Hardcore Mode

The Hardcore Way

Fifth edition is, by design, built for a wide audience. In HARDCORE MODE, you will be building and running encounters for a far narrower, more committed player set.

As a HARDCORE GM, you will live by a code:

  • Be fair, but merciless. The numbers will be harsh, the rolls volatile. Get the dice out in the open, and be a guardian of their absolute authority, even when they are cruel.
  • Be a Friend of Death. Killing characters is not your specialty, but when death does come, be decisive, have follow up plans and prep. Be ready for death to be part of play, not an ending.
  • Prize Intensity over Detail. Go fast, go big, and let little details remain unspoken.
  • Focus on the sharp, the sinister, the immediate. Leave minutia to scholars and historians.

It’s inevitable. Once an edition of a popular RPG reaches a certain age, the rules hackers and home-brewers (like you) begin creeping out from their subterranean hidey holes. It’s not just THE game, it’s YOUR game. As this process unfolds, groups and tables diversify. Some blaze forward into innovation, others recapture classic elements, and they’re all right.

In a game’s maturity, the chase of character evolution has limits. After a few life cycles, players are looking closer, thinking deeper, and asking for more substance. Challenge becomes a word often heard at the table, and the GM feels a pressure that isn’t easy to satisfy. It’s time, then, to cook with fire. It’s time to go to HARDCORE MODE.

Here’s your one-page cheat sheet of elements in HARDCORE MODE. This summary can also be handy to brief players on what your game will include beyond standard 5e.

Everything in HARDCORE MODE supposes the use of the core books.

Character Flaws

Everyone knows what to do with a 16 Strength or 18 Dexterity, but how to deal with a 6 Intelligence or 7 Constitution? Be ye doomed? You are a hero of substance! Stand fast! Here are a few ideas to explain your worst stats. Work with your players and GM. Embracing flaws is a great way to jump start deeper roleplay.

Roll d6 or Choose Below

  1. A Grizzled Veteran: You have seen it all, been there, killed that, and barely made it out alive. All the wars and death have taken their toll. What you suffer in injury, though, you balance with cunning.
  2. The Blight: Recent times have seen a terrible plague. You’ve survived, but at a cost. Can it be stopped?
  3. Accursed!: Gods-forsaken wizards and their geases! Until this spell is lifted, your affliction will continue.
  4. Animal Kin: By birth or druid meddling, you are part beast. You keep your hood low and your voice down, lest humankind cast you out.
  5. The Kid: You took the adventurer’s road after only ten winters. Your mind may be that of your adult kin, but you are yet small.
  6. Iron-Touched: A new kind of metal has been revealed by the mountain dwarves, but this iron poisons the veins of some, and vexes them with pain. What is the secret of Black Iron?

Ability Scores

When creating a PC in HARDCORE MODE, it is imperative to employ ‘the honor system.’ No fudging, no going back, no crumpling up the sheet and calling it a mining accident. You’re locked in.

For each attribute, roll 3d6 ONCE. Record that score. Proceed thus, in sequence, rolling six times. These are the scores you keep until that character is killed in play.

At first, this may seem brutal or ‘too weak,’ but in time you’ll see that this age-old method gives rise to more interesting, emergent stories and play.

Hit Points

Using Your HD

At each Level, roll your class Hit Die and add that to your MAX HP. No Constitution modifier applies, no re-rolls, no max outcomes. It is possible to have 5 HP at 5th level.


When recovering, HARDCORE MODE offers three ways to use Hit Dice:

Rest: In short rests, expend Hit Dice as normal, rolling each to determine HP regained in rest and safety.

Medical Aid: When non-magical medicine, bandages, or tinctures are used, roll 1 Hit Die, without needing to ‘expend’ it.

Grit Your Teeth: In combat or danger, make a Constitution roll against DC 10. If successful, expend 1 Hit Die, roll and recover that many HP.

