Homebrew: Dungeons & Demon Lord

Shadow of the Demon Lord belongs to Charles Schwalb Entertainment, LLC, and can be found webside at: https://schwalbentertainment.com.

Dungeons & Dragons belongs to Wizards of the Coast, LLC, and is located on the web at https://dnd.wizards.com.

This blog and its author have no affiliation to either company and claim no rights over their respective properties. Go buy their books, y'all!

For the past couple of weeks, we've been exploring how mashing up RPG systems (5th Edition D&D and Shadow of the Demon Lord, specifically) in a homebrew ruleset works. Two weeks ago, we decided how we were going to integrate the two systems. Last week, we considered how a character creation session might play out in the homebrew. This week, let's take a look at how the system might play in-game.

Here we go!

NB — For the monsters in this, I'm using the excellent Ultimate Bestiary: The Dreaded Accursed, a 250-plus-page smorgasbord of undead monstrosities from Nord Games Inc. More dead creepy-crawlies than you can shake a bone rattle at!


Gresham has a problem. For the past six months, undead have shambled out of the nearby Zeldreck Swamps to slaughter their cattle and terrorize their children. It started out with just a few, but their numbers have been increasing each week. Before long, there will be enough walking corpses to kill everyone there.

The town itself is a muddy little backwater on the edge of the swamps, far removed from anything. If it weren't for the bog yaks they raised and their sugar cane fields, nobody would ever come this far west of the Five Cities. 

They put out a call for adventurers. Scouts and oracles revealed that the source of trouble was a necromancer that dwelled in a derelict fort deep inside the swamps. Last month, a promising band of heroes set off into the swamp to storm the keep. They died to the last soul. This month, the bounty is bigger and more desperate. A small army of mercenaries and profiteers showed up to participate in the raid, and our PCs are among them. 

Sir Ventraus, as the most experienced war leader present, has taken charge of the battle preparations. He's split the operation into three units: Unit A will storm the keep head-on, while Unit B will flank the main force and assault the keep from the side. Meanwhile, Unit C will sneak inside and assassinate the necromancer during the chaos of battle.

The PCs wind up in a squad together in Unit B under Captain Rohm. After Squad 1 eliminates the enemies in the first stage of the route, their job will be to clear the second leg in advance of the battle group. 

At first, the plan flows like clockwork. The squad ahead charges into the fog and sweeps away a group of corpses and a swarm of giant mosquitoes that descends on them. Then the heroes and their comrades move ahead to carry out their objective.

They hit trouble almost immediately. As soon as the squad reaches its target zone, several ghouls spring from the swamp water near the forward scout and drag her down, kicking and fighting, into the bog. The two behind her panic and flee. That's when the PCs notice the corpses shambling through the trees around them. They're surrounded!


Int. A dimly lit dry patch in the Zeldreck Swamps - Afternoon. 

The PCs march together as a discrete unit within the larger formation of adventurers that makes up Unit B, Squad 2. Cedric the dwarf stands tall, proud and shirtless, with a battered wooden shield on one arm and his battle axe leaned against his other shoulder as he walks in the front. Behind him saunters Giselle of Kerika, an athletic half-elf wearing tight studded leather embossed with intricate floral designs. She wears a rapier on one hip, and her ears are cocked as she watches and listens around them vigilantly. The gruff human priest, Blake, strides behind her with purposeful resolve. His metal kite shield has the standard of the Lady of Summer embossed on it in stark relief: a blazing sun against a field of trees. His hand rests lightly on the hilt of the mace strapped to his hip. Bringing up the rear of their group is Kaylea, a slender gnome clutching an ornate kris to her breast with both hands. Her cloak falls around her normally, but on the ground beneath, the cloak in her shadow writhes and slinks along in strange directions, as if it has a mind of its own.

Basil: "Stand and fight! The enemy is upon us!" yells Captain Rohm. He hefts his two-handed axe and charges at the closest zombie.
Behind you, two arrows fly out of the fog and strike one of the fleeing men. He trips and falls into the muck, and a ghoul leaps atop him and starts clawing into his back with both hands. The other retreating soldier runs into five skeletons. They surround and fall on him like a pack of wild animals.

Max / Blake: Damn fools! I told 'em to stay close!

David / Cedric: Wait! Can we get to them before—

Basil: Suddenly, from out of the fog, there are enemies on every side! The four of you are close to each other on a dry stretch of land between the stinking swamp and a dark, bubbling pool.
Kaylea, two skeletons rise out of the water, dripping wet. One of them lunges at you with its rusty shortsword! He rolls… 12 to hit.

