Tuesday 31 January 2017

TFP DMG: How I Use Skills

Skills were brought up fairly recently in the OSR Discord channel, specifically LotFP skills and specifically why/when/how to use them.
It's an interesting question!

So here's my personal take.

How I Think of Skills

- Adventurers are competent
- Skills are bullshit

So your average adventurer spends all their time doing adventure stuff, thinking about adventure things, being an adventure person. They've got not much else to do, really, .
If they have to sneak, they're sneaky.
If they have to climb, they're climby.
They know how to shoot an arrow, wield any weapon they pick up, how to use armour to deflect blows.
They can swim, read, climb up a rope, all that "normal" adventure stuff.
Basically, they're as competent as you want them to be.

This is reflected in LotFP by everyone having at least a 1-in-6 chance to succeed at any of the skills.
Every character knows the basic ideas behind climbing or tinkering or stealth or whatever.

But skills are bullshit. They let you do stuff nobody should be able to do.
Any adventurer could climb a wall, but only some could keep going when they get shot.
Any adventurer could pick a shitty lock, but only some could pick a good one.
Any adventurer could stay hidden, but only some could stay hidden when someone's looking right at you.

I only roll for skills when someone needs to do something above and beyond the capabilities of a competent person who has a good deal of familiarity with D&D-style adventure, whether that's doing things incredibly well or incredibly quickly.

A skill monkey geddit

Broad Strokes

Roll at point of contact
Or as Arnold puts it, roll just in time. Roll Stealth when you might be seen, not when you first fade into the shadows. Roll Tinkering when first operating your scratch-built invention, not while building it.

If anyone can do it, you do it better
Generally skills are either fairly open in their usage (Sleight of Hand) or they've got a specific usage (Sneak Attack).
The defined usage ones are fine, it's the open ones where I have to stop myself from calling for them whenever something's vaguely related.
Before asking for a skill check, ask yourself the following question - is there any reason they wouldn't just succeed?
If yes, cool! Ask for a skill check to complete the task!
If no, even better! Ask for a skill check to complete the task perfectly/quickly/stealthily/etc! Add a kicker, like "you Climb it easily, but if you pass Climb you can leave ropes to make everyone else's checks easier" or "you use the key on the door, but if you pass Sleight of Hand you do it swiftly without using an action and can keep running".

Don't plan for Specialists
Don't go into writing something with the assumption that there will be a Specialist in the party. That way when someone is a Specialist, they break the game and feel awesome.
"I'm putting a locked door here to give the Specialist something to do". Wrong.
"I'm putting a locked door here to keep people out, they'll have to smash it down". Right.
Oh shit you had a Specialist with Tinkering and you went through the door?! Fuck!
NB: This is how I approach all classes. Always assume nobody entering the dungeon will have special abilities, that way they always feel game-breaking special AND you don't hamstring your game because the Cleric didn't turn up tonight or nobody rolled a Specialist.

Avoid dicking over Specialists
In a similar vein, it's easy to get into the mindset where you feel you have to call for skill checks from a Specialist so they get some ROI on their skill choice.
Avoid this by asking the question the question above - is there any reason they wouldn't just succeed? Make it a roll for an extra good success if so.

No attribute checks
I used to do these, but skills and saves cover all situations better.
The issue is that attributes don't increase with level in this game, so a first level character with 12 Strength has the same chance of passing Strength checks at tenth level. Better to use skills and saves because they can be improved.
Anything not covered by a skill or a save is down to hashing out a ruling.

