Fantasy Trope: War against Evil, or War is Evil

The Trope: War Against Evil

A common fantasy trope is a great war of good versus evil, and we cheer the forces of good onward to victory over the forces of evil. In essence, war is neutral, non-moral, and the moral conflict is between those who fight for good and those who fight for evil. There are many versions of this trope, including the few powerful heroes against the armies of evil – very common in D&D and similar games, which is to say, about 95% of TRPGs played in hours.

Tolkien: War Is Evil

How do we know that Sauron is evil? It isn’t because he lives in a huge dark tower, actually. That is a means to an end. Same with the orcs – they are an expression of Sauron’s intent, not the culmination of it.

The reason we know that Sauron is evil is that he brings war. He is one of two things – quietly building strength in preparation for war, or waging war against any neighbors who won’t submit to his will. That is why he is evil.

Sauron becomes a caricature of himself, twisted and writhing with hatred, looming in his dark tower surrounded by sulfurous fumes and browbeaten slave-troops, because he is ceaselessly bringing war.

Sauron is Ronald Reagan. Sauron is George W Bush. Sauron is American foreign policy since the Second World War. Sauron is drone strikes. Sauron is the War on Terror. Sauron is the police. Sauron is the War on Drugs. Sauron is ICE.

When characters in Tolkien’s works are good and end up fighting evil, they are like Faramir – they do not love battle, but only what they fight to protect. And this is what we tell ourselves as Americans, but this is definitely not what our behavior shows. Minas Tirith guarded their eastern border for a couple thousand years without invading eastward at all. Left to their own devices, they would have stayed that way indefinitely, it seems. The Shire never expands. Nor do the towns of Breeland, nor the elves of Lothlorien. Fifty years pass and Erebor, Dale and Lake Town don’t send colonists east and south to conquer new lands.

Tolkien has a lot of issues, but the default setting of ‘good’ for him is peaceful stasis. War comes when Sauron, the expansionist, comes marching to someone’s door.

Is this a distinction without a difference? Maybe. But for me this makes a big difference – the presumption of war, versus the acknowledgement that war is always evil, and that perpetually bringing war to others is what makes one evil in the first place.

5E Supers as Classes

I was thinking about something as I have gotten back into listening to Godsfall. Some kind of dust-up between some of the creators/Neon Rivals/Dungeon Rats crew has occurred, and Godsfall went into an extended hiatus, but I noticed there were some new episodes when I  hadn’t checked in months. Anyway, one thing I notice consistently with Godsfall is how often the characters rely on their Divinities (read: superpowers) and forget they even have D&D 5E class abilities to draw from. And that’s fine, it makes sense, but it got me thinking.

I’ve also noticed that as a 6th level monk and 6th level cleric, my poor tortle has more abilities than I can keep track of, even as an experienced player. There is often a spell I could have used to help resolve a situation (hello Augury before we made a literal deal with a devil) or abilities that I forgot that I have (i.e. I can zap anyone who hits me in melee with lightning or thunder damage but usually forget). It’s just a lot to keep track of. I imagine adding Divinities or other setting-based powers (say, Dark Sun psionics) to that long list and being quite lost. If I was playing Godsfall as written, that is, where you layer Divinities on top of 5th Edition D&D characters.

So what if broad categories of supers were classes of their own? Plenty have written and posted about how they’d create various Avengers or DC heroes in 5th Edition D&D, but what if we created classes to represent ‘standard’ supers types (speedster, hulk, paragon, flyer, etc.). A D&D style pool of hit points would even explain the savage beating that most supers can take without outright dying, even if super toughness isn’t theoretically part of their suite of powers. Anyway, here we go, assuming that these superheroes still exist in a D&D-style pseudo-medieval world:

Bear in mind, many heroes, like Cyborg or Superman or even some mentioned below like Iron Man would have to be multi-classed. Superman alone would be a Blaster/Brick/Elementalist/Paragon/Speedster, plus flight powers from somewhere obviously. PCs using this system would start out as ‘street level’ heroes and move up from there, but it would be a long time before they are comparable to an Avenger or member of the Justice League. 

