Saturday, December 24, 2016

Playing with Abstraction (5e and BX)

There is an interesting pattern that exists in the way 5e describes armor and the way that BX presents armor. 5e has three categories: Light, Medium and Heavy. BX has Leather, Chain and Plate. Although 5e does have variable Armor Classes to different types of armor within each category, I think it very useful to abstract armor in the way that 5e does for the purposes of hacking 5e ideas into BX.

If one replaces leather, chain and plate with Light, Medium and Heavy armor with the same corresponding AC, it frees players and referees to describe armor anyway that they want to. Traditional D&D (including BX) is largely driven by the martial traditions of medieval and renaissance Europe. Abstracting armor to the broad categories of 5e suddenly allows a very simple way for players to imagine their characters from radically different martial traditions. For example, in my own Lost Colonies campaign, Medium Armor is crafted from the scales of giant fish from the Endless River and Heavy Armor from the chitin of giant insects.

To a limited extent, 5e also suggests a similar abstraction with weapons in context of Monk weapons usable with the Martial Arts feature of that class. 5e doesn’t bother to list nunchaku or kama in their weapon list. Rather, they offer the following advice:
[Y]ou might use a club that is two lengths of wood connected by a short chain (called a nunchaku) or a sickle with a shorter, straighter blade (called a kama). Whatever name you use for a monk weapon, you can use the game statistics provided for the weapon in chapter 5.
In other words, use the stats for existing European martial weapons and re-imagine them as a weapon from another martial tradition.

This got me thinking about taking this abstraction to the level of the armor abstraction. In other words, have broad categories of weapons, which are modified by weapon properties in order to provide generic stats to describe whatever kind of weapon the player or referee wants.

5e provides three of these categories: simple weapons, martial weapons and the subclass in each of ranged weapons. Simple weapons can be categorized as weapons that can be made of wood and/or stone. For example: clubs, hand axes, daggers. Martial Weapons are those that require the use of metal. For example, swords, polearms and heavy crossbows.

Each category would then have a base cost, which would be modified by weapon properties. The least expensive simple weapon (the club) in BX costs 3 gp. The least expensive martial weapon (warhammer or short sword) costs 5 gp or 7 gp. The most expensive melee weapon is the two-handed sword at 15 gp. Bows range in price from 25 gp to 40 gp

From this one could abstract weapons in the following ways:

  • Base price of a simple weapon = 3 gp
  • Base price of a martial weapon = 6 gp
  • Each additional property = 3 gp for simple weapons and 6 gp for martial weapons.
  • Ranged weapons have a short range of 10 feet which is doubled for medium range and tripled for long range. Every 10 feet added to the short range costs an extra 5 gp. For example: a short bow has a short range of 50 feet in BX. That would be an extra 40 feet for (4 x 5 gp) 20 gp. Having no other properties and being a simple weapon a short bow would cost 23 gp, which is comparable to the 25 gp cost in BX.

This system creates a set of properties that describe abstract ideas about a weapon which then can be used to create any weapon that a player or referee desires to exist in their campaign world. Since all damage is based on class, this system doesn’t punish players for wanting an exotic (non-sword) weapon.

For example, there are weapons in my Lost Colonies campaign similar to the macahuitl from the Aztec martial tradition. It is a simple weapon, being made of wood and stone, and has the Versatile property being able to be wielded either one-handed or two-handed. Thus, it would cost 6 gp.

The only wrench in this abstraction is the sling. According to this system it would cost 18 gp (3 for being a simple weapon, 15 gp for having a base range of 40 feet). In BX they are the cheapest weapon at 2 gp. If one is willing to include training in the abstraction of a weapon’s cost (because using a military sling isn’t easy) than this still works overall.

In the end, I am willing to live with hiccups like the sling if it gives me the freedom to imagine all kinds of weapons and have a simple way to mechanically describe them and assign a monetary cost to them.

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