Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Paring Down 5th Edition

I play and enjoy 5e, but it really needs paring down of its unnecessary complexity and constraints. So this is the first in a series that explains some houserules I'm working on, and what I intend to accomplish with them

Many of these ideas are lifted from various OSR blogs and systems, but one of the goals here is to maintain the "heroic fantasy" power level of vanilla 5e, instead of the grittier feel many OSR games go for. Also I want to keep the player-facing rules pretty similar, so someone could potentially rock up to my table with a vanilla 5e pre-gen ranger and not have to translate their sheet before getting to play.

Ability Score Generation

Note that what I refer to here as "ability score" here corresponds to what vanilla 5e calls "ability bonus". It just reads a lot better that way.

Random Method

  1. Roll two six-sided dice and ignore the highest result (i.e. "2d6 with disadvantage"). Subtract 2 from the remaining die and record it as your Strength score. Repeat this process for the other five ability scores, in order (Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha).
  2. If your highest score is +1, you may re-roll scores of your choice until you attain a result that's +2 or higher.
  3. You may swap any two scores.
  4. Do not adjust scores up or down for your choice of race. Instead, choose one ability score that would be adjusted under vanilla 5e. Humans may choose any one ability score. Reroll that score, keeping the original score if it's higher.
e.g. Becky is rolling Lucretia, a dragonborn fighter. She rolls the following die pairs:
⚂⚃, ⚂⚄, ⚄⚀, ⚀⚅, ⚂⚁, ⚃⚀
for the following ability scores.

Str +1, Dex +1, Con -1, Int -1, Wis +1, Cha +2

She is not entitled to step 2. For step 3, she decides to swap her Con and Cha scores and hopes that step 4 will be kind to her. For step 4, she notes vanilla 5e gives dragonborn +2 Str and +1 Cha. She chooses to reroll her Str, getting ⚅⚁.

At the end of it all, Lucretia's scores are:

Str +2, Dex +1, Con +2, Int -1, Wis +1, Cha -1

Tweaking the Odds

Ignoring racial adjustment, getting an 18 on any one roll of "4d6 drop the lowest" is a 1/54 chance. Getting the equivalent +4 here is 1/36. You could tweak these odds in all sorts of ways:
  • High-Powered. Roll 2d4, keep the lowest
  • Low-Powered. Roll 2d8 keep the lowest, subtract 4
  • Ummmmmm? Roll 3d6, keep the median die, subtract 2
Semi-Randomly Assigned Array

 Alternately, the GM may allow the following method, which semi-randomly allots the same set of ability scores to every PC:
  1. You have six bonuses, +3, +2, +1, +1, +0, +0. You may assign the +3 to any ability score.
  2. Randomly select a remaining ability score (e.g. by pulling out of a hat, or rolling d10, subtracting 5 if needed). Assign it +2.
  3. Assign +1 to a remaining score of your choice.
  4. Randomly select a remaining score (e.g. roll d6, subtracting 3 if needed). Assign it +1.
  5. Assign +2 to the remaining two scores.
  6. Do not adjust or reroll any scores for race.
Alternately the GM may just allow players to assign stats in whatever order they choose.

Design Notes

I only like traditional 3-18 ability scores for roll-under systems (Whitehack, Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells). The rest of the time it's this unnecessary step in character generation. It confuses new players when it's the bonus, not the score, that gets used most of the time. This is made worse by the few rules that do refer to the score, e.g. long-jump rules.

This approach is inspired by the playtest of Knave, which is an excellent classless system for classic D&D or OSR material in development by Ben Milton here. The main differences are one fewer die is rolled making it easier to roll high, some limited customisation after rolling is allowed, and this system adjusts the scores down to account for 5e's proficiency bonus.

The proficiency bonus may end up nixed from this set of houserules -- while it's a good unifying mechanic and certainly an improvement over 3.5's mess of different scales, there's a good chance it'll end up unnecessary here. If that happens, this post will be revised to remove the admittedly clunky "-2" bit. The only reason 2d4's not presented as the default is that they're a pain to roll, and one of my nonessential goals is to stick to just d20 and d6 for all player-made rolls.

I've also grown to hate racial adjustments to ability scores except in the most extreme cases (e.g. playing a giant). They unnecessarily constrain race/class combinations, unless the player is dead set on playing against type. I've seen anecdotes from various DMs who ran the D&D Next playtest (where for a while, racial adjustments were +1 at most) about how they loved the variety of character concepts they were getting at their table. Now that diversity's measurably died back.

The "reroll" idea is borrowed from this Coins and Scrolls post, spoiler alert, racial abilities will be handled in not-dissimilar way. I basically agree with the reasoning there -- elves as a population can be more nimble than humans, dwarves more hardy, but individual PCs can be whatever the player wants without getting too nerfed.

edit: here's a couple of quick charts showing the likelihood of rolling various scores. Note these include the +2 proficiency bonus at 1st level, as "to-hit" and "total bonus for trained skills" generally matter more for determining an appropriate power level for a campaign.

Effect of die-keeping method

Effect of die size

Monday, 21 May 2018

d12 Table of High Fantasy Gay Bar Patrons

 ...because i'm still in the closet in my real-life games, so my faithful readers will have to put up with this instead.
  1. The crown prince wearing a terrible false moustache. Tall, regal bearing, but nervous as heck, constantly looking over his shoulder, flinches at the slightest touch. This isn’t his first time here; the other patrons usually play along.

  2. High-elf leather-daddy with handlebar moustache. Vegetarian, his accoutrements are actually mycelial “leather”. Main kink is spanking willing submissives with mage hand when they least expect it while they’re performing various errands for him.

