Wednesday, 28 June 2017

5e: Hacking the Game—Fallout, Part II

This is the second in a series of articles discussing how we might hack 5th edition D&D to allow us to play games set in the Fallout setting. You can find the first part here.

This time round, we were meant to be looking at classes. But we're not going to, because I realised there was something else we needed to cover first.

You see, I'd written the article on classes already and had moved on to equipment. Thinking about items made me realise there were several important features of the Fallout setting that I'd neglected to consider during my introduction to the key concepts we need to consider for this hack. As you might imagine given I realised this while thinking about equipment, these neglected features pertain to the resources available to characters—and the lack of them. So we're going to cover these ideas and build any mechanics we need to support them now while core ideas and mechanics are still at the forefront, rather than interrupt the flow of the series later when we're delving into specifics.

That said, this is perfect illustration of the fact that hacking a game (or developing one from scratch) is an organic process. Sure, I can set out an ideal order in which to write this series, but I can't make any guarantees regarding that road map. Whether it's something I suddenly realise needs to be included, an idea that comes to me be based on something we develop later that needs to be retroactively accounted for, or the realisation late in the game that something decided early doesn't work after all resulting in beginning again from scratch, complications arise. I was fortunate on this occasion to have such a realisation at a convenient time. Next time might not be so lucky.

Scarcity

The ideas I'm going to talk about today all have one important thing on common. They directly result from a lack of resources in the post apocalyptic wasteland. That is such a core feature of the setting it's remarkable I didn't even consider it last time, and it definitely ought to be reflected in the way the game is played. It's not an exaggeration to say that scarcity is the fulcrum of the world's very essence. Even before the nuclear bombs fell, a worldwide energy crisis is what led to the Great War and civilisation's collapse. In the wastelands those bombs created, people struggle to survive with the aid of dwindling salvage, or eke out meager existences amidst myriad horrors that would snatch those existences away without a second thought.

In a world such as this, player characters should be concerned where their next meal is coming from and whether they can afford to use precious ammunition to kill that pack of feral ghouls over the hill or whether they need to risk going in swinging. As much as we can manage without making the game a micro-managing hell, it should be about husbanding resources for survival.

Putting scarcity at the front and centre so that it affects our players sells the sort of plots we're likely to want to use: if our players experience their own hardship in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, the problems of NPCs will hit closer to home. They'll be able to empathise better with the settlers who lost everything to raiders and need some wandering hero to take their revenge and recover their possessions. Hell, they'll probably be able to empathise with the raiders too. Maybe taking what they need by force has crossed their minds once or twice too. Maybe they've acted on it.

In short, a game set in the Fallout setting should reflect the hardship of the world, and it should be a trial by fire for a character's morality and ethics. 


Theme versus Fun

While we might want to emphasise the survival elements of the setting, it's probably a mistake to enforce the extreme micro-management of a player character's inventory that might be implied. 

We want characters to be concerned with what and how often they eat, what and how often they drink, and also picking up random junk items to sell or to salvage for repairs and upgrades to their possessions. We just don't want to go into too much detail. The key is therefore going to be abstraction. Food, drink, and junk need to become resources that are easily managed. 

Fortunately for me, I've actually been working on rules for a survival horror game so this is a problem I've already dedicated some brainpower to solving. Therefore I already have some ideas on this front—The ideas below take those original concepts and attempt to rebuild them in a way that fits the 5e rules.

Food and Water

Food is abstracted into meals, drinks, and snacks. Players should either keep track of their own food and drink supplies or the group may designate a volunteer as their quartermaster.

Starvation and Deydration

A character needs at least two meals worth of sustenance and two bottles worth of water (or equivalent hydration) each in-game day. 

Every day that a character goes without one or both of their meals, they gain that many points of Starvation. Similarly, going without one or both bottles of water gains that many points of Dehydration. 

When a character has points in Starvation or Dehydration, they must make a Constitution saving throw at the beginning of the following day (usually after their next long rest). The DC is 8 + their starvation points + their dehydration points.  Failure reduces the character’s Exhaustion track by one step. This Exhaustion is permanent until the character properly feeds and hydrates themselves for at least one day (see below). Success means that the character is ignoring the effects of their hunger and/or thirst, for now.

Returning to an Adequate Diet

Every day that a character eats at least two meals, they reduce their starvation by 2. Provided they aren't also dehydrated, they also regain access to one step on their Exhaustion track. A character may eat three meals per day, if they have enough food, to reduce their starvation by 3 instead of 2. 


Returning to an Adequate Level of Hydration

Every day that a character hydrates themselves with at least two canteens of water (or equivalent), they reduce their dehydration by 2. Provided they aren't also starving, they also regain access to one step on their Exhaustion track. A survivor may drink three canteens worth of water per day, if they have enough, to reduce their dehydration by 3 instead of 2. 

Snacks


Snacks are sugary or caffeinated foodstuffs and beverages. One snack of either type can be consumed to temporarily recover a step of Exhaustion. Since this recovery is from the effects of a sugar or caffeine rush it doesn’t last, and the character moves one step along the Exhaustion track again at the end of the current encounter. A character may only gain the effects of imbibing an energy snack once per encounter. 

Other than this, three edible snacks can also be consumed in place of a meal if the character doesn’t have anything healthier and more substantial available to them. Three liquid snacks can count as a single bottle worth of water.


Radioactive Food and Drink 


Whether canned or bottled goods from before the Great War, or grown or sourced in the post-nuclear wastes, almost all sources of food and drink available are irradiated. All meals and bottles are assumed to be radioactive unless the GM specifies otherwise. 

When a character consumes radioactive food or liquid on any given day, at the beginning of the next day (usually after their next long rest) they make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw. On a failed saving throw, the character gains a level of radiation poisoning. 

If a character is fortunate enough to partake of fresh food or purified drink for some but not all of their daily rations, reduce the DC by 1 per non-radioactive meal or drink consumed that day. Naturally, if all meals and drinks consumed are non-radioactive, no saving throw is required.

Skipping a meal or drink also reduces the DC by 1. Eating and drinking nothing avoids the saving throw altogether. Abstaining from irradiated food and drink can work for avoiding the risks of radiation poisoning in the short them, though it means the character may instead face the consequences of starvation and dehydration (see above).

Salvage

In Fallout, especially in the early game, players might be inclined to pick up all kinds of junk items to sell at a market for as many caps as they can squeeze out of the vendor. In Fallout 4, junk has another purpose too—it can be broken down into parts to upgrade weapons and armour with modification. Spoiler alert—I intend to include modifications when I get round to equipment. Players will either be able to pay an appropriate NPC using caps, or do the job themselves if they have the raw materials, perhaps after making an appropriate skill check or checks.

So do players need to keep track of every broken watch or zippo lighter they pick up from the wasteland?

I'm thinking there's no need for that. Instead, I propose an abstracted resource called "salvage". The GM can award this to players by way of loot along with caps and items as part of an adventure. Each point of salvage represents one unspecified item or the broken down components of said item.

Salvage can affect encumbrance. A character's salvage has a weight of 0.4 lb. multiplied by the number of salvage points.

Many traders will gladly buy salvage. Typically, one salvage is worth one cap, though like any other item player characters may find that market values sometimes vary.

Finally, salvage can be expended to modify weapons and armour. To create a modification, a number of salvage equal to the modification's price in caps must be consumed.

Ammunition

We could also abstract ammunition in the same way (this is the approach taken in the Dungeon Master's Guide, where all guns simply use "bullets"), but I feel that ammo is one area of the game that would be poorly served by this approach.

If all weapons use the same bullets, it will be hard to ever tax the resources of our players without crippling the party's ability to use guns entirely. A rich variety of ammunition, on the other hand, is a potent tool in the GM's arsenal to carefully control the ammo supply and encourage the theme of survival.

In D&D, characters tend to stick to one or two weapons, which are their signature items. If they change it, it's just because they found a better, magical version.

This Fallout game shouldn't really be like that. It's fine if they have a favourite, but players shouldn't rely too much on any one weapon. It should sometimes be unavailable because of lack of ammunition or disrepair; characters should carry back ups, and be willing to pick up whatever weapons and ammo they can find on site in the name of survival. We want our players to feel like scavengers who survive on their wits, and making the best of the tools they have, rather than being carried through a situation because they are always optimally equipped.

When ammo is broken up into many types, we can hand out the ammunition the players really want—the caliber they need for their first choice weapons—in carefully portioned amounts. If they never get enough of it, they'll be encouraged to carry backup ranged and melee weapon to give themselves options in a pinch. If they find a weapon they wouldn't normally use, they'll be more likely to consider using it, even if only temporarily. Especially if there's more ammunition for that particular weapon lying around, which is usually the case.

