Planescape in 5e: Temporary Realm Keywords

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As I add more items to my Planescape campaign that have powers based on certain planar keywords in the area, I decided it was time to expand on the idea that certain spells can temporarily apply new keywords, as well as to add a new spell to do that directly and efficiently.

The following spells (generally spells of 2nd level+ that have an area and a duration) may temporarily add a keyword to a location. This is generally within the spell’s area of effect while it is active (though for some, the spaces adjacent to the spell effect also count).

Spells do not benefit from their own added keyword (e.g., Darkness does not immediately add the Dark keyword and then also increase in potency because of that keyword).

Spells in realms that have an opposed keyword may simply disable the opposed keyword in their area, rather than adding the keyword (e.g., casting Daylight in a Dark realm). (Some countering keywords make more obvious sense than others to ensure there was a way to counter every keyword.)

  • Bright: (counters Dark) Crusader’s Mantle, Daylight, Holy Aura, Moonbeam, Sunbeam, Dawn (XGE), Sickening Radiance (XGE), Wall of Light (XGE)
  • Cold: (counters Hot) Ice Storm, Sleet Storm, Wall of Ice, Investiture of Ice (XGE)
  • Corrosive: (counters Metallic) Vitriolic Sphere (XGE)
  • Cutting: (counters Fluid) Blade Barrier, Cloud of Daggers
  • Dark: (counters Bright) Darkness, Hunger of Hadar, Maddening Darkness (XGE)
  • Energetic: (counters Stonelike) Call Lightning, Storm Sphere (XGE)
  • Hot: (counters Cold) Flaming Sphere, Incendiary Cloud, Wall of Fire, Investiture of Flame (XGE)
  • Invisible: (counters Penetrating) Forcecage, Wall of Force
  • Mental: (counters Wooden) Antipathy/ Sympathy, Calm Emotions, Zone of Truth
  • Penetrating: (counters Invisible) Cordon of Arrows, Spike Growth
  • Smashing: (counters Protective) Earthquake, Evard’s Black Tentacles, Storm Sphere (XGE)
  • Sonic: (counters Colorful) Silence
  • Toxic: (counters Restoring) Cloudkill, Stinking Cloud
  • Bestial: (counters Tempestuous) Insect Plague
  • Colorful: (counters Sonic) Hallucinatory Terrain, Mirage Arcane, Prismatic Wall
  • Confining: (counters Motive) Magic Circle, Web
  • Disjointed: (counters Mystic) Arcane Gate, Gate, Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion, Teleportation Circle
  • Fluid: (counters Cutting) Control Water, Tsunami, Wall of Water (XGE)
  • Metallic: (counters Corrosive) Blade Barrier
  • Motive: (counters Confining) Animate Objects, Reverse Gravity
  • Mystic: (counters Disjointed) Antimagic Field, Circle of Power
  • Prophetic: (counters Transforming) Foresight
  • Protective: (counters Smashing) Forbiddence, Globe of Invulnerability, Guards and Wards, Mordenkainen’s Private Sanctum, Spirit Guardians
  • Restoring: (counters Toxic) Aura of Life, Aura of Purity, Aura of Vitality
  • Stonelike: (counters Energetic) Wall of Stone, Investiture of Stone (XGE), Mighty Fortress (XGE), Transmute Rock (XGE), Wall of Sand (XGE)
  • Tempestuous: (counters Bestial) Control Weather, Gust of Wind, Wind Wall, Control Winds (XGE), Dust Devil (XGE), Investiture of Wind (XGE), Whirlwind (XGE)
  • Transforming: (counters Prophetic) Move Earth, Spike Growth
  • Wooden: (counters Mental) Grasping Vine, Plant Growth, Wall of Thorns, Druid Grove (XGE), Wrath of Nature (XGE)
  • Chaotic: (counters Lawful) Temple of the Gods (XGE)
  • Evil: (counters Good) Hallow (Unholy), Temple of the Gods (XGE)
  • Good: (counters Evil) Hallow (Holy), Temple of the Gods (XGE)
  • Lawful: (counters Chaotic) Temple of the Gods (XGE)

Planar Haven

4th-level transmutation

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self (20-foot radius)
Components: S, M (an icon worth at least 100 gp crafted of materials native to a realm that has the desired keyword and designed to reflect that keyword)
Duration: Concentration, up to 8 hours

You surround yourself with a bubble of adapted reality, imposing some of the resonance of another realm upon the place you are standing. Within the area of effect, which moves with you, the selected keyword is added to those of the realm (or an opposed native keyword is suppressed within the area). If the realm has an environmental effect linked to a keyword (e.g., ongoing fire damage in a Hot realm), that effect is suppressed within the area when the keyword is countered (at the GM’s option, particularly intense or iconic effects may only be reduced). Similarly, if the realm lacks a desirable feature, adding a relevant keyword may add it to the area (e.g., Tempestuous to add breathable air to a realm that is otherwise void, or Fluid to permit liquid water to exist in a realm that otherwise makes it evaporate quickly).

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, you may add an additional keyword for each additional spell level over 4th level. You require a separate icon for each keyword, and cannot “double up” to remove a keyword and then add its opposite.

This spell is available to all spellcasting classes.

