A place to share thoughts and ideas about Dungeons and Dragons
Tag Archives: House Rules
August 26, 2015Posted by on
One of the great things about the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons is that it is vert light on rules. One problem with adding more rules is that if we add too many we run the risk of this edition devolving back into 3rd edition. However that will not stop me from suggesting potential house rules. Think of these as possible ways to address common issues that may arise during play.
Falling Damage: The basic rule is simple: 1d6 points of damage per 10 feet fallen, to a maximum of 20d6.
Jumping to avoid damage: If a character deliberately jumps instead of merely slipping or falling, the character receives no damage for the first 10 feet and on a DC 15 DEX (Acrobatics) check he receives no damage for the first 20 feet and lands on his feet. Thus, a character who slips from a ledge 30 feet up takes 3d6 points of damage. If the same character deliberately jumped, he takes 2d6 points of damage. And if the character leaps down with a successful Dexterity (Acrobatics) check, he takes only 1d6 points of damage from the plunge.
Falling onto Soft Surface: Falls onto yielding surfaces (soft ground, mud) also ignores the first 1d6 points of damage. This reduction is cumulative with reduced damage due to deliberate jumps and the Athletics skill check.
Falling into Water: Falls into water are handled somewhat differently. If the water is at least 10 feet deep, you must succeed on a DC 10 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to enter the water without damage. Otherwise you receive 1d6 points of damage from any fall up to 20 feet of falling. Regardless of the save, you receive an additional 1d6 of damage for every 10 feet fall beyond 20 feet.
Diving into Water: Characters who deliberately dive into water take no damage on a successful DC 15 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check, so long as the water is at least 10 feet deep for every 30 feet fallen. However, the DC of the check increases by 5 for every 50 feet of the dive.
Landing on Your Feet: The official rule is that you land prone unless you receive no damage from the fall. I have no problem with this. However, I don’t think it would break anything if you allow the character to land on his feet if he makes his Athletics check.
May 5, 2015Posted by on
Rules for conducting a seafaring campaign in D&D. Including rules for Ship-to-Ship Combat.
You can download a free copy here: 5E_Nautical_Adventures.pdf
This is a complete re-write of the Ship to Ship Combat rules I published before (3.5 version here).
In keeping with the spirit of 5e, this is not about conducting massive sea battles, moving small model ships around on a hex battle map exploring tactics and the intricacies of wind and sail. Rather this is about what the PCs can do with ships. Ship-to-ship battles do take up the majority of the pages here, but the battles are from the point of view of the player characters on board their ship. Care has been taken to assure each payer has something to contribute each round of ship-to-ship combat. Each player controls one of their ship’s officers. That officer can be his or her PC or it may be an NPC and he has several actions available to him that are specific to that officer.
I copied liberally from Wizards of the Coast’s 1997 publication “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons of Ships and the Sea”. I also got a lot of good ideas from Pathfinder’s “Skull and Shackles” (their “Wormwood Mutiny” adventure path will work with these rules for those of you who want a good Pirates campaign.)
I also found a lot of good information in Kenzer and Company’s “Salt and Sea Dogs”.
May 3, 2015Posted by on
I haven’t posted here in a while. I have been working on 5E Ship-to-Ship combat rules. They will be finished soon. In the mean time here is part that may be of general interest.
Drowning Rules for D&D 5E
Falling Off the Ship
Rough water adds 5 to all the following DCs except for saves made when more than 5 feet under the surface. Flotsam or other floating items grant advantage to saves to stay afloat.
This can be hazardous to your health. If you fall overboard you will splash down 1d6+5 feet from your ship. If you are pushed overboard you will fall 2d6+5 feet from your ship. If you jump or dive into the water you can enter the water at any point up to the maximum distance you can jump (refer to the Jumping rules in the Player’s Handbook). If you fall or are pushed overboard, you must succeed on a DC 10 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to enter the water without damage. Otherwise you receive 1d6 hit points damage from the fall.
Each foot you swim cost you one extra foot of speed. If you are within 5 feet of a moving ship (or one that has been involved in a ramming or grappling maneuver), you must make as DC 10 Strength (Athletics) check. Failure means that you cannot move this round, you are using all of your strength to simply keep your head above the waves. Once you reach the ship, you must make as DC 15 Strength (Athletics) check to climb back onto the ship. Failure results in you falling back into the water.
