Hipsters & Dragons

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

Category: Tips for DMs (Page 2 of 2)

Phobias for PCs & NPCs (5e D&D)

“I ain’t getting in no boat fool!”

Ever wanted to give your PC a little extra flavour, such as BA’s infamous phobia of both boats and flying, or Indiana Jones’ fear of snakes? The mightiest heroes have weaknesses and flaws, that make them all the more credible – and even heroic, since they often have to overcome them – and will lift your PC above the ranks of that tedious infallible paladin you usually play.

Every great hero has a weakness…

For those who love the roleplaying challenge of 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons, here is my table of common(ish) phobias that will ensure your character is no cookie-cutter hero but one whose Achilles’ heal can all too often place him and his fellow adventurers in grave danger.

DMs meanwhile, perhaps you want to use this when creating your NPCs? It’s going to be a hell of a lot harder to rescue that princess from the castle’s dungeons at night if she’s scared of the dark…

Hipsters & Dragons Table of Phobias (5e D&D)

Roll a d20

1. Fear of Darkness
2. Fear of Fire
3. Fear of Water (as in drowning in oceans, lakes, rivers, not as in drinking a glass of…)
4. Fear of Heights
5. Fear of Thunder and Lightning
6. Fear of Ghosts (and/or undead)
7. Fear of Death
8. Fear of Enclosed Spaces
9. Fear of Open Spaces
10. Fear of Spiders
11. Fear of Snakes (and/or lizards)
12. Fear of Insects (or biting / stinging ones at least)
13. Fear of Dogs or Wolves.
14. Fear of Cats
15. Fear of Rodents
16. Fear of Fish
17. Fear of Horses
18. Fear of Mirrors
19. Fear of Divine Magic (obviously reroll if you’re a Cleric, Paladin)
20. Fear of Sorcery (obviously reroll if you’re a Wizard, Sorcerer etc.)

How strong the phobia is, is probably best for you to decide. Strong enough to inconvenience you will make for good roleplaying opportunities. So strong that everyday adventuring situations become a massive and rapidly tedious pantomime is soon going to grate on your fellow PCs.

If you do want to randomise the extent of the phobia though I would suggest this table.

Roll a d10

1-7. Normal phobia. Oh God, get it away from me.
7-9. Extreme phobia. Please no, don’t make me *sobs*…
10. Crippling phobia. No fucking way Jose.

Is Banishment Overpowered? How To Deal with Banishment as a DM

Aside from Counterspell, which I dealt with in an earlier post, another problematic spell in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons is Banishment. In fact like Counterspell it also makes DM David’s top four irritating invocations in the game. In his words:

Banishment lets players split combat scenes into two parts. In part one, the wizard or cleric banishes the toughest foes so their party can gang up on the outnumbered mooks in a one-sided romp. In the second part, the banished creatures spring back into reality and the party ambushes them. A potentially compelling fight turns into a rout followed by a dreary murder scene.

This is exactly what happened when I was Dungeon Mastering the other day and I came across the spell as a DM for the first time. The party’s camp was attacked at night by a band of orcs, led by an orc eye of gruumsh and a pet cyclops. The fight started interestingly enough with my cyclops scoring a critical hit on the party’s almost indestructible paladin, but the minute the party’s sorcerer cast Banishment on the cyclops the fight was over as a contest. Orcs were routinely mopped out of existence after which the cyclops rematerialised surrounded and outnumbered. The subsequent dice rolls were pregnant with the weight of their own pointlessness.

Up in a puff of smoke…

I was pondering how overpowered and frustrating the spell was after the session and so looked it up to see if somehow we weren’t missing something… and indeed we were. A closer look at the material components of the invocation (p. 217 PH), reveals that “an item distasteful to the target” is required to cast it. Now, I’m a pretty liberal DM when it comes to components. If the costs aren’t prohibitive I assume the caster in question keeps a reliable stock of whatever bits, bobs, nuts and guts they are likely to need during the course of an adventure. However this component requirement clearly demands some knowledge of the intended subject of the spell and varies completely depending on the target. And so I’ve informed my players that if they want to cast this spell in the future they are going to do some legwork on their opponent and then after go out and acquire an appropriate ingredient for the spell to work. In other words it’s nerfed… and all according to the rules!

