Monday, June 27, 2016

The Rules of the House

Okay, bad pun in the title aside, I've found that despite my difficulties with advanced math (including probabilities), I do enjoy doing a little tinkering with the rules of the games I run. Sometimes it's because something doesn't fit the flavor of the game and other times I do it to see what the existing game can do with a little more tweaking. Beyond the Wall (BtW) is one of those rare cases where the Rules As Written are darn near perfect, but there are some bells and whistles on similar games that fit so nicely with it. Here are my proposed tweaks that I plan to use (in addition to my previous musings on skills) when running BtW in the future. (EDIT: I do apologize for the wall of text. When formatting this entry, I tried breaking things up with the covers, but it fouled up the spacing.)

From first edition AD&D, D&D 3.5, and Pathfinder: Interpreting Hit Points

A lot of players and gamemasters misinterpret hit points to indicate the amount of physical wounds and damage a character can take. In the first edition Player's Handbook (p.34), Gary Gygax states:
"Each character has a varying number of hit points, just as monsters do. These hit points represent how much damage (actual or potential) the character can withstand before being killed. A certain amount of these hit points represent the actual physical punishment which can be sustained. The remainder, a significant portion of hit points at higher levels, stands for skill, luck, and/or magical factors. A typical man-at-arms can take about 5 hit points of damage before being killed. Let us suppose a 10th level fighter has 55 hit points, plus a bonus of 30 hit points for his constitution, for a total of 85 hit points. This is the equivalent of about 18 hit dice for creatures, about what it would take to kill four huge warhorses. It is ridiculous to assume that even a fantastic fighter can take that much punishment. The same holds true to a lesser extent for clerics, thieves, and the other classes. Thus, the majority of hit points are symbolic of combat skill, luck (bestowed by supernatural powers), and magical forces."
Beyond the Wall echoes this interpretation:
“Hit points are an abstract measurement of how tough the character is, as well as how good at resisting and avoiding harm in combat. At every level, a character gains a number of hit points by rolling the die type indicated by his class’ hit dice. For instance, a Rogue has a hit die of d8, and so a character with the Rogue class rolls 1d8 and gains that many hit points every level. This number is modified by a character’s Constitution bonus every time it is rolled. Additionally, all PCs gain the maximum number of hit points possible for a roll on their hit dice at first level; the above mentioned rogue would begin at first level with a full 8 hit points plus any extra hit points from his Constitution bonus.”
In the third edition version of Unearthed Arcana, this is taken literally, making the character's “Wound Points” equal to their CON score and their added hit points “Vitality Points”. I will be using this added interpretation to indicate how much the character has yet to “grow into” their role as a hero. Once a character hits their CON score maximum, any hit points gained after that point are just as described – a measure of skill, luck (or divine intervention), and magical forces.

(6/29/16 EDIT: As an addendum, the 3.5 SRD rules on Wound Points are here. The Pathfinder version can be found here.)

From 13th Age: One Unique Thing

This is the prime rule which caught my eye when I heard about Pelgrane's 13th Age RPG – not because it adds to the power of a character, but because it adds depth to their story. Essentially, the purpose of this rule isn't to create new combat powers, skills, or special abilities, but to add a detail to the hero that sets them apart from other characters. This detail should be something that both the player and GM can take advantage of in the course of the game. It should give clues as to how the character interacts with the world and people around them and vice versa. From the standpoint of the gamemaster, it should provide the opportunity for one or more story hooks or the promise of a mystery to be unraveled later in the story. Some interesting discussions regarding this rule can be found here, here, and here on RPGNet.

From The Hero's Journey and Moldvay B/X D&D: Table Roles

James Spahn's The Hero's Journey RPG (THJ) brings back table roles in the form of an optional rule, but in a slightly different format. THJ has the roles of Treasure Keeper and Initiative Tracker, but not Mapper (or Caller, for that matter). The Treasure Keeper notates what treasure is acquired by the party and once a total is inventory is taken, leads the discussion about how it is to be divided - but they are not necessarily the one whose character is packing all the treasure around. The Initiative Tracker rolls group initiative or otherwise has the necessary information (such as each party member's initiative bonuses and the initiative order) assembled for the referee during combat. Of course, to do Old School style right, we have to include the Mapper from the Moldvay edition of Basic Dungeons & Dragons. As for the Caller, that's optional.

More Rules from The Hero's Journey

Non-Combat XP (p.67)
  • Player accurately roleplays their character’s race and class: +100 XP
  • Player character attempts a potentially life-threatening act of heroism: +250 XP
  • Player character performs a surprising/clever deed that helps the party or an ally: +150 XP
  • Player encourages other players to get involved, roleplay, and contribute to the game: +100 XP
  • Making everyone at the table laugh out loud: +75 XP
  • Player takes the role of Treasure Keeper (optional): +50 XP
  • Player takes the role of Initiative Tracker (optional): +50 XP
  • Player takes the role of Mapper (optional): +50 XP
  • Player takes the role of the Caller (optional): +50 XP
Death's Door (p.73)
Having started with Basic D&D (where zero hit points equals death) I'm not a big fan of the "Death's Door" rule, but THJ seems to take the streamlining a bit further than BtW. As such, I'm more apt to use this optional ruling than the simple “10 count” or Pathfinder's rule (negative CON = Death). THJ's rule on death's door balances out the  book-keeping with increased character frailty.

