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D20 System

D20 System For Tabletop RPGS

Dungeons and Dragons Third Edition, Pathfinder, and Star Wars D20.

All share in one key characteristic. What is it that they have in common you might ask? They all run on the D20 system.

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History of The D20 System

The D20 system arose out of Wizards of the Coast’s desire for a more structured, easier to learn and understand system of D&D. This came out of the glut of organically grown, and organically confusing mechanics of AD&D (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, otherwise known as the Second Edition). A lot of these mechanics like THAC0 (To Hit Armor Class 0) and AC (Armor Class) took a lot of time and effort to learn. While they were some of the first of their kind, and pioneered the way forward for Tabletop RPGs, they also had a lot of the flaws that any prototype system is going to have. The Core Game Designers at Wizards of the Coast wanted to do better. They decided to take one of the core components of AD&D, the d20, and build an intuitive system around it.

Thus the D20 system was born. The D20 System at its core is one where a character uses their six attributes, (Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma) an rolls a d20 to determine how successful their roll is based on the roll’s relation to the related attribute. This simple and robust system allows for a wide range of actions, almost anything that you can think of, to be performed. It’s perfect not just for D&D but for almost any situation you could imagine. And the creators over at Wizards of the Coast saw that.

WotC, at the time, was of the opinion that the gaming community was the strength of D&D, rather than the gaming system. So they decided to do what they could to foster that gaming community. They took their easy to learn system, and made it open for everyone to use. First they made the OGL or Open Game License that was some of the core mechanics behind D&D 3rd Edition. This allowed anyone and everyone to publish a game using those mechanics, thus making anyone who played any of the games, familiar with and knowledgeable of D&D’s core system. At the same time WotC created the D20 license, which allowed companies to create systems that were truly compatible with D&D. Basically people could publish free advertising for D&D 3rd Edition while marketing their own games. This spawned a glut of many of the most popular and cherished RPG systems that we see to this day.

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How The System Works

The D20 system isn’t just built around the d20, and the six core attributes. It has one other feature that makes it invaluable for game designers everywhere; it is flexible. The system has room for the classic class and level system of D&D, and the Point Buy system of Mutants and Masterminds. This flexibility means that no matter what D20 system you pick up, you’ll always have powerful touchstones for learning that system. You could know the D20 system then be thrown into a game of d20 Star Wars and just pick it up. It’s that simple.

For ease of access, WotC established the SRD or Systems Reference Document. The SRD is a guidepost upon which all other game creators can build their systems. At the same time it serves almost as a handbook for the D20 system so that with enough of an understanding you could learn to play anything D20 based.

While obviously the most important die in your set for the D20 system is the d20, you’ll also benefit from having a wide range of D&D dice such as the d6, d8, d10, and all the rest. With the right tools you can take on any situation. Want to fly a starfighter through the trench of a death star? The D20 has you covered. Want to level a bandit hideout with a spell? The D20 system has got you there too.

One of the values of the D20 system is the sheer amount of content that has been produced under the OGL. There are rules for psychic and psionic powers. There are rules for epic level characters adventuring to other planes. There are rules for superheroes, of occult acolytes, for guns in modern settings. If you can think it, there’s probably a D20 system or rule
that supports it. This breadth of content is perhaps the true strength of the D20 system. If you’re looking for a way to tell a new kind of story, or play a game unlike any you’ve ever played before, odds are you can find supporting rules and systems written under the D20 system.

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The System Today

Ultimately there are a wide host of Tabletop RPG’s today. There’s every edition of D&D, which has long since moved on from the D20 system. There are D&D rules for MTG settings! There’s new rules and systems for superheroes, and space travel, and the Cthulhu mythos, and countless other settings and worlds. But the golden age of systems that we’re seeing now began with the ease and the accessibility of the D20 system. So have some respect for your ancestors, and check it out! The SRD is free, and no matter what Tabletop RPG you’re playing, or what kind of dice you’re using, playing the game is always, always, fun!

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