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<Edit> I just found a really unique to me house rule called Variant Shared Turn Combat on Reddit on the Unearthed Arcana subreddit and I’m amazed at the production value and quality ideas.</Edit>
The above diagram is a depiction of the OODA Loop which is a tool for understanding how people make decisions. Many of the ideas I will be presenting use this framework and come from my homebrew game I’ve been designing and redesigning for years that works very well when transferred to D&D 5e.
With the OODA Loop you have four steps: Observe, Orient, Decide and Act.
The general structure of combat in the PHB 5e on page 189 is as follows:
There are many ways the DM can handle showing combat whether with miniatures, physical or virtual maps or overlays, or purely via imagination and description.
I prefer if possible to use the fog of war during the initial setup and not let players know things they can’t perceive if possible. Having a second map or description available just to the DM can make it easier to show the movement of NPC’s in the fog of war for the DM that the PC’s do not know about. It can be fun to flank the PC’s and get the PC’s to think about flanking especially with mounts or vehicles in play.
I also would like to say that D&D is not supposed to be simulationist and works just fine as is. I offer my system to people who like a little more complexity and options in their battles and to add a bit of tactical confusion and surprise. There are some changes that can make things very different in your game as it shifts priority away from Dexterity towards Wisdom but I think that is actually more balanced.
I have not playtested this at all with D&D so if you’re interested in trying it out and letting me know what you think that would be awesome. Please just leave a comment about your experience. If I forgot something obvious please let me know as well. It is easy to make mistakes on this kind of thing.
1. Determine Surprise:
Nothing changed in this step.
It is important at this point to go over what each PC perceives prior to Initiative so that they can form an idea of what is going on based on their personal perspective not that of a Player who can see much more. So, if an ooze is slinking behind the wizard and the wizard doesn’t know they obviously won’t be casting a spell at it. This encourages a bit of roleplaying so the very perceptive Rogue who sees the ooze approaching his ally can take a free action to yell “Behind you Mage!” after stabbing the Orc in front of her which might confuse the Orc while alerting the wizard so they may change their mind and cast burning hands in front of them rather in front.
The DM also needs to keep in mind what the NPC’s perceive and how they react. Experienced soldiers used to working in tandem with each other are going to be much more difficult to deal with than expert duelists used to working one on one or a mob of amateurs.
Here things start to depart from the PHB 5e rules.
A big change here is that in my system Initiative is how well you observe your environment and process information rather than in the PHB which focuses on how fast you can move your body. After all, why would Dexterity have anything to do with how fast and well you can observe a combat, make a decision, and say “Shazaam!”? It makes a lot more sense to use Wisdom here to represent a combination of perception, common sense decision making, intuition, and actions and reactions especially those actions that don’t have any real physical component.
D20 + (Wisdom Modifier) + Proficiency Modifier/Die
For diceless Initiative just use the PC/NPC’s Proficiency Modifier and have an automatic 20 for the roll. For more variable Initiative use the optional rule for Proficiency Dice in the DMG on Page 263 which replaces, for example, the +2 Proficiency Modifier with a +1D4.
One could even use both in a game depending on the situation. Use the variable Initiative when surprise, “boss” battles, or unusual combat is happening and for the more normal lineup of good guys here and bad guys here just use the diceless version instead.
The reasoning behind using Wisdom here instead of Dexterity I provided above and my reasoning for using the proficiency bonus is that handling and reacting to combat is a matter of experience.
For example, take a reasonably healthy and elderly Special Forces combat veteran and mentally they will be able to process a combat situation faster and in a more capable fashion than a novice character with world-class Dexterity. Leveraging that experience to process the OODA Loop is a big part of improving decision making and thus performance in combat be it social, mental, or physical and you can substitute talent only so far when competing against old age and treachery.
Once you have everyone’s Initiative totals you can either post them for all to see or you can keep them to yourself.
The highest Initiative total provides the number of Combat Phases in this Combat Turn.
Rogue: 30, Ooze: 23, Wizard 22, Orc 22.
Thus, there are 30 Phases in this turn.
If two characters are acting the turn or movement during the same phase both actions take place at the same time. Thus, you can have both characters stab each other in the heart and this happened quite commonly in history or characters charging each other would meet at some point in between the two warriors rather than one warrior charging across the battlefield while the other sits there.