You can swim underwater as long as you can hold your breath (see “Drowning” below). Your underwater swimming speed is the same as your surface swimming speed. You can swim straight down at half that speed. You can swim straight down at 15 feet per round if holding the equivalent of medium armor, or 25 feet per round if holding the equivalent of heavy armor. If unencumbered, you can swim straight up at 20 feet per round.
In general, heavy armor is not terribly common on ships. The weight tends to be the most prohibitive factor – falling overboard in 65-pound full plate normally results in death. Occasionally, combat Infantry will don light or medium armor for a battle, but most of the time sailors go unarmored. A lucky few (usually the PCs and important NPCs) have magic items that improve their AC, but most sailors rely on their natural Dexterity.
Attempting to swim while wearing light armor requires that you make a DC 10 Strength (Athletics) saving throw each round. Failure means you have a speed of 0 as you go under water for that round and loose one carried item, shield or weapon (your choice as to what you drop).
If you choose to remove your armor after entering the water, it will take one minute (10 rounds). A successful DC 15 Dexterity (Acrobatics) save will cut that time in half. During this time you cannot swim or take any other actions. You make a DC 10 Dexterity (Acrobatics) saving throw each round. Each round that you succeed you keep your head above water and counts as one round of the rounds required to remove your armor. Failure means that you went under water this round and made no headway in removing your armor. After 3 failures you receive one level of exhaustion.
You can attempt to swim while wearing medium armor, but you must make DC 15 Strength (Athletics) saving throw each round. On a success, if you are on the surface at the beginning of the round, you stay on the surface. Each foot you swim cost you two extra feet of speed and you can take no other actions besides shouting and stowing a weapon. Failed save means you sink 10 feet and lose any still-carried shields or weapons. On the round following a failed save you are under water. After that, on a successful save you can swim toward the surface at a rate of 15 feet per round. On failure you sink another 10 feet.
You can attempt to remove your armor, but you will be sinking at a rate of 10 feet per round during this time. It normally takes 1 minute (10 rounds) to doff your armor, but a successful DC 15 Dexterity (Acrobatics) save will cut that time in half. Without your armor you can swim toward the surface at a rate of 20 feet per round.
You cannot swim while wearing heavy armor, giving you an effective speed of 0. Whenever you are in water, you lose any carried shields and weapons and begin to sink. You make a DC 25 Strength (Athletics) saving throw each round. Success keeps your head above water, or if you start the round under water you can swim 15 feet toward the surface. You can take no other actions. Failed save means you sink another 20 feet.
You can attempt to remove your armor, but you will be sinking at a rate of 20 feet per round during this time. It normally takes 5 minutes (50 rounds) to doff your armor, but a successful DC 15 Dexterity (Acrobatics) save will cut that time in half. Without your armor you can swim toward the surface at a rate of 20 feet per round.
After 1+(con bonus) minutes of holding your breath underwater you fall unconscious, your hit points fall to 0, and you begin making your death saving throws as per the standard rules. However, if you become stable there is a problem. If you are still under water you can’t remain stable. So you must start making death saving throws again. This continues until you die unless you are saved in some way.
December 18, 2014Posted by on
What is the best use of a Shield and Longsword combo?
I received this inquiry the other day: “I like to play a Paladin that often uses a Shield and Long Sword combo. However, I have noticed that there is no shield bash in 5E. I have been using the shove instead as an action between a Trip and Shield bash. Are you aware of any attack that tries to leverage a Shield in 5E? I would really like to stress a shield proficiency for my build if possible.”
Here are my thoughts:
A shield is an improvised weapon dealing 1d4 bludgeoning damage.
Paladins are proficient with shields. Whether said proficiency extends to it being used as an improvised weapon is not specified, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be.
Note that shields aren’t light weapons, and thus can’t be used for normal two-weapon fighting.
If your Paladin adopts the “protection” fighting style at 2nd level:
“When a creature you can see attacks a target other than you that is within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the attack roll. You must be wielding a shield.”
