Following is a substantial mod of 4e, an attempt to cut away many of its unnecessary complications by getting rid of legacy elements and any attempts at simulation. Pure gamism & narrativism. No Red Queen’s races, no sacred cows. At the same time, the goal was to keep most of the original material viable and functioning essentially the same way. Not many explanations as to why certain elements are removed are provided – that’d take too long, and this post focuses on actual rules you can play with. Feel free to ask, though.
As I was writing this, one concern kept creeping up: would it still feel like D&D? I get rid of some of its essential elements, after all. But having run several sessions with this rule set, I can confidently say it hasn’t diminished our enjoyment of the game in the slightest. Your mileage may vary, obviously – let me know if you try it.
4e tries very hard to be balanced. It knows it works best with all the numbers within a certain range of one another. It shouldn’t be too hard to hit your opponent, just as it shouldn’t be too hard for the opponent to hit you. Attempting a task reasonable for your character should result in success more often than failure, but still not be guaranteed. With that in mind it goes out of its way to make sure that no matter how far you advance and what abilities you take, you won’t jump off the track. Naturally, this approach presents all sorts of constraints on characters and monsters, most of which are entirely unnecessary. Instead of moving the target along with projected average character progression, it’s much easier to set the critical values to what we want them to say, bolt them down and move on. Which is where this mod comes in.
No ability scores. Entirely different skill system. Scared yet?
- As usual, pick a class and a race. Don’t worry about stat bonuses matching your class – there won’t be any.
- For purposes of determining your starting hit points and the number of your healing surges only, your Constitution score is equal to the static number in the “starting hit points” of your class description. So a wizard who starts with “10+constitution score” has effective Constitution of 10, and therefore 20 starting hit points and 6 healing surges.
- Forget about half-level bonuses.
- For purposes of determining your attack bonus, the relevant stat modifier is always 0. This means that by default, you simply roll a d20 without adding anything to it. Naturally, monster defences will take that into account, ranging from 6 to 12 in most cases, with 8 being average.
- For your defences, spread the following array as you choose among AC, Reflex, Fortitude and Will: 10, 8, 8, 6. Afterwards, add 2 to your AC if you are a defender. Note that the class bonus to defences doesn’t apply (it’s already included, sort of), but racial bonus does. Monster attack bonus will be +0 in most cases.
- Any time a stat modifier is referenced in a power effect (most often as bonus damage), feat or anything else, it is 4. Your character is good at whatever they do, but not overwhelmingly so.
Power tiers and Levels
Character’s power is decoupled from their level. Level is mechanical measure of complexity and variety of character’s abilities. Power is the measure of characters’ ability to influence the world. There are 3 tiers of power characters can occupy: heroic, paragon, epic. Other creatures can also be on mundane or god-like tiers. Ascending a tier of power is a momentous event, recognized by the world, and is up to DM.
Characters within a party may have vastly disparate levels. XP is awarded for individual accomplishments as well as for group quests. However, the characters should be on the same power tier. For more details, look here and here. The second link is my previous take on this idea, which I’m modifying and elaborating on, feel free to ignore any mechanical bits there.
Replacing the skill system is paradigm – how the character approaches any problem before them. When in freezing weather, do they rely on their natural toughness, cast a minor endure elements ritual, or create a snow shelter? The paradigm is purely narrative. If you can come up with a reasonable way to apply your paradigm to the issue at hand, you can. In some cases, the paradigm use, while conceivable, is a stretch. The DM may increase the difficulty of the approach accordingly. The purpose of paradigm is to encourage creativity instead of constraining your character’s capabilities to a list of skills.
Each character starts with a single paradigm chosen from the following list: Martial (might), Martial (agility), Arcane, Divine, Primal, Psionic, Shadow, Social. As you can see, all but one match power sources, and indeed, the starting paradigm of a character is the same as his or her class’ power source unless there is a really good reason. Martial is broken up into 2 different paradigms, as it covers a very broad spectrum of abilities. These can be roughly mapped to typical fighter and rogue skill lists, accordingly.
Any task attempted by a character has a difficulty tier, corresponding to tiers of power: mundane, heroic, paragon, epic, god-like. The character’s competence in their paradigms advances automatically with everything else when they ascend to the next power tier. If a task is opposed, e.g. sneaking past a guard, the difficulty is usually set at the tier native to the opposing creature (see below, in Monster Generation). Otherwise its difficulty tier is set by the DM. If a roll is required, circumstantial modifiers may apply.
A character may declare they have mundane competency in any paradigm they wish, though some may require explaining (just how did you manipulate the shadows like that?).
Whenever a character attempts a task they consult the following table:
|Difference between task difficulty and character’s competence (in tiers)||Fitting paradigm||Ill-suited paradigm|
|2 or more lower||automatic success||automatic success|
|1 lower||automatic success||8+|
|2 or more higher||impossible||impossible|
If a roll is required, a d20 is used.
Assisting in a task is itself a task, with difficulty one tier below the main task. A different paradigm may be used to assist, if appropriate.
