Hardcore Mode, Variant (5e Variant Rule)

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Hardcore Mode, Variant[edit]

D&D 5e is, by design, built to appeal to a large audience. Some people, however, think the system is too forgiving in many ways. 5e Hardcore Mode seeks to remedy this by changing character progression. While some enjoy it, I and others I have talked with think it goes too far in some respects, not far enough in others, and has some rules that just don't work properly. This ruleset seeks to amend some of the concerns with the original 5e Hardcore Mode [[1]], but I am in no way connected to the original developers thereof.

First Suggestion[edit]

To get a truly hardcore experience, we suggest you simply ignore Zymer's Candle. For many people, it makes D&D feel like a video game where you can just quicksave. It also ends up being more forgiving than most of vanilla 5e.

Ability Scores, Variant Rule[edit]

While the normal roll 3d6 and record the result is fine, sometimes it creates an imbalance within a party. You may want to allow each player a floating 1d6. After a player has rolled their character's ability scores, allow them to roll this floating 1d6 and apply it to one ability score of their choice. Don't allow a character to achieve a score higher than 16 in this way.

Levels, Hit Points, & Proficiency Bonus[edit]

The way the original 5e HM treats level, hit points, and proficiency bonus seems to devalue the very idea of ability scores, especially Constitution. These variants change how these interact.

10 Levels[edit]

This variant rule changes how levels work, changing the levels from 1-20 to 1-10. Doing this changes how the classes work, but also changes how XP is handled.

Cumulative XP Level Proficiency Bonus
0 1 +2
60 2 +2
200 3 +3
560 4 +4
1,650 5 +5
2,500 6 +6
3,600 7 +7
4,800 8 +8
6,100 9 +9
7,500 10 +10

NPCs use the same proficiency bonus progression, but NPCs of a CR higher than 10 still only have a proficiency bonus of +10. NPCs of CR 1/2 or lower are considered to have a proficiency bonus of +2.

Due to this difference in leveling, class progression also changes. The table for each class's progression is shown at the bottom of this page.

Different Hit Points[edit]

Hit points function the same as in normal 5e, but the way in which they are calculated is very different. Player characters start with a certain number of hit points as determined by their class and their Constitution score. Whenever a player character gains a level, roll their hit die and add it to their hit point maximum (without adding a Constitution modifier). The table below shows the starting hit points for each class.

Class(es) Starting Hit Points
Barbarian your Constitution score + 4
Fighter, Paladin, Ranger your Constitution score + 2
Artificer, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Monk, Mystic, Rogue, Warlock your Constitution score
Sorcerer, Wizard your Constitution score - 2

While this can make some characters more beefy than they would be at level 1 in normal 5e, it still scales far less over time but doesn't invalidate characters without a high Constitution. And yes, its possible to have as few as a single hit point (Sorcerer or Wizard with 3 Constitution) or to have as many as 24 hit points (Barbarian with 20 Constitution) at level 1. Likewise, it's possible to have as few as 10 hit points or as many as 136 hit points at level 10, using the same builds as before.

NPCs work differently. An NPC has a base number of hit points equal to its Constitution score and gets a bonus based on its size and proficiency bonus. For NPCs of CR 1 and higher, they also add their CR to their hit point maximum.

Size Base Hit Points
Tiny its Constitution score - 4 + pb
Small its Constitution score - 2 + pb
Medium its Constitution score + pb
Large its Constitution score + 2 + pb
Huge its Constitution score + 4 + pb
Gargantuan its Constitution score + 12 + pb
New Feature: Minuscule[edit]

Some creatures are so tiny and/or pathetic that the rules for hit points supplied above give it too many. For these creatures, apply the minuscule feature:

  • Minuscule. This creature has 1 hit point, but its AC can't be lower than its Dexterity score as long as it isn't incapacitated.
Injuries[edit]

You don't suffer injuries easily. Instead, you only suffer an injury if damage dealt to you is greater than half your hit point maximum (rounded up) from a single source, to a minimum of 10. Whenever you are injured, you suffer the following effects:

  • You can't expend hit dice to regain hit points.
  • Don't add your ability modifiers to checks you make, unless their negative.
  • You can't add your Dexterity modifier to your AC, unless it is negative.

