Pushing Your Luck

Many RPGs include resource management elements. Some is relatively mundane (how much food did you bring?), some is fantastic (how many spell slots or spell points do you have available?), some is more critical (how many hit points do you have left?). Some allow exchange of resources, such as eating food or using spells to recover hit points.


First a bit of background, laying groundwork for what comes next.

Rest Mechanic

One of my favorite elements of Trailblazer from Bad Axe Games, is their rest mechanic. Briefly, you can rest between encounters and regain resources such as hit points, expended spells (at least, some of them), and class abilities that are limited in daily uses (now defined as ‘per rest’ rather than ‘per day’).

This comes at a cost of all spells with ongoing duration (rounds or minutes per level, or set time, but not instant or permanent) expiring. This is often seen as costing the party their buffs, but it can also be used to remove negative effects. I consider this generally a wash.

Overall, I very much like this mechanic, and Trailblazer was the first place I’d seen it. D&D 4e had short rests and long rests, but they didn’t quite work the same (and I’ve never played 4e). 13th Age has many 4e elements, including quick rests after combat allowing you to use healing surges recoveries to get hit points back.

Escalation Die

13th Age brings something else to the table that I think more interesting and more applicable to this post: the escalation die.

The escalation die represents increasing momentum during combat, as PCs build up their tactical advantages and whatnot. The escalation die starts at +1 on the second round of combat and increases by +1 each round to a maximum of +6. The PCs can add the value of this die to their attack rolls, and some abilities have effect only when the escalation die is at or above certain values. This can be either equal to exceeding a certain value (the escalation die gates the effect) or equal to specific values (can only be done when the escalation die shows 2, 4, or 6).

Generally the escalation die is used only by the PCs. Monsters and NPCs do not get to use it. Mostly; there are some special NPCs and monsters that do get to.

If the PCs seem to be avoiding conflict, the escalation die does not advance, and when fighting stops the escalation resets to 0.


A property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force.

One of the limitations of Trailblazer’s rest mechanic is that there is no limit on use, beyond the cost of a bit of time (ten minutes) and the loss of ongoing effects (which might be a benefit).

What if instead (or perhaps better, in addition) the game incorporated the escalation die, and it reset on rest? Or maybe is halved at the end of combat as long as the PCs immediately continue, and not reset until resting?

Being able to continue at full (or even half) escalation could be worth pushing their luck a little. Getting a free +6 on attacks is probably worth it unless you’re dangerously short on resources, and even +3 might be worth considering. Even more, it can bring powers online immediately that otherwise might take several rounds to build up escalation for.

Alternate Escalation

I like the idea of escalation, but I don’t much like that the escalation is based on time. What if instead it were based on condition? That is, escalation comes from exertion and pushing on when the going gets tough, more than it does just on time.

For instance, in Iron Heroes characters with the berserker class gain fury tokens from their own actions, but also from their opponents’ actions: when a friend is defeated, the berserker gains 5 fury tokens, and even just getting hit (must penetrate armor and do damage, does not need to do damage if fully soaked by unarmored damage reduction).

Perhaps each PC has their own escalation track. Conditions such as ‘bloodied’ (reduced to or below half hit points), having expended a certain amount of magic (say, number of highest level slots consumed? A level 9 wizard who has expended all fourth- and fifth-level spells might have escalation 2), or even normal conditions such as being poisoned, could all increase escalation.

A defeated PC might give +1 escalation to all allies (followers and the like, perhaps not).

In this case I expect I might not reduce escalation merely for resting, but escalation could be reduced as the conditions granting it are removed.

Huh, it seems this is an anti-death spiral mechanic.

Closing Comments

I am likely to incorporate something like this into Echelon, especially if I can integrate it with effort rules from Godbound. More on that another time, though.

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