Size and Mass

Hit Dice give a sense of size and average HP, and can be used for monster healing.

d4: Small, Halfling, Youngster, Gnome, Kobold or Goblin.

d6: Small, Human Peasant or wolf.

d8: Medium: Warrior, Giant Insect, Bear, Giant Bat or Roper.

d10: Large: Bugbear, Umber Hulk, Demons and Devils, Armored Knight

d12: Huge: Giant, Wyvern or Manticore

d20: Gargantuan: Dragon, Sea Monster, Titans and things of nightmare.

Hardcore Hit Dice

In modern games, we’ve become accustomed to large pools of Hit Points and healing resources. In HARDCORE MODE, much of this is stripped away. You will have precious few HP, forcing tactics, asking you gain the UPPER HAND (page 13) or risk a terrible death. Smaller HP numbers also alleviate the bloating math that can occur in some games.

In addition to smaller numbers overall, you can use Hit Dice to simplify healing, recovery, and a sense for size and mass.

Remember, the Hit Die indicated in your 5e core books is still gospel!

Yep, this is scary stuff. If UNSKILLED in Acrobatics, for example, you cannot use your Dexterity bonus when leaping a chasm.

If UNSKILLED in Athletics, you roll a raw d20 to bend bars or climb a stone wall.

This method also removes ranks and other bonuses. Your rolls are easier to memorize, generally lower, and things you’re not good at, you’re BAD at. That’s the HARDCORE aspect about this method!

The gap between SKILLED and UNSKILLED is wider, forcing you and your team mates to create complimentary skill sets, or die when the dice go cold.

Skilled And Unskilled

In standard 5e, rolls are modified by a number of factors including Attribute, Proficiency, Skill Ranks, and bonuses from equipment or magic. In HARDCORE MODE, this is all compressed into a binary state. You are either skilled at a roll or not.

Keep Your Proficiency

Your proficiency bonus is driven by your level. Keep it just as is. 5e got this one right. This number is your new best friend.

On any roll you make that is SKILLED, roll d20 + Proficiency + Attribute Bonus, aiming to meet or beat the target DC or AC.

On any roll that is UNSKILLED, roll a d20 with no modifiers, unless negative.


In a HARDCORE game of 5e, Hit Points don’t just come and go. Deep cuts, ripping bites, or aching sprains impair your core ability to function. Some systems introduce a table or roll chart for injuries, but HARDCORE MODE makes it simpler. Like ‘SKILLED’ it proposes a binary INJURED state.

Become INJURED any time you are hit with 10 or more damage in a single attack or effect.

Once you are INJURED…

  • You cannot use Grit Your Teeth to recover Hit Points
  • No roll you make benefits from an Attribute Bonus. Proficiency only
  • Your Dexterity bonus, if any, no longer adds to your Armor Class

When modifying monsters or enemy equipment, consider adding a ‘Inflicts Injury’ ability that can tag onto any attack, regardless of its damage.

Ah, Much Better!

You are no longer INJURED once any of the following occurs:

  • Receive 10 or more points of healing magic from a spell, item or potion
  • Receive 10 or more points of healing from medical means
  • Take a long rest in safety and recover to full HP

Bleeding Out

When reduced to 0 Hit Points and knocked senseless, you begin to bleed out. Only the medical or magical aid of a teammate or external effect can revive you by healing 1 or more HP. The concept of ‘down but stable’ is simply not part of HARDCORE MODE.

We Go On

Death should never be a downer or session-ending event. Rather, it is a twist in the story of epic grief, oath-taking, and new purpose. As GM, have an idea of how players can introduce characters, or turn the story to a darker dimension. As a player, keep a spare PC around, and make yours a death worth remembering.


If it’s going to be HARDCORE, death needs to be close, sudden, decisive, and terrible for the foolhardy. Cry a black tear, sing the dwarven dirge, and sit out the current encounter. You’re toast.

