(This is the third in a series of posts about a hypothetical Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign. The concept kicked off here, and setting ideas for it fleshed out here.)
What rules changes, encounter guidelines, and social-contract expectations would I propose for a game in the “Time of Shattered Skies” setting?
Humans only. There are no elves, dwarves, tieflings, goliaths, etc. etc. All player characters use the Human statistics from the Player’s Handbook, including the feat-based option. From the other side of the table, there are no “monstrous humanoids” such as orcs, goblins, kobolds, etc. etc. Their stat blocks from the Monster Manual can still see play, but representing human opponents with different skill sets rather than varying species.
There are still nonhumanoid monsters. It’s hardly Dungeons & Dragons without dragons, now, is it? The aberrations associated with the starfalls represent the dominant “true monster” threat, but they may well prove to have discernible motives and needs by the end.
This supports the “jettison the genocidal bullshit” purpose. It also conveniently removes the impetus to choose a character species on the basis of its ability score synergy with a desired class, a nuisance that’s existed for most of D&D‘s history.
Collaborative setting creation… Mad Libs style. We don’t have elves and dwarves, but the myriad ranges of human diversity are still available to us. A place like Vadras, a civilization getting by in a dangerous world, accumulates people of different origins via expansion, trade, taking in refugees, and so on. Players help invent these cultures as they sketch out their character details.
“My people are from [place name], which is [a region within Vadras | a neighboring nation | a far-off place]. We are [rare | numerous] around here, and tend to be [physical feature(s)]. We are known for [cultural trait(s) and/or historical event(s)]. People also tend to think of us as [cultural trait], but that’s a stereotype. I feel I am more [personal trait] than most of my kin.”
Murder isn’t the only option. I’ve talked about bloody-minded kill-all-opponents encounters on this blog before, and my discomfort there has only deepened. I see players do things like have their victorious characters rove around a battlefield executing helpless wounded, and it turns my stomach. I promise, were I to run this campaign (or any other game, at this point), I will never screw you over for choosing not to kill. There may be logistical inconveniences in dealing with prisoners, that sort of thing, sure. But I won’t withhold experience points, or have spared enemies slit your throat in the night, or the like. Wherever possible, I’ll try to give incentives for mercy instead.
This axiom extends to the way I run encounters, too. People and magical beasts alike will try to disengage and flee when losing, rather than drag things out to the last hit point. If the player characters lose, enemies will accept surrender. They may celebrate routing you, but they’re not going to run you down and finish you off. It’s not “realistic,” I’m sure, but I don’t care. It’s a fantasy game. Use your imagination.
Torture doesn’t work. I find it similarly distressing how often the supposedly heroic protagonists in RPGs turn to depraved interrogation techniques. I don’t want encouragement of prisoner-taking to become encouragement of war crimes. In this case even the realism objection doesn’t hold much weight; it’s a bad idea in real life too. Cuffing a sassy villain over the head to shut them up, OK. But getting out the knives or whips or whatever to get them to talk? I’m gonna veil the scene, inform you that your attempts to “break” the bad guy have failed and moreover brought additional consequences on your head (allies realizing you’re a monstrous fuck and wanting nothing more to do with you, for instance), and now let’s have an OOC conversation about why this shit is unacceptable at my table.
The above isn’t the only thing I’d kibosh if it came up, of course, but it’s most likely to be a new expectation for people.
Bonus experience via hybrid Chuubo’s–Shadow of Yesterday quests. Players can pick up extra eeps by taking actions laid out on quest cards. You’ll start play with a couple–something related to your alignment, and something expressing your character traits, perhaps–and can adopt more in play. The DM can suggest ones for you from those they’ve sketched out for the campaign’s themes, and you can propose your own related to storylines that catch your interest as they come up. There’s never any penalty for ignoring or abandoning a quest card, but if you dig in, they can speed up advancement, mitigating the need to constantly get in fights to level up. Examples, tuned for 1st-level characters:
Chaotic Good: You’re a rebel for righteousness, dedicated to making people’s lives better via disruptive action. Once per scene, you may earn 5 XP by doing one of the following:
- Flaunting or breaking a law to help someone else
- Lightening the mood with an in-character joke
- Stepping away from the group to satisfy your conscience
- Openly defying or exposing a corrupt institution
If you have a change of heart and become open to the value of law and structure, or turn your interests toward selfishness, you may change your alignment accordingly. Discard this quest and earn 25 XP.
Armiger’s Call: So you’re blessed with godsluck. What are you going to do with it? Once per scene, you may earn 5 XP by doing one of the following:
- Boasting about your strength or your exploits
- Wondering aloud why you received this gift
- Spending time caring for your arms and armor
- Training for or worrying about an armiger’s test
- Conversing with another charmed hero about their adventures and plans
When you declare allegiance to a family or organization, earning and accepting their emblem; or swear before witnesses that you will walk the path of the warrior-vagrant, you complete this quest and earn 25 XP.
That’s it for now! I have at last exhausted my brainstorm, other than perhaps more quest card ideas. What do you think?