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D&D 5E Free 60+ page Guide to Sword & Sorcery for 5E D&D

xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
Another thought for rolling a deadly critical as Xoth has proposed. You could allow the proficiency bonus to be used on the second critical attempt to increase the critical range.
So a level 1 character with a proficiency bonus of +2 would have a deadly critical range of 18-20 instead of 20.

The hard work of the initial critical has already been done in the attack, so perhaps it’s only fair that the second critical attempt has this modified chance?

Then again there’s always the other methods I suggested where the DC is more easily modified to hit the sweet spot
  • The Con save against 10 or half damage whichever is higher, or just make it challenging DC15
  • Str/Dex roll to beat the targets constitution score.
  • Or go the other way and really mix up the odds by making it an opposed roll of attackers Str or Dex vs the targets Dex or Constitution.

I think the original idea is fine as it is (roll two crits, target goes to zero hp).

As you have pointed out, there are already several options that can increase the crit range:
  • The Fighter/Champion's Improved Critical
  • The Rogue/Assassin's auto-crit against surprised targets
  • The Conqueror's Battle Cry that turns all hits into crits
Also note that even though, on average, it only happens once every 400 rolls, it could still happen "any time" in actual play.
 

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I think the original idea is fine as it is (roll two crits, target goes to zero hp).

As you have pointed out, there are already several options that can increase the crit range:
  • The Fighter/Champion's Improved Critical
  • The Rogue/Assassin's auto-crit against surprised targets
  • The Conqueror's Battle Cry that turns all hits into crits
Also note that even though, on average, it only happens once every 400 rolls, it could still happen "any time" in actual play.
Yes agreed. It’s that possibility that helps change the atmosphere of the game. By in large the standard DnD attritional battle remains, but there is that risk. For me that’s the right balance.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
It's almost as if my arguments are invisible...?

As a designer, the solution needs to actually solve the problem, and be appropriate for the genre.

Is your problem that fights don't feel very dangerous when heroes have lots of hit points? Reduce the maximum number of hit points or increase monster damage. As long as heroes have access to sufficient healing, and the hp pool remains enough for any given fight, this increases excitement more than deadliness.

Do you want there to be a small risk of combatants dropping dead randomly? Why? That's a simulationist idea, and we're discussing S&S here. If you just want it to happen to mooks, fine, but really the fact they die at 0 hp ensures you'll see sudden death often enough. After all the heroes don't know the hp totals of opponents - it'll be a "surprise" to them which blow that chops their head off and which blows are just dodged. And if you want it to happen to heroes too, don't. You can't sustain a campaign that way. If a hero faces a hundred enemies during his "career" and they each manage to make four attacks on average (hits and misses), an 0.25% instant death risk suddenly transforms into a very likely chance that character will die randomly, regardless of what the player does. And if you then add a way to mitigate that rule, such as being able to spend a point of some kind to negate it, we really are deep in why bother territory.

Just making the case for S&S not being the genre you want to complexify. (For instance, I checked out the Modiphius 2d20 Conan game, and I really don't like all the clutter, and would say Xoth being based on 5E is a much sleeker platform to use for my S&S needs! :)) I don't see the Xoth setting being particularly suited for any rule that mostly just adds extra procedures and rolls with no real impact. More critically, I suggest to only include variant rules that 1) really have an impact, and 2) really adds to the S&S flavor. Anything else, and you just bloat your document.

If anything, I'd instead focus my design energy on adding feats to the game that gives extra damage to other fighting styles to better match GWM and SS (assuming we agree those feats are borderline overpowered*). More damage in general fixes the problem and maintains 5E's simplicity. More damage to those fighting styles that doesn't get it in the PHB improves balance. Maybe even take the opportunity to offer variant GWM/SS feats that doesn't rely on the player being able to do the probabilities (if you use the -5/+10 mechanism against high-AC targets the feat is actually a severe trap!) - a more straightforward "always-on" damage boost means the player doesn't have to be smarter than her character... ;)

*) you could argue that while having a powerful ranged feat (SS) isn't especially appropriate for S&S, having a powerful greatweapon feat (GWM) actually is. Being able to kill people from a distance with a bow isn't the manly brawling expected of Conanesque heroes, but wielding weapons so large only muscular men can lift them certainly is. So even if we do agree GWM is too good, maybe the feat is suited to S&S anyway...?

Cheers
 

xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
Do you want there to be a small risk of combatants dropping dead randomly? Why? That's a simulationist idea, and we're discussing S&S here.

