Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Momentous Events Inspiration

These variant rules for awarding and using inspiration in 5e D&D can be implemented to establish a deeper connection between character development and the events that unfold as you play. When these rules are adopted, inspiration can be granted and used in the following ways:

  • Make room on your character sheet to record events that happen to your character as you play them.
  • After each session of play, you may record a noteworthy event that occurred during that session for your character. Try to write that event as a single descriptive line. (See below for examples.)
  • An event can be invoked to grant your character inspiration if you can relate how that past experience is helping them in the current situation.
  • A character can only have five events from past sessions recorded on their character sheet at a time.
  • After accumulating five events, you can choose to replace one with a new event your character has just experienced after a session concludes—you get to decide which events are shaping your character’s personality, outlook, or growing infamy.
  • The Game Master may wish to set a limit on the number of events a character can invoke per game session.

  • Fought against overwhelming odds in a desperate melee.
  • Convinced the invaders not to execute an ally.
  • Nearly died from a poisoned arrow.
  • Impressed a great warlord with my balalaika playing.
  • Contracted the plague but survived.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Saltmire, My Current Powder Keg

In this post I outlined the "Dune method" of creating a socio-political powder keg as your campaign setting. I posited that a powder keg following this model has five things: two noble houses at war with each other, a religion using spirituality to gain political power, a tribal military force, a powerful military force acting on behalf of a distant ruler, and a mercantile force that uses economic leverage to pursue political ends.

Here's how I've implemented that schema in an area of Urazya called Saltmire:

Two Noble Houses at War

House Talionis. An aristocratic family of dragonborn who were originally created as the soldiery of a vampiric Noble, they now maintain Saltmire's military and constabulary.

House Tanaka. An aristocratic human family of dragonmarked humans who operate both widespread criminal organizations and the charitable institutions that provide them with legitimate cover.

A Religion that Masks its Political Power

The Church of Aeonian Requiem. Detailed here, but I am leaving what the Church wants open just to see where that goes over the course of a campaign or two.

The Tribal Force

The 13 Tempests. A tribe of shifters inhabiting the dense forests to the south and west of Saltmire. They are the heirs to ancient magic that allows them to master the power of the primal storms of creation. Their exact numbers are unknown.

A Powerful Military Belonging to a Distant Ruler

Lady Rei. Lady Rei is a vampire Noble who inhabits a castle to the north of Saltmire. She has yet to show an interest in the town, but her presence is a grim reminder that a powerful threat lurks nearby. She is served by a veritable army of trolls and oni.

A Mercantile Force

The Angelfish Combine. A consortium of guilds and merchants who control Saltmire's docks, banks, and trade. They hope to extend their economic control into political control. They would love to see both House Talionis and House Tanaka made irrelevant.

* * *

The Web

House Talionis and House Tanaka feud with each other both covertly through political intrigue and explicitly through street violence the erupts between their partisans and cavaliers.

House Talionis and the Angelfish Combine have an economic relationship (Angelfish hires soldiers from Talionis to protect the docks) but Angelfish doesn't want to have to rely on outside aid.

House Tanaka and the Angelfish Combine have an antagonistic relationship. Angelfish knows that Tanaka is involved in smuggling and other crime, which is cutting into their business interests.

House Talionis makes a show of giving money to and endorsing the values of the Church of Aeonian Requiem, but it is unclear who is using who in that relationship.

House Tanaka has sent envoys to Lady Rei, and they have begun a secret dialog. Tanaka is not above inviting Lady Rei to annex Saltmire as long as they are given a role in governing it on her behalf (as well as a promise of House Talionis's destruction).

Everyone underestimates the 13 Tempests, particularly how many of them there are, and what they would be able to accomplish if sufficiently organized behind a charismatic leader.

* * *

The Dirge of Urazya 'zine is available here.

Friday, December 6, 2019

One Man Black Metal

A documentary series on one-man black metal acts by Noisey.

