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

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Crits are fun, fumbles are... funny

D&D has a popular rule (or house rule, in some editions) that states that a "natural 20" means some kind of critical success ("crit") - maybe maximum damage, or some exceptional outcome if you're testing a non-fighting skill. The current edition only uses it in combat, so let us talk about that

Crits aren't really needed to run the game, but they are certainly fun for many people, and they have become so natural (pardon the pun) to D&D that even people who don't play RPGs might be familiar with the concept (from the numerous internet memes about the subject).

Using the "natural 20" rule causes some odd outcomes - if you only hit on a natural 20, all your hits will be critics, which sounds a bit strange. Also, when you compare two fighters of different levels, the lesser one will get critical hits as often as the better one, but a bigger percentage of his hits will be crits (both will crit 5% of the time, but the worse fighter may crit once every two or three hits while while the better one will crit once every ten or more hits). This means that the worse fighter will cause more damage per hit, in average, although he will hit less often.

Not that it really matters - it is all quite abstract anyway - but it does bother some players. In any case, there are plenty of solutions to "fix" this problem.

The most irritating solution, in my opinion, is the one 3.x / Pathfinder uses:

"When you make an attack roll and get a natural 20 (the d20 shows 20), you hit regardless of your target’s Armor Class, and you have scored a threat. The hit might be a critical hit (or "crit"). To find out if it’s a critical hit, you immediately make a critical roll—another attack roll with all the same modifiers as the attack roll you just made. If the critical roll also results in a hit against the target’s AC, your original hit is a critical hit. (The critical roll just needs to hit to give you a crit. It doesn’t need to come up 20 again.) If the critical roll is a miss, then your hit is just a regular hit. 

A critical hit means that you roll your damage more than once, with all your usual bonuses, and add the rolls together." (source)

I think this kind of thing is what made me believe 3e was too complicated when I was busy playing GURPS (and GURPS has its own version of this, only slightly less horrible). So you roll once, get a natural 20, then you roll again to see if that is a critical hit or not (nothing happens! Yay!), and then you roll again for damage (and if you roll low, gratuitous disappointment once again!).

If you're using crits, they are supposed to be FUN (or, really, why would you use them?); rolling dice for no reason is not fun in my book, and getting excited with a roll only to be disappointed in the next moment seems like a terrible idea (which is why I think there should be no "nothing happens" entries in critical hit tables).

"A natural 20 means maximum damage" sounds way better in comparison. Also, "a natural 20 means you get an extra attack" is such a better alternative that sometimes I'm amazed this "threat" thing is used at all - the numbers are similar enough so it doesn't become a problem (trust me, your fighter won't outshine the wizard), you get a treat (not a threat!) even if your foe has 1 HP left, and the whole scene gets some extra action even if you miss the second attack!

(Yeah, I do realize that there are people that like their weapons lists looking like this. It is all "more damage" to me, and at this point I would be rather using 1d7 weapons or re-rolling 1s if I wanted this level of granularity. But, really, special effects are much more fun for me)

If you want the better Fighter to have even better crits (without special feats or powers), try combining the two: A natural 20 means maximum damage, AND you get a new attack immediately. If you want to encourage creative tactics, the second attack must be different form the first one; maybe a kick, off-hand weapon, head-butt, shield bash, a different target, etc; or you can trade the damage from the first attack for an attempt at disarming, and so on.

This way, you get your prize immediately but you ALSO get the chance of a bigger prize. A natural 20 is always better, so everybody can be excited after rolling one, but the better Fighter gets better chances to be even more awesome (extra damage or some special effect).

Of course, critical hit rules make combat a but more unpredictable and dangerous, which is a good thing in my book, but maybe not for everyone; a 1st level Fighter might be able to bring down a 3rd level one in a single attack, for example.

Fumbles (the idea that something incredibly bad or embarrassing would happen to the character when a "natural 1" is rolled) on the other hand, are a bit double-edged. They can certainly be funny, I guess, and they have their own memes, but they never really worked for me. Fortunately, most D&D editions that I have played (including 5e) do not use this rule, although it might be a popular house rule.

