All posts by Derek Jensen

Falling Damage, Zero Hit Points, & Resting

I continue to read up on Dungeons & Dragons and watch homebrew rule videos for D&D and other systems. I’ve been reading both the 4th Edition (which I never played) and 2nd Edition (which I played extensively) books, and I marvel at the fact that Wizards of the Coast has never solved the falling damage problem.

When D&D was first created, Gary Gygax set falling damage as 1d6 per 10 feet fallen, cumulative. By this he meant 1d6 for the first 10 feet, 2d6 for the second 10 feet on top of the first 1d6, etc. But it was universally played as merely 1d10 per 10 feet fallen. Bizarrely, this rule was codified, and–despite many editions and great expansion of hit points*–it remains.

* Fighters only had d8 hit dice in early editions, and characters were limited to 14th level.

They could have at least changed it to 1d6 per 5 feet. You can be pretty badly injured falling off a 5-foot platform (if you’re not deliberately jumping), and most platforms, pits, traps, ditches, and ravines are going to be 5-, 10-, or 15-feet, not 10, 20, or 30.

Some people have even made memes and videos lampooning it, such as one depicting a character deliberately jumping off a cliff, safe in the knowledge that he can survive a 50-foot fall. After all, that’s only 30 hp damage, at most, and just 18 on average.

Meanwhile, real-life people who work on roofs and ladders attest that falls that cause “life-changing injuries” start around 15 feet.

Parkour meme

What Are Hit Points Anyway?

I solved the falling damage problem the same way I solved the overall hit point problem. Traditionally, hit points are thought of primarily as your body being physically injured. In older editions, you healed at a rate of just 1 hp per day; but in newer editions, you get all your hit points back overnight, which means they can’t represent real injury but just getting tired. But actually, that nicely explains why heroes can keep fighting all the way down to 1 hit point.

And since that mechanism has worked for decades, I say: let’s embrace it.

First, you need to know that, in my house rules, you start with an extra 8 hit points (but later hit point gains are reduced). Also, most skill checks and saving throws are allowed a recovery roll. That is, you make the same roll again and maybe this time succeed, but only partially–my way of fixing so-called “save or suck” mechanics.

This creates a new definition of hit points:

Hit points up to 8 represent your physical durability and fortitude. Those above 8 represent your fighting prowess, stamina, and resilience.

Getting Injured

Losing hit points down to 8 represents fatigue, cuts and bruises, and perhaps getting the wind knocked out of you.

When your hit points are reduced below 8, you are noticeably injured (“bloodied”). This injury doesn’t stop you, but you make attacks and skill checks at disadvantage.

If you are reduced to zero hit points, you are seriously injured and fall down. On your next turn, you must “dice with Death”. Check difficulty class 10 using your constitution modifier.

  • If you succeed, you are seriously injured but conscious.
  • If you fail but make a recovery roll, you are seriously injured and unconscious.
  • If you fail both rolls, you are dead.

Now, getting reduced to 8 hit points means you got a flesh wound but can soldier on. Getting reduced to zero means you got a sword in the guts, an arrow in the eye, or an ax to the leg, wounds that, in real life, you might survive, but you’re pretty much done fighting for the day.

In fact, I even created a hit location table for it. Hit location tables were popular for awhile in the late 1980s, but they were far too cumbersome to use on every successful attack. But since PCs don’t get reduced to zero hit points often, it works fine here and provides great flavor.

Roll 1d6: head/face, torso, right arm, left arm, right leg, left leg.

That’s it, and it tells you where the scar is going to be. If you like, you can even use it for the flesh wounds you get when you’re below 8 hp. Beasts and monsters can take real wounds, tho, so just say low damage is to extremities and high damage is to the body.

Seriously Injured

When you are seriously injured, you fall down. You drop anything you are holding, and, even if conscious, are unable to attack or cast spells. You can get up but can only crawl, stagger, or limp at 1/4 speed. Attacks against you get advantage. If you take additional damage, you die immediately.

If you are not killed and do not get magical healing up to 8 hp, you recover at 1 hp per week until your hit points equal 8; then resting allows you to get additional hit points normally. However, from the injury, you gain a permanent scar. Scarring is not repaired by natural or low-level magical healing but can be repaired by higher-level restorative spells.

It’s not necessary to dice with Death for monsters, but the same results are possible, so heroes may occasionally leave creatures for dead only to find they actually survived.

This lets us solve falling damage the same way.

Falling Damage

When you fall more than 5 feet onto a hard surface, check difficulty class 6 using your dexterity modifier. (At 15 feet, use DC 13. At 25 feet or more, use 20.)

