Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Jesus saves - the rest of you take full damage

Saving throws have always been quirky in D&D - The original categories were.... eccentric to say the least. Why is save vs wand different from save vs staff? Is petrification really widespread enough to get an explicit mention? And what is a death ray anyway? Finger of death? What else? That said, it was charming and that has its own sort of saving grace. It is a lot more menacing when the DM exclaims "save vs DEATH RAY" than "make a fortitude save".

3e did an admirable job of simplifying and clarifying saves. 3 instead of 5, keying it to dexterity, constitution and wisdom gives you an idea of how you are trying to save yourself, making saving throws a lot less disassociated. Good job allround.

The only recurring complaint against 3e saves were lacking the charm of older editions. Which, as complaints go, fall somewhere between obstinate and petulant.

For me, it is mildly aesthetically displeasing that there are 2 physical saves and only 1 mental save. But it works fine enough.

The biggest change, besides the simplification, is that saves now go from being a purely class+level based number to a class+level+ability modifier (lets ignore the manifold multiclass shenanigans).

This change has rarely been scrutinised (whether that idea ended up working or not in 3e sort of drowns in allround modifiers bloat), but it's a point I think is worth considering. What does it actually add to the game to also key saves to ability modifiers? It makes saves a lot more variable, making it harder for DMs to gauge what DCs to set. And in return we get... ?!?

A minor element of verisimilitude for an already largely disassociated mechanic. It seems to me something that got added because it seemed to make some sort of sense, but no one really considered whether it actually improved the game.

4e, ever the red-headed stepchild of the D&D family, made saves something totally different: Are you currently suffering a condition where "save ends"? roll 11 or higher to end it. That's all. Saves is basically just a static duration tracker. Interesting in its own sort of way, but too different for my considerations in this post.

Which is saves in 5e, and by extension Into the Unknown.

5e saves are most similar to 3e, but with the abstraction of "reflex, fortitude, will" shaved off, making it basically similar to an ability check. Proficiency bonus+ability modifier. Nice and simple. It's more of a level+ability than a class/level+ability thing now really, though class does determine which saves get proficiency bonus.

There are six saves now instead of three, one for each ability, which on the surface is fine, since the model is so simple it doesn't really add much complexity. The spells that target the three new saves (cha, str, int) are very few in number and have longer casting times or very survivable and shortlived effects. Re-tooling it to just have three saves would be very easy (STR/CON float to Fortitude, DEX/INT float to Reflex, WIS/CHA float to Will - This also gives a fairly even distribution, based on saves in the PHB and MM).

The tricky part about 5e saves is that 4 out of 6 saves aren't even level+ ability based. They are just your ability modifier and shall forever remain so. Bragbar the 20th level barbarian who dump-statted charisma is as susceptible to a magic jar spell as he was at 1st level. A 9th level spellcaster throws spells with a save DC of 17. Woe betide the fool with dumb stat and no proficiency in that save. Bragbar our 20th level barbarian with CHA 8 gets sucked into that gem 85% of the time that 9th level caster gets his spell off.

Spellcasters now have a plethora of dumb saves to target that their victims will almost always fail. This basically makes group buffs mandatory at higher levels.


So for Into the Unknown, I've been thinking to address this. I've got a couple of solutions.

A/ One is to give half proficiency bonus to all saves as standard. Bragbar now saves 25% of the time against the magic jar instead of 15%. It's a help and it's simple, but feels more like a band-aid on the issue. But maybe that is all that it needs.

B/ Another is, in vein of 2e and lower, to once again de-couple saves from ability scores. You add proficiency bonus to all your saves. If proficient, you double it. Bragbar saves against the magic jar 50% of the time. and 80% if he is proficient. Against a 20th level caster (DC 19), it's 40%/70% for Bragbar. Seems sound.
Aesthetically, it's a bit weird though to have six "ability saves", but ability modifiers don't add to it. This might have flown better with 3e's three, slightly more decoupled, saves.

C/ A third option is to give full proficiency to all saves, but only "proficient" saves can add ability modifiers (or cancel negative modifiers). It does make saves work a bit different from other combos of ability+proficiency,  but not terribly so. It makes saves a lot closer to Sword&Wizardry's singular save mechanic, but with some opportunity to differentiate.
Wizards and cleric get to add their CHA to the magic jar (it's a circle of necromancers now - Bragbar is just one target) if they have it. The majority save 50% of the time against it, bragbar dumbstatted cha though, so it's 45% for him. Aleena the cleric is gorgeous (CHA 14), so her chances are 60%. Sound.

