Sunday, November 6, 2016

A review on dK2 System - a generic french d20

OK, I need to practice my (considerably poor) French skills. So, let’s take a look at an interesting take on the d20 made by Éditions John Doe, called dK2 System. This review is based on the PDF version.

dK2 System is a generic and simplified version of d20 that brings a number of cool ideas to the table. dK2 is geared toward a cinematic style, with considerable less crunch than your usual d20. The game only uses d20s and d6s, working as a toolkit (for example, while it’s presented as level-based, it also shows you how to remove level). In fact, the dK2 System is practically an effect-based d20 system, with a goal of reducing the GM’s work.

The basic check is like other d20 games – roll a d20 + plus modifiers against a target number. The target numbers start at 5 and usually go all the way up to Impossible at 40. The standard TN is 15.

Almost everything in the dK2 is divided in 3 categories: amateur, professional and “brutasse” (brute?). The best use of this abstraction is with equipment – instead of long lists of weapon, armor and general items, you’re taught how to “build” an item with those 3 categories. For example: anyone in dK2 can use amateur weapons, which are usually light and deal 1d6 damage. Professional weapons are heavier and deal 2d6, while brute weapons deal 3d6 – to be proficient in their use you must buy the correspondent Assets (these are like Feats).

Another special rule are the Krasse die or dK. This is a d6 used for a lot of situations in the system. The Krasse die only has 2 results – 3 (or half-Krasse) and 6 (or Krasse). All other numbers are ignored. Krasse work in certain aspects like Action Points from D&D or even Fate Points from FATE. They are special modifiers and a metagame currency, behaving like a karma mechanic.

For example, let’s say your elven ranger PC wants to try a particular tricky shot to disarm that orc holding the princess hostage. Instead of just providing a TN, the GM can rule that the stress of the situation, the wind and even the orc’s own movements can either help or hinder the elf’s shoot. So the GM provides a basic TN (let’s say 15) plus 3 Krasse die of difficulty. The GM will roll 3d6 and add any ‘3’ or ‘6’ that come up to the basic 15. Now comes the cool part: after this check, all Krasse die are added to the party’s pool of Krasse, to be used freely. In this aspect, Krasse works like a karma mechanic and reinforce the system’s cinematic feel (the more risk the party accept, the more bonus they get).

Krasse die are certainly the system’s best feature, although they have a weird use called Circumstance Krasse. These are – if I understood them correctly – innate modifiers applied to certain checks where the Krasse die aren’t later added to the party’s pool. I prefer to ignore Circumstance Krasse and just use a higher TN, as I believe this rule breaks the game’s purposed flavor.

OK. Moving on.

All PCs in dK2 system are made of Characteristics, Advantages, Competences, Assets, Counters and Equipment.

Characteristics are like D&D Abilities (the usual six – STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS and CHAR – although the game encourages you to rename them to better suit your campaign). Like True20, the dK2 System uses only modifiers, with +1 been the standard stat for humans. The Characteristics are generated through distribution (usually 0, +1, +2, +3, +4 and +5) or by spending points.

Advantages are divided in Attack (STR + INT), Defense (DEX + CHAR) and Saving Throw (CON + WIS).

Competences are Skills and you usually start with your INT + 6 ranks to distribute. Each Competence modifier is made of two Characteristics plus ranks. For example: Athletics uses STR and DEX, while Initiative uses DEX + WIS.

For a system geared toward generic and cinematographic action, I find dK2’s Competence rules a bit harsh. You must have at least 1 rank in a Competence to add the relevant pair of Characteristics. If you have 0 ranks, you just roll a pure d20. Here I’m inclined of adding a house rule: if you have no ranks in a Competence, and a unskilled PC could reasonably use it, just add the two Characteristics and divided it by half.

Competences are another part where dK2 shows new ideas for skills. Reputations (WIS + CHAR) and Resources (INT + WIS) are treated as Competences, which is really nice because it allows you to build characters around two famous archetypes: the rich PC and the well-connected PC (or both).

My favorite Competence is Preparation (INT + CHAR). This skill was the main inspiration for my Mastermind’s and Sage’s The Right Tool for The Job class feature. It basically allows you to buy stuff “retrospectively” (i.e. during the adventure), justifying it by saying that your PC “obviously” came prepared for a particular situation or challenge (“Of course I brought more rope! Did you really believe that I would enter the Orc Pits without 300 feet of rope?”).

Another important bit about Competences is that you can use a skill in dK2 to “habilitate” another check (“Habiller un jet”). The idea is that, if you can explain how a certain Competence can help you with another check, you spend 1d6 Energy Points and gain a bonus to your check (+1 for every two ranks in a Competence). It’s the same idea of D&D 3rd synergy bonus, but with a more active and interesting take.

