Wednesday, 20 June 2018

0th Level Characters in 5e

Note these 0th-level houserules are intended more for an adventure like the classic N4 Treasure Hunt, not a DCC-esque funnel game where every player controls multiple 0th-level PCs with the expectation most of them will die.

Waxing Lyrical About N4

(forgive this indulgence, skip down to the 0th level rules if you want)

My first attempt at DMing 5th edition was an adaptation of N4. I adore this module ever since I played in it under Pathfinder rules, though it certainly has its flaws. As-written it's a massive railroad -- my Pathfinder GM did a very good job of concealing that from us -- and it leans a little too much towards verisimilitude. There are two long-abandoned buildings whose room keys are largely iterations of "ruined furniture", "tatters of tapestries", and "chests of moldy garbage".

But the module has its cool moments, and playing at 0th level was my first real exposure to old-school paradigms of "avoid combat unless you can make it completely unfair in your favour", "emphasise player creativity over a long character sheet of class features", and "de-emphasise ~builds~, let characters grow organically based on their choices and mistakes".

I really recommend more new-ish players (I started playing in 2005 under 3.5 rules) give 0th-level play a try. After all, if you end up hating it, you'll soon be at 1st level, and you'll have some sense of the party dynamic so your GM will know what adventure material (official or homebrew) would be most fun to run for the group.

The Korinn Archipelago is also a great mini-setting that can be standalone, or segue into most of the official D&D hardcover campaigns. While the adventure doesn't mention the Realms, surviving PCs are canonically just a few days' longship travel (260 miles) from Waterdeep.

excerpt of "Map of Faerün", by Mike Schley

0th Level Rules

I've tried to explain my choices so that you can better decide what to keep/change.

For each ability score in order, roll 4d6 and drop the lowest. You may then swap one pair of scores, before applying racial adjustments. This is to discourage too much pre-planning about what your character will become. To completely minimise preplanning, I'd remove the ability to swap two scores, and run a game such as Swords & Wizardry or Whitehack where ability scores contribute very little to combat or spellcasting capability. Or a game where ability scores advance faster, e.g. The Black Hack and its various descendants. But this is for use with 5e, and I didn't want to completely remove customisation.

Choose a race and background, but no class. You get any corresponding features and proficiencies. However, if this would give you an at-will spell (e.g. high elf) it is only usable once per short rest. Once you reach 1st level, the spell becomes at-will. This is because N4 starts the characters in a shipwreck situation where they have to scavenge for weapons, and I didn't want to trivialise that with at-will magic attacks.

Starting HP = 6 + your Con modifier. You have no Hit Dice for short-rest healing.

Your proficiency bonus is +2. You have proficiency with simple weapons, but no armor or shields. Racial traits may give you extra proficiencies.

You start with the normal equipment for your background (i.e. no shopping from the equipment list) but a character with a variant/custom background might start with modified equipment, subject to GM approval.

Anyone can attempt to cast from a found spellbook, pray to deities for a miracle, or do other class-specific things, with a successful ability check. Attempting such class-specific things, or wearing armor & martial weapons in combat, is the key to leveling up into a class. Note that success/failure is not important, only whether you've tried in situations that have stakes.

The GM may decide to model characters slowly learning proficiency in something. Perhaps after two combats wielding a looted greatsword, you add half your proficiency bonus to attacks with it. Perhaps after enough study/experimentation with a spellbook, or immersion in the sacred poisonous waters of Lunulata Lake, you can cast a single cantrip.

You become 1st-level when the GM says so. They may restrict your class choices based on what you've attempted. GMs, be lenient with this. It's no fun saying "you can't be a wizard despite studying those spellbooks, because you also tried wearing gambeson and swung a longsword", though you could say "have you considered becoming a bard instead?". A character classing into druid might have to forsake metal armor from then on, but let a nature spirit appear and offer them that ultimatum. This might mean characters end up with an extra weapon proficiency pr something, but that can be their reward for reaching 1st level the hard way.

The GM might instead choose to start you at, say, negative 300 XP. But with combat so dicey at 0th level, this is only recommended if there's plenty of opportunities for non-combat XP.

