Curse of Strahd NPCs retooled

I felt kind of blah about some of the NPC stat blocks for major protagonists in the adventure, so I converted three of those most likely to do some adventuring with the player characters into PC-classed characters.  If any of them end up joining the party full-time, I’ll likely have them run in combat by one of the players.  They’ll gain experience and level with the party, and if any unrecoverable character deaths occur, the player will have the option of taking one over as their new character.  Two of the three use 3rd party classes and archetypes, so this is also an opportunity for me to see how these balance with the PHB material without having to nerf a player’s character if they prove too imbalanced.


First, there’s Ezmerelda.  Her spellcasting ability (as well as another rather well-known NPCs) didn’t strike me as very flavorful for the character concept, so instead, she’s a Dexterity-based, stealthy damage-dealing martial type.  Ravenloft is the perfect setting for the rare firearm using character.

I expect my party to run into her around level 5 or 6, and as she’s supposed to be pretty competent at what she does, I’ve made her a level 6 character: 5 levels of Fighter, using Matt Mercer’s Gunslinger archetype for fighters from DMs Guild, with a 1 level dip into rogue for sneak attack and expertise and to reflect her use of ambush tactics when hunting monsters.  If she ends up being the party’s ally against Strahd, she’ll advance to rogue 2 for cunning action some time after the characters reach 7th level, and then to fighter 6 just before they reach the finale, somewhere between the party’s 8th and 9th levels.

While accompanying the party, she’ll be a ranged combatant with strong single-target damage (much like a warlock or crossbow rogue), and a voice of experience when it comes to monster-hunting.


Next up is Ismark.  Another Dexterity based fighter, his role as a Burgomaster’s son has seen him receive some training in the more “refined” art of fencing.  Two-weapon fighting and the dual wielder feat give him decent damage potential with dual rapiers, while the Champion archetype makes him simple to run in combat as he’ll use the attack action and a bonus action for off-hand attacks, or take a shot with his longbow with the attack action.

He and Ireena are likely to join the party for a brief time after Death House, so they’re both 3rd level to match the party when they meet, but their builds will prevent them from dominating the action.  Ismark will have a bigger role to play in the early story, as he is due to marry the daughter of the Boyar of Graenseskov, a political marriage even more necessary now that the old Burgomaster has died and Ismark is single and heir-less.


Speaking of Ireena, she gets the EN5ider exclusive Noble class treatment.  This class, in the flavor of the 4th edition Warlord, adds a bit of support to the party.  She’s taken the Path of Bravery, the most martial of the subclasses.  A trio of limited-use-per-rest features include a 2-target “inspirational” heal action useable once per long rest, a single “use my action to give you an action” which gets better in what it allows the target to use as it increases in level and is useable once per short rest, and a reaction to reroll a failed save or ability check, also useable once per short rest.

She will be played as brave and strong-headed, and refusing to be Strahd’s victim, though her stubbornness often places her in harm’s way.  Medium armor and shields give her decent defenses, but she won’t be a front line combatant, running up only to deliver first aid to a fallen PC.  The Healer feat gives her additional support options, and she’ll begin play prepared for this with a healer’s kit.She will extend the over sized party’s hit point range between rests considerably and take some stress off the cleric.



Custom Player-Created Backgrounds

Now that I have a few 5e campaigns under my belt, I’ve started feeling like the PHB backgrounds are the one area of the game sadly lacking in diversity.  Many of them don’t seem to have very complimentary traits/ideals/bonds/flaws, and rolling randomly can often come up with seemingly contradictory results that require some hand waving and jumping through mental hoops to justify.

So many just don’t make sense or give any kind of synergistic benefits to the majority of classes, so you’re left with hundreds of sage wizards proficient in Intelligence skills (or dextrous casters with a checkered past for the stealth option), charlatan, criminal, and urchin rogues, and soldier fighters/paladins.

I’m going to experiment with allowing my players to come up with their own custom backgrounds with a set of personalized traits/ideals/bonds/flaws.  We’ll see how it goes.