Any action that would take place at 0 Phase or when the combat phase is in the negatives all happen at the same time. Thus, a character who used their entire move before swinging a sword would have their action take place on the 0 phase along with any other characters.
At this point starting with this highest phase the DM has the characters decide what they are going to do in a descending fashion phase by phase allowing the characters to have started their round and have their action/s take place during or after their phase depending on the type of action.
Each action, maneuver, spell, or movement takes place during or after the round/phase the character scored in the Orient step of Combat.
Remember you still have only the actions you can do just like in the PHB even if you still have leftover Initiative after you attack or cast a spell. If you don’t use it up with actions or movement you lose it. So, if you attack during phase 15 and don’t want to move you don’t get more attacks to do later unless you have the extra attacks feature.
I am going to introduce a term called tempo which has various definitions depending on the martial tradition or master but in this case, tempo means how long it takes to complete an action. Each action has a tempo cost which tells you how much later the action actually takes place in since your Initiative score is simply how fast you were able to process the combat situation not the time it takes to perform an action.
Some martial masters have used the idea of hand, body, foot, and feet to describe combat, reaction, and initiative. This means that the tempo of moving your hand is fast, moving your body is a bit slower, moving one foot is slower than that, and moving both feet is the slowest. In other words, swinging a sword at an opponent in measure is faster than moving your torso/body back to dodge or forward on an attack. Moving a foot forward or back takes even longer and moving both feet is the slowest. In other words, it is faster to thrust a blade with just an arm movement vs an arm movement plus moving the body forward with the arm vs the arm, the body, and a foot forward such as when lunging vs the arm, body, and both feet in a shuffling strike.
To put this in perspective it takes longer for a warrior to walk 30 feet and swing a two-handed warsword than it does for the rogue to move 5 feet and backstab with a sgian dubh knife even if the warrior rolled a higher Initiative score which is how things stand now.
A character can under this system postpone their action or be indecisive. For example, a pikeman could see cavaliers and their horses charging towards him and plant her pike and ready themselves for the charge postponing their attack until the cavalier comes in range. Should the cavalier stop rather than coming into range the pikeman could charge forward instead or drop the pike and draw the loaded crossbow at their side and fire thus allowing more flexibility than the current system at the cost of more complexity for the DM and players to handle.
Actions and their Tempo:
For a second attack, the action takes place after the first one and any movement has subtracted from the initial Initiative. Starting Initiative of 10 and a heavy strike for on phase 7 and a second heavy strike for -3 for an attack on phase 4.
If the character is not Familiar, Proficient, or Expert with the weapon then add +2 to the Initiative Cost.
Heavy and Light Weapons have that trait listed with all others without that trait being regarded as Medium below.
Heavy Weapon Attack (Melee or Ranged): 3 Initiative Cost.
Medium Weapon Attack (Melee or Ranged): 2 Initiative Cost.
Light Weapon Attack (Melee or Ranged: 1 Initiative Cost. (Most Unarmed Strikes)
Loading a Weapon: 5 Initiative Cost.
Cantrip: 1 Initiative Cost.
Spells: (1 + Spell level) Initiative Cost.
Innate Spellcasting, Legendary Actions, and Special Abilities: 1 to 5. (DM should quickly decide based on the complexity and potency of the ability or power or the complexity of the situation.)
While the spellcaster is making magic they are vulnerable just as if they are Concentrating on a spell…because they are concentrating on the spell they are casting. This means not only does it take awhile to drop a major spell and thus adds difficulty to the tactical landscape it also means it is even more important to protect the big guns because if they take damage and lose concentration it can be the difference between an easy encounter and a deadly one.
For example, the Cleric has an Initiative of 15 and is casting a 6th level spell so their spell begins on Phase 15 and ends on Phase 8. If they get hit with a barrage of arrows and Magic Missiles they could lose Concentration and have their spell fizzle out. The spellcaster doesn’t lose the spell slot if they lose Concentration because they weren’t able to marshall the magic before getting distracted.
This can give a quick character a chance to use Arcana to recognize the spell the big baddie is casting and yell for the Archer to shoot the Wizard before they drop a Meteor Swarm on them. It also makes Counterspelling a bit more fun which counts as a Reaction below so it only has a 0 IC.