In this case, “...The character is not dead until they reach negative hit points equal to their level (EDIT: Emphasis mine). Thus a first-level character is dead at −1 hit points, while a seventh level character would be able to survive until reaching −7. However, a character with zero or fewer hit points is unconscious and cannot move or act in any fashion until healed.”

The only thing I might add to that is making -10 hp the maximum for level-based toughness, meaning even a mighty warrior king isn't utterly immune to Death's cold grasp.

Heroic Damage and Critical Hits (pgs. 68 and 71)
With "Heroic Damage", the character adds all or part of their level to the damage they deal based on their class. Warriors add their full level, Rogues add 1/2 their level (rounded up), and Mages add 1/3 their level (rounded up). With multi-classed characters, use the class from which the character draws their attack bonus.

Additionally, a character can inflict Heroic Damage by burning a Fortune Point at a dramatically appropriate moment. Finally, whenever a natural 20 is rolled, the maximum damage of the weapon or the character's Heroic Damage are dealt (whichever is higher); a natural 1 is simply a miss.

From Trollsmyth's Blog: Shields

To add a bit more spice to combat, I'm thnking about using the following shield rules from Trollsmyth's blog:
  • Shields still provide their regular AC bonus, but if the player so chooses, they can declare that their shield absorbed the damage from the blow and was splintered or sundered. This destroys the shield, but protects the character from damage. In the case of a critical hit, it halves the damage unless a Fortune Point is also burned.
  • A shield can also be sacrificed against spells that deal damage, offering the character an automatic save for half damage.
  • For every +1 bonus a magic shield gives in addition to its regular AC bonus, the shield has a +10% chance of surviving a blow when sacrificed in combat. As such, a +5 shield would have a 50% chance of surviving a sundering blow.

Further Thoughts On Fortune Points (Further Afield, p.71)

  • If a character burns a Fortune Point and the second roll is a failure, they take the higher of the two rolls.
  • According to Further Afield, "Fortune Points normally only refresh after a full rest, such as between adventures..." However, I am willing to "allow a character to regain a Fortune Point for a particularly heroic or noble act during the middle of a game." This bonus is not given lightly; it is "for when the characters are truly acting like the good guys."
  • A character who is on the verge of collapse (0 hp) can burn a Fortune Point to make one last ditch action against a foe or to otherwise aid a fellow hero before collapsing. This can be done instead of burning the Fortune Point to stabilize at 0 hp, not in conjunction with spending another Fortune Point to stabilize at 0 hp
  • Likewise, a spellcaster who does not have the Ultimate Enchantment trait (Heroes Young and Old, p.10) can also burn a Fortune Point to cast one last spell if they have exhausted all their other spells. However, unlike Ultimate Enchantment, this use of a Fortune Point inflicts a number of hit points in damage equal to the spell's level (cantrips inflict only one hit point of damage). With this ruling, there is the chance a character's hit points could drop to negative levels, killing them. This can be done with rituals only if the GM and player agree it is dramatically appropriate.

Pathfinder Official and Third Party Options

Back in late May, I posed a question to the designers of BtW about the traits introduced in Further Afield and continued in Heroes Young and Old:
"I've got a design question for John and Peter - when you designed the traits found in "Further Afield" and "Heroes Young and Old", did you look strictly at the traits as presented in the 3.5 SRD and Pathfinder PRD or did you look at feats as well. The reason I ask this is because Rogue Genius Games has several supplements for young, old, and venerable characters as well as comedic options (like "Please Stop Helping", which allows a character to still gain the aid ally bonus when an ally fails their roll to help) which might be interesting as traits..."
Peter Williams wrote in response:
"To tell you the truth, I don't remember looking at traits or feats in the SRD at all while designing BtW Traits. That doesn't mean that I didn't, just that I don't recall doing so and it certainly wasn't the main source of inspiration.

"The initial goal with Traits was to have a way to model other old school classes while still keeping a simple, three class structure for the game. That's why you'll find a lay-on-hands ability, a ranger-ish favored enemy ability, and so forth. After getting those basics down, I mostly then just had fun coming up with interesting mechanical widgets and fun, in-genre things.

"Having said all of that, I'll try to take a look at the Rogue Genius stuff. That sounds neat."
The official Pathfinder options for traits, story feats, and the like - as well as options produced by Rogue Genius Games under the Four Horsemen and Everyman Gaming imprints - have some interesting possibilities. While I haven't fully explored the ramifications of modifying these rules to work with BtW, I'll link them here for reference for the time being.

(6/29/16 EDIT: Boy, am I a yutz. I forgot to put the links in...)

From the Pathfinder Rules Document:
Free download from Paizo - Character Traits PDF
Some of the later Adventure Path Players Guides have specific traits listed as well.

From Rogue Genius Games:

Of course, all of these are trumped by Rule Zero...

...the best writeup of which I've found on Bruce Gulke's Mythosa site:
"Every feat, race, spell, prestige class, variant rule, etc. is subject to change or removal at the discretion of the DM. Even if a game element is initially permitted, if it is later deemed incompatible with the campaign, it will be modified or removed. Any characters (PC or NPC) that use that element may be required to adjust to the change (in other words, grandfathering is not guaranteed). The DM will attempt to keep this sort of thing to a minimum (if at all), but sometimes this may happen in the process of keeping the rules appropriate to the campaign setting."
Now all that remains is the road test. I'll keep you all apprised as to how that works out.

1 comment:

  1. Some good ideas for me to mine. I have a pretty extensive list of house rules. Though the list is long and wordy, it slims down the rules and simplifiea play especially for newer players.