D&D: What Are Hit Points (by Class)?

There’s always debate as to what hit points actually are – to what degree hit points represent meat, or luck, or destiny; near-misses, absorbing damage on shield or armor, and so on. I like thinking of hit points as representing something different for different classes, and I describe them differently depending on which PC is taking the damage. 

Barbarians

Since barbarians’ armor class comes from their Dexterity and Constitution, rather than armor, I picture their bodies criss-crossed by scars like Strong Belwas. (How did Strong Belwas never make it into the GoT show? He’s fire) Hit points for barbarians are them just physically absorbing minor injuries and walking through them, twisting to turn a deadly blow into a glancing one and turning to take a hit aimed at the head on the shoulder. At the end of combat, I picture barbarians as the grimiest of the PCs. For barbarians, a lot of their hit points are really just meat points.

Bards and Rogues

For bards and rogues, hit points represent near-misses, clever escapes, and glancing blows turned aside by their quickness. I’m more likely to describe a “hit” that has struck a bard or rogue as a near-miss that startles them – they feel the wind of the blade as it passes an inch from their face, that kind of thing. Only their last few hit points represent actual meat.

Clerics, Fighters and Paladins

Clerics, fighters and paladins are normally in medium or heavy armor, often carry shields, and so I see their hit points involving a lot of taking shots on their armor. An attack that is blocked by a shield can still bruise or stun the person beneath. A helm can save you from a killing blow to the head but still ring your bell or make you see stars.

Druids, maybe Rangers

Somewhere between bards and rogues on the one hand and clerics, fighters and paladins on the other, I see druids and rangers as healing deceptively quickly. They might be hit in combat, but the damage is always less than it looks. They are able to shrug off a surprising amount of injury before it begins to show. Druids will also often take damage in shapechange form and then shrug it off when they change back to humanoids, and rangers are often ranged fighters who aren’t in the midst of fights as often as other high-hit-point classes.

Monks

For monks I picture a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon style fights where there is a lot of flash but weapons just happen to hand on the flat of the blade and attacks are partially deflected before they land. Often the attack that really lands solidly is the one that brings them down, since monks normally have no armor at all.

Sorcerers, Warlocks and Wizards

Unarmored like monks, and also normally far from melee combat like rangers, one would think that the arcane casters would be invariably squishy. That being said, I’ve found it’s really common for arcane casters to give themselves a high Constitution score for survive-ability. Often, Constitution is an arcane caster’s second-highest ability score. I often see arcane casters with higher hit points than druids, rogues and the like. They also often have some form of magical armor, spell armor, temporary hit points and so on, and so I tend to note that when describing hit point loss, often describing it as being absorbed by magic initially.

How do you describe hit points in your game?

5E Magic Items: Dragonlance

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Magical items on Krynn are often rare and usually supported by a particular story. According to the original Dragonlance adventure modules, many 5th level characters would have +1 magical weapons and armor, but this may have had a lot to do with conventions for AD&D modules at the time. (+1 magical items might have been the equivalent of masterwork in 3E) There are certainly some items that are more memorable in themselves, that loom large in the Age of Despair, like the Dragonlance itself, or the Staff of Magius.

Axe of Brotherhood and the Sword of Friendship

A dwarven battle axe and a longsword in the style of the humans of Abanasinia – each weapon is a +2 magical weapon, and when wielded within 30′ of each other they function as +3 magic weapons. They were originally created in tandem to represent  friendship between the dwarves of Thorbardin and the humans of Abanasinia.

Bloodstone of Fistandantilus

The Bloodstone enables it’s wielder to attempt to replace the soul of a victim with their own soul, taking over their body permanently. When it is time to try to seize a body, the wielder of the Bloodstone must be within 30′ of their intended victim. The victim must make a Charisma saving throw against the spellcasting DC of the Bloodstone’s wielder. If they succeed on the roll, they are merely frightened, but are also immune to the Bloodstone’s power for a year and a day. The victim must be a humanoid with at least three levels as an arcane spellcaster.

If the save fails, the wielder of the Bloodstone drives out the victim’s soul and replaces it with their own. They take over the victim’s body, taking on their Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution scores. The wielder of the Bloodstone carries their own Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma scores with them.

