D&D 5E Playtest: Psion

Image result for dnd psion

Here I am taking a shot at the bane of D&D class design from the very beginning – a psionic class. I feel like, deep down, everyone kind of wants one, but psionic classes have consistently been the most problematic in each iteration of D&D. So of course I wanted to take a stab at it.

Design goals: I wanted the psion to be a pure caster class, and to be most similar to the warlock in terms of how it functions. I liked using the warlock’s flexible spell slots rather than the fixed ones that a sorcerer or wizard gets. I also decided ahead of time that psionics would just be another kind of magic – so counterspell and dispel magic and similar effects will all affect psionics. Psionics differ, though, in that they do not have verbal, material, or somatic components. This is a big advantage, and so I balanced that out by requiring most psionic abilities to use concentration – so ideally the psion should have fewer requirements, but will probably always be concentrating on an effect. Overall, I wanted the psion to be more limited than in many past iterations – to be more like what you see in movies or Anime, focusing on the ‘big four’ of telekinesis, telepathy, pyro/cryokinesis, and biokinesis or the physical adept. I also wanted another Intelligence-based pure caster to join the wizard.

Psion

Powerful Minds

Psions are driven by iron discipline and self-mastery. A psion will spend as much time researching her inner life seeking out secrets as a wizard would spend researching new spells and secrets of the outer world in libraries. Through mastery of her inner world, a psion has the ability to mater the outer world as well.

Some psions are trained when they show a talent for one of the disciplines – others manifest innate abilities and are self-trained. In a world like Athas, or Eberron, psions might be members of particular schools where they are taught a particular mental regimen. In other worlds, they might be loners, drawing on inner reserves to accomplish amazing feats.

Creating a Psion

Quick Build

First, make Intelligence your highest ability score, followed by Constitution.

Psion Table

Psion Level Features Cantrips Known Psionic Spells Known Psi Points Slot Level
1 Psionic Discipline, Discipline Ability 2 2 1 1
2 Discipline Ability, Telepathy 2 3 2 1
3 Discipline Ability 2 4 2 2
4 Ability Score Improvement 3 5 2 2
5 Strength of Mind  3 6 2 3
6 Discipline Ability 3 7 2 3
7 3 8 3 4
8 Ability Score Improvement 3 9 3 4
9 3 10 3 5
10 Consumptive Power 4 10 4
11 Potent Psionics 4 11 4
12 Ability Score Improvement 4 11 4
13 4 12 5
14 Discipline Ability 4 12 5
15 4 13 5
16 Ability Score Improvement 4 13 6
17 4 14 6
18 Mind Over Matter 4 14 6
19 Ability Score Improvement 4 15 7
20 Psionic Mastery 4 15 7

Class Features

Hit Points

Hit Dice: 1d6 per psion level

Hit Points at 1st Level: 6 + your Constitution modifier

Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d8 (or 4) + your Constitution modifier per level after 1st

Proficiencies

Armor: Light armor

Weapons: Simple weapons

Tools: None

Saving Throws: Constitution and Intelligence

Skills: Choose two skills from Acrobatics, Arcana, Athletics,  History, Insight, Intimidation, Investigation, Religion

Equipment

You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:

  • (a) a light crossbow and 20 bolts or (b) any simple weapon
  • (a) a scholar’s pack or (b) an adventurer’s pack
  • Leather armor, any simple weapon, a dagger

Psionic Discipline

At 1st level, you are trained in a psionic discipline and have developed basic psionic abilities. Your psionic discipline grants you special abilities at 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 10th and 14th levels.