Even when they do have ammo for their preferred weapon, players might carefully consider whether they really want to use it—"is this pack of mole rats worth using my precious shotgun shells, or should I switch to my pipe pistol and save the shotgun in case something worse is just around the corner?". The party as a whole may even start making such choices together, each equipping themselves with different types of weapons to their comrades so that they aren't competing for precious ammo supplies, and each taking the lead in a given situation depending on who is best equipped to handle it.

On that note, we can occasionally use ammo supplies to give each character a moment to shine. One day, Hannah might use her shotgun to fend off a mirelurk while her ammo-starved companions retreat to safety. The next, it might be Jerome's turn to protect the party from a pack of feral ghouls using his assault rifle.

For these reasons I favour specificity over abstraction for ammunition, and that'll be the approach I take when creating the equipment lists.


Next Time...

That's it for now, though as I mentioned it's still possible I'll realise something else I missed that's too important to ignore! Fingers crossed it doesn't happen. Fates willing, next time we'll be returning to the original schedule and taking a look at what classes and archetypes might work for our Fallout themed game.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

5e: Hacking the Game—Fallout, Part I

Past versions of the d20 system that powers D&D 5e have proven up to the task of powering RPGs in all kinds of genres, thanks to the Open Gaming License. 5e now has its own OGL, which means it has the same potential. All manner of games based on the System Reference Document are being released or are in the process of development, including Spilled Ale Studios' own One For All.

I thought it might be fun to write a series of articles walking through how the 5e game might be reskinned to suit a very different setting—in this case, the world of the Fallout franchise. The key word there is "reskinned", not "rebuilt". In the end, we'll definitely have to make some new stuff like monsters, weapons, and so on. We might even have to build some brand new mechanics to integrate into the core rules before the end of this. But, where possible, we want to work with the tools we have.

A quick note on balance: these are obviously not playtested ideas, and balance cannot be guaranteed (not that it is always guaranteed even in heavily playtested final products!). If something seems off to you, I encourage you to make any changes you wish—and to let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Key Features of Fallout


Here are a list of key themes and ideas from that Fallout setting that make it what it is. We we will want to incorporate these, or leave them out only after careful consideration:
  • Radiation. The world of Fallout is a nuclear wasteland. We will need to look at the effects of radiation exposure on a character.
  • Madness. Insanity is not a mechanical part of Fallout games, but it is implied. More than a few of the people you meet are at least a little unhinged. It might not be an essential inclusion mechanically, but it is so thematically on point that it's worth some consideration.
  • Firearms, advanced armour, and other science fiction technology. For the most part, this should just involve expanding on the firearms option in the Dungeon Master's Guide, and considering what other items might be significant enough to have codified game effects.
  • Damage Types. The idea of damage types, damage resistances, and damage vulnerabilities works just as well for Fallout as it does for the Forgotten Realms, but we likely don't want to keep the same ones. Some will work, eg. acid, fire, cold, lightning, and poison. Others, like radiant or necrotic, simply don't fit. We'll likely want to include laser, plasma, and radiation damage types. Thunder can be renamed to sonic.
  • Robots. Before we can decide how we'll handle robots PCs and NPCs we'll need to see what we can borrow from constructs, and from released versions of the warforged playable race.
  • The S.P.E.C.I.A.L system. This is Fallout's version of ability scores, and also its perk system which could be equivalent to feats and class abilities. Feats are presented as an optional rule in D&D 5e, but my first instinct is that they should be a default part of this Fallout hack we're building.
  • Unique Races. Fallout has several mutated and robotic intelligent species in addition to humans. There might be two approaches here; reskinning (or altering as little as possible) existing races from the D&D game, or creating new races from scratch.
  • Classes. The setting likely requires fewer classes, and we certainly won't need the magic-using ones. My expectation here is that we might want to keep the Barbarian, Fighter, Ranger, and Rogue. Certain archetypes and even core abilities may not be wholly appropriate or may need tweaking. Possibly we might have to (or end up wanting to) create new archetypes to fill certain setting-specific roles. It is unlikely we would need to create any brand new classes.

Ability Scores


Let's start with one of the basic building blocks of the game.

In 5e, characters have six ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. In Fallout, characters are built using the "S.P.E.C.I.A.L" system: Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck.

D&D / Fallout Ability Score Equivalency

D&D Fallout
Strength
Strength
Dexterity
Agility
Constitution
Endurance
Intelligence
Intelligence
Wisdom
Perception
Charisma
Charisma
Luck



This maps almost perfectly, except for the addition of a seventh ability score, Luck. Strength, Intelligence, and Charisma are the same in both systems, no surprises there. Perception covers a character's ability not notice things and their insight—essentially, it's the same as Wisdom. Endurance is the same as Constitution, and Agility equates to Dexterity.

While it would be nice to rename the abilities to fit the setting, and even in spite of half of the abilities even having the same names, choosing to go with Fallout's nomenclature may cause more confusion than it's worth. Particularly in the case of Perception, which is also the name of a skill. For the moment, let's use the ability scores we're familiar with. At least we know they correspond to the abilities a character on Fallout is meant to have! With the notable exception of that seventh ability, Luck.

The S.P.E.C.I.A.L system is a core feature of the world of Fallout, and Luck is part of that (otherwise it would just be "S.P.E.C.I.A"). Even if we're not technically using the right ability names, it would still be nice to include a Luck ability. But can we justify Luck's existence? More importantly, can we marry its' purpose in the source game with mechanical function? If the only version of Luck we can make work has no resemblance at all to how it works in the video game, what's the point?

In Fallout 4, Luck is useful for increasing the chances of a critical hit, determining how many caps and ammunition you find, and reducing the chance of catching a disease.

Using Luck to detemine loot only works if the GM rolls randomly on treasure tables, and these rolls are rare enough they probably don't need a core ability to deal with it. Resistance to disease is already convered by Constitution/Endurance. We could use Luck's modifier to increase critical hit chances, but that would be extremely powerful, and a pretty niche thing to need an ability score for.

I do have a thought for how we can handle Luck. It does require treating the ability score slightly differently than the other six, which may not be to your taste. The option presented below won't be tied integrally to anything else, and you could simply ignore it:

Luck


Luck is a seventh ability score which can sometimes be used in place of other abilities to affect the outcome of a roll. It is not, however, a "super-ability" that can always be substituted for other abilities. Luck should only be rolled when chance can realistically have a significant impact on the outcome of a roll, and when one of the following conditions are also true:
  • The GM can't decide what ability (or abilities) make sense for what the character is attempting.
  • An ability check using one of the other six abilities was already rolled, but failed to establish a definitive outcome.
Luck can also be referred to rather than rolled as a method of breaking ties. For instance, say the Sole Survivor and a Super Mutant both roll 17 for Initiative, but the Sole Survivor has 14 Luck whereas the Super Mutant's Luck score is 10. In this case, the GM could reasonably rule that the Sole Survivor acts first in the initiative order.

Unlike other ability scores, Luck is fluid. A character's Luck bonus can be expended to gain one of several advantages. Conversely, a character with a Luck penalty grants similar advantages to their opponents.

A character can spend their Luck bonus on any of the following:
  • Roll an ability check, attack roll, or saving throw with advantage.
  • Cause an opposed creature's attack roll or saving throw to be rolled with disadvantage.
  • After rolling an attack, spend one or more Luck to cause the attack to be a critical hit on a result 2 less than 20 per Luck spent. 1 luck = critical hit on 18+, 2 luck = critical hit on 16+, and so on.
If a character has a Luck penalty, the GM can spend points from their penalty in the same manner to give NPCs or even other PCs advantage against the character, force them to roll an attack or saving throw at disadvantage, or to turn an otherwise normal hit into a critical hit.

After a Luck point is spent and its effects occur, the character's Luck ability is temporarily reduced by 2 (and their bonus is reduced by 1). After a GM spends a point of a character's Luck penalty, their Luck is instead increased by 2 (and their penalty reduced by 1). Once a character's Luck bonus becomes +0, no more Luck can be spent by either the player or the GM. The character's Luck resets to its original score after a long rest.

Radiation


Fallout wouldn't be Fallout without the risk and consequences of radiation exposure.

This blog isn't the place to discuss the effect of radiation poisoning in all its gory detail. Suffice it to say that what begins with symptoms of nausea leads into headaches, fever, dizziness, weakness, and ultimately hair loss, high infection risk, poor natural healing, and other serious symptoms. More detail can be found here.

