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

Monday, January 28, 2019

Too many races (+My Carcosa)

Races available in my next Carcosa (Dark Sun/Tékumel) campaign:

- Choose any race available in any 5e book. Try to avoid the most boring ones (no ordinary humans). If you find something cool in another system, we will find a way to include it too.
- Tell the GM the main distinction of your race: habits, culture, etc. Be brief. You do not have to stick to WotC text.
- Races chosen by players substitute one of the thirteen types of men described in the book.
- Races not chosen are whatever the GM feels like. Some suggestions:

Black – Danuvian (Talislanta)
Blue – Vedalken (Ravnica)
Bone – These look cool the way they are, actually.
Brown – Goliath
Dolm – Thri-Kreen (Dark Sun)
Green – Genasi
Jale – Gnolls
Orange – Ahazu (Talislanta)
Purple – Kenku
Red – Red Martians
Ulfire – Shén (Tekumel)
White – Melniboneans
Yellow – Githyanki

Voilá! Now Carcosa is full of bizarre races, each with a distinct appearance and culture, if you need one (just google it!).


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Explanation:

My current 5e campaign has four player characters: a gnoll, an aasimar, a goliath, and a tiefling. I play most old school modules and I'm currently running Curse of Strahd; so you can imagine that there is no place reserved for such races in most adventures. My players do not care much about their races beyond chargen, and as a result their races NEVER got mentioned again (except for the goliaths' size).

I don't care either - I want players to be free to create any characters they enjoy. However, it paints an irritating picture in my mind. They seems out of place - unlike my Dark Sun or Ravnica adventures, these "unusual races" just do not seem to fit (they would be a bad fit for "tolkienesque" settings too, but I hardly run those).

To be honest, Curse of Strahd should probably be human-only. Not onyl the PCs, but the NPCs add nothing by being half-elves etc (well, I can only remember a single case anyway).

My next campaign after CoD is probably a Carcosa hexcrawl, which gave me this idea.

As you know, Carcosa is inhabited by many types o men: orange men, blue men, bone men, etc. They are nearly identical expect for the colors of their skins, which many people find boring (although I think 13 different races with distinct appearances and cultures might be too much).

So I thought I'd inverted the usual "these races are available". Instead, let the players choose which races are available, and cut everything else. This will give the setting a distinct flavor and avoid race proliferation.

(And if you're asking yourself how many races should a setting have, the answer is probably seven).

Makes me wonder if it wouldn't be better to use the same reasoning for ALL settings...

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Damage types (D&D 5e)

5e has thirteen damage types: acid, bludgeoning, cold, fire, force, lightning, necrotic, piercing, poison, psychic, radiant, slashing, and thunder.

One could argue we don't need damage types at all - a monster that is susceptible to fire will obviously take more damage form a 5d6 fireball, so "5d6 fire damage" fireball is redundant.

The distinction is useful if you have a magic mace that deals, say, additional 1d6 fire damage, or a spell like meteor swarm, which deals bludgeoning AND fire damage. In this cases, a susceptible creature would take double damage form the fire, but NOT from the bludgeoning damage.

But even in these cases, I think I would ok with a less "realistic" and more "cinematic" version: the (fire-susceptible) scarecrow would be easily destroyed by a flaming sword, etc., despite the fact that a flaming sword would do a terrible job at destroying a scarecrow in real life.



In any case, I would like to keep damage types if only to make things clear and avoid questions such as "does the meteor swarm causes double damage to this monster?".

However, there are three damage types that bother me:

Bludgeoning. Blunt force attacks—hammers, falling, constriction, and the like—deal bludgeoning damage.

Force. Force is pure magical energy focused into a damaging form. Most effects that deal force damage are spells, including magic missile and spiritual weapon.

Thunder. A concussive burst of sound, such as the effect of the Thunderwave spell, deals thunder damage.

These three are so similar in my mind that they could all be described as "bludgeoning". I assume most people picture the impact of a magic missile to be akin to an invisible rock. Likewise, the impact of a "spiritual mace" would be the similar to a regular mace (even if stronger).

And "thunder" damage is specially weird. It deals "concussive" damage - like a mace, but more diffuse I'd guess - but this damage is caused by a burst of sound. Maybe the distinction would make  sense in real life, but in 5e thunder damage doesn't hurt your eardrums, and even a grenade does not cause thunder damage. In addition, people might find the thunder/lighting separation confusing (here is one example). "Sonic" damage might be a better choice.

