Scion 2e: Character Sheet

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It doesn’t look like there’s an official version yet, so I put this together for my game.

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Scion 2e: House Rules

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As promised last week, this week’s post is a discussion of my changes to the rules draft for my table.

Overall

This list of changes shouldn’t be seen as an indictment of the new Storypath system from White Wolf/Onyx Path. They’re testing it in Scion, and also using it for the updated Aeon line. I’d also expect miscellaneous developments from it to find their way back into World of Darkness games over time.

Overall, it’s a very nice job at taking the sacred cows of the Storyteller system and updating them with modern design ideas. In particular, the move to using successes to purchase effects from a menu is woven pretty well throughout the system (though admittedly some systems are just like “we couldn’t think of anything granular, so just use it as margin of success” which is always a danger with a universal mechanic). This really shines in combat, as simply dealing as much damage as possible has been downplayed in favor of miscellaneous stunts, which seems like it will result in more tactical play.

Adding Difficulty vs. Complications

One of the areas I think the rules need some more revisions are in the idea of Complications. It seems very much like different sections of the draft were written by people that didn’t agree on what the rule does (which is, of course, likely in this type of development). The core idea of Complications are that they’re “you succeed, but…” thresholds on the action. A test could have Difficulty 1, Complication 2: If you only get 1-2 successes, you still succeed, but you need 3+ successes to get a success without suffering a drawback. With the stunting system, you could even decide that you’d rather buy a 2 point stunt and take the drawback, even with a lot of successes.

Unfortunately, a lot of rules later in the book say things like, “…or take/add a 1 point Complication” as if the writer thought “Complication” was a mechanic unto itself, or just increased difficulty, rather than the formal rule. I cleaned up several of those instances throughout my summary. I expect they’ll be cleaned up in the official book once revisions are complete.

One core bug in the system is that the generic stunts value “add a Complication” and “increase Difficulty” the same: you can spend 2 successes to give someone Complication 2 or just bump their difficulty by +2. Raising difficulty is objectively superior in every case except the weird one where you think your opponent can barely succeed, and would rather she succeeded with a drawback than fail outright. I’ve just altered it in my summary so raising difficulty is something you can do to defend yourself, but you have to add a complication to otherwise interfere with an opponent.

Botching

Botching is the sacred cow of the Storyteller system that I’d most love to go away forever. The version on display in Scion is the somewhat defanged version: 1s don’t cancel successes, but if you have 1s on a failure, you botch. This variant has the known issue that, as you increase in skill, your failures get rarer but they’re more likely to result in a botch when you do fail. In my house rules, I just edited it to a Cortex-style purchase opportunity, where you don’t botch unless you accept the GM’s offer of extra plot currency. I’d just as soon remove it entirely, but they sometimes actually hang mechanics off of botching that are useful and hard to attach to something else if you remove botching outright (this is my major complaint about the Changeling 20th rules).

Actions

Scion has a Standard/Move/Free action system. It’s a fine action system. Many games have been perfectly happy using the D&D model over the last couple of decades. Unfortunately, Scion refuses to admit that it has this system. It thinks it has a Standard/Free action system (it’s calling free actions Reflexive). But then there are a lot of rules about movement and things that prevent you from moving or alter your movement just sprinkled throughout the Standard action options. I think it would be cleaner to just break them out (as I’ve done in my summary).

Initiative

I replaced the existing system entirely with Balsera-style initiative in my summary. The default system is the same as the Fantasy Flight games (Warhammer 3e, Star Wars, and I assume the Genesys generic system). In it, everyone rolls initiative and creates a fixed order similar to the more common initiative systems, but then PCs and NPCs can freely trade slots each round (e.g., one PC rolls really well and goes first, so any PC can take that first slot each round).

It’s fine, and I like it better than fully fixed initiative (particularly in a system where there aren’t any “until your next turn” effects), but Balsera-style seems like it’ll be smoother at the table. The default system doesn’t include, for example, any kind of mechanic for PCs arguing over which of them should take the next slot, whereas Balsera-style still lets players be like, “pass to me/no me!” but it’s still the active player’s final choice.

Moreover, Scion does away with the old workhorses of Wits and Alertness (which is probably for the best, since Alertness is otherwise the single most-rolled ability), so there’s nothing that’s being diminished in power by taking away rolled initiative. The default system just uses whatever combat skill you’re probably going to use. Meanwhile, they had this really cool group currency called Momentum that seemed like it would obviously affect the pacing of combat, so it was a no-brainer to me to use that as the governing number instead.

Defense

Speaking of Momentum, the default rule assumption is that players roll their defense pool once every round they’re attacked, with successes setting the difficulty to hit them. That’s a lot of extra rolling to create minimal swing (the average PC is going to have 3-5 dice for defense, so rarely 0, usually 1, sometimes 2, and rarely 3+ defense difficulty). After realizing I wanted to base initiative on Momentum, it made sense to me to give players a good reason to spend Momentum up front (and maybe let the NPCs go first) in order to set a fixed Defense for the whole combat. Two birds, one stone.

Stunts and Gear Tags

These are largely really cool. My changes were minor, and mostly to streamline verbiage (I expect it will be similarly streamlined in official revisions). I added several ranged stunts since I don’t like lists that only have one entry (necessitated by my moving the stunts available to every weapon to a generic combat stunts section, when they’re individually reprinted for each weapon type in the official document).

The gear tags system is cool. I like that they’re moving away from the weapon porn of old Storyteller, where we need to dither over exactly how to model the difference between a Desert Eagle and a .44 Magnum in capacity, damage, range, and difficulty. I expect that my player that, in every game, is constantly dropping his weapon to slam an opponent into the environment is going to be excited to have a game where that’s a fully valid tactic. Everything does an injury for one point and an additional injury for four more points, and that’s it.

That said, looking at the example gear lists, I think they’re going to have a hard time selling the rule of thumb that most standard gear is worth three points of tags. Most of their examples aren’t. I think they’re going to want to add a few more tags if they’re serious about balancing the gear based on the numbers in this system.

Scion 2e: Rules Summary

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I’m putting together a Scion 2e game based on the Kickstarter backer drafts, and wrote up a rules summary for my players. Why am I posting a rules summary for rules that are likely to change significantly before actual publication? A) This is using up most of my design cycles, so it’s the content I have ready to post for the next couple of weeks and B) it gives me an opportunity to talk next week about my house rules to compensate for in-progress rules. The summary below includes my house rules worked in. They’re colored red to note that they’re not the official version of the rules, and so I can talk about them next week.

Core Mechanic

Roll a dice pool of d10s composed of Attribute value + Ability value. Each die that shows 8-10 is a Success. Reroll any die that shows a 10 to attempt to get another Success. Your action may include an Enhancement bonus: if any dice generated Successes, you add the Enhancement bonus to the result as additional Successes. Spend your successes on overcoming Difficulty, avoiding Complications, and performing Stunts.

  • Difficulty: Most challenges have at least Difficulty 1, and harder challenges have higher Difficulty. You must first spend Successes to buy off the Difficulty, or the challenge is a failure (and you gain a Consolation). Difficulty is either static, or set by the defending character’s Successes.
  • Complications: Some challenges may include one or more points of Complications. If you do not buy off Complications after buying off Difficulty, the challenge is a success with drawbacks (if you do not buy off the Difficulty, the Complications are not applied). This could be a narrative issue or a temporary Condition for your character.
  • Stunts: You can spend Successes beyond the Difficulty to generate Stunt effects. These effects have a fixed or variable cost, depending on the type of challenge. Essentially, rather than a simple margin of success, most challenges allow you to subdivide your additional Successes to accomplish specific goals and indicate what success means to you. See the expanded options for Stunts under the heading below.

