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So, what are the direct and indirect implications of making flammable items get ignited by fire spells even if they are being worn/carried?

Specifically, how does this affect the game flow and what are (if there are any) the non-obvious consequences, as just losing some cheap items when a fireball is thrown at you doesn't seem game breaking. I.e., it seems accepted that this is somehow gamebreaking, but I don't see how is it game-breaking?

If your answer contains any speculation (e.g. "I think that..."), please back it up with experience from actually trying to house-rule it on your table.

Similar to this question, but without designer's intent/reasoning being required.

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closed as unclear what you're asking by Miniman, KRyan, mxyzplk Apr 25 '18 at 1:55

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Right now this question seems very broad. Is there one specific aspect of the game you want this to be focused on? That would likely provide you with higher quality answers. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Apr 24 '18 at 19:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Bellerophon please do not put answers or partial answers in the comments. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Apr 24 '18 at 19:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don’t think this question is a good idea. The other question, problematic as it is, really doesn’t need a “sanitized” version. And asking a question without any particular personal need for an answer but rather just to “salvage” a particular question doesn’t seem like a recipe for avoiding the problems. This question needs more clarification and explanation of exactly what you’re looking to do with such a houserule, which means you should save it until you’re actually looking to make such a houserule. As it is, we’re likely to get the same baseless speculation as in the question. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 25 '18 at 1:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agreed. Please only ask questions if you have standing; asking "for" someone means you won't be able to give coherent answers to clarification questions. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 25 '18 at 1:56
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Fire >>> Any Other Magic Type

Played in one session where the DM hand-waved that part of fire attacks. I protested a bit, but he insisted it would be fine.

A magic user in the party cast some fire-based spell at a baddie, and true to his word the DM let the hilt of the sword catch fire and the baddie dropped it, and he was resigned to having the guy go unarmed for the rest of combat. I asked, though, if this guy had anything on underneath the chain shirt he was wearing or if it was just skin-on-metal chafing happening under there, and the DM had an "oh no" moment and realized this baddie (and a lot of his friends) were about to spend the next four rounds doffing their armor while burning to death.

As a party we just snickered at it and let the DM off the hook, so to speak, and he continued to hand-wave the flammability of worn/carried stuff as he saw fit (and not when he didn't see fit) and it was still a fun night. All the same, I believe the scenario does illustrate just how "broken" fire magic could be if you were consistent about letting it realistically interact with everything/anything flammable regardless of game-state context.

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    \$\begingroup\$ To be fair, there is a lot of concussion involved in a fireball explosion, which would actually blow itself out most of the time. If you're going for realism, I mean. \$\endgroup\$ – JackChance Apr 24 '18 at 20:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Important note about the Gambesan (padded armor) that is typically worn under metal armor: It is typically made of wool or linen or mostly anyway and wool is fire retardant. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Apr 24 '18 at 20:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd be lying if I said I remembered for sure which spell it was, but I think it may have been Fire Bolt, which is described in a way that doesn't sound like it has this immense impact that Fireball does, but still contains the "...isn't being worn or carried" bit. It seemed reasonable that if this guy got hit at center mass and had some cloth on under his armor, it ran a very real risk of being on fire. \$\endgroup\$ – Euch Apr 24 '18 at 20:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, I'd encourage people to not lose the spirit of the answer in the specifics of it - I told my story because that's the only one that's actually happened to me, not because it's the best example I could think of. Ignoring the question's request to not speculate, some stronger examples of it being broken would include an orc's loin cloth, an owlbear's fur maybe, a treant's very existence... just leafing through the MM, about 1/3rd of these things are depicted in cloth. If you ain't insta-catching them on fire, you ain't trying. \$\endgroup\$ – Euch Apr 24 '18 at 20:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not to mention that focusing on simulationist explanations for fire/flammability is not really relevant or helpful in this situation I feel. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Apr 24 '18 at 20:37
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There are quite a few problems with making worn/carried items flammable. How much this impacts the game obviously depends on how often you encounter fire but assuming you encounter fire reasonably often this can make the game a lot harder. Another factor is the temperature of fire. I'm not sure if there is an official ruling on this but I presume it could probably burn cloth, silk, wood and so on but not metals.

Armour and clothes

Looking down the armour list obviously padded and hide armour would definitely burn if hit by a fireball. Leather is an odd one as in real life leather is pretty hard to burn. On the other hand it does shrink when heated and I've always assumed it would be damaged by fire. This leads to all light armours being destroyed and medium armours being at least damaged by fire spells meaning all your characters are going to have to wear heavy armour or no armour at all so anyone wanting to be sneaky or have a high dexterity is going to struggle and your giving a disadvantage to at least ranger, barbarian, bard, druid and rogue. I'm not saying it makes these classes unplayable but it can make the game unbalanced and unfair.

Even for characters who don't use armour you still hit problems. Clothes are usually flammable and nudity is often frowned upon in civilised places. Since your players are wearing mainly flammable stuff they will probably end up naked relatively often. The first one or two times unusual problems like this can be pretty fun giving the party the challenge of getting into a city and finding clothes without being arrested but if they have to do this every time they go anywhere civilised its going to get boring very quickly. This one is only a problem in campaigns where the party will meet people other than themselves. A campaign in a dungeon or far from people won't have this problem as much.

Carried items

Most equipment is flammable so all that's gone if you get hit by a fire spell. So looking at the inventory of one of my low level characters he would lose a backpack, 10 torches, all his food, his longbow, and all his arrows, his rope, bedroll, the grips on his swords and various other odds and ends. All that would be left is the bare metal swords and maybe the waterskin depending on how quickly it dampened the fire. Even if most of his items survived I'm not sure how he'd carry it without his backpack.

