Archive for the ‘House Rules’ Category

So while I’m working on a couple of longer-term projects (discussing Pathfinder feats at-length; comparing D&D3.5 and Swords and Wizardry, demonstrating that the systems focus on different scopes; discussing healing in D&D, particularly in D&D 5) I wanted to point you over to a really cool idea from LS at Papers & Pencils.

He noted (as I did this weekend, breaking in my new Swords and Wizardry books) that the fist experience new players have of D&D is “”roll these dice, record the resulting sum. Repeat this task five more times, then assign one score to each of these six abilities, the functions of which you probably don’t fully understand yet,” and that’s a kind of sucky introduction to a Fantasy setting.  Instead he suggests describing the Races (dwarves are strong but clumbsy, elves are graceful but frail, gnomes are weak but charismatic) and then weighting attribute rolls by Race, with take-highest and take-lowest rolls replacing flat bonuses and penalties. I haven’t chewed on the numbers yet, but LS claims that 5-take-lowest averages a 7 and 5-take-highest averages a 14 (and 4-take-highst/lowest is probably about 8 and 12 respectively), so you get the benefit of the flat bonus but eliminate scores above 18 at level 1. And if nothing else, I think I really like that result.

So check out his post and then leave me your thoughts in the comments; I’ll probably make another post on this topic once I’ve had some time to look at the implications.

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Divine Magic

Posted: 6 August 2012 in House Rules
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Although he takes it in a different direction than I would, Seth over at Kobold Enterprises touched on an idea I’ve been mulling over a little bit when he posted about recasting Divine Domains as “schools” of magic, the way arcanists have transmutation or divination.  He wants to set up pre-made spell lists and boils the domains down to a core of 8, which isn’t really the sort of thing I’m interested in.

Rather, what struck me about divine magic was this: Clerics (and Paldins, etc.) are tied to a given god (or allegedly a pantheon or idea, though I’ve never seen a good explanation on how that should be implemented).  They must be within one step of their diety’s alignment (a LG god can have LG, LN, and NG clerics, etc).  Depending on alignment (on the Good/Evil axis), they can Channel either positive or negative energy, and spontaneously cast either Cure or Inflict spells.  What this means is that a Priest of Zeus, a Priest of Hades, a Priest of Poseidon, and a Priest of Kronos all look exactly alike, with the possibility of a small variation based on good/evil.  It doesn’t matter that Zeus commands weather, Hades death, Poseidon the seas, and Kronos time — each cleric has access to the same spells (Bless, Compel Hostility, Cause Fear, Detect Undead, Enthrall, Raise Dead, etc).

I would like to recast (or maybe ‘fracture’) the Cleric Spell List so that Clerics only gain access to spells that are relevant to their deity’s domains.  Divine Spells are already marked with arcanist-style schools, and that might be a good place to start, but gods deal in domains, not schools, and a God of Love and a God of Deceit may both have Enchantment spells but probably shouldn’t have the same spells.

I think there may be some common core, spells that are iconic for the class (Cleric vs Paladin vs etc.) but I’m not entirely sure of that (it’s easier to concieve of spells that match all paladins than ones that match all clerics, I think).

Thanks to a post by Shortymonster I stumbled over to the Large Polyhedron Collider (A+ on the blog name), where he’s got a post about the Realities of Falling.  He sets out a few milestones: serious injuries occur from falling 25-30ft onto a hard surface, and death is very likely from a fall of 50-60 feet (onto a hard surface).  He goes on to talk about falling into soft surfaces (like deep water, or snow), and the differences landing orientation makes, and the kind of damage you can expect to do if you land on crates or a car or another person.

Because of this, I think we need to change the way falling damage is handled in D&D: as it is, it’s just too lethal to be realistic. (more…)

I touched on this a little bit in my post about Wisdom, but one of my biggest complaints about the D&D Attributes is the designer’s apparent confusion over what Charisma is.

A high Charisma gives you a bonus on Bluff, Disguise, Diplomacy, Handle Animal, Intimidate, Perform, and Use Magic Device.  It also gives you a bonus when determining the followers you can attract (per the Leadership feat), and Charisma is used on any check that involves influencing others.  It describes a character’s personal magnetism and ability to lead.  A low Charisma penalizes these same things, making it harder to intimidate, persuade, beguile, or lead others.  In pretty much very case, Charisma is treated as a character’s strength of personality, their confidence, and their assertiveness.

But when describing racial traits, Charisma isn’t about confidence and assertiveness, it’s about likeability.  Dwarves are “a bit gruff,” Goblins are “unpleasant,” and both get a penalty to Charisma.  They got it right with Aasimar and Halflings and Drow, who are “Confident,” “Strong-willed,” and “Manipulative” but they mess it up with Gnomes and Tieflings and Catfolk who are “Agreeable,” “Unnerving,” and “Sociable.” Orcs get a penalty for being “savage.”  Sure, it makes sense for getting a penalty to Diplomacy for being gruff or unnerving or savage, but why should the samehurt Intimidate?  I agree that Goblins should have a CHA penalty, but it’s because they’re spineless cowards not because they’re rude or ugly.  Do people really believe lies if you’re likable (or, would you really be likable if you were known for being able to tell lies)?  Does a Magic Device really care how sociable you are?

