Saturday, April 5, 2014

Game Design (IX): Resistances and Vulnerabilities

A wizard casting an elemental protection spell on his allies. An skeleton shrugging off an assassin’s poisoned blade. A walking tree consumed by a fireball. Resistances, vulnerabilities and mechanics that care about types of damage in general are a great way to add flavor and variety to a game. On top of that, they open up some neat tactics and interactions: casting elemental bursts centered on top of a conveniently surrounded fighter with an Armor of Resistance, figuring out how to make the most of a few Acid Flasks when fighting a band or trolls, moving a tiefling character into flaming terrain…

And yet, not all is well with the way 4E handles these elemental rules. Figuring out attacks with multiple energy types against characters with many resistances or vulnerabilities is far from intuitive, and too favourable for the multicolored attack powers. Mundane attacks are left out of the fun, due to the lack of a way to define physical resistance. And attacks that deliver damage in multiple small packages (such as ongoing damage, or sustainable zones) are excessively affected by both resistances and vulnerabilities, which tend to make them harmless or overpowered, respectively. And don’t get me started about the unholy mess that is the immunity definition.

Veteran readers will remember that I dealt with most of these issues in a past post. Today’s installment follows the same principles, but  proposing a full redefinition for these rules (rather than a mere patch to be used with the existing books). This way, we get cleaner and more balanced mechanics, and open up some new design space, at the cost of requiring very minor tweaks to work with existing monsters and player material.

To summarize, these are the main issues that I want the new rules to deal with:

  • Remove scenarios where resistances/vulnerabilities become either too good, or irrelevant.
  • Simplify interaction between multiple resistances/vulnerabilities and multiple damage types.
  • Change balance of multiple resistances/vulnerabilities so that having attacks with multiple damage types is not always the best strategy.
  • Allow resistances/vulnerabilities to scale automatically with level
  • Enable resistances/vulnerabilities for physical damage.
  • Clarify Immunity rules.
  • Balance Insubstantial rules.

The new rules are described below.

Character Traits

Resistance

A character with Resistance takes reduced damage from attacks or effects with a certain Damage Type. A Resistance always includes the Damage Type to which it applies. Optionally, a Resistance can also include a numeric Limit for the damage it can mitigate, and a Condition that must be met to apply the resistance.

A Resistance works as follows: for each attack, if the Condition is met (or there is no Condition), damage of the specified Damage Type is reduced either by half or by the Limit, whichever value is lowest. In addition, a character can also apply a Resistance against environmental effects that deal damage but are not attacks; against such effects, damage of the specified Damage Type is reduced by the Limit or, if the Resistance has no Limit, the damage is completely negated.

From the above definition, we have four possible ways to specify a Resistance:

  • Resist Damage_Type
  • Resist Damage_Type (Condition)
  • Resist Damage_Type (Limit)
  • Resist Damage_Type (Limit) (Condition)

Designer’s Note: The way Resistances work against environmental effects is different from how they apply against attacks (or, for that matter, how Vulnerabilities work against environmental effects). The purpose of this rule is to allow creatures with elemental resistance to survive in areas of elemental hazard.

Examples of resistances:

  • Resist Fire
  • Resist Physical (No Advantage)
  • Resist Poison 5
  • Resist All 5 (Not Silvered)

The elements of a resistance are described as follows:

  • Damage Type: The damage type against which the resistance is applied. This must be a valid damage type, or “all” if the resistance applies to all damage regardless of type.
  • Limit: The maximum amount of damage that can be mitigated by this resistance. This is a number, usually a multiple of 5. If no limit is specified, the resistance always mitigates half of the damage dealt from an attack (or, if the damage is not dealt by an attack, all of the damage). Note that a resistance can never mitigate more than half the damage from an attack, regardless of its limit.
  • Condition: A resistance with a condition only applies against damage that meets that condition. The most common types of conditions are:
    • No Advantage: Damage from an attack without Combat Advantage
    • Critical: Damage from a critical hit.
    • Ongoing: Ongoing damage.
    • Not Silvered: Damage from an attack not using a Silvered weapon or implement.
    • Not Epic: Damage from an attacker of level lower than 21.
    • Not Paragon: Damage from an attacker of level lower than 11.

Vulnerability

A character with Vulnerability takes 50% extra damage from attacks or effects with a certain Damage Type. A Vulnerability always includes the damage type to which it applies. Optionally, a Vulnerability can also include a numeric Limit for the damage it can add, and a Condition that must be met to apply the Vulnerability.

A Vulnerability works as follows: for each attack, if the Condition is met (or there is no Condition), damage of the specified Damage Type is increased either by half or by the Limit, whichever value is lowest. In addition, Vulnerabilities also apply for environmental effects that deal damage but are not attacks, increasing damage of the specified Damage Type either by half or by the Limit, whichever value is lowest.

From the above definition, we have four possible ways to specify a Vulnerability:

  • Vulnerable Damage_Type
  • Vulnerable Damage_Type (Condition)
  • Vulnerable Damage_Type (Limit)
  • Vulnerable Damage_Type (Limit) (Condition)

Examples of vulnerabilities:

  • Vulnerable Fire
  • Vulnerable Cold (Advantage)
  • Vulnerable Poison 5
  • Vulnerable All 5 (Critical)

The elements of a Vulnerability are described as follows:

  • Damage Type: The damage type against which the Vulnerability is applied. This must be a valid damage type, or “all” if the Vulnerability applies to all damage regardless of type.
  • Limit: The maximum amount of damage that can be added by this Vulnerability. This is a number, usually a multiple of 5. If no limit is specified, the resistance always adds half of the damage dealt from a source. Note that a Vulnerability can never add more than half the damage from an given source, regardless of its limit.
  • Condition: A Vulnerability with a condition only applies against damage that meets that condition. The most common types of conditions are:
    • Advantage: Damage from an attack with Combat Advantage
    • Critical: Damage from a critical hit.
    • Ongoing: Ongoing damage.
    • Silvered: Damage from an attack using a Silvered weapon or implement.
    • Epic: Damage from an attacker of level 21 or higher .
    • Paragon: Damage from an attacker of level 11 or higher.

Resistance reduction

A character with Resistance Reduction can partially ignore enemy resistances against a certain Damage Type when attacking. A Resistance Reduction always includes the Damage Type to which it applies, and a Value for the amount of resistance that can be reduced. Resolve attacks with Resistance Reduction as follows.

  • If the defending character has no Resistance for the Damage Type of the Resistance Reduction, nothing happens. The attack resolves as normal.
  • If the defending character has Resistance for the Damage Type of the Resistance Reduction, and the Resistance has no Limit, the defending character becomes Vulnerable against that Damage Type. This vulnerability has a Limit equal to the Value of the Resistance Reduction.
  • If the defending character has Resistance for the Damage Type of the Resistance Reduction, and the Resistance has a Limit, the defending character becomes Vulnerable against that Damage Type. This vulnerability has a Limit equal to either the Value of the Resistance Reduction, or the Limit of the Resistance, whichever is lower.

