The Ship of Theseus and 5e Homebrewing/3pp

Aldarc

Hero
When it comes to homebrewing with 5e or writing 5e 3pp, at what point in changing the rules, genre, or mechanics of 5e is better just to create or use another system entirely than 5e? At what point does it become another system entirely and should be distinguished as such?

I'll admit that this thread ties into the oft-discussed topic of whether D&D, particularly 5e D&D, can do everything or should do everything or the various 5e-based chimeras that seem to exist in the market.
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
1) If you're moving outside of the realms of fantasy to the point where the equipment list is no longer usable.
2) If you're using a type of magic/effects system different enough that the entirety of the spell list isn't usable.
 
One area I can think of is in how different rules or game elements interact. If you’re changing one element, then you have to be aware of how it impacts the other elements.

For example, I have a friend who was looking at implementing a more narrative system for damage in place of HP. Basically he wanted the Harm system from Blades in the Dark carried over to D&D.

It’s a cool idea. But changing HP is pretty fundamental. You would have to refigure how many other elements of the game would function.....spells, rest, class abilities, feats....and so on.

So the question then becomes is the juice worth the squeeze?
 

MonkeezOnFire

Adventurer
There are sci-fi and cyberpunk third party hacks for the game and I think they work quite well (though not as thoroughly balanced given their indie nature) since it's not hard to exploring an alien ship or raiding a corporate HQ into a D&D dungeon. If you want a game that focuses on action style combat where all characters should be able to meaningfully participate in combat then D&D is a good fit and hack away to adjust the sliders. But if you want to tell a story where fighting isn't a primary concern then I would suggest looking for a system that better handles what you want.
 
There are sci-fi and cyberpunk third party hacks for the game and I think they work quite well (though not as thoroughly balanced given their indie nature) since it's not hard to exploring an alien ship or raiding a corporate HQ into a D&D dungeon. If you want a game that focuses on action style combat where all characters should be able to meaningfully participate in combat then D&D is a good fit and hack away to adjust the sliders. But if you want to tell a story where fighting isn't a primary concern then I would suggest looking for a system that better handles what you want.
I think that the reliance on combat is a big part of it. D&D Is primarily a combat based game. It's non-combat related rules are fairly slim. They can do the job, and they can perhaps be altered to do it well.....but really, without combat there's little reason to play D&D.

So if you've got a setting that's sci-fi or urban fantasy or modern and the focus of the setting will still largely be about combat, then you can likely refluff things as needed pretty easily. Maybe tweak equipment lists, or shift from melee to ranged combat for a modern setting, add morale or panic rules of some kind, and so on. That's all pretty straightforward.

When you try to change a component entirely is where it gets tricky. I mean, Armor Class is kind of odd in any setting that's not quasi-medieval like D&D, isn't it? So if you wanted to change how Armor works in your setting....maybe you feel like it should be about reducing damage more than about avoiding damage.....then you're in for a tougher challenge. Because then you need to look at all the spells and abilities that interact with AC, and how they'll function in the new system. Then you also need to come up with a replacement for AC, and then how spells and abilities interact with that mechanic. And so on.

Once you're doing more than reskinning the game, then I think you have to sit down and ask yourself if it still makes sense to work with D&D as the design chassis for this game, or if there are other systems that would achieve what you want to achieve, or if you need to cobble together an entirely new system.
 
I think the most practical thing to do is imagine you are sitting there helping a new player (with some D&D experience) make a character. Can you explain your house rules without their eyes glazing over? Can you put what they need to know on a one page sheet for their reference?
 

Celebrim

Legend
When it comes to homebrewing with 5e or writing 5e 3pp, at what point in changing the rules, genre, or mechanics of 5e is better just to create or use another system entirely than 5e? At what point does it become another system entirely and should be distinguished as such?
I can't answer for 5e specifically, but I play a homebrewed version of 3.0e that is at least as different from 3e D&D as Pathfinder is from 3.5e D&D.

