Musing on the implications of the D&D 5e SRD

Little Dorrit, Musing and dreaming, by PhizThe main reason I stopped playing D&D Fifth Edition was that it read too much like a set of software requirements (use cases). 5e writes everything out in expansive detail, rather than in a concise “Strunk & White-esque” manner.

This drove me back to simpler rule sets like Swords & Wizardry and even Microlite20 or Searchers of the Unknown. For some purposes (e.g. playing with my kids), those still make the most sense. I need the ability to riff on what my players do as quickly as they  do it. Otherwise, their interest starts to wane and they want to go watch anime or play Minecraft or something.

But the release of the Systems Reference Document and Open Gaming License for 5e might change things a little. +Stan Shinn already has a project titled Dungeonesque: Red Box RPG that will provide a streamlined version of the 5e rules based on the SRD. I expect a number of similar projects to come out soon as well. While the so-called “O5R” movement may not have gathered much steam, this sort of approach might do enough to make it worthwhile for me. In fact, incorporating the best parts of other games (e.g. the encumbrance rules from Lamentations of the Flame Princess and the domain level play from Adventurer Conqueror King System) just became a lot more viable.

Related to this, I have trouble playing via Roll20 in part because data entry for the monsters takes so much time. (Voice chat has become less workable for me due to my home environment as well.) I expect we’ll see the monsters from the SRD available on Roll20 soon based on comments from the developers there, however.  They can’t afford to miss the opportunity to streamline play for the most popular game on their platform.

I’d like to come back to 5e for something other than dungeon crawling. Perhaps a game of urban intrigue and espionage using text chat on Roll20 would work better, as it involves a lot less crunch and a lot more roleplaying. (The reason for sticking with 5e comes down to the interest level from players.) I also like designing monsters and such using the 5e crunch, ironically enough, so I might stat up a few things from my Roll For Initiative collection and put them out on the Dungeon Master’s Guild for people to use.

Certainly this started me thinking about 5e again in a way I haven’t in quite a while. Good job, WotC.

Building the framework of a dungeon adventure

I’ve wanted to try to generate an adventure with the random tables in the new Dungeon Master’s Guide since I bought it. Here I present one example of my experimentation. Note that I didn’t fudge any rolls – all this reflects actual results.

Location-based adventure

Because my current “sandbox” campaign focuses on dungeon crawls, I’ll start with “location-based adventures” on page 72. The process flows as follows:

  1. Identify the party’s goals
  2. Identify important NPCs
  3. Flesh out the location details
  4. Find the ideal introduction
  5. Consider the ideal climax
  6. Plan encounters

Goals

I’ll roll a d20 on Dungeon Goals and Other Goals, skipping the wilderness table, and see what happens.

19. Hide from a threat outside the dungeon
2. Defend a location from attackers

Those certainly don’t look like the other adventures I have run. But I want to use this process to spice things up. So I will choose the first. Perhaps the party originally sets out on some other mission, such as to go ask a sage for a map or some historical guidance. When they arrive, though, they find themselves ambushed just outside the location. Or maybe they get there just before some sort of attack on the dungeon occurs. That lets us merge these two goals nicely.

Important NPCs

We definitely need a few NPCs here to drive this.

Villain

Who will provide the threat? From my d20 roll on the Adventure Villains table:

7. Undead with any agenda

Death KnightThis points up an immediate weakness in both the DMG and the Monster Manual. Even with the new indices, Wizards of the Coast hasn’t provided an index of creatures by type. I have a player-created one, though. Because of the nature of my plan, I don’t want one with sunlight sensitivity. The death knight fits the bill perfectly:

When a paladin that falls from grace dies without seeking atonement, dark powers can transform the once-mortal knight into a hateful undead creature. A death knight is a skeletal warrior clad in fearsome plate armor. Beneath its helmet, one can see the knight’s skull with malevolent pinpoints of light burning in its eye sockets.

An Arthurian name generator seems appropriate for this character. That site generates 10 names, so my d10 chooses:

3. Claunus

Chapter 4 in the DMG, “Creating Nonplayer Characters”, can help give Claunus a bit of depth. I’ll roll on the Mannerism, Interaction with Others, NPC Ideals, NPC Bonds, and NPC Flaws and Secrets tables first.

