So, I did a hack. Begin the jokes now. “A hack did a hack.” There, I beat you to it.
When I say, “I did a hack,” I mean I did a hack of the world’s most famous RPG. This has been years in the making. I had the…wait. Stop. Let’s start over.
Just below, you can read the introduction to Santa Vaca: A Hack of the World’s Most Famous Roleplaying Game. I’ll be releasing the “DIY” version as a PDF next week. The introduction goes through some of the why’s and wherefore’s of how this whole project came to be and gives you an idea of what this monster looks like.
And when I say “DIY,” I mean Do It Yourself. I wrote the thing, I laid it out, I edited it, I got art for it, the whole kit and kaboodle. Once you read the intro, you’ll understand why.
Santa Vaca will be on sale via my website and Drivethrurpg next week.
Sacred cows make the best steaks.
— The Tao of Zen Nihilism
This all started as a dare. A dare I made to myself. Actually, it started a lot earlier than that, so let’s jump all the way to the beginning, back to 1999 when the folks at Wizards of the Coast gave permission for other game designers to play with their toys. I’m talking, of course, about the d20 SRD, or “Standard Reference Document.”
Now, most folks see that and say to themselves, “Hey, I could make a few new feats!” or “Hey, I could make a new prestige class!” or “Hey, I’ve got a few spells I could throw in there.”
I don’t see it that way at all. I see it as an invitation to come in and mess things up. You want me to play with your toys? Fine.
I’ll take the heads off all your dolls and put tinker toys in their place.
I’ll switch the voice boxes on your G.I. Joes and Barbies.
I’ll take your Legos and some superglue and make laser sights and other accessories for your super powered squirt guns.
If you tell me I can do whatever I want with your toys, when you get them back, you won’t recognize them.
Like I said, most people see an OGL as permission to write adventures and add on more features. I see it in a completely different light. I see it as permission to really screw things up.
And that’s the point, isn’t it? That’s the whole point. Experiment. Don’t just think outside the box; throw the damn thing out the window.
* * *
The idea for this book first came to me in the place where all good ideas happen. I’m talking about the shower.
For some reason or another, I was thinking, “Could I change the core resolution system of D&D without changing the character sheet?”
(Don’t ask me why I was thinking this. I honestly could not give you an answer.)
The more I thought about it, the more I realized, “Yes. Yes, I think I can.”
I jumped out of the shower, sat in front of my computer and recorded my thoughts. When I was done, I posted them on my Youtube channel. You can even watch my wet hair slowly dry as the video progresses.
It was a challenge that caught my imagination and wouldn’t let go. Held on with the grip of a maniac crocodile. Then, I started wondering, “What else could I change without changing the character sheet?”
Could I change alignment? “Yeah, I could.”
Could I change the magic system? “Yeah, I could.”
Could I change… dare I think it?… combat?
After a short while, I said, “Yeah. I could.”
Not make them “better.” No, no, no. Change them to something else. Make them say something I wanted to say.
How much could I change without changing the character sheet?
That was the question I first asked. And from that, I got this book.
* * *
I feel it’s necessary to say this again: I’m not “fixing” anything. Nor do I think my ideas make D&D a “better” game. But, as a game designer, I often putz around with game systems after I get done reading them. I fool around with them more when I’m in the middle of running them. I even think about ways to change them when I’m not running them.
These are ideas I’ve had while reading, writing for and playing D&D. If you ever played in one of my games, these are the house rules I’d make.
They change the game in fundamental ways. You cannot play the game the same way if you implement even one of these changes. The whole game transforms. Takes on a different feel. It means something different.
Also, each of the ideas in this book are modular. That is, you can take one of them and leave the rest. You could use all of them if you like. (You’d be playing a very different game, but maybe that’s the point.)
* * *
So, I wrote all this stuff down. Then, I forgot about it. This thing called 7th Sea showed up and smacked me in the face and stole all my attention, saying I wasn’t getting it back until I was done. So, I forgot. Until recently.
See, I’ve been fascinated by the OSR (old school revival). Something pinged in my heart and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I was enthralled. And it wasn’t until very recently I understood what it was.
These little black and white books with black and white art and very little layout and they were only a few pages and they…
…holy @#$!, these were the games I was doing back in 1999. When the original OGL popped up. They were full on DIY punk rock. The stuff I loved when I was in high school. The attitude, I mean, not the games. The “@#$! you, I’ll make the game I want!” attitude. I finally figured it out.
And when I finally got it, I got to it. And now, you’re holding it.
No fancy layout. No fancy art. Not even any fancy editing. Just the game the way I’d play it. But with some of my own rules. Not the game rules. I mean, game design rules. Anyway…here they are.
Rule #1: Keep the Cows
If I’m gonna do this, I have to keep the “sacred cows” of D&D. I have to keep the stuff that’s remained through all the editions, the stuff that’s appeared on every edition character sheet. In other words, I have to keep:
- The Six Abilities (Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, etc.)
- Armor Class
- Character Level
- Experience Points
- Hit Points
- Spell Levels
Rule #2: Slaughter the Cows
However, I do not need to keep the mechanics. I can change the mechanics to anything I want. But I have to keep the nomenclature.
Rule #3: Separate the Cows
I have to make each system independent of itself. In other words, if you want to take my idea for hit points and put it in your game, and just the idea for hit points, my mechanic has to work.
Rule #4: Ergodic Cows
Back in the day, when I first bumped into roleplaying games, they could be defined as ergodic literature. That is, text requiring non trivial effort to traverse. In other words, you had to figure things out on your own. The author didn’t give you everything you needed. And sometimes, it seemed the author was intent on making things difficult.
I’ve done that here. There are references to rules that don’t exist. Sometimes I use two different terms to refer to the same rule. I’ve even taken the effort to leave out an entire page. But if the point of all this is to make this feel like “the early days of roleplaying games,” I felt those steps were necessary to make the game feel authentic.
And you know, when my friends and I discovered that the rules we bought weren’t exactly “complete” (there are no healing rules in 1st Edition Call of Cthulhu, for example), we were forced to make things up. And that lead me to game design. So, maybe you’ll follow the same path. You can thank me later.
* * *
It’s an experiment. I don’t imagine it will change the game industry or anything dramatic like that. I got inspired, I did a thing, and it’s done. And now, I want other people to have it. Play with it. Mess around with it. You know, like we used to do. At least, like I used to do.
So, enjoy it. And let me know if you use any of it for your home game. I look forward to hearing from you.