It strikes me that, as a long-term effect that becomes worse and worse, radiation exposure would be handled well as a condition track similar to Exhaustion. But, in fact, there is a lot of overlap between the mechanical effects implied by radiation poisoning and conditions already in the game. It starts with nausea and vomiting, which resembles the Poisoned condition. Most of the symptoms that follow actually match up to the effects of Exhaustion quite nicely.

This isn't a problem, and we can embrace it. 5e already has precedent for conditions that cause other conditions. So here is my suggested Radiation Sickness condition track:

Radiation Sickness

Level
Effect
1
You are poisoned.
2
You gain a level of exhaustion.
3
You gain a level of exhaustion.
4
You gain a level of exhaustion.
5
You gain a level of exhaustion. Halve any hit points or temporary hit points you receive from natural healing or curative items and effects.
6
Death.

As you can see the cumulative effects of radiation are appropriately severe. It starts off with the poisoned condition, which is equivalent to level 1 and level 3 of exhaustion combined. At level 2 of radiation exposure, the character gains their 1st level of exhaustion too. Assuming they aren't already exhausted, there are no changes to the severity of the radiation yet because the poisoned condition already incorporates the same effects. At level 3 of radiation exposure they gain their second exhaustion level, halving their speed. At level 4 of radiation exposure there are again no changes, since the effect of level 3 exhaustion is already in play. At level 5, their 4th level in exhaustion halves their hit points, and the character suffers halved healing.

Of course, the "dead levels" in the radiation track assume that the character had no exhaustion to begin with. If they earn exhaustion from another source, the effects of gaining an exhaustion level from a radiation exposure level will obviously be more severe. It's quite possible for a character who has radiation poisoning to ultimately die from exhaustion, instead of from the radiation.

Damage Types


The world of Fallout has slightly different dangers to the world of D&D. For the most part, damage types remain the same. However, the following changes should be made:
  • There is no Force damage type.
  • There is no Necrotic damage type.
  • There is no Radiant damage type.
  • The Thunder damage type is renamed to "Sonic".
  • The Radiation damage type is added.
  • The Energy damage type is added, and represents laser and plasma-based energy weapon attacks.

Races


The Fallout series has given us the following intelligent species that could work as player character races: humans, non-feral ghouls, super mutants, robots, and synths.

There are two ways to handle this: reskin existing races and try to make as few mechanical changes as possible, or build new races from scratch. The first would be simplest, but perhaps would have less satisfying results—particularly given half the non-human races would still use the human racial statistics. Although the goal was to reskin where possible, this is one of the areas of the game where it might pay to do the extra leg work to create something that feels unique and appropriate to the setting.

I'm going to go ahead and take both approaches, and anyone reading this with plans to actually run a Fallout game can then decide which option they prefer. Each race has its own, custom created statblock (with the exception of humans and Gen 3 synths who are indistinguishable from humans). But along with each entry I've also included a note for which existing D&D 5e race or races might work instead, what tweaks might need to be made, and in what publication the race can be found.

Human or Gen 3 Synth

Reskin Race(s): Human (Player's Handbook)

Use the variant human (Player's Handbook).

Ghoul

Reskin Race(s): Human (Player's Handbook) or Variant Human (Player's Handbook). The ghoul does not get a bonus skill, they are instead immune to radiation damage and the radiation sickness condition.

Ability Scores: Increase your Intelligence by 2 and your Constitution by 1.
Age:
Size: Medium
Speed: 30 ft.
Radiation Immunity: You are immune to radiation damage and radiation sickness.
Long-lived: Your greatly extended lifespan is one of the few advantages to your condition. Ghouls have generally lived for a long time as humans before they change, and some have lived since before the bombs fell. As such, you gain either a bonus skill or expertise in a skill of your choice.

Super Mutant

Reskin Race(s): Half-Orc (Player's Handbook). Change size from Medium to Large. The super mutant does not get the Menacing trait. They are instead immune to radiation damage and the radiation sickness condition.

Alternatively, use the Goliath (Elemental Evil Player's Companion). Consider flipping the Strength and Constitution/Endurance bonuses. The super mutant does not get the Natural Athlete trait. They are instead immune to radiation damage and the radiation sickness condition.

Ability Scores: Increase your Strength by 1 and Constitution by 2.
Size: Large
Speed: 30 ft.
FEV Mutation: You are immune to radiation damage, radiation sickness, and disease. You do not age physically.
Relentless Endurance: When you are reduced to 0 hit points but not killed outright, you can drop to 1 hit point instead. You can't use this feature again until you finish a long rest.

Nightkin


In addition to the other traits of a Super Mutant, Nightkin have the following traits:
Stealth Boy: Once per short rest as an action, you can turn invisible. The invisibility lasts for up to to a minute, until you take a hostile action, or until you end it by choice.
Eroded Sanity: Use of Stealth Boys leaves night kins with mental health problems, which usually manifests as paranoia (see Long-term Madness, Dungeon Master's Guide pg. 260). With GM approval, you can instead suffer from a different long-term madness.

Roll a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw at the beginning of every short rest. If you succeed, you suppress the effects of your madness until the next short or long rest. If you fail, you may choose to spend the entire short rest suppressing your madness and automatically succeed despite your roll. If you do, you gain none of the usual advantage of the short rest. You are always considered to have automatically succeeded at suppressing your madness after an uninterrupted long rest, and you gain all the usual advantages of a long rest too.

Robot

Reskin Race(s): Warforged (Unearthed Arcana: Eberron). Consider switching the Strength bonus for an Intelligence bonus, depending on robot model. The robot should probably be immune to poison damage, the poison condition, radiation damage, and radiation sickness. For all of this, trade the +1 to AC normally gained by the Warforged, as well as its +1 ability score bonus. I'd suggest other changes as well, such as not being able to heal normally, but this is already becoming a complete overhaul. In point of fact, this is the one case where I would really recommend using the custom race over any reskin.

Ability Scores: Increase your Intelligence by 2.
Speed: 30 ft.
Machine: You are immune to poison damage, radiation damage, the poison condition, radiation sickness, and disease. You do not need to eat or breathe.

You do not sleep, but enter an inactive state for at least 4 hours every day. You do not dream in this state; you are fully aware of your surroundings and notice approaching enemies and other events as normal.

You cannot use stimpaks and other health recovery items, and instead only recover hit points through the use of robot repair kits. You cannot gain temporary hit points except through your own class abilities and feats. You recover hit points normally during down time thanks to your self-diagnostic functions. Stabilising you requires an Engineering ability check rather than a First aid ability check.

Eyebot

In addition to the other traits of a Robot, an Eyebot has the following traits:
Ability Scores: Increase your Dexterity by 1.
Size: Small
Hover: Your movement speed is replaced by a fly speed, though you cannot ascend higher than thirty feet above ground level.
Integrated Weapons: You possess an integrated laser that deals 1d4 points of energy damage and has a range of sixty feet.

Mister Handy

In addition to the other traits of a Robot, a Mister Handy has the following traits:
Ability Scores: Increase your Wisdom by 1.
Size: Medium
Career in Science: You have been programmed to excel at a specific task. Choose one Intelligence-based skill with which you are proficient. You gain expertise in that skill, doubling your proficiency bonus on related skill checks.
Integrated Weapons: You possess a buzzsaw and a blowtorch on two of your three appendages. Your unarmed attacks deal 1d4 points of slashing or fire damage (your choice at the time of the attack).

Protectron

In addition to the other traits of a Robot, a Protectron has the following traits:
Ability Scores: Increase your Wisdom by 1.
Size: Medium
Integrated Weapons: You possess integrated arm lasers in both of your arms that deal 1d4 points of energy damage and have a range of sixy feet.

Prototype Gen 2 Synth

In addition to the other traits of a Robot, a Prototype Gen 2 Synth has the following traits:
Ability Scores: Increase your Charisma by 1.
Size: Medium
Hacker: You gain proficiency in the Hacking skill.
Run Simulations: You are adept at seeing patterns. You have advantage when attempting to predict an outcome with an Intelligence-based ability check.

Next Time

In the next article of this series, we'll take a look at 5e's classes and any changes to them we might need to consider.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

5e: Firearms

Today I present an expansion to the arsenal of weaponry available to a 5e character, with my take on firearms. Firearms in fantasy are always divisive. Just like marmite, people either seem to love it or hate it. I for one am a fan. Lantan, the source of firearms and other more advanced technologies in the Forgotten Realms, is one of my favourite places in that world.

There have been a lot of takes on 5th Edition firearms rules already, from the examples in the Dungeon Master's Guide to various incarnations over on dmsguild.com.

