Tag Archives: 5e

5e Design Goals, A Question Or Two

So, there’s another design diary up on WOTC’s site, and that means another chance for me to write an inchoate, off-the-cuff rant there, and then post it here, and pretend that it’s content.


I’m a bit confused as to how these lists are created. Firearms rules, for example, can be as simple as crossbow rules: They’re a weapon, they do damage, boom, done. They can also be complex, with rules for powder measuring, firing in damp conditions, wheellocks vs. matchlocks vs. flintlocks, etc. They’re an example of a concept or option that can be iterated through multiple levels of complexity.

The idea of “only one rules change at a time” is likely to frustrate those people most likely to want advanced rules, and it goes against the concept of modularity. If the core system is fine, then, grid based combat built on the core, and hit locations built on the core, work fine, because each replaces a different module — in programming terms, each is a subclass of a different root class. The grid rules that determine where you are and how this affects your chance to hit should not care what happens after you’re hit — if your armor is DR or if your hit location matters. If there are such effects, it is the “after hit” rules that should contain them, and inform the grid rules of what’s happened (“I’ve been hit in my legs, I’m at -5′ speed for 1d4 rounds.”) The grid rules only care about “your speed”, they don’t care if some other rule has modified it.

Likewise, if we use a spell point system, we can’t have hit locations? Why not? I really don’t see your underlying logic here, in terms of how you decide to wall off one section of rules from another, or decide you can only pick one option from column A, two from column B, and free egg roll if ordering for four or more.

Even Yet More 5e Replies

And It’s Still Yet Another Set Of Replies To A 5e article!

Here’s the 5e article.

Here’s the reply:

On one hand, I want a steady stream of releases. OTOH, I think releasing something you know you’re going to change is counterproductive. I don’t have a good answer, sorry.

I like what you’re describing as rogue abilities, but I’m a little confused by the description. Are these things anyone can try (taunting, tricking an enemy into attack), but rogues can spend their expertise dice on, so they’re better at it? Or are these things only rogues can attempt?

I dislike that a simple proficiency is all you need to cast spells in full armor; I’d prefer an additional cost, and consideration of the type of armor — the heavier the armor, the harder to cast in it. At the least, make that an optional module.

I like the idea of having at-will versions of spells. How about going one further: You can cast a prepared spell as a weaker, at-will version, so long as you haven’t cast it at full strength. Once you cast it at full strength, you lose it and the at-will version. This adds a dimension of resource management and allows casters to “run out” of even at-will spells. It also encourages them not to alpha strike in the first encounter, as they don’t want to lost their at-wills if they don’t have to.

Non-rogues should be able to be good at out of combat skills, too. You should split off in-combat and OOC performance into two resource pools. A fighter may be a mercenary commander (diplomacy, intimidate, tactical knowledge), a landed noble (diplomacy, sense motive, Noble Lore), etc. The “rogue as skill monkey” is a 3e-ism which, while not bad, and often true to the archetype (Grey Mouser, Locke Lamora) shouldn’t be a straitjacket in design. (4e promised that combat and non-combat skills would not be in competition, then released feats that included combat feats and non-combat/skill feats, forcing players to choose after all. You have a chance w/5e to create separate resource pools for C/NC abilities. Take that chance!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

More 5e Comments

Yet another attempt to leverage the random, off-the-cuff drivel I spout on other gaming sites into an “article” here. Hey, the site’s free. You get what you pay for… including my constantly reusing that lame excuse when I post content I know is sub-par.

Anyway, Mike Mearls has posted an essay on class design that’s as free-flowing, digression-filled, and vague as anything I’ve ever written, so, I felt obliged to offer a response, that serves to also frame my own thoughts on game design and what makes a good game.

If you don’t read this article first, the following reply will make even less sense than usual.

a)Why not “Maneuver Dice”, since they tie into the Maneuver System? Calling them “damage dice” and then using them for non-damage is really poor naming. (How about “Action Dice”?)

b)Every time you say “simpler”, “for purposes of simplicity”, “to make things easier”, etc, I die a little inside. We’re gamers. We don’t need things simple when that simplicity comes at the cost of variety and depth.

c)A class’s story, place in the world, etc, is the province of the DM. A class’s mechanics is the province of the designers. If the class is not mechanically interesting, fun, etc, no one will play it, and that story will not be told. You guys handle the rules; leave the story to us.

d)A monk’s abilities may be “magical” in the plain English sense, “abilities that defy the normal laws of physics”, but they should not be “magical” in the game mechanic sense — they should not be affected by anti-magic fields, or detected with “Detect Magic”, or affect a creature vulnerable to “magic” or be hindered by a resistance to “magic”. WORDS MATTER IN RULES. Don’t say “magical” if you don’t mean “magic as a game mechanic/keyword”. If you DO mean that… please reconsider. A monk’s abilities, for purposes of that “role in the world” and “story” you’re always on about, should not be “magic” in the same same sense spells are.

e)Drop the alignment requirement. THAT is something that’s “story”, and while it’s good to have a note that “most monks are lawful”, it should not be mandated for D&D in general, though it might be part of a specific setting. It would be interesting to have different ki powers available based on being lawful or chaotic, though.