D/ Same as above, but forgetting all about having proficiency in saves. When making a save, you just add proficiency bonus+ ability modifier. the end.


Right now I am leaning towards B/ + reducing number of saves to 3, 3e style, folding STR and CON saves into a Fortitude save, DEX/INT saves into a Reflex save and WIS/CHA saves into a Will save. Fighters double proficiency bonus for Fortitude saves, rogues for Reflex and wizards and clerics for Will saves. Low saves is still at proficiency bonus.

It makes saves even easier to keep track of than in B/X - For players sure, but most especially for DMs when estimating threat levels. The numbers seem to make sense and the right classes get the right saves.

The only downside is a small amount of conversion needed for using existing 5e material. But it's a pretty easy conversion to make. If not this, I am leaning towards D/, maybe float it to 3 saves, to avoid vastly favouring rogues, clerics and DEX-based fighters who have their primary stat in one of the most frequent category.

Input welcome.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

A more interesting weapons table for 5e

(tl:dr - Here is a table with more interesting weapon choices for 5e)

I really like the armor table for 5e. Good range of choice, not too short, not too long and there are just enough differences and overlaps that your choice of armor is meaningful and distinct. Simple and interesting.

The weapons table for 5ed is probably one of the least thought out and most poorly implemented mechanics in the Player's Handbook though.

Loads of redundancies (Why would I ever buy a mace when a quarterstaff does the same damage, is 20 times cheaper and can be used with 2 hands for even more damage?), Shortswords and scimitars being the same except vast price difference, longsword, warhammers and battleaxes all being the frigging same weapon, etc.

It seems to have been built around weighing different damage types as more valuable than others, no matter that the differences almost never come into play. Except it's inconsistent. A warhammer is bludgeoning, but pricier than a slashing battleaxe. Otherwise the same. A maul is bludgeoning but way cheaper than a slashing greatsword. Otherwise the same.

Whatever. There's a handful of weapons worth taking and loads that are pointless and a waste of space.

For Into the Unknown, I've done away with the three damage types for simplicity since the edge cases where they come into play are extremely rare and common sense applicable at any rate (yes your sword can slash and stab, no your rapier can not bludgeon. Yes, you can swing your spear like a staff).

With that done away with, the weapons table showed itself up for what it was - Just too awful to keep as it is. So I changed things up a little and tried to give each weapon choice a niche. It really didn't take much work.

There is one new weapon property:
<> This weapon has two properties that can not be used together. For example thrown<>versatile, can be used with two hands, but thrown only with one.
I think it's kinda self-explanatory. You can throw a spear, but not for 2-handed damage.

Spear earn their mettle as the most popular weapon of all time by being the only simple weapon that's versatile, can be thrown and gives 1d6/1d8 damage, making it the best damage dealer (alongside the greatclub) among simple weapons.

Long spears (new) are martial, swap thrown for reach but otherwise identical to spears and are the only reach weapons that can be wielded one-handed.

Long staves (new) are martial, not versatile, but have reach. and way cheaper than polearms who go one higher on the die, but are also heavy.

Swords are pricey, but there is good reason why they are so universal kings among weapons - They are all frigging finesse baby. That's why you pay a premium for them.

Shortswords lose the Light quality if you want finesse on top, but become simple weapons, making it the highest damage dealer among simple finesse weapons.

Longswords gain finesse to distinguish themselves from battleaxes and warhammers.  Greatswords they same vs battleaxes (who bumb to 2d6 whilst the cheaper and simpler maul goes down to 1d12).

I added broadsword to the list as well - they took rapiers entry who got bumped down to scimitar level - The point of scimitars and rapiers here is that they are the top dogs for dualwielding with finesse. Because come on, a broadsword is just better than a flimsy fencing weapon. If you want a better flimsy fencing weapon, call the broadsword 'edged rapier'.

Why do we like flails? They may be pricey with the chain to forge and balance, but they deal 2d4 instead of the 1d8 of the cheaper morningstar.

I folded Pike, Halberd and Flail into "Polearm" - Because they are all the frigging same anyway.

There is more, but the bottomline is that there is a point to choosing the different weapons from this table now. 

Friday, 10 March 2017

1-page rules summary of 5e / Into the Unknown (B/X-5e Hack)

Once you boil 5th edition of D&D down a bit, it is actually a very simple game. So much so that you can outline the basics of the whole and all the needed terms in one page. So I went ahead and did that for Into the Unknown, since the aim of this 5e hack is to make it as simple and easy to play as B/X was - But using the more streamlined and balanced engine of 5e.