When you reach 1st level, revise your HP to the "starting" HP for that class (and gain a Hit Die), note any new class features, choose some proficient skills. Your GM might let you choose skill proficiencies based on your actions, even if they're not on your class list. Your class's starting equipment doesn't pop into existence, so hopefully you found some neat stuff as a commoner :-)

Friday, 8 June 2018

Paring Down 5th Edition #2: Simplifying Spell Points, and a Dice-Based Variant


idea 1: spells cost MP/mana/spell points equal to their spell level. This ends up being surprisingly close to the DMG costings.
idea 2: instead of having fixed MP/day, casters have spell dice/day. For each MP needed, casters roll a magic die (a d6). A natural 1 or 2 means the die is expended for the day. Different conditions, caster specialisation, or defiling/preserving may change these odds. Additional mechanics for particular results (doubles, triples, runs, etc) may be invented as desired.
See the Longwinded Explanation (after the cut) for reasoning and advice on which column to choose. Sorry for the lack of CSS.

Table 1: MP and Spell Dice by Level (with and without Arcane Recovery)

LevelMPMP (+AR)Spell Dice*Spell Dice** (+ AR)
1st231 1
2nd342 1
3nd8104 3
4th10125 4
5th16198 6
6th192210 7
7th232712 9
8th273114 10
9th364118 14
10th414621 15
11th475324 18
12th475324 18
13th546127 20
14th546127 20
15th627031 23
16th627031 23
17th718036 27
18th768538 28
19th829241 31
20th899945 33
* Dice expire on a 3 or less
** Dice expire on a 2 or less

Friday, 1 June 2018

Flumph (5e PC race)

image credit: Agent Underdark
You know what flumphs are, so I'll skip the fluff. This write-up is as setting-agnostic as possible and avoids anything non-OGL (flumphs do not appear in the 5e SRD). So they "speak" via passing air through their bodies, not via telepathy, but this is easily changed if desired. I have left a minor nod to 5e's psionic take on them by giving them a small Int bonus.

Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2, and your Intelligence score increases by 1.

Age. Flumphs reach maturity quickly, around 10 years old, and live for a few hundred years. In settings where they are capable of interstellar travel, they enter a state of cryptobiosis (where they don’t age) to do so.

Alignment. Nearly all flumphs are lawful good. On worlds where this is common knowledge, the few evil and chaotic flumphs take great pleasure in exploiting people’s expectations.

Size. Small. Flumphs weigh approximately 15 lb, and their central saucer is approximately 2 feet wide and 4 inches thick. Their tendrils are also approx 2 feet long, and their eyestalks are about 4 inches long.

Aberration. You count as an aberration for determining what game effects can affect you. Despite your anatomy, you also count as a humanoid.

Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet. 

Low Hover. You don't have a fly speed, but your saucer hovers above the ground a distance equal to 3 times your Constitution score, in inches, measured from the bottom of your saucer. You can temporarily exceed this height as per the standard jumping rules.

e.g. a flumph with Str 12 and Con 8 floats 2 feet above the ground, and can make a “running high jump” to briefly attain a height of 6 feet.

You ignore difficult terrain and other hazards (such as the grease spell) that are shorter than your hover height. You can hold your tendrils sideways so their contribution to your “thickness” is negligible.

Alien Anatomy. At the GM’s discretion, you may be unable to wear various items of clothing (including, but not limited to: armor, boots, necklaces/amulets, rings) without custom fitting. Such items generally cost twice their listed price. Magic items may also require modifications, which risk destroying the item’s magical properties unless carried out by a master craftsperson in a well-appointed workshop.

Noxious Spray. Once per short rest, you can use your action to squirt fluid from an aperture on your body’s rim. Each creature in a 15 ft. cone must make a Dexterity saving throw. The DC for this saving throw equals 8 + your Constitution modifier + your proficiency bonus. Creatures that fail their saves are covered in foul-smelling liquid, and have disadvantage on any ability check to interact socially with another creature. At the GM’s discretion, this may also apply to the morale of hirelings, and to the initial reactions of NPCs. 
Splat! When calculating falling damage, you treat the fall as half its actual distance, rounded down to the nearest 10 ft. While unarmored, you also confer this benefit to any creature who falls on you. However, if the creature still takes any falling damage, you take the same amount of damage.

Stinger. You have a natural weapon that inflicts 1d6 acid damage (no ability modifier) on a successful hit. This is a finesse weapon.
Tendrils. You have many (roughly two dozen) prehensile tendrils which can hold objects. However, you lack the coordination needed to manipulate more than two of them at any time. This means:
  • You don’t get extra actions in combat, or more attacks than normal when using the Attack action.
  • You must use both “active” tendrils to wield a weapon two-handed.
  • You choose which two tendrils to use at the beginning of your turn (as a free action), and your choice applies until your next turn. i.e. you cannot attack with a greatsword, then switch to a held shield during other creature’s turns.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Undercommon and one other language of your choice.