Hipsters & Dragons

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Category: New & Improved Rules (Page 1 of 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battlemasters… because swords never run out of spell slots

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

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

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

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

Player’s Handbook: Battle Maneuvers

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

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

Commander’s Strike

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

Disarming Attack

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


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

Distracting Attack

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

Evasive Footwork

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

Feinting Attack

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

Goading Attack

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

Lunging Attack

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

The Musketeers think highly of the Lunging Attack at least…

Maneuvering Attack

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

Menacing Attack

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

Parry

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


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

Precision Attack

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

Pushing Attack

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


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

Rally

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

Riposte

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

Sweeping Attack

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

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

Trip Attack

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

New Maneuvers: Unearthed Arcana

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

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

Ambush

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

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

Even the bravest hero has to hide sometimes….

Bait and Switch

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

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

Brace

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

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

Restraining Strike

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

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

Silver Tongue

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

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

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

Snipe

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

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

Studious Eye

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

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

Hipster Manoeuvres

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

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

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

Acrobatic Attack

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

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

Acrobatic Defense

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

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

Blinding Strike

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

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


Cinema’s most famous Blinding Strike?

Combination Attack

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

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

Crippling Attack

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

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

Defensive Feint

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

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

Defensive Stance

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

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

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

Disabling Strike

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

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

Down But Not Out

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

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

Knockout Punch

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

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

Preemptive Strike

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

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


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

Shield Charge

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

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

Showboating Attack

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

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


…the flipside of the Showboating Attack.

Whirlwind Defence

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

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

Instinctive Maneuvers

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

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

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

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

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

More Resources – DM’s Guild

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

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

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

Comments Below!

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

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

Dodge & Disengage: Do They Need Tweaking?

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

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

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

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

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

Disengage: Hipster Remix

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

RAW version here.

Dodge: Hipster Remix

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

RAW version here.

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

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments…

Not The Dreaded DC 15…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That really bugs me.

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

Low fence jump…. shall we say DC 15?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can We Get Some Love for DC 10?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drinking a Healing Potion in Combat (New Rule)

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

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

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

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

Kill your enemies with a cough and a handshake.

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

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

Introducing…

HIPSTER RULE FIX: DODGE & DRINK

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

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

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

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

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

Circle of the Moon Druid. The Unlikely Tank.

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

Hands up if you hate mistletoe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cool…. but mind-bogglingly imbalanced.

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

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

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

And that’s just the hit points.

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

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

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

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

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

Wild Shape Fix Number 1

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

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

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

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

Just a couple of druids hanging out…

Wild Shape Fix Number 2

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

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

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

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

Wild Shape Fix Number 3

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

More Stuff

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

Make Weapons Great Again: New 5e Weapon Properties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get 19 new weapons properties for your game!

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

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

My goals with the product were to:

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

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

Slash, Stab, Hack, Repeat!

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

Bludgeoning weapons

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

Piercing weapons

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

 New Weapon Properties

A list of new weapon properties.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unarmed Strikes (Monks)

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

Opportunity Attacks (Rules Variants)

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

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

Design Notes

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

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

Critical Misses

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

Magical Weapons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shall we have a go at fixing this mess!?

Hell, why not…

Running a Chase: Hipster’s Rules Variant

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

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

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

1) Establish that a chase has started.

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

2) Establish the appropriate skill for the contest

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

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

3) Establish each creature’s chase modifier

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

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

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

4) Determine the success of any pursuers

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

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

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

5) Escaping / Ending the Chase

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

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

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

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

A few more things to bear in mind…

More Chase Mechanics…

6) Measuring Distances / Variable Starting Points

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

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

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

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

7) Consider Introducing Exhaustion

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

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

8) Obstacles / Complications

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

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

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

Narrating A Chase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Option 5

A simply fix you might like has arrived in the comments section.

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.

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.

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