I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Friday, May 12, 2017

Fixing the Charisma problem

Charisma as a dump stat? No way! I'm talking old school D&D here - Charisma is TOO powerful, if anything.

But let's start from the beginning...

Yes, I'm still rewriting Moldvay Basic, one page at a time (and I hope you like that because there will be a few extra posts in the same vein before I finish...).

One things that retro-clones often do when rewriting Moldvay is "unifying" the Charisma 18 to +3 instead of +2 to get it in line with Strength, Intelligence, Constitution, etc. 

This is usually a bad idea, because Charisma is too important in Basic.

If you have a +3 bonus to add to reaction tables, you will seldom, if ever, encounter a hostile monster (less than 3% chance), and almost ALL your offers will be accepted by hirelings (well, you can always offer them LESS money to get a chance of failure, which is a good idea). But, basically, a +3 bonus wrecks the typical 2d6 table (below). In fact, even a +1 bonus to a 2d6 table can often destroy some interesting possibilites. Immediate attack can be fun from time to time!





RollResult

2Immediate attack

3-5Hostile

6-8Uncertain, confused

9-11No attack, monster leaves

12Enthusiastic friendship




Not to mention retainers, or the fact that while some abilities may seem useless for some classes, Charisma can be useful for everybody. Always nice to have a few more fighters by your side!

But I kinda like "unified" stuff lately, and even big ability bonuses - as long as it works. How to fix this?


My current solution to this is that PC modifiers apply ONLY to d20 stuff (with the exception of weapon damage): attacks, AC, saving throws, etc. This allows me to use bigger modifiers (up to +5 for Strength 20, for example) while still leaving chance for failure (I'm currently using d20 skills).

2d6 tables are DM's tools: they define NPC reaction, weather, etc., but suffer no influence from PCs' stats.

What PCs can do is use their own actions (roleplaying) and (d20) skills to improve the results of the DM's roll. Thus, a Paladin with Charisma 18 (+3) and Persuasion +5 rolls 1d20, with a +8 bonus and a DC of 15 (for example), to turn a hostile creature uncertain, or to make and uncertain retainer accept an offer.

A similar check allows a warlord to rally the troops after they fail a morale check (I make retainers check morale once per combat, unlike Moldvay).

This is a nice way to use 2d6 tables in 5e without changing the system; use them as DM's tools.

(d)20 Reasons to start at level 3

Well, not that you should start on level 3. It's your game, do what you want. But 3rd level should be the norm in my opinion. 1st level is good for rookie PCs, character funnels, learning the game or practicing detachment from your character. In most old school editions, simply surviving a dungeon in level one should be viewed as a challenge, not something assumed as ordinary. Sure, everyone should face that challenge - just don't get attached or write a backstory until you get to 3.

Want to start on level 1? Okay, but make it level ONE: 3d6 in order, no special abilities, and keep a blank character sheet just in case. No half measures. You either die a victim or survive long enough to become an hero. And then die.

Want to start with a competent character? Start at level 3.



Well, anyway, it works for me. Here is why.

1. 1st level are victims. They are likely to die if they fight a couple of house cats or fall from a tree.
2. Everybody wants to be a hero. But what if we don't? If first level characters are heroes, we cannot play weaker characters because they barely exist.
3. Normal humans (Moldvay) have 1d4 HP. A blacksmith may have 4 HP and a young child, 1. They still fight like 1st level Fighters, and half a dozen children may kill the fighter in a couple rounds if they attack first.
4. HP inflation. Every gets one HD per level, right? But almost EVERY VERSION of D&D has some different rule why this shouldn't apply to level 1. Maximum HP at level 1, double hit dice at the beginning, starting HP equal to Constitution score, etc. Well, why not start on level 3 instead!
5. 1st level characters become too complex when you want them to be heroes. Take 5e, for example: you start with a background, two or three features from race or class, maybe a feat if you're a human, etc. Where do we go if we want to start simpler?
6. 5e wants you to get to level 3 soon, that is why so little XP is needed in the beginning. Well, if that is the case, why not let 1st level cahrachters be simpler so you make choices later on?
7. In fact, 5e DOES leave some choices to level 3. You cannot choose to be an assassin or thief until level 3, for example. So if you want to start as a thief, start on level 3.
8. Dark Sun did it. Or something like that, I think... And Dark Sun is awesome.
9. Gygax did it. 'Nuff said.
10. You cannot have meaningful single-digit characters and fractional skill unless you start on level 3.
11. If everyone starts on level 1 the Deprived Class loses its meaning.
12. I was reading the 5e Volo's guide the other day... An apprentice wizard has 2d8 HP. And he is a first level spell-caster. So your wizard is not even an apprentice on level 1.
13. Have you written a background? If you took the time to write one, maybe you should have a few extra HP so you don't die in the first round of combat.
14. Start on level 3 and now you level 10 character is only three or four times tougher, instead of ten times. Everything makes more sense, not only falling damage and the amount of arrows you can take before dying.
15. Most "modern" methods of rolling abilities (4d6 drop lowest, etc.) create heroic, strong, competent cahrachters... with about half a dozen HP. How come?
16. Granularity. If most heroes are level three, you can have a level 2 squire, a level 1 peasant, and a level 0 child, for example. A veteran would be level 4 instead of level 1. You could face a few - A FEW - goblins or kobolds at the beginning of the campaign and survive to tell the tale.
17. Arneson suggests HP are meant preserve characters because people get attached to them. If I must spend more than 10 minutes creating a character, he should have a few extra HP and probably some skill to go with it.
18. Also, first level characters were meant for Chainmail. Once we zoom in on the PCs instead of looking at the battlefield, more HP is obviously useful.
19. A first level wizard in Basic may have the same amount of HP as a young child if the GM isn't using optional rules. First level thieves are really bad at skills. First level clerics don't even have cleric spells.
20. In fact, the Basic fighter doesn't even get an attack bonus until level 4. Maybe we should start on level 4 instead? Nah, that is obviously too much!

