Saturday, July 14, 2018

Kicking it Old-School with 5e: Character Creation

5th edition is super-popular, and that is fucking great. New blood is good blood.

The question is "How do we get all the new blood that's over there, and bring it over here?"

To that end, I'm writing up a couple posts as a way to bridge the gap between 5th edition and old-school play, as a way to encourage them into the mindset while not straying too far from the rules that they are familiar with. Ideally, it would be something that you could introduce to all those bushy-tailed, bright-eyed newbies while running sessions at the local library without scaring them all away.

Basic mechanics

  • Attributes are 3d6 in order. Attribute bonuses are as in 5e. 
    • If the level-0 session is not meant as a funnel, you may adjust scores as you wish.
  • Reaction and morale rolls are in effect.
  • For level 0 characters, start with 1d4 + CON bonus HP.
    • Alternatively, HP = CON,  skip HP gain at level 1.
  • Checks operate under Shadow of the Demon Lord rules. You need to beat 10. Add your ability modifier to d20, then apply the greatest boon or bane that was rolled. 
  • Initiative is also according to SotDL rules.
  • Advantage and Disadvantage are replaced with boons and banes.
  • Skills are out. Proficiency may be treated as a single Boon. 
  • Feats are for walking, not for characters.
  • Backgrounds can be whatever fulfills "prior employment". Use whatever list you like. You start with a (usually makeshift) weapon and an appropriate item, DCC style.


Character Race

Character race is determined by die drop.

Category (d%)TypeRaceRerollBonusWeakness
1-5Human (d20)1-7: HumanAnyKinship with dogs1 bane to resist mutation
8-10: DwarfCONCan identify origin of worked itemsNo booze = exhaustion
11-13: HalflingDEXLucky: rerolls a 1, 1/daySave vs lost in cities
14-16: GoliathCONShrug off d12 damage 1/dayToo big for normal doors
17-18: Half-OrcSTRExtra attack after drawing first bloodCursed by the orc gods
19-20: FirbolgWISSpeak to animals and plantsUnmaskable smell of dirt and sweat
6-7Monstrous (d10)
1-2: KoboldDEXCan squeeze into tiny spacesTerribly nearsighted
3-5: GoblinDEXImmune to diseaseLeave filth and grease everywhere
6: HobgoblinINTKnows military hand signsAll about machismo and saving face
7: BugbearSTRHides without detection under beds and behind doorsTerribly confused by blankets and sheets
8: LizardmanCONd6 bite, 13 AC scalesSave vs cold or 1 bane to all checks
9: OrcWISCan survive a hit that would drop to 0 HP, 1/sessionSave vs blood-frenzy
10: SerpentmanINTMilk a dose of venom 1/dayOpium addiction
8-9Elf (D12)
1-2: GnomeINT1 boon to understand, repair, and build mechanical devicesEnemies may choose to punt
3-4: Half-ElfCHA1 boon on saves vs magicHated by domestic animals
5-6: Wood ElfDEXStealth boon in natural coverAllergic to iron
7-8: DrowCHADarkvisionSunlight sensitivity
9: Sea ElfCONSpeak with sea creaturesSinks like a stone
10: High ElfINTThermal vision and magnetic senseTerrified of ugly things
11: Shadar-KaiDEXSpeak with dead, lvl/dayLooks like a warmed-over corpse
12: EladrinCHACan make dead plants bloomMust have permission to set foot in a building
10Exotic (d8)
1: DragonbornSTR2d6 dragonbreath 1/day, 15'Breath causes 1d6 damage to self
2: KenkuDEXMimicry of sounds and voicesCompulsion to devour carrion
3: TabaxiDEXDarkvisionSave vs laziness
4: GithINTCritical range 19-20 with bladesSave vs chaos or anxiety attack
5: DuergarCON1 boon vs mental effectsAlcohol triggers PTSD
6: TritonCHACan breathe underwater1 damage / hour if left to dry out
7: AasimarWISCan heal ally lvl HP Explode when critically hit
8: TieflingCHAResistance to fire damageHeavy leaden footsteps


A Minor Extrapolation of Setting

5e comes with some implied setting bits that aren't all that common in OSR-style games: cosmopolitanism, panoplies of playable beings, and high magic all over the place. Certainly not in the tradition of Appendix N, but let's try something different.

All those angels / demons / dragons / liches / squibbly squid things / other immensely powerful beings out there? They run the world. They are the boot stomping down on everyone's neck, forever. They are the scions of a world based on inequality and systematic oppression.

Imagine a world where Jeff Bezos can resurrect himself.

You know that sort of crippling melancholy oppression found in the boat and parade sequences of Ghost in the Shell? Replace the computers with magic.

The superficial trappings are different, but the core is the same: old-school 5e characters are nobodies on the fringe, scrounging through the wilderness and the ruins of previous civilizations and societies, trying to make ends meet in a world stacked against them. It's basically scum and villainy tier Star Wars.

If the players want to be big heroes, let them. But make them earn it. No one gets to start out as Mr. Big Hero Man. Gotta work for it.


Character classes will be featured in a subsequent post. For the time being, one could easily use classes as they are in 5e, or Mateo Diaz Torres excellent Lamentations of the Fifth Princess. The final result will probably tend towards the latter over the former, but with more random tables.The aim is to get all nine core classes adapted, so that prospective players will keep the options they get in the default book.


  1. Skerples had the right idea when it came to tables of player race - this was super fun to fill out.

  2. oh yes i love classes with random tables
    awesome work with the blog in general btw

    1. Thanks! The class tables will be more in the same Demon Lord vein - throw in a nice little d6 of why you became a paladin or what god you actually follow, that sort of thing.

  3. Man, I wish I was this good. This is almost professional, all it needs is some formatting and some oil paintings and it would be indistinguishable from something WoTC put out. Though it is much more succinct than anything they've ever released.

    1. High praise! With luck and elbow grease part 2 will be a suitable follow-up.

  4. Just out of curiosity, what makes this 5e? To me, it looks like you’ve ripped out the distinctive stuff (difficulty class, advantage, skills, background) and replaced it with mechanics from different systems (better mechanics, but not 5e mechanics).

    1. You have stumbled upon the great and terrible secret of this post:

      It's called a 5e hack mostly in the hopes that familiarity gets butts in chairs and keeps them there.

    2. Ah, so the answer to the question "How do we get 5e players into the OSR?" is "Lies." A classic strategy.

      My target audience right now is mostly people who haven't played any form of D&D, so I just have to pressure them into playing at all instead of asking them to learn a new system (in my case, the GLOG). If I'm the first one to get to them, they don't know to complain about the homebrew.

  5. Changed some of the traits after some good critique by Skerples

  6. What do you specifically mean by "1 boon"?

    1. A boon is when you get to add a d6 to a roll.