I will say that writing up a completely novel rules system is much harder than just amending one to taste. The process of amendment is an incremental one, which at each step of the way leaves you with a playable game. When you go about creating your own entirely new system, if your ambitions are large then you have a year or more of work ahead of you before you even have enough to present to would be players. And you'll still need to go through the process of playtesting the rules and amending them on the basis of lessons learned.

Likewise, I'm of the opinion that the world really doesn't need a brand new RPG system at this point, and given the great depth of time and effort spent on making rules systems, there probably is no potential rules system out there worth reinventing the wheel over. The history of RPGs are littered with hundreds of fantasy heartbreakers that are often no more than tweaked versions of D&D anyway, and the majority of novel game systems are often inferior to old standbys anyway. After several attempts to create rule systems myself, that resulted in unworkable messes once I added all my cool ideas to them, I've largely given up on that myself. There are maybe a dozen solid RPG systems out there - D20, BRP/Pendragon, D6, DitV, Cortex Plus, WOIN, etc. - that can be tweaked to do pretty much anything you could want to do in any setting you'd want to do it in.

So probably the answer is, "Is it actually impossible to tell the sort of stories you want to tell in 5e without tweaking it, and is the amount of effort that would take greater than the amount of tweaks it would take to get a different system to where you'd want it?"

At what point does it become another system entirely and should be distinguished as such?
When it uses both a radically different CharGen and a radically different fortune mechanic or radically different process resolution, then it's probably a different system. If it tweaks only one process in that, it's a different game but it would still be in the D20 system of games - say Mutants and Masterminds or any other True20 game. (Although to be fair, True20 tweaks enough that I could accept the claim it is a different system.) If you make tweaks but you still have classes, levels, hit points, and a fortune in the middle resolution process that depends mostly on the outcome of a D20 plus modifiers, then it's still basically D&D reskinned for a slightly different setting or style of game.

Of course, I don't think that really matters too much, as there is no way to measure really how far you've moved from house-ruled X, to brand new game Y, to brand new system Z and largely that doesn't matter except for conveying how familiar a system is going to seem to someone who knows X. IMO though, Pathfinder, D20 Modern, Star Wars D20, etc. is basically house ruled D&D. M&M or 13th Age is a brand new game based on the D20 system, and PbtA is a brand new system.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Can you put what they need to know on a one page sheet for their reference?
The outcome of most CharGen is a one page reference sheet, often with an attached 'inventory'. Inventory often turns out to be the most complicated aspect of both CharGen and character management, and it wouldn't be entirely wrong to call old school RPGs (both P&P and cRPGs) "inventory management games".

But if you are actually referring to everything you need to know about CharGen being one page, or all the rules being one page, I doubt any really solid system meant for general meets that ambition. I could manage that with my own SIPS system, but it was meant for running games with 5 year olds and while I'm rather fond of the system, it lacks the complexity in its bare bones version for achieving anything but a pure Narrative game.

The best way to introduce a game to a new player is start them playing. Do not attempt to force the rules or the complexity of CharGen down their throats in the first or even fifth session, unless it's such a basic system that CharGen can be over in 20 minutes tops. It's much better to hand them a stack of pregenerated character sheets, and let them pick one. Your probably much better at knowing how to achieve common ambitions and archetypes at this point than they are, and what they really need to do is get to playing. This is true whether you have a homebrew system or an established system with rock solid credentials.
 
The outcome of most CharGen is a one page reference sheet, often with an attached 'inventory'. Inventory often turns out to be the most complicated aspect of both CharGen and character management, and it wouldn't be entirely wrong to call old school RPGs (both P&P and cRPGs) "inventory management games".

But if you are actually referring to everything you need to know about CharGen being one page, or all the rules being one page, I doubt any really solid system meant for general meets that ambition. I could manage that with my own SIPS system, but it was meant for running games with 5 year olds and while I'm rather fond of the system, it lacks the complexity in its bare bones version for achieving anything but a pure Narrative game.

