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One of my players wants to play a Drow Bard [in 5E] who wanted to blend in with surface dwellers. The background is that the PC asked a powerful wizard to change his appearance permanently (to an Elf), while keeping Drow stats, but he had to give up one arm as payment/penalty. Obviously this is a pretty hefty setback (especially for a race that already has a penalty, in the form of sunlight sensitivity), so, I'm wondering whether the following could help off-set the penalty:

  • As part of becoming an elf, he loses both superior dark vision and sunlight sensitivity (but still retains all other Drow features)
  • Presumably, when we lose certain body part/feature, the brain reorganizes over time, to devote more resources to the remaining ones. So, I was thinking that the PC would become more skilled with his remaining arm (assuming it was his dominant arm), and give him the Dueling Fighter feature (+2 bonus damage with melee weapon). Balance-wise, because he won't be able to dual wield or hold a shield, I think this is fair.

Is this fair, balanced compensation for starting with only one arm?

The fluff is that the wizard cast a True Polymorph spell, concentrated for an hour, but in order to keep the Drow traits, the wizard couldn't "pay attention" to the entire body--so, the arm shrivelled during the transformation (the wizard didn't have the energy to 'direct' the arm's transformation), and had to be cut off (a warning the Wizard had given the PC in advance).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Coincidentally, I know 3 people (including myself) who have had the Drizzt figure that comes with the Starter Set lose one of his arms. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Sep 3 '14 at 23:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ This reminds me of Finn in Adventure Time where he lost his sword arm due to an incident. He (spoilers) regrows it later from the honey of some magical bee princess. You can make a story arc that revolves around growing back the drow's arm through some wizard you help along the way or something. One more suggestion as justification to the +1/2 bonus damage, let the drow meet a one-handed swordsman along the way (what a coincidence!) and if their meetup goes well, the swordsman may offer to teach the drow techniques. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Gabriel Sep 4 '14 at 1:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, I would have to find a way to balance it though--I already removed Sunlight sensitivity, while allowing him to retain all proficiencies, spells, etc. So, I can't just return the arm... would have to negotiate then. \$\endgroup\$ – Khashir Sep 4 '14 at 3:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ You're also seriously limiting the instruments he can play. As a bard, this might be a big deal. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryre Sep 4 '14 at 16:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, I'm not--he is! Apparently the pan flute, hung around his neck, can do the trick (but he'd still have to stow his weapon before playing, and won't be able to take out until next turn, as part of his attack action) \$\endgroup\$ – Khashir Sep 4 '14 at 16:09
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I've not seen any rules for lost limbs in 5e. It looks like you'll have to house-rule stuff for this. Both of those solutions can help off-set this Drow's disability, but missing an arm is a big deal.

There are a lot of effects that losing an arm could have. What could it mean for skill checks (rock climbing 1-handed? Good luck!). Bows? Never again. Crossbows? Maybe. Two-handed weapons? Nope. Shields? Pretty much out-of-the-question. What about the social implications? Some people may dislike him just because he's "a cripple," while others may be more understanding.

Benefits of having lost an arm? He weighs less. Kind souls may pity him more. If he's a lefty now instead of a righty in a righty-dominated world, people may be super thrown off by his fighting style. A one-armed man on a battlefield? Likely lower priority than other fighters.

Considering all this, your proposed amendments may work out well. A +2 bonus to hit is pretty big, especially at low levels, so I may consider lowering that to a +1. Overall, though, I still think the drow made a poor choice, and is not coming out ahead after loosing the arm.

Of course, this opens up roleplaying opportunities as well. Rewarding the player for acknowledging their character's disability in various situations is a good idea!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Poor choice but an amaizing chance for some nice roleplaying \$\endgroup\$ – Jayjay Sep 3 '14 at 21:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good point @Jayjay ! \$\endgroup\$ – PipperChip Sep 3 '14 at 21:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1, should be fine as long as all the limitations are kept in mind. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Sep 3 '14 at 22:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ I meant +2 to damage rolls, as per the Dueling Fighter Style \$\endgroup\$ – Khashir Sep 4 '14 at 0:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, he'll have to depend a lot on the party, especially any wizards, to help cast levitate and/or other spells. \$\endgroup\$ – Khashir Sep 4 '14 at 0:38
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Have the missing arm just be a part of the fiction with no explicit mechanical changes. Obviously if a task requires two arms, then he needs to work around that.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Honestly, let him keep the arm but make him go on a quest of the wizard's choosing. That sounds way more enjoyable. \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe Sep 4 '14 at 18:45
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The rule of thumb I use as a DM for odd situations such as this is allow the flavor but keep the mechanics normal.