Yes, some of them emphasize or contradict the others. This is "roll 1d20" table, not "read my arguments carefully and make an informed decision"!

Next post: why you should start at level 0 and why level 1 characters are for self-entitled weaklings! Or something.

(note: I had to republish this to make LinkWithin work as intended; hope it does the trick).

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Languages, alignment or otherwise

Still analyzing and rewriting Moldvay basic. No new page today, sorry. Just some random thoughts about language in Basic D&D.

B13 has a list of languages that is not specially interesting - you've got languages for elves, dwarves, lizard men, etc. It makes sense that every creature would have their own language; in fact, if D&D-world is anything like the real world, each species might have thousands of languages that are mostly incomprehensible to speakers of other languages. This is not particularly useful when running a game. so we get a "common" language that 20% of people speak, thus avoiding to deal with language barriers all the time (still too often, probably), while at the same time having a few extra languages that can give you an edge in one interaction or another.

Works fine, I guess, but I haven't got much to contribute, so there is no point in writing my version of this part of  B13. Unless I use it as a world-building tool - if lizard people speak "Low Snake-speech" instead of "lizard men language", or if dwarves and elves share a common language,  it tells you something about the history of the world.

Modern D&D does something like that, while reducing the number of languages and alphabets to more manageable levels - maybe goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears all speak the same language, for example. Again, works well, but feels a bit artificial and it's not something I feel particularly interested in.

Now, alignment language. It certainly has its fans, but it has plenty of haters and has been mostly abandoned in modern D&D, as it makes little sense unless you see alignment as factions. The main inspiration for the concept is probably Black Speech.

Another problem with alignment languages is that, in theory, it could be used to identify anyone's alignment in seconds, making some interesting interactions impossible.

It is not hard to make SOME sense of alignment language; it might be like Latin for the catholic church, a secret language shared among members of the same team, a gift from the gods to their followers (which fits the idea that you forget it if you change alignment), body language that reveals a character's true attitude, etc. But any people prefer to avoid the concept altogether.

My attempt to make languages interesting include giving each language a special "power" or twist, without going too far into etymology, culture and world-building, and avoiding the most obvious pitfalls. Here are some examples:


Darkspeak: the spoken/written language of demons and the mightiest inhabitants of the Abyss. Only chaotic characters can learn it without a significant risk of going mad, and even them will avoid using it unless they are also demons.

Bastard tongue: the gutural, often unpleasant spoken language of goblins, orcs, minor demons and beings that associate with chaos.

Devani: the spoken/written language of Elysium. Learning this language for any character that isn't lawful is like looking directly into the sun, and many will not survive the experience. Every mortal uses this language with reverence and awe and avoid speaking it out loud - even if they can understand it when it comes form the mouth of an angel.

Prisca: the spoken/written language of the fallen Empire, specially common in religious (lawful) texts and legal documents.

Fae: the spoken (sung) language of fairies and the spirits of the wild. Anyone can learn it, but characters that are not Neutral are suffer greater risk of being charmed by sylvan spirits if they understand their words.

Vulgi: the widespread spoken/written language used by different peoples of the realm, specially travelers and merchants, that allow people from different places to talk to each other.

Thieves’ Cant: the secret language spoken by many criminals and beggars. It can be discretely inserted in regular conversation to pass hidden messages along.

Rún: the written language of magic-user’s spells. Anyone can learn to read it phonetically, but speaking the words out loud is very dangerous for people that are not versed in magic.

