Welcome once again to the weekly Nerdarchy Newsletter. This week in the live chat we talked about using tools in D&D and ways a Dungeon Master might allow players to use them in a game. Moreso we delved into whose responsibility it is to make tool more relevant during gameplay. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates and info on how to game with Nerdarchy, by signing up here.
Spice combat by letting your players use their tool proficiencies offensively.
Find the Weak Point
Here’s some new use for smith’s, tinker’s, or thieves’ tools:
DC = 10 + Challenge of creature
You take an action to study the nature of a creature with the construct type. It must have moving parts. You make a tool proficiency check versus the DC of the construct using proficiency + Intelligence modifier to discern its weakness. You can make a special melee attack to cause one of four effects. Make the attack roll using your tool proficiency bonus. On a successful hit roll a d4 to determine the effect.
Immobilized. The target’s speed is reduced to 0 until the end of your next turn.
Vulnerable. You uncover a weak point on the target and it has vulnerability to the next attack to hit it.
Disoriented. Target makes attacks with disadvantage until the end of your next turn.
Defenseless. Until the end of you next turn attacks against the target have advantage.
New use for alchemist’s or brewer’s supplies, and herbalism kit
DC = 10 + Challenge of creature
You take an action to study the nature of a creature with the ooze type. You make a proficiency tool check versus the DC of the ooze using proficiency + Intelligence modifier to discern its composition. You can make a special ranged attack to cause one of four effects. Make the attack roll using your tool proficiency bonus. On a successful hit roll a d4 to determine the effect.
Sluggish. Reduce the target’s speed by 20 until the end of your next turn.
Disorient. The target moves in a random direction using it’s Dash action until the end of your next turn.
Freeze. The target is stunned until the end of your next turn.
Neutralize. All creatures have resistance against the target’s attacks until the end of your next turn.
From Ted’s Head
When I sat down to write my section of the newsletter I was stuck with what I was going to say that was not already discussed in the live chat on this past Tuesday as well as not spoil anything that is in ourPatreon rewards. So I decided to go for a walk and see what inspired me to talk about. I did not get too far before my brain latched onto an idea.
We have a large variety of tool sets in the game you can choose to use with or without proficiency. What if you were to add a set of tools that adds to your regular skills? In a way we already do have that. All of your musical instruments are things you can use with yourPerformance skill. You do not necessarily need any of those tools to make a Performance check, but without the lyre you really cannot make a lyre performance check can you?
What other skills could this apply to? You can use my suggestions as presented or allow them to inspire you to try other skills or change my listings. As always, these are just some suggestions you can use to augment your game. In all cases making a skill check that requires tools, with improvised tools, is done so with disadvantage.
Intelligence (Arcana) — Rituals. Yes, there are ritual spells but some things might fall out of the spectrum of actual magic that anyone could activate if they had the knowledge and tools required. Ritual tools can be put together with candles, incense and a variety of other arcane implements or you can just pick up everything you need in one simple little package.
Intelligence (Investigation) — Analyzing evidence. Investigation covers a lot of ground where skills come in. You can use it to literally look for something or to attempt to solve a puzzle or even a crime. It really depends on how much science you are allowing into your game, Are you doing a Sherlock Holmes level of evidence examination, or NCIS? But things like certain chemicals, a magnifying glass, beakers and a small burner wind up making an elaborate setup, and one that is not typically taken on the adventuring road, Just like brewer’s supplies or your forge. But having them can make solving a case like that so much easier.
Wisdom (Medicine) — Surgery. Yeah, you can use a dagger to cut the infestation out of your ally or cut off an infected limb with just any old longsword, but it could be messy and cause serious issues along the way. Surgery tools would give you all the things you would need to extract organs, cut off limbs and make precise cuts into the body where needed to help those who are sick or ill.
Intelligence (Religion) — Ceremonies. Most religions I know of in the real world hold ceremonies as important and solemn rites. You need more than holy water and candles to do many ceremonies. As complex as they can be with each and everyone requiring some bizarre component the adventurer might not carry normally. A holy water sprinkler to send the blessing further into a crowd might be necessary to ward off a gathering evil to protect a town from its influence.
These are just 4 examples that you might use in your game and add new elements to your game. Use them if you like them or not if you don’t but I enjoyed coming up with these as it creates a whole new line of potential quest ideas and if the adventurers are not prepared for it then the checks will be that much harder.
From the Nerditor’s desk
This week’s topic is one of my favorite parts of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons: tools! As far back as first edition AD&D I always thought the characters’ non weapon proficiencies were cool. They’re sort of a hybrid background and skill proficiencies. We never used them, a habit that persisted throughout all the other editions until now.