Custom background construction rules

Skill Proficiencies: Any 2 (cannot take stealth and perception unless you give up a tool/language)

Tools/Languages: Any combination of 2.

Background Feature: Should be non-mechanical and downtime related.  The more flavorful and tied to the background concept, the more leeway I’ll give something that seems a bit more powerful than the norm.

Starting Equipment: One of the kits/tools gained under Tools/Languages worth no more than 50 gp, or one piece of adventuring gear (holy symbols and the like) priced the same, a set of clothes, and up to 4 pieces of adventuring gear or flavorful trinkets worth a total of no more than 50 gp.  Again, if these values are at the higher end of the allowed, then I’m going to look for supporting flavor from the background description.

2 Personality Traits: Questions to ask here are “What does my alignment and my background say about my personality.”

1 Ideal: What do I hold most important due to my background and life experience.

1 Bond: Who or what from my background connects me to the campaign world.  This can be a person, place, or group.

1 Flaw: What one feature of my personality, related to my background and life experience could my enemies use to exploit me and cause me to act against my own best interests.

I’m interested to see what players would come up with.  If the “background” ends up being more of a “backstory” with the mechanics tacked on (but fitting), then so much the better.  I’d much rather see “The third son of a widowed and destitute former merchant who fell in with the wrong crowd and was apprenticed to the local temple of justice in lieu of losing a hand for thievery and found his calling as a paladin than another “acolyte” or “criminal”.  Granted, there’s nothing preventing someone from using the acolyte or criminal background for that and then choosing traits that match the backstory, but perhaps the player wants Perception as a proficient skill.  In this case, during his first week of temple guard duty, his laxity led to a former acquaintance stealing some priceless relic and almost led to his expulsion from the order when they thought him complicit in the theft.  Since that day, he has vowed to never lapse in his alertness when on duty.







No-Spell Beastmaster Ranger

Everyone and their sister has their own version of the Beastmaster ranger archetype, as the one found in the Player’s Handbook is commonly considered one of the worst-performing 5e archetypes due to action ineconomy and the low hit points of the companion at upper tiers of play.  Fans of 3.x animal companions argue that it’s unrealistic to have to use your entire action each turn to cajole an instinctual predator and trained intelligent beast to attack someone threatening it.  

But allowing them to attack for “free” each turn is a huge power increase.  As huge as…spellcasting?  Let’s find out.  

These are the playtest rules Sarah is going to try out with her ranger, Devlin.  House rules for using trained beasts in combat are included as they tie in to how our table’s version of the Beastmaster gives commands to its companion.  The archetype should feel a lot more like a 3.5 druid or WoW hunter, with much of its offensive output coming from the companion.  As the Ranger progresses, so does the companion, and they gain synergies for working together at higher levels, promoting the theme of the archetype.

Beast Master

The Beast Master archetype embodies a friendship between the civilized races and the beasts of the wild.  United in focus, beast and ranger fight the monsters that threaten civilization and the wilderness alike.

This archetype uses the base ranger class features from the player’s handbook, but loses all features related to Spellcasting or powered by spell slots.

Ranger’s Companion

At 3rd level, you gain a beast companion that accompanies you on your adventures and is trained to fight alongside you.  Choose a beast that is no larger than Medium and has a challenge rating of ¼ or lower.  Add your proficiency bonus to the beast’s AC, attack rolls, damage rolls, as well as to any saving throws and skills in which it is proficient.  Its hit point maximum is calculated as follows:

Hit Points in creature stat block + your ranger level * (4 + creature’s Constitution bonus))

A companion with 13 Hit Points in its stat block and a Constitution bonus of 2, belonging to a 3rd level ranger, would have 13 + 3*(4+2) or 31 Hit Points.  The same companion would gain an additional 6 Hit Points whenever the ranger advanced a level.

