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 18, 2018

5e quick fix: Help Action

5e quick fixes are exactly what they say on the tin. Small house rules to fix D&D problems you probably don't have. Use them wisely!

This is how it works in 5e:


You can lend your aid to another creature in the completion of a task. When you take the Help action, the creature you aid gains advantage on the next ability check it makes to perform the task you are helping with, provided that it makes the check before the start of your next turn.
Alternatively, you can aid a friendly creature in attacking a creature within 5 feet of you. You feint, distract the target, or in some other way team up to make your ally's attack more effective. If your ally attacks the target before your next turn, the first attack roll is made with advantage.

Second paragraph makes sense and we will not discuss it here.

First one is needlessly tied to "turns". What if you're going through an ancient library and looking for a forgotten tome? Seems that the help action would be applicable even if there are no turns to be counted.

But it also seems to rely too much on GM fiat.

When can I help? I assume I  must declare HOW I'm helping, and the GM must find my idea reasonable. But HOW reasonable?

Should the Int 8 barbarian be that useful to the Int 20 wizard trying to find the tome? What about that Int 5 NPC that can barely read? What about the Int 14 cleric, should she be MORE helpful than the barbarian?

Can your cat familiar help the Str 20 champion to move a huge boulder?

"Volo's Brazen Strumpets? Dear lord, can this brute even READ?"
Many people would say "the DM will decide arbitrarily depending on the circumstances".

But you know me, I always prefer a simple mechanical solution to "the system is bad, but the GM can fix it if it gets ridiculous".

So here is the fix: the helper must succeed against he original DC divided by two to actually help.

Let's see some examples:

Find a forgotten tome in a huge library (DC 20): the barbarian with Int 8 will roll against DC 10 to be of any help. The chances that we will be useful are fifty-fifty.

Perform an ordinary task (DC 10): it only takes beating a DC 5 to help someone with an ordinary task, so in most ordinary circumstances two heads think better than one. Easy task? You can help 90% of the time even with no bonus.

Moving an impossibly huge boulder (DC 25): the Str 3 is unlikely to beat the DC 13 difficulty to help the champion, but at least there is a 20% chance. The Str 8 wizard would be more helpful, and the Str 16 paladin has more than 50% chance of being useful - 60% or more if trained in athletics.

Of course, the difference between cat, wizard and paladin looks too small, but that's an effect of bounded accuracy. I'd prefer using 2d10 instead of 1d20 for skills anyway!

Another way of dealing with this is group checks. But, as you know, if the Str 20 champion is trying to move a boulder, having a couple of Str 16 folks at his side can actually HINDER his chances! To fix that, try this post: Harder stealth (5e quick fix).

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Slashing/Piercing/Bludgeoning... Hacking!

Fun story: while writing this post, I realized I fixed 80% of the issues I have with 5e weapons with a single sentence:

"If you score a critical hit, you also add the weapon's weight to the damage (maximum 10)".


From the long list of issues with D&D 5e weapons, one thing that bothers me is that there is not enough differentiation between slashing, piercing, and bludgeoning weapons.

There are a (very) few monsters that are susceptible (or vulnerable) to one type or another, slashing can cut nets, and bludgeoning can destroy objects, maybe.

Adding more detail without adding complexity is hard. We'll try to do it anyway, and - here is the challenge - WITHOUT changing anything about the weapon list!

I want to avoid creating new mechanics, as a general rule, so I'll pile my ideas on an existing mechanic: critical hits.

(Random digression: I've considered using margin of success, like I did in Dark Fantasy Basic. Apparently, Pathfinder 2 will do the same. Dragon Heresy has something similar. "Margin of success 10" is something I had recommended for 5e in general, and "AC plus 10" is REALLY easy to calculate. But since margin of success isn't a thing in D&D combat - although there are some ideas in the DMG - I will not add it to the game... for now. Read on.)

WotC people, hear me out: the mace should be a decent (and versatile!) weapon.
Now, while critical hits already have their rules, there space for adding more stuff - including more damage - to them. The best parts of critical hits - divine smite, Brutal Critical, backstabbing - will not be affected.

