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, May 31, 2021

Fortitude/Reflex/Will in D&D 5e: another quick fix

D&D 5e saving throws has pros and cons; overall, I like it, but I think it could be a bit better. I wrote a post about that in 2015.

It just occurred to me that there's a simpler and better solution to do Fortitude/Reflex/Will in D&D 5e.

Here is how it goes: Fortitude is the average of your Strength and Constitution. Round up. Reflex the average of Int and Dex, and Will the average of Wis and Cha.

BTW, use Reflex for initiative if you want to. And Fortitude for concentration checks. Now spellcasters have some use for strength, and fighters some use for Intelligence. Nice, right?

In addition now, everyone is proficient in every save. Features that add proficiency (monk etc.) now give a +2 bonus intead. Or something.

This way, we have just cut the number of saving throws by half, removed one class distinction, gave Intelligence and Charisma a bigger role, increased STs in high levels (a worthy fix IMO) and made odd ability scores a bit more useful in some circumstances.

Not bad for a quick fix!

Saturday, May 29, 2021

LAST DAYS of the D&D Settings Sale (DTRPG) - 3rd-party and OSR picks

The D&D setting sale is nearly finished. I talked about "official" D&D picks here. Now let's take a look at 3rd party and OSR stuff.

The Midgard Worldbook for 5th Edition and PFRPG is my main interest here, as it is published by Kobold Press, which makes some of my favorite 3rd-party monster books, Tome of Beasts and Creature Codex.

Yugman's Guide to Ghelspad Collected Volume (5e OGL) is a collection of player options for the Scarred Lands setting. I've read about the setting and the premise is very interesting... I think I'd prefer the setting book first, but if you want more player options for 5e, Yugman's might be worth the look.

There is some OSR stuff in the sale. Midlands Low Magic Sandbox is a setting for one of my favorite OSR games, Low Fantasy Gaming. Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea is a great AD&D sword & sorcery clone - this is the second edition, there is a third edition on the way. Another OSR settings that caught my attention are The Midderlands and the Wormskin zines.

Missed the sale? No problem!

Unfortunately, apparently none of my books were included in the sale. So here is a 50% discount for my Dark Fantasy Settings. I think it is only appropriate! It is good for a week.

These are all Affiliate links - by using them, you're helping to support this blog!

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Ø2\\‘3|| is out. [Yes you've read it right]

Ø2\\‘3||, the new book by Jens  Durke* (The Disoriented Ranger) is out (at a discounted price as I write this).

While I do not fully understand the name choice, I've read the book in an earlier version (and gave Jens my impressions), so I cannot write an unbiased review (Jens is also a friend), but I think this is an interesting RPG - one of a kind, really. 

Maybe you could see it as the 2021 version of Paranoia - once we were afraid once war, treason and constant vigilance, now we are threatened by social media, AI, infantilization, fake news and, well, constant vigilance again.

It also reminds me of Misspent Youth* or Cyberpunk* somewhat. But these are just references - Ø2\\‘3|| has its own things going on.

The writing is good, and it paints a very grim picture of the future. 

Here is the blurb:

Welcome to a very dark world ...

This game is designed with the DM in mind instead of the next product to sell. You buy this, you’ll have all the content you’ll ever need to play this game for a very long time. We will offer supplements in the near future, of course, but what you get here is as complete as we could make it.

The setting is Europe in the year 2081, unified under one totalitarian party called The Family. The United States of Europe (USE, for short) are a playground for all the bad ideas this century has already come up with (and some of the classics from the last 100 years). Citizens are rated by an arbitrary and mean Social Status system, puberty blockers are mandatory for all but the Elites. All of this is shrouded through a huge media ruse: reality is hidden behind a fully augmented and gamified layer, maintained by an AI implanted at birth and controlled by The Family. Citizens never grow up, just grow older and if they aren't high in social status, they are bled and used for everything they have, most of the time without even realizing it. That veil is lifted for some, and with that comes resistance (or opportunity).

