Rethinking Small Creatures in 5E D&D

Image result for D&D size comparison 5e

I recently posted some thoughts on handling large-sized characters in 5th Edition D&D. I was also thinking about small-sized characters (and tiny, and so on). I’m certain that the decision was made for the purpose of simplicity and balance, but reading through the 5E rules I did think that too little was made of the advantages, and disadvantages, of being small. Especially small in a D&D sense, where you are shorter than 4 feet and weight maybe 50 lbs. Most halflings, and many gnomes, are smaller than my 6 year old daughter. Different build, more lean muscle mass, and so on, but still. She is not large.

In the rules as written, small creatures take up the same area on the battle map, have the same class hit dice if they have a class, etc. Small creatures with no character class have hit dice one die type smaller than medium creatures. I know that small creatures can use Acrobatics to move through the space occupied by a large creature, which is cool, and they have some weapon restrictions. They are also able to theoretically squeeze through a tiny space, whereas a medium creature can only squeeze through a small space.

Now, if I wanted much more detailed rules on size, I would just go back to 3.5 or Pathfinder. And no worries there, both are great games I’ve played many times. But what I would like are a couple of small changes that make the choice to play a small race more meaningful.

Hit Dice

I’ll start with what is likely my least popular idea – I think that PCs should follow the rule of monsters and small races’ class dice should be downgraded one step. I think that the actual effect of this would be mitigated in a number of ways. First, any PC casters who are a small race will often have one primary stat and then can easily put their second highest score into Constitution – this is especially true of sorcerers and wizards. Bards and clerics have more to worry about, on average, but can still be quite tough if they wish to be.

Stealth

I think that in general, size should be taken into account when rolling Dexterity (Stealth) – one size difference granting someone advantage on the roll. This would mean that small characters sneaking up on medium characters or larger would automatically have advantage, and it would add a house rule that would make it easier for all PCs to sneak up on ogres and giants and the like.

Cost of living

It makes sense to me to cut the cost of living for a small PC in half. They can get along with less living space, much less food, less water, and so on. Their clothes take up half the material or less, and all of their tools are small-sized, or can be. This makes a small difference, but makes sense to me.

Armor Class

Here  I’m going to just steal from Pathfinder/3.X and give small PCs a +1 to their Armor Class. They have about half the surface area to aim at, can more easily take cover, etc. This also helps do a little to balance out the loss of 1 hit point per level, on average.

Tiny PCs

This got me thinking about tiny PCs, like player-character pixies and sprites and quicklings, which sound cool. For them, I would reduce their hit dice by yet another step, also reduce their weapon damage by one die type while keeping the restrictions for small characters (being stabbed by an inch-long knife is just not that scary). I would divide their cost of living by 4 and give them advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) rolls to sneak up on small or larger creatures. Tiny intelligent creatures are also often balanced out by having super-speed or the ability to fly, like the examples above, and perhaps more innate magic than is normal. I’d want to see this in a game (someone playing a pixie, sprite, quickling, etc.) but I’d be open to the idea. They would also get an additional +1 to their AC.

Curious what I had to say about large-sized PCs? Check out that post here.

Eberron: Random Tables for Shargon’s Teeth

I’m currently running a 5th Edition game in Eberron. The PCs are sailing across the Thunder Sea, past Shargon’s Teeth, to Stormreach and Xen’Drik. Of course, bad things are happening, and it looks like they’ll end up stranded on one of the islands of Shargon’s Teeth, possibly island-hopping their way to Stormreach.

Or they’re going to defeat a Marid as a 4th level group – 5th Ed is crazy.

I like having random tables – they actually help me with creativity when I need to do something like come up with a bunch of interesting but variable islands. If all of the options on the tables are interesting to me, then what becomes interesting are the surprise interactions. I didn’t always like them, but I’ve changed in the last few years.

I’ve come up with some random tables  to use in creating islands in Shargon’s Teeth. Part of my thinking here is to treat Shargon’s Teeth kind of like different versions of Galapagos islands. At least, I’m using the Galapagos as inspiration for the Teeth (as I’m using Madagascar and New Guinea as inspiration for Xen’Drik).

