Add Some Grit To Your 5E D&D

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

The Long Rest

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

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

Darkvision

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

Prestidigitation

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

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

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

Encumbrance

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

Magical Food and Water

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

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

My D&D 5E House Rules

Updated a bit, so this is a re-post. Yay!

I’ve written up a ton of hacks and house rules, and I’ve been given some thought to what house rules I would use if I could use any I like. (Alas, I have to take players’ tolerances into account)

Hard Rest

This is similar to the system for rest used in Adventures in Middle-Earth. Long rest is only available when in civilization, or at least resting someplace safe and comfortable. Ever gotten great sleep on the ground out in the weather? Yeah, me neither.

I also like the system whereby during a long rest, rather than recovering all of your hit points automatically, you are able to roll all of your remaining hit dice to recover hit points. This will recover a lot of hit points, but not necessarily all.

This house rule does give somewhat of an advantage to classes that can partially recover their abilities with a short rest, like Warlocks or Monks. I would have to playtest this house rule to figure out whether it is too unbalancing.

No Cash

Half of my players can’t even be bothered to track their own coinage (my wife in particular) and I never particularly enjoy making sure every monster they defeat erupts into the correct amount of coins, gems and art objects when they die. Instead, I’d like to just use rolls against set difficulties, using the character’s proficiency bonus. If the character is flush with cash, say just back from a dungeon delve, then they roll with advantage. When they are in debt or broke according to the fiction, they roll with disadvantage. Since my players love to haggle, successful haggling doubles your proficiency bonus for the roll, while failed haggling makes you just roll a straight d20. (Maybe the haggling DCs are just the buying DCs, +2)

When you want to buy something, here are the DCs:

  • Something simple and inexpensive, like adventuring gear: DC 8
  • Something mundane but expensive, or a common magic item, like a longbow or a healing potion: DC 10
  • Something very expensive, like plate armor, or an uncommon magic item: DC 12
  • A rare magic item: DC 15
  • A very rare magic item: DC 18
  • A legendary magic item: DC 20

Of course, PCs have to put in the work finding rare or expensive (or magical) items before they can make the roll to see if they can afford them. The DM has an option of saying that a character who fails the roll still buys the item, but is strapped for cash. Most of the time, when returning from an adventure, the characters will be flush with cash, and that’ll be the time they want to buy things anyway. So a mid-level character (level 9+) returning from an adventure will have just shy of a 50/50 chance of affording a legendary magic item, and better than 50/50 of affording a very rare magic item. The limitation there will be based on the setting, with this being plausible in Eberron and less likely in another setting, based on availability of magic items overall.

Modified Firearms

I think that the payoff of using historical firearms, rather than a weapon like a longbow, is that it as a slower rate of fire and does a lot more damage. At least, that’s what I’d like to house-rule firearms to do. So as a house rule, I have black powder pistols require two rounds to reload, and black powder rifles require three, and their damage dice are doubled. In essence, they will function as powerful first-shot weapons, and I think that this fits their historical use pretty well.

10th Level Spells

10th level spells exist, and as one  would expect they are available through scrolls (which are of course artifacts) and for 19th level spellcasters. Such spells can be world-changing, but can only be cast once each by a given spellcaster. The heading is a link to my full post on 10th level spells.

Deeper Backgrounds, and Backgrounds as Level 0

When a player selects a background, they should also flesh out the background with all of the NPCs who might be connected, including their immediate family, rivals, mentors and the like. As a rule of thumb, at least a couple of interesting NPCs who might get caught up in the story per background. I also linked my post about treating Backgrounds as 0-level classes, adding a bit of survive-ability to first-level characters.

Alignment Redefined

I like using alignment, but alignment as written in D&D includes a lot of nonsense and argument-fodder. So what I do is I replace “Good” with another descriptor that defines what “good” will mean in this setting. For example, in my Twilight of the Gods setting, good becomes “Generous.” I replace “Lawful” with an order-oriented, pro-social term from the setting that is morally neutral if possible. In Twilight of the Gods, that becomes “Civilized.” I replace “Chaotic” with a pro-freedom, or maybe individualistic, term; in Twilight of the Gods, that term is “Wild.” And then for “Evil” I do the same as I did for “Good” – choose a more specific or helpful term. In Twilight of the Gods, that term is “Treacherous.” So instead of Chaotic Evil, a character would be Wild and Treacherous. Instead of Lawful Good, a character would be Generous and Civilized. See? Better. Also, a result of this is that “evil” characters are much more viable. One can play a “Selfish” character in Twilight of the Gods more easily than an “Evil” character in a standard D&D setting.