No bullshit difficulty levels
Late edition D&D loves giving different DCs for different lock types or for climbing walls of differing smoothness.
That's fucking boring. "DC 22 lock" has never been an interesting obstacle, and is blatantly there just to give ROI on skill choice. This ties into "Don't plan for Specialists" above. If you're putting a DC on a lock, you're planning for Specialists. Stop it.
If you want to make a lock impassable, just give a good reason and don't even roll for it. Non-euclidean mechanism requires a four dimensional key? Magical lock? Secret button? Just barred from the other side? Otherwise let them try with the flat skill check, no modifiers.
If they can't open an old lock, maybe they failed because the inside's rusted shut. If they manage to open a Dwarven Dragon Cylinder Mighty Mk VI Multilock, maybe they succeeded because someone left it on the latch.
Same with other skills of this sort. Tracking untrackable enemies? Just say they're untrackable and why. Climbing unclimbable walls? Say it's unclimbable and why.
I give modifiers for Languages a pass, because it's in the rules and get a bonus for high Int which sort of balances out.

Group checks
Hey you know those times when the guy who's good at picking locks fails, and so everyone else says "I'll give it a go!" and everyone rolls until someone picks the lock? Dumb.
Or when there's a group of people sneaking and the one Sneaky Guy fails while Clanky McClank in his plate armour manages to clatter out of sight? Dumb.
In any situation where everyone's trying to do the same thing, it's a group check. One person rolls, usually the most highly skilled, and everyone in the group uses that result. Roll a 1? Everyone succeeds! Roll a 4? Whoever has 4 or more succeeds!
If the master lockpicker can't pick the lock, nobody can.
If the Arcana expert can't identify that potion, nobody can.
If you've got two people with high Search, they could both spot the thing coming while the others don't.
The two people who have points in Stealth can stick to the shadows while their unskilled friends get seen.
This also removes the issue where a sufficiently large group of characters always has one or two people failing a skill check no matter what, making group Stealth a pointless endeavour. This way a group of unstealthy people will probably fail, but if they succeed then everyone succeeds together.
Bear in mind that I only call for a roll when it's above and beyond the ability of a competent character.
And again, I make an exception for Languages. It would be sillier to have a group check and everyone knows French now. Plus being one of the only people who can speak to the NPCs is part of the fun!

Also fuck that "no hiding in an empty corridor" thing, you do that movie clinging-to-the-ceiling-while-they-walk-under-you manoeuvre or throw a rock to distract them or pretend to be a lamp. 

Skills in Detail

Specific usage so I just use it for the exact things it's useful for. Identifying the sort of "generic" mystery magic stuff like potions, scrolls and wands, and casting spells from same.
Group Check: For Identification. Albeit I roll that in secret in case they misidentify it.
Why it's bullshit maxed out:
You know every potion in the world on sight and you can cast spells off any scroll even though you're no kind of wizard. Bullshit.

An interesting one because it's got specific uses but sounds like it should cover a wider range of things. Specifically, it's for hunting, not getting lost, and healing overnight if you've got nowhere to stay.
You'd imagine you could use it for things like tracking and identifying animal tracks and mushrooms and things, right? I actually just tell people those things without them needing to roll. You're a competent wilderness explorer.
Group Check: For getting lost. Rolled in secret.
Why it's bullshit maxed out: You can find food in any terrain and never get lost even in the deepest darkest jungle. Bullshit.

If you've got climbing stuff and as much time as you need, you just climb the wall. You're a competent wall climber.
I require a roll for climbing under stress, or for borderline-ridiculous climbing feats.
Climbing under stress is things like climbing at speed, climbing while under attack, climbing while encumbered, climbing without equipment etc etc
Climbing feats are things like firing a weapon while hanging off a ledge, or springing up a wall so quickly that you can still act when you reach the top, or climbing on a big monster. Crazy stuff that shouldn't work.
Note also that the price of failure for climbing is not always "you fall". Sometimes it's just "Ok it'll take a few rounds to climb back up, but if you roll Climb you can scamper up there in a single round" or "you've been going on about your climbing harness this whole time, if you fail you just waste your turn".
Group Check: When climbing in a group and under stress. Fairly rare.
Why it's bullshit maxed out: You can climb anything at speed without a harness or ropes or anything and can swing down a reverse overhang like it's nothing. Bullshit.

