dREAL: realistic D20 rules


I’m pleased to finally make available again dREAL, a set of rules that bring “realism” to D20. I released these free online in 2004 but they have been unavailable anywhere for some years now.


Realism is, of course, a pretty strange goal for a set of rules derived from Dungeons & Dragons (3rd edition). I worked on these because I thought there was actually a solid and simple core mechanic underneath the high-action fantasy of 3E, and it deserved some attention as a way of playing games with a more realistic tone. (A great article at The Alexandrian, appearing several years after dREAL, hits some of the same points.)

Among other innovations, dREAL introduced saving throws for every ability score a good dozen years before 5E got there, and ditched classes and levels in an effective way, something which is still extremely rare in D20-derived OGL games.

dREAL comes in two flavours:

  • dREAL_Lite, a 12-page rocket with a simple take on the rules, lovingly laid out & illustrated by RPG superstar Gregor Hutton
  • dREAL Max, a behemoth of 168 pages that goes deep on all the crunchy stuff that the mid-00s relished, with lots of detail on skills and feats and how they work with a more realistic tone. Warning, it’s just a very basic document though!

In the fifteen years since dREAL came on the scene it has been well and truly surpassed, but there are still some clever pieces of design thinking at work in here, and also there is a still a glaring absence of RPG rules designed to emulate ordinary people coping with stressful situations using their ordinary resources. I’m very proud of what dREAL accomplished and I think it is definitely worth a careful look.

Bonus link: a praise thread someone posted on RPG.net. This made my week when I saw it!





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