  3. High-femme dwarf in Marie Antoinette-style fashion. Her wig has a foot-long model spelljamming ship as a centrepiece. It is actually armed and capable of flight, though not of interstellar travel.

  4. Thri-kreen drag queen, mock-devouring the head of one of her burlesque backup dancers. The most fearsome fighter here, usually the one to show violent patrons, obvious cops planning on entrapment, and wannabe-blackmailers the door.

  5. A shy halfling from an outer rural province. Their first time in the city, they’ve sneaked away from their traveling merchant uncle for the night. Has a double of whiskey sitting on the table because they’ve read somewhere that people call it “liquid courage”. Sneaks looks at people they think are cute, but eyes constantly dart back to check no-one’s spiked their drink.

  6. Orc twink in cloth-of-gold hotpants. Thick eyebrows, oiled hair, hates jokes about barbarian orcish endurance. Likes to flaunt the booty, but he’s not really into hookups. People who chat him up quickly get trapped in an animated, one-sided conversation about his ideas for siege weapons, him being unaware of how he may be boring someone who was just looking for a good root.

  7. Plump, fluffy, topless tabaxi with nipple piercings all the way down. She’s asexual, here for the music and conviviality. Has a reputation for being a mom-friend, particularly to outsiders & people new in town. Has particular scorn for [11], would love to eat his trained mice fight in front of his stupid creeper face.

  8. Big hulking bisexual crabman. Audible snickering from other patrons wondering how he’s supposed to get anyone off with those claws, and what does he even have down there anyway. Eyestalks looking down at his drink, which sits in a special oversized wooden sippy-cup that the sympathetic bartender carved for him.

  9. Two snail-folk, madly in love. They’re caressing each other’s shells, each trying to surreptitiously shank the other with a love-dart to determine who gets to top tonight.

  10. Kitsune (human form, with subtle vulpine features) in immaculate finery gently filing his claws while giving a sly grin at a random PC. Styled eyebrows, short auburn hair with widow’s peak, habitually licks his teeth. He absolutely refuses to do it in fox-form.

  11. Gnome wizard who enchants people’s clothing to flag sexual preference, but only in proximity of a compatible flag. Long braided salt-and-pepper beard, mottled green robes with a sharp odour of cheese. A half-dozen trained mice who he can communicate with are nestled in his beard and robes. A total sleaze, will accept coin but continually suggests customers can pay with sexual favours.

  12. T R O U G H M A N, a being from the Quasielemental Plane of Salt. T R O U G H M A N emanates a psionic aura that prevents people from referring to T R O U G H M A N with pronouns. Hungry for the salts of mortals, T R O U G H M A N lies in the urinals offering minor planar treasures for people to piss on T R O U G H M A N.

Friday, 4 May 2018

Selkies for 5e

Artist: Annachronism (follow tumblr link for high-res version)

Necessary Prelude About Sexual Violence

I've seen other attempts at a selkie player race, but they tend to avoid the folklore trope of humans coercing them into relationships by stealing their pelts.

To be absolutely clear, I don't think there's anything wrong with just wanting to play a humanoid who can shapechange into a seal. Especially in a game where druids can do so without any strings attached. Just as there's nothing wrong with wanting to play in a setting where LGBT characters are fully accepted by society, sexism only exists in evil antagonist societies if at all, and all that Blue Rose kind of stuff.

But it's not what I want. Folklore, spec-fic and tabletop gaming provide valuable spaces for metaphorically exploring different experiences. Just as Eberron changelings are fantastic for interrogating what gender might mean for a creature whose sexual characteristics are mutable at will, just as tieflings are very popular right now for exploring what it's like to be marginalised on appearance alone, I think selkies who have to treat literally every human as a potential threat to their liberty and autonomy can be really interesting.

But obviously, GMs and players should establish common boundaries on this. A non-exhaustive list of questions:
  1. Should the sealskin be a thing?
  2. Should there be an actual in-game possibility of NPCs stealing your pelt? Or should you just agree to roleplay as though that risk exists?
  3. Is PvP pelt-stealing OK?
  4. If a pelt is stolen, should any consequences be kept "fade to black", be confined to exploiting the PC for menial/slave labour of a non-sexual nature, or be otherwise "PG-rated"?
(my personal answers as either player or GM are "yes, yes, no, fade-to-black")

And if you want to use this homebrew in your game but omit the Sealskin trait, I'll still be flattered.

Likewise, if you use the Sealskin guidelines for swan maidens or another similar myth, let me know how it goes.

(5e mechanics and notes about a possible selkie culture after the cut)

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

The Seaglass Isle

(oh yeah, my new year's resolution is going swimmingly)

I made an entry for this year's One Page Dungeon Contest!

"A fragment of a flying pleasure-palace, roamed by salamandroids, wobbegong-men, and a murderous radioactive hermit."

I've uploaded it here, along with a more legible version of the random encounter table. I am a total newbie to Scribus, and couldn't work out how to import the table as anything other than a raster image in time.

I don't expect it to do well in the contest -- there's a lot of strong entries this year and my work is amateur at best -- but I'm still happy I got it out of my brain and into a form that's hopefully intelligible.

If you want this dungeon in a different format (I know PDFs with text boxes all over the place don't work well with screen-readers), let me know and I'll figure something out. And if you run it, please let me know how it went!

edit: a hook I forgot to include. Small pieces of seaglass wash up on beaches up and down the coast. The lingering magic of the pleasure-palace has an odd resonant effect -- whenever a spell is cast near one of these pieces, it jumps about a metre in the direction of the Isle.