Posts Tagged ‘broken structures’

So I mentioned before that the Crafting rules in Pathfinder as essentially useless as-written. I went through the whole of it in my previous post, but here’s the cliff notes: success is practically guaronteed given time and materials (if you’re bad you’ll waste a lot of money on ruined materials), and how much time is inversely related to the DC of the item being crafted, so more difficult items take proportionally less time to craft than simpler items (of the same value).

That’s actually the only complaint I can really level squarely at the system, I think. I have a little bit of concern about impractical craft times (my calculations show a Master smithy taking upwards of 9 months to make a suit of plate armor, but I have no notion of how realistic that is) and the fact that there are several different systems for crafting common items, traps, magic items… But each of those things are mechanically different in the game as well, so having different mechanics for crafting them isn’t absurd of its face. I think I’ll need to address both of these, but it’s more a matter of argument and investigation, whereas my primary complaint is simply math.

Of course, the fly in that ointment is that it takes less time to craft a more-difficult item of the same price, and in general it looks like more-difficult items tend to cost more, so the otherwise-wonky math just offsets the escalation, so that it doesn’t take a hundred years to forge plate armor.

Here’s a comparable pair: hook hand (DC 12, 100 sp) and a short sword (dc 15, 100 sp). Assuming a Master of moderate talent we have a Take 10 score of 18 (10 base +1 attribute, +1 skill, +3 class skill, +3 skill focus). His weekly crafting score is 216 for the hook and 270 for the short sword; in each case it’s double-but-not-triple the target (100), so they each take a half-week to complete. Huh. That doesn’t tell us anything.

If instead of a Master we assume a craftsman of minimum capable skill, with a Take 10 of 12 and 15 respectively, the hook will score 144 for the week and the sword will score 225, so the hook is done in a week and the sword is done in a few days… but the sword was done by a better craftsman. But that same craftsman would score a 180 on the hook and take a full week!  Aha!

I’m… not sure what this proves. Maybe hooks are harder to make than swords? Maybe the abstraction is good enough, without getting into the minutia of every item’s form and composition?

One more.  A Dwarven Longaxe (DC 18, 500 sp) and a Greatsword (DC 15, 500 sp). Our Master would get a weekly score of 324 for the longaxe and 270 for the Greatsword, so it would take two weeks (648 and 640) to complete each. Again, doesn’t really tell us anything, I think.

So, here’s the question that I’m left with, given a flawed system that seems to work out alright in practice: why are we doing this?  What are we trying to accomplish? LS at Pencils and Papers was actually looking to change the Crafting skill, he said so deep in his first post on Crafting: “If characters are to be able to craft magic items using the crafting system (as is my goal)…”. As-written, D&D3.X/Pathfinder Crafting isn’t intended to create magic items, as those are covered by a Feat and a separate system that (if I recall) requires no roll. By declaring that Craft should allow players to create magical items and then declaring that Crafting is broken because you can’t find a hapy medium where Decent Characters and Focused Characters can co-exist, he’s kind of making his own problem. (Sorry for the slight, LS.)

Crafting in D&D is meant to model, to some rough level of “good enough”, mundane craftsmanship. A first level character with moderate talent and training can master all but the most difficult of crafts – Alchemy has DCs in the 20 to 25 range, but most other items top off at DC 18; a Master craftsman with a few apprentices (or high-quality tools) can Take 10 on a DC 26. I propose that it is mostly a tool for guaging the efficiency of NPC craftsmen – it’s deep enough that it can be applied to PCs because NPCs and PCs exist in the same world and abide by the same mechanics.

I think this comes down to a difference in philosophy: why have a skill in your game system if it’s only really meaningful to NPCs? One of the things like I like about D&D is that, for the most part, it is a complete system. That is, it can model the whole world. Others don’t like this, and there are game systems designed with minimal mechanics, or mechanics that only pertain to PCs, or rely on GM fiat to cover anything that the designers didn’t think was important. And although I think Craft (and other skills) are mainly intended for NPCs, that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful for PCs. It’s unlikely that a Player will have the time or opportunity to forge plate armor while on an adventure, but if the group uses downtime well (and I propose that all groups should use downtime, and use t often) he might have a few months to put some together. Will it be better than the magical gear he can find while adventuring? Probably not, unless the DM decides to fudge things the way LS intends to.  But is it a pointless endeavor? Again, no – it’s cheaper to forge your paladin a new suit of armor (if you have the time and talent) than to buy a new one, and it can be used (if you have the time and talent) to pad your coin purse a bit if you can find an interested buyer. It’s not directly related to dungeon crawling, but I propose that it doesn’t need to be, and it doesn’t even need to be directly related to PCs. The power of the D&D system is it’s completeness.

