Thursday, April 12, 2018

D&D 5e: There's No School Like Old School

Artist: Bill Willingham
A recent post on Facebook got me thinking about Old School play again, and how Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition can be adapted to imitate the feel of older editions.

The gist of the post was that a DM had his players roll 3d6 in order to determine their character's ability scores and the now 5th level Rogue was concerned about his exceptionally low hit points (which they are also rolling for) due to a low Constitution and some bad die rolls.

Of course, there was a combination of "Your DM sucks!" and "This is old school... Suck it up and have fun with it." responses, which all somewhat miss the point because Session 0 should have set the expectations for that game...

But I digress... because that's not what this post is about. It's about B/X-5.


You see, a couple years back I had actually started to compile a list of rules for an 5th Edition compatible "old school" game based upon the D&D 5th Edition System Reference Document (SRD5). But, you know how life can sometimes get in the way of shit you want to do.

Anyway, after seeing this post, I took some of the pieces of my original idea and crafted a document for anyone who wants to try their own version of Old School 5th Edition. You can view the Google document here.

Summary of Changes

... Or you can jump right to the Google document here.

Classes: Classes available are Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard. The B/X-5 Core Rules will introduce the Race-as-Class concepts for Dwarf, Elf and Halfling (in development).

Feats: Feats have been removed from B/X-5. Instead, each class will have specific level-based benefits that are more limited in scope than Feats (still in development).

Skills: The skill system is considered optional. The base game will treat all skill checks as attribute checks. As the core rules are developed, an optional skill system will be presented. For the purpose of this document, use the current 5th Edition skill resolution rules.

Backgrounds: As with skills, Backgrounds are somewhat in flux. For now, a Background is "tell me what you character did before being an adventurer and pick two related skill proficiencies." I'm considering adding 13th Age style Background/Skill points as an optional system.

Magic: The spell system utilizes “spell slots” like 5th Edition. Cantrip spells exist, but their casting is limited by “0-level” spell slots. While magic as a resource is more limited, but there should still be plenty of combat options for spell casters.

Combat: Combat mechanics are generally the same. However, since B/X-5 characters are less combat optimized, combat is a more serious (and deadly) endeavor, and should be treated as such. Encounter balance is probably out the window, but old school games don't give a damn about that.

HP Recovery and Healing: Healing is slower. A long rest only restores a fraction of hit points and some healing dice. This makes healing magic more valued as a resource, as it was in earlier editions. Dropping to 0 Hit Points is also more likely to result in death.

Resource Management: Due to Cantrip restrictions, resources such as food and light are not as abundant. PCs are also not able to carry a ton of equipment into caves and dungeons. Part of B/X-5 is selecting the right equipment for survival in hostile environments.

Multiclass: There is no multi-classing option in B/X-5.

Compatibility: The B/X-5 character classes are mechanically compatible with 5th Edition, but will be slightly less combat optimized.

Anyway, I thought I'd share the modifications I've come up with to make D&D 5e a little more "old school". Please share your ideas and comment on the blog or B/X-5 document. For the very curious, a couple years back I also shared some of my design ideas on Race-As-Class for Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings.

Artist: David Trampier


5 comments:

  1. Google+ comments:
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    April 12, 2018
    john white

    Looks like Basic Fantasy RPG

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    April 12, 2018
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +john white it keeps a lot of the class features of 5e, so not quite as streamlined as BF, but given that they are both homages to B/X type games, they will feel thematically similar.

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    April 12, 2018
    J Zoshak

    Classes:
    From reading this as a whole, it seems like you are making more sweeping changes than this strategy would allow for, but had you considered making the races-as-classes into class archetypes? Dwarf Fighter, Elf Wizard, Halfling Rogue, sort of thing? I'd be interested in considering something like that for a baseline D&D5 game.

    Will your ruleset have race rules at all? Will a human fighter have the human racial traits?

    Feats, Skills, and Backgrounds:
    All of this stuff is designed to be modular, so its removal shouldn't cause any strain. I think you could quickly outstrip 'compatibility' by replacing feats with a different progression, though, so I'd watch that. The core rules definitely intend for the ability score bonuses to be granted every four levels if you are not using feats.

    Magic and Combat:
    Having just finished a Basic D&D campaign, I heard two complaints over and over again: lethality (too much) and spells (not enough). I'm not saying this can't be done, but wizards are the confluence of those two major issues with Basic: a single spell, a butter knife (or a big stick, but only with dungeon master approval!), and sackcloth at 1st level is just terrible class design, in my opinion, and has been deprecated for good reason.

    HP Recovery and Healing:
    It is unnecessarily difficult to maim and kill PCs in D&D5, I grant you, but again, this is the fast lane to Incompatibility Town, so I'd be circumspect.

    Resource Management:
    No arguments here.

    Multiclass:
    I've always said that being a member of a class makes a PC feel like they're a part of something larger than themselves, which is important, but multiclassing makes them feel like a hero. That said, I get it, no multiclassing in Basic. No arguments.

