Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Freehold: Rests and Wounds

To see what I'm talking about with my Freehold 5E project, go here: Freehold

One of the early concepts I wanted to work into Freehold was a longer term downside to combat.  My design goal is to make combat something players enter into only with great consideration; violence is something you use to solve problems when nothing else will do, not something you use casually to solve problems because mechanically you suffer no drawbacks for doing so after sleeping it off for eight hours.   Thus far, this design goal took two main mechanical forms, changing the rest mechanics and introducing a more persistent wounding system.  The changes to the rest system I think are more straightforward, so here those are:


To take a long rest, characters must make a Survival check to successfully complete the long rest (alternately could do it as individual Con saves).  If they are in a group one character can make the roll for everyone.  The difficulty is generally 15.  Characters get advantage on this check for any of the following reasons:
  • Staying in a maintained building like an inn or house.  
  • Magically enhanced food or water (lembas bread).
  • A ranger is making your party’s roll and you are in that ranger’s favored terrain.
Characters get disadvantage on this check for any of the following reasons:
  • Lack of food, water, or shelter.
  • Staying in hostile territory (sleeping in a dungeon).
  • Severe weather.
  • The Majority of the party is sleeping in medium or heavy armor.  
Alternately some things may provide bonuses instead of flat advantage/disadvantage in order to make more things important (since advantage cancels out any amount of disadvantage), but that seems to be getting away from the design of 5E.  

If this check is failed the party does not complete a long rest and gains none of the benefits for doing so (though they are considered to have carried out a short rest).  If the party does complete the long rest they gain the normal benefits of a long rest except they do not regain all their hit points (but they do regain their hit dice).  Thus players will have to be more careful about expending resources and picking fights as their recovery from these fights is far less certain.  

Short rests remain the same.  

That all seems relatively straight forward.  

Originally I had planned on something for wounds where if you ever were reduced to 0 hit points, you had a chance of suffering a wound, maybe with a Con save to resist.  Wounds would be things like permanently losing a hit point off your total or maybe a roll on some table like in the DMG for specific injuries.  This works in that in makes injuries something to be feared and a reason to avoid combat, but I also fear it makes them too punitive and random.  In thinking about this I was reminded of how much I like the Health/Injury/Wound system from the Song of Ice and Fire RPG, where effectively Health = Hit Points and players can take Injuries and Wounds when they choose to reduce the damage of an incoming attack at the cost of taking a long term injury that penalizes all their rolls.  Thus players do take long term injuries (not permanent though, Injuries generally require days to heal and Wounds weeks), but only when the player decides they need to really stay in a fight at the cost of long term effectiveness as opposed to random chance.  

Along those lines, I worked on the following system where players could choose to suffer wounds to heal damage.  

Whenever a character is struck in combat they can choose to take a wound, reducing the damage from the attack that just hit them by their Constitution+Level.  If a character is already at 0 hit points or below, they can take a wound to heal a number of hit points equal to their Constitution+Level.  Each time the character takes a wound, the player may select one of the following effects of the wound; each time the same option is taken the effects get worse, so characters over time will want to spread their wounds around.  Each additional wound effect is cumulative, so if you take a Dexterity penalty from two wounds you suffer -3 Dexterity total.  
A character can take at most four wounds per combat.  Taking a fifth wound is automatically a lethal wound (see below).  

1st Wound
2nd Wound
3rd Wound
4th Wound
-5 Movement
-5 Movement
-10 Movement
-1 Strength
-2 Strength
-3 Strength
-1 Dexterity
-2 Dexterity
-3 Dexterity
-1 Constitution
-2 Constitution
-3 Constitution
-1 Intelligence
-2 Intelligence
-3 Intelligence
-1 Wisdom
-2 Wisdom
-3 Wisdom
-1 Charisma
-2 Charisma
-3 Charisma
Injured Hand*
Injured Arm*
Injured Hand*
-1 Hit Point
-2 Hit Points
-3 Hit Points
-4 Hit Points*

Hit Points: You can always choose to lose more hit points and the loss continues at one additional hit point per wound.   
Injured Arm: You lose of one of your arms.  You cannot use any items with that arm.  Injured Hand: You lose use of one of your hands.  You cannot use two-handed items, but you can use one-handed items of you strap them to your arm.  

If the wound is not healed before the character next takes a long rest, the losses become permanent.   

At any point a character can choose to suffer a lethal wound and go out with a blaze of glory.  He immediately regains full hit points and any Glory spent in the combat is not considered lost when determining the Glory of the character’s heir.  At the end of the combat the character immediately dies if he is not dead already.  

The idea would be that players take on wounds over the course of the campaign as they encounter battles that are important and difficult enough to make sacrifices to win, and characters would eventually get a point where they would retire because they can no longer function as adventurers.  I went with ability score damage instead of specific injuries (aside from the Injured Hand/Arm options) as those seemed simpler than saying "Head wound, disadvantage on some skill checks" and it used mechanics that were already part of 5E.   

