I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Giants vs. Dragons vs. Worm

Foes of the Dragons. In times long forgotten, giants and dragons engaged in seemingly endless war. Storm giants created the first behirs as weapons against the dragons, and behirs retain a natural hatred for dragonkind. A behir never makes its lair in an area it knows to be inhabited by a dragon. If a dragon attempts to establish a lair within a few dozen miles of a behir's lair, the behir is compelled to kill the dragon or drive it off. Only if the dragon proves too powerful to fight does a behir back down, seeking out a new lair site a great distance away.
- D&D 5e Monsters Manual

Well, there is another story.

As the behir's color, shape and lighting breath can surely prove, the first behirs were not "created" by storm giants, but shaped by them from defeated blue dragons.

Most dragons were simply slain for daring to resist the (superior) giant race, but blue dragons wielded lighting, and the storm giants could not forgive such a sin against their elements.

First, their wings, arms and legs were ripped off, and then they were thrown, like agonizing worms, into claustrophobic tunnel-prisons, never to see the sun again, never to taste the freedom of the endless skies.

Eventually, the dragons used their magic to grow small legs that would allow them to move and escape, but the predicament drove them mad.

Turned into multi-legged abominations, behirs hide their shame deep into the earth, hating everyone and everything, especially well-formed dragons and the light of the sun.

If you see a behir, it is unlikely to let you live.



On the other hand...

Some people do not believe that behirs are created by accident. These scholars say that, as fire giants shape metal, storm giants shape flesh.

They believe themselves to have in their blood a genetic power that makes them perfect. Every other creature is subject to experimentation... and improvement.

They hate dragons, of course. And they hate magic. And fey. But they love science, their "blood-shaping" art more than anything.

Some say all giants are the result of their experimentation - maybe even themselves. Other think the lower giant to be primitive, or decadent forms of storm giants. The stupid hill giants certainly look like a debased version of their nobler cousins.

But it could be worse.


Fey Curse. The elves remember when the fomorians were among the most handsome of races, possessed of brilliant minds and unrivaled magical ability. That physical perfection did not extend to their hearts, however, as a lust for magic and power consumed them. The fomorians sought to conquer the Feywild and enslave its inhabitants, claiming those creatures' magic for themselves. When the fey united to defend their realm, the fomorians fought them and were subjected to a terrible curse. One by one, the giants fell as their bodies were warped to reflect the evil in their hearts. Stripped of their grace and magical power, the wretched horrors fled from the light, delving deep beneath the world to nurse their hatred. Cursing their fate, they have ever after plotted vengeance against the fey that wronged them.

Or so the elves say.

But the "curse" was something different entirely.

See, "the most handsome of races, possessed of brilliant minds" were certainly storm giants.

But they messed with something storm giants were not supposed to - maybe magic, yes, but more likely defeat. Storm giants despise the weak. After being beaten by the fey, these vile cowards were reshaped into something hideous by their giant kin, and forced to fight the fey until the end of time.

Like behirs, they hide in deep caves and avoid being seem by others - specially giants.

Magic can do nothing for them. Only the storm giants can reshape them back - if they ever fulfill their duty of slaying all the fey.

Golems are obviously the giants' creation too - artificial beings made of earth, metal or flesh, resistant to magic, immune to shape-changing, and made to the (twisted) image of their progenitors.

The dragons and the fey are beings of magic, air, beauty, and freedom. They do not always get along, of course - but they rely on each other to survive and thrive. Sometimes, they are like like lions and gazelles.

Giants - who cannot understand magic or reach to the skies, no matter how tall the mountains their climb - hate the fey and want to destroy them.

Humans? Eh. They will often fight for one side or the other, but are not essential in the grand scheme of things. Both giants and dragons seem to think they are clearly inferior and are not ashamed of using them as plaything, slaves or food.



The Worm

The Abyss is a grey, rocky, and dead place, full of wide spaces, where almost nothing seems to move.

It might be older than time.

Some say that is why the dead - and undead - turn to grey, and why the graves are marked with stones.

And probably why giants give so much importance to their boulders, and why the dragons and the fey - in defiance of death and decay - are so colorful.

In the middle of the Abyss, lies the Worm.

The Worm's colors are grey, yellow and purple.

You will hardly find dragons of these colors. Instead, dragons are the colors of the sky, the clouds, the trees, or living blood - things the Worm usually misses or despises.

As fire giants shape metal and storm giants shape flesh, the Worm shapes time.

Deep in the Abyss, it sends forth their sons and minions to conquer the earth, or manipulates people to worship it.

The purple worm that inhabits the ground, the salamanders that live into fire, the aboleths that rule the waters.

The Petrifying Serpents such as the medusa, cocaktrices and basilisks, that want to turn the world into a stony wasteland to please their master.

And the wingless grey angels that travel through time and space and seem to come from nowhere.

The nagas and yuan-ti, obviously - and who knows what else?



Maybe the undead that pull the living to the underworld, or the aberrations that mock nature.

If it looks like a snake, or reptile, or a dragon - without wings - it was probably created by the Worm.

Likewise, if it looks like something that was never meant to exist, is is probably Worm-spawn. Not hybrid animals, such as the beautiful Pegasus, a colorful pixie or couatl, or the giant dragon turtle that fights the worms of the sea - but something with tentacles, uncountable legs, twisted limbs, numerous eyes... or no no eyes at all.

Some say the Worm avoids fire, and its minions fear it, preferring to use poison and decay as their weapons. But some servants of the Worm can relish in fire too - is is just less common.

In spite of all that, the main power of the Worm is not creating monsters, but seducing the innocent.

Storm giants, serpent cultists, drowmind-flayers and sahuagin - they might all be worshiping the Worm, wittingly or not, since so few people understand what the Worm is.

As they stare into the Abyss... the Worm will happily stare back at them, and show them they are special, perfect, superior to all others, no matter what they say.

The Worm will promise them a perfect world.

But, in reality, the Worm hates the world. And nature. And most colors. And the sky, above all else.

Because, as powerful as the Worm is, it can never leave the Abyss, like the dragons did in ancient times.

But - given enough time - it might make the Abyss swallow everything.

Further readings (some of my inspirations for this post):

* http://udan-adan.blogspot.com.br/2016/04/give-me-snake-man-and-i-will-explain.html
* Dark Souls lore.
* Obscene Serpent Religion.

Moral of the story (if there is one): sometimes, a single origin for many monsters might be more interesting than monsters coming randomly from everywhere. Also, Evil versus Chaos might be more interesting than Good versus Evil.

All images copyright of Wizards of the coast.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Coming soon: Dark Fantasy Basic

Yeah, it's happening.



Dark Fantasy Basic, my BX retro-clone with bits of 5e and WotC-D&D, is coming soon!

The awesome cover above is by Rick Troula.

The book, a 45-page player's guide, will be on DTRPG before the end of the year.

Stay tuned for more updates and information!

Friday, December 01, 2017

D&D 5e fighting styles comparison

In 5e some classes have fighting styles in order to be more effective with a particular type of weapon or technique.

There are also feats that make you better with one style or the other. Feats like Sharpshooter, Polearm Master, and Great Weapon Master are some of the best feats in the game.

Some real-world and fantasy styles are sorely missing, and if you are swinging a weapon without an adequate feat (either because you didn't pick it or because it doesn't exit), you are probably getting outshined by warriors who have them.

Here is a brief analysis of the fighting styles and related feats.

Please notice that these are GENERIC; each class has considerations of their own, which I might briefly comment on, but I do not intend to be exhaustive.
Heavy armor + bow = suboptimal in 5e (source).
Archery: You gain a +2 bonus to Attack rolls you make with Ranged Weapons.

Pretty straightforward. Combining it the Sharpshooter feat makes it a lot better than most styles. Ignoring the penalties due to distance and cover, with a +2 bonus on top of that (and a Bless spell in some cases), guarantees you will be hitting your target often enough, even with a -5 penalty, so you basically get 20 points of damage per hit (if you're using a longbow with Dexterity 20)... against targets that might be unable to fight back.

Defense: While you are wearing armor, you gain a +1 bonus to AC.

Seems a bit boring at first, but consider it stacks with any other fighting style and doesn't use bonus actions or reactions. The better your armor, the better this style gets; if an enemy only hits you by rolling 18 or more, this style will cut one third of the damage you take, for example. Great against multiple weaker enemies.

I can see this being more useful than Great Weapon Fighting if you're a paladin with a polearm, among other possibilities.

Spear + shield = not that great either (source).
Dueling: When you are wielding a melee weapon in one hand and no other Weapons, you gain a +2 bonus to Damage Rolls with that weapon.

