Monday, 30 October 2017

5e: Not So Legendary Monsters

Today I want to talk about why legendary monster encounters are often less than epic in practice than they ought to be, and put forward a few thoughts about how that problem might be addressed.

In my opinion the problems facing legendary monsters are fourfold:
  • Inadequate actions when compare to the PCs.
  • Inadequate movement. 
  • Poor Initiative scores. 
  • Everyone knows a legendary is a legendary, so they try to nova it (a problem compounded by the other issues above). 

So let's address these options and a few possible solutions:

Action Absence

The Problem

Legendary creatures are supposedly a match for a party, but they don't in anyway account for how big the party is. As written, the legendary monster has the same amount of actions as a party of 4. If you have 6 players, that simply won't be enough.


The obvious solution is to give the legendary monster a number of legendary actions determined by the following formula:

LEGENDARY ACTIONS = (SUM OF PCs + any NPCs allied with PCs) - 1

The minus one in this formula accounts for the monster's existing full turn, meaning that including the monster's normal turn and legendary actions, it gets to take the same number of turns as the players and any allied NPCs they might have brought along.

A nice side effect of this houserule is that when the legendary monster truly is a solo monster, with no other monsters around, you don't need to decide after which turns it uses its legendary actions. Since it gets one legendary action per PC turn, you can simply slot the legendary actions in after every turn on the player side.

I use this houserule in my own game and there has been no serious consequences so far, so I think it's a strong contender for the "Most Obvious Immediate Fix for Legendary Creatures" award. But it won't be enough on its own, so let's continue.

Blue Dragon by and © Jacob Blackmon

Inadequate Initiative

The Problem

Legendary monsters are no quicker to act than any other creature, and that's a bit of a problem for a solo monster. A bad initiative roll can lead to them being utterly decimated, because it's clear to everyone the monster is legendary (see Evident Evil). Consequently, the players will make the best power moves they can, as quickly as they can. In the worst case scenario the legendary monster might get only one or two legendary actions before it's turned into paste.


I strongly believe that all legendary monsters should have a higher than usual initiative modifier, or some other initiative boost. There are a few possible options here:
  • A simple +5 to Initiative.
  • Add the monster's Proficiency to their Initiative checks.
  • Advantage on Initiative checks.
  • If you're using my oscillating initiative houserule, all creatures add their Proficiency to an initiative roll, except for legendary monsters which add double their Proficiency.
  • Legendary monsters take their own turn on Initiative count 20. There is some precedent for static initiative scores in the game already—including lair actions and the revised trap rules Wizards of the Coast presented in Unearthed Arcana (also slated to appear in Xanathar's Guide to Everything).

Another solution might be to increase the monster's hit point buffer, but by how much? That's a difficult call to make until you have experienced how the monster pans out in play a few times. Thirty hit points probably won't make a lot of difference to the encounter balance, but it might not make a world of difference to the monster's toughness either, so if so what's the point?

If you're using a legendary monster for the second or third time you might have a handle on how many extra hit points it might need to keep the monster viable and fun, but if you don't have that experience, an initiative boost has the advantage of improving the monster's chance to be a viable threat without technically altering its CR. Some of the other solutions we're talking about definitely do alter the monster's CR, and that's fine: if you increase the challenge of the encounter, the challenge rating of the monster probably goes up! But we want to avoid stacking too many such serious enhancements on the monster at once, since taking it too far is a real risk.

In any case, I'm of the opinion that making an encounter longer (as would occur with increased hit points) doesn't necessarily make it more fun. Short battles can be a strength of a game, as long as they are threatening enough to remain relevant rather than tedious. If a legendary encounter is destined to be short, making the creature more deadly in the time it has is probably the better solution than making it longer-lived.

Miserly Movement

The Problem

On the whole existing Legendary Monsters lack adequate movement options. They are valued the same as multiple non-legendary monsters, hence why they are given extra actions. But without extra movement, they are in a tactically unsound position when compared to a full party of PCs. That being said, they also shouldn't be given the same movement allowance as the player party, because all that concentrated in a single creature would make them impossible to pin down.


Consider giving the monster the ability to Dash or use some other special movement mode as a bonus action, which could include options like:
  • Move half their speed and receive a defensive boost of some kind. 
  • Move half their speed then make an attack (with their most basic attack option).
  • Short range teleport/ability to pass through walls/or similar.

You could also add a small amount of movement as a rider to one or more of the monster's actions. For instance, if the legendary monster has a multiattack of four attacks, you might give it a secondary option that only uses three attacks but also allows the monster to move half its normal speed.

I'd also recommend adding a special movement mode (which could even be the same bonus action ability you already gave it) to the monster's list of available legendary actions. That way it has a lot of flexibility to maneuver between turns if it needs to, but doing so comes at the cost of the monster's attack power.

Tentacle Thing by and © Jacob Blackmon

Evident Evil

The Problem

After their first encounter with a legendary monster, even brand new players know what one is and can tell the next time they're facing one. Even if it isn't immediately obvious from context when they're facing a lone badass, it'll quickly become apparent the moment a legendary monster takes its first legendary action.

The moment a legendary monster is outed, expect your players to throw the very best they have at it to take it down. On paper, this isn't necessarily a problem, since the party should at least be using up valuable resources even as they grind your legendary into mincemeat. But in an ideal world, legendary monsters should be legendary. Like final boss battles (which many legendary monsters will in fact be), you really want the fight to be exciting, epic, and memorable. With the rules as the stand, a legendary monster's statblock is not necessarily going to lead to that epic battle you were hoping.