It’s a game that assumes players are open to exploring all kinds of ideas and willing to put some thought into the stories they tell and experienced DMs who want to explore a system that challenges them as well. It is also a satire of a dystopian future that may not yet fall upon us …

You will find in this fully illustrated tome:

  • a completely free-form character generation that lets players create exactly what they want

  • a character advancement that emerges in-game with play and for each character individually

  • an original game engine that creates a base narrative for a DM to manifest their campaign on

  • a unique cinematic combat system that mixes tactical gaming with storytelling freedom

  • a point based economy that can empower players but will also strengthen the DM response

  • tools to create a complete and dynamic dystopian sandbox for your players to explore

  • 5 years worth of writing, researching, designing and play-testing

Reading it may depress or elate you, playing it will make you laugh and discuss. Or, as a friend of the game put so eloquently:

Start this game engine, it produces satire!

If all that sounds as if it could be for you, you should give this a shot.

All the work was put into making this the best book it can be, not a pdf. This is dead tree only.

I'd recommend you check this one out especially if you like:

- Tragic/satiric views of our possible futures.
- Very dark humor.
- Games such as "Paranoia" and "We happy few".
- Books like 1984 (Orwell), Brave New World, and The Futurological Congress, or anything by PKD.
- Black Mirror.
- Amazingly creepy art.
- A new, unique system (Jens writes about OSR stuff, but this is very much a modern system).

*Affiliate links.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Minimalist D&D XI - the three classes

I'll probably give up on re-writing the whole system; there are just too many spells to consider. I'll just have a version  to introduce new players into the game, with a few DM tips, and I might use it for my own games (since I don't like spell slots, etc.). As always, I think I'll make most of these things optional. Except, maybe, for spell points.

Without further ado, using 5e rules with some changes defined in this "Minimalist D&D" series, here are my three classes:

Copyright WotC

HD: 1d10 per warrior level.
You get an extra attack at levels 5th, 11th and 17th.
You get +1 to hit, damage, and AC. With your favorite weapon type (swords, maces, spears, polearms, unarmed, grappling, etc.), you get +2 to hit instead.
With every new level after the first, you can learn a cool battle maneuver (probably with a bonus action or reaction) or power (rage, an improved second wind, re-roll a saving throw, making an extra attack, tripling the damage of a crit, etc. - each one costs one HD), or raise one ability score.

HD: 1d8 per expert level.
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. At level 11th, you add 1d6 when rolling any skills. When you reach 17th level, you can take two turns during the first round of any combat. You take your first turn at your normal initiative and your second turn at your initiative minus 10. You can’t use this feature when you are surprised.
Choose one broad skill (observation, nature, arcana, craft, etc.) - you have advantage while performing this skill. You can spend one hit die to give yourself advantage in other skills.
You add 1d6 times half your level (round up) to your sneak attacks.
With every new level, you can choose a cool move you can make with a with a bonus action or reaction - hide, help, disengage, give yourself advantage in your next attack, etc., or some cool power (usually related to movement, hiding, or spell) you can use by spending HD, or raise one ability score.

HD: 1d6 per spellcaster level.
Spells/cantrips: start with three, add one per level. Pick a spell list from one of the existing classes, and you must use the same
Free spell: you can cast one spell per day without using any spell points or HD.
Spell points: you have one spell point, plus one per level. They refresh at the same time and at the same rate as HD. It costs one SP or HD per spell level to cast a spell (smite and turn undead are now spells, BTW).
Spell levels: the maximum level you can cast is equal to half your level (round up).
Feats/ability score raises? Maybe a few on even levels. Yo'ure already getting plenty of power on odd levels.

No saving throws (you probably roll against the target's abilities). No skills (only skill sets the expert can get). No fighting styles. No weapon or armor restrictions (if you can pay for it and carry it, go for it). We are ditching EVERYTHING but abilities and a few features.

