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Implemented Rules

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My Story, my rules edit top
The purpose of this page is to provide easy reference information to all the house rules for this campaign. By reference information, I mean the rule as it was originally formed and the caveats and rationales behind the rule creation. This page should not be considered up to date for rules purposes. Consult the House Rules page for up to date rules information. It has value as an archive only. There are four groupings of rules:
  • Implemented Rules: rules that are currently used and/or approved by the players and DM.
  • Optional Rules: rules that are “implemented”, but at the player’s option. You don’t have to do it this way, but I think there are advantages.
  • Proposed Rules: rules that are under discussion and/or waiting for ultimate approval from the players and DM.
  • Dead Rules: rejected rules, cataloged here instead of deleted to retain any important train of thought for future reference.
4E Lite Status: Dead edit top

What is the rule?

The game system is D&D 4E, modified as follows:

  • PCs only receive at-will attack powers from their class. Class based encounter and daily attack powers are banned.
  • PCs receive a bonus feat for each power taken away in this fashion. Bonus feats that replace powers may only be used on class or race specific feats. E.g. Fighters might choose feats with Fighter Class as prerequisite or feats from Martial Power with martial power source as prerequisite.
  • Utility and Skill powers are unaffected.
  • Classes that require daily powers for certain class effects (primarily primal classes) may choose daily attack powers as normal. When using said daily attack powers, only the ongoing effects of the power apply (example: Barbarian rage). The power will grant a basic attack in addition to its normal “effects” (might switch to no attack at all, i.e. you use a standard action to activate your power and don’t make an attack at all that turn). Adjudication will be case by case, as this does not affect classes and powers equally.
  • Psions receive power points (and therefore encounter powers, in effect) normally.
  • At-will powers increase damage at Paragon (instead of Epic), and increase again at Epic.
  • Powers acquired through feats are OK and function normally, subject to case by case adjudication.
  • Racial powers are unaffected.
  • Multiclass feats are unaffected, at least to the extent prerequisites are met (for instance, encounter power swaps are impossible, since there are no encounter powers to swap out).
  • All PCs receive a new at-will attack power at eleventh level based upon their paragon path choice. This power will be based upon the paragon path power normally received, as adjusted by the DM.

The above rules need to behave with slight modification if Whoa! No levels? becomes implemented. In general, things listed above that change with level will instead change via point purchases. These rule changes include:

  • Damage for At-Will powers does not increase.
  • The Feat replacement rules apply at PC creation only, thereafter Feats must be purchased with points. In other words, PCs in the no levels variant start with two at-wills and three Feats (two bonus Feats to replace the missing Encounter and Daily powers). Subject to race and class variations as should be obvious.
  • Psionic PCs do not use or acquire PSPs.
  • Multiclassing is fully described in the no levels variant entry.

Why do we have it?

I like the 4E system. After playing in it for a year or so, I’d like to streamline some components. My principle reasons are twofold. First, I want combat to move faster, and at-will powers (plus fewer powers to choose from) means that combat will execute quickly. Perhaps more importantly, I really like the way powers in 4E opened up a bag of options for all classes (instead of only magic users having lots of options, with martial characters doing the same thing every round). At the same time, I don’t like the way the power lists seem to turn combat into prescribed actions. Combat in our game seems dominated by mechanical selection and execution of PC powers instead of impromptu responses to combat situations.

Hence, I want to try to restore an ebb and flow that is less mechanically prescribed. By limiting players to at-will powers, I hope two things will happen. First, they will have those powers fully memorized for fast execution. Second, they will always know what power to apply to what situation. Consequently, I hope this engenders a combat style that is more free flow, as players have excess clock cycles to digest and interact with the scene instead of their character sheet/power cards. Coupled with well implemented Instant Kills and terrain/scene based features, I hope to create a combat that is less board/wargame and more cinema. I want players to use creativity, and perhaps skills, in combat to create the advantages that encounter and daily powers provide automatically.

Caveats

First, because this makes the power list extremely short for PCs, I may give everyone an additional at-will attack power, perhaps at Paragon tier. Another thing I am considering is allowing encounter power “adaptation” wherein players could reduce encounter or daily powers to at-will potency in order to capture some effect the at-wills for the class don’t capture. I am also trying to think of a way to provide burst attack potential to classes that don’t have burst attacks in their at-will list.

I may award extra feats to replace the lost powers, giving players more opportunities to explore feat chains that provide additional/enhanced combat options. I may need to give special consideration to martial characters who seem to lose the most under this proposed rules change.

This entire experiment may backfire completely. Combat might become excessively flat as a result of this change. And this affects many other aspects of the game due to its design, such as multi-classing. Much of the flavor and differentiation of classes in 4E is through the power lists. This change boils classes down to at-wills (which I find very representative, but not wholly so) and class features.

