Tag Archives: D&D

On Random Number Generation, Continued

One of the things I like about d20 systems is that doing math relating to a d20 is really easy. There’s a 5% chance to roll any given number, so probability calculations can be done quickly without having to get out a calculator. That said, D&D does have a fair bit of math for which a calculator can be helpful. Usually I resort to anydice for complicated math, because I believe in making informed decisions. The most obvious thing here is the Advantage/Disadvantage system 5e adds.

More Like “This Advantage”

Advantage and disadvantage were among the first new mechanics revealed in playtesting for what was once called D&D Next. If you’re unaware, having advantage (or disadvantage) on a d20 roll allows you to roll two d20s and take the highest (or lowest) result. Mathematically, how many pluses or minuses this works out to depends on what number you needed to hit; it’s exactly equal to +5 or -5 if you’re looking at a target number of 11, decreasing as you need rolls that are farther from “average”.

advantage graph
The nature of this bonus makes sense if you stop and think about it. If you only need a low number, then your already high chances of success aren’t increased much by rolling a second die. If you need an extremely high number, your chances of success still aren’t very large. The system math keeps things mostly in the middle, so estimating it as +/-5 works in most cases.

Let Justice Be Done

I looked at it when examining fighter features, but paladins also get to pick a fighting style (but from a reduced list consisting of Defense, Protection, Dueling, and Great Weapon Fighting). It turns out that Paladins don’t value these equally, as great weapon fighting would appear to apply to smite damage, making it way out of line.

Normally, GW Fighting is an average boost of 1.33 damage per hit normally, but if you start adding smite damage this changes, getting better and better as you roll more dice. Jury’s still out on whether or not this works, so check with your DM. (Speaking of checking with your DM, it turns out the dueling style is intended to apply to sword and board. Point them at this if they say otherwise, but remember rule 0.)

On Random Number Generation

Blaugust is over, but that doesn’t mean my posting is going to stop. I’m aiming for Tuesday/Thursday, with maybe an extra post on the weekends at times. This week is a bit weird due to Labor Day.

This past Monday was the first D&D session with the new group, starting with being captured by a very powerful wizard and then escaping from the bandits and trapped dungeon she left to guard us. The party is now headed to Watchwall for various reasons, united primarily in the goal of figuring out why we were captured in the first place.

My virtual dice primarily failed me: I did not manage to hit anything with my Paladin’s giant stick at any point and rolled a 2 on survival (a skill I’m allegedly proficient in) in trying to figure out where we’d been taken. My track record with physical dice isn’t much better, I still remember rolling a 9 on a 6d6 Flame Strike. There were some successes: I rolled max damage on dragon breath and a very high persuade roll, earning us a break in the fighting until someone else put a dagger in the back of the person we were attempting to get information out of. (Even as a Paladin, you can’t save everyone.)

Like the Mountains of Illinois

D&D 5 is very flat, and the difference between being good at something and not good at it is not very large, especially at low levels. Previously (in 3.5) full ranks in a skill meant level+3, or +4 at level 1, going all the way up to +23 at level 20 (but probably much higher than that from synergies and magic) which meant that some skills had unusual rules interactions at high levels, and the difference between trained and untrained was impossible to overcome on any dice roll. By contrast, proficiency bonus is +2 at level 1 and only goes up to +6 at level 17, which means that even an untrained character can make certain rolls (albeit with a flat 30% lower chance of success). Rogues and bards can get double proficiency to certain rolls, so they can get up to +12, but they’re intended to have outlandish values on skill rolls as part of their class design.

In general, I like this approach, but I can see how some people would not. It does lead to a lot of chance inherent in most actions, as it’s next to impossible to have anything be a “sure thing” (although you can get close in some special cases). The trade-off for this is that untrained actions have an actual chance of success without rolling 20. (As a side note, this edition doesn’t give 20 or 1 special effects on skill checks or saves. They’re just numbers.) The highest suggested DC for anything in the player’s handbook is 30 for tasks that are “nearly impossible”. A non-bard/rogue with a 20 in the relevant stat at level 17 or higher would only hit such a target number when rolling 19 or better, so that description is fairly accurate.

I was going to discuss how I use anydice to sort out numeric things, but I think I’ve rambled on long enough. Maybe I’ll get to that next week.

