Interest Check - Running an expert level TSR module using 5e


Grand Lodge

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Hi all

I've DMed a fair amount of PbP PFS a whiles back then hit a slump for a few years.

Since then 5e became my poison and life has picked up some.

I'm kicking the tires for another game.

I am partial to running the old TSR expert level games.

There will be SOME house ruling, and likely an Obsidian Portal/Trello (I use it to help players track NPCs etc).

No need to create characters - in fact, don't - but just tell me a bit about your PbP experience here, and what you would find fun in an adventure.

Yo Helaman....I'm up for whatever you've got brewing....

Grand Lodge

I am down to play if it is self-contained adventures. I find that long-term PbP wears me down. I love coming up with unorthodox concepts, and running with them.

I love RP, and descriptive combat, interpreting the dice into narrative...

I'd enjoy any of the expert adventures ala 5e, but I am partial to classic style dungeon crawls like Castle Amber. The ones with wtf zany randomness, a bunch of bizarre/non-sequitur room contents, etc.

I like playing rogues and wizards and problem solving...finding clever solutions to things gives me maximum enjoyment in a game.

Grand Lodge

TSR ah my first love, THAC0, Racial Level Caps, Multiclassing, so must nostalgia.

AS for PbP I have done my share, a variety of PbPs some short term some long term. I love to roleplay and be descriptive. I will say this site likes to give me the shaft when it comes to rolls though, still, it is fun.

I'm always up for an old school adventure, with new school rules.

Lots of experience both on these boards, and rolling the actual dice. See some familiar faces already checking in.


Been playing since the red box. The simplicity of 5e has hooked me deep again. Might have played some of those mods 30+ years ago. Good thing my memory is not so great. ;D

Grand Lodge

Okays, we have interest. Stay tuned.

Which "expert level games" do you mean?

Is that a particular series of modules?
The ones for the Expert part of BECMI? Something else?

I'm at least tentatively interested.

Grand Lodge

Time to throw some stuff against the wall, see if it sticks.

I quite often start play at level 3. This allows everyone to "actualise" their concept.

I also don't use Variant humans BUT give everyone a feat at level 1. This allows everyone to "customise" their character. I allow all the WotC feats (Eberron is a no go for the moment) and the UA weapon feats and skill feats.

This leads to a bit of a power spike but I am okay with that.

Buuuut I want to run something by you all.

I am in a PbP game where we started at level 1 and have not levelled yet... it's been tough, and very challenging. We've fought some difficult foes indeed, all at level 1.

How's the idea of starting an Expert game at first?

Alternatively locking you guys in at 3rd for a long while?

House rules to follow...

Grand Lodge

thejeff wrote:

Which "expert level games" do you mean?

Is that a particular series of modules?
The ones for the Expert part of BECMI? Something else?

I'm at least tentatively interested.

The old BECMI ones.

I'm good with 1st too, but you can get way more character creation with 3rd level with the archetypes.

I'm fine with whatever level. But if I was forced at gunpoint to decide, I'd choose 3rd.

Dark Archive

Whatever level you like. I've played or run most of the older modules at some point, but it has been many years, and I have no problem separating player and character knowledge anyway. I've been playing PbP since the days of the TSR listserv, which should give you a clue as to how old I am.

Grand Lodge

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WhtKnt wrote:
Whatever level you like. I've played or run most of the older modules at some point, but it has been many years, and I have no problem separating player and character knowledge anyway. I've been playing PbP since the days of the TSR listserv, which should give you a clue as to how old I am.

Mad props!

I'm mulling over logistics now. I'm leaning towards Castle Amber buuut I've not run a good old fashioned dungeon crawl in a while.

I also have a "thing" for Curse of Xanathon.

I'm good either way... however I find that with 5E the first two levels happen so fast that I like starting with Level 1. I tend to get to know my characters better that way, and the first two levels give me time to consider character direction and how it fits into the group dynamic.

Grand Lodge

Sounds great and fun

Grand Lodge

I am good with whatever... locking us in at 3rd level for a long while... what does that mean? If we start at 3rd we stay that level for a while? Or Start at 1st and then stall out at 3rd?

The reason I ask is, I tend to make my characters a little less than optimal, so that lvl 4 bump can be very helpful to realizing the character's potential.

Anyway, it all sounds fine. I actually prefer starting at 1st, as long as we are not stuck at first very long. (By Xp, when I run, usually the party levels after the 1st or 2nd adventure, but it sounds like your other game is leveling much slower than that...)