Black Metal's Unexplored Fringes: One Man Metal, part 1

In the Darkest Shadows of Black Metal: One Man Metal, part 2

Everybody Dies Alone: One Man Metal, part 3

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Five-Headed Empress

The Five-Headed Empress
A warlock patron for Dirge of Urazya.

  • The Five-Headed Empress is an artificial being created as a biological weapon of war by a powerful member of the vampiric Nobility. 
  • The strange essences that went into her creation include chroma-draconic gene sequences, diabolic ichors, and human DNA.
  • Due to the transmutation magic involved in her “birth,” the Five-Headed Empress is a natural shapeshifter. She usually assumes either the form of a five-headed dragon or a dark-tressed, cruelly beautiful woman.
  • The Five-Headed Empress exulted in her role as a weapon of mass destruction; wielding elemental wrath in the name of her master and the infamy she earned on battlefields brought her the utmost pleasure.
  • After the Noble she served was killed during the Global War, she was judged to be too volatile and unpredictable to be tamed by another vampire lord; she was imprisoned in a netherworld and kept bound by advanced abjurations.
  • Over eons spent locked away in her metaplanar prison, the Five-Headed Empress’s power steadily grew until she found herself able to make contact with mortals on the Material Plane and impart a portion of her power to warlocks willing to enter into a pact with her.
  • Unlike many patrons, the Five-Headed Empress does not encourage her warlocks to act with subtly and subterfuge on her behalf; instead, she exhorts her warlocks to exercise the power she gives them in brazen ways. 
  • She wishes for her warlocks to revel in their reputations and in engendering fear of her return; she instructs them to pursue fame, notoriety, and influence so they might serve as glorious and inexorable exemplars of her worldly power. 
  • As such, she prefers her warlocks to assume positions of social prominence, prestige, and renown; they are glorious weapons in her name. 
  • The Five-Headed Empress’s hope is that one of her warlock will rise high enough in position and arcane power to find the secret of releasing her from bondage. She would dearly love to slip back into the world, where she will again indulge in a wanton and grandiose reign of terror.
* * *

This is my riff on Tiamat for Dirge of Urazya, obviously.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Satanic Temple, Witch Board Museum, Count Orlok, Lighthouse, Parasite

Things that brought me delight in November, 2019:

Satanic Temple
Is it weird that the works hanging in the art collection and books in the library of the Satanic Temple reminded me so much of the collections of any number of my friends? Admittedly, none of them have a giant Baphomet statue. At least not yet.

Salem Witch Board Museum
It was actually thrilling to see that many different mystifying oracles all in one place.

Count Orlok's Nightmare Gallery
I may have gotten a little too excited by the inclusion of Barbara Steele from Black Sunday.

The Lighthouse
The Lighthouse is a very different movie from The Witch; feels more like a David Lynch film, or a very black comedy, in places.

I went into this one knowing absolutely nothing about it; the tonal shift is devastating and worth going in blind for.

November's Doom, Nephilim Grove
November's Doom has a long legacy yet to be fully recognized. Nephilim Grove's death-doom mixes anger with sorrow and adds slight progressive touches to round out the sound.

Malifaux 3e: Bayou, Outcasts, Resurrectionists, Ten Thunders
I got the rest of the faction books. Now, if only I could get my hands on a print copy of the core book.

Volur, Breaker of Rings/Amber Asylum, Blood Witch
I'm not usually a fan of split albums; I often feel like I got suckered into them because I like one band's output and the other ends up getting skipped. Not so with this album; Volur's abbreviated doom saga works well with Amber Asylum's folksy neoclassical chamber music.

Boris and Sunn O))), Altar
Gloomy experimental doom.

Celine Loup, The Man Who Came Down the Attic Stairs
Past-partum depression, an eerie house, a child that won't stop screaming, and a husband who seems to be a different man after an ill-fated trip to the attic. It's a bit "Yellow Wallpaper" and a bit Shirley Jackson.

I recently bought a bunch of Spelljammer print on demand stuff from DriveThru. I didn't get into the setting when it was coming out, but it's definitely holding my interest. Like anything else, I probably wouldn't use it as published, but there's a lot of weird stuff worth transforming for my own purposes in this line.

