Sunday, August 9, 2020

Skills for Classless D&D (Jorune: Evolutions)

I've been working on a classless OD&D inspired sci-fi game system I call Jorune: Evolutions. In my mind, sci-fi games cry out for a skill system, and Jorune's original ruleset had one. But given the rules-light chassis I'm working with, I thought the system had better be a simple system. Also, given how culturally specific and social the setting is, it felt right to me to include the idea of "contacts" as part of character generation, another design element from more modern or futuristic ttrpgs. It helps here that I already model contacts in fantasy games with my downtime activity of cultivating a relationship.

I tried to kill two birds with one stone here. The way I've chosen to model classless OD&D is to give the player 5 all-purpose points to spend during character creations to buy contacts, skills, and dyshas (spells) or anti-dyshas (if they're boccord). What would otherwise be class powers are simply folded into the system of skills so that you can pick and choose. 

Keep in mind that skills and contacts can be acquired through downtime activity and so, once again, nothing is set in stone here. The idea is to give players simple choices that will let them mix and match, and give them flavor. In this post, I present the packages, contacts, and skills. In the next post I'll talk about how the system handles weapon proficiencies and so combat. In later post, I'll talk about dyshas, which are their own can of worms.

Since not everyone is into “building” a character, I have provided seven pre-fab packages that can get you rolling right away. In some ways they mimic classes, and so are also intended to show you how to build a D&D style class in this system. If you want to tinker around the edges, you can take one of these packages as a base and switch out a skill for another skill or contact.

Remember, you can always ditch the packages and just spend your 5 points yourself, which, although a limited budget, is a lot of fun if you’re into that kind of thing. If you want to play a sword and planet Gray Mauser type, play a human, choose stealth, proficiency in sharp weapons, and one dysha, and you are ready to go.

Skill Levels

In a later post I'll explain how skill and stat checks work in detail. But the basic idea is: roll 2d6 with a difficulty modifier and a skill or stat modifier, and on a 7+ you succeed. Skills come in 4 levels:


Note that some skills cannot be used at the untrained level (e.g. languages, or iscin skills). For those skills that can be used untrained, those at the trained level can use the skills to do things that someone untrained cannot do. For example, anyone can climb, but only someone trained or higher can climb a sheer rock wall with barely visible handholds. Anyone can use stealth to sneak up on someone, but only someone at the trained level or higher can try to sneak right under someone's nose.  

Purchased player skills begin at the level trained, except for starting languages, which are explained below.

The Packages

Given your facility with language, you opted to receive intensive training as a translator. Note that being proficient in a language comes knowledge of the species and cultures that speak it. You are as much a cultural go-between as a communicator.

  • Choose 2 human languages (Porontho, Kiswahi, Indivee, or Frentran)
  • Choose 2 iscin or post-human creole (Boru, Thowtis, Abahth, Chaunt-Se, Sakoq)
  • Choose 1 alien languages (Triddith, Rorch-Ko, Cleash, or Thuvill)

During your tauther training, you opted into the military track to receive more advanced training in the arts of war.

  • Military Contact
  • Melee Weapon Proficiency
  • Missile Weapon Proficiency
  • Armor Proficiency
  • Choose Stealth or Survival (jungle or desert)

You hit the streets of the capital at night to hook up with some old acquaintances who escaped village life to make easy money in the capital.

  • Underworld Contact
  • Stealth
  • Climbing
  • Sleight of Hand
  • Weapon Proficiency: Close Weapons

Your natural curiosity won you rare admission to the university for a quick course of study. Luckily, you took to it and made real progress.

  • Porontho
  • Identify Device
  • Tinker
  • Choose Natural Philosophy or Biology
  • Choose History or Limilates

You received training as an advance scout, were taught how to ride a thombo, track an enemy, and survive in rough terrain.

  • Riding (Land)
  • Tracking
  • Stealth
  • Missile Weapon Proficiency
  • Survival (Choose Jungle or Desert)

People interest you, and you interest them. You are at the hub of many scenes.

  • Choose Storytelling or Culture
  • Choose 4 Contacts

You came to Ardoth with a spiritual hunger, looking for an awakening.

  • Dysha (these cost 3 points each)
  • Choose Spiritual Contact or Isho Contact
  • Choose Crystals or Limilates or Religion


You may use your points to purchase a contact at the cost of one contact per point. Aided by the lists below, you must decide what kind of contact it is. To name someone as a contact is to bring them into the game as a resource and active part of your character’s backstory. Contacts come in four levels (as outlined here): acquaintance, associates, friends, and intimates.

  • If the contact you choose is someone without real power or social standing, the relationship tracker begins at the rank of friend
  • If the contact is someone who wields some power, the relationship tracker begins at the rank of associate 
  • If the contact is a significant persona, who wields real power, the tracker begins at the rank of acquaintance.