Stunts

Generic Stunts apply to any roll, allowing you to narrate how you change the scene. See the Action section for Combat Stunts.

  • Add Complication: Successes spent on this stunt are a temporary Complication for others attempting the action you specify; they will take a Condition if they do not buy off the Complication, as usual.
  • Add Enhancement: Successes spent on this stunt are an Enhancement to the next ally taking the action you specify. (This is also how you use Teamwork on a task.)
  • Add Difficulty: Successes spent on this stunt are a temporary increase to Difficulty to affect you (and only you) with a specified type of action. (This is how you dodge.)
  • Twist of Fate: Successes spent on this stunt allow you to add details/alter context about the scene, on a one-for-one basis. You can only use this stunt when the action was channeled through your Path, and when the changes don’t alter something already established about the scene.
  • Degree of Success: For very simple rolls, you can just use excess successes to indicate the quality of the action.

Consolation

When you fail a challenge, you usually gain a Consolation effect. This is usually a point of Momentum, but may instead be a twist that turns the failure into a different form of progress or advantage.

On a failure with 1s on the dice, the GM can offer an additional Momentum equal to the 1s showing to turn the result of the roll into a Botch (with worse effects than a normal failure). You can choose to not take the bonus Momentum and just take the failure.

Momentum

Momentum (aka, the Black Pool) is a group resource that accumulates through the game (usually through failing challenges). The pool normally has a maximum size equal to twice the number of players. Any player may spend Momentum from the pool to:

  • Add Dice: Add dice equal to Momentum spent to any challenge before the dice are rolled (your roll or another character’s).
  • Add Interval: Spend 3 Momentum to gain another Interval to complete a complex action.
  • Activate Knack: Some Knacks require Momentum to activate.

Momentum spends are generally intended to be with the agreement of all players, since it’s consuming the group’s resource.

Momentum also affects Initiative.

Complex Actions

Challenges that require multiple rolls are complex actions. Each individual challenge is considered an Interval. Each time you succeed at an Interval, you gain a Milestone (which may have its own narrative description; e.g., a clue). Some complex actions may allow you to accrue Milestones without a roll (e.g., crafting challenges where special ingredients you gained elsewhere count as a bonus Milestone). The complex challenge has a number of Milestones required to complete successfully, and some may have a limited number of Intervals before they automatically fail.

Modifiers

Conditions

Due to various factors (narrative effects, suffering Complications, taking Injuries, etc.), a character can have Conditions. These are bonuses or penalties to a specific type of action governed by the Condition’s description. When a penalizing Condition provides a failure or setback, you gain an additional Momentum. You also gain an additional Momentum for resolving a Condition before it would fade on its own (e.g., healing an Injury).

A Field is an area that applies a Condition to everyone within it.

Scale

Due to size or overwhelming biological, technological, or supernatural edge, some entities and objects operate on a different Scale than humans. They are represented using similar Attribute and Ability ranges, but their results are scaled up in situations where it matters to a conflict (usually based on Size, Force, Speed, or Leadership).

The first value (multiplier), is for Narrative scale: successes are multiplied by this number against minor characters and scenery. The second value (bonus) is for Dramatic scale: this is an Enhancement to rolls.

Normal humans are Scale 0 (Standard: no modifiers for Scale). If two opponents both have Scale, the difference in values is treated as the Scale of the larger opponent (e.g., Scale 2 vs. 3 is treated as Scale 0 vs. 1). Many actions automatically fail if the Scale discrepancy is too large, unless you have a power that allows you to try.

  1. Elite: x2, +2
  2. Supernatural: x5, +4
  3. Incredible: x10, +6
  4. Godlike: x100, +8
  5. Supernal: x200, +12
  6. Titanic: xLots, +16

High-Scale (usually Size) entities can generate Shockwave, their blows radiating out to a larger range than normal. The effect hits the target and several range bands around the target, at -2 Scale per range band, until it would be reduced below 0 Scale. For example, a Colossus at Scale 4 hits its target and applies the same Successes at Scale 2 to everyone in close range of the target, at Scale 0 to everyone in short range of the target, and the effect has dissipated at longer range.

Tiers

Characters are rated by Tier to indicate power level.

  1. Mortal: Legend 0
  2. Heroic: Legend 1-4
  3. Demigod: Legend 5-8 (Target Number becomes 7 instead of 8)
  4. Divine: Legend 9-12

Action

Basics of Actions

Each round, on your turn, you may take one Simple Action (or a Mixed Action), one Move, and Reflexive Actions.

Simple Actions are the majority of things you want to do that require overcoming a challenge (i.e., rolling dice). If you want to do more than one distinct thing in a turn, it is a Mixed Action: use the smaller dice pool and split Successes among both tasks.

On your turn you can also Move automatically approximately one range band. If you need to know exactly how far you moved, you can generally assume a number of feet equal to your Athletics dice pool x2. If you need to move more than that, using your Action, the chase rules are usually in effect. Standing up uses up your Move for the round (and if someone is threatening you in close combat, the rest of your Actions for the round are Mixed Actions with Athletics). If you attempt to Move away from an opponent in close range who will try to stop you, you must Disengage before you can Move. You must roll Athletics vs. the opponent’s Close Combat and win to successfully Disengage (or you can perform a Stunt and spend Successes equal to the opponent’s Composure). Getting over or through a Barrier often requires a roll and consumes your Action.

Most other actions are Reflexive Actions that don’t use any significant time, within reason. You can Drop Prone reflexively (which gives you -1 Defense Score against close combat attacks, but +2 Defense Score against ranged attacks). As part of a Move or Add Difficulty stunt (to dodge), you can reflexively Utilize Cover that’s been described in the scene (cover absorbs 1-10 Injuries from attacks that would have to go through it to hit you before it is functionally destroyed).

Special Action Modes

Some types of actions have expanded rules:

  • Chases: Origin Preview p. 82-83
  • Combat: See below
  • Crafting: Origin Preview p. 86-88
  • Intrigue: Origin Preview p. 88-94
  • Procedurals: Origin Preview p. 83-86

Combat

Initiative

When combat begins, everyone spends Momentum as desired to improve their Defense Scores (see Defense).

After determining defenses, whichever group has the highest Momentum goes first. If NPCs don’t have a Momentum total, they act as if they had a total equal to the number of players (i.e., half the PC maximum Momentum). Whichever side is initiating adds +2 to the effective total, and a further +1 if the other side is actually surprised.

The winning group can decide among themselves which individual acts first. After that person completes an action, she can designate the next person to act. Each subsequent individual designates someone else to act that hasn’t had a turn this round. Once everyone has had one turn, the last person to go designates anyone (including herself) to go first at the start of the next round.

At any point, if your side has more Momentum and you haven’t had your turn yet this round, you can spend a point of Momentum to interrupt the individual acting and take your turn (that person is still owed a turn before the round ends).

