D&D 5ENo ascending bonuses: A mathematical framework for 5e

Crazy Jerome

First Post
Part of the purpose of the seemingly goofy numbers (and Armor as AC) in early D&D was to avoid the problem of really good armor completely cancelling out attacks, moment to moment.

That is, mathematically, consider that 10th level hero versus a bunch of 1st level guards. If you scale the 10th level guy more naturally, but keep the hit point adjustment reasonably in-line with everything else, then what you get is that a lot of the 1st level guys miss, until a couple of them finally connect (and bypass armor, if you use some other armor system). There are or course "feast or famine" issues, with going with low chance to connect, relatively low hit points, armor as damage resistance, and that is what a lot of people tend to focus upon when we have this dicussion. It just seems more "realistic" that our hero doesn't get hit at all--and then finally he does and he is quickly in trouble. Or if unlucky, he gets smacked several times right away.

What I think keeps getting missed in this respect is that Gygax and company wanted that sense of slowly being whittled down--and in order to have that, you needed a marker. Since they clearly didn't want an overt "death spiral", the scaling hit points that represented fatigue, luck, physical damage, etc. was a perfectly fine solution.

If your intention is to preserve the kind of pacing that has been like in all versions of D&D in one form or another, then you must address this issue.

Crazy Jerome

First Post
And what about a 20th level Fighter vs. 20th level Mage in an archery contest?

Under 4E and this proposed system...they tie.

Just to be clear, in 4E they don't. They might come closer to a tie than a lot of people want, but they don't tie. You can make some specific wizard or fighter builds where they might, or where the wizard would even win. But by default, the wizard has no proficiency with the bow, and is less likely to invest in Dex or any useful feats.

I don't think the proposed solution is assuming no weapon proficiencies, relevant abilities, etc. either.

Mustrum_Ridcully

Hero
This issue of how the numbers progress has come up before, and I actually believe that many of the numbers don't progress nearly enough -- at least if we want them to match "realistic" expectations.

In many ways, characters (in 3E, at least) aren't competent enough, given how the d20 combat system and non-combat skill system work. Should a typical young American Indian hunter or Roman auxiliary archer -- presumably a 1st-level Warrior, Fighter, Ranger, or Barbarian, with a +1 BAB -- really only have +1 to hit. If he grew up bow-hunting, he hits a target 55 percent of time rather than 50 percent? And a great archer -- let's say 5th-level -- hits that target 75 percent of the time?

If a 5th-level Fighter is a great knight (or samurai, or whatever), and a 10th-level Fighter is the greatest knight (or samurai) in the land, then I wouldn't find it "unrealistic" for the 5th-level Fighter to more-or-less always hit and always kill 1st-level Fighters, and for the 10th-level Fighter to always hit and always kill 5th-level Fighters -- without magic weapons, magically boosted strength, etc.

I also wouldn't bat an eye at a 10th-level Fighter who was effectively unhittable, even without his magic armor, as long as he had his sword or shield.

What elements of the D&D progression are unrealistic? Really, there's nothing "unrealistic" about a 10th-level thief in AD&D -- except his 10d6 hit dice. And there's nothing "unrealistic" about a 10th-level fighter either -- except his 9d10+3 hit dice. His +10 to-hit isn't implausible at all.

When we look at how (old-school) D&D characters progress, it's fairly odd. Let's look at the fighter:
To-Hit: +1/level
Damage: +0/level
Armor Class: +0/level
Hit Points: +1d10/level, until 9th level​
If we were starting from scratch, we might just as likely come up with something like this:
To-Hit: +1/level
Damage: +1/level
Armor Class: +1/level
Hit Points: +1/level​
A 10th-level fighter might be even more powerful under that progression, but he wouldn't seem "unrealistic".

On the other hand, increasing his hit point total is the one thing practically guaranteed to make him seem "unrealistic" -- at least as long as hit points remain tied to physical toughness and taking damage.
Another way to think of it - was is this damage thing supposed to mean an archer rolls when he hits something? Maybe hitting the target is not the problem (AC 5 or something like that). The "challenge" is dealing significant damage - and there, you could still scale things (especially if you still want hit points to grow up, you must do that, unless high level combats are expected to take longer - which may be an option, fighting for days against your enemy?).