The firearms in the DMG are serviceable but don't quite do it for me. The reason: renaissance firearms (those that I'm concerned with) don't feel special enough: a slight damage bump over bows and crossbows is fairly dull, and arguably not enough of a boost to make the cost in reduced range worthwhile.

Meanwhile, the takes on firearms I've seen on DMs Guild all seem to be conversions from Pathfinder, or built along similar lines. I don't like these rules for one simple reason: misfires. Sure, misfires might be historically accurate, but are they fun? Do they tempt people to use the weapon? I love firearms in fantasy, but I'd never bother making a gunslinger in a Pathfinder campaign. I'll stick to the weapons that'll let my character shine consistently, thanks!

So I'm left with a couple of thoughts to inform my design: one, I want firearms to stand out from other weapons in some way. And two, what makes the weapons special should be a positive, not a negative.

The solution I went for in the end can actually be found in the DMG, under the modern firearms. These weapons deal two dice of damage, rather than one. This ticks both boxes, since very few weapons in the game deal two dice worth of damage instead of one, and those that do are melee weapons. Thus, a pistol can deal 2d4 damage which is not just a slightly higher maximum and average damage than a 1d6 hand crossbow, but also a slightly higher minimum damage. Similarly, the musket's 2d6 does a slightly better job of making up for the difference between it and a longbow or crossbow.

Although I did say above that I'm not a fan of misfires, I did make an exception for the repeating musket listed below. This weapon is intended to represent a prototype making occasional faults a suitable side effect of use, and its advantages remain clear even with a potential downside.

Not content with relatively minor tweaks to two firearms, I also wrote adjustments to explosives, came up with an expanded list of fantastic firearms with various special properties, and designed a few modifications that might be applied to a characters' ranged weapon. Since I was on a roll, I created some fantastic siege weapons for good measure.

One quick note before you dig in: these were written with the Forgotten Realms in mind. Substitute references "smoke powder" for "black powder" in other settings.

Firearms Proficiency


If firearms are common in your world, treat them as though they require martial weapon proficiency.

If firearms are very rare, then firearms are only martial weapons to characters who have had the opportunity to learn how to use them; a character can either select individual firearms using the Weapon Master feat, or select the Renaissance (Wo)man feat presented in the sidebar of this article to become proficient with all firearms. This does normally prevent a non-variant human from becoming proficient with firearms until fourth level. You might choose to allow members of other races to gain proficiency with a single type of firearm at 1st level in one of the following ways, at your discretion:
  • The character can trade proficiency with all racial weapons for proficiency with a single firearm.
  • The character can trade one of their skill proficiencies for proficiency with a single firearm.

Firearms

Weapon / Item
Cost
Damage
Weight
Properties
Pistol
50 gp
2d4 piercing
3 lb.
ammunition (range 30/90), loading, two-handed
Musket
500 gp
2d6 piercing
10 lb.
ammunition (range 40/120), loading, two-handed
Repeating Musket
2000 gp
2d6 piercing
15 lb.
ammunition (range 40/120), two-handed, special
Lantanna Longrifle
1000 gp
2d6 piercing
12 lb.
ammunition (range 60/180), loading, two-handed
Light Cannon
1000 gp
2d10 piercing
20 lb.
ammunition (range 40/120), two-handed, special
Dwarven Dragonsfire Rod
1500 gp
Special
18 lb.
ammunition (range 30), special
Mana Rifle
1d10 force
7 lb.
range 180, special
Ammunition
Bullets (10)
3 gp
2 lb.
Light Cannon Balls (4)
5 gp
2 lb.
Dragonfire Cask
400 gp
Special
12 lb.
Special
Smoke Powder Horn
35 gp
Special
35 lb.
Special
Smoke Powder Keg
250 gp
Special
20 lb.
Special
Explosives
Bomb
50 gp
Special
1 lb.
Special
Smoke Bomb
30 gp
Special
2 lb.
Special
Modifications
Axe Blade
8 gp
1d8 slashing
modified weapon ×1.5*
Special
Bayonet
5 gp
1d6 piercing
+1 lb.
Special
Bipod
50 gp
+1 lb.
Special
Double Barrel
×1.5**
base weapon ×1.5**
Special
Spyglass Attachment
1200 gp
+1 lb.
Special
*Multiply the weapon's weight by 1.5 after applying any weight adjustments from other modifications.
**Multiply the base weapon's cost and weight by 1.5 before applying any adjustments from other modifications.

Special Weapon Properties




Repeating Musket: The repeating musket is a lantanna prototype weapon which can be loaded with multiple bullets at once, making reloading between each shot unnecessary. Six bullets are fed into a revolving cylinder, which rotates them into position in the musket’s barrel automatically as the weapon is fired. While there is still ammunition in the cylinder, the repeating musket doesn’t have the loading property.

Once the weapon is empty of pre-loaded bullets, the wielder can continue to use it as a regular musket with the loading property until they can spare the time to reload all six chambers.

The weapon’s mechanisms are temperamental, and prone to jamming. On a natural 1 on an attack roll, the weapon becomes jammed.

A repeating musket’s wielder can either reload the weapon’s six chambers or clear a jam at the expense of their entire turn and their reaction for the round.

Light Cannon: The so-called "light cannon" is a bulky weapon that does indeed resemble nothing so much as a smaller version of a cannon set upon a long wooden stock, like a musket. It fires cast iron balls that are significantly larger than the ammunition of a musket. The light cannon is a handheld weapon of unprecedented destructive power, but requires extraordinary physical strength to use without harm to the wielder. Due to the weapon's weight and the need to brace, a light cannon must be fired from the waist or braced.

To wield a light cannon safely, the bearer must have a Strength score of at least 18 or be a Large or larger creature. Anyone else attempting to fire a light cannon suffers bludgeoning damage equal to that of the weapon, is pushed back 10 feet, and is knocked prone.

A light cannon deals double damage to objects, but not structures.

It takes one action to load a light cannon, one bonus action to aim it, and one action to fire it.

Dwarven Dragonsfire Rod: The dragonsfire rod is a metal tube attached by a hose to a pressurised cask of specially formulated alchemist’s fire the dwarves call dragonsfire. The cask is worn on the wielder’s back. A curved crank handle is fitted to the bottom of the cask and extends to one side of the wielder.

To prime the dragonsfire rod, the crank handle needs to be pulled thirty degrees away from the wielder’s body, which can be accomplished as an object interaction.

Once the weapon is primed the liquid contents flow through the hose into the rod, after which the wielder may spend an action to pull the trigger. The rod sprays dragonsfire in a 30 foot cone. Each creature in the area must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw, taking 2d6 fire damage on a failed save, or half as much if successful. A creature that fails its save also takes a further 1d4 fire damage at the start of each of its turns. The creature can end this ongoing damage by using its action to make a DC 10 Dexterity check to extinguish the flames.

It takes one action to decouple a depleted cask and one action to connect a new one, which must be adjacent. However, removing the depleted cask from one's back and replacing it with another is a more involved process of buckling and unbuckling and is equivalent to donning and doffing light armor.

It is common practice for dwarven dragonsfire teams to operate in teams of two, one to wield the weapon and the other to help defend them and assist in reloading. These teams typically establish stationary positions where they have access to stores of dragonsfire casks. While the dwarves take every possible precaution to reduce the chances of these stored casks catching fire from enemy attacks, dragonsfire bunkers are still notoriously dangerous assignments.

Mana RifleThese weapons are the creations of advanced empires now long since fallen, and might occasionally be discovered within ancient ruins. They are typically mistaken for magical rods, and in truth there is very little distinction between them. A mana rifle has 30 charges, which recharge at dawn. At the expense of a charge the mana rifle fires a beam of force energy, not unlike an eldritch blast.

Variants exist that deal other types of damage, or possess properties such as the ability to repel the target if an additional charge is depleted.

Special Ammunition Properties


Dragonsfire Cask: A cask of the incendiary alchemical substance known as dragonsfire contains enough fluid for four attacks with a dwarven dragonsfire rod.

Setting fire to a cask of dragonsfire results in an explosion. All creatures within 10 feet of the cask must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw, taking 2d6 fire damage on a failed save or half as much if successful. A creature that fails its save also takes a further 1d4 fire damage at the start of each of its turns. The creature can end this ongoing damage by using its action to make a DC 10 Dexterity check to extinguish the flames.

Smoke Powder Horn: Smoke powder is an explosive substance, that can be used to propel a bullet. A powder horn is a portable container, traditionally made from an animal's horn, that contains enough smoke powder to fire ten bullets.