Counters are divided between Hit Points (10 + CON) and Energy Points (10 + WIS). Energy Points work as mental health, mana and willpower (very similar to BESM d20 if I’m not mistaken).

Assets are a mix of racial and class features (including weapon and armor proficiency), besides feats. They’re everything that makes a character unique and customizable. dK2 System took a design step that I always felt right for d20: upgrading Feats to be the system’s basic building block for PCs.

Assets are divided in various groups: Origin Assets deal with race, culture and innate gifts; Development Assets are how dK2 deals with PCs advancement (level-based or not); we also have Combat Assets (no further explanations required); Adventurous Assets, which are a general category covering background, profession, action knacks, special equipment, sidekicks, organization links etc.; and finally Magic Assets, which can represent anything, from wizardry and clerical magic to psi and supers. There’re also Assets for things like vehicles, which is really nice.

Among the Racial Assets we have rules for Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Halflings, what I believe to be Satyrs, Hounedin (Dogfolk I guess), Kitling (Catfolk), a kind of Half-Giant, Ogres, Orcs, a small goblinoid/kobold/fey race, Deep Ones/Sahuagin, Trolls and steam-powered Golems.

Magic in dK2 System uses a general effect table, where you build your spell/miracle/psi power “on the fly” by choosing a set of traits (range, damage, etc.), making a Competence check and spending Magic Points.

To cast an effect, you must also use a domain (air, fire, body, divination etc.) and a style (sorcery, clergy, psi etc.). There’re guidelines for various classical effects and even a variant for memorizing spells, like traditional D&D.

The magic system also uses what’s called “Factor D” (or FD) to determine a spell’s TN. FD is basically dK2’s take on Challenge Rating/Hit Dice. However, they greatly expanded the concept, using it to cover a lot of effects – from basic TN to monster statistics. It’s another excellent idea.

Finally, we arrive at Equipment, which is a short section due to dK2’s abstract design that divide everything the amateur, professional and brute categories (which I find really helpful as I’m a bit tired of reading through normal equipment list in most games).

Combat in dK2 System is easy to follow and traditional. Initiative is rolled and then everyone takes their actions. Attacks can be defended with a reaction, through a contested check. If you’re hit, armor reduces damage.

Things start to change once you hit 0 hit points. There is no negative HP in dK2. Once at 0 hit points, your PC loses the ability of using Krasse die. Besides that, after reaching 0 HPs, each time your PC rolls a natural 1 or an adversary get a 6 on a Krasse dice, you must save versus death and (if your survive) roll on a critical table to determine your PC’s penalties and wound effects. The same idea is true for Energy Points, which works more like a Willpower/Sanity/Mental Pool.

Recovery in dK2 is relatively easy, but it’s also limited by “recuperation points” (after spending them, the only way to recover is natural healing). Due to dK2 System toolkit approach, the damage/wounding rules are also customizable for each campaign, although the system really works best for heroic and cinematic stories.

Social relations also get their own rules, which I found a little weird. Instead of using a simple check, like must d20 games, dK2 ‘System creates what seems at first a mini-social combat system, where you must succeed at a social check before rolling “damage” (which determines how hard it is for the target to resist your persuasion/intimidation/seduction etc.). The entire thing looks a bit unnecessary as written (if the authors wanted to push in this direction, I’d have preferred either a more robust system). The way the rules are written, I see a high “whiff factor” (you can roll really good at your “social” attack, but then rolls terrible at “social” damage… and the target only needs to succeed in either check to completely negate your action).

We have reached by now a little more than half through the book (my version of dK2 is a 129 pages PDF). The rest of dK2 is dedicated to what is called dKrunch – a set of optional and modular rules, to be added as desired by the GM.

Combat gets a lot more detail, including rules for fire arms, explosive damage (where rolling a certain number allows you to roll and add additional die), scale rules and even a mass combat system. We also get rules for diseases, environmental damage and other traditional stuff. dKrunch also provides rules for crafting, cybernetics, besides further details for contacts, reputation, resources and organizations.

The next section gives you templates for various classical campaigns, by providing Advantages, Competences and Asset lists for fantasy or modern games, for example. The book ends with a few articles detailing general miscellaneous subjects: like using the famous E6 subsystem in dK2, substituting d20s for 2d10 or 3d6 (and its consequences), more complexes checks (to increase drama or tension) etc.

dK2 is an excellent evolution of d20, perfect for groups that want less work, but don’t desire something so light as Microlite, Simple20 or Basic d20. dK System is lighter than Tru20 and d20 Modern (and a lot simpler than BESM d20). Its level of crunch is probably a bit below Savage Worlds. It’s really generic but focused on heroic games (again, kind like Savage Worlds and maybe FATE). However, its degree of abstraction may not satisfy those players/GMs that prefer more details and tactics.