  • If you succeed, you take 1d6 hp damage per 5 feet fallen.
  • If you fail but make a recovery roll, you are reduced to zero hit points and are seriously injured (a broken bone) but are conscious.
  • If you fail both rolls, you are reduced to zero hit points and seriously injured and are unconscious.
  • If you roll a natural 1 for the first roll, you must make the recovery roll, or you break your neck and die.

Succeeding on this check represents landing flat or on something soft enough to break your fall or perhaps briefly catching hold of something on the way down.


The last piece of the puzzle is recovering your hit points. As stated above, the old-school rules allowed only 1 hp per day. 5th Edition allows short rests and long rests that return far more–too much, even when we think of it as resting instead of healing from real wounds.

My solution is to draw them back a bit.

Short Rest

If you spend 10 minutes resting (catching your breath, tending to wounds, having a meal, fixing a broken strap), you regain 1 hit point, for a maximum of 3 hp after 30 minutes. You can do this once each time you lose hit points. During a rest, you cannot search a room, travel, or otherwise adventure.

Good Night’s Rest

A good night’s rest means you stop to pitch camp with a tent or pavilion or at an inn, abbey, or similar place and get a decent meal and a bed for a good, sound sleep. If making camp, you may even take a turn at sentry duty, as long as you get at least 6 hours of sleep. (Typically, each person would stand sentry for two hours over an 8-hour night.)

A good night’s rest allows you to regain a maximum of half your full hit points. This represents partially recovering from your minor cuts and bruises and fatigue. You also recover any “once a day” abilities. If your sleep is interrupted by an alert or combat, the night is counted as sleeping rough, at best.

Sleeping Rough

Sleeping rough means you pitch camp or otherwise sleep in a dangerous or precarious situation—often without decent shelter—where it’s hard to let down your guard and fully rest. As long as you sleep at least 4 hours, all “once a day” features and abilities become available.

Sleeping rough allows you to regain a maximum of 2 hit points per level. (However, most monsters and natural animals sleep rough as their natural state, and so get half their hit points each night, regardless.)

I like this kind of terminology, because they are terms people actually use. Everyone knows that “sleeping rough” means you don’t wake up fully refreshed but that a “good night’s rest” really helps you recover from a day of hard labor or hiking.

Wild Magic Effects Tables

One aspect of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition that I like is the idea of wild magic areas. However, I don’t like wild magic effects tables that focus on effects that only last a few combat rounds, and I really don’t like ones that have a lot of positive effects, especially healing, which is part of the cleric’s domain.

So I created my own wild magic effects tables focused on what can happen in a wild magic area when magic is used, the effects of which are nearly always bad, and which tend to last for days. But also, I wanted wild magic effects to occur when a spellcaster is working with magic in unusual ways, such as creating a magic item or new spell or mixing magic together in unpredictable ways (drinking multiple potions at once, for example). Because of this, I wanted such experimentation to be more flavorful by mimicking the traditional vignette of a lone wizard or witch performing magic in an isolated location under the light of a full moon.

In the material below, I use “sorcerer” to refer to all users of arcane magic. In my world, wild magic doesn’t affect clerics, because their magic comes from a different plane than that of sorcery.

Wild Magic Areas

Some areas of the world are crossover points where the “seams” of the Material plane and that of the Ethereal plan cross or are areas that have worn thin between the planes. In these places, often quite small, the casting of spells and use of other magic can cause strange effects.

Magic that is affected includes sorcerer’s spells, creature’s spell-like powers, spells from magic items (a staff, wand, etc.), the use of the powers of magic items (boots of speed being used for their speed, for example), the drinking of potions (but not tonics), and the reading of scrolls. It does not include the bonuses of magic weapons and armor or the mere presence of magic items, nor does it include any holy or sacred items or the performing of rites (clerical spells).

Each time magic is used in the area, perform a skill check to determine if the magic works normally or (on a failure), the caster suffers a minor wild magic effect.

Be sure to read the effect first and decide how to relay it to the player. Some effects will not be obvious immediately. Effects are considered a curse and can be lifted as one. For some effects, the GM may rule the character is allowed a saving throw.

  • “Full moon” means the effect lasts until the character is touched by the light of the full moon. If the effect occurs while the character is under a full moon, the effect lasts until dawn.
  • “Two full moons” means the effect lasts until the character is touched by the light of the full moon after the next full moon. If the effect occurs while the character is under a full moon, the effect lasts until only the next full moon.
  • “Dawn” means the effect lasts until the character is touched by the light of the first hour of dawn.

