Sunday, November 30, 2014

Delving into the 5e DMG Part 3

The next major section of the 5e DMG is Part 2 Master of Adventures. It opens with two full page illustrations. The first is one of a Tarrasque rampaging through a city. The second a bunch of adventures facing off Baba Yaga's Hut in the middle of a field of skull with glowing eyes. Both pretty evocative and well done.

After explaining that this section is about creating adventures the authors list out the Elements of a Great Adventure.

  • Familiar Tropes with Clever Twists
  • A Clear Focus on the Present
  • Hereos who Matter
  • Something for All Player Types
  • Surprises
  • Useful Maps

The section is filled with useful advice although I think it is a tad too oriented towards heroic adventures stereotypical of classic D&D with clear heroes and villains. But then the sophistication of D&D 5e will ultimately depend on its support products so this section is fine especially for referees starting out.

Next is a brief on published adventures. Kudos for emphasizing that a referee is expected to adapt or alter the adventure to make it fit his campaign. That they can't account for everything that goes on.

Unfortunately the next section Adventure Structure is not quite as good. In it the author state that adventure are stories and like every story they have a beginning, middle and end.


As a industry and a hobby we really need to get off this roleplaying equal storytelling kick we been on ever since Vampire the Masquerade and Dragonlance. Tabletop RPGs are a very poor and hassle filled method of creating stories. What tabletop roleplaying is great at is creating experiences. With a human referee, tabletop RPGs have tremendous flexibility and the initial experience can quickly and easily turned into another type of experience. The ability for tabletop RPGs to be pen & paper virtual reality is a unique strength and needs to be exploited at every opportunity.

Luckily this section is only part of page 72 so while I feel they really miss the point it doesn't impact the overall utility of the DMG.

The next section on Adventure Types is much better and far longer. It breaks down adventures into two types; location based, and event based.

For Location baded adventures, the authors talk about how to Identify the Party Goals with tables for dungeons goals, wilderness goals, and other goals. Next is to Identify Important NPCs with tables for who is the adventure's villans, their allies, and patrons. Next is fleshing out the location details which the authors reserve for a later chapter. After this is Find the Ideal Introduction with a table. Next is Consider the Ideal Climax with another table. Finally they end up location based adventures with Plan Encounters, like location details this is reserved for a later section.

For event based adventures they explain that the difference is more on what the heroes and villains do rather than the location itself. I like this phrasing and it clarified in my mind what made my own adventures different.

So what do the author think ought to go into event based adventures? First off is start with a villain. Next is determine the villain's actions with a table. Each action on the table gets a small paragraph of advice. Next is to determine the party goals also with a table. Following this is to Identify Important NPCs. Then you need to Anticipate the Villain's Reactions. After this Detail Key Locations with the provision that they will not likely need to be as detailed as a location based adventure. Next is to Choose a Introduction and a Climax. This section advises to reuse the intro and climax tables from location based adventures. Finally like location adventures you need to plan the encounters.

I think it great that the authors make the distinction between location and event based adventures. I think they could have been event based section a lot stronger by emphasizing that the referee's prep will be altered in light of what the PCs do or not do. And there is still much talk of story.

But they punch it up by going on to give advice about two specific types of event based adventures; mysteries and intrigue. Both offer solid advice. The Intrique section even talks about when there is no villain involved as well as multiple villains.

After this is useful table called Framing Events. A table of events that you can base an adventure around. After this is a table for Complications including Moral Quandry, Twists, and Side Quests, each with a table. Quandaries have an short paragraph each possible result.

As promised earlier in this chapter the author start talking about Creating Encounters. Starting with Character Objects including some samples with an accompanying paragraph. Some of these are Make Peace, Protect a NPC or Object, Retrieve an Object, Run a Gauntlet, Sneak In, Stop a Ritual, Take Out a Single Target.

Then a biggies Creating a Combat Encounter. Combat Encounters are rated by difficulty East, Medium, Hard, and Deadly along with Character Level. Each table entries gives a XP Total for that Character. Add the XP Totals of all the characters can you use that number to compared to the total XP of all the monster to gage the difficulty of the encounter. If the encounter has a lot of monsters you multiply their total by a factor based on their numbers to get their true difficulty.