Into the Badlands, Season 3
Into the Badlands was a better show than it really had any right to be. Although it sometimes suffered from clunky dialog, iffy acting, the need to push sudden plot developments, the worldbuilding was really interesting, the fights scenes were well choreographed, and the cinematography was often surprisingly lush. Glad to see that it came to a satisfying conclusion. (Although, that coda!!!)

Misty: Moonchild & The Four Faces of Eve
I was unfamiliar with this Gothic comic "for girls" that ran in the late 70s, but thankfully there are a few collections out now that reprint some of its stories. "Moonchild" is a pretty straight Carrie rip, though "The Four Faces of Eve" goes much farther out on a limb. The line art enthralls me; all the pathos captured in those facial expressions!

Eberron: Rising from the Last War
I've already gotten a tremendous amount of use out of this book. 

Friday, November 29, 2019

Black Friday, Black Metal, a Black Sun O'er a Dead World

The following Dolorous Exhumation Press titles are on sale for Black Friday through Cyber Monday:

Dirge of Urazya - $4 $2.68

Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera - $10 $6.70

Hexmoon Sabbath: A Folk Horror Doom - $3 $2.01

Umberwell: Blackened Be Thy Name$10 $6.70

Cinderheim: The Land Under the Demon Sun - $7 $4.69

This is a great time to pick them up if you haven't already, I don't remember a DriveThru sale cutting more off the top than this. If you buy my products I promise to blow the money on blasphemous black metal, grimoires, and vet bills.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Raiders of Gor

John Norman's long-running Gor series has a reputation that precedes it. Set on a brutal counter-Earth where beautiful women long to be enslaved by the strong men who maintain nature's moral balance, it would seem that the books have all the trappings of spicy, guilty pleasure reading. Jack and Kate dive into the sixth title, Raiders of Gor, alleged to be the last "good" entry in the thirty-five book series. Listen along as your hosts encounter sexual slavery, drunk crying, and enough tedious agricultural detail to break a lesser reader.
Why have critics neglected to acknowledge Norman's high-minded philosophical influences? Can civic pride transform a hive of scum and villainy into a city of heroes? Where do Home Stones come from? How is series protagonist Tarl Cabot a lot like a startup founder? All these questions and many more will be answered in this month's episode of Bad Books for Bad People.
BBfBP theme song by True Creature 
Find us at, on Twitter @badbooksbadppl, Instagram @badbooksbadpeople and on Facebook. You can discover where to get all the books featured on Bad Books for Bad People on our About Page.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Death to the Tyranny of Bonus Actions

Bonus actions in 5e? Not a fan. 

Mike Mearls now sees them as "fairly hacky," and I agree. But since removing them entirely won't happen until a new edition, how do we live with them in the meantime?

This is my most radical house rule for 5e D&D:

Bonus Actions
You can take more than one bonus action on your turn, but those bonus actions cannot be granted by the same feature, trait, feat, or spell, and they do not allow you to “stack” the same effect. 

Examples of What This House Rules DOESN'T Let You Do:

  • You cannot use more than one of the bonus actions listed under the Monk’s Ki ability on your turn because they are all granted by the same class feature. You can't use Flurry of Blows, Step of the Wind, and Patient Defense all on one turn, even if you're willing to spend the ki points, because they all come from the same source: the Ki feature of the monk class.
  • If multiple features grant you additional attacks as a bonus action, you may only only use one of them on your turn. So, if you are a monk you could use a bonus action to make an attack using two-weapon fighting or use a bonus action to make a martial arts attack, but you can't do both because that would be stacking the same effect: using a bonus action to get more attacks.
  • You cannot cast unlimited bonus action spells. Those stack the same effect (casting a spell) and the rules about how many spells you can cast per turn aren't circumvented by this house rule anyway.
Examples of What This House Rule DOES Let You Do:
  • If you are a barbarian who wields two hand axes, you can use a bonus action to enter a rage and still use a bonus action on that turn to make an attack with your off-hand axe. 
  • If you are a Monster Slay ranger who wields two shortswords, you can use a bonus action to cast hunter's mark on a foe, use a bonus action to designate that foe as your Slayer's Prey, and use a bonus action to attack them with the shortsword in your off-hand.
  • If you are a rogue, you can use a bonus action to use Cunning Action and attack with a weapon in your off-hand.
  • If you are a monk, you can make an attack with your Martial Arts feature and spend a ki point to use Step of the Wind, granting your foes disadvantage on their attacks that target you.
  • If you are a fighter who uses two-weapon fighting, you could make an off-hand attack on your normal turn and your extra turn if you use your Action Surge feature.