In addition to the whole problem of competent Fighters fumbling as often as 1st level ones, most editions of D&D give multiple attacks to high level fighters - making them fumble MORE OFTEN than low level ones, almost once every two or three rounds depending on the specifics.

Even the "on a natural 1, you have to make a Save vs. X or lose your weapon" is not always enough to offset this effect; it also brings us back to "roll to see if anything happens" problem.

Besides, fumbling 5% of the time is a bit too much. If you think of critical hits as head shots, knockdowns, tripping, etc, you will se that this happens quite often in MMA fights, movies, books etc. But how often do people throw away their own weapons or fall to the ground due to incompetence or bad luck in the kinds of adventures that have inspired D&D? Can you imagine Elric or Conan doing something like that?

Fumbles are bad even when NPCs do it. How heroic is winning a fight because your adversary stabbed himself by accident? Finishing a battle this way is more anti-climatic than rolling again to find out that nothing happens.

In short, fumbles are mostly a comedic device. Nothing wrong if that is what you're looking for - I certainly had my laughs while "tripping in invisible turtles" when playing Rolemaster.

Still, I see at least one interesting use for "natural ones": as a risk-reward mechanic. This means that the natural 1 only matters when you take an exceptional risk. For example, if you want to jump down from a house over you enemy and stab it as you fall.

Fortunately, 5e has a good multi-purpose mechanic to go with it: advantage/disadvantage, which opens up all kinds of possibilities, specially "bittersweet" results. Here are two examples:

- Disadvantage: when you have disadvantage, the fumble only happens if both dice are natural ones, at it is probably related to what caused disadvantage in the first place (you fall if the ground is slippery, you stumble if you're fighting in the dark, etc). Fumbles will be frequent, but easy explained and not necessarily ridiculous.

- Advantage: if you take a significant risk to get advantage (jump from a tall house over an unsuspecting opponent), a double 1 means you fumbled. In addition, the GM will choose one of two possibilites before you roll:
* Make a natural 1 in any dice cause a fumble, no matter if your hit your target or not (fumbles will be frequent regardless of skill, but will not affect your chance of success).
* Ask you for some kind of a skill roll to avoid the risk, no matter if your hit your target or not.

Regular roll: there are no fumbles unless you take some significant, uncommon risk before you roll. Ordinary actions shouldn't cause extraordinary problems for your characters - unless you prefer playing clowns to playing heroes.

But hey, if that is the case, I can guarantee there are plenty of laughs to be had with the right group of friends!

Friday, November 25, 2016

D&D 5e: Advantage/Disadvantage converted to modifiers

Here is a quick comparison between advantage/disadvantage and flat bonuses. Lots of people have written about the subject, but since I couldn't find the exact table I was looking for (the last two columns in the table below), I thought you might find it useful.

Here is how it works: if you need to roll 5 or more in the d20 (column a), you have 80% chance of succeeding (column b), or about 96% if you have advantage, or 64% if you had disadvantage - which means that in this case ad/disad is equivalent to a 3.2 bonus or penalty (rounded to 3 in the last column).
d20 roll needed
d20 bonus/

As you can see, as long as you need to roll something between 8 and 14, the bonus/penalty of ad/disad is equivalent to +5/-5, or a bit less. But if you need a natural 20 to succeed, having advantage is only equivalent to a +1 bonus - which is not that bad really, since it doubles your chances of success. On the other hand, a Bless spell is often better than having advantage when you need a natural 19 or 20! 

The average bonus/penalty is 3.5 - which is equivalent to rolling a d6 and adding it to the d20 (notice I disregarded the "1" line, since there is no point in rolling if you need to roll 1 or more - and if you have a different solution, please explain your reasoning in the comments).

It is also worth remembering that this comparison doesn't take the benefits of a natural 20 (such as a critical hit, etc.) into account.