Discount Adventuring Gear

In a game that is using currency, this is just an option to buy adventuring gear at a 50% discount. The associated cost is that with any failed roll, and almost certainly on a roll of “1”, the gear breaks, and can probably only be repaired with the appropriate tool proficiency.

With the above system of going cash-less, maybe a failed roll allows a PC to buy a discount version of what they wanted. So they get what they were after…kind of.

Simplified Paralysis Effect

For any effect that paralyzes, such as hold person or a ghast’s claws, a paralyzed character is shaken free of paralysis the first time an automatic critical hit is scored against them.

…Or Resist Paralysis at Cost

As another option for PCs who are paralyzed, they can choose to take 10 psychic damage for each level of the spell used to paralyze them (or an amount the DM thinks is appropriate for monster abilites that aren’t spells) in order to take an action to break free. So they still lose at least one action, and take the damage, but aren’t standing there doing nothing for round after round. Probably need a house rule that for species that are resistant to psychic damage, like kalashtar, they need to take the full damage to break free. Their resistance doesn’t help them in this one instance.

Bards Rock

Bards have never really gained a bonus, or any kind of benefit, for using their musical instrument in combat. I like the idea of a bard being able to use their abilities more effectively if they focus on their music alone (much like bards in Everquest, honestly). I would want to work out specifics with the bard player, assuming they were interested, but here are the options I’d have in mind:

  1. The bard counts as two levels higher than normal, and has access to more powerful spells
  2. The bard’s spells are power potent, adding 1 or 2 to their spell attack bonus and to the DC for saves against their magic
  3. They don’t lose spell slots – they can keep casting indefinitely, or maybe they have one extra spell slot per level that can only be used when they are using their instrument in combat (since indefinite spells is pretty powerful)
  4. There is an ongoing bonus effect – an aura of courage like a paladin has, or an aura of bonus hit points for her comrades, or something similar
  5. Her other bardic inspiration dice go up one die type, so from d6 to d8 and so on

Area of Effect

The heading is a link to the full table that I posted a while back, but for theater of the mind I like a system where you roll randomly to see how many creatures are caught in an area of effect spell. Just assume that the character is doing all they can to maximize the spell’s effectiveness and avoid hitting their friends. I would have to adjust this system for an evocation specialist wizard who could sculpt their spells to hit their foes and avoid their friends, but that’s easy enough to hand-wave (add a bonus to the AoE roll or something).

Prestidigitation and Animate Object

I just personally dislike Prestidigitation as it works in 5E – it takes me out of what’s going on every time to have someone doing magical laundry every day. House rule is that it allows you to perform sleight of hand tricks like a stage magician and that’s pretty much it. Still can be used creatively, but isn’t the cure-all for discomfort.

In the case of Animate Object, it’s simply broken if used to animate 10 daggers, so I would say that you have to animate objects one at a time. Otherwise you get a ‘cloud of daggers’ effect that deals a potential 10d4 +40 damage every round.

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

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

Mundane/Crossover Backgrounds

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

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

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

Druid (Ranger) Spell: Beast Travel

3rd level enchantment

Casting Time: 10 minutes

Components: V, S, M

Duration: 8 hours

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

Social Vulnerabilities

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

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

Recovery Through Place

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

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

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

5E Backgrounds as Zero-Levels

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pathfinder Beastfolk to D&D 5E: Muroideans

muroideanGritty Survivors

Created before the Collapse to be hardy and adaptable, the muroideans are a hybrid race with rat-like characteristics. They are known to eat things that would sicken other humanoids, and they have a particularly harrowing culinary culture. For some, it is a rite of passage merely to survive a muroidean restaurant.