As you can see from the examples above, this house rule benefits characters who wield two weapons because it actually lets them use the style of fighting they have invested in, instead of making that choice feel like a mistake. Now using two weapons is a flavorful choice in-line with other options rather than a penalty because the bonus actions it requires are no longer competing against your other features that use your bonus action. 

It is also beneficial to rangers especially because it corrects a continual mistake I see on the D&D team's end in making everything a ranger might want to do dependent on bonus actions, such as their iconic fighting style, the hunter's mark spell, several subclass's 3rd level features, etc. (I regard that as, frankly, terrible design work. If a ranger's features are meant to be used, it's ridiculous that a Monster Slayer ranger can't get their whole routine in action until the third round of combat, particularly since combat tends to end in three or four rounds. Oh, and that's only if they don't need to use a bonus action to move hunter's mark or Slayer's Prey to another target. Good luck with that.)

This rule also gives a slight benefit to the monk that feels right to me. With only d8 hit dice, a lack of defensive boosts to AC, and the assumption that your role is as a melee combat, the ability to get all of your attacks in and still spend a ki point for extra help not getting hit feels very much like the sort of thing a monk should be able to do.

I've been playing with this one for a while now; as far as I can see it breaks nothing in my game. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Faithless

art by Paolo Giandoso
The Faithless
  • The Faithless is a lifelike statue of a woman carved from salt that is kept hidden away within the ruins of an amphitheater in a stretch of wasteland south of Saltmire.
  • A gospel within the Book of Thorns states that the Faithless was once a live, flesh and blood woman who turned to salt for losing faith in the Broken God. The deity, angered at her disbelief, changed her into a monument meant to serve as a dire warning to his followers and as a demonstration of his divine might.
  • Legends say that the Faithless still lives and that her consciousness has been trapped in the form of an unmoving a salt-hewn statue for countless generations.
  • Some believe that if an innocent were to kiss the Faithless upon her mouth, she would be returned to mortal life and the affectionate visitor would take her place as a statue made of salt.
  • A lone hermit lives in a hovel near the amphitheater; he is the last of a long line of religious sages who has been entrusted with the duty of chasing off anyone who might free the Faithless from her saline imprisonment.
  • An apocryphal gospel not included in the Church of Aeonian Requiem’s Book of Thorns claims that if the Faithless is ever released from her curse, she will become the leader of a heretical cult that will cause the Church’s apocalyptic downfall.
More on the Church of Aeonian Requiem here.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Tarot Inspiration for 5e D&D

Tarot Inspiration 
As one commentator noted in a reply to this post about using playing cards as an inspiration mechanic, this would also work with more image-based cards. Here's how I would do it with a deck of tarot cards.

The system below gives a mechanical incentive for players to roleplay scenes that reveal more about their characters:

During a period of downtime, a player may nominate themselves to roleplay a tale-telling scene.

That player draws a single card from a standard tarot deck. The card drawn determines the content of the tale, as per the tables below.

The player will then tell a story based on that theme in the voice of their character to the other characters present. The story should reveal something about the character’s backstory or give the other players a greater sense of that character’s past.

After a player completes a tale-telling scene, their character gains inspiration.


