Add Some Grit To Your 5E D&D

5th Edition D&D is a game that starts off as survival horror, where anything you encounter can murder you and you are scraping for basic supplies, and very quickly becomes a game where it is very difficult to die and gold has no meaning. That initial curve is a steep one, and sometimes I find the change to be jarring between level 1 and the 3-5 range. I have been reflecting on some simple ways we can add some ‘grit’ to D&D 5E, without having to rewrite the rules, or just throw up our hands and play a different game. When I say ‘grit’, I mean that the game remains a bit tougher for longer, and the high fantasy takes longer to overshadow everything. A 5th level character is still going to be nigh-unkillable, and gold will not matter for much longer, but there are a few changes one can easily make, including some things suggested by the DMG.

The Long Rest

As written, a long rest is kind of like clicking the “rest” icon in a video game and watching everyone’s health bars reset to full. Which is fine – that’s the kind of game that 5E is, and it’s fun. But it is in no way gritty. The DMG suggests that you make a short rest 8 hours and require a week for a long rest – in thinking this through, however, I feel like on an adventure this would strongly preference classes whose abilities refresh on a short rest (i.e. monks, warlocks, etc.) and be punishing for classes who need a long rest to refresh abilities (clerics, fighters, especially wizards).

Another option is to restrict long rests to places where the PCs are safe and comfortable. Out in the wild, they can take a long rest to recover abilities that require that time, but they don’t get to refresh hit dice or refill hit points unless they are somewhere that provides sanctuary – an inn, a safe and comfortable campsite, etc. The idea is similar to that of Sanctuaries in The One Ring and Adventures in Middle-Earth, TOR using 5E rules. You don’t really get that deep, revitalizing sleep unless you are someplace safe. Instead, when out in the wild taking a long rest, you can roll hit dice not nothing else, and if you are out of hit dice, you have to depend on other abilities like a bard’s Song of Rest and healing spells or potions to recover. I think this would be enough of a limit without being punishing for classes that require a long rest to reset abilities.

Darkvision

Another rules hack to add some grit is to take all instances of darkvision as a racial ability and replace it with low-light vision, enabling those species to see twice as far in bright and dim light, but no one can see in absolute darkness. What this does is force the PCs to manage light sources, and this alone will add an element of mystery and tension to exploration. If half the party can’t see 60′ in every direction, but rather they have to decide who is brave enough to hold the light sources and who will be scouting at the edge of that circle of precious light – it’s a different feel that is simple to accomplish. For added tension, let monsters keep their darkvision.

Prestidigitation

For the literal grit that reinforces the metaphorical, thematic grit, I think the prestidigitation spell has to be nerfed. As written, it is a cantrip that enables everyone to be constantly clean, fine-smelling, and eating delicious food. It’s a ‘reset’ button you can hit at the end of every encounter, and ironically even though it is just a cantrip it is sometimes one of the most jarring things about 5E for me as a player and DM.

Thematic, metaphorical grit requires some level of literal grit. PCs should come back to town with scrapes, smudges, and dried blood on their clothes. Slogging through mud all day exploring should leave you sweaty and caked in filth. Germaphobic characters should have to beg others to carry them through bogs, or use magic to hover, or something.

So in this gritty hack, prestidigitation allows a caster to recreate simple sleight-of-hand magic only. They can pull a temporary flower out of a sleeve, or make a single coin disappear or reappear. This requires no roll, but shouldn’t overlap too much with the Sleight-of-Hand Proficiency either. This is the equivalent of druidcraft or thaumaturgy – little elements of detail and color that the caster can add to her roleplaying that reflects who she is without also doing the party’s laundry.

