Monday, February 18, 2019

Playing with Short/Long Rests in D&D 5E

D&D rules on Short and Long rests can be seen as a compromise between “traditional” (i.e. pre-4E) and most current “modern” takes on the game. These rules all aim at dealing with the famous “15-minutes day” syndrome, where a party awakens, prepare their spells/powers, go “nova” for an encounter or two, then go back to rest (of course, a lot of this “syndrome” comes from forgetting that D&D evolved from wargames and that campaigns where slow and methodical games where the party advanced careful over large areas/dungeons).

Anyway, I’m digressing…. as usual. I’ve been running a lot of D&D 5E playtest lately and that has been an interesting experience. As I said above, in D&D 5E you PC can recover resources through forms of rest:
  • A “Short Rest” requires at least one hour during which a character does nothing more strenuous than eating, drinking, reading, and tending to wounds. If those requirements are fulfilled a character can spend one or more of his Hit Dice (plus Con mod) to recover HPs (besides recovering certain abilities like a Fighter’s Second Wind or a few spell slots for Wizards).
  • A “Long Rest” requires at least 8 hours long, during which a character sleeps or performs light activity: reading, talking, eating, or standing watch for no more than 2 hours (but you can still fight or kick-ass for at least one hour). You regain all your HPs and class features (and half your HDs), but you can’t take more than 1 Long Rest every 24 hours.

Of course, the Dungeon Master’s Guide best chapter (that’s Chapter 9) has all kind of cool variants for rest, with different times. For example, “old timers” like myself love the variant (Gritty Realism) where a “short rest” requires 8 hours and a “long rest” can only be taken once a week (i.e. 7 days). “Younger gamers” like myself (no contradiction here) can enjoy a more dynamic game with “short rests” requiring 1 minute and “long rests” 1 hour (Epic Heroism).

And that’s the point with 5E: it’s entirely customizable! You can play it as you like it.

Now, take for example 13th Age. In that (awesome) RPG a “short rest” ALWAYS happen between fights (unless the party did something terribly wrong) and a “long rest” happen every 4 encounters (give or take). That is an even better rule than 5E IMHO because it can be adapted to the adventure’s rhythm (i.e. the GM doesn’t have to grant a “long rest” exactly every 4 encounters, for examples… particularly if a certain encounter was too easy). Another advantage of 13th Age’s approach is that it’s harder to abuse it.

Let’s get another other example (from another great game): Low Fantasy Gaming. In that OSR/d20 variant, a “Long Rest” requires 1d6 days (or 1d4 in a safe environment). A randomized result is another great and (ye again) it avoids abuse by the party.

Now, here’s an example from a good friend of mine, that manages to bring together 2 styles of play that I really like: dungeon crawl and sandbox. While inside a dungeon he proposes following the rule that a “short rest” requires 1 hour and a “long rest” 24 hours; but, outside the dungeon (i.e. in the wilderness) we follow the variant that one “short rest” equals 8 hours and a “long rest” 7 days. That’s brilliant! You can make the game work inside the gauntlet and - at the same time - avoid the common problem of running wilderness encounters (usually in sandbox crawling the party faces just about 1 our maybe 2 encounters a day; that frequency is bad for classes like the fighter but great for spellcasters, which can “go nova”, spending all their spell slots, because they know that a second or third encounter during the same day will be a rarer event).

Another cool example: I recently run a playtest adventure where the party was crossing a desert. And where is the cool part: the party would only gain the benefits of a rest (short and long) if they managed to reach one of the deserts oasis. That’s it. Without an oasis the party can’t gain the benefit of a rest (short or long). That’s an awesome idea to generate tension and force the party to manage their resources.

Which bring us to the final topic of this post: short or long rests aren’t something set on stone. Quite the contrary: they can and SHOULD be changed to suit an adventure or challenge. They can also work as a great alternative to rewards. Imagine: if the party reach X or defeat Y they gain the benefits of a short (or maybe even long rest). A priest’s blessing could be represented “in game” as a short rest (i.e. recovering small class abilities and spending HD to recover HPs). A dread curse could be represented by increasing the party’s requisites to gain the benefit of a short/longe rest. The requisites to gain a rest’s benefits can be tailored to reflect locations… a long rest in Mordor or the Shadowlands is probably harder to get.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

OD&D was right... (A post about Race/Ancestry and Class for d20)

I’m moving next month so I’m trying to keep my D&D 5E playtest games on schedule (and resisting any irrational but constant impulses of starting anything else). D&D 5E was never my system of choice. As you probably read (a lot) in previous posts, my favorite d20 RPGs are DCC and 13th Age. But my tables love 5E, so let’s give them 5E.

