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5E D&D time Out of the Box

D&D Ideas — Time

Welcome once again to the weekly newsletter. This week’s topic is time, which we discussed in our weekly live chat. We hangout every Monday evening at 8 p.m. EST on Nerdarchy Live to talk about D&D, RPGs, gaming, life and whatever nerdy stuff comes up. Speaking of time in All That Remains time may have forgotten the story of a great battle and the heroes who fought and died but with a little curiosity and a lot of elbow grease adventurers can discover the past. A strange fog filled with the ghosts of a battle fought long ago form around an excavated monument along with 54 other dynamic scenarios in Out of the Box. Find out more about it here. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates and info on how to game with Nerdarchy plus snag a FREE GIFT by signing up here.

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Delving Dave’s Dungeon

There are three areas I think of when I think about time in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons.

  1. As a Storyteller. Timing and pacing can be everything while developing the narrative and trying to tell a story. It gets even more complicated when we talk about tabletop roleplaying games involving cooperative storytelling.
  2. Things Getting Timey Wimey. This is trying to use time as a plot device like any story involving time travel or changing a timeline.
  3. Time Mechanics. This can be represented through subclasses, magic items or spells involving manipulation of time.

Time is one of the most challenging elements to juggle as a Dungeon Master or storyteller. It can also be super rewarding when you get it right. A DM has a tool to help with this. They say hindsight is 20/20 and a DM should take full advantage of this. Anything that hasn’t happened in front of the characters yet is fair game. The important thing is to not abuse this tool. It shouldn’t be used to screw over characters but to further the narrative. For example characters find and destroy the villain before the DM intends or anticipates but unbeknownst to the characters they’ve got a clone (or the party killed the clone). This might be over done but you can get the idea.

Time can be considered a cosmic force subject to manipulation in 5E D&D too. There are spells allowing characters to manipulate these very forces like time stop. Other spells might fall under purview of time as well like hold person, haste and slow. The Chronurgy Magic Arcane Tradition in Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount takes the concept even further and there’s no shortage of third party game designers with their own spins on time manipulation for 5E D&D. Official sources don’t include a Time Domain for clerics yet and this is a place for us to add time mechanics to the game. Here is my take on a Time Domain for 5E D&D.

Time Domain Spells

  • 1st — bane, bless
  • 3rd — augury, hold person 
  • 5th — haste, slow 
  • 7th — banishment, divination
  • 9th — circle of power, commune

Keeper of Time

At 1st level you become proficient with the History skill. You also gain two cantrips, guidance and mending. These cantrips don’t count against the number of cantrips known.

Channel Divinity: Ravages of Time

Starting at 2nd level you can use your Channel Divinity to empower a spell with the ravages of time. Whenever you cast a spell that effects other creatures you can use your Channel Divinity to force one of the targets to make a Constitution saving throw. On a failed save they have the poisoned condition for 1 minute. The creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of their turn, ending the effect with a successful save. Immunity to the poisoned condition doesn’t prevent this effect.

Command Time

At 6th level, you gain the ability to command time. You can perform something that normally requires an action as a bonus action instead. You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

Potent Spellcasting

Starting at 8th level, you add your Wisdom modifier to the damage you deal with any cleric cantrip.

Master of Time

Starting at 17th level, you can seize control of time itself. You rewind time 1 round. Everything that happened in the previous round is undone as if the round didn’t happen. The round restarts and every creature you choose within 30 feet has advantage or disadvantage (your choice) until the start of your next turn. Creatures with advantage have knowledge of the missing round and those with disadvantage do not.

Once you use this feature you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

From Ted’s Head

Time is precious. Regardless of how much time we think we have it never seems enough. When we are at the gaming table, whether in person or virtually it always goes by so fast. And when it is over it seems like it can take forever until the group gathers together again.

When I go over to D&D Beyond I see there are two spells mentioning time — the ever popular time stop and a Spell I do not recall seeing before, time ravage. This spell comes from Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount. Like its time related counterpart time ravage is a 9th level spell that can do a ton of damage and if the targets fail their saving throw they age enough that they will die of old age in 30 days.

The lifespan of so many races is one of the issues with Dungeons & Dragons. Some races like orcs (50), aarakocra (30) and grung (50) do not live so long. This makes any kind of aging an issue. Time ravage does not care about your lifespan as it just puts you to the end of your life. But if you are going to play a long game of fifth edition D&D with the possibility of the world aging by a decade or decades those races will have severe issues. It could be a lot of fun.

On a related note in earlier editions of D&D each race had racial modifiers based on age category. Typically you would get physically weaker while you got mentally stronger. So playing a really old elven spellcaster could give you some serious bonuses but you might be super frail.

Following this tangent I see most characters I have played and played alongside are typically young by the age. Very rarely do you see characters who have had a serious life before their world was turned upside down and are now into something new as a life of an adventurer. In my home game with my kids one of the kids in the game is playing a dwarf who is 400 years old and he deals with dementia and frequently confuses races of the PC and NPCs, which is quite comical.

I guess time and age is a relative concept when it comes to how you want to play it, both as a DM and a player in 5E D&D. But I urge you to step out of your comfort zone and play a character who has had a life before session one beyond a simple backstory. It need not be created all before the game. Make it hard to talk about for the character and as you put it together you can slowly parse it out over the course of the game. Does it involve death or sickness? Does it involve loss or magic? However you want to muck around with time go for it, there’s plenty to go around.

From the Nerditor’s desk

During the live chat when Nerdarchist Ted and I discussed the topic of time as it pertains to fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons one of the points raised stuck in my mind and I’m taking the time to explore it further here.

Since the earliest editions of the game at least two character race options represent extremely long lived creatures. The standard lifespan for elves and dwarves stretches over hundreds of years and I’ve got to be honest — these long lives have never once came up in any D&D games I’ve played. Sure there’s ancient elves and dwarves and venerable members of other races adventurers interact with but as far as players go I’ve rarely even seen a really old character be they elf, dwarf or otherwise.

This seems like a fantastic place to explore in a fifth edition D&D campaign. Like pretty much any other of the never ending stream of campaign ideas bouncing around in my head it hinges on group buy in and with this in place a group could create quite a different sort of experience.

  • Everyone in the group plays elf and dwarf characters
  • All the characters come from unusual lineages and possess naturally long lifespans
  • Some characters are long lived while others have more relatable lifespans

An adventuring party like this could certainly afford to play around with time during a campaign. Characters who live for hundreds of years may take decades or even centuries between adventures. A lot can change in the world during these times! Groups with mixed lineages might even continue campaigns through descendants of original party members and go on quests with their ancestors’ friends and companions.

Structuring a 5E D&D campaign this way leans towards a longer length to really develop and evoke the passage of time. Dungeon Masters would have an opportunity to progress the world in hugely significant ways and players could really experience wildly different circumstances after each skip forward in time.

*Featured image — Ghosts from time forgotten reveal their story in All That Remains, one of 55 dynamic encounters ready to drop into your game in Out of the Box. [Illustration by Kim Van Deun]

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