Encumbrance

Pretty much every group I’ve ever played with has ignored encumbrance rules, except when playing Torchbearer, since encumbrance rules are central to that game. I think that encumbrance adds an element of grit to D&D. Before a fight, everyone has to drop what they’re carrying or else suffer penalties. If you flee, or there is some disaster (like a flood or fire), you might lose your precious equipment, made even more precious by a lack of darkvision. Imagine kobolds attacking the PCs, who drop their gear and fight. Then the kobolds retreat, and the PCs find that others have snuck in behind them and stolen what they were carrying. They know they are days from the surface, and have no food or water or light sources except for what they can produce with magic. Suddenly those kobold bastards are the scariest thing down here.

Magical Food and Water

In theory, an adventuring party could live off of goodberry or create food and water long-term. Create food and water requires a 3rd level spell slot, which is nothing to sneeze at (you could also fly around, or incinerate a room-full of people at that point), as well as the presence of a cleric or paladin. Goodberry of course requires a druid or ranger, but is only 1st level. The way I would hack goodberry is just to have it provide the listed 10hp of healing (which is a lot at level 1) but not actually sustain a person. I see it kind of like fairy-food – it has a magical effect on you, but doesn’t actually nourish you. Maybe you don’t feel hungry, but your body isn’t actually being fed, so you’ll incur exhaustion over time if you don’t also eat some real food.

What house rules or hacks would you use to make for a grittier 5E D&D game? 

RPG Setting Round-Up #1

I’ve done 9 or 10 RPG Mechanic Round-Ups so far, but in the same document I also have a bunch of notes that are focused on setting design and setting ideas. As with the mechanics, feel free to steal and adapt these, or just enjoy brief little excursions.

Are There Actually Good Monarchs?

This is a question that A Game of Thrones, and its source material A Song of Ice and Fire, ask frequently. The answer seems to be, generally speaking, “No, but kings are inevitable.” The best attempt at a good king comes at the end of the 8th season, and I won’t spoil it here, but they do seem to be trying to say what kind of person has a chance at being a good king.

As an anarchist, I am suspicious of all systems of hierarchy. It seems that hierarchy and harm go hand in hand in pretty much every area of human life, from the family to the nation. It isn’t enough to find a few examples of kings who were good compared to other kings. Here, I mean monarchs who were also good people. Have there been such people? How would they arise?

Can any of you think of a genuinely good monarch? Someone who would not only rise to such a position of power, but also use it well, for the benefit of others?

Maybe good monarchs: https://www.reddit.com/r/history/comments/3qkva2/were_there_any_objectively_good_monarchs/

Dark Ages D&D Style

One of my homebrew settings, Twilight of the Gods, is set in the ‘dark ages’, also known as the Migration Period or Early Middle Ages. Basically 800-1000CE in Scandinavia. The default setting for D&D is much closer to the Late Middle Ages or even the Renaissance era in some cases. Rewinding fantasy Europe 500 years has some interesting effects that change the assumptions a cliches – or should.

In a Dark Ages D&D setting, inns are rare, as are cities. There tend not to be great kings, much less emperors. There is no plate armor, few or no large armies, and it would make sense for there to be a looming threat of conquest from the outside. A Dark Ages setting would probably exist in the aftermath of the fall of an empire, or even an apocalypse. There would be significantly less long-distance travel, possibly limited only to adventurous merchants and religious pilgrims. Communities would be cut off from one another most of the time, making a wandering adventuring party even more interesting (and threatening, and unique). There would be no guilds, as those would flourish in large cities hundreds of years later. There would be no banks, and wealth would have to be carried around in the form of special items, rings and the like.

You wouldn’t meet in a tavern; you’d meet in a longhouse in a village where the chieftain sits. You’d have to win them over in order to be even allowed in. Traveling you’d pass farms and villages, and would probably have to approach people, win them over, and get them to share some food and shelter with you. You might take a job protecting a group of pilgrims or a merchant caravan, but the roads would be neglected and not well-traveled at all. There would be even less of a chance of finding a “magic item shop” than in vanilla D&D, and you might need to regularly barter for goods, as not everyone would even use coins.

