The Power of Three: Innate Magical Abilities

The fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons tends to place less emphasis on magic items as an expected component of characters’ capabilities. Certainly, there are challenges—such as monsters vulnerable only to magical weapons—that call for such things, but even then there are workarounds in terms of class abilities, spells, and the like, reducing the reliance on an arsenal of arcane items in the party’s possession.

One way the edition trims down on magic items is through the concept of attunement: wherein some magic items require a mystical bond with their wielder. This bond takes some time and effort to forge, and characters can attune to a finite number of items, namely three. (As an aside, world creators can have fun exploring all manner of metaphysical trinities to provide an explanation for the question, “Why three?” but that’s a subject for a different article.)

So, it can be said, from a system perspective, that fifth edition D&D characters have essentially three “potential” magical advantages, which are realized by connecting them with items the characters acquire during their adventures—but what if that wasn’t the only option?

Now, the Dungeon Master’s Guide does talk about some other options, including supernatural gifts, marks of prestige, and epic boons, but none of them draw upon the notion that a maximum of three “magic advantages” is built-in to the characters. They’re all extras layered on top.

Perhaps in addition to magic items, D&D characters can “fill” those attunement slots with innate abilities of different sorts, essentially the equivalent of a magic item the character can’t easily lose, but also can’t easily swap out for another item. The attunement mechanic also works as a starting point for things like:

  • Tattoos or markings, like Eberron’s dragonmarks or the spellscars from the Spellplague era of the Forgotten Realms.
  • Birthrights that are inherent magical abilities, from gifts from the gods to strange abilities caused by magical “mutation” or an unusual heritage or bloodline, such as some of those from the Birthright setting.
  • Gifts similar to the supernatural gifts from the Dungeon Master’s Guide, but replicating a wider range of magic item abilities. These gifts might be granted by higher powers, magical rituals, or performing great deeds, to name a few.

Equivalence and Level. The magical ability should be about the equivalent of a magic item requiring attunement, with its level determined by the magic item’s rarity (as given on the Magic Item Rarity table in the DMG). So a magical ability equal to a ring of regeneration, for example, would be 11th level (for a very rare item).

Drawback. The ability may have a drawback that’s roughly equivalent to the potential of losing a magic item or having it taken away, since the ability is not so limited. For example, a magical ability equivalent to an amulet of the planes (let’s call it “planewalking,” shall we?) has, as an additional disadvantage, that when the Intelligence check made to activate it fails, the ability is also rendered unless until the character completes a long rest. On the other hand, the DM may decide that some magical abilities don’t need an additional drawback, such as the equivalent of boots of elvenkind, giving the character advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks to move silently at all times.

Acquisition. Acquiring the magical ability is largely at the Dungeon Master’s discretion and can be the result of any number of things, from a god’s blessing to the effects of drinking from an enchanted fountain. The ability may have prerequisites, including a minimum character level (based on item rarity) and class or race requirements similar to magic items. Generally, the character’s player should have the option of refusing the ability, in which case, nothing happens (save, perhaps, for offending a potential patron). If the character accepts, the ability “takes root” and fills one of the character’s attunement slots.

Divestment. Similarly, it’s up to the DM whether or not characters can shed or rid themselves of magical abilities. It should be difficult, since that is one of the primary drawbacks of abilities versus magic items, and might involve conditions similar to acquiring the ability, or the use of spells like remove curse to “uncouple” the ability and clear the attunement slot it occupies. Some abilities, like birthrights, might be things you cannot get rid of. Alternately, perhaps you can “overwrite” the ability by attuning a magic item and “filling” its slot, but the ability is no longer available (and might be lost permanently, even if you lose your attunement to the item that replaced it).

Leveling. It’s possibly for magical abilities to “level,” either along with the character, gaining the powers or properties of more effective items as the character grows in level, or filling additional attunement slots, essentially adding the benefits of additional items as the ability grows. This is particularly good for magic item abilities that have multiple levels of rarity and power.

Sample Magical Abilities

Here are just a few potential magical abilities using this concept.

Arcane Aegis

Surrounded by an unseen arcane aegis of protection, you have resistance to force damage and immunity to damage from the magic missile spell. Prerequisite: None.