So far casters are doing best from this rule change. They rarely bother with armour, don't need as many weapons and items and can possibly use illusions and spells to manage the nudity problem. Unfortunately any caster using a component pouch will probably lose all their components when they encounter a fire spell.

So far I have only looked at things that make the game worse for the players. But there are player advantages. Using these rules a party of wizards and sorcerers using non-flammable arcane focuses could pretty much be unstoppable by humanoid enemies. All they have to do is hit their enemies with a few fireballs and suddenly they're not facing a heavily armed army but a group of unarmed people who are currently on fire.

I have only played with this rule change once but it made the game very weird to say the least. We spent most of our gold trying to get hold of flame proof stuff and fire weapons and combat boiled down to staying away from enemies until our sorcerer fire balled them then easily wiping the floor with anyone left. I would guess that it may be possible to homebrew some rules that allowed carried objects to be flammable without ruining the game. Maybe some kind of saving throw against your worn/carried stuff getting burnt but it would be a lot of work and could end up with a very unbalanced game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Gambesan (Padded Armor) is made out of wool or linen. Wool is fire-retardant. Not immune but harder to burn than other clothing. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Apr 24 '18 at 20:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth: are you saying that literally every instance of material worn under armor ever is made of wool? And how does this real world example help us discern the non-simulationist rules of this RPG exactly? Have you tested real-world Gambesan with magical fire recently? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Apr 24 '18 at 20:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ "All they have to do is hit their enemies with a few fireballs and suddenly they're not facing a heavily armed army but a group of unarmed people who are currently on fire." - My favorite line by far. Would upvote twice if I could. \$\endgroup\$ – Euch Apr 24 '18 at 20:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose I am saying that it was traditionally made of linen or wool... if it was made of wool it is fire resistant. Fire Fighters today still use wool because of this property and although loath to admit I had a girlfriend drag me to sheep and fiber fairs where there were demonstrations on the properties of wool. So yes, seen it first hand (not on Gambesan specifically obviously) on rugs and coats. And they got rid of the difference between normal and magical fire ages ago. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Apr 24 '18 at 20:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Of note, spellcasters other than Wizards benefit the most due to not carrying around a flammable book in order to continue casting spells. \$\endgroup\$ – Kamil Drakari Apr 24 '18 at 20:58
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Time

We actually ran gritty games where the environment is your enemy and if you didn't take precautions you lost things like your spellbook or your life. I still run a toned down version of it and keep it not as harsh for the sake of fun and time.

If you run a game with this optional rule you will have to:

  1. Track all flammable objects.
  2. Track all flammable yet resistant objects. DMG has rules on objects and guidelines to resistances.
  3. Roll damage on objects or roll saves for said objects (this was a thing at one time).
  4. Recalculate your sheet and stats depending on what was lost or is no longer usable until it is repaired.

Note: Not all objects made of the same basic material (cloth, wood, glass) is the same. Example: not all wood is the same, some actually sink. Not all cloth is created equal. So it will depend on how granular you get with your rules on flammability.

This is exceedingly time consuming at the table and as much as I was excited to perhaps see how the party would cope without their gear it turns out it isn't much fun. Sort of like certain trap-filled Tombs that strip you of your hard-earned stuff, no one likes it.

But the bottom line is it bogs down your game to a stand still in a lot of cases. There are ways to speed it up, of course.

I still do it to a certain extent but it is very circumstantial and requires really bad rolls for saves or something. Like the Wizard rolled a 1 on his Dex against a fireball centered on him save while ritual casting from his spellbook... he might lose a few pages.

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It isn't going to break the game. Here are the following changes, in descending order of impact.

  • Time/Mental energy: As the DM you're going to have to track who is on fire and what has been damaged or destroyed. Combat involving fire, whether on the PC or NPC side, will be slower.
  • Players will likely gravitate to a fire-centric play style. Expect every Dragonborne to be red, spell casters will grab both fire and water in leua of electric or cold spells. If you don't similarly add effects to your other elements then you will see a reduction in play styles as mechanically fire will be more damaging and water will be more defensive than in a standard game.

If you're willing to put in the work on a rule set that improves each element then it shouldn't be too hard to balance. Even physical attackers can benefit from elemental weapons. Honestly, the biggest concern is slowing down combat by tracking all the effects, especially on a larger group of NPCs when a player lobs a fireball into the middle of them..

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose That is why most are treated to be fire-resistant or enchanted as such. Pretty sure that was in the PHB somewhere. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Apr 24 '18 at 20:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you have any experience actually using this in a game? If so, how did your table get around the issue of being able to burn up a Wizard's spellbook while they use it, for example, without breaking the game? It is not just a matter of tracking fire damage, but being able to completely disrupt and destroy characters/battles using very simple cantrips that is of concern here. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Apr 24 '18 at 20:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth sorry I deleted my comment before I saw yours. I'd be curious to see where that is ever stated (spellbooks are not even magic items they are just books in the traditional spellbook anyways). Even so, that was only an example. The same principle can be applied to many types of equipment (backpacks, scrolls, ropes, etc.). \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Apr 24 '18 at 20:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose I can't find it in PHB or XGtE, but I know I have read it somewhere, I might be mixing up previous editions or transposing the magic spellbook in XGtE. That being said I allow players to pay to treat their books with alchemical flame-retardant substances or have them made from non-flammable material. The environment is a harsh place and players that don't take precautions in my worlds typically become sad. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Apr 24 '18 at 20:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose I used to play a system called Hackmaster 4th edition. Spell books buring up was a very real issue in that. Mages often had 2 or 3 copies of their spell books locked away in vaults. I stopped playing this game because tracking every little thing made combat take hours and hours, and prepwork (such as building spare spellbooks and vaults to lock them in) took about a session between every short adventure. \$\endgroup\$ – JackChance Apr 27 '18 at 21:59

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