Tuesday, March 3, 2015

5th Edition Bogus Actions

For the last couple months my group and I have been absolutely loving the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons... mostly.  When we aren't testing out games for the 12 Games in 12 Months we are running a custom campaign and now that we are reaching mid level range (6-9) some minor issues in the systems seem to be flaring up.

Now I will say that these issues for the most part are edge cases with two exceptions, but all of them are happening from the same mechanical issues.  5th Edition WAY over uses Bonus actions.  I get why they were added as in the play test a rogue could essentially get four or five actions in a turn by second level and there needs to be some sort of ceiling, but once feats or optional rules such as duel wielding come in things get muddled.

The prime example that could affect any character is dual wielding.  On the surface it sounds fine, spend a bonus action to make an off hand attack.  The attack doesn't get an attribute bonus unless you have the fighting style.  This also means abilities like the rogues cunning action can't be used in the same turn as an off hand attack, limiting but fair.  However the martial classes with the fighter in particular get messy. The problem comes in when character get to make multiple attacks with a single attack action.  The first bonus attack isn't too odd as it would mean main hand, off hand, main hand, but a level twenty fighter is making four main hand attacks and one off hand attack.  I get that this can be re-flavored to be alternating hands, but still a fighting with a great club only gets one less attack than a fight with two short swords and that is just plain odd.

The other class based issue comes from a more niche selection, but just as glaring if a player goes that route.  What I'm talking about is the Berserker Barbarian,  The problem with them comes in when they enter their "special" rage called frenzy.  You see what makes frenzy special is while raging this way they can attack as a bonus action every round with the cost that once the rage ends they gain a point of exhaustion.  Also sounds fair until you think about the fact that the character has to announce it is a frenzy when they first enter the rage AND entering the rage costs a bonus action.  This means for the first round they are exactly the same as a barbarian without frenzy (except the other barbarian would have totems that will already be giving bonuses) and god forbid the fight ends in a single round or everyone runs away as the barbarian now has exhaustion for nothing.

Lastly, the final issues are cropping up around several feat, but I'll just lump them up here for brevity's sake.  First we have Great Weapon Fighter which allows fr power attack and "cleave".  The issue here is again with a Berzerker Barbarian as what they call cleave is spending a bonus action to make a second attack if you kill or crit.  This is useless for any class that grants an extra attack through a bonus action and that the super raging barbarian would pick up this feat if for anything than to stick to a theme would be punish is a bit short sighted.  Additionally the DMG actually has a better rule that could have been used that WotC opted out of (more on that later).  The Second is Pole Arm Master as that too allows for a free attack with a bonus action which while not as thematically clashing as great weapon does have the same issues and dual wielding as a character could attack with one end four times and the other only once.  And finally Duel Wielder which while not an issue with bonus actions, does penalize a character for sticking with light weapons after "improving" their skill at duel wielding.

The Fixes: Ok, so I made a couple small tweaks to each of the issues above and so far through play testing aren't breaking the bank, but letting players feel like the character's they were going for.

Berzerker Barbarian: This one is actually really simple. Make Frenzy a reaction when the character takes damage, but not normal rage.  This make it decidedly different from a normal rage and only added one extra attack in the entire fight.  I'd also add that when they rage they MUST make an attack immediately as part of the reaction.  Preferred target is a hostile creature, if that won't do then a friend or nearby object.  This also shows everyone around that the barbarian just went nuts and is now excessively violent.

Duel Wielding: For this I simply tweaked the feat Duel Wielder so it will be lumped in here.  What I did was make an amendment rule that with the feat the character can now duel wield with non light weapons OR if still wielding light weapons can make their off hand attack as a single free action after each main hand attack.  This can lead up to a lot of free actions, but I have a fix for that at the very end.

Great Weapon Fighter: I actually found my answer to this one in the DMG with their cleave through rules.  I then tweaked it to fit WITH the power attack rather than two separate abilities.  IT then becomes "If a creature reaches 0HP as a result of a Power Attack or a Critial Hit the attack carries through to an adjacent target.  If the same attack would would hit this target any remaining damage transfers to them.  If the remaining damage also reduces that target to 0 then continue until either the attack would not hit, their are no adjacent targets, or remaining damage no longer drops a creatures hp to 0.  Power Attack is then unchanged mechanically, but with the second effect it becomes much more of an option in crowded fights.