The best way to introduce a game to a new player is start them playing. Do not attempt to force the rules or the complexity of CharGen down their throats in the first or even fifth session, unless it's such a basic system that CharGen can be over in 20 minutes tops. It's much better to hand them a stack of pregenerated character sheets, and let them pick one. Your probably much better at knowing how to achieve common ambitions and archetypes at this point than they are, and what they really need to do is get to playing. This is true whether you have a homebrew system or an established system with rock solid credentials.
I don't mean specifically about Char Gen. I mean just informing the player about what's different in the game before you begin.

It's better to be upfront with this. There's nothing worse than being in the middle of a session and finding out that the rules don't work the way you expect them to because the GM is suddenly springing house rules on you.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I don't mean specifically about Char Gen. I mean just informing the player about what's different in the game before you begin.

It's better to be upfront with this. There's nothing worse than being in the middle of a session and finding out that the rules don't work the way you expect them to because the GM is suddenly springing house rules on you.
This happens with any game though. Either you find out that process resolution on a task doesn't work like you expected, and as such you've been ignoring perfectly valid options because you thought they were stupidly impossible, or else you try something thinking that it's a perfectly valid move and it turns out that it puts you at an unnecessary disadvantage.

Case in point, first time player of D&D proposed this creative move: "I whip two arrows out of my quiver, one in each hand, and then I rush between the two giant rats and stab them both at the same time!" Points for originality and flare, and I'll reward that, but in the system what you are doing there is using improvised weapons (without proficiency in that) to perform a two-handed weapon attack (without proficiency in that) that leaves you flanked at the end of the movement. It's probably not as efficient as whipping out a rapier you have weapon finesse with and stabbing the nearest rat. After letting her attempt the stunt, I explained to her that while I would give a "cool move" bonus for being creative like that, she had to understand that her heroine was just starting out as an adventurer and would struggle to pull off cool action movie hero moves regularly until they'd gained some more experience and learned some things.

Likewise, one problem with playing Pathfinder if you've played 3.5e D&D is that so many things work ever so slightly differently than you'd expect them to, and the same is basically true of 3.5e relative to 3.0e.

I find it's best to assume all games you play in our house ruled, because in practice they are.

As far as being up front with my rules, "Plop Here is a 600 page word document. You aren't expected to read it and you don't need to know everything in here to play the game. Only a small slice of the rules will really effect your particular character, and you'll gradually master those." If I have someone coming from a 3.Xe D&D background, I'd probably say, "It's basically a combination of the 3.0 and 3.5 srds with a lot of small tweaks. The one that will be a big 'gotcha' for you initially is that the 5' step rule works almost backwards of what you are used to - you can use it to adjust your position in a melee, but if you try to use it as a form of evasion, you'll draw an AoO. So no stepping out of a melee to fire an arrow or cast a spell without penalty. Also, standing up does not draw an AoO, so don't expect to trip lock foes in combat as the clear best melee build."
 
You did note that I was talking about players already familiar with the D&D rules right? Not complete newbies.

You have less of an issue with complete newbies because they no expectations.
 
In my Blades in the Dark game, the player who grasped the way the game works the quickest was the one with the least experience with D&D.

The other players took longer to break the habits and assumptions they had with regard to RPGs. They came around, and the game was a huge hit for all involved, but the influence of D&D was an obstacle at times.

Not a knock on D&D, just an observation about how different games and rulesets can simply function differently from one another.

There’s no one system that will be the best option for whatever you want the play experience to be.
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Not a knock on D&D, just an observation about how different games and rulesets can simply function differently from one another.
Yea, D&D being the 800 lb gorilla of TTRPGs tends to cause this. Nobody expects their Madden skills to be useful in Fortnite, or their skills at Connect 4 to help them in Settlers of Catan.
 

Celebrim

Legend
In my Blades in the Dark game, the player who grasped the way the game works the quickest was the one with the least experience with D&D.

The other players took longer to break the habits and assumptions they had with regard to RPGs. They came around, and the game was a huge hit for all involved, but the influence of D&D was an obstacle at times.
As a GM I try as hard as possible to be "fiction first", "rules second", in part to force players to engage with the fiction and the shared imaginary space and not with the rules. I don't mind as the players start to obtain system mastery, but I want them to never reach the point where they are only making rules propositions and not interacting directly with the fiction.

