D&D 5e: Fear and Horror Checks

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Clearly what the world needs is another fear/horror system for D&D. This one popped into my head thinking about Ravenloft.

In general, my current thinking on fear systems in games is that being afraid should be a penalty to action as an incentive to flee, but should not take away control of the PC and force particular actions. The Frightened condition in 5e, while a useful shorthand that I’ve used for this system, may be a little too far on the forcing action side since it prevents approaching the source of fear, but I think it’s workable with the attached horror subsystem.

Fear

Certain terrifying creatures (and some scary/horrifying situations) inspire Fear by being encountered. Upon seeing (or otherwise becoming aware of) the creature/source, all encountering characters must make a Fear save. The DC is equal to 10 + the creature’s CR (for games where fear is a very real difficulty) or half that total (for games where fear is more of an occasional issue). Non-creature situations should have an equivalent scale.

A Fear save is made as the player’s choice of an Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma saving throw based on chosen tactic:

  • Denial (Intelligence): You rationalize or compartmentalize the worst aspects of the creature, using sheer brainpower to imagine the threat as something less terrifying. This tactic is the best choice (of several bad choices) for truly unnatural creatures (like aberrations) and horrors from beyond, and grants advantage in those situations.
  • Perspective (Wisdom): You think of how big the world is and how, in the grand scheme of things, the creature is just another thing to encounter, no different than any other threat. This tactic is the best choice for supernatural (but not unnatural) creatures (like fiends, fey, and undead) and divine situations, and grants advantage in those situations. (If your world’s cosmology suggests that undead aren’t created by the divine for some reason, they may fall better under Denial).
  • Courage (Charisma): You just decide that fear is not an option, and muscle through based on sheer force of will. This tactic is the best choice for natural creatures (like monstrosities and dragons) that are just scary due to their ability to inflict serious pain, as well as more natural sources of horror (such as grisly murders), and grants advantage in those situations.

If the Fear save is failed, the character suffers the Frightened condition toward the trigger until the creature is killed, a point of Horror is accepted (see below), or the situation is escaped and everyone has a chance to cool off (which may require a short rest, at the GM’s option).

Characters may take a point of Horror as a free action to override the Frightened condition (taking long term mental trauma to overcome short term inability to act). By taking a point of Horror, the character is not subject to making additional Fear saves against the trigger or the same type of creature until the next sunset.

Characters can choose any tactic for the situation (but may not truly know whether it’s natural, supernatural, or unnatural before rolling), but likely use their highest save as their preferred tactic.

Horror

Characters gain Horror by overcoming Frightened (as described above) and by suffering a Horror trigger.

Common Horror triggers are:

  • Domination (Intelligence, Wisdom): For the strongest minds, losing control of one’s own mental processes is the most horrifying situation. Whenever you suffer the Charmed condition or are otherwise unable to act on your own volition due to mental compulsions, take a point of Horror.
  • Mutation (Charisma, Constitution): For those possessed of great beauty and health, horrors of the body can strike deepest. Whenever you suffer the Poisoned condition for a minute or longer, a disease for a week or longer, or are subjected to unwelcome polymorph or other shapeshifting effects, take a point of Horror. (Only one point of Horror for one poison or disease, even if it is ongoing for quite some time.)
  • Restraint (Dexterity, Strength): For those used to relying on their strength and mobility, being trapped is a profound phobia. Whenever you suffer the Paralyzed, Petrified, or Restrained condition (with nothing you can do through your own physical means to try to free yourself), take a point of Horror.

GMs may choose to define other phobias as additional Horror triggers. At the GM’s option, players may choose to remove a point of Horror by taking a new permanent Horror trigger. It is up to the GM whether all PCs start with one Horror trigger, or only gain them in play (which will usually require failing enough Fear saves to start needing to remove Horror points). It’s also up to the GM whether mental therapy in downtime can remove triggers.

For the most basic way to implement this system, Horror points are equivalent to levels of Exhaustion (and stack with them). At the GM’s option, a separate Horror track that works similar to Exhaustion may be created.

Pumpkinheads

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Some legends explain that the tradition of lighting a Jack-O’-Lantern on All Hallow’s Eve to ward off ghosts is an imperfect understanding of the spawn of Eochai. These amoral beings can be called up by those willing and able to bargain with the titans, and placed to keep ghosts and other spirits away… or trapped. They are most commonly deployed on Halloween when the walls between the living and the dead are thinnest. Unfortunately, they are not particularly selective guardians, and may attack any that they see as a threat to their duty. In particular, their service to the titans frequently sees them at odds with servants of the gods, who may need access to the spirits that they are warding.

Pumpkinheads!

