Designing an OSR Heart Breaker – Character Creation

I continue my design thoughts on creating a Heartbreaker OSR D&D retro-clone. This time it is about designing characters, and how I want it done. At the end of the post are the rules for creating characters in all their simplicity, but first the frame-work behind it.

I want to use the D&D Clone at conventions, but without pre-made characters, so it must be kept simple and fast, as time spent creating characters is time not spent playing. Also I want an RPG-system, where you do not use one session creating characters, as easily happens with 2nd, 3rd, and 4th edition.

Creating characters themselves can be a small mini-game and I have enjoyed many a mini-game of creating characters. It is like playing a puzzle or building a small engine, where the different elements of the characters interlock. For instance creating a character for Traveller with their background-system, or for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness, where it is quite fun mutating an animal into a mutant ninja (but otherwise it is not that great a rule system), or creating an experienced character with the old Warhammer Fantasy RPG Career System – and likewise creation a third edition character with combinations of feats and skills, and perhaps a few levels in order to activate some weird prestige class from on obscure issue of Dragon Magazine. But it is a game in itself, and it is not the essential part of roleplaying nor of D&D, and I will there dispense with the character creation.


Another interesting element is shopping. How important is shopping in RPGs – as part of the character creation and as part of the game? In one sense I enjoy equipping characters, mostly with signature equipment, that interlocks with the character’s abilities. Otherwise it easily becomes a chore.

However equipping a character also contains strategic choices, if the equipment has a function beyond the amount of damage dealt and the defense conferred, but equipment does not really play that role in D&D – once rope, lantern and backpack is secured, and armor and weapons are acquired, the character is good to go, and at later levels so much gold i accumulated, that buying regular equipment cease to be a strategic choice.

And it takes time. Looking at the long list of equipment and then just picking the same essentials is time-consuming, which explains the premade equipment packs.

Since I will severely keep treasures in check and make armor really expensive, and keep track of food, players in the game will keep an eye on their equipment during the game, and consider if they can afford more flasks of oil or if they should save their gold for a chain mail. However for character creation I will use a combination of strategic choice and pre-made package. The players will roll 8 stats, where two of them represents equipment (regular equipment and magical equipment). So equipment becomes a part of the character creation process, but it is kept fast.

Character Class Names

Fighter, thief, rogue, ranger, monk, barbarian, berserker …

What’s in a name? – one might ask, and when players pick a thief to play, it is not uncommon for the other players to assume, that the character might steal from their characters, or if a player picks a fighter, what abilities beyond fighting will the fighter have, and what abilities should a fighter have?

For that very reason I have chosen to rename the classes. There are no thieves or fighters, but instead knights of fortune (this one works better in Danish: Lykkeridder or soldier of fortune – so looking for a new title here) and adventurers. For the same reason I have changed other designations – the characters don’t have Armor Class and Hit Points but Defense and Life Points.

Skills, Feats, and Special Abilities

Quite a few feats and powers in D&D are related to combat, and they are about expanding a character’s abilities in combat, and skills are mostly for non-combat things. Abilities can either be seen as expanding the characters horizontally or vertically. With the steady increase of skill modifiers (D&D 3rd is designed for characters to have the same skills all the way through and then continuously increasing them – e.g. so the fighter has a +4 bonus to riding at level 1 and a +13 bonus a level 10, making it both difficult to put a first and tenth lv character together, but also difficult for a character to expand to other skills, as the increased bonus is needed) choosing to increase a new skill is not really an option, and likewise feats can stack and increase their modifier often making certain feats and abilities mandatory – and that is expanding the character vertically. The disadvantages I have just covered, but the advantages is that the PC can be truly awesome at some things and give them a sense of being epic, heroic and/or badass. Expanding sideways or horizontally adds new abilities or skills (as in AD&D 2nd when acquiring a new non-weapon proficiency granted the skill at full level, but whereas increasing it gave a measly +1 bonus, often making it a better choice to add another skill, than increasing the existing ones). The disadvantage is mostly the absence of a gradual development of a skill, but the advantage is that the characters master a broader range of abilities at higher levels, but not necessarily better than low-level characters, making it easier for PCs at different levels to go adventuring together. I prefer this one, as the PCs can gain more abilities and more options, as the players become more familiar with the game and their characters. The disadvantage is that the character might end up a being lousy at many different actions rather than just a few actions.

All the Things at Level 1

One of the curious things when using D&D 3rd or AD&D 2nd with all the Player’s Option-books, Complete Class Guides, various articles from Dragon Magazine and Campaign Settings is the amount of choices to pick, and all these choices are made at (or just before) level 1. After level 1 there are considerably fewer and fewer choices to make, not more choices. The disadvantage is that the more choices at first level, the more time character creation takes. I want to do it the other round. Few choices, actually close to no choices, at level 1 and then expanding the choices, as the character gains levels. Though in this version of the rules, the character remains quite limited in what choices, there are to make at even higher levels.

Character Creation

  • Step 1: Choose a class
  • Step 2: Roll stats
    • roll 3d6 eight times. Allocate the results on the six ability scores and on the two equipment scores.
    • Ability Scores: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma
    • Equipment Scores: Regular Equipment, Magical Equipment
  • Step 3: Fill out the character sheet
    • Add modifiers for ability scores
    • Note class abilities
    • Note Attack bonus, Resistance bonus, and First Aid Die
    • Calculate Defense: 10+armor+shield+dex bonus
    • Calculate Life Points: Class + Constitution Score (not the modifier!)
    • Note equipment and weapons

Ability Score             Ability Modifiers

  • 3-4                              -2
  • 5-8                              -1
  • 9-12                          +0
  • 13-16                        +1
  • 17-18                       +2

These are the steps, and since there no choices as such when it comes to special abilities, it is actually possible to have character sheets that are pre-filled for each class, where you only need to add equipment and ability scores and calculate the scores derived from abilities and equipment (attack, defense, resistance, life points, weapon damage).


Trine wants to create a character. She chooses a Knight of Fortune and rolls stats. She generates 15, 15, 12, 11, 10, 10, 9, 6. She puts 15 in STR and CON, 12 in DEX, 10 in both INT and CHR, and 6 in WIS. 11 is placed in regular equipment, and 9 in magical equipment, and she adds the two equipment packages to her character sheet.

She notes 25 lifepoints (10 + con), Defense 15 (10 + chain mail (+5)), Attack bonus +0 (melee +1 via STR), Resistance bonus +0, First Aid Die d10, and special abilities: Weapons Master (+2 to any damage roll with a weapon) and Chug (+2 to challenge opponents to a drinking bout; +4 bonus to resist effects of alcohol). Among her weapons are a battle-axe. Battle Axe Att+1, dmg 1d8+3, effect: crush shield. Besides her regular equipment she is also equipped with a Lucky Coin, Flame Powder, and Waking Candle.

And within 10-15 minutes Trine is ready to go adventuring.

To be continued …

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