Sunday, April 2, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons: "Defense" part 2

            I have played Dungeons and Dragons for more than 15 years.  Lately, I have not had access to any other players and so I have just been kicking around ideas that normally would be in a game and instead I am just going to post them on my blog.  This is going to be a reoccurring thing as I just keep hammering out things and not all of them can be turned into elements in my “random fantasy novel ideas” folder.

Last Time and This Week
            Last week we talked about the basics of Defensive mechanics as they exist in 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons.  After exploring some of the ideas from “Unearthed Arcana” the official compendium of popular rule variations published by Wizards of the Coast.
            I pushed the “Unearthed” suggestions aside as too basic and uninteresting to make up for the added drag they put on the game’s action I moved on to defining in greater detail the 8 subcategories of Defense in Dungeons and Dragons (and kind of all games when you get down to it, there might be something else somewhere but DnD is such a kitchen-sink approach to gaming that they have to be hitting on nearly everything).
1)     Defensive Spells
2)     Miss Chance
3)     Armor and Shields
4)     Damage Reduction
5)     Regeneration
6)     Hit Points
7)     Fast Healing
8)     All other forms of Healing

Alternative 2: Classes and Manipulating the Basics
            Each of the above 8 listed defense systems can be manipulated in some regard to produce characters that have different ways of dealing with danger.  By giving the classes access to something that manipulates one or more of the above (or in the case of spell casters… All of them) you can serve to distinguish the classes from one another not just in how they attack (Rage, Sneak Attack, Two-Weapon Fighting, etc.) but you can also differentiate them by how they avoid harm (which mostly amounts to how high you can push their AC).

"Must be swift as the coursing river... Be a Man,
"With all the Force of a Great Typhoooon...Be a Man,
"All the Strength of a Raging Fire... Be a Man,
"Mysterious as the Dark Side of the Moon."
            Monks are the only third edition class that gets a bonus to their armor class as they increase in level, this increase reflects their ability to dodge or block attacks using advanced martial arts.  In 4th edition all of the classes get such increases, uniformly… or as it should be called, “fucking boring”.
            Let me talk about 4th edition and the single best complaint against it: all of the bonuses to hit and all of the bonuses to defense cancel each other out, it is boring and insures the only variation is based on level.  That is stupid and removes one more thing that could have been used to differentiate the classes (or races) from one another.  It is the biggest contributor to why the game felt so same-is-same the more you played it.  Much like their bland take on alignment this was a bland take on attack and defense… IT CAN BE DONE BETTER!
            It would take a tremendous amount of work to point out the numerous variations that could be done to make each of the classes in 3rd edition play to have a unique and varied ability to act defensively but let me throw a few out there.

Category 1: Defensive Spells
            Since we already have a lot of goofy spells this is an area that is ripe for exploration, but to keep this from being another 4,000+ word blog I am just going to point out the two I used last week, Sanctuary and Mirror Image.
            How about we let the Bard have a Sanctuary song that he can play?  So long as he is playing it everyone has a Sanctuary effect, so that he can effectively call a time out on the whole conflict allowing other players to heal up, negotiate, cast some non-lethal buffs, or just retreat.  It seems like a natural extension of the existing Bardic Music effect of “Fascinate”.
            Want a Mirror Image effect?  I want to give this to the Rogue, but that would require everybody being okay with the Shadow Clone Jutsu from “Naruto” being a part of the Rouge class abilities.  I am cool with giving spell like tricks and traps to the Rogue class to make them less of a well guided knife, but others might be rather resistant to giving magical tricks to a class that is traditionally non-magical.  A more enterprising blogger might go ahead and create a Rouge alternate class that takes this all into consideration and share that in the comments… Maybe… Probably not.