 

 

Gelatinous Cube, Glacial

Gelatinous Cube, Glacial

In honor of the Winter Is Coming Blog Carnival, I’ve decided to try to a)post more often (hah!), and, b)post winter/cold/ice related stuff, as my fancy is struck. No promises on either frequency or content; been there, done that. For all you guys know, this could be my last post ever. We’ll see. (Note: I wrote that first paragraph on 11/04/2012. What day was this posted?)

So, for starters, let’s take one of the classic monsters, the gelatinous cube, and try some frozen variants. This is going to be a bit of an exercise in extemporanea, wherein I will “think out loud” on the page, as I try to work out what to do with this concept. This allows you to peer into the mind of the artist. Gaze not into the abyss, yadda yadda.

So. Cold gelatinous cube. “Ice Cube”, but that’s too obvious, even for me. Hm. Here’s problem one: The thing about cold, the thing is, about cold, is that it’s cold. Frozen. Stiff. Pretty much the antithesis of “gelatinous”. Sure, you can postulate the freezing point of Cube is much lower than that of water, and we might go with that, but as I ponder it… can a non-gelatinous gelatinous cube be interesting? Hmm…

Cold. Solid cube. Ice cube. Can’t absorb things, except very slowly. Like licking a street sign. Except it’s a street sign that wants to eat you. It can absorb on contact, slowly. Warmth of bodies thaws its outer surface. You get stuck, then drawn in as your own body heat softens the cube so it can feed. Hm. What else does ice do? Shatter. Hitting it causes smaller fragments or shards to fly off. Form their own monster. Hmmm. Clear. Gelatinous cubes are already clear, but arctic thoughts. Sun. Light. Refractions. Snowblindness. Cube shimmer in the sun, blinding aura, dazzling, hard to look at.

OK, that’s enough traits to work with.

Let’s see. Let’s do an “across the ages” thing here. I’ve done it for spells. Why not for monsters?

 

AD&D First Edition

GELATINOUS CUBE, GLACIAL
FREQUENCY: Rare
NO. APPEARING: I
ARMOR CLASS: 5
MOVE: 4“
HIT DICE: 6
% IN LAIR: Nil
TREASURE TYPE: See below
NO. OF ATTACKS: 1
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 2-8+1-4 Cold
SPECIAL ATTACKS: Paralyzation, refraction, surprise on a 1-4
SPECIAL DEFENSES: See below
MAGIC RESISTANCE: See below
INTELLIGENCE: Non-
ALIGNMENT: Neutral
SIZE: L (10’ cube)
PSlONlC ABILITY: Nil

Attack/Defense Modes: Nil

Glacial Gelatinous Cubes are found only in the frozen regions of the planet, or in dungeons which are kept magically super-cold. They are much more solid than their oozier brethren. Due to this, when they hit an adventurer and paralyze him, damage begins on the first turn following the attack, as it takes time for the stricken victim to be drawn inwards.

Glacial cubes are even harder to spot than others of their kind, as they blend perfectly with the semi-transparent ice of their home regions. If encountered in daylight, the cube may instinctively make a refractive attack instead of its normal attack, causing all within 20 feet to make a saving throw against breath weapon or be blinded for 1d4 turns. It may do this only once per day.

Glacial cubes have the same treasure types as other gelatinous cubes.

Glacial gelatinous cubes can be hit by all forms of weapons, but bladed weapons do only half damage. Blunt weapons do normal damage, but on each hit, there is a 25% chance that a shard of the cube will be knocked free. This shard makes an immediate attack as a 3HD monster on a random character within 10 feet of the cube. If the attack hits, the target takes 1d6 damage and must make a saving throw vs. paralysis or be paralyzed for 1d4 turns, during which time the embedded shard will do a further 1d6 damage per turn unless it is somehow removed. Anyone killed in this fashion will become a glacial cube within 2d6 rounds after death, having but 1/4 the hit points of a standard glacial cube, but otherwise identical.

Glacial gelatinous cubes take normal damage from fire, and cold attacks heal them for half the damage they would otherwise do. Electricity, fear, holds, paralyzation,  polymorph, and sleep based attacks have no effect on glacial gelatinous cubes.

It is rumored that white dragons of the smarter sort will sometimes (10% chance) keep glacial cubes as guardians, scattering them around their lairs to ward off intruders.

