Hipsters & Dragons

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

Author: duncan (Page 1 of 5)

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.

The Lion & The Blades, by Weston Prestage

The DMs Guild is the resource that keeps on giving and I never fail to be astonished by the creativity and industry of the many many contributors enlarging the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse. Expanded monster manuals, epic compendiums of NPC statblocks, planar guides, warlock handbooks, and my own guide to magic weapons (get a free sample here!), there’s so much rich material to add to your game.

For all the handbooks, player options, and new lore, for my money there’s nothing quite as romantic as an adventure, especially when it takes you back – Stranger Things-style – to a pre-digital world of kids riding their BMXes through the rain to clatter dice together during the school holidays. And so, without further ado, let me give over the reins to Weston Prestage, whose adventure, The Lion and the Blades, is steeped in 2nd edition nostalgia…

Tell us about your adventure, The Lion and the Blades…

It’s a city / dock / sewer adventure for a 1st level party. Taking place over one intense speed run with no breaks or hit point boosting power naps. It starts a group off like being shot from a cannon into the intensity of what D&D always was for me. Hot, fast and often brutal… grim meat hook realities… lying in wait for bad choices and bad rolls… and the rewards of REAL emotion at your success or failures.

I made this adventure when I was 14, and it was written in the twisted yet simplistic style of the mind of a 14-year-old Dungeon Master who ran a group of four to six players in a small town in rural New Zealand in the year 1991. I have brought it up to 5e standards without losing the old school 2nd edition – mostly made up as you go along, out of total imagination and written in the back of your math book in class, feel.

The Lion and the Blades is a “Linear” Adventure to a degree… the players are not wandering about mission-less, paralyzed by sandy boxy free choice.

Buy The Lion & The Blades on the DMs Guild

Why did you write it?

Back in the early days, I always had a hard time starting off adventurers on their first few levels, as most of what was available back in the early 90s was high level stuff or pretty dull, orc and goblins in rooms or caves in the hills stuff… I wanted to start guys off with a bang… and so I would make adventures where a powerful NPC mentored them… kind of.

I had big goals that my games and adventures were always going to be amazing. That the players will be faced with challenge after challenge and it will possibly be too much for them, mentally. My adventures have been known to cause grown men to lie down on the floor and refuse to get up until the mad merry go round stops. Others enjoy the carnie roller-coaster feel of my adventures. When, back in 91, the guys showed up at my house after riding in the rain for an hour – they needed something to bring them back to life. My adventures did just that.

How about a little taster then?

Knowing how much players love swimming their characters through freezing cold water toward adventure I made sure to include this:

The party comes to a large pipe with sea sounds and sea smells from the seashore issuing from it – a salty and refreshing change from the slimy sewers. Leon asks if someone would scout stoutly ahead to make sure the coast is clear. He also says that if anyone has anything that water would ruin, to leave it here as now they will be swimming aways.

After 20 feet of crawling, the pipe ends underneath a wharf. Leon jumps out and starts swimming strongly through the cold dark salty seawater, towards a huge and terrifying, Black and Blue painted Galleon, bristling with gun hatches (if you run a gunpowder game) and vicious barnacles. This is the Black and Blue Lass. The wooden pillars that support the wharf are spaced 20 feet apart and the players must swim through the freezing water with attendant penalties from the cold. Bad swimmers can swim/ from wharf pillar to wharf pillar clutching and sputtering at each of these, on the way to the galleon…

Who the hell are you by the way?

I’ve been playing since January 1985… I met a kid called Ben, who introduced me to a game called Tunnels and Trolls.

Ben and I played this game a lot over that summer in a sweltering little caravan…with my characters Rambo I, II and III.

My foolish and reckless play style got me killed often but undaunted I made my own dungeon and killed other people’s characters.

When I was 11, I could finally understand the Red Box I got for Xmas when I was 10. Then a teenager sold me all his 1st ed books at the same time 2nd ed came out. By 13 I’m playing a twisted house ruled out of control bastard mix of all of the above and did so until 16. Every weekend and holiday… A good 20 hours a week + 15 hours creating adventures with my gaming group of 6 players.

I resisted 3.0 – 3.5 all the way until I was 26 when I was up in a cabin in the wilds of Canada hanging with some hippies and one day one of them said “The way you speak… You sound like a Dungeon Master… I made the outrageous claim that I was not only a 47th level Dungeon master, but one of the top 10 on the planet…and the only difference between myself and Dungeon Masters …. is that I am a Dungeon Master.

He produced a 3.0 players handbook and some battered dice and the twisted hippies forced me to read the book cover to cover and kept me as a captive in a cabin for 26 straight days while I took them on an immense campaign 1st level to 17th – all adventures run from memory …seamlessly and flawlessly.

I have taken breaks now and then to work and get things done, but when I get rolling on playing its fully immersed.

Now Im 42 – I have a “D and D room” in my house and every book worth having since 1977– EVERY Dungeon magazine, Every Dragon Magazine, and my poor 7 year old son starts every second sentence with “In D & D…”

I kept playing right into the unplayable mass of piddling plusses and minuses that pathfinder became before almost going into a brain dead coma from it all… then 5e liberated me like a firebird from the sooty nightmare realm of min maxed optimized builds and pictures of cartoony monsters wielding giant weapons.

If someone had told me as a child that I would spend countless hours over the next 35 years scribbling into notebooks, rolling dice, making funny voices and would go without food, sleep and even destroy perfectly good relationships with perfectly proportioned women all for the thrill of helping others follow me through a glowing green portal into an imaginary world populated with fairies, elves and gremlins I would have grabbed them by the arm and said…

“THERE’S A” PORTAL????!!!!!”

And what else have you written?

I have written about 20 other adventures, a number I converted to 3.5 and were very popular on old D&D websites back in the day. They are almost all insanely epic in scope 40+ hours each – not the stuff for beer and pretzels play… but more like group of 14 year olds living in a remote area fodder. In their original note form, each adventure filled 3-4 school notebooks. One is almost 400 pages long. If I had the strength … I would convert them to 5e for DMs guild.

I can send people the 3.5 PDFs if anyone is interested.

And just for fun…

What’s your current PC?

I have never really played in anyone’s game before, I’ve always DMed… what I do is make up insane NPCs and kind of play them along with the players… like Glambrax. A demented mullet wearing alcoholic human afflicted with dwarfism. He is numb from years of self-abuse and wild with rage at his own existence. When not trying to win prizefights, he lives in a barrel in the slums and sells roasted rats and a crude beer fermented from acorns.

Both rats and acorns being gathered for him by street urchins he has befriended.

What’s your favorite character class?

Dwarven Rogue. Tough and rough, low Charisma, low dex, high strength and constitution, chops through chests instead of picking them, crowbars traps apart instead of disarming them and screams at people instead of persuading them…

What’s your favorite monster?

Twisted NPCs… it could be a deranged fisherman… a crazed orphan Elf or a human with dwarfism that has racially appropriated the Duergar race. The kookier and more intense the better.

What’s your favorite official D&D adventure?

The UK Series… they are all amazing, but the shining gem is When a Star Falls. I love massive wilderness adventures that have many plots and twists going on at once.

You can get in touch with me, Weston Prestage, via email: agentfestaskull@gmail.com

Buy The Lion & The Blades on the DMs Guild

Rage Against The Mainstream: The Ultimate 5e Barbarian Guide

So you’re thinking of playing a barbarian in your forthcoming 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign? A commendable choice. This is one of 5e’s most powerful and fun classes, with a tonne of cool options and builds – especially if you go down the Path of the Totem Warrior.

A strong mechanical base aside, the class allows for fantastic roleplaying flavour that that goes way beyond the stereotypical beer-drinking, brainless brawler most gamers end up playing (sorry Grog, too predictable!).

In this guide, I’m going to look at a few ways to optimise a barbarian build for maximum effectiveness. And more importantly, I’m going to look at ways we can create a three-dimensional character that rages against the mainstream interpretation of this class…

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The Barbarian’s Role in the Party

Ta(n)king it

Barbarians play two roles in most 5th edition D&D parties. Firstly they are excellent “tanks” that occupy enemy monsters and soak up hits that would kill puny wizards and rogues. They are the only class to get a d12 for their hit dice and their rage feature (the class’s defining ability) gives them resistance to bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage. In other words, they can soak up A LOT of damage. The bad news is that they can’t rage while wearing heavy armour, and so they tend to have weak AC, meaning you are going to get hit A LOT. Still, you have little to fear from being on the front line, and with some canny optimisations you will often be killing your foes before they even have a chance to take a swing at you.

Giving it out

Aside from taking it, barbarians are the best damage dealers amongst the martial and non-caster classes in my experience (not counting the Paladin, and their spell-slot charged divine smite ability). Barbarians get a damage bonus to melee attacks when they rage, and their 2nd level reckless attack ability pairs brilliantly with the (somewhat overpowered) Great Weapon Master feat to reliably dish out deadly blows. Reckless attack also improves the number of critical hits you roll, which pairs with their brutal critical feature that kicks in at 9th level (and improves at 13th and 17th level).

