It comes as no surprise that gamers are creative types and quite a few people channel that creativity into tinkering with the game itself. I started off thinking about whether I want to covert 5E elements to 4E or vice versa. There are elements of both that are good if not great. Then when I decided to stick with 5E as the base and add to it, I started looking at things I like in other games. Things that I could add to D&D. Like some sort of Frankengame 🙂
These are concepts, not mechanics. I haven’t delved in to what I’d need to actually bring these ideas to life, not what sort of imbalance they may cause. There is a ton of work that needs to be done for most of these things to get them to work but it does give me a good foundation to pluck away at.
No More Saving Throws for Enemies
I greatly prefer players making all the rolls for things that their character is doing and saving throws takes that away from casters. Use the 4E or 13th Age system of different defenses that the player rolls an attack against (and vice versa for monsters). The fact that you can make a D&D character who never rolls to attack is just ludicrous to me and it also means that character never experiences the sheer joy of rolling a critical success when it really matters. Additionally Spell Save DCs scale up pretty slowly and if you run into something that’s actually proficient in a save it can be a big issue that leaves a player feeling like they’ve done nothing on their turn but mark off a spell slot.
Taking the above a step further keep saving throws for players and then add in defense rolls as well. Focus more on the characters (and players) by having them roll. This is a fundamental concept for the Powered By the Apocalypse style games and something I like quite a bit. It puts the character’s fate entirely in the hands of the player and their dice. A character’s Defense Bonus would be their AC -10, they roll a d20 and add that with the DC being the creatures attack bonus+10. Very easy to implement and that math should work out about the same.
Health status in 5E is the subject of memes and humorous videos because whether you have 200 hp or 1 hp you are just as effective. Let’s ditch hit points for a system that uses wound levels – or more accurately use hit points to determine wound levels. Then apply a penalty for each wound. The Stargate RPG has the levels of Scuffed (below full, not below half) and Wounded (below half) and that’s a good place to start. Basing the wound levels off total HP also means there is a noticeable difference between a Wounded fighter and a Wounded wizard. It also gives players wording to use to describe how wounded they are without stating actual hit point numbers.
Monster Roles and Minions
Getting rid of the specialized monster roles from 4E turned things in 5E to mostly generic sacks of hit points. Of all the things that were lost in the new edition this is one of two that hurts the most. Hordes of minions make the PCs feel like epic heroes while a combat encounter with 3 lurkers, 2 artillery and a couple of brutes is very different than an encounter with 7 orcs. Beyond that we all know that the idea of a solo or boss monster in 5E is pretty ludicrous using the RAW.
Character advancement in D&D is fairly antiquated and can definitely be improved upon. I’m a big fan of the classless leveling in the Stargate Game (which is based on 5E so it’s not outside the realm of possibility), where characters level up in a class to level 5 but it then switches to a classless system. The conventional leveling in a class to level 5 covers “basic training” – core abilities for a Diplomat or a Soldier or a Medic etc. After that point though, advancement is all based on Feats which are purchased with Mission Points (basically XP). Even the multi-classing is done via this system. A Diplomat can take a feat called “Advanced Training: Medic” which gives them one of the Medic’s class abilities and then opens up the Medic specific feats for them. It’s simple and works really well. Think of it as a more advanced version of Magic Initiate.
For hit points and proficiency bonus you just cross reference the amount of points spent (not earned) and it gives you a character level equivalent for all the things that are level based.
Note – this system simply lists an ASI as a Feat along with everything else and that little change is so, so much clearer.