Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Kobold Masada

Hi. Use this in your game. I insist.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Teamwork Benefits In D&D 5e

Is your 5e combat too fast and simple? Too seamless? Add some complication with teamwork benefits!

This is a revised version of an earlier blog post. Some of these are pretty good, so you might want to only use them if your party is not very optimized or in conjunction with a slightly upped game difficulty.


Total the party’s intelligence modifiers, plus the charisma modifier of the character with the highest charisma (the de facto party leader). The points are then spent by unanimous consent on up to three of the following benefits that help the entire party:

Plan (2): The party has a +2 bonus to initiative.

Master Plan (3): The party has a +4 bonus to initiative. It's up to you whether this stacks with Plan (I'd lean toward not).

Preventative Medicine (3): Players’ healing spells and potions that restore hp each heal an additional +1 hp.

Over The Top (4): Players have +15 feet (3 spaces) to their movement speed during the first round of combat.

Seize The Advantage (5): Any time an enemy provokes attacks of opportunity from at least one player, they suffer 1 damage per adjacent player. This happens before any attacks are made.

Alarum (6): The minimum initiative roll of any player is 6.

Back To Back (6): Players have +1 AC and +1 to saves while adjacent to at least one other player.

Fancy Footwork (7): At the start of each player’s turn, they may swap spaces with a single adjacent ally at no cost to their movement.

No Adventurer Left Behind (8): Prone players that are adjacent to at least one standing ally can stand up by spending only 5 feet of their movement, rather than half their maximum (PHB p191).

Tag-Team (9): You have +2 to attack flanked creatures. I know this is a throwback mechanic in the context of 5e, but I totally don’t care.

Blitz (10): Players have advantage with melee attacks during the first round of combat.

Opening Volley (11): Players have advantage on ranged attacks during the first round of combat.

Encircle (12): Players have advantage with melee attacks against foes adjacent to at least four players.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

New Death Penalties In D&D

People have a lot of conflicting ideas about what should happen when a player dies. Permadeath has some outspoken advocates, while others are perfectly happy with a revolving door of relatively cheap raise dead spells. As written, the 5e D&D raise dead spell has no permanent penalties for death, though I think this is an area of the rules where DM tinkering is especially expected to make his own mark.

(Probably) The Most Popular Ideas


That’s it. You're dead. Dungeon masters espousing this method have a noted tendency to use the words “gritty” and “verisimilitude” in their blog posts. The “system shock” checks from 1e and 2e could arguably represent a form of this.

CON Loss

The way it was in 2nd edition. If you passed your system shock check, you would return to life with a permanent loss of 1 constitution point.

Level Loss

The 3rd edition way. You come back, you lose a level. The drawback here is that having died once, you are more likely to die again, far more than due to the loss of a CON point. In Pathfinder, raise dead inflicts the loss of two levels, while the higher-level resurrection reduces this to one level.

Extended Penalties, Minor

In 4e, a character would suffer a relatively minor penalty for a while (-1 to d20 rolls for six encounters). In my view, it isn't even worth having such a minor penalty. You might as well not do anything. It's not like it's easy to die in 4e.

Extended Penalties, Major

Raise dead in 5e inflicts larger penalties (-4 to attacks and so forth) that disappear gradually over the course of a few days. It seems like temporary inconvenience has been settled on as the best method to allow people to continue playing their character without making players lose their fear of death. I'm definitely down with this.

In all the above cases, the raise dead spell/ritual required the expenditure of gold. In 5e thus far, there really aren't that many ways to spend gold. It looks like raising dead is probably the main thing you spend gold on.

Choose Your Own Deathventure

Death penalties are controversial. They not only touch on a player's preference for D&D edition, but also character/story investment, players' personal loss aversion, and how much a player wants to be challenged or relaxed during gameplay. So why not allow players to select their own personal death penalty?
In one campaign, I allowed players to choose from the following:


The first time you are mortally wounded in an adventure, you are incurably weak until the end of the adventure (you inflict half damage and your healing effects are reduced by half). If you are mortally wounded again while in this state, you die permanently.


