Monday, August 4, 2014

RAW in D&D Basic 5e

While answering 5e questions over on RPG Stack Exchange, I noticed something interesting about the DnD 5e Basic PDF. They don't spend a lot of wordage on what you shouldn't do, deliberately leaving things in a way that is open for interpretation.

For example Arcane Focus, in the PDF it is described as,
 An arcane focus is a special item—an orb, a crystal, a rod, a specially constructed staff, a wand-like length of wood, or some similar item—designed to channel the power of arcane spells.

Note the a specially constructed staff, a wand-like length of wood, and especially or similar item. A player asked me whether his elven wizard could use his bow as a arcane focus. My ruling was that yes it could provided you paid the cost as outlined in the price list. And with the understanding it doesn't allow you to use it as a weapon when you are casting a spell. In other word you couldn't finagle it so you can cast and attack without another rule or ability coming into play.

I posted this on Stack Exchange. And got two answers. The more popular answer was that RAW doesn't allow it. The other answer was to embed a crystal that is a Arcane Focus into the bow.

What I found interesting that the popular answer assumed that if it was not permitted it is forbidden. I looking through various forum posts and google+ posts I seem many answers to rules questions are like that. And then reread the Basic PDF. And that not how it come across. The tenor of the rules is to present options at every point. To make the game your own.

For me personally I viewed the list of Arcane Focuses in the price list as a sample implementation of the rule on page 48. It is there not to limit what Arcane Focuses are but rather to give you something that ready to play out of the box.

Not to say there are not hard and fast rules in the Basic PDF. For example the fact you roll a 1d20 for your initiative is pretty straightforward. But in the backgrounds, various aspects of the characters classes, and other areas of the rules, the vibe is one of making it your own.

In the end I think Mearls and his team did a good job in balancing hard and fast rules with the stuff that can be interpenetrated in a variety of ways.

The key takeaway is that if you are starting out with DnD 5e, look at the rules as guidelines for your own campaign. Don't get trapped in thinking that DnD 5e is meant to be run RAW in the way that 3e and 4e. Even if you don't want to house rule much there is a lot of flexibility in how you implement the rules for your campaign. Particularly in backgrounds, and equipment.


Baron said...

This is the way model building codes are written in the US, specifically the International Building Code. If something is not specifically forbidden, it is allowed. The list of possible allowances is always greater than that forbidden and leads to bloat. This is the way lite rules (or lighter rules) should be written.

faoladh said...

I think that's an interesting observation. There do seem to be two primary ways of approaching the material: whatever is not permitted is forbidden, and whatever is not forbidden is permitted. I tend toward the latter view, if for no other reason than that it allows for a much wider and interesting experience.

instantapathy said...

I always prefer to look at the rules as suggestions, in pretty much every game system. When I read that line you quoted above I can't even see ruling any way other than "Sure, but you aren't shooting the bow and casting spells at the same time without feats etc.".
Someone wants to have their shield or weapon as their holy symbol, or their dagger as a spell focus... sure that sort of thing is in stories all he time. Go for it. Pay the costs, and get the cosmetic benefit you want.

Marty Walser said...

I agree with your take. I say the bow can be an arcane focus.

It's very much as "Yes, and..." style improv answer to a player's question. A good DM's job is to try to let the player's feel like their imagination drives the narrative.