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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Detect Balance and James Musicus disagree (AKA not all vulnerability is equal)

    I've been using the guide created by James Musicus for homebrewing races for a while now, but I've recently discovered Detect Balance. I've gone back to revamp the undead race I keep mentioning, grading it on both scales to get a better idea of the true balance, and I've gotten to a kind of weird place.

    One of the defining traits of skeletons that sets them apart from other undead is a weakness to bludgeoning damage. For reference, a 1 on the Musicus scale is about equivalent to a 4 on the Detect Balance scale. Musicus rates a vulnerability, any vulnerability, at -1. Detect Balance rates vulnerability to a weapon type at... -40. Even converting the Musicus score to the Detect Balance system only gives a score of -4, so Detect Balance is literally giving is a 10x harsher score.

    Of course, my skeletons need some positive traits to balance out that weakness. Originally, they had a paralyzing touch and resistance to piercing damage, plus a few ribbon traits. I've added a resistance to cold, and given them +5 speed to try to balance things out more. I'm at the point where my skeleton subrace has a Detect Balance rating of -12 and a Musicus rating of +1.5. Including the base racial traits, skeletons are underpowered by the DB scale, but overpowered by the Musicus scale.

    I feel like the Detect Balance scale is probably closer to correct. Bludgeoning vulnerability is something I'm going to have a hard time countering. There are ways to get resistance to nonmagical bludgeoning, but no way to get permanent bludgeoning resistance. I can't really think of many more traits to add that are skeleton specific. And I don't really want to take away their weakness to bludgeoning, although maybe it could be softened.

    I'm not really sure what I'm asking, if anything. I guess I just needed to write this out. I think I already know that Detect Balance is probably more accurate here, and that I should ignore the Musicus score. Maybe an idea for softening the bludgeoning weakness? I don't want to get rid of it entirely, as it's thematic, and each undead subrace has its own special weakness.

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    Orc in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Detect Balance and James Musicus disagree (AKA not all vulnerability is equal)

    About which scale is correct: I understand why both scales have very different ratings, a vulnerability can be anything from never used to deadly depending on your DM and your campaign. Specifically, I think most weapons used in the MM are piercing/slashing weapons, so unless the DM actually takes the time to put some realistic variety in the enemies weapon, it is not unlikely that bludgeoning vulnerability to never be used.

    About how to soften the vulnerability:
    1) I'm not sure how armors physically works on skeletons, since they don't have enough flesh for armors to be efficiently put on them. But assuming this is not a problem, if you have an heavy armor, you should probably no longer suffer from this vulnerability. (Well, not more than a human in heavy armor).
    2) You could replace the vulnerability by an advantage for bludgeoning attacks against you.
    Last edited by MoiMagnus; 2019-09-06 at 04:14 AM.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Detect Balance and James Musicus disagree (AKA not all vulnerability is equal)

    Fall damage is bludgeoning damage, and unarmed attacks default to bludgeoning. And it's probably common enough knowledge that you use blunt weapons against skeletons, so intelligent creatures will likely do so, and clubs are easy to come by.

    Realistically, I don't know what armor would do for a skeleton. Mechanically, it provides the same benefit. One thing that might help is Heavy Armor Master. IIRC, damage reduction applies before resistance or vulnerability, so that 3 damage reduction will feel like 6 damage reduction against bludgeoning damage.

    Re; advantage, this doesn't account for other sources of bludgeoning damage, like fall damage or save spells. It's canon that these skeletons are afraid of heights, and throwing them off a cliff is an effective way to make sure they don't come back. I want them to have a weakness, but this admittedly might be a bit too much.

    My initial thought for an alternative was to just double the damage dice, but that's not really much different. I could do something like +1 damage for each damage die rolled. So if you hit with a maul, it's +2 damage, but with a warhammer it's only +1. For fall damage, you'd take an extra 1 point of damage for every 10 feet you fell. This seems too weak, though. Maybe add 1d4 instead of 1, but then that could be a lot of dice. It's something that needs to scale, so that weak attacks don't become super powerful while strong attacks are about the same.

    I was tempted to give them a away to eliminate their weakness, but I as I said, I think they do need a weakness, even at high levels. It might be interesting to force them to work around such a potent weakness, but that would mean I need to give them something to make it worth it.

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    Default Re: Detect Balance and James Musicus disagree (AKA not all vulnerability is equal)

    I had the same problem when I started creating races. I thought balancing racial weaknesses was a nice 1:1 ratio, but found out it isn't so. Creating a race with a weakness simply means it will be used in such away that the weakness won't affect the overall performance of the character. This is why I gave up on racial weaknesses; no matter what weakness I gave a race in order to create some more design space, it ended up either not affecting the character or rendering the race as useless. There was no happy medium. The only thing a racial weakness did was limit its potential for interesting characters, since it required a certain build to negate the penalty I gave it.