And that's about it. Let me know if anything seems unbalanced.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Minimalist D&D X: Spell-points

I've talked about this idea before. What if, instead of trying to manage multiple separate resources (spells slots, rages per day, spell casting without spells slots per short rest, etc.), you had ONE single resource to record?

Well, let's put it in practice. We will start with spell points (SP); this method has multiple advantages.

But first let's see what we have:

I must confess I have a hard time keeping track of each slot. The fact that we need a table turns me off, but that's traditional. "Signature Spells" add another layer of complexity by requiring two SEPARATE "pools". 

I wish we could have something simpler.

Well, the warlock is a bit simpler, right? Kinda. Fewer spells, but more options (patrons, pacts, invocations...). 

Maybe the sorcerer? Not quite. She has spell slots AND spell points. And you can convert one to the other. You need a table for that.


The alternative rules for spell points in the DMG are barely an improvement over spell slots. It gives spellcasters more flexibility with no cost:

Is there a pattern (other than max spell level)? I fail to see it. The numbers are all over.

Maybe we should start with the sorcerer, since she ALREADY has spell points (or "sorcery points"). IMO, it would be cooler, easier, and more distinctive if she ONLY had those. Let's see:

So, let's see what we can do with that.

Instead of slots, we get sorcery points. We could just add the spell point totals to the existing sorcery points, but I'd prefer a more "aesthetically satisfying" table. Here is my suggestion: start with 5 spell points, add 5 per even level, and 10 per odd level, until level 10.

Starting on level 11, you get a single spell point per level. In addition to that, you get to cast a 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th spell ONCE PER DAY in the appropriate levels (11, 13, 15, and 17) without spending spell points (plus an extra 6th level spell on 19th and 7th level on 20th). Here you go:

It is a small nerf in the high levels but a fair cost for the flexibility, IMO. It still needs some fine tuning (and maybe some way of dealing with "loose" spell points), but I really like the result.

I haven't eliminated spell slots, exactly, but cut them by half, which makes me pleased.

But let's take it one step further... 

What if we simplified the system even more, making spells cost one SP per level? So, a 3rd level spell costs 3 SP. 

Now we cut the number of SP per sorcerer level to something more manageable; maybe two SP per level.

[I'm this close to giving them one SP per level and let them use HD for the rest (while other classes use HD for rages, second wind, etc.), but that's a subject for another post].

So, for example, you've got a 11th level sorcerer with 22 SP (plus one "free" 6th level spell), meaning he can cast fireball 7 times. This is fewer than he would have in the DMG system (about 11), but also fewer than the PHB system (8 spells of 3rd level or higher, not counting the 6th level spell).

My main concern here is that this might make MUs too weak, but I'd give them a small short rest boost to compensate.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

D&D Settings Sale (DTRPG) - My (official) D&D picks

The best "official D&D" deals are listed in the sale page:

I'll analyze the 3rd party stuff in another post. Two of them looks good, and the other... not so much (let's see if you can guess which is which!). But I haven't read them. 

Dark Sun, of course, is my favorite D&D setting. The Dark Sun Boxed Set (2e) is also on sale, for the same price. I have this one in print (POD - you can get a physical hardcover copy of the original for $23.99) and PDF and really like it. I'd pick the 2e version if I had to choose (although I might end up with both). The 4e version is also very good - I don't really play 4e, but when we did, we used this book, and liked it.

I also played plenty of Dragonlance in 4e... it is a strange setting, with lots of vanilla but also weird twists (like scarce metal, different magic, etc.). I cannot compare this 3.5e version with others, but it is probably the one I'd pick.

Planescape is another classic setting that you can get in PDF or print.