As a brief example of how I hope players will approach combat under these changes, take the fighter power “Come and Get It” (encounter, 7). I think said power is great in concept and poor in implementation. That foes, regardless of will, level, personality, or ability all respond identically to the Fighter’s beckoning is silly. I hope that a creative player under my 4E lite might choose to accomplish the same thing in a particular encounter: call out his foes to protect allies/cause a distraction/be a general badass. The creative player might roleplay the beckoning with a one-line heckle, and use the Bluff or Intimidate skills to measure the effectiveness. Intimidate versus Will +2 maybe? And those enemies that fail come charging. As DM, I might rule that the player must forfeit his PCs move action to execute the beckoning, as we are effectively giving the move action to the target enemies for them to come running. And as a reward for creative game play I might allow a basic or at-will attack against any enemy that responds. This rewards a charismatic fighter, provides more fluidity to the maneuver, and is less nonsensical since wise or stubborn enemies won’t foolishly charge on a bumbling fighter’s clumsy insult.

Why is it dead?

In many ways, this rule is not dead. Just as 4E Lite replaced No Daily Powers, so too were the main ideas behind 4E Lite subsumed by Whoa! No Levels?. Most of the principles behind 4E Lite are actually implemented in our game.

30 Second Rule Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

The 30 second rule gives itself away in the title. Player’s have 30 seconds to complete their character’s turn in combat. Time is kept on a stopwatch by the DM. Any portion of the turn not completed by the end of the 30 seconds is lost. This means a few important things:

  • If you didn’t complete an end-of-turn event or action, like rolling a save against an effect, within your 30 second turn you lose any positive effect and suffer any negative effect automatically. In the saving throw example, you fail the save.
  • If you failed to completely add up your damage, the enemy takes damage equal to wherever you are in your tally. If you didn’t get to rolling damage at all, you didn’t deal any.

All players get one exception to the rule per encounter. Using your exception is like using an action point. Want to make sure you get off that big daily? Want extra time to calculate damage? Using your action point and need extra time to get in all the actions? Use your exception. Turns using the exception are limited to two minutes. I may change the rule to accumulate like action points: start each day with one 30 second exception, earn a new one each milestone, and use only one per encounter. We’ll see.

Why do we have it?

Admittedly, this rule isn’t for everyone, and the players will hate it sometimes. To a degree, I want that. There are a few reasons I am implementing this:

  • I have a short attention span, and deplore how long combat takes as players dink around on their turns.
  • I want to make sure that encounters don’t take up all of our play time, while still making them an important part of each play session.
  • I want to hold players accountable to other things, and this rule does it all while still allowing freedom. For instance, I think table talk and third party toned group discussions of each character’s actions prevent story immersion. This rule means there is too little time for players to deliberate each others’ actions. That can still happen between turns, but I’d still rather not have antagonistic rules like “no table talk”. Better to create a situation where table talk is not feasible.
  • I want time pressure in the game in general and in combat especially. Real life and fantasy heroics both involve time pressure. And, as above, I think this adds to immersion. In a fight, the characters need to execute decisions in mere seconds. Since most of the 30 seconds will be spent on action resolution, this means the player, too, has only a few seconds to decide (well prepared players will recognize there is plenty of time between turns for planned heroics). See Time Pressure for more information.
  • Imagine a campaign with six players (as our current campaign has) and a 60 second rule. If the DM can keep the total time handling monsters to four minutes per round, we have ten minutes per round. An encounter that requires only four rounds hence takes forty minutes of play time. Now imagine no time limit at all. See the problem?

Caveats

This rule isn’t uniformly fair (or unfair). Classes with more powers of burst/blast effects and complicated resolutions are perhaps unfairly hindered. Only actual play will reveal if I need to adjust the time limit by class or allow more exceptions for these types of characters. Of course, smart players will take advantage of average damage or percentile damage which should serve to keep even large blasts tidy (one d20 roll per target, and the damage is precalculated).

As mentioned under instant kills, I am asking a lot of my players. Active defense keeps them busy when it is not their turn. Instant kills has them puzzling over the terrain and descriptive cues I’ve offered on how to short-cut to the enemy’s death. I want them to be tactical and use the aid another rules. To have a chance of coping with the 30 second rule, they need to consider actions in advance of their turn. To the extent this rule interferes with participation in the other cool elements we have to elevate the combat narrative, it will be altered or discarded. Remember, the first goal of the campaign is fun, not “stress my players out”.

If everyone ends up really hating it, I might scrap the whole idea. But not if players haven’t even tried to work within it, as above.

Ability Scores Status: Dead edit top

What is the rule?

Players may create their starting abilities however they wish. Starting character abilities must meet the following criteria, net of (including) all applied bonuses (e.g. racial modifiers):

  • Maximum single ability score: 18
  • Maximum total of all positive modifiers: +9

Why do we have it?

The main reason is flexibility. Some players like to roll, some like to point buy, some like to lie. Using a predetermined criteria set allows me to make sure abilities still end up fair, and no one feels it is arbitrary. For instance, let’s say I roll my abilities and get really lucky. I could have an ability set that is unfairly outside the capabilities of the point buy system.

The caps are related to the point buy system. If you spread your buy evenly, the maximum total sum of bonuses you can create is +8 before applying racial bonuses, +10 after (assuming two +2 bonuses on the underlying scores). Similarly, the single score cap is 18 before and 20 after racial bonuses.

I backed the single score cap down two from the rules as written to force slightly more well rounded character building. There is still plenty of room for players to do what they want. At the same time it slightly handicaps uber-builds that only need one ability.

