5E Hardcore Mode by Runehammer


Hi everyone, new to the shield wall here, been eyeing ICRPG for a good while now and want to get my group into it after our current 5e Curse of Strahd run, when out of no where I see this! I wish I had it when starting CoS.

I just finished reading it and I gotta say I love it; some of the basic ideas I already use (zones, the initiative) but I really really love the monster system here and the magic system is just sensible IMO.

Some thoughts:

I like the roll to cast magic, but I don’t understand how many uses of spells you get. I assume it is just the same as the 5e spell slot progression (I.E. A 1st level wizard has 2 first level spell slots. They only disappear if you don’t roll a 1 or a 20). A quick example of play/explanation of that would be great.

What about player abilities beyond level 10 in vanilla 5e? (I.E. The wizards level 20 capstone feature, Signiture spell). As it stands, I would be willing to give players who survive past level 10 (and want to keep playing) those abilities as rewards, but once again I think that is missing from this book. A brief mention of this kinda thing might be nice for people not familiar with the mindset of ICRPG.

This supplement is begging for a monster manual/converted 5e monster list. Maybe just from the SRD. Community project perhaps? Also, a note on monster damage might be useful; in hardcore are monsters doing the same damage as they do in vanilla? Seems like lots of monsters would be injuring players every hit. If that is the intent, cool.

Finally, I think this supplement could use some sample characters to go with it, just so we can visualize how a hardcore character looks on paper vs a vanilla character.

Anyway. Amazing stuff! I will be keeping this in my back pocket for the rest of my Curse of Strahd game and hopefully run something new with it when that is done!


For Jack of All Trades, maybe the Bard can add their ability mod to any Unskilled rolls. Still simple enough to track I imagine.


I’m confused on the number of spells too. Part of it is spells known and spell slot totals don’t match up. “in the quantities listed by your core books” sounds like you use spells known. Then do you get the total spell slot number of casts and ignore spell slot levels and cast at their native level?


I read it like this, taking some liberties with the text:

  • A magic user gets three new spells per level. The new spells are equal to their current level in power (Ex: A level 2 wizard get 3 level 2 spells)

  • You can cast spells using spell slots as normal. You cannot adjust the power of the spell by using higher spell slots. To determine how many spell slots you have, refer to the 5e PHB.

  • To gain more spells, you find them as treasure (Ex: At level 2 you picked Alter Self, Blur, and Cloud of Daggers. To get access to Darkness, you have to find a spell scroll or earn it as a reward or whatever the DM decides.)

Anyway that is how I would play it. I think a very quick little table clarifying all that or an example of play would be a great addition to the supplement.


Thats makes sense.

So just running this through. A Wizard at level one has six 1st level spells in their book. They have 1+Int mod number of spells prepared to cast. I don’t think hardcore effects the prepared spell rules at all, that should work just fine. They have 2 spell slots so they can cast twice.

They reach level two and get two level two or lower spells to add to their book. 2+Int Mod prepared, and 3 slots to cast them with. Third level two more spells at 3rd or lower and three more spell slots/casts. etc. etc.

I can see this working.


Sounds about right to me!

Just thinking about it now, I would probably simplify the whole thing even further at my table into something like this:

  • You prepare a number of spells from your spell book/prayer book equal to your level + your ability modifier.
  • You can cast those spells as many times as you wish, but must roll to cast them (as per the rules in Hardcore).
  • On a natural one, that spell is fizzled and cannot be used until you take a long rest and prepare it again.

I dunno. Maybe there will be some clarification soon.


I like that method. Its pretty much what I use in ICRPG anyway.


On a nat 1 there is no effect but you have to roll on the Mercurial Table


I got so excited when I saw this in my Facebook feed that I bought it…then I saw that it was free to Patrons. I don’t mind; It’s still worth it! Love this little doc.


What I like best about it is it contains a lot of what I already decided to do, like ignore spell slots and allow free spell access, even across classes. It’s nice to see some support and encouragement for the things that I have adopted for a few years now. The game should be fun and we have permission to bend and break and remake it for our enjoyment.


Hey @Arc ,

(SHOOT – not sure why this went to the bottom rather than as a response to your earlier comment)

You start by mentioning ICRPG but then talk about this supplement for 5e. I just want to make sure you know they aren’t the same thing. This sits on top of 5e while ICRPG is its own thing. You can defiantly use elements of ICRPG with this and your 5e game but if you want to get your players into ICRPG, this isn’t what you want. This is a ‘hard core’ version of 5e.

