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Category: Tips for Players (Page 1 of 2)

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!

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…

Rage Against The Mainstream: The Ultimate 5e Barbarian Guide

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

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

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

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The Barbarian’s Role in the Party

Ta(n)king it

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

Giving it out

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

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

Barbarian Build

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

Best Race Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Stat Block

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

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

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

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

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

Weapons

Fighting With a Two-handed Weapon

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

Fighting With Two Weapons

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

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

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

Primal Path

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

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

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

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

Power: 2/5
Roleplaying Flavour: 2/5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Power: 5/5
Roleplaying Flavour: 5/5

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

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

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

Power: 4/5
Roleplaying Flavour: 2/5

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

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

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

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

Power: 2/5
Roleplaying Flavour: 4/5

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

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

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

Power: 3/5
Roleplaying Flavour: 3/5

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

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

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

Power: 5/5
Roleplaying Flavour: 2/5

Roleplaying A Barbarian

Drawing from History

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

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

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

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

Drawing from Pop Culture

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

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

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

Creating Your Tribe

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

When creating your tribe think about the following…

1. Tribal Terrain

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

2. Religion & Festivals

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

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

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

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

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

3. Tribal Rites of Passage

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

i. Birth

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

ii. Coming of Age

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

iii. Marriage

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

iv. Death

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

4. Power Structures

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

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

5. Tribal Law

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

6. Tribal Customs

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

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

7. Gender Roles

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

8. Tribal Dress

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

9. Tribal Warriors

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

10. Battle Rituals

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

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

11. Savage Can Still be Sophisticated

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

More Resources

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

This video is also pretty cool…

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

New Animal Totem Paths

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

Your Thoughts?

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

Are You A Good D&D Player?

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

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

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

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

Tier 0 – Disruptive Player

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

Traits:

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

Tier 1 – Beginners

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

Traits:

  • Don’t know the rules
  • Need constant help

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

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

Tier 2 – Average Player

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

Traits:

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

Tier 3 – Good Player

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

Traits:

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

Tier 4 – Great Players

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

Traits:

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

Tier 5 – Extraordinary Players

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

Traits:

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

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

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

Player Tips: Maximising Bonus Actions & Reactions

Whilst those paragons of roleplaying virtuosity may be drawn to the table by the chance to breathe life into their complex three dimensional character, in what they intend to be as much an improv theatre session as an RPG, there’s a large number of gamers who, if you’ll forgive the language, just want to fuck some shit up.

And so without further apologies or explanations, let’s spoil ourselves with a little powergaming. Today’s topic is all about how to maximise your use of bonus actions and reactions in order to optimise your PC’s ability to whoop some ass.

Now, as you know, once initiative is rolled and combat has started, time is delineated into rounds, with each PC having their turn within the round. But have you ever noticed how some players manage to pack way more into their turn than others? No one ever forgets to use their main attack(s) or cast a spell, but actually you can often sneak in several more activities if you’re playing smart.

…have you ever noticed how some players manage to pack way more into their turn than others?

Let’s break things down.

Action

Your main opportunity to influence the tide of battle, most likely you will choose to either Attack or Cast a Spell, but it’s worth remembering that other actions you can take are Dash, Disengage (a powerful getaway tool), Dodge (a powerful defence tool that also gives you advantage on Dexterity saving throws), Help, Hide, Ready (useful for when someone keeps using their move to duck back under cover, in between peppering you with arrows), Search or Use An Object (drinking a magic potion being a common example).

Move

Every round you can move up to your speed (for 90% of characters this is 30 feet), and it’s nearly always worth considering what you can do with your move to gain a strategic advantage. Obviously if you’re engaged with an enemy you need to consider whether you want to move out of their reach and provoke an opportunity attack, however it’s possible you could gain an advantage in battle by using 5, 10 or 20 feet of movement (depending on the size of the creature!) to outmanoeuvre the creature without ever leaving their reach.

Bonus Action

Technically you only get one of these if an ability says you do, but a good player will find a way of using a bonus action on most of their turns. Typical things you can do using a bonus action are: make an attack with a second weapon (you have to have selected the Attack action to be able to do so, meaning you can’t Cast A Spell and then sneak in an offhand attack); attack with your shield or butt of your polearm (requires feat); cast a spell that has a casting time of bonus action; take advantage of your Cunning Action ability (Rogues only!) to Dash, Disengage or Hide.

Free Action

On p.190 of the PH it reads: “In combat, characters and monsters are in constant motion, often using movement and position to gain the upper hand…. Here are a few examples of the sorts of thing you can do in tandem with your movement and action:”

It then gives a long list of examples of things you could do as a “free action” (unofficial title!), from which I’ll choose a few that could easily come in handy…

Draw or sheathe a sword
Open or close a door
Withdraw a potion from your backpack
Pick up a dropped axe
Fish a few coins from your belt pouch
Pull a torch from a sconce
Turn a key in a lock
Hand an item to another character.

Reaction

Reactions are actions that you can take in response to a trigger, the most common being opportunity attacks, which you can take as a response to the trigger of someone moving out of your reach (the logic being that this leaves themselves vulnerable to attack for a split second). Most of the time they don’t take place during your turn, but as a reaction to what another creature did during their turn in the round. Whilst you might feel that it’s hard to bank on being able to use your reaction each round (you only get one), I usually find a way to do so. In fact I often find myself ‘saving my reaction’ because I have so many options on how to use them. Typical things you can do with your reaction include: casting a spell, such as shield or counterspell, using Defensive Duelist feat, using Uncanny Dodge ability (Rogues only), making an opportunity attack, making an attack using the Sentinel feat.

So there you go, far from using just an Action each turn you can actually use an Action, Move, Bonus Action, Free Action and Reaction!