Making Attacks/Combat Stunts

Roll an appropriate Attribute + Ability. Treat the target’s Defense Score as Difficulty. Spend successes past Difficulty (and any Complications, if desired) on Combat Stunts (or Generic Stunts, like dodging):

  • Close, Grappling, or Ranged Combat
    • Inflict Damage (1s): Deal one Injury
    • Critical Hit (4s): Deal a second Injury
    • Disarm (Variable): Disarm target (Successes equal to target combat skill, +1 to knock it a range band away)
    • Knockdown/Trip (Variable): Knock target Prone (Successes equal to target Stamina/Dexterity)
  • Close Combat
    • Blind (2s): Target takes temporary Condition that applies +1 Difficulty to all Ranged attacks
    • Break-Up Grapple (1s): Knock two characters (not including yourself) out of a Grapple
    • Establish Grapple (1s): Inflict the Grappled Condition on the target
    • Seize (3s): Take a held or loosely-attached non-weapon object from the target
  • Grappling Combat
    • Break Free (1s): Remove the Grappled Condition from yourself
    • Gain Control (Variable): Give your opponent in the Grapple the Grappled Condition (Successes equal to target Close Combat ability)
    • Move (1s): You both move one range band in a direction of your choice (must be in control of the Grapple)
    • Pin (2s): Opponent’s Defense Score does not apply to other attackers (must be in control of the Grapple)
    • Takedown (1s): Both you and your opponent become Prone (must be in control of the Grapple)
    • Throw (1s): Your opponent moves one range band in a direction of your choice, and the Grapple ends (must be in control of the Grapple); opponent gains reflexive Athletics roll to avoid falling/entering hazardous terrain
  • Ranged Combat
    • Cover/Suppress (Variable): Target gains a Complication on the next action equal to Successes spent, and suffers an Injury if it is not bought off
    • Draw Fire (Variable): Target gains a Complication on the next action equal to Successes spent, and gains the Out of Ammo Condition if it is not bought off
    • Gun to a Knife Fight (1s): You must spend an additional Success to hit a target that could hit you in close combat

You can only buy the same stunt once (e.g., even with many successes, you can only usually deal two Injuries on a single attack by spending 1 for Inflict Damage and 4 for Critical Hit).

The Grappled Condition means that you cannot Move and must engage in Grappling Combat stunts (as must your opponent, but your opponent can use the stunts useful for the one in control of the Grapple).

The Out of Ammo Condition means your firearm is out of ammunition, and you cannot make further attacks with it until you spend an Action reloading. This may be applied as part of a Stunt, via the Automatic Weapon Tag, or when situationally appropriate.

Resolving Damage and Healing

When you take an Injury, you may put it in any open Health slot. It applies a Condition related to the source of the Injury. The effect of the Condition is usually to increase Difficulty to related tasks (e.g., anything using a wounded arm) or to reduce your Defense Score. Bruised Conditions apply -1, Injured Conditions apply -2, and Maimed Conditions apply -4. If you put an Injury in your Taken Out slot, you are unconscious and helpless. Remember that you gain 1 Momentum every time a Condition impairs you.

You can opt to Concede any time you would take one or more Injuries. Instead of taking the Injuries, you mark your Taken Out slot (usually in a more temporary way than taking it as a Injury), gain 3 Momentum, and are helpless until at least the end of the fight.

Once per session, you can receive First Aid. The assisting character rolls Reason + Medicine, with a Difficulty 0. Spend Successes on Stunts to reduce the severity of an Injury (2s for Bruised, 3s for Injured, and 5s for Maimed. Taken out requires Successes equal to the total number of other Injuries). Bruised Injuries are cleared completely (though might linger cosmetically). Worse Injuries move into an empty higher Injury slot (so you must have higher slots, often requiring you to clear Bruised first).

Weapons

Weapons are created by purchasing Weapon Tags. Most weapons have 3 points worth of tags, though cheaply made or improvised weapons may have fewer, and extremely valuable ones may have more.

  • Aggravated (2): Injuries dealt by the weapon are magic and can only be healed by magic.
  • Arcing (1): Attacks with this weapon reduce the quality of Cover by one step.
  • Automatic (2): When used in automatic mode, add +1 enhancement to attacks but add a cumulative +1 Complication to subsequent attacks. If this Complication is not bought off, you gain the Out of Ammo Condition. You can remove the Complication by spending an Action reloading, even before getting the Out of Ammo Condition.
  • Concealable (1): You gain Enhancement 1 to sneak the weapon past observers.
  • Damage Type (0): Weapons are Bashing or Lethal.
  • Grappling (1): The weapon can be used in a Grapple, and you gain Enhancement 1 to initiate a Grapple.
  • Long Range (1): The weapon can be used from the Long Range Band, but targets in the Close and Short Range Bands are treated as having +1 Defense Score.
  • Loud (-1): The weapon is noisy and will draw attention when used.
  • Messy (-1): The weapon leaves very distinctive wounds and evidence at the scene of the fight.
  • Piercing (2): You gain Enhancement 1 to attack targets with the Soft Armor tag.
  • Pushing (1): You gain Enhancement 1 if you are using the Knockdown Stunt.
  • Reach (1): You can make close combat attacks from Short range.
  • Returning (1): The weapon returns when thrown (often due to a chain or line).
  • Shockwave (4): The weapon deals Shockwave as if it had Scale +3 (this is typically magical or extremely heavy weaponry).
  • Slow (-1): This weapon gains the Out of Ammo Condition after every attack.
  • Stun (1): Injury Conditions dealt by this weapon are always temporary, and heal quickly on their own.
  • Two-Handed (-1): This weapon requires both hands to use.
  • Unconcealable (-1): This weapon is too big or bulky to be easily hidden or smuggled.
  • Versatile (2): You gain Enhancement 1 to perform any Stunts other than dealing Injury.
  • Weapon Type (0): Weapons are Firearm, Melee, or Thrown.
  • Worn (2): This weapon is strapped on or otherwise can’t be Disarmed.

Armor

Armor is created by purchasing Armor Tags. Like weapons, armor normally has 3 points worth of tags, but may have fewer or more based on value.

  • Bulletproof (2): You ignore the Piercing Weapon Tag on Firearms.
  • Cumbersome (-1): Most Athletics challenges while wearing the armor are at Difficulty +1.
  • Concealable (2): This armor can be hidden under clothing.
  • Hard (1 or 3): This armor grants you +1 or +2 Armor Health slots.
  • Innocuous (1): The armor is or at least appears to be mundane gear (such as a leather jacket or sports pads) that will not be especially strange when worn in public.
  • Resistant (2): You ignore injuries from a particular energy type (this usually requires magic).
  • Soft (1): The Inflict Damage Stunt costs an additional success to use against you.
  • Weighty (-1): After extended labor or sleep while wearing the armor, you must succeed at a Difficulty 3 Athletics + Stamina challenge or gain the Fatigued condition. The Difficulty increases by +1 each time until you rest unarmored.

Character Traits

Deeds

Each player character should have at least one of each of the following Deeds: stated goals for character achievement and growth. Accomplishing them earns Experience and Legend.

  • Short-term Deed: Something that you should be able to accomplish within a single session
  • Long-term Deed: Something that you should be able to accomplish by the end of the story arc (related to a Path)
  • Band-term Deed: Something your group should be able to accomplish in a season (this is developed by and shared by the whole group)

Each deed has a theme chosen from Conviction, Courage, Duty, Endurance, Expression, Harmony, Intellect, Justice, Loyalty, Piety, Valor, or Vengeance (e.g., “Valor: Rid the neighborhood of the Bratva mob”).