So here’s a quick run-down of how I would recast the Races’ attributes:

Asimar: +2 WIS, +2 CHA; Insightful and Confident
Drow: +2 DEX, +2 CHA, -2 CON; Nimble, Manipulative, and Delicate
Dwarves: +2 STR, +2 CON, -2 DEX; Strong but Stunted
Catfolk: +2 DEX, +2 CHA, -2 WIS; Agile, Self-assured, but lacking Common Sense
Gnomes: +2 CON, +2 WIS, -2 STR; Hardy, Wise, and Weak
Goblins: +4 DEX, -2 STR, -2 CHA; Quick, Weak, and Spineless (or alternately -2 WIS for Foolish)
Halflings: +2 DEX, +2 CHA, -2 STR; Nimble, Strong-willed, Weak
Orc: +4 STR, -2 INT, -2 WIS, -2 CHA; Strong, Dim, and Unfocused
Tiefling:+2 INT, +2 CHA; Intelligent and Manipulative

An update on my attempt to “fix” Fourth Edition.  After my last post where I posit an abstract system of “energy” that you can use to power Encounter or Daily powers, it was pointed out to me than not all powers are created equally.  A character might have a three Encounter Powers, but they’ll be Level 1, Level 2, and Level 4 (or whatever progression they have; it’s been a while since I looked at my 4E PHB).  So while my system would try to treat them equally, it’s probable that a player would always use their Level 4 power three times in every encounter, and never use their Level 1 power.  That strikes me as kind of a problem.

A possible solution was that I could give characters a numerical amount of energy based on their level, and then charge different amounts for a Level 4 Encounter Power versus a Level 1 Encounter Power (and do the same for Dailies).  The problem is that this adds a lot more book keeping than I wanted, and now I need to worry a lot more about relative balance (why would I ever use my Level 8 Daily if I can use my Level 4 Encounter four times for the same cost, etc).

I haven’t totally given up on the project, but it has taken a back seat to a number of other things vying for my attention. Hopefully I’ll be able to think hard about it again relatively soon (and maybe open my books to see exactly how uneven we’re talking…).

Associating Powers

Posted: 16 June 2012 in House Rules
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One of the things that bothers me the most when it comes to 4th Edition D&D is how difficult many of the mechanics (and descriptions of those mechanics) make it for me to envision the situation.  A lot of the mechanics make the world seem inconsistent, and that makes it difficult for my to really portray my character. And one of the key offenders is the Attack and Utility Powers characters get.

Ostensibly, each class is based off of a given ‘power source,’ be it Magic, Divine, Primal, Psionic, Shadow, or Martial.  Each class then learns a number of At-Will, Encounter, and Daily powers.  At-Will powers can be used whenever the character wants, Encounter powers can be used once before needing a 5-minute “short rest” to recharge, and Daily Powers can be used only once before needing an 8-hour “long rest” to recharge.  This system easily lends itself to balancing classes against each other, and it’s nominally straight forward to envision using up energy to perform these feats and then needing to ‘recharge,’ not unlike a video game.  The problem is that the system breaks down if you inspect it from the point of view of the characters; this is especially problematic for Martial characters who, traditionally, don’t have a consumable pool of energy.

For example, one of the rogue’s daily powers lets him inflict the target with a bleeding wound.  Why is this something he can only do once a day?  The answer is “because of game balance” (I’m told 4E had a very top-down design, starting with desired effects and then moving to probable causes) but that has no meaning to the character.  It becomes a dissociated mechanic that the player has to make choices on but that the character can’t make choices on.

The first adjustment I want to make to 4th Edition is changing the way Powers work so that they can more meaningfully be translated into terms the characters can understand and reason on.

(more…)

Adjusting 4E

Posted: 14 June 2012 in House Rules
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When all is said and done, 4th Edition is what finally brought me in to the D&D fold.  It made the game approachable in a way that bad DMs and years of textbooks to catch up on never did.  I was repelled by it’s flaws pretty quickly and fell in with Pathfinder and (to a much lesser extent) the OSR movement, but I still owe 4E some credit.  I also have a number of friends (including my wife) who came on board with 4E and don’t feel as strongly about it’s flaws as I do, so I’ve decided to put effort into “fixing” the system so I don’t find it so repellant.  I’ll be collecting those house rules on a new Page I’ve created, and probably adjusting my adjustments as I find what works and what doesn’t.

A lot of this is based off of comments made on Dissociated Mechanics, Defining Your Game, and the Dual Faces of Healing, probably some other sources and influences as well.  Right now I only have a few beginning notions of what I think I need to fix, and the barest notion of how to fix them.  Thoughts and feedback are welcome.

Energy Sources : All classes in 4E have an energy source, not unlike characters in Diablo 3, but it’s a rather informal, dissociated thing.  I’d like to clean that up, and make it reasonable that a Fighter only gets 3 Encounter powers every 5 minutes, and 2 Dailies each day.

Energy Conversion: Related to Energy Sources, I feel like there should be some notion of converting between Encounter energy and Daily energy.  It’s all effectively Mana or Focus or Fatigue, just bigger or smaller chunks, you should be able to give up a Daily to recharge Encounters, or forgo your encounters to fire off an extra Daily, right?

Power Through Pain: So what happens when you’re out of Energy?  You just can’t do anything but basic moves?  I think I want to have a mechanic where characters can overexert themselves if they’ve expended all their energy, perhaps Fatiguing, Exhausting, or Damaging themselves as they push their body beyond what’s “safe”.

Tactical Healing: I think that there’s generally way too much healing available in combat, and it’s rarely done in a way that forces a tactical choice.  I’d like a way to change that, and preferably something better than individual errata on ever Cleric power.

Recovery: Recovery between encounters is something that I also feel there’s way too much of; there’s little sense of lasting consequences from poorly chosen or poorly executed plans.  I’d like to scale that back and make recovery available and reliable, but not necessarily instantaneous.