When you are mortally wounded, you are unable to participate in combat until further notice. You cannot recover from this state until you have had rare medicines applied that cost 50gp x your level and require a full day to apply.


When you receive a mortal wound, you die forever. As compensation, you begin the game at second level (or a level higher than you otherwise would).

Tears Everywhere

When you receive a mortal wound, you cannot take action of any kind for the rest of that encounter and are stable at 1 hp. Additionally, you suffer a permanent -3 max hit points (I feel like this is less painful than a CON point loss, but still completely undesirable).


"Mortal Wound" in this case is the reduction to below -15 hp, my favored threshold for death.

You might consider adding a random side effect of returning from the afterlife.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Les Chants de Maldoror

Not finding what I was seeking, I lifted my eyes higher, and higher still, until I saw a throne made of human excrement and gold, on which was sitting --with idiotic pride, his body draped in a shroud of unwashed hospital linen-- he who calls himself the Creator!

He was holding in his hand the rotten body of a dead man, carrying it in turn from his eyes to his nose and from his nose to his mouth; and once it reached his mouth, one can guess what he did with it. His feet were dipped in a huge pool of boiling blood, on the surface of which two or three cautious heads would suddenly rise up like tapeworms in a chamber pot, and as suddenly submerge again, swift as an arrow. A kick on the bone of the nose was the familiar reward for any infringement of regulations occasioned by the need to breathe a different atmosphere; for, after all, these men were not fish. Though amphibious at best, they were swimming underwater in this vile liquid!

... until, finding his hands empty, the Creator, with the first two claws of his foot, would grab another diver by the neck, as if with pincers, and lift him into the air, out of the reddish slime, delicious sauce. And this one was treated in the same way as his predecessor. First he ate his head, then his legs and arms, and last of all, the trunk, until there was nothing left; for he crunched the bones as well. And so it continues, for all the hours of his eternity.

Sometimes, he would shout: 'I created you, so I have the right to do whatever I like to you. You have done nothing to me, I do not deny it. I am making you suffer for my own pleasure.' Oh reader, does not this last-mentioned detail make your mouth water? Cannot whoever wishes also eat brains just the same, which taste just as good and just as fresh, caught less than a quarter of an hour before in the lake - the brain of a fish?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Desiderata: The Great Worm’s Treasures

Beyond the vast, alkaline southern desert lies a forest of silk-shrouded mulberry trees. Within this earthquake-afflicted region resides a vast subterranean creature whose horrid appetites for human flesh are all too readily met by its industrious worshippers who inhabit that portion of the world. The Worshippers of the Worm hide their shrines amidst the trees and the tremors, biding their time by spinning silk, raiding their neighbors for flesh offerings, and working magic into their sacred objects.

Some examples of their sacred objects follow:

Mulberry Staff

A rod of whitened mulberry wood, carven into the shape of an elongated silkworm. There are many of these staves in existence, each being the result of a consecration/sacrifice practiced yearly at the maw of the Worm. The staff has 10 charges, which can be spend to achieve any of the following effects:
  • 1 charge: Enchant a simple silkworm so that it will never stop growing or die of age, increasing in lengthy by about one foot per year until it is a purple worm.
  • 2 charges: Web (DC 15).
  • 3 charges: Protection from energy (lightning only). This version can be cast on trees or buildings as well as people.
The staff has 10 charges, regains 1d6 per day, and has a 5% chance of losing its magic each time the last charge is expended.

Samite Bandages

These fine silken bandages are highly prized for their great restorative power. So much so that many goodly persons and ministrative organizations who otherwise would not deign to truck with the followers of Great Worm are willing to hold their noses and trade for them.

These bandages can only be applied outside of combat. Each pouch of bandages heals 10 hit points.