    Another problem I encountered when converting monsters to races is that monster mechanics really don't translate well. Meaning that what is fun and interesting on a monster is almost never fun and interesting as a part of a race. This makes it very hard to make monster-races that don't show a huge discrepancy between the two.

    I used a very interesting workaround that ignored all 5e race balance issues, but I don't think you'd be interested. Suffice to say, I don't use detect balance anymore, and it didn't help me a lot when I did use it.

    I'm mostly interested in how you are explaining a sentient skeleton? Aren't they usually sorta... compelled? I mean, they can't talk, they always attack the living. How do you make your skeleton different? What fantasy are you fulfilling by offering skeletons as a player character?

    There are also many things regarding skeletons that isn't discussed, since its physiology is never in the hands of a player. For example, how still can a skeleton be? When lying on the floor, is there any difference between an animated skeleton and an inanimate one? Can a skeleton fold in on itself? Does it still have ligaments? How does it see? Does casting dispel magic on a skeleton affect any of its traits? Is it just a ghost possessing its former bones? Does that mean the ghost comes out when the skeleton is destroyed, as per the ghost's stat block? Why can't a skeleton normally speak?

    I think you should keep the bludgeoning vulnerability and allow it to cast the chill touch cantrip, and pretty much call it a day. You can look into some other iconic features, like 'when you are reduced to 0 you are instead reduced to 1 and fall prone as if you were under the effects of feign death' or 'when still you are indistinguishable from a inanimate pile of boneThen for balance reasons you have to have it count as both humanoid and undead :/

    EDIT: Is this the 'brew you're talking about?
    Last edited by Bjarkmundur; 2019-09-06 at 06:22 AM.

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    Default Re: Detect Balance and James Musicus disagree (AKA not all vulnerability is equal)

    Quote Originally Posted by Bjarkmundur View Post
    I had the same problem when I started creating races. Then ofcourse I hit the problem of weaknesses. I thought it was a nice 1:1 ratio for balancing a strength with a weakness, but found out it isn't so. Creating a race with a weakness simply means it will be used in such away that the weakness won't affect the overall perfomance of the character. This is why I gave up on racial weaknesses; no matter what weakness I gave a race in order to create some more design space, it ended up either not affecting the character or rendering the race as useless. There was no happy medium.
    The weakness isn't so much to create more design space (although that aspect is helpful, as I'm trying to cram a lot into this undead race), but more so that I think it's more interesting if they have a weakness. Because undead are hard to heal and resurrect, I've given them a trait that makes them automatically stabilize at 0 HP, except under certain circumstances. Each subrace has a different weakness that ties back in to one of the methods of actually killing them.

    Another problem I encountered when converting monsters to races is that monster mechanics really don't translate well. Meaning that what is fun and interesting on a monster is almost never fun and interesting as a part of a race. This makes it very hard to make monster-races that don't show a huge discrepancy between the two.

    I used a very interesting workaround that ignored all 5e race balance issues, but I don't think you'd be interested. Suffice to say, I don't use detect balance anymore, and it didn't help me a lot when I did use it.
    I've found using Musicus's guide to be helpful, if nothing else it at least helped me to be aware of just how much I was adding to a custom race. I had hoped Detect Balance would be similarly helpful, and getting two perspectives would help create more balanced races. I wonder if maybe it isn't just confusing me, though.

    There are a few things that I can imagine for your Skeleton race. It is already different from normal skeletons in the sense that it is sentient. What made it so? Is the character a part of an experiment? Is it a curse that makes him a living skeleton more than it is an undead person?
    The backstory is that a wizard was turned into a skeleton due to a magical accident. Joined an adventuring party to try to find a way to change back. Eventually, he embraced his undeath, and created a spell to make more undead like himself (including, but not limited to, skeletons). He now rules over an undead civilization. This race is more meant to cover the undead he created, rather than himself (who is now demigod level).

