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Treacherous Traits

Treacherous Traits

Four entries in one month! Continuing the Blog Carnival theme of Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot, I now look at Traits which might be useful to conniving backstabbers of various sorts. I like Traits. I introduced a concept I called “Lesser Feats” for a D20 book which sadly didn’t go to press due to the D20 implosion. Traits are pretty much the same thing. They address what I consider one of the worst aspects of feats, the one-size-fits-all mentality, when it’s patently obvious that feats vary considerably in utility. Many are nifty concepts that add unique flavor to characters, but they can’t “compete” with those that provide general benefits that affect play many times per session.

Anyway, with the focus on being sneaky, underhanded, and duplicitous, here’s an assortment of additional Traits. I am designing these with the idea that Traits need not be selected only at 1st level, as there’s a feat which allows you to pick 2 Traits later on. Thus, some of these Traits might be more useful to higher level characters, or reflect training/knowledge/etc. gained in adventuring life.

Combat Traits

Bad Medicine

You did all you could, but you just couldn’t save him…

When you make a Heal check to stabilize someone, you may instead choose to take full-round action and perform a coup de grace, doing 1d3 damage, +1 per rank in Heal. Make a Bluff check, opposed by the Heal (not Perception) checks of any witnesses, to avoid being noticed. You must have at least 1 rank in Heal, or your actions will be too obvious.

Some GMs may feel this is simply a creative trick anyone with the right skills could try. If so, this Trait instead gives you a +4 Trait bonus on the Bluff check, and increases the base damage to 2d4.

Deep Wounds

When you take them down, they don’t get back up.

Whenever your melee attacks reduce someone to fewer than 0 hit points, but do not kill them outright, they have a -3 modifier to all checks to stabilize. This applies to any Heal checks made to help them stabilize, as well.

Iocane Immunity

You have gained a resistance to certain poisons.

Pick a number of poisons equal to 1+your Constitution modifier. You have a +2 Trait bonus on all saving throws vs. those poisons, and if you fail your save, any ability damage is reduced by 1. You may take this Trait up to three times, picking additional poisons each time. If your Constitution modifier changes, adjust the number of poisons appropriately. (The GM may rule some poisons are not permitted, or that your character would not have had access to them.)

Equipment Traits

Harmless Trophy

The rusty, dull, dagger you carry is a souvenir of an ancient battle, and useless as a weapon.

You gain a +4 Trait bonus to Bluff or Disguise checks (as appropriate to the situation) to make a weapon seem as if it has the broken condition, or is otherwise harmless — for example, appearing to be securely peacebound when it is not, or has a razor edge covered with a thin strip of metal to make it appear dull.

Magic Traits

Fading Magic

You leave behind little trace of any spells you may have cast.

Magic cast by you leaves a weaker aura behind. When checking for how long an effect lingers, reduce the die roll by half your Intelligence bonus (minimum 1). If this results in a value of 0, treat it as a roll of 1, but of the next lowest strength level (so moderate becomes faint).


Once you know something about someone, you can shape your magic to suit their nature.

If you have spent at least a few minutes talking to someone, your Enchantment (Charm) and Illusion (Phantasm) spells are more effective against them. They suffer a -1 penalty to saving throws against such spells. If you know them well (At least several days acquaintance, at the GM’s discretion), this increases to -2.


You always know when someone’s watching.

You may add your Intelligence bonus to any Perception checks to notice if someone is using magical divination against you. Any spells you cast which are intended to counter or fool divination spells (such as obscure object or nondetection) are cast at +1 caster level.

Religion Traits

Plane Dealer

You have an instinctive grasp of the nature of creatures from other realms.

When dealing with Outsiders, you gain a +2 Trait bonus to Diplomacy or Sense Motive checks. This increases to +3 if they share your alignment.

Social Traits

Card Sharp

Those who gamble with you might think you have the devil’s own luck, but you are leaving nothing to chance.

You have a +4 trait bonus to Sleight of Hand checks when cheating at games of chance. This applies to any game where you can physically manipulate the components — dice, cards, playing pieces (even chessmen). It doesn’t apply to situations where you can’t do this (such as betting on a horserace). The GM will judge if you’re able to apply this trait in a given set of circumstances.

Learned Liar

It always helps to salt a lie with a little truth.

Choose a Knowledge skill. If you have four or more ranks in that skill, you gain a +2 Trait bonus on any Bluff or Disguise check that relies at least in part on that area of learning. For example, four or more ranks in Knowledge (Nobility) can give you a +2 Trait bonus on lies involving local lords, or when disguised as a member of a royal household. You can take this trait multiple times. It applies to a new area of learning each time.

