|Jul. 17th, 2015 @ 03:00 pm Random roleplaying musings|
Emblematic of 5e reducing the spread between low and high level is something I noticed in the monster manual, armour class is even flatter than other stats, that first level players are generally fighting monsters with AC 12-15, 20 might be possible for something fragile but really hard to hit. But the highest AC in the whole thing is the Tarrasque with AC only 25. Which doesn't mean level 20s are not mythological compared to level 1s, but that they improve in ways other than "bigger numbers", and low-level monsters are relevant for longer.
I also like what they did with some really tough monsters, like adult dragons. They have two features which make them effective as a large single monster. They have extra actions they take after other people's turns (often a simple attack). That means that combat is more interactive than "ok, you win initiative you marmelise the dragon before it acts" or "ok, the dragon wins initiative, it kills you, you and you" even if there's only one monster.
And also, instead of spell resistance, they have three "legendary points" which let them pass a saving throw they would otherwise have failed. That means, "I mind control the dragon" is never a game-winner, but nor is it completely useless. I don't know why that feels more appropriate than spell resistance, but it does to me -- maybe that it didn't make sense to me that "big and tough" automatically meant "resistance to magic", but "I'm just that epic" fits naturally into "you can't take me out in one hit".
There is still spell resistance in a simpler form (they have a bonus on saving throw) for a few monsters where it's appropriate.
But I also notice, it's one mechanic that stays leaning into a videogame or story-telling mode than a simulationist mode -- there's no in-world understanding of what this is, it just makes things more dramatic, and is explicitly appropriate for large single monsters (I might use the same mechanic for a party of 0th level halflings fighting a troll, but not for a party of gods fighting a swarm of adult dragons).
Stunts in combat
A problem I often had with players first getting into a mechanics-heavy roleplaying system like DnD is when someone does something dramatic like "I jump over the balcony swinging on the chandelier and attack the orc from above". There are no rules for that, really not, and it's easy for the GM to revert to a habit of saying "you can't" or "ok, you roll an attack" or "ok, here's the rules for jumping, no, it doesn't say you get any benefit". You do want to embrace that! (At least in my sort of 50/50 roleplaying, if you're concentrating on miniature wargaming, then maybe not.)
But I read an article that pointed out, if you default to fancy stunts being "make a str/dex check against DC 15, if you do, you get a small bonus to an attack, or another effect like driving them back", then it usually just works -- the dramatic move has a clear advantage, but not such a big one that usual combat is pointless. So it allows a reasonable amount of adlibbing.
It also suggests allowing the target a saving throw. I might just ignore that in the case of one-off stunts, or stunts against minion-enemies, but it says it's a useful balancing feature in any case where the stunt might make a big different ("I want to push the lich off the cliff", "I want to disarm EVERY COMBAT").
The wandering monster table is like the audience members who yell out suggestions on an improv show
The wandering monster table is like the audience members who yell out suggestions on an improv show: Simply yelling out “mime” and “airplane” doesn’t make for a comedy show; it requires the improv actors to create a sketch about a mime pilot making an announcement over the plane’s intercom system for that. Similarly, just having random “giant spiders” attack the PCs because the table says so doesn’t make for an adventure; what you need are giant spiders in a particular place for a particular reason and doing a particular thing.
I definitely used to think "wandering monster, huh, why would you do that?" But now, although I haven't tried it, I can see when it could be a useful approach:
You wouldn't necessarily use this when you know in advance somewhere's important, where you hopefully will plan it in advance.
But consider when you're simulating an area more detailed than you can conceivably plan in advance. OK, you're sneaking into an orc camp. You plan the areas, where most orcs are. But they're also going to be wandering about, getting a snack, leaving to scout, etc. You can't plan every single Orc's hunger level. Probably the best way of giving that effect is to say "about every 5 minutes, some orc wanders SOMEWHERE", and if the players are still sneaking about, roll randomly to discover what the orcs are doing.
And the same if the players are exploring a dungeon larger than 5 rooms; it's big enough the monsters probably do wander about, if you're pretending there's some sort of ecology, and if you assume that, it adds a bit of verisimilitude over just "the monsters wait where they are until you find them". And it can also lead to more interesting exploring -- the PCs are not incentivised to always clear through methodically, but to choose trade-offs "safer to hole up for the night or go deeper while we can?"
And it can lead to awesome moments. Some things are more interesting when they happened by chance, which is why there's a random element in combat. If the giant earthworm blunders across the party when they're half-way through crossing a pit-trap, or an NPC party with the very item the party needed are camped in the first room, and everyone knows the GM decided it, it's just "ah, now the GM is screwing with us". But if it's chance, it can lead to hilarious memories.
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