Pole Arm Master: Finally for this feat I tweaked the wording a bit to instead "When wielding a pole arm in two hands the character can choose to treat it as either a two handed weapon or two light one handed weapons.  When wielded as two weapons the main hand has damage as a one handed weapon if Versatile or reduces the dice type by one (ex: 1d10 becomes 1d8) if not.  The off hand weapon deals 1d4 bludgeoning damage.  The section about opportunity attack stays the same.  This fundamentally does nothing to change the feat on its own, but does allow it to work with Duel Wielder if a player chooses.

So there it is, how I handle the bonus action overload of some of my character.  As I said earlier this can mean a lot of free actions though and there does need to be some limit so rather than just make a flat limit like they did with bonus actions I instead made it a scale like they did with attack actions.

Free Actions per Round: Level 1-4=1 Free Action 5-10=2 Free Actions 11-16=3 Free Actions 17-20=4 Free Actions

Anyways, I hope this might help some of you that have been having the same issues.  Let me know how play testing these rules works out.


  1. "a fight[er] with a great club only gets one less attack than a fight[er] with two short swords and that is just plain odd."

    I see this as a feature not a bug. Two handed weapons are heavy and slower than one handed ones. 5th Edition doesn't use concepts like weapon speed, but this limit on the number of attacks is a good way to model that lighter weapons are easier to handle. Given that the two handed weapons do more damage per attack on average, the extra attack with a one handed weapon may actually balance the damage per round between the two fighters. I'd guess the average damage disparity is probably within a couple hit points at most even with the two-handed fighter getting one less attack.

    "... and entering the rage costs a bonus action. This means for the first round they are exactly the same as a barbarian without frenzy [...] and god forbid the fight ends in a single round"

    I don't see this as an issue either. Part of melee resource management is the decision on when and how to utilize the frenzy and other bonus actions. Wizard might waste a fireball on an opponent that only has a few hit points left. A fighter might spend their superiority dice on an opponent that was nearly dead already. All classes have resources that need to be used thoughtfully. If the barbarian frenzies every combat, they should fall over with exhaustion.

    The challenge with your fixes is that rather than being simple solutions, they add more fiddly bits to the rules -- one of the things 5e was intending to avoid in its design philosophy.

    The pole arm fix essentially turns all pole arms into a pseudo-versatile weapon and increases the potential damage output for two handed fighters too much. Someone with better math skills than I could probably show that with some analysis.

    The action economy is pretty streamlined. By adding more combinations, we take a step back to the bad old days of 3.x/Pathfinder where a PCs turn took 10 mintues, becuase they had options of a "free" action, a "swift" action, an "immediate" action, a "minor" action, a "move" action and a "standard" action.. etc, etc... The action economy was out of control.

    Bonus actions are intended to limit this craziness. A character gets one of these per round for just that reason. A tactical choice sometimes needs to be made between different options available to the character.

    Lastly, keep in mind that not all feats are intended to be optimized for any build. Some go well with certain classes and others don't due to this action economy. That's ok. That's also not a bug. Character design is a series of trade-offs, and not every choice results in guaranteed additional damage-per-round... And that's ok too, because 5e is not reliant on the kind of combat optimization earlier editions leaned so heavily upon.

    1. "where a PCs turn took 10 mintues, becuase they had options of a "free" action, a "swift" action, an "immediate" action, a "minor" action, a "move" action and a "standard" action.. etc, etc... The action economy was out of control. "

      Wow, was this really a thing? even when learning the game my turns were under about 10-12 seconds unless i was describing doing something specific and with the rules change a barbarian would be able to dual wield as both paths instead of just one, limiting your players is only something i see Versus GMs do tbh. happy players are important if i feel bad about how my characters actions and passives effect each other it makes the character less than ideal to play its no longer -my- character if i cant do something that is completely within the realm of reason its the systems character that they are letting me roll a d20 for, builds and customization is important i could see how this could be a problem for a gm that has players playing on their phones or something, Moving up and making 3 attacks takes me maybe half a second more than 2, i don't see how that could turn into 10 minutes.

    2. "10 minutes" is hyperbole, but the action economy was one of the things that slowed down combat in both 3e and 4e, not just tactical combat.