Supers as D&D 5E Classes

Armored

Examples: Iron Man, Steel

Hit Dice: d12

Proficiencies: two tools, Arcana, Athletics, Investigation

Sample Abilities: this would be similar to the artificer, with particular worn items granting particular powers, some swap-ability, and the potential for a high AC. Less of a focus on any ability to grant bonuses to others – the new UA artificer might fit this perfectly.

Aquatic

Examples: Aquaman, Namor

Hit Dice: d10

Proficiencies: Primordial (Aquan) language, Athletics, Nature, Survival

Sample Abilities: increasing swim speed, amphibious ability, speak with aquatic animals, charm aquatic animals, spell-like abilities like control  water, a water-jet attack like the Marid

Blaster

Examples: Cyclops, Nova, Wasp

Hit Dice: d8

Proficiencies: Acrobatics, Intimidation, Perception, Persuasion (blasters tend to also be social types)

Sample Abilities: somewhat like a warlock, the blaster has a core blast ability that they then attach various special abilities to, as is done with eldritch blast. There could be lethal and non-lethal, push-pull effects, knocking prone, stunning, blinding or deafening, etc., depending on what the blast is made of

Brick/Tank

Examples: Colossus, Thing

Hit Dice: d12 of course

Proficiencies: Athletics (many of these will have Athletics), Acrobatics, History (for a Jeckyll/Hyde type) or another lore ability, Intimidation, Intuition

Sample Abilities: increased carrying capacity, advantage on Strength checks, Strength increases, bonus hit points, extended range for thrown weapons, throw debris like a giant, earthquake-type abilities, or creating shockwaves, extending jumping distance and range, the ‘siege monster’ ability

Elementalist

Examples: Human Torch, Iceman

Hit Dice: d6

Proficiencies: Acrobatics, Nature, Perception, Performance

Sample Abilities: I could see just drawing abilities from related spell-lists, especially for wizards and druids, depending on the element involved. Because of the close focus, though, there would need to be bonuses – rerolling elemental damage dice, fire shield type effects, etc. For heroes like the Human Torch, just make a Elementalist/Flyer multi-class character

  • Cold
  • Force: Green Lantern, any telekinetic ability from mage hand to telekinesis
  • Fire
  • Sonic: any ability the inflicts thunder damage, ventriloquism
  • Vegetation
  • Weather

Feral/Shapechanger

Examples: Beast Boy, Wolverine

Hit Dice: d10

Proficiencies: Animal Handling, Acrobatics, Athletics, Insight, Intimidation, Perception, Survival

Sample Abilities: claws, fangs, increased movement, climb speed or swimming speed, contingent flying like Spider Man perhaps?, scent, advantage on Perception, darkvision, blindsight

Gadgeteer

Examples: Cyborg, Iron Man again

Hit Dice

Proficiencies

Sample Abilities

Ghost

Perhaps a literal ghost, or a super whose ability is based on them being incorporeal some or all of the time.

Examples: Deadman, Ghost, Shadowcat

Hit Dice: d4 (yeah, bringing back the d4 hit die, as ghosts are not particularly tough)

Proficiencies: Insight, Intimidation, Perception, Stealth

Sample Abilities: etherealness, plane shift, resistance to physical damage, healed by necrotic damage, vulnerability to radiant damage, truesight

Healer/Regenerator

Examples: Deadpool, Iron Fist, Mantis

Hit Dice: d8

Proficiencies: Survival

Sample Abilities: would have to differentiate between a super who heals others (which is interestingly rare) and a super who has fast healing like Deadpool or Wolverine. I can see the regenerating hero being a multi-class with other hero types

Illusionist

Examples: Emma Frost, Jean Grey, Mystique (not an illusion, but functions that way)

Hit Dice: d6

Proficiencies: Deception, Insight, Sleight of Hand

Sample Abilities: lots of at-will illusion spell effects, at-will invisibility, persistent illusions. Would have to differentiate this from an illusionst wizard.

Mastermind

Examples: Joker, Lex Luthor, Riddler

Hit Dice: d6

Proficiencies: Arcana, Deception, History, Insight, Nature, Performance

Sample Abilities: maybe some battle-master abilities, abilities that pull in minions to take shots intended for the matermind, advantage on everything like with precognition, and some familiar-ish and unseen-servant-ish abilities.

Mecha Pilot

Eamples: Iron Man again (Hulkbuster armor), Peni Parker

Hit Dice: d8 (it’s not supposed to be the pilot doing the fighting)

Proficiencies: depends on how the pilot would do their piloting, in terms of the skills used. Proficiency in mecha and other vehicles obviously

Sample Abilities: at least a large-sized mecha, maybe one that grows to huge or gargantuan over time. Lots of boosts for the mecha, but some cost for summoning it (exhaustion makes sense).

Mentalist

Examples: Jean Grey again, Martian Manhunter, Professor Xavier

Hit Dice: d6

Proficiencies: Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Persuasion

Sample Abilities: lots of single-target illusion abilities and spell-like abilities from the enchantment school

Paragon

Examples: Black Panther, Captain America

Hit Dice: d12

Proficiencies: Acrobatics, Athletics, Insight, Survival

Sample Abilities: longevity, unarmed combat, weapon proficiencies, ability score bonuses, limited self-healing

Rider

Eamples: Ghost Rider, Silver Surfer

Hit Dice: d10

Proficiencies: vehicle proficiency, Animal Handling if the special thing you are riding is a creature of some kind,

Sample Abilities: this is another one that’ll probably often be part of a multi-class, as the abilities will be augments of the ride – speed, damage, special abilities, flight, armor, etc. Would have overlap with animal companion in a fantasy setting, and would need to make sure the ride doesn’t upstage the rider.

Robotic/Cyborg (Warforged)

Examples: Cyborg again, Vision

Hit Dice: d12

Proficiencies: Athletics, Investigation, History, Nature, Perception

Sample Abilities: natural armor class, damage resistances, damage immunities, probably a particular vulnerability (lightning?), unarmed combat, condition immunities, and some crossover with the Gadgeteer.

Size Changer

Examples: Ant Man, The Atom

Hit Dice: d8

Proficiencies: Athletics, Acrobatics, Stealth

Sample Abilities: set new abilities for each new size, starting with small and large with advantage to Dexterity and Strength respectively (starting with a human scale). Bonus or reduced hit points with size, along with possibly varying AC. Would have to be significantly more interesting than spamming Enlarge/Reduce Person.

Speedster

Examples: The Flash, Quicksilver

Hit Dice: d10

Proficiencies: Athletics, Perception, Sleight of Hand, Stealth

Sample Abilities: speed, obviously; effects like the haste spell, or like slow imposed on everyone around you, evasion, cunning action

Teleporter

Examples: Cloak, Nightcrawler

Hit Dice: d8

Proficiencies:

Sample Abilities: misty step, reactive teleportation, dimension door, teleport, a form of banishment, redirect missile attacks

Time Manipulator

Eamples: Cable, Doctor Strange

Hit Dice: d6

Proficiencies: History

Sample Abilities: culminating in time stop, of course, and even reversing or rewinding time – eliminating the last action taken, action surge, haste and slow

Some Closing Thoughts

Black Widow is a monk/rogue. Hawkeye is a ranged fighter. Doctor Strange could just be a wizard. Ideally, the above classes would be somewhat balanced with these existing D&D classes which cover a lot of what various heroes do. Supers would be very good at narrow, thematic things, while many 5E classes would be more flexible but not nearly as good at that one thing. But I’d have to make sure that the Brick didn’t outdistance the Barbarian, for example, or that the Blaster was boring compared to an Evoker Wizard. Here’s the germ of the idea, though.

My D&D 5E House Rules

Updated a bit, so this is a re-post. Yay!

I’ve written up a ton of hacks and house rules, and I’ve been given some thought to what house rules I would use if I could use any I like. (Alas, I have to take players’ tolerances into account)

Hard Rest

This is similar to the system for rest used in Adventures in Middle-Earth. Long rest is only available when in civilization, or at least resting someplace safe and comfortable. Ever gotten great sleep on the ground out in the weather? Yeah, me neither.

I also like the system whereby during a long rest, rather than recovering all of your hit points automatically, you are able to roll all of your remaining hit dice to recover hit points. This will recover a lot of hit points, but not necessarily all.

This house rule does give somewhat of an advantage to classes that can partially recover their abilities with a short rest, like Warlocks or Monks. I would have to playtest this house rule to figure out whether it is too unbalancing.

No Cash

Half of my players can’t even be bothered to track their own coinage (my wife in particular) and I never particularly enjoy making sure every monster they defeat erupts into the correct amount of coins, gems and art objects when they die. Instead, I’d like to just use rolls against set difficulties, using the character’s proficiency bonus. If the character is flush with cash, say just back from a dungeon delve, then they roll with advantage. When they are in debt or broke according to the fiction, they roll with disadvantage. Since my players love to haggle, successful haggling doubles your proficiency bonus for the roll, while failed haggling makes you just roll a straight d20. (Maybe the haggling DCs are just the buying DCs, +2)

When you want to buy something, here are the DCs:

  • Something simple and inexpensive, like adventuring gear: DC 8
  • Something mundane but expensive, or a common magic item, like a longbow or a healing potion: DC 10
  • Something very expensive, like plate armor, or an uncommon magic item: DC 12
  • A rare magic item: DC 15
  • A very rare magic item: DC 18
  • A legendary magic item: DC 20

Of course, PCs have to put in the work finding rare or expensive (or magical) items before they can make the roll to see if they can afford them. The DM has an option of saying that a character who fails the roll still buys the item, but is strapped for cash. Most of the time, when returning from an adventure, the characters will be flush with cash, and that’ll be the time they want to buy things anyway. So a mid-level character (level 9+) returning from an adventure will have just shy of a 50/50 chance of affording a legendary magic item, and better than 50/50 of affording a very rare magic item. The limitation there will be based on the setting, with this being plausible in Eberron and less likely in another setting, based on availability of magic items overall.

Update: Modified Cash

Taking an idea from Torchbearer, but being much less punishing about it, I thought you could use dice to represent treasure in the abstract. So some silver pieces might be a d4, and some gold pieces a d6; gems or art objects could be a d8. An artifact might be a d10 or d12 – same with magic items. You can roll the die when you appraise the items, or when you try to use them to boost your d20 roll to buy something, in addition to your proficiency bonus. If you gain debt, it can be measured in dice, or it can simply grant disadvantage on rolls to purchase things until you roll as success, as above.

Modified Firearms

I think that the payoff of using historical firearms, rather than a weapon like a longbow, is that it as a slower rate of fire and does a lot more damage. At least, that’s what I’d like to house-rule firearms to do. So as a house rule, I have black powder pistols require two rounds to reload, and black powder rifles require three, and their damage dice are doubled. In essence, they will function as powerful first-shot weapons, and I think that this fits their historical use pretty well.

10th Level Spells

10th level spells exist, and as one  would expect they are available through scrolls (which are of course artifacts) and for 19th level spellcasters. Such spells can be world-changing, but can only be cast once each by a given spellcaster. The heading is a link to my full post on 10th level spells.

