5e: Hacking the Game—Fallout, Part I

Fifth Edition Fallout

Since this series was completed, the reskins and rules discussed have been compiled into a single sourcebook I’ve called Fifth Edition Fallout, which also includes new additions conceived after the conclusion of the series, as well as a bestiary of wasteland creatures! You can find Fifth Edition Fallout, a starter adventure called A Date With the Queen, and several resources including a tailor-made character sheet over at the Fifth Edition Fallout hub page.

Past versions of the d20 system that powers D&D 5e have proven up to the task of powering RPGs in all kinds of genres, thanks to the Open Gaming License. 5e now has its own OGL, which means it has the same potential. All manner of games based on the System Reference Document are being released or are in the process of development, including Spilled Ale Studios’ own One For All.

I thought it might be fun to write a series of articles walking through how the 5e game might be reskinned to suit a very different setting—in this case, the world of the Fallout franchise. The key word there is “reskinned”, not “rebuilt”. In the end, we’ll definitely have to make some new stuff like monsters, weapons, and so on. We might even have to build some brand new mechanics to integrate into the core rules before the end of this. But, where possible, we want to work with the tools we have.

A quick note on balance: these are obviously not playtested ideas, and balance cannot be guaranteed (not that it is always guaranteed even in heavily playtested final products!). If something seems off to you, I encourage you to make any changes you wish—and to let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Key Features of Fallout

Here are a list of key themes and ideas from that Fallout setting that make it what it is. We we will want to incorporate these, or leave them out only after careful consideration:

  • Radiation. The world of Fallout is a nuclear wasteland. We will need to look at the effects of radiation exposure on a character.
  • Firearms, advanced armour, and other science fiction technology. For the most part, this should just involve expanding on the firearms option in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and considering what other items might be significant enough to have codified game effects.
  • Damage Types. The idea of damage types, damage resistances, and damage vulnerabilities works just as well for Fallout as it does for the Forgotten Realms, but we likely don’t want to keep the same ones. Some will work, eg. acid, fire, cold, lightning, and poison. Others, like radiant or necrotic, simply don’t fit. We’ll likely want to include laser, plasma, and radiation damage types. Thunder can be renamed to sonic.
  • Robots. Before we can decide how we’ll handle robots PCs and NPCs we’ll need to see what we can borrow from constructs, and from released versions of the warforged playable race.
  • The S.P.E.C.I.A.L system. This is Fallout‘s version of ability scores, and also its perk system which could be equivalent to feats and class abilities. Feats are presented as an optional rule in D&D 5e, but my first instinct is that they should be a default part of this Fallout hack we’re building.
  • Unique Races. Fallout has several mutated and robotic intelligent species in addition to humans. There might be two approaches here; reskinning (or altering as little as possible) existing races from the D&D game, or creating new races from scratch.
  • Classes. The setting likely requires fewer classes, and we certainly won’t need the magic-using ones. My expectation here is that we might want to keep the Barbarian, Fighter, Ranger, and Rogue. Certain archetypes and even core abilities may not be wholly appropriate or may need tweaking. Possibly we might have to (or end up wanting to) create new archetypes to fill certain setting-specific roles. It is unlikely we would need to create any brand new classes.

Ability Scores

Let’s start with one of the basic building blocks of the game.

In 5e, characters have six ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. In Fallout, characters are built using the “S.P.E.C.I.A.L” system: Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck.

D&D / Fallout Ability Score Equivalency

D&D Fallout

This maps almost perfectly, except for the addition of a seventh ability score, Luck. Strength, Intelligence, and Charisma are the same in both systems, no surprises there. Perception covers a character’s ability not notice things and their insight—essentially, it’s the same as Wisdom. Endurance is the same as Constitution, and Agility equates to Dexterity.