  • A player draws the Six of Wands and tells a tale about their character running into their estranged father in a busy market.
  • A player draws the Hanged Man and tells a tale of how their character was forced to surrender to the opposing side when they were employed as a mercenary soldier.
  • A player draws the Star and tells a tale about the example set by their character’s mentor—whose sacrifice for a great cause gave them hope for the future.
  • A player draws the Two of Pentacles and tells a tale about how their character learned to adapt to a life of poverty on the streets after their noble family’s downfall.
  • A player draws the Ace of Pentacles and tells the tale of why they gave up being a baker to pursue a life of reckless adventure as a picaro.

Major Arcana
The Fool. Innocence
Justice. Truth
The Magician. Power
The Hanged Man. Surrender
The High Priestess. Intuition
Death. Endings
The Empress. Abundance
Temperance. Balance
The Emperor. Authority
The Devil. Addiction
The Heirophant. Spirituality
The Tower. Upheaval
The Lovers. Harmony
The Star. Hope
The Chariot. Determination
The Moon. Fear
Strength. Courage
The Sun. Success
The Hermit. Introspection
Judgment. Rebirth
Wheel of Fortune. Luck
The World. Travel

Minor Arcana

New career
New ideas
Financial loss
Hard work

Friday, November 15, 2019

Commentary on Unearthed Arcana: Class Feature Variants (Ranger-Warlock)

While I was on vacation a hefty Unearthed Arcana article dropped with playtest material that either enhances or replaces existing class features. Let's take a look at the options and see what they do, if they work, or if they might need a further iteration. Because this UA article is long, I'm splitting it up into sections; this time we're covering the fighter, monk, and paladin. The bard, barbarian, cleric, and druid were covered here. The fighter, monk, and paladin were covered here.

Ranger Features
Deft Explorer
1st-level ranger feature (replaces Natural Explorer)
You are an unsurpassed explorer and survivor. Choose one of the following benefits, and then choose another one at 6th and 10th level. 

Commentary. Let's be honest, Deft Explorer and Favored Foe are less "options" than they are opportunities to re-write the poorly conceived 1st level of the ranger class. I think we have to consider them in that light, which will color my evaluation of the individual benefits below.

Choose one skill: Animal Handling, Athletics, History, Insight, Investigation, Medicine, Nature, Perception, Stealth, or Survival. You gain proficiency in the chosen skill if you don’t already have it, and you can add double your proficiency bonus to ability checks using that skill. In addition, thanks to your extensive wandering, you are able to speak, read, and write two languages of your choice.

Commentary. One way the ranger was seemingly supposed to be differentiated from the fighter and the paladin was by being the more skill-focused of the martial classes, but the mechanical support for that isn't really there aside from a slightly more robust set of skills. This is a very welcome addition, but if I had to make a criticism here I'd push for this feature granting you double proficiency with two skills instead of just one.

Your walking speed increases by 5, and you gain a climbing speed and a swimming speed equal to your walking speed. 

Commentary. This is okay: nicely thematic, but also boring enough that this will almost certainly be every ranger's third pick from the list of Deft Explorer features.

As an action, you can give yourself a number of temporary hit points equal to 1d10 + your Wisdom modifier. You can use this special action a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (a minimum of once), and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest. In addition, whenever you finish a short rest, your exhaustion level, if any, is decreased by 1.

Commentary. This seems pretty powerful at 1st level, but it's pretty cool that it kinda-sorta replicates rangers starting with two hit dice as in early editions. I do wonder if this is so obviously good that it will everybody's first choice of the Deft Explorer features. It's essentially 15 extra hit points at 1st level. I'd hate to see Canny pushed to 6th level when it feels so central to emphasizing the ranger concept. Also, there is no way the exhaustion decrease will make it into the final version; it's too good as a one-level multiclass into ranger to provide a huge benefit to berserker barbarians and their Frenzy feature.

Favored Foe
1st-level ranger feature (replaces Favored Enemy)
You can call on your bond with nature to mark a creature as your favored enemy for a time: you know the hunter’s mark spell, and Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for it. You can use it a certain number of times without expending a spell slot and without requiring concentration—a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (a minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest. When you gain the Spellcasting feature at 2nd level, hunter’s mark doesn’t count against the number of ranger spells you know.