Only real variances here from 5e are use of the term "magic-user" instead of wizard and "Proficiency area" instead of "Skills"

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Magic-User & Priest write-ups for "Into the Unknown" (B/X-5e hack)

I've already shared write-ups for the Halfling [Race-as-class]Fighter & Rogue classes and Book 2: Playing the Game for my B/X-inspired 5e hack, Into the Unknown. Without further ado, here are write-ups for the last two core classes.

Here, I am making use of the categorisation employed from OD&D all the way to 2nd edition - of later classes, such as druids, being sub-classes of the four main classes. Except, I've simplified the distinction even more and not even made them sub-classes but different class features.

So sorcerers, warlocks and wizards are all the same class. The magic-user class feature only shows up at 1st and 2nd lvl and basically just defines how a magic-user learns spells. I feel each feature is still very thematically distinct without needing to be separate classes.

With the priest class, I am stretching this a lot more - as druid/cleric as class feature shows up on a lot of levels and they could work just as well as separate classes.

Still, I think there is merit in doing it this way - it gives a good framework for designing new class features as a way of expanding the core classes (mystics and anti-clerics, for example. Psionicist should be simple enough to adapt from magic-user/sorcerer as well). Considering how difficult it is to build a class from scratch in 5e, having this simple framework to refer to is one of the big strengths of Into the Unknown for creating new class concept.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Ability modifiers: 5e vs B/X progression (+musing on power levels in 5e)

We reached 5th level in our D&D campaign last session. Wow, that is a significant step up in the power curve in 5e. 7th level ought to map well enough to the 'superhero' title of OD&D I reckon. We (two battlemasters and a paladin) went up against some 'Varl' that our DM estimated to be of medium difficulty. Curbstomped in the first round. He was faltering by the time my paladin was ready to roll 4d8+2d6+6 for smiting. Didn't even have time to make my extra attack for another 4d8+6 before I had chopped his head off. DM trying not to have his jaw drop at how easy that was for us.

We've had lots of fun at levels 1-4 though. Vulnerable at times, but not too vulnerable. We all had some nice moves and badass moments yet threats were tangible. 5th level feels like we're now consistently baddass. So that is probably my rule of thumb for 5e's implied setting. 1st/2nd - Trained and well above average person but nonetheless mundane. 3rd/4th level - Genuine hero. 5th level: Bruce Willis has walked into the room. Proper badass.

The Thing is totally a 5th level barbarian

The immense playability of levels 1-4 is probably the biggest thumbs up I can give to 5e. I'd be happy to play characters of this level any time. It feels challenging, suitably heroic at times, but not superheroic. Which is, to me, what any levelled character should feel. We've ignored the XP chart for a slower progression - I feel like 5e as written is a bit too much in a hurry to get characters out of the bottom levels. 3rd and 4th level in particular feels like a sweet spot that you could spend more time at than the XP chart suggests. 

Anyway, on to what I really wanted to talk about....


Someone asked in the comments recently why I wasn't using B/X modifiers instead of 5e's for Into the Unknown. It's compelling in some ways - It's lower numbers, which is good. But the B/X progression is also a bit arbitrary and doesn't play too well with other parts of 5e.

Over on Methods & Madness, Eric Diaz was musing on numbers and level of detail people can easily process a while back. This strikes a cord with me, especially as simplicity is a large part of the project of making Into the Unknown as a b/x-y 5e hack.

Having seven degrees of outcome or progression is just so neat (worst, worse, bad, neutral, good, better, best) - It's intuitive and easy to remember. 

But for me, it more significantly means that the numbers map to something you can immediately relate to in the world. For example, a STR progression could go like this:

0-2 -3 Weakest
3-5 -2 Weaker
6-8 -1 Weak
9-11 0 Medium
12-14 +1

15-17 +2

18-20 +3


A person with 13 in Strength instinctively has an idea of how strong he is in the imaginary world. He is "strong." and he gets a +1 to Strength rolls as a result. 

The fact that numbers can map to an in-world natural scale is to me a big deal towards making the game simple and easy to understand. It makes the numbers more than just numbers. 