These numbers are not that hard to remember (but not that easy too). You may find it easier to square your chances of failure, when using advantage, or your chances of success, when using disadvantage. For example, you know you have 20% chance of rolling 17 or more - with disadvantage, this falls to 4% only (20% times 20%). If you have advantage, on the other hand, your chance of failure falls from 80% to 16%, which is 80% of 80% (source). Or just memorize the table above.

I'm not advocating replacing the advantage/disadvantage for something else*. But this knowledge can be useful in many ways: quickly calculating your chances when rolling two d20s, comparing advantage/disadvantage to various bonus and penalties (cover, bless, etc), translating advantage/disadvantage to other forms of D&D (with the OSR Rosetta Stone, for example), and so on.

More than anything, you can now roll ten d20 if ten goblins are attacking the party with advantage**, instead of rolling twenty times!

* In fact, I really like this mechanic. The coolest thing about it is that advantage is ALWAYS very relevant to you chances. Even at the extremes (when you need a natural 20, for example), remember that +1 bonuses will double your chances! Which falls within the realm of reasonable granularity to me.

** Example from the same source - thanks, Rob Conley! Also, every 19-20 should be a crit if you use this system instead of advantage.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

How complicated is 5e?

As I finished writing this I realized it came out a bit more negative than I expected. I am quite the 5e fan and I only spend so much time thinking and writing about it because it is my current game of choice. I am going to publish anyway, because you can always choose to skip this post or, even better, disagree in the comments, and I would like to hear different opinions.

As much as I long for a simpler version of D&D, I guess that from now on 5e is as simple as it gets. The reason for that, I think, isn't because people like complexity (almost nobody likes that) or options (almost everybody likes that), bit because there is a significant chunk of D&D fans (probably a majority by now) that think gaining a level means they necessarily get new gifts for their characters - and not only some HD, spells and better saves, because this isn't shiny enough.

To each their own, of course. D&D 5e has lots of awesome class features that I love, and if that is what is important to you, great! As long as you don't take it to the extreme of rejecting other people's preferences and trying to make different play-styles not viable in D&D.

Take feats, for example. Some people like them, some don't. I love feats as a concept, but I favor the idea of making them an optional part of the game, so that people can choose the level of complexity they want to add to their characters.

Unfortunately, this doesn't quite work as intended. Since most classes rely on one ability or a couple of them (for example, optimal fighters are often weak OR slow), ability points become weaker after a while. Worse, I saw quite a few people saying that it is unfair that you should forego your ability score increase to get you cool new feat - never mind some feats are often way better than that! How on earth could you even try to make a balanced games if feats are optional but you give nothing in return for them? It seems obvious that there would be no comparison between characters with feats and those without them (unless you're using very weak or useless feats), and now all monsters, modules and adventures would have to be balanced towards one or the other, but not both.

(Not that I'm saying 5e is perfectly balanced - but it is mostly balanced enough for me, and in any case at least they tried!)

Still, those people seem to be a minority, and some of them just don't like 5e at all. What is more common is that people take ignore that feats are optional; now , they are pretty much an expected part of the game. Unless you're playing Basic, I guess.

Now, even the champion fighter, that is (apparently) supposed to be a simple class, has access to seven feats in addition to their class features (that are quite simple, I must admit).

But feats are far from the most complex part of 5e; most classes get about five of them, which is manageable.

Class (and race, and background) features are a different story. Depending on the class, you might get almost a new feature per level, on average. Worse, most of this features are concentrated in the first few levels, This means that, by level 3, a character has about half a dozen features or more, with each of them being exceptions to the general rules one way or another - not to mention spells, which most classes now have.

This has multiple negative effects. Low-level play is too complicated, leaving no room for new players to learn the rules before learning the exceptions. No moment where the Wizard has a single spell to grok, or the Cleric has no special power other than turn undead, before you have to face lists of different spells and subclasses to choose from (at least those are mostly concentrated on 3rd level for many classes).