Scaling damage can avoid several problems that scaling attacks, defenses and skill bonuses bring with them. It's okay if a 10th level Fighter can kill a 1st level NPC in one hit. It's less nice when he auto-hits and the NPC auto-misses all the time.

What elements of the D&D progression are unrealistic? Really, there's nothing "unrealistic" about a 10th-level thief in AD&D -- except his 10d6 hit dice. And there's nothing "unrealistic" about a 10th-level fighter either -- except his 9d10+3 hit dice. His +10 to-hit isn't implausible at all.

When we look at how (old-school) D&D characters progress, it's fairly odd. Let's look at the fighter:
To-Hit: +1/level
Damage: +0/level
Armor Class: +0/level
Hit Points: +1d10/level, until 9th level​
If we were starting from scratch, we might just as likely come up with something like this:
To-Hit: +1/level
Damage: +1/level
Armor Class: +1/level
Hit Points: +1/level​
A 10th-level fighter might be even more powerful under that progression, but he wouldn't seem "unrealistic".

On the other hand, increasing his hit point total is the one thing practically guaranteed to make him seem "unrealistic" -- at least as long as hit points remain tied to physical toughness and taking damage.

Basically, you are going the other way. Adding +1 to every level instead of subtracting. I thought about that too. It certainly works, but you end up with something that might look more like True20 than D&D. Nothing wrong with that. I love True20.

But I think it bakes in a certain amount of lethality that I think works better as an option. It also focuses the game into a narrower level range and makes it harder to convert between editions, which I think is a strength of no ascending bonuses.

I want a shallower power curve for levels is because it opens up more of the game for play. I don't like 5 levels being enough of a difference for a PC to totally dominate every NPC or monster they meet that doesn't fall into that range. I think clever kobolds should still be a threat to a 10th level PC, not a speed bump. I think it also ties the DMs hands a little in terms of what they can throw at the PCs.

And I also like options. I want the options of a high level PC by being able to play up to those levels without the DM feeling like the game has changed so much they no longer want to run it. Basically the feel of old school 1e levels 1-10 or E6, but spread out over more levels.

Scaling damage can avoid several problems that scaling attacks, defenses and skill bonuses bring with them. It's okay if a 10th level Fighter can kill a 1st level NPC in one hit. It's less nice when he auto-hits and the NPC auto-misses all the time.

Yes, exactly.

Frostmarrow

First Post
Yes, exactly.

So... Does that mean the quality of a skill attempt should be decided by an additional die roll? Say I roll to jump a chasm and succeed. Now, do I roll a die plus bonus and compare the result with the difficulty of the chasm?

Skill challenges and aid another would be simpler to run. Say there is a mountain and you'll need 30 progression points to reach the summit. Let's say I roll Wisdom (mountaineering) and succeed. Then I roll 1d8 (fine climbing gear)+Wis to see how much progress I make. Every round me and my friends fail to reach the peak the mountain gets to spring a random encounter on us.

billd91

Scaling damage can avoid several problems that scaling attacks, defenses and skill bonuses bring with them. It's okay if a 10th level Fighter can kill a 1st level NPC in one hit. It's less nice when he auto-hits and the NPC auto-misses all the time.

I can see some of that argument, particularly making a high level character still vulnerable to being hit by a low level one. But shouldn't a high level character have an easier time hitting the lower level one compared to back when he was low-level? Doesn't it make sense that he's gotten better because he's more experienced?

AbdulAlhazred

Legend
Yeah, there are a lot of advantages to this system from a system-wide standpoint. You don't even need artificial constructs anymore like "solo" monsters. You can simply have a high level dragon, it has lots of hit points and hits for a lot of damage. Your lower level guys can go tussle with it and make SOME progress, but they're not going to win easily. OTOH the same stat block works fine as an element of a high level encounter. Likewise 'minions' aren't really needed, etc. A level 1 kobold can run around the field and do something, not much, but at least he can hit the 20th level fighter once before he dies hard, much like a 20th level minion does now.