Veri / Kay: Um. Was there time to cast Arcane Armor? Its duration is four hours.

Basil: Yes. You were going into battle, so you would've cast it.

Veri / Kay: Then miss!

Basil: You dive out of the way, but you're not fast enough by yourself—it's only the protection of your magic that keeps his blade outside your belly.
Cedric! A fleshy corpse shambles toward you, holding a mace, while two skeleton bowmen take aim on you from the bank next to the swamp. They fire! 19 and. Well. The other got a 1.

David / Cedric: 19 hits.

Basil: You take 6 damage.

David / Cedric: Ow! Priest?!

Basil: As the arrow flies past, it grazes your side. That almost ended you.
Giselle, a ghoul drops out of the tree and lands next to you. She lunges, slashing with her claws. She rolls 13.

Cat / Giselle: Miss. Giselle ducks back and swats at the monster with her rapier!

Basil: Blake. You recognize Timson from Squad 1, who chewed peppermint leaves. Something cleaved his face in two from crown to chin, leaving his jaw hanging by a ligament. He comes for you with a gurgling moan, stabbing a broken awl pike at you. He rolls 14.

Max / Blake: Poor bastard. I deflect it with my shield.

Basil: Sounds of combat come from all around you. Your entire squad is fighting for their lives. 
Captain Rohm cleaves a zombie's skull with his axe. "For the glory of the Four!" he cries as he faces down two more undead.

Cat / Giselle: Ugh. 10 for me.

Max / Blake: I got 15.

Veri / Kay: 16!

Max / Blake: Showoff.

David / Cedric: And I got 3.

Basil: Just so you know, I'm not rolling Initiative for the bad guys. I'm counting their rolls as 10s. If you roll above their totals, you go first. If you roll below, they go first. 
Kaylea? Sounds like you're up. 

Veri / Kay: What's the light like here?

Basil: It's daytime, but there's never a lot of sunlight in this part of the swamp.

Veri / Kay: Mm. Mm-hm, but. Are there shadows?

Basil: (laughs) Yes. You get a damage bonus for your Nightfall Blade.

Veri / Kay: Cool. I cast that.

Basil: You're casting this turn?

Veri / Kay: Yes. I use a kris as my implement. I raise it high above my head. “Culter noctis, ego voco te. Nunc Veni! Propera!" The shadows writhe and curl around my other hand, and a dagger of obsidian darkness appears.

Basil: Very good. So, where is your quarterstaff?

Veri / Kay: Sorry. Dropped that on the ground.

Basil: Are you moving?

Veri / Kay: I'm backing away from the one that attacked me.

Basil: He follows you doggedly, stabbing at you again while his friend circles in hopes of flanking you. He rolls… wow. A 6.

Veri / Kay: (as Kay) "Nyah!" I stick out my tongue!

Basil: Alright. Next is Blake, right?

Max / Blake: I don't guess I can dispel undead in this system, can I?

Basil: Good question! Dispelling undead is a function of the Theurgy tradition. It's not usually part of your religion, but the book says you can develop it through connection to your faith.

Max / Blake: Yeah. I'll get right on that. 'Till then, I'll smack poor Timson upside the head with my mace. I got 16.

Basil: Damage?

Max / Blake: 4 points.

Basil: Your mace rips off the skin on the right half of his face. His right eye falls out of its socket and bounces up and down. He gurgles angrily and stabs at you. Critical hit! 8 damage.

Max / Blake: Well, shit. See what you did? This was my good armor, too. Rosanna of Rhodes blessed it herself. So thank you for that, Timson. Thank you very much. Asshole.

Basil: Giselle, the ghoul gets to go first. She follows up her miss with another swipe of her claws. 13.

Cat / Giselle: Miss. Giselle dances back and disengages. Can she make it over to Kay this turn?

Basil: The terrain here is tricky. I'll let you do it with an Athletics or Acrobatics check at DC 12. Your choice.

Cat / Giselle: Acrobatics. I roll… 11.

Basil: That is some terrible luck. 

Cat / Giselle: You are not kidding.

Basil: Giselle has to avoid a sinkhole. Getting around it takes a few seconds, and she only makes it halfway to Kay. You can get there next turn.
Cedric? You're up. The monsters go first. The corpse reaches you and takes a swing with his mace for 19.

Veri / Kay: Cedric! Look out!

David / Cedric: Ach. Ye had te go and hit me afore I could Rage, eh?

Basil: 5 damage. Both archers shoot at you, but the zombie is in the way, so their arrows hit him instead of you.

David / Cedric: See that, ancestors? No honor among undead! I'm raging! 18 for 9 damage!

Basil: Yikes. You killed that one with one blow. What does it look like?

David / Cedric: Ah leap into the air and bring the axe down on its head. I land on its chest, feet first, drivin' it to the ground on its back, me atop it, and I howl to the holy ancestors!

Basil: The skeletons look very impressed. 
End of the turn. A scream behind you is cut short as one of your comrades falls beneath the muck-stained spears of several shambling corpses. All around, the sounds of battle continue.
Captain Rohm grunts as one of the zombies grabs his arm and bites down hard on his vambrace. He smacks it hard with the haft of his axe and manages to knock it off him.
Kaylea? It's your turn.

Veri / Kay: 21! For… 8 damage.

Basil: Yeah, that kills him. How does it look?

Veri / Kay: Um. The dark dagger slips between his ribs and tendrils of shadow spread out of his rib cage to tangle him up completely. It crushes him, and he just falls apart.

Basil: I like it. The other skeleton, unfazed, comes at you with an axe. It rolls 10.

Veri / Kay: Miss.

Basil: Blake. Your go.

Max / Blake: Awright, I guess it's time for this. I lift my shield with the blazing standard of the Lady of Summer. "Lady of Summer, grant us grace!" Shared Recovery with the dingbat over there.

Basil: You'll have to be more specific.

Cat / Giselle: Hey!

Max / Blake: Cedric. Shared Recovery with Cedric.

Basil: That means you both recover your Healing Rate, which is equal to one-quarter of your total hit points.

Max / Blake: We round decimals… ?

Basil: To the nearest whole number, with a minimum of one point.

David / Cedric: Ach. At's better. D'ye have anoother?

Max / Blake: Sorry, brother. I have but strength to bestow that grace once before I rest.

Basil: Per short rest. But yeah, healing is different. It's less at low levels but more at higher levels. Blake, a warm glow surrounds you as your prayer takes effect. Timson raises his arm to ward off its light and doesn't approach you this turn.
Giselle. While you're avoiding the sinkhole, the ghoul charges after you, claws extended. She rolls… really bad. Never mind. I'm changing dice.

Cat / Giselle: Actually, we approve of that die. So. She runs directly at Giselle while she's next to the sinkhole?

Basil: Yes. Yes, she does.

Cat / Giselle: Is there a way Giselle can make her fall into the sinkhole?

Basil: She can shove her with an Athletics check.

Cat / Giselle: That's Strength, isn't it? I don't know…

Basil: The ghoul's Strength is actually pretty average. She's somewhat fast but not very strong.

Cat / Giselle: That sounds good, then.

Basil: I like it. I'll give you Inspiration. You can spend it on this check or save it.

Cat / Giselle: You said her Strength is average?

Basil: Completely.

Cat / Giselle: I'll save it, then. I roll… 16.

Basil: You beat her. You can't tell how far down the sinkhole goes, but it's deep and very empty. How does it look when Giselle shoves her?

Cat / Giselle: When she lunges at Giselle, the rogue sidesteps and gives her a tiny shove on the hip with the sole of her foot. The ghoul is helpless. She tumbles, headfirst, into the sinkhole and is never seen nor heard from again.

Basil: (laughs) That'll do it. Did you want to move?

Cat / Giselle: She moves to flank the skeleton that's facing Kay.

Veri / Kay: Um, I got this, Sissy. See? I'm fine. But Cedric over there, he might need help more than I do. Right?

David / Cedric: (thumps chest) No way! A big, strapping dwarf like meself? Ah can take 'em all! Bring 'em on!

Basil: Challenge accepted. Both skeletons shoot at you. They get 14 and 16.

David / Cedric: Both miss! I charge the one on the left!

Basil: Attack roll?

David / Cedric: Argh! Natural 20! 13 damage!

Basil: He is so dead. How do you do it?

David / Cedric: I bring me axe down, shattering ribs. Then I headbutt him. His skull bounces around inside, and the bones just tumble to the ground!

Veri / Kay: Um. I'm sorry. I am so sorry, but you are never invited to one of my tea parties. Ever.

Basil: That's the end of another turn. Squelching crunches draw your attention to a headless corpse kneeling atop a dead soldier, flailing its arms at hir crushed chest. On your other side, though, you hear a cry of victory as one of your squadmates neatly chops off an enemy's leg, then crushes its skull.
Captain Rohm gets cuffed in the face by one of the zombies he's fighting. He staggers back, and a ghoul pounces on him and drives him to the ground.
Your turn again, Kaylea.

