Chad Perrin: SOB

14 October 2009

Wound Points

Filed under: Geek,RPG — Tags: , , , — apotheon @ 01:23

(TL;DR Summary: This is my variant of the Vitality/Wounds optional rules for dealing with damage. It improves verisimilitude for d20-compatible game systems, as compared with the default Hit Point system. It’s also designed to be simpler and smoother than the Vitality/Wounds system as presented in Unearthed Arcana.)

This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.

In Introducing the Mage Class, Release Candidate 1, I mentioned that I’m using a variation on the Vitality/Wounds system presented in the D&D 3.5 Unearthed Arcana book. I first mentioned something about it more than a year ago — at least as far back as June 2008, in Damage Systems in D&D and Pathfinder and Making Combat Better with the 20+Nd9 Critical System.

The system has undergone a little bit of evolution in how I use it since then. The current form of it, which I developed while thinking about how to put together a listing of house rules to use in a new campaign, looks a little something like this:

Taking Damage

  1. Two stats on the character sheet that are relevant are Constitution and Vitality. Basically, “Vitality” is what we now think of as Hit Points. In that respect, it’s no different from the original Vitality/Wounds system. There isn’t a Wounds total as a separate stat on the sheet, though — there’s just Constitution. This is because, instead of treating the on-sheet stats as pools that can be depleted, I treat them as thresholds. More on that later.

  2. One takes damage as Hit Points. HP are recorded on the sheet as a positive number, rather than subtracted from a Hit Point pool. Some people already do this when tracking HP damage, simply maintaining a static HP pool total and a cumulative total of damage taken, though I think the vast majority probably maintain a static HP pool total and a second number that is that same total minus any HP damage taken so far.

  3. Any time a critical hit occurs, the HP damage gets assessed in two ways.

    • The HP damage is assessed as a Wound Point damage quantity, which is tracked as a cumulative number the same way as normal HP.

    • The HP damage is also assessed as a Hit Point damage quantity, added to the running total of HP damage taken, but before it is assessed it is multiplied by the critical hit multiplier of the weapon. More on that later.

    More on that later.

  4. If someone takes enough HP of damage to exceed his Vitality total, any additional damage is assessed as WP instead.

  5. When HP equals or exceeds Vitality, the character is unconscious. When WP equals or exceeds Constitution, the character’s life functions cease. In practice, the character is dead. More on that later.

Resuscitation

A character whose WPs equal or exceed his Constitution is dead. Of course, they might still be saved by use of magic or heroic lifesaving Heal checks. Every round after the WP total equals the Constitution score, another WP (and another HP, if the character hasn’t already taken as many HP of damage as his Vitality) of damage is automatically assessed, though, so such attempts to save the character should be made quickly.

Apply a -10 penalty to any Heal check made to resuscitate the character. If the result is enough to bring the WP total below the character’s Constitution, the character is healed by that many WPs. At that point, the point of damage every round suffered because of taking more WP damage than his Constitution score halts. Any bleeding damage, however, must be dealt with via a separate Heal check or magical healing attempt, or the character may take more WP damage and end up dying again.

Magical healing just applies to Wound Points as normal — so that any magical healing that can reduce Wound Point totals do so, and if the total is brought below the level of the character’s Constitution score, he has been resuscitated.

Whys and Wherefores

The following is just a listing of some reasoning for some of the decisions I’ve made in adjusting the Vitality/Wounds system.

More On Thresholds

One thing that programming has taught me is that data should not be stored in multiple places. This is particular to programs, of course — and says nothing about backups. Another such lesson from programming is that of simplifying the operations of a program so that, where possible, the same set of steps can be used to perform multiple operations. A character sheet is, in some respects, similar to a program. That similarity helped inspire me to reduce the duplication of data on a character sheet and unify the way different, but similar, operations are handled.

By using Constitution as a threshold for Wounds damage, rather than copying the Constitution to produce a new and separate Wounds stat, I’ve reduced the duplication of data on the sheet. By calling the Wounds damage Wound Points, I’ve made it a parallel with Hit Points, and by calling the total of the Hit Point capacity of the character Vitality and making that a threshold for a positive Hit Point number that accumulates damage taken, I’ve turned the potentially somewhat different pool-tracking Vitality and positive threshold use of Wounds into a pair of identically managed threshold values.

