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.
Carrion-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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Move +10 ft
Attacks +1 to hit
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.
Increase the Zombie’s hit dice by one and its AC by 2.
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.
+5 ft Move
+1 Hit Dice and +4 HP per Hit Die (instead of +3).
Reduce all incoming damage by 1, after applying damage resistance.
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.
Increase the DC of the Zombie’s plague by +4
The Cleric is – by and large – OK. Perhaps a little more combative than is strictly appropriate, but the existence of chaplains and martial orders, as well as the ability to make characters with different emphases, doesn’t make that so much of a problem.
A few changes are, however, needed. Obviously, the miraculous curing of wounds is something that shouldn’t happen – if at all – until the higher levels, but people can draw strength from faith and faith can motivate and move people. As such, what would heal normally, would now restore or grant temporary heroism.
Rather than material costs, higher level spells like resurrection would require donations or the sacrifice of experience points.
Five of the following, multiples are permitted – Fine clothes, vestments, mace, club, warhammer, chain mail, leather armour, light crossbow, pistol, 20 rounds of ammunition for a weapon, priest’s pack, explorer’s pack, shield, holy symbol.
Clerics retain spellcasting and channel divinity (along with destroy undead), but with a severely limited spell list and only one domain…
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X-Cards have been doing the rounds for some time. I’ve expressed my opinion on them before, so I’ll leave the commentary to the end. I want to introduce you to a different concept, a mirror concept, a counter concept.
You don’t need to credit me or anything, I’m not going to bother with licensing or anything. If you want to use it, just use it.
The M-Card is an optional tool (created by James ‘Grim’ Desborough) that allows you to assert control over your game and to ensure a certain level of maturity and buy-in in your games. There are few situations where this might be needed – convention games, shop games and pick up games or games with new players, but I hope you’ll find it useful.
To use them, at the start of your game, simply say:
“I’d like your help to keep this game fun. By playing at this table, with the M-Card on show, you are accepting that we’re all mature individuals who are capable of handling adult themes, fictional violence, sexuality and other difficult content. You are accepting that if you have an issue with anything in the game it’s on you to excuse yourself from the scene or game with minimal disruption to everyone else at the table.”
What is it?
The M-Card is a card with an ‘M’ drawn on it.
It is placed on the table to let people know that this is a mature table with a game that may involve mature themes (sex, violence, horror, drugs, torture and so on, anything that might get an R/18 rating if it were a film).
Why use it?
Most of the time you won’t have to. Most people who play RPGs do so with a regular group of friends who know each others’ boundaries, issues and so on. When you’re playing with new people, however, they’re an unknown quantity and there has been a rather disruptive culture of entitlement and ‘calling out’ within the hobby community. The M-Card is a way to reassert control of the game and the table and to warn away people who might disrupt your game and who wouldn’t enjoy it anyway.
How should you use it?
All you do it note down ‘M’ on a card and place it in the middle. You can add some more information if you like in just the same way movie ratings do, but these should be general. Things like ‘violence’, ‘gore’, ‘drug use’, ‘sex’ and so on. Specifics can give away the plot or story and that impinges on everyone’s fun. There’s no way you can account for anything and everything that might upset someone anyway, so it’s pointless to try. It’s just good to give people a general heads up.
The M-Card isn’t intended to create an atmosphere of hostility, nor of license to bully someone or subject them to harrowing scenes without them being able to withdraw or fade to black. All it is really intended to do is to put the onus of responsibility back onto the individual player, to mind their own mental health and to show consideration to everyone else at the table – should they find they have a problem.
The M-Card isn’t to display edginess, political affiliation, to excuse bullying or anything of the sort. It’s just a way to help you filter problem players before they sit at your table and to assert control over the game and remind people to take responsibility for themselves.
X-Cards are a thing, created by John Stavropoulos. They’re kind of a step-up from the more complex and obscure ‘lines and veils’. Those are ways of defining your hard line things you don’t want to play or moments you’d rather fade to black. I think they stem from LARP, but whatever the case they – and X-Cards have been turning up more and more.
Like most multi-lane highways to hell, X-Cards were created with good intentions. The idea was to create a way to have a ‘safe’ table where people had a mechanism by which they could show they were uncomfortable with something in the game and wanted to skip past it, without recrimination.
They were intended to be optional, but the attitude of entitlement that exists around them has been creeping ever further into the gaming space. At conventions and other public games, people now seem to expect to be coddled, from fiction. Some conventions now even make it policy that any game played under the auspices of that con must use X-Cards.
I believe this is a bad idea, not because I want to psychologically torture players (except when they split the party) but because this whole idea is wildly disruptive and impolite to the rest of the people around the table. If you sign up to a game called Temple of the Spider God and then X-Card every time the GM mentions spiders, you’re an arsehole, whether you’re phobic or not. Games have themes, which are usually obvious from the game description, or even just the game being played.
Let’s try and explain why I loathe these things, by way of analogy. Do you think any of these would be fun?
You get the point, I hope. This tool that is supposed to guarantee someone’s ‘safety’ (absurd notion, it’s all just words and mathematics around a table, you’re only at risk from dropped D4s) endangers everyone’s fun and empowers a single individual to screw up the game for all the other players.
This is also why I’m against anti-harassment policies at conventions. It’s not because I condone harassment, but because these things tend to be poorly written and to contain rhetorical trojans that could be abused to censor, attack and – ironically – harass people.
The M-Card which I introduce above, shouldn’t be necessary. People should be willing and able to take responsibility for their own conduct and their own mental health. Your gaming group aren’t your fucking therapists. That said, there’s no safer environment to encounter your fears and triggers – on an imaginary basis – and to exert power over them.
That’s how you process these things and move past them, not by being coddled like a low-level magic user.
I hope M-Cards take, and if not, at least it’ll further the discussion.
Remember that chocolate bar you loved so much? Some people pay big money for discontinued treats, but some things aren’t meant to be resurrected. A stash of hundreds of frozen tubs of a yoghurt-like substance from the 1980s are uncovered. Some will pay big bucks for a taste.
Blood!, FATE, All Flesh Must be Eaten, Savage Worlds.
Vampires aren’t as glamorous as you hoped. Rather than blood, it’s a matter of gulping down raw human meat. Freshly turned you’re inducted into ‘the family’ who run a crematorium where the bodies never reach the fire. Some relatives are getting suspicious and you need a plan ‘B’.
Blood, Nightlife, World of Darkness.
Art by Tony Skeor
I tend to enjoy darker themes in my games, primal themes, moral themes, ethical dilemmas and the sort of layered plots that have ‘Aha!’ moments where the players finally piece everything together. I like to bring some horror elements into other games, emotional and relationship entanglements, investment and betrayal…