Savage Worlds Stats

All Pumpkinheads have the following abilities:

  • Viny Body, Soft Head: Pumpkinheads are created with enhanced Toughness and natural armor. Treat damage as +4 for attacks to the body with slashing weapons, or Called Shot attacks to the head (with any weapon). Treat damage as +8 for attacks to the head with a blunt melee weapon (or other large-scale blunt weapon, like a thrown brick). Called shots to the head are only -2 to the attack (normally -4), because they are such a prominent feature of the Pumpkinhead.
  • Fire Resistance: Pumpkinheads take -4 damage from fire (or add +4 to resist fire-related Hazards or Powers).
  • Fire Spit: Make a Focus roll as a ranged attack (8”) that does 2d6 damage. The Pumpkinhead can do this 5 times per night. +4 to attack against spirits.
  • Construct: Pumpkinheads are effectively magical constructs. They add +2 to recover from Shaken, ignore 1 point of wound penalties, and don’t need to eat, breathe, suffer toxins, etc.
  • Spirit Ward: Ghosts and other spirits must succeed at a contested Spirit test to approach within melee reach of a Pumpkinhead, and at the beginning of each turn to remain this close.
  • Banishing Touch: Pumpkinheads have +4 to melee attacks against ghosts and spirits, and banish them upon incapacitation.
  • Quiescent Form: Pumpkinheads can withdraw their bodies into their heads and appear as normal jack-o’-lanterns. Close inspection reveals that the light from within them is not a candle, but a naturally occuring flame source. All attacks against them are treated as called shots in this form. Their Spirit Ward remains active while in this form, and they are often left as barriers against spirits. They can resume their full, mobile form as a free action on their turn, quickly sprouting vines into a humanoid body.

Normal Pumpkinhead

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d4, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Athletics d6, Fighting d6, Focus d6, Notice d6, Stealth d4
Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Toughness: 10 (2)
Edges:
Gear: Natural armor (+2), claws (Str+d4)
Special Abilities: As all Pumpkinheads

Large Pumpkinhead

Size 4 (+1 Wound and reach, Scale 2)
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d4, Spirit d8, Strength d12+1, Vigor d8
Skills: Athletics d8, Fighting d8, Focus d6, Notice d6, Stealth d4
Pace: 8; Parry: 7; Toughness: 16 (3)
Edges: Block (Reduce Gang Up by 1)
Gear: Natural armor (+3), long claws (Str+d6)
Special Abilities: As all Pumpkinheads

Eochai (Huge Pumpkinhead, Wild Card)

Size 8 (+2 Wounds and reach, Scale 4)
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d10, Strength d12+6, Vigor d10
Skills: Athletics d8, Fighting d10, Focus d8, Notice d8, Stealth d4
Pace: 10; Parry: 9; Toughness: 22 (4)
Edges: Improved Block (reduce Gang Up by 2), Sweep (attack all targets in reach at -2, including allies)
Gear: Natural armor (+4), giant claws (Str+d8)
Special Abilities: As all Pumpkinheads, plus:

  • Inconvenient Protrusions: Attackers may climb Eochai, and when attached to his back, he can only reach them by attempting to scrape them off on obstacles. If they can reach his head, he can attack them with claws at a -4 penalty.
  • Fiery Breath: 3d6 damage Breath Weapon. Spirits incapacitated by this attack are banished.

D&D 5e Stats

 

Design Notes

These were developed for my Scion game. They’re heavily inspired by the Fir Bolg from City of Heroes.

In the photo, the medium sized minis are an old set of I think Reaper minis that don’t seem to be available anymore. The larger minis are combined from these Thingiverse treant and jack-o-lantern files and 3D printed:

Oaths of the Sidhe

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This is worldbuilding for my Beyond the Wall game, but since it was most of the way to compatible with D&D 5e anyway, I went ahead and made the tweaks. My players have gotten really into hanging out with the fae at the regular seasonal markets, and are drifting pretty close to just signing up. This was a way to systematize that process.

Also, check out Brandes’ recent post about fae contracts for some largely compatible ideas.

The Bane of Iron

Most fae are weak to iron, the punishment of the Sun for interlopers from the shadow planes. This is not an inherent weakness of Sidhe, except insofar as most are fae. It is said that sometimes mortals that become full Sidhe essentially become adopted by a shadow plane, effectively becoming fae.

Oaths of the Sidhe

Each rank of the court allows another oath to be taken, and each oath taken cements that rank in the court. Most serious Sidhe courtiers have taken all of the oaths: it is the requirement to be considered full Sidhe and to truly engage in Sidhe politics. However, those who have taken any oaths are part of the hierarchy, and have enforced respect over those that bow to Sidhe sovereignty, particularly in Sidhe lands.

