dnd 5e – In a low-combat campaign, most PC abilities seem useless; what few fights there are barely use up resources. How do I deal with this as the DM?

This isn’t an uncommon problem, and there are techniques for dealing with it.

I could’ve written this post, a couple years ago. I learned at session 0 that everyone wanted less combat and more intrigue, and had to make that style fit for 5e D&D. As such, everything I suggest below are techniques that I’ve discovered through long-term play of a combat-light D&D5e campaign (about 3 years running, at this point, with characters at 11th level).

“My character sheet is mostly useless!”

Remember that a class is more than the set of bonuses you get. Every class comes imbued with some flavor that gives the character hooks and knowledge outside of combat.

A fighter is a martial expert – someone with a deep understanding of tactics and strategy, and maybe one who the fellow party members look to when violence has already happened or may happen, to avoid a solution. A monk is usually part of an order – their path isn’t necessarily something they’ve discovered on their own. Tie them into an NPC group, especially a powerful or resourceful one. Warlocks create their own story hooks, via the existence of their patron, and most spellcasters have enough out-of-combat utility that they get to use a lot of their abilities on the regular. Give the rogue advantage to notice someone has a concealed knife, even if there’s no hard mechanic for it. If this isn’t enough, find reasons for the party to use their “abilities” outside of the rules. This will often require homebrew, but find something the characters are interested in, and tie it in to the game mechanicaly.

In short, bring out the flavor part of their classes and abilities, and make them matter.

Combats aren’t draining resources in a meaningful way

This is an easy trap to fall into. Once you realize you are only going to have one combat per adventuring day at best, you have to start changing the way you build fights. Throw out CR and the combat deadliness charts from the DMG (almost) entirely while using this advice.

Note that all of these solutions can cause a session or two to be very combat heavy. As long as this isn’t all the time, you’re still fulfilling your promise of lower combat, but verifying that the party is happy with the occasional extended bit of combat is a good idea.

The two major solutions I’ve used to great effect are the gauntlet, and the extended combat. both solutions somewhat hinge on time pressure to some extent. A third option provides an alternative for when you cannot provide pressure the same way. You can have all kinds of hooks for the time pressure, including ones that might make the out-of-combat intrigue easier or more interesting if the party beats a deadline. Tiered rewards based on completion time might cause the party to expend more resources faster in order to get the better “reward”. For example, the party discovers that Tim is going to destroy some evidence then perform a ritual that does “bad stuff”. If they go in guns blazing, they might be able to preserve the evidence while burning a bunch of resources, but if they go in a little safer, they might come out a bit safer, but at the cost of the evidence.

1: The Gauntlet

This is a whole adventuring day compressed down to a small period of time. The time pressure keeps the party from backing down and taking a rest. Tim the Enchanter will finish his ritual in 2 hours if the party doesn’t get through his dungeon and encounter him in his lair, and the party must fight through a small number of linked encounters in a mini-dungeon crawl to get to him, for example.

2: The Extended Combat

This is, in a sense, the same solution as the Gauntlet, but even more compressed. This could be something like a phased fight, with Tim the Enchanter standing behind a wall of force while his minions attempt to kill the party. After the party grinds through the minions, Tim summons more minions and joins the fray. After Tim takes serious damage, he transforms into his true demonic form, and fights the party one last time at “full power”, only after this is he defeated.

Do not build your combats with higher CR monsters, expecting the party’s resources to keep up. The higher tier monsters will just crush the party before they can expend enough resources to win. Instead, you want a slow release of monsters of a reasonable combat equivalence to the party. Draw out the resources over time during a longer combat.

3: The Inescapable Dungeon

My campaign world includes dungeons that the party can optionally enter that provide a reward at the end that hinges on the party completing the task in one go. These can be somewhat meta, if you aren’t careful, but the ancient magical ruins that can tell when someone has left and lock them out of rewards can provide a more traditional session or two that lets the combat-focused characters shine. These are something that got added to my world specifically to help solve the one encounter adventuring day problem, but they do require a spot in your world and a reason to exist.