When you gain the benefits of an Ability Score Increase class feature, you may also increase two of your companion’s abilities by 1 point each (or increase one ability by 2 points).  Alternately, with your DMs approval, you can choose it to gain the benefits of one feat for which it meets the prerequisites from the following list:

alert, durable, heavily armored, lucky, mobile, moderately armored, resilient, savage attacker, sentinel, skulker, slightly armored, tough

The companion has Hit Dice equal to the number of Hit Dice in its stat block plus your ranger level.  Like any creature, it can spend Hit Dice during a short rest to regain Hit Points.

You gain proficiency in the Wisdom (Animal Handling) skill if you don’t already have it.


Potential Ranger Companions

CR ⅛: blood hawk, flying snake, giant crab, giant rat, giant weasel, mastiff, mule, poisonous snake, pony, stirge

CR ¼: boar, giant badger, giant centipede, giant frog, giant poisonous snake, giant wolf spider, panther, pteranodon, wolf.


The beast is considered war trained and can be commanded as per the rules for commanding war trained animals.  It also knows the advanced commands: help, dodge, fetch, give, and take.  If you are incapacitated or absent, the beast acts on its own, focusing on protecting you and itself.  The beast never requires your command to use its reactions, such as when making an opportunity attack.

While traveling through your favored terrain with only your companion, you can move stealthily at a normal pace.

If the beast dies, you can obtain a new companion by spending 8 hours magically bonding with a beast that isn’t hostile to you and meets the requirements.

Tying this “auto-advantage” power to melee range is the only way to prevent all beastmaster rangers from going ranged weapon builds.  I think this makes both tanky pet/greatsword master ranger builds and defensive specialist ranger/dps critter builds vialble.  7 levels in this class prevent this from being a “dippable” power for optimizers.

Exceptional Training

Beginning at 7th level, your link with your companion is second nature to you both.  You can issue commands to your companion without an action cost each turn.  Additionally, while both you and your companion are within 5 feet of an enemy, you have advantage on attacks targeting that enemy.

Bestial Fury

Starting at 11th level, your companion gains the multiattack action if it doesn’t already have it.  It can make two attacks with its primary weapon attack.  If the beast already has multiattack, it can make one additional attack with its most damaging weapon attack as part of that multiattack.

I think the level 15 ability is a huge capstone for the archetype, making the beast master ranger one of the most accurate combatants in the game.  Have to look at the synergies between this and the damage-adding feats, or should it just be assumed that by this level, everyone’s got some way of regularly gaining advantage on attacks?  Not as big a boost for melee rangers as they’ve been doing this with their pets since level 7, but it’s the boost the archer build has been waiting for.

Pack Tactics

Beginning at 15th level, you gain pack tactics.  Attack rolls you make against an enemy have advantage if an ally (including your animal companion) is with 5 feet of the target and not disabled.


Rules for using mounts and other domesticated beasts in combat

The key determining factor for how a domesticated beast or mount acts in combat is whether or not that creature has been war trained.  Warhorses are the only animal on the list of mounts in the PHB which are considered to be war trained when purchased. Mastiffs, and other beasts with your DMs approval, can be war trained.  DMs are encouraged to assign exponential cost-increases for war training higher CR beasts.

War training by a skilled NPC takes 90 days and costs 180 gp.  Alternately, a PC can attempt to train a creature during downtime.  This costs 1 gp per day in training materials.  After each 30 days of training, the trainer must make a successful DC 15 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check.  A failed roll indicates the training costs are lost and the animal does not learn from that training period.  After three successful checks (minimum of 90 days), the animal gains the War Trained trait.

At the DM’s discretion, some war trained creatures (mastiffs) may be available for purchase.  Such creatures will cost their listed amount plus 200 gp.


At any one time, a war trained creature can be bound to one other creature known as its handler.  For mounts, their current rider is always considered their handler.  For other beasts, such as a war mastiff, their handler is a creature which has spent 8 hours of downtime bonding with the creature through training and succeeding in a DC 10 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check.  