Urbanites

Though they can successfully survive almost everywhere, muroideans are most at home in large cities, and there is no large city that isn’t host to at least a neighborhood of the rat-folk. They often know more than they have any right to know about what is going on in a given city, from the rich and powerful all the way down to the gutter.

Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 2 and your Dexterity score by 1.

Age. Relatively short-lived, muroideans live about half as long as humans, or up to about 40 years.

Alignment. Muroideans are gritty realists, and their selfishness has helped them survive. They tend to be freedom-loving and they often see benevolence as an invitation to be exploited.

Bestial Nature. You have the supernatural ability to speak with mice and rats.

Bite. Muroideans can bite with their sharp teeth for 1d3 piercing damage, and their bite counts as a finesse weapon if they wish.

Darkvision.

Size. Muroideans stand around 4 feet tall and weigh approximately 50 pounds, making them a Small species.

Speed. Though small, muroideans are fast and light on their feet, with a base move of 30 feet.

Vermin. Muroideans are able to eat things that other species would reject as spoiled, rotten, or downright nasty. A muroidean always has advantage on Wisdom (Survival) rolls to find food and water. Muroideans also always have advantage on saving throws against disease and poison.

Mage the Ascension: PbtA Hack

mage card

This is not by any means a fully-formed idea, but it’s one that I kind of like. In a way, it’s interesting to  take a push-button mechanic like the core mechanic of PbtA and apply it to an open-ended, flexible game like Mage the Ascension. What buttons do you include? What must those buttons do? 

Design Goals

I want to focus on the flexible but costly nature of Awakened magic. I see mundane things being handled through conversation more often than rolls, to keep the focus on magic. There needs to be a harm mechanic and a Paradox clock – let’s say you are at -1 per harm taken. A certain points on the Paradox clock, the ST makes a Paradox move. As with my Fate hack, I’ll boil the Spheres down to seven: Correspondence, Forces, Life, Matter, Mind, Spirit, Time (eats Entropy). Prime can be cut because it is mostly concerned with meta-magic. Each Tradition is its own playbook. This is a work in progress

Character Creation

Distribute 3 +1s between the seven Spheres. You have -1 in any Sphere without a bonus. Circle one and describe your Avatar (Dynamic, Entropic, Pattern, Primordial). Choose your true Nature. Describe your Sanctum. Circle an advantage (things like a Node maybe). I can see different playbooks having different things to circle or choose – acolytes, thin places, cool gadgets, turf, etc. 

General Mage Moves

When a Mage does something mundane but dangerous or costly, roll +0.

  • On a 10+, it goes as well as it could.
  • On a 7-9, you succeed but there is an unexpected cost or problem – choose one of the following: 
    • You lose or damage something of value – the ST will tell you what
    • The cost was more than you expected – the ST will tell you what the additional cost is, including a favor or a debt owed forward
    • You succeed, but someone else pays the price. The ST will tell you who
  • On a 6-, the ST can make a move. Any resources you used in the attempt are damaged or lost.

When you use your magic to shape reality, describe your rote or procedure and roll +Sphere. The ST will tell you which Sphere applies if there is any question.

  • 10+ and you get what you wanted.
  • 7-9 and pick one mishap, otherwise you get what you wanted.
  • 6- pick three mishaps, otherwise you get some version of what you wanted. Or, you can flinch, distance yourself from your Avatar, and cancel the effect. You take -1 forward to magical effects you attempt, but the effect fails without other consequences. (With a 7-9 you can always mark Paradox to avoid other mishaps.)
    • Mark Paradox
    • The effect is not under your control
    • You draw unwanted attention
    • There are unintended consequences (ST move)

When you use your magic to inflict harm, describe your rote or procedure and roll +Sphere. The kind of harm will depend on the Sphere used, but harm is harm.

  • On a 10+, you inflict 1 harm in the way you intended, and have +1 forward to inflict further harm.
  • On a 7-9, you inflict harm but must mark one mishap from the Sphere move.
  • On a 6-, you inflict harm and also take harm in return.

When you use your magic to defend yourself against magic, roll +Sphere using the Sphere against which you are defending.