When choosing the contact, give the person a name and identity, and think of how you know them and what your bond is. Are they from your village? In your circle of friends? A distant relative? Your teacher? Did you do business with them? Are they your co-religionists?

Here are some ideas for types of contacts. I have selected them because each category is connected to elements of the setting that are likely to see play; they are all useful and fun contacts. But players are free to invent their own! 

Smuggler, Limilate (drug) Dealer, Fence, Assassin, Gang Member, Rebel

Captain, Lieutenant, Private, Scout, Veteran

Spiritual (More on these religions soon!)
Kerrel, Etton, Sanster, Iscin Preacher, Isho Faith Healer, Isho Cultist, Egg Cultist 

Copra (muadra master), Hishtin (boccord master), Caji (isho student)

Scribe, Ambassador, Aide to a Member of the Burdoth Council, Dissident

Banker, Merchant, Dealer or Collector in Devices or Ancient Artifacts, Klade Member

Inventor, Biologist, Natural Philosopher, Historian

High Society
Kesht, Courtesan, Luxury Good Merchant


I have selected only those skills that will be useful in play and meaningful to the setting. You can assume you character knows how to do anything else that would make sense given their background and experience. These purchased skills begin at the level of trained.

The ability to spin a good yarn, to humor, captivate, and amaze. Those who possess this skill also carry, and know, a fragment of (extended) humanity’s memory in oral form. Since written history began in earnest only five centuries ago, the conflicting tales are the closest thing to ancient history that humanity has. This skill can be drawn on for (conlicting and ambiguous) information about the travelers and humanity’s early days on Jorune.  

Knowledge of the latest trends and fads in recreation and fashion among the kesht (aristocrats) and wealthy drenn, the modes of speech, the artforms currently in vogue, the etiquette necessary in order to avoid faux-pas in high society, the vacation spots, and so on. This knowledge is situational, but someone with this skill can easily pick up and adapt to local nuances.   

The knowledge of religious customs and practices. Those who possess this skill know something about the different belief systems, theologies, church hierarchies, and spiritual practices of diverse groups across Jorune. Since this game is set during the time of the Dream of the Egg, spiritual pursuits flourish.

The ability to conceal oneself, move quietly, and just generally sneak around. Those who possess this skill add it to their stealth checks, and may make stealth checks in situations where an ordinary person would not be able to. Someone who attacks after successful stealth check surprises their foe granting extra segments of action and other benefits.

The ability to climb sheer surfaces. Those who possess this skill add it to their climb checks, and may make checks in situations where an ordinary person would not have a prayer in climbing (i.e. a sheer wall).

Sleight of Hand
The ability to palm items, pick-pockets, surreptitiously poison a drink, perform magic tricks, and the like.

The ability to fashion workable disguises. You may add this roll to attempts to fool people through disguises, and may also attempt disguises using makeup and the like that others would not be able to.

Identify Device
The ability to identify and generally figure out devices of the ancients. Think of this as a fallible “identify” spell for technological items. Note that not all devices of the ancient are proper Earth-Tec, usable only by humans. Thus, other races can learn this skill with benefit, although they will never have the thrill of firing an energy weapon or walking on the strange paths taken by the Circuit Men of Ardoth.

This is the ability to repair and build contraptions and devices. It gives a bonus to attempts to jury rig a device (e.g. a catapult) in a tight spot, and also allows one to borrow parts from devices to create something new. It is used in the downtime action Invent.

Natural Philosophy (Mathematics, Physics, Astronomy)
Humanity’s knowledge of mathematics is quite advanced (roughly late 19th century level), whereas physics is in a primitive state. Astronomy is a central iscin study, owing to the complexity of the system of seven moons, and the dramatic effects of lunar conjunctions. Such astronomy often bleeds into astrological speculation as well.

History (History + Archaeology)
This skill gives one knowledge of written history, as well as what has come to light through the limited study of ruins and ancient artifacts. Allows one to roughly identify, and perhaps glean some information about, a set of ruins or an antique cultural artifact.   

Biology (Botany + Zoology + Geology)
This skill gives one knowledge of the lifeforms and rock formations of Jorune. It can be drawn on to identify, speculate about, and derive information about the lifecycles and natural defenses of plants and animals, or the causes and features of geological formations. (It is no substitute for detailed knowledge of the effects of limilates or the powers of crystals, or for survival skills involved in finding a good campsite, but it can definitely come in handy.)

This is a primitive medical skill. It involves the knowledge of how to bandage and set bones, the use of some herbal remedies (within limits, it is no substitute for a real knowledge of limilates), identification and treatment of well-known diseases (to the extent there is one). Someone who makes a successful medicine check on a wounded comrade will double the rate of their natural healing after each night of rest. A successful check will also identify a disease and mitigate its effect (if a remedy is available). 