Skills, grappling, and non-combat actions like help, search, ): DM may add or subtract depending on the complexity of the skill use. This represents the simple automatic speed that develops from increased competency at a task. Picking a lock when you’re an expert and under pressure in combat is much faster than if you’re not an expert.
Unfamiliar: 4 Initiative Cost
Familiar: 3 Initiative Cost. (Jack of All Trades, Remarkable Athlete, or my house rule linked above.)
Proficient: 2 Initiative Cost.
Expert: 1 Initiative Cost.
Walking (base movement): 3 Initiative Cost per 5 feet
Dash: 2 Initiative Cost per 5 feet.
Sprint: 1 Initiative Cost per 5 feet. (Dash without gear, weapons, or any substantial encumbrance such as dropping everything and running for your life from the greek fire armory that a mage dropped a delayed blast fireball inside.)
Breaking up your move:
Walk 15 feet for a 15 Initiative Cost then cast a spell and use the remaining X (15) feet to get back undercover on the 0 Phase.
Use Object: 1 to 5 Initiative Cost based on the complexity of the object. Opening a stuck door may take longer than pressing a button.
Mounting: 10 – Dexterity Modifier
Dropping Prone: 1 Initiative Cost.
Standing up from “Prone”: 10 – Dexterity Modifier
Disengage: 1 Initiative Cost.
Dodge: 0 Initiative Cost.
Free actions: 1 Initiative Cost.
Quick Look Around: 1 Initiative Cost. Let’s the character get a quick scan of the environment for obvious things that don’t require a roll. Since things change dynamically during the round this can be important.
Reactions like Opportunity Attacks: Usually have a 0 Initiative Cost and take place at effectively the same time as the action that caused the reaction such as a Shield spell blocking an arrow.
Bonus Actions: Can take place before, after, or at the same time. For example, a Shield Master could do a shove before they do their attack or after. A Two-Weapon fighter could thrust forward with both daggers in simultaneously on the same phase or one after the other.
Using the earlier example: Rogue: 30, Ooze: 23, Wizard 22, Orc 22. Thus, there are 30 Combat Phases.
Starting with the highest Initiative Score have the highest scorer decide what they want to do. So, the Rogue at Phase 30 would say I am probably moving 5 feet forward to stab the Orc after a quick look around. On Phase 29 the DM would tell the Rogue that an Ooze is slouching towards the Wizard but about 30 feet away. The Rogue has to decide whether to tell the Wizard and alert the orc or move forward and backstab the orc. She decides he should be fine and walks toward the orc and sneak attacks. So, the DM would go through Phase 28, 27, 26 (sneak attack with sgian dubh a light weapon -1 IC) and on Phase 25 rolls for damage and kills the orc. Now on phase 24, she yells at the wizard “Behind you!”.
On phase 23 the Ooze starts sliming up to the Wizard but is 30 feet away. It will have closed five feet by phase 20. The Wizard on phase 22 panics and flings a firebolt cantrip at the Ooze without thinking and hits without killing the ooze. The cantrip had a cost of 1 IC so on phase 21 the Wizard turns and walks toward the Rogue keeping an eye on the ooze. Both the Wizard and Rogue move back to keep their distance from the creepy looking Ooze which decides to Dash on its remaining move to close the distance.
The DM would map out the movement as the phases would drop one by one. Any remaining movement would be used during Phase 0 for all three creatures.
The next round would start with either a new roll if the DM thinks the situation is very different like new creatures enter the combat arena or dynamically in a different “scene” or if the situation is relatively static just reuse the same totals from the previous rounds.
Hope this gives you some ideas on how to spice up your combat! Keep in mind that this system does penalize movement and powerful spellcasting the most. It does encourage more active protection of your spellcasters when they are casting spells and makes it a bit harder to unleash the big guns when not protected by the tanks/front line.
D&D House Rules:
I am tentatively calling the rpg system Singular Roleplaying System and the first main campaign Rogues and Masterminds.
The campaign and parts of the core system are inspired by movies, rpg’s, books, and tv shows like John Wick, Sneakers, the Equalizer, Leverage, Global Frequency, Planetary, V for Vendetta, the treatises of Fiore de’i Liberi, Hustle, Shadowrun RPG, Cyberpunk by the likes of Stephenson and Gibson, World of Darkness RPG, Amber DRPG, Grosse Point Blank, and Grifters to name a few.