Similarly, I backed off the max cumulative one point because the result is the maximum cumulative one could build via standard point buy with no resulting negative modifiers. In other words, to max out at the +10 total, you must have a -1 somewhere. This seems consistent with the idea that the harsh conditions of Athas weed out those with innate weaknesses.

Finally, one needs to specify cumulative bonuses in terms of the sum of all positive modifiers, not the sum of all modifiers. For reasons that should be obvious, characters with a few really high and a few really low scores are more effective within the system than characters with middle of the road scores, even if the sum of modifiers is the same in both cases. Considering only positive modifiers in adjudicating the cap prevents gaming of the intent.

Caveats

This is Dark Sun, and originally that meant hardier characters with better ability scores. 2E reflected that by rolling 5d4 (eight times, throwing out the two lowest, I think…) for abilities. 3E (unofficially via athas.org) I believe gave extra points in the buy. I want to see how the 4E DS rulebook handles this when it is released. At that point I may or may not adjust the limits to reflect the harsh environ of Athas (as they currently reflect the base Greyhawk/Realms/Eberron type settings).

Otherwise, I see no caveats. It is straight forward and I’ve used this type of rule before.

Why is it dead?

Like many of the original rules proposals, this one was wrapped up into Whoa! No levels?. The point system of the no levels rules provide everything we need for PC generation without further concern or discussion.

Active Defense Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

As written, attacks are always active and defenses are always passive. What I mean by active and passive is, “what requires the roll of a die?” Attacking? Roll D20. Defending? Call out your defense score (which, mechanically is like “taking 10” on defense). I intend to put all activity into the hands of the players. In other words, monsters are always passive, whether on attack or defense.

Here’s how it works:

  • When the PC attacks an NPC or monster, the PC rolls an attack roll. If the roll+modifiers is equal to or higher than the monster’s AC, the attack hits (this is as written in the source books).
  • When the PC gets attacked by an NPC or monster, the PC rolls a defense roll. If the roll+modifiers is equal to or higher than the monster’s attack DC (see below) the monster’s attack misses.

This means that PCs need to subtract 10 (or simply not add the 10 in the first place) to all their defenses. Similarly, in advance of play sessions the DM needs to calculate monster attack DCs from the attack bonus listed in the MM.

The DM needs to be careful, because we’ve inverted the interpretation of a tie. Normally, if the monster’s attack total equals the PC’s defense total, it is a hit. In the adjusted scenario, when the PC’s defense total equals the monster’s attack total, it is a miss. You can play around figuring out the math if you want, but the DM needs to add 12 to the attack bonus listed in the MM to get the target DC for the PC’s active defense roll. As mentioned already, the PCs subtract 10 from their normally calculated defenses to get a “defense bonus”.

Also, criticals are flipped. If the player rolls a natural 1 on the d20 while defending, the monster delivers a critical hit. Otherwise, damage is computed normally.

Why do we have it?

First, I like the idea of actively engaging players in all parts of the combat. I think it adds to player immersion if they are active on defense as well as attack. The player can think of the roll as a slick dodge, shield-parried blow, or glancing blow off the breast plate as his/her imagination sees fit.

//anecdote

One of my first memories of D&D, ca. 1986: I am playing, for the first time, with my cousins who are older than I. One of my cousins’ friends is DM, and his monster rolls and scores a hit against my cousin’s PC: DM: “Hit, you take X points of damage” Cousin: “I block it with my shield” DM: “No, you don’t block it, you take X points of damage” Cousin: “I blocked it with my shield!” DM (frustrated): “That’s why the monster rolled, to see if you block it, and you didn’t. You take X points of damage!” Cousin: “I am the one who decides if I block it with my shield, not the monster!”

//end anecdote

I think my cousin really just wanted an active defense rule. We were aged 7-11 at that time…

Second, I want to engage players between their PC’s turns to keep them in the battle. It can get boring waiting for your turn to come around.

Third, I want to engage players between their PC’s turns to make thinking about their PCs’ next actions more difficult. If you were getting pummeled by some brute, how clear would your head be? The more I can break up players’ time between turns, the better.

Finally, it will help combat go faster. For instance, if I have a monster with a burst power, I can tell everyone to make a defense roll against a DC of X instead of rolling multiple rolls myself. And since I am holding players to the 30 second rule, this helps to keep the DM’s turn short as a corollary.

Caveats

I don’t conceive of any real caveats right now. Effort goes into pre-figuring the monster attack DC for each type of attack. But what the hell, you just add 12. I think this will be easy to implement from get-go and especially after everyone adjusts.

Aid Another Status: Dead edit top

What is the rule?

Aid Another, when used to grant an AC or attack bonus, is a move action. Further, the DC won’t be a static 10 and failure to Aid will allow the enemy the choice of shifting 1 square or sliding the failed Aider one square as a free action.

Changed my mind…I don’t think I like the movement. Too busy, and it will take too long as players and DM alike figure out what move to make when this happens. Instead, what if failure results in the enemy receiving a +2 on the next attack roll against the PC? You botch your attempt to give your ally an opening, and allow an opening in your own defense.

