Month: May 2015

Fleshing Out Language Proficiencies in 5th Edition D&D

I recently wrote up my houserules for giving the Medicine skill a little more depth and utility.  When push came to shove, I scaled back some of the “crunchy” benefits I had incorporated because the changes didn’t feel right to me in light of 5th edition’s streamlined rules.   At the same time I wanted to stress the use of Medicine in diagnosing and treating long-term illnesses and poisoned creatures without adding unneeded complexity.

With that in mind I got thinking about ways to expand upon the uses of other skills and proficiencies in 5th edition.  Today’s proficiency:


According to the Player’s Handbook, your character can speak, read, and write certain languages “by virtue of their race”.  In addition characters may gain languages from their class choice (i.e. bards know additional languages, druids speak Druidic, and rogues speak Thieves’ Cant) and/or from class archetypes (knowledge domain clerics are learned and, as such, gain additional languages).  Finally, both backgrounds and some feats grant added languages.

But what does knowing a language mean beyond understanding its spoken and written words?  Here are some insights from the Player’s Handbook:

  • Draconic is thought to be one of the oldest languages and is often used in the study of magic.
  • Elven literature is rich and varied, and their songs and poems are famous among other races. Many bards learn their language so they can add Elvish ballads to their repertoires.
  • Humans typically learn the languages of other peoples they deal with, including obscure dialects. They are fond of sprinkling their speech with words borrowed from other tongues: Orc curses, Elvish musical expressions, Dwarvish military phrases, and so on.
  • The Gnomish language, which uses the Dwarvish script, is renowned for its technical treatises and its catalogs of knowledge about the natural world.

As such, it’s pretty clear that knowing languages should impart a character with insights into that race’s cultural and social mores, history, idioms (phrases that have both a literal and figurative meaning), works of literature and music, and generally provide give an inkling of that race’s outlook on life.  Speaking elven, for example, should allow that speaker to know a bit of their history, to be familiar with passages from elven works of literature, to be able to know some elven poems and songs, and better understand the elven people.

Also, HOW the character came to know the language should be factored into the equation.  Did a character who speaks Elven live among the elves for years, did an elven friend or paramour teach them, was it learned in a college of magic or bardic college, or did the character pore over tomes in order to teach themselves the tongue?

When considering Intelligence-based skills, I try to consider which languages could relate to them.  For example, I try to remember which characters speak Elven and Draconic (and, sometimes, other languages… such as Gnomish) when magical texts are found because those texts will often be written, at least in part, in those tongues.  When that’s the case, the character will gain advantage on their Arcana roll.   At the same, I would grant disadvantage on a History check when the check involves a race whose language a character isn’t fluent in.

Use of Charisma-based skills would also benefit.  For example, a character who speaks Orc would know when to use Intimidation and when to use Persuasion (or Deception) when parlaying with a band of orcs.  Likewise, a character who speaks Dwarven very possibly had extensive dealing with the dwarves (who don’t just teach their language to anyone), and would know how best to address a dwarven lord or haggle with a merchant.  Not speaking a race’s language could grant disadvantage when dealing with members of that race… depending on the circumstances.  While Common would allow for communication between a human and dwarf, things would go more smoothly if the human spoke dwarven (which would impart some degree of dwarven etiquette).


Fixing the Medicine Skill, Healer’s Kit, and Healer Feat (D&D 5th Edition) – Updated on 5/29

Reading the PHB, it’s pretty clear that the Medicine skill does nothing to aid in the treatment of wounds, ailments, or diseases.  As written, it only allows for stabilizing dying creatures and for diagnosing illnesses.

Here are my slight changes to Medicine (and associated changes to the healer’s kit and Healer feat):


Medicine.  A Wisdom (Medicine) check lets you try to stabilize a dying companion, evaluate others wounds, diagnose illnesses, treat poisoned or diseased creatures, and examine corpses in order determine the cause of death.

With a successful Wisdom (Medicine) check you can stabilize a dying character at 0 hit points.

Medicine may also be used to provide long-term care to poisoned or diseased creatures.  When a poisoned or diseased creature is cared for by someone proficient in the Medicine skill, they make their recuperation saving throws (see Downtime: Recuperating on page 187 of the Player’s Handbook) with advantage.


Healer’s Kit.  This kit is a leather pouch containing bandages, salves, and splints. The kit has ten uses. As an action, you can expend one use of the kit to stabilize a creature that has 0 hit points, without needing to make a Wisdom (Medicine) check.

