D&D 5E Making Combat Mean Something [+]

Exhaustion utterly wrecks Martials. It cripples them. Casters frankly dont give much of a damn about it (they can just switch to spells that ignore attack rolls, and they rarely need to make skill checks, and when they do, they have a spell that can do it for them). It's an inconvenience to them, nothing more.
Yup. This thread illustrates well the fundamental issue here, that martial or martial-adjacent characters get absolutely wrecked by systems that don't wreck casters (indeed barely inconvenience them). It's not even arguable, either - it's just simple fact. Back in earlier editions there used to weird stuff like anti-magic zones which wrecked casters but didn't impact martials, but that sort of thing is all long gone - and in this case anti-magic zones would also mess with martials because it will mean combat healing is out, thus they're even more likely to go down.
 

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TheSword

Legend
So the two major issues I see here are that D&D 5E doesn't balance damage and particularly doesn't balance people getting "downed" across the party.

Dropping to 0 HP wildly disproportionately happens to the frontliners, who are typically 25-50% of the party. They account for easily 80% of "dropped to 0 HP" incidents.

It also puts a massive burden on the healers - healing in combat in D&D 5E is usually a weak strategy - obviously it'll be a better one here. But that means any casters who can heal, are likely to be pumping many of their spell slots into the frontliners.

Being an Arcane caster will still be the best experience here. You won't have to blow spell slots on healing, and you're extremely unlikely to be downed - you might use more on defense than usual, but still not many.

These are the issues with a lot of attempts to "make combat matter", because what they actually amount to is "make combat punishing for frontliners and repetitive for healers, whilst leaving it the same for other full casters". This is certainly nothing new - 2E could often head this way, for example.
Why is it better to be a caster and spend slots doing minor healing, rather than being another martial and reducing the damage taken by everyone else by taking some yourself?

One of the things I do like about 5e is that every character can have a bit of magic and every character can do ok in combat. Again I don’t really want to make this a martial caster debate.

The frontliners are whoever are in combat at the time. If the fighter falls, then someone else is gonna be the frontliner. I don’t believe the traditional 10’ corridor with two up front and two in the rear will apply here.
 

TheSword

Legend
Yup. This thread illustrates well the fundamental issue here, that martial or martial-adjacent characters get absolutely wrecked by systems that don't wreck casters (indeed barely inconvenience them). It's not even arguable, either - it's just simple fact. Back in earlier editions there used to weird stuff like anti-magic zones which wrecked casters but didn't impact martials, but that sort of thing is all long gone - and in this case anti-magic zones would also mess with martials because it will mean combat healing is out, thus they're even more likely to go down.
Again you’re misunderstanding the point of the thread. This is for a specific campaign - not changing the rules of D&D for all time.

Though I disagree that exhaustion - particularly One D&D rules doesn’t affect casters. It reduces spell DC by one per level of exhaustion.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
I’d like the risk of death to affect behavior.

One of the fundamental problems with 5e as written when it comes to goals is that combat is usually the most efficient method to get what you want. Want that Magic item - kill the person who has it. Want to find the information the person holds - beat them to 0hp and tie them up. Let’s have some other choices.

Then give the PCs other choices. Just making Combat harder isn't going to do that. You have to:

1. Make sure the PCs have ways to accomplish their goals that don't involve combat; AND

2. Make sure the PCs are aware that such methods exist, actually work and are also fun.

Simply making combat harder won't accomplish this. You have to take extra steps, especially at first, showing that other means work and work better/easier.

I get that it being hard to die is good for new players - particularly those raised on story mode computer games and save points. I just don’t think it’s necessary or a good idea for experienced players. Anyway, we’re again drifting into the ‘should combat be dangerous’ discussion.

Combat should be dangerous if that leads to more overall fun for the campaign. But simply making combat dangerous won't, IMO, do that. You must provide the PCs with alternatives that they will like and have fun doing.
 

Why is it better to be a caster and spend slots doing minor healing, rather than being another martial and reducing the damage taken by everyone else by taking some yourself?
That's fine but that's not the issue I described.