I don't think the non-scaling issue is that big a deal. First of all not everything is combat. Lets say damage does scale by level, there's no reason that a PC's RESULTS from using his skills cannot also scale. An archery contest isn't combat, you want to engage in one then use DEX checks, the two activities are quite different, and you can always give a +level bonus to the results for the master archer. You can do this as say a 'trained activity' bonus where being an adventurer trained with a weapon grants it. You don't use it in combat, or only for damage, but in setpiece situations like a contest it does.

I actually wrote this system up about a year ago and ran through numbers. Any issues of 'feel' aside it works rather well. One of the great things about it is the way a horde of 50 orcs is suddenly SCARY and not a joke to Mr Epic Hero. It opens up a LOT of plot space. You can always shut some of that down again later in other ways (give Mr Epic Hero a "just kill them with your bad-assed looks" ability, like Cuchulain did, etc).

AbdulAlhazred

Legend
I can see some of that argument, particularly making a high level character still vulnerable to being hit by a low level one. But shouldn't a high level character have an easier time hitting the lower level one compared to back when he was low-level? Doesn't it make sense that he's gotten better because he's more experienced?

He is better, his attacks do far more lethal damage for instance (1 hit on low level guy is a kill, low level guy can hack on you all day and do squat). Remember 'hits' are rather abstract in many respects.

Crazy Jerome

First Post
So... Does that mean the quality of a skill attempt should be decided by an additional die roll? Say I roll to jump a chasm and succeed. Now, do I roll a die plus bonus and compare the result with the difficulty of the chasm?

Skill challenges and aid another would be simpler to run. Say there is a mountain and you'll need 30 progression points to reach the summit. Let's say I roll Wisdom (mountaineering) and succeed. Then I roll 1d8 (fine climbing gear)+Wis to see how much progress I make. Every round me and my friends fail to reach the peak the mountain gets to spring a random encounter on us.

That's exactly how some of the Burning Wheel non-combat conflict resolution systems work, and for the same reason. BW calls that total the "Disposition"--when you run out, or the other guys does, the conflict is over. I advocated something similar for skill challenges some time ago.

And it should be noted that you can still use a straight skill check in such a system, when that is all you need for resolution. You want the rogue to climb that 20' wall? Just roll a skill check and bypass the points altogether. Basically, every skill challenge pits you against the equivalent of a handful of "minons"--and is thus about as satisfying.

First Post
It certainly works, but you end up with something that might look more like True20 than D&D. Nothing wrong with that. I love True20.
If you love True20, what is it you're striving for here?

I want a shallower power curve for levels is because it opens up more of the game for play.
Where do you think the power curve currently comes from in D&D? As I said earlier, I think it comes from the confluence of increasing bonuses all stacked together. It's not the base +1 per level or +1/2 per level, but the bonuses on bonuses from different kinds of magic items, spells, feats, etc.

I don't like 5 levels being enough of a difference for a PC to totally dominate every NPC or monster they meet that doesn't fall into that range. I think clever kobolds should still be a threat to a 10th level PC, not a speed bump.
As E6 showed, what a level means is surprisingly malleable.

Anyway, as I pointed out earlier, even if the kobolds only hit on a natural 20, and even if they are automatically hit by the 10th-level PC, they're hardly a speed bump -- if their hits hurt.

I'm not recommending that we switch to a system where one kobold javelin hit takes out a 10th-level fighter, but, for our analysis, let's assume one hit's enough. In that case, the fighter's chance of beating 10 kobolds -- who only hit him on a natural 20! -- is six percent.

OK, OK, we don't want 10th-level fighters to collapse after a single javelin hit. We'll let him brush off the first javelin -- and his chance of winning rockets up to 23 percent. If he can brush off two javelins and go down on the third, his chance climbs to 48 percent.

Again, that's assuming he takes out one kobold per turn, and they have just a 1-in-20 chance of hitting him. The numbers are interesting.