Chaos Magic

You can call upon powerful, chaotic, magical forces. Use an action to choose a target within 120 feet of you: a creature, object, or even a point in space. Roll d100 an consult the wand of wonder effect table to see what happens. The effect is otherwise like that of a wand of wonder. You can use this ability 1d6 times per day, but the DM rolls each day at dawn and you only know you have expended all of your daily uses when you attempt to invoke your chaos magic and nothing happens. Prerequisite: spellcaster, 5th level.

Dragon Slayer

Any melee weapon you wield against a creature with the dragon type gains a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls and inflicts an extra 3d6 damage of the weapon’s type to the creature. However, true dragons can tell you have this ability by seeing or smelling you with a successful DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check. Prerequisite: 5th level.

Illusory Guise

You can use an action to cast the disguise self spell at will. Prerequisite: None.

Planeswalker

You can use an action to make a DC 15 Intelligence check. On a successful check, you cast the plane shift spell. On a failure, you and each creature within 15 feet of you travel to a random destination and you are unable to use this ability until you complete a long rest. Roll d100. On a 1–60, you travel to a random location on the plane you named. On a 61–100, you travel to a randomly determined plane of existence. Prerequisite: 11th level.

Spell Resistance

You have advantage on all saving throws against spells. Prerequisite: 5th level.

Swift

You can use a bonus action to activate this ability. When you do, double your walking speed, and any creature that makes an opportunity attack against you has disadvantage on the attack roll. When you have used this ability for a total of 10 minutes, you must complete a long rest in order to use it again. Prerequisite: 5th level.

The Hidden Potential of Wild Shape

The recently released D&D Monsters by Type document from Wizards of the Coast points out some interesting potential wrinkles in the druid’s wild shape ability in the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Let’s take a look.

The description of wild shape says: “…you can use your action to assume the shape of a beast that you have seen before.” Note that “beast” is a specific creature type in D&D 5e. The druid’s level sets limits on the type of beast form assumed: A maximum challenge rating (CR) of 1/4 and no flying or swimming speed at 2nd level, max. CR of 1/2 and no flying speed at 4th level, and a max. CR of 1 and no movement limits at 8th level. The Circle of the Moon druid archetype increases the CR limits to druid level divided by 3 and rounded down (minimum of 1).

Given these guidelines and taking a look at the Beast table of D&D Monsters by Type, what do we note…? Continue reading

D&D: Acting on Inspiration

It’s D&D game night, and the characters are trapped by their vile foes, thrown in irons, and imprisoned in the deepest dungeon.

“I want to break my chains!” says the player of the brawny fighter.

Having already made note of the “Manacles” section from chapter 5 of the Player’s Handbook, the DM says, “Roll a Strength check.”

… and the die comes up a 1.

Now what? Does Brawny Fighter get to try again? The section on “Ability Checks” in the Dungeon Master’s Guide—specifically “Multiple Ability Checks”—presents two options:

  1. If the character can try again, taking about ten times the usual time to do something ensures success. However, no amount of trying again allows a character to turn an impossible task into a successful one.
  2. In other cases, failing an ability check makes it impossible to make the same check to do the same thing again.

So, which is this? Neither option is particularly appealing: If the strong character can’t break his chains, he can never succeed? On the other hand, it’s a bit anticlimactic to say that just taking a minute (10 rounds) is enough for him to break the chains automatically. “You can try again later” is a perfectly valid answer from the Dungeon Master—who gets the decide when “later” is—but is there a game-system middle ground for this kind of situation? Turns out there is: inspiration.

Our Hero can’t try to break the chains, or figure out the maze, or overcome the obstacle without a breakthrough, without being inspired. Inspiration draws on your character’s personality traits, the things the character cares about. It represents when your character is truly motivated. It’s also a great benchmark for those times when your character has the gumption to try again, and succeed this time, since the added effect of inspiration is you can now make the roll with advantage!

In fact, you can even extend the idea of “acting on inspiration” to include all forms of advantage. Essentially, it’s the shift from being at a disadvantage, under normal conditions, or having advantage that opens up a new opportunity. So if a character who is at a disadvantage tries something and fails, the character can try again when no longer at a disadvantage. The situation has changed. Likewise, a character who fails under normal conditions, gets to try again upon gaining advantage, with a better chance of success. In this case, inspiration just represents one way of gaining advantage to change the conditions of the test and try again.