These days, I can’t get enough of D&D tools. As a player I look for any opportunity to use my tool proficiencies, and as a Dungeon Master it’s important to me to include opportunities for characters to use theirs and encourage players to keep them in mind. Just this afternoon, a player in my home group told me his favorite thing about our group is getting to use their tools and non-combat skills and abilities to really immerse themselves in the setting. What a great compliment!
Probably once a week there’s a poll, discussion, debate or conversation on social media about D&D tools. How to use them, if they should be used, how to get players to use them, how to create content including them and so forth. I’m always happy to slide into these threads and sing the praises of tools.
One of the important things to keep in mind is using D&D tools is a collaborative space between players and DMs. No surprise here, since that is the thrust of the game itself. With D&D tools it takes a DM with an open mind to hear players out when they have an idea for using their proficiencies and players who embrace their characters’ whole being, not just the fancy spells and fighting prowess.
Here’s a few examples of using tools that might not be as exciting as flashy fight manuevers, but absolutely enhance the exploration and social pillars of play. And in a few cases, do have an impact on combat, even if it’s in a roundabout way.
During the live chat discussing D&D tools, one of the viewers mentioned they’ll be playing a character in an upcoming campaign with cobbler’s tools. The character is a retired soldier who took up the trade of a cobbler and now is getting drawn into a life of adventure. They asked how it could be useful. Imagine the over-the-hill adventurer on a quest with a party of spry young folks. They might wonder what this elder brings to the table. Let’s say the party is trying to find someone in a crowded town, or even the wilderness. I’ve watched enough forensic crime drama shows to know sometimes they analyze footprints for clues. Maybe the person the party is after has distinctive footwear only made in one place, or the bootmaker has a special mark on the sole that the cobbler notices imprinted in the dirt. Years spent making and repairing footwear doesn’t seem so useless now, does it?
Another person in the chat asked what D&D tools characters could use to create exploding pies. Maybe they were just joking, but it sounds like a great chance for the characters with cook’s utensils and alchemist’s supplies to work together.
In a Ghosts of Saltmarsh one shot I played, my character Ruon Swansong was an homage to Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation. So of course he had expertise with carpenter’s tools. When we were at the docks perusing ships, I took the time to examine and appreciate the woodworking craftsmanship of the vessels, and with a very high skill check spotted the most seaworthy ship, a decision that made the perilous voyage a little safer.
You know how treasure hoards often contain gems and art objects worth whatever amount of gold to the right collectors? There’s were your painter’s supplies and jeweler’s tools come into play. You can appraise them, and probably have contacts in the art and gemology world to help get the best price, or at least know how to navigate that world. In cases like this, your character is helping shape and drive the narrative too. It’s your goals and motivations moving things forward. Maybe these aren’t saving the world activities, but they’re ways to engage the campaign setting more. For DMs, when your players show interest in these sorts of things, listen! What started off as a simple task to find a good price on some gems could become an adventure in itself. Shady dealers, counterfeiters, escort quests to safeguard delivery of a cache of valuable jewels and more are all just waiting for some D&D tool use.
Part of the onus for using D&D tools is on player, and it’s not just a downtime activity. While they certainly are that, tools can be used during adventures and if you ask me they help distinguish your character from any other fighter, wizard, rogue, cleric or whatever class. Tools, like backgrounds, can be the lens through which your class shines. D&D tools represent what your character was skilled at before they began manipulating magic and whatnot.
Maybe your character is proficient with leatherworker’s tools, and the party is on a quest to quell a growing bandit army in the wilderness. I’ll bet the leatherworker could taint the materials the enemy uses to crank out leather armor for their troops. Sneaking into their fort for some sabotage could really make a difference in their defenses if they’re out there in just their homespun tunics.
There’s an awesome section in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything about D&D tools too, with more information on just what these tool kits include and some neat things your characters can do with them. Maybe busting out your potter’s tools doesn’t seem as cool as throwing a fireball, but I bet when you were making your character you had a reason to choose that proficiency. So own it! If your wizard spent their apprenticeship crafting earthenware vessels for their master’s components, it should inform part of who they are and give them a unique perspective.
I hope I’ve encouraged both players and DMs alike out there to take a fresh look at D&D tools. Players, be proud of your character’s tool proficiencies and look for ways to use them that make the story of your party memorable and unique. And DMs, keep the party’s tool proficiencies in mind when you’re preparing content — you never know when calligrapher’s supplies can lead to new quests, drama and intrigue.
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