Monthly Archives: May 2012

D&D 5e: Hit Points

Another in my highly irregular series of “crap I wrote on WOTC’s board that I’m reposting here in order to pretend I have content”.

OK, first of all, you need to read this, which is Mike Mearls’ take on hit points in 5e. Not “D&D Next”. Please. “5e”.

So here’s what I wrote in reply:

Mrrrm…. I sort of like the concept, but I have a few issues. First, while it’s mostly a matter of narrative, we’ve always tended to describe injuries as dramatically increasing in severity as we approach 0 hit points, not “He’s a little battered” right up until he goes negative. Sure, that’s a matter of habit and custom and 35 years of DMing, but it’s a hard habit to break. :)  Perhaps more importantly, if you define hit points this way, then how does a DM narrate, say, an impaling attack that causes someone to be pinned? (Many 4e powers do this, as do many 3e special abilities.) Acid, cold, fire, lightning… it’s going to be hard to narrate all of those convincingly as just scratches and dings.

Second, I think 5e’s design is too concerned with pick up games and one-off games and small party games. Making this kind of healing a module is a fine idea; making it core is more problematic.

Third, I suppose I’ll have to see the mechanics, but how do healing skills help with this? Does a ranger who knows “healing herbs and poultices” give a bonus to his allies, for instance, or a wizard who has studied anatomy?

If hit dice represent mundane healing, will mundane factors (no bandages, filthy conditions, etc) reduce this capacity? Probably not for everyone, but it would be a good optional rule for gritty games where resource management counts.

I think you can do a lot of mechanical tricks with the “hit dice” concept, which is a bonus.

I’d like to keep “bloodied” in as a conditional modifier. It’s a good idea and one of the “Top 10″ innovations from 4e, IMO. It’s even migrated to our PF campaign. It has no mechanical effect there, but a player will call out “bloodied!” to let us know he’s wounded (well, his character is. Usually his character. Almost always.), or the DM will use it to let us know we’ve finally managed to really hurt the monster. (To a chorus of “What, you mean we JUST bloodied it?”)

I also wrote this, a little later:

I suppose I should ask this… if the system is designed so that you can expect to survive fights without an in-combat healer (cleric, warlord, druid, bard), then, what is the benefit to having them? They will have to be designed so that their healing abilities represent part of their “value”, but if that value is not needed due to how encounters are expected to be designed, then, they’re going to be underpowered in their secondary role. Further, if you argue that “Well, it’s a lot EASIER with a cleric”, that’s fine, but then how do you design an adventure which can “work” with both magical and non-magical healing? (By this I mean, “If you have magical healing, you won’t need to rest for a day after 2 fights, so we can set up the scenario to occur in a shorter span of time. If you don’t have magical healing, you’ll most likely need to camp after the first two encounters, which means the orc shaman has time to summon Cthulhu while you’re napping.”)

This latter one might need some expansion here (see! Real content!), to be more clear, and because I never say in a hundred words what I can say in a thousand. Or more. If “healing after the fight” and “no need for a cleric” (which, at this stage of the playtest, means “no need for a healer”, as only the four core classes are being developed, so please don’t get nitpicky and say “Oh, but not needing a cleric doesn’t mean you don’t need a healer at all”, because, right now, at this point, at the stage the game is currently at, the only healers are clerics) are core mechanical concepts, this implies that basic fight design is going to assume you can survive to heal after the fight without a cleric. The “standard, balanced” encounter will not require in-combat healing to survive.

Which means:

a)Those parts of a cleric’s design which are devoted to healing are not needed by the basic game design; those parts which aren’t are, by definition, secondary. That is, if we want to say a cleric is “Half healing, half melee”, then, if the healing isn’t actually needed to survive a fight, then you’ve got half a fighter when you could have a whole fighter, or a whole wizard, or whatever.

Or:

b)Healing without magic is time consuming and limited; your total daily fighting capacity is much less. This is strongly implied by the article, and I guess we’ll know for sure in three days. (Why they’re being so coy when the playtest is public and three days away, I don’t know. Just tell us the actual mechanics you’re using, dammit!) I do not object to this at all; it’s a very good way to distinguish between magical and non magical healing. But… this means that a party with a cleric might be able to complete a particular task or quest in one day while a party without one will not, which means any adventure designed without exact foreknowledge of what the party makeup will be risks being either too easy (you build it for a non-cleric party) or too hard (the party has to battle several times to get to the end goal, which is going to happen at a specific time; if they nap in between, they miss it.)

I should note a pretty good answer to ‘b’ is “Well, then the party better find a clever way to avoid some of those encounters” or “The DM should change the adventure!”, and that’s fine for a lot of cases. It’s problematic in any kind of structured play, where you don’t want DM subjectivity giving one group an easy out because he like their cunning plan, while another DM thinks their cunning plan is Baldric-quality and doesn’t let it work.

Further, it’s emblematic of a common thread I see running through a lot of Mike’s pronouncements, the idea that the game will run the same no matter what rules modules you’re using, and, frankly, given how smart Mike is, and what a good designer he is (and those two statements were not sarcasm, irony, or any such thing; I mean them absolutely and sincerely), I’m really finding it hard to understand how he can think this. He knows, he knows very, very, well, how much subtle changes to rules change how the game is played. A feat, power, skill, or spell can become overpowered, or useless, based on which modules might be used. Changing how often characters can recover resources changes how much they can do in an in-game day, which changes how the DM has to structure events. Even in a sandbox game with as much player freedom as possible, the amount of “stuff” a character can do before needing to turn in for the night greatly impacts how you design the sandbox, how far you can expect players to explore, how clever they need to be to exceed the expected limits. In a more structure adventure, it becomes even more important to have solid expectations of what you can do.

