Saturday, 13 December 2014

D&D 5: Beginner PC Spellbooks

As mentioned in my last post, I found D&D 5 character creation to be a bit of a grind, especially with inexperienced players. Another point, which I didn't explicitly mention in the other post, was that spell selection for wizards adds a whole extra level of choices to make. Depending on the edition, this is also true of older versions of the game, so it's not a complaint specifically directed at D&D 5.

Spell selection (three cantrips and six 1st level spells, in D&D 5) is akin to the traditional method of equipping a new character: browsing big lists and trying to come up with a cohesive selection. D&D 5 has elegantly removed the list-shopping aspect of equipment selection, so I thought it could do with something similar for spell selection.

How about this: a set of pre-defined spell books with specific themes (conveniently tied to the schools of magic which the player will choose between at 2nd level).

Abjuration
Cantrips: Blade Ward, Light, Shocking Grasp
1st Level: Alarm, Grease, Mage Armor, Protection from Evil and Good, Shield, Sleep

Conjuration
Cantrips: Acid Splash, Mage Hand, Poison Spray
1st Level: Burning Hands, Find Familiar, Fog Cloud, Grease, Tenser's Floating Disk, Unseen Servant

Divination
Cantrips: Light, Prestidigitation, True Strike
1st Level: Charm Person, Comprehend Languages, Detect Magic, Identify, Magic Missile, Unseen Servant

Enchantment
Cantrips: Dancing Lights, Friends, Prestidigitation
1st Level: Charm Person, Chromatic Orb, Expeditious Retreat, Feather Fall, Sleep, Tasha's Hideous Laughter

Evocation
Cantrips: Fire Bolt, Light, Shocking Grasp
1st Level: Burning Hands, Chromatic Orb, Mage Armor, Magic Missile, Thunderwave, Witch Bolt

Illusion
Cantrips: Dancing Lights, Minor Illusion, Prestidigitation
1st Level: Charm Person, Color Spray, Disguise Self, Illusory Script, Silent Image, Thunderwave

Necromancy
Cantrips: Chill Touch, Mage Hand, Ray of Frost
1st Level: False Life, Fog Cloud, Protection from Evil and Good, Ray of Sickness, Sleep, Unseen Servant

Transmutation
Cantrips: Mending, Message, Prestidigitation
1st Level: Burning Hands, Disguise Self, Expeditious Retreat, Feather Fall, Jump, Longstrider


Other themed spell books could easily be created, along lines such as: frost, dimensions, energy, life, etc. Finally, here's the "standard" (quick build) mage spell book:

Mage
Cantrips: Mage Hand, Light, Ray of Frost
1st Level: Burning Hands, Charm Person, Feather Fall, Mage Armor, Magic Missile, Sleep

Friday, 12 December 2014

D&D 5: Simpler Character Creation For Beginners

Last night, I had a character creation session for D&D 5 with a bunch of six largely inexperienced players. We had two players who'd "played AD&D 2nd edition a couple of times in the 90s", one who'd "played Das Schwarze Auge and Shadowrun", and three who'd never played any kind of traditional RPG.

How did D&D 5 stand up to this challenge?

In summary: mediocre / mixed.

The Good
The players responded really well to the choices of race / class / background. A lot of interesting, creative ideas emerged from this triple choice combo (plus the alternative racial backgrounds I'd prepared for the game setting).

The Bad
It's complicated. Way too complicated for beginners, in my opinion. This is coming from the perspective of someone who usually introduces new players to B/X (Labyrinth Lord). B/X character creation is super minimal, so even though the mechanical parts are a bit on the random / incohesive side, there are so few choices to make that even beginners are done with it fairly quickly. Choosing equipment is the only bit that tends to be very time consuming. Not so D&D 5. The choice of race / class / background is simple enough -- players can just go with what they think sounds cool -- but each choice brings with it a ream of traits to read and note, proficiencies and saving throws to mark, equipment to record. Admittedly, the equipment choice is simpler as it's done for you (no more shopping from lists), but overall it was a long and arduous process, compounded, unfortunately, by the fact that we only had a single PHB and no "cheat sheets" (not sure if such a thing exists for D&D 5?).

