This article was first broadcast in Episode Fifty-Six on 9th January 2019.
Ryu: Ugh, again with this. I swear these players are one session away from dealing with Kay-Dee full time
Lennon: Players giving you lip?
Ryu: Not…exactly, but they keep diving into situations without thinking, nearly die, and then complain about it afterward.
Ostron: Now, this might be an atypical response, but why don’t you let them?
Ryu: Because it’s not working?
Ostron: Well yes, but it can work; you just have to pull out some extra rules.
Ostron: As we’ve mentioned previously, the Dungeon Master’s Guide has a lot of optional rules in it that can slightly or drastically alter the feel and mechanics of a game you’re running. Kay-Dee
Ryu: Yeah, she’s kind of…sensitive about who uses that name
Ostron: Okay well the KDM already told us about some ways to make games potentially more challenging, we’ve covered adding madness and sanity as features, now we’re going to show you how you can turn your players into superheroes.
One of the criticisms some people had about 4th edition is that the players seemed like demigods a lot of the time. Since that’s what we’re actually *trying* to do here, it makes sense that one of the things we would change is bringing back a 4th edition mechanic.
Healing Surges are described on page 266 of the DMG and allow any character to regain hit points themselves, no matter what class they are. They spend an action and can then use up to half of their hit dice to regain hit points just as they would during a short rest. They can only use this healing surge once and then must take a long rest before they can do it again. They also regain hit dice during a short rest equal to their level divided by four, but always regain at least one. They still regain all of their hit dice during a long rest.
Another point that can frustrate players looking for an epic feel is when they unleash a devastating critical hit and pile huge amounts of damage on a creature with one or two hit points left. Page 272 has a solution, though only for melee attackers.
Using the “Cleaving through Creatures” optional rule, if a player kills a creature with a hit and there is both leftover damage and another creature within reach of the player’s attack, they can designate that creature. If their original attack roll is still enough to hit the new target, any leftover damage is done to the new target.
Almost every DM can describe a time when they threw a huge or larger creature at their players and someone in the party (usually whoever has most recently watched Return of the King) asks “can I get on top of it?”
Well, thanks to Page 271 of the DMG, you can answer “yes”. First of all, the creature being climbed onto must be larger than the climber. Beyond that, the DMG offers two different options for implementing this. The first is to simply make it a grapple check, though the book admits that because of the Strength statistic usually granted to large beasts, this has little chance of success
The other way to do it is to treat the creature as terrain of similar size. Once the character has succeeded on whatever skill check is required to ascend the terrain (probably Athletics or Acrobatics), the smaller creature makes an Athletics or Acrobatics check contested by the creature’s Acrobatics check. If the character wins, they have successfully climbed onto the creature. How that works from then on is largely up to the DM, but the book has a few suggestions about what behavior and checks might make sense.
This next rule is helpful if players are often lamenting the fact they have a bunch of cool high level abilities but can only use them on rare occasions, or have to save them up in expectation of a larger boss.
On page 267, under “rest variants” the DMG has an entry titled “Epic Heroism.” Under this modification, short rests only take 5 minutes, and long rests only require an hour. This means the characters are going to be regaining health basically whenever they want, and very often a lot of their higher level abilities are going to be ready at the drop of a hat. Hanging out for an hour in an infested cave isn’t reasonable, but nipping into a hidden crevice for a five minute breather is easy. Note this variant can also make things more entertaining for you as a DM; you don’t have to worry as much about piling on with the more difficult opponents, since the characters will be a lot more durable.
The last trick to give the characters an edge toward ultimate power is on page 264. “Hero Points” are granted at the beginning of each level. Each character starts with 5. They get 5 back whenever they gain a level, but “use it or lose it” applies; you can’t carry points over from level to level. That said, characters also gain extra points equal to half of their current level, rounded down as always. So by third level they’re getting 6 points, and by tenth level they’re getting 10.
The points can be spent like Bardic Inspiration dice: they grant a d6 that can be added to any attack roll, ability check, or saving throw. The point has to be spent before the result of the roll is revealed, but can be added after the roll is made. So if you’ve got a cleric that just burned a 3rd level spell slot on Inflict Wounds and their d20 roll was a 3, they can spend the hero point to add extra totals onto that and maybe avoid wasting the spell slot.
Also, and possibly more significant, if a character is at 0 hit points and making death saving throws and they fail one, they can spend a hero point to turn it into a success, meaning the characters are almost immune to death until they run out of hero points.
There are a few other things in the DMG that might tip the scales slightly more in the players’ favor, but these are the biggies; adding any one of them into the game is likely to provide opportunities for some epic story moments coming out of combats. If you add more than one or all of them in, even players who guard their characters’ lives like a beloved pet are going to be standing at the front of the party saying “damn the Troglodytes, dash action into the dungeon!”
Ryu: Well, it’s definitely another option. Let me just go over this on paper once more…
Ostron: *whispering* Lennon, I I’ve got the hat; I’ll find a hiding spot, then meet you over at the scrying pool