Monday, August 29, 2016

Magic Bottles

Mason Jar

When dashed upon the ground, this jar shatters into 33 identical, though non-magical, jars.


Fill this glass pint bottle with wine or spirits and pass it around telling stories of a place or person, toasting each with "Wine scry, bottle mine". Whoever finishes the bottle can look through the mouth and see the subject of the tales through the bottom, like a terrible telescope. They're likely drunk by this point.

Witch Bottle

You must fill this bottle with three things: something of you (blood, or pee, or tears); something that binds (soil, or sand, or wine); and something sharp (nails, or pins, or evergreens).

The next time you would fail a saving throw against magic, the witch bottle instead fails for you, trapping the spell within it. It has a 1-in-6 chance of becoming a potion relevant to the spell it captured.

Killing Jar

Any creature closed in this quart-sized jar must pass a saving throw each round or die.

Moss-Glass Flask

Milky glass heavily flecked with furzy, dark-green spots makes the walls of this elaborate flask. Its stopper is carved from the pit of some unknown fruit.

This functions as an iron flask, but instead imprisons fey, and is significantly more breakable.

Jugged Hare

A gallon clay jug holds a long-dead rabbit in aspic and stringent herbs under a thin layer of the creature's own fat. If the jug is shattered, the creature lies still a round, before commencing to slowly crawl about, gasping and fluttering its hind legs. This pathetic minor undead cannot take commands or even defend itself, serving perhaps only as incriminating evidence or a minor diversion before expiring in a turn.

Alternatively, a tasty ration for two!

Hoard Gourd

This narrow-necked dry squash can hold any number of coin-sized items, but they must be placed into it one at a time. Each takes a round to poke down, or a round to shake out, and order of retrieval is not assured.

When discovered, choose a coin type appropriate to the situation (copper for goblins, gold for dragons, as the saying goes). Roll as many d6 as seem appropriate, but each explodes on a 5 or better. Add rings or gems on doubles.

A general sense of the number of items the gourd holds can be had by shaking it, from a dull rattling for a single coin to a distant sloshing and sliding for thousands of coins. Breaking it open reveals only a dry, pithy interior and a many tiny seeds. They're actually sufficient to serve as a ration.

However, if the seeds are sown over an acre or so of fair soil, and cared for as a crop over the course of a year, roll 2d6 here, modified as appropriate by the skill of the farmer:
  • 3 or less: This harvest appears healthy, but anyone eating of it instead suffers as if they have starved a day. Anyone who dies of this starvation rises as a zombie the next day. (Use your favorite plant-zombie.)
  • 7-4: A healthy crop of gourds, particularly well-suited to preservation.
  • 8-9: As above, plus 1d4 empty hoard gourds, if the farmer is clever enough to recognize them.
  • 10 or more: As above, plus one hoard gourd has drawn something precious into it as it grew.


A round glass bottle whose bottom half is wrapped in straw, some of which is hitched upward to connect with the neck, forming a handle. It is a void of good luck and proper decision making - when opened, such things within a large range are sucked into it and devoured.

No critical hits or critical successes are possible within this area. Spells that grant bonuses to attacks, checks, or saving throws are suppressed. Fumbles, failures, and penalties all operate normally.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Other uses for 5e Hit Dice

Hit Dice in 5e seem underutilized as a resource. I have no idea if this is intentional design, but here are some other possibilities.

  • To power class abilities.
    • Berserker barbarians' Frenzy ability could burn HD instead of causing exhaustion.
    • A paladin's lay on hands ability could let them spend HD on another's behalf. That seems a little more sacrificial to me, and is swingier that picking an exact number of HP.
    • Probably some sorcerer abilities, but who cares.
    • Maybe a warlock invocation that lets you burn HD into spell slots. Seems like an appropriate risky sacrifice for power for that class.
  • Magic item fuel. I did this once already.
    • You could make attunement to an item in general require investing a HD in it, if you wanted to reduce magic item use a bit.
    • Healing potions that let you spend hit dice would scale automatically to the character using them, based on HD size and Con modifier.
    • Ring of X-Ray vision could eat HD instead of inflicting exhaustion.
  • Instead of reducing max HP, damage caused by certain undead could also use up a hit die. They come back on their own at a long rest already, so no special rules needed on the monster. If the undead can create spawn, they do so by killing a creature with no HD remaining.
  • Potions that restore HD.
  • Diseases could eat away at HD.
  • Spells that allow HD to be used, like 4e healing surges. Healing Word seems like an interesting candidate.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Path of the Pact-Maddened

Whispers and promises from impossible voices drive the pact-maddened barbarian into a supernatural frenzy. They surprise their opponents by weaving arcane magics among their formidable physical prowess.