Originally it was going to be Movers and Shakers a super/psi/spy world that I’ve been working on along with a connected campaign called Posthuman but I decided to scale back to making just a solid non-supernatural/SF game that can later on be built into something more complex along the lines of Donnerjack by Roger Zelazny and the works of Dan Simmons.
As a consequence I was looking to make a system that scales well from making a believable competent human to an extraordinary gentleman and later to beyond human. Too often games make mechanics in which a legendary person can be fairly commonly beaten by someone vastly less talented and skilled. Or the other issue that I see in games is that there are basically just one or two versions of a successful archetype for a PC to start with or end up with thus robbing characters of the chance to develop and become something completely unique both from a mechanics standpoint and from a story standpoint while also being successful. Few people want to play a helpless character or feel railroaded into choosing based on optimization min/maxxing. That is a tall order to make but I think I’ve come up with some interesting takes on things.
I am trying for that middle ground in complexity of mechanics to provide a scaffolding for making and growing the PCs and the campaign.
I am still in the alpha stage of development and will need art and design elements, playtesting, and a few decisions on how serious I want to be in developing this game but I think I have something cool and unique.
I will be posting shortly my plain and basic character sheet and another post about basic mechanics. I will definitely be looking at or for art, playtesters, advice on the game and campaign world, and on the business aspects. I’ve looked at places like drivethru which lets you do print on demand and pdf for far cheaper and easier than in the 90s. Still hard to make any money but maybe possible to have a nice hobby and maybe make enough for coffee and a bagel.
This is my first draft and there is likely to be some minor changes going forth.
The basic rules for crafting make sense when dealing with simple crafting but quickly breakdown as unrealistic when dealing with let’s say a goldsmith crafting a gold ring with a large emerald setting. At 5 g.p.’s a day the ring would take months to craft while a silver ring could take weeks or at least several days even if plain and unadorned.
So, in the rules that follow I will cover how each item has a complexity of design, a material that can modify the difficulty in successful crafting, a level of quality which can modify the value and/or functionality, and how long it takes to craft plus some basic economics on running a business or being an employee for those characters who focus on being a business owner or guildmember or master in their downtime. The more skillful the smith the less raw material is wasted or lost in the smithing process.
A common material could be a malachite stone, copper, bronze, iron, oak wood, beaver fur, cow leather, or granite. Common materials have a base minimum value of 1 g.p. a day for determining amount of work done and cost of materials though this could be modified by local conditions, prosperity of the region, and supply and demand. The base time to craft is the basic cost for the item as listed in the PHB such as 10 g.p.’s for a battle axe.
Uncommon materials could be a garnet or agate, dwarven steel, common mithril, silver, electrum, Fey-bronze, iron-oak, mink fur, wyvern leather, or marble. These have a base minimum value of 20 g.p. a day for determining amount of work done and cost of materials though depending on the material the costs can far exceed that starting value. The crafting time using most uncommon materials is twice as long as the value listed in the PHB such as 20 g.p.’s for a dwarven steel battle axe though some uncommon materials may be harder to work and have an higher multiplier.
Rare materials could be a ruby or emerald, noble mithril, admantine, gold, platinum, Ebon Ash wood, Holy Willow, fur from a Feywild Polar Bear, Shadow touched stone, and Dragon teeth or scales. They have a base minimum value of 100 g.p. a day for determining work done and cost of material. The crafting time using rare materials is usually five times that of the basic cost for the item though gold is easier and only has double the normal time when used for jewelry.
Very Rare materials could be a star ruby, royal mithril, primal gold, fur from a Primal Cave bear, a claw from an ancient dragon, marble carved from Mount Meru, and other such potent or valuable material. They have a base value of 500 g.p. a day for determining work done and cost of material. Crafting time is usually five times that of the basic cost fro the item.
Legendary materials might be a gem grown from the heart of an elder tree in the sacred grove of the first elven nation that holds an echo from that ancient time, a scale from Tiamat, iron ingots mined by undead dwarven masters in Hades and smelted by Hephaestus himself, locket of hair from the Freya, or Hide from a slain Nemean Lion.
