Hit Point Variations: Mana and Madness and Taint, Oh My!

A-Z 2014 HA couple of years ago I wrote a post On Hit Points and Healing, and a couple months after that a post exploring the Implications of Changes to the Hit Point Model. According to my logs, it seems both have been fairly well-received.

It occurred to me recently that the model can be further extended to other purposes. Actually, not just recently, I wrote about this a year ago, too… but with different emphasis, exploring more the idea than the model.

Hard To Kill vs. Hit Points

In the first article I describe a change to the hit point model used in D&D 3.x and Pathfinder that changes play but does not appear to harm balance.

Hit points represent how ‘hard to kill’ a character is, rather than measure durability to physical trauma. A low-level character is pretty easy to kill (low hit points; most attacks can easily kill him). A high-level character is harder to kill — he is tougher, more cunning, luckier, whatever it may be — and the same amount of damage rolled causes less physical trauma than to the lower-level character. The high-level character doesn’t have more meat and thus greater ability to survive trauma, he has a greater ability to avoid trauma. Give him time to take a breather, fix his gear, and patch what small wounds he has taken and he’ll be back to form pretty quickly. He’s still quite functional (endorphins are wonderful things!), but had he stayed in the fight longer he may have been exposed to the blow that actually would have killed him.

Critical hits and systemic damage such as poison or death magic cause actual trauma. Simple rest won’t repair the damage immediately, but longer rest or magic can. It just occurred to me that a ‘critical fumble’ on certain saving throws could result in injuries considered ‘actual trauma’ as well — fail a Reflex save against a fireball normally and you’re briefly dazzled (not the condition) by flame and smoke, choking on smoke, somewhat singed and tender to the touch, but not hurt that badly really… but fumble the save and you’re at least mildly cooked and will need some time to fully recover.

This change does not affect how long a particular fight can last. A character who goes in with thirty hit points still has thirty hit points, and only thirty hit points, to last him the fight, assuming he doesn’t get healed during the fight. The only meta-game effect really is that he doesn’t need to make use of a healing stick (wand of cure light wounds, which seems to be standard-issue gear for most PC parties as soon as it can be acquired) between fights. It extends the adventuring day and largely avoids the need of an item that annoys me (and many other GMs).

“Hard to Kill” can, after a fashion, be seen as a resource that can be used (or taken away…) and recovers at different rates depending how it happened. Very quickly for things that could best be limited ‘per fight’, and somewhat more slowly for things that might be limited ‘per day’, or take even longer or require specific action for things that recover more slowly or with more difficulty.

There are other things that can fit this model, I explore some below.

Geographical Assignment in the Sandbox

A-Z 2014 GLast night I generated a campaign map and a graph showing how major sites of interest link to each other.

I have 26 nodes at my highest level, and I usually stick to a total of 10-12 nodes in any given graph for a particular level of detail and locality (such as the Node-Based Megadungeon – 11 regions at the highest level, followed by usually 8-10 areas inside each made for somewhat more than a hundred nodes, but less than a dozen that I had to be aware of at any given time). This feels simultaneously like a lot of nodes (more than I usually work with) and not very many nodes (these 26 nodes are expected to cover, to some degree, the entire hex map).

Time for a quick sanity check. The hex map is 80×80, and 80 is quite close to 3*26. Assuming even distribution, each of my initial 26 nodes might represent a region of 240 hexes, which is a region about 15-16 hexes across. Assuming the nodes in the graph are physically located in the center of each of these regions, on average we’re looking at about 90 miles, about four days travel, between them. In terms of area, 240 six-mile hexes comes to about 7,500 square miles. Vancouver Island is about 12,000 square miles, 7,500 square miles is about as big as I’d want to try to capture as a single node. In practice I might even end up having each node represent a smaller region because about half the map is water anyway.

Okay, looks sane. I like it when that happens.

Now to start looking at where the various nodes in the graph land on the hex map.

Founding of a New Sandbox

A-Z 2014 FI think it’s time for me to start working on another sandbox campaign. My last one stalled on me when I got busy with another project. I’d like to build this one using a slightly different approach, so rather than trying to update the previous one I’ll simply start over.

This will be in large part a demonstration of my Campaign and Scenario Design methods, including the updated entity template.