Action Packed vs. Dull

Let’s imagine a scenario where (low level) Fighter 1 is locked in combat with Orc A, whilst Orc B is running for the door to summon more stinky green back up. Fighter 1 swings his longsword, hits Orc A but doesn’t kill him. Not wanting to provoke an opportunity attack, he is stuck engaged with the enemy.

Now let’s imagine the same scenario with Fighter 2, who is identical to Fighter 1 except that he chose the Shieldmaster feat. Fighter 2 first uses a Bonus Action to attempt to shove Orc A to the ground with his shield. He is successful, after which can attack the orc with advantage using his Action. He hits but also doesn’t kill Orc A, but as the orc is now prone it either wouldn’t be able to make an opportunity attack (common sense!), or would do so at disadvantage as he is prone (p. 292, PH). Therefore Fighter 2 is able to safely use his Move action to cut off Orc B before he reaches the door – and on the way he uses a Free Action to knock a flask of oil off the table in front of Orc B, potentially causing him to slip on his turn. By positioning himself between Orc B and the door, Fighter 2 ensures that if Orc B were to pass him he would get an opportunity attack against him using his Reaction…

I think it’s fair to say the guy (or girl) playing Fighter 2 is exerting way more influence on the combat, as well as having a lot more fun in doing so, by using each of the potential actions available to them during the round.

Maximising Bonus Actions and Reactions

Ok, so we’ve looked at how effective the extra actions in Dungeons and Dragons can prove in battle, now let’s look at how to better take advantage of them. The key here is choosing abilities and spells that allow you to use bonus actions and reactions on a regular basis.

Whenever I play a caster the first thing I do is look for spells that I can cast without using a full action. Here are all the ones I found in the Player’s Handbook. (There are a few more in Xanathar’s Guide).

Spells You Can Cast with A Bonus Action

Banishing Smite
Blinding Smite
Branding Smite
Compelled Duel
Divine Favor
Divine Word
Ensnaring Strike
Expeditious Retreat (not just for retreating!)
Flame Blade
Grasping Vine
Hail of Thorns
Healing Word
Hex
Hunter’s Mark
Lightning Arrow
Magic Weapon
Mass Healing Word
Misty Step
Sanctuary
Searing Smite
Shield of Faith
Shillelagh
Spiritual Weapon
Staggering Smite
Swift Quiver
Thunderous Smite
Wrathful Smite

Spells You Cast with a Reaction

Counterspell
Feather Fall
Hellish Rebuke
Shield

Having some of these up your sleeve will give you a lot of extra versatility when combat starts.

Second Attack

For anyone that wields a weapon, the obvious way of getting more bang for your buck every single round is to fight with two weapons instead. This way you get to make an extra attack on your turn, using a bonus action.

Failing that feats are the best way to get a regular and potent use from your bonus actions and reactions, as well as giving you other extra powers…

Feats That Grant You a Bonus Action

Charger
Crossbow Expert
Great Weapon Master
Martial Adept (depending on the manoeuvres you choose)
Polearm Master
Shieldmaster
Tavern Brawler

Feats That Use Your Reaction

Defensive Duelist (uses your proficiency bonus so a great feat to grab at a higher level)
Mage Slayer
Martial Adept (depending on the manoeuvres you choose… Riposte is cool)
Polearm Master
Sentinel
War Caster

Of these feats a few stand out for me. Shieldmaster for example lets you use a bonus action every time you take the attack action, whilst Polearm Master feat is probably the best out there as it allows you to use a bonus action every round AND often a reaction too. Sentinel allows you to use your reaction on a frequent basis, although intelligent monsters (and/or metagaming DMs) will target you a lot. Defensive Duelist is underrated and a brilliant one to pick up at a later level as it uses your proficiency bonus as a basis, and allows you to use your reaction every time you are attacked with a melee weapon.

I won’t bother repeating exactly what each does, but do delve back into your Player’s Handbook and consider them for your next PC, or next time you get to pick up a feat (always more fun than taking a +2 modifier to an ability, and usually more effective too).

Plan A Strategy

One thing I like to do is think about how I can put together all my actions in a round into a coherent strategy or gameplan.

For example when playing with Estelle, (5th level paladin of devotion / 3rd level battlemaster fighter), one common tactic was to start my turn by casting thunderous smite (bonus action), then make my first melee attack doing extra 2d6 thunder damage. If my target failed their saving throw and was knocked prone, then I would make my second attack with advantage and use my Greater Weapon Master feat to take the -5 to hit penalty (with advantage I would still normally hit!) and do +10 damage. If my opponent was still standing after this (potentially 6d6 +10 damage plus modifiers), I could use up some divine smite or even my action surge to finish them off. Against a large number of weaker foes I relied on the fact I would reduce an enemy to 0 hit points most round to get a bonus action attack with Great Weapon Master (so I wouldn’t bother with thunderous smite).

With Jaxx Storm, a combat-loving cleric of the Tempest (1st-3rd level), I chose the Shieldmaster feat, which together with proficiency in Athletics, allowed me to regularly knock foes prone with my bonus action – giving me and my buddies advantage on our attack rolls against them. The Wrath of the Storm ability allowed me to use my reaction to good effect on occasion too.

Xenia Zanetti was my first ever 5th edition character and versatile as hell (5th level Rogue Assassin, 5th level Wizard, 3rd level Battlemaster Fighter). She could use a bonus action to Dash, Disengage or Hide, to cast misty step, or to make a second attack, or use a battlemaster manoeuvre such as feinting attack to gain advantage (which meant she could do sneak attack damage even in a one on one situation). Whilst for her reaction she often cast shield, or for less dangerous foes took advantage of the rogue’s uncanny dodge ability.

