Thursday, July 15, 2010

4E: Heroes and Supporting Cast

I've been thinking a lot about raise dead and mortality in campaigns, especially influenced by Campbell (Hero myth stuff). I've come up with one big general conclusion.

One big part of being The Hero is the miraculous return to life. Whether it is by "we thought he was dead, but he wasn't," a miracle, magic, reincarnation, whatever, the hero must willingly sacrifice himself at some point or accept some great risk in order to progress to the land of the dead and then return with some boon. There are a lot of ways to do this mechanically in 4E now; Raise Dead, reincarnation (especially Devas -- they scream "Reincarnated Hero by means of the divine" to me; Tieflings could also be reflavored as such using the infernal, and so could Shifters by using the Primal), and so on.

In contrast, supporting cast, while vitally important, are not heroes. Han Solo is not really a Hero (at least in the first Star Wars movie). Jesus was the Hero, and the Disciples were his supporting cast. Archetypes like the Wise Man (or The Hermit), the Magician, the King/Queen, the Trickster, etc are all vital and they help the Hero on his/her journey and they can make great PCs. But they are not immortal like the Hero. Obi Wan Kenobi needs to be struck down and not come back. The Hero may decide to try and recover the supporting cast member, and some supporting cast may find themselves becoming heroes, but not always.

In any event, I've come to the conclusion that in a story driven game, not everyone needs to be a Hero in the Campbell archetypal sense of the word. The essence of the Hero is not being the strongest or fastest or toughest; it is willingly accepting risk and ultimately even death in order to facilitate change and grow in wisdom. Not every player wants their character to change that much; many are happy with a relatively static character.


The question is, how to model this in mechanics?

First off it can be done qualitatively. Heroes get recovered from the Lost or are Reborn. Maybe not super easily (perhaps they play a temporary character and have to adventure into the Void to find their buddy after drawing from that Deck of Many Things, like the crew in the Pirates movies goes to find Jack Sparrow), but they will come back. You can deal with it on a case by case basis.

Supporting Cast generally do not get recovered from the Dead. They may have influence throughout the campaign (Obi Wan can communicate from beyond the grave), but they remain peripheral and advisors only once slain.

To model that mechanically and with more rules, you could do something like this:

For each Quest completed (maybe differentiate between Major and Minor here?), the DM will assess whether a player acted as a Hero -- which involves sacrifice, personal risk in a deep and meaningful way, and ultimately transformation of some level-appropriate type -- or as a supporting Archetype. Heroes get one "I'm Not Dead Yet!" Hero Token which can be spent in a variety of ways to bring one back from the dead:
- Reduced cost Raise Dead Rituals
- Reincarnation as a Deva, Tiefling, Shifter, Revenant or other appropriate form
- Third Failed death save is considered a 20 automatically
- Quest opened to allow party to recover you from the dead

Additionally, Heroes are viewed as special by Karma and may get situational bonuses when dealing with essentially random or unknowable events such as events driven by Fate, Luck, or the Gods. For example, the DM might give a +1/token bonus to Diplomacy checks when dealing with a God's Archon.

Supporting Cast are equally important to the narrative but play a different role. They generally do not go through difficult and risky transformations themselves, but they help the Hero on his Journey. They may be the wise old man that helps the Hero learn his true name, or the magician with a mystical tool to overcome challenges, or even just a loyal friend or guardian. For each Supporting Cast token, the player may select a minor mechanical benefit which is useful in a tangible and temporal sort of way:

- Select one ritual, alchemical formula, or martial practice. You may master and cast that ritual once per day. You gain a +2 feat bonus to the related skill when casting this ritual and for monster identification checks.
- When using the Aid Another Action, you grant a bonus equal to +2 or to the number of Hero's Tokens the recipient has (maximum 1/2 level), whichever is greater.
- You gain one use of the Beyond the Grave power. Make a note of this, and if your character ever dies, you may use the power. You may take this boon multiple times.
- Once per Day, you may use the Guardian Mark power.
- Once Per Day you may use the Hero's Escape power.

Hero's Escape
Fly, you fools!
Daily *
Move Action * Close Burst 5
Target: Allies within burst
Effect: Push the targets one square for each Hero token they possess.
Special: You must be bloodied to use this power. There must be at least one foe, trap, or natural terrain hazard within the Burst.

Guardian Mark
Daily *
Minor Action * Close Burst 5
Target: One creature in Burst
Effect: You mark the target until the end of your next turn.
Special: You may expend a healing surge when using this power. You regain no hit points, but an ally within the burst gains +1 to all defenses for each Hero's Token they possess (minimum 1) until the end of your next turn and temporary hit points equal to 1/2 your level + the number of Hero's Tokens they possess.

