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D&D 5E Free 60+ page Guide to Sword & Sorcery for 5E D&D

Thanks. My suggestion was designed to avoid the extra die rolling (and I must confess I personally believe rules need to happen more often than once every 400 rolls for me to be able to justify including them), but otherwise accomplishes much the same aims.
Think the extra die roll (like advantage) is more in line with 5e. It’s more straight forward, and is easy to add into the existing structure of your standard 5e game. If you want to increase the probability, maybe feats, or class abilities could do that?
Assassin already gets a critical in some circumstances. The champion fighter has an increased critical range etc.

This maybe more something for rulings not rules?.. but you could also allow an aimed shot (made at disadvantage) to allow for just one standard critical hit to drop a target to zero hit-points.
I think as it stands it’s a good basis to work from, and changes the expectation of the game in a simple way. Gives it that edge. But doesn’t overwhelm. Strikes me as the right balance after discussion here.
 

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xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
... compressing the hit point range (as it were) might therefore be a potential candidate house-rule for inclusion in your S&S-related product, especially as a viable alternative to massive damage rules.
I agree with you that reducing hit points would extend the "sweet spot" level range. However, my stated goal from the beginning has been "to change as little as possible" so it still feels like D&D. And while I personally would be okay with it (as a player), I think that reducing Player Character hit points from their "D&D defaults" would not be well received by most players. So better to approach this from the other end, ie with massive damage / more deadly crits.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Well, I argued neither the current Xoth rule nor the core rule for instant death works for the intended purpose, and I furthermore argued that S&S isn't necessarily served well by random death rules even if a version that does work across all levels is used instead.

Just to note my "compress the HP range" suggestion wasn't primarily intended to extend the "sweet spot" range, but to accomplish the original goal: to make combat less often feel removed from actual danger even as you level up.

If my suggestion can't be used because it would "not be well received", well, this could instead be accomplished by cheapening the value of the hit points you do get.

That is, increase damage as you level up. Not random bursts of damage (as exemplified by deadlier criticals or instant death rules) mind you, but actually more regular damage. This accomplishes the same goals and avoids the same drawbacks, just from "the other end".
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
(cont'd)

Let me take an example using equipment. If dependency on loot is considered undesirable, work it into the class abilities themselves. The following is just to keep the example easy:

While weapons available to low level characters wouldn't change at all, as you reach the middle levels, you would start finding ever-more outrageous pieces of equipment. Oversized and spiky weapons fit the S&S ethos well.

If feats like Great-Weapon Master are considered too powerful, such a new equipment roster could also "backhand" in fixes for that.

In the core game, a level 8 character might run around with a weapon that in itself doesn't deal more damage than the weapon used at level 1. That this character deals more damage is chiefly through the fighter's inherent abilities (extra attack, class abilities, feats...). Now that in itself is part of why 5E makes such a suitable basis for a S&S game.

But imagine if we now hand out swords dealing 5 extra damage on a hit. The bonus is the same for one-handed and two-handed swords, so it is a relatively bigger bonus for the character using one hand.

This means that your 75 hp pool might be good for soaking 4 hits instead of 5, which is a 20% increase of "sweet spot danger".

It also means the difference between the Greatweapon Master feat and... not that, is reduced, since getting +5 to, say, d8+6 is a relatively greater bonus than getting it to d12+11 (assuming the average bonus of GMW if used well is +5 damage). Instead of the longsword dealing 60% damage (10,5 to 17,5) it would now deal almost 70%.

Zapp

PS. Obviously you could introduce +3 swords earlier in the campaign if you feel the jump shouldn't be so drastic. You would also introduce +10 swords later in the campaign to really compress the hp pools of high level characters and reintroduce some of the early-level danger thrill.
 

FXR

Explorer
I'm not sure how "minimal" you'd consider this one, but I've implemented the following in my very Sword & Sorcery inspired 5e campaigns (which are really a mishmash of Primeval Thule, Xoth, and Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperboria):

[...]
1a. No spellcasters except warlocks[...]

I ran a bunch of 5e campaigns using these guidelines, and it's worked pretty well.

Funnnily enough, the first thing I did when deciding on house rules for my D&D 5e Sword and sorcery game was banning the warlock. Conceptually, the warlock fits S&S like a glove, but its implementation in D&D 5e seemed to me incompatible with the genre.

Sorcery in the S&S genre is powerful, mysterious and dangerous. It often exacts a toll on its users, while warlocks in D&D5e seemed to me as Eldritch Blasters who gain powers without any real trade-off. Their powers are predictable, largely based on a damage-dealing cantrip, and the only in-game effect of choosing a patron is to select what powers you gain.