I might pick me some Ravenloft too, although I'm not sure wbout which one. I was looking for the 2e version, Domains of Dread, but I've heard that the 3.0 version (by Swords & Sorcery Studios/Arthaus/White Wolf) is even better. I'm unsure about the new 5e Ravenloft book, but I'm a big fan of Ravenloft (you already know that if you're following this blog...). There is also Realm of Terror (2e), the first boxed set for the Ravenloft campaign setting. Tim Brannan recommended this one to me. Maybe I should start with the original... Do you have any favorites? Let me know in the comments!

There are other settings on sale, including the 5e Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron and many others. I haven't read this one, but the Eberron stuff I did read was interesting.

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Friday, May 14, 2021

Improvisation and randomness may lead to railroading; a pre-written story will save you

NOTE: Blogger deleted this (for bogus reasons) the first time I've posted, so I posted again with small changes. I managed to recover the comments (see below) and draft, but decided to keep this one.

This counter-intuitive, I know, but hear me out. 

We usually say that's having a prewritten story is bad form, and that you should play to find out what happens next, with input from your players and improvisation from the GM. I have advised this very thing. 

However, THE OPPOSITE is also true in one sense: a prewritten story (with beginning and end) of what happens if the PCs don't intervene is very useful.

To understand this, we have to define railroading. I wrote a post about that, but you could say that the railroad is defined by the lack of relevant choices on the part of the players. I've said:
So the railroad can happen, basically, in two cases:
Because there is no choice (for example, there is only one door) or;2) Because the choice does not matter (there are several doors to choose from, but the result is the same; or: the antagonist confronts the PCs on act three no matter what they do).
Now, if you read that post, you've seem a couple of examples where randomness takes away from player choice. If they have three doors to choose from (say, one made of wood, other iron, and other paper), but they lead to three randomly defined different rooms, the choice doesn't matter.

Well, if the players have NO CLUE and NO WAY OF FINDING ONE, their choice is random anyway, so the distinction doesn't really matter. But if they can choose to look for clues, it is better to have a these things written in advance than making them random. 

This sounds simple enough; let's talk about improvisation. 

Of course you need improvisation to run a game. After all you never know what the players will choose next.

However, relying only on improvisation is dangerous: in such circumstances, it is hard to be sure that you're not making the choices void. 

Let me give you one example. Let's say you have a cool monster (a green troll) that you want to introduce to your game. Instead of putting him in the sewers, the swamp, or under the bridge, you keep him in your pocket (or the back of your head) to use when necessary. Now, the players go to the swamp and - bam! Here is the opportunity to use your troll! But what if they go to explore the sewers instead? Well, another opportunity! The troll is the sewers!

(I think this is what Courtney Campbell calls "the quantum ogre". This link will lead to other links and eventually I find out that all this stuff has been thoroughly discussed a decade ago. Sigh. But read on).

Posted by u/MrHarakiri - source.

Now, compare this with a pre-written story or script.
There is a troll hiding under a nearby bridge. He kills the elderly witch that lives near the village. Villagers become suspicious but no one really cares about her. A week later, some sheep disappear, but the owner is a rich merchant that no one likes, so no one helps. In the following week, the troll kidnaps som children. Some brave villagers go to the rescue. Many people die, but the troll is wounded and runs away, leaving the children behind, and the village completely ruined. The end.
When the PCs enter the scene (say, looking for the witch), the story is already written (or at least outlined); as they find things out, they will create their own competing story. Or don't - they may just leave, and the story will play out as written. As you can see, the important part is that the outcome is not written in stone. Unless, maybe, if the players decide to do nothing; in that case, it might be BETTER to have the outcome written in stone so the PCs can suffer the consequences of their choice (of avoiding the problem).

BTW, I added a few prewritten endings to my own module, the Wretched Hive, before thinking about all this stuff. So here is another example from my book:
If both the Queen and Malavor are still alive, the hive expands. In 2d4 weeks, the number of demons and bee-soldiers is doubled, and the hive’s defenses are reinforced. In another 1d6 weeks, Malavor manages to mutate himself into a bee-demon, half-insane, but with full control of the bee-people. The bloated and sick avatar dies after a while, but this no longer affects the bee-soldiers, that can now be cloned in the underground. Three months after the characters left, Malavor unleashes his army against the nearest village.
In short: 

Again, we go back to Justin Alexander's definition: "Railroads happen when the GM negates a player’s choice in order to enforce a preconceived outcome".