D&D 5e: Plane Touched Feats

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The Fey Touched and Shadow Touched feats in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything are a much-appreciated addition to the ranks of feats that give you a mental ability score bump plus something else (I was so tired of taking Actor on all of my Charisma-casters). They’re a little bit identical, so very easy to expand to make sure all the other sorcerers and warlocks get a chance to pick up some minor upgrades based on their power theme:

Plane Touched

Your exposure to the magic of a certain plane has changed you, granting you the following benefits:

  • Increase your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
  • You learn a single spell (listed below for the plane chosen) and a 1st-level spell of your choice. The 1st-level spell must be from one of the schools listed below for the plane chosen. You can cast each of these spells without expending a spell slot. Once you cast either of these spells in this way, you can’t cast that spell again until you finish a long rest. You can also cast these spells using spell slots you have of the appropriate level. The spells’ spellcasting ability is the ability increased by this feat.
Plane Spell Schools
Abyss Darkness Evocation, Necromancy
Air Gust of Wind Conjuration, Transmutation
Astral Mind Whip (TCE) Divination, Enchantment
Chaos Mirror Image* Evocation, Illusion
Earth Earthbind (XGE) Abjuration, Conjuration
Ethereal See Invisibility Conjuration, Illusion
Fire Scorching Ray Evocation, Divination
Heaven Spiritual Weapon Abjuration, Divination
Hell Suggestion Enchantment, Necromancy
Order Zone of Truth Abjuration, Transmutation
Outside Mind Spike (XGE)* Enchantment, Illusion
Water Blur Divination, Transmutation


* Either of these could have Crown of Madness instead, but only with Brandes’ fixes so it’s something a player might want to use.

D&D 5e: Coral Gear

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These were taken from the Planescape Doors to the Unknown module, where they were given much shorter descriptions and intended to quickly die off. But several of my players are into creepy body horror bioware and one is playing a Great Old One warlock, so I went ahead and expanded the descriptions to figure out how to keep them alive and give them more versatility. Taken all together, they paint a lovely picture of gear for a sahuagin or deep one assassin/infiltrator.

Not actually magical, these items are composed of a steel-hard shell of colorful coral with an internal biological system that can sprout cilia, crawl somewhat into position, and attach to a living host. They derive most nutrition from this symbiotic relationship, though the host and coral will be healthier with regular intake of seafood. They will also slowly deteriorate if not soaked in seawater for at least an hour a week (a soaked rag placed around the item will do), or periodically fed powdered limestone (or similar material like pearls). If damaged, they heal naturally with their host (undoing the broken condition after a long rest). They can be magically enchanted like the items that they are (though they would lose the enchantments if allowed to die). Their lifespan is unknown.

They can be coaxed to detach from a host with brimstone-based smelling salts, but otherwise must be violently ripped or cut free, dealing major damage to the host (and likely killing the item).

Carapace Breastplate

This large shell wraps the entire torso and shoulders in a thin and articulated but dense shell.

It functions as breastplate armor with no effective weight/encumbrance. It can be worn under clothes (though likely of a larger size than normally required).

If soaked in a solution of various expensive poisons carefully and gradually, it might develop an immunity to toxins that it can pass to its host, granting advantage on poison saves (from poison-coated weapons) and resistance to poison damage.

Claw Grapple

This item is an articulated three-fingered claw attached to a flexible, ropelike tendril. The rope attaches to the back of the wrist then compresses when not in use, the claw laying against the back of the hand. This can make bracers or the equivalent uncomfortable, but does not interfere with shields.

It can be launched to grab protrusions up to ten feet away. This can be used to snag small items at this range or to latch onto the object to yank or swing (and might require an attack roll to target, at the GM’s option). You have advantage on climbing checks and cannot fall more than ten feet (this may not be possible if the surface is extremely smooth and there are no possible grapple holds within range). You can make a grapple check at its range, though it simply tethers you to the target rather than restraining the target (the grapple releases normally with a contested grapple check, or if the target deals 4 or more damage to the rope, giving it the broken condition).

If carefully built up with a paste of high-quality pearls, the claws might be extended long enough that they can be used as a punch dagger, as needed, including striking at the grapple’s range.

Face Shell

This item is a smooth, blank shell the perfect shape to fit over a humanoid’s face and, in fact, happily binds itself like a mask if so placed. The host does not have any problem seeing or breathing, but needs to remove the shell to eat. Unlike the other devices, it seems a little easier to coax into releasing so its host can consume food, and can even be trained to move to sit on a shoulder when not in use as a mask.

The shell grants you darkvision to 30 feet, or 120 feet in saltwater. Additionally, it allows you to breathe water (or air, if you normally breathe water). Finally, it filters inhaled toxins, giving you advantage on saving throws against inhaled poisons or airborne diseases. However, due to its unnerving blank visage (the only sign of the eyes are slightly more vivid circles of color), you have disadvantage on any Charisma checks relying on generating positive feelings (e.g., intimidation is not affected).

A potentially unnerving feature of the shell is that it could be placed on the face of a corpse submerged in seawater and powdered hermit crab shells, gradually turning into a death mask of the subject as the body decays. You subsequently gain advantage on Charisma (Deception) rolls and similar rolls to masquerade as the subject using disguise self, alter self, or similar form-concealing magic. The mask helps mimic the subject’s voice and mannerisms. It can only retain one such subject at a time.

Mantis Blade

When detached, this looks like a long, thin sword blade. It can be attached behind the wrist, at which point it hinges back when not in use, resting against the back of the forearm. This makes it challenging to wear anything else on that arm, such as a bracer, shield, or even tight sleeves.

It functions as a rapier (but can instead act as a shortsword if you are not proficient in rapier or want to use it as an offhand weapon). It also works as a prybar, and has enough dexterity to be bent as desired to manipulate objects as would make sense for its structure.

