Do backgrounds work?

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Hi guys, I've only recently picked up the D&D Next playtest packet.


i like most of the stuff in here so far but the backgrounds just don't click for me and i was wondering if anyone else feels the same way?

It seems like the designers are attempting to help root pcs into the game world by using the background system and traits why i applaud. However the execution seems a little poorly thought out and only really works to provide pcs with 3 pre picked skills and a trait.


I guess its the traits that i don't get. Take the knight for example, he basically gets room and board around nobles or other knights. What if he loses his knightly position, i assume he loses his trait too? The noble gets retainers and the commoner has his own house and helper to run his plot whilst he adventures. Does this mean that knights and nobles are all homeless vagrants?  


i like the idea behind it but the traits just dont seem to work. When i started playing rpgs a character could have similar backgrounds without the need for a system benefit. It was called fluff.

i would like the background system to work but it also seems to assume that the pcs current station or position is the same as his background.


i know its optional but will there be other options. How will skills be selected without backgrounds? How does playing without backgrounds affect the rogue scheme class feature?


Does anyone have any suggestions for improving the background system?
What if he loses his knightly position, i assume he loses his trait too?

Yes. But why would he lose his knightly position unless he purposely forfeits it? I suppose a DM could potentially revoke it, but if that happens I would assume it was deserved. 

Does this mean that knights and nobles are all homeless vagrants?

No. It is assumed everyone has a place to call "home" whether they rent, own or it's provided for them. In the case of the Knight, they always have free room and board and therefore their housing is provided for them. The commoner is not just a home owner, they are a landowner and business owner as well...and they get a helper.

I personally do not see any problem with backgrounds as they are; I think they work great. 
D&D Next - Basic and Expert Editions

I firmly believe that there should be two editions of the game; the core rules released as a "Basic" set and a more complicated expanded rules edition released as an "Expert" set. These two editions would provide separate entry points to the game; one for new players or players that want a more classic D&D game and another entry point for experienced gamers that want more options and all the other things they have come to expect from previous editions.

Also, they must release several rules modules covering the main elements of the game (i.e., classes, races, combat, magic, monsters, etc.) upon launch to further expand the game for those that still need more complexity in a particular element of the game.


Here's a mockup of the Basic Set I created.



(CLICK HERE TO VIEW LARGER IMAGE)
  

Basic Set

This boxed set contains a simple, "bare bones" edition of the game; the core rules. It's for those that want a rules-light edition of the game that is extremely modifiable or for new players that get intimidated easily by too many rules and/or options. The Basic Set contains everything needed to play with all the "classic" D&D races (i.e., Human, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling) and classes (i.e., Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard) all the way up to maximum level (i.e., 20th Level).

The Basic boxed set contains:

Quick Start Rules
A "choose your own way" adventure intended as an intro to RPGs and basic D&D terms.

Player's Handbook
(Softcover, 125 pages)
Features rules for playing the classic D&D races and classes all the way up to 20th level.

Dungeon Master's Guide

(Softcover, 125 pages)
Includes the basic rules for dungeon masters.

Monster Manual
(Softcover, 100 pages)
Includes all the classic iconic monsters from D&D. 

Introductory Adventure
(Keep on the Borderlands)
An introductory adventure for beginning players and DMs.

Also includes: 

Character Sheets
Reference Sheets
Set of Dice


Expert Set

A set of hardbound rules that contains the core rules plus expanded races and classes, more spells and a large selection of optional rules modules — that is, pretty much everything that experienced players have come to expect. Each expert edition manual may be purchased separately, or in a boxed set. The Expert set includes:

Expert PHB (Hardcover, 225 pages. $35 Includes core rules plus 10 playable races, 10 character classes, expanded selection of spells and rules modules for players.)
Expert DMG (Hardcover, 250 pages. $35 Includes core rules plus expanded rules modules for DMs.)
Expert MM (Hardcover, 225 pages. $35 Includes an expanded list of monsters and creatures to challenge characters)


Expansions

These expansion rules modules can be used with both the Basic and Expert sets. Each expansion covers one specific aspect of the game, such as character creation, combat, spells, monsters, etc.) 

Hall of Heroes (Hardcover, 225 pages. $35 Includes a vast selection of playable character races and classes, new and old all in one book)
Combat and Tactics (Hardcover, 225 pages. $35 Includes dozens of new and old optional rules for combat all in one book)
Creature Compendium (Hardcover, 350 pages.$35 Includes hundreds of monsters, new and old all in one book)
The Grimoire (Hardcover, 225 pages. $35 Includes hundreds of new and old spells all in one book)





A Million Hit Points of Light: Shedding Light on Damage

A Million Hit Points of Light: Shedding Light on Damage and Hit Points

In my personal campaigns, I use the following system for damage and dying. It's a slight modification of the long-standing principles etsablished by the D&D game, only with a new definition of what 0 or less hit points means. I've been using it for years because it works really well. However, I've made some adjustments to take advantage of the D&D Next rules. I've decided to present the first part in a Q&A format for better clarity. So let's begin...

What are hit points?
The premise is very simple, but often misunderstood; hit points are an abstraction that represent the character's ability to avoid serious damage, not necessarily their ability to take serious damage. This is a very important distinction. They represent a combination of skillful maneuvering, toughness, stamina and luck. Some targets have more hit points because they are physically tougher and are harder to injure...others have more because they are experienced combatants and have learned how to turn near fatal blows into mere scratches by skillful maneuvering...and then others are just plain lucky. Once a character runs out of hit points they become vulnerable to serious life-threatening injuries.

So what exactly does it mean to "hit" with a successful attack roll, then?
It means that through your own skill and ability you may have wounded your target if the target lacks the hit points to avoid the full brunt of the attack. That's an important thing to keep in mind; a successful "hit" does not necessarily mean you physically damaged your target. It just means that your attack was well placed and forced the target to exert themselves in such a way as to leave them vulnerable to further attacks. For example, instead of severing the target's arm, the attack merely grazes them leaving a minor cut.

But the attack did 25 points of damage! Why did it only "graze" the target?
Because the target has more than 25 hit points. Your attack forced them to exert a lot of energy to avoid the attack, but because of their combat skill, toughness, stamina and luck, they managed to avoid being seriously injured. However, because of this attack, they may not have the reserves to avoid your next attack. Perhaps you knocked them off balance or the attack left them so fatigued they lack the stamina to evade another attack. It's the DM's call on how they want to narrate the exact reason the blow didn't kill or wound the target.

Yeah, but what about "touch" attacks that rely on physical contact?
Making physical contact with a target is a lot different than striking them, so these types of attacks are the exception. If a touch attack succeeds, the attacker manages to make contact with their target.

If hit points and weapon damage don't always represent actual damage to the target, then what does it represent?
Think of the damage from an attack as more like a "threat level" rather than actual physical damage that transfers directly to the target's body. That is, the more damage an attack does, the harder it is to avoid serious injury. For example, an attack that causes 14 points of damage is more likely to wound the target than 3 points of damage (depending on how many hit points the target has left). The higher the damage, the greater the chance is that the target will become seriously injured. So, an attack that does 34 points of damage could be thought of as a "threat level of 34." If the target doesn't have the hit points to negate that threat, they become seriously injured.

Ok, but shouldn't armor reduce the amount of damage delivered from an attack?
It does reduce damage; by making it harder for an attack to cause serious injury. A successful hit against an armored target suggests that the attack may have circumvented the target's armor by striking in a vulnerable area.

What about poison and other types of non-combat damage?
Hit point loss from non-physical forms of damage represents the character spitting the poison out just in time before it takes full strength or perhaps the poison just wasn't strong enough to affect them drastically, but still weakens them. Again, it's the DMs call on how to narrate the reasons why the character avoids serious harm from the damage.

