Grimdark: The Missing Material

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Due to a busted laptop I wasn’t able to finish D&D Month last month, the theme of which was ‘Grimdark’. To make up for that I present the missing material to all and sundry, free of the Patreon ‘paywall’ I had put up. These entries are not adjusted for the proposed ‘Grimdark’ rules, so that they’re more immediately usable to people who play 5e D&D.

Rat_SwarmCarrion-Fat Rat Swarm

A squeaking, hissing tide of rats grown sleek and huge and fat on the flesh of the dead. They have a taste for it now, and scramble over each other in their eagerness to feast – on you.

Large Beast, Unaligned
Armour Class 12
Hit Points 63 (14d8)
Speed 40 ftStr 14 (+2), Dex 15 (+2), Con 11 (+0), Int 2 (-4), Wis 10 (+0), Cha 3 (-4)Senses: Darkvision 60 ft, Passive Perception 10
Challenge 1/2 (100 xp)
Damage Resistances: Bludgeoning, piercing, slashingCondition Immunities: Charmed, frightened, paralysed, petrified, prone, restrained, stunned
Keen Smell: The Rat Swarm has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on smell.
Swarm: The swarm can occupy another creature’s space and vice versa, the swarm can move through any opening large enough for a Small creature. The swarm can’t regain hit-points or gain temporary hit points.
Bite: Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 0 ft, targets in the swarm’s space take one attack each, Hit: 15 (2d8+6 piercing damage), or 11 (1d8+6) if at half hit-points or lower.

markus-neidel-rattenkonigRat King

A twisted little knot of seven rats, bound together by their knotted tail, a fierce and defiant intelligence radiating from their beady red eyes.

Small Beast, Unaligned
Armour Class 14
Hit Points 32 (7d6+7) When reduced to half their starting hit points, the Rat King dissolves and is replaced with three ordinary rats.Speed 20 ft
Str 5 (-3) Dex 14 (+2) Con 12 (+1) Int 5 (-3) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 7 (-2)
Senses: Darkvision 60 ft, Passive Perception 11
Challenge 1 (200 xp)
Keen Smell: The Rat Swarm has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on smell.
Telepathy: Rat Kings can communicate telepathically to any intelligent being within their line of sight without the need to share language. They can communicate with and observe other rats telepathically within a mile radius.
Intelligence: Rat Kings are about as intelligent as the moderately retarded. They have an IQ of 40-50, can understand language and perform tool-using and work tasks but struggle with more abstract or detailed thought.
Rat Control: The Rat King provides advantage to any and all rats within its line of sight during combat, including swarms. Rats and rat swarms are capable of (low level) human-intelligence actions and tool use when directed by the Rat King.
Bite: Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft, Hit: 2 (1d6-3 piercing damage).
Psychic Attack: +3 1d10+1 damage, Wisdom Save vs DC 13 or stunned for one round. The Rat King can make one physical and one psychic attack each turn.

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Hunter’s Mimic

Your arrow sings through the air and flies true. The elk lows, arrow crimson with blood, jutting from its neck. It topples and you approach, knife in hand to cut the arrow free. Then it erupts, a mass of tentacles, teeth, hooks and guts. A gibbering horror of gnashing ribs and palpitating organs, lashing itself to you and pulling you into its jaws.

Medium Monstrosity (shapechanger), neutral
Armour Class 10
Hit Points: 58 (9d8+18)
Speed: 40 ft in disguise, 0 ft when ’emerged’.
Str 17 (+3), Dex 12 (+1), Con 15 (+2), Int 5 (-3), Wis 13 (+1), Cha 8 (-1)
Skills: Stealth +5
Damage Immunities: Piercing
Condition Immunities: Prone
Senses: Blindsense 60 ft, Passive Perception 11
Challenge 2 (450 xp)
Shapechanger: The Hunter’s Mimic can use its action to transform its appearance into that of a deer or similar prey animal, or can freely assume its monstrous form without using an action. It reverts to its monstrous form if it dies.
Clutching: The Hunter’s Mimic clings on to anything that touches it with myriad tendrils and rasping teeth. A Huge or smaller creature clutched by the Hunter’s Mimic is also grappled by it (escape DC 13). Ability checks to escape this grapple have disadvantage.
False Appearance: While Hunter’s Mimic retains its animal form it is indistinguishable from that animal.
Grappler: The Hunter’s Mimic has advantage on attack rolls against any creature it has grappled.
So Many Teeth: Melee weapon attack, +5 to hit, reach 10 ft, one target, Hit: 8 (1d10+3 piercing damage, plus 4 (1d8) slashing damage.