Of course it’s up to you as DM how strictly you want to enforce this rule, and what breaks you give your PCs… maybe some kind of nature or knowledge check could determine if a character for example knows that orcs hate elves, and therefore if they have something elven on them they could go ahead and cast Banishment successfully. But overall, a strict interpretation of this material component will help seriously reduce the otherwise over-effectiveness of a potentially very problematic spell.

One final thing to note is that Banishment does require concentration, so if the PC in question casts another spell that requires concentration the baddie they just banished will pop back into existence. Similarly if the bad guy’s buddies are smart and rain blows on the caster the chances are they will quickly lose concentration and the banished boss will reappear.

So there you are… problem solved? Let me know your thoughts and experiences!

Ps. if you feel the component aspect is too arbitrary and open to interpretation and you would rather go with a rules fix, I would suggest – something similar to DM David’s suggestion – that the Banished creature returns in 1d8 rounds, in a random direction, between 5 and 50ft feet (1d10 x5) of the spot they were banished from. And they must materialise in a space (not in a wall etc.). Or you could simply give them a saving throw to return at the end of each of their turns. Just give your players advance warning of any rules changes you want to enforce and allow them to change spells if they feel that they don’t like your amended version.

Is Counterspell Overpowered? How To Deal With Counterspell as a DM…

Is Counterspell overpowered? The answer is probably yes. Using just a reaction (ie. you can still use your own action to cast another spell or attack!), and a third level spell slot (minimum), you can negate the effect of any spell of 3rd level or lower cast within 60ft of you, and you have a decent chance of bringing higher level spells to a grinding halt as well.

During a recent encounter our poor Dungeon Master grew quite frustrated as the sorcerer in our party rendered a high level cleric powerless, by negating a succession of dangerous spells that would have put the combat right in the balance, all with just a couple of 3rd level spell slots. Maybe that’s why DM David voted it one of the four most annoying spells in D&D!

Counter this beeactch... (Artwork by Biffno on Deviantart)

Counter this beeatch… (Artwork by Biffno on Deviantart)

As a Dungeon Master the spell carries a double annoyance. It can make it harder to judge how tough to make encounters (if Fire Storm takes effect the party is going to be in a lot of trouble… if it doesn’t it could turn into a cakewalk), and from a story point of view it can replace epic happenings with the empty hiss of arcane magic fizzling out into nothing.

Of course you could simply ban the spell from the table, but that can feel pretty rough on those who consider it a key weapon in their armoury, so let’s look at some ways you can legitimately prevent it from getting overpowered without changing the existing rules.

1. Perception Check
The caster of Counterspell has to be able to see the caster of the spell they are trying to interrupt. But let’s remember that they don’t get a little notification in their inbox saying “someone within 60ft of you is trying to cast a spell, would you like to try and counter it?” Just because it’s possible for character A. to see character B., ie. there is a clear line of sight, doesn’t mean that character A. was looking in that direction at exactly the right moment. Unless the character in question was unquestionably focused on the caster have them roll a Perception check to see if they notice what the hell is going on. On a chaotic battlefield with multiple casters I’d recommend a DC of around 15.

