Hipsters & Dragons

Because roleplaying is social, creative, fun… and kinda cool!

The Best Battlemaster Maneuvers (incl. Unearthed Arcana + Homebrew)

As I mentioned in a recent post, Battlemaster Maneuvers came as a welcome surprise to me upon first leafing through the 5th edition Player’s Handbook.

I love the thrill of being locked in combat against a powerful foe in Dungeons and Dragons, but it’s easy for it to deteriorate into a mechanical exercise of probabilities, rather than an epic battle taking place in your imagination. In fact, I’d argue that the longer you’ve been playing the game, the easier it is to slip into a rigidly defined ‘game mode’, where imagination is lost, and outcomes are determined by rules, dice and probability.

The Battlemaster’s Maneuvers really come to the rescue on this front. They not only give your fighter a lot more meaningful choice and versatility on the battlefield, keeping you interested (in the same way wizards rarely get bored, with all the options their spellbooks bring to the table) but they also engage the imagination in a big way. You start to visualise the precise move your fighter is attempting, and the rules themselves begin to paint the picture of the story you’re living via your character. The maneuvers create a wonderful symphony between formulae and narrative fiction.

The maneuvers create a wonderful symphony between formulae and narrative fiction.

Not only that, but mechanically the Battlemaster’s Maneuvers are a near perfect fix to a problem that D&D has always faced: that of players wanting to elicit a special effect via their attack, such as disarming, pushing or tripping a foe. Now you can, albeit only by using up a finite resource: your superiority dice.

The Martial Adept feat also means that non-fighters can enjoy a small slice of the pie, so these cool tricks of the trade or not locked into a single archetype of one class. (Alternatively, why not multiclass into Battlemaster? You’ll pick up Second Wind, a fighting style and Action Surge on the way, so hardly a waste of levels!).

Battlemasters… because swords never run out of spell slots

Anyway enough preamble. Below you’ll find my thoughts and ratings on all 16 maneuvers in the Player’s Handbook, plus a look at 7 more recently published in the Unearthed Arcana series.

I also went and created 14 entirely new homebrew maneuvers for Hipsters & Dragons readers, inspired by dozens of action movie heroes!

If that’s not enough, I recommend a few more resources and publications dedicated to the topic, from Reddit and the DM’s Guild.

A note on spelling: Being English I sometimes slip into the British English spelling ‘manoeuvre’.

Player’s Handbook: Battle Maneuvers

Let’s start by recapping the manoeuvres presented in the Player’s Handbook. For a bit of fun, I’m going to give each a rating out of 5.

I’m far too lazy to type them all out, plus I don’t think Wizards of the Coast would be too keen for me to publish such a large chunk of their copyrighted content in one go… so you might want your copy of the PH to hand.

Commander’s Strike

Requires: Action (1 attack) + Bonus Action
This is a very handy manoeuvre for those selfless enough to sacrifice some of their own action economy for the greater good. Switching out one of your own attacks (plus using your bonus action) to enable a rogue to make a second sneak attack in the round, for example, could significantly amplify the party’s damage output – and also see that damage is done where it is most needed. I can also imagine a scenario where your fighter kills an opponent in one corner of the battlefield but can’t reach any other foes that round… the range of this manoeuvre is potentially several hundred feet.
Rating: 4/5

Disarming Attack

Nothing quite states your martial superiority over a foe like nonchalantly pinging their weapon out of their hand. Now we have to be a bit careful, because in 5th edition your opponent can use a free action to simply pick it back up again on their turn. So firstly I would ask your DM if they will allow you to get an opportunity attack on creatures that bend down to pick something up in the middle of combat. They will probably say yes. If they don’t, no problem. You will use your own free action to kick their weapon at least ten feet away, forcing them out of your reach and provoking an opportunity attack that way (otherwise I suggest stepping over the weapon and backheeling it if you really don’t want them to get it back). This maneuver can really swing the tide of battle by disarming a foe of a magic weapon or item, and has so many other situational uses. The disarm element is not automatic, but even if you don’t pull it off you still get to add the superiority die to the damage done.
Rating: 5/5


Good demonstration here by Arnie… I enjoyed the ‘Blind Parry + Trip’ maneuver too.

Distracting Attack

In this attack you add the superiority die to your own damage, and you grant advantage on the next ally to attack’s attack roll. Handy when you’re in a hurry to finish off a BBG, but given that you are the party’s fighter and barbarians can give themselves advantage at any time with Reckless Attack, this is mostly useful only when the party rogue is directly behind you in the initiative order.
Rating: 3.5/5

Evasive Footwork

I can imagine this coming in handy for that epic moment where you have to sprint through the orc hordes in order to raise the drawbridge, or pull the lever than operates the moon door etc. etc. Unfortunately such moments are few and far between. This manoeuvre effectively gives you a limited Disengage without having to spend your action, but generally, as a fighter, you don’t disengage. If you’re hand to hand with a foe, you’re already in the right position. Another con: the AC bonus can only be applied to one section of movement… so if you run 10 feet, make an attack, then run another 15 feet, you’d only have the extra AC during the first part of your move.
Rating: 2/5

Feinting Attack

Requires: Bonus Action
I like the idea of this one, but mechanically it’s not a great choice because you have to spend a superiority dice and a bonus action, and if you end up missing both are lost. Ok you will be attacking with advantage so you should hit, but generally I prefer the options where I can choose to spend a superiority die after I’ve hit.
Rating: 2/5

Goading Attack

Another of those heroic manoeuvres that a selfish prick like me will never pick. Attack the barbarian or the circle of the moon druid, not me! For something that protects the whole party, you included, take Menacing Attack instead.
Rating: 1/5

Lunging Attack

Struggling to see the point of this one… please comment below if you’ve used it to good effect! I guess if you also have Polearm Master feat you could use it to attack from 15 feet and then on the next round you’d get an opportunity attack at they enter your range. Once you have two attacks though that tactic probably wouldn’t make sense.
Rating: 1/5

The Musketeers think highly of the Lunging Attack at least…

Maneuvering Attack

This is a very versatile manoeuvre that I’m sure would come in handy pretty often, either to protect an endangered ally or NPC, or to help your allies reach control points on the battlefield. Might be worth taking, together with two more combat orientated moves, or you could pick it up at 7th, 10th or 15th level (when you get more maneuvers to choose from).
Rating: 3.5/5

Menacing Attack

At first I thought this was a bit ‘meh’ but checking the frightened condition again I see that the target would have disadvantage on all attack rolls, not just against you. Doesn’t even require a bonus action. As a DM, I’d probably give Large creatures advantage on the save, and give Huge-sized creatures and larger an automatic pass, so that you can’t go and intimidate that hydra etc. Then again I’m pretty terrified of wasps… so maybe size isn’t everything.
Rating: 4.5/5

Parry

Requires: Reaction
For sure this would come in handy, although the mechanics kind of bug me… I prefer those of Defensive Duelist, or the shield spell – why isn’t the mechanic ‘add your superiority die to your AC for that attack’? After all, either the parry works (f@ck you bad guy!) or it doesn’t (ouch!). Anyway, if we compare this to Riposte, the other maneuver that requires a reaction, you’re going to save yourself maybe 5 hit points on average using Parry (as fighters tend to dump Dexterity) while with Riposte you’d be hoping to do at least 13 damage with a one handed weapon or at least 16 with a two handed weapon, hitting more often than not. If you kill the creature with a Riposte, before it can deliver all its attacks, you might save yourself some HP too. In other words only consider Parry if you’re a Dexterity-based fighter, and even then I’d go for Riposte probably.
Rating: 2/5


Take it from these guys… you’re better off with the Defensive Duelist feat.

Precision Attack

I selected this for my first ever 5e character, a rogue / wizard / fighter, as a means of making sure I got my sneak attack damage when I needed it most. There are precious few mechanics that allow you to turn a miss into a hit, making this a powerful choice for a hard-hitting PC, but it’s about the most boring maneuver out there.
Rating: 4/5

Pushing Attack

Pushing baddies off boats, bridges and cliffs is fun. At first as I was like ‘you can use the Shove a Creature attack option, why bother with this maneuver?’ but I think it has its merits. For a start, 15 feet is obviously a lot further than 5 feet, so a foe who might feel they’re safe could be undone by a clever use of this manoeuvre. There’s nothing to stop you either moving around the other side of your target (as long as you don’t leave their reach you won’t provoke an opportunity attack), so the chasm doesn’t have to be behind them… it could be behind you at the start of the turn! The major difference between this and the Shove attack is that, whether the push succeeds or not, you do a tonne of damage. Ooooh… I just thought of something. If you have Polearm Master feat and you use this manoeuvre on your final attack of the round, then you should get an opportunity attack when they re-enter your range on their turn (assuming they haven’t decided enough is enough and taken to their heels!). As a DM, I would give Large-sized creatures advantage on the save.
Rating: 4/5


Sometimes it’s worth keeping a superiority die in the bag, for one final push…

Rally

Requires: Bonus Action
Pretty handy at low levels, but I worry that you’re rarely going to supply your ally with a sufficient HP boost to ward off even a single attack of a medium to high level monster. So overall it’s a thumbs down from me. Better off focusing on eliminating the threat.
Rating: 2/5

Riposte

Requires: Reaction
Is there anything more satisfying than damaging a creature when it’s THEIR turn. Ok you have to spend a superiority die before you hit, but it’s worth the gamble. This is THE manoeuvre for any swashbucklers out there (they can access it via the Martial Adept feat), not only for that Musketeer moment, but also because you can actually deal your Sneak Attack damage for the second time in a round – as you’re dealing it in someone else’s turn). Being a bit of a party pooper, I feel like this should be restricted to either finesse or at least one-handed weapons… but in RAW this is an excellent choice for two-handed weapon specialists who can make that extra attack really count.
Rating: 5/5

Sweeping Attack

Kind of fun, this could sometimes prove useful against hordes, but to be used to maximum effect you kind of need to know exactly how many hit points your opponents have, otherwise you’re just spreading your damage output amongst multiple foes – which is never a good tactic. The more I think about it, the more that it’s a thumbs down for me.
Rating: 1/5

Hipster Remix: How about adding the superiority die damage to all creatures within 5 feet of you? I’m imagining a low sweeping move that hacks at the legs of everyone in range. A bit silly maybe, but I’d probably allow it following ‘the rule of cool.’