If the game was simpler at lower levels, you could just choose to set your campaign there. There would be a conceptual simple space to test the system, try out some classes, get accustomed to character death, etc., while  still leaving room for more complex play-stiles at higher levels. Alas, it is not the case. Things are complicated from the beginning.

Lots of features at first level also encourages multiclassing, up to a point, which I really dislike. The advantage of having strong, archetypal classes is exactly playing into those archetypes; by muddling things around, you make the concept a bit weaker, make character optimization more important and powerful, generate doubt about how features from different classes interact, and make me wish I was playing some game where you can just choose your features at will instead, since choosing background, class, race, subclass, and features within the subclass seems like enough choice for me without adding multiclassing.

Now, the limit of exceptional features a character should have, in my own opinion, is about seven. And I also happen to think the game "really starts" at level 3. Your mileage may vary. But you can see why 5e looks too complex for my taste.

I really don't mind that as I player - managing multiple character features is feasible when you have a single character to deal with - but it can be overwhelming as a GM, specially if you want to help new players out.

Consider this: I often run games with a "realistic" bent (things like A Game of Thrones), where enemies are not unlike the PCs. Maybe a rival knight or an evil scholar, instead of a dragon or vampire. Now, in 5e, I can no longer say that the bandit leader is a "Fighter 10", but I must choose his archetype, fighting style, and possibly feats. Also, he can be a Strength Fighter or Dexterity Fighter. Also, should he be a fighter at all? Why not a ranger or barbarian - since they are not types of fighters anymore?

Even if that is not the case - can you create a monster for 5e on the fly with the same speed you can say "AC 5, HD 3, Attack 1d6+1 sword, Morale 9, Save as: F3", or something?

All those numbers, and you STILL need to check the spells.
The solution is... Basic D&D, I guess? The "Basic PHB" has more than one hundred pages, with almost no illustrations. Compare this to Moldvay's Basic D&D, with 64 for both the players AND the GM!

Credit where credit is due, though: the fact that we have a free Basic PDF and a good enough SRD is an amazing thing. Playing Basic is, indeed, a good compromise. I really appreciate the fact that feats and multiclassing are clearly optional, and I learned to love the proficiency rules. But I like the extra options, specially classes and archetypes, so Basic has to little options with little gain in simplicity for me.

What bothers me is that the book could have half the page count, with 80-90% as many options and feats, if some things were simplified (and better written - really, do we need to say "short rest or long rest" every time?"). A single "proficiency dice" bonus could be used instead of separate concepts like number of rages per day, superiority dice, bardic inspiration, song of rest, martial arts bonus, etc, with little adjustments (but this would ruin the "new feature every level" thing). Also, do we really need Wizard, Warlock and Sorcerer with separate subclasses for each? An so on.

In fact, let us go back a little - why aren't fighters, paladins, barbarians, monks and rangers a single class (with an optional feature or two) until, say, level 5? Everybody gets a second attack, three of them choose a fighting style, but they need to repeat the whole text for each different class. Did they give up on creating a single Warrior class in the middle of the process? Or do they hate trees for some reason?

This is not to say 5e isn't a great game. It is. It is probably my favorite version of D&D to play RAW, exactly because it has so many options and, okay, it's way easier than 3.5 or 4e (or even RC and AD&D in many aspects) for me. I probably would not even bother fixing it, because it would be more work than just saying "no multiclassing allowed in my games unless it happens in-charachter and not to get bigger bonuses". Or something.

Still, I think we could do better. Not only for those people that like simpler games, like me, but for people trying to learn the game - which might benefit all of us D&D fans.

Rant over. Expect something more positive next time.

All images copyright of Wizards of the Coast.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Review - Low Fantasy Gaming

Low Fantasy Gaming ("LFG") is a d20/D&Dish RPG written by Stephen J Grodzicki, aimed at Sword & Sorcery games. It is quite old school, with some modern stuff; it calls itself an "hybrid", but I think the OSR crowd will appreciate it more. It is very compatible with old school modules and OSR adventures, which I appreciate.