When you first choose this path, choose a patron from the Warlock class.

3rd level - Pact Magic

You can cast a small number of spells granted by your patron. Charisma is your ability modifier for these spells.

You learn a warlock cantrip of your choice which you can cast at will.

You learn a warlock invocation of your choice.

You can cast one of the 1st-level spells from your patron's expanded spell list. Choose which at the time of casting. Your spell slot level is 1 when you cast a spell this way. Once you use this feature you can't use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

At higher levels more spells from the extended spell list become available, and your spell slot level for all such spells increases.
  • 6th level - 2nd level spells become available, and your spell slot level becomes 2. You learn a warlock invocation of your choice.
  • 10th level - 3rd level spells become available, and your spell slot level becomes 3. You learn another warlock cantrip of your choice.
  • 14th level - 4th level spells become available, and your spell slot level becomes 4. You learn a warlock invocation of your choice.

3rd level - Conduit of Rage

You can cast warlock cantrips while raging, and add your barbarian rage damage to damage dealt by your warlock cantrips while doing so.

Casting a warlock cantrip counts as attacking a hostile creature for purposes of maintaining your rage.

6th level - Paroxysm

If you hit with two melee weapon attacks using Strength in a single round, you can use your bonus action to cast a warlock cantrip.

10th level - Lucid Rage

While raging, you may cast an available spell from your patron's expanded spell list. Doing so counts as attacking a hostile creature for purposes of maintaining your rage. (This is a separate spell than the one granted by Pact Magic.)

Once you use this feature you can't use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

14th level - Induct by Force

If you score a critical hit while raging, the target must make a Charisma saving throw (DC 8 + your Charisma modifier + your proficiency bonus). If it fails, it becomes charmed by you.

The charmed target must use its action before moving on each of its turns to make a melee attack against a creature other than itself that you mentally choose.

The target can act normally on its turn if you choose no creature or if none are within its reach.

All charm effects end when your rage ends. Also the target can make a Wisdom saving throw at the end of each of its turns. On a success, the charm ends.

Saturday, July 2, 2016


Here is an NPC party led by a disease-infatuated mage, Metastus. There's a sprinkling of OSR in here, as some of the mage's daily spells have been removed to grant resistances and a weird magic effect of becoming an infection upon death.

Voice suggestions are provided for each NPC.


Metastus is not immediately hostile to the party, but he is not a pleasant man.

The mage Metastus is infatuated with disease, both its infliction and its treatment. He appears as an older man in a dingy, off-white cloak with sparse hair to match. His skin is pallid and parchment-like, and he has no mustache or beard because he has no lip or chin, their having rotted off in some failed experiment years past.

His knowledge of sickness has won him many wealthy patrons through his treatments. In their turn he has extracted many favors and subjects. He never willingly lets a patient perish, but he will also infect a subject with an unknown strain in order to test the efficacy of his treatments.

He meticulously records all phases of his patients' endeavors. The results of his experiments are usually shared with colleges and hospitals through the land. He is eager to hide behind this fact when defending anything which might be interpreted as a depredation. He adopts an air of clinical detachment during these times but just below the surface he enjoys dancing people along the line between life and death.

Voicewise: leave Professor Farnsworth and Peter Lorre in a sauna for a few decades until they melt together and forget their lips.


