Physician, Heal Thyself!: Alternate Healing & Dying

In addition to a handful of options found in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, I made a small handful of ideas and options for grittier and darker D&D games where healing powers aren’t prominent and health is usually a concern.  Whether these are mixed and matched with your games is completely up to you.

NOTE:  This will make your game much more lethal.  More characters will likely die as a result of these house rules.

Sacred Healing:  In worlds overrun with wickedness, it truly takes a toll on the body.  In order to heal up to full HP after a long rest, you must be in a holy site; a temple, a sacred druid grove, a special divine landmark, etc.  Evil characters must seek desecrated and unholy lands.  If the character cannot find a location like this, they do not gain this benefit.

Comfort and Joy:  You may only spend hit dice if you’re resting in a comfortable environment.

Longer Rest Time, but not TOO long:  Short Rest is now 3 hours and Long Rest is 24 hours.  Under this module, you could use a day of downtime during the long rest.

Less Intense Long Rests:  You regain HP = your remaining hit dice + your level.  You regain hit dice after the end of your long rest.

Slower Healing Magic:  Healing magic and healing-related powers (like Lay On Hands) would have ritual casting time.  Higher level and more elaborate spells (like Raise Dead) take a couple of hours instead.

Bring on the Pain!:  Consult the “Death and Dismemberment Chart” for dying characters.

More Pain!:  Here’s my take on Death & Dying.  Roll from either of the following d10 tables when you’d normally roll death saving throw. Getting attacked requires you to roll again.
* Table 1:

  • 1 – REALLY Dead (You are dead but CANNOT be resurrected),
  • 2 – Dead (You are dead but can be resurrected)/
  • (Alternatively) 1 – 2 –  Just Dead (ignore resurrection related content),
  • 3 Almost Dead (Fail 2 Death Saving Throws),
  • 4 – 8 Dying (Fail 1 Death Saving Throw),
  • 9 Not Dead (Succeed Saving Throw),
  • 10 Miraculously Invigorated (Automatically Stabilized)

* Table 2 (alternate):

  • 1 – 2 – Death,
  • 3 – 4 – Almost Dead (2 Fails)
  • 5 – 7 – Dying (1 Fail)
  • 8 – 9 – Nothing Happens
  • 10 – Success (1 Success)

Death and Dying: Nightmare Mode:  You die at 0 Hit Points.

For rules like this and more, please check out the D&D 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide.

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