Also, I do not see how making crits more powerful would cause imbalance. Barbarians get most of their damage from brutal critical anyway. Champion fighters can certainly use the boost. Most other classes won't be too affected.

So, in addition to the normal effects of a critical hit, when you attack with a weapon, you can also choose one of:

* Crush! Add the weapon's weight to damage (maximum 10).
* Bleed! Add half the difference between your attack roll and the target's AC to damage - weapon must be slashing
Impale! Add the difference between your attack roll and the target's AC instead of one of the weapon's damage dice to damage - weapon must be piercing.

(The wording is clunky, but you got it, right? If you beat the enemy's AC by 11, you can deal 11+Str damage instead of 1d6+Str, for example. You can roll the d6 before choosing).

You'll notice that the bludgeoning weapons get nothing... until you realize they are the heaviest weapons in the game. Except for the pike, but that's why the limit is 10 - and the pike automatically gets a much needed upgrade.

Crush your enemies!
What is the point?

This simple fix has a number of interesting effects:

- It makes slashing and piercing weapons better against light armor, and heavy weapons perfect against heavy armor. Yes!
- Barbarians and champions will favor heavy weapons. Nice!
- It automatically redeems the greatclub and the maul. Mace is still a problem...
- It favors "weak" weapons such as the pike, the trident, and the morningstar.
- It makes crossbows devastating (although I might rule that the weight of the projectile/ammunition is 0, giving a nice bonus to thrown weapons - they need it).

Enough with the talk, just give me a random table already!

You see, the point of this exercise is not turn 5e into rolemaster, but actually carefully balance the different aspects of...


Okay, okay.... Here you go.

Critical Hits
When you score a critical hit, roll 1d6 (in addition to usual crit rules):

1. Crush. Add the weapon's weight to damage. For example, if you are attacking with a 4-pound mace, add 4 to damage.
2. Force. Double your relevant ability modifier when calculating damage. For example, instead of causing 1d6+3 damage, you deal 1d6+6.
3. Bleed. If you're using a slashing or piercing weapon against a creature that has a circulatory system or something similar, you can choose to add half your margin of success to damage. If you don't (or can't), use entry 1, instead.
4. Pierce. If you're using a piercing weapon against a creature that has internal organs or something similar, you can choose to pick one damage dice you rolled and replace it with a a bonus equal to your margin of success. If you don't (or can't), use entry 2, instead.
5. Break. If you're using a bludgeoning weapon against a creature that has bones or is made of hard or brittle material, you can choose to pick one damage dice you rolled and replace it with the maximum number you could roll with it. If you don't (or can't), use entry 1, instead.
6. Kill. Choose any two options above and combine them.

Hacking weapons: an addendum

When I stated writing this, I wanted to make axes and similar weapons (maybe morningstars too) some kind o hybrid weapon: part crushing, part slashing. A battleaxe doesn't work like longsword, for example; it is more "chopping" than slashing, better against wood and heavy armor, worse against nets and spiderweb. I considered calling it "hacking" damage. But the "weight" thing solved the issue - now you have a good reason to use a greataxe against someone in heavy armor.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Minions! (5e quick fix)

The problem: 

Tracking hit points for 12 different orcs at the same time - especially if you're not using miniatures.

The (other) problem:

"Warrior" classes have few ways of fighting mobs. Maybe this isn't such a big problem for everybody... but I don't like thinking of a 10th-level barbarian or fighter being taken down by a dozen orcs. How many did Boromir kill? I didn't run the numbers, so maybe I'm wrong about the odds here. Let me know. Anyway...

The solution: 

When you are fighting against a group of minions, all damage is dealt to the group, indistinctively.

There is one single number you track: excess damage.

For example, each orc has 15 HP. If you deal 10 damage to an orc and an ally deals 7 damage to another orc, one orc is killed, and there are 2 points of excess damage. (This doesn't necessarily mean the second orc is dead - it means some orc, for some reason, dropped out of the fight).