While it would be nice to rename the abilities to fit the setting, and even in spite of half of the abilities even having the same names, choosing to go with Fallout‘s nomenclature may cause more confusion than it’s worth. Particularly in the case of Perception, which is also the name of a skill. For the moment, let’s use the ability scores we’re familiar with. At least we know they correspond to the abilities a character on Fallout is meant to have! With the notable exception of that seventh ability, Luck.

The S.P.E.C.I.A.L system is a core feature of the world of Fallout, and Luck is part of that (otherwise it would just be “S.P.E.C.I.A”). Even if we’re not technically using the right ability names, it would still be nice to include a Luck ability. But can we justify Luck’s existence? More importantly, can we marry its’ purpose in the source game with mechanical function? If the only version of Luck we can make work has no resemblance at all to how it works in the video game, what’s the point?

In Fallout 4, Luck is useful for increasing the chances of a critical hit, determining how many caps and ammunition you find, and reducing the chance of catching a disease.

Using Luck to detemine loot only works if the GM rolls randomly on treasure tables, and these rolls are rare enough they probably don’t need a core ability to deal with it. Resistance to disease is already convered by Constitution/Endurance. We could use Luck’s modifier to increase critical hit chances, but that would be extremely powerful, and a pretty niche thing to need an ability score for.

I do have a thought for how we can handle Luck. It does require treating the ability score slightly differently than the other six, which may not be to your taste. The option presented below won’t be tied integrally to anything else, and you could simply ignore it:


Luck is a seventh ability score which can sometimes be used in place of other abilities to affect the outcome of a roll. It is not, however, a “super-ability” that can always be substituted for other abilities. Luck should only be rolled when chance can realistically have a significant impact on the outcome of a roll, and when one of the following conditions are also true:

  • The GM can’t decide what ability (or abilities) make sense for what the character is attempting.
  • An ability check using one of the other six abilities was already rolled, but failed to establish a definitive outcome.

Luck can also be referred to rather than rolled as a method of breaking ties. For instance, say the Sole Survivor and a Super Mutant both roll 17 for Initiative, but the Sole Survivor has 14 Luck whereas the Super Mutant’s Luck score is 10. In this case, the GM could reasonably rule that the Sole Survivor acts first in the initiative order.

Unlike other ability scores, Luck is fluid. A character’s Luck bonus can be expended to gain one of several advantages. Conversely, a character with a Luck penalty grants similar advantages to their opponents.

A character can spend their Luck bonus on any of the following:

  • Roll an ability check, attack roll, or saving throw with advantage.
  • Cause an opposed creature’s attack roll or saving throw to be rolled with disadvantage.
  • After rolling an attack, spend one or more Luck to cause the attack to be a critical hit on a result 2 less than 20 per Luck spent. 1 luck = critical hit on 18+, 2 luck = critical hit on 16+, and so on.

If a character has a Luck penalty, the GM can spend points from their penalty in the same manner to give NPCs or even other PCs advantage against the character, force them to roll an attack or saving throw at disadvantage, or to turn an otherwise normal hit into a critical hit.

After a Luck point is spent and its effects occur, the character’s Luck ability is temporarily reduced by 2 (and their bonus is reduced by 1). After a GM spends a point of a character’s Luck penalty, their Luck is instead increased by 2 (and their penalty reduced by 1). Once a character’s Luck bonus becomes +0, no more Luck can be spent by either the player or the GM. The character’s Luck resets to its original score after a long rest.


Fallout wouldn’t be Fallout without the risk and consequences of radiation exposure.

This blog isn’t the place to discuss the effect of radiation poisoning in all its gory detail. Suffice it to say that what begins with symptoms of nausea leads into headaches, fever, dizziness, weakness, and ultimately hair loss, high infection risk, poor natural healing, and other serious symptoms. More detail can be found here.

It strikes me that, as a long-term effect that becomes worse and worse, radiation exposure would be handled well as a condition track similar to Exhaustion. But, in fact, there is a lot of overlap between the mechanical effects implied by radiation poisoning and conditions already in the game. It starts with nausea and vomiting, which resembles the Poisoned condition. Most of the symptoms that follow actually match up to the effects of Exhaustion quite nicely.

