of a new high fantasy, high magic, noble right fantasy world that I am creating as a pallet cleanser after my life got too dark to want to play dark fantasy..

Inspired by the World of Twelve games (Dofus, Wakfu and Waven) and animated series, as well as by Nox, Majesty the Fantasy Kingdom Sim, Legend of Mana, and increasingly A Wizard of Earthsea all of which give very specific abilities, skills, and secrets to different groups within those worlds. And by some of the amazing classes and house rules shared in Black Pudding Heavy Helping volume 1 by James V West.

The first thing I've had to do is decide what system those worlds will sit in.

Firstly, I wanted a setting where magic was plentiful, but highly specialized. There are dozens of different subgroups of magic users with great power in a very limited sphere. I also wanted characters to have a high level of capability early on in the game, but that their impressive power comes with considerable risk.

I started with my Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia. I preferred it as a very complete version of D&D where I could use as many or as few of the additional rules as I saw fit from that to create a solid Dungeons & Dragons scaffold for the world. I am throwing out non-weapon proficiencies and weapons specializations right off the bat; These are a lot of clutter on the character sheet, and add needless complexity to the game. I wanted to play in an old school manner, and so I will keep skill resolution to be controlled by a mix of attribute checks and logic as to which character ought to be able to do which thing.

Thief Skills

The exception to that principle were thief skills and bushcraft. These I wanted to have clear mechanics for, but much ligher ones than the percentile grid system of BECMI D&D. I decided to steal the system from Lamentations of the Flame Princess. And to make different types of roguish character specialized, I can throttle the number of points they gain, and which skills they can invest those points into.


I decided for Magic that spellcasters could cast any spell that they know, they had to roll under their spellcasting attribute on a d20. Success means the spell goes off. Failure means that the spell fails. This is straight out of Black Pudding. And out of Black Pudding I made a list of vulgar arcana, spells every magic using class can use. Otherwise,  each class has a fixed list, and might be able to add other spells later.

I decided I wanted to add more risk than Black Pudding. So, if a spell check fails by more than four, the spell is lost for the day. And, the level is subtracted from the ability score when making the check. Characters gain a level-based bonus to add to the roll.

This means a first level character could cast a 9th level spell. But with a -9 to the ability check, and only a +1 from their class spell bonus, it is highly unlikely that they'll pull it off. And very likely they won't be able to try it again.

I also decided to make magic tiring. Every class has a level threshold of spells they can cast without tiring themselves out. This was just adapted from the RC character classes. Where you get your first spell slot of a given spell level normally, is where I set the threshold. So magic users threshold goes up to third level spells when they hit level 5.

If you cast a spell higher than your threshold, you gain a cumulative -1 penalty for each point a spell level is above your threshold. So if your threshold is for 3rd level spells and you cast an 8th level spell, that's a total of -5 added to all ability checks, saving throws, and attack rolls.

When that number hits -5, the character has to save versus death or collapse into unconsciousness after each spell.

This penalty heals by only 1d4 points per night. Meaning if your character has pushed themselves too hard or too frequently, it can take them days to recover fully.

I hope this creates stressful situations where player characters can try magic way above their threshold, only to find that it fails because it is beyond their ability, or they can pull it off, but only once in a day.


I am bringing  a slightly retuned version of Mighty Deeds of Arms from Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG to make my martial classes feel as cool as my magical classes. I love the way that Mikey mighty deeds at dynamism tdo combat character superior making them feel often just as cool as the spellcasters.


  1. Looking really good so far. You can world build by going ultra-light on classes, or by going all-in. The exhaustion mechanic for spell casting is simple and effective. ( I use it for damage beyond hit points.) I also use a 5 over = bonus / 5 under = penalty system. (Why does 5 seem easier to figure on the fly than 4?)

    To make fighters special, even at lower levels, I am currently allowing them to pick (at character creation) either a bonus melee or ranged attack per round, plus they get half their attack bonus as a bonus to AC in melee, plus their shield AC is doubled. Is it too much? Maybe, but it makes playing a fighter worth it.

  2. A funny world-building method of rolling hit points: Every class rolls a d8.
    Fighter: Remain vigilant! Roll with advantage.
    Mage: Wait, what? Roll with disadvantage.
    Thief: Hedge your bets. Roll three, take the middle.
    Cleric: Accept your fate. Roll a single die.