20 Quick Questions: Rules

Brendan at Untimately posted a list of 20 Quick Questions about rules as applied in your campaign.  I’ve put this off for weeks, but here are my answers for my next campaign.

Keith’s Westmarch-Style Campaign Rules

I’ve spoken before about wanting to run a Westmarches-style sandbox campaign.

I was planning to keep close to RAW (closer than I usually would, in order to minimize learning curve for new players and to reduce the time spent on rules-mods — I’ve got Echelon RPG for that.

Here are 20 rules clarifications that are likely to be needed anyways at some point.

1. Ability Score Generation Method

27-25-23, I really like the score sets it tends to generate.  Not entirely random, so each PC tends to have scores comparable to others in his group, but not as stupidly efficient as point-buy can get.

2. How are Death and Dying Handled?

I’ll probably use this opportunity to play test my alternative hit point model.  It significantly reduces the need for combat medics, I think to ‘nice to have’ rather than ‘need to survive’, without completely upsetting game design balance.

Most damage basically becomes ‘nonlethal damage’ — taking this damage makes it easier to render you helpless, but left alone you’ll probably recover once you get a chance to do so.  Critical hits and other major damage, and systemic damage such as poisons and death magic do real damage.  If your hit points (base hit points minus real damage) falls below your accumulated nonlethal damage you are helpless and all damage after that is real damage if someone wants it to be.  If your hit points reach zero, you are dead.

3. What About Raising the Dead?

Certainly not available at the local temple.  The gods left some time ago and taken their great miracles with them.  Part of the reason people now quest is in search of the gods — perhaps someone will discover a god who will provide the ability to raise dead again… and of course, there may be rituals that could do the same thing.

In any case, almost always at this point dead means dead and you’re rolling up a new character.

4. How are Replacement PCs Handled?

Since this is likely to be a setting based on discovery of what was lost (or had never been known, come to that) I think experience points will largely come from discoveries (new places, new knowledge, new gods) and recovery (treasury, items, and places).  Since this doesn’t really happen much without adventuring, I expect that PCs will usually come in at first level.

However, the number and variety of sites to explore is expected to be fairly significant, so it should be possible to switch between characters between adventures.  I expect that each player will have a stable of characters to draw on, and can thus have available characters of different levels.  Bringing a new character in (adding to the stable) might mean that PC shouldn’t adventure with the PC group that got that last player’s PC killed… but doesn’t mean he can’t play with the same players.  Most places are expected to take multiple attempts to fully explore (and possibly more to reclaim), so shifting PCs is likely a common occurence.

5. Initiative: Individual, Group, or Something Else?

Individual for PCs and major opponents, group for mobs and mooks.

6. Are there Critical Hits and Fumbles?  How do the Work?

No fumbles.

Critical hits are more or less as per D&D 3.5 RAW, except that the bonus damage is nonlethal and the base damage is real.  See 2. Death and Dying, above.

This might change through play testing, so the full critical damage is applied as real damage, but at this point I don’t know that it’s needed.

7. Do I Get Any Benefits for Wearing a Helmet?

I assume it’s part of your armor.  This is frankly below my level of detail and I don’t want to track it that closely.  I’m willing to treat the decrease in perception in a fight while wearing a helmet roughly equivalent the shell-like protection you would have gained and call it a wash — unrealistic as it is.

8. Can I Hurt my Friends if I Fire into Melee or do Something Similarly Silly?

You are most welcome to do so.  If you miss your target because of cover, you hit that cover.

9. Will we Need to Run from some Encounters, or Will we be able to Kill Everything?

I’m aiming for an OSR-style campaign here, using D&D 3.x-based rules.

You know what OSR stands for, right?

“Oh Shit!  RUN!”

One of my dissatisfactions with D&D 3.x and after is the expectation that PCs will run into primarily things they can successfully defeat.  This will not be the case here, though I will try to give warning that the group is in over their heads before they get wiped out to the last man.  On the other hand, what with the character stable each player is expected to maintain, there has to be some reason to believe that place is so dangerous no one has never returned alive.

Which hardly counts as a warning if no one has ever gone there.

10. Level-Draining Monsters: Yes or No?

I am still thinking about this.  I suspect level drain might work something like hit point damage — accumulate negative levels, but you can get over them given time to do so.  Assuming you don’t die, of course.

11. Are there Going to be Cases where a Failed Save Results in PC Death?

Almost certainly.  Even failing a save vs. burning hands can mean the difference between life and death.

However, if the question means ‘will there be inherently Save or Die effects?’, I think there won’t.  There will certainly be effects (such as disintegrate) that are somewhat more spectacular if you die of them, but I don’t expect any fundamentally ‘Save or Die’ effects.

12. How Strictly are Encumbrance and Resources Tracked?

Not terribly.  Make sure you know your combat and noncombat loads (you can fight while carrying your backpack if you want, or I’ll let you drop it when the fight starts so it doesn’t get in your way… just tell me which it is) but otherwise it probably only comes up if you’re humping unusually heavy stuff around (like treasure… or dead comrades).

13. What is Required when Gaining a Level?

Probably a training period, where you work to refine and develop new abilities.  I’m fairly certain there will not be an AD&D-like mandatory training period to bleed off money, but I would be willing to entertain the idea of hiring trainers for specific abilities (such as a fighter hiring someone to teach him a skill outside the normal class list — it’s not part of his normal skill set and thus would cost more per rank, and be limited in the ranks he could gain, but maybe he really likes dancing and wants to be really good at it).

New spells automatically?  I’m somewhat torn.  I think perhaps so, but they will be limited to a core list (I will likely cut down the core lists from the Player’s Handbook).  Anything after that has to be learned the hard way (go out and find it).  I expect clerics will be more restricted than RAW and need to learn specific spells, much as wizards do.