First is a random table of unique elements for each island. These are the first thing you’d notice about the island, and form the core of how I describe it:

Random Island Features: Shargon’s Teeth

Roll d10

  1. Easily accessible fresh water
  2. Barren and dry; water from fruit and coconuts and rain
  3. Plenty of coastal food, shellfish, shoals
  4. Brutal sharp coral surrounding the island
  5. A high peak at the center for long visibility (if climbed)
  6. Crumbling ruins of a lost civilization
  7. Island formed around the ruins of a massive, ancient ship
  8. Coral atoll surrounding a deep blue hole
  9. Groves of dragonsblood trees (Socotra Island)
  10. Sharp, steaming volcanic activity (steam and magma mephits)

Next, I have a random table for the dominant living thing on a given island. I’m thinking of the islands having some basic island plants and animals, but there’s one dominant living thing, taken from this list:

Random Island Megafauna (and Megaflora): Shargon’s Teeth

Roll d10

  1. Giant marine iguanas
  2. Giant tortoises
  3. Carnivorous pisonia trees
  4. Giant racer snakes
  5. Giant ironweb spiders
  6. Basilisks
  7. A water weird
  8. Swarms of stirges
  9. Giant crabs
  10. A Pseudodragon

Last, I have whether there are intelligent inhabitants on the island. There’s a one third chance of each island being uninhabited by any intelligent creature, and then some interesting options:

Random Island Inhabitants: Shargon’s Teeth

Roll d12

  1. No one
  2. No one
  3. No one
  4. No one
  5. Sahuagin outpost
  6. Sahuagin outpost
  7. Locathah living in a blue hole, self-sustaining and hidden
  8. A subterranean, underwater cult of kuo-toa
  9. Feral victims of a previous shipwreck
  10. Escaped sea spawn
  11. Lizardfolk
  12. Sea hag

Obviously, these are specific to Shargon’s Teeth, and may not translate to any other particular setting. But I really like these as a starting-point for these particular islands, and I hope the PCs end up island-hopping for a while.

I also created a big random event and encounter table to keep the journey interesting. The results weren’t quite what I’d hoped, but I think I tried to cram too much into the voyage, including testing out Xanathar’s Guide’s downtime rules during the voyage and having some intrigue as well.

As often as you’d like, have a player roll a d100 and consult this table. Not all of these are supposed to be combat encounters – none of them were for our game. Rather, they were glimpses of a larger and sometimes scarier world:

 

1-4 Huge marine iguanas

5-6 Water elemental

7-8 Air elemental

9-10 Kraken

11-20 Sahuagin patrol

21-22 Dragon eel

23-24 Dragon turtle

25-26 Giant octopus

27-30 School of giant squid

31-35 Soarwood ship

36-46 Ship – roll to determine if it is a pirate

47-48 Wind galleon

49-50 Lyrandar airship

51-55 Pod of whales

56-60 Dolphins at the prow

61-64 Merfolk at the prow

65-67 Dragon (black, green, bronze or gold)

68-69 Stirges

70-80 Becalmed

81-91 Thunderstorm

92-93 Roc

94-95 Steam or ice mephits

96-97 Plesiosaurus

98-99 Coelacanth or other huge archaic fish

100 Roll twice

“Cursed” Items in D&D

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This post arose from a conversation on social media a few weeks ago on the topic of cursed items in D&D. I don’t think I’ve used a cursed item in any of my games for 20 years or more, not since I first started playing AD&D in ancient times. The reason is that I just don’t like how cursed items work in D&D – they’re merely a “gotcha.” They’re a way to ensure that players never experiment with mysterious objects, wondering what they do – they quarantine them until someone can find a 100gp pearl and let the Wizard sit down and identify them.

And that simply isn’t fun, at least not for me.

The cursed items that come to mind for me impose some kind of disadvantage or unwanted change on a character, and are of course always difficult to remove, requiring a remove curse spell or something equivalent. There’s just nothing interesting about that, in the game or in the story. As DM, I have innumerable ways to challenge or inconvenience the PCs without having to resort to a Girdle of Gender Change or a helmet you can’t take off.

So it got me thinking, and talking, and I came up with two categories of cursed items that are interesting: cursed items that tempt, and cursed items for evil characters.

Tempting Cursed Items

Why would an item have a curse on it? Presumably because a powerful evil spellcaster put the curse on it, or because the item was used to do something heinous and this event left a stain of some sort on it. Here I’m thinking of dragon-gold in Middle-Earth causing dragon-sickness, or the Spear of Longinus. In either case, the curse has a purpose aside from inconveniencing and frustrating the person who finds the item.

