Clunky mechanics in 5e

Steam velocipde Knights Mechanical DictionaryDuring Sunday’s session, I took notes on game mechanics and 5e rules that felt clunky or don’t work well in my view. I will likely write house rules for them, but first I wanted to see what others might be doing. Likely other DMs have already found better solutions than what I imagine.

  1. Stealth: I don’t like having players roll their own Stealth checks. The characters think they’re being stealthy, of course, but that leads to too much metagaming. (“Oh, I rolled a 6 for Stealth, guess I am not doing this after all.”) I can roll it for them, although that might take away too much player agency. In this case, they would at least deserve feedback in case of a natural 1 (fumble).
  2. Missiles: A character shoots at an arrow. It misses the enemy. Does it hit the character (player or non) behind it? I could roll d20s for each successive target in the line of fire against that target’s AC. Or maybe a Dexterity saving throw.
  3. Attacks of Opportunity: According to RAW, these only get provoked when a character leaves an enemy’s reach, but in some situations this feels inadequate. They’re on one side of an enemy, then move “around” it to the square opposite them. I can instead say an enemy gets to make an AoO if they move more than one square while inside an enemy’s reach without Disengaging. While I don’t want to get too tactical, 5e uses 6 second rounds and that means characters move fairly quickly.

Do these make sense? Do you have better ideas?


4 thoughts on “Clunky mechanics in 5e

  1. On stealth, you should roll the dice whenever the PC shouldn’t be certain of the outcome of something they try. No, this doesn’t steal agency; the moment that matters is when they make the choice to stealth. Rolling dice is NOT playing the game. Making choices is.

    So yep, on stealth checks, disarming alarms or similar traps that have distant effects the PCs might not see right away, stuff like that, you roll it behind the screen.

    On firing into melee, you could say that if they miss the roll within the range of penalty granted by the cover of the fight, then they hit someone else. I typically just say rolling a 1 means you hit one of your buds and ignore the chance to hit one of the other foes in the group.


  2. 1. Nothing says players have to roll Stealth. As a DM, I favor hidden rolls for situations that the players should not know about (and where meta-gaming can ruin the fun). I don’t think this removes player agency at all as long as the players trust the DM to be fair and honest… and yes, I would agree that any exceptionally poor roll (like a 5 or lower) should clue the sneaker that he kicked over the stack of pots and pans.

    2. Some systems have “firing into melee” side effects (like Hackmaster, which makes it very penalizing to fire a bow in the direction of allies). 5e hand-waves that for the purpose of fun. It depends on how cinematic you like your combat. 5e leans in the direction of “movie making” combat (i.e. — millions of bullets fired, dozens of opponents felled, no unintended civilian or allied casualties). The questions then become: Will it hurt the fun? Will it slow down the game? I think streamlined missile fire removes clunk from the game, rather than the reverse. In some cases, having more intricate missile fire mechanics detracts from both fun and combat speed… but, YMMV.

    If you want more of a simulation, check out the free HackMaster Basic PDF. I believe the missile rules are in that version and could be adapted for D&D.

    3. I disagree here. Nothing destroys a dynamic combat encounter like the 5-foot step. Think about Errol Flynn movies. Or the Princess Bride or any Star Wars light saber scene other than Darth Vader vs Obi-Wan in the original movie. Combat should be about movement. There are parries, feints, thrusts, advances, retreats… and they happen *fast* in a real life fencing matches (and the more recent spate of broadsword fighting that is now becoming popular). It makes sense that there would be some fluidity of position for two combatants that occur without one of them getting in a free shot.

    I actually think even the current rules as they are now penalize combat movement and should allow for more different ways to disengage/reengage.


  3. It looks like they cut some of the Ranged Attack rules out of the free PDF. It appears one needs the “Basic Plus” PDF. I don’t have my book copy handy, but if I remember, I’ll summarize the mechanic when I get home.

    From what I remember, you draw an imaginary “line of attack” from the archer to the target. Each person in-between adds to the negative of the attack roll. On a miss of the main target, you then “attack” each person (with a new roll) along the line in the order or nearest to furthest position and stop attacking when someone is hit, or you run out of targets (in which case the arrow just passes everyone by).

    This means a miss on the main target could technically crit a bystander (and I don’t believe you use the negative “to hit” penalties on the bystander attack rolls, but I may be mis-remembering).


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