Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The D&D endgame has always sucked (except for *that* edition)

In the grognard-sphere, you can find many examples of grognards decrying the loss of D&D's endgame.

As I am working on B/X-ing 5e for Into the Unknown,  a cursory look at end-game approach is also on the menu (though mostly for a later Companion supplement since the core will only go to 10th level).

I've never really played with domain and stronghold rules. I was certainly aware of them and of the fact that the game was supposed to move in that direction. I just didn't understand how non-wargamers would think they are anything but an exceptionally boring endgame.

"You have over countless sessions fought everything from orcs to dragons, progressed from saving villages to saving kingdoms. Now, as you move into high-level play, new destinies and high level rules appear. Forget about resource management of rations and arrows. That's for noobs! At high levels, you get to manage the resources of an entire keep! Track the cost of building a new wing of the stronghold. Retain reeves and chamberlains. Collect taxes. Explore the intricacies of domain resources and incomes. Hear the complaints of peasants and track the cost of holidays. Graduate from low-level hero to high-level administrator! Play the domain game."

If that was the kind of campaign I wanted to play, I'd have gone for Birthright from level 1. The domain game fading from D&D was a natural consequence of it having nothing to do with the kind of game you thought you'd be playing when playing D&D.

That doesn't mean it was replaced by anything better though. 3e seemed to just go with the assumption of "why should high level play be any different from low level play? Just add more hit dice!"  Ignoring for a moment how awful the execution of this was in 3e, this assumption is, in itself, not terrible, since this is, after all, the kind of game you are playing D&D for.

Freebooters of the Frontier embraces this conclusion by declaring a simple endgame condition: amass 10,000 silver pieces and you win the game. This is perhaps preferable to the 3e's approach of "just keep doing the same thing with ever increasing numbers and levels of complexity." If D&D is to have an endgame, it should be somehow different, or at least an evolution, of the basic "kill creatures and amass treasures to defeat the villain" model of D&D. And preferably one that doesn't hand me rules for pricing the cost of holidays in your barony.

5e is not much better. Basically, the only edition who seems to have gotten the right idea is 4th edition (drops truthbomb, runs away).

4th edition D&D introduces epic destinies. They come on board about 8-10 levels too late, but they play to a good assumption of high level. While low-level play is often reactive and about a party walking the land waiting for destiny to happen, high level play ought to be about crafting a destiny for yourself.  Epic destinies enable this deliberate approach towards building your character into something larger than life the way you want to be larger than life. Low-level D&D play is "choose your own adventure", high level play should be "choose your own destiny." and 4e is the only edition to really grog to that.

In terms of flavour, 4e often does it quite well, presenting a good load of destinies that are essentially about transitioning from mundane hero to genuine mythic paragon. From legendary generals or sovereigns, becoming an archmage or epic lorekeeper, to questing for demi-godhood, heimdall-esque defender of a cosmically significant place, or an entire people, becoming consort to a deity to emerging as an actual avatar of a deity, thieves who can steal actual concepts, to becoming a literal parable yourself.

A lot of this is very high level stuff of course (and oftentimes more a culmination of a path of estiny) and some might want some intermediate high level play, on the level of domain play, becoming a guildmaster or similar. That is sort of what the Paragon tier (levels 11-20) was supposed to accomplish for 4e, except the execution amounted to little less than "choose your next splash option".

But the point remains - In either case, high level play should be about crafting your destiny and the rules for high level play should be in support of this - Rather than assuming that the end game should revolve around one goal (domain play) or none at all (3e).

So basically, the high level endgame I would want to introduce for Into the Unknown has very little to do with B/X and its endgame (cosmic adventures, a la the Mentzer Immortals set, would probably come closest as a possible destiny to choose from). I don't think I want to take an old-school approach just for the sake of doing it old-school.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

A critical examination of Hit Points

Oh, Hit points. Is there any other gaming concept as opaque and contentious over the ages? Maybe Armor Class,  but that is for another day.

What are hit points really? With monsters, it is simple enough to equate hit points to physical damage. But less so for people.

Originally, number of Hit dice = the number of hits before you go down. Simple and intuitive option. A normal 1 HD man goes down when struck by a sword. A troll, being of larger and more durable stature than a man, has six hit dice (ie, can take six sword hits before going down).