Magic in ICRPG is way different than 5e. Spells are milestones and work differently. Then there is a supplement for that as well called MAGIC and adds further depth to a different way of treating spells within ICRPG.

For this supplement, you would treat spells as referenced in the guide and where absent, default to the core D&D 5e rules on the subject. Or at least that is how I understand it. Further discussion in this thread seem to suggest this may be a mute point.

I mainly want to make sure you know that this is a side project for 5e rather than ICRPG.


No worries, and yeah I understand the difference.

I was just trying to point out that this does have a very ICRPG feel to me. I could see using this supplement to get people who have only played 5e (and are resistant to changing systems) used to some features/style of ICRPG so that they would be more willing to try it out. With that in mind, I think this is EXACTLY what I (and others) would want.

The only real question I have about spells in this supplement is how spell slots are expected to work. The section “Spells, not Slots” is not clear on this point. It really just explains how many spells you get per level and that you can’t cast them at higher levels. It says nothing about how many times you can use a spell before it is exhausted until you rest.

Further down the page it says “Frequency limits on spells still apply” but it is not exactly clear on what those limits are, so I assume it is the number of spell slots your character has. (I.E. If a wizard has 3 1st level spell slots, they can cast three successful spells assuming they don’t roll a 1 or a 20).

Anyway. I am excited to try this supplement out sometime.


I’m with Arc on this one, the magic section absolutely requires clarification.

The headline clearly states “Spells, not Slots”, so I think that no spell slots exist. Page 4 already tells us “No more slots”, so how is casting limited now?

“Frequency limits on spells still apply, and are only expended when successfully cast.” That seems weird because apart from spell slots, there’s no limit and nothing to expend unless you’re talking about the way D&D used spells in the older editions: You memorize spells and once cast, they’re gone until re-memorized.

Also, what about Cantrips?
If you can cast a spell only once when memorized, many low-level combat spells have now been nerfed to a point of near-uselessness because the cantrip will be much better, as it’s not limited. (I believe most combat spells are a waste of spells slots anyway, so I might be biased here).
If cantrips are gone and spells are gone once cast, wizards (especially low-level wizards) will be back to 1-trick ponies and become pretty useless in combat once spells are spent. As in earlier editions.

Apart from the magic section, there are other things bothering me:

Why make unskilled rolls harder? That way you force all classes to get skills like acrobatics and the like, just be save when climbing. A wizard won’t (regularly) die from failing an Arcana roll, for example, so players will be inclined to lay off the “fluff” skills and concentrate on the pure dungeoneering skills.

The argument that rolls are easier to memorize is ridiculous because in 5E you have to remember to add your Proficiency bonus to skilled rolls, while in HC Mode you will have to remember not to add your attribute bonus and proficiency bonus to unskilled rolls. Nothing gained here, in my opinion.

“Things you’re not good at, you’re BAD at.” And that’s a good thing? No, absolutely not! Unless you also start playing the old school way and not roll the dice at all for many things. These days I’ve noticed that every small climb requires a skill roll. With the HC Mode you’ll have a harder time there. But all adventurers are supposed to be capable of the basics, aren’t they? That’s what 5E got right for “modern” “lots-of-rolls” play, so why take it away? At least make it clear to players that they’ll only roll for big challenges.

“Feats […] are compressed into an ‘on/off’ bonus system.” - No, feats are special abilities and they either still apply or they don’t. I don’t see how a +5 Passive Perception, a “Gain 3 Ritual Spells” and similar feats are affected, so this is a bit misleading.

Sounds good at first, but now you have to recalculate skills, attacks and AC. Keep it simple? Hm… Oh and now I’m healed, recalculate again. Personally, I guess I’d have to write down an injured and a normal stat so I don’t forget (AC especially).

Hardcore? Really? And who has the final say on whether the candle is still lit? Can the DM just say “Ah, sorry, the candle went out. Gust of wind. You’re all finally dead.”? This idea seems even worse to me than a readily-available ressurrection service at the local temple which at least needs lots of coin to work.