With BitD, that approach faces one real challenge, and that is that BitD does not require time to be linear. You're players can effectively "time travel" by narrative means, in the way that a story can jump back and forth in time and isn't linear, or in the way even in D&D the players can often "travel by map", completing a journey of five days in under 5 minutes. These are events that can only occur because ultimately you are creating a story. Playing BitD you are supposed to engage with the fiction in a non-linear manner, and I think I'd personally have a hard time with that even if I'd never played D&D. Not only would I think I would a hard time breaking out of the habit of attacking a problem in a linear manner, I'd think I'd have a hard time not losing immersion in a story that jumps back and forth.
 
As a GM I try as hard as possible to be "fiction first", "rules second", in part to force players to engage with the fiction and the shared imaginary space and not with the rules. I don't mind as the players start to obtain system mastery, but I want them to never reach the point where they are only making rules propositions and not interacting directly with the fiction.

With BitD, that approach faces one real challenge, and that is that BitD does not require time to be linear. You're players can effectively "time travel" by narrative means, in the way that a story can jump back and forth in time and isn't linear, or in the way even in D&D the players can often "travel by map", completing a journey of five days in under 5 minutes. These are events that can only occur because ultimately you are creating a story. Playing BitD you are supposed to engage with the fiction in a non-linear manner, and I think I'd personally have a hard time with that even if I'd never played D&D. Not only would I think I would a hard time breaking out of the habit of attacking a problem in a linear manner, I'd think I'd have a hard time not losing immersion in a story that jumps back and forth.
The flashback mechanic is only part of the learning curve I was talking about, but yeah it is a part of it. It is a challenge for everyone, but even more so for the long time D&D players in my group.

In discussions here on this site, talking about the Flashback mechanic or the way Load and Gear work in Blades, it’s kind of amazing how opposed some folks are to the concepts. Those folks tend to be the more traditionally-minded players/GMs.

But you’re right that those elements of Blades are designed because they are elements of fiction that features “caper” type elements.

I think this is the kind of thinking that has to come up in design. What kind of experience is the game meant to deliver? Simulationist combat? Or stories about a crew of criminals performing heists and capers?

There’s no reason either system couldn't work. But which will fit the idea better?
 

Celebrim

Legend
In discussions here on this site, talking about the Flashback mechanic or the way Load and Gear work in Blades, it’s kind of amazing how opposed some folks are to the concepts. Those folks tend to be the more traditionally-minded players/GMs.
Well, I tend to be a rather traditionally-minded person, leaving aside my preferences as a gamer. My kids joke that I'm 400 years old.

Speaking for myself, I think my biggest problem playing Blades (which I should say that I both have never done and yet also really want to do) is the sense that the mechanics were letting me cheat, and as such were cheating me out of the satisfaction of winning the challenge.

The normal intuitive approach to running a heist challenge in an RPG would be to take on the persona of a character planning the heist, and then do everything that a person in that role would do to ensure the heists success. Then, if your heist went off successfully, you'd have the sense that you had been clever and won the challenge.

But in Blades, with Flashback and the other mechanics that encourage you not to plan but to skip directly to "the good stuff", you are allowed and even encouraged to make up for any short comings in your mastermind scheme by retroactively inventing the master plan only after your present plan suffers a hitch. And to me, this would undermine my sense that I was in fact a person in an heist, and force upon me the realization that this is only a story and that I'm not really so clever after all. It's like playing a 'Choose your Own Adventure' book where you give yourself permission to, if choice doesn't work out, to flip back to a bookmarked page and choose something different. You could probably guess that my 6th grade self considered that cheating, and always started over from the beginning if I met an ignominious demise, and that I prided myself on being able to achieve a good ending (though maybe not the best ending) on the first attempt.

That isn't to say I don't want to try Blades, and I'm hoping to get a chance this year to actually attend a few Cons and play some of the games I don't have a viable GM for, but it does mean I really understand why some folks are opposed to the concepts for reasons more than just 'tradition'.
 