More On Critical Damage

The canonical Vitality/Wounds system in Unearthed Arcana suggests using critical multipliers as an adjustment to the threat range of the weapon. Doing so involved a bit too complex a bit of arithmetic to make it reasonable, though. It isn’t difficult arithmetic — but it is complex enough so that, in the course of play, it is likely to get ignored or fudged. The formula for translating critical multipliers into threat range modifiers looks, in its simplest form, like this (with CM standing in for the critical multiplier number, and TR standing in for the minimum number for the weapon’s threat range in the standard weapon stats; NTR is the new threat range):

NTR = TR - CM + 2

Given a Longsword, with a threat range of 19-20 and a multiplier of x2, that translates to:

NTR = 19 - 2 + 2 = 19

For a Handaxe, thats:

NTR = 20 - 3 + 2 = 19

It’s easy enough to make the necessary modifications to the weapon stats on a character sheet for weapons that are regularly used, but when picking up a weapon (say, during an escape from jail) or when a GM has to deal with off-the-cuff NPCs and random combat encounters, it’s too easy to get details like that lost in the shuffle. The problem, of course, is justifiable laziness. We aren’t playing the game for excuses to do extra arithmetic, after all.

More On Unconsciousness and Death

The way that damage is assessed to Vitality and Constitution by way of Hit Points and Wound Points allows for a character to fall unconscious without dying, if HPs reach the level of the character’s Vitality before the character takes enough WPs to die. It also allows for a character to die before falling unconscious by taking enough WPs in damage to reach the level of his Constitution without doing enough HP damage to knock the character out. It does all of this without having to introduce a separate system for determining whether a character falls unconscious.

Summary

The following is a summarized explanation of the system, and the way it’s currently described on the house rules description I’m putting together for the new campaign:

Hit Points are a measure of vitality rather than actual physical health. As a character tires out, takes bruises and scrapes, and starts lagging behind an opponent with superior skills in combat, his vitality is sapped, leaving him more and more vulnerable to life threatening wounds. A healthy vitality total is equal to the character’s total hit dice plus his constitution bonus multiplied by the number of hit dice — the same as for rolling up hit points when not using this damage system.

Any time a successful critical hit occurs, or the character takes enough hit point damage to exceed his vitality, damage is instead assessed to a wound point total. When the wound point total equals or exceeds the character’s Constitution, his or her life functions cease. Wound points continue to accumulate at a rate of one per round in addition to any cumulative bleeding damage; the character may be restored to life by making a Heal skill check. Any points in excess of 10 are compared to the total wound points, and if the number reduces wound points to below the character’s Constitution score, he or she is resuscitated. If not, the attempt has no effect. If the character is still bleeding, he or she may still die again due to wound points in excess of Constitution; stopping bleeding requires a separate Heal check.

Critical hits do normal weapon damage as wound points, but they also do HP damage using the critical multiplier as indicated in the weapon’s stats.

Introducing the Mage Class, Release Candidate 1

Filed under: Geek,RPG — Tags: , , , — apotheon @ 11:11

(TL;DR Summary: I’ve updated the mage class for compatibility with the PRPG CRB.)

This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.

Late last year, I started talking about Replacing the Wizard in my Pathfinder RPG campaigns. I referred to one in particular that I gave the class name Mage, since that term wasn’t in use in D&D 3.5. The most significant difference between the custom mage class and the PHB‘s wizard class was the spellcasting system used:

With this system, spellcasting draws upon the inner reserves of the spellcaster, essentially in the form of physical damage (hit points). When casting a spell, a save is made, and if the player fails his or her character’s save, the character takes a number of points of damage equal to the spell’s level (or “magnitude”, as I renamed it for this system). That’s not the preferred means of spellcasting, however.

In addition to the above, the Mage can also prepare spells. A total number of spell magnitudes determined by the character’s level can be prepared at any one time. A prepared spell can be cast as long as it stays prepared, as a standard action (or different action type as appropriate to a particular spell, in nonstandard cases), without wiping itself from “memory” (since this isn’t a matter of memorization). Each time it is cast, however, a save must be made to determine whether the preparation fails, at which point one can no longer cast that spell except as described above for spells that have not been prepared in advance — complete with the danger of taking damage.

After a fair bit of playtesting, though, I discovered that while this seems to balance pretty well (at least in theory) for your “average” mage, the power level of the character can quickly get a little unwieldy with certain character development tracks. It’s even worse since the release of the Pathfinder RPG CRB, because the power level of the PC classes has been toned down a bit since the PRPG Beta Test version. The ongoing playtest of my Mage class has been quite illuminating, to say the least.

