D&D: Political Alignments

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One of the many weird things about D&D alignments is that Law vs. Chaos tends to do double duty indicating whether you’re an orderly-minded person and whether you prefer a large, law-bound society or a loose, small-group affiliation. When elves tend chaotic, it’s because of their hippie-style small family groups based on respect rather than a deep legal system. Similarly, orcs tend chaotic because they form tribal warbands where there are no rules beyond those imposed through fear of the chief. So I got to thinking about ways to pull that political component out completely from whether or not you’re inclined to do whatever random thing jumps into your head.

Is a political alignment system actually useful? I dunno. Is the current alignment system all that useful?

Empire vs. Tribe

Individuals that favor organizing people into as large a social structure as possible have an Imperial alignment. Those with a benevolent outlook feel that wars and injustice would end if everyone in the world was bound by the same leaders and justice system. Those with less noble aims still prefer a world where you only have to learn and follow one creed and culture to get along anywhere.

Those that instead favor building society through direct ties of blood and respect have a Tribal alignment. They believe that society begins to collapse the moment justice must be administered by someone that doesn’t have personal knowledge of those being judged. “Impartial” is just another word for “uninformed,” and they’d rather stick with tight-knit groups of no more than a few hundred people with loose ties to their neighboring groups.

In between these two, some split the difference and consider themselves of the National alignment. They reject that you must have a personal relationship with your leaders and judges, but still feel that broader ties of race, religion, and culture can only stretch so far. At a certain point, a society would get too large for everyone to have the same aims and willingly agree to the same structures. They think empires fall not because of communication, but because of an unsolvable difference in subject peoples.

Obviously, all three types tend to have drawbacks.

Those that favor Empires, even without the ultimate goal of subjugating the entire world for their emperor, tend to ignore the personal in the legal. They’ll try to make rules apply when they’re clearly wrong for the situation, or to write laws so broad and well-meaning that they’re useless in practice. They tend to be blind to dramatic cultural differences in needs from the law.

Those that favor Nations can become the worst sort of racists: folk that are too different are seen as basically alien. Even the benevolent among them see many outsiders as unable to be integrated into society, and can easily ignore ghettos and similar injustices because they think “those people” deserve their own laws, even as an island in another nation. The worst among them regularly start genocidal wars with their country’s neighbors.

Those that favor Tribes are not just limited to the wilderness: organized crime, guilds, military units, nobility, and law enforcement can easily inculcate a belief that laws should apply differently within the familial organization than in the society at large. They all can grow to feel that the laws of the larger culture don’t apply to them, and only their personal rules should matter. Even in the wilderness, justice based on bias can easily become extremely unfair when elders are weak to favoritism or cupidity.

Republic vs. Monarchy

It’s really hard to get a democratic regime off the ground, but those that favor it have a Republican alignment. They feel that every person in a society should have input into its laws and governance. Annoyingly, many tend to draw a circle around “persons” that doesn’t include all individuals in the society, but they still prefer a broader base of power than in other forms.

Conversely, the most common beliefs in support of a single strong leader have a Monarchist alignment. For those that have actually thought about it, they think that a single decider is more effective than many special interests all pulling in different directions. Particularly in war, even a tyrant is better than confusion.

There are relatively few in the middle of the two extremes, and they can be considered Oligarchists for lack of a better term. They agree with the monarchists that the masses cannot be trusted with control of society, but they think the risk of a single bad leader is too great. They prefer a small group of powerful and wise leaders that are few enough to get things done but numerous enough to check weakness or madness in one of their own.

These beliefs can reach across all sizes of government.

Those that favor Republics expect rule by the many to apply in an empire as easily as in a tribe. Obviously a tribal republic can easily be a direct democracy, where all individuals in the group offer their input toward rulings. As the society becomes larger, republican sentiment requires more layers of coordination. True republicans are always wary of the representatives they’ve elected as proxies for a democratic nation or empire becoming oligarchs.

Those that favor Oligarchies tend to be happier with the reality on the ground in empires and nations. In a monarchy, the reality of governance falls to important courtiers, and in a republic, elected officials inevitably draw power. Oligarchists just wish these systems could go ahead and abolish the weak link at the top of the monarchy, or the confused desires of the masses of the republic. In a tribe, they tend to favor a collection of elders or deacons rather than a single strong leader, but may be happy with a much smaller number of oligarchs than they would need in a large society.

Those that favor Monarchies are often happiest in a tribal setting, where they can personally know their chieftain. The larger the society they prefer, the more their personal relationship with their monarch is necessarily abstract. Monarchic imperialists often see a narrow difference between emperor and deity: who could truly make laws for the entire world other than someone so abstracted as to have become divine?

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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 Premise: Lord of the Flies

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Where do goblins come from?

While only the most skeptical of city-dwellers, insulated from the terrors of the wilderness, would opine that there are no such things as goblins, those that have encountered them are largely at a loss to explain their origin. Though many a hero for law and goodness has worried about the ethical conundrum that would entail from finding innocents of the species, none know of such a thing ever happening. Occasionally, a nest or warren of them is found that, if squinted at, seems like a cruel mockery of a town, but there is no real evidence of a greater culture or interaction with other goblin groups. Most religions write them off as merely the sins of the kith personified, to be killed on sight.