My favorite example of an item that is cursed in an interesting way is also a trope – the sword that cannot be sheathed until it draws blood. This is a good cursed item because it encourages a certain kind of behavior. You could easily imagine a sword used to betray a brother, for example, that now thirsts for blood. This is interesting to me because it provides a mechanical bonus – it is still a magical sword, and maybe even deals bonus damage – but it also tempts the character to behave in morally questionable ways. Maybe she draws the sword to threaten someone during a tense scene, and then realizes that she now has to wound someone before she can sheathe it.

“Cursed” Items for Evil Characters

This kind of cursed item simply comes from a reversal of assumptions, using the same principle above. An evil blackguard finds a healing potion that refills itself, but only when he makes a donation and receives a blessing at a shrine of the God of Healing. Or maybe he finds a shield that makes him impervious to arrows, but only if he has no weapon in his hand and deals no damage.

In this case, the magic item is still useful, which is key, but the ‘cost’ of using it is engaging in benevolent, or at least restrained, behavior. These could even be holy artifacts never meant to be carried by the evil folks who now have them, and so the beneficial effects built into the items are glitches for their new owner. From the examples above, the shield could have originally been the Shield of Reconciliation, created to enable diplomats and negotiators to safely cross a battlefield without being shot so that they could try to end the battle with diplomacy.

At Cross Purposes

As a thought experiment to get you mind running, imagine holy artifacts and benevolent magic items that would cause problems when used by evil characters. Perhaps the item only grants a benefit when defending someone else, or it has to be recharged by some benevolent action. Think of something that would be useful for a good person, but limit an evil person’s choices.

From the other side, imagine evil artifacts that would cause moral quandaries for a wielder who is neutral or good. Perhaps a weapon that always deals bonus poison damage, but therefore cannot be used to deal non-lethal damage, or a bow that always seeks out a target’s vitals, meaning if the archer critically fails, she’s likely to shoot an ally in the heart.

Feel free to comment with your ideas for “cursed” items in D&D. 

RPG Mechanic Round-Up #5: All D&D

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This post will include some repeats from the previous RPG Mechanic Round-Ups, but then again, very few people read those, so I imagine it’ll all be like new! Anyway, these are all of the little notes for house rules and hacks that I have for D&D:

Simplified Hirelings

Instead of having hirelings that the PCs then try to manipulate into walking ahead to set off traps or walk into ambushes, PCs simply hire them to eliminate a single kind of challenge. For example, PCs could hire a locksmith to bypass all locks during their adventure, or a guide to ensure that they find good camp sites each night, or are able to forage food as they travel. They could even hire a trap-springer to walk into traps for them if that’s what they want. In exchange for this help from the hireling, the PCs take a percentage reduction from their XP for that adventure, or maybe just miss out on the XP they would get from disarming those traps themselves.

Druid Circle of Rust

New D&D Druid circle: Circle of Rust. Rusting grasp, shatter, etc. Focused on conquering technology and civilization. (This is something I want to put the work into later)

Mystery Monsters

When you first encounter a monster in combat, especially in an ambush, you only get two or three descriptors for the monster. Then each round, you get one more descriptor, unless you take a moment to stand back and assess the situation. Otherwise, it’s a whirl of claws and teeth and blood and panic, and you’re just not seeing details. This is only for new monsters – monsters you’ve already encountered you’ll recognize.

Get Saved

I had the idea to add save points to D&D. I’m not sure if anyone would even want this. But have the PCs go to a temple and have a priest “save” them – for a large donation of course! Then if they die, they can come back to live at the temple with maybe a little loss of the XP you earned – 10% or so.

Bleeding Wounds

When a creature takes piercing or slashing damage, they begin to bleed 1 hit point each round on their turn. This is halted if they receive any magical healing, or after combat with a DC 10 Medicine check. This rule would also lead to cool scenes like tracking your opponent overland after they flee battle and try to regroup, following the dollops of monster blood on the ground. (Or monsters doing the same to chase the PCs down) Of course, this rule will make low-level adventuring even more brutal, but that’s the point.

Effects by Damage Type

I like adding special effects for the three types of physical damage. With a called shot made at disadvantage, a bludgeoning attack can deal damage and destroy one piece of armor; a piercing attack can deal double damage; and a slashing attack can deal normal damage and sever a limb.

