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

Saturday, July 21, 2018

ONE THOUSAND MAGE CLASSES with six simple choices

(discussing ideas similar to this post).

So, 5e has wizards, sorcerers, warlocks, druids, clerics, not to mention paladins, rangers, arcane knights, and so on. It seems everyone has some access to spells. Which is okay I guess - D&D is a game about magic after all (one day I'll write a post about that, but, consider: there are less than 30 types of melee weapons in the game, and half a dozen fighting styles, but more than 300 spells and as many magic weapons).

However, I the distinction between sorcerers and wizards and warlocks and clerics and druids etc... doesn't really convince me. This is not about 5e, but D&D as a whole; I'm using 5e to illustrate.

The sources of power are different. One studies books to get spells, the other one has spells given by a patron, other by a deity (what if the patron is a deity?), other has magic running in their blood (why can't THEY have any advantages when finding a patron or studying spells), etc.

Each class is tied to one ability: Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma (you can do a muscle-mage or something, but lest stick to the basics here). Ok, the "smart"mage must have Intelligence, but why does the guy that makes deals with obscure deities be so charismatic? Sure, you could say he sweet-talked the ancient demon in giving him powers... but using ancient books to find a demos's true name and binding it is a viable alternative, right? Or at least a cool idea. Of course, Wisdom is usually better than Intelligence or Charisma for reasons discussed here.

There are also spell slots/spell lists. Some classes get more, some classes recover faster, and some can even create new slots on the fly... But there is no reason for the "smart" wizard to be unable to trade some additional spell slots for the ability to recover them faster, for example. Likewise, there are spell lists: some are huge, some are reasonably small, and some are very thematically defined - but it's all quite arbitrary nonetheless.

There are also taboos. Druids cannot wear metal armor. Wizards cannot cast spells in armor (unless proficient). And so on.

Of course, 5e has usually no consequences for spell-casting (except for the Wild Magic table but... those are really bad... which is a whole different subject). My Dark Fantasy Basic has some: you can enrage a deity, cause a spell mishap, forget spells, etc. But, again, this choice doesn't need to be tied to past choices: you could forget a spell that was given by your deity, for example.

In short: there are endless combinations to create with those distinct pieces.

d6 Source Taboos Consequences
1. Study Limited Weapons Insanity
2. Deities Limited Armor Forgetfulness
3. Spirits Limited weapons/armor Enraged Deity
4. Ancestry Pacifism Spell mishap
5. Artifacts Sacrifice Exhaustion
6. Accident Poverty Demon Summoning
d3 Spell list Ability Spell slots
1. Huge  Wisdom Many
2. Medium Intelligence Some
3. Small Charisma Few

We have more than ONE THOUSAND combinations right there, even if you forbid the most powerful ones (say, for example that Wisdom casters must have few spell slots or a small spell list, or disallow a huge spell list with many spell slots, etc).
Let's try a few that aren't in 5e:

- An Int-based Cultist who gets his spells from Chthonic deities, has limited weapons and armor and is subject to insanity.
- A Wis-based Reality Bender who can shape reality through sheer willpower, but cannot used all weapons and get exhausted if his powers are pushed.
- A Cha-based Shaman who communicates with the spirits of the wild, with limited armor, and prone to calling the attention of angry spirits by accident.
- An Int-based White Mage who uses his arcane knowledge of ancient texts to cure the wounded.


And let's try one that I've just generate randomly: 3, 4, 2, 2, 3, 3. So, she gets her spells from spirits, must be pacifist, will forget spells when thing go wrong, has a medium-sized spell list, casts with Charisma, and has some spell slots. Obviously some kind of Spirit-courtier, an Old, benevolent Witch, or a Shugenja from older editions.

Change a single roll - say, if her taboo was that she must perform sacrifice - and you've got an evil priest, possibly clad in heavy armor and using a two-handed weapon.

Of course, you don't need to create entirely new classes to play with this - just tweak the existing ones.

Cultist = Intelligence-based Warlock.
Reality Bender = Wisdom-based Sorcerer.
Shaman = Charisma-based druid.
White Mage = Intelligence-based Cleric.

(Just remember my thoughts on Wisdom, as mentioned above).

And so on. But abilities aren't the only thing you have to change - the source of power (which is mostly fluff anyway) can be changed at will. A cleric without a deity, for example, is not difficult to do.

Here is one example from a real campaign I run a while ago:

Mad scientist Iron-man Kobold. This character created himself a magi-tech armor that was pretty much part of his body; he didn't "learn" new spells, but improved his armor to be more powerful and versatile. Unfortunately, the amor would "malfunction" from time to time, with odd consequences. In practice, this was just a Intelligence-based Wild Sorcerer, remade to fit the player's ideas.

What's the point?

More options are usually nice, specially when you do not have to increase complexity to get it - you are not adding any new pieces to the mix, just playing with the ones you already have.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Better weapons through crits: fast, unbalanced, and brutal (5e)

After writing this post, I've noticed I am repeating myself on some subjects. The reason is that I'm writing a Manual of Arms for 5e, so I'm constantly thinking about these matters. Thought it might be interesting anyway, but if you're not into my 5e weapon musings, skip this one.

I've said this multiple times already but: the 5e weapon list is idiosyncratic (some decisions don't make sense), unbalanced (some weapons are obviously better than others), and a bit boring (some weapons are just too similar to one another).

The main offenders, as seem in the link above, are the mace, the morningstar, the trident and the greatclub. There are other bad weapons (pike, glaive/halberd, etc), but lets focus on the worst four.

While it isn't hard to fix these weapons, it is not easy to different weapons without adding new weapon properties. But that would necessarily make the game a bit more complex, and combat could get slower.

Critical hits are also a bit samey and boring in 5e: just roll some extra dice regardless of weapon. 3e at least tried to differentiate them (despite the ridiculous "confiming crits"). 4e was faster, with a result not dissimilar to 5e: maximum damage. It also had different weapon properties. 1e did "weapon versus armor", good idea but bad implementation. The RC had a whole Weapon Proficiency system. And so on.

In 5e, as you know, weapons are not really distinct or interesting unless you pick the right feat; then you can charge, power attack, stop movement, etc.

It seems that altering critical hits is the easy way to differentiate weapons. It doesn't affect combat in most rolls, and when it does, it does so in an exciting way. I touched on the subject here.

A decent critical hit table could solve things. However, I have somewhat bad memories of the endless tables from my Rolemaster games (and good ones too - I just disliked the endless rolling every turn).

Instead, just give a few different criticals to go with each type of weapon.

Versatile morningstar in Dark Souls. - source.
Let's start with fixing the for main offenders: what do they have in common? Well, all those weapons seem to be... a bit clumsy? Maybe the reason they are worse is because they are farming/fishing implements used as weapons. Which, for many readers, might be reason enough to keep things as they are. I just think these weapons look cool and I want them to be useful!

GURPS would call most of these weapons "unbalanced"; weapons that, unlike a sword or quarterstaff, have one side that is significantly heavier than the other, and might be slower because of that (but, in GURPS, they often deal more damage).

One option is giving them extra damage on crits. I call this property "Brutal" to go with the barbarian. Maybe something like "on a critical hit, the first damage die die you roll deals maximum damage (for example, 6 on 1d6) regardless of the result".

[another option would be just giving all these weapons +1 damage. Yes, the mace would do 1d6+1 damage, worse than 1d8 because of crits, but still a lot better than 1d6. Seems like a missed opportunity for 5e that no weapon works this way, but 1d6+1 in a table full of 1d4/1d6/1d8/1d10/1d12 does look ugly... of course, 2d6 also looks ugly and is in 5e for no decent reason. But I digress.].

You could probably create an interesting property to all Unbalanced weapons, not only these four. Maybe adding the weapons weight (maximum 8 or 10) to damage, as I suggested before. Makes the greataxe a bit better.

How about Fast weapons? Weapon speed usually make games a lot more complex, but it wouldn't be much of a problem if it only matters on crits. In 5e, the only weapons that are actually "faster" are light weapons - a rapier is no faster than a maul, since the number of attacks remains unchanged.

To make a weapon fast in 5e we could take a page form my Dark Fantasy Basic and give it one extra attack on a crit. Or use something similar to the Great Weapon Master feat, allowing one attack with a bonus action... or give it advantage if you already can attack with you BA.

And, as I've said before, all these things tend to make heavier weapons (and specially unbalanced ones) good against heavier armor, since the higher the opponents' AC is, the greater the chance that this extra attack will miss.

You could even create a continuum between Unbalanced and Fast - dagger on one extreme, maul on the other, with longsword close to dagger and greataxe close to maul... While this looks complicated, it wouldn't be hard to implement with a single digit. Say, "Unbalanced (5)" means it can add 5 points of damage on a crit, but it would take a -5 penalty when you make an attack using a bonus action... Or maybe -5 penalty to you next attack, unless you use a bonus action to balance the weapon. Or go the opposite way and have a single Balanced property that would allow you to get a bonus when attacking with a bonus action.

Bonus points if you mesh this with scaling weapons... Finesse weapons would be faster, heavy weapons would be slower. Although using weight takes care of the issue: dexterity weapons are usually lighter anyway (except for the heavy crossbow etc.).

Being a fan of elegance in game design, I'm very tempted to solve all these issues with a single keyword, of course, instead of adding more and more mechanics.

It's certainly doable, but I'm not sure how desirable. I mean, there are multiple solutions - but since WotC didn't bother, I'm afraid most fans may ignore it as well.

Sigh. Well, what can I do? I just like medieval weapons.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Moon-headed Giant

(For an idea by Eric Nieudan)

Armour class: as plate
Hit dice: 8
Move: normal
Attacks: 2x meteoric sword (1d8+1/1d8+1) or other +1 weapon.
No. Appearing: 1
Morale: 9
Treasure: 10,000 SP plus meteoric weapon
Alignment: mostly Chaotic.

Moon-headed giants were once satellites to a forgotten planet that orbited the Black Sun. For the first time in a millions of years, they aligned enough to anti-eclipse the Black Sun for a couple of seconds, and give a small respite to the miserable creatures that inhabited the planet.

It was enough.

The evil star cursed the five moons to live as deformed giants in a far away planet, never to return to the dark skies they used to call home.

Now banned from their original system, these lunatic giants are plagued by bouts of depression, alternated with maniac phases. They often try to conquer or build empty castles so they can rule over nothingness as if it where the dark skies they lived in the past.

They display a keen interest on silver, rare minerals and inanimate matter from outside their current planet, and wield +1 meteoric weapons of their own making. They hate the bright sun almost as much as they hate the Black one and prefer to dwell in the dark, sometimes venturing out during the night.

Fairly intelligent but unstable and mostly disinterested in human affairs, they can be reasoned or bargained with until they get bored or angry - although each Moon-headed Giant (Blood Moon, Gold Moon, Broken Moon, Bad Moon and Cold Moon) has its own distinct personality, not always compatible with the others.

This monster is released under a CC-BY license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

Friday, June 29, 2018

Old school initiative is the BEST initiative

As you might know, my favorite types of D&D are BX and 5e - because I find them to be the easiest ones. I'm not really into AD&D (or 3e/4e for that matter) becasue I find it to be needlessly complex with its tables, weapon speed, strange XP charts, etc (most AD&D fans usually reply that they weren't using most of the rules anyway).

Which means: when it comes to D&D, I usually prefer to err on the side of simplicity.

Now, one thing I actually like in old school D&D that is a lot MORE COMPLEX than WotC D&D is the intricate initiative system that we see in AD&D (and probably OD&D, BX etc, although AD&D is more detailed - there is a famous 20-page document trying to make it SIMPLER). Although it might be unclear and not easy to understand, the ideas behind the system are in many ways a lot more intuitive - and sensible - that anything WotC has used in their games.

