M20 Hard Core

This page is about a M20 variant without skills: M20 Hard Core Rules.pdf.

If you’re interested in changing anything get M20 Hard Core Rules.sxw and use Open Office to edit it.

Check out the online M20 Hard Core Character Generation! If you run it from the command line, you’ll get plain text output. Requires Perl.

Changes made from the original M20 by GreyWulf:

Changes made inspired by Randall S. Stukey’s M74 who based his game on OD&D from 1974:

Changes made inspired by Brian Isikoff’s Swords against Sorcery variant:

This resulted in some more changes:

2008-10-16 Converting Monsters for M20 Hard Core

I’m running my group through River Into Darkness by Greg A. Vaughan. That requires me to change some stats. I thought I’d give you a quick rundown of what I used until now:

Monster HD AC hp damage notes
Enraged Dragonnel 8 15 41 1d6/1d6/1d6 Forget about snatching and all that.
Kapoacinth Rogues 6 14 35 1d6/1d6/2d6 I think at the beginning I made some mistakes with the hitpoints.
Hippo 3 12 n/a 1d6 Party scared it away, no need to roll for hp.
Elven Ranger 3 14 8 1d6
Girallion 7 13 35 1d6/1d6/1d6/1d6/1d6 Roll claw attacks in pairs. If both hit: Extra 2d6 damage.
Crocodile 2 13 n/a 1d6 Our paladin (aka. cleric) killed it with a crit before I could roll for hitpoints.
Pygmy Keche 5 16 n/a 1d6/1d6/1d6 Roll both claw attacks together. If both hit: Extra 1d6 damage. I rolled hp on the fly.
Mamba 1 10 1 1 +8 attack vs STR defense for 1d6/1d6 STR damage
Faruq as a zombie 4 13 15 1d6 Improvised some attacks for the yellow musk creeper.
Lizardmen 2 19 3 1d6/1d6 +5 to hit because of bless and superior position; AC is high because of the shield.
Lizardman Shaman 3 17 10 1d6/1d6 Casts bless, burning hands, and sleep.
Shambling Mount 8 20 32 2d6/2d6 Immune to fire & electricity.
Elven Warriors 2 11 7 1d6 The party killed about 15 of them before they fled.
Esteban 6 10 32 1d6+2 +8 to hit because of fighter levels.

I really liked “converting” the monsters:

  1. Pick HD
  2. Use flat-footed AC if reasonable (in the range of 10-20 at the moment)
  3. Determine number of attacks
  4. Determine if any of them should do more than 1d6 damage
  5. Pick one or two special abilities
  6. Roll hitpoints

Done. :)


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2008-10-13 M20 Spellcasters Loose Hitpoints

In our last M20 Hard Core session – the second session of River Into Darkness by Greg A. Vaughan – I got the feedback from the level 4 wizard player Marco that he wasn’t enjoying the rule that spellcasting costs hitpoints.

Emotionally, there is not much we can do. He’s unhappy, and the rules are there to allow us all to have some fun. I guess one possible reaction would be to tell Marco that maybe the M20 wizards are not for him.

In terms of balance, I felt that the wizard was just right. He didn’t overshadow anybody using spells and yet the wizard didn’t suck because there was always things to do. Consider that Moni’s fighter spent four rounds below the ship destroying the trap – doing nothing at all, if you want.

In terms of comparison with a D&D 3.5 wizard I also felt that we weren’t doing too badly. Let’s assume a level 4 wizard in D&D 3.5 has 12 hitpoints and knows three 2nd level spells and five 1st level spells (add one each due to an ability bonus).

An M20 HC wizard would have around 24 hitpoints, and if he were to cast his favorite spells, he’d spend 12+10 hitpoints to cast three 2nd level spells and five 1st level spells.

Yes, in this situation the M20 HC wizard is living very dangerously with only two hitpoints left and no way to heal.

Then again, after 30 minutes the M20 HC wizard will be back with his full array of spells. There’s no rationale to demand a 15 minute adventuring day! This, I feel, is a great benefit.

At the same time, a wizard can decide to cast three 2nd level spells and leave it at that. He’ll have 12 hitpoints left just like his D&D 3.5 friend, and he’ll still be able join the next fight.

Plus a M20 HC wizard has the same attack progression as everybody else. Using a crossbow or a sling will continue to make sense later in the game.