Flaws In The Tale

You quickly spot inconsistencies in someone’s story.

You may use your Intelligence bonus, rather than your Wisdom bonus, when making Sense Motive checks to counter a Bluff check. This does not apply to feint attempts, but only to conversations or other situations where a keen intellect might come into play.

Shield of Fearsome Mien

Shield Of Fearsome Mien

Ah, thank you, Mr. Gygax, for the massive expansion to my vocabulary.

It is not entirely known who first crafted the shield of fearsome mien. There are references to items of this nature dating back a few hundred years, at least, but all of them tend to reference it in such a way as to imply the intended audience would be at least familiar with them, indicating the origin was much earlier. In any event, many of them have been made, as they find favor with those warriors who enjoy discomfiting their foes, which is most of them.

Aura faint necromancy; CL 5th; Weight —; Price 8,000 gp

shield of fearsome mien is always a +2 shield, though it may be a buckler, a kite shield, or any other form. Generally, the surface is smooth and featureless, with a tracing of runes and symbols along the outer edge. It is always cool to the touch, regardless of the local weather, though this provides no particular bonus against fire or heat.

The power of a shield of fearsome mien is activated when the wielder either confirms a critical or strikes a lethal blow with a melee weapon. The image of this grisly scene is then captured by the shield and continuously plays across it, from a variety of angles and distances, over and over. This continues for the next 24 hours (the ‘clock’ resets each time a critical or killing blow is struck). When the shield is ‘active’, any enemy who enters a square that the shieldbearer threatens must make a DC 15 Will save or become shaken for 1d4 rounds. (This is a mind-effecting, emotion, fear, effect.) Anyone making the save is immune to the shield’s effects for one day, unless another critical or deadly blow is struck; then such immunity is lost.Likewise, once the shaken effect expires on an individual, they cannot be affected a second time that day.

Only the person who struck the blow which empowered the shield can benefit from the shield’s magic; if it is wielded in battle by another, the ‘charge’ is lost until that wielder also makes an appropriate attack.

Craft Magic Arms And Armor, cause fear; Cost 4,000 gp

D&D 5e: Hit Points

Another in my highly irregular series of “crap I wrote on WOTC’s board that I’m reposting here in order to pretend I have content”.

OK, first of all, you need to read this, which is Mike Mearls’ take on hit points in 5e. Not “D&D Next”. Please. “5e”.

So here’s what I wrote in reply:

Mrrrm…. I sort of like the concept, but I have a few issues. First, while it’s mostly a matter of narrative, we’ve always tended to describe injuries as dramatically increasing in severity as we approach 0 hit points, not “He’s a little battered” right up until he goes negative. Sure, that’s a matter of habit and custom and 35 years of DMing, but it’s a hard habit to break. :)  Perhaps more importantly, if you define hit points this way, then how does a DM narrate, say, an impaling attack that causes someone to be pinned? (Many 4e powers do this, as do many 3e special abilities.) Acid, cold, fire, lightning… it’s going to be hard to narrate all of those convincingly as just scratches and dings.

Second, I think 5e’s design is too concerned with pick up games and one-off games and small party games. Making this kind of healing a module is a fine idea; making it core is more problematic.

Third, I suppose I’ll have to see the mechanics, but how do healing skills help with this? Does a ranger who knows “healing herbs and poultices” give a bonus to his allies, for instance, or a wizard who has studied anatomy?

If hit dice represent mundane healing, will mundane factors (no bandages, filthy conditions, etc) reduce this capacity? Probably not for everyone, but it would be a good optional rule for gritty games where resource management counts.

I think you can do a lot of mechanical tricks with the “hit dice” concept, which is a bonus.

I’d like to keep “bloodied” in as a conditional modifier. It’s a good idea and one of the “Top 10″ innovations from 4e, IMO. It’s even migrated to our PF campaign. It has no mechanical effect there, but a player will call out “bloodied!” to let us know he’s wounded (well, his character is. Usually his character. Almost always.), or the DM will use it to let us know we’ve finally managed to really hurt the monster. (To a chorus of “What, you mean we JUST bloodied it?”)