Trip Attack

This is similar to the Pushing Attack in that it’s something you can do without the need to spend a precious superiority die. But again there are benefits to be had. You can deal damage at the same time as tripping then, and if successful you would get advantage on subsequent attacks, making it a potentially strong choice for a two-weapon fighter, who has an extra attack in the bag – you could also double down and use your Action Surge if you are successful. If you’re being extra canny you would target monsters who are just before you in the initiative chain, making sure they were prone for as long as possible, and giving ALL your party a chance to weigh in with some additional attacks rolls at advantage. Overall it’s very strong. If we compare to Feinting Attack, we don’t have to use our bonus action, and the advantage we gain on attack rolls should last for several attacks instead of just one. Of course Feinting Attack offers advantage automatically, but you risk losing your superiority die if you then miss… with TA you definitely get to use your superiority die, but you’ve only got around a 50/50 chance of the trip itself working and gaining the extra benefits of your opponent being prone. I know which I prefer overall. Again, as a DM, I might consider giving Large-sized creatures – and four-legged ones – advantage on their saving throw.
Rating: 4/5

New Maneuvers: Unearthed Arcana

Wizards of the Coast published a fairly meaty Unearthed Arcana in November 2019, with – amongst other things – 7 more moves for budding battlemasters.

Since you may not be familiar with them, I’ve written them out in full, along with my thoughts on each, plus rating.

Ambush

When you make a Dexterity (Stealth) check or an initiative roll, you can expend one superiority die and add the die to the roll.

Thoughts: Not bad, but if I wanted to build a stealthy fighter I would probably take Stealth as a proficiency, and if acting first is important, there’s the Alert feat. I guess the fact that you get your superiority die back after a short rest means you could use this benefit in almost every combat (so in that sense it’s nearly as good as the feat, and cheaper), so I still rank it pretty high even if it doesn’t excite me much. Maybe one to take at 7th level or 10th level, when you know a total of 5 and 7 manoeuvres respectively. Going before your enemy could easily make the difference between victory and defeat after all.
Rating: 3.5/5

Even the bravest hero has to hide sometimes….

Bait and Switch

When you’re within 5 feet of an ally on your turn, you can expend one superiority die and switch places with that ally, provided you spend at least 5 feet of movement. This movement doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks. Roll the superiority die. Until the start of your next turn, the ally gains a bonus to AC equal to the number rolled.

Thoughts: This is cool, but seems EXTREMELY situational. If a monster has just moved next to an ally then that ally will have a chance to Disengage (I just wrote a post about Disengage by the way!) before the monster attacks again. If the ally didn’t move away, presumably it’s because they felt safe enough to stay put.
Rating: 1/5

Brace

Requires: Reaction
When an enemy you can see moves within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to expend one superiority die and make one weapon attack against that creature. If the attack hits, add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll.

Thoughts: Ok, this is like Polearm Master feat but for any weapon. It’s also similar to Riposte, but with the major advantage that you strike before the opponent even swings – you don’t have to wait for them to miss you (or hit, and then miss you!). On the other hand if it’s you who engages the enemy and not the other way around, you won’t have a chance to use this manoeuvre. I think overall I prefer Riposte, because you have longer to assess if and when a superiority die is needed; but certainly this is a very strong choice.
Rating: 4/5

Restraining Strike

Requires: Bonus Action
Immediately after you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack on your turn, you can expend one superiority die and use a bonus action to grapple the target (see chapter 9 in the Player’s Handbook for rules on grappling). Add the superiority die to your Strength (Athletics) check. The target is also restrained while grappled in this way.

Thoughts: Yeah this one isn’t going to survive playtesting! I was almost on board until the restrained condition came into play. A restrained creature is pretty helpless and so will be forced to contest the grapple on its turn… ie. lose its turn (or multiple turns if it doesn’t succeed). It also brings a broken mechanic to the fore… grappling is done using a skill (Athletics), which most monsters don’t have, setting up an unfair contest, and which doesn’t adequately take account of creature’s size (given that the Strength scores of Large-sized creatures and larger are nowhere near adequately reflected in their stats). I also don’t think you should be able to restrain a creature using just one hand. Referring to the Player’s Handbook, I see that even using the Grappling Feat it would take you two turns to restrain a creature, using two full actions. And you would also be restrained. This needs to be canned.
Rating: BROKEN! (Maybe if you remove restrained condition it might be ok… but even letting PCs use only a bonus action to grapple and increasing their already high chances of winning the contest by some 22.5%, via the superiority die, is probably too much)

Silver Tongue

When you make a Charisma (Deception) check or a Charisma (Persuasion) check, you can
expend one superiority die, and add the superiority die to the ability check.

Thoughts: At first this seems fairly out of context, and it raises a concern that superiority die are becoming a little too versatile. BUT… given that a fighter needs a great Strength and Constitution score, and some Wisdom and Dexterity are nice, it can be hard to create a charismatic hero of legend. This would at least enable you to exert your impressive military presence on proceedings in key moments, such as persuading the council to take the threat in the north seriously etc. etc. Overall, I like it, and furthermore I might take it for certain characters.
Rating: 3/5

Maybe Silver Tongue isn’t such a bad choice after all…

Snipe

Requires: Bonus Action
As a bonus action, you can expend one superiority die and make a ranged weapon attack. You can draw a thrown weapon as part of making this attack. If you hit, add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll.

Thoughts: Well the name feels wrong for a start. ‘Snipe’ feels like it should be something like ‘using a bonus action to get advantage on your next shot’… (i.e. the same as the ‘Aim’ mechanic that the designers have introduced via Unearthed Arcana, as part of the rogue’s Cunning Action ability). Generally I’m not a fan of archers in 5e D&D because it’s a bit of a cop out to do so much damage without even engaging the enemy… but if I was a fan of archers, I’d love the chance to actually use my bonus action from time to time using ‘Rapid Shot’ (as it should be called). Weirdly, you can already use a bonus action to make a thrown weapon attack, so not sure what that middle sentence is about.
Rating: 5/5

Studious Eye

When you make a Wisdom (Insight) check or an Intelligence (Investigation) check, you can expend one superiority die, and add the superiority die to the ability check.

Thoughts: I could more or less copy and paste my thoughts on Silver Tongue here, although I would personally find less use for this skill.
Rating: 2/5

Hipster Manoeuvres

Maybe because I’ve been watching too many classic action films over the Coronavirus lockdown period, but I started to dream up some more moves that would be fun to bust out over the Dungeons & Dragons table.

I was only going to do a few of these, but the ideas kept coming… so here we go!

I ran these past a fellow DM, and I think they’re more or less balanced. You should be able to insert them into your game, reasonably confidently. But if you spot a problem, please highlight that in the comments section.

Acrobatic Attack

You can spend 5 feet of movement and expend one superiority die to confound one target within 5 feet of you. Make an DC 15 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. If you succeed you gain advantage on your next melee attack roll against the target. If it hits, add the superiority die to the damage.

Design Notes: A similar effect to the somewhat disappointing Feinting Attack, but here you don’t have to use your bonus action (which you might have another use for). You do however have to succeed on an Acrobatics check, so it’s not for every fighter build.

Acrobatic Defense

Requires: Bonus Action
When you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack you can expend one superiority die and use your bonus action to attempt to spring out of danger. If you succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check, the target of your attack has disadvantage on their attack rolls against you until the end of your next turn. You may choose to add your superiority die to either your attack’s damage roll, or your Dexterity (Acrobatics) check.

Design Notes: Ninja power! I think players would have fun describing their cartwheels, flips and somersaults in this and the previous manoeuvre.

Blinding Strike

You target the eyes of a creature within range with a weapon attack. You expend one superiority die and make your attack roll at disadvantage. If you hit, add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll, and the target must make a Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, it is blinded until the end of your next turn. If it fails by 10 it loses an eye.

Design Notes: Higher risk, higher reward! Be sure to take if you’re entering a cyclops-ridden land.


Cinema’s most famous Blinding Strike?

Combination Attack

Requires: Reaction
When you hit with melee attack using your bonus action you may expend one superiority die and use your reaction to make one additional melee attack against the same target. If you hit add the superiority die to the damage.

Design Notes: One for two weapon fighters. A nice Tekken / Street Fighter vibe about this manoeuvre, with a hard hitting final blow.

Crippling Attack

When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can expend one superiority die to attempt to slow the creature down. You add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll, and the target must make a Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, its speed is reduced by half and it has disadvantage on Dexterity saving throws until the end of your next turn.

Design Notes: Handy if you are planning a tactical retreat, with covering fire provided by lightning bolt etc..

Defensive Feint

Requires: Bonus Action
You can expend one superiority die and use a bonus action on your turn to feint, choosing one creature within 5 feet of you as the target. Until the end of your next turn, subtract the superiority die from their next attack roll against you.

Design Notes: I designed this with the idea you could keep one foe at bay, while you take out the other one, and if you play flanking you could rule that neither opponent gets a flanking bonus when you play this manoeuvre. It could also be used in a 1 vs. 1 scenario.

Defensive Stance

Requires: Action + Reaction
When you take the Dodge action you may expend one superiority die to adopt a defensive stance. When in this stance, if a creature attacks you before the start of your next turn, you may use a reaction to strike them with a melee weapon. If that attacks hits, add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll.

Design Notes: This manoeuvre needed to be better than just dodge + riposte, otherwise it would be better just to take riposte. This is pretty handy actually. Aside from keeping you alive when surrounded by foes, you could also move while doing this, giving you great scope to lower than drawbridge, while cutting down the first fool who tries to stop you.

Monitoring your opponents in the reflection of your katana is key to the success of a Defensive Stance

Disabling Strike

When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can expend one superiority die to hobble the creature’s offensive potential on its next turn. Subtract the superiority die from the creature’s next attack roll. If the creature has multiple ways of attacking, such as claws, bite and tail, at the DM’s discretion, you may select which attack you are targeting.

Design Notes: Could be handy if you’re low on HP!

Down But Not Out

When you are prone and a creature makes a melee attack roll against you, you can expend one superiority die and use your reaction to either impose a penalty equal to your superiority die on their attack rolls against you until the end of your next turn, or, if the creature is Large-sized or smaller, you may attempt to trip them using a free hand or foot. In the latter instance, the creature must make a Dexterity saving throw or fall prone and have its movement reduced to 0 for the rest of the turn. If the trip succeeds the creature takes bludgeoning damage equal to the superiority die.

Design Notes: Quite pleased with this one, even if it’s a bit wordy. Very situational (hence I gave it two options, so as to be a little more useful), but so cinematic, you might just be tempted… I would give Large-sized creatures advantage on the save.

Knockout Punch

When you hit a Large-sized creature or smaller with an unarmed strike you may expend on superiority die to attempt to stun the creature. You add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll. The target must make a Constitution saving throw, with a DC equal to the total damage dealt by the strike. If it fails, it is stunned until the start of your next turn. If it fails by 5 or more it is knocked unconscious for 1 minute.

Design Notes: Not a very 5e design this one, I admit, and it might need some play-testing (ie. keep the rules fluid if you allow any PC to take it) but I feel like punching someone unconscious should be possible in D&D, even if it should be unlikely. Given that just the stunned condition itself is very debilitating, I added a bespoke DC to the save that should work out at only 5 to 15 DC, but maybe averaging around 9 or 10 – ie. a fair bit less than the standard DC for saves against the effects of Battlemaster Maneuvers. The fact that you have to do this with an unarmed strike, hopefully stops if from being OP’ed, and now there’s a good reason to a) take the Tavern Brawler feat and b) fight with just a one handed weapon and a bare fist! I would give Large-sized creatures advantage on the save.