My 5th level rogue swashbuckler, Drake Leopold Florentine Griffinheart III (it’s always the third!), fights with two weapons, meaning he nearly always uses a bonus action. I also gave him the Martial Adept feat and chose the Riposte manoeuvre (as well as the Disarming Attack) meaning he can use a Reaction to make an additional attack (once per short rest only, sadly), and this actually allows him to deal his sneak attack damage twice in one round (once on his turn, once on someone else’s), making him pretty deadly. At 8th level I plan to take the Defensive Duelist feat, which will help cover his main weakness… his mediocre AC. Being a rogue with proficiency in acrobatics also gives you plenty of scope for interacting with your environment in a creative way, either for dramatic effect or for a tactical advantage, using either a free action or bonus action.

Hipster’s Takeaway Tip

One great tip is to write down everything your PC can do with their action, bonus action, reaction on your character sheet, and then, when it’s your turn, you can quickly remind yourself of your options in combat. This way you’ll rarely miss an opportunity to take full advantage of your character’s powers.

Some potential combat options for my Rogue swashbuckler PC…

How To Be A Great D&D Player

So you read my post on things you should never do when playing Dungeons & Dragons? Of course you did, you’re a considerate gamer pitching for the peak of perfectionism at the table.

Now, how about things you actively should be doing? It’s been a while in coming, but finally here is my list of exemplary roleplaying behavioural traits to ensure you’re the first to be invited to any session.

Don’t expect anything here about optimisation or rules mastery, because being a great Dungeons and Dragons player is not about creating powerful PCs, devising smart-ass strategies or completing manifold quests – it’s about contributing positively to how much fun everyone has at the table.

10 Ways To Be An Awesome D&D Player

1. Make a Memorable Character…

Whilst combat and puzzles abound in Dungeons & Dragons, despite these strategic elements, at its heart D&D remains a roleplaying game. The game’s great players walk the worlds of the multiverse in the boots of unforgettable characters, heroes that we can visualise and believe in – often, by the way, more through their flaws and weaknesses than their actual heroic traits. Take the time to really think about who your character is and how they behave, fashioning a credible backstory that explains their nature and their values. Fifth edition is brilliant at encouraging this, and simply using the backgrounds in the Player’s Handbook, and the readymade traits, ideals, bonds and flaws, will give you loads of amazing material to work with; while considering your character’s childhood, education, employment, love life, as well as any key defining moments, will help you flesh out a truly 3d personality. This in turn brings flavour to the game, gives the DM plenty of adventure hooks to work with, and makes it easier for other players to understand and interact with your character.

The Hipsters are all smiles at the start of the session

2. …That Fits Into the Party

When starting a new campaign I like to get in contact with the other players on the table and check what character class they intend to play. I then usually choose a class that gives some balance to the party. If we already have a wizard and a bard, do we really need a sorcerer as well? The four unofficial, but widely accepted, roles of D&D are ‘tanks’ (usually martial classes that soak up enemy hits), ‘casters’ (wizards etc who do mass damage), ‘healers/buffers’ (clerics and bards who support the party with healing magic and support spells) and ‘skills monkeys’ (rogues who disarm traps and pick locks). Whilst you can rarely have enough tanks, and no one complains about having extra healers, it can be frustrating when two or more players are competing in the caster or skills monkeys roles. In general you need at least one of each to make a well-rounded party that will fare well in most classic D&D adventures.

3. …And Doesn’t Steal (All) the Limelight

I am a bit of power gamer, I have to admit, plus I like to play flamboyant, over-confident assholes (they have all the best lines)… BUT it’s really important, whoever you play, that you don’t place yourself at the centre of every situation. Because when you do so you’re effectively stealing game time from your fellow players. Whilst there are naturally louder and quieter personalities at the table, just because one person shouts out at the first opportunity, whilst another patiently waits to hear the DM and the rest of the party out, doesn’t mean the quieter one doesn’t have anything to say at all. They nearly always have their own opinion, plan or course of action in any given situation, so if you’re a naturally gregarious person just be sure you’re giving the less boisterous party members plenty of space to express themselves.

Preparing to share the limelight

4. Ask Your Fellow PCs Their Opinion

Speaking of which, when was the last time you stopped to ask others for their thoughts, or their proposed course of action? Often we naturally get carried away and speak directly to the DM, telling them what our PC is going to do… without consulting anyone else. But D&D is a team sport, the ultimate goal of which is the involvement and enjoyment of everyone. So next time you’re at the table and a problem presents itself, ask a player who hasn’t said anything for a while, what they think, and go from there. (Note: DMs, you have even more opportunity to ensure that everyone is involved, by going around the table and asking everyone in turn what they are thinking, or what their PC is doing. Especially if you see some players are being left out and not getting involved enough).

5. Make Plans Based on Others’ Abilities

So you’ve tracked the hydra to its lair, discovered the back entrance and rolled a successful Nature check to recall that doing some fire damage each round will be key to winning the battle. Now it’s time to plan the great assault. Yes you could just go in there and smite the shit out of it because you’re playing an overpowered paladin, but you’ll prove a lot more popular if you not only canvass everyone else’s opinion on the best course of action (as per above point), but even better suggest ways of bringing other PCs’ skills and abilities to the fore within your battle strategy. Giving everyone an important job in the fight to come will make it an unforgettable encounter. Do note though, some players don’t like being told how to use their powers… make sure any suggestion is just that. Don’t make everyone else the pawns in your masterplan, without any free will or creative input.

I’ve got a cunning – team – plan!

