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Friday, February 19, 2016

Looking at 5e and the Wonders of Improvising An Action


Maybe it was just my experience. Well, more accurately that of my gaming group at the time we were playtesting D&D Next. Our DM assembled a group of players from throughout the editions of D&D and it was one hell of an experience for this Grognard.

See, the 4e'er got all twisted when the DM ruled that an amazing speech by a PC succeeded without a roll. I'm not a 4e player myself, so I'm not sure if 4e resolved everything with a roll and there was a rule for everything or if this was the player's perception as to how things should be resolved, but it left a sour taste of 4e in my mouth (and was pretty good at showing what the expectations were of the new iteration of D&D from players of different editions of the rules)

I like the quote pictured above. I specifically like this line: "the DM tells you whether that action is possible and what kind of roll you need to make, if any, to determine success or failure." This is how I run things. It's how I've always run things in my game. If I ran a 5e game, I'd do this even if it weren't mentioned in the Player's Handbook, but it is mentioned, and it is good ;)

As I delve into the D&D 5e rules, I'm beginning to like what I see. It may not replace Swords & Wizardry as my go to game, but I'm definitely seeing pleasant surprises. Now to look at "advantage and disadvantage"

(did I mention that the "grid" being optional is another win in my book?)


28 comments:

  1. The fact that this is stated in the book makes me very, very happy. The fact that it has to be stated makes me very, very sad.

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    1. I think it puts lot's of implied authority in the DM's hands. 4e strikes me as a ruleset where the DM was the implementer of the rules with very little discretion. I could be wrong, having never played and and just reading the core books when they came out.

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    2. @James- Same. Ditto with the fact that in the DMG it must be explicitly stated that siege engines are immune to poison and psychic damage.

      @Tenkar- Having DM'd 4e for 6th months, I can say that your sense is more or less accurate.

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    3. The second sentence is what I was going to say. But I'm playing OD&D where it's pretty explicit that you do what you want and are not bound by anything in the holy book.

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    4. I started writing a comment about 4E but then the PTSD set in and I had to stop.

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    5. It was that player's mis-perception about 4e... and to be fair, that all started in 3e when there was a skill check for everything. .. I'll have to look back, but I'm pretty certain both 3e and 4e DM guides had something along the lines of "if there isn't a rule, make a ruling" but it was not as well stated or as explicitly up front as in 5e.

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  2. For Advantage/Disadvantge: http://gamingballistic.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-dnd-basic-advantageddisadvantaged.html

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  3. This was never my experience playing or running 4E; the entire point of p. 42 in the DMG was to provide guidelines for winging things in response to player creativity. I don't have my books here, but I believe there was even something in one of them about repurposing spells outside of combat; I had a player use the area effect ice spell to freeze a river for the purpose of crossing it, and that seemed encouraged by the rules as written. I am also certain that there is talk in there about situations when you don't need to roll.

    So I chalk this up to someone with a bad 4E GM and not to the game as is.

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    1. Ha ha, "guidelines for winging things" is precious. Is there a section on scheduling spontaneity as well?

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    2. It's simply information about how the system math works so that you can have some sense of how to assess risk as a DM when responding to player improv. I.e., if it's only relatively risky, use these damage numbers in case of failure; if it's massively risky, use these instead. Ultimately no different from the dice probability analysis I see in a number of OSR publications. And certainly much better than the lack of almost all math and system assumption information in the RPGs of my early 1980s teen years.

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    3. 4E's page 42 was dice-resolution based but was trying hard to do in a page what the entirety of the 4E rules were working against. The problem I experienced with my 200-odd 4E games I ran was players who had a hard time breaking out of the rigid mechanical and limited descriptive interpretations of powers to try and think outside the box. The system allowed for page 42, yes....but the hundreds of other pages did not imply support. If every power had even included a single paragraph of "other ways this can be used in the game" it would have solved that problem....but players themselves felt locked in, and tended to stick to what was written on their sheet or in the book. Very few were willing to move outside what was hard-coded in to the rules, no matter how much I encouraged them. It was incredibly disheartening.

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  4. I usually made the characters roll for anything vital (that could cause damage for example) unless they came up with a move so cinematic and awesome it left me gob smacked. They quickly learned keeping me entertained was a way to avoid rolling for stuff ... within reason.

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  5. if you're like me, when you get to the part where you realize that the Cleric is now slinging spells all the time and not hitting things with a mace, you'll throw up a little in your mouth

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    1. Although it was 1981 and I was ticked that my cleric of Athena couldn't use a spear.

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    2. Not sure where a cleric would get that many spells unless at a very high level...but I haven't played any versions that came out since the '80s and everything I read maje s it seem the new breed of player expects to play a super hero right after rolling up a character.

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    3. I believe he is speaking of cantrips which are unlimited us... which *can* be more advantageous to use as a ranged attack as opposed to wading in with a mace.

      I don't see this as that huge of a deal. Cantrips are useful at lower levels, but the cleric will have better options as they level up.

      This is not a problem at all in the campaign I am currently running. The cleric is constantly in the action with his mace despite have NO strength bonus.

