There’s a fox in the henhouse over at Open Design, Wolfgang Baur’s design project that produces d20 OGL and 4E materials for its patrons.

This particular fox is games designer John Wick, who was the principal designer for 7th Sea and Legend of the Five Rings rpgs and has recently released Houses of the Blooded through his Wicked Dead Brewing Co.
Wick’s been taking aim at some d20 sacred cows, such as re-envisioning core races for Kobold Quarterly, and in the Wicked Fantasy segment of their most recent podcast, eliminating Experience Points as a mechanism for character advancement.

Eliminate my precious XP? No advancement through levels?

While I’d like to pick a fight and say that XP is a valuable part of the GM’s toolbox as both carrot and stick, I’ll save that for another day. (Or maybe not. Wick thinks a lot more and deeply about design than I do. I’m more of a: “Do you think the Brain in the Jar is a good monster for this encounter?” type of guy.)

Besides, Wick pinpointed a long-acknowledged problem of D&D’s character level advancement systems. As characters advance and as they grow powerful in feats, abilities and skills, they “start looking like a Swiss Army knife,” Wick says.

His stated challenge to GMs and designers is to provide a reward system that encourages richer, more fully developed characters, not just some walking, talking example of rules bloat that keeps pace with the moving target that is “to hit” and difficulty class rolls.

And that’s a worthwhile exercise (and more productive than verbal sparring, anyway).

So, without further delay, he’s an outline for a campaign or minigame, using the OGL rules, that attempts to reach Wick’s goal.

“Fortune and Favor”

Goal: Go on adventures to gain treasure, then attempt to win the favor of your god, lord or master by advancing within the faith, martial, wilderness or arcane tradition/organization that best represents your chosen vocation.
Each of these organizations have traditions to be upheld, coffers to be filled, a storehouse that must be supplied, and allied craftsmen to support. It is through these organizations that magical and wondrous items must be commissioned, the very tools to be used to further your adventuring career.

Setting: Homebrew (Steffenhold, the barony town on the frontier of a magical medieval land that resembles 12th century France or Germany).

Starting characters: 10th level, except for starting gold, which is the average allowed for your starting class at 1st level. All races, feats, abilities, multi-class and prestige class options must come from the core rules and no more than two supplements of your choice.

New mechanics:

1) Favor dice. These are a pool of d6s that are awarded to characters who meet an obligations to their tradition during the course of a playing session.

Favor die can be gained by:

Any deed that advances their organization’s cause wins a 1d6 as a boon (likewise, any misdeed may require a player to sacrifice a die). Only one such d6 can be won per session.

Any single contribution in treasure or goods of 1,000 gp to the organization is worth a d6.

The commissioning and payment of any magic item worth at least 1,000 gp is worth a d6. (Lesser items can still be purchased through the organization, but even a cumulative accounting of such purchases does not qualify).

Each d6 gained can be used in the course of play to enhance a d20 roll, such as an attack roll, a saving throw or a skill check. Any time a d20 roll is made but before success/failure on the roll is announced by the GM, the player character can announce they are rolling a favor die. The roll result is then added to the the d20 result.
When the favor die is used successfully, the player has brought honor and favor to his cause, and wins a Favor Point.

2) Favor Points. Favor points represent a character’s “voice” or status within their organization or tradition. Any NPC interaction within an organization must be resolved by a Favor roll (d20 + Favor Points). Within an organization, this supplants any Diplomacy, Intimidation, Perform or Knowledge checks within the group that might normally be used to sway others through discourse or social maneuvering. Thus, the extent a character is “heard” within an organization depends on them gaining and successfully using Favor dice.

(Target DCs for Favor Point rolls should vary according to the level within the organization a PC is trying to gain sway or influence over. The Target DCs for Open Lock are instructive, and will be used here. Gaining favor at the entry level is a DC 20, at mid-level is DC 25, and upper-eschelon is DC 30 and with the leader(s) of the organization a DC 40).

What do you think?

As 10th level characters, the big goblins (with HD adjustments) and even some dragons should prove to be capable opponents. The PCs themselves have access to a strong suite of spells, feats and skills. Moreover, most prestige classes are open to them. At 10th level, the characters are, I believe, solidly in d20s “sweet spot” for game play — they have access to good tools but they are not yet overburdened by rules-bloated characters.

Please feel free to chime in and pick this apart. So, does this tweak meet the challenge? Would this provide an interesting roleplaying experience? Does my setting “sandbox” facilitate this adjustment, or would another setting be better suited? What problems do you foresee? Will this enhance game play? Will it be fun? And in what direction are players likely to go with their characters under such a configuration?