D&D 5E Good-Bye, Ability Modifiers... Hello, Ability *TRAITS*!?! (+)

DND_Reborn

Legend
My newest change to the D&D (5E) design is to remove ability modifiers. Instead, for each "+1" bonus a creature would have had they now gain an ability merit and for each "-1" an ability flaw, which are traits of that ability.

The thought process is two-fold:

1. Have more meaningful "traits' to impact the game instead of a simple numerical modifier.
2. A way to differentiate in a more significant fashion between two creatures with the same ability score.

For example, Dexterity merits might include:

Sharp-Eyed: You gain advantage on Perception checks involving sight.
Sure-Footed: Moving through difficult terrain does not cost you extra speed.
Lighting Reflexes: You can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on an attack made against you. You must be aware of the attack to use this feature.

While some Dexterity flaws might be:

Weak-Eyed: You have disadvantage on Perception checks involving sight.
Stumbler: When you take the Dash action, you must make a DC 10 Acrobatics check or you do not gain additional speed.
Slow-Acting: You have disadvantage on your Initiative check.

While most merits would have a corresponding flaw, it is not essential of course.

So, before a creature with Dexterity 8 is essentially the same as another creature with Dexterity 8. Now, both creatures would have a flaw (which certainly could be the same...), but one might have poor vision while the other is clumsy. These ability traits would have different impact on the game and be more meaningful that a simple -1 modifier (in theory, anyway).

Finally, there would be no more ability checks. You might have noticed I omitted Wisdom from Perception checks, for example. The idea is simply that unless a creature has a merit or flaw related to what it is doing, it is just as capable or incapable as any other creature. There is a lot of game design philosophy behind all this, but I will spare you further details. :)

A feature (not a bug) is that it also makes modifiers (gained primarily through proficiency bonus) to rolls smaller since you are not adding ability modifiers any more. I would also like to add a few more thoughts:

1. Many merits and flaws could be taken more than once, depending on how this is all designed.
2. I am thinking for 3 levels for each merit/flaw, so that the system can be geared to the play-style of the group: Heroic (realistic), Hercules/Xena (sort-of plausible, but beyond real-life limits), and Super-heroic (yep, this would be the big stuff). Optionally, you could use all three levels in your game in a fashion similar to the tiers in 5E (heroic levels 1-10, Herc/Xena levels 11-16, Superhero levels 17-20 or so).
3. Instead of races having floating or set ASIs, each race would get to choose a merit (for a specific ability--like Goliaths with Strength) or from any (if you want the "floating" equivalent).
4. IF you want to keep higher total modifiers, this is a prime time to increase the impact of proficiency bonus.
5. During PC creation, you would begin with 5 merits, limited to 3 merits for any single ability. You can elect to take a flaw an ability to gain a merit elsewhere. An option might also be to take a flaw in an ability to gain a merit as well. These would allow you to have 4 merits as a cap instead of 3. Instead of ASIs when you level, you gain a new merit, etc. There could also be a method for generating a random number of merits, or you could roll ability scores and replace the modifiers with merits/flaws.

For example, you want to play a Rogue and select DEX 3 merits, CON 1 merit, and INT 1 merit. You also select WIS 1 flaw to gain CHA 1 merit. In current 5E terms your ability scores would be STR 10, DEX 16, CON 12, INT 12, WIS 8, CHA 12, essentially.

If you used the standard array (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8) you would have 2 merits, 2 merits, 1 merit, 1 merit, 1 flaw based on the +2, +2, +1, +1, -1 5E modifiers.

Anyway, I am taking my sweet time raiding the coffers (as it were) of other game systems looking for inspiration as well as scrounging through 5E's materials. I am sure it will take months before I have anything concrete to offer, but I think people should get the gist of the idea well enough.

Personally, I think it would lead to a greater variety of ideas like "How is my PC strong?" "What makes my PC clever?" Few individuals truly excel in many ways, and this idea would let you choose how your PC excels in an ability which is above the norm.

I know people might have a lot of questions or suggestions or concerns, so please voice them and I will try to answer when I can. I just started a new job, so I don't know how quickly I will be able to reply and appreciate your patience. Thanks for your interest!
 

