K20, What’s that?

Over the past few years I’ve been tooling away at my own version of #&#. K20 is my compiled answer to that question. Foundationally, K20 is based on 3.5, but was started at the end of 4e, and pulls a lot from 2e, 5e, and other games. Its still not finished and a little in flux, but I believe it’s at the point I can at least start talking about it, in principle.

What a lot of people don’t realize about writing an RPG, is that its more than just mechanical resolution. I don’t just mean debates about the height of your elves. I mean ideas like whether or not to include rules for building a castle? If so, how in depth should castle building be? Did I just make a castle building sim instead?

This series will walk through some of those decisions that went into the K20 process, and will probably look more like a series on “how i wish a game was” than an actual design process for the first few. There has been a bunch of alpha testing done to firm up feel nd broad numbers, so as I come across alpha and beta drafts, those may be entries as well. Once in an alpha state, Ill post the full books as well.

For now though, the mission statement, and opening chapter.

What is this book?

This book is a collection of tweaks, changes, rewrites, and house rules for version 3.5 of the world’s oldest fantasy roleplaying game. If you have managed to find this obscure, unpopular, netbook buried on some forum somewhere, you know the one we mean, and you have probably seen books like this before. Most books of this sort start with the basic assumption that you do not know what dice are, and that you do not know to bring paper. In K20, we assume you have the basics. We will not go into the mundane of how to roll a die, or how to act out a scene. Instead, we will use this forward to explain our vision for the game.

Why does 3.5 need a revision?

If you have played 3.5 you have probably noticed some gaps. Maybe your barbarian got boring around 7th level, and the player has drifted off to the land of Gameboy. Maybe the GM is struggling to challenge the party now that they all have their private demi-planes and infinite money. At its core though, third edition, and its successor 3.5, debuted in 2000 and 2003 respectively. Heck, the last major attempt at a rewrite came out in 2008 with 3.P, 3.75 or whatever name you want to give it. That is at least a decade of advanced knowledge in game design. We have found stuff that works, and stuff that does not. It is time to modernize.

Many attempts exist. Why yours?

Because its better? There have been a variety of 3.5 rewrites, improvements, and tweaks over the years, but in general they all suffer from the same core problems. Re-writing a system is hard, and it is a lot easier to rebalance a class here and move some numbers around there. While that approach may be fine for some, very quickly the same problems begin to rear their head. The paladin is still struggling to find work at high levels, and the GM is still struggling to challenge the wizard. Why? Because at its core, the system is the same. While our system is instantly recognizable and intuitive to anyone who has played 3.5, you will find very quickly that it is very different.

What should we expect to see?

K20 is founded on a basic concept. Outcomes should be determinable by the players and GM with as little hand waving as possible. We approach this from a few angles.

  1. Math. Outcomes should be reflected in math. Math should be simple, intuitive, and functional.
  2. Logic. NPCs should behave in logical, consistent manners. Even the insane ones.
  3. Mechanical Transparency. PCs understand the mechanics of the game. Your PC knows his spell ends in around 30 seconds, but that he will get it back in 5 minutes. The same applies to NPCs.
  4. Ease of Play. In K20, you will not find a big selection of 4000 options to choose from, all giving +1 or +2 in specific circumstances X times a day. K20 strives for less, but more meaningful, choices driving to inherent simplicity.


Items 1-3 all reflect a design philosophy of awareness. K20 is not a game where the DM knows all the rules, and players hope to figure it out as they go. The players know the rules, and more importantly, the characters know the rules. They realize falling damage has a cap, and if they have more HP, they know they will survive that jump. Many games go through a smoke and mirrors routine where they pretend players don’t also read the DMG, but I find this actually discourages player engagement. If the players are encouraged to learn to DM, the players are spending time thinking about The Game (as in the product) and the game (as in the campaign they are playing in right now). Player engagement is a good thing. It speeds up play, and helps to streamline actual table play.

Item 4 is different. This reflects a commitment to respect your time. While I could ask you to scroll through optimization guides and forums to find that being from some obscure region, and buying weird recurve arrows makes you the best archer by +3 DPR on average. But I don’t think that’s actually fun. I like to optimize and build powerful characters, but I don’t actually enjoy a character who uses obscure piles of disassociated mechanics so I get the maximum +X to a given task. If that’s what the game makes me do, so be it, but frankly I’d much rather write “good with bows” on my sheet, and then be able to safely assume my character is good with bows. Not get called a noob for not knowing that the best archery selection is actually “raised by dragons” combined with “master whittler”, and only a sucker takes “good with bows”.

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