Modern D&D initiative is mostly an abstraction without footing in the real (or fictional) world. It often feels "fake" or artificial - even tough I find it good enough to just ignore most of the time. This has nothing to do with "Greyhawk initiative", BTW, who feel more gimmicky than real IMO, although its goal is probably the same as mine.

Old school initiative, on the other hand, tries to reflect what would REALLY happen in a battle. To see what I'm saying, try to picture a fight. Not necessarily in a boxing ring, but IN YOUR IMAGINATION - maybe with monsters, and spells, and swords, and missiles.

First, the parties would see one another and quickly EVALUATE the other side (are they approaching fast? Are they scared? this is the declaration phase, BTW). Distance would be vital - if they're close enough, the thief might stab the enemy wizard before he draws his magic wand. If one side is using bows, they might get a shot or two if they are far enough, but once the other side closes in... the bow is nearly useless. If parties are reasonably far, one side may choose to flee before the other side can reach them - unless the other side has bows or spells. If both want to fight, who moves first doesn't matter - its all about who strikes first. One could always say a few words before getting pursued and hit, but a spells might take a few seconds to perform - can the barbarian reach the Wizard before his allies are hit by a fireball? And so on.

This is what initiative is for - the action, the tension, the tactics, the randomness and unpredictably.

Most modern initiative mechanics have no function in the fiction: there is no reason why the dexterous character should act before someone who is smarter or more attentive, for example, and there are mechanical incentives to do things that would make no sense in the real (or fictional) word, such as staying 35 feet away from you opponent for the fear he might approach and attack before you do anything at all.

Of course, the upside of new school initiative is that it is really easy - just roll a dice and see who goes first. Arguably, they might be easily replaced with a coin toss with no significant loss. And, to be honest, that would be alright - make it so simple that it doesn't get in the way.

Anyway, let me illustrate my point to be clearer.

Imagine your PC is a soldier of the blue faction, walking down a road. The GM says: "you see a red soldier turning a corner... you're 30 feet away from him... roll initiative!"

PC: "15!"

GM: "He rolled 19! He walk to you and attacks you three times!"

PC: "Huh... okay".

Some situations can get even more ridiculous. Say you can move 30 feet, for example, and you're 50 feet away from your enemy, both with no ranged weapons. Nobody wants to approach first - since this means you cannot hit your enemy but your enemy will be able to hit you, even if you're holding a long sword and he is holding a dagger.

Or imagine your enemy is prone (in 5e): if he wins initiative, he can stand up, walk to you, and attack you a couple of times before you can do anything.

Not to mention silly things such as the infinite line of fighters: fighter A moves and strikes fighter B, who then moves and strikes C, "ad nauseam", covering the space of a mile in six seconds.

How should an actual fight go?

If both sides want to fight, both should approach at the same time. Then they would exchange blows. Any side with ranged weapons might have a change to attack. The longest melee weapons will always attack first. Complex actions - such as moving 30 feet, than attacking four times, then casting a cantrip with a bonus action - would be broke down into smaller components - maybe you can move 10 feet before your opponent shoots you with an arrow, for example.

But... this would be TOO complicated, right?

Well, we will see in the next post.

(Thanks Telecanter for the silhouettes).

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Ask what YOU can do for the OSR!

Beloch Shrike started an interesting thread over G+ :

My humble contribution:

One things that occurs to me is BETTER REVIEWERS. We have 10-foot pole, a couple of guys calling things "s**t", and dozens of people who say everything OSR is awesome (and, sincerely, it is not - not even some of the most applauded stuff). 
One guy did "Umerican x MCC" the other day, thought that is a great idea: this way he HAS to point the pros and cons of each one.

Lots of people gave their own ideas... And Beloch compiled them all.

I, for one, intend to help as I can... maybe write more reviews if that's what you want to read. I'd say I'm already writing a lot about mechanics, and I often compliment and disucsss other blogs/people etc. 

But let me know in the comment about what kind of stuff you'd like to read... or what books are you interested in, your favorite subjects, etc. This is always helpful!

Without further ado, the current list.


Do you want to make a meaningful contribution to the OSR? Something that will stand out from yet another blogger writing about yet another house rule that nobody will ever use? Something that will make the community better?

According to yesterday's thread, here's how you can do that, sorted from least to most effort.


Start a thread discussing games in some way that isn't just shilling for someone's product. What mechanics are on your mind? What do you wish could be better? What would be useful to you? More threads like this go a long way towards making g+ more interesting. More convivial discussion about games is the single biggest thing we can do to make the OSR work better.

Blogs should be treated as part of a conversation, not as a performative lecture. If you disagree, don't just ignore a blog post, explain why you disagree. If you like it, don't just +1 or reshare, add your own thoughts to the conversation. Make critiques and suggestions. Do this in the blog's comments, or in google+ threads, or in blog posts. More blog posts should be responses to other blog posts.

Give feedback to artists. It's nice to give general compliments, but it's way nicer if you can find something specific to compliment. "Great stuff!" is nice, but "I like the detail on the fingers" is better. Constructive criticism is also great, just don't be a dick about it.

Step outside g+ and represent the OSR on other platforms where general RPG discussion happens. Reddit, Twitter, Facebook. Let them know we exist. Take a few minutes to explain to them why we think the way we do.

If you speak the lingo of RPG communities outside the OSR, help those communities cross-pollinate. Bring us their cool ideas. Take our cool ideas to them.

If you find good, usable game stuff, spread it around. Share it. Let people know it exists.


Run open table games. Do this online, and in real life. Do it both for people who are already in the OSR, and for people who may (through your game) become interested in the OSR. This helps like minded people find one another, introduces people to OSR style games, and most importantly it keeps us all playing.

Tutorials, primers, and other tools to help first-timers tackle layout. Information design makes all the difference in an RPG book. The more of this knowledge we can spread through our community, the better our books will be.

More information to help new people get into and acclimate to the community. Primers on lingo, lists of places to get useful information, collections of links and people to follow, demonstrations of how OSR play can be done. Aggregates of all those things. I, for one, was "part of the OSR" for about 3 years before I knew what "B/X" meant.