Aid Another, as regards skills, won’t have a static DC of 10, and failed attempts result in penalties to the roll of the main user of the skill (as successes add to this roll in the current rules).

Why do we have it?

Aid Another, as written in the books, needs some work. I am attempting to address the following situations:

  • As mentioned elsewhere, this is Dark Sun and is a low-magic campaign. More than that, it has lousy bone and stone weapons that don’t work like the steel weapons they’ve replaced from Athas’ history. The characters are going to need to be able to find other ways to boost their attack bonus to be effective in combat. //edit: come to think of it, armor is going to be harder to come by than decent weapons, this may well cancel…
  • More than that, however, I want to encourage team-based tactics amongst the PCs. I’ve noticed in our current game that the Aid Another action is never used in combat. Players simply aren’t willing to give their only action to granting that bonus to an ally. Even when it is the best tactical option, it is avoided. I presume this is because it is such a boring use of one’s turn. Making it a move action allows the PCs to play this tactical game and still “do something” on their turn.
  • At the same time, there needs to be a consequence to failure since I’ve made the action such an easy choice otherwise. Thus it becomes an interesting tactical choice. The in-game interpretation seems straight forward: in your attempt to harry an opponent, your failure creates an opportunity where said opponent can use your actions against you or your allies for better positioning.
  • Aid Another is too easy for skills. Every time we have a skill check in our current game, the whole party aids. I need to make success harder to hit and introduce a consequence to failing to Aid to make the decision to Aid or Not meaningful. The in-game interpretation is easy: ever had someone “help” you do something, and they got in the way, made it harder, made it take longer, or ruined the thing you wanted to do?

Caveats

First, the combat portion undermines the value of a leader in the party. If the party has two leaders, I may abandon this rule to prevent the marginalizing of this role.

Second, I don’t want it to become so easy to Aid that everyone always Aids every turn. Then the plan has backfired. There are currently two controls to prevent this. First, if the character botches the Aid, the opponent gets an advantage. So there is some risk. Second, if there is enough motion in combat, characters will need their move action to, you know, move. Is it enough?

It still might be too janky and I’ll abandon it utterly. Also, if the campaign makes it obvious that the characters need to Aid each other to be effective in combat they will figure that out and the standard rules will suffice. So it is a bit incumbent on the DM to convince his players to play a team based game by kicking their asses when they don’t.

I have no idea what to make the DC, I just know I don’t like the static 10. I need to ponder this more. I want it to reflect the difficulty of what is attempted. It should be easier to harry a kobold minion than a solo ancient red dragon. It should be harder to help someone track a target across an obsidian plain than through fresh snow. And there is plenty of room in between.

Why is it dead?

Too janky and possibly unnecessary. It might not be fully dead, as the dynamic DC and consequence to failure portions will probably stick.

Average Damage Status: Dead edit top

What is the rule?

Pre-compute your average damage for a power and use it in place of a damage roll for that power. Pre-compute your average critical damage for a power (in case you have dice to roll on top of your maximum damage; e.g. magic weapon crit) and use it in place of a critical damage roll for that power.

To figure average damage, take the average value for each die rolled (considering qualities like Brutal), add them all up, and round any left over fractions down.

Why do we have it?

Strictly to speed play. Like the speed but want a little more variety to your output? Try the Percentile Damage method instead.

Caveats

I might change the rule to rounding the final fractions UP to encourage uptake on this rule. One hit point is unlikely to sway combat, though it is also unlikely to sway player opinion on the rule. More likely, this rule will become a way to cope with the 30 second rule, especially on burst/blast powers that take more time to execute.

Some people love grabbing fist fulls of dice. Some people don’t care. Some people think the random element the damage dice provide is fundamental to the game’s evocation of the random ebb and flow of momentum in battle. Others find criticals and the randomness inherent in the to-hit rolls sufficient for this.

Why is it dead?

After doing some play testing, I had one problem with this rule. As you can tell from this huge page of rules, I do a lot of customization to my campaigns. One thing I mess with is monster hit points. Sometimes I want creatures that are quasi-minions: they have few enough hit points that combat oriented PCs could drop them in one hit yet enough hit points that they usually take two or three hits. I discovered the problem that if the PC uses average damage, this quasi-minion functionality breaks: the PC either has enough damage on average to drop the bad guy or doesn’t. I didn’t like that lack of luck. As a result of this, I am killing Average Damage and resurrecting Percentile Damage. I want each character to have at least one die’s worth of damage variability.

Character Death Status: Proposed edit top

What is the rule?

Character death, and perhaps more importantly returning a character from death, will not function as written in the core rules. If “Whoa! No Levels? becomes an implemented rule, I am considering any of the following:

  • PCs lose one rank in all skills when raised from death
  • PCs lose one rank in Con when raised from death
  • PCs lose one rank in the highest ability when raised from death
  • Combinations of the above, like one rank in all skills and the highest ability
  • Perhaps ranks so lost can be re-purchased at half price

This part is in: some causes of death are permanent. There is no possibility of return.

Why do we have it?

Setting concerns rule here. First, this is Athas, it is harsh, and the ever present threat of death is something I don’t want cheapened by easy return from death.

Also, without getting into details, resurrection from some causes of death would undo the in-game explanation of how the character actually died.