16. Chews something
12. Suspicious
2. Greed (evil)
6. Whimsy (chaotic)
1. Aspiration (other)

So Claunus works his jaw (as an undead, he doesn’t actually eat per se). Suspicious, greedy, and aspiring to power & conquest, he fits the archetype pretty well. We also have some specific tables for Villains: Scheme, Methods, and Weakness.

1. Immortality (steal a planar creature’s essence)
19. Vice (drugs or alcohol)
1. A hidden object holds the villain’s soul

The methods roll doesn’t provide much utility in our case, so I will reroll just once:

5. Confidence scams (fine print)

That doesn’t make sense either. But it doesn’t matter since we have an existing concept. I’d just hoped to give it a little more depth.

Villainous class options from the DMG preview

Villainous class options from the DMG preview

This chapter also contains a section on villainous paladins, including a new spell list and some new features. I don’t have to use them unless the party will face the villain directly. At CR 17, Claunus already has more power than almost any group could handle. But the class options do give a greater sense of how this sort of villain operates. He should have an army of undead to command in addition to his own ability to besiege the sage’s dungeon with his hellfire orb.

Allies

As noted, Claunus provides a greater threat than a typical adventurer party can handle. Let’s give them a bit of help.

1. Skilled adventurer
9. Celestial ally

If it should come to some sort of showdown, a celestial ally fits the bill! The planetar has a similar CR (16) and background that matches:

Planetars act as the weapons of the gods they serve, presenting a tangible representation of their deities’ might. A planetar can call down rain to relieve a drought, or can loose an insect plague to devour crops. A planetar’s celestial ears detect every falsehood, and its radiant eyes see through every deception.

The adventure shouldn’t take the focus off of the party, though. Perhaps the party needs to accomplish some task to summon the planetar, all while fending off the undead army. We can adjust the sage to some sort of cleric to match the developing flavor.

And another adventurer could come in handy as another vector for exposition. She won’t do too much, again because the party members are the hero of this story. Maybe the adventure will call for a heroic sacrifice, even. Back in Chapter 4, we can generate mannerisms, abilities, talents, mannerisms, ideals, bonds, and flaws & secrets.

20. Exceptionally ugly
5. [High] Wisdom: perceptive, spiritual, insightful
2. [Low] Dexterity: clumsy, fumbling
14. Expert carpenter
7. Whispers
11. Quiet
6. [Lawful] Tradition
6. [Good] Self-sacrifice
4. Loyal to a benefactor, patron, or employer
12. Foolhardy bravery

This sketches out a pretty interesting character we can use as the cleric. (The carpentry expertise doesn’t matter for this adventure.) Our priestess speaks quietly when she speaks at all, but her deeds mark her as a devoted servant of her god. I’ll roll a d10 on the results from a dwarf name generator:

7. Durirnoir Bluntchin

Now we have a link to the “exceptional ugliness” after all! Durinoir’s surname will fit, and she will have a misshapen lower jaw. Her physical appearance belies her beautiful spirit and holiness (although I will attempt not to turn this into too much of an Aesop). I like her playing against type, though.

Patrons

They have some reason to go, after all.

12. Respected elder

What can we learn about this elder? The same tables as those used for the cleric above will serve us again.

17. Distinctive nose
2. [High] Dexterity: lithe, agile, graceful
6. [Low] Charisma: dull, boring
13. Drinks everyone under the table
16. Chews something
1. Argumentative
6. [Neutral] People
3. [Other] Glory
6. Drawn to a special place
1. Forbidden love or susceptibility to romance

Everyone loves the adorable old town drunk because he has been a fixture for generations. Perhaps he even holds a place on the council. But his alcoholic dreams of a sacred temple become the clue needed for the party to learn how to defeat the undead army.

Location details

This process really deserves an entire post of its own. But the basic characteristics don’t take very long to generate. For the Dungeon Location:

14. Beneath a graveyard

Landscape with a Graveyard by Night

That result evokes some fantastic atmosphere and fits the developing themes quite well. To identify the Dungeon Creator:

7. Dwarves
6. Chaotic Good
1. Barbarian

This plays against type a little (barbaric dwarves who don’t care too much for tradition) but could provide a nice bit of atmosphere.

