Here is a JRPG rules hack. I think this one is tighter than my previous attempt, and may even be playable as is.
First chose a base chassis (B/X D&D, Old School Essentials, Labyrinth Lord, whatever), and then apply the following rules modules.
Every player character gets a signature weapon. Fighters get sword (because fighters are the magic sword class). For other classes, choose a non-sword signature weapon (or determine randomly): 1 axe, 2 bow, 3 crossbow, 4 dagger, 5 mace, 6 spear, or 7 war hammer. Adventurers can use weapons afforded by class or signature weapon, and attack with advantage when using a signature weapon. (This list of possible signature weapons matches possible magic weapons from the classic treasure tables; if you choose some other kind of weapon, such as revolver, you might want to modify the treasure tables accordingly.)
Rather than traditional spells, adventurers draw power from magic crystals called homunculiths. Replace magic weapon plusses with homunculith sockets (so a spear +2 means a spear with two homunculith slots). Any character can use magic afforded by a slotted homunculith if the character can use the weapon and can supply the necessary magic points.
Magic-users can slot a number of homunculiths in various magical paraphernalia equal to character level. This can be hat clips, belt buckles, cane handles, whatever (describe the slots; the stone has to go somewhere, and has to be visible). Working homunculith slots into equipment requires a haven turn or downtime action for a magic-user. Only magic-users can make use of homunculiths in magical paraphernalia. Characters that would otherwise begin with spell slots start with one randomly determined homunculith.
Determine treasure using the treasure tables with some degree of strictness, but: replace magic scroll results with spell homunculiths, replace magic ring results with nexus homunculiths (used to summon daemonotheurgic entities; see below), and read arrow or bolts as bow or crossbow with homunculith slots (by bonus), respectively.
Since hit points come from hit dice, magic points must come from magic dice; adventurer MD by class: fighter = d4, thief = d6, magic-user = d8. (Generally, classes with high HD should have low MD and vice versa, so infer MD for other classes based on that principle.) Determine MP total similarly to HP total (so a third-level fighter gets 3d4 MP). Additionally, use the MD when determining damage from magic that calls for dice (so magic-users roll with pools of d8 and fighters roll with pools of d4). Characters recover spent MP during haven turns/downtime.
Choose a spell list. Determine the spell associated with each homunculith randomly. Ignore results with “summon monster” type effects (because nexus homunculiths handle summoning). You could use the traditional spells, the spells from Pits & Perils, Wonder & Wickedness, the spells I drafted as part of my previous JRPG Basic musings (black magic spells, white magic spells), some other source, or some combination. Here is the list of spell names from Pits & Perils: Bolt, Call, Calm, Cure, Fade, Fear, Find, Foil, Gaze, Glow, Heal, Hide, Know, Link, Load, Mend, Mute, Null, Pass, Rise, Ruin, Send, Stun, Ward. Determine the MP cost of each spell randomly by rolling 1d6. Once determined, the cost is set (so it is possible to discover a better homunculith with the same spell).
Nexus homunculiths are bound to summonable daemonotheurgic entities. Generate the entity linked to a nexus homunculith by rolling on a table of monsters, and then adding an elemental aspect: 1 fire, 2 ice, 3 lightning, 4 radiance, 5 shadow, 6 slime. For the table of summonable monsters, collect all the monsters in your rulebook of choice with HD of 6 or higher, crossing them off as adventurers discover homunculiths. Give each daemonotheurgic entity a name. Attach an action die to the daemonotheurgic entity. By default, this is d6:
- Special (make this up when creating the entity)
Summoning an entity costs 1 MP. When summoning an entity using a nexus homunculith, determine entity HP using remaining entity HD.
Roll the entity’s action die to determine actions each round after summoning. The summoner can override the action die using a command, but this requires spending an action. Commanding the special attack will cause the entity to depart afterwards. The action die determines the monster’s action but the summoner’s player determines all other details, such as targets and so forth.
When determining summoned monster HP, roll the monster’s remaining HD and leave the dice on the table as they fall (or record the numbers per die). When the monster takes damage, the player may decide to which die the damage applies. If a die total is reduced to zero or less, remove the die and ignore any excess damage rather than process the spillover damage. Restore removed dice during downtime recovery. Healing a summoned monster allows rerolling some number of remaining HD rather than adding HP directly or restoring removed monster HD.