But then the iffy part: A 6th level fighter fighter is the equal of six men - Is his body as tough as a troll? What does his extra hit points represent?

The exact answer seems to vary over the years and as significantly - There doesn't seem to be a clear consensus in any point in time as to its exact status.

"Wounds + [x], from taking a hit" seems to be the the closest definition people can agree on at any given time. But even that is stretched by the time we get to 4th and 5th edition - The most grognardy of my own group has taken to calling them "hero points" ever since we switched to 5th edition, due to the high and frequent rate of daily healing and proliferation of non-magical instant recoveries ("Second Wind", "Song of Rest") and morale boosts of temporary hit points ("Rally", "Inspiring Leader", "Heroism") suggesting that the "Hit" and "wounding" part of hit points don't mean much until you hit 0.

Gary Gygax, in his usual sesquipedalian style, gave this answer in the 1st edition DMG, page 82:
It is quite unreasonable to assume that as a character gains levels of ability in his or her class that a corresponding gain in actual ability to sustain physical damage takes place. It is preposterous to state such an assumption, for if we are to assume that a man is killed by a sword thrust which does 4 hit points of damage, we must similarly assume that a hero could, on the average, withstand five such thrusts before being slain! Why then the increase in hit points? Because these reflect both the actual physical ability of the character to withstand damage - as indicated by constitution bonuses- and a commensurate increase in such areas as skill in combat and similar life-or-death situations, the "sixth sense" which warns the individual of some otherwise unforeseen events, sheer luck, and the fantastic provisions of magical protections and/or divine protection. Therefore, constitution affects both actual ability to withstand physical punishment hit points (physique) and the immeasurable areas which involve the sixth sense and luck (fitness).
According to this then, Hit points = Physique + [skill, sixth sense, luck & divine protection(!)]. The problem is, EGG didn't really seem to grasp what hit points was supposed to be all that well, for there is no follow through on this definition in any of his rules.

One would presume, from reading the above, that the majority of a high level characters's hit points comes from the "immeasurable areas". But he still heals at a flat rate of 1 (or 1-3, depending on which early edition you use) hit point per day.

That 1st level fighter with 8 hit points who lost all but one of them in a fight is as good as new a week later. The 5th level fighter with 29 hit points who lost all but one of them in a fight needs 4 weeks to be as good as new. Where are the immeasurable parts reflected in the healing process?

EGG may have written flavor text to suggest otherwise, but his take on the actual rules for hit points place them squarely as "wound points". To which I would say to Gary, were he still alive:

Grognards, brace yourselves. I am now going to argue that the designers of the 4th and 5th edition understood the original concept of hit points much better than Gygax did. None of them have fully internalised the implications of hit points though.

Gygax, much like James Wyatt, Mike Mearls et al, was an interpreter of the concept. So let's go to the originator of the idea, Dave Arneson, and look at how he understood the concept of hit points.

Originally, hit points were fixed. The notion of gaining more as you levelled came about because the players at Arneson's table didn't mind that it took multiple hits to kill a troll, but they minded that it only took one hit to kill them. So, he came up with the idea that:

 "As the player progressed, he did not receive additional Hit Points, but rather he became harder to Hit."

He soon enough changed this to hit points growing with level, but it is interesting to note that this was the original conception it grew out of (and also that Arneson tinkered with the 'modern' notion of power level=harder to hit, yet in the end decided to use growing hit points to model this).

Here we see where Gygax derived his inspiration for his flavor text from at least, but phrased in a much sharper and succinct concept - It is really only the first hit die of a player character that represents the physical part of hit points.

It seems however, that, unlike Gygax, Arneson followed through on this idea more (it was his own idea, after all) and treated hit points more fluidly and situationally as a result, in the same way he, and subsequently D&D at large, made AC and saves fluid through various situational modifiers.

In the "Temple of the Frog" as presented in the Blackmoor supplement, Arneson has this encounter:
"The destruction of an egg area will cause all frogs to fight at double value for 2-12 melee rounds after which all will withdraw to the pond and submerge."
Good golly, y'all. Dave Arneson used temporary hit point mechanisms in print way back in 1975.