In practice, there are probably three best case uses of a legendary monster in its unmodified state:
  • As a "mini-boss" at the midway point of an adventure to drain party resources before the final encounter, to make that fight more dramatic.
  • As a boss battle, but making sure that the party face enough other challenges that they are appropriately drained before reaching the legendary. Easier said than done, as players can get quite creative in justifying short and long rests and you don't necessarily want to be that DM who simply denies all rests to make things go your way.
  • Use the legendary monster along with several lesser creatures as its guardians/minions. A workable solution, but hardly an ideal one considering the whole point of the legendary rules is to create a convincing solo enemy.

Beyond acknowledging the roles a legendary can fill in our adventure design, we have to accept that we can't truly predict how well-rested and resource-ready our players' characters will be when they reach the legendary monster. All the encounters up to that point will be resolved randomly, and they might find clever ways to justify taking rests. Besides, even if the characters do arrive at the legendary monster fairly battered, we might want to make it just that little bit tougher so that the battle truly feels like a mighty challenge to overcome. Here are a few thoughts on how you might achieve that:

3/4 Hit Dice

This is a fairly straightforward suggestion: increase the monster's threat by making it more durable. In Fifth Edition, monsters have a hit point value and a number of Hit Dice for DMs who prefer to roll. I would imagine most DMs probably use the set value, which is the average of the dice, especially for "boss" monsters like a legendary which can't afford to be below average. A quick way to make a legendary monster more threatening is to simply increase that value, but maximising all hit dice might be a little too much. Thus, 3/4 is suggested instead. For simplicity just halve the monster's current hit points, rounding up, and add that number to the original to get the monster's new total.

However, before opting for this approach bear in mind the concerns I raised before about how increasing the monster's hit points may not make that much difference, and artificially increasing the duration of the combat may not  be the most fun solution.


Instead of increasing the monster's hit dice, you could allow it to regenerate a small amount at the beginning of each turn. Regenerating an amount of hit points equal to the legendary monster's CR might be a good rule of thumb.

The same concerns apply here as do to increasing the monster's hit points.

An Escalation Die

I have previously discussed 13th Age's Escalation Die and how we can embrace its use in D&D. The escalation die is mostly for the players, to speed up combats by reducing the amount of missed attacks. This is almost the opposite of what we want to achieve with the legendary monsters given we're already concerned that the players can dismantle legendary monsters too quickly. But what if we gave the legendary monsters their own d4 escalation die? On turn 2 the escalation die is placed on the table with the number "1" upward; on each consecutive turn the escalation die turns. The monster's attack modifiers increase by the number presently on the escalation die. This makes the monster is more threatening with each turn that passes, increasing the tension. It won't actually make the monster last longer, but it will make it feel like more of a threat, and that's just as good.

Upright Aboleth by and © Jacob Blackmon

Bloodied Abilities

4th Edition introduced the idea of being "Bloodied", a condition characters and monsters gained when reduced to half their hit points or less. Various abilities might trigger when a creature became bloodied, or work better against a bloodied target. I still use this term in my own game, and design homebrew monsters with abilities tied to that status. My Signature Powers system also uses "Bloodied Boons" as a way of improving monsters to balance against the players receiving signature powers.

We can use a similar system to ramp up the threat level of a legendary monster, effectively dividing its combat lifespan into two stages.

Come up with one or two new abilities the monster gains access to when it's bloodied. There are two possible approaches to designing these abilities:
  • Double down on the monster's existing role and strategies. For instance, if a monster is all about speed and the ability to dart around the battlefield, it should get even more annoying to pin down at the bloodied stage. Similarly, a monster that is all about blocking and enduring attacks should get a defensive boost at this stage.  When you double down, you also have the option of improving existing abilities instead of adding new ones. A good strategy is to improve the rate a recharge power is regained (recharge 6 might become recharge 5-6, for instance) or to add a recharge rate to a power that is normally once per short or long rest. 
  • Give the monster a surprising new role. With this strategy, the monster retains its existing strengths but acquires unexpected new ones: a powerful brute suddenly gains teleportation abilities; a damaged spellcaster suddenly manifests a magical sword and suit of armour out of their own blood and wades into savage melee; an undead warrior suddenly breaks the chains to its corporeal body, becoming an immaterial spirit with the ability to possess. 

There's no real science to this, other than trying not to go overboard. However, if you're worried that you might be taking things too far you can use CR calculations to get an approximate idea of how troublesome the legendary monster will be once your bloodied abilities are in play:
  1. Recalculate its CR factoring in its bloodied abilities. Ideally, you want the altered CR to be one or two higher than the original. Three at most.
  2. Then, because bloodied abilities are only available for 50% of the monster's expected life span, split the difference between its original CR and the bloodied CR to get an approximate idea of its actual CR.

If the monster's effective CR during its bloodied stage is one to three higher than the monster's normal CR, you should be good to go. Any higher might be too much, so proceed with caution.

Remember that you're only figuring out the monster's effective CR while bloodied as a rough guide to how much its threat has increased during this stage. This is a theoretical number: you are not actually updating the monster's CR. The point of all these houserules is to resolve weaknesses in the way legendary monsters are currently balanced. If you recalculate the CR of the monsters once the houserules are in place, the attempt to fix them is undone.

Over To You...

What methods have you used to improve or spice up your legendary monster encounters? Leave a comment!

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

5e Fallout: Murderous Mutants and Lethal Lurkers

Today I've made a new update to the the Fifth Edition Fallout bestiary! In addition, this update includes expanded and new rules which are described later in this post.

All the updates listed below have now been added to the Fifth Edition Fallout sourcebook which you can download from my dedicated Fifth Edition Fallout hub. With this update, Fifth Edition Fallout now has around 80 pages of game content!