At the end of each combat round, spend 1 MP or the entity departs.
This is good. Simple tweaks but they capture the flavour well.
I’m doing a personal attempt at this very JRPG D&D and I’m very inspired by your old work. Glad to see you’re back at the same time as me LOL. I don’t see very appropiate the sword-monopoly for the fighters (has no basis nowhere on the genre) but I respect everybodys vision because it comes from somewhere and always has a reason.
The summons working by a 1d6 matrix is a very cool idea that could also work for monster behavior. The name of homunculith means something totally different in real life (artificial man). Why not use “crystals” as the name? Crystal home/Crystal cage for summons.
Glad this is useful! I look forward to seeing what you come up with. Are you blogging about it somewhere?
Re: homunculith, the inspiring word “homunculus” has a number of meanings and associations, including little man, genetic germ of potential in the biological theory of preformation, and artificial constructed being (in modern fantasy). The -lith suffix means stone. I chose this word because it is unique, has nice mouthfeel, and avoids new age connotations while gesturing toward hermetic concepts. My intended interpretation is something like avatar stones, which perhaps are physically or symbolically shaped in a manner sympathetic to the nature of the linked being.
No reason not to use crystals though, if that fits a particular campaign better.
Re: sword monopoly: it is an often ignored design property of the original game that magic swords are something of a fighter monopoly. The association weakens in later games, but still persists to various degrees. OD&D calls this out explicitly in the fighting-man class description, the first line even: “All magical weaponry is usable by fighters, and this in itself is a big advantage” (Men & Magic, p. 6). The only other two classes in this version of the game are clerics and magic-users, neither of which can use swords. Later on the same page, regarding magic-users: “The whole plethora of enchanted items lies at the magic-users beck and call, save the arms and armor of the fighters (see, however, Elves); Magic-Users may arm themselves with daggers only.” Clerics “… have the use of magic armor and all non-edged magic weapons (no arrows!) …” making fighting-men (and elves in fighting-man mode; possibly dwarves depending on one interprets their class options) the only users of magic swords. This changes slightly in B/X, where at least thieves can also use swords. I also think it is fun to lean into this approach, as it makes fighters a bit more thematically specific compared to the easy to play versatile class niche they sometimes fall into. There is some virtue in having a class that fills that versatile play role, but in this case I am trying something different.
Re: JRPG genre sword monopoly: I think support here is mixed. It is somewhat common for the main character to be the only protagonist to use a sword. For example, in Final Fantasy VII, among the player characters, only Cloud uses swords, as I recall. In Final Fantasy VI, Celes, Terra, Locke, and maybe one or two other characters can equip swords, though only Cyan can use katanas (from a Japanese perspective, the most archetypal kind of sword, and Cyan is also the most thematically fighting-man type character). Many swords in Dragon Quest III can only be equipped by the hero or the warrior, such as the bastard sword, and only the hero can equip the sword of kings, though a few of the weaker swords, such as the copper sword, can be equipped more broadly (arguably, these don’t really fit the “magic sword” category). In Octopath Traveler, I think only Olberic (the warrior) and Therion (the thief) can equip swords without discovering and assigning the secondary “warrior” job. (The example games here are somewhat arbitrary, just intended to reference a few classics.) I am sure there are many other examples and exceptions, especially across other franchises, but there is at least some basis for the idea.
One of my most common OD&D or B/X house rules is to avoid class-based weapon restrictions completely, and that works fine too. In my Pahvelorn OD&D game, all weapons do 1d6 damage (as is standard in the 3LBB OD&D rules) and there are no class based weapon restrictions, but magic weapons only function for fighters. In B/X, the house rule is often that classes use their HD when making a weapon attack to determine damage, so when attacking with the same sword a fighter would roll 1d8 for damage, a cleric would roll 1d6 for damage, and a magic-user would roll 1d4 for damage.
Wow I’m kinda repent of having said that about swords hahah. Hadn’t see the proof so greatly explained, so i take it back.
here is where I’m blogging now, though I’ve just started to put things in words recently (and deleted lots of shit because I blog like a brainstorm notebook). In the next one I’ll put together combat and magic so probably the thing is more fleshed out by then.
Keep on the good work, man, I follow you since a long time and is amazing to see somebody making really interesting things down al the years, Respect!