Preemptive Strike

Requires: Reaction
When a creature within your reach attacks you, you can expend a superiority die and use your reaction to strike first, making a melee attack roll against them at disadvantage. If you hit, you subtract the superiority die from the target’s next attack roll against you.

Design Notes: This is a very powerful switch of the action economy, hence the disadvantage. A great move if you know your opponent’s next hit will be enough to take you out.


A pretty good demonstration of why the Preemptive Strike beats the Riposte…

Shield Charge

Prerequisite: Shieldmaster Feat
Requires: Bonus Action
If you move at least 10 feet in a straight line before you shove a creature with your shield using your bonus action, you may expend a superiority die to improve your chances of success. Add the die to your Strength (Athletics) roll and, if you win the contest, the target also takes bludgeoning damage equal to the superiority die, plus your Strength modifier. You can decide whether to push the target up to 10 feet away, or knock it prone. You may use this bonus action before taking the Attack action.

Design Notes: Jeremy Crawford ruled that you’re supposed to only use the Shieldmaster’s bonus action after your main attack(s), but that kind of ruins the feat and is counterintuitive to how I imagine fighters would use their shield… in the movies at least (I prefer to emulate them than real life!), they tend to lead with their shield, especially when charging into combat. Anyhow this is a workaround mechanic that will help you get some more mileage out of sword and board!

Showboating Attack

You can expend one superiority die and use a bonus action to attempt to intimidate opponents in a 15-foot-cube in front of you. Large-sized creatures or smaller must make a Charisma saving throw. On a fail, they are frightened of you until the end of your next turn. The first time you hit a creature frightened of you before the end of your turn, you add the superiority die to the attack’s damage roll.

Design Notes: I was imagining Conan doing the figure of eight with a big shiny sword as he charges into battle when I came up with this one. Could also be a charismatic swashbuckler, twirling their rapier. I would give advantage to creatures already engaged in melee, who probably aren’t paying so much attention to this show of strength, and also to Large-sized creatures who would not be so easily intimidated by such antics. Finally, victims should also be smart enough to realise the Showboater is a dab hand with a blade… ie. not beasts or zombies etc., who won’t appreciate the technical wizardry on display.


…the flipside of the Showboating Attack.

Whirlwind Defence

You can expend one superiority die and use a bonus action on your turn to perform a spinning defensive maneuver, designed to ward off multiple foes. Any creature within 5 feet of you must make a Dexterity saving throw. Those that fail suffer a penalty equal to your superiority die on their next attack roll against you before the end of your next turn.

Design Notes: Fighting hordes is tough! This should make it easier. It was tempting to invent a maneuver that enabled you to attack more, but I feel a) that’s what Action Surge is there for and b) I didn’t want to step on the toes of the ranger and their Horde Breaker and Whirlwind Attack features.

Instinctive Maneuvers

While ranking these I found there were several I liked the flavour of, but were either not quite powerful enough or were too situational, to give serious consideration to taking; at least at 3rd level.

Given that we now also have 16 maneuvers in the PH, 7 more in UA, and now 14 more homebrewed by Hipsters & Dragons, should you wish to use them, I think it’s only fair to give Battlemasters a bit more choice. So I propose that Battlemasters can choose 3 regular maneuvers at 3rd level, PLUS 1 ‘instinctive’ maneuver. Instinctive Maneuvers are less powerful, and rely more on reactions and less on training. I would say the following manoeuvres would qualify as Instinctive Maneuvers, if you fancy adopting this rule, but you could add anything else you feel is a little underpowered vs. the others.

Goading Attack (PH)
Lunging Attack (PH)
Parry (PH)
Rally (PH)
Sweeping Attack (PH, although maybe my Remix shouldn’t be on this list, as it’s markedly more powerful)

Bait and Switch (UA)
Silver Tongue (UA)
Studious Eye (UA)

Defensive Feint (H&D)
Defensive Stance (H&D)
Down But Not Out (H&D)

More Resources – DM’s Guild

While researching this article I found a bit more inspiration, which helped me craft one or two of the above, such as this article on Reddit and this one too.

I also like this product on the DMs Guild… 25 new maneuvers. I think the idea of some having a fighting style as a prerequisite makes good sense, although in the end I didn’t go that route with my own ones.

Finally this creator has made maneuvers part of the armoury of every class in 5th edition, with 95 to choose from, of different power tiers (ie. you can access better maneuvers as you level up). I think that’s a pretty cool idea, for those that want to introduce more versatile combat play into their game.

Comments Below!

Please share your thoughts in the comments, remembering your good manners while doing so.

Also share your own homebrewed maneuvers, or if there’s something you want me to help balance or create for you, I’ll certainly give it a go!

Dodge & Disengage: Do They Need Tweaking?

Few players at my table ever remember to use the Disengage and Dodge actions, which is probably why it’s taken me about four years to realise they are way too powerful. Or, at the very least, they are immersion breaking.

I can get on board with someone managing to extricate themselves from a fight by taking the Disengage action… but the fact that they can then ‘move around the board’ with impunity doesn’t make any sense to me. A rogue could end up running down a 60 foot corridor of bloodthirsty orcs without them laying a single axe on her fleet frame. Indeed, in RAW, the orcs wouldn’t even try swinging, presumably too bedazzled by her Usain Bolt-esque afterburners.

Don’t worry chaps… we’ll Disengage and make a run for it! (William Barnes Wollen).

Dodge is less problematic, but doesn’t make sense in certain situations… for example when you’re surrounded by a horde of rampaging gnolls, harrying you from all angles. Or you’ve got a dozen archers all taking aim. When the character is an unarmed, and unarmored wizard, it’s hard to visualise how they would be able to go about defending themselves so effectively – imposing disadvantage on ALL attacks. Surely there’s a limit on how many attacks one can defend oneself in a single round? (Perhaps if 5th edition had facing rules, that would help determine which attacks could be seen or not, which in turn would help mitigate the problem… but it doesn’t).

Yep, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m going to stick my oar in 5th edition’s lovely elegant design and give it a good whirl.

Disengage: Hipster Remix

When you take the Disengage action you can select a number of creatures equal to your Dexterity modifier (min. 1). Your movement doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks from those creatures for the rest of the turn.

RAW version here.

Dodge: Hipster Remix

When you take the Dodge action, you focus entirely on avoiding attacks. Until the start of your next turn, you can impose disadvantage on a certain number of attack rolls made against you, provided that you can see the attacker in each case. That number equals your AC minus 10, or 2, whichever is higher. Additionally, you make Dexterity saving throws with advantage. You lose these benefits if you are incapacitated or if your speed drops to 0.

RAW version here.

So what do you think? Pretty reasonable, no? In most cases PCs won’t notice a downgrade in these abilities… but it will make the tight spots they occasionally find themselves in realistically tighter. And if they do end up dead, you can always send them my apologies.

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments…

15 Things I Love About 5th Edition…

The other day someone in the comments section accused me of hating 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. 🤔

At first I was taken back… after all I started a roleplaying blog that talks exclusively (so far at least!) about 5e D&D, not to mention the fact that I dedicate a considerable amount of my free to time to playing and DMing, as well as creating new products for the DMs Guild.

On the other hand, I could see their point. Every other post I write on this blog is an attempt to fix something I don’t like much about the game.

5th time is a charm… (artwork in this post belongs to Wizards of the Coast).

At any rate, the comment got me thinking… maybe it’s time I wrote a post celebrating, what I consider to be, the best aspects of 5e: a selection of the mechanics, as well as some of the maxims, that have combined to make this my favourite edition of the game, and – from a wider perspective – have helped propel the brand to new heights of success.

So without further ado, here are 15 reasons why 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons kicks ass….

1. The Advantage of Advantage

Who doesn’t love the advantage mechanic? It’s so simple and ‘elegant’ (to use a 5e design buzzword), removing the need for a bunch of modifiers and recalibration of DCs.

Instead of getting some +2 bonus to hit a prone target, and then remembering that they shouldn’t get their Dexterity modifier applied to their AC any more, and setting up a 10 minute calculation about what the final number you need to hit is, with the advantage mechanic you can simply keep all your usual modifiers but roll twice and take the highest.

At first I was concerned that nuances of probability would be lost, but I quickly realised… it just works. Plus you get to roll two dice instead of one!
Praise be to J.C.!

Two dice are better than one…

2. Bigging Up Backgrounds

I’ve seen some people state that they don’t like the backgrounds in the Player’s Handbook…. for me they might just be the best thing in there! Or at least the best thing that I wasn’t expecting. Every background is a protein shake injection to my creative muscles when it comes to fashioning character concepts. Just reading the Personality Trait, Ideal, Bond and Flaw tables of a single background type is usually enough to set my brain into overdrive churning out engaging personalities ready to be fleshed out with a few stats and a brief back story of their childhood misery.

More than anything else in the edition though, backgrounds are symptomatic of 5e’s focus on storytelling, something which has elevated my experiences at the table from two dimensional quest completion, focusing on a strategic use of resources, into a more well-rounded game with plenty of social interaction, character development and rich, personal storylines that take place beyond the ‘you must save the world’ mission.

I might talk some more about this in the future!

Plenty to get the creative juices flowing…

3. In Commendation of Concentration

Concentration is a great device for limiting the power of certain spells and ensuring spellcasters can’t lockdown battles with a never-ending barrage of control spells like entangle, hold person, slow etc. As an added bonus it encourages smarter monsters and NPCs to target spellcasters, stopping them from hanging around at the back with impunity, the cheeky buggers.

It also adds some ‘fun’ implications of using certain spells like fly. Are you willing to risk being 200 feet in the air when you lose concentration on that one!?

4. In Tune With Attunement

Everyone loves magic items, but some DMs and players have a natural inclination towards spamming their adventures with game-changing weapons and artefacts that threaten to overshadow the powers of the players themselves. Setting a sensible limit on the number of powerful items one player can use at a time (three in case you’re wondering), is common sense as far as I’m concerned.

No more spamming magic items

5. The Extra Traction of a Bonus Action

Who doesn’t want a second opportunity to get sh*t done?

Here’s a little more on maximising those precious moments…

6. The Satisfaction of a Quick Reaction

I can go, and it’s not even my turn? Hand me that d20….

7. The Simplicity of Skill Proficiencies

When I first read the Player’s Handbook I was a bit underwhelmed by the paucity of choice in the skills proficiencies department, but I now see it as a great boon of the game. There are very few times when the game requires a test of skill or knowledge that isn’t covered by the 18 skills in the game, and if you do like to mix things up a bit try my new favourite technique… the cross over check, where you pair a skill with a different ability to usual. Such as a Strength (Acrobatics) check, to keep your balance in a gale force wind, or a Dexterity (Athletics) check to scramble at speed through a obstacle-strewn marketplace.

