I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Saturday, June 17, 2017

GURPS D&D, part II: Skills

Click here for part I, where I explain why D&D does attributes better than GURPS. I started writing this because of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, but I have no idea if they use a similar system to the one I propose here, since I haven't played GURPS for a while. Let me know in the comments!

One of the reasons I stopped playing GURPS was "too many skills". I know some versions of TSR-D&D (and, obviously, 3e) had lots of skills too, but eventually I decided I prefer 4e and 5e in this regard.

How many skills do I need? Well, around a dozen will do, but I'd take a few extra skills if needed.

GURPS has about 18 skills... that start with the letter A!

But - wait - there is more! At least a few of those MUST be taken with a specialty, so you have Area Knowledge (Neighborhood) and Area Knowledge (City) as two separate skills.

Unfortunately, choosing skills is not enough. Each skill has a different difficulty - easy, medium, hard, or very hard - with different costs (mercifully easier in GURPS 4e than in 3e).

At least you don't have to buy all skills you want to use. Some skills default from attributes, so if you have Intelligence 15 you automatically get Accounting 9. Unless you have the Finance skill. Then you have Accounting equal to Finance -4. Or Merchant -5. You also get a discount to Accounting if you have Finance and want to raise the other skill...

Is accounting a bad example for D&D? Try swords: there is a skill for broadswords, other for short swords, rapier, saber, smallsword, two-handed swords... and they all default to each other.

Even if you don't play GURPS, I think you can see why some people have headaches while reading it.

(And yes, I will STILL say that GURPS is a simple game to PLAY, although character creation can be a hassle).

Sample skills from the D&D Rules Cyclopedia.
Still, GURPS has some advantages over D&D when dealing with skills. Probabilities make way more sense, for example. Nope, the Strength 10 guy won't beat the Strength 20 gal in an arm-wrestling match 20% of the time. Maybe 1% of the time, probably less.

The problem, then, is the skill list.

Fortunately, GURPS has a built in solution: Wildcard skills. They replace ALL the skill in any given "umbrella". If you have a "Sword!" skill you can fight with all swords and knives, fast-draw your sword, and jump around while fencing. The good thing is that you can still use GURPS's humongous list of skills if you need to know exactly how Aerobatics work. Or Accounting.

For a "GURPS D&D" game, its easy to see you can use these skills in lieu of classes.

Of course, in D&D classes are often MORE important than attributes/abilities, so a few tweaks might be useful.

Try this: all skills default to Attribute/2, and each +1 bonus costs 12 points. Since you have a bonus instead of a fixed number, you can add it to different attributes: an Dexterity 16 Intelligence 8 fighter with a Barbarian! +5 skill attacks with a skill of 13 but can also identify plants in the wild with a skill of 9 - better than than the group's wizard!

This is even better than Wildcard skills, because I don't want barbarians to jump around while wielding a rapier... but "Swashbucklers!" certainly will! It is all about archetypes, IMO.

Also form the RC. Same page, actually.
Attributes are still useful to define speed, HP, etc., but less useful for class abilities. Which is good because now my barbarian doesn't have to be able to pick locks (high Dexterity) in order to be a fearsome fighter.

It also fixes the need for a skill list, and makes the "Dexterity as an uber stat" a lot less severe.

Come to think of it, this system would also work very well for D&D games.

BTW, "specialty" skills cost 6 points and are added on top of the existing skills (cannot be more than twice the wildcard skill bonus). If you want multiple specialty skills, all but the highest cost 1 point only (then you can have Barbarian! +5, Axe +8, Survival +7, Climbing +7, etc).

Is this too complicated? I think it is easier than 3.x D&D or BECMI weapon proficiencies, but what can I say... I am a GURPS fan after all!

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

A Quick(ness) alternative to Armor (Class)

When I wrote 10 alternatives to Armor Class, I didn't think of this one. But now I've been writing about opposed rolls and this idea makes perfect sense. I'm sure some edition of D&D, or other game, must have done something similar, but I can't remember any examples.

If you do, please let me know in the comments!

Curiously enough, it is quite the opposite of of the WFB system described in the post that inspired me in the first place.

This example assumes Ascending AC (unarmored AC of 9, 10 or 12, doesn't really matter).