Personally, I love being on the front line in combat, instead of pussy-footing around at the back, and if you like being in the maelstrom of battle you’ll enjoy playing a barbarian. The class’s tactic of trading mighty blows with their opponents in a fast and furious contest to see who is toughest and strongest is far more fun, IMHO, than wrapping yourself up in plate armour and a shield and slogging foes into slow submission with a one-handed weapon. Yawn! If you feel the same, keep reading…

Barbarian Build

Let’s look at how to optimise a powerful barbarian, that performs its role to great effect.

Best Race Options

A great barbarian is built around high Strength and Constitution, so naturally any race that gives us a starting boost in those stats is a favourable choice.

The dwarf beserker is a bit of a fantasy cliche by now, but if you can’t resist a +2 in Str and Con, I won’t judge you for playing a mountain dwarf.

The half orc is a perfect fit, with a +2 to Str and +1 to Con, plus the Menacing, Relentless Endurance and Savage Attack abilities, while their complicated heritage can be something you utilise in your character realisation. Did they grow up with humans or with orcs? Do they try to contain their orcish rage, or embrace it?

If you’re planning on a playing a goliath (from the new player races in Volo’s Guide to Monsters), chances are you’re planning on playing a goliath barbarian. Similar to the half orc, you get a +2 to Str and +1 to Con, and the skills Natural Athlete, Stone’s Endurance and Powerful Build are great complements to the class. Lore-wise and their tough tribal society is a perfect fit for the stereotypical Vikings-style barbarian… we will flesh out tribes further along in this article.

However, my favourite race for a barbarian is definitely human. This not only gives me a chance to dip into real-world history for direct inspiration (more on that later), but if I select the feat variant I can choose a feat like Dual Wielder, Great Weapon Master or Savage Attacker straight from the off… you also gain proficiency in one skill of your choice.

As outside shouts, a lizardfolk barbarian could be quite interesting, you could draw inspiration from Warhammer’s elven wardancers to make a wood elf barbarian, or you could possibly try a conflicted half elf barbarian, who might act an ambassador between their savage tribes and more civilised societies.

Best Stat Block

Using the standard stat block, I would build my human barbarian (using feat variant) like this…

Strength: 16 (15+1)
Dexterity: 14 (13+1)
Constitution: 14
Intelligence: 8
Wisdom: 12
Charisma: 10

Strength is obviously the barbarian’s key stat, while Constitution gives us both extra hit points and extra AC (thanks to “Unarmoured Defense”)… you may even want to consider swapping it with Strength! A half decent Dexterity is pretty essential for someone who doesn’t wear armour, while a lot of barbarian-flavoured skills (nature, survival, animal handling, perception) rely on Wisdom.

As you can see Intelligence and Charisma are my dump stats, but that doesn’t mean you have to pander to the old stereotypes in your interpretation of this class. A low intelligence in D&D terms simply means you are not well versed in history, religion and arcana. You are no academic, but it doesn’t mean you’re as thick as two short planks. A low to middling Charisma makes sense for a character whose savagery make make them magnetic to some and repulsive to others.

For my feat I would take Dual Wielder or Great Weapon Master, dependent on my weapons of choice. Let’s look at the options.

Weapons

Fighting With a Two-handed Weapon

I really hate having only one attack, even at low levels, but if I combine a greatsword with Great Weapon Master and use my Reckless Attack feature (from 2nd level), I can already put up some numbers. In total, I can do 2d6 +3 strength, +2 rage, +10 (GWM) = 22 damage per hit, and the advantage from Reckless Attack should help offset the -5 penalty, at least against creatures with low ACs. If 22 hp is enough to kill someone, I get a bonus attack and the chance to do another 22 hp.

Fighting With Two Weapons

Alternatively I can go with the Dual Wielder feat and utilise two weapons (longsword and battleaxe!), doing 1d8 +3 strength, +2 rage with my first attack and +1d8 +2 rage with my second = total 16 damage on average when I hit with both. Aside from getting my rage damage bonus twice (hopefully!), the advantages here are I won’t be using Great Weapon Master and incurring a -5 penalty, so I’ll be hitting more often. Also, as I will be less reliant on using Reckless Attack, I will also get hit less often, as enemies won’t be attacking me with advantage so frequently. Plus I get +1 AC from the Dual Wielder feat. I might need to pick up a level of fighter later to get the Two-Weapon Fighting style, so I can add my Strength modifier to my second weapon attack.

Overall the mega damage of the first option is maybe too much to resist. Certainly when my to hit modifiers improve enough and I get a second attack, then the two-handed weapon approach will be notably more deadly.

It might be that you want to have a main fighting style, such as using a greatsword paired with Great Weapon Master, but still have a shield and battleaxe for when you need to be a little more conservative.

Primal Path

The biggest decision you have to make when playing a barbarian is which Primal Path to take at 3rd level. I’m going to rate each of them out of 5 for Power and Roleplaying Flavour.

1. Path of the Beserker (Player’s Handbook)

“The Path of a Beserker is a path of untrammeled fury, slick with blood. As you enter the beserker’s rage, you thrill in the chaos of battle, heedless of your own health or well-being.”

This path is built around getting extra attacks, but comes at a huge price. Your core ability Frenzy means you use a bonus action each turn while you rage to make an extra attack, however at the end of the rage you suffer one level of exhaustion, a condition which requires a long rest to get rid of, with very few workarounds. To be honest, as this is the most bland interpretation of a barbarian out there, I’m glad it’s the one that got nerfed, as however handy an extra attack might be, I don’t want to spend the rest of the day getting disadvantage on all my skills checks – this is your fastest path to a very one dimensional character. Tip: if you are desperate to play anger personified and want to unnerf this path, instead of making the level of exhaustion automatic you could ask your DM to allow you to make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw at the end of a frenzied rage (or DC 8, but with +2 for every round you frenzied) only gaining the level of exhaustion on a failure.

Power: 2/5
Roleplaying Flavour: 2/5

2. Path of the Totem Warrior (Player’s Handbook)

“The Path of the Totem Warrior is a spiritual journey, as the barbarian accepts a spirit animal as guide, protector and inspiration. In battle, your totem spirit fills you with supernatural might…”

When you choose this path you face another choice… which animal to choose as your spirit guide: bear, eagle or wolf (Player’s Handbook), or elk or tiger (Sword Coast Adventurers Guide). Each offers unique and flavoursome abilities at 3rd, 6th and 14th level, although in terms of power it’s hard to look past the bear and the wolf. The former grants resistance to all damage types (except psychic)… and it’s fun to picture yourself emerging from the flames and ashes of a fireball, singed but not stirred, to the dismay of an enemy caster. Choosing the wolf totem makes your barbarian the ultimate team player, granting advantage to your allies when they attack hostile creatures within 5 feet of you. Meanwhile, the eagle and elk offer incredible manoeuvrability and the tiger some added athleticism.

The flavour for this primal path is unbeatable. “At your option, you also gain minor physical attributes that are reminiscent of your totem spirit. For example, if you have a bear totem spirit, you might be unusually hairy and thick-skinned, or if your totem is the eagle, your eyes turn bright yellow.” Very cool, but you could take it further and have the totem spirit influence, not just your character’s physical traits, but their behaviour too. Those that follow the path of the wolf might constantly be sniffing the air, chewing on a bone, peeing on trees and looking after their pack. They might let rip with an almighty howl whenever they enter a rage.

When I created my Totem of the Leopard supplement (check it out on the DM’s Guild!) I came up with a table of eight behavioural traits that a barbarian who communes with a leopard (or black panther) spirit animal might have. Hopefully you agree with me in thinking that you could have a lot of extra fun on the table by using these ideas to flesh out your PC’s character.

d8 – Leopard Totem Personality Traits
1. I am nocturnal
2. I only eat meat
3. I prefer to sleep in a tree than a bed
4. I am an antisocial loner
5. I snarl when I’m angry
6. I observe my enemy closely before I attack
7. I am scared of fire and lightning
8. I hate water (even though I can swim just fine!)

For my Totem of the Lion supplement, the same table looks like this:

d8 – Lion Totem Personality Traits
1. I take great pride in my appearance
2. It is only right that the strong rule the weak
3. I am naturally superior to others
4. I never hide my displeasure
5. I protect my pride
6. …so they should prepare my supper, while I take a nap
7. I am scared of fire and lightning
8. My powerful demeanour masks my insecurities

By taking any of the official WOTC totem animals, one of my big cat totems (cheetah, jaguar and a revised tiger totem coming soon!), or even a new totem of your own making, you can really go to town here on customising your barbarian’s abilities and personality.

Power: 5/5
Roleplaying Flavour: 5/5

3. Path of the Battlerager (Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide)

“Battleragers are dwarf followers of the gods of war… they specialize in wearing bulky spiked armor and throwing themselves into combat, striking with their body itself.”

Not quite my style, but kind of fun, your core ability is Battelrager Armor which allows you to make a 1d4 + Str + Rage bonus attack every round you rage in as a bonus action. That’s pretty damn good, as are your 6th and 10th level abilities. All are combat abilities however, and there’s not too much to grab hold of flavour-wise… I did find a bit more info here. The ritualistic singing and boar riding are nice touches you could utilise.

Power: 4/5
Roleplaying Flavour: 2/5

4. Path of the Ancestral Guardian (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)

“Barbarians who draw on their ancestral guardians can better fight to protect their tribes and their allies.”