Damage Bonus for Melee and Missile

Sometimes higher-level combats take too long, as the characters whittle down a monster’s hit points, and sometimes a higher-level character isn’t as dangerous as they should be, apart from having more hit points. A solution I’ve always had for this problem is to simply let all characters add their level to the damage they deal with melee or missile attacks.

Level Up Your Community

This idea has come up in a few tweets and posts lately, and I was also reminded of it playing through the Thieve’s Guild storyline in Skyrim. The idea is that as the character’s level, their community also levels. This can happen automatically, as their fame spreads, or can be something they pay into with all of that spare gold they accumulate. This system could also help tie them more deeply to a community – rather than leave for a larger city that has a better magic item store, through their heroics they build up their little village until it has a great magic item store of its own.

Simplified: Hit Dice Power Everything

When you have a special ability that is only available in a particular situation, like sneak attack perhaps, or with any limited special ability, make it so that the ability is powered by hit dice instead. The player describes how the conditions are met, spends the hit die, and the ability can be used. So, for example, the player playing the rogue says how her character feints to throw the monster off-balance for a moment, spends a hit die, and rolls the extra damage dice. I haven’t worked it out yet, but I think this can be adapted for most limited-use or situational-use PC abilities.

 

Hit-Point Hack

Low-level D&D can be grueling in a way that isn’t fun, especially in later versions of the game that are less meant to be meat-grinders. At the same time, when high-level characters have loads of hit points, it can be more difficult to challenge them without just arbitrarily increasing monster damage. My solution for this is for characters to begin with three hit dice instead of one hit die, and for their first hit die to continue to give maximum hit points. So a 1st level fighter, for example, would have 10 hit points, plus 2d10 hit points, plus 3 times her Constitution modifier.

At the upper end, I like the idea of lower hit points at higher levels, so I would say that a character stops gaining new hit dice with level 10. At 11th level and onward, she still gets any special abilities or spells as normal, but no new hit points. Technically, with the low-level hit point hack above, she would have the same hit points at level 10 that she would normally have at level 12, so I think it balances out well.

Buy Used

Settings like Forgotten Realms and Eberron are teeming with adventuring parties, and this would have to mean that there is a hot market for used adventuring gear. This used gear has a starting price that is equal to one half what the PHB or other sourcebook lists, with the caveat that when the player-character rolls a 1 using the equipment, or a monster rolls a critical hit (if it is armor) then it is damaged and useless until the character pays to have it repaired. Used weapons break on a 1, used armor breaks on a monster’s 20, and used equipment of any other kind also breaks on a 1.

No Overnight Healing

Healing is just rolling your remaining hit dice, rather than recovering all hit points.On the one hand, this will somewhat punish characters that had to use their hit dice to heal during short rests. On the other hand, it softens the “video game” effect of healing completely overnight.

Bullseye (Random Scatter)

Roll a d8 for random directional scatter, and then another die for distance from the intended target in concentric circles like a bullseye. On the d8, 1 is north, above, or away from the DM, and 5 is south, below, or toward the DM. The second die could be feet, or squares, or even inches in the given direction.

So, for example, a mirror golem deflects a lightning bolt in a random direction. You roll a 5 on the d8, so it is deflected toward the DM on the battle mat, and you roll a 4 on a d6, meaning it extends for 4 squares in that direction, electrocuting everyone along that line.

Disarm Feat

Grappling is famously bad in RPGs. I’m not sure how many players take the Grappler feat in D&D 5E, but I’m assuming that few do. In real-world martial arts, you often have to make someone miss in order to disarm them, and I thought it would be interesting to add an effect like that to the Grappler feat. Once per round, when an opponent misses an attack against you, you can use your reaction to try to disarm them with an opposed Strength roll. If you beat your opponent by 10 or more, you can grab their weapon for yourself.

Simplified Paralysis Effects

Paralysis effects are not fun. Really, any effect where you just lose your turn is not fun, in any game. A way to fix paralysis effects like hold person is for them to simply allow a single critical hit. Basically, they hold you paralyzed until you’re shocked back into action by a damaging strike. I think that this would provide enough bang for the proverbial buck.

XP for Conditions and Disadvantages

Another way to handle conditions and disadvantages, stolen from Chronicles of Darkness. You get XP when a condition affects you adversely, and it is up to the player to choose when these conditions will come up. This means that they don’t miss the character-defining d20 roll because they’re poisoned, but at the same time are rewarded for causing their characters trouble. This idea can be expanded to disadvantages as well. It would be up to the DM how much XP to award, and also what counts as enough of a problem caused to warrant it.

