Comparing Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons (D&D 5e) to other Table Top Role Playing Games (TTRPG) – Key Features and Differences
I am going to be reviewing several TTRPGs. These reviews are going to specifically compare them to D&D 5e. I am doing this with the assumption that my readers are already familiar with D&D 5e. But I am not assuming any knowledge of earlier editions of D&D.
These different game systems will all be in the same “Swords and Saucery” genre, what many refer to as “classic” high-fantasy, with warriors battling monsters alongside magic users in a medieval setting. They all focus on fantasy combat, with exploration and opportunities for social interaction. This will include some ‘old school’ retroclones harkening back to the early days of Dungeons & Dragons. They all include comprehensive rules set that cover character creation, spells, combat resolution, weapons and equipment, monsters, treasure and the key dice and play mechanics tying it all together.
Their primary system mechanic is rolling a die (typically a d20), but this varies somewhat. These should all be easy for the current D&D player to understand because they all have many of the same basic features although the specifics may vary. These are things like: races, classes, ability scores, experience points, class levels, weapons, armor, hit points, magic spells, etc. So if you know the current version of D&D most of the rules for these other games are using concept that you are already familiar with.
For each game system, I intend to provide a basic summery of each of these topics:
Summary of the game system
Primary differences to D&D 5e
Magic and spell casting
XP and character level advancement
What you need to get started
After saying all of that, I’m not doing it for the most popular alternative to D&D, which is Pathfinder 2nd edition. The reason is that I am not interested in doing that. Here is my opinion of Pathfinder.
The Pathfinder role playing game is, in my opinion, better that Dungeons and Dragons 5e in almost every possible way. I’ll say that again. Pathfinder is a better role playing game than D&D. However, it is not a game that I enjoy playing. This is because of its massive rules bloat which, for one thing, results in combat being too slow.
What it is: D&D Adventure Anthology Adventures Included: 13 Adventures Theme: Adventures inspired by world folklore Starting Location: The Radiant Citadel—a magical city in the Ethereal Plane Contents: 13 adventures for characters levels 1–14, 11 monsters, and introduction of the Radiant Citadel Best for: Dungeon Masters
I have just ordered my copy. Let me know what you think about this.
I have previously posted my D&D 5E House Rules rules on for drowning, casting spells underwater, and entire supplements on running nautical adventures. I have recently given more thought to these matters. I have never adequately presented rules to handle issues such as standing above the water and attacking a creature below the water. In this post I address this and other issues as well as reimagining some of my earlier rules. Enjoy!
A few words about “Swim Speed” • Having a swim speed does more than effect your speed when you are swimming. It implies a familiarity with the underwater environment that effects other things you do underwater such as speaking and using weapons. These abilities are reflected in the sections below.
How fast do you swim? • Unless you have a swim speed, your movement speed is halved.
Swimming in Armor • Light Armor: Requires a DC 10 Strength (Athletics) check each round. Failure means you have a speed of 0 for that round. • Medium Armor: Requires a DC 15 Strength (Athletics) check each round. Failure means you have a speed of 0 for that round and you sink 10 feet. • Heavy Armor: Requires a DC 20 Strength (Athletics) check each round. Failure means you have a speed of 0 for that round and you sink 20 feet.
Swimming to Exhaustion • You must make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw each hour that you are swimming or you gain one level of exhaustion. The check is made every half hour if wearing medium armor or every 15 minutes if wearing heavy armor.
Holding Your Breath • You can hold your breath for a number of minutes equal to 1 + your Constitution modifier. If you have a Constitution score of less than 10 you can hold your breath for 30 seconds. At that point, you fall unconscious. • When you don’t have time to prepare to enter the water, like if you were surprised, the time that you can hold your breath is halved, to a minimum of 30 seconds. • Once unconscious, you can survive for a number of rounds equal to your Constitution modifier (minimum of 1 round.) At that point, you drop to zero hit points, begin to drown and must start making death saving throws. • When drowning, a you cannot regain hit points or be stabilized until you are once again able to breathe. • When in combat, if you take any action other than the dodge action, at the end of combat you lose 1 minute from the time that you can hold your breath. For a long combat, for every 10 rounds you lose 2 additional minutes. • When you are hit, you must make a DC 12 Constitution saving throw. On a failure you lose an additional 30 seconds from the time you can continue to hold your breath. If it was a critical hit, you must instead make a DC 20 Constitution saving throw. On a failure you loose your breath and fall unconscious.