New Monstrous Additions to Fifth Edition Fallout

Last time, I responded to a twitter poll by adding feral ghouls to the game. In addition, I added a few bonus statblocks: power armour wearing raider bosses and the spooky Ghost People (you might remember them from the New Vegas add-on Dead Money)!

This time round, the poll results suggested you wanted to see Super Mutant statblocks added to the game! In addition, I added Centaurs, Nightkin, as well as the burrowing lizard mutants known as Tunnelers (from the New Vegas add-on Lonesome Road). The new statblocks include two legendary creatures, the Super Mutant Behemoth and the Tunneler Queen.

The update includes:

Super Mutants

  • Super Mutant (CR 2)
  • Super Mutant Suicider (CR 10; a unique case, the Suicider has such a high CR because the nuke they carry heavily skews the calculations. They are otherwise only as tough as a CR 2 Super Mutant. If you use the XP leveling system be cautious as a Suicider could just amount to free XP. Also, at the party levels these guys are truly threatening they could very conceivably insta-kill multiple party members. They are included for completion, but come with a massive caveat: use these guys sparingly and only with careful forethought, if at all.)
  • Super Mutant Skirmisher (CR 3)
  • Super Mutant Brute (CR 5)
  • Super Mutant Enforcer (CR 7)
  • Super Mutant Butcher (CR 12)
  • Super Mutant Master (CR 13)
  • Super Mutant Primus (CR 15)
  • Super Mutant Behemoth (CR 22)
  • A sidebar detailing how to modify the Institute super mutant statblocks to represent Mariposa (West Coast) or Vault 87 Super Mutants.
  • Centaur (CR 4)
  • Evolved Centaur (CR 6)
  • Large Evolved Centaur (CR 11)
  • Nightkin (CR 2)
  • Nightkin Sneak (CR 3)
  • Nightkin Skulker (CR 7)
  • Nightkin Scoundrel (CR 12)


  • Tunneler (CR 1)
  • Venomous Tunneler (CR 3)
  • Hulking Tunneler (CR 5)
  • Tunneler Queen (CR 13)

Eager for even more Super Mutants?

If you were one of those eager to see Super Mutant statblocks and you plan to use them as early as possible in your campaign, you should download the 1st level adventure A Date With the Queen from the Fifth Edition Fallout hub if you haven't already. The Queen the title refers to happens to be a unique CR 1 legendary Super Mutant!

Your Thoughts

As usual I'd love to hear your thoughts about any aspect of Fifth Edition Fallout. Please also reach out if you catch any errors so I can fix it asap!

You can also vote on what I should work on adding next on twitter here:

Friday, 20 October 2017

RPG Blog Carnival: d12 Superstitions

I thought I'd contribute to this month's RPG Blog Carnival on Superstitions (hosted this month by Of Dice and Dragons). with twelve example superstitions. Select one or determine randomly to give an NPC of your choice a little more colour! A superstition is probably not a personally held belief but a cultural one, so generating a superstition for an NPC is doing a lot more than simply adding a point of interest to that one NPC. It's also defining a larger point of interest—a belief commonly held by many members of their race, nationality, or cultural group.

Twelve superstitions not enough? I'm sure there are other similar lists out there (maybe as part of the Blog Carnival) which you can compile together for an even bigger pool of superstition ideas. Or if you've got some of your own, please leave a comment so that other readers can benefit from your ideas!

Superstitions (d12)

  1. Never cross flowing water twice in one day.
  2. Real gold attracts fairies, and is best not worn.
  3. Three left turns leads to misfortune.
  4. Inverting a holy symbol draws the devil's eyes. 
  5. It is wise to accept a gypsy's hospitality, or you may be be plagued with ills.
  6. Every tree has its brother somewhere in the same forest. What you say while touching the bark of one may be heard by a creature touching its twin.
  7. At every camp site, pour a libation and place a copper coin under a rock on the site, and you will buy the goodwill of the local spirits overnight. In the morning, leave the coin where it was placed or risk their wrath. 
  8. To take a saint's name in vain is to invite five days of misfortune. 
  9. If you say your name three times in three minutes, you draw the attention of the fey and will be replaced by a changeling while you sleep.
  10. Exploiting the vulnerable invites personal disaster.
  11. A phial of fresh spring water and silver powder worn around the neck repels lycanthropes and vampires alike. 
  12. The first leaf to fall naturally from a tree in autumn carries good fortune. 

Saturday, 14 October 2017

5e: Product spotlight - Inspiration Cards

Back when D&D 5e came out, the inspiration mechanic was a part of the game I became immediately enamoured with. I loved the idea of rewarding excellent roleplaying with a tangible in-game reward. I also started thinking about other ways a player might affect the plot, similar to other games plot points, fate points, etc.

In the end, I opted to introduce a system of inspiration cards to my game. The cards are broken up into two decks: one deck is equivalent to a point of inspiration, but many of the cards also have a unique special ability that can be used. The card can either be played to use that ability, or as regular inspiration. They are therefore slightly better than the basic inspiration cards that can also be drawn from the deck, in that they have more potential uses. The second deck has more powerful cards, called narrative control. Like the inspiration deck, the narrative control deck contains basic cards and unique cards which can also be spent in any of the basic ways if the player would prefer that to using the card's unique ability. The basic uses of narrative control are to declare a significant fact (subject to some DM oversight), to take an additional action, bonus action, or full movement allowance on the player's turn, or to grant every player advantage on a single roll they make before the beginning of your next turn.

These cards have been a great success in my personal campaign, so I felt it was worth sharing them. If you're interested in replacing the basic inspiration point mechanic in your own game, you can find my inspiration decks on DM's Guild. The default rules for using them are also presented below to help you make an informed decision about this rules option.

Rules Summary

The standard system of Inspiration Points is replaced with Inspiration Cards.