Path

Each player character has three Paths: Origin, Role, and Society/Pantheon. Paths provide context for actions and Twists of Fate as well as connections (to a Group, Contact, and resource Access). Origin indicates backstory, Role indicates occupation or area of expertise, and Society/Pantheon indicates relationship to the larger supernatural world. Each Path includes a Condition that can be triggered if used too often (indicating overdrawing connections/resources or otherwise bringing down problems).

Attributes

Attributes have an Arena (Physical/Mental/Social) and an Approach (Force/Finesse/Resilience) which governs when they are used.

  • Might (Physical Force)
  • Dexterity (Physical Finesse)
  • Stamina (Physical Resilience)
  • Intellect (Mental Force)
  • Cunning (Mental Finesse)
  • Resolve (Mental Resilience)
  • Presence (Social Force)
  • Manipulation (Social Finesse)
  • Composure (Social Resilience)

Abilities

Choose a Specialty for any Ability at level 3+. You gain bonus Momentum for failing a roll in your Specialty.

  • Academics: Humanities, Law, Politics, Bureaucracy, Languages Spoken
  • Athletics: Sports, Lifting/Breaking, Thrown and Ranged Weapons
  • Culture: Societies, Art/Religion Appreciation, Etiquette
  • Close Combat: Melee Weapons, Martial Arts, Assessing Enemy Fighters
  • Empathy: Emotional Cues, Lie Detection, Profiling
  • Firearms: Firing Guns, Maintaining and Modifying Firearms
  • Integrity: Emotional Fortitude, Hide Emotions/Intentions, Resist Mind Control/Torture
  • Leadership: Manage Individuals, Strategy and Tactics, Persuade Groups
  • Medicine: Diagnose and Treat Living, First Aid, Judge Creature Health
  • Occult: Cryptozoology, Secret Histories, Mystic Rituals, Paranormal Phenomena
  • Persuasion: Seducing, Debating, Compromising, Fast Talk, Persuade Individuals
  • Pilot: Drive Automobile, Pilot Watercraft, Pilot Aircraft, Ride Mount, Navigate in Vehicle
  • Science: Scientific Method, Research and Analyze Data, Create Compound and Reactions
  • Subterfuge: Deception, Stealth, Disguise, Forgery, Sleight of Hand, Lockpicking
  • Survival: Find Food and Shelter, Craft Basic Tools, Navigate on Foot, Tame Wildlife
  • Technology: Operate/Repair Software/Hardware, Programming, Electrical Engineering

Callings

Callings are divine archetypes, and indicate the role you fill as you approach divinity. Mortal Scions start with a single calling (drawn from the portfolio of their parent/patron), and can eventually develop up to three as they grow in divinity. Your available Knacks are based on your Callings. The Callings are Creator, Guardian, Healer, Hunter, Judge, Leader, Lover, Liminal (boundaries), Sage, Trickster, and Warrior.

Knacks

Knacks are low-level powers possessed by all Scions. Some of them require Momentum to activate. They are drawn from lists associated with each Calling.

Defense

Your base Defense pool is equal to your highest Resilience attribute (Stamina, Resolve, or Composure), and may include other bonuses. When you determine Initiative, you may spend up to your base Defense pool rating in Momentum to add to the total. Your Defense pool plus Momentum spent divided by three and rounded down becomes your Defense Score for the combat (e.g., if you have Defense 3 normally, you could take a Defense Score 1 automatically, or spend 3 Momentum to gain a Defense Score 2). The Defense Score is the Difficulty for anyone who attacks you in combat (and might be further increased by armor and dodging).

Health

You have four base Health slots: Bruised, Injured, Maimed, and Taken Out. If your Stamina is 3+, you gain a second Bruised Health slot, and if your Stamina is 5+, you gain a third Bruised Health slot. When you take an Injury, it fills the highest unfilled Health slot, and applies a Condition based on the slot filled (e.g., a Maimed Condition is worse than a Bruised Condition). Armor may add additional Armor Health slots that absorb Injuries without applying Conditions.

D&D 5e: Blade Witch (Fighter Subclass)

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Similar to the Mutant, this is intended to provide a Charisma alternate to Eldritch Knight. It has some major conceptual overlap with Hexblade, but hopefully takes it in a different enough direction to feel distinctive.

Many of the greater powers of the otherworlds forge weapons with a purpose unique to their ethos. Most of these are typical artifacts, usable by nearly anyone, but some draw their power from a unique bond with a mortal spirit. This power source allows the weapon to be created with much less personal investment of power by the creator, but grants much more agency to the wielder. The creators try to imbue the weapons with a fundamental desire to bond only to mortals that seem likely to fulfill their wishes, but, once bonded, the wielder has free will and often goes well off script.

Often found dormant in the form of a magical gauntlet or bracer of uncertain properties, the weapon comes to its full potential when it chooses its wielder (sometimes after the bearer carried it for years before reaching sufficient martial skill to make best use of it). While the weapon can only subtly nudge its wielder to actions that its creator would desire, the design of the weapon (and any other items later incorporated into it) is heavily based upon the aesthetics of the creator. Even if the wielder does not wish to pursue the ends of the weapon’s creator, the unmistakable visual stylings of the device will tend to mark the wielder as an agent of the creator to enemies and allies regardless.

Spellcasting

When you reach 3rd level, you gain the ability to cast spells. You gain cantrips, spells known, and spell slots based on the rules for the Eldritch Knight. You draw your spells known from the Warlock spell list, use Charisma as your spellcasting ability, and are not limited to abjuration and evocation spells, but otherwise follow the Spellcasting rules for Eldritch Knight.

Alternate Spellcasting (I have balance concerns about this): You gain cantrips, spells known, pact spell slots, pact slot level, and invocations known as a Warlock of 1/3 your Fighter level (round up). You use your full Fighter level to qualify for invocations, and may choose Pact of the Blade invocations, if desired. If you multiclass into Warlock, you must choose Pact of the Blade and your spellcasting and invocation levels stack (e.g., a Fighter 6/Warlock 3 casts spells and has invocations as a Warlock 5, but can choose invocations that require Warlock 9).

Your bonded weapon serves as a spellcasting focus, and must be used as a focus for all spells (though may be in its dormant form): in a very real way, your spells are not cast so much as manifested from the weapon itself.

Bonded Weapon

At 3rd level, your powers and abilities come from your bonded weapon, which is tied to your very soul. It has a dormant form, which typically takes the form of a distinctive bracer or gauntlet (this does not interfere with wearing separate bracers or gauntlets: the weapon adjusts to fit around the other item). You can switch your weapon out of its dormant form as an action (and return it to its dormant form as a free action). When you switch the weapon into its active form, you can choose its shape: it can function as any melee weapon.

If you ever lose your grip on the weapon, it disappears and immediately reforms in its dormant configuration (it cannot be stolen, but it also cannot be thrown). If the weapon is broken, it appears in a cracked dormant form and cannot be used for spellcasting or as a weapon, but automatically repairs itself after a short or long rest. If greater magics destroy the weapon, you cannot use it or cast spells until completing a long rest, at which point it reforms.

You may also, if desired, use an additional action to manifest an offhand weapon or shield in the same styling as the main weapon.