Setting fire to a powder horn results in an explosion. All creatures within 10 feet of the powder horn must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw, taking 2d6 fire damage on a failed save, or half as much if successful.

Setting fire to an ounce of gunpowder results in a flare of light for one round, shedding bright light in a 3-foot radius and dim light for an additional 30 feet.

Smoke Powder Keg: When not portioned into portable powder horns, smoke powder is stored in large, heavy kegs. A powder keg carries enough smoke powder for firing eighty bullets.
Setting fire to a powder horn results in an explosion. All creatures within 10 feet of the powder horn must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw, taking 8d6 fire damage on a failed save, or half as much if successful.

Setting fire to an ounce of gunpowder results in a flare of light for one round, shedding bright light in a 3-foot radius and dim light for an additional 30 feet.

Special Explosive Properties


Bomb:  A bomb can be lit as an action and thrown into a space within 60 feet. All creatures within 10 feet of the target space must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw, taking 3d6 damage on a failed save, and half as much if successful.

Smoke Bomb: A smoke bomb is filled with an alchemical substance that generates large quantities of smoke when the casing breaks. It can be lit as an action and thrown into a space within 60 feet. A 20 foot radius area with the target space as its center becomes lightly obscured. One round after, the area becomes heavily obscured. A moderate wind (at least 10 miles per hour) disperses the smoke in 4 rounds or a strong wind (20 or more miles per hour) disperses it in 1 round. Otherwise, the smoke disperses after 10 rounds.

Setting fire to a powder horn results in an explosion. All creatures within 10 feet of the powder horn must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw, taking 3d6 fire damage on a failed save, or half as much if successful.

Special Modification Properties


Axe Blade:  An axe blade is a modification that can be added to any two-handed firearm that allows it to be wielded as a Strength-baded slashing melee weapon equivalent to a battleaxe. Unlike a bayonet, which is designed to spear the enemy's flesh and be pulled out, the heavy swings of an axe blade can do a great deal more damage to a gun which isn't designed for such impacts. Therefore, this modification includes additional structural support to the rest of the weapon and its other modifications. After applying all other modifications, multiply the combined weight of the base weapon and its other modifications by one and a half.

Axe blades, bayonets, and bipods cannot be applied to the same weapon.

BayonetA bayonet is a modification that can be added to any two-handed firearm that allows it to be wielded as a piercing melee weapon equivalent to a spear.

Bayonets, axe blades, and bipods cannot be applied to the same weapon.

Bipod: A bipod is a modification that can be added to any two-handed firearm or crossbow that allows it to be braced against a flat, firm surface for additional accuracy.

Bracing a weapon requires a bonus action. Additionally, the wielder must be adjacent to a suitable piece of half or three-quarters cover on which the weapon can be propped, or the wielder must be lying prone on solid ground.

While braced, the short range of the weapon is doubled.

Double Barrel: A double barrel is a modification that can be added to any two-handed firearm that does not already ignore the loading property (such as a repeating musket) and uses bullets or cannon balls. This modification can be applied at the time of the weapon's creation only.

A double barreled weapon can be fired twice before its wielder needs to reload, ignoring the loading property or special loading rules of the weapon. After the second shot, it becomes a normal weapon of its type. Ammunition can be loaded one at a time. Alternatively, the wielder can reload both barrels which requires an action or double the reloading time of the base weapon, whichever is longer.

A double barrel adds considerable weight to a weapon. Before other modifications are applied, increase the weight of the base weapon by one half.

The cost of a double barrel weapon is calculated in the same fashion: increase the cost of the base weapon by one half before applying the costs of any additional modifications.

Spyglass Attachment: A spyglass attachment is a modification that can be added to any two-handed firearm or crossbow that makes attacks against a single target, with the exception of a light cannon. A spyglass allows the weapon to be fired with greater accuracy. The weapon deals an additional die of damage whenever the wielder scores a critical hit.

Additionally, a weapon with a spyglass attachment gains a pinpoint range. The weapon's pinpoint range is equal to its unmodified short range (eg., if a weapon has both a bipod and a spyglass, the bipod increases the weapon's short range but not its pinpoint range). When making an attack within pinpoint range that is not against an adjacent target, the weapon's damage dice are improved by one step (2d4 becomes 2d6, 2d6 becomes 2d8, and so on).

Siege Weapons

Mana Cannon

Armor Class: 20
Hit Points: 100
Damage Resistances: bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical weapons
Damage Immunities: poison, psychic

A mana cannon is an ancient magical weapon occasionally discovered in the ruins of fallen magical empires. Typically a mana cannon fires a destructive beam of force, though variants that fire other types of magical energy have been known.

A mana cannon is generally made of a magically enhanced metal alloy and set in a sturdy frame of like material, but examples of other materials including stone have been discovered; the advanced peoples that created these weapons were skilled at magical maipulation to grant base materials unusual properties, and often took pride in their ability to defy natural laws.

It takes one action to aim the mana cannon and one action to fire it.

Mana Cannon Beam. Ranged Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, range 900/3,600 ft., one target. Hit: 44 (8d10) force damage.

Heavy Mana Cannon

Armor Class: 20
Hit Points: 150
Damage Resistances: bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical weapons
Damage Immunities: poison, psychic

Heavy mana cannons, like the smaller variety, are the highly destructive remnants of shattered empires.

A heavy mana cannon fires a beam with unfathomable force, but takes a short time to recharge between shots.

It takes one action to aim the mana cannon and one action to fire it. Once fired, the heavy mana cannon must recharge for two full rounds before it can be fired again.

Heavy Mana Cannon Beam. All creatures in a 10 ft. by 10 ft. area within 4,800 feet must make a DC 16 Dexterity saving throw, taking 88 (16d10) force damage on a failed saving throw. If the targets are more than 1,200 feet from the heavy mana cannon (its short range), they have advantage on their saving throws.

Thunder Cannon

Armor Class: 18
Hit Points: 75
Damage Immunities: poison, psychic

A thunder cannon is a Lantanna invention that has six rotary chambers. In quick succession each fires a cannon ball that is smaller than that of a regular cannon, but the cumulative impact of six balls gives the weapon far greater destructive force. The weapon's name is derived from the thunderous boom of its successive shots.

It takes one action to aim the thunder cannon and one action to fire it. Reloading the thunder cannon takes a full round in which the character can take no actions, movements, or reactions.

Thunder Cannon. Ranged Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, range 600/2,400 ft., one target. Hit: 54 (12d8) bludgeoning damage, 46 (10d8) of which either ignores resistance to nonmagical bludgeoning damage possessed by the target, or treats a target structure or object as vulnerable.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

5e: Monstrous Supplement — Ogres

This week, I'm presenting a number of new ogre statblocks for 5e D&D. The statblocks in the embedded PDF should be used in conjunction with baseline ogres from the SRD/Monster Manual to create a varied tribe. The ogres included will allow you to use ogres as enemies for higher level parties, and run ogre encounters where the monsters have varied and interesting strategies open to them above and beyond just hitting the nearest available player character.

The embedded PDF includes:

The Ogre Brute


An Ogre Brute is a freakishly tough representative of their species, far bulkier than most other ogres and covered in thick layers of muscle and fat which afford them some level of protection. Ogre tribes lucky enough to count one or more brutes among their number put them in the vanguard, where they can do the most damage.

The Ogre Champion


An Ogre Champion is one of the strongest and brightest of their race, but also one of the fiercest fighters. They are the equivalent to an officer, leading ogre raiding parties and rallying their tribe in times of defense. Because of their position within the tribe a champion usually has a few trophies, such as a steel weapon. Champions always wade into melee, where they rage like barbarians. If they find themselves cheated of their ability to continue raging, a champion with a cooler head can fight smart (for an ogre), making them a dangerous foe even with their fury quelled.

The Ogre Chieftain


The strongest ogre in a tribe is their chieftain. This individual is likely a former champion, and typically older than the other warriors while not yet old enough for infirmity. Their experience and relative wisdom serve them well in guiding the tribe and in defeating challenges from those that would take their place. The chieftain is measured by their strength, and in some respects their strength becomes the strength of their tribe. A strong showing in battle inspires greater efforts from the chieftain's followers. It also helps guarantee the chieftain's survival—there are those among their tribe just waiting for a sign of weakness, and this knowledge encourages a chieftain to push past physical limitations.

The Ogre Shieldbearer


A shieldbearer wields a large, primitively constructed wooden shield, or a stolen item such as a door which can serve the same purpose. They use their shield to protect themselves and other ogre warriors around them. Unsurprisingly, they are often found in the company of Champions and Chieftains.

