In many rpgs, spellcasting is an extremely powerful option that is difficult to curtail without shutting it down entirely (or at least creating a risk of shutting it down entirely). While it’s often fairly straightforward to make life more difficult for weapon-users without making them entirely ineffective, that can be harder for spellcasters. Especially when spells are a very limited resource (such as using spell slots or prepared spells), even things that can be used to put a weapon-wielder at a disadvantage (such as a penalty to attack rolls)
The following options are specifically designed for Pathfinder 1st ed, Pathfinder 2nd Ed, Starfinder, and 5e, but could certainly be expanded to a wider range of games by an experienced GM.
(Art by DM7)
You CAN use antimagic shells as minor hindrances if you make them very small, and spread them out. And don’t allow the main villain to just sit in one and be immune to all magic. A few small areas where magic works but spells cannot be cast (perhaps strange metoric iron disrupts the act of conjuring the power for a spell, but doesn’t negate magic in general) can become a form of battlefield terrain spellcasters just need to work around.
Rather than make it impossible to cast spells or highly likely that efforts to do so will result in failure, you can make spellcasting take additional effort. In Pathfinder and Starfinder, casting times of 1 standard action become full rounds. In 5e, you cannot move or take a bonus action or reaction in a round you cast a spell with a casting time of 1 action. In Pathfinder 2e, add one action to any spell with a casting time listed in actions.
This option forces a spellcaster to make more tactical decisions, but doesn’t make it any more likely their precious resources are wasted if they take the needed extra time.
Rather than make spellcasting more difficult, you can just slap some consequence on it that hinders or damages the caster for using spells. This can be as minor as one point of damage per level of spell cast, or a minor penalty to saving throws and attack rolls for 1-4 rounds after casting a spell (perhaps that stacks if you rapid-fire spells every round), to more major neative erffects depending on how harsh you want your penalties to be. You could also simply add a risk of penalties, such as forcing the caster to make a Constitution or Fortitude save every time they cast a spell or gain a level of fatigue.
Increased Spell Cost
A much more impactful options it to increase the cost of spellcasting. Perhaps casting a spell requires additional eldritch power, which must come from somewhere. A character could be required to use multiple spell slots, or sacrifice an additional prepared spell.
You could also require the expenditure of some additional resource beyond additional spells. For example in Starfinder you could require a Resolve Point be spend, or in 5e a Hit Die. Pathfinder 2nd edition could require a focus point (though not all characters have focus points). These are pretty steep costs, so it might be smart to have the additional cost only be needed once every 2d4 rounds or so, or even just once per ten minutes, as the spellcaster “attunes” themselves to some specific circumstance.
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We spent last week presenting the base of the Mascot class for 5e. Tuesday we laid out the concept and framework for the Mascot class for 5e, Wednesday we presented the Domestic Companion option for that class, Thursday we presenting the Inspiring Failure class feature, and Friday we presented the Torchbearer option.
All that’s left is to create its selectable class feature, shtick.
You are often surprisingly effective in combat… just not in ways that traditional heroes are. Instead you have actions that,–backed by a combination of your moxie, some luck, and the total surprise you are engaging in adventuring at all–can alter the flow of combat in surprising ways. These sometimes-comical options are known as shtick. You gain your first shtick at 2nd level, and gain an additional shtick at 5th, 9th, 13th, and 17th level. You cannot select the same shtick more than once.
Some of your shtick abilities for a foe to make a saving throw. The DC of such saves is equal to 8 + you proficiency bonus + your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma bonus. You select which ability score applies to your shtick save is based on when you gain your first shtick, and once made this decision cannot be changed.
(Art by Lunstream)
The very fact you place yourself in places of extreme risk without any apparent talents or powers to make such actions look like reasonable choices on your part can endear you to foes who see you as a cute little thing, rather than a threat.
Using your action you can stand defiantly in the face of a creature within 30 feet that has attacked and damaged you or an ally. The target must succeed at a Wisdom save or be charmed by you for 24 hours, or until you attack them. Once you have successfully affected a creature with adorable bravery, you cannot attempt it again until after you take a long rest.
Using your action you engage in behavior that is both confusing, and obviously out of place with no apparent explanation (and no visible reason for you to believe it will work). You might scold a giant for being a bully, act like a bull about to charge an enraged minotaur, or challenge a lich to a dance-off. The behavior is so unexpected and novel, the target is briefly taken aback. You select one creature within 60 feet that is able to see or hear you. The target must succeed at a Charisma save or be incapacitated for 1 round. Once you have successfully affected a creature with baffling affront, you cannot attempt it again until after you take a short rest.
