Well…The Isley Brothers
You know you make me wanna (shout)
Kick my heels up and (shout)
Throw my hands up and (shout)
Throw my hands back and (shout)
Come on now (shout)
This idea first came to me when I was thinking about how to hack charge spells into 5e. The cool tech I came up with was investing more action economy into your spells to get more out of them. Since a character already gets an action and a bonus action on their turn, we have three levels of investment a player can make: action only, bonus action only, or both.
This reminded me of the game Skyrim, whose signature mechanic was based around shouts. Shouts could be unlocked at various shrines and was powered by the souls of dragons you conquered. In Skyrim, you can power up your shouts by holding them longer for greater effect.
As it turns out, building spells around this requires creating new spells from whole cloth, which also treads into other messy territory like which classes get those spells. Instead, it would be a lot easier to contain this design by making it a special feature for one class. Once we’ve built that, we can open the shouts up to other classes with a simple feat in the spirit of Magic Initiate (Wizard) or Artificer Initiate (Artificer) or Metamagic Adept (Sorcerer) or Eldritch Adept (Warlock).
I chose to make shouts an option for monks. Monks were a convenient choice for a few reasons:
- Thematically, it makes sense that they draw power from within.
- Monks have a resource pool (ki) that we can use to power their shouts.
- Monks have a scaling damage die (Martial Arts die) to graduate shout damage.
- There’s an opportunity to fill an elemental monk niche that the 4 Elements Monk has left many players wanting.
How It Works
First, we need to design a mechanic that feels like we’re charging up the power. We can accomplish this while establishing a framework for charging up our power words:
- If you spend 1 ki point and use your bonus action, you get the smallest effect (since you can still use your full action to do other stuff).
- If you spend 1 ki point and use your action, you get a larger effect (but can still use your bonus action to use some of the Monk’s tricks).
- If you spend 2 ki points and use both your bonus action and your action, you get the full effect.
Past that, we need to set up some standard assumptions. For example, if a power word requires a saving throw, we use a Constitution-based DC. If a power word allows you to cast a spell, but that spell requires concentration, you must maintain concentration just like a mage would. We’ve also waived material components, since the shout is being powered by ki from within.
As you level up, you learn more power words. There’s a lot more power words than you can feasibly obtain with one character. This increases replayability, though we’ve also included a sidebar advising DMs to award new power words for game achievements.
Finally, your other subclass features modulate the power words, allowing you to invest more ki to make them more powerful, or even to shout silently!
With that framework, let’s look at the different kinds of shouts.
Attack Power Words
In order to create a balanced set of attacks, we need to establish a framework for them to work within. So, I created different ranges for the attack power words to affect based on the action economy you invest. The more you charge up the power word by taking your time and investing ki, the more targets it can affect:
Here’s the first power word you get for free:
Self Power Words
Not all power words are simple attacks. That would probably get a little boring. We also need some buffs. We can lean on buffing spells for some of these, which is easy because they already target the self. Here’s an example: