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D&D 5E In a Prehistoric Setting, a fighter's bone axe shatters. A Wizard's _____ breaks how?

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Kind of a weird title for a thread, but work with me here.

I've always loved the idea of a Prehistoric Fantasy setting. Dinosaurs, cults, golden ziggurats, deadly jungles, giant bugs...

In such a setting, metal should be rare, and so characters would be crafting weapons made of wood, stone, and bones.

Part of the mechanical flavor of such a setting is that these weapons would break over time (maybe to avoid a critical or reaching 0 hp).

Playing a fighter or a barbarian, it's a cool image to have your bone axe shatter against the hide of an Ankylosaurus, or your wood and leather armor torn to shreds by a pterodactyl. Then making new stuff out the Ankylosaurus and pterodactyl.

But what does that look like for spellcasting classes?

Does the wood wand shatter? The stone tablet spell book? Wouldn't a character just make or purchase 30 wands? Wouldn't a spell book breaking be much more consequential than an axe or armor?

How would you build the idea of breakable, prehistoric items into prehistoric spellcasters?
 

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Richards

Legend
Well, the first thing that comes to mind is that traditional wizards - recording spells into spellbooks and all of that - seem kind of out of place in a prehistoric setting. I could see sorcerers easier, as their spellcasting is more raw and primal. But maybe they need a focus - like a wand in Harry Potter - without which they cannot cast their spells? And the wand would get brittle with use, until it eventually cracks and breaks and needs replaced.

If you really wanted a prehistoric wizard, though, I could almost see one whose "spellbook" consists of painted runes on a cave wall, which means he cannot take it with him but must return to his cave to replenish spells. Or perhaps he can inscribe a "portable spellbook" on large leaves, basically inscribing the same runes from the cave wall "spellbook" onto a portable "large leaf spellbook" which likewise will only remain usable for so long before it dries and crumbles away. (Of course, single-use scrolls could be made the same way, but that's really not much different than making a scroll in standard D&D.)

Johnathan
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I would say in a prehistoric setting, spellcasting focus “technology” hasn’t been developed yet, so you have to rely on material components, and without the robust supply lines of a more developed society you can’t safely assume that your lifestyle expenses cover the cost of maintaining your supply. Sometimes, you just run out of a component and have to find some more.
 


Minigiant

Legend
In a prehistoric or ancient era setting,there are few spells for spellcasters to learn. Most spells aren't invented yet.

There are few people who teach wizards, guide sorcerers, or warn warlocks.

Gods are busier and more wary so clerics don't get a full range of spells granted to them. Nature is too wild and overly connected druids go feral, mad, or die.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
When I did prehistoric it was a world with No Writing so instead the Wizard-equivalent had to spend a night in their Painted Cave breathing in the essence of their spells (lots of herbs and smoke).
Spells could then be breathed out by the caster (Vocal component) literally in the form of smoke.

So if you wanted instead of breakage you could I suppose have them choke on a failed concentration check - the spell backfires causing the caster to burn their mouth?

Also scrolls in my setting were replaced by elaborate Knotted
Cords which were leather cords into which feathers/leaves/shells were knotted. To cast the spell these Knotted Cords had to be undone in a single pull, which of course destroyed the components. - SO have your wizards spellbook replaced by a bundle of cords which they have to prepare each morning and which if broken or undone incorrectly cause the spell to backfire
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
Yeah, in a setting where martial characters may break their equipment, I'd make sure to enforce spell component, even those without consumed cost, no spell focus or component pouch. I'd maybe go aqs far as making all component a consumable resource. So you'd better stock up on that bat guano while we are exploring this dark cave, and risk your neck getting that sulfur for the dormant crater or else no fireball for you.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Some great suggestions on components and how spells are recorded, so I don't have a lot to add there. But maybe magic is a little less predictable? Either use some of the concepts from wild mages or perhaps all magic comes from spirits who must be convinced to help. Cantrips are spirits the caster has mastered, but more powerful spells require appeasing spirits with sacrifices. So the one that can explodes into a fireball just loves bat guano.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
Some great suggestions on components and how spells are recorded, so I don't have a lot to add there. But maybe magic is a little less predictable? Either use some of the concepts from wild mages or perhaps all magic comes from spirits who must be convinced to help. Cantrips are spirits the caster has mastered, but more powerful spells require appeasing spirits with sacrifices. So the one that can explodes into a fireball just loves bat guano.
For dangerous casting, I usually go with the scroll mishaps table from the DMG applied to any spellcasting if they fail an ability check equal to 10+ the spell level.
 

Tinker-TDC

Explorer
If you're going for an idea that the weapons break to provide the players a benefit you could just make it player-choice so there's no NEED for them to break but the OPTION for them to break.

