Ideas from The Dark Knight Rises

I finished my rewatch of the Nolen trilogy this week and so I may as well finish off this series of “things you can take from Batman and put them in your game”.

AI generated image: “photograph of a dark alleyway”, the kind which Batman might find himself.

Premise: The adventuring hub is in constant danger

Batman largely sticks to Gotham because The League of Shadows have threatened it specifically. They’ve decided that it’s the heart of human evil and wiping it out will start a human healing process (until the next pit of evil appears). Buffy has to hang around Sunnydale because that’s where the hellmouth is. In Rime of the Frostmaiden, the heros are forced to stay in the Dales because that’s all there is for miles around, but still it’s a good reason for them to protect it.

In many other D&D games, I’ve ended up all over the place, chasing bad guys over a long arc. But there’s definitely a game in the idea of the characters having some attachment to a particular place, and that place being underthreat. Each arc could be two or three sessions long, and then next week comes another bad guy with a slightly different motive and way of acheiving it. (This might be the premise of Monster of the Week.)

  • The PC’s are guardians of the last temple of Ra, and if that falls so does all Order.
  • The PC’s work for the Merchant City of Vilenau, a walled city of business that it always has an enemy after it.
  • A galary of art collected from thousands of different realities and planes, some more valuable than the PC’s realise.

Hire from within

When, sadly, our PC is lost in battle, we tend to reach for a brand new character no one has ever heard of. That leaves a lot of buy in for the remaining members of the group. “Sure, person we literally just met, join us and share the items of our dead friend.”

How about, like Robin was inspired by Batman as a child, your next PC comes from one of the pool of characters that you already know about? I’m guessing that the DM will be more than excited to hand over the reigns of one of their NPCs. Or better yet, in your session zero when you’re creating contacts (you’re creating contacts, right?), create a character specifically in mind as your next character.

That way, the group gets to hang out with them and see scenes with PC 1 and PC 2 together. You’re not a total stranger joining and it’s not weird that Batman left his cave of things to Just Some Guy.

By the way, The One Ring has a whole ruleset for this stuff. Definitely check that out.

Spell: Bomb

Like turning a useful fusion energy source into a time-ticking doomsday device.

Bomb.
Level 3 Evocation spell. Ritual. Casting time: 1 minute.
Place the target item within the 1ft radius ritual circle. Part of the verbal components of the spell require announcing the duration, which can range from instant to 10 days. The duration begins once the casting is complete. When the spell expires, the target item explodes dealing 5d6 fire damage to all creatures within 20 ft.
Fire spreads and the blast goes around corners.
The damage can be increased by 1d6 for each additional level spent above 3.

FYI: DM’s should absolutely cast this on loot left behind as a trap by the bad guys. “I cast Detect Magic.” Well, that spoon sure looks magical.

Specifically items are specified, because targetted people with it is too gross for my table.

The divestment of a departed drow

Valna was first encouraged to become a priestess of Lolth because of her innovative use of magics. It was clear early on that her understanding of magic – especially in dank of the Underdark – was beyond anything that had been studied so far. Maybe she could bring more glory to the Lady of Shadows with her gifts.

Unfortunately, Valna’s scholarly enthusiasm always took priority to her worship, and it was only a matter of time until the inevitable happened. Decades into the relatively luscious life of a Priestess, Lolth called on her for her faith to be tested. Valna never returned.

A necromancer, reading a spell book. Image generated with magic.

Valna was no fool though. She knew that day would come. She left behind two things for her closest followers to continue her work with: her own severed finger (for unknown purposes) and her research.

Within those research notes, written carefully in ink rarely found in the Underdark, were two spells never before seen.

Valna’s Final Embrace.
Level 1 Necromancy spell. Ritual. Casting time: 1 action. Duration: 1 day.
Touch a willing target to grasp a few strands of their soul. For the duration, the target ignores their next Death Saving Throw failure. After this has been triggered, the spell ends and their maximum hit points are permanently reduced by 1d4.

Necromancers are always looking for a way to stay alive just a little bit longer, and there’s almost always a trade off for it. Certain Wizards who want to put the dice slightly more in their favour will want to pop this on along with their Mage Armor.

I also quite like that the Wizard can use this on other people. A good friend is bleeding out on the floor. Now the necromancer has to make a decision for them: give them a better chance of stabilising, at the cost of permanent damage.

A necromancer’s plaything attempts to read the spells that created it. For some reason, the ritual requires… a car? Image generated with magic.

