The Magic of Dual20

Well… it’s been far, far, far too long since my last post here (darn WordPress, I though I set you to send me reminders to post? Oh well, wouldn’t have helped being so busy and distracted by other things/projects :P )

So for this post I thought I’d give an overview of the four basic forms of magic in Dual20: Lore, Core, Will, and Pact. Core could also be referred to as Inherent, but then it’d have more than four letters and break the lovely pattern :P

Lore magic is your classic magician up in the tower pouring over spells or your academy of mages, alchemists and their guilds, enchanters creating wondrous magical artifacts, and other such workers of magic. They gain magical power from their tools and the environment around them. They study and discover the hidden workings of the universe, and how to manipulate them, whether by magic words or runes, special ingredients, or particular motions.

Core magic is the mage or creatures who have magic as a natural part of their being. Their magical power comes from their bodies and possibly able to draw on the environment too, though not as Lore mages do (so kind of like the difference between breathing in the air and blowing it out vs. using a fan to blow it around). Core magic is almost always a bit flashy when used by mages, though for magical creatures it can be more subtle.

Will magic, this is your “subtle and quick to anger” type wizards. It’ll be very much like the magic seen in Tolkien’s works, particularly the Silmarillion (mixed with some Lore magic, too; Lore and Will magic often mix well together). Using this magic is hardly ever flashy, though the results can be sometimes. This is probably the rarest form of magic, and some would say the first and purest. Though there are other types of will mages besides wizards, bards and inspiring war captains have a bit of this magic too.

Pact mages come in the wide variety, from your prophets wielding the power of God, to your warlocks making deals with the devil, or someone who has gained favor with the fey, or otherwise gains his magic from some Entity of Power. I’m also thinking this will handle characters that have a lot “pets” as their primary means of power, summoners, binders, etc. They may technically use another form of magic to obtain them, but it’s not directly usable for other things.

In later posts I’ll delve a bit further , though I think I’ll do into my thoughts for each of them, including ideas for mechanics (where I have them at least), though I think the next will go over the various classes that I have planned (now including the mages, though several have been named already ;) )


Stealth and Detection

So some readers may have noticed that there is a Notice stat in Dual20, rather than a skill, like most systems I’ve seen. In most games I’ve played in, a Notice/Spot/Search/Perception/Whatever skill is by far the most used one, second only to actual attack checks (and in one game I’m in, it far surpasses even those, but it’s not a combat heavy game :P ).

It’s typically something that every perceiving creature can do to some extent, even without any particular training, and being used so much, so I figured on making it a full blown stat to accompany others like attacking. But then what about its main counterpart, Stealth/Sneaking?

Should it be a stat as well, and be a stat pair with notice like attack and defense are? It’s again something that comes up a lot, something that most creatures can do to some extent or another, and what’s more, characters without it may have to be left behind. Some gaming groups are happy to work around that, or just leave it as is, but some aren’t.

I’m inclined to promote it to a stat, but either of them (even Notice) as optional skills might also be important for some groups. Perhaps a compromise, given the nature of skills, and how their bonuses can differ wildly, what if we had both the Notice and Sneak stats, and a more advanced Search and Stealth skills that acted as a bonus on top of them? They’d be smaller bonuses than other skills, but then so would the Notice and Sneak stats, but together they might be more inline with the rest.

Thoughts and opinions from the audience?

Character Foundation and Stats

I believe I mentioned before that the Foundation elements that a character picks may add grades to his stats. I had initially considered that there’d be a few bonuses sprinkled around, but that didn’t satisfy me, they mostly because that would have the problem of too many potentially stacking together.

But while writing my last post I thought what if they weren’t outright granted but only made available as a choice, similar to what 13th Age does for ability bonuses from race and class.

So now every Foundational element except Fates will grant as an available option a Stat or Skill grade bonus. These grade bonuses are the only way to get a grade of 4.
I might still consider races to be able to outright grant a stat bonus in addition to granting an extra option choice. They can get away with it because you’ll only ever have one race basic package.

Also I’m thinking that usually Race and Background are what offer Stat grade bonuses, and Background, Culture, and Specialty are what offer Skill grade bonuses.


Actions: Time and Multitasking

And now we get into the detailed time tracking system. It was this system that made me realize that this game will truly need an app to help play. It shouldn’t be impossible to play without the app, but there’ll be a lot to keep track of that would be easier with an app.

Edit: There’s been a change to the terms here. Action Slots are now Focuses, and Tasks are now Means.