Veri / Kay: (as Kay) "No! Captain!" I stab the other skeleton with my nightfall blade. 22. For 12 damage.

Basil: So. Giselle. You're sneaking up behind the monster, and he rotates his head to look at you. That's when Kay stabs him in the ear. All his bones shiver for a few seconds, and then he collapses.

Cat / Giselle: Nice one, sis!

(Cat and Veri exchange a high five and fist bump.)

Basil: Blake. It's all you, man.

Max / Blake: I raise my shield and talk to him. "Timson. I see you still fear the light of the goddess. That means it's not too late, son. Let me put your mortal remains to rest, and I'll tell your ma and your little sister Judy you died a hero."

Veri / Kay: Aw! Love that.

Basil: Hm. Charisma check.

Max / Blake: Okay. Do I add my proficiency?

Basil: What social skills do you have?

Max / Blake: Um. Intimidation?

Basil: Mm. Huh. You know, actually. Yeah, I can see Bones pulling off a speech like that and being intimidating about it.

Veri / Kay: Or Judge Dredd

Basil: (laughs) Right? Sure. You can add your proficiency. And, like Cat, I'll give you Inspiration. You can spend it on this or save it.

Max / Blake: Yeah, I'm gonna use it. Got… 18.

Basil: Yeah. That works. So, Timson stares at you with one dead eye while the other dangles. Then he stares down at the emblem on your shield. The dead man blinks, and a single tear falls down his cheek. He opens his cloven lips to speak. No sound comes forth. Instead, he nods, kneels down, and bows his head.

Max / Blake: I say a prayer over the poor kid and stab my spear down through his neck.

Basil: Your spear burns with the radiance of the Lady of Summer as it pierces his cold skin. Timson falls over, dead for real, and his body catches fire.
Then, before any of you have time to draw a breath of relief, you hear a monstrous splash, and a tremor ripples the water around you.

Veri: Wait! What about the captain?

Max / Blake: He's dead, Jim.

Basil: You mean Captain Rohm? He lies about twenty feet away, broken and bleeding. Pieces and parts of the undead he was fighting are scattered around him, but he's not moving. As you make eye contact with him, he reaches out to you with a trembling hand drenched in his own blood.
"Kaylea… keep them safe… please," he gasps, then a wracking cough takes him, and he dies.

Veri / Kay: No! Don't die, captain! Hang in there...

Basil: Okay, so. The water ripples around you, and the ground shudders once more.

Max / Blake: I eat a Healing Berry!

Basil: Good idea!

David / Cedric: Ah charge toward it!

Basil: Bad idea!

Veri / Kay: I get ready to cast Binding Chains on it.

Basil: Ooo. Very good idea. Okay, you all notice that the fog over the water seems to have lifted just a bit. And coming out of the murk ahead is a fifteen-foot tall giant with grey, cadaverous skin. He swings a massive axe that chops a nearby tree. It goes flying through the air and lands nearby with a tremendous splash that douses all of you with swamp water.
Blake, he points one finger at you, and his beady eyes burn with a hellish glow. With his other hand, he draws the axe across his neck as if to say, "You're dead."

Max / Blake: Come on. Let's get this undead punk.

Veri / Kay: Oh! I cast Binding Chains!

Basil: Hold on, hold on. Roll new Initiative, everybody.

Cat / Giselle: 22.

Veri / Kay: Hm. Only 6 this time.

David / Cedric: 17.

Max / Blake: Well, damn. I rolled 2.

Basil: Cat? Looks like you go first this time.

Cat / Giselle: Would you explain where everyone is, please?

Basil: Sure. You're standing within 30 feet of each other on a patch of muddy ground within the swamp. Giselle and Kay, there's a deep pool behind you. About 60 feet away in the direction of the necromancer's keep, through the shallow muck, there's a gigantic, grey-skinned humanoid zombie with an axe coming toward you.

Cat / Giselle: Do we know what it is?

Basil: Have you fought a troll before?

David: Oh, crap.

Cat / Giselle: (checks her character sheet) I suppose not.

Basil: Then no, you don't know.

Veri / Kay: I'm trained in Arcana. Does that help?

Basil: Not really. If any of you are trained in Nature, you might recognize it.


Basil: Okay, then. Giselle?

Cat / Giselle: It's 15 feet tall?

Basil: Correct.

Cat / Giselle: Well… Uh, how dense are the trees here?

Basil: (thinks about it) There are quite a few, but they're not very close together. What are you thinking?

