Sonne’s Vastly-Simplified d20 System

This system works with D&D as a base, but it has been boiled down heavily to accommodate for text-base RP. In text-based, the emphasis is on collaborative storytelling. The system needs to exist only when elements that directly affect the characters need to be randomized in order to be fair. Combat is the biggest example of this, but other examples might be picking a lock, making an important diplomacy check, or crafting a masterwork sword.

This system assumes a heroic narrative that is imbalanced slightly in favor of the characters. There is still the chance the characters will fail, get hurt, or die. But because this is a cooperative storytelling system, it is assumed that the GM wants the characters to experience the entirety of the story from beginning to end, and in order to do that, they need to mostly succeed. In the same way that World of Darkness was once balanced against characters, because the world was a crapsack nightmare where nothing good could last, this system assumes the world is a basically good place where merit and effort are rewarded.

This does not mean that there is no real risk to characters in the narrative. The imbalance exists, but it is slight. Character decisions, narrative storytelling, and common sense should drive most significant story events with the system filling in the gaps. Bad things can still happen, and epic failures may still occur, but they should largely occur with the full knowledge and consent of the players and the GM rather than due to random rolls of the dice.

Building a Character

Building a character under the simplified system is easy, and follows the same basic steps as building a character in any D&D system. First, choose a species and a class. Then assign stats. Then tally your totals. We’re going to talk about stats first, because in the light of the new stat system, race and class will make more sense.

Stats – Instead of having stats range from 1-20, with an additional bonus for every two points, we’ve boiled the stats down to bonuses alone. Stats now range from 0-5. If you have a 0 in a stat, you don’t add anything to your rolls. If you have a five in a stat, you add five to your rolls, the same as if you had a 20 under the original system. The starting array of stat points that everyone making a character in Dragonsgate uses is: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0. We have not been rolling stats, because this way everyone starts at the same relative level of power.

Skills – there are no longer ANY skills. Rolling skills can be handled almost exclusively through storytelling and class features such as Expertise. If a skill needs to be rolled, simply add your proficiency and the relevant stat. For instance, in order to make a Diplomacy roll, you don’t need to be proficient in Diplomacy. You just roll a d20, plus your charisma stat, plus your proficiency bonus. This, in effect, turns all skill rolls into simple ability checks, making the stats more meaningful while eliminating the need to keep track of a list of skills.

Species – In order to eliminate confusion, we have individually balanced each species that is currently available for play in 5th edition D&D, and will continue to balance new species as they are released. There are also a number of species that are specially available in the Dragonsgate setting. Available species include:

Aarakocra | Aasimar | Centaur | Dragonborn | Dwarf | Eladrin | Elf | Genasi | Gnome | Half-Elf | Halfling | Half-Orc | Human | Merfolk | Panician | Tiefling | Sprite

Class – Each class has been reduced to its essentials in order to reduce the amount of information players (and GMs) have to track. Because the option to play villains, or evil characters, is available in Dragonsgate, evil class options are included below. Available classes include:

Barbarian | Bard | Cleric | Druid | Fighter | Paladin | Ranger | Rogue | Mage

You will notice that wizard, warlock, and sorcerer have all been condensed down to one class called Mage. This is because spellcasting has been simplified. There is now one universal spellcasting system including five classes of spells, but we’ll cover that shortly.

Occupation – The Backgrounds mechanic has been replaced by Occupation, which simply accounts for any tool, instrument, or crafting proficiency the characters may have. A character with the Smith occupation gets proficiency with their forge and smithy tools, and gets to add their proficiency bonus to any attempt to craft something made of metal. A character with the Performer occupation gets proficiency with musical instruments, and adds their proficiency bonus to any checks made to impress an audience. Characters are not considered proficient with tools or instruments unless their class or occupation grants them proficiency, so everyone doesn’t get to add their proficiency bonus to a charisma check to play a beautiful song – only those with the Performer occupation do.

The Tier System

In the simplified system, there are four tiers of play: Low tier, including levels 1-5, Mid- tier, including levels 6-10, High tier, including levels 11-15, and legend tier, including levels 16-20. Tier is a simplified way of keeping track of proficiency bonuses, spell access, stat points, and magic item levels. All of these things are restricted (or empowered) by your tier. Most of the play in the Dragonsgate setting takes place in low-high tiers. At low tier, characters are local heroes dealing with local problems and achieving local fame. At mid-tier, they have begun interacting with the regional powers of the lands they visit, being employed or manipulated by lords and queens. At high tier, they may be lords and queens themselves, waging war or engaging in conquest across the face of the world.

Legend tier is where the story becomes epic. Legend tier involves rivalries and alliances with gods and demigods, artifact-level magic items, conflict on a planar level, and other such sweeping story-lines that characters on lower tiers are unlikely to ever be involved in. A legend-tier character is known throughout the world, and the development of entire nations revolves around their actions and mythos. They will be remembered for millennia after they are gone. Examples would be Gilgamesh, King Arthur, or Hercules.

