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General Help Me Build the D&D Game I Want to Run

Reynard

Legend
This is somewhat related to my recent "Let's Talk About Chapter 9 of the DMG" thread, and informed by a recent playtest I did of Five Torches Deep (which is an OSRification of 5e). Going back and forth and thinking about things, what I decided is that I want to create the game I want to run out of 5e using optional rules, house rules, 3rd part supplements and bits and bobs from other games.

So first, let me describe the game I want to run:

The aesthetic is relatively gritty and "realistic" in the sense that Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings or Abercrombie's worlds are: people need to eat, they get tired, wounds hurt and while fantastical elements exist and may even be prominent and powerful, they aren't common.

The play loop I want is a cycle of: wilderness exploration to the adventuring sight (moderate peril); exploration and problem solving at the adventuring site (high peril); return to the relative safety of civilization where character development and interaction with the world takes precedence (low peril). I use the term "peril" because I don't necessarily mean "deadliness" although that might be included; it is more about lasting negative consequences, from injury to disease to magic curses to losing what one cares about.

Although this main loop is episodic, it should support characters growing over time, discovering more, exploring farther and gaining competence, without necessarily significantly transforming over time (becoming superheroes).Long term stories should emerge from this sort of play and be largely informed by the interactions in civilization based on events that occurred out in the wild or in the dungeons.

Now, I know some folks are going to say "Use something besides 5E" and that is a totally fine suggestion, except that I WANT to use a modified 5E for this. I think Zweihander is likely a good fit for all the above, but I don't want to have to learn and master a whole new system and have to convince players to do the same (not to mention the monetary cost of everyone coming on board for a new game).

So, with all the above presented, what comes to mind for optional rules, house rules, bits stolen from other games, etc... to get 5E where I want it to be?

Thanks.
 

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Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I think 5e can accommodate this style no problem. Maybe lean on conditions a little more than normal. Not just exhaustion and poison (poison esp is easy to fix with magic) but maybe toss in some light curses and other light debilitating stuff that isn't HP. That gives you more than one knob to twist for level of peril.

I'd probably do some work on the exploration rules too. Out of the box they're a little uninspiring. AngryGM has some good suggestions there, and I also tend to use a plethora of neat random tables to keep things interesting.
 

not-so-newguy

Explorer
His writing style can get annoying, but The Angry GM has some good things to keep in mind for traveling and exploring.
Getting There is Half the Fun

I plan on lifting some idea from another system that combines OSR and 5e called "Into the Unknown." One rule is healing:

Short rest: a pc can expend one hit dice to recover hit pounts. With a healing kit, heal an extra hit dice. (house rule) Max: 3 Short rest a day.

Long rest: can expend any amount of available hit dice. These are rolled with advantage. Regain one spent hit dice. Max: Once per day. Pc must have at least one up to gain benefits from a rest. Going 24 hours without a long rest causes a level of exhaustion.

It's a middle ground between RAW and Gritty Realism.
 

Reynard

Legend
I was just checking the giant tome and the overland travel rules from Zweihander are both pretty solid and look easy to port (converting from d% to d20). They are granular enough to be interesting but not so fiddly that it should be a slog.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
people need to eat, they get tired, wounds hurt
Now, I know some folks are going to say "Use something besides 5E" and that is a totally fine suggestion, except that I WANT to use a modified 5E for this.
Yeah it seems like default 5e D&D is a terrible fit for this. The PCs have far too much magic. Even at level 1, goodberry means food is a non-issue. The core rules have never had much to say about tiredness or injury. A D&D PC can charge up a hill, march 20 miles, or spend an hour chopping wood and still be in perfect fighting condition. Losing hit points = flesh wounds at best (depending on your interpretation of hit points) + call for a cleric (again the problem of too much magic).
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I'd probably change Goodberry to equal a single days rations for one PC. Probably still too much, but it would get in the way of realistic concerns about food supplies as-is, for sure.
 

dnd4vr

Tactical Studies Rules - The Original Game Wizards
I like your style and the direction you are going. I think I, personally, would enjoy this game.

There is a balance between gritty realism and playability. Making rests take long slows the pace of the game, but had little other effect IMO. Making magic and healing rarer and less effective is a BIG thing.

