A while ago I posted a handout on twitter for a new 5th edition campaign I was starting called Dungeons x Dragons. The campaign's premise follows a group of novice adventurers as they enter the dangerous Adventurer's Exam alongside nearly 600 other applicants. At the end of the exam, less than ten applicants will pass and get their "Adventurer's License," a document which certifies them as an elite Pro Adventurer. The whole concept is heavily inspired by Hunter x Hunter, a manga that is a big favorite among myself and most of the players.
Having just survived a grueling week on Bumbo Island, an Australasian remote island where every living organism on the island is at least a Challenge Rating 3, the party of player characters earned their way into the Third Phase of the Adventurer's Exam. It was time for a big change of pace... I needed the next phase to provide a lighter break after the previous phase's grind while still culling the remaining 28 applicants down by about half. My solution? Baseball.
I write this article after our last session (Monday, 22 Feb. 2021) played through the game's first 4 innings and it went... so much better than I expected. The game was tense, fast paced, climactic, strategic. Even though the match lasted about 2 hours of the session's runtime, it somehow felt better to play than almost any combat I've run in my 6 years DMing 5th Edition. Halfway through the 3rd Inning at 10 PM on a Monday night, I asked if we wanted to stop there for the night and the group all agreed they'd rather continue! On every front, baseball in 5e worked better than it had any right to.
The rest of this article is going to breakdown the rules I mocked up so that you can play baseball with your own party in D&D 5e if... for some reason you decide to do that. Maybe your party is captured by a settlement that lets prisoners earn their freedom through playing baseball after the usual gladiatorial fights got stale. Or hell, maybe your player characters just want to play some baseball recreationally!
If you think, on the other hand, that you'd like to play an entire campaign centered around baseball, I would highly recommend that you use a system other than D&D to do it. For example, you could see if the sports anime inspired game I've been developing, Varsity, is more your thing (shameless plug).
Each team assigns fielder positions to its members, according to this chart. For simplicity, I also had the reverse order of the numbers line up with each team's batting order, so the right fielder (9) batted first and the pitcher (1) batted last.
In our game, we had enough NPCs that each team also had a coach and a few alternates to serve as pitchers or pinch hitters that the coach could swap in. Each coach took on a general managerial role, but also had a number of d6s equal to their Intelligence modifier plus their Charisma modifier. As a reaction when a player on the coach's team is about to attempt a roll and can hear the coach's instruction, the coach can spend one of these d6s and add the result to that player's roll.
To resolve a batting attempt, the pitcher rolls a thrown weapon attack with a simple weapon (baseball). I considered proficiency in darts equivalent enough to a baseball, allowing wizards and sorcerers the chance to pitch plus proficiency as well. The pitcher can take as long as they want between pitches, giving them the chance to cast buffing spells before each pitch if they want (more on that later).
Next, the batter rolls a melee weapon attack with a simple finesse weapon (bat) against the pitcher's roll. If the roll is under the pitcher's, they get a strike. Three strikes and they're out, and the next batter is up. If the roll is equal or greater than the pitcher's roll, they get a hit!
On a hit, the batter rolls a d8 plus any damage modifiers they would add on a melee hit. Stuff like the "dueling" fighting style, the shillelagh cantrip, or a Paladin's "divine smite" can shine here. The damage result is compared to the beside chart to see where the ball lands on the field:
If the damage total adds up to a 1, 5, or 9, it's a foul ball and the batter gets a strike (unless they already have two strikes, then it is just ignored). If it's a 12 or higher, it's a homerun, and the batter and anyone else who's on a base gets to score a run!
If the ball lands on any other square, like if it rolls a 2 (pitcher), 6 (shortstop) or 10 (right field), the fielder in that position makes a Dexterity saving throw against the same number that the batter rolled when they hit. If the saving throw equals or exceeds that roll, the ball is caught before it touches the ground and the batter is out. If the saving throw is below the batter's roll, the ball touches the ground and the batter and everyone else on a base can advance 1 base for free.
If a runner wants to push their luck and steal a base, they roll a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. The fielder who has the ball chooses a base and rolls a thrown weapon attack (as if pitching) against the runner's roll. If the fielder's roll is lower or equal, the runner makes it to that base. If the roll is higher, the runner is out and the person on the new base can immediately throw the ball at anyone else stealing a base.
As a bonus to characters who value speed, I've been letting runners who can dash as a bonus action, like rogues and monks, advance two bases whenever they could advance one instead. A tabaxi rogue could hit the ball, use feline agility, dash as a cunning action, and score a run just when the ball touches the ground (as long as the other bases are empty)!
When there's three outs, the team that's batting become the fielders and vice versa, and an inning ends when both teams have had a chance to bat. I've been keeping track of our game with this little scorecard that all of the players can see.
What makes baseball so fun in 5th edition is precisely that it allows players to use their abilities in creative ways. Spells, class features, and even animal companions are fully allowed—as long as you aren't just attacking the other team outright.
When the DxD crew was deciding their positions on the team, I was surprised when our Clockwork Soul sorcerer claimed the pitcher position. At 1st level, he took the true strike cantrip and hasn't found any use for it in the whole campaign so far. As a pitcher, he is able to give himself on every one of his pitches! While this is obviously a great opportunity to use a mechanic he had otherwise not found use for, the flavor of a pitcher with mathematical precision is also very strong.
One of the enemy batters is a paladin who can send balls into the atmosphere with her powerful divine strikes, and the upcoming alternate pitcher is a sorcerer who is going to charge each of her pitches with the spell catapult... I'm excited to see how the party will adjust to that tactic!
The point is, the game works so well precisely because it is built upon the mechanics of D&D 5e. As the player characters play, they get to see the game world and the mechanics on their sheet through a different angle. At the end of the ballgame, win or lose, you can bet they'll get experience worthy of pushing through a massive nine-inning combat encounter.
I hope you enjoyed this article, and—even if you don't plan on running a baseball game in D&D anytime soon—you got some inspiration on the types of things you can do with your RPG system of choice. This is the first article in a planned series wherein I will break down something weird I've done or plan to do with 5th edition. Some upcoming articles are going to include a "Corruption" mechanic I homebrewed for my Curse of Strahd campaign, and a retrospective on a retrofuturistic 1980s West Marches campaign I started in 2019. Coming up a little later is an article on the Adventurer's Academy that my players might attend—if they pass the exam and win their licenses, that is.