Friday, May 13, 2016

More Provocative 5e Trash Talk

They called me in to work last night, so on the drive out and on the way back, I had a lot to think about in my previous post; the actual fun that the entire group had as we got to trash some really nasty, evil NPCs, the way 5e works, and how it doesn't work, how much I like the Warhammer system, but never have actually played it (until this last session), and all the trash-talk.

I did think of a work-around for the Warlock soul-sucking ability that doesn't totally nerf it. Instead of disallowing its use altogether when a Warlock casts a spell (See? That statement alone makes no sense! A Warlock power that doesn't work with spell-casting! Wha???), how about we only allow the Warlock to suck a soul once per round, and not allow multiple souls to get sucked with one major spell that kills multiple hostile creatures, like a Fireball in the middle of an attacking army. (By the way, this rule is on page 109 of the PHB. I meant to include that in yesterday's post, but I had to shut down because of... work.) :P

Now, even I think 180 temporary hit points is ricockulous, even if it is my favorite character evar, but the looks on everyone else's faces when I announced that she just acquired 180 temps - was priceless! I'll put this suggestion forth to the DM, and I hope he goes for it, as I'd really hate to see the ability totally nerfed in conjunction with spell-casting. 

Now, I read a couple of comments via Facebook, and one from a friend who said that this play report pretty much sums up his opinion that 5e isn't for him, and I don't want to dissuade anyone from trying the system because of this skewed report. It was sloppy journalism. 

(What can I say? I don't have a degree in journalism, and only took one course in community college for English Comp.)

Now, to explain the philosophy behind the system in a little more depth, I should mention the Monster Manual for 5th edition. Showing what our super-heroic proportioned heroes are up against may begin to make a lot more sense. The monsters your daddy fought in the 70's & 80's are pussies compared to what they are these days. Thanks to Final Fantasy's version of Bahamut, we now have a super-powered dragon with a Disintegration Ray. Fu-hu-hu-hu-huuuuuuuuuck! Okay, maybe Bahamut back-in-the-day was pretty bad-ass too, but honestly, I never worked my players up to the level where they would encounter Bahamut, so the point is a bit moot. (The Tiamat encounter doesn't count. THAT was a totally over-the-top encounter to begin with! Tiamat, asleep in her lair???? Shut up!)

Okay, from the get-go, we beginning players & DMs (with 5e) were thinking that 5e had a lot of powerful character "builds", and ridonkulous monsters. However, please note two things about monsters in this edition: Their hit points are bloated, and their AC's never go above 20. This is a design "feature" (I call it a drawback and a slap in the face to old school gaming...) that WotC decided was of vital importance to "winning" the game of D&D.

It goes something like this: the toughness of monsters relies mostly in their hit points. That demon lord in 1e that was considered pretty bad-ass back-in-the-day with 90 hit points, is now a demon lord with 200+ hit points in 5e. Now he's mega-bad-ass. BUT, the 1e demon lord usually had an AC of -6, which for those of you who absolutely lose your shit when anyone mentions THAC0, a -6 AC is equal to AC 26 in today's game. (Just FYI...) In 5e, that demon lord with 280 hit points only has an AC of 19! (For those of you who haven't played since 1st edition, AC 19 is equal to our old school AC of 1. I know, it's inverted, but its cool, since what you roll to hit on the d20 is equal to the AC you need to hit. Want to hit AC 19? Roll a 19 or better on a d20! Easy-peasy, elves are sleazy...)

"What does this mean? Why does this ultra-powerful, multiple-hyphenated, mega-bad-ass have such a sucky AC? A 1st level character could hit 'em, fer Cryin' Out Loud!"

Yes. That's it, exactly. Right on the nose in one shot! WotC designed 5th edition so that that your 1st level precious-snowflake-murder-hobo has a chance to hit the big-bad-douchebag-boss of your dungeon. It doesn't mean your 1st level character is going to have a chance to KILL the BBDBB of your dungeon, but you might be able to hit him/her/both/neither/it.

So, what happens when your characters start dealing a lot of damage every round? Against 5th edition monsters, it can only mean one thing: The combats take up much more game time, or we finish fights faster, and our characters have a better chance at living through it. Perhaps the monster Challenge Ratings are skewed a little to favor the PCs to make players feel as if they are accomplishing something "heroic", but this is what the game has been focusing on now for the last few editions. At least 5e took a step back in the right direction. Slightly.