Use Milestone Experience

This isn’t something you asked about, but I found it very important. Milestone experience helps you abstract advancement away from combat. With you running less combat, advancement will be unbearably slow, unless you stop tying combat to XP.

dnd 5e – In a low-combat campaign, most PC abilities (features, etc.) seem useless; what few fights there are barely use up resources. How do I deal with this?

This isn’t an uncommon problem, and there are techniques for dealing with it.

I could’ve written this post, a couple years ago. I learned at session 0 that everyone wanted less combat and more intrigue, and had to make that style fit for 5e D&D. As such, everything I suggest below are techniques that I’ve discovered through long-term play of a combat-light D&D5e campaign (about 3 years running, at this point, with characters at 11th level).

“My character sheet is mostly useless!”

Remember that a class is more than the set of bonuses you get. Every class comes imbued with some flavor that gives the character hooks and knowledge outside of combat.

A fighter is a martial expert – someone with a deep understanding of tactics and strategy, and maybe one who the fellow party members look to when violence has already happened or may happen, to avoid a solution. A monk is usually part of an order – their path isn’t necessarily something they’ve discovered on their own. Tie them into an NPC group, especially a powerful or resourceful one. Warlocks create their own story hooks, via the existence of their patron, and most spellcasters have enough out-of-combat utility that they get to use a lot of their abilities on the regular. Give the rogue advantage to notice someone has a concealed knife, even if there’s no hard mechanic for it. If this isn’t enough, find reasons for the party to use their “abilities” outside of the rules. This will often require homebrew, but find something the characters are interested in, and tie it in to the game mechanicaly.

In short, bring out the flavor part of their classes and abilities, and make them matter.

Combats aren’t draining resources in a meaningful way

This is an easy trap to fall into. Once you realize you are only going to have one combat per adventuring day at best, you have to start changing the way you build fights. Throw out CR and the combat deadliness charts from the DMG (almost) entirely while using this advice.

Note that all of these solutions can cause a session or two to be very combat heavy. As long as this isn’t all the time, you’re still fulfilling your promise of lower combat, but verifying that the party is happy with the occasional extended bit of combat is a good idea.

The two major solutions I’ve used to great effect are the gauntlet, and the extended combat. both solutions somewhat hinge on time pressure to some extent. A third option provides an alternative for when you cannot provide pressure the same way. You can have all kinds of hooks for the time pressure, including ones that might make the out-of-combat intrigue easier or more interesting if the party beats a deadline. Tiered rewards based on completion time might cause the party to expend more resources faster in order to get the better “reward”. For example, the party discovers that Tim is going to destroy some evidence then perform a ritual that does “bad stuff”. If they go in guns blazing, they might be able to preserve the evidence while burning a bunch of resources, but if they go in a little safer, they might come out a bit safer, but at the cost of the evidence.

1: The Gauntlet

This is a whole adventuring day compressed down to a small period of time. The time pressure keeps the party from backing down and taking a rest. Tim the Enchanter will finish his ritual in 2 hours if the party doesn’t get through his dungeon and encounter him in his lair, and the party must fight through a small number of linked encounters in a mini-dungeon crawl to get to him, for example.

2: The Extended Combat

This is, in a sense, the same solution as the Gauntlet, but even more compressed. This could be something like a phased fight, with Tim the Enchanter standing behind a wall of force while his minions attempt to kill the party. After the party grinds through the minions, Tim summons more minions and joins the fray. After Tim takes serious damage, he transforms into his true demonic form, and fights the party one last time at “full power”, only after this is he defeated.

Do not build your combats with higher CR monsters, expecting the party’s resources to keep up. The higher tier monsters will just crush the party before they can expend enough resources to win. Instead, you want a slow release of monsters of a reasonable combat equivalence to the party. Draw out the resources over time during a longer combat.

3: The Inescapable Dungeon

My campaign world includes dungeons that the party can optionally enter that provide a reward at the end that hinges on the party completing the task in one go. These can be somewhat meta, if you aren’t careful, but the ancient magical ruins that can tell when someone has left and lock them out of rewards can provide a more traditional session or two that lets the combat-focused characters shine. These are something that got added to my world specifically to help solve the one encounter adventuring day problem, but they do require a spot in your world and a reason to exist.

Use Milestone Experience

This isn’t something you asked about, but I found it very important. Milestone experience helps you abstract advancement away from combat. With you running less combat, advancement will be unbearably slow, unless you stop tying combat to XP.

dnd 5e – Does casting a spell from an item allow you to apply class abilities that are used when casting a spell?

As wax eagle’s answer states, it appears that since “you cast” the spell using the item, you can use any of your character’s abilities that can be used “when you cast a spell”.

DMG P. 141 lays out the rules for items that allow the user to cast spells from them:

Some magic items allow the user to cast a spell from the item. The spell is cast at the lowest possible spell level, doesn’t expend any of the user’s spell slots, and requires no components unless the item’s description says otherwise.

and a little further down:

A magic items, such as certain staffs, may require you to use your own spellcasting ability when you cast a spell from the item.

In both quotes it says that the user casts the spell — not that the use of the item triggers the casting of the spell or any other wording. Thus abilities that you can use “when you cast a spell” are usable — you are very clearly casting a spell. No ability I have found says “when you cast a spell from your daily spell slots” or “when you us the Cast a Spell action” or anything else that seem to explicitly restrict it from applying when you cast a spell from an item.

Mike Mearls posted a not very certain reply stating “believe it’s only when you cast from your slots”

Jeremy Crawford has tweeted that casting a spell from an item is neither a Use an Item action nor a Cast a Spell action. The DMG section (p.141) that was supposed to clarify this mentions only the Use an Item action, and remains silent on Cast a Spell.

Nonetheless, it is not clear that whether or not something is a Cast a Spell action is what determines whether or not you can apply class abilities to the casting. What type of action something is is used to determine under what circumstances you may take that action. None of the class abilities say anything about “When you use the Cast a Spell action…” — the abilities simply say “when you cast…” while being agnostic as to what kind of action (or item?) is used for the casting.

How we have been playing it is that if you are using an item that uses the user’s spellcasting ability (such as most staffs), it is just as if they are casting from slots, except that a slot (and components) are not required. In that case you can use any special spellcasting abilities, such as sculpting, metamagic, powering your Arcane Ward, etc. When you are using such an item, the use of your own spellcasting ability suggests that you are interacting more directly with the weave, and doing more to actually create/shape the spell. The item in this case “merely” allows you to do it without using spell slots and components (and helps cast it even if you wouldn’t otherwise know how), but doesn’t provide a fully-formed spell for you. You have to bring the spell into being with your own spellcasting ability.

On the other hand, if you are casting from an item that does not use the user’s spellcasting ability (such as most wands), we are treating it as if the spell is essentially stored in the item “pre-formed” (with a fixed DC, shape, etc.) and can’t be modified, and thus (contrary to what is written) the user isn’t really casting the spell for the purpose of using/triggering special spellcasting abilities (but rather it was the creator of the item who had cast the spell, and the user is just commanding it to go off at a selected time). Thus, the user’s special spellcasting abilities cannot be used.

dnd 5e – Does casting a spell from an item allow you to apply class abilities that are used when casting a spell?

As wax eagle’s answer states, it appears that since “you cast” the spell using the item, you can use any of your character’s abilities that can be used “when you cast a spell”.

DMG P. 141 lays out the rules for items that allow the user to cast spells from them:

Some magic items allow the user to cast a spell from the item. The spell is cast at the lowest possible spell level, doesn’t expend any of the user’s spell slots, and requires no components unless the item’s description says otherwise.

and a little further down:

A magic items, such as certain staffs, may require you to use your own spellcasting ability when you cast a spell from the item.

In both quotes it says that the user casts the spell — not that the use of the item triggers the casting of the spell or any other wording. Thus abilities that you can use “when you cast a spell” are usable — you are very clearly casting a spell. No ability I have found says “when you cast a spell from your daily spell slots” or “when you us the Cast a Spell action” or anything else that seem to explicitly restrict it from applying when you cast a spell from an item.

