Archive for November, 2007


Some thoughts on D&D gamehacks

November 4, 2007

Thinking about it a bit more, I realize I have a lot of things setup to prevent character death.

This isn’t about “precious characters” as much as it is about precious gametime.

Think of it this way- time spent -not- playing is not fun.  Time you spend unconcious losing hitpoints, time you spend building a new character, time you spend trying to figure out how to best use this new character in conjunction with the other charcters, etc.

If you get knocked out of a fight and it takes another 15- 20 minutes to finish, you’ve been punished enough- hence my pulp death rules- character death is still possible, just less likely and less of waste of time- you don’t spend the nest 5 rounds hoping someone heals you before you bleed out.

See, in previous editions, character building was pretty quick (not to mention, you probably were rolling with a war band, so lose a character? Just take another of out 20 odd people in the dungeon).  Here, character building doesn’t even necessarily speed up as you gain expertise, because the more you know, the further ahead you think with your build.

It’s not so much that characters die, it’s that they die so easily and usually spark a TPK which, pretty much means a game reset- all the prep the players did is now wasted, the GM can toss away any plot based encounters or has to retool them, etc.  Early on in play, at low levels, players might not even know enough to figure out what they did wrong, making it a high learning curve early in.  15 minutes of tactics to 45 minutes of character building is a poor ratio (even if you’re expert and pop a character together in 10-20 minutes, that’s still a bad ratio).

In comparison, videogames usually take just seconds before you’re back in play, usually with the opportunity to try the same challenge from different angles, to develop tactics.   Even boardgames don’t have as much downtime/setup between play to play.

Though I understand the joy of building in D&D is like building mechs in Armored Core or decks in Magic the Gathering, at the same point, the foundation of play is play…  Right now character death actually hurts play more than it helps


Deep D&D gamehacking, pt. 1

November 2, 2007

A series of gamehacks that I would apply together to D&D 3.5 next time I play.  (And, probably also interesting, -why- I’d use them).  Consider it an exercise in design and ways of thinking about design.

1.  Character Generation

Characters get a set array of stats: 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8.  (Thank you Mike Mearls & Iron Heroes).   Now the tricky part:  Roll 1d6 to randomly determine which of your 6 attributes gets the 18 score.  Roll another 1d6 to determine which one gets the 8 (reroll if you get the same attribute).  Assign the rest of the attribute scores as you will.


First, the set array avoids the problems you get when one person in the party is rolling with 4 18’s and the someone else has all 12’s.  Though not as gimpy as older editions when you could have a bunch of stats in 4-7 range, it still sucks to be third best at everything.

Second, the randomization of your high/low score limits your optimal builds, but doesn’t break your character.  It’s the fun part of randomization where you take what you get and try to make the best of it, without getting totally screwed.

2. Class Defense, modified

Unearthed Arcana has rules for Class Defense, where your heroes have a natural sort of AC, and don’t always have to be walking tanks of armor to avoid being hit.

The change here, is which classes get which class defense ranking:

A- Wizards, Sorcerers

B- Clerics, Bards, Paladins, Druids

C- Fighters, Rangers, Barbarians

D- Monks, Rogues


This jibes a lot better with my idea of fantasy, where you have room for both Fafhd and the Grey Mouser as competant combatants without having to be loaded in metal.   I flip around the classes because I hate how D&D always takes the classes who are supposed to be cagey and dodgy and makes them easy to hit.  Sure, they get a couple of avoidance bonuses, but between poor AC and meh HP, they’re not the heroes who dance between blades.

3. Armor

Like the UA rules, you either get the Class Defense bonus or your AC bonus, depending on which is better.

You get 2 HP/Armor bonus per encounter, which work like Temp HP vs. physical damage.   So if you’ve got Leather and a Buckler for + 3 AC?  That’s +6 hp per encounter vs. physical damage.

You also get a bonus to either a Fort or Ref save once per encounter, equal to your AC bonus, but only against physical threats armor might protect against (arrow trap? Yeah, armor helps.  Snake poisoned you?  Too late, good luck).  Unlike normal bonuses, you can choose to apply this AFTER you’ve failed.


Under the normal UA class defense rules, the main decisions between armor or no armor is which is giving you a better bonus AND whether you need to be stealthy.  Now armor provides another set of bonuses which makes it useful in a tangle.

Does this significantly change the survivability of PCs and low level play?  Sure, but in ways I like.  Armor isn’t the only way to avoid getting hit, but it provides enough other bonuses that you probably want to wear it.   The once per encounter save makes armor able to save your bacon, over and over.

4. Pulp death rules

I’ve written about these before, but honestly, they just work for me.  If your hero is knocked to -10 hp, they’re dead.  If they’re at 0 or less, they do not lose hitpoints each round, but instead stabilize and regain 1 hp per hour unconscious until they wake up at 0 hitpoints.


First, it makes heroes tougher, and more likely to be captured rather than all bleed to death seconds after the combat ends.   Second, it doesn’t make tough combats into a “race to heal” game which usually ends in TPKs.  Finally, it lowers the amount of bookkeeping you do round to round.

5. Alignment

Surprisingly, all I’m doing is shifting the outlook on Alignment.

Neutral means you try to help yourself, friends, family, allies, etc. Good means you go out of your way to help others, even when there is no reward involved.  Evil means you go out of your way to harm others, even when there is no benefit to gain.  Lawful means you support the status quo over the needs of the individual.  Chaos means you support the needs of the individual over the status quo.


This keeps alignment in the game, which is used for enough effects that it’d actually be really hard to rip out, but at the same time grounds it in a way I can deal with.  If you look at it, it’s really a set up for Heroquest-y/blood opera-ey type things if you want to play with it that way.

What’s next?

I really want to set up a reward system that better produces a certain style of D&D play- the PCs actually act as comrades, heroic things are said and undertaken, etc.  It’s probably going to be a loose tie between Burning Wheel’s Artha and Shadow of Yesterday’s Keys.   I also want to fiddle with magic items so they don’t become the game tilter that they currently are.