Author Topic: Removing the last unnecessary escalation?  (Read 13002 times)

wightbred

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Removing the last unnecessary escalation?
« on: January 05, 2011, 10:53:32 PM »
OK I'm not talking about escalation in Dogs, which is awesome, but unnecessary mathematical escalation.

IMO D&D has been plagued with unnecessary maths (THAC0 anyone?) but recently I've become sick of unnecessary mathematical escalation. My chance to hit goes up, so the monsters AC goes up. My AC goes up, so the monsters are better at hitting. Also, I need a better magic sword and armor all the time to cope. Nowhere is this more evident than in 4e where almost everything goes up every two levels. (And where forum posters complain if the escalation maths is not perfect.)

I suppose you could say this doesn't really matter in a world of personal computing where character sheets can be updated automatically. Only this doesn't work if you level in the middle of a game and I hate it that players have to check their sheet everytime they need to make any roll because their Stealth bonus has gone up again.

So I was shopping around for a game that felt like D&D but didn't have this problem (and improved some other things for my play style) and found Dungeon World / Apoclaypse World and I'm very, very happy. Sure your stats jump every few levels and the moves make you tougher, but basically the unnecessary maths escalation is gone.

Well almost. There is still Hit Points (HP). My HP go up every level, and so does the monsters. Some concerns I have with this:
- Unless my damage goes up in proportion won't fights get longer? Some people like this, but I'd like to keep fights short. Getting this balance right is hard, and some forum posters complain that 4e feels like a grind because the damage balance is not right. Dungeon World damage for most classes doesn't go up, so unless I balance the monsters right the fights will get longer.
- Players have expectations of HP per level for monsters, and if you push this too far I think they will cry "wonky". Especially if my monsters start having 10 HP and are doing 25 damage per round to keep the fights short. I know my players are eventually going to as why they can't do the same damage.
- My DM experience feels like it needs to reset every level. I know now that 15 HP each for 6 monsters doing 1d8 each makes a challenging fight. But what are the right numbers when my characters go up a level or two. Sure I can wing this and have done for years, but do I need to?
- Move (power) design gets harder with HP escalation because you have to consider the impact in a broader context. In the draft version of Dungeon World there is a draft Cleric move called Penitence which is "When you take damage, you may take +2 damage. If you do take +1 forward to Cast a Spell." If the design goal is to make this more attractive as you level up then cool, but if the not then there is a problem.
- I'm concerned about how some existing Dungeon World moves like "Hack and Slash" cope with increasing damage. More in this thread: http://apocalypse-world.com/forums/index.php?topic=642.0

So based on my concerns above I am thinking of ditching HP escalation. My question is this: If I removed the escalation element of HP, that is your PCs HP never go up, would it still feel like D&D?

Next: A draft way to do this so you can see what I mean and to kick around.

wightbred

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Re: Removing the last unnecessary escalation?
« Reply #1 on: January 05, 2011, 11:34:57 PM »
OK so here is my draft plan for removing HP escalation:

I'm assuming most people see HP as something like physical stamina, luck and skill. Lets drop the luck and skill and let the DM handle that. So HP is now just physical stamina and will only go up if your Con modifier does. Calculate it like this:
    HP = 8 + class HP + Con modifier
So a Fighter might have 20 (8 + 10 + 2) and a Wizard will probably have 12 (8 + 4 + 0).

Monsters HP and damage varies in comparison to the average party level. For monsters I just look up their level, compare it to the party average and use the HP and damage from the table below. They still keep their moves of course.

Level    HP    Damage   Area Damage   Friends
+4       30    1d12(7)   1d10(6)           +3 / ally
+3       25    1d12(7)   1d8(5)             +2 / ally
+2       20    1d10(6)   1d8(5)             +2 / ally
+1       15    1d10(6)   1d6(4)             +1 / ally
same   10    1d8(5)     1d6(4)              +1 / ally
-1 / -2   8    1d8(5)     1d4(3)              +1 / 2 allies
-3 / -4   4    1d6(4)     1d4(3)              +1 / 3 allies
less       1    1d4(3)     1d4(3)              +1 / 5 allies

Some explanations: Level is the monster level compared to the party. So +4 means the monsters are 4 levels higher. Damage is for a standard attack. Area Damage is where it will hit multiple players, like a dragon's breath or fireball. Friends is how much additional monsters of the same type add to the damage.

So for 1st level characters Goblins (level 1, 10 HP ea, 1d8 damage +1 / ally) is a tough fight, but Ogres (level 5, 30 HP ea, 1d12 damage +3 / ally) is very tough.

For 5th level characters the Goblins (now: 4 HP, 1d6 damage +1 / 3 allies) are now easy, Ogres (now: 10 HP ea, 1d8 damage +1 / ally) are now only tough and a Black Dragon (level 9, 30 HP, 1d12 claws, 1d10 breath) is very tough.

Before I get your thoughts, some FAQ:
- Why not just use the AW countdown clock? Because it would definitely not feel like D&D for me then. To me rolling damage is fundamental, but HP escalation may not be.
- Why not just modify D&D? Because I have the other escalation problems, and because there are too many spells and other effects that connect to escalating damage.
- Do you need to change the spell damage? Fireball does 3d6 which seems OK in this context. And the healing spells will have a greater impact which is also what I want.
- Did you just make these numbers up? I crunched some maths to check fights would be the right length and survivability for my game. The beauty of this system is that you could easily do your own table to perfectly customise your game.
- How do the players know they are getting better under this system? This is the cool bit. Because they can't see the monsters changing it is based on their play experience: "Those goblins used to be hard, but now I wade through them. I guess I rock."