A preconceived story is USEFUL, but a preconceived OUTCOME is bad, UNLESS it happens precisely because of the player's choices. In fact, I would say that having a preconceived story is very useful for any adventure. Just remember that the story relies on the fact that the PCs do nothing; if they do something about it, the outcome will probably change.

The term "story" has become some kind of curse word in OSR circles, and for good reason - a  story with a preconceived, unchangeable outcome is anathema to role-playing. However, once you learn this, you can safely write a story for your players to contend with - with the certainty that, most of the times, they will derail the whole thing to create an unexpected outcome.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Needless complexity is gatekeeping + justify every rule

I watched an interesting video from Nerdarchy a while ago. The tile is "D&D Ability Scores: Why are We Still Doing it This Way". While the discussion on ability scores is not new, I think they nailed the true issue:

Needless complexity is gatekeeping.

I'm paraphrasing here but they basically ask: 

Are these things the true gatekeepers of D&D? Or: in order to play D&D, do you need to learn all these rules that matter very little or nothing? We are just making math with extra steps at this point... 

Anyway, here is the video:

And I completely agree with this idea. Every little rule that is included in the (300+ pages) PHB and doesn't have a clear function is a small obstacle to new players. And every player that I've brought from other editions (or other RPGs) to 5e had a harder time then they should, IMO. The rules often got in the way of the game.

But this is not only for new players. I've been playing 5e for a few years, and D&D for more than three decades. The fact that there are so many rules in 5e often turns me off from playing the game, even though I really like the system as a whole.

Believe ir or not, I'm playing GURPS at the moment and the basis of the system feel somewhat simpler. Probably because each character has a smaller number of special powers (still, too many skills).

don't get me wrong - 5e is decent enough. SOME features are ridiculous, but MOSTLY it is a good system. I just wish they had gone a couple of extra steps: cut repetition, make races a bit simpler and more flexible, a smaller list of spell that you can cast at any level, and remove some features that are only there to give you +1.33 damage (or some other ridiculous amount) per attack.

By the way, I started listening to a new podcast, The GM's Guide, yesterday. Only one episode so far ("Designing Your Own RPG System"), but I really like it. He says something to the effect of "you need to justify every rule you have" - which is exactly what we're saying here.

But, in the end, it's just a matter of taste. I love Moldvay's Basic, for example, but I wanted to add more stuff, so I wrote Dark Fantasy Basic. I think 5e is too complex, but the melee weapons are too simple - so I wrote a couple of PDFs to enhance it. In the end, I'm not without blame...

The solution? I'm not sure. It might be having a lean spine (maybe the "basic" version of 5e but something like Moldvay's Basic might be even better), and building other things (feats, extra spells, subclasses, etc.) ON TOP of it, according to your taste. Character creation at first level should probably be easier - add complexity as you go.

But I guess there is no perfect solution. The best I can do is choose what works best for me.

Friday, May 07, 2021

On YouTube...?

Would you/do you watch YouTube videos about D&D and RPGs?

Which ones and what are your favorite subjects?

Is there something you would like to see?

I am considering starting a channel, but it is just a pipe dream at this moment. The content would be similar to my blog: some OSR, some 5e, other RPGs, a lot of discussion on mechanics, minimalism, weapons, tips, books, etc. Maybe some reviews. Not actual play, not much lore.

I'm not sure if video would be better than text or not. Is that something that interests you? Do you prefer audio or video to text? Or maybe both?

Or do you prefer other platforms? I shouldn't really trust YT after what happened to G+, but to be honest it is the media I use the most (other than podcasts).