This system debuted early with the Basic DM Guide and it has worked well for the most part. I strongly recommend looking over the notes on Party Size later in the section. These numbers are for parties of 3 to 5 characters. Larger parties are not just a little more effective at handling monster they are a lot more party. Something that became obvious to me when I tried to beef up Phandelver for the 10 man group at the Game store as opposed to the 5 man Monday Night group. Ultimately I had to go with four times the number of monster to give the 10 man Game store group a similar challenge.

Another section that interesting is the Adventuring Day. At first glance it looks like a chart that tells you how many XP a party is expected to get per each in-game day. It actually tells you how many XP worth of monster a typical party is expected to handle until needing a long rest. Although some confusing wording make it understandable why many think it the latter. The section ends up with advice from the authors on Modifying Encounter Difficulty and Fun Combat Encounters.

The next major section is Random Encounters. The authors explain why you use them, give advice to their effective use, and how to create them. The recommended setup is the return of one of favorite elements from AD&D 2nd edition rolling a d12+d8 to generate a number from 2 to 20. This produces a bell curve with the most common encounters places near 10 and 11. The only thing disappointing with this section is the lack of more encounter tables. We only get one example here, Sylvan Forest, and a few more later in the book.

This wraps up Chapter 3 and the next chapter is on Creating Non Player Characters.

The chapter starts out with Designing NPCs with an overview of Quick NPCs versus Detailed NPCs. For Detailed NPCs you are given several tables for Appearance, Abilities, Talent, Mannerism, Interactions with Others, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws/Secrets. The authors then talk about MOnsters as NPCs as well as a short section on setting up NPC statistics.

Next is a page worth of advice and rules on NPC Party Members. Hirelings and Henchmen return!. There is a section on a optional Loyalty rules. Loyalty is a number from 0 to 20. It starts at half of the highest Charisma score in the party. It maximum score is the highest charisma score in the party. Depending on events and the treatment of the NPC his score can go up or down by 1d4. If the NPCs loyalty hits zero they will find someway to leave. If it is ten or higher they will risk life and limb for the party. The section continues with notes on Contacts, Partons, Hirelings, and Extras.

Then the authors talk about Villains. First are a set of three extensive tales to generation the villain's scheme, his methods, and his weakness. The chapter on NPCs ends up with talking about Villainous Class Options. The Clerical Death Domain and the Paladin, Oathbreaker are the two examples that are provided. Short but filled with good stuff.

Next we continue with Master of Adventures with Chapter 5 Adventure Environment.

Link to all parts of the Review

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Delving into the 5e DMG Part 2

With Part 1 Master of World we get a full page illustration. Most of the illustration are good but nothing that grabs like the old Trampier or Elmore illustration I grew up with. However what is outstanding that many of the illustration are useful in of themselves. I will comment on this when get to those sections.

Master of Worlds starts off with a World Of Your Own. First off they make it clear they designed the specifics of the 5e rules to certain assumptions. However that these assumptions are meant to be altered and twisted to make the world that the referee wants his players to adventure in. This and other comment throughout the DMG reinforces the 5e mantra of DnD your way that Wizards been using since the announcement of 5th edition.

The assumptions they are using for the rules are

  • Gods Oversee the World
  • Much of the World is Untamed
  • The World Is Ancient
  • Conflict Shapes the World's History
  • The World is Magical 

The next section is titled It's Your World and goes on to explain various options and alternatives to the above assumption. There are references to examples from published D&D settings scattered throughout. Again the tone is that you can make the setting you want but if you don't you can use what been published.

Gods of your World is the next section and goes into the ins and outs of creating deities for your world. The default is something they call a Loose Pantheon which reflects how the deities of Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms and several other settings are setup. Then they get into alternatives like Tight Pantheons Mystery Cults, Monotheism, Dualism, Animism, and Forces and Philosophies. Then they write about Humanoids and the Gods.

I feel they did a bang up job with this section. It not GURPS Religion, however for the amount pages they devoted to the subject is a very good summary. I have one criticism, they should have put in a paragraph explicitly explaining as to why you would put any work into this area. The unstated assumption is that you are doing this to create interesting elements to use in your adventures but I feel they should made that more explicit.

