Thursday, August 9, 2012

Whitebox: Elements

This house rule attempts to cultivate a player typology which then allows players to pursue -- and be rewarded for -- activities which they find personally satisfying.  All too often, a player who is primarily interested in, say, interpersonal relationships with the other players gets punished for table-talk, banter, exploring backstories of other PCs, etc at a table where Hard Core SWAT-style Dungeon Clearing is the order of the day.  Likewise, some tables focus heavily on role playing and the one player interested in clearing dungeons like its her job is punished for failing to talk about the feelings of the PCs.

The fundamental premise is that players can be described on two axis:  quality of interaction with the game world and with other players.  On each axis, players can either interact with or act on the respective aspect of the experience.  By identifying that axis explicitly, interesting abilities and rewards can be tailored for each player.

There is no need to balance these among the group.  The entire group may be one or two elements.  In solo or two player games, in particular, the interpersonal elements (air/fire) should probably be de-emphasized or avoided.


Characters may select one element to be their foundational basis.  The classical elements should be based more on player -- not character -- characteristics.  Elements determine two important things:  quests (used for gaining "bonuses" when levelling up) and a few special benefits related to focus and action points.

QUESTS:  At the start of each main quest, randomly determine (draw/roll) a side quest related to your character's element.  The quests have been linked.  This side quest can remain a secret (i.e. you don't have to tell other players).  If it is fulfilled at the end of the main quest, you gain one of the following rewards:

  • Action Hero:  Start next adventure with +2 Action Points (or class based equivalent)
  • Loot:  Cash reward equal to LEVEL*4^2, or appropriate magic item
  • Long Haul:  +1 to ability score of your choice
STATUS (Expend Action Point):  Each element lets the character spend a turn to gain access to or influence an institution or potentially helpful NPC.  A normal reaction roll should be made. There are three different forms:
  • Add wandering NPC of same tier (+/- 1 level) who comes to the PC's current location.   The NPC will stay in the general area and may make a few more spontaneous appearances until the completion of the current quest.
  • Add fixed NPC of one tier (no more than +3 levels) greater who has a fixed place of business in a local town.  The NPC will stay in business until at least the completion of the current quest.
  • Gain favor of NPC of up to two tiers (no more than +6 levels) greater; this is not a charm but the NPC will be favorably disposed (at least granting an audience) for the duration of the current quest.

  • Theme:  Interact with the game world.
  • Status (Expend Action Point):  Clergy (Priests, Monks, Nuns, etc) and Sages
  • Know Creature (Expend Focus/Full Round Action):  Target a creature within 12".  If the target fails a saving throw, you learn their current and maximum HP, HD, AC, the type of monster, broad emotional state, and major special abilities.  If they pass the save you learn nothing.
  • Treasure Map (Expend Action Point/Turn):  Gain a treasure map showing the way to some unique treasure or a key to solving a major quest.  The map could be a literal scroll, or it could be in the form of a useful guide or clue.
  • Theme:  Act on the game world.
  • Status (Expend Action Point):  Merchants (traders, moneylenders, caravaners)
  • Expend Focus:  ???
  • Cache (Expend Action Point/Turn):  Establish a secure cache, hideout, or small stronghold where a few people or valuable goods may be secured.  It could be a secure safe deposit box at a bank in town, a barricaded strong room in the dungeon, or a secret shack deep in the Black Marsh.
  • Theme:  Interact with other people at the table.
  • Status (Expend Action Point):  Nobles (Knights errant, landholders, aristocrats, etc)
  • Expend Focus:  ???
  • Language (Expend Action Point):  Your character learns a new language.  You will have an accent and lack proficiency of a native speaker but can interact with many more NPCs in the adventure.
  • Theme:  Act on other people at the table.
  • Status (Expend Action Point):  Commoners (farmers, shepherds, smiths, laborers)
  • Command (Expend Focus/Full  Round Action):  Move one of your allies a normal move which must end closer to you, or have one of your allies make a normal attack.  The forced move must not expose the ally to obvious undue harm or instant death (i.e. it is not a magical compulsion or domination).
  • Share Quest (Expend Action Point):  All other player characters may add your current side quest to their list of quests.  They can receive credit for fulfilling the quest.  You remain the focus of the quest (for example, if you have to convince the others to attempt a quest your way, they only gain credit for the quest for trying it your way -- not for trying it their way).