If your group is using feats (I think most are) there is the “Shield Master” feat:
You use shields not just for protection but also for offense. You gain the following benefits while you are wielding a shield:
If you take the Attack action on your turn, you can use a bonus action to try to shove a creature within 5 feet of you with your shield. (If I was DMing the game, I would allow the use of this bonus action to either shove a creature or to attack it with the shield as an improvised weapon.)
If you aren’t incapacitated, you can add your shield’s AC bonus to any Dexterity saving throw you make against a spell or other harmful effect that targets only you.
If you are subjected to an effect that allows you to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, you can use your reaction to take no damage if you succeed on the saving throw, interposing your shield between yourself and the source of the effect.
And the “War Master” feat will allow you to cast spells while holding both your shield and sword.
I would like to hear if anyone has any other thoughts on this matter.
August 20, 2014Posted by on
Optional House Rules for D&D 5e
[Check out this newer post on this subject: D&D 5E – Quick Reference – Chase Rules.]
A couple of years ago I published chase rules for D&D v3.5. You can download them here.
With the release of the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons, those rules seem rather heavy. You can still use them if your campaign will have a lot of chases. However, in keeping with the slimmed down rules of 5e, I am proposing a simple house rule for chases. The description below is in terms of a PC character chasing a fleeing foe. Keep in mind that the same rules apply when the PC is the one fleeing.
What if your opponent tries to run away?
Most of the time the standard rules for combat work just fine. A chase may occur when one or more opponent turns and runs away. In game terms, he uses the Dash action to spend his entire turn moving away from combat as quickly as possible. If he starts his turn within 5 feet of you, or passes within 5 feet of you, you can use your Reaction to make an opportunity attack.
What if you want to chase him?
It all depends on how far away you are from him at the beginning of your turn. Compare this distance to your characters speed. There are three possible results.
1) You can use your Move to get within 5 feet of him.
- You can attack him and combat continues.
2) You can catch up to him by using your Dash action.[If you have enough speed to pass him you may do that, but if you come within 5 feet of him as you pass, he gets to use his Reaction to make an opportunity attack against you, so you will typically want to stop when you get within 5 feet.]
- You stop within 5 feet of him.
- If he continues to run away you can use your Reaction to attack him. [If you speed is the same or greater than his, this can repeat each round. This is not a good strategy for your opponent, unless he can reach shelter or he is leading you into an ambush.]
- Or he may choose to turn and fight on his turn.
3) You cannot get to within 5 feet of him using your Dash action.
- If your speed is greater than his, you should catch up with him in a few rounds.
- If your speed is less than his, and you have no way to increase your speed, he will get farther away each round. You may as well attempt to shoot him with ranged weapons until he is out of range.
- If your speed is the same as his, he will stay the same distance away from you forever. You move closer on your turn, he moves away on his. This is where a house rule is needed.
House Rule #1
A chase is not a race. There are multiple factors that could enable a creature to catch up to another one that has the same speed. Even a lucky slower creature should have a chance. Here is my house rule:
At the end of a turn where you have used a Dash action to advance toward an opponent that is fleeing, you may call for a Strength (Athletics) contest between the two characters. If you win the contest, you move an additional 5 feet toward your opponent. If you lose the contest, you move back 5 feet.
House Rule #2
Characters can’t continue running at top speed forever. For extended chases:
After 5 rounds of continuous running, a character must make a [DC 15] Constitution save or suffer one level of exhaustion. Each additional round of continuous running requires another save at an additional +2 to the DC.
The DM may rule that certain creatures are immune to this exhaustion effect, or that they can run for longer periods before requiring this check.
July 26, 2014Posted by on
The combat rules for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons are much simpler than previous editions. This is a quick reference guide to the new rules. Refer to the complete rules (which can be downloaded for free here) for more detailed information. This is my own interpretation of those rules. Refer to the DM notes at the end for my house rules.
Each round represents 6 seconds in the game world. Anything a person could reasonably do in 6 seconds, your character can do in 1 round.
Each round, during your turn, you can move and take one action.
• You don’t have to move, but if you choose to, you can move a distance up to your speed. You can move before or after you take an action, or you can move first, take an action, and then move again, as long as the total distance moved doesn’t exceed your speed.