Commentary. The more I think about this one, the less I'm satisfied with it. It is a much better option than Favored Enemy, but as much as free hunter's mark without the burden of concentration is a step in the right direction, it doesn't address how pinched rangers are by their reliance on bonus actions, particularly if they are two-weapon specialists. 

This underlines something that seems more and more true: one of the ranger's biggest mechanical hurdles isn't in their class specifically: it's the way two-weapon fighting and the action economy functions in 5e as a whole. What we might really need to make this complete is a replacement for the Two-Weapon Fighting style. 

It also underlines that some things should have been class features instead of spells all along; hunter's mark and the warlock's hex and eldritch blast really stick out as "options" that should have been core, but I suspect that looked a little too much like 4e to pass muster.

In any case, I like the idea here but the execution isn't quite right yet. As it is right now, a concentration-free hunter's mark is too good as a one-level dip into ranger for classes that can stack other effects on top of it, such as the warlock's hex spell.

Primal Awareness
3rd-level ranger feature (replaces Primeval Awareness)
You can focus your awareness through the interconnections of nature: you learn additional spells when you reach certain levels in this class if you don’t already know them, as shown in the Primal Awareness Spells table. These spells don’t count against the number of ranger spells you know. Primal Awareness Spells: 3rd detect magic, speak with animals; 5th beast sense, locate animals or plants; 9th speak with plants; 13th locate creature; 17th commune with nature. You can cast each of these spells once without expending a spell slot. Once you cast a spell in this way, you can’t do so again until you finish a long rest.

Commentary. Primeval Awareness is one of my least favorite features to adjudicate in play. There is zero chance that I have thought-out the kinds of monsters within a mile radius (and definitely not the six-mile radius) of any given location in my setting. Primal Awareness is an option I am much happier with, even though I'm surprised at the sheer number of spells its adds to the ranger's list. It's especially great for Hunter and Beast Master rangers, who really suffer from not gaining bonus spells as the newer archetypes do, but on top of those later archetypes it feels like it potentially over-emphasizes the ranger as a spellcaster.

Fade Away
10th-level ranger feature (replaces Hide in Plain Sight)
You can use a bonus action to magically become invisible, along with any equipment you are wearing or carrying, until the start of your next turn. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again
until you finish a short or long rest. 

Commentary. Any alternative to Hide in Plain Sight is welcome.

Ranger Companion Options
3rd-level Beast Master feature (enhances Ranger’s Companion)
(Two paragraphs of flavor text snipped.) The primal beast is a special creature that a Beast Master can choose for the Ranger’s Companion feature. When choosing such a creature, you decide whether it is a Beast of the Air or the Earth, and you determine its appearance. Stories describe primal beasts that mystically change form to align with the spirit of their companion. When a primal beast is met apart from a Beast Master, the creature takes the form a regular beast of challenge rating 1/4 or lower, as determined by the DM.

Commentary. What we have here is two beast companion templates to use in place of scouring the Monster Manual for a good beast to use with this feature. That is the way it should have been from the get-go, but again I suspect that Fear of Fourth Edition got in the way. (While we're here, this is also how the druid's Wild Shape should have worked as well.) 

There are some obvious boosts in using the primal beasts: they gain hit dice as you level up, they get saving throw proficiencies, and they let the companion attack as a bonus action. This makes the beast companion on par with two-weapon fighting, but also rule out two-weapon fighting for this kind of ranger, which is a fine trade-off but should be noted as it might otherwise be a trap for new players. Again, this feels more like a needed revision than an option, but it's pretty welcome. (And you can tell it's needed as this is the only subclass that the article addresses.)

Rogue Features
Cunning Action: Aim
2nd-level rogue feature (enhances Cunning Action)
You gain an additional way to use your Cunning Action: carefully aiming your next attack. As a bonus action, you give yourself advantage on your next attack roll on the current turn. You can
use this bonus action only if you haven’t moved during this turn, and after you use the bonus action, your speed is 0 until the end of the current turn.

Commentary. This is a strong addition, but since rogues are supposed to be able to use their Sneak Attack feature most rounds it probably contributes to the class working as intended. 