Damage Immunity

A character with a Damage Immunity ignores damage from attacks or effects with a certain Damage Type. A Damage Immunity always includes the Damage Type to which it applies.

The elements of a Damage Immunity are described as follows:

  • Damage Type: The damage type to which the Immunity is applied. This must be a valid damage type. Note that “all” is NOT a valid type for a damage immunity.

Example of damage immunity:

  • Damage Immune: Poison

Condition Immunity

A character with a Condition Immunity ignores a negative condition. A Condition Immunity always includes the Character Condition to which it applies. Optionally, it can also include an activation Condition that must be met to apply the Immunity.

The elements of a Condition Immunity are described as follows:

  • Character Condition: The character condition against which the immunity is applied. This can be a condition from the list defined here. In addition, this can also have as a value “forced movement”, in which case it makes the character immune against push, pull and slide effects .
  • Condition: The immunity only applies against attacks or effects that meet the specified condition.

Example of condition immunity:

  • Condition Immune: Stunned
  • Condition Immune: Forced Movement (no burst/blast)

Nondamage Immunity

A character with Nondamage Immunity ignores all effects other than damage from attacks with a certain keyword. A Nondamage Immunity includes the Keyword to which it applies.

The elements of a Nondamage Immunity are described as follows:

  • Keyword: The keyword against which the immunity is applied. Attack keywords include damage type keywords, and others such as Fear, Charm, or Gaze.

Example of nondamage immunity:

  • Nondamage Immune: Poison
  • Nondamage Immune: Charm

Damage Trigger

A character with a Damage Trigger generates a special effect when receiving damage of a certain Damage Type. A Damage Trigger always includes the Damage Type which triggers it. . Unless otherwise stated, a Damage Trigger is applied after the attack or effect causing the damage is fully resolved. Damage Triggers are mandatory, and require no action to resolve.

The elements of a Damage Immunity are described as follows:

  • Damage Type: The damage type which triggers the Damage Trigger.

Example of damage trigger:

  • Damage Trigger Cold: The character is slowed until its end of its text turn.

Designer’s Note: Damage Trigger is intended to cover all previously existing Vulnerabilities that had an effect other than adding damage, e.g. Vulnerable Cold: Slowed until end of turn. Now Vulnerabilities will be limited to extra damage, and other effects will be treated as Damage Triggers.

Insubstantial

A character with Insubstantial gains the following abilities:

  • Resist physical
  • Resist non-physical (no Advantage)
  • Vulnerable all (Advantage)

Example: A creature with insubstantial would take damage as follows:

  • Physical or non-physical, no Advantage: Reduce by half
  • Physical, with Advantage: normal damage
  • Non-physical, with Advantage: Increase by half

Swarm

A character with Swarm gains the following abilities:

  • Resist all (no burst/blast)
  • Vulnerable all (burst/blast)
  • Vulnerable Poison
  • Condition Immune: Forced Movement (no burst/blast)

Example: A creature with Swarm would take damage as follows:

  • non-Poison, not a burst or blast: Reduce by half
  • Poison, not a burst or blast: normal damage
  • Any type, burst or blast: increase by half

Regiment

A character with Regiment gains the following abilities:

  • Resist all (no burst/blast)
  • Vulnerable all (burst/blast)
  • Vulnerable Psychic
  • Condition Immune: Forced Movement (no burst/blast)

Designer’s Note: Regiment is a new keyword, intended to provide swarm-like rules for huge groups of humanoid monsters. It should allow DMs to use lower level humanoids as opponents to Paragon or Epic parties, without needing to resort to Minions.

 

 

Resistances, Vulnerabilities and Immunities in combat

The base rules for Resistances, Vulnerabilities and Immunities (described above, under Character Traits) can be directly applied on most combat scenarios. However, some clarification is needed when using creatures with multiple Resistances and Vulnerabilities, or when resolving attacks with multiple damage types. This section provides guidelines for these special cases.

Default damage type: Physical Damage

When an attack or effect deals damage without specifying a damage type, that damage has the physical damage type.

An attack or effect with multiple damage types can also have physical as one of its damage types. In that case, “physical” must be explicitly listed among the damage types for that source.

Physical damage works like other damage types for the purpose of resistances, vulnerabilities, and other effects, with one important exception: whenever an ability or effect allows a player to “choose a damage type”, that player cannot choose physical damage as an option. If the ability or effect allows to “choose a damage type, including physical”, then physical becomes a valid option.

Choosing between multiple Resistances or multiple Vulnerabilities

If a creature has multiple Resistances or multiple Vulnerabilities that can apply against the same damage type, proceed as follows:

  • Discard Resistances or Vulnerabilities whose Condition is not met.
  • Of the remaining Resistances, if there is one that has no Limit, choose that one. Otherwise, choose the one with the highest Limit. If multiple Resistances are tied (with no Limit, or with the highest limit), you can choose any one of them.
  • Of the remaining Vulnerabilities, if there is one that has no Limit, choose that one. Otherwise, choose the one with the highest Limit. If multiple Vulnerabilities are tied (with no Limit, or with the highest limit), you can choose any one of them.

Example: An attack without Advantage deals 27 Fire to a creature that has the following resitances

  • Resist Fire (Advantage)
  • Resist 10 Fire
  • Resist 5 All

Of these, we discard the first one because its condition is not met. From the remaining ones, the Resist 10 Fire has the highest Limit, so we choose that one. The damage is reduced by 10 (since the Limit is lower than half of 27). If the attack had Advantage, no resistance would be discarded, and we would choose the first one, Resist Fire (Advantage), which has no Limit. The damage would then be reduced by 13.

Simultaneously Applying Resistances and Vulnerabilities

If a creature has both a Resistance and a Vulnerability that can apply against the same damage type, proceed as follows:

  • Calculate the damage mitigated by the Resistance, using the original damage as reference.
  • Calculate the damage added by the Vulnerability, using the original damage as reference.
  • The final damage is equal to the original damage, minus the damage mitigated by Resistance, plus the damage added by the Vulnerability.

If a creature has both an Immunity and a Vulnerability that can apply against the same damage type, the Immunity prevails, and the creature receives no damage of that type.

Example: An attack deals 17 Fire damage to a creature with Resist Fire, and Vulnerable 5 Fire. The Resistance mitigates 8 damage (half of 17), and the Vulnerability adds 5 damage (since the Limit of 5 is lower than half the original damage). The total final damage is 17-8+5=14 Fire damage.

  • Note that when applying a Resistance and a Vulnerability without Limits, or a Resistance and a Vulnerability with the same Limits, the final damage will be equal to the original damage.

