Yesterday I DM’d a one-shot with my wife, two daughters, and my dad using a little homebrew system I made the day beforehand. It went really well! The system was easy to use and everyone said they had fun, so I’d call that a win. I’ll keep noodling with it before I think about posting it, but so far it seems pretty good for getting a bunch of noobies having fun quickly.
I wanted to create a system that would be rules-light, with a fast set-up, and keep the mechanics simple. I like a lot of the thinking behind Powered by the Apocalypse mechanics, so I merged some of those ideas with stripped down D&D 5e mechanics. Here’s how it looked:
I made four unique character sheets: Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, and Cleric. Everyone had five attributes: Strong, Smart, Social, Spirit, and Sneak. And instead of stats, you just have modifiers like +4 or -2. You have preset values at Level 1, but every level after that you can add +1 to whatever you like. All ability rolls were with a D20, add your modifier, and basically hope to beat a 12 for most tasks.
You also have a Defense number, which is just 10 plus any Defense modifiers from your Features (more on that later!). Hit Points (HP) were 10 plus your level, and Magic Points (MP) were 5 plus your level. Note that no one lost any HP during our game and even my high-burning wizard didn’t run out of MP.
Each character sheet listed seven Features. You choose 3 Features at Level 1, and then you add 1 new Feature when you reach odd-numbered levels. So by Level 9, you have all seven Features. Most Features included a bonus to an attribute, like armor bumps up your Defense or a Disguise kit bumps up your Social, and each one had a short description for the player.
- The Fighter had: Melee attack, Ranged attack, Heavy armor, Light armor, Wrestling, Fencing, and Athletics.
- The Rogue had: Sneak attack, Light armor, Thief kit, Climbing kit, Alchemist kit, Ninja kit, and Disguise kit.
- The Wizard had: Command creature, Mirage, Elemental blast, Arcane armor, Find, Control elements, and Summon creature.
- The Cleric had: Command person, Silence, Heal, Radiant armor, Find, Purify, and Summon spirit.
As for me, my DM sheet just had a bunch of little lists on it, like treasure, traps, NPC names, locations, and creatures. I also made a little table with generic creature stats listed by size, so if I wanted a wolf or a bat or a dragon, I could just glance at the appropriate stats on the table.
I told my players they were on a boat bound for a family vacation. We went around the table, and they told me they were going to Volcano Island to go lava snorkling. But their ship, the Bouncing Lollipop, was wrecked in a storm! And they woke up at dawn on a strange beach. The only surviving member of the crew, Peggy Sue (who had two peg legs), told them they were on Crab Island and needed to escape before sunset when the monster crabs would come out of the sea!
And that’s all I had planned. From here on, I was winging it.
I described a jungle, a ruined tower, and a sea cave, and the team decided to climb the hill to the tower. Everyone rolled poorly and couldn’t climb the hill, so my oldest daughter (the wizard) summoned a billy goat named Gruff to carry everyone up.
Into the tower
The team then discovered a dastardly Locked Door! The rogue failed to pick the lock, the fighter failed to break the door, but Gruff bashed it open just before fading back into the ether. Score another point for the wizard!
Entering the tower, they found a long corridor full of spiderwebs, which the fighter (my wife using the subtle name Kykassia) slashed apart. The wizard helped with some fire. But then a giant pink spider attacked from above. This was the only combat in the session, and it was looking rough as everyone continued to roll 3s and 4s. But soon the rogue lassoed the beast, the fighter landed a hit, the spider expired, and our heroes reached the first room of the tower unharmed.
In this nautically-themed library, the wizard narrowly avoided falling into a pit trap by the bookshelf full of romance novels, the fighter found some musty Sea Wizard robes, and the cleric found a secret map of the tower behind a painting, which revealed a secret passage behind the bookshelf full of history books. The fighter yanked the shelf away and they proceeded down.
Things get weird
In the next room, I briefly panicked. I blanked. I couldn’t think of anything to put in there. So I started to describe some large person-sized glass cylinders full of thick green murky water. Instantly, everyone freaked out and started theorizing about what was in here. I said one of the canisters was broken and empty. This inspired my oldest daughter to say, “I know! The Sea Wizard was experimenting on crabs, and one of them escaped into the sea and bred all the monster crabs that come out at night to attack the island!” And I thought to myself, “That is a very good idea! I shall act like this was my plan all along!” And I did.
The team investigated the room, found a canister containing a giant intelligent octopus, freed it, befriended it, and then carried it down to the next level.
Here they discovered the back of the sea cave and could hear waves in the distance, as well as voices! The rogue (my dad) crept forward and discovered two skeletons chatting about their favorite desserts. He stepped forward and asked for help, but the skeletons decided they wanted to free the rogue’s skeleton from its “ugly” flesh prison. (I know, I started getting really macabre.)
The rest of the team rushed up to help. My youngest daughter (the cleric) decided to Heal the skeletons, which was partially successful and gave the two undead creatures some normal fleshy heads (but nothing else). While the two skeletons turned on each other to get rid of the icky flesh, the team found an old row boat and narrowly escaped the rocky cavern to the open sea. They escaped!
(They also forgot about poor Peggy Sue and left her on the beach to be eaten by monster crabs.)