I knew there was some chance it wouldn’t balance out well, because it’s such a significant departure from the normal system that there was just too much different about it to be entirely predictable in actual play — particularly in terms of how it interacted with the rest of the game system. Feats turned out to be the downfall of the way the system was designed.

The other day, I wasn’t really thinking too much about how to fix it. I had other things on my mind, but I got into a discussion of how the class works with a friend (call him n8) and he asked me a question: “Why have characters prepare spells at all?”

As I explained when I first posted details of the class online, in Wizard variant: Mage class (now in Beta), I was trying to retain some of the Vancian flavor of the wizard class without keeping the problems of the D&D Vancian system of magic. I explained that to n8 in this discussion, but eventually I came to rethink the idea.

As a result of this and the recognition of a need to limit the power of the class more, I’ve reworked the class and its spellcasting system so that:

  • There’s no spell preparation involved.

  • Casting spells almost always “hurts”.

  • The class can do more than just cast spells.

  • Managing the character’s spellcasting ability is less complex.

Among the motivations for the way the class is developing is a desire to make the class better suited to campaigns that are slightly more dangerous than the generic average, and campaigns where magic is supposed to be more dangerous, difficult, and rare.

I imagine that the new Mage Release Candidate 1 class won’t be suitable to as many people’s games as the direction I was taking with the Beta test version. In fact, I’m using a variation on the Vitality/Wounds optional rules for damage presented in the Unearthed Arcana book (see Wound Points for details), and the RC1 version of the Mage class was designed with that in mind. I haven’t really thought too hard (yet) about how well the new version of the class would work with the default hit point system for resolving damage, but after some cursory thought, I think the cost of casting spells for a Mage is probably a bit too high.

I have some other ideas in mind for possible rules additions to the class, though I’m not convinced any of them are necessarily a good idea at this point. I’ll be thinking about it, though.

7 October 2009

There aren’t enough skill points.

Filed under: Geek,RPG — Tags: , , , — apotheon @ 01:31

This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.

NOTE: I have not edited the text of this entry to reflect the addition
of the APG to the lineup of PRPG base class options.  I have, however,
added them to the lists of skill point progressions per class as shown
for each of the alternate skill progression systems below.

I like the skills in D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder RPG. They help flesh out a character, granting more life to the concept and more closely tying the character sheet to the character’s background. I don’t think the skill system is perfect, though, by any means.

Leaving aside for the moment the problems of attributes assigned to specific skills and the selection of available skills, the big problem from D&D 3.5 that PRPG solved was the way skill points were handled as a generic game mechanic. There was simply too much arithmetic involved in spending skill points — starting with the 6×4 (for example) at first level and continuing with the broken-ass way class skill and cross-class skill maximums are figured over the course of a character’s advancement to 20th level. The math wasn’t difficult in D&D 3.5, of course, but it was certainly annoying and inelegant.

One other major pain in my tuckus from D&D 3.5 survived the translation to PRPG, though: there simply aren’t enough skill points for many characters. The worst, and most unforgivable, case is that of classes that only get two points per level. Rogues get a veritable plague of skill points by comparison, and the Rangers are doing pretty well for themselves, with plenty of potential for fleshing out the non-combat interests and experiences of the character in terms of the what the character has learned to do.

Fighters and Paladins, meanwhile, definitely get the short end of the stick. Not only do they suffer the indignity of being forced into a much more narrow focus than Rogues or even Rangers, with only two points per level as a base, but they also require attention to more attributes other than Intelligence to ensure effectiveness at the specialties of the class. Intelligence often ends up being the dump stat, which also affects skill points per level. Paladins, especially, tend to end up being rock-stupid, because in addition to needing all three physical stats to be higher than average to excel, but they also need Wisdom and Charisma. Intelligence is the red-headed stepchild of the Paladin class. At least Fighters get to choose Wisdom or Charisma as the primary dump stat instead, if they prefer.

I’ve kicked around a number of ideas in my head for a while. One very minor fix I’ve employed was to create a replacement for the Wizard class, in the form of the Mage class (I’m currently procrastinating on finishing the process of updating it for PRPG). This class helps deal with the problem of Wizards, who are supposed to be learned scholars, having only two points per level as their base skill progression. Only the aid of high Intelligence as the primary attribute for the class has mitigated this problem in D&D 3.5, and I tend to feel they should have a lot more skill points than that if they want to start gobbling up Knowledge skills (for instance); otherwise, they’re nearly as narrow as Fighters. To grant them more skills without eclipsing the skill-monkey specialty of Rogues, I gave Mages lots of skill points, but also required them to use some of their skill points to buy spells they know.

