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[d20: The 60's] The KKK, free thinkers, and the unwashed masses

It started out innocently enough. My roommate is talking about D&D, and at some point mentions that there's a feat: Improved Trip.

Me: …
Me: You know, that becomes a lot cooler if you're thinking of d20: The 60's.

Twenty-four hours later, we're playing it.

The idea is simple enough. Everything goes exactly according to the D&D rules, except you append, “metaphorically speaking” to the end of every sentence in the combat chapter. Everyone plays a cultural mover and shaker of the times—someone trying to change the world. Your weapons are the tools you use to enact this change—influence, the media, rhetoric, and so forth. Your hit points are your idealism—your will to enact change upon the world, and deal with all the shit the world throws back at you for doing so. Your armor is all the stuff that helps you deal with this shit—fame (it's harder to hurt you if you're famous), tenure, loved ones, and so on.

If this sounds to you like d20 Shapnig combat, well, you're not wrong.

We did no mechanical conversion whatsoever; everything was mapped onto the D&D rules. We did map some new names onto classes and alignments. Good to Evil became Pacifistic to Violent; Lawful to Chaotic became Hip to Square. The classes, we mapped as follows:


Other D&D elements, we cast as we came to them. A Paladin's mount? Duh, it's movement she commands. The armor check penalty from your lesbian lover? Well, naturally, she's emotionally awesome, but the world has problems with that sort of thing, negatively influencing your ability to socially climb or tumble unnoticed through a city (“be careful getting coffee, I think these people want to shoot us…”).

Three of us played: T, Corvinity, and myself. We decided to set the game in New York.

I played a Demagogue, Zoya. She leads the feminist student group at NYU.

Corvinity played a Mystic, Dr. Cargyle. He's a prof at NYU, a cross between Timothy Leary and Aleister Crowley.

T played a Lover, Brent. He's a fixture around the scene, the guy everyone goes to to set up parties and… well, for other things.

Of the three of us, T is easily the most conversant in the actual D&D rules. Corvinity comes up second, and I've never played before. First session quote: “So how do I roll initiative? … You're going to hurt me, aren't you?”

We played through the dungeon in the back of the PHB, randomly rolling everything.

It was, in short, totally awesome. To give you a taste of how everything worked out, here's what our first encounter looked like. You can skip this if actual play bores you to tears :p

The first encounter was against a hell hound. We looked at its descriptors—Violent, Square, Fire—and decided that the KKK was holding a rally in New York. Cargyle wins initiative, so Corvinity sets the scene. He hears about the rally a few weeks before it happens, and starts writing anonymous editorials, spreading the meme that the KKK is anti-Christian, anti-American, and anti-pretty-much-everything-else-besides. (This is the cleric spell Doom, cast hidden and with cover—it hits.) Zoya goes next. I describe how she hears about the upcoming in one of Cargyle's classes and calls on her feminist student group to work to disrupt the rally. It's within their mandate—the Klan's ah “policies” are viciously harmful to all women. They leave fliers and posters around the city, graphically depicting the victim's of the Klan. Their reputation sinks, people go from “they kinda have a right to express their views” to “…and I have a right to express mine, in their face.” and by the time the rally comes around, there is a definite sense of unwelcomeness (Zoya's weapon here is “media propogation and left objects,” statted like a lance. Her charge does 16 HP of damage). Brent has the next attack; he drops hints around the scene that showing up and fucking with the rally would be really cool. Sadly, the response is underwhelming. “Yeah. The Klan sucks. Pass the pipe?” (Unarmed attack, miss.)

The Klan goes next, and their connections are impressive. Some strings get pulled, and NYU starts serious investigations into the leader of the NYU feminists, based on rumors of her homosexuality and evidence that the group is promoting the same. Zoya's pretty crushed by the massive personal attacks, and holes up in her dorm room. Brent is also burned a bit by his connections to us—suddenly, he starts finding it difficult to book venues or even talk to his old contacts. (Breath weapons suck. The hell hound did a couple of points of damage to Brent, here, and knocked me straight to zero HP.)

In the next round, Cargyle dragged Zoya out of her dorm room: “This is bullshit, and the administration knows it's bullshit, and if we talk to them, they'll have to acknowledge it's bullshit.” He uses his weight as a professor and appeals to academic freedom to get the investigation dropped (Cargyle casts Cure Light Wounds on Zoya, restoring 7 HP). Revitailzed, Zoya goes to the rally, and tries to talk to the Klan's supporters as they move to line the streets; she's largely ignored, or they tell her, “Yeah. I'll think about it.” (Missed its AC by, like, ten). Brent holds another party, and this time, he's less subtle: “You know, this Klan thing? It's bullshit. I'm just throwing that out there. You can feel differently if you want, of course, and if that's the case, I hope you can find other parties to go to.” At the day of the rally, he shows up with quite a throng of protesters.

Things ended well. Cargyle shows at the rally, dressed in violet velvet Klan's robes, embroidered with intricate acane symbology and a swastika, shouting about killing the blacks, the jews… hell, kill them all, burn the whole nation. He's a walking, effective parody of the Klan. (This is an attack with “showmanship and mysterious persona,” statted like a morningstar.) The rally is quickly losing steam; the protesters are getting angrier, and the police are decidedly nervous (3 HP remaining on the Klan). At this point, everyone notices something—remember the fliers from before? Printed with pictures of the victims of Klan violence? They're all trampled underfoot, covered in layers of muddy footprints. This just… does it. People start leaving, angrier at the Klan for merely existing (Zoya stabs at them again with her lance, taking the Klan down to -2 HP). Brent delivers a finishing blow—he's used his contacts to dredge up evidence of the Klan's infiltration into NYU administration and civil offices, and the illegal tactics they've been using. The police politely ask the Klan to, perhaps, leave.
So that was our first encouter. I killed my first D&D monster, and it was a Klan rally! Awesome.

Some things that worked, and a few that didn't:

Mapping D&D combat mechanics to the world of 60s activism is remarkably effective and lots of fun. We didn't have a GM, and the shared narration really worked here; everyone got to sculpt the world, and we all quite enjoyed it. We implicitly gave people authority over the meaning of their attacks and the effects, with everyone throwing out ideas. The fact that “death” (which, in this case, maps to “total disillusionment”) was a real possibility worked really well with the premise, too.

I enjoy operating at multiple layers of meaning simultaneously, and this obviously played into that perfectly. Later, I played with it a bit more—we encountered a unicorn, who we decided was a group of pacifist free thinkers. In some of my narrations, I described one of the group's members as snow white, innocent, with long blonde hair, glowing with idealism. This made me smile.

Also, the process of deciding on precicely what each of our weapons and armor meant was interesting—it was more of a character discovery process than I'd expected. If we ever write up this mod, we'd want to balance the power of making up the weapon descriptions with the desire to not have to start from “lance” and end up with “media control.” There's probably a good middle ground in there, somewhere.

Movement worked better than I expected, but it was still a bit weird. I might still want to introduce a waypoints / journeys type of movement to replace the standard D&D grid, but I don't think it's necessary, and it does get rid of things like cover bonuses, which we actually used to good effect.

As is apparent, each attack was basically a scene, and each round was essentially an act. This spaced out the system interaction to a degree that I find a lot more palatable, personally. It'll also increase the time it takes to play through a dungeon, of course, but that doesn't seem necessarily bad to me—it increases the return on investment from the prepwork of designing said dungeon.

Connecting 60s activism to the d20 level grind is also… morbidly amusing. But, again, appropriate! However much you accomplish, there will always be a bigger monster to fight…

On the downside, ironically, social skills… don't work. At all. Some of them have a good use (Bluff lets you feint, for example), but the ones that aren't connected to combat in some way just don't get used. (We played completely freeform when dealing with the unicorn, for example.) This isn't necessarily a big problem, mind, and changing it would likely involve twizzling with the d20 system more than I'd like to.

Some spells, too, are… When they affect combat, it's no problem. But what the hell does Create Water mean? It wasn't an issue in our play, but it could come up. One thought I had was to connect various physical elements to emotional / political elements, but that seems rather vague, and I'd need to think about it a lot more before it became something playable.

On the whole, I found the whole thing awesome. Score one for color radically changing a game.

Thoughts, comments, suggestions? Would anyone be interested in seeing this developed further, or in heaing more play reports?


Why marigolds are so evil
This is one of the awesomest things, and the awesomest D&D thing, I've seen on RPGnet. Ever.

I'd like to hear more about what movement and cover meant...
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Registered User
Validated User
That's incredibly cool. So does a 'dungeon' correspond to a city? So when you clean out the dungeon, you move on to another city and begin your activism?

And A wilderness adventure would be like a road movie, I guess.


New member
Anyone want to run a game of this on the Play by Post section of the board?

I'd be seriously tempted to play some sort of a forerunner to the Neocons- they started in the late 60's, you know. Failing that, maybe some sort of Randian Objectivist. Probably a Violent Square Intellectual. *shrugs*
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