If hit points don't don't represent actual damage then how does that make sense with spells like Cure Serious Wounds and other forms of healing like healer kits with bandages?
Hit points do represent some physical damage, just not serious physical damage. Healing magic and other forms of healing still affect these minor wounds just as well as more serious wounds. For example, bandaging up minor cuts and abrasions helps the character rejuvenate and relieve the pain and/or fatigue of hit point loss. The key thing to remember is that it's an abstraction that allows the DM freedom to interpret and narrate it as they see fit.

What if my attack reduces the target to 0 or less hit points?
If a player is reduced to 0 or less hit points they are wounded. If a monster or NPC is reduce to 0 or less hit points they are killed.

Why are monsters killed immediately and not players?
Because unless the monsters are crucial to the story, it makes combat resolution much faster. It is assumed that players immediately execute a coup de grace on wounded monsters as a finishing move.

What if a character is wounded by poison or other types of non-physical damage?
If a character becomes wounded from non-combat damage they still receive the effects of being wounded, regardless if they show any physical signs of injury (i.e., internal injuries are still considered injuries).

Ok. I get it...but what happens once a character is wounded?
See below.
 

Damage and Dying

Once a character is reduced to 0 or less hit points, they start taking real damage. In other words, their reserves have run out and they can no longer avoid taking serious damage.

  1. Characters are fully operational as long as they have 1 hit point or more. They may have minor cuts, bruises, and superficial wounds, but they are are not impaired significantly. 
  2. Once they reach 0 or less hit points, they become Wounded (see below).That is, they have sustained a wound that impairs their ability to perform actions.
  3. If they reach a negative amount of hit points equal or greater than their Constitution score, they are Incapacitated. This means they are in critical condition and could possibly die.
  4. Characters will die if their hit points reach a negative amount greater than their Constitution score, plus their current level.

Unharmed: 1 hp or more
Wounded: 0 hp or less
Incapacitated: -(Constitution) to -(Constitution+Level)
Dead: Less than -(Constitution +Level)

Wounded
When the character reaches 0 or less hit points they become wounded. Wounded characters receive disadvantage on all attacks and saving throws until they heal back up to 1 hit point or more. This allows for a transitory stage between healthy and dying, without having to mess around with impairment rules while the character still has hit points left.

Incapacitated
Characters begin dying when they reach a negative amount of hit points equal to their Constitution score. At which point, they must make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw on each of their following turns (the disadvantage from being wounded does not apply for these saving throws).

If successful, the character remains dying, but their condition does not worsen.

If the saving throw fails, another DC 10 Constitution saving throw must be made. If that one fails, the character succumbs to their wounds and dies. If successful, the character stabilizes and is no longer dying.

Finally, if a dying character receives first aid or healing at any point, they immediately stabilize.

Dead
Characters will die if they reach a negative amount of hit points equal to their Constitution, plus their current level. Thus, if an 8th level character with a Constitution score of 12 is down to 4 hit points then takes 24 points of damage (reducing their hit points to -20) the attack kills them outright.

Hi guys, I've only recently picked up the D&D Next playtest packet.


I guess its the traits that i don't get. Take the knight for example, he basically gets room and board around nobles or other knights. What if he loses his knightly position, i assume he loses his trait too? The noble gets retainers and the commoner has his own house and helper to run his plot whilst he adventures. Does this mean that knights and nobles are all homeless vagrants?  




Think about every time you have played a D&D game....has your character ever started with a house? The defualt assumption is that a Player Character does not have a home. Perhaps they sold it and that is how they funded their adventures, or perhaps they never had a home. Take the knight, he was probably provided a place to stay by the noble whose service he was in. Once he chose to adventure instead of continue his job functions, he likely lost his "home."  I would say granting the commoner a house is actually pretty cool since the defualt is indeed that adventurers are homeless. (Hence why they always have to pay for the stay at an inn).  

The noble is probably homeless as well....in fact all nobels are homeless except the King and or Queen. A noble generally lives in the castle with whoever is the highest noble in the area...and if you are out adventuring you are clearly not the highest noble in the area.


i know its optional but will there be other options. How will skills be selected without backgrounds? How does playing without backgrounds affect the rogue scheme class feature?