• You don’t have to take an action during your turn, but if you choose to, you can attempt to do anything that could be accomplished in 6 seconds or less. The most common action taken in combat is the attack action. See below for a list of actions that can be performed in combat.
• If your action permits multiple attacks, you can move between attacks so long as you haven’t used all of your move distance based on your speed.
• Your move can include jumping onto or off of things, jumping over things, climbing walls or ropes, swinging on ropes or chandeliers, or moving in any way that your character is capable of such as swimming or flying for example.
You can interact with one object as part of either your move or your action.
You can manipulate the object in an uncomplicated way. Some examples include:
• Draw or sheath a weapon
Draw Two One-Handed Weapons [You can normally draw only 1 weapon for free on your turn. Dual Wielder lets you draw 2.]
• Transfer an item from one hand to the other
• Load a crossbow
• Retrieve or put away a stored item*
• Pick up an item
• Move an object
• Open a chest
• Open a door
* You may only retrieve an item if it was stowed for easy access. If you must dig through your backpack to find something inside, it may require use of an action to retrieve it.
Doing more than one of these things requires the use of an action.
As part of your move or your action, you can do things that take little or no time and don’t interfere with your movement.
These activities take very little time, though there may be limits to the number you can perform in a turn. Examples include:
• Drawing ammunition for use with a ranged weapon (such as arrows, bolts, sling bullets, or shuriken).
• Dropping an item to your feet or within 5 feet of your current location.
• Dropping to a prone position. (Standing up from prone, however, takes half of your movement for the turn.)
• Speaking (you can always speak, even when it isn’t your turn – within reason.)
You may be able to take an additional, bonus action.
• A special ability, spell, or other feature of the game may allow you to do something as a bonus action. You are only allowed one bonus action in a round.
• Example: If you have a short sword in one hand and dagger in the other, after using your action to attack with the sword, you can use a bonus action to attack with the dagger (refer to the rules on two-weapon fighting.)
You are allowed one reaction each round.
A reaction is an action that is triggered by an external event.
• A special ability, spell, or other feature of the game may allow you to react to a specific triggering event.
• If an opponent attempts to move past you or attacks you and then attempts to move away, you get a free swing at him. This is called an opportunity attack, and it is the most common reaction.
• Another example would be a wizard’s feather fall spell that is triggered when the wizard is pushed over a cliff, or steps into a pit trap.
• Your reaction does not have to occur during your turn, but can occur at any time during the round. If it occurs during another’s turn, his turn is suspended until your reaction is resolved.
If surprised, you lose your turn for the first round of combat. This includes loosing use of any reaction for one round, measured from the beginning of combat until the start of your turn on round two.
Actions in Combat
During your turn in a combat round, you can perform any one of the following actions.
You can make one melee or ranged attack. Some features may allow you to make more than one attack with this action.
Cast a Spell
You can cast any spell that you are capable of casting that has a listed casting time of one action.
Note regarding components: Retrieving the required material (M) component from a pocket or pouch is included in the “Cast a Spell” action. If the spell also has a somatic (S) component, you can perform the required hand gestures while holding the material component in that same hand. Therefore, if you are holding two weapons, or a weapon and a shield, at the beginning of your turn, you can sheath one weapon (refer to “interact with one object” above) and then draw the material component and cast the spell all in the same round. [A material component is not consumed with the casting of the spell, unless the spell description specifically says that it is.]
Rather than performing any other action, you spend the entire round moving. This allows you to move twice as far this round. It is effectively a double move action. [You use your dash action to move your speed then use your move to go that distance again.]
If you start the round within 5 feet of an opponent that can see you, you can use this action to move away from him without provoking an opportunity attack. [The disengage action does not include a move. You use the disengage action to avoid an opportunity attack while you use your move to travel up to your speed.]
This is a total defense action. You spend the round trying to avoid being hit. Until the start of your next turn, any attack roll made against you has disadvantage if you can see the attacker, and you make Dexterity saving throws with advantage.
You can use your action to help an ally attack an opponent within 5 feet of you. You don’t make an attack yourself, but when your friend attacks, his first attack roll is made with advantage.
