Breaking News: I Hate Math
Because nothing's more dangerous than the PC's dark mirror.
I’ve been enjoying the heck out of D&D 5e, but yesterday I got a very strong reminder about what’s so great about Savage Worlds.
The PCs in A Gleam of Silver are absurdly overpowered. This is entirely my fault and I accept the consequences. Basically, I didn’t trust the system. Because I perceived the game as flawed, I gave the players a bunch of bonuses – an over-generous starting attribute spread, max hit points every level, feats and attribute increases simultaneously – to make their characters more powerful. It’s made the game pretty fun, but sometimes victory comes way too easily for a bunch of 5th level characters.
Because of this, I decided their next challenge was going to be a bunch of higher-level characters. This 10th level “anti-party” is intended more as a roleplaying challenge (they’re good- and lawful-aligned characters that have sworn an oath to prevent anyone entering the place the PCs want to get into) but I need combat stats just in case. The 5e Monster Manual has a bunch of NPC stat blocks, but few of these actually use the playable classes – meaning they’re really underpowered compared to PCs.
Which in turn means that I need to stat this anti-party out.
It took me an hour* to stat up two of the needed six NPCs – and those were the characters for which I have the strongest concepts. I already knew the antagonist fighter was a specialist in both dual-wielding and two-handed weapons (and had a pair of magical swords that could combine into one greatsword); I basically already had her attribute scores and feats mapped out in my brain. I already knew that the anti-party’s druid was Circle of the Moon to contrast the PC’s Circle of the Land druid. It was still a chore to assign attributes, choose skills, and work out the proper advances they gained as they leveled up.
I suppose I could have simply assigned things however I wanted, but that would feel like cheating. D&D has always been pretty math-centric; it has to be if players are going to be able to make educated choices about expending their resources. As much as I want my players to know better than to get into a fight with these dudes, I don’t want to win a fight by DM fiat. I want the math to be fair.
You know what doesn’t give a crap about math? Savage Worlds.
Some weird, fastidious, anal-retentive part of my brain is appalled by the idea of cheating with D&D NPCs, but has no problem accepting Savage Worlds’ whole “just give ‘em whatever the hell you want” ethos for NPCs. Hell, the rule books take this approach and run with it. One of my few concrete observations from Lankhmar: City of Thieves is that while Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are built as proper player heroes in their “beginning of their career” stats, by the time they’re in their prime they have so many advances to Attributes, Skills, and Edges that they must be several hundred experience points past Legendary. The wonky exploding dice and severely limited resilience threshold of Savage Worlds characters means that this doesn’t even break the system.
Despite this, I’m not going to try to talk the group into returning to Savage Worlds. I love it – and I love writing for it – but everyone is having a great time with 5e and I don’t want to screw up the momentum this campaign has going. I’ll just have to figure out a way to streamline making D&D NPCs… Or have an anti-party of nothing but fighters and druids.
*I could only give myself an hour because I'm very, very busy on Steamscapes: Asia.