When not being ridden as a mount, the war trained creature acts independently from its handler in combat. It acts on its own turn immediately following its handler’s turn in the initiative order.  It defends itself if attacked using its offensive and defensive abilities appropriately, attempting to flee if injured.  It stays by its handler’s side, and acts as if commanded to guard its handler (see Guard <target> below), until issued a different command.  

If you are its handler, you may issue a command to a war trained creature as a bonus action that requires a DC 10 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check..  A successful check allows you to give the creature one command it knows.  The creature acts 

When it has fulfilled the requirements of a given command, and the creature is not threatened, it reverts to its default behavior of guarding its handler.

The commands known by all war trained creatures are listed below.

Attack <target>– the creature engages the target if it can perceive it, using its offensive abilities appropriately for a creature of its intelligence: dogs/wolves make trip attacks.  War horses attempt to overrun and trample, etc.  It ignores other enemies in favor of its target, pursuing if necessary, until the target is disabled or flees.

Heel – the creature returns to its owner’s side, using disengage actions as appropriate if currently engaged with an enemy.  It remains passive, using attack actions only to defend itself.

Follow – the creature uses its movement to maintain a pace with its owner

Guard <target> – the creature moves to the target’s side, and remains there, readying an action if possible each turn to attack the first opponent that threatens the target in melee combat.  If the target moves, it follows as if it were issued the follow command.  Once it has engaged an opponent which threatens the target, it acts as if under an Attack command until that target has been disabled or flees.  If other targets threaten the target, it then engages the next nearest opponent and repeats the process.

Additional commands can be taught to a war trained creature by spending an appropriate amount of downtime and spending 1 gp per day of training for training materials/expenses.  Each of these commands takes fourteen days of training and 30 gp by a skilled NPC, or fourteen days of training at 1 gp a day by a PC during downtime, requiring a successful DC 15 Animal Handling check at the end of that period.  Like other commands, these require a DC 10 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check made as a bonus action during combat.

Help <target> – the creature uses its turns to move an unoccupied square within 5 feet of the indicated ally and uses the help action on its next turn to aid the individual indicated by the handler the next time it is able.  It then acts as if given the Guard <target> action unless a new command is issued.

Dodge – the creature remains engaged with its opponent, but takes the dodge action on each of its turns rather than making any attack actions.

Fetch – the creature uses its turns to move to and pick up the item indicated by its handler, and then return that item to its handler.  It uses its mouth to carry the item unless it can manipulate objects with a different appendage (an ape’s hands, a monkey’s tail, etc).  Strength and encumbrance rules apply, as well as common sense (a tiny chihuahua will not be fetching a medium greatsword).

Give <target> – the creature uses its turns to move to and drop the item it is carrying to the indicated target.  The command is ignored if the creature is not carrying an item.

Take <item> – the creature uses its turns to move to its handler and take an offered item from the handler’s hand.  The handler can use their reaction to let go of the item, or let go of it during their next turn for no action cost.

War trained Creatures as mounts

When acting as a mount, a war trained creature acts in unison with its handler on its handler’s initiative, and under the control of that player.  The player uses his or her turn’s movement to move the mount (at the mount’s movement speed), and can take actions normally while mounted.  The mount is considered to have taken the same action as the player if that action is dodge, disengage, or dash.  

As a bonus action, the player can make a DC 10 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check.  If successful, the mount can immediately use one of its melee attack actions against a creature within that action’s range.

Using Herbalism kits

Per the Player’s Handbook, proficiency with an herbalism kit can be used to gain your proficiency bonus on ability checks made to identify and apply herbs.  In addition, the kit is considered a tool, unlike the healer’s kit which is adventuring gear.  Proficiency with this tool is required in order to craft antitoxin and potions of healing, though no specific rules are given for doing so.  As the kit is a tool, we can surmise that the downtime crafting rules in the PHB can apply.