If soaked in a bath of seawater and powdered silver, iron, or adamantine, it could conceivably take enough of those metals in to strike creatures harmed only by those materials as if made of that material.

Reservoir Valve

This item is a roughly cylindrical shell around the size of a large man’s fist. When attached, it flattens somewhat and tries to find a location on the back where it will not be an impediment.

The valve contains a naturally-generated healing potion. It can contain one charge at a time, and regains this charge when you take a long rest that you begin with both full hp and hit dice (i.e., it absorbs your unneeded natural healing). It can also have a charge restored by casting two levels of healing magic into it (e.g., either two first-level cure wounds or one cast at second-level). You can expend the charge as a bonus action to have it inject you with the potion so you heal 2d4+2 hp. Additionally, if you are reduced to 0 hp, the valve automatically expends its charge, if available, to heal you at the beginning of your next turn, before you have to make a death saving throw.

If bathed in a solution of several higher-powered healing potions as well as a high-quality oceanic chemicals, it might have the power of its healing solution improved to more closely mimic these better potions.

D&D 5e: Adjusting Monster HP

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0 1-6 13
1/8 7-15 13
1/4 16-49 13
1/2 50-70 13
1 71-85 13
2 86-100 13
3 101-115 13
4 116-130 14
5 131-145 15
6 146-160 15
7 161-175 15
8 176-190 16
9 191-205 16
10 206-220 17
11 221-235 17
12 236-250 17
13 251-265 18
14 266-280 18
15 281-295 18
16 296-310 18
17 311-325 19
18 326-340 19
19 341-355 19
20 356-400 19

One of the classic ways to put a higher-difficulty monster into a module for lower-level characters is to have it be already injured before they fight it, giving it fewer HP. Meanwhile, GMs often figure that if they just set a monster higher in its HP range (by default, they take the average dice rolls) that’s still fair but might make the fight a little more challenging.

If you haven’t looked into the monster math for 5e (starting on page 273 of the DMG), your intuitions about altering HP might be wrong. If you’ve come from previous editions where the total number of HD was equivalent to the monster’s level, that is no longer the case. The hit dice for a monster in 5e are basically completely arbitrary. The designer was trying to hit a certain HP total, and adjusted the number of HD until the average value of those dice plus Con mod got into the right range.

This means, if you try to adjust the monster’s HP, your intuition might be wrong for how much that lowers or raises the difficulty. Even a monster with extremely low HP might obliterate a lower-level party if it wins initiative (especially if it also has a high AC), since damage scales so high. And maxing out a monster’s HP could functionally double it, which could push it multiple CRs higher in some cases.

The relevant table is on page 274 of the DMG, but the important parts are to the right. Note that most of the published monsters are close to this system, but not exact, as they were likely tweaked in playtesting. But this is the official guideline for how monsters are supposed to be assigned a CR, and it’s at least in the right ballpark most of the time.

Essentially, to figure out a monster’s defensive CR, look up its HP on the table to get the basic CR. Then consult the target AC for that line. If the monster’s AC is different, move the CR up or down by 1 for every 2 points of AC. For example, if the monster has 110 HP and 15 AC, that puts it at CR 3, which has target AC 13. Since it’s 2 AC higher, its defensive CR is effectively 4. Special abilities might also increase this: if it has a lot of resistances/immunities or special defensive actions, it might bump up another couple.

Some monsters are glass cannons (high offense, but low defensive CR) and others are tanks (the opposite), so have their offensive CR and defensive CR averaged. Basically, if you’re looking at a monster before adjusting its HP, and its defensive CR comes out higher or lower than its listed CR, it may have more or less offense to compensate. Just keep that in mind.

To adjust the HP, figure out what CR the new HP total would put it at, then step up or down if the monster’s AC is not in line. Figure out how much that differs from the original defensive CR, and adjust the monster’s CR by half the difference (because you’re averaging the offensive CR).


The Inert Golem

This is basically what got me thinking about the problem in the first place. The Planescape module Doors to the Unknown‘s first chapter features a battleground where variant iron golems have gotten to 0 HP but not been smashed up, which means that if they take any fire damage, this causes them to heal HP and reanimate, attacking the party. They’re likely to acquire less than 20 HP from the various reduced-damage fireball effects in the area, but how high of a CR is an iron golem with only a few HP?

The base iron golem in the MM has 210 HP, AC 20, and a CR 16. 210 HP is right around CR 10, which expects 17 AC, so the 20 AC bumps that up a couple of CRs to 12. We can probably also assume that the golem immunities and special defensive abilities are good for a couple more points of CR, so about 14.

What if it only had at most a dozen HP from a stray 2d6 mini-fireball? That puts it at CR 1/8, which targets AC 13. The extra 7 points of 20 AC are now four steps up the chart, landing at 2, and the same immunities and such put that two more steps up to CR 4. That’s a 10 point difference, halved to 5, so lowers the CR to 11.

Is 11 too high for something that would go down in a single attack? Maybe? If nobody manages to get through its 20 AC (or its magic resistance, or targets an immunity accidentally) before it acts, it’s going to likely put out about 45 damage when it gets to act. Probably still doesn’t make it better than a Stone Golem (CR 10). It could wreck a low-level party that can’t manage to hit (especially if they don’t have magic or adamantine weapons), but this is an example of why you don’t want the offensive and defensive CR to get too far apart. It would probably make more sense to have a scenario where there’s a full-on fireball barrage that would probably get it to at least another CR threshold or two.

The Two Wolves

Winter Wolves are HP 75, AC 13, CR 3 with no real special defensive abilities other than immunity to cold. That HP total puts them right at CR 1, and the AC is correct for that CR. Which means most of its CR is coming from offense, presumably.