Of course, this is the Dark Ages from the point of view of northern Europe. Empires still existed, as did large cities, and those would be more similar to a normal D&D setting.

Creation Story

In a class on music and religion in college, I learned about a Hindu concept: nada brahma, a kind of un-sounded sound that under-girds the cosmos. I thought it would be cool to have a dwarven creation myth of the great creator-smith striking the cosmos with a hammer, and the ongoing creation is the resonance of that initial hammer-blow. It might account for conservatism – the idea that the clear ringing fades over time, and was heard more clearly by those who came before. I also like the idea of Hindu-esque dwarves. D&D dwarves are often depicted as religious, and I like the idea that dwarven religion absorbs and accounts for other religions, and includes incredibly subtle and multi-layered philosophies building on one another over time. Supposed other gods are merely emanations of the originating hammer-strike that got the cosmos into motion.

Fey Reproduction Demands Kidnapping

European folklore is full of stories of the fey folk stealing babies and leaving changelings, or of people wandering into the Perilous Realm and becoming lost, or being seduced, or just kidnapped. Reading the 5E Monster Manual, it seems that many fey require humanoids in order to reproduce. It’s interesting to think of kidnapping as part of fey reproduction. It’s just how they have to make more fey. What is for mortals frightening and seemingly random is for fey the only way they can make more of their kind.

Weather Witches

All around the North Atlantic, basically in the lands that the Norse settled and in which they raided and traded, there was the practice of weather witches binding up the wind in knotted ropes. This seems to have been a particular practice in places like Finland, Lappland, and the Isle of Man. They would sell the wind to sailors. The cloth or rope or string would have three knots, and in order to release a stronger wind, you would untie more knots. For some reason, I feel like this is a compelling detail. There are of course other stories of other ways weather-workers stored up the wind (like the bag given to Ulyses).

Hold the Darkness Down While I Kick It

Sometimes the great beast rises up, sinks in its claws, and tries to drag you down into oblivion. Oh, not you? Just me? Damn. Anyway. I think about what helps, and share what I come up with, in case any of these things might help you.

Spite is Underrated

I often tell people this – more and more often as time goes on. Spite is an underrated reason to stay alive and persist. Spite against whom, you ask? Anyone. Take your pick. Stay alive to spite Trump and all of his horrific ilk. Stay alive to spite everyone who’s ever told you you can’t do something. Stay alive to spite your exes. A lot of great art has been created out of spite.

Actual Nature

Pseudo-nature is cool – parks and aboretums and gardens and driving through rolling hills and so on. But real nature is what hits me – nature that doesn’t care about me or you, nature that is just there as itself, for itself. Nature from the last few chapters of Job. I’m edified every time by encountering nature on its own terms. I realize that it would murder me if we had to meet for any length of time, but the glimpses are always good.

Making

Make things. Even though, in my case, this really just means making groups of words and putting them together. So pseudo-things. But at the end of the day, if I’ve strung some words together, I feel more like being alive a bit longer. Even if they’re mostly shitty words – that is the nature of words, after all.

D&D

Not just D&D, but right now I’m playing in a great D&D game. But tabletop RPGs are the thing that keep me sane. I mean this literally. I start to lose my shit if I can’t game for a while.

Fighting

Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. Maybe ‘resistance’ is a better word for this. For the past two years I’ve been working on the Phoenixville Area Refugee Initiative as a way to channel my rage at our inhumane political climate. This work advocating for refugees and asylum-seekers has connected me with some great people, and reminds me of what I value and what’s important, and lays the groundwork to support vulnerable people in my community and beyond.

It’s a small thing, ultimately, but…I have to fight.

Stuff Yeah

This is what we called it in college sometimes. But trips to Bone Town are almost always helpful. Nothing revolutionary here. If you have someone in your life, or someones, who would enthusiastically consent to getting down, then get down.

When you’re lovers in a dangerous time
Sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime
But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight
Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight

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.