I am coming into this with almost no assumptions about the setting except that it is a sandbox. If I had a group at hand that was going to play this campaign immediately and wanted to have a hand in developing it I might run a Microscope session as I did with the Seekers of Lore campaign, but I think this time I’ll build from scratch.

Entity Scope, Updated and Explained

A-Z 2014 EThis article expands on a sometimes troublesome piece of the Entity Template I posted earlier.

‘Scope’ measures how broad an influence or impact an entity has on a game. This is not necessarily a measure of how much power an entity has, but power and scope often are related.

Scope Definitions

I use the scope definitions below. I will start with the smallest and work to the largest.

Entity Template, Updated and Explained

A-Z 2014 EThe Entity Template is one of the more frequently used tools in my campaign and scenario design toolbox. Whether I actually present it or not, the template guides my thoughts to ensure I don’t miss any standard design elements.

There was a time, long ago, when much of my scenario preparation would focus on mechanical elements needed or useful for play. I would draw the maps needed, choose monsters, roll up NPCs, and so on, then wrap a story around them. This was good enough for murderhobo adventuring (“wander around, find things, kill them, take their stuff”) but eventually I concluded it did not lead to the type of scenarios I wanted to run.

I started thinking in terms of story, and adventures became an exercise in resolving the story, seeing how a particular situation played out. This was an improvement in my view because it shifted the focus from the mechanical elements to a more narrative view. In the end I decided this was still somewhat lacking, especially when the players didn’t particular care about the answer to a particular question.

Now I spend my time at a higher level of abstraction. I identify and describe the major actors and elements that could be involved in a scenario. I refer to these actors and elements as ‘entities’, and in their initial design I focus almost entirely on ‘story-based’ considerations. In the early stages I only note mechanical elements if they relate to specific abilities or effects I want the entities to have (such as high-level wizardry, or an afflicted curse of distraction). I implement the entities mechanically when it looks like the mechanics may become relevant.

An ‘entity’ is anything significant enough to document for my game. This is most often a person, place, or thing (which might be a physical object, a concept, an event, or some other thing that is not a creature or place). Almost anything story-oriented can be an entity. Game elements such as feats, spells, or character classes are unlikely to be entities — though entities may ultimately be closely related to these game elements and mechanically defined in terms of them.

By defining a scenario in terms of the entities, the major actors involved, I can focus on the tensions between the entities. I know what each wants, and can extrapolate pretty easily what might happen when the PCs stumble into things and interfere.

The template presented in minimalist form below, then defined and explained below that.

Echelon Reference Series

A-Z 2014 ESome time ago I switched the development of the Echelon roleplaying game from Dungeons & Dragons 3.x to Pathfinder. I figured there was more material more readily accessible.

I was right about that. In fact, it turns out that individual topics could not fit entirely in my brain — there was too much material, spread across too many books. I started gathering and organizing the information by type. I realized that if I find these books useful, others might also, so I improved their organization and working to make the information more useful.

There are several steps to this.

First, the information is organized so related information is gathered together. Each source data file gets parsed and similar contents gathered together — and where appropriate, merged. The spell lists from all sources get combined by class (all bard spells together, all cleric spells together, etc.). “Class subfeatures” such as individual rage powers and individual rogue talents are similarly grouped under a single heading.

Second, information is cross-referenced and updated as needed. Individual spell ‘level’ fields are updated to include new spell lists, spell lists include new spells, and so on.

Third, prerequisites are parsed and, where possible, explicitly and specifically linked. Of somewhat over 5,000 prerequisites I have parsed, somewhat more than 90% can achieve precise links to other objects. Of the remainder, many cannot yet be linked simply because I have not yet incorporated the information they will link to, and most of the remainder are basically “weird”, not actually having specific things to point to. This allows me to do the next thing.

Fourth, where there are relationships between objects, I tend to diagram them. I have thousands of pictures showing how different game elements are prerequisites of each other.

Fifth, game elements are applied as needed. Pathfinder is a game of ‘design by exception’, where many things describe simply how they change something else (subdomains change domain powers and domain spell lists, and archetypes change class feature sets). I take these game elements and apply them to make these changes, and present the results so it can be seen exactly how the changing element alters the base element. For example, I present not only the base domain and the subdomains that change it, I present also the new domains in full, as if they are domains themselves. Archetypes get similarly applied to base classes and the results presented as variant classes.

It’s a lot of work, but I’m really pleased with the results so far. The information is accessible and as complete as I can reasonably make it. I look forward to printing a physical copy to have on my shelf.