Pathfinder

(For those who care, which is to say, no one, I am using PF instead of D&D 3.x because my monster spreadsheet has been rewritten for PF.)

Glacial Cube
Large Ooze (Cold)
Hit Dice: 6d10+48 (96 Hit Points)
Initiative: -5 Dex
Speed: 15 feet (3 squares)
Armor Class: 14(-1 Size -5 Dex+10 Natural) touch 4; flat-footed 14
Base Attack/Grapple: +4/+10
Attack: Slam +6 (1d6+1d6 cold)
Space/Reach: 10 ft./10 ft.
Special Attacks: Engulf, Paralysis, Refraction, Shards
Special Qualities: Transparent
Immunities: Electricity, Cold, Ooze Traits
Saves: Fort +10,Ref -3,Will -3
Abilities: Str 14, Dex 1, Con 26, Int 0, Wis 1 ,Cha 1
Environment: Any Cold
Organization: Solitary
Challenge Rating: 4
Treasure: Incidental
Alignment: Neutral

The glacial cube is a cousin of the more common underground gelatinous cube, one which has adapted itself to life under conditions of extreme cold. It is much more solid than the normal gelatinous cube, which provides it with some measure of increased defense, reflected in both its Armor Class and its Hit Points. It also has several other distinctive traits which can catch unwary adventurers by surprise. Unless noted, it is otherwise identical to the gelatinous cube.

Acid (Ex): The glacial cube’s acid does not harm metal, stone, or ice.

Engulf(Ex): The glacial cube has a solid surface, and cannot easily engulf moving prey. However, the body heat of paralyzed victims melts its outer surface, at which point, it can ingest them. As a full round action, it can engulf a single Medium or small creature which is adjacent to it and paralyzed. There is no save. Engulfed creatures are subject to the cube’s paralysis and acid, gain the pinned condition, are in danger of suffocating, and are trapped within its body until they are no longer pinned. This ability does not affect creatures with the cold subtype.

Paralysis (Ex): A glacial gelatinous cube secretes an anesthetizing slime. A target hit by a cube’s melee or engulf attack must succeed on a DC 21 Fortitude save or be paralyzed for 3d6 rounds. The cube can automatically engulf a paralyzed opponent. The save DC is Constitution-based.

Refraction (Ex): As a standard action, a glacial cube exposed to sunlight or bright light can instinctively form its internal substance into crystalline patterns that emit a blinding light. All those within a 30′ radius burst centered on the cube must make a Reflex save (DC 21) or be dazzled for 2d6 rounds. This save is Constitution based.

Shards (Ex): When the glacial cube is struck by a weapon which does crushing damage, it sends for small shards of its frozen substance. If it is critically hit by such a weapon, it produces 1d4+1 shard. Each shard makes an attack on a random creature within 10′ of the cube, at a +6 attack bonus. If it hits, it does 1d8 piercing damage, and it will do 1d6 cold and acid damage for the next 1d4+1 rounds (A DC 15 Heal check will remove the shard). Any creature killed while the shard is in place will reform in 2d6 rounds as a small glacial cube (apply the “young” template to the glacial cube)

Transparent (Ex): The glacial cube is even harder to spot than its dungeon-dwelling kin. A DC 20 Perception check is needed to notice one when in its natural habitat among ice cliffs and snowdrifts. Anyone more than 15 feet away has a 50% miss chance for aimed spells or attacks. Faerie fire, glitterdust, and similar spells render this effect moot, but invisibility purgeor the like do not, for the same reason they don’t make glass windows opaque.

Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition

Ah, 4e. The easiest version to design monsters for, hitting a good balance between the “finger in the wind” 1e/2e rules and the “IRS Tax Auditors Give Up” 3.x/PF rules. Well, it would be nice if there were more formal support for non-combat abilities or integration with the rules for PCs, but, you can’t have everything.

Because 4e makes it so easy to run simple monsters on the fly, the shard effect for the 4e version produces minions, which makes it tactically more interesting, in my opinion.

Glacial Cube

Level 7 Elite Brute

Large natural beast (ooze, cold)

