D&D 5E: Treasure Alternative and More

Torchbearer Style, but Forgiving

I like the way treasure is handled in Torchbearer – represented by dice that are rolled to buy things in town – but I find it to be too punishing for my own style. It’s readily possible. to risk life and limb to drag treasure out of a dungeon, go to town, and fail the roll to purchase a candle. It feeds into the grinding style of Torchbearer, but is a thing that I’ve seen put players off the system overall. (I mean, hell, you can be a peasant and fail to buy a candle. Why go into dungeons?)

Going along with my house rule of no cash, treasure could be represented by dice rather than a set bonus. Using the dice as a bonus retains some of the unpredictability of Torchbearer treasure while still guaranteeing a minimum of +1 per die. As with the previous no-cash house rule, if you fail the roll you roll with disadvantage going forward, representing the fact that you’re tapped out and have called in all the favors and goodwill that is forthcoming for a while.

  • Some silver: d4. Lots of silver would be multiple d4s.
  • Some gold: d6, and lots of gold would be multiple d6s.
  • Gems or art objects: d8 each
  • Magical treasure: d10s, assuming it’s incidental magic that you don’t want to keep
  • Legendary treasure: d12s, so a mundane legendary object might be a d12, but a legendary magic item could be 3d12.

Generally speaking, I wouldn’t have more than 3 dice of any type as the maximum for treasure of that type. So, a big chest of silver would be 3d4.

One Roll, Not Two, for Damage

As it stands, D&D requires every weapon attack to be resolved by two different rolls – one roll to see whether you hit, a binary yes/no, and a second roll to see how well you hit, a sliding scale represented by rolling the damage dice. In order to simplify this sytem to have only one roll, the usual method supported by 5E is to use the average default dice-roll for damage (the Monster Manual lists default damage for monster attacks for this reason).

Another option is to avoid the to-hit roll entirely. Iefit hen this version of a one-roll rule for D&D, you only make the damage roll. The big benefit here is that classes that rely on weapon attacks never feel like they are ineffective. If you are a fighter, you always do some damage. If you roll a 1 on your weapon die, you don’t do much, and if you roll the maximum value, you do a lot. The problem with relying on attack rolls is that sometimes you wait ten or twenty minutes for your turn to come back around only to roll, miss, and do nothing that round. That’s just…not fun.

The only necessary consideration would be to change Armor Class to represent damage reduction. I’d propose AC -10 /2 being that formula, so an AC of 18 would be a damage reduction of 4 from all damage take. Dexterity would no longer modify armor in this case, but that is not a devastating loss. It’s another way of abstracting out combat, not less reasonable than the rules as written, just different.

Automatic Downtime Investment

In ancient times, each class in D&D had some kind of extra benefit earned at 10th level, like a fortress for a fighter or a tower for a magic-user.

One of the odd things common to D&D campaigns is that the characters spend a short amount of time in-world leveling from 1st to higher levels. There are plenty of adventure paths and campaigns published by Paizo or WotC that span a few weeks or months, during which a wizard would go from magic missile to wall of force; from being threatened by a single arrow to shrugging off a dragon’s breath weapon (at least once)

A possibility here is to adopt a detailed downtime system that the characters can participate in. You can come up with your own or find one on DriveThruRPG or improvise one. Another possibility is to assume that downtime is banked into a class’s particular project, and bring back the level rewards in some form as a way to justify what is in effect hand-waving the passage of time during game.

I find that when I try to hand-wave the passage of time in a D&D campaign, players sometimes get protective of their time because they feel like they are missing out on opportunities. Can I roll to research? Can I perform at taverns for money? Can I go pickpocketing around town? Can I find a fight club? And so on. This house rule would both resurrect the old school practice of class rewards and allow me to hand-wave time as a DM.

Some example class rewards (You’ll have to come up with your own):

  • Artificer: a large golem that can serve as an assistant and defend your workshop
  • Barbarian: a group of fellow barbarians from your clan or tribe who can serve as a war-band
  • Bard: you are able to open your own venue
  • Cleric: founding a temple or shrine, of course
  • Druid: you purchase a huge tract of land, at the center of which you have nurtured a druid grove
  • Fighter: you purchase a fortress or small keep
  • Monk: you found your own monastery, complete with disciples or acolytes to train
  • Paladin: similar to a cleric, you found a temple or shrine
  • Ranger: maybe you purchase a huge tract of land so that it can remain wild and untouched
  • Sorcerer: could simply be similar to a wizard’s tower
  • Warlock: depending on your warlock patron, this could vary wildly, but should further your patron’s agenda
  • Wizard: you build a wizard’s tower

There, I Fixed It: The Wish Spell

Image result for wish aladdin

Updated and re-released for your reading pleasure!