The issue is that the frontliners in D&D 5E go down about 5x as often as any other PCs. That means the frontliners will be the ones subject to the system you're proposing.

On top of that healers (only) will have to spend spell slots - and it won't be minor healing - the day will be over if they let a frontliner get downed.

Whereas casters who can't heal? They'll just get to play exactly as normal, or very close to it.
Again I don’t really want to make this a martial caster debate.
Sure but the practical reality is you're proposing a system that will essentially destroy the ability of martial characters to continue after they've been downed even once, on average, but will not do the same to casters. You proposed 1d6 level of Exhaustion for being downed once - that means there's a 66% chance they'll be made completely useless if they get downed once (5E exhaustion rules).
The frontliners are whoever are in combat at the time. If the fighter falls, then someone else is gonna be the frontliner. I don’t believe the traditional 10’ corridor with two up front and two in the rear will apply here.
Sure, but if your have two downed frontliners, you're inches away from a TPK in any version of 5E. The reality remains that unless you're proposing other rules changes, the real frontliners, the day-to-day ones, will be downed about 5x as often as others.
Though I disagree that exhaustion - particularly One D&D rules doesn’t affect casters. It reduces spell DC by one per level of exhaustion.
Are you planning on using 1D&D or 5E exhaustion? They're drastically different. 5E is the only one which offers the "chance of death" on a 1d6 roll, and you seemed to be keen on that. And 5E demonstrably doesn't impact casters much simply because they don't make rolls - if you added to it that it gave enemies Advantage on their saving throws (equivalent to the martials having disadvantage on their attacks), that might be a thing.
Again you’re misunderstanding the point of the thread. This is for a specific campaign - not changing the rules of D&D for all time.
Sure, but is the goal of that campaign intended to be that martial characters regularly get wrecked and healers need to pump them full of heals (seriously - it will need to be most rounds if they're taking damage because 5E heals are tiny), whereas non-healer casters (primarily Wizards, Warlocks, Sorcerers) will get to play as normal? Because it sounds like it wasn't.

What you're proposing is going to be very punishing for anyone playing a martial or martial-adjacent PC, but feel great for anyone playing a non-healer casters, because of three factors:

1) You're proposing shorter adventuring days - this favours Long Rest classes, particularly if these days don't involve Short Rests between every encounter. This would be an easy-ish fix at least - reduce a Short Rest to 10 minutes and cap it at 2/day. So that can be dealt with.

2) All the things you're suggesting doing, will primarily affect martial/martial-adjacent characters, secondarily affect healer casters, and barely even impact non-healers. That's not really debatable, it's just the consequences of the rules you're laying out. That's fine if that's intended, but one needs to be aware of the consequences.

3) The martials getting mangled on a down, plus the healer casters having to aggressively heal them means combat days will be even shorter. It would be simply suicidal/stupid/murderous to proceed when a PC has been downed. So Long Rest casters are going to be even more favoured, as 5MWDs will be far more common in this approach. For hopefully obvious reasons.
 

New death saves shouldn't be a problem as long as the gameplay is adjusted too. If you have a DM that will push you into combat no matter what, then that might be an issue. Here's a (sort of) 2x2 matrix to explain my point.

1676031162033.png
 

TheSword

Legend
That's fine but that's not the issue I described.

The issue is that the frontliners in D&D 5E go down about 5x as often as any other PCs. That means the frontliners will be the ones subject to the system you're proposing.

On top of that healers (only) will have to spend spell slots - and it won't be minor healing - the day will be over if they let a frontliner get downed.

Whereas casters who can't heal? They'll just get to play exactly as normal, or very close to it.

Sure but the practical reality is you're proposing a system that will essentially destroy the ability of martial characters to continue after they've been downed even once, on average, but will not do the same to casters. You proposed 1d6 level of Exhaustion for being downed once - that means there's a 66% chance they'll be made completely useless if they get downed once (5E exhaustion rules).

Sure, but if your have two downed frontliners, you're inches away from a TPK in any version of 5E. The reality remains that unless you're proposing other rules changes, the real frontliners, the day-to-day ones, will be downed about 5x as often as others.