Easiest skill to explain. Roll whenever you hear or see a new language for the first time, if you succeed you've always known it. Penalties as per the rules.
Group Check: No.
Why it's bullshit maxed out: You know literally every language currently spoken, and many that haven't been spoken in thousands of years. Bullshit.

I use this differently to base LotFP, and will probably change the name to Surprise or Awareness or Sense Danger or something in the future.
I use Search as a just-in-time danger sense thing. So it's a counter-ambush skill (replacing Surprise chance) and a counter-trap skill (oh shit that thing just went click time to fall to my knees and roll).
A successful Search roll means you get a single action before everything goes down, so you could JUST throw yourself backwards away from the pit trap as it opens or dive into cover because you JUST saw the glint off the sniper lens before it fires.
Group Check: If a whole group gets ambushed or all walk into the fireball corridor together or whatever.
Why it's bullshit maxed out: It is impossible to sneak up on you and you sense every dangerous thing moments before it happens. Bullshit.

Sleight of Hand
In addition to the regular open stuff like picking pockets and palming objects without anyone noticing, I also have some specific uses for this skill. Specifically, it's to reload firearms quickly, to instantly retrieve items from your inventory, and to swap weapons in combat without a penalty.
Group Check: No.
Why it's bullshit maxed out: You have the right tool for the right job every time, and can steal man's glasses off his nose without him realising it was you. Bullshit.

Sneak Attack
Straightforward, destroys single targets, absolutely brutal.
Group Check: No
Why it's bullshit maxed out: Six times damage multiplier what the fuuuuck!!

Potential Alternate Sneak Attack:
I haven't tested this yet.
- Roll Sneak Attack when attacking from Surprise, and if successful get a bonus to hit equal to the value on the die. That's +1 if you succeed with a 1, all the way up to +6 if you succeed with a 6.
- If you hit with an attack from Surprise, multiply damage by your whole Sneak Attack score unless the target passes a Search check.
This means it's not completely useless to have points in Sneak Attack and not Stealth. If we assume you're competent enough to stay hidden in an ambush, it's the enemy's fault if they don't notice you. Plus since they only get a Search check if you actually attack, you can stay hidden and let them pass by without giving yourself away.
It also means all characters get some small benefit from their 1-in-6 Sneak Attack value.
Group Check: No
Why it's bullshit maxed out: +1 to +6 bonus to hit from ambush, PLUS six times damage multiplier! What the fuuuucccccckkkkkk!!!

In line with the "everyone is competent" idea, generally you only need to roll Stealth if you're pushing your luck somehow. Walking at those weirdly slow dungeon movement rates means you're going as quickly as possible while remaining stealthy and keeping an eye out for danger, but sneaking through a roomful of people or hiding from people who are looking for you requires a Stealth check.
That's the main use for Stealth.
The other is Combat Stealth. If you're flanking an enemy 5e-style (aka you and a buddy are in melee range of the same enemy) you can roll a Stealth check. On a success - that enemy can't target you on their turn if there are other targets available, and if you attack them next round it counts as attacking from Surprise.
Bear in mind you're not invisible, just elusive. You're rolling behind them or fading into the swirl of combat or even just faking them out. Randomly targeted effects and area attacks can still hit you.
Group Check: If sneaking in a group.
Why it's bullshit maxed out: You're so stealthy you can sneak through a cocktail party without being noticed by a single guest, and you can basically make enemies ignore you at will in combat. Bullshit.

Two big uses - locks and inventions.
Locks is obvious. Roll Tinkering and open the lock on success. A common group check because everyone's usually there together.
You're meant to use this for traps with exposed mechanisms, but I don't know if that comes up much. If there's a tripwire my players tend to step over it or set it off from a distance. Why risk a skill check when they could just player skill it?
Inventions is the fun one. This is my catch-all term for mechanical traps and the various ridiculous contrivances some players are wont to create. Snare? Grapnel gun? Chinese-style flamethrower?
Roll at point of use. Failure means it goes wrong in an entertaining fashion. If multiple people worked together to make it, it's a group check. Roll once and hope that someone's got enough Tinkering for it to work.
Group Check: Yes, for locks and inventions both.
Why it's bullshit maxed out: You can open any lock ever made AND you're a mad inventor of weird inventions that somehow just work? Bullshit.

