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, January 30, 2021

The curious case of the 5e Rogue

Here is something I've just realized... 

There are many ways to divide D&D classes into small groups; in D&D 2e, for example, you had Warriors (fighter, paladin and ranger), Wizards (Mage and Illusionist), Priests (Cleric and Druid) and Rogue (Thief and Bard).

It made plenty of sense to me at the time. In fact, I like a four-way division for all kinds of D&D (see here). My take on it would be something like warrior/wizard/leader/specialist. But that's the subject for another post.

D&D 5e has twelve classes: Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard.

The "groups" are not exactly clear-cut. There are plenty with sub-classes with spells, for example, and there is a "war cleric" that resembles a fighter (and even a "valor bard"), etc. However...

You can notice that five classes (Barbarian, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger) get a second attack at 5th level. 

You could call these "warriors". Notice that they take different paths in other levels (the fighter gets a third attack at level 11, while the barbarian gets tougher, etc.).

Conversely, there are six classes (Cleric, Druid, Bard, Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard) that get 3rd levels spells at 5th level. These are our "magic-users" (yes, I know that the Bard is a bit "hybrid").

In 5e, this is intentional; 3rd level spells (like fireball) represent a "jump" in power that is comparable with an extra attack (while the difference between 3rd and 4th level spells, for example, is not that significant).

And that leaves us with the rogue... that gets "uncanny dodge" ("Starting at 5th level, when an attacker that you can see hits you with an attack, you can use your reaction to halve the attack’s damage against you".), in addition to a few bonuses (sneak attack, proficiency bonus raise - which counts a bit more because of expertise, etc.)

Art: Human/Shifter Rogue (detail) by Brandon Chang - source.

The rogue is not a bad class in 5e, on the contrary; I've had several rogues in my games and they always worked well (unlike, maybe, warlocks and rangers). 

But I've found this distinction curious. You could divided 11 classes between warriors and spell-casters, leaving the rogue as a (very important) odd duck.

This is probably a direction I'm pursuing in my minimalist 5e.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Weapons distinctions - brief D&D history

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you might know my favorite editions of D&D are B/X and probably 5e, but I like to take ideas from all editions. Also, you might know I write a lot about "5e weapons", and not as much about weapons in an old-school context. But now I'd like to take a brief recap of melee weapons through D&D editions (if you play 5e, take a look at my book at the end of the post).

In all editions of D&D, weapon proficiency is determined by class; so, a fighter is always good when fighting with a sword, while a wizard is bad at swordplay or incapable to use a sword (an idea I dislike).

OD&D (1974) had little differentiation between weapons; all weapons deal 1d6 damage. The main distinction is in magic: swords are not better than, say, axes, but magic swords are a lot more common than magic axes, with give fighters an edge (hehe). 

Notice, however, that Chainmail did include a weapons versus armor table, making some weapons more efficient than others, especially against some kinds of armor. Here is a good post on the matter. It was a really interesting and well balanced system.

The Greyhawk supplement (1975) would include variable weapon damage: daggers deal 1d4 damage, swords 1d8, etc., and different damage against large opponents.

In Holmes (1977), all weapons still do 1d6 damage... But included this bit:

Light weapons such as the dagger allow two blows per round. The heavy two-handed sword, battle axe, halberd, flail, morning star, and most pole arm can be used only once every other round.

Which means daggers are four times better than two-handed swords, in addition to being cheaper and lighter, with no apparent downsides. But Holmes refers to AD&D for more detail...

And AD&D (1977) had very detailed weapons, as you can see below. weight, length, space required, speed, variable damage and a different damage against Large opponents. There was also another table for weapons versus armor.

This was probably too much - if I remember correctly, Gygax himself didn't use these tables, although I cannot find the original source for this claim.

B/X (1981) included variable damage as an optional rule, but not much more than that. You could say this simpler method, where weapons are mostly defined by damage, weight, cost, and use (missile, thrown, two hands, etc.) but usually have no explicit difference against armor types, would become the usual method in the WotC era. Some weapons are slightly better than others, but they are a bit more expensive, and so on.