    There are also many things regarding skeletons that isn't discussed, since its physiology is never in the hands of a player. For example, how still can a skeleton be? When lying on the floor, is there any difference between an animated skeleton and an inanimate one? Can a skeleton fold in on itself? Does it still have ligaments? How does it see? Does casting dispel magic on a skeleton affect any of its traits? Is it just a ghost possessing its former bones? Does that mean the ghost comes out when the skeleton is destroyed, as per the ghost's stat block? Why can't a skeleton normally speak?
    A ghost possessing their own bones is actually how I explain it (technically, this is how all undead work, I think). It's easier to do that than to manifest as a pure spirit. No, the ghost doesn't come out if the skeleton drops, as it isn't strong enough to manifest outside its own body. They do have the false appearance ability, so if they stay still they get mistaken for a normal skeleton. I suppose they could probably fold in on themselves. They can also detach their bones and control them remotely, although they can't replace it with bones/limbs from someone else, so they'll want to make sure they get their own bones back (the Regenerate spell works, too). Dispel Magic does nothing, just like it does nothing on zombies created with Animate Dead, although they can be slain in an antimagic field as if they were mortal. Speech is probably more complex than moving the limbs, so most necromancers don't bother. The way I explain it is that they draw air through the back of their mouth and create minute ghostly manifestations of tongue and lips, just enough to manipulate the air but not enough to be felt by other creatures. This is why gagging them works.

    I think you should keep the bludgeoning vulnerability and allow it to cast the chill touch cantrip, and pretty much call it a day. You can look into some other iconic features, like 'when you are reduced to 0 you are instead reduced to 1 and fall prone as if you were under the effects of feign death' or 'when still you are indistinguishable from a inanimate pile of boneThen for balance reasons you have to have it count as both humanoid and undead :/
    I more or less already have all of these. Withering/Paralyzing Touch, instead of Chill Touch (so range vs. melee is a factor, but otherwise similar). Vigor Mortis makes them not die, unless they got thrown from high enough or something. They appear as a normal skeleton if they don't move. Not sure about the dual-typing of humanoid-undead, though, but maybe.

    That's a stripped down version of it. I was (and am) still working on it, and didn't want to share my rather large doc that still needs cleaning up and is full of probably superfluous info for that person's purposes. I've already mentioned this, but in addition to the basic traits and Vigor Mortis, they also have Withering Touch (base racial trait), Paralyzing Touch (skeleton-specific trait, 1d4 rounds instead of 1 minute), Dismembership, resistance to cold and piercing, and +5 move speed. So that should fill in the gaps.

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    Default Re: Detect Balance and James Musicus disagree (AKA not all vulnerability is equal)

    I'm excited to see the finished version. Make sure you start it off with clear design goals so you don't get flame for it being different from established 5e mechanics. That is, if you intend it to be seen as a possible addition to any already-established campaign or world, such as official 5e modules.

    Many smaller systems are based on a specific setting with very clear character concepts. There are many rpg systems which for example starts off by saying "this is the city the story happens in, this is the thing that brings your characters together, and this is your group's goals". This approach seems perfect for what you are going for, based on how radically you are changing the concept of undeath.

    Based on how extensive your undead race is it looks like all the players will be undead characters. If that's not the intention, and you instead want it to be a fun optional race of players, then I'd recommend you simplify it greatly. Remember, the rules and mechanics are representations designed to give invoke a feeling or a theme within the narrative. It doesn't have to be accurate, just simple, fun and representative. I also use a role of thumb: the more rarely a mechanic comes into play the simpler it has to be, since the players will get less practice in using it.

    Now, here's the kicker. If all the players will be undead, then you only need to balance the undead races with themselves. The fewer available races there are in a campaign, the easier it is to balance them. This is what I did with my races. I started off with just one race, and tweaked it until I was happy. Then I added another one. Now I realized that my first race was a bit too strong, so I tweaked it back. Then I came back to the second races and made small changes so it would fit the new baseline. I went like this, from one race to the next, and after each addition I rebalanced all the races to make sure everything fit the same baseline. I think I still have a couple of outliers, but nothing as bad as standard human vs. Yuan-ti.

    If the undead race is your pride and joy, design it how you like. Then, addd humans into the pool of available races, and tweak it until it lines up with the Undead, instead of the other way around.
    Last edited by Bjarkmundur; 2019-09-06 at 08:03 AM.

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  7. - Top - End - #7
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    Default Re: Detect Balance and James Musicus disagree (AKA not all vulnerability is equal)

    I'd like for these to be playable alongside other races, but at the same time I also have to acknowledge that they're probably at least a little bit stronger. It would probably be like playing with one of the PCs using the half-dragon template; a small boost to that PC's power, but not so much that it completely overshadows the other PCs. This might be balanced out by simply giving all the non-undead PCs an extra feat or something. I'd also like to see a full undead party, as their shared strengths (like poison immunity and not needing to eat/sleep) would let them get up to more shenanigans, while their varied weaknesses would also create some unconventional obstacles.