To "simulate" the fact that even Conan can't wade into battle with a ton of mooks without there being a small chance he might get killed. Now, thankfully the bounded accuracy of 5E already mostly fixes this, so this suggested rule is just some icing on the cake.

And if you want it to happen to heroes too, don't. You can't sustain a campaign that way.

The "heroes" (if you can call most S&S protagonists, or even regular D&D murderhoboes, that...) do not "drop dead", they drop to zero hit points, and there are a number of ways they can recover from that.

You need to make up your mind: First you say "don't bother, it never happens, one roll in 400", and then you say "this is not sustainable, you're going to kill everybody... in the long run...". I think you are overstating the lethality of this... remember it's not an insta-kill, it's zero hit points.

Just making the case for S&S not being the genre you want to complexify.

I agree. This is a simple (optional) rule.

If anything, I'd instead focus my design energy on adding feats to the game that gives extra damage to other fighting styles to better match GWM and SS (assuming we agree those feats are borderline overpowered*).

Consensus is that GWM and SS are overpowered. In my house rules I've simply banned these instead of trying to make up similarly overpowered feats to match.
 

S'mon

Legend
To "simulate" the fact that even Conan can't wade into battle with a ton of mooks without there being a small chance he might get killed.
That doesn't sound right to me. Conan worries (eg at the start of Queen of the Black Coast, facing the corsairs) that he will be ground down and eventually overwhelmed - in rule terms, he worries about running out of hit points. Not a random mook ganking him.

As Zapp has said, random unpredictable death of protagonists is very un-S&S. It's suited to gritty low fantasy like early season Game of Thrones, or WHFRP. For some reason these genres get conflated, but read the source material and they're very different indeed.

I think there is a very simple solution to the hp issue - opponents should be badass and do tons of damage. Importantly, this is the best kind of rules change, one that is not player facing. I can't emphasise enough the value of keeping the interface the same for players while changing what's under the hood/GM-facing.
 

S'mon

Legend
Consensus is that GWM and SS are overpowered. In my house rules I've simply banned these instead of trying to make up similarly overpowered feats to match.

My first 5e campaign & my current 5e campaign both don't/didn't use Feats, or Multiclassing. The game seems to work best that way - it certainly runs faster and smoother.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
I agree. This is a simple (optional) rule.
I must reiterate you appear to underestimate the signal you're sending. By including a variant rule in your document you're sending the signal "this variant comes so highly recommended I bothered to include it in my document."

But it doesn't appear that is your intent. I would argue the best thing is to not to mark any of your rules as optional. Either you stand by it - "this rule is essential for my product" - in which case it should be presented as non-negotiable to your setting, or you don't and you simply leave it out, trusting DMs to find whatever generic rules options they like elsewhere. (y)

Sure there is a market for optional D&D rules variants, but this isn't that kind of product, in my humble opinion. I suggest maintaining a laser focus on what is essential to the Xoth experience :)
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
My first 5e campaign & my current 5e campaign both don't/didn't use Feats, or Multiclassing. The game seems to work best that way - it certainly runs faster and smoother.
I think the best approach for Xoth is to not enter that debate, and not hint at any preferences. I'd simply assume some customers will use feats and some won't. The question "to use feats or not to use feats" is not really crucial to experiencing the world of Xoth when push comes to shove.
 

Is your problem that fights don't feel very dangerous when heroes have lots of hit points? Reduce the maximum number of hit points or increase monster damage.

Pretty sure this is a no go as already stated by Xoth. 5e players looking for a 5e game expect some certainties in their 5e games. Some aspects are crucial to the perception of playing 5e, I think Hp progression is one of them, even if many agree that it’s an abstraction that can get in the way of certain story telling narratives.

Many previous additions of D&D going back to AD&D were aware of the limitation of the HP abstraction, and how it could take the drama out of certain scenarios .Look at the AD&D assassins ability - that is actually intended to be applicable to all classes in conditional circumstances, such as attacking a sleeping target.

Doing big damage is the other method, but again that changes the traditional expectations of 5e players too much IMO, and the design of some classes extra damage would be lost in the multiplication.

What’s required is something that can slot into the existing 5e framework, without having to alter the rest of the game. Which is what’s been arrived at. Standard 5e models high heroic fantasy, it’s not designed to model S&S which has a darker bloodier edge to it.
I think we are still very far away from the more simulationist approach of RuneQuest, or the very grim and gritty wfrp. This is clearly still DnD in its cinematic style, it’s far from Rq and wfrp.
I must reiterate you appear to underestimate the signal you're sending. By including a variant rule in your document you're sending the signal "this variant comes so highly recommended I bothered to include it in my document."