Or you can help him with any other task. If you are in position to do so, and your assistance could reasonably be seen to be of help, he will gain advantage on his ability check to accomplish the task.
The act of hiding requires an action to attempt. You must make a Dexterity (Stealth) check to see if you successfully hide from your opponents.
Additional information regarding the hide action here: Stealth and Hiding
Rather than taking and action during your turn, you wait for some specific event and then take your action as a reaction. You can still move up to the distance indicated by your move rate, but you can take no other action this round. You must specify two things –
1) What the triggering event will be.
This can be anything you think might happen that you can observe. If the event occurs before the start of your turn on the next round you can perform your readied action at that time. Some examples could be: If the sniper sticks his head up, If more Orcs come around the corner, If the rope brakes, If the water level rises, If the evil magic user starts to cast a spell, If the guard spots the thief, If the prisoner attempts to escape.
2) What action you will take.
This can be any of the combat actions.
Note that this action will be a reaction and you can only have one reaction per round. This means that if you take another reaction, you lose your readied action. Conversely, if you use your readied action you can have no other reactions this round.
• If the triggering event occurs, you can choose to not take your readied action.
• If you choose Dash as a readied action, you can move up to your move rate.
• If you choose Cast a Spell as a readied action, you cast the spell during your turn but hold off on releasing the energy of the spell until the triggering event occurs. You must concentrate to hold the spell’s energy. Anything that breaks your concentration before the final release of the spell’s energy results in the loss of the spell. If the triggering event doesn’t occur this round, you can continue to hold the spell with continued concentration into the following round, or you can cast it as an action on your next turn, or you can lose it.
You can use your action to attempt to find something. The DM might require you to make a Wisdom (Perception) check or an Intelligence (Investigation) check.
Use an Object
An object may require an action for you to use it, or you may need to use this action to interact with more than one object in a round.
There are many more things that a combatant could do during a round than can be accounted for in the above actions. When you want to attempt something that is not covered by any of the above actions, you can use an improvised action.
Examples of an improvised action:
“I want to pull the rug out from under that guy.”
“I want to jump on the monster and attack him with my sword while I ride on to his back.”
“I want to talk them into surrendering.”
“I want to break that flask the bad guy is holding.” (attack an object)
“I want to slide down the stairs on my shield while I fire arrows at the enemy.”
“I want to intimidate then into running away.”
“I want to grab that piece of folded parchment that is sticking out of his vest pocket.”
“I want to slide under the table and stab that guy in his ankle with my dagger.”
“I want to sheath my sword and walk up to that guy and tweak his nose.”
“I want to hit that rope with my arrow in such a way as to cut the rope and let the body that is hanging from it fall to the ground.”
“I want to disarm my opponent.” (This could be a called shot to the hand, shattering an opponent’s weapon, severing a spear shaft, entangling a sword arm, or using the flat of a blade to smack a weapon from an enemy’s hand.)
“I want to push him into the pit.” (Use the rules for “Shoving a Creature” – this could include shield bashes, tackles, bull rushes, overruns, tables hurled into enemies, doors smashed into opponents on the other side, and so on. Generally speaking, this could be any attempt to use brute strength to move an opponent. Any attempt to shove creatures off a nearby cliff, through a railing, out a chapel’s stained-glass window, and so on will allow the creature a dexterity save.)
“I want to trip that guy.” (This could be any attempt to knock an enemy off its feet. Whether it’s hooking an enemy’s leg, stabbing a kneecap, knocking an opponent off-balance, hurling an enemy away, sweeping an enemy’s legs, or some other maneuver, this improvised action would allow the warrior to knock an enemy prone.)
The following rules apply to improvised actions:
1. You must explain the improvised action to the DM. The DM may rule that what you want to do will require more than one round, or that it is simply impossible (you can’t fire an arrow into the sky and hit the moon). He may ask you to be more specific regarding the action you want to take and how the action will achieve the results you want.
2. The improvised action can also include all or part of your move. Successfully jumping on – or diving into a creature will give you advantage on the attack roll. A failed attempt results in your move stopping at the point there the attack takes place and may grant your opponent an advantage on his next attack against you.