This is made for anyone with a one-handed weapon plus shield. It gives you a greater damage boost than GWF, below, and you get +2 AC from the shield. Without any feats, this can be more powerful than GWF in most circumstances - all things considered, if you were using a two-handed weapon you'd usually be dealing a little more damage (less than 20%), but avoiding more than 20% damage from the increased AC.

Shield Master is also a very good feat. Shoving a creature might be more useful than dealing damage and the boost to Dexterity saves is excellent.

Great Weapon Fighting: When you roll a 1 or 2 on a damage die for an Attack you make with a melee weapon that you are wielding with two hands, you can reroll the die and must use the new roll, even if the new roll is a 1 or a 2. The weapon must have the Two-Handed or Versatile property for you to gain this benefit.

This adds very little damage to your attacks - about 1 point on average, a bit more for greatswords, a bit less for everything else. Fortunately, great weapons already deal lots of damage. The main perk of using heavy weapons is still the Great Weapon Master feat. Although it allows you to attack at -5 to-hit/+10 to damage like sharpshooter, GWM is somewhat worse for a couple of reasons:

* You are more likely to get attacked back immediately, making the -2 AC you lose from the shield more relevant.
* Since you deal more damage on average and you don't get the +2 bonus from archery, the +10 damage is not as important; knowing when to use  GWM is a bit tricky (here is the formula).

On the other hand, the feat gives you a melee weapon attack as a bonus action sometimes, which is not bad, specially for a Champion fighter.

Protection: When a creature you can see attacks a target other than you that is within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the Attack roll. You must be wielding a Shield.

This is very flavorful, but has some heavy downsides. Imposing disadvantage is meaningful, but it uses your reaction - and at higher levels, monster damage is usually divided among several attacks, and this will only work against one. You also have to be within 5 feet of your ally - which limits its utility.

Not a great style in my opinion.

Heavy armor + longsword + shortsword (?) = no reason to do that (source).
Two-Weapon Fighting: When you engage in two-weapon fighting, you can add your ability modifier to the damage of the second Attack.

Attacking twice per round deals decent damage at lower levels, but it becomes increasingly less useful as you get more attacks as a fighter, and it doesn't work well with an action surge.

If you get magic weapons, you also need one magic weapon for each hand... and each might require attunement. Same thing with the Magic Weapon spell.

This style is a bit better for rogues and rangers... but it uses your bonus action. Thing is, rangers and rogues often have better things to do with their bonus actions. On the other hand, rogues get a second chance of landing a sneak attack (and rangers their Hunter's Mark, Colossus slayer etc.), making this style more useful. 

The Dual Wielder feat is also very underwhelming. +1 AC is nice, and using a rapier in each hand - as ridiculous as I think this looks - gives you a +1 damage boost per attack, but you still lose your bonus action, and it doesn't help you land that sneak attack. Of course, if you had picked the dueling style you'd have the same +2 damage boost and a +2 AC boost, without using a feat.

Or - guess what - you could just pick +2 Dexterity instead of the feat! The AC bonus would be the same, the damage boost would be equal (+1 per attack on average), you'd get +1 to hit and better initiative, saves and skills!

I guess you can use the feat if you're have Dexterity 20, want to throw weapons, or have Strength instead of Dexterity... but it all pales in comparison to the other feats mentioned here.

Of course, this is not a bad choice for rogues, and in my opinion rogues work well enough even with these downsides. Notice that rogues do not get fighting styles (in this case, it means they don't get their ability bonus to the damage of the second attack) but using one weapon in each hand works for them anyway. 

In any case, it still bothers me that holding a quarterstaff or lance in each hand is a viable tactic in 5e, while sword and main-gauche is not, but mechanically the only issue is using your bonus action.

The worst thing, I think, is that this style doesn't stack with anything; your AC is probably too low to make the defense style useful; you cannot boost your damage with dueling, or use powerful feats like Polearm Master, etc. - and the dual wielder feat is near useless is most circumstances. 

In short, TWF is a bad choice for fighters; not good enough for rangers (but they are being revised anyway); and decent for rogues, even though ranged combat is usually a better choice.

To be 100% honest I kinda LIKE that this style is suboptimal, because I think in real life there would be little reason to use this over sword and board under most circumstances. But TWF has enough D&D tradition and fans to deserve a bit more love in 5e.