Time in Dual20 is continuous and simultaneous, there are no turns. It is divided into rounds and ticks, with 12 ticks per round, and a round is approximately 6 seconds in length (might adjust this later), though a Tick doesn’t represent a particular amount of time. If two people are both performing an action that occurs on the same tick, both are resolved together and then the results are applied. It is quite possible for two combatants to kill each other.

An action will usually take more than one tick to complete. It has a single Strike tick, and may have a Warm-up time or a Cool-down time or both. There will be ways for characters to reliably reduce the WU/CD of certain actions, and less reliable ways to reduce them in general, but at a cost.


A character can be doing several things at once, he could be striking with a sword in one hand, a dagger in the other, while actively dodging an opponent behind him, and keeping aware of his immediate surroundings (so he knows about the opponent behind him), while maintaining good footing for his fighting style (aka, a Stance). To model this actions have two parts, the Slot and the Task. (These are working names, if someone has a better idea of what to call these, I’m open to it)

The Slot can be considered as how much attention must be given to the action, and there are three types: Engagement, Support, and Perpetual. Engagement actions are for those that take the most focus of the character, such as attacking or casting most spells. Support actions are for things such as movement, drawing weapons, reactionary defenses, etc. The Perpetual Slot is a little different in that it is not for a specific action so much as a continuous state of things, such as stances, maintaining spells, or wearing armor, or dealing with hindrances. Most characters will have multiple slots of each type, 2 or 3 per type, but actions will usually take multiple slots themselves (particularly Engagement actions).

Higher level Slots can be used to fit Lower level ones, so if you don’t have enough Perpetual Slots you can use Support Slots in their place, or the same for Support and Engagement respectfully.

The Task is what kind of attention is needed for the action, of which there are currently two: Physical and Mental. In addition, a Task can be further specified, such as a Physical (hand) Task. A character will have several Tasks available to them, including two Physical (hand) Tasks, and at least one Physical (feet) Task. A specific Task may be used in the place of a general one, but you can not use one kind of Task in the place of another.

An action will have only one kind of Slot but can have multiple kinds of Tasks. The number of Slots and Tasks will always match (Tasks are put into Slots). While an action is occurring all the Slots and Tasks it needs are locked up.

So in the above example of things going on, the character has some means for dual wielding combat so each of the attack actions is taking only one Engagement Slot and Physical (hand) Task each, the active dodging will take a Support Slot and Physical (feet) Task, the awareness takes a Perpetual Slot and a Mental Task, and the Stance takes a Perpetual Slot and a plain Physical Task.

Mixing Things Up a Little

So what else can be done with this structure for time? Well, one can try to do a particular WU or CD quicker than it otherwise would, say to get in an attack just before your opponent gets theirs or a counter at the same moment. A character could reduce the amount of WU or CD an action takes. A character might even be able to learn how to overlap the WU and CD of certain actions with each other (which would be like combos in other kinds of games).

A character can also cancel an action, provided it’s still in the WU stage. Doing so may have penalties on the next action.

I said that time was split into Round and there are twelve Ticks per Round, which will be referred to as Round Ticks, but other than that they haven’t been mentioned. Rounds are important for Haste and Slow effects. Both Haste and Slow have a number with them, so Haste 2 or Slow 3. Haste grants a character extra Ticks per round, which will be known as Haste Ticks, and Slow decreases the Ticks the character has, and they cancel each other out. The worse that Slow can get is Slow 6, while Haste can get as high as 12. The extra or lost Ticks are distributed evenly over the Round. Any extra Ticks from Haste happen after the Round Tick that it occurs on.

There is also Hyper, which is similar to Haste except that it grants a number of extra Ticks per round Tick. Hyper 1 and Haste 12 are equivalent. Hyper abilities will tend to last for just a short amount of  Round Ticks.

But you still want to play by hand

So how would you run this by hand if you didn’t have access or want to use the app? You could have a set of cards for the actions you can take, and a number of tokens for each Slot and Task you have available. You’d also want a Tick/Rounds track, and several sets of markers to go with the actions, each set having a marker to place on the action card, and on the tick track one for the Strike and one for the Cool-Down’s completion.

If Haste or Slow are involved, then whenever you get to a Tick that applies, you shift all of the characters’ markers down or up the Tick track. If the Marker is then on the current Tick, it then Strikes on that Round Tick’s Haste Tick.

It will help that people don’t have to wait for each other’s turns to finish, though they do have to wait till the right tick for their character to act. But when several are acting on a single Tick they can all go at once.

Criticals and mitigators


So if the high end of the d20s are reserved for explosions, usually just 20 on both dice, but there are situations that change that, how do critical successes work? It’s quite simple, if you get a result sufficiently higher (or lower) than the target number then that counts as a crit. So maybe your attacking someone with a defense of 10 and need to get 20 higher than that for the crit. With no modifier that’s a 15% chance to get the success at all and a 0.78% for a crit.