The tier system simplifies a number of things, including the GM’s toolbox of enemies, traps, and hazards. The difficulty of these challenges is determined not individually, but by the tier of play. This means you could conceivably use orcs at every tier of play, simply adjusting damage and AC according to the proficiency bonus of the tier. It eliminates the need for the GM to worry about monster advancement, or hunting down monsters of a challenge rating suitable for the PC’s, because any monster can be suitable (within reason… we are assuming here that the GM will not attempt to throw extremely weak pit fiends at level 1 characters, though an intriguing story could be built explaining those events). As we said, the system exists to support and fill in the gaps where storytelling needs a foundation of rules. Storytelling should rule the day, with the rules existing to take the pressure of individual decisions off the players and the GM.

Levels 1-20 still exist. Your level affects things like your class abilities and your spell damage (which is based on the level at which you cast damage class spells). But we have eliminated those individual level aspects as much as possible in order to make it easier to keep track of a characters abilities, and reduce the need for memorization.


Spellcasting has been vastly simplified in order to make it easier to play spellcasters without having to manage lists of 20+ spells, or track half a dozen spell slots. The goal of the new spellcasting system is to allow for character variation within the context of one, all-encompassing standard, instead of creating individual rule sets for each slight difference in a player’s vision. We have reduced a huge and unwieldy spell list to five classes of spells:

  • Control – Control spells allow a caster to influence the environment around them. They may force people to view them as their friends. They may cause vines to entangle their enemies. They may shape the stone under their feet into a wall to protect them. All of these spells fall under the classification of control spells.
  • Damage – Simple enough, these spells do direct damage. Only damage spells directly deal damage, though creative use of control spells or summons can indirectly cause damage.
  • Healing – Healing spells reverse damage, cure conditions, remove curses, and can even reverse death itself.
  • Summons – Summons allow a caster to interact with other species and, in some cases, entire other planes. A caster may focus on summoning beasts to fight by her side, or a demonologist may make faustian bargains with extra-planar entities for great terrestrial power. Necromancers may summon hordes of zombies to enact their evil will. Summoned creatures can fight for you, but their ability to do so is based strictly on the character’s tier, not on the nature of the creature itself.
  • Utility – Spells that do not fall into one of the previous categories are classified as utility spells. Utility spells include things like Teleport, Sending, Prestidigitation, and other spells that don’t have direct combat applications but help add depth and versatility to the world in which the characters live.

Each spellcasting class has access to certain classes of spells, as explained in the class descriptions. Spell selection is extremely limited, and spell components are no longer required or tracked for spells characters can cast regularly. However, in order to facilitate characters who want to have an extensive knowledge of spells outside of direct combat applications, we have created one of our few added/expanded mechanics – ritual casting.

Ritual Casting is simply a method of casting any spells from classes to which you have access, but that aren’t on your personal spell list. Using ritual casting, a Mage might save his personal spell slots for controlling fire and summoning elementals, but could also cast a teleport spell if he had a need to do so. Under this system, every spell from every spell class can be cast as a ritual. To do so does not use any spell slots. What it does require is money and time.

In order to cast a spell as a ritual, a caster requires four things:

  • They must have access to the class and tier of the spell being used. A Mage cannot cast a healing ritual – they need a Cleric to do that. A character may cast a spell of a level higher than what they can normally cast as long as the spell exists in the same tier, but the cost and time required to case the spell is based on the level of the SPELL, not the character. For every level of the spell that exceeds the character’s level, +1 is added to the difficulty of casting the spell. Spells beyond a character’s tier simply require too much raw oomph for the character to cast. Skill or no skill, roll or no roll, they just don’t have the power within themselves for the spell to successfully tap.
  • They must have access to the Spell itself, whether through a scroll, a spellbook, a manual, or other method of learning the elements involved. Because this spell is not on their personal spell list, they are not familiar enough with it to simply reach out and tug the strands of magic to do their will, and thus, they need a way of ensuring they do it right. Access to spells can be gained through scrolls, libraries, or other methods. Copying spells can be handled organically, through the story. Inventing new spells can be handled in a similar way.
  • The character must have the components to cast the spell. Ritual spells require physical components, and many of these cost money, or require space in which to draw a circle or etch magical glyphs. Existing spaces can be used if they are available, but the character still has to shell out cash for special materials, incense, offerings, inks and chalks, dead man’s blood, or whatever else the spell requires. Entire story lines can be written around acquiring ritual components. The cost or uniqueness of these components should be generally governed by tier, but can be adjusted by the GM in order to create or accommodate such stories.
  • The character must have an uninterrupted period of time in which to prepare and cast the ritual spell. The amount of time required is based on spell tier. This may involve a series of rolls to ensure a magic circle is correctly drawn, or an invocation is properly pronounced and memorized. If the character is interrupted by any reasonably distracting influence, some of their work may be lost and they may have to start over.

Rituals may be cast communally, as part of a group. Higher-level rituals can be accomplished by a coven of Mages in this way. Specific rules for this can be found on the spellcasting page. This is an optional mechanic, as it brings complication into the system, but it does provide an option for attempts at great magic if those attempts are part of the story. We provide it as an option, in case the GM wants to have it in their toolbox.


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