There is a window of time during which the wielder’s soul might be driven out of the new body – it takes 30 full days to take root in the new body, at which point the old soul becomes a ghost cursed to wander the material plane until it dissipates.

Blue Crystal Staff

The Blue Crystal Staff is, among other things, a Plot Device. It lets you do things like teleport characters out of danger, or into it. It is described as dealing damage to any evil creature that tries to touch it, and also as possessing powerful healing capabilities.

During the Age of Despair, the Blue Crystal Staff should provide the healing abilities of about a 5th level cleric: cure wounds, healing word, prayer of healing, and mass healing word, as well as perhaps remove curse and restoration.

If any creature of evil alignment tries to touch the staff, they must make a DC 15 Dexterity save against 3d6 lightning damage, taking half damage with a successful save. If used as a weapon, the Blue Crystal Staff deals 1d6 bludgeoning damage plus 1d6 lightning damage against enemies with an evil alignment.

Dagger of Magius

There is more than one Dagger of Magius out in the world, as it is a name that any magical dagger carried by arcane spellcasters might have. The original Dagger of Magius, however, is a +3 magical dagger.

Dragon Armor

Magical scale armor worn by dragon highlords and other powerful dragon-riders in Takhisis’s army during the War of the Lance. It gives a +2 AC bonus and counts as cold weather gear. The armor also gives resistance to an element based on its color: fire for red dragonscale, electricity for blue dragonscale, poison for green dragonscale, acid for black dragonscale, and cold for white dragonscale.

Flute of Wind Dancing

Granted by undersea peoples as gifts, these flutes grant magical abilities to those who play them. A character can cast the following spells once per long rest: fog cloud, gust of wind, wind wall, and control weather.

Footman’s (Lesser) Dragonlance

Similar to an Oathbow, the Footman’s Dragonlance is a +1 lance that deals 2d12 damage against all creatures of the dragon type and 1d12 damage otherwise, with a 10′ reach. This is a basic Dragonlance of the type that would be manufactured by Theoros Ironfeld for use against the Dark Queen’s dragons. It can be forged using the Hammer of Kharas, without the Silver Arm of Ergoth.

Mounted (Greater) Dragonlance

The mounted, or greater Dragonlance is a +3 lance that deals 1d12 damage plus 3d6 damage against all creatures of the dragon type, with an additional 1d12 damage if it comes at the end of an aerial charge. It has a reach equal to the dragon’s bite attack, as each Dragonlance is built for a particular dragon. These Dragonlances can only be forged by a smith using a combination of the Hammer of Kharas and the Silver Arm of Ergoth.

Glasses of the Arcanist

These magical glasses enable the wearer to understand any written text. Using the Glasses of the Arcanist, a character can cast comprehend languages once per short rest.

Glasses of True Seeing

A more powerful version of the Glasses of the Arcanist, the Glasses of True Seeing grant the following magical spells once per long rest: darkvision, comprehend languages, and true sight.

Hammer of Kharas

Using the Hammer of Kharas, a character who is proficient with blacksmithing tools can forge a lesser, or footman’s Dragonlance. Used as a melee weapon, the Hammer counts as a +2 warhammer. When wielded by a dwarf, the hammer also grants the effect of a belt of stone giant strength.

Medallion of Faith

Holy symbols for members of the Holy Orders of the Stars are self-replicating. When a new cleric devotes themselves to the service of one of the gods, another cleric of that god is able to use their medallion of faith to create a new one to give to the new cleric. A medallion of faith can be used to create a medallion corresponding to similar gods, as per the DM’s discretion. (i.e. a medallion of faith in Mishakal probably cannot create a medallion of Zeboim).

Nightbringer

A huge black iron mace given to Dragon Highlord Verminaard by Takhisis herself, Nightbringer is a +2 heavy mace. Three times per long rest, upon striking an opponent, the wielder can say the word “midnight” and temporarily blind their foe. They are blinded until their next turn, at which point they can make a Constitution save against a DC of 17 to restore their sight, continuing to make saves each turn until their sight is restored. If they are still within 30′ of the wielder of Nighbringer, they make these saves at a disadvantage.

Nightjewel

A magical amulet given by the Master of the Tower of High Sorcery at Palanthas, enabling them to attempt to pass through the Shoikan Grove. When in the Grove, it sheds dim light for 10′, and no undead of the Grove can enter that circle of light. If the person using the Nightjewell makes a weapon or spell attack, the effect is immediately cancelled.