Simplified Conditions

Another way to handle conditions is to have each of them impose disadvantage once and then be cleared. This is much simpler and less punitive than the RAW, but some groups would prefer that. Another possibility is for some conditions to impose disadvantage more than once if they are more severe.

Equipment and Encumbrance by Kit

I have not enjoyed, or even been very interested in, tracking encumbrance for many years now. The system I use with another game I’ve designed is to have a character simply choose a “kit” that represents their equipment. (This also represents the idea that even adventurers aren’t always in full armor lugging their worldly possessions around with them)

Some examples could be war kit, travel kit, hunting kit, town/city kit, etc. It could also be simplified to light, medium and heavy. These kits could work as ‘presets’ for equipment, as exist in a lot of video games, and could also be a way to abstract out what exactly a character is carrying. For example, hunting kit would assume the character isn’t wearing armor, since they would be focusing on stealth and mobility, whereas war kit would include all of their combat gear but none of their other gear, since no one wants to fight with a huge pack on their back.

Historical Bows

This is just a historical tweak for bow terminology in D&D beyond short versus long. A hunting bow would be smaller and more maneuverable, and would deal d6 damage (around 40-50 pounds draw). a horse bow would be heavier than a hunting bow, meant to go through armor and shoot at long range in combat, but still small enough to use from horseback, dealing d8 damage (60-100 pounds draw). A war bow would be huge and heavy, requiring years of training to learn how to draw fully, but would deal perhaps d10 damage (100+ pounds draw).

Critical Options

I like the Paizo Critial Deck(s) and having other options for critical hits. I even kind of liked the Rolemaster/MERP critical hit tables. I like having options for critical hits beyond double damage, and here are some that I like to use I my games:

  1. Automatically deal max damage (similar to double damage rolled, but more predictable)
  2. Deal normal damage and knock your opponent prone
  3. Deal normal damage and blind your opponent until your next turn
  4. Deal normal damage and disarm your opponent (weapon falls at their feet)
  5. Deal normal damage and destroy your opponent’s shield
  6. Deal normal damage and stagger your opponent, cutting their movement in half until your next turn

Automatic Downtime

I need to revisit this idea in light of Xanathar’s Guid eto Everything and how it expands downtime rules, but the idea here is for things to happen over downtime automatically, based on a character’s class and possibly background. A guild artisan slowly rises up in their guild hierarchy; a fighter builds a reputation that draws other warriors to her banner; a cleric receives donations and tithes and puts them toward building a shrine or temple in the area; and so on. Wizards slowly create scrolls; warlocks are shown occult secrets in dreams. This is to replace more complex systems that require rolling and saving up gold pieces, but on the other hand keeps the development of the characters and the world around them front and center during downtime.

Bards Rock

In D&D, there is absolutely no reason for a bard to ever play a musical instrument unless they are out of combat, or they are using some kind of artifact item. I’ve always thought that bards should get a bonus of some kind for only using an instrument and their music in combat.

I have a few ideas for this one, none of which I’ve tried in 5E, for when a bard uses a musical instrument in combat:

  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

 

Some of these will be full posts when I have time to flesh them out and add details, but ideas are cheap. Steal and enjoy!

5E Eberron Campaign

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I’m currently starting up a 5th Edition Eberron campaign. I have a lot of the books from the original version of Eberron in 3.5, and therefore more fluff than I could ever use, but it will take some adaptation to run this game. Unearthed Arcana has released some updates for basic Eberron material, which I am taking as my starting-point.

House Rules

First, some house rules. I can’t seem to run any RPG without at least a few house rules, and D&D is no exception.

Players roll all the dice. I just like this way of running a game, especially a game like D&D. I feel like the game slows to a crawl whenever the DM needs to roll dice for all the monsters and NPCs. Basically, where NPCs have bonuses I make those DCs, and where PCs have DCs (like Armor Class) I make those bonuses. I also use set damage, as in the MM. (Bonus: based on our first session, this rule works amazingly well, and is now how I DM)

Let it ride. I use this rule in all of my games. I get it from Burning Wheel. Basically, once you roll for something, the stakes remain. One stealth roll to sneak all the way in the castle. One roll to pick the lock. You can’t make another attempt until the conditions change.