Unearthed Arcana (1985) introduced "weapon specialization" to AD&D, and here at least we've got the relevant Gygax quote:

It was a somewhat ironic addition, because back in The Dragon #16 (July 1978), in a much earlier Sorcerer's Scroll, Gygax wrote, "There are a number of foolish misconceptions which tend to periodically crop up also. Weapons expertise is one. … For those who insist on giving weapons expertise bonuses due to the supposed extra training and ability of the character, I reply: What character could be more familiar and expert with a chosen weapon type than are monsters born and bred to their fangs, claws, hooves, horns, and other body weaponry?"
AD&D 2e and the RC/BECMI had their own systems for "Weapon Mastery" or "Weapon proficiency" to allow characters - especially warrior types - to specialize in certain weapons and wield them more effectively, and also use special maneuvers such as trip, disarm, etc. (I think they were introduced in Oriental Adventures

Such mechanics are double edged (pardon the pun). On one hand, they provided a much needed boost  of power and variety to warriors. On the other hand, they add complexity to a class that could be played in a more simple way. They also encourage warriors to forgo new, interesting weapons that they've found while adventuring (say, a +2 fire halberd) in favor of those they are proficient in, and discourage other classes to fight creatively (no tripping, disarming, etc. if you're not proficient). Here is one interesting critical look.

3e/Pathfinder kept detailed weapons. It had a decent grip on weapons, IMO. The "Weapon Focus" bonus is small enough to make it irrelevant if you find a magic weapon, and most maneuvers can be attempted by anybody, although they will only be optimal if you have the right feat (and fighters get more feats). Each weapon is better for something different (better critical hits, better against big opponents, etc.).

Unfortunately, that level of detail, in an already complicated system, might have generated enough dissatisfaction to cause WotC do dial things down in 4e and 5e.

4e also had a very good weapon system. Simpler than 3e, but each weapon still has its benefits and special maneuvers. It also had "weapon groups", so that being specialized is "maces" would also benefit you while using clubs, greatclubs and morningstars, for example. 4e falls on the "you cannot do that if you don't have the feature" trap - but that is a design intent of the whole 4e system. Overall, I really like 4e's weapon system - probably my favorite in modern D&D.

5e has good intentions (weapons are varied, you need feats to make the most of them, anyone can attempt maneuvers, etc.) but it made the system too simple IMO, with huge gaps - there is no reason to use a trident or mace, for example. It also managed to throw lots of good ideas regarding weapons in the garbage.

There are not that many different weapons, except for magic weapons - like it was in the days of OD&D. New weapons are rare and not necessarily balanced (the yklwa from Tomb of Annihilation comes to mind).

Most weapons are defined by feats - you have feats for archers, for heavy weapons, for dual wielding, for polearms, and now a feat for slashing weapons, another for piercing weapons, etc. These are mostly well made - altough I think weapons should ahve more differetiation without the need of feats.

I mentioned Pathfinder 2 here - I like he way it deals with weapons; it seems to have the right amount of detail, but I've never played it.


So, this is basically my brief history of the evolution of weapons, from old school D&D to modern D&D. Now, if you want to know about my favorite methods...

For OSR games, I like variable weapon damage plus some discreet weapon traits. Longer reach for a spear, maces are better against armor, etc. One trait per weapon is enough. Yes, the sword is probably longer than an axe of similar weight... but while it might make a difference in real life, it becomes negligible when you're fighting a huge dragon.

This is exactly what I used in Dark Fantasy Basic, of course. It is about the level of detail I intend to use in my minimalist 5e games.

For Fifth Edition games, well, the system is decent enough - it only needs a few tweaks, corrections and additions. As you might know, I wrote a whole book about the subject! It is my 5e Manual of Arms: Weapons, which you can find on DTRPG (check the link).