You’re DEAD if…

  • You are reduced to -10 HP
  • If you are unconscious and bleeding out for 3 rounds of play
  • You fail a save against Death

Zymer’s Candle

Death should be a constant companion to players in HARDCORE MODE. Without a way to learn from death, though, it is not useful as a story telling tool. What can be done? A cache of resurrection scrolls?

Trivially easy necromancy? Not exactly.

The great wizard of Westburg, Zymer the Olde, grants a gift to the heroes early in their adventures: a single, flickering candle.

This magical candle’s flame has the power to capture an instant in time and space and keep it burning bright. The heroes can then return to that instant, within limits.

Heroes can materialize at a designated moment in time and space, where they place Zymer’s Candle, if…

  • Zymer’s Candle is still lit
  • Zymer’s candle is in a safe place
  • At least 1 hero must be able to call upon the candle to activate it

Using this powerful relic with care, players will be able to make strategic efforts to counter their doomed fortunes. This ‘save point’ also reinforces the fixed nature of challenges in HARDCORE MODE. The real question is how to keep a candle burning in the rough and tumble life of adventurers…

Spells, Not Slots

We’ve all scratched our heads a few times about using and unlocking Spell Slots. In HARDCORE MODE, all this is stripped away. When choosing new spells at level-up time, gain access to 3 new spells of your current level. These are cast at their native level.

This makes leveling up far more expansive for a magic user, and removes all the math cruft of using slots in the heat of battle. Will we still wait for wizards to choose their next cast? Yes. Yes we will.

Radical Option: Roll To Cast

For every uncertain action in the game, the dice must be consulted. How magic, the most volatile and uncertain force of them all, eluded this requirement is a mystery.

Mystery no more. In HARDCORE MODE, magic users must roll to cast. Frequency limits on spells still apply, and are only expended when successfully cast. This roll also introduces the potential of critical success/failure and advantage/disadvantage on casting spells. For the HARDCORE GM, these are powerful tools.

When attempting to cast a spell of 1st level or higher…

  • Roll with Intelligence or WIS, and meet or beat DC 10 to succeed, unless other factors have increased the local cast DC
  • Critical successes DO NOT expend the spell’s use limits, and inflict double effect
  • Critical failures fizzle, do not expend the spell, and induce a roll on the volatile magic table

Volatile Magic Table

Roll d12:

  1. Disaster: Expend the spell, drop to 1 HP, and cast a randomly selected spell at a random location within range.
  2. Mutation: Be twisted by formless energy. One of your limbs is that of a crab, insect, or tentacled thing.
  3. Rift: A tear opens in space-time, sucking unsecured objects or creatures into deep space over 4 rounds time.
  4. Imps: d12 Imps appear in a brimstone cloud, angry at the clumsy caster.
  5. Seared: Be stricken with d10 arcane damage
  6. Toxic: A cloud of poisonous smoke appears, engulfing the current encounter for d4 rounds
  7. Spell Sickness: Forget this spell for d4 days, or until a long rest in safety
  8. Dazed: Spend your next turn stunned
  9. Misfire: Cast the spell, but at a random target or location, including allies
  10. Dud: Nothing happens
  11. Sparkles: Comical, colorful confetti fills the air, attracting unwanted attention
  12. Late: The spell casts, but d4 rounds from now

Spells: So Many Questions

Such a drastic change to slots can lead to a lot of new questions. 5e has an abundance of spellcaster types, all with varying means of acquiring, casting, and regenerating spell use. The abundance of books in 5e only compounds this. No written ruleset can prepare you, as GM or player, for every question. The binary demands of HARDCORE MODE ask you to flatten this variety into a more unified solution for casters of all kinds.

A few possible solutions are provided below, if page 11 seems too brief.

Caster Classes

Clerics, Druids, Paladins, innate casters, users of holy or nature magic have flexible access to their spells, choosing from their entire list each day. They bypass any sense of ‘learning’ as their magic is external, or beyond conceptual means.