If you cast Burning Hands and deal 8 points of damage to four different orcs, total damage dealt is 32 HP. Which means you killed to orcs and caused 2 points of excess damage.

When excess damage reaches a certain threshold, another minion is killed. In the simpler version of this rule, when excess damage reaches 15 HP (the same HP of a single orc), another orc is killed.

But if you like the idea of losing some of the excess damage, you can set the threshold a bit higher - maybe 20 HP or even more.


To avoid absurdity, you can limit this options to melee (within melee reach) and AoE spells that affect all targets, or nearby targets. Ranged weapons are very good as they are, anyway. But then again you might just allow crazy results - imagine a thrown spear that pins two goblins at once! It all depends on the tone you're going for.

Have I seen this before?

Probably. 13th Age has something similar, and even the DMG has a "cleaving" variant that says "When a melee attack reduces an undamaged creature to 0 hit points, any excess damage from that attack might carry over to another creature nearby."

But notice that this isn't exactly the same - this doesn't require you if you wound two creatures with burning hands, for example, you can kill one and leave other barely hurt instead.

Also, I remember discussing this idea in forums and I'm sure someone else must have had similar thoughts.

What's the point?

Avoid keeping track of individual monsters HP. Make running mobs in "theater of the mind" style games a lot easier.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

What's so DARK about Dark Fantasy D&D?

As you might know, Dark Fantasy Basic is my vision of how a dark D&D (BX/5e) would look like.

But why do I call it DARK? I do mention this in the FAQ:

How dark is it?
Not that much darker than the original game, if you think about it. The Player’s Guide has a few hints of dark fantasy (in alignment, spells, classes, etc.), but most of the flavor will come from monsters, adventures, setting, etc.

Some people have said this is a cop out. Fair enough.

I intend to add more "dark" stuff as I go. But the DFB Player's Guide has ALREADY included many things that I consider that reinforce the "dark fantasy" theme.

Here is a small list that may be useful if you're trying to add "dark" elements to ANY version of D&D, or other RPGs.

- Magic is dangerous! DFB treats magic as any other skills - roll against a DC (10+spell levelx2), but with a caveat - fail by 10 more and the spell might turn against you, drain your strength, cause mutations etc. Magic "fumbles" are the worst fumbles of the game. You can cast spells WAY above your level.. but that is asking for trouble!

- Nonhumans are mysterious! I made the player's guide human-only; nonhumans should mostly be monsters (and I plan to mention humanoid monsters in monster's books in the future), I think, although I'm not sure many people would enjoy D&D without demihumans (and, it seems, wouldn't work very well for your setting), so I added a few options.

If you're adding elves and dwarves to your dark fantasy games, better make them rare, mysterious and, preferably, utterly alien.

- Alignment isn't black and white! I prefer Chaos/Law instead of Good and Evil (well, good and evil are black and white after all), but I take a Moorcockian, not Andersonian, view of these forces. No good/evil axis on my game. Many evil foes think themselves to be good...

- The gods must be crazy! Deities are unreliable, and followers too. If a paladin "falls", he doesn't lose his powers, and chaotic deities can give you spells if you bargain for it.

- Sacrifice! I don't think being "deadly" is necessarily a mark of Dark Fantasy. This is a common misconception - dark fantasy heroes do not die like flies, nor must they be foolish or weak. I love DCC's funnel, but dark fantasy, IMO, is more about sacrifice than random death - so characters should have some CHOICE about fighting to the death. Basically, they can fight past 0 HP, but this is incredibly risky.

There are other things that can make a game of D&D "dark", but these aren't in the DFB Player's Guide:

- Monster are strange! Each monster is unique. If you encounter an orc after another, or small groups of identical skeletons, they soon lose all mystery. Another way of keeping PCs guessing is making sure some monsters are alien, well-intentioned or simply dumb instead of downright evil. What's worse, some monsters may be guardians against greater evils.

People are stranger! There is no clear distinction between monster and NPC. NPCs can be, literally or metaphorically, actual monsters, or even something in between - since everybody is prone to corruption of mind, body, and soul, you can never really trust anybody. Maybe not even yourself (see next item).