The 3rd level feature of this class, Ancestral Protectors, is similar to the Path of the Totem Warrior’s (Bear) 14th level ability, in that it effectively forces your foes to attack you and not your allies. However, that makes a lot more sense for a 14th level barbarian with over a 100 hit points than for a 3rd one, who, party tank or not, doesn’t want to have to soak up every last hit. The Spirit Shield ability of 6th level is much more useful.

“Barbarians who follow this path cover themselves in elaborate tattoos that celebrate their ancestors’ deeds. These tattoos tell sagas of victories against terrible monsters and other fearsome rivals.” There is some great roleplaying and backstory potential here, but I can’t help feel it would be more fun if, somehow, you could call on the spirits of specific ancestors to help you perform specific tasks. A homebrew version of this path tailored for your character could work better, where you could invoke the spirits of Grandfather A, Uncle B, and Great Great Great Grandfather C a limited amount of times per day.

Power: 2/5
Roleplaying Flavour: 4/5

5. Path of the Storm Herald (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)

“When in a fury, a barbarian of this path taps into the force of nature to create powerful magical effects.”

Effectively “elemental barbarians”, this path is further delineated into Desert (fire), Sea (water/lightning) and Tundra (cold). Each has a “stormy, magical aura” that extends 10 feet in radius when raging, either injuring everyone (desert), injuring one person of your choice (sea) or bolstering your allies (tundra). I quite like the flavour of this path, especially the sea aura, which best lives up to the name ‘storm herald’. However, it seems a lot less powerful than the Path of the Totem Warrior for example, and when you’re regularly dealing out 20+ hp with your sword or greataxe are you going to get that excited about doing a d6 lightning damage, halved on a save? Also it seems counterintuitive that you can change the environmental effect when you level up.

Power: 3/5
Roleplaying Flavour: 3/5

6. Path of the Zealot (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)

“Some deities inspire their followers to pitch themselves into a ferocious battle fury. These barbarians are zealots… in general, the gods who inspire zealots are deities of combat, destruction and violence. Not all are evil, but few are good.”

We’re into real murderhobo territory here, and this class is based around a) doing even more damage and b) being almost impossible to kill permanently. I have to say, I don’t like this option much at all… the 14th level rage beyond death is problematic, and I find paladins annoying enough as they are, without needing to introduce a barbarian / paladin hybrid. While you could potentially make an interesting character out of this path, by investigating the religious aspect (“your soul is marked for endless battle”), I can’t help feel this class is going to pander to the worst instincts of the worst types of player. (As a side note, for DMs out there dealing with this class, and the issue of death not meaning much at higher levels in general, one of the best house rules we’ve introduced on our table is that coming back from zero hit points gains you two levels of exhaustion, and coming back from the dead costs you -2 on your Constitution. Death is at least mildly scary again).

Power: 5/5
Roleplaying Flavour: 2/5

Roleplaying A Barbarian

Drawing from History

The word barbarian comes from the ancient Greek word barbaros. To the Greeks, any non-Greeks made a “bar-bar” sound whenever they spoke, and so barbaros came to mean a savage outsider, who spoke an uncivilised and primitive language. The Romans adopted the same word, using it to describe the fierce peoples such as the Germanics, Celts, Gauls, Berbers and Huns, ie. the peoples they fought as their empire expanded.

Meanwhile the idea of a warrior who goes into a rage to become more fearsome in battle derives from the Old Norse word ber-serkr. Etymologists are divided on whether ber-sekr meant bear-shirted – ie. these fighters wore bear pelts, deriving their power from the strength of their bear spirit animals – or bare-chested, as these warriors displayed their courage by going into battle without armour.

Both these words give us ample ideas to work with already, and the rich real-world history that feeds our notion of barbarians means for me the human is my favourite choice of race. Reading into the backgrounds of the Vikings, the Celts, the Gauls, will give you scores of ideas of how you could roleplay a really well-defined barbarian, and even bring new mechanics to the table as well.

And let’s not forget non-European cultures that can feed into the barbarian class. The obvious example to me would be the Mongols, but there’s also the native Americans, the Mayans, the Aztecs and their jaguar warriors, the Aborigines and the myriad of African tribal cultures, such as the Zulus, the Maasai and the San Bushmen.

Drawing from Pop Culture

If dusting off the history books for inspiration doesn’t appeal, you probably have already stored in your head any number of second hand source material from pop culture that you can bring to your Dungeons & Dragons games.

From Ragnar’s Vikings and their human sacrifices, tattoos and prescient visions, to the horse-heart eating and blood magic antics of the Dothraki, barbaric inspiration is everywhere in the realm of pop culture and fantasy fiction, often filtered down from historic reality.

Bobby, He-Man, Conan, Red Sonja, Shaka, Hercules and Wolverine are all barbarians that you can be inspired by. But hat tip to the queen, or should I say ‘warrior princess’ of all barbarians… Xena!

Creating Your Tribe

A barbarian’s tribe is what defines their culture, including their upbringing, their values and beliefs and their behavioural habits. A well-constructed tribe will provide a seriously rich source of roleplaying flavour for your barbarian PC.

When creating your tribe think about the following…

1. Tribal Terrain

Where does your tribe hail from? A tribe’s terrain will do a lot to determine what they wear, what they eat, what type of homes they construct, what animals (and monsters) they come into contact with, and various other behaviour. Obviously a tribe that lives in the mountains or desert will find it hard to farm crops, possibly depending on trade for wheat and corn. A nomadic tribe meanwhile might bridge two different terrain types (and definitely won’t farm).

2. Religion & Festivals

Tribes folk tend to be religious and extremely superstitious. Does your tribe worship ancient forgotten Gods, not found elsewhere in the classic D&D pantheons? Perhaps they worship the sun or moon. Or do they worship the dead and the spirits of their ancestors? Maybe they worship nature, the elements and / or animal spirits. Or they could even worship a mysterious energy they feel in the world, a bit like The Force in Star Wars (or the Weave in the Forgotten Realms setting).

How is this religion manifested? Through daily prayers and offerings? Through sacrifices, and extravagant rituals? Through holidays and festivals, marked by natural rhythms, like summer and winter solstices, or the migrations of birds and beasts…. or even the awakening of terrifying monsters!

There’s a whole list of how peoples like the Vikings, the Slavs and the Sioux celebrated the summer solstice for example here, with practices like jumping over bonfires and setting wreaths of flowers down rivers.

Remember, festivals were often accompanied by feasting, orgies, spectacles, and tests of bravery and skill. The latter might include archery, wrestling, racing, drinking contests or jumping over bulls backs naked.

Finally you might want to consider if your tribe has sacred places, such as mountain tops, lakes, waterfalls, caves or even ancient monuments like Stonehenge.

3. Tribal Rites of Passage

A tribe’s culture is perhaps most sharply defined by its rites of passage. Here are the typical rites of virtually every human culture.

i. Birth

What happens when a new child is born? Are they dipped in ice water, to steel their constitution? Are they baptised into the tribe’s faith, in order to cleanse them of the devil and offer them entry into an afterlife.

ii. Coming of Age

Nearly every tribe has a ritual that marks a child’s passage into adulthood, although it might not be the same for boys and girls (see Gender Roles below). Real world examples you can use to inspire you would be cow-jumping, killing a lion (this rite of the Maasai helped inspired part of my Totem of the Lion title… check it out on the DM’s Guild!), or donning gloves filled with bullet ants, the insect with the world’s most painful bite.

iii. Marriage

From bangles that ward away evil spirits, to fathers spitting on the brides for luck, there are plenty of weird marriage traditions that survive to this day around the world. Here is a long list that might inspire you.

iv. Death

Every man or woman’s final rite of passage, your tribe should have a distinctive way of marking death. Is the corpse’s body washed, painted or purified? Is it disembowelled, drained of blood, or are stones put over its eyes, a gold piece left in its mouth? Are the dead buried or cremated, or thrown out to sea. If buried, are they buried alone, with their sword, with their possessions, or even with their husband or wife, or servants, that may be killed / sacrificed as part of the death rites. Is the burial accompanied by songs, lamenting, dances or speeches about their bravery and achievements in battle. Once buried, is the grave marked with a mound, tombstone or some other distinctive structure? Again, there is plenty of great inspiration to be found from history. One great, somewhat disgusting fictional detail from the book Dune, was that the Fremen, being residents of such a harsh, dry planet, sucked the moisture from their kinsmen, after death, as a means of preserving life.

4. Power Structures

Who is the leader of your tribe, and how is their leadership decided? Is it a council of elders, who select their own rank? Is it the strongest warrior, who is always liable to be challenged by a hot-headed youth? Is there a king, whose eldest son will inherit his throne. Or perhaps the tribe is matriarchal, and the burden of leadership falls to the eldest woman in the tribe.

Does the tribe have a caste system of sorts, of higher ranking members and lower ones, determined by their prowess in battle, age or lineage. How is that social system marked. Ammianus Marcellinus writes of the Agathyrsi, that they: “dye both their bodies and their hair of a blue colour, the lower classes using spots few in number and small—the nobles broad spots, close and thick, and of a deeper hue.”