Mike Mearls posted a not very certain reply stating “believe it’s only when you cast from your slots”

Jeremy Crawford has tweeted that casting a spell from an item is neither a Use an Item action nor a Cast a Spell action. The DMG section (p.141) that was supposed to clarify this mentions only the Use an Item action, and remains silent on Cast a Spell.

Nonetheless, it is not clear that whether or not something is a Cast a Spell action is what determines whether or not you can apply class abilities to the casting. What type of action something is is used to determine under what circumstances you may take that action. None of the class abilities say anything about “When you use the Cast a Spell action…” — the abilities simply say “when you cast…” while being agnostic as to what kind of action (or item?) is used for the casting.

How we have been playing it is that if you are using an item that uses the user’s spellcasting ability (such as most staffs), it is just as if they are casting from slots, except that a slot (and components) are not required. In that case you can use any special spellcasting abilities, such as sculpting, metamagic, powering your Arcane Ward, etc. When you are using such an item, the use of your own spellcasting ability suggests that you are interacting more directly with the weave, and doing more to actually create/shape the spell. The item in this case “merely” allows you to do it without using spell slots and components (and helps cast it even if you wouldn’t otherwise know how), but doesn’t provide a fully-formed spell for you. You have to bring the spell into being with your own spellcasting ability.

On the other hand, if you are casting from an item that does not use the user’s spellcasting ability (such as most wands), we are treating it as if the spell is essentially stored in the item “pre-formed” (with a fixed DC, shape, etc.) and can’t be modified, and thus (contrary to what is written) the user isn’t really casting the spell for the purpose of using/triggering special spellcasting abilities (but rather it was the creator of the item who had cast the spell, and the user is just commanding it to go off at a selected time). Thus, the user’s special spellcasting abilities cannot be used.

dnd 5e – How does the Variant: Skills with Different Abilities rule affect the game?

The way you phrase your question suggests that you have a bit of a misunderstanding of two fundamental pieces of the 5e rules. They are very frequently misunderstood because they differ from other games and previous editions of D&D in subtle ways. Having them clarified should alleviate the worries you have concerning this variant.

First is the roles of the DM and the players. The introduction of the Player’s Handbook (which contains a surprising number of essential rules) explains “How to Play” D&D 5e as three steps.

  1. The DM describes the environment. This step is purely narrative and doesn’t usually involve any mechanics of the game such as checks, classes, DCs, or anything else from the rulebooks. The DM relays what the characters see, hear, smell, feel, and taste.
  2. The players describe what they want to do. For the players, this step begins as purely narrative, which is where I think your worries are addressed. By the rules, players do not ask for checks. Players describe what they want their characters to accomplish. The DM then decides if any dice rolls are needed, and if so, what kind. A player might, after the DM calls for an ability check, suggest a modification to the check, such as adding proficiency or applying a class feature, but it is clear in the rules that the DM is the one that starts that process, not the player.
  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions. After dice are rolled, if rolls were even asked for by the DM, the DM describes what happens as a result of the narrative course of action described by the players. This is also a narrative step for the most part, describing what, as a result of step 2, has changed in what the characters see, hear, smell, feel, and taste.

So how these rules differ from what you described in your question is that players never ask for an ability check. They can try to narrate what their character does in such a way as to suggest a certain ability check or request a change to what the DM has asked for, but it is always the DM that asks for checks.

Second is the nature of Ability Checks. D&D 5e is ability driven. Almost every single roll of a d20 is tied to an ability. When a DM decides that an action described by a player for their character has a meaningful chance for failure and calls for a die roll to decide the action’s success, the first and most important thing they decide is which of the 6 abilities are involved. Only after that is determined do things like the character’s proficiencies in skills, tools, or weapons come into play. Now, there are plenty of times that the choice of ability and what proficiencies apply is either so obvious or is explicitly defined by the rules that the DM often glosses over this step. Attack rolls and saving throws rarely require decisions in this matter and the DM can assume that the players are on exactly the same page as them and skip thinking or talking about it. The variant rule that is the subject of this question, however, brings this decision process to the forefront. Thinking about skills first then attaching an ability to it will lead to the delays and cheese that you’re worried about, while focusing on the ability, with proficiency with a relevant skill being a secondary add-on, will speed up decisions and encourage good role playing over cheese, especially when using this variant rule. A review of chapter 7 of the Player’s Handbook might help here.