Resolving attacks with multiple damage types

If a creature receives damage with multiple damage types, proceed as follows:

  • Make a list of all damage types for that damage source.
  • To calculate the damage added from Vulnerabilities, choose the two damage types in the list for which the creature has the highest Vulnerabilities. For each of these damage types, calculate the damage added by its corresponding Vulnerability. The total added damage is equal to the sum of the damages added by these two Vulnerabilities, divided by two.
  • To calculate damage mitigation from Resistances, choose the two damage types in the list for which the creature has the highest Resistances. As a special case, if the creature has Damage Immunity against a damage type in the list, treat it as a Resistance that mitigates damage equal to 100% of the original damage. For each of these damage types, calculate the damage mitigated by its corresponding Resistance. The total mitigation is equal to the sum of the damages mitigated by these two Resistances, divided by two.
  • The final damage is equal to the original damage, minus the damage mitigated by Resistances, plus the damage added by the Vulnerabilities.

Example 1: An attack deals 17 Fire and Cold damage to a creature with Resist Fire, and Vulnerable 5 Cold. For the Vulnerability calculation, we choose Cold (+5 damage) and Fire (+0 damage) as types, for a total of (5+0)/2=2 added damage. For the Resistance calculation, we choose Fire (8 damage) and Cold (0 damage), for a total of (8+0)/2= 4 mitigated damage. The total final damage is 17-4+2=15 damage.

Example 2: An attack deals 17 Fire, Cold and Acid damage to a creature with Damage Immune: Fire, Vulnerable 5 Cold, and Vulnerable Acid. For the Vulnerability calculation, we choose Cold (+5 damage) and Acid (+8 damage) as types, for a total of (5+8)/2=6 added damage. For the Resistance calculation, we choose Fire (17 damage) and Cold (0 damage), for a total of (17+0)/2= 8 mitigated damage. The total final damage is 17-8+6=15 damage.

Example 3:: An attack deals 17 Fire and Cold damage to a creature with Resist Fire, and Resist All 5. For the Resistance calculation, we choose Fire (8 damage) and Cold (5 damage, from Resist All 5), for a total of (8+5)/2=6 mitigated damage.

Changing the damage type of an attack

When an effect allows a character to change the damage type of an attack, resolve it as follows, depending on the text of the effect:

  • The attack gains (damage type) as an additional damage type: Add the new damage type to the list of types the attack previously had. If the attack had no explicit damage type (i.e. it dealt physical damage), the attack now has the new type and physical as its damage types.
  • The attack becomes (damage type) instead of its previous damage types: Replace all the previous damage types with the new type.

Designer’s note: By default, most game effects should add damage types rather than replace. Items like Flaming Swords should be adjusted to read as adding a new type, and replacement should be reserved to truly exceptional cases.

Adding extra damage to an attack

When an effect adds extra damage to a character’s attack, resolve it as follows depending on whether the extra damage is of a specific damage type:

  • If no damage type is indicated for the extra damage, simply add this extra damage to the damage of the original attack. The attack’s damage types remain unaffected.
  • If the extra damage has one or more damage types, add these types to the types of the original attack, and the extra damage to the damage of the original attack.
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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Game Design (VIII): Minions, elites and Solos

Like a kind of messier, deadlier game of basketball, the default combat scenario in a 4E encounter has 5 guys on each side running around and beating on each other. As a consequence, your average monster is roughly equivalent to a single adventurer. Now, to spice things up a little, the game also includes the option for trading normal monsters for lots of weaker critters (i.e. minions), or for fewer, stronger opponents (elites or solos). And this is a brilliant idea that adds depth and variety to encounters, but suffers from a less than ideal implementation. Simply put, non-standard monsters aren’t all that well balanced relative to standard ones: elites rarely perform as well as two regular creatures, solos require a ton of work from designers and DMs to be credible threats, and minions are mostly harmless. In today’s article, I’ll discuss what’s wrong with the rules for these monsters, and how to address it.

The value of a monster

First, let us go over the relationships between different monster types in theory, and in practice. The game assumes the following to be true:

  • Standard: One standard monster is a match for a single adventurer
  • Minion: One standard monster is equivalent to 4 or 5 minions (depending on level).
  • Elite: 2 standard monsters are equivalent to one elite monster
  • Solo: 5 standard monsters are equivalent to one solo monster

All these comparisons are based on same-level characters, and are valid for any given level.

How does all this hold up in real play? Unfortunately, not all that well:

  • Standard: The standard monster-to-adventurer equivalency is mostly true, and the glue that holds together 4E as a game. To be fair, PCs are quite a bit stronger than their monster counterparts, but this is only to be expected - the players should win same-level encounters most of the time, and this is fine as long as combat remains moderately challenging and some degree of risk exists. For the most part, Standards are at the right place, power-wise.
  • Minion: Here is where things start to go wrong: minions fail miserably at threatening adventurers, even when in large numbers. Interestingly, their base stats are fairly well tuned, and they would actually meet the game’s expectations (being worth 20%-25% of a standard monster) if adventurers were limited to regular attacks and the occasional area explosion. The problem is, the PCs tend to cheat in this regard, turning minions into a joke - there are way too many powers that let you kill minions by the droves, with little effort involved, and no risk of failure. Simply put, anything that lets a character deal even a small amount of automatic damage (auras, stances, conjurations) will make a mess of any minion in sight and, to make matters worse, the current game balance makes such powers highly desirable for adventurers (even without taking minions into consideration), virtually guaranteeing their presence in most parties.
  • Elite: Close, but not good enough. Though elite monsters sure take punishment as well as two regular monsters, and likewise tend to dish out about twice the damage of a Standard, they are effectively twice as vulnerable to any kind of negative condition, or penalty - and those both are extremely common and have a huge impact in encounter outcomes. If stunning a single monster is usually crippling, negating a big bad that takes up two monster slots with no additional effort is, more often than not, devastating - and Elites have barely any advantage over smaller monsters to make up for that. To make things worse, as is often the case, this Elite weakness is something that you can already notice when playing with casual parties, but is extremely aggravated when any kind of character optimization takes place (since one of the optimization rules for 4E is “take stuns over just about anything”).
  • Solo: See Elites, above. Solo monsters have the same problems of their weaker Elite cousins, turned up to 11. Any penalty or condition imposed by an adventurer gets turbo boosted to 5 times its usual effectiveness, and while solos often include rules aimed at mitigating these (such as the saving throw bonuses, or the newer dragons’ resilience to stuns), it is clear that these mechanics fall way short: they are usually limited to a subset of the wide variety of nasty tricks available to adventurers, and anything that falls through the cracks (say, an immobilization, or a -5 penalty to attack) will reduce the Ultimate Villain to a vaguely intimidating bag of hit points, inviting adventurers to come collect some free experience and treasure. In order to put Solos up to the standard of, well, Standard monsters, they absolutely need to have a way to reliably mitigate any and all kinds of effects that adventurers can impose - yet, and this is the tricky part, in order for players to enjoy fighting said Solos, these mechanics should not just give a blanket immunity, but merely reduce condition effectiveness by about 4/5.
    As a side note, it is interesting to note that, as it happened with minions, once we take away the one flawed mechanic (i.e. condition vulnerability), the stat block of a Solo has the right power level. This may not be all that intuitive, since in their current form, Solo monsters are equivalent to 4 Standards in survivability, and between 3 and 4 Standards in offense - but they take the place of 5 standard monsters. However, it turns out that concentrating all that much power in a single unit (again, if negative conditions didn’t exist) is much more effective than spreading it out, since the Solo’s ability to damage the party doesn’t decrease as it takes damage - so giving it 75% the raw stats of its lesser counterparts is a fair deal, after all.

