Wednesday, March 20, 2019

D&D 5e on Roll20

I've been running my Cha'alt campaign on Roll20 during lunch hours and slow times at work.

Sometimes, I label or tag these playtest sessions Swords & Wizardry, sometimes old school D&D, or just D&D 5e... because close enough, right?

Well, a lot of drop-in gamers feel entitled to the official by-the-book, rules-as-written version of 5th edition.  Some have even dropped out as soon as they discovered that we weren't using character sheets for a one-hour game or that skill checks would be replaced by actual roleplaying.

While I can't totally blame them (I like what I like and have certain expectations, too), I feel they're missing out on a new (to them) D&D experience.

So, this blog post serves two purposes.  The first is to give GMs a glimpse at what I've been using for my Roll20 Cha'alt campaign.  The second is to alert potential players as to my interpretation of 5e via old school lens.

Let's face it, Roll20 isn't real roleplaying.  As Yoda would say, controversial do you find my words? Well, virtual gaming is a Hell of a lot different than the face-to-face variety.  So, without further ado...


  • Instead of little modifiers, I use Advantage (roll 2d20 and take the highest) when circumstances are favorable and Disadvantage (roll 2d20 and take the lowest) when their unfavorable.
  • No character sheets!  
  • Whatever race you pick, you can have only one racial ability that helps your character (infra-vision, resistance to charm spells, superior hearing, whatever).
  • The 4 basic classes only - Fighter, Wizard, Cleric, and Thief.
  • Fighters can add their level to their to-hit roll and damage. Everyone else, you just roll a d20 and hope you roll your opponent's Armor Class or better. 
  • Damage is per weapon - simple weapons like dagger, sling, club, quarterstaff, whip, and a sharp rock all do 1d4.  Medium weapons like short sword, spear, spiked club, rapier, axe, mace, and all bows do 1d6.  Large weapons like greataxe, warhammer, trident, halberd, and all types of longswords do 1d10 damage.
  • Wizards are restricted to simple weapons or they're at a Disadvantage.  Clerics and thieves can use simple and medium weapons, but are at a disadvantage when trying to use large weapons.  Fighters can use any weapon they want without penalty.  
  • I'm still considering high-tech weapons like machines guns and lasers.
  • Natural 20 on an attack roll is a critical hit, resulting in double damage!
  • Alignment!  There are 4 to pick from.  If you choose Law, then you believe in order, justice, community, and most likely worship the New Gods, namely the Lords of Light. Those who choose Chaos believe in natural selection, revenge, and individualism up to and including self-deification. They are more likely to honor the Old Gods, such as K'tulu, Yog-Soggoth, and Uba-Sa'athla. Those of a Neutral alignment try to balance Law and Chaos within themselves and recognize both the Old Gods and the New Gods.  Unaligned means that you don't give a damn about Law, Chaos, or the Gods; you have your own unique philosophy or passion that guides you through the world.
  • Everyone gets 10 HP per level.
  • If you reach zero HP, up to negative your level, you're simply unconscious and will recover soon.  Once you go past that (-5 HP if your character is 4th level), you're character is dead.  Create another one and I'll try to get your new PC back in the game ASAP.
  • All HP refresh after a full 8 hours of rest (interruptions are fine, just make it up by sleeping-in a little longer). 
  • Levels only go up to 10.  At 10th level, the PC is at his adventuring peak.
  • Characters gain a level after every other adventure.
  • Wizards and clerics can use virtually any spell in the Player's Handbook that's equal to their character's level.
  • Every time you cast a spell, you take that spell's level worth of damage. For example, a 3rd level fireball drains the wizard of 3 HP each time it's cast.
  • Certain magic items, such as wands, only wizards can use.
  • Clerics are drained of vitality (HP) the same as wizards when casting - including healing!
  • A 1st level clerical spell can heal 1d6 HP; however, this "divine energy" can instead be used to harm demons, undead, and Lovecraftian abominations [clerical healing/harming goes up to 1d8 at 3rd level and 2d6 at 7th level].
  • Thieves can do all the usual thief abilities.  If it's simple like listening or checking for traps, it can be done easily without rolling, as long as, it's described.  Harder thief tasks should be rolled (see Skill Checks below), after the player describes what his PC is doing.  
  • Thieves gain advantage on their attack as many times per day as their level, as long as, the PC's sneaking, hiding, surprising, backstabbing, or looking for weak points is described.
  • At 5th and 10th level, PCs get to pick a feature, special ability, or feat (kool powerz) that relates to their class. Either something they pull from a book or make up on their own.
  • Armor Class starts at 10 and goes up to a maximum of 20.  Wizards cannot wear armor.  Thieves can add their level to AC if not wearing armor.  Leather is +2, shield is +2, helm is +1, chainmail is +4, scalemail is +5, platemail is +6.
  • Saving throws are determined by subtracting a character's level (or monster's HD) from 20.  You need that number or better on a d20 to save.  Natural 20 means you're completely unaffected.
  • Epic Feats of Awesome can be attempted instead of your standard attack.  Subtract your level from 30 and you need that number or better on a d30 to succeed.  The result is whatever the player described.
  • A short rest is somewhere between 45-60 minutes.  You get one of those per day, and it recharges your HP at Xd6, where "X" is your character's level.
  • One round is approximately one minute of game-time.  Combat is abstract, not granular.  So, when it's your PC's action, he can move, talk, and take one action (in any order).
  • Instead of rolling initiative, whichever side would logically strike first goes and then the opposition goes. If there's no clear victor, a tie goes to the PCs.
  • Instead of making a "skill check," just describe what your PC is doing.  Perception and interaction (among other things) will be roleplayed!  If there's a chance of failure, the GM will let you know when to roll.  You need to get a 15 or better on a d20, adding your level to the roll if you're attempting something related to the PC's class.

