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:
Below is an explanation of the character sheet and some basic game mechanics. Some of the design is a little bit of a buddhist joke as in the attributes are the vajra. Some of the other word choices are inspired by Fiore’s fightbooks.
Name should be obvious.
Legend is analogous to the level of the character. It is the base or default die rolled when taking an action. Starts at d4 for Legendary characters like PC’s.
Destiny is an amount of charges in which a PC can either rework what and how and engagement works for greater success, a bit of back history for the character, or shape a scene or a bit of the story with the GM.
Origin is the time period, Socio-economic status, and location/s that the character has experienced growing up.
Profession develops that Origin providing more familiarity with things relating to a job or position. Being a Lawyer doesn’t mean that you are good at winning in the courtroom as that would be handled by Speech primarily but it does give you the knowledges a lawyer would need like knowing the law, knowing the procedures involved in a courtroom, and how to interact with police or clients.
The attributes are simple with each having a rating based around the bell curve and standard deviations. A Mind of +4 would be a genius that is four standard deviations from the norm. A Body of -2 would be a couch potato or someone with chronic illness.
Tactics of mistake are part of the personality of the character and they reveal how they go about getting stuff done. Each tactic provides different game mechanics and different story choices. Each tactic provides a permanent advantage to the character at all times and an advantage when chosen as the specific tactic for a conflict for this engagement.
Vigor and Fortitude is a tactic or style of the blunt, the strong, and the tough. Most people with a high rating in this tactic are imposing and powerful figures able to apply force skillfully and ably to get the job done or can handle failure well. The focus of this tactic is on the outcome of an engagement.
Celerity and Agility is about speed, reaction, accuracy, and grace. Most people with a high rating in this tactic are scathing with wit and fast with the fist. The focus of this tactic is on the success of the engagement.
Audacity and Courage is about boldness and risk taking. Most people with a high rating in this tactic are bold and brave with a passion for the novel and extraordinary. The focus of this tactic is on seizing the initiative in a conflict and strengthening the outcome of the engagement whether it is a success of failure.
Prudence and Sense is about being cautious and opportunistic. Most people with a high rating in this tactic are perceptive, rational, and hard to deceive. The focus of this tactic is opposing Guile and Artifice and weakening the outcome of the engagement whether it is a success of failure.
Guile and Artifice is about being devious and thinking ahead. Most people with a high rating in this tactic are able to out maneuver their opponents either through trickery in the moment or planning out situations where the advantage is theirs. The focus of this tactic is more complex than the other tactics as it provides the rating that the PC uses for their Old Age and Treacheries and covers things like forcing an opponent into backing up to a wall or stabbing them in the back from the shadows.
Youth and Skills are the abilities of the character that “bump” up the Legend die.
Old Age and Treacheries are tricks or unlikely bits of knowledge. These can be added in game by spending destiny charges and adding a new backstory to the character.
Qualities and Quirks are the PCs talents, gifts, and personality traits.
Assets might be a really nice car, or a butler, or a bespoke italian suit. They are items or beings that are a part of a character’s story. A Stark has their dire wolf and John Wick always has the cool sports hot rod. Hard to imagine Bruce Wayne without Alfred.
Activities and Connections cover hobbies such as playing chess or collecting wine, Influences like downtown LA clubs, Silicon Valley tech world, eastside gangs, Railroads in Japan, Oil and Natural gas companies, the Yakuza in Hawaii, black market smugglers in Russia, Wall Street bankers etc and Relationships are those people who are beyond just a contact for one of the above influences or hobbies but like an Army buddy who saved your life or your best friend in college. Hobbies and Influences give you various contacts that you can use to get favors like a security guard at an airport letting you in so you can speedrace without interference or call someone to clean up a bunch of dead bodies or just ask a question about quantum electrodynamics from your physics professor.
Weapons and armor…duh.
Wounds, anxiety and stress. When getting hurt in a physical contest you usually get wounds, in social you get anxiety and loss of face, and in mental battles you get stress.
Fortitude is your threshold or ‘soak’ for that type of threat. It is split into Body, Speech, and Mind and the ‘Vigor and Fortitude’ rating plus any qualities and quirks that apply. So, a stunt actor with a Body of +3 and Vigor and Fortitude of +2 and Legendary Toughness (d4 Legend so half of 4 is 2) would have a Body Fortitude of 7. The same character might have a Social Fortitude of 3 and a Mental Fortitude of 3 so they wouldn’t be as resistant to harm in those arenas.
Resilience is how fast you pop back or recover from injuries. This has the same body/speech/mind categories with the tactic of Audacity and Courage adding to the PCs total along with qualities like Fast Healer or tricks like “bounces back from adversity”.
Injuries provide a penalty to tests taken while injured. One can have a cut to the shoulder physical wound providing a -2 to Tests, a broken nose providing a -1 to Tests while suffering from mental trauma or stress from seeing a friend die horribly -2. Thus, they would suffer a total of -5 to all Test Totals.