We also might want to learn a bit about the original Dungeon Purpose and History:

2. Lair
1. Abandoned by creators

These will all provide help when we generate the dungeon in a future post.

Introduction

The table could provide additional inspiration for beginning the adventure.

7. A town or village needs volunteers to go to the adventure location

The council sends the party to the ancient temple that houses the item holding the death knight’s soul. I’ll flip back to “Appendix A: Random Dungeons” and roll on the Religious Articles and Furnishings table for this item:

07. Bells

That gives us a couple of pieces of mood music! Maybe we should ask For Whom the Bell Tolls:

No, we shouldn’t, because “it tolls for thee.” Instead, the death knight’s soul resides in Hells Bells:

Enough of that tangent.

Climax

Adventurers have a well-known tendency to go “off script”. Role-playing games differ pretty strongly from films and novels, so this just comes with the territory. But what will the adventure aim for?

10. A threat more powerful than the adventurers appears, destroys the main villain, and then turns its attention on the characters.

The planetar’s adherence to its lawful good alignment could put the adventurers in danger. Those with impure hearts or who desecrate the graves might run significant risk. That keeps the focus on them and can help avoid a deus ex machina solution.

Encounters

These also belong primarily in a future post about the dungeon, but we have the outline of how to proceed already.

Conclusion

The DMG helped create the scaffolding for a group to get started. A lot of work remains to turn this into a full-fledged adventure, especially the encounter design. But in reality, a few minutes with the book provided enough for a creative DM to get started with roleplay. This could even happen on-the-fly with an automated dungeon generator or a similar system.

Also, nothing in this post relies on specific system mechanics. The outline above could fit any fantasy system and a few others besides (perhaps a Cthulhu-esque horror game with a few adjustments). So yes, the new DMG certainly could provide a lot of utility for people playing OSR games.

Old-school action in a new-school edition

RonweWe can’t really call D&D Fifth Edition “old-school” since, you know, it just came out. But it appeals to some of those sensibilities in a way the previous edition did not. With that in mind, I’d like to run some adventures from Dyson’s Dodecahedron in 5e. I have a LFG ad on Roll20 for Tuesday evening. If the experiment goes well, I will run some more later, perhaps as sort of an open table.

In addition, hopefully those of us who enjoy this style and gel together can use this as a stepping-stone to a real campaign. One-shot adventures seem like a good way to find players – and for players to try out a GM before decided whether they like the GM’s style.

Microlite20 and O5R

d20-rockThis weekend, I discovered Microlite20 on donjon.bin.sh. Suddenly I “got” the OSR. Despite having read a bunch about it, the whole thing just hadn’t clicked for me. Then I read that Purest Essence version and boom. I remembered being 13 in my best friend’s converted garage, playing D&D and GURPS and Traveller and our own designs and just having fun.

In fact, the OSR in general feels a little like “classic rock” to me. That particular subgenre has something special for a lot of people. Newer trends in rock music have lots of good stuff to enjoy (grunge forever), too, and so you have things like the Foo Fighters and Black Keys with similar appeal even to listeners who come from newer eras themselves. Rock music… microlite… it made sense in my head, anyway.

Specifically, the simplified attributes and skills within M20 really appeal to me. The non-Vancian magic system also makes more sense, at least so far as made-up phenomena that bypass the rules of physics can “make sense”. In M20, mages fuel their spells with their life force, spending HP, rather than “fire and forget“. Other things concern me, like clerics not getting any healing until 3rd level. Resting daily for 1d4 HP seems a little underpowered. Maybe I missed something?

But D&D 5th Edition has lots of good stuff too. In fact, a few folks have coined the term “O5R” to refer to OSR-style gaming (whatever that means for you) in 5e. After all, 5e kept one of the most important aspects of what I like in RPGs: rulings instead of rules. So I will forklift a few ideas from the newest version of D&D into Microlite20. The Advantage / Disadvantage mechanic replaces modifiers (+2 / -2) quite cleanly. That Wild Magic Surge table looks useful, too, and so I’ll yoink that into my game for when a Mage rolls a 1. Many others have published various hacks on the system, so I’ve started collecting the ones I want to use (plus a few of my own tiny modifications) into my own house rules. I might need to add some rules about rests and healing there, in fact.

That’s the other thing I like in RPGs: rule 0 always applies.