Minor Wild Magic Effects

1You are drained of your spells and suffer shock.
2You become old in appearance (but not physicality). Full moon.
3You change genders. Full moon.
4Dogs find you contemptible and show their displeasure. Two full moons.
5Vegetation within 30 feet your current location grows surprisingly fast. Full moon.
6Vegetation within 30 feet your current location withers. Full moon.
7You leave a lot of dust in your wake. Full moon.
8You lose your memory of the last 48 hours. Two full moons.
9You become a kleptomaniac and try to steal things. Full moon.
10You believe you have become the ruler of the kingdom. Full moon.
11You keep telling ridiculous lies. Full moon.
12Light music wafts upon the breeze quietly wherever you go. Full moon.
13Your appearance changes to that of the nearest person. Full moon.
14Your footfalls are very loud. Full moon.
15You suffer amnesia and forget who you are (but not your abilities). Full moon.
16Dark music follows quietly wherever you go. Full moon.
17You grow fur over most of your body. Full moon.
18Your skin turns another color… (1d4: 1=gold; 2=silver; 3=blue; 4=green). Full moon.
19You have a fit of hiccups. Then, whenever you are being deceptive, you have a mild fit of hiccups. Full moon.
20Under the light of the day, you appear normal; by firelight or the light of the moon, you appear hideous (the other players decide how). Two full moons.
21You develop an allergy to any magic near you. You sneeze and itch until magic-related things are removed. Full moon.
22You attract harmless… (1d6: 1=birds; 2=frogs; 3=crickets; 4=squirrels; 5=mice; 6=bats). Two full moons.
23You no longer have a reflection or cast a shadow. Full moon.
24Your eye color turns red. Full moon.
25Your hair turns white but grows out its normal color at the normal rate.
26You grow a tail as long as your forearm. Full moon.
27You lose your sense of smell. Two full moons.
28During the night, butterflies settle on you. Hundreds of them, unless you can seal your sleeping chamber tightly, in which case they settle on the roof. Full moon.
29You are unable to read and write. Full moon.
30Everywhere you walk, mushrooms grow. Two full moons.
31You lose the ability to speak one random language you know. Full moon.
32Your skin becomes tough and leathery (+1 AC). Full moon.
33You become grotesque-looking. If already grotesque, you become beautiful. Full moon.
34You become confused and walk around in a daze. Full moon.
35Your hair falls out and grows back at the normal rate.
36You switch bodies (but not class type) with the nearest person. Dawn.
37You leave the footprints of a random monster. Full moon.
38You change ancestries to… (1d6: 1=human; 2=dwarf; 3=elf; 4=halfling; 5=half-ogre; 6=goblin—if you roll your own ancestry, you get goblin). Full moon.
39You suffer shock and develop a phobia about something within 30 feet of you. Two full moons.
40You become unable to speak. Dawn.
41Any clothing you are currently wearing stiffens to the consistency of plaster, making it difficult to break out of it.
42Colored ribbons stream from your fingertips when you attempt to cast a spell. Full moon.
43Bubbles come out of your mouth every time you speak. Full moon.
44You feel and act drunk. Dawn.
45Food tastes bad and makes you slightly ill. Full moon.
46Any clothing you are currently wearing stiffens to the consistency of thin stone. Perform a strength check to break out.
47Your personal items seem very attractive to thieves. Two full moons.
48You lose your hearing, it seems, but actually radiate silence for 20 feet. Full moon.
49You float up in the air 10 feet per minute for 3d6 minutes, then descend rapidly (but not fall) for 1d4 hp damage. While levitating, you have no control and may drift on the wind.
50Any loose items near you slide toward you until they (gently) hit each other or you.
51You are encircled by a wall of fire that does 1d4 hp damage if you walk thru it. Lasts 1 hour.
52You become incorporeal, like a ghost or phantom. Dawn.
53You are safely teleported 100 yards in a random compass direction. Your clothing is not.
54You are blinded by visions of spots. Dawn.
55Any clothing you are currently wearing becomes animate and attempts walk you around wherever it wants to go. Dawn.
56You sense the next person you encounter will suffer a minor wild magic effect.
57You are hurled 10 feet away for 1d4 points of damage.
58You vomit up a live, non-poisonous snake.
59Your hair turns white permanently.
60You become mildly magnetic to iron-based metals permanently.
61Your voice is now… (1d6: 1=squeaky; 2=booming; 3=a foreign accent; 4=raspy; 5=over loud; 6=affected by a speech impediment of your choice). Two full moons.
62A small explosion blasts your face and hair for 1 hp damage, leaving your face smoke-blackened.
63You become very hot and need to cool off by jumping into a pond, river, snowbank, etc.
64You have a vision of the death of someone you know to you whom you cannot name and which you cannot describe. The next death near you fulfills that vision and makes you suffer shock.
65You have a vision of your own death and suffer shock. You can’t remember it.
66The nearest magic item is drained of all its magic and reduced to pieces as its magic is used up to shoot showers of sparks out of it.
67You shapechange into the next beast you see. You retain your intelligence but acquire its appetite. Dawn.
68You shrink several inches per day until you are the size of a squirrel, then after a week grow back to normal at the same rate.
69You grow several inches per day until you are one yard taller, then after a week shrink back to normal at the same rate.
70You have a vision of a primordial being of eldritch horror you now understand to be real and still in existence.
71You become very romantically attractive. Full moon.
72You are compelled to tell a joke to each person you encounter. Until you come up with the joke, you can have no other interaction with the person. Full moon.
73There is a sudden thunderstorm, highly localized to your current location (100 yards).
74You vomit up 1d20 of your own gold crowns.
75A swarm of rats attacks you.
76You cannot remember how to cast spells. Two full moons.
77All items made of metal within 30 feet of you move glow with the strength of a torch. Full moon.
78You smell like a skunk, or, more precisely, like you got sprayed by a skunk. Full moon.
79You teleport safely to a distant land you’ve heard of. You return to your own bed once you fall asleep.
80You have a vision of the secret shame of a local noble and suffer shock.
81You can only speak in questions. Full moon.
82Every time you cast a spell, you become very hungry and must eat immediately or faint. Full moon.
83A prized possession vanishes, but you know exactly where it is 3 miles away from you.
84A prized possession vanishes and reappears somewhere 100 yards away from you, so you have to search.
85You smell delicious to carnivorous beasts. Full moon.
86All creatures up to 100 yards away from your current location suffer a random minor wild magic effect themselves.
87You lose 1 point of a random ability score. Full moon.
88You lose 2 points of a random ability score. Full moon.
89You lose 3 points of a random ability score. Full moon.
90You lose 1 point in all ability scores. Full moon.
91You are compelled to go carousing every night for one week. Full cost; keep the luck. (See Carousing rules.)
92Your shadow detaches from you and becomes a shadow being. You only get a normal shadow again if you personally kill it.
93The area near your current location becomes saturated with heavy fog. Full moon.
94Wherever you go, all liquids within 20 feet of you turn to plain fresh water. Full moon.
95Dogs become very hostile to you—barking, chasing, possibly biting. Full moon.
96You are convinced the magic worked and make three more attempts using the same method and recipe, suffering automatic failures each time.
97You suffer a debilitating migraine. You can barely move for the pain. Dawn.
98All normal fires near you are extinguished.
99Your voice becomes very loud. Full moon.
100Roll 2d20 on this table. The effect is permanent as a curse.