You can remove an injury in any of the following ways:

  • Regaining 10 or more hit points by magical or medical means.
  • Regaining enough hit points to set you to your hit point maximum.
Death[edit]

Every turn your character remains unconscious due to being at 0 or fewer hit points, they must make a DC 16 death saving throw. On a failure, they take 1 damage that cannot be reduced in any way. On a natural 1, they take 2 damage in this way. Your character dies if they reach negative hit points equal to the number of faces on their hit dice (-6, -8, -10, or -12).

Proficiency & Ability Checks[edit]

While proficiency has already been touched upon under the new level advancement rules, it also acts differently than the original 5e HM. Whenever you make an ability check, roll a d20 and add the correlating ability modifier and any proficiency to the roll. However, Expertise works differently and scales with level. Whenever you have expertise in a roll, add the bonus listed below rather than using your proficiency bonus (this replaces the mechanic in features such as the Rogue's Expertise).

Level Expertise Bonus
1 +4
2 +4
3 +5
4 +6
5 +7
6 +9
7 +10
8 +12
9 +13
10 +14

Adjusted CR[edit]

It is suggested to use a modified form of CR, ignoring the original 5e HM rules. Other than those described in the sections above, a creature provides XP equal to 40 times its CR.

Spellcasting: Making a New Kind of Spell Slot[edit]

The absence of spell slots in the original 5e HM makes for a confusing set of rules that also cause spellcasters to outshine martial characters even by level 2. We seek to right that misstep by reintroducing spell slots in an unfamiliar way. Whenever you cast a spell other than a cantrip, expend a spell slot. The spell is cast at its lowest level.

However, one thing applies to all spell slots, despite class: you regain any expended spell slots upon completing a long rest. You cannot upcast spells or psionic abilities.

Full Preparation Casters[edit]

As a full preparation caster (Cleric or Druid), you have a number of spell slots equal to your level + 2, and you know 2 cantrips from your class spell list. Whenever you finish a long rest, you can prepare spells of a level you can cast. For each slot, you must choose a specific spell to be cast with that slot. If you want to cast the same spell multiple times, you must prepare it multiple times. You can use up to 2 spell slots at a time to prepare additional cantrips. When you do so, you can cast prepared cantrips at will until your next long rest.

Full Spontaneous Casters[edit]

As a full spontaneous caster (Bard, Sorcerer, or Wizard), you have a number of spell slots equal to 2 x your level, and you know a number of spells equal to 3 x your level from your class spell list. You can't know more cantrips in this way than your maximum determined by your level (as shown on the class tables at the bottom of this page). Whenever you cast a spell from your spells known, expend a spell slot.

Half Preparation Casters[edit]

As a half preparation caster (Artificer or Paladin), you have a number of spell slots equal to your level - 1 (minimum of 2). Whenever you finish a long rest, you can prepare spells of a level you can cast. For each slot, you must choose a specific spell to be cast with that slot. If you want to cast the same spell multiple times, you must prepare it multiple times. You can use up to 2 spell slots at a time to prepare cantrips from your class spell list, if it has cantrips. When you do so, you can cast prepared cantrips at will until your next long rest.

You might want to include Ranger as a half preparation caster.

Half Spontaneous Casters[edit]

As a half spontaneous caster (Ranger), you have a number of spell slots equal to your level, and you know a number of spells equal to 2 + your level from your class spell list. Whenever you cast a spell from your spells known, expend a spell slot.

Mystic Psionics[edit]

As a Mystic, you have a number of psi slots equal to your level, and you know a number of psionic disciplines equal to your level. Whenever you finish a long rest, you can prepare disciplines. For each psi slot, you must choose a specific psionic discipline that is stored in that slot. Upon doing so, you can cast each ability from that discipline of a psi rating (the psi point cost in the original UA) equal to or lower than your Mystic level each once. Once you have cast a discipline ability, you can't do so again until you prepare the discipline again. You can prepare the same discipline multiple times if you so desire. You can only use psionic focuses from prepared psionic disciplines.

