This article was first broadcast in Episode Fifty-Four on 26th December 2018.
Killer DM: Oh there you are Lennon. So nice to see you again. I can’t help noticing it’s Christmas
Lennon: Yes Kay-
Killer DM: Go ahead. Try using that name
Lennon: -Killer DM. I just can’t begin to tell you how good it is to see you. It’s your first anniversary isn’t it?
Killer DM: It is, but you know what it’s not?
Killer DM: Thanksgiving. Do you remember anything about Thanksgiving?
Lennon: Um..no? Because I’m British?
Ostron: Still can’t get the power cells to recharge right, I wonder…oh. Hi Killer DM. I guess I should have anticipated this.
Killer DM: Yes. You should have. You should have also invited me around for Thanksgiving LIKE. I. ASKED!
Lennon: Well I was at a family barbecue…
Ostron: Yeah, and I… had… a … generic excuse…
Killer DM: No, No, don’t worry. I’m letting bygones be bygones for now. I’ve come here to share with you what gifts you might bestow on your players from my own personal notes.
Ostron: Oh this should be…fascinating.
Killer DM: It will be, I assure you. Just read from your sheets gentlemen.
Lennon: A lot of the reason people get excited about Unearthed Arcana publications from Wizards is the possibility of new rule mechanics that make the game play differently. What some people don’t realize is that there are a lot of ways to change the play of the game right in the Dungeon Masters’ Guide.
Killer DM: I myself usually pull out loads of tricks from the book when I’m running my games. The optional rules available are often fairly well balanced or, if they aren’t, there are descriptions of how the feel of the game might change if you use them. I obviously don’t care about the balance bit, so here are a few of my favorites that wildly skew things in my favor most of the time.
Ostron: We’ll start with a mechanic that’s actually something from 4th edition: flanking. The rules are listed on page 251 of the Dungeon Masters Guide. Flanking takes into account the physical position of characters on a battlefield when they’re facing an opponent: if two allied characters are on opposite sides of an opponent and neither of them are incapacitated, *both* of them get advantage in attacking the opponent.
Killer DM: This is one of my favorites because I think they forgot how hard that was to do in 4th edition. See, back then if a character was adjacent to an enemy and moved *at all* they provoked an opportunity attack. In 5th edition you can literally run circles around an opponent and as long as you never leave their threat range they don’t do anything, so it’s laughably simple to line the monsters up for flanking. Most player groups have at most three or maybe four fighters who don’t start crying in melee combat. I can throw twelve creatures on the field and totally surround a character on a grid map with creatures to spare. I attack with advantage so often, in my head I started calling it attacking, disadvantage, and why bother?
Lennon: The next optional rule the KDM has here is “Proficiency Dice.” With this variant, instead of a flat bonus whenever proficiency is applied, characters roll a die. The type of die is based on the level and equivalent proficiency. So instead of having a +3 proficiency bonus at level 6, characters instead roll an extra d6 and add it to any attacks and skill checks. The dungeon master’s guide says this can add more randomness and excitement to the game.
Killer DM: Yes, and if I didn’t know better I’d assume I wrote this myself. It may add more randomness but the major effect of this is to hamstring the players. The key is in the last little note at the bottom of the entry on page 263 where it says monsters don’t do this. So while the players are all rolling dice with their proficiency hoping they don’t roll a 1, the monsters still have their unchanging number bonuses. I’m sure if I had Ostron do math things he’d tell you it ends up worse for the players in the end.
Ostron: Well…maybe, but not by a lot?
Killer DM: Read the sheet, don’t offer commentary. I’ve got a relative on dialysis
Lennon: Who’s that then?
Killer DM: I’m sure I could find someone
Ostron: The next suggestion the KDM has is for using the optional healing rules on page 267. In this variation of the rules, other than magical healing or potions of healing, the only way the characters can regain hit points is to use their hit dice. Characters don’t regain their full hit points after a long rest; they only regain their hit *dice*.
Killer DM: I don’t always use this one because I sometimes feel bad for the clerics. If you thought people were badgering them about healing *before*…
Lennon: Next on the KDM’s list is “Side Initiative” from DMG page 270. In this one, individual initiatives are tossed out and each side simply rolls a d20. Whoever has the higher roll, all the creatures on that side go at once, followed by the others. Hey, that seems like it would let the players coordinate and cooperate more, that doesn’t seem to be following your theme here.
Killer DM: Look at the part of the text I highlighted.
Lennon: Ah. To quote the DMG “This variant makes your life as a DM easier.” Right, that clears that up then.
Ostron: Now the KDM wants to talk about injuries….
Killer DM: Oh stop flinching and read, I meant the rules, not anything I may or may not be thinking about doing to you.
Ostron: Okay. Page 272 has a table to roll on that inflicts “Lingering Injuries.” It suggests that these effects can be triggered by dropping to 0 hit points or failing a death save by 5 or more, or even just taking a critical hit. The affected character rolls a d20 and the result is some sort of permanent injury their character now has, most of which come with some sort of mechanical penalty, like acquiring a limp that reduces speed by 5 feet, or getting an internal injury that forces you to make a saving throw before taking an action in combat.
Killer DM: I like to pull this one out when players are getting too cavalier about dropping to zero hit points. (mocking) “Oh Ostron’s math says I’m more likely to pass than fail the death saves, and someone can just medicine check me or heal me”. Yes, dear, wonderful, but now you’ve lost a limb. I hope you weren’t too attached to that greatsword, because your arm wasn’t!
Lennon: Lastly, we have massive damage. This is similar to the Injury table and can be found on the next page, and it makes combat even scarier, especially at lower levels. At any point if a creature takes more than half of its total HP in damage from a single hit, they have to pass a DC 15 Constitution save. If they fail, they roll a d10 and suffer some sort of penalty, up to and including immediately dropping to 0 hit points.
Killer DM: Yeah, little secret everyone; I don’t need the characters to be at lower levels to find ways to do that much damage. You just have to look for creatures with CRs in the double digits.
Ostron: Now, while it may seem like all of these rules are just around to make the Killer DM happy, there is a theme to most of them. The basic rules in D&D are designed to keep the players alive most of the time, and at times it can feel like there’s no risk. Some DMs and players want there to be serious consequences that have to be considered when characters are injured or seriously wounded, and they want some acknowledgement in the rules that if someone is very well trained they might perform better than average but they’re still going to mess up, and more often than just rolling a d20 might suggest.
Killer DM: Aww, it’s so nice you’re trying to find the positive angle here, but let’s be real. All of these things either make it easier for me to do my job, or it makes the players die faster…which means the games don’t last as long, and again that means my job is easier. These people who have eight hour campaign sessions? Pah. My players are lucky if they last more than two. So any of you that want to still play D&D but maybe get to bed before reasonable people are asleep already, try some of these out.
Lennon: Well it’s always just such a…joy to have you around killer DM.
Killer DM: I’m so glad you think so. Now, when’s Easter?
Lennon: Umm…when *is* that?
Ostron: Well it’s the first Sunday after the first full moon afte-
Killer DM: Oh wow you are still boring, it’s amazing. And you know what? I forgot about valentine’s day!
Lennon: What could you possibly like about valentines day?
Killer DM: Wouldn’t you like to know? Ta ta!
Ostron: She’s going to be gone by the time we get to the scrying pool, right?
Lennon: She usually is but there’s always that knot of fear in my stomach.