Why no unified XP table? 5E has pretty good balancing the first 10 levels already (I’ve never played above) and classes have a feel of progressing at the same pace. The argument that thieves learn faster and die more often is void with Zymer’s candle (Couldn’t you just place the candle before trying to disarm that trap and respawn?) and while wizards will grow to great power the time needed to get powerful doesn’t need adjustment, I think. (Unless you get rid of spell slots and allow unlimited casting, as proposed above).

Bottom Line:
The layout and art is great, I really like it! There are some very good ideas in there, but in the end I think it’s pretty much the same as using 5E classes in a B/X or OD&D game and add a house rule or two (Upper Hand and maybe casting, depending on how it’s meant to be).
So instead of calling this 5E Hardcore Mode I’ll refer to it as “Some nice house rules” for my game, if I even need them.
For pure 5E players, HC Mode is a great idea, don’t get me wrong. Players new to role-playing in general might also enjoy some ideas.
But for me, I’ll just play Dungeon Crawl Classics if I want a modern way of playing old school and hardcore, or I’ll play B/X or OD&D.


@OgreMage : any new system is going to be a lot about preferences, and that’s cool. But if your questions aren’t rhetorical, you’ll find that most of them are actually answered if you read again. For example, the reason why unskilled rolls are superficially “harder” (less bonuses) is that DC is shifted down by five, actually making them easier (better chance of success) in most cases.

“how is casting limited now?”
Through a limit on spells, by level and rest. As a Wizard at level 2, following the SRD+HC, you will choose from ALL first and second level spells, and be able to cast 3 of them per long rest (or 2 first-level, 1 second-level, if your GM is nitpicking). That, alongside concentration etc, is the frequency limit.


I’ve read about the lowered DC, but if the intention is that characters are bad at unskilled checks, then that’s contraproductive, isn’t it? Actually, in HC Mode you have an unskilled chance of 50% to succeed because without a bonus it’s just a d20. In 5E, with a medium DC of 15, your chance of failure is 50% only if your attribute bonus is +5. So for your standard array character, unskilled skill checks are harder in 5E.

The standard DCs of 5E were the first thing we changed in our group (medium DC being 12, with steps of 5 to the next DCs), so a character with a +2 bonus has a 50% chance.
Granted, with 3d6 in order for attributes you’ll have to adjust DC for the lower stat bonuses.
The math stays, though. I don’t see how this is an improvement. It’s an adjustment alright.

As for the spellcasting - what you describe is a spell slot system, unless I get you wrong. That’d mean that at 5th level you have 3 “spell slots” each for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th level spells?
If that’s the intention, the wording is really misleading. “When choosing new spells at level-up
time, gain access to 3 new spells of your current level.” I understood it as “You learn 3 new spells of your level.”


This is awesome. Really enjoyed it.

Couple things that might be an oversight:

Level progression is missing warlock, sorcerer, and monk. Spell prep is missing ranger.

I know monk is a cleric to hank, but if this is based off 5e then maybe it should be there.

Could easily rule those but I thought I’d point it out Incase it was missed…

Dark gritty d&d is the way to go. Old school… most games are wannabe critical roll tv shows now with immortal characters who are guaranteed to reach max level and save the world.


Looks like this has hit the top 10 on Drive Thru and #1 in Under $5.
Great job @Runehammer


But does that mean that you can’t cast the same spell twice?
Because that is indeed not possible in older editions but I thought it is possible in 5E.


@Arc I believe the rules in HC mode are very clear about how many spells you can get and cast in a day

Clerics, Paladins, Druids

  • Full Access to all spells up to their level
  • Memorize their level +2 per day

Wizards, Bards, Sorcerers, Warlocks

  • Can only learn 3 more spells of that level when they level up (so its a limited list of learned spells)
  • Memorize their level X2 from their learned list per day

That said… for realizm/thematic gaming, I may allow Wizard classes to cast UNLIMITED spells. All of the spells they have learned… unlimited casting. The roll to cast and critical fail rules make this balanced in my opinion. Check out professor dungeonmaster’s video on DungeonCraft for how he handles magic. I just like this method and seems more realistic to me that Gandalf doesn’t suddenly forget how to cast a shield spell just because he used it once on the bridge in Moria.


Any suggestions on monsters with 1/8, 1/4, or 1/2 CR for 5E Hardcore mode? I wasn’t sure how to run these.