This is a site for discussing roleplaying games. Have fun doing so, but there is one major rule: do not discuss political issues that aren't directly and uniquely related to the subject of the thread and about gaming. While this site is dedicated to free speech, the following will not be tolerated: devolving a thread into unrelated political discussion, sockpuppeting (using multiple and/or bogus accounts), disrupting topics without contributing to them, and posting images that could get someone fired in the workplace (an external link is OK, but clearly mark it as Not Safe For Work, or NSFW). If you receive a warning, please take it seriously and either move on to another topic or steer the discussion back to its original RPG-related theme.
The message boards have been upgraded. Please log in to your existing account by clicking here. It will ask twice, so that it can properly update your password and login information. If it has trouble recognizing your password, click the 'Forgot your password?' link to reset it with a new password sent to your email address on file.

Author Topic: Old-schooling, 5e part iii: Fixing ranged combat and first level  (Read 5775 times)

BedrockBrendan

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 12384
    • View Profile
BY RICK MOSCATELLO

     
Old school play was much more about melee than today. You really didn’t see archers blowing away dragons with arrows while the sword wielders stood there dumbfounded, or anything of the sort. In fact, firing into melee was a highly risky move—old school games gave a chance you could hit an ally, a pretty good chance, in fact. Firing an arrow hard enough to explode a dragon wasn’t much of an advantage when you had a good chance of hitting a friend!
     
As the game progressed, shooting in melee became less and less of a problem. First, it was reduced to just a penalty, then feats that anyone could get removed the penalty. Then archery became more and more powerful, to the point that gamers complained if the archer didn’t hit every bit as hard as the melee fighter, to the point of calling it “unbalanced” if the DPR was more than 10% less. This is, of course, silly, the melee character is taking real risks to his life by standing in close combat, while the archer avoids much of the risk…being able to do a little more damage in melee is actually unfair compensation.
     
In 5e, ranged combat is the way to play. Most every spellcasting class has infinite ranged attack cantrips (although my earlier fix to magic helps with that), there’s even a cantrip to damage heavily-armored targets, and most classes are spellcasters. Added to this “nearly everyone rangestrikes” problem is 5e allows for characters to attack in the middle of a move. So, a character can move around the corner, shoot, then run back around the corner, quite possibly presenting no counter-fire opportunities…allowing the monsters to concentrate fire on the hapless melee fighters.
     
If the 5E world really worked like this, there wouldn’t be arrow slits or crenellations on castle walls. Instead, there were would a windowless room at the top of the walls. Archers would leave this room, fire, then duck back in, where they’d have perfect cover.
     
I’ve played several campaigns in 5e now, and the same thing keeps happening: a party has 1 melee fighter, everyone else attacks at range. Combat after combat sees the poor melee guy rush up, while everyone else hangs back and fires away. I don’t blame everyone wanting to stay out of melee, it’s risky and dangerous. Firing into melee in 5e is as gentle as it gets: either no penalty, or, if the DM is feeling mean, a -2 penalty.
     
Here are some fixes to 5e to give it more of an old school feel (you needn’t use all, just the ones that suit the complexity level and feel of your campaign):
     
Random Targeting: A shot into melee has an equal chance of striking any combatant involved, based on spaces occupied. So, if you shoot into a combat between a fighter and a goblin, there’s a 50% chance of accidentally targeting one or the other. A fighter versus an ogre (occupying 4 spaces) means only a 20% chance of accidentally targeting the fighter. A fighter versus 3 goblins, leads to a 25% chance of hitting the fighter. This is the old school method, and alone will make archery what it’s supposed to be: a method for attacking at range, and not a “one trick pony” used in all situations. Bottom line, an actual fight doesn’t involve combatants simply standing still and politely hacking at each other…watch any boxing match (or SCA battle) to see how hand to hand combat generally goes. This random targeting includes most magic spells, except for that “useless” magic missile old schoolers were always raving about (even sacred flame should be affected).
     