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DND_Reborn

Legend
An interesting idea and very flavorful, but a bit to complex for me. Ideally if I was doing something like this I would have both the mechanical bonus and the merit/flaw. But, like I said, to complex for me
Considering most creatures would have (at most) maybe a dozen ability traits, which impact how they do certain things in the game, I am hoping the implementation isn't too complex. But once I have time to really develop it, the question should answer itself in due time. :)

As I mentioned in the OP, the removal of the mechanical bonus has the side effect of making some things harder (like hitting in combat since a lot of creatures use armor or natural armor), and other things easier (like making saving throws since DCs should be lower).

Anyway, I doubt there will be much interest but when I have the time I want to explore the concept for the flavor I am hoping it will bring to the game. We'll see. :)
 


DND_Reborn

Legend
One practical hurdle that I see is that one would have to re-scale the monters' values for attacks, damage rolls, skill checks, saves and saves DC or are you planning to only change abilities for characters?
It would be across the board. For creatures, I figured I could do 12-20 for playtest purposes, and then others would be adapted as needed in the game. Changing the values in the stat blocks would not be a big issue for me, personally, and deciding what ability traits to give creatures could be a lot of fun! In fact, you could change them out from creature to creature so players would not always get the same thing to encounter.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
While an interesting idea, I think that there would be some problems:

Characters would be mechanically boring and very swingy, since everything would be a d20 + PB, the end, meaning that pretty much everyone would have the same chances as everyone else (assuming proficiency). You could bring in something like the expertise dice as per Level Up to help this, but that would involve some substantial rewriting of the books to include these dice in the races and classes as well. In fact, you might have to bring in expertise dice, because otherwise you'd get one benefit--advantage--and nothing else.

This could lead to extreme specialization, as people would pick their bonuses to support a specific build. That may not be a bad thing in and of itself, but it could lead to characters being useless in a lot of situations.

Unless you're very careful in how you phrase things, the benefits and flaws could be min/maxed to cancel each other out. This would become particularly obvious when new benefits and flaws are developed (homebrew, supplements, whatever) and fail to take the earlier ones into consideration.
 

dave2008

Legend
Considering most creatures would have (at most) maybe a dozen ability traits, which impact how they do certain things in the game, I am hoping the implementation isn't too complex. But once I have time to really develop it, the question should answer itself in due time. :)

As I mentioned in the OP, the removal of the mechanical bonus has the side effect of making some things harder (like hitting in combat since a lot of creatures use armor or natural armor), and other things easier (like making saving throws since DCs should be lower).

Anyway, I doubt there will be much interest but when I have the time I want to explore the concept for the flavor I am hoping it will bring to the game. We'll see. :)
I think it has a lot of flavor and there is definitely a certain logic to it. Just to many parts for me. Along the same lines (to many parts) I have an idea I've been bouncing around in my head that you might be interested in.

My group updated our HP (vitality) / BHP (wounds) rules a while ago by revising the DMG lingering injuries table to be two tables (minor and major injuries). Now every time you take BHP damage you roll on the minor wound table (if you roll a 1 on this table you roll on the major wounds table). OK, that is the background info.

I recently posted that table in another thread and realized one of the lingering injuries was essentially the old "Dazed" condition from 4e (may have been in 3e too). That got me thinking, why not have most, or all, physically imposed conditions be either on the injuries table or a least triggered when you take a real hit / wound. In our case, that is primarily on a critical. Then, I took it a bit farther and thought, what if critical hits where like PF2 (+10 over to hit value)? Then the game really starts to simulate a combat. The lower to hit number is just a value that threatens really and only takes some vitality/stamina, but the higher number is a real hit. Conditions and injuries are inflicted on these real hits. Either by definition in the attack or by roll on the table.
 
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DND_Reborn

Legend
While an interesting idea, I think that there would be some problems:

Characters would be mechanically boring and very swingy, since everything would be a d20 + PB, the end, meaning that pretty much everyone would have the same chances as everyone else (assuming proficiency). You could bring in something like the expertise dice as per Level Up to help this, but that would involve some substantial rewriting of the books to include these dice in the races and classes as well. In fact, you might have to bring in expertise dice, because otherwise you'd get one benefit--advantage--and nothing else.

This could lead to extreme specialization, as people would pick their bonuses to support a specific build. That may not be a bad thing in and of itself, but it could lead to characters being useless in a lot of situations.