Psionic Discipline Table

In order to maintain your psionic abilities, you must discipline yourself. Roll randomly, or choose one of the disciplines below (or come up with one with your DM):

  1. You must maintain a strict vegan diet.
  2. You cannot kill (though you need not be a pacifist, and don’t have to prevent others from killing)
  3. You use pain to focus your concentration
  4. You must remain fastidiously clean at all times
  5. You cannot wash in anything but running, natural water
  6. All of your food must incorporate an incredibly hot pepper that no one else can even tolerate
  7. You must deny yourself sleep each night, only taking perhaps 3 hours (requiring Con saves to avoid levels of exhaustion)
  8. You must deny yourself normal comforts
  9. For 3 days you fast, and then for 3 days you are allowed to eat. You can only drink water
  10. You must meditate entirely alone for an hour each day – no one can be within 100’ of you, and it must be quiet
  11. You must abstain from any sexual activity, and can never have a family or children
  12. You can never own more possessions than you can carry on your person

Psionic Abilities

Psionic Spellcasting

Psionics is a spellcasting discipline. Psions are arcane spellcasters who access spells and spell-like abilities through inner strength and discipline more than by studying ancient lore or drawing on hereditary power.

Cantrips

You know two cantrips of your choice from the list associated with your discipline. You learn new cantrips as defined by the Psion Table. When you learn a new cantrip, you can also switch one known cantrip for a new one.

Spell Slots

To case one of the psionic spells that you know, expend one psi point. The cost is always one psi point, regardless of spell level, and the spell is always considered to be cast at the highest level possible based on the psion table.

Spells Known of 1st Level or Higher

Spellcasting Ability

Your spellcasting ability is Intelligence.

Spell Save DC = 8 + your Intelligence modifier + your proficiency bonus.

Spell Attack Modifier = your Intelligence modifier + your proficiency bonus

Telepathy

At 2nd level, with a bonus action a psion is able to establish a telepathic connection with a willing creature within 30′. This connection does not require concentration to maintain. If the psion and the creature to whom she is connected don’t share a language, they can still share images and impressions enough to communicate basic ideas. This ability automatically fails with any creature with an Intelligence lower than 3.

Ability Score Improvement

The psion can increase one ability score by 2 at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th and 19th level, up to a maximum of 20.

Strength of  Mind

At 5th level, the psion’s discipline has given her resistance to psychic damage. She also has advantage on saving throws against abilities that inflict the frightened or stunned condition.

Consumptive Power

At 10th level, when a psion has no more psi points, she can draw on her physical reserves instead. As a bonus action, she can spend 5 hit points in order to generate 1 psi point.

Potent Psionics

When the psion reaches 11th level, she is able to augment her attacks with psychic energy. When she hits with a melee or missile weapon attack, she can deal extra psychic damage. For each psi point she spends, she deals 1d8 bonus psychic damage.

Mind Over Matter

At 18th level, a psion’s life of discipline begins to change her body and mind in new ways. She no longer needs to sleep, and can benefit from a long rest simply by sitting quietly and meditating for 6 or so hours. She also no longer needs to eat more than once a week, and can live for much longer without water as well. Finally, as a bonus action she can spend a psi point to enable her to roll hit dice in order to recover hit points even when not taking a short rest.

Psionic Mastery

I need ideas here too.

Telekinetic

Spell List

Cantrips blade ward, eldritch blast (?), mage hand, shape water
1st level feather fall, mage armor, shield, tenser’s floating disk, unseen servant
2nd level arcane lock, hold person, knock, levitate, shatter, silence
3rd level conjure barrage (?), erupting earth, fly, melf’s minute meteors
4th level control water (?), fabricate, otiluke’s resilient sphere, staggering smite (?)
5th level animate objects, bigby’s hand, hold monster, telekinesis, wall of force

Telekinetic Abilities

As a bonus activation, a telekinetic psion can activate her telekinesis. As an action, she can then attempt to lift or throw an object or, at higher levels, a creature.