The fact that anyone, proficient or otherwise, can clatter a d20 over the table for virtually any check, no matter how niche, can rile sticklers for realism who (understandably) hate seeing the barbarian’s knowledge of Arcana outdo the wizard’s… in which case check my post right here for some solutions.

A simple skills system that does the trick

8. The Flexibility of Feats

While the plethora of archetypes and options offer players plenty of choice (choice that is ever expanding thanks to the proliferation of supplements and unearthed arcana that Wizards of the Coasts continue to pump out, not to mention the combined efforts of the D&D play’n’publishing community on the Dungeon Master’s Guild), feats do a wonderful job of filling in the gaps, allowing players to personalise their PCs and make them more powerful with clever combinations of complimentary features. The fact that you can get a feat off the bat, by selecting the human variant option as your chosen race is all the better.

Having fun with feats…

9. The Consistency of Conditions

I think it was a really smart idea by the designers to group together a bunch of common conditions and state clearly the mechanical implications of each at the back of the Player’s Handbook. Pretty soon players and DMs know what to expect from certain effects, and spells needn’t go into detail about the specific implications of being entangled by the grim tendrils of evards black tentacles or what it means to be blinded by a sunbeam.

Grappling with conditions is easy in 5e

10. Exhaustive Possibilities

Hit points probably remain the most absurd feature of Dungeons & Dragons… the idea that you are (almost) 10 times harder to kill at 10th level than 1st, with the same weapon, has never made sense and never will, even if the D&D designers and playing community have come up with some creative thought processes to explain away the absurdity (increased luck, skill, divine favour etc.!). Nor does it make sense that you can perform 100% at 1 hit point, just as if at full hit points, or that you can recover from everything except death by taking a 60 minute siesta (for my variant healing rules head here).

Whatever you think about hit points though, they aren’t going anywhere soon, and for a heroic fantasy game at least they work.

Nonetheless exhaustion comes in and offers something new to D&D. A way of damaging characters that is separate to the hit points system, and which brings on a succession of penalties that eventually lead to death – no matter how many HP you have!

In fact, it hardly comes into play, in RAW (Rules As Written)! Off the top of my head I can only thing of extreme cold and heat, sleep deprivation and perhaps drowning as ‘official’ ways to gain levels of exhaustion in 5th edition… although I think there might be a couple of spells and monster features that may impose it too.

You just failed your saving throw against Extreme Cold

But that’s fine… I see exhaustion more as a mechanic for DMs to play with, and I think one of the best homebrew rules we’ve instigated (albeit inconsistently) in my group is that being reduced to 0 hit points lumbers you with a level of exhaustion (or even two). One of our DMs also rewrote the lingering injuries table in the DMG adding levels of exhaustion to several of the other effects, and giving serious injuries a bigger impact.

In conclusion, if you like a little bit more realism in your game, then the exhaustion mechanic gives you something very handy to play around with. (Note: if you do end up dishing out multiple levels of exhaustion fairly readily, then I would advise having a short rest reduce one level and a long rest reduce two… otherwise your players will get sick of being underpowered the whole time).

11. Mager Differences

The last time I played D&D regularly, prior to picking it up again in 2016, was in the 90s, when I played 2nd edition. In those days arcane spellcasters were limited to the mage and the illusionist. Picking up the 5th edition Player’s Handbook and discovering three well-defined class concepts in the form of the sorcerer, warlock and wizard was a great improvement for the game. Between them you can play a D&D version of pretty much any magic user you’ve read or watched about in fantasy literature, film and television, whether you prefer the scholarly wizard of old, a chosen one imbued with incredible powers, or a creepy dude who’s done a dodgy deal in exchange for some supernatural skills.

Every flavour of magic user…

12. Room for Manoeuvres

I love a martial character, but sometimes combat can turn into a rather dull slogfest, devoid of meaningful choices. The battlemaster’s manoeuvres go a long way to solving this problem, by offering plenty of extra scope to what a fighter can do in battle, including introducing possibilities that standard rules have always found it hard to account for… like disarming your enemy.

My only gripe is that only a battlemaster can access them, except via the Martial Adept feat, which is a little underwhelming (maybe two d4 superiority dice, instead of one d6 would fix it?).

Given that spellcasters are so powerful (not to mention versatile) in 5e, I’m tempted to give every non-caster in the party the Martial Adept feat as a freebie (including any battlemasters) in my next campaign.

Anyway if you like maneuvers too, then check out this post where I examine and rank all of the maneuvers in the Player’s Handbook, plus homebrew several fun new martial skills for your game.

13. A Multiclass Act

My memories of multiclassing was that it always introduced a host of broken options, and that annoying powergamers would constantly abuse the system to create spammy, nonsensical characters in order to ‘win D&D’.

From the odd Facebook or Reddit thread that I stumble upon, I understand that’s still possible, but in my experience so far it’s not really obvious and easy to do… many classes’ best features are held back to 2nd level, and this simple design trick means that you’re often better off just heading further up the ladder you’re already on, than being tempted to switch paths for the sake of picking up the powers of another class.

The only somewhat spammy use of multiclassing I’ve seen on my table was when a druid dipped into barbarian to get the rage ability. Suddenly D&D’s already ridiculously tanky tank, just got a lot tankier….

14. Digging Diversity

Ok, I’m just about done with the mechanics I like in 5e, but I think it’s time to pay respect to a more general change of tone within the game. Back in the 90s it seemed like there was only one demographic that played D&D… I don’t think I need to tell you who they were!

I seem to remember Strength penalties for playing a female character (to be fair, I believe they were offset with a bonus to Wisdom or Constitution, but in any case it was an awkward division), the heroes pretty much all had fair skin, and gay people didn’t exist. Nowadays, however, the world of D&D almost seems more politically correct than the real world, with plenty of powerful female NPCs, artwork that reflects different ethnicities and skin tones, openly gay characters and even some transgender NPCs appearing in official tomes.

We know there are prejudices in the real world, but they don’t serve the world of Dungeons & Dragons, and it’s great to see a concerted effort by the brand owners to be more inclusive. Maybe they haven’t got it right every time, but the proof is in plain view… you can find D&D live play streams of groups of every demographic, from all black or ethnic minority casts to all queer ones. Meanwhile, if I wasn’t too old for crushes, then I’d definitely have a crush on every member of this all female D&D group (an inconceivable demographic not so long ago!). Their voice acting is easily on a par with the famous cast of Critical Role, and the DM is fantastic, so put them on your watch list!

Apart from anything else, the ever-expanding appeal of the game, and the deconstruction of some of the negative stereotypes around it, means I feel less and less that I have to apologise in public for being so addicted to this incredibly geeky, hour-sapping pastime.

15. Community Content(ment)

For various reasons – namely the playability of the new edition, the advancement of technology, a resurgent interest in fantasy genre spearheaded by Game of Thrones, the rise of geek culture – 5th edition D&D is also the beneficiary of an ever-expanding universe of additional, community-made content that is growing up beside it.

From live streams that serve as either as entertainment or inspiration (see my post on learning from Matt Mercer), and ‘how to’ videos by the likes of Matt Colville and Dungeon Dudes to the black hole of adventures and lore that is the DM’s Guild, you could spend every hour of every day for the rest of your life immersed in D&D content and you wouldn’t run out of things to watch or read.

It can actually be a little intimidating to think about much you haven’t read, but on the other hand the demand for Dungeons & Dragons content is driving a host of new opportunities for lovers of the game, and the ultimate dream of being paid to either play or write about D&D has never been more attainable.

It’s Your Turn….

What aspects of 5e D&D do you like most? Be they specific mechanics, design philosophies, supplements, I’m intrigued to hear your opinion… (this way 👇 to the comments!).

Not The Dreaded DC 15…

On page 174 of the Player’s Handbook there’s a table of Difficulty Classes for ability checks that goes a little something like this…

DIFFICULTY CLASSES (PLAYER’S HANDBOOK)
Task DifficultyDC
Very easy5
Easy10
Medium15
Hard20
Very hard25
Nearly impossible30

As you can see, to succeed on a Medium difficulty skill check you need to roll a 15.

What’s my problem with that? It’s way too difficult, that’s what!

Without modifiers you only have a 30% chance of succeeding at something that is supposed to represent an averagely difficult task. But even with a +3 modifier of someone incredibly naturally gifted at this type of challenge (ie. someone with a score of 16 in Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom etc.), and a +2 proficiency modifier for someone with relevant skill and training, you will still need to roll a 10 to succeed at this ‘average’ task.

A trained and talented hero has a 45% chance of failing at a Medium difficult task in their greatest area of strength

This means a trained and talented hero has a 45% chance of failing at a Medium difficult task in their greatest area of strength (at least until level 4… although the picture hardly changes greatly, even towards mid and high tiers).

That really bugs me.

15 is pretty much the standard DC baked into any published 5e D&D adventure and also the one that DMs give out for any task when improvising on the fly… of course they do. The rules pretty much tell them to.

Low fence jump…. shall we say DC 15?

It works well enough when it’s a group check that only one PC has to succeed at, such as a Perception check, but it can make getting even seemingly basic tasks done almost impossible when PCs are acting alone.

I’ve endured countless irritating times at the table when my insanely agile rogue can’t walk across a simple log bridge without taking a swim in the raging river below…

I’ve endured countless irritating times at the table when my insanely agile rogue can’t walk across a simple log bridge without taking a swim in the raging river below, or my beefy barbarian can’t climb a rope, or fails to break down a door. Some of these challenges are ones I’d fancy my undextrous, unbeefy self to be able to do in real life! (Not break down a door… that is really tough, as I once had the misfortune to find out!).

The picture gets far worse the minute you need to succeed in two or more tasks. A stealthy barbarian that needs to climb up a wall (DC 15 with +5 modifier), then sneak past a guard (DC 15 with +4), then lower a drawbridge (DC 15 with +5) would have only a 15% percent chance of pulling off their mission. With those odds maybe he should just go back home!

And before you start writing your comment, I actually love failing in D&D. It’s fun, dramatic and often very funny.

And yes, I do also understand the narrative power of set backs, and the experienced and talented DMs I am lucky enough to play with often offer ‘get out’ checks, or other chances to deal with failed rolls that often improve the story. And that’s great.

But nonetheless I want my heroes to be able to succeed at the things they’re great at 8 or 9 times out of 10… not barely more than 50 percent of the time. And that way, the times they do f@ck up will be memorable, and not annoyingly frequent… almost to the point of being predictable.

(And let’s not forget, there’s still ALL the things that heroes are crap at for them to fail at, without having to see them mess up the things they’re supposedly good at quite so often).

Can We Get Some Love for DC 10?

Anyway mild-tempered rant over. The point of this post is to encourage the dungeon delving, dragon-slaying world that DC 10 should be the new DC 15, and that their game will make more sense for it.