I like it so much I am thinking of incorporating it Into the Unknown. Pros of it:
  • Giving numbers in-world meaning that is easy to understand
  • Lower numbers is generally good for an easy and simple approach
  • The scale of the 'bounded accuracy' is like a happy medium between 5e B/X.
    It also keeps the old-school standard of 18 being the human best, whilst honoring the 5e standard of 20 being the human best.
Some big cons though
  • Harder to calculate on the fly. 5e's "drop 10 and halve the rest" is pretty easy to calculate in your head. This uses a range of 3 per increment for ability modifiers - at that point, you'll want a table to look it up.
    Mitigator: Players will only need to do this when entering the modifier on their sheet.
  • Ability gains are a big part of levelling up in 5e. Tampering with this makes the progression assymetrical, encouraging math games to figure out how to best allocate your two point gain. Bad.
  • Reduced 5e compatability - This is the big one. It means that a regular 5e character won't be able to join an ItU table without recalculating his modifiers. It also means DMs will have to recalculate everytime they are using stock 5e material on NPCs and critter. Bad bad bad.
I don't know. It's a lovely idea, but hard to see how to bring into this game in an elegant manner.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Fantasy Map Review VII: Erce

For links to all instalments in this series, go here.

Final instalment in my review series of classical maps is my own - The Mythlands of Erce! The main large map is more or less finished by now.

It would seem a bit puerile to review what I like and don't like about my own map, so I am just going to talk a bit about what I am trying to do with it, the process and how I feel about the result.

One of the touches I am pretty happy with (and which really helped me figure out the proper scale of symbols as well) is that this is actually a hex map. Each mountain is a hex, woodlands border to hexes, albeit lazily, so do hills, etc. So this can actually be used a table, players can be told what hex they are in and see what can of primary terrain it has, calculate overland travel, etc (I didn't go for hexes for the seas because imo, sea travel is almost always a pointcrawl anyway).

I feel like I have to show a slightly different rendition to give a clearer idea of how the map divides:

Five different regions, each with it's own theme and outlook to run different types of campaigns (the savage marches being the primary one for old school exploration).

Besides the OSR sandbox area, I wanted a big ol' north at the top to give a sense of vast unexplored wilderness that man could not possibly hope to map or ever fully explore. I wanted a 'kingdoms' region, where players could visit 'that king', 'that queen' and maybe get themselves involved in some politics, or even win a throne, with the Old Lands being the kind of decadent southern S&S lands Conan might find himself in.
The final one, the Hinterlands, was more of an afterthought than the others. I wanted a buffer between the more medieval, knightly, hearthstone lands and the byzantian old lands. I also wanted some open-ended territory that was less empty than the eastern marches. Basically a 'dump other cool stuff here' region.

I made it in GIMP and pretty much learned everything about map-making in GIMP from this one map. Here are some of my early renditions in GIMP to show the learning curve:

Once you get into this and start appreciating different layer effects, colour schemes, etc it's amazing how time you can spend adjusting a map to get just the right 'feel' of a map. And don't even get me started on font choice! The gimp file has 40 layers and is 500 MB in size. The lovely thing about that is that I can re-spin the map for different purposes (such as the regional rendition above) so easily with that level of layering. And with the size of it (6000x4000 pixels), I can even just crop parts of it and relatively quickly blend them into full-sized regional or country maps. For example, like this:

Would be equally simple to hide features on it for player maps as well. It's not just a map - the gimp file is like a campaign tool.

I've played with less satured faded versions, more saturated, more 'realistically' looking. In the end, I settled with what I think is a nice blend between old painted look with a bit of depth and enough colour to give it some life when looking at it. This map has been years underway. I probably made my first hand drawn draft a decade ago. Looking at it now in what is basically its final version leaves me feeling pretty proud that a guy like me, who never had an artful bone in his body, was able to make that from scratch.

I can't wait to print it out in full size on proper paper.

Monday, 20 February 2017

More previews of "Into the Unknown" (5e compatible B/X inspired game)

I've been doing most of the grunt work with layout and art and so forth on the five booklets I plan to release. So here is a sneak preview of the covers of all five booklets.

I am doing five booklets because this is meant to be as usable and easy to use at the table as possible.
So one book for character creation (and during the game, equipment - The weapons table, fx, is on the last page. Real easy to look up), another for all the shared rules, a third for magic and spells, a fourth for all the GM specific stuff and a fifth reference work for monsters and treasure.

And a lot of effort has been put into the formatting, layout and writing to make sure it is simple, non-superflouous, broken into easy to scan paragraphs for important bit and broken into easy to scan sections on each page. You can check out the full Book 2: Playing the Game to see how you like it.

The juiciest book, character creation, is getting near to be done. Stay tuned.

