Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Unearthed Arcana and Freeport, Part 13: Class Feature Variants

Welcome back to my ongoing series of capsule reviews of "Unearthed Arcana" with an eye for how to use them with the Freeport setting. For this 13th installment, we have a single whopping 13-page entry from this month.

For my past columns about using D&D Fifth Edition sourcebooks with Freeport: The City of Adventure, see the Freeport 5E Index.

Class Feature Variants (11/4/2019): This document presents a variety of alternate class features covering all classes in the Player's Handbook. These options fall into the following categories:
  • Replaced class features: The character trades away one class feature for a new one.
  • Enhanced class features: The existing class feature is expanded to do a little more than before. (The following three items are specific kinds of enhancement.)
  • Expanded options: Class features that require a choice from several options get new options.
  • Expanded spell lists: The class's spell list adds new spells from other classes' lists. 
  • Retraining: The character can change one of their spells, maneuvers, or other class features more easily.
The replaced class features seem to be the easiest to judge, because the new abilities seem to be roughly equivalent in power to those they replace. The idea of swapping in different abilities goes back at least to AD&D 2E's class kits (and was taken to extreme lengths in Pathfinder 1E's archetype rules).

The expanded options are also fairly straightforward, as they are simply new choices for class features that a character may only choose in limited numbers: new maneuvers, fighting styles, metamagic options, and warlock invocations (and a new type of pact boon).

The expanded spell lists seem unnecessary to me. Some players will welcome more choices, while others will complain that it makes the spellcasting classes feel less distinct. (My initial take leans towards the latter.)

Several enhancements are essentially rules for making retraining character features more easy. For example, most of the spellcasting classes get Spell Versatility (allowing you to change a spell known after a long rest) or Cantrip Versatility (allowing you to change a known cantrip when you gain a level). The new Maneuver Versatility feature has a similar effect on the battle master's maneuvers. Proficiency Versatility allows a character of any class to change one skill proficiency whenever they gain an Ability Score Improvement. Many of these rules seem open to abuse, or at least to making such changes seem trivial. On the other hand, having a rule (albeit an optional one) for changing cantrips or skills at all will be a welcome addition for many players.

Other enhanced class features include: another use for bardic inspiration; another use for Channel Divinity; a Wild Companion feature for druids that expends uses of wild shape; choosing alternate weapon lists for monks, and new uses for ki; a new option for the Beast Master ranger's companion; and a new use for the rogue's Cunning Action. These changes add new abilities at no cost, but a few of them may help address some genuine issues within the core rules (such as the beast master companion's underwhelming execution).

There is very little in this installment that needs any special calling out for a Freeport campaign. However, at the very least, the new Fighting Style and Martial Versatility options, the Elemental Spell metamagic option, and several of the new warlock invocations would be very welcome additions to the electric, exotic mix that is Freeport.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

"Missing" weapons in D&D 5th Edition

One of the primary design goals of the fifth edition of the Dungeons & Dragons RPG was to develop much simpler rules than in most previous editions of the game. One of the many areas that was simplified was equipment, including the weapons list. In this column, I will be comparing the weapon rules in 5E with those in v.3.5, because that is the previous edition with which I have the most experience. Then I will give suggestions for how to handle the "missing" weapons that appeared in the v.3.5 Player's Handbook but not in the 5E version.

Some of the weapon rules that 5E changed include:
  • Weapons are now only simple or martial. There is no more "feat tax" in order to use an exotic weapon without penalty (in part because feats themselves became optional). The few previously exotic weapons that remain in the game (hand crossbow, net, and whip) are now martial weapons.
  • All weapons have the same effect on a critical hit. Players no longer need to keep track of which weapons have expanded threat ranges or higher crit multipliers. This makes some of the finer distinctions between v.3.5 weapons moot; for example, a punching dagger is now just a dagger.
  • There are no double weapons. Many of v.3.5's exotic weapons were double-ended weapons that allowed extra attacks using the two-weapon fighting rules. They were very feat-intensive to use effectively, so don't translate well to 5E; also, most were fictional fantasy weapons with few historical precedents. The one non-exotic double weapon, the quarterstaff, is now a versatile weapon, using a larger damage die if wielded with both hands. 
  • The finesse and light properties have been decoupled. Light weapons define what can be used as a second weapon in two-weapon fighting, but not all are finesse weapons (club, sickle, handaxe, light hammer). Finesse weapons now allow a character to use Dexterity for attack and damage instead of Strength, but include some non-light weapons (rapier, scimitar, whip).
  • Many weapons have fewer size options. Flails and war picks only come in one size, and spears are limited to spear and pike. 
  • Combat maneuvers are uncommon at best. Most combat maneuvers (trip, disarm, etc.) are now limited to the battle master archetype or monster attacks, and special weapons no longer give a bonus to those maneuvers. As with the simplification of critical hits above, this reduces the need for fine distinctions between some weapons, most notably the many kinds of polearms. It also means that many Asian weapons traditionally associated with the monk class can be treated as more conventional weapons of the same approximate size and damage type (a kama as a sickle, a shuriken as a dart, etc.). Most of these equivalents are simple weapons, so monks will be proficient with them.
  • Bows are much less complicated. All ranged attacks (except for some thrown weapons) use Dexterity to modify both attack and damage, so there is no need to spend extra money for a composite bow in order to benefit from a high Strength score. 
  • Nonlethal damage is not tracked separately. If you want to knock a creature out without killing it, you simply make that choice when you deliver the final blow. 