Major Wild Magic Effects

If the effect includes “the vicinity”, it is a one-mile radius.

1The nearest item (or spell) is cursed such that using it always causes the user a minor wild magic effect.
2You are turned to stone until the full moon, after which you suffer shock.
3You are turned to iron until the full moon, after which you suffer shock.
4You grow two extra arms out of your torso. At the next full moon, they begin to rot. At the following full moon, they fall off.
5You grow a third eye on your forehead. It affords no advantages. Full moon.
6You lose 1 point of a random ability score. Two full moons.
7You lose 2 points of a random ability score. Two full moons.
8You lose 3 points of a random ability score. Two full moons.
9You lose 1 point in all ability scores. Two full moons.
10You can only eat fresh blood and crave it immediately; animal blood will do. Full moon.
11Spiders become very attracted to you. They would like to eat you, but they aren’t big enough… except for ones that are. Two full moons.
12You switch bodies with the last person you touched. Two full moons.
13You shapechange into the last beast you saw. You retain your intelligence but acquire its appetite. Two full moons.
14Your eyes occasionally seep tears of blood. Two full moons.
15Your spirit is trapped in a nearby object you are drawn to, and your life lasts as long as the… (1d6: 1-2=apple; 3=cherry; 4=pear; 5=peach; 6=mushroom): 3d10 days, waning gradually.
16You are cursed with the ill luck of the gambler. You get -2 on all d20 rolls until you win at gambling, whereupon the ill luck transfers to the loser. Your ill luck includes gambling rolls.
17The area near your current location becomes saturated with heavy fog. Two full moons.
18You safely teleport to a distant land you’ve heard of. You return at two full moons.
19Your current location (50-yard radius) becomes a wild magic area. Two full moons.
20You smell of death. Carrion eaters gather around you, expecting you to die.
21You suffer shock. Any damage you inflict on others you suffer also. Two full moons.
22You suffer shock. Any time you cast a spell, it causes you damage equal to the spell order. Two full moons.
23You suffer shock. Any time you cast a spell, you suffer a minor wild magic effect. Two full moons.
24Your skin becomes thin and translucent (-1 AC). Two full moons.
25Roll 2d20 on the Minor Wild Magic Effects table; the effect is permanent.
26All your possessions that are up to 50 yards away, including your clothes, are teleported 100 miles away in a random compass direction.
27You have a vision of a dragon in a cavern on a pile of treasure. It now knows you. You suffer shock.
28Your face is permanently disfigured; it frightens children and evokes disgust in adults.
29You have a vision of a unicorn; you are so struck with its beauty, meeting it becomes a quest. You suffer shock.
30Your current location (50-yard radius) become a wild magic area permanently.
31Touching metal burns you for 1 hp damage per round, permanently.
32By a scribe’s error that is difficult to correct, you are declared an outlaw.
33Normal food no longer sustains you. You must eat… (1d6: 1=weeds; 2=wood; 3=ashes; 4=hair; 5=bark; 6=wool).
34You are cursed with lycanthropy of the type… (1d6: 1=werewolf; 2=werebear; 3=wearboar; 4=wererat; 5=werefox; 6=werelynx). If you are currently touched by a full moon, you transform immediately (as an NPC for the night).
35Your clothing becomes animated and attempts to strangle you. Perform a strength check to tear it off.
36Your clothing catches fire. You take 2 hp damage per round until it’s removed or doused.
37You are teleported into the nearest body of water, 2d6x10 feet from shore.
38You are teleported into the nearest body of water. You are transformed into one of the sea folk permanently.
39You suffer shock. Now, each day, you gain a tattoo that summarizes what you did that day. Two full moons.
40You have a vision of yourself falling down stairs and being killed. From now on, you must check dexterity every time you walk up or down stairs or take a tumble and suffer 1d6 hp damage. On a natural 1, you tumble down and suffer 5d6 hp damage.
41You are affected by a reversal of gravity and fall upward. If in an open area, you drift away from the affected area after falling up 1d12x10 feet, presumably then falling back down.
42The life is drained out of all creatures who are within 30 feet, giving them 5 ranks of fatigue and causing them to faint.
43All creatures who are within 30 feet suffer visions of eldritch horror that result in a bout of madness.
44All creatures who are within 30 feet turn to stone until the next full moon.
45All creatures who are within 30 feet turn to iron until the next full moon.
46All creatures who are within 30 feet are teleported safely 2d4 miles in a random compass direction.
47From now on, you can sense wild magic (areas, bad potions, etc.). It makes you vomit.
48You are safely teleported 1d100 miles away in a random compass direction.