BTW... podcasts would be an interesting alternative. But I don't know the first thing on how to make them. So YT might actually be easier.

One last thing: I'm not a native speaker. And I'd rather use images than my face on the video. Would any of that turn you off from listening to me? (I won't be offended, I'm genuinely curious).

Thank you!

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Monster statblocks - how good is AD&D?

In my latest post about this subject, we've analyzed some OSR statblocks. Now let's look at AD&D.

As I've said before, I'm not the greatest fan of playing AD&D, but I have a deep respect for it, and I'm often amazed at the number of things AD&D (and OD&D, etc.) did first and got right, despite any flaws.

Monster statblocks might be one of those things - we shall see.

I bought a few AD&D monster manuals from DTRPG, through print-on-demand. The original Monster Manual* and the Fiend Folio*, for example, look fantastic. My favorite, however, is the 2e Monstrous Manual*; it is an amazing book, both in looks (full color, with lots of amazing art by Tony Diterlizzi and others) and content, being more comprehensive (more than 600 monsters!) and detailed than the others. The print qaulity in these books is great.

If you want to get the best D&D monster book you can find, the Monstrous Manual is very hard to beat. It might be nostalgia, who knows - but this is still my favorite monster manual ever (despite having few demons and devils, using instead names such as Tanar’ri and Baatezu).

The only downside is that these books are only available with soft cover (except for the 1e MM). I'll recommend all of them regardless, and I'll probably buy a new Monstrous Manual if hardcover is available someday.

Anyway, let's see some statblocks.

This is from the original MM (1e): 

And this is from the monstrous manual (from 2e):

Let's break this down. 

AC, attacks, damage, HD, movement, size, etc., are combat stats and they are present in every edition of D&D (for the most part). Nothing special here (although you could certainly reduce the size without losing information). Notice we do not get an attack description in the stat-block. I assume claw/claw/bite, but it would be useful to have.

Special attacks, special defenses, magic resistance and psionic ability are useful IF they exist... which is often not the case, as you can see. So, just a big waste of time and space in most cases, but essential in others. There is a simple way to solve this, as we will see...

Treasure type is important in AD&D, since you get most of your XP though treasure... but otherwise I don't think this is specially important, except as a social aspect (see below).

Then we have the "ecology/society" part: frequency, number appearing, % in lair, intelligence (described in words, not numbers - but numbers would suffice) and alignment. This is the part which tells us how the monster fits in the world; are they scattered tribes, unique individuals, or huge civilizations? Are they friendly or aggressive, do they wander around, are they smart, brave, etc.?

The monstrous manual adds A LOT of  ecology/society to the stat-block: climate, organization, activity cycle and diet. This is good, but it might be too much - I'd rather separate habits and diet by monster type, like I did in Teratogenicon, although this is limited - you have animals, giants and dragons in all types of terrains, after all. But it works well enough for demons, celestials, elementals, undead, etc.

This ecology/society aspect is extremely important - if somewhat setting specific. Why did it dwindle in modern D&D? My best guess is that the original MM is meant as a tool for the GMs to create their own adventures - but modern D&D assumes you'll run a published modules, so you'll know exactly how many goblins you'll find and what treasure they have.

Now, in Candlekeep Mysteries, the latest 5e book, even alignment disappears. We could argue about alignment forever, and I'll agree it is a very limited tool, but a tool nonetheless. And now we have almost nothing in the stats about how a monster relates to other creatures (except for languages) and the enviroment. You have to make it up or rely on published adventures. 

If you find alignment too restrictive, we could go the opposite way - adopt one or multiple "mien" from Troika* (e.g., Hungry, Confused,  Protective), one or multiple goals from Teratogenicon, or let behavior be described by any appropriate expression (chaotic, lawful, greedy, hungry, indifferent, territorial, aggressive, shy, etc.). Of course, each individual creature might be different - but having some way to start the process is useful.