FantasyCraft has options and dials you can set for an adventure, or for a campaign, and these have a mechanical impact that ripples through the system. Dials that make things easier for players increase the resources the GM has to build encounters, and vice-versa. I’ve not seen a hint that 5e intends to do this, though it’s so early in the process I might be making false assumptions. Nonetheless, the message from Mike’s posts is “Everyone gets to play the D&D they want to play, all at the same time, and it all works!” is the design goal — and I frankly can’t see that being possible. A modular system is great, but then you need to have tools to adjust and tweak each encounter, NPC, etc, to be balanced with the modules you’re using — not at all impossible, but counter to the “Sit down, open the box, and just PLAY!, dammit!” design goal.

I’ll probably have a lot to say in three days…which means I’ll get around to saying it in thirty or forty.

Acid Sands

Acid Sands

Yes, it’s actual content! A hazard for Earth Delta. (I told you it’s not dead, just pining for the fjords.)


Acid Sands

There are many places in Earth Delta where caustic chemical wastes and industrial metamaterials have combined to form pits of ultra-fine particles that in a corrosive suspension. These hazards often merge imperceptibly with the surrounding landscape, and are avoided by the local natives and wildlife (well, those who don’t avoid them tend to suffer the consequences…)

Acid Sands may be as small as a single square or cover an area 20 or more squares on a side. Large patches are rarely perfectly regular, and often have “solid” areas within them and/or wider and narrower regions.

A DC 22 Nature check or DC 30 Perception check is needed to identify a region of acid sands before someone has actually entered it; once tipped off to the existence of the hazard, the DCs to identify which squares within 5 squares of the observer are acidic drop to Nature 15, Perception 22.

Any non-flying creature entering acid sands is slowed and takes 2d6+5 acid damage. (See below for exceptions.)

Any creature starting their turn in acid sands takes 2d6+5 acid damage, and must make a DC 15 Athletics check as a free action or become immobilized. On the second turn of being immobilized, they become restrained. On the third turn, they are submerged in the acid, and begin to drown, but unless they have acid resistance, it’s likely the acid will kill them first. They can continue to make Athletics checks; once they succeed, they can move normally (albeit slowed) until they fail the check again (at which point, the cycle begins anew) or they leave the pit.

Anyone who can reach a trapped character (with a rope, branch, arm, etc) can try to pull them out as a standard action. The is a DC 15 Athletics check, or DC 22 if the trapped character is carrying more than a normal load. (This assumes the trapped creature is willing to grab the proffered branch, has a free limb to do so with, etc.) A creature who has sunk below the surface cannot be easily rescued in this manner. (They are considered to have total concealment, and vice-versa; DMs should consider the various mechanics and options which can negate such concealment and take them into account if players devise cunning plans, as they are wont to do.)

Characters who do not make ground contact (robots with hovering capacity, some types of mutants, etc.) can move freely across acid sands. Creatures who can walk on liquid, but who still make contact with it, take half damage but do not sink. Flying creatures suffer no particular penalties, unless they cannot hover, or are knocked into the sands while not flying, etc. If immobilized in the sands, they cannot fly out; if not immobilized, though, they are also not slowed, though they do take damage from the acid. (At the DMs discretion, creatures whose flight cannot be physically restrained, such as those who fly via telekinesis or anti-gravity, may be able to avoid being immobilized, or they may get a bonus on the Athletics check to break free.)

Any creature who takes more than 20 points of acid damage from the pits in an encounter has the bonus from their armor reduced by 2 (but not to less than 0) until an extended rest. Any creature taking more than 40 points of acid damage in an encounter has the bonus from their armor reduced by 2 until an Easy Technology check at the level of the armor is made during an extended rest.

The acid sands described above are a level 15 hazard. DMs can adjust the DCs and damage upwards or downwards as needed.


Design Notes: It occurs to me that a true Bastard DM could increase the damage by 1d6 after the character is restrained, and again after they’ve sunk into the pit, to reflect the greater exposure.

An interesting scenario using this hazard could be to place an artillery type monster (possibly an industrial robot which is immune to acid, or which is somehow supported above it, or on a rocky outcropping, or whatever) in the center of it, making it harder for the party’s melee types to close with it. This hazard also lends itself to any place with dangerous catwalks, or to mutant creatures or sapient beings with good forced-movement powers.

On a more meta-rules noted, this is a good example of what I consider to be the right balance of explicit rules and player creativity. (Well, obviously, if I considered it to be wrong, I’d just keep editing it…) To my mind, simply saying, “It’s acid quicksand.” and leaving the DM to decide what the effects might be puts too much burden on the DM to come up with rules on the fly and have them be consistent from week to week — nothing is worse[1] than having the laws of the universe change because the DM has a bad case of CRS. (“Can’t remember shit.”). On the other hand, it’s not possible to list every conceivable combination of abilities and situational modifiers. What I’ve tried to do is address the basic “physics” of the hazard (You get in it, you corrode and sink) and the most common and obvious questions and countermeasures (you can hover over it, you can fly over it, flying creatures who are forced into it will be gummed up, you can pull someone out, etc.). Now, it’s pretty likely any DM worthy of the screen could reach most of these conclusions on their own, but why make him do extra work when it’s the designer’s job to solve these problems for him? Even simple things like “OK, you want to pull him out… uhm… how hard should that be?” are things the DM should not need to waste time solving at the table. Given the data points provided, though, as well as gently nudging the DM towards what factors he should consider when making judgment calls (such as encumbrance level and whether you’re above/below the surface and visible to others), the amount of at-the-table work the DM needs to do ought to be minimized.

[1]Well, OK, being eaten alive from the inside by rabid weasels is probably worse. But it’s a close call.