When I compare it to my current level 3 dwarven wizard Gar I find that I need to play my D&D 3.5 wizard even more economically. I won’t be using my spells for most encounters, and I’ll use maybe ten charges from a wand per day – most of it being mage armor and burning hands. Personally I didn’t feel like the M20 HC wizard was significantly weaker than the D&D 3.5 wizard.

All of these arguments won’t really solve the problem for Marco. So here are some options.

  1. Use a house rule I’m using in my Sunday D&D 3.5 game: Level 0 spells can be cast at-will.
  2. Reduce costs of all spells by 1. That would mean that level 0 spells can be cast at-will as they cost no hitpoints, and other spells would also be easier to cast.
  3. Return to a Vancian magic system with spells per day, and less hitpoints for spellcasters.

I need to think about this some more. Right now I don’t feel like changing the rules because the result feels about right. But unfortunately the result just feels right to me.

Tags: – and

Comments on 2008-10-13 M20 Spellcasters Loose Hitpoints

I’d suggest going with 0 level spells being at-will.

Alternatively, give him a Magic Point stat which is equal to 3/4 of his current max HP total, and set his new max HP equal to 1/4.

For example: if his current max HP is 24, that becomes 18 MP and 6 HP.

If he runs out of Magic Points, he can burn Hit Points instead.

Essentially it’s still the same (actually a little worse - one good hit and your poor 6 HP Wizard is dead meat) but with a little more old-school (ie, weak Wizard) style.

He’ll soon be demanding the original way back :)

greywulf 2008-10-14 00:01 UTC

Your writeup provokes several thoughts; some emotional, some logical.

Emotionally, I find it perhaps a little unfair to be told “wizards are not for me”. I think that blaming it on the player is little bit too easy to say. On the contrary, wizards are my class of choice above all other classes. Surprised? It’s true. To say “there’s not much we can do for him” is also untrue. This is play-testing, right? Feedback is the point, and evolving the game is a positive result of play-testing. Of course, you may be unwilling to alter the rules, in which case you have my feedback.

Logically, I find the “spellcasting costs HP” incorrect. Fighters don’t take damage when they deal it - at least, not directly. A fighter with a high AC, or an archer (even better example) doesn’t take 5HP damage for each bow he shoots. Wizards do.
For me, hitpoints represent your will and strength to live. Physical resilience and indestructability. Is spellcasting that harsh that you pour your life essence into each spell you cast? Perhaps, but it’s not what I imagine spellcasting to be.

What I propose is the Mana system we discussed last time. You have Mana equal to your hitpoints - in my case 20. The argument against it as I recall was twofold: Wizards have too many hitpoints anyway (1d6 per level), and the spell DCs are far too high, which compensates for only casting two to three spells per round. I would say reduce the hitpoints (make it 1d4 hit die for wizards, or something), and make the monsters harder to hit. Reintroduce the save perhaps? (magic attack = d20 + caster level + spell level + MIND modifier, magic defense = d20 + hit dice + appropriate modifier). In my case I would have 16HP instead of 20, and my magic attack bonus would depend on the monster’s skill and luck.

Important for me is that I can participate as a wizard for the entire combat (not a crossbowman or oil hurler or whatever).

With regard to Greywulf’s comment, I think you’ve hit on to the same idea I have except that, as you point out, it’s not an improvement. 6HP is not much - I suggest 1d4 per level like regular wizards.

Regardless, I’ve laid a few ideas. Take them, drop them, discuss them. I hope it helps develop the game.

– Marco 2008-10-14 11:25 UTC

Food for thought indeed. I’ll have to figure out what Mana means in terms of numbers of spells a wizard will be able to cast during a fight. It would seem to me that while melee fighters do not take damage while they’re dealing damage, they do need to put themselves into harm’s way in order to do it. Ranged fighters do not take damage while they’re dealing damage, and that’s why the hard core rules variant doesn’t grant a STR bonus to ranged weapon damage.

I thought that saves are equivalent to magic defenses, except that the attacker rolls the dice:

D&D: Attacker determines DC, eg. 10 + spell level + ability bonus. Let’s assume sleep spell by an Int 16 wizard and the DC is 14. Defender rolls d20 + save + ability bonus. Let’s assume a first level guy with a “good” save and no ability bonus, ie. save = level = +1. Mathematically that means roll 13 or higher on a d20 to “save” (40% to save).

M20: Defender determines DC, 10 + character level + ability bonus. In this case that would 11. Attacker rolls magic attack which is d20 + character level + ability bonus, ie. d20 + 4. Mathematically that means roll 7 or higher on a d20 to “succeed”, ie. 6 or less to fail (30% to save).