An Idea
The players were fine with making the basic choice of race, class, and background but balked at the amount of information each choice entailed they read and record. How about cutting out that second part of the equation? Something like this:
  1. Character creation session: choose race, class, and background. Do not read the sections on your selected race or background, just go from the DM's verbal description of them / your imagination. Do not record any mechanical information related to them. Just focus on understanding your class for now. Note down the equipment (and only the equipment) provided by your background.
  2. First session: play your first adventure.
  3. Second session: before the next session, read the section on your race and record any additional mechanical bits on your character sheet. Play the second session.
  4. Third session: before the next session, read the section on your background and record any additional mechanical bits on your character sheet. Congratulations, you now have a fully fledged character! Go forth and play your third session and onwards.
  5. Fourth session onwards: note to DMs: you should not allow characters to progress beyond 1st level until at least the fourth session -- with level advancement comes further choices (for some classes) and rules.
Sure, this means that, during the first couple of sessions, characters would not be at their optimal in terms of mechanics. They'd be missing things like racial stats bonuses, proficiencies from backgrounds, and so on. I don't think this would be a problem though, especially if the DM is running them through a relatively easy / forgiving introductory scenario.

ps. this is my 400th post on this blog!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

D&D 5: The Good Bits

A while ago I wrote this about the latest version of D&D:
I'm sure I'll run some games of D&D 5 to get a feeling for it. There's a lot of good stuff in it which I, on first reading, prefer to my traditional go-to, Labyrinth Lord. I'm open to the idea of this becoming my standard base of rules to build from, and it feels like a very solid foundation, at that.
(http://the-city-of-iron.blogspot.de/2014/09/d-5-how-i-would-use-it.html)

In the comments, the esteemed Carter Soles posed the question of what exactly these preferred elements of the game are. This post is in answer to that question.

So, some things I prefer about D&D 5 when compared to Labyrinth Lord.

Unified Proficiency System
Among all the cool new ideas in D&D 5, this isn't one I've seen discussed a lot (that merit must go to the "advantage / disadvantage" system), but is without a doubt my favourite mechanical innovation. In older games there's always been the concept of proficiency with armour and weaponry, whether it was embedded in class descriptions ("magic-users can only use daggers and cannot wear armour") or made explicit through a system of weapon proficiency (a la AD&D 2nd edition). There was also some more muddy territory around who can use what tools -- for instance, can any character use lock picks or are they the sole domain of the thief class?

The D&D 5 approach to proficiency wraps all this up, along with a greatly simplified version of the later-edition skills system, into a single proficiency bonus which advances with level. A character is either proficient with something -- in which case he or she gets to add the bonus -- or not. There's no skill points to fumble around with and the rules are deliciously broad: proficiency with a tool, for example, allows the player to add his character's proficiency bonus to "any ability check you make using that tool".

I can also imagine stripping things down further at times and simply saying that a proficient character can do X while a non-proficient character cannot. No roll or bonus required.

Backgrounds
Now these have bee touted as a universally great thing and I'm not one to disagree on that point. Reminiscent of the AD&D 2e "kits" system, but completely class-neutral (your cleric can have the "criminal" background equally to a rogue), backgrounds are great packages of flavour for new characters.

To my mind (though obviously not to the designers of D&D 5), the backgrounds system completely eradicates the need for more than the four core classes. Want a barbarian? An outlander fighter. A bard? How about a rogue with the entertainer background. A paladin? That's clearly a fighter with the adept background. And so on.

Again, simple, flexible, and packed with flavour.

Admittedly, choosing a background adds an extra step to character creation, which means extra time. This stuff inevitably comes up at some point, though, anyway, in roleplaying situations or when the referee needs to know which characters could conceivably know or do a certain thing. Giving each character a single word background ("sage", "sailor", "urchin" etc) adds heaps of flavour. The flaws, bonds, etc could even be ignored initially at char gen, to speed things up.

Equipment
I love the equipment section. Simple guidelines on selling treasure, trade-offs for light vs heavy armour types, weapons distinguished by various properties (this is very much lacking in LL), pre-selected packs of adventuring gear, broad guidelines for lifestyle expenses and hazards / benefits, detailed equipment lists, and even a random table of trinkets! Good, very usable stuff.

 Schools of Magic, Divine Domains
Obviously, I like magic in D&D to have a bit more depth to it than the simple B/X approach. The Advanced Edition Companion for LL goes some way to providing the kind of elaboration I like, with the addition of another type of priest and another type of magic-user, but I'm always eager for more of this kind of thing. My feeling is: why stop at one alternative?

D&D 5 provides a really nice system here: casters must choose a specialisation. Clerics choose at 1st level and magic-users at 2nd (I think... or was it 3rd?). Each class has a choice of 8 or so specialisations, each granting some unique abilities (and, in the case of the clerical domains, a different spell selection).