(As an end note: this isn’t where I expected to be when I started the post, but in investigating the actual application of the Craft rules I don’t think it’s as broken as I thought.  Wonky? Sure. Perfect? No way. But definitely meaningful and workable.)

LS over at Paper and Pencils has been doing some great stuff at re-inspecting Pathfinder, much of which I’m still catching up on.  And seeing as last night was a “no sleep for daddy” night and this morning has been a “coffee weak as water” kind of morning, this probably isn’t the best time for me to try digging in to such a topic.  But I go where the spirit moves me!

Both LS and I agree that D&D/Pathfinder Crafting skills are pretty much useless as-written. We both think there should be a way to re-cast the crafting system so that it still works within the bounds of the Skill System (skill points, roll d20+bonuses against a DC to determine success or failure, etc). But LS and I are working off of a different set of assumptions; he wants to balance Crafting PC-to-PC (focusing on game balance and utility), and I’m interested in balancing PC-to-NPC (focusing on in-world modeling and meaning). I think LS and I had words over this difference of opinion before, but it’s mostly a matter of taste and interpretation.

LS draws up a table comparing a moderately-invested PC (we’ll call him Min) versus a heavily-invested PC (he’ll be Max), level for level. Min has a +2 attribute bonus, has the skill as a Class Skill (+3) and takes a point in the skill every level (+lvl); Max has a +5 in the attribute at level 1, adds to his attribute at every chance (+1 at 8 and 16), takes Skill Focus (+3 at Lvl 1, another +3 at Lvl 10), has the skill as a Class Skill (+3) and takes a point in the skill every level (+lvl). Right off the problem is clear, as Min has a score of 5+Lvl and Max has a score of 11+Lvl at Level 1, 12+Lvl at Level 8, 15+Lvl at Level 10, and 16+Lvl at Level 16. Max starts out essentially double Min’s effectiveness and has several hops in his progression where Min increases linearly. LS concludes that crafting can not be balanced, I conclude that we’re trying to balance the wrong thing.

Based on my assumptions, I think there are three characters to consider when determining how we should treat the skill: the Amature NPC (Al), the Professional NPC (Paul), and the Master NPC (Matt). Like most people in the world, they are all level 1 and do not advance. Al has an average attribute (+0) and no formal training (not a class skill), just what he’s able to pick up by doing (+1 skill point). Paul is talented (+1 attribute) and has been trained (+3 class skill) in addition to applying the skill (+1 skill point).  Matt is truly gifted (+2 attribute) and has been not only trained (+3) but focused on his craft (+3 Skill Focus) in addition to applying the skill (+1).  So we have three flat values that most of the world will conform to: +1 for Al, +4 for Paul, and +9 for Matt. With an assiatant (+2 help) and taking their time (Take 10), they can respectively hit DC 12, DC 16, and DC 21. Reaching beyond their skill (ie, rolling the die) gives them the chance to hit DC 22, DC 26, and DC 31, but risks ruining the whole effort.

Player characters will start out as an amature, professional, or master – possibly with some variation and potentially with much more raw talent (if the GM allows high ability scores). But unlike most of the rest of the world, PCs perform deeds that gain them Experience and raise their level, gradually becoming more than mundane. Higher level NPCs may exist, but just like PCs they are suitably Heroic, Mythic, Legendary, or God-like as well.

Masterwork items should have a DC of 20, so that a talented Master can create them reliably. The entirety of mundane crafting should be achievable within DC 30 or less, noting that these crafts are beyond the normal ability of a Master. Beyond that (and I might even say beyond DC 25) we enter the realm of crafting things that are more than mundane.

LS tosses out this notion, concluding from his treatment of Min and Max that there’s no good way to make the skill useful for Min without being broken by Max if item quality alone determines the DC. But this is because he’s comparing players to players in a competative sense, where as I’m comparing players to the world being modeled with the understanding (or even expectation) that players will quickly outshine all others. (That’s part of the point, isn’t it?) I also think that there’s a component of Skill bonuses that LS is neglecting – yes, it determines maximum range of the feats you’re able to pull off, but it also determines the complications that you can cope with and still be successful. Crafting an item without proper tools, in an unsuitable environment, or clandestinely (such as creating weapons in a jail cell without the guards catching on) might heap on a bunch of penalties, andit would take a suitably talented and skill individual to pull it off.