There are two decks of cards, Deck A and Deck B.

  • Deck A has cards that either grant powerful effects or allow you license to modify the story.
  • Deck B has cards with lesser but still significant effects.

Deck A Cards: Narrative Control

Deck A cards either grant a powerful in-game benefit or allow the player license to modify the story in some significant way.

Spending Deck A Cards:

  • Declare a significant fact: Add a detail or embellishment to, environment, object, lore, or NPC. The GM has right of veto, if it would contradict something already established or does not seem appropriate.
  • Heroic Effort: Take an additional action, bonus action, or movement on your turn.
  • Heroic Inspiration: Grant every PC, including yourself, advantage on a single roll of their choice - the advantage must be spent before the beginning of your next turn.
  • Use Card Special Ability: As described on the Deck A card.
  • Deck A cards may not be traded or given to other players.

Earning Deck A Cards:

  • You may hold only a single Deck A card in your hand at any time.
    • If you earn an additional Deck A card while holding one in your hand, you must choose if you want to keep the card in your hand before picking up. If so, you do not pick up. If you choose to pick up, discard the card in your hand.
  • The first time in any session someone earns inspiration, that player draws a card from Deck A instead of from Deck B.
    • If the player already has a Deck A card, they must choose whether to keep or discard the existing card as above. However, if they choose to keep their existing card they may pick up a card from Deck B instead.
  • Cards from Deck A may also be earned at the completion of story milestones.

Deck A Discards:

  • Spent or discarded Deck A cards go in a discard pile. The discard pile will be preserved between sessions. When the final Deck A card is spent or discarded, the discard pile will be shuffled and returned to play.

Deck B Cards: Inspiration

Deck B cards grant significant in-game benefits or can be spent in the usual ways for inspiration.

Spending Deck B Cards:

  • Gain Advantage: Have advantage for one attack roll, saving throw, or skill check.
  • Use Card Special Ability: As described on the Deck B card.
  • Unless the card you play specifically mentions an exception you may only spend a single inspiration card from Deck B on any given turn.
  • Deck B cards may not be traded but may be awarded to other players as inspiration. It isn't only the DM who is allowed to reward players for doing something cool or playing their character well (see Earning Deck B Cards). If you think a player deserves inspiration and the DM didn't hand one out, you can choose to give them a card from your hand.

Earning Deck B Cards

  • You can have a number of Deck B cards in your hand equal to your Proficiency Bonus.
    • As a reward, any player who agrees to keep a log of a session will be able to hold a number of Deck B cards equal to their Proficiency Bonus plus one for the duration of that session. They also start the session with one additional Deck B card. If they have cards in their hand in excess of their Proficiency Bonus then they must discard one card, unless they will also keep a log of the next session in which case they keep their entire hand (they may pick up their bonus Deck B card next session if they wish, but must discard one of the cards in their hand to do so as described below).
    • If you earn additional inspiration while holding a full hand, you must decide if you would like to discard a card from your hand in order to pick up, or if you would prefer to keep your current hand.
    • If a card you play allows you to draw cards exceeding your current inspiration limit, you must decide if you would like to discard cards from your hand in order to pick up the full amount, or if you will only draw cards up to your limit.
  • Earn inspiration for doing something awesome, epic, or entertaining. Only one may be earned at a time.
  • Earn inspiration for great roleplaying of your character, including traits, bonds, and flaws - especially if being themselves is not in the character's best interest but you play them truly. Only one may be earned at a time.
  • Whenever the DM declares you earn inspiration, you draw a card from Deck B (except the first time in a session, see Earning Deck A Cards). If a player declares you deserve inspiration, they give you one of the cards from their hand.

Deck B Discards:

Spent or discarded Deck B cards go in a discard pile. The discard pile will be preserved between sessions. When the final Deck B card is spent or discarded, the discard pile will be shuffled and returned to play.

Get inspiration cards for your own game here.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

5e: The best things about 4th Edition that never should have been rolled back.

As my Wednesday DM who chooses to run his games in 4th Edition can confirm, it's not exactly my favourite edition. Fortunately, he is an excellent DM running an interesting game in a fascinating setting, so I can set aside my overall dislike for the system and enjoy the experience.

Many of you will already know that the community reaction to 4th Edition was... divisive. Many criticised the game for feeling too like an MMO. Others felt that because each class was built on exactly the same framework in the name of balance the way the classes played ultimately felt too samey. The default assumption was extremely high levels of magic, resulting in magic item glut. The sheer amount of powers and magic items at each character's disposal can be confusing and lead to decision paralysis at the table. The combats, while offering a level of tactical nuance and satisfaction not seen in other editions past or since, can take hours to complete. 

Some players liked 4th Edition, but it's safe to say they were a minority. 4e's failure was a large factor in the runaway success of Pathfinder, marketed as an improved version of D&D 3.5 (3.75 if you will) that would feel similar to those fans feeling burned by 4e. Ultimately, it's no surprise that 5e represents an extreme reversal. 

As noted, I am not a 4th Edition fan, but half of my regular tabletop group prefer it to 5th Edition. One consequence of this is that I run a 5e game but never get to play it, which is a bit of a bummer. But there is something positive to say about it too. Playing 4th Edition at the same time that I run and create for 5th Edition has allowed me to draw a lot of comparisons between the two systems, and I've come to an inescapable conclusion: 5e's extreme reversal was a knee-jerk reaction to the visceral fan response, but I think it was actually a few steps too far back in time. While I don't like 4e as a complete package, it has many great features which would have been worth keeping in some fashion.

At-Will, Encounter, and Daily Powers

A 4e character never lacks for something interesting to do. Their abilities are divided between powers they can use all the time, powers they can use a limited number of times per encounter (with a 5-minute breather required between two challenging scenarios for the second to be treated as a new encounter), and those that can be used a limited number of times per day.