Mapping your campaign is next section. It is pretty straightforward advice on how to use maps of different scales. They recommend 5 hexes per inch, with three different maps. Province Scale of 1 mile per hex, Kingdom Scale of 6 miles per hex, and Continent Scale of 60 miles per hex. And this leds up to the first aid I will present as part of my review. I created three hex maps in PDF, JPEG and SVG file format. Original to my version is a system of subdividing Continent Scale maps into Kingdom Scale, and Kingdom Scale maps into Province Scale. The PDF are layered so you can turn off the master hexes and sub grids.

The 5e Mapping System.

Continent Scale

Kingdom Scale

Province Scale

Next is a section on Settlements with comments on the settlements purpose, size, its atmosphere, government, Commerce, and Currency. Here we get our first random tables for government type and a table of sample titles. The Currency section is quite long and goes into how to make your own. One nice addition is the option of having trade bars for high value transactions. There is a 2 lb silver bar worth 10 gp, a 5 lb silver bar worth 25 gp, and a 5 lb gold bar with 250 gp.

Those of you who follow what I do with the Majestic Wilderlands know that I use a silver penny and a gold crown worth 320 silver. It good to see this option. Also this section has a illustration of different coin shapes and types. This is the first of the useful illustrations I was talking about earlier. You could photocopy this and use this a illustration in your own games.

Next Master of Worlds get into briefly different languages and Dialects followed by a longer section on Factions and Organizations. Those of you with the Lost Mine of Phandelver know that the Harpers, Order of the Gauntle, Emerald Enclave, Lords' Alliance, and Zhentarim are an important background element. Here the reason for having factions part of the background is expanded and explained.

As part of the faction system we get our first rules option, a renown system. Basically you do things and get renown points. The more renown points you have the better attitude you get from the organization, as well as rank and perks. There are no specifics other than a table of sample ranks so you will have to make up your own. One interesting part of this system is a section on reskinning it as piety and using it to track your favor with a particular deity or religion.

Magic in your world is the next section and talks about the various things you can have or not have as part of running a world with magic. It covers Restrictions on Magic, Schools of Magic, Teleportation Circles, Bringing back the Dead. One interesting wrinkle is that they explicitly state that a person can't be raised if his soul does not want to return.

The next major section is Creating a Campaign. It talks about Starting Small, Setting the Stage, Involving the Characters, and Creating a Background. I particularly like the part about setting the stage.  It is my experience is that many campaigns fail because their players don't have any idea of what to do at first or that it start out with a uninteresting premise.

Campaign Events is the next section. Many of us who talk about sandbox campaigns call this World of Motion. The things you do to make it seem that the setting has an ongoing life. Starting with Putting Events in Motion, along with When Not to Shake Things Up. They get an A+ from me for that. Sometimes it is important to know when NOT to do something as it when to do something. Next they get into World Shaking Events along with a random table, and text discussing the options for each result. Many of these have subtables for your use. Good stuff here.

Next thing they talk about is Tracking Time with a focus on calenders and holidays for the setting. Then wraps up with options on ending a campaign.

Play Styles follows after Creating a Campaign. The section is OK, I think it is weak because the discussion focus on a binary scale. Hack and Slash versus Immersive Storytelling. To their credit there is a equally long discussion of a Something in Between.

Master of the World continues with Character Names. After that is the authors write about Continuing Episodic Campaigns, always something worth mentioning in my opinion. Then it talks briefly about Campaign Themes.

Then we get into Tiers of Play. Wizards divides the D&D 5e experience into four tiers.

Levels 1 to 4: Local Heroes
Levels 5 to 10: Heroes of the Realm
Levels 11 to 16: Masters of the Realm
Levels 17 to 20: Masters of the Worlds.

Each has two or three paragraph outlining the possibilities of adventure at each level. Next is the most useful part of this section, Starting at Higher Levels. They group it into the four tiers with three categories of campaigns; Low Magic, Standard, and High Magic.  Each list the amount of gold the character has plus any magic items. It not meant to be simulation of the wealth to be expected at each tier. They clearly state it is a guide to help players get a character outfitted when joining in at a higher level.