Medium human, Lawful Evil
Armor Class 12 (15 with mage armor)
Hit Points 40 (9d8)
Speed 30 ft.
9 (−1)  14 (+2)  11 (+0) 17 (+3) 12(+1)  11 (+0)
Saving Throws Int +6, Wis +4
Damage Vulnerabilities fire
Damage Resistances piercing and slashing from nonmagical attacks
Damage Immunities poison
Condition Immunities poisoned
Skills Arcana +6, Medicine +6
Senses passive Perception 11
Languages Common, Elven, Orc, Deep Speech
Challenge 6 (2,300 XP)
Spellcasting. Metastus is a 9th-level spellcaster. His spellcasting ability is Intelligence (spell save 14, +6 to hit with spell attacks). He has the following wizard spells prepared:

  • cantrips - acid splash, light, mage hand
  • 1st (4 slots) - charm person, grease, sleep
  • 2nd (3 slots) - ray of enfeeblement, web (of sputum)
  • 3rd (3 slots) - dispel magic, stinking cloud
  • 4th (3 slots) - black tentacles, noxious form
  • 5th (1 slot) - contagion

Equipment: slippers of spider climbing, wand of the war mage +1, cloak of protection (+1 AC and saves)

He is infectious. If he is slain he can use a reaction to infect one person with a disease that will slowly turn the victim into him (Constitution save to resist). It will manifest first as the ability to cast some additional spells he knows.

2645 GP, 110 PP in a chest in his lab.

Noxious Form: 4th-level wizard spell. As gaseous form, but a creature who enters your space or starts its turn there are affected as if by stinking cloud and take d6 + your spellcasting ability modifier acid damage. You are unaffected by stinking cloud while in noxious form.

Spellbook: Memorized spells plus stinking cloud. The necessary course of treatment to preserve Unction's seething life.


Homunculus (MM 188)

Metastus' familiar. Balloon-like, with tiny wings, a puffy face, wiggly hands and feet, and an unfortunately placed stinger. Deflates into a snake-like creature with grabbly spindle claws.

Voicewise: Like a farting helium balloon.


Nothic (MM 236)
Equipment: Cloak of Elvenkind

Metastus' companion of many years. The mage provides it access to any libraries he is welcomed to. In return, the creature plies minds encountered for secret, shameful sicknesses of a family which can be used as leverage in negotiations.

It has gazed at the mage in his sleep and enjoyed what it found in those gray dreams.

Voicewise: Only speak while inhaling and pretend you've got sandpaper next to your gums.


Orog (MM 247) except:
AC 20 (plate and shield)
HP 51
Equipment: sword of vengeance - longsword, +7 to hit, reach 5, d8+5 damage.

martial adept - d6 superiority die. goading attack, pushing attack (PHB 74)
parry - reaction - adds 4 to AC against one melee attack that would hit. must see attacker and be wielding a melee weapon.
Probably challenge 3?

This orog was offered into Metastus' service by a tribe of orcs whom he gifted with a maddening plague which allowed their warriors to crush a neighboring tribe before their lungs exploded. Their ravening spirits inhabit his gleaming bronze blade.

He has long stopped questioning the motivations of Metastus' company and is confident he and the mage together can face down any threat. However, an open display of hostility means he'll try to throw the offenders off the nearest ledge or alert his companions if none is available.

Metastus knows Unction has no sense of honor and so has, over the years, set up a complex system of disease and treatments within the orog to ensure his loyalty. Without a seemingly random administration of herbs and extracts known only to the mage, he would die a painful and gasping death within days. With practice and desperation he has learned many techniques to protect Metastus' life as his own.

At the moment he abides a suppurating throat affliction requiring a Constitution check (DC 10) to voluntarily make any noise louder than a whisper - a failure stuns him for a round as he hacks up volumes of loose, bloody phlegm.

Voicewise: Grisly-wet, like a raw steak has taken offense to your ability to move around without its consent.


Guard (MM 347) - Neutral. Immune to disease.

A simple farmer whose village was struck by an unusual plague to which he was apparently immune. Metastus offered to save his kin in exchange for his servitude, and he readily accepted.

The process has been gradual - several villagers have been hauled to the band's camp for extended treatment, and drift in and out of weak consciousness. Aubert devotes every waking hour to their care

Aubert hates Metastus for the depravities he has seen, and himself for his part in them, but will take up arms to defend the mage as the last chance to save his friends and family.

Voicewise: 90% stuttering misery, 10% shrieking indignation.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

5e Hirelings

 I recently had cause to include hirelings in a 5e adventure. This is a simple class to represent them, with a feature where if a player character dies, the player can pick up a hireling and continue as a full-fledged character. Until then they are simple to play, competent but with limited options, and largely defined by their background.

Most of my games use the standard array for ability scores, so for hirelings I just replaced the 15 with another 10. I also use feats, so one human hireling started as an initiate until picking up his second level as a 1st level wizard, and the hunter hireling had crossbow expertise.