49The vicinity is deluged with… (1d4: 1=heavy rain; 2=a flash flood; 3=sleet; 4=snow).
50You take to sleepwalking permanently. Waking a sleepwalker causes shock.
51Your personal possessions within 30 feet your current location become random oozes.
52You suffer shock. Everyone you encounter suffers a minor wild magic encounter. Full moon.
53You are hurled by a fiery blast 30 feet away for 3d4 points of damage, which catches any normal clothes you’re wearing on fire for 1 point per round until you put them out.
54You are hurled straight upward for 1d6x10 feet and potentially suffer falling damage.
55Dogs become very hostile to you—barking, chasing, possibly biting—permanently.
56A prized possession vanishes… (1d4: 1=forever; 2=and reappears in the next dungeon you explore; 3=but you know exactly where it is: in a dungeon 2d4+1 days’ ride away).
57You are cursed with bad luck and take -1 on all d20 rolls. Two full moons.
58All small beasts and larger in the vicinity panic and stampede thru your current location.
59Talking to any creature forces you to perform a charisma check or faint.
60The trees in the vicinity grow bent and gnarled over the next few weeks.
61Your skin turns another color permanently… (1d4: 1=gold; 2=silver; 3=blue; 4=green).
62Vegetation within 20 feet of you wherever go are begins to wither after 24 hours, permanently.
63You are drained of spell levels and suffer shock.
64The ground under your feet rumbles and opens a crack a handspan wide for 20 feet.
65You experience a vision of a dark and calamitous future that you and your companions alone can prevent. You suffer shock.
66You smell delicious to carnivorous beasts, permanently.
67Your spirit becomes bound to a prized possession you cannot bear to be without from now on. If you die, you become a ghost, and it is your spirit anchor.
68It rains… (1d8: 1=frogs; 2=small fish; 3=locusts; 4=blood; 5=dead birds; 6=ordinary snakes; 7=small hail; 8=large hail) in the vicinity.
69You learn a dark secret about the world and suffer a bout of madness.
70From now on, everywhere you walk in moonlight, mushrooms grow.
71Your voice is now… (1d6: 1=squeaky; 2=booming; 3=a foreign accent; 4=raspy; 5=over loud; 6=affected by a speech impediment of your choice). Two full moons.
72You manifest sympathy. When a creature within 30 feet takes any damage, you take 1 hp. If there is any person drunk, crying, or laughing, you do the same.
73You faint. From now on, if you take at least 1 point of damage, you faint.
74You faint and suffer a small wound for 1 hp damage. You don’t heal naturally any more.
75All potions now cause a minor wild magic effect on you as well as their normal effect.
76Birds become hostile to humanoids in the vicinity. Two full moons.
77Birds become attracted but not hostile to humanoids in the vicinity. Two full moons.
78Your skin becomes hypersensitive to sunlight, taking 1 hp damage per minute exposed.
79You forget how to cast first order spells permanently.
80You are teleported inside the nearest large barrel, displacing your volume of what it already holds (d6: 1=pickles; 2=ale; 3=water; 4=stale urine for tanning; 5-6=air). If it is sealed (d6: 1-4=sealed, 5-6=unsealed).
81You are rendered comatose until dawn. This does not protect you from animals.
82The vicinity becomes a… (1d4: 1=marshland; 2=forest; 3=brambly waste; 4=rocky crag; if the vicinity is already that thing, it becomes a desert).
83You now obey all orders directed at you by anyone. They don’t automatically know this.
84You become quite hungry. Any food you attempt to eat instantly rots into a putrid gruel. Eating it anyway to keep from starving requires a successful constitution check or you vomit it back up. Two full moon.
85If you take any damage, perform a successful wisdom check or panic.
86You and all objects within 20 feet of you are shaken violently and scattered around the area for 1d4 hp damage.
87A rift in the planar fabric opens, and a nature spirit enters the Material plane. This location is now its demesne.
88Everything you do (all d20 rolls) seems to either be a great success (natural 20) or awful failure (natural 1). Two full moons.
89You contract a disease… (1d4: 1=pox; 2=cough; 3=fever; 4=bloody flux).
90A creature of the last type you helped kill appears 100 yards away, moving toward you, intent on revenge.
91The ground before you opens, and out comes a hungry giant constrictor snake.
922d4 livestock or wild animals in the vicinity become fatally ill.
93A minor earthquake occurs in the vicinity.
94A rift opens between the material and Ethereal planes, and a nature spirit manifests and attacks you.
95You are unable to read and write permanently.
96You can’t sleep and begin to suffer hallucinations after the first night. Lose 1 point of wisdom each week. Two full moons.
97You are struck by lightning for 5d6 points of damage.
98A tear in the fabric of the planes opens, and a demon is summoned thru it.
99You lose 1 point of wisdom with each full moon until (at 0) you are insane.
100Roll 2d12 on this table; the effect is permanent as a curse.