Cat / Giselle: Are they close enough Giselle could run along the branches to get above and behind it?

Basil: Ohhh. Cool! Let's see. Is she trained in both Athletics and Acrobatics?

Cat / Giselle: Yes.

Basil: Alright, then climbing and leaping and balancing wouldn't be an issue. I'm not saying you won't have to make a check to do it, but the trees are close enough together that you're confident it can be done, yes.

Cat / Giselle: Then Giselle is climbing a tree.

Basil: That's easy enough, but it'll take your action and movement. Is that okay?

Cat / Giselle: Yes.

Basil: Then we're over to Cedric.

David / Cedric: How long is left for my Rage?

Basil: The last battle was short enough that you won't have to worry about running out of time unless this one lasts more than 5 or 6 rounds.

David / Cedric: Then I charge!

Basil: It's difficult terrain for you, so you'll only get about halfway. Is that what you want?

David / Cedric: I mean, I'm raging, so I don't really stop to think about it.

Basil: True. You gain Inspiration for reckless bravery. Now. Veri, what did you roll for Initiative?

Veri / Kay: 6.

Basil: Okay. Since you're all fighting the same monster, that means it's next with an 8. The zombie stomps toward Cedric in huge splashes that send ripples along the entire surface of the water. It stretches its arm out to its limit and swings the axe at Cedric. It rolls a 23.

David / Cedric: Tch. Damage?

Basil: 11 damage. 

David / Cedric: Ow. Even after Resistance, I'm down to 2 hit points.

Basil: Bad news.

Max / Blake: Okay, everybody, now, look. That attack nearly took off Cedric's head. We need to get its attention!

Veri / Kay: (as Kay) "I'm working on it, okay?" Is it my turn?

Basil: Go.

Veri / Kay: I cast Binding Shackles.

Basil: Is that an attack roll?

Veri / Kay: Um. It says, "Intellect attack with 1 boon against the target's Agility." So. What does that mean?

Basil: It basically means armor doesn't count. The boon gives you advantage on your roll.

Veri / Kay: Then it's an Intelligence-based attack roll? That means I get my proficiency, right?

Basil: Exactly.

Veri / Kay: Nice. Then I roll… 23!

David / Cedric: Awesome!

Veri / Kay: Hey, this spell has a 20+ result for the attack roll. It says the target also takes 1d6 damage from the chains.

Basil: Oh! Nice. Roll damage, then. And how does it look?

Veri / Kay: I raise my krys. “Inimice mea, vincio te conpedibus! Non agita!" Iron chains spring from the ground in front of me to the target. They coil around his legs and dig deep into the swamp beneath him. He takes 5 damage from the constricting chains.

Basil: Perfect. Now, this spell keeps him from moving, is that right?

Veri / Kay: Right. The chains are anchored behind him, so he can't come any closer. For 1 minute, he can only move within 10 feet from the anchor point. It says he can make a Strength challenge roll with 3 banes to end the spell. What does that mean?

Basil: Okay, so. Challenge rolls in Shadow of the Demon Lord are DC 10. Having banes on the roll means you roll d6s and subtract the highest result from your total: so, 3 banes means 3d6, take the highest. Since we're using 5E rules, though, we'll make it a Strength check against your spell Save. At disadvantage.

Veri / Kay: So 13, then.

Basil: That's pretty good. He is strong, though, so we'll see how he does. The zombie strains against the spell's chains with an enraged roar. His skin breaks and brown pus leaks down both legs; but try as he might, he cannot free himself.

Veri / Kay: That's for the captain, you creep!

Basil: Blake. You're up.

Max / Blake: Good work, Kaylea! I'm rushing forward to assist Cedric.

Basil: Anything else?

Max / Blake: Nah. I got nothing else.

Basil: That's the end of the turn, then. The fighting back on dry land is as fierce as ever, but you hear two more death cries as your allies' fights come to an abrupt end.

Max / Blake: Come on! We gotta wrap this up so we can go help 'em out!

Veri / Kay: Oh! But… we gotta not die first, see?

Basil: Giselle. Your turn.

Cat / Giselle: I traverse the branches to get above the troll.

Basil: He's close enough you can reach him this turn if you Dash. It'll take an Acrobatics check at DC 15 to make it across without falling, though.

Cat / Giselle: I need 10 or better. I roll… Tsk. 5. This die. I swear.

Basil: (sniffs) That's… not great. Okay, how about this: You're leaping to the next tree branch, but the bough dips under you, causing you to undershoot. Instead of landing neatly on the far branch, you have to catch yourself and pull yourself back up.

