Basic DnD (5e): Every character and monster

I’m going to be slowly working my way through the Basic DnD (5e) free rules book. Slowly because between a nearly-four-week-old baby and my eldest daughter, I hardly have time to brush my teeth (though I insist on it, as does, well, everyone) much less do a detailed “hey, let’s read an entire chapter of Pathfinder and do a detailed commentary” sit-down session.

Still, while I write for GURPS, and have eight blog post ideas and four e23 projects (none contracted; my whiteboard distinguishes between ‘this would be good for my blog’ vs. ‘yeah, Pyramid, baby’ vs. ‘only doable on Warehouse 23’), first and foremost I’m a booster for the hobby as a whole. 

And the latest edition of DnD is, love it or hate it, big news. Important. And worth tracking and commenting on.

Still, I”m not doing it out of some mechanical sense of duty. I’ve enjoyed the hell out of playing in +Erik Tenkar‘s Swords and Wizardry game, and I enjoyed playing Pelagiyel the Rogue/Archer in Pathfinder with +Jeromy French. I have very much enjoyed +Nathan Joy turning the Jade Regent Pathfinder Adventure Path into a GURPS Dungeon Fantasy campaign. I have mercilessly used Night’s Black Agents ( +Kenneth Hite‘s brilliant Jason Bourne meets Underworld mashup for GUMSHOE) “how to plan a thriller and set up bad guys’ tentacles” advice for my GURPS Alien Menace campaign.

And I won’t lie. I’ve gotten huge traffic over first the grappling post, and then my analysis of the Advantaged/Disadvantaged mechanic in the 5e DnD Basic Rules. 

Note to self: find a consistent shorthand that doesn’t piss people off for the new rules. 

Anyway, I’m going to comment on something that struck me as important in passing. 

Every Character and Monster . . . 

Hell, I’m just going to quote the text:

“Every character and monster in the game has capabilities defined by six ability scores. The abilities are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma . . . “

Why is this relevant?

Let’s take a quick look at a monster from the Swords and Wizardry Complete rulebook:

HobgoblinHit Dice: 1+1
Armor Class: 5 [14]
Attacks: Weapon (1d8)
Saving Throw: 17
Special: None
Move: 9
Alignment: Chaos
Challenge Level/XP: 1/15 [This is about 1/100th of the XP to hit 2nd level]

And now, the same critter, I hope, from Pathfinder . . . 

Hobgoblin CR 1/2

XP 200  [Note: this is about 1/10 the XP required to get out of 1st level]

Hobgoblin fighter 1LE Medium humanoid (goblinoid)

Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +2

DEFENSE

AC 16, touch 12, flat-footed 14 (+3 armor, +2 Dex, +1 shield)hp 17 (1d10+6)Fort +5, Ref +2, Will +1

OFFENSE

Speed 30 ft.Melee longsword +4 (1d8+2/19–20) Ranged longbow +3 (1d8/×3) 

STATISTICS

Str 15, Dex 15, Con 16, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 8Base Atk +1; CMB +3; CMD 15Feats ToughnessWeapon Focus (longsword)Skills Perception +2, Stealth +5; Racial Modifiers +4 StealthLanguages Common, Goblin

One of these things is not like the other . . . 

Two things here. The first is that were I to, say, write for S&W, I have to confine my rules-bending to ensure that everything I do can be done for monsters and characters alike. That means I can’t refer to STR or DEX or INT for a monster. I have to use Hit Dice, Armor Class, Hit Points, Saving Throw, etc. Characters, of course, have differences. Mild (relative to Pathfinder) bonuses for attributes, as well as an effective bonus for level. You have to approach the effective bonus sideways – it’s implicit in the charts, and explicitly provided on p. 44 of the Complete Rules.

Pathfinder stats out the dudes pretty completely, as you can see. There’s a hell of a lot more to fiddle with. I don’t mean that as a pejorative. Hell, I play and write for GURPS. But I don’t have to guess at a monster’s stats here.

The only thing that’s not on either one, that would make my life as a writer of (say) grappling rules easier is the typical weight of a typical specimen. It’s just damn convenient to deal with certain types of things as encumbrance. You got five kobolds on you? Great. They each weigh 50 lbs, so if you can walk around with 250 lbs. on your back like it’s winter clothing, you’re not hindered at all. If you will collapse under that weight, well, you collapse.

In fairness, GURPS doesn’t handle this well either, since the weight of a monster is often an afterthought.

Parting Shot
I (and +Peter V. Dell’Orto, for that matter) have been discussing S&W (and by bank shot, DnD in general) rules recently. (If you insert a ‘mwa ha ha’ in here, just for fun, well, no one will complain). One of the things we had to make darn sure of was that the rules could stand alone with the incredibly minimal information provided by a S&W monster writeup.

Pathfinder, as you see above, is rather more detailed.

What about DnD 5e? Well, I’m not sure if pasting from playtest files is kosher, so I’ll assume it’s not (and sure enough, the “Do Not Distribute” tag giveth it away). Here’s a culled description of what you might find, though, for our hobgoblin.

Size (“Medium Humanoid”).
AC and armor (so you know where that AC is coming from)
HP and Hit Dice, plus any bonuses HP are an average for the race.
Speed and senses.
A full set of attributes and bonuses.
Traits (in this case, something called Steadfast)
Actions – melee and ranged attacks, plus some special stuff that looks pretty neat.
The creature’s level and XP for defeating one

Not quite as much as Pathfinder, but a hell of a lot more than Swords and Wizardry. But the fact that I can count on a proficiency and explicitly delineated stats (I know that all of the Hobgoblin’s AC comes from his Armor (ring mail), and that if I were to want to define, say, a ‘grappling AC,’ I could call it AC 10, because a Hobgoblin’s DEX isn’t high enough to bestow a bonus).

So it looks to me like splitting the difference. Just enough that most rules will apply to monsters and characters alike, but not quite so much a huge info dump as Pathfinder can be.

We’ll see. Heck, the offhand comment that inspired this post is only on p. 4. I’m sure there will be more of interest on the next 100+ pages.

But why do I care?

I have a ripping good time gaming with friends oldish and newish playing Swords and Wizardry. If I needed to remake a character, pretty sure I could do it in fifteen minutes or so, even if I were creating a level 7 Fighter instead of Level 1. It’s just fun and fast.

Pathfinder is detailed enough – and depends so much on Feat selection and the bonuses bestowed by gear – that it’s, well, GURPS-like in how much detail you need on rules and metaknowledge to ensure you don’t create a dolt.

I did this, accidentally, when I wrote about fighting people better than you, and realized that my own 6th level Rogue didn’t have near enough stud-power compared to equivalent (or nearly so) iconic character.

We’ll see if this new version adds pleasant hooks to hang fun things on with optional rules modules, or if it turns into something that you love it once you’ve mastered it . . . but you better take the time to master.

The writing . . . it feels more like S&W than the other thing. But we’ll see. Ultimately, I see all this interest in the new DnD as not just being good for WotC, which frankly I’m agnostic about, but as good for the hobby. This is the same way that I feel about, say, some random guy taking up martial arts in Tae Kwon Do vs my own Hwa Rang Do, instead of not doing martial arts at all. All things considered, I want my art of choice to thrive; next best is to have as many people interested in the art in general as possible. Least good, to the point of not-at-all, are those on the sidelines or actively antagonistic to the hobby as a whole.

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