Defile, the Mountain Pass Race

Continuing to ponder and play around with games, I came up with a race game inspired by the royal game of Ur, an ancient game that has recently been rediscovered by historians.

In defile, two players try to be the first to move their pieces up a mountainside and thru a defile (a narrow pass) to the other side. This is played on a chess board using eight pieces for each player.

The object is to move your pieces out onto the board along your home row, turn up and along the far column, and off the board into the opponent’s side at the opposite corner. The opponent’s pieces go the opposite way along his or her home row, up the same far column, and off onto your side. The first to bear all their pieces off the board wins.

On your turn, you roll a normal 6-side die (1d6) and move a piece out onto the board that number of spaces. The opponent rolls and moves. You roll again and move that piece or bring out another.

  • You can jump your pieces or the opponent’s pieces, but you cannot land on a square occupied by one of your own pieces, nor can you move a piece backwards.
  • If you land on a square occupied by one of your opponent’s pieces, that piece gets knocked off the board back to the start.
  • You can only bear a piece off the board to home on an exact roll.
  • If you have a valid move, you must make a move. If you have no valid move, your turn is wasted.

In this example, white, at bottom, has two pieces borne off while red has one. In this case, white has interesting moves for most of its rolls.

  • If white rolls a 1, it can move white 3 to knock red 5 back to start.
  • If white rolls a 2, it can bear off white 5 to red’s side.
  • If white rolls a 3, it can move white 4 up to knock red 4 back to start.
  • If white rolls a 4, it could bring on its last piece or move white 1, white 3, or white 4.
  • If white rolls a 5, it can move white 2 to knock red 5 off the board.
  • If white rolls a 6, it can move white 1 to knock red 5 off the board.