Like the name says, the game is focused on Low Fantasy. Characters advance only to level 12, and spells don't go beyond level 6. What is more relevant, all magic is "dark and dangerous", and each spell involves a risk - fortunately, even MUs become decent combatants as they level up. There are elves and dwarves, but they are optional and only take a single page (for both). Magic itens are rare and flavorful.

Although the mechanics are somewhat similar to old-school D&D (with a few modifications, such as replacing Wisdom with Perception and Willpower and creating a Fighting Fantasy-style Luck ability in lieu of Saving Throws), it has plenty of interesting ideas one can use in any RPG.

The basic resolution method is roll-under ability, with roll-over AC for combat. If a character has a certain skill (such as Acrobatics, Arcane Lore, etc), he can access an expendable "Reroll poll" once per action to try again after a failure. This "roll under, roll over, reroll" stuff may bother some people, but it works and its really not that complicated. I would prefer 3d6 for skills but, hey, easy to fix, right?

There are only 5 classes, Barbarian, Bard, Fighter, Rogue and Magic User, which seems adequate for the genre. Each class takes two to three pages; they are somewhere between B/X and 5e in terms of complexity, which is good enough for me, even though I would prefer them to be even simpler. All classes get feats, but you must come up with your own - the game gives no examples, apparently to avoid constraining your creativity. Alternatively, you can trade a feat for an ability increase. I wouldn't mind a few examples, to be honest, specially to help inexperienced players out.

Combat is straightforward, with some free-form "martial exploits" (stunts) that allow for more creative combat. There are plenty of rules for permanent injuries and some clever tricks for making combat deadlier (such as characters with 0 HP being harder to heal, which avoids one of 5e's problems).

LFG has a comprehensive catalogue of monsters that also fits the genre: there are half a dozen human foes, but only one type of dragon, for example. Monster stats are lean and objective, the way I like them; most monsters  have a special attack on a natural 19, a nifty idea to make them more varied without adding much complexity. The fact that monsters have their own Luck to spend makes me think of several exploits to use against the PCs... Even though only PCs get major exploits if you play RAW.

The book looks good. The art is B&W over light "parchment" background, very clean and easy to read. Some of the artwork seems to be stock art and nothing looks particularly stunning, but very good overall, with an average of more than a picture per page.

The book is also well organized, with a decent table of contents and a good index at the end. The two-column layout is pretty basic but, again, easy to use.

The most impressive feature of this game is how complete it feels in its 184 pages. It has extensive tables for encounters, itens, spell failures, injuries, and so on. 120 spells are included, and about 100 monsters. Most situations you can think of are included (dungeons, chases, falling, madness, etc). I haven't found general rules for hazards, which would be fitting, in my opinion; maybe this is an oversight, or maybe the author felt starving to death isn't heroic enough - in any case, I got you covered.

I honestly tried coming up with some criticism to make the review more "balanced" but even though I can find a number of things I would do differently (for example, I dislike -1 and +1 circumstantial bonuses in combat), I cannot really say they are "downsides" or that they get in the way of the game. If you're looking for new, groundbreaking, experimental RPG concepts you might be disappointed, but that is not the point of LFG.

Overall, I'm very impressed by the game (you might have guessed it, since it's been a while since my last review). Not only the game is complete, but it manages to keep the focus throughout each sections: magic, combat, monsters and miscellaneous rules all fit the Sword & Sorcery theme very well.

LFG is not only amazing for a free game, it is an amazing game overall. Oh yeah - did I mention that the PDF is free? Get it here and see for yourself - I think you'll enjoy. There are also print versions in Lulu - one for less than US$5 as I write this.

UPDATE: There is a deluxe version of Low Fantasy Gaming* now! Check it out.

*By purchasing stuff through affiliate links you're helping to support this blog.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Unified B/X : Did I finally crack the code?