Oaths broken tend to result in grievous wounds, commensurate with the wrong committed.

Oathkeeping (Wisdom)

The most common oath is for the keeping of oaths themselves. This is the oath responsible for the famous Sidhe inability to lie.

My words will be my oath. What I say is true. What I commit to, I will perform.

Drawback: You cannot tell an outright falsehood (but can mislead through technically true statements). Your promises always count as an Oath.

Benefit: Gain Advantage on Wisdom checks to determine if someone is deceiving you. Make a Charisma (Intimidation) check when calling a promise due to force even a non-Sidhe to keep an oath to you (or accept commensurate consequences), DC equal to the target’s own Charisma score.

Hospitality (Constitution)

Another common oath, this is the one that protects others from the Sidhe as a guest. It is the only reason Sidhe politics can continue at the most cutthroat times.

While I share bread and drink with my hosts, I am their guest and they are mine. I shall respect their homes, and expect the same. Should they withhold their threat from me, so I shall withhold mine from them, until the guesting is through.

Drawback: You may not directly harm or even work strongly against guests and hosts after accepting/granting hospitality (but can politic towards eventual harm after guesting is over).

Benefit: Gain resistance to all damage dealt by someone who is part of a pact of hospitality to you (and this waives your need to avoid harming the aggressor). Gain Advantage on Constitution saves and checks made when you have guest right (e.g., against toxins or other poor conditions). Roll Charisma (Intimidation) against the target’s Charisma score when you are a host to force violators or those who will not swear from your home.

Demesne (Strength)

This is the oath that allows the Sidhe to build nations and employ diplomats. It is usually sworn after Hospitality, for it is that oath writ to a grander scale. It is the reason Sidhe can be driven off of even mortal lands, due to the respect of authority.

I shall respect territory, as I expect my own to be respected. Should I remain in land where I am unwanted, then this shall be war.

Drawback: You must leave an area when ordered by a rightful authority unless on a mission of declared hostility (and, unfortunately, church bells usually count unless you are expressly welcome, due to the general hostility of the church and their authority over mortal lands).

Benefit: Gain Advantage on Strength checks or similar rolls to erect fortifications or bar portals in your own lands. You, your mount, and your immediate retinue move 50% faster when moving in your lands to intercept invaders. You may automatically sense the strength and potential flaws of fortifications and other defensive measures nearby.

Gifts (Intelligence)

All fae have picked up the gift-giving system from the Sidhe, mostly because an upper class with very specific views on exchange of property quickly creates a culture of it. This oath ultimately serves to formalize ownership and prevent corruption through bribes.

I shall accept nothing that I am not owed. I shall give nothing without an expectation of a return in kind. My value comes from my deeds, not from the whims of others.

Drawback: You cannot accept a gift of item or service without providing something of similar value (owing a favor if you cannot immediately reciprocate); if you have provided services without a formalized gifting/quest structure, you can accept a gift as a way to settle this debt.

Benefit: You gain Advantage on Intelligence checks to appraise the value of items or services, and automatically succeed when they are offered to you as gift or for trade, allowing you to flawlessly detect counterfeits or other items with inflated values. Gain double XP for conspicuous consumption*. Spend Inspiration to have fate help track items that were stolen from you or to see that fortune returns them to your hands.

* In my campaign, the PCs earn XP based on spending cash on goods and services that make their characters happy but have no significant rules effect.

Craft (Dexterity)

Sidhe also have a propensity for games, riddles, and art competitions, as a way to establish dominance without bloodshed. This oath speaks to the cleverness required for true nobility, and is often one of the last oaths sworn by those fae that do not trust in their own intelligence.

I am wit, poise, and guile given form. Should one seek to test me in the domains I have claimed talent, and be it no true hardship, I shall prove my skills or acknowledge my superior.

Drawback: You cannot refuse a challenge to a competition over one of your proficient Skills or Tools unless it is obviously, actively dangerous to you (e.g., a distraction from a fight) or you admit that the challenger is better (you cede the advantage for winning to them).

Benefit: If you win a competition where you were challenged, you are owed by the loser similar to them promising you a favor (with the strength of the favor based on how much effort was required for the competition; a quick riddle game is not the same as a challenge to see who can topple an empire). You owe this in turn if you cede a competition to the challenger without competing, but not if you simply lose after giving it your try (in this case, the favor is minor because the stakes were small). You may learn to work dross and other ephemeral qualities into your crafts (essentially, crafting magic items).

Identity (Charisma)

Not all fae are vulnerable to use of their true names, but this is the oath that ensures it. It is often the final oath, as it is the ultimate claim of identity that allows full nobility.

