Today we continue our look at things from other games (or other editions of D&D) that I’d add to build my ultimate frankengame of D&D. For the most part these are devoid of actual mechanics for inclusion into D&D 5E but are more about looking at what different elements could bring to the table.
If you haven’t, check out part one here.
Gear that Matters
There’s so much gear in D&D but with the exceptions of weapons and armor very little of it matters. When was the last time a character used their signet ring? Do you really need pitons to climb? What bonus do they provide over a rope and grapple? Why would anyone buy soap? Now not everything needs to have stats but most things should. Give the character advantage on a persuasion roll because they used soap and are dressed in finery. The character carrying a dozen books might have one on the History of White Plume Mountain so give them a benefit (lower DC or advantage). If the goal is to get characters to spend gold on things, then then things need to provide something in return. Both Forbidden Lands and Conan 2d20 have gear with actual tangible effects in game and it really does work to make that gear more desirable.
Ancestry/Culture rather than Race
It’s high time D&D upped their game on this front. The Ancestry and Culture third party supplement is a start but there’s still some issues with it. They go through the trouble of specifying what abilities are based on ancestry and which ones are cultural but then tie the cultures back to the ancestry so there’s an Elvish Culture and a Dragonborn Culture, etc. Culture should be more along the lines of Militant Culture or At One With Nature or Thoughtful Worship etc. Something to more seamlessly allow for things like a Militant Elf or a Introspective Gnome etc.
Sure you can do Milestones or otherwise level up the party when the DM tells you that you do but that always seems nebulous to me. I actually like knowing that my character is close to leveling up. I’m a big fan of the Mission Points in Stargate where advancement is directly tied to mission completion. There is an objective, a quest etc. Mission points are awarded when the goal is achieved. It doesn’t matter how, it doesn’t matter how many enemies you slay, all that matters is the the mission is complete. You can easily, easily tie this in to Quests or Stories or Objectives. In Stargate, characters generally level about every 3 sessions, which still means that a level 1-20 “series” will still take about 60 sessions and a thirteen episode “season” will see characters go from level 1 to 4 or 5.
This approach means I don’t need to worry about how much bonus XP for good ideas, making alliances, good RP etc. etc. If the party accomplishes their goal they get X Quest Points, if the stakes are really high or they succeed exceptionally well or implement a great plan then they get X+1 or even X+2.
Zone Based Movement/Combat and Encumbrance Loads
Forget the push to have D&D use the metric system – just ditch real word measurements all together. Use semi-abstract zones for movement and range and use a simple load based system for encumbrance.
Zone based movement breaks a combat area down into zones, usually based on logic and some feature – a tavern might be 4 zones for the main floor, behind the bar, the upstairs and the kitchen for example. Ranges are usually Reach, Close (same zone), Medium (adjacent zone) and Long (two zones). It may be a Movement to change one zone and an action to change two zones. Weapon and spell ranges are also in zones as opposed to feet, so a thrown dagger might have a range of close but a bow might have a range of long. Once you get used it it flows so much better. It also pairs really well with the Area of Effect information on page 249 of the DMG.
Load based encumbrance means you don’t need to worry about weight. Each item has a load value based on weight and bulkiness and a character can comfortably carry a number based on their strength. I actually really like the Stars Without Number/World Without Number system with different amounts for Readied and Stowed items. Characters can have Ready a number of items equal to 1/2 their Strength. This includes armor worn, shields, weapons, etc. Things that are easy to get to. They can have Stowed additional items equal to their Strength. These are things in pouches, backpacks, pockets etc. and to access one of these items it takes an Action. It’s simple and actually usable unlike base D&D.
New Approach to Inspiration
Let’s face facts, if the most popular version of your game doesn’t use a fairly core mechanic then it’s probably a pretty bad mechanic in some way. Since I don’t ever remember Critical Role using Inspiration I’m going to go with my gut that it’s just not that great. I did do an article on making it better but for this I’m looking at a complete overhaul.
Again drawing on Stargate and their Determination mechanic and I think that would slide in here nicely. In that game characters have a pool of Determination which is their proficiency bonus plus modifiers from class, species, feats etc. At the base level a character can spend these points to lower the DC on a test (one for one) because they are determined to succeed. Points are regained following a long rest. Nice and easy, far more useful than Inspiration and it even ties in to the Diplomat’s class abilities where they can give a pep talk to restore some Determination to their team. There are other uses and they play into that game’s social conflict system but at the basest level it is a great replacement for Inspiration.