Caveats

This one is really hard, and balance is crucial. First of all, if I expect the players to invest in their PCs the way I plan to invest in the campaign, the lives of those characters can’t be cheap. The more invested a player is in a PC, the more it hurts to have that PC die. So, while I want that motivation to drive PC actions/decisions, I don’t want it to undo fun because PCs die so easily that players stop caring.

In other words, on the one hand I want a harsh world where PCs die easily. On the other hand, if I take away resurrection, then I can’t expect players to invest heavily in such PCs and the creation of personalities and backgrounds. Most likely, most causes of death will be “correctable”, such as a physical beating in gladiatorial combat. I might require a Quest for that.

So what about the “non-correctable” causes of death? I already know what I want these to be, and this is the other major caveat. I don’t want the PCs to have any knowledge of these types of deaths as “different”. At the same time, the players have a right, and a need, to understand the mechanics of this world. I am open to discussion on this. Most likely, I will just put explicit terms to everything, but I wanted to start the dialogue and get some feedback first.

Counter Attack Criticals Status: Dead edit top

What is the rule?

Understanding this rule requires understanding the active defense rule.

When the player rolls a critical failure (natural 1) on attack, the enemy is allowed a counter attack. When the player rolls a critical success (natural 20) on defense, the PC gets a counter attack against the attacker.

When I first conceived this rule, I assumed a melee basic attack would be the counter. There are some problems with that. First, it only works for melee. What happens when you critically defend against a ranged or area attack? If the answer is nothing, then this rule strongly favors melee combatants. Second, it takes too damn long. I am implementing other rules to speed combat, why would I add this rule and slow it down?

My current thinking is split between the following ideas:

  • You gain combat advantage against the attacker. This still favors melee, or else I need to figure out some way to handle it for ranged and area attacks.
  • Your counter attack deals automatic damage depending on class and attack type. Melee characters would deal damage equal to their main damage stat (e.g. STR for Fighters, WIS for Avengers). I was thinking I would allow melee characters to counter melee attacks and magic characters to counter magic effects. But then what happens against enemy bow fire? And what about the many classes that blur these lines?
  • You may shift one square as a free action. This is my current favorite.
  • I might allow swapping the shift for an impromptu minor action. This would mostly allow leaders to heal a comrade on the spot, but this a bit nonsensical.
  • Other suggestions?

Why do we have it?

I like the way this ties in with active defense. That is why the shift is my current favorite. It’s not perfect, but the idea is the PC dodged or parried the attack so effectively s/he gains a positional advantage against the attacker (or vice-versa).

Caveats

This one needs to be figured out. It could be cool, but there might not be a good way to integrate it smoothly. I fear there would be many situations where the mechanics could be adjudicated, but the result would be weird.

Why is it dead?

Too janky and unnecessary.

Encumbrance Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

Multiply PC strength by three; this is the maximum weight (in Kg) that may be carried without penalty. Multiply PC strength by five; this is the maximum that may be carried with only a -2 check penalty. Multiply PC strength by seven. This is the maximum weight that may be carried without being slowed and confers a -5 check penalty and -1 speed penalty. Encumbrance check penalties apply exactly the way armor check penalties apply under the normal rules. PCs should all add at least 3kgs to account for a tunic large enough to protect most skin from the sun and adequate footwear.

Why do we have it?

In the demihuman versus Athas theme of Dark Sun, it is too advantageous for PCs to be allowed to ignore encumbrance issues. Treking accross the Athasian landscape is dangerous and taxing, and heavily weighted PCs should pay the price. This also requires heavy thought be given to such matters as how much water to carry, since water is very heavy while oases are few and far between.

Caveats

I want this rule to engender thinking situations and problem solving, not accounting headaches. Generally speaking, I am perfectly happy to ignore encumbrance most of the time. For instance, if the PCs are trying to break into a Noble’s house, we can assume they are travelling light or at least left excess gear at the wall before trying to climb. So we don’t need to sweat encumbrance penalties everytime a skill check is made. Similarly, for combat, even ambushed PCs can drop their packs as a free action and therefore avoid check penalties to attack and defense rolls. We don’t need to “roleplay” this action everytime.

So then why have it, right? Two places this rule is important: first, for armor decisions. My new armor rules throw a wrench into the light/heavy armor dex/no dex balancing act of the stock rules. I want armor weight to be the new consideration. Strong but not-so-quick (whether quick means Dex or Int) PCs will be able to wear heavier armor without worrying. PCs that invest in Dex or Int and not strength won’t have the capacity for the more massive armors. Thus, if essential PC gear (armor, clothes, weapons, etc.) is heavy enough to encumber a PC (without accessory gear considered, like treasure or rations) then they will need to take the check penalties ALL the time. The second concern is overland trekking. Total encumbrance will be carefully monitored when we are attacking the Athasian landscape and making Endurance checks to stay ahead of thirst and fatigue. My hope is that this approach reduces acconting headaches to only when it matters.

Like many of these custom rules, they made need some number tweaking. I used my knowledge of self coupled with the stock 4E approach to encumbrance to come up with the above multipliers and penalties. They are subject to change if compelling arguments suggest better.

Everything As Skills Status: Dead edit top

What is the rule?