The primary example of a skill that's useless until OH NO it's suddenly REALLY USEFUL.
Anyone can operate a boat under normal conditions. You're a competent sailor.
It's abnormal conditions that require Sailing checks. Rapids! Storms! Ship combat! All sorts of stuff is covered by Sailing. It's useless until you're in a boat, at which point it's useful for pretty much everything.
As long as you're on deck and unengaged by another activity you can be involved in group Sailing checks.
Group Check: Yes.
Why it's bullshit maxed out: You can pilot any vessel and survive through any storm? Bullshit.

Look ok, I added this skill mostly as a joke. Bards are stupid, and yet some players want to be Bards.
Originally just a shit way of making money on street corners, it's also a noisy way of getting +2 to Reaction Rolls.
But now there are magic instruments in my game which affect everyone who can hear them, unless you roll Music in which case you can choose who's affected. Bard instruments. This is who I am now.
Group Check: Nobody likes your band, man.
Why it's bullshit maxed out: Everyone likes your music and by busking you could earn up to 36 silver PER DAY! That's more than most people cost per day in the retainer list, so I guess that's pretty bullshit from their perspective.

First Aid
This is the non-magical healing skill and it's got defined uses so it's dead easy. Also, very good.
Out of combat - on a success you heal the target for the value of the die. So that's 1HP for succeeding on a 1, up to 6 for succeeding on a 6. Failing on a 6 deals one point of damage. This 1 point of damage has claimed three lives to date. I love it.
In combat it's maybe even more important with my Death & Dismemberment variant - on a success you remove a number of Death Dice equal to the value of the die. So remove 1 for success on a 1, all the way up to 6 for succeeding with a 6. As above, failing on a 6 deals 1 point of damage.
Group Check: No.
Why it's bullshit maxed out: You can heal people consistently, bring people back from the edge of death, and never even run out of healing juice like a Cleric would! Bullshit.

Wednesday 11 January 2017

The Ten Foot Polemic Unified House Rule Document - 2017 Update

Jesus, it's been a year and a half since my last house rule update!
It's actually not changed that much since, they're in a really nice place and I'm pretty comfy using them now.
The only real changes involve switching up a few things that were a bit too fiddly to use consistently (like weapon breakage), adding excuses for stuff we were sort of doing anyway (like spell swapping), and adding the new subsystems I've added since (like poison).

Also in the time since I published the updated house rule doc it looks like people have uploaded it on a bunch of mirrors?!
I'll count that as a success.

My house rule page has been updated and the house rule document along with it.

New one here

Change log because that worked well last time:

Char Gen:

  • New! Added Religion, albeit the actual options are in a separate Religious Pamphlet which I just realised I still need to upload. Opens up Clerical options and makes religion more of a thing. Also, Cleric spell grid is a good at-a-glance guide to the different sects' attitudes towards one another.

Retroactive Backstory:

Combat Options:

  • Minor tweak - the defensive actions (spears vs enemies closing in, take cover, parry) can be declared in reaction to an attack by giving up your next action.
  • If you Aim you count as surprised. Tunnel vision's a real thing, I've got the paintball welts to prove it.
  • Removed Fighters/Elves/etc getting special combat manouevres. Gambits are more fun, and my Elves and Dwarves have weirder powers now.
  • Disengage and Opportunity Attacks swiped from 5th ed. Elegant solution to the stop-people-getting-through-the-front-lines problem without needing a grid. Opportunity attacks stop people from moving further if they hit, naturally.
  • Parry changed, I thiiiink these parry rules are from Delving Deeper. +4 to AC across the board, but with additional effects based on weapon size. Heavier weapons have a chance to disarm, lighter weapons have a chance to riposte.
    Obliquely favours high dexterity characters because they get an AC bonus, gives another layer of choice to size of weapon to those interested.
    Pretty cool. But needless to say, these extra effects only work on enemies with weapons.
  • Take Cover put down as an action rather than a passive thing, because I like the idea of diving into cover in response to gunfire.
    Plus it reminds people "oh yea I get an AC bonus from cover" which I often forget myself and means that firing at someone behind cover keeps their head down. Suppressing fire, yo.

Ranged Weapons:

  • Quietly shelved the Fighter firearm reload bonus. Nobody reloads in combat anyway.
  • Instead, successful Sleight of Hand halves reload time. Four round reload time if you've got good Dex and Sleight of Hand! Guns seem more of a Specialist weapon anyway.

Fall Damage:

  • Gygaxian original 1d6/10ft/10ft makes falls quickly deadly. Added a 10ft discount if it's a prepared fall, by way of compensation for this new deadly reality.
    Unwritten, but each 10ft counts as a separate attack for the purposes of Shields Shall Be Splintered and other damage-mitigation purposes like armour breakage. One time a guy jumped off a cliff and landed on his shield to survive like Captain America which was awesome but clearly absurd.

Death and Dismemberment:

  • Bleed now deals 1 damage per die at the end of the round, rather than simply increasing. This mostly because I always forgot to increase, and also because Bleed dice felt the least dangerous in play because you're not affected if nobody's hitting you.
    There's a special Bleed damage table here, which only makes sense as an addition to Courtney's table here. You'll notice most of the results end up with more Bleed, preserving the idea behind the previous bleed-builds-over-time mechanic.
    Conveniently this change ties in neatly to...
  • New Poison rules! Deadly over time without instant death, and allows me to give Ghouls stun poison and Spiders death poison and have it all be part of the same general system.
  • As stated in the Poison post, Delay Poison now makes you immune to the effects of poison for 24 hours. Hopefully you will have saved away all the poison by then. Neutralise Poison neutralises all poison dice.

Wear and Tear

  • Change to weapon notches - each notch reduces the damage of a weapon by one die size. This represents it getting battered and blunted and damaged over time. The more damaged the weapon, the less effective it is.
    This also mirrors armour which gives you -1 AC per notch.
    It's hard to get players to remember something that fucks them over if it's rarely engaged with, so this is an easy "oh no your sword's damaged in an obvious way because you're doing less damage" fix.
  • Willingly break your weapon to roll its original un-notched damage die. Your shitty rusty longsword gets a last 1d8 hurrah before bursting into fragments.
    Putting the choice to break a weapon in the hands of the players means they've got some more agency over it, and also means I don't have to think about it.
    Again, mirrors armour where it's the player's choice to actually break it. In that case breaking your armour reduces damage from an attack to 1. In both cases it's more worthwhile to break something that's heavily damaged and thus otherwise a bit useless.
  • Firearms use the England Upturn'd firearm mishap table in England Upturn'd when they take a notch. Because it's great. Replaces regular fumble table.