IE: If a magic wielder loses an arm prior to the actual start of a campaign as part of a backstory they know the equivalent of mage hand style magic to manifest a second hand to let them cope with the same rough restrictions as a normal arm (aka no stretch armstrong).

If its a non-magic user, they have learned to work with some form of prosthetic.

The minute you try and give some quantifiable numeric advantage to counteract a self imposed "disadvantage" you fall down a slippery slope to munchkin-ing to a horrible degree. Even Dungeon World mocks the whole idea of cutting off part a limb for a +1 bonus to attack. It generally does not end well.

Let the story be the story. It doesnt need to become a gameplay mechanic to be compelling to the character or the story at large.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Dungeon World? He didn't ask for the +2 Damage (not +1 to attack), I offered it because of the lack of shield, no dualwielding (whether focus or melee/ranged weapon), and no opportunity attacks after casting or attacking with ranged weapon. Given that fighters get this at L1, I could just suggest he dip one level in fighter (and he'd get more than that--heavy armor prof, for example), but I feel that, given the disadvantage, it's not a broken deal. \$\endgroup\$ – Khashir Sep 4 '14 at 16:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ My point is that if you create a backstory and then try to work mechanics to give a differing advantage over those without those circumstances in their backstory....you end up with some issues. When you have to fundamentally alter gameplay mechanics to get a story idea across, you innately open yourself up to a world of pain. Try and work within the systems. Outside of them is an odd place to be. Is it a small buff to compensate for a large disadvantage? Yes. Needed? No. Bypassable to create a normal character in practical mechanics? Absolutely. \$\endgroup\$ – TechImp Sep 5 '14 at 19:18
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The text for True Polymorph reads

"The target's game statistics, including mental ability scores, are replaced by the statistics of the new form."

So, the Drow literally becomes an Elf. Which means, he loses Cha +1, Superior Darkvision, Sunlight Sensitivity, Drow Magic and Drow Weapon Training.

He retains all of the regular Elf traits he already had, and if he was turned into an Elven sub-race (High-Elf or Wood-Elf) he gains those traits.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hence, the last paragraph in the question ;). \$\endgroup\$ – Khashir Sep 17 '14 at 14:29
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Mechanically, what you are doing is removing some options from the drow bard, in exchange for half of a first level fighter dip.

Let's look at what the Bard is actually giving up.

Bards don't gain proficiency in shields, so he isn't losing a shield, he also doesn't gain any access to two handed weapons (good thing hand crossbows are only one handed right?) , so he isn't losing access to those either.

The only thing the bard is actually losing, is the ability to use his second hand to hold something while spell casting, and perhaps not being able to cast burning hands, if he ever got a scroll for that, and larger musical instruments.

Instead of giving him a +2 to damage, I would instead allow him to get free Access to the Mage hand cantrip, ontop of any other cantrips he takes, and to allow that mage hand to hold up to 30 lbs instead of 10lbs and as a bonus action, he can control the hand.

Because the only real penalty the Drow Bard has for missing a hand is the fact that he is missing a hand and all that implies, but mechanically in combat, he's actual effectiveness and options are not really limited. Since your proposed suggestion is purely a combat mechanics boost in exchange for a percieved handicap, I recommend changing it to something which has more implications for a naturally magical race such as a Drow, who has studied as a Bard and is able to cast spells, compensating for his loss of a limb in situations where he is actually hindered, rather than in combat where he is not.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So, to make up for the missing hand, you give him a magical hand. Wouldn't balancing out a weakness with an ability which completely negates that weakness make this character trait quite pointless? \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Sep 4 '14 at 9:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Philipp It's not a complete negation. \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob Sep 4 '14 at 9:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmm, I appreciate the thoughts, but some quibbles: College of Valor grants bard Shield proficiency, so, he's effectively limiting one of his archetype choices. He has to stow his weapon to wield his focus or his hand x-bow, which means no opportunity attacks each turn after he cast a spell or range attack (unless I'm missing something). Plus, hand crossbows cost 75 gp, so, it's not like he starts with one (and, he wouldn't be able to have sword in one hand, x-bow in the other, which a standard PC would be able to do, threatening enemies in close quarters and at range). \$\endgroup\$ – Khashir Sep 4 '14 at 15:19

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