Dungeons & Dragons Online

Conjurer’s Hubris – a push-your-luck spellcasting tool

Hello, people and monsters of r/DnDBehindTheScreen! The Conjurer's Hubris is an implementation of a “push your luck mechanic” to D&D 5e whose objective is allowing spellcasting characters to take a chance at casting spells for which they do not have spell slots yet by taking the risk of dire consequences – maybe even death.

This idea came from a conversation between Gabe Hicks and Matt Colville I witnessed on twitter. Gabe proposed a system in which this would be possible and awesome and Matt commented on how he loved push your luck mechanics and it would be easy to implement to D&D. So, I’m taking a shot at this…

Some problems I faced while developing this system were spell slots and spells known/prepared, the odds (which I shall tell you about) and the risks. I have dedicated a section of this article for each one of them, discussing the problem to some depth and how I worked around them.

Before we get to brass tacks about those pesky mages’ and priests’ Hubris, I’m well aware of the fact that in D&D this would probably widen the gap between martial and spellcasting classes, but this is a system designed to implement a cool as balls mechanic that could drive the drama in you table by a few notches and would best be used with that in mind, not as a tool for the conjurers to hoard the spotlight. DMs, be aware of the possibility before trying this out with your players and that, maybe, with this ace up their sleeves, you could even turn that difficulty nob a bit, as you’ve been wanting to do for a while.

The Three Problems

1. Spell slots and spells known/prepared

Spell slots are resources to limit spellcasters’ powers – which are great – but scarcer than a martial warrior. They’re a measure of energy, of the magics that were imprinted in their minds for the day and such things. As a mechanic, they’re the buck for your bang. If a caster is out of spell slots, they’re out of juice, save for the most basic of tricks – cantrips.

It’s my reasoning that, while a hubris cast (as we’ll call the use of this system from now own) should be tied to spell slots, as casting a spell for which you’re not even mentally prepared to conjure is far beyond what a caster with buck for mere cantrips should be able to accomplish. That said, this is a system designed to mess with those exact limitations… so I’ve prepared for both cases!

My decision was using the spell slot spent (or in case the lack thereof) as one part of determining the consequence in the case of a failed hubris cast. Therefore, as they make a hubris cast, the spellcaster would decide on a spell slot to spend and spend one Hit Die – as this is an extraneous process and, should the attempt fail, both the spell slot’s level and the Hit Die would play a part on the consequence, but let’s save this for later…

Spells know/prepared are another way of limiting the capabilities of casters and of providing them with versatility or rewards for levelling-up. My main issue with the idea of hubris casting would be giving casters too much access to spells they would not have otherwise not have yet. Wouldn’t this just mean that casters would have no more meaningful choices on which spells to prepare for the day or which to choose to learn? Would it trivialize a whole gameplay factor and make caster prepared for any given situation? Maybe, yes… But I think the risks in hubris casting should take some of the weight off of those worries.

In case they do not, though, I’ve prepared some ways to keep the casters on their toes, not reaching Batman on a badly written script levels of preparedness and to avoid a hidden fourth problem… The Problem of Silliness.

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I must admit that a Level 1 Wizard hubris casting a Wish on our first session of a brand-new campaign would straight-up kill my joy in dming for a little while. So, all you would need for a silly moment like this to ruin a few weeks’ – or more – worth of planning and dedication – not just yours, but possibly your fellow players’ – would be an ill-intentioned or oblivious player and this system.

Therefore, I propose a few ways to safeguard your game against such monstrosities! Firstly, you could limit your hubris casts by tier. Tiers in D&D indicate “power levels” for your characters and are divided like-so, as per the DMG, p. 86:

Tier 1: Levels 1-4 – Local Heroes

Tier 2: Levels 5-10 – Heroes of the Realm

Tier 3: Levels 11-16 – Masters of the Realm

Tier 4: Levels 17-20 – Masters of the World

If you wish to limit hubris casting shenanigans, you could put a limiter on the Spell Levels accessible by it based on the character’s current tier. I would limit the levels to the maximum Spell Level a character of the first-level of the next tier could cast. A fullcaster from levels to 1 through 4 – tier 1 – would be able to hubris cast spells of at most 3rd level, as it’s the highest spell slot a 5th level fullcaster possesses, as a full caster of levels 5 to 10 would be able to hubris cast spells of at most 6th level and so forth.

In the case of half-casters, a 1st to 4th level character would be able to hubris cast 2nd-level spells and a 5th to 10th character could hubris cast 3rd-level spells, but the pattern gets a little less neat for them and casters as the Eldritch Knight or the Arcane Trickster.

If this limiter based on tier is not enough for you, you could also enforce the spending of a spell Slot to hubris cast, taking away the possibility of a fully spent caster making a grand sacrifice in casting a spell too dangerous for them. And, if you want even more boundaries, you could ask a conjurer about to hubris cast for an Arcana or Spell Ability Modifier check to confirm if they would know about the spell they’re trying to reach for – the DCs could be based on the Spell Level (10 or 15 + the Spell Level, for example).

2. The odds

When considering a system as this one, which promises to bring a nuke’s worth of power to the table, the odds in play are of utmost importance. If their chance of success is lax and chill, our players just sling away at sky-high levels worth of spells and the news of this system gets old pretty fast. If they seem unobtainable or too punishing, no one risks it and the cool dramatic moments powered by hubris or extreme desperation never see the light of day – or that one luminescent mushroom in the Underdark.