Many folks mentioned interest in seeing more small adventures getting publish. A couple pages and a map collected into a semi-polished free pdf is more likely to get you noticed than a month's worth of blog posts.

A lot of things people want already exist, but they're scattered throughout pdfs and blog posts that not enough people know about. Collecting existing information into a single collection of links, and spreading that information around, will help people.

For those with the skills, there's always a need for more software tools like those made by +Ramanan S (http://save.vs.totalpartykill.ca/web-apps/), +Logan Knight (https://www.lastgaspgrimoire.com/generators/), +Brendan S (http://osrsearch.blogspot.com/), and +Alex Schroeder (https://alexschroeder.ch/wiki/RPG).

OSR games that aren't fantasy. Space adventures games, horror games, kids games, using OSR design principals.


The number 1 thing the OSR needs is more reviewers. People who do the hard work of finding new stuff that nobody has ever heard of, reading that stuff, and getting into the nitty gritty of what is good and what is bad. Bryce Lynch of 10' Pole is a great model for how to do this right, but there's more stuff being produced than he can parse on his own.

A matchmaking service that helps people find OSR games to play in would be crazy useful.

People's projects tend to slip out of mind after a month or so. A catalogue of available books, PDFs, & zines, blogs, or even specific blog posts, would be insanely helpful. Not only would it help people to find stuff they're interested in after it stops being talked about, but it would help creators by getting a little more money flowing into their pockets.

Public domain artwork is a great way for smaller publications to break up their text. There are many resources for public domain art online, but collecting those, and even searching out some of the more game-worthy pieces would be a great help.

A periodic look at the community, what work has been done with it, what is good, what deserves notice. The RAMMIES are a good start.

An actual play podcast, or Twitch stream, or YouTube series, or PeerTube series. One that is actually good, with quality audio and focused players. This sorta thing is the future of RPGs. The sooner the OSR gets its foot in that door, the better off we will all be for it.

Better OSR videos in general. Nobody wants to watch a recording of people rambling at one another in google hangouts. This would be a great venue to help new people acclimate to the community.

OSR material that appeals to 5e players. They're the biggest group of tabletop players, they're the group most first-timers will gravitate towards. Bridging the gap between their lame game and our cool games is just good sense if you want the community to grow and evolve.

A frequently-updating OSR news blog, run responsibly.

A podcast that is like House To Astonish but RPGs. Some news, smart people talking, some reviews of new things. Wit and analysis all at once. So that you can learn about new products (which, face it, is a slog bc theres so many--which is good) while being entertained and listening to a smart conversation

A catalogue of people in the OSR who are for hire, with contact information and samples of their work. Help the people in the community get paid!


ConTessa can always use help. Visit http://www.contessa.rocks/ or contact Stacy Dellorfano on Facebook.

Santicore is always behind schedule! You can talk to +Steve Sigety about what is needed to get things on track.

Blogs on Tape has really unreliable updates! You can talk to me about helping with that.

The One Page Dungeon contest is a long standing tradition in the community. Aside from contributing it, I'm sure there are many ways a person could help out. https://www.dungeoncontest.com/

The ENNIES have a huge influence on how people outside the niche communities find new and interesting game stuff. Nobody is allowed to be an ENNIES judge more than once or twice, so they need new people all the time. If you're eligible, apply to be a judge and make sure your views are represented on that panel. http://www.ennie-awards.com/blog/

If you have a local con, and you attend your local con, run some OSR games for them.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. However, if you're looking to make your mark on the community, this list would be a great place to start.

Thanks to everyone who participated in yesterday's thread: +Dan Domme, +gregory blair, +Eric Diaz, +Redbeard, +C Huth, +Michael Bacon, +Perttu Vedenoja, +Yann ABAZIOU, +Sean McCoy, +Zak Sabbath, +FM Geist, +Courtney Campbell, +Evey Lockhart, +Logan Knight, +Sándor Gebei, +Dan D, +Alex Chalk, +Patrick Smith, +Shane Ward, +Chris McDowall, +Brendan S, +Steve Sigety, +Eric Nieudan, +Jarrett Crader, +Elias Stretch, +David Shugars, +Jeremy Smith, +Moreven B, & +Iacopo Maffi.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Multiclass-ception: MCing into your own class (D&D 5e)

I hear people ask this on the internet, but never in my group. It sounds like an interesting thought exercise: could your D&D character "multiclass" into a subclass inside of your own class?

For example, could a champion fighter "multi-class" into a battle master fighter? Or, more interestingly, could a thief get one or two levels of assassin or arcane trickster?

Here is why - and how - I'd allow it.

First, it seems like a fair idea in terms of fluff - maybe you want your thief to gain a few arcane trickster features, like Gray Mouser, without multi-classing into wizard, or you like the four elements monk to have some aspects of the kensai.

Also, if my 2nd level fighter can become a battle master... why wouldn't my 12th level champion be able to do the same?

In terms of balance... I cannot see any problems at a first glance, although I'm sure we can find something. I'd rather forbid one or two problematic cases than ban the concept altogether, although I suspect that these rules will seldom be more powerful than simply multiclassing.

Anyway, my idea is instinct is to treat this as "school credits" or something similar - yyou do not have to take the "credits" you already have. Or like "prestige classes" that require a few levels in other classes to get to.

This is how you multiclassing work by 5e rules (emphasis mine):

Multiclassing allows you to gain levels in multiple classes. Doing so lets you mix the abilities of those classes to realize a character concept that might not be reflected in one of the standard class options
With this rule, you have the option of gaining a level in a new class whenever you advance in level, instead of gaining a level in your current class. Your levels in all your classes are added together to determine your character level. For example, if you have three levels in wizard and two in fighter, you're a 5th-level character. 
As you advance in levels, you might primarily remain a member of your original class with just a few levels in another class, or you might change course entirely, never looking back at the class you left behind. You might even start progressing in a third or fourth class. Compared to a single-class character of the same level, you'll sacrifice some focus in exchange for versatility.