3. To perform the improvised action the DM will normally have you make an ability check. The DM will assign an appropriate difficulty class and will explain possible consequences if the attempted action fails. For example, if you attempt to jump off of the balcony onto the monster in the center of the room and miss you may end up prone.
Most improvised actions can be resolved as simple contests.
Player: “I want to try to [describes some form of physical contest other than an attack roll].”
DM: “Okay, make a Strength (Athletics) check.”
DM compares result to opponent’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check, perhaps giving someone advantage or disadvantage.
DM Notes: Some of the information above deviates somewhat from the official rules. You can consider these to be my House Rules.
Retrieving a stored Item – This should only be allowed as part of your move or action if you don’t have to dig through your backpack to find it.
Speaking – Should be allowed at any time
Disengage – I will only allow this action if you are currently engaged in combat and want to withdraw without provoking an opportunity attack.
Help – It only makes logical sense to be able to help another if there is some action that you could take that might possibly be of help to him.
Improvised action – I got rather wordy here, but I think these should be encouraged.
May 17, 2014Posted by on
“Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”
Time travel is easy, explaining it is hard.
I was looking over my time travel rules (posted here). I was thinking that I hadn’t explained them very well and that I also needed to re-work them for the next version of D&D. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that they needed a complete overhaul. Before posting a new set of time travel rules I wanted to post this. Below is a summary of my current thinking on how time travel should work for D&D.
First a little thought experiment
Consider this. Your friend the wizard travels 24 hours into the past. While there, he sneaks into your room and shaves your head while you sleep. The question is this: If you are watching him when he cast the spell and he disappears into the past, what do you experience? Are you now bald? There are problems with every answer.
1) You can’t still have your hair. If you do it would mean that the wizard was unsuccessful in changing the past.
2) You couldn’t just suddenly become bald. What if the wizard doesn’t cast another spell to “return” to the present, but simply hangs out with you all day?
3) Okay, then perhaps your head is shaved, and it has been since you woke up this morning. This is a paradox, because if you have been bald all day it would mean that you were that way before the wizard cast the spell that resulted in your current condition.
There must be another answer, and I believe that I have found it. Think about this a little. I will give you the answer a little later.
This is how I think time travel should work in the D&D game.
There is only one timeline. Everyone is in it. The “river of time”. It is easy to travel forward in time. Everyone does it. You are doing it now. It takes only one second to move forward one second into the future. If you were to sleep for 17 years, you would wake up 17 years in the future.
All time travel is along this one timeline. Although there is only one timeline, this doesn’t mean that it can’t be changed.
Rule #1 – “Everything that you do changes the future.”
This may seem so obvious that it is hardly worth mentioning. However remember that we are talking about time travel. If you travel along the timeline to a point in the past anything you do there will change everything on the timeline from that point forward.
Rule #2 – “You can’t change the past.”
Well, I suppose you could travel to the past and then change it, but nothing that you do now can change anything that was done before. Again, this seems obvious but it is worth remembering that you can’t travel into the future and do anything that will change what is happening in the present.
There are two types of time travel, tactical and strategic.
Tactical Time Travel
Similar to time travel in the movie “Groundhog Day”.
Tactical time travel is free from most time travel paradoxes. It moves the timeline forward or back to the appointed time. It is not normally used to travel farther than a single day and cannot be used to travel back to a time before the time traveler was fully grown. Tactical time travel has no “return” spell that allows the traveler to go back to his original time, but he can use strategic time travel to go back should he choose to.
Tactical Time Travel to the Future
In its simplest form, this is how everyone travels through time, one second at a time. For a time traveler that uses tactical time travel to go into the future the time passes so quickly that he seems to instantly appear at the appointed time in the future. To those around him, he disappears and later re-appears. The timeline has moved on and he has moved with it as if he had been in a type of suspended animation during the time that passed. This is often used to “hide” from an otherwise unavoidable encounter or to disappear until the storm passes.
