5E Active Defense in d20

The vast majority of my recent Gamemastering has been in D&D 5th. It's a relatively functional system, but there are some things about it (and a lot of its descendant d20-based systems) which I'm really not keen on.

The most egregious for me is "Armour Class". I've been able to forgive many, many sins over five iterations of D&D rules, but I've never really reached a point where I'm at peace with the idea. I think the biggest issue for me is the logical handwaving necessary to combine the idea of "hitting a target" with the idea of "injuring a target" in a single abstract number.

I know there is the argument that "hit points do not equal injury", which takes some of the burden off of Armour Class, and this definitely works for me when I am forced to run vanilla, by-the-book d20 systems. But in using this method, I've discovered another, deeper issue that I have with Armour Class:

It's boring.

I know that's a bit of an inflammatory word, but there's really no other way to express my feelings on the matter. I think it extends out of my formative roleplaying experiences. While I cut my teeth on D&D, I really developed both as a player and a GM using White Wolf's Storyteller system. For those not familiar, combat in Storyteller works like this:

Attacking Player rolls Attack -> Defending Player rolls Dodge/Block -> Attacking Player rolls Damage -> Defending Player rolls Soak.

It seems a bit long-winded, and it frequently was. But what resulted was combat which was much higher-stakes (it was completely possible to utterly destroy an opponent in one turn, or to get utterly destroyed yourself) and much more involved for everyone at the table. This level of interaction is sorely missing from a lot of d20 systems, and rather than "re-inventing the wheel" and taking my setting into an entirely different system, I would rather take the easier path and try to integrate this or a similar mutually-interactive system into the d20-Verse.

One method which has come to mind is based on the Pathfinder 2E "Armour Class" system. In PF2, AC is governed by Proficiency scores just like any other skill. So while AC is expressed as a number, that number is just a Skill Roll with a default "Take 10" result (eg. AC25 is just just a +15 skill roll with a default 10 roll). Thus I could have the defending player roll their d20, rather than just using the default 10 result.

This unpicks the "passive defender" part of the d20 problem. There is still the issue of governing "hit" and "wound" on the same roll, but that's something which I'm willing to tinker with a bit more, using this system as a temporary patch.

Any other DMs/GMs out there tinkering with Active Defense for d20, or looking for ways to uncouple the "Roll to Hit and Wound" issue? Whatcha got? I'm really curious to hear.

!!!PLEASE NOTE!!!

I know there are multifarious other systems which use different combat mechanics. The purpose of this post isn't to find an alternative to d20... it's to fix what I see as a fundamental flaw with d20 while maintaining its core integrity. Yeah, I know. A tall order.

Thanks!
 

dnd4vr

Hero
I am well familiar with White Wolf (love VAMPIRE!) and with the attack/defend - damage/soak dynamic. However, I am a bit confused as you exactly what you want to accomplish? As you say, there are plenty of ways to tweak 5E to make it more like WW... so what are you looking for?
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
I dont bother with opposed rolls, I find them tedious and unnecessary.

However, I do use PAR - players always roll.

So, instead of my monster tolling vs the PC AC, my players roll a D20 + AC to avoid getting hit (taking damage, whstever) when my orc attacks them.

Similarly, when my orc would get a save (say vs the charm person or frostbite) the player rolls d20 + their spell DC against my orc's appropriate save DC.

So. The player is always the active person telling the results.

Been doing that for years. Works great. No problems.
 

Istbor

Explorer
I dont bother with opposed rolls, I find them tedious and unnecessary.

However, I do use PAR - players always roll.

So, instead of my monster tolling vs the PC AC, my players roll a D20 + AC to avoid getting hit (taking damage, whstever) when my orc attacks them.

Similarly, when my orc would get a save (say vs the charm person or frostbite) the player rolls d20 + their spell DC against my orc's appropriate save DC.

So. The player is always the active person telling the results.

Been doing that for years. Works great. No problems.
So... does anything ever hit them? In 5e there is a thing called bounded accuracy, and not a lot of monsters have huge +'s to hit as they may have in previous editions. I feel like if I tried this, there would be whole sessions where the PC would stomp over everything without taking a scratch.

There would be no sense of risk or danger. I'd have to tweak every enemy, or dumb down the amount of HP the characters get. I mean... a D20 plus a players spell DC of say 14 vs an orc's DC of 15. Even on a 1 you would meet the DC.
 

Zio_the_dark

The dark one :)
I think DC and hit are recalculated by adding or substracting 10 or 11 to the number. In your example the DC would be the ability bonus alone and not 14 the player would roll for example 1d20+4 vs 11+save bonus of the orc as a static value to overcome.
Edit: the same for AC I think he means player roll 1d20+AC bonus and not just AC ^^
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
So... does anything ever hit them? In 5e there is a thing called bounded accuracy, and not a lot of monsters have huge +'s to hit as they may have in previous editions. I feel like if I tried this, there would be whole sessions where the PC would stomp over everything without taking a scratch.

There would be no sense of risk or danger. I'd have to tweak every enemy, or dumb down the amount of HP the characters get. I mean... a D20 plus a players spell DC of say 14 vs an orc's DC of 15. Even on a 1 you would meet the DC.
Yes they are hit often.

Bounded accuracy does not get involved.
No idea where you got the orc DC of 15.

"Who rolls to see if a hit occurs" does not change the odds of a hit or miss, just who rolls. Really, it doesnt.

PAR keeps the same odds of hit and miss and crit as the usual rules do.

But, if one doesnt want to solve the equation...

An orc with a +7 to hit has a DC fir his attsck of 22+7 = 29. I write it on my orcs, when I bother, as AR =29 (attack risk).

So the PC rolls his d20+ AC vs a 29 DC. If they meet the 29 or more the attack misses. If they get less, it hits. Just like every other roll, add, check DC.

For attacks, if the player defensecroll is a 1, the attack crits.

Odds exactly the same as notmsl.

Example...

PC has AC 17.
Attacker has attack at +7 (DC 29)

PAR gives a crit 5% of the time (roll of 1)
PAR give a hit 50% of the time (roll 2-11)
PAR gives a miss 45% of the time. (Roll 12+)

That matches up exactly to the odds if I were to roll for the attacker myself.

5e gives a crit 5%of the time (I roll a 20)
5e gives a hit 50% of the time (I roll 10-19)
5e gives a miss 45% of the time (I roll 1-9)

So, nope no worries about never getting hit. Odds dont change. Just who rolls.
 
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5ekyu

Adventurer
I think DC and hit are recalculated by adding or substracting 10 or 11 to the number. In your example the DC would be the ability bonus alone and not 14 the player would roll for example 1d20+4 vs 11+save bonus of the orc as a static value to overcome.
Edit: the same for AC I think he means player roll 1d20+AC bonus and not just AC ^^
Actually I add AC straight up, but otherwise you are right.

Why use AC, why us DC instead of bonus? Becsuse AC and spell save DC are pre-calculsted by the system and shown on the sheets in big font, so by just using those it makes it easier on the players.

On my end, as GM, the math is a simple add so adding 22 instead of 12 is no change for me and leave them adding that big number in the shield so easier for them.
 
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DMMike

Game Masticator
However, I do use PAR - players always roll.

So, instead of my monster tolling vs the PC AC, my players roll a D20 + AC to avoid getting hit (taking damage, whstever) when my orc attacks them.
This. +1

I know there is the argument that "hit points do not equal injury", which takes some of the burden off of Armour Class, and this definitely works for me when I am forced to run vanilla, by-the-book d20 systems. But in using this method, I've discovered another, deeper issue that I have with Armour Class:

It's boring.

I know that's a bit of an inflammatory word, but there's really no other way to express my feelings on the matter. . .

Any other DMs/GMs out there tinkering with Active Defense for d20, or looking for ways to uncouple the "Roll to Hit and Wound" issue? Whatcha got? I'm really curious to hear.
This may sound a little crazy, so bear with me, but you could talk to the player.

:whistle:

Ask her what happens, how her character responds to the hit/miss/damage. It's WAY more interesting than, "you take 12 damage. NEXT."

This also helps with the Hit and Wound issue.
 

Istbor

Explorer
I think DC and hit are recalculated by adding or substracting 10 or 11 to the number. In your example the DC would be the ability bonus alone and not 14 the player would roll for example 1d20+4 vs 11+save bonus of the orc as a static value to overcome.
Edit: the same for AC I think he means player roll 1d20+AC bonus and not just AC ^^
Okay. Yes, the way it was explained and read, felt like you were taking the already calculated like spell DC and adding 1-20 to it verse at the time some static number, in the example the orcs spell DC? It makes more sense now, but I would still probably keep to vanilla 5e.

I like to roll too.
 

jgsugden

Adventurer
If you think combat is boring, the answer is not to add more die rolls and delays to the storytelling. It is to make the storytelling more dynamic and streamline the combat system. D&D is an RPG - a role playing game. Characters play a role in a story. The game works best when the story is told in the most dynamic way.

Delays and calculations are the opposite of dynamic. Have you ever watched a movie with friends that is constantly paused to answer a phone, get food, take bathroom breaks, etc? It ruins the flow of the story. Systems where players and game masters stop the action to calculate results, or roll multiple sequential die rolls to determine a single result suffer this same problem.

To that end, I try to avoid multiple die rolls taking place sequentially. I try to have them take place at the same time, or even pre-roll some of them so as not to take up time at the table. Saves and damage rolls happen at the same time. Initiiative for monsters is pre-rolled. High damage attacks and spells are pre-rolled by the DM. I allow players to pre-roll certain damage rolls in ways that do not allow them to know what their next result will be. These techniques have served me (and our stories) well.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
If you think combat is boring, the answer is not to add more die rolls and delays to the storytelling. It is to make the storytelling more dynamic and streamline the combat system. D&D is an RPG - a role playing game. Characters play a role in a story. The game works best when the story is told in the most dynamic way.

Delays and calculations are the opposite of dynamic. Have you ever watched a movie with friends that is constantly paused to answer a phone, get food, take bathroom breaks, etc? It ruins the flow of the story. Systems where players and game masters stop the action to calculate results, or roll multiple sequential die rolls to determine a single result suffer this same problem.

To that end, I try to avoid multiple die rolls taking place sequentially. I try to have them take place at the same time, or even pre-roll some of them so as not to take up time at the table. Saves and damage rolls happen at the same time. Initiiative for monsters is pre-rolled. High damage attacks and spells are pre-rolled by the DM. I allow players to pre-roll certain damage rolls in ways that do not allow them to know what their next result will be. These techniques have served me (and our stories) well.
Agree that the key yo interesting is not in the five but in everything else. Robust, reactive and resilient setups and scenes just let the dice serve as the spices for the scene but the most snd potatoes are the choices.

To me one of the many gains from PAR is that I am not finding time on my own rolls, always focused on the events and choices.
 

TheCosmicKid

Adventurer
Any other DMs/GMs out there tinkering with Active Defense for d20, or looking for ways to uncouple the "Roll to Hit and Wound" issue? Whatcha got? I'm really curious to hear.
Have you looked at reimplementing 3E's concept of "touch AC"? An attack roll that beats the target's touch AC but not their full AC hits them but does not wound them.
 
The most egregious for me is "Armour Class". I've been able to forgive many, many sins over five iterations of D&D rules, but I've never really reached a point where I'm at peace with the idea.
I know there is the argument that "hit points do not equal injury", which takes some of the burden off of Armour Class, and this definitely works for me when I am forced to run vanilla, by-the-book d20 systems. But in using this method, I've discovered another, deeper issue that I have with Armour Class:

It's boring.
OK, there is that. It is a simple, binary, pass/fail in which the player is a passive participant.
5e combat (particularly the "I attack" hit/damage hp ablation aspect) /is/ designed to be fast, and once you're designing a system to be fast, you've prettymuch accepted that it's not really meant to be exciting or interesting in its own right, that, rather, it's an impediment to the fun offered by other aspects of the game, that you need to minimize, so those fun aspects can emerge.

Making it fun could mean adding detail & depth and letting it take longer, or it could mean changing the stakes or even just making it less passive.

For those not familiar, combat in Storyteller works like this:
Attacking Player rolls Attack -> Defending Player rolls Dodge/Block -> Attacking Player rolls Damage -> Defending Player rolls Soak.
It seems a bit long-winded, and it frequently was.
Oh, quite familiar, thanks. ;)
It was, oddly, actually a more complex way of resolving the same things attacks & dmg/hps do - dramatic combat with a hero that has at least some 'plot armor.' (Or literal armor.)

It was workable in a dice pool system (borked as it was at the time) but, doesn't work well in d20 because contested checks are super-swingy.

But what resulted was combat which was much higher-stakes (it was completely possible to utterly destroy an opponent in one turn, or to get utterly destroyed yourself)
Which has it's downsides, too. In Storyteller, there wasn't an expectation of frequent combat, and certain character types - Celerity Vampires, high-Rage Werewolves, Time Mages - could so utterly dominate in combat that combat scenes could be pretty one-sided and not involve the whole troupe.
Conversely, in D&D, combats are expected, 6-8 per day, 13-20 per level, over 20 levels. If each of them is even a /little/ swingy, a little higher-stakes, PCs would die so consistently you couldn't finish a campaign (at least, not with the PCs that started it), even with Raise Dead on the table.

So while AC is expressed as a number, that number is just a Skill Roll with a default "Take 10" result (eg. AC25 is just just a +15 skill roll with a default 10 roll). Thus I could have the defending player roll their d20, rather than just using the default 10 result.
This unpicks the "passive defender" part of the d20 problem.
Like I said, though, gets too swingy. What you could do, though, is a players-always-roll variant. That is, when the PCs attack or casts a spells, they roll to hit or overcome the targets FORT/REF/WILL/whatever, when the PCs are attacked, they roll to save, block/parry/soak, or whatever works for the type of attack and drama of the scene.

There is still the issue of governing "hit" and "wound" on the same roll, but that's something which I'm willing to tinker with a bit more
Abstract hit points do that OK, and they do it in a predictable enough way that players can take their characters through hundreds of combats with a real chance of retiring them still alive, or at least, not having been Raised too many times. The simple idea of 4e Bloodied - when reduced to half hps you've finally taken a physical/visible wound - kept in 5e as a wound-narration side-bar, is workable enough. There's all sorts of flourishes you could add: comparing damage to total or remaining hps to determine the severity of the wound, making armor-modified CON saves to differentiate between hits and pseudo-hits, etc...
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
If you think combat is boring, the answer is not to add more die rolls and delays to the storytelling. It is to make the storytelling more dynamic and streamline the combat system.
Well, depending on what is boring the people at this table. If they hate not feeling able to "fight back" against a monster's attack, then an opposed roll might help.

But for my table, I'd go with your solution.
 

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