Maybe you want a threat for a first-level party, so try to have an injured wolf. Dropping it to half HP puts it in the CR 1/4 range, which doesn’t alter the AC, so it’s two steps down. That, halved, reduces it to a CR 2. It’s still, offensively, much more powerful: that cold breath could wipe out multiple low-level PCs if they get too close, and its bite might take out one every round. If there are multiple, Pack Tactics can be a big threat as well.

Conversely, you want a really chonky boi that’s been eating well and is at maximum for his (arbitrary) 10d10+20 HD: 120 HP. That puts him up at CR 4, and now his AC is a little low, so maybe a CR 3. That’s two points higher than the base for an averaged +1, and makes him a final CR 4.

5e Background: Sole Survivor

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Whatever you were before, your history pales before what you were made to be: the sole survivor of a horrifying event. It might have been a single night of terror, you and your friends stalked through the darkness trying to survive until dawn. It might have been years of slowly-dwindling resistance, trapped in an occupied city. Your tormentors may have been inhuman antagonists, impossible to communicate with or placate, or they may have been monsters of a worse sort: those who were much like you but chose to exterminate all you knew anyway. Whatever the tribulation, at the end, only you remained of those who entered the crucible with you.

Surviving something like that changes you deeply. Despite the nightmares and trauma, you never broke. Perhaps you can’t break, now: all the soft, vulnerable spots in your psyche have been made hard. That hardening, however, makes it difficult to connect with others who can’t truly know what it’s like to have such an experience. You’ve probably turned to adventuring because there’s no longer a place for you in normal society. Somehow, fighting for your life in the darkness again and again is comforting. At least, now, you usually choose what you face.

Skill Proficiencies: Choose two from Perception, Stealth, or Survival
Tool Proficiencies: One type of artisan’s tools (used to make items needed for your survival)
Languages: The language of the enemy that pursued you
Equipment: A simple weapon (a rare example of a fully-functional item you salvaged), a set of artisan tools with which you’re proficient, slightly-damaged common clothes, and a belt pouch with 10 gp worth of assorted coins you’ve scavenged.

Feature: Vigilance

It served you well during your ordeal to keep an eye on your surroundings at all times, waiting for an attack from any direction, and you have not gotten over this wary anxiety. You have advantage on rolls to detect an ambush or otherwise avoid attempts to surprise you with an attack, even while theoretically safe (which can counter disadvantage from these conditions, such as being asleep). (Opponents have disadvantage on rolls to ambush you that target your Passive Perception.)

Variant Feature: Improvisation

You can generally scrounge materials to create equipment that is serviceable from the detritus of civilization. Given access to your artisan’s tools and some kind of raw materials that would make sense in the construction, during a short rest you can cobble together an item that will be functional, if flawed. The item tends to break whenever you roll a 1 using it (or an enemy rolls a 20, for armor other other defensive items), and, in the case of alchemical concoctions, does half its normal effect and expires in 24 hours.

Suggested Characteristics

Sole survivors tend to be damaged in a number of ways, but with a deep inner strength and conviction that saw them through.

d8 Personality Trait

  1. The safest place for food is in my belly. I don’t know when I’ll get to eat again.
  2. I don’t talk much. I guess I got out of the habit.
  3. “Unflappable” is a good word for me: it takes a lot to make me flinch.
  4. There are a few seemingly meaningless perks of civilization that I’m disproportionately excited about. I never thought I’d see them again.
  5. People are neat (even people I don’t like). I’m just happy to be here, among the living.
  6. I relate many things back to anecdotes about people I lost; uncomfortably so.
  7. My humor is incredibly dark. If you can’t laugh, you’ll go crazy.
  8. While I understand the concept of ownership, I have few qualms about walking off with practical items that I think might be necessary later that nobody else seems to be using.

d6 Ideal

  1. Final Girl/Boy. When someone comes after you, you can only give them so much space before you have to push back. Hard. (Neutral)
  2. Protector. I lost a lot of good friends. No one else should ever die like that again, especially not my new friends. (Good)
  3. Reaver. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with what was done to me. I just need to be strong enough that it’s me on the other side, next time. (Evil)
  4. Sheriff. What happened to me was only possible because my allies didn’t stand together and fight back. I hope to show that if we all work together, society is stronger than the monsters. (Lawful)
  5. Survivor. At the end of the day, staying alive has its own meaning. Higher callings are all well and good, but every new sunrise you see is a victory. (Any)
  6. Wildling. While I hated everything about being hunted, there was something free about just me and my friends against the darkness. Being back in society, I feel like all its rules are only there to make us vulnerable to further attacks. (Chaotic)

d6 Bond

  1. I’m trying to find meaning in why these things happened to me. Is there ultimately a way to extract justice? Or was it just an evil I have to contend with?
  2. The friends I lost have no one but me to carry out their legacies. I need to protect those they loved and enact their agendas.
  3. I don’t think what happened to me was an isolated incident. I want to track down and stop similar things from happening again.
  4. The scars I earned in my trials still hurt, and I worry that I might be somehow infected. Am I doomed to become that which pursued me?
  5. I left something important behind in the place where I was hunted. Some day, I hope to reclaim it, but it is far and I am not prepared to revisit it, yet.
  6. I liked who I was before. I was happier then. Perhaps, by reconnecting with people and places of my youth, I might someday recapture that feeling.

d6 Flaw

  1. I can’t differentiate between the beings/nationality that attacked me, and have no belief that any of them can be other than monsters.
  2. They mostly came at night. I’m obsessive about maintaining a watch and don’t sleep soundly even in the safest locations.
  3. I’ll never fully trust anyone that hasn’t proven they’d die for me. Looking for ulterior motives and danger tends to alienate potential allies.
  4. I’m too trusting of anyone that isn’t one of my tormentors, so used to everyone banding together against the greater threat.
  5. Basically feral at this point, I have a hard time maintaining normal, emotional relationships. Everyone is either combat partner, risk, or threat.
  6. Because of incidents where my enemies played dead, I’m dedicated to ensuring my opponents can’t get back up when my back is turned. It’s gruesome.