Tactical Time Travel to the Past
This is often used to correct some mistake in the recent past, or to re-fight a recent battle. The timeline is erased back to the time traveled to. It is like pressing the “rewind” button. Everyone and everything reverts to the way it was then. The time traveler finds himself in the body he had then, where it was then, doing what he was doing then, and everything is as it was then with the exception that the time traveler, and he alone, recalls future events as they happened before. He is free to repeat his previous actions or change them as he sees fit. Everyone else will do what they did before unless the time traveler intervenes. Purely random events may have different outcomes. All dice will be re-rolled for any battle or game of chance that the time traveler participates in.
The time traveler cannot magically “return” to the time he left because that timeline has been completely erased. If he does use a strategic time travel spell to travel forward again, he disappears and doesn’t re-appear until he reaches the time he is traveling to. No time will have passed for him but to everyone else, time will have passed normally until he re-appears. This effectively erases him form the timeline for that period of time. The time traveler that travels into the past using tactical time travel will typically continue through time at the normal pace making whatever changes to his previous actions as he chooses. When he arrives at the point in time where he originally chose to travel into the past, he is free to do so if he wishes. The reason for him to travel back in time may no longer exist, so he may choose to not repeat his trip to the past.
Strategic Time Travel
Similar to the time travel in the movie “Back to the Future”.
Unlike tactical time travel, strategic time travel is susceptible to time travel paradoxes so care should be taken to prevent them. Refer to the section below on time travel paradoxes.
Strategic time travel allows travel both forward and back in time to any point in the past or future.
With strategic time travel, the traveler appears at the appointed time in the past or future, and his original body disappears – usually to return in a few seconds when the traveler returns from his journey. The time traveler arrives at the prescribed time with a duplicate of his body and everything he was wearing or carrying. Any time while on his journey, he can cast a spell to “return” to the time he left. When he returns his body is in the condition it was in at the end of his journey and he will bring back with him whatever he is wearing and carrying.
If, at any time during his journey, he is knocked unconscious or killed he will return to his original timeline and his body will re-appear and collapse to the floor still wearing and carrying only what he had when he left. Everyone at the time that he traveled to will see him collapse. His body and everything that he was wearing or carrying when he began his journey will disappear, leaving behind anything he may have picked up while he was there.
Strategic Travel to the Future
The time traveler appears at the appointed time in the future, and at the same location as when the spell was cast. The future that he finds is the most likely future based on how events were progressing when he left. The time traveler himself disappeared when the spell was cast and has not been there to effect changes. If he travels to the same time in the future more than once, each time he will find the future somewhat different. He cannot meet with himself in the future because each trip forward is to a different future that did not have him in it.
Strategic Travel to the Past
The time traveler appears in the past but he has not moved from where he was standing when the spell was cast. Using strategic time travel, it is possible for the time traveler to encounter himself. It should be fairly easy to avoid such encounters and avoiding them should be encouraged. Strategic time travel spells can be used to travel to times before the time traveler was born.
When the traveler cast the “return” spell to go back to the time he had left, things may not be as they were when he left. If he traveled far into the past, before he was born, things that he did then will affect the way things are now. For example, if he killed someone in the past, not only will that person no longer exist, but everything that that person did after he killed him will never have happened. This includes any children that that person may have had after that point, they were never born.
Back to the thought experiment
The problem with the thought experiment I presented above is in the question. It assumes that you will still be there after the spell is cast.
The answer depends on whether the wizard used a tactical or strategic time travel spell (as described above).
If it was a tactical spell, not only would the wizard disappear, but you and everyone else would also. The timeline will have been erased back to a point in time that existed 24 hours earlier. You will have no memory of anything that happened in the last 24 hours, which is now in your future. Everything will progress from there and when you wake in the morning you will be bald. When it comes around to the time where he originally cast the spell, he will have no reason to cast it this time.
If the spell that the wizard cast was a strategic spell you would see him disappear and would notice nothing else unusual until he re-appears a few seconds later. When he re-appears you will at that instant be bald. You still won’t notice anything else unusual because you won’t feel that you suddenly become bald. When you woke up this morning someone had shaved your head while you slept.
Time Travel Paradoxes
The Grandfather paradox
So… You may ask, “What if I were to accidently kill my Father or Grandfather?”
To answer this we must first examine the role of the soul in D&D.
When a player character travels in time, his is moving with his soul to a different point on the time line.
