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


Does the weapon shattering make the Fighter's abilities more unreliable?

Then you need to make the wizard's spells more unreliable. Do things by results more than analogy.

One option, since wizards don't generally make attack rolls would be to say that if the target rolls a natural 20 on a save there's some kind of backlash against the wizard, explain it as primal forces at work and magical science being less sophisticated or something like that.

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Guide of Modos
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. . .

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?
If I were playing a fighter who was fighting an ankylosaurus, and my bone axe shattered against its hide, that would mean that my spear had already shattered against its hide. And my bow had already run out of arrows. And it had already sprung, and survived, the traps that I had set for it. So no, not cool!

Prehistoric wizards had one spell: create fire. And they were pretty popular girls to have around.

Seriously though, I would expect wizards to have some pretty low-pizzazz spells and/or magic items, given the surrounding low-technology. Strangely, their tools have been seen and used as late as the 20th-century (?): animal bones, skins, and innards. These don't break, because wizards are smart enough to not go bashing their chicken ribs over the heads of ankylosauri. Instead, when the magic of one "fails," the wizard declares that its magic has run out, and acquires another chicken rib.

Alternately, magical implements are made of the softer animal bits, which "break" when the bit starts to decompose.

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.
Not what I'd call a simple rule, but a good one nonetheless! (Should the weapon rule read "can't use the weapon?")


My initial thought was they might anger the spirits of the land/their ancestors/their totem that they draw power from. Mechanically something like the deity disapproval from Dungeon Crawl Classics might work.
Something like a magical mishap or backlash (as proposed already by @Mordhau) would probably also work.


Lord of the Hidden Layer
Your staff caught fire from the mis-cast spell.
DM see Heat Metal to work out what happens to the Caster next.
The spell doesn't do what the Caster expected, but he does get a cantrip-like effect.


Mod Squad
Staff member
Prehistoric generally implies pre-literate or a time before writing systems, so that kind of removes spellbooks (or even Wizards) from the equation.

So, that's an easy way to think of it. However, we can probably do better than that.

What does the spellbook actually do for the spellcaster? It is primarily a mnemonic device. The wizard has more arcane knowledge than can fit in their head at a particular time, and has to store that information elsewhere. But we could easily consider it being in a form other than traditional writing...

Some have mentioned paint on walls. But there are other forms - strings of beads, tattoos, carvings on bone or ivory - anything normally used for decoration can be used to hold information. So, maybe the furs the wizard wears are all edged with lacings and beads that remind them what is needed for a spell. Or maybe they have a series of small bags, one for each spell, the contents of which are each a set of stones and items that can remind the wizard what needs to be done for the spell to work.


Back when I created a tribal campaign setting, I don't think I even considered weapon breakage. I know I didn't have the wizard or monk as they didn't really fit the theme, though a wizard could probably be played as a sorcerer, adding new prepared spells as spells known instead. I didn't have clerics either, instead using druids to represent the faith of the people.

If I really wanted martials and casters to have breakage or spell failure, I'd probably make spellcasting require a spellcasting ability check, maybe 10 + spell level, failure might mean that a wild magic surge occurs instead.

Not sure how I'd handle weapon breakage. Maybe once per round, there's a chance for wear on the weapon. Roll another d20 with the first attack, a 1 marks off some durability. You could also have the player spend durability to reroll damage so they get a better hit in, but at the expense of the weapon taking damage.


Everyone focusing on the word "wizard" and ignoring how this applies to a wider range of spellcasters is making me sad.

Let use assume for a moment that you use a durability system for weapons, then I could say the following idea could work. The foci has a pool of durability, same as the weapon. Every non-cantrip spell, or leveled spell of X level, takes away a point of durability until it drops to 1. Then you roll a D20 for every non-cantrip spell, and on a low enough roll (1? 5 or less? your choice) the item is destroyed.

I feel like the durability is important, because generally the weapons only break when you roll a 1 on the weapon attack, so they are constantly under threat, but it is generally easier to switch weapons even mid-turn. Of course, you could have it that you have to roll a d20 for every spell and every cantrip, same as you do for every swing of a sword or shot of a bow.


Doddering Old Git
A prehistoric wizard might, instead of memorizing spell formulas, build small satchels or effigies with spell components that are crushed or untied or undone in some way while saying a word of power. Wizards already have a built-in mechanic for 'weapon breakage', they have spell components, material components can be taken or destroyed, verbal components can be silenced and somatic components can be restrained. I don't know that you need to have wizard staff or wand break to demonstrate the fragility of civilization.
That being said you could give wizards a chance of having their magical effigy failing or prematurely detonating. I imagine cantrips could be cast through a focus, maybe masks, or gris-gris, or totems, that could have a chance to break on a crit. Or throwing inscribed bones and one flies too far or not far enough to risk a failure.
Heilung pic included for ambiance


He / Him
These are all really fun, creative ideas! I love the idea of wrangling spirits, or having knotted strings and bags of beads...