    Based on your recommendation to simply things, I've gone back and reorganized the document. Previously, I had the full set of racial features listed, with the simpler templates later on. With the reorganization, I've lead with a generic undead template, a template for this specific race (which includes the generic template), and then the full racial traits (for those not using a template over another race), followed by the subraces. This breaks things into smaller sections that should be easier to wrap one's head around individually, instead of having everything dumped on you all at once.

    The generic undead has but three traits, my specific undead has three more traits plus the generic template, and the full race simply adds on racial ASIs and a racial feat, along with the traits you see on every race such as age and alignment. For each subrace, I've tried to limit it mostly to four-ish traits per subrace, some of the more complex ones getting more. All in all, I think the change in presentation should reduce the apparent complexity and make it easier to understand.

    I did end up removing some of the traits from the skeleton subrace, like the speed bonus, as they were getting too many. I decided to buff its paralyzing touch back up to a 1 minute duration instead (and it won't usually last for a full minute anyway, since they get a save every turn). According to the guides, Detect Balance would still rate the skeleton as underpowered, while Musicus would rate it as overpowered. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between, so I won't worry too much.

    I'm also pretty pleased with the variety of subraces, which currently stands at 6. They roughly correspond to: vampires, Frankenstein's monster, zombies/draugr/mummies, skeletons, a shadow ghost, and a ghost that possesses things. For almost any kind of undead you'd want to play, there's a subrace for it. I'm also thinking of adding another one based on werewolves. I know werewolves aren't actually undead, but neither is Frankenstein's monster, and they tend to get lumped together as part of the Monster Mash.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Detect Balance and James Musicus disagree (AKA not all vulnerability is equal)

    Looking forward to seeing it ^^

    Paralyzing touch is probably more convenient if written as an action, single-save, once per long rest, but instead lasts for 1d4 rounds. This makes it less broken in combat, especially when you have 4 PCs that can all use this ability. It makes it more reliable to the player (they KNOW how long it's going to last) and also means you don't have to make arbitrary saving throws in OOC scenarios. Food for thought.
    Last edited by Bjarkmundur; 2019-09-11 at 03:13 AM.

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    confused Re: Detect Balance and James Musicus disagree (AKA not all vulnerability is equal)

    Quote Originally Posted by Greywander View Post
    Musicus rates a vulnerability, any vulnerability, at -1. Detect Balance rates vulnerability to a weapon type at... -40. Even converting the Musicus score to the Detect Balance system only gives a score of -4, so Detect Balance is literally giving is a 10x harsher score.
    I'd say they're both wrong. Detect Balance is right that vulnerabilities are worth about twice as much as resistances, but weapon damage isn't as bad as DB says. Bludgeoning is the least frequent of the three, unless your party is heavy on monks and shillelagh. I'd only rate it slightly heavier than fire & cold damage. Slashing is a bit higher, but piercing is the most significant by a wide margin. Nearly all Dex-based weapons are piercing. That's the only one I'd give the balance score that DB does.

    I also disagree with DB's assessment of rare, medium & common energy types. Most paladins & clerics have reliable radiant damage. Most warlocks (including their many multiclass splashes) have at-will force damage. Thunder and Psychic are the only really rare energies.

    Meanwhile, poison is a weird special case. Poison resistance & immunity is so common that it severely devalues the damage type. An attack that deals poison damage is maybe half as useful as one that deals force or magic weapon damage. Therefore I'd count poison resistance or vulnerability half as valuable as fire.

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    Default Re: Detect Balance and James Musicus disagree (AKA not all vulnerability is equal)

    Quote Originally Posted by snafuy View Post
    I'd say they're both wrong. Detect Balance is right that vulnerabilities are worth about twice as much as resistances, but weapon damage isn't as bad as DB says. Bludgeoning is the least frequent of the three, unless your party is heavy on monks and shillelagh. I'd only rate it slightly heavier than fire & cold damage. Slashing is a bit higher, but piercing is the most significant by a wide margin. Nearly all Dex-based weapons are piercing. That's the only one I'd give the balance score that DB does.

    I also disagree with DB's assessment of rare, medium & common energy types. Most paladins & clerics have reliable radiant damage. Most warlocks (including their many multiclass splashes) have at-will force damage. Thunder and Psychic are the only really rare energies.

    Meanwhile, poison is a weird special case. Poison resistance & immunity is so common that it severely devalues the damage type. An attack that deals poison damage is maybe half as useful as one that deals force or magic weapon damage. Therefore I'd count poison resistance or vulnerability half as valuable as fire.
    Player options and monster options are not the same thing. In most campaigns, you're not going to be fighting paladins or angels. Even warlocks--probably the most evil-inclined class--are rare to actually see as enemies in campaigns.
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