Bigger Penalties: Random targeting wasn’t so bad when damage was only a d6, but now that characters can deal a lot of damage with ranged attacks, a penalty instead of a chance of obliterating an ally might make the game somewhat less lethal. Base penalty for shooting into melee should be -8, with a one point reduction in penalty for each square of enemy past the first (eg, only -5 for shooting large enemies). This may seem like an extreme penalty, but consider shooting at even a target with AC 16: your typical first level character right now has a 50% of hitting this target, even if it’s in melee. Toss in a -8 penalty, and now it’s a mere 10% chance (as opposed to 25% with Random Targeting)—that’s pretty fair for removing the whole “kill your friend” possibility.
     
Disadvantage For Melee: 5e isn’t big on die roll modifiers, but the mechanic of Disadvantage just isn’t big enough to really balance out the penalty of firing into melee. Still, the rule of “all ranged attacks into melee are at Disadvantage” is an elegant, if not completely satisfying, way to tone done all the ranged attacks going on in 5e. Toss in an extra -2 penalty for cover, and we’re fairly close to Bigger Penalties while also being closer to 5e’s design philosophy.
     
Movement Penalty: The “run, shoot, run” rules of 5e are neat, but really warp the game world. The temptation would normally be to just put Disadvantage to any ranged attacks made to a character that move before shooting, but that doesn’t go well if you’re also using  Disadvantage for Melee. So, if you’re using that, put a -4 penalty in for moving before shooting, and if you’re using Bigger Penalties or Random Targetting, put in Disadvantage instead. Either way, shooting and moving at the same time should be much, much, harder to do.
     
Now, modern game design has a “if there’s a problem, there’s a way to get around it” philosophy, but a DM including any of the above rules should seriously consider NOT creating feats or magic items that make shooting into melee combat any easier. It’s not supposed to be just as easy. Even the incredibly deadly Asian horse archers still carried swords, because as soon as melee was joined, firing bows was simply not an option…it may be more of an option in a fantasy world, but the modern perception of “every bit as good” has changed the game to be very different from its old school origins.
     
Monsters should, of course, be playing by the same rules as the player characters. For what it’s worth, my monsters are far more inclined to shoot into combat even when there’s a chance of hitting an “ally”…evil things can get away with that.
     
Fixing First Level

While most changes to make 5e more “old school” make the characters weaker, there is one area where characters need help: at first level. Bottom line, first level in 5e is messed up; WotC did the right thing by just making first level a footnote to a character’s career, and making it “standard” that characters go from first to second level after a single, fairly brief, adventure.
     
But, old school characters, even after a few levels, were much like first level characters in newer games: powers and abilities didn’t just stack and stack. The real issue isn’t that 5e characters are too weak at first level, it’s that the monsters are too strong.
     
In old school play, a fighter wearing the best starting armor he could hope for would only get hit by attacking kobolds some 15% of the time. In 5e, even a lone kobold will hit an AC 18 fighter 40% of the time, and “pack tactics” (a legitimate concern with kobolds, especially since the “big adventure” for 5e has many kobolds) makes that a 74% chance of a hit, and nearly a double chance of a critical. That’s a massive increase to monster power. A nearly 500% improvement to kobolds? Yeah, that’s a bit much.
     
In old school play, if that kobold managed a hit, he’d probably roll a d6 for damage, possibly even a d4. This meant that an old school fighter facing a kobold expects to take about half a hit point of damage a round…he’ll be good for 20 rounds or so. Against a pair of kobolds, he’s good for 10 rounds, a long combat. Meanwhile, the old school magic user with 15 Dexterity will probably go down in 3 rounds, quite possibly less.
     
On the other hand, the new school kobolds are rolling a d4 for damage, then adding another +3 to it (because “dexterity is as good as strength” in new school play). The poor new school fighter might only last around 3 rounds against this kobold. Against 2 kobolds? He’ll last 2 rounds—if he loses initiative, he might get exactly 1 turn before being overwhelmed. The wizard will also only have 2 rounds (at best) against a pair of kobolds. The big boost to monster accuracy means armor is not nearly so useful in 5e, so there’s hardly any difference between the well armored melee “sucker” and the relatively unarmored characters.
     
Look what happened between old and new: the heavily armored fighter types suddenly are only slightly more survivable in combat over the unarmored! It’s especially bad at first level.
     
5e puts a band aid on the big power-bump to low level monsters in two ways. First is the unsatisfying “everyone goes to 2nd level fast”, and the second way is only slightly more satisfying: there’s more healing. Unfortunately, the more healing just has characters being thrown down and getting up much more often, giving new fights more of a Keystone Kops feel than a dangerous battle in a dungeon.
     