Action points. One element of Eberron is Action Points. To emulate those in 5E, I just made the simple change that players can store, and swap, points of inspiration. Over time they can build up, and have a similar function to Action Points.

I’m also going to be working on house rules for House Tarkanan aberrant dragonmarks and the effects of the Mark of Vol, which I will share when I have them.

Principles

Everyone’s hack of D&D 5E to run Eberron will be a bit different. Here is what I have in mind for my own: in the Eberron setting material as written, as usual for 3.X D&D, the NPCs often have PC character classes, sometimes mixed with NPC classes. 5E’s approach from the Monster Manual and onward seems to be much more about exception-based design, including for humanoids who have abilities very similar to player-character classes.

One thing from Eberron that I’ll retain is that there are not many high-level NPCs in the world. So you get a setting where tons of characters have first-level spells of various kinds, and spells are relatively common up to maybe 3rd level, but if you need someone resurrected you’ll have to go on a question to find some sort of religious figure who can help you out. There also end up being plenty of threats that only the PCs can really deal with in the world, as CR 20 monsters abound.

Obsidian Portal

I love using Obsidian Portal for campaign management. It’s a good way to have a lot of my worldbuilding notes right in front of me, to track player-characters and NPCs, and to have something cool for players to dig through looking for Easter eggs that will help them in-game. This is my Obsidian portal page for Shadows of the Last War.

They Didn’t Meet In A Bar

To introduce the characters to one another, I threw them into a pretty contrived fight scene where some of their backgrounds came out all at once. After that, though, I had to have a reason for them to be working together. I hate the stage in a game where the PCs are pretending not to want to work together, so I decided to just force them together early on, and the players were OK with that. Sharn gave me an option I hadn’t used before – because of the high rent in Deathsgate where they all wanted to live, they are roommates. So now it’s a sort of dysfunctional episode of Friends, and the players all introduced their characters to each other by answering the question, “What kind of roommate are you?” It went great, and I recommend it as something to have in the goodie-bag for ways to get the party together early in a game, especially an urban one.

RPG Mechanic Round-Up #2

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More of the snippets of mechanics that I thought were worth sharing – to add to your own games, or hack into the games you’re running, or provide a jumping-off point for your own design.

Generalized Saving Throws

This is a bit of an OSR-related thought. As I look at the saving throws from OD&D or other OSR games, they strike me as very…specific. Like, a save versus wands? That is different from a save versus spells? All kinds of spells? All kinds of wands?

I think that 3.X had a great response to this, one of the best aspects of that redesign, which was to reduce those down to three saves: Fortitude, Reflex and Will. The question becomes – what are you defending against, if not a physical attack (which Armor Class handles)? Roll that save.

I thought about generalized saving throws, that would cover most situations that would come up in OSR games but aren’t quite as generic as the 3.X saves. Same question – what are you defending against? Or, what are you trying to do? The ones I came up with are: take cover (avoid blasts, area of effect attacks, breath weapons, etc.), remain calm (resist attempts to control emotions, enrage, instill fear, etc.), retain control (resist attempts at mind-control), break free of restraints (covers things like being turned to stone as well as ensnaring attacks).

last night in a conversation with a friend, we also came up with the Danny Glover Saving Throw, or the “I’m getting too old for this shit” saving throw. It would based entirely off of the character’s level, and would represent the fact that you’d only really learn to survive these extraordinary circumstances through experience. But it is just a measure of the character’s canny-ness and self-preservation, built up through an adventuring career as opposed to something you learn in adventurer school.

Debts Tracked Like Wounds

I had the idea that it would be interesting to list a character’s debts right on their character sheet, especially in a game that is heavy in social economy like Vampire the Masquerade. I think some extended character sheets from White Wolf might have had a “Boons” section, but I like the idea of debts right there staring you in the face when you look at your character. Very often, especially in most traditional games, what you have is real, whereas what you owe, or who you are connected to, is ephemeral. I think that the game becomes about what is on the character, or at least it should be about that for the players, and so putting debts on the character sheet like wounds or other conditions would potentially make an interesting change in a game and how players approach it.

To color the game a paritcular way, it would be great to start the game in significant debt. That’s definitely something everyone but Baby Boomers at the table could relate to, if nothing else. And in a game like, again, Vampire, it makes sense that you would start play indebted to the Prince (for letting you be Embrace) and to your Sire (for teaching and protecting you) and maybe even a Clan Elder or Primogen (because unlife is unfair).