Both antitoxins and potions of healing have a listed value of 50gp.  Thus, we can extrapolate that crafting one of either of these will take 10 days of downtime (50gp / 5 per day of work).  The rare herbs and other materials required to refine them, brew them, and hold the resulting potion would cost 25gp per unit crafted.  Each additional herbalist working on the project can add an additional 5gp of progress per day, so that two herbalists working together can cut the time to 5 days, while 3 reduces it further to 4 days (50 / 15 = 3.333 rounded up).

Herb Gathering

As a house rule, a character proficient with an herbalism kit may make one Intelligence or Wisdom check (player’s choice) including their proficiency bonus for each day of overland travel through the wilderness or underdark in order to locate and collect rare herbs useable in the crafting of antitoxins or healing potions (again player’s choice).  The base DC of this check is 10 and results in 5gp of herbs weighing 1/10th of a pound found and collected (the player should track their herb value on their character sheet).  For each point the roll exceeds 10, an additional 5gp of herbs is found.


Crafting Cost

The cost to craft a potion or antitoxin can be reduced by herbs gathered by the character or an ally.  For each gold piece value of herbs expended, reduce the cost of creating the potion by 1 gp, to a minimum of 1 gp (the cost of a vial to store the completed product).

Crafting while adventuring

During a long rest, a character proficient with herbalism and possessing an herbalism kit can make a single Intelligence or Wisdom check with proficiency at DC 15 in order to make progress on a potion or antitoxin as if they were using a day of downtime.  Success adds 1 day/5gp toward the creation of one item.

Potions of healing

The potions of healing created by an herbalist are identical to a magical potions of healing listed in the Dungeon Masters Guide, but do not follow the rules for magical item creation.  An herbalist can only create the base potion of healing (2d4+2 restored hit points) using this crafting method.  Stronger healing potions (superior, etc) can be crafted using the magical item crafting rules in the DMG.


Antitoxin cannot remove poison damage already sustained from the damage of a poison attack originating before the consumption of the antitoxin.  It can, when consumed, allow a second saving throw (with advantage) against an ongoing effect causing  the poisoned condition.  If  this save is successful, both the poisoned condition, and any other side-effects of the poison, such as ongoing damage or the paralyzed or immobilized condition are also removed.

Cleric Playtest: Protection Domain

Here’s a look at a Protection domain for clerics that Baron’s player and I came up with.

Breaking a few major “rules” of 5E by allowing the cleric to cast an Abjuration spell that requires Concentration and removing the Concentration requirement, and gaining the ability to affect multiple targets with their single-target Abjuration spells when using higher spell slot levels, this subclass may end up being “too good” as written.  If there are broken combos to be found with the synergies between these abilities, I have faith in Vic (Baron’s player) to find them.

Protection Domain

<Insert fluff that no one reads here>

Protection Domain Spells

Cleric Level Spells
1st Protection from Good and Evil, Shield of Faith
3rd Protection from Poison, Warding Bond
5th Magic Circle, Protection from Energy
7th Guardians of Faith, Stoneskin
9th Antilife Shell, Circle of Power

Bonus Proficiency

When you choose this domain at first level, you gain proficiency with heavy armor.

Channel Divinity: Set Ward

Beginning at 2nd level, when you cast an abjuration spell with a duration which requires concentration, you may expend one use of your Channel Divinity class feature to remove the concentration requirement from the spell.  It lasts for its full duration.

Shared Protections

At 6th level, when you cast an abjuration spell which affects one target and has a duration which requires concentration using a higher level spell slot, you can choose to affect one additional target for each spell slot level higher than the spell’s base level.  If the spell already grants this ability, such as the Banishment spell, this feature grants no additional effect.  Additionally, if the spell has a range of touch, the range increases to 30 feet when cast with a higher level slot.  Once you use this ability, you must complete a long rest before using it again.

Divine Strike

At 8th level, you gain the ability to infuse your weapon strikes with divine energy.  Once on each of your turns when you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can cause the attack to deal an extra 1d8 damage of the same type dealt by the weapon to the target.  When you reach 14th level, the extra damage increases to 2d8.

Hardened Soul

At 17th level, you gain resistance to slashing, piercing, and bludgeoning damage.