6. Get Emotionally Invested in the Other PCs Too

Caring what happens to your character is what makes D&D such an emotional and tense game. You want them to succeed and to grow, and whilst you’re willing to throw them into some risky situations (they are heroes after all!), you really really don’t want them to die. You’ve got to know them so well that you care about them and will miss them if they’re gone. But what about if you start caring for other people’s characters as well? Then you feel even more tension and even more involvement in the game, as you’re not only waiting with nervous anticipation during your turn, but during others’ turns as well… will that rakish but loveable rogue pass their saving throw against the dragon’s breath weapon or is he about to become swashbuckler toast!? Not only that but caring about the other PCs in your party will foster a sense of teamwork and improve everyone’s enjoyment of the game. Some tips on how to get invested in the other PCs on the table would be a) ask them about their PC’s backstory (do this in character for even more effect!) b) create roleplaying opportunities that allow others to get in character c) thank a PC (in character) when they save your life, remember it, and make it part of their relationship. That’s the kind of thing that builds bonds, especially if you are roleplaying well and not just treating combat as a mechanical exercise of different entities reducing one another’s hit points to zero. One other cool thing I did recently was link my PC’s backstory with another’s (I should note here, this was my friend Mark’s idea!), so from the beginning of the campaign we had a tie and some mutual emotional investment that build extra interest in the game.

7. Be Prepared / Equipped

There’s nothing worse (there are in fact millions of things worse, but still…) than arriving for a much-anticipated D&D session and then wasting the first half an hour or more as people start to research the ramifications of levelling up their character. No they don’t have a Player’s Handbook, nor a pencil, nor an eraser. Similarly you reach the last PC in the initiative chain and they still haven’t figured out what they are going to do, and start canvassing the table for their opinions on various spells the mechanics of which they haven’t bothered to look up until now. Of course we all need a bit of thinking space from time to time, and a chance to refer to the rulebooks, and certainly newbies can be considered exempt from this point of etiquette, but when you’re an established player knowing your character’s main abilities and spells should be a given, and arriving with your character sheet, and your own pencil, eraser and preferably dice and Player’s Handbook, should not be too much to ask either. (When I turn up to football practice I bring my shorts and boots, and don’t turn up late and then hope someone else has a spare pair!).

This guy prepared for hours, and you didn’t even bring a pencil…!?

8. Concede the Point

It’s fine to argue with the DM, up to a point. When a ruling goes against you make your case, without getting angry or confrontational. Hopefully the DM will be flexible to your point of view. But understand as well, that in this abstract game of imagination what one person sees happening is quite different to what another might conceive… and ultimately the one thing that ruins the game for everyone is a lot of protracted arguments with the DM… so if the DM ain’t for changing their mind, just accept the decision (you don’t have to agree with it!) and get on with things. As a DM when I get in these situations I find a good compromise is a roll… if for example a player thinks he has line of sight through a dense forest to cast a spell, but you disagree, give them a Perception check with a tough DC, instead of a flat no.

9. Cut the DM Some Slack

Speaking with my DM hat on now, most of us are not Matt Mercer, and not even close. We make mistakes, get frustrated, make bad calls etc.. But we are also the guys and girls that make the game happen in the first place, and there’s a lot to be said for that. The hours and dedication it takes to be the DM often get taken for granted. You would never accept an invitation to a friend’s party and then complain the beers they provided weren’t cold enough, the company didn’t do it for you, and you didn’t agree with their music choice. Sometimes, what you thought was going to be a legendary party turns out to be few dudes drinking cheap beer around the kitchen table, but that’s life. You have to accept when the DM doesn’t manage to bring the A game, and be content with the fact that you’re still having fun with your friends, and that the next one will most likely be awesome.

Offering to host on your roof terrace with views of Sagrada Familia will win you many friends

10. Show Some Love & Manners

Related to the above, it never hurts to thank the DM for preparing and running the session – and often that alone is enough to motivate them to keep doing so. Bringing food and drinks to share, maybe even paying for the DM’s takeaway pizza between the players, as well as offering to host the session at your house occasionally are all examples of great etiquette amongst D&D players.

So there you are… follow these rules to become the most popular gamer in town. And if this list seems a bit intimidating, don’t worry, I’ve broken all these rules myself many times and haven’t been kicked out of my gaming group (yet!). But it behoves us all to keep on improving, so I hope this post inspires you to become the best possible roleplayer you can be.

And make sure you share it with the other people at your table, so it’s not just you upping your game!

As I mentioned earlier, I also wrote a post of things a D&D player should never do, which is also worth a read.

Finally I compiled all my player tips (so far) on this page. Subscribe in the sidebar to ensure you don’t miss the next post.

A Rogue’s Guide to Playing a Swashbuckler

If I tell you one of my favourite books of all time is The Three Musketeers, you won’t be too surprised to hear that I have been eagerly awaiting a chance to play the rogue archetype, the swashbuckler, ever since a copy of The Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything landed on my lap this Christmas (thanks Santa).

Swashbucklers of film and legend include not only D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis (the latter being my favourite), but also The Scarlet Pimpernel, Robin Hood, Zorro, and any number of pirates, such as the scurrilous Captain Jack Sparrow. They are typically brave and romantic fighters who favour finesse over brute force, and they can cut nearly as deep with their rapier-sharp wit as their actual rapiers.

Stylish, dashing and extravagant if you’re not considering the roleplaying opportunities that the swashbuckler archetype is going to afford you, then you’re missing half the fun. Having said that, the mechanics our friends at WoTC have rustled up also make it one of the most powerful archetypes in the game… especially if you know what you’re doing.

Such dashing fellows…

Let’s take a look at the mechanics then… they revolve around the two abilities you get at 3rd level, Fancy Footwork and Rakish Audacity.

Fancy Footwork
When you choose this archetype at 3rd level, you learn how to land a strike and then slip away without reprisal. During your turn, if you make a melee attack against a creature, that creature can’t make opportunity attacks against you for the rest of your turn.

Rakish Audacity
Starting at 3rd level, your confidence propels you into battle. You can give yourself a bonus to your initiative rolls equal to your Charisma modifier. You also gain an additional way to use your Sneak Attack; you don’t need advantage on the attack roll to use your Sneak Attack against a creature if you are within 5 feet of it, no other creatures are within 5 feet of you, and you don’t have disadvantage on the attack roll. All the other rules for the Sneak Attack class feature still apply to you.