Class Tweaks

  • Clerics have 5 religious variants to choose from, each with a unique spell that acts differently depending on the religion of the target. Religion pamphlet here.
  • Spell swapping across all casting classes! Shock! Horror! Clerics had this already so other casters were not-so-subtly just casting whatever they wanted with their spell slots.
    I was going to yank 5e's spell slot system until I realised this is a good opportunity to use a favourite Last Gasp table I'd never been able to use before.
    Encourages bringing spellbooks into dungeons, penalises not thinking ahead, means the more situational or ridiculous spells like Speak With Dad are actually used.
    • Magic Users, Elves, Muscle Wizards - roll on the Cast the Bones table with a penalty equal to the sum of the spell levels being swapped.
      So swapping a level 1 spell for a level 1 spell is a -2 penalty.
      Swapping a level 5 spell for a level 2 spell is a -7 penalty.
      Sacrifice HP for a +1 bonus per point, because you're draining your own energy. I'd allow this even at 0HP and have it roll over to Death and Dismemberment.
    • Necromancers simply deal damage to themselves and everyone around them when swapping spells, equal to the sum of the spell levels being swapped.
      Swapping a level 1 spell for a level 1 spell is 2 damage.
      Swapping a level 5 spell for a level 2 spell is 7 damage.
      Heals undead though and damages all around, so I can see this being used tactically.
      Also rolls over onto Death and Dismemberment, likely the Cold Damage table.
  • New! Ratman class for the ability score impaired. Can't have any positive ability score modifiers, beloved of rats, actually surprisingly powerful at higher levels. 36 obedient rats at a time is nothing to sniff at!

Rune Magic

  • All direct damage glyphs do 1d6 damage, modified by vulnerability/resistance. Beams previously did 2d6, but it was complicated and also too good.
  • New scatter mechanic for firing beams from hands and shields and stuff - if you miss, roll the Warhammer Scatter Die (pictured below). A target means you miss safely and it just scorches up a wall or whatever. An arrow means it fires in that direction, hitting the first thing in its way.
    Using an Aim action beforehand means missed beams only ever miss safely.
    In-world explanation is that powering a glyph involves a brief moment of unconsciousness as your VERY SOUL is redirected to power it, which means accuracy is an issue with beams.

Turns out that was a longer list of tweaks than I thought!

Saturday 7 January 2017

When and How To Fix Rules

To summarise,
Sometimes rules make sense. When they do, character and player can make the same decision even if acting on different actual information. I called this Synchronisation in a previous post.

Player knows he's got +5 to hit, character knows he's good in combat.
Player knows ghouls cause paralysis, character knows ghouls cause paralysis.
Player knows he gets exp for treasure looted, character knows that he wants all the treasure.
etc etc

You're in sync.

When rules don't make sense you get knocked out of that space.
The usual symptom is "that doesn't make sense" or "that's not realistic".
The usual cause is because a mechanic is Dissociated (eg 4e Fighter dailies) or badly Associated (eg. these examples).

Basically being synced up is good, because it means players can view a decision from a mechanical view or an in-character view and come to the same conclusion.
Thus a newbie who's told "you're a person in a world what would you do?" and a rules enthusiast who's told "here are your mechanical options what will you do?" can play in the same game with not much issue.

Extreme Sync!

Staying in Sync

Generally when you use a rule or make a ruling you are keeping player and character synced up. The player's expectations about how something should work are the same as how something will work.
As long as a mechanic works in a way that makes sense in the internally consistent fantasy world, you're fine.

It's when a mechanic doesn't make sense or work the way you'd expect that you get that "uh what?" feeling.

You tend to get this with things like Grappling. Say the designers have written rules to satisfactorily simulate two people wrestling, and suddenly you have to adjudicate 20 trained rats climbing over a dragon. Some messy culmination of circumstances and bonuses mean that the rats will chokehold a dragon 9 times out of 10, which is surely ridiculous.

It's an Associated mechanic, wrestling in the game world is simulated by game mechanics, but it doesn't make sense from a character's in-world perspective.

This can also come about as a result of ad-hoc rulings.

Say there is no rule for drowning and someone is starting to drown.
The DM, the players, and their characters all have an expectation of what happens when someone is drowning.
A "realistic" ruling is created, where realism is whatever the players and DM collectively think makes sense. Perfect. Everyone's synced up.
The drowning ruling is now a drowning rule.

At a later date someone's horse is starting to drown.
The group hark back to a previous ruling and... oh no! It turns out horses can hold their breath for an hour by the original drowning ruling for some reason! That's dumb and unrealistic when applied to horses!
Everyone's collectively Desynchronised!

