Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Adding ladies to D&D; or: Lady up your game!

I recently developed a plan to ensure my D&D games weren't just a bunch of male PCs and NPCs. Its pretty simple. I have a little list each game of the NPCs I might need to introduce. You might have this too. Don't have a list of all your NPCs? Make it. Then if you want to make sure your D&D game isn't a sausage party, follow these little tips:

1) Check if half or more of your NPCs are dudes.
2) If they are, make a coupe of them ladies.

Its literally that easy. If you're not as comfortable portraying a lady, you can lady your game up a bit by at least adding some ladies off camera or in the background. Maybe the previous party to explore an area was lead by a lady, or they find a log book written by a lady, or they're otherwise following the trail of a lady. An off-camera villain can also be a lady. In fact, just about any NPC could be a lady. You could even roll randomly to determine if the character is a lady: odd = dude, even = lady.

Once you have a couple ladies in the background, you can move onto having a major NPC or two be ladies. Try it out first with a shopkeeper: unless the adventurers are in a lady shop doing lady shopping, a lady shopkeeper probably has exactly the same motivations as a dude shopkeeper (and, honestly, a lady shopkeeper in a lady shop probably has the same motivations as a dude shopkeeper in a lady shop). Lady hirelings, lady henchmen, lady sages, lady specialists, and queens probably have almost exactly the same motivations as dude hirelings, dude henchmen, dude sages, dude specialists, and kings.

Once in a while, you might find that the sex of an NPC actually matters in the plot. That's the point where you can spend a minute deciding how the plots might be different depending on the sex of an NPC and let the most interesting plot dictate the gender of the NPC. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

5e Spells: W(h)ither Creativity?

So the disappointing thing about 5e is that it seems sanitised for balance, but in a somewhat half-assed way. That's not right, its pretty well done, but maybe its too much compromise. What getting me at the moment is the utility spells.

So, I'm playing a gnome trickster cleric. I get some nice spells like polymorph and charm person and pass without trace. Things to help with sneaking and all that. Some nice options. But, unlike other spells, these don't scale with higher slots. And some of the higher level cleric spells are just less... interesting.

The DM tried to tell me that spells like blade barrier and banishment were great, and I agree. But not great for a trickster. I want some more utilities. And utilities that last longer. And these just aren't happening. Its sad too, because some spells like Bestow Curse show us the way.

For example, why can't a detect magic spell be cast with higher level slots (think 5th/6th level) that doesn't need concentration? Maybe its just 10 minutes or even one minute without concentration, but that's still great! A 6th level slot might be worth the 10 minutes or an hour. And a 9th level slot lasting all day... is that really unbalanced? The same applies to things like unseen servant, tenser's floating disk, and all sorts of other options. Even a higher level polymorph might let you keep your mental abilities or at least be able to concentrate on it for more than one hour. And this isn't just a problem with some utility spells, but a lot of them. No attempt to make them scale.

Then there's the saving throw issue. You can get advantage on magical attacks to deal damage, but it is almost impossible to give your foes disadvantage on saving throws. That makes my idea of playing a callous, cavalier, or downright evil enchanter rather unappealing (besides that they don't seem to get their one useful feature till level 14). So basically, you have an easy go of it if you're just planning on blasting your foes, but using some non-combat spells creatively never gets much easier. Guess some of that's the limit of bounded accuracy and a game focused on killing your foes rather than avoiding them.

I don't have my DMG yet, but theres a table I hope is in there but kinda doubt is: using spells creatively. Because I think they did some good jobs with spells like Create/Destroy Water and Control Water giving us some likely options, but they could have spelled out some of the combat uses better. Like the light cantrip: in AD&D, you could cast it at your foes eyes to blind them. It seems like a rather iconic thing to do and not all that hard to give rules: target gets a save or is blinded for one round (or dazed or whatever an appropriate condition is). Not always the best use of an action but it could have its uses and makes light a useful cantrip. Same thing with ray of frost: give it a secondary use for attempting to knock creatures prone (maybe they get a save/defense bonus of +1 for each leg they have beyond two? or simply advantage if they have more than 2 legs). These uses could easily be hard-coded into a lot of the non-combat spells: even using unseen servant you could sactifice it for a "help" action in a combat. Maybe not the best, but it gives people a clear use of these utility spells in combat.

But the table though. I want a table that gives good advice for using some spells creatively and how much damage they should do. If I use create water against a fire elemental, how much damage should it do? It barely has to be a table. I'm thinking something like:

  • Single Target, just damage: 2d8+1d8 per spell level above 1st.
  • Multi target, or single target + condition: 2d4+1d4 per spell level above 1st.
  • Area of effect type spells ought to do half-damage on a failed save.
  • Apply advantage on an attack roll or disadvantage on a save if it's thematically appropriate (i.e. create water against a fire elemental).

But since they're hard-coding some uses into spells, it seems obvious that create or destroy water ought to be able to do damage to fire or water creatures.  Why is this missing? Stone shape against an earth creature? These utility spells have been sanitised their combat uses. On the surface they have an old school feel because they give you some nice non-combat options, but those non-combat options don't scale well and any combat applications of utility spells are left entirely to the DM to decide. I'd think given the interest in balance in organized play that they'd make some fair and balanced rulings about this sort of thing so they can be evenly applied by different DMs.

I guess maybe this bothers me more because it seems like my current DM has just given up on learning the system: he calls for lots of pointless skill checks (ok, a style issue) and doesn't seem to understand which proficiencies do what (he never uses investigation, seems to misunderstand thieves' tools, and occasionally calls for things like "agility saves" which are usually--but not always--interpretable). So in this world, I'd rather have some clear guidelines on how some of my creative spell use ought to work, and, frankly, we know in D&D that when someone comes up with one creative use for a spell it gets repeated ad nauseum. 5e would be better off giving some of these utility spells a bit more utility, and it could have been better off coding it in the rules.