OK, before the current playtests I attempted two other games. One was a small 5E sandbox, as RAW as possible, in the Savage North (Forgotten Realms). But before that, I attempted to create a home setting tailored to 5E’s mechanics (I really like this approach and usually hate just “converting” previous settings to new editions… but let’s not start a rant).

When I wrote my home setting I tried to create a flavorful trait to each of my races. Usually not something very “mechanical” (or crunchy). That isn’t the first time I tried this approach, as you can see here, here and here, so I started wondering why. Here’s what I came up:

First, in most 20 games Race matters only on the first levels. After that you can’t care more about it. Lots of RPGs tried to correct that, for example, Dawnforge for D&D 3rd and the more recent Pathfinder 2E (you can see the racial feats in 5E Volo’s Guide as another attempt).

Second, because Race usually doesn’t matter after a few levels today I usually don’t like lots of racial stats or rules. In the end, as the campaign goes, they are yet just another bit of annoying mechanic to remember (and the players themselves forget them a lot).

That’s when it hit me: Race should only matter if that’s what your character is about. For example: if you’re Elandryel the Fighter, not Elandryel, the Elf, then the ‘elf’ part shouldn’t be the focus of your PC. And that’s (IMHO) the catch: Race should only be, in most situations, a flavor. Ironically, that means that the older editions were right: if your character is defined by his “elveness”, then please play with an Elf, not a Fighting Man or Magic User.

I’m completely aware that my opinion on this goes against players that love the “character building/optimization” bit of the game. And that’s completely fine! I’m getting older and game time is getting harder to manage, so I prefer RPGs with less prep time and more table time. This usually means playing with systems that help the GM on both aspects - which is why I love DCC and 13th Age, and really enjoy games like Savage Worlds (I still love Pathfinder and GURPS, but if any of my players ever saw my GM notes “behind the screen” they would see something a lot like 13th Age and Savage than Pathfinder and GURPS… I just don’t have the luxury anymore of losing time with tons of rules and NPCs’ stats).

Following that idea, I found that the RPG that gives you the best of both worlds is the Freeport Companion for FATE Core. And that is because of Aspects. Your Race in Freeport is just as important (mechanically) as you want. If your Race is just flavor, you won’t waste an Aspect on it (but it will still matter for roleplay and interaction). If you put an Aspect on Race (for example, “the last Elf Swordmaster”) then you’re telling the GM that you want to use your Race to gain bonus and penalties on your rolls. Now, if you buy an Aspect and a Stunt (for those that don’t know FATE, Stunts are like Feats), then you’re really declaring that you want to play with “THE ELF” (all capitals).

However, the funny thing is that you don’t exactly need a different system to that. A good friend of mine (with a better grasp on 5E than me) proposed the “Tolkien Elf Character” in D&D 5E: pick your favorite elf race (Wood Elf) from the Player’s Handbook, get a cool Background (like Outlander, which is perfect for traveling in the wilderness and helping your party) and - finally - pick the Monk class. No, you aren’t a Monk “in game”, that’s just the mechanics. Your character is actually an elf warrior and wanderer, from the “old blood of the West”. Other elves call you “Eldar” and respect your lineage because of the deeds (and losses) that your kind suffered in the past (if the GM doesn’t mind, you can even be ageless… I never saw that trait as an advantage in most tables I run).

Why Monk? Well, a 5E Monk at the 1st level can fight unarmored, which is a perfect elven trait. Also, you get Strength and Dexterity saving throws, besides skills like Acrobatics, Athletics, History, lnsight, Religion, or Stealth. It all screams “Elves!” for me. At 2nd level your movement improves and you can spend Ki Points (let’s call it “Elven Points”) to use Dodge, Disengage and extra attack actions - that’s all “Legolas’ stuff” for me. Wit a little bit of reskinning you can go “full LotR” with the Monk class, easily emulating the stunts that Legolas did in the movies. And that’s great! (in fact, I remember an article a few years ago, here in Brazil, here the author used elven stats and the 3.5 Monk class to create a perfect ThunderCats class).

So that’s the idea of this post: focus on your character’s main theme and built from there. That’s nothing new, but my recent 5E playtest remembered me how important that approach is.