Melee Weapons • When your target is underwater, if you don’t have a swim speed, your weapon attacks are made at disadvantage unless you attack with a dagger, javelin, shortsword, spear, or trident. And your unarmed strikes are made at disadvantage.
Ranged Weapons • If your target is underwater, all ranged weapon attacks other than crossbows, nets, javelins, spears, tridents, and darts are made with disadvantage and even for these, attacks made beyond the weapon’s normal range automatically miss.
Shooting and Casting Spells Into Water • From the point of view of a creature out of the water, creatures that are underwater are considered to have 3/4 cover (+5 to the creature’s AC).
Speaking or Casting Spells While Underwater • Speaking underwater expends some of your air. Each round that you speak or attempt to cast a spell with a verbal component removes 30 seconds from the time you can hold your breath. If you are talking, this can be no more than about 10 words. • You are harder to understand when you talk while underwater. If you don’t have a swim speed, there is a 50% chance that you won’t be understood when speaking, and a 50% chance that your spell will fail when uttering the verbal component. • Sound travels further underwater. The verbal component of a spell will be heard at least 40 feet away. The same for normal speech. Anyone further than 40 feet away will have to succeed in a perception check with a DC = the number of feet beyond 40 feet to understand what is said. • You can’t whisper or yell underwater. • Creatures that aren’t in the water with you can’t hear you well. If you don’t have a swim speed and you are underwater, anyone that is not in the water will not be able to understand anything that you are saying. • If you can breathe underwater you can talk and cast spells without restriction.
Fire Spells • All creatures have resistance to fire damage when submerged underwater. • The range and AoE of fire spells are both halved. In the case of AoE spells, creatures have advantage on their saving throw.
Lightning Spells • Creatures have disadvantage when attempting to make a save against an AoE lightning spell. The range and AoE of lightning spells are doubled underwater.
Spells and Magic Items:
Water Walk [PHB p. 287] 3rd-level transmutation (ritual) Casting Time: 1 Action Ritual Range: 30 ft Components: V, S, M (a piece of cork) Duration: 1 Hour This spell grants the ability to move across any liquid surface – such as water, acid, mud, snow, quicksand, or lava – as if it were harmless solid ground (creatures crossing molten lava can still take damage from the heat). Up to ten willing creatures you can see within range gain this ability for the duration. If you target a creature submerged in a liquid, the spell carries the target to the surface of the liquid at a rate of 60 feet per round.
Ring of Water Walking [DMG p. 193] Ring, uncommon While wearing this ring, you can stand on and move across any liquid surface as if it were solid ground.
House Rules for the Water Walk spell. The second part applies only when you target a creature submerged in a liquid, i.e. at the time of casting.
House Rules for Ring of Water Walking • This does not mention the “Water Walk” spell. The spell says “as if it were harmless solid ground”. Note that the word “harmless” has been omitted from the ring’s description. So walking across acid or any other harmful liquid would inflict damage. It also won’t carry you to the surface if you put it on while underwater.
House Rules for both the Water Walk spell and the Ring of Water Walking • You can chose to dive under the water whenever you choose. In combat, this will be considered part of your move action. • If you are underwater and swim to the surface, it will take an action to climb back onto the surface of the water. • The effect of the spell or the ring will allow you to stand, walk, run, jump or engage in combat. It will also support the weight of your body and everything you are carrying even if you aren’t on your feet. So you can sit, lay down, or stand on your hands or head if that is what you want to do. Any object you are carrying can enter the water as it normally would if your intention is not to support your weight with it. As an example, you could use a walking stick or crutch and a monk could do a kick jump with his staff. • Your movement is not affected by the current. But, the surface of the water can change (such as with the tide) so the surface you are walking can raise or lower with the surface of the water. This means that waves will cause the surface to rise and fall. Breaking waves could present a problem. • While you are on the surface you can attack any underwater creature that is within range with your sword or ranged weapon. • While you are on the surface you can dip up some water in a bowl or even with your hands. You can also reach under the surface to do other things with your hands such as picking up items that you can reach, or open a chest. • Don’t forget and set your backpack down beside you, it will sink!