But why have fighting styles at all?

So we've got a bunch of fighting styles. Three of them (dueling, GWF, archery) are basically bonuses to damage or attacks, while defense is a small bonus to AC. TWF and protection aren't very good. GWF is a convoluted way of giving extra damage while making the greatsword - a weapon that needs no boosts - even better.

In short, you wouldn't lose much if you would just let PCs choose any fighting style and get two out of three options: +1 to damage, +1 to-hit or +1 to AC. Getting a second fighting style would allow you to get +1 to all three in some circumstances, but not more than +1 for each.

And this simple change would make:

* TWF more viable for different builds.
* The combination of archery and sharpshooter less powerful (which is good).
* GWF equally useful to greataxes, halberds and greastwords.
* New styles easy to create and justify (what about a defensive quarterstaff style? etc.).
* And all styles a bit more flexible.

Simpler and better all around.

In conclusion

Overall, I think that the fighting styles are balanced and simple enough. It is probably my favorite version of D&D in this regard (yes, I DO think the RC made it too complicated).

Is there room for improvement?

Yes, specially in the last two fighting styles.

Is there enough reason to complain?

Not really, in my opinion.

(but I'm fixing it anyway!)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

5e Weapons remade: some perspective on weapon damage

Before we continue deconstructing 5e weapons, let us add a little perspective on damage.

Weapon damage in 5e is divided in these steps:

1 - 1d4 - 1d6 - 1d8 - 1d10 - 1d12 - 2d6

And these are the average rolls:

1 - 2.5 - 3.5 - 4.5 - 5.5 - 6.5 - 7.

Which would indicate, at a first glance, that seven punches (damage 1) are roughly equivalent to one hit with a greatsword (damage 2d6).

But consider most characters that use weapons will have an ability bonus of +4 or +5, with few exceptions. So let us consider damage with a +5 bonus (this will be the most common situation after a few levels):

6 - 7.5 - 8.5 - 9.5 - 10.5 - 11.5 - 12.

Now two punches beat one blow with the battleaxe. What is more, the difference between one weapon and the other becomes quite small - around 10% from one step to the next.

In some versions of D&D, damage was the main property of a weapon - in Moldvay, for example, the 1d8 longsword is the king of all one-handed weapons, leaving little reason to have a mace unless you're a cleric.

In other versions, ALL weapon deal the 1d6 damage, making other properties such as speed more relevant. In Holmes Edition, by a strict interpretation of the rules, there is little mechanical reason to use any weapon that is not a dagger! AD&D had detailed tables to show how some weapons were better against some types of armor.

All this complicated rules are often ignored; but damage dice became ubiquitous in every version of  D&D after Holmes, and still, is my opinion, the first thing people see when reading the weapon list (even when playing GURPS, I have seem players call their guns "my 7d weapon", ignoring range, rate of fire, cost, etc.)

This might be psychological - nevertheless, since it affects some player's FUN, it is as real as it gets in our hobby.


In any case, as we have shown, damage dice is not as relevant as it may seem.

A small weapon that lets you attack twice because of a bonus action might beat a two-handed weapon that lets you attack once, even for a mighty-thewed warrior. A weapon that allows you to take one additional attack or two during the whole combat - with a reaction, for example - might be more useful than a weapon that simply deals more damage, since hitting a foe with your attack action ten times in a single combat (to justify that 10% difference) might not happen that often.

Finally, there are certain class features - sneak attack, a paladin's smite - that will cause the same damage regardless of the weapon being used, making weapon damage even less relevant. The monk's "martial arts" feature will make weapon damage entirely irrelevant in many cases!

On the other hand, using bonus actions or reactions to deal damage is often impossible or sub-optimal. This will vary considerably according to character traits and circumstances.

Feats are also extremely important. The Great Weapon Master feat makes the difference between the greatsword (2d6) and the greataxe (1d12) negligible - less than 3% difference in damage output. The difference is considerably more important to a character with moderate Strength and without the feat (maybe around 20% instead of 3%).

Let is put it this way: if you're not skilled in using weapons, getting the best weapon is important - but if you're skilled, it is important to get the weapon you're most used to.

In short, character build (class features and feats) and the action economy are more important than weapon damage when choosing your weapon.

This also means is that a property such as "reach", "ranged" or "thrown" might be better than extra damage even if you hardly use it... UNLESS you are not a warrior type and hardly use your weapon in the first place!

This might look very complicated (too complicated in my opinion), but we cannot understand the system without considering these variables.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

5e Weapons Remade: the basics

In order to remake the 5e weapon list (click here to know why), let us pick it apart.

I'm obviously not the first one to do that, not by a long shot. Here is a very good breakdown, for example, but there are many others.

The basics are clear enough: one handed weapons melee weapons deal 1d6 damage, 1d8 if martial. Bows are basically the same (but require two hands), although other ranged weapons are a bit different.

Then you have a number of positive (light, finesse, versatile, reach, thrown, ranged, grater damage) and negative properties (two-handed, heavy, loading, smaller damage). The number of positive and negative properties should be more are less balanced.

There is also price and weight. Price is mostly an afterthought once you've got a few levels, but you can take it into consideration for world-building reasons, etc. Weight is also important provided you're tracking encumbrance. But none of the two should count as a "positive" or "negative" property by itself; otherwise, the PCs would be walking around with expensive 20-pound swords to inflict maximum damage.

But the other properties are also NOT equal. So let us consider some of them.


Light/Heavy - light weapons are only good for dual-wielding, and heavy weapons are only bad for small characters. The effect of these properties are therefore a less important than the rest.

There is a caveat, though: the Great Weapon Master makes heavy weapons significantly stronger. So, the "heavy" property is not really a strictly negative property.

Another thing to consider is that ALL heavy weapons are martial and two-handed. And ALL two-handed martial weapons are heavy. So, in theory it seems you could get rid of the "heavy" property and just say all two-handed martial weapons are heavy. 

Light weapons are more straightforward - since they could potentially be useful to almost any character, the "light" property is strictly positive. Martial weapons that are light cause 1d6 damage, and ALL martial weapons that cause 1d6 damage are light (except for the trident). Light weapons are always ranged, thrown, finesse or cause 1d4 damage.

Note that light/heavy weapons, curiously enough, have nothing to do with weight, but SIZE (or bulk): "A heavy weapon’s size and bulk make it too large..."; "A light weapon is small and easy to handle...".

Needlessly misleading IMO.

Finesse - this is a big one. Strength has few advantages over Dexterity in 5e, and making finesse weapons a bit weaker guarantees there will be some strong warriors going around.

Take into consideration that, since ranged weapons use Dexterity anyway, the "thrown" property is less valuable when combined with this one (see below).

Thrown - Thrown weapons are useful, but ranged weapons have better range, and drawing a new weapon is a bit problematic (there is debate of whether you can draw a new weapon as a bonus action, reaction, or extra attack, for example). There are no good feats (like the excellent Sharpshooter) for thrown weapons, so they are generally worse than ranged weapons.

On the other hand, thrown weapons have limited damage - probably to avoid Strength characters to dominate ranged combat.

To complicate things further, "thrown" for ranged weapons means you MUST throw your weapon, instead of you CAN throw. So while it is a POSITIVE property for melee weapons, it is a NEGATIVE property for ranged weapons.

Fortunately, ranged weapon with the thrown property are so unique (the dart is way cheaper than anything else, and the net doesn't cause damage) that they should be considered separately.

Also, see "finesse", above.

(Off topic, but... what IS a dart anyway? It is not a javelin, nor does a pilum (a type of javelin) or anything similar would weight 0.25 lb. I guess the answer is probably "shuriken" or most likely "kunai ninja darts". The fact that it is a simple weapon causes the same damage than a dagger is quite strange)




Versatile/Two-handed - versatile is a good property to have... but not great, since you are unlikely to change between one and two hands very often during the same combat. If you make it two valuable, people will prefer carrying two different weapons. Two-handed is a heavy downside - you lose +2 AC because you-re not using a shield.

The situation is different for ranged weapons. Most ranged weapons require two hands anyway, so a "one handed" property would make more sense here. Shields are usually less important, since there is a distinct possibility that your enemy cannot fire back immediately- and the errata explains you need a free hand to use a one-handed weapon with the ammunition property anyway.

So this "one-handed" property would be a bit less valuable than it may appear.

Loading - this property is a real problem for characters that have more than one attack per turn (even though it can be ignored by the Crossbow Expert feat). In short, very bad for most characters that rely on weapons to cause damage, but good for rogues, etc. The only weapon with this property other than crossbows are blowguns... which are outliers. In any case, the effect is pretty clear: crossbows damage is usually one step greater than bows.