Hold Person Revisited

Few spells are less fun in a D&D game than the hold person line of spells – spells or abilities that immobilize the victim. When used on a player-character, in particular, it just means, “Sorry player, you get to sit there doing nothing for a half hour while we work this whole combat out. Grab a snack?” Recent iterations of D&D have tried to address this by allowing a save every round to break the effect, but often this just means that hold person is almost never used. It doesn’t provide the crowd-control advantage, and PCs often have really good saving throws and get out of it quickly. But it’s still basically “save versus not having fun anymore.”

I was thinking of how to adapt hold person. Maybe what it does is enable a single attack, with advantage from 5E or the equivalent from your system of choice, that does damage as if it was a critical hit once, and then the effect expires. Basically, it holds the victim still long enough to really smash them, and then ends. I think this could be preferable because there is some tension – the player has to watch helpless as the monster closes in on their character, knowing a huge hit is coming. The PCs see the NPC freeze up when they fail the save, and call in the heavy hitter to take them out in one epic hit.

At the very least, it is a little bit less “save versus not having fun anymore.”

Still More to Come

I have more where these came from. I’m keeping these posts relatively short and sweet, and probably have material for at least two more. So, keep an eye out, and as always feel free to share your own ideas…

Large-Sized Characters In 5E D&D

As it stands, making any large-sized playable race in D&D 5E is more of a problem than is likely to be worthwhile. According to the DMG, a large-size playable race would deal double weapon damage at level 1, and with the way hit dice work in the MM, it could be argued that their class hit dice would be upgraded by one die type, meaning a large-sized fighter for example would have d12 hit dice instead of d10 due to size.

These huge advantages would be balanced out a bit by the fact that a large PC would have to squeeze in a lot of common situations – traveling through Dwarven tunnels or visiting the ubiquitous pseudo-Medieval taverns. I’d assume, though, that the DM would just have to adjust for that, reducing the number of five-foot-wide corridors and so on in a given adventure, or else the player playing the large PC would just be left out. Somewhat balanced, but definitely no fun, leaving a situation where the PC would have all the advantages and probably few, or none, of the constraints of being large.

The effects of the Enlarge/Reduce spell in the PHB suggest another interpretation, a bit less advantageous than what the DMG and MM imply. An enlarged creature deals +1d4 damage with their enlarged weapon and have advantage on Strength checks and Strength saves and that’s pretty much it. Presumably, the DM just improvises the effects of being enlarged where it would be a detriment rather than an advantage, and obviously a savvy caster would not enlarge an ally in the middle of a cramped room or hallway designed for medium-sized species.

I don’t think either approach to a large-sized playable race is particularly good, whether taking our cue from the DMG and MM, or from the PHB. That being said, I like the idea of a large-sized playable race a lot. I think it adds something to a setting and to the options available to players, and there should be a way to balance things out. In 3.X this balance came in part with a penalty to Armor Class and stealth checks, and I think that makes sense conceptually.

So here is what I think a large-sized race or species in D&D 5E should include: +1d4 damage from large-sized weapons, advantage on Strength saves and Strength checks, disadvantage on Dexterity saves and Dexterity checks, +1 hit points per level, and a cost of living multiplied by four (including meals, water skins, clothing, equipment, etc.).

An Example: Dark Sun’s Half Giant

Ability Score Increase. Your Strength and Constitution score both increase by 2.

Age. Half-giants live about twice as long as humans, becoming adults around the age of 25 and often living to 170 (for the few who die of old age).

Alignment. Half-giants adopt their alignment from the people they spend the most time with, or fear or respect most. This means that their alignment will be more subject to change than others, though one axis will tend to remain consistent. So they might be consistently Good, but sometimes Chaotic and sometimes Lawful, or consistently Chaotic, but sometimes Good and sometimes Evil.

Powerful Build. Half-giants have advantage on Strength checks and Strength saves.  They also have disadvantage on Dexterity checks and Dexterity saves. In addition, their build grants them +1 hit points per level.

Size. Half-giants are Large sized creatures. They occupy a 10′ by 10′ square, and have a 5′ reach. They also deal +1d4 damage with all weapons, in addition to the listed damage.

Speed. Half-giants have a base speed of 35 feet.

Upkeep. The cost of living and cost of all equipment for a half-giant is four times the usual amount.