So, to summarize, Standards are our reference benchmark, minions need to stop blowing up with automatic damage effects, and Elites and Solos need a reliable way to resist negative conditions. In order to achieve this, I came up with the following rules:

Minion Elusiveness: Whenever a minion takes damage from a source other than a hitting attack, it can make a saving throw. If the saving throw succeeds, the damage is negated and the minion is knocked prone.

Elite Resilience: At the start of its turn, an elite or solo monster can choose to take damage equal to 10 per monster tier, ignoring resistances and immunities. If it does, it can choose a condition (other than marked) or penalty affecting it, and make a saving throw; on a successful save, the monster can ignore an instance of that condition or penalty until its next turn. This ability can only be used once per round.

Veteran readers will recognize Minion Elusiveness as a streamlined version of my previous houserule for minions. It’s something I have long used for my campaigns, and I believe it provides minions with the right amount of survivability, and it weakens auto-damaging effects in a way that players can find fair and flavorful.

As for Elite Resilience, it’s a rule that needs to solve a complex problem, and it has gone through many iterations. There are several aspects of its implementation worth discussing. First, there’s the slightly awkward text about “ignoring” the condition or penalty for a turn, rather than simply ending it. Though it is easy to come up with alternatives that are more elegant and intuitive, most of them fail to address a crucial issue: we want to give monsters a way to deal with powerful effects from daily attacks without rendering them pointless - so just shrugging off a condition that’s supposed to last for the whole encounter is out of the question. In order to avoid such effects, a monster will need to roll to save (and take damage) every turn. Speaking of which, the damage aspect is a way to compensate players for having their powers failing to work - granted, 10 or 20 extra damage may be a poor consolation for a lost stun, but it all adds up. As for the saving throw part, it means that, barring any modifiers, you will be able to stick your worst condition on an Elite monster 35% of the time, whereas Solos will only be affected 20% of the time - a difficult maneuver to pull off, but a highly rewarding one.

Not by coincidence, both new rules make use of the saving throw mechanic, which barely saw any use before. This presents some interesting design opportunities when I get to introduce new monsters and new player content. I’m particularly interested in leader-type monsters boosting the saves of nearby allies, but also in separating controllers from other roles through the use of save penalties.

 

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Game Design (VII): Character conditions, patch notes

On my previous article, I dropped a ton of variant rules with very little in the way of comments or explanation (though the broad guidelines had been established before). Furthermore, it may be hard to make out what has really changed from anything but a very in-depth read. What follows is a list of changes, with some design comments along the way.

1. Miscellaneous changes

Total defense: Defense bonus increased from +2 to +4, is now typed (power).

This is intended mostly as a way to weaken attack-denying conditions. Losing a turn worth of attacks should be slightly less painful now, and stunning a character over several turns should be significantly harder. Note also how I gave the bonus a type - I want to really cut down on stacking bonuses.

Condition source: No functional changes. Introduced new keywords and definitions for clarity: ‘condition source’, ‘dominator’, ‘grabber’, ‘marker’, ‘swallower’.

I wanted to be able to reference the source of a condition in a clear way, for the definition of marked, dominated, and other conditions.

Multiple instances of a condition:

Two reasons for this change. On the one hand, I wanted to change how dominations, grabs, and especially marks work when applied by multiple characters on a single target. On the other, I intend to provide Elite and Solo monsters with built-in ways to remove conditions (which I’ll describe on a future article), yet allow PCs to counter this by applying several instances of a given effect.

  • Defined ‘condition instance’. Now a character can be subject to multiple identical effects (previously, only the longest one applied). Each condition only applies once, but multiple instances are relevant for determining duration, and impact of effects that end conditions.
  • Rules now support characters being dominated, marked or grabbed by multiple enemies.

Penalty types and stacking:

Typed bonuses work great for the game, and I see no reason why penalties shouldn’t follow the same principle. In this new framework, ‘untyped’ penalties should be reserved for self-inflicted penalties (e.g. power attack).

  • Penalties now have a type: cover, concealment, power, or untyped. Penalty stacking is resolved like bonus stacking.
  • Cover and Concealment modifiers now treated as typed penalties.

Opportunity attacks: Opportunity attacks can now be made against unseen enemies.

This is here to make the blinded condition a bit less harsh. Note that the -5 concealment penalty would apply to these opportunity attacks, and that a character could use stealth to become untargetable by them. This also weakens invisibility, which is fine by me.

2. Condition changes

Blinded:

Opportunity attacks were changed to make the condition weaker. The perception change is just to make the modifiers more reasonable.

  • Perception penalty changed from -10 to -5
  • Blinded characters can now make opportunity attacks

Dazed:

Dazing was previously way too effective, considering how common it was. Removing combat advantage here not only weakens the condition, but also goes a long way in making combat advantage less ubiquitous in the game. Dazed characters now also enjoy an extra minor action, which is particularly important for healing leaders and characters with sustained powers.

  • No longer grants combat advantage
  • Can now use a minor action on top of the single action per turn

Deafened

This was previously irrelevant, but also given almost for free in some powers. Combat advantage is an effect with an adequate power level, and the condition is scarce enough that this will not significantly hurt my goal of minimizing combat advantage overall. Again, perception modifiers were changed in order to work better.

  • Now grants combat advantage
  • Perception penalty changed

Dominated

The strongest condition in the game receives a vicious nerf that leaves it as... the strongest condition in the game. I wanted to prevent the easy exploits of dominated characters provoking opportunity attacks and violating marks, which I have played with for a long time - but that was only the beginning. I never liked how domination breaks the economy of actions, so I changed dominated actions to work like those of summoned creatures. Finally, I took away the combat advantage from the condition, and added a clause to break the condition upon receiving damage - so no more dominating a foe while beating down on it. Despite all these changes, if you want to stop someone cold, domination is still your best bet.

  • No longer grants combat advantage
  • Damage on dominated character now grants save vs. domination
  • Dominator now needs to spend actions for the dominated character to attack or move
  • Movement and attacks while dominated count as forced (don’t provoke, violate marks, etc.)
  • Dominated characters can’t attack themselves

Exiled

A rare condition, I tried to make its use a bit clearer, and make it slightly weaker by allowing exiled characters to use actions to heal or defend themselves.

  • New name (was “removed from play”)
  • Clarified that character does not occupy space, returns to previous position when condition ends.
  • Character can now take actions (previously couldn’t take any actions).