The Ogre Slinger


Although weapons that require finesse and accuracy are hardly an ogre's strong point, these ogres defy expectation by wielding slings. The slings created by ogres are so large that they can throw hefty rocks, and the ogre's physical might is enough that those rocks often explode on impact, sending splinters of stone scything into the flesh of secondary targets.

The Ogre Parent


The ogre parent represents an ogre father or mother, or a member of the tribe who stands guard over the tribe's young in the event of an enemy attack. They fight all the harder in light of this serious duty, and throw themselves into harm's way to protect the future hopes of their tribe.

The Ogre Youth


The ogre youth is no longer a child but not old enough to be an adult. They are still learning from an ogre parent what it means to be a member of the tribe. An ogre youth can benefit from following a parent's guidance, but like children of any race they are known for rebellious streaks.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

GM Advice: Puzzle Inspirations

An area of the game where GMs can really stretch their creative muscles is puzzles. No system has elaborate mechanics for puzzles, because it's not something you can police. Every puzzle is different, and if you reduce it to a series of rolls it becomes, essentially, a waste of time. This is a problem that occurred with traps in later editions of Dungeons & Dragons. In the early game, players would rely on their wits and creative thinking to detect traps and figure out how to bypass them or disrupt their mechanisms. Eventually, the game's designers tried to account for the fact that a character's skills and knowledge are not the same thing as a player's skills and knowledge. Traps could be discovered and deactivated purely by making skill checks. It's a reasonable idea in theory, but the practical effect was to reduce traps to the role of largely tedious speed bumps in the game's pacing. They were barriers to progression before, of course, but they presented a challenge the player could sink their teeth into.

Puzzles, when used, remain a part of the game where the person being challenged is really the player, not their character. I'd argue that this isn't a bad thing. The player is the one we're trying to entertain, Does it matter, in the end, how that is accomplished? It does follow, however, that puzzles are only worthwhile additions when we have players who will be entertained by them.

When you can't create, borrow.

If you have at least some players that enjoy an occasional puzzle challenge, then like me you might struggle to invent suitably creative challenges. It's probably not a surprise to anyone when I say that creating a good puzzle from scratch is extremely hard, and it's usually best to borrow and re-purpose one that already exists.For instance, you might be able to lift one straight from a published adventure. You could do that as is, or you could think about the actual mechanics of the puzzle (the choices and combinations made, and the results), and dress it up in a new skin.


Use actual games as inspiration.

You can do much the same with real world puzzles and games. Here are a few examples, all of which might be necessary to unlock a chest/door/magical barrier/secret passage/etc.:

  • In a predetermined number of moves, move a knight to a specific place or take a specific piece on a chess board (known in the Forgotten Realms as a lanceboard).
  • Solve a series of riddles. 
  • Solve the words of a riddle and make up a poker hand's worth of playing cards based on the clues. 
  • Solve a Tower of Hanoi.
  • Complete a pairs game within a set amount of turns.
There are huge benefits to using real world puzzles as the basis of your own. First, it helps you to develop the puzzle. Even if you add your own twists to the game, you're not starting from scratch. Second, it aids in player understanding of the puzzle. It is a lot easier to follow the logic of a puzzle if you have prior experience with it or can quickly understand its building blocks. Finally, you can use physical props, which will also help with comprehension while additionally increasing player engagement. 


Take the puzzle out of its original context.

You can increase the challenge of a real world puzzle by re-skinning it so that it's not immediately obvious what the puzzle is. That way, even players who have prior experience with the puzzle will still go through a process of discovery before that satisfying moment that understanding clicks and they breeze through the solution. Take the Tower of Hanoi example above. While you could totally just have the players solve a literal example of the puzzle to unlock a door, you can instead take the mechanics of the puzzle and build something new out of it. 

I successfully used this puzzle during an adventure by making it the means for the PCs to cross an otherwise impassable chasm. Here's the set-up:

The PCs arrive at one side of a chasm. The far side is distant enough that they have no means to cross. Along the near side of the chasm are a number of platforms, floating above the plunging descent. They are all different sizes, with the smallest on the left and the largest on the right. There can be any number of platforms, as appropriate to the size of your party.

Stepping onto any of the platforms causes that PC to be trapped on the platform by a magical field which cannot be bypassed in any way. The only way to bring down the field is to solve the puzzle and cross to the other side of the chasm. A control panel on the platform seems to indicate that the PC can move the platform bidirectionally across the chasm, but the controls don't yet function. A graphic indicator on the control shows the platforms and the PC's is lit up. The first step to the solution is realising that the other platforms need to be manned by the remaining PCs.

Once the platforms are all manned, they become active. But only the PC on the leftmost, smallest platform finds that they can move their platform. They can move it half-way across the chasm, or to the far side of the chasm. If they move to the far side, the magical barrier remains (all platforms must reach this side for it to vanish). Whichever position they choose, the platform then moves all the way to the right (parallel to the largest platform). The PC on the second smallest platform now finds that theirs can move, but only to the position not currently occupied by the smallest platform.

Chasm Crossing of Hanoi.

This puzzle is not immediately obvious as a Tower of Hanoi. For a start, there's nothing tower-like about any components. But through trial and error, players can learn that all the same rules apply. The platforms can move between three points. The solution is only reached once all platforms are at the furthest point from where they start. Finally, no platform can move to a position if it would be larger than a platform already in that position. The puzzle can be solved via understanding of a Tower of Hanoi (once one or more players figure out what it is), or the same way that a Tower of Hanoi is normally solved by someone who's never done it before: through trial and error.

As I mentioned earlier, physical props can help with understanding and engagement. I drew this puzzle out on my chessex mat, using dotted lines to mark the legal positions, and placed cardboard circles along the first dotted line to represent the platforms. My players were allowed to physically move the platforms, with me telling them whenever a move was illegal. 

Tower of Hanoi Solution (this image from Wiki Commons)
Instead of a horizontal Tower of Hanoi, as above. You could stick in the vertical plane and make the platforms into lifts. Solving the puzzle will take the PCs higher (or lower) in the dungeon.


Add twists.

You can add new rules to existing puzzles to increase the challenge level. For instance, I used a pairs game in one adventure. The first twist was, of course, the one described before: a turn limit. The second I added was that every time the PCs failed to find a pair, all the already discovered pairs were also turned back over. The third was that even if the PCs found a pair, it might not be considered a success: the pairs had to be found in the right order.

Solving the puzzle was a matter of finding, and remembering, a certain sequence. In short, it was equivalent to a password or safe combination.

Once again I used physical props for this to great success: I created a pairs game out of card which the players could actually play at my table.

The trick to any pairs game puzzle is in deciding how many turns is a reasonable limit. This becomes harder to assess when permutations like those above are involved. As a general rule, be generous. Your players will waste a few turns just figuring out the rules. Or, you can afford them the opportunity to learn the rules, perhaps via a riddle. Other clues you might want to seed in the dungeon nearby are partial combinations that reveal some of the necessary pair sequence.

Or how about that old classic of simply solving one or more riddles? Can we spice that up? Imagine, for example, a room full of old portraits with a locked door that can only be opened by entering a number sequence via a keypad. The first riddle reveals that the combination can be found under the portraits, but that the order of the numbers will be determined by solving the riddles that follow. Lifting the portraits from the wall will reveal that every single one has a number underneath, though of course a lot of these are not part of the solution at all.

Each time the PCs solve a riddle, they can find its subject in one of the portraits in the room. If the answer to the riddle is "a mountain", they need to find a portrait with a mountain in it.

For added challenge, consider a situation where the solution to some riddles might be found in multiple portraits. However, all but one of those portraits is actually the correct portrait to go along with either a riddle they've already solved (in which case they can immediately eliminate it), or a riddle later in the sequence (in which case they will need to find out all the possibilities for the whole sequence and then eliminate possibilities until only the correct sequence remains).

Another option for spicing up riddles might be for the puzzle to require the PCs to draw the solution. This is no more complex than asking them to guess aloud, but you can get your players to actually do the drawings at the table, adding a fun physical element and perhaps injecting some hilarity into your game depending on the quality of the drawings.

What puzzles have you borrowed for your games? 

And what were your successes and failures? Share your stories in the comments!

Sunday, 28 May 2017

5e: Fighter Archetype—The Fist Fighter

Today, I have another fighter archetype for you.

The Fist Fighter is my attempt to make an unarmed warrior without all the mystic/wuxia elements integrated into the monk. While I am a big fan of the Pugilist class by the Sterling Vermin Adventuring Co, to the point that I'm presently playing one, I wanted to try and create an archetype that would achieve a similar theme making use of core class features.