Did I forget anything?  Probably.  FYI, I just updated this post.  Thanks for your suggestions!

This will make my job easier.  I don't want to have to dig through the book. I don't want players dictating results based on what's written down in some edition or other.  I don't want optimized PC superheroes tearing through anything encountered without fear of death or dismemberment - old school gaming is about desperate adventurers trying to survive in a world gone mad... hoping to attain glory, riches, and power!

There's a good chance I'll eventually turn this into a Crimson Dragon Slayer D20 cheat-sheet PDF for anyone interested in simplistic O5R D&D, either using Roll20 or in-person gaming.



p.s. Want to see the fruits of my labor?  Here you go!


  1. One of the most satisfying games I've played was a home brewed simple d6 system Cyberpunk game. The system mastery not being an issue, it was easy to get immersed as a player and the GM was able to focus more on the world and how it responded to the PCs. This, better gaming IMO.

    1. Yeah, I've thought about going balls-deep into Cyberpunk with my VSd6, but I'm just not familiar enough with the genre.

      Was there a core RPG that was home-brewed to d6 or was it all kind of home-brewed from the start?

  2. I think you mean saves to roll over 20 - your level. That way, a 1st-level character would have to roll over a 19 or better.

    1. Yep, that's what I meant. I'll fix it tomorrow. If you notice any other typos, errors, etc. feel free to let me know. Thanks!

  3. No stats? That's a bold move, sirrah...

    1. Yeah, if we were sitting down and playing a real game of D&D face-to-face, I'd probably do ability scores. But that's too much shit to keep track of on Roll20... for me, anyway.

  4. Some great ideas out there. A cheat-sheet pdf would be great: one page with your house rules and a clean page for every DM's personal additions and/or changes.

    1. Thanks! Still needs some tweaking, but it'll get there. The "sheet" might take two pages on its own... not sure until it's laid-out.

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  6. Really good stuff here venger. It's a good mash up of a lot of stuff. I have been using "you can cast as many spells as your level a day" and any spell basically.

    1. Thanks! Yeah, that sounds good, too. Would create some interesting results.

  7. What is "real roleplaying" and why is it incapable of existing on Roll20?