XP 600

HP 194; Bloodied 97

AC 21; Fortitude 20; Reflex 17; Will 18

Speed 3

Immune gaze, cold; Resist 10 acid

Saving Throws +2; Action Points 1

Initiative +5

Perception +5

Tremorsense 5

Traits
Translucent
A glacial cube is invisible until seen (Perception DC 25) or until it attacks. Creatures that fail to notice the glacial cube might walk into it. if this occurs, the cube attacks (+13 vs. Fortitude; Hit: Target is immobilized, save ends.)
Standard Actions
m Slam • At-Will
Attack: +12 vs. Fortitude
Hit: 2d6 + 3 damage, and the target is immobilized (save ends).
M Engulf (acid, cold) • At-Will
Effect: The gelatinous cube engulfs one or two Medium or smaller targets who are immobilized and adjacent to it.; The target is grabbed and pulled into the cube’s space; the target is dazed and takes ongoing 10 acid and cold damage until it escapes the grab. A creature that escapes the grab shifts to a square of its choosing adjacent to the cube. The cube can move normally while creatures are engulfed within it.
C Refractive Burst (radiant) • Encounter
Requirements: Must be in sunlight or in bright light.
Attack: Close Burst 5 (All sighted creatures in burst.); +8 vs. Reflex
Hit: 1d10 + 7 radiant damage, and target is blinded (save ends).
Triggered Actions
Shardspawn • Recharge 4 5 6
Trigger: The cube is struck by a blunt weapon, such as a mace, club, or hammer.
Effect (Immediate Reaction): The cube creates a cubeshard within any adjacent square. This does not grant extra XP. No more than two cubeshards can exist at any one time.
Skills Stealth +10
Str 15 (+5) Dex 15 (+5) Wis 14 (+5)
Con 17 (+6) Int 2 (–1) Cha 2 (–1)
Alignment unaligned     Languages
Glacial Shard

Level 6 Minion

Small natural beast (ooze, cold)

XP 63

HP 1; a missed attack never damages a minion

AC 20; Fortitude 18; Reflex 19; Will 17

Speed 6

Initiative +6

Perception +3

Traits
Translucent
Glacial shards are small and easy to miss against ice and snow. If in such an environment, they have +2 to all defenses against ranged attacks originating more than 2 squares away, unless the attacker is not relying on normal vision.
Standard Actions
m Shard Slash (acid, cold) • At-Will
Attack: +11 vs. AC
Hit: 5 cold and acid damage.
M Embedding Shard (acid, cold) • Encounter
Attack: +11 vs. AC
Hit: 5 cold and acid damage, and the glacial shard is destroyed. The target takes 5 ongoing cold and acid damage (save ends). If this kills the target, it dissolves and becomes a glacial shard, which will attempt to flee the area.
Skills Stealth +11
Str 4 (+0) Dex 16 (+6) Wis 10 (+3)
Con 12 (+4) Int 1 (–2) Cha 10 (+3)
Alignment unaligned     Languages

I could add some more author’s notes here, but the fact is, I had this whole thing done EXCEPT for the shard minion, and that took me over two weeks to get around to doing (and only about an hour to do it, including fighting with Adventure Tools because it corrupted my saved monster file), and I don’t want to procrastinate any more.

Ghosts, Spectres, Wights

So there’s a new article over on WOTC about the art for undead. I had some comments to make, and I’m feeling egotistical enough that I think they might be interesting reading. (If you don’t click the link, the writing below won’t make a lot of sense.)

The ghost as shown looks hostile and not particularly human (living). It doesn’t fit the description. I’d prefer something with more detail and color — albeit faded and washed out — and just a hint of transparency. When we say someone looks “haunted” or has a “haunting expression”, it tends to imply sadness, distance, melancholy, a sense of a mood of loss and wasting. I see ghosts as fragments of source code left executing when the program has crashed, stuck in a loop, unable to get outside the boundaries of their mind (and a physical location as well). If pushed too hard (by overly inquisitive PCs), their sad loss becomes maddened rage, and they attack, with the damage they do physical or metaphysical based on various factors.

If specters are the victims of violent death, each should show clear signs of it — a perpetually bleeding wound, hideous burns, etc. They may “shift” over time, morphing from a seemingly healthy, but translucent, figure that resembles them before the incident, to a “freshly mutilated corpse” that shows them at the time of their death.

Wights should be, in my mind, those tied to the world by material things (as opposed to ghosts, who are tied by psychological things). You know how “you can’t take it with you”? Wights wouldn’t leave it behind. They are bound to the wealth in their tombs, and their appearance should be that of once-luxurious clothing, weapons, or armor, in rags.

I do not consider any of the art here exceptionally strong or evocative (sorry…), and the key weakness is the same — they’re all impersonal. Becoming a ghost, specter, or wight requires an emotion so strong that it is literally more powerful than death. This can be broadly categorized (personal loss, violent death, greed), but it will still manifest uniquely in each person. We should be able to tell a story about a ghost from seeing her picture. We should be able to imagine what she lost or why binds her here.

For the specter, the same thing — we ought to know how he died, and his clothing, gear, etc might give clues to what caused someone to kill him so violently (or it might not he could be the innocent victim of a madman — but that’s a story hook, too.). For the wight, again — we should see “That was a rich merchant; that was an arrogant noblewoman.” Make them people — dead people, but people who, in life had something so important to them that it allowed them to give the finger to Death.