This archetype is somewhat unusual, in that it assumes that a character began their career as a Monk and multiclassed into Fighter. Taking just a single level of Monk grants a character all the necessary features to realise the essentials of the theme—unarmored defense, and improved unarmed attacks from the martial arts feature.

The character then multiclasses into Fighter, which will grant them all the features they need to be a potent warrior without all the exotic elements of the Monk which we're not interested in for this concept.

The first feature of this archetype is what ties everything together, allowing the Fist Fighter to treat their Fighter levels as Monk levels in respect to the damage from the Monk's 1st level Martial Arts feature. It also ensures that the Fist Fighter will eventually be able to treat their unarmed strikes as magical. If the DM prefers, they may wish to ignore this feature. An alternative is to grant the Fist Fighter PC bracers, an amulet, or some other kind of magic item that lets them treat their unarmed strikes as magical when they attain an appropriate level, in the same way that the DM would hand other PCs magical weapons.

The Fist Fighter

Fists of Fury

Beginning when you choose this archetype at 3rd level, your  Fighter levels count as Monk levels for the purpose of determining your Monk Martial Arts damage.

When you attain 6th level, your fighting passion burns so fiercely within you that your unarmed strikes count as magical for the purpose of overcoming resistance and immunity to nonmagical attacks and damage.

Iron Body

At 7th level, your long experience of brutal brawls against tough and often armed opponents dramatically increases your endurance. You can now use your Second Wind twice per short or long rest. Additionally, you have advantage on saving throws against exhaustion.


Technical Fighting 

At 10th level, once per turn when you hit a target with an unarmed strike, you can choose to force the target to make a Strength or Dexterity saving throw or else suffer one of the following effects:
  • The target must succeed at a Strength or Dexterity saving throw is moved to any free space within 10 feet of both the target and yourself.
  • The target becomes prone.
  • You and the target switch places.
The saving throw DC for Technical Fighting is calculated as follows:

Technical Fighting save DC = 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Strength or Dexterity modifier (your choice)


Signature Move

At 15th level, you gain one of the following features of your choice.
  • Cross-counter. When an attacker that you can see hits you with an attack, you can use your reaction to make an unarmed strike against them.   
  • Rabbit Punch. You can forfeit your extra attacks during an Attack action you make while unarmed, making only a single attack instead. For the purpose of this attack only, you score a critical hit on a roll of 18-20. Additionally, if the attack hits your target is stunned until the beginning of your next turn. 
  • Uncanny Dodge. When an attacker that you can see hits you with an attack, you can use your reaction to halve the attack's damage against you.  

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

5e: Two New Feats—Mental Focus and Physical Conditioning

Last week's article on skilled dwarf and elf variants had me thinking about other ways a character's expertise might manifest. In particular, I got to thinking that 5e features in general are about excellence—a character stands out from other people because when they attempt a task, they do it with greater style and power.

But what if a character's mastery took a different tack? Perhaps their best is on the same level as anyone else's, but they succeed where others fail because they have trained themselves to approach things correctly and make less mistakes?

The two feats I ultimately came up with and present to you below are therefore not about flashiness, but about damage control. When conditions are already unfavourable, a character in possession of one of these feats can limit the weakness of their current position and come out relatively unaffected.

Mental Focus

You have honed your mind and practiced keeping your cool in unexpected and distracting situations, allowing you to maintain your complete focus when things are at their worst. 

  • Increase your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20. 
  • Once per short rest you can roll a Concentration check with advantage.  
  • Whenever you roll an Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma ability check and have disadvantage, you roll three d20s and use the middle roll (if two or more of the dice roll the same number, use that number). 

Physical Conditioning

You have trained your body to the peak possible condition, and know your strengths and weaknesses inside and out. Your movements and stances are always optimal for the task at hand, and depending on the nature of a threat to your body you know just when to tense your muscles, relax them, or explode into movement. 

  • Increase your Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
  • Once per short rest, you can reduce the damage from any physical or energy source, but not psychic, by a number of hit points equal to twice your Proficiency bonus. 
  • Whenever you roll a Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution ability check and have disadvantage, you roll three d20s and use the middle roll (if two or more of the dice roll the same number, use that number). 

Sunday, 21 May 2017

5e: Fighter Archetype—The Legendary Hero

Those of you who read my recent article on lessons video games can teach us know that recently I've been playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Today I want to talk about a specific character archetype for which Link is a perfect example. Let's call this archetype the Legendary Hero.

The Legendary Hero is first and foremost a warrior, but they are tied up in a great destiny generally involving saving the world and defeating a deadly evil. Since no mere swordsman can be expected to achieve such lofty goals with the strength of their sword arm alone, a Legendary Hero is set apart from regular warriors by the possession or eventual acquisition of special items and otherwordly powers that give them a fighting chance at overcoming the challenges they are destined to face.

Just a few examples of Legendary Heroes in popular media include Link from the Legend of Zelda series, Luke Skywalker and Rey from the Star Wars franchise, and Buffy, the titular character of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Below I present my first pass at a Legendary Hero archetype for the Fighter Class. But before I move on to the crunch, I want to talk briefly about how a legendary hero fits into a game of D&D.

In the media in which they appear, legendary heroes are either the main drivers of the plot, or the plot's main focus, and sometimes both. D&D, on the other hand, is an ensemble game. It's important that all characters get equal focus (or as equal as you can manage), and similar opportunities to shine. That doesn't mean legendary heroes can't have a place in a D&D party. There's a few approaches you could take in your game:

Option one is to not tie the legendary hero's destiny into the main story, or have them be only partially related. This way, although the legendary hero has an important part to play in the world, they are no more or less destined to face the campaign's final problems than the rest of the party. As far as the game's primary plot is concerned, all are equals.

Option two requires buy in from your players. In this option, the other party members have their own destiny, which is to support the legendary hero throughout their quest, even unto the final encounter. You can have the campaign play out completely as normal, including your final boss fight, but perhaps the legendary hero gets to strike a final blow after the party reduce the big bad's hit points to zero. Supporting the legendary hero does not make the rest of the party any less significant to the story—think of Willow, Xander and Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or the role plaid by Han, Leia, Chewie and the Droids in Star Wars. Buffy and Luke may have the great destinies, but the stories they appear in are just as much about the people that help them reach their destiny and anchor them. Nevertheless, some players might not like this kind of campaign, while others would enjoy the unique roleplaying challenges it brings.

Option three is to keep the legendary hero's destiny deliberately vague. There's a world of difference between being destined to "strike down the great evil" (specific) and being destined to "bring about the great evil's downfall" (vague). By keeping things nebulous, you can play without worrying too much exactly what the legendary hero has to do, or treat them any differently from the other player characters. If someone else strikes the finishing blow against the great evil, the legendary hero's destiny is still fulfilled. Perhaps their very presence at the end was the difference that charted fate's course down the path of victory, rather than defeat.

The Legendary Hero


Legendary Gift

Beginning when you choose this archetype at 3rd level, and once again at 15th level, fate intervenes to grant you unique gifts that will help you succeed at the monumental task before you. Each time you gain this feature, choose either Legendary Item, Legendary Powers, or Destiny's Momentum.


Legendary Item

You are linked with a magical item which is connected to your destiny.Your legendary item must be agreed between you and your DM, and can be any uncommon, non-expendable magic item. In addition to the properties of a typical magic item of that type, your legendary item possesses two minor properties and may possess one quirk at your option (refer to DMG page 143). At your option, the legendary item can also be sentient, in which case it can only communicate with you, and does so by transmitting emotion when you carry or wield it, unless it also possesses the "language" minor property. A sentient legendary item has hearing and normal vision out to 30 feet.

At 7th, 13th, and 19th level your legendary item gains one of the following upgrades (subject to compatibility with the item and your DM's approval):
  • Improves to the next rarity tier (if an option for the item in question).
  • +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls.
  • +1d4 to damage rolls.
  • +1 to AC.
  • Advantage to one type of saving throw.
  • Resistance to one type of damage.
  • Gains the features of another uncommon item.


Legendary Powers

A powerful being, a mysterious stranger, a bloodline legacy, or an ancient ritual has granted you uncanny abilities.

Choose any first level spell, which you learn. When you reach 7th level you may learn one 2nd-level spell or two additional 1st-level spells. At 13th level you may learn one 3rd-level spell, or two additional 2nd-level spells. At 19th level you may learn one 4th-level spell or two additional 3rd-level spells.