Class Features

As a hireling, you gain the following class features.

Hit Points

Hit Dice: 1d8 per hireling level

Hit Points at 1st Level: 8 + your Constitution modifier

Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d8 (or 5) + your Constitution modifier per hireling level after 1st


Armor: Light armor, shields

Weapons: Simple weapons

Tools: None

Saving Throws: None

Skills: None (Background and racial skills still apply).


You start with a simple weapon and 3 days of rations in addition to the equipment granted by your background. Your skill proficiencies grant additional starting equipment - suggestions follow.
  • Acrobatics: 50 feet of rope and a 10 foot pole
  • Animal Handling: A pack animal or trained dog
  • Arcana: A staff or component pouch
  • Athletics: A shield or climber’s kit
  • Deception: A forgery kit or dagger
  • History: Ink and pen and a few sheets of parchment
  • Insight: A tobacco pipe
  • Intimidation: A whetstone and manacles or studded leather and an eye patch (complete with damaged eye) or an hourglass
  • Investigation: A monocle or a magnifying glass
  • Medicine: A healer's kit or antitoxin
  • Nature: An herbalism kit or a hunting trap
  • Perception: A signal whistle and a steel mirror
  • Performance: A disguise kit or a musical instrument
  • Persuasion: Fine clothes or a bottle of fine wine
  • Religion: Holy water or holy symbol
  • Sleight of Hand: A gaming set
  • Stealth: A light crossbow and quiver of bolts or caltrops and ball bearings
  • Survival: 50 feet of hempen rope or fishing tackle and a tent


Ability Score Improvement



Ability Score Improvement



Every other character level, you must take a level of another class. This follows normal multiclassing rules, so hirelings don't receive saving throw proficiencies. For example, a 5th level hireling would have 3 levels of the hireling class and 2 levels of any other class.


If your employer perishes, you can take up one of their ideals as an action. If you do so, convert levels of hireling into levels of another, existing class. Your hit dice change to match your class, but not maximum hit points. You gain all the proficiencies a character who started in that class would gain.

You may no longer advance as a hireling.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Bonus and Penalty Dice

These are some rules from my fantasy heart-breaker which I thought could be usefully layered over any system that uses a d20 + modifiers vs. a target.

Circumstances or character aspects may influence your chances of success or failure on a check. These are represented with bonus and penalty dice, which are six-sided. They may be denoted as +#d or -#d, respectively.

When you make a check with bonus dice, if any of the bonus dice come up 6, you succeed, regardless of your d20 roll. Conversely, if you make a check with penalty dice and any of them come up 1, you fail, regardless of your d20 roll.

If you have both bonus and penalty dice, they cancel each other before rolling. For example, if you have +2d and -3d, roll just 1 of penalty die. You never roll bonus and penalty dice at the same time.

If any bonus die comes up 6 and your d20 check also succeeds, that is a critical success.

Likewise, if any penalty die comes up 1 and your d20 check also fails, that is a critical failure.


If something in your system would call for a +2 or -2 on a d20 roll, you can substitute one of these dice. They turn out to be about the same - the left column here is a target number, and the header is a character's modifier.

Those hit numbers work because the bonus die only matters if the d20 roll misses. The highlighted parts are where most rolls seem to happen, at least in the early levels of the game, or in a lower-powered one.

These dice become less important for skilled characters to succeed, but do help in avoiding mistakes and in driving crits. They reward less-skilled characters for seeking them out.

Almost everything in my game got converted into bonus and penalty dice, so the d20 rolls changed infrequently, since they were based on ability scores. You don't have conditional modifiers to tack onto the roll - they are all individual dice, with no math involved.

That also means there aren't something that would translate as conditional +1 modifiers, but I have never much liked them anyway.

Some character aspects could give bonus dice, but mostly they're situational. Charging? Bonus die for everyone! Attacking something invisible? Well, have a couple penalty dice.

Also note you can't crit or fumble without an extra die. You really want to seek out bonus dice for this reason, either to line op the crit, or negate the possibility of a fumble.

Adding more dice in either direction scales the chance of success or failure interestingly, though I think getting more than 3 in either direction would be rare.