Grabbed

One of the rare conditions that actually got better, grabbing was rendered almost useless by forced movement under the previous rules. It should now be much more competitive with straight immobilization.

  • Characters are now pulled adjacent to grabbers, when grabbed
  • Forced movement now allows escape check rather than automatically breaking grabs.
  • Escape check no longer grants free shift.
  • Multiple grabs now possible.

Helpless: No changes

Immobilized: No changes

No direct changes, but the new rules for Total Defense impact this condition quite a bit.

Marked

Changed to better support multiple defenders in a party. A character can now be subject to several marks (and/or defender auras), without each defender stepping on each other’s toes. Also, defender auras will now work properly with any rule that references marks. The mark violation clarifications are intended to make multiattack powers interact with marks in a similar way to how areas and bursts work, and to prevent some cheesy exploits involving interrupts.

  • Multiple marks now possible
  • Defender Aura now treated as a mark
  • Defined ‘mark violation’. Clarified many confusing or broken mark scenarios
    • A power with multiple attacks now only violates a mark if each individual attack violates it. This applies to multiple attacks made simultaneously as well as in sequence.
    • Target redirection effects no longer cause marks to be violated.
    • Marks inflicted while interrupting an attack are no longer considered to be violated by that attack.

Petrified: Petrification resistance changed to match new resistance rules - damage is now simply halved while petrified.

Prone

The status of Prone has changed quite a bit since the original rulebooks - originally a somewhat rare condition, it is now often present in at-will attacks, which does not really match its moderate power level. I made minor tweaks to the combat advantage and defensive bonuses, but the big change is a free square of movement upon standing up. This makes it much harder to lock melee characters out of attack range by knocking them prone.

  • Standing up now allows 1 free square of movement.
  • Combat advantage now granted to adjacent enemies, rather than on all melee attacks.
  • Defense bonus is now cover bonus, applies against all attacks from non-adjacent enemies, rather than just ranged attacks.
  • Attack penalty is now typed (power).

Restrained: Attack penalty is now typed (power).

Slowed: Now each square moved costs double (previously reduced speed to 2).

This one got a bit better in some scenarios, and worse in others. The fixed speed of 2 didn’t work well with a variety of movement-granting powers (e.g. “shift 3 squares”), so I went for a more general effect. Slowed characters can now move slightly farther than before when not running, but they lose the ability to shift 1 square. This means that slowed is no longer such a one-dimensional effect, since it becomes quite useful against characters already engaged in melee.

Stunned: Can now take a single action per turn (no attacks or movement) - previously couldn’t take any actions.

Though getting stunned is still not by any means a pleasant experience, it no longer just reads “skip a turn”, which is important in my opinion. Characters can use total defense (now an actually pretty decent option), but also use Second Wind, sustain powers, or use utilities, if any.

Swallowed: New condition

This effect was previously just present on a handful of monsters, but with inconsistent rulings that didn’t work as well as they could. This is well worth its own condition, in my opinion, which makes it easier to use it more liberally in monsters, and potentially make for some truly awesome PC power.

Unconscious:

Non-dying unconscious characters now wake up when damaged. The condition still provides potent action denial, but can no longer be used to enable a whole party to severely beat up on a foe, which was too strong and, in my opinion, didn’t have the right feel.

  • Condition now ends when taking damage, if above 0 HP.
  • Removed defense penalty

Weakened: Added new effect - healing on character halved

A bit of an experiment here, by adding a completely new dimension to the condition. Characters that don’t really care about damage, or that attack through others using leader powers can no longer completely ignore the condition. Also, I wanted some common mechanic to interact with character healing (now that monsters also get it), and this looked like a good place for it.

Read More......

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Game Design (VI): Character conditions remade

Update (16/01/13): Added revision to opportunity attacks, tweaked effect of prone, added “cannot flank” to some conditions.

After the discussion on character conditions in my last article, I’m putting these ideas into practice and rewriting the condition framework from scratch. The condition names remain unchanged for the most part (I want, after all, to maintain backwards compatibility), and their effects should be quite familiar to players, though there are many subtle changes. Since this is, by far, the largest chunk of rules provided to date, I will show you the new rules right away, and provide additional commentary and an overview of changes (think of patch notes) in the following article.

I start by providing some general rule changes that affect how conditions are treated in the game. The list of conditions and their effects is at the end of the article.

Maneuver change: Total Defense

Change the text of the Total Defense maneuver to the following.

Total Defense. Standard Action. Effect: You gain a +4 power bonus to all defenses until end of your next turn.

Condition source

We define condition source as the entity (typically an enemy character) imposing a given condition on a character.

The effects of certain conditions are dependent on their condition source. In these cases, the source is referred by a condition-specific name for convenience - as an example, the source for the grabbed condition is called grabber. A list of source-dependent conditions, and the associated source names, is given below:

Condition - Source
Dominated - Dominator
Grabbed - Grabber
Marked- Marker
Swallowed - Swallower

Multiple instances of a condition

A character can be affected by multiple instances of a given condition. In this case, the character is treated as having a single instance of the condition: condition effects are not cumulative. However, players should keep track of each condition instance on their characters separately. The following rules apply for ending conditions in these scenarios:

  • A character is affected by a condition until all instances of the condition have ended on him.
  • Each condition instance ends when its duration expires.
  • An effect that ends ‘a condition’ on the character (e.g. by allowing a saving throw) only ends a single instance, when multiples are present.
  • An effect that ends a condition type on the character (such as slow, or stun) ends all instances of that condition.

It is possible to have multiple condition instances, each with a different condition source. For conditions that depend on their source, this means that some condition effects need to be evaluated against each source. The following rules apply:

  • Dominated: A character dominated by multiple sources can be forced to move or attack by each dominator.
  • Marked: A character marked by multiple sources does not violate any mark as long as his attack includes at least one marker.
  • Grabbed:
    • A character grabbed by multiple sources that makes a Escape Check chooses one grabber, on a successful check, only condition instances associated with that grabber end.
    • If at any time, a grabbed character is no longer adjacent to one grabber but remains adjacent to other grabbers, only condition instances associated with the non-adjacent grabber end.

Penalty types and stacking

(Note: This topic will be further developed in a separate article. I include this here since some conditions now reference penalty types)

Like bonuses, penalties to rolls can have penalty types that determine how they stack with each other. The following rules apply:

  • There are three penalty types: cover penalty, concealment penalty, and power penalty. In addition, a penalty can have no type, and be an untyped penalty.
  • When two or more penalties of the same type would apply to a roll, defense, or stat, use only the highest one.
  • Penalties of different types stack with each other.

The rules for cover and concealment have been changed to match the new penalty types. Instead of the original attack modifiers for cover and concealment, use the following:

  • Concealment: -2 concealment penalty to attack roll
  • Total Concealment: -5 concealment penalty to attack roll
  • Cover: -2 cover penalty to attack roll
  • Superior Cover: -5 cover penalty to attack roll

Opportunity Attacks

In the power description of Opportunity Attack, replace ‘an enemy you can see’ with ‘an enemy’.