The first chapter of Masters of the World concludes with a discussion of the different types of fantasy; Heroic Fantasy, Swords and Sorcery, Epic Fantasy, Mythic Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Intrigue, Mystery, Swashbuckling, War, Wuxia, and finally mixing and matching in Crossing the Streams (nice Ghostbuster reference).

After Chapter 1 is Chapter 2 Creating a Multiverse. This section is more specific than Chapter 1. It more about describing 5e take on the traditional DnD cosmology than how to make your own multiverse. Because so much of it is a setting description I am not going to detail every subsection.

The chapter starts out explaining what are planes and why they are interesting for adventures.

They recommend that every DnD campaign have the following

  • A plane of origin of fiends
  • A plane of origin for celestials
  • A plane of origin for elementals
  • A place for deities
  • The place where mortal spirits go after death. 
  • The way you get from one plane to another.
  • The way for spells and monsters to use the Astral and Ethereal planes.

Then touches on some of the possibilities like the Great Wheel, The World Tree, the World Axis, and other alternatives.

Then they get into the nuts and bolts of Planar Travel. Giving a lot of details on Planar Portals and briefly talking about spells.

After this is pretty much a description of the DnD cosmology for 22 pages. This includes the Astral Plane, Ethereal Plane, Feywild, Shadowfell, Inner Planes, and The Outer Planes. Each places like the Plane of Air or Mount Celestia has a few paragraphs highlighting points of interests and specifics.

Overall this section is pretty solid and I think a better presentation than ADnD 1st. You are not getting the Planescape boxed set here but it is more than just a list of planes with a sentence or two. This part of the book is 22 pages of adventure seeds and ideas you can use in your campaigns. I think lot of people, particularly novices, will get a lot of use out of this.

This wraps up Part 1 Master of Worlds. The Next post is on Master of Adventures.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Delving into the 5e DMG Part 1

 Well I got my copy of the 5th edition Dungeon Master Guide. This review is not only to inform you of its content and what I think of it. But as a review for myself. I been roleplaying for a long time and more often than not I will skim through a new book and read only selected portions in detail. But for various reason this time I want to be familiar with most of the details that are in the book. I find it helps me learn the book better when I do this.

First I will start off with my assessment. It is a pretty good Dungeon Master Guide. I find myself liking it a lot. The biggest reason is probably because of its brevity in most sections. One of my favorite monster guides is the Monster Book for Swords and Wizardry. It one my favorite because each entry is short and too the point with not a lot of embellishment. The 5e DMG is much the same way particularly when it comes to mechanics. Because of its brevity it covers a lot of topics in its 320 pages. Finally it brevity doesn't mean every section is written tersely. Some, particularly the description of the outer planes, are written with a lot of flavor and tidbits of information.

However the DMG's brevity will likely be a source of criticism. It just doesn't go into great detail about any particular subject as you will see. So people expecting a complete psionic subsystem will be disappointed. When things like villainous classes are mentioned the book only gives a few worked examples.

In the past I would say that this is a hook for splat books. But after reading much of the books, my impression is that they took some hard in selecting and writing the topics that did get included. That the rest is intended for specific advantages and campaigns later down the line instead of a series of PHB IIs or DMG IIs. We will see how this works out when the Elemental Evil products come out this spring.

Given the lighter mechanics of 5e to date, the 5e DMG acts a springboard for creating your own material with a few essential sections that are fully detailed like treasure distribution.

Now onto the review

First grab a copy of the table of content

The Introduction
This part is pretty standard and those of us playing for a while have seen many variations of this. One nice thing is that it has a How to use this book section. The DMG is separated into three main parts.

  • Master of Worlds
  • Master of Adventures
  • Master of Rules.

The first part is about inventing your own worlds. The second part is about writing adventures for that world, and the third part is about rules and options that could be used to adjudicate the actions of characters while adventuring. Seems to be a pretty good setup to me.

The Introduction wraps up with  Know your Players. It practices several categories of actitives that players like to do. They are Acting, Exploring, Instigating, Fighting, Optimizing, Problem Solving, and Storytelling.