Are you planning on using 1D&D or 5E exhaustion? They're drastically different. 5E is the only one which offers the "chance of death" on a 1d6 roll, and you seemed to be keen on that. And 5E demonstrably doesn't impact casters much simply because they don't make rolls - if you added to it that it gave enemies Advantage on their saving throws (equivalent to the martials having disadvantage on their attacks), that might be a thing.

Sure, but is the goal of that campaign intended to be that martial characters regularly get wrecked and healers need to pump them full of heals (seriously - it will need to be most rounds if they're taking damage because 5E heals are tiny), whereas non-healer casters (primarily Wizards, Warlocks, Sorcerers) will get to play as normal? Because it sounds like it wasn't.

What you're proposing is going to be very punishing for anyone playing a martial or martial-adjacent PC, but feel great for anyone playing a non-healer casters, because of three factors:

1) You're proposing shorter adventuring days - this favours Long Rest classes, particularly if these days don't involve Short Rests between every encounter. This would be an easy-ish fix at least - reduce a Short Rest to 10 minutes and cap it at 2/day. So that can be dealt with.

2) All the things you're suggesting doing, will primarily affect martial/martial-adjacent characters, secondarily affect healer casters, and barely even impact non-healers. That's not really debatable, it's just the consequences of the rules you're laying out. That's fine if that's intended, but one needs to be aware of the consequences.

3) The martials getting mangled on a down, plus the healer casters having to aggressively heal them means combat days will be even shorter. It would be simply suicidal/stupid/murderous to proceed when a PC has been downed. So Long Rest casters are going to be even more favoured, as 5MWDs will be far more common in this approach. For hopefully obvious reasons.
To be honest I haven’t decided. I’m now leaning towards One D&D. If I stick with 5e I’ll use amend the second level of exhaustion to give advantage to targets saves.

The martial-caster dichotomy doesn’t apply here because our group will likely play characters with a bit of both. It’s forcing an argument that I’ve repeatedly asked us not have because it isn’t relevant. I’ve explained that the campaign won’t put such a reliance on front liners and reserves because the campaign isn’t in a dungeon - it’s in a city with more dynamic spaces than 20ft square rooms and corridors. The risk of failure often won’t be that the PCs die if they surrender or retreat, it will be that other folks will or there will be consequences to the setting.

Ultimately, I really couldn’t care less about balancing long rest and martial/caster perfectly. I don’t mind asymmetry in this particular case. It can be handled in other ways.
 

To be honest I haven’t decided. I’m now leaning towards One D&D. If I stick with 5e I’ll use amend the second level of exhaustion to give advantage to targets saves.

The martial-caster dichotomy doesn’t apply here because our group will likely play characters with a bit of both. It’s forcing an argument that I’ve repeatedly asked us not have because it isn’t relevant. I’ve explained that the campaign won’t put such a reliance on front liners and reserves because the campaign isn’t in a dungeon - it’s in a city with more dynamic spaces than 20ft square rooms and corridors. The risk of failure often won’t be that the PCs die if they surrender or retreat, it will be that other folks will or there will be consequences to the setting.

Ultimately, I really couldn’t care less about balancing long rest and martial/caster perfectly. I don’t mind asymmetry in this particular case. It can be handled in other ways.
So long as you're confident that those parameters will apply (particularly mostly mixed characters and multi-angle engagements) and you're not forcing the PCs into combat constantly then I think this will work okay. I'd agree re: 1D&D's approach to exhaustion. It doesn't allow for instant death on one roll, but it keeps the risk around because you get heavily penalized death saves (also two rolls could reach 10 levels fairly easily).

Re: others being around that could be interesting because I think the players will find they're actually happier to let NPCs die than PCs get downed - and that's something that will be the result of the system changes you're proposing. It will also mean that any heroism from PCs re: defending NPCs will be more heroic, but also have more story impact because they may well be out for days.
 

Roll for PTSD!

Unknown Armies 3e has a cool mechanic where the better you get at violence tge moelre capable in combat you are, but the worse you get in social situations.

Hard to incorporate to D&D though.

Are you looking for only physical consequences or other types as well? Maybe engaging in unnecessary combat builds a reputation for the party.
 


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