Unless you're very careful in how you phrase things, the benefits and flaws could be min/maxed to cancel each other out. This would become particularly obvious when new benefits and flaws are developed (homebrew, supplements, whatever) and fail to take the earlier ones into consideration.
My intention (for one) is to expand proficiency bonus a bit, and we might deviate from the beloved (by others LOL) universal d20 mechanic.

It will be a LONG and SLOW process, and I might end up abandoning it in the end, but I think it has some merits (no pun intended LOL!).
 

dave2008

Legend
My intention (for one) is to expand proficiency bonus a bit, and we might deviate from the beloved (by others LOL) universal d20 mechanic.

It will be a LONG and SLOW process, and I might end up abandoning it in the end, but I think it has some merits (no pun intended LOL!).
It sounds like you are doing that time honored tradition of recreating / creating your own D&D. I did that back in 1e (got to about 30 pages of "houserules"), but now we try to keep it more modest.

However, I did get the itch to create my "ultimate" D&D every once and awhile.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
It sounds like you are doing that time honored tradition of recreating / creating your own D&D. I did that back in 1e (got to about 30 pages of "houserules"), but now we try to keep it more modest.

However, I did get the itch to create my "ultimate" D&D every once and awhile.
I always find this interesting, since I seem to be alone IME:

I only had a handful of pages of house-rules for AD&D, but have about 60 or so for 5E... but it seems like everyone else is the other way around. 🤷‍♂️
 



dave2008

Legend
I always find this interesting, since I seem to be alone IME:

I only had a handful of pages of house-rules for AD&D, but have about 60 or so for 5E... but it seems like everyone else is the other way around. 🤷‍♂️
I don't know how you did it in AD&D, but I know you have mentioned this before.

For 5e we had less than a page of house-rules until we modified the lingering injuries table. That added about a half page alone.

IIRC, you have a lot of 5e house-rules about things we really don't care about, so they would never show up in a game we play. We don't need crafting rules, stronghold rules, retainer/follower rules, XP rules, economy rules, travel rules, etc., etc. Give me combat, health, resting, and that is about it!
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
IIRC, you have a lot of 5e house-rules about things we really don't care about, so they would never show up in a game we play. We don't need crafting rules, stronghold rules, retainer/follower rules, XP rules, economy rules, travel rules, etc., etc. Give me combat, health, resting, and that is about it!
Actually, a lot of our house rules revolve around character creation/ classes, combat and ability checks, and spells.

The stuff I was considering trying to develop a long time back (before A5E was started) did include crafting rules, etc. as you listed--but nothing we use now includes any of those things.

Frankly, the 60 pages we have is the hacked down version from 150 pages we had about 6 months ago. ;)
 

dave2008

Legend
Actually, a lot of our house rules revolve around character creation/ classes, combat and ability checks, and spells.

The stuff I was considering trying to develop a long time back (before A5E was started) did include crafting rules, etc. as you listed--but nothing we use now includes any of those things.

Frankly, the 60 pages we have is the hacked down version from 150 pages we had about 6 months ago. ;)
Classes can fill up a bunch of space, we don't see a reason to touch those either; or character creation, or ability checks, or spells. They all work well for us.

The only thing that needs very mild tweaking for us is combat, which is really about health and resting more than combat itself.

EDIT: We did make a custom Ranger early on in 5e, but we replaced it with the Rogue Scout when that came out. Our Ranger at least tripled our rules page count IIRC. So, I know custom classes can add a lot of bloat.
 

Horwath

Hero
This is very interesting idea.

I also like the idea to move away from d20 as default. IMHO biggest problem of any d20 system is the d20.

So, to somewhat keep the math, we need to get prof bonus wherever ability modifier would be:

1. Every ability check, saving throw and attack roll starts with proficiency bonus added.

2. If you are proficient you add 2×bonus

3. If you have expertise you add 3×bonus

4. You add your proficiency bonus to weapon damage rolls

5. If you are proficient with light armor your AC is 10+prof bonus + armor bonus

6. Use 3d6 as default die roll:
crit of 20(5%) becomes 16-18(4,63%)
crit of 19-20(10%) becomes 15-18(9,26%)
crit of 18-20(15%) becomes 14-18(16,20%)
 


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