Category 2: Miss Chance
            This seems like a perfect place for a bonus to the Ranger Class.  A steadily increasing nature magic that allows them to cloak themselves in mist and shadow couples great with the camouflage abilities they already have.  Let’s give them a basic bonus of 2% per level (so a 1st level Ranger would have a 2% miss chance and a 10th level Ranger would have a 20% miss chance).
            Give the Ranger an additional bonus to the ability based on their Dexterity score of +5% per Dexterity modifier (so a Dexterity of 12 will grant +5% and a Dexterity of 16 will grant +15%).  Add some feats that emphasize the ability based on what terrain they are in, whether they have partial cover, based on whether they are flanking.  You could grant additional bonuses with alchemy items, smoke bombs, flash grenades, or weapons that cause limited or temporary blindness.
            You could have a level 10 ranger with an 18 Dexterity that has a 40% of any attack against them missing completely.  To help balance this out have the bonus disappear if the character is flat footed, in much the way sneak attack doesn’t work on a target unless they are flat footed.
            This ability could clearly be added to different classes or even all of them with a different ratio for each.  Rogues, Bards, Monks, and Rangers having a +2% per level, while Fighters and Barbarians only get +1% per level, and guys like Clerics and Wizards would only get such effects via spells (or have it be such a small number that it could be a joke, “Hey, I am a level 10 Wizard I will remind you, that means he has a 1% chance of missing me entirely, roll for that first”).
"I am so glad I am not obligated to wear so much armor."
"Susan, put some pants on."
"Make Me!"
            Miss Chance is also the best system to play with if you want a game that is more about Swashbuckling.  As armor is just not going to be much of a thing on the high seas, walking thru a desert, or even in a steam punk palace.  Armor is heavy, hard to maintain, and was utilized in history less than what it is in the game of DnD.
            Having a system that is more about people without armor doing their best to not get hit at all is a good idea from a theatrical standpoint.  I am kind of surprised there was never a supplement “Dashing Heroes” or “Merry Men” that would adapt the D20 system to account for these kinds of settings.

Category 3: Armor and Shields
            Armor and Shields are already the biggest aspect of this so I would suggest just giving more thought to each classes ability to access shields and armor.  I don’t think Clerics should have access to heavy armor or shields, the class is already potent, they should be less flexible with what armor they can have, and since they are primarily a spell caster they should have a hand free for a holy symbol to cast those spells.

Or a torch.
Did anyone else get the vibe that Bethesda did not care for the Vigilants of Stendar?
They seem to be the butt-monkeys of Skyrim.
            Conversely I think Paladins should have more powers related to deflection bonus, a divine aura that helps to protect them and maybe grants bonuses to those around them with an even greater bonus against attacks by “Evil” characters.  Paladins are supposed to be the defenders of the innocent and yet have no substantive ability to protect those around them aside from a very minor collection of healing abilities and the ability to protect against fear (not useless, but certainly not something that comes up too often).
            Fighters need more fighter specific feats that give stronger bonuses (or even combat maneuvers) to them for using shields or taking defensive moves.  Characters whose primary defense is supposed to be their ability to use armor and shields need rules to take advantage of those things.  If a wizard can cast a spell then the fighter needs to be able to do martial arts that amount to more than just, “Hit harder, but less accurately”.

            If I were being REALLY AGGRESSIVE to making Armor and Shields more potent I would do what they did in 5th Edition (or the little I have had the chance to look over) and flatten the Attack bonus curve.  Rather than the fighter types getting a “1 level = +1 to Attack” they instead get a proficiency bonus from +2 to +6 along with other bonuses from feat selection (and fighters get a host of maneuvers and styles to make them not painfully boring).
            I get the feeling the more I learn about 5th that a lot of the things I had problems with were ironed out (they might have added some new issues and kept plenty that I previously would not have noticed but now do).  This is especially necessary because of the low magic setting.  Without significantly powerful equipment in 3rd Edition you will constantly be hit when in melee with a fighter type of your level from 10 onward.

Category 4: Damage Reduction (and some Problems with Barbarians)
            I am going to go ahead and talk about the only class that has this defensive layer as a class ability, The Barbarian.
            Damage Reduction is already a Barbarian class ability, make it better.  At higher levels knocking 5 damage off of attacks that can deal 30 points of damage is pretty meaningless.  The fact is the game is not set up to have a Barbarian fight lots and lots of smaller bad guys where his damage reduction would be effective, and even if it were the number of attacks he gets would not allow him to fight lots and lots of little guys as they chip away at him.  In fact, his rage power is all about fewer and bigger hits.  So, Barbarians have a tension in which their defense stops little things, and his attacks hit big things.