PS. As you can tell, it is all open game content and will be released as Pay What You Want. So go crazy. :)

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Preview: "Into the Unknown - Book 2: Playing the Game" (lite 5e compatible OSR game)

I did it - I actually managed to finish a project. Or part of it at least.

Available for your consumption is

Book 2: Playing the Game 
Into the Unknown - A 5e compatible game for OSR gaming.

This is basically the rules for 5e D&D, excluding magic, chargen and DM specific stuff packed into a mere 24 large-font pages of rules, with artwork on top. Probably could have made it into 22, if not for the 2½ pages of attribute descriptions I wanted to include.

Rule differences from 5e in this booklet: 

  • Harsher rules for healing
  • Looser definition of long and short rest
  • Dropping to 0 hp causes exhaustion
  • Proficiency areas based on class and background instead of skills (this will be detailed more in Book 1 for chargen)
  • Proficiency advantage
  • Fighters get proficiency bonus to improvising stunts in combat
  • A few optional rules for firing onto melee and succeeding at a cost
The main differences will be found in the other booklets, most notably Book 1 on chargen and Book 4 on How to GM (spells and monsters will be made simpler as well in their booklets) where you will find the inspiration from B/X more visible.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Riffing on names for my B/X-5e hack

So far, I have been using "RedNext" as my working title (mix of 'red box' and 'd&d next'). As I am progressing, I am thinking I should go with a better name. These are the ones I've toyed with so far:

Vaults & Wyrms
Wyrms & Warlocks
Crypts & Chaos
Catacombs & Crypt Things
Orcs & Owlbears
Ruins & Rust Monsters
Tombs & Horrors

Adventures in the Unknown
Into the Unknown
Journeys to the Unknown
Unknown Journeys
Basic Adventures
Into the Underworld
Journeys to the Underworld
Underworld Adventures

So far, I am leaning towards

Into the Unknown


Monday, 26 December 2016

Fighter & Rogue write-ups for "RedNext" (B/X-5e hack)

I've finished my write ups of both the Fighter and Rogue for my B/X-5e "RedNext" hack. Unlike the Halfling, which was mostly written from scratch, these were a lot easier. Copy-paste from the SRD, trim and re-organise to make it easier to scan and fit into 3 pages each.

The Figher (PDF)

The Rogue (PDF)

There are a few differences from the 5e PHB version though. No sub-classes, no feats, no race to be chosen (since race is a class), skill lists dumped and only the four core classes (+3 optional race-classes), trims a lot of the fat from the character dev mini-game that modern D&D so wants to become. There are two changes I use to cover the difference:

A much increased focus on the simple combo of (4 core classes + background) to define your proficiency and 'adventuring identity' as opposed to a proliferation of classes and long lists of skills (I do appreciate that 5e vastly cuts down on the skill lists. Still a bit too long for my taste).

A choice of "Class Feature" at 1st level - This is my own innovation and only the human classes have one. It hearkens more to the AD&D notion of the various later classes (ranger, druid, paladin, bard) being a kind of sub/prestige-class of the four Originals and, in tandem with background, goes a long way towards emulating the proliferation of classes with much simpler means.

Under the hood, they are a a 1st lvl class feature of some sort already given in the PHB/SRD + a
feat (since I have baked the variant human into each of the four classes) that adds some oomph to it.
So for Fighters, the Class Feature is still the existing Fighting Styles that now more of pack a punch to create properly hard hitting barbarians, sharpshooting rangers and tactical "warlords" (including a a new more generic one for those who just want to be heroically generic Champions).
For Rogues, it is Rogue Schemes, such as Thief, Wanderer, Acrobat, Arcane Dabbler and Charmer to create your bards, thief-acrobats, duellists, scouts and indiana jones'.
Priests will two Divine Orders choices - Cleric and Druid, built out of feat + domain. Will be interesting to see how much druid I can manage to pack into that combo.
And Magic-users three Arcane Schools - Wizard, Warlock and Sorcerer, with the difference being how to new learn spells and ritual magic + a featlike punch to back up each tradition.

When it is all said and done, I'll make a 1-page spreadsheet to make it super easy to see how a ranger=(fighter+deadeye feature+woodsman background) and scout=(rogue+wanderer feature+woodsman background) and so forth. It adds two layers of choice complexity that isn't there in B/X (feature+background) but much less than what 5e has. I think, given all the characterisation+punch you can get out of these two basic choices and the attention I am putting to make these two choices clear and simple, it's a decent tradeoff and middle ground between the two.