List of Conditions

Blinded

  • Grants Combat Advantage
  • Cannot Flank
  • Treats other characters or objects as having total concealment
    • -5 concealment penalty to attack rolls, perception
  • No line of sight to anything

Dazed

  • Cannot Flank
  • Cannot use Opportunity or Immediate Actions
  • Each turn, can use only:
    • One minor action, and
    • Either one standard action or one move action

Deafened

  • Grants Combat Advantage
  • -2 concealment penalty to perception
  • Automatically fails perception checks and passive perception against characters or objects outside of line of sight.
  • Not affected by effects requiring hearing

Dominated

  • When damaged, can make saving throw against domination, condition ends on successful save
  • Cannot take actions
  • Cannot flank
  • Dominator can spend a move action to make the dominated character move its speed. This counts as forced movement.
  • Dominator can spend a standard action to make the dominated character use an at-will attack. This counts as a forced attack.

 

Sidebar: Forced attack

Certain powers or effects allow one character to force an enemy to make an attack. Such attacks are considered forced attacks, and use the following rules:

  • If there are different attack powers that meet the requirement for the forced attack (e.g. basic attacks or at-will attacks), the character forcing the attack is aware of all available options and can choose any of them.
  • For the chosen attack power, the character forcing the attack can make any relevant decision, including (but not limited to) targets, area of effect, forced movement caused by the attack.
  • A character forced to make an attack cannot target himself with the forced attack.
  • Forced attacks ignore the marked condition. A character making a forced attack counts as not marked, for the purposes of that attack.
  • Forced attacks never trigger opportunity attacks.

Exiled (was “Removed from Game”)

  • When exiled, a character disappears from its current position. When the condition ends, the character reappears on this position or, if not possible, in the closest ground square of his choice, unless the exiling effect states otherwise.
  • Does not occupy a space.
  • No line of sight to and from other creatures or objects unless the exiling effect states otherwise.
  • No line of effect to and from other creatures or objects unless the exiling effect states otherwise.

Grabbed

  • When grabbed, character is pulled adjacent to grabber
  • Condition ends if at any time the character is not adjacent to grabber
  • Can spend a move action to make an Escape Check (see sidebar). If successful, condition ends.
  • Cannot move
  • If forced movement would cause the character and the grabber to no longer be adjacent, character can make an Escape Check (see sidebar) as a free action. If successful, condition ends. If the check fails or is not taken, the forced movement is negated.

Sidebar: Escape Check

Characters can make Escape Checks to end conditions like Grabbed or Swallowed, usually by spending a move action.

Check: choose one of the following:

  • Acrobatics vs Reflex of condition source
  • Athletics vs Fortitude of condition source

 

Helpless

  • Grants Combat Advantage
  • Can be attacked with Coup de Grace

Immobilized

  • Cannot move

Marked

  • -2 mark penalty to attack rolls of attacks that violate mark (see sidebar)

Sidebar: Violating marks

An attack violates a mark if it targets one or more enemies and does not include the marker as a target. The following exceptions apply:

  • If multiple attacks are made simultaneously as part of the same attack power, none of the attacks violate the mark as long as the marker is the target of at least one attack.
  • If multiple attacks are made in sequence as part of the same attack power (e.g. primary and secondary attacks), once an attack is made that includes the marker as a target, none of the subsequent attacks violate the mark.
  • If an attack initially includes the marker as a target and is later prevented from including the marker as a target by an effect controlled by an enemy (e.g. a power changing attack targets), this attack does not violate the mark.
  • If a character is marked while making an attack (e.g. by an Interrupt power that marks), that attack does not violate the mark.

Note: Any power or effect that triggers when a marked character makes an attack that does not include the marking character as a target should be updated to trigger when a marked character makes an attack that violates the mark, and use the rules described above.

Sidebar: Defender Aura

The text on defender aura should be replaced with the following:

“Enemies in the aura are marked”

(Note that the new rules for stacking conditions mean that a mark no longer overrides other marks or defender auras, and a character can be simultaneously marked by multiple enemies).

Petrified

  • Grants Combat Advantage
  • Cannot take actions
  • Cannot flank
  • Gains Resist (all) [Note: New rules for resistances will be added in a future article. For the purposes of this condition, read this as “halve all damage taken”].

Prone

  • Condition lasts indefinitely until character stands up
  • When condition is applied, if the character is not on solid ground, he falls.
  • Character can use a move action to stand up. This ends the condition, and lets the character move 1 square afterward.
  • Grants Combat Advantage to adjacent enemies.
  • Against attacks by non-adjacent enemies, gains Cover (-2 cover penalty to attack rolls) or, if already in Cover, gains Superior Cover (-5 cover penalty to attack rolls)
  • -2 power penalty to attack rolls
  • Can only move by crawling. Characters can crawl 1 square, or their crawl speed (if any).

Restrained

  • Grants Combat Advantage
  • Cannot move
  • Ignores forced movement
  • -2 power penalty to attack rolls

Slowed

  • For each square moved, must spend an additional square of movement

Stunned

  • Grants Combat Advantage
  • Can only take one action per turn
  • Cannot attack
  • Cannot move
  • Cannot flank
  • Cannot use Opportunity or Immediate Actions

Swallowed

  • When swallowed, a character disappears from its current position. When the condition ends, the character reappears in a square of his choice as close as possible to the swallower.
  • Can spend a move action to make an Escape Check (see sidebar). If successful, condition ends.
  • Does not occupy a space.
  • Cannot be swallowed by a different swallower.
  • Can only take one action per turn.
  • Only has line of effect and line of sight to and from the swallower, and other characters and objects swallowed by it.
  • The inside of the swallower, and swallowed characters and objects, are in total darkness unless otherwise specified. Swallowed characters can use any light source to illuminate the inside of the swallower and all characters and objects swallowed by it.
  • When using a burst or blast power, the swallower and all characters and objects swallowed by it are included in the burst or blast.

Unconscious

  • When a character falls unconscious, he is knocked prone.
  • When damaged, if the character has 1 or more remaining hit points after receiving the damage, the condition ends.
  • Grants Combat Advantage
  • Can be attacked with Coup de Grace.
  • Cannot take actions
  • Cannot flank
  • Cannot see.

Weakened

  • Damage dealt is halved
  • Healing received is halved
Read More......

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Game Design (V): Character conditions

You are lying on the ground. You can’t move. You can’t see. You have been turned to stone. Character conditions add a lot of variety to the tactical gameplay of D&D 4E, providing a nice catalogue of ways for adventurers and monsters to get temporarily crippled while they try to kill each other. In a handful of keywords, the game codifies common and evoking combat effects, which can then be conveniently combined with other simple mechanics like bonuses, penalties, and forced movement to make up the thousands of powers and monsters in the game. Today I will discuss character conditions, why I think they are good for the game, and what is wrong with their current implementation.

The importance of Disruption

At it’s core, D&D combat is about adventurers and monsters hacking at one another to reduce their opponent’s hit points to zero. That could get boring very fast, so the game adds some additional elements like movement, resource management, and the subject of this article: character conditions.

If one goes over the list of conditions and their associated rules, an evident theme emerges: character disruption. First and foremost, conditions are about hindering certain actions from adventurers and monsters, or preventing them altogether:moving less, or not moving at all, getting weaker attacks, or being unable to react. The main purpose of these mechanics is to prevent characters from doing what they want - and, strange as it may sound, this makes battles all the more fun.

They say that no plan survives contact with the enemy, and this is particularly true in D&D 4E. No matter what you intended to do when the combat started, after a turn or two, chances are that an enemy attack left you unable to move within range to your target, or too weakened to use your big daily power at the right time, or incapable of blocking opponents from moving towards your fragile allies. You need to reevaluate the situation every turn, adapt, and prepare a new plan, which is likely also doomed to a short life. And it works both ways, so that both heroes and monsters are subject to this. When the system works, you get varied fights, great strategic depth, and tons of fun.

When the system doesn’t work

So far, so good. Unfortunately, there is a catch: though restricting player actions and forcing them to adapt can be a fun and interesting experience, it is certainly possible to go overboard and cripple characters to the point that they can’t really do anything of significance. And there lies the real problem: skipping turns is the opposite of fun. And under the current condition framework, making opponents skip turns (or virtually skip them) is often too easy and, to make things worse, extremely rewarding, from a strategic point of view.

It boils down to this: the strongest conditions (stunning and dominating) are way too powerful, to the point that you will be hard pressed to find a competitive alternative to a power with these conditions whenever it is available. As a result, these relatively rare game effects will turn up in way more games than you’d expect given their rate of appearance in powers. Also, it is not too hard to replicate the effect of a hard stun through a combination of conditions or penalties: some common, yet extremely efficient combos include daze+prone (to neutralize melee characters), or blind plus any attack penalty.

The solution, in my opinion, is to tone down the strongest conditions a bit, while limiting the impact of multiple milder conditions.

Other issues

Aside from the one big flaw that I find in the condition system, there are other lesser issues that, though not game-breaking, could do with some fixing. They are the following:

  • Domination, apart from being inherently the most powerful thing you can do in the game, has very exploitable interactions with opportunity attacks and marks, as discussed in this article.
  • The marked condition interacts oddly with its spiritual successor, the Defender Aura mechanic. Also, the game doesn’t handle well parties with multiple marking characters, nor marked characters making multi-target attacks that are not bursts or areas.
  • I think that stacking penalties are bad for the game. Some very common attack penalties come from conditions.
  • Gaining combat advantage is too easy for my taste, and this is in good part due to the many conditions that grant it. I’d like to cut down on that, too.
  • The grabbed condition is trivial to neutralize through forced movement.
  • The deafened condition is a joke. It should have some substantial effect, or be removed from the game altogether.

All this, and more, will be dealt with in my following article: Character Conditions Rewritten.

Read More......

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Playtesting SF: Initial Package

After the first batch of articles on game design and variant rules, I now have enough material for an initial playtest. At this stage, the game is little more than a glorified 4E mod, so what follows are a bunch of rules changes you can apply on your D&D games. If this goes well, we will then proceed to work on more substantial systems, like character conditions, and the mathematical framework.

These rules have all been introduced in previous articles, but are put together here for your convenience. I am interested in all kinds of feedback, including obviously game experience, but also general impressions, and theoretical considerations. Note that, although I keep falling behind in answering article comments, I still read them, and intend to provide answers as soon as I can.

Enjoy!

Proposed rules changes

1- Monster Healing

Introduction and discussion

Monster Commander: Before every encounter, the Game Master selects one of the monsters (usually the most powerful of intelligent one)as the Commander of that monster party. The commander gains the Commanding Word power:

Commanding Word. Minor Action (2/encounter, 1/turn). Close burst 5. Target: You or one ally in burst. Effect: The target regains hit points equal to 5+ (2.5* its level).

2- Last Effort

Introduction and discussion

Last effort: Whenever a character starts a turn, if the majority of characters in their party are bloodied, dying, or dead, that character becomes desperate until the end of the encounter.

(Desperate is a new character condition, defined below)

Desperate: A desperate character gains:

    • A +2 bonus to all attacks

    • A -2 penalty to all defenses

    • For each of the character’s attacks that hits but doesn’t crit, roll 1d20. On a roll of 19-20, the attack becomes a critical hit.

3- Action Points

Introduction and discussion

Action point usage: Once during each character’s turn, that character can make an Action Point Check. This is a d20 check with a DC determined by the current combat round (see table below). If the check succeeds, that character can spend an action point that turn, unless he has already spent an action point this encounter.

If a character is allowed to spend an action point outside of his turn (e.g. from a paragon path feature), he makes an Action Point Check. If the check succeeds, the character can spend the action point that way. A character can never make more than one Action Point Check per round.

(Note: A character cannot spend an action point unless he has succeeded in an Action Point Check that turn).

Round- Action Point Check DC
1 - Impossible (no check)
2 - 15
3 - 10
4+ – Automatic

 

4- Encounter Attacks

Introduction and discussion

Encounter Attack Usage: A character that uses an encounter attack power becomes Fatigued until the end of his next turn.

Fatigue: A fatigued character cannot use encounter attack powers. Certain types of powers can also be affected by the fatigued condition.

Notes:

Attack powers not causing fatigue. The following powers do not make a character fatigued, and can be used by fatigued characters:

  • Racial Powers

  • Channel Divinity Powers

  • Magic Item Powers

Non-attack powers affected by fatigue. A character using any of the following powers becomes fatigued until the end of his next turn; these powers cannot be used while fatigued:

  • Backstab (Thief Utility)

  • Bladesong (Bladesinger Utility)

Augmentable psionic powers are affected as follows:

  • A character that uses the most expensive augmentation of an augmentable at-will attack becomes fatigued until the end of his next turn.

  • The most expensive augmentation of an augmentable at-will attack cannot be used while fatigued.

  • Any other augmentations or unaugmented powers do not make a character fatigued, and can be used by fatigued characters.

 

5- Daily Attacks

Introduction and discussion

Daily Attack Usage: A character can only use one daily attack power each encounter.

Exceptions: The following powers do not count towards the limit of one daily attack per encounter:

  • Magic Item Powers

 

6- Short Rests 

Introduction and discussion

Healing in a Short rest: During a short rest, any player character can spend a healing surge to regain all hit points. A player character with no healing surges regains hit points up to his bloodied value at the end of a short rest.

 

7- Healing Surges

Introduction and discussion

Running out of Healing Surges: A player character with no healing surges left cannot use daily powers nor action points. If an effect causes that character to lose a healing surge, he takes damage equal to half his bloodied value instead.