Now keen to responses on these two questions:
- Would Dungeon World still feel like D&D Without HP escalation (using my system as an example)?
- Any problems / suggestions for the system?

Epic Fail

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Re: Removing the last unnecessary escalation?
« Reply #2 on: January 06, 2011, 12:23:56 AM »
I really like this idea; the needless escalation of D&D always frustrated me and I just assumed it was due to my background of games like SR where HP didn't exist.

I don't see any problems with your proposed fix to this and think DW would really sing with this. 

There appears to be a real elegance to this; the longevity of items would increase and the drop frequency could decrease - it removes quite nicely the reliance on magic weapons and armour.

Good Work! 

sage

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Re: Removing the last unnecessary escalation?
« Reply #3 on: January 07, 2011, 11:35:31 PM »
Lots of great ideas here, wrightbred. Let me make sure my co-author, Adam, sees this.

wightbred

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Re: Removing the last unnecessary escalation?
« Reply #4 on: January 08, 2011, 02:51:05 AM »
Thanks Epic Fail / Sage.

Some other notes in case they are useful:
  • Used 8 HP for the "kicker" to all classes as this meets my style of play. Adjusting this between say 4 and 12 is a simple way to give you a "grittier" (4) or more "heroic" (12) campaign. The more "complicated" way is to adjust the HP or damage of the monsters on the table, which would only take slightly longer.
  • Should probably list how many of a particular level of monster you need for an average fight or even a list of options, but I haven't crunched all the numbers on this yet.
  • Attribute increases and additional moves would mean you would need to make combats slightly harder as people level up, but this increase would be pretty slow. Even a move like adding +4 to one characters damage or spells like fireball shouldn't have a dramatic impact on the challenge of fights.
  • If you leveled during a fight, your moves would improve, but I wouldn't worry about adjusting the monsters.
  • I'm thinking average level to set the monsters, but this might also encourage players to help players level up. Overall I think this could be a good thing.

saintandsinner

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Re: Removing the last unnecessary escalation?
« Reply #5 on: September 12, 2011, 05:46:54 PM »
This is really cool.  Any chance something like this gets into the final game.  Maybe after leveling HP for the first 5 levels you plateau this off and go with a system like this?

PaulFricker

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Re: Removing the last unnecessary escalation?
« Reply #6 on: September 12, 2011, 09:19:19 PM »
Have to say I like the look of this. The whole escalation thing in D&D makes sense to keep a level playing field, but wightbred's approach appears to achieve the same effect in a far more elegant manner. Wightbred is also an awesome handle!

Anarchangel

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Re: Removing the last unnecessary escalation?
« Reply #7 on: September 13, 2011, 11:39:15 PM »
I've tinkered with various "low-fantasy" hacks of D&D over the years which usually aimed to limit hp increases in a manner similar to this, and my personal nostalgia touchstone is Fighting Fantasy, so this still feels like D&D-style fantasy to me, but, I suspect it won't to most people.

It's probably worth pointing out that character damage does increase with level in DW because of the various advancements and higher level spells. The spells in particular might be tricky to integrate into this system. Do you have thoughts on that?

UserClone

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Re: Removing the last unnecessary escalation?
« Reply #8 on: September 16, 2011, 01:33:21 PM »
Regarding your two questions, Wightbred:

1) Yes. I don't think that numerical escalation is intrinsic to the D&D experience, just the feeling that, relative to where you used to be, you are now better.

2)I can't see any problems yet, but I REALLY want to try this.

UserClone

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Re: Removing the last unnecessary escalation?
« Reply #9 on: September 16, 2011, 01:34:56 PM »
It's probably worth pointing out that character damage does increase with level in DW because of the various advancements and higher level spells. The spells in particular might be tricky to integrate into this system. Do you have thoughts on that?

I would also love to read Wightbred's response to this.

wightbred

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Re: Removing the last unnecessary escalation?
« Reply #10 on: September 28, 2011, 01:47:19 PM »
Thanks for the feedback. It is a while since I first wrote this, and in those olden days it was easier to integrate this into the earlier version of DW. Since then Sage and Adam have addressed damage increasing with level and added more damage increasing moves which makes it a little harder. But really it is only a few marks of the pen to go through and cut these down to size if you want to.

Ultimately I wrote my own hack using this and some of the other ideas that interested me, but about the villans not the heroes. I am evil, having been bred by wights and all, so you shouldn't be suprised. I respect DW and Sage and Adam so it feels wrong to spruik my game too much in this thread so I'll stop there.

My view is that this idea is to radical for most people to accept in their D&D and Sage and Adam made the right move in not including it. Maybe I don't play DW as much as I would have, but I'm sure they would have put many more people off if they went this way.

Anarchangel

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Re: Removing the last unnecessary escalation?
« Reply #11 on: September 28, 2011, 04:20:48 PM »
Thanks, Wightbred! Is your hack on these forums?

wightbred

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Re: Removing the last unnecessary escalation?
« Reply #12 on: September 28, 2011, 09:30:50 PM »
Yes. Caution: it is fantasy but it's not a hack of D&D and AW like DW, so may not be what you are looking for.

stefoid

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Re: Removing the last unnecessary escalation?
« Reply #13 on: September 29, 2011, 01:20:05 PM »
I dont mind hitpoint escalation per se, but wightbred is right about having to grind it out.

Wizards and clerics get more powerful spells every level - I reckon characters who rely more on hitting things should get more combat power as well, special moves that make them more powerful.

Anarchangel

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Re: Removing the last unnecessary escalation?
« Reply #14 on: September 29, 2011, 02:53:37 PM »
I think most of the combat classes have access to advancements that boost damage (Merciless, Dual Wield, Smite Evil, Weapons Specialization, etc). Has anyone found this to be a problem in practice and at what levels?