Aeshuura wrote:

I am good with whatever... locking us in at 3rd level for a long while... what does that mean? If we start at 3rd we stay that level for a while? Or Start at 1st and then stall out at 3rd?

The reason I ask is, I tend to make my characters a little less than optimal, so that lvl 4 bump can be very helpful to realizing the character's potential.

Anyway, it all sounds fine. I actually prefer starting at 1st, as long as we are not stuck at first very long. (By Xp, when I run, usually the party levels after the 1st or 2nd adventure, but it sounds like your other game is leveling much slower than that...)

I think it's mostly that PbP tends to run slow, so that it takes awhile in real time - even if it's still the same amount of adventuring.

Grand Lodge

True, it also depends on posting speed, but it also could be that the DM is going by milestone, and it can take a looong time to finish a chapter...

Grand Lodge

It will be locked in a long while. No matter 1st or 3rd.

IF we go 1st level? We'll do the Lost City (B4 if I recall) with additional content added. There's a reason it's a classic.

IF we go 3rd? Still flipping a coin. Part of me WANTS to run Amber but it's a biiiig one (it is NOT your average module, no matter what it's page count is, which is why it's great) and Curse of Xanathar, which I just sorta love but it's a bit railroady and requires the players to go from A to B to C and do 1, 2 and 3.

Alternatively I can power up The Lost City...

Grand Lodge

Okay time to think character generation. This will be the case no matter 1st or 3rd.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------- ---------

27 pt point buy or standard array.

Only one stat below 10. No stat higher than 17 (including after feat bonuses).

No artificers. All PHB, SCAG and Xanathars classes on the table.

I'd REALLY prefer no drow.

Everyone gets a bonus feat at level 1. PHB, Xanathars, or UA weapon or skill feats. or

Race House Rules
Aasimar can be DMG or Xanathar Versions.

Dragonborn (will be shoehorned in) can use breath weapon as a Bonus Action.

Dwarves can also add Mining Tools to the list of Tool proficiencies for their race.

Gnomes are gifted craftsmen in their own right. They gain Tool proficiency in either Jewelers Tools, Miners Tools, Smiths Tools or Tinkers Tools as a bonus tool proficiency. Forest Gnomes can add Woodcarvers Tools to the list to choose from, and Rock gnomes can add Alchemist Tools to the list to choose from.

Forest Gnomes add the Wood Elf 'Mask of the Wild' feature. Rock Gnomes can either know the Minor Illusion cantrip or the Mending cantrip. [If this seems like a bit much it's because I believe that unless you're playing a wizard, gnomes are a bit sucky]

Half Elves can be PHB or SCAG Versions.

Humans use standard human but add one skill as a bonus.

Tieflings just use PHB or Xanathar Versions.

Class house rules

Barbarians can maintain rage as long as they are in combat, or moving directly into combat.

Berserker Barbarians get ONE frenzy per short rest. If they frenzy more than that, THEN they take exhaustion as per the rules. They also ignore exhaustion while in Frenzy. On the flip side? They MUST use reckless attack while in Frenzy.

Clerics are always considered ‘proficient’ for Religion checks for their own religion even if they do not have the skill. Clerics who do have the skill gain advantage for religion checks for their own religion or specific faith.

Druids gain proficiency in Nature skill at level 1 for free. Druids cannot use class features or spells if wearing metal armor. Non metal medium and heavy armor is availability later in the campaign. **Circle of the Moon druids restricted to CR 1/2 forms until level 4.**

Rangers have the Hunters Mark spell known for free in addition to the number of spells known on the class spells known table when they get spell casting.

Ranger characters SHOULD use the better and updated version of the ranger found if considering the two rangers found in the Player Handbook:

Rogues can exchange Thieves Cant for another language and Thieves Tools for another tool proficiency. Not all rogues are criminals.

Thief Archetype rogues can take advantage on out of combat Sleight of Hand checks or checks involving use of thieves tools.

Sorcerers regain sorcery points equal to proficiency bonus after completing a short rest. Regain all of your sorcery points when you finish a long rest. At level 2, they gain THREE metamagic options, and you can swap out 1 metamagic choice for another when you level just like you would swap a spell when levelling.

Warlocks know their Patrons spells (instead of adding them to the spell list of spells that can be learned so that they become bonus spells known) and do not count against the limit of spells known.

Grand Lodge


It's to give you a framework only.

