Hipsters & Dragons

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There’s A Missing Condition in 5e….

…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.

DAZED

  • 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…

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14 Comments

  1. Derek

    I like it the first two a lot, but I would change the second two.

    – Rather than a strait 50/50 chance for a spell to work, I would invoke the “take damage” aspect of the concentration check. 10+Spell level CON save. It makes it feel like the player has some agency over the roll if they built resilient spellcaster.

    – I would extend the last point to include Disengage and Dodge, along with Dash. I also might let the player choose between CON or CHA for their DC15 save, similar to how STR/DEX is an option for grapple. I wouldn’t use DEX mainly because it is used so often elsewhere. CON would be to to see if the body has the fortitude to overcome being dazed, and CHA (because you are still conscious) would check to see if your mind has the fortitude to perform the action.

    • duncan

      Hi Derek, sure now that you propose it I think I might prefer a concentration-style check too, and I think the idea that the higher the spell level the harder it will be to cast.

      Personally don’t think any additional rule is required for disengage and dodge, however, as they would be effectively taking themselves out of the fight and sacrificing their offensive potential, so the condition has done it’s job in many respects in that case.

      Cheers for the ideas!

      • Justin

        I like this condition a lot!

        I agree with Derek on Con save for spell casting (which also preserves the ‘high roll = good’ principle), and on CON rather than DEX for Dash, and I’d leave out CHA.

        Mainly because Dex and Cha get too much love in the game as it is, but also because it seems right to me that it’s the tough as nails warriors that can shake off elements of the condition more easily.

        I’d like to test this out but it could also work to apply this condition (or Con save to prevent it) after massive damage – just need to figure out what ‘massive’ might mean in a context where hp can vary from 1-500.

        • Derek

          I went and looked up on DnDBeyond the spells that cause the stunned condition, I was suppressed that they were all really high level spells. I guess that is why the stun condition RAW is so powerful, even though it is not how most of us think of when being ‘stunned.’

          Looking at all the 5e conditions over again, surprisingly exhaustion is the one that seems to achieve closest to the mild effect we are looking for. And there is only 1 spell that causes exhaustion, a 10m Concentration level 4 spell, Sickening Radiance. On top of being limited and lame, the exhaustion also goes away when spell ends.

          • duncan

            The thinking behind Dex save was that attempting a Dash while dizzy etc is a balance issue…

            Con (as you later say Justin) would be for avoiding getting the Dazed condition in the first place. But once you have it I think Dex makes more sense when trying to move more than just your speed.

            Derek, yes I nearly just wrote this up as ‘you gain three temporary levels of exhaustion’. That doesn’t do anything to stop spellcasters though, but you could mash that up with your spellcasting save to create a simple condition.

            Stunned is really powerful, although paralysed condition is even nastier and there is one spell that delivers that at low level – Hold Person! The automatic crits it offers your allies make it a bit OP’ed in my opinion. It also upcasts incredibly well: a friend of mine recently used a 3rd level spellcasting slot to take out two highly dangerous foes.

            Sleep also delivers a worse condition and with no save (and no concentration required)! Again, not my favourite spell.

  2. Ed

    For many reasons, I love the idea of a condition that penalizes the target but still keeps them in the fight.

    I think this condition would pair nicely with falling damage, critical hits from a bludgeoning weapon, some psychic attacks, and new spells.

  3. Nathan Brown

    Something like the effect from Tasha’s Mind Whip (2nd level Enchantment) is what I would like to see as a condition.

    “… and it can’t take a reaction until the end of its next turn. Moreover, on its next turn, it must choose whether it gets a move, an action, or a bonus action; it gets only one of the three.”

    Like your example, it would be a nerfed ‘stun’ effect.

    Giving advantage to attackers and disadvantage to self is as bad as losing the whole turn, in my opinion. Topping it off with; no reaction + disadvantage on ability checks and Dex saves + inability to Dash out of danger (DC 15 Dex at disadvantage) + spell failure chance (also at disadvantage) – still seems pretty darned powerful, which is what you said you were aiming for I suppose. But, as a player, the ‘carrot on a stick’ of trying to do something useful/helpful on your turn just adds insult to injury (unless you’re successful that is, then it’s that much sweeter). Hit me with the stun so I know I’ve got time to run to the kitchen and make a sandwich before my next action, lol.v

    If you want a little more beef than 1 action + no reaction:

    +1 level of exhaustion (stacks with add’l “dazed”)
    or
    Either disadvantage on attacks or advantage to attackers
    or
    Concentration to cast spells

    You could also split it into 2 different effects, one for physical (dazed) and the other for mental (disoriented). Having your psyche assaulted by Deep Scions should have a different effect than falling off a cliff or being clobbered by a giant’s club after all.