If it's up to the DM when things break I'd say probably removing spellcasting focii is the way to go. I like the idea of breathing spells in and out listed above and I might recommend divine magic requiring sacrifices made to a god or something in that vein.
 

I would say in a prehistoric setting, spellcasting focus “technology” hasn’t been developed yet, so you have to rely on material components, and without the robust supply lines of a more developed society you can’t safely assume that your lifestyle expenses cover the cost of maintaining your supply. Sometimes, you just run out of a component and have to find some more.

This is what I basically did for my late stone/early bronze age setting. The spell foci have not been invented. Granted, it is more for flavour reasons, messing with material components makes the magic feel more ritualistic and primal to me.

My weapon breaking rules for non-magical stone/wood/bone weapons are just that if you roll natural one on attack, you roll a d20 and on 10+ your weapon is fine, otherwise it breaks. There are bronze weapons available though, so it is not really that big of a deal. And of course as this will happen in combat, there often are weapons of fallen foes you can readily loot. Hilariously this weapon breaking has actually happened only twice... for the same character in one combat, breaking both of their bone short swords against a gibbering mouther! They invested in bronze blades after that!
 
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I would say in a prehistoric setting, spellcasting focus “technology” hasn’t been developed yet, so you have to rely on material components, and without the robust supply lines of a more developed society you can’t safely assume that your lifestyle expenses cover the cost of maintaining your supply. Sometimes, you just run out of a component and have to find some more.
There's nothing more simple then having the bone of some Old Great God Beast serve as your conduit to the spirits beyond.
 


Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
This is what I basically did for my late stone/early bronze age setting. The spell foci have not been invented. Granted, it is more for flavour reasons, messing with material components makes the magic feel more ritualistic and primal to me.

My weapon breaking rules for non-magical stone/wood/bone weapons are just that if you roll natural one on attack, you roll a d20 and on 10+ your weapon is fine, otherwise it breaks. There are bronze weapons available though, so it is not really that big of a deal. And of course as this will happen in combat, there often are weapons of fallen foes you can readily loot. Hilariously this weapon breaking has actually happened only twice... for the same character in one combat, breaking both of their bone short swords against a gibbering mouther! They invested in bronze blades after that!
Did your breakage rules apply to bronze weapons too? Bronze swords were notoriously brittle and often broke on impact - even more so than flint and stone weapons.

Flint and stone might loose points and become dull though
 

Did your breakage rules apply to bronze weapons too? Bronze swords were notoriously brittle and often broke on impact - even more so than flint and stone weapons.

Flint and stone might loose points and become dull though
No. And it is an abstraction to show that bronze is more advanced than stone or bone*. And of course in reality iron and even steel swords can break too, yet in the game they don't (unless specifically targeted.) Also bronze is not brittle, iron is more brittle (but obviously much harder.) Bronze swords often bent, but you could just bent them back in the shape.

* And there is no iron in this setting to compare bronze to. If I was running some sort of late bronze/early iron age game where there were both bronze and iron weapons, I would give bronze these weapon breaking rules and iron would be unbreakable.

Which actually brings me to the point that if the setting has only stone and bone weapons, I'm not sure there needs to be any additional rules to reflect their quality, as there's nothing they need to be worse than. Just treat them as normal weapons.
 

Voadam

Legend
Does the wood wand shatter? The stone tablet spell book? Wouldn't a character just make or purchase 30 wands? Wouldn't a spell book breaking be much more consequential than an axe or armor?
If you want spell foci wands to break dramatically similar to stone weapons use the same breakage rules for spellcasting with the foci wand that you do with the weapons.

If warriors generally have only one weapon and you want the spellcaster to be similarly temporarily hobbled after breakage, impose an attunement requirement on a wand so it cannot be instantaneously replaced with a backup.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
For weapon breakage, I'm a big fan of a simple rule:
  • You can choose to sunder your weapon when you take the attack action, if the attack hits, you maximize the damage of the weapon for that turn and then you can use the weapon until it is repaired.
  • You can choose to sunder your armor, when you do so, you reduce de damage taken by the amount of AC granted by the armor (ie: 13 for an hide armor) then the armor's AC becomes 0 until repaired.
  • You can sunder your shield to turn a critical hit into a normal hit. The shield becomes unusable until repaired.
 



Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
That the technology could in fact exist, since its pretty much just picking up some maybe-magic thing and acting like its the hottest mystic ish ever invented.
Well of course it could. It’s made up, so anything could exist or not exist. I’m proposing that, if the goal is to have an equivalent rule to weapon breakage for casters, reliance on material components could suit that purpose nicely. Lack of spellcasting focus “technology” is merely a fictional justification for the desired rule.
 

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