“To target something [with a spell], you must have a clear path to it, so it can’t be behind total cover. If you place an area of effect at a point that you can’t see and an obstruction, such as a wall, is between you and that point, the point of origin comes into being on the near side of that obstruction.”
This isn’t especially clear and and leads to many questions. A clear definition of “line of effect” would clear up much of the confusion. However, neither the Player’s Handbook nor the Dungeons Master’s Guide use this term at all. Because fifth edition doesn’t define a line of effect, below is my unofficial definition. I went back to the definition in third edition and modified it to account for the differences in 3rd and 5th edition. Because the following is not official, you should consider it a house rule.
Line of Effect [for Spells]
You must have a clear line of effect to any target that you cast a spell on or to the point of origin for any spell’s area of effect. A spell’s area of effect affects only an area, creature, or object to which it has line of effect from its origin. Line of effect is a straight, unblocked path that indicates what a spell can affect. A line of effect is canceled by a solid barrier. It’s like line of sight for ranged weapons, except that it’s not blocked by fog, darkness, and other factors that limit normal sight. A line of effect is also blocked by a solid barrier that doesn’t block sight, such as clear glass. An otherwise solid barrier with a hole of at least 1 square foot through it does not block a spell’s line of effect. Such an opening means that the 5-foot length of wall containing the hole is no longer considered a barrier for purposes of a spell’s line of effect. Line of effect is required for spells unless the spell description specifically states otherwise. Any spell that says that you need to see the target still requires a line of effect. If the spell description says that an effect spreads around corners that effect doesn’t require a line of effect.
If a spell must be maintained with concentration, you must have a line of effect to cast the spell, but you do not need to maintain a line of effect to maintain concentration. However, if the concentration spell allows you to use an action, bonus action or reaction to effect a creature or object then any round that you perform that action you must have line of effect to the target.
Line of Effect [for Auras]
The line of effect for an Aura is different than for spells. To be effected by (or to detect) an Aura there must be a straight path to the source of the aura that isn’t blocked by 1 foot of stone, 1 inch of common metal, a thin sheet of lead, or 3 feet of wood or dirt.
These tables more closely conform to the guidelines in the Dungeon Master’s Guide than the ones I published in 2020. Many thanks to Andrea Mosconi for pointing out my mistakes and taking the time to create these revised tables. [For my followers that are Italian speakers, you might find the site he used to help manage a useful resource www.dragonslair.it ]
There are separate tables for groups of 3, 4, 5, or 6 PCs. Just use the PDF file for the number of PCs in your party. Then go to the Easy, Medium, Hard, or Deadly encounter table. Find their average character level on the left side of the table and go across to the column that corresponds to the CR of the monster you want to use to see how many monsters you should use for the encounter (according to the DMG).
This works even if the encounter has different types of monsters as long as they each have the same CR. But what if you want the encounter to have monsters with different CRs? Just see how many of each CR monster you need for an Easy, Medium and Hard encounter. Then you can put them together in a single encounter using these formulas: 1D=4E=2M=2E+1M=1E+1H, 1H=3E=1E+1M, 1M=2E Where D is Deadly, H is Hard, M is Medium and E is Easy.
Or, if you aren’t a math geek: For a Deadly encounter you can use four Easy, or two Medium, or two Easy and one Medium, or one Easy and one Hard encounter. For a Hard encounter you can use three Easy, or one Easy and one Medium encounter. For a Medium encounter you can use two Easy encounters.