I preferred to slight tweak the wizard and let him gain additional spells, powers or perks by dealing with demons or other dangerous entities - always with a cost. It seemed more appropriate to the S&S genre.
 

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
Funnnily enough, the first thing I did when deciding on house rules for my D&D 5e Sword and sorcery game was banning the warlock. Conceptually, the warlock fits S&S like a glove, but its implementation in D&D 5e seemed to me incompatible with the genre.

Sorcery in the S&S genre is powerful, mysterious and dangerous. It often exacts a toll on its users, while warlocks in D&D5e seemed to me as Eldritch Blasters who gain powers without any real trade-off. Their powers are predictable, largely based on a damage-dealing cantrip, and the only in-game effect of choosing a patron is to select what powers you gain.

I preferred to slight tweak the wizard and let him gain additional spells, powers or perks by dealing with demons or other dangerous entities - always with a cost. It seemed more appropriate to the S&S genre.
I can understand your position.

But as Eldritch Blast is a cantrips that deals damage, it is banned under my rule 1. Warlocks get a whole lot more interesting when they have to think outside the blast.

Though in fairness, I had a player whose character as a follower of Shub-Niggurath, and for that PC we reskinned EB as branches, thorns, and foliage quickly bursting out of the target's body, with all other mechanical aspects intact. It was pretty cool.

I also allowed, for a while, the progression of feats from one of the playtests, which started with Magic Initiate and eventually increased the caster's power. I also added a Corruption trait (from the 3.5 Heroes of Horror book) along with each feat taken.

It was thematic, it was cool, it worked, but it wasn't great in practice. After that character died we resolved to just use the warlock, sans EB. Which worked out way better overall.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
The only real way to support powerful, mysterious and dangerous sorcery is to provide no alternative.

That is, the core aspect of S&S sorcery that the standard D&D framework is preventing you from achieving is this:

Sorcery is what's left for you when you're desperate enough. The superiority of physical might is a cornerstone of the genre. So, if you weren't were born physically strong and powerful in a S&S setting, at least if you're male, you face a stark choice: limit your ambitions or turn to sorcery. (Obviously I'm simplifying for the sake of argument here)

If you could learn traditional D&D spells you would obviously do that.

So it is important that you can't, both to explain sorcery, and to let it meaningfully exist within the setting.



There's a reason people avoid spells with random effects. Even if the average result is stronger than a completely predictable spell, it is still no good for a party looking for the best tools to kill their enemies and complete adventures without dying. Getting a better effect 60% or even 90% of the time is no good, not when you can choose alternatives that work (nearly) as well.

If I were given the choice of a WWII backpack-style flamethrower that is awesome in power but will eventually get you killed, or a set of regular hand grenades with clearly less impact but still enough to get most jobs done with a considerably lessened risk to yourself, I know what I would choose.

It is when you get to choose between a sword and a flamethrower only that things get interesting.
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
Note that there are already rules for this in the Player's Guide. The Sorcery chapter (pages 40-41) notes that life force that is restored via healing spells "must be transferred or taken from somewhere else, typically via sacrifice".

The Cultist class (page 30) is built on this concept and has the Blood Healing, Blood Ritual, Triumphant Sacrifice and Steal Life abilities. Sacrifice is also relevant for the Idolatry ability.

The Druid (page 34) has a defiler-like ability that allows him to drain the life force of nearby plants in order to fuel healing, creating a wasteland in the process.

And the Warlock (page 25) "must perform a sacrifice or service on behalf of his patron, as determined by the GM" to advance a level.

Thus all the spellcasting classes feature the concept of sacrifice in different ways. While "corruption" is not a mechanic, the roleplaying potential of each should be obvious ("How far do I want to go to use these special abilities to help myself and my companions"?).
When I think about it, I haven't actually analyzed those rules of yours, have I. How playable I would find such a character, I mean.

My memory is hazy on this point - could it be those weren't in from the start? Could it be that when I first engaged in this thread, I was reading through a version without those rules? Can't really understand how else I have missed it.

Thanks,
 

Here's a variant for your consideration:

Deadly Critical: When you score a critical hit against an opponent, roll another d20. If you roll a natural 20 on this second roll, the opponent's hit point total is instantly reduced to zero. For player characters, this means they must start rolling death saves. For NPCs and monsters, it usually means instant death; the GM may rule that certain monsters are immune [you will not be able to insta-kill Great Cthulhu with a lucky die roll]. If you are using the rule where the opponent can sacrifice a weapon or shield to negate the critical hit, the decision must be taken before the second d20 is rolled.