Overhead per day of crafting is typically around 1 g.p. and covers everything from sales and property taxes, bribes, expendables such as wood or coal to burn at a smithy, and paperwork.
Labor and Lifestyle costs are based partly on the prosperity, trade, and urbanity of the locale but commonly sit at 5 s.p. a day worth of lifestyle and 1 g.p. a week for wages for apprentices and at least 1 g.p. in pay or lifestyle for a journeyman, and 5 g.p.’s a day or more for a master.
The Labor “Retail Value” equals Proficiency/Familiarity bonus + Ability Score Modifier + Tool Quality Modifier
A human Journeyman smith crafting a warhammer with iron has a Strength Modifier of +1 and a Proficiency of +2 with average “apprentice” tools that provide no bonus would do 3 g.p.’s of labor a day. This would add to the 1 g.p. in material and 1 g.p. in overhead so the total retail value of labor would be 5 g.p. a day. The smith would complete the warhammer in 3 days since the cost in the PHB is 15 g.p. There would be 6 g.p. worth of material and overhead involved and if the smith sold the warhammer to a merchant for 9 g.p. then he would have made 3 g.p. for 3 days of work if working for himself and probably less if an employee with a typical employee making a basic lifestyle for the 3 days and maybe half a gold in wages. If the smith was lucky and an adventurer commissioned the warhammer for retail price then the smith would’ve made 9 g.p. for 3 days of work or 3 g.p. a day.
A dwarven master smith crafting a dwarven warhammer made of royal mithril for his king. She has a Strength Modifier of +5 and a Proficiency of +5 with rare crafting tools providing a +3 bonus would do 13 g.p. of labor a day. Each day of labor would use 500 g.p. worth of material as royal mithril is treasured for its ability to attract legend and thus magic making it highly likely to become enchanted through use over time. The dwarven smith completes the royal warhammer in five days (65/13 = 5) using 2500 g.p. worth of material and 5 g.p. in overhead. The royal commission paid 5000 g.p. so she made close to an hefty 500 g.p. a day profit though if the GM used my optional rule requiring a DC check after completion of the item and failed then that is risk of wasting a lot of expensive materials!
Optional Rule: Crafting Failure
Each item has a DC to craft as a base item which can be modified by the type of material. Difficult to work materials place the craftsman with a Disadvantage on their roll. Easy to work materials give Advantage on their DC check. Simple products lower the DC category by one while complex products can greatly increase the DC like a master poisoner’s secret recipe of instant death or the careful and precise grinding and glasswork necessary for a quality spyglass or building a massive cathedral. Failure means the item is unusable or if the roll was close has an hidden or obvious flaw such as a sword that works fine until it gets below freezing when it becomes brittle or in the case of art just doesn’t show the emotion intended or just isn’t any good.
The base DC (common) for most weapons, most small objects of art, simple housing, is the number of days spent crafting times 5 which creates a weapon or item at the level of quality of the materials.
The base DC (uncommon) for longbows, most armor, most medium objects of art, basic housing is the number of weeks spent crafting times 5.
The base DC (rare) for advanced tailored armors, vehicles, fortifications, and most large objects of art is the number of months spent crafting times 5.
The base DC (very rare) for advanced and large sea vessels or mansions, keeps, and cathedrals is the number of seasons spent crafting times 5.
The base DC (legendary) for flying citadels, planar ships, 1000 foot bronze statues, great Pyramids, and other world class projects is the number of years spent crafting times five.
Optional Rule: Exceptional Success
When you double the base DC on your crafting roll the Quality of the item goes up by 1 category. A common item that would be limited to a common enchantment now counts as an uncommon item. If you triple the base DC than it goes up by 2 categories et cetera.
Optional Rule: Item Quality and Enchanting
A quality crafted item like all things that exhibit excellence and develop interesting stories tend to attract and collect magic. A knowledgeable and powerful character can take advantage of this and craft items with the potential to become magical over time or even weave magic into the crafting of the item at the beginning. As is often the case items with minor magics at creation can achieve Legendary status when wielded by great heroes or villains or as the case of the Moonblades of the Elves of Toril when wielded by generations of heroes.
The quality of the item must match or exceed the level of the enchantment. A Legendary Quality sword could accept any level of enchantment while a common blade would be limited to a common enchantment. A common quality blade could develop into a Legendary Artifact but wouldn’t be crafted it would be earned by the blade.