Beyond the Grave
Use the force, Luke.
Free Action * Immediate Interrupt
Trigger: A hero's initiative occurs
Target: One ally with at least one hero token
Special: You conjure a spirit, send a telepathic message, or even just inspire a fond and useful memory at a critical juncture. Grant one of the following boons:
- Skilled Spirit: The target gains a power bonus to a skill equal to the number of Hero Tokens he or she possesses until the end of the encounter and can reroll a skill check that he or she just rolled. This skill must be one that the previously slain character was trained in.
- Rejuvenating Spirit: The target rolls a Saving Throw against one effect that a save can end. Until the end of the encounter, the target gains a power bonus on Saving Throws equal to the number of Hero Tokens he or she possesses. Special: This may only be used if the slain character was a Leader.
- Defending Spirit: An ephemeral, shimmering spirit coalesces controlled by a Hero. It behaves like the Astral Defender (Cleric Attack 9), except the Hero may select any Ability Score + 2 (+4 for Paragon) for its attack, and the damage it deals is not radiant. Remove the Divine, Implement, and Radiant key words. Special: This may only be used if the slain character was a Defender.
- Vengeful Spirit: The Hero gains a Power Bonus to their next attack roll equal to the number of Hero's Tokens they possess. The target of the attack must be one that was known to the slain spirit, or must be a member of a group or race that the slain was dedicated to combatting. Until the end of the encounter, the Hero gains a bonus to damage against this one foe equal to the number of Hero Tokens they possess. Special: This may only be used if the slain character was a Striker.
- Controlling Spirit: The area is haunted by a controlling presence. Until the end of the encounter, on the Hero's initiative, you gain a standard action which can be used to direct any Wizard cantrip. Once per encounter, when the Hero is bloodied, as an immediate reaction, you may use any Wizard At-Will power (use the Hero's best at-will attack power to determine to-hit and damage), centered on the Hero. You may repeat this attack if the hero is knocked unconscious or slain. This attack does not provoke an OA. Special: This may only be used if the slain character was a Controller. At the DM's discretion, you may substitute another Controller class' At-Will powers (for example, a slain Druid may grant a Druid At-Will power).

On Thu, Jul 15, 2010 at 9:01 AM, Dan Lucas wrote:
So, I've been thinking about dead characters, and the fact that, in some ways, it seems better to come back as a new character rather than raise the old one (in fact, I don't think I've ever been in a 4e game where anyone used Raise Dead). I was thinking about this, and several possible house rules came to mind. I was wondering what you thought of the issue, and whether a house rule is needed at all.

Intention: These proposed rules are meant to encourage players to raise characters rather than making new characters, hopefully without penalizing players who are already down from a bad encounter. The problem is that new characters come pretty well equipped--very well equipped if the party loots the dead character's body.

Rule #1: I call this one the Auracrux Funeral Rites enforcer.

It is common practice among adventurers living in the world of Auracrux to inter their companions with all of the possessions they held in life. Sometimes exceptions are made for trophies, or mementos for loved ones, but this is done with caution, as karma will judge the keeper's motives. If possessions are taken from a dead player character and used or sold, a character may be afflicted with a curse. The origin of the curse is debated--it may be spirits, angels or devils inflicting punishment for weakening the soul on its astral journey, or it may be the ghost of the departed. Sometimes the curse may be inflicted on a companion of the departed's associates who unwittingly benefits from the grave robbery. Whichever member of the party benefits most is inflicted with the curse. This curse does not affect those who sell the deceased's equipment in order to raise the deceased. The effects are such: The character takes a -1 penalty to all attack rolls, skill checks, saving throws, and ability checks. It can only be removed by a special ritual called "Assuage the Dead."

Assuage the Dead
Level: 8
Category: Binding
Time: 8 hours
Duration: Instantaneous
Component Cost: Special
Market Price: 680 g.p.
Key Skill: Religion

You douse the recipient in special oils and pray to your preferred power to remove the animosity of the dead. The Graver Robber's Curse is removed.

The cost of casting this ritual varies based on the level of the player character whose body was looted. An heroic tier character incurs a cost of 500 g.p.; a paragon tier character incurs a cost of 5,000 g.p.; an epic tier character incurs a cost of 50,000 g.p.

(Essentially, this rule means that you have to pay the same penalty as raise dead if you choose to loot the old character).


Rule #2: This one's less flavorful, and more of a stick, but more straightforward and even stronger incentive to raise dead characters.

Reduce the amount of liquid assets at character creation by 500 g.p. at heroic tier, 5,000 g.p. at paragon tier, and 50,000 g.p. at epic tier (to a minimum of 100 g.p.). As they acclimate themselves to a new party, characters joining the party take a -1 penalty to all attack rolls, skill checks, saving throws, and ability checks until they have passed three milestones. (Essentially, this means new characters are treated just as if they had been raised. Also, it frees characters to loot their fallen comrade).

I don't know if either of these are necessary, and they seem rather stickish (as opposed to carrotish). But I really do want people to raise dead characters. Another option, I guess.

Rule #3: Update Raise Dead as follows:

Raise Dead
Level: 1
Component Cost: 0 gp
Market Price: 180 gp

Remove the second paragraph of the ritual.

Add the following: This ritual may only be used on characters who still have some destiny to fulfill. As players characters are powerful agents of change, they are always valid recipients (unless the player deems otherwise). Most non-player characters, on the other hand, have followed the path of destiny to their deaths and cannot be raised by this ritual. A ritual caster can tell whether the recipient is valid with a standard action before the ritual begins.

So essentially, Raise Dead would require only a body, some time, and a ritual caster (or scroll). Again, characters would be allowed to loot their friends.

So yeah, what do you think, are any of these three rules desirable, or is the status quo preferable?