D&D 5e Ongoing Random Replies

So, yet one more “I posted something on WOTC and I’m posting it here, too” post.

Here’s the original article I’m replying to.

Read it? Good. Here’s my reply:

Mike, I completely agree with your philosophy of rules design and its role WRT the DM, but the current iteration of 5e, and the stated design goals, go in exactly the opposite direction. Forcing the DM to make up rules on the fly for every trivial action doesn’t make things easier, and it leads to inconsistencies and circumstance modifiers that come and go randomly, based on if the DM or the players remember if he took thus-and-such into account the last time this situation came up. (“Hey, last week, you didn’t care if the dwarf was wearing plate armor, and this week, you’re saying the same thing is harder because I’m wearing chainmail. What’s up with that?”) You are absolutely 100% correct that a DM must be there to rule in edge cases and odd situations, and that the rules should be clear enough that it’s obvious and easy to extend them to cover those conditions. Hell, I’ve written that exact same rant myself a dozen or more times. The current design philosophy, though, doesn’t lead towards a solid foundation of rules the DM may occasionally need to extend or build upon; it’s more like “Here’s a basic game mechanic, just fill in the rest of the game.”

I also agree with the second part of your post, and again, what you need to consider is that the more tools one class has over another, the more an equally clever player will exploit them. Sure, a clever fighter with a pliable DM can do a lot of “creative” tricks, but that same clever player, running a wizard, has far more tools to be creative WITH. The idea that fighters are balanced by “player skill” is bogus, because there’s nothing that keeps wizards from being played by creative players who like to think outside the box, too. (Likewise, dumping all the work of deciding how Spell X interacts with Effect Y, or how hard it is for a fighter to push over a statue, or what the effect of that will be, onto the DM, to make up on the fly, violates your first point.)

Oh, I am actually hard at work on Part II of the Hackmaster piece. I’ve just found out how many siblings I have. With luck, I’ll be posting that later today, but for now, I’m going to work. (Yeah, I work on Labor Day. Part of what I sacrifice to work at home is paid vacation time.)

The Magic Of Magic

The Magic Of Magic

Once again, this a is reply to, and expansion of, some of the WOTC articles on 5e. Here’s the original article, and here’s my (two) original replies, and after this, we’ll get even more ways to say the same thing using slightly different words.

First off, let’s put a stake through the heart of the myth that magic items used to be “rare” or “mysterious”. Everyone had all the rulebooks and memorized them, as far back as the game existed. To the extent there was every any mystery, it was always for new players who hadn’t yet memorized the rules, and trying to reclaim that feeling is like trying to get back your virginity. Ain’t gonna happen. As for rare… two words: Monty Haul.

If you decide that you won’t build in the assumption that players will gain magic items, then, you basically break the game’s math, because they WILL gain them, in great profusion. If you scale monsters and difficulty levels on the assumption most players won’t have magic items, that’s like designing a video game on the assumption most players won’t go to hint sites or read guidebooks. It’s just not how things work, or how things EVER worked, and I’m really worried that people caught up in this nostalgia kick are apparently doing no research as to how games ACTUALLY PLAYED back in the 1970s and 1980s, and how most of the design decisions being rejected were the direct consequence of fixing actual old school play, not rose-colored fantasies of a playstyle that never was.

That said, having backstory and myth and cool minor powers attached to magic items is something any competent DM does all the time; it’s nice if this is mentioned in the rules and guidelines provided, but it’s hardly the sort of thing we’ve all been waiting on the rules to “let” us do. It’s baseline DMing, it’s what we do by instinct. Also, and this is important, it’s done for our own pleasure, as players either a)ignore such fluff, or, b)obsess insanely over it, warping the entire campaign over some off-hand bit of color, because somehow it’s got stuck in their minds that this is the key to EVERYTHING and the DM wouldn’t have put it there if they weren’t meant to pursue it at all costs.

Second reply:

Just to elaborate, here’s the reality of actual play:
DM:”You see an odd suit of armor. It is formed of battered dark iron, inset with many pieces of stone, all in tones of greys and blacks, such as smoky dark quartz and obsidian mosaics that form primitive, but intricate, patterns. There are signs that the suit has seen much battle,  as it is dented and scraped, although clearly still sturdy and wearable. The helmet for the suit is hammered into the shape of a bull’s head, and…”

Player: “Right, gorgon armor. +2, immune to petrification, yadda yadda. Page 125 in the DMG. Does anyone wear plate? Oh, and if he’s handing this out, it means we’re going to be facing medusae or basilisks or something, everyone make sure you’ve got Scrolls Of Protection From Petrification at the ready. Oh, I guess, technically, I should roll to know that… roll…. 24 on my arcane knowledge check, there, that’s done, what’s the next item we looted? It better be a +2 sword, I’ve been carrying this +1 piece of crap for three levels now. Cheapass DM!”