@Celebrim I get your concerns about the game. It’s part of what I found to be the case with my group. However, it’s not quite how you view it. The Flashbacks and similar elements allow you to provide the details along the way rather than up front. It takes some getting used to, but it becomes quite fun.

And there is absolutely risk and accomplishment in the game. The players have a lot of say on how things go, but they’re limited in how much they can do that.

I don’t want to derail the thread by having it become me cheerleading for Blades, but needless to say I recommend it. It may take a couple of sessions to really click, but it’s a very fun game and just as rewarding as any RPG I’ve played. Perhaps more so.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Well, I tend to be a rather traditionally-minded person, leaving aside my preferences as a gamer. My kids joke that I'm 400 years old.

Speaking for myself, I think my biggest problem playing Blades (which I should say that I both have never done and yet also really want to do) is the sense that the mechanics were letting me cheat, and as such were cheating me out of the satisfaction of winning the challenge.

The normal intuitive approach to running a heist challenge in an RPG would be to take on the persona of a character planning the heist, and then do everything that a person in that role would do to ensure the heists success. Then, if your heist went off successfully, you'd have the sense that you had been clever and won the challenge.

But in Blades, with Flashback and the other mechanics that encourage you not to plan but to skip directly to "the good stuff", you are allowed and even encouraged to make up for any short comings in your mastermind scheme by retroactively inventing the master plan only after your present plan suffers a hitch. And to me, this would undermine my sense that I was in fact a person in an heist, and force upon me the realization that this is only a story and that I'm not really so clever after all. It's like playing a 'Choose your Own Adventure' book where you give yourself permission to, if choice doesn't work out, to flip back to a bookmarked page and choose something different. You could probably guess that my 6th grade self considered that cheating, and always started over from the beginning if I met an ignominious demise, and that I prided myself on being able to achieve a good ending (though maybe not the best ending) on the first attempt.

That isn't to say I don't want to try Blades, and I'm hoping to get a chance this year to actually attend a few Cons and play some of the games I don't have a viable GM for, but it does mean I really understand why some folks are opposed to the concepts for reasons more than just 'tradition'.
I hear you, here, but your assumptions are a bit off-base in how Blades actually plays. You've made some assumptions of traditional play that make those mechanics look like they do things that they really don't.

Firstly, the flashback mechanic does not retcon a failed actions into a success. What it does is create a new fictional pathway in the current fiction. It does this at a pretty steep cost in limited resources that are also used to power a number of other mechanics. This is actually an important avenue for the players to have -- the ability to introduce new fiction to the current state -- because of how the player loop in Blades works.

The play loop in Blades is built to create complications for the players pretty much immediately, and then chase those complications down into a spiral of badness. The dice mechanic has the usual result of success at a cost or success with a complication. That's usual outcome. What the cost or complications are is determined by the stance and effect of the attempted action -- desperate actions have high costs, risky ones have steep costs, and controlled ones have moderate costs. This play loop, followed without player-side ability to change it, will almost always result in mission failure -- it's negatively balanced that way. To counter, the players have a number of limited resources that mitigate failures and/or change the state of the fiction to offer new avenues to success (but not outright success).

So, then, the question of the amorphous nature of these resources needs to be addressed. These resources, like the flashback's ability to add almost any new fiction (within genre restrictions), are necessary because play rapidly moves into new directions based on the play loop above. A failure on an attempt to sneak may be the GM introducing an patrol approaching that will discover the players, putting them in a bind! Well, players may opt to engage a flashback, where they have bribed this patrol Sargent to look the other way! That's the new fiction paid for by the flashback, but the success of that must now be tested in the present -- the Sargent has been bribed, but will he hold to (or be able to hold to) the deal? Dice clatter, you find out. The flashback doesn't create success from failure, or negate a failure, but instead provides a new path for play that didn't exist before. This might result, after testing, in a mitigation of failure, but that's the point of all player-side resources in Blades! The game is very unforgiving to the players, otherwise.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Firstly, the flashback mechanic does not retcon a failed actions into a success.
I didn't say it did.

