A new episode of Table Top Babble is now available!

James Introcaso sits down with Mitch Connelly, Neal Powell, and Sam Dillon dish on the latest D&D book from Wizards of the Coast, Tales of the Yawning Portal.

RPG Musings

The Tome Show

The Block Party Network

Subscribe on iTunesGoogle Play, or Stitcher. Grab our RSS feed.

Follow Table Top Babble on Facebook or Twitter.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Boons and Setbacks in 5e

Posted: March 23, 2017 in Inspiration

Many of us have heard the term failing forward, but how can we use it in D&D? We play RPGs that have boons and setbacks, but can those ideas be brought into 5e? If you’re a DM who can think on the fly, you might be able to spice up ability checks and even attack rolls and saving throws in the world’s most popular RPG with a few very simple tweaks.

Defining Our Terms

First I need to define terms. A boon is a little something extra good that happens after you make a d20 roll, usually on top of success. For instance, if you’re picking a lock in a castle, you might learn a specific trick about the lock that gives you advantage on all future checks to pick locks in this wing of the building. Boons are often determined on the fly by the DM. Check out a list of suggested boons below to help guide you.

A setback (or botch or drawback or complication) is a little extra punishment that happens after you roll a d20, usually on top of a failure. In the lock picking example above, not only might you fail to pick the lock, you might also break your thieves’ tools trying to do so. Setbacks are often determined on the fly by the DM. Check out a list of suggested setbacks below to help guide you.

When Do Boons and Setbacks Happen?

Now that we’ve defined our terms, how and when do boons and setbacks happen. Before we get to when, let me ask you a couple questions that will help us answer how.

  1. To what kind of d20 rolls do boons and setbacks apply? Ability checks are by far some of the easiest rolls to come up with boons and botches on the fly. Attack rolls and saving throws can be a bit trickier, because the rules are more rigid with exactly what the outcomes of these rolls should be. As a result, if you decide to use boons and setbacks during combat, you may want to have a strict interpretation about what those mean (like you always have advantage on your next attack or get to move 10 feet for free) or create a random table (like my critical hit effects and critical miss effects) for consequences. For examples of static consequences, see the table below. If you and your group feel comfortable improvising these as well, go for it!
  2. Can boons only be applied when you succeed and can setbacks only be applied when you fail? Failure with a boon (sometimes referred to as failing forward), could mean in our lock picking example that you failed to open the door, but noticed the contact poison smeared on the knob before you touched it. Success with a setback could mean you picked the lock, but broke your thieves’ tools in the process. Adding these can make your gameplay richer, but it also adds more pressure on you as the DM to come up with ideas on the fly, so you don’t have to use them. You’ll also want to think long and hard about having failures with boons and success with setbacks when it comes to saving throws and attacks. If you’re using these techniques, perhaps they only apply to ability checks. If you’re using them with other d20 rolls, then maybe come up with a strict rule or table instead of winging it, unless you’re very comfortable with improv.

So when is it appropriate to use boons and setbacks? A few optional rules are outlined below.

Optional Rule: Five Above/Below

This optional rule allows you to apply boons based on the result of a character’s ability check, attack roll, or saving throw when compared to the DC or AC . Roll the dice, apply appropriate modifiers, and then use the table below to determine the result.

Result Effect
5 or more above DC/AC Success with boon
1-4 above DC/AC Normal success
Equals DC/AC Success with setback*
1 below DC/AC Failure with boon*
2-4 below DC/AC Normal failure
5 or more below DC/AC Failure with setback

*If you are not playing with these effects as options, treat the results as normal successes and failures.

Optional Rule: Know Your the Roll

This optional rule uses the unmodified results of the dice. Any natural roll of 15 or above grants a boon, while any natural roll of 5 or less imposes a setback. You can increase the ranges of these results to increase the frequencies of boons and setbacks to fit the needs of your group and story.

Optional Rule: Advantage Boons and Disadvantage Setbacks

This optional rule states that an ability check, attack roll, or saving throw is made with advantage, the result grants a boon, while anytime one of those rolls is made with disadvantage, the result grants a setback. Note that this rule does not mesh well with the suggested boons and setbacks that grant advantage and disadvantage on the next d20 roll, since it risks creating never-ending advantage and disadvantage.