In 5e, per long rest powers are equivalent to a 4e daily, and basic attacks and cantrips are equivalent to (though perhaps not as exciting options as) 4e's at-wills. But per short rest powers are not equivalent to 4e encounter powers, and because of this it's quite possible for members of nonmagical classes to run out of interesting tactical choices.

Encounter powers were something my 4e fan players missed, to the point that I eventually did something about it, creating a subsystem called Signature Powers which introduces the concept of a Brief Rest (a 5 minute rest) into the 5e game, and gives all players a number of powers that recharge at the conclusion of a brief rest. Even the non-4e fans in the group appreciate the new tactical options available to them, which tells me that this encounters powers are a feature that should probably have survived the 4e reversal.

4e Powers

Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies

4e characters could reach level 30: 1-10 was the heroic tier, 11-20 was the paragon tier, and 21-30 the epic tier. I always felt that this was too much. D&D characters have insane levels of power by 20 that can already make it quite difficult to challenge them, to the point that epic-level play has never interested me. In 4e it wasn't an optional any more, it was the norm.

However, part of this system did appeal: at 11th level, you choose a Paragon Path for your character. At 21st, an Epic Destiny. These choices resemble a 5e character's Archetype choice, and define the shape of character's heroic journey. But they differ in that they are not necessarily connected to any one class. Granted, some have prerequisites, and some of them were better combinations with the various classes than others, but neither is necessarily the case. There's nothing stopping a Fighter, a Wizard, nor a Ranger from choosing the Demigod Epic Destiny, for instance.

In general a Paragon Path ties you to the world (often having to do with your race, your God, or another specific conceptual niche (in this way they resemble 3.5's Prestige Classes). An Epic Destiny gives your character a final goal, and along the way grants them powers and abilities that support it. A Destiny might make them a demigod, an undying warrior destined to reappear for major battles throughout time, a dark wanderer who need only to start walking and appear anywhere in the multiverse, and other grand finales appropriate to a level 30 being.

These choices combined help build a 4e character into an iconic, legendary figure, add mechanical oomph to the story of the character's journey, and they add a further level of customisation that helps two characters of the same class build out in different ways.

Unless you multiclass, 5e's character's growth is very prescribed; it definitely wouldn't hurt to have another choice (or series of choices) to make at certain points in your character's career, unrelated to their class.

4e Paragon Path: Blooded Champion

Healing Surges 

In 4e, all characters have access to a pool of resource known as a Healing Surge. During combat, any character can spend a Healing Surge to recover some hit points by using an ability everyone has access to: their Second Wind. Healing Surges can also be spent during rests. When a leader class such as a Cleric or Warlord uses a healing power, part of the hit points recovered come from the target's own Healing Surge pool, boosted by additional dice from the power used.

Healing Surges are a useful abstraction of a character's vitality, as well as providing a universal font healing power which can explain how healing from multiple different sources all happen while working mechanically the same way. For instance, a Warlord, able to inspire or cajole the troops back into action, does not need to awkwardly use a Cleric's Cure Wounds spells, but neither do they need their own unique set of rules to justify their power. Wherever the healing comes from, the Healing Surge makes it work within the rules. 

Healing Surges also empower non-healer characters to recover themselves,at least in a limited fashion, making it either a useful backup or an essential tool in a party without a dedicated healer.

The vestiges of healing surges remain in 5e: Hit Dice resemble them, though they can only be spent while resting. The Second Wind is now a feature exclusive to the Fighter, which in my opinion is a design mistake. It would be a useful ability to any hero, and probably should have remained universal. A form of Healing Surges is presented in the Dungeon Master's Guide (pg. 266) as a healing variant, but it doesn't interact with the game's existing healing spells and features in a meaningful way.

Save on a 10

When a 4e character comes under the influence of one or more hostile effects, they make a saving throw for each effect currently influencing them. They don't have saving throw modifiers, and the DCs never change: on a roll of 10 or higher, the character recovers.

This was a nice and simple mechanic. 5e's six different saving throws for six different abilities, any number of which might be proficient or not proficient? Less so. And fairly questionable—in theory it's a nice and neat idea, but in practice it's very hard to see how and when some of the saving throws might even be used. Wizards of the Coast could have provided better guidance on this, and the fact that they didn't leads me to suspect even they were unclear when you might roll an Intelligence or Charisma saving throw that couldn't just as easily be handled by a Wisdom save. I think we were better off back in the days of Fortitude, Reflex, and Will.

Succeeding on a 10 gave characters a strong fighting chance, and made them feel heroic. But that doesn't mean that high level monsters become impotent. Instead of increasing save DCs, 4e simply made the effects of these monster's powers nastier, and allowed them to use them with greater frequency (recharge powers remain in 5e, but in 4e they were probably more common).

Monster Level-Equivalency, Types and Roles

Monsters in 4e come in four flavours:

  • Regular monsters.
  • Minions are as strong as regular monsters but lack hit points—instead they are killed after one or two hits. They are treated as being worth 1/4 a regular monster. 
  • Elites are approximately as powerful as two normal monsters.
  • Solos are designed to be fought on their own, worth four normal monsters. 

The game's designers based the balance of these monsters around the simple assumption that for a normal combat, a group of PCs would fight an equal number of typical monsters appropriate for the party's current level. The DM could mix and match minions and elites (and even solos if they have a larger player group), as long as the overall effective number of monsters came out correct.

Having the monsters designed to be appropriate for a given PC level rather than using the more complicated CR system makes for straightforward encounter building. The only fly in the ointment was the questionable value of solos, but that's a problem 5e's legendary monsters face in equal measure.