What it does is create a new fictional pathway in the current fiction.
I'm aware of how the mechanic works. But, while it does not change a failed action into a successful one, it does allow you to correct for any failures in planning - failures in planning that are inevitable because the players are encouraged not to plan and introduce the planning aspects of the heist into the fiction through Flashbacks. So for example, you might get to the estate and find it is protected by vicious guard dogs. In a normal game, if you haven't prepared for this eventuality or have no resources to deal with it, you are out of luck. You almost certainly fail as the penalty to your lack of intelligence gathering and scouting of the target. But in Blades, you could then in Flashback attempt to have inserted a supply of drugged dog food through the estates supply chain earlier in the day, playing out the story in a non-linear fashion in response to the challenges you encounter. And if you are successful in that flashback, well the vicious guard dogs are asleep, or if you are less successful you could replace that complication with a new complication if you didn't have an outright success - a suspicious dog keeper with a flashlight for example, or perhaps the kennel master has even called a magistrate out to report the foul play, or whatever.

So I get all the stuff you are saying. I'm afraid you don't really understand the source of my unease with the concepts involved, which among other issues involves statements like this: "A failure on an attempt to sneak may be the GM introducing an patrol approaching that will discover the players, putting them in a bind!" I get that, but now we are not only not interacting with the fiction in a linear manner, but we are also not interacting with a stable fiction. In a traditional RPG, the patrol either exists or it doesn't, irrespective of my failure to sneak. Thus, I could suffer consequences of alerting guards or being caught by a patrol if I fail to sneak, but I could not summon up a patrol or create more guards by failing to sneak. Remember what I said about my preference being "fiction first: mechanics second". To introduce a new fictional element on the basis of a metagame construct inherently means mechanics are driving fiction and not the other way around.

In any event, I don't attend to derail this thread into a conversation over the benefits and limitations of a Nar based approach to a Heist game, or to rile up BitD's passionate supporters.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I didn't say it did.



I'm aware of how the mechanic works. But, while it does not change a failed action into a successful one, it does allow you to correct for any failures in planning - failures in planning that are inevitable because the players are encouraged not to plan and introduce the planning aspects of the heist into the fiction through Flashbacks. So for example, you might get to the estate and find it is protected by vicious guard dogs. In a normal game, if you haven't prepared for this eventuality or have no resources to deal with it, you are out of luck. You almost certainly fail as the penalty to your lack of intelligence gathering and scouting of the target. But in Blades, you could then in Flashback attempt to have inserted a supply of drugged dog food through the estates supply chain earlier in the day, playing out the story in a non-linear fashion in response to the challenges you encounter. And if you are successful in that flashback, well the vicious guard dogs are asleep, or if you are less successful you could replace that complication with a new complication if you didn't have an outright success - a suspicious dog keeper with a flashlight for example, or perhaps the kennel master has even called a magistrate out to report the foul play, or whatever.

So I get all the stuff you are saying. I'm afraid you don't really understand the source of my unease with the concepts involved, which among other issues involves statements like this: "A failure on an attempt to sneak may be the GM introducing an patrol approaching that will discover the players, putting them in a bind!" I get that, but now we are not only not interacting with the fiction in a linear manner, but we are also not interacting with a stable fiction. In a traditional RPG, the patrol either exists or it doesn't, irrespective of my failure to sneak. Thus, I could suffer consequences of alerting guards or being caught by a patrol if I fail to sneak, but I could not summon up a patrol or create more guards by failing to sneak. Remember what I said about my preference being "fiction first: mechanics second". To introduce a new fictional element on the basis of a metagame construct inherently means mechanics are driving fiction and not the other way around.

In any event, I don't attend to derail this thread into a conversation over the benefits and limitations of a Nar based approach to a Heist game, or to rile up BitD's passionate supporters.
Fair enough, although given your reservations and preferences, I'm pretty sure Blades will not be a good fit for you. And, that's fine.
 

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