180 hit points is still a lot to swallow, and, I've never said this before, but you shouldn't have to swallow that. (I know, I know, I'm a shameless thief, but for what it's worth, I am an amateur journalist with a blog, and if you're reading it, it proves that cheap shots & trash talk like that are worth it...)

A few months ago, our DM complained that we walked over everything he sent at us, with the thought that "This will challenge them!" Boy, was he wrong. We did walk over everything he sent at us in that session, and we were pretty damn happy about it. The DM has come to the conclusion that 5e is broken because we constantly beat stuff up, but I think that there is a lot more to this edition than combat. Here's the thing: Combat encounters shouldn't be the only thing on our plates, and we'd like a little more role-playing, puzzle-solving, and exploration. 

(*A side note: I should also mention that it is possible to kill characters just as easily as it is to kill monsters in 5th edition. Gone are the "Save or Die!" and instant death rules, but characters are just as likely to die from bad player decisions as before, and this is a good thing. Our group has suffered casualties, and character death in the very first session, and we've lost a couple of players because they thought the DM was picking on them, but really, they made assumptions and bad decisions, and the DM had monsters respond accordingly.)

When a game is based solely on combat, we tend to see the game through combat lenses more. The DM and a few other players believe that 5e is a flawed system because combat is "broken". What they don't believe in, and I do, because I'm used to 0e, BX, Holmes and 1e, (but especially 0e) is that combats were designed to be quickly resolved to allow more time doing other things, more interesting things, that didn't get our characters killed, and give us players more opportunities to gain XP with relatively less danger involved.

The biggest mistake in D&D game design was doing away with the GP = XP rules, making combat the only major avenue of gaining XP in the game. Oh, there's the Story Award = XP, but that's just an arbitrary number of points awarded for something that may or may not have happened in the game. I could contest any Story Award given to PCs in any game I've ever played in because Story Awards don't correlate with anything the players or characters earned. 

Oh, but they convinced NPC so-and-so to come to their aid! They rescued NPC so-and-so from Certain Death! Those are definitely worth Story Awards! 

Okay, yeah. Whatever. But those are role-playing achievements that have been arbitrarily quantified to make you think that for some level of role-playing is superior somehow to other levels of role-playing and is worth something. 

Bullshit. That's an unbalanced system of awards if I evar heard of one. Now GP = XP is equitable and totally quantifiable, and always has been from the get-go. Unfortunately, only Dave Arneson got it right in one by having GP = XP only if the PCs spent it on things in the game (that largely included role-playing). That was missing in 0e & 1e, and therefore missed by most mainstream D&D gamers.

Now we have a game that's over-balanced towards XP for combat only. That's not a skewed view at all, is it? Okay, maybe I'm in the extreme minority who believe in a totally different set of criteria that determines "balance", but my main point is that XP should be quantified by other quantifiable things like GP and combat. Not combat only.

But one thing that 5e seemed to do right is to make PCs just as powerful at certain levels, which allows them to finish fights faster and get on with other things in the game, and I think I've already mentioned that, so I'm writing in circles now. Lovely.

I had a point buried in here somewhere, and I know I was quickly closing in on making it, but here at the last intersection, I lost it, and now it eludes me altogether. Oh, here it is...

Don't be dissuaded from trying 5th edition. Its lighter than 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 3.5, 4th & definitely Pathfinder. It is still intricate and challenging, and still offers a lot of options for the players for their characters. It's challenging in ways that D&D should be challenging, and not quite as intimidating as other rules heavy editions are. It still needs work, however, and the kind of work you can only do by jumping in and doing yourself. There are a lot of other things I could talk about here, but this follow-up post has already gone on 10x longer than I thought it would. I guess there was a lot I just had to get off my chest. ;)

5th edition can be so much more than it appears to be. If you work at it, you can draw those things out, and, like a writer with nothing but a pen and a blank page, this game can help you design the kind of game you want to play. But you have to give it a chance, or, like the Lotto commercials would have you believe: "You can't win if you don't play!"
;)