Now, this is what the rules say, but the rules also encourage you to change them to suit your group. Maybe your players like asking for checks. Maybe what you consider “good” roleplaying is better facilitated by a change. Great, change that rule for your game, but do it with the understanding that the variant rule assumes that you’re following the rules exactly and you’ll need to adjust accordingly.

In my experience, using the variant while strictly keeping the rules talked about here in mind has led to only positive changes to my games, and I strongly encourage its use.

dnd 5e – Do a Soulknife’s soulknife abilities function in an Antimagic Field?

Psychic Blades is magic, so it is suppressed completely.

The Sage Advice Compendium tells us how to determine if something is magical:

Determining whether a game feature is magical is straightforward. Ask yourself these questions about the feature:

  • Is it a magic item?
  • Is it a spell? Or does it let you create the effects of a spell that’s mentioned in its description?
  • Is it a spell attack?
  • Is it fueled by the use of spell slots?
  • Does its description say it’s magical?

If your answer to any of those questions is yes, the feature is magical.

Psychic Blades states:

This magic blade…

So it is suppressed in an antimagic field. It is not like a Sword +1, which is a usual sword with a magical enchantment that is suppressed, it is a sword made entirely of psychic energy, created and sustained by an expressly magical power. It is gone in the antimagic field.

You will have to ask your DM about the other features.

You are basing this question on assumption made by another DM, an assumption that is unhelpfully non-specific, from this tweet:

some psionic effects would be affected and some wouldn’t.

Jeremy Crawford gives absolutely no guidance for determining which psionic effects count and which ones don’t, only ambiguously stating that some do and some don’t, so you will have to ask your DM about the other psionic features in the Soulknife feature list.

To give some guidance, if one of the other Soulknife features modifies or uses the Psychic Blades feature, it probably doesn’t work, since the Psychic Blades are expressly magical, and so cannot exist in an antimagic field.

dnd 5e – What class/racial abilities or spells cause vulnerability in other creatures?

I am looking for ways to cause my opponents to be vulnerable to the damage I deal in combat.

I am not interested in ignoring resistance, I am only looking to cause the vulnerability condition.
Ideally I would like it to apply to any damage type I am dealing in the moment, however at this point any type of vulnerability will do, as I have not found any on my own.

What are some of the spells, and class/racial abilities or magic items that create this condition in others? Oficial WotC content only please. (no Unearthed Arcana)

How can I make abilities from custom classes in PCGen show on my D&D 3.5e character sheet?

I feel like I am missing a step.

I take the code for a wild mage prestige class from a site (I dont know if I am allowed to write the exact site here).

I put the data/code of the class in the customclasses.lst file, then I put data in the customabilities.lst and customabilitycategories.lst.

Although I see the prestige class and prerequisites on my pcgen screen and the advancement of spells , hit points, saves etc works just fine, the specical abilities of the class don’t show on the character sheet.

How can i make abilities from custom classes in PCGen 3.5 D&D show on character sheet?

I feel like I am missing a step.

I put the data of the class in the customclasses.lst file, then i put data in the customabilities.lst and customabilitycategories.lst. STill nothing on my pdf

Can a wizard dual wield spellbooks and still use somatics while gaining the spellbooks "held" abilities?

I’m playing a wizard who has come across two magical spellbooks. Both spellbooks have abilities/effects that I may choose to activate if I hold them, as well as functioning as spell foci. In the PHB/Spellcasting/Components, it states that I need a free hand for somatic components, but also states the following:

A spellcaster must have a hand free to access a spell’s material
components — or to hold a spellcasting focus — but it can be the same
hand that he or she uses to perform somatic components.

Apparently I can hold both spellbooks and cast normally.
What is the interaction here?
May I still use both spellbooks to their fullest potential, or, do I have to find a system of stowing the books to cast?