D&D 5e: Average Treasure Hoards

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Page 133 of the 5e DMG suggests that a typical campaign* awards seven 0-4 hoards, eighteen 5-10 hoards, twelve 11-16 hoards, and eight 17+ hoards. I made a big spreadsheet and figured out what the average results of those tables look like, all added together:

CR Individual Award (per creature) Total GP Value of Cash, Gems, and Art Magic Item Table Rolls
0-4 5 gp 2,630 A x 6, B x 3, C x 2, F x 2
5-10 93 gp 81,797 A x 10, B x 9, C x 5, D x 1, F x 6, G x 2
11-16 947 gp 434,550 A x 4, B x 6, C x 9, D x 5, E x 1, F x 1, G x 2, H x 3, I x 1
17+ 8,470 gp 2,688,200 C x 4, D x 9, E x 6, G x 1, H x 2, I x 4


For reference, after all the hoards are awarded (and not counting the pocket change of individual awards) I got a total of 3,207,177.30 GP plus 104 items. The vast majority of the money comes from 17+ hoards, and there are only 46 items found in the first two sets of hoards (and most of it is from tables that primarily award potions and scrolls).

While I’m sure a lot of GMs enjoy rolling up loot at the table, I’m more methodical and also know that I will totally forget to give out sufficient** treasure if I don’t have a plan up front to award it.

For my games, I’m basically chopping this up into 8-13 packages per tier, making sure to give out at least one item in each package, and randomizing the distribution of the GP value a bit. Then, when I decide what each package makes sense for I split up the value into art, gems, and cash (e.g., a goblin hoard might be a ton of copper and silver, an elemental will be all gems, and humanoids with neat nonmagical gear will have that taken out of the budget as “art”). I’m also pre-rolling the items, so I also try to assign the containing package to an encounter that would make sense to have that particular item.

You could obviously also totally divorce the items from the value packages, and sometimes give out multiple items with little or no cash, and sometimes just nonmagical items of value.


* I assume this is for four PCs. Presumably you should raise the total by 25% for five, 50% for six, etc.

** Not that 5e really seems to care if you get anywhere close to the normal distribution.

D&D 5e: The 20 XP System

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The GM for one of the 5e games I’m playing got tired of doing all the math for standard XP tracking recently, and just switched us over to a milestone-based system (i.e., we’ll level up when it seems to make sense). One of the players opined that granular XP didn’t make much sense to him in the first place, in a level-based system where you weren’t allocating your XP to discretionary increases.

But my impression is that the main reason to track XP in D&D has generally been to incentivize optional objectives. In particular, “trash fights” feel worse if you realize you could have skipped them and you’d still level up as soon as you accomplished the main goal for the scenario. This is especially true if they don’t carry much monetary reward: if there’s no treasure and no XP, time spent on an incidental fight can feel wasted. Quests are similar: there’s a long history of awarding bonus XP for good-feelings quests without pecuniary remuneration.

Maybe that’s your jam: it’s not the worst thing in the world to train your players to try to use stealth, persuasion, and trickery to bypass fights. But if you’re disappointed, as a GM, when your players bypass a fight you prepared, it might be better to give some kind of reward. Similarly, doing good in the world might be its own reward, increasing reputation or eventually having karmic payoff, but actually telling the players to increment a number on the sheet immediately is a much more immediate way to train them to be heroic.

This system is just some quick spreadsheet work I did to try to reduce the granularity (and, thus, calculation and bookkeeping) of 5e XP awards as far as possible while still being more or less reflective of the standard XP curve. Basically, instead of leveling at an arbitrary point (usually based on finishing a chapter):

  • 20 XP must be earned between each level.
  • Fights of various difficulty award XP to each PC:
    • Easy: 1 XP
    • Medium: 2 XP
    • Hard: 3 XP
    • Deadly: 5 XP
  • A quest might also reward XP at a similar scale.
  • Optionally, at the level 5-10 tier, you might want to actually require 30 XP to level in order to stick to book standards (these levels have 50% more encounters required at the suggested XP ranges than other levels).
  • Optionally, at level 1-2, you might want to require only 13 XP to level (since those levels are so fast).

For example, a party that faces six Easy, three Medium, one Hard, and one Deadly encounters is ready to level up (1 x 6 + 2 x 3 + 3 x 1 + 5 x 1 = 20 XP).

D&D 5e Arcane Tradition: Shield Mage

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Particularly in lands that are superstitious, an excellent way to practice arcane magic openly is to become an indispensable aide to those in power. Rather than working from the shadows or the back lines, shield mages specialize in being right behind their leaders, supporting but never overshadowing. When wizards are firmly established as protectors, it is much harder to paint them as nefarious.