This isn’t a problem, and we can embrace it. 5e already has precedent for conditions that cause other conditions. So here is my suggested Radiation Sickness condition track:

Radiation Sickness

You are poisoned.
You gain a level of exhaustion.
You gain a level of exhaustion.
You gain a level of exhaustion.
You gain a level of exhaustion. Halve any hit points or temporary hit points you receive from natural healing or curative items and effects.

As you can see the cumulative effects of radiation are appropriately severe. It starts off with the poisoned condition, which is equivalent to level 1 and level 3 of exhaustion combined. At level 2 of radiation exposure, the character gains their 1st level of exhaustion too. Assuming they aren’t already exhausted, there are no changes to the severity of the radiation yet because the poisoned condition already incorporates the same effects. At level 3 of radiation exposure they gain their second exhaustion level, halving their speed. At level 4 of radiation exposure there are again no changes, since the effect of level 3 exhaustion is already in play. At level 5, their 4th level in exhaustion halves their hit points, and the character suffers halved healing.

Of course, the “dead levels” in the radiation track assume that the character had no exhaustion to begin with. If they earn exhaustion from another source, the effects of gaining an exhaustion level from a radiation exposure level will obviously be more severe. It’s quite possible for a character who has radiation poisoning to ultimately die from exhaustion, instead of from the radiation.

Damage Types

The world of Fallout has slightly different dangers to the world of D&D. For the most part, damage types remain the same. However, the following changes should be made:

  • There is no Force damage type.
  • There is no Necrotic damage type.
  • There is no Radiant damage type.
  • The Thunder damage type is renamed to “Sonic”.
  • The Radiation damage type is added.
  • The Energy damage type is added, and represents laser and plasma-based energy weapon attacks.


The Fallout series has given us the following intelligent species that could work as player character races: humans, non-feral ghouls, super mutants, robots, and synths.

There are two ways to handle this: reskin existing races and try to make as few mechanical changes as possible, or build new races from scratch. The first would be simplest, but perhaps would have less satisfying results—particularly given half the non-human races would still use the human racial statistics. Although the goal was to reskin where possible, this is one of the areas of the game where it might pay to do the extra leg work to create something that feels unique and appropriate to the setting.

I’m going to go ahead and take both approaches, and anyone reading this with plans to actually run a Fallout game can then decide which option they prefer. Each race has its own, custom created statblock (with the exception of humans and Gen 3 synths who are indistinguishable from humans). But along with each entry I’ve also included a note for which existing D&D 5e race or races might work instead, what tweaks might need to be made, and in what publication the race can be found.

Human or Gen 3 Synth

Reskin Race(s): Human (Player’s Handbook)

Use the variant human (Player’s Handbook).


Reskin Race(s): Human (Player’s Handbook) or Variant Human (Player’s Handbook). The ghoul does not get a bonus skill, they are instead immune to radiation damage and the radiation sickness condition.

Ability Scores: Increase your Intelligence by 2 and your Constitution by 1.
Size: Medium
Speed: 30 ft.
Radiation Immunity: You are immune to radiation damage and radiation sickness.
Long-lived: Your greatly extended lifespan is one of the few advantages to your condition. Ghouls have generally lived for a long time as humans before they change, and some have lived since before the bombs fell. As such, you gain either a bonus skill or expertise in a skill of your choice.

Super Mutant

Reskin Race(s): Half-Orc (Player’s Handbook). Change size from Medium to Large. The super mutant does not get the Menacing trait. They are instead immune to radiation damage and the radiation sickness condition.

Alternatively, use the Goliath (Elemental Evil Player’s Companion). Consider flipping the Strength and Constitution/Endurance bonuses. The super mutant does not get the Natural Athlete trait. They are instead immune to radiation damage and the radiation sickness condition.

