Sunday, January 14, 2018

D&D Without HP

Since September, I've been looking down the barrel of an hour-plus commute five days a week. It's a major bummer. The one silver lining is that it gives me plenty of time to daydream when I should be paying attention to the road.

On Friday, I was thinking about hit points and combat in D&D (LotFP is my flavor of choice). It exists in this nebulous space where one d20 roll is not necessarily one swing of the sword, but could be a series of successful moves that wears down the opponent's stamina (thinking of HP as stamina has actually really helped me to conceptualize it, I think). In practice, though, it's often more dramatic and just plain easier to narrate the combat as though it were blow-by-blow. Sometimes, that makes it feel like lumbering battleships trading salvoes and doing unspecified "damage" until one finally sinks.

This is the one major disadvantage of the HP system, at least at my table. It abstracts combat to the point where hits have no concrete effect until 0 HP, and I have to do a little bit of on-the-spot adjudication every time a player wants to do something more specific than just "I attack".

What could a slightly more granular, HP-less D&D combat system look like? I've always liked the optional rules for dueling in A Red & Pleasant Land (p. 143). They're designed to add depth to one-on-one fights. Essentially, a dueler rolls on a short d6 injury table for every hit taken after reaching 0 HP. Once they roll the same injury twice, the dueler is either dead or unconscious (that's why the table is short).

I've used injury tables like this before. But what if we took HP out entirely and skipped right to the table? It could go something like this:

d10InjuryFirst hitSecond hitThird hit +Called shot AC bonus
1-2left legalways lose initiativemovement rate halvedlost, dead if not stabilized in 2d6 rounds1
3right legalways lose initiativemovement rate halvedlost, dead if not stabilized in 2d6 rounds1
4-5off arm-1 to most tasksincapacitated until healedlost, dead if not stabilized in 2d6 rounds1
6favored arm-2 to most tasksincapacitated until healedlost, dead if not stabilized in 2d6 rounds2
7-8torso-1 to most tasksbroken ribs, save to move until healeddead2
9equipmentone item destroyed (attacker's choice)weapon dropped---2
10headblood in eyes, -2 to anything involving sightdead---3

So, you'd roll to hit vs. AC as normal, but instead of rolling damage, you'd roll d10 to determine where you hit. Defenders would keep track of how many times that body part has been hit and apply the mechanical effects as they come up. If the attacker wants to hit a specific body part, the defender gets to add the indicated called shot bonus to AC.

Weapon damage would be replaced by how many "hits" one attack is worth. d4 and d6 weapons (daggers, shortswords, etc) would do one hit, d8 weapons (standard swords, etc) would do two hits, and d10 weapons (greataxes, etc) would do three. Critical hits would increase the number by one. Since any successful hit by a large weapon is likely to be a one-hit kill, there's a tradeoff: you can't apply any bonuses to hit, just the straight d20 roll. I'd also consider a Strength requirement to even wield a large weapon - either 13 or 16.

Without HP increases to make higher-level characters more survivable in combat, you'd need to increase base AC instead. Fighters and dwarves would go up 1 AC every two levels; clerics, elves, and thieves would go up every three; and magic-users and halflings every four.

This system would make combat short and brutal, which would work for some games but not others. It would require a bit of a different mindset than D&D combat as usual - mindless hack-and-slash without a plan is going to result in a lot of dead PCs. Also, you'd have to modify the table for non-humanoid creatures. Bespoke tables for each creature would help make fighting them feel unique, but it's a lot more work than just rolling up HP.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

d50 Monster Powers

Use these when you want to make monsters tougher without resorting to upping their HP, AC, or damage. These aren't the weirdest powers I can think of - I've left them relatively "standard" so they can be broadly applicable. Combine with this d50 Puzzle Monster Death Requirements table to make a d100 table.

  1. Sings foes to sleep
  2. No one can lie in its presence
  3. Magically charms foes
  4. Transmutes metal to glass
  5. Immune to (fire, ice, electricity, acid, poison, magic, nonmagic weapons)
  6. Reflects spells back at the caster
  7. Only susceptible to (fire, ice, electricity, acid, poison, magic, silver, gold, lead, mercury, etc)
  8. Redirects spells to random targets
  9. Attackers must save or lose all motivation
  10. Exists in the spaces between seconds: takes an extra turn every round when it chooses
  11. Blood corrodes metal
  12. Inspires suicidal thoughts in foes
  13. Poison bite causes (sleep, hallucinations, paralysis, retching, STR damage, CON damage, DEX damage, INT damage, WIS damage, CHA damage, level drain, death)
  14. Always wins initiative
  15. Grows scales, improves by 1 AC for every hit taken
  16. Can disappear behind anything and reappear anywhere else within sight
  17. Certain pieces of music can control it/cause it pain
  18. Shatters armor
  19. Spells against it must be cast twice to take effect
  20. Can't be charmed
  21. Has one form during the day and another at night
  22. 100' radius of magical silence
  23. Cannot escape wells
  24. Power tied to the phases of the moon
  25. 100' radius of magical darkness
  26. Healed by the wounds it inflicts
  27. Knows its foes' past
  28. Causes people to switch bodies: players must play each others' characters without referring to character sheets
  29. Commands shadows to betray their owners
  30. No one can tell the truth in its presence
  31. Skin coated in poison
  32. Controls metal like Magneto
  33. Bursts into flames
  34. Emotions affect the weather
  35. Can move on walls and ceilings
  36. Flies
  37. Can give a command (as the spell) once per HD per combat
  38. Staring directly into its eyes causes blindness
  39. Can't be seen when perfectly still
  40. Explodes in poison gas when killed
  41. May age or regress its opponents by d10 years instead of attack
  42. Claws/teeth/horns/etc made of diamond, very valuable but every hit is critical
  43. Moves through solid objects
  44. Transfers consciousness to another creature just before death
  45. Projects up to d8 images of itself in its foes' minds
  46. Becomes more vicious when wounded: one more attack per round for each hit taken
  47. If a spell or other special ability is used against it, it may now use that ability
  48. Grows or shrinks at will
  49. Hides its true form behind an ordinary/beautiful exterior
  50. Eats foes' identities: attacks do INT, WIS, or CON damage (or all three at once) and cause the victim to forget an important fact about itself