Sunday, May 31, 2015

5e official retcon - what you thought happened did not really happen

For some spells and other features D&D 5th edition employs a sort of retcon capability for creatures to be able to potentially undo, or make not happen something which has otherwise apparently happened.  This edition is not the first to make use of this as a capability. I am not really going to argue for or against having this in the game (that has been done quite adequately around the interwebs), but rather talk my struggle with making it flow smoothly.

Possibly the most familiar example of this to most D&D 5e players is the Shield spell.  As a reaction which you take when you are hit by an attack or targeted by the magic missile spell, an arcane spell caster can fire off this spell. In the case of an attack the result is your armor class goes up 5 points which might have the attack, which was just described as a hit, be a miss.

In the past as DM I may have described the following: "The ogre grunts as your spell burns his filthy hide.  He turns and hurls the crude spear he was clutching directly at you," rolls a d20 with appropriate damage die behind the screen, "although you turn aside to avoid the spear you are not fast enough, you take 8 points of damage."

With the retcon capability I should probably say instead, "although you are turning aside to avoid the spear it looks like you will not be fast enough....."

Then what?  OK, so D&D is a game and sometimes we have to metagame.  However I would prefer to stay in game as much as possible.  I could say, "Do you have a reaction to take, or does it hit?"  Ugh.  That sucks the life right out of the immersion faster than a vampire dining on a red shirt NPC.

How I am trying to handle it is to metagame the first few times with a player and after that not remind them they have that option and just assume they will jump in and use their ability when I give them the pause.  How long do I pause without wasting time an making the whole thing look silly?  I finish with "it looks like you will be hit" or some such phrase and then sit silent staring expectantly at the player.  I hope my players will 'get' it fairly quickly as I do not relish the stare expectantly DM action.

The next challenges are to remember to change my behavior and state the expected hit, and to come with lots of different language to use so I am not repeating the same tired phrases.  I suppose the latter is a variation of the same problem we DMs have when trying not to say, "it hits you for 5 hit points of damage".

I have not figured out all the possible retcon capabilities.  In addition to the Shield spell, I can think of the wizard divination school roll substitution reaction and the Defensive Duelist feat as two other examples.  I am certain there are many more.  So it is not just doing this with wizard, it is doing this on any roll - and with the divination feature as an example a clever player might use this feature in unexpected ways and not just when a monster attacks a player.

Then there is the Lucky feat which is just..... lucky.

Now I may have to reveal rolls I normally choose to keep hidden.  I suppose that could be a whole post on its own, whether to keep roles hidden.  I will summarize by saying I rarely if ever fudge rolls, so that is not why I keep my rolls private.  It is more to keep the metagaming to a minimum.  I do not want the players calculating monster to hit bonuses and figuring out possible max damage based on me showing dice.  And now in some of these retcon cases, a retcon is not automatic success.  In the example of Shield spell, I only want them to know they could put up a Shield but not to calculate in advance to know for certain if it will be beneficial.

Since we have limited experience with 5e, no player in my game has taken the feat yet.  So I have not crafted a strategy to handle that yet.

What others retcons are there out there in 5e?  How do you handle it? Any good suggestions for keeping things in game and fresh?

The dice never lie.
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