The Serration Chants

A silk-bound tome of venerative hymns honoring the Great Worm. Most of the songs will inspire revulsion in sentient creatures, but a character with 13 or more Wisdom will realize that there is hidden meanings in the musical notation and lyrics. Each day that such a person spends studying the tome, they will discover another “mystery of the worm” from the following list:
  • A day-long ritual whereby a willing participant can transform themselves into a swarm of especially productive silkworms. Each worm retains a sliver of their intelligence, but they are no longer interested in much aside from eating mulberries.
  • A horrid song that is so simple that even a child could learn it. If any character ever recites the song a total of three times in their life, a purple worm will unerringly seek them out and attempt to devour them. It arrives in 1d10 days. Each copy of this song has slight variations attuning it to a different worm, and so loses its value if the worm to which it refers is slain.
  • An urgent, complex hymn that irritates Great Worm, regardless of distance. While you chant these, the Worm stirs and writhes, causing minor earthquakes in its vicinity. This song is normally used for holy days or to cow forces attacking the Worm’s worshippers. If this is used to the point of irritation, the worshippers will divine the source and send a well-armed team of “negotiators” to retrieve the tome. The hymn will under no circumstances cause Great Worm to move or otherwise change its behavior (believe me, they’ve tried).
The book also (correctly) claims that if you ever reveal any of the secrets from this book to others, you will fall into a deep, painless sleep from which you will never awaken.

Sericulture Draught

Within a few minutes of quaffing this foul-smelling potion, the consumer vomits up copious quantities of cloying, sticky silk. If the character is able to restrain their nausea (perhaps a CON check), they can exert a supernatural control over the silk produced, allowing them to produce nearly finished goods. One draught is sufficient to make a hundred feet of silk rope, a very rough kimono that will still nevertheless fetch 50gp if sold, enough silk to hermetically seal a normal-sized door, or whatever other purpose a player can devise.

This potion is completely unlike any the players are likely to have encountered before, and even characters with great familiarity with the field are unlikely to discern its effects prior to testing, though they are able to discern that it is not poisonous.

Scroll Of Silksteel

This ornate scroll may be expended to impart magical strength to a single object of silk that fits within a 1-foot cube. The resulting silk is as strong as steel, not only by weight (silk is already stronger than steel by this metric) but to the point where a kimono of this silk will confer protection similar to a suit of half plate. Similarly, a silk rope will function as a steel cable, and so forth.

Kimono Of Sowing Horrors

A masterpiece of painted silk craft, this kimono carries various depictions of Great Worm, often in the context of devouring thousands of people at once. The scenes are painted so cunningly that their details vary subtly depending on the angle from which one views it.

Any creature wearing this robe as armor enjoys a +1 bonus to AC and saves, and does not leave footprints (though scent-based tracking is more effective than usual due to a faint, anise-like vapor that cloys to the robes).

Any normal mammalian animal that you touch while wearing the robe will contract a horrifying infestation of flesh worms that will kill them over the course of the next month, leaving them a mostly-devoured skeleton covered in writhing, oversized maggots. Any human so unwise as to touch you will similarly be afflicted, but it is very rarely fatal (inflicting perhaps 1d6 damage at the start of each day until the parasites have run their course, perhaps three weeks).

Any well or other contained source of water touched by you will be rendered poisonous and vile, filled with swirling green poison. This toxic quality persists for 1d6 days.

Once a week, you can pluck a thread from the robe and hurl it on the ground, where it will transform into a putrid worm that will fight any creature you command (it has statistics similar to a cobra). It will revert to a silken thread after five minutes. Any corpses slain by the creature will slowly dissolve into a vile white liquid.