I don't know if this would appeal to you, but off the top I would suggest:
  1. Make money scarce: I've seen too many games get ruined because of an excessive award of treasure.
  2. Make magic scarcer than money: Magic items should be unique and interesting, providing an edge but not overly powerful.
  3. Have few "adventurers": Most people should be commoners. A village "priest" should be a commoner with religion proficiency, not a 5th-level caster.
  4. Nerf healing: Make it only 1 HD per short rest, max 1/2 HD during a long rest for regaining HP. You gain 1/2 your max HD after your long rest.
  5. Nerf healing more: Cure spells heal d4s instead of d8s, and d4s become 1 point only.
  6. Make going to 0 HP HURT: You gain a level of exhaustion when you reach 0 HP.
  7. Make going to 0 HP REALLY HURT: You cannot regain HP while you have any levels of exhaustion.
  8. Double the XP needed to level. That will also slow down advancement.
  9. Better yet, use milestone leveling and just decide if an "episode" was sufficient to gain a level. You control the pacing.
  10. Make death scary: Remove Revivify.
  11. Become an accountant, and make your players become one, too: Track everything. Rations, water, spell components, grain for animals, everything!

There are more, but that should get you started. ;)
 


Reynard

Legend
I like your style and the direction you are going. I think I, personally, would enjoy this game.

There is a balance between gritty realism and playability. Making rests take long slows the pace of the game, but had little other effect IMO. Making magic and healing rarer and less effective is a BIG thing.

I don't know if this would appeal to you, but off the top I would suggest:
  1. Make money scarce: I've seen too many games get ruined because of an excessive award of treasure.
  2. Make magic scarcer than money: Magic items should be unique and interesting, providing an edge but not overly powerful.
  3. Have few "adventurers": Most people should be commoners. A village "priest" should be a commoner with religion proficiency, not a 5th-level caster.
  4. Nerf healing: Make it only 1 HD per short rest, max 1/2 HD during a long rest for regaining HP. You gain 1/2 your max HD after your long rest.
  5. Nerf healing more: Cure spells heal d4s instead of d8s, and d4s become 1 point only.
  6. Make going to 0 HP HURT: You gain a level of exhaustion when you reach 0 HP.
  7. Make going to 0 HP REALLY HURT: You cannot regain HP while you have any levels of exhaustion.
  8. Double the XP needed to level. That will also slow down advancement.
  9. Better yet, use milestone leveling and just decide if an "episode" was sufficient to gain a level. You control the pacing.
  10. Make death scary: Remove Revivify.
  11. Become an accountant, and make your players become one, too: Track everything. Rations, water, spell components, grain for animals, everything!

There are more, but that should get you started. ;)
A lot of these are woth considering. Except #9. Never #9. You get XP for what you do.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
Something that could help make injury real is detail. If you have medical training then you can use that knowledge. If not then consider reading a writer's guide such as Body Trauma (though several of the sections are not relevant to fantasy).
 

Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
The aesthetic is relatively gritty and "realistic" in the sense that Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings or Abercrombie's worlds are: people need to eat, they get tired, wounds hurt and while fantastical elements exist and may even be prominent and powerful, they aren't common.

The play loop I want is a cycle of: wilderness exploration to the adventuring sight (moderate peril); exploration and problem solving at the adventuring site (high peril); return to the relative safety of civilization where character development and interaction with the world takes precedence (low peril). I use the term "peril" because I don't necessarily mean "deadliness" although that might be included; it is more about lasting negative consequences, from injury to disease to magic curses to losing what one cares about.
Since you mentioned LotR, have you looked at Adventures in Middle Earth? It is premised on this structure. The big mechanical difference between it and standard 5E (besides races and classes) is that you can't take long rests outside of "sanctuaries" (i.e. towns). So you can journey to an adventure site, but eventually you have to return to town to recuperate.
 

Reynard

Legend
Since you mentioned LotR, have you looked at Adventures in Middle Earth? It is premised on this structure. The big mechanical difference between it and standard 5E (besides races and classes) is that you can't take long rests outside of "sanctuaries" (i.e. towns). So you can journey to an adventure site, but eventually you have to return to town to recuperate.
I like the journey rules for TOR/AiME but they lend themselves better (unsurprisingly) to long questing adventures than to out and back again tomb raiding.
 



werecorpse

Explorer
1. start with a world where travelling (adventuring) during part of the year is much more onerous and rarely done. Such as during the harsh midwinter. This is initially a time for the characters to spend in downtime, resting and healing up.

2.Give them reasons to take time away from adventuring. I have several that I use. recovering from Lingering injuries that take a few weeks to recover from (not losing an eye or hands cut off just things they can adventure with but don’t want to like injured leg: 10 to speed, frail: -2hp per level, scarred: disadvantage on Dex ability checks etc) as a stick and Peak condition benefits that they can gain by spending weeks on downtime (Agile: force an enemy to reroll an attack against you, Hardy: automatic 20 on a death save) as a carrot. I also require level training but only for odd levels and you can do the training at any time (so now they are 8th level about half have completed their training to get to 9th) giving the players control means you can make the training take a while and it probably won’t interrupt the adventure flow. For mine 9th level takes 20 days. They spread that out when they can.