Crazy Jerome

First Post
I want a shallower power curve for levels is because it opens up more of the game for play. I don't like 5 levels being enough of a difference for a PC to totally dominate every NPC or monster they meet that doesn't fall into that range. I think clever kobolds should still be a threat to a 10th level PC, not a speed bump. I think it also ties the DMs hands a little in terms of what they can throw at the PCs.

And I also like options. I want the options of a high level PC by being able to play up to those levels without the DM feeling like the game has changed so much they no longer want to run it. Basically the feel of old school 1e levels 1-10 or E6, but spread out over more levels.

So given that, what do you think about making the default adjustment range from about +3 to +7, as I advocated earlier? Or do you have another idea on how to fit in the low-powered options while still starting at +1?

trancejeremy

Or better yet, dial back the attack progression and AC inflation of 3e.

I mean, yes, AD&D fighters basically had their attack increase every level (actually 2 every 2 levels, so more like steps than a smooth rise) but it stopped at 17th level, and leveling was pretty slow.

OTOH, in BECMI D&D, where you did go up to 36th level, it used a progression of 2 every 3 levels (mostly, it stalled out at higher levels)

It seems like this "problem" has been caused by ramping up the power of characters (and monsters) and giving out goodies every level and the solution is simply not doing that in the first place...

GMforPowergamers

Legend
And what about a 20th level Fighter vs. 20th level Mage in an archery contest?

Under 4E and this proposed system...they tie.

If you want to please the older school D&D players, you have to think about the progression of different classes in their own fields.

well multi ideas in this thread would still make this diffrent.

However in 4e it already goes diffrent. Under 4e a tie would be rare.

lets take 5 archers A,B,C,D,and E

A is a human Fighter (slayer build)
B is a Dragonborn Fighter (weapon master great weapon build)
C is a Deva wizard (orb build)
D is a Eladrin wizard (wand build)
E is a Elf Ranger (archer build)

There is no reason for B or C to have any Dex to speak of, and most likley has just a base of 10 in them, and no feats that help archery.

Build A and D are dex secondary, so i would put them at 14 and 16 (eladein gets +2) at 1st level. The fighter slayer gets some good use from a bow as his main ranged attack, and since he can shift weapons freely I think he will have an expertise feat to archery (maybe expertise maybe weapon mastery)

E is the god of ranged attacks, he starts with an 18 dex, and has expertise bow.

at level 20 if all 5 most compete with a regular bow (no magic) we have the following:

A is a human Fighter (slayer build) 19 dex +4, +1 weapon talent, prof +2, +2 feat, +10 levels (+19 to hit)
B is a Dragonborn Fighter (weapon master great weapon build) 11dex +1 weapon talent, +2 prof, + 10 levels (+14 to hit)
C is a Deva wizard (orb build) 11dex +10 levels (+10 to hit)
D is a Eladrin wizard (wand build) 21 dex +5, +10 levels (+15 to hit)
E is a Elf Ranger (archer build) 23 dex +6, + 2 prof, + 2 feat, +10 levels (+20 to hit)

So given avrage rolls over time we have Elf ranger (when you add in elven accuracy it just gets worse)
a close second is the human figher who has a bow as a secondary weapon
third place is a big jump (4 pts) and goes to the dexderus eladrin wizard
4th place goes to a melee fighter who has no intrest in range at all, and is still close to that dexderus wizard
5th and final place does go to the 'not even close' guy, the wizard not blessed with genetic advantage isn't even playing the same game.

GMforPowergamers

Legend
Or maybe a lower level option like E6 might be to some of our liking?

or maybe a cap of some sort.

Remember 2e had a soft cap of -10 AC with 1 or 2 monsters getting the -11 and -12. Back then it was a 10- -10 swing (20pts) so imagin if 3e had a cap of 30 on AC...

Wightbred

Explorer
Very excited to see people talking about this. Was thinking of posting a similar suggestion, but I didn't think it would get any interest.

One of the significant benefits of this is that has not yet been mentioned (as far as I can see) is that the more unnecessary maths you get rid of the easier it is for DMs to judge difficulties for their players. Right now, every time the caharacters level the things the DM learnt about what was a challenge for them change, making judging what is a good fight more difficult.