What does this mean? Basically put away your bow, because you kick ass at melee combat. Using these two features you can glide into battle, strike with two weapons, almost certainly deal your sneak attack damage (the only time you can’t is if you’re surrounded by enemies and/or miss with both attacks), and then glide out of danger. Possibly embellishing your movement with the odd cartwheel and backflip and taunting your hapless foes with some choice insults.

A bit more on your fighting tactics later, but now let’s see how I built my own swashbuckler: Drake Leopold Florentine Griffinheart III (…it’s always the third!).

Swashbuckler Build

Taking the standard starting block of 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8, I chose the human feat variant (p.31 Player’s Handbook) and placed my stats as follows:

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

Dexterity is obviously going to be your key stat. Fighting with finesse weapons, it’s going to dictate your attack and damage bonuses, give you crucial bonuses to your AC and initiate, and also improve your modifiers on vital skills such as Stealth and Acrobatics.

Charisma is your next most important stat. If you’re not beguiling, deceiving and impressing the NPCs you meet on your adventures you’re playing a swashbuckler all wrong. You are the archetypal charming rogue… a loveable rascal who lives by the seat of their pants, and will need every bit of their dashing magnetism to get themselves out of the scrapes they find themselves in (often through the fault of that same dashing magnetism).

Next I went for Constitution because, even with your Fancy Footwork, you’re going to take some hits as your armour class is going to suck big time. At first level your leather armour (nerfed to AC 11 in 5th edition) plus your Dex. modifier will give you a suicidal AC of 14, and it’s not going to get much better. Studded leather will get you to AC 15, after that you have to wait til 4th level to boost your Dex. and get up to a still downright dangerous AC 16. So some extra hit points will be necessary if you’re going to live long enough to become a legend.

After that your other stats don’t matter too much. I normally use Strength as a dump stat for rogues but I wanted Drake to be at least a little bit macho so I stuck my 12 there. Wisdom is always useful for Perception checks and saving throws, so I prefer not to have a minus at least, hence the 10, and Intelligence is not going to be of much use at all… so 8 it is! (In fact Drake is a very smart and sharp-witted guy, however with a low concentration span and a complete disinterest in academia it makes sense that he sucks at the likes of Religion and Arcana. And by the way, just because a PC has a low Intelligence score doesn’t mean you have to roleplay them as a complete idiot).

Now for Skills…

As a rogue you get four skills to choose from, your background gives you two more and because I chose the Human feat variant I get another one… that’s seven to choose from in total!

Persuasion and Deception are vital for anyone who wants to ham up the style and swagger of this archetype, Acrobatics and Athletics are key for performing the kind of chandelier-swinging stunts that you’ve seen on TV, Stealth is very handy if you want to perform some of the traditional activities of the classic D&D rogue (something I enjoy a lot), Perception is the most rolled skill check in the game, and finally I plucked Performance as I decided that Drake was not only a blade, philosopher and lover… but a poet and storyteller as well. The principle topics of his poems and stories being himself and his legendary heroic deeds (some real, many imagined).

If I could have had one more I’d go for Animal Handling, especially as Drake’s backstory places him as a descendent of the founder of Waterdeep’s Griffin Cavalry, plus The Three Musketeers certainly knew how to ride a horse… but in practice I wasn’t sure it would be much use.

I put my roguish expertise on Acrobatics and Persuasion.

The Perfect Feat for Flavour

For each of my last three characters (Jaxx Storm a Cleric of the Tempest, Estelle a Paladin of Devotion and now Drake) I have chosen to play a human using the feat variant as I freakin’ love feats. They offer a fantastic combination of fun, flavour and power.

The one I chose for Drake is in fact not the most powerful of feats, but for me it rounds off the perfect set of skills a swashbuckler needs. I chose the Martial Adept feat, which enables me to choose two manoeuvres of the fighter’s Battle Master archetype and gives me a single 1d6 superiority dice that I can use once between rests. (See if you can persuade your DM to give you two d4s instead! Having only one is so frustrating!). The manoeuvres I chose are Riposte and Disarming Attack. You can read about them on p.74 of the Player’s Handbook.

Riposte is pretty sick… when a creature misses you with a melee attack you can use your reaction to punish their mistake with a blow of your own. And not only do you get your weapon damage, plus superiority dice damage, but most times you’ll get your Sneak Attack damage dice as well thanks to your Rakish Audacity class feature.

Riposte is so cool I keep forgetting to use Disarming Attack (well, with only one superiority dice to burn, opportunities are rare), but I’m confident it will come in handy, especially if the DM offers some benefits for doing so, like advantage striking an unarmed foe, or an opportunity attack if the target has to bend down and pick up their weapon. Even if the DM refuses to acknowledge your swashbuckling swagger with any tangible benefits you could use it to disarm an enemy of a magic weapon or item and pick it up yourself, or use a free action to kick their weapon across the floor. In the latter case you (and possibly your buddies) would get an opportunity attack when they have to move out of your reach to pick it up.

Equipment

The rapier is of course the iconic weapon of the swashbuckler, which Drake pairs with a dagger to fight with two weapons. I’ve just realised in the course of researching this article that this is against the rules as written as the rapier doesn’t have the light quality necessary for fighting with two weapons, despite weighing only 2 lbs!!! This doesn’t make much sense, and I can only imagine it was not given this quality to prevent rules-abusing players from fighting with two rapiers, but given that you can fight with two scimitars (3 lbs each!) or two shortswords (2 lbs each), then in terms of realism there’s no reason for your DM to disallow a rapier and dagger dual-wield – especially as it is a historically accurate combination. In terms of damage the combo works out as exactly the same as the rules-legit two shortswords or two scimitars (1d8 +1d4, vs. 1d6 + 1d6), so in terms of game balance there’s no reason for your DM to disallow it either. Shame there’s nothing in the RAW to clear this up – especially as in the Sword Coast Adventurers Guide they have a box out encouraging swashbucklers to fight with two weapons – but I’m sure common sense will prevail on your table.