The best part of acting on inspiration is it is a matter of motivation. In order to get the needed inspiration, players need to look to their characters’ personality traits and play to them. What is going to motivate our brawny fighter to really try to escape? Is it a threat to a loved one, duty to a sword liege, revenge, or simply proving that nothing and no one can hold him prisoner? Likewise, going with advantage as an opportunity to try again encourages the players to pro-actively change the situation, rather than just waiting the appointed time to make another die-roll.

If at first you don’t succeed in your next D&D game, consider acting on inspiration.

D&D: Narrative Equipment

Here’s a new one you can add to the already substantial “Dungeon Master’s Workshop” in chapter 9 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, further simplifying even the starting class and background equipment packages of the game:

Narrative Equipment

Rather than tracking weapons, armor, and other equipment, adventurers are simply assumed to be adequately equipped, and armed and armored according to their capabilities, as follows:

  • Simple Weapon Proficiency: When armed, you do 1d6 damage. If you choose to make a two-handed attack, you do 1d8 damage. Use your choice of Strength or Dexterity modifier for the attack and damage rolls. You must use the same modifier for both rolls. Choose bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage based on the weapon and type of attack.
  • Martial Weapon Proficiency: When armed, you do 1d8 damage. If you choose to make a two-handed attack, you do 1d10 damage. Use your Strength for the attack and damage rolls of melee attacks and Dexterity for the attack and damage rolls of ranged attacks. Choose bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage based on the weapon and type of attack.
  • Light Armor Proficiency: When armored, your Armor Class is 12 + your Dexterity modifier.
  • Medium Armor Proficiency: When armored, your Armor Class is 14 + your Dexterity modifier (to a maximum of +2). Under this system, druids should be limited to light armor proficiency for simplicity.
  • Heavy Armor Proficiency: When armored, your Armor Class is 15 + your Strength modifier (to a maximum of +3).
  • Shield Proficiency: You gain a +2 bonus to your Armor Class, but have only one free hand and cannot make two-handed attacks.

Characters can choose to use “lower” proficiencies, if they wish. For example, a character proficient in both simple and martial weapons may choose to use simple weapons for the benefit of finesse, while a character proficient in heavy armor may choose to use medium or light armor for the Dexterity bonus, and characters proficient with shields can choose to use or not use one.

Otherwise, characters are assumed to have all of the tools and other items with which they are proficient and necessary personal, survival, and adventuring gear. If it ever becomes a question as to whether or not a character has a particular item, roll a DC 10 Wisdom check, adding the character’s proficiency bonus if the item is appropriate to the character’s class or background. On a success, the character happens to have that item. Players can spend inspiration to have advantage on this check.

The Dungeon Master can create circumstances where characters are unarmed, unarmored, or do not have access to their usual equipment. In these cases, characters regain the benefits of their equipment once they are able to recover it, or take a rest in an area where they can conceivably re-equip themselves, such as a settlement.

Save vs. Pelvic Sorcery

(Because … well, it kind of justifies itself…)

Sorcerous Origin: Pelvic

Your innate magic comes from the motion of the ocean and the swaying of your hips, the forceful thrust, and the slow roll – in short, pelvic sorcery. Perhaps you were born with this potential, apparent even before you fully tapped its power, or you might come from a long line with this ability, one ensured to continue on and on (and on…).

Roguish Charm

When you choose this origin at 1st level you gain a potent roguish charm. By standing next to a creature and interacting for at least 30 seconds, you can attempt to charm that creature as if casting the charm person spell, without expending spell slots or spell points.

Come and Get Your Love

At 1st level, you add expeditious retreat and jump to your list of known spells. You can cast them without components, but they affect only you.

Dance-Off

Starting at 6th level, you can cast Otto’s irresistible dance on a creature you can see that can see and interact with you, without expending spell points to do so. Once you have done this, you must complete a short rest before you can do so again.

Hooked on a Feeling

At 14th level, you can charm any creature by interacting with it. The creature makes a Wisdom saving throw against your spell save DC and is charmed for one hour if it fails.

Awesome Mix

At 18th level, if you are exposed to and make a saving throw against an effect at the same time as any of your allies, both you and your allies have advantage on the saving throw and resistance to any damage caused by the effect.