I digress. We were talking about AD&D. And my answer to "how good is AD&D" is "very good", but can use some improvement". So here is a proposed format for AD&D-like monster blocks; simpler, smaller, and maybe easier to use.

(uncommon large monstrosity)
Ecology: neutral (feral), semi-intelligent, pride of 2d6, 25% in lair (temperate hills/mountains), treasure C/S.
Move: 12 (fly 30)
Attack (13): claw (1d4x2) and bite (2d8).
Defenses: AC 3, 7 HD, ML 11.

(very rare medium undead)
Ecology: Chaotic evil, exceptional Int., solitary, 70% in lair (any), treasure D.
Move: 15.
Attack (13): 1d8 chill touch, wail (3”, save versus magic or die).
Defenses: AC13, 7 HD, +1 or better weapon to hit, 50% MR.

This... is not a HUGE improvement, I guess, but it is something. It does separate attacks and defense (and you can add special attacks, special defenses, psionics and magic resistance there).

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Sunday, May 02, 2021

More 5e Rogue weirdness: bonus actions and movement

 As we've noticed before, there are three meta-classes in 5e; you can call them warriors, experts and spell-casters. The rogue is the only expert (and maybe the bard is a "half-expert"); everyone else is defined by their attacks or spells.

What do experts do? Anything else. And how do they do it? With bonus actions.


This is, plus sneak attack (which relates to this) and expertise, what defines rogues:
Cunning Action 
Starting at 2nd level, your quick thinking and agility allow you to move and act quickly. You can take a bonus action on each of your turns in combat. This action can be used only to take the Dash, Disengage, or Hide action.
Rogue subclasses have even more options. This is from the Rogue: Inquisitive from Xanathar's Guide to Everything: 
Eye for Detail 
Starting at 3rd level, you can use a bonus action to make a Wisdom (Perception) check to spot a hidden creature or object or to make an Intelligence (Investigation) check to uncover or decipher clues.
Insightful Fighting
At 3rd level, you gain the ability to decipher an opponent’s tactics and develop a counter to them. As a bonus action, you make a Wisdom (Insight) check against a creature you can see that isn’t incapacitated, contested by the target’s Charisma (Deception) check. If you succeed, you can use your Sneak Attack against that target even if you don't have advantage on the attack roll, but not if you have disadvantage on it.
This benefit lasts for 1 minute or until you successfully use this feature against a different target.
And this is from the Swashbuckler (also from Xanathar's): 
Rakish Audacity 
Starting at 3rd level, your confidence propels you into battle. You can give yourself a bonus to your initiative rolls equal to your Charisma modifier. You also gain an additional way to use your Sneak Attack; you don't need advantage on the attack roll to use your Sneak Attack against a creature if you are within 5 feet of it, no other creatures are within 5 feet of you, and you don't have disadvantage on the attack roll. All the other rules for Sneak Attack still apply to you.
Okay, this last one doesn't require a bonus action, but gives you another way to get sneak attack.

Tasha's guide decided to cut the middleman: use you bonus action and don't move, and you get advantage (and thus sneak attack). For ALL rogues:
Steady Aim
3rd-level rogue feature 
As a bonus action, you give yourself advantage on your next attack roll on the current turn. You can use this bonus action only if you haven’t moved during this turn, and after you use the bonus action, your speed is 0 until the end of the current turn.
So, the rogue is a mobile character than does a lot of stuff quickly. This stuff - aim, hide, decipher an opponent’s tactics - are usually means to get an sneak attack in. Or you can trade some mobility for better attacks.

Some actions require skill checks... which is fine, because the rogue is good at using skills (expertise).

Anyway, it is interesting to see how the rogue works in 5e. I like it. There are some ways to write a more minimalist version (just trade your bonus action for sneak attack already!) but I'm not sure that this is necessary.

Also, I could see other classes (especially warriors) being able to aim or decipher an opponent’s tactics. Maybe this is something that should be accessible to anyone. But that's enough for today.