That said, I tried to hit a good balance on those odds and my tinkering led me to think that straight checks (like Arcana or Spell Ability Modifier/Attack ones) were not the best idea, as the DCs would have to be considerably high and maybe vary on some specific character statistic to account for leveling-up… So I decided on using the d100/d% and the rate of success depending on which Spell Level can the character cast. And so, we have this table:

Spell Level Casting Chance (Knows 1st Level Spells) Casting Chance (Knows 2nd Level Spells) Casting Chance (Knows 3rd Level Spells) Casting Chance (Knows 4th Level Spells) Casting Chance (Knows 5th Level Spells) Casting Chance (Knows 6th Level Spells) Casting Chance (Knows 7th Level Spells) Casting Chance (Knows 8th Level Spells)
2 11-20
3 21-30 11-20
4 31-40 31-40 21-40
5 41-50 41-50 41-50 31-50
6 51-60 51-60 51-60 51-60 41-60
7 61-70 61-70 61-70 61-70 61-70 51-70
8 71-80 71-80 71-80 71-80 71-80 71-80 61-70
9 91-00 91-00 91-00 91-00 91-00 91-00 91-00 81-00
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The first column indicates which Spell Level you’re hubris casting on and the following ones indicate a character who can cast spells of the level which is filled with “–” and, therefore, doesn’t have to hubris cast them.

When you hubris cast, you roll a d100/d% and if you roll less than the number indicated as necessary for success, you suffer the consequence. If you fail by two steps – such as rolling a 40 when hubris casting a 6th-level spell being a 5th-level fullcaster – your consequence is severe and if you fail by three steps, it is dire.

If you think these odds are still too strict, you could have the player roll an Arcana or Spell Ability Modifier check and, if they beat the DC (it could be based on the spell level, like 10 or 15 + the Spell Level), they get to roll two d100s/d%s and get the highest results or lower the step required to succeed – like from 71-80 to 61-70, but things get too clunky for my taste by then.

If you think they’re too lax, you could ignore the little easing of the odds as the character progresses and making them static for their whole lives – knowing 2nd-level spells doesn’t make the odds for hubris casting 3rd-level spells into 11-30 and 9th-level spells always have 91-00 odds.

3. The risk

The odd chance that you could survive when making such a dangerous decision and facing the Weave head-on is what makes the risk worthy. If there was no risk, this system would be a bland and overpower alternative rule for spellcasting. So, we must know there is death beyond the threshold, as adventures, or there shall be no crossing!

As I’ve mentioned on both previous problems, the risks will involve three things: the Spell Slots, the Hit Die and the step in which you have failed on hubris casting.

Regarding Spell Slots and the Hit Die, they’re used to calculate the damage suffered by someone who fails hubris casting. Every time you fail a hubris cast, you take (Spell Cast Level – Spell Slot Level) x Hit Die damage and reroll 1s. For example, a Wizard tries to hubris cast chain lightning with a 2nd-level Spell Slot, so they spend the Spell Slot and a Hit Die and fail the d100/d% roll. They suffer 4d6 damage – an average of 14 – rerolling ones and probably don’t suffer that much, but this is a push your luck mechanic, and we’ll get to it.

Let’s assume the Wizard had failed the casting by two steps – they’re a 5th-level character and needed a 51-60 result to succeed, but rolled a 39 (in the 31-40 margin, two steps below 51-60) and it all gets worse. After they receive the 4d6 damage, they fall unconscious and if they get stabilized and wake-up again, they come back with a level of exhaustion. If they had failed by three steps, they would fall unconscious with one death marked on their Death Saves and return with two levels of exhaustion. Four steps it’s two deaths marked and three levels of exhaustion. If you’re unlucky and fail by five steps… you die.

A less spicy way of doing that would be removing the deaths marked on the Death Saves!

And, well, maybe you’re asking yourself… My players are really lucky – or stupid. Or both – and they will roll away at this. Where was that luck-pushing you mentioned before? Welp, here it is!

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Every time a character hubris casts, they can only fail by one step lower if they do it again. More eloquently: when you hubris cast for the second time, even if you fail by only one step, you fail by two. By the third time, you can only fail by three steps or more! These penalties are washed away at the end of a long rest, but should put casters on their toes!

Last, but not least, if you’re hubris casting while not spending a Spell Slot, you roll as if you only new 1st-level spells, as per the second column of the successes chance and calculate the damage suffered on a failure with a 0 on Spell Slot Level!

A summary

To hubris cast you must follow these steps:

  1. Choose a spell from a level which you can’t cast.
  2. Spend a Spell Slot and a Hit Die.
  3. Roll a d100/d% and check your result on the Hubris Casting Chance.
  4. If you succeed, congratulations, you’ve cast the spell and the next time you do so, remember you can only fail on a step lower then when you could before!
  5. If you failed by one step do some math and suffer (Spell Cast Level – Spell Slot Level) x your Hit Die and reroll 1s.
  6. If you failed by two steps, suffer the damage and fall unconscious. You have a level of exhaustion if you came back.
  7. If you failed by three steps, suffer the damage and fall unconscious with one death marked on your Death Saves. You have two levels of exhaustion if you came back.
  8. If you failed by three steps, suffer the damage and fall unconscious with two deaths marked on your Death Saves. You have three levels of exhaustion if you came back.
  9. If you failed by four or more steps, well, you die…

Closing words

I think this is my first post around here, been a lurker for some time, and I hope you guys enjoy my concoction and help me make it even better! English is not my first language, so if you have any doubts about what I meant in a certain passage, please, ask away.

This concept is not originally mine, most of the credit is due to Gabe Hicks and Matt Colville, but I think it was worth to put the effort into.

May your rolls be good and you HP plenty!

Edit: edited the table for clarity.

Source: reddit.com

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