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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Grimdark – Personality & Backgrounds

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A very welcome addition to D&D has been the inclusion of more rules that encourage roleplay and thought about where your character came from and why they do what they do. These are chiefly served by very loosely defined ideals, bonds and flaws. Mechanically you get awarded inspiration for playing to your character traits – even when it inconveniences you. Some bristle at these newfangled story mechanics, but for players who have a hard time putting themselves into another, fictional, person’s shoes the encouragement is helpful. The chits system for playing up your flaws is a big part of what made Deadlands work so well, and took a lot of the weight of book-keeping away from the Games Master.

Backgrounds are a bit more mechanically involved in 5th Edition D&D, with features, suggested characteristics, random tables (if you choose to use them) for personalities, ideals, bonds and flaws as well as skill proficiencies, languages and gear to go with your class choices.

This is all great stuff and easily customisable, you can add plenty to it and in many ways it can act as a sub-class or specialisation.

Nothing really needs to change there for a Grimdark setting, just added to, barbers, vivisectionists, gong-carriers, chapbook publishers, heretics and other backgrounds might need to be added, but by and large it’s all good. The background I envision for the setting I would use Grimdark rules though, there’s another aspect to your character’s background – their crimes…

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Grimdark – The Witch

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Like the Ritualist, the Witch is a ‘secondary class’, one you multi-class into. The old ways have largely fallen beneath the crescent, cross and star but remnants remain in traditions, rhymes, spells and as echoes in the largely spurious grimoires, many of them made up by the deluded or the faithful. Walking that fine line between old religion, devilry and midwifery. One false step, one offhanded blasphemy, one dissatisfied lecher or ‘maid’ and its prison, the stake or the Tyburn Jig.

Both spellcasting sub-classes are placeholders and the same is true of the abilities of the Cleric. I would be likely to alter these and create new, more suitable magic for the setting.

Hit Points
6+Constitution Bonus
Heroism 1d8/Level

Proficiencies Gained
Light Armour, Simple Weapons.

Skills
Arcana, Medicine.

Equipment:
You must acquire the gear you need during play.

Level 1: Witch Magic, The Old Tongue, Aura
Level 2: Bonus Feat, Extra Cantrip
Level 3: –
Level 4: Bonus Feat, Ability Score Improvement
Level 5: – Aura…

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Grimdark – The Ritualist

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A ritualist is something you become, rather than start as. The ritualist studies ancient tomes and enters into pacts with demons and spirits, permanently changing themselves in their pursuit of magic and power. You have to multiclass into Ritualist and cannot take it as a starting class. In order to become a ritualist and start your pursuit of power you must have an Intelligence of 13+. Whichever class has the most Hit Points is used as the basis for your health.

Hit Points
5+Constitution Bonus
Heroism 1d8/Level

Proficiencies Gained
Light Armour, Simple Weapons.

Skills
Arcana, Religion.

Equipment:
You must acquire the gear you need during play.

  • Level 1: Witch Mark, Ritual Magic, Talisman
  • Level 2: Imp
  • Level 3: Dark Gift
  • Level 4: Ability Score Improvement
  • Level 5: Witch Mark…

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Grimdark – The Scholar

09Scholar
A scholar devotes themselves to the pursuit of knowledge, whether perusing tomes of ancient and forbidden lore, or taking that knowledge out into the field in their examination of ruins and artefacts that may be found in-situ.

Hit Points
Scholar 5+Constitution Bonus
Heroism 1d8/Level

Proficiencies
Simple Weapons, Light Armour, Artisan’s Tools (pick two: Alchemist, Calligrapher, Cartographer, Painter, Poisoner Kit Tinker), Forgery Kit, Gaming Sets, Herbalism Kit, Musical Instrument (pick two), Navigator’s Tools. Saving Throws Intelligence and Wisdom.

Skills
Choose four from: Arcana, History, Investigation, Medicine, Nature, Perception, Performance, Religion…

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