Dangerous Combat Like the Mandalorian in 5E D&D
When season one of The Mandalorian ends following chapter 8, I’ll be a sad Disney+ viewer. I subscribed to the new streaming service only to watch this show. Incidentally The World According to Jeff Goldblum keeps me coming back, too. Even though I’ve got to wait one long week between chapters of The Mandalorian, I’ve been keeping the bounty hunt going at the gaming table. Right around the time the show premiered I’d gotten a copy of Ultimate NPCs: Skulduggery from Nord Games. Never a greater wretched hive of scum and villainy had I come across for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. A 5E D&D campaign immediately formed. The players loved it, I loved running it and we’re keeping it going. Nord Games helped created the seedy underworld with Skulduggery and engage the players through interesting encounters with Wandering Monsters. After Chapter 3: The Sin, I think Critical Hit Tables for Players and Critical Fail Tables fit the tone for this dangerous and complicated, Mandalorian inspired bounty hunter campaign. (Still no spoilers.)
Bounty hunting like The Mandalorian in 5E D&D
If you want to get caught up on where we’re at with our 5E D&D bounty hunter campaign inspired by The Mandalorian, here’s the first two parts.
We laid out the basic structure for the campaign including your pitch to players, an organization for their characters to work with and the sorts of creatures and NPCs they’ll encounter. We used Nord’s Skulduggery book for our primary resource to populate our bounty hunter campaign setting with brigands, ruffians, thieves, swindlers, assassins and their bosses. Then we made the bounty hunter character’s contract more challenging with all sorts of dangerous things they run into while tracking down their target. We used Nord’s Wandering Monsters — Wilderness for creating snags for the party. The players in my game confronted a hobgoblin squad in the wastelands. Shout out to Matt Colville and Jim Murphy for hobgoblin tactical advice.
In The Mandalorian, the titular character operates in a frontier like part of the galaxy. The very western feel comes across through the locations and characters inhabiting it, who make it clear life is cheap. In some cases worth more than others of course — not all wanted creatures have bounties on their heads for bringing them in alive. Traditionally I haven’t used or explored critical hit and fumble options much. I blame it on memories of Chartmaster RPG. I mean Rolemaster. Sorry.
But I dig what Nord Games put together with their Critical Hit and Critical Fail Tables. They come in three flavors: critical hits for Game Masters, one for players and one for critical fails. Each is represented with its own deck of cards, and anyone whose familiar with my tastes in game accessories knows I’d already be on board for these. How would they make a 5E D&D bounty hunter campaign more exciting? Let’s see.
Enter Critical Hit and Critical Fail Tables
The first thing I make clear to the players is these special critical hits and fails don’t apply to every natural 1 or natural 20. The deck comes out only at specific moments and pivotal battles. The idea of a character losing an eye fighting a wandering monster doesn’t appeal to me in particular. For a lot of people it might though, in which case I encourage you to draw from the decks every time those dice come up on one end or the other.
But I think it would really increase the tension and drama, and telegraph to the players Something Big Is Happening if used for special occasions. The shootout in the street, the standoff against overwhelming forces or an optional side mission characters take on knowing in advance about extreme danger.
The Critical Fail Tables are organized in an interesting way. Each card shows four options for different kinds of attacks: melee, ranged, natural and magical. In the PDF version, the tables on the cards are categorized further by severity. There’s awkward, embarrassing, shameful and disgraceful levels. An awkward magical critical fail might be the target has advantage on saving throws against your spells for 1d4 rounds. A shameful natural critical fail might be Your AC is reduced by 1d8 for 1d4 rounds.
When a player rolls a natural 20 on an attack roll, the cards or tables show the same options for results based on the type of attack, and also include severity levels. These are setback, dangerous, life-threatening and deadly. A life-threatening slashing critical hit might be quadruple damage, and the target’s speed is reduced to 0 ft. until the end of the target’s next turn. A dangerous bludgeoning critical hit might be Triple damage, and the target must make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, the target is knocked unconscious.
The GM Critical Hit Tables include the same severity levels as the player version, but in a different ratio. There are many more setbacks the dangerous results. This is great design. Player characters expect to get into many, many, many more battles than their adversaries during a campaign. Even in a bounty hunter campaign with recurring NPCs, it’s not even close. So subjecting player characters to the same lethality as monsters doesn’t make sense from a game perspective. That being said, a deadly slashing critical hit might be make a DC 18 Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, take 1d10 damage at the start of your turn for 1d10 rounds. If maximum damage is rolled: this effect continues for an additional 1d8 rounds (then 1d6, etc.). A setback magical critical hit might be your Constitution modifier is reduced by 1 until you finish a long rest. And there’s a lot more of the latter.
Ready to run a bounty hunter campaign?
I mentioned last time I wasn’t sure what was more exciting, the next chapter of The Mandalorian or running this 5E D&D bounty hunter campaign. With the campaign underway, it’s still a tough call. After running session 1 there are some standouts for me. To represent Beskar steel, each of the characters started with 1d3 greensteel ingots. I borrows a personalized item system from another 5E source and they can use this rare and valuable material with their guild to fashion unique items. One character used theirs as a bargaining chip with an information broker, which really surprised me! I felt like I hadn’t made it clear how valuable the green steel is, but the player said they knew and really wanted to make a strong impression with the NPC. They players loved navigating the ruthless subculture of crime and danger.
The bounty hunter party ran into just about every variety of adversary in Skulduggery and the encounter with the hobgoblins felt organic too. They knew the wastelands were dangerous so it didn’t feel out of place to confront this hostile force out there.
With the Critical Hits and Fails decks, tension will be ramped up when the characters in this 5E D&D bounty hunter campaign corner their target. This is assuming the situation turns to combat. The friends I’ve been playing with for several years know how I like to throw curveballs their way and it’ll be fun to see how they react. The situations they’ve gotten themselves into in this campaign already present moral quandaries.
If you want to check out Critical Hits and Critical Fails decks by Nord Games, visit their store here. You can use our exclusive promo code NORDARCHY20 to get a huge 20% off everything in your cart! Nord Games creates great products and accessories to help you create amazing experiences for your games. They’ve produced some really terrific books, plus they’ve got dice and my favorite sort of RPG accessory — decks of cards! The holidays are coming up too, so you can really make the most of that promo code with gifts for the nerds in your life.
What do you think? Are you hooked on The Mandalorian and eagerly awaiting chapter 4? Are you ready to start a 5E D&D bounty hunter campaign? We’re having an absolute blast and personally I’m enjoying exploring all these Nord Games products for inspiration. Next time maybe I’ll share with you how Remarkable Inns helped me easily create two distinct adventure paths for the characters to begin their hunt. Until then, stay nerdy!