If an ability can be scaled using psi points, assume it scales to 1 less than your Mystic level (minimum of 1).

Warlock Spellcasting[edit]

As a Warlock, you have a number of spell slots equal to your level, and you know a number of spells equal to 3 x your level from the Warlock spell list. You can't know more cantrips in this way than your Warlock level + 1. Whenever you cast a spell from your spells known, expend a spell slot. You can only cast a spell of 6th, 7th, 8th, or 9th level using a Warlock spell slot once between long rests each. You regain a number of spell slots equal to half your Warlock level (rounded down, minimum of 1) whenever you finish a short rest.

Class Progression Changes[edit]

The tables below show how each class has changed.

Artificer Level Features Infusions Known Infused Items Max Spell Level Spell Slots
1 Magical Tinkering, Spellcasting 1st 2
2 Artificer Specialist, Infuse Item, The Right Tool for the Job 4 2 1st 2
3 Ability Score Improvement, Tool Expertise 6 3 2nd 2
4 Artificer Specialist Feature, Flash of Genius 6 3 2nd 3
5 Ability Score Improvement, Magic Item Adept 8 4 3rd 4
6 Artificer Specialist Feature, Spell-Storing Item 8 4 3rd 5
7 Ability Score Improvement, Magic Item Savant 10 5 4th 6
8 Artificer Specialist Feature 10 5 4th 7
9 Magic Item Master 12 6 5th 8
10 Ability Score Improvement, Soul of Artifice 12 6 5th 9
Barbarian Level Features Rages Rage Damage
1 Rage, Unarmored Defense 2 +2
2 Danger Sense, Primal Knowledge (TCE), Primal Path, Reckless Attack 3 +2
3 Ability Score Improvement 4 +2
4 Extra Attack, Fast Movement, Path Feature 4 +2
5 Ability Score Improvement, Feral Instinct, Instinctive Pounce (TCE) 4 +3
6 Brutal Critical (1 die), Path Feature 5 +3
7 Ability Score Improvement, Relentless Rage 5 +3
8 Brutal Critical (2 dice), Path Feature 5 +4
9 Indomitable Might, Persistent Rage 6 +4
10 Ability Score Improvement, Brutal Critical (3 dice), Primal Champion Unlimited +4
Bard Level Features Bardic Inspiration Die Song of Rest Die Spells Known Max Cantrips Known Max Spell Level Spell Slots
1 Bardic Inspiration, Spellcasting d6 3 2 1st 2
2 Bard College, Expertise, Jack of All Trades, Magical Inspiration (TCE), Song of Rest d6 d6 6 3 2nd 4
3 Ability Score Improvement d6 d6 9 3 3rd 6
4 Bard College Feature, Countercharm d6 d6 12 3 4th 8
5 Ability Score Improvement, Font of Inspiration d8 d6 15 4 5th 10
6 Expertise, Magical Secrets d8 d6 18 4 6th 12
7 Ability Score Improvement d8 d6 21 4 7th 14
8 Bard College Feature, Magical Secrets d8 d6 24 4 8th 16
9 d8 d8 27 4 9th 18
10 Ability Score Improvement, Magical Secrets, Superior Inspiration d10 d8 30 4 9th 20
Cleric Level Features Channel Divinity Uses Max Spell Level Spell Slots
1 Divine Domain, Spellcasting 1st 3
2 Channel Divinity, Divine Domain Feature 1 2nd 4
3 Ability Score Improvement 2 3rd 5
4 Destroy Undead (CR 1), Divine Domain Feature 2 4th 6
5 Ability Score Improvement 2 5th 7
6 Destroy Undead (CR 2), Divine Domain Feature 2 6th 8
7 Ability Score Improvement 2 7th 9
8 Destroy Undead (CR 3) 2 8th 10
9 Divine Domain Feature 3 9th 11
10 Ability Score Improvement, Destroy Undead (CR 4), Divine Intervention (Improved) 3 9th 12
Druid Level Features Max Spell Level Spell Slots
1 Druidic, Spellcasting 1st 3
2 Druid Circle, Wildshape, Wild Companion (TCE) 2nd 4
3 Ability Score Improvement 3rd 5
4 Druid Circle Feature, Wild Shape Improvement 4th 6
5 Ability Score Improvement 5th 7
6 Druid Circle Feature, Wild Shape Improvement 6th 8
7 Ability Score Improvement 7th 9
8 Druid Circle Feature, Wild Shape Improvement 8th 10
9 Timeless Body, Beast Spells 9th 11
10 Ability Score Improvement, Archdruid 9th 12
Fighter Level Features
1 Fighting Style, Second Wind
2 Action Surge, Martial Archetype
3 Ability Score Improvement
4 Extra Attack, Martial Archetype Feature
5 Ability Score Improvement, Indomitable
6 Extra Attack (2), Martial Archetype Feature
7 Ability Score Improvement, Indomitable (2)
8 Action Surge (2)
9 Indomitable (3), Martial Archetype Feature
10 Ability Score Improvement, Extra Attack (3)
Monk Level Features Martial Arts Die Ki Points Unarmored Movement
1 Martial Arts, Monk Weapons (TCE), Unarmored Movement d4
2 Ki, Ki-Fueled Attack (TCE), Monastic Tradition, Unarmored Movement d4 4 +5 ft.
3 Ability Score Improvement d6 5 +5 ft.
4 Deflect Missiles, Evasion, Monastic Tradition Feature, Slow Fall d6 6 +5 ft.
5 Ability Score Improvement d6 7 +5 ft.
6 Monastic Tradition Feature, Purity of Body, Stillness of Mind d8 8 +10 ft.
7 Ability Score Improvement d8 9 +10 ft.
8 Diamond Soul, Timeless Body, Tongue of the Sun and Moon d8 10 +10 ft.
9 Empty Body, Monastic Tradition Feature d10 11 +10 ft.
10 Ability Score Improvement, Perfect Body d10 12 +15 ft.
Mystic Level Features Talents Known Disciplines Known Psi Slots
1 Mystic Order, Psionics 1 1 1
2 Mystic Order Feature, Mystical Recovery, Telepathy 2 2 2
3 Ability Score Improvement 2 3 3
4 Mystic Order Feature, Potent Psionics (1d8) 2 4 4
5 Ability Score Improvement 3 5 5
6 Mystic Order Feature 3 6 6
7 Ability Score Improvement 3 7 7
8 Psionic Mastery 3 8 8
9 Potent Psionics (2d8) 4 9 9
10 Ability Score Improvement, Psionic Body 4 10 10
Feature Change: Mystical Recovery[edit]