Obviously this is a pretty hard to hit target.

With a +10 to your attack though, you’ll now be hitting the target 52% of the time, but still only get a crit 2.62% of the time. What if the crit was only +15 or +10 above the target number? Let’s take a look at a sample:

attack +0 and defense 10, success 15%, crit +10 2.62%, crit +15 1.55%, crit +20 0.78%

attack +10 and defense 10, success 52%, crit +10 15%, crit +15 6.13%, crit +20 2.62%

If the bonus you have is close to the target number you’re going for, then further adjustments within ±10 will cause fairly drastic changes, but once you get outside of that range, then things change much less rapidly, though it never truly gets to a total certainty one way or the other, there’s always a chance of success or failure.

So which is the best choice for critical hits? Why, all of them and more of course! There’s no reason why there has to be only one kind of critical success (or failure) nor does every character need to share the same set of them. There are some critical effects that every character has access to, but there’s also more that an individual can get, usually from Talents. Likewise, there are some critical failures that every character can suffer, but also a character can get through Talents more critical failures that he can inflict on others who attack or in some other way oppose him.

Nor do they have to be static differences, but can change depending on the circumstances (such as by how much someone is trying to do at once). This is one of those aspects that the App will help you keep track of.

Critical effects will always be in the form of “if you succeed by X or more, then ___” or “if your opponent fails by X or more, then ___”. They should have some sort of minimum value, but I’m not sure if it should by 1, or something slightly higher like 5.

Also, for now I’m thinking that you can only apply one critical success or failure at a time.


So what’s a mitigator? It can’t be the opposite of a Critical Success, that’s a Critical Failure. But it can be the opposite of “Critical”. Criticals makes a success more successful, or a failure more failed, while mitigators make them less successful or less failed, but they’re still successes and failures.

If you’re familiar with the forums for D&D Next you might have run across whole flame wars on things such as Damage on a Miss. Mitigators are kind of like that, except not as absolute and hopefully not as divisive. They come in the form of “If your opponent succeeds by X or less, then ___” or “if you fail by X or less, then ___” so there’s always a chance for them not to trigger.

You always get access to Mitigators through Talents, there aren’t any that universally apply. Mitigators you have either apply to your own failures or to the successes of others against you (or your team).

Again, only one Mitigator will apply at a time. However, both a Mitigator and a Critical can apply at once. Say for example we have the classic double damage critical at 5 or more, and a half damage Mitigator at 5 or less, if the attacker gets exactly 5 over then they both apply and cancel each other out. Still others will have interest effects besides changing the damage amount, such as a mitigator that makes it so  the attacker leaves an opening and a critical that lets the attack move to a different position adjacent to his target. Both will apply.

So what’s it all mean?

All of these together should provide a nice grade of failure to success than a simple yes, no, or double yes.

Also, for people whose skill closely matches the difficulty, small bonuses or penalties will have more significant changes for them, but less so for people who greatly outclass (or who are outclassed by) the difficulty, though in that case the chance of more powerful criticals will be affected significantly. But there’s still always a chance of that great success or great failure despite all odds.

So what goes into a player character?

Before I get too much further in other things, I’d like to lay out what makes up a character.

The default form of character creation in Dual20 is not as rigid as D&D nor as unstructured as a point buy game like GURPS. Instead you can think of it as having several distinct areas of point buy with their own pool of points.

In order a character will get Attributes, Foundation (race and stuff), Stats, Classes and Talents, Tweaks, and Feats and a Game Breaker.


The first things, like most all RPGs, are the attributes. Being somewhat derived from d20…. very loosely at this point, there are 6 main stats, but not the classic Str, Dex, etc. instead I’m borrowing (with permission) a set of stats created by Morgenstern from the Crafty forums here.

  • Awareness
  • Determination
  • Fitness
  • Grace
  • Guile
  • Precision

I’ve not decided on what sort of values will be a typical range for the stats, but for now I’ll use the same range and modifiers as d20.


The next part to add is the character’s Foundation, which includes things such as the Race, Culture, Background, Specialty, and Fate of the character. Except for Fates and Specialties each of these different elements provides a sets of related “packages” with each having a Base Package and a number of Optional Packages, so for example Elf you can play a plain old elf with using just the Base Package, it has the essential stuff, or you can add on the High Elf package to be that. This is how subraces are handled, as well as half-races, want to be a half elf? Take the human Basic Package and an Elf Package. Cultures and Backgrounds also have Basic and related Optional packages. Specialties and Fates are all stand along packages.