Easy Equivalencies

With these changes in mind, it becomes clear that with many "missing" weapons, we can simply use the stats for the most similar weapon listed in the 5E Player's Handbook. The following equivalencies should require no further justification:
  • Battleaxe includes dwarven waraxe.
  • Club includes nunchaku, sai, and sap.
  • Dagger includes punching dagger, and probably spiked gauntlet.
  • Dart includes shuriken.
  • Flail includes heavy flail.
  • Glaive and halberd (which have identical stats) can include guisarme.
  • Handaxe includes throwing axe.
  • Longbow and shortbow include their composite versions.
  • Longsword includes bastard sword.
  • Mace includes light and heavy maces.
  • Maul includes greatclub.
  • Pike includes longspear and ranseur.
  • Sickle includes kama.
  • Unarmed strike includes gauntlet.
  • Spear includes shortspear.
  • War pick includes light and heavy picks.
A couple weapons only need a little more discussion:
  • Falchion: It's a two-handed sword, albeit it a curved one, so treat it as a greatsword. 
  • Kukri: Treat as a scimitar, which is a finesse weapon in 5E. 

Double Weapons

With double-ended exotic weapons, I'm inclined to follow the example of the quarterstaff, and treat some of them as whatever versatile weapon best fits their approximate size and damage type. This means that, for example, the gnome-hooked hammer becomes a warhammer. (Note that Small races use the same size weapons as Medium characters, so a warhammer wielded in two hands does a respectable 1d10--the same as the smallest heavy weapons!)

The orc double axe becomes a battleaxe, and the two-bladed sword becomes a longsword. Alternately, you could bump these up to greataxe and greatsword, respectively, since both are obviously large two-handed weapons. The dwarven urgrosh requires a bit more thought, having (like the hooked hammer) two dissimilar ends, but is probably best replaced by the greataxe.

The dire flail is not very similar to any existing versatile or heavy weapon. I would treat it as a maul.

A DM who wishes to preserve some of the original flavor of exotic double weapons can use the following suggestions: 
  • Start with stats appropriate for each end of the weapon: battleaxes for a double axe; battleaxe and spear for the urgrosh; longswords for a two-bladed sword; warhammer and war pick for a hooked hammer; and flails for the dire flail. 
  • Double the weight of the heavier weapon to get the double weapon's weight.
  • Add the costs of the two weapons, then multiply the total by at least 2 or 3.
  • All double weapons have the two-handed property. Most should also be heavy (except for the hooked hammer, which was designed for use by a Small race).
  • The second attack is made using a bonus action, per the standard two-weapon fighting rules. However, note that none of these weapons has an end with the light property! Therefore, only someone with the Dual Wielder feat can attack with both ends in the same round.
  • DMs using these guidelines could build alternate quarterstaff stats using two clubs, which do have the light property, so could be used with the two-weapon fighting rules without the feat.
In my opinion, this solution just emphasizes how awkward using a double weapon really is. They also remain expensive in terms of money and feat usage. Why not just use two separate weapons, or one larger one? (I know the answer is because they're exotic, and thus cool. But sometimes the payoff isn't enough to justify the investment.)

Shields and Armor as Weapons

5E includes no rules for shield bashes, spiked shields, or spiked armor. 

Under the existing rules, striking someone with your shield would probably be treated as an improved weapon attack. A character proficient in martial weapons should be able to use their proficiency bonus on a shield bash attack, probably doing the same damage as a club. However, I wouldn't consider a shield to be a light weapon, so you couldn't attack with your main weapon and shield in the same round without Dual Wielder.

Shield and armor spikes can probably be priced at 50 gp, as in v.3.5, and would deal damage as daggers. Treat armor spikes as light martial weapons, but not finesse weapons.

What's Left?

This still leaves the following weapons: bolas, repeating crossbow (light and heavy), scythe, and spiked chain. These are enough unlike the other weapons discussed here to merit stats designed from scratch.

Bolas: martial ranged weapon, 5 gp, 1d4 bludgeoning, 2 lbs., special, thrown (20/60). Bolas have damage and range similar to a light hammer, but entangle the target like a net.

Repeating crossbow: Weapons with the loading property don't take an action to load, but can only make one attack per action. This is probably fast enough to make a repeating crossbow more or less irrelevant, but DMs who want to make them available can make the following changes to any crossbow:

  • Multiply weight by 1.5.
  • Multiply cost by 10.
  • The magazine holds 5 bolts, which weigh and cost the same as 20 normal bolts (1 gp, 1.5 lbs.).
  • A repeating crossbow does not gain the loading property until all 5 bolts are fired. It then gains the loading property for 1 round to represent the time needed to load a new magazine. (Alternately, simply ignore the loading property altogether.) 

Scythe: martial melee weapon, 18 gp, 1d10 slashing, 10 lbs., heavy, two-handed.

Spiked Chain: martial melee weapon, 25 gp, 1d10 piercing, 10 lbs., finesse, reach, two-handed.