In fact, wizards may even be required to be specialists, possibly using the specialist options from Unearthed Arcana (so if you don’t like having a familiar, you may be able to do something else).  I talk about this in more detail in my meta-classes post

14. What Do I Get Experience For?

Originally answered as part of 4. How are Replacement PCs Handled?, above (if Question 20 is “ignore 1 through 19 and just write your name at the top of the page” I will feel inclined to administer a beating to Brendan).

Since this is likely to be a setting based on discovery of what was lost (or had never been known, come to that) I think experience points will largely come from discoveries (new places, new knowledge, new gods) and recovery (treasury, items, and places).

Killing monsters isn’t particularly part of this.  I’ll probably still have some experience points granted through this (say, 20-25%) but the bulk should come through other means.

15. How are Traps Located?  Description, Dice Rolling, or Some Combination?

If my Saturday night group is any indication, “the hard way”.  We just about used up our trap finder.

To be honest, I’m not really fond of traps.  I rarely see them applied effectively in ways that make sense to me.

At this point I expect that unless the place is occupied by someone who would maintain it, most ‘traps’ would be more accurately described as hazards and can mostly be dealt with through description.  You find a weak section of floor, a rickety foot bridge, a precariously-balanced log (deadfall).  I might consider allowing the dice rolling method as an expedient, but I’m quite happy to let the players talk themselves out of a trap if it makes sense.

Mind you, I used to make my DM cry because I could do much the same thing (“A pit opens under you and you fall, taking…” “The big fighter has me on belay, with about five feet of slack”  “sigh the harness has slipped a little and your rack yourself on the groin strap…” — still better than falling on the poison spikes). so I have a bit of a bias here.

16. Are Retainers Encouraged and How does Morale Work?

I hadn’t really considered it until now.  Probably more or less D&D 3.x standard (Leadership feat).  Most of the people mad enough to be adventurers are PCs, and thus not available as retainers.  Leadership allows you a cohort who is prepared to go with you, plus followers back home to provide other services.  When and if PCs become powerful enough they might start to gain a following (such as in AD&D and BECMI), especially if they actually have a base.  This is probably not an issue for quite a while, though, and might change.

No comment on morale because it doesn’t come up with regard to hirelings and retainers yet.

17. How do I Identify Magic Items?

Initially trial and error, possibly bardic (or other) knowledge.  I don’t expect the identify spell to be readily available, to start, but it might come up.  I don’t expect much by way of enhancement effects, but if I do include them I expect I’ll be willing to make them known with a bit of experimentation.

Right now I’m leaning toward ‘lore’ being one of the major recoverables in this game, so it wouldn’t shock me that it would take an adventure to find out more about what a magic item actually does.

18. Can I Buy Magic Items?  Oh, Come On: How About Just Potions?

At this point it might be possible to find consumable magic items (scrolls and potions, mostly, probably not wands) available for purchase.  I think Use Magic Device will be usable untrained, so anyone literate has a chance to use a scroll.  Of course, the caster level check on a scroll could be problematic if you are not a caster.

This is tightly related to the creation of magic items, so see below.

19. Can I Create Magic Items?  When and How?

Not per the rules in the Player’s Handbook.  Creating magic items typically requires a ritual that must be learned (unique to the item) rather than a feat, and often cannot be readily performed anyway.  Rituals for certain minor items are known to at least some people, but not often shared.  Imbuing a scroll or a potion with magic is not terribly difficult, though not many have the ability and may not know many such rituals anyway.

It will still be easier than in AD&D, but not nearly as mechanical as in D&D 3.x.  Unlike D&D 3.x you don’t just throw money, experience points, and a little bit of time at it, and it happens.  However, you don’t have to go to quite the convoluted trouble described in the AD&D rules, either.

I’ll share more when it comes up.  For now, I haven’t fully decided on the details.

20. What About Splitting the Party?

I prefer not to, just for the sake of play efficiency.  It tends to be boring when you’re not in the part of the party that’s getting attention and doing stuff.

However, if you really want to, you can reduce your group’s survivability by doing so.  Someone has to feed the rumors of dangerous places, after all.

Closing Comments

Contrary to what the last answer suggests, I don’t aim to be a killer DM.  However, unlike most campaigns I’ve run where player death was undesirable because it would mess with the scenarios, in this case I have no need within the story to keep any particular PC or group of PCs alive.  I think I have enough mitigating factors and rules in place to limit the effect of any particular PC death, or even TPK.


  1. Right now I’m leaning toward ‘lore’ being one of the major recoverables in this game, so it wouldn’t shock me that it would take an adventure to find out more about what a magic item actually does.

    I want to play even more now. If you get more players signing up let me know how the timezones thing works out! In fact I’ll just go see if I can find some suckers in this timezone myself :-3

    Also, #15: so what you’re saying is you want us to make you cry? :-U

    • as it happens, I have every other Monday off, and Sundays, so a game that starts 9am-11am Pacific Time (which would be 5pm-7pm your time, if I recall correctly) could be workable.

      And I don’t think it’d make me cry. I reward good play, and taking good precautions is a thing that makes me happy. If it so happens that the challenges I put in front of you are easy for you, so be it. No problem.

      Now, that chain you have holding you to the next guy… when the dragon grabs you and takes off, he might end up with a whole string of fish. Lucky dragon!

      As with climbing, roping everyone together might mean it’s less likely that you lose one person, but increases the risk you lose all of them… so I’m okay with it. But I’m not a dick that’ll deliberately set that up because you found an otherwise good way to stay alive.

      However, the locals might come to learn that you guys really like fire magic and take steps.

  2. Pingback: Links of the Week: March 6, 2012 | Keith Davies — In My Campaign - Keith's thoughts on RPG design and play.

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