Each package takes cost a certain number of points, and Race (and maaaybe Background) is the only one that is mandatory to have. So if you play a particularly powerful race, such as a dragon, you may have to cut out one or more of the others. Or if you just want to pass on a particular kind, you can. The GM/gaming group can decide on an amount of Foundation points each player has to spend, as well as a maximum number of points to spend in any one area.

These are all chosen at character creation and do not change as the character levels up.

Stats and Skills

Next up is the advancing stats and skills. These are like the stats you’d gain from class levels in D&D or Pathfinder, but they are not tied to a specific class. Instead, you again have an amount of points to allocate among them. You can buy them in grades of 1 to 3, though they can get up to grade 4 if you pick a Foundation element that causes that. For most of these it is how quickly they advance, though some have static values. Buying grades of Skills instead grants you a number of points to buy skills in a similar fashion as Stats, and if a Skill is a collection of similar sub-skills, that likewise gets you further points to spend on them.

The stats at present are:

  • Attack, this added to various attack checks in a straight forward manner
  • Defense, likewise for defense
  • Speed, this modifies how quickly you can act.
  • Improvise, this stat is for doing things not otherwise handled by the rules, it doesn’t have values as good as skills, but it is a reminder and means to always think outside the box.
  • Health, along with Fitness this determines wounds and vitality
  • Stamina, it’s similar to Health but for energy to do things.
  • Will, determines how indomitable you are, as well as powering certain kinds of magic.
  • Skills, determines how many points you can allocate to skills.
  • Lifestyle, this determines how well off your character is, outside of income sources such as adventuring or holdings, and can be used in some social situations.
  • Notice, how good your character is at seeing the unobvious or hidden things.
  • Presence, how impressive your character is, good for certain social situations or magic

Speed, Health, Stamina, Will, and Notice also determine saves, similar to Fortitude, Reflex, and Will from d20. Lifestyle might also have a save associated with it, for use in “social combat”.

There is currently no defined skill list. I should note that the social stats and social skills will compliment each other. A character with high presence will be better at both intimidate and diplomacy for example.

Classes and Talents

Finally you will take your first level you will pick a class (there’s currently 8 arch-classes, 4 mundane and 4 magical, and 28 classes, 16 mundane (or a little magic) and 12 magical). Each time you take a class level you’ll get a certain number of points to spend on talents for that class (or for talents not attached to any class, such as ones to enhance a Foundation element further, but you must spend at least 1 point on a class talent). The number of points you get to spend is determined by the character’s overall level. The first level a character will get several points to spend, significantly more than later levels (approximately a 5 to 1 ratio).

Taking a level in a class also provides the character with resources that the class uses, if any, such as the various magic points. In addition, all class levels grant the character a number of Awesome points, that can be used in place of any other class resource, or for special things.


Tweaks are small changes to existing game rules or character options and are the closest thing to feats in other d20 games. Each Foundation element, Talent, or Feat may have some Tweaks associated directly with it (very much like feats from 13th Age). A character gets a Tweak at every level.

Feats, and Game Breakers

Finally, Feats in this game are always new actions the character can use and are significantly unique and special. A character gets only a few over the course of their career. Game Breakers change or ignore or bypass (with a limit) a common rule in a significant way, and a character will only ever get one later in their career.

These are those things that a first level character can’t obtain.


And that’s all that makes up a character. So how many levels can a character obtain? Well, that depends, which track are you talking about? Stats, Feats, and Game Breakers are on one track, that goes as high as level 12. Class and Tweaks are technically unbounded. You can keep leveling in them as much as your group wants. Both can advance independently as well.


You can play a stricter game, where the Class and Tweaks are in sync, and you might advance them together one to one, or maybe increase a Stat level once for every five Class levels obtained, or other such thing, it all depends on what you’re group is after.


You can divide them up into different leveling tracks even further, the Class track, the Stats track, the Tweaks Track, the Feats track, and the Game Breaker track. Even add in some other tracks if you want like a Legendary Item track.


You can go the other extreme, there aren’t levels or tracks, instead the character has to learn everything IC from someone who will teach them.

Or do something in-between those. The goal is to design the game such that there’s a nice large spectrum of ways to create and advance a character. You will want to start off with the default character creation and advancement or a stricter one perhaps, before you go trying to “break” the game in still playable ways. You want to play a game where everyone starts with a Game Breaker and a couple of feats but still level 1? I won’t stop you, and instead I’ll give you advice on how to do that… once the game is much further along and tested out, of course.