In addition to the basic encounter building blocks described above, 4e monsters are also given defined roles, similar to a PC's class. Brutes hit hard, Soldiers have strong defenses and abilities to mark enemies and lock them down, Artillery have strong ranged attacks, Skirmishers are highly mobile and are at their most dangerous when they can move freely, Controllers can change the field of battle with area and forced movement powers, and so on.

 In 5e, these  roles can often be inferred from the context of a monster's capabilities, but are not clearly stated. Knowing a monster's role was a useful shorthand for how the DM should play the monster for best effectiveness in an encounter, so it would have been a useful entry to retain.

Building a 4e encounter is a fairly straightforward process involving three main considerations:

  • Pick monsters appropriate for the party level and the environment/scenario. 
  • Select the right number of monsters for your party size, making substitutes of Minions and Elites to add variance to the formula.
  • Choose a variety of monsters that occupy an interesting mix of monster roles.

With those three in mind, building an interesting 4e encounter is a quick and painless process for the DM. The burden was on the designer's side—there needs to be enough monsters of each level and role for such a system to be viable.

Alignment Simplification

I have never liked D&D's alignment system. My problem with it is two-fold: first, no DM I've ever met seems to have the same interpretation of what the alignments mean, making its value incredibly subjective.

D&D 2e/3e/5e Alignments, Muppets style.

Second, the absolute positions of most of the alignments seem realistically unattainable.

Let's explore that last point a little, taking Lawful Good as our example. Lawful Good is the given alignment of angels and other creatures of perfect good. Beings so pure that they know no other way to be, in fact. With the exception of the Jerkful Good holier-than-thou Paladin (now thankfully mostly a thing of the past, since 5e is a lot more flexible on paladin alignments and motivations), what mortals are really so perfect that they can stand on that same pedestal? And surely even the aforementioned Paladin has the occasional darker, selfish thought, even if they ultimately do not act on them.

Humans (and Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, etc.) are interesting precisely because they are positioned between the Angels and the Demons, with voices for both camps whispering in their heads. They have the freedom to make choices and choose their own values. If we accept that about them, we have to accept that they can never be perfect examples of the alignment they aspire to.

The vast majority of mortal kind are probably closer to neutral, wavering between selfish and altruistic instincts as normal people do. The instincts that an individual chooses to accept as the correct ones and let win out show a leaning in the direction of a certain alignment absolute, rather than positioning the person at that extreme. At best, a human might be the lower case "lawful good" to an angel's upper case Lawful Good.

Once you start thinking this way, you realise that alignment is an extremely broad spectrum rather than a set of 9 absolutes. To get a more-or-less accurate fix on where a character is positioned, you'd need to introduce other middling values somewhere between neutral and each extreme.

At which point you might as well simply say: maybe setting a character's alignment isn't worth the hassle". Let the player play how they want, interpreting their PC through their own subjective lens. It may not end up being the same way other PCs and NPCs see it. That's simply realistic.

This whole area of the game is subjective so you may not agree. I have heard good arguments against my interpretation of the system's flaws, albeit not good enough to convince me to abandon my position.

4e took a half-way step to abandoning the alignment system of the past. The game still used alignments, but they simplified the number of alignments one could choose from. Instead of two axes the game boiled the complexity of character alignment down to a single axis. You could be lawful good, good, unaligned, evil, or chaotic evil.

Lawful Good and Chaotic Evil remained the same - the absolute examples of holiness versus depravity. Good and Evil were approximate to "Neutral Good"and "Neutral Evil" from the past system, but crucially, they were non-committal on where the character stood ethically. You could tend toward orderly or anarchic behaviour, and still be considered ultimately Good or Evil based on your causes and your motivations. Unaligned replaced the "True Neutral" position, but was a useful catch-all for characters who were either particularly ethically or morally ambiguous, or who are simply indifferent, only showing leanings towards Good or Evil when it serves them to even act.

By having less alignments than the past but having those alignments represent broader categories, the game made it far easier to correctly place your character's alignment.

5e has done something weird. The designers clearly want alignment to be a less significant part of the game, because in this edition there are no mechanical effects that rely on the alignment system. Even Detect Evil and Good, Dispel Evil and Good, and Protection from Good and Evil don't care whether targeted creatures are either good nor evil. Instead these specify a list of creature types encompassing all creatures not native to the material plane Seriously Wizards of the Coast, nostalgia is all well and good, but you really should have renamed these spells to Protection from Outsiders or Detect the Otherworldly or whatever. They have caused so much confusion for my players.

While rejecting the mechanical implications of alignment outright, 5e chooses to keep it in the game, as well as to return to the older model. What's the point? Presumably it's supposed to be a tool for thinking about character motivations. If that's the case I'm not sure the 9-point system is the right model. The correct interpretations of the alignments are hotly debated to this day, and if players and DMs can't agree on what a given alignment means the words written on a character's sheet are a waste of graphite and white space. If alignment had to be in the game, a simpler system like 4e's might have been a better call. 

Your Thoughts

What parts of 4e or other past editions do you miss? Do you think I'm wrong? Let me know why by posting a comment! Dissenting opinions are equally welcomed as long as they remain polite and non-hostile.  

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

5e: Fighter Archetype, The War Sage

Traditionally, Intelligence-based heroes of Dungeons & Dragons have been spellcasters. While describing the Inquisitive in a recent preview video for Xanathar's Guide to Everything, Jeremy Crawford mentioned that it is a chance to give players the option of an intellectual hero that isn't tied to magic.