If you expend one use of a healer’s kit to treat a poisoned or diseased creature, they make their recuperation saving throw (see Downtime: Recuperating on page 187 of the Player’s Handbook) with advantage.


Healer.  You are an able physician, allowing you to mend wounds quickly and get your allies back in the fight. You gain the following benefits:

  • You have advantage on all Wisdom (Medicine) checks.
  • When you use a healer’s kit to stabilize a dying creature, that creature also regains 1d6+4 hit points.
  • As an action, you can spend one use of a healer’s kit to tend to a creature and restore 1d6 + 4 hit points to it, plus additional hit points equal to the creature’s maximum number of Hit Dice. The creature can’t regain hit points from this feat again until it finishes a short or long rest.


Recuperating.  You can use downtime between adventures to recover from a debilitating injury, disease, or poison.  After three days of downtime spent recuperating, you can make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw.  If you are treated by someone proficient in the Medicine skills, you have advantage on this saving throw.  On a successful save, you can choose one of the following results:

  • End one effect on you that prevents you from regaining hit points.
  • For the next 24 hours, gain advantage on saving throws against one disease or poison currently affecting you.

Summer Gaming Lull

Now that summer is unofficially upon us, I’ll be glad to be getting in more time lounging poolside and enjoying the outdoors in general.  At the same time, summer is usually my worst season for gaming these days.  That’s in stark contrast to how things were when I was a kid, when summers meant we gamed a few times per week… and had overnight gaming sessions at least twice per month.

Between the various weekend plans my group’s members make and our collective vacation getaways, we typically wind up playing no more than a few times per month…  which puts a damper on any RPGs that we’re playing.  I, for one, feel like a game loses momentum if it isn’t played at least twice per month.

If only I could figure out a way to get my gaming groups to play while in the pool!

Historical Maps for Pendragon

As I noted previously, I prefer to start Pendragon games in the late 5th century… either during Aurelius Ambrosius’s campaign to unseat Vortigern or during the reign of Uther.  In doing so I like to use older maps of Britain, particularly those that show the Roman settlements and roads, along with the tribal divisions of the island.

The reason I focus on the Roman and tribal elements is that the native Britons would have strong ties to their tribes, and would primarily identify as members of those tribal groups.  In fact, a recent study shows that Britons still live roughly in the same areas they did in the 6th century!  At the same time, the Romans occupied Britain to some extent from 43 AD until 410 AD.  During that time, their roads, settlements, fortifications, trade arrangements, and tribal relations surely made a huge impact upon the people and landscape of Britain.

The Votadini tribe, for example, lived under the direct rule of Rome between Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall from 138-162 AD. When the Romans withdrew behind Hadrian’s Wall in 164 AD, they left the Votadini as a client kingdom, a buffer zone against the Picts in the north. They maintained client status until the Romans pulled out of Britain in 410 AD. Through a series of linguistic changes, the Votadini became known as the Gododdin, and maintained a kingdom until their defeat by the Angles c.600 AD.

Here are some of those maps:




Vision & Light (D&D 5th Edition Houserule)

Here’s my slightly tweaked take on lighting conditions in 5th edition.  This houserule reduces the effects of less-than-optimal lighting, having darkness penalties apply only in pitch black conditions.



The most fundamental tasks of adventuring – noticing danger, finding hidden objects, hitting an enemy in combat, and targeting a spell, to name just a few – rely heavily on a character’s ability to see. Darkness and other effects that obscure vision can prove a significant hindrance.  A given area might be lightly or heavily obscured.

In a lightly obscured area, such as dim light, patchy fog, or moderate foliage, creatures have disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight.

A heavily obscured area – such as darkness, opaque fog, or dense foliage – blocks vision entirely. A creature in a heavily obscured area effectively suffers from the blinded condition (see appendix A).

The presence or absence of light in an environment creates three categories of illumination: bright light, dim light, and darkness.

  • Bright light lets most creatures see normally. Even gloomy days provide bright light, as do torches, lanterns, fires, and other sources of illumination within a specific radius. The soft light of twilight and dawn also counts as bright light. A particularly brilliant full moon might bathe the land in bright light.
  • Dim light, also called deep shadow, creates a lightly obscured area. An area of dim light is usually a boundary between a source of bright light, such as a torch, and surrounding darkness. Characters face dim light outdoors on most moonlit nights or indoors when embers in a fireplace or moonlight through a window provide some light to see by.
  • Darkness, also called complete darkness or pitch-black, creates a heavily obscured area. Characters face darkness outdoors on a moonless night, within the confines of an unlit dungeon or a subterranean vault, or in an area of magical darkness.