Cat / Giselle: Well. It could have been worse.

Basil: On the up side, thanks to Veri's spell, the zombie is distracted right now.

Cat / Giselle: Thank you, mage!

Veri / Kay: Any time.

Basil: You'll be able to reach it next turn without another check.

David / Cedric: I take a chop at his abs!

Basil: He's pretty tall… But raging gives you advantage on Strength checks. Are you trained in Athletics?

David / Cedric: You know it, man!

Basil: Fair enough, then. The swamp mire sucks at your feet, but you leap out of it as you bring your axe up to strike! Attack roll?

David / Cedric: Uh… That's a… ugh. 10?

Basil: Well. You have Inspiration. Do you want to use it?

David / Cedric: For sure. (Rolls a Natural 20.) Aw, yeah! That's what I'm talking about!

Basil: Excellent! Damage?

David / Cedric: 14!

Basil: Okay. So you charge at the undead beast, and he rushes forward and nearly clobbers you with his mace. You have to slide under it to keep from losing your head. But you gather your legs under you, spring into the air, and unleash a devastating chop across his midsection! Rotting flesh opens wide, and a pile of gooey, stinking guts spills out into the swamp.
Now he's distracted and unhappy.

Max / Blake: And leaking. That's the medical term for it.

Basil: The zombie roars as it struggles against the chains, lifting its legs with sucking pops! out of the muck. It rolls, with disadvantage, an 11.

Veri / Kay: Hooray, disadvantage!

Basil: You're right. Otherwise, he would've broken free. So the zombie pulls one leg up, then the other. Then he pounds on the chains with his fist and the pommel of his axe. Nothing frees him from the grasp of Kay's magical chains.
Veri! Your turn.

Veri / Kay: Geeze. How could anybody follow up an attack like that?

Cat / Giselle: What are you saying? You were incredible with that spell!

David / Cedric: She's right, girl. You're killin' it.

Veri / Kay: Okay, here goes. I'm casting Darkling's Raiment and moving in to attack next turn.

Basil: That's the one that wraps you in concealment, right?

Veri / Kay: Right. Shadows partially obscure me.

Basil: How does it look?

Veri / Kay: I draw circles in the air with my kris as if spooling thread. “Tenebrae, conveni ad meam! Conveni nunc!" With that, shadows start to pool around me. They spin upwards to my blade, wrapping around it and then covering me in a cloak of shadows.

Cat / Giselle: Good grief! How much Latin do you know, anyway?

Veri / Kay: (shrugs) Mm. It's no big deal—I just worked them out last week, you know? So they'd be ready.

Max / Blake: GM's pet.

Basil: I'm giving her a magic item for her effort.

Veri / Kay: Thanks!

Max / Blake: Well, damn. If I do my incantations in pig Latin, do I get a magic item, too?

Basil: Absolutely. I'll give you a magic pig. It oinks in Latin.

(Everyone laughs)

David / Cedric: Okay. Who's next?

Basil: Kay, you get halfway to the zombie because of the terrain. You can make it there and attack next turn.

Veri / Kay: 'Kay!

Basil: That means it's up to you, Blake!

Max / Blake: Am I there yet?

Basil: You are.

Max / Blake: You said the giant would be distracted with the spell for two or three turns?

Basil: I mean, I can't make any promises. He already tried to break free once, and it didn't work.

Max / Blake: I've got Insight. Will that tell me?

Basil: Did you study religion?

Max / Blake: Not formally, no.

Basil: So you're not experienced with undead. I'll let you make an Insight check at DC 15 to guess his next move.

Max / Blake: Fine. I roll 16.

Basil: Wow! Then you tell me. Is he going to try to break free from the spell again this turn?

Max / Blake: Without question.

Basil: There you go.

Max / Blake: In that case, I want to stab him with my spear.

Basil: You put away your mace and pulled out your spear while you were moving?

Max / Blake: Yeah. That.

Basil: Okay. Attack roll?

Max / Blake: 15. For 6 damage.

Basil: Good roll. You stab it in the side. The open wound oozes a thick, black sludge that trickles down its hip in clumpy globs.

Veri / Kay: Ew!

Basil: Next turn. Kay, the sounds behind you tell you that most of your squad's fighting is nearing an end. There are moaning grunts where zombies are dismembering their victims, but there are still a few people fighting. By the sounds of it, it's almost over except for the giant zombie. 
The rest of you are too far away to hear much.
Giselle? You can make it over the zombie this time.

Cat / Giselle: Perfect. I drop onto its back and perform a sneak attack.

