If OSR modules are unbalanced by design, why do they often have recommended level brackets?

Unbalanced encounters is one of the staples of the OSR/old school modules. However, most of them have some kind of recommendation regarding PC levels and/or numbers. For example, this extensive list of OSR adventures has a dedicated column for recommended character levels.

If the modules are not supposed to be balanced anyway, what the recommended levels are for?

Would it be unbalanced for Dex-based Fighters to choose proficiency in Dex saving throws instead of Str saving throws?

Whilst building a Dex-based Fighter (an Arcane Archer), I decided to pick the Resilient feat at level 4 so that I could have proficiency in Dexterity saving throws, which makes sense given that they are a Dex-based character. Then I thought about how odd it was that they had proficiency in Strength saving throws just because they’re a Fighter even though they’re not a Str-based character. Sure, it makes sense for a lot of Fighters, but not all of them.

Therefore, I’m considering introducing a new homebrew rule for whenever I’m running a game and a player of mine wants to make a Dex-based Fighter:

Saving Throws: Strength or Dexterity (your choice), Constitution

The “choice” would be made at level 1 (I don’t plan on allowing them to switch it back and forth).


Given that this class is the only one listed under the Multiclassing section in the PHB (pg. 163) has having an “or” in their requirements (“Strength 13 or Dexterity 13″), this seems to fit the intent that Fighters aren’t tied to Strength.

The Battlemaster archetype (PHB, pg. 73) also allows either for the saving throw for some maneuvers, again implying that Fighters are supposed to be flexible regarding using Strength or Dexterity:

Maneuver save DC: 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Strength or Dexterity modifier (your choice)”


Would there be any problems with this? They would still be outclassed in Dexterity saving throws by Rogues and Monks once they get Evasion, so I don’t see this stepping on their toes too much (at least not at higher levels), but on the other hand no class RAW allows a choice in saving throw proficiency like this, so would there be any other problems I’m overlooking?

Is the “Bone of Animation” in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Marvelous Magic unbalanced?

I’m running Descent into Avernus.

In a session 0 for one my PCs, they acquired a Bone of Animation, which is an item in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Marvelous Magic.

(This is a pretty great list of magical items on dmsguild: https://www.dmsguild.com/product/291001/Mordenkainens-Tome-of-Marvelous-Magic)

BONE OF ANIMATION

Wondrous item, uncommon (requires attunement)

This item appears to be a regular human upper arm bone. While holding the bone you can use an action to speak the command word and turn the bone into a skeleton. The skeleton reverts to bone form after 1 hour or when it drops to 0 hit points.

The skeleton is friendly to you and your companions for the duration. Roll initiative for the skeleton, which has its own turns. It obeys any verbal commands that you issue to it (no action required by you). If you don’t issue any commands to the skeleton, it defends itself from hostile creatures but otherwise takes no actions.

Once the bone is used, it can’t be used again until the next dawn.

So far, so good. This is a pretty cool item.

We’re now approaching level 5, and my wizard is super excited to use Animate Dead when he levels:

This spell creates an undead servant. … On each of your turns, you can use a bonus action to mentally command any creature you made with this spell if the creature is within 60 feet of you (if you control multiple creatures, you can command any or all of them at the same time, issuing the same command to each one). You decide what action the creature will take and where it will move during its next turn, or you can issue a general command, such as to guard a particular chamber or corridor. If you issue no commands, the creature only defends itself against hostile creatures… The creature is under your control for 24 hours, after which it stops obeying any command you’ve given it. To maintain control of the creature for another 24 hours, you must cast this spell on the creature again before the current 24-hour period ends. This use of the spell reasserts your control over up to four creatures you have animated with this spell, rather than animating a new one.

By comparison to this, the Bone of Animation seems overpowered:

  • It does not require a spell slot to use
  • You can issue verbal commands without using an action

Whereas for Animate Dead:

  • You must expend a spell slot
  • You have to use a bonus action to command the creatures

The only downsides of the Bone is that you can use it only once per day, and the skeleton lasts for at most one hour. But in a typical adventuring day, there is probably one combat encounter that would require pulling out all the stops — so neither of these downsides seems that impactful.

I do understand that Animate Dead scales well, and at higher casting levels you can start to control groups of undead. But it seems very off to me that Animate Dead requires a bonus action to command, whereas the Bone does not. Every similar item in the Tome of Marvelous Magic is the same, so I assume it was a deliberate decision by authors.

The question I need an answer to:

I’m thinking of editing the Bone so that it also requires a bonus action to command. Without this I anticipate my wizard asking me why he has to expend a bonus action when my other PC does not.

Does this modification negatively impact game play or materially change the balance implications for this item?

Would this homebrew college of spirit be unbalanced? What should I change?

I’m currently running a campaign within Ravnica, and one of my player came to me with this homebrew for her bard working within Orzhov guild.

I wanted to be sure first (as I’m a new DM and relatively new 5e player) that it wouldn’t bring problem to the table?

This subclass purpose is to let her play with the Orzhov ghost that are one of the more characteristic trait of this guild in a fun and "bardic" way, which I find quite cool.

This homebrew is not my creation, and neither is the one of my player as she found it on reddit (and tweaked it as she told me the base one was too powerfull).

I’m a new DM, and relatively new D&D player, so I’m not the best at balancing, however:

  • I fear that this free cantrip at level 3 might bring unbalance, considering the other bonuses (that are more core to the class)
  • I’m not too sure to know what to think about the fear part (don’t see it as too powerful as there is so much resistance to that effect)
  • The spirits are ok (need concentration, which should lower their power greatly), even maybe too weak?
  • The last ability is too different from what I’m used too so I don’t know what to think of it?

Last Request 3rd-level College of Spirits feature

At 3rd level your music is so alluring to the spirits following you that you may beseech them for help.

As a bonus action you may expend one of your bardic inspiration dice and call upon the aid of a friendly specter. When you do so, gain 5 temporary hit points, additionally choose a number of creatures you can see within 60 feet of you, up to a number equal your charisma modifier (minimum of one), they must succeed on a wisdom save or be frightened until the end of your next turn.

In addition, anyone who has one of your bardic inspiration dice can use a bonus action to expend it on his turn for the same effect, using your charisma modifier and spell save dc.

The number of temporary hit points increases when you reach certain levels in this class, increasing to 8 at 5th level, 11 at 10th level, and 14 at 15th level.

Sounds of Death 3rd-level College of Spirits feature

When you join the college of spirits at 3rd level, you learn to suffuse your songs and music with the ability to reveal the thin veil between this world and the next one.

You learn the cantrip toll the dead, to cast it you play a melancholic tune and through your song reveal its imminent death to the creature you’re targeting. This count as a bard cantrip for you but doesn’t count against the number of cantrip you know.

Additionally, you can start a musical performance lasting 10 minute to attune to the nature of death and learn information on the untimely demise of any creature within your surroundings, if these creature died within the last 24 hours. At the end of this recital, roll a performance check and look in the table below:

  • 5: You learn how many creature died in this location within the specified time frame.
  • 10: You learn the type of creature that died in this location.
  • 15: The time frame increase to the last week, additionally you learn where their body rest (if any and they haven’t been moved more than half a mile)
  • 20: You learn the nature of the death of the creature within that location within the specified time frame.
  • 25: The time frame increase to the last month. But extend past that for any ghost haunting this location.
  • 30: You learn the identity of any creature that died in this location within the specified time frame.

Haunting Melody 6th-level College of Spirits feature

Starting at 6th level, you learn the speak with dead spell or choose a different bard spell of equal level if you already know it. This does not count against the number of bard spells you know.

In addition, as an action you can start a haunting melody that summons three friendly spirits to your aid within 60 feet of you. These spirits last for 1 hour, until they drop to 0 hit points, or until you stop concentrating on the melody (as if you were concentrating on a spell). These spirits are friendly to you and your companions and obey all verbal commands you issue to them (no action required). In combat these spirits share your initiative count, but take their turns immediately after yours. However being made of immaterial matter, they are not able to interact with the physical world, preventing them from using the help, shove, use object or grapple action.

Once you have called upon these spirits, you cannot do so again until you finish a long rest.

Spirit

Lastly, if you are playing your haunting melody directly after your practicing your sound of death performance, you may cast the speak with dead spell on the spirits you summoned. Once they answer 5 questions they will vanish, ending haunting melody early, none but you will be able to hear their answers.

Spectral Resonance 14th-level College of Spirits feature

Starting at 14th level, you have learned to harmonize with the veil between life and death. As a bonus action you can undergo a ghostly transformation for 1 minute, until you end it as a bonus action, or until you are incapacitated. During the transformation, you gain the following benefits:

  • You gain a flying speed equal to your walking speed You can see into the Ethereal Plane up to 60 feet away.
  • You have advantage on all persuasion checks you make on undead creatures.
  • You can use a bonus action to cast etherealness on yourself, without need for verbal or somatic components and without expending a spell slot. You may also end this spell as a bonus action. This spell will last only as long as your spectral resonance and doesn’t impede your flying speed. Additionally, spirits summoned by your Haunting Melody trait can still perceive and interact with you as normal.
  • Once you use this feature you must complete a long rest before you can do so again.

Let me know if it would seems unbalanced and I’ll see the modification with her.

Is Booming Blade that unbalanced? How could it be rebalanced?

Up until now, we had quite the terrible party lineup (a Rogue, two Paladins and a Barbarian; we soon discovered the game is simply not enjoyable without casters), and we all decided to fix this by designing a new party together: our next lineup will consist of the same Rogue and the Barbarian, but the Paladins (one of which was me) will be replaced by a Divination Wizard and an unholyly multiclassed Bard. Since the Wizard and the Rogue are quite squishy, we decided I should take the role of a frontliner, so I designed the character to be at least kind of an off-tank.

Long story short, I built my character based around a sword and board build with the Ruby of the War Mage and the War Caster feat. Flavour-wise, this character was designed to be both air-headed and hot-headed (hot-air-balloon-headed, if you will), and as such is prone to engage in melee combat if only to feel the thrill of the fight. Since I will only pick three levels of Warlock (the Pact of the Tome is integral to the flavour of my character concept), I won’t be able to access the Pact of the Blade’s Extra Attack invocation. Thus, I based the character’s melee DPR output around Booming Blade and Green Flame Blade.

I discussed with my GM the possibility of being able to trigger Booming Blade via Command, and he said it was not possible, which is reasonable. However, he started looking into the cantrip itself and some (hastily) made damage comparison tables, and said it is broken and should be nerfed to avoid overshadowing the martial characters. Some of the proposed nerfs were:

  • Blade cantrips are now a level 1 spell.
  • Blade cantrips don’t trigger the primary effect, only the secondary one (that is, BB’s movement damage and GFB’s "cleaving" damage)
  • Blade cantrips don’t trigger the primary effect, but the secondary one is increased by one die size (BB’s movement and GFB’s "cleaving" would use d12)
  • Reduced dice size for the cantrip’s damage (for example, d8 to d6).
  • Reduced dice size for the cantrip’s primary effect, but augmented for the secondary effect (d8 to d12)

Needless to say, I’m kinda bummed by this change since the whole gish appeal of this character concept was based around being able to use these cantrips, since playing a melee character with a single attack, only 1d6 at Sneak Attack and the very limited magic items we have would suck hard; I would feel stupid using a single attack when I could be spamming Eldritch Blast instead. The secondary effects of these cantrips are extremely situational and I am sure they won’t come up many times since we often face intelligent enemies. I would be kinda okay with the last proposal, but still, I’m not convinced. I proposed the DM to write some homebrew (I consider myself fairly good at balancing) martial weapons and mechanics to make martials more flexible instead of outright nerfing the cantrip, but he said he wants this campaign to be as vanilla as possible.

How can I convince my DM that the Blade cantrips aren’t that unbalanced? Alternatively, what’s a reasonable way to rebalance them?

Would it be unbalanced to let a Tempest Cleric replace one of their domain spells for the 4th-level spell Storm Sphere?

I wanted to pick your DM brains about allowing a Cleric of the Tempest domain to swap one of their domain spells.

One of the players in our campaign would like to swap Control Water (PHB, p.227) for Storm Sphere (XGtE, p.166). It seems to be in line with the whole flavour of a Tempest Cleric and they are both 4th-level spells.

Note: Storm Sphere appears in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, so it had not been published at the time when the Tempest domain was published.

Would it be unbalanced to allow this spell swap for the Tempest cleric’s domain spells?

I would really appreciate any answers that draw on own experience of allowing tweaks for a Cleric domain spells.

Is moving between separate attacks of the same spell unbalanced?

As stated in this question, you can’t move between attacks when casting spells like Eldritch Blast as per RAW.

My question is, if a GM would allow this to happen (cast a beam to a creature, move, and then cast the second beam at the same creature) invoking RAI or just because he fells like it, would that unbalance the game in any way ?

Would allowing Wizards to use Wisdom for AC be unbalanced?

I find myself frustrated that Wizards have high incentive to invest in Dexterity and Constitution so that the aren’t quite so squishy whereas they have little incentive to increase Wisdom except to help their Wisdom saves. Wisdom, however, seems much more in line with the common imaginings of a Wizard than Dexterity.

I am considering house-ruling that wizards can choose to add their Wisdom modifier to their AC instead of Dexterity but I want to check whether that would be balanced.

A relevant aspect to this change is that wizards have Wisdom Saving throw proficiency so this would allow them to be really good at Wisdom Saving throws more easily. On the other hand Dexterity saving throws are also quite common so giving up points in Dex also has a high cost even without AC.

Would allowing Primeval Awareness to specify numbers and directions make the feature unbalanced?

The 3rd level class feature of the ranger, Primeval Awareness, says:

Beginning at 3rd level, you can use your action and expend one ranger spell slot to focus your awareness on the region around you. For 1 minute per level of the spell slot you expend, you can sense whether the following types of creatures are present within 1 mile of you (or within up to 6 miles if you are in your favored terrain): aberrations, celestials, dragons, elementals, fey, fiends, and undead. This feature doesn’t reveal the creatures’ location or number.

Of all the rangers I’ve played myself or seen played by others, I have never seen this feature get used. One of the things that stops me (at least) from using it is that last line (“This feature doesn’t reveal the creatures’ location or number.“), which seems to make the feature overall pretty useless.

It seems that at least someone else agrees with me enough to level this criticism at Crawford:

Jonathan Longstaff:
@JeremyECrawford Also Primeval Awareness is arguably the worst class feature in the game. It’s so not worth a spell slot.

Jeremy Crawford:
@pukunui81 It’s definitely situational. In my recent Ravenloft game—heavy on investigation, light on combat—Primeval Awareness was pivotal.

Jonathan Longstaff:
@JeremyECrawford The fact that it covers a large area and doesn’t even give you a direction is the main issue for me.

Whilst I’m curious to know if anyone thinks this feature isn’t useless as-is and can explain why it’s actually useful, that’s not what I’m going to ask here (people can always link me to forum posts about such things in the comments below, if such forum posts exist).

Instead, my question is, assuming that I continue to believe that this feature is useless because of that last line, what are the balance implications of removing that last line from the class feature’s description? So the feature would read the same but excluding “This feature doesn’t reveal the creatures’ location or number.

My main concern is that it might end up being basically a better version of locate creature, which is a 4th level spell and therefore a RAW ranger wouldn’t be able to do this until level 13. On the other hand, this would only last a few minutes at most rather than up to an hour like locate creature.

Would allowing this feature to specify numbers and directions (bearing in mind that it only lasts a few minutes at most) make it overpowered, or would it merely increase its power enough to make it actually useful?

How is True Polymorph not completely unbalanced?

How is True polymorph balanced in regards to any spell besides Wish? (Which is inherently unbalanced per design).

Two example uses that seem unbalanced:

  • A level 20 Warlock and Bard are having a talk about dragons, and the bard comes up with the idea of becoming a dragon. The warlock casts True Polymorph, turning the bard into an Ancient Brass Dragon (possibly even one that can cast spells). After the hour long concentration if completed, there is An Ancient Brass Dragon in the party that can kill basically anything it wants and shapeshift back into his Lvl 20 Bard self and play a jaunty tune while he’s at it?

  • The Warlock and Bard are battling a powerful Lich and the Lich gets turned into a frog. It wouldn’t be dead, so its phylactery would be useless. It would gain the intelligence of a FROG, meaning that the threat has been nullified as long as the frog lives. Maybe they could make it a tortoise for good measure. That leaves the party, or others, 100 years to find it’s phylactery and do away with it, no rush necessary.

I know there are other questions about this spell and how it works, but my question is how can you balance this spell, without taking away the RAW, or the power of the players?