Grittier Magicks: Alternatives to Cantrip Rules

Abusing cantrips can be taxing on the mind!

While house-ruling the game to fit higher/epic fantasy games seems pretty simple (lift restrictions on magic items, utilize cantrips RAW, modify crafting to be less toilsome), lower fantasy seems to be a bit more of a challenge.  Before I accidentally cause backlash, I find cantrips to be a neat idea and realize their intent is balancing out caster classes for the newest edition.  No matter, I pondered ideas on modifying cantrip casting in an effort to make classes fit other narratives, genres, and gaming styles.  Of course, I thought of alternatives that are hopefully pretty balanced against cantrips themselves.  Plus, I’ve been curious on how to merge OSR-inspired mechanics and concepts into more modern gaming such as D&D 5e.  As a result of that thought experiment, here are some ideas to replace the cantrips mechanic.  All of these replace the rules for cantrips as written.

  • Basic Idea – Choose one of the following below.  Unless an ability below says otherwise, you may cast Cantrips as many times as your casting stat + 1 before taking a short rest.  (If you feel proficiency bonus is more appropriate than caster stat, replace it with that instead.)

Exploiting Resources – You may safely cast Cantrips as many times as your level + your casting stat mod per long rest.  Upon casting cantrips after this, you must make a saving throw (DC 12 + 1 for every successful save) using your casting stat for the saving throw.  Failure results in losing your action for that round. This modules allows for at-will casting, but at a potentially dangerous price.

In addition, the DM can choose one of the following options.

  • You may not use cantrips again until you take a short rest.
  • Depending on the severity of the failed save, the character suffers from a level of the Madness condition.
  • Failure could result in arcane corruption akin to 3rd Edition’s “Tainted” mechanics.  This will be covered at a later time.

AD&D Style – Instead of the short rest mechanc, you gain 1 extra Lv. 1 spell slot.  In addition you always know the spell “cantrip” (or “orison” for divine characters.)  This spell lasts for 1 hour and replicates the effects of any cantrip spell from your appropriate class list.  However, you only gain the benefit of one of those cantrips at a time, unless an ability states otherwise.

Imbuing Power – You’re able to form magic into a minor weapon of some sort as an action, using your caster stat for attacks (e.g. A shard of ice dealing d4 + caster cold damage, a small flame on a staff dealing d4 fire + caster damage, or the like).  You can only have 1 minor magical weapon at a time, each lasts for 1 minute.  You may do this as many times as your caster stat before taking a short rest.

Battle Knowledge – Weapons you’re proficient with can use your casting stat instead of their regular stat for attack/damage.

Slot-Like Cantrips – You can cast each 3 times before taking a short rest; also, you can sacrifice 1 cantrip to cast another more times.

Arcane Scholar – You may use Detect Magic as a class ability as many times as your proficiency bonus + 1 per Long Rest; Also, the Read Magic cantrip is rolled into the Arcana (or possibly Religion) skill.

These house rules are very volatile, as they haven’t been tested.  If you try them, let me know what happens!  Also, I’m always open to feedback in general.

Image Source: Xzar by Myrskyt


Grittier Arms and Armor: Enfeebled Equipment


Diving into my old and new Dark Sun books (as well as replaying Baldur’s Gate) gives me an interesting idea, a weapon property that characters can obtain (BUT DON’T WANT!)

Feeble: “The quality of you weapon has seriously degraded overtime.  Perhaps the materials that crafted for your weapon were either meant to be temporary or not intended for constant stress.  While wielding this weapon, targets have resistance to its damage.  Targets that have resistance to non-magical weapons are immune to attacks from this weapon.  Furthermore, rolling a Natural 1 on the die destroys this weapon.  In addition, armor with the feeble property grants -1 AC penalty upon any armor above leather.  If a target scores a natural 20 against your armor, it shatters.  However, if either the target or attacker is wielding a feeble weapon and the other has feeble armor, this quality is ignored.  However, the Nat 1/Nat 20 rule still applies.”

Now, this is pretty damn harsh!  How would it be applicable?  Perhaps a recreation of the Iron Crisis/Bhaalspawn saga would work for this?  Maybe the majority of weapons in Athas would carry this trait (considering they’re mostly made of rock and bone, something I can’t imagine taking too much abuse before breaking.)

On top of that, I’d probably replace the Rust Monster’s ability with the ability to make weapons feeble.  Furthermore, if it attacks a feeble weapon, it is automatically destroyed.  5E Rust Monsters are a lot more intimidating than their 4E counterparts, but they’re still not scary.  To be fair, the Tarrasque needs some fun buffs as well.


Grittier Second Wind: Warriors Don’t Regenerate Meat

“Tis but a scratch!”
DISCLAIMER:  Neither the title nor these gaming contents are made to intentionally make fun of anyone’s preferred playstyle or gaming interests.  The title itself is parody of angry rants on message boards.  The mechanics are meant as alternative to what’s available.  Enjoy!

Here’s some alternatives to the Fighter’s Second Wind mechanic, for people (like me) who’d rather replace it with something else.  Enjoy!

  1. Pain Mastery – Gain advantage on all attacks and strength and constitution checks and saving throws until the start of your next turn. Suffer fighter level damage.  This damage cannot be reduced.  Gain 10 + fighter level temporary HP.  If you take damage these temporary HP are lost first and they go away after 5 minutes.  1/ Short Rest
  2. Intensive Training – Gain 6 (1d10) + Con Level bonus Maximum HP at1st level
  3. Healing Resolve – 1/Short Rest – Gain 1d10 + Con HP when healed by someone else
  4. Second Temp – Fighter gains Temp HP instead.  Possibly make it so it DOESN’T exceed Fighter’s maximum HP.
  5. Damage Resistance – 1/Short rest, Subtract Con Mod from Bludgeoning/Slashing/Piercing damage for 1 round.  This DOES stack with Heavy Armor Mastery.
  6. ALT Resistance – 1/Short Rest, use Second Wind to gain Resistance against the next attack to hit you.
  7. Parry – 1/Short Rest, use a reaction to deduct 1d10+Level damage from an attack.
  8. Incredible Resilience – You gain an extra d10+Level HP when taking a short rest (or long rest, if using a variant healing rule set).  You do not have to spend a hit die when using this ability, but you still can on top of HP gained from the ability.

Source – Monty Python and the Holy Grail