- Corruption! Madness, corruption, mutation... PCs face threats from within, not onyl from without. As Nietzsche famously said, "Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.".

- The Dark! The Dark is an important element for, well, Dark D&D. In the earlier versions of the game, restricting lighting sources played and important part, and infravision/darkvision was less widespread, as you can see in OD&D (Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, page 9):

In the underworld some light source or an infravision spell must be used. Torches, lanterns and magic swords will illuminate the way, but they also allow monsters to "see" the users so that monsters will never be surprised unless coming through a door. Also, torches can be blown out by a strong gust of wind. Monsters are assumed to have permanent infravision as long as they are not serving some character.

So not only monsters have infravision but also they lose this ability if serving some characters, that are mostly restricted to sources of light that will call their foes attention and can be blown out by wind.

In Dark Fantasy Basic, PCs usually don't have this ability, since they are all human, but I've added it as a feat as an option if you want to play one. I also mention this:

"Carrying a light in the darkness will ruin most PCs’ chances of stealth, but other characters in the party might be able to move around undetected."

So, these are all the "Dark Fantasy" aspects I can think of for now. What about you? How would you describe dark fantasy, or dark fantasy RPGs? How dark are your adventures? Any good games or mechanics to recommend? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, April 20, 2018


The latest post might have been a bit confusing.

This is easier, I hope. Well, if you want a different idea - even simpler - then let me draw that for you.

If you want crunch... read on!

First, get rid of 5e's armor tables.
Now you have this:

- A number of encumbrance slots equal to your Strength. If you fill HALF of these, you're half-encumbered. Fill all, and you're encumbered. Less than half means you're unencumbered.
- Armor takes a variable number of encumbrance slots (1 slot for AC 11, 2 slots for AC 12, 5 slots for AC 15, etc).
- Light armor is AC 12, medium 13-15, and heavy 16-18.
- Cost is 10 gp times AC bonus, squared. AC 14 costs 160 gp, for example, and AC 18, 640 GP (yes, it is cheaper, but you need Str 18 to make the most of it). You can get cheap armor for one quarter of the price, but you suffer a -1 penalty to AC.
- AC 15 or higher gives you disadvantage in stealth.
- Dexterity gives you a variable bonus to AC.
- Armor proficiency works as usual.

The bonus is:

* Start with column A.
* If you're using armor, and your armor's AC is greater than your Str, move one column to the right.
* If you're half-encumbered (i.e., half of your encumbrance slots are filled), move one column to the right. If you're encumbered, move two columns to the right instead, and speed drops by 10ft.
* If you're using medium amor, move one column to the right. If you're using heavy amor, move two columns to the right instead.

(The table below is the "smoother" version from last post; remember, column C is the ability modifier you're used to. Notice that there is no column "F"; if you move one column to the right of E, you cannot get a bonus from Dex, but you can still get a penalty).


Some examples:

Unfettered build (AC 17):
No armor, Str 8, Dex 20, unencumbered - use column A, get AC 17. With only 8 encumbrance slots, this PC must travel light at all times to keep the high AC. Light armor would raise your AC to 18; if you're carrying a shield and weapon too, you'd lose the unencumbered status, but raise AC to 20.

Traditional thief (AC 19):
Light armor (AC 12), Str 12, Dex 20, unencumbered - use column A, get AC 19.

Brutish rogue (AC 17):
Medium armor (AC 14), Str 14, Dex 16 - use column C, get AC 17. If you manage to stay unencumbered - not an easy thing to do - your AC is 18.

Heavy and fast (AC 20):
Heavy armor (AC 18), Str 18, Dex 14 - use column D, and you get AC 20. Notice that with 18 encumbrance slots, and 8 of those being filled by armor, is practically impossible for this build to be unencumbered. What this build can do is use a shield - and get to AC 22!

But... I don't like these ABCDE tables!