3. give less xp than normal AND wandering monsters or non story monsters are only worth 1/2 that. Those things should be avoided.

4. make healing potions expensive and encourage them to use them. I started with healing costing 100gp and when you drunk from it you rolled a d4. Only on a 1 was the potion used up. (I do this for almost all potions) The effect of this is that they use more freely allowing them to keep adventuring and they burn through their cash. In my campaign due to reasons the price of healing potions recently doubled. More than once an adventurer has complained that the paltry treasure he got was less than he lost on healing potions.

5. Have some adventures be treasure finding ones but others not. The party chased off some gnolls who were harassing travellers. They get a few coins maybe a potion and a valuable (non magic) sword, they spend a few hundred gold worth of potions and they get the gratitude of the town. But they also hear about the Chimera that has lived in the caves for decades. The encounters on the way to that encounter again suck for treasure but if the Kill the Chimera they make out like bandits. (My campaign has 8 players and at 3rd level they found out where a black dragon laired, at 6th (about 2 real and game years later) they geared up and slew that dragon in its lair. They couldn’t get horses there but had 2 tensers discs and a bag of holding worth of mostly silver value loot items. Unfortunately the town they were returning to was under seige by orcs when they got near and they lost most of their loot to the orc army. They were grumpy but they did help lift the seige (the Orcs were happy with their wealth and left) so are now heroes of the town. They have since been looking for another big treasure haul and have now (about another year later) just recently discovered a path to a lost “city of treasures” while they are sceptical they are keen to try and make some cash.

6. I also don’t allow hp recovery over long rests without spending hit dice.

7. Make downtime excellent as possible. In my game the main city they spend time in had only a low level priest of Pelor so the PC has become the head of the temple in the region. She was 7th when that happened (now 8th) and she has a couple of priests in the city church who deal with things when she adventures but also a small network of churches in neighbouring towns which she visits and one town without a temple which she is trying to establish one. There are also wealthy lay worshippers who help her out in non adventuring ways.

8. Have at least one rival adventuring group, secretive about what they do, but don’t make them total dicks and Also members from retired adventuring groups scattered around. If the PC’s leave some titbit of adventure too long have a rival go do it. If the party is about to be wiped out and you want to save them have the rival group show up - and expect a reward.

9. Have them rescue a good creature that shows them there is more to the world. In my game they helped out a Sprite knight and have now learned about the battle between the Fellgloom coven of Hags and The Orchid Court of Sprites. They have been given help by the court and have wiped out one of the Fellgloom covens subject covens The Illwarden’s. This gives them enemies and friends. I admit that I tend to overdo the plot threads in my games.

10. very importantly very now and them ask your players which stuff they want to explore and what their characters want to do. I find about half are happy to just go along for the ride, the other half will want to explore your world.

11. try and aloow some downtime stuff to be done out of session. About half my players have little interest in the downtime side which is fine they enjoy a game of monster hunting, adventure stories and treasure. Dont worry about this. The other half have heaps of stuff they want to explore.

the rule change I am most happily surprised with is either 2 or 4 above (3 is a given as I wanted the game to last several years after running multiple fast levelling campaigns) probably 4. This easy access to healing at a price that seems innocuous both encourages PCs to self heal and spend their cash. This also solves the problem of what do they do with their gold. Because there is a good chance the potion is still there after they use it they are encouraged to give it a go. The players get joy out of a potion that they get to use 6 times before it fails and at one stage they confronted a vendor because they kept rolling 1’s on the first sip. If the potion is a (d6) potion it means on a 1 it gets reduced to (d4). FWIW I’m told a d4 potion should get 4 uses, a d6 10 uses etc.

much longer than I intended - oops
 

Reynard

Legend
1. start with a world where travelling (adventuring) during part of the year is much more onerous and rarely done. Such as during the harsh midwinter. This is initially a time for the characters to spend in downtime, resting and healing up.

2.Give them reasons to take time away from adventuring. I have several that I use. recovering from Lingering injuries that take a few weeks to recover from (not losing an eye or hands cut off just things they can adventure with but don’t want to like injured leg: 10 to speed, frail: -2hp per level, scarred: disadvantage on Dex ability checks etc) as a stick and Peak condition benefits that they can gain by spending weeks on downtime (Agile: force an enemy to reroll an attack against you, Hardy: automatic 20 on a death save) as a carrot. I also require level training but only for odd levels and you can do the training at any time (so now they are 8th level about half have completed their training to get to 9th) giving the players control means you can make the training take a while and it probably won’t interrupt the adventure flow. For mine 9th level takes 20 days. They spread that out when they can.