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Whitebox: Kicker HP & Demihumans

A quick analysis of whitebox starting characters indicates that demihumans have a significant advantage:

  • Elves:  +1 to hit vs. common humanoid foes. fighter/MU versatility
  • Halflings:  +2 AC most of the time, +4 AC vs large foes, +2 to hit with missiles, substantial save bonuses
  • Dwarves:  +2 AC  most of the time, +4 AC vs large foes, +1 vs common humanoids, substantial save bonuses
This is somewhat balanced by level limits.  However, lets face it -- many campaigns will never reach level 7 (out of 10), where the Dwarf level limit becomes an issue, for example.  The demihuman bonuses are also all stacked up at first level.  For example, a human fighter would have to get to level 5 before they are better than a first level halfling at missile attacks!  A dwarf or halfling in plate and with shield is effectively AC 21 against giants and AC 19 against man-sized foes, making them almost unhittable.

At a quick pick-up whitebox game, we decided to give human characters +1d6 HP at first level.  I think this is a decent idea:  it is different from a straight AC/to-hit/save bonus (which is what the demis get) and makes humans pretty desirable as first level survivability is iffy at best anyways.  It also is a benefit that fades out over time -- it is very significant for levels 1-4 then becomes less so, which is perfect because level limits kick in to balance demis at the mid to high levels anyways.

The issue with this is you can get REALLY lucky rolls.  For example, I was playing a MU and got a roll of 5 and 6 for HP:  11 HP at level 1 as a MU significantly changes the feel of the class.  I was somewhat fearlessly wading into melee with my quarterstaff in hand, safe in knowing that I could take a few hits.

I think going forward what I'll do is give human characters a +3 HP kicker rather than +1d6.  This accomplishes the same goal of boosting humans a bit at level 1 but prevents anyone but a fighter from getting double-digit HP right off the bat.  The random solution I suppose would be to give them a +1d6 HP "olympic scoring style" kicker but to roll three dice, discarding the lowest and highest and taking the middle.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Whitebox, HP, and the Sweet Spot

Level 4 to 7 has always been the sweet spot for me in D&D.  There seems to be a perfect mix of character options and HP as opposed to monster damage at those levels.

Looking at the math in White Box, a typical level 4 character has 4 HD/14 HP (Fighters), 3+1 HD/11.5 HP (Clerics), or 2+1 HD/8 HP (MUs).

They will probably range in AC from AC 19 (best case -- +1 plate, +1 shield, or standard plate and shield with a buff spell running) to AC 12ish (MU with protection spell running) in most serious combats.  An average AC is probably around 17.  Most monsters will probably have a BHB from +1 to +4, meaning hits occur on a roll of 15ish -- about 1/4 of the time.

At this level most monsters are doing 1d6 damage -- a few might do 1d6+1 (ogres).  A rare few do 2d6.   Therefore, the character should be able to take 2-4 hits depending on class (HD) and attacker.

This means that a character should be taking about 16 attacks (heavily armored fighter with average HP) before incapacitation, 12  attacks (moderately armored cleric with average HP), or as few as 4 attacks (MU) before being knocked out.

I think this is pretty much as we'd expect, especially given that those attacks should be parceled out over multiple rounds and several combats.  Smart fighters who have access to missile weapons and polearms may be able to get in a few rounds of combat without exposing themselves to enemy attacks as well.

In any event, even if the character gets whacked every time, there should be a smooth progression from "green" (>50% HP), to "yellow" (<50% HP), to "red" (<6 HP remaining -- one more hit left).  One round knockouts should be rare.