As for monsters... there are not many monsters that are susceptible or resistant to bludgeoning or force. Some creatures are resistant to thunder damage, but most of these are ALSO resistant to bludgeoning for non-magical weapons. There are some flavorful choices - storm giants being immune to thunder and lighting, for example - but also weird distinctions, like skeletons being especially susceptible to maces but not thunderwave, "spiritual maces" or grenades.

Other than that, damage types don't really DO anything. There is no difference in criticals, types of armor (unless magical), and so on. You are not on fire after receiving too much fire damage, and you're not even poisoned if you take poison damage.

In short, if you NEED to use damage types, you could probably fold thunder and force into bludgeoning, making the game simpler and losing very little in the process.

Alternatively, you could USE damage types to do things (for example, making bludgeoning better against heavy armor), but that would make the game more complex.

The "middle ground" of "we have many damage types, but they rarely DO anything" seems like a bad choice for me.

UPDATE (10/10/2019): I released a book (5e Manual of Arms: Weapons) that, among other things, tries to differentiate between bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage - see below!

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Friday, January 11, 2019

Speed, initiative, bonus actions and the action economy...

Happy new year!

These year I'll write about monsters, weapons, yadda yadda, let us skip this stuff for now.

So, here is a brief idea after a long hiatus. Hopefully, I'll get back to blogging soon enough.

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TL;DR: I'm considering allowing PCs to trade half their move (or their main action) for an additional bonus action.
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I like the whole "action economy" of 5e. I think they've got it (mostly) nailed with actions, bonus actions and reactions, with a few exceptions - two weapon fighting, Beastmaster Rangers, etc.

However, Mike Mearls himself has suggested that it might be a good idea to get rid of bonus actions.

I often wonder about the same topic.

The most obvious solution would be trading some MOVEMENT for special actions - dodge, disengage, hide, etc. Use "half your movement" as a baseline. Not too different from getting up if you're prone, for example, or how disengage worked in B/X.

Other simple actions could be "part of your attack". Drawing a knife or arrow, for example. Drawing a zweihander might cost you some movement, so an unprepared warrior with a heavy weapon would be less mobile. Nice!

Other things - like rage, for example - might be better portrayed as reactions. I like the barbarians' rage triggering in response to some event, at least in the first few levels.

What about bonus action spells? Well, I'm not the greatest fan TBH. Most of them seem to be created to allow you to create a special weapon and attack with it. So, just add hat to the spell's description.

In short... bonus action serves as an abbreviation, a shortcut to the idea that you can do this "thing" and still get your main action, but you cannot do two of these "things" in the same round. Which is not always a good thing - rangers, for example, have too much stuff competing for their actions.

In short, the whole "bonus action" concept isn't necessary... but a good enough shortcut. Because of that, I am not sure if getting rid of them would make the game any simpler.

If I were to make a "realistic" system from that, I'd probably give each character a few TOKENS representing their movement. Say, one blue token for each 5 feet of movement (these can be used for various kinds of movement). Then one red token for each attack or spell (a fighter with four attacks gains four tokens). Whoever surprises the other side, rolls high enough for initiative, has some rogue-like reflexes, etc., gains a few green tokens that cannot be used, only held until the end of the round.

The creature with the most tokens acts first, spending some of their tokens - maybe from one to three, at most.

So, the fighter with four attacks can probably pull a knife and stab a CR 1 monster three times before it reacts... But if he has a battleaxe, he might have to spend a couple of blue tokens to draw it before attacking, which might be enough to let you attack back, unless you're surprised, etc.

This would lead to more "organic" battles, as I intended here.



These lead to endless permutations, of course. Tokens for reactions - why not? Additional tokens for critical hits of misses, maybe depending on weapon speed, etc.

Probably too much work for little effect. But something I would definitely use for a more "tactical" version of D&D in line with 4e, etc.

For now, I might just allow PCs to trade half their move (or their main action) for an additional bonus action. Maybe fighters get one additional bonus action for extra attack, provided they use it for TWF, etc.

Next: maybe a(nother) simple yet detailed "fix" for two-weapon fighting or weapon speed, based on this post.
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