They’re not far wrong.

Another great mystery of the world is the nature of heroism. If a city gets large enough, it begins to train advanced techniques in the pursuit of battle, craft, and magic. Those that spend years and years training at colleges and gaining experience in the world can become extremely competent. Most humans and similarly-lived kith may master complex techniques equivalent to the third circle of magic before they enter their dotage, but it takes the lifespan of the elves to truly master such techniques. Still, only the most ancient of the elves, sequestered deep in their lands, profess to understand magics of the ninth circle.

Yet, there are constant tales of small groups of adventuring heroes that seem to have mastered skills while still young that rival the eldest scholars of the land. They don’t like to speak of what makes them different, if they understand at all.

There is a theory called spontaneous generation. While learned sages with an interest in experimentation are convinced that flies work much like moths, laying eggs that grow into maggots as a larval form before eating enough offal to become flies themselves, most common folk do not have access to this science. As far as they know, maggots and flies are spontaneously generated from rotting meat. When they leave meat to rot, maggots appear as if from nowhere, and flies thereafter.

They think the same thing about goblins, and they’re missing the point in exactly the same way.

Goblin hierarchies don’t make much sense. If they didn’t look similar in general shape and work with one another when no one else will, none would believe that the cowardly goblin, organized hobgoblin, and bestial bugbear were of one race. Were any hero to ever find evidence of a goblin civilization, it would have to explain much about the processes that could result in such differentiation in both size and temperament. Why are there no cowardly hobgoblins or organized bugbears? Does growing past a certain size change their entire mental state?

It all comes down to the flies.

Goblin flies are distinctive, if you look closely enough: greenish and with a goblinish cast to their features. Few have made a study of the differences, because they come in a swarm unaware on small villages far from scientists, and few kith tend to survive to spread the tale. First, they bite the livestock and small animals they can catch. The beasts get sick, and many of them die from the strange pox. If you don’t burn the bodies quickly enough, the larval goblins within manage to eat enough to burst free, fully formed. Their first task is to try to add more offal to the piles of their nascent siblings, creating enough rotting meat to build a whole goblin. Some say, in the death throes of the illness, the smallest animals are driven to seek out piles of other dead to add their own meat to the stores. Deep in the woods, sometimes a big predator falls ill. While prey and vermin universally produce the small goblins, a big enough predator can result in a bugbear. Those that named it must have known better than any ever guessed what was going on.

Kith are harder to bite, and tend to resist the illness better, in the early days. But as the goblins kill the livestock, foul the fields and the water, and wear down the town’s guards with their attempts at incursions, it becomes harder and harder to stay healthy. Once the disease takes, the people fall just as ill as the livestock. There’s something about the minds of the kith that speaks to the growing goblin, and so the hobgoblins that burst forth from kith corpses share the kith tendency towards organization and structure that their brethren born of beasts lack. Never think of them as your loved ones turned into hobgoblins: that’s not your friend, it’s what ate her from within. Any similarities are just echoes of her mind that the larvae picked up.

Sometimes, though, an infection gets resisted. The healthy, or just the lucky, overcome the disease, purging it from their systems. But something of the magic remains. Perhaps it was the soul triumphing over the evil of the goblin plague, or the strange effects of magical fever dreams, but the survivors gain powers. For kith, this is one way that an adventurer is born: somehow, it’s much easier and faster to pick up the skills of battle, craft, and magic than for others. For beasts, this is often how the stranger magical creatures arise.

Adventurers don’t like to talk about it, because for many of them their first adventure was using their newfound strengths to purge the goblin infestation from what was once their idyllic village home. Often there’s not much left. They adventure because everything they know is gone and, if they’re honest, they’re seeking an answer to what happened to their families.

It’s clear that the goblin flies aren’t natural. They choose their targets. They come when those villages are least able to defend them. Somewhere, there’s a malevolent intelligence directing these swarms to bring ruin upon the lives of well-meaning settlers and peasants:

A lord of the flies.

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”).

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Exalted Clay

(D&D, Scion, Nobilis, etc.)

The gods do not like to speak of the real reason for the punishment of Prometheus. “Giving fire to mankind” was the metaphor for his crime: teaching a collection of demigods and mortals the skills to make themselves a threat to the divine themselves, and selling them on the idea that for mankind to be free, there could be no immortal tyrants upon the mountaintop. The uprising was narrowly defeated, Prometheus bound, and the souls of his Dragon’s Teeth locked away in Tartarus for all eternity.

Or until today.

Someone nearly succeeded in murdering Zeus. He awoke, battered and bloody washed ashore of the river Lethe. He’d lost days of memory. But he was certain that the only explanation was that another god had tried to kill him.

His only choice was to free a handful of Dragon’s Teeth to attempt to solve the crime, with freedom their reward for success. After all, who else could he trust to be impartial, to hunt a murderous god, other than those who were formerly bent upon destroying all of the gods?

And will this hamartia of hubris finally bring low mighty Zeus, as it has so many patriarchs of the past?

 

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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