That's close to what Dungeon World does. And it gives a old school flavor with new school mechanics.

It does. I posted a suggestion for Dungeon World a while ago about getting rid of more unnecessary mathematical escalation.

I also wrote up my own hack (for playing evil humanoids) from the same rules set which takes out escalating HP as well. I did this by putting the monsters on a scale where their HP are determined by their level compared to the PCs. So for a 1st level party a goblin has 10 HP and an Ogre has 40, but for a 4th level party a goblin is a minion and an Ogre has 10 HP. It has the suprising benefit that PCs see their effectiveness in what they can defeat ("Oh I can kill Ogres easily now, I must be awesome") not the numbers on their sheets. In this scenario a fight for a 1st level party against 4 1st level Goblins is mathematically identical (but of different flavour) to a fight for a 20th level party against 4 20th level Dragons so if it works at 1st level there can never be any grind.

I'll happily support any system that removes what I see as unnecessary maths, as even by keeping increases to 1/5 levels would be a huge improvement. Unfortunately I'm not sure Wizards will take this up, as I think too many people want to see their numbers go up to prove they are getting better.

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Thraug

First Post
Although I doubt they will stray from their ascending bonuses, mostly due to D&D tradition (sigh), I wish they would adopt a base like this. It's faster to use and just makes more sense.

I posted a very similar suggestion on the WOTC boards:

Thraug's WOTC post said:
I'm not fond of defenses becoming out of reach of lower level opposition to-hit ranges. I would prefer to allow all creatures to have a decent chance to hit one another, regardless of level. Lower level opposition would be easily overcome due to other benefits of being higher level, such as stronger powers, higher HP, and much higher damage output. As a DM I would like to still use lower level creatures against higher level PCs without resorting to changing the enemies into minions or needing to roll a 20 just to do a very small amount of damage. There's a great loss of plausibility and verisimilitude with creatures having no chance to hit higher level opponents, and an even greater loss when a lower level creatures is turned into high level minion just to sync the to-hit math to meet higher level requirements. The high level minion is now an out-of-reach threat to lower level opposition. Goofy. Instead, it would be nice, and more flexible, to allow lower level creatures to still be able to hit higher level opposition, but due to the benefits of being higher level, the higher level creature could easily handle the lower level opposition (more HP, more damage output, better powers, etc). BUT, a large group of these lower level creatures could threaten a higher level creature. For example, a group of ~30 L2 kobolds in 4e isn't even worth pitting against a L12+ 4e party because the kobolds need 20 to hit and one of these rare hits would barely dent HP. Instead, I would like these same ~30 L2 kobolds be able to hit characters in a L12+ party, but due to the Kobold’s low damage output, the threat comes from their numbers not from individual threats. The L12+ party should be able to easily/quickly slay 1+ L2 goblins a turn but would still have to worry about 30 of them causing some amount of resource loss (HP, surges, power expenditure).

LurkAway

First Post
But regarding scaling, say the guard has +1 to archery and the legendary archer has +5 to archery. It's clearly unsimulationist if the legendary archer only nets a +4 to win an archery contest. However, I would be happy to view the +5 vs +1 as a difference in ranks rather than a net difference, such that the legendary archer is assumed to have an automatic win over the guard. This would keep things both "realistic" and simple without getting bogged down by very detailed simulationist mechanics. OTOH, if the legendary archer and the guard suddenly turned on each other, then the legendary archer is suddenly not hitting the guard much more accurately (much less automatically) as in the archery contest, even though the legendary archer is probably even more experienced at shooting in combat than the guard is. So the legendary archer would needs the aforementioned feats/powers to maintain cohesion and the feeling that he's so more much accurate than the guard is. It almost seems simpler to just give the legendary archer a +20 and the guard a +1.

First Post
Remember 2e had a soft cap of -10 AC with 1 or 2 monsters getting the -11 and -12. Back then it was a 10- -10 swing (20pts) so imagin if 3e had a cap of 30 on AC...
If a natural 20 always hits, you already have an effective cap.

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