(Another option / solution would be to take the Dual Wielder feat, instead of Martial Adept, meaning you could fight with two rapiers and also get a +1 to your AC… however I am personally opposed to the aesthetic of fighting with two rapiers.).

After that you’ll want some studded leather (you start with basic leather but it shouldn’t take you long to upgrade), your thieves’ toolkit (from your roguish past) and a fair few daggers tend to come in handy. I also armed Drake with a sling and a blowgun (with a vial of poison) for those moments when there’s no chance to engage in melee. If you want to be that annoying rogue that pussies around at the back, sneak attacking with a short bow though you’re in the wrong archetype.

Being a resolute dandy, Drake also carries a vial of perfume and a spare change of the clothes, cut in the latest fashions of Waterdeep.

Tactics

Playing a swashbuckler involves swooping into attack and then getting out of trouble using your Fancy Footwork. This is particularly easy when the party is facing one large monster. You move in, attack twice, and then step back half your movement to avoid the repercussions… the tank(s) in your party can take the hits. Next round half your movement in, attack, and half out again. Against numerous foes things are trickier, but you should be able to pick off bad guys engaged with your buddies or else attack isolated targets, meaning you continually get your Sneak Attack damage. If you do find yourself outnumbered you can use disengage and then move across the battlefield to attack a different creature you can use Sneak Attack against. You are constantly moving basically, slipping out of danger and cropping up where you can deal the most damage – and usually having a lot of fun in the process.

Backstory

Given that the swashbuckler is a rogue archetype, no matter how heroic you intend your PC to be, I think it’s worth giving your swashbuckler a story that explains why they are so adept at slinking into the shadows, picking locks and conning wealthy widow(er)s into signing off their heirlooms and estates into your possession.

For Drake I decided that, after his father’s death, his scheming uncle convinced the rest of the family that he was in fact conceived before wedlock and therefore a bastard, not fit to inherit the name of Griffinheart, much less their grand country estate. Aged just 7-years-old, he and his mother were forced to relocate to Waterdeep, where Drake became something of a street urchin, growing up with the wrong crowd and getting mixed up with one of the local thieves’ guild for a short while. This explains his unique mix of both noble and criminal traits (as well as giving the DM plenty to work with in terms of material for future adventures).

Have a think about your PC’s backstory, and be sure to use the prompts in the backgrounds section of the Player’s Handbook. A good character is born of their backstory and you’ll start to get ideas and inspiration about how you want to play your PC when you start to answer questions about their family history, upbringing and education, and influential figures and events in their life up until now.

Heroic Nickname

Drake dresses all in black, with the odd flash of pink, and goes by the name of The Black Maverick. In his cups, he is wont to reel off any number of self-styled titles such as The Duke of Debonair, The Marquise of Mayhem, The Count of Class and the Prince of Panache.

Flair

A swashbuckler doesn’t defeat his enemies in the most efficient way possible… where would be the fun in that? He defeats them in the most stylish way possible, even if that means courting extra danger.

– Cool Manoeuvres

Try and come up with some cool manoeuvres for your swashbuckler to try out on the battlefield, like throwing their cloak over an opponent’s eyes, attempting to undo someone’s breeches instead of hurting them, slapping their backside with the flat of your blade before Fancy Footwork-ing to safety. Sometimes your creativity will gain you an advantage on the battlefield, other times it might earn you inspiration from your DM, but at all times it should lend your game a lot of fun additional flavour.

– Signature Insults

Landing a good insult can be more satisfying than landing a good blow… maybe pre-generate a few that you can use in your next session. A couple I came up with (but I keep forgetting to use!) are:

I’ve felt a kitten lick me harder than that (for when an opponent scores a particularly low hit point blow).

Your swordplay is shabby, but my God your breath could knock out all five heads of a hydra at a hundred yards

My moustache has had more pussy than you… and I only grew it last month

Archaic insults could also prove to be a fun source of merriment at the table. Bandying around scorchers like fustylugs, lobcock, unlicked cub, beard splitter and scobberlotcher is likely to be memorable at the very least!

A Touch of Poetry

I’ve wanted to play a poet for a while now but it didn’t fit any of my previous characters… but it’s perfect for the swashbuckler. To make things easy on myself I’ve take the classic limerick format and use that to spin amusing ditties, such as:

There once was a rogue named Drake
Who yearned for an ale and a steak
He was short on coins
But long in the loins
So a deal with the landlady he did make

There once was a courtesan named Diva
People said she had a very hairy beaver
To see it myself
I had to pay half my wealth
But, damm it, now I’m a believer

As the adventurer has worn on though I’ve started writing poems to describe the real deeds of the whole party (not the imagined deeds of Drake), and it’s become a fun informal reminder of what happened in last week’s session. The DM even writes them down for us next to his own session summary!

Examples:

There once was a druid called Mingan
There were vines only he could swing on
The others and Drake
Each got bit by a snake
Because they didn’t know how to cling on

There once was a bard with powers like Moses
– at least in very small doses
He parted the lake
For the heroes and Drake
We didn’t get wet… not even our toesies!

There once was a bard called Elandril
He wanted the scroll: Power Word Kill
But because he’s so greedy
We gave it to the needy
Now Tallulah can murder at will

And my personal favourite…

There once was a paladin called Tallulah
I really wanted to do her
I pretended to be a goner
So she’d lay her hands on my boner
Turns out it was easy to fool her!