Deeper Backgrounds, and Backgrounds as Level 0

When a player selects a background, they should also flesh out the background with all of the NPCs who might be connected, including their immediate family, rivals, mentors and the like. As a rule of thumb, at least a couple of interesting NPCs who might get caught up in the story per background. I also linked my post about treating Backgrounds as 0-level classes, adding a bit of survive-ability to first-level characters.

Alignment Redefined

I like using alignment, but alignment as written in D&D includes a lot of nonsense and argument-fodder. So what I do is I replace “Good” with another descriptor that defines what “good” will mean in this setting. For example, in my Twilight of the Gods setting, good becomes “Generous.” I replace “Lawful” with an order-oriented, pro-social term from the setting that is morally neutral if possible. In Twilight of the Gods, that becomes “Civilized.” I replace “Chaotic” with a pro-freedom, or maybe individualistic, term; in Twilight of the Gods, that term is “Wild.” And then for “Evil” I do the same as I did for “Good” – choose a more specific or helpful term. In Twilight of the Gods, that term is “Treacherous.” So instead of Chaotic Evil, a character would be Wild and Treacherous. Instead of Lawful Good, a character would be Generous and Civilized. See? Better. Also, a result of this is that “evil” characters are much more viable. One can play a “Selfish” character in Twilight of the Gods more easily than an “Evil” character in a standard D&D setting.

Discount Adventuring Gear

In a game that is using currency, this is just an option to buy adventuring gear at a 50% discount. The associated cost is that with any failed roll, and almost certainly on a roll of “1”, the gear breaks, and can probably only be repaired with the appropriate tool proficiency.

With the above system of going cash-less, maybe a failed roll allows a PC to buy a discount version of what they wanted. So they get what they were after…kind of.

Simplified Paralysis Effect

For any effect that paralyzes, such as hold person or a ghast’s claws, a paralyzed character is shaken free of paralysis the first time an automatic critical hit is scored against them.

…Or Resist Paralysis at Cost

As another option for PCs who are paralyzed, they can choose to take 10 psychic damage for each level of the spell used to paralyze them (or an amount the DM thinks is appropriate for monster abilites that aren’t spells) in order to take an action to break free. So they still lose at least one action, and take the damage, but aren’t standing there doing nothing for round after round. Probably need a house rule that for species that are resistant to psychic damage, like kalashtar, they need to take the full damage to break free. Their resistance doesn’t help them in this one instance.

Bards Rock

Bards have never really gained a bonus, or any kind of benefit, for using their musical instrument in combat. I like the idea of a bard being able to use their abilities more effectively if they focus on their music alone (much like bards in Everquest, honestly). I would want to work out specifics with the bard player, assuming they were interested, but here are the options I’d have in mind:

  1. The bard counts as two levels higher than normal, and has access to more powerful spells
  2. The bard’s spells are power potent, adding 1 or 2 to their spell attack bonus and to the DC for saves against their magic
  3. They don’t lose spell slots – they can keep casting indefinitely, or maybe they have one extra spell slot per level that can only be used when they are using their instrument in combat (since indefinite spells is pretty powerful)
  4. There is an ongoing bonus effect – an aura of courage like a paladin has, or an aura of bonus hit points for her comrades, or something similar
  5. Her other bardic inspiration dice go up one die type, so from d6 to d8 and so on

Area of Effect

The heading is a link to the full table that I posted a while back, but for theater of the mind I like a system where you roll randomly to see how many creatures are caught in an area of effect spell. Just assume that the character is doing all they can to maximize the spell’s effectiveness and avoid hitting their friends. I would have to adjust this system for an evocation specialist wizard who could sculpt their spells to hit their foes and avoid their friends, but that’s easy enough to hand-wave (add a bonus to the AoE roll or something).

Prestidigitation and Animate Object

I just personally dislike Prestidigitation as it works in 5E – it takes me out of what’s going on every time to have someone doing magical laundry every day. House rule is that it allows you to perform sleight of hand tricks like a stage magician and that’s pretty much it. Still can be used creatively, but isn’t the cure-all for discomfort.