And this is where we see 4th and 5th edition internalise Arneson's original concept of hit points much better than Gygax did as they treat hit points as a far more fluid mechanic than than static 'wound point' approach of former editions.

A fighter can recuperate hit points in combat with a "second wind", a leader can inspire his allies with temporary hit points. Anyone can, effectively, "heal" themselves up entirely overnight. Hit points in these editions are basically the metaphysical heroic mass of the character. And seen as such, the resource management built around it makes a lot of sense.

Here we see a proper implementation of the fundamental sense of hit points: An abstracted engine, not for determining wounds as such, but for recording attritionally, your heroic capability and resources in combat.

The problem for both 4th and 5th edition is that in embracing this, they have essentially taken the notion of characters ever actually being wounded out of the game. Sure, like Gygax did with the "immeasurable areas" of hit points, they pay token homage to the notion of wounds in their flavor text. But the actual mechanic does not reflect taking any wounds until you hit 0 hit points (and even that is just brief unconsciousness - or death). Prior to death, there are no dramatic implications to being hit other than your daily resource management.

Interestingly, Arneson seems to be the only one of significance who properly internalised how the implications of hit points being a gameable and dramatic abstraction for being harder to hit meant that something more was needed to represent actual wounds. In the original "Men & Magic", we have the seed of it (which I suspect, but have no way of knowing, was Arneson's bit):
“Whether sustaining accumulative hits will otherwise affect a character is left to the discretion of the referee.”
This is a statement D&D in general has done very little with. But Arneson's Blackmoor does. It gives us our first hit location system, wherein hits variously give penalties to dexterity, reduced movement or even instant death. I don't want to give Arneson too much credit here - The system is abominably complicated, but the idea of it is sound - Something more than hit points is needed to track actual wounds.


Having played my fair share of games who did away with the 'unrealistic' bag-of-hit-point systems (a move which my younger self applauded back then), the unfortunate reality at the table of these more 'realistic' systems is that they just don't play out with the same intuitive and well-paced dramatic development as hit points. Landing more hits and taking points off your opponents metaphysical "still standing" score is just more fun and dramatic than a series "you hit, but the opponent parries" exchanges until someone actually hits with what is likely a fight ender.

I consider hit points as probably the most innovative and strongest feature in the history of D&D - It's a brilliant combat engine that strikes a lovely balance between being easy to track and the dramatic development of combat, tracked over more than just one encounter.

And yet, my opinion is that for more than 40 years, D&D has never really given us a damage system that properly integrates the implications of what hit points really mean.

5th edition probably comes the closest and gives us the best platform for addressing the gaps. The 5e DMG has a lingering wounds table. Throw in some hit point milestones for gaining levels of exhaustion on top and I think you have a good adjunct for tracking wounds and other effects alongside hit point that give dramatic consequences to combat whilst still being fairly simple.

For older editions, the fix is steeper, as the "hit point = wounds" mechanic is just so embedded. You'd need new healing rules, mechanics making use of hit points as a more fluid resource, etc. I don't think I'd want to go there.

But even in 5th edition, I'd like to see mechanics making more use of hit points as a fluid mechanism. "Temporary damage" from fear effects and low morale maybe? Critical hits giving temporary hit points to the attacker for a round or two. Stuff like that.

Either way, it goes to show, there is still room for growing the full implications of the original concepts of the game. Maybe 6th edition will finally take hit points and wounds to its natural conclusion?

Friday, 28 April 2017

B/X-inspired Monsters for 5e / Into the Unknown (followup)

Short follow to my previous post on this. I think I've arrived at a good format that strikes a decent middle ground between the simplicity of B/X and the long format of 5e.

Note the addition of Morale and numbers appearing. Those rules should never have become 'OSR'. No idea why they were cut from 3e nor why they didn't return for 5e. They are lifeblood of D&D encounters, imo, and certainly for B/X and are back for Into the Unknown.

On this note - What do grognards make of the numbers appearing stats in B/X? Do you use them as is? I've always felt they tended to be on the high side.


Thankfully, Labyrinth Lord's monster descriptions are open content (though I am shortening them), since the SRD has none - Another one to add to the credits. It's all formatted pretty tight now. Only thing left now (groan) is find the right monsters to cut, add descriptions for the remaining 180 critters and rewrite the overly verbose "natural language". The 5e writers just did not give a fuck about brevity.