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.

D&D 5E with Clockwork: Dominion Initiative

For my friend Zeke.

The idea here is just to figure out a way to use the initiative system of Clockwork: Dominion with 5th Edition D&D for two reasons: one, that the initiative system for Clockwork is awesome, and two, because Zeke said it probably couldn’t be done.

Basic ideas

  1. Just like with Clockwork, you will be dealt three cards per PC. Maybe a few more for really formidable characters (in Clockwork, this is based on Threat, but I think higher-level characters will be balanced by how much ridiculous stuff they can do with their actions), fewer for each mundane NPC that the DM is wielding, more for powerful NPCs and monsters.
  2. Initiative order is based on how good of a card you have. Push a card forward to act, push two cards forward to interrupt, push one card forward to react.
  3. Maintain the strengths of the Clockwork initiative system, but also the various action mechanics of 5th Ed D&D.
  4. A full round of combat using Clockwork initiative will be equivalent to about three rounds of combat in 5th Ed, give or take, making it more likely that a fight is resolved in a couple of rounds.
  5. Edit: minions receive two cards for a couple of reasons. One is that I like that they have a little less than ‘full’ NPCs, similar to how minions worked in 4E. The other is that I love the idea that a minion’s fulfillment comes from pushing two cards forward and leaping in front of an attack directed at their master.

How It Works

The DM deals out three cards to each character face-up. She then takes for herself, face up or face down depending on her style, two cards for each minion, three cards for each monster or NPC, and one additional card for each creature that has a Legendary Action and/or Lair Action. So, for example, if the PCs are facing an ancient dragon in its lair with four kobold minions, the DM would get 3 cards for the dragon, 1 for the Lair Action, 1 for the Legendary Action, and 8 for the four kobolds, or 13 cards. The party of 4 facing the dragon would get 12 cards between them. To prevent the DM from using all 13 cards for Dragon actions, let’s say that each creature in the combat must act at least once. Also, what is a minion and what is an NPC or monster? That’s up to the DM. The DM could also potentially take three cards for every NPC or monster, and I could see an argument for more cards for very powerful creatures – though most of those will have Legendary Actions and/or Lair Actions, which will grant them bonus cards.

An alternate, but more complicated, way to handle this is to track each NPC or monster’s initiative cards separately. This would get rid of confusion as to whether the dragon is using the kobold’s cards to act, but would also be a lot for the DM to suddenly track in a complex game. Season to taste, I suppose.

(If the 4 PCs were fighting the dragon alone, 12 cards might seem overwhelming compared to only 5. That being said, remember that each of the dragon’s cards is worth a use of Frightful Presence and three attacks, or its breath weapon – rolling to see if the breath weapon recharges every time the dragon acts. I do wonder whether this hack would make the imbalance of action economy worse in some situations, though. I can imagine 10 minions with 20 cards being hard for that party of 4 to deal with using their 12 cards, but then again, we’re dealing with hit points rather than Guard in Clockwork, so while the minions would get to act and interrupt a lot, they wouldn’t be doing more damage than they would using the standard D&D rules for a such a group)

As a player, flip over a card to take an Action and a Bonus Action and move. Flip a card over to take a Reaction, but no movement. Flip two cards over to interrupt with an Action and move, a Bonus Action and move, or a Reaction and move depending on the circumstances (choose whichever is the best option among your abilities).

As a DM, flip over a card for an NPC or monster to take an Action and a Bonus Action and a move. Flip a card over to take a Reaction, but no movement. Flip two cards over to interrupt as above. Flip a card over to take a Lair Action or a Legendary Action, as applicable.

For NPC and monster abilities that have a recharge roll, like the above-mentioned dragon’s breath weapon, the DM can roll the d6 to see whether the ability recharges when she flips a card over for that NPC or monster to act. Yes, with bad luck, that does mean that a monster might get to use its special ability three times in a single “round”, but remember that each PC can also take their full suite of actions and movement three times, so it is a bit like three rounds happening all at once.

