Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
D&D 5E House Rules: Randomness

Dice are the "third party" at a Dungeons & Dragons table. While the DM and the players both contribute to the interactive story-telling, dice determine the outcome of many attempted actions. Extreme rolls can lead to extreme situations like one-shot kills, and that obviously can also lead to memorable situations in the story.

In 5th edition the dice play a bigger role than in 4E for several reasons: There are fewer rolls of dice in a typical combat, because combat is shorter, thus each roll has more importance. The "bounded accuracy" of 5E means that when you roll a d20 for an attack, proficiency check, or saving throw, you add only small numbers to the result; compared to 4E the player's choice of for example being proficient in a skill plays a smaller role in determining the outcome, and the random dice count for a larger part. And finally many spells now deal more dice of damage than in previous editions, while hit points aren't as high than in 4th.

One of the dirty little secrets of Dungeons & Dragons (and other systems) is that a surprisingly large number of DMs cheat by fudging dice. They roll behind the DM screen and then announce the result they want, not the one that the dice said. That is often done with the best of intentions: If the archvillain of the story only gets a few rolls of the dice in combat and ends up rolling low on each of them, he might well end up not being very memorable. The players can't see how dangerous the villain would have been if he had rolled higher, they only see the actual outcome of no damage dealt at all and a boring combat against a harmless villain. On the other hand the DM might also fudge the dice to prevent a total party kill caused by a series of lucky rolls.

Personally I do think that randomness should play a role in the game. I would like to roll my dice openly as much as I can and even got some more easily readable dice for the 5E campaign (in pairs for advantage rolls). But there is at least one exception where I prefer a predictable result over a random result: Character creation.

There are different rules options in 5E on how to create characters. You can take a fixed set of values, you can use a point buy system, or you can roll dice. For my campaign I will use the standard array of fixed values for everybody. My reason for that is that the weight of a random roll on character creation is far too big. A character rolling way above or below average will feel the consequences of that in every attack, every skill check, every damage roll for the whole life of the character. A standard array character putting his best score on his main stat and using a race that gives at least +1 bonus to that stat arrives at a +5 value for his attack roll. If players roll for stats, some might end up with a +4 attack bonus, while others have +6. Over the many, many attack rolls that these characters will make over the course of their career that ends up being a huge difference. I don't want one player being permanently disadvantaged just because he rolled low on character creation.



You indicate that you will be using a fixed set of values for character creation. I've been reading the PHB for 5E for a couple of days now and wanted to ask what method you'll be using for equipping the characters(gold or gear)? Doesn't using set values stand the risk of gimping certain classes where gear is concerned? 5E doesn't, as far as what I have read in the PHB, really address the gear issue in terms of how well equipped a character can be. Maybe it's covered more adequately in the DM Guide?
I think the two proposed methods for starting gear, either by giving out gear or by giving out gold, are pretty much equivalent. The critical point with gear is what amount and type of treasure the characters find during their adventures. For example I am playing a level 3 paladin in one campaign who during level 1 found a plate mail, where he only needed to pay the cost of adjusting it to his size. That makes a big difference to his armor class. You are completely correct in thinking that some classes depend more on gear than others.

One typical problem is finding magical weapons. Frequently players built their character around a certain type of weapon. So what does the axe-wielding dwarven barbarian do when he finds a +1 longsword? If the DM doesn't watch out, he might also inadvertently penalized players who did chose more exotic weapons when he is using treasure lists as written and hands out lots of magic weapons of common weapon types.
Point buy works pretty well in 5e. It allows a character to start out well in his main attributes while not making them extremely overpowered or underpowered. It also allows players a little more flexibility when choosing the race for their characters, as it is easier to compensate for the varying bonuses.
The only issue I have with point buy is the possibility to use 15, 15, 15, 8, 8, 8, which is the literal incarnation of min-maxing.
I spent much time catching video game devs rigging the game.
But tabletop GMs rigging surprised even me. What will be the next? RMT? Bribing the GM to throw me 20 for a beer?
@Gevlon: you clearly never played tabletop roleplaying games as a teenager in a mixed-sex gaming session......


One typical problem is finding magical weapons. Frequently players built their character around a certain type of weapon. So what does the axe-wielding dwarven barbarian do when he finds a +1 longsword?

Not having a copy of the DM Guide, I assume that magical weapons are covered more thoroughly in it? Also, the classes seem like they would be a pain to keep balanced(with magical items) where progression is concerned. The beast master ranger leaps out at me in that regard, seeing as how they are pretty much forced into choosing to use their own abilities or give up their actions to their companion pet...which obviously would never get used if that's the case.
You could always make a rule for point-buy that no two attributes can be the same. (Or less restrictively, at most two.)
(Those would mean that the most you could do to min-max would be ( 15, 14, 13, 10, 9, 8 ) or ( 15, 15, 12, 10, 9, 8 ) respectively.
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Regarding magic weapons, I am not sure if it was like this in earlier editions, but I do like the fact that there are magic weapons that do not necessarily increase chance to hit and damage. While I respect the goal of bounded accuracy, there are a number of monsters that are resistant to non-magical weapons, which puts the fighter-types at a big disadvantage if they do not have something that counts as magical. (I understand that there is a magic weapon spell, but it uses a spell slot, is concentration, and only lasts 1 hour).
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