Something that the System Mastery guys love to harp on, all the way back to their very first episode: Dungeons & Dragons’ wish spell (and similar spells in the wish tradition from other RPGs as well). As written, wish spells, or wishes in general in TRPGs, are almost always explicitly ways to disrupt players’ expectations and, in a word, screw them. GMs and DMs are often encouraged to find any possible loophole, any interpretation in the player-character’s wish that might justify screwing with them.

In 5th Edition and 3.5 as well, other than that, a wish spell is for the most part just a catch-all for replicating an 8th level spell. There is otherwise a list of possible effects that are clearly defined and limited in scope. Part of the problem is that wishes in the folkloric sense should not be spells – the simple solution here is to excise wish from the list of arcane spells entirely. But if you want to keep it, or if your game is going to feature a significant number of genies, then there must be something better than punishing players with it. (If you want to punish a character, hand them a Deck of Many Things and stand back).

The potential problems with wishes should be obvious, and there are plenty of folkloric stories about well-intentioned wishes going wrong, or at the very least not having the effect that the wisher intended. On the other hand, these problems are usually ways of moving the story forward so that the protagonist can learn something or change in some way. All too often in TRPGs, wishes are simply opportunities for the DM to punish a player for trying to be creative, when it’s the DM’s decision whether to allow wishes in the first place. For those DMs whose players are not masochists, I have some other thoughts.

The first is that a wish should be fun. Here I’m thinking of Aladdin’s first (official) wish in the Disney animated adaptation of his story regarding a certain lamp. He basically gets what he wishes for, and if anything, Genie goes overboard (as Robin Williams invariably did) in embellishing the whole scene. Rather than being a stingy saboteur, one pictures Aladdin’s DM just throwing cool things at the player-character until the player’s head spins. There are complication, of course, as “Prince Ali” draws the attention of a sinister visier and is suddenly plunged into court life having been a fruit-stealing street kid not long ago, but the story moves forward with the wish fulfilled at face value, plus interest.

Wishes should be fun. D&D should be fun. It should never be a DM power trip, or about ‘punishing’ players.

Second, a wish should indeed have a cost or an unforeseen complication, but this cost or complication should be something that is part of the story moving forward and continuing to be fun. The street rat suddenly lifted to Princedom has no actual idea how to be a Prince. No history, no family, no connections, no homeland, nothing. And as mentioned, he draws the attention of the sinister vizier. I would even recommend discussing possible complications with the player who is making the wish. I know this is not everyone’s play style, but in my experience this doesn’t diminish the fun – you kind of trade surprise for a higher guarantee that you’ll all enjoy the twist.

Third, a wish should take context into account. I still think that DMs should just eliminate wish from all spell lists where it might appear, and keep wishes as a story element. Obvious options are powerful fey or genies whom the PCs have worked to befriend. Maybe the goal of a whole campaign could be to earn a wish from a powerful entity, and then to use that wish to restore the kingdom, or end a curse, or cure a plague. But remember that the wish is interpreted in context. If a PC makes a wish granted by the genie, that genie will interpret the wish, and a wish granted by an ifrit will be very different from one granted by a marid, or a djinni. Rather than a chance to punish players, this is a chance for a DM to show off her creativity. To use this example again, a wish granted by a genie voiced by Robin Williams will be one thing – one granted by a stingy cantankerous fey quite another.

Remember that a wish’s fulfillment does not need to be immediate (unless maybe the PC adds that to the request – in which case, it could rain gold pieces or cause other upheaval). Feel free to take a moment in game when the wish is finally made (which again should be a huge story moment) to go think through what it will look like when it is fulfilled.

Discourage players from gaming the wish. A player might be tempted to go off and write out a page-long run-on sentence as her wish, full of legalese and dependent clauses. Depict the wish-granter getting bored and starting to wander off. Understandably, players will anticipate the DM trying to twist their wish against them, and will try to avoid that eventuality. Maybe reassure them, if necessary, that this is a big story moment and you’re not going to sabotage it.

Possible house rule: total the words in the wish, and that number becomes a percentage chance of failure for the wish. So if you say “Make me a prince!” Then there is a 4% chance of failure, but if you write out a mini contract rife with legalese then it could easily become a coin-toss.