This rule is simple (in the spirit of 5E), applies equally to all (so even high-level characters will feel a little worried), yet won't happen very often, and won't instakill PCs (but rather bring them to zero hit points). Also, it's fun to roll dice, and crits become more interesting.
I think this is the right approach, but just to exhaust other avenues using a second roll, here’s a few alternative approaches for a Deadly Critical:

1. On a critical hit, the attacking player makes a Str or Dex roll (players choice), with the DC being the targets Constitution score. If successful target falls to zero hit points.

2. On a critical hit, the target makes a Con save. The DC equals 10 or half damage, whichever is highest.

My first suggestion above puts the roll in the hands of the attacker, which feels more Conanesque, the second roll is for the defender.
Of the two I prefer number 1. Both of these options will likely result in a higher chance of a Deadly Critical. However overall I think Xoth’s suggestion won’t dominate the standard DnD attritional combat in the way my two suggestions will, but at the same time still remaining a possibility. The low base chance for Xoths suggestion is also already increased by certain class abilities, so on reflection it feels about right.
 

FXR

Explorer
The only real way to support powerful, mysterious and dangerous sorcery is to provide no alternative.

That is, the core aspect of S&S sorcery that the standard D&D framework is preventing you from achieving is this:

Sorcery is what's left for you when you're desperate enough. The superiority of physical might is a cornerstone of the genre. So, if you weren't were born physically strong and powerful in a S&S setting, at least if you're male, you face a stark choice: limit your ambitions or turn to sorcery. (Obviously I'm simplifying for the sake of argument here)

If you could learn traditional D&D spells you would obviously do that.

So it is important that you can't, both to explain sorcery, and to let it meaningfully exist within the setting.



There's a reason people avoid spells with random effects. Even if the average result is stronger than a completely predictable spell, it is still no good for a party looking for the best tools to kill their enemies and complete adventures without dying. Getting a better effect 60% or even 90% of the time is no good, not when you can choose alternatives that work (nearly) as well.

If I were given the choice of a WWII backpack-style flamethrower that is awesome in power but will eventually get you killed, or a set of regular hand grenades with clearly less impact but still enough to get most jobs done with a considerably lessened risk to yourself, I know what I would choose.

It is when you get to choose between a sword and a flamethrower only that things get interesting.

An alternative would be to have a category of spells which are less risky but less powerful (some sort of white magic, for instance) and have a category of spells which are more risky but more powerful (typical black magic). So, in that case, the player get to choose between a sword, a bic lighter and a flamethrower.

"Yes, your spells kinda suck, but if you could summon a demon to teach you something more, but there's a price."
 

CapnZapp

Legend
An alternative would be to have a category of spells which are less risky but less powerful (some sort of white magic, for instance) and have a category of spells which are more risky but more powerful (typical black magic). So, in that case, the player get to choose between a sword, a bic lighter and a flamethrower.

"Yes, your spells kinda suck, but if you could summon a demon to teach you something more, but there's a price."
If you can imagine white safe benevolent magic in a Sword & Sorcery setting, go for it.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
More generally, the spells (and their reliability) in D&D are balanced against fighters and barbarians and what not. Just reducing the spells efficiency (or placing great cost on using them) might be thematically appropriate, but it doesn't work if you still want fighters and sorcerers to retain their PHB balance.

The easy option then is to do nothing. The more interesting (and frankly, rewarding) option is to add both power and cost. And just to keep your life simple as a balancing designer, you would do well in removing the "old" spellcasting (i.e. you can't choose between the regular way and the powerful-and-costly way; you can only choose between powerful-and-costly spells and no spells at all, which of course means having the strength or dexterity necessary to use swords and knives)
 

Regarding Inspiration:

After reading the excellent Beowulf age of hero’s for 5e there’s brilliant use of the inspiration mechanic which draws out the theme of the game.
There’s a few more ways to acquire Inspiration.


1. At the beginning of the game through the portents a pool of inspiration is established for players, followers (think henchman, it’s a game designed around solo play), and monsters. If players can establish an in game link to the portents, they can take one of the inspiration tokens. Apart from that It works the same as 5e granting advantage.
There’s also other in game ways of gaining inspiration. When you roll with Advantage you choose one die as your alignment die, representing gods favour, fate etc. If it’s the higher result you gain inspiration, whether or not you succeed.

