Monday, July 14, 2014

Of Rabbit Trails and Hit Dice

Sometimes, I don’t know whether you want the thought process behind a decision, or just the decision. Since you are reading this blog right now, I have to assume you are pretty hardcore about your interest in game design and system development. Am I right, or am I right?

So, here’s the rabbit trail… in addition to looking at B/X and OD+D for inspiration on Saga of the Splintered Realm, I am also going back to what I consider the other primal text- Tolkien. I’ve been reading the Hobbit this summer with my summer school students (who I am SURE are not reading this blog right now) and was thinking today about Gandalf.

Gandalf does not have 1d4 hit dice. No. Flippin. Way.

As a matter of fact, neither does Merlin. Or pretty much any fantasy wizard I can think of. The new edition of D+D agrees.

This line of thought converges with the idea that all weapons in original D+D deal 1d6 damage. In building monsters, I have very specifically aligned their HD with size. Really small creatures (rats, centipedes, pixies) have 1d4 hit dice. Medium creatures (a wide range – from goblins to hobgoblins and such things as spiders and giant snakes) have 1d6 hit dice. Large creatures (gnolls, bugbears, most bigger creatures like bears and great cats) have 1d8 hit dice. Huge creatures (ogres through giants) have 1d10 hit dice. The truly massive creatures (dragons) have 1d12 hit dice.

Three classes in the draft thus far break this rule – magic users (at 1d4) and fighters/dwarf myrmidons (at 1d8). This doesn’t make sense from a design perspective. Dwarves especially are not the size of bears… so why the bear HD?

Then I thought of rangers… and their fantastic 2d8 hit dice at level 1. See, I want to have an old school justification for big decisions I make. If it was good enough for Gary, it’s good enough for me and all that jazz.

Rangers were good enough for Gary.

So, I can make my human magic users have 1d6 hit dice like everyone else – and I can have my human fighter have +1d6 hit points at level 1. This works FANTASTICALLY well from a character development standpoint. 0 level characters (1d6 hit points) either become highly specialized (learning magic or a whole slew of thief skills) OR they become much tougher (taking that +1d6 hit points). This also balances out your fighter against other classes. I was running into the problem where fighters were pretty comparable with everyone else at level 1. Now, that +1d6 hit points (you get to re-roll 1-3, but you only take your CON bonus once) means that a fighter with a +2 CON modifier is going to have an average of about 12 hit points at level 1, whereas everyone else has about 7 with the same CON. If you house rule max HP at level 1, the fighter with a +3 CON modifier can conceivably have 15 hp at level 1. That’s nice compared to the magic user or cleric with 6. Now the fighter is absolutely better- prepared to take on the physical dangers of the dungeon in ways others cannot… but 1d6 hp per level keeps him from scaling too far. At absolute best, he has (13 x 6) + 36 = 114 hit points at level 12. Most fighters are going to cap out under 100 hp.

Now, dwarves and stoutlings are a problem. They either get the fighter hp bonus (which I am not a big fan of), or they need something else to make them special. There’s got to be a good reason to pick a dwarf or stoutling, but I don’t want that good reason to be as good as the reason to play a fighter. What’s a fella to do?

I suppose that for dwarves the simplest solution is a bonus to AC. They are tough little buggers and hard to do damage to. A dwarf in full plate with a shield is a challenge not because he can soak up so much damage, but because it’s hard to damage him to begin with. The numbers generally scale slowly, so I’m thinking just a +1 AC modifier is going to suffice. I’d go +2, but then you are looking at a dwarf in plate mail (+6) with a shield (+1) and a DEX bonus of +1 (the max he could get) having AC 20 at level 1 with no magical benefits… then again, I’m trying to make this a viable alternative to the fighter…

Let’s attack the math from a different perspective. Let’s say in a ‘typical’ evening of adventure, you maybe will get into 4-5 fights, each lasting 4-5 rounds. That means that you can expect to have an attack made upon you about 20 times… I’m really spit-balling here, but stay with me.

If an average attack deals 3 points of damage at levels 1-2, that means the fighter can sustain 2 more hits than the dwarf. If we go with a total even distribution on attack rolls (meaning that those 20 attacks just happen to hit every pip on a d20), the dwarf will need a +2 AC bonus to even out the bonus the fighter gets from the +6 hp.

However, at higher levels this swings the other way. At higher levels, you have fewer fights that last longer (but can still assume maybe 20 attacks against you in a session as a fair average). However, these hits are going to deal much more damage, sometimes on the order of 10 points a hit (or more). Now, that +2 AC bonus equates to 20 points of damage you are not taking… but you only have 5 extra hit points as a fighter over that dwarf. Dwarf wins hands down with the +2 AC bonus.

Okay, +1 it is. Remember too that the dwarf gets little things like a sense bonus while underground and a +1 to saving throws that the fighter doesn’t get. An extra 1d6 hit points at level 1 feels like the fighter gets a huge benefit, but in the end it’s going to be a wash with the perks the dwarf gets.

Stoutlings still need love, and I think that this falls into the field of more thief-like abilities... if they are sneakier and more perceptive, this might help offset their relative 'blah' around the other races. I have more thoughts on Stoutlings, but I'll save that for another post!

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