You can have a similar result by just giving +1 AC to anyone who is unencumbered, provided their DEX is 10 or higher, and -1 to anyone whose strength is smaller than their armor's AC.

What's the point?

As always, we want to give people good reasons to have BOTH Str and Dex. Notice that most of these builds require both, which is suboptimal by RAW, but they get a small AC boost in this system. In practice, PCs will rarely be unencumbered.

Side effects may include:

* Duels! In duels, BOTH sides are more likely to be unencumbered, which makes the fight lasts for a bit longer... perfect!
* Giving a reason to have odd ability scores.
* Making encumbrance more meaningful.
* Making each point of Str/Dex count.
* Making each armor unique (you might be better off with AC 13 than 14, for example, but it all depends on your stats). You might have different sets of armor for dueling, exploring, traveling, etc.

Adverse effects:
* Dex becomes even more useful.
* Barbarians/monks might need fine tuning. Paladins in plate may suffer a little if they have Str 16 or less and low Dex.
* ACs might become higher all around - although the difference is seldom greater than +1 or +2.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

More Dark Souls WEAPON MADNESS for 5e D&D

Tonight we are going into mega-crunch levels of madness! Bring out your pocket calculator because this is getting fiddly!

Nah, not really. In fact this is quite easy, but probably too fiddly for D&D 5e.

Take this as a though exercise.

I wouldn't use as a replacement for the actual rules, but maybe as an option for some players. Why not? If you do the math, you'll see they are getting +1, +2 damage at most...

But I digress.

Here is the deal: we are not messing with "to hit" bonus for now. Just weapon damage.

As you know, in modern D&D, your damage bonus is based on your Strength (or Dexterity, but let's start with Strength): subtract ten, divide by two, round down, and add to damage. So a 1d4 weapon in the hands of a Strength 16 or 17 fighter deals 1d4+3 damage.

I suggested some weapons should get twice this bonus in GURPS D&D, but we'll leave that aside for now.

My suggestion is something less extreme, although a bit crunchier: instead of  subtract ten from ability and dividing by two, some weapons will divide your bonus by three or four, or even multiply it by 2/3 or 3/4.

Dark Souls calls this "scaling":

The Parameter Bonus rating, also known as Scaling, is a gameplay mechanic in Dark Souls. It indicates the level of bonus damage one can do with a weapon, based on the associated stats. This rating can be S, A, B, C, D or E (in order from most to least bonus for the associated skill). Strength and Dexterity will increase the physical damage...

So, an "Strength A" weapon will benefit greatly from Strength, while a "Strength E" weapon will barely benefit from it.

In this regard, Dark Souls is more interesting than 5e: depending on your "build", you might favor a greataxe over a greatsword, for example, something that is near impossible for the 5e fighter (although a greataxe might be slightly better for a barbarian).

Let's play with the concept.

We will use the letter "C" for the usual bonus to damage (i.e., Strength-10/2), and add some new possiblites:
Letter Scaling Formula
A 0.75 Ability-10*3/4
B 0.66 Ability-10*2/3
C 0.50 Ability-10*1/2
D 0.33 Ability-10*1/3
E 0.25 Ability-10*1/4
Complicated? Not that much. Most weapons get a C, which means Strength 16 adds a +3 bonus... But if you have a Strength 16 fighter with a B weapon, he gets a +4 bonus instead, while a D weapon will only give him +2.

Here is a nice table showing the exact numbers, up until that Barbarian with Strength 24:

8 -2 -1 -1 -1 -1
9 -1 -1 -1 0 0
10 0 0 0 0 0
11 1 1 0 0 0
12 1 1 1 1 0
13 2 2 1 1 1
14 3 3 2 1 1
15 4 3 2 2 1
16 4 4 3 2 1
17 5 5 3 2 2
18 6 5 4 3 2
19 7 6 4 3 2
20 7 7 5 3 2
21 8 7 5 4 3
22 9 8 6 4 3
23 10 9 6 4 3
24 10 9 7 5 3

Notice that the "C" column is the "ability modifier" you're used to.