3. give less xp than normal AND wandering monsters or non story monsters are only worth 1/2 that. Those things should be avoided.

4. make healing potions expensive and encourage them to use them. I started with healing costing 100gp and when you drunk from it you rolled a d4. Only on a 1 was the potion used up. (I do this for almost all potions) The effect of this is that they use more freely allowing them to keep adventuring and they burn through their cash. In my campaign due to reasons the price of healing potions recently doubled. More than once an adventurer has complained that the paltry treasure he got was less than he lost on healing potions.

5. Have some adventures be treasure finding ones but others not. The party chased off some gnolls who were harassing travellers. They get a few coins maybe a potion and a valuable (non magic) sword, they spend a few hundred gold worth of potions and they get the gratitude of the town. But they also hear about the Chimera that has lived in the caves for decades. The encounters on the way to that encounter again suck for treasure but if the Kill the Chimera they make out like bandits. (My campaign has 8 players and at 3rd level they found out where a black dragon laired, at 6th (about 2 real and game years later) they geared up and slew that dragon in its lair. They couldn’t get horses there but had 2 tensers discs and a bag of holding worth of mostly silver value loot items. Unfortunately the town they were returning to was under seige by orcs when they got near and they lost most of their loot to the orc army. They were grumpy but they did help lift the seige (the Orcs were happy with their wealth and left) so are now heroes of the town. They have since been looking for another big treasure haul and have now (about another year later) just recently discovered a path to a lost “city of treasures” while they are sceptical they are keen to try and make some cash.

6. I also don’t allow hp recovery over long rests without spending hit dice.

7. Make downtime excellent as possible. In my game the main city they spend time in had only a low level priest of Pelor so the PC has become the head of the temple in the region. She was 7th when that happened (now 8th) and she has a couple of priests in the city church who deal with things when she adventures but also a small network of churches in neighbouring towns which she visits and one town without a temple which she is trying to establish one. There are also wealthy lay worshippers who help her out in non adventuring ways.

8. Have at least one rival adventuring group, secretive about what they do, but don’t make them total dicks and Also members from retired adventuring groups scattered around. If the PC’s leave some titbit of adventure too long have a rival go do it. If the party is about to be wiped out and you want to save them have the rival group show up - and expect a reward.

9. Have them rescue a good creature that shows them there is more to the world. In my game they helped out a Sprite knight and have now learned about the battle between the Fellgloom coven of Hags and The Orchid Court of Sprites. They have been given help by the court and have wiped out one of the Fellgloom covens subject covens The Illwarden’s. This gives them enemies and friends. I admit that I tend to overdo the plot threads in my games.

10. very importantly very now and them ask your players which stuff they want to explore and what their characters want to do. I find about half are happy to just go along for the ride, the other half will want to explore your world.

11. try and aloow some downtime stuff to be done out of session. About half my players have little interest in the downtime side which is fine they enjoy a game of monster hunting, adventure stories and treasure. Dont worry about this. The other half have heaps of stuff they want to explore.

the rule change I am most happily surprised with is either 2 or 4 above (3 is a given as I wanted the game to last several years after running multiple fast levelling campaigns) probably 4. This easy access to healing at a price that seems innocuous both encourages PCs to self heal and spend their cash. This also solves the problem of what do they do with their gold. Because there is a good chance the potion is still there after they use it they are encouraged to give it a go. The players get joy out of a potion that they get to use 6 times before it fails and at one stage they confronted a vendor because they kept rolling 1’s on the first sip. If the potion is a (d6) potion it means on a 1 it gets reduced to (d4). FWIW I’m told a d4 potion should get 4 uses, a d6 10 uses etc.

much longer than I intended - oops
Thanks. A lot of that is good advice but there's also some suggestions that don't seem oriented to some of my desired outcomes. That's okay. I think there's a lot others might take from it. But I don't guess you are quite running the game I am looking to build.
 

aco175

Hero
I would just say that you should check with the players to get them on board. If they are expecting one thing and you nerf everything they are expecting, then the game will suck to them, even if it is great to you.
 

werecorpse

Explorer
Thanks. A lot of that is good advice but there's also some suggestions that don't seem oriented to some of my desired outcomes. That's okay. I think there's a lot others might take from it. But I don't guess you are quite running the game I am looking to build.
Fair enough, no two games are the same.
 

lichhouse

Dreamer
Will the game be human-centric or is it “anything goes” with 5E’s myriad races? XP for gold and exploration or 5E’s default fight fight fight? (Then I’ll have more suggestion).
 

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