The tweaks are quite small - I changed half a dozen weapons, added three or four new weapons (that are really needed, IMO). The rest of the book is analyzing weapons and ideas for creating your own. If you have been following this blog for a while, you've seen my ideas about weapons already. 

And if you want to add a little detail to your D&D weapons, the book is worth checking!

Thursday, January 21, 2021

D&D 5e x Pathfinder 2 (beating a dead horse)

This is old news by now. By this point, everyone has made their choice between these two... or something else.

I wrote about my first impressions of Pathfinder in 2019, when it was released. It has some interesting stuff. I've never actually played it. 

I did, however, watch a video about it, and found it very interesting. It illustrates lots of stuff I try to say here with actual examples from PF2. Mainly, about lots of complexity and lack of meaningful choices.

This is not a jab against PF2 specifically; I see it in 5e and lots of other games, even old school ones.

Anyway, I think it is worth watching not only for PF2 and 5e players but also people who are interested in RPG mechanics. 

Without further ado:

There is a follow up video, too, but this only deals with very specific comparisons between 5e and PF 2. Still interesting.

The channel is full of good stuff, especially for 5e fans. Take a look!

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Minimalist D&D VII - Six skill sets

You asked for it, and you shall receive!

More minimalist D&D is coming... hopefully, until it becomes an entire game.

I talked about skills before (read that first!) and I am 90% convinced that they are not needed. However, five skills remained useful in my analysis: sleight of hand, arcana, history, nature and medicine.

You might call them "skill sets", instead. Something like this:

- Nature: animal handling, survival, nature, maybe perception when in nature.
- Lore: religion, history.
- Thievery: sleight of hand + thieves' tools.
- Arcana: well, arcana.
- Medicine: just medicine.

I kept these because you can build interesting archetypes around them. The experience ranger or hunter that is not particularly wise (average wisdom), the thief who is better with lock-picks than with a rapier. Or a doctor and a wizard who are both very intelligent, but not in the same way.

I cannot see that with other skills. Acrobatics, for example - can you think of a hero in fiction which would have low Dexterity and STILL great acrobatics? Makes no sense to me.

I considered some kind of "influence" skillset for charisma skills (deception, intimidation, persuasion , performance). But nope. A knight who is a leader has high Charisma. A suave thief has high Charisma. That's enough.

But I am really tempted to add a sixth skillset. Which is:

- Observation: perception, insight, investigation.

Now, I can see how this is somewhat redundant to Wisdom... And, as I've said "wouldn't it be cool if perception were context-specific? So, the ranger notices everything in the wild, but the aristocrat measures every look in the court, etc."


I can see the opposite too. A thief with low Wisdom, but a great eye for detail. Maybe a skill set to find hidden stuff; secret passages, quiet noises... This stuff is so improtant in D&D! Or maybe that should be folded into thievery. So, the thief sees small secret doors, the ranger doesn't - but he gets too see an ambush in the woods in advance. And the wizard perceives magic stuff.

Thinking of it this way, the sixth skill set could be War (or a better name - any suggestions?). It wouldn't influence combat at all... but would allow you to see an ambush before it comes, the value of a good sword, some interesting tactics against another group of combatants... Maybe the can MAKE some simple weapons in extreme circumstances.

War certainly creates lots of interesting combinations. Barbarians do War and Nature, Paladins do War and Arcana, etc.

I'm thorn on this one. I confess having six abilities and six skill sets is very tempting.

HOWEVER, I wouldn't want skill sets to be something every character has (like abilities).

By learning medicine or arcana, you know things no one else knows, even if they have high Intelligence. This is NOT just a bonus.

In short... skills are feats. Common ones, but still feats. So they can contain whatever you find interesting... and can be multiplied infinitely.

Anyway. that's probably the direction I'm going. Skills are feats, they do relevant things, and not everyone is forced to pick them.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Dark Fantasy Basic is GOLD, a funny review, DCC RPG, and a huge sale

(Dear readers, I know I had a Christmas sale recently, bit I think this one is also worth sharing. We will go back to our "regularly scheduled programming" soon, I promise)

Dark Fantasy Basic has reached gold status on DTRPG, which makes me very happy. It means at least 500 people have bought it. 

