Ready to open the hood of your Dungeons & Dragons game and start fiddling with the wires? Here’s a few little tweaks you might want to try if you’re looking to get a little more out of your gameplay. “Hacks” may be the wrong term, as these are really just rules adjustments that promote one style of play or another. I’ve played at tables that have used all these tricks at one point or another and I use some in my own home games, but they won’t be for every table. Still, why not try it? What’s the worst that could happen? Roleplay?
Using Survival Checks as Alternate Perception Checks
Survival is an odd skill. It’s super useful in very specific circumstances, but otherwise sits alone, dusty on the shelf. Rangers and Druids essentially have to take it for story reasons, or because they’ll be expected to make that one check every four adventures, but if the campaign doesn’t feature a fair amount of stomping through the wilderness, it’s not very efficient.
So how can we up the value of this skill? Why not let your Ranger use Survival in place of perception when scanning a room for useful items or an incoming ambush? After all, this is the same skill a Ranger uses to find edible berries and hunt game. If you’ve spent any time with a real outdoorsy-type, they tend to be the one who notices something is out of place before anyone else. Certainly movies support that trope.This can go as far as being part of the Ranger (or whomever’s) passive perception. Or not. You’re the DM.
The added benefit here is the party has a reason to dump points in Survival again, which can be a helpful and fun stat to use. Take your party into the wild!
New Interactions between Critical Rolls and Subdual Damage
Sometimes, that perfect strike that cuts off the head of the rampaging Hill Giant is the last thing you wanted, especially if your intent was to knock him out. Subdual damage, or nonlethal damage, can be a tricky thing and, in my opinion, 5e is a little too lenient when it comes to how easy it is to simply choose to attack non-lethally.
If you want to add a little more tension to your non-lethal combat, try letting your characters know that you’re going to apply full deadly damage on a critical hit. Sorry, the spear stuck into the orc’s eye–you can’t exactly pull the punches on that. Or, if you like, you can apply that full damage on a critical miss. After all, if your intent is to knock someone out, nothing quite says “critical miss” like when you slip, miss with the pommel of your sword, and stab the hobgoblin in the leg. Even if you manage to subdue him now, he might not be as interested in talking.
This is a useful trick to have in your back pocket. Especially if you don’t really have much to do with the monster your party is trying to capture. Oops, you killed him. Now I don’t have to figure out what information he doesn’t know.
I still like to make the occasional critical miss really tragic in any event. I remember once I rolled a “1” and my DM made me drop my warhammer… off a mountain. Sometimes it’s nice to have that comedic moment to defuse the tension between “murder hobo’ing”.
Targeting Objects with Magic Missile
Magic Missile is a great spell. Along with Fireball, it’s a classic. Being able to hit a target without having to roll can really deliver those few last points of damage you need. So would you sacrifice that for the ability to knock a vial of potion out of a person’s hand at a key moment?
A good rule of thumb as a dungeon master is to try and give your players value for their sacrifice. So if a wizard is willing to burn the spell slot on the spell, it tends to be ok to explore alternate uses. After all, they spent their money (so to speak) so you can haggle about the reward.
With Magic Missile, I think it’s an interesting use to consider them tiny blasts of force. They do force damage after all. So can they knock a weapon out of someone’s hand? If you have a party that won’t abuse such indulgences, I’d say yes. They’re sacrificing the damage they would otherwise do to the monster and burning a precious spell slot. Sure. This isn’t a cantrip after all: every spell slot counts.
I’d also allow Magic Missile to knock things off shelves, punch in doors and otherwise target items as needed. I wouldn’t allow it to damage items per se, just push them around. Imagine a scene where you and some baddies are all scrambling after an artifact. They get out ahead, but before they can get their hands on the vase (or whatever) you use magic missile to knock it further away and give the fighters time to catch up. Brilliant! I want to play that game right now.
Of course, you don’t have to use any of these little hacks in your game, or maybe you have other little house rules you’re surprised everyone doesn’t add to their games. Half the fun of really digging into your roleplaying experience is allowing your players and yourself to build, not just the world of Dungeons & Dragons, but the rules that govern it.
Do you play with any unique house rules? Do any of these seem up your alley? Are you a strict “rules as written” player or do you like to modify? Put your thoughts in the comments.
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