You might have noticed I'm somewhat obsessed about creating an unified version of B/X, with no classes (or simple ones) but lots of options - even though I'm a bit on the fence about unified mechanics as a whole.

I think I finally cracked to code. Or, at least, came up with some numbers. Even though I bet somebody somewhere has suggested this before (there is always Delta and Hack/Slash, for example).

My first problem was with MAGIC - I like to use a non-vancian system with spell failures and fumbles, but also don't want to throw away the huge lists of spells we already have.

Comparing magic to combat or thieves' skills (many of which raise by 5% every level, which is equivalent to adding your level to a d20) is a bit tricky because there is no simple, direct correlation between MU (magic user)  level and spell level.
Usually, I would use half the wizards' level for any "Arcana" roll, which is good but a bit inelegant. It also makes the Intelligence modifier TOO important if you add it to the roll; for example, a 12 level MU could cast 6 level spells, but with Intelligence 18 he would be able to cast 9th level spells. A bit too much for my tastes.

Here is what I came up with to fix this, up to a point:

Spell DC is 10 + Spell level x 2. 

Easier than it sounds, really. First level spells are DC 12, second level spells are DC 14, and so on:

12 - 14 - 16 - 18 - 20 - 22 - 24 - 26 - 28

But will people be able to multiply by 2 and add 10 effortlessly during the game? I bet they will, but it would be nice if we had an easier way to deal with that... let us say, some kind of simple chart, something with old-school cred... Hum...

Source: Doomslakers!
Level 10 spells? Nearly impossible - DC 30 (if they exist at all).

No more spell books, memorization, spell slots, etc. Just roll, add wizard's level and INT, and meet the DC on the character sheet.

Failing by 10 or more is a spell catastrophe, just because I like spell failures! Also, succeeding by 10 or more is a crit. Keep this is mind because we can use it later.

Simple enough, right? The beautiful part is that it works well with ascending AC ranges I use, and even DCs in D&D 5e:

In fact, this 1-30 range is very useful. It fits well with the d20, IMO, in combination with other concepts I enjoy - such as keeping numbers small and manageable, without d20+37 rolls for example.

Numenera also uses an intuitive 1-30 range for targets numbers, where you basically rate the difficulty of the task from 1 to 10 and multiply it by 3.

Now, if I want to make a B/X-like system, compatibly is a big deal, because I want to play old modules without conversions.

So let us consider SKILLS. Most thieves' skills get about 5% better each level at least until level 10. The "X-in-6" solution found is LotFP and other games (see a simple method here) seems to be a popular method of skill resolution. I want to come up with a system that is compatible with this, AND still uses something similar to B/X.

Now, assuming Medium as the to-go difficulty (makes sense, right?), and adding Thief level to all skills, you'd have 35% chance of succeeding in the first level.

Guess what, that is about 2-in-6.

At level 14, you'd basically have 100% chance of success. Not unlike B/X.

B/X says there is a 5% penalty for pick pocketing victims with level greater than 5. So this would mean DC for level 5 or less, DC 16 for level 6, 17 for level 7.... Easy, huh?

I like to add ability score into the mix, which makes thieves a bit more powerful and lets other character participate more meaningfully too.
nJoo - Right-click for source.
Now, with this whole thing about thieves out of the way, I will add I prefer thieves skills to be "unified" with every other skill.

The best solution I have seem for this is the NWP mechanic: get a +3 bonus (in the d20 roll) for each point you invest in any given skill. The skill list is consolidated in something like 4e, 5e or LotFP (hiding and moving silently become a single skill, for example); thieves get 2 points per level.

This also translates the X-in-6 mechanic to a d20, but you must use DC 20 to do that. For example, a 2-in-6 chance would become a +6 (2 x 3) bonus to the roll and thus a 35% chance. A 6-in-6 chance would become a +18 bonus and thus successful 95% (not unlike LotFP where a 6-in-6 skills means succeeding about 97% of the time, in, rolling 6 twice in a row).

