Hello students. This week, faculty member Andrew Young (@ThatOneGM) and I continue a series that should prove exciting and useful to you all. Enjoy!
Last week we talked about how to use Wushu (a rules-light, genre-agnostic mechanical system) to play a Power Rangers style game. This week, we are going to talk about how to hack and reskin a much more complex mechanical system: Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.
In general, D&D 5E is streamlined and focused, and many of the rules are intentionally vague in order to give players and GMs the ability to be flexible. We will use these features to our advantage in this hack.
One of the biggest considerations when hacking any d20 system is level progression. Level progression does not always fit other genres, and it definitely doesn’t fit the TV show format of Power Rangers. Although the rangers develop their skills over time, it is not the strict progression of a d20 system; the rangers are powerful and effective from the start, and they gain power in small, random leaps.
However, issues like this are something to take in stride when hacking a game. Although there’s not always a perfect mechanical way to reflect every genre, there’s always a way to replicate the flavor.
Typically when hacking a d20 system, characters will need access to a variety of abilities in order to accurately simulate other genres. In D&D 5E, 3rd level is the first time that PCs have full access to their core abilities. For this Power Rangers hack, we recommend at least starting at 3rd level, if not higher.
We cannot address all of the rules of D&D in this article, but we will go over some of the more important details of the system and set you on your path to hacking D&D 5E.
Skills in 5E translate nicely to the Power Rangers. The few that don’t make sense in a non-fantasy genre setting are easy to fix. For instance, Arcana could become Morphing Grid. Religion could become Science or even Teen Culture. Other skills can be adjusted as necessary from GM to GM.
Class features and abilities are where most of the hacking work will be done. Any class could represent a ranger. A Fighter could be a tough, bruiser ranger, and a Rogue could be a quick, nimble ranger. A simple option is to have everyone play a Monk. Most of the class abilities apply to the Power Ranger genre, and the Monastic Tradition options—especially those from the Unearthed Arcana series—give players the flexibility to distinguish their rangers from each other.
A more hack-heavy option is to rewrite the Warlock. Cantrips are basic maneuvers and standard ranger weapons. Spells are powered-up weapons and special maneuvers. Pact Boons easily let players add flavor to their rangers, almost without any rewriting. You could create a new Patron based on the rangers’ mentor, or the existing Patrons can be reskinned to represent different aspects of the rangers’ mentor.
Whatever you choose, don’t feel forced to hack every class; this is where you and your players need to cooperate and discuss what everyone wants from the game. If no-one wants to have the equivalent of spells or cantrips, you can ignore those classes altogether.
The core idea of Power Rangers is that regular teengaers transform into superpowered warriors when danger arises. Other than the Shapechange ability, there’s not much transformation in D&D. So we need a creative solution.
What if all weapons, armor, and class abilities came into play only after morphing?
The PCs—as regular teens—would use only the six core stats and skills. When the teens are fighting out of their suits, they can only use the regular attack actions.
After they morph (and please, have fun with this and make up a goofy catch phrase), the PCs gain access to their proficiency bonuses, weapon and armor bonuses, and class abilities. They also regain HP back to full. If their HP reaches zero while morphed, the PC gets knocked out of morph and out of the fight.
Typically, rangers rely on hand-to-hand combat and maybe a few weapons, but D&D gives PCs lots of weapons and expects them to be used. So, simple and martial weapons are reskinned into martial arts moves. A weapon attack will function the exact same way, we just call it something else. For example, a longsword becomes a chopping strike and a greatsword becomes a roundhouse kick. A ranged attack from a shortbow could become a ranger’s primary sidearm.
In many episodes, the rangers will work together to perform combo attacks. For our hack, we will use a modified Advantage roll for combo attacks. Every player participating in the combo attack rolls a d20; use the highest result. Additionally, every PC rolls for damage based on the attack they used, and the damage is combined.
These work normally. We really don’t have to change anything, other than the flavor.
Every season of Power Rangers has hoards of generic mooks for the heroes to plow through each episode. For our hack, we’re bringing back the minion concept from 4E. Minions have all stats and attacks appropriate for their type, but they have only 1 hit point; they are killed by any damaging attack. So, mooks act as normal until the monster (or other big villain) enters the battle, at which point their HP drops to 1 and they are treated like a minion. This lets the mooks pose a reasonable threat when they first attack, but turns them into cannon fodder for an exciting and cinematic fight after the big bad shows up.
Ok. So how do we handle the giant robot? There’s no perfect method, but to make it easy, we have the players build a separate PC that functions as the Megazord. This can be a high-level character that is built for combat and decked out with magic armor and weapons. Some reskinning is necessary here. Damaging spells will become lasers or missile launchers. Spells that boost defense can be shields or force fields. Powerful daily abilities can be the finishing blow that the Megazord uses. The big giant sword is, luckily, still a big giant sword.
Usually in the show, rangers pilot the Megazord together. That doesn’t translate well to D&D mechanics. So for this hack, we can let each player take a turn controlling the Megazord in combat. This is not a perfect replication of the Megazords from the TV series, but it works within the context of the rules. This is another great opportunity for the GM and players to have a discussion during the session zero planning stage and figure out exactly how everyone wants the game to function.
While D&D 5E is not a perfect fit for a Power Rangers hack, we have covered the basics of how to hack the existing mechanics and reskin what is necessary to replicate as much of the flavor as we possibly can.
With the hacks for a rules-light and a crunchy system completed, next week we will work on a narrative-focused game system and see how we can fill with super sentai action!