Thursday, 15 September 2016

Further thoughts on "B/X-5e" hack: RedNext

First of all, in reply to some of the comments on my previous entry as to whether 5e hacks can be considered old-school or not and why I will continue to bill my little pocket project as OSR in my own mind - I like Greyhawk Grognard's definition:

"We play the old games, and the games that feel like the old games."

'nuff said. On to other matters: I guess I am going ahead with this.

Yesterday, I took the 5e SRD, split it into six booklet documents. Then I stripped it of all the stuff that won't fit in with my "Redbox 5e" mix. Cosmology guff, classes beyond the four basic ones, all races save dwarf,elf, halfling, feats and skills.  3 for players:
  • Book 1: Characters (45 pages)
  • Book 2: Playing the game (29 pages)
  • Book 3: Magic (112 pages)
And another 3 for the DM:
  • Book 4: Running the Game (16 pages)
  • Book 5: Treasure (63 pages)
  • Book 6: Monsters (164 pages)
Something like this if ever actually printed. Great for the actual table.
It needs further stripping as the page count, especially for magic, treasure and monsters is still too high (to be fair, these aren't much rules - Just loads of material made freely available by WotC) I will need to go through the docs and see what is superfluous or can be rewritten to simpler language, although my impression so far is that the authors did a really good job of this already.

This will be my base for hacking from which I can then add my own mods. Mostly, I will be looking at the B/X series. 

The design goal overall is "Basic Set approach with 100% 5e Compatibility" (meaning you can take anything from full 5e and drop in, or have characters designed with full 5e at the same table, or characters designed with this hack at a full 5e table, with zero adjustment or conversion needed).

Here is what I am thinking I want to add into the mix so far:

Race-as-Class 
(and as an optional sidebar rule - 'race AND class'). This will mean mixing 'human' race modifiers into the four human classes for simplicity, making a gish class for the elf and determining what kind of class exactly dwarves and halflings are beyond 'racial fighter' and 'racial rogue'.
I love race as class. Classes are archetypes for plug and play. So are races.
Level titles
It belongs - It's a great way of determining what to expect from each level.

Narratives
Narratives is an open content sub-system made for the Primeval Thule 5e campaign setting. It replaces backgrounds, is a bit more expansive in defining the characters and adds a few bells and whistles at higher levels. Functionally, I suppose it is somewhere between 2e kits and 5e backgrounds.

I intend to use them to replace the stripped out classes (So 'Ranger', 'Paladin', Barbarian', 'Druid', 'Bard', 'Warlock', would all be Narratives instead of independent classes) - I think this should work fine. These extra classes are essentially just thematic variations of the four basic ones, so it makes sense to handle them with a system designed to bring out thematic variation with only a few bells and whistles baked in.

New Skills System
Although 5e should get kodus for simplifying the skill system, I don't think they pulled it off really. Except for Perception and Stealth, I find that skills aren't really being used much in our 5e game and when they are, it feels clunky. Their presence don't really say anything about the character using them - they are too generic for that.
What they did right what making skills essentially just a thin layer on top of attribute checks. Meaning they are easy to discard or replace with a different system. Thumbs up for modularity, 5e!

I like the three variants in the DMG though. The attribute one is a nice way of just dropping skills.
The two others are simple and fluid and seem to encourage 'what I can do really well' in a way that says something about the character rather than a 'what I can and can't do' list. I am thinking of making a mix of them:
"Narrative Proficiency" - Basically, whatever a player can reasonably argue that a character of his background and training ought to be able to do, he is proficient in. Rangers can do outdoorsy stuff, warriors can grapple, Warlocks know stuff about outer beings, etc.
I am thinking of adding a few extra skill elements to allow for personalising characters: A narrow version of the personality trait proficiency and/or "one thing I did growing up" that falls outside the class system. Keep it loose and essentially improvisational - Hooks to play with the character that gives some mechanical benefit.
Another problem with the skill system is that they don't give much oomph. A +2 bonus is not much to distinguish between a trained locksmith and someone totally new. Gaming Ronin had a take on skills that I might take some inspiration from:
Everyone gets their proficiency bonus for everything. Adventurers are overall badass and keep getting more badass. If you attempt something that you are deemed "proficient" in, you get advantage where others get none. If what is being attempted is something that would be considered difficult to impossible for someone unskilled (smithing a sword, recalling details about a long lost empire) you roll normally where 'unskilled' ones get disadvantage.
This may all be too much though. I am not decided on this yet.

New Healing System
Nice and simple, adds a little resource management aspect to healing. Works well at our table:
Once pr day, you may EITHER:
  • Spend one (and only one) hit die to heal during a Short or Long rest
OR
  • Regain a hit die during a long rest.
If you choose to spend a hit die during a Long Rest, you roll with "advantage" on the healing die.

I don't always forget about healing spells. But when I do, I fire into melee.

Firing into melee
Because archers are cowards who need a bit of risk added.
If you make a ranged attack directed at an enemy target engaged with allies in melee, you roll with Disadvantage on your attack.
If you miss, the higher of the two rolls is used to attack other creatures within 5' of the target (starting with the one who is the most in the "line of fire" or roll a suitable die to determine randomly).  Keep in mind that the new target could also be another enemy(!).
When determining whether misses penetrate AC or not, leave out any proficiency, attribute or other bonuses and simply use what the die shows as the attack roll.

Afterword
At the end of the day, this looks totally doable.

The tricky part from here really is making the racial classes and having a 'caster' subclass for fighter and rogue that Ranger/Paladin/Bard Narratives can choose to go down at 3rd level. Since that already exists, it should be simple enough to check that it will map nicely enough.

The other tricky part will be attribute generation method(s). Not really sure about that at all just yet.

Then decide on what else goes into the DM booklets of cool and useful stuff.

I should probably also examine the long/short rest mechanic and see what uses it and if I can trim stuff out. The mechanic may work, but it is one of those invisible balance checks that are bad because they are opaque. Getting rid of all those classes should go a long way towards addressing this though.

Then TRIM TRIM TRIM to get the bloody page count down.

Then decide on a cool name. My working title is "RedNext".

Am I missing anything here?