Silken Undershirt

Though expensive, these tightly-woven undershirts are designed to be worn beneath armor, imparting increased protection against arrows and similarly piercing ranged weapons. The undershirt confers resistance against the next such attack to hit you, but is then ruined.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

d20 Modern Unlock

I have been playing around with some ideas for a modern-day class-less system. It's going to be a while before Wizards publishes another d20 modern book, if ever they do. Also, I am skeptical that the game mechanics will be particularly robust.

So here's an idea:

Step 1: Choose Your Squares

At character creation, each player designs their character by selecting two "squares" from the following (let's call them General Squares):

This is supplemented with a third square from the following (let's call them Specialty Squares):

The squares that you choose will define your character progress options. The General Squares contain abilities are useful to many character builds, while the latter Specialty Squares are more unique, class-like benefits that allow a character to specialize in a particular party role.

Your three chosen squares should go on your character sheet.

Step 2: Unlock Your Squares

At level 1, choose one of your squares to start off in, and circle the first ability listed in the upper-right corner. For example, if you choose the melee square, circle the "+1 melee attack" ability. Great, now you are slightly better at melee combat!

Each time you attend another game session, circle another starting square, or else one that is below or to the right of an already-circled square.

I can explain this better via another example: having taken "+1 melee attack", you can choose the "+2 melee attack" ability, the "MeleƩ" ability to its right, or work on another square entirely. If you select the MeleƩ ability, you could then progress to the "Taunt" ability after another session.

This method suggests that you level based on game session attendance rather than experience points, but there is nothing to suggest that you could not hand out level progression based on story goals or experience points, instead. I find experience points to be sort of incongruent with a modern setting, but I'm not hating on it or anything.

General Rules

I'm assuming a few things:

•Melee weapons do 1d10 damage.
•Ranged weapons cannot normally shoot past occupied spaces.
•Pistols do 1d8 damage and can shoot 10 spaces without a penalty.
•Rifles do 2d8 damage and can shoot 20 spaces without a penalty.
•Grenades do 2d6 damage, target Reflex saves, and affect a 2x2 space area within 5 spaces.

•Weapons have +2 to hit when wielded two-handedly.
•Ranged weapons attacking beyond their given range have disadvantage.

•Players start with a base of 15 hit points regardless of class, or base HP equal to their Constitution.
•Critical hits just inflict maximum damage.
•Players have a base movement of 6 spaces.
•Modern armor imparts +1 AC at a cost of -1 movement, up to +4 AC. Shields give +1 AC without a speed cost.

•Any debilitating condition is treated as a "debuff" and can be cured the same way, via the healing square.

Give It A Shot

The idea of having all of one's character advancement options on a single piece of paper really appeals to me, especially in a modern setting. Nothing makes these incompatible with feats, either.

It could use a little polish, one more grenade ability, and a couple more general and specialty squares. Still, I like this idea.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Random Extra-Sensory Perception Table

Okay, so D&D has this whole set of spells that make you a chump if you memorize them. Spells like See Invisibility, Detect Thoughts, Locate Object, Tongues, or even Arcane Eye. Sure, additional information is nice, and given some notice a good divination spell will completely -or even problematically- solve a problem or plot point. That's great, but it isn't damage. Damage is always helpful. It's a pretty rare game where you'd rather have Tongues than Fireball. Unless the DM shoehorns in a situation that specifically requires that spell. And unlike spells like Major Illusion, there is very little room for the creative application of most divination spells. Even a lot of the theoretically interesting ones like Augury are still pretty useless due to ambiguity.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Spiderscape

Zak S. posted a neato keen way to pitch 5e campaign settings. My contribution:

Forgotten Realms: A Days Of Future Past-style dark future in which Lolth has devoured all but a handful of her fellow deities, leaving only the most interesting. As a result of her dominance, she has spun a sun-occluding cocoon around the entirety of Faerun, while the remaining (otherwise hostile) deities’ followers strive desperately to survive or escape the spiderscape that their world has become.

It’s not my best idea and I am certainly no great expert on the Forgotten Realms, but it seemed like fun to try and flesh the concept out.