Can you interrupt with a spell? Sure. It costs you two of your cards after all. And if you don’t take any Reactions or use an interrupt, you’ll eventually get to take three Actions, three Bonus Actions, and move three times in a round.

What to do with your initiative modifier: one idea is to keep the modifier, which is just your Dex modifier, and use it to break ties instead of suits for the cards. So if we both have a king, but  you have a +2 and I have a +1, you go first with your king. This would take the place of the percentiles printed in the Clockwork cards. If Dex modifiers are equal, then maybe you can fall back on the usual progression of suits (spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs).

Obviously, this will require play-testing, but those are the basics.

Other Thoughts

The fighter ability Action Surge came up on Twitter recently (complete with the power to allow double casting) and it poses an interesting challenge for this hybrid system. Do you deal an extra card that is for an Action Surge only? Since it’s a full action but not also an additional bonus action, that wouldn’t make sense given the rules above. So I’d say turn a card sideways when you use it for an Action Surge following an action.

RPG Mechanics Round-Up #10: All 5E D&D

10!? Really? Yeah, and more are coming.

Mundane/Crossover Backgrounds

I’ve been listening to Dungeons and Daddies, a mostly-non-BDSM actual play podcast. It’s hilarious and really well done. The conceit is that four dads are drawn through a portal into the Forgotten Realms, where they have to rescue their sons from some asshole in a purple robe. This is similar to some of my first games, where my friend and I would create ourselves as D&D characters and then drop ourselves into Krynn or the world of a novel we were reading at the time. I imagine lots of people have played games like this, and Fantasy Flight even put out four games that are specifically built around creating yourself and then dropping yourself as a character into some end of the world scenario.

So I was thinking about creating real-world Backgrounds that characters could take, followed presumably by D&D 5E classes. I would like for them to be very regular, not special forces or anything. I came up with: Cashier, Barista, Sex Worker, Blogger/Vlogger, Parent, Weekend Athlete, Supervisor, Manager, Driver, Grad Student, Teenager, Technician

Real-world backgrounds. Start a campaign with real-world backgrounds, and then you’re transported to a fantasy world. Dungeons and Daddies, basically. What would those real-world backgrounds be? Cashier, Barrista, Sex Worker, Blogger/Vlogger, Parent, Weekend Athlete, Supervisor, Manager, Driver, Grad Student, Teen, Technician, Teacher. What else do you think I should list?

Druid (Ranger) Spell: Beast Travel

3rd level enchantment

Casting Time: 10 minutes

Components: V, S, M

Duration: 8 hours

When this spell is cast, the caster entices up to six medium or large beasts native to the environment to approach her. These beasts are willing mounts for the next 8 hours. If a character tries to ride a beast into battle (or ride it through similar danger), she must make an Animal Handling roll at disadvantage to prevent her mount from fleeing the scene at its top speed. When traveling overland, the beasts travel about as quickly as horses.

Social Vulnerabilities

Often players will ask for lore rolls in ordre to discover vulnerabilities in the creatures they are going to face. Sometimes, as with dragons, there just aren’t any vulnerabilities. They’re freaking dragons. Others might be vulnerable to a particular kind of damage, like a Rakshasa. Others, like demons, might just have an element or two they aren’t resistant to, which is as close as they get to vulnerability.

The thought occurred to me that NPCs could also have social vulnerabilities – the idea that certain approaches would be especially likely to work, like flattery with the President, for example, or threats against Sam Tarly. These vulnerabilities can be a simple as choosing a social skill that will work especially well against them – just Deception for someone who is credulous or Intimidation for a coward. Or it could be more specific – if you threaten someone’s family it’ll work extra well, or if you try to get them to laugh your persuasion will go even better.