  • On a 10+, you stop the magical effect from affecting you and can choose one:
    • You turn it back on the attacker, or
    • You can protect a group, or an area, from the effect
  • On a 7-9, you stop the magical effect from affecting you
  • On a 6-, you are vulnerable to the effect (the ST makes a move)

When you improvise magic to defend yourself against magic, roll +Sphere using any Sphere, describing how you use that Sphere creatively (use Correspondence to defend against Time for example). 

  • On a 10+, you stop the magical effect from affecting you
  • On a 7-9, you stop the effect from affecting you, but there is a cost. Choose one: 
    • You take -1 to Sphere moves going forward
    • The effect strikes a nearby ally or innocent bystander – the ST will choose who
    • You lose access to that Sphere until you have time to rest and meditate
  • On a 6-, the effect hits you full force

When you improvise magic to affect reality, describe the improvisation and roll +Sphere. 

  • On a 10+, you get the effect you wanted, but pick one: 
    • The ST tells you one strange side-effect
    • The magic affects one additional object or person of the ST’s choice
  • On a 7-9, the magic affects the wrong person or object – the ST will tell you who, or what
  • On a 6-, the ST makes a Paradox move

When you meditate at a Node, roll +0, or +1 if it is a Node where you are expressly welcome, or +2 at your own Node.

  • On a 10+, you are suffused with Quintessence and take a +1 forward on Sphere moves.
  • On a 7-9, you are suffused with Quintessence and take +1 forward on Sphere moves, but the Node is depleted and no one can draw from it until it regenerates.
  • On a 6-, the Node is depleted and must regenerate.

When you use your magical perceptions, choose a Sphere in which you have at least a +1. The ST will describe what you perceive through that Sphere.

  • All: you can sense the residue of powerful magic enacted recently – the more powerful the effect, the longer its residue lasts
  • Correspondence: you exact physical location; precise distances from one object to another; the presence of a portal to another location
  • Forces: ambient mundane energies (electromagnetism, heat, etc.); see using another spectrum (ultraviolet)
  • Life: the health and general condition of living things nearby, your own health and condition in detail, 
  • Matter: material composition of nearby objects; properties of unknown substances; potential or chemical energy stored in an object or substance
  • Mind: whether there are nearby minds; whether someone is awake or asleep or in a coma; basic emotional state of those around you
  • Spirit: thickness of the local Gauntlet; nearby ghosts or spirits; whether a nearby creature has a soul (i.e., could reveal an android)
  • Time: exact time (including the ability to set an internal alarm); any nearby disturbances in time

When you use mundane means to escape danger, roll +0.

  • On a 10+, you escape! Describe how. Also, choose one:
    • Your attacker leaves you alone for now, or
    • You can help your allies escape too
  • On a 7-9, you escape, but your attacker has not given up.
  • On a 6-, the ST makes a move.

Tradition Moves

I decided that each Tradition should have at least one signature move. These are what I came up with:

When an Akashic fights mundane people with her hands, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, she defeats even a large number of mundane people she’s fighting in flashy fashion. The player describes how she prevails.
  • On a 7-9, she defeats even a large number of mundane people, but takes harm in return.
  • On a 6-, she got herself in over her head. She takes harm and things escalate – the ST says how.

When a Cultist of Ecstacy seeks insight in a trance, roll +1

  • On a 10+, she can ask the ST up to three questions about herself.
  • On a 7-9, she can ask the ST one question about herself.
  • On a 6-, she gets a glimpse of a hard move the ST is going to make.

When a Dreamspeaker is solving a problem in her home territory, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, her knowledge of her land enables her to solve the problem.
  • On a 7-9, her knowledge of her land enables her to solve the problem, but the cost in time or materials is greater than she expected.
  • On a 6-, she has revealed a problem she didn’t know about before, or a problem she knew about is worse than she thought.

When an Etherite uses technology in an unusual way, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, the technology works just as the Etherite wanted.
  • On a 7-9, the technology works but there is an unintended complication. The ST will say what it is, or you can offer a suggestion.
  • On a 6-, the technology doesn’t work as intended, and there is a complication on top of that (the ST makes a move).

When an Euthanatos kills a mundane person, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, you kill the person exactly as you planned and get away with it.
  • On a 7-9, you kill the person, but draw the attention of either mundane authorities or a supernatural creature.
  • On a 6-, you kill the person but the ST can make a hard move.