Valna’s Enchained Totem.
Cantrip. Necromancy spell. Casting time: 1 action. Duration: 1 minute. Range: 30 feet.
Your quarterstaff becomes enchanted with souls of trapped foes and becomes rooted to the ground for the duration of the spell. On this turn, and following turns, you may use the Attack action to berate the quarterstaff. To appease you, it will make a Melee Spell Attack on a hostile creature within range. Using your spell casting modifier, bones launch out of the ground and pummel the closest target causing 1d10 bludgeoning damage.
Damage scales with your spell casting level, like similar cantrips.

One of the coolest things about necromancy in every other game in the universe is that it lets you summon undead and fight with them. It’s odd that D&D takes so long to let you do that. This isn’t quite that, but finally you have the ability to be mean to some dead guys, like a real necromancer.

A servant of Lolth, hunting. Image generated with magic.

The quarterstaff stays rooted, but can still break. However, you’ll have to wait for the minute to end if you want to remove the quarterstaff without breaking it. Wizards never use their quarterstaff. What’s the deal with that?

After the first turn, you use an Attack action on the quarterstaff, which allows you to use an off-hand bonus attack! Wizards never do this. (Because their main attack is already strong enough, I suppose.) I think it’d look cool! I feel they’ll need this as the rooted staff will make them stay in place a little more.

Berating might be throwing a stone at it, slapping it, or giving it a good kick. There’s no to hit on this. It’s more of a percussive, psychological abuse of the poor, tormented souls trapped within the magic.

From the head of a derro

I’m working on a project and had to create a few things. They’re yours now.

A gross item

Flesh Pocket

Craftable. A patch of skin taken from another and attached, somehow, to your body. This is a secret hiding spot that only the most thorough search will find, if applied correctly. This small pouch can only hold very small items before it becomes obvious: a key to a jewelry box, a poisoned needle, or your most beloved lockpick.

A DC 18 Perception check or DC 15 Investigation check is required to spot the device.

I think this comes from Shadowrun actually. I needed this for two reasons: 1) I needed a way for the derro to have something smuggled into the prison when the rest of their belongings have been taken, and 2) someway to show the player characters (if they spot it) that this dude was willing to cut some flesh off another dude and SEW IT TO HIS THIGH.

An aggressive background

Acolyte With A Sword
Sometimes a god needs a physical force to ensure the divine plan goes the correct way; you have been that force. Eliminating threats to the faith, by sword or magic, discrete or bloody.

Choose a god you serve, working with your DM to see who is most appropriate to the world you’re in. Describe your religious contact who typically works with you, assigning your tasks.

Feature: Feared By Those Who Know. When applying pressure to someone who fears or respects your god, you can make Intimidation checks with advantage.

Skill Proficiencies: Religion, Intimidation.
Languages: One of your choice, plus Thieves Cant.
Equipment: A holy symbol, 1 vial of Assassin’s Blood or Serpent Venom, a set of common clothes, 15 gold pieces.

This derro has had his last dredges of sanity knocked out of him in the three Uniting Wars he’s been a part of, and the only reason anyone can think of for his survival is that he’s touched by Diinkarazan. Lets hope it doesn’t go to his head.

A dark spell

Diffuse Light.
Level 1, Evocation Spell. Concentration. Touch.
Light tends to avoid the target as best it can, dissolving as it approaches. Within a 10ft radius of the target, light becomes dim light, and dim light becomes non-magical darkness for 10 minutes.

I’m not totally sure why it took a derro to find this spell. Maybe discovering magicks requires a less, uh, structured mind. Either way, this is a god send (oh, maybe this is how he figured it out) for a sunlight sensitivity suffering derro.

Boring Spells

scrap princess made an interesting post criticising how some 5e spells are pretty bland. I’ve got two mechanic-based spells that come right to mind that I’d like to make more story-based, without altering the level too much (though, really not caring too much about that). My aim is to take these spells from a crunchy exploit of the rules, to something actually usable in more than one situation.

Sleep

I dislike Sleep and write it off as nearly useless. I’ve seen it used many times and can remember the times it actually worked. You’re going to get 22 HP of creatures to fall to sleep (including allies, making the spell even more useless as you can’t use it in a dire straights moment). Even at level 1, if you’re in a fight where you feel the need to use more than cantrips, the bad guy you’re up against is going to have more than 22 HP. That 22, lets remember, is the average; you’re just as likely to roll under it.

The spell’s job is to temporarily knock an enemy out of combat, rarely more than one but sometimes. That’s its only real purpose. The single minute it lasts for means outside of combat it’s not great. Let’s change it.

Sleep. 1st level Enchantment.

1 action. Range: 90 feet. Components: Whispered voice, a dried cricket which is used up by the spell. Duration: 1 hour. Concentration. Wisdom save.

The cricket is brought back to life by your whispered spell. Once given a description of the target, it will do its best to seek them out within the range of where the spell was cast. The cricket can move up to 60 feet on the caster’s turn, including its first turn.

When it comes into contact with any conscious creature (other than the caster), that creature must make a Wisdom saving through or else be put into a magical sleep for the duration, or until they take damage. This happens regardless of if the creature is wearing armour or other gear.

Upon contact, upon being killed, or at the end of the duration of the spell, the cricket crumbles into sand.

Using a higher level spell slot increases the potency of the sleep. 3rd level or higher: Duration increases to 24 hours. 5th level or higher: Spell has no duration and is only bound by Concentration.

Now the spell lasts a whole hour. One minute was clearly marking the spell as a combat one – “1 minute” being mechanical lingo for “oh, just an entire fight, I guess”. Now it has a bunch more utility. You can use it to sleep the security guard, carry out your entire heist, and be gone again before he notices anything.

Allowing this to be extended to a day or longer, is mostly to allow the spell to be used as a quest hook; our train driver has stopped responding from beyond his impenetrable compartment, and the train is quickly coming to the end of a line with no sign of slowing down. Our only hope is to find the evil wizard who’s put the driver under their spell and break their Concentration!

The cricket can hang around for a while too, by the way. Just waiting for someone that looks like the described target. The caster could be long gone by then, leaving the cricket to jump into the arms of whoever follows after them.

This is much cooler. It’s more useful. More likely to work (especially as it gets better as you get better at controlling your magic). And it’s just more fun. Meanwhile, it’s still only temporary, requiring just a shove (to the sleeper, or the caster to break their Concentration). It only affects one creature now. It can’t actually do any damage. And, if the DM was mean enough, the cricket can just be avoided by the target. A wizard would know exactly what that insect dashing right towards them was up to – they’d be trained to spot it.

It’s for sure still within the realms of a level 1 spell.

Gentle Repose

Which sane cleric is going to give up a prepared spell slot for this? At best it’s a “just in case a party member dies” spell, which rarely happens. During the 10 days of the spell, the “dead” PC has no idea if they should roll another character or not – sitting and watching like an audience member, rather than playing a game. It’s not a good spell to take. Even if your cleric was committed to their keeping-you-idiots-alive role, the game is less fun for them because they can’t take Zone of Truth or Spiritual Weapon or Silence.

Gentle Repose (Ritual) 2nd level Necromancy.

1 action. Range: Touch. Components: A cry for help, a gathering gesture over the body, a donation which the spell will consume. Duration: See description.

A wordless shadow wrenches itself from the wounds, mouth, ears, and nose of the corpse or other remains that you are touching. It holds out a hand.

An offer is expected and taken by the shadow. This needn’t be just gold. The DM decides on the worthiness of the offer.

Pitiful: 1d4 + 2. Decent: 1d10 + 2. Respectful: 1d20 + 2.

The DM rolls this to determine how long the shadow is willing to reanimate the corpse for. They become undead and are not considered dead. For the duration or until returned to life, the corpse loses all proficiencies. It remembers little of its previous life and struggles to talk. This is not a comfortable life.

So now it’s a useful spell! Suddenly you’ve got FOUR HOURS to find someone who can revive your friend. Just four hours to find that 600 gold pieces the clerics want as a “donation” – if you can even find a cleric willing to deal with this (now undead) situation.

The body may be a lumbering, dazed buffoon, but your player still gets to play themselves. Impose disadvantage on everything they do (as if poisoned) to really reinforce that they’re only glued to their body and not fully in control. A resurrection is the only way to fix this. Even after you’re back, you have to ask yourself, what was that shadow inside you? Your soul? A demon? Do we all have that inside us..?

Alternatively, do the ritual on a dead horse and flee from the inevitable TPK.

The spell shouldn’t replace Speak with Dead, which is why the ability to do finessed skills like talking is limited. Even so, is this spell a whole bunch more powerful than its original? Sure. It’s also more fun, more useful, and adds in some story. It’s now a spell worth taking, and leans into the necromancy territory properly, which Wizards seem terrified of doing.

I showed this to a few friends before publishing it, and let me tell you they were outraged with how I’ve treated these poor spells. They were quite right to be in some instances, and yet I refute them all! I’ll be posting a follow up explaining how wrong they are.