RPGBOT.Podcast Season 2 Episode 1 – Variant Rules

Show Notes

In this episode of the RPGBOT.Podcast, we discuss variant rules. We examine the difference between house rules and variants, and review a collection of our favorite variant rules for DnD 5e and for Pathfinder 2e and debate which ones you should or should not use and why.

Materials Referenced in this Episode

Transcript

Randall 

Welcome to the RPGBOT.Podcast. I’m Randall James, and I’m going to change it up a bit tonight. Randall. What are we gonna do tonight? Well, Randall, we’re going to be talking about variants. That’s fantastic, Randall. Who are we going to talk about them with? Ah, tonight, we have Tyler Kamstra.

Tyler 

Hi, everybody.

Randall 

And Random Powell.

Random 

I’ve spent too much time watching counterpart recently. That did not do well in my brain.

Randall 

Yeah, so tonight, we’re going to talk about variant rules in tabletop gaming and the role that they have available in our own games. We want to talk about D&D 5e. We want to spend some time on Pathfinder 2. And then we have some general thoughts across all of tabletop. Is that about right?

Tyler 

Yeah. Yeah, that’s about it. Variants are really cool subject, they’re really interesting way to get more out of a game system that you already know and love. And maybe you’ve been playing fifth edition for, what, it’s been out six years now. Maybe you’ve been playing every edition of D&D since it was released almost 50 years ago. And maybe you don’t quite want to jump to a new system, but you still want to try, try something a little different. That’s where variant rules come in. I want to touch on real quick, just the difference between a variant and a house rule because there is kind of some gray area there. Generally, the biggest difference between a variant and house rule is just scale. You might have a house rule like magic missile does 1d6 damage instead of 1d4+1 little fiddly bits like that you generally consider a house rule. A variant is something that’s going to change some fundamental portion of the game. If you said everyone gets maximum hit points instead of rolling or taking the average or whatever, then you could consider that a variant. It’s kind of, like, on that vague line between the two. But generally, variants will have some significant effect on how the game plays moment to moment, rather than just, like, here’s this one thing that we’ve fiddled with that might matter sometimes.

Randall 

Okay, yes, yeah, I had this idea in my head, like a variant is something that you find on the internet. And a house rule is this terrible idea that somebody at your table had.

Random 

So there’s actually quite a few variant rules that are built into the core rule books and, and various other officially published content. If we look at just D&D Fifth Edition, there’s approaching 20, I want to say variant rules just between the player’s handbook and dmg, and some of them are radically impactful, you know, changing the ways that entire classes function, changing the ways that that rests work, for instance. An incredible mechanic that we’ve talked about a lot. And then some of them are much smaller things like my personal favorite variant rule to raked over the coals: flanking. Which we’ll get to. What Wizards of the Coast have done is they’ve looked at these and they said, Okay, we really like this system as we wrote it. But we understand that this particular thing in playtesting, has been a frequent point of man, I just wish that something different, I just wish that there was something else to represent this that there was some other mechanic that I could lean into to make this a bit more interesting. And with enough feedback, they said, Okay, maybe let’s keep this official version, but also write in official alternative option for if you want to add a little bit of spice in.

Randall 

How many of the variant rules and 5e are actually hangovers from previous editions? So you bring up blinking, which is a good example, in the base rules of 5e there there is no flanking, right?

Random 

Right.

Tyler 

Correct.

Randall 

But flanking was huge and prior editions.

Random 

It was in fact, flanking was so big that it defined the 3.x rogue’s sneak attack class feature, basically, that was the primary way that you would get sneak attack. Now of course, they said, Okay, well, we’re gonna still incorporate that into sneak attack. It’s just you need somebody within five feet of your shooting. Congrats have your sneak attack. From things like that to things like encumbrance, basically the variant encumbrance turns it back into 3.x’s encumbrance. There’s several other things that you can get into. Technically speaking multiclassing as a variant rule. Things like milestone XP or variant rules that are now literally written into published modules. Like, it’s the expectation. There’s a lot of things that are holdovers, but have been held over in such a way that they’re almost assumed that you should.

Randall 

Yeah, that makes sense. And so both for Pathfinder two and for 5e. In the published material, like, in the source material there are plenty of examples of variant rules. What about like homebrew content? When do you see homebrew content and say, “this is a variant rule” versus this is just a house rule or, you know, a well disguised house rule.

Tyler 

Like I said earlier, I’d go right back to that, that scale question. So if the variant changes some fundamental rule of the game, you could consider it a variant. If it changes, just like some numbers or the way one specific bit of, like, a spell or some character option or something. If it just changes that you could probably call that a house rule. But honestly, the difference between the two is basically just semantics, there’s really no practical difference. It’s mostly just how you discuss things.

Randall 

Okay, so a distinction without a difference.

Tyler 

Yeah, exactly.

Randall 

Okay, perfect. All right. So follow up to this. Why would I use variants? And when would I bring them to my table?

Random 

I think Tyler really did a good job introducing some of that. I think really can be very neatly summed up as I am going to run a game and I want it to be slightly different than what the rulebooks say it should be. And there can be any number of reasons for that. Maybe it’s because you have been playing this game for 50 years, and you love the system, but you just you just want a little something different out of it. A couple examples I’ve talked about using some things like training to level or in fifth edition, I introduced a thing where to combat the yo-yo-ing at zero HP and standing back up that is so common at lower levels, that the second time you were stood up from zero in a day, you got a level of exhaustion and every time thereafter. Small things like that, which are usually about adding verisimilitude, which D&D is a sort of high fantasy thing, right? It’s meant to be these wildly powerful adventures going off battling demons, dragons, whatnot, and saving the world. And that can be a really cool story to tell. But it can eventually get a little bit played out. And so bring things back to a more realistic expectation where maybe I don’t heal up overnight from all of my wounds. Maybe I don’t get a patron by wandering around in the woods and wanting to pick up a warlock level. Adding some verisimilitude is a great way to build investment. Because if the players are experiencing something that they can relate to, that’s going to make them a lot more invested in what’s going on.