Battle of Wits Game

I got intrigued by the idea of the “duel of wits” mechanic from the TTRPG The Burning Wheel, which has since been reused in Torchbearer and Mouse Guard. It’s also used for some combat as well, but reports are that it is crunchy, requires substantial setup to work well, and can be somewhat unsatisfying dramatically, despite being clever.

It’s based on an expanded rock-paper-scissors idea, with four to six choices and three or more outcomes, but the core requirement seems to be that you must specify three plays at the beginning, which leaves you something of a spectator as the conflict gets resolved.

A battle of wits is a great idea that can be useful for resolving a negotiation with a nobleman or foreign emissary, a civil or criminal trial, a peace treaty, a surrender or ransom, a trade dispute, a negotiation with pirates, or even a romantic entanglement. So I wanted one of my own.

My idea is to base the mechanic on tic-tac-toe and let the players play out the conflict in real time. The strategy of tic-tac-toe is very simple, but the game generates drama by making each choice contested. Hollywood Squares introduced drama to tic-tac-toe by requiring the contestants to answer trivia (or, rather, agree with trivia answers). My version requires the players to engage in a roll-off or contested skill check for each square. This mechanic allows characters with negotiation, deception, or even entertainment skills to gain an advantage for some plays.

Role-Playing a Battle of Wits

You can role-play making (brief, simple) appeals using persuasion, intimidation, or instruction combined with a rhetorical skill of charm, shade, or dismissal. If preferred for simplicity, you can merely quote the square in the layout.

Persuade: You appeal to the facts, justice, honor, and fairness. Relevant skill: negotiation.

Intimidate: You appeal to the law, rights, authority, or, in subtle ways, even might and wealth. Relevant skill: hearten/dishearten (or the law, pirate code, etc., where relevant to an NPC).

Instruct: You appeal to logic, consequences, tradition, history, and common sense. Relevant skill: lore.

Charm: You make your point with an attempt impress, charm, delight, or trick the audience or opponent. Relevant skill: entertaining (any verbal version).

Dismiss: You make your point by an attempt to dismiss, sidestep, belittle, or reject the opponent’s arguments. Relevant skill: gambling.

Shade: You make your point by casting doubt on the facts, witnesses, evidence, or motives of the opponent. Relevant skill: deception.

Playing Out the Battle

To begin, each side makes an opening argument that states their case, such as adventurers vs a nobleman: “We should be allowed to keep all this treasure, because we found it,” as opposed to “I should be able to claim all this treasure, because it was found on my land.”

Then the opponents alternate selecting and contending over squares. Use your TTRPG’s contested skill checks or the shambles rules I posted previously to see who makes the better point in the back-and-forth of appeals and rebuttal. The winner takes the square, and the loser chooses the next square. An official may remark on the insightfulness of the point; an audience may laugh and cheer.

One side can even try to overturn a square taken by the other (effectively rebutting the point to make a point of their own). If overturned, that square should then stand. In casual disputes, the GM may allow only one overturning; in formal court argument, the opponents might try to overturn nearly every point; in courtly intrigue, a square might be overturned twice.

Winning a Battle of Wits

In the end:

  • If one side has three in a row, the opponent is likely to concede, or the judge or audience is likely to come to a conclusion heavily favoring one side.
  • If neither or both sides complete three in a row (possible, since both get to have their say each turn), they have both made a good show, and there should be an even compromise.
  • If the winner makes three in a row vertically (using all shade, charm, or dismissal techniques), the argument is weak, and the judgment may include some compromise.

Shambles: A Game for Opposed Checks

Another game I have come up with is a simple dice game called shambles. In shambles, two players try to best one another’s rolls for points. On each play, both players roll 1d6. The player with the higher roll gets a point. If the rolls are equal, both get a point.

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When one of the players has four points, rolling matching values ends the round. If the players’ point totals are equal, roll again until one player has has more.

This matching feature makes for drama, because you are in a position to win but need the matching roll to clinch it; and you can lose a round or two just when you thought you had it made.

If playing for fun, you can play three out of five. Or you can record the score and play again, and the first to 20 points wins the match.

In D&D

In tabletop role-playing games, this can be used to decide the outcome of a wrestling match, non-lethal duel, wizard dual, footrace, gambling, or other contest. Just give one character a +1 to represent having some advantage, such as wrestling or athletics skill or one duelist being higher level. Since such bonuses are strong on a d6, avoid any advantage more than +1.

Wizard Duels

For wizard duels in D&D (if you want to get rid of Counterspell), spellcasters can try to counter each others’ spells with any of their own, as long as both spells target the opponent or an area of effect around the opponent.