Trail signs: the symbolic language of rangers, druids and wilderness explorers marked on trees and stones to identify dangers, pathways, etc. People from different backgrounds often use similar signs, but even when they don't the variations are quickly memorized by the ones that are familiar with the language.

Dialect: each people, tribe, region, etc. has its own dialect. There are thousands of them, but there is a good chance that nearby dialects are similar enough to allow free communication. The more the distance, the smaller the chance of being understood.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

One Page Hacks: Equipment (B12)

Still rewriting Moldvay Basic, one page at a time.

Okay, that was harder than I expected. Moldvay's page B12 is a succinct table of equipment prices. It should be easy to streamline this. But I wanted to have all information in the same page: damage, price, weight, etc. I also added some house rules for weapons.

Not all the original weapons are included, but I've added a few of my own.

I used the silver standard instead of the traditional gold.

Click HERE for the PDF.
I really like the final result, but it is not much simpler than Moldvay's. It includes a lot more information (some of it essential, such as a distinction between fresh food and preserved food (which isn't clear in the original text) , and it uses my simplified "rule of three" encumbrance system (check the link above).

My favorite part is "unifying" the price and weight of most items under "light tools". It might seem strange that all costs and weight the same, but you'll see none of the examples are really absurd. I will probably use this section in my 5e games from now on, too. I'm not a fan of tracking money except for the expensive stuff, and I certainly dislike browsing through a book to find the price (or weight) of a certain item.

In any case, let me here your opinion after you check the PDF (click the link above).

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

One Page Hacks: Character classes and skills (B8)

I'm still trying to rewrite Moldvay Basic, page by page.

Rewriting page B8 was a lot more challenging than I thought. I wanted to add a functional skill system, to B/X, and thought "streamlining" all skills would make it short. Well, not quite.

B8 has a LOT of good ideas in a single page (as it often happens in this book) - specially considering it has a lot of white space.

For example:

A simple rule about trying again, under "open locks" (here are some thought on the matter).

Rules for critical failures, under "pick pockets" (here are some thought on the matter).

Rules for allowing the GM to roll in secret, under "move silently" and "hide in shadows". Not my cup of tea but might be useful, so I've included it.


From these simple rules, it is possible to extrapolate a complete system, including all the stuff that is NOT on Basic but I still use in my games.

Everything is a skill now, including Combat, Turn Undead, Backstabbing, Spell-casting... Each class has its own special skill. No races here; I'll add them somewhere else.

I've had a hard time with the Thief, because it seemed he should have stealth, athletics, back-stab, perception... Ultimately I just used Thievery for everything and removed Athletics from his "mandatory" skills (he'll have Perception and Combat as secondary skills), so the only way you can have a thief-acrobat or mountebank is through some kind of feat or background.

Skills are d20+ability+skill versus DC (usually 15). I.e., it uses the same difficulty as 5e.

The coolest thing? The numbers make sense! They are not exactly like Basic, of course, but I've decide to give the thief a boost, which I think is adequate. But the percentages and progression are not that far from the original.

And you can still use one of my five or six skill systems for B/X if you don't like this one... I have posts for 1d6, 2d6, xd6, 1d20 and 1d30 skills, just look around.

Fighters, on the other hand, have nothing but combat as a mandatory skill (notice his BAB is way stronger than in Basic), so you can create rangers, thugs and paladins through skills and feats.

The XP table is unified.

Anyway, here is my version of B8.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Harder stealth (5e quick fix)

5e quick fixes are exactly what they say on the tin. Small house rules to fix D&D problems you probably don't have. One day I'll put then all in a good looking PDF and the whole will be SMALLER than the sum of the parts - that is how small they are! Use them wisely!

So, you're a ninja.

Somebody has to sneak past the town guards to steal the Jarl's scepter while he is away.

That should be easy. You check the DC, you stealth bonus... Yeah, you only fail if you roll 3 or less. Okay, you're probably not getting caught. But what if you do? Then the Jarl would find all about your ninja clan hiding at the woods!

You need to improve your chances. But how?

Wait - you have a whole clan of ninjas with you! You don't need to do the task alone! You can call your fellow ninjas - they all have a stealth bonus that are similar to yours - and you can ALL sneak past the guards at the same time!

Picture the scene - three hundred ninjas sneaking past the town's gates at night! What are the odds somebody will see any them?

Well, if you're using group checks (PHB 175), the odds are infinitesimally small.

To make a group ability check, everyone in the group makes the ability check. If at least half the group succeeds, the whole group succeeds.

If you have a 15% chance of failure as a single ninja, ten ninjas have less than 2% chance of failing, and if you have a hundred ninjas you can safely add a dozen of untrained peasants to your group and you still have no chance of failing. You can add people that are worse than you (provided they have more than 50% chance of success) and still improve your chances.

It makes no sense.