The archetype I want to show you today is my attempt to offer another Intelligence-based nonmagical class, this time for Fighters. I'm also personally of the opinion that fighters are a little dull in play (they are effective but typically offering a lack of choices. This is true even for the Battle Master as the maneuver/superiority dice system offers only a limited amount of flexibility a few times per short rest. The techniques used by the War Sage are recharge-based, so they allow for the possibility of greater usage. They can also be strung together into sequences during the same turn for interesting combos, although doing so will burn through the War Sage's available techniques rapidly.

Do let me know what you think, either in the comments or by reaching out on twitter!

The War Sage

Precision Attacks

Beginning when you choose this archetype at 3rd level, you add your Intelligence bonus to you Strength or Dexterity bonus when rolling attacks and damage, to a maximum combined bonus of +5.

If your ability bonus from your Strength, Dexterity, or Intelligence becomes +6 or higher, you use that bonus instead for all attacks and damage rolls to which that ability score applies.


Also at 3rd level, you learn three techniques, all of which must be leading, ensuing, reaction, or special techniques.

You learn two additional leading, ensuing, reaction, or special techniques at 7th and 10th level. At both 15th and 18th level, you learn two of any kind of technique, including finishing techniques.  Each time you learn new techniques, you can also replace one technique you know with a different one.

Types of Technique

Most techniques are either leading techniques, ensuing techniques, or finishing techniques. All such techniques replace one of your attacks during your turn’s attack action. If you spend your attack action exclusively to use a leading technique (you cannot use any other techniques or make any attacks), you can also spend a bonus action to use an ensuing technique.

With consecutive successful techniques, you can string together a sequence of lethal maneuvers, starting with a leading technique, potentially following up with an ensuing technique and ending with a finishing technique.

A few techniques are reactions and are labelled as such, while other special techniques use either no action or occupy your full turn, preventing you from taking any action or moving.

Some of your techniques require your target to make a saving throw to resist the technique’s effects. The saving throw DC is calculated as follows:

Technique save DC = 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Intelligence modifier

Technique Sequences

During an attack action, you can replace one or more of your attacks with a technique you know. Multiple techniques can be used directly following each other and against the same target to build up a sequence.

The first time you use a technique in a sequence, you must select a leading technique. A leading technique can either be followed by an attack or an ensuing technique.

You can only use an ensuing technique immediately following a successful leading technique, and only if the ensuing technique is made against the same target. An ensuing technique can either be followed by an attack or a finishing technique.

Similarly, you can only use a finishing technique immediately following a successful ensuing technique, and only if the finishing technique is against the same target. A finishing technique completes the sequence.

Using and Recovering Techniques

Once you have used a technique it is temporarily expended, and you cannot use it again until you recharge it.

When one or more of your techniques are expended, you roll a d6 at the beginning of your next turn. On a roll of 6, you regain your choice of one of your spent techniques. If you fail to regain a technique, the required roll on each subsequent turn is 1 lower than the last (5 or higher on the second turn, 4 or higher on the third, and so on).

Know Your Enemy

Starting at 7th level, if you spend at least 1 minute observing or interacting with another creature outside combat, you can learn certain information about its capabilities compared to your own. The DM tells you if the creature is your equal, superior, or inferior in regard to two of the following characteristics of your choice:

  • Strength score.
  • Dexterity score.
  • Constitution score.
  • Armor Class.
  • Current hit points.
  • Total class levels (if any).
  • Fighter class levels (if any).

Exploit Vulnerability

At 10th level, if you roll a critical hit against an enemy whom has failed a saving throw against one of your leading abilities in the same turn, you double your Intelligence bonus when resolving the attack’s damage.

Lethal Insights

At 18th level, you have advantage on attack rolls against a creature which you have observed using Know Your Enemy.


The techniques are in alphabetical order.

Assess (Leading)

You size up a target of your choice to find an exploitable weakness. Your target must make an Intelligence saving throw. On a failed save, the next attack you make against them ignores resistance to your weapon’s damage type.

Beat (Leading)

You attack your opponent’s weapon to knock it aside. You have advantage on the next attack you make this turn against the same target. In addition, your target must make a Strength saving throw. On a failed save, the target has disadvantage on the first attack it makes before the end of its next turn.

Block (Reaction)

After you are hit by a melee attack, you may spend your reaction and roll 1d4 and add it to your AC against the triggering attack.

Bloody Eye (Ensuing)

You make a weapon attack. If it hits, it deals half damage and the target must make a Dexterity saving throw. On a failed save, the target is blinded until the end of your next turn.

Break Free (Ensuing)

You make an attack and then disengage up to half your movement speed.

Charge (Leading)

You may move up to ten feet towards a hostile creature. You have advantage on the next attack you make this turn against that target.

Compound Feint (Ensuing)

You follow your leading technique with another feint. Your target must make a Wisom saving throw. On a failed save, you may add 1d4 to attack rolls you make against the target between now and the end of your next turn. Additionally, if you immediately follow the compound feint with an attack, you deal 2d6 extra damage if it hits.

Crowd Control (Special)

As your complete turn, you can make as many melee attacks against adjacent hostile creatures as you are normally allowed during your attack action. In addition, any adjacent hostile creatures against which you do not make at least one attack roll must make a Dexterity saving throw. On a failed save, a target takes damage of your weapon’s type equal to your Intelligence modifier.

Deadly Arc (Finishing)

You make a melee weapon attack, and up to two hostile creatures other than the target that are within your reach must make a Dexterity saving throw. On a failed save, each secondary target takes damage of your weapon’s type equal to your Intelligence modifier.

Dogged Pursuit (Reaction)

After an adjacent hostile creature disengages and ends their movement, you may spend your reaction and pursue them up to a maximum distance equal to your movement speed.