I like the idea of wounds being a player instigated sacrifice rather than a randomly inflicted punishment, but I also worry that without a significant change in the encounter design of 5E it would never happen.  Part of my plan for Freehold was to scale fights towards the hard side of things, having lots of valiant stands against overwhelming odds and such.  I also want to make most of the major, difficult fights be situations where there is something majorly important to the players at stake aside from their lives, such as defending their village, saving a relic of their faith, etc.  I really want minimize the "combat for loot" incentive and focus more on combat for self defense, territory control, religious/cultural conflict, taking prisoners for ransom (and thus minimize looting corpses as a income stream), etc.  

I also worry that without the forced taking of wounds via a system without player control, I can't make the wounds punishing enough to be impactful while also making them an attractive option in battle.  Given the above mechanics, a wizard could take a bunch of Strength wounds, representing muscle damage or some such, and not really suffer much loss of effectiveness.  I could group things, such that any wound comes with a hit point loss in addition to ability score loss, and losing hit points permanently is a fast route to retirement.  

I've come up with some additional mechanics so players can choose to expend other resources to get advantages (Weapon and Armor Damage Mechanics), in addition to mechanics to encourage players to take on more dangerous odds than they normally would (Glory), but I will post those later this week so avoid having one massively long blog post for the week.  

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Freehold, a D&D 5E project

In the very limited amount of tabletop gaming I've been doing (really any gaming; between work, kids, buying a house, Dawning Star, etc, I don't have a lot of free time), I've mainly been playing D&D 5E lately, so my brain has been percolating some ideas when its not focused on Dawning Star. I have a very long commute these days and while a lot of it is spent listening to history podcasts, I also spend time noodling around game design ideas. This is a result of that. If folks are interested in seeing the googledoc that is the evolving text of this project, let me know.

D&D campaign design traditionally begin on the macro-scale, detailing entire campaign nations, worlds, or planes and allowing players to select from a vast swath of races, nations, cultures, etc, when creating characters.  I prefer going the other direction; keeping settings small and intimate, where every detail, character, and resource is important.  Where every character is deeply tied to the immediate surroundings, with any outsiders being the exception rather than the norm. If no one plays the archetypal residents of a region and everyone is a strange outsider, it just feels weird to me. This worked pretty well back in the day with Dawning Star, which was a sci-fi setting focused on a single planet/stellar system rather than some massive, galactic scale setting where the actions of individuals gets lost.  Thus I’ve been working on brainstorming what is effectively a add-on D&D rule set for running a macro-scale, focused, intimate type of D&D campaign.  The type where all the PCs have never been more than fifty miles from their village unless the random character creation process (to be posted later and blatantly stolen on a conceptual level from Beyond the Wall) says so.  The campaign will grow in scope over time, but initially and for the first few levels, it’s entirely focused on one village and the characters who live there and defend it.  

This rules set would be an add-on to 5E D&D focused on running a campaign set in a small, remote village in a northern temperate coastal region similar to Germany or Britain (lots of dark forests, hard winters, important trade rivers but not a lot of roads, etc) called the Katrys Freeholds (as a reference to my favorite Dungeon magazine adventure of all time). The text will include rules for running a low-fantasy style game where the characters are heavily integrated into the village; their backgrounds tie them into the village, they can establish important NPCs and shape the village by their choices in character creation (i.e. if there is a wizard PC there is some old wizard tower on the edge of town that the owner, the PC’s master, owned before she just recently died).  There will be rules for the village growing and changing over time in response to player actions, such as retiring characters to the village or the village coming under attack.  The goal is to get the players to focus as much on the advancement of the village as the advancement of their individual characters, especially since advancing the village will help their characters and give more advantages to starting characters.  Character creation will be done via a random character generation system ala Beyond the Wall where you choose your class, background, and race, but then roll on tables determined by your race, class, and background for various events in your past to determine your ability scores, skills, etc.

The text also includes rules for running a harsher version of D&D to drive home the low fantasy feel of the setting.  These would include new rules for resting that really make you want to be back at the village, rules for long term injury and recovery that will lead to eventual PC retirement, limited starting equipment, a non-coin based economy, etc.  The goal would be to create a system where characters rarely advance to high level before being retired due to injuries, but their retirement feels valuable because they improve the village and make the group as a whole more effective.  The most basic example of this would be if you retire a wizard character because he took one too many swords to the guy and can no longer adventure (i.e. a lot of permanent Constitution damage), future new wizard characters start with a wider selection of spells drawn from the retired wizard’s spellbook or even at higher than first level representing the training they receive from the retired character.  Also this will create a network of known, beloved characters in the village the players will want to defend.   

In order to try and capture the cultural feel of the region there would be new character options like sub-classes, spells, feats, etc, to help present the fact the area is not a normal generic fantasy region.  There would also be new monsters and threats that all have folkloric defenses, such as creatures that can’t stand the sound of bells or creatures being repelled by certain herbs.  The goal is to give every monster that’s a serious threat some way for players to avoid having to fight it outright if they think ahead or are prepared to make sacrifices.

The text concludes with a series of adventures to set the tone for the campaign and notes on storylines.  These would primarily be ancient sleeping threats in the region (cities  of the dead awakening because the stars are right, ancient magitech defenses from the sunken empire, the invasion by a Rome-esque empire that looks to expand its reach, etc), short term threats like hostile tribes or dungeons, and threats to the village itself (famine, plague, etc).  


  • History of Rome podcast
  • History of Byzantium podcast
  • Spartacus television series
  • 13th Warrior

I'm working on a number of rules ideas, the first of which is below:

Divine Influence

The gods of the setting transmit their power through physical objects that are important to their faith, i.e. relics.  A cleric’s and paladin’s spells and channel divinity powers only work within a limited range of these items, usually something like fifty miles per level of the relic.  A village may only have a small level 1-2 relic that allows their local clergy to function, while the center of worship may support clergy for hundreds of miles with its higher level relics. A divine caster can’t cast spells higher level than the relic they are supported by. They retain all their spell slots so they can cast spells with higher level slots, but cannot use those slots to cast spells of higher level than the relic.  So a high level cleric still has all his slots when working under a level 1 relic, but he’ll have to use them to cast first level spells with his high level slots.  

A divine caster can work through the relic of any god in the same pantheon as his own, so a cleric or paladin is fine as long as they stay within the the territory covered by their pantheon’s relics (though some disputes among the gods may limit this; maybe a cleric of Loki couldn’t use a relic of Thor).  Some relics may grant advantages to followers of certain gods, like extra hit dice or resistance towards certain elements, or possibly benefits while casting specific types of spells (+1 hit point per die on healing spells).  

This limitation is a known thing and conflict between religions is usually around relics.  Crusaders on the march carry relics from their gods with them to ensure their magic still works, while secretly stealing the relics of an opposing religion is a good way to deprive your enemies of their own clerical support.  Relics can be harvested for Glory (Glory system is for the next post) by clerics if they are of an opposing pantheon, making them valuable on their own as well.  

Relics come in power levels that are increased by clerics and paladins of that faith investing Glory in that relic.  If the relics of two opposing gods are brought into close proximity, the higher level relic will overpower the lower one, decreasing its effective level by the difference between them (so if you have a level 5 and a level 3 relic overlapping the level 3 relic becomes a level 1 relic).  If the relic level is reduced to 0 it no longer grants any power to its followers.  

At the beginning of the game the player’s village has a level 1 relic at its heart, but this makes it a target of agents of other pantheons (such as the Roman-esque to the south who wants to bring their brand of monotheism to the pagans of the north).  The goal of this is to make religious warfare more of a tangible thing in the setting and to make going into the lands of foreign gods actually something really scary.  

Druids draw power from the natural world around them; they must choose a number of terrain types as they go up in level (probably one at first, fifth, and thirteenth level).  Outside of those terrains they have reduced casting capacity.  This works using the layout below.  In a terrain you have power in, you cast spells normally.  For each step removed from one of your terrains, swamp from coast being one step, the maximum level spell you can cast decreases by one level in the same fashion that clerics are limited by relics.  Thus a 9th level coast druid in the mountains could only cast up to 2nd level spells instead of 5th, but could use his 3rd-5th level slots to cast 1st and 2nd level spells.  You can only select a terrain next to one you already have, so if your first choice is Coast your second must be swamp and your third Forest.  





Also there are places of power that are tied to a terrain, such as high mountain peak surrounded by standing stones, that can grant advantages if the druid visits them at the correct time and carries out the proper rituals.  These also act as relics, allowing druid of the terrain type that the place of power is tied to to cast spells as if they were standing in their chosen terrain within 10 miles per level of the place of power. A level 1 place of power will be near the player village initially with a terrain type appropriate for druids in the party.
The goal of this is to both mirror the limitations on clerics and to really drive home the druid’s tie to their home terrain.  This hopefully would not come up terribly often as the campaign is not meant to be one of world travel, but at the same time the druid should get a little nervous going into the setting stand-in for Rome or Constantinople.  

Arcane Interference

The relics of some gods, particularly opposed to to arcane magic as a matter of faith, will interfere with divine magic in the same fashion as relics of gods from opposing pantheons.  These gods are usually from civilizations where one dominant religion has taken control of the culture and preaches against arcane magic in all its forms.  Overall these should be pretty rare and a mjor plot point in the campaign.  Some areas may also experience arcane interference without relics due to magical disturbances in the area, such as places long ago ravaged by magic or that have somehow become magic dead, limiting what level spells may be cast there.  For both relics that interfere with arcane magic and interference locations, the rating of the relic or the location is subtracted from the highest level spells an arcane spellcaster can cast to figure out what level of spell they may use in the affected area.  For example, a level 2 relic of a god hostile to arcane magic would limit a 5th level wizard (who can cast third level spells) to only casting first level spells.  Note that arcane casters so affected still have all their spell slots, but they can only use their higher level slots to cast lower level spells.  The above 5th level wizard would only be able to use 1st level spells he has prepared, but he could use his 2nd and 3rd level spells slots with them.

Wizards and warlocks can construct arcane foci that counteract these effects, but they are expensive, difficult to make, and hard to transport.  These arcane foci count as relics for reducing the effectiveness of relics or areas that would negatively affect the abilities of arcane spellcasters.