But it doesn't appear that is your intent. I would argue the best thing is to not include any optional rules in a document like yours. Either you stand by it "this rule is essential for my product" in which case it should be presented as core to your setting, or you don't and you simply leave it out.

Sure there is a market for optional D&D rules variants, but this isn't that kind of product, in my humble opinion. I suggest a laser focus on what is essential to the Xoth experience :)

Well there are different opinions and how to create that S&S atmosphere.

If you want a high heroic game where there is little danger after 6th level then use 5e as is, that’s its standard intended mode.

If you wish to alter that expectation slightly and add in some more S&S thrill, danger, and excitement, then I think Xoths suggestion does that elegantly without redesigning 5e. The death saves are already a safety net for player characters in 5e. Changing damage expectations, or hp progression is going to be too big a structural change for the majority of 5e players. Take a look at other 5e designers - AIME, Trudvang, symbaroum, Beowulf. The changes they make are slight but impactful, the basis of 5e remains the same. 5 torches deep is an example of a game where the structure of 5e has been overhauled, low hitpoints more in line with b/x, but it becomes a different game, it’s no longer 5e.

Besides it’s already been pointed out as being an optional rule. Really can’t see the problem here. Optional means optional does it not? That’s the the benefit of working off of a strong but malleable 5e frame work. DMG is full of such suggestions, but they are all optional.
 

xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
That doesn't sound right to me. Conan worries (eg at the start of Queen of the Black Coast, facing the corsairs) that he will be ground down and eventually overwhelmed - in rule terms, he worries about running out of hit points. Not a random mook ganking him.
Fair enough, but these stories (and the Conan comics by Marvel, etc) are full of examples of the protagonist getting hit in the head by a sneaky thief or lucky guard, and then captured. You could say "he ran out of hit points", and yeah, he did, but it was due to a rare/double crit, and not slow hit point attrition.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Fair enough, but these stories (and the Conan comics by Marvel, etc) are full of examples of the protagonist getting hit in the head by a sneaky thief or lucky guard, and then captured. You could say "he ran out of hit points", and yeah, he did, but it was due to a rare/double crit, and not slow hit point attrition.
That sounds like a narrative decision and not something you'd want to leave up to chance.

If those thieves are instead monstrous spiders or deranged cannibals, you don't want the system to randomly tell you the hero's been knocked unconscious.

In fact I would argue no rpg offers great support for the "losing a fight doesn't end the story" trope, and that there's nothing in particular that suggests S&S games need to provide better support than other games.

Does Conan occasionally get captured? Yes, but so does heroes of all genres. In fiction, where the author decides the outcome of all rolls.

Is "getting captured" essential to the S&S genre, is the real question here. Only include instant death if you really believe it is, and then you should (again with respect) make it a non-optional core aspect of your game.

Cheers!
 
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xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
I would argue the best thing is to not to mark any of your rules as optional. Either you stand by it - "this rule is essential for my product" - in which case it should be presented as non-negotiable to your setting, or you don't and you simply leave it out, trusting DMs to find whatever generic rules options they like elsewhere. (y)
All RPG publications contain rules that are (in practice) guidelines and suggestions, it's been that way since 1974. Every GM I've ever known or heard about has his own house rules and adjustments. You don't like something, you don't use it.

I think it's perfectly fine to include one or more optional rules and say "this is not essential, but you might want to consider it". I consider that more useful than to be dogmatic and say "go look elsewhere for suggestions".
 

xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
That sounds like a narrative decision and not something you'd want to leave up to chance.

If those thieves are instead monstrous spiders or deranged cannibals, you don't want the system to randomly tell you the hero's been knocked unconscious.
But I'm not "narrating a story", I'm refereeing a game. As the GM, I'd like to be surprised, too. Of course I want the system to randomly tell me what happens. There's a big difference between a book/movie and a game (even if the game is based on a certain type of books). Without randomness and surprise, why bother?
 

But I'm not "narrating a story", I'm refereeing a game. As the GM, I'd like to be surprised, too. Of course I want the system to randomly tell me what happens. There's a big difference between a book/movie and a game (even if the game is based on a certain type of books). Without randomness and surprise, why bother?
Exactly I agree 100%. That’s why for me it’s a game. There’s a chance you may not win.
I need that bit of a danger edge in my S&S games, it feeds my imagination and puts me in the right frame of mind, changing gears slightly from standard clean high heroics of 5e. I need my games to remain thrilling at all levels. If the threat is dampened, then the drama of the moment fizzles away. Optional is optional. Can’t see a problem. If you wish to create a bit more drama and thrill in your S&S, pop it in, if it doesn’t suite keep it out. That’s a thoughtful design statement.
 
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S'mon

Legend
Fair enough, but these stories (and the Conan comics by Marvel, etc) are full of examples of the protagonist getting hit in the head by a sneaky thief or lucky guard, and then captured. You could say "he ran out of hit points", and yeah, he did, but it was due to a rare/double crit, and not slow hit point attrition.
Oh that - that story trope really needs to be outside the combat mechanic.

What I did when I ran OGL Conan was to have such things be completely arbitrary/fiated, since they occur to 'move the story along', not part of world-sim. Whenever it happened I called it "Screwed over by Fate", and the PCs got a Fate Point in compensation, which (a) kept the players happy (b) reinforced likelihood of a genre-appropriate Heroic Comeback.
 

S'mon

Legend
That sounds like a narrative decision and not something you'd want to leave up to chance.

If those thieves are instead monstrous spiders or deranged cannibals, you don't want the system to randomly tell you the hero's been knocked unconscious.

Yes - the important point here is that a random-insta-kill rule will create the exact opposite feel to S&S fiction, where the hero only gets KO'd when the result is not instant death but increased dramatic opportunity. For S&S it's a terrible simulation rule. It could work for a GoT type setting where you never know if you're Arya Stark or Ed Stark.
 

S'mon

Legend
Exactly. That’s why for me it’s a game. There’s a chance you may not win.
I need that bit of a danger edge in my S&S games, it feeds my imagination and puts me in the right frame of mind, changing gears slightly from standard clean high heroics of 5e. I need my games to remain thrilling at all levels. If the threat is dampened, then the drama of the moment fizzles away. Optional is optional. Can’t see a problem. If you wish to create a bit more drama and thrill in your S&S, pop it in, if it doesn’t suite keep it out. That’s a thoughtful design statement.

IME the best approach to giving 5e an S&S tone is to ramp up the danger with wildly unbalanced encounters and more hard-hitting opposition. 5e Primeval Thule gets it right - where a MM Manticore is Challenge 3, a Thule Manticore is Challenge 9! Or the Challenge 11 Behir in a level 3 adventure... which my group survived unscathed by locking themselves behind a stone door while it ate the badass Gladiator NPC & her cohorts who they'd been adventuring alongside (while planning to betray for the reward money). Their one regret was there was nothing left of her when the Behir was done, so they lost out on her bounty. :D
 

Oh that - that story trope really needs to be outside the combat mechanic.

What I did when I ran OGL Conan was to have such things be completely arbitrary/fiated, since they occur to 'move the story along', not part of world-sim. Whenever it happened I called it "Screwed over by Fate", and the PCs got a Fate Point in compensation, which (a) kept the players happy (b) reinforced likelihood of a genre-appropriate Heroic Comeback.
That’s cool as well. But no harm in giving an optional tool for gamers who have differing aims in their S&S games. Sometimes people want to game it, sometimes you want that element of unpredictability. An assassins knife to the throat isn’t much of a threat if you know the target has the hp’s to walk away from the attack. Yes you can narrate that, but some prefer the gameist approach, and the drama that that can create in a stand off. That’s why I play these games it’s creates dilemmas, and risk through the mechanics.
 

IME the best approach to giving 5e an S&S tone is to ramp up the danger with wildly unbalanced encounters and more hard-hitting opposition. 5e Primeval Thule gets it right - where a MM Manticore is Challenge 3, a Thule Manticore is Challenge 9! Or the Challenge 11 Behir in a level 3 adventure... which my group survived unscathed by locking themselves behind a stone door while it ate the badass Gladiator NPC & her cohorts who they'd been adventuring alongside (while planning to betray for the reward money). Their one regret was there was nothing left of her when the Behir was done, so they lost out on her bounty. :D
Yes I like that too, I agree it’s very easy to boost monsters like that, but for me there’s certainly room for Xoths optional rule as well. It still has a function and a place for a certain approach. Don’t use it if you don’t want to, but I for one am thankful to have that suggestion as an optional rule. At the table it’s your game, no one looses.
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