1st level At 1st level, a telekinetic psion is able to lift up to 10lbs by concentrating. She can throw objects up to 30’. Her attack roll uses her spell attack modifier and deals 1d4 damage, modified by Intelligence.
2nd level At 2nd level, she can now lift up to 25lbs, and her attack deals 1d6 damage.
3rd level She can now lift up to 100lbs, and her attack deals 1d8 damage. She can also attempt to move up to Medium-sized creatures. They resist with a Strength save against her spellcasting DC. If your target fails, you can lift them 10’ with an action, or push them 30’.
6th level 500lbs, and her attack deals 2d8 damage. She can attempt to move Large sized creatures, though they have advantage on their Strength save.
10th level Similar to the telekinesis spell: 1000lbs. Thrown objects still deal 2d8 damage. She can also attempt to lift a Huge creature, though a creature larger than the psion receives advantage on their Strength save.
14th level At 14th level, a telekinetic psion can attempt to lift 10,000lbs, and can also attempt to lift a Gargantuan creature. Throw objects now deal 3d8 damage.

Telepath

Spell List

Cantrips friends, message, minor illusion, vicious mockery
1st level cause fear, charm person, command, compelled duel, comprehend languages (spoken only), dissonant whispers, silent image, sleep
2nd level calm emotions, detect thoughts, enthrall, see invisibility, suggestion, zone of truth
3rd level clairvoyance (?), fear, hypnotic pattern, major image, nondetection, sending, tongues
4th level charm monster, compulsion, confusion, hallucinatory terrain (?), phantasmal killer
5th level dominate person, dream, hold monster, mislead, modify memory, rary’s telepathic bond, synaptic static (?)

Telepathic Abilities

As a bonus action, a telepathic psion can initiate a mind link with a willing creature. Even if she and the creature don’t share a language, they can exchange images and impressions well enough to communicate on a basic level. This ability automatically fails if used on a creature with Intelligence lower than 3.

1st level Establish a mind link, as the kalashtar can do in Races of Eberron. If you are a kalashtar, the range on your mind link extends to 90’.
2nd level Your mind link now has a range of 120’
3rd level You can establish a group mind link with up to 6 intelligent creatures at a time within 30’ of you.
6th level Group mind link 60’
10th level Group mind link 120’
14th level You can establish a group mind link with up to 6 intelligent creatures anywhere in the Material Plane

Pyrokinetic

Spell List

Cantrips chill touch, create bonfire, frostbite, produce flame, ray of frost
1st level burning hands, chromatic orb (cold or fire), ice knife, searing smite
2nd level continual flame, flame blade, flaming sphere, heat metal, pyrotechnics, scorching ray
3rd level elemental weapon (fire or frost), fireball, flame arrows, protection from energy (fire or frost)
4th level fire shield, ice storm, wall of fire
5th level cone of cold, flame strike, immolation

Pyrokinetic Abilities

At will, a pyrokinetic psion can ignite flammable material or freeze about a square inch of liquid with an action.

1st level A pyrokinetic psion is able to heat metal as the spell, but it only deals 2d4 damage to begin. She can also generate a 10’ aura of comfortable temperature – cool in hot weather and warm in cold weather. This temperate aura does not require concentration, but the psion must be awake.
2nd level Heat metal, as the spell but 2d6 damage. Temperate aura 20’
3rd level Heat metal, as the spell. Temperate aura 30’
6th level Heat metal, 2d10 damage (metal loses shape). Temperate aura 60’
10th level Heat metal, 2d12 damage (metal begins to melt). Temperate aura 90’
14th level Heat metal, 3d12 damage (metal turns to slag). Temperate aura 120’

Physical Adept

Spell List

Cantrips blade ward (?), primal savagery, resistance, true strike
1st level expeditious retreat, jump, longstrider, mage armor, thunderous smite
2nd level alter self, barkskin, blur, enhance ability, enlarge/reduce (?), misty step (?), pass without trace (self), spider climb
3rd level aura of vitality (?), blinding smite, gaseous form, haste (self), thunder step, water breathing, water walk
4th level aura of life, freedom of movement, polymorph (self), staggering smite, stoneskin
5th level far step (?), passwall, skill empowerment, swift quiver

Physical Adept Abilities

Actually I need some ideas here.