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Baseline Zombie

A shambling creature, raised by an unnatural plague to seek the flesh of the living.

Medium Undead, neutral
Armour Class 8
Hit Points 22 (3d8+9)
Speed 20 ft
Str 13 (+1), Dex 6 (-2), Con 16 (+3), Int 3 (-4), Wis 6 (-2), Cha 5 (-3)
Saving Throws: Wis +0
Damage Resistances: All damage types save those that specifically target undead.
Damage Immunities: Poison
Condition Immunities: Poisoned
Senses: Darkvision 60 ft, Passive Perception 8
Languages: –
Challenge ¼ (50 xp)
Headshot: A player can aim for the head, incurring a -5 penalty to their attack roll, but the damage is not reduced by the zombie’s damage resistance.
Grab: Melee Weapon attack, +3 to hit, reach 5 ft, one target, hit 1 bludgeoning damage and grappled (escape DC 14).
Bite: Melee weapon attack on grappled target with advanntage, +3 to hit, reach – grappled target, hit 2d6+1 slashing damage and a chance of infection, Constitution save DC 13.

Zombie Plague

When someone is bitten by an infectious zombie they must make a DC 13 Constitution save or contract the disease. The DC increases by +1 for each individual bite they take during an encounter – so keep track. Each hour the infected individual must make a DC 13 Constitution save (unmodified) or suffer a level of Exhaustion, starting from level 1 as the disease takes hold. Each failure advances the Exhaustion level by 1, each success reduces it by one. If it is reduced to zero then the disease is shaken off. If it gets to 6 then the infected person dies, and rises in 2d12 turns as a new zombie. If a character severs their bitten limb, the DC is reduced to 10.

The following are templates you can add to the zombies in order to customise them. Each one applied raises the Challenge level one level (¼ becomes ½, ½ becomes 1, 1 becomes 2 and so on). Every two increases, raise the zombies hit dice by 1.

Fast Zombie

Move +10 ft
AC +1

Attacks +1 to hit

Rotten Zombie

The zombie gains the following effect:
Squishy Guts: Each time the zombie is struck, anyone within 5 ft of it must make a Dexterity Save against a DC of 13 or suffer 1d4 acid damage and a chance of infection equal to a bite.

Dry Zombie

Increase the Zombie’s hit dice by one and its AC by 2.

Fungal Zombie

The zombie is symbiotically intermingled with a fungus or mould, its fruiting bodies erupting from the rotting flesh. Choose a fungus and give the zombie one of its special effects (EG Shriek, from Shrieker fungus).

If you cannot choose a generically mouldy corpse gains 1 hit dice and a secondary poison attack from its bites and grapples. DC 13 from a bite, 10 from a grapple, or suffer the poisoned condition – though this will pass with an hour or so’s rest.

Skeletal Zombie

+5 ft Move
+2 AC
+1 Attack

Fat Zombie

+1 Hit Dice and +4 HP per Hit Die (instead of +3).

Reduce all incoming damage by 1, after applying damage resistance.

Intelligent Zombie

Increase the Zombies Intelligence by +1. It can now use simple weapons in a haphazard fashion, instead of grappling – if it so chooses. Also increase the Zombie’s perception rolls by +1 – including Passive Perception.

Virulent Zombie

Increase the DC of the Zombie’s plague by +4

Grimdark – Possessed Armour

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A suit of animated armour, possessed by an evil ghost. The faint and shadowy form of the wearer can be made out, between the joints and interwoven with the armour itself which takes on a darker hue – like aged iron.
Medium Undead, Lawful Evil
AC 18 (Natural Armour)
HP 33 (6d8+6) [Grimdark HP 8
Heroism (Villainy) 2
Speed 25 ft.
Str 14+2, Dex 11+0, Con -. Int 11+0. Wis 11+0. Cha 11+0.
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Grimdark – Madness

 

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As a reminder, back towards the beginning of these articles I talked about creating a ‘sanity’ system of mental stress for adventurers. Here’s a quick recap:

I would also like to bring in a second system for handling mental health, somewhat taken from Call of Cthulhu’s Sanity Points or stress in Darkest Dungeon. Stress will do as a placeholder term, perhaps to be replaced by stoicism or something later. Your Stress would be determined by your class in much the same way as Hit Dice, modified either by Intelligence or Wisdom. You would gain stress from suffering conditions. Off the top of my head:

  • Blinded: 1d4
  • Taking damage from a critical hit: 1
  • Death Saves (Each): 1d4
  • Permanent Injury: 1d6
  • Charmed: 1d6 when the Charm wears off.
  • Deafened: 3
  • Frightened: 1d6
  • Grappled: 0
  • Incapacitated: 2
  • Paralysed: 1d6
  • Petrified: 1d8
  • Poisoned:1d6
  • Prone: 0
  • Restrained: 0
  • Stunned: 1
  • (Diseased):1d6…

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Grimdark – Magic Items & Treasure

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In a low magic setting, actual magic items should be exceedingly rare and relatively powerful. Scrolls are going to be essentially non-existent. Potions are going to be rare and of very limited effect – almost as likely to be poison as they are to be anything else. When it comes to weapons and armour, about the best you can probably hope for is that you have something that has been blessed. There may, also, be dark gifts from the demonic realms – black iron daggers, talismans and so forth, but all fairly low key in effect. There may also be leftover pagan artefacts, such as the great Celtic legendary items (Spear of the Sun, Sword of the Moon, Cauldron of Plenty, Stone of the Earth) or things like elf-shot or swords like Excalibur. There may also be a very rare handful of genuine saintly artefacts, even a splinter from the ‘true cross’ which might have genuine supernatural power.

For the most part though, the majority of supposedly magical artefacts are going to turn out to be nonsense, their legends brought about by charlatans and exploited as a means to part pilgrims from their money or to encourage them to visit a particular Church or Cathedral…

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#RPG #DND Grimdark – Monsters

miss-swarm-hobgoblinMonsters would need to be handled a little differently in the game skeleton and modifications that I have laid out. They need to mirror what we’ve done to player characters in that they need to be more fragile in terms of hit points but still need to have the capacity to do greater harm and to be minor and even major villains – rather than simple ‘mooks’ – without just becoming massive hit-point sinks.

If we look at a standard monster stat sheet, we can see that we don’t really need to change that much. The only real problems that we have exist around Hit Points and Challenge Rating, but this isn’t insoluable.

For Hit Points we can do what we do for player characters, a basis of Hit Die type + Constitution Bonus, with Heroism (Morale) going up by level. However, given that players encounter lots of monsters, the CR determines how many – total – Heroism points they contribute, and their maximum spend. This going into a pool used by the Games Master – with a maximum spend equal to the highest CR in an encounter. This also does a nice job of modelling the role and value of leadership – and of taking out enemy leaders…

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Grimdark – Religion

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There isn’t a great deal of mileage in beating about the bush when it comes to religion in a quasi-historical game. If you’re using an analogy to Christianity and everyone knows that it’s Christianity, you may as well not bother calling the pope the hierophant or talking about how your society worships Jeebus. The only reason anyone really draws a veil over the actual state of medieval religion is to spare people’s feelings and to rewrite history in a more tolerant manner.

For once, fuck that.

The advantage of using authentic religions is that everyone has – at least – some idea what they believe, how they venerate, what their prayers and churches are like, what their religious laws are like and so on. Since we’re not using domains, there’s little mechanical need to quantify anything and given – in the real world – how we can see people can twist religion to support all sorts of viewpoints, alignment isn’t terribly relevant either…

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Grimdark – Reinterpreting Divine Magic

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Sorcery is likely to become more complex with examination and reinterpretation to a more ritualistic version. Divine magic, however, is likely to become simpler with an appropriate reinterpretation.

In approaching this we want divine magic to be questionable, to require faith, for it to – mostly – allow for things that aren’t immediately and obviously magic.

Traditionally, divine magic is primarily about healing, with a secondary benefit of blessings, curses and then – finally – any other effects. Religion played an important role in a great many local myths legends and priests were often seen as a bulwark against the unnatural and against witches and other magic. Healing is more to do with knowledge and practice, than magic (though amongst the faithful, prayer might help psychosomatically).

What do we need Clerics and Paladins to be able to do with their divine mandate?

  1. Renew or grant Heroism (Morale).

  2. Counter or dispel magic.

  3. Bless or curse people.

  4. Strike or turn undead.

Convert Spell slots to ‘dice’ (D6s). Boosted by Wisdom bonus (Cleric) or Charisma (Paladin)…

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