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D&D 5E Movements of the Dark Powers (+)


With the coming of the new Ravenloft Campaign book, I've been contemplating some mechanics that could be added to enhance the mood and feel of the setting. In the past, I have run Ravenloft without the need of such mechanics, but I thought some of the (untested) mechanics I present here might be of use to DMs

Note that these "rules" aren't meant to screw the players. They are designed to interject drama and mood to the existing game, not to detract from the player's enjoyment of the game. They are not meant to invalidate a player's choice for their character or to pick on powerful PCs. These rules are for creating tension and drama. They are meant to replicate the interference of the Dark Powers on the various realms - the machinations of these mysterious beings as they move the various pawns in their incalculable games of life and death.

At the start of each session (assuming a 4-6 hour session), the DM gains one Chain token per PC. At any time, as long as an individual PC is at half hit points or greater, and the DM feels the situation warrants it (or a player asks for the Chain to be "yanked"), the DM can invoke a character's flaw when they attempt an action. If the player wishes to have the character resist the pull of their flaw, they can attempt the action, but do so at disadvantage - however, the character CANNOT benefit from any advantage to cancel this disadvantage. If, despite the disadvantage, the character succeeds on the action, they gain a Bravery point. If they attempt but fail, no Bravery point is gained. If the Chain was triggered during a non-combat scene and the action was failed, it cannot be tried again.

Likewise, the player can choose to have their character succumb to their flaw and automatically fail at the action. If this is chosen, the action fails, of course, but the character gains a Hero point for later use. If the Chain was triggered during a non-combat scene, the action cannot be retried and the gained Hero point cannot be used in the same scene.

Chains should never be invoked in a way that it brings an adventure to a grinding halt. It may require characters to find an alternate path to success, but it should not stop them dead. It is strongly urged not to use Chains during direct confrontations with major NPCs or end-game fights; they should be used fairly early in the session so that the resulting Bravery and Hero points can be used near the end of the session, when they may well be most needed.

At the start of each session (again, assuming a 4-6 hour session), the DM gains one Terror token per PC. At any time, when an individual PC is at half or more hit points and faced with imminent danger, the DM can spend one Terror token to affect a character. Only one Terror token can be spent on a single PC in a combat or scene. Once spent, the DM may invoke one of the following:

  • The affected PC is distracted or moves ahead too fast (or is flat mini-teleported by the Dark Powers, whatever makes narrative sense), becoming separated from the rest of the group by two rooms or 60 feet. This cannot place the PC in a room containing an enemy, but can place them in an area adjacent to one.
  • Before rolling an opponent's attack, the attack automatically hits.
  • Before rolling damage on a hit, add 1d6 damage per level of the party to the damage inflicted.
  • Inflict one Lingering injury (DMG, p272) on hit a character takes
  • Cause one PC ability or spell to fail, have an unintended effect or side effect or backfire (not damaging the PC directly) in an unexpected manner

At the start of a session (assuming a 4-6 hour session), the DM gains one Tilt point. No sooner than half-way into the session, the DM can invoke the Tilt. The Tilt introduces or changes one fact in the game to create a complication for the party. This complication cannot be immediately dangerous, though it can certainly make things more difficult for the entire party. The tilt shouldn't stop the adventure in its tracks, but may require an extra step or two to complete or a change of plans on the character's part.

Examples include:

  • The bridge the characters need to cross a chasm has been rendered unsafe or destroyed by a recent storm or attack
  • A NPC the PCs need to contact has been abducted, is out visiting relatives or otherwise somewhere else
  • A quest item is not where it was expected; however, there are obvious clues as to where it has been moved or was "really" located
  • An enemy's weakness is non-standard or they have a resistance the characters weren't expecting
  • A Dark Lord or similarly powerful adversary arrives, remains for around 1d4+1 rounds (if fighting) or a scene (if not in combat), then retreats or departs

Lights Out/The Mist Rises
Once per session, the DM can declare a Lights Out/Mist Rises.

If the characters are indoors, a Lights Out occurs. Whatever light source the characters rely on gutters and dies (even if magical in nature), and darkvision fails the group. This effect lasts for 1d4+1 rounds a combat situation or a similarly "short" duration in a non-combat situation, and all attempts to restart or acquire a new light source fails during this period. This cannot be triggered in the middle of a hostile encounter, but can be used just prior to one or to simply put the characters on edge.

If the characters are outdoors, a Mist Rises occurs. The skies of Ravenloft are never clear and sunny, and always are on the edge of the light from above being blotted out, and the cool air bringing an obscuring mist to the fore. Within the span of a minute, the area around the characters becomes filled with a disorientating pea-soup fog that obscures vision beyond a dozen feet or so. It is easy to become lost in this mist, or to stumble onto unexpected landmarks, buildings or other beings. As above, the rising mist cannot be triggered in the middle of a hostile encounter, but they can precede one or be used to simply put the characters on edge or guide their movement to or from a certain place. The mist lasts for 1d4+1 rounds in a combat situation, and generally lasts up to a scene outside of combat conditions.

A character who has one or more Bravery points can invoke their Flaw in an attempt to overcome it. The character spends a Bravery point and takes an action on which they gain advantage. No more than one Bravery point per PC can be spent in a single scene or combat.

Hero Point
A character who has one or more Hero points can spend them to make a minor beneficial story change or automatically succeed on an action. The player should narrate how they draw on their Bond or Ideal or how a unusual coincidence occurs that brings the success about. A character cannot spend more than one hero point per scene or combat. Hero points cannot be used to negate Chains, Terror or Tilt, though in the latter they can be used to expose a way/path around the Tilt.
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Bravery/Hero points are too similar. Merge them or make the more distinct.

Tilt is strange to me. Everything in the tilt list looks like things that a DM wouldn't use a counter for anyhow?

Lingering injuries at a rate of 1 per PC per session would be crazy suck. I'd make that "a critical hit, or one that reduces the PC to 0 HP, inflicts a lingering injury". That gets rid of some of the fiat of it.

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