 

8- Dying

Introduction and discussion

Replace the following rules related to dying characters with the text below:

Characters reduced to 0 HP: When a character takes damage that leaves him with 0 or less hit points, the character is knocked prone and dying, and must make a Death Saving Throw.

Death Saving Throw: Some game effects require a character to make a Death Saving Throw. The character makes a saving throw: on a success nothing happens, and on a failure, the character loses a healing surge. A dying character rolling a result of 20 or higher becomes stabilized.

Healing a Dying Character: A dying character that receives any amount of healing becomes stabilized. In addition, the effect of healing on that character depends on the character’s current hit point total:

  • If the amount of damage healed is equal or greater than the character’s negative hit points, the character’s hit point total becomes equal to the amount of damage healed. The character is no longer unconscious, and is weakened until the end of his next turn.

  • If the amount of damage healed is less than the character’s negative hit points, subtract that amount from the character’s negative hit points. The character remains unconscious.

Coup de Grace: When a character targets an adjacent unconscious enemy with an attack, the attack is considered a Coup de Grace against that enemy. In Coup de Grace attacks, missed attack rolls are treated as hits.

(Other death-related rules are left unchanged. Notably, dying characters still roll death saves each turn.)

Read More......

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Game Design (IV):Healing, surges, dying

Longtime readers will know that the topic of healing surges is of significant interest to me, having proposed not one but two different solutions to improve the game experience of players running out of healing resources. Though I’m satisfied with how the previous rules played out,they were designed according to an important restriction I usually follow in these cases: to change the game as little as required to do the job. Since my current RPG project not only allows, but actually encourages trying out more innovative solutions, I have looked once more into the subject and come up with the ultimate ruleset for healing surges (or so I hope). The result is a streamlined system where surgeless characters can keep adventuring (at their risk!), surges become more interesting as a player resource, and getting knocked out of combat gets a new (and painful) meaning.

Problem statement

In my opinion, the one glaring problem with healing surges in D&D 4E is how the game handles a character running out of surges: by effectively ending the adventuring day for the character and, more often than not, for the whole party. Leaving an adventurer behind for an entire encounter (or more!) could be an interesting strategic challenge, if not for the fact that it unfairly punishes the player to skip a session or, even worse, to sit there unable to participate. Hence, a very common answer to this scenario is to just call it a day and find a place for an extended group rest.

Another problematic aspect of surges that I hadn’t touched on previous articles is they don’t work very well as a game resource. That is, they are important for characters, but there is no real way for players to meaningfully interact with them. Encounters cause player characters to lose hit points, and they must spend surges to heal them back (unless they prefer to stop adventuring, or to die). Apart from characters with very minor wounds worth less than a full surge, there is no incentive to hold back on healing or to save surges for later, nor is it possible to significantly reduce HP/surge loss outside of becoming extremely efficient at defeating encounters.

On a related note, I don’t like how dying characters are treated in the game, either. Any amount of healing will bring back an agonizing hero back to action, as if nothing had happened. Fallen comrades that somehow remain unattended are threatened by death saving throws, which is to say, not very much. Death saving throws are a strange mechanic, disconnected from the rest of the game, and way too slow to have any effect in combat encounters that last five rounds on average, if not less. But what kills it for me is that, as long as you don’t get killed, it doesn’t matter how many death saves you have failed, nor how much damage you have taken while down. There is relatively little immediate risk, and no long-term impact at all.

Rest in peace

The first change I propose is to replace the rules for healing characters during short rests with the following:

Healing in a Short rest: During a short rest, any player character can spend a healing surge to regain all hit points. A player character with no healing surges regains hit points up to his bloodied value at the end of a short rest..

Also, in the description of healing surges, add the following:

Running out of Healing Surges: A player character with no healing surges left cannot use daily powers nor action points. If an effect causes that character to lose a healing surge, he takes damage equal to half his bloodied value instead.

Nice and clean. Healing during rests becomes much more efficient than in the middle of combat, and players can keep adventuring after using their last surge, though at a significant penalty. The game now offers a legitimate option for players to cut down on surge expenditure, by minimizing in-combat healing. However, that may be easier said than done, particularly after considering the rules in the following section...

Rules to die for

Replace the following rules related to dying characters with the text below:

Characters reduced to 0 HP: When a character takes damage that leaves him with 0 or less hit points, the character is knocked prone and dying, and must make a Death Saving Throw.

Death Saving Throw: Some game effects require a character to make a Death Saving Throw. The character makes a saving throw: on a success nothing happens, and on a failure, the character loses a healing surge. A dying character rolling a result of 20 or higher becomes stabilized.

Healing a Dying Character: A dying character that receives any amount of healing becomes stabilized. In addition, the effect of healing on that character depends on the character’s current hit point total:

  • If the amount of damage healed is equal or greater than the character’s negative hit points, the character’s hit point total becomes equal to the amount of damage healed. The character is no longer unconscious, and is weakened until the end of his next turn.
  • If the amount of damage healed is less than the character’s negative hit points, subtract that amount from the character’s negative hit points. The character remains unconscious.

Coup de Grace: When a character targets an adjacent unconscious enemy with an attack, the attack is considered a Coup de Grace against that enemy. In Coup de Grace attacks, missed attack rolls are treated as hits.

Other death-related rules are left unchanged. Notably, dying characters still roll death saves each turn.

The main goal behind these rules is to have characters dropping below 0 HP really matter. Note that actually dying during combat no more likely than before, but there are other new, important consequences for getting knocked out. First, the mostly irrelevant death saving throws become integrated with healing surges in a way that feels very natural to me. If the previous section gave players a reason to use less in-combat healing, this set of rules compensates it by providing a very strong incentive to heal characters with low HP. Incidentally, spending actions to stabilize allies without spending surges is now a thing, though still far from ideal.

Side Effects

A common consequence of introducing the kind of deeper rule changes described in this article (as opposed to the more surgical approach I have preferred to use before) is that something, somewhere, is bound to break. What follows is a list of game elements that are negatively affected by the new rules, and need a revision to work. Readers are encouraged to point to other similar items that I may have missed.

Bard class - Song of Rest feature: Replace text with “Once per day, during a short rest, the bard may have a resting ally regain all hit points”.

Conclusions

To summarize the changes, healing during rests is now cheaper than ever, but getting knocked out during combat can now drain characters out of surges pretty quickly. I honestly don’t know if this ends up extending or shortening the adventuring day overall - the answer depends a lot on encounter difficulty and party dynamics, though I should get a rough idea when I get to playtest it.

I really like, at least in paper, the new tension introduced for combat healing: you don’t want to use too much of it because it’s a lot less efficient than just resting... except when you get too greedy and the monsters beat you out of surges. Let’s see if it plays as well as I expect.

The following article will consist in a recap of all the new rules, since I now feel I have enough material for a decent round of playtests. After that, I’ll probably go for a revision of character conditions, which should prove interesting. I also need to take some time to catch up with the comments section, which is providing some amazing feedback as of late. Speaking of which... what do you guys think about this new approach for healing and dying?

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