When enchanting an already crafted item or when enchanting while crafting the artificer rolls either Arcana, Alchemy (potions), Nature, or Religion depending on the type of character and the type of enchantment. Any character with a Class can enchant an item though those that require a spell require a spellcaster to make who knows and can cast the spell.
An alternative rule is to replace the 25 gp in labor for enchanting with the ability modifier + proficiency + tools (Enchanting Lab or Zen garden or Sacred Grove or Cathedral Chapel) times 5=X g.p.
A cleric of a charismatic religion could focus his passion of his zeal to create an holy avenger while a monk could spend her day dwelling on the riddle of the wolf while raking sand and trimming bonsai trees and would use Wisdom and Nature and a druid could craft a magical staff while carving in the tranquility of the sacred grove.
If the character is crafting and artificing at the same time the total time crafting is doubled as long as the enchantment matches the material quality and the artificing. This increases the material cost spent on the item as it will take longer to craft. The artificing DC matches the crafting DC.
Crafting magical potion batches has a DC of 5 plus 5 for per level of the spell and requires common materials for a 1st level spell and one tier better for each level after that. For each level of material surpassing the requirement the DC is lowered by 5. The base cost used for how long it takes to craft the potion is the DC of the Alchemy task. Legendary ingredients allows up to 9th level potions though few would try to attempt that. Each batch has 1d6 potions of the type crafted.
If adding an enchantment to an existing item the time for artificing and the DC for artificing is the same as shown on the optional rule for Crafting Failure with the number of days, weeks, months, seasons, or years determined by the DM based on the item and what the enchantment is. A common enchantment has a DC of 5, uncommon 10, rare 15, very rare 20, and 25 for Legendary.
An elven smith Leiwand is crafting and artificing a Longbow which has a base retail price of 50 g.p. He and his adventuring party had gone deep into the Feywild and in the course of battle a treant was slain by a fire giant and some of the wood was still good so he harvested it. Using leather from a young adult red dragon he slew a few years ago for the grip and gut sinew from a fey saber tooth tiger he begins his crafting of a rare magical item. It will have a +1 to attack and damage and sets the arrows on fire as they get fired adding 2 points of fire damage to each arrow plus an extra +3d6 of damage towards Giants and Giantkin. The adjusted retail cost is 250 g.p. and the smith has a proficiency of +5 plus Expertise and a Dexterity of +4 and rare tools to provide a +3 bonus and a total of +17 and 15 days to make. This rounds up to 3 weeks which is doubled for a total of 6 weeks because of artificing. The DC for crafting is 15 and for artificing is Nature + Wisdom against a DC of 15. He rolls a 14 for a total of 31 and that doubles his craft dc so the quality goes from Rare to Very Rare. The artificer roll succeeds as well. The Quality level is Very Rare but the enchantment is Rare so the item has room to grow.
Marekanos the Barbaric’s Battle-Axe Chilldeath had been a favorite of his father and had at the time he claimed it a common enchantment but after slaying the Crimson Necromancer and the Demi-Lich of Kora it became far mightier by absorbing both the Legend and a share of the magical energies that were expelled at their destruction. After slaying and bathing in the blood of the tyrant Dragon-King Torenus who was an ancient white dragon the Battle-Axe earned its final name as it protects the wielder from the cold and cold magic while also dealing chilling and necrotic damage alongside every strike. So, a minor magical weapon became an artifact of incredible power during the century of adventuring the Half-Elven barbarian survived and continued its adventures in the hands of first his half elven daughter Tiana from an human mother as Chillend rejected the other daughters who didn’t express any elven features and after her death by her half sister the half elven Alrekanos born of an elven mother as Chillend rejected those kin who expressed only elven traits.
D&D House Rules:
The idea for this House Rule grew out of my original idea to develop Half-Elves as more of unique and variable race given their hybrid status. An Half-Elf raised among rural Humans is going to be culturally different than one raised in a cosmopolitan planar city like Sigil or raised among the Fey Lords in the Feywild or in the forests of Silvanesti. That is just the cultural differences which wouldn’t take into account variations in biology. A Liger is very different than a Tigon despite both being half lion and half tiger. I also remember a version of D&D that had a whole lot of options at character creation using a GURPS style point system. Anyway, before I digress any further here is my idea. The addition of Character Focus below is not enough to make the pc’s substantially more dangerous and can be easily countered by having important NPC’s partake as well. It is really for flavor, roleplaying, and differentiation between PC’s. Using these traits as a guide it should be fairly easy for a player and a gm to invent their own character foci too.
