Hardcore Mode, Variant (5e Variant Rule)
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Hardcore Mode, Variant
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 [], but I am in no way connected to the original developers thereof.
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
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
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.
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|
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
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
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.
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.
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
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).
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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).
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
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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|9||Potent Psionics (2d8)||4||9||9|
|10||Ability Score Improvement, Psionic Body||4||10||10|
Feature Change: Mystical Recovery
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
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
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|
|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|
|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|
|9||Sorcerous Origin Feature||9||27||6||9th||18|
|10||Ability Score Improvement, Sorcerous Restoration||10||30||6||9th||20|
Feature Change: Sorcery Points
Starting at 2nd level, you regain any expended sorcery points whenever you finish a short rest.
Feature Change: Sorcerous Restoration
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|
|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|
|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|
|10||Ability Score Improvement, Signature Spells||30||5||9th||20|
Feature Change: Arcane Recovery
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.