My name is my own, though I may keep it safe. By my sigil, my will. By my name, my pledge. By my existence, my guarantee. There is none other like me.

Drawback: Statement of your True Name by an antagonist weakens* any of your mystical protections, as well as your mystical attacks against the target (and “statement” may be broad enough to include working your name into bindings or other magics). It also unmasks you of any magical or physical disguise.

* GM’s discretion, usually advantage/disadvantage or the equivalent for effects that don’t involve a roll.

Benefit: Attempts to impersonate you, even with strong magic, automatically fail against anyone that has met you. You automatically succeed on saves to resist being transformed without your consent, unless the aggressor has some kind of authority or broken oath to hold against you. Similarly, you stand strong athwart time and reality, and can ignore changes to the flow of time, causality, and local reality if you so desire (e.g., immune to magic like Slow, Time Stop, and other plot-related weirdness).

Borrowing from Video Games: Pathfinder Kingmaker’s Plotline Knitting

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It took me a long time to finally get around to playing the video game version of Pathfinder: Kingmaker. I ran the adventure path all the way through a few years ago, so I felt like I’d be totally spoiled for the game (on top of other reasons, like not having the time for a hundred-hour mega adventure; seriously, how did they get this much content into a Kickstarter-funded game?).

I was right that I’m pretty spoiled on the plot beats, since it sticks close to the original adventure path for overall structure. But the interesting thing is watching how the writers of the video game wove the plot of the AP into a more coherent narrative. This pleasure is almost certainly enhanced for people that already played or ran the tabletop version, and know how it went originally.

The nature of Paizo’s writing pipeline is that each adventure path is given to six (or more) different writers to generate. In order to give each writer as much time as possible, the broad outline of the campaign is given to everyone to work on basically simultaneously, rather than, say, the writer of module 4 only starting once modules 1-3 are available to reference. Everyone knows the beats mandated in the outline, and I assume there’s some kind of during-writing conversations and then a development pass to further build everything into a whole. But it’s fair to say that individual modules don’t feel intricately linked with those around them.

Even within the same module, time crunch and trying to fill pages seems to result in elements that aren’t linked as well as they could be. In particular, I’ve long been annoyed when I find a half-page writeup on the backstory of an NPC antagonist that is just waiting in a dungeon room for the PCs to kick in the door and kill in a couple of rounds. The color is probably useful if the players actually decide to be social/take prisoners, but a lot of it is wasted prose for most tables, with no suggested way for the players to even realize there’s more information to be had.

This is not meant to especially pick on Pathfinder APs. They’re just the ones I have the most experience with. I assume other publishers often have the same issues, and if you’re running modules that aren’t linked into an AP, you have zero official connection between adventures.

The video game version fixes a lot of these problems. The central antagonist is introduced very early (and is obviously behind most of the other major problems), and secondary antagonists get similar treatment. Characters that were kick-in-the-door speedbumps before get linked in so you actually know who you’re fighting (in particular, a weird one-off evil kobold from the first module becomes a recurring foil who also introduces the enemy kingdom from module 5). The barbarian tribe that shows up out of nowhere in the book for module 4 is foreshadowed early in the video game and is heavily involved in the resolution of the previous major arc before you have to take them on. It’s clever.

Obviously, in a perfect world when you spend over a $100 on a campaign, it will do all of this heavy lifting for you. But here are some methods you can use to better link together modules you’ve purchased (or even a campaign you’ve written yourself).

Meet Your Antagonists

It’s really easy to make your players hate an NPC (it’s much harder to make them like an NPC). The bad guy just needs to show up and be mean to/betray the PCs. Bonus vengeance for slightly inconveniencing them in getting something they want.

The more and earlier the villains can be on screen, actually interacting with the PCs, the better. Text props and under bosses referring to the villain are better than nothing, but aren’t the same as getting to be snide to each other.

Most late-campaign boss enemies will have some kind of powers to justify getting to talk to the PCs and escape (dream projection, illusion projection, contingency teleportation, hospitality, etc.). It’s often a bigger trick to explain why the boss doesn’t pick off the PCs while they’re low-level.

If you can show enough of the villain’s backstory in these conversations to make the players think of them as fully developed characters rather than just obstacles, so much the better.

Conservation of Characters

There are really only so many kinds of NPCs. In the broadest sense, you can probably think of them as enemies, foils, bystanders, and allies. Each module is going to invent a lot of NPCs. They don’t know your table, so even if they had the earlier modules done to reference, the writer of the module will often invent a new NPC rather than risking that you’ve already killed off an earlier one.

You can merge these characters.

Go through and find characters that perform similar roles for the PCs (or even different roles: evolve a module 1 bystander into a module 2 helper who betrays them by module 4 to become a foil or enemy). It’s especially good if there are a couple of things you like about the NPCs but otherwise you’re not excited about them: shove all the character bits you liked from each of them into one significantly more interesting character.

Obviously don’t give the NPC so many threads that they’re going to feel too important/actually be too important for the PCs to kill off, because the players aren’t going to like being overshadowed. But if you do it right, you’ll have more fun playing the NPC and the players will get a recurring character to interact with.

Personal Rather than Generic

Since the Kingmaker video game was filling out your party with pre-written characters (rather than all player-written PCs), it could do something that published module series without pregens can’t do: make the plot hooks personal for the protagonists. It’s not just a barbarian tribe, it’s a tribe that the barbarian PC was exiled from. It’s not just an ancient artifact, it’s an artifact that a PC is searching for. It’s not just a dwarven fortress, it’s a fortress that the dwarf PC has a conflicted relationship with.

The more you learn about your PCs, the more you can do the same thing. Don’t be afraid to steal plot hooks from the NPCs and give them to your PCs.

Is there an NPC looking to find another NPC? Could that missing NPC be a PC’s connection instead? In my Rise of the Runelords campaign, Shalelu the NPC ranger got every bit of her plots carved off and handed to the PC ranger.

Is there a cool magic item that shows up later? Can you plant rumors about it early so one of the PCs is looking for it and really excited to find it? In my Jade Regent campaign, an evil artifact that’s, by the book, just a curiosity dropped by the module 1 mini-boss became something the party cleric needed to destroy (at a location they’d be going to in module 3 anyway).

Is there an interesting group/location? Can a PC be connected to it? This one often requires the most negotiation with a player to get right, since you don’t want to just have them stumble into a village and be like, “oh, hey, by the way, this is your village.” If the player wrote an extensive backstory, you can probably rewrite something in the module until it fits while still fulfilling its story goal.

If you know what you’re doing and can work with the player early on, you can help the player expand on ideas (“You know, if you’re on the run, do you think maybe you’ve been dodging Red Mantis assassins?”). Most players are going to be happy working with you on something they know is going to be paid off later somehow. Though others may have had bad experiences, and worry that backstory spotlight is negative spotlight (e.g., “I stopped writing relatives into my backstory because GMs kept killing them off for cheap pathos or threatening them to make me do what they wanted.”).

Everything is Connected

While there’s a risk of making the world feel too small by making everything connected, there are still fun links you could make that the writers didn’t think of. One little addition for the Kingmaker video game is that the first bandit mini-boss was changed to be the estranged sister of a friendly NPC, who could explain more of the mini-boss’ backstory.

This can particularly allow you some opportunities to foreshadow things that can’t be directly tied to the PCs or shown on screen. One friendly NPC always wanted to see a legendary item. Another is worried about a relative that joined an evil cult, and can hand out rumors about that group which otherwise doesn’t show up until a later module. This incidental magic item can be identified to have a connection to a person or group that shows up later.

Ultimately, the point of this whole system is making connections, because reinforcement makes it a lot easier for your players to pick up on things. Deep linkages and recurrences are how you turn a generic published campaign from “a bunch of stuff happened, one thing after another” into a memorable story.

D&D 5e: Saving-Throw-Based Firearms

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Oh, hi, welcome back to programming. Do I have enough in the queue to maintain regular posting again for a while? Let’s find out together.

This is a short, untested idea for a conversion I was looking at from Scion to a modernized D&D 5e (I eventually went with Savage Worlds, instead, which will get some explanation in the next few weeks).

Basics of Saving-Throw-Based Firearms

Proficiency in different firearms is handled the same way as other weapon types. However, instead of making an attack roll when using a firearm, the target of the attack makes a Dexterity saving throw as if avoiding a spell. The difficulty of the saving throw is equal to 8 + [Attacker’s Dexterity Modifier] + [Attacker’s Proficiency Bonus (if proficient)]. In most cases, a successful save avoids all damage. At the weapon’s long range increment, the target gets Advantage on the save.

Cover works normally to add to saving throws (as it would against spells that require a Dexterity save). Shooting into a melee, with cover granted by the shooter’s allies, if the target successfully saves, the GM may require allies on the line of attack to save as well or take the damage.

Firearms do not add the attacker’s ability score bonus, and cannot critically hit. Modern firearms do a base of 3d4 damage for a small-caliber handgun, and increase by a die size for additional caliber and weapon size (up to two steps for each). A high-caliber modern rifle does 3d12 damage. Special effects (such as a spread) may also exchange damage for the effect.

Modern firearms damages are a little bit better than bow damage (see design notes), so keep how useful you want firearms to be in a medieval/Renaissance-level game in mind when adjusting the damage ranges.

Armor that is specifically bulletproof may add Resistance to damage from firearms.

Firearms Actions

Aiming: Use your action to aim at a target that you can see that is within your firearm’s range. If the target does not leave your range, does not leave your line of sight for more than a round, and you do not move more than five feet per round or aim at a different target, you can maintain your aim upon the target. You can use subsequent rounds’ actions to improve your aim up to three total times. Each instance of Aiming adds one more die of weapon damage (to a maximum of +3 dice of damage for aiming for three rounds; e.g., a weapon that does 3d8 does 6d8 after three rounds of aiming).

Burst: Use three times as much ammunition for the attack with a weapon that can fire automatically to add one die to the damage total.

Full Auto: Empty the clip for the attack with a weapon that can fire automatically to double the weapon’s damage total and impose disadvantage on the target’s save.

Spray: You target a cone up to the weapon’s range. All targets within the cone must save against the attack’s difficulty. Successful saves take half damage (rather than no damage), unless the target has an evasion-style ability.

Spread: Treat firearms with spread (like a shotgun) as a narrow cone or line attack. For each target hit, targets further away that are also hit take a die less damage (i.e., the pellets don’t keep going after hitting a target).

Suppression: With a gun that can fire multiple times per round (i.e., not a single shot with long reload period), spend three times as much ammunition as would normally be required for an attack in order to ready an attack against enemy targets that become available in a general direction of attack. When a target becomes available while the attack is readied, that target has Disadvantage on the save. Targets know that they will provoke an attack and will have Disadvantage (because there are bullets flying wildly in their direction).

Example Firearms

  • Small Pistol (3d4)
  • Police Pistol (3d6)
  • Heavy Pistol (3d8)
  • Slug Shotgun (3d10)
  • Shot Shotgun (3d8 , Spread)
  • Light Rifle (3d8)
  • Hunting Rifle (3d10)
  • Sniper Rifle (3d12)
  • Machine Pistol (3d4, Auto abilities)
  • Submachine Gun (3d6, Auto abilities)
  • Machine Gun (3d8, Auto abilities)
  • Heavy Machine Gun (3d10, Auto abilities)
  • Belt-Fed Stationary Machine Gun (3d12, Auto abilities)

Design Notes

This whole idea mostly comes down to the lack of a touch AC in 5e. Rather than invent an armor-piercing feature for an attack-roll-based gun that requires calculation of how much of a target’s AC is from armor, this essentially targets Dex-only. That it makes spray-based attacks use exactly the same mechanic (instead of an attack roll for single targets but a save for multiple) is a bonus.

Damage is deliberately high for the weapons because of the lack of ability bonus to damage and capacity to critically hit. Most longbow users are doing something on the order of 8-10 damage per hit, on overall average, depending on how high their ability add is (and before considering magic, feats, or other damage-increasing abilities). So a gun that did 2d8 would be more or less similar under this system (thus kicking it up a bit for modern firearms to be clearly better than bows).

D&D 5e: Treasure to XP Awards

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I hadn’t gotten deep enough into running 5e until recently to really look that hard into the treasure system and was surprised to find that it’s extremely loose. For many that’s a feature, but if you’re like me and run games suffering under a constant anxiety that you’re giving out way more or less treasure than the system actually expects, this may help.

I pulled my figuring from the following sources:

The Overall Math

Xanathar’s suggests that PCs acquire around 75 gp per level at tier 1, 150 gp per level at tier 2, 550 gp per level at tier 3, and 5,500 gp per level at tier 4. This means that a PC has acquired around 26,000 gp in cash upon reaching 20th level. Meanwhile, the magic item accrual with arbitrary values from within the correct range suggests around 135,000 gp worth of magic items by 20th level. The total value of a 20th level character could be around 160,000 gp.

That is conveniently really close to half of the earned XP by that point.

If you really wanted to stick to the exact breakdowns per level, it varies up and down over time: for most of the mid-levels, wealth awarded is closer to 10% of XP earned, with a huge catchup towards 50% in tier 4. But, for a very quick and dirty rule of thumb:

Place about 1 gp worth of treasure for every 2 xp you place.

I’d suggest doing this as broadly as possible, rather than per encounter. Total up all the XP possible in a dungeon, or even a whole scenario, divide by 2, and then use that as your budget for placing treasure. Individual encounters may have pocket change, while most of the loot is in hoards in places that make sense, just like the DMG suggests. Importantly, this gives you more budget for buying rolls on the treasure tables.

(Or you can just use the DMG system and use this to sanity check what the tables are giving out to see if you need to give out more or slow down a little on hoards.)