This is an alternative formulation of the Modified Level Progression suggestion. Remove the 1/2 level mechanic. But instead of simply removeing the mechanic to flatten level progression, replace it with point purchases. Everything that had 1/2 level added to it will instead become a skill to “buy up”. The exact number of skills for investment, and the skill points awarded per level are TBD. Unless Whoa! No Levels? is rejected, I am not going to bother separately figuring out how to do skill points with levels intact.

See also Attack Skills and Defense Skills.

Why do we have it?

What I’ve always liked about skill based or “point buy” systems is that they make a lot of sense from the perspective of the simulationist. As mentioned elsewhere on the wiki, it makes no sense that a high level Wizard is better with a sword than a low level Fighter. I should rephrase that: it doesn’t make sense in my imagination. Even Epic heroes are good at things they practice and bad at things they don’t. That is the added depth that this modification provides over the stock 4E system. The shiny, high fantasy genre seems more appropriate for the “heroes are good at everything” type of fantasy world. Those compaigns are fun, but that isn’t the style world I’m building. Since I want to create a grittier system, this modification coincides with my imagination.

Caveats

There is a reason not all game systems use this type of mechanic. The downside to it is complication of character creation and game balance. Making everything skill points allows for vast differentials in PC ability at high levels. The skill PCs level to the max is impossible to challenge; those neglected in the process are glaring weaknesses that can lead to impossible situations for the PCs.

Generally speaking, I’m not too worried about either of these because we play with mature, experienced players. That’s not to say neither is an issue; they are still very important issues. And we may find in time that these changes put our game on the wrong side of our intended comprimise. Yet, we are building a system that is simpler and faster than stock overall, and most of the overhead of this modification comes between gaming sessions. As to balance: balance is important, and should not be ignored. At the same time, everything is a compromise. I want to deemphasize mechanical balance not on purpose, but as a side effect of emphasizing rules that associate directly with our story and Athas. Any player that we need balanced rules to keep in check isn’t getting this campaign, and should be dealt with away from the gaming table, in my opinion. Also, the balance I hope to enforce is real-life inspired: for every skill point you spend on something, you are neglecting something else. Part of my fun, as DM, will be finding ways tax PCs and the party with challenges they aren’t well prepared to handle. This will punish the uber-specialist who usually “breaks” mechanical rules with point buy systems: over specialize and you will find yourself in many situations where you are useless because the game is not, for instance, all combat.

Also, suppose a PC jacks his stealth score at the expense of everything else. Also suppose that PC consistently gets the upper hand via that stealth score. Such a player isn’t “breaking” the system, s/he is embracing it! It you can manage to negotiate all manner of different encounters via one skill, either the DM sucks at diversifying challenges or else the player is a genius at creative problem solving. Either way, the player and PC aren’t the problem.

Why is it dead?

Like 4E Lite and Modified Level Progression 2, this rule found new form in Whoa! No Levels?. The developmental ideas of Everything as Skills directly led to the no levels paradigm.

Experience Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

We won’t track experience. Instead, we will have MG-style level ups every so-many encounters or play sessions. Also, level ups will only happen as a result of the main story arc. Individual and subgroup Quests can increase individual PC power by granting access to the benefits of the completed quests (better magic items, access to paragon path, etc.). But such excursions won’t be allowed to increase a PCs level relative to other PCs in the party.

Further, on the subject of paragon paths and epic destinies, questing to acquire the advantages of these is required. Here’s how it will work: the PC continues to advance in the base class with or without a Quest. For example, on hitting level 11, the PC gets the increased abilities, increased HP, and new feat. However, the PC does not get any benefits from a paragon path until the appropriate advancement quest is complete. No new powers, no 11th and 16th level paragon path features, etc. It is conceivable, for example, that a character could acquire the level 13 base class encounter power before acquiring the level 11 paragon path encounter power. If this ends up too Draconian an implementation appropriate compromises will be negotiated. For example, if scheduling conflicts preclude a player from completing a PC’s quest in time for the next session (but everyone else did), the PC might gain the 11th level attributes (but no more until the quest is completed).

Why do we have it?

First, tracking experience is a pain for the players. Not a big pain, but there is enough to do. Second, tracking experience is a pain for the DM. You still need to budget encounters properly. But I’ve done this enough times now to feel confident that appropriate encounters are buildable without the extra accounting effort. 4E makes this really easy, in my opinion.

More important is that, especially given the way the 4E class progressions are balanced, I think it is very important for all the PCs to be the same level. When the mechanics between classes had more variety, as in previous editions, it was easier to allow some disparity in level. This variation of mechanic no longer exists, and I don’t want some players to feel underpowered because they don’t have their 9th level daily but another player’s character does.

Again, the material benefits of the side stories (plus the fun of playing them) should be incentive enough for Quests that don’t include all party members.

Caveats

The no experience points portion is straight forward, and seemed to work just fine in the last campaign under a different DM. I don’t see any caveats right now.