You have two spell slots per short rest at 3rd level, three per short rest at 11th level, and four per short rest at 17th level. You can use your spell slots to cast any of your spells learned through the legendary powers class feature.

Your spellcasting ability for legendary powers is Charisma, since they rely on your force of will. You use your Charisma whenever a spell refers to your spellcasting ability. In addition, you use your Charisma modifier when setting the saving throw DC for a spell you cast and when making an attack roll with one.

Spell save DC = 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier

Spell attack modifier = your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier


Destiny's Momentum

As the vessel through which the world's course will be corrected, you possess the exceptional ability to twist free of the grasp of any fate that doesn't align with your own destiny. You gain a number of destiny's momentum points equal to half your Fighter level (rounded up). You can spend these points to fuel various features, shown below.

When you spend a point of destiny's momentum, it is unavailable until you finish a short or long rest, at the end of which your power to influence destiny is restored to your full allowance of points.

When destiny's momentum features require your target to make a saving throw to resist the feature's effects, the saving throw DC is calculated as follows:

Destiny's momentum save DC = 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier


Destiny's Momentum Maneuvers

  • Clear the Thorny Path. Spend a point of destiny's momentum after your weapon attack hits to deal maximum damage instead of rolling the weapon's damage dice.
  • Crushing Doom. Spend a point of destiny's momentum after reducing an enemy to cause all creatures within thirty feed to make a Wisdom saving throw or be shaken until the end of their next turn. If a creature moves 5 feet or more or takes the dash or disengage action on their turn while they are shaken, they have disadvantage on all attacks and ability checks made in the same turn.
  • Defiance in the Face of Certain Death. Spend a point of destiny's momentum after being reduced to 0 hit points without being killed by massive damage to immediately roll one of your Hit Dice and add your Constitution modifier, instantly gaining that many hit points and regaining consciousness. You can use destiny's momentum in this fashion only once per short or long rest.
  • Destiny's Protection. Spend a point of destiny's momentum to take the Dodge action as a bonus action on your turn.
  • Guard of Flashing Steel. As long as you are wielding a weapon or improvised weapon, you can spend a point of destiny's momentum after you are hit by a melee or ranged weapon attack to roll your weapon's damage dice and reduce the damage of the incoming attack by that amount.
  • Hero's Onslaught. Spend a point of destiny's momentum to make an additional attack as a bonus action.
  • Slip the Chains. When you take the Disengage action, spend a point of destiny's momentum to treat enemies as difficult terrain when you would not normally be able to move through their space.


Heroic Effort

Starting at 7th level, once per short rest when you fail to meet the target of any attack roll, ability check, or saving throw, you can add +5 to the result. When you do so, you become winded. A level of winded is equal in every way to a level of exhaustion. You move along the exhaustion track, but keep track of how many of your exhaustion levels come from being winded. If you reach 6 exhaustion levels due to being winded you don't die, but instead fall unconscious.

As long as you are conscious to do so, you can remove a level of winded by spending a full round doing nothing other than regaining your wind. Any effect that removes exhaustion levels can also remove levels of winded, but reduce your exhaustion levels first.

At your option you can exceed the normal limit of one use of Heroic Effort per short rest, but each additional time you use it you gain a level of exhaustion rather than a level of winded.


Additional Fighting Style

At 10th level, you can choose a second option from the Fighting Style class feature.


Lifeward

From 18th level, unseen forces gather to shield you when you are injured. After you take damage from any source the next attack roll made against you before the end of your next turn has disadvantage or if you make a saving throw before you are attacked that saving throw is rolled with advantage instead.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

5e: The Long Business of Living—Racial Variants for Dwarves, Elves, and Humans

Historically, the Dungeons & Dragons game has had two longer-lived core races: dwarves and elves. Not only are the members of these races able to live to far riper years, but the youth of each respective race matures at a slower rate, not to be considered an adult until they're far older than a grown human. A dwarf can live until around 350, only being treated an adult after age 50. An elf can live for the better part of a millenia and is treated as an adult at age 100.

Logic would suggest that even relatively young adventurers of these races have still been around for a while and have had time to pick up a variety of skills and tricks. The 5e rules support that concept, sort of. Elves for instance get weapon training while Dwarves of all types are made proficient with weapons, tools, and knowledgeable about stonework.

The problem here, of course, is that the game allows for no variety. In the worlds of D&D, all elves and dwarves apparently have weapons training, and while all dwarves may not be stone masons (they can also craft weapons or brew beer, so take that typecasting!) they all definitely know a lot about masonry.

Perhaps this is okay in your world. Maybe, for instance, all elves and dwarves may go through a period of mandatory military service between childhood and adulthood, or are trained in weapons skills as a matter of course so as to defend settlements in an emergency.

Personally, I would prefer for the dwarven and elven characters in my world to display a bit more variety. I'd like their racial traits to reflect extra skills, or perhaps personal hobbies, picked up in addition to those granted by the character's background—representing the fact that characters of these races have more background.
For some reason, bonus skills as a racial feature is the province of one of the races with the shortest lives, humans (or at least, the variant human), as well as half-elves, because of their human blood. There's not really a decent justification for that, beyond the metagame fact that it's hard to come up with interesting racial features for humans when they are, in essence, the baseline against which all other races are measured. This is explained away with some balderdash about humans being somehow more adaptable, versatile, and ambitious than other races. But is it actually a feature of human blood rather than culture? The half-elf seems to imply this is so. Otherwise, why would a half-elf raised among elves be so much more skillful than their elven family and friends?

Below I offer some alternatives for those who're interested in shaking things up.

Skilled Dwarf Variant

  • Dwarven Cleverness. Due to your lengthy adolescence and your slow ageing, you have more time in your life to pick up knowledge. Choose either one or three of the following features:
    • Dwarven Combat Training (as PHB).
    • Stonecunning (as PHB).
    • Proficiency with your choice of any one tool.
  • Optional Bonus Skill. If you choose only one Breadth of Knowledge feature, you gain proficiency in one skill of your choice.


Skilled High Elf Variant

  • Elven Experience. Due to your prolonged youth and your exceptionally slow ageing, you have time to dabble in and even master a variety of skills that interest you. Choose either one or two of the following features:
    • Cantrip (as PHB).
    • Elf Weapon Training (as PHB).
    • With Age Comes Wisdom (described below).
  • Optional Bonus Skill. If you choose only one Elven Experience feature, you gain proficiency in one skill of your choice.


Skilled Wood Elf Variant

  • Elven Experience. Due to your prolonged youth and your exceptionally slow ageing, you have time to dabble in and even master a variety of skills that interest you. Choose either one or two of the following features:
    • Elf Weapon Training (as PHB).
    • Mask of the Wild (as PHB).
    • With Age Comes Wisdom (described below).
  • Optional Bonus Skill. If you choose only one Elven Experience feature, you gain proficiency in one skill of your choice.


Skilled Dark Elf Variant

  • Elven Experience. Due to your prolonged youth and your exceptionally slow ageing, you have time to dabble in and even master a variety of skills that interest you. Choose either one or two of the following features:
    • Drow Weapon Training (as PHB).
    • Drow Magic (as PHB).
    • With Age Comes Wisdom (described below).
  • Optional Bonus Skill. If you choose only one Elven Experience feature, you gain proficiency in one skill of your choice.

Optional Elf Trait - With Age Comes Wisdom

Provided you spend an action to think about the best way to undertake an ability check, if you roll that ability check before the end of your next turn you may do so with advantage.


If you're using the above variants to support the idea that longer-lived races have more time to experiment with a wider variety of skills, you may wish to restrict humans from getting similar mechanical benefits. The simplest solution is to simply prohibit the variant human at your table. Yet since +1 to all ability scores is about the blandest possible racial choice, here's a new human variant that you could offer instead of the variant in the PHB.

Determined Human Variant

  • Ability Score Increase. Two different ability scores of your choice increase by 1.
  • Human Determination. Humans thrive and spread throughout the world in spite of their disadvantages because, as a species, they seem unable to accept their limits.
    • You have six determination dice, which are d4s. When you spend determination, you decide how many dice you want to roll and roll them all at once, adding their results together.
    • Whenever you make an attack roll, an ability check, or saving throw but fail to beat the target armor class or DC, you can roll one or more of your determination dice and add the result to your total.
    • You can also roll one or more determination dice after you have been hit by an attack to reduce the attacker's roll by the total of the determination dice you roll.
    • Determination affects the final result of a roll, not the natural roll on the d20. Therefore, you cannot turn your own attack into a critical hit, nor can you turn an attacker's critical hit into a normal attack (though you can make it miss).
    • You regain expended determination points when you finish a long rest.