THAT’S the reality of play, from 1974 to 2012, and beyond, and nothing in the rules can change it.

Now, let me go on a bit…

Consider the following:

“The blade, known in lore as Restgiver, is a greatsword in form, the general style and artistry reflective of the Theatian culture which forged. The hilt is of bone, reputed to be of a lich, and carved with patterns of skulls deformed in seeming terror. The blade itself is of metal so pale as to seem almost white. Histories tell that it was forged from the fragments of blades taken from such beings as liches, death knights, and skeleton warriors, and it was tempered in both holy water and in the ectoplasm of ghosts bound to the forge where it was made. Its innate magics make it lighter, sharper, and faster than even the finest mundane blade, making it a fit prize for any warrior, but it shows its purpose when it confronts the undead, as it is designed to give them rest. When wielded against any once-living being still animated by foul magics, it is even deadlier than a normal blade of its ilk would be, and it cuts and bites into the faintest wisp of a ghost or a phantom as if they were made of solid flesh. While it has no true soul or spirit animating it, those who wield it report that they feel some sense of warmth or joy when the prospect of returning the dead to their grave is mentioned in its presence.”

And

“Greatsword +2 bane (undead), ghost touch”.

They’re both the same thing.

The rules exist to give you the tools to make the latter. Adding the former is up to you; the rules can’t give you that.

(Oh, and I just posted most of that back on WOTC’s boards anyway; so it goes. It’s not like anyone’s paying for this site.)

A History Of Facile Video Game Comparisons

In Convenient Chart Format

Year Edition Video Game
2000 Third
2008 Fourth
2012 Fifth

Discuss.

D&D 5e: Hit Points

Another in my highly irregular series of “crap I wrote on WOTC’s board that I’m reposting here in order to pretend I have content”.

OK, first of all, you need to read this, which is Mike Mearls’ take on hit points in 5e. Not “D&D Next”. Please. “5e”.

So here’s what I wrote in reply:

Mrrrm…. I sort of like the concept, but I have a few issues. First, while it’s mostly a matter of narrative, we’ve always tended to describe injuries as dramatically increasing in severity as we approach 0 hit points, not “He’s a little battered” right up until he goes negative. Sure, that’s a matter of habit and custom and 35 years of DMing, but it’s a hard habit to break. :)  Perhaps more importantly, if you define hit points this way, then how does a DM narrate, say, an impaling attack that causes someone to be pinned? (Many 4e powers do this, as do many 3e special abilities.) Acid, cold, fire, lightning… it’s going to be hard to narrate all of those convincingly as just scratches and dings.

Second, I think 5e’s design is too concerned with pick up games and one-off games and small party games. Making this kind of healing a module is a fine idea; making it core is more problematic.

Third, I suppose I’ll have to see the mechanics, but how do healing skills help with this? Does a ranger who knows “healing herbs and poultices” give a bonus to his allies, for instance, or a wizard who has studied anatomy?

If hit dice represent mundane healing, will mundane factors (no bandages, filthy conditions, etc) reduce this capacity? Probably not for everyone, but it would be a good optional rule for gritty games where resource management counts.

I think you can do a lot of mechanical tricks with the “hit dice” concept, which is a bonus.

I’d like to keep “bloodied” in as a conditional modifier. It’s a good idea and one of the “Top 10″ innovations from 4e, IMO. It’s even migrated to our PF campaign. It has no mechanical effect there, but a player will call out “bloodied!” to let us know he’s wounded (well, his character is. Usually his character. Almost always.), or the DM will use it to let us know we’ve finally managed to really hurt the monster. (To a chorus of “What, you mean we JUST bloodied it?”)

I also wrote this, a little later:

I suppose I should ask this… if the system is designed so that you can expect to survive fights without an in-combat healer (cleric, warlord, druid, bard), then, what is the benefit to having them? They will have to be designed so that their healing abilities represent part of their “value”, but if that value is not needed due to how encounters are expected to be designed, then, they’re going to be underpowered in their secondary role. Further, if you argue that “Well, it’s a lot EASIER with a cleric”, that’s fine, but then how do you design an adventure which can “work” with both magical and non-magical healing? (By this I mean, “If you have magical healing, you won’t need to rest for a day after 2 fights, so we can set up the scenario to occur in a shorter span of time. If you don’t have magical healing, you’ll most likely need to camp after the first two encounters, which means the orc shaman has time to summon Cthulhu while you’re napping.”)