One random example:

Character Level
1 Fighter 1
2 Fighter 2
3 Fighter 3
4 Fighter 3 Rogue 1
5 Fighter 3 Rogue 2
6 Fighter 4 Rogue 2
7 Fighter 5 Rogue 2
8 Fighter 6 Rogue 2
9 Fighter 7 Rogue 2
10 Fighter 8 Rogue 2
11 Fighter 9 Rogue 2
12 Fighter 10 Rogue 2
13 Fighter 11 Rogue 2
14 Fighter 12 Rogue 2
15 Fighter 13 Rogue 2
16 Fighter 14 Rogue 2
17 Fighter 15 Rogue 2
18 Fighter 15 Rogue 3
19 Fighter 15 Rogue 3 Warlock 1
20 Fighter 15 Rogue 3 Warlock 2

It is obvious that you cannot multiclass from pure fighter to rogue 2 without going through rogue 1; you haven't complete your "credits" in rogue school until you do!

If you are a you're a "pure" fighter, you have three paths to choose from: champion, battle master or eldritch knight.

Character Level
1 Fighter 1
2 Fighter 2
3 Champion 3 BM 3 EK 3
4 Fighter 4 Fighter 4 Fighter 4
5 Fighter 5 Fighter 5 Fighter 5
6 Fighter 6 Fighter 6 Fighter 6
7 Champion 7 BM 7 EK 7
8 Fighter 8 Fighter 8 Fighter 8
9 Fighter 9 Fighter 9 Fighter 9
10 Champion 10 BM 10 EK 10
11 Fighter 11 Fighter 11 Fighter 11
12 Fighter 12 Fighter 12 Fighter 12
13 Fighter 13 Fighter 13 Fighter 13
14 Fighter 14 Fighter 14 Fighter 14
15 Champion 15 BM 15 EK 15
16 Fighter 16 Fighter 16 Fighter 16
17 Fighter 17 Fighter 17 Fighter 17
18 Champion 18 BM 18 EK 18
19 Fighter 19 Fighter 19 Fighter 19
20 Fighter 20 Fighter 20 Fighter 20

To get the 10th-level battle master features, it is not enough that you're a 9th-level fighter gaining a level - you need to have walked the whole path, and that includes having the features of a 3rd and 7th level battle master.

But - here is the house rule - once you've been through the path, you can take a step in any direction you like, including your own sub-classes. You can even change your course if you want to!

Let us some examples.

Say you're a 10th level champion.

Can you multi-class into monk or rogue? YES, if you meet the prerequisites. You start at level 1 in any of those classes.

Can you get a level three monk feature? NO, because to get that feature you need to have walked the whole path through Monk 1 and Monk 2.

Can you multi-class into battle master 3? YES - you meet all the requirements, since you'e already been through Fighter 1 and Fighter 2.

Can you multi-class into battle master 10? NO, because, even though you have all the fighter levels that are required, you do not have levels 3 and 7. On the other hand, you CAN reach you goal in the next three levels. You can even switch your path to Battle Master once you get a few more levels:

Character Level
1 Fighter 1
2 Fighter 2
3 Champion 3
4 Fighter 4
5 Fighter 5
6 Fighter 6
7 Champion 7
8 Fighter 8
9 Fighter 9
10 Champion 10
11 Champion 10 BM 3
12 Champion 10 BM 8
13 Champion 10 BM 10
14 Fighter 11 Fighter 11
15 Fighter 12 Fighter 12
16 Fighter 13 Fighter 13
17 Fighter 14 Fighter 14
BM 15

Notation would be something like Fighter 10 (Champion)/Fighter 1 (Battle master 3) at level 11, and  Fighter 15 (Battle master)/Fighter 3 (Champion 10) at level 18. A bit confusing, I admit, but should work well enough.

But... feats!

Yes, feats are a fair solution too. In this case, the Martial Adept feat. If we used this house rules, would the martial adept feat become obsolete? Not quite. Battle master 3 STILL requires fighter 1 and 2, so the feat would still be useful for other classes, while the champion and eldritch knight would gain a significant boost when taking maneuvers. Sounds good to me!

Would that work?

I have never tested it, but what do you think? Any pitfalls I might be missing?

All images copyright of Wizards of the coast.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018


Yes, you've read that right.

Regardless of what people might say, this is how most RPGs work - and that DEFINITELY includes "old school" RPGs.

It's pretty obvious when you think of it, but I've heard the contrary repeated so many times that I think it is worth addressing. In fact, I think this is so obvious that a few people will find it hard to see - like a fish trying to discern water, to use a common metaphor.

A few points that might make things even clearer:

* Most of the process of playing RPGs is made through conversation, with a fair amount of common sense. This does not require using rules, so there is no conflict.
* If the rule comes into play, they trump common sense. You'll choose the rules over common sense almost all of the time; if the rule becomes too absurd, you either make an exception or create a new rule. You do not use common sense to overcome the rules often. If you do, the rules are either bad or a bad fit for your group.
* Of course, the rules must be used WITH common sense. Most of the time, you'll use BOTH. It is also good if the rules are BASED on common sense, but they might also be mostly abstract. Does a sword to the gut kill you? Well, it depends on your HP.
* You also use common sense when there is NO clear rule.
* Frequent use of common sense to replace the rules may lead to GM tyranny, but may also lead to greater freedom for the players - it all depends on the specific examples (see below). This doesn't change the point I'm making.

Let me give you some examples.

Combat: How many attacks can a fighter make with a sword or dagger in six seconds? What about a dagger? Can you shoot a crossbow four times in six seconds? Is a short-bow any faster? The answer is found in the rules, despite what common sense or real life might indicate.

Weapons and armor: do you benefit form using a helmet or from taking it off? Can you use padding under plate to improve your AC? Can you attack twice in the same round by using a rapier in one hand and a dagger in the other? This is determined by the rules.