Any and all feedback is of course greatly appreciated.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Monsters/Humanoids as Playable races in D&D

It has been leaked that the forthcoming Volo's Guide to Monsters will have rules for playing Aasimar, Bugbears, Firbolgs, Goblins,Goliaths, hobgoblins, Kenku, Kobolds, Lizardfolk, Orcs, Tabaxi and Tritons.

Setting aside my current movement towards even finding elves a bit problematic as a playable race, I can see the case for things like Aasimar, Kenky and Goliaths.

But bugbears? Goblins? Hobgoblins? I've even seen complaints that gnolls weren't included. What? These are monsters.

I guess it comes out of an assumption that I've grown to wholesale reject - A naturalistic approach to critters. Ie, that gnolls or bugbears are just another intelligent species like any other, albeit one more violent then most.  In other words, they are not really monsters.

This approach, populised I suppose by the WoW/Eberron approach to orcs as Noble Savages, to me roundly defeats much of the Raison d'Etre for D&D adventuring - Namely that it is ok to kill these critters and take their stuff.

Gnolls are not just intelligent jackals. They are a horrible demonic hybrid of man and jackal whose existence is an explicit and intentional threat to human society. 

Hobgoblins are not just a species of a race called goblins. They are (imc), Devilmen - Tribes of former humans who turned to devil worship and were inevitably corrupted by their association with evil. They are a diabolical mirror of mankind that represents not only mankind's potential extinction but it's ultimately wilful worst transformation.

Goblins, bugbears and ogres I treat as variations of troll (in the nordic sense of the word - Paul Anderson's take on trolls are just a genetic warmachine of a former empire) - They are something mythic, with fey associations, existing in liminal zones between the mythic unknown and the known world.

The point being - None of them are natural. They are not naturalistic species in the sense of being just another biological species with different outlook and appearance. They are monstrous. Their very nature marks them as something antithetic to mankind - They are products of cosmic forces that would gladly see mankind wiped out - forces fundamentally alien to mankind.

When human adventurers go into the wilds and meet these critters it is not just a question of fighting them because they are in the way and might be dangerous. It is about encountering forces that represent an existential threat to the very world order that mankind is part of. Of course it is justified to kill them and take their stuff!

I should note, I did take a different tack with Orcs, who to me are a bloodthirsty and more ferocious image of what neanderthals might have been had they not gone extinct, but nevertheless lost the evolutionary race with homo sapiens by the time the middle ages come around. 
They are also called "Sub-men" (with all the Talislantan implications of the word) and basically a savage antediluvian cousin to men, whose long history of bloodthirsty animalistic savagery has degenerated them even further. Basically, their shot at growing as a race came and went, and they remain now only as a cancerous evolutionary dead end. Still, from this we get half-orcs as a possible player race.

Kobolds I treat as basically nasty-minded sentient rats that live on the fringes of civilization - which is more or less in keeping with the historical depiction of kobolds. I suppose if you really wanted to play as reviled chattel, you could play a kobold.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Halfling [Race-as-class] for 5e (RedNext B/-5e hack)

Halfling - Racial Class 5e (PDF)

First of all, let me start by saying - 5e may be simple and balanced, but class design is NOT. 

Class design is really where the designers put in the highest level of complexity into the system. Lots of unique sub systems (battemaster, warlock), maneuvers that break the action economy in unique ways, implied strategic build paths, etc. All stuff I want to simplify away with RedNext - take away the excess of moving parts. 

But even besides that, there is lots to consider - Every level gets a bennie of some sort (in three tiers), some hardcore class defining ones, others thematic. And impact of bennies is asymmetrical from class to class (except 5th and 11th). And all of them have frontloaded abilities that are on the surface overpowered. 

Weighing all these up and when to put the big ones is a lot to consider - Making the Halfling took time! Dwarf and elf might be easier purely because I now have a better grasp of the ideas behind class design, but they wont be up overnight.