When a Hermetic speaks lore, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, the lore you speak is true and helpful.
  • On a 7-9, the lore you speak provides a helpful hint for the situation at hand.
  • On a 6-, the lore you speak reveals a new problem.

When a Hollow One tries to make a connection on the street, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, she finds just the person or information she needs.
  • On a 7-9, she finds the person or information she needs, but there is a cost. The ST will say what it is.
  • On a 6-, she’s made someone angry, or drawn unwanted attention, and didn’t find what she wanted. Or, she found what she wanted, but it’s much worse than she thought.

When a Verbena uses natural medicine, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, she is able to heal using mundane means.
  • On a 7-9, she understands what is wrong, but it will require awakened magic.
  • On a 6-, it is much worse than she thought – the ST will say how bad.

When a Virtual Adept is solving a problem using a digital device, roll +1. 

  • On a 10+, it functions exactly as the Adept needed it to.
  • On a 7-9, the device functions as the Adept hoped, but she has pushed her luck and used up resources or drawn unwanted attention.
  • On a 6-, she draws unwanted attention and the device fails.

ST and Paradox Moves

Your Avatar is displeased, or detached, or distant. -1 ongoing to all magic. You are plunged into Quiet. You have drawn the attention of the Technocracy. You have drawn the attention of the Nephandi. You have drawn the attention of a Marauder. You have drawn the attention of mortal authorities. Echoes of your magical effect follow you, causing problems. You are marked by your magic in a way that is visible to everyone who meets you. There is lingering harm that will fall on you (or someone near you or connected to you) the next time you try to use magic. You are cursed and everyday things will go wrong in embarrassing ways. 

Mark XP

When you get a 6- result; if your relationship with your Avatar deepened; if you expressed your true Nature; if you learned something new and amazing about the world; if your life was in danger. Every time you get nine xp you advance.

Advancement

Increase one Sphere bonus by one; or circle a new advantage; or reset your Paradox clock to zero; or mark a new option on your playbook. Will there be enough moves to warrant choosing a new move at advancement? Not sure.

Well, there it is. That’s what I have for Mage the Ascension, Powered by the Apocalypse.

 

RPG Mechanics Round-Up #9

I still have this 12-page Google Doc of little bits and pieces of game design, and I have this blog, so I thought it was about time.

Instead of Conditions or Disadvantages

A lot of systems, including many I have played – GURPS, Old World of Darkness, Dungeons & Dragons, and so on – include a system of conditions and/or disadvantages. These are effects that limit a character’s capabilities, but also provide opportunities for roleplaying, conflict, and interesting situations. The problem is often when the GM is forcing a limitation on the PC. It is more interesting for the player to be the one to inflict the limitation on the character. When they do, pay them with XP. Willful – when someone breaks your will or forces you to do something, gain xp. Enemy – when you get the shit kicked out of you, gain xp. Etc.

Skill and Risk

When writing a skill list, include what can be done with the skill without risk, and then what you can do with a risk. Generally speaking, only require rolls for uses of skills that involve a risk.

Character Main Plot and Sub Plot

A while back I was listening to yet another episode of Writing Excuses, and the topic of discussion was giving each character a main plot and a sub-plot. Not to say that this should be done merely by rote, but rather the idea is to mimic a lot of media apart from RPGs. It is common for a character to have a main plot, often the main plot of the story and his or her part in it, and a sub-plot, something with lower stakes that is important only to the character.

Superhero Collateral Damage

I was thinking that it would be interesting for superheroes to gain bonus dice for their abilities by incurring collateral damage to their environment. Ever notice how a fight involving supers will wreck a city? So the superhero can either work carefully, keeping others safe (like Spider Man) or cut loose and deal maximum damage (like Hulk) with little or no concern for buildings and people around you. I feel like every superhero game should have this option, one way or another.

Base Four Character Archetypes

I was thinking about core class archetypes, for games like Numenera and other D&D clones. They are some version of the Fighter, Doer and Knower. With the fourth addition of Speaker, perhaps as a subset of Doer. Given that Knower and Speaker will often come with built-in supernatural abilities.

 

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)