Plate of Solamnus

Created before the founding of the Knights of Solamnia, these suits of magical plate armor were thought to only have been worn by Knights of the Rose until Huma wore one during the Third Dragon War. When worn by a Knight of Solamnia, the Plate of Solamnus functions as +3 full plate armor. When worn by a non-Knight, it functions as +1 full plate armor. When a creature of evil alignment attempts to don the plate, they must make a Constitution saving throw against a DC of 15, taking 3d10 radiant damage on a failed save and half damage with a successful save.

Silver Arm of Ergoth

A magical silver arm that must be used to replace a humanoid’s lost arm. When in place, it functions exactly as a normal arm, but also enables the wearer to attempt to forge a Dragonlance. While wearing the arm, a humanoid regenerates 1 hit point on each of its turns, or about 10 hit points per minute, and will regenerate lost limbs and organs as per the regenerate spell.

Staff of Magius

A magical staff before Magius, who fought alongside Huma, came to possess it, the Staff of Magius passed in time to Raistlin, and later to Palin Majere.

Once per short rest, the staff enables it’s wielder to cast light centered on the crystal at the top of the staff. Once per long rest, the wielder of the staff can also cast feather fall. If someone who is not its possessor touches the Staff, they must make a DC 18 Wisdom saving throw to resist being under the effects of a confusion spell. The staff counts as a +2 weapon when used in melee combat.

The Staff is also a magical artifact and Plot Device which grows in power over time as its wielder grows in power .

Warbringer

A +3 greatsword, once wielded by Steeltoe the ogre bandit, and then by Caramon Majere when he slew Steeltoe. Warbringer would become an heirloom of the Majere family.

Wyrmsbane

Forged during the Second Dragon War to defend the realm of Silvanesti. It is a +2 longsword with a falcon-shaped crossguard. The wielder is granted advantage on saving throws against breath weapons. Once per long rest, Wyrmsbane enables its wielder to cast locate object.

Wyrmslayer

Sister to Wyrmsbane, with an eagle-shaped crossguard. It vibrates in the hand when within 30′ of a chromatic dragon, and dragons are sensitive to the sound of humming that comes from it. It is a +2 longsword that deals an extra 3d6 damage to creatures of the dragon type, and it grants advantage on saving throws against draconian death effects.

Arcane Traditions: Wizards of High Sorcery

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During the Age of Despair, wizards are either ‘renegade mages’ or are members of one of the Orders of High Sorcery: the White, Red or Black Robes. At 2nd level, when a wizard character chooses an arcane tradition, they do so as normal, keeping these specializations in mind:

  • White Robes: abjuration, divination and enchantment
  • Red Robes: conjuration, illusion and transmutation
  • Black Robes: enchantment,  evocation and necromancy

As normal, wizards learn new spells when they reach 2nd and 3rd level. At 3rd level, they become eligible to take the Test of High Sorcery. Until they complete the Test, they will not learn new spells when they level, and will only be able to learn spells they find in other ways – as treasure, scrolls, etc.

White Robes and Black Robes share an interest in enchantment, for different reasons. White Robes focus on the use of enchantment magic to resolve conflicts without bloodshed. Black Robes enjoy the power of taking away another’s will.

Test of High Sorcery

At 3rd level, a wizard can take the Test of High Sorcery. If they survive, they become a member of one of three Orders: the White Robes, Red Robes, or Black Robes. When they gain a new level as a Wizard of High Sorcery, they can learn two spells from any of their three associated schools.

Order of High Sorcery

At 6th level, the wizard chooses a new Arcane Tradition option from any of the Arcane Tradition options associated with their Order.

Bound to the Moon

At 10th level, a Wizard of High Sorcery becomes bound to one of the three moons of Krynn. Each of the Orders of High Sorcery is bound to one of the three moons of Krynn; the White Robes to Lunitari, the Red Robes to Solinari, and the Black Robes to Nuitari, which only they can see. When the moon is in high sanction, your spells are empowered, and when it is in low sanction, your spells are impeded. Nuitari swiftly waxes and wanes; Lunitari’s cycle is much longer, and Solinari’s lies somewhere between the two. The advantage is that a Wizard of High Sorcery can plan for this cycle.