The advancement quests for paragon paths and epic destinies I really want to stick too. It doesn’t seem too complicated or hindering on paper. There is the scheduling difficulty given in the above example. But I don’t think that will be too big a problem because I don’t personally think it is that big a deal to go maybe one level without the first batch of benefits, but I may be wrong. The flip side caveat would be if everyone puts high priority on paragon path questing, it might be a while between main story sessions after everyone finishes 10th level while we fit in all the paragon quests. In fact that might be the biggest problem: when I combine these two parts of the experience rules, everyone is going to need a quest at exactly the same time. Alternative Storytelling should alleviate this problem.

Flanking Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

PCs may only apply their ability bonus for AC (either Int or Dex) to one opponent per round. All other flanking rules apply normally.

See also Nonferrous Armors.

Why do we have it?

To emphasize two things: the value of armor and the difficulty of dealing with multiple combatants. Ganging up on an opponent is serious business, and anyone who has tried to fight even two combatants at once knows it is not like the movies. I don’t have any armor rules up on the wiki yet, but this has an important corollary: there is little in the way of heavy armor on Athas. Strapping a body down with metal plates is both completely unaffordable and suicidal given the heat of the sun. That means everyone will be in light armor of one type or another, giving a lot of advantage in melee to “agile” builds. Allowing armor bonuses to remain undiminished against multiple foes helps PCs that should be benefitting from heavier armor usage covering up for a so-so Dex (most Defender builds) avoid significant penalty.

Caveats

This was conceived to start the discussion about how best to handle the above concerns. I like the starting point; it probably needs some tweaks. I don’t want to get into a cumulative bonus based on number of attackers…that seems more likely to bog down in play. This allows a binary decision tree for the player (apply Dex/Int or don’t) for each attack and use the corresponding active defense number. All other flanking rules are as stock and we already have good instincts for handling those.

Healing Status: Proposed edit top

What is the rule?

Spending a healing surge in combat, such as from a Leader power, grants temporary hit points equal to the surge value. Hit points so granted may exceed the PCs maximum hit points. Healing surges may not be spent before the PC has sustained any damage.

Actual healing of wounds requires time and Heal checks.

Why do we have it?

In stock 4E, I sometimes have trouble getting down with healing surge benefits, especially when certain types of Leaders are involved. Imagining a Cleric can call upon the divine to restore vitality and health is fantasy staple and I have no trouble with it. Imagining a Warlord can shout words of encouragement that cause wounds to close and bones to mend is ridiculous. I don’t want to nerf certain power sources or pick on certain classes with this rule. Therefor, the idea of the basic leader healing power granting temporary HP, like an adrenaline surge, fits my imagination, applies to all Leaders equally, and doesn’t really injure the effectiveness of classes within that role.

Caveats

This rules seemed inspired until after I wrote it. Assuming we play with Modified Level Progression 2 and Injuries I don’t think we need this rule. The system is gritty enough, and I can just adjust my interpretation a little. The adjustment to which I refer is this: think of an MMA (or any professional fisticuffs) match and how hit points correspond to the happenings. At the start of the fight, the fighters have full hit points. Bloodied refers to the fighter that has taken a few hits (since with the Modified Level Progression 2 rule it only takes a couple solid hits to be bloodied) and is a bit battered for it. Bloody nose, cut eye or cheek, that sort of thing. And zero hit points corresponds to a KO.

Now, the “bloodied” MMA fighter probably has his coach yelling tactics, encouragement, etc. So spending a “healing surge” would be like the fighter wiping the blood off his face, “shaking it out”, and stepping back up to the opponent emotionally refreshed. Add a little adrenalin, and the fighter might actually be further from a KO than before the “healing surge”. You can only do that once or twice in the real world before the exhaustion and abuse catch you and you go down with a KO. We could add a rule about no more than two healing surges can be spent in one encounter, or healing surges require an Endurance check, etc. But why bother? Our simulation is close enough with the currently proposed rules that the additional accounting wouldn’t be worth the marginal simulationist benefit.

Finally, let’s say our MMA fighter was bloodied but eventually won the fight by KO. How long until he is back at 100%? Probably a few days, maybe a week? Longer? Some bruises and cuts need to heal, he needs some rest to restore his “spent healing surges”, etc. To actually be at 100% might take a long time…these fighters don’t fight that often. But getting back to, say, 90%? That probably wouldn’t take too long because, as we said, the injuries were only superficial. We could build in Endurance checks and slow healing, etc. But we are probably close enough with the idea of healing surges coming back after an extended rest that there is no reason to get more complicated with the system.

What about if our MMA fighter gets KO’d (or, rather, gets beaten out of the fight…we don’t need 0hp to exactly correspond to KO, it could just mean beaten badly enough that you can’t stand and fight anymore)? Well, under our rules, now there is a chance of a lingering injury. Something that won’t heal, or be back to 90%+, with one good night’s rest. And our proposed rules capture that. Lingering injury isn’t guaranteed, it is just likely. You weren’t beaten within an inch of your life, you were beaten to the point you can’t put up meaningful resistance anymore. The difference between those two points is possibly vast, so injuries don’t need to happen every time a PC hits 0hp, just some of the time. Once again, our proposed rules are close enough that their simplicity trumps further simulation detail.