    Compatibility: The B/X-5 character classes are mechanically compatible with 5th Edition, but will be slightly less combat optimized.

    I'd be careful about how you use that word, because in my opinion you're already peering over the lip into the gorge and I've seen nothing about the mechanics of your conversion. There's nothing wrong with using the D&D5 ruleset to construct something in this vein, but calling it 'compatible' is a stretch.

    Good fortune, though. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

    ReplyDelete
  2. April 12, 2018
    J Zoshak

    Having now actually gone through your document (I missed the link on the first pass), I think my concerns were largely unfounded. You're actually using a much lighter touch in this conversion than I expected (and even than I might have used myself...).

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    April 12, 2018
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +J Zoshak I’m struggling most with cantrip and HP recovery. I don’t want to re-encourage the 5 minute work day, but I feel like light and food are magically over abundant, as is healing. Hard to strike the balance of utility magic vs combat effectiveness for MUs.

    I might add that you can’t benefit from short rest more than 2x per day.

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    April 12, 2018
    Mark Johnson

    This is an interesting mashup. I appreciate the work you put into it.

    A couple notes I would be remiss if I did mention them.

    Stat rolling you need to include the chart from the original unearthed arcana where you are rolling 9d6 for your primary stat and 3d6 for your expected lowest stat (still taking highest 3). I did like how that book also broke out charisma and appearance as two different things.

    This easily replaces the point buy system you clearly are not a fan of and results in statistically heroic stats when you want them.

    Natural healing was miserable in early editions. I would say slower healing would promote more down time activities, but you had to do nothing to get the most from previous healing. Not to mention you always needed a cleric to get anywhere productive.

    Death saves are just great. New or mashup, they are great. I do like the bloodied injuries.

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    April 12, 2018
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Mark Johnson I actually like point buy, but not necessarily for a B/X style game. +J Zoshak suggested a much lower point buy budget, which I think I like a lot for people who want to control their desired class path, but are looking for a more gritty game.

    There is something to be said about rolling up and seeing how the randomness of the dice determine your character class.

    ReplyDelete
  3. April 12, 2018
    Jarrett Perdue

    While B/X-ing up a 5e game, I ruled that all cantrips except Mage Hand and Prestidigitation were 1st level spells. My casters could constantly do small, clever things with magic but couldn't blast away / mash the attack button during each encounter.

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    April 12, 2018
    J Zoshak

    +Marty Walser
    Just to give you some perspective, in the baseline D&D5 campaign I am about to launch in May, short rests are eight-hour, once-per-day affairs, and long rests require a full 24 hours and can only be taken once a week.

    There is flexibility in the rest system; it just depends on how you manage your encounters.

    Additionally, re: point buy or standard array, there's nothing stopping anyone from randomizing the order of their purchased or set scores. I also enjoy that effect. Starting everyone at the same baseline just avoids busted egos.

    ...I'm all for busting egos when it is warranted, but RNG is a stupid reason.

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    April 12, 2018
    J Zoshak

    +Jarrett Perdue
    I cannot stress powerfully enough how strongly I feel that taking at-will magical attacks away from the wizard is a terrible idea. I love an old school feel, but man, we have learned /lessons/ in the last 30 years -- lessons that are valuable and worth taking under advisement.

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    April 12, 2018
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +J Zoshak I was planning to play a couple “Hard Mode” one shots which don’t allow you to reorder stats.

    I understand what you are getting at with at-wills, but I don’t necessarily believe Wizards automatically need to be as combat effective as melee classes in the early game. Nothing wrong with a sling or war darts from the back row... but that’s also why the short rest recharge I think works ok. They get a few magic attacks with the cantrips on any given combat. We’ll see.

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    April 12, 2018
    J Zoshak

    +Marty Walser, this is your baby, and as I said I think your cantrip solution seems like a reasonable compromise.

    But I do think it's weird to say that there's "nothing wrong with a sling or war darts from the back row." Would there be nothing wrong with taking the fighter's plate mail away after they've gotten hit X number of times? Or the rogue's thieves' tools once they've picked X locks?

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    April 12, 2018
    Jarrett Perdue

    +J Zoshak just a difference of approach is all. Should each PC be able to contribute hit points of injury in each round as part of their participation in combat?

    5e, as written, supports play where the answer is "yes." In my campaigns, the answer is "no" --fighters deal injury in combat, magic-users are primarily non-combatant specialists who do things fighters cannot.

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    April 12, 2018
    J Zoshak

    +Jarrett Perdue
    non-combatant specialists who do things fighters cannot

    Yes, and then suddenly don't anymore, when they run out of resources.

    I'm just saying, it's weird that some characters get to be their class all the time and others only get to be their class when the rules say it is thematically appropriate.

    I'm not saying wizards ought to have high AC and HP. I'm saying they ought to cast spells. :)

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    April 12, 2018
    Jarrett Perdue

    +J Zoshak I feel you, man! I give Mage Hand / Prestidigitation a LOT of latitude -- distract foes, throw levers, slam doors, snuff lights, create flashes, make sounds, etc. A clever player can ALWAYS find something to do!