5. Tribal Law

Most societies have rules against murdering one another, or stealing from one another, but you can bring your tribe to life by creating some rules that seem counterintuitive to modern society. For example, it might be perfectly acceptable to steal another’s husband or wife, if you can remove them at night from their marital home without a drop of blood shed. Or it might be normal practice to cut the tongue out of anyone who told you a lie. Meanwhile, if you have been defeated in battle, you must shave your head and you are forbidden to take part in any religious ritual or festival until you have won a great victory to atone for your failure. Obviously think of something that will work in the game. A good ritual might be that if someone spare’s your life in battle you become their slave, however in the context of the game that could mean you’re responsible for a tedious (for everyone else) amount of NPCs, or you have to give up your own PC because they are now the slave of some NPC.

6. Tribal Customs

You can have a lot of fun with tribal greetings alone. Rubbing the nose of the foreign princess with your own, or spitting in the face of a diplomat for good luck, should bring plenty of mirth to the table, as might peeing in the threshold of any door you pass through, or dancing in progressively smaller circles around anyone you would like to mate with.

For some real world inspiration check out this list of weird tribal customs and traditions.

7. Gender Roles

Men and women could have very different roles in your tribe. With the caveat of not offending anyone at your table, you might consider if women perform a more ‘traditional’ function of child-bearing and rearing, or if they also hunt and fight in battle. Maybe women are considered sacred and act at seers and priestesses, or maybe they are despised and feared, and therefore repressed by the male counterparts. Perhaps it is women who hold the power in your tribe, consigning the menfolk to virtual slavery from birth.

8. Tribal Dress

Make your barbarian PC stand out visually by leaning on the cultural heritage of tribal folklore. Crazy headdresses, splendid animal (and monster) pelts, bright war paint, intricate tattoos, and jewellery made of feathers, beads, bones and precious stones. Certain rituals might demand tribes folk wear savage, scary masks for the occasion.

9. Tribal Warriors

In some tribes every member is a warrior, in others warriors occupy a special social caste, often with their own set of rituals and privileges.

10. Battle Rituals

Going into battle can almost be seen as a rite of passage. As participants in a fantasy roleplaying game we often treat battle as a fun strategical challenge, throwing our PCs into the fray with glee, often as instigators of deadly encounters. That helps us forget the intensity and fear of going into battle, and the rituals that might accompany it. Fighting is part of any barbarians way of life, but typically they need to psyche themselves (and each other) up for the occasion, utilising warpaint, war cries, tribal drums and dances to buoy themselves and intimidate their foes. Before battle, in order to fight bravely, they need to make peace with the idea they might die – anticipating a hero’s place in the afterlife.

Other battle rituals involve what a barbarian might do to their vanquished foes, which typically might include killing them, torturing or humiliating them in a ritualistic way, taking prisoners as slaves, or even eating them. There’s also the question of what they do with their own dead, possibly bringing them back on their shields to their homeland to be buried.

11. Savage Can Still be Sophisticated

One last point I want to make about realising your barbarian, is that not every barbarian tribe needs to be a bunch of bloodthirsty cannibals that thrive solely on battle. It’s unlikely your tribe is full of literary academics, but it might have a rich tradition of oral poetry and story telling, it might have the ancient wisdom of gurus, seers and shamans passed through the ages, it might seek to bring order to cruder, more violent neighbouring tribes, and open trade routes with major cities. Consider the example of Genghis Khan who united tribes across the vast steppes of Asia, opened the Silk Road trading path, promoted religious tolerance throughout his Empire and preached equality before the law.

More Resources

There are plenty of links throughout this article that will take you to more information. For a more academic read, Herodotus’ Histories introduces the reader to hundreds of tribes and their practices, pretty much all of which are now erased by time.

This video is also pretty cool…

As is this one… which features some great character concepts:

New Animal Totem Paths

And if like me you are attracted to the Path of the Totem Warrior barbarians, and building a tribe around them, then you might enjoy my Totem of the Leopard and Totem of the Lion titles. Both books have had super positive reviews so far, and with not only totem powers, but also powerful new totem-specific feats to choose from and flavoursome magic items, you’re half way to creating an unforgettable barbarian PC when you invest a couple of dollars in either of these…

Your Thoughts?

What are your experiences playing a barbarian in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons? Please share your optimisation secrets, your flavoursome back stories, your victories, your frustrations and any historic or fictional inspiration you drew from below in the comments section…

Free Fantasy Music by Michael Ghelfi

With the world building, adventure planning, NPC creating and rules revising us DMs have to do, it’s hardly a surprise that music and ambient sounds are often hurriedly sourced as an after thought, or else overlooked completely. However, more than a Dungeon Master’s lovingly-prepared scene description, a well-chosen soundtrack can capture the mood of a scene, and help lift the curtain on the theatre of the mind, fully immersing us in the story.

Recently I had a chat with talented composer Michael Ghelfi, who has created a diverse music portfolio of ambient and background sounds that you incorporate into your D&D games and made them available for free on Youtube.

From campfires at dusk, to raging battles (complete with cavalry charges), he’s covered many of the classic scenarios that unfold during any compelling fantasy RPG session…

Here’s what happened when we talked music and Dungeons & Dragons in general…

Why is sound important to you in D&D?

Imagine a world where the only sounds you would hear are voices, nothing else. Would you find it enjoyable? How would you qualify that world? Since it’s actually impossible to add sounds to each of our D&D actions, we have to find workarounds, and music and ambiences are the best options. Sound is incredibly efficient to help us imagine places. As an experienced DM, I never write a single sentence without listening to some carefully chosen music or ambience, sometimes both at the same time.

What is your musical background and what do you aim to achieve with your audio creations?

I’m a self-taught fantasy and orchestral music composer, and I use my knowledge to create very high quality ambient tracks for RPGs, with a focus on D&D (since it’s my favorite). I started creating unique ambiences because I never found satisfying ones on the Internet for my D&D sessions. So, since I have the knowledge and the material to make them, I created them myself!

Now I have around 80 different ambience tracks and I’m creating and uploading a new one every two days. I won’t stop before I reach 200 different tracks at least… so stay tuned because this is a fast growing project! Oh, and they are all free.

For those more interested in music, I have also composed more than 160 different songs in ~20 genres. Sometimes I use both music and sound effects at the same time at my tables, for example for a tavern scene.

How can people access your music/sounds?

Youtube is the best option, everything is uploaded on it in loops of 1 hour.

You can also download them on my Bandcamp page as 30-minutes loops.

Getting them on Bandcamp doesn’t give you any premium advantage or whatever, it’s just an option I gave to people who want to support the artist and have the sounds on their computer.

Also to stay tuned to Facebook, Patreon and Twitter.

And just for fun…

What is your current PC?

I have to admit something: I’m not a player, I’m only a DM. I had a few characters when I began but they are either forgotten or dead. My players never DM because they tend to compare their adventures with mine (which is a mistake, don’t compare, play for fun), and since I put a LOT of effort and passion in what I do… they end up waiting on me to organize another session!

So instead of speaking about my favorite PC, I will speak about my favorite NPC, which was called “Azmija”. She was a fortune teller with two personalities fighting each other. One personality wanted the players to banish the other half, and the other half wanted to destroy the players who were the only real threat to her (in the game that was more complex than that but you got it).

Your favourite character class?

The Mageblade. What is this? It’s a homebrew class I created, used by some of my players. To make it simple, it’s a melee class with a few non-aggressive spells and highly randomized effects on attacks (both positive and negative to the player and his entourage). It blends very well in the game, and I’m quite proud of my work.

Your favourite monster?

I will chose a non-homebrew content this time. I will mention the Ghost. It’s indeed a low-CR monster, but it’s definitely useful against those min-max players who tend to focus on DEX/STR/CST and have very low other characteristics. Also ghosts are an infinite source of roleplay opportunities.

Your favourite official D&D adventure?

Lost Mines of Phandelver. I started playing D&D on this scenario, so it will ever have a special place in my heart.

Your favourite unofficial D&D adventure?

“Archipelago of the Sun”. It’s a 400 pages campaign I’m writing, featuring a whole new language with its own script, grammar and vocabulary. Players have to translate it to uncover the final plot of the story. The campaign will be edited and published this year, along a 200 pages book of additional rules (including the Mageblade and five other classes) and a ton of 30 pages scenarios.

Your D&D alter ego?

Archmage Demetrian. It’s an archmage specialized in teleportation, alchemy and illusions. It’s also my writer name. I include him in my campaigns as a secondary protagonist, like Quentin Tarantino does with himself in his movies. Quentin plays in them, but he’s nearly useless or just very secondary.

In my campaigns, I made it clear that Demetrian wasn’t important, so they don’t bother investigating about him, they just buy potions to him and ask for teleportation. Sometimes my players wonder if he’s not in fact the big bad guy of the stories. SPOILER: He’s not. He makes potions.

Thanks so much for your attention, and don’t hesitate to contact me to speak about music, D&D, worldbuilding or linguistics!

Are You A Good D&D Player?

My Dungeon Master recently shared an interesting video with me by Taking20, in which the presenter Cody, shares his thoughts on what make a great – and not-so-great – Dungeons & Dragons player.

He categorises players into tiers, and gives the qualities that he feels define each tier.

Partly because I’m more of a word man than a video junkie (i.e. I wanted to see his points in a form that I could easily refer back to), and partly because some members of my group were too lazy busy to watch a 20 minute video they could benefit from, I decided to make a list of Cody’s tier system for quick and easy consumption.

There are a number of great takeaways from the video, and – just as the author intended – it is a very useful barometer to measure your own play style by, whether you’re fairly new to the game or a decades-old veteran of the art.