Randall 

So, Random, for our listeners at home, who don’t own a thesaurus. What is a ver…. what is a verisimitude? And where can I buy one?

Random 

It is a very small tude. No.

Randall 

It’s very similar.

Random 

Exactly. Well, and that’s pretty accurate. So verisimilitude is making something seem more like real life, rather than a high magic setting for your D&D, maybe that’s a low magic setting. Maybe it’s resting being, like I said, you know, something more like gritty realism, which we will continue to beat today. Maybe it’s something like your… Well, like things that were built into fifth edition base, you know, maybe it’s magic items are rare and so they are harder to find and you can’t just you know, walk down to the corner market and purchase something easily for a set list price,

Tyler 

Verisimilitude is a great example of when you might bring in a variant rule. We talked about food and food mechanics on a previous episode. So if you looked at those and thought, maybe my high level Barbarian shouldn’t be able to go full year without eating. So you introduce a variant rule to address that. Like, that’s a good example of when you’ve found something in the game that you’re that you don’t like, or that you want to function differently. In this case, moving towards verisimilitude is a great idea, a great reason for introducing a variant for that issue.

Randall 

I think that makes good sense. Let’s maybe get into examples. Do we want to hop into 5e and then we’ll do Pathfinder 2 next? Does that seem right?

Tyler 

Yeah. I do want to give one quick word of warning before people start introducing variants to their games because variants can be a lot of fun and when you go reading through lists of variants, you might be like, oh, I want a bit of this and a bit of this and a bit of this. It’s like buying candy real quick in the the checkout line at the grocery store, like, I want everything. Go slow. Talk to your group about it. The fifth edition DMG recommends when you introduce a variant rule, always ask yourself, “will the rule actually improve the game? And will my players like it?” Very easy to figure that out. Ask your players and if people are hesitant about it, maybe don’t do it. If the whole group is willing to try and it doesn’t work out, just establish that okay, we might try this. Take it out of it doesn’t work.

Randall 

Yeah, I want to see the Venn Diagram of those two questions. Like, Okay, this rule 100% is going to improve my game, the players hate it. They hate it!

Tyler 

Any survival rule is inherently built to introduce suffering into what is a game.

Randall 

But somehow, it made things better.

Tyler 

Yeah, sometimes you want to suffer a little bit. That’s fine. The Pathfinder second edition Gamemastery Guide also has a warning about combining variant rules that’s very good. To summarize, just if you use multiple variant rules, they’re probably going to interact in a way that you did not anticipate. When you do introduce variants, be very cautious. Think about all the ways that they work. Think about how they might interact with each other. And think like a character optimizer and think how you are going to use those rules to break the game.

Randall 

Or just blame your players. If they break the game. It’s their fault, obviously.

Tyler 

yIt’s always their fault.

Randall 

Yeah, so… So I guess, a little bit of meta behind the scenes. As we prepared the podcast, we have a list of things that we want to talk about, and we’re going to talk about them, it’s going to be great. We’re not going to talk about variants that are just storytelling devices. We want to stick with kind of popular examples. And so we’re not going to cover every possible variant. And so if you’re sitting at home thinking, Well, they didn’t talk about my favorite variant. We’re sorry, and we really meant to, and the next time we do one of these, we’re totally gonna cover that particular topic.

Random 

Well, I think ignoring that vague future promise. Let’s real quick. Tyler, would you please continue to beat that dead horse so that we can go somewhere else?

Tyler 

Yes. Okay, so my favorite variant for fifth edition is gritty realism. And I’ve talked about this on so many episodes before.

Randall 

No, Tyler, what’s gritty realism?

Tyler 

What is gritty realism? Okay, so gritty realism, it changes the way that rest mechanics work in fifth edition. So a short rest, instead of being one hour is overnight. So you have to sleep for eight hours or whatever. A long rest is one full week, and usually needs to be taken somewhere safe, like a town or a home base, or something like that. And that alone, the way that it’s presented in the book is mostly just, this just changes how healing works. So, so players can’t take a nap in a dungeon and then crawl a dungeon over the course of three days. Like, if they’re hurt real bad, they’ve got to retreat, get their stuff together, come back and try again. But the edge case interactions with the rest mechanics really change how your story works once you introduce gritty realism. Since you have so much more time between fights, like, your players might have two fights in a day and be like, Okay, I’m done. I’m real tired now. And that leaves more time for just the play acting parts of role playing. It leaves time for downtime rules. It leaves time for more world building. Like, all those things that happen between encounters really have a lot more room to breathe with the gritty realism roles.

Random 

One thing that I just want to say. It finally occurred to me today, as I was digging through this stuff about gritty realism for the podcast. There is also the opposite. Listed right next to it is heroic fantasy where a short rest is five minutes and a long rest is one hour. And so if you feel like playing an MMO on paper, there you go. That’s that’s how you can get back to fourth edition. Carry on.

Tyler 

Warlocks just like “give me the coffee.”

Randall 

Your legs hanging off. No, it’s not.

Random 

Exactly

Randall 

Come back here! No, yeah, but I guess on the gritty realism side of it. I also want to point out, I feel like every game I’ve ever played, everybody’s really uncomfortable mid-session in saying, and then we you just spent the weekend doing stuff. And now we’re back after the weekend. In other words, and what I’m what I’m really trying to articulate, like we never just in the middle of a session, say, Yeah, sure, a month went by. Whatever. I went, I went back to the farm. I picked some grapes. It was fantastic. It’s always like we have to fill the action. Versus if we think about our favorite stories, it’s quite common to say like, okay, it doesn’t make sense. I don’t need to hear about the road from here to there. Let’s just start the next chapter with everything filled. if anything interesting happens, we’ll fill it in back and then we’ll be able to go. I think you could do that with gritty realism. So sure, let’s use downtime rules from time to time. Let’s sit and do some RP around the table. Around the real world table at the tavern table while drinking beer while your character is also drinking beer. But, uh, you know, you do that from time to time, maybe once per session and the rest of time if the answer is and then we went back to town and we got a good nap. And now we marched back to the dungeon. Fantastic.

