Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, July 09, 2014
 
A first 5th edition remark

I have frequently joked that if you want to know what edition of Dungeons & Dragons you are playing, you only need to ask "How many arrows does it take to kill a first level mage?". I watched WotC do a demonstration of the new starter set on YouTube and the group cleric there gets one-shotted by a critical hit. And the DM mentioned that in a previous trial run of the same adventure a mage not only got dropped by a critical arrow hit, but outright killed.

I believe 5E to be rather deadly, at least in the low levels. The advantage / disadvantage mechanic makes critical hits far more likely, and player characters have much less health than in 4E. And while a critical hit in 4E does damage as if you had rolled the maximum on the dice, in 5E you get twice the dice to roll. So if you roll high, you do more damage on a crit. More crits, potentially higher damage per crit, and lower health pools. What could possibly go wrong?

As I reported yesterday my campaign is in the middle of a fight which is hard and didn't go terribly well for the players. It is possible that somebody will die in that fight. But if somebody does, that will be an accumulation of several things, tactical errors made, and health lost over several rounds, with opportunities of healing having been missed. In 5E you can lose a character to a single arrow in the surprise round of an ambush. I don't consider that to be good game design. Character death should be a strong feedback signal telling you that you did something wrong, and not a random result telling you that you have bad luck.

Comments:
I heard rumors that there will be rules for starting campaigns at level 3, which skips the 'I am a potentially useless noob' levels and gets you into a power level more closely approaching 1st level characters in 4th edition.

I haven't played 5th yet (my Starter Set is waiting on me to pick it up, and I've barely skimmed the free PDF), but I think they are really trying to make a one-size fits all game. I don't think that is going to work out well, but who knows?
 
I was just going to suggest what Marshall said, that you could start your campaign at higher levels. Of course, doing this makes mages comparatively more powerful while reducing the risk of choosing one, depending on how many levels you skip.

But I do still agree that it is poor design to make a class a liability at lower levels and a rampaging god of death at higher levels.
 
I'm fine with being one-shot in first level in an RPG, but then again, I'm pretty Old School that way.

If people go into it knowing up front that the game is lethal, particularly at low levels, they'll have the knowledge necessary to counteract that as much as possible.

 
I also watched that WotC demo video. To be totally fair, the GM explained that the wizard was not one-shotted, he was already severely injured. He had 8 hp total, but was at only 3 hp. He took a crit for 11 damage, putting him at -8, a negative >= to his max HP, hence death. The point still stands, it is very easy to die at first level. But then again other than 4th edition, it was always easy to die in old editions. Wizards used to roll 1d4 starting HP, + Con modifier. Now they get a full 6 from their 1d6. So it used to be even worse.

Part of the problem is that it seems far more difficult to heal in 5th. Clerics can only cast heal like 2x per day again, so they have to try and make the most of it. I don't think they even get extra spell slots for high wisdom. It takes a long rest (8 hrs) to regain slots, and you can only do one of those every 24 hours, as written. And Second Wind is now usable only by a Fighter.

So it's probably optimal to wait until a character drops below 0 to bother healing them. But this makes a crit death very possible. But there is a good reason GM screens were invented, so you can fudge unlucky rolls like that to avoid unfair results. This GM was rolling out in the open, a bad example to set for new GMs.

I suppose low level chars are considered cannon-fodder, as not much time has been invested in them, and they're easily enough replaced.
 
Sorry, but for me a game where the DM has to cheat to make it work is the quintessence of bad game design. I don't want the DM to arbitrarily decide who dies. But that requires to get the math on probabilities right in the rules system.
 
Sorry, but for me a game where the DM has to cheat to make it work is the quintessence of bad game design. I don't want the DM to arbitrarily decide who dies

Nonsense. You assert that when a DM modifies his dice rolls:
a) he is cheating
b) the decision is made arbitrarily

The DM's job isn't to kill the party. It is to craft and execute a fun, enjoyable adventure. Being a slave to the rules is counter to that goal vis a vis the letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law.

I'd argue that a DM cannot "cheat" as the DM is not playing the game. He is the director/conductor of the game, and if the director decides X does or does not happen, then X does or does not happen.

Is that arbitrary? I would assume under the premise that the DM is crafting a fun/enjoyable adventure, any decision made to further that premise cannot be arbitrary.
 
I like that a flimsy low level mage is easy to kill. It feels right to me, however it feels more wrong that an instant KO can happen without input from the players.

I feel surprisingly conflicted about the whole issue. I'd probably go with a compromise where you can get instant KOs but the party gets a couple of turns to stabalise the victim and prevent death.
 
Lethality has its case in roleplaying games... The lethal comabt in shadowrun leads to a focus on strategic planing of the encounter before hand and in such a system a fair combat is a sign that you have made mistakes before. But in shadowrun a death on a newbie run or on run with experienced characters is roughly of the same possiblitity. So the danger is on purpose to keep players on their toes.

The problem with D&D in 3rd and 5th edition is that the lethality isn't part of the intended game feeling, but a consequence of bad design. Because of the variance it feels cheap. If you want to play a lethal game as a group you choose an appropriate system, if you dont want to you choose another system. So the random lethality helps neither group...
 
Death of player only has meaning if he can't be easily raised.

In 4th edition raises were cheap to come by and made death not so much a finality.
 
I'd argue that a DM cannot "cheat" as the DM is not playing the game. He is the director/conductor of the game, and if the director decides X does or does not happen, then X does or does not happen.

100% agree. It's a role-playing game - not a dice rolling game.

I will say, however, that Tobold's sentiment that you must strictly follow the rules or you are cheating explains his apparent frustration with certain editions.
 
But as the Basic 5E rules state over and over, it's about rulings, not rules. The DM has the last say. It's right there in the "rules". Also, as was pointed out, the mage wasn't even one-shot killed. He was already wounded.
 
I might be a grognard, but I consider character death to be part and parcel of the game. The BECMI game I'm running has had countless character deaths on the way to 18th level, and my friend's Pathfinder game's had about three deaths so far, just getting to 7th.

I don't consider ease of character death to be 'poor game design'. I believe that monsters and characters of about equal level should be of about equal chance to be killed - tactics and lucky blows are a part of the game.
 
Actually, I will disagree about something else, too. Yes, a GM can "cheat", but he should first find out if the players want him to. In my games, I get upset if I catch the GM cheating - and I'll actually leave a game where the GM decides to fudge for the players.

The rules are there to set up how the setting works. The GM is there to run the game and lay out the setting. As a player, I'm there to enjoy the setting, and going into the game, I know how the mechanics work, and if I'm playing, I'm saying 'yes, this is how the world functions, and I'm willing to play by those rules'.

If my character gets killed off? That's fine - I walked into the game knowing that could happen. I'm not there for the GM to tell 'a story' about my character, my character makes his own story, and if it results in death, so be it.
 
@Tobold, I see your point, however I draw the opposite conclusion. I don't like what it does to the game when a 1st level character knows, with mathematical certainty, that they cannot die from that ambush arrow. I'd rather lose one out of twenty characters to bad luck than lose that tension in my games.
 
I have frequently joked that if you want to know what edition of Dungeons & Dragons you are playing, you only need to ask "How many arrows does it take to kill a first level mage?".

This reminds me of a thing that one of my former players has once said:

"A properly optimized PC should be capable of killing two members of his party per round."
 
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