I feel labelling DC 10 as ‘easy’ in the Player’s Handbook has been bad branding for this unloved check point, which in most cases will still deliver a solid 20-50% failure rate.

And let me say that there’s nothing wrong with DCs 11-14 either (or 6-19 for that matter), if it means giving a PC a few extra percent chance to succeed where it makes sense to do so.

I am also a big fan of DC 12 as another “go-to” Difficulty Class. The way I see it, both DCs 10 and 12 offer a real chance of failure on any given check, without loading the odds unnecessarily against the hero.

I’ll sign off with a tweaked Difficulty Class table that I hope will encourage DMs to think about DCs a little differently…

DIFFICULTY CLASSES (HIPSTER’S REMIX)
Task DifficultyDC
Very Easy5
Easy8
Medium10
Tricky12
Hard15
Very hard20
Incredibly hard25
Why bother?30

So readers… are you feeling me? Or not really… leave a (respectful) reply in the comments!

Drinking a Healing Potion in Combat (New Rule)

I was watching this video, by the excellent Dungeon Dudes, when I realised there is an issue on my table that hasn’t been resolved satisfactorily to my mind. That of drinking a healing potion in combat.

The official rules state that drinking a healing potion requires an action. But when you consider that this means allowing whatever creature you’re fighting a free round in which to hit you, the odds are that you are actually going to take more damage in the round you drink the potion than you receive from drinking from it. (Even if, as the Dudes suggest, you use the maximum dice rolls possible to determine number of hit points recovered per potion… although this will certainly help even the odds quite a bit!).

Overall, in any situation where the monster is likely to target you with their next attacks, it’s almost always a disastrous strategy to use an action in combat to drink a healing potion.

Of course you could try retreating, to drink the potion in safety, but that assumes you have allies who are able to prevent the monster pursuing you: and even then the monster will get one free opportunity attack on you, making this ploy almost as risky as drinking it under their nose.

Kill your enemies with a cough and a handshake.

I’m not surprised that some DMs (including one of the three in my group) rule that drinking a potion only requires a bonus action, to offset this problem. Unfortunately for me, that feels way too generous mechanically (there’s almost no cost to doing it), and is also almost impossible to justify in a narrative sense. Even assuming the potion is kept close at hand, perhaps on a belt or necklace (and not at the bottom of a backpack), it still has to be retrieved, uncorked and drank. That seems too intricate an activity to require a mere bonus action, and definitely not something you could combine with casting a spell for example.

Is there a middle ground here? When stopping to drink a potion still has a cost to your own offensive potential, and still carries a risk, but where that risk has a decent chance of paying off.

Introducing…

HIPSTER RULE FIX: DODGE & DRINK

Simply put, I would house rule that when you use an action to drink a potion in combat, you can choose to use all of your other combined actions (bonus action, move, free action and reaction) to take the Dodge action.

The Dodge action (p.192, PH), you probably don’t need reminding, imposes disadvantage on all attack rolls against you (by attackers that you can see at least).

For me this rule neatly achieves what I want it to. It makes drinking a potion in combat a viability, by reducing the odds of taking damage in the round you’re trying to heal up in, without needing to introduce the “videogamey” feel of on-the-go power ups at the speed of a bonus action. And while Dodge is quite a powerful benefit to give the PC, the fact that they can’t use their movement to retreat to safety at the same time, or get an opportunity attack, feels about right.

Narratively I feel it’s easy enough to justify. The fighter pulls out a potion, flicks out the cork and chugs it down, at the same time as they shimmy lightly on their feet and keep their longsword at full arm’s length to prevent their opponent from getting close, maybe throwing in a feint or two for good measure. There’s no time for the fighter to attack, and the opponent has a free pass to move away, but the savvy soldier is able to use their weapon as a deterrent, keeping the pointy end between them and danger.

So there you go! As always, let me know what you think…

Circle of the Moon Druid. The Unlikely Tank.

One thing I like about 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons, as opposed to the 1st and 2nd edition D&D of my youth, is how the designers have broadened the depiction of classic classes to make them far more interesting. A paladin is longer bound to be a pompous holy warrior, clerics can be much more than bland skeleton-turning healers, and you don’t have to dress in a white frock, sickling mistletoe if you want to play a druid.

Hands up if you hate mistletoe!

The fresh, original artwork of the Player’s Handbook and its evocative class description, with intriguing background prompts, pushes you towards a character concept that feels far broader than the frail, old, Stonehenge worshipper you might have played in the late 1980s. And while this evolution is to be applauded, one thing I never expected was for the druid class to become the party’s official ‘tank’.

All the druid needed was a sexy makeover! (Art by Wizards of the Coast).

If you’ve been playing D&D for longer than half an hour, you probably know by now that tank is the phrase players use to describe the member(s) of their party who fight on the front line and soak up enemy hits, enabling more delicate rogues, rangers and wizards to contribute to the fight from a safe distance.

With their disdain of metallic armour and spells like call lightning (a great damage dealer… which gets a bit boring!), the druid was traditionally filed very much under ‘squishy, ranged damage dealer’ in early editions of the game, but that’s all changed dramatically with the introduction of Wild Shape.

…the druid was traditionally filed very much under ‘squishy, ranged damage dealer’ in early editions of the game, but that’s all changed dramatically with the introduction of Wild Shape.

In 5th edition, Circle of the Moon druids can turn into a creature with many more hit points than itself twice in between rests, and deplete all of those hit points, before changing back to its normal form unharmed.

Cool…. but mind-bogglingly imbalanced.

I’m not going to crunch the numbers too much on this, but a level two Circle of the Moon druid, who might naturally have 17 hit points, could easily access 222 extra hit points during the course of an adventuring day, by Wild Shaping six times into a dire wolf with 37 hit points (and that based on a day with just two short rests).

Just let that sink in… and then ask: what the actual fuck!?

That blows any comparable abilities out of the material plane of existence. A fighter’s (the traditional tank!) Second Wind feature, used three times at 2nd level, would get you around 21 extra hp. 😱

And that’s just the hit points.

Erm, should you really be setting fire to that tree?

If I told you I was homebrewing a class that, on top of cleric-level spellcasting abilities, could also climb walls at 2nd level, breathe underwater at 4th level, fly at 8th level, that could shrink to the size of a mouse almost at will, gain darkvision when it wanted, gain advantage on perception rolls, move at 50ft a round, etc. etc. you would think… “this guy is creating the most broken class of all time!” But these are all the added bonuses a druid can take advantage of, in addition to the obscene truckloads of temporary hit points it gains as a result of the Wild Shape ability.

Much as I love the concept, fun and flavour of Wild Shape, this is simply overpowered and unbalancing, especially in the lower levels of the game… (where, incidentally, I play most of my D&D).

One character shouldn’t be 10 times or more harder to kill than the other members of the adventuring party, especially not when you consider how many other powers it picks up by virtue of the same ability.

If like me you believe Wild Shape needs a rethink, let’s consider what we can do to change it.

Wild Shape Fix Number 1

I can’t really understand why the designers pressed the nuclear option when it came to making Circle of the Moon so much tankier than the Circle of the Land. A straight forward fix might be to create a new table that reflects the Circle of Moon’s specialisation, without going completely overboard.

LevelMax CR (C/Land)Max CR (C/Moon)Max CR (C/Moon in RAW)
2nd1/41/21
4th1/211
8th122 (from 6th level)
10th133 (from 9th)
12th144
14th254
16th265 (from 15th)
18th276
20th286

Design Notes: In my experience (so far), the real unbalancing aspect of Wild Shape for Circle of the Moon druids is the excess of hit points at lower levels that makes them virtually unkillable in comparison with their peers, so that’s what I’ve chipped away at in this revised table. While I’ve actually made the Wild Shape better at higher levels, so at 20th level you can turn into a T-Rex… (let’s face it, who doesn’t want to do that at some time in their D&D career!). Plus I’ve thrown Circle of the Land druids a bone, by letting them access CR 2 creatures from 14th level onwards. This table sits better for me, because now the druid has a steadier rate of progression, and I believe players will enjoy more turning into a dire wolf at 4th level if they were restricted to just a normal wolf at 2nd and 3rd level. (At least they will if they hadn’t already read the Player’s Handbook).

Additional Restriction: On further thought, I would add another restriction that will really tidy up this class option for me. I would state that the total sum of the Challenge Ratings of the beasts which the druid Wild Shapes into between long rests cannot exceed the druid’s level. In other words a level 4 druid can transform into four CR 1 creatures during a day, or two CR 1 creatures and four CR 1/2 creatures, etc. etc. I like this because it is almost bound to bring more variety and imagination into play, and presents some tough choices for the PC. This ruling also tidies up the extremely problematic 20th level Circle of the Moon ability of unlimited Wild Shapes (ie. unlimited hit points!). Using my rule, the 20th level druid can still Wild Shape into near unlimited small creatures (assuming such beasts have CR 1/8 that would make 160 transformations, so more than enough!), but they can only transform into the mighty T-Rex twice a day (after which they still have some space for other transformations).

Just a couple of druids hanging out…

Wild Shape Fix Number 2

If you are nervous about changing the rules (go on try it!), or your players get the hump at ‘being nerfed’ (note: unless something is seriously damaging play, I recommend only introducing rules changes BEFORE a new campaign starts, not in the middle of one!), then there’s a way to deal with Wild Shape staring up at you from the hallowed pages of the Player’s Handbook itself.

“Starting at 2nd level, you can use your action to magically assume the shape of a beast that you have seen before.” (p.66).

To save a lot of hassle arguing over what a character has seen in their long life of adventuring, before the campaign started, I would introduce a simple mechanic. When a player wishes to transform into a beast of CR 1 or over they must succeed on an Nature check to see if they happened to have seen it or not on their travels. I would set the DC as 15 for CR1, DC 20 for CR2, DC 25 for CR3 and DC 30 for CR4 and above. Obviously you can use common sense a bit to adjust them, if the creature is particularly common etc. If the druid passes the check, obviously they don’t have to make it again to transform into the same beast at a later date. If they fail the check, they have not seen the beast in question and cannot transform into said animal unless they encounter it within your adventure, or else go on a beast hunt in their down time. (For a beast hunt, let them choose the creature they wish to observe, and then set a DC for a Survival check based on them spending one week tracking it down in its natural habitat).

(I’ve just realised there is also something about this on p.24 of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. A list of tables of beasts by terrain type, that you can tie in with your druid’s background to make assumptions about what creatures they might have observed in the wilderness. Note: I like the idea that a druid needs to observe, not just see a beast).

Wild Shape Fix Number 3

Without wanting to get into that timeless old debate about ‘realism in fantasy’ (bangs head on desk!), my imagining of Wild Shape dictates that the druid becomes the creature it transforms into. The fact that said creature can be clawed, chopped, mauled and fireballed to death, and then transform back into a fully fit druid, without a scratch on them, is really immersion breaking for me.