For comparison, I tried to put the short writeups from the 5e Basic document for these four into one page as well. They are a bit longer, but actually they do a pretty decent job of condensing the information in a clear way, I think. It's the verbosity that's the main issue and prevents quick scanning of special abilities and attacks.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Setting Pitch - Dreams of a Fading Earth

Precis: Dying Earth + He-man & Thundarr + Science Fantasy + Mythago Wood with boundaries stripped + all your favourite myths and stories from any era.

In the far far future Earth, indeed the universe, is slowly dying. Man lives under a bloated red sun in the inherited ruins of former ages and the decadent nihilistic fatalism of the end times have set in long ago.

Time itself is like a torn rag and the planetary memories of decrepit Mother Earth have long bled into the world without rhyme or reason, as Mother Earth hazily dreams half-remembered myths and long forgotten truths from its youth into the world again.

The Fading Earth is chimerical, as if seen through a shamanistic dreamlike lens where truths and fiction are mixed without order, and reality often follows a more narrative than physical order.

Facsimiles of the Knights of the Round Table ride out of the mist in a crusade against the Old Ones stirring as the end of time approaches.

Archetypical elves stalk the dark woods (or peddle yellow lotus weed in the city, struggling with the existential crisis of a race resurrected out of time in a world where little matters anymore).

Atomic age science-fantasy wizards manipulate cosmic matrixes in their towers, Thor requires company to explore a titanic ancient generation starship arc, Mi-go conduct ancient star rituals and trolls sleep under bridges.

All myths are potentially right here. And all past events potentially here too. As dreams of a dying earth, they appear without rhyme and reason as caleidoscopic re-interpretations of the past.

For those who haven't read it, Mythago Wood is a fantasy novel from the 80s. It's about a guy who explores an old forest that acts as a kind of receptable for the racial consciousness and memory of mankind, storing archetypical jungian myths from now to way back to the ice age and incarnating them inside the woodland (robin hood, king Arthur, etc. but often not quite the memories we have of them today, although these also play a part).

I found it a very inspiring way to look at fantasy and thought "what if the earth has it's own storehouse consciousness where it remembers all the myths, stories and real events that sapients have been sufficiently conscious of over time?" And then fast forward to a Dying Earth setting where this Gaia consciousness has grown senile and, rather than just storing it, has started replaying its old memories, or facsimiles of them (it is senile after all), as actual incarnated and embodied places and people on earth, without regard for what was history, history embellished with myth or just plain fiction.

Post-apocalyptic fantasy future-earth with just about anything from earth history, myth and fiction you want in it. I think this could make for a fun setting for D&D. Some parts of the setting might be stable and 'ordinary' (or at least, ordinary by the standards of the future fantasy dying earth) - separated by vast stretches of mythland (and also dotted by pockets of mythlands) where the dreams of the Fading Earth have taken hold - where Alice in Wonderland Reimagined is as likely to show up as the historical figure of Casanova.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

B/X-inspired Monster book for 5e / Into the Unknown

I known I said that making the Magic Book was without a doubt the most editorially demanding of the set. But the monster's book is not far behind. Might be more demanding in the end.

I've done all the rough trimming and editing by now. Removing monsters that are obviously not a fit for B/X, removing those of unsuitable challenge ratings and trying my best to make the stat block simpler and take up less space.

this has trimmed my original 140 page draft down to 63 page working document (for comparison, magic went from 122 page draft to 39 pages). I want to get down to 50 pages or less, but the choices from here are harder ones.

I currently have 198 unique entries - Compared to the 186 entries found in B/X. It is not a like for like list of critters. And there is a few I will have to create on top of that (dwarf, elf, halflings and of course - Devil Swine).

Not to mention, most of these have no description in the SRD! They will have to be added on top (groan).

And cutting out monsters is hard. Monsters are cool. Almost all of the ones left speak to me.

Here are some examples of non-b/x monsters I have included in the working document so far:

  • Aboleths
  • Young dragons
  • Five demons
  • Five Devils
  • Hags
  • Rakshasa
  • Remorhaz
  • Sphinx

How do you leave these out? Maybe young dragons can go - There are there basically to have dragons to fight at lower levels. But there rest are just very cool and iconic to my mind.... (It's just weird B/X has no devils or demons).

