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Dark Souls x 5E: New Combat Tactics

Dark Souls x 5E: New Combat Tactics

In Dark Souls, the ways to die are endless. You can be caught in any manner of traps, crushed by a giant demon’s hammer, fall into lava, fall victim to a vicious backstab, perish during a fistfight in a phone booth with a capra demon and his pet zombie dogs, get This-is-Sparta-ed by Patches, plain bad luck, and so much more.

But the primary way in which you deal your own brand of death is through battle.

Love this idea? Catch up on the rest of this series!

Reactionary Measures

While many options in Dark Souls are easily replicated in 5E games, the video game is noteworthy for allowing anyone—not just archetypal fighters and rogues—to do two warrior-wheelhouse things: evade onslaughts of combo attacks and parry blows before delivering critical counterattacks.

Carry this forward into the Souls-like experience with new reactions. These two reactions allow anyone, whether a glass cannon wizard or an armored juggernaut, to take their survival into their own hands.

Reaction: Counter

When a Humanoid creature targets you with a melee weapon attack (but not an unarmed strike or improvised weapon) you can use your reaction to redirect the attack and expose your attacker.

Make a special weapon attack roll called a counter check. If your counter check result is higher than the attack roll that triggered this reaction, you take no damage from the attack targeting you and the first attack against the target next turn ignores the AC bonus from any armor they wear. In addition, you have advantage on your counter check when you wield a Finesse weapon.

The first attack of a Multiattack cannot be countered. If your counter check fails, the attack targeting you automatically succeeds, even if its initial attack roll missed you.

Reaction: Evade

When an attacker targets you with a Multiattack action, you can use your reaction to evade harm. Make a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check (your choice) contested by an attack roll of the Multiattack targeting you. If the result of the check exceeds the contesting attack roll, you take no damage and move to an adjacent 5-foot space without incurring opportunity attacks.

When you use your reaction to evade, you can evade a number of attacks equal to your proficiency bonus.

In addition, you have advantage on your check to evade if you are wearing light armor or no armor. You have disadvantage if you are wearing heavy armor or are encumbered.

The Art of Battle

Dark Souls III equipped players with battle arts. In Elden Ring, these are called Ashes of War, but they fulfill the same purpose. These unique, limited-use movesets offer all sorts of tactical advantages such as inflicting conditions and covering ground.

Good news! These weapon arts translate perfectly to weapon options found in Midgard Heroes Handbook and Tome of Heroes! Introducing weapons options into a 5E game using scrolls (called martial scrolls) gives players another reason to explore, wheel and deal, and throw themselves in harm’s way.

To give weapon options an air of mystique, use the following optional rule to limit their use and availability. GMs take note that this will require some work on your part to populate the gamespace with opportunities to learn new weapon options in a similar way that wizards learn spells from spell scrolls.

Optional Rule: Weapon Option Limits

You learn two weapon options at 1st level with one or two weapons that you have proficiency in. Whenever you gain an Ability Score Improvement by leveling up, you learn one new weapon option in addition to all other features of that level-up. Additionally, you have a number of charges with which you can use weapon options equal to your proficiency bonus. You regain all charges when you finish a short or long rest.


Wondrous Item, Uncommon

A martial scroll contains the knowledge and instruction of a complex attack called a weapon option (determined by the GM). You can spend 1 workweek of downtime and 50 gp of practice supplies to learn the weapon option described on the scroll. Alternatively, you can spend a short rest of intense study and make a DC 15 Intelligence (Athletics) check. On a success, you immediately learn the weapon option. On a failure, you must try again during a different short rest.

Scribing a Martial Scroll. Anyone proficient in a weapon option and calligrapher’s tools can scribe a martial scroll of a weapon options they know. Doing so requires 2 workweeks of downtime and 50 gp of calligraphy supplies.

Using a Martial Scroll in Combat. You can use a martial scroll in battle by using a free item interaction to place it around your weapon before taking the action required to use the weapon, even if you do not know the weapon option. Using a martial scroll this way destroys it immediately after the action is taken, regardless of success.

Basic Shields of Dark Souls

Dark Souls x 5E introduces some defensive options to the game to improve character survivability.

Parrying shield20 gp+1 ACDouble proficiency bonus on counter checks2 lb
Spear brace shield50 gp+2 ACSpears and tridents have reach while worn5 lb
Tower shield500 gp+3 AC15 STR required, disadvantage on acrobatics and stealth checks30 lb

Parrying Shield. This handheld buckler offers minimal protection but is ideal for executing technical dueling maneuvers. While wearing a parrying shield you double your proficiency bonus whenever you make a counter check.

Spear Brace Shield. This is a typical targe or kite shield with a hole cut out of the side and reinforced for use with polearms. This allows a weapon to be extended through the hole while the wielder stays protected behind the shield. When wielding a spear or trident together with a spear brace shield, your weapon is treated as if it had the Reach property.

Tower Shield. This huge, door-sized shield offers superior protection but includes a heavy tax on the wearer. In addition to the AC bonus while wielding it, you also have resistance to damage dealt by nonmagical ranged attacks. Tower shields require a minimum strength to even pick up and wield effectively and put the wearer at disadvantage when making Dexterity (Acrobatics) and (Stealth) checks.

about Sebastian Rombach

We can neither confirm nor deny that Sebastian is actually three raccoons in a trenchcoat. His freelance contributions can be found in Tome of Beasts 2, Tome of Heroes, and more. You can roll dice with him at https://startplaying.games/gm/dontbreakthedm or follow him on Twitter and Instagram @dontbreakthedm.

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