RPG Blog

AJ Pickett Digs Into the D&D5e Dungeon Master's Guide and Limbo

A couple of the things I like the most about High Fantasy settings is the idea of otherworldly realms and magical artifacts, so I have dived into the latest Dungeon Masters Guide for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons with gusto! 
Today I was pouring over the entry on the alien dimension called Limbo and the clever way that the morphic quality of the dimension has been handled with the rules.. and it got me thinking, planning, plotting and cackling away as epic and evil ideas formulated in my head, pretty much all day. So, for those who did not just leap right to pages 61 and 62 of the DMG, let me outline it for you. Morphic refers to an environment that can be manipulated and transformed by the force of will alone. So, a creature may use an action and roll vs a set difficulty class or DC, using that creature’s intelligence bonus, on objects within thirty feet, the DC is based on the size of the object being manipulated.
Now, I have to say, hats off, what a flawlessly simple way to handle this mechanic, and what a HUGE scope for this there is in a game where magic, the manipulation of reality based on will power, is a core part of the game!
So, lets say I give a player character an object, say a Rod, called the Scepter of Demigods, and instead of only being able to manipulate matter on the otherworldly plane of Limbo, the character can now do it anywhere.. the only restrictions are that the DC for doing this is higher when not in Limbo, and very high in dimensions with a high amount of intrinsic order (lawful aligned), also, it might be really dangerous for a mortal adventurer to use such a potent artifact, costing Hit Points every time the object is used, draining the character’s life away as the will is imposed and reality is warped and manipulated. Other applications are as simple and as far reaching as you are wanting to go, such as a Jedi style ability for a Monk or Paladin, or some sort of transmutation rules for an Alchemist.
Also, I would not hesitate to give every god-like being this sort of power on its home plane of existence, from Archdevils to high ranking Modrons, the odd Demigod that steps foot in the Prime Material should certainly be able to transmute stone to metal, lift and hurl matter, reshape it into objects and structures, turn matter into energy and generally be awesome and god like. Plus, when a character is in one of those critical points where their deity is taking a direct interest in their activities, this is the sort of power that the deity might grant, easily handled with a simple Intelligence check.
I would advise you set the DC’s for morphing the environment at a level that you, the Dungeon Master, are comfortable with.. ask yourself this question “Is it OK for the character to accomplish this right now?”, because that is the ONLY consideration. Being able to manipulate reality should, essentially, be a story based thing, it should never be handed to a player with a set, fixed chart and then left completely up to them as to when, how and why it is used, unless it is very costly (hence, life drain will give a player pause, when losing hit points could be hugely dangerous if they get caught in a potentially lethal random encounter), because players will abuse this power, like fish will breathe water, and it will detract from the enjoyment of the game if things are made too easy for the players, or if the party Mage now finds herself out of a job.
Never be afraid to give the players fantastic items of power, but you don’t have to tell them how many times they can use it if you don’t want to, in fact, if my DM handed me something like the Scepter of Demigods. my first thought would be “Oh shit, what heinous monstrosity am I about to walk into that requires this broken thing just for my character to survive?”... I’m not a pessimistic kind of person, thats just years of gaming honed instincts.
So, well done Wizards of the Coast, that is an excellent optional mechanic, it makes the plane of Limbo make a lot of sense, it gives me a cool toy to play with, a possible solution to players who just have to be some sort of Jedi, and with a new Star Wars movie on the way, this is definitely going to be an issue, lets not kid ourselves.
Happy gaming!