In the case of Animate Object, it’s simply broken if used to animate 10 daggers, so I would say that you have to animate objects one at a time. Otherwise you get a ‘cloud of daggers’ effect that deals a potential 10d4 +40 damage every round.

Dungeons and Masquerades

Yeah, I actually spent time on my day off thinking about hacking D&D 5E to run Vampire the Masquerade. This is the kind of thing I do for fun, though, so there it is. You know me by now.

Vampire

A vampire was once human, until given the Embrace. A vampire drains them of all of their blood and then feeds them vampire blood. There is no guarantee, but often, this results in a new vampire. The transformation takes hours, or possibly even nights, as the person’s organs wither and die and their body chemistry changes so that it runs entirely on blood.

Deathless Hunger

Vampires, more commonly known as kindred, will live forever as long as they avoid fire and sunlight and continue to consume blood. For the blood to provide sustenance, it must come from a living humanoid.

Fear of Fire and Sunlight

Vampires all fear two things – fire and sunlight. During the day, a vampire struggles to remain conscious, and must make a Constitution save in order to remain awake. If they do remain awake during the day, when night falls again they suffer a level of exhaustion.

Vampire Traits

Ability Score Increase. You gain a bonus of 1 point to two ability scores of your choice.

Age. Vampires do not visibly age from the moment they are Embraced and made into one of the undead.

Alignment. Though there are vampires of every alignment, needing to prey on human beings for sustenance means that over time vampires will tend toward evil alignments.

Blood drinking. If a vampire bites a victim and latches on, she can immediately drain 2d4 hit points from her victim

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack, reach 5 ft., one willing creature, or a creature that is grappled by the vampire, incapacitated, or restrained. Hit: 3 (1d6) piercing damage plus 7 (2d6) necrotic damage. The target’s hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the necrotic damage taken, and the vampire regains hit points equal to that amount. The reduction lasts until the target finishes a long rest. The target dies if this effect reduces its hit point maximum to 0.

Hardened flesh. You are resistant to piercing damage from non-magical sources.

Hunger. Vampires hunger for blood. Following each day a vampire goes without feeding, her maximum hit points are reduced by five. If her maximum hit points fall to zero, she enters torpor.

Stake to the Heart. If a piercing weapon made of wood is driven into the vampire’s heart, the vampire is paralyzed until the stake is removed. To pierce a resisting vampire’s heart, the attacker must succeed on an attack roll with disadvantage and deal more than 10 points of damage (remembering that the vampire is resistant to piercing damage from non-magical sources).

Undead. A vampire is immune to poison damage and the poisoned condition, and they do not require air, food, or water.

Vulnerable to fire. Vampires are vulnerable to fire damage.

Vulnerable to sunlight. When any part of their body is in full sunlight, vampires take 10 radiant damage per turn.

Size. Your size is Medium.

Speed. Your base speed is 30 feet.

Languages. You can speak, read and write one language based on your ethnicity or cultural background, as well as English if that language is not English.

Advancement

Level 1 vampire: you get the ability to…how should healing work? Maybe you just have slow regeneration – every minute you are not in direct sunlight you regain one hit point, up to your current maximum.

Level 2 vampire: There should be some way to use blood to boost your physical abilities. Once per long rest, you can call upon the blood to boost a physical ability score.

 

Other Dungeon the Masquerade Thoughts: after choosing vampire as your race, you choose clan which serves as your class. Then, at level 3, you choose a specialization that is based around Discipline powers. Those Discipline powers are socketed into the various Clan lines.

RPGs = Six Situations

I was thinking about the practice and experience of playing a TRPG consisting of about six situations, and how you could look at the challenge of designing a game as having something interesting for those six situations. I’m using tropes from fantasy RPGs here, but I think it would be easy to reskin these situations to include different tropes.