At first I thought it was just somebody's idea of categorizing players. Something that I found useless because players change over time in what they are interested in. But on a second read I notice it not categories of players types but rather categories of thing players like to do. Something that more useful in my opinion. It is terse so some people may miss this point.

Next is Part 1 Master of Worlds.

Link to all parts of the Review

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Rise and Fall of Roleplaying campaigns.

Over on Hack and Slash, +Courtney Campbell  talks about Campaign Crashes. Over on Google Plus +Alex Schroeder mention two posts I wrote touching on the subject.

The Majestic Wilderlands as a Persistent Campaign
Running a Long Term Campaign in Fantasy Earth.

As some of you know I been running the Majestic Wilderlands for a long time. Over thirty years in fact. The earliest scraps of paper I have date to 1981. However I have not run a campaign for 30 years. The longest I managed was about 3 or 4 years in the mid 90s with my friend +Tim Shorts and +Dwayne Gillingham. Instead I just get the same setting with a different group or different setting. Using the result of previous campaigns as a background for later campaigns.

This all got started because I was the referee who let people trash his setting. Knock over a City-State? Found a Kingdom? No problem! It won't be easy and there will be challenging adventure but if you pull it off, I am not going to get bent out of shape and blue blot you. And believe or not, referees doing this was a problem back in my day.   Some just couldn't stand the idea of anybody messing with their precious settings.

I was the type of sci-fi/fantasy fan who not only loved reading Lord of the Rings but the appendices as well. I got a lot of enjoyment of letting players "trash" my campaign because they stuff they had to do wound looking like our group own version of those appendices after it was all said and done.

Then I discovered that my games became even more popular when made the result of the previous campaigns as part of the backstory. At first it was no more than "Hey Rob is that kingdom I founded still around?" Then got refined from there. It got to the point where I ran whole campaigns that the only purpose was to define some aspect of the setting everybody was interested in.

When you let people "trash" your setting the natural way of doing this to run your campaign as a sandbox. I couldn't predict what the players would be interested in so I learned to run the Majestic Wilderlands as a pen & paper virtual reality.

The consequences of this bears directly on the issue that +Courtney Campbell brings up. In his post he mention this study commissioned by Wizards of the Coast on the habits of tabletop roleplaying.  It mentions that the average length of a campaign is 8 sessions for newcomers and rising to 12 session for people with experience at tabletop roleplaying.

In my opinion it so short because the referee running these game rely too much on plot. Tabletop roleplaying is a leisure activity. To played on a regular basis, the group needs to find it not just fun but interesting as well. When you base a campaign around a plot, you are literally rolling the dice on whether the plot is interesting or not. If it is not well... that campaign will probably not reach even the average of 8 to 12 session.

Campaigns based around a specific plot also have an Achilles Heel in that when the plot is resolved, then what? Perhaps a new plot is devised in which case that has to be interesting for the campaign to continue.

I want to be clear that campaign based on plots are not wrong. In fact when a referee comes up a good plot it can make for a hell of a ride like any good story. A campaign based around a plot also has the advantage of being accessible to newcomers by providing a structure around which a campaign is based. Plots based campaigns are also better for large groups where you have a referee with eight or more players.

+Courtney Campbell has a lot of good ideas in his post, in the end the campaign's lifespan hinges on whether the plot is interesting or not.

Are their alternatives? Sure, the sandbox campaign. Because the sandbox campaign is about what the players want to do at every step it is far more likely to engage what I call the Soap Opera Effect. The desire of the group to play one more session of a campaign to see what happens. Sure it can happen with Plot based campaigns but is far more likely with a sandbox as in general the players are doing something they want at a given moment.

However Sandbox campaign have downsides as well. Since you run them like a pen & paper virtual reality there a lot of pressure of referee to come up with details on the fly. Sometime the the players do something stupid and the consequences changes the direction of the campaign into something unpleasant. At other times the initial context or situation at the start of the campaign proves to be uninteresting to the players.  What seems like a good idea at character creation doesn't really work out in play.

In short Sandbox Campaign have advantages but also complications as well. But if you avoid the pitfalls it is my opinion that a good Sandbox campaign will run far longer than a plot based campaign.