"As strong as I am, I am going to throw my back out swinging this ax."
            Barbarians need either a rage that allows for more attacks (or even a kind of area attack sweeping out in front of them) so that they can juggernaut into a horde, or beef up his defenses so that he can shrug off powerful attacks from bigger opponents (how about making his damage reduction spike up while raging?  Or give him the ability to hit so hard that an opponent loses their attack altogether?  Or-or, have his attacks give a status effect against his opponent that makes their attacks weaker so that his damage reduction will be more meaningful?)
            I also think Monks should be getting damage reduction as well, heck Monks should be getting more in all of these categories the class is goofy as hell and once you start accepting “Kung Fu Powers” you can justify giving it anything.  Body Hardening is a thing in many martial arts and one of the Monk’s existing abilities is the ability to bypass certain types of Damage Reduction.

Category 5: Regeneration
            Regeneration is almost exclusively a monster power.  It is one of the few things I will shove off to the side except in the form of Transmutation spells.  This ability can get busted and should be kept as a tool of making monsters stronger.  While I consider Trolls an iconic and menacing melee opponent, the number of times they have killed more than 1 member of the party (even at levels above their CR) has made me wary to ever use them.

Category 6: Hit Points
            Here is a pretty easy thing to fix: More god damn hit points for characters who are supposed to be the tanks.
            4th edition kind of addressed this one, there was no more rolling for hit points because you could easily end up with a fighter that had fewer hit points than the rouge by level 8 via bad luck, but maybe push this further.
            Giving the Barbarians a static 10 hit points each level, Fighters and Paladins 8, Clerics and Rangers 6, Bards and Rouges 5, and other Arcane Casters 4 I think would make the game a lot less lethal and that is kind of what I am going for (if you haven’t noticed from how I am offering free buffs and defensive abilities to everyone in all of the instances I have so far mentioned).
            (I am also aware that 5th Edition has some things on this too… My vast library of 3rd Edition books seems so lonely these days).
"What do you mean 'she survived the hit'?"
"I am a 70 ton dragon, she is a 180 lb human.  She should have been vaporized!"

Category 7: Fast Healing (and some Problems with Druids)
            Fast Healing should be a class ability of Paladins because having a constant flow of positive energy allowing them to recover and continue their divine mission makes a lot of sense.  Maybe not constantly, as that would be the brick shit house that would not die, but certainly making it an ability they could burn some kind of divine favor to get makes sense.
            This also feels at home among the class abilities of the already broken Druid.  It is totally in flavor for a magic tree person to be able to heal themselves (though that might be my love of Magic the Gathering coloring my view point).

"Do you think my hat looks silly?
"I wasn't going to buy it but the nice young woman selling them was so complimentary."
            Druids are the 3rd edition class most in need of careful deconstruction, they have shapeshifting, spellcasting, class abilities, and an animal companion.  They area book keeping nightmare/dream and with the right gamer can be broken.  Maybe 5th Edition fixed them too.

Category 8: All Other Healing
            I wrote an entire blog on the topic of healing in 3rd edition, 4th edition, and several other fantasy games.  That pretty much explains some issues and proposes some solutions.

The Issue with all the Category Variations
            My biggest issue with Defense in Dungeons and Dragons is this, “It is something you have, not something you do”.  None of these variations on the categories I identified are about “Doing” they are just a more eclectic mix of things you might “Have”.
            That being said I do not think that this was wasted effort as far as exploring what is in flavor with the classes, what are ways to pull the various taffies of game mechanics to make something new, and I did get to see some of the newer changes present in 5th Edition in the context of comparing them favorably to 3rd Edition.
            So, productive-ish.

Next Time and the Beg for Attention
            I am going to talk about at least one more entry in Defense and it will be Alternatives 3 and 4, 3 is the one that is a much larger change 4 is the one that is hardly any change at all.  (I realize that this is more than what was promised last week, that happens as an idea grows beyond the pot it was originally planted in).

Growth.  Dryad.  Kind of makes sense.

            I know that I missed the boat in a lot of ways by talking so much about 3rd Edition in this blog.  That while Pathfinder and 5th Edition borrow heavily from the D20 system and there is still so much material floating around out there (because printed material hangs around, for instance 3rd Edition was the last edition to get support from the Magazines Dragon and Dungeon, of which I own many copies that have been re-read to the point of falling apart).
            I present my experiences with this system almost as catharsis for the numerous little issues I have had over the years and in hopes that it can serve to teach others from my observations and mistakes.  Hopefully these are entertaining to read and they provide you, dear reader, with some useful ideas for your own game.


            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

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