How do you fix this dire situation?

You have three choices.
  1. Paper over the cracks
  2. Change the fluff
  3. Change the rules


Option 1 - Paper over the cracks

Make a ruling. This is obviously the easiest option, usually the best option, and the only one you can really make at the table.
Generally this is because it's a weird edge case that won't come up again so you can just make a quick ruling and side-step the issue, or your ruling is good enough that using it over and over works fine.

I won't go in depth into how you make a good ruling because this is one of your main jobs as a DM and Arnold wrote that one recently.

So an example.

For the dragon this means you go "it's ridiculous that a bunch of rats could wrestle a dragon because the rats are too small" and just say it won't work.
For the horse this means you go "I don't care that the drowning rule means that horses can hold their breath for an hour, the horse is going to panic and won't hold its breath anyway."
You make another ruling about horse drowning or whatever and keep going.

The dragon ruling is fine until someone asks how big they'd have to Enlarge the rats in order for it to work. There must be a threshold where the Wrestling rules start working again right? You'd expect 20 man-sized rats to at least have some small chance of wrestling a dragon, surely? What if they were as big as cars? Or the dragon itself?

The horse ruling is fine until the Magic-User is polymorphed into a horse in the Undersea Mermaid Dungeon. A scaling drowning mechanic would suddenly be very useful!

What now!?

Well, something needs to change.
Which presents you with the interesting choice of what to change to make the rule "make sense".

"Yea this could realistically fuck up a dragon"

Option 2 - Change the Fluff

This is one I actually really enjoy.
It's also generally less effort than changing the rules, and usually what I do when I like the behaviours that a mechanic encourages.

Probably most obvious in my game's Halflings. I gave them a mind control ability so they could be a pet-controlling Ranger-esque character class, then extrapolated that out into a dystopian Pokemon society that enslaved Man two thousand years ago.

Essentially the question is this - 
"If I keep the rules as written, what does that imply?"

This was my solution to the age-old constantly-head-rearing issue of trad D&D Vancian magic.
How does a wizard run out of magic? Why do they need to prepare their spells at the start of the day?
It doesn't make sense! Wizards just cast a bunch of spells all the time! Gandalf never said "sorry guys, no more spells for me until I have a nap". Merlin never said "well that's my best spell gone, I can only cast 25 more spells of a lower level today". Harry Potter doesn't blow the three Expelliarmuses he prepped this morning then stop!

But I like the resource management aspect of doing spells this way. And I like how it makes a wizard do something perfectly a limited number of times per day, as opposed to a Specialist who does something well consistently.

So I changed the fluff. 
Magic is now a buildup of Chaos pouring into your head through a crack in your soul, and you have to crystallise it into shapes in your brain in order to channel it and reroute it back out to stop it overwhelming you.
Spellcasting is vomiting a big chunk of the magical energy out into the world, giving the magic user some breathing room before the Chaos inevitably starts to fill them back up. Like throwing a bucket of water out of that slowly-filling bath before it gets dangerously full.

Now the mechanics are re-Associated and re-Synchronised. A wizard in the game world knows he's prepared a limited number of specific spells that day, the player knows the same from a mechanical standpoint.
The mechanics make sense as a way of modelling this new fact.

With the drowning horse, maybe you go "actually it would be really interesting if horses could hold their breaths for an hour in my world, and the larger you are the longer you can stay underwater".
Hey, sort of works if you extrapolate up to whales right?
And that can imply a lot about a campaign world. Is it a water world? Do horses have gills? If so, why do they need to come up for air? Are there giants? If so, they could hold their breaths long enough to reach underwater cities that a human couldn't reach unassisted? Does immersion in water kill small animals extremely quickly?

This is what happens when people try to divine the implied setting of vanilla D&D from the rules. If we take these rules as true, what does that imply?