On Fighter Options

I was asked about this, and what was a short email became a blog post. Fighters in D&D 5 have a number of choices to make quite early in their character development, so let’s examine them in a bit more detail.

Fighting Style

The first choice is what fighting style to take. For the sake of this particular discussion, I’m ignoring the fighting styles that don’t boost damage in some way, although they’re certainly worth considering (Protection in particular is rather powerful). We’re going to be examining these using Kodra’s assumption of 15 AC as a decent target, and a 16 in the primary attack stat.

  • Archery: This is a +2 to hit, or a flat 10% increase in your chance to hit (advantage/disadvantage can mess with that a bit). Longbow damage is therefore going to be .6(7.5)+.05(12) = 5.1 DPR at level 1. Fighters don’t get any thing that directly boosts this until their subclass choice, but that’s for later. No other style provides a boost to hit, so this one provides the most consistent damage.
  • Dueling: This would seem to be the default choice, but our DM has ruled that it doesn’t apply to sword and board. Anyway, at +2 to damage modeling this is also pretty straightforward: .5(9.5)+.05(14) = 5.45 DPR. Not bad, and it gives you a free hand to work with (which might be important depending on later choices).
  • Great Weapon Fighting: The important note here is that if you’re in this category, you’re probably planning to use the King of Weapons, the Greatsword, as it’s the objectively most damaging weapon in the book (although the Maul got moved up to match it). As such, this would come out ahead of the Dueling numbers without taking the style (5.85) but the style is another damage boost on top of this. The end result (assuming that you always reroll an initial roll of 1 or 2) is 6.65 DPR.
  • Two-Weapon Fighting: This should probably be evaluated differently because hitting with both hands requires your bonus action, but as a low-level fighter you don’t have any other uses for that anyway. This also requires light melee weapons (without a feat), which means you’re down to shortswords (or similar). Final damage is (.5(6.5) + .05(10))*2 = 7.5. This lead decreases when Extra Attack comes into play.

Martial Archetype

The choice between these really depends on what you want to do with your fighter. One thing to keep in mind is that fighters are still mostly supposed to use their weapons on things, and this remains true even if you’re a Battle Master or Eldritch Knight.


This one’s definitely the most straightforward. More criticals, another fighting style, and some bonuses to checks you’re probably not doing a lot (although it’s worth noting Remarkable Athlete does cover stealth checks if you don’t have proficiency). I don’t quite have Kodra’s patience for calculations, so I’ll trust him when he says that the critical bonus isn’t worth that much at low levels. The additional fighting style can be used either for defense or versatility. This archetype gives nothing that uses a bonus action, so TWF works fine with it.

Battle Master

All of the things people liked about the 4e Warlord ended up here, except constrained by a limited pool of superiority dice (which are recovered in a short or long rest). Many of the maneuvers you can pick from allow you to add the superiority die roll to the damage of an attack, making it better for damage than Improved Critical (as long as your dice last). Some of these require you to use a bonus action, making TWF a less attractive option for this archetype. There are other interesting things you can do in this one, like getting an off-turn sneak attack out of a rogue in the party if you have one (requires your bonus action and the target’s reaction). Once you run out of superiority dice, this archetype doesn’t have much to offer, but I know it’s Kodra’s favorite.

Eldritch Knight

This one’s a bit odd. The paragraph at the start of the archetype description hints at where this one is going, and what it gives you. While it does grant cantrips, they’re less likely to hit than weapon attacks unless your INT is abnormally high for a fighter (maybe you rolled for stats; consider Blade Ward if you’re more… typical) and will also do less damage in most cases (especially if you’re using a greatsword). The primary power here is access to one of the better Wizard defensive spells (Shield is very good) and some AOE that other fighters cannot duplicate (look for spells that still deal half-damage on a successful save like Burning Hands, or later, Fireball). At much later levels, you can start taking other wizard buffs, like Haste or Stoneskin. Spell slots are limited, so the primary thing you’ll be doing is still using your weapon. Because casting most spells requires a free hand, and later features do use your bonus action, TWF is a no-go for this archetype. Jury’s still out on if you can cast spells with a two-hander, so check with your DM. (I’d say yes, but it’s not entirely clear.) I personally think this might be the best archetype for “tank” type fighters.


That’s a lot of words to say “different choices work better in different situations”. Unlike Ranger, where I firmly believe one of the archetypes is weaker than the other, the fighter ones are all good in their own way. The Fighting style question is a little easier, as Great Weapon is great unless you have compelling reason not to use it (dex-based fighter, want protection style, etc.). Hope this helps anyone who’s intending to play a fighter in an upcoming game!

You know what this link is by now. Also, you have until the end of the weekend to finish the Four Job Fiesta. I apparently owe another $10 now.

On Placeholders

I was going to write about Hangeki, a game I enjoyed much more than RefleX, but I find myself away from my computer and that one deserves screenshots. Instead, you get more D&D.

A Dragonborn Paladin isn’t the most original of characters, but I think it’s what I’m going to play. I like lizard people, and I’ve honestly liked Dragonborn since the 4e Player’s Handbook. (I play Argonian in the Elder Scrolls games by default.) I like the “otherness” that races like that represent. The stereotypical class for Dragonborn is the paladin, and with the new options it’s finally a class that appeals to me. A new system seems like a good time to try something “standard”, so this is what it’ll be.

At the same time, I don’t want a stereotypical background. Unless I’m given a strong reason to do otherwise, I’m going to take the Outlander background, representing a character that grew up away from society. I want to break from the idea of the trained holy warrior because I dislike zealots. I liked the Guardian in GW2 for similar reasons. I still need to finish my character’s background, but I have a fairly good idea of where it’s going.

On Terrible Ideas, Re-examined

Wrapping up a week of posts primarily about D&D, I think I’ll take another look at that evoker from earlier.

Actually a Bad Idea

Overchannel does let you use it on spells from 1st to 5th level, but there really are limits to this sort of thing. Using it on Cone Of Cold is nice for your first maximized spell of the day, but as the second it will do 10d12 damage to you. At level 14 on average rolls you would have 80 hit points as a wizard (Con 14 assumed, which might be generous), so this is 65 damage to yourself on average and has a roughly 10% chance of dropping you from full HP. Fireball isn’t quite so bad, but 39 damage is a rather high number to be doing to yourself. If cast in a 5th level spell slot (the highest number for which you have more than 1/day). This represents a ~25 damage increase over casting it normally per target that doesn’t save, so you’re technically doing more damage out than you’re taking if you can catch two or more targets. It’s still a bad idea except in the most desperate of circumstances. Don’t do this.


Maximizing Potential

A generally better idea is to maximize something big for the one you get for free, and spend the rest on something like Chromatic Orb. As a first level spell, you only take 2d12 damage (average 13) from overchannelling this. It does 7d8 damage in a 5th level spell slot (4 points less when maximized than Fireball), but only hits a single target, and uses an attack roll instead of a DEX save (which is better for hitting monks/rogues and worse for hitting heavily armored fighters/paladins). Burning Hands (7d6) or Thunderwave (6d8) are other first level spells worth considering for use with this feature if you are a bit too close to a few too many enemies.

Since Concentration rules make CC in general worse than it used to be, I don’t think evoker is as much of a noob trap as Kodra makes it out to be. It just requires not overdoing it, and being aware that Fireball is not the only spell on your spell list.

For more posts about… everything, check out the Blaugust initiative. For a quick look at Divinity: Original Sin, check out Stargrace’s post from yesterday.

On Min-Maxing

There’s a certain mentality when it comes to pen and paper RPGs, the drive to “win the game” as it were. Kodra speaks about this in his preface to his post from two days ago, and I want to expand on it a bit. (For the record, I think the big winner in Wizard schools is Conjuration.)

Optimization is not Bad

There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting your character to be better. Kodra and I occasionally talk about this sort of thing, we spent a lot of playtest time trying to figure out what was “broken”. When it came time to actually play the game proper, we mostly shied away from these things. Also, our usual DM probably would have murdered one or both of us if we brought in a triple-class character with an AC of 22 and 4 attacks per round at level 6.

But even in play, there’s no reason not to make informed decisions. While it might be fun to have a Monk with high strength, one with more dexterity will usually be better. While Rogues are proficient in clubs and longswords, class features are more effective if you use a rapier or dagger. If you’re a Wizard, you should probably try to have an intelligence of more than 8.


Roleplaying is Good

How much is too much depends on the playstyle of the group. An adventure that is a straight dungeon crawl may call for characters that are more combat-focused. If your adventures mostly require dealing with people in town and rarely getting into combat, then that wizard with 8 int might not slow you down too much, and will provide amusing RP possibilities. (You may also want to explore roleplaying systems that aren’t D&D; many others are better at this sort of thing.) Most groups will be somewhere in the middle, it depends on what your group finds fun.