While the “go to second level” band aid is good, if you want a better low level experience, some changes need to be made. Old school D&D had a concept of “less than 1 hit die” monsters. These monsters were blatantly weaker than even inexperienced adventurers, and had a worse chance to hit, as well as additional vulnerability to many spells, skilled fighters, and a few other effects.
     
So, for “first level adventures”, you can get a better old school feel simply by designating monsters as “less than 1 hit die”. Old D&D put this at “goblin size or smaller”, more or less. This covers goblins (duh!), kobolds, giant rats, and most of the creepy crawlies in your beginner-level adventure. Make the boss monster a normal monste, and you’re set.
     
Here are some ways to address these especially weak monsters, and there’s nothing wrong with using all three penalties for “less than one hit die” monsters:

Feeble: Subtract a D6 from each damage roll; this means occasionally these monsters will hit for no damage, which is fine.

Clumsy: All attacks are at disadvantage (your choice if this simply cancels pack tactics, but it’s probably best to just remove pack tactics from the weak monsters).

Vulnerable: All saving throws are at disadvantage.
     
Even with these penalties, a kobold still could slam a character for 10 points of damage in a hit, which leads to the “critical hit” problem. AD&D didn’t have critical hits, which favor monsters far more than players. If you don’t even want a small chance of a new character being snuffed in one hit, consider removing critical hits from monsters with a proficiency bonus of +2 or less, which at least gives characters time to get a few levels before dealing with sudden blows that can kill anyone but a Moon Druid.

Figuring out what to do with Moon Druids is for next time.

S'mon

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 11540
    • View Profile
Old-schooling, 5e part iii: Fixing ranged combat and first level
« Reply #1 on: May 07, 2015, 11:37:26 am »
I agree missile combat needs to be penalised (or in some cases prevented) - I've just been using a +4 AC bonus plus you need a gap between your friends to shoot through - no "squares" in 5e! :D - so in a 10' tunnel a single archer can shoot between 2 front rank allies but target has +4 AC, typically, or +2 if it's a tight-pressed mob or Large foe. Shooting from the flank/rear should prob not be penalised IMO, from rear might logically get Advantage even - again, no reason not to have Facing in 5e.

1st level - just call the standard MM Kobold or Goblin the 'Warrior' version, and have weaker 1 hd 'Commoner' versions. 1d6-1 hd kobold with AC 12, 2-3 hp, DEX 11, ATT+2 for d4 damage, CR 0 (10 XP), is essentially an old-school kobold, even the attack bonus is very close - a BX kobold has THAC0 19 and hits plate & shield on 17+, this guy with ATT+2 hits 5e AC 20 plate & shield on an 18+, but might get Advantage.
Personally though I did not have any big problem with 1st level in the 2 games I played & the one I've GM'd; the PCs could beat the goblins if anything easier than in BX.

Movement - just ban split movement. It was a terrible idea, they clearly had no concept of the implications.

Moon Druids - I house rule that Wildshape starts at Level 4.
« Last Edit: May 07, 2015, 11:43:05 am by S'mon »
My 5e and Mini Six Primeval Thule games blog:
https://simonsprimevalthule.blogspot.com
My Forgotten Realms 4e & 5e games blog: https://frloudwater.blogspot.com

Skyrock

  • #FFFFFF Knights No More
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1037
    • View Profile
    • http://skyrock.blogg.de/
Old-schooling, 5e part iii: Fixing ranged combat and first level
« Reply #2 on: May 07, 2015, 02:42:37 pm »
Quote from: BedrockBrendan;829960
So, a character can move around the corner, shoot, then run back around the corner, quite possibly presenting no counter-fire opportunities…allowing the monsters to concentrate fire on the hapless melee fighters.
Dude, there is already a rule against that tactic. It is the "Ready" action on p.193 of the PHB. If you win Initiative, just wait with your arrow nocked until that elfpanted archer pokes around the corner, then pelt him while he is in the open. Good cover is a must for pop-up tactics to be viable. d20 + Dex mod swings as wildly as it always did, so don't rely on always going first.