Colleges that teach this style of magic emphasize abjuration, conjuration, and transmutation: spells to protect and enhance others, quickly get to their side and take them where they need to go, and alter the battlefield in their favor. In wartime, they sit at the left hand of military officers, and, in peace, they are bodyguards to the nobility. As their powers grow, they may become weary of being mere servants, of course, but still have deeply ingrained training to prop up powerful allies in their endeavors. The very skills that make them such an asset to the powerful also make them extremely helpful to small adventuring bands.


Wizard Level Feature
2nd Combat Training, Bodyguard
6th At Your Back
10th Focused Concentration
14th Eye of the Storm

Combat Training

At second level, your early martial training finally catalyzes. You gain proficiency in your choice of either simple weapons, light armor, or shields.

Additionally, you learn the spell shield if you did not already know it. You always have this spell prepared, and it does not count against your total number of prepared spells.


Also starting at second level, you gain a profound ability to expand your conception of “self” to include your shieldmates when they are in danger. Any spell you can cast as a reaction that has a range of Self, you can cast at a range of Touch (and the reaction is triggered as easily by danger to your adjacent allies as it is to yourself). Essentially, you can cast spells like shield and absorb elements on adjacent allies, not just on yourself.

At Your Back

Starting at 6th level, you learn to synchronize your efforts with your protectee, moving as one unit. At the beginning of your turn, after effects have completed but before taking any actions, you can choose to delay your turn to the same initiative as an ally that you can see, acting immediately after their turn completes. If the ally is higher than you in the initiative order, you essentially do not act this round. Any effects that last until the end of your turn persist until you actually take your turn, but you must take at least one turn before you can delay again (i.e., you cannot continually delay to draw out a duration of an effect).

Additionally, you learn the spell misty step if you did not already know it. You always have this spell prepared, and it does not count against your total number of prepared spells.

Focused Concentration

Beginning at 10th level, your total focus upon your allies allows you to transcend the normal limits of maintained spells. When you are already maintaining concentration on a spell, you can cast a second spell that requires concentration and maintain both, as long as one or more of your allies benefits from both spells.

Additionally, you may add +1d4 to Constitution saving throws to maintain concentration for spells you are maintaining on your allies.

Eye of the Storm

At 14th level, you no longer need to fear your position on the front lines when using your most potent battle magic. When you cast any spell with an area of effect, you can choose to exclude your own space or a 10 foot area centered on the corner of your space from the effect. You essentially create a shield bubble of safety around yourself or around yourself and those nearby.

New Spells

Reflect Magic

4th-level abjuration

Casting Time: 1 reaction, which you may take when you are the target of a spell cast by an enemy you can see
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous

You attempt to cause a hostile spell to rebound upon its caster. The spell must target you specifically (singly or as one of multiple targets, but not as part of an area of effect). If the spell is of 3rd level or lower, the caster automatically replaces you as the target of the spell (use your spell save DC or make an attack with your own spell attack bonus). If it is a spell of 4th level or higher, make an ability check using your spellcasting ability. The DC equals 12 + the spell’s level. On a success, the spell is reflected as if it was 3rd level or lower.

At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, the automatically reflected spell level increases proportionately (to one less than the level of the slot).

Refuse Death

7th-level transmuation

Casting Time: 1 reaction, which you may take when you are about to suffer damage or an effect that would reduce you to 0 hit points or instantly incapacitate/kill you
Range: Self
Components: V
Duration: Until the beginning of your next turn

This spell allows you to sense your oncoming death and skip the impending moment. You essentially become briefly unstuck from time, rewinding your personal existence to the last place you were safe. You disappear from the world upon casting the spell, and return at the beginning of your next turn, having avoided the source of danger entirely. If the location from which you disappeared is still unsafe, you can appear anywhere within 60 feet of your last position, as long as you passed through that area recently (i.e., rewind to a previous safe place you stood).

At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a slot of 9th level, you can appear within 300 feet of your last position if you passed through that area recently, and you can spend hit dice and recover uses of spells and abilities as if you’d just taken a short rest before you reappear.

New Feat: Staff Mastery

Shamelessly stolen from Revenant Blade, since quarterstaff needs the help more than double-sword.

You have worked hard on turning the staff from a simple length of wood into an excellent tool for both offense and defense.

  • Increase your Dexterity, Intelligence, or Strength score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
  • While wielding a staff or quarterstaff with two hands, you gain +1 AC. You can consider yourself wielding it with two hands even if you’ve cast a spell that required somatic or material components this round, as long as you do not have another weapon or shield in your off-hand.
  • A quarterstaff has the finesse property when you wield it.
  • When holding a quarterstaff with both hands, you may treat it as two light weapons that deal 1d4 damage each for the purposes of two-weapon fighting (or 1d6 damage if you’re proficient with martial weapons).

Planescape in 5e: Special Features, Keywords

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  • Bright: This item sheds light at the brightness of a torch (though it is white, unwavering light). If the item would already shed light, its brightness is doubled.
  • Cold: This item remains a pleasant temperature in extreme cold, and will not become brittle or accumulate ice and frost. It doesn’t protect the bearer from the cold, but at least remains usable in a blizzard.
  • Corrosive: This item is resistant to harm from acid or other sources of corrosion, and will likely even remain intact if its bearer is disintegrated.
  • Cutting: This item is resistant to slashing damage (it doesn’t pass the resistance to the bearer, but is very difficult to cut or sunder). If it is a blade, the edge is extremely difficult to dull.
  • Dark: This item is virtually invisible in the darkness, granting advantage to hide it (and advantage to Dexterity (Stealth) checks in the dark if it is a suit of armor or clothing). If you are attuned to the item, you can see it clearly in the dark (even in supernatural darkness).
  • Energetic: This item never builds up a static charge, and tends to be impervious to Lightning damage (causing it to safely flow around the item). If it is armor, a wielded weapon, or other large item, you may add +1d4 to your saving throws to avoid Lightning damage.
  • Hot: This item cannot be damaged or destroyed by anything less than the most extreme heat or fire. It doesn’t pass this immunity on to the bearer, but at least it will survive the firestorm intact. It never becomes uncomfortably warm, including ignoring the effects of heat metal if directed at the item.
  • Invisible: This item fades to translucency at the wielder’s desire, granting you advantage on attempts to conceal or hide it. If you become invisible, the item remains invisible even if you briefly lose control of it (though you retain an intuition about its location to enable you to retrieve it).
  • Mental: This item is keyed to the wielder’s mental desires. Any powers it possesses that would normally be activated with a word may instead be activated silently. Some may activate when you need them, even if you do not consciously activate them.
  • Penetrating: This item is unusually dense, making it resistant to attempts to rip or puncture it. It is it armor, attacks that would normally bypass it must instead attack normally.
  • Smashing: This item is very sturdy, and resists attempts to crush it or break it through pure force. If it is a container, its contents are twice as likely to survive impacts or falls.
  • Sonic: This item has a flat audio resonance. Unless it is a musical instrument, it makes very little noise when struck, and is immune to Thunder damage.
  • Toxic: This item absorbs poisons. If you use it to aid in harvesting poison, there is no danger of accidentally poisoning yourself. If it is a weapon, any poison applied to it remains viable indefinitely (until it strikes an opponent).
  • Bestial: Unintelligent animals somehow comprehend the usefulness of this item. If you affix it to an animal, it will retain it if reasonable rather than reflexively trying to scrape it off. If the animal has the required dexterity, it may even use it appropriately (e.g., an ape using a weapon in combat).
  • Colorful: This item is an ideal anchor point for visual illusions. Illusions that cannot normally move can be attached to it, moving as you move the item. If deliberately incorporated into the illusion, some parts of it may be static while others move along with the item (e.g., using minor illusion to create an unmoving rock and waving grass).
  • Confining: This item is always subject to freedom of movement. It doesn’t pass this effect onto the wielder, but means that the item can never become stuck, trapped, or bound in a way that you cannot simply pull it free.
  • Disjointed: This item always teleports with its owner if it is close to hand. If it’s within ten feet of you when you are teleported, it appears at your feet wherever you land. It will even travel with you if the mode of transport normally will not include items.
  • Fluid: This item attracts condensation. This means that it is usually slightly damp. But, if left overnight in a watertight container (e.g., a pot or bucket), it generates a day’s worth of drinking water for you in all but the most arid environments.
  • Metallic: This item emits an aura that resonates with nearby metals, causing it to have a tactile hum that changes based on their presence or absence. This grants you advantage on rolls to detect hidden metal objects (e.g., traps, treasure, ore veins, etc.).
  • Motive: This item is sensitive to the intentions of its wielder when it comes to motion. You have advantage on attempts to resist being disarmed of the item. All ranges are doubled when you throw it or use it to launch projectiles.
  • Mystic: This item is easy to understand, mystically, revealing all its powers and abilities through simple inspection during a rest. However, it does not reveal its aura when subjected to detect magic or similar powers from anyone but its wielder. It shines like a beacon to detect magic, however, if it is not currently wielded, eager to be used.
  • Prophetic: This item is more likely than most to be included in prophecies (if only as a significant clue to the identity of the wielder within the prophecy). If you are attuned to it, you may automatically recognize it when it is mentioned in a prophecy or in the histories (including legend lore).
  • Protective: This item’s other defensive powers are likely to be slightly enhanced. Once per day, you may spend Inspiration to take no damage from an attack or effect from a spell that could plausibly harmlessly strike the item instead of you.
  • Restoring: This item makes it easier for the wielder to heal. Once per day, whenever dice are rolled to restore your hit points, you may choose to reroll the lowest die and keep the new result if it is higher.
  • Stonelike: This item resists petrification. It always retains its form, even if its wielder is turned to stone. If trapped by stone (e.g., held by a petrified former owner, pinned in a cave-in, clutched by an earth elemental, etc.) it is easy to withdraw and unlikely to damage the stone in the attempt.
  • Tempestuous: This item is always surrounded by an aura of clean, breathable air. This can be used by the wielder to survive underwater, in the void, or when in an area where the air is toxic or diseased.
  • Transforming: This item resizes itself to fit a wielder of any size, and automatically transforms into a viable form if the wielder changes shape (which may include simply fading into the transformation if the form is such that the item cannot reasonably be used).
  • Wooden: This item cannot be lost in the midst of floral growth. Even fast-growing plants will grow around it or lift it to the surface of the bloom (rather than encasing it in vines and roots). If it is a weapon, it never becomes stuck when chopping wood or attacking plant creatures.
  • Chaotic: This item is confusing for the ordered mind. A non-chaotic character is subjected to the confusion spell upon attempting to wield or use it (saving throw DC 10 for a Common item, +2 for each rarity, up to DC 18 for a Legendary item); non-lawful characters have advantage on this saving throw. This effect can trigger once per day per character, the first time the character attempts to wield or use the item.
  • Evil: This item whispers dark impulses to the wielder in moments with the capacity for greatest harm. Once per day, the wielder is subjected to the command spell in a moment where a single word action could do the most harm (e.g., “slay,” “attack,” “lie,” etc.). The saving throw DC is 10 for a Common item, +2 for each rarity, up to DC 18 for a Legendary item. Non-good characters are not exempted from this effect, but are more likely to be commanded to do things they wanted to do anyway.
  • Good: This item attempts to prevent the negative emotions that lead to evil. Once per day, whenever the wielder feels or is subjected to a strong negative emotion (e.g., hatred, lust, rage, despair, revulsion, contempt, etc.), the item casts calm emotions on the wielder only. The saving throw DC is 10 for a Common item, +2 for each rarity, up to DC 18 for a Legendary item. Non-evil characters are not exempted from this effect, but likely feel the targeted emotions less often than those with darker impulses.
  • Lawful: This item requires an orderly, ritualized series of steps to wield that are difficult for those of a less rational bent. Upon first wielding the item (and after each long rest while continuing to wield the item), non-lawful characters must make an Intelligence (Arcana or Religion) check, with failure causing the item to act as if it were non-magical for the character until the next attempt (though retaining any magical drawbacks). Non-chaotic characters have advantage on this check. The check DC is 12 for a Common item, +2 for each rarity, up to DC 20 for a Legendary item.