Optional Rule: Natural 20s and 1s Only

With this optional rule you gain a boon whenever you roll a natural 20 on your ability check, attack roll, or saving throw and a setback whenever you roll a natural 1 on one of those rolls.

Suggested Boons

You have advantage on the next d20 roll you make.

You gain a piece of knowledge or hint about your current quest.

You can immediately take the Help action as a bonus action.

You can spend one die to heal as if had taken a short rest immediately.

Attack: You knock your target prone.

Attack: You disarm your target.

Attack: You deafen your target.

Attack: Your attack does an extra 1d6 damage. Damage type is chosen by the DM.

Save: You can immediately move 10 feet in any direction.

Save: You shout a warning which allows another creature of your choice who can hear you and has to make the same save advantage on their saving throw.

Check out my list of critical hit effects for more ideas.

Suggested Setbacks

You have disadvantage on the next d20.

An item being used in the action is broken.

You take 1d6 damage as a result of the setback. Damage type is determined by the DM.

You lose one hit die, 1st-level spell slot, or other small resource.

Attack: You drop your weapon or implement used to make the attack.

Attack: You fall prone.

Save: You fall prone or are moved 10 feet in a random direction if the effect already knocks you prone.

Check out my list of critical failures for more ideas.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of the podcast Rudy Basso and I make, Have Spellbook, Will Travel, is up on the show’s site!

Join cast members Mark Smith and Ray Fallon* as they continue to answer YOUR questions!  Hear them get into a surprisingly heated argument on goblin canon, discuss random Twitter followers they have, and answer the age old question – who would win in a fight, 1000 Kobolds or 100 Shambling Mounds?

*Ray sounds muffled.  Sorry!

Tweet your own Levels Question of the Week at us or #levelsq on Twitter!  

Send your mailbag questions via the Contact page.

VISIT AND CONTRIBUTE TO OUR WIKI!

Please subscribe to the podcast at one of the following places:

iTunes   |   Stitcher   |   Google Play   |   Pocket Casts    |   RSS Feed

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of Table Top Babble is now available!

 

James Introcaso sits down with Liz Theis and J. Michael Bestul to review the 13th Age Battle Scenes books, High Magic & Low Cunning and The Crown Commands, from Pelgrane Press and Cal Moore.

DashJPeriod.com

Subscribe on iTunesGoogle Play, or Stitcher. Grab our RSS feed.

Follow Table Top Babble on Facebook or Twitter.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

I’ve been preparing to run a game of Phoenix: Dawn Command this weekend and I have to say it’s brilliant. This RPG from the mind of Keith Baker is a beautiful merging of story and mechanics that encourages teamwork, roleplaying, and heroics from the players. Here’s a quick description of the game from its website:

In Phoenix: Dawn Command, you don’t gain power by killing others; you gain power by dying. After each death, you add additional cards to your deck representing the lessons you learned from your previous life. However, there’s a catch: you can only return seven times. So each death makes you stronger, but it also brings you closer to the end of your story. In addition, you don’t return right away and you don’t return in the place where you died. This is what drives tension: most missions are time-sensitive, and should you and your friends all fall without completing your task, you will fail… and when you return you’ll have to deal with the consequences of that failure. Because death isn’t the end, the odds will often be stacked against the characters; players are encouraged to take risks and to be prepared to make sacrifices. Death isn’t the end, but you want to make sure you make every life count.

Even if you’re only ever going to play Dungeons & Dragons, Phoenix is worth purchasing for the ideas and new mechanics it will bring into your game. In today’s post I’m going to show how you can steal a few ideas from Phoenix and apply them to D&D. If you like this post, you might like another post about stealing mechanics from other games.

Lore

If you want evocative, original story ideas, this game is full of them. Much of the game’s rulebook is devoted to the setting, Dalea, and goes into great detail about the world’s history, cities, and cultures. One entire section of the book unravels the mysteries of the Dread (an evil phenomena that is overtaking the Dalea). The final pages of the book detail an entire campaign that can be run, complete with amazing encounters, compelling villains, and interesting NPCs. In true Keith Baker fashion the text is sprinkled with plenty of interesting open ends and alternatives that are worthy of entire campaigns.  Many of these ideas you can be stolen straight-up. Most others require the smallest of tweaks to apply to D&D. I could go on, but I don’t want to give too many of the game’s juicy bits away.