I have just became an Amazon Associate. Now when I link to a product (such as the Player’s Handbook), whenever someone clicks on that link and then makes a purchase on Amazon I will receive a small commission. This is another way you can support me without it costing you any more than if you had gone onto Amazon and made the purchase directly. I have added a menu item at the top: “D&D 5E Books”. Here I will try to maintain a list of all of the official books from the Wizards of the Coast, and I will be adding books from other publishers as well. The links will each take you to the Amazon Page for that book.
Please let me know of any WotC books I have missed, or any from other publishers you would like me to add.
You may have noticed that for the last month or so the “Buy Me a Coffee” tab at the top of the page has been missing. I was using buymeacoffee.com until they quit using PayPal. The other options weren’t acceptable to me. I have now switched to ko-fi.com so you can again give me a tip should you choose to. For everyone that contributed in the past, I must apologize that I no longer have access to those records. I would just like to say thank you to all of my supporters. Visit my new Ko-fi page HEREand you could be the first supporter on my new tip page. You can buy one or more cups ($5.00 each) or even commit to monthly support.
As a Dungeon Master, I quit using a DM screen about 5 years ago. I had always used one because I was told that that was the way the game was played. The players can’t see any of your maps or reference books. You can hide the minis of the monsters until you bring them out for an encounter. And you can roll behind the screen so your players can’t see when you fudge your die rolls.
When I stopped using a DM screen, I loved it. My players are all mature enough that they aren’t inclined to cheat, so hiding my books and notes isn’t an issue. I make all of my rolls in the open. At first I thought I might need to make secret rolls from time to time, so I put a couple of dice in a small wooden box with a lid for making secret rolls. In the last 5 years, I have never used it. I have a small cardboard box where I keep the monster minis until time to bring them out. And I really enjoy the game more where I can have a closer connection to the players, not to mention that I hate having to stand up whenever I need a good view of the battle mat.
The only problem has been my maps. My players don’t purposely look at the map, but it is hard not to look at it when it is in the open. So to help keep my honest players honest, a couple of weeks ago I started using a DM screen again. It didn’t take long for me to regret it, for all of the reasons I just mentioned.
Then, one morning I woke up with this idea. If all I was using the DM screen for was to make it easier for my players to not look at my maps, I didn’t need a full sized DM screen. I found an old shoebox that was just the right size for an 8 1/2 inch x 11 inch paper to fit inside. I cut off one end. I cut off two panels from an old DM screen (any 8.5 x 11 sheets of cardboard would do) and taped them to the sides. As I hope you can see from the photos, this is high enough that the players seated on each side of me can’t see the map and players at the other end of the table can’t see the map over the end of the shoe box. I taped a monster picture to the end just for fun. And the best thing of all, it doesn’t obstruct my view of the battle mat.
What do you think of this idea? I have only used it a couple of sessions so far, but I really like it. Also, I can easily set it aside when I don’t need to reference the map.
Never heard of ICRPG? I believe that Index Card Role Playing Game (ICRPG) is only a little over 5 years old. The latest version (Master Edition) came out last month. Quoting from the Quick Start “How to use the ICRPG rules? Short answer: don’t.”
“Index Card RPG is a way of thinking. Your players invested in another system? No problem. … Take what is useful for you, and toss the rest!”
The basics are simple. Here are some examples.
Movement and distance are somewhat abstract. Everything is either close, near, or far.
Turns are always taken clockwise around the table.
In combat, your character can either move far, move near and take an action, or take an action and not move.
A target number is set for the room or encounter area. It becomes the AC for all monsters and the DC for anything else you may attempt.
I couldn’t find any good conversion guides, so I wrote this one. If any of this sounds interesting to you, I recommend downloading the free ICRPG Quick Start available on “DriveThru RPG”.
You might want to run an ICRPG session or two using this conversion guide. If you and your players think any of these rules would enhance your D&D 5e game, drop all of the ones you don’t like and just use the ones you like as house rules in your next D&D game.
Let me know how it goes.
Revision #1, 1/8/2022: Removed copyrighted text and images as requested by Alex from Runehammer Games.