So, to summarize the wish spell – don’t make it a spell at all. Make it a story element. Make it fun. Have a cost or unforeseen complication, but make it one that moves the story forward in an interesting way. Take the context of the wish, and the wish-granter, into account. And push the players not to lawyer the wish, even if you just have to reassure them.

Another Solution

After I posted this, I came up with another interesting idea for wish-fulfillment. In this version, you make your wish, and then genie is bound to do whatever they can to fulfill that wish, using their own abilities. So if a dao gives you your wish, and you wish for a million gold pieces, then that dao has to do all it can to get you a million gold pieces. They don’t have the power to just wave their hand and fulfill the wish, but they will interpret it according to their alignment and their capabilities. Probably, in this case, disguise themselves, break into a vault, and abscond with their gold pieces.

The way that a genie fulfills your wish will vary from genie to genie. A marid, being chaotic neutral, will be quite different from the dao mentioned above, who is neutral evil.

This situation could be handled as if the genie was under the effect of a powerful geas.  They would have 30 days to accomplish your wish by any means they could, or to work toward it as far as they can by the end of the time limit. As an added bit of interest, and the end of the time-limit, the charm effect ends and the genie might have a chip on their shoulder.

Personally, I like this idea, and want to try it for my world of Alaam.

Do you have any stories of wishes going well, or poorly, in your campaigns? If so, share in the comments. 

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.

Update: Modified Cash

Taking an idea from Torchbearer, but being much less punishing about it, I thought you could use dice to represent treasure in the abstract. So some silver pieces might be a d4, and some gold pieces a d6; gems or art objects could be a d8. An artifact might be a d10 or d12 – same with magic items. You can roll the die when you appraise the items, or when you try to use them to boost your d20 roll to buy something, in addition to your proficiency bonus. If you gain debt, it can be measured in dice, or it can simply grant disadvantage on rolls to purchase things until you roll as success, as above.

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.

Dungeons and Masquerades

Yeah, I actually spent time on my day off thinking about hacking D&D 5E to run Vampire the Masquerade. This is the kind of thing I do for fun, though, so there it is. You know me by now.

Vampire

A vampire was once human, until given the Embrace. A vampire drains them of all of their blood and then feeds them vampire blood. There is no guarantee, but often, this results in a new vampire. The transformation takes hours, or possibly even nights, as the person’s organs wither and die and their body chemistry changes so that it runs entirely on blood.

Deathless Hunger

Vampires, more commonly known as kindred, will live forever as long as they avoid fire and sunlight and continue to consume blood. For the blood to provide sustenance, it must come from a living humanoid.

Fear of Fire and Sunlight

Vampires all fear two things – fire and sunlight. During the day, a vampire struggles to remain conscious, and must make a Constitution save in order to remain awake. If they do remain awake during the day, when night falls again they suffer a level of exhaustion.

Vampire Traits

Ability Score Increase. You gain a bonus of 1 point to two ability scores of your choice.

Age. Vampires do not visibly age from the moment they are Embraced and made into one of the undead.

Alignment. Though there are vampires of every alignment, needing to prey on human beings for sustenance means that over time vampires will tend toward evil alignments.

Blood drinking. If a vampire bites a victim and latches on, she can immediately drain 2d4 hit points from her victim

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack, reach 5 ft., one willing creature, or a creature that is grappled by the vampire, incapacitated, or restrained. Hit: 3 (1d6) piercing damage plus 7 (2d6) necrotic damage. The target’s hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the necrotic damage taken, and the vampire regains hit points equal to that amount. The reduction lasts until the target finishes a long rest. The target dies if this effect reduces its hit point maximum to 0.

Hardened flesh. You are resistant to piercing damage from non-magical sources.

Hunger. Vampires hunger for blood. Following each day a vampire goes without feeding, her maximum hit points are reduced by five. If her maximum hit points fall to zero, she enters torpor.

Stake to the Heart. If a piercing weapon made of wood is driven into the vampire’s heart, the vampire is paralyzed until the stake is removed. To pierce a resisting vampire’s heart, the attacker must succeed on an attack roll with disadvantage and deal more than 10 points of damage (remembering that the vampire is resistant to piercing damage from non-magical sources).

Undead. A vampire is immune to poison damage and the poisoned condition, and they do not require air, food, or water.

Vulnerable to fire. Vampires are vulnerable to fire damage.