Even with backgrounds, you may if you choose pick any three skills you would like. There isn't at this time a full list of skills, so you just have to look at the various backgrounds and pick any three you like. 


I personally think that backgrounds are neat and an interesting element to add to the game. Granted you might question whether some of the backgrounds give you silly traits while others give you really awesome traits, I still think it is a great addition to the game.
I like the backgrounds - they are everything be wanted to be, but missed. In 4e, some backgrounds were too good, leading to everyone taking them ("you also have an auspicious birth? Good for you" ). Also, they didn't have broad use, so they didn't always come up. Which meant they were forgotten (in my game).
I'm excited about these backgrounds.
What if he loses his knightly position, i assume he loses his trait too?



That's for a GM to decide, but yes, if I was running a game then this would happen. If a knight was disgraced, he would forfeit whatever holdings he has.

The defualt assumption is that a Player Character does not have a home. Perhaps they sold it and that is how they funded their adventures, or perhaps they never had a home. Take the knight, he was probably provided a place to stay by the noble whose service he was in. Once he chose to adventure instead of continue his job functions, he likely lost his "home."  I would say granting the commoner a house is actually pretty cool since the defualt is indeed that adventurers are homeless. (Hence why they always have to pay for the stay at an inn).  

The noble is probably homeless as well....in fact all nobels are homeless except the King and or Queen. A noble generally lives in the castle with whoever is the highest noble in the area...and if you are out adventuring you are clearly not the highest noble in the area.



That's a good point, and I'll even go one further: should the commoner even OWN a house? Isn't it more likely that he'd be renting it anyway? I think owning houses was rare in medieval times, and only the very rich could afford it.

i would like the background system to work but it also seems to assume that the pcs current station or position is the same as his background.



I suppose that's for a GM to decide, really. Or they may have rules for advancing one's station, but that's not in the game yet. Since the description is "the character gains the Knight's Station feature", rather than "because of your background, this is what you get...", that seems to imply that it will be possible to gain the Knight's Station feature by other means as well. It certainly will be if I ever run a big enough game to make that possible!
Everything expressed in this post is my opinion, and should be taken as such. I can not declare myself to be the supreme authority on all matters...even though I am right!
I made a high elf wizard with the noble background.  Due to current state-of-story considerations, I noted that she has no retainers currently.  But, she'll later be able to return home and get new retainers.

That's how I'd do the knight.  Or even the Soldier.  Sure, they can lose the benefits of their ranks.  But, they can get them back later.  That's called a plot hook, and I love those.  I wish my players would give me more of them. 
Do background work? Yes very much yes :D.

My group picked up 2 new players who were going to use pregen cleric and wizard... I really really wanted to play the fighter (which I love now btw).

But wait a min... Oh crap! No skill monkey! Oh wait I'll just take the Thief background to gain the skills (along with the items) and BOOM instant trap monkey that could scount ahead and not worry to much on being attacked... 16 - 17 AC, 2d6 (dwarf with maul) +1d6 ( deadly strike) dmg, ability to parry attacks... yeah my level 1 dwarf was pretty useful and tough enough to take on any problems that might spring up. Disadvantage on stealth but that wasn't to bad.

What's also great is that this background lead me to make a cool backstory of my dwarf being a thief before he was caught by the authorities and decided to "volunteer" for military service.

Are some of them off a little? Yes, the knight gets a lance but not a mount. But for the most part I like these backgrounds.
It also gives a guide to what PC's can ask of the DM. It encourages new PC's to say "wait, are there any nobles I can talk to here?" rather than just letting them be floating in the void of the world as a random dwarf with an axe who walked into the tavern.
We love backgrounds.  Just having the fluff helps my players get into character.  Sure, they could invent it themselves, but most of the time, they don't.  Or it takes a longer time for them to start roleplaying when they don't have a hook.   Backgrounds let them hit the ground running.