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    April 12, 2018
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +J Zoshak But when you think about it... How many rounds does the average combat last? Less than 10... With Arcane recovery and Cantrip recovery, this is less of a problem than you probably think.

    Besides, how different is it to do d8 or d6 damage with a cantrip vs. d8 or d6 damage with a missile weapon? Wizard is likely going to have some DEX anyway for AC purposes... so firing a missile weapon vs. firing a cantrip is pretty equivalent.

    ReplyDelete
  4. April 12, 2018
    J Zoshak

    I don’t think I’m making the point you guy’s think I’m making. You’re absolutely right - there’s no mechanical difference between a d8 firebolt and a d8 crossbow bolt.

    So why not let the wizard cast the damn spell, like they signed up for? :D

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    April 12, 2018
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +J Zoshak Because cantrips are useful for more than combat things. There is a decision point that needs to be made that "Will I need Mage Hand later, or Light, or should I Fire Bolt now, or Magic Missile?"

    Wizards have a lot of utility outside of combat. They will need to weigh whether the combat damage is more or less important than other utility options.

    In a resource management game, Light is one of the most valuable resources in the entire game. Because if you run out of torches, you are lost in the dark and will starve.

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    April 12, 2018
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +J Zoshak I think that may be what you are missing about what part of the challenge is in an old school BX game.

    Every resource has a cost and benefit. Do I carry more food and torches at the cost of less pitons and ropes or other equipment? Will I have to leave treasure behind due to weight if I wear plate mail?

    In modern games, no one maps. No one keeps time in order to count torches and food used. Encumbrance is “optional” (ie - ignored). Most of that stuff gets hand waved because Light, Create Water, Goodberry, and a number of other minor magics or class abilities make resource tracking superfluous.

    An old school dungeon crawl or hex crawl just isn’t possible in 5e because there is no time or resource pressures... especially with a Ranger and/or Wizard in the party.

    To get that flavor, you need to limit resources. BX gave wizards something like 2 spells at 1st Level. I’m not going that far, but an apprentice Wizard should not have unlimited magic resources at their fingertips.

    That’s why the cantrip recovery variant becomes irrelevant at higher levels. Once the Wizard has progressed, they will pretty much have a full complement of cantrips for any given combat.

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    April 12, 2018
    J Zoshak

    Okay, that is rational, if we assume firebolt and light are drawn from a common pool of energy, you’re right. I’m still thinking of the problem in D&D5 terms, where they are not dependent on each other.

    I feel like this opens a different can of worms tho. Do your non-casters have meaningful class-related things to do outside combat? Or all they all relegated to torch-counting duty?

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  5. April 12, 2018
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +J Zoshak Classes will have almost all the same out of combat options they do now... so I’m not sure how that may be issue.

    The major difference will likely be foraging/hunting. The rules as written today** allow you to hunt/forage as you travel using the right skills (or a Ranger).

    ** 5e actually isn’t all that clear on this.

    In a B/X-5 game, if you are traveling, you cannot hunt/forage at the same time without taking a significant loss in travel speed. I haven’t written up all the exploration rules, but that will be another decision point. Do we stop and look for food, or press on and hope supplies last?

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    April 12, 2018
    J Zoshak

    Also, while I’ve never run a true hex crawl in D&D5, my players do map and track encumbrance. They /should/ track time, but they typically don’t, at their peril.

    The biggest challenge I have is in convincing them that leaving treasure behind is any kind of loss. For some reason no one respects the value of gold piece in D&D5, which baffles me. The one thing that is definitively /not/ abstract about the game.

    Anyway, I find that I can exert pressure on them just fine without resorting to the mundane. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have players who were excited about tracking iron rations (like I am!) - I just haven’t been so fortunate. So I adapt.

    But don’t make the mistake of thinking an old school heart doesn’t beat in this chest. :) My only concern is that players are still free to play the characters they rolled /while/ they cope with the verisimilitude of survival in a fantasy medieval environment. BECMI did a s**t job at this!

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    April 12, 2018
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    I do understand this this style might not suit many players.

    If the cantrip thing backfires, I may just change Light to 1st level, but it's not just Light I want to limit, so I'm going with this idea first.

    In any event, unlimited Cantrips is a pretty new thing. Even 3.x limited them IIRC... It was only 4e where "At-Wills" became truly at will, so I'm not terribly concerned about Wizard players rebelling.

    It's essentially the same as me pulling AD&D 2e off the shelf and saying to my group "We're going to play this instead of 5e for the next couple months". Either they are into it, or not, and they can pass on that campaign.

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    April 12, 2018
    Anders H

    I've been working on a similar project for a a while now:
    http://mythlands-erce.blogspot.dk/search/label/Into%20The%20Unknown

    Feel free to check out the playtest docs. I am currently stalled on the boring work of editing and formatting the monster book. boooo.

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    April 12, 2018
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    Yeah, my project mostly stalled because reformatting the parts of the SRD that aren't really changing is just drudge work.

    ReplyDelete

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