    • duncan

      Good shout re: Tasha’s Mind Whip, that could do the job very nicely instead.

      However my condition is not much worse than that… you get to keep all your action economy on your turn. Being able to attack twice (action + bonus action) at disadvantage isn’t much worse, if at all, than attacking once without disadvantage, depending on your build. Plus you could still move.

      I agree you could cut it a few different ways and refine for psychic / physical effects. Cheers for sharing!

  4. Grant Rogers

    While I like the idea of this new condition, I have to disagree with part of what was stated. It is totally understandable to not want the players to have to miss a whole round of combat. As you said, that could be a large chunk of IRL time. However, I think it is perfectly acceptable for players to stun a NPC/boss and make that creature miss a round. In fact, I think it should be rewarded if they manage to do this.

    As a DM (I believe) it is your responsibility to challenge your players and present a situation where everyone can have fun. Part of this is knowing the players will likely “win” most encounters/battles/moments etc. If you are a DM and you don’t want this to happen then 1) you can most certainly make sure the players don’t succeed, and 2) you probably should not be a DM.

    Sure, it can be annoying if the BBEG fight is less challenging than you’d hoped but the players are going to remember that experience fondly – and I think this sort of thing is why players play (or at least come back to keep playing) If you find your BBEGs getting stunned all the time you can give them things like legendary resistances to make sure it doesn’t happen immediately.

    I’m surprised Polymorph didn’t get a mention as something OP doesn’t like, since it can also derail combat and cause missed turns. I like the additional of a new condition, but completely removing stun seems silly.

  5. Fredrik

    I like this in general. I’m looking at two modifications.

    – When a dazed creature attempts to cast a spell other than a cantrip and that doesn’t have an attack roll, it must make a DC (10+Spell Level) CON saving throw or the spell doesn’t take effect and the spell slot is wasted.

    I don’t like penalizing the spell caster twice (both with disadvantage on the attack roll and with the CON save.

    – Movement speed is halved

    I figure any movement while dazed is difficult. Sure, the risk of falling prone increases the risk but I want to simplify a bit and reduce the number of rolls associated with the effect.

    • Fredrik

      Regarding spells casting … maybe the disadvantage on attack rolls is only for physical attacks and all spells are covered by the CON save. That is probably more intuitive (since spell attacks are not based in the same attributes as other spells … and there isn’t a reason to have a difference). That raises another question. Why exclude cantrips from possible failure? They still require some effort to cast.

      • duncan

        Hi Fredrik

        Sorry for slow reply… was concentrating on publishing DRAGONBOWL (see sidebar!).

        You’re right, double penalisation is bad design. I might have to rethink that.

        I want to keep movement on the table though. Moving 30 feet in 6 seconds is not hard. If you want to break into a run, that’s when my Dash roll comes into play.

        Cantrips I feel are something a caster can do with very little effort. And if it’s firebolt etc. they would still get disadvantage to hit, as I’ve written the condition.

        Overall this needs a bit more thought… but we’re getting there!

  6. Ed

    I have no problem with both disadvantage on hits and advantage to be hit. That pattern is well established by 5e Conditions (see Blinded, Prone, Restrained.)

    I’d remove the part about Reactions simply to cut down on the number of changes and to give the PC more ability to still be “in the fight.” At my table, the dazed PC could make an attack of opportunity or ready and action, for example, and I think it is sufficient they’ll be rolling at disadvantage.

    So with that said, here’s what I’m rolling with for now–
    • A dazed creature has disadvantage on ability checks and Dexterity saving throws.
    • Attack rolls against the creature have advantage, and the creature’s Attack rolls have disadvantage.
    • When a dazed creature attempts to cast a spell other than a cantrip, it must make a DC (10+Spell Level) CON saving throw or the spell doesn’t take effect and the spell slot is wasted.
    • When a dazed creature takes the Dash or Disengage action they must succeed on DC 15 Constitution saving throw or fall prone.

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