A Brave Knight of WTF

If characters in my game don't specify they are homeless, or they are younger characters that might live with their parents, then I assume they have a home. Having a home in their hometown is such a minute detail, unless your game is going to revolve around that town, that I really don't see why it matters. The background traits should be seen more as what this background has more than what other backgrounds don't have.
My two copper.
I very much dislike backgrounds.  I like the concept.  I believe backgrounds can substantially contribute to both skill determination and character development.  But as current implemented, they fail miserably at both.

First, backgrounds as currently implemented fail as a skill delivery system because the "skills" given are better viewed as either roleplaying opportunities or as simple ability checks.  If something does not require special training (or cannot be obviously and directly impacted by training) -- e.g. perception -- it ought to remain an ability check.  If something's effectiveness depends upon role-playing its use -- e.g. bluff -- success should be based upon that role-playing.  To me, meaningful skills are things that one is unlikely to succeed in without experience and training, things that can be taught, and things not generally practiced and improved through typical adventuring, e.g. things a character might learn based upon his/her background.  A skill is something like picking locks, swimming a river, shoeing a horse, identifying a toxin, reading an ancient script, building a water wheel, trapping a pidgeon, etc.  Of course, such a list of skills is almost infinite and almost has to be handled abstractly.

Second, current backgrounds fail to help develop a character because they are too one-dimensional.  Usually multiple elements of a character's past in unique combination can help shape what a character is -- a background "thief" alone says little about a person and provides virtually no inspiration for richer development.
I very much dislike backgrounds.  I like the concept.  I believe backgrounds can substantially contribute to both skill determination and character development.  But as current implemented, they fail miserably at both.

First, backgrounds as currently implemented fail as a skill delivery system because the "skills" given are better viewed as either roleplaying opportunities or as simple ability checks.  If something does not require special training (or cannot be obviously and directly impacted by training) -- e.g. perception -- it ought to remain an ability check.  If something's effectiveness depends upon role-playing its use -- e.g. bluff -- success should be based upon that role-playing.  To me, meaningful skills are things that one is unlikely to succeed in without experience and training, things that can be taught, and things not generally practiced and improved through typical adventuring, e.g. things a character might learn based upon his/her background.  A skill is something like picking locks, swimming a river, shoeing a horse, identifying a toxin, reading an ancient script, building a water wheel, trapping a pidgeon, etc.  Of course, such a list of skills is almost infinite and almost has to be handled abstractly.

Second, current backgrounds fail to help develop a character because they are too one-dimensional.  Usually multiple elements of a character's past in unique combination can help shape what a character is -- a background "thief" alone says little about a person and provides virtually no inspiration for richer development.


I find it quite the contrary on both accounts. I feel that if everything is just an ability check, we would be moving too far backwards. Giving characters 3 or 4 things they are good at only strengthens their connection to their narrative background as well as giving them a time to shine.

On the second point, I've found that it has helped my players flesh out their characters. Background traits were highly taken advantage of, and backgrounds were a big success in my games. Could they be a little deeper? Yes, but that risks making them less universally applicable. Backgrounds are meant to be vague umbrellas that cover a wide variety of histories. Each thief is unique, but they all would probably train to be sneakier and better at larceny.
My two copper.

The beauty about D&D Next is that everything is based on the ability score check and that skills are just an arbitrary bonus. Meaning if you want a skill list that includes things like Bluff, Spot etc.. you can and if you don't then change it. Though they provided a suggested skill list, nothing stops you from making your own skill list, especially considering that there aren’t pre-determined DCs.

Personally the way we do it is, you can use what's available or make your own background and choose your own skills... A good source for an arbitrary skill list are the AD&D 2nd edition proficiencies.

As for the Traits aspect of Backgrounds, I do agree that they should mainly be regarded as fluff. Meaning, rather than trying to provide a defined mechanic, it should concentrate on fluff and allow the players/DM to give circumstantial benefits when the situation applies.

I envisage the Player's Handbook providing very generic Backgrounds and Campaign Settings / Adventures having their own well detailed Backgrounds.