This doesn’t solve the problem of the rest of the 2-point classes having very dull and boring personal lives as reflected in their skills, though. I’ve considered a few options for a while now to mitigate or eliminate the problem, involving just giving some classes more skill points. I’ve been hesitant to actually use any of those options, unfortunately, because I don’t want to overload the game with skills or cut into the benefits some classes gain by being more skill-oriented than others.

I’ve finally pretty much reached the breaking point, in terms of my tolerance for skill point distribution. Something needs to be done in my games. I just need to decide which solution to use as a house rule. The examples I have in mind follow, each of them raising the minimum possible base skill advancement no lower than four.

Minimum 4

The simplest fix would be to take the Minimum 4 approach. All M4 does is give any class with fewer base skill points per level than four enough additional skill points to bring them up to a base of four skill points per level. The new skill progression landscape for core classes in the PRPG CRB looks like this:

Alchemist   4
Barbarian   4
Bard        6
Cavalier    4
Cleric      4
Druid       4
Fighter     4
Inquisitor  6
Monk        4
Oracle      4
Paladin     4
Ranger      6
Rogue       8
Sorcerer    4
Summoner    4
Witch       4
Wizard      4

Perhaps surprisingly, I rather like the way the vast majority of classes end up with the same number of skill points, with only definite outliers ending up varying from the baseline of four points per level. It assumes a default capacity for learning new skills as embodied in the skill selection for people in general, with exceptions made for those who have chosen life pursuits that require a great deal of flexibility.

Plus 2

Another simple fix is the Plus 2 approach. With P2, just add two skill points per level to the base skill advancement for each of the core classes:

Alchemist   6
Barbarian   6
Bard        8
Cavalier    6
Cleric      4
Druid       6
Fighter     4
Inquisitor  8
Monk        6
Oracle      6
Paladin     4
Ranger      8
Rogue       10
Sorcerer    4
Summoner    4
Witch       4
Wizard      4

My primary concern here is that Barbarians, Druids, Rangers, and Rogues may be getting a bit more out of this modification of the canonical system than is appropriate, though in PRPG at least the elimination of the multiplier for first level skill points does help keep things under control a bit.

5 Plus

Another relatively simple modification of the system, in case four points isn’t enough for the lowest point totals, is the 5 Plus system. With 5P, just take the various categories of skill emphasis for different classes — 2, 4, 6, and 8 — and assign them new numbers only one point apart, starting at five:

Alchemist   6
Barbarian   6
Bard        7
Cavalier    6
Cleric      5
Druid       6
Fighter     5
Inquisitor  7
Monk        6
Oracle      6
Paladin     5
Ranger      7
Rogue       8
Sorcerer    5
Summoner    5
Witch       5
Wizard      5

This has the advantages of keeping the upper bound the same (eight for a Rogue), unlike P2, while keeping the classes categorized the same so that the classes canonically stuck with a pathetic two per level don’t just get shoved up into the same category as the classes that normally get four per level. The downside, of course, is that the difference between categories has been cut in half, yielding only a one-point difference between adjacent categories, which might kind of eat into the specialness of the more-skilled classes such as Bard and Rogue.

4 Plus

The 4 Plus option is achieved by raising the minimum from two to four, then increasing each category’s base skill point advancement by as little as possible to keep it from being overtaken by the previous category. Thus, any two becomes a four, and any four becomes a five to avoid getting overtaken by the twos that climbed to become fours:

Alchemist   5
Barbarian   5
Bard        6
Cavalier    5
Cleric      4
Druid       5
Fighter     4
Inquisitor  6
Monk        5
Oracle      5
Paladin     4
Ranger      6
Rogue       8
Sorcerer    4
Summoner    4
Witch       4
Wizard      4

As long as you think four is high enough a minimum, I think 4P gives everyone enough skill points without running the risk of giving the more skilled classes too many points, all without cutting into the skill-monkey niche of the Rogue class. It does not, however, deal well with the notion that Bards and Rangers might be dependent on notably higher skill point totals than the less-skilled classes.