Designer Notes on the 5e Halfling

For the Halfling, I lined up Fighter, Rogue and Ranger abilities on each level in a spreadsheet (assymetrical power curve per level makes it difficult to assess the weight of each bennie on each level), made another list of abilities (mainly feats and sub-race abilities) that would be nice to insert, filtered out the bennies that didn't fit a halfling build and started looking according to the following criteria from Menzer's basic:
  • -2 AC against large.
  • Best Saves
  • +1 missile weapons & initiative
  • Hiding (90% outdoors, 33 in dungeon).
Besides this, my own gamist analysis of what that makes the Halfling and what it ought to be:
  • A mix of fighter and rogue - In many ways a civilised, slightly less martial, ranger. But also a build that, while reminiscent in style of these two, is suitably distinct from both and Based on a different 'rules theme' (re-rolls, avoiding damage). ie, Halfling may thematically be a rangery fighter/rogue, but they should have a different 'rules feel' and benny niche to them than just smashing those two together (ie, less of the 'my rogue got a new bennie!' - 'neat. my halfling got the same'). 
  • High survivability and luck
  • less outstanding (tier 1) abilities, but more tier 2 ones to make a more rounded and bit broader class than the others. Less of the flashy 'nova' abilities (Sneak Attack, Action Surge) which is rather un-hobitty, but someone who can hold their own in most any situation. Outstanding feature is as a scout.

Douwe Dabbert
Fictional inspirations are mostly: 

  • Tolkien (of course) - Basically my imaginary lens of "how would previous hobbits Gandalf took adventuring turn out? (which comes down to the unrealised archetype of Trotter)"
  • Douwe Dabbert - Not sure if American readers will know him, but it's a classic here in Denmark. Douwe is to me the archetype of a drifter halfling who made it to old age
  • A dash of Kender (sorry grognards, but take out the silliness and they are a great adventuring spin on Halflings).
Without further ado, here is the first draft of the 5e Halfling-as-Class (note the intentional lack of build options). Any and all feedback is greatly appreciated.

Halfling - Racial Class 5e (PDF)

Halfling - Racial Class for 5th Edition

You are a Halfling – While most of your kin are content with a rural life, rarely venturing even as far as the neighboring village, that is not you. You are struck by a well known but rare impulse among the little folk – Wanderlust. You are rootless, a drifter, drawn to see what lies beyond the next hill.
Your travels take you into the world of men and dangerous lands, demanding that you make the most of the virtues of your people to survive. While the big folk may be stronger, more cunning and even wield magic, you are nimble, sturdy, brave and lucky – Other races may make bigger waves, but halflings unassumingly survive in the face of many threats larger people would not.

Class Features

As a Halfling, you gain the following class features:

Hit Dice: 1d8 per level
Hit Points at 1st Level: 8 + your Constitution modifier
Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d8 (or 5) + your Constitution modifier per level after 1st
Armor: All armor, shields - These must be fitted to size.
Weapons: Simple Weapons, Martial Finesse Weapons, Blowguns, Hand Crossbows, Nets.
Saving Throws: Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom
Ability Score Increase: Your Dexterity score increases by 2 and your Constitution by 1.
Size: Halflings average about 3 feet tall and weigh about 40 pounds. Your size is Small.
Speed: Your base walking speed is 25 feet.

Proficiency Bonus
Halfling Veteran
Lucky, Brave, Nimble, Stealthy,
Durable, Wanderlust
Halfling Warrior
Eye for Distance, Halfling’s Knack, Botanist
Halfling Swordmaster
Halfling Hero
Ability Score Improvement
Halfling Swashbuckler
Stalker’s Dodge
Halfling Myrmidon
Extra Attack
Halfling Champion
Escape the horde , Herbalist
Halfling Sheriff
Ability Score Improvement
Indomitable (one use)

Halfling Fortitude


Ability Score Improvement

Indomitable II


Magic Resilience, Slippery

Ability Score Improvement



Ability Score Improvement

Stroke of Luck

1st Level Abilities
Lucky: When you roll a 1 on the d20 for an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw, you can re-roll the die and must use the new roll.
Brave: You have advantage on saving throws against being frightened.
Nimble: You can move through the space of any creature that is of a size larger than yours.
Naturally Stealthy: You can attempt to hide even when you are lightly obscured or obscured only by a creature that is at least one size larger than you.
Furthermore, you can move stealthily at a normal pace.
Wanderlust: You are a master of navigating the outdoors and react with swift and decisive action when attacked. This grants you the following benefits:
• You ignore difficult terrain.
• You have advantage on initiative rolls.
• On your first turn during combat, you have advantage on attack rolls against creatures that have not yet acted.
You gain the following benefits when traveling for an hour or more:
• Difficult terrain doesn’t slow your group’s travel.
• Your group can’t become lost except by magical means.
• Even when you are engaged in another activity while traveling (such as foraging, navigating, or tracking), you remain alert to danger.
• When you forage, you find twice as much food as you normally would.