So, let's get some of the worst weapons from 5e: the mace, the clubs, flail, morningstar, war pick and trident. Give them a "B" rating and, voilà: now the barbarian will pick the morningstar over the rapier!

Add great to the list... and now a Strength 20 fighter will pick the greataxe over the greatsword!

But wait - you might say - I actually LIKE my barbarians using rapiers, and I WANT the greatsword to be better than the greataxe!

Well, here is the deal: you can add Dexterity scaling to the weapon in addition to Strength scaling!

Say, for example, that you add "Strength C / Dexterity E" for all finesse weapons, all swords, and spears. The "finesse" trait just mean you can switch the two around (Dexterity C / Strength E).

Which means: the Strength 16 warrior will usually prefer a morning-star over a rapier. BUT if his Dexterity is 13, both weapons will have equal damage. If you have BOTH Strength 16 AND Dexterity 16, the rapier (or spear) is definitely better. And so on.

Of course, at this point you might be picking up you calculator...

Some perspective on damage

If you haven't read this, take a look.

In short: the +1 or +2 bonuses to damage these rules will give you are a lot smaller than they look, and only barbarians will get a few +3s.

Also, keep in mind that in most cases 1d6+4 is worse than 1d8+3 because of critical hits, specially for barbarians.

What's the point?

This solves a decent amount of problems:

- Does away with "useless" weapons.
- Creates more interesting, varied weapons,
- Strength is always useful, even with finesse weapons.
- Dexterity is useful for all fighters - even if you have high Strength.
- Odd abilities (11, 13, 15, 17, 19...) gain some utility.
- Encourages stronger characters to pick heavy weapons, and dexterous characters to pick lighter ones.
- More specifically, monks get additional reasons to use lighter weapons, barbarians get additional reasons to use heavier weapons, and fighters will be encouraged to use different weapons in accordance to their specific build,s most of which will be very flavorful.

My head hurts from the math! Let's see some actual examples!

Mace, Greatclub (Strength B)
There is little to no reason to use these weapons in 5e: the quarterstaff is versatile, in addition to being cheaper/lighter. With these rules, anyone with Strength 13+ will pick one of them over the quarterstaff.

Sickle (Strength C / Dexterity E)
You'd usually pick a handaxe over a sickle, but if you're dexterous enough, this weapon might be a better choice.

Greataxe (Strength B) 
Once reserved to barbarians, now the greataxe is useful for anyone with Strength 13+. Because of how critical hits work, the greatsword has an almost identical damage, unless your Strength is REALLY high.

Greatsword (Strength C / Dexterity E)
Now the greatsword requires good Dexterity for maximum effect. Nice!


As you can see, I used only the letters B, C and E. You can easily add "Strength D/Dexterity D" to some weapons that require an equal amount of Strength and Dexterity, and even "Strength A" for GIANT weapons.

Maybe SIMPLE weapons would have Strength D as an option, to allow Strength 9 wizards to cause damage without a penalty.

Two weapon fighting? Maybe Strength letters get degraded by one level in the main hand, two levels in the off hand... Or something. The ideal is that Dexterity scaling allows dexterous characters to gain more benefits form dual wielding.

Ranged Weapons? Let us give them some Strength scaling, shall we? Or try this.

In Dark Souls, some weapons scale with "mental" abilities. A nice addition to spellcasters! Or check this out.

The 3/4, 2/3, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4 progression is arbitrary: you could easily use something less extreme (for example, 0.7, 0.6, 05., 0.4, 0.3).

Here is a smoother table if you want it. I think I actually prefer this one:

8 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1
9 -1 -1 -1 0 0
10 0 0 0 0 0
11 1 1 0 0 0
12 1 1 1 1 1
13 2 2 1 1 1
14 3 2 2 2 1
15 3 3 2 2 1
16 4 4 3 2 2
17 5 4 3 3 2
18 6 5 4 3 2
19 6 5 4 4 3
20 7 6 5 4 3
21 8 7 5 4 3
22 8 7 6 5 4
23 9 8 6 5 4
24 10 8 7 6 4
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