Treasure Tables and Cash

Some of your treasure should be in the form of cash (or gems, art, and other resources which are easily converted to cash). Per each tier:

  1. Around 33%
  2. Around 40%
  3. Around 25%
  4. Around 15%

Whatever’s left over goes into items. You can spend this directly to buy items and place them as appropriate. But if you want to roll randomly using the treasure tables, you can use the following breakdown.

Table Value (gp)
Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3 Tier 4
A 100 50% 30% 13% 0%
B 700 22% 26% 18% 0%
C 1,200 7% 15% 28% 17%
D 2,000 0% 3% 15% 35%
E 4,500 0% 0% 3% 24%
F 6,000 18% 19% 3% 0%
G 12,000 2% 5% 8% 3%
H 40,000 0% 1% 9% 6%
I 60,000 0% 0% 3% 15%

For example, a roll on table C uses up 1,200 gp of your budget (which is the approximate average value of results on the table) and should make up around 15% of the treasure tables you give out at tier 2.

Table H and I are pretty spendy, due to having extremely valuable items on them. One roll on them could make up a substantial amount of the treasure awarded, even at high level. This is part of why the overall level ramps backload a lot of the treasure value toward very high level. I’d suggest just giving out a bit more treasure at high level, and a lot more if you go past 20 (but, then, if you’re planning to run a campaign that will be 20th level for more than a minute, I assume all balance concerns go out the window at that point anyway).

Beyond the Wall, Converted Elemental Spells

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Back in my Separch’s Tower series, I included elemental-themed spellbooks, and found out that the existing spells and rituals in Beyond the Wall didn’t have enough appropriate magic to cover an equivalent range of options for each of the four elemental schools, so I grabbed some placeholders from the 5e spell list. Last night, my players actually started learning those spells, so I had to finally convert them to Beyond the Wall‘s style. It’s interesting to convert the standard D&D magic mindset (everything is leveled and usually pretty instantaneous to cast) to the BtW mindset (quick-cast magics aren’t leveled, while leveled magics take hours to cast so need to make sense in that context).

Spells

Acid Arrow

Range: Near
Duration: 1 round/level
Save: Yes

The caster produces a bolt of glowing green acid and flings it at a target, who must attempt a saving throw to dodge the caustic missile. If the save is failed, the target takes 2d4 acid damage, plus an additional 2d4 damage at the end of each of its turns while the duration lasts.

Misty Step

Range: Near
Duration: Instant
Save: No

With but a word, the mage teleports to a location she can see within range, leaving behind a burst of silvery mist in the location she vacated. This spell may be cast on a turn in which the mage has takes another action (except casting another spell).

Scorching Ray

Range: Near
Duration: Instant
Save: No

The mage creates a ray of flames that streaks between her outstretched hand and a target within range, against whom the caster must make a ranged attack (which ignores physical armor). If the attack hits, the ray deals 2d6 fire damage to the target. The caster produces one additional ray per 3 levels, and may direct these additional rays at the same or different targets (each ray is its own attack roll).

Shatter

Range: Near
Duration: Instant
Save: Yes

The caster causes an intense and painful ringing noise to erupt from a point she designates, causing damage to targets within 10 feet of the point (and making noise that can be heard for quite some distance further). All creatures and inflexible objects close enough to take damage must make a saving throw to steel themselves against the sound, and creatures and items made from brittle materials automatically fail the save. The spell deals 2d4 sonic damage, increasing by a die size for each additional level of the caster up to 2d12 for level 5 casters, and then adding +2 damage for each additional level of the caster past 5th. Targets that successfully save take half damage.

Rituals

Level 1

Produce Flame (Wisdom)

Range: Self
Duration: 1 hour/level
Save: No

This ritual allows the caster to summon a palm full of elemental flame. It casts light as a torch, and can ignite touched objects like a torch when the caster desires (but does not otherwise harm touched or held items). While the ritual persists, the caster may make unarmed attacks that do an additional 1d4 fire damage, or make a ranged attack up to Near range that does 1d4 fire damage (and does not add or subtract damage from Strength). The flame is not consumed by making such a ranged attack.

A mage wanting to cast this ritual must begin with a handful of ashes made from exotic wood that was burned by a fire elemental (which may be found for an average of 10 silver pieces from a merchant).

Level 2

Hellish Rebuke (Intelligence)

Range: Self
Duration: 1 day/level (Instant after trigger)
Save: Yes

Inscribing her flesh with runes of retribution and fire, a mage uses this ritual to prepare punishment for any that assault her. Upon taking damage from an attack made by a target within Near range that the mage can see, she may instantly speak a command to end the ritual and rebuke the attacker, the runes upon her skin immediately burning away. The attacker must make a saving throw to dodge the burst of flames at his location, or suffer 2d10 fire damage.

