Before I get into anything regarding the Diablo franchise, I think it’s important to express Charmstone Games’ support and solidarity with the “A Better ABK” movement. To learn more about what they’re fighting for, check out their Twitter profile.
When the original Diablo game was being conceived of, it wasn’t going to be an action title. David Brevik, Diablo’s creator, drew heavy inspiration from X-Com and Rogue. Despite his firm belief in the tension and drama of a turn-based system, eventually pressure from the publisher eventually changed his mind. However, it’s not hard to imagine the game’s rules functioning like a more conventional RPG.
While Diablo has never gotten its own tabletop roleplaying game, it has had two conversions released for D&D. The first was the somewhat uncreatively named Dungeons and Dragons: Diablo II Edition for 2e in 2000. In 2001, 3rd edition got JD Wiker’s Diablo: II Diablerie, which as luck would have it I happen to own.
I usually would write a review of a 20 year old conversion kit, but seeing as Diablo 2: Resurrected just came out, I think I can make an exception. Additionally, since Diablerie works for both D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder 1st ed, there’s still a good chance you could find a playgroup that could easily take on these variant rules.
Let’s go over the biggest features of this add-on.
There are just the five original Diablo II classes to choose from: amazon, barbarian, necromancer, paladin, and sorceress. Unfortunately, no official update was ever released to cover the additional classes from The Lord of Terror expansion. Although once you get an idea of how Diablerie handles them, it wouldn’t be too hard to reverse engineer the druid class from the base handbook. The assassin would probably take a bit more work, but there’s probably enough features between the monk and rogue to cobble one together.
For each class, you get access to a series of “magic abilities” that approximate the effects of in-game abilities. For example, the barbarian can use the “howl” ability to force enemies to make a saving throw or flee in terror. Since 3e didn’t have mana as a resource, some options need a stand-in. The amazon’s “fire arrow” ability, for instance, can be used once per day. Each further use requires her to make a charisma check. If she fails, her mana is considered depleted and she can’t use that ability any more until she rests. Overall, these abilities translate the Diablo II skill tree very nicely into 3e rules.
The Diablerie classes seem quite a bit more powerful than the Player’s Handbook. The magic abilities tend to be stronger than regular class features on the whole. Every class gets two feats in the first three levels while many in the PHB get none. Since humans are the only playable race in the Diablo world, you have a third feat right there. The spellcasters are also beefier, as no class has lower than a d6 hit die.
The classes do have a glaring omission: healing. No class in Diablerie has access to divine spells, so nobody can cas any cure spells. The paladin’s prayer ability provides a small measure of relief, but there just aren’t many class features of spells to regain lost hit points. Funny enough, a barbarian with the find potion ability might be one of the best support options.
Because there’s such a dearth of healing features, potions are much more plentiful. Aside from there simply being more, Diablerie also adds mana and rejuvenation potions. Mana potions recover lost spell slots or depleted magic abilities. Rejuvenation potions, while expensive, recover both hit points and spells. Running low on spells is a constant struggle in 3e, 3.5, and Pathfinder— especially at low levels.
These new potion types make dungeon crawl style adventures quite a bit more feasible. At the same time, it really ramps up the sorceress’ damage output potential skyrocket. While not all spells from 3e are usable in Diablerie, fireball certainly is, so you can chug potions and fling them to your heart’s content. Because potions can keep the action going longer, you’re also not as likely to deal with parties having to camp out in dungeons.
Anyone who’s played Diablo knows the constant struggle that is repairing damaged weapons. Diablerie has one of the easier systems for determining damage to weapons in armor. Every weapon and armor piece has a hardness rating. If a weapon deals damage higher than its hardness or armor it takes damage higher than its hardness, they take half the excess damage rounded down. Weapons and armor lose effectiveness as they take damage and eventually break and become useless.
Diablerie adds in “craft: repair” as a skill, which can allow you to save money rather than taking them to an experienced blacksmith. However, failed attempts can damage or destroy your prized possessions.
In my experience, most tables aren’t looking to commit to more mental overhead by introducing durability mechanics. But if you know some people who are into gritty realism, this is one of the more elegant options. At the very least, it’s an easy way to dip your toe in to see if you enjoy that style of play.
Odds and Ends
The spells in this book only go up to level six even though the progression charts list class features out to level 25, and not every D&D spell makes it over. Like with all divine spells, most utility spells miss the cut. I don’t believe the book mentions those being strictly off limits, but most of the rules of Diablerie focus way more on combat.
Armor is slightly different as well. Not only are there full sets of armor and shields, but there’s also gloves, helmets, and belts. These mainly exist to bolster the armor class of the casters. 3e has kind of a quirky way of determining if certain armor bonuses overlap. Unfortunately for all you salivating melee brawlers, additional great helms, plated belts, and chain gloves would all be considered included in a set of full plate.
This might piss off the 3.5/Pathfinder 1e crowd, but hear me out: I don’t see much reason to return to those editions. I played literally hundreds of hours of it in the 2000s and loved it at the time, so I can see why people still do. I, personally, would rather stick to 5e’s streamlining or go back even further to AD&D if I wanted more crunchy rules. Diablerie, however, could convince me to revisit the 3.5/Pathfinder system. It ups the action and makes characters feel rather strong right out of the gate. It’s not so different that you’d have to spend too long adjusting to the changes, but it’s different enough to really refresh the experience and capture the spirit of Diablo II. It’s sort of a shame more supplements didn’t come out to support it. I would definitely recommend typing to find a copy of these. It’s gotten rather expensive on Amazon, so it might be best to hunt for a PDF somewhere out there.