Sorcerer Features
Font of Magic Options
2nd-level sorcerer feature (enhances Font of Magic)
When you gain the Font of Magic feature, you get access to the following ways to spend your sorcery points.

Commentary. Imbuing Touch lets you make a weapon magical for two sorcery points, which feels like an ability only the most altruistic of sorcerers will use because they have cantrips for magical damage. Sorcerous Fortitude lets you gain 1d4 hit point for every sorcery point you use, which feels fairly lackluster. 1d4 + Cha modifier wouldn't feel out of order here.

Metamagic Options
3rd-level sorcerer feature (enhances Metamagic)
When you choose Metamagic options, you have access to the following additional options.

Commentary. Elemental Spell lets you change the damage type of a spell, which is situationally nice. Seeking Spell lets you ignore cover on your spells, which again is nice but situational. Unerring Spell lets you reroll a failed spell attack, which could be pretty clutch.

Warlock Features
Pact of the Talisman
Your patron gives you a special amulet, a talisman that can aid you, or anyone else who wears it, when the need is great. When the wearer makes an ability check with a skill in which they lack proficiency, they can add a d4 to the roll. If you lose the talisman, you can perform a 1-hour ceremony to receive a replacement from your patron. This ceremony can be performed during a short or long rest, and it destroys the previous amulet. The talisman turns to ash when you die.

Commentary. I'm all for new warlock pact features, but this one is deadly boring. There's also a bunch of Invocation options, but I'm not going through all those; they are the usual Invocation mixed bag.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Commentary on Unearthed Arcana: Class Feature Variants (Fighter-Paladin)

While I was on vacation a hefty Unearthed Arcana article dropped with playtest material that either enhances or replaces existing class features. Let's take a look at the options and see what they do, if they work, or if they might need a further iteration. Because this UA article is long, I'm splitting it up into sections; this time we're covering the fighter, monk, and paladin. The bard, barbarian, cleric, and druid were covered here.

Fighter Features
Superior Technique Fighting Style
You learn one maneuver of your choice from among those available to the Battle Master archetype. If a maneuver you use requires your
target to make a saving throw to resist the maneuver’s effects, the saving throw DC equals 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Strength or Dexterity modifier (your choice). You gain one superiority die, which is a d6 (this die is added to any superiority dice you have from another source). This die is used to
fuel your maneuvers. A superiority die is expended when you use it. You regain your expended superiority dice when you finish a 
short or long rest.

Commentary. This Fighting Style option feels pretty weak. I think I would always take a "always on" Fighting Style over this "once a rest I can do a cool trick" one.

Other Style Options (note these are also available to paladins and rangers)

Blind Fighting
Being unable to see a creature doesn’t impose disadvantage on your attack rolls against it, provided the creature isn’t hidden from you.

Commentary. Being blinded comes up so infrequently that I can't imagine taking this Fighting Style.

When a creature you can see hits a target that is within 5 feet of you with an attack, you can use your reaction to reduce the damage the target takes by 1d10 + your proficiency bonus (to a minimum of 0 damage). You must be wielding a shield or a simple or martial weapon to use this reaction.

Commentary. I think this would be incredibly strong in early levels (essentially negating part of the opposition's action economy), but really lackluster at higher levels.

Thrown Weapon Fighting
You can draw a weapon that has the thrown property as part of the attack you make with the weapon. In addition, when you hit with a ranged attack using a thrown weapon, you gain a +1 bonus to 
the damage roll.

Commentary. I like this, but I think it could also be stronger. I don't think a +1 to hit or a range boost on top of the rest of the feature would be out of order. I'm sure this is partially because I'm not much fussed about policing who can draw what weapon when, but I'd rather just apply the Archery fighting style to thrown weapons.

Unarmed Fighting
Your unarmed strikes can deal bludgeoning damage equal to 1d6 + your Strength modifier. If you strike with two free hands, the d6 becomes a d8. When you successfully start a grapple, you can
deal 1d4 bludgeoning damage to the grappled creature. Until the grapple ends, you can also deal this damage to the creature whenever you hit it with a melee attack.