Recovery Through Place

I believe the game was called Song of Arda – it was a free RPG put out years ago that sought to emulate Middle-Earth, and it’s one of the more interesting attempts at doing that out there. One mechanic that it included was a “Wellbeing” mechanic – that is, a measure of how well a character is doing overall beyond whether they are wounded or fatigued. A high wellbeing is how one feels when visiting Rivendell or Lothlorien; a low wellbeing is how one feels crossing the Dead Marshes or the Dagorlad.

The idea to adapt here for 5E (or other games in similar ways) is to have recovery depend more on wellbeing than be determined by the player (rolling HD for a short rest) or full recovery (for a long rest). For a short rest, wellbeing could limit how many Hit Dice can be rolled. For example, if you are huddled under a rocky overhang in a driving rainstorm, maybe only 1 or 2 HD can be rolled, whereas if you build a comfortale camp in a cozy mountain vale, there might not be a limit.

For long rests, recovery would depend on wellbeing as a dice-pool to be rolled to recover.  Rivendell would provide 10d10, for example, whereas huddling in squalor in an alleyway might provide 2d10. I would leave it at d10s so that there’s only one variable, but I like this as an option to make recovery a bit more challenging.

5E Backgrounds as Zero-Levels

As was pointed out on the Dungeons and Daddies podcast in their first or second session, D&D 5E is something like survival horror at levels 1 and 2, before transitioning more to heroic fantasy. For many players, this is a feature rather than a glitch. For others, they just start at 3rd level.

As a way to add survive-ability to characters at low levels, I thought that it might make sense to treat the various D&D 5E backgrounds as 0-levels, similar to what has been present in some previous editions and D&D clones. This also puts a level 1 character on par with a basic NPC like a town guard, who usually has 2 Hit Dice. These 0-levels would still grant max hit points, and I think I’d arrange them this way:

6HP: (Scholarly) Acolyte, Anthropologist, Archaeologist, Cloistered Scholar, Hermit, Inheritor, Sage

8HP: (Skilled) Charlatan, City Watch/Investigator, Clan Crafter, Courtier, Criminal/Spy, Entertainer, Far Traveler, Guild Artisan/Guild Merchant, House Agent (Dragonmarked), Noble, Outlander, Pirate, Sailor, Shipwright, Smuggler, Urban Bounty Hunter, Urchin

10HP: (Fighty) Folk Hero, Gladiator, Knight, Marine, Mercenary Veteran, Soldier

I would probably combine this with some house rule that also limits how high hit points get over time – something like the old 3E house rule that you didn’t gain hit points past level 6 (while you still gained other abilities).

Acts 16: From Exploitation to Reconciliation in 9 “Easy” Steps

This is something I wrote out for a sermon on 6/2/19 that I thought was interesting. The overall sermon got more good responses than I honestly expected (was ready for zero, and some criticism). If nothing else, this got me to think through the various social movements I see around me, and am a part of, more carefully, and also to say some things that some folks in my congregation needed to hear I think. This is a reflection on Acts 16:17-34:

  1. Those who exploit others still hear the truth, but ignore it and don’t act (v 17)
  2. God liberates the person who is being exploited, often using human means (v 18)
  3. The exploiters are angry at losing profit, make use of the authorities to enforce their will, and punish those through whom God liberates (v 19-24)
  4. Working against the authorities, God continues to liberate those who are part of God’s kingdom and who keep faith (v 25-26)
  5. Seeing this, those who exploit, and the authorities who support them, feel a real existential threat to identity, meaning, and life (v 27)
  6. Those who are liberated, who are part of the kingdom of God, do not abandon those still caught in the system of exploitation (v 28-29)
  7. Those who exploit, and the authorities, are liberated by God through repentance (v 30-32)
  8. When they are liberated, the former exploiters and former authorities bind the wounds they have inflicted (make restitution) (v 33a)
  9. A new community is formed through baptism and table fellowship in the kingdom of God (v 33b-34)