Ability Scores: Increase your Strength by 1 and Constitution by 2.
Size: Large
Speed: 30 ft.
FEV Mutation: You are immune to radiation damage, radiation sickness, and disease. You do not age physically.
Relentless Endurance: When you are reduced to 0 hit points but not killed outright, you can drop to 1 hit point instead. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest.


In addition to the other traits of a Super Mutant, Nightkin have the following traits:
Stealth Boy: Once per short rest as an action, you can turn invisible. The invisibility lasts for up to to a minute, until you take a hostile action, or until you end it by choice.
Eroded Sanity: Use of Stealth Boys leaves night kins with mental health problems, which usually manifests as paranoia (see Long-term Madness, Dungeon Master’s Guide pg. 260). With GM approval, you can instead suffer from a different long-term madness.

Roll a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw at the beginning of every short rest. If you succeed, you suppress the effects of your madness until the next short or long rest. If you fail, you may choose to spend the entire short rest suppressing your madness and automatically succeed despite your roll. If you do, you gain none of the usual advantage of the short rest. You are always considered to have automatically succeeded at suppressing your madness after an uninterrupted long rest, and you gain all the usual advantages of a long rest too.


Reskin Race(s): Warforged (Unearthed Arcana: Eberron). Consider switching the Strength bonus for an Intelligence bonus, depending on robot model. The robot should probably be immune to poison damage, the poison condition, radiation damage, and radiation sickness. For all of this, trade the +1 to AC normally gained by the Warforged, as well as its +1 ability score bonus. I’d suggest other changes as well, such as not being able to heal normally, but this is already becoming a complete overhaul. In point of fact, this is the one case where I would really recommend using the custom race over any reskin.

Ability Scores: Increase your Intelligence by 2.
Speed: 30 ft.
Machine: You are immune to poison damage, radiation damage, the poison condition, radiation sickness, and disease. You do not need to eat or breathe.

You do not sleep, but enter an inactive state for at least 4 hours every day. You do not dream in this state; you are fully aware of your surroundings and notice approaching enemies and other events as normal.

You cannot use stimpaks and other health recovery items, and instead only recover hit points through the use of robot repair kits. You cannot gain temporary hit points except through your own class abilities and feats. You recover hit points normally during down time thanks to your self-diagnostic functions. Stabilising you requires an Engineering ability check rather than a First aid ability check.


In addition to the other traits of a Robot, an Eyebot has the following traits:
Ability Scores: Increase your Dexterity by 1.
Size: Small
Hover: Your movement speed is replaced by a fly speed, though you cannot ascend higher than thirty feet above ground level.
Integrated Weapons: You possess an integrated laser that deals 1d4 points of energy damage and has a range of sixty feet.

Mister Handy

In addition to the other traits of a Robot, a Mister Handy has the following traits:
Ability Scores: Increase your Wisdom by 1.
Size: Medium
Career in Science: You have been programmed to excel at a specific task. Choose one Intelligence-based skill with which you are proficient. You gain expertise in that skill, doubling your proficiency bonus on related skill checks.
Integrated Weapons: You possess a buzzsaw and a blowtorch on two of your three appendages. Your unarmed attacks deal 1d4 points of slashing or fire damage (your choice at the time of the attack).


In addition to the other traits of a Robot, a Protectron has the following traits:
Ability Scores: Increase your Wisdom by 1.
Size: Medium
Integrated Weapons: You possess integrated arm lasers in both of your arms that deal 1d4 points of energy damage and have a range of sixy feet.

Prototype Gen 2 Synth

In addition to the other traits of a Robot, a Prototype Gen 2 Synth has the following traits:
Ability Scores: Increase your Charisma by 1.
Size: Medium
Hacker: You gain proficiency in the Hacking skill.
Run Simulations: You are adept at seeing patterns. You have advantage when attempting to predict an outcome with an Intelligence-based ability check.

Next Time

In the next article of this series, we’ll take a look at 5e’s classes and any changes to them we might need to consider.

Further Reading

You can find links to further articles in this series here!