All manifested weapons count as magical for the purpose of overcoming resistance and immunity to nonmagical attacks and damage. You can perform a one-hour ritual to allow your weapon to “eat” a melee weapon or shield and gain its magic powers and special materials. Subsequently, any time you switch to an active form that is the same weapon/shield type as the consumed item (in your main hand or offhand) you may treat it as the consumed item (though it still has the visual stylings of your weapon). You cannot combine powers/materials from items, even of the same weapon type, but may switch between them by re-manifesting the weapon. At the DM’s discretion, some items may immune to being consumed (due to power or role in the world).

Witch’s Armor

Beginning at 7th level, your weapon may additionally manifest and consume armor identically to weapons and shields. You may garb yourself in armor of a type of your choice as an action and, as with weapons and shields, it may have the material and powers of any armor it consumed of the same type. As with the weapon, the armor is heavily stylized based on the aesthetics of the weapon, making you extremely obvious as an agent of the weapon’s creator.

Additionally, while you have any type of this armor manifested, you gain Resistance to one or more types of damage based upon the creator of the armor. Suggested resistances include:

  • Aberrant: Psychic (and you gain advantage on Wisdom saving throws against spells and similar mental effects)
  • Celestial/Divine: Radiant and Necrotic
  • Fiendish: Any one damage type (changed over a short or long rest) unless dealt by silver or magic weapons
  • Fae: Bludgeoning, Piercing, and Slashing damage unless dealt by cold iron or magic weapons

Unearthly Might

Beginning at 10th level, you’ve become sufficiently in tune with your witch’s armor to augment your physical capabilities. While you have any armor manifested from your Witch’s Armor ability, you gain advantage on Strength and Constitution checks, and on Death saving throws, and you may expend a Hit Die as a reaction to reroll a failed Strength or Constitution saving throw.

Deathless Warrior

At 15th level, the magic of your weapon has deeply infused your body and soul, preserving you as an eternal champion. You no longer age naturally, and will not die from age-related causes (if you were already of advanced age before gaining this ability, you gradually decrease in physical age to your prime). All of your hit dice rolls to regain hit points during a short rest are maximized (take the maximum value of the die instead of rolling). When you use your Second Wind, you roll additional d10s for healing equal to your Charisma modifier (minimum 1) and remove any diseases or poisons affecting you. Even without using your Second Wind, any diseases or poisons affecting you are removed upon completing a short rest (or after the first hour of a long rest).

You may extend some of this protection to allies of your weapon’s creator. You can automatically detect whether a touched entity is considered to be serving the ends of the weapon’s creator (which usually includes any of your personal allies currently assisting you towards ends approved by the creator). You can use your Second Wind to heal such an ally instead of yourself: apply the effects of your Second Wind to the touched target instead of yourself (including the removed diseases and poisons and increased healing based on your Charisma).

Mutability Mastery

At 18th level, you’ve gained mastery of the protean nature of your weapon. You can now manifest weapons, shields, and armor as a free action on your turn (instead of a standard action), which can allow you to change weapons between attacks, switch to a shield after attacking with a two-handed weapon, and other such tricks.

If your weapon is broken or destroyed, you may now repair or reform it as an action instead of during a rest.

Further, you may make subtle shifts to your weapons and armor during an attack to optimize them. As a reaction, you may grant yourself advantage on any attack with your bonded weapon (including spell attacks). Also as a reaction, you may impose disadvantage on an attack made against you or grant yourself advantage on Dexterity saving throws against effects you can see.

D&D 5e: Mutant (Rogue Subclass)

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This is primarily intended to provide a Charisma alternate for Arcane Trickster. It’s probably also fairly easy to convert to an alternate Eldritch Knight.

Many individuals with the blood of supernatural creatures in their family trees or who were invested with a surge of chaotic energy become sorcerers, able to unleash titanic magics. Others are less robust in their expression of these powers. They gain a few useful tricks from their magic-infused blood, but not enough to see them through life. They tend to express signs of their powers, either obviously in their appearance or in the inexplicable accidents that happen around them as they grow up. They, in short, are frequently forced out and must turn to a life of crime, or at least an upbringing on the fringes. Adventuring is often the only way they can be accepted in society, for as accepted as adventurers are.

Spellcasting

When you reach 3rd level, you gain the ability to cast spells.

Cantrips. You learn three cantrips based upon your mutations (see below). You learn another cantrip at 9th level when you gain your latent mutation (see below).

Spell Slots. You gain spell slots as an Arcane Trickster.

Spells Known of 1st-Level and Higher. You know three 1st-level spells. The Spells Known column of the Arcane Trickster Spellcasting table shows when you learn more spells of 1st level or higher. Each of these spells must be drawn from your personal spell list based upon your mutations (see below) or the spells available to all mutants because they are Hated and Feared (see below).

Whenever you gain a level in this class, you can replace one of the mutant spells you know with another spell of your choice from your personal spell list. The new spell must be of a level for which you have spell slots.

Spellcasting Ability. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for your mutant spells, since they are produced from your innate magical energy. 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 mutant 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

Primary Mutations

Starting at 3rd level, you gain three mutations. Each mutation grants you a permanent special ability, a cantrip, and a list of spells that you may add to your personal spell list when selecting spells known.

Mutation Special Ability Cantrip Spells (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th)
Ceraunokinitic Resist Thunder Thunderclap (XGE) Thunderwave, Shatter, Thunder Step (XGE), Storm Sphere (XGE)
Clairvoyant Gain Expertise in Investigation, Perception, or Stealth True Strike Detect Magic, Darkvision, Clairvoyance, Locate Creature
Communicative Gain Expertise in Insight or Perception Message Comprehend Languages, Detect Thoughts, Tongues, Divination
Constructive Gain Expertise in all tools with which you are proficient Mending Mage Armor, Enhance Ability, Protection from Energy, Fabricate
Cryokinetic Resist Cold Ray of Frost Ice Knife (XGE), Shatter*, Sleet Storm, Ice Storm
Dimensional Gain Expertise in Deception, Performance, or Sleight of Hand Prestidigitation Feather Fall, Blur, Blink, Banishment
Dominant Gain Expertise in Deception, Intimidate, or Persuasion Friends Charm Person, Suggestion, Enemies Abound (XGE), Charm Monster (XGE)
Electrokinetic Resist Lightning Shocking Grasp Witch Bolt, Misty Step*, Lightning Bolt, Dimension Door*
Entropic Resist Acid Acid Splash Chromatic Orb, Knock, Dispel Magic, Polymorph
Illusory Gain Expertise in Intimidation, Performance, or Stealth Minor Illusion Silent Image, Invisibility, Major Image, Greater Invisibility
Immune Resist Force Blade Ward Shield, Mirror Image, Counterspell, Stoneskin
Luminous Resist Radiant Light Magic Missile, See Invisibility, Daylight, Sickening Radiance (XGE)
Mesmeric Resist Psychic Dancing Lights Color Spray, Hold Person, Hypnotic Pattern, Confusion
Nightmarish Resist Necrotic Chill Touch Ray of Sickness, Blindness/Deafness, Fear, Blight
Pyrokinetic Resist Fire Fire Bolt Burning Hands, Scorching Ray, Fireball, Wall of Fire
Telekinetic Gain Expertise in Athletics or Acrobatics Mage Hand Jump, Levitate, Fly, Freedom of Movement
Turbulent Resist Poison Poison Spray Fog Cloud, Gust of Wind, Stinking Cloud, Vitriolic Sphere (XGE)

* Change the energy type and trappings of these spells to match the overall energy type of the mutation (e.g., Misty Step has you teleport on a line of electricity).