While your traveling companions have been learning new spells, mastering fighting techniques, and perfecting new forms of skulking, you’ve been picking up little tips and tricks from the cooks at inns, drovers of friendly caravans, and other behind-the-scenes folks. Much of this builds off a direction you might have taken in your career, but never mastered until now.
Select an additional background. You gain the benefits and items from this background.
You are adept at the endless chatter common to some working-class folk, and can both use it to get the skinny in a new region, and to overload a creature with more words than they are used to processing. When you are in a settlement where you speak one of the common languages, each day you may make one Charisma check with proficiency to learn local gossip and rumors without anyone realizing you are gathering such information.
Additionally, using your action you can direct a stream of apparently endless but potentially important words at a creature within 30 feet able to hear you. You can maintain this for a duration of concentration (10 minute maximum). As long as the target can hear you, they are deafened to any other sound.
Sometimes, you are saved by the noncombat equipment you carry on you. This might be a spider’s fangs sinking into your cookbook, a giant crushing a loaf of bread thinking it was your head, or an arrow being stopped by hitting the pewter flash you have in your vest.
When you take damage or have a condition applied to you, as a reaction you can instead have one item in your possession be destroyed and not take the damage or condition. Once you have used this ability, you cannot do so again until after you have taken a long rest.
The Right Tool
You know that sometimes the important thing is not who tries something, but what they try to do it with. While mighty heroes are busy giving speeches and staring down the forces of evil, you’re keeping track of who is holding what, which item is in which belt pouch, and what is likely to be needed in the coming moments.
Using your action, you can change what items are ready for use for yourself and every willing adjacent ally. You can ready items from yourself or a willing ally for use by another ally. Only items that can be readied or put away in an action can be affected by this ability.
Shielded By Clutter
You have so much stuff that attacks are as likely to hit your cooking pot, tailoring cloth, or portable library as to damage you. As long as you have any equipment or gear, you are considered to have the benefits of a shield without needing to hold one in your hand. If you are adjacent to an ally and they are attacked, as a reaction you can cause them to benefit from having a shield (temporarily ending your shielded by clutter benefit). This lasts as long as the ally is adjacent to you, until the beginning of your next turn.
Spoon to the Knuckles
You may see yourself as a cook, or tutor, or dressmaker rather than a warrior, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t willing to treat a monster like an unruly child and rap their knuckles with a wooden spoon (or otherwise take them to task).
Make an ability check with advantage using a tool with which you are proficient. Your DC is equal to your target’s AC. If you succeed, you do a single hp of damage (though this does not trigger rules triggered by making an attack). Additionally, the target is so flabbergasted by your effrontery they have disadvantage on any attack thy make for 1 round.
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Monday we laid out the concept and framework for the Mascot class for 5e, and Tuesday we presented the Domestic Companion option for the Mascot Archetype class feature. We’ll present the Torchbearer archetype later in the week, but today I actually want to define the Inspiring Failure class feature.
While a Mascot character is often out of their element and overmatched by the circumstances of adventuring, the very fact they keep trying can inspire their allies. When a mascot succeeds at a task everyone is delighted, even their failures can inspire the heroes around them to achieve greater success on the mascot’s behalf.
(art by Lunstream)
You get one use of Inspiring Failure at 3rd level, and gain an additional use at 11th, 17th, and 20th level.
The first time each day you fail an attack roll, Ability/Skill check, or saving throw while you are in an encounter that can earn XP (as determined by the GM), you earn one inspiring failure point (IFP). When an ally within 60 feet who witnessed your failure fails an attack, ability/skill, or save, you may expend an IFP to grant them a special reroll. If the d20 on their reroll results in a 1-10, they gain a +10 bonus to their total.
Each additional use you gain of inspiring failure allows you to gain an IFP from an additional failed roll on your point. When you take a long rest, you lose all IFP.
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Yesterday we laid out the concept and framework for the Mascot class for 5e, so now it’s time to begin deliver into some specifics.
At 1st level you choose a Mascot Archetype. This defines what KIND of mascot you are, and will impact your character’s options and play style as you gain more levels. In a full version of this class we’d likely want at least 3 Mascot Archetypes, but for blog posts I think we can just do two. (If there’s a huge demand for more, we can always circle back ‘around to it. 🙂 )
We’ll start with the Domestic Creature.
