Dis Ability

Prompted by the Combat Wheelchair rules by mustangsart and the associated miniatures. 

I’m not opposed to the idea of adventurers in wheelchairs or with other disabilities. (I’ve considered playing one myself, but it didn’t seem like my story to tell.) People should be able to make characters they want to run, be it characters that reflect themselves or characters that don’t reflect themselves. People should be able to play what they want… within reason—but I’ll get to that later. Plus, those minis look badass! Who wouldn’t want to play a character inspired by one of those?

However, I look at the combat wheelchair rules and think this might not be the best way to go about playing an adventurer with disability. 

As presented, the rules make playing a wheelchair bound adventurer a little like being Daredevil. The character has a disability… but not really. Instead, they have a superpower that negates their disability while also making them better in many situations. It’s a little like someone wanting to play Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman (or the aforementioned Marvel superhero) in D&D, which is an undeniably cool idea on paper and not an inherently bad character concept. Usually the idea is simple: the character is blind but their other senses make up for it so they mechanically work as they would despite not being able to see, so it all balances out. In practice this has numerous side effects. The character is immune to gaze attacks from creatures like the a medusa and visual illusions like hypnotic pattern. And darkness doesn’t affect them, even magical darkness.
The wheelchair rules have similar bonuses, where the character is functionally immune to difficult terrain, tripwires, pressure plates, and the like. Exhaustion won’t impact their speed. Encumbrance doesn’t matter. The rogue on a wheelchair should be totally silent. Theoretically they can hover over liquids, so water and acid have limited effect. They don’t need to worry about exhausting a mount while travelling overland. The wheelchair doesn’t just make the character the equal of other adventurers, it grants marked benefits based on the character’s backstory. It’s awarding the PC a free
carpet of flying just so they can play in an adventure like Curse of Strahd because that features a lot of stairs. (Only it’s a carpet of flying that isn’t subject to dispel magic, because taking it away wouldn’t be fair.)

Now, this isn’t to say that playing an adventure with disabilities is unreasonable. It’s really not. But the question isn’t “how do you write rules to accommodate an adventuring wheelchair?” The question is instead “is a character with disabilities appropriate for this adventure?” Because while people should be able to play whatever character they want, the character still needs to be appropriate and not disruptive or awkward to incorporate.

The catch is, not every character concept is appropriate to every adventure. When designing a character for a serious political campaign about noble families you don’t want to come to your DM with Toots McGigglefinger, the gnome fey pact warlock with Santa Claus as their patron. And for a holiday mini campaign where you’re saving Santa from the Grinch you don’t want to bring Darius Steeljaw, the grizzled gnome giant-slayer whose whole family was captured by ogres and slowly eaten alive, piece by piece, over several days. If the Dungeon Master has their heart set on running, say, Rime of the Frost Maiden where much of the adventure revolves around isolation and the difficulty travelling, then having a magic flying wheelchair might be disruptive. Or Curse of Strahd, which was mentioned by the rules’ author; as Ravenloft is often presented as a very low-magic setting, a magical hoverchair stands out as tonally inappropriate. That adventure is also well known for its cunning and evil villain: Strahd von Zarovich. And one of the first things Strahd would do when presented with such an opponent would be to send a charmed minion to steal or destroy the magic chair. Eliminate the threat. It’s a dick move, but Strahd isn’t a nice guy.
Similarly, it’s also a character concept that might force the Dungeon Master to potentially change or accommodate the adventure for that player. All the weight sensitive pressure plates in Tomb of Annihilation? Reworked. The underwater sequence in Ghosts of Saltmarsh? Removed, so the player isn’t sitting out that session. If the DM is willing to put in that work to accommodate a player, then I honestly and truly applaud them. But I also know that not everyone has that time. 

It’s undesirable, but sometimes you need to put aside a character concept for a campaign and revisit it in a latter campaign where it will work. 

For example, if the DM is planning on running a homebrew adventure on Wildemount or the Forgotten Realms, then a magical wheelchair wouldn’t be out of place. A dragonshard-powered wheelchair is Eberron A.F. You can probably dump the wheels altogether and just make it a personal skysled. And in a homebrew adventure, the DM would know not to include elements like a chasm that needs to be jumped across or a steep cliff that has to be climbed. (I’m aware that there are people who rock climb in wheelchairs. And it’s totally cool to expect the barbarian or paladin with a wheelchair to laugh at a cliff… but the wizard or archer fighter would be a different story.)
If the DM knows the player really wants to bring an adventurer with a disability for their next PC, then there doesn’t need to be special rules for a magical wheelchairs. The DM just needs to be careful when designing adventures and the story to accommodate the player and not maliciously hinder them. Just like if a player wanted to play a centaur, or a mounted cavalier that always had their loyal steed. They can just make it work, because it matters to their friend.

Which means this character can be an adventure in a mundane, nonmagical wheelchair and still be a hero. Which just feels even more badass. 

 

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