Anyway I include this in case it inspires any poetic or storytelling leanings for your own PC.

A Flaw

Apart from being an egotistically prick, I decided to give Drake a pretty serious flaw. He’s scared of undead (which of course he doesn’t admit). I’m not sure the party have really noticed yet that he suddenly decides to switch to his sling whenever the dead come calling, and at one stage using some poor wenches as body shields… and whilst it can seem like you’re making an unnecessary rod for your back when you give your PC a flaw that the rules don’t call for, I think a character comes to life when you give them some weaknesses and can provide you with many more roleplaying opportunities than the all-conquering style of hero. Check out my phobias table for some inspiration on that front (although weaknesses needn’t be limited to phobias!).

Mike Mearls Speaks…

And to finish let’s see what Mike Mearls has to say about swashbucklers in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons.

Have you played this archetype yourself? Please share your experiences and tips in the comments!

And, if you liked this, check out my guide on playing a rogue assassin, where I demonstrate some canny optimisation choices as well as introduce you to my beloved badass bitch Xenia ‘Nightsting’ Zanetti of the White Scorpions Guild. (Well technically ‘formerly badass bitch’ as she recently got reduced to a pile of dust by an undead Beholder… but who knows if powerful magic might one day raise her from the ashes).

The Assassin: Xenia “Nightsting” Zanetti

Let’s talk about my first ever 5th Edition character… one that has proved a tonne of fun to play over the last year or so, thanks to not only her roguish abilities (ie. sneaking around backstabbing unsuspected guards) but also her handiness in a fight and more recently her spellcasting ability, which I’ve used to cleverly (IMHO!) complement her efficiency as an agent of death.

Dear multiverse, meet Xenia ‘Nightsting’ Zanetti, a half-elven Rogue Assassin.

Xenia had it pretty tough as a kid. The unwanted daughter of an elf, raped by a human, she was left in a basket at a human orphanage with a bag of guilt-laced gold that didn’t make the orphanage owners treat her any better. They sold the pretty half elf girl for a tidy sum to an unscrupulous slave master with a lascivious eye. She was still a girl when the same master began paying her nocturnal visits. When one day she resisted his advances he smashed her face with an iron sconce, breaking her cheekbone and leaving a massive ugly gash under her right eye. She ran away, risking death, and lived on the streets, until she was found half dead in the gutter by an elderly man who would become her benefactor. Seeing something in this slim but fierce strapling, he enrolled her in a society that could help her… a society that specialised in just vengeance: The White Scorpions. Here she trained in the art of dealing death, surviving the terrifying initiation ceremony to become a fully fledged killer. Her training was complete with the termination of her inaugural victim, the slave master who had raped and abused countless times.

Particularly deadly at night, when her elvish dark vision comes into play, Nightsting (as she became known) subsequently infiltrated the Purple Dragons Army where she served as the captain of a unit of archers, before (and this is when I started playing her) being integrated into a party of adventurers known as the Shadowdale Allstars to spy on a suspicious Dwarven cleric called Leif. Leif has long since died, but the Shadowdale Allstars continue to battle the forces of evil, with Xenia by their side. She has never forgotten her allegiance to the White Scorpions.

Above you can see the stats for Xenia at 8th level, by which time she is 5th level Rogue Assassin and 3rd level Wizard. I’ve really enjoyed my decision to multiclass as a wizard because it opens up so many possibilities and allows for a lot of creativity in gameplay situations, be that combat or deception. Misty step is brilliant for positioning yourself behind an enemy in the blink of an eye… or for teleporting out of trouble, shield has saved my ass so many times, giving me AC 23 for one round when I really need it (and cast with just a reaction), I probably don’t need to sell you on the advantages of being able to turn invisible when required, whilst minor illusion (improved version I specialised in illusion) is perfect for distracting guards on those rare – but always crucial – moments you fail a Stealth check. The low level wizard spells are like a toolbox that help you do your job, as well as open up boundless new possibilities beyond hiding and sneak attacking.

Of course the more obvious option for those that want to play a spellcasting Rogue is to select Arcane Trickster archetype, instead of Assassin. The main advantage here being that you gain spells whilst still increasing your Rogue level, thus continuing to increase the damage you do on Sneak Attacks (as well as gaining other Rogue abilities). However you don’t get the all important Assassinate skill if you choose this path…

Seeing how effective magic has made Xenia I continued to level up as a Wizard until 10th level (5 Rogue / 5 Wizard) at which point she received two level 3 spell slots, enabling her to cast some pretty serious spells such as fireball, fly and counterspell. Major image is also handy if you bring a creative mind to it… summoning an illusory pit, wall, fire, monster or bridge can be pretty effective in the right circumstances.

Since then Xenia took advantage of a power vacuum in the Dalelands to become the Lord Commander of the Purple Dragon Army, and so for principally roleplaying reasons I multiclassed again, this time as a Fighter. She now wears specially tailored half plate mail suited to her new role in society, and now when she uses her bonus action to attack as a dual wielder she is able to add her Dexterity bonus to damage rolls as per the fighting style ‘Two Weapon Fighting’ (p72. of PH) – something which I appreciate a lot.

Ok, I hope this post wasn’t too self-indulgent… but perhaps if you’re thinking about playing a Rogue Assassin in 5th edition this has given you a few ideas. For a detailed look at how to build an effective PC of this class check out my previous post, where I look at what races, stats, proficiencies, feats and equipment I think work best, and discuss the importance of coming up with a coherent back story.

Want to avoid being one of those really irritating gamers and play an assassin of good alignment, who your party members can trust? Then no problems, the Order of the White Scorpions – to which Xenia ‘Nightsting’ Zanetti belongs – are an assassins’ guild compromising of fanatical vigilantes of top moral fibre. I’m putting the finishing touches to an ebook about the Order, which will be available to buy at a very friendly price on the DMs Guild soon! For the price of a coffee you’ll get the lowdown on this secret society, including recruiting and training methods, initiation ceremony, rules and regulations, a new poison, secret tongue and guild motto. Also included are a bespoke Background, plus adventure hooks for your DM to work your back story into their campaign.