Or even better, run up to the archer guy and pelt him with melee hits, which forces him to being able to counter-fire only with Disadvantage, or after having moved back (giving you a free AoO as a Reaction). Either way, movement ranges being equal, you have forced the dedicated archer type into a disadvantagous position.
The thing that makes melee guys great in 5e is the forced disadvantage mentioned above. Ranged types can hit from further afar, while melee types can force their fighting style on their counterpart once they manage to get into range.
My graphical guestbook

When I write "TDE", I mean "The Dark Eye". Wanna know more? Way more?

Omnifray

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • O
  • Posts: 1230
    • View Profile
Old-schooling, 5e part iii: Fixing ranged combat and first level
« Reply #3 on: May 07, 2015, 07:54:23 pm »
Random targeting by squares occupied is totally overdoing it. The fact that you are aiming at someone has to make it more likely that you will hit them than the person next to them.

The way I would rule it is as follows based on an analogy to how I run these things in my own systems:-

Shooting into melee gives Disadvantage because of the cover offered by your single nominated target's allies and opponents.

If you miss your target, then what happens is you instead randomly target an adjacent square using d20 if that square is occupied by a fresh target:-

1-5:- square directly in front of the target or at DM's discretion any square between you and target but not adjacent to you
6-8:- square diagonally in front of the target to your left
9-10:- square directly to your left of the target
11-12:- square diagonally behind the target to your left
13:- DM's discretion (usually square directly behind target but could be anywhere)
14-15:- square diagonally behind target to your right
16-17:- square directly to your right of the target
18-20:- square diagonally in front of the target to your right

NB if attacking a large target you can choose which square you aim at but if it's not the centre of the creature the ref can give you a to-hit penalty. However you do not get to randomly target it again if you miss it.

If you do target a square at random, then not only do you get Disadvantage (because of the cover offered by the others nearby) but you count as having a Dex mod of -5 replacing your actual Dex mod, and no proficiency bonus (because you can only hit by the power of fluke). Note however that you can still hit, especially on a natural 20.
« Last Edit: May 07, 2015, 08:23:53 pm by Omnifray »
I did not write this but would like to mention it:-
http://jimboboz.livejournal.com/7305.html

I did however write this Player's Quickstarter for the forthcoming Soul's Calling RPG, free to download here, and a bunch of other Soul's Calling stuff available via Lulu.

As for this, I can't comment one way or the other on the correctness of the factual assertions made, but it makes for chilling reading:-
http://home.roadrunner.com/~b.gleichman/Theory/Threefold/GNS.htm

mAcular Chaotic

  • All Evils of this World
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2046
    • View Profile
Old-schooling, 5e part iii: Fixing ranged combat and first level
« Reply #4 on: May 11, 2015, 09:49:13 am »
Right now I just treat everything in 5E normally with ranged attacks, except that if you miss, you might hit your friend if he's in melee with the target and his AC is below your to-hit roll.

Would an enemy fighting someone count as cover? So it would give the enemy a +2 to AC. All of this might not be enough though when a level 2 Fighter can get +7 to-hit on ranged attacks. On the other hand I don't want to make them useless.
Battle doesn't need a purpose; the battle is its own purpose. You don't ask why a plague spreads or a field burns. Don't ask why I fight.

Bloodwolf

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 74
    • View Profile
Old-schooling, 5e part iii: Fixing ranged combat and first level
« Reply #5 on: May 12, 2015, 12:03:47 pm »
Quote from: Omnifray;830383
... The fact that you are aiming at someone has to make it more likely that you will hit them than the person next to them.

...



Why?

If both, or all combatants are moving around in a melee situation, then either or both could be accidental targets.  The situation is highly dynamic and your brain to physical action are not immediate (you see, then a moment later you react.  Same reason morons who tailgate can't stop soon enough when the car in front of them suddenly stops).

Go play a first person shooter with friendly fire active, say Left 4 Dead.  See how many times you or other people get hit while someone is firing into melee, even when they or you are aiming.

Omnifray

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • O
  • Posts: 1230
    • View Profile
Old-schooling, 5e part iii: Fixing ranged combat and first level
« Reply #6 on: May 14, 2015, 01:18:37 pm »
Quote from: Bloodwolf;831131
Why?