Below is the table of contents so far for it, and two sample pages to give an idea of where I am at, in regards to the stat block format. I am sharing here mostly for feedback purposes - 5e is not as bad as 3e and 4e for monstrpously large stat blocks, but it is still quite removed from the simplicity of 2e and lower. I think I've come a long way towards condensing it, but there may well be more gains to be made here (ie, do stat blocks need a language entry?).

Thursday, 30 March 2017

5e Race-As-Class: Dwarf (Into the Unknown)

The Dwarf is up for review.

Full version at the bottom of page
The Dwarf in B/X is basically the fighter with better saves. I decided to let Extra Attack be a unique feature of the fighter in Into the Unknown. So the Dwarf is instead based around being a a good mook horde breaker (from 3rd level onwards) and otherwise being a reliable hard damage dealer against solitary foes, who can also take a good amount of punishment.

I've tried to focus on mechanics that doesn't require extra die rolls or new mechanics to learn (or if they do, ride on existing ones - two abilities look at the ignored die of advantage/disadvantage for their effect - And two other abilities involve invoking advantage and disadvantage for nice synergies).

Oh and I added favored enemy. Because it's well known that dwarves carry a mighty grudge against their enemies.

Overall, I am really happy with the result. I think it would be would to play (combining free shoves on advantage with opportunity attacks on prone foes has a definite cool factor when you are swinging a heavy mace or axe).

I've tried to balance it against the fighter and revised ranger. It may seem heavy loaded from levels 1-5, but that compares directly against second wind, action surge, extra attack and improved critical/battlemaster shenanigans. It strikes me as more or less on par. I would of course love to hear people's opinions - On balance, fun factor and all that.

In other news, I've decided to split Into the Unknown so the main rules set only goes to 1-10. Besides the good reasons in terms of accessibility and focus, it also makes the job of writing the GM's Handbook part actually doable. Once the Companion volume has been written, it will be simple enough to make a "complete" version collating the two. And since it's all "Pay What You Want", by then it will really be more a question of what presentation is preferred. It also made work on the dwarf a fair bit quicker. :-p. Elf is up next.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Splitting "Into the Unknown" into a B/X and later a Companion set

Throughout the proccess of developing Into the Unkown I've been resistant to the idea of splitting the rules set into staggered releases the way B/X and BECMI did. The 5e SRD has rules going all the way to level 20 for free, why impose limitations on what should be in ItU's ruleset when the material for higher is already there and just need some adaption and editing? If it's there, put it in.

One rules set to rule them or or staggered sets for different tiers of play?

I am getting close enough to the finishing line now that I did a projected page count, minus cover, toc and formalia (but including internal artwork), for the player booklets.

Book 1: Characters - 55 pages
Book 2: Playing the Game - 23 pages
Book 3: Magic - 72 pages

Spread out like this:
40 pages of intro and character creation
26 pages of rules
15 pages of equipment
69 pages of spell lists and spells

So basically 150 pages of player material. For comparison, the equivalent chapters in the player's handbook is 290 pages. But 150 pages is still a very high number to me. The equivalent player material across B/X is 55 pages.

So I've been giving some thought to letting the main rules set be "Basic and Expert rules", running up to 10th level (11th level is where 5e kicks off into superhero mode) and following up later with a "Companion" dedicated to high level play.

The page count doesn't really improve that much. Intro and character creation is reduced by 6-7 pages, spells reduced by 30 pages. Even if I do a trim of the equipment section, it's over 100 pages. But at least it's thereabouts.

More importantly, I think there are good reasons to split it up. In the OSR group on Google+, +Charlie Mason recently asked about the highest level people usually played to. Out of 160 votes, a whopping 79% capped at 11th level. In other words, a game covering levels 1-10 is a fully self-contained game for the vast majority of campaigns.

The more I've been thinking on this, the more I am realising that high level play really is a different beast to the regular game. And putting it all in the same volume doesn't do justice to that fact.

A 1-10 rules set is focused - dungeon and wilderness exploration. check. You might save the kingdom, but you're not a kingmaker just yet. Making the rules set focused is also one of those things that should make the game more accessible to dive into.

Above that, whether it is the domain game of older editions or just the high level adventuring of later editions, the tone and setting changes. A companion volume (which I'd also stack with various 'advanced' and optional rules for class building, etc) has a much better shot of properly addressing gameplay at levels 11+.

I'd love some opinion on this though. Maybe I am barking up the wrong tree?

In other news, as the player's section is getting closer to release, I reckon I will release two versions. The three booklets, optimised for table use and a singular "Player's Guide" for those who prefer to have it in one volume.

PS. To follow up on my save entry the other day - After much deliberation, I'm going with "all saves add proficiency bonus and attribute modifier". It's clean, the simplicity is to die for and the numbers make good sense. Thanks S&W.

5e spells complexity and verbosity vs B/X

Making the Magic book for Into the Unknown is without a doubt the most editorially demanding of the set. 5e magic is verbose and overly focused on spelling out everything. Re-arranging (I am sorting spells by level) and cutting superfluous stat blocks helps, even if it takes a lot of time.

For comparisons, here is the B/X presentation of two simple spells:

And here is the 5th edition presentation of two simple spells:
Here are two simple spells in Into the Unknown:
I am pretty happy that most 5e spells can have their stat block simplified to B/X standard of range/duration with mostly just a different approach to presentation (unless otherwise specified, casting a spell takes an action and requires verbal and somatic components - and I've eliminated material components without a cost).

The screenshots here aren't so bad as they are all simple. But there are just so many spells in 5e that are ridiculously detailed. Paring them down is a lot of work. And 5e's explicit language is getting to me. You don't have to tell me in every spell description that a spell effect lasts for the spell's duration and can be cast within range in every frigging spell. Going through a couple of hundred spells to remove all the superfluous verbosity is a lot of work. 

That said, I started with a 125 page document. Now down to 81 pages. The rules for magic have been pared down from six to three pages. Still a lot to go through. So far, I've been reticient to cut out spells, except a few that just don't fit. But something is going to have to give. 
B/X devotes 25 pages to spells (going up to 6th level spells). The 5e Player's handbook is 91 pages. I'd like to get at least below 70 somehow, without sacrificing too much.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Jesus saves - the rest of you take full damage

Saving throws have always been quirky in D&D - The original categories were.... eccentric to say the least. Why is save vs wand different from save vs staff? Is petrification really widespread enough to get an explicit mention? And what is a death ray anyway? Finger of death? What else? That said, it was charming and that has its own sort of saving grace. It is a lot more menacing when the DM exclaims "save vs DEATH RAY" than "make a fortitude save".

3e did an admirable job of simplifying and clarifying saves. 3 instead of 5, keying it to dexterity, constitution and wisdom gives you an idea of how you are trying to save yourself, making saving throws a lot less disassociated. Good job allround.

The only recurring complaint against 3e saves were lacking the charm of older editions. Which, as complaints go, fall somewhere between obstinate and petulant.

For me, it is mildly aesthetically displeasing that there are 2 physical saves and only 1 mental save. But it works fine enough.

The biggest change, besides the simplification, is that saves now go from being a purely class+level based number to a class+level+ability modifier (lets ignore the manifold multiclass shenanigans).

This change has rarely been scrutinised (whether that idea ended up working or not in 3e sort of drowns in allround modifiers bloat), but it's a point I think is worth considering. What does it actually add to the game to also key saves to ability modifiers? It makes saves a lot more variable, making it harder for DMs to gauge what DCs to set. And in return we get... ?!?

A minor element of verisimilitude for an already largely disassociated mechanic. It seems to me something that got added because it seemed to make some sort of sense, but no one really considered whether it actually improved the game.

4e, ever the red-headed stepchild of the D&D family, made saves something totally different: Are you currently suffering a condition where "save ends"? roll 11 or higher to end it. That's all. Saves is basically just a static duration tracker. Interesting in its own sort of way, but too different for my considerations in this post.

Which is saves in 5e, and by extension Into the Unknown.

5e saves are most similar to 3e, but with the abstraction of "reflex, fortitude, will" shaved off, making it basically similar to an ability check. Proficiency bonus+ability modifier. Nice and simple. It's more of a level+ability than a class/level+ability thing now really, though class does determine which saves get proficiency bonus.

There are six saves now instead of three, one for each ability, which on the surface is fine, since the model is so simple it doesn't really add much complexity. The spells that target the three new saves (cha, str, int) are very few in number and have longer casting times or very survivable and shortlived effects. Re-tooling it to just have three saves would be very easy (STR/CON float to Fortitude, DEX/INT float to Reflex, WIS/CHA float to Will - This also gives a fairly even distribution, based on saves in the PHB and MM).

The tricky part about 5e saves is that 4 out of 6 saves aren't even level+ ability based. They are just your ability modifier and shall forever remain so. Bragbar the 20th level barbarian who dump-statted charisma is as susceptible to a magic jar spell as he was at 1st level. A 9th level spellcaster throws spells with a save DC of 17. Woe betide the fool with dumb stat and no proficiency in that save. Bragbar our 20th level barbarian with CHA 8 gets sucked into that gem 85% of the time that 9th level caster gets his spell off.

Spellcasters now have a plethora of dumb saves to target that their victims will almost always fail. This basically makes group buffs mandatory at higher levels.


So for Into the Unknown, I've been thinking to address this. I've got a couple of solutions.

A/ One is to give half proficiency bonus to all saves as standard. Bragbar now saves 25% of the time against the magic jar instead of 15%. It's a help and it's simple, but feels more like a band-aid on the issue. But maybe that is all that it needs.

B/ Another is, in vein of 2e and lower, to once again de-couple saves from ability scores. You add proficiency bonus to all your saves. If proficient, you double it. Bragbar saves against the magic jar 50% of the time. and 80% if he is proficient. Against a 20th level caster (DC 19), it's 40%/70% for Bragbar. Seems sound.
Aesthetically, it's a bit weird though to have six "ability saves", but ability modifiers don't add to it. This might have flown better with 3e's three, slightly more decoupled, saves.

C/ A third option is to give full proficiency to all saves, but only "proficient" saves can add ability modifiers (or cancel negative modifiers). It does make saves work a bit different from other combos of ability+proficiency,  but not terribly so. It makes saves a lot closer to Sword&Wizardry's singular save mechanic, but with some opportunity to differentiate.
Wizards and cleric get to add their CHA to the magic jar (it's a circle of necromancers now - Bragbar is just one target) if they have it. The majority save 50% of the time against it, bragbar dumbstatted cha though, so it's 45% for him. Aleena the cleric is gorgeous (CHA 14), so her chances are 60%. Sound.

D/ Same as above, but forgetting all about having proficiency in saves. When making a save, you just add proficiency bonus+ ability modifier. the end.


Right now I am leaning towards B/ + reducing number of saves to 3, 3e style, folding STR and CON saves into a Fortitude save, DEX/INT saves into a Reflex save and WIS/CHA saves into a Will save. Fighters double proficiency bonus for Fortitude saves, rogues for Reflex and wizards and clerics for Will saves. Low saves is still at proficiency bonus.

It makes saves even easier to keep track of than in B/X - For players sure, but most especially for DMs when estimating threat levels. The numbers seem to make sense and the right classes get the right saves.

The only downside is a small amount of conversion needed for using existing 5e material. But it's a pretty easy conversion to make. If not this, I am leaning towards D/, maybe float it to 3 saves, to avoid vastly favouring rogues, clerics and DEX-based fighters who have their primary stat in one of the most frequent category.

Input welcome.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

A more interesting weapons table for 5e

(tl:dr - Here is a table with more interesting weapon choices for 5e)

I really like the armor table for 5e. Good range of choice, not too short, not too long and there are just enough differences and overlaps that your choice of armor is meaningful and distinct. Simple and interesting.

The weapons table for 5ed is probably one of the least thought out and most poorly implemented mechanics in the Player's Handbook though.

Loads of redundancies (Why would I ever buy a mace when a quarterstaff does the same damage, is 20 times cheaper and can be used with 2 hands for even more damage?), Shortswords and scimitars being the same except vast price difference, longsword, warhammers and battleaxes all being the frigging same weapon, etc.