This latter one might need some expansion here (see! Real content!), to be more clear, and because I never say in a hundred words what I can say in a thousand. Or more. If “healing after the fight” and “no need for a cleric” (which, at this stage of the playtest, means “no need for a healer”, as only the four core classes are being developed, so please don’t get nitpicky and say “Oh, but not needing a cleric doesn’t mean you don’t need a healer at all”, because, right now, at this point, at the stage the game is currently at, the only healers are clerics) are core mechanical concepts, this implies that basic fight design is going to assume you can survive to heal after the fight without a cleric. The “standard, balanced” encounter will not require in-combat healing to survive.

Which means:

a)Those parts of a cleric’s design which are devoted to healing are not needed by the basic game design; those parts which aren’t are, by definition, secondary. That is, if we want to say a cleric is “Half healing, half melee”, then, if the healing isn’t actually needed to survive a fight, then you’ve got half a fighter when you could have a whole fighter, or a whole wizard, or whatever.

Or:

b)Healing without magic is time consuming and limited; your total daily fighting capacity is much less. This is strongly implied by the article, and I guess we’ll know for sure in three days. (Why they’re being so coy when the playtest is public and three days away, I don’t know. Just tell us the actual mechanics you’re using, dammit!) I do not object to this at all; it’s a very good way to distinguish between magical and non magical healing. But… this means that a party with a cleric might be able to complete a particular task or quest in one day while a party without one will not, which means any adventure designed without exact foreknowledge of what the party makeup will be risks being either too easy (you build it for a non-cleric party) or too hard (the party has to battle several times to get to the end goal, which is going to happen at a specific time; if they nap in between, they miss it.)

I should note a pretty good answer to ‘b’ is “Well, then the party better find a clever way to avoid some of those encounters” or “The DM should change the adventure!”, and that’s fine for a lot of cases. It’s problematic in any kind of structured play, where you don’t want DM subjectivity giving one group an easy out because he like their cunning plan, while another DM thinks their cunning plan is Baldric-quality and doesn’t let it work.

Further, it’s emblematic of a common thread I see running through a lot of Mike’s pronouncements, the idea that the game will run the same no matter what rules modules you’re using, and, frankly, given how smart Mike is, and what a good designer he is (and those two statements were not sarcasm, irony, or any such thing; I mean them absolutely and sincerely), I’m really finding it hard to understand how he can think this. He knows, he knows very, very, well, how much subtle changes to rules change how the game is played. A feat, power, skill, or spell can become overpowered, or useless, based on which modules might be used. Changing how often characters can recover resources changes how much they can do in an in-game day, which changes how the DM has to structure events. Even in a sandbox game with as much player freedom as possible, the amount of “stuff” a character can do before needing to turn in for the night greatly impacts how you design the sandbox, how far you can expect players to explore, how clever they need to be to exceed the expected limits. In a more structure adventure, it becomes even more important to have solid expectations of what you can do.

FantasyCraft has options and dials you can set for an adventure, or for a campaign, and these have a mechanical impact that ripples through the system. Dials that make things easier for players increase the resources the GM has to build encounters, and vice-versa. I’ve not seen a hint that 5e intends to do this, though it’s so early in the process I might be making false assumptions. Nonetheless, the message from Mike’s posts is “Everyone gets to play the D&D they want to play, all at the same time, and it all works!” is the design goal — and I frankly can’t see that being possible. A modular system is great, but then you need to have tools to adjust and tweak each encounter, NPC, etc, to be balanced with the modules you’re using — not at all impossible, but counter to the “Sit down, open the box, and just PLAY!, dammit!” design goal.

I’ll probably have a lot to say in three days…which means I’ll get around to saying it in thirty or forty.

Comments on 5e: The Grid

Again, this is simply a repost of an off-the-cuff rant to a blog entry at WOTC. Read it first, or this replay makes no sense.

An interesting fantasy, and I don’t mean the kind with elves. Now, let’s discuss how gridless combat really works, based on 34 years of actual play experience.

DM: The orcs charge around the corner! One attacks you, the others charge by to get the wizard!

Fighter: Like hell, I’m going to stop one with my axe!

DM: You can’t, they’re too far from you.

Fighter: You said this was a 10 foot corridor. My axe is five feet long. There’s no way I can’t get a swing at one of them!

DM: Sigh, fine. Uhm… the one on the right or on the left?

Fighter: I dunno, does it matter? Right. I roll a 19, I’m going to guess that hits, and, crap, 4 damage.

DM: OK, one of the orcs is wounded, they attack the wizard now.

Wizard: Can I cast a spell before they get here?

DM: Uhm… let’s see… they have a move of 6.. and you said you were “hanging back”… how far back, exactly, were you hanging?

Wizard (after doing some quick math in his head): Uhm… forty feet.

DM (eying him suspiciously): Well, then I guess you can get off a spell…

Wizard: Cool, I cast magic missile!