(Art by Kajenna)
At 1st level, you choose an archetype that defines what kind of mascot you are, and gives you some idea how other PCs and NPCs are likely to see and treat your character. You can choose from the Domestic Creature or Torchbearer archetypes.
The archetype you choose grants you features at 1st level and again at 7th, 10th, 15th, and 18th level.
Regardless of what species you choose (human, elf, dwarf, and so-on), you are actually a Small or Tiny creature that appears to be a pet or companion. You may be a common pert, such as a cat or dog, or may be a more supernatural kind of noncombat companion. You have lived with the species you took for your character enough that you count as them for purposes of spells and prerequisites (and get all the appropriate traits), but are truly some different kind of creature.
Beginning at first level when you take this archetype you are treated as one size smaller, can only express concepts as long as five words, look like a domestic pet of some kind, and can only use one hand worth of equipment (held in your mouth, or talons, or flippers as appropriate). A creature of your size or larger can carry you in 1 arm (if you are willing) without worrying about your weight. A creature at least 2 sizes larger than you can carry you in a pocket with ease.
You also gain two of the following of your choice, as part of your domestic creature nature — darkvision, a 20 foot fly speed (but you cannot carry anyone unless they are smaller than you), 1 30 foot fly speed, the ability to breath on land and in water, a finesse attack that does 1d4 + Strength damage and does bludgeoning,slashing, or peircing damage (your choice), advantage on one category of saves of your choice, advantage on one of the following skills of your choice — Acrobatics, Animal Handling, Athletics, Insight, Perception, or Stealth.
Domestic Creature Advances
At 7th level, and again at 10th, 15th, and 18th, you select one of the advances listed below. You cannot select a greater version of an advance until you have selected the standard version.
Cute Creature: As a bonus action when an ally adjacent to you makes a Charisma (Deception, Performance, or Persuasion) check, you grant them advantage.
Cute Creature, Greater: You can be so cute, creatures are stupified by how adorable you are. this acts as hypnotic pattern, but affects only one creature.
Distracting Creature: As an action you can make an attack or Charisma (Intimidate) check against a target within 30 feet. If successful rather than your normal effect, the target suffers disadvantage on all attacks for 1 round, and anyone that is forced to make a saving throw against your targets spells or effects during that round gain advantage on the save.
Distracting Creature, Greater: You can use distracting creature against all foes within a 10-foot cube at a range of 60 feet.
Guard Creature: You take no penalties to Perception when asleep, and if you successfully perceive a threat you can wake all allies within 60 feet as a bonus action. As a bonus action when an ally adjacent to you makes a Wisdom (Perception) check, you grant them advantage.
Guard Creature, Greater: As a bonus action when an ally adjacent to you is attacked, you give the attack disadvantage.
Support Creature: As a bonus action when an ally adjacent to you makes a Wisdom or Charisma saving throw, you give the save advantage.
Support Creature: You can cast calm emotions at will.
We’ll look at our other archetype, torchbearer, tomorrow!
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Pandemic changes things. For everyone’s sake, we need to adapt. For our own sakes, we need to stay sane.
At least for the next few weeks, a lot of us aren’t going out and doing the things we normally do. That leaves us with only online options to interact with friends.
RPGs are a great way to spend time with friends. And if you are willing to go theater-of-the-mind, it works great just via chat or video conference.
But, no one may be in the mood to act as GM.
So, a group of 2-4 friends sure CAN run through a pre-generated adventure without a GM, or a map. Just treat it as a board game, deal with one encounter at a time, roll targets of attacks randomly, and don’t get too hung up on things like tactics or worrying about player knowledge. One Facilitator reads each encounter as you run into it (and maybe that role rotates), and players agree to deal with things cooperatively.
You can even use these ideas to run yourself through adventures on your own, a kind of Gaming Solitaire.
But… it might be nice to have some guidelines for things like skill checks interacting with encounters, when you don’t have a GM to make rulings. So:
GM-less 5e Skill Rules
This is just the beginning of a potential ruleset for playing through a published 5e module with friends, likely online and without a virtual tabletop, and without a GM. This is a first set of thoughts—the beginning of this idea, rather than the end.
Group Skill Decisions
When you want to try something the text doesn’t give you guidance on, the group needs to decide on a DC for the effort. The player proposing the action suggests an ability and related skill, and describes how the action would work. The group then sees if they can agree that the thing being proposed would be Very Easy to accomplish, Easy, Medium, Hard, Very Hard, or Nearly Impossible. The default DC of anything the group can’t decide on is 20 (Hard).