Greater/smaller damage - 5e has six damage "steps": 1d4, 1d6, 1d8, 1d10, 1d12 and 2d6. Each step should usually count as one negative or positive property. Even though the difference between 1d12 and 2d6 seems small, the Great Weapon Fighting style makes 2d6 as valuable as the other steps for those who have it.

In my opinion, if we had 1d2 and 1d3 damage it would be a lot easier to deal with improvised weapons, shield bashing, shurikens, brass knuckles, kicks, punches, etc., but that is something I'll have to analyse later. I am not particularly a fan on

In conclusion...

This is a lot more complicated than I though - and probably a lot more complicated than it needs to be. Let us see if we can fix it...

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Why 5e D&D NEEDS better weapons... and Miyamoto Musashi

A small list of things I'd like to see in D&D 5e:

- More weapons. Just compare the weapons in 5e to the number of spells we have. The weapon list is ridiculously small. And the list of spells is growing a LOT faster.

- Better weapons and armor. Half of the weapon list is useless (mace, trident, scimitar, sickle, etc). Same goes for armor once you get enough money.

- More effective two-weapon styles. There is no Niten Ichi-ryū - or anything similar - in 5e. There is no point in using a lighter weapon in one of your hands. There is not any way to create a cahrachter that would be better using such style - not even the samurai or swashbuckler. Miyamoto Musashi is right out.

- A swashbuckler... with a buckler. Or cloak. Or at least an useful main-gauche! Not this "dual wielding rapiers" nonsense you have barely ever seen if a book, movie or real life.

- A finesse spearman. Like Oberyn Martell. Or this. Yeah, 5e has monks, I know, but I don't want ki - just a Dexterity fighter that is better with a spear.


A katana. Not really, just messing with you. I could use a few more weapons but about  30 diverse, reasonable weapons would do.

- Better polearms! We might avoid Gygaxian levels of detail, but to make IDENTICAL polearms is a waste of space. Polearms were used as peasant weapons, so its doubtful if they should be martial weapons - or if martial weapons have any function at all. The spear should probably be included in the Polearm Master feat.

- More differentiation between bludgeoning, slashing and piercing. They do next to nothing as written.

- A warlord. But I digress.

- A reason to have both Strength and Dexterity. I've talked about this before, and will do that again. It seems to me that being very strong or very weak should affect using a longbow. But we will get to that eventually.

For now, a better weapon list will do.



I've been discussing the issue over the internet. I realize that not everybody cares. I understand that somr people prefer more archetypes, spells and races. I like melee weapons. That is all.

The problem of 5e's list is not only being unrealistic, unbalanced, unintuitive, or or too complicated; is being all those thing for no reason at all.

Take the quarterstaff: there is no "realistic" reason for it to be wielded one hand with the same damage as a mace. It doesn't make the quarterstaff "balanced" with the mace. It doesn't even make he game simpler or faster.

It is just... random.

I can accept realistic, like GURPS.

I can accept "balanced". like 4e (I guess).

I can accept "simple", like 13A.

Any of those, or a mix, would be fine.

I just don't particularly like this system that is none of the above.

And, make no mistake - I LOVE 5E.

The classes are great, the (bazillions of) spells are good and balanced enough, backgrounds are awesome, inspiration is on point, the skill list is fine, etc.

But I've got to admit - they really dropped the ball with the weapons and armor, and made no effort to pick it back.

Enough complaining. Time to try to make this work.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Should we trust MIKE MEARLS on 5e D&D monster math?

So Mike Mearls‏ tweeted this:


Want to cut down on referencing monster stats as you play? Use half a monster's CR as its bonus for all checks and saves. If the monster has legendary actions or is notably powerful in your campaign, also add its proficiency bonus.

Needless to say, Mike Mearls‏ did an amazing job with 5e, so he must  know what he is talking about.

And, honestly, I take Sage Advice (and pretty much everything that Mike Mearls‏ and Jeremy Crawford tweet) almost as canon. They made the game, after all, and have some amazing insights on it.

Unfortunately, this particular tip makes seems to make no sense when compared to actual 5e numbers.

If you follow he link to the tweet, you'll see an user named Dylan ran the numbers and got some very interesting results... some of which I don't fully understand.

I don't really tweet, so I can't participate on the conversation directly, but the subject interests me.