Constrained Acceleration

The Constrained Acceleration option gives the top half of the four categories double the “velocity” change in their improvement over previous categories. Thus, with CA, the lower two only differ from each other by one point, but the upper two categories each differ from previous categories by two points:

Alchemist   5
Barbarian   5
Bard        7
Cavalier    5
Cleric      4
Druid       5
Fighter     4
Inquisitor  7
Monk        5
Oracle      5
Paladin     4
Ranger      7
Rogue       9
Sorcerer    4
Summoner    4
Witch       4
Wizard      4

Unconstrained Acceleration

Unconstrained Acceleration is the same as Constrained Acceleration, except that it accelerates by one point for each higher category, rather than only accelerating once beyond the second category. This results in the second category being one higher than the first, the third being two higher than the second, and the fourth being three higher than the third:

Alchemist   5
Barbarian   5
Bard        7
Cavalier    5
Cleric      4
Druid       5
Fighter     4
Inquisitor  7
Monk        5
Oracle      5
Paladin     4
Ranger      7
Rogue       10
Sorcerer    4
Summoner    4
Witch       4
Wizard      4

UA is clearly not for those who think that increasing the number of skill points available to a Rogue is playing with fire. Not only do Rogues get two more points per level in UA, but they also get three more per level than Bards and Rangers. Otherwise, its benefits and detriments are the same as those of Constrained Acceleration.

Constrained Plus

The Constrained Plus system is identical to CA, except that it starts at five instead of four:

Alchemist   6
Barbarian   6
Bard        8
Cavalier    6
Cleric      5
Druid       6
Fighter     5
Inquisitor  8
Monk        6
Oracle      6
Paladin     5
Ranger      8
Rogue       10
Sorcerer    5
Summoner    5
Witch       5
Wizard      5

For those who like the way CA works, but believe a minimum of five is more appropriate than a minimum of four, and aren’t worried about Rogues getting into double-digit range, CP might be a suitable choice. Many, I’m sure, would balk at giving any of the core classes double digit base skill advancement, however.

Unconstrained Plus

As UA is to CA, so Unconstrained Plus is to CP. The only difference from CP is that in UP the Rogue is not limited to a two point improvement over the next lowest category:

Alchemist   6
Barbarian   6
Bard        8
Cavalier    6
Cleric      5
Druid       6
Fighter     5
Inquisitor  8
Monk        6
Oracle      6
Paladin     5
Ranger      8
Rogue       11
Sorcerer    5
Summoner    5
Witch       5
Wizard      5

If the Rogue’s base skill progression having two digits in previous systems made you uneasy, UP should give you a definite case of the willies and an outbreak of goose bumps, at the very least.

4 Refactored

The 4 Refactored system starts with a minimum of four, and changes the way the various classes fit into differing categories. After all, the fact that some classes get extra skill points need not mean that all of them do. Perhaps some classes are exactly where they should be, while others need more skill points to escape the arbitrary limits placed on them in the PHB and CRB:

Alchemist   5
Barbarian   4
Bard        6
Cavalier    5
Cleric      5
Druid       4
Fighter     4
Inquisitor  6
Monk        4
Oracle      4
Paladin     4
Ranger      6
Rogue       8
Sorcerer    4
Summoner    5
Witch       5
Wizard      5

4R brings the minimums up to four, but it also keeps the maximums down to 8. Clerics and Wizards, as classes likely to benefit from some amount of scholarly background, get more of a boost than other classes with a canonical two point base skill progression rate. Of course, you may choose to do things differently; this is just a suggestion. As long as I’m not using a systematic modification to the already extant system, it would be difficult for me to claim you shouldn’t make any changes you like, but if you like my version that should make things pretty easy for you.

5 Homogenized

I suppose I could be a dick about it, and just say everyone gets five skill points as base skill progression. In some respects, this seems to have the greatest sense of verisimilitude of all the options I’ve considered, but I’m distinctly hesitant to even seriously consider this option without changing a lot of the rest of the game system.

Making a Decision

I haven’t settled on what I’m going to do, yet, but I’m definitely going to do something by the next time I have anyone make characters for a PRPG campaign where I’m the GM. I will almost certainly apply such modifications to any ongoing campaigns I have right now, too — an easy thing to get the players to accept, since all it involves is handing out a few more skill points to at least some of the characters. If there is any difficulty in that regard, it would probably result from choosing a system that would grant extra points to only some of the classes in a campaign, leaving others perhaps feeling like they got ignored a little.

Regardless of the potential social issues of changing rules midstream in an ongoing campaign, I’m thinking long and hard about what skill advancement system I will adopt for the next PRPG campaign I start running. Any constructive suggestions, critiques, questions, or additional options are welcome, of course. What do you think I should do? What do you think you’ll do — if anything — to change the base skill progression numbers in your own games?

NOTE: I've started using the 4P system, as have some friends.
It seems to work quite well for all of our campaigns.  YMMV.
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All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License