However they don't run forever, at some point they end. How they do crash? to use a phrase from Hack & Slash.

In my experience the most common reasons that sandbox campaigns end are.

  • The initial context/situation proves to be uninteresting.
  • Real life circumstances change preventing the campaign from being run.
  • The referee or players fuck up and things are not same afterwards.
  • When the characters are established. .

The initial context/situation proves to be uninteresting
This is the most common reason if a sandbox campaign ends before a half-dozen sessions. You can see this in actual play posts from the mid 2000s when the idea of sandbox campaigns was being popularized by the team behind the Wilderlands Boxed Set, including myself. We left the impression that a typical sandbox campaign started with the players on a blank map expected to explore their surroundings. Well many people tried this and found it confusing and ultimately boring. Their choices had as little meaning as in a classic plot railroad as they might as well been throwing darts at a map.

Real life circumstances change preventing the campaign from being run
This is pretty obvious. As a leisure activity tabletop roleplaying down on the list of things one needs to do. The longer a campaign runs the more chances of this happening.

The referee or players fuck up and things are not same afterwards
Basically the campaign has a "Jump the Shark" moment. Things are not the same afterwards. The Blue Demon incident is a example of where I made a poor decision. As it turned out, +Tim Shorts wanted to continue a few month later turning it into one of greatest campaigns I ran. Demonstrating it is possible to recover from such a moment.

When the characters are established. 
This is the positive outcome of a sandbox campaign. Just like in real life there are times in the sandbox campaign where events and circumstances are such that the characters are established. The campaign could be stopped and the characters seamlessly merges into the background life of the setting.

My two most recent sandbox campaigns ended this way. The first one with some of the players joining the Council of the largest city in the setting, Viridstan combined with the others having important position and owning several pieces of real estate. The second one with everybody participating in the construction of a Inn. The campaign ended with the Inn built and safely opened for business.

Another notable example is the campaign that I ran with Tim and Dwayne. Tim played a blacksmith, Dwyane an agent of the Overlord's secret police the Black Lotus. The campaign started with a mission to figure out what a rebellious duke was up to. It ultimately ended with them discovering that the duke was building early gunpowder weapons, cannons, for use as siege weapons. Along with the arrest of the duke and aborting the rebellion. After the denouement the Tim and Dwayne came to the conclusion that their characters have achieved enough of their goals that there was no real reason for adventuring. So we ended the campaign and moved onto a new one with new characters, same setting tho.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Majestic Wilderlands Print Bundle for two sawbucks.

RPGNow/DriveThruRPG has enabled publishers to make print bundles of their products. I took advantage of this to create a Majestic Wilderlands Print Bundle for $20 well actually $19.99 due to a convincing article on why you use .99 cents in your price.

Plus the new features allowed me to bundle in the PDFs for free. I feel strongly that a person should only have to buy the content once. However until now the limitations of the sites that I use get in the way of reliably offering that option.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

DMG 5e preview, NPC traits

Over on The ID DM a couple of pages from the upcoming 5e Dungeon Master Guide got previewed. The two pages concerned the rolling of NPC traits and personalities. Being a big fan of NBOS's Inspiration Pad Pro, I coded up the tables as a IPT file. For good measure I threw in IPT files for Paizo's Gamemastery Guide NPC tables and the ADnD 1st edition NPC tables. Here are 5 results of the 5e tables.

Personal Talent: Great at solving puzzles
Mannerism: Whispers
Interaction Traits: Honest
Bonds: Loyal to a benefactor, patron, or employer
Flaws and Secret: Secret crime or misdeed

Good: Respect Evil: Greed
Lawful: Responsibility Chaotic: Freedom
Neutral: Neutrality Other: Redemption

Personal Talent: Expert Juggler
Mannerism: Particularly low or high voice
Interaction Traits: Honest
Bonds: Dedicated to fulfilling a person life goal.
Flaws and Secret: Secret crime or misdeed

Good: Life Evil: Retribution
Lawful: Community Chaotic: Change
Neutral: People Other: Self-knowledge