Movement: How many feet can you move in a second? How many miles can you travel in a day? Look at the rules. The answer is only 42 if the rules say it is.

Falling and other hazards: can you survive a 200 feet fall? Three days or 30 days without food? Check the book.

Encumbrance: can you carry 150 pounds without ill effects, or 50 pounds are enough to slow you down? Depends on the rules you're using.

Conflicts: how often can the Str 13 paladin beat the Str 14 demon when arm wrestling? What about the Str 8 wizard? And what if each of them is attempting to perform a similar feat of strength? Jus do whatever the rules tell you to do.

I think that's enough to make a point. Let us discuss a few related issues.

GM tyranny x  Player Freedom

Ignoring the rules in favor of perceived "common sense" may make the PCs feel powerless and frustrated.

- "What do you mean my Str 13 paladin has no chance against a Str 14 demon? Don't I get a roll?"
- "Penalty for traveling in armor? Since when? I wish I knew that when I made my character!"
- "So, I get 10d6 damage from the fall and... Dead? But I have 70 HP left!"

If the GM decides to change the rules, we should do it in advance, with player's consent, or both.

On the other hand, the GM is free to ignore rules in order to allow PCs to do things the books forbid. For example, you may want to treat a rapier as a light weapon when holding a dagger in the other hand in 5e, or allow an elf with a Charisma bonus, instead of Intelligence. But it doesn't hurt to do so in advance, to, to allow all PCs to benefit.

These changes to the rules are usually made with balance, not only common sense, in mind. Can the wizard use Wisdom instead of Intelligence to cast spells? Probably not.

If you follow this blog, you may have noticed that I allow wizards to use swords too. Common sense says this is obvious - but, again, the rules trump common sense, so your wizard can only use a sword if the GM allows.

Reductio ad absurdum. Magic and the gods.

There are extreme cases in which the rules will be so absurd that they should obviously be disregard - for example you shouldn't be able to break a wall with a whip in most circumstances, but you might do it with a pick, no matter if they both deal 1d6 damage (for example).

This is a small minority of the cases. Most of the time, they both deal 1d6 damage and that's that.

If the rules require common sense to fix all of the time, they are bad rules. If a rule says "if you roll a natural 20 you can achieve anything you want", this is a bad rule. If a rule says "if you roll a natural 20 you can achieve anything you want, within reason", this is not a bad rule, but an incomplete rule that requires common sense to actually use. You might say that "within reason" is implicit - in this case, the rule is just badly written.

There are also rules meant to fill any gaps in other rules - Moldvay's "there is always a chance" comes to mind.

Of course, intentional misuse of the rules are the fault of the users, not the rules!

- Using a helmet gives you +1 AC!
- Cool! I'll fold this piece of paper into a helmet!
- ... Yeah, this is not a helmet.

Magic and the gods may change the rules of the universe, but, ordinarily, they cannot change the rules of the game. If Thor has 100 HP in your game, he should die after taking 100 points of damage. If he has no stats... then it's up to the GM.

To roll or not to roll (shades of gray)

Sometimes, it isn't clear if you should use the rules or common sense. I've wrote a post on that a while ago. But, basically. it's not black and white.

But I like changing the rules!

Me too! That is why I write lots of house rules which, in my opinion, make more sense than the ones used in the game. Still, these are rules. They are BASED on common sense, but they are not common sense, they are rules.

In any case, I'd be curious to hear from you if you think common sense trumps rules (except for extreme cases).

Saturday, May 26, 2018

5e D&D melee weapons: one-by-one analysis... and FIX!

People seem to like this post, so I'll try something similar that has been going in my mind lately... In this post I'll analyse every single weapon from the 5e list.

I also wrote a detailed analysis of each weapon property, and a perspective on weapon damage. Might be worth checking those ones out first.

Anyway, here is the table for easy reference (source):

Simple Weapons
(Simple) Melee WeaponsCostDamageRangeWeightProperties
Club1 sp1d4 bludgeoning2 lb.light
Dagger2 gp1d4 piercing20/601 lb.finesselightthrown
Greatclub2 sp1d8 bludgeoning10 lb.two-handed
Handaxe5 gp1d6 slashing20/602 lb.lightthrown
Javelin5 sp1d6 piercing30/1202 lb.thrown
Light hammer2 gp1d4 bludgeoning20/602 lb.lightthrown
Mace5 gp1d6 bludgeoning4 lb.
Quarterstaff2 sp1d6 bludgeoning4 lb.versatile (1d8)
Sickle1 gp1d4 slashing2 lb.light
Spear1 gp1d6 piercing20/603 lb.thrownversatile (1d8)

Martial Weapons

(Martial) Melee WeaponsCostDamageRangeWeightProperties
Battleaxe10 gp1d8 slashing4 lb.versatile (1d10)

Flail10 gp1d8 bludgeoning2 lb.
Glaive20 gp1d10 slashing6 lb.heavyreachtwo-handed
Greataxe30 gp1d12 slashing7 lb.heavytwo-handed
Greatsword50 gp2d6 slashing6 lb.heavytwo-handed
Halberd20 gp1d10 slashing6 lb.heavyreachtwo-handed
Lance10 gp1d12 piercing6 lb.reachspecial1
Longsword15 gp1d8 slashing3 lb.versatile (1d10)
Maul10 gp2d6 bludgeoning10 lb.heavytwo-handed
Morningstar15 gp1d8 piercing4 lb.
Pike5 gp1d10 piercing18 lb.heavyreachtwo-handed
Rapier25 gp1d8 piercing2 lb.finesse
Scimitar25 gp1d6 slashing3 lb.finesselight
Shortsword10 gp1d6 piercing2 lb.finesselight

Trident5 gp1d6 piercing20/604 lb.thrownversatile (1d8)
War pick5 gp1d8 piercing2 lb.
Warhammer15 gp1d8 bludgeoning2 lb.versatile (1d10)
Whip2 gp1d4 slashing3 lb.finessereach

Simple Weapons

As a general rule, simple weapons deal 1d6 damage, and have one or two positive properties.