2. Don’t Automatically Reveal What Spell Is Being Cast
If you know one or more of your players has Counterspell up their wizards’ sleeves, then be smart. Don’t declare what spell your NPC is casting. Simply inform your player(s) that they see a creature (if indeed they do see them… see points 1. and 2.) about to cast a spell, and have them roll an Arcana check DC15. If they pass they correctly guess the spell being cast, otherwise they have no idea and have to gamble whether or not to use their spell slot to try and counter the spell on what might just be a magic missile or cantrip. What’s more if the character has never seen the spell cast before give them disadvantage on their Arcana roll (if they have seen it plenty, or frequently cast it themselves, you should probably give them advantage). If you want to be really mean roll for them privately, behind your screen, and feed them misinformation when they fail their roll. This way they never know for sure, because even when they pass the check and you tell them the truth, they don’t know they passed the roll, so can’t be sure to trust their character’s assessment.

3. Make The Players Act Instantly
The uncertainty caused by point 3. will create a lot hesitation… snap your fingers, and if they haven’t decided tell them they’re too late! They just lost their reaction. Better luck next time. (That is if they survive the Lich’s Power Word Kill… mwah ha ha ha!).

4. Get The Rules Right
When the spell being cast is higher than the spell slot being used to interrupt it the Counterspeller must make a DC check of 10 plus the spell level. They can add their spellcasting ability but NOT their proficiency bonus. (I mention this because we got this wrong on our table and indeed our frustrated DM might have got off at least one more spell if we had this clearer! There is actually a skill called Improved Abjuration available to Wizards who follow the School of Abjuration who reach 10th level that enables them to add their proficiency bonuses to this roll [p.115 of the Player’s Handbook]… chances are your players don’t have that!).

5. One Reaction A Turn Max.
Remember the spell does take a reaction. And every character only gets one reaction a round. So if they’ve cast Shield already for example, or indeed another Counterspell, or used Uncanny Dodge to halve some damage (if they are multiclass Rogue), then they’re shit out of luck.

6. Fight Fire(ball Extinguisher) with Fire(ball Extinguisher)
One other very obvious way to fight the power of Counterspell is to arm all your NPCs casters with it as well – a particularly good tactic if you want to persuade magic using characters on your table to drop it from gameplay altogether, as you’ll soon see them get frustrated when their own spells fizzle out and the combat is decided by the fighters in the party. (Do note however, despite some DMs arguing that you can, you should not be able to Counterspell a Counterspell. Aside from the ridiculousness that would ensue, that would also involve casting two spells simultaneously, which is not only against the rules, but also against common sense. Additionally CS is so fast there’s no way you could react to it… most spells take several seconds to cast, CS takes a split second. More on this in the Comments section below).

Hipster Rules Fix

If, after applying all these factors to your gameplay, you still feel that the spell is overpowered let me suggest the following rules fix. Instead of setting a DC, the CS caster must contest the original caster each using their spellcasting ability modifier. If one of them is using a higher spell slot than the other, they get +2 modifier per slot higher.

Eg. Gandalf is a wizard with Intelligence 18 (+4 spellcasting modifier) and seeing the dastardly Harry Potter (Intelligence 16, +3 modifier) preparing a nefarious incantation he successfully rolls Arcana to recognise it. It’s the level 7 Finger of Death spell! Gandalf uses his highest spell slot left, a level 6, to try to counter it. He rolls a 15, which becomes 19 with his spellcasting modifier. Harry rolls 13, plus his own spellcasting modifier of 3, and an additional plus 2 as his spell is one level higher than the slot being used to counter it. His total is 18 (a draw would result in the spell being cast). Gandalf succeeds in his counter… just.

In my rules fix there’s also no such thing as an automatic counter, so you should roll/contest if even if you are countering a spell using a higher spell slot, getting +2 on your roll per slot level higher you use. (Otherwise a higher level wizard would systematically destroy a lower one without a chance, which is against the spirit of D&D).

Personally I quite like Counterspell, probably because I currently play as a multi-class Fighter / Rogue / Wizard, and it gives me a chance at least to avoid seriously nasty spells of magic users before engaging them in melee, where I have the upper hand. As someone with a long history of failing saving throws I really enjoy getting a second chance to avoid some excruciatingly annoying effect that is going to take my character out of the game for the rest of the encounter…

Plus this guy has some good advice on making it fun!

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