Making our favorite games even better
A counter attack is different from a parry and a riposte in that the defender seizes the moment/initiative away from the initial attacker as if they hadn’t even attacked versus defending and then attacking back. The German grandmaster Liechtenauer used the concept of Indes and the Italians used mezzo tempo or contra tempo to illustrate how to decisively and ‘instantly’ to feel out and orient their observations to take action and advantage of a moment in time during combat.
Counterattack: An offensive action executed into an opponent’s attack. A fencer might choose to counterattack if they believe their opponent’s attack will miss, or they might combine the counterattack with an evasive action (such as ducking beneath the opponent’s attack) or simultaneously using their blade to deflect their opponent’s attack during the counterattack (called a counterattack “in opposition”).
Parry and Riposte: uses the strength of one’s own blade to avoid the opponent’s blade. After performing it, the fencer then counters the attack with a combined attack which would force the opponent to parry, allow you to counter parry the opponent’s blade, and allow you to penetrate their next parry to win.
So for D&D purposes a great way to add this to the game is to allow proficient defenders to Counterattack weak attackers as an opportunity attack reaction.
This works great for any type of attack even a non-combat attack.
An NPC tries to use Intimidate on a character proficient with Insight and/or Intimidate. The intimidator fails badly so the defender could see the attack coming and before the NPC had even gotten the insult out the defender already had a comeback out and zinging.
When a defender who is proficient in the skill, game, tool, or weapon is targeted by an attack or skill check in which the roll is a 1 or the total was less then the defender’s ‘To Hit’ total with their equipped and proficient weapon or appropriate skill total than they can react as if the attacker had provoked an attack of opportunity with their failed action.
The orc raises his battle axe over his head and telegraphs his attack with bunched muscles and a roar and rolls a 2 with a ‘To Hit’ bonus of +3 for a total of 5 missing by a mile. The skilled Knight seeing this responds with a thrust to the orc’s exposed throat before the axe even has a chance to come down.
The Knight had a ‘To Hit’ of +6 which is higher than the 5 rolled by the orc and thus the Knight has a chance to use her reaction to take a free shot at the orc with an opportunity attack.
Effects of House Rule:
This makes proficiency a much bigger deal which is very important at low levels and not very reflected by a +2 modifier. It adds a bit of spice to social combat as well providing a useful mechanic. When a low skilled character takes on a high skilled character by making a poor attack it really has a penalty now which should factor into a character’s cost benefit analysis and opportunity costs when dealing with a skilled or better enemy.
It also becomes interesting at high levels when a character is faced with a large number of incompetent enemies who leave themselves open every time they attack.
D&D House Rules:
So, basically what I’ve done is take the concept of having to make a tactical or style decision prior to physical, social, or mental combat from my own game and applied it to D&D 5e.
This house rule can be used for any type of conflict and while presented here in a very simplistic form can be easily adapted to provide greater flexibility. Given that 5e has moved to an aesthetic of simplicity and clean lines I will endeavor to provide a rule in line with the style of the gaming system.
I have done no playtesting of this house rule within the game system of D&D 5e so it might not be perfect and it is an adaption from my own rpg game so it doesn’t fit as perfectly and I’m not as expert in 5e as I am in my own game. Thus, there may be weaknesses or errors that I have not thought out yet. Let me know your thoughts.
I wanted to bring to 5e something simple that also provided both mechanistically interesting choices and allowed for a more rewarding framework for roleplaying your character.
With this house rule there is a real difference between a bold dashing swashbuckler with a rapier who takes wild risks relying on their skill and bravery versus a cold calculating assassin laden with a lifetime of dirty tricks with a rapier vs a brilliantly fast tournament champion with a rapier et cetera both in how they roleplay an encounter and how they would fight in the encounter.
Also, this provides a framework for social combat like the viking flyting or the rap battles of today or backstabbing courtiers trying to undermine a rival. For mental combat like a game of dragon chess this makes things more interesting than just rolling a die and checking for proficiency.
For mental combat like a game of dragon chess this makes things more interesting than just rolling a die and checking for proficiency. It also would work really well for some type of astral combat or dream combat.
The tactics can have a big effect but since your opponent also is able to take advantage of a tactic it balances out.
A side benefit is that this lessens the negative effect of not min/maxing a character. Having a fighter with a high wisdom can now be pretty damn awesome versus mainly useless.
It also spreads out the gaps between ratings on Attributes. Getting hit with an axe by the actor who plays the Mountain is literally going to be double or triple the newtons applied by a very strong trained Olympic athlete with a mere Strenght mod of 2 or 3. The effect is going to be a much bigger difference than 2 points of damage on a blow.
Speaking of the Mountain in Game of Thrones his fight with the Red Viper is a perfectly could comparison between a strength and constitution based fighter versus a smart and agile fighter. They would be switching based on the situation between those two tactics in most duels.
In this version, there are six tactics with one tactic attached to each attribute. Based on your proficiency bonus you get that many additional tactical points to spend in total on those six tactics. Each tactic uses the linked attribute modifier as its base along with the tactical points from proficiency.
