Monday, February 22, 2010

Resources, Damages, and Scales of Play

Earlier I've talked about various scales of play and how to move between them. One thing that becomes obvious when considering this is that you need to have different resources at each level of play.

Let's jump to an example. In older D&D, the primary character resource is the Hit Point. This resource is primarily depleted on a round-by-round basis, and its fully restored theoretically on a weekly or monthly basis (1 point per day with rest), but practically restored in a day or two (using clerical magic -- a down day where the cleric packs a bunch of healing spells will take care of most seriously wounded parties). The other resource is the Spell Slot, and this is also restored on a daily basis.

This works pretty well; by the mid-levels a party often has enough endurance for a few encounters denominated in rounds and then their daily resources are done. It has some major implications in the end game, however. For example, Delta has pointed out many times that the end game in D&D doesn't work. This is because an attack in one round that does 1d6 damage will do 10d6 damage over 10 rounds; and if the figure making said attack over 10 rounds consists of 20 orcs, then it will do 200d6 damage.

The HP transitions equally poorly for other purposes as well. For example, take forced marching in AD&D. Dealing some HP damage as a consequence of forced marching is meaningless as HP were restored every day. What's the point of incurring some damage for a long day's march if its just restored again in a day anyways? So, in AD&D the rule for forced marching incurs a loss of HD and it will take several days to fully recover. Other events start to pick up longer recovery times on the order of a magnitude as well: recovering after being in negative HP, the time it takes for a high level caster to fully recover all expended spells (add it up; its longer than you might think), ability score damage, and so on.

All this points, IMHO, to the need for different resources at different levels of scales. For example, I could just use HP at the segment level and then multiply all damage done by 10 for events played out on the round level and 100 for events played out on the turn level. But this leads to "no heroes in war."

WOTC realized this, at least in part, with the advent of Healing Surges in 4E. This mechanic works well on at least two levels of scale: HP continue to be used for things where the recovery time is measured in about a turn (the "short rest" of a few minutes), and Healing Surges are used for things where the recovery takes a day ("the long rest" overnight). Healing Surge loss could be used for quickly abstracting an entire situation (for example; "You have a boring random encounter and lose one healing surge; the environment is very hot and you all lose a healing surge. We all move on with our lives.") operating on the turns or even maybe hours level. I could see it working well for mass combat, where a formation of orcs attacking a hero might result int he loss of a healing surge or two rather than the massive (and lethal)loss of HP that would otherwise result.

It still doesn't work well for events occurring on the "many hours" level for things like forced marching as they're all recovered overnight. After this was exploited many times in skill challenges, our DM implemented a house rule of "resistant healing surge" loss which persisted for a longer period of of time or until several milestones were reached.

White Wolf also realized this with the use of three different types of wounds: bashing damage recovers in a few minutes, lethal damage takes days, and aggravated takes much longer. Additionally, there is a Willpower resource, which is recovered bit by bit on a daily basis but requires around a week to top off from empty.

So, my bottom line is that you need to consider having more than just one consumable resource if you want to be able to move between scales of play.

I've got more thoughts but for now this has turned out to be a fairly robust post, so more to come later.

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