GM Advice

In addition to the lore within this game, there’s a lot of great advice about running Phoenix that can be applied to ANY roleplaying game. The book discusses encouraging players to take risks and roleplay, what to do when you don’t have a full table, how to create interesting encounters, and more. The lore plus the advice make this thing worth the price of admission and we aren’t done yet.

Environmental Elements

In Phoenix every combat encounter has a list of interesting environmental elements that can be used in an attack’s description. For instance a battle in a tavern might have a chandelier, fireplacekeg of ale, mounted moose head, and a shelf of bottles. In Phoenix, a card-based game, when a character uses one of these elements in the description of an attack, they get to draw an extra card. The element is then crossed off the list, not because it cannot be used in another description, but because it cannot be used to gain the bonus card benefit again.

It’s easy to bring the same idea to D&D. You can write a list of elements right onto a battle mat, paper, or index card. If you’re a lazy DM, ask each player to come up with one and write them down. When each is first used in an attack’s description, allow the character to gain advantage on the attack roll. If advantage seems too powerful, give another benefit, like an extra d4 damage if they hit.

Attendant Spirits

We’ve all been there. One hour into a four-hour session a T-Rex bites the head off the druid and now Katy has nothing to do for the rest of session. Phoenix, a game that somewhat encourages players to die, has a solution for this. When a PC bites the dust, their soul can bond to another hero as an attendant spirit until they are reborn. This attendant spirit can communicate telepathically with the host and speak to others through the host’s voice when the host allows it. In addition, the spirit can spend unused resources to aid the host.

To bring this idea over to D&D, we can think about the dead PC’s unspent resources. Maybe the spirit can spend unused hit dice to instantly heal the host, gift unused spell slots (of 5th level and below) so the host can cast more spells, or give away some other resource. Once the resource runs out, the spirit passes into the afterlife or waits to be raised from the dead.

Death As Advancement

Of course the big idea behind Phoenix is its most brilliant. When a hero dies, they level up, but their seventh death is permanent and final. This creates a great tension in the game because players want their characters to die, but not too quickly!

You could easily create a mechanic in D&D that eliminates the usual come back from the dead spells (revivify, raise dead, reincarnation, resurrection, and true resurrection) and experience points, and has characters return at dawn after their death, now one level stronger. If you decide to play this way, I recommend setting a cap to the number of times a PC can return before they are dead for good. 7 works well for Phoenix, but you could pick 3, 5, 10, 20, or whatever you thinks works best for your game. (For more hacks and advice in dealing with death, checkout these posts: Death and Returning Modules, and When Death Isn’t (Always) The End.)

Sparks

The PCs in Phoenix have a limited amount of Sparks that can be used to add +1 per Spark burned to any Skill or Attack Spread. Once a Phoenix uses all of their sparks, they die. Sparks do regenerate, but rather slowly.

With some caution you could add a similar mechanic to D&D. If you’re using death as a tool for advancement, I’d say simply give your characters 5 Sparks per level and allow them to be burned to add bonuses to ability checks and attack and damage rolls. Characters regain 1 Spark x character level at the end of each long rest. If you run out of sparks, you die.

If you’re not using death as advancement, this becomes far more tricky to balance. I’d say each character gets 1 Spark x 1/2 character level (rounded down) per day that can be used to gain advantage on any ability check, attack roll, or saving throw.

Or Just Give Phoenix A Try…

If you’re loving all these ideas why not give Phoenix: Dawn Command a chance? All I did was steal what was already there!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of the podcast Rudy Basso and I make, Have Spellbook, Will Travel, is up on the show’s site!

Well, well, well.  What have we here?  It’s cast members and Great Pals Mark Smith and Ray Fallon*, answering YOUR questions.  So sit back, strap in, and prepare for Mark and Ray’s Wild Ride.

*Ray sounds muffled.  Sorry!

Tweet your own Levels Question of the Week at us or #levelsq on Twitter!  

Send your mailbag questions via the Contact page.

VISIT AND CONTRIBUTE TO OUR WIKI!