I'm not planning on running a Prehistoric Campaign any time soon, but I kind of like this idea for weapon breakage. Keep in mind I'm literally making this up off the top of my head! This would also, in my mind, be supported by Encumbrance and scarcity rules, making it pricey to break your weapons.

Melee Weapon Breakage
When you roll a melee weapon attack that misses, you may choose to break the weapon, adding 1d4 to the attack roll. Depending on the weapon's damage type, the following effect occurs:
  • Piercing: Shards of the weapon stick into your target. At the start of each of your turns, they automatically take piercing damage based on the size of the weapon (light: 2, one-handed or versatile: 3, heavy: 4). As an action, they or another creature may remove the shards, ending the effect.
  • Slashing: Your final blow opens a gash in the target's armor. Their armor class is reduced by 1.
  • Bludgeoning: The stump of your weapon may be used as a Shield, granting you +1 to Armor Class, even if you are already wielding a shield. If you use the stump to attack, it acts as an improvised weapon and is destroyed.
Ranged Weapon Breakage
When you hit with a ranged weapon attack, you may choose to break the weapon, gaining one of the following benefits:
  • Long Range: The attack ignores disadvantage for attacking at a far range.
  • Deadly Aim: The weapon deals maximum damage on its weapon dice.
  • Distraction: You may attempt to hide as a bonus action.
Spell Sundering
After you cast a spell, you may choose to sunder your connection to the magic, drawing more power from breaking your pact to the spirits or materials you rely on for arcane might. You may not cast that spell again until your next Long Rest, even if you have spell slots available. Choose one of the following effects:
  • Spell Barrage: Cast a Cantrip as part of this action.
  • Unbreakable Magic: If the spell requires Concentration, you automatically succeed on Constitution Saving Throws to maintain concentration, as long as you are conscious.
  • Fickle Fates: You force one target to reroll their Saving Throw against your spell, taking the new roll instead.
However, you must also roll for a cost:
  1. Magic Blast: The spell component pouch or arcane focus you use to cast the spell is destroyed. If the material used for the spell is usually consumed, or the spell does not require materials, you instead take an amount of Force damage equal to your Spell Attack Bonus.
  2. Blood Contamination: You are poisoned for the next hour. This effect cannot be cured by magic or medicine.
  3. Eyebite: You are blinded for the next ten minutes. This effect cannot be cured by magic or medicine.
  4. Weakened Spirit: You gain one level of Exhaustion.
  5. Greater Sundering: You may not cast spells for one minute.
  6. No Effect: The fates smile upon you!


He / Him
Oh, and I would also add:

When you are struck by an attack that would reduce you to 0 Hit Points, you may sacrifice a weapon, shield, or spell focus you are holding to be reduced to 1 Hit Point instead.

Or something to that effect! Maybe different materials would grant different effects.


Staff member
On the knotted/beaded cords thing, I wouldn’t have the casters have to undo them to use them, thus destroying them. Instead, just like the prehistoric weapons, have them wear down with use.

As the caster handles the cords, his or her hands will be rubbing, caressing and otherwise manipulating them. Over time, stones & shells will crack, fragment and crumble. The sinew or plant fiber used to make the cords will stretch, wear and break.

Tattoos & scarification would be less prone to destruction over time, but might instead mandate a limit on the number of spells you can know, simply because your body is of finite size. Additionally, if you wanted to be har about it, magical tats & scars might be destroyed by taking too much damage. (If I went with that, healing magic would repair the magical tats & scars perfectly.)
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It seens to me that if it's wizards, the spellbook is where it is. Ie it's not portable, it's painted on cave walls or carved into a rock somewhere and to memorise the spell you've got to go visit it. You'd have the spells that are in the local area and others you'd actually have to go and visit. To memorise Wish you have to go climb a mountain somewhere and study the world as laid out below.

In settings where writing is not necessarily presumed, I would expect a wizard to have something like the following:
  • a bag of runestones, made of ivory, obsidian, etc.
  • a staff of special wood or bone, etched with logographic spells
  • body tattoos that signify their spells
  • a primitive "book" or "scroll" made from animal hides, printed with dioramas of their spells

For each thing, it can break in its own way. The bag of runestones could tear open and the stones shatter. The staff splinters or catches on fire. The wizard's skin is damaged (by fire, lacerations, acid, whatever). The hides are stained or destroyed.

Part of the problem is that the tools of magic tend to be more variable, because we're inventing them rather than taking them from real-world tools.

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