As-written the Crafting skill uses time, cost, and DC in an interconnected way that leads to non-intuitive results and/or absurd crafting times.  I’d like to address that, probably just by de-coupling the three of them.  But I’ll have to say that for another time.


When my last post ended, we had established that there was a baseline in D&D that 14 to 20 points of damage is enough to kill a man, with 4 to 8 generally being enough to ‘drop’ him and cause him to start dying.  This is based off of die type and Constitution score and (importantly) assumes a Level 1 character.  That most people are Level 1 is one of my guiding principles, and I believe it will serve us well here.

Let’s take our notional baseline and put a finer point on it: the statistically average Level 1 Commoner (human, for what it’s worth).  His hit die type is a d6 and he has a 10 CON, so his (statistically average) hit points are 3 (rounding down) — he will begin dying after just a few points of damage and will be dead after a maximum of 13 damage.  A Warrior will, on average, have 5 hp and die after a total of 15 damage, making them a bit more resilient but still in the same ball park.  PC classes are comparable.  Extra points in CON effectively add 1.5 points to the total damage a character can take before death, so a tough Warrior might be able to survive up to 18 points of damage, but he’s still down after 6.

So far we can make sense of this.  Hit points represent the body’s ability to sustain damage.  After so much punishment, you will begin dying and, eventually, you body will beyond the point where it can recover; you are dead.  If you’ve been hurt and survived, rest and medical attention can, over time, return you to health.  Hit Points only measure the proximity to death; they do not track scars, broken bones, pulled tendons, torn muscles, etc. except in as far as those things bring a character closer to death.  Hit Points on their own can not tell you if you lose a limb, or an eye, or threw out your back.  Hit Points (on their own) can’t track bruises, fatigue, hunger, or exposure to the elements.  they just tell you how close you are to dying in a coarse-grained kind of way.  But for that, they do a pretty good job: some people are tougher than others, but everyone is effectively within a few points of each other (with the exception of extreme Constitution), and everyone heals at the same rate.

The real problem comes from scaling hit points with level and, perhaps to a greater extent, random hit points.

Scaling Hit Points

The way D&D does hit points is that you get X hit dice of type Y, where X is the level of your character.  So a Level 1 Commoner (on average) has 3hp, but once he hits level 2 he jumps up to 7 hp!  It’s worth noting here, though, that this isn’t really twice the vitality; he has 7hp, but he’s still dead at -10, so instead of dying after 13 damage he’s dead after 17.  It’s not a huge leap in those terms, but it does mean that he can take a lot more punishment before he ‘drops.’  What’s more, the average Level 2 Commoner can take more punishment than the average Level 1 Warrior, both before he drops and before he’s dead.  That is to say Level matters, which I think is appropriate.  The difference between Level 1 and Level 2 in many respects is more important than the difference between Warrior and Commoner; the Level 2 character is better than the Level 1 character fundamentally (though a Level 2 Commoner who says that to a Level 1 Warrior is unlikely to ever see Level 3).

Does this mean that the Level 2 character has more meat to them?  That their bones are stronger, that they’re more resistant to decapitation?  The answer is no: hit points don’t track those sorts of things, and if they’re important hit points are the wrong tool to use.  All it means is that the Level 2 character can keep fighting despite more severe punishment and that he can recover from graver wounds.  After 13 damage the Level 1 Commoner’s body can’t keep up and shuffles off this mortal coil; the Level 2 Commoner has taken the same punishment but is still holding on, and may yet recover.  The Level 2 character is more resilient.

At Level 3 the Commoner would have 10 hp and survive up to 20 damage before dying, and it starts to become clear that such a character can keep fighting despite having taken wounds that would drop a lesser man.  In fact, when the Level 3 Commoner has taken enough damage to drop, the Level 1 Commoner is on death’s door and fading fast.  The Level 3 character is truly heroic, though still within ‘normal’ bounds.  By the time he reach Level 5, though, he has 17 hit points and can sustain 27 points of damage before his last gasp; he fights on after receiving a wound that would kill other men outright.  He is on the verge of the superhuman.

Random Hit Points

But what if he’s not? This assumes that a character could increase in level without significantly increasing their resilience, but I don’t think that’s much of an assumption at all.  First, it’s easy to imagine a Wizard who becomes a better Wizard without becoming noticeably tougher.  Second, it’s already coded into the way we do hit points: statistically unlikely though it may be, that Level 5 Commoner could have only 7 hp (if he rolled ones for every Level after the first). And in terms of the purpose of the Hit Point system I think this flaw may be the worst because it does damage to the purpose of hit points: it divorces them from the character they’re meant to represent.