DM: At which orc?

Wizard: Uh… the wounded one. I roll…a 2. Smeg.

DM: OK, he’s still up.

Thief: I backstab him!

DM: You can’t.

Thief: Why?

DM: Because the wounded one is on the left and you’re sneaking in the shadows on the right.

Thief: Nuh-uh! I crossed over behind the wizard while he was casting. So I’m on the right.

DM: But the you’re in front of him, not behind him. You can’t backstab from the front. That’s why it’s a backstab.

Thief: Wait, wouldn’t he have to turn to look at the wizard who just magic missiled him?

Fighter: Hey, do I get a turn here? I’m going to charge the one that’s wounded. Death to the orcs!

DM: OK, as you turn to charge, the other orc, the one you’ve all been ignoring, attacks you from behind. +4 to attack! He hits, 12 damage!

Fighter: No way, I’d have backed away carefully and not let him do that!

DM: You’re going to back away carefully AND charge?

Fighter: I’m fourth level! Now, where’s the orc I’m trying to kill?

DM: He’s on the right… no… wait… I marked down the damage on two different orcs… uhm… which one was hit by the magic missile again?

And so it goes, in the REAL world. This is why I try to avoid any RPG without a tactical map (My systems of choice are GURPS, Hero, and D&D 3.x/PF/4e), and why when my group plays WOD or M&M, we *add* a tactical map, just so we always know where everyone is.

To elaborate: If there’s any possibility of conflict, confusion, or questions about “Can X do Y before A can do B?”, I really want the positions of characters marked as clearly as possible. The fact is, people imagine scenes differently, and fill in details based on their own expectations and assumptions which might not be shared by the entire group. Even something as simple as a barroom conversation turning into a barroom brawl can drag the game to a crawl when you try to establish where everyone was when the gameplay shifted from “roleplaying general milling around the area” to “Get to drawing, Screen Monkey!” (In other words, “We are about to engage in combat, oh respected Game Master. Please, draw us a tactical map of the region, so we may best engage in the enemy with full knowledge of our surroundings and his position.”)

“Theater Of The Mind” (Isn’t that White Wolf’s trademarked line of “Stand around in black clothes playing rock-paper-scissors” games?) works best if you’re into “telling a story”. It’s much less useful if you want to “find out what happens”, which is my preferred style of play. Contrary to what a lot of people like to assume or imply, disputes between the DM and players over the positioning of monsters, the relationship of various entities in space and time (and relative dimensions in space), whether or not you were standing in the area of the fireball, etc, are not necessarily due to immaturity, munchkinism, or competitiveness, but simply that people all have their own unique internal maps of the world, and in a complex conflict — anything worth playing out by the rules, as opposed to just saying, “Look, these guys aren’t remotely a threat, you have them at your mercy inside of 5 seconds” — you will have far too many factors to easily keep straight. It’s very easy for one player to not have heard another player say he’s moving across the room, thus placing him in the path of the first player’s lightning bolt, shotgun blast, or grenade. If one hobgoblin is knocked prone, it’s easy to say, “I attack the one on the ground”, but if there’s two of them, you need some other qualifier (“Uhm… the one on the ground who looks more wounded…”) and it quickly scales up from there. Within a player’s mind, often consumed with trying to juggle awareness of what everyone else is doing (pretty much the same, in a major battle, as trying to play mental chess), the distinction between “I plan to walk over there” and “I told the DM I walked over there” is easy to blur; likewise, “I run next to the orc” might imply a completely different orc to the DM and to you, and so on. The potential for conflict and confusion is high. I mean, as my players will be happy to attest, even with the aid of miniatures and a grid, I often mix up which figure has the Ongoing 5 (save ends) and which is Dazed Until The End Of The Next Turn. Now, you might reply, “Well, that’s what happens when you’ve got all those rules and conditions and powers. Keep things simple!” Just one problem — simple is boring. Calling one sack of hit point an “orc” and another sack of hit points with exactly the same combat abilities, except one spot higher on the attack chart, a “hobgoblin” is boring, boring, boring. I like my monsters and NPCs to have the same array of potential abilities as the PCs.

Obviously, if 5e is going to try to make the “one hour adventure” a design goal — and they are — they’re going to default to very simple monsters and very basic fights and tactics, leaving anything more complex than “I swing!” up to the judgment of the DM, which basically means pixelbitching until you find out what he expects you to do. I hope that the initial rules include grid based combat as a “core module”, though. If I have to wait six months or a year to get a combat system that is more than “Hey, everyone, let’s make up a fun story about how we killed some orcs”, that’s six months to a year I won’t be playing D&D, which kind of makes the idea of “unifying the base” an abject failure. So, here’s hoping they don’t do that.