Please subscribe to the podcast at one of the following places:

iTunes   |   Stitcher   |   Google Play   |   Pocket Casts    |   RSS Feed

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of Table Top Babble is now available!

James Introcaso sits down with game designer and cartographer Cecil Howe of Sword Peddler to discuss how the full-timer’s career got started and tips for mapmaking!

Do Not Let Us Die In The Dark Night Of This Cold Winter

Subscribe on iTunesGoogle Play, or Stitcher. Grab our RSS feed.

Follow Table Top Babble on Facebook or Twitter.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Once again I’m continuing my quest to add killer undead to the options already available in the fifth edition Monster Manual for my world of Enora. So far we’ve seen husks, skeletal dragons, vampiric dragonsvampiric vines, and elemental undead. Now I’d like to turn my attention to updating (and adding my own twists to) some old favorites: the nightcrawler, nighthaunt, nightwalker, and night wing. Thanks to EN World forum user pukunui for the idea!

Nightshades

When shadows and evil are infused with the strong will of a powerful being, they take massive forms. Appearing as giants, purple worms, and winged-beasts, this animated shadow stuff abhor life and light and desire a world covered in a shadow of death.

Massive Murderers. All nightshades are enormous combinations of solid shadow and corruption. When a strong-willed, evil beings refuse to pass into the afterlife, their souls infuse the with the same material that creates the Plane of Shadow. The souls wrestle with the shadow stuff, taking as much of it on as possible in order to anchor themselves in worlds of the living. At the same time, the shadow sucks any tiny sense of morality from the soul, creating a new being of considerable size, horrific shape, and murderous intent.

Undead Generals. Nightshades are cunning beings, who stalk the Plane of Shadow, looking for wayward victims to kill and turn into other undead through dark rituals. These undead are bound to the nightshade for as long as it exists. They follow its every command. Many nightshades search for ways to lead their armies into the Material Plane, so they might swell their ranks and experience death on a grand scale.

Work Better Together. Nightshades have great respect for others of their kind. They often form alliances to increase their slaughtering capabilities and grow the sizes of their armies.

Undead Nature. Nightshades don’t require air, food, drink, or sleep.

Nightcrawler

Nightcrawlers resemble purple worms made of pure darkness. Despite their appearance, they are extremely intelligent spellcasters who have devastating strength, burrowing capabilities, and the ability to swallow ogres whole.

Nighthaunt

Nighthaunts resemble large gargoyles and are pure malevolence. As expert tacticians, these nightshades are the best at leading armies of undead or placing guards and strategic defenses around a fortress.

Nightwalker

Nightwalkers are twenty-foot-tall humanoids silent as death. They are among the multiverse’s best stalkers and their dead eyes can cause panic in the most daring prey.

Nightwing

Nightwings appear as enormous bats made of darkness, but have the same level of cunning and guile as all other nightshades. Silent as death and nearly invisible against a black sky, these beings dive onto prey before victims even know they’re being attacked.

Want the Stats?

Grab the PDF below or on the Free Game Resources section of this site any time.

Nightshades

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of the podcast Rudy Basso and I make, Have Spellbook, Will Travel, is up on the show’s site!

Rudy and James take a seat and discuss Arc 5 – work conventions, little girl devils, and Smash Mouth’s hit song “All Star”.

Tweet your own Levels Question of the Week at us or #levelsq on Twitter!  

Send your mailbag questions via the Contact page.

VISIT AND CONTRIBUTE TO OUR WIKI!

Please subscribe to the podcast at one of the following places:

iTunes   |   Stitcher   |   Google Play   |   Pocket Casts    |   RSS Feed

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of Table Top Babble is now available!

tabble_babble_logo_2

James Introcaso sits down with game designer and podcaster Jim McClure to discuss games that make mechanics a part of the story. McClure is currently running a Kickstarter for his new RPG, Satanic Panic and is the owner of Third Act Publishing, which puts out TONS of amazing content.

The Tearable RPG

Reflections

Talking TableTop Podcast

Satanic Panic Podcast

Subscribe on iTunesGoogle Play, or Stitcher. Grab our RSS feed.

Follow Table Top Babble on Facebook or Twitter.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!