We are unlikely to go beyond 5-6th level.

Given those options I vote Lost City, if its a vote.

Which setting would you use for that one?

Grand Lodge

Not a vote perse BUT I am interested in preferences.

The Lost City is setting agnostic for the most part.

Alright, was just curious for character background purposes because the wiki said Mystara. :)

Grand Lodge

Sure, it can be Mystara. Once the adventure for the Lost City kicks off, the outside world is irrelevant.

Castle Amber can happen from anywhere. If I run Xanathon? Then its definetely Mystara.

Grand Lodge

If I run Amber we'll kick off in Mystara as well...

Grand Lodge

I'll put these up on a tab later

Combat House Rules
* Combat maneuvers are in play

Use the rules in the DMG to try different uses for your attack action. Also a new maneuver: CHARGE!

- Charge

As part of a Dash action, you can choose to charge a target and make a single attack as a bonus action during your Dash (This can be an attack with a weapon or a bull rush but nothing else). The charge must be in a straight line and you must at least move 15 feet. You cannot charge through any obstacle (person, objects, even friendlies) or through hindering or difficult terrain.

The attack at the end of the charge has advantage.

However, until your next turn, anyone attacking you has advantage to their attacks against you.

Note that this is different from the ‘Charger’ feat bonus. Someone with that feat can use whatever option they qualify for and are not locked into just using the feat bonus.

* Crits Rock

Crits are Max damage then roll the dice again.

When you roll for damage just roll once. If you crit, I'll just assume that the roll is in addition to max weapon damage.

* Fumbles suck.

When you roll a 1 on attack, you automatically miss plus choose either to take disadvantage on your next attack or damage your weapon (-1 to damage). Damage can be repaired by the mending spell (Note I said spell, see below) or a weaponsmith etc. Fighters of level 3 and above never suffer from fumbles. They simply miss.

* Dying is bad

Hitting 0 HPs makes you exhausted/fatigued.

Each time you go down, you generate a level of exhaustion. Consider this to be an injury of sorts.

A failed death save takes a long rest to reset (per failed save). See above.

* Armor and shields canceling crits!

On receiving a crit BUT before taking damage (in this case recording the damage), a character may opt to remove 2 AC provided by the armor or shield to cancel the critical hit if they are proficient with the armor or shield. If this is done, the player makes a note on their character sheet and reduces their armor class (and notes the change in armor class benefit granted by the armor or shield). Damage is rolled as if the critical was just a normal hit.

If a hit would reduce a character to '0' hit points the character may also choose to remove 2 AC provided by the armor (not shield) to a) not suffer exhaustion/fatigue and b) to gain advantage on their first death save, with the armor absorbing the worst of the blow. This may result in armor losing multiple AC points in certain situations such as a crit. The benefit is only applied for the actual attack that drops hit points to zero and not to attacks that may follow while the wearer is unconscious.

Not all attacks may allow for armor to provide benefits in this way. Armor is no use again poison, and normal armor will not give protection from the life draining energy from an insubstantial foe (though magical armor might). The DM will have to work with you to make decisions on the fly for unusual cases.

Magic armour simply adds its bonus to the total AC points that can be lost. Damage to these bonuses (and only the bonuses) are restored after a long rest.

If a piece of armor or shield is reduced to granting 0 AC benefit it is considered useless and counts as destroyed (though its encumbrance remains). Repairs to both normal and magic armour require the attention of an armor smith or from a spell caster with the ‘Mending’ spell (Not Cantrip, see below).

Mage armour does not provide any of the above benefits.

* Non Lethal Damage

Attackers may choose to try to take their foes alive and without them suffering a serious injury but it’s not easy. In combat and with weapons you are generally trying to maim or kill your enemy.

Attackers can ‘pull their punch’ so to speak and choose to take disadvantage on their attack. If they do so they will not kill/maim their enemy if their attack reduces their foe to ‘0’ hit points. The downed enemy is considered stable and does not need to make death saving throws.

Unarmed strikes (that do not use claws, spikes etc) as well as weapon attacks like saps will not kill or maim the creature attacked and so do not require the attacker to pull their punch... most of the time. Accidents happen. If the attacker chooses not to pull their punch by taking disadvantage and still crits, then the damage is considered lethal.

This replaces the rule found on page 198 of the Players Handbook.