There will be larger differences as time passes because in a high level D&D game lower level spells have less chances of succeeding due to DC scaling with spell level, ie. caster level halved and good saves progressing at two thirds of your character level.

Changing this to a magic attack roll and a magic defense roll would be like changing AC to d20 + armor bonus + dex bonus (this option is in fact discussed in the DMG), ie. it would add more randomness to the result. I’m sure that’s not the intended effect.

Sorry about the wording regarding wizards and you. All I wanted to say was that maybe “M20 wizards as written” are not to your liking – I didn’t want to imply anything about D&D wizards or wizards in general. After all, I knew about your wizard character in Bev’s game!

AlexSchroeder 2008-10-14 12:09 UTC

Maybe I could suggest another way. I’ve recently started playing microlite74, and I’ve added a Vancian houserule to the mix. http://retroroleplaying.smfforfree4.com/index.php/topic,62.0.html

The twist is that a Vancian style Wizard can try and reuse the spell, but there are real dangers and very little chance that might happen. (I might, as my players get higher level, allow a bonus to increase the possibility, but I don’t know yet)

Not sure if this’ll help, the math you outline makes sense and it sounds like you’re working on a different approach.

Chgowiz 2008-12-01 20:08 UTC

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2008-10-06 Spells For Clowns

A list of clown themed spells created by Marco for his new character Pepe. Pepe is a wizard in our playtest for the M20 Hard Core rules.

1Pepe’s Scary ClownScary clown frightens a creature.A big, scary image of a clown appears. It is the stuff of children’s nightmares; it has sharp claws, long yellow teeth, and blood-red smeary make-up.

If affected, the target creature is frightened for 1d4 rounds. If not affected they are shaken for 1 round.

Creatures with at least 6HD are not scared of clowns, and are unaffected.

Has more or less the same affect as 1st level Cause Fear
2Pepe’s PianoFalling grand piano deals 1d6/level damage (max 10d6) to 5 ft radius.A grand piano falls falls from a height of 10ft/caster level (max 100ft) and lands on the target area, dealing 1d6/level damage (max 10d6) to all creatures in a 5-ft radius.If a ceiling is present the piano will materialise at highest possible point, dealing 1d6 points damage per 10 feet it falls.

Does same damage as 3rd level Fireball, except it has smaller range and cannot be effectively used indoors.

2Pepe’s Imolation1 creature/4 levels above 3rd take 1d6 fire damage/round for 4 rounds.Target creature bursts into flame, taking 1d6 points of damage per round for 4 rounds. Target may spend one full round putting themselves out to extinguish the flames. One additional creature for every four levels beyond 3rd (to a maximum of three creatures at 11th level) are affected.Does the same damage as 2nd level Scorching Ray. Creature can extinguish themselves, but deals continual damage (so good against mages).
2Pepe’s Squeaky HammerColourful squeaky hammer attacks opponents.A large, colourful squeaky-hammer appears and attacks opponents at a distance, as you direct it, dealing 1d4 bludgeoning damage per hit +1 point per three caster levels (maximum +5 at 15th level), plus an additional 1d4 sonic damage from the loud ’sqeak’.

It always attacks the target you want it to attack, switching at will.

Does same damage as 2nd level Spiritual Weapon.

Average damage is slightly higher and deals multiple types of damage, but less effective as force damage (which also affects incorporeal creatures etc).

Switching opponents is a free action because there are no move actions in M20.

3Pepe’s Human CannonballConjures a human-cannon.A large, brightly painted cannon is conjured into existance.

The cannon is large enough for 1 medium creature to fit inside.

A string at the back of the cannon fires the cannon, ejecting whatever/whoever is inside the cannon at high velocity to any 5-ft square within 100ft + 10ft/level, or to a height of half the distance. This string can be pulled either by the person in the cannon, or by a ’helper’ who is aiming the cannon. A colourful safety helmet comes with the cannon, which protects the ’human cannonball’ from physical harm during landing, although they are shaken for 1 round afterwards. (The helmet does not protect from additional damage, such as being fired from a cliff, or being shot into a haymaker).

If an helper is operating the cannon, the cannon may be aimed and fired at any creature within range, dealing 1d6 damage per caster level (max 10d6).

The cannon remains for 1 round/level, or until it is fired.

