Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Level Up A5E: Hacker's Game

The more I look into Level Up: Advanced 5E, the more I love the game. They have these two POD Homebrew & Hacking guides to make your own feats, heritages, cultures, and backgrounds. The above is the feats book, and being able to handcraft your own is just what I needed for some of my builds.

A5E lets you go to town to customize and hack the game. The book for heritages, cultures, and backgrounds is nice too, and they let you point-buy design these so they are balance with other choices.

Do you want them already done for you? They have a magazine-like gazetteer that comes out six times a year, and there are POD options by third parties. There is a Kickstarter for the 2023 book collection, and the 2022 collection is available in hardcover.

The Gate Pass series is a great expansion for the game and should not be overlooked by a true fan.

These are all excellent, and you can get them in print. There are a few 3rd party books from smaller publishers, which are all worth your time and investment.

The MOAR Complete book is fantastic. Some of the game's designers did it to expand the rules. Want to be a dinosaur-riding spy? You can do that here. This book is nearly 300 pages of expansion content, new archetypes, classes, feats, spells, and destinies, and this is almost like A5E's "Unearthed Arcana" expansion. This one is highly recommended if you buy into A5E.

If you are a fan, get this book - seriously. It is like the "lost content" from the original game and a fantastic collection of fun stuff.

And there is a nearly 300-page Dungeon Delvers Guide with even more of everything. And this is just this game alone; you can pull in as much 5E content as you want. There is a head-spinning amount of options here without leaving the game.

One thing I love about the hacking guide is it lays out the A5E differences in an easy-to-reference sidebar, namely:

  • The concept of the expertise die (d4) and how they chain.
  • Maneuvers and exertion for martial characters.
  • The culture and engineering skills.
  • Legends and lore for monsters.
  • Exploration knacks to support wilderness adventures.
  • Supply replacing rations and waterskins.

I would add to this:

  • Fatigue and strife, the doomed condition, and the concept of a haven regarding resting.
  • Destiny and inspiration.
  • Strongholds (the original and far better knock-off "Bastion" system)
  • Ability checks: critical success and failure special effects.
  • World actions regarding combat and initiative order.
  • Exploration party checklist, supply use, havens, and journey activities.
  • Exploration challenges as encounters! (4E! Yay!)
  • The bloodied condition and gaze attacks for monsters (Yay! More 4E mechanics!)

I still love Tales of the Valiant as my simple B/X version of 5E. There aren't all these layers of detail to worry about, and if you just want to sword-swing and let spells fly - ToV is that perfect mix of simplicity. B/X sensibilities, and Open 5E.

If I want a 'pick up and play' version of 5E, Tales of the Valiant will be that game.

But I want a complete game that lets my players go to an adventure area, and they decide to stay a while, so they build a stronghold in the area. They worry about supplies. The world is alive and can present challenges to exploration, combat encounters, and movement. If someone rolls a crit, something unique happens. Characters can achieve their destinies. The best of 3.5E and 4E can be found here or even modded in easily.

And A5E keeps the fantasy standards, dragonborn, drow, eladrin, tieflings, and all my 4E favorites. It expands them massively with all sorts of excellent options - and lets me create my own. The game allows me to hack and homebrew extensively.

And I can pull in as much 3rd party content as I want for even more. But what I like about A5E is it allows me to have that more profound level of depth for all of what I have, where a party of eladrin adventurers looking to recover their family's lost manor needs to worry about supplies, navigation, camping, and even the strange changes to the landscape of lost areas and wastelands. Where their warrior has combat maneuvers and a stamina system to put the hurt on enemies.

A5E reminds me a lot of the classic Aftermath game. People mock this game but realize it was only 254 pages with a few areas where the math blew up to an insane level. Otherwise, this was all straight d20, d00, and d6 mechanics. Where Aftermath shined is that if you were in a section of the rules, you could go as in-depth as you wanted down to the wires and screws. You could ignore the depth and skim over the section. But if you want depth, and in the situation it matters, it is here in all its oily, gear-grinding, battery cable, steel wire, greasy pull wire, and tie-rod detail.

The depth of the game could kill your characters. Being in a game like this is exciting since you start playing intelligently and carefully. In a more straightforward game, like 2014 5E, nothing there could kill your characters regarding depth - especially in exploration and social encounters. If the DM says, "You all die from lack of a restful camp and starvation" in D&D, people's mouths will drop open, and they will scream, "Horrible DM! Time to put this horror story on YouTube! You hate my self-insert lifestyle-brand character and thus me as a person! X Card! X Card!"

In A5E, I have the rules for this. The depth is there. I know it, and the players know it. If we agree to ignore it, the arrangement is made. I still like my safety tools, but even I agree they can be abused and joke about them (because I am an adult and not a clickbait YouTuber). But the depth is here. If we all agree to this (again, put realistic survival rules and grievous wounding in the safety tool sign-up sheet for the game, reverse tools FTW), then the rules are in play.

Aftermath's safety tool sign-up sheet would look like a phone book because you could catch dysentery, get tetanus from a rusty can, be shot by a sniper, chop a lion's tail off, have a diseased rat claw your eyes out, have a robot slice your hand off with a laser (which sets you on fire), get bitten by a poisonous snake, and step on a land mine and lose your leg in one combat encounter.

If you were bitten by the snake on the leg that got blown off, I might give you a break, but you are still getting thrown 1d6 hexes in a random direction; please don't get tossed down the rad-zombie-filled mine shaft lined with rusty blades on the walls.

That X Card will have a hole worn in it by the night's end.

A5E isn't as bad as this, but you get my point - the depth is there to make these rulings. This is a freedom and an absolute blast to play once you understand how much danger you are in and have the tools to avoid all this with care and common sense. Oh, and what the environment can do to you, it can do to your enemies, so have fun.

One thing I love about A5E is its mod-ability. If I wanted to mod in Aftermath-style realism and wounding rules? I could go to town. Any system in this game can be broken down into subsystems and expanded upon to achieve any desired result. All of this while staying within Open 5E and maintaining compatibility.

Then again, the freedom to build a stronghold in an area and use the rules to work to your advantage is compelling. Martial characters hit hard. Rangers are cool. Social characters have tools. Rogues are like Lara Croft or Nathan Drake. If you don't have magic, you can still be cool. Not many 5E games can say this, and certainly not D&D.

Magic should not be a requirement for fun.

In A5E, there is a deeper depth to the entire resource management system that puts it above A5E and even ToV. When I want it, it is there, and I can play that deeper game. If I just want a simple, sword-swinging, cantrip-flinging adventure like a B/X, I have ToV.

If I want an Open 5E game where I can mod, hack, and enjoy in as much depth as I want - A5E is my go-to game. Both work similarly and have the same adventures; it is just that one is a more straightforward way to see a 5E game, and the other brings a lot of depth to the experience.

I feel good playing both and can have both at my table for different moods and needs.

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