2nd Level Abilities
Eye for Distance: You gain a +2 bonus to attack rolls you make with ranged and thrown weapons.
Halfling’s Knack: You can take a bonus action on each of your turns in combat. This action can be used only to take the Help, Hide or Use an Object action.
Botanist: You are a master of herbs, both for their taste and medicinal value. You have mastered a variety of special recipes, allowing you to prepare special dishes with useful effects. You gain the following benefits:
• You gain proficiency with cook’s utensils. If you are already proficient with them, you add double your proficiency bonus to checks you make with them.
• During a long rest, you can spend an hour to prepare and serve an especially nutrient meal that helps you and your allies recover from the rigors of adventuring, provided you have suitable food, cook’s utensils, and special herbs and spice on hand. Such herbs can be gathered beforehand with an hour of foraging.
The meal serves up to six people, and each person who eats it regains and may spend an additional Hit Die at the end of the long rest.

3rd Level Abilities
Poultices: Your herbal mastery allows you to create especially potent poultices to combine with a healer’s kit to mend wounds and get your allies back on their feet. You gain the following benefits:
• When you use a healer's kit with your poultices to stabilize a dying creature, that creature also regains 1 hit point.
• As an action. you can spend one use of a healer's kit and poultice to tend to a creature and restore 1d6 + plus additional hit points equal to the twice the creature's maximum Hit Dice.

You may prepare a number of poultices equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum 1) in similar fashion to meals, as described under Botanist.

You can prepare both meal and poultice during a long rest, but recipients can benefit only from one of poultice or meal per long rest (ie, a recipient who healed from a meal during a long rest and then received a poultice would gain no benefit from either on the next long rest),
The poultices you create cannot be applied by anyone but you. After 24 hours, any poultices that you have not used lose their potency.

4th Level Abilities
Ability Score Improvement: Increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, you can't increase an ability score above 20 using this feature.

5th Level Abilities
Stalker’s Dodge: Whenever a creature you can see attacks you and does not have advantage, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the creature’s attack roll against you. You can use this feature before or after the attack roll is made, but it must be used before the outcome of the roll is determined.

6th Level Abilities
Extra Attack: You can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn.

7th Level Abilities
Escape the Horde: Opportunity attacks against you are made with disadvantage.
Herbalist: Your culinary skills extend to detecting and curing poisons.
As an action, you can inspect a drink or plate of food within 5 feet of you and determine whether it is poisoned, provided that you can see and smell it.
Moreover, You can spend an hour preparing a fresh concoction to cure one poison effect on the creature you are applying it to. It only works when consumed immediately.

8th Level Abilities
Ability Score Improvement: Increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, you can't increase an ability score above 20 using this feature.

9th Level Abilities
Indomitable: You can re-roll a saving throw that you fail. If you do so, you must use the new roll, and you can't use this feature again until you finish a long rest.

10th Level Abilities
Halfling Fortitude: You have Proficiency with all saves.
Furthermore, you have advantage on saves against poison, and resistance to poison damage.

11th Level Abilities
Volley: You can use your action to make a ranged attack against any number of creatures within 10 feet of a point you can see within your weapon’s range. You must have ammunition for each target, as normal, and you make a separate attack roll for each target.

12th Level Abilities
Ability Score Improvement: Increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, you can't increase an ability score above 20 using this feature.

13th Level Abilities
Indomitable II: You can use this feature twice between long rests.

14th Level Abilities
Cunning Stalker: You gain the following benefits:
When you are hidden from a creature and miss it with a ranged weapon attack, making the attack doesn't reveal your position.
Dim light doesn't impose disadvantage on your Wisdom (Perception) checks relying on sight.

15th Level Abilities
Magic Sturdiness: You have advantage on all saves against magic.
Additionally, you may take the  Use an Object action to activate magic items.
Slippery: You gain +2 to AC against melee attacks made by Medium-sized creatures or larger.

16th Level Abilities
Ability Score Improvement: Increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, you can't increase an ability score above 20 using this feature.

17th Level Abilities
Indomitable III: You can use this feature thrice between long rests

18th Level Abilities
Elusive: You are so evasive that attackers rarely gain the upper hand against you. No attack roll has advantage against you while you aren't incapacitated.

19th Level Abilities
Ability Score Improvement: Increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, you can't increase an ability score above 20 using this feature.

20th Level Abilities
Stroke of Luck: You have an uncanny knack for succeeding when you need to. If your attack misses a target within range, you can turn the miss into a hit. Alternatively, if you fail an ability check, you can treat the d20 roll as a 20. Once you use this feature, you can't use it again until you finish a short or long rest.