Before I go into Focus I just wanted to highlight a character trait that should actually have a big impact on pc’s in your game.
Advantage of the Majority: This trait is free to all members of the dominant race, sex, religion, or caste in a given region. The character is more likely to blend in and not attract attention and enjoys many privileges from having easy access to foods, gear, weapons, and armor for their size and shape to having the right to vote or wield certain weapons or wear certain clothes or colors. The character’s advantages may be invisible to them and should the character go into an area in which they no longer have this background applied to them they may find things to be very strange and have a hard time adapting. In most worlds this applies to human PC’s.
Each PC gets access to one Character Focus that shows a key part of who they are and what they spend their down time doing. A Rogue who is well connected in a legal merchant guild is going to roleplay differently than a Rogue who is a Savant with thieves tools. A Paladin carrying his father’s shield blessed by Brennan the demigod of protecting children is going to have a different feel than the Paladin Weapon Specialist.
Well Connected: Based on your character’s background you have a wide range of contacts giving you an “in” and respectability within that field or organization and a constant source of general information that can be turned towards specific information at a price. A guild member will know the gossip in the guild and a secret or two and easily find themselves well ensconced in a new city and probably find a few leads on guild and adventure work. A criminal knows the major players in the shadows and recent critical events from the point of view of the underworld. A noble knows that Baron Schwine has the finest hawks in the Marches and recently decided that he would pay a fortune to the noble adventurer who brings him a griffin egg. A travelling Sage who was well connected would be welcomed upon arrival at Candlekeep. At GM discretion the PC can have advantage on certain social or investigative rolls involving their social circle and can use the group’s influence in certain social interactions with outsiders. A lowly street gang member is easier to intimidate by a made thief of the Guild than a random no name thief. It is wise for the Well Connected PC to share time, knowledge, and money on her contacts even if it is just a drink or lunch or an hunch. The more lubricated the contacts the better the gossip flows back. The difference between a well connected Noble and a Noble with just the background would be that the Noble knows the daughter of the Duke and has maybe exchanged words once or twice but can’t get invited to her party while the well connected Noble who had never met the daughter of the Duke could in an afternoon of conversation at a local Baron’s luncheon find themselves with an invitation upon arrival back home. The DM is encouraged to have random NPC’s recognize the PC and to have heard stories about them throughout the game. The PC just knows people who know people.
Wealthy: The PC starts with an additional 100 gold pieces or adventuring equipment worth an equivalent amount, or tradeable goods worth at least 250 gold pieces that would need to be sold a sizable distance away and includes an hireling and a mule and wagon for overland travel or part of a cargo hold for overseas travel. The Wealthy PC would of course be wise to hire protection on such a journey. Wealthy PC’s tend to attract wealth but need to spend it as well and don’t take well to modest lifestyles. A Wealthy PC knows how to act and dress higher status and knows the best inn in Waterdeep before she had ever been there. If the PC’s want to sell a minor magical item legally the wealthy PC might know who would be interested and who would be able to afford it. The DM is encouraged to have money flow in the direction of this PC and the PC is encouraged to spend freely and often.
Heirloom: The PC has one very expensive and valuable piece of property that they inherited and treasure. They would never sell the item or allow the item to be taken from them. It could be a mastercrafted sword or a suit of half plate worn by a famous Paladin ancestor that inspired the PC to take on the adventuring life or even a minor magical item passed on by a loved one when they died. It should be an item that would grow in power with the PC and their legend. One cannot picture Raistlin Majere without the Staff of Magius even if the only magic he could do with the staff was a light spell at 3rd level. Torvald’s father’s battleaxe soaked in the acidic blood and soul of the adult black dragon he had slain and from that day dealt acidic damage on his foes and later slew a demi-lich forming a strong antipathic resonance against the undead. The DM should find some sort of excuse or work with the player to make the heirloom scale and remain a key part of the PC as they become more legendary. Torvald after all had passed up on some pretty looking axes with heavy enchantments on them when they arrived in Sigil.