Starting at 2nd level, whenever you use a psionic discipline ability, you can use a bonus action to regain a number of hit points equal to the psi rating.

Feature Change: Psionic Mastery[edit]

Starting at 8th level, you can concentrate on up to two psionic abilities simultaneously.

Paladin Level Features Max Spell Level Spell Slots
1 Divine Sense, Fighting Style, Lay on Hands
2 Divine Smite, Sacred Oath, Spellcasting 1st 2
3 Ability Score Improvement 2nd 2
4 Divine Health, Extra Attack, Sacred Oath Feature 2nd 3
5 Ability Score Improvement 3rd 4
6 Aura of Courage, Sacred Oath Feature 3rd 5
7 Ability Score Improvement 4th 6
8 Aura of Protection, Cleansing Touch 4th 7
9 Improved Divine Smite 5th 8
10 Ability Score Improvement, Aura Improvements, Sacred Oath Feature 5th 9
Feature Change: Divine Smite[edit]

Starting at 2nd level, whenever you use your divine smite feature, it is assumed to be cast at your maximum spell level. You don't need to prepare your divine smites, but they still consume spell slots.

Ranger Level Features Spells Known Max Spell Level Spell Slots
1 Canny (TCE), Favored Foe (TCE), Fighting Style
2 Primal Awareness (TCE), Ranger Archetype, Spellcasting 4 1st 2
3 Ability Score Improvement 5 2nd 3
4 Extra Attack, Ranger Archetype Feature, Roving (TCE) 6 2nd 4
5 Ability Score Improvement 7 3rd 5
6 Land's Stride, Nature's Veil (TCE), Ranger Archetype Feature, Tireless (TCE) 8 3rd 6
7 Ability Score Improvement 9 4th 7
8 Ranger Archetype Feature, Vanish 10 4th 8
9 Feral Senses 11 5th 9
10 Ability Score Improvement, Foe Slayer 12 5th 10
Rogue Level Features Sneak Attack
1 Expertise, Sneak Attack, Thieves' Cant 1d6
2 Cunning Action, Roguish Archetype, Steady Aim (TCE) 1d6
3 Ability Score Improvement, Expertise 2d6
4 Evasion, Roguish Archetype Feature, Uncanny Dodge 2d6
5 Ability Score Improvement 3d6
6 Roguish Archetype Feature, Slippery Mind 3d6
7 Ability Score Improvement 4d6
8 Blindsense, Roguish Archetype Feature 4d6
9 Reliable Talent 5d6
10 Ability Score Improvement, Elusive, Stroke of Luck 5d6
Sorcerer Level Features Sorcery Points Spells Known Max Cantrips Known Max Spell Level Spell Slots
1 Sorcerous Origin, Spellcasting 3 2 1st 2
2 Font of Magic, Magical Guidance, Metamagic (3) 2 6 3 2nd 4
3 Ability Score Improvement 3 9 4 3rd 6
4 Sorcerous Origin Feature 4 12 5 4th 8
5 Ability Score Improvement 5 15 6 5th 10
6 Metamagic (4), Sorcerous Origin Feature 6 18 6 6th 12
7 Ability Score Improvement 7 21 6 7th 14
8 Metamagic (5) 8 24 6 8th 16
9 Sorcerous Origin Feature 9 27 6 9th 18
10 Ability Score Improvement, Sorcerous Restoration 10 30 6 9th 20
Feature Change: Sorcery Points[edit]

Starting at 2nd level, you regain any expended sorcery points whenever you finish a short rest.

Feature Change: Sorcerous Restoration[edit]

Starting at 10th level, whenever you cast a spell using a Sorcerer spell slot, you regain 1 sorcery point, up to your maximum.

Warlock Level Features Invocations Known Spells Known Max Cantrips Known Max Spell Level Spell Slots
1 Otherworldly Patron, Pact Magic 3 2 1st 1
2 Eldritch Invocations, Pact Boon 2 6 3 2nd 2
3 Ability Score Improvement 3 9 4 3rd 3
4 Otherworldly Patron Feature 4 12 5 4th 4
5 Ability Score Improvement 5 15 6 5th 5
6 Otherworldly Patron Feature 6 18 7 6th 6
7 Ability Score Improvement 6 21 8 7th 7
8 Otherworldly Patron Feature 7 24 9 8th 8
9 8 27 10 9th 9
10 Ability Score Improvement, Eldritch Master 8 30 11 9th 10
Wizard Level Features Spells Known Max Cantrips Known Max Spell Level Spell Slots
1 Arcane Recovery, Spellcasting 3 2 1st 2
2 Arcane Tradition 6 3 2nd 4
3 Ability Score Improvement 9 4 3rd 6
4 Arcane Tradition Feature 12 4 4th 8
5 Ability Score Improvement 15 5 5th 10
6 Arcane Tradition Feature 18 5 6th 12
7 Ability Score Improvement 21 5 7th 14
8 Arcane Tradition Feature 24 5 8th 16
9 Spell Mastery 27 5 9th 18
10 Ability Score Improvement, Signature Spells 30 5 9th 20
Feature Change: Arcane Recovery[edit]

Starting at 1st level, once between long rests when you finish a short rest, you can choose to regain a number of spell slots equal to your Wizard level.


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