Here is the idea: if you get hit by an attack, you can roll a Reflex/Dexterity save to dodge the attack (probably no more than once per round; use a Reaction, etc.). The DC is equal to the attackers roll.

Pretty simple, right? But it is incredibly effective because:

- If your armor is good enough, dodging in often useless (the roll required is just too high).
- If your dodge improves as you level up, it can make up not only for armor, but also for magical armor bonuses (the numbers must be fine tuned, of course).
- Armor is useful when fighting multiple opponents, dodging is very useful against one single opponent.
- It is a very fun feature for a Thief to have, even if you don't allow it for everybody.
- It makes dodging feels riskier than wearing heavy armor.
- It does away with the need for limiting Dexterity bonus to armor; now they are separate things, and amor just makes dodging less useful.
- It makes one-on-one dueling a lot more interesting.
- It opens up new possibilities of using shields and parrying weapons.

There are some possible downsides to this. The first one is that it will be often frustrating to fail you dodges, but saving throws aren't required to be a sure thing anyway. It may also feel unnatural or intuitive: you see if the attacker beats your armor BEFORE you try to dodge.

And, of course, if you allow everyone to take this option every time they get attacked, combat will slow down significantly - which is why it is probably a bad idea to give this option indistinctly.

But, overall, I think it is a nice alternative to most solutions I've seem around.

It seems like something like this would work well with 5e and maybe even Pathfinder. It wouldn't be hard to use it with TSR-D&D as long as it uses Ascending AC, but even with Descending AC it might be possible to use a similar idea (since you just have to roll higher than your foe).

What do you think?

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Fixing rests (5e quick fix)

5e quick fixes are exactly what they say on the tin. Small house rules to fix D&D problems you probably don't have. One day I'll put then all in a good looking PDF and the whole will be SMALLER than the sum of the parts - that is how small they are! Use them wisely!

This came up in a thread started by Anders H, from Mythlands of Erce.

The problem: the 5e DMG assumes 6-8 encounters per long rest. That might make sense in a dungeon, but in a wilderness setting not even the most "Fantasy Vietnam" games will have 7 encounters per day on average.

And long rests take too long. How can you rest for one hour in a dungeon without being attacked by its denizens? I don't remember how 5e treats this, but Moldvay makes random encounter checks every 20 minutes.

The result: "long rest" classes, such as the (already powerful) Wizard, are always on the top of their game. "Short rest" classes like the Champion Fighter look weak by comparison.

How to fix this?

Well, I have noticed whenever I have an issue with WotC-D&D the answer is usually TSR-D&D (and vice-versa).

As you know, Moldvay has different rules for dungeons and wilderness. In the wilderness, you're moving three times faster, fighting under the sun or bad weather, and often treading over difficult terrain. Combatants start far form each other, meaning they often have to run while being shot with arrows.

Wouldn't it make sense if rest was harder under these circumstances?

If you're concerned with realism, modern boxing and MMA have probably indicated that smaller rings are less tiring.

Here is the fix: short rests in a dungeon take 20 minutes. Yes! One single encounter check! Very elegant risk-reward mechanic. Long rests still take eight hours.

Resting in the wilderness takes three times longer. Which means one hour for a short rest, and 24 hours for a long rest (unless you're in Rivendell, Tanelorn, etc.)

Coincidentally or not, in B/X characters travelling through the Wilderness must rest for the whole day once per week...

But how many encounters will we have during this time?

Moldvay suggests one check per day as a standard, 3-4 checks as a maximum. I'll use three - not only because it works better for my example, but also because a "rule of three" seems to be the answer to many of my D&D problems. The chances are slightly higher than dungeon encounters (around 1-in-3 instead of 1-in-6).

Which means....

An average of 7 encounters per long rest!


The system is not perfect, of course; if anything, characters might have more than 7 encounters a week because they will be often looking for trouble. Of course, if they fight everything in the way, they have no right in complaining about how hard the game is!

And they can still take short rests as often as they want, but it costs them - leaving the dungeon or wasting one day of travel, for example. Fortunately, if they leave the dungeon for eight hours, that still triggers an wilderness encounter check if you're using 3/day.

These little mnemonic devices are extremely helpful for people like me, that are not interested in memorizing every rule.

That is it for today - off to my eight-hour rest!
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