  1. 17%
  2. 31%
  3. 42%
  4. 52%
  5. 60%
  6. 67%

I also ended up getting rid of a lot of level bloat by relying on these dice. If you were facing off against a thing of a substantially higher level, you got a penalty die, and it got a bonus die. Same thing if weaker opponents were facing you.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Fun With Some Blunderbusses

Some magical blunderbusses (blunderbi?) because why not. Assuming 5e but you're adaptable.


When you roll a natural 1 on an attack roll with this weapon, roll on the Wand of Wonder effects table.


Attacks with this gun deal an extra d6 thunder damage. When it rolls a natural 1 on an attack roll, all creatures in 10 feet of you (including yourself) must pass a DC 15 Fortitude save or take d6 thunder damage and be deafened for a minute.


Advanced artillery now available in convenient liquid form. Poured from its bottle, this thick, milky liquid permanently forms into a serviceable large bore shotgun in a round. If you drink it (and why wouldn't you) you can spit shot for a minute (assuming you have shot).


You can use rations as ammunition for this weapon. If you do it deals an extra d6 acid damage and is terrible.


Muzzle acts as a bag of holding, but fires a random item from its store on an attack roll of 1.


If you roll doubles on your damage dice on attacks with this weapon, roll them again.


This weapon is named Günter. He has Intelligence 10, Wisdom 11, and Charisma 9. He can speak, read, and understand common (but he can't speak on a turn he's used to attack, because his mouth is firing shot, of course). Hearing and normal vision out to 120 feet. Neutral alignment and seeks his creator.

Günter can chew up pretty much anything for use as ammunition, but he prefers wine casks and coal.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

All Manner of Devilry

These items were created by devils for use against their own kind. They might be granted as boons to mortals who assist a fiend in the removal of some threat or rival, or be stolen and turned to more noble purpose.

Lysis Blade

Weapon (longsword), rare (requires attunement)

This item appears to be a longsword hilt. While grasping the hilt, you can use a bonus action to cause a blade of wan, gray-green light to spring into existence, or make the blade disappear. While the blade exists, this magic longsword has the finesse property. If you are proficient with shortswords or longswords, you are proficient with the lysis blade.

You gain a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this weapon, which deals acid damage instead of slashing damage. When you hit a fiend with it, that target takes an extra 1d8 acid damage.

The sword’s dolorous blade emits dim light in a 20-foot radius. Within that woeful light, even if suppressed by darkness, the Devil's Sight ability is suppressed.

Winding Cloth

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

You gain a +1 bonus to AC and saving throws while you wear these tattered rags as a cloak.

You can spend a hit die to cast Speak with Dead as a ritual. Roll that hit die to determine how many questions the corpse answers.

Ring of Retribution

Ring, rare (requires attunement)

This ring has 3 charges, and it regains 1d3 expended charges daily at dusk. When you take damage, you may expend a charge and use your reaction to cast a cantrip you know.


Weapon (mace), legendary (requires attunement)

This three-pronged mace was once the scepter of a recently slain devil lord. Wrought of iron and fiend-leather, it desires a return to its former stature, viewing hellish ranks as challenges and mortals as vessels.

You gain a +3 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon. You can use a bonus action to make an attack against a fiendish or undead creature with it.

When you hit a fiend or an undead with this magic weapon, that creature takes an extra 2d6 thunder damage. If the target has 25 hit points or fewer after taking this damage, it must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or be charmed until you take a short or long rest. On a successful save, the creature becomes stunned until the end of your next turn.

While you hold this weapon, no light can shine brighter than dim in a 40-foot radius.

Tines of Power: At any time, Vuch-Cuch can maintain up to three shards of itself. These manifest as iron daggers, with +1 to hit and damage. The wielders of these knives have disadvantage on saving throws against spells cast by Vuch-Cuch or its wielder, but advantage on all saving throws against spells. If Vuch-Cuch is destroyed, it will regrow from one of these knives in three days.

Rebuke the Petulant: When you score a critical hit with Vuch-Cuch, you may use a bonus action to cast magic circle targeting fiends and undead centered on yourself. This effect lasts for 1 minute as Vuch-Cuch shrieks and mutters true names.

Sentience: Vuch-Cuch is a sentient lawful evil weapon with an Intelligence of 13, a Wisdom of 12, and a Charisma of 14. It has hearing and normal vision out to 120 feet.

The weapon communicates empathically with its wielder, desiring decisions which lead to leverage and power.