It is highly suggested that you pick a suite of mutations that point to a particular origin. For example:

  • Aberrant: Communicative, Dominant, Mesmeric, Turbulent
  • Celestial: Communicative, Constructive, Dimensional, Luminous
  • Draconic: Dominant, Immune, Telekinetic, (Cryokinetic, Electrokinetic, Entropic, Pyrokinetic, or Turbulent based on dragon color)
  • Elemental: Ceraunokinetic, Dimensional, Luminous (Constructive, Cryokinetic, Pyrokinetic, or Turbulent based on elemental type)
  • Fey: Constructive, Dimensional, Illusory, Mesmeric
  • Fiendish: Cryokinetic, Electrokinetic, Pyrokinetic, Turbulent
  • Undead: Dimensional, Entropic, Immune, Nightmarish

If your race or other source already grants you a resistance you’d gain from one of these mutation types, work with your DM to replace it with an appropriate expertise.

Hated and Feared

Starting at 3rd level, elements of your mystical heritage become readily apparent. Work with your DM to develop a particular mystical signature or physical stigma that calls attention to you in civilized lands. You have disadvantage on Charisma (Persuasion) checks to interact with the superstitious unless you go to great pains to hide your heritage, but you gain advantage on Charisma (Intimidation) checks against the same kind of individuals.

You may also add the following 1st-level spells to your personal spell list from which you can choose Spells Known. They are general magics that all mutants seem to have access to, in order to hide and protect themselves from a world that hates and fears them: Absorb Elements (XGE), Chaos Bolt (XGE), Disguise Self, Expeditious Retreat, False Life.

Latent Mutation

Starting at 9th level, you gain a fourth mutation. You immediately gain the cantrip and special ability of that mutation, and may add its spells to your personal spell list.

Emissary

At 13th level, your mutation has progressed to the point that your progenitors recognize you as one of them, and you also have standing among the mutant community. You have advantage on Charisma checks when dealing with other mutants, and when dealing with the creature type of your origin. Creature types of your origin will tend to treat you as a peer or relative rather than a threat upon first encounter.

Omega Class

At 17th level, you may use the Empowered Spell and Heightened Spell metamagic abilities of the Sorcerer class. You have sorcery points equal to your Charisma modifier, and you recover to full sorcery points upon taking a long rest.

D&D 5e: Alternate Ways to Be Angry

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This is the previously promised pair of writeups designed to take what I consider to be essential features of Barbarian and port them to becoming subclasses of the more-interesting-to-play Fighter and Ranger (though I’m told that one really should play the Unearthed Arcana ranger rather than the one in the PHB). The goal here was to pack some fairly strong features into the subclasses (which are not usually strong enough to carry another class’ core mechanic). So I’ve made some additional limitations for each to try to expand the “budget” of how awesome they can be.

The Berserker College

Warriors from many cultures and eras have often come to the realization that fury is a useful tool in a fight. Some hone their rage through cultural traditions, while others simply have anger-management issues and low impulse control. Either way, when their blood is up they start to land brutal hits and seem insensate to pain, but give up a great deal of finesse.

Berserker Features

Fighter Level Feature
3rd Frenzy
7th Reckless
10th Instincts
15th Relentless
18th Unstoppable

Frenzy

When you choose this archetype at 3rd level, you may enter a Frenzy by expending your Second Wind. Second Wind costs a bonus action normally, and you still make the same roll, but instead of regaining hit points, you gain a “frenzy counter” for each hit point you would have healed. While you have frenzy counters, you gain all the benefits and drawbacks of being in a frenzy.

You may:

  • Spend one frenzy counter at the beginning of your turn to maintain your frenzy. This cannot be performed if you are unconscious. If you cannot or will not spend a frenzy counter at this point, you leave frenzy.
  • Spend frenzy counters up to your proficiency bonus to add damage to a melee weapon attack after confirming it was successful. You can choose to add the amount of counters spent as a flat damage bonus, or instead choose to add a die to the roll with a maximum value equal to twice the counters spent (e.g., d12 for 6 spent counters).
  • Spend one frenzy counter to take half damage from a single source of Bludgeoning, Piercing, or Slashing damage.
  • Spend one frenzy counter to gain advantage on any Strength check or saving throw.
  • Spend one frenzy counter to gain advantage on any saving throw against Enchantment spells or against any effect that would cause you to become Charmed or Frightened on a failure.

Unless otherwise noted, spending frenzy counters does not require an action.

While in a frenzy:

  • Every time you miss an enemy with a melee attack roll, you gain an additional frenzy counter.
  • Every time you take damage from an enemy’s attack that you don’t spend a frenzy counter to reduce, you gain an additional frenzy counter.
  • Every time you fail a saving throw, you gain an additional frenzy counter.
  • If you are able to cast spells, you can’t cast them or concentrate on them.
  • You suffer disadvantage on ranged attack rolls.
  • You suffer disadvantage on Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma checks except for Intimidation.

If frenzy ends while you have frenzy counters remaining, you regain the use of your Second Wind. If you use Second Wind again before your next short or long rest (either for frenzy or for its normal use), instead of rolling, the result is automatically equal to half the frenzy counters you had remaining.

Reckless

Starting at 7th level, you can choose to attack recklessly before making any attacks on your turn. Doing so gives you advantage on all melee weapon attacks, but all attack rolls against you have advantage against you until your next turn.

Similarly, you may add a bonus die of a size up to twice your proficiency bonus (e.g., d12 at proficiency +6) to any Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution check, but lose hit points equal to the roll of the bonus die. This generally indicates that you hurt yourself excelling at the physical task.

Instincts

Starting at 10th level, you gain proficiency with Dexterity saving throws. You also gain advantage on initiative rolls.

Relentless

Starting at 15th level, while you are in a frenzy, if an attack would reduce you to 0 hit points, you are instead reduced to 1 hit point and any excess damage beyond that necessary to reduce you to 1 hit point is applied to your frenzy counters as if they were temporary hit points. If you are damaged sufficiently to remove all your frenzy counters and reduce you to 0 hit points, you begin dying normally.

Unstoppable

Starting at 18th level, while you are in a frenzy, you may spend a frenzy counter as a reaction when you would become Grappled, Paralyzed, Petrified, Prone, Restrained, or Stunned to not suffer that condition. Additionally, you may spend two frenzy counters as part of a move to double your base speed for the rest of your turn.

The Totem Conclave

While many rangers are quite happy to ally themselves with beasts and become a better team, some instead invite the very spirits of the beasts themselves to bond with them. These totem warriors can enter a state where they allow their civilized impulses to be subsumed by the instincts of their animal patron. Unlike lycanthropes or druids, they do not physically transform, but simply channel the strongest aspects of their totem through their mundane forms.

Totem Warrior Features

Ranger Level Feature
3rd Fury, Totem Spirit
5th Bestial Quickness
7th Aspect of the Beast
11th Fangs and Fur
15th Totemic Attunement

Fury

Starting at 3rd level, you spend a bonus action and expend a single spell slot to enter a state of fury. The level of spell slot expended gives you a totem die: the die size is equal to a d4 if you expended a 1st level spell slot, and increases a die size for each additional level of spell slot (to a maximum of d12 if you expended a 5th level slot).