Lingering Wounds for 5th Edition D&D

As much as I’m digging 5th edition, the ability to completely heal all damage with a long rest doesn’t sit well with me.  Here’s a simple method that allows for lingering wound effects without bogging down the game.  It has the added benefit of giving new options for recovering from exhaustion effects (which is especially useful for berserker barbarians using the frenzy ability).


This optional rule allows for lingering wounds while keeping hit point recovery as is. To keep things abstract and simple, creatures take 1 level of exhaustion when they suffer a critical hit (instead of suffering increased damage) or drop to 0 hp. To offset the exhaustion effects associated with wound levels, cure wounds and restoration spells would remove exhaustion effects in addition to their curative effects. Cure wounds removes one level of exhaustion. Lesser restoration now removes up to two levels of exhaustion and greater restoration removes all levels of exhaustion.


Some special abilities and environmental hazards, such as starvation and the long-term effects of freezing or scorching temperatures, can lead to a special condition called exhaustion. Exhaustion is measured in six levels. An effect can give a creature one or more levels of exhaustion, as specified in the effect’s description.

Level 1: Disadvantage on ability checks

Level 2:   Speed halved

Level 3:  Disadvantage on attack rolls and saving throws

Level 4:  Hit point maximum halved

Level 5:  Speed reduced to 0

Level 6: Death

If an already exhausted creature suffers another effect that causes exhaustion, its current level of exhaustion increases by the amount specified in the effect’s description. A creature suffers the effect of its current level of exhaustion as well as all lower levels. For example, a creature suffering level 2 exhaustion has its speed halved and has disadvantage on ability checks. An effect that removes exhaustion reduces its level as specified in the effect’s description, with all exhaustion effects ending if a creature’s exhaustion level is reduced below 1. Finishing a long rest reduces a creature’s exhaustion level by 1, provided that the creature has also ingested some food and drink.

Stealing from 5th Edition D&D for 5th Edition Pendragon

One of my pet peeves with Pendragon is its use of reflexive modifiers on opposed checks.

If a mounted lance-wielder attacked a dagger-armed man on foot, the mounted man would receive a +5 modifier to his Lance skill for being mounted, while the man on foot would suffer a –5 modifier to his Dagger skill for the disadvantage of such a tiny weapon against a lance in this situation.

Rather than applying such modifiers (which stack things heavily in favor of one combatant) I’d like to use a modified form of 5th Edition D&D’s advantage rules:

Sometimes circumstances dictate that you are at an advantage when making a d20 check. When that happens, you roll a second d20 when you make the roll and use the more advantageous die roll.  Examples of circumstances that grant advantage include:

  • Hunting with hunting dogs
  • Finding one’s way in local woodlands
  • Attacking a foot soldier from horseback
  • Attacking an unaware foe
  • Sneaking up on a distracted guard
  • Making a trait check when circumstances favor that trait heavily

Advantage can apply to both opposed and unopposed checks and, in instances where multiple variables are at play, consider if the overall circumstances are clearly favorable to the individual making the d20 check. 

Inspired characters gain advantage on their chosen d20 check.  In instances where both parties have some form of advantage (i.e. inspired Saxon berserker attacking a mounted knight), the advantages cancel each other out so that both parties make normal d20 rolls.  

A combatant using the “uncontrolled attack” option (which used to be called “berserker attack” in older editions of Pendragon) gains advantage on their d20 weapon skill roll.  Likewise, a combatant using the “defense” option gains advantage on their d20 weapon skill roll but cannot deal damage.  As such, the advantage gained through an “uncontrolled attack” would be negated by an opponent choosing “defense”. 


Disadvantage only applies to unopposed d20 checks when you are clearly at a disadvantage.  In such situations, roll a second d20 when you make the roll and use the less advantageous die roll.  Examples of circumstances that grant disadvantage include:

  • Finding ones’ way in a mist-shrouded forest
  • Attacking a heavily concealed foe with a ranged weapon
  • Climbing a wall in chain or plate armor

Disadvantage does not apply to opposed checks because, in such instances that favored one individual over another, the favored individual would gain advantage on their d20 roll.  

Examples:  A bear being hunted by a drunken knight would have advantage on its avoidance roll against the knight’s hunting roll.  Also, an alert guard would have advantage on his awareness skill check when rolling against a fully armored knight sneaking towards him.  If that guard were distracted, however, neither roll would have the advantage.