Obviously, for someone of my proclivities, this still doesn't go far enough, but it at least provides a nice foundation for further work. Suffice to say, this is by far my favourite implementation of such things in any edition of D&D so far.

Downtime
Tying in with the guidelines for lifestyle expenses, in the equipment section, the short section on downtime activities on p. 187 is delightful in its simplicity and usability. It even includes rules for learning new languages (though I note it doesn't extend to skills) -- something which I've never seen done to my satisfaction in D&D before!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

D&D 5: Classes to Class Options

I mentioned yesterday that I'd been considering how one could roll all of the "advanced" (i.e. non-core-4) class options into the core-4. Having had a more detailed look into this, it seems trivially feasible and adds a lot of really nice options to the classes without greatly increasing complexity. Here we go:

Fighter
  • The ranger Hunter archetype can be applied directly to a fighter character, with no modifications.
  • The ranger Beast Master archetype can be applied directly to a fighter character, with no modifications. Note that the "share spells" feature (at 15th level) would only apply to spells cast upon the fighter or beast by another, as the fighter class has no spell-casting capabilities of its own.
  • The barbarian Berserker path could be applied to a fighter, with the addition of the "rage" feature (using the barbarian chart for uses per day).
  • The barbarian Totem Warrior path could be applied to a fighter, with the addition of the "rage" feature (using the barbarian chart for uses per day).
  • The paladin Oath of Devotion can be taken by a fighter character. The character gains the "channel divinity" feature (under "sacred oath"). Each oath spell may be cast once per day.
  • The paladin Oath of the Ancients can be taken by a fighter character. The character gains the "channel divinity" feature (under "sacred oath"). Each oath spell may be cast once per day.
  • The paladin Oath of Vengeance can be taken by a fighter character. The character gains the "channel divinity" feature (under "sacred oath"). Each oath spell may be cast once per day.
I must say, I really like the idea of a normal fighting man being able to take a religious oath under this framework. I'd consider using this instead of the cleric class altogether, in a suitable campaign.


Rogue
  • The bard College of Lore can be applied to a rogue by adding the concept of inspiration dice (but not the full "bardic inspiration" feature), using the arcane trickster spell advancement table and the bard spell list. The bard's "magical secrets" feature could be added too.
  • The bard College of Valor can be applied to a rogue by adding the concept of inspiration dice (but not the full "bardic inspiration" feature), using the arcane trickster spell advancement table and the bard spell list. The bard's "song of rest" feature could be added too.
  • One could also consider allowing rogues to take the ranger's Hunter archetype, though I feel it fits much better as a fighter option.
Wizard
  • The warlock's Archfey Patron can be applied to a wizard, with no modifications. The character also gains the "pact boon" feature at 3rd level.
  • The warlock's Fiend Patron can be applied to a wizard, with no modifications. The character also gains the "pact boon" feature at 3rd level.
  • The warlock's Great Old One Patron can be applied to a wizard, with no modifications. The character also gains the "pact boon" feature at 3rd level.
  • The sorcerer's Draconic Bloodline option can be applied to a wizard. The "elemental affinity" and "draconic presence" features both recharge after a long rest (no sorcery points). (Presumably, the character is a specialist in the field of draconic magic.)
  • The sorcerer's Wild Magic option can be applied to a wizard, with no modifications. (Presumably, the character is a specialist in the field of wild magic.)
Cleric
I feel that the following options are a bit more campaign-specific, but might also work:
  • The warlock's Archfey Patron can be applied to a cleric, with no modifications. The character also gains the "pact boon" feature at 3rd level.
  • The warlock's Fiend Patron can be applied to a cleric, with no modifications. The character also gains the "pact boon" feature at 3rd level.
  • The warlock's Great Old One Patron can be applied to a cleric, with no modifications. The character also gains the "pact boon" feature at 3rd level.
  • The druid's Circle of the Land option can be applied to a cleric, with the addition of the "channel divinity: charm plants and animals" feature from the nature domain.
  • The druid's Circle of the Moon option can be applied to a cleric, with the addition of the "channel divinity: charm plants and animals" feature from the nature domain.
Note that I've not looked at the monk class yet, so can't comment on that.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

D&D 5: Class Prejudice

Following on from my recent thoughts on how I might use the full menagerie of D&D 5 races in a campaign, I've been giving some thought to the full complex of classes presented in the new PHB. As much as I might try to reconcile them all, my feeling remains grognardy on this one.