Jorune is a wonderland of naturally occurring drugs, from poisons, to opiates and stimulants, isho affecting drugs, and a truly staggering array of psychedelic drugs. The use of limilates is a big part of everyday life, lucrative trade, and smuggling. This skill gives one the ability to identify and use limilates both in the wild and in prepared forms.

Metal is rare on Jorune, but crystal is plentiful, both as deposits to be mined from caves deep beneath the earth, and in some places, as rock formations that emerge from the ground. Many crystals have special uses and remarkable powers, some connected to isho. Like limilates, crystals are a lucrative trade. This skill allows one to identify, collect, prepare, and use crystals.

Animal Training
This skill allows one to befriend and train beasts. It may allow the acquisition of animal or beast companions.

Riding (Land)
This skill allows one to ride the loping thombo (like an eyeless tonton), the lumbering bochugon (a huge lizard-like mount), or the quaint and incredibly valuable horse. It is added to skill tests to coax your mount into combat, or to outrace an enemy, or leap over an obstacle

Riding (Air)
This skill allows one to ride talmarons (eyeless giant batlike beasts) through the air. It is added to skill tests to plummet and dive, corskscrew, and to coax your mount to attack.

Sailing (Water)
Nautical technology by sailing vessel is well-developed in Jorune, and sea travel and trade is a crucial part of life. This skill allows one to operate a sailing vessel, or whatever size, on the open waters.

Sailing (Sky)
Knowledge of this art is extremely rare in Jorune, but the tiny kingdom of Jasp produces rare airships, sailing vessels that are able to fly through the use of crystals and isho. Burdoth possesses a few of these vessels. 

Everyone can swim, but this skill allows one to do things normal people can't, and is added to tests to swim long distances, escape a whirpool, dive for a pearl, and the like.

The ability to map, navigate, and travel in cave systems. One with this skill will be alert to underground dangers, will glean useful information from the environment, stay oriented, and not suffer from panic or claustrophobia. Given the pursuit of crystals and the existence of underground ruins, caving is a developed skill in Jorune.

Survival (Desert, Forest, Mountain, Marsh, or Jungle)
The member of your group with the highest modifier for the relevant survival skill rolls to make a secure camp and comfortable camp, to hunt or forage, and also to deal with environmental hazards. If there are ties, then the roll switches off between players.


Languages are skills too, and valuable ones at that. For, knowing a language comes along with a corresponding level of basic cultural knowledge of the community that speaks the language. 

All players start speaking Entren at the master level. Bronth and woffen characters also know their iscin creoles, boru and thowtis respectively. They can choose at what level they know the language based on their background. (Was it a first or second language? Did they know many others of their kind?)

Characters who spend a point to learn a human or iscin or post-human creole know the language at the master level. Characters who spend a point to learn an alien language know it at the trained level. Alien languages are hard!

Human Languages

The common tongue amongst humans. There are many dialects of this, but if you speak one you can get by in the others.

The language of the small independent kingdom of Jasp, builders of Jaspian skyships. Spoken by some elite Burdothians as an aristocratic tongue.  

Languages spoken by some villager communities in Burdoth. Also the main language of the small neighboring kingdom of Ros Crendor.

Languages spoken by some village communities in Burdoth. Along with Entren, one of the main language of the recently subjugated kingdom of Heridoth.

The secret language spoken by iscins. Like a technical thieves’ cant for those “scientifically” trained. 

Iscin Race and Post-human Creoles

A bronth creole dialect, a fusion of bear sounds and Entren. The main language of the bronth realm of Dobre.

A woffen creole dialect, a fusion of wolf sounds and Entren. The main language of the woffen realm of Anasan.

A blount creole dialect, a fusion of gurgling sounds and Entren.

A cruagar creole dialect, a fusion of cat sounds and Entren. The main language of the cruagar realms in the Doben-Al.

Sakoq & Tikoq
Creoles of Entren that are designed to be spoken underwater by the post-human salu and acubon respectively. Learning one allows you to get by in the other.

Sapient Alien Languages

The immensely complicated language of the thriddle, a sapient species of encyclopediasts. If you thought German had long sentences, buckle your seat belt.

The language of the ramians, quiet seafaring enemies of humanity. It is spoken in low even tones that rub human vocal cords raw.

The language of the thiven, a sapient species of peaceful colony-minded traders. It is a trilling musical language that humans can mimic in passable if discordant and flat tones.

The clicking and hissing language of the Cleash, the sapient bug-like aliens. Also allows one to speak the dialect Gleebo, which is spoken by the Scarmis, mantis-like Cleash servitors.


  1. If one is to play a medic (doctor, midwife), is there a skill for better healing?