Tier 0 – Disruptive Player

Cody’s Definition: These players destroy campaigns and break up groups, because people don’t enjoy playing with them.

Traits:

  • They argue with DM’s rulings
  • They don’t pay attention in combat (they’re on their phone)
  • They hog every situation, try to fulfil every role on the table
  • They may over-roleplay mundane moments (eg. buying some rope), thereby slowing the game narrative to a crawl
  • They are unprepared, and don’t know their character’s abilities
  • They ‘pout’, ie. sulk when things don’t go their way

Tier 1 – Beginners

Cody’s Definition: These are the newcomers learning the game. You should be able to leave this tier quickly.

Traits:

  • Don’t know the rules
  • Need constant help

Cody is quick to point out that everyone has a right to occupy this tier as a beginner, but you should be heading out of it after just three or so sessions, provided you’re not planning to be disruptive tier 0 persona.

(NB. Cody’s maths get a bit wonky here, as he goes straight from Tier 1 to Tier 3. I’ve taken the liberty of correcting him).

Tier 2 – Average Player

Cody’s Definition: This is basically Cody’s minimum expectations of a non-beginner player.

Traits:

  • Has a solid understanding of the rules
  • Take notes when the DM introduces a new PC
  • Show up to first session with readymade character, with ideas for a backstory, personality and character motivation
  • They understand their class mechanics (“if you don’t understand your class mechanics by the third session you’ve slid down into a disruptive player” says Cody, who brooks no bullshit!!!).
  • Have an understanding of the setting / campaign world
  • Understand the basics of roleplay, make choices based on their character
  • Manage to hold back from metagaming around 50% of the time (ie. don’t offer advice when they’re unconscious, etc.).

Tier 3 – Good Player

Cody’s Definition: Cody defines a good D&D player by the following traits…

Traits:

  • Know how to involve others in the game (and can do it in character)
  • Recognise party roles, allow everyone their moment in the spotlight
  • Recognise story hooks that the DM lays out, and follow up on them
  • Don’t create annoying motivational issues for their PC that threaten the advancement of the story
  • Understand how to roleplay, and can truly avoid metagaming, acting according to their character knowledge etc.
  • Know how to accept character death

Tier 4 – Great Players

Cody’s Definition: Beyond good, these traits make a great player…

Traits:

  • Have mastered the art of improv, can go with the DM’s flow and invent new story details on the spot that add to the story
  • They can read the table, and help move the game along when necessary
  • Can make player vs. player conflict fun, without escalating it and derailing the session

Tier 5 – Extraordinary Players

Cody’s Definition: You are ready to star in Critical Role!

Traits:

  • They are fully immersed in their character (without losing sight of the above points)
  • May have mastered voice acting (or may not)
  • Know what their character would do in certain situations
  • Have defining vocabulary and catchphrases
  • Constantly try to improve as players

Anyway I think it’s a really interesting tier system, and quite an exacting set of standards to hold oneself up to.

Here is the video if you want to check it out. For more on gaming etiquette check my twin posts on traits of annoying D&D players and qualities of great D&D players, where I look at some of these issues from a slightly different angle.

Great Weapon Master Feat… OP’ed or not?

There are three feats that the vast majority of Dungeon Masters consider broken, according to this survey by Think DM.

One of them is Lucky, the only feat to get banned on my table and one which I discussed previously on this blog (and which in turn generated scores of conflicting comments, with many people rushing to its defense. I’ll let you read their reasons yourselves). Another is Sharp Shooter, which perhaps I’ll talk about another time. The third, and today’s topic, is Great Weapon Master.

It’s an interesting feat for sure… the Player’s Handbook states:

Great Weapon Master

You’ve learned to put the weight of a weapon to your advantage, letting its momentum empower your strikes. You gain the following benefits:

  • On your turn, when you score a critical hit with a melee weapon or reduce a creature to 0 hit points with one, you can make one melee weapon attack as a bonus action.
  • Before you make a melee attack with a heavy weapon that you are proficient with, you can choose to take a -5 penalty to the attack roll. If the attack hits, you add +10 to the attack’s damage.

The concept is simple. You’re a big brave brute who has sacrificed a shield (and an ability modifier to take this feat), in order to do maximum possible damage with each swing of your blade.

The first of the two benefits raises few eyebrows… critical hits are pretty rare after all, as is reducing a creature to zero hit points.

The second benefit is where the controversy comes in. An additional 10 damage is massive. If you consider a greatsword does on average 7 damage, it’s kind of crazy that there’s a feat that allows you to do another 143% of that damage as part of the same attack. Everything hinges on that -5 modifier… but in a game of low ACs and high bonuses to hit, not to mention various potential ways to get advantage on your attacks, is that enough of a penalty to justify that huge damage haul?

Ready to do serious damage…

Some Maths…

I’m not going to go super nerdy on this one… this is Hipsters & Dragons remember! I’ve got some art house movies to watch with a locally brewed IPA later tonight (ok, the next episode of Vikings, with some cheap Spanish wine…), but let’s do some simplified sums. I’m doing this on the fly… in other words I haven’t drawn a definitive conclusion about the feat myself yet. Plus the maths might be shoddy, so stay sharp.

Taking a 5th level fighter as an example, let’s see how much damage he does using this feat in three rounds of combat against an opponent with AC 15, versus how much he does without using it. Let’s say he’s got 18 Strength, and a +1 sword by now. His name is Ted.

For simplicity sake I will discount how critical hits effect the maths, and assume there is no advantage on these rolls for now.

Without the feat (5th level fighter)

Ted has a to hit bonus of +8, meaning he needs a 7 to hit AC 15 (70% chance). He does 2d6 +5 damage per hit (12) and has 6 attacks in three rounds. Therefore he does 0.7 x 12 x 6 = 50.4 damage in total.

With the feat (5th level fighter)

With his -5 penalty, Ted now has only a +3 bonus, meaning he needs a 12 to hit (45%). He does 2d6 + 15 damage per hit (22) times the 6 attacks. Therefore he does 0.45 x 22 x 6 = 59.4 damage total.

Hmmmm, it’s not too strong. Just 9 hit points difference, and if you chose to increase your Strength by 2, instead of choosing this feat, you would have dealt an extra 4.5 hit points in those six attacks. That said, I feel that the damage outputs should be closer, if not even. With outputs like this it just means you will opt to use the power nearly every time, and reliably come out on top…

Anyway let’s run the same example with a 10th level fighter, and assume this time that Ted has advantage on his attack rolls for one of the three rounds. Being 10th level, Ted now has a +2 sword.

Without the feat (10th level fighter)

Ted has to a hit bonus of +10, meaning he needs a 5 to hit AC 15 (80% chance), with advantage 96% chance. He does 2d6 + 6 (13) per hit. So in two rounds he does 0.8 x 13 x 4 = 41.6, and in the final round 0.96 x 13 x 2 = 24.96. So a grand total = 66.56 damage

With the feat (10th level fighter)

With his -5 penalty, Ted now has a hit bonus of +5, meaning he needs a 10 to hit AC 15 (55% chance), and with advantage (79.75%). He does 2d6 +16 (23) per hit. So in two rounds he does 0.55 x 23 x 4 = 50.6, and in the final round 0.7975 x 23 x 2 = 36.685. So a grand total = 87.285 damage.

Ok now I’m beginning to see what people are complaining about. That’s pretty big gains over just three rounds. This feat is definitely going to start unbalancing the game at higher levels, especially if it’s being paired with other skills like the barbarian’s reckless attack feature to get advantage more frequently.

In general I like the concept… take a risk, and get a reward… I probably wouldn’t go far to say the feat is broken, but with 5th edition’s low AC monsters and its frequently employed advantage mechanic, the risk / reward dynamic doesn’t feel quite right, and it does come over as overpowered.

Hipster’s Fix

The first part of the feat works just fine in my experience, and is especially fun when mopping up low level mooks in a fight. I am happy to leave that well alone. As for the second part, here are my suggestions…

Option 1

The simplest way to fix the problematic part of this feat would be to keep the same risk, but reduce the reward. In general the flat 10 extra damage doesn’t sit well with me. It’s too dull, and too guaranteed, and it doesn’t scale on a critical (annoying from a player’s perspective!). So I would simply substitute the +10, for 2d6 extra damage, which is a) more fun and b) a bit less powerful, ie. more balanced.

When you bear in mind that most characters using Great Weapon Master feat will also have selected the Greater Weapon Fighting Style that allows you to reroll 1s and 2s, then the average damage is actually 8.33 (not 7), so only slightly nerfed from 10. Especially as between 5 and 10% of the time (ie. when you get critical hits) you will be doing 16.67, which will bring the average up some more.

Option 2

Another way of approaching a fix, would be to say, you can only land these killer +10 blows when you have advantage on the attack roll. Only when you’ve snuck up on your opponent unseen, or they’re rolling about prone on the floor, do you have the time to put your full force into the blow and have any hope of hitting. This means you don’t get to use it so often, but when you do, it tends to pay off big.

Option 3

A third idea I had would be to simply say… whenever you have advantage on a melee attack roll with a heavy weapon you deal an extra 1d6 damage. No penalty to hit. Simple and situational, this saves on any maths and also indecision that sometimes accompanies this feat (“shall I take the penalty or not? Erm, err.”) which can eat up valuable game time.