If both, or all combatants are moving around in a melee situation, then either or both could be accidental targets.  The situation is highly dynamic and your brain to physical action are not immediate (you see, then a moment later you react.  Same reason morons who tailgate can't stop soon enough when the car in front of them suddenly stops).

Go play a first person shooter with friendly fire active, say Left 4 Dead.  See how many times you or other people get hit while someone is firing into melee, even when they or you are aiming.

I understand all that, but all things being equal, deliberately aiming can't on average make it less likely that you will hit your chosen target, and it's unlikely to have nil effect. Obviously, there will be times when you hit the wrong target because you aimed at the right target just before the targets moved, and if you had aimed at the wrong target you would have hit the right one... but those will be anomalies. Over thousands of instances, things will even out in favour of deliberate aim. Otherwise, why would people even bother aiming at one target instead of another? You might as well just say "OK, I fire at the melee" and see what happens; or in real-world terms just aim your rifle at the whole group of soldiers, friend and foe alike, and see what happens without trying to tell which is friend or foe before you shoot.

So in an RPG where we have to abstract a little from the specifics of the situation (we can't have detailed 3D imaging of the situation), the only reasonable way to do it is to have a better chance of hitting your intended target as a result of aiming at them.

But if you really want to be pedantic about it, I ought strictly to put it this way:-

Aiming at Target X has to make the predicted ratio of hits on Target X as compared to Target Y higher than if you were not aiming at Target X, and has to improve the predicted ratio of hits on Target X to non-hits on Target X compared to if you were not aiming at Target X. It does not follow that you have to have a higher predicted ratio of hits on Target X than on Target Y.

For instance, if target X is an enemy kobold, and Target Y is a friendly troll, and they are in melee, if you shoot, you may well be more likely to hit the troll than the kobold just because of size. But the fact that you are aiming at the kobold must mitigate that slightly, even if you still have a higher chance of hitting the troll than the kobold.

Say, for example, if you just aim at the two as a group without differentiating between targets, you might have a 30% chance of hitting the troll and a 5% chance of hitting the kobold. If you just aim at the troll, you might have a 40% chance of hitting the troll and a 4% chance of hitting the kobold (aiming at a group without picking a particular target to focus on is not an optimal way of aiming, surely). If you just aim at the kobold, you might have a 10% chance of hitting the kobold and a 27% chance of hitting the troll. Thus, the criteria I set out in pedantic form above are satisfied by those numbers.

You see what I mean?
« Last Edit: May 14, 2015, 01:23:15 pm by Omnifray »
I did not write this but would like to mention it:-
http://jimboboz.livejournal.com/7305.html

I did however write this Player's Quickstarter for the forthcoming Soul's Calling RPG, free to download here, and a bunch of other Soul's Calling stuff available via Lulu.

As for this, I can't comment one way or the other on the correctness of the factual assertions made, but it makes for chilling reading:-
http://home.roadrunner.com/~b.gleichman/Theory/Threefold/GNS.htm

Exploderwizard

  • DESTROYER OF HOBBIES!
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • E
  • Posts: 4528
    • View Profile
Old-schooling, 5e part iii: Fixing ranged combat and first level
« Reply #7 on: May 20, 2015, 03:16:22 pm »
Quote from: mAcular Chaotic;830922
Right now I just treat everything in 5E normally with ranged attacks, except that if you miss, you might hit your friend if he's in melee with the target and his AC is below your to-hit roll.

Would an enemy fighting someone count as cover? So it would give the enemy a +2 to AC. All of this might not be enough though when a level 2 Fighter can get +7 to-hit on ranged attacks. On the other hand I don't want to make them useless.


In our 5E games we treat up to two intervening bodies between shooter and target as light cover (+2 to AC) and 3 or more as heavy cover (+5 to AC).
Quote from: JonWake
Gamers, as a whole, are much like primitive cavemen when confronted with a new game. Rather than 'oh, neat, what's this do?', the reaction is to decide if it's a sex hole, then hit it with a rock.

Quote from: Old Geezer;724252
At some point it seems like D&D is going to disappear up its own ass.

Quote from: Kyle Aaron;766997
In the randomness of the dice lies the seed for the great oak of creativity and fun. The great virtue of the dice is that they come without boxed text.