An optional rule would be to replace the ‘Strength’ saving throw with the ‘Potency and Might’ saving throw regardless of what tactic is chosen in a round. This has the side effect of making it easier for everyone to make their saving throws including monsters but does provide an extra point of differentiation between different characters.
For one versus many opponents, the many may add together when working as a unit their total tactical points and apply that to the leader’s roll. If working as a unit than all must be using the same tactic just for ease of use. If not acting as a unit than just handle as normal for a one on one duel.
Potency and Might: (Strength)
With this tactic the character relies on their power so in physical combat they might grapple or bind or shove their opponent to clear the way for a strike while in a game of dragon chess they rely on clear and simple but capable strategies and in a social battle they would strike out in a forceful and straightforward way to achieve their goal.
Compare the difference between the attacker’s Tactical Rating in this Tactic and their opponent. Apply the difference to the attacker’s ‘to hit’ roll and either bump up, leave alone, or drop down the weapon’s damage by x steps as well. For a +1 difference a d6 goes to d8, a 2d6 goes to 2d8. A -2 would take a d8 to a d4. Below a d4 the damage is simply 1. Using this tactic is a bad idea for a human against a giant! Stops at d20 for bumps increasing damage.
For non-physical conflict apply the difference on any Checks or Saving Throws.
Vigor and Fortitude: (Constitution)
With this tactic the character relies on their toughness, stubbornness, and will to keep going. In physical combat they roll with the hits thus diminishing and spreading out the force from enemy strikes and simply rely on greater conditioning and toughness to win out over their enemies. In a game of dragon chess they would castle early and play a defensive point based game hoping for their enemy to grow weary in trying to assault their defenses. In a social duel they would simply weather any attacks on their character or manipulations with pure stubbornness and force of will.
Apply the Tactical rating to the character’s Armor Class against the following damage types: bludgeoning, force, necrotic, thunder, cold, and lighting. Slashing if the character is wearing armor or using a shield.
Apply the Tactical rating to social and mental saving throws used to provide defense in social, magical, psychic, or mental combat.
Celerity and Agility: (Dexterity)
With this tactic the character relies on speed and grace to avoid and defeat their enemies in any arena. In physical combat they evade strikes, riposte, and place hits with precision and finesse.In a social duel they can lay down the right turn of phrase to shut down or invalidate an opponent’s argument and in a game of dragon chess they prefer an open style of game with many options and ways to shift their defense and strike at many points of weakness.
Compare the difference between the attacker’s Tactical Rating in this Tactic and their opponent. Apply the difference to the attacker’s ‘to hit’ roll and their AC and any Dexterity saving throws in physical combat. In social and mental settings apply ‘to hit’, Checks, and to any appropriate ‘saving throws’ to for defense including mental attacks. Think of the defender having a slippery mind against psychic assaults for example.
For non-physical conflict apply the difference on any Checks or Saving Throws.
Guile and Artifice: (Intelligence)
The dirty street fighter or wily gladiator. This tactic is epitomized by the meme of ‘Old Age and Treachery beat Youth and Skill every time’. Throwing a bit of sand in your enemy’e eyes or dosing a rival bard with laxatives before a battle of the bands competition before the baron are all examples of using guile and artifice to defeat your enemy. A favorite of mine is from Roger Zelazny’s Amber when Corwin defeats Lord Borel with a dirty trick and Corwin retorts that this is a fight to the death, not the Olympic games. Guile can be thwarted by a near equal intelligence and sneakiness or common sense, perceptiveness, or wisdom. Casting a charm spell after dosing a target with a drug that makes them more trusting or open in order to ply for information would be an example of using this tactic in a non-combat situation. A rogue wizard with no moral compunctions and time to plot can be a much more dangerous enemy than a rampaging demon lord.
Compare the difference between the attacker’s Tactical Rating in this Tactic and their opponent’s Tactical Rating in this Tactic or their Prudence and Sense Tactical Rating whichever is higher. Apply this score to ‘to hit’, any Checks, and bump the damage or DC of any spells cast just like in the Potency and Might tactic. A +1 difference boosts a d6 damage die to d8. Max of d20 and min of 1.
Prudence and Sense: (Wisdom)
Cautious and opportunistic. This tactic is for the person concerned primarily over there continued life and wish to be careful in conflict. Reserved and perceptive the martial artist or fighter using this tactic waits for their opponent to make a mistake or reveal a weakness. The primary goal is to stay alive and defeat your enemy. This is a good tactic to take against a better-skilled enemy or when trying to hold a line when you’re more wise than tough. This is also a good tactic to take against the unskilled enemy as they are unable to evade your strikes and you have improved defenses against everyone. It is easy to evade strikes when you know what the enemy is going to do before they do.
Add Tactical Rating to the character’s AC and all Saving Throws.If your opponent is not proficient or familiar with their weapon you automatically hit them without the need to roll as long as you are proficient.
Same goes for social and mental conflict. If you are proficient at Dragon Chess and your enemy is not you automatically win by simply not taking risks and knowing how to avoid basic mistakes and exploit incompetence by being careful. In the social arena an expert intimidator can fairly easily turn the tables on someone trying to intimidate them who has no clue how to properly intimidate.