I think I get why we do it.  Dice are a thing that gamers love, they’re fair, and they help us determine otherwise uncertain things.  But my contention is that hit points are, in one sense, not uncertain.  The character either is or is not getting more resilient, and either by a lot or a little.  In a way, it’s as important as whether he’s a Wizard or a Warrior, a Gnome or a Half-Orc, Lawful or Chaotic.  It talks about his ability to act beyond his old limits; it is deliberate.  Determining this randomly causes problems because now anyone can suddenly be twice as resilient without a firm connection to the fiction; it’s random.

There’s not really a good ‘fix’ for this, and in many cases I’m not sure a fix is desired, but I think it’s important to recognize. If you don’t acknowledge that your character’s hit point increase is tied to the fiction then the mechanic is going to become divorced from the character’s reality.

Part 2
Part 4

It’s been about a month since I first opened the topic of hit points in D&D.  Although I still haven’t had the time to get in to the meat of it, I did want to look at a little bit of history of hit points.   That being said, I didn’t enter the hobby until the late ’90s, so none of my history lessons come first-hand.

In Chainmail, as near as I can tell, there was no notion of hit points; a unit was hit or not and, once hit the unit was dead.  There was apparently a set of rules made to model Civil War era ironclads (as noted by Roles, Rules, and Rolls), where the structure of a ship could take so much damage before being sunk.  According to the interview RR&R references, those rules were incorporated into D&D in order to ease the harshness of sudden, random death that Chainmail would have otherwise. This let D&D players act and feel like heroes.

Anecdotal evidence (the first comment, not the linked post) suggests that hit points for humans were originally set at 7, but player complaints lead to an increase.  Though, it seems like OD&D had starting hit points ranging from 1 to 7 (d6+CON), and 0 hit points was dead.  Then in AD&D, various hit dice were introduced based on class, with a range of 1 to 9 (depending on class and CON) for first level characters.  Again, evidence suggests these numbers were historically meant to represent regular people; the average joe.

So originally (for some value of “originally”) something around 4 points of damage were enough to kill a man (on average), but a burly fighter might be able to withstand twice that.  This is a rather coarse-grained system in that it can really only measure one quarter of a man’s vitality — anything less is too small to be measured.  This was alleviated a little bit with the addition of “below zero” rules, where a character was incapacitated (and dying) at 0hp, but they weren’t dead until -10 — it effectively takes 14 points of damage to kill the average man and 19 to kill a burly fighter, which is a much closer ratio than 4:9.  This addition makes the system a bit more granular and levels the playing field a bit (fighters are no longer taking two mortal wounds before they die). With 15 to 20 points of granularity (though, less than half of those count as “action-ready”), there’s a lot more room to address ‘lesser’ wounds, but we’re still talking about the sorts of things that are going to leave a mark and require a bit of time to recover from.  A busted lip is probably not hit point damage.

Hopefully it won’t take me another month to address ‘modern’ notions of hit points (I don’t think current systems stray too far from the historic baseline, at least not at first) and the contention that hit points are incoherent, that they are explained as “luck, divine favor, etc” but treated as actual physical wounds.

Part 1
Part 3

So right off, no, I don’t hate 4th Edition; the title’s a cheap trick to grab your attention.

I do have some major problems with 4th Edition, though; that’s why I’ve effectively left it behind in favor of 3.X and Pathfinder (and if my books ever ship from Amazon, I’ll see about this 1E thing).  But when I left 4E I didn’t really have the concepts to describe why I was dissatisfied by the game, and I haven’t taken time to really consider it since my vocabulary expanded.  I’d like to try to address that now.  This is mostly just me talking through some thoughts.

I think the biggest turn-off for me is the notion that 4E has a very “game first” mentality.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a rules system to be, but it’s the difference between “I want to cast a fireball” and “I want to do d8 damage over 9 spaces.”  4E seems to focus almost exclusively on tactical combat which I feel makes it come across more as a tactical miniatures game than a Role Playing Game — you can role play around a minis game, but you can also role play around a game of chess; that doesn’t make it a Role Playing Game.

My biggest complaint, I think, is that the Powers system feels flatly detrimental to my notion of role playing.  The limitations and choices that I’m presented as a player in 4E often times don’t make sense as limitations or choices for my character, and that makes it difficult to  get into my character’s head.  The Essentials line came out after I left, but I do get the impression that they’d be less offensive to me (they seem to generally ignore the Power system and function more like 3.X characters); it would probably be worth my time to look in to them.