Tyler 

As we’ve talked about on previous episodes, that’s an awesome way to world build, to flesh out your characters, to tell those interpersonal stories that don’t involve swinging swords at each other. And yeah, if if you’re in the middle of a session and your DM’s like okay, you guys need a week to take a long rest. What do you do for a week? Yeah, break out the background rules. Do some crime. I don’t know.

Randall 

Yeah. It’s the best background. It’s really the only background. So I know this is everybody’s first introduction to gritty realism, but I think I feel like we hit it. And then well, I already forgot it. What was the other? The opposite? Heroic…?

Random 

Heroic fantasy, I think is what they called it.

Randall 

Nice. Okay.

Random 

But it’s like literally adjacent to it in the DMG, I think.

Randall 

Okay, perfect. Cool. I think the next thing we actually want to talk about was flanking and as somebody who’s only played 5e, I have, I’ve always… I think this is going to get spicy, folks.

Random 

Yes.

Randall 

I have heard of blinking talked about. I’ve listened to an actual play where there was some flanking at one point, and now there’s less flanking. So Hey, folks, what’s up?

Tyler 

So let me let me dip into history just real quick before we set Random loose on this.

Random 

Sitting over here champing at the bit.

Tyler 

So flanking dates back to at least third edition. I haven’t played second edition enough to know exactly what the mechanics were there. I think there was something along the lines of backstab that was like diet flanking. Third Edition flanking if, if you and an ally on opposites, opposite sides of a creature space, you each get +2 to attack rolls against that creature. Fourth Edition, same thing. Pathfinder first edition, same thing. Pathfinder second edition, functionally the same thing, but it imposes the flat-footed condition, which is both, like, their AC drops by two. And it can trigger other stuff like sneak attack and some other class features and things. Fifth Edition, flanking is a bit crazier. You get advantage on attacks against the creature that you’re flanking and advantage is really, really good in fifth edition.

Randall 

It’s effectively plus three and a half, right?

Random 

Roughly, yeah. Which if you haven’t read, if you are somehow a frequenter of this site and podcast and you haven’t read the Fundamental Math of D&D, which talks about advantage, you should do that. But…

Randall 

We’ll have it linked in the show notes.

Random 

Right. Yes. In previous editions, flanking was perfectly fine as a flat +2, in an unbounded system. It matters a little bit at low levels. And then basically, never again. You know, it, particularly by the time you’ve hit kind of level eight-ish, your typical martial characters, if they’ve been optimized, they hit. You’re to the point where you’re missing on like, a three down. Which, at that point, sure, flanking technically gives you one more chance to hit. Great. But advantage is an enormous problem for a lot of reasons. Because fifth edition is so limited in the types of things that it will grant, giving you advantage means that every other way of getting advantage is now less powerful. And there are a lot of things that have advantage worked into the power budget of them. One of the things that I like to use as a really easy example for for this is kobolds, right? Pack tactics?

Tyler 

Yeah.

Random 

Right. So Pack Tactics, an enormous part of the power budget of the kobold is if I have somebody next to a person I’m stabbing, I have advantage. And that is such an enormous impact on the race that the race has a minus to a stat, which is something that you incredibly rarely see in fifth edition.

Tyler 

They did take that out.

Random 

Oh, well.

Tyler 

Yeah. Errata.

Random 

Sure, errata. Thanks. But even so, you know, on design before the era, that’s that’s what he’s saying. We think that this is so powerful that we need to give this recent drawback to compensate. So then to go from that to Ah, okay, well, rather than being a kobold, and giving a big part of my power budget, I just have to put my… familiar, other party member, summoned badger on the other side of this guy, and now I have advantage is a problem. That power budget, while it’s very tempting to say, Ah, yes, I want to be able to have that. As a DM, there’s very little reason for you to add it in the sense where this is meant to be a way for you to challenge your players. Because players are going to be thinking about combat tactics in a way that a lot of monsters won’t usually. Admittedly humanoids, absolutely, they know they would be. But you know, your players are going to be actively seeking to flank pretty much all of the time if you give them this optional rule. And monsters are generally less intelligent, less teamwork-focused than a party of adventurers is. So it doesn’t make a lot of sense to try and play them that way. So this is just giving a lot of advantage to your players, and very rarely something that’s going to help you. Now compare this to something like spell points where, like, this is just a way that to change a class works. Obviously, there is meant to be a, this is not a make this class stronger or weaker. This is just make this class different so that you can play a different fantasy. But advantage from flanking just immediately makes all of your player characters stronger. And that’s without even talking about edge cases.

Randall 

So I’ll say this does cut both ways, though, right? So if your party composition is that you have you know, two fighters, two tanks, two characters that can kind of get in and are basically expected to be participating in the melee, then you have call it two opportunities to flank or one opportunity to flank. I don’t know how we want to count flanks. But then you’re… let’s say you’re in a situation where like, I need the Bard to hop in and do some flanking. The Bard is now at risk. Or let’s go even squishier, right, like I need, okay, look, I just need Wizard, please come stand next to this creatures, I can get my advantage. You’re going to be putting these other characters at risk in order to gain the advantage. And so it’s almost in my mind, like, raising and lowering the potential impact. Like how crazy can this combat possibly get? The other thing I’ll say, and I do, okay, now, go ahead, you had a good reaction, like there was a gasp leading into it.

Random 

So, long breath.

Randall 

I’m imagining the parrot meme where the head goes back and it’s like “AH!”

Random 

Now, here’s the thing. Even if that makes you tempted to walk somebody who maybe shouldn’t be close to combat into combat, as they would be without this rule, all you’re doing is increasing options at no additional cost. And in a system that is already very hard to die in, giving every character away to be stronger while only giving yourself a little bit of power back makes it harder for you to present an appropriate challenge to your players.

Randall 

Actually, this is the part that I wanted to challenge. So this is the this is actually the place I wanted to go next. And so we’re here. And then so now that we’re here, okay, we we opened up with like, what are the situations? Why and when do you want to introduce these variant rules? I would say if you’re planning a campaign, where most of the enemies will be humanoid, will be in groups. If your campaign is, like, Oh, yes, you’re going to be going through and fighting…

Random 

Red Hand of Doom.

Randall 

Yeah. Okay, I was gonna say a sequence of beholders which, famously, typically don’t enjoy having other beholders around, right? Then you… this makes no sense because you’re only giving your players advantage. But if you’re playing something that’s more, like, political intrigue, where you’ve got a march on a castle and take a castle, and what you’re fighting are mostly like other enemy soldiers, and this sort of thing. Then you… it is giv and take, and the playing field is even, right?

Random 

No, because if you’re running into that situation, what this means is that this is the same problem with how the math breaks down when you put a lot of one enemy into a fight against player characters. If I am letting, you know, my 12 2nd-Level human guards roll with advantage on my players, I am dramatically increasing the likelihood that my players get crit. And that is not fun for anybody. Because that’s a random power spike out of a level two guard and, whoops, there goes my level 4 character.

Randall 

But that feels like a problem with how we calculate car more than it is…

Random 

No, no, because you’re straight, giving them more rolls, which is more likely to hit a natural 20.

Randall 

But I do feel like statistically we can account for that. I guess that’s my… like, no, the number can’t be 12 because 12 is too high, but maybe the number is six, or the number is five. Whereas without this rule, maybe the number was something larger.

Tyler 

Yeah, I’d say if you’re if you’re going to to go that route, adjusting the CR calculation tables is probably a good idea. Accounting for having… accounting for the flanking rule means that more creatures will be disproportionately more dangerous than they already are in a game where action economy fundamentally determines how effective a side is. 10 creatures facing you in an encounter is already a big problem. If it’s 10 creatures will flanking like Random said, it gets even worse. But if if you as a DM want your humanoid NPC enemies, if you want them to have easy access to advantage, they have access to all the same options that players do. NPCs, monsters, whatever, they can shove, they can grapple. They can shove you prone. They can take the help action to give one of their friends advantage. I don’t see a lot of DM’s do that because like when you’re you’re just trying to get through a fight and you’re just trying to challenge your players you probably not thinking yeah, I’m gonna have this one Hobgoblin mook help their leader to give them advantage. Like, yeah, you probably don’t think about that everyone’s just swinging swords and kicking shins. If you feel like you need flanking and you as the DM are like, yes, I would like my monsters to flank, you already have all the options you need to do that. And flanking really does just tip things in the players’ favor most of the time. And it limits your options because those multi-monster encounters become so difficult to balance. And if you just want monsters who can swarm your players flanking style, kobolds, blood hawks, hyenas, anything with pack tactics will do the job just fine.

Random 

I mentioned edge cases or abuse cases earlier. Let’s talk about how flanking interacts with Elven Accuracy.

Tyler 

Oh God.

Random 

So Elven Accuracy, a much hated or beloved feat depending on your perspective that says first off, you have to be an elfto take it. It’s in the name. When you make an attack with dexterity, int, or charisma, if you have advantage uou can roll a nother d20 and choose which of the three you keep basically.

Tyler 

It’s real good.

Random 

So it’s already really good. And then if I if you give access to people, if you give access to advantage to people, I understand how prepositions work. Just by standing on opposite sides of a thing… You should never play anything but elves with Elven Accuracy. It’s that good. Like…

Randall 

Yeah, okay. Oh, is the patch there it’s like it just it doesn’t work with open accuracy. I don’t know why.

Tyler 

Maybe, maybe. But at that point, you’re going to be patching your variant and you’re very quickly going to get us to get into a situation where it’s like all patch, no code.

Randall 

Just hold it together with duct tape and bubble gum, it’ll be fun.

Tyler 

To really illustrate how good Elven Accuracy is, I wrote a blog post a while ago that I called “oops, all elves” where I built a party around the Elven Accuracy mechanic. And without using any character options that are especially powerful except Elven Accuracy, I built a party that was so effective that they were essentially impossible to challenge by about level four. Elven Accuracy is really, really good and giving the party easy access to advantage really breaks things. I shouldn’t say easy, because there are plenty of easy ways to get it. Help, True Strike, Shove, other things. You don’t want to make it easier. It’s already easy enough.

Random 

Right? Basically a thing that we talked about when you’re talking about let’s not give additional options to spellcasters. Don’t remove opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is there for a very important reason. WotC has generally done a very good job of putting it where it needs to be.

Randall 

So, I guess, to put a bow on the flanking. I feel like… what would be fun? What is the game where it does make sense that the flanking variant? I think if you have the opportunity to give it to your monsters, or your bad folks that maybe they’re not monsters, although maybe they are monsters. Maybe your player characters are the monsters. I don’t know. I don’t know your game. And if your players really love the grid, and they love engaging and figuring out just the right way to position everybody, I feel like I understand the argument that you’ve made. And I don’t necessarily want to take anything away from it. But I do… I would understand somebody who said like, No, this is a critical thing that I want to bring to the game. I want to flip that coin right quick. A lot of folks play with no map in 5e. No grid and 5e. And I, I can’t wrap my head around how you would play with flanking.

Random 

Basically, I mean, I as I was reading through somebody else’s blog post, before this episode, you kind of can’t. I mean, there’s functionally no reason to. If you want to say, Ah, I walk around to get behind the guy. Sure, whatever, I mean, unless you’re you’re really at the point where you’re being that granular in the theater of the mind, put it on paper.

Randall 

Yeah, I’m with you. I I’ve had fun conversations about like, can I get all of those folks in a Cone of Cold? or can I get it? Can I get it in my cone of impact from like a dragon breath? I’ve literally had a DM say to me, it’s like yeah, you can get like three out of the five of them. How do you know? Where did that come from?

Tyler 

There’s actually a table for that in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Randall 

Oh, if you’re making this up, here’s how you make it up?

Tyler 

Yeah!. There’s a table for how many creatures you can fit into an AoE. Based on the size and shape of the area of effect it I’ll have to find it and link in the show notes and mentioned the page number. But the table doesn’t make any sense. It says Lightning Bolt, which is 100 foot line, expect that it will hit four creatures. And I have never hit four creatures with a lightning bolt.

Randall 

No, see, obviously they’re gonna line up so that you can use it. It makes sense. Okay, we have to leave tflankingbecause there’s so much other awesome content to hit. Right cquick, in our show notes behind the scenes. The phrase “the safety donut” is written.

Tyler 

Yes. Okay, so the safety donut. So the way opportunity attacks work in fifth edition is intended to keep players and monsters basically just from running past each other or running away as soon as you get into melee without some opportunity cost. But there’s no cost to moving around within a creatures reach, which creates what I call “the safety doughnut.” So in the middle is the doughnut hole where there is the monster. And then you have the doughnut, which is safety, and if you leave the doughnut, you provoke an opportunity attack. Now once you’re inside that safety doughnut, it gets real easy to flank people because you can you can literally run circles around them until you run out of move speed and there’s no cost. If you are going to use flanking, do something about the safety doughnut. Maybe make, maybe make it cost double movement to move inside and enemy’s reach or provoke an opportunity to attack or something. But you’ve got to fix the safety doughnut or flanking is just way too easy.

Randall 

Yeah, just you you can’t move more than 180 degrees in the safety doughnut without invoking an opportunity attack.

Tyler 

Sure!

Randall 

Yeah, cuz if if at some point in 180 degrees, I’m going to cross into your line of sight with me moving while you’re supposed to be frozen because it’s my six seconds. Wait, no, that’s not quite right. Okay, cool. Spell points! spell points. Tyler.

Tyler 

Cool. Yes. So if you have played Final Fantasy or most computer RPGs, honestly.

Randall 

Go on.

Tyler 

They only use they generally use something called mana, which is your vague indistinct vaguely described pool of magic-niss.

Randall 

Bread from the sky. Keep going. Okay.

Tyler 

Yeah, bread from the sky. Magical ammunition. It’s the blue orb in Diablo.

Randall 

Mana is almost always blue. Just incidentally.

Tyler 

Weirdly, yes. So spell points. Instead of getting spell slots, your character is given a pool of spell points, which advances based on your level as a spellcaster. So you’re like half casters, quarter casters, etc, all advance more slowly than your full casters like your Wizard, 5e Sorcerer. But it gives you a pool of spell points, which you then you can trade when you cast a spell to turn it into a spell slot. Now there is a little bit of nuance to it, like the the cost scales exponentially, so your more expensive spells are really expensive. And in the regular system, when you hit 20th level, you get like two or three of most of your high level spell slots, but you get like 1 9th level and I think 1 8th level, I’m forgetting off the top of my head. But under the spell point system, you can never cast in one day more than one spell of sixth level or higher. So, like, you get 6, 7, 8, 9, and you get one of each. But your spells of fifth level and below become way more important. So not only does it change, like, the resource management for how you cast spells, but it also changes the importance of those low-level spells and have what are essentially lower level spell slots. So it changes the meta of how you build a spellcaster and pick your spell list in addition to changing the resource cost.

Randall 

Okay, I want to make sure that I understood this. So under the spell point system, I’ve hit level 20. I spend the number of points it takes to cast a sixth level spell. And because I’ve spent that many points, I will therefore not have enough points to cast a sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth again. No?

Tyler 

Not quite. It’s just an explicit limitation. Like you just get one of these per day. Like, you you can spend the points on it.

Randall 

Oh, no, that feels like… okay, that feels like spell slots with extra steps.

Tyler 

A bit, yeah.

Randall 

Well this feels dumb. I feel like we can move. I’m sorry, keep going. Let’s let’s talk the merit of it.

Tyler 

It does feel a bit like spell slots with extra steps if you have played psionics in previous editions, especially third edition, there was a system called psionics points that you use to essentially cast spells and you would upcast your psionic abilities by investing more points in them, which is essentially the same as just spending a higher level spell slot. So if you like a, a mana system, if you like 3.x psionics if you like those systems, spell points can look like a lot of fun. And I’m not saying it’s a bad variant. Like, it’s very much personal preference, I think. I wouldn’t say that it’s worse than than the default rules. It’s just different.

Randall 

Okay, I guess, real quick. So so we have these points, like, I have, you know, these spells these sorceries that I want to cast and so I’m gonna have these points associated to it, like, sorcery points. And I’m going to keep…

Random 

Oh no. A, that’s definitely one thing. You know, if we’re trying to keep track of a pool of points used for your magic abilities that can definitely be intruding real hard on the Sorcerer’ whole shtick. Although they’re already kind of being intruded on with just being slightly weaker wizards. So there you go.

Randall 

Womp womp.

Random 

Right? And with that said, internet, I have never played a Wizard in my life. I love sorcerers, I doubt I will ever play a Wizard. They are definitely mechanically weaker. Spell points. There’s a lot of interesting stuff about them, tight? So Tyler touched on how it really is kind of based on how 3.0 psionics worked. And, you know, can feel like mana. There’s a lot of flavor reasons you might want to do that. But mechanically, it presents a lot of challenges. So if you try and slap this onto a Wizard, what does arcane recovery do?

Tyler 

Oh. Yeah, they don’t answer that. I hadn’t thought about that.

Random 

They sure don’t. You know, what is the pearl of power do? Suddenly, there’s a ton of mechanics that interact with spell slots that you need to completely redo if you want to adopt this system, assuming that your players are going to get access to any of these or assuming that you as a character are going to get any of these. It’s really cool thematically if you’re willing to put in the work, but as Tyler mentioned, where you know, it just sort of ends up being about the same level of power, just a bit different flavor. There’s kind of very little reason to put in all that work. Like, the the the effort, reward, it’s not a great ROI. If you really want to say no, I am going to spend all the time that I need to flesh out all of this stuff, because I want to have in my fifth edition game, someone who stacks MP5 gear to the sky and heals through a raid, great. You do that. That can be a really fun story to tell. It’s just that there’s…. there’s gonna be a lot that you need to think about to make it worth doing.

Randall 

Yeah, I guess, one more thing I’m thinking about. Yeah, “yes and.” How many games actually make it to the higher levels where maybe that limitation of having one 6th or higher level spell is actually going to be an issue. I’ve literally never played a character above 10th level.

Tyler 

D&D beyond every once in a while posts stats on the characters on the site. And recently, I saw a chart of characters by level that are in their system. I don’t know the numbers off the top of my head, I’ll try to find the chart and link it in the show notes. But rough estimate something like 10% of characters are 10th level or higher. So really tiny minority.

Randall 

Yeah. And so maybe that limitation isn’t going to kill us. And then the rest of it. I do really wonder like, if you if a player wants that, why not just play a saucer and leverage what’s there? And then I guess, here’s a question: Does the spill point system also impact the rules for monsters?

Tyler 

As a DM I would say just don’t bother. It’s not worth the effort.

Randall 

I”m imagining doing the math to, like, how many spell points does this dragon have?

Random 

This is where I’m, you know, so I was just talking about player options. But if you start getting into what monsters are doing. I mean, you know, with the with this change that’s coming where we start seeing more of spell casting actions rather than, like, a spell list. That’s going to become largely a moot point. But if you are trying to use un-transitioned content, Crawford help you. You’re going to be in for a bad time.

Randall 

Okay, I I don’t love this and I’m not going to defend it.

Tyler 

That’s fine.

Randall 

Okay, fair. When do you want to add this to your, uh, if you hate your players and your players hate you back, you just, spell points. Go. Do it.

Random 

Make make them play a Sorcerer, make them be the, the beta tested psionics subclass, and make them you spell points. Track three pools.

Tyler 

Yes. Hats upon hats.

Randall 

Alright, let’s get… let’s, yeah, we’re gonna do a lightning round. So there’s a lot of other variants that I think we all wanted to talk about in 5e. Let’s, we’re gonna hit these then we’re gonna get on to PF2. Okay. 1, 2, 3 go!

Tyler 

Okay, so, what we’re going to do here is I’m going to list the variant. I’m going to one sentence description what it is, and then you guys tell me if you would use it in your game. Climb onto a bigger creature. It lets you grapple big things and get advantage to attack them while they’re dragging you around on their back. Randall? Yes/no.

Randall 

Absolutely.

Tyler 

Random. Yes/no.

Random 

Absolutely.

Tyler 

Cool. Me too. Alright. Disarm. it’s a very an option for martial characters to disarm people using weapons. I can’t remember the exact rules but I believe it’s an athletics check or something, but basically it just gives you a way to disarm people. Randall? Yes/no.

Randall 

Okay to be clear, so then they don’t get to use their weapon for the attack so they have to either do fist or improvised weapons?

Tyler 

So you disarm them on your turn. Their weapon is now on the ground.

Randall 

I love that. That seems great.

Tyler 

Yeah. Alright, Random?

Random 

A long time a holdover from previous editions. I resent the option being gone. I would put it back in.

Tyler 

Same. Alright, healers kit dependency. You must spend one use of the healers kit to use hit dice when you take a short rest. Randall. Yes/no.

Randall 

I’ve never heard of this and this is my favorite idea tied to hit dice I’ve ever heard. Because otherwise hit dice make no sense. Like, I feel like shit. I’d like to feel better.

Tyler 

Yeah. Random. Same?

Random 

Yeah. So, spoilers I put this on this list. This is one of the ones written into the DMG or PHB. And we’re going to talk about this in a more extended version in a later episode about mundane healing. I love this. And I would explore the heck out of this.

Tyler 

Okay. Mark. So when you attack a creature, you can choose to mark it you can have one creature marked and you get an extra reaction on your turn to take an opportunity attack against that creature if it attacks someone else or moves away from you. You still you only get one opportunity attack per turn, but you could use a reaction for shield or whatever. I don’t know. So, Mark. Randall. Yes/no.

Randall 

I’m going to say “no” unless you’re giving up like a bonus action or an action on your turn. Because otherwise, this just feels like ,you know, an extra attack with more steps. Go ahead.

Random 

Yeah, I go with no. Basically just flat no. there’s very little need to make complex combat more complicated. This is adds more complication in a way that’s not really fun.

Randall 

I didn’t mark mark or mark tally.

Tyler 

If you want to mark people, play a Cavalier Fighter. Overrun. It allows you to shove through a creature space using athletics check and either an action or a bonus action to just say I need to be behind you and you’re in my way. Let’s solve that problem. Randall. Yes/No

Randall 

Do you… Is this an action? Or is this part of your motion?

Random 

It is a bonus action you take while moving?

Tyler 

Yeah. It’s like football charging past somebody.

Randall 

Okay. Or do they go prone if I…

Random 

No.

Tyler 

No, you just go through their space.

Randall 

I think I like it. But I feel like for certain creatures, this isn’t going to make sense. So I’m going to say yes, but I’m gonna squint at it.

Tyler 

Okay.

Random 

I will absolutely say yes. In fact, I have used this on the Paladin that I talk about all the time. Again, a holdover from 3.x, the very little reason to not include something because otherwise you have no rules to adjudicate when your player says, I want to run through the guy, and you say “eh?”

Tyler 

Just get inside the safety doughnut.

Random 

Exactly.

Tyler 

All right. Shove aside. So it’s like shove but instead of pushing them away or pushing them prone, you can push them left or right. Randall. Yes/no.

Randall 

Sure.

Tyler 

Random?

Random 

I get a “yes, but.” I mean, if you think to add some verisimilitude, where it takes more force to push somebody left or right than it does to push them away from you. I would probably say “you can. you’ll get disadvantage.”

Tyler 

I feel like that might actually be the rule but I’m forgetting now.

Random 

Well then there you go.

Tyler 

Okay.

Random 

Although, I feel like if we if we combine this with climb on to something bigger and you try to show something like one or size larger than you. Like, that gets interesting, but keep going. I push on the wall and I fall down. Sorry.

Tyler 

Tumble it’s basically the same as overrun, but use acrobatics. So you basically just tumble through someone’s space.

Randall 

That sounds fabulous. And I want to see it.

Tyler 

Okay. Random?

Random 

Yes, again, a an option from 3.X that I would like to be here. And maybe that leads to into a longer conversation about why athletics and acrobatics are the same skill with a different set.

Tyler 

Yeah. All right, and then finally in the speed round: cleave. So when you make a melee attack that drops an enemy to zero hit points any remaining damage may be applied to another creature within reach if your original attacker would also hit that creature. Your 20th level Barbarian goes in surrounded by kobolds. Crit the first one and just roll that damage in a circle. Randall? Yes/no.

Randall 

Okay, RP wise I love this. Mechanically, I’m gonna go with no.

Tyler 

Okay. Random?

Random 

Honestly, same. In 3.x this was a feat chain that you had to do. So power attack into cleave into great cleave and then if you ended up as a frenzied berserker, supreme cleave. But, I mean, I understand the the cool storytelling option but as a mechanic the way they introduced it here I don’t like.

Tyler 

I’m gonna say I’m I’m working on a weird secret project involving mass combat where I would very strongly recommend cleave. But in your typical game, probably not super great. If you do want to cleave, Great Weapon Master lets you do it.

Random 

Right.

Tyler 

And that is the end of the lightning round. So every single one of those variances in the dungeon master’s guide, including gritty realism, flanking, spell points, and everything in the speed round. If you’ve heard those those variants and thought, “that sounds cool,” grab a book!

Randall 

I mean, yeah, just to echo that, right. I apparently have not sat down and really read the DMG cover to cover or even just the variants chapter. And I’m amazed at some of these things are in there so maybe I should spend more time with the book.

Tyler 

Yeah, the dungeon master’s workshop chapter is dense and half of it is building a monster. See The Monsterizer. But the variants are all in there, and a lot of them are very fun.

Randall 

Alright, cool. So I think it’s time to talk about Pathfinder 2.0.

Tyler 

Yeah. I’m really excited. So Pathfinder Second Edition is a very crunchy system compared to 5e. And changing the rules is daunting. It’s a little harder to see how all of the rules interact because a lot of things kind of buried in, like, the tagging system and things like that. And the the math is way less bounded than fifth edition. Like, fifth edition, a 20th-level character can expect to have like a +11 on something they’re good at. A 20th-level character and Pathfinder can expect to have like a +40 on something that they’re good at. And there’s, there’s three different types of bonuses, and there’s untyped bonuses, and there’s penalties, and like all these other things. So, like, messing with the rules in Pathfinder can be super daunting. So take it slow. But that said, the Gamemastery Guide, which is the Pathfinder equivalent of the Dungeon Master Guide, has has some variants in it that are really, really cool, and I like them a lot. The first one I want to talk about is magic item variants. So if you’ve played Pathfinder second edition, you have a ton of magic items compared to fifth edition. You’ll have your armor, your weapon, you’ll you’ll have like 10 different slots that you’ll have items in. You’ll have disposables, you’ll have trinkets, you’ll have disposable items hanging from your permanent items. Like, it’s very much like to draw comparison to any CRPG. Like, yeah, you’ve got like your feet, your pants, your belt, your shirt, your cloak, like all those slots. All of those have items in them all the time. And managing your items and your gold to buy those items is a huge part of the game and a huge part of character optimization. The magic item variant, the automatic bonus progression takes away some of that stress. So, Random, I’m going to scare you for a second and compare it to vow of poverty from 3.x. I see the face. This takes away the need for fundamental runes, quote unquote. So the fundamental runes are your +X on your weapon and your armor, striking runes on your weapon. And I think potency, they’re called on armor I, I looked at this like five minutes ago, I swear. So basically, the things that provide the boring like is I have a +2 to hit. Great. Those boring bonuses, those go away, you just get those automatically as you gain levels. But it does change the way the loot has to be awarded. Because you know, you’re no longer spending gold on those massively expensive fundamental runes just to keep pace with the math of the game. So things get a little complicated. But it does, like, it makes certain builds easier. If you want to play a gunslinger and you want to have a brace of pistols, you no longer have to buy the item that applies all of your runes to all of your guns, you can be just like, I’m on level 20 All of my things are greater striking and plus three. So I’m just going to like never reload and leave a trail pistols behind me. So I like it a lot. But it is very complicated. Random you’ve you’ve played characters with vow of poverty in 3.x. Are you having scary flashbacks?

Random 

I’m definitely remembering a charisma in the 80s, if that’s what you mean.

Tyler 

Yeah, it’s not quite that bad. It can be I don’t think I’ve seen up to 80 I think the highest I figured out again is like 26. But still. Let’s see. So other variant I want to touch on is proficiency without level. So one of the things that makes the numbers so wild in Pathfinder, Second Edition is you add your level to anything that you’re proficient in. So you add it up. Yeah, you add it to your AC, you add it to your attacks, you add it all of your saving throws. Perception, any skill you’re at least trained. And so the numbers run up very quickly as you can levels and you’re stacking bonuses that whole time. If you’re familiar with 5e’s bounded math, and you come in and you’re like, Okay, adding to two digit numbers was scary. Now I’m adding a bunch of them. Like, ah, proficiency without level removes that level bonus to things that you’re proficient in which bounds the math much more strictly. So the numbers are a little less intimidating. And as a side effect, or maybe technically as the primary effect, lower-level monsters remain threatening for your entire career. So like, if you’re your level 20 Fighter, and you walk into a room, like normal rules, you walk into a room with 20 Goblins, you’re like, I guess I’m going to spend several turns, mowing down these harmless people. And then you introduce the proficiency without level. And all of a sudden, those goblins can still hit you. They’re still going to have a slightly harder time because you’ve got, like, +3 armor and whatever, and your proficiency is really high. But those low-level monsters remain a threat, which has an interesting effect. And like, Pathfinder did a really good job of here’s this variant, here’s how it affects the game. And it gives you new tables for how to calculate CR. So you don’t have to worry about that. That’s all done for you.

Randall 

That’s nice.

Tyler 

Like, it’s all in there. It’s wonderful.

Randall 

I do think it’s worth like highlighting kind of the difference between 5e because I think a lot of folks are maybe more familiar with 5e then Pathfinder two, right? So in 5e, you have your proficiency bonus, and as you level up, your proficiency bonus increases, right? In in PF two, you have your level. And then there’s actually three tiers of I’ll call it proficiency. Right? So we have trained, we have something, and we have expert, and I’m forgetting what something in the middle is.