Each day, MEMORIZE your level + 2 of any spells at or below your level.

Bards, Sorcerers, Wizards, Warlocks and scholars of arcane art use their minds to comprehend and access magic. They must choose to learn certain spells, then study each morning to have access to a subset thereof.

At each level, LEARN 3 new spells of that level. Each day, MEMORIZE your level X 2 from your learned list.

Most importantly, remember to keep your GM mind open, and work with players to find simple, exciting solutions to magic.

Play Example

GM: The sun rises at last, and the ruins come into view.

ELOS: I leveled up last night! Ok, how do spells work again?

GM: You’re level 3 now! Choose 3 new level 3 spells to learn. Now you’ll have 9 learned spells, and you can memorize any 6 of those each morning.

ELOS: Oh my gods! Fireball! Yes! So that’s a level 3 spell. It always casts at level 3?

GM: Correct, imagine using a level 3 slot permanently. 8d6 fire damage!

ELOS:: I see, so it will always just be 8d6… no increasing that with a higher slot.

GM: Correct. What you lose in amplification you gain in access and simplicity.

KORD: Guys? I’m still here.

GM: Did you level up, too?

KORD: Nope. I’m still neck deep in level 5. That is exactly why we need to conclude this wizard discussion and get after those bugbears!

GM: On that note, 3 of the beasts suddenly appear at your camp!!


Level 10

HARDCORE MODE caps all characters at Level 10. Beyond that, they can only progress through equipment, knowledge, and acquiring magic via quests, discovery, and story paths. This keeps math clean, imposes a natural conclusion to a campaign, and avoids the kind of immortal oddity we’ve all struggled with in long-running games.

Classic XP

The framers of our hobby had brilliant insights into the pace of level progression, especially in its diversity. The modern RPG has unified leveling pace across many classes and types, but HARDCORE MODE employs the former method. Wizards grow slowly, but access tremendous power. Fighters learn fast, but are limited by the materials, durability and availability of weapons and armor. Thieves learn fast, but die often, and so on. The following table proposes such diversity, but the GM should feel invited to create, tune, and research a leveling scale that works for your group.

Class Level
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Fighter 250 700 2200 5000 8k 12k 18k 24k 30k
Cleric 300 900 2700 6500 14k 23k 34k 48k 64k
Wizard 400 1200 3000 7500 16k 25k 38k 52k 68k
Rogue/thief 200 600 2000 4500 7k 11k 16k 22k 28k
Paladin 300 900 2700 6500 14k 23k 34k 44k 56k
Ranger 300 1000 2500 6800 15k 24k 34k 44k 50k
Druid 300 900 2300 6500 14k 23k 31k 40k 50k
Bard 200 600 2000 4500 7k 11k 16k 21k 25k
Barbarian 200 500 1800 4200 6k 11k 18k 24k 30k

The Upper Hand

Part of playing HARDCORE is playing fast. This means rolls are easier to memorize, and conditions easier for GM’s to moderate or mechanize.

Much of any game’s table time is spent with players working to gain the upper hand on a situation. This involves use of cover, distance, henchmen or surprise.

HARDCORE MODE compresses all of these variables into the established Advantage/Disadvantage system in 5e.

Rolls are never modified, nor penalties imposed, nor bonuses earned by gaining the upper hand. A character, or group of characters, simply earns advantage or disadvantage.

The GM can also announce ‘You have the upper hand!’ to the entire table. All players are now rolling with advantage. Conversely ‘the enemy has ambushed you!

You’re caught flat footed!’ The table is all rolling disadvantage now, and so on.

Like so many elements of HARDCORE MODE this simple step makes binary a wide array of narrative possibilities, even eschewing variable DC’s. Apply The Upper Hand method, and follow this guideline for all DC’s:

As a rule of thumb, the DC of any Check is 10. Calling ‘Roll Dexterity’ should imply ‘Meet or beat 10 with a Dexterity roll.’ Escalate the ambient DC as needed.