1st level
2nd level You become proficient in Acrobatics, Athletics, or Stealth if you are not already
3rd level
6th level Additional ability score improvement (Str, Dex, or Con)
10th level
14th level Additional ability score improvement (Str, Dex, or Con)

 

Arcane Traditions: Wizards of High Sorcery

Image result for tower of high sorcery

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?

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.

A Card Mechanic for Western RPGs

This is a smooshing together of mechanics from Deadlands and Clockwork: Dominion with a little bit sprinkled in. I’m not presenting it as a Newfangled Thing, but simply as what I think I would want to use if I was going to run a Western game, whether Weird West or mythic or whatever.

System Basics

  • Initiative and the action economy are managed by playing cards you are dealt when a conflict begins
  • Actions are also resolved by playing cards, where the number on the card is its value and more ability means you have more cards from which to choose
  • Cards that aren’t used, or are played in failed tests, can be retained by the player to store up and build hands
  • Those hands are spent for special effects in the game like introducing new NPC allies, critical hits, and activating special abilities – in this way failure leads to success later

Stolen Initiative

The initiative system for this game is straight-up stolen from Clockwork: Dominion, because that system also uses cards, and also because it is the best initiative system I’m aware of.

When a conflict begins, each player is dealt cards. Actions occur in the order of the cards dealt, from Ace down to the two. If a player doesn’t want their character to act, they can still pass.

In order to interrupt an action, a player can push two cards forward instead of one. Their character’s action is resolved before any other actions, as an interrupt. Yes, you can push two cards forward to interrupt the interrupt.

I’m thinking of maybe one free reaction, and then you spend one card to react or actively defend if someone pushes a card forward to act on you.

The GM gets cards for the NPCs in the conflict, and plays them as if she was just another player. This gets a bit complicated with more than a handfull of NPCs, but that’s true in every system (tonight’s D&D game will have a fight with 28 participants).

Building A Hand

I love when you mark xp with a failed roll in Dungeon World. The way I adapted that idea to this system is to let players retain cards used in failed tests, and maybe cards they don’t use in initiative as well, and use them to build hands to use later in the story. The hands are all, of course, poker hands, and here are my ideas so far:

  • Pair: your hit is a critical hit, or your success is a critical success
  • Two Pair: a trick shot, or a highly unlikely positive result
  • Three of a Kind: you cheat death, when you would otherwise be killed, you are simply taken out
  • Straight: maybe you can use a straight to prevent another PC from dying? You rescue them in some way?
  • Flush: you set a type of scene and stack things in your favor. Maybe even take over narration from the GM for a scene that you just want to see. The type of scene depends on the suit of the flush. Spades: you learn something, or establish something, big and decisive about the setting or situation; Clubs: you stomp the crap out of a host of foes, or embarrass a major opponent; Hearts: a social scene where you get what you want, like getting married, becoming mayor, etc.; Diamonds: you have some kind of big break, like striking gold on your land
  • Full House: add a significant, allied NPC to the story
  • Four of a Kind: rewind time and repeat what just happened, up to four rounds back. “But that wasn’t how it was meant to be.”

Luck

Instead of health, I think of Poker chips that represent a character’s luck. So much in the Old West is deadly, or at least wounding – arrows, bullets, knives, being gored by stampeding cattle, and so on. When your “luck runs out” you are liable to be killed, and there should be abilities for super dangerous NPCs to be able to bypass your luck straight to a wounding or killing attack. I also like that you can potentially spend that luck to re-try a failed test, at the risk of putting yourself that much closer to death’s door.

What’s Missing, and What’s Next

I don’t really have a damage mechanic. I’m not sure what exactly would go on a character sheet. I have the thought that the four suits could be the four attributes, where maybe spades are mental, clubs are physical, hearts are social, and diamonds might be a speed measure, or even resources available to you.