Stay tuned!

New Spells for Wizards (& Others)

I’ve spent a lot of time this year preparing one of my D&D adventures for publication, an adventure that hinges around the Order of the Gossamer Robes, a pioneering body of wizards whose mastery of magic has allowed them to formulate many and various powerful news spells. Naturally, having created this storyline, I was duty-bound to create at least some of the incantations that these arcane academics have committed to their seminal tome, The Discoveries.

I will be releasing the adventure soon on DMs Guild (update I have released it!), along with the full version of The Discoveries, which currently contains 29 new spells. As a little teaser – and also to allow for playtesting and feedback before publication – I’d like to publish six of those incantations right now.

wizard spells 5e d&d

It’s a kind of magic…

My goal in authoring them was to provide some new effects and possibilities that currently don’t exist (or at least I have missed!) in the 5th edition Player’s Handbook (or else provide the same effects but in different ways). And whilst nominally wizards’ spells, I’ll leave it up to you if you feel that they could be adopted by sorcerers, warlocks or certain priests.

Hopefully I’ve pitched them about right. They need to be as useful / powerful as existing spells (otherwise why bother create them!? No one would learn them…) and yet not not so powerful they unbalance the game.

Bridge

2nd level conjuration

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S
Duration: Concentration, up to 10 minutes.

You create a shimmering bridge of energy 5 feet wide and 30 feet long, which arcs 5 feet above the ground at its highest point.
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a 3rd level spell slot or higher the bridge you can create is an additional 5 feet wide, 10 feet long and arcing 5 feet higher for every extra spell slot expended. Additionally the duration of the spell increases by 10 minutes per spell slot used.

Author’s notes: I designed this so a low level wizard can solve problems in a dungeon, whilst a higher level one can help armies cross raging torrents…

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Chameleon

Illusion cantrip

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self
Components: V, S, M (a piece of chameleon skin)
Duration: Concentration, up to 10 minutes.

You assume the colours and appearance of the nearest surface, blending into your environment, enabling you to become all but invisible when still. The spell has no effect on any creature that has already seen you (unless you break line of sight and then hide), and the spell’s effects cease to work whenever you move.

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Flash Bang

3rd level evocation

Casting Time: Bonus action
Range: 60ft
Components: V, S, M
Duration: Instantaneous

You trigger a blast of magical force, accompanied by a thunderclap and flash of bright white light, that affects any creature within a 30 foot radius of a point you choose within range. The blast does 2d10 force damage, or half as much on a successful Strength saving throw, and causes victims to be stunned for 1 turn (no effect on save).
At Higher Levels. The damage increases by 1d10 for each spell slot level expended above 3rd.

Author’s note: Nowhere near as dangerous as fireball, the stun effect coupled with the fact it only requires a bonus action to cast I think make this spell interesting. Might be best used by a multiclass character, such as a rogue, who could then use sneak attack on the victims

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Lavinia’s Stunning Escape

5th level evocation

Casting Time: 1 minute (activated with a reaction)
Range: Self
Components: V, S, M (a pair of cymbals)
Duration: 24 hours

You weave a protective aura around yourself (or a willing target you touch) that you are able to trigger using a reaction the moment you take damage from an attack. When triggered a stunning blast of magical force affects anyone within 30ft, doing 2d10 damage (half on a successful Strength saving throw) and causing them to be stunned for 1 turn (no effect on save). In addition you may turn invisible as per the conditions of the spell invisibility (requires concentration, ends if you attack a creature) and teleport up to 60ft to an unoccupied space that you can see. The spell must be triggered within 24 hours of casting, or be lost. Only one protective aura can be active per person at one time, and it can be triggered only once.

Author’s note: an extremely powerful defence mechanism, this is a good spell to reward a PC with… possibly found in a musty spellbook in the depths of some dungeon (or in the Gleaming Cloud Citadel, if you buy my adventure out soon!).

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Meredin’s Mighty Applause

4th level illusion

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 120ft
Components: V, S, M (a flower in bloom)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute

Any humanoid within 30ft radius of the targeted creature of this spell must succeed on a Charisma saving throw or be overwhelmed by a need to clap this target, dropping whatever is in their hands to do so. This enthusiastic applause takes up the entirety of their turn. They may repeat the saving throw at the end of their turn.
The spell ends for an affected creature if it takes any damage.
At Higher Levels. For every spell slot expended beyond 4th level, the radius effect of the spell increases by 10 feet.

Author’s note: I feel this one could be a lot of fun – and very effective – in the right situation, especially if you’ve banned the overpowered Hypnotic Pattern (which you really should have by now!). 

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Heart Attack

7th level necromancy

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 30 feet
Components: V, S, M (a chicken’s heart, crushed when casting the spell)
Duration: Instantaneous

You wrap a spectral hand around the heart of a giant-sized target or smaller within range and squeeze. The target must make a Constitution saving throw, and then roll a d12 and consult the following table. If they pass their saving throw they may add 3 to the roll.

D12 Spell Effect
1. Heart explodes causing instant death
2-4. Heart collapses reducing target to 0 hp
5-10. Heart attack. Target is paralysed for 1d4 rounds, taking 4d6 damage
each round.
11-12.+ Target suffers excruciating heart tremors doing 4d6 damage.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a 8th level spell slot or higher you can target one additional creature per spell slot expended.

Author’s Note: I like spells with a little table of effects! I found trying to pitch the danger of a 7th spell really hard, so let me know how you get on with this one… comments appreciated!

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.

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