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So if Rahm casts a 5th-level spell targeting Salda’s area, and Salda counters with a 2nd-level spell (she didn’t know what level Rahm’s spell was), Rahm gets a +1 to his shambles rolls.

Then the magical energies collide, swirling and crackling as the duel is fought. Other characters must stop their fighting and shade their eyes.

First Rahm gains ground, then Salda—back and forth in a magical shoving match until one wins out.

The loser’s spell fails—diverted into a minor wild magic effect that affects the loser… or even both characters. (More on my wild magic effects tables before long.)

You might be tempted to raise the dice to d10s or d12s and give more bonuses for spell level and/or intelligence. But the power of the spells themselves should be more important than technique. Don’t go nuts, it’s meant to be simple!

Death Saves

dicing with death

You can even use this to replace disease, poisoning, and even death saving throws. A character reduced to 0 hit points is brought to limbo by the Lord of the Underworld and invited to “dice with death”. The character is at -1 against death unless getting aid and comfort from companions.

The two battle it out with the dice while everything around them pauses. If the hero wins, he or she is left barely alive and semi-conscious. If the hero loses, the Lord of the Underworld takes the character down…

Jurassic Park breakdown

A paleobotanist, a paleontologist, and a couple of kids try to survive a night in a dinosaur park with the security out.

Many years ago, I did a commentary for this movie.

I’m breaking down movies by their three-act structure. What is three-act structure? I explain it here.

Note: I break the story down into five-minute blocks to make it easier to see the length of each section. Rough time codes follow.


Jurassic Park staff member is killed by a dinosaur (introducing the conflict: “we want to see dinosaurs but not be eaten by them” and NOT “we must escape dinosaurs”). 5

Act 1

As Dr Ellie Sattler looks on, Dr Alan Grant explains that dinosaurs were terrifying killers. (This actually introduces a secondary conflict in which Ellie wants children and Alan does not. This is played for laughs thruout and used to maintain tension.) 10

John Hammond invites Alan and Ellie to Jurassic Park. Dennis takes a payoff for stolen dinosaur embryos. (Introducing the villain.) 15

Alan, Ellie, and Ian Malcolm reach Jurassic Park and see live dinosaurs. 20

John Hammond explains Jurassic Park. 25

John gives them a tour of the lab. Ian warns that “life finds a way”. (This seems to reinforce the conflict, but the fact the dinosaurs are managing to breed is actually not relevant to escaping them; it only speaks the the fact that John Hammond is playing with forces he doesn’t understand. This way, John’s hubris is just as much at fault as Dennis’s greed.) 30

Act 2

The guests witness a feeding and hear Muldoon’s concerns about velociraptors (introducing the secondary villain). 35

The guests express their concerns. John’s grandchildren arrive. 40

The guests go on the automated motor tour but see nothing. 45

The guests leave the SUVs and wander thru the park. 50

The guests find a sick triceratops. The staff is evacuated for the oncoming storm. 55

Midpoint Crisis

Dennis steals the embryos. His program shuts down security and stops the tour. (This is the first actual danger the heroes are in!) 60

The t-rex breaches the fence next to the stopped SUVs . 65

The t-rex attacks the SUVs . Alan helps Lex escape, but the SUV ends up in a tree. 70

Dennis runs off the road and is killed by a dilophosaurus (killing the villain but not ending the conflict!). 75

Alan helps Tim escape the SUV in the tree. Ellie searches for them. 80

The t-rex chases Ellie, Ian, and Muldoon. 85

John waxes philosophical over ice cream. Ellie condemns his vision. (This is the emotional bottom, but it’s unusual because it does not really seem like all is lost. It works because we laid a lot of pipe about John’s hubris, making it a substitute villain for Dennis’s greed.) 90

Act 3

Alan and the kids flee a herd of gallimimus pursued by a t-rex. Ray goes to flip the breakers. (A false turn!) 95

Ray having gone missing, Ellie and Muldoon go to flip the breakers. (The real turn!) 100

Alan and the kids climb over the perimeter fence as Ellie turns it on. Tim is injured. 105

Alan revives Tim. He leaves Tim and Lex in the main building, but raptors stalk them. 110

The kids evade the raptors. Alan, Ellie, and the kids reboot the system so they can call for a helicopter. 115

Raptors break in. The guests escape but encounter the t-rex and slip away when it fights the raptors. (The end of an extended climax with the secondary villain, and John even gets a line rejecting his own park and therefore his earlier hubris.) They reach the helicopter (resolving the conflict). 120


They fly away. (Very brief and resolves the secondary conflict of Alan not liking children. Unfortunately, this is thrown away in sequels.)