Weapon Specialist: The warrior has a favored weapon that they spend inordinate amounts of time mastering to the exclusion of a vast chunk of their social life. With a specific weapon type the PC has a +X added to their attack with X representing the number of normal attacks they can do in a round. At first level this would be a +1 bonus but a fifth level fighter would be +2 because they have two attacks. When the PC increases their bonus they gain an additional favored weapon.
Acrobatic Defender: +1 bonus to AC as long as the character has freedom of movement.
Shield Specialist: The character adds their Proficiency +1 to their AC when using a Shield instead of the +2 to AC a Shield normally provides. Whenever an attacker misses the Shield Specialist by more than 10 they open themselves up to a bonus action called a shield bash which is an attack that uses the shield and does 1d4 + Strength damage. A Magical Shield provides the AC bonus to the attack and damage rolls just as if the Shield was a magical weapon.
Elemental Affinity: PC is resistant to a type of energy damage like acid, fire, cold, or thunder. The PC gains a +1 bonus to Skill rolls involving the element and +1 damage when using weapons or magic involving the element. For example a PC with a fire affinity would have a talent for starting the camp fire, wielding a flaming sword, or casting a fireball. More exotic resistances are possible with DM approval and PC background such as being a Fire Priest’s acolyte or being a distant descendant of a race resistant to that type of energy.
Magical Prodigy: The PC is extremely talented with a school of magic and gains an extra cantrip and an extra level 1 spell slot for that school. For those without a spellcasting class they gain just a cantrip. Should the Prodigy ever get trained in a spellcasting class and gain a level they would then gain access to the extra level 1 spell slot.
Studious Spellcaster: The PC has worked very hard to learn how her magic works and how to stretch her capabilities. Her Spell save DC has a bonus of +1 and she learns 1 additional spell at character creation.
Battlemage: The PC is talented with combat spells and cantrips. The PC adds their Dexterity Modifier to their Spell Attack Modifer for combat magic that needs a spell attack roll.
Savant: Character is extremely proficient at the basics of a skill or tool or instrument. The Savant counts a roll of 7 or less as a 7 with any tasks involving that skill.
Attractive: The attractive PC has advantage on social rolls with someone who finds them attractive at the DM’s discretion based on the social situation at that time. The PC spends an inordinate amount of time focused on highlighting their beauty or handsomeness at least from the point of view of the Weapon Specialist. The PC might be reluctant to undertake tasks that might diminish their attractiveness like crawl around in a sewer. A troubadour, artist, or actor can really leverage their attractiveness when performing and often earn more pay than other entertainers of greater skill.
Gifted Healer: Any use of a Healer’s kit or Herbalist’s kit or magic to provide aid to an injured or otherwise hurt individual gains the injured character a bonus hit point per die rolled.
Fleet Footed: Speed increases by 10 feet. The PC spends much of their spare time running or swimming and can also run longer distances as well compared to less focused characters.
Green Thumb: The PC has a special knack with plants and has advantage with all rolls using an herbalism kit or Nature rolls involving growing or tending plants. Plants just seem to be brighter and healthier around them. Sentient and semi sentient plants react positively to the PC who has Advantage on any social rolls involving plant creatures.
Tough: Has an extra 2 Hit Points at character creation and an additional 2 HP per level afterwards.
Sentinel: +5 bonus to passive Perception rolls. Pick one sense and have advantage on all rolls using it.
Well Traveled: Familiar and comfortable with different cultures and races the PC has a very cosmopolitan view of the world. The PC is unlikely to make a faux pas when interacting with exotic beings, foreigners, nobles, and rustic folks and counts a 5 or lower as a 5 with all skills they are proficient in that involve interacting socially or involving academic knowledge of them and their traditions. Common among traveling sages who can become quite valuable to leaders and merchants hoping to begin diplomacy or trade with little known peoples. Well traveled PC’s gain an extra language and have an easier time learning new languages as they can learn without the need of an instructor if they are immersed in an area with the language and culture. Their training time is also cut in half.
Darkvision: A PC of a race that doesn’t have this trait gains Darkvision of 60′. It may be as a result of pact with infernal or fey beings or as a result of an ancestor from another race or from exposure to wild magic or even an experimental potion.
D&D House Rules: