5e D&D Don’t steal from Classes: Adding Flavor and Special Effects.

A theme of questions I keep seeing DMs ask is about adding mechanics to a character. Often this comes because of the Hero’s in-game choices. Many times, not having any idea of how to balance these mechanics, they end up stealing them from another classes. Time and time again, I feel the same answers applies to each situation.

Here is an example from my own gaming at a local store. A new player to the group created a Bard. He asked me the following question:

Player: “Because of my Bard’s backstory I was hoping he could fight with two weapons.”

I said, “Sure of course. You can do that.”

He then asked, “Great. What is the mechanic I use?”

I said, “None. But you can fight with two weapons.”

He was confused, “But I should get a bonus otherwise what is the point?”

Me: “I thought it was about role-playing?”

What is the point? Much of this goes back to a post a while back about Wanting +1s. But I want to expand on this a little more.

First off, not everything we do in life is optimized. Not every skill we have is at the best.

His Bard can “fight” with two weapons. His Bard can feel like it gives him an advantage. To him, fighting “twin” could be what he thinks is the best way to fight. But many of our beliefs are really false assumptions. Sometimes they are even a liability or limitation. If he really wants to fight with two weapons because of a role-playing choice, then why does he need a mechanical bonus?

I get these questions all the time. So my answer to most of these questions is “Yes you can!”

Can my wizard wear chainmail? “Yes!”

Can my Rogue I have a pet wolf that fights with me? “Yes!

Can my Barbarian use an axe with two different axe heads? “Yes!”

Then it is always, “What is the advantage?”

Me: “None.”

Game Design

The classes, feats, items, skills, abilities, spells, etc… are nothing but a series of Flavor and Mechanics. If you start to give mechanics from one class to another, you are creating imbalances in the game.

A recent post I read was about a Barbarian with a trained wolf and a Ranger with their Animal Companion. By allowing the Barbarian an Animal Companion (he called it an NPC wolf), he is taking away from the Ranger class. In the design of the classes, they assigned a value to the Animal Companion. And while this value might not be perfect, it is apart of their balancing equation. Better not to mess with it.

Note: If you think the Ranger or Barbarian class is too weak and you are making a homebrew choice to fix it then this is another issues. I say more power to you. But making a balancing choice is not what I am talking about here.

The Fighter has a two weapon option. It is apart of their class balance. If I give it to a Bard, I am taking away from the Fighter. The Fighter become less special and less effective compared to both the Bard and other classes.

But if the bard gets gain nothing for using two weapons, then all the Fighter loses is some Flavor. The Fighter is a bad-ass with two weapons and the Bard thinks he is a bad-ass with two weapons. This is a great place for some role playing fun and no imbalance is created.

The last key to all of this is the narrative. While I personally rarely give narrative for minor attack results, when I do give the flavor I take into account their flavor choices. So if the twin weapon fighting Bard hits and does 2 damage, then it can be with his off-weapon. When he does a critical hit, he can hit with both weapons doing massive damage.

A lot of times characters want to train and pick up skills for the other characters and NPCs they meet. Great! If the Rogue has been training with the Monk and now wants to punch with his off-hand attack; sounds great. In narration, when the damage roll low I can say his attack was a punch.

The Wizard in Chainmail, does not get any improvements to his Armor Class. He isn’t wearing it effectively. It is uncomfortable, gets in the way, and the enemy finds it easy to get around it. But sure, he can wear it for role-playing reasons. It can make him feel safer.

Lessons from Champions!

Hero Systems Champions the Super Hero Game introduced me to the concept of Special Effects. In that game, you buy an Energy Blast as your attack. Say you bought a 8d6 Energy Blast attack. Then when you hit, you would do 8d6 damage. That was the game mechanics.

Then there was the Flavor of the attack. You got to choose that yourself. It could have a fireball, ice blast, wind attack, summoning a giant fist, sonic, etc. These special effects on occasion could come into play. If you said it was ice attack and the villain is immune to ice damage, then you are out of luck. But in most cases, the flavor was just the flavor.

I believe Savage World is built on the same general concept.

I apply the concept of Flavor to Dungeon and Dragons. I try to leave the mechanics alone and let the flavor be the flavor.

So next time they want to have their Bards fight with two weapons, say “Cool! Sounds good to me.” Then wait for the next question that always follows…

Update: Several people pointed out that 5e does have a mechanic for 2 weapon fighting outside of Fighters and Rogues. So I do have that to use. However, this was not the point. They player knew these rules. He was hoping for something extra. They are always looking for those +1 and other bonuses. Solve a lot of these issues by treating them as flavor is my point.


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