Club - This is just a very simple, cheap weapon, not much better than an improvised one. Fair enough. Use this if you have no money or no options.

Dagger - 1d4 damage, three good properties. Nice weapon for multiple occasions.

Greatclub - This weapon is useless when compared to the quarterstaff.

It has a single negative property, deals 1d8 damage, and is significantly heavier than a quarterstaff, which is equal or better in every aspect. There is no class, feat, or special rule that can make this weapon useful. Which is a pity, since the weapon looks kinda cool for cavemen-type barbarians (and Bobby, the Barbarian!). This weapon would be fine if we had a costlier two-handed simple weapon with 1d10 damage... Or just change the damage to 1d10 and be done with it.

Handaxe - 1d6 damage, two good properties. Good, as expected.

Javelin - 1d6 damage, one good property, plus increased range. Also good.

Light hammer - same deal.

Mace - This is the worse offender IMO.

1d6 damage, NO properties. Having a useless weapon might not be a big deal. But having an useless mace, such an iconic weapon for clerics, including Aleena the cleric - arguably the most memorable in D&D history - is adding insult to injury. I can only assume this is a mistake by the designers, or a typo. Making the mace versatile fixes some of those issues. It would become a worse, more expensive version of the spear, but close enough that I wouldn't care that much.

Quarterstaff - This is a bit ridiculous.

 It manages to be better or equal to BOTH the mace and the greatclub, two weapons that have no function in the game RAW. It is 25 times cheaper than the mace, for example. If you want to show that weapon prices do not matter, please don't include useless text in the game. Also, there is no reason for the wizard's iconic weapon to be better than the cleric's one.
But that's not the worse part. Making the quarterstaff versatile allows you to use it with a shield, or even one quarterstaff in each hand if you have the right feats - which I personally find ludicrous.
This is probably a mistake, which is illustrated by the PHB errata: "Two-Handed (p. 147).This property is relevant only when you attack with the weapon, not when you simply hold it.". So, this weapon was probably meant to be two-handed, but before the errata it would make it useless for wizards - they often need a hand to cast spells.
This should be a cheap, light, two-handed weapon, 1d8 damage, mostly intended for wizards and monks. Or even a double weapon.

Sickle - this weapon isn't bad, but could be better. Small, 1d4, slashing, light... In short, good enough. I don't remember many characters that go around fighting with a sickle, but it is in D&D's history (through the druid). The designers probably wanted to portray this weapon as a suboptimal farming implement. Fair enough. But we should have a small, finesse, slashing weapon too, because this is a very common trope.

Spear - very good for a simple weapon, not good enough for all spears. This weapon is good as written, but we should have some "military" versions of the spears as martial weapons. A heavy spear, a long spear (not a pike!), a finesse spear... Well, there ARE a couple of "spear-like" weapons in the martial list - the trident and the pike - but unfortunately they are really, really bad.

Martial Weapons

As a general rule, simple weapons deal 1d8 damage, and have one positive property (often versatile 1d10, which isn't a great property). If they are heavy/two-handed (all heavy melee weapons are two-handed), they deal 1d10 to 1d12 (or 2d6) damage.

Battleaxe - As expected.

Flail - As expected. Lighter than the battleaxe, but not versatile. I am not sure this is a real weapon, but I like how it looks...

Glaive - As expected. The fact that there is an identical weapon called halberd bothers me. I can only assume this is made for nostalgia's sake. 5e really like weapons that have no clear mechanical function.

Greataxe -  As expected - see greatsword.

Greatsword - The greatsword is better than the greataxe the vast majority of the time, ESPECIALLY if you have the GWF style; the greataxe might be marginally better for barbarians. It is also a bit more expensive. Fair enough, I guess, although I, personally, would like to see some reason for non-barbarians to use the greataxe.

Halberd - see glaive.

Lance - a special weapon, only useful if you're mounted.

Longsword - As expected, more expensive and a bit lighter than the battleaxe.

Maul - a cheaper, heavier version of the greatsword. I have a difficult time understating why this shouldn't be a cheaper, heavier version of the greataxe. Barbarians with mauls look cool.

Morningstar - Sigh. Someone at WotC hates maces.

So, this is a spiked mace. Also, a heavier, more expensive version of the war pick. Not a single reason to use it. Why is a mace a simple weapon and the spiked mace a martial one? Also, piercing damage? I would think most of the damage would be bludgeoning. So, the morningstar is bad against skeletons. Go figure.

Pike - well... 

Nothing terrible about this weapon - but there is not much use for this extremely heavy weapon, either. Also, why is this so heavy if it has the same reach as a halberd? Yeah, real pikes should have a longer reach, with the same "caveat" as the lance ("You have disadvantage when you use a lance to attack a target within 5 feet of you."). They should also be treated as a "formation" weapon, not something you carry around in a dungeon.

Call it "half pike" or something equivalent to a heavy spear and you're done.

Rapier - Good. Too good, maybe. 

Why did they make this the only 1d8 finesse weapon I cannot understand. They basic encouraged all Dexterity builds to pick it unless they dual-wield. It is the ideal weapon for them to use with a shield, which looks a bit off. But I'm not overly concerned with it.

Scimitar - as expected - 1d6, two proprieties. It is a light weapon. It weights 3 pounds. The rapier weights two pounds. It is not a light weapon. But that's okay because "light" means "small" in 5e. VERY easy to understand.

Shortsword - 1d6, two proprieties, fine.

Trident - Useless. Identical to spear, heavier, and five times more expensive. Some argue that WotC put this in there to show some weapons are useless. Well, we should have figured that by now anyway. So, the trident isn't mean to be a "real" weapon, only something that gladiator's used for show. If that's the case, it didn't deserve a separate entry. In any case it is surely nice that the designers pay this homage to realism before they describe 200 spells... Now I can sleep peacefully because I know they care.

War pick - as expected; no proprieties, but light and cheap. See morningstar.

Warhammer - as expected.