RPG Mechanic Round-Up #7

Meta-Round-Up

Progress and Drama

In the game text, instead of listing the result of a passed test in a resolution mechanic as “success”, describe it as “progress.” That is, progress is made toward whatever your goal was, or toward winning what was at stake. In parallel, instead of listing a failed test in your resolution mechanic as “failure”, call it “drama”, in that the dramatic tension increases in the scene or in the story. This could almost be the only change in how a system is written, but I think it opens up results in interesting ways.

Let’s say your D&D player does the classic thing and makes an absurd proficiency check – then they roll a 20, and even though there isn’t a “natural 20” rule in 5E for proficiency checks, they still expect something big from their absurd plan (seduce the dragon, pick the lock with mage hand, lie to the Inevitable’s face, etc.). So if passing the test equals “progress” rather than “success”, you can just describe how their absurd plan gets them closer to their goal. Similarly, for all of those proficiency checks where failure just means the story stops, if it is “drama” (or “tension” perhaps, or “threat”) instead of “failure” for a failed test, the attempt can be technically successful, moving things ahead, but they are now worse than they were.

Theme Music

Each player chooses a theme song for their character and queue’s it up on their phone. At any time during the session, they can hit play for the song, play a bit of it, and their character automatically succeeds on whatever it is they are doing. Maybe instead of Inspiration, players can gain bonus uses of their theme music during the session. Similarly, the DM can queue up theme songs for any Big Bads they’ll face, and those enable them to use a legendary save ability to choose to save on a failed saving throw, or to resist death for a round after being reduced to 0 hit points, etc.

Big and Small Advantages with Percentile Dice

This is a layer of complexity that one might not choose, but it occurred to me while listening (and enjoying) another How We Roll actual play of Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition. In CoC 7E there is an advantage mechanic, where you roll the 10s digit die more than once and take the worse of the two rolls. I thought that this made sense for big advantages and disadvantages, but for smaller advantages and disadvantages it would make sense to roll the 1s digit die twice and take the better or worse of the two rolls. This gives you an approximately 1 in 10 change of barely making, or barely missing, the roll, and isn’t a big deal, but could be an interesting tweak, maybe for when the player thinks they should have advantage but the Keeper disagrees. “Yes, but…”

Percentile Auto-Success

Rolling is not always fun. Games usually have some kind of hand-wavey rule about “only roll when it is interesting” or “only roll when there is danger involved” but even in games where that is spelled out enforcement is sporadic. It occurred to me, in particular in a percentile system, that it could be simpler and also more interesting to give each character a number of auto-successes equal to the tens digit of the applicable skill. So, again looking at Call of Cthulhu, your investigator with a Credit Rating of 57 could just have 5 automatic successes on Credit Rating rolls during the scenario (intended to be more than one session). The downside is that you don’t get any chance to advance when using one of these auto-successes, nor can you get a critical success of any kind. Maybe one could ignore this rule in combat, and of course the Keeper would be able to say that it doesn’t apply in a certain situation (like a Sanity roll, or a situation where the danger of failure is really interesting), but I like it as a rule.

Final Fantasy Action Selector

Remember old school Final Fantasy where you had the action selector when each character’s turn came up? It looked something vaguely like this:

  • Fight / Run
  • Magic
  • Drink
  • Item

I was thinking about something like this for new players. Frequently, players at my table forget all of the various things their character can do when it is their turn, especially at higher levels. What if new players had something like this, printed up by the DM, with their abilities on it? Something for a Druid might look like this:

  • Melee Attack
  • Missile Attack
  • Shapechange

And one for a Rogue more like this:

  • Melee Attack
  • Missile Attack
  • Dash
  • Disengage
  • Hide

Of course, the player can put whatever is interesting on the selector, and can always do things not listed, but it might be helpful to just have that at a glance. I’ve seen a lot of new players stare glassy-eyed at their complex character sheet when their turn comes when really they only have two or three viable and interesting options. The problem is that it takes significant system mastery for one to know what those few viable and interesting options are.