Personal Talent: Paints beautifully
Mannerism: Enunciates overly clearly
Interaction Traits: Ponderous
Bonds: Captivated by a romantic interest
Flaws and Secret: Overpowering greed

Good: Charity Evil: Slaughter
Lawful: Community Chaotic: Whimsy
Neutral: Moderation Other: Redemption

Personal Talent: Expert carpenter
Mannerism: Slurs words, lisps, or stutters
Interaction Traits: Irritable
Bonds: Protective of a valuable possession
Flaws and Secret: Foolhardy bravery

Good: Charity Evil: Might
Lawful: Responsibility Chaotic: No limits
Neutral: Knowledge Other: Glory

Personal Talent: Expert carpenter
Mannerism: Use flowery speech or long words
Interaction Traits: Suspicious
Bonds: Protective of a sentimental keepsake
Flaws and Secret: Overpowering greed

Good: Self-sacrifice Evil: Greed
Lawful: Honor Chaotic: Change
Neutral: Knowledge Other: Self-knowledge

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Handling Passive Skills in 5e and other rulings.

After the game +Joshua Macy and got to talking about 5e rules. In general my approach to go with the book unless it doesn't make sense as if you were really there. With magic and other fantastic elements the object to be consist both from session to session but also with the expectation of how powerful the element should. For example a first level spell should feel like a first level spell. If it feels like a fifth level spell then likely it grants too generous of a benefit.

After the game Joshua and I talked about the Web spell. Particularly when to make the Dexterity Saving throw to see if you are restrained.

First the section in question
Each creature that starts its turn in the webs or that enters them during its turn must make a Dexterity saving throw. On a failed save, the creature is restrained as long as it remains in the webs or until it breaks free. 
A creature restrained by the webs can use its action to make a Strength check against your spell save DC. If it succeeds, it is no longer restrained.
The discussion was over what does enters them during its turn really mean. Does it means only went you first enter the spell's area of effect? In which case making your dexterity saving throw means you freely can move throughout the web until the beginning of your next turn. At which time if you are still in the web you need to make another save. Or does it mean for each step, 5 foot, etc) you make in the web you make a dexterity saving throw. And if it is the latter is that make it too powerful for a second level spell?

My personal opinion and the way I been refereeing it is that you make the saving throw for each 5 foot step you make unless it takes you outside of the web. I can see how the wording could lead people into thinking it gives a free pass for one round of combat. But in my view that goes against what you would be seeing if you are there. The character is in the midst of sticky webs. Unless he talking step to a clear area he running into the same problem with every steps as if he was first stepping in the first place.

Also downside of failure is beign restrained. Which amounts to you not being able to move and all your attacks being at an disadvantage. While this sucks for the character it doesn't leave him out of options or the means to defend himself. This along with everything else makes web seem like a useful 2nd level sleep but it not a game over for combat.

When I compare it to the classic DnD version of web I am very comfortable with 5e web working this way.

Then Joshua pointed out that Mike Mearls had a AMA session on Reddit. That it contained a clarification of how passive skills worked.
Any skill can be used passively - it's up the DM to apply that as needed. For perception checks, you passive result is always in effect. If you could see something with a DC 10 check and your passive is 11, you see it without rolling. Keep in mind, though, that a DM might rule otherwise. Passive checks are a tool that groups can use to speed up the game or move past die results that slow things down or lead to a grind.
This some great stuff! Despite my years of experience with GURPS and other skill based system I was confused about the distinction between passive and active use of the skill. After reading this, I now have a way that will work for me.

If you are in combat, in a situation where the result of failure is significant, or you only get one shot at completing the task, then you roll as normal your ability or skill versus the DC.

However if you do have the time and there no other pressure or circumstance then you make a roll but the lowest you can roll is your passive score. And if you passive score is higher than the DC you automatically succeed. If you fail you can repeat the attempt but realize that each attempt takes about a turn (10 minutes) so you will be racking up wandering monster checks and any other consequence spending a lot of time in a particular area.

I realize this isn't quite what Mearls said but I used elements of this for the ability system I use when running with my Majestic Wilderlands supplement. In fact along with the advantage/disadvantage I might adopt this as the default regardless whether I run MW or 5e.