Whip - a special weapon. Little damage (1d4), but the only one-handed weapon with reach. Could be 1d6, I guess, but good enough. The low damage must be another homage to realism, I guess, since the whip doesn't seem like a real weapon to me.

Versatile spiked club/mace. Why not?

But... weight and price do not matter!

If they don't they should have been kept out of the book, there is enough useless data as it is. But, really, you can ignore price all you want, I agree - it doesn't really matter for PCs. But there is a whole world out there where prices should make SOME sense, at least WITHIN ordinary weapon lists (balancing it with magic weapons is hard, I know). Weight is hard to ignore, specially for weapons such as the greatclub and pike. If you're using the encumbrance variant, you cannot wear plate and carry a pike if you have Strength 15, for example.

What about the ranged weapons?

Honestly? They are mostly good as they are. Balanced, well thought out... People who insist that weapon's needn't be balanced must really dislike these ones.

But how can we fix it?

Glad you asked! I'm writing a whole "Manual of Arms" for 5e. If that sounds like a good idea, stay tuned. If you just want a better table... Here you go.

Simple Weapons
(Simple) Melee WeaponsCostDamageRangeWeightProperties
Club1 sp1d4 bludgeoning2 lb.light
Dagger2 gp1d4 piercing20/601 lb.finesselightthrown
Greatclub2 sp1d10 bludgeoning10 lb.two-handed
Handaxe5 gp1d6 slashing20/602 lb.lightthrown
Javelin5 sp1d6 piercing30/1202 lb.thrown
Light hammer2 gp1d4 bludgeoning20/602 lb.lightthrown
Mace5 gp1d6 bludgeoning4 lb.versatile (1d8)
Quarterstaff2 sp1d8 bludgeoning4 lb.two-handed
Sickle1 gp1d4 slashing2 lb.light
Spear1 gp1d6 piercing20/603 lb.thrownversatile (1d8)

New simple weapon:

(Simple) Melee WeaponsCostDamageRangeWeightProperties
Knife2 gp1d4 slashing1 lb.finesselight

Martial Weapons

(Martial) Melee WeaponsCostDamageRangeWeightProperties
Battleaxe10 gp1d8 slashing4 lb.versatile (1d10)

Flail10 gp1d8 bludgeoning2 lb.
Glaive20 gp1d10 slashing6 lb.heavyreachtwo-handed
Greataxe30 gp1d12 slashing7 lb.heavytwo-handed
Greatsword50 gp2d6 slashing6 lb.heavytwo-handed
Halberd20 gp1d10 slashing6 lb.heavyreachtwo-handed
Lance10 gp1d12 piercing6 lb.reachspecial1
Longsword15 gp1d8 slashing3 lb.versatile (1d10)
Maul10 gp1d12 bludgeoning10 lb.heavytwo-handed
Morningstar (Mace, spiked)15 gp1d8 piercing4 lb.versatile (1d10)
Pike Half-pike5 gp1d10 piercing6 lb.heavyreachtwo-handed
Rapier25 gp1d8 piercing2 lb.finesse
Scimitar25 gp1d6 slashing3 lb.finesselight
Shortsword10 gp1d6 piercing2 lb.finesselight
Spear (light)5 gp1d8 piercingthrownfinesse
Trident/Spear (heavy)5 gp1d8 piercing20/604 lb.thrownversatile (1d10)
War pick5 gp1d8 piercing2 lb.
Warhammer15 gp1d8 bludgeoning2 lb.versatile (1d10)
Whip2 gp1d4 slashing3 lb.finessereach

Yes, I do realize that I made a light spear without the light property, and a heavy spear without the heavy property. As I've said before, the "light" and "heavy" property mean "small" and "bulky" and have nothing to do with weight. In any case, "agile spear" and "military spear" might work too.

I'm certainly not the first one to rework this list and I probably got many ideas form other people.

I've seem some suggest 1d4 bludgeoning/1d4 piercing for the morning star. I love this idea, although it might be a bit too fiddly. I would even dare to make the morning start identical to the mace, PLUS 1 extra point of piercing damage. Again, probably too fiddly. The 3e solution seems decent: "Some weapons deal damage of multiple types. If a weapon is of two types, the damage it deals is not half one type and half another; all of it is both types. Therefore, a creature would have to be immune to both types of damage to ignore any of the damage from such a weapon."

I "fixed" some weapons by giving them the versatile property. This is not a great property, but it makes plenty sense for these weapons (versatile weapons tend to be heavier), and keeps them on par with the others.

I DO have an even simpler solution, but it includes introducing new mechanics. I'll leave it to the next post.

Wait, do I even NEED a list of weapons?

Not really, but I like it. Anyway, if you don't:

Simple weapon: 1d6 damage (choose bl/sl/pi), 2 gp, 2 lb., and choose one or two properties (you can choose 3 if you change the damage to 1d4).

Martial weapon: 1d8 damage (choose bl/sl/pi), 20 gp, 2 lb., and choose one property (you can choose two if you change the damage to 1d6):

* Versatile, double weight and cost, cannot be combined with finesse or light.
* Finesse.
* Light.
* Thrown.
* Cheap: the cost is converted to sp instead of gp if the weapon is simple, or halved if the weapon is martial.
* Two-handed (triple weight and cost, cannot pick other properties). Bump the damage by two steps (1d6 to 1d10, 1d8 to 1d12 etc.) You can swap 1d12 for 2d6 if desired. Martial weapons that are two handed also gain the heavy property.
* Reach + two-handed + heavy + 1d10 damage (must be martial, triple weight and cost, cannot be combined with other properties).

Adjusting cost and weight:
* If your weapon deals 1d6 damage or more, you can cut the cost in half by adding 50% weight.
* If your weapon deals 1d4 damage, you can halve the weight by doubling the cost.

Final note

If you find any of this useful, or if you'd like to see  a "Manual of Arms" for 5e, let me know in the comments. I think I've been focusing on 5e weapons too much lately, so I might change subjects soon.
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