In Town

Town, or the city, or whatever your home base is. Time spent in town is time finding a way to rest and recuperate. If you are going on a shopping spree, it’ll happen here.

I like the way that Torchbearer makes resting a challenge. It is not easy, nor assumed, that you’ll find a safe place to rest. You might end up hiding in a stable or sleeping in an alleyway. I also like the way that The One Ring and Adventures in Middle-Earth require you to open a Sanctuary before you can fully rest and recover there, often demanding a quest, or at least a successful audience with the ruler of that Sanctuary.

Socializing

It’s always hard to add mechanical teeth to socializing. There’s this idea that you should speak and interact in character, and as you do so it’s hard to know when to roll the dice and when not to. What if you make a great argument, or come up with a killer lie, but then botch the roll? Or what if you make an absurd ask and then critically succeed? This kind of silliness can just be the fun of using a randomizer, but I watch groups struggle and disagree on where to draw the line here. Surely it’s because socializing is something we literally act out at the table, in contrast to exploration or combat. We never ask for anyone to test their weapon skills, but we do ask them to test their social skills from time to time.

Some groups, of course, don’t socialize much at all. You get the mission briefing, and then head to the entrance to the dungeon and kick in the door.

Traveling

A lot of time in classic fantasy and sci-fi stories is often spent traveling. There is the canard of The Lord of the Rings being mostly just people walking and looking at trees, but even in something like Star Trek you spend a lot of time figuring out what you do while watching stars zoom past.

One option is always to just hand-wave the travel and get to the next interesting thing. As a lifelong road trip connoisseur, however, the journey really is about more than just the destination. Again, I think of The One Ring, and to a slightly lesser degree Adventures in Middle-Earth, as well as Mouse Guard as games that focus on the journey itself and provide mechanics to make it an interesting challenge.

Think if verisimilitude, when I think about traveling hundreds of miles through a fantasy landscape on foot, that would absolutely be a noteworthy life experience. Lots of challenges would arise and lots of interesting things would happen, not even counting the monsters and random encounters. I would like to have mechanics to support this.

In Camp

I was thinking of having a camp checklist, and the more things you can check off on the list, the more comfortable you are and the better able you are to recover.

  • Clean water
  • Dry/Shelter
  • Fire
  • Food

A simple example might be that for each checkmark in D&D, you can roll up to 25% of your hit dice. So with clean water and shelter but no food or fire,  you can only roll 50% of your hit dice to recover. That’s not prefect, but is a decent example. Maybe you just recover 25% of your hit points and other expendables per check-mark when you camp.

Investigating Danger

Searching a crime scene, checking for traps, or exploring an ancient tomb all count, and have been central to TRPGs from the beginning. Some OSR folks make the case that original versions of D&D were more about exploration than combat. Some games do this part really well, like Gumshoe. Like with socializing, groups have a chance to choose whether they want to handle investigation with rolls or with players describing what their characters are looking for. I have a whole blog post about how you shouldn’t roll perception that you can check out if you want. But whether you are playing Mothership or Pathfinder, investigating dangerous areas and situations is a big part of what is fun about many TRPGs.

Fighting

Most RPGs are mostly about fighting. If you read the rulebook, most of those rule are about combat – usually physically combat, sometimes social conflicts as well. But social conflicts go under this heading as well as fistfights.

I don’t feel like I have to put time into making the case that RPGs focus on fighting, honestly, but see below. They don’t have to.

Rules Modules

So, if we look at each of these six categories of systems in turn, we can also imagine a group preferring to ignore some of them. Maybe your group wants to hand-wave their way to their destination, or maybe they want to just camp and rest and not worry about safety and comfort. Maybe they will handle time in town between games, just buying things from a price list and getting straight to the adventure when they get together to play. There could even be a group that wants to skip the combats (blasphemy!). If each of these systems is built like a module that can be used or ignored, I like that idea. You can socket in what interests you and get on with playing only the things that interest you.