Barbarian: this is a culture, not a class. Especially with D&D 5's great system for character backgrounds, I find the choice of including such a class pretty questionable.
Bard: I'm not a knee-jerk bard-hater -- I used to like them in AD&D 2e -- but I just don't like the mechanics of the new one. The inspiration dice are just too abstract / disconnected for my taste. I also feel that a bard type character could easily be created as a rogue or wizard with the entertainer background.
Cleric: a nice 2e-ish implementation of the class. The way the divine domains are implemented is very well done. I don't use clerics in many campaigns, but I'd be happy to use this one.
Druid: also a decent version of this class. There's a lot of overlap starting to show here, however. How is a cleric of nature different to a druid? What's the difference between a ranger, a totem warrior barbarian, and a green knight paladin? There are too many nature-oriented, magical classes, with no clear distinction or connection between them. The description of the cleric's nature domain (p. 61) is an admittance of this. It just doesn't make any coherent sense to me. Purely on the topic of the druid class, though, I'd happily use it, in the right campaign setting.
Fighter: nice. Lots of simple options to give fighter characters different flavours.
Monk: the monk... yeah... super culturally specific, doesn't mesh at all with the rest of the classes, why was this class ever included in core rules? I guess it's just historical really (somehow Greyhawk or Arduin related, perhaps?). Anyway, I must confess that I've not even read this class yet in the new PHB. I can't imagine ever using it, except if I were to run some Asian inspired campaign. (Also, for me, like the barbarian "class", it's just way too culture-specific... can anyone seriously imagine a world with dragonborn, halfling, and gnome monks or barbarians? I'm afraid I can't. Well, not a world I'd like to run a campaign in, anyway.)
Paladin: I've never seen the point of the paladin class. The cleric is a holy warrior, right? No question. So what's a paladin? This version doesn't change my feeling. More vague overlap without clear differentiation or explanation.
Ranger: I like the flavour of a wilderness-oriented warrior a lot, but feel that this archetype can be modelled very nicely with a background (outlander, for example). I don't get the need for magic either, to be honest.
Rogue: again, thankfully, a nice implementation of this classic core-4 class. I'm very happy with the options and features presented.
Sorcerer: yeah... I just never understood the need to separate an intuitive wizard from a bookish wizard, mechanically. The mechanical differences themselves are so small that I would have just made this an option under the umbrella of the wizard class. And if you really want to go for the "bloodlines" thing, why not make some racial options? Sorcerer, no thanks.
Warlock: very nice flavour, but again I'd just make this an option for wizards. Doesn't seem like it needs to be a separate class, and the mechanical differences seem (to me) just kind of forced.
Wizard: a very nice version of this class! As someone who (obviously) loves wizards, I'm glad to say that I really like the 5e class. The approach to school specialists is great.

So, apart from the core-4 classes, the only ones which come anywhere near to desirable, in my mind are the druid and warlock. Luckily I like the core-4 classes a lot in 5e, so I'd be perfectly happy to run a campaign with just those.

I've also had some thoughts on taking the options from the non-core-4 classes and rolling them into the core-4. It seems like this would be perfectly possible... but that's a topic for another post.

Edit: I noticed that I'd totally forgotten to mention the monk class. Shows how far off my radar it is! Added above.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

D&D 5: Accepting All Races

Thinking about trying out D&D 5 as-is (i.e. without succumbing to the urge to massively house rule it before I've even played it once!), but I can't stomach the generic modern fantasy vibe. Here are some explanations which I find more palatable for all those races.

Dwarves: men from the Iron Planet who descend to Earth to trade metals.
Dragonborn: slaves spawned in the vats of wizards. All are male.
Tieflings: victims of the shadow plague, their appearance becomes more inhuman as the disease progresses. Eventually disappear into shadow and smoke.
Halflings: gibbering semi-sentients which stalk the wastes in search of living prey to sacrifice to their idols. Among nobles of the City, it is the height of fashion to rear a captive halfling as a pet, teaching it to mimic civilised, human behaviours.
Gnomes: space pirates from the asteroid belt. Sometimes fall to Earth in meteor storms.
Elves: the construction of homunculi was once the prime mode of magical endeavour in the City. Elves are homunculi gone rogue, evolved into beings of human stature over centuries spent lurking in the shadows.
Half-elves: elves can only reproduce with descendents of their creator. Who would mate with such a being?
Half-orcs: men whose souls have been consumed by the ravenous spirits of the wastelands (known as orcs). Their bodies warped and bestial, their minds torn between humanity and depravity.