Similar to 4th level Dimension Door, except only one person can be transported, range is limited, and line of sight is required. Extra damage-causing effect possible (requires someone to operate, aim and fire the cannon).
4Pepe’s Tar & FeathersCreature takes 2d8 fire damage +1/caster level (max 10), and receives -4 to attacks, skills, checks, and saves.From one hand a jet of hot tar bursts from the caster’s pointed finger, covering one creature with hot, sticky, tar. The hot tar deals 2d8 heat damage + 1/caster level (max 10).

Using the other hand, the caster throws a handful of feathers toward the creature. A huge gust of fluffy white feathers materialise and strike the target, covering him from head to toe. The target creature looks so rediculous he takes a -4 morale penalty to attacks, skills, checks, and saves.

Pepe’s Tar and Feathers are extremely sticky, requiring a hot bath and lots of scrubbing to clean all of the tar off. The demoralization affect lasts until it has been scrubbed off.

Functions similar to 4th level Bestow Curse, however only one curse may be chosen and it is not permenant. This spell deals a small amount of additional damage.


Comments on 2008-10-06 Spells For Clowns

I ❤ them.

AlexSchroeder 2008-10-06 10:58 UTC

HA!...I love clowns...

Reverend Mike 2008-10-06 18:57 UTC

hahahahaaaaa... I love our first hand made battle map! I treasure this one! Had a good laugh again on the tooth-eyed monsters...

– Moni 2008-10-09 10:19 UTC

Elsewhere, talking about clowns falling from clouds, somebody commented:

When I was a kid my uncle took me to the circus and when I asked about the clowns he explained that, ’those aren’t real clowns... just men dressed as clowns. Real clowns are too dangerous, they live on islands in the Pacific and file their teeth into points... they can leap high into the air, bite your face off and use your blood to paint their faces. They’re waaaaay too dangerous even for a circus.’ – knobgobbler


AlexSchroeder 2012-12-03 11:22 UTC

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Should d8s be changed to d6s in the Vampire and Spectre stats ?

Think I’ll use d6s instead of d4s for spells too as I like the idea of just using d20 and d6s during play.

– Sean 2008-08-24 07:15 UTC

Oh, absolutely. I fixed the two monsters. I’m not sure with regard to spells. Will you also change the healing spells from d8 to d6?

Simplifying the weapons to d6 was going to eliminate the min-maxing of which weapons to take and it was going to shatter the illusion that the numbers are supposed to be “realistic” (something I’ve heard a lot). That’s why I didn’t change those dice. But it’s going to be an interesting house rule. Just d20 and d6 – it has a very hard core ring to it! :)

AlexSchroeder 2008-08-24 07:30 UTC

Yes, used d6s for the healing spells too in today’s session. Worked fine.

– Sean 2008-08-24 19:39 UTC

Love this!

GreyWulf 2008-08-31 12:23 UTC

Like the Big Font version but the healing rules are missing.

– Sean 2008-08-31 16:19 UTC

Oops. Must have lost them a while back. Do you think five minutes is too short or should I take Brian Isikoff’s thirty minutes? A friend of mine felt that clerics being restricted to healing under these circumstances were not attractive. What did you cleric players – if any – say?

AlexSchroeder 2008-08-31 23:22 UTC

Our cleric healed HP during combat once and the rest was STR healing after taking on an Ogre. The player didn’t mind not being used as a medic after combat and felt the 5 minutes was fine. 30 minutes would mean they’d be on their guard longer after the initial combat so could help the creation of tension if the Cleric was unable to perform spells or split off/apart from the party.

– Sean 2008-09-02 17:46 UTC

Our first real playtest ended with the following points being discussed:

  1. Can we enter each fight fully buffed (flying and invisible) because the wizard casts all the spells and the cleric heals him and himself? I haven’t found a good solution, yet. It seems to me that we have to reintroduce “mana damage” that cannot be healed.
  2. How do we compute XP? I think the main XP should be story based like in the old days where treasure = XP reward = story reward.

The passage “Add +1 for each doubling of the number of foes. e.g.: 1 kobold (a 1 hit die monster) = 1 XP. 2 kobolds = 2 XP. 4 kobolds = 3 XP, 8 kobolds = 4 XP etc.” seems to go against our expectations. I think we’ll just remove it from the rules and stick to the simple “Experience Points (XP) = Hit Dice of defeated monsters.” If we don’t like our advancement speed, we can just change the XP/level requirement instead.

AlexSchroeder 2008-10-07 09:07 UTC

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