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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Grimdark – Spellcasting

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The magic rules ideas that I presented earlier are a botch-job, trying to merely adapt the existing rules to suit a lower-magic setting. If I proceed to making a bespoke magic interpretation for a Grimdark setting/system I need to go further than that in a number of different ways.

Divine Magic needs to be approached from the most different position. I want the existence of spirits or deities to be more vague, a matter of interpretation and faith, rather than – so explicitly – being a matte of truth. As such, divine magic needs to change the most. A much more restricted approach centred on the psychology of faith makes more sense, with the miraculous being suitably rare – limited to high level persons of faith who are, in essence, saints…

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Grimdark – Feats & Wounds

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Feats are both more wide and more powerful in 5th Edition. In order to compete with Ability increases, they’d have to be. Taking ‘Observant’ as an example, to compare with its 3rd Edition equivalent – which (Alert) gave you a +2 bonus to Perception checks. By comparison, Observant in fifth edition gives +1 Wisdom or Intelligence, the ability to lip read and a +5 bonus to passive Perception and Investigation rolls. That’s – approximately – three times as powerful as the old feats and something to keep in mind when doing conversions, perhaps by grouping several old-style Feats together.

Given the emphasis on personal skill rather than supernatural capabilities, Feats would have to be heartily extended in any Grimdark setting.

Example: Undead Slayer

  • When an undead creature enters a 5′ zone aound you, you may immediately make a melee attack against that creature. You are limited to one of these free attacks per turn.
  • You have advantage on Saving Throws against Undead powers, diseases and attacks that require one.
  • You do an addition 1d6 damage to Undead enemies.

Death and dying has been simplified in the new edition, and that’s fine as it…

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Grimdark – Gear

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For sake of ease most things should remain entirely the same, coinage and so on certainly. The thing, however, that always sticks in my craw about D&D are the armour rules. The way in which heavy armour makes you ‘harder to hit’ never worked for me, and splitting up the different kinds of protection – as was done in 3rd edition meant there was too much book-keeping.

One way to approach this problem is to make armour do damage reduction, instead of making you harder to hit.

Armour along this line for a more Grimdark game, might look more like…

  • Padded: Damage Reduction 1, Disadvantage on Stealth.
  • Leather: Damage Reduction 1.
  • Studded Leather: Damage Reduction 2.
  • Hide: Damage Reduction 2 (Max Dexmod 2)…

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