One of the best homebrew rules that another DM in our group introduced onto our table, was that being reduced to 0 hit points gives you two levels of exhaustion. Suddenly dying means something again, and that silly D&D farce of lying broken and unconscious in one round followed by springing up and running full speed into the fray in the next round, having received some healing, was done away with. Now if you went down, if you did manage to get healed, you were operating at half speed with disadvantage on ability checks. Which makes sense (or at least is some small nod to realism).

I would be sorely tempted to introduce something similar for when druids are knocked out of Wild Shape. Two levels might be too harsh, but one level of exhaustion would mean there were consequences for dying in beast form, and make the whole feature feel a lot less like a temporary hit point gimmick and more like a transformation ability that the druid lives through. This would naturally limit how often the druid could take advantage of Wild Shape for combat purposes, no matter how many short rests they got in the day… and that for me would be a good thing.

Conclusion

Overall I’m glad there’s a new tank in town (sometimes it feels like D&D is turning into a game where most classes want to fight from the sidelines rather than actually engage the enemy, which feels somehow very anti-heroic to me), and Wild Shape is such a fun ability with so much creative potential – but I do feel the designers lost their sense of proportion on this one.

Hopefully using one, or even all, of the fixes that I’ve proposed might help certain gaming tables balance this ability and – if the changes are embraced, rather than cried at – I even believe these changes might actually provoke more fun and creativity, by forcing players to have more strategies and more uses for Wild Shape.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. (Note: I publish > 95% of comments, but if you’re particularly obnoxious I may choose to press delete instead!).

More Stuff

Do you, like me, ever get a strong feeling of apathy when choosing your PC’s weapons? There’s essentially no difference between a mace and a spear, or a shortsword and a scimitar, a longsword and a flail, etc. etc, despite these all being very different weapons… well check out my new 5e melee weapon properties for a touch more variety, realism and crunch in combat.

Make Weapons Great Again: New 5e Weapon Properties

Ever felt frustrated that your choice of weapon means next to nothing in 5th edition Dungeon & Dragons?

There’s literally no mechanical difference between wielding a battleaxe or a longsword for example, and only nominal differences between handaxes, maces, spears, quarterstaffs, shortswords and scimitars – despite how different those weapons are in real life.

Longsword, battleaxe, warpick… what difference does it make!?

In many cases weapons have zero advantages over their closest counterparts… why wield a greataxe, when a greatsword does more damage? Or a maul come to think of it.  Mechanically, there’s almost nothing to reflect the martial advantages (and disadvantages) of different types of weapons, except their damage die.

Overall I feel like a potentially fun strategical choice has been taken away from players, by the rather too simplistic weapons table in the Player’s Handbook.

Overall I feel like a potentially fun strategical choice (what weapons to bring with you on an adventure) has been taken away from players, by the rather too simplistic weapons table in the Player’s Handbook.

At least for my taste. (I’m sure there many who will defend its simplicity… but hey, this post is not for those guys and girls! So no need to leave an angry comment about how I’m ruining D&D 😉 ).

For well over a year now, I’ve been thinking about how to add a dash of extra dynamism in the weapons department, in a simple and playable way.

The result of much thought, and a bit of behind the scene sums, is a new product called Slash, Stab, Hack, Repeat – which I’ve just released on The DM’s Guild, priced as “Pay What You Want”. (In other words, free, although I’ll be grateful if you grease my palm with a dollar or two if you think they’ll add something significant to your table…).

Get 19 new weapons properties for your game!

In Slash, Stab, Hack, Repeat!, I’ve created new rules for weapons that deal bludgeoning and piercing damage, as well as several new properties that bring a bit of extra flavour and mechanical crunch to many of the weapons in the Player’s Handbook.

I’ve also suggested two new rules regarding opportunity attacks, the first of which is fun, the second of which is designed to bring a bit of extra realism to combat (and helps balance the new ‘long’ property I’ve proposed in the same product).

My goals with the product were to:

  • Give players meaningful choices to make regarding which weapons they wield
  • To introduce a touch more realism to combat (or ‘fantasy realism’ as I like to call it… realism based on our perception of fantasy novels, TV and film!)
  • Keep things balanced and fast paced

I’m going to copy and paste the bulk of the content here, so you can see the new properties and rules variants. But you should download the product to see the revised Hipsters & Dragons Weapon Table, and which weapons have which new properties.

Slash, Stab, Hack, Repeat!

Melee and ranged weapons that deal bludgeoning or piercing damage enjoy the following benefits:

Bludgeoning weapons

When attacking with a melee weapon that deals bludgeoning damage, if you miss by 1, you hit instead, dealing half the normal damage to the target. You cannot deal sneak attack damage on the hit.

Piercing weapons

Weapons that deal piercing damage are capable of particularly grievous wounds, impaling their victims and rupturing vital organs. When you score a critical hit roll a d6. On a 4, 5 or 6, triple the weapon’s damage dice instead of doubling them.

 New Weapon Properties

A list of new weapon properties.

Charge.  This weapon can be used to deal lethal damage on a charge. If you move at least 20 feet in a straight line before engaging an opponent, you may choose to take a -4 modifier on your first attack roll against that creature. If you hit with that attack, you roll an additional damage die, equal to that of the weapon’s usual damage die.

Handy. You have advantage on attack rolls against a creature you are grappling, as well as against creatures that are grappling you.

Long. While you are wielding a long weapon, any creature that is not wielding a long weapon (or natural weapon of 10 feet reach) provokes an opportunity attack from you when they enter your reach. If you have the Polearm Master feat, you gain advantage on this roll. You have disadvantage to hit an opponent that is grappling you, or grappled by you, when you attack with a long weapon.

Long (defence). Weapons with the long (defence) property have the same benefits and disadvantages of those with the long property, but with one additional benefit. If you hit a creature with an opportunity attack as they enter your reach, you reduce their speed to zero.

Parry. When you are wielding a weapon with the parry property and a creature you can see hits you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction to add 1 to your AC for that attack, potentially causing the attack to miss you. You must have a Dexterity score of 13 or higher to take advantage of this feature, which can be used in conjunction with the Defensive Duelist feat.

Parry (versatile). A weapon with the parry (versatile) property may be used to parry normally with one hand (see above), or using two hands, in which case the wielder may add 2 to their AC.

Riposte. The speed of this weapon allows you to turn defence into attack. Whenever using the parry property of your weapon causes an attack to miss you, as part of the same reaction you make make a retaliatory melee attack, using your Dexterity modifier for the attack and damage rolls.

Savage. Savage weapons combine speed, weight and penetration, enabling them to deal decisive blows in combat. When you roll a 19 on an attack roll, roll an additional d6. If you roll the number given in parentheses next to the weapon, or higher, you score a critical hit. If the weapon has the versatile property reduce the number in the parentheses by 1, when it is wielded in two hands. If there is no number in parentheses, no need to roll a d6, a 19 is an automatic critical hit.

Shield-wrap. You gain a +1 to attack rolls against opponents wielding a shield.

Short. See special (dagger dual wield), below.

Smash. Weapons with the smash property offer their wielders a bonus to Strength (Athletics) checks to knock down wooden doors. The bonus is +2 for one-handed weapons, and +5 for both two-handed weapons and versatile weapons used with two hands.

Sneaky. This weapon is deadly against a distracted foe. When you deal sneak attack damage you may reroll any 1s on the damage dice, taking the new roll instead.

Spear. This multi-purpose weapon possesses the benefits of the spear’s charge and long properties. Attacks using these properties deal 1d8 piercing damage, instead of the weapon’s usual damage.

Special (bludgeoning). When you miss by 1 with this weapon, you deal half damage instead. Additionally, you may choose to deal bludgeoning damage against creatures with vulnerability to this damage type.

Special (dagger dual wield). You may dual wield with this weapon, providing your second weapon has the short property.

Two-handed (revised). When you score a critical hit with a two-handed weapon (or versatile weapon used with two hands) you may double your Strength damage modifier, as well as the damage dice.

Unwieldy. This weapon is impractical to use in a skirmish. You have disadvantage to hit creatures at close range, and your speed is halved. If mounted, your mount’s speed is not affected. Any one-handed weapon with the unwieldy quality needs to be used two-handed when not mounted.

My revised Weapons table, with new properties. Buy here.

Unarmed Strikes (Monks)

A monk’s unarmed strikes have the parry and riposte properties. However a monk cannot use the parry property against certain weapons, such as swords, unless they invest in some funky arm guards!

Opportunity Attacks (Rules Variants)

– Opportunity attacks made with thrown weapons have advantage, provided the attacker is already carrying the weapon (i.e. doesn’t have to draw it).

– Whenever you make an opportunity attack against a creature, you provoke an opportunity attack from all other hostile creatures within reach of you.

Design Notes

The latter of these two rules is designed to prevent outnumbered foes making opportunity attacks with impunity. Effectively it allows creatures to cover an ally’s retreat via numerical advantage. It also means creatures with long weapons, already engaged in combat, pay a price to attack new combatants as they enter their reach. (Alternatively you could rule that only creatures not engaged in combat can take advantage of the opportunity attacks granted by the long property / Polearm Master feat).

The former offers a cool advantage to those carrying throwable weapons, and reflects the ease of aiming at an unguarded rear, without having to get close enough to strike with a melee attack.

Critical Misses

Some while ago I gave critical misses a similar treatment, so if you want to grab my Fumbles Tables from the DMs Guild, that’s also a Pay What You Want product… I’ve been using them for a while and I think they work pretty well. Reviews ain’t bad either.

Magical Weapons

Like yourself some arcane booty? Here are ten free magical weapons for your table… for another hundred or so, plus a funky ‘Magic Weapon Generator’ with 1000s of combinations of properties check out Esquiel’s Guide to Magic Weapons.

How To Run a Chase in 5e D&D…. Step by Step Rules!

Is it just me, or do chases not really work in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons?

Mapping a chase out as an extension of combat quickly turns into a farce, as either the fleeing party is faster and the pursuer has zero chance of catching up, or the pursuer is the same speed or faster, leading to them wearing down their quarry with a tedious series of opportunity attacks.

Sometimes it’s better to run…. (Artwork by Grosnez).

The Dungeon Master’s Guide attempts to come to the rescue (p.252), and while it does introduce some fun “chase complications”, it forgets to give us any mechanics to determine the chase’s outcome, other than a) waiting for one side to drop dead of exhaustion or b) having the quarry make a successful Stealth contest to hide, and thereby escape. Which would be fine, but (as the authors themselves state) the quarry can only do when they are out of sight… and how they gain enough ground to get out of sight is not covered. 🤔

Shall we have a go at fixing this mess!?

Hell, why not…

Running a Chase: Hipster’s Rules Variant

In my revised rules, I’m going to run chases as a series of contests between participants. A success for the quarry over any given pursuer represents putting one level of separation (henceforth know as ‘gaps’) between the two of them. A success for a pursuer means the quarry is not able to open up any distance between them, while a success by 5 means that the pursuer actually closes 1 gap on the quarry.

[Note: depending on how testing goes, it may that the the quarry should have to win by 5 to open up a gap. A draw being a contest in which neither party is able to win by 5].

Here is a crib sheet for how to run this variant:

1) Establish that a chase has started.

A chase starts when a creature uses both its move action and the dash action to flee, and at least one other creature decides to pursue it, using both their move and the dash action in an attempt to keep up (in order to be on an even footing, it should do so before the start of the fleeing party’s next turn). When that happens the pursuer triggers a chase contest, and both the quarry and the pursuer roll. Any further pursuers also partake in the contest, following initiative order, comparing their roll to the quarry’s original roll.

2) Establish the appropriate skill for the contest

As the DM, determine which skill you want to use as the base of the chase contest. I suggest Strength (Athletics) for a chase taking place in relatively open terrain, like a field or hilltop, or Dexterity (Acrobatics) for a chase in obstacle-rich terrain, such as dense forest or winding/crowded city streets.

(If you don’t want to punish NPCs and monsters who don’t tend to have as many proficiencies as PCs you could opt for a straight Strength / Dexterity contest. And if you want something between Strength and Dexterity you could opt for a crossover skills check… Dexterity (Athletics), for example).

3) Establish each creature’s chase modifier

We need to reflect the fact that some creatures are faster than others, and some – like rogues with their cunning action ability – have added mobility. We can do this by applying additional “chase modifiers” to the contest.

For every 5 feet of movement above 30 feet a creature has add +4 to their chase contest modifier, for every 5 feet less, use a -4 modifier. (In other words a creature with a speed of 40 feet adds +8 to their chase contest, while a creature with 25 feet speed has a -4 modifier).

Creatures who use an ability, such as the rogue’s cunning action, to take the dash action twice in one round, gain advantage on their chase contest roll.

4) Determine the success of any pursuers

Determine if a pursuer loses 1 gap, maintains distance, or closes 1 gap on the quarry, by comparing their rolls to that of the quarry.

Any pursuer that ends their turn with zero gaps between them and the quarry may take an Attack action directed at the quarry (hint: they may want to select grapple in a bid to end the chase).

As with the rules in the DMG, we are doing away with opportunity attacks once the chase is underway, so if the quarry is still alive, and not grappled, it may continue running away without provoking further attacks.

5) Escaping / Ending the Chase

When the chase begins, as the DM, determine how many gaps the quarry must open up between itself and its closest pursuer to escape and finish the chase. I would suggest between 3 or 4 gaps for an urban chase, or 4 or 5 for a more open chase.

As an option you could give the quarry a chance to end the chase 1 gap earlier than the gaps required to outrun the pursuers, by contesting a Dexterity (Stealth) check against the Wisdom (Perception) of any pursuers. On a success they have outfoxed their hunters, finding a hiding place, or slipping away under cover. On a failure, as the DM, you will have to decide if the quarry is now cornered or in a position to dart off and start the chase again.

You can run, and you can hide… (Artwork by Czepeku).

Those 5 steps should give you a solid outline of a useable chase mechanic.

A few more things to bear in mind…

More Chase Mechanics…

6) Measuring Distances / Variable Starting Points

One gap is not meant to represent an exact distance, but, when you need to, you can consider a gap as around 30 feet. That means when a creature starts 60 feet away from an adversary which turns and flees, the chase starts with 2 gaps between the quarry and its pursuer, even before the first contest is rolled.

In the scenario when one creature flees in combat, and is pursued by not only the creature it was fighting, but by a second creature who was slightly further away on the combat grid, then the second creature suffers a -2 modifier for every 5 feet it was away from the quarry (before the quarry fled) on its initial chase contest. Obviously if it was 30 feet away simply start with 1 gap between them, before the first contest begins. (If it was 40 feet, start with 1 gap and a -4 modifier on the first contest roll).

Optional Rule: If someone wants to chase and still use their action (to cast a spell etc.), then you can let them automatically lose 1 gap on the quarry and roll the usual contest to potentially lose a second. In this case remove the chance of closing one gap, even if they roll 5 above the quarry in the chase contest.

Someone that uses neither their move, nor their action to dash, automatically loses 2 gaps on the quarry. (This might occur if someone chooses to do something first before entering the chase).

7) Consider Introducing Exhaustion

I wouldn’t bother introducing exhaustion checks within chases to begin with, as they will slow the whole scene down further, which is about the last thing you want during a high speed chase. But once you’ve got a good handle on these mechanics, I think there’s some realism and merit to the rules in the DMG (p.252).

To summarise: a creature can use the dash action in a successive numbers of rounds a number of times equal to 3 plus their Constitution modifier. After that they must make a DC 10 Constitution check or suffer one level of exhaustion. (Exhaustion levels gained during the chase can be removed by a simple short rest).

8) Obstacles / Complications

Navigating obstacles is baked into this chase rules variant system, in that success and or failure in the chase contest rolls is effectively about how well or badly a creature deals with things like low hanging branches, tree roots, divots, ditches, or in an urban chase, crowds, carriages, tight corners, piles of detritus etc…

However there’s nothing to stop you adding in the flavourful chase complications from the DMG (p.254), once you’ve got the basic mechanics running smoothly. Just use common sense to adjust the result for this system. If the quarry slips and falls prone for example, every pursuer might gain 1 gap automatically (if they themselves do not fall prey to the same obstacle!).

Another way you could handle obstacles or changing scenery in a chase would be to switch the skill used for the contest for one round. For example, if you’ve been using Dexterity (Acrobatics) to contest a chase through the narrow back allies of Waterdeep, you could switch to Strength (Athletics) when the chase opens out onto a long stretch of main road. This is also a bit quicker than consulting a table, which can slow things down.

Narrating A Chase

It’s all too easy for a potentially breathtaking chase in Dungeons & Dragons to turn into a slog of tedious dice rolls, whether you’re using my system, or the RAW (Rules As Written).

A die roll to establish or close a gap, without any descriptive context, is yawn-inspiringly dry and dull. A die roll to determine how deftly a PC manages to leap over falling barrels and then skirt around a sharp corner is immersive and fun.

In other words, the success of a chase scene in D&D is more down to how you describe it than the mechanics, so give yourself plenty of permission to improvise and have fun.

Bring the players in on it too, by describing the scenery of the chase but having them narrate how their character navigates the stacked chicken coops, tumbling barrels of oil, panicky flock of sheep etc., using their dice roll to narrate the appropriate amount of success.

So there you go! I’m looking forward to giving these a go in my next Dragon Heist session (until now I’ve been a bit lost in chase situations, so this is my concerted attempt to fix that!)… let me know how you get on with them in the comments section if you choose to try them out.

I’m going to leave you with probably the best foot chase in cinematic history for a bit of inspiration…

6 Alternatives To Starting An Adventure in a Tavern

It’s arguably Dungeon & Dragon’s biggest cliché… a group of misfits who had never before laid eyes on one another are suddenly galvanised by a tavern encounter to go forth and save the world together. And while most D&D players are more than happy to humour this convention as a means of facilitating gameplay, “you all meet in a tavern” is not the most exciting way to kick off a new campaign and to generate player excitement, given how commonplace it is. And so I thought it might be a good idea to study the alternatives.

10,000 XP if you rescue the princess! (Artwork by Another Wanderer).

Before we can do that however, we first have to consider why the tavern is the de facto starting point for 95% of fantasy quests, and what role it plays in kicking off the adventure.

The latter point is rather easier to answer, so let’s start with that. The tavern is where the adventurers receive their call to action. It’s where they meet a hooded stranger, hear a rumour, are handed a treasure map, foil an assassination, read a “wanted dead or alive” sign, or are hired by a travelling merchant.

The tavern is where the adventurers receive their call to action.

But why does this call to action always happen in a tavern? Firstly, because taverns are meeting points. In any medieval-inspired settlement, they would be the main social centres, and the hub of news and gossip, making them a natural place for the players to come into contact with interesting NPCs.

They are also places where strangers pass through, interrupting everyday life with their ‘otherness’, possibly bringing disturbing news from the north, introducing a powerful (cursed) magic item for sale, giving a cryptic clue to a lost faraway treasure, or revealing a scandalous secret in their dying breaths. (Strangers and ‘otherness’ are an oft-used device, used by storytellers, from ancient times to present, to spark interesting events that deviate from the mundane).

Importantly, a tavern is a place where any of the PCs at your table might feasibly find themselves, no matter what their back story. Few players create PCs that have stable homes in a prosperous and safe merchant town. Most are outcasts, vagrants, rogues, (lone) rangers, wanderers. It might be hard to find a location where a diverse crew of PCs, who most likely have not interlinked their back stories (even though I recommend they should… see below!), might find themselves, given their unique motivations and personalities. Itinerant souls always need a pillow to lay their head at the end of the day, however, so any overtly adventurous adventurer has cause to be found in the village tavern. Meanwhile, even stay-put city-dwelling PCs may enjoy a flagon of wine at the end of the day: who would begrudge the studious acolyte a swift half after a hard session at the library? While a wood-dwelling druid might pop into a tavern common room for a herbal tea and the local news of wandering monsters.

Anyone fancy a quiet pint? (Artwork by Scott Murphy for Wizards of the Coast).

So now that we know why the tavern is the go-to starting point for D&D adventures… because it’s a believable place for almost any newly-created PC to find themselves (whatever their back story), with rich potential for receiving calls to action via interactions with NPCs… we can start to think about how to mix it up and present new scenarios.

1. The Main Square

One “like for like” replacement for the tavern – maybe the only one – is a village, town or city’s main square. The centre of any medieval settlement, the main square was where traders came to sell their goods at market, and it would be full of merchants, nobles, peasants, travellers, bards and other entertainers. It was also the place where politicians delivered speeches and town criers announced news from neighbouring settlements, and would play host to fairs, tournaments, street theatre, parades and other spectacles. It may also have served as a place of executions, and a gathering point during any uprisings and civil unrest.

The medieval town square of Hallstatt in Austria

In other words these market squares were places ripe with adventure, so your PCs will hardly need an excuse to be hanging out here, and you, as the DM, will have plenty of scope to deliver the call to action that kickstarts your adventure. Whether it’s a creepy soothsayer grabbing a PC with their spindly arm and prophesying a gruesome event, militant clerics arresting a respected civilian for heresy, or a straight forward “heroes wanted” announcement bawled aloud by a noble’s steward, the possibilities are close to endless.

2. Other Urban Locations

After a town’s taverns and market square, there are a few other places which, while not quite as open-ended, could be considered as a potential starting point for a D&D adventure. The docks of a seaside town are a lively meeting point for sailors, gossip mongers, soldiers, custom officers, drunks, merchants, travellers and strange cargo. Pious PCs might be found in a temple (hint: injured fighters tend to develop new found piety, as do poisoned rogues), scholarly parties might have a reason to be in a library, and those with official business might be found in a town hall. A bridge is always an exciting place for a fight to break out.

