Wednesday, June 8, 2016

5e D&D Tweaks - Abilities scores, checks and Saving throws rethinking

Today, I'd like to discuss a few tweaks, rethinking and house rules I use in my games with Attribute scores, attribute checks and Saving Throws.
1) Attribute scores and checks

. What do attribute scores represent? In this new D&D edition, attributes were equated with its old versions - there is now a limit for attributes. In old D&D, this limit used to be 25, and in 5e it is 30. For many players of 3rd and 4th edition, such changes are extremely strange, specially if you are trying to stat a monster's strength, for example. However, I believe we must interpret them in a different way.

With that said, I believe attributes must be read as "training" more than absolute values. In other words, having an elf or human with 18 Dex means that, compared with other humanoids, they are much above the average (10). However, a human with 20 strength would never be stronger than a 19 strength ogre.

The game effects would still be affected by rolls. So, you would still make an Athletics check to grapple with an ogre. But this would not mean that you are physically stronger than it. You are trying to win it over with superior tactics and overall heroism - not brute force. You can apply this logic with many different situations - a 18 intelligence ilithid could be smarter than any 20 Int human, even though the human would have more bonuses to rolls.

This interpretation of attributes is specially important for encumbrance rules, since a 26 strength dragon would not be able to even lift its body with such strength if we go by the rules as written.

. Attribute checks need not to exist. This is one of the few things I truly disliked in 5th edition - the existence of attribute checks in addition to skill checks and saving throws. Overall, it makes very little sense (both logically and gaming-wise) to differentiate saving throws from attribute checks. I understand that attribute checks are usually lower than saving throws numbers, but to differentiate them is very distracting - specially when the whole logic of the system is sustained on the idea of Attribute bonus + Proficiency (if you have it).

Having played 5th edition with new gamers, and specially new gamers that have never played D&D, they had great problems with attribute checks, using saving throws instead. After seeing this happen, I adopted this as a better ruling. Just roll saving throws for attribute checks .

2) Saving Throws

. What are them? Many a time in my sessions there was confusion in regards, for example, when to use Acrobatics or Dex saving throw. Although the rules are kind of clear (Acrobatics are used in active tests, while Saving Throws are used as reactive), many players were still confuse - specially new players.

Because of that, I spared some time to think about the differences of both skill checks and saving throws. My conclusion and the rule interpretation I'm using is that Skill Checks are the equivalent of Actions, while Saving throws are free action used only as reactions.

In practice, there is almost no real change in the rules - you use Saves when attacked, and skill checks when you have the action to do so. The main thing here is that I allow characters to use skill checks to recover from some attacks, when it seems fit. For example, instead of rolling a Wis saving throw to resist a multiple turns paralyzing effect, the character may roll Arcana or Religion by using their action of the turn.

Skills are actions, and saving throws are free reactions against attacks. If

. Defense saves: This is a very minor tweak I use that I believe makes the game faster and simpler. Instead of asking players to roll saving throws, I make attack rolls and use the saving throws passive score. So, if a dragon breath fire in the party, instead of each character rolling to save, I make an attack roll against their passive Dex save (10 + Dex bonus + Proficiency if any). The same is applied to the players: if a sorcerer cast a fireball, it rolls the spellcaster attack vs passive Dex from the enemies.

Yes, this option makes more extreme results to occur (like a fireball hitting 10 orcs for full damage because the mage rolled 18 on the d20). However, it makes the game both faster and more logical, specially for new players. It is easier to understand that "Ok, I'm throwing this fireball at them so I will roll my spellcaster attack", instead of, "Ok, I'm throwing this fireball at them so they must make a defense roll". When you have warriors using attack rolls against AC, it is easier and faster if you consider Saving Throws as passive Defense Saves.

On a side note, you could use a Armor throw, considering the attacking enemy passive attack (10+ attack modifier), and you would roll 1d20 + AC bonus. Although a strange nifty idea, I prefer that attacks are rolled, while defenses are passive.

 . Rethinking saving throws. I like the idea that every single attribute can be used as a saving throw. However, some saves are rarely used - and that is the case for Intelligence and Charisma saving throws. In the DM book, you see that Charisma is used for madness checks, which makes it a little bit better. But intelligence saves are almost never used, appearing only a couple of times to resist monsters (like Intellect devourer and Mind Flayers).

Because of that, I made a few tweaks on saving throws and reshaped their usage:

- Intelligence: Represent fast thinking, discernment and reasoning. Use that against all Illusion spells and attacks, and against ALL spells and attacks that deal psychic damage (and this includes even Bard spells that deal such kind of damage).

- Wisdom: Represent instinct, will and overall perception. Use it against attacks targeting your senses (deafening blows, thundering sounds, flashing lights), attacks that try to mind control you or other magical attacks that overall impose their will against you.

- Charisma: Represents spirit, personality, identity and extra-planary defense. Use when your personality is being shaken and changed. Therefore, Charisma is used against madness and reality twisting effects (power from creatures like abominations or magics that banish you to other planes or the effect of horrific experiences), and it is also used against fear (this includes draconic presence, undead fearful auras and magic fear).

In other words:
  1. Use intelligence for psychic and illusion
  2. Use wisdom for attacks against your senses, mind control, and other magical attacks like curses 
  3. Use charisma against fear, horror, madness and reality twisting attacks

Final Summary:

Consider attributes more as training instead of "absolute values". Get rid off attribute checks and use saving throws instead. Realize that Skill checks are actions while Saves are usually free reactions. Think about using Defense Saves (passive saving throws) to speed up your game and make the rules more straightforward. And, in order to make more use of less used saving throws, use my rethought saving throws.

Hope you folks like these tweaks.

Until next time,


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