David / Cedric: I'm Batman!

Max / Blake: Death from above!

Veri / Kay: Ore wa kaze da!

Basil: (laughs) Don't roll a 1. You know what? I'll give you advantage. Try for a 20.

Cat / Giselle: Come on, dice. No, I only got 17, so 22.

Basil: Okay. So normal damage plus Sneak Attack, then.

Cat / Giselle: I roll… 11 damage.

Basil: He feels that. Unfortunately, he's enormous. You guys almost have him bloodied at this point.

David / Cedric: No way, man! This is a 1st level fight?

Basil: I don't remember saying that…

Cat / Giselle: It's closer to 3rd level if I recall correctly.

Basil: Hush, you. Cedric. You're up.

David / Cedric: That axe is bad news. I want to chop off his arm.

Basil: Mm. That's kinda like attacking somebody with three-quarter cover. Tell you what, I'll add +5 to his AC, and you can aim for his arm. Deal?

David / Cedric: Deal! I roll… tch. 9.

Basil: You think you time it right, but he moves his arm sideways instead of down. Your axe slices through empty air.
His turn. We decided he'll try to break the chains again. (Rolls) Wow. He gets 6. The troll strains against the spell hard enough that they bite into both legs down to the bones, but he can't budge them.

David / Cedric: Great spell, Veri!

Basil: (to Veri) And that means you're up.

Veri / Kay: You said I could attack this turn?

Basil: Yes. Go ahead.

Veri / Kay: Oh. My Nightfall Blade is still active, right?

Basil: What's its duration?

Veri / Kay: 1 minute.

Basil: Yes. Like Cedric's Rage, you'll be getting close to the end if this lasts… I guess three more rounds.

Veri / Kay: Then let's finish this! I stab his leg with a 21!

Basil: Did that spell have a 20+ effect on attack rolls?

Veri / Kay: No. Not that one.

Basil: Okay. Roll damage, then.

Veri / Kay: 10 damage!

Basil: His legs hate you. With that attack, the zombie is Bloodied. It rears back in a savage howl and turns its attention to the wizard that bound and stabbed it. It surges with fury and attacks for 17!

Veri / Kay: Uh-oh. My AC is… um. 14 with the Armor spell.

Basil: Did Darkling's Raiment list a mechanical bonus in combat?

Veri / Kay: Mm… no? It just says that in lit areas, I'm partially obscured in shadows.

Basil: Aha. 'Partially obscured' means he takes a bane on his attack roll.

Veri / Kay: So he's rolling at disadvantage?

Max / Blake: Didn't D&D used to have a rule for concealment? Like a percent miss or something?

Basil: It used to, yeah. They got rid of it.

Cat / Giselle: In 5E, the Blur spell imposes disadvantage on attack rolls. 

Basil: Yep. That's how they handle it now.

Veri / Kay: So. Um. Did he hit?

Basil: Hang on. I'll roll a second d20. That time he got… uh. That's a miss.

Max / Blake: Thank the goddess…

Veri / Kay: Yay! I'm alive!

Basil: Blake? It's all you.

Max / Blake: I can take a hit better than bite-size over there. I'm gonna bash on my shield and try to get the dumb critter's attention.

Veri / Kay: Nyah! I am not bite-sized, see? Grr. I will bite you!

Basil: Your loud noises seem to do the trick. The zombie stops everything for two seconds and turns to cock its head at you. Then it sees the emblem on your shield, and it goes nuts!

Max / Blake: That's right, you simple bastard. Swing that axe at somebody slightly less small than you are.

Basil: End of round three. You're too far away to hear any activity from your allies, and the fog is too thick to see them. Giselle. Back to you.

Cat / Giselle: Do I still get my sneak attack damage?

Basil: You're holding onto him, right? How are you pulling a full-sized rapier out of him while clinging to his back?

Cat / Giselle: Simple. I'm standing on his back.

Basil: (Jaw hangs open) Oh. That. Was. Not what I was picturing.

David / Cedric: Shyeah, 'cuz it's awesome!

Basil: (nods head emphatically) Yes. Yes, it is. Fine. Attack away.

Cat / Giselle: 20. Not natural. For 12 damage.

Basil: Ouch. You guys are not kidding around.

David / Cedric: I wanna take another swing at his arm!

Basil: Go for it.

David / Cedric: Yes! 23!

Basil: Oh, yeah. You connect easily. What's your damage roll? Roll high.

David / Cedric: Nooooo! I rolled a 1. That's 6 damage.

Basil: Sorry, I can't really see that chopping off his arm. You slash deep down the inside of his right arm, digging all the way to the bone. It hurts him, but it doesn't drop him.
He goes after the cocky priest. Max, did you do anything besides get his attention last turn?

Max / Blake: No.

Basil: So you Dodged, then. That means he has disadvantage on his attack roll. Mmm. 13?

Max / Blake: No way. That doesn't even come close.

Basil: Veri?

Veri / Kay: I stab him again. Um. 14?

Basil: Hit.

Veri / Kay: 7 damage.

Basil: This time, when you stab him, the shadows seem to stick. They twist themselves up his leg, which withers a little and stops moving.

Veri / Kay: See that? I did that! Rawr!

Max / Blake: Sounds like this bastard is almost dead.

Basil: It's getting close.

Max / Blake: I stab it with my spear this time. I roll 11.

Basil: (squints) Just 11?

Max / Blake: Uh. (checks sheet) Yeah. 11 is all I got.

Basil: Miss by 1. Your spear connects, but it just pokes into the layers of cadaverous rot on the outside of its body. You can tell it doesn't hurt the zombie at all.
Okay, top of Round 5. Cat?

Cat / Giselle: Cat sneak attacks it again. 16 hits for 11 damage.

Basil: (Rolls dice.) Mm-hm. You stab your blade through what would've been the creature's heart. You think. The monster shudders, and you think he's about to die. But then he twists around and swings his axe at you. 19 to hit?

Cat / Giselle: (winces) You got me. How serious is the damage?

Basil: 10 points.

Cat / Giselle: That's not good. Giselle is down to negative 2.

Basil: Zero. You don't drop below 0. How does it look when he hits you?

Cat / Giselle: (sighs) Well. Okay. Giselle leaps into the air, drawing up into a somersault to avoid the attack. For one second, it looks like she'll escape unscathed, but the troll strains even higher and snags her in the side. Hard. The force from the blow knocks her spinning ten feet away. Giselle only stays in a ball thanks to instinct. She lands and rolls and sprawls out, supine, floating in swamp water, unconscious.

Max / Blake: Dammit! Giselle?

David / Cedric: This guy is so dead.

Basil: Prove it. Your turn.

David / Cedric: 17 to attack. And 13 damage!

Basil: How do you kill it?

David / Cedric: You do it, boss.

Basil: Yes, sir. Let's see. The enormous zombie is coming back down after leaping to hit Giselle. Its wounded leg Kay has been attacking gives out. It falls to its knees just as you're winding up your strike. Seizing the sudden opportunity, you hack at its neck, cleaving its head off.

Max / Blake: I'm feeding Giselle one of my Healing Berries.

Cat / Giselle: That had better not be a euphemism for something.

Max / Blake: No, it's a berry! Honest! Just a magic berry.

Basil: Right. So you heal one-quarter your total hp, Cat.

Max / Blake: It's only half per berry.

Basil: Ah. So one-eighth your total hp.

Cat / Giselle: I am at 1 hp.

Basil: Good enough. You'll be sore for a week, but you can move on your own feet. Slowly.

Max / Blake: Well, you're not dead. Try to avoid giants with axes for a few days, why don't you?

Cat / Giselle: Sure thing, doc.

Veri / Kay: Please tell me there were drops off this high-level mob.

Basil: Did you happen to use Sense Magic?

Veri / Kay: Meow! How did you know?

Basil: There's a silver ring on one of its fingers with an enchantment on it.

Veri / Kay: I… Um. Hey, Sissy? Could you maybe cut off his finger, see? So I can take the ring. I mean, I would… but… It's all rotten and stinky and. Ew. Pretty, pretty please? With a java mocha cherry?

(Basil looks expectantly at Cat, who nods.)

Basil: (laughs) Okay. Record' unidentified ring' on your inventory.

Veri / Kay: Gotcha. (As Kay) "Thanks, sis! I'll buy you meat!"

Cat / Giselle: Yeah, whatever. Don't mind me. I think I'll just lay down over here on dry-ish ground and take a nap.

Max / Blake: I need to go look for survivors. They may need healing. (To Basil) I'll use Life Sense to find people that need help.

Basil: Good plan.

David / Cedric: Ah'll go with, friend. More of these creatures may be lurkin' aboot.

Veri / Kay: Nyaa. You guys go on ahead. I'll, um. I'll stay here with Sissy. Right?

And that's a taste of how homebrew works in the trenches. How about you? Have you had fun experiences or disasters playing with homebrew systems? Tell me about it in the comments!

Game well, my friends,

Jonathan Andrews

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