Draw Ire (Ensuing)

You make a weapon attack. If it hits, the target must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, if target takes any hostile actions on its next turn (such as attacks, spells, and powers), they must be directed against you or include you in their area of effect.

While the target is focused on you, your allies have advantage on attack rolls against them. However, all the effects of Draw Ire end the moment any of your allies successfully hits the target.

Fearsome Blow (Finishing)

You make a weapon attack. If it hits, double your ability bonus to damage and the target must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save the target is shaken, as described below, for a number of turns equal to your Intelligence modifier minus their Wisdom bonus (if any).

While the target is shaken, if they move 5 feet or more or take the dash or disengage action on their turn, they have disadvantage on all attacks and ability checks made during the same turn.

Feint (Leading)

You have advantage on the next attack you make this turn against the same target. In addition, your target must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, if you immediately follow your feint with an attack or a technique that deals damage, you deal 1d6 extra damage if it hits.

Misdirect (Ensuing)

You may make an attack with advantage. If it hits, the damage of the attack is halved.

Patinando (Ensuing)

You may move up to five feet then make a weapon attack.

Penetrate (Ensuing)

You make a weapon attack. If the attack hits, you deal a number of additional d4s in damage equal to your Proficiency bonus.

Pommel Smash (Ensuing)

You make a weapon attack. If it hits, it deals half damage and the target must make a Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, the target is dazed and suffers disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks until the end of your next turn.

Riposte (Special)

After you successfully use your block technique, you make a melee weapon attack against the creature you blocked.

Strike Arm (Finishing)

You make a melee weapon attack. If it hits, the target must make a Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, the target reduces the damage of its unarmed and weapon attacks by your Proficiency bonus for a number of rounds equal to your Intelligence modifier. The target may repeat its saving throw at the end of each of its turns to end the effect early.

Strike Leg (Finishing)

You make a melee weapon attack. If it hits, the target must make a Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, the target has its movement and swim speeds halved for a number of rounds equal to your Intelligence modifier. The target may repeat its saving throw at the end of each of its turns to end the effect early.

Threaten (Leading)

You use your deadly skill to intimidate an opponent into making a mistake then exploit that window. You have advantage on the next attack you make this turn against the same target. In addition, your target must make a Charisma saving throw. On a failed save, if you immediately follow Threaten by making an attack against a target or using a technique against them that involves an attack roll, you may add 1d4 to the attack roll.

Weeping Wound (Finishing)

You make a melee weapon attack. If it hits, the target must make Dexterity saving throw. On a failed save, the attack breaks flesh and the target begins to bleed. At the beginning of each of their subsequent turns, the target suffers untyped damage equal to your Proficiency bonus for a number of rounds equal to your Intelligence modifier.

Monday, 2 October 2017

5e: Wasteland Worlds

Hi all!

As regular readers and existing customers may know, one of my D&D 5e products is a collection of classes and archetypes called Wasteland Wanderers.

These classes and archetypes are designed with a post-apocalyptic setting in mind, and could also fit thematically in other sci-fi settings. Even if you have no interest in such a campaign many of them can be used in more traditional fantasy worlds with either very little adaptation on your part, or no changes required at all.

But what post-apocalyptic settings are out there for D&D 5e?

There's my own Fifth Edition Fallout, which served as the original inspiration for Wasteland Wanderers.

There's also Mike Myler's 2099 Wasteland, an alternate universe version of his superheroic cyberpunk setting Hypercorps 2099. As you might expect, mutant powers from radiation exposure and even magic are part of the fabric of the setting. The game comes with its own classes, but Wasteland Wanderers offers you additional viable alternatives, and was even mentioned by Mike in his Professional Goblins podcast!

As far as I'm aware, those are the only presently published post-apocalyptic settings for use with D&D 5e rules. If you know better, please do leave a comment.

Finally there's always the option of defining your own worlds, which is a challenge many of us relish.

For those Game Masters who prefer to use published material, however, this list might be considered slim pickings.

I've been considering publishing a compilation of example post-apocalyptic settings designed for use with Wasteland Wanderers, that would also serve as a rules reference. The working title for this concept is Wasteland Worlds. The idea is that Wasteland Worlds would include all the rules you need to run a post-apocalyptic game—environmental hazards, weapons, etc.—derived from similar rules originally created for Fifth Edition Fallout. It would also include three settings, each portraying a very different world in the wake of different apocalyptic events. Each setting would dedicate 30 pages or so to describing its world and providing additional rules and other crunch unique to itself, including notes on how to use and/or reskin monsters from the core D&D game.

I'm presently polling on twitter to see what kind of interest there would be for this sourcebook, and would be very grateful if you could take a moment of your time to add your vote. Brief summaries of my three proposed settings follow, and the embedded twitter poll can be found at the end of this post.

Proposed Settings

Rad Planet

After the destruction of the world in nuclear fire, those few who survived the devastation and its radioactive fallout reverted to a pre-civilised society. There are those who cling to the shreds of the past’s civility and try to rebuild, but they contend with the raiders, the savage primals, and the mutant beasts that now wander the radlands.

Black Water

The survivors of the Flood dwell on isolated Platforms which fall into greater disrepair day by day. The brave and the desperate venture out onto the waters via skimmers or into the depths themselves inside submersibles, seeking salvage from wrecks and abandoned Platforms. But the sunken depths contain many dangers, and the forgotten Platforms have new occupants.


On a frozen planet, people live in deep bunkers. It is foolish to venture onto the blizzard-wracked surface, though long-abandoned technologies await those who brave the cold. The underground is not without its own dangers: when the bunkers were constructed, a network of deep tunnels were found. In the decades since the Deep Freeze, it was discovered that the bunkerfolk were not alone...

The Poll

Let me know if you would consider purchasing this product if it were available by responding the survey below!