All sentient beings, including all player characters, have a soul. In earlier versions of D&D elves did not have souls, but that was changed in more recent versions of the game. Each soul experiences time in an uninterrupted string of events, starting when the soul is created and ending when, or if, it is destroyed.
In Dungeons and Dragons, all souls in the multiverse originate from fonts on the positive energy plain. When a sentient being is born, his soul enters his body with his first breath. How long that soul existed before it occupied the newborn and how the choice of host is made is not known. A PC’s soul then continues throughout his life and beyond. A PC’s soul isn’t typically destroyed when he dies and if he is brought back to life, his soul re-joins his body. It is possible for his soul to be moved into an object or another body or travel to other planes. In a very real sense, a player’s character is his soul. Everything about him can change, but his soul remains and it existed before his body did. If his newborn body wasn’t available for his soul to inhabit because he was prevented from being born for any reason, his soul would have gone into another body. This body would have been as close to the same as possible. In order of preference the chosen newborn would have the; same Mother, same Father, same family or close relative, same neighborhood and similar family.
This means that you can’t really prevent yourself (meaning your soul) from being born. At the worst you will have been raised in a different family. Regardless of which newborn your soul first inhabited you would now still be the same sex and race. Your physical appearance would be nearly identical and all of your abilities would not change.
The Butterfly Effect
“What if I do something like, say, accidentally stepping on a bug in the past? Couldn’t that possible cause great changes in the future?”
Well, that is one theory. Just like the way that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can affect a weather system in Texas, one tiny change in the past can lead to all kinds of Rube Goldbergian complications that can subtly — or seriously — affect the present. However, that would put a serious damper on the fun of doing things in the past. Time travel in D&D must be more forgiving that that. So let’s say this; “The river of time is hard to change.”
Time flows forward as a viscous, syrupy thick river that is quiet difficult to change in any meaningful way. Although small day-to-day changes are easy to make, the course of history is such a wide and powerful force that actions taken by individuals have little effect on future history. As this relates to time travel, you can forget about the “butterfly effect”. Minor changes in the past have no effect on the present. Even large changes have only a small chance of affecting the present. The farther you travel into the past, the less likely it is that anything you do will have any effect on the present.
All major events in the past would have still happened even if the person (or creature) that caused that event was killed. Another would have done almost the same thing. Perhaps it would have been done at a slightly later date, or in a different way, but it would have still happened. The existing opportunity and situations will result in someone else filling the void left when the original perpetrator was not there.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t effect the present by changing the past. Otherwise why bother with time travel? It is just that the changes you make must be deliberate and specific to have much effect on the present.
All Other Paradoxes
“Are you trying to tell me that there is no danger of creating a time paradox? What If I caused my past self to be killed? What if something travels from the future to the past, and becomes the item that was sent back in time in the first place, thus, having no discernible origin, creating an infinite loop? I can think of a dozen other potential ‘impossible’ situations that could be caused by time travel. What about those?”
The potential for creating paradoxes is quite high. Part of the fun for players and DMs alike is how the PCs handle this potential danger. What I am attempting to do here is help the players by providing a consistent set of rules and to help the DM by providing a logical overview of how time travel works so he can apply his understanding of the concepts involved when dealing with all of the unexpected things that the PCs may do. Rather than saying that there can be no paradoxes it is my opinion that the DM should make accidental paradoxes unlikely by handling the Grandfather paradox and any Butterfly Effect paradoxes as indicated above. The DM can also provide the players with an easy way to avoid paradoxes. He should remind the players that there is no reason for you to interact with your previous self if you choose not to. This simple precaution should avoid most potential paradoxes.
How to Handle a Paradox
Regardless of precautions the PCs may end up creating a paradox. The best way to handle this is to assume that the timeline is self-correcting. Any paradox will cause the destruction of the part of the time and space affected by the paradox.
So, if a PC travels back and kills his former self, then it will cause himself to disappear. History will erase all traces of the person’s existence, and the death of the PC will have been caused by another reason. Thus, the paradox will have never have occurred from the historical viewpoint.
So now what?
I intend to create a set of rules compatible with D&D Next using the ideas presented above. If you have any questions or comments please let me know. As I said, explaining time travel is hard.