Obviously larger cities have more potential for creative starting points than small villages, but in this example I want you to think of public spaces that are accessible to the PCs without any pre-conditions. You, or they, might still have to work on why they’d be there (at the same time).

3. The Event

One of my favourite ways to start an adventure is not at a geographical location per se, but at a social ‘location’, i.e. at an event. You hardly need to come up with an excuse for why PCs would be attending a festival, fair or tournament, and after that anything can happen. A princess throws a PC a flower (that has a secret message wrapped around its stem), a wealthy noble is poisoned, a fight breaks out between pro and anti-monarchists, a patron sees potential in the party (after they foil a thief, or win a tournament prize) that will help them achieve their aims, a valuable item goes missing from the town’s treasure vault and the travelling circus are blamed. Again the possibilities stretch a long way for this one.

I just came to admire the lanterns! (Artwork by Unodu).

Some potential events you could use as starting points would be.

i. Festival (be sure to use some real life inspiration for what that might entail… parades, costumes, religious ceremonies, music, drinking, dancing are a good start)
ii. Travelling carnival or circus
iii. (Trade) fair or exposition
iv. Tournament or sporting event
v. Royal wedding
vi. Costume or masked ball
vii. Funeral (for a statesperson or hero)
viii. Speech (announcing a controversial new law)
ix. Execution
x. Uprising or riot

Any of these would lend your world a lot of flavour and make the start of your adventure more memorable than most.

4. The Mission Debriefing Room

Worried your PCs won’t bite on your hook (i.e. your call to action)? Well fast forward the adventure just a jot, and make the decision for them. In this scenario, before your players have even made their PCs, it’s best to tell them clearly to “make a character who would be interested in going on a quest for… (loot, honour, revenge, adventure etc.)” and you start the adventure with them receiving their orders from whoever has recruited them for this mission (more on this concept here). Maybe the PCs are members of the Gray Hands, in which case the starting point is Blackstaff Towers in Waterdeep, where Vajra lays out their mission objectives. In general the ‘geographical location’ might be any office, meeting room, reception chamber etc. or other private space (including in the back room, or private section, of a tavern!) where their patron or superior officer can confidentially pass on the assignment.

5. In Media Res

In fact, now that we’ve liberated ourselves from roleplaying the PCs receiving their call to action, we can fast forward the adventure even further if we so choose. One scenario that has come up a few occasions in my years as a player is that, as a party, we’ve already accepted an assignment to guard a merchant caravan (which of course is attacked, cue the opening scene). But others could be yet more daring. The PCs have been entrusted to deliver a magic item from out of a bloody siege that is in full flow, or they need to escape from a collapsing castle pronto, or they are already swimming towards an island jail to free a political prisoner. There’s a reason however why this option is rarely used, and that’s because there’s a D&D convention that says the PCs should make all their character decisions, including, importantly, the original acceptance of any quest (hence the tavern!).

…for a one shot you should definitely be thinking about this option to maximise your time playing the real crux of the quest…

However, I will repeat the point I made about having the players make a PC who would specifically be interested in the type of adventure, as a DM, you’re planning to run. And while for a long running campaign it’s nice to be traditional and start at the very beginning of an adventure, for a one shot you should definitely be thinking about this option to maximise your time playing the real crux of the quest, and not bother muddling through the awkward formalities.

6. The Prison

A classic – even if it also borders on cliché! Starting an adventure in a prison provides a compelling shared motivation for the PCs that has been the start of many great adventures, and the catalyst to many adventuring parties getting together to save the multiverse. Spice things up by having them hooded, bound, gagged, drugged, interrogated, you name it!

Pssssst! Wanna get outta here, bro? (Artwork by Kleyos).

Hopefully this article has inspired you to think outside the box for your next adventure as a DM, but before I go, I just want to touch on a couple more things related to this topic.

Firstly…

Get The Players To Interweave Their Back Stories

One thing you can do that can either remove your reliance on the tavern as a starting location, or at least reduce the amount of awkward introductions and “hey strangers, wouldn’t it be swell if we teamed up to save the world”-style roleplaying interactions is ask the players to interweave their PCs’ back stories. If for example the party are part of the Emerald Enclave then it makes sense that they would all be a winter solstice party in the woods (when zombies attack!), so you can get rid of the tavern scene. If two PCs are related, and are two more are close friends, then the leap in logic to make them team up to go on a quest is that much smaller and less incredulous. Not only this but asking the players to think how their PCs might know each other will lead to better and deeper back stories that you, as the DM, can tap into, and will also make the players care more than just the skin of their own PC… leading to a better gaming experience for all.

Secondly, if you do decide to stick with the classic tavern formula, here’s how to do it well:

Make the Tavern (Scene) Memorable…

Confession time! The last two campaigns of my D&D group both started in taverns, and the last was DM’ed by yours truly. Both however proved to be successful first sessions. My friend Juan started his take on the Dragonlance campaign with us hiding from the rain in a tavern built into the branches of a towering tree. He first gave us a chance to indulge in some fun improvised roleplaying with NPCs (several of whom had valuable information for us), before having a dragon burst through the ceiling. That’s quite an epic start at level 1! Obviously we were forced to flee, as kobold and dragon forces stormed the settlement, making for an extremely tense and scary first session.

I’m currently running Dragon Heist and I modified the opening scenario of the Yawning Portal tavern to include elements from the PCs back stories (hint: my supplement Waterdeep Background Hooks might help you do the same!), and I pimped up the bar room scuffle into a more intriguing assassination attempt on Davil Starsong that plays into the story’s main narrative (meanwhile I got rid of the troll attack, which doesn’t serve much purpose except as a teaser for Dungeon of the Mad Mage, which we’re unlikely to play. Although I did describe adventurers descending into the well, to help build an atmospheric locale).

In both cases action-packed events got us off to memorable starts – events which forced PCs to work together to deal with a threat, thus forming their adventuring party – plus the taverns themselves were distinct locations, with bold features that the players can easily picture in their minds.

In other words, there’s nothing wrong with starting in the tavern, but aim for a compelling action scene in a unique locale, that galvanises the party into co-operating. Sprinkle in roleplaying opportunities that are relevant to the campaign and by the time it’s ready you should have successfully baked the best version of this classic D&D recipe.

Tavern Supplements on DMs Guild

I actually love the romanticism of hanging out in taverns in D&D, even if I do champion the idea of starting your adventure somewhere else if possible. Taverns are not just for the beginnings of quests; they can provide unique locales for any number of key scenes at any point along the campaign trail. For some time I’ve been meaning to write a compendium of original pubs, inns and hostelries, but guess what… someone has beaten me to it!

You can buy the current number 1 bestseller Taverns, Inns and Taprooms on the Dungeon Master’s Guild.

Further Reading

For a bit more of fast and furious inspiration for alternative campaign starts try this list by Dangermouse, or this one by Dndspeak.

For a deeper understanding of campaign starts, Angry GM raises some interesting points here, in a rather wordy, but worthwhile, post.

Call Lightning is Really Boring… Here’s How To Fix It!

My second ever 5e character was a tempest cleric called Jaxx Storm. Safely floating to shore in a barrel as a baby, after his boat was shipwrecked, he believed himself to be the son of Shaundakul, and had an attitude to match his (self-declared) demi-god status. I had a lot of fun playing him, as he was pretty versatile. I could switch between being pretty handy in melee (I enjoyed knocking people over with my shield – using Shieldmaster feat – and then smashing them with my morning star) and casting utility spells, and I never tired of unleashing wrath of the storm (p.62, Player’s Handbook) on my opponents.

However, as I played through levels 1-4, what I was really looking forward to was reaching 5th level and getting my hands on call lightning. When that happened my PC became a lot more powerful, as I had expected, but sadly he also became a lot less fun to play…

Call Lightning

3rd level conjuration

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 120 feet
Components: V, S
Duration: Concentration, up to 10 minutes

A storm cloud appears in the shape of a cylinder that is 10 feet tall with a 60-foot radius, centered on a point you can see 100 feet directly above you. The spell fails if you can’t see a point in the air where the storm cloud could appear (for example, if you are in a room that can’t accommodate the cloud).

When you cast the spell, choose a point you can see within range. A bolt of lightning flashes down from the cloud to that point. Each creature within 5 feet of that point must make a Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes 3d10 lightning damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. On each of your turns until the spell ends, you can use your action to call down lightning in this way again, targeting the same point or a different one.

If you are outdoors in stormy conditions when you cast this spell, the spell gives you control over the existing storm instead of creating a new one. Under such conditions, the spell’s damage increases by 1d10.

At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher level, the damage increases by 1d10 for each slot level above 3rd.

Bring the storm!

Looks Great… So What’s The Problem?

The problem with this spell is that a) it’s too good – it does significantly more damage than a cleric’s melee attacks and other spell options at 5th level, and b) it goes on forever. The result was that I ended up using call lightning every time we entered a major combat. And so, instead of getting involved in the fight, I just hung around at the back of the battle doing the same thing every turn… another 3d10 damage. This, it turns out, is really f*cking boring!

Given that you could theoretically keep on casting call lightning for 100 turns of combat, hitting maybe two foes on average, you could potentially end up doing around 600 x d10 (3300) hit points of damage using just one third level spell slot. In practice this is rarely going to happen, but a cleric of the tempest or a druid taking cover behind a battlement could swing a long battle single-handedly with just this one spell, making it ridiculously overpowered in certain circumstances.

That’s another reason why I’m tempted to tinker with this one…

Hipster’s Fix

How can we solve these issues neatly, without nerfing the spell? My suggestion is that after initially casting the spell and calling down your first bolt, at the start of each subsequent turn you must roll a d6. On a 5 or 6, the storm cloud you have conjured has recharged and you can unleash another bolt on your foes. On a 1-4 it keeps brewing, meaning you can’t use it this turn – however for each turn the storm brews you can add an extra d10 damage when you next are able to call down a bolt.

This adds a really fun random twist to proceedings. In two out of three rounds you’ll have to find something else to do, maybe joining melee or casting another (non concentration) spell. But when the 5 or 6 turns up the fun factor of bringing down another lightning bolt returns… especially fun if it has charged up to 4, 5, 6 or god knows how many d10s of damage.

By both reducing the number of times it can be used, and by increasing the likelihood of the caster losing concentration (as they won’t want to spend their time taking cover and doing nothing on the rounds it doesn’t recharge), this fix also balances the spell quite nicely, I believe.

Sadly Jaxx Storm is in retirement right now, so please get back to me if you have a chance to implement this fix in your game… just leave a comment below!

For more spell discussions check out these posts on why hypnotic pattern is too good, why fireball is so much better than lightning bolt, and dealing with banishment. There’s usually some good reader comments as well.

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