The Enemy

Real Challenge Rating

This bit is more radical. Using CR effectively has always been spaghetti in 5e.

No more. HARDCORE MODE prizes a monster’s CR above all else besides Immunities and Abilities. All of its stats can be derived on the fly by knowing the CR.

Your Monster Manual is still critical for details, but stats are solved in one stroke.

Challenge Rating Formulae

All monster stats are created thus:

  • Armor Class = 10 + CR
  • Hit Points = 10 X CR
  • Check and Attack Rolls = d20 + CR
  • XP Value = CR X 200

This Is Madness!

The ramifications of this method should be instantly apparent to a fielded GM or player. Higher challenge monsters are worth far less XP, stat diversity is flattened and homogenized!

In truth, this method will add greatly to the numeric streamlining of play, and fit with your lower-powered PC’s and variable level progression. All the numbers are shrinking. It’s all relative. At any time when creating or playing monsters, a GM should ALWAYS feel free to boost a stat beyond its formula for special reasons.

Always augment a monster among its mooky companions! The CR formulae simply provide your base shortcut, and keep your head in the moment.

Monster A.I.

Choosing what a monster’s next action will be is always a pivotal moment for the GM.

Not only can it be a time-consuming moment, but one of conflicting motivation. The GM must consider monster tactics and motivations, but not spam a brutal ability or exploit meta knowledge of the overall tactical space.

Save time and strain by applying a simple ‘Artificial Intelligence’ to your monsters.

Simply check the number of different Actions on the creature, and roll that # die. Count from the first action then downward, and execute the action rolled. Multiattack? Roll 2 or more of the same die and execute the results. The dice are now to blame, and the table can wonder and wail at their outcome, not your devious sadism.

The Environmental Monster

No creature is ever more deadly than the environment. It cannot be killed, contains the battle, and abides by no rules. ‘Boulders fall from the ceiling! Save vs. Death!’ What monster can dare such power? Be fair and consistent with your hazards, but also brutal.

Forcing players to play the space as much or more than monster opponents is the key to any memorable encounter.


When battling large groups of monsters or foes, which should happen frequently considering the heroic ambitions of your players, avoid chewing up time with lots of rolls and HP tracking by applying a HARDCORE trick: For each enemy in the horde, add 1 to your d20 attack. For each enemy, also add 1 to your damage outcome. On the player side, simply divide player damage by a constant and fell that many enemies at once.

10 damage from a fireball? Divide by 2, 5 ghouls are burned to cinders! Adjust your constant for tougher hordes. And yes, a horde of 10 or more will be terribly deadly given equal footing with heroes. Use this knowledge.

GM Style


This is a very cool word that means ‘true to the truth’ or ‘similar to a truth.’ As a HARDCORE MODE GM, one of your most important duties is to stay true to the adventure material, even when it proves difficult or impossible for players. This can be a paradigm shift for some GM’s, who are accustomed to adapting content when things go terribly wrong, or when prep is insufficient.

In HARDCORE MODE, the numbers stand above reproach. It is the players who must adapt, not the content. Players can trust, and even celebrate extreme difficulty because it is openly known what they face.

This is the gut feeling of verisimilitude.

Fixed Challenge Prestige

When players complete a block of play in HARDCORE MODE, the fixed nature of the challenge should come with it a great sense of accomplishment. ‘We escaped the Red Castle alive! Finally!’ Using Zymer’s Candle to replay failed encounters will also reinforce this kind of victory prestige.

The first few times players hit a failure wall will be the toughest for a new HARDCORE GM. Your instinct will be to offer ways out, negotiate new details, or even (gasp) soften stats. You’re reading this document for a reason, though… you’ve come seeking a deeper, more challenging, more exciting RPG experience. That first big failure is your chance to evolve.

Solving Movement

One tremendous barrier to play, in any style, is finding a solution to character and enemy movement, distance, and access to space. Measuring feet on terrain in tedious and asks too much of maps.

