Many of us tabletop roleplaying game nerds are familiar with video games, particularly RPGs and JRPGs. Even those who don’t play JRPGs are at least aware of many common franchises — Final Fantasy, Tales, Kingdom Hearts, Pokemon and Persona just to name a few. A common theme among JRPGs is their story driven gameplay and novelty game mechanics. For many the name Shin Megami Tensei immediately evokes the idea of rock-paper-scissors style combat involving damage elements. Saying a name like Golden Sun evokes nostalgia and complex magic and class systems. All of this got me thinking about something. JRPGs are renowned for their creativity and innovation in a frankly restrictive game formula. Suppose we tried adopting certain gameplay elements from JRPGs? While a creative setting or feel is pretty easy to accomplish, mechanics get a bit crunchier as Nerdarchist Dave says. As an admitted JRPG addict I love thinking of ways to evoke this sort of feeling and structure in a tabletop RPG and mechanics aren’t nearly so inaccessible as you might think. So today I want to look at a mechanic from one of my recent obsession plays: Octopath Traveler and adapt a boost system into 5E D&D play.
Octopath Traveler Boost System
Octopath Traveler’s Boost System is a fairly straightforward mechanic. Every turn you don’t perform a Boost you gain a Boost Point (BP). You can spend up to 3 BP at one time. When you do you make an additional weapons attack for each BP spent or exponentially increase the damage of your current spell if using a magic attack. All characters build up BP, both those with magic and those without. In addition to adding a layer of strategy and resource management it makes for a dynamic and fun approach to combat. I also think it could be fairly easily adapted into a 5E D&D game.
Adapting the Boost System to 5E D&D
When it comes to 5E D&D combat is fairly straightforward. A Boost System can add a layer of complexity and strategy to it. What’s more this new layer soothes the itch I think many mechanically minded players who prefer grid battle tend to get when it comes to theater of the mind combat. For players who prefer grid based combat, strategy is key and theater of the mind style combat can become boring or feel arbitrary. This Boost System can help with the element they miss without a grid and you don’t even have to buy minis or use a virtual tabletop to do it.
When we break down the core element of Boost System in combat the Boost itself is not dissimilar from a paladin’s Divine Smite or a warlock’s hex. It’s a mechanic that adds damage dice to a successful attack, but unlike these other things there’s no expended spell slot resource and it doesn’t stay on after it’s put into effect.
Because combat in 5E D&D is so quick I think the first thing we need to address when it comes to the Boost System is the number of points you can accrue. While Octopath Traveler allows for up to 5 points to be accumulated at one time I think setting a maximum accrual of 3 points is fair. This also feels right to me because you don’t have to worry about how many points you build up compared with a different number of how many you can spend at one time.
Next, we need to figure out how it actually works. What happens when you spend BP in a combat in 5E D&D?
An easy solution is allowing a character who makes a weapon attack to make a single additional weapon attack per point spent. For spellcasters adding 1d6 force damage per BP spent feels right. While this might initially seem unfair, bear in mind many damage dealing spells require saving throws instead of using attack rolls and especially at higher levels these saving throws are much harder to succeed on than it would be to avoid damage based on Armor Class. What’s more, these spells often do a bit of damage even if the target succeeds their saving throw. As such, I think adding 1d6 force damage per point spent (whether the target succeeds or fails) feels like a fair balance.
One last consideration is if NPCs (enemies and what have you) can also generate and use BP. If they can, balance remains intact as far as a level playing field. However, if only PCs can generate and use BP then it will become vital you increase your enemies’ health pools. Maxing them out (using the highest possible number for all of their hit dice) is an excellent way to accomplish this but depending on the enemies and your players’ experience levels this might not be enough to keep your baddies in the fight for long enough to set up any significant strategy. With our new rules roughly gelled into a workable mold our variant BP rule reads something like this:
At the start of each turn, each character receives 1 Boost Point (BP), up to a maximum of 3. When you hit with a weapon attack, you can spend up to 3 BP. For each BP spent on this attack roll, you make one additional weapon attack. Alternatively, when a creature receives damage from a spell you cast, you can spend up to 3 BP. For each BP spent on this spell, the target receives an additional 1d6 force damage. If you spent any BP on your prior turn, you cannot gain BP when you normally would.
Other crunchy ideas
BP is really a baseline homebrew rule that can be modified any number of ways to great effect. For example, perhaps you allow your players to gain more than 3 BP, but for each BP beyond the third that they gain they receive 1d6 necrotic damage that cannot be mitigated in any way. Another option is to concoct a table of maneuvers that might cost a different number of BP to use. These could range from using a Shove, Dash or other action as part of your attack or spellcasting, or it could be something more complex like allowing for dice roll modifications similar to Bardic Inspiration.
Ultimately, whatever you do with your own game and BP system, the point is to make it feel epic!
Adding flavor to the good, good crunch
Another thing to consider is flavor when it comes to a BP system. While it’s absolutely viable to just say, “This is how it works in my game,” adding some thematic flavor or worldbuilding reason for why the BP system exists in this world can really step up your game to the next level.
Maybe there’s some innate power inside your chosen heroes that builds and swells with the tides of combat, as fate itself pulls the world toward a greater state of entropy. Maybe the world itself has such a flux of ki power that adrenaline triggers a buildup of BP that must be released to maintain balance and order. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination. So why not give it a try!
What do you think?
Do you have favorite mechanics you think would incorporate nicely into D&D? Got any ideas for the baseline boost system you want to share? We want to hear from you in the comments! If you want to see more articles discussing ideas for how to adopt JRPG mechanics into D&D or you have a favorite JRPG whose mechanics you want us to adapt into a 5E D&D homebrew rule, let us know! And make sure to return here for more great content daily. Later, nerds!