I also wrote this, a little later:

I suppose I should ask this… if the system is designed so that you can expect to survive fights without an in-combat healer (cleric, warlord, druid, bard), then, what is the benefit to having them? They will have to be designed so that their healing abilities represent part of their “value”, but if that value is not needed due to how encounters are expected to be designed, then, they’re going to be underpowered in their secondary role. Further, if you argue that “Well, it’s a lot EASIER with a cleric”, that’s fine, but then how do you design an adventure which can “work” with both magical and non-magical healing? (By this I mean, “If you have magical healing, you won’t need to rest for a day after 2 fights, so we can set up the scenario to occur in a shorter span of time. If you don’t have magical healing, you’ll most likely need to camp after the first two encounters, which means the orc shaman has time to summon Cthulhu while you’re napping.”)

This latter one might need some expansion here (see! Real content!), to be more clear, and because I never say in a hundred words what I can say in a thousand. Or more. If “healing after the fight” and “no need for a cleric” (which, at this stage of the playtest, means “no need for a healer”, as only the four core classes are being developed, so please don’t get nitpicky and say “Oh, but not needing a cleric doesn’t mean you don’t need a healer at all”, because, right now, at this point, at the stage the game is currently at, the only healers are clerics) are core mechanical concepts, this implies that basic fight design is going to assume you can survive to heal after the fight without a cleric. The “standard, balanced” encounter will not require in-combat healing to survive.

Which means:

a)Those parts of a cleric’s design which are devoted to healing are not needed by the basic game design; those parts which aren’t are, by definition, secondary. That is, if we want to say a cleric is “Half healing, half melee”, then, if the healing isn’t actually needed to survive a fight, then you’ve got half a fighter when you could have a whole fighter, or a whole wizard, or whatever.


b)Healing without magic is time consuming and limited; your total daily fighting capacity is much less. This is strongly implied by the article, and I guess we’ll know for sure in three days. (Why they’re being so coy when the playtest is public and three days away, I don’t know. Just tell us the actual mechanics you’re using, dammit!) I do not object to this at all; it’s a very good way to distinguish between magical and non magical healing. But… this means that a party with a cleric might be able to complete a particular task or quest in one day while a party without one will not, which means any adventure designed without exact foreknowledge of what the party makeup will be risks being either too easy (you build it for a non-cleric party) or too hard (the party has to battle several times to get to the end goal, which is going to happen at a specific time; if they nap in between, they miss it.)

I should note a pretty good answer to ‘b’ is “Well, then the party better find a clever way to avoid some of those encounters” or “The DM should change the adventure!”, and that’s fine for a lot of cases. It’s problematic in any kind of structured play, where you don’t want DM subjectivity giving one group an easy out because he like their cunning plan, while another DM thinks their cunning plan is Baldric-quality and doesn’t let it work.

Further, it’s emblematic of a common thread I see running through a lot of Mike’s pronouncements, the idea that the game will run the same no matter what rules modules you’re using, and, frankly, given how smart Mike is, and what a good designer he is (and those two statements were not sarcasm, irony, or any such thing; I mean them absolutely and sincerely), I’m really finding it hard to understand how he can think this. He knows, he knows very, very, well, how much subtle changes to rules change how the game is played. A feat, power, skill, or spell can become overpowered, or useless, based on which modules might be used. Changing how often characters can recover resources changes how much they can do in an in-game day, which changes how the DM has to structure events. Even in a sandbox game with as much player freedom as possible, the amount of “stuff” a character can do before needing to turn in for the night greatly impacts how you design the sandbox, how far you can expect players to explore, how clever they need to be to exceed the expected limits. In a more structure adventure, it becomes even more important to have solid expectations of what you can do.

FantasyCraft has options and dials you can set for an adventure, or for a campaign, and these have a mechanical impact that ripples through the system. Dials that make things easier for players increase the resources the GM has to build encounters, and vice-versa. I’ve not seen a hint that 5e intends to do this, though it’s so early in the process I might be making false assumptions. Nonetheless, the message from Mike’s posts is “Everyone gets to play the D&D they want to play, all at the same time, and it all works!” is the design goal — and I frankly can’t see that being possible. A modular system is great, but then you need to have tools to adjust and tweak each encounter, NPC, etc, to be balanced with the modules you’re using — not at all impossible, but counter to the “Sit down, open the box, and just PLAY!, dammit!” design goal.

I’ll probably have a lot to say in three days…which means I’ll get around to saying it in thirty or forty.


Ah, disease. One of the hallmarks of the medieval world, and, in a fantasy world, you can have all sorts of nasty plagues and poxes. This article contains an assortment of (I hope) imaginative and interesting infections with which to make your PCs regret ever saying “Ritual Caster? Feh! Why would we waste a feat on that? We want more dakka!”

Some of these diseases are listed with fixed levels, though it ought to be extremely trivial to raise or lower the level as needed. Some suggestions for making them nastier at higher levels are included.

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