It is a very small number when compared to big publishers, of course, but means a lot to me. And I think this might be a good opportunity to share this review (click to enlarge): 

I really love how the every character died and they STILL had a great time. That's the OSR for you... 

BTW, if you want to see other reviews, the other two in DTRPG are detailed and well written. They've read the book carefully, and it shows. You can read them here:

And, absolutely, DFB does play well with DCC modules - there is how I started testing it a long time ago. Notice, however, that DFB PCs are a bit more durable (and their saving throws are much higher).

DCC is certainly one of the best games I've ever read... One of the few that has inspired me in reading from cover to cover. I would like more simplicity and fewer tables, but it remains a huge inspiration.

It is one of these games that I would have a hard time reviewing... Like Shadow of the Demon Lord, the review would be something like "this is a near-perfect RPG"... Maybe I should just make a list of favorites instead.

Anyway, as you can see from the link, there is a big sale going on*, and most my products are included. In fact, it includes LOTS of products - including some classics like the original PHB*.

Even if you already have them, you'd help me a lot by leaving five-star reviews on your favorite ones. In addition, the links marked with an asterisk (*) are affiliate links - by purchasing stuff through affiliate links you're helping to support this blog.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

2021 plans... and what would YOU like to read?

Happy new year!

I'll begin the 2021 run of this blog by listing my current projects. If you want, let me know what you find interesting - or come up with your own suggestions! I asked the same question last year, and I think it worked out well.

There is no deadline for these ones; most are in a very embryonic stage. Surely, more stuff will come up eventually.

Curse of Strahd (blog)
I have endless comments about CoS, in addition to the ones I already made. The sad part is that I'm not currently planning to run it again, so many good ideas will go unused... let's see.

Tomb of Annihilation (blog)
Like CoS, a good but flawed campaign - the one I'm currently running. I might have a tip or two, but not as many as CoS.

Reviews (blog)
RPG reviews are hard to do. They take some work to write, and I'm always very cautious to be both fair and respectful. In addition, my reviews do not get many views or comments, so I'm not sure anyone is interested. Sometimes, I read a book that interests me, and I publish a short review - including non-RPG stuff. Or just a recommendation - something brief.
Maybe I'll add a "currently loving..." tag to my posts? If you want to know which RPGs I like, I'd say try Shadow of the Demon Lord. It has been my favorite for a while.

D&D 5e Light (blog + PDF)
My minimalist version of 5e. I will continue to write about it on the blog and might publish a PDF one day. I'm aiming at 20-40 pages for the PHB, might add a minimalist MM and DMG too.

D&D 5e Dark (PDF)
A small collection of house rules to make 5e a bit darker. Many people did this before but I want to give it my own spin. About 10-20 pages or so.

Teratogenicon (print)
I really want to make a POD version of the Teratogenicon. It is a bit harder than it sounds but I think I can do it.

Dawn of the Bloody Sun (PDF)
My post-apocalyptic setting. Only a collection of ideas so far. Even the name is temporary... but yeah, something akin to Dying Earth, Dark Sun, Mad Max... Red Sun, Mad Sun, Scorched Watelands and so on.
Here are some related posts: one, two, three.

Dark Fantasy Cyclopedia (PDF)
Dark Fantasy Basic plus monsters and a combination of all my booklets. Just calling it "cyclopedia" makes me nervous, I'll admit, but aiming for the stars might be a good idea.

Weapons and armor (blog)
I'm not really focused on that right now... But it is a subject I love, and the ideas keep coming. So I'm probably writing a bit about that in 2021.
I might also make Manual of Arms: Armor, a defensive counterpart for my MoA:Weapons.

EDIT (04/2021): Manual of Arms: Armor and shields is now available!

If you have any ideas, let me know! Do you like OSR, RAW 5e, minimalist 5e, other systems...?