When a wizard’s moon is in high sanction, they receive a +1 to spell save DCs and spell attack rolls. When it is in low sanction, they take a -1 penalty to both.

Master of High Sorcery

At 14th level, a Wizard of High Sorcery is known as a Master, and is eligible to serve on the Conclave on behalf of his Order. The wizard can either choose a 14th level benefit from a school associated with their Order, or choose a 10th level benefit from any school of magic learned from one of her colleagues.

More Arcane Casters

Bards in Krynn

Bards in Krynn are likely to be devotees of Branchala, or possibly Gilean (lore) or Shinare (travel and trade). Maybe Sargonnas? The ability of bards to cast healing spells would make them sought-after miracle-workers during the Age of Despair in particular, and as they grow in power they would surely garner the attention of the Wizards of High Sorcery. It might even be necessary for a powerful bard to pass the Test of High Sorcery in order to avoid being labeled “renegade mages.” That would be an interesting way of handling the Wizards of High Sorcery, since they came about when the setting only had one arcane spellcaster, the magic-user. The become a kind of Mafia charging protection, or a questionable Union that everyone has to join or else face consequences.

Sorcerers in Krynn

The term “sorcerer” comes to mean something else in the Age of Mortals, but I prefer the Age of Despair for DnD and so am only really addressing that time period. Sorcerers would be the very definition of “renegade mages”, able to replicate many wizard abilities but without the training and discipline required of a wizard. Wild magic sorcers could be Chaos-touched, and dragon-blooded sorcerers would presumably be common among draconians. Since all dragons on Krynn can shapeshift to humanoid forms, there could theoretically be a lot of dragon-blooded mortals out there in the world.

Warlocks in Krynn

5th Edition adds another core class of arcane spellcasters into the mix, and they are not a great fit with Krynn, in the Age of Despair or later settings. Pre-Catyclism, maybe. But fiends and fey, and certainly Old Ones, do not play a big part in the story of Krynn. Of course, they could.

The Forestmaster is a possible fey or celestial patron, for example, and any number of fiends might be in the world serving Takhisis. The god Chaos could take the place of the Old Ones, since that chaos has a sinister overtone and is presented as being in contention with the High God of the setting.

Eldritch Knights and Arcane Tricksters

Neither of these archetypes, nor similar ones, are likely to be a bit deal during any age of Krynn. They don’t become so powerful as to come to the notice of the Wizards of High Sorcery necessarily, and will both be so extraordinary as to be singular (like Gilthanas Kanan or possibly Ariakas).

Keep Casters Extraordinary

In any age of Krynn, it is not a setting replete with magical items and spellcasters. The vast majority of people on Krynn have little or no experience of magic, and many mistrust it, especially in the aftermath of the Cataclysm. A PC wizard will often be the first wizard many people have seen. Same for a PC bard or sorcerer, certainly for a PC warlock. It’s actually easier if you treat these casters as extraordinary in the setting, because there is less explaining to do. Why aren’t bards tested at a Tower of High Sorcery? Because no one has heard these magical songs before. What even are they? And so on.

What have you done in your Dragonlance games to accommodate the variety of casters in DnD 5E?

5E Martial Archetype: Knight of Solamnia

Martial Archetype: Knight of Solamnia

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Knight of the Crown

At 3rd level you become a Knight of the Crown and no longer a Squire. You receive a suit of Solamnic Plate, and fall under the Oath and the Measure. You are expected to exemplify the virtues of Loyalty and Obedience.

Solamnic Plate

Solamnic Plate armor is passed down within a family. It is either a suit of half plate or plate armor, and functions as +1 magical armor when worn by a Knight of Solamnia.

Knight of the Sword

At 7th level, you are eligible to be raised to the rank of Knight of the Sword. The Oath and the Measure now demands Courage, Heroism, and Faith.

Spellcasting

At 7th level,  you are able to cast spells from the Cleric spell list, as below. Your spellcasting ability is your Wisdom, and the DC for saves against your spells is equal to 8 + your proficiency modifier + your Wisdom modifier.