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    4. I like the bonus action/tinyheals for clerics. You get to fill the "keep friends alive while they have all the fun" role that everyone so fondly remembers from the 80's, but you're also allowed to have fun and do shit, too.

      This is from a "killing monsters at the zoo" dungeon sociopath perspective, of course. There's plenty of other ways to have fun, and I also enjoy playing and running games where clerics can't even cast a spell at first level.

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  6. I'd like to see more DMs encouraging more of their players to improvise instead of relying on feats and such. But hey, that's just me.

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    1. 5E actually makes feats optional. DM can exclude them if desired.

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    2. The implication is astounding... Isn't every rule in any game optional?

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    3. @Matt Celis - technically, yes any rule is optional (in just about any RPG), but some are more optional than others in the sense that if you change certain rules, you could break all of the mathy-ness of a system, and end up with something completely unbalanced that favors one class or one build above the others, nerfing some players while unfairly raising up others.

      Removing Feats from 5e doesn't alter the landscape because the Basic Rules are written without considering Feats at all. Feats are designed as a minor class adjustments in 5e... whereas in D&D 3.x and Pathfinder, removing Feats would have a major impact to melee-based classes and a much lesser impact on spell-casting classes making them immensely favorable. The meta-game would be hugely impacted (which is one of the reasons I really like that they *fixed* the way Feats work in 5e).

      Anyway, the end result is that a lot of 5e was designed such that tweaking rules here and there would not necessarily blow the math out of the water. Skills can be removed to use attribute checks instead. Sure, no problem. Feats left in or out. Sure, no problem. Rather have Fortitude, Reflex and Will saving throws instead of the current save system? Yeah, that works too. Instead of saving throws, would you rather have spell casters use an "attack" roll against a target DC? Yep, no problem. Don't like the way healing works? Too much? Yeah, cut it back.

      It's quite surprising how much flexibility the design allows for tinkering with even core mechanics.

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    4. @Matt Celis - technically, yes any rule is optional (in just about any RPG), but some are more optional than others in the sense that if you change certain rules, you could break all of the mathy-ness of a system, and end up with something completely unbalanced that favors one class or one build above the others, nerfing some players while unfairly raising up others.

      Removing Feats from 5e doesn't alter the landscape because the Basic Rules are written without considering Feats at all. Feats are designed as a minor class adjustments in 5e... whereas in D&D 3.x and Pathfinder, removing Feats would have a major impact to melee-based classes and a much lesser impact on spell-casting classes making them immensely favorable. The meta-game would be hugely impacted (which is one of the reasons I really like that they *fixed* the way Feats work in 5e).

      Anyway, the end result is that a lot of 5e was designed such that tweaking rules here and there would not necessarily blow the math out of the water. Skills can be removed to use attribute checks instead. Sure, no problem. Feats left in or out. Sure, no problem. Rather have Fortitude, Reflex and Will saving throws instead of the current save system? Yeah, that works too. Instead of saving throws, would you rather have spell casters use an "attack" roll against a target DC? Yep, no problem. Don't like the way healing works? Too much? Yeah, cut it back.

      It's quite surprising how much flexibility the design allows for tinkering with even core mechanics.

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  7. It's exactly how I enjoyed running my games (Lab Lord or S&W and Shadows of the Demon Lord) rolls are for something that can cause damage to a PC or others around them. Otherwise it's up to the PC to impress me with "so this is what I do..." And I tend to keep it moving unless it's as stated above(or something extremely stupid) :)
    Not looking to Edition bash, I just get 4e lacked some flexibility for ME as A DM. I am looking forward to furthering my digging into 5ed.

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  8. This reminds me of a conversation I had with a player this week who is running an aristocrat in White Star. He was trying to wrap his head around the Silver Tongue mechanic (a charm-like save effect to convince people to do things) and I realized he was confused because he was looking at it from a player used to D&D 3.5/Pathfinder and other dice-resolution heavy systems. I explained to him, "this mechanic is special because normally in White Star you succeed with a diplomatic engagement by actually convincing me the GM that your argument/coercion works against the NPC through your actual description. The Silver Tongue lets you break the rule by making it a saving throw...but you don't normally roll to convince people. You try...and either succeed or fail on your own merits."

    It blew his mind. He's still trying to wrangle with the notion....

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  9. This is something you can do with TSR versions of the game, Erik, you know? ;-)

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  10. "See, the 4e'er got all twisted when the DM ruled that an amazing speech by a PC succeeded without a roll. I'm not a 4e player myself, so I'm not sure if 4e resolved everything with a roll and there was a rule for everything or if this was the player's perception as to how things should be resolved, but it left a sour taste of 4e in my mouth (and was pretty good at showing what the expectations were of the new iteration of D&D from players of different editions of the rules)."

    In 4e, diplomacy is always at least a die roll with a difficulty based on the level of the target. However, the 4e PHB, if I'm not mistaken, encourages resolving diplomacy through a skill challenge, a mechanic they came up with to involve the whole group in solving noncombat problems. The 4e player was probably confused not only that the situation was resolved without a die roll, but that only one character did it.

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