…at least in my eyes.
I’ve had the vague feeling about this for a while, but it became concrete after a session I DM’ed led to two characters being stunned by the psychic screech of a deep scion (from Volo’s Guide to Monsters).
Deep scions are one of the coolest monsters from Volo’s Guide, in my opinion, with their fleshy fish maws and creepy set of tentacles (which sadly don’t do anything!), and I was keen to include at least one in the new adventure I’m writing. Combat-wise and the main danger they pose is from their psychic screech ability, which stuns those who fail a Wisdom saving throw for one round.
Very cool on paper. But it didn’t play out well in practice at all. In this particular session it meant that it was a full 45 minutes into the combat before two PCs in the party acted; as, after a bit of preamble, several monsters and two other PCs all took two turns in combat before them (unfortunately the two players that failed their saving throws also rolled badly for initiative).
After further thought, it’s probably no coincidence that banishment and hypnotic pattern are two of my least favourite spells, nor am I massive fan of hold person or the monk’s Stunning Strike ability. Spells and abilities that take creatures – be they players or NPCs – out of action completely rob the game of something. Players lose precious game time and any chance to contribute, while DMs can also get frustrated at not being able to use a kick-ass monster to threaten the party and ramp up the tension. Especially if it’s one they prepared, replete with villainous dialogue or a dastardly combat tactic.
Looking at the list of conditions in the Player’s Handbook and I’m trying to see something that could maybe convey the same narrative purpose of being incapacitated, stunned or paralysed, but without totally removing the affected creature from the combat. A condition that temporarily robs a creature of some of its offensive (and defensive) capabilities, without rendering them completely inert.
It’s strange, because I’d really expect it to be there… and if such a condition did exist I feel like it might tally with many more spells and abilities, some of which have perhaps never been invented because the debilitating power of ‘stun’ would make them grossly overpowered. (Hence power word stun being an 8th level spell!).
And so let me propose: the dazed condition.
(Or possibly the disoriented, staggered or shaken condition…. you get the idea!).
It’s purpose being to replace the stunned condition when stunned feels too punitive, while retaining the narrative flavour of being blindsided by an attack or ability that leaves you reeling.
- A dazed creature cannot take reactions and has disadvantage on ability checks and Dexterity saving throws.
- Melee attack rolls against the creature have advantage, and the creature’s own attack rolls have disadvantage.
- When a dazed creature attempts to cast a spell other than a cantrip it must roll a d20. On an 11 or higher the spell doesn’t take effect and the spell slot is wasted.
- When a dazed creature takes the Dash action they must succeed on DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or fall prone.
So there you go. I could have cut it any number of ways, but in the end I’ve pulled bits from the blinded condition, slow spell and exhaustion to create a condition that a) leaves you more vulnerable and b) affects pretty much anything you might want to attempt on your turn. But nonetheless still leaves you very much in the game (when compared to the stunned condition, or even the slow spell!).
Next time I wheel out the deep scion I will play test it, and it could be a handy condition for your critical hit results table too, or for taking massive damage or suffering a major fall.
Do let me know your thoughts as always… have you ever reached for a condition that wasn’t there in the Player’s Handbook!? Be it ‘dazed’ or some other penalty you felt wasn’t represented to your liking…
I’ve come back to this issue again recently and I think I’m going to settle on the following for my next campaign.
- A staggered creature’s movement is halved and they cannot take reactions
- The creature has disadvantage on all d20 tests.
- The creature cannot cast levelled spells.
I think that’s more elegant and the removal of reactions does enough to damage players’ defensive abilities that offering advantage to hit them isn’t necessary as well (as someone in the comments pointed out, disadvantage to hit / advantage to be hit is covered in a few existing 5e conditions).
‘Test’ looks like it will be One D&D’s new catch-all word for attack rolls, ability checks and saving throws, and works here.