Granted, this is not a 5e fix: 5e doesn't say you should use group checks for stealth. But many people seem to use this rule for sneaking around, which might be a bad idea.

I like group checks. They are fast, easy and cool. But they are obviously not a great fit for situations where having more people will actually hinder your chances.

And group checks can cause the opposite problem for incompetent PCs. If a group of people is lost in the woods and they must find a way out but each individual has less than 50% chance of succeeding, a group of a hundred has basically no chance of ever finding the way out and will all starve to death.

The idea of rolling stealth "as a group" is pretty bad in combat too. It is nice to have the thief being able to stab the Minotaur in the back while the creature only notices the loud paladin walking around in plate armor. Even better, the paladin may talk to the Minotaur and distract it while the rogue snakes around unnoticed. But in other circumstances, group checks might be useful - trying to infiltrate a place without leaving traces, for example.

If you want to use group checks for such situations, here is a quick fix (first part is from the 5e SRD, second part is my suggestion, adapted from Days of the Damned).

You'll never see them coming!
Group Checks (5e SRD)

When a number of individuals are trying to accomplish something as a group, the GM might ask for a group ability check. In such a situation, the characters who are skilled at a particular task help cover those who aren't.

To make a group ability check, everyone in the group makes the ability check. If at least half the group succeeds, the whole group succeeds.


Otherwise, the group fails.

Group checks don't come up very often, and they're most useful when all the characters succeed or fail as a group. For example, when adventurers are navigating a swamp, the GM might call for a group Wisdom (Survival) check to see if the characters can avoid the quicksand, sinkholes, and other natural hazards of the environment. If at least half the group succeeds, the successful characters are able to guide their companions out of danger. Otherwise, the group stumbles into one of these hazards.

(my suggestion)

Sometimes, the fact that multiple people are attempting the same task at the same time may worsen their chances. The most common example is moving silently as a group, or trying to speak at the same time in a debate. In this case, the GM will add +1 to the roll for each character attempting the task. If there are three characters are attempting a DC 15 stealth check, for example, the DC is raised to 18.

Conversely,  if the situation is such that the task is made easier by the number of characters involved, the GM may subtract 1 from the DC for each member of the party.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Unearthed Arcana: Feats for Skill - Grappler and expertise have been fixed!

The new Unearthed Arcana is out, with feats for skills. Slowly but surely, WotC has been fixing the obvious holes in 5e's skill system. Now everybody has access to expertise (which, really, should've been a thing in the PHB), for example. This is cool for a number of reasons.

First, now anyone can specialize in a given skill, making a multitude of new character concepts possible. Second, with new feats come new possibilities - specially for fighters, that get more feats than anybody else, but not much else in some cases (the Champion, for example).

Combine these two and you get... The Grappling Fighter!

 I just googled "D&D grappling"... Thanks, Douglas!
See, the grappler feat in the PHB is a trap even for grapplers:

Grappler
The hands-down most disappointing entry in the PHB, Grappler is the ultimate trap ability. Its first ability is a worse version of the shove-to-prone combat option grapplers already have. Why invest in a feat for advantage when you can do it with basic combat actions? The second ability is what earns Grappler its green status. A restrained target suffers from disadvantage to all Dexterity saving throws, which works nicely with grapplers who use Dexterity-based spell damage. Or grapplers who have allies using that magic. This is a niche way to grapple but a fun one, so I leave it out there as an option for grapplers looking for new ways to enjoy the combat style. As for the last bullet point, it's a leftover of an earlier edition. As the PHB Errata clarifies, " Ignore the third benefit; it refers to a nonexistent rule". All told, this is the feat that should have made us tick and instead it's one of the first you'll ignore.

Now, look at this new feat from UA:

Brawny
You become stronger, gaining the following benefits:
• Increase your Strength score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
• You gain proficiency in the Athletics skill. If you are already proficient in the skill, you add double your proficiency bonus to checks you make with it.
• You count as if you were one size larger for the purpose of determining your carrying capacity.

This is an awesome feat to every Fighter - nah, to most "warrior" classes, including Barbarians, Paladins, etc. - and it is only a half feat", i.e., you also get +1 to Strength.

With decent strength, double proficiency, and increased carrying capacity, you will be able to grapple most monsters (unless they are more than one size larger than you) with ease and drag them around freely. This is no joke - you can reliably take down a death knight, most demons and young dragons!

Grappling might still be a bit limited - you can find some options here and here - but it just got a lot stronger.

There are lots of other interesting feats there. The medicine skill finally gets some use, you get a new version of the Help Other action, you get to intimidate foes during combat, and so on. Maybe I am not the greatest fan of feats - the bloat went to far in some former editions IMO - but some of these are really good.

I know, I know, many will say there is nothing broken in D&D 5e. But I'm really glad they are fixing it!
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