While in this state:

  • The first time per turn that you hit a target with a weapon attack, it takes an additional totem die of damage from the weapon.
  • If you deal damage with a weapon attack, you gain temporary hit points equal to the roll of the totem die on your attack (including if it is doubled on a crit).
  • You may add the totem die to all Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma saving throws.
  • You have disadvantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma checks, except Insight, Perception, Survival, and Intimidation.
  • You can’t cast spells or concentrate on them.

This state ends when you become unconscious, take a short or long rest, or choose to take a bonus action to willingly end the state.

Totem Spirit

At 3rd level, when you adopt this conclave, you choose a totem spirit and gain its feature. Your totem spirit remains the same for all subsequent totem abilities gained at later levels. Example totems are below.

  • Totem of Strength (Wolf): While in fury, you have advantage on all Strength checks and saving throws. If you hit a target with a weapon attack while at least one ally is within 5 feet of it, it must make a Strength saving throw (DC equal to 8 + Your Proficiency Bonus + Your Strength Bonus) or fall prone.
  • Totem of Dexterity (Eagle): While in fury, you have advantage on all Dexterity checks and saving throws. Additionally, on any turn in which you move more than five feet, attackers have disadvantage on attacks against you until the beginning of your next turn (including attacks of opportunity for moving).
  • Totem of Constitution (Bear): While in fury, you have advantage on all Constitution checks and saving throws. You also have advantage on death saving throws you make if you were reduced to 0 hit points while in a fury. Additionally, you may use your reaction to gain resistance against any source of damage except Psychic after the damage amount is declared.

Bestial Quickness

At 5th level, while you are in a fury, you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn. Your speed increases by 10 feet, even when you are not in a fury.

Aspect of the Beast

At 7th level, you gain a magical benefit based on the totem animal of your choice. Use the features for the Barbarian ability of the same name. (Wolf may overlap too much with default ranger abilities?)

Fangs and Fur

At 11th level, you fully embrace the fighting style of your totem, and gain benefits while unarmed or unarmored. When you are not wearing any armor, your AC is equal to the higher of 10 + your proficiency bonus or 13 + your Dexterity bonus. You can roll 1d8 in place of the normal damage of your unarmed strike, and you treat unarmed strikes as finesse weapons.

Totemic Attunement

At 15th level, you gain a magical benefit based on the totem animal of your choice. Use the features for the Barbarian ability of the same name (with “while raging” replaced with “while in a fury”).

D&D 5e: How Will You Rage?

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Colin recently posted a thorough examination of some of the flaws in the 5e barbarian. I agree with most of his points, and have several of my own that I plan to do a writeup on eventually (spoiler: your choices in character build and combat tactics are extremely limited and boring). Since I’ve built my feelings playing a barbarian in Brandes’ game (in which Colin also plays, so I’m one of the data points in his analysis), I’ve been discussing various options with them for how you could make different house rules to improve the class. This post is less about redesigning the barbarian, and more a very specific deep dive on the core issue: how do you build a rage mechanic, and how can you raise or lower its potency for balance concerns?

What Even Is Rage?

I assume there were various rages populated throughout AD&D, but the first major times I saw it was in the form of a power possessed by Minsc the ranger in Baldur’s Gate and in the Barbarian class as designed for 3e. Later iterations in 4e, Pathfinder, and 5e have kept various spins of the core elements of:

  • The state is triggered at will.
  • It only lasts a limited amount of time and is tiring.
  • You can’t really do things during it an angry person couldn’t do (i.e., cast spells or other actions that require concentration and intellect).
  • You get really strong and hit harder with things strong people hit harder with.
  • You get really tough and can take more punishment.
  • You’re more resistant to mental effects because your mind is so focused/unhinged.

Basically, it’s unabashedly modeling a less grandiose version of the Incredible Hulk, or the fears of what individuals are like when hopped up on amphetamines or otherwise having a violent mental episode (so modeling Bane). While that’s arguably not the most culturally appropriate thing (why are we glorifying uncontrollable rage and assuming that’s the hallmark of all tribal warriors?), you probably have to start from trying to keep them all if you’re looking at keeping something that’s inarguably a “rage” mechanic.

How Do You Time It?

The default expression of rage has been a fixed, short period effect which you get more uses of as you level, and which has a small but non-trivial action cost to activate on your turn. Pathfinder made the currency much more granular (a big pool of rounds rather than a small pool of larger blocks of time). Notably, the push seems to be to balance it against the expected number of fights in an adventuring day such that you can probably use it most of the time but not all of the time. Timers with a limited resource make this simple.

Another way to do it would be to tie it to a trigger that’s somewhat out of the PC’s control but is less resource-based: you rage until some ending trigger. Non-D&D games have been more inclined to make this trigger “everyone is dead, including maybe your friends.” This is more common in WoD games, and it’s probably not appropriate to most heroic D&D games to regularly start making the barbarian make hard checks to calm down before hurting people other than the bad guys. But it’s certainly worth considering that you can set triggers for when rage ends instead of a timer if you can find a trigger that makes sense for the setting you want to evoke.

You can also tie it to a resource other than actions and time. 5e‘s timer is already somewhat superfluous, since the rage ends if you stop attacking enemies or taking damage, and if you’re in a fight where you’ve still got enemies and HP after a minute, it’s kind of an unusually hard fight where it’s annoying your rage gives out anyway. The presence of people to attack/sources of damage is the resource involved. You could simplify it to a straight up damage over time effect: you end the rage on purpose whenever you’re tired of slowly bleeding HP.

My favorite rage mechanics from video games are ones that are additive in combat and decay over time. In City of Heroes, brutes gradually built up a fury meter from attacking and taking damage, and it diminished over time such that if you weren’t fighting, you were losing the cool fury abilities, so you were very inclined to risk rushing into the next fight unprepared rather than bleed off fury. World of Warcraft has a more sedate implementation for their warriors: unlike mana-using classes that start full of resources and gradually spend them through the fight faster than they can recover them, warriors start with little or no rage and get more from attacking and taking damage, and spend it on special abilities. Both of these approaches are tough in D&D lifted in a straightforward way, because you don’t usually experience a lot of combat rounds over the course of an adventuring day compared to an MMO. But I’m very enamored of the idea of rage being tied to a resource that starts small, bleeds off per round, but can be recovered faster than it bleeds by dealing and taking damage.

There’s also an outside chance that you could make the resource you’re using up just actions in your action economy. Depending on the utility of a bonus action for the class in question, it might make sense for rage to be something you can turn on or off at will, whenever you’re willing to burn actions on it. This might be a 1:1 (rage on rounds you spend an action, no rage on ones you don’t), or one action may get you multiple rounds of time/resource so your anger is like a fire you only have to stoke every so often. This is probably only worth investigating if the overall build has a big demand on bonus actions from all sides (e.g., presently, all it does is make using a two-handed weapon even more significantly better than two-weapon fighting).

Ultimately, rage in 5e is usable most of the time but not all of the time (unless you’re having fewer fights per day that still don’t go very long). Changing the timer to let you use it closer to all the time makes it a little more powerful, and making it so it’s available less often makes it a little less powerful. In my opinion, varying how you govern staying in rage is actually more about making the mechanic offer interesting choices and tradeoffs to the player.

How Do You Get Really Strong?

The traditional implementation of the strength boost was, well, a strength boost. In 3e and Baldur’s Gate, the increase to strength was meaningful, but increasingly less relevant at higher levels compared to other sources of damage bonus. 5e opted to just grant a couple of the derived effects of higher strength rather than forcing you to recalculate by granting advantage on strength checks and saves and a damage bonus to strength-based melee. The improvement to offense is really small, even compared to 3e (where at least strength improved your attack bonus, the extra damage could be stretched with two-handed weapons, and got multiplied on a crit).