Commentary. I really want to like this, but I don't think it makes unarmed fighting a competitive option. Giving up using a shield or a great weapon for 1d8 damage doesn't feel like a good trade. The problem is that making the damage any higher potentially steps on one of the monk's core features. It also suffers from a lack of ways to make unarmed damage magical to bypass resistance to nonmagical bludgeoning damage. I think what "brawler" characters need is a subclass, not a fighting style.

Maneuver Versatility
1st-level feature (enhances Maneuvers)
If you know any maneuvers from the fighter’s Battle Master archetype, you can replace one maneuver you know with a different maneuver whenever you finish a long rest. This change reflects your physical and mental preparation for the day ahead.

Commentary. Another enhancement that allows you to swap-out a feature that hasn't been working out.

Maneuver Options
1st-level feature (enhances Maneuvers)
If you have access to maneuvers, the following maneuvers are added to the list of options available to you. Maneuvers are available to Battle Masters and to characters who have the
Superior Technique fighting style or the Martial Adept feat.

Commentary. Okay, I'm not cut-and-pasting them all, but here are my general thoughts: Ambush, Silver Tongue, and Studious Eye all give you a non-combat option for your fighter, which is very cool. Since you get a limited pool of Maneuvers, you'll probably only take one of these at most, but they're nice ways to add flavor. Brace gives you an attack against anybody who gets up in your face for a superiority die, which is cool, but I wonder if that steps on the Sentinel feat a bit. Restraining Strike gives you a way to grapple and restrain, which is what many people seem to want out of the grappling rules anyway. Snipe gives you a ranged attack for a superiority die as a bonus action; that one seems very nice.

Monk Features
Monk Weapons
1st-level monk feature (enhances Martial Arts)
You can use this feature to define your monk weapons, rather than using the definition in Martial Arts. You practice your martial arts with specially chosen weapons, which become monk weapons
for you. You can choose a number of weapons to be your monk weapons equal to 5 + your Wisdom modifier (minimum of five weapons). The chosen weapons must each meet the following criteria: The weapon must be a simple or martial weapon. You must be proficient with the weapon. The weapon must lack these properties: heavy, special, or two-handed.

Commentary. I don't really get what this enhancement is addressing. It's nice to be able to choose your monk weapons, but since you can only choose weapons you are already proficient in I think this only lets you count weapons as monk weapons if you get proficiency in them from another source, such as a racial trait, a feat, or multiclassing.

Ki-Fueled Strike
2nd-level monk feature (enhances Ki)
If you spend 1 ki or more as part of your action on your turn, you can then immediately make one unarmed strike as a bonus action.

Commentary. This has to be a stealth buff to the Way of Four Elements Monk. Letting them have an unarmed strike when they burn ki on an elemental power is nice, but it doesn't really fix how few powers monks get from that subclass or the wonky way those powers are priced in terms of ki points. At least it's something. Funny thing about this one: I don't think it actually helps you at the level it becomes available.

Ki Features
2nd-level monk feature (enhances Ki)
When you gain the Ki feature at 2nd level, you get access to the following features.

Commentary. Distant Eye negates disadvantage on ranged attacks at extreme range, but how often does a monk make that kind of attack? Quickened Healing gives very few hit points in return for 2 ki points; that doesn't seem worth it. 

Paladin Features
Blessed Warrior (Fighting Style)
You learn two cantrips of your choice from the cleric spell list. They count as paladin spells for you, and Charisma is your spellcasting ability for them. Whenever you gain a level in this class, you can replace one of these cantrips with another cantrip from the cleric spell list.

Commentary. Do clerics really have any cantrips that a paladin would be willing to trade Great Weapon Fighting for? I guess it kinda gives them a ranged option aside from thrown weapons.

Note that rangers get a similar Fighting Style option with regards to druid cantrips, but shillelagh is an interesting spell for a ranger who wants to emphasize Wisdom over Dexterity or Strength. Both of these are okay, but I don't really see them becoming popular choices.