Option 4

Just thought of a fourth option. You could make dealing the extra damage reliant on a using a bonus action as well. This seems to have some logic… such a powerful blow might take a little extra time to work up to, as you adjust your stance and wind up for the kill. This is perhaps the best way to keep GWM on the table as written, but preventing it from getting out of hand, as it would limit its use to once per turn. This same solution works well for limiting the burst damage of divine smite. Hmmm, it does however screw with the first part of the feat, whereby you get to make a free melee attack as a bonus action, if you kill / crit a creature. You could however give extra attack as a free action on those occasions.

There you go! How have you got on with Great Weapon Master feat on your table? Have you come up with a fix that works for you? Please comment below, and feel free to pull me up on my tired, probably incorrect maths, obvious things I forgot to take into consideration and anything else. Just keep it polite, as you normally do.

Oh by the way, did you check these 5e magic weapons I homebrewed? They are free for use in your game.

Killer Kobolds, by Tony Petrecca

One of the most well-known and well-loved adventures on the DMs Guild is Killer Kobolds, an adventure that pits your players against wave after devious wave of the eponymous little critters.

Who better to introduce the best seller than the author himself!?

Dear Tony…

Tell us about your book, Killer Kobolds…

The Kobolds of Crag Canyon have kidnapped the children of the pleasant village of Thornyfoot, and it’s up to the heroes to charge in and save the day. Killer Kobolds is a fast paced 5th Edition D&D adventure meant to provide an unforgettable challenge for characters from levels 8-12.

With its simple, straightforward premise, Killer Kobolds quite purposefully sidesteps any and all moral quandaries in order to provide hours of thrilling, high octane, action packed fun.

Looking for Die Hard meets Aliens meets John Wick meets Thunder Road in a D&D session? Well then, have I got the Kobolds for you. Killer Kobolds! Action just levelled UP!

You can buy Killer Kobolds on the DMs Guild for $4.95.

Why did you write it?

The scenario that would eventually become Killer Kobolds grew naturally from my long running home game. My players, having recently taken possession of a small keep guarding a mountain pass, had the opportunity to negotiate with a couple of kobold traders from a nearby canyon enclave. Goliath Barbarian Eglath couldn’t bring himself to believe that the kobolds were negotiating in good faith, thus he opened negotiations with his great club, launching a war.

Knowing full well things were going to get ugly quick, the party set out to kobold territory to take the battle to the little beasties. What ensued was an ever-escalating series of action scenes featuring a vast array of kobold kin harassing the party from all angles using a wide and constantly changing variety of tactics, building ultimately to a thrilling showdown with a big bad kobold ally. The gameplay was filled with foolhardy charges, desperate retreats, harrowing escapes, and a crescendo of action whose final resolution brought about cheers and applause at the table.

When it was done our table agreed that it was some of the most entertaining D&D any of us had been involved in. I realized that the Killer Kobolds could be readily extracted from their original campaign and turned into a stand-alone, drop anywhere action adventure with a simple plot hook change, and I set about making that happen, so I could share the fun with the rest of the world.

How about a little taster then?

Killer Kobolds is NOT Tomb of Horrors. It is not meant to be a TPK waiting to happen. Like any great action movie, I want the characters to find themselves breathless, brutalized, and proudly victorious scene after scene, but I don’t want them slaughtered. Thus, the adventure has simple guidelines in place to help the DM modulate the action, allowing the adventure to continue its pace, which should be a gradual crescendo of action all building to the shocking BBEG reveal at the end.

Like any great action movie, Killer Kobolds contains several set piece scenes that play out as exciting, fluid, dynamic battles. Similarly, like any great action movie, Killer Kobolds has its share of memorable enemies the heroes must overcome, from the brilliant cover girl Levexi the kobold sniper, through flying kobold war priests, to a surprise big bad evil that, when revealed, should inspire jaws to drop.

One such enemy that never fails to infuriate in play is the kobold sorcerer Rerecross. Rerecross uses his skills to hit and run, frustrating the PCs as they give chase through a gauntlet that includes several traps and a collapsing bridge guarded by Kobold Commandos and Kobold Air Cavalry.

He manages to inspire the chase thusly:

Rerecross, prepped and ready to defend the ritual in the best kobold manner he knows how, is at the western door of area 1, using it for three-quarters cover. He will toss a fireball at the party and then retreat, closing the door behind him. He takes a position at the bolthole (2) and readies another fireball to throw into area 1 should its door be opened by anyone but a kobold….

….Rerecross knows the layout well and will target the fireball for maximum effect – centering it on the square that is fifteen feet behind the open door. If the party pursues he’ll retreat, using the dash action, a misty step or dimension door if necessary, to get past area 3, across the bridge, and into area 4. From that vantage he’ll take three quarters cover, peaking around a corner to harass with ranged spells while the kobold squads and air cavalry engage in area 3.

… Rerecross, in area 4, will continue to harass from cover until he gets somebody’s attention, at which point he will retreat to the middle of area 5. He hopes an eager pursuer, split from the party, will somehow cross the collapsed bridge and come at him solo. But solo or not, once pursued he retreats to the middle of area five, behind the Catapult of Doom, hoping to draw his pursuers through two brutal trap areas.

It works like a charm, every time I run it. Inevitably at this point a brave Paladin, brash Fighter or enraged Barbarian tears off in pursuit… first setting off The Four Pillars of Destruction, and then turning to find Rerecross beckon from the middle of a large open room, a sly grin upon his face, as his pursuer triggers The Catapult of Doom and finds themselves hurled over the grinning kobold’s head to smash against the opposite wall.

Oh sure, cautious, careful adventurers might notice and avoid the traps,“but who treads carefully when in hot pursuit of an infuriating kobold sorcerer?”

Who the hell are you by the way?

Well, I’m a 50-year-old Indianapolis resident, Purdue grad, husband, dad, dude with a day job, DEVO fan, and a DM – not necessarily in that order. I got introduced to D&D sometime last century when a friend of mine sent me In Search of the Unknown in a place called Quasqueton and I’ve been hooked ever since.

I’ve always been a fan of creating my own scenarios in any game I’ve played, thus jumping into DMing seemed a natural fit. I’ve got an amazing table of friends, many of whom have been gaming together since early childhood, and I love devising new and creative ways to entertain them. Alas, we’re all parents with day jobs and such, thus we can’t game as often as we used to, though we do our best to play for a couple hours at least once a week.

And what else have you written?

My first forays into publication were Journey Through the Center of the Underdark 1 & 2, companion pieces to Out of the Abyss. They were remarkably well received and went on to become platinum best sellers. Eventually I compiled the two into one convenient bundle available here.

After completing Killer Kobolds I wanted to turn my attention towards something more emotionally complex, an adventure where investigators, explorers, and role players would have their day in the sun, while still providing fans of combat with their dice rolling opportunities. Inspired in no small part by Dean Spencer’s amazing cover art, Hunted was born. Folks can take a look at Hunted here.

I’ve also had the opportunity to contribute to several other DMsGuild projects, most notably Jeff C Steven’s Savage Encounter’s series. I’m particularly proud of the work Jeff, Shawn Merwin, and I did on The Mines of Chult.

You can find all of the above, and plenty more I’ve gotten to contribute to on my DMs Guild page.

And just for fun…

What’s your current PC?

Wendilisa Delirious – Tiefling Bard.

What’s your favourite character class?

I’m a clutz in real life, so I’m drawn to dex builds in my RPGs. I love my bards, rogues, swashbucklers, and dex based fighters. Stout halfling barbarian, anyone?

What’s your favourite monster?

You have to ask? Kobolds of course. I’ve loved em since the first time I read about Tucker’s.

What’s your favourite official D&D adventure?

Of all time? 3rd Edition’s Red Hand of Doom gets high marks from me. For 5th Edition I’ve got a big soft spot for Out of the Abyss.

What’s your favourite unofficial D&D adventure?

Oh no, there are way too many outstanding adventures from amazingly talented authors on the DMsGuild to pick just one. I do keep a reasonably up to date collection of many of my favorites, with reviews, here.

What’s your D&D alter ego?

Oh, the player in me would love to be my OG original AD&D bard Sprite Silverlocks, or perhaps my current tiefling Wendilisa. The DM in me likes to think he’s the Arch Mage Accertep or the Silver Dragon Zephrym. But at this point, realistically I’m the retired adventurer, safely running the inn with his wife and daughter, happy to sit by the fire swapping tales of glory with those who’ll listen.

Thanks Tony, was great getting to know you. How can we stay in touch on the interwebs?

Well on the Facebooks I’ve got an Author’s page, @DMTonyPetrecca, and my personal Facebook presence where I play Tony Petrecca. On the Twitters I’m @TonyPetrecca and, finally, I’ve got a Google+ presence where, I know, this’ll be a big surprise, I’m Tony Petrecca.

Tavern Brawl Builder, by Jean Lorber

Time to introduce my readers to another great writer from the DMs Guild, and let him tell us about his best-selling book, The Tavern Brawl Builder, the perfect guide to planning an old-fashioned punch up in a pub…

Take it away Jean…

Tell us about your book, Tavern Brawl Builder…

‘Tavern Brawl Builder’ is a 26-page supplement that details unique taverns, colorful NPCs and brawl encounters, all wrapped up with new mechanics for making brawls quicker and more fun! Specifically, there are 10 taverns, 10 brawl encounters and 10 complications. Pick one of each and you’ve got 1,000 unique brawls!