* Reach Weapons work just fine

When using a weapon with the ‘Reach’ property and a spell or feature allows you or requires you to make a weapon attack but specifies a 5 foot range, extend that range to 10 feet with any reach weapon. Examples include Booming Blade, Green Flame Blade, Opportunity Attacks (including that of the Mage Slayer feat).

* New Conditions

- Bloodied. No penalty BUT at this point its now obvious you are wounded. Some creatures may target you as a result.

- Flanked. If you are flanked, attackers get +1 to hit.

- On your Heels. If rising from prone after being shoved OR picking up a dropped item or weapon after being disarmed and any attackers are still within 5 feet of you, you are on your heels. Your attacks are at disadvantage for the round and you lose your reaction for the round. Spells cast or that come from a picked up item allow the defenders advantage on their saving throws if there is no attack roll.

House Rules for Spells

Blade Ward: This spell can ALSO be cast as a reaction to a single attack if it is not already in effect. Once the ward has granted you resistance against the damage from a single non magical weapons attack, the spell ends.

The spell works against non magical physical attacks such as arrow traps, falling rocks, claws (I still count this as a weapon), fangs etc. but will not prevent damage from falling from a height, being swept away etc. It will only work on physical attacks (bludgeoning, piecing or slashing) and not against ‘attacks’ that use fire, acid and so on.

Barkskin: There's the general rule that states you only use one AC "rule". Unarmored defense, mage armor, regular armors, etc all state what your AC is with penalties, etc. The specific rule is when you look at one of these and it reads slightly differently you then use that specific value. However, this spell is giving a THIRD rule. It's basically stating that, however you calculate your AC, if said value is less than 16 it = 16. Done.

Enhance Ability: You also temporary gain +2 to the affected attribute for the duration of the spell, to a maximum of 18.

Haste: Also provides a + 2 initiative modifier.

Healing Spirit: Spell ends after rounds equal to the spell slot used. Creatures may only benefit from it once per round.

Identify: Without the identify spell,or appropriate ability you are unable to identify a magic item. Without identifying the item you might only be able to attune to an items basic functions. For example a +1 flame tongue would work as a +1 sword but you can't activate the flame function.

Lesser Restoration: This spell can be cast to restore 1 level of fatigue.

Mage Armor: While the spell provides AC, it does not provide the other benefits of armor provided by the house rules (ie it will not stop critical hits).

Mending: In it’s cantrip form the spell will not repair damaged weapons, shields and armor however the caster can choose to use a higher level spell slot to empower the cantrip into a full spell. For each level of the spell it restores 1 level of benefit (either a hit or damage penalty or a point of armor class)

Fully broken mundane weapons and armor require an extra level just to move them from broken to damaged but can be repaired. Magical items or those made from rare materials also require an extra level. Once broken, a magical item can be repaired to fully functional albeit mundane condition, but the magic is lost.

A set of chain mail with -2 AC needs a level 2 spell slot and a broken shield needs a level 3 spell slot (restoring the condition from broken, then to restore 2 AC). A chipped sword (-1 damage) requires just a level 1 spell slot.

The DM may rule some items, for example a Cloak of Elvenkind, the players find is damaged. In this case the GM may rule either a level 1 or possibly a level 2 spell slot is needed to restore the item.

The component cost is 10gp times the spell slot used. If the item is magical or made of special materials then the cost is 100 times the spell slot used. The critical material component is a small amount of material that is the same as the item to be repaired. In some cases it may be a quest in itself to either find the rare material needed or someone who can do the repair.

If you know the cantrip, you know the spell.

Sleep: This spell now allows the target(s) a (Wisdom) saving throw to avoid its effects.

Feat House Rules

Charger (PHB pg 165) The Attacker does not provide enemies advantage when defending against attacks if using the charge house rules. Additionally you either gain a +5 bonus to the attack’s damage roll (if you chose to make a melee attack and hit) or push the target up to 10 feet away from you (if you chose to shove and you succeed).

Grappler (PHB pg 167). Add: If you have pinned an enemy by restraining them with a second successful grapple, as an Attack Action, you may do 1d4 + Strength modifier damage to the enemy on each successive round that you maintain the grapple.

Healer (PHB pg 167). Add Prerequisite: Proficiency in Medicine. As an action you can spend one use of a healer's kit to tend to a creature and restore 1d6 + 4 hit points to it, plus additional hit points equal to the creature's CURRENT number of Hit Dice. The creature can not regain hit points again in this manner until they complete a long rest.