Ability Checks Table: Typical Difficulty Classes
Task Difficulty (DC)
Very Easy (5)
Very Hard (25)
Nearly Impossible (30)
Each ability score lists the skills associated with it, along with typical results for success and failure of skill checks that aren’t specifically outlines in the adventure. Have fun with these checks. Describe the attempts, discuss how the story plays out. It’s a different kind of roleplaying, but no less fun or effective for being more cooperative.
For example, the adventure says there is a locked door. Kyla suggests her barbarian should be able to shoulder the door open with a Strength (Athletics) check. The group agrees that’s possible, but given it’s a sturdy, well-maintained door, it’ll be Hard. Kyla attempts a DC 20 Strength (Athletics) check. If she succeeded, she could bypass the obstacle (forcing the door open). As it happens she fails. The typical failure for Strength Athletics) is to take Damage equal to DC -20 -2d6. That’s a base of 10 (DC 20 -10) hp of damage. Kyla rolls 2d6, and gets a 7, which she also subtracts. She ends up taking 3 (10 -7) points of damage, and the door is not open.
(Athletics) – Success: Overcome one obstacle. Cause one monster to be unable to act for 1d4 rounds. Failure: Take damage equal to task DC -10 -2d6 (minimum 0).
(Acrobatics) – Success: Overcome one obstacle. Cause one monster to be unable to affect you for 1d3 rounds. Failure: Take damage equal to task DC -10 -3d6 (minimum 0).
(Sleight of Hand) – Success: Take one item of fist-size or less from the encounter. Cause one monster to be unable to use an item for 1 round. Failure: Disadvantage on defensive rolls for 1 round.
(Stealth) – Success: Escape an encounter. Examine an encounter without triggering it. Failure: Trigger an encounter, lose turn failing to escape the encounter.
Endure a hazard or circumstance for 1d4 rounds without taking additional damage or penalties.
(Arcana) – Learn the details of one magic creature, effect, trap, curse, or similar item. Failure: False information causes you to be at disadvantage for your next check against the magic examined.
(History) – Learn the details of one ruin or established settlement, or item pertaining to it. Failure: False information causes you to be at disadvantage for your next check against the place or related item examined.
(Investigation) – Learn the details of one location you can examine unhindered. Failure: False information causes you to be at disadvantage for your next check against the location or a related item examined.
(Nature) – Learn the details of one natural creature, effect, hazard, location, terrain, or similar item. Failure: False information causes you to be at disadvantage for your next check against the natural creature or phenomenon examined.
(Religion) – Learn the details of one religion or a related creature, effect, trap, curse, or similar item. This specifically includes angels, demons, devils, and undead. Failure: False information causes you to be at disadvantage for your next check against the religious subject examined.
(Animal Handling) – Success: Overcome one animal-based encounter that has not yet become a combat without it becoming one. Cause one animal to be unable to affect you for 1d3 rounds. Instruct a friendly animal to take a specific action. Failure: Bad interaction causes you to be at disadvantage with your next check with the relevant animal.
(Insight) – Success: Learn the true intentions of one intelligence creature. If the creature intends to attack you, you may take an action to begin the combat before the creature does. Failure: Bad conclusion causes you to be at disadvantage with your next check with the relevant creature.
(Medicine) – Success: Learn the nature of one disease or poison. Stabilize a dying creature. Prevent a disease, bleed, or poison from affecting its victim for 1 round. Failure: target takes 1 hp.
(Perception) – Success: Learn all elements of an encounter. Failure: No penalty.
(Survival) – Success: Live off the land without using up supplies for 1 day. Avoid one natural hazard. Locate a natural encounter and observe it without setting it off. Failure: One random party member takes 1 hp.
(Deception) – Success: Overcome one non-combat encounter with intelligent creatures. Gain advantage on your next check with one creature in a combat encounter. Failure: You are at disadvantage on your next check with the creature you attempted to deceive.
(Intimidation) – Success: Overcome one non-combat encounter with intelligent creatures. Gain advantage on your next check with one creature in a combat encounter. Failure: Creature attacks you.
(Performance) – Success: Gain advantage for the next check a party member makes in a non-combat encounter with intelligent creatures. Failure: Suffer disadvantage for the next check a party member makes in a non-combat encounter with intelligent creatures.
(Persuasion) – Success: Overcome one non-combat encounter with nonhostile intelligent creatures. Failure: No penalty.
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