Planescape in 5e: Special Features, Other Planes

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  • Elemental Air: This item is almost invisible, woven of frozen air currents that flicker with subtle mists and electricity. Its weight is negligible, adding no encumbrance, but it might also be blown away in a stiff breeze if not firmly held or stowed. This lightness somehow doesn’t limit its effectiveness as arms or armor. This item also usually has the Tempestuous keyword.
  • Elemental Darkness (Negative): This item is perfectly black, absorbing all light, making it difficult to truly gauge its shape except by feel. Living characters that wield it lose one healing surge after a long rest. The first time you are struck by Radiant damage each day, you act as if you had resistance (as the item absorbs some of the energy). This item also usually has the Dark keyword.
  • Elemental Earth: This item is entirely made from metal, gems, and stone. When set upon the earth (or a stone embedded in the earth) it will not move from its position without great effort (Strength (Athletics) DC 15) unless you choose to pick it up again. This item also usually has the Stonelike keyword.
  • Elemental Fire: This item seems to be made from congealed fire, somehow given permanent physical form. It is always slightly warm, which can be helpful in a dangerously cold environment. This item also usually has the Hot keyword.
  • Elemental Radiance (Positive): This item is perfectly mirrored, reflecting all light that touches it. Undead characters that wield it suffer a point of Radiant damage each minute. Living characters that wield it gain an additional +1 HP for each die of healing they receive. This item also usually has the Bright keyword.
  • Elemental Water: This item seems carved out of ice, though it is only slightly cold. It floats in water as if it was made of wood, unless you are deliberately swimming beneath the surface (in which case, it floats at about your level within the deeps). This item also usually has the Fluid keyword.
  • Paraelemental: This item appears to be a strange hybrid of two materials based on which paraelemental plane produced it. It demonstrates whichever ability is most applicable to the current situation, but likely also suffers some unexpected drawback from the combination of elements.
  • Quasielemental: This item appears to be a brighter or darker version of its core element. It has the powers and drawbacks of items from either realm.
  • Astral: This item seems to be woven through with faint silver threads and, when looked at in the correct state of mind, only the threads seem truly real, the rest merely an illusion strung between them. You retain this item even when having an out-of-body experience, and it may be wielded by or used to strike creatures of pure thought. This item also usually has the Mental keyword.
  • Ethereal: This item seems slightly immaterial, hinting at translucency, its interior a flowing mist. It is able to be used/carried/worn by beings that are incorporeal, and has no difficulty striking them.
  • Ravenloft (Ethereal): This item likely carries a Baroque flair to its design, hinting at a culture with a strangely deep artistic tradition. While wielding this item, if you are about to commit a deeply evil action—or sometimes about to start down that path with something that seems to have good, but flawed, intentions—you can feel the attention of vast powers regarding you with anticipation.
  • Feywild: This item has no ferrous components, and it is made entirely from nigh-eternal materials that resist corrosion and decay. It has resistance against acid damage and other attacks that seek to unmake it with decay.
  • Beyond: This item doesn’t seem to use a standard geometry in its construction, all curves and hints at additional dimensions, made of materials that aren’t quite natural to any known realms. Powers and Proxies of the Great Wheel have a hard time even seeing it, granting advantage on rolls to conceal it from gods, celestials, or fiends.
  • Athas (Dark Sun) (Prime): This item is made without metal, replacing normal metal elements with bone, stone, or crystal. It maintains its magical nature by slowly draining the life from nearby plants, and dangerous plants will usually avoid you while you wield it.
  • Khorvaire (Eberron) (Prime): This item appears too-well-made, as if mass-produced by purpose-built machinery. It may feature subtle mechanisms beyond the technology level of most worlds. It slowly repairs itself if broken, and attempts to speed the process of mending have advantage.
  • Krynn (Dragonlance) (Prime): This item is likely illustrated with symbols of dragons and white, red, and black moons and any components that should be steel are instead iron or other metals. The item seems attuned to tidal forces, making it easy for you to, with some practice, sense the rough time of day and phase of the moon.
  • Oerth (Greyhawk) (Prime): This item seems like a real classic, well-but-simply made out of durable materials that keep their shine and luster. If used conspicuously in your adventures, it quickly finds itself becoming a significant element in your personal legend and may gradually accrue heroic powers from this acclaim.
  • Toril (Forgotten Realms) (Prime): This item appears to be an exemplar of its form, as if an illustration of the item was brought to life. Having lived through multiple magical upheavals, this item continues to have its same abilities even on planes with unusual rules for magic.

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