Yearly Archives: 2004

On Languages


Languages are handled simply — simplistically, in my opinion — in D&D, using the Speak Language ‘skill’. There are several things I don’t care for with this model.

  • A single rank in Speak Language provides full fluency with a language; you either speak a language fluently or not at all. This does not match my experience with language.
  • Literacy is binary as well; if you can read and write any language, you can read any language you speak (assuming it has a written form). This seems overly simplistic to me, given the setting.
  • For that matter, literacy is rampant; among PCs, only barbarians start off illiterate, and can easily correct this by dipping into any other (PC) class. Granted, adventuring classes make up only a small part of the population, but it still doesn’t seem right.
  • Speak Language is not really a skill; ranks in Speak Language are not constrained as other skills, you can buy as many ranks in this ‘skill’ as you wish, regardless of level.

In this article I describe how I would change the language model so it better suits my understanding of linguistics and how I wish to treat languages in my campaign.


Hit Points (Wound and Vitality)

This article describes a variant of the Vitality and Wound Points rules from Unearthed Arcana Chapter 4: Adventuring.

In considering how to synthesize d20 and HERO system, I considered various hit point and damage models. Vitality and wound points look like they come close, with some modifications.


Vitality points behave much like standard hit points. At each level (or hit die) a creature rolls his hit die and adds the result plus his Constitution modifier (with a minimum of one) points to his vitality point total. At first level (or hit die) elite creatures (PCs or important NPCs and creatures) gain maximum hit points.

Wound points measure how much ‘real damage’ a living creature can take. A living creature starts with wound points equal to its Constitution score plus Strength[1] modifier (minimum 1), and gains an additional wound point at each level or hit die. Unliving creatures (constructs and undead) have no wound points).

Dying points[2] are taken after all wound points have been used. A character has a number of dying points equal to his Constitution score, without considering Strength modifier.

[1] I want strength — muscle, strength, and simple *meat* — to have some effect on how much abuse a creature can take. Generally, those who are more muscular can take more damage and still function than someone less muscular but otherwise ‘in similar health’.

[2] I need a better name for this.


Almost everything that currently does hit point damage does vitality damage. When vitality points have all been removed by damage, additional damage is done to wound points. Damage to vitality points has no effect on a creature’s abilities.

Damage to wound points is generally done after all vitality points have been removed by damage or by criticals. When a creature has wound point damage it is limited to a single partial action per round unless a Will[1] save is made each round (DC 5 + wound damage).[2] If successful the creature can act normally for the round. A new save may be made each round, regardless of results of previous saves.

When a creature has taken more wound damage than it has wound points, it falls unconscious and is dying, taking another point of dying damage each round until a DC 15 Fortitude save is made or the dying damage exceeds dying points and the creature dies. If the save is made the creature stabilizes; taking additional damage destabilizes the creature again. I may change this back to the UA version (save or die; save by less than 5 maintain; save by more than 5 and less than 10, stabilize but remain unconscious; save by 10 or more, stabilize and become conscious).

Constitution damage does not affect vitality or wound point totals, though Constitution drain will. Intelligence damage doesn’t reduce skill point totals, I do not feel it necessary to deal with adjusting vitality, wound, and dying points with Constitution damage.

[1] I want mental toughness and willpower to have an effect on damage. This is done by requiring a Will save here rather than a Fortitude save. A Fortitude save would also be appropriate, but these rules make Constitution very, very important to the damage system and ignores willpower effects.

[2] In play, I don’t track current vitality and wound point totals. I track the damage and compare damage to points, ‘spilling over’ when needed. This is simpler than tracking current totals. Temporary damage comes up infrequently enough that I find comparing ‘damage + temp’ to total points a small price to pay for always adding in the common case.

Critical Hits

For the simple bit, a critical hit does normal damage (non-multiplied) directly to wound points, bypassing vitality. Additional damage from ‘rolled sources’ (such as sneak attacks or flaming weapons) is done to vitality.

I’ve got a couple of ways of handling critical hits from weapons that have damage multipliers greater than x2. Unearthed Arcana trades the increased multiplier for expanded critical range. I don’t like this much.

One option is to roll the additional damage (beyond the x2, so a battle axe would ‘roll normal damage once’) and apply it to vitality. The weapon does more damage than usual, but to vitality. Without this, a single critical could *easily* flatten many creatures… a little more dangerous than I want.

Another option is that each multiplier beyond 2x increases weapon damage as if the weapon were one size larger. For instance, on a successful critical a medium battle axe (d8, 20/x3) would do damage as a large battle axe (2d6+modifiers). A medium heavy pick (d6, 20/x4) would do damage as a huge heavy pick (2d6).


A night’s complete rest (8 hours of sleep) will remove a number of points of vitality damage equal to the character’s level (number of hit dice) plus Constitution bonus, and one point of wound damage and one point of dying damage. A full day’s rest (24 hours of ‘bed rest’) will double these.

Healing spells in my campaign provide one day’s healing per spell level. Lay on hands provides one day’s healing per application.

If using my augmented spells system, Cure Wounds may be cast with a +1 augmentation that causes it to work directly on wound points instead of vitality points, and a caster with the Great Healer feat may use a +2 augmentation to work directly against *both* wound and dying damage.

Related Feats

Diehard (Wound/Vitality) [Martial]

Benefit When wounded, you automatically succeed at all saves to act normally. When you have taken dying damage, you automatically stabilize.

Normal When wounded, you must make a Will save (DC 5+wound damage) each round or be limited to a single partial action.

Toughness (Wound/Vitality) [Martial]

Benefit You gain one additional hit point per Hit Die, one wound point and one dying point.

Special You may take this feat multiple times; its effects stack.

Note Toughness IMC gives one additional hit point per hit die, rather than +3 hit points as in RSRD.


I originally got the idea for my karma rules from David Harper’s Kismet rules. They are not available online, unfortunately. I have adapted them for use with d20 rules.

Karma is a point-based measure of accumulated luck, divine favor, and other such concepts. Karma points are also sometimes referred to as ‘save-my-ass points’, reflecting their typical use.

Karma comes in two types, ‘good karma’ and ‘bad karma’. In play, I represent karma points with poker chips; I found that using chips made it easier for everyone to remember to use it, and made tracking during play more efficient.

White karma is good, red karma is bad. Below I treat ‘white karma’ and ‘red karma’ as synonymous with ‘good karma’ and ‘bad karma’ respectively. My players started using the ‘white/red karma’ to describe it instead of ‘good/bad karma’ and the designation stuck.

I could probably come up with some in-game rationalization for the colors, too. Perhaps the heavens are white and hells are red? Maybe the Goddess of luck has a white hand and a red hand?

Hmm… grizzled mercenary sergeant telling his men, “The Red-Hand Bitch has come again… get ready, lads!” I can work with this.


Class Framework – Advanced Classes

Advanced classes provide some additional ability, sometimes at the cost of constraining character options. Each class has prerequisites such that a character has to work toward becoming a member of the class. To become a Wizard you must have some spell casting ability, a cleric must be able to channel divine power, a soldier can be expected to know how to wield a number of weapons and have certain training. The prerequisites and class-specific benefits for each class below are not shown; I have not worked on this framework in years and no longer recall specifics to each class.


Class Framework – Basic Classes

Basic classes are very flexible, but not particularly powerful when compared to Advanced Classes and Prestige Classes. They may be considered as something of an apprenticeship and preparation for later, more constrained ‘careers’.

Some sample basic classes are described below. I give them somewhat descriptive names to help identify them, but in practice they don’t get named as they are basically just a collection of abilities.


Class Framework

Over the years I’ve looked at how character classes are designed. It seems that most of the common class abilities could be reasonably modeled as feats. Using just the Revised System Resource Document, the classes tend to be fairly cohesive and have clearly-defined class abilities — and stepping on the special abilities of other classes is frowned on because it invades the class niche.

However, looking at the power and scope of many of these abilities, many of them look like they’re worth about a feat or could be reasonably modeled as a feat tree. With the number of ‘substitution levels’ in publications over the last few years, the niche abilities of the classes are being worn away (it’s possible for a Rogue to trade off Sneak Attack for a different ability; the Ranger can trade off his combat style access for special abilities, and so on). I think it’s time for me to revisit this idea.

Note that though this is marked ‘Work in Progress’ because it’s not complete, it’s also deprecated because I don’t plan to work on it any more.  I have another plan that should work better, but this information may still be of interest. (more…)

Enchanted Arms and Armor

I treat enchanted arms and armor slightly differently from core rules. This affects not only the enchanted items, but a few other rules as well.


Frenzy and Rage

With great anger comes great resp… well, smashing of stuff, really.  Here are three ways that immense fury can be modeled.


Cleric Domains

The cleric domains, as posted in the System Reference Document, do not quite suit my campaign.  I’m adjusting them to better fit my prejudices and campaign requirements.


Campaign Cosmology

This article describes a cosmology I’ve created and plan to use for my campaign. It is loosely based in part on the historical events of To Reign in Hell by Steven Brust. I’ve made allowances in it to include elements based on the ever-popular Cthulhu Mythos created by H. P. Lovecraft.