You can instead choose to spend 10 minutes out of combat to tend to a creature, if you do so then you restore maximum hit points, just as if the healer had rolled a '6' on the amount of hit points to restore.

You can expend one use of a healer’s kit to grant an adjacent creature a new saving throw against a poison or disease they are currently suffering from (at the same DC as the initial effect) that takes place during your round, without any potential penalties if they fail the save. Once you do so, you must wait until the creature who is being treated has taken a long rest before attempting on that creature again.

Finally you restore a failed death save when you use this feat.

Mage Slayer (PHB pg169) Any attacks made as a reaction to casting spells count as opportunity attacks.

Magic Initiate (PHB pg169) This day is just a clarification given by Jeremy Crawford: “If you aren't a spellcaster when you take the Magic Initiate feat, you become a spellcaster. But the feat doesn't turn you into a bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard. You'll need to multiclass for that sort of transformation.”

Martial Adept (PHB pg169) Number of combat superiority dice is increased to ‘2’.

Mounted Combatant (PHB pg169) If you move more than half your mount’s move in a turn, and you hit your attack’s damage is doubled (as if it were a critical hit) for your first attack.

You do not incur opportunity attacks from unmounted foes.

You have advantage on melee attack rolls against any creature that is smaller than your mount.

You can force an attack targeted at your mount to target you instead.

If your mount is subjected to an effect that allows it to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, it instead takes no damage if it succeeds on the saving throw, and only half damage if it fails.

If you are wearing light armor or less, you may mount or dismount the horse as an item interaction (no time). If you are wearing medium armor, you may use a bonus action to mount or dismount.'

Polearm Master (PHB pg169) includes spear to the approved list of weapons. Quarterstaves and spears must be used by both hands to use the feat benefits. If you use a glaive or halberd, you can instead inflict 1d4 piercing damage (using the spike on the tip of the weapon) instead of bludgeoning damage.

Savage Attacker (PHB pg169) In addition to re-rolling a damage die, when you score a critical hit, you may also double your static damage modifiers in addition to the normal rules for critical hits.

Sharpshooter (PHB pg170) The attacker may only choose one of the three bullet points as an option on each attack.

Shield Master (PHB pg 170) Bonus action may be used to either attack with shield for 1d4 damage or shove foe 5 feet away. Unless the attacker has Two Weapon Fighting Fighting Style, they do not apply Strength bonus to damage. Shields count as a proficient weapon.

I think I'm going to pass on this one. While I like your house rules, and they make sense for me, I travel a lot for work, and any extra bookkeeping or rules not in D&D Beyond are just too much for me.

Have fun guys :-)

Grand Lodge

I think I will pass too. Thanks for giving us the opportunity! Have a blast guys!

Regrettably I have the same feelings, its not that I dislike your house rules, they are rational/logical...its just the benefit they confer doesn't outweigh the hassle of using them for me.

Grand Lodge

Thanks for the feedback. No problem. This is part of the EOI process.

Anyone else still in?

Dark Archive

I'm still here. That is a lot of house rules, but I can learn to live with them, so long as you don't mind reminding me once in a while.

I'm lurking. I played in a B/X Homebrew for 3 years here on the boards exploring the Lost City. (Wow, I didn't realize it was that long until I checked the thread.) Unfortunately, the GM vanished about a year ago. We made it to the 4th tier. Part of me wants to finish the module, part of me wants to start something new. I don't recall ever playing Castle Amber or Curse of Xanathar, but I recognize the covers looking at them online. I think it will depend on what you run and how many you have interested.

Grand Lodge

Okay. Let's nail down players. Let me know if in, out or depending on adventure (and if so, which one)

I'm still interested. I would likely apply regardless of which module you run.

Dark Archive

I'm in and I think that I was in that one with you, Agamer. That one was also heavily house-ruled, as I recall. It doesn't matter to me what you run.

Grand Lodge

Okay... Let's run level 3.

Gimme a day or so to decide but it's either curse of Xanathon or castle Amber... but if you want Isle of Dread I'm okay with that too...

We'll do combat a combination of theatre of the mind and Roll20.

Start throwing characters together.

Game world IS Mystara but don't worry about no half elves or Dragonborn etc. I'll retro those in.

Have at you!

Equipment is as per level 1 but start with a healing potion and extra 50gp for additional supplies to customise your character. You can sell starting equipment at FULL price to buy different stuff.

Grand Lodge

Move over to this thread


AGamer and WhtKnt, you're both in.

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