My second biggest complaint is about Healing, or more to the point the fact that there’s little sense of lasting repercussions from battle.  This makes sense if the game is meant to be just a string of combat encounters (if you can no longer fight, the game’s over), but I don’t want my game to be (essentially) all about combat, and the lack of consequences offends my goals for role playing (make choices, experience consequences).  I’m OK with the “HP = Morale” notion that 4E seems to run with, I just want something more than “you’re out a couple Healing Surges for the day” if the players get in a fight they can’t handle.  I think part of this come from my desire to not have combat be the “first and best” option in every situation; maybe 4E works better if I try playing a more combat-toned game; I don’t know, and I’m not sure how much I care to fit my desires to the needs of the game (rather than fitting the game to my desires).

My final complaint is on how poorly executed skills in 4E seem to be.  The whole Skill Challenge mechanic seems like a good idea at first, but the way it’s described and the guidelines given for building a Skill Challenge feel railroad-y and forced.  The rules seem to imply that the Barbarian has to participate in political negotiations (if it’s a Skill Challenge) even though he has no interest or ability in that sort of thing.  And I’m supposed to design challenges so that there are X primary skills and Y secondary skills, and it’s all mechanics-first and the actions of the characters aren’t important so much as which attribute is being rolled.  Add in the terrible math that 4E shipped with and the repeated revisions after the fact, and I lose all confidence in the mechanic. (I also feel like they collapsed too many skills together, the one’s they’re left with are too broad, and not enough ‘regular activity’ is covered in the skill system, but those are relatively minor points, all things considered).

My wife likes 4E, though (now we all understand my true motivation here); she thought it was a lot more approachable than the other games I have on my shelf, and to be fair it is.  My wife grew up on Monopoly and Sorry!, and didn’t experience anything like the games I play before we met.  4E is a lot more like a board game.  I don’t think that’s a shining recommendation for it, but if my wife wants to play 4E, it’s in my interest (as a wise husband) to find a way that I can play 4E with her. I started thinking about a fix for the Powers system a while back, but after I started looking at it in more detail it occurred to me that there’s the potential for abuse because the game doesn’t expect powers to be interchangeable.  I haven’t really thought about it much since then, so I’m really still in the same spot.

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’ve been mulling over this post for a little bit now, but John Arcadian at Gnome Stew just made a post about running a no-character-advancement game which has spurred me to actually put pen to paper and say what I think.

The Gnome Stew post talks about the idea of playing a campaign where characters do not advance in level, or alternatively only advance during downtime between story arcs.  It lists a number of benefits to this approach, not the least of which, in my opinion, is eliminating the sense of “my character will be awesome at Level 5.”  Your character is awesome now.  John makes a few other good points and it’s worth a quick read; this post is more about the assumptions and expectations of rewards in D&D.

One of the trends that bothers me about D&D rewards is that it seems like the expected reward, from both players and DMs, is experience points.  When characters complete some goal — rescue the princess, kill the goblins, solve the puzzle — they might get some treasure, they may get some in-game renown, they could open up previously-inaccessible areas.  But across the board it’s expected that they’ll get Experience points.  The concern and the danger is that the difference in power from one level to the next is a bit more than most people expect, and the assumption of Experience-as-default-reward will tend to move you quickly up that scale.  If “regular people” are 1st or 2nd Level and “historical legends” are 4th and 5th Level, an assumption that has characters advancing to Herculean-tier power in a handful of adventures is problematic.

Because of this, I think that reigning in experience rewards in favor of gold, magic items, renown, and influence over the game world can lead to a richer (heh) gaming experience.  I almost always run my games with Pathfinder’s “slow progression” XP scale, which is about 150% of the standard scale, but even before reading the Gnome Stew post I’d considered removing XP rewards entirely and tying Level Advancement directly to story-arc milestones and accomplishments.  If going up in level means developing skills beyond a character’s professional peers, or at the mid- and high-end of the scale becoming more than human or even godlike, it makes sense to tether that to a pivotal moment when the character accomplishes some feat or destroys the Big Bad.  Hitting 4th Level because you killed your 47th Goblin just feels wrong.

Of course, I’m not sure I care for a game with no character advancement, but that’s something that should be seasoned to taste.  As John says, if you start in the sweet spot, when your character is awesome and the situations you face and interesting and challenging, who needs character advancement?