Vulnerable to sunlight. When any part of their body is in full sunlight, vampires take 10 radiant damage per turn.

Size. Your size is Medium.

Speed. Your base speed is 30 feet.

Languages. You can speak, read and write one language based on your ethnicity or cultural background, as well as English if that language is not English.

Advancement

Level 1 vampire: you get the ability to…how should healing work? Maybe you just have slow regeneration – every minute you are not in direct sunlight you regain one hit point, up to your current maximum.

Level 2 vampire: There should be some way to use blood to boost your physical abilities. Once per long rest, you can call upon the blood to boost a physical ability score.

 

Other Dungeon the Masquerade Thoughts: after choosing vampire as your race, you choose clan which serves as your class. Then, at level 3, you choose a specialization that is based around Discipline powers. Those Discipline powers are socketed into the various Clan lines.

D&D 5E: Grab-Bag of Ideas

Here I’m just tossing out a handful of ideas as a way to go through the backlog of my game and setting design doc. These didn’t fit with an overall theme, so I called it a grab-bag. Feel free to grab and use!

New Spell: Duplication

  • Transmutation; V, S, M
  • 2nd Level
  • Casting Time 10 minutes
  • Range/Area Touch
  • Components V, S, M
  • Duration Instantaneous
  • You touch an object as large as a sword or shield and create a duplicate of it. The new item is made of non-magical, mundane material, meaning for example that a duplicate of an adamantine sword would be made of steel. For objects smaller than a sword or a shield, this spell can duplicate multiple objects at once. Five arrows or crossbow bolts can be duplicated at a time, for example, or two daggers. DMs can use these examples as guidelines for determining how many items can be duplicated. Note that duplicates of gold coins will be made of steel.

‘Monstrous’ Player-Characters

I would like rules allowing a player to play a character who starts with a ‘monster’ stat-block who can then level up according to their class. I would like to be able to playtest this with an interested player, but my rule of thumb for this is to take a creature’s CR and double it, and use this as their equivalent level. So, for example, an ogre would be the equivalent of a 4th level player-character. I would like to see a party composed of 4th level PCs and one ogre and see how that worked, but at a glance I think it could make sense. The ogre would have lots of hit points but fewer abilities – and maybe an ogre is a bad example. Maybe look at a gargoyle, or an adult faerie dragon for something more comparable.

Granted, the CR system in 5E is pretty broken, but I think it could maybe be a good starting-point. I don’t know if this idea would scale up, and as I said I would like to play-test it sometime. But this is what I would use as a starting-point.

Horde of the Dead God

This would work for any game, including Call of Cthulhu. But the idea is that there is a dead, mad god bound in an ancient crypt or corrupted sacred site, but the bonds are breaking and some of the god’s essence is leaking out. The result of this is that anyone who dies near the location is re-animated with a fragment of the god’s intelligence, becoming a hive-mind hoard of zombies.

For an interesting twist to use with Call of Cthulhu, imagine the ancient sacred site of a people wiped out by Conquistadors. Now backpackers and White explorers have reached the place which indigenous people know to avoid, and there have been mysterious disappearances. The investigators get involved, maybe studying the lost civilization, and have to find a way to partition the place off, killing all of the zombies, or raise the dead god back to life and deal with those consequences.

Shadow-Stealing Mirror

Somewhat inspired by A Wizard of Earthsea. A stone or mirror that steals your shadow and then animates a shadowy version of you that goes out into the world, acting out your worst impulses. The hint is that your shadow is gone, or at most tenuously visible in strong direct light. You have to go find your shadow and vanquish it, and then make amends for all that it did, before you get it back. Otherwise it just keeps re-animating and causing trouble. The Mirror was first created and given to an impulsive Prince or Princess in order to teach them humility and to deal with their own dark side.

Radiant Desert

I like the idea that deep in a desert, particularly a supernatural one like much of Dark Sun, the sun deals radiant damage during the day. Maybe you get advantage on Constitution saves against the damage if you are well-prepared with proper clothing, water, and some kind of protection against the sun. But for anyone who has ever had a bad sunburn, it is clear that the sun deals a kind of damage you don’t encounter many other places.

Non-Lethal Beatdown

I’ve already laid out how you could run D&D with non-lethal combats. I had a further thought, that players might want to incapacitate someone at the end of a combat, and so I figured that further damage could inflict levels of exhaustion on their foe. So, kind of midway between non-lethal and lethal violence.