Tyler 

Master?

Random 

I’m actually pretty sure it goes trained, expert, master. And then I think the top one is legendary.

Randall 

Oh, there’s 4 tiers. Okay, my character must suck. Okay, even better. Okay. And but the idea being that, right, you have these four tiers of proficiency, which are per skill, because you might take feats, or for whatever reason, you might have more proficiency with a particular skill than other skills. Whereas in, yeah, in 5e, it’s just like, Oh, you’ve hit a level and your proficiency bonus increases. So all those skills you have magically overnight all at once, they all go up. And so I do I like the per skill. In this case, it’s it’s a, you know, a linked list, not a tree, but I like that in PF2 better storywise. Like, that feels more rewarding. But yeah, knowing that you have the crutch that also I get to add my level two, it makes perfect sense. Taking that away, but then making the characters like at that point, the amount of energy or the amount of, you know, points per level that you’re putting into particular feats to level up particular skills becomes so much more meaningful, because you’re not getting that per-level bonus across the board. Yeah, I think I like the idea of that. Okay. All right. So the, the funnel.

Tyler 

Funnels are a concept that could fill its own episode, so we’ll probably do that at some point. But to just touch on it very briefly. The idea of a funnel is you start with level zero characters who have are just regular folks, just regular mooks. They go on some terrible, terrible adventure where almost all of them die, and whoever lives becomes the party. I believe the idea was introduced in Dungeon Crawl Classics. There’s a there’s an official variant for it in the Pathfinder, Second Edition Gamemastery Guide and then Arcadia magazine from MCDM just published episode nine which has rules for 5e. But that is its own episode.

Randall 

Alright, folks. We did it! It is season two, episode one. We have completed it. Our next episode, the move towards inclusion in tabletop gaming. So this is going to be a continuation of the conversation we had with a D&D 3.0 errata and it’s going to be fantastic. I’m Randall James. You can find me at Jack, er, as JackAmateur on Twitter and Instagram.

Tyler 

I’m Tyler Kamstra. You’ll find me an RPGBOT.net. On Twitter and Facebook RPGBOTDOTNET. And patreon.com/rpgbot.

Random 

And I’m Random Powell. You won’t find me on much social media, although in places where people play games I’m often there is Hartlequin or Hartlequint. Although a few people have recently started beholding me, or perhaps Eye Tyranting me.

Randall 

Perfect. We have a special announcement. Everybody: our Patreon, it sucks less now. It’s an exciting…

Tyler 

Thanks?

Randall 

Good, right. And so maybe again behind the scenes. So, Tyler is RPGBOT, and has made RPG bot happen for you know, damn near 30 years now.

Tyler 

It’s like nine. It’s like nine. I’m not that old.

Randall 

Eh, I’ve heard it both ways. And so he’s had a Patreon, but now that we’re doing a podcast, there was kind of ability to create a tiering system which I think made a little more sense. And so if you haven’t looked at the Patreon in a long time, definitely take a look. If you’re a longtime follower of the site who’s gotten into the podcast. Also go take a look because there might be material there that you’d be excited to have access to. All hail the Leisure Illuminati.

All 

Hail!

Randall 

You’ll find affiliate links for source books and other materials linked in the show notes. Following these links helps us to make this show happen every week. You can find our podcast wherever find podcasts are distributed. If you enjoy this podcast, please rate review and subscribe. And please please please share with your friends. If your question should be the question of the week next week, please email podcast@RPGBOT.net. Or message us on Twitter at RPGBOTDOTNOT. We didn’t have a question of the week this week. But next week, we’ll have a question of the week. That week, which isn’t this week, it’s next week. You can find it by going to, uh…

Tyler 

That’s fine.

Randall 

Okay, I started listing out, uh, I started listing out…

Random 

The patreon things?

Randall 

So you can find patreon by going to patreon.com and searching for RPGBOT. You can go to your favorite search engine. Any permutation of the words “RPGBOT” and “Patreon” will give you the RPGBOT on Patreon. If you go to RPGBOT.net and click on the Patreon link, it will still bring you to Patreon. I think if you go to Twitter, and if you search Twitter for RPGBOT and Patreon, it’ll bring you to a tweet. In that tweet, there will be a link to the Patreon. So there’s all kinds of ways to find the Patreon.

Random 

Nailed it.

Randall 

Okay, then. So we agreed to skip the both or othe,r except for when I say “we agreed”, they agreed and I didn’t read that so I started this section. I love you and I’m sorry if you want to kill the, uh, the “Hey guys, what’s the funnel?”

Random 

I mean, honestly, the way that it was introduced works fine. There was a time saving thing which by the way, good episode. I had a lot of fun. It was good to see you. Bye!

Randall 

Bye! Hey, Tyler quick grab a screen grab.

Tyler 

Got it! I grabbed the screen, I think.

Randall 

And then then you have to kill the recording so he can leave safely, right?

Random 

I’ll just mute.

Randall 

Oh no. But if you if you stick a screen grab maybe without the text. I thought the Discord people might like if you’re like “hey, we recorded an episode!” But maybe maybe without our texts to each other?

Tyler 

Yeah, uh…

Randall 

And it doesn’t have to be this week. It was just a thought that, like, oh god. Dan, Dan, we killed Random!

Tyler 

Okay. Okay, I’m gonna save this and I will do the thing. Boy, that is an unflattering picture of all of us. I’m, uh, regretting that suggestion. God it’s gonna be crazy high resolution isn’t it? Or, no, it’s gonna be… no, it is the tiniest dot.

Randall 

Which of these six pixels is you?

Tyler 

Alright, I don’t think we’re gonna post that one. Next time we’ll smile.

Randall 

That’s fair.

Tyler 

Well, I think that was good episode. We should do an episode on funnels. And if we can, we should try and get somebody who knows something about them to come on here and talk about them. Maybe the guy who created Dungeon Crawl classics, who is, I’m told, a person.

Randall 

I bet he’s people.

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