Why did you write it?

Since taverns are a staple of fantasy adventuring, I wanted to re-invigorate the cliché of the tavern brawl. I wanted to go beyond: “Drunk dwarves start arguing and a fight breaks out”. So I created story-filled, brawl encounters triggered by events both mundane (e.g. a jilted bride seeks retribution) and fantastic (e.g. an enchanter spreads his emotions to other patrons). These brawls have a reason for beginning and encourage the PCs to pick a side and get invested in the outcome.

But tavern brawls are pretty different from most D&D encounters: non-lethal attacks and improvised weapons should be common and there are a large number of combatants in an enclosed space. It’s a lot to keep track of with the 5e rules-as-written. So, I came up with new mechanics, focused on making a brawl simpler to run and keeping the dice in the players’ hands. Throw in a table of random tavern objects to use as weapons, and you’ve got the ingredients for a bang-up throw-down. Sooner or later, someone is going to get the fully-feathered dead goose…

You can buy The Tavern Brawl Builder on the DMs Guild for $3.95.

How about a little taster then?

Here’s the set-up to one of the brawl encounters:

Grandpa really wanted a drink

The animated skeleton of a long-dead local warrior appears and causes an uproar. To set the scene, read or paraphrase the following:

The tavern door creaks open and a skeleton dressed in adventurer’s garb slowly walks in. It slaps a coin purse on the bar and seems to be waiting expectantly. It takes a beer from the nervous barkeep and quaffs the entire pint enthusiastically. Every drop runs straight down its tunic, but afterwards it opens its mouth in what might be a long, satisfied belch. The tavern looks on in utter silence until one drunk patron breaks it: “The undead are among us!!” he wails.

The skeleton (MM) belongs to Ruud Stoneburner, a former (in every sense of the word) adventurer. By some magic or residual willpower, his skeleton has returned to deliver a message to his descendants. But he has to survive a brawl first.

Some patrons decide to rid themselves of this perceived threat. When you’re ready to begin the brawl, read or paraphrase the following:

After minutes of muttering and heated conversations, the bubble of tension bursts: half the tavern starts yelling “kill it!” and reaches for weapons. But one young man cautiously approaches the skeleton. He points to a decorative pin fastening the skeleton’s cape. “Gr- grandfather?” The skeleton nods, then turns to the barkeep and signals for a writing implement.

This interaction doesn’t stop a vicious melee from breaking out, with half the tavern-goers seeking to destroy the skeleton and the other half protecting their old, old acquaintance.

Who the hell are you by the way?

My name is Jean Lorber, and I’m just a long-time fan of D&D. I remember playing in the 1980’s as a kid, but I clearly didn’t grasp the rules because I had a level 52 wizard…

I started playing again only a few years ago, when my son showed an interest. After buying a few old books, the nostalgia-bomb detonated, and we started playing regularly with another family. It was a great bonding experience, and that was where I discovered my love of DMing. Making up adventures for my tabletop soon led to making up adventures and supplements for the DMs Guild.

The Guild community has been great, by the way, and I owe a lot to support from folks, including Jeff Stevens, Tony Petrecca, Chris Bissette, Teos Abadia and uber-mensch Shawn Merwin.

And what else have you written?

I’m working on my first proper adventure (‘Last March of the Tyrant Wyrm’), but the other titles I’ve completed for the Guild are: ‘Volo’s Lost Encounters’, ‘Unstuck Encounters’ and ‘Unstuck Encounters 2”. I’ve also contributed to a number of collections on the Guild. Here’s my DMs Guild page.

And just for fun…

What’s your current PC?

A half-elf paladin, the overzealous standard bearer of his regiment. He’ll give his life for the Empire because it’s surely working on behalf of all its citizens…right?

What’s your favourite character class?

Wizard. Because in my normal life, I don’t get to break the laws of Newtonian physics.

What’s your favourite monster?

Kobolds. They can range from naughty to homicidal, and I love designing traps.

What’s your favourite official D&D adventure?

As a kid, I loved all the basic D&D modules like ‘the Lost City’. As an “adult”, I’ve only ever played homebrew. But I’ve read all the official 5e adventures, and my favorite is ‘Out of the Abyss’. The Underdark is huge and totally foreign, and I like the range of weird settings and encounters. The interior art by Richard Whitters is also a big selling point.

Thanks Jean, was great getting to know you. How can we stay in touch on the interwebs?

You can find me on twitter: @jlorber4

Do Paladins’ Auras of Protection Stack?

Yes, but they definitely shouldn’t. Aura of protection is hardly 5e D&D’s most glamorous ability, but gameplay shows it be one of the most powerful tools in the game (….as if the paladin doesn’t have enough of those already, with the insanely overpowered (IMHO) divine smite and lay on hands).

One aura of protection already provides a massive boost to a party in almost every combat, but once you’ve got two paladins in your party things get insane. Just by staying tight, the whole party could constantly be benefiting from +6 on every saving throw! 

And it’s not just an adventuring consideration. What happens if the PCs need to take out a cadre of four evil paladins? Provided the bad guys stayed close to one another, they could easily be getting +12 on their saving throws… I wouldn’t want to be a caster charged with facing them!

Anyway, you probably don’t need any convincing… you’ve already experienced it for yourself, and that’s why you’re here. Well here’s a little house rule you can use to lessen the effect.

  1. Multiple auras of protections don’t stack if the paladins worship different gods. The creature in question can benefit from just the strongest aura.
  2. Where two or more auras of protection of paladins who worship the same god overlap, a creature benefits from the strongest aura, with an additional +1 bonus for every extra aura they are overlapped by.

10 FREE Magic Weapons For Your Game

To celebrate the launch of my latest title, Esquiel’s Guide to Magic Weapons (available to buy on the DM’s Guild), I would like to offer my readers my ten favourite weapons in the book, for free, for their 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons gameplay.

Now available on the the DMs Guild

One of my main goals in writing the guide was to craft at least one magical arm for every weapon type in the Player’s Handbook, particularly as the Dungeon Master’s Guide offers very few options besides swords. I wanted to offer gamers way more variety, and to ensure that, no matter what obscure weapon a PC fights with, the owner of this book has a ready-made magic arm for them.

Of course, it was also crucial to create balanced weapons, so that DMs can confidently drop these creations into their sessions without causing headaches for themselves. For this reason 90% of the mechanics are ones you’ve seen somewhere else in the game… ie. you know they work!

Hopefully these 10 sample weapons will prove a lot of fun at your table, and may even inspire you to go ahead and invest in the book.

My Ten Favourite Weapons

1. Bloodthirsty Battleaxe

Battleaxe, very rare (requires attunement)
This vicious battleaxe craves the fury of combat, filling its wielder with bloodlust as it scythes down the enemy. You gain a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon. Additionally, when you reduce a creature to 0 hit points with this weapon, you gain 1d6 temporary hit points and can make one melee attack with the axe as a bonus action.

This axe is perfect for a mass brawl against a horde of lower level baddies. It borrows one of the features of the Greater Weapon Fighting feat that I love, and lets someone who fights with a one-handed weapon use it as well.

2. Rogue Bow

Shortbow, legendary (requires attunement by a rogue)
The magic weapon has 5 charges for the following properties. It regains 1d4+1 charges daily at dawn.

Poison Arrow. You speak a command and expend 1 charge to coat an arrow you have nocked with thick black venom. A creature hit by the arrow must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, they take an additional 4d4 poison damage and become poisoned for one minute. On a success, they take half as much damage and are not poisoned.

Sleep Arrow. You speak a command and expend 1 charge to place a charm on an arrow you have nocked. Should you hit your target, roll 5d8. If the number is equal or greater than the target’s hit points, it falls into a magical slumber. They remain unconscious for one minute, awakening only if they take damage, or another creature spends their action to shake or slap them awake.

Smoke Bomb. You can use an action and expend 1 charge to fire an arcane arrow, which lands at a point within range and starts to emit a cloud of smoke. One round after it lands, the smoke creates a heavily obscured area in a 20-foot-radius. A moderate wind disperses the smoke in 4 rounds; a strong wind disperses it in 1 round.

Flashbang. You can use an action and expend 2 charges to fire an arcane arrow at a point within range. It explodes with a deafening crack and blinding flash of light. Each creature within 20 feet of the impact point must succeed on a DC 15 Intelligence saving throw or be stunned until the start of your next turn.

Grappling Arrow. You may expend 1 charge to transform an ordinary arrow into a slender but durable grappling hook. You may fire the grappling hook at bow range, and a thin gossamer rope will magically uncoil behind it, matching the distance of the arrow flight. If you successfully secure the grappling hook (DM to determine difficulty), the rope is strong enough to support 1000 lbs. of weight. After ten minutes, the grappling hook transforms back into an arrow and the magic rope dissolves into nothingness.

Frag Grenade. You can use an action and expend 2 charges to fire an arcane arrow at a point within range. It explodes on impact, spraying the area with razor sharp pieces of rock. Each creature within 20 feet of the impact point must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw, taking 5d6 piercing damage on a failed save, or half as much on a successful one.

This is the ultimate utility weapon for the rogue, and gives them a nice range of abilities that perfectly complement their sneaky ways.