Of course, the X-in-6 mechanics assumes an untrained chance of 1-in-6; if you take that out of the equation, you can use DC 15 and make things a bit easier for amateurs, giving automatic successes for level 14 thieves or other "experts" (the "6-in-6" guys).

If you don't want skills, you can use fractions instead.

Of course, having that "99%" chance can be more fun than always succeeding, or failing 5% of the time. One option of "extending" the d20 roll is adding 1d6 (count sixes az zeroes to be exact) to the roll if you get  natural 20, or subtracting it from the roll if you get a natural 1. This way, you get 30 possible results (from -4 to 25).

What about COMBAT? Not much to add there. Using Fighter level as the BAB works well for me; the B/X Fighter can certainly use the boost, and, in any case, the B/X Fighter needs this to at least begin to compare with the RC, BECMI or AD&D Fighter. Here are some other ideas.

Just remember that, in this system, combat and magic are NOT skills; they are three times more "valuable" than skills, in a sense, since every point you spent in skills is a +3 bonus (in a d20 roll).

TURN UNDEAD? Of course, this works better with 2d6 if we want to emulate B/X. If you want to use the d20 for that (and now I kind do), just set the DC at 10 plus undead's level. If the margin of success in 10 or more, the undead is destroyed (told you I was going to use it!). It makes TU a bit under-powered (compared to B/X) but, hey, the Cleric is a bit overpowered anyway. Maybe just make it an skill (useful por faithful laymen!) or spell.

But I LIKED your point about 2d6 for everything... Well, no problem, really - 2d6 for skills works well too, just use it instead on 1-in-X. Turn undead becomes a skill, etc. But right now I intend to use 2d6 only for the GM. Reactions, events, morale, weather, etc.

Well, this is what I got for now. Sounds good to me. Who knows, I might even stick with it for more than a few months!

In any case, let me know what you think!

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Lingering Injuries in D&D 5th Edition

The rules for lingering injuries are on page 272 of the DMG; they are not particularly good or bad, just a bit fiddly for my taste.

Here a quick, dangerous and straightforward, alternative, that requires no extra bookkeeping in addition to what is already in the character sheet. 

If a character fails any death saving throws and still survives, one failed save (even if two were failed) is not immediately erased after stabilizing or regaining HP. To make things even more dangerous, make the characters roll a death saving throws immediately upon reaching 0 HP.

This means that the character is very likely to die the next time he gets to 0 HP if he doesn't get immediate help, as has 5% of dying immediately when this happens.

To heal from this, a character must do something more significant that resting for one night. This is up to the GM and also depends on the tone of the campaign: maybe resting for 1d6 days in a safe environment, reaching a safe haven such as Rivendell (if you're playing something closer to The One Ring RPG), getting some medical attention / chirurgery (Pendragon, anyone?), a DC 20 Wisdom (medicine) check (one try per day!), casting a heal or regenerate spell , etc.

What is the point?

Getting to 0 HP in 5e is too forgiving. In fact, since there are no negative HP, it often pays off to let an ally get to 0 HP BEFORE healing him, since the excess damage is discarded! It seems too counter-intuitive and creates absurd tactics and situations. For grittier games, and specially if you want your characters to have a good reason to return to civilization from time to time, this idea might be helpful.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Fighting skill: STR, DEX, both... or none?

In OD&D, Fighters didn't need to rely too much on Strength; it was a (fairly modest) bonus to XP, nothing else. Then, abilities got more and more important (mostly, in other RPGs), until it reachead  peak in 5e. Now, because of bounded accuracy, the fighter's Strength (or Dexterity; see below) is often as important as level when determining how well you can hit your opponent.

Even though HP and number of attacks will still make the higher level character win most of the time, in WotC era D&D (and, to be fair, in much of TSR-era D&D), having a fighter with low Strength is unthinkable.