5e‘s mechanisms for representing angry strength are pretty comprehensive, though. There are only so many ways to represent it in the system, and advantage on strength rolls and extra damage on strength attacks are most of them. You could theoretically give advantage on strength attacks, but that eats into a lot of other mechanics. Otherwise, I’m not sure how else you’d model “I’m even stronger right now.”

The amount and style of the damage bonus are your primary ways of raising or lowering the potency of this aspect of rage. There’s limited room to decrease the bonus, because it’s already +2 for much of your career, but you could switch it to something that’s not always available (e.g., if you’re using a resource-based rage, adding damage to an attack could be something that costs rage resources much like adding a superiority die for battlemasters). As Colin notes, it might feel better to switch it to a die instead of a flat add, even if you didn’t increase the average significantly, because that would at least get multiplied on a crit.

Instead of a damage bonus, you could also just give extra attacks, have some damage splash/cleave onto nearby targets, or make attacks do a certain amount of damage even on a miss.

Another option would be to increase the applicability of the strength. To wit, currently rage is a big help if you’re trying to force open doors or climb walls as part of a fight, but even if you wanted to blow a use out of combat the timing of it makes it difficult (e.g., if you’re climbing a cliff that will take more than a round, your rage will end because you’re not hurting someone or getting hurt). You could improve the utility of rage by coming up with some way to use it for out-of-combat strength checks. It’s probably a stretch to have it last long enough to meaningfully interact with encumbrance, though (“Grog… so angry… about carrying all this heavy treasure back to town. Still… just so angry.”).

How Do You Get Really Tough?

The traditional method of being really tough was just a fairly small pool of extra HP which might even go away at the end of the rage (so you really got no benefit from them at all unless you kept acting while you should be dead, then promptly died). 3e did this through a constitution boost, which also meant you were slightly better at concentration-based checks and saves. The 5e method is just to let you take half damage from most weapons (or from basically everything if you follow the bear totem), which made being tough the most significant aspect of rage.

It’s difficult to look at different strengths of resistance, since 5e has really made it on or off. You take full, half, or no damage from things. There isn’t a granular damage reduction like in 3e. If you wanted to keep resistance but scale it down, you could do like Colin suggested and make it start out only affecting one of the three weapon damage types. If you’re using a more granular resource model, you could make the player spend rage-maintaining resources to activate the resistance for a round or an attack (possibly using up your reaction as well).

Going back to a bonus HP model instead of resistance would provide more granularity. On the one hand, temporary HP aren’t usually typed in what they can be spent on, so they’re more versatile than weapon-damage-type resistance. On the other hand, they don’t stack, so a rage with resistance is more useful if you’re already getting temporary HP from other sources. There are basically two ways to award temporary HP: as a big, up-front pool, or as a smaller amount regenerated every round (like with the Heroism spell).

The big pool is likely to be better than resistance in most cases, except in fights where you almost died even with resistance (i.e., resistance can be thought of as a pool of temporary HP equal to how much damage you ultimately took, because you didn’t take half, so if you have less temporary HP than your total HP, there are some times it will be less good). But on fights where you didn’t get hit a lot, you might not even have exhausted the pool, where resistance means you always take at least some damage, because it only stops half.

Meanwhile, the smaller, regenerating pool is better if you’re taking a little damage every round (i.e., just enough temporary HP to soak it all up without touching your real HP). But it could be much worse against spike damage. A barbarian that gets missed three rounds in a row then takes 40 damage would much rather have resistance than 5 temporary HP per round, even though on average the math says he took 10 HP per round and mitigated half of it.

Where do you even start on the math involved? It’s obviously highly variable. How many monsters are attacking the barbarian each round, and how much damage do they do when they hit? How long could the barbarian sustain that? Without healing, the average raging barbarian can soak up around 20 HP per level before dropping (assuming 7 + 3 HP for most levels and halving the damage). If you do some rough assumptions that the barbarian on a busy and near-deadly day uses half her hit dice to heal plus gets some miscellaneous healing and has six encounters of at least three rounds each, you can assume a worst-case scenario is that she took as much as 40 damage per level over 20 rounds of fighting, for an average of 2 HP per level per round. As noted, this could be a very bad assumption if the damage actually comes in spikes rather than evenly distributed.

The DMG’s Monster Statistics by Challenge Rating chart paints a much spikier picture of the potential damage output from monsters. How much of the encounter’s monster budget will the barbarian have trying to hit her at any given moment? An 8th level barbarian tanking three characters’ worth of medium budget is facing 2,700 XP of monsters: is that one CR 7 dealing up to 50 damage on the average round it hits, or is that six CR 2s who are much less likely to all hit on the same round, but deal 120 points if they manage it? Either way, does the barbarian need significantly more than 16 HP (8th level x 2 HP) per round to get anywhere near the mitigation provided by straight resistance, or are spikes likely to be weird aberrations and a more conservative number is fine most of the time?

I’d want to playtest the hell out of it, but my gut says 3-4 temporary HP per level per round is likely to be as good or better than resistance under most circumstances. You might want to backstop it with some additional ways to emergency mitigate a spike from a crit or high-rolling spell, but barbarians already do have the best HP totals, so if a spike is so bad it ruins the barbarian’s day even without rage, it would have potentially killed anyone else in the party. The important thing is that if you go with temporary HP on this schedule, it’s pretty easy to reduce them to make rage’s toughness weaker and increase them to make it more powerful.

Finally, you could also show toughness by granting advantage on constitution-based saves, particularly against things like exhaustion and poison. But, like strength, these are more likely to come up when you aren’t in combat, so you’d have to have a way to stretch the effects of rage outside of a fight.

How Do You Model the Enraged Mind?

The biggest fear of the 5e barbarian is anything that requires an intelligence, wisdom, or charisma saving throw. In Baldur’s Gate, Minsc is outright immune to a lot of mind-affecting spells while berserk, and 3e barbarians at least got a small bonus to saves. In 5e, only one primal path gets anything near that benefit, and the tradeoff is that they become exhausted after their frenzy (and that exhaustion is way worse than the short fatigued state that hit 3e barbarians). Also, 5e barbarians can’t cast spells while raging or get any benefit to dexterity or ranged attacks, which prevents many nonstandard builds.

There’s a lot of system tweaking you can do to model what it means to be in a rage, that could make it more or less powerful, or more or less interesting.

Does the rage provide some kind of protection against mind-affecting spells, or do you want that to remain the barbarian’s kryptonite?

Is the rage controlled enough that you’ll allow it to benefit attacks other than strength melee and not lock out spellcasting, or do you like that they’re like bulls seeing red and can do little besides go beat on people? Do you want to balance it by making the barbarian’s tunnel vision even worse and limit her tactical options while in a rage (e.g., “you must attack the nearest enemy”)?

Is exhaustion/fatigue a reasonable cost to add to weaken rage/free up more “budget” to make other parts of it stronger? Is there something you can do to model that without relying on 5e‘s exhaustion track (which is a pretty major limit on how often you could rage, since it’s a short death spiral)?

Are there more interesting psychological aspects of how you want rage to work that suggest mechanics other than the aforementioned?

Putting It Into Practice

Continue through to a fighter college and ranger conclave that provide key barbarian elements in a more interesting class shell.

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