Or shelves. This thing is getting huge.

D&D: Data & Diagrams

A-Z 2014 DD&D isn’t just Dungeons & Dragons, after all.

Though I started playing Dungeons & Dragons a bit more than thirty years ago (thank you, arithmetic, for that painful fact), and it does relate to today’s topic.

A couple days ago I posted about the Echelon Reference Series, an exhaustive (and exhausting!) work gathering Pathfinder gaming information and organizing it to make it more accessible.

A large part of that is finding better ways to present information. I only learned of Edward Tufte in the last couple of years, but I hold him in high regard because of his work in finding ways to convey information so it can be easily and quickly understood. I’m nowhere near his calibre, but I do try to do the same thing. Information that cannot be understood is noise.

One way I’m doing that with the Echelon Reference Series is to organize the information. To some degree this consists of making things more consistent, and reorganizing some things, and even rewriting small amounts here and there. In other places, though, I draw diagrams to help make information clearer and more readily understood.


Covenant of First Scholar Herol

A-Z 2014 CIn ages past, the First Scholar Herol discovered how to make markings on animal skins that knowledge will not be lost. This brought him to the attention of Strolen, small god — or rather, sysadmin of Strolen’s Citadel, close enough :) — interested in oddities of the world. In one of his last acts in the mortal world, Strolen made Herol a jesoph, imbuing him with divine power that he could act as the god’s eyes and hands in the mortal world.

(The covenant text that follows is modeled after the Covenants and Gifts presented in Classic Play: Book of Immortals from Mongoose. Mechanical effects will be summarized at a high level between the terms.)

I will aid all Seekers of Lore when they call. I will stand between them and ignorance; I will guide them and share with them the tools needed to further their cause. In exchange, I accept the gift and the burden of the Eyes of Heragor.

This is a modified ‘Allegiance’ term, adapted to better fit the pursuit of knowledge. Seekers of Lore already choose to enter dangerous situations to regain lost knowledge, protecting them from the consequences of their decisions, and thus from learning from their actions, is contrary to the spirit of the covenant. In exchange, Herol gains a Numen gift (modified Archon — ‘Call Neutral Fey Archon’, but as gatherers of information rather than warriors).

Burgeoning Barbarian Book Brewing

A-Z 2014 AThat should have ‘B’ well and truly covered.

The first release from Echelon Game Design is nearing completion. I aim to have Echelon Reference Series: Barbarian ready for release by the end of April.

The Echelon Reference Series is (or will be) a collection of books gathering information on specific topics of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, organizes it, and presents it for use by Pathfinder players and game designers.

How much information? Well, this first book has, so far:

  • 1 base class (Barbarian)
  • 24 archetypes, and thus
  • 24 variant classes
  • 161 feats appropriate to the Barbarian class or depending on its class features
  • 96 class features (I think, I had to count manually and I was rushing) all used by the barbarian class or the archetypes here
  • 207 rage powers (ditto)

Almost everything here that has a prerequisite or is a prerequisite of another class feature, class subfeature, or feat has a diagram explicitly illustrating how they are related. Many are quite simple, some are quite surprising, and some make people feel vaguely horrified at how complex things have gotten….

Still, I aim to have this out by the end of the month. It is currently weighing in at somewhat over 200 pages, including about fourteen pages of index.

ERS-Barbarian Cover almost final

ERS-Barbarian Cover almost final

Adventure Design Requirements

A-Z 2014 ANormally I’d probably title this “Scenario Design Requirements”, but I’m taking another run at the A-Z Challenge so “Adventure Design Requirements” it is.

Some time ago a friend gave me a set of three “Character Design Requirements“. She was playing in a primarily ‘Supers’ game, but with only a small change the guidelines work with most roleplaying games.

All Player Characters (PCs) should…

  1. Have a way to get to the action.
  2. Have a way to be useful in the action.
  3. Have a way to survive the action.

Just as the players have a responsibility to ensure their Player Characters can reasonably take part in an adventure, the adventure designer has a responsibility to ensure the same thing. The guidelines above can be restated for the adventure designer.

All adventures should…

  1. Have a way for PCs to get to the action.
  2. Have a way for PCs to be useful in the action.
  3. Have a way for PCs to survive the action.

As with the character design requirements, the application of these guidelines is not required to be obvious.