The runes scribed during this ritual require the blood (or equivalent essence) of a creature that is immune to fire (which may be found for an average of 50 silver pieces from a merchant). The caster may only have one instance of this ritual active at any given time.

Level 3

Purify Food and Drink

(So, of course BtW HAS this and just totally renamed it so I wouldn’t notice it. Replace this in the Water book with the Feast’s Blessing level 2 ritual and the Nepenthean Drink level 3 ritual.)

Wind Wall (Intelligence)

Range: Near
Duration: 1 day/level (Concentration after trigger)
Save: Yes

The mage walks a straight line, chanting and casting ritual materials upon the ground, preparing the site for defense. Once the ritual is complete, the caster has prepared a line (both ends of which must be within Near range of one another) to rise up upon her command. Upon uttering this command from within Near range of the line, a furious torrent of wind spews vertically from the ground along the length of the line and up to sixty feet in the air, for as long as the caster maintains concentration.

Anyone caught in the line or attempting to cross it must make a saving throw to fling themselves through without being caught in the wind. Those that fail are flung high into the air, likely taking damage from falling back on the side from which they started (medium-sized creatures are flung around 30 feet into the air, and comparatively lighter or heavier creatures may be flung more or less distance).

Flying creatures of smaller than medium-sized and projectiles lighter than from a siege engine are automatically deflected harmlessly when attempting to pass through the wall, and gasses or gaseous creatures cannot pass through. Boulders and similar siege projectiles may pass through, but are likely to have reduced accuracy.

The ritual materials include various easily-found objects ground into powder, but they must be mixed with the physical remains of creatures or items strongly tied to elemental air (which may be found for an average of 100 sp from a merchant).

Level 4

Enhance Ability

(I forgot that BtW still had the individual ability-boosters as rituals, which 5e had combined into Enhance Ability. Replace this in the Earth book with the Heart of the Ox level 4 ritual.)

Flaming Sphere (Wisdom)

Range: Near
Duration: 1 hour/level
Save: Yes

Through long casting and chants, the mage uses this ritual to create a small but stable hole deep into a realm of elemental fire, resulting in a self-renewing bonfire as heat and flame erupt forth in all directions. As part of her own movement, the caster may mentally direct this hole (and thus the flaming sphere) to move at up to walking pace, but the ritual ends if the mage exceeds Near range to the effect, and it must remain within five feet of the ground (and ends instantly if directed to try to cross water that it cannot boil away).

The sphere easily ignites touched or nearby flammable objects as if a five-foot diameter bonfire had rolled over them, and is otherwise treated as a hot bonfire (e.g., for cooking). If the fire is directed onto a target, that individual may make a saving throw to dodge out of the way and takes 2d6 fire damage on a failure. Any creature that ends a turn touching the flame similarly takes 2d6 fire damage.

This ritual is surprisingly easy to cast, requiring only a ritual space and a very hot bonfire made of normal materials to “prime” the connection to the plane of fire.

Water Breathing (Wisdom)

Range: Touch
Duration: 1 hour/level
Save: No

Blessing each of her companions in turn, the mage imbues them with the ability to breathe water as easily as air. The caster may affect all of her companions, including herself, that she can touch upon completing the ritual (up to a dozen individuals). Each affected character may breathe water for the duration of the ritual.

In the casting of the ritual, the mage must sacrifice a healthy wild animal for each target to be affected by drowning it in the body of water that is to be breathed.

Level 5

Heat Metal (Intelligence)

Range: Touch
Duration: Instant
Save: No

Upon completing this ritual, the mage touches an object made of metal. This object and any attached metal objects (up to a ton of contiguous metal) instantly heats to the temperature needed to forge steel (over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit). Most metals bend easily at this temperature, though it may not be safe to get close to a sufficiently large volume of metal (such as a gate or door).

Any creature in contact or extremely close proximity with the metal takes fire damage at the end of each of its turns based on the degree of exposure (1d6 for a single hand, arm, or leg, up to 4d6 if encased in heated plate armor). There is no saving throw to avoid the damage, though it may require an attack roll to touch a mobile target (in addition to the target waiting for the casting of the ritual), and depending on the type of exposure the target may be allowed an ability check to escape the metal quickly. Constructs made of metal may not take damage from the effect, depending on their normal reaction to fire, but will certainly lose all armor class gained from rigid skin until they cool off.

This ritual requires the caster to undergo an ordeal of burning for the duration of the casting, taking 1d6 fire damage per hour of the casting.

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