There is nothing inherently wrong with that idea. In fact, I'm more annoyed with the opposite: the fact that now Strength is the most likely dump-stat for Fighters based on Dexterity, since it does so little aside from combat (which the DEX-Fighter doesn't use), armor (which the DEX-Fighter doesn't use), and encumbrance (which the DEX-Fighter doesn't need, since he is probably wearing no armor).

The purpose is obvious (and laudable): to allow players to create nimble, fast warriors archetypes like Robin Hood or Legolas. The downsides are also obvious (and laughable): strength becomes useless when wielding a longbow!

Conversely, DEX might be a good dump stat for STR Fighters: they cannot use it to gain better defenses when wearing heavy armor (which is silly IMO), or to get a combat bonus. The reason that "Dex as a dump stat" happens less often is that DEX is so useful to so many things: combat with finesse weapons, AC, initiative, acrobatics, lock-picking, driving a chariot, playing stringed instruments and crafting small objects.

This list (from 5e, as written) sounds a bit ridiculous; in the game, it seems like too much cramped in a single ability, and in reality there is no direct link (that I know of) between an ability to play the guitar, dodge a punch and shoot a bow! Even leaving "gamism" and "realism" aside, the fact that this things are tied to a single ability is detrimental to creating archetypal characters that are good with longsword AND longbow, for example, or that can move fast while in armor, can play the lute but not dodge a punch, etc. Why would Robin Hood be as talented as Will Scarlet with a lute (at level 1 anyway), for example?

This is NOT a D&D-only problem; DEX is the uber-stat of many RPGs, that often manage to be a lot WORSE than D&D in this regard by making combat solely dependent on dexterity.

Also, can you think of an archetypal fighter that is a weakling? Even fighters that are known for their speed and accuracy over raw strength (say, Legolas, Robin Hood, Black Widow) would beat an ordinary person in an arm-wrestling contest, in my mind. What about the hulking brute that is an excellent fighter despite having no dexterity at all? That archetype is more common, but is most often used to be defeated by the weaker protagonist. Conan, Fafhrd, the Mountain (ASOIAF), etc, are certainly NOT good examples of clumsy heroes!

No dump stats for this guy!
What is worse, the current system DISCOURAGES "well-rounded" fighters with both good STR and good DEX, which goes against archetype, fiction AND reality!

If STR and DEX affect how you fight your battles, they should BOTH be important; letting STR define damage and DEX affect defense (no matter which kind of armor you're using) sounds good to me.

Now, which of the two should define "to hit" capabilities? Well, since "hitting" an enemy is an abstract thing is D&D, any solution could work.

Maybe both, since strength and dexterity are both obviously useful for a fighter? Again, nothing wrong with that, but it makes the game needlessly more complicated. In fact, one could argue that intelligence is very important to a fighter. Willpower certainly is, and perception too. Fitness, obviously (although this is reflected in HP). And so on. Potentially, any ability can be useful for fighting. IIRC, the Radiance RPG does exactly that, allowing characters to use their main ability for fighting.

Still, fighting is very much its own thing. The best fighter isn't necessarily the strongest, or the fastest. Connor McGregor's (the current UFC Featherweight Champion sentence after beating the (awesome) former champion José Aldo (using plenty of provocations and mind games, one might add - not to take anything from such an impressive victory, but just to show how the mental aspect is important in a fight) sums it up nicely: "He’s powerful and he’s fast, but precision beats power and timing beats speed".

Charisma and willpower are often important for fighters
Dexterity and strength are important, but not as important as how you apply them. If that is the case, why not just let fighting be a separate thing, as it was in OD&D? After all, magic-user didn't get spells of higher levels because of their INT (although they did get extra spells in some versions).

The damage boost is good enough for the strong fighter, the AC bonus is good enough for the nimble fighter, and (although no fighter can completely ignore any of these aspects), if fighting ability is defined mainly by level, an expert fighter can succeed against a faster or stronger foe.

This seems more in tune with reality, archetype, and, what might be even more important, makes the game a bit simpler and more flexible at the same time.