Some paradigms, such as Arcane, can be easily used for anything – it’s literally magic. They also often have specific powers or feats which enable their use in such situation under the skill system, e.g. Suggestion is an encounter skill power which lets a character to use Arcane instead of Diplomacy. As a general principle, such broad applications of a paradigm to things not directly related to it should be considered ill-suited, and difficulty set accordingly. Should the character possess an ability which lets them use the skill for this specific purpose, be that a ritual, a skill power or something else, the paradigm becomes fitting.
Example 1: an iceberg wall is crashing down, threatening to destroy the party. Cynara the Epic fighter with Martial (might) paradigm wants to use it, i.e. physically hold up the wall, to buy the party time to escape. This is an appropriate use of the paradigm, but still a god-like task. She will have to roll 18+ to succeed, or at least 8+ to not fail utterly. Since no other character is capable of even attempting a god-like Martial task, and no one can come up with a use for a different paradigm, she has to do it alone.
Example 2: a Heroic party is about to walk into an ambush. The task the DM sets before them is to spot their enemy before they get a chance to act. Their opposition belongs to the Mundane tier, but the DM has ruled that a prepared hiding place raises the difficulty to Heroic. The character with either Martial paradigm declares they will rely on their honed senses and instinct for danger. Divine character declares their holy symbol becomes searingly hot, warning them of impending danger. Arcane character has previously established they routinely use divination rituals, and perhaps can recognize the situation as one of their visions. Finally, a Primal character says they pay attention to the unusual behaviour of the beasts – perhaps, birds were scared off by one the ambushers, taking flight? The DM considers this, then decides that Divine and Primal characters’ explanation of the use of their paradigm, while acceptable, is a tough sell. As their paradigms are ill-fitting, they will need to roll 13+ not to be surprised. The rest of the party only need an 8+.
New and modified feats:
Skill training and skill focus feats are replaced. Instead, characters can take following feats:
Paradigm Training (paradigm)
The character gains the chosen paradigm.
Paradigm Focus (paradigm)
The character gains a +2 bonus to task rolls while using the chosen paradigm.
Multiclass feats’ benefit is replaced. Instead, they grant the corresponding paradigm, just like Paradigm Training. Some racial or class features may be interpreted as providing a bonus to certain applications of paradigms, as discussed individually with the DM.
Forget about Enchantment and Item bonuses to defences. A Feat bonus to any defence is capped at +1. Improved Defences is removed. Similarly, Enchantment and Item bonuses to attack or damage no longer exist, and neither do flat unconditional Feat bonuses to attack. Other Feat bonuses to attack are capped at +1.
Magic items are rare and exotic and entirely up to DM to grant. Sticking to wondrous items, rare ones and interesting uncommons is recommended. The rest are a) useless as their bonuses have been removed b) boring c) too hard to find in the thousands of items published. This may harm certain builds which rely on particular items to give them an edge.
As for non-magical items, they are largely narrative, a “skin” your character wears, with the following exceptions: Shield bonus still applies; heavy armour gives +1 to AC and -1 to speed; weapons still have any keywords associated with them, and grant proficiency bonus. It would have been great to remove it, but too much relies on it.
Converting regular 4e monsters to 4eLite is simple.
- Start with AC at 10 and other defences at 8. Keeping the sum of defences equal (unless you don’t wish to), increase some and decrease others as the monster’s nature suggests, using its statblock as guidance.
- Set all of its attack bonuses to zero. Again, unless it needs an extra-accurate attack.
- Hit points are tricky: removal of items and ability scores reduces the damage output of PCs. Level 1 monsters can be kept as is, and starting with level 8, you can reduce monster hp by 20% and be done with it. In the middle, well, it’s complicated. But utter precision is not that important here, reducing hp by 10% should suffice.
Just like characters belong to tiers of power, so do monsters. A monster is native to a tier in which it is a significant threat, roughly equal to a PC of that power in its ability to influence the world. Wolves are native to mundane tier, (some) werewolves are heroic, beholders are paragon, titans are epic and ancient dragons are god-like. When PCs are facing a creature native to the same tier of power they’re on, that creature is elite to them. If the creature is one tier above them, it is solo. Similarly, if it is one tier below its standard, or minion when it is two tiers below. PCs should generally avoid fighting things that are 2 tiers above them, or 3 tiers below, though I’ll make a brief post on minion mobs soon.
Since attack bonuses and defences no longer scale, monster level mostly determines its hit points and damage. Their tier determines the severity of their status effects and their resistance to such. It is thus possible to have a bunch of monsters of vastly varying levels confront PCs, and still contribute to the combat.
For characters, class, race, powers and feats are still there. Certain combinations are no longer possible. Others become viable without the tyranny of ability scores. For DM, the game runs exactly the same way, except they no longer need to worry too much about the pesky paladin with his ridiculous defences (not an inherent problem of paladins). In general, with these simplifications neither DM nor players have to put effort into system maths to remain in the sweet spot of probabilities, instead free to focus on the game.