Simply asking for a GM ruling on distance feels fickle and rubbery. Close/Near/Far systems can feel coarse to experienced players. Once again, HARDCORE MODE compresses all this to a binary state.

You are either HERE or THERE.

HERE is a term that implies co-location with other things. You are among these things, be they enemies, objects, or features of an area. You can affect these things directly without ranged ability.

To move to another relevant feature, object, or creature(s), to go THERE, requires the move action of your turn.

This may seem flippantly simple, but it can solve all questions of movement in play. This method is commonly called ‘zones.’ A ZONE is a relevant location in play. Fighting with a sword? You’ll need to be in the ZONE the goblins are crouching, while a bow could be fired from another ZONE. Transitioning between ZONES?

Use a standard move action to do so. This method is also ideal for ‘theatre-of-the-mind’ games, as no significant visuals are required to track the action.

Zones Examples

Roc Pinnacle. Your players are trying to steel a Roc egg. The ZONES are:

  • The Nest
  • The Cliff Edge
  • A Field of Boulders
  • The Ascent Route

Ebonfang. The final battle on a magical spire roof is playing out! The ZONES are:

  • The Altar Stone
  • A Descending Stair
  • Out-In-the-Open
  • The Battlements

Spider Barrow. Our heroes dare a forgotten burial chamber. The ZONES are:

  • A Giant Stone Coffin
  • A Massive Stone Door
  • Tile-Adorned Nave
  • A Mass of Webs

GM: The skeleton is rising from the coffin! It has a massive, rusty blade, and glowing eyes!

KORD: Me and Elos are at the stone door. I’ll rush over to the coffin, ready to attack next round… hold it there!

ELOS: I’ll fire a cold arrow from here. (Rolls) Mod 19! My cold arrow does 6 damage, and freezes it there.

GM: The skeleton crackles with ice, unable to move. Kord, roll your strike!

KORD: Mod 17, only 4 damage. Is there any other movement in the room?

GM: Yes! You see three more skeletons in the Nave! They’re coming your way!

GM: This corridor has 3 parts, all in a long, linear hollow. The metal door, a long stretch of sparse columns, and an inset grotto at the far end. Kobold eyes can be seen in the grotto.

KORD: Can I dash all the way to the Kobolds?

“For Anterra!”

GM: Since these ZONES are all lined up, that’s a double move, your entire turn to get there. Elos, Kord is charging!

ELOS: I’ll move up just a bit, is there a column I can hide behind?

GM: Absolutely.

ELOS: Ok, I move up and fire an arrow!

GM: It’s dark down there, and there’s a barbarian in the way. Roll with disadvantage.

ELOS: Ha! Still got a mod 16! 8 damage!

GM: You hear a Kobold slump to the floor, followed by a menacing low growl.

KORD: Uh oh.

Zones… Abstract?

At first, several questions might assault your 5e brain. But HOW FAR is a ZONE from another ZONE? How big is a ZONE in feet? If things are just ZONES, do maps even matter, ‘cause maps are cool! What about line of sight? What have you done to my game?!

One of 5e’s defining aspects is its concrete treatment of distance. A world measured in feet. So many players and GM’s have spent so many words telling how many feet a thing is from another, or how many feet a thing moves. All the descriptive detail, visual depth, and tactical economy of this approach can be achieved by ZONES, especially if you apply one simple formula to ease into such a new way of seeing the game.

30’ is a magic number in the world of 5e.

So many things seem to be right around that size or distance. It is the base ‘Lego’ of the D&D world, and can be used to visualize ZONES.

1 ZONE = 1 30’x30’ Area or Feature

Now, if you forget all the wiggly details of who moves 25’ and what spell has a radius of 40.’ Treat those as a single unit of simpler, thematic space.

A ZONE is a conceptual summary of what 5e describes in atomic detail.