Beowulf does a really great job of contextualising Inspiration in the game, and has a nifty way extra way to allow hero’s to accrue more with alignment die mechanic.

I think Xoth could really do something similar, to represent fated hero’s. With potential rare hits that could take you to zero hit points, inspiration could be expanded to allow it to be spent to avoid a hit they may take you out of the game. It’d still be limited (doesn’t stack) but just gives the hero that extra bit of luck.
Perhaps also rename inspiration to something more Xoth appropriate?

To start the ball rolling how about calling inspiration Fate for the players, and Doom for the antagonist?
 
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By the way I should mention that I really like the classes in this game. It’s not simply a rehash of 5e classes. Cultist, slaver, conquerer, and courtesan are inspired. Think the magic, and game advice is really good.
Warlock works for me, but I’d also like an option with some form of corruption connected with spell use. Could be specific to a particular Demonic Patron ?

All in all I’m very impressed with design choices. Many Ideas already springing to mind. Lots of rich S&S flavour. This is great stuff. Well done,
 
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One other 5e book using the OGL I admire is Into The Unknown a 5e take on b/x. What I like most about that book is the advice on playing an open game, playing what’s in front of you, rather then just playing the rules. Advice that’s applicable to any 5e game.
It’s on drivethru and consists of 5 small books. The 4th book Running the Game has a short section on “Improvised Stunts”, which is all about encouraging players to play creatively and imaginatively, not necessarily just using their class abilities. It gives a good frame work of advice on how to adjudicate rulings when players wish to attempt something creative, and how that may be done without stepping on the toes of existing class abilities.
Lots of gamers do this naturally after a while, but the advice is really sound, and encourages a fast and loose style of 5e play. Following the b/x ethos of rulings not rules, it succeeds in finding the balance between 5e’s structured rule set, and a very open creative improvisational game. It’s the sort of gm advice and style of play I envision emphasising in a 5e S&S game.
 

FXR

Explorer
If you can imagine white safe benevolent magic in a Sword & Sorcery setting, go for it.
Some divination and abjuration magic could work. We can look for inspiration in dubious movies such as The Warrior and The Sorceress, Conan the destroyer or in books such as Bradley's Sword and Sorceress anthology.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Some divination and abjuration magic could work. We can look for inspiration in dubious movies such as The Warrior and The Sorceress, Conan the destroyer or in books such as Bradley's Sword and Sorceress anthology.
Absolutely. Passive, defensive abilities is one thing.

What was discussed here (at least by me) was offensive unproblematic magics.
 

I think this is the right approach, but just to exhaust other avenues using a second roll, here’s a few alternative approaches for a Deadly Critical:

1. On a critical hit, the attacking player makes a Str or Dex roll (players choice), with the DC being the targets Constitution score. If successful target falls to zero hit points.

2. On a critical hit, the target makes a Con save. The DC equals 10 or half damage, whichever is highest.

My first suggestion above puts the roll in the hands of the attacker, which feels more Conanesque, the second roll is for the defender.
Of the two I prefer number 1. Both of these options will likely result in a higher chance of a Deadly Critical. However overall I think Xoth’s suggestion won’t dominate the standard DnD attritional combat in the way my two suggestions will, but at the same time still remaining a possibility. The low base chance for Xoths suggestion is also already increased by certain class abilities, so on reflection it feels about right.

Taking Xoths excellent suggestion of rolling a second d20 after getting a critical hit, you could additionally allow the player to choose a number on the d20 (call it fated or something), if that number, or their critical chance comes up, then the target drops to zero hit-points. This could be used if it’s felt that achieving a second critical is too low a probability on the critical alone.

Edit : Perhaps spending inspiration allows the player to chose one or two extra numbers on the d20 for the second roll?
 
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I really wouldn't bother with rules that happen only once every 400 rolls...
Another thought for rolling a deadly critical as Xoth has proposed. You could allow the proficiency bonus to be used on the second critical attempt to increase the critical range.
So a level 1 character with a proficiency bonus of +2 would have a deadly critical range of 18-20 instead of 20.

The hard work of the initial critical has already been done in the attack, so perhaps it’s only fair that the second critical attempt has this modified chance?

Then again there’s always the other methods I suggested where the DC is more easily modified to hit the sweet spot
  • The Con save against 10 or half damage whichever is higher, or just make it challenging DC15
  • Str/Dex roll to beat the targets constitution score.
  • Or go the other way and really mix up the odds by making it an opposed roll of attackers Str or Dex vs the targets Dex or Constitution.
 
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