It seems to have been built around weighing different damage types as more valuable than others, no matter that the differences almost never come into play. Except it's inconsistent. A warhammer is bludgeoning, but pricier than a slashing battleaxe. Otherwise the same. A maul is bludgeoning but way cheaper than a slashing greatsword. Otherwise the same.

Whatever. There's a handful of weapons worth taking and loads that are pointless and a waste of space.

For Into the Unknown, I've done away with the three damage types for simplicity since the edge cases where they come into play are extremely rare and common sense applicable at any rate (yes your sword can slash and stab, no your rapier can not bludgeon. Yes, you can swing your spear like a staff).

With that done away with, the weapons table showed itself up for what it was - Just too awful to keep as it is. So I changed things up a little and tried to give each weapon choice a niche. It really didn't take much work.

There is one new weapon property:
<> This weapon has two properties that can not be used together. For example thrown<>versatile, can be used with two hands, but thrown only with one.
I think it's kinda self-explanatory. You can throw a spear, but not for 2-handed damage.

Spear earn their mettle as the most popular weapon of all time by being the only simple weapon that's versatile, can be thrown and gives 1d6/1d8 damage, making it the best damage dealer (alongside the greatclub) among simple weapons.

Long spears (new) are martial, swap thrown for reach but otherwise identical to spears and are the only reach weapons that can be wielded one-handed.

Long staves (new) are martial, not versatile, but have reach. and way cheaper than polearms who go one higher on the die, but are also heavy.

Swords are pricey, but there is good reason why they are so universal kings among weapons - They are all frigging finesse baby. That's why you pay a premium for them.

Shortswords lose the Light quality if you want finesse on top, but become simple weapons, making it the highest damage dealer among simple finesse weapons.

Longswords gain finesse to distinguish themselves from battleaxes and warhammers.  Greatswords they same vs battleaxes (who bumb to 2d6 whilst the cheaper and simpler maul goes down to 1d12).

I added broadsword to the list as well - they took rapiers entry who got bumped down to scimitar level - The point of scimitars and rapiers here is that they are the top dogs for dualwielding with finesse. Because come on, a broadsword is just better than a flimsy fencing weapon. If you want a better flimsy fencing weapon, call the broadsword 'edged rapier'.

Why do we like flails? They may be pricey with the chain to forge and balance, but they deal 2d4 instead of the 1d8 of the cheaper morningstar.

I folded Pike, Halberd and Flail into "Polearm" - Because they are all the frigging same anyway.

There is more, but the bottomline is that there is a point to choosing the different weapons from this table now. 

Friday, 10 March 2017

1-page rules summary of 5e / Into the Unknown (B/X-5e Hack)

Once you boil 5th edition of D&D down a bit, it is actually a very simple game. So much so that you can outline the basics of the whole and all the needed terms in one page. So I went ahead and did that for Into the Unknown, since the aim of this 5e hack is to make it as simple and easy to play as B/X was - But using the more streamlined and balanced engine of 5e.

Only real variances here from 5e are use of the term "magic-user" instead of wizard and "Proficiency area" instead of "Skills"

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Magic-User & Priest write-ups for "Into the Unknown" (B/X-5e hack)

I've already shared write-ups for the Halfling [Race-as-class]Fighter & Rogue classes and Book 2: Playing the Game for my B/X-inspired 5e hack, Into the Unknown. Without further ado, here are write-ups for the last two core classes.

Here, I am making use of the categorisation employed from OD&D all the way to 2nd edition - of later classes, such as druids, being sub-classes of the four main classes. Except, I've simplified the distinction even more and not even made them sub-classes but different class features.

So sorcerers, warlocks and wizards are all the same class. The magic-user class feature only shows up at 1st and 2nd lvl and basically just defines how a magic-user learns spells. I feel each feature is still very thematically distinct without needing to be separate classes.

With the priest class, I am stretching this a lot more - as druid/cleric as class feature shows up on a lot of levels and they could work just as well as separate classes.

Still, I think there is merit in doing it this way - it gives a good framework for designing new class features as a way of expanding the core classes (mystics and anti-clerics, for example. Psionicist should be simple enough to adapt from magic-user/sorcerer as well). Considering how difficult it is to build a class from scratch in 5e, having this simple framework to refer to is one of the big strengths of Into the Unknown for creating new class concept.