When I feel it goes too far is when winning the game becomes a primary character goal. It can cause problems when not playing the same game as everyone else and rolls Pun-Pun when the rest of the party is more-or-less standard. There are more reasons for this than just roleplaying, an unbalanced party makes encounter design somewhat challenging. Things that challenge the super-character would crush the rest, and things that would challenge the rest are brushed aside handily. I think it’s better to come up with characters that fit the direction of your campaign, and see where it goes from there.

For more posts about… everything, check out the Blaugust Initiative.

On Terrible Ideas

D&D had always been fairly good at allowing this, but the new edition does seem to have a lot of potential for amusing bad ideas. The new edition is no different, and maybe even better. A lot of these were in playtests or teasers, so I hope there’s no problem with me posting them here.

My personal favorite by far I mentioned yesterday, the Wild Magic Sorcerer. I’m not the biggest fan of tables for loot, but this table for wild magic effects is awesome My personal favorites are “07-08 You cast fireball as a 3rd level spell centered on yourself” and “53-54 You are immune to being intoxicated by alcohol for the next 5d6 days”.

Also worth of mention is the overchannel feature for Wizards specializing in Evocation that reads as follows:

…When you cast a wizard spell of 5th level or lower that deals damage, you can deal maximum damage with that spell. The first time you do so, you suffer no adverse effect. If you use this feature again before you finish a long rest, you take 2d12 necrotic damage for each level of the spell, immediately after you cast it. Each time you use this feature again before finishing a long rest, the necrotic damage per spell level increases by 1d12. This damage ignores resistance and immunity.

This is the only printed way of accessing the maximize spell effect. I know at least one player who would abuse this, mostly to their detriment.

An Honorable mention goes to the Warlock class, for being entirely based on a questionable idea. I feel like this class is just asking for your DM to inflict you (and your party) with a variety of unfortunate encounters courtesy of (or tangentially related to) your choice of patron.

For more posts about… everything, check out the Blaugust Initiative. I’m a slacker and don’t have another post to highlight for today.

On D&D Next

For those who have not heard, the Player’s Manual for the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons released yesterday. I don’t know what the official term for this edition is, but since they’re no longer calling it D&D Next I’m just going to call it 5e. I played a bit with the playtest packets that were out near the end of last year, but there were some balance issues there. I look forward to giving the full rule set a bit of a workout.

Something Old

5e is a return to the ways before 4e in most cases. There’s a mostly familiar set of classes (Warlock is the only class that wasn’t in the 3.5 Player’s Handbook), although there are some changes I’ll mention later. Gone are the encounter/daily/at-will powers from 4e, returned are the concepts of spell slots and spell levels (although these don’t work exactly like they used to either). Also gone are fort/ref/will defenses, but the saves that they were replacing are a bit different now. It’s a return of familiar things, without just being 3.5++, like Pathfinder.

Something New

A completely new concept (for D&D anyway) is the advantage/disadvantage system, where you can roll 2 d20s and take the higher or lower of the two depending on which one you have. Things like Sneak Attacks and various bonuses and penalties were reworked to use this system. The action system is also changed up a bit, in that (generally speaking) players get to take an action and a bonus action per turn, with movement being separated from that system. (This means that you can do things like move in between attacks if you have more than one, or move, attack, and move again, etc.) Advancement is also a bit different, since feats are semi-removed from the normal level progression.

Something Borrowed

A concept from 4e that did stick around is the concept of class variants. Most classes get to make a decision at level 3 that affects the rest of their progression; A few classes (like Clerics) make this decision before then. There’s a lot of variation locked in these, including an option for the Fighter that adds spellcasting progression, a Druid option that makes wildshape far more powerful, and this Sorcerer option which looks like a terrible (but awesome) idea.

Something Blue

I’m a bit sad about the staggered release of the books, since the player’s handbook doesn’t contain much about magical items (probably in the Dungeon Master’s Guide) and had only a tiny list of creatures (which is unfortunate for both Druids and DMs). I like what’s there, and I especially like the variety of class options available, but I just with there was a bit more.

For more posts about… everything, check out the Blaugust Initiative. For an interesting look at what solving an ARG is like, check out Kodra’s post about The Secret World launch ARG.