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

Thursday, July 11, 2019

D&D is too VERBOSE (small rant + book suggestion)

In a little follow-up to the last post, I started wondering if all those spells in 5e could actually fit a card... Anyway, tried to do my own version. Just got a list of spells to cut out the ones the PCs used, for easy reference...

Well, the spells took LOTS of pages. These pages dt didn't, however, contain that much information; many of the words in 5e (around 40%, I'd guess) are useless repetition; they don't contain any new information. Some of it could be cut by using abbreviations.

For example, look at this spell:

Acid Arrow
2nd level evocation
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 90 feet
Components: V S M (Powdered rhubarb leaf and an adder's stomach)
Duration: Instantaneous
Classes: Wizard
A shimmering green arrow streaks toward a target within range and bursts in a spray of acid. Make a ranged spell attack against the target. On a hit, the target takes 4d4 acid damage immediately and 2d4 acid damage at the end of its next turn. On a miss, the arrow splashes the target with acid for half as much of the initial damage and no damage at the end of its next turn.
At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the damage (both initial and later) increases by 1d4 for each slot level above 2nd.

Compared to:

Acid Arrow (2)
Evocation; 1 action; 90'; Instant
Components: V S M (Powdered rhubarb leaf and an adder's stomach)
Wizard
A shimmering green arrow streaks toward a target within range and bursts in a spray of acid. Make a ranged spell attack against the target. On a hit, the target takes 4d4 acid damage immediately and 2d4 acid damage at the end of its next turn. On a miss, the arrow splashes the target with acid for half as much of the initial damage and no damage at the end of its next turn.
Higher slots: The damage (both initial and later) increases by 1d4 for each level above 2nd.

No information is lost.

(To be honest, a single "deal damage, choose type" spell template would be enough for me; one page and you get rid of 50+ spells. But that's a different matter)

The same pattern (unnecessary letters, words and sentences) is repeated throughout the book.

"On a short or long rest" is used again and again where "on a short rest" would do.

Darkvision is described over and over - but the rules about light and vision still do not make much sense.

The contents of monster stat-blocks get repeated over and over again or gain needless details. Look at the dragons in the Monster Manual. 30 pages? They could have used 10. Or less... Just check the DCC RRG. Or the Rules Cyclopedia. Or wait a couple of months for my monster book! ;)

Of course, using things like HP instead of Hit Points, saves instead of saving throws, etc. would make the book even smaller.

I know this sounds like nitpicking, but the size of 5e books (and the amount of words in them) is a HUGE factor for me - and, I would bet, for many new players. 5e is not THAT complex, but it LOOKS complex because of these things.

There would be a lot less page-flipping and weight-carrying (and less intimation to new players, I guess) if the books were more concise.

But I guess WotC would make less money? I dunno. Seems to me that adding lots of "casual" players would be great to D&D.

Anyway, rant over.

After spending more time than I should with this exercise I gave up on buying spell cards for now. Maybe I'll still get monster cards, I dunno. Certainly items.

To end this on a positive note, here is the stuff I like.

First, monster variations. You know, when Curse of Strahd (or the MM itself) says "this monster is like a zombie, but wearing plate armor", or "treat this NPC like a noble, but she is carrying a +1 rapier"? That is more than enough for me and provides interesting twists to familiar monsters. I wish more books would do the same (and I will give you a book based entirely around this idea soon).

Second, games that manage to be simple and short without being minimalist or incomplete.

You can always try my Dark Fantasy Basic; 5 classes with lots of variations, 20 spells that can be cast at any level, and about 50 pages. But if you're tired of hearing about my game... here is another idea, specially if you like the idea of a B/X and 5e mix, but would prefer more 5e than B/X.

Try Into the Unknown [affiliate link - by using this, you're helping to support this blog].


About 250 pages (including everything), 13 bucks for the PDF (25 for the print version), straightforward, concise and EFFICIENT. Few classes, but a lot more customization than B/X. Monster have small stat blocks, with morale and number encountered! And just look at the guidance spell:

Guidance
Priest (Divination)
Range: Touch
Duration: Conc. (up to 1 minute)
Once before the spell ends, the target can roll a d4 and add the number rolled to one ability check of its choice. It can roll the die before or after making the ability check. The spell then ends.

Notice that it seems similar to guidance, but it omits useless info; no mention of casting time (assume 1 action); no mention of components (assume V, S).

In short... that's AWESOME. Congratulations to Anders Honoré! Check his blog The Setting to End All Settings, BTW.

If you want to introduce someone to D&D 5e, I would prefer this game even to D&D basic. Great stuff! It could save lots of folks some time, money, patience... and maybe spare a few trees!

8 comments:

  1. yes this is good
    i try and make mine one sentence which gets harder with higher level ones but i try...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, even if you don't get every spell down to one sentence, "cutting the useless" is often a good exercise

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  2. "(To be honest, a single "deal damage, choose type" spell template would be enough for me; one page and you get rid of 50+ spells. But that's a different matter)"

    I've wanted to do this forever.

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    Replies
    1. Me too! Maybe the guidelines in the DMG are a good start.

      Delete
  3. Perhaps you would be interested in 4e, where concise and easily-read spells and powers were a design feature.
    As such they were considered to be bad, and a true D&D game should mix prose and mechanics in the same sentences.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, 4e is not my favorite edition, but it has some very strong points; this is a great example. However, 4e's page count is not much smaller than 5e IIRC; for that, there are other books that seem to do a better job.

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  4. So I've been musing a bit about my "build a spell" concept. I have a thought on how to design a system.

    The basic mechanic is that a Magic User (MU), draws up mana over initiative ticks (think the ongoing speed initiative discussion). When they have enough mana for the spell they want, they spend it to cast a spell. The max mana a caster can draw is tied to level (like spell levels), with mana reserves directly comparable to spell points. I would say spare mana triggers a potential wild magic surge, but that can be worked out)

    Spells are built by starting with a base cantrip and spending mana to get the desired result. This can be done with essentially summary tables of cost for damage dice (quantity and die size), range, duration, etc.

    How this would play out in my mind is that a MU commits to how much mana they wish to draw, do so at what ever rate the system gives, and at the time casts a spell. They don't commit a spell until that point, so they can switch it out as they wish.

    So instead of spell cards that you stack up (my first example) you collect mana, draft up a spell on your turn, and the spell takes effect.

    I don't have anything more concrete to give at this point, unfortunately, so this may be retreading old ground.

    However, I do want to confirm that these are the following "components" of a spell in D&D:

    Spell cost (mana, spell level)
    Range
    Duration
    Damage or buff (quantity and die size)
    Concentration (if applicable)
    Status condition (if applicable)
    Element (damage/theme)

    Element is only important for categorizing where spells end up for base cantrip, but here's my summary (in no particular order):

    Fire,Water,Air,Earth,Radiant,Necrotic, Psychic, Physical damage, Force, Charm, Illusion, Divination, Travel, Protection, Healing,Light/Dark.

    From the above, develop cantrips that do general 0th level spell effects, and try and fit as many of the current spells under.

    A bit of an unfocused ramble, but hopefully I can update when I make time to sit down and sort this all out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting stuff! One system I've seem use something remotely similar, IIRC, is Castle Falkenstein. BTW, I just got a new title on DTRPG about the subject, which you can get for free - check my latest post, or:

      https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/284302/Dark-Fantasy-Magic

      It might have some useful ideas!

      Delete

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