3. Earthquaker

Greatclub, legendary (requires attunement, by someone with at least 15 Strength)
This greatclub appears to be no more than a large and gnarly piece of black and deadened wood, with nothing in the way of adornment, however, it is infused with earth-shattering power.

You gain a +3 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon.

The weapon magic weapon has 5 charges for the following properties. It regains 1d4+1 charges daily at dawn.

Giant Blow. While holding the weapon, you can use a bonus action and expend 1 charge to temporarily invoke the strength of a stone giant. For the rest of your turn, when you make a melee attack with the weapon, your Strength modifier is +6, and the weapon deals 3d8 bludgeoning damage.

Earthquake. Smashing the ground in front of you with the club, you can use an action and expend 3 charges to create an earthquake. You create a fissure 10 feet wide that extends 2d6 x 10 feet in front of you and is 1d10 x 10 feet deep. A creature standing on a spot where the fissure opens must succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or fall in, and take bludgeoning damage from the fall. A creature that successfully saves moves with the fissure’s edge as it opens. As the earth tremors and shakes, the ground within 20 feet of the fissure becomes difficult terrain until the start of your next turn, and any creature standing in this area must succeed on a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw or fall prone. Any spellcaster concentrating in this area must make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, the caster’s concentration is broken.

Fans of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon from the 80s will recognise this weapon, wielded by Bobby the Barbarian. To limit its powers I simply added the charges mechanic, which is one I love in general, as it constantly poses a choice for characters… should I use a charge now, or might I need it more later! Also included in the book are a whole range of Hank style bows, that do different types of energy damage (each has a secondary minor effect), and one master Energy Bow suitable for epic level PCs, plus the Acrobat Staff.

4. Krakentooth

Dagger, very rare
This dagger is fashioned from the tooth of a kraken and is steeped in the magic essence of this ancient leviathan.

You gain a +1 bonus to attack rolls and damage rolls made with this magic weapon.

While holding this dagger you can breathe underwater, and you have advantage on melee attack rolls made with this weapon while underwater.

I wanted to make a Dragontooth dagger, but then I stumbled upon this. I’m glad I did because I think it prompted me to make a more interesting weapon.

5. Scream Stealer

Dagger, very rare
The demonic nature of this blade steals your victim’s screams as you strike them. When you hit a creature with an attack using this magic weapon, the creature is unable to speak, scream, or vocalise any sound, until the start of your next turn.

You gain a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon.

This is my favourite weapon in the whole book. If you manage to stab a magic user every round they wouldn’t be able to cast any spells that requires vocal components.

6. Commander’s Hammer

Warhammer, very rare (requires attunement)
You gain a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon. The hammer has 5 charges, and it regains 1d4+1 expended charges daily at dawn.

Commander’s Strike. You may use a bonus action and expend 1 charge to direct one of your companions to strike. When you do so, choose a friendly creature who can see or hear you. That creature can immediately use its reaction to make one weapon attack.

Compelled Duel. You may use a bonus action and expend 1 charge to compel an opponent into facing you in battle. Use the rules that govern the spell compelled duel but, whenever a Wisdom saving throw is called for, replace it with a Charisma contest.

Manoeuvering Attack. When you hit a creature with this magic weapon, you can expend 1 charge to manoeuvre one of your comrades into a more advantageous position. You choose a friendly creature who can see or hear you. That creature can use its reaction to move up to half its speed without provoking opportunity attacks from the target of your attack.

Rallying Cry. You may use an action and expend 1 charge to bolster the resolve of your companions. When you do so, all friendly creatures within 30 feet of you, who can see or hear you, gain temporary hit points equal to 1d8 plus your Charisma modifier. Once a creature has benefitted from this effect, it must finish a short or long rest before being able to benefit from it again.

I like the versatility of this weapon, which packages up several cool abilities that already exist in 5e D&D but rarely get used in my experience.

7. Thunderstar

Morningstar, very rare
You gain a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon.

This weapon has 5 charges and regains 1d4+1 expended charges daily at dawn. If you expend the last charge, roll a d20. On a 1, the weapon explodes with a mighty crack of thunder and any creature within 30 feet must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, the creature takes 3d6 thunder damage and is deafened for the next 10 minutes. On a successful save, the creature takes half as much damage and isn’t deafened.

While holding the morningstar, you can use a bonus action and expend 1 charge to call forth its thunderous energy. The next time you hit with a melee attack using this weapon it unleashes a thundercrack that is audible within 300 feet of you, and the attack deals an extra 2d6 thunder damage to the target. Additionally, if the target is a Large-sized creature or smaller, it must succeed on a DC 15 Strength saving throw or be pushed 10 feet away from you and knocked prone.

Thunderous Smite is one of my favourite spells… and now you don’t have to be a paladin to use it! It could have been thunder-anything, but thunderstar somehow felt right…

8. Moonsong

Greatsword, legendary (requires attunement by a lawful good creature)
You gain a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon.

This holy blade is able to detect evil. Whenever it is within 60 feet of an aberration, fiend or undead, it emits a low humming sound, and glows with a dim blueish-white light in a 15-foot radius.

When a paladin of devotion uses their Sacred Weapon Channel Divinity ability on Moonsong, it blazes with bright moonlight in a 30-foot radius, shedding dim light 30 feet beyond that, and sings with celestial fervour. For the duration of your Sacred Weapon ability, any aberration, fiend or undead within 30 feet of you has disadvantage on attack rolls. During this time, you cannot be charmed, frightened or possessed by them.

Paladin’s of devotion are the poor cousin of paladins of vengeance, so this weapon is a great reward for any PC who decided to play an old school lawful good paladin, providing a nice boost to their Sacred Weapon ability. I actually invented it for a PC of mine, Estelle, a kind of Joan of Arc style warrior. The glowing light is pretty handy if you’re a human!

9. Rakish Rapier

Rapier, legendary (requires attunement)
You gain a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon.

The weapon has 5 charges and regains 1d4+1 expended charges daily at dawn.

Flurry of Blows. When you select the Attack action, you may expend 1 charge to make a melee attack against every creature within 5 feet of you.

Flurry of Parries. When a creature hits you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction and expend 1 charge to add your proficiency bonus to your AC for that attack, potentially causing the attack to miss you. You continue to benefit from this bonus against all further melee attacks against you, until the start of your next turn.

Riposte. If a creature misses you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction and expend 1 charge to make a melee attack against the creature.

Another weapon I invented for one of my PCs, the swashbuckler Drake Griffonheart (check my guide to playing a swashbuckler if you fancy playing a similarly stylish prince of panache), this rapier is deadly in the right hands. Using the riposte skill you can get a second sneak attack a round, whilst the flurry of parries and flurry of blows abilities help compensate for the fact the rogue only gets one main attack a round per round. This extra power is bounded by the charges mechanism, and therefore shouldn’t get out of hand!

10. Screamhoarder

Greatsword, legendary (requires attunement)
The hilt of this merciless blade is decorated with ghostly visages screaming in pain. The weapon stores the dying screams of those it strikes down, releasing their agony on its next victims.

When you hit a living creature with this weapon it must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or take an extra 5 hit points of psychic damage, as the death cries of the blade’s previous foes reverberate through the target’s very being.

For every creature with an Intelligence of 4 or above that you kill with this blade, add an additional 1 hit point to the psychic damage inflicted on a failed save.

When you roll a 20 on an attack roll made with this weapon, the trapped screams fly from the blade to assail the psyche of the target with their full force. The target has no saving throw against the extra psychic damage, and must make a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw or suffer from short-term madness ( p.259, DMG). When this happens, the sword’s additional psychic damage is reset to 5 hit points, as just the residual echoes of its victims’ death screams remain.

Curse. The imprisoned screams of the dead also threaten the sanity of anyone wielding the blade, wearing down their psyche over time. Whenever you score a critical hit with this weapon, you must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or roll on the indefinite madness table (p.260, DMG). You may suffer from multiple effects from this table. While sane you may choose to unattune to this weapon at any time. While suffering the effects of madness, all the usual rules of unattuning to a cursed weapon apply.

This is a very rare example of me moving away from tried and tested existing 5e mechanics to deliver something quite new and different. There are reasons why I didn’t do this very often, but in this case I think I am very pleased with the result, and it’s definitely one of the more memorable weapons in the guide!

Esquiel’s Guide to Magic Weapons

So there you go, my ten favourite magical arms, but it wasn’t easy to choose them. After all I made 110 more, and I’m confident you’ll like the majority of them.

The book also includes 20 new sets of magic armour, highlight amongst which are the Displacer Hide, Lizard Skin, Rogue Suit, Armour of the Golden Dawn and Arcane Shield.

Plus rules for superior, nonmagical weapons and armour (great if your PCs have a lot of cash but nothing to spend it on!).

An example of the interior layout and artwork.

Probably my favourite part of the entire guide is the DM’s Magic Weapon generator though, where you can randomly assemble 10,000s of unique arms using a list of tables that determine weapon type, bonus modifier, and magic property (around 70 cool properties, including curses, plus additional variations). This tool is particularly useful for generating weapons appropriate for low and mid-tier characters.

Within a few days of being available to buy, the book has already became a best seller of the DM’s Guilds, so don’t wait around… grab a copy, using the link below!

Buy Esquiel’s Guide to Magic Weapons on the DMs Guild

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