Level 1st 2nd 3rd
7th 2
8th 3
9th 3
10th 3
11th 4 2
12th 4 2
13th 4 2
14th 4 3
15th 4 3
16th 4 3
17th 4 3 2
18th 4 3 2
19th 4 3 3
20th 4 3 3

Knight of the Rose

At 10th level, you are eligible to be raised to a Knight of the Rose. The Oath and the Measure calls upon you to exemplify Justice and Wisdom.

Inspiring Command

At 10th level, a Knight of Solamnia can choose an ally within 60’ and issue an inspiring command as a bonus action. The ally can then spend a d8 either as bonus damage on their next attack or gain d8 temporary hit points. The Knight of Solamnia is able to issue this command once per point of Charisma modifier, with a minimum of once. This ability recharges after a long rest.

Turn the Tide

At 15th level, a Knight of Solamnia can use a bonus action to inspire all allies within 30’ who can hear her. These allies each gain d10 temporary hit points. The Knight can use this ability once per Charisma bonus, with a minimum of once. This ability recharges after a long rest.

Unshakable

At 18th level, a Knight of Solamnia is immune to the frightened and stunned conditions.

 

My D&D 5E House Rules

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.

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.

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.

Deeper Backgrounds

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.

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).

RPG Mechanics Round-Up #8

Elvish Skill

I have toyed with an idea, which I haven’t used in a (finished) game design yet, that is an attempt to deal with a diminishing return in gaining skill combined with the incredibly long lives of elves. Even D&D’s non-immortal elves live for 700-1000 years. The idea I came up with is to have what amounts to only 3 levels of ability in any given skill (as measured by elves): 1 year, 10 years, and 100 years. (This also echoes the Chinese aphorisms about how it takes 10 weeks to learn the spear, 10 months to learn the dao, and 10 years to learn the jiann). After 100 years, diminishing returns seem like they would be such that measurable improvement would be unlikely. In a setting with elves and non-elves, non-elves would be limited to a skill level of 10 years (about how long it takes to earn a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu if you are working hard at it).

Burnout

I like the idea of having the option of burning out a repeatable ability in one big demonstration. That is, say you can do Ability X three times a day, or once per short rest. If you choose, you can choose some dramatic moment to do something that is equivalent to 5X or even 10X. After that, though, you lose the ability permanently. This could be a lead into a ‘Retire in Safety’ mechanic or another peaceful end for the character, and of course only makes sense for characters who have repeatable, likely supernatural, abilities.

Secrets on Page 1

I wonder what effect it would have to write a secret, or multiple secrets, about the character on the character sheet. (There is a mechanic for this in Parsec) Probably in some groups it would no effect, but in a Vampire the Masquerade group for example, each vampire having to have their secrets written out on their character sheets (preferably on page 1) just might have an interesting, subtle impact at the table. A little layer of suspicion added to any interaction.

Deeper Backgrounds

Here I’m going to take the example of backgrounds in D&D 5E, which are a great addition to the system in my opinion, and could be taken further. Almost every adventurer character ever created is an orphan with no social ties at all when the game begins – that just seems to be a truism at this point. Some systems make a player create a more detailed, interconnected background at character creation for that reason – otherwise very few will. World of Darkness games even added this element to the game itself in the prelude session, during which we see the character in scenes from their life before the supernatural stuff hits the fan.

For the remainder of this round-up, I am going to go through the backgrounds in the 5E PHB and note briefly how they could be expanded to include some family members, friends and social connections in a character’s life. (H/T to Fate and the Fablemaidens for indirectly reminding me to expand this idea and post it)

Acolyte: a criminal or sinner whom you are trying to reform; parents and family whose religious views strongly differ from yours; the gravesite of your mentor which you visit every year to make a small offering to their spirit; a rival member of your religion who believes you lack conviction

Charlatan: a minor local noble whom you embarrassed; a widow who believes you are psychic; a sibling who is always trying to get you on the straight and narrow path; a parent who tsks at what you do but makes sure you aren’t disowned

Criminal: an elderly priest or priestess who fed you when you were down and out; loving parents who believe you are a traveling salesperson; your best friend growing up who is now a recruit in the town guard; the heir of a local noble or wealthy family who has a forbidden crush on you

Entertainer: the amazing performer who inspired you to get started years ago; the leader of your small, but growing, local fan-club; a pen-pal who is always offering to put you up at their place if you make the journey to perform for them; hardworking, dour siblings who don’t understand your art

Folk Hero: the tyrant or corrupt official’s remaining agents in the area; your proud family, including a sibling who looks up to you and wants to be just like you; the person back home who everyone assumed you were going to marry

Guild Artisan: the head of your local guild chapter; your master, now too old to practice the trade; a local merchant or noble who is one of your primary buyers; someone who supplies raw materials whose personality is the opposite of yours

Guild Merchant: your mule, who is smarter than she looks; your family, whose signature business is one you detest; a rival who betrayed you on a key deal; a particular gate guard, with whom you have the best banter; a performer, who gets their best material from stories of your travels

Hermit: the villager who would come each week to bring you fresh supplies and news, in exchange for your wisdom; an extraordinary talking animal that would sometimes visit you in seclusion; your family of origin, who have strong feelings about what you’re doing (good or bad, you choose)

Noble: the peasant who looks a lot like you, with whom you exchanged places once as kids; the doting nurse who actually raised you while your parents were at court; a younger sibling whom you are always getting out of trouble

Outlander: your folks back home, and perhaps the reason you don’t live there now; a sweetheart from your adolescence who went looking for you; a bird or small animal who just follows you wherever you go; another local wanderer with whom you share news, food and shelter when your paths cross

Sage: your first tutor, now like a parental figure for you; a rival scholar who wants to discredit you; a small-time loan shark who still says you owe her back payments on student loans; your proud family, either many academics, or perhaps you’re the first among them to go for higher education

Sailor: if you have a lover in every port, there’s one of them that feels true; the salty old dog who taught you everything they know; your siblings, who count the days until you return from time at sea; the bartender at your favorite seaside watering hole

Soldier: your drill instructor, who has a new insult for you every time you meet; a comrade who was crippled in battle and had to retire early; the person you’re engaged to marry as soon as you return home; a gruff parent who was also a career soldier; the ghost of the first person you ever killed

Urchin: the kind local noble who would always give you a few spare coins; your best friend who got lucky and married out of the life; a fixer who always has local gossip; the leader of the gang you were in as a kid; the innkeeper who would give you a place to sleep when the weather was bad

D&D 5E Hack: No Cash

I understand what the designers and developers were thinking when they changed how gold and magic items interact in 5th Edition. Magic items are supposed to be special, and having them available at any old magic item shop makes them less so. They just become another way you level up, a steady incline of power the way that class abilities are, which makes them redundant. I get it.

The problem is that 100% of D&D gaming groups I have ever played with have wanted to go shopping for magic items with their gold. Every single one, to varying degrees, particularly starting with 3rd Edition. What this has meant in practice is that the DMG was missing something when it was missing magic item prices, something players would almost immediately demand, and so along comes Xanathar’s Guide to Everything with it’s downtime option of purchasing magic items. It is OK, I’ve used it, but it leaves something to be desired. It requires a roll every time a player asks how much a particular magic item might cost.

So I came up with a simple hack of 5E where you can get rid of cash altogether.

When a character wants to buy something beyond the incidental – drinks, simple rooms at the inn, meals, etc., they roll using their flat Proficiency bonus. On a success, they can find what they want to buy and can afford it. On a failure, either they can’t find it, or they can’t afford it, or they get the item but go into debt. Debt is like disadvantage, you can only do it once. Once you’re in debt, you can’t go further into debt. While in debt, your Proficiency score rolls to buy things are at disadvantage.

Sometimes, a PC will be Flush With Cash. This means they just went through a dungeon or pulled of a heist or found buried treasure. When Flush With Cash, characters roll their Proficiency bonus to buy things with advantage. The DM decides when the cash runs out, or you can say that the first time you fail a roll, you’re out of the extra cash and back to your usual means.

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 20

Of course DMs can fell free to not allow players to roll for things that aren’t available. Also, I’d use the normal downtime rules for looking to buy a magic item, and make the PC spend a week looking. Often in a game, time is more valuable than gold anyway.

Oh, and all 1st level characters start the game in debt unless they have the Noble Background, in which case they start off Flush With Cash. 🙂

I also like the idea that the PCs’ standard of living goes up automatically as they level and just have more money lying around. They start off all sharing a common room and end up in the equivalent of 5-star suites every night.