"I've really been picturing seahorses wrong"

Option 3 - Change the Rules

This is the final option, usually. If something doesn't make sense, and there's no way you can satisfactorily change the fluff to keep the mechanic, it's time to make new rules.
The other reason to do this is because you don't like the behaviours that a mechanic encourages, like how exp-per-monster-killed encourages combat. 

Probably most obvious in my game's Goblins. I started with Goblin ecology and worked out mechanics to fit. I made a bunch of motile vegetables that could grow more of their own, then added mechanics to fit the concept.

The question now is -
"If I keep the fluff, how do I model that in the rules?"

Hit Points are another perennial debate about the realism of D&D.
You fight at full strength until you keel over and die at 0HP. Or at negative CON HP. Or after failing 3 death saves. Or whatever you're doing in your game.

I, too, was dissatisfied by the death-at-zero thing so added Death & Dismemberment rules I took from Courtney Campbell and tweaked a bunch.
Now HP is more like Not Getting Hit Points, and you only start getting hit for real when you run out of them.
The mechanics make sense for my idea of how death and dying should work.

With the rats vs the dragon, maybe you go "I feel like size differences between wrestlers is likely to come up fairly often in my game, so I need mechanics to model that".
Perhaps each wrestler rolls a die based on their size. Humans roll a d10, halflings roll a d6, rats a d2, giants a d20, dragons a d30, and so on.
Perhaps you just make it a d10 for evenly matched opponents then adjust the die based on size difference.
Perhaps the only issue is that there's a mechanical bonus for multiple wrestlers in the rules, and you can just take that bit out to fix it.
Perhaps everyone in the wrestle rolls their own contested roll, the winner deciding what happens to the losers.

So many options! Which is why this can be the most interesting and perilous option. You've got to find that sweet spot between a good mechanic, the fluff, and quick resolution at the table.

It's really satisfying when you get it right.

Proper simulation of Halfling wrestling matches is very important to me

Option 4 - Keep a Wonky Mechanic Because It's Fun

Surprise! There is a fourth option!
"The Open Doors roll is one of my all-time favorite D&D mechanics, because one minute the party is slaying demons and dragons like heroes and gods of old and the next minute they can't get the refrigerator open.  I love that shit. "- Jeff Rients

If it's fun enough for you to look past its flaws, keep it.

This also applies to Dissociated mechanics that you like enough to keep.
Keep in mind that any Dissociated mechanic you keep is something that you will have to explain to every single new player who enters the game.
If you have too many dissociated mechanical bits you won't be able to say "you're a person in a world and this is happening, what do you do?"
It is very important to be able to say this because it means a new player doesn't need to know the rules to play and can just jump right in.

So keep it light and easy.

I've got this big purple d30 rule. For every beer the party buys me during the game, someone gets to replace a die roll with the d30. It's sometimes incredibly useful for the group and has gotten them out of a few tense situations, but it also gets across that this is a fairly light-hearted table when I explain it to a newbie.
Dissociated. Silly. Fun. I like it enough to keep it.

Arnold's Brute class
"The most interesting ability on this page, though, is the Dramatic Whistle / Dramatic Exit pairing.  It sort of plays around with the idea that there is a place called "offstage" (something shared with my doppleganger class).  Yes, gamist.  Yes, storygamey.  But it looks hella fun (Blarguntharg tackled the illithid into the bottomless pit; we're done here but we need to wander around the dungeon looking for him and whistling.) and I don't think it's OP, given how restrictive it is.  (How many mechanics require a bottomless pit to be nearby?)"
- Arnold K
Dissociated. Silly. Fun. Likes it enough to keep it.

There's probably a separate thing here about not front-loading mechanics, but this is also the reason why I'm completely ok with the retroactive backstory bonuses.
Forcing a morale check to fail once per session because you ran a theatrical troupe out of town in your backstory. Not sure where that falls on Associated/Dissociated or Synchronised/Unsynchronised.
All I know is that I like it enough to keep it!