I am working on an adventure and trying to decide which system to use for stats. The potential options that have some currency in the collective psyche right now seem to be: the first gen retro-clones (Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord), Lamentations, DCC, Fifth Edition, and B/X Essentials. A stripped down 5E stat line seems like it may have the greatest reach and functionality of these options.
For personal use, the choice is largely irrelevant to me numerically, as I am comfortable ruling and interpreting on the fly for the most part. However, ease of use and discoverability are factors I consider when writing for others. The clones of TSR games (first gen retro-clones and B/X Essentials) are all mechanically equivalent, apart from minor differences in magnitude assumptions (traceable largely back to the different dice used by OD&D, the basic line, and AD&D). I suspect that it might be less intuitive for a 5E referee to upconvert from an OSR stat line than it would be for an OSR referee to downconvert from 5E.
I would avoid using the official style stat block, which sacrifices page real estate to standardization. For example, only a totally inflexible rules drone would need text to tell them that a trebuchet is immune to sleep spells or that a suit of animated armor is immune to being deafened. (Seriously 5E designers, WTF?) It seems most functional to select key stats and use 5E terms when the choice would be otherwise arbitrary.
Assuming 5E stats make the most sense in some form, I see two possibilities: 1) present a stripped-down form of 5E numbers or 2) present both “old school” and “new school” stats explicitly, but still tailored for concision. I suspect option 2 would be more accessible, but also less elegant. An example of option 1 (5E numbers, implicit conversion) might be:
Goblin. HP 2d6/7, AC 15 (lightly armored), proficiency +2, STR -1, DEX +2, WIS -1, CHA -1, stealth +6, challenge ¼ (50 XP), disengage or hide as bonus action, see in the dark
This is actually almost 100% of the information present in the official stat block. Even with super-vanilla goblins, weapon details would vary and so I see minimal benefit to adding them in the actions section (and of course I would rarely use super-vanilla goblins). Option 2 would have two subsections, prefaced with Old School and New School labels respectively, and probably take 2-4 lines for the full stats of a monster with medium complexity. While I like the no-nonsense approach of just calling out that categorization, you can probably imagine yourself what it would look like. In the process of writing this out, I am leaning toward option 1, if using 5E numbers is a given. Just doing a simple Labyrinth Lord or B/X Essentials presentation also remains appealing. I do like the ability to use the DEX, INT, and other stats as easy ways to call out agile monsters, and so forth.
Guidelines for conversion
- DCC. 5E constitution, dexterity, and wisdom saves can serve as DCC fortitude, reflex, and will saves.
- Descending AC. To get a descending AC value, subtract 10 from AC and subtract that from 10. (So: 18 ⟶ 8 ⟶ 10 − 8 ⟶ 2.) Starting with 5E values actually yields pretty good results from this procedure, compared to 3E/4E, due to the bounded accuracy design principle. It is also worth remembering that even if numbers are off by 1, that just means differences of 5%, which is unnoticeable in practice.
- Old school damage. Ignore proficiency when rolling damage. So the goblin’s 1d6+2 damage becomes a flat 1d6.
maybe if the HD/HP, AC, and special abilities were on a first line together you’ve got all you need for older style games. the ability mods, CR, skill, and other bits can go on another line to cover modern approaches?
and the +2 damage in the goblin stats is coming from their dex modifier, not proficiency.
You’ve got three groups of information: things I need right now, things I might need right now, things I don’t need right now.
“Dont need right now” (cr/xp) could go in the monsters listing in an appendix.
“might need right now” could do the same. Monster stats.
“right now” can go inline.
Also, a summary sheet, like from Ready Ref Sheets, could go in the back page, etc, allowing you to just have “4 goblins” listed inline.
Cross-references to the page # for more information get bonus points.
Is “lightly armored” important?
Proficiency is a long word, and yet you summarize the stat names.
See IN the Dark is pretty common.
The challenge rating and proficiency bonus for 5E seem actually in some ways closer to HD values from TSR editions (as CR is what determines XP reward in 5E, at least by the book). When I run OD&D, the one stat I include pretty much all the time is HD, from which I derive attack bonus, saves, and other details on the fly. I was thinking that the challenge or proficiency ratings might be similarly useful during play, as a way to derive other general level-type information, based on a few basic guidelines, but I am unsure whether challenge rating and proficiency bonus would both be required for such use. Perhaps proficiency would be enough in concert with HP. Additionally, people with less experience but some familiarity with 5E might be able to do something with the numbers even if they ignore (or forget) whatever guidelines for conversion I include in a “how to run this adventure” section.
Re: long words and shortened stat names: familiarity is a big benefit from going the 5E route at all, so I was leaning toward using the same terms as the official sources. I agree that proficiency is a bit long, but most shortenings are somewhat unclear at first glance (such as “prof”). I thought about “general bonus” or even just “bonus” which also have the advantage of being further from terms in the proprietary grey zone at the cost of less familiarity. STR DEX CON etc are common lingo across new and old school (similarly HP and AC), while the other stats share less cultural overlap.
In general, I find page flipping in adventures annoying, even for physical books, and flipping is often even more awkward when running from a PDF on a tablet. That said, a summary sheet in a very easy to remember place might by a good approach, so I will try that out too. Most of the time, I would prefer redundancy at the cost of higher page count (such as redundant sub-maps included in a spread containing keyed locations so that map areas and key can be viewed together).
Lightly armored is relevant in that the “natural” AC in the goblin example should be 10 + 2 (DEX) = 12, I think. It would be nice to have a way to indicate the difference between an AC 15 creature that gets the armor from gear compared to an AC 15 creature that has hide or chitin or whatever. But also possibly unimportant? It would certainly make little difference to me if I was the referee.
If you could write your ideal inline 5E goblin stat block, what would it look like? What about a basilisk, for a medium complexity monster?
Why would you subtract 10 twice when you can just subtract it from 20?
I find it more intuitive to think about “rotating” the number around an axis fixed at 10, if that makes sense. So AC 14 becomes AC 6 (14 is 4 above 10, and then take that away from 10 ⇒ 10 − 4 = 6) and AC 19 becomes AC 1 (19 is 9 above 10, and then take that away from 10 ⇒ 10 − 9 = 1). Perhaps this works for me because I tend to think visually, and this is a geometric conceptualization. Take whatever approach makes it easiest for you, of course.