Audacity and Courage: (Charisma)
With this tactic the character relies on boldness and bravery to win the day. The sudden strike or the barbarian charging in a frenzy or the swashbuckler leaping toward the hanging rope to ride the chandelier down are examples of this tactic. Force of personality can really win the day and intimidate or amaze your opponents giving you the psychological edge. The berserker charging a waiting nest of pikemen knowing that they will get hit but hoping to take down some before they go. The Paladin raising their singing Vorpal blade before leaping into the Abyss after the falling undead lord would be a great example of this tactic in use. Sometimes being brave can be stupid but if you really are much better than your opponents you can more easily defeat them with this tactic and do so in style. Also, by being bold and on the offense you can seize the initiative away from someone not fighting in the moment.
Apply the Tactical rating to the character’s ‘To hit’ or Ability Check and subtract the rating from their ‘AC’ and ‘Saving Throws’. The secondary ability of this tactic is to seize initiative by being in the moment and following their skill or intuition. Add Tactical rating to Initiative score and if this raises their Initiative above their opponent they may preempt their action and take their spot.
The Giant has a Potency and Might of 5 and a Celerity and Agility of 0.
The Knight has a Potency and Might of 0 and Celerity and Agility of 5.
The giant choosing the Potency and Might tactic with a difference of 5 points would strike with their club gaining a +5 to Hit and damage upgraded to d20. So, if the giant had a Proficiency bonus of +2 and a Strength Modifier of +4 he would roll a +11 to Hit and d20 + 9 for damage.
The nimble knight choosing the Celerity and Agility tactic with a difference of 5 points would strike with their club with a +5 to Hit and +5 to AC. So, if the knight had a Proficiency bonus of +2 and a Dexterity Modifier of +4 and was using a finesse weapon he would have a +11 to Hit and a +5 to AC to evade the giant’s strikes.
In a fight between more similar opponents the tactics would be less effective making a more well-rounded character more useful against someone who is a one trick pony. Thus, allowing those extra Tactical points from a character’s proficiency bonus. This lets a PC who is weak in one area mechanically make up for it with an unexpected tactic in battle.
If you spend a lot of time fighting orcs who are completely untrained in using martial weapons it would make a lot of sense to get better at Prudence and Sense to avoid their wild but powerful swings as you watch them telegraph their every move.
Other D&D House Rules:
With this rule I am blending the Jack of All Trades Feature idea from Bards and the Background optional rule from the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Familiarity with a Skill, or Tool grants the character a bonus equal to half their Proficiency bonus.
Familiarity with a Weapon, Armor, or Language gives the ability to communicate and comprehend basic everyday concepts or the ability to use or wear weapons and armor without the benefit of bonuses from Strength and Dexterity Ability Score Modifiers and with Stealth Disadvantage as well as a higher risk of exhaustion.
Familiarity represents a basic knowledge or ability that would be gained with an apprenticeship, training, or heavy exposure and use of a Skill. It basically represents completion of an apprenticeship within the purview of the Background.
A Bard with the Jack of All Trades feature can be regarded as having Familiarity with all skills, tools, languages, weapons, armor, and ability checks that the Bard can reasonably explain that they might have been exposed to during their journeys. A Bard would not be familiar with a gunpowder weapon if it was foreign to their travels but would quickly pickup the basics of a flintlock after seeing it in action or given a quick tutorial.
Each Background in the Player’s Handbook or created by the DM now only provides Proficiency in one Skill or Tool but instead provides Familiarity with any tasks that the Player can reasonably explain via their character’s history.
Gaining Familiarity in gameplay is relatively easy if during the game the PC is often engaged in activities surrounding the topic such as a Rogue impersonating a low ranking janitorial employee of a Fugger bank for a few seasons would pick up a lot of the jargon and concepts of the banking world just by exposure and overhearing conversations. The player just makes a good argument to the DM or other players depending on your style of play for why she should be familiar with a given process or tool.
A merchant’s daughter who accompanied her mother on her monthly journey to the Elven trading outpost at the borders of Qualinesti might reasonably have picked up proficiency in Elven customs, language, and writing system along with an understanding of appraisal, markup, accounting, paying tariffs, and general rules of trade. Maybe she played in the forest with elven children and learned a little about surviving in the forest or practiced with an elven composite shortbow enough to not embarrass herself with the other kids.
A squire to a knight who paid for his living by traveling from one tourney to the next across the many lands and city states of the Marches might be Familiar with Martial Weapons and Light, Medium, and Heavy Armors while picking up an understanding of how to gamble and place bets, analyze other warriors for strengths and weaknesses, a smidgeon of an half dozen languages and more dialects, a fairly comprehensive list of the Heraldry of prominent champions, fighting houses, martial orders or tourney hosts, and how to behave without embarrassing yourself around knights and lesser nobility.
With Armor the character with Familiarity must make a Constitution Saving Throw equal to the AC rating of the armor after every full minute of constant battle or 8 hours of wear while active.
D&D House Rules: