Role-playing Games Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for gamemasters and players of tabletop, paper-and-pencil role-playing games. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What pen and paper system would come closest to the advancement mechanics of the computer game Diablo - in particular class advancement with a talent/ability tree?

share|improve this question

As this is a game-recommendation question, please adhere to the FAQ, the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and our rules for game recommendations. All responses must cite actual experience or reference others' experiences!

Hey, guys, I've just noticed that a number of these answers seem geared towards Diablo II's class-specific ability tree system - But the question asked specifically for information about Diablo, the first game in the series, which didn't have ability trees: Each class got one or two abilities unique to it, different starting and maximum stats, and shared the same four levels of spells. – GMJoe Dec 19 '12 at 3:31

I don't know how well it represents the game, but there is an officially licensed series of Diablo II supplements for D&D 3rd edition.

@Sebsmith's answer contains information directly from these books. Favor voting on his answer over voting on this one.

share|improve this answer
They don't exactly mirror the diablo process, but are similar in scope. – aramis Mar 8 '11 at 6:10
I think I own this book, I'll be able to check it in a couple days for LeguRi's criteria. – sebsmith Mar 11 '11 at 5:37

Okay, so I dug out my copy of the D&D Diablo 2 Diablerie, and it doesn't map abilities quite the way the computer did. For instance, you can't buy an ability again for better effects. Instead, it appears that it transforms abilities into D&D equivalents and splits them into six groups. At most levels you get a "magic ability" from one of the groups, and which one depends on the group level you are at. A few classes, like the Necromancer and Sorcerer get access to spell levels instead of most "magic abilities," but the spells seem game based glancing through them. The place the book best lets you emulate Diablo is with the item creation, since it has a long series of table to make rolls on, many of which have sub tables.

I'd be happy to edit this answer if you or anyone else has more specific questions about the book.

share|improve this answer

To begin, we must deconstruct Diablo:

Looking at the wiki:

  1. Items and Inventory
    1. Items
    2. Inventory
    3. Stash
    4. Looting
    5. Crafting
  2. Player Development
    1. Experience
    2. Attributes
    3. Skill Allocation
    4. Traits
  3. Skills and Combat
    1. Skill Hotbar
    2. Resource Systems
    3. Runestones
    4. Combat

Now, no single game is going to give us everything. Looking at the diablo experience, we have a game and a meta-game. The game is the frenetic clicking during combat, carefully spamming your abilities to eliminate large groups of mobs. In a way, this would be best approximated by a turnless system.

Items follow a theme and variation on base item quality, then slot, then adjectives:

Magical items have a prefix, a suffix, or both. Rare items can have up to six modifiers; 3 suffixes and 3 prefixes, or any combination thereof. Magical items have a 50% chance of a suffix only, 25% chance of a prefix only, and 25% chance of both.

Giving us a "Bronze Hand-axe of Strength" for example. This is best accomplished through a card-based item system, where you have a deck of base items (sorted by "difficulty") with a prefix deck and a suffix deck. The high level of weapon simulation is not appropriate for a PnP game, and therefore we won't look too closely at reach or swing-speed, unless the opportunity presents itself.

The items and "what trees do I level" mechanic form the basis of the meta-game. While a minimalistic game can simulate the choice of trees by offering unlimited options, the abstractness of the minimalistic system prevents the player from gaming the meta-game and coming up with fun/optimal combos in their skill trees.

(This could actually be a fun game to design, almost a cross between magic and a traditional game, but I digress.)

Using Aces and Eights (their showdown suppliment) as a base for the game is a good start, as that removes the turn-taking mechanics of traditional games and replaces them with a "real-time" feel. While it's not frantic action, it's hard to simulate frantic action with any kind of mechanical complexity.

Mapping the item mechanics and the meta-game mechanics will be slightly more difficult. Items can be handled by mapping the ranged and melee weapons of the game to the iconic Diablo weapons. Here, take the trees and stats from diablo II directly, merely translating the numbers into A&8 scale.

Items can be created on 3 index card decks. The main deck is the "drops" deck, indicating the weapon, and its number of prefixes or suffixes. Draw on the prefix or suffix decks until a legal item is found.

While this will take some effort to port, the real-time chart of A&8 will go well with the feel of Diablo. The shot clock will lend a feeling of Diablo's pixel level simulation. Taking the talent trees from Diablo directly solves the problem of the meta-game, requiring only a translation schema to work within A&8's stats.

share|improve this answer
Hackmaster Basic uses an initiative system based on A&8's, and is already a dungeoneering game (and not a parody game like the previous edition). It would be a better base than A&8. – SevenSidedDie Mar 11 '11 at 16:59
Cool. I wasn't aware of the game. You have my permission to edit my post to reflect hackmaster's contributions. – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Mar 12 '11 at 4:26

Many of the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay games have class levels with extensive talent trees as part of them.

share|improve this answer
1st Ed does, 2nd ed less so, 3rd ed does. The mechanics of the 40K setting RPGs (Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Deathwatch) are actually even closer a fit to the modality... but they are not going to replicate the clear class divisions of Diablo. – aramis Mar 10 '11 at 9:58


Yeah I know, but stay with me for a moment. The background/flavor is very different but I think the system fits very nicely with the requirement of having "treed" abilities.

Just take a look at some examples from the official Exalted Wiki:

However, magic (or rather, "Sorcery") does not work along the same lines (and does have certain power level issues) but for the rest I'd say the system mimics D2's skill trees quite well.

share|improve this answer

One that, while the details differ, looks to have a similar modality, is Dragon Age Set 1.

Another, that, surprisingly for me, just occurred to me as having treed fantasy powers: Legends of Anglierre. (FATE system.)

share|improve this answer

It seems to me that Dungeons & Dragons (Fourth Edition) is pretty much a dead-on natural fit for a Diablo-like experience.

share|improve this answer
Not enough loot. Loot needs to fall from every other enemy, then it comes pretty close. – C. Ross Mar 8 '11 at 14:50
No ability trees. Feat trees are too shallow to suit, and powers aren't treed at all. – SevenSidedDie Mar 8 '11 at 16:21
Well, some classes do have an approximation to "treed" powers, like the druid of summer/spring/etc or the mage of the invocation/illusion/etc. school in the Essentials books. Not exactly like Diablo, though. – Adriano Varoli Piazza Mar 8 '11 at 23:05
Loot in a PnP game wouldn't be good for the same reason hit points aren't - lots of erasing. I suppose you could be handing out tons of treasure cards, but like Diablo, most of them would never get used. That's something I'd say is better left to the computers and not really worth emulating. – migo Mar 15 '11 at 11:15
@CRoss I dispute your "not enough loot" claim. You can very easily simulate the "loot falling from every other enemy" phenomenon by dividing up the treasure packages into sub-units and assigning them to all the monsters in every single encounter. OTOH, you get 10 treasure packages per level, and 10-14 encounters per level, so that's already easily "every other encounter". – Viktor Haag Mar 18 '11 at 13:20

Feng Shui is probably pretty close - many treed abillities. However, many of the abillities are modern/scifi, so you might have to trim some options to make it work.

share|improve this answer
I took the liberty of adding a link to Atlas Games' Feng Shui web site – LeguRi Mar 8 '11 at 21:13
Can't agreed; Feng Shui only really has treed abilities in the martial arts, and that only works for a warrior type. Diablo-style wizards/thieves can be played well in FS - but that's not what the question asks. The advancement mechanics don't really match. – Tynam Mar 9 '11 at 12:26

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.