In any case, I wanted to make a quick check myself.


Let us take the first monsters in alphabetical order, from here:

Aboleth (CR 10) - saving throws are Con +6, Int +8, Wis +6, plus Dex -1, Str +5, and Cha +4. Average +4.6. Pretty close to half CR... however... it has legendary actions, so you'd add proficiency bonus, making its it rolls ALL the checks and saves at +9. Comparing this to the monster's actual dexterity save, at -1 shows it is absurd - but +9 is also twice the size of the average saving throw. The aboleth also has only two skills - for everything else, the bonus would be way lower than +9.

Acolyte (CR 1/4) - well, with CR 1/4, I have to agree that just giving it +0 to everything is good enough.

Adult Black Dragon (CR 14) - saving throws are Dex +7, Con +10, Wis +6, Cha +8, plus Str +6 and Intelligence +2. Pretty good saves, with an average of 6.5... Unlike Mearls formula, that would give it +12 to all saves. Skills? The dragon has Perception +11, Stealth +7. Not a single +12 skill, and most checks would be even lower than the saves on average.

Air Elemental (CR 5) - not proficient in ANY saving throws, nor skills. Good! Its checks and saves are one and the same. We have STR 14 (+2) DEX 20 (+5) CON 14 (+2) INT 6 (-2) WIS 10 (0) CHA 6 (-2), and average of +0.83 to all checks. Mike's formula gives us +2 or +3. It might seem like a small difference, but it fails by more than 200%, maybe 300%, like the other examples.

So, yeah, as written, the original tweet does not work very well.

Is there a good formula?

As you know, the DMG has a (hidden) formula for attacks, AC, save DC, HP, damage, etc. (a formula that the MM doesn't actually follow very well, but this is another topic), but not for saves and checks.

Dylan has suggested some. I don't have access to any compiled monster database (please send it to me if you do!), nor am I a mathematician, so I cannot really criticize his work.

But, from my experiences and (limited) number-crunching, I'd guess that for AVERAGE checks, the bonus should be equal to proficiency bonus (i.e., 2+1/4 CR). I think Dylan suggests this for "max ability check bonus", so I'm not sure he takes saves into consideration.

Using the proficiency works well enough for the Aboleth and Adult Black Dragon. It doesn't work well for the Acolyte or Air Elemental - here Mike's formula is better. It seems Mike's suggestion is better for low CRs - at least in this VERY LIMITED sample.

Next creature in line (skipping the Dragons) would be the Androsphinx. Average save about +8 in reality, checks would probably be lower, +6 if you use proficiency, +14 (!) if you follow Mearls.

The best part, though, is that there is a pretty intuitive (and somewhat accurate) way of combining all the formulas.

Good: 3 plus ONE THIRD CR*
Average: 2+1/4 CR (which means, equal to proficiency bonus)
Weak: just 1/5 of CR.

* It is he DMG suggestion and close to Dylan's "fit" of 12.34+0.39*CR.

OR:

Good 3 + 1/3 CR
Average 2 + 1/4 CR
Weak 0 + 1/5 CR

You could be even more precise (and still intuitive, I think) by allowing some small variation (use the second number after CR 4):

Good3 (or 4)1/3 CR
Average1 (or 2)+1/4 CR
Weak0+1/5 CR

The DM gets to decide what the monster is good, average and weak at. Assume EVERY monster is good at attacking, AC and save DC (after all, all characters will use their best stats for such things).

How does it work for the actual monsters studied here?

Aboleth (CR 10): if the DM assumes the Aboleth to be good at Intelligence and Wisdom, it would have +7 to saves and checks with those abilities. Dexterity being its worst check, a +2 bonus (instead of -1). Average stuff? +4. Quite similar to the actual numbers.

Adult Black Dragon (CR 14): best traits are Strength, Constitution,  perception, and stealth (+8 to all, instead of +6, +5, +11, and +7 - which averages around +7). Weakest stat in Intelligence - you get +3 (instead of +2).  Everything eles is average (+5). Again, pretty close.

We could try other examples, but without an actual compilation of data we would not get very far.

So, there you go: if you have a rough idea of the monster's strengths and weaknesses, you can intuitively guess the numbers involved, with some degree of precision.

What is the point?

The fact that you can just google any monster makes this exercise a bit superfluous. But if you have to come up with some numbers on the spot, or create your own monster, this little formulas can be very helpful.
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