Now Trim The Fat

As you master the ZONE method, and design content with it in mind, you’ll find many element of 5e are ready to be cut.

Here’s a starting list:

  • Opportunity Attacks: Just be rid of them. They cause battles to ‘stick’ which reduces dynamism and movement in combat.
  • Ranges: If it’s in your encounter, it’s in range for magic or missile attacks.
  • Exact Speeds: Let go of measuring feet. Fast things outrun their pursuers by description, not inches.

Agreed Initiative

Few things slow the intensity of play like Held Actions, Bonus Actions, and other mucking about with turn order and timing.

Start by removing these elements from your game for good. Initiative remains an exciting part of play, so employ the HARDCORE way.

Agreed Initiative

Roll initiative as GM vs. all players…

  • If players win, they decide their initiative order and begin.
  • If the GM wins, she goes first THEN players decide their order and go.

When Players Go First

Agreed Initiative lets players array marching order, plan coordinated moves, or gain The Upper Hand against foes before they are detected. Winning the initiative roll should be a major factor in how players approach a scene.

When The Gm Goes First

Allow players to use Initiative Bonuses, while you roll a flat d20. Then, don’t be shy, as GM, to exploit an opportunity to go first. Immediately begin a countdown to larger threats or escalations and deploy your forces and hazards within the bounds of the narrative. Often, a deadly opening move for a GM can be simply moving enemies into the heroes’ point of arrival.


Hit Dice

Roll class HIT DIE at each level and add to max HP, no CON modifier

  • Rest: In short rests, expend Hit Dice as normal, rolling each to determine HP regained in rest and safety.
  • Medical Aid: When non-magical medicine, bandages, or tinctures are used, roll 1 Hit Die, without needing to ‘expend’ it.
  • Grit Your Teeth: In combat or danger, make a CON roll against DC 10. If successful, expend 1 Hit Die, roll and recover that many HP.


Become INJURED any time you are hit with 10 or more damage in a single attack Once INJURED…

  • Cannot use Grit Your Teeth to recover
  • No roll made benefits from an Attribute Bonus
  • DEX bonus, if any, no longer adds to your Armor Class

Cure INJURED status by…

  • 10 or more points of healing
  • Long rest in safety / recover to full HP


  • Reduced to -10 HP
  • Unconscious and bleeding out (0 HP) for 3 rounds of play
  • Fail a save against Death

Zymer’s Candle

Heroes can materialize at a designated moment in time and space, where they place Zymer’s Candle, if…

  • Zymer’s Candle is still lit
  • Zymer’s candle is in a safe place
  • At least 1 hero must be able to call upon the candle to activate it


On any roll you make that is SKILLED, roll D20 + Proficiency + Attribute Bonus, aiming to meet or beat the target DC or AC.

On any roll that is UNSKILLED, roll a D20 with no modifiers, unless negative.

Challenge Rating Formulae

All monster stats are created thus:

  • Armor Class = 10 + CR
  • Hit Points = 10 X CR
  • Check and Attack Rolls = D20 + CR
  • XP Value = CR X 200

Agreed Initiative

Roll initiative as GM vs. all players…

  • If players win, they decide their initiative order and begin.
  • If the GM wins, she goes first THEN players decide their order and go.


Prepare and describe your encounters in ZONES of interest or conceptual definition.

  • 1 ZONE = Roughly 30’ X 30’ Area or Feature
  • Melee weapons reach within a ZONE
  • Use a standard move action to move between adjacent ZONES, use a double move action to through a ZONE to another
  • All ZONES in an encounter are within range of ranged attacks and spells

The Upper Hand

Simplify all tactical elements, surprise, terrain, cover, and the like to THE UPPER HAND.

  • If players have THE UPPER HAND, they all roll with advantage.
  • If monsters have THE UPPER HAND, players roll with disadvantage.
Section 15: Copyright Notice

Drunkens & Dragons presents: 5e: Hardcore Mode Copyright Runehammer Games 2020

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