The above discussion is missing two things. First, there is the obvious possibility of injury even to the MMA fighter that wins the fight or is never KO’d. If the group prefers, we could keep the orignal Injuries rule, instead of the modified one accounting for lower HP PCs, wherein you risk injury even at bloodied. That is an extemely gritty system, and PCs are going to be dealing with injuries a lot, but I’m with it. Beyond that, I think any additional simulation, once again, won’t be worth the accounting. We are getting it close enough that there isn’t reason to bother. Second, given the interpretations I’ve espoused in this section, we need to adjust the death save rules. If 0hp corresponds with a KO and/or beaten to the point the PC can’t put up a meaningful fight then it logically does not correspond to being beaten within an inch of life. And if you aren’t within an inch of your life, why are you rolling death saves for being at 0 or fewer hp?

I don’t want to undo the scariness of the world by tampering with death mechanics too much. I also think that these rules combinations and interpretations might deserve a lighter touch. As in, it is much easier to be beaten down and beaten down PCs aren’t necessarily dying. Perhaps you need to go to your negative surge value in HP, and then we apply the death save rules as written replacing 0hp with -surge hp? And from 0hp to negative surge the PC is out cold or on the ground moaning in pain, but otherwise stable enough to not worry about dying? That seems simple, and I like it. Opinions?

Injuries Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

PCs that are bloodied in combat must, at the end of the encounter, save to avoid lingering effects of injury during combat. Those that suffer injuries must succesd on successive Endurance checks after each extended rest to avoid worsening of the injury and/or heal the injury. In this way, injury mechanics exactly duplicate the disease mechanics listed in the DMG. Specific injury conditions could include vulnerability to an energy damage suffered during combat, reduced movement, dazed, weakened, slowed, etc. See this page for sample injury conditions.

Update

If we use Modified Level Progression 2 (towards which I currently lean) this is a little harsh. If you barely have any hit points, you are going to get bloodied a lot, and end up constantly dealing with injuries. That just sucks. We’ll probably roll to save against injury if the PC hits 0hp at any point in the combat, or perhaps if they go to single digits, or maybe if after running out of healing surges (creating injury situations outside of combat). I’m open to suggestions, and we’ll probably go with “when you hit 0hp”.

Why do we have it?

Nothing says “gritty” like nagging injuries in and after combat, right? What I like about this variant is that it uses an existing 4E mechanic (disease rules) to describe persistent injuries in an easy to apply and track method. It is flexible and responsive to narrative control. Further, we don’t have tables of critical hit consequences or other such devices that are cool on paper but a headache to implement because they complicate and slow play. This approach is managed entirely outside of combat (save effects from a disease in later combat encounters).

The most important part of this idea is that it adds lingering consequences to combat and fits well with the harsh feel I want my Athas to have. Imagine being smacked by a fireball and left with vulnerablility to fire (burned flesh is painfully susceptible to heat as it slowly heals…ever had a bad burn?) and then trying to face the Athasian sun. Ouch. This rule stacks well with, or could be used independently of, Modified Level Progression and Modified Level Progression 2.

Caveats

The nature of the injuries themselves seems the most important part to pay attention to. The flexibility of that aspect suggests it would be simple to find the right set of injuries that served as incentives to avoid combat yet not so harsh as to ruin the fun aspect when a PC is injured.

It is appropiate to note that this idea came from John Lewis’ post at www.roleplayingpro.com.

Instant Kills Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

Instant kills, or at least quasi-instant kills, exist in my game. The trick is you need to figure it out!

For all encounters (at least, all encounters where it makes sense), I will attempt to build in an “instant kill” mechanism.

I currently have two ideas in mind for implementing this in encounters:

  • Use a complexity 1 or 2 skill challenge. Players may spend their actions in combat to execute the skill challenge instead of taking attacks. Ultimate success will be the instant kill. Ideally, the skill challenge should be a “secret” that the players need to figure out. If I implement this well, there will be clues indicating what to try, and appropriate feedback will tell players they are barking up the right tree (or not).
  • I’ll have a scripted combination of attacks, or teamwork maneuvers, etc. that allow an instant kill without a skill challenge. For instance, against a larger foe, halfling rogues (with the correct feats) can move into the large sized enemy’s square. I could script a sequence wherein if the large monster is flanked by two other PCs, the rogue can slip into the monster’s square and attack with CA. A successful attack (with sneak attack damage) results in evisceration of the brute and instant death. Unfortunately for the halfling, he is now entangled in the mangled intestines of the enemy and must spend a move action to get free of the mess. Yuk!
  • Terrain and trap based instant kills. This relates closely to the first bullet, above. There could be a trapped ceiling in a room that the players figure out how to use against their enemies (enemies that probably planned to use it against the PCs). Similarly, dangerous terrain elements can be used. Bull rushing someone over the edge of a cliff or chasm is something I’ve done before that worked reasonably well. This particular example runs counter to the PCs not being subject to instant kills, below. If you get bull rushed off a cliff, tough luck brother. The players can’t expect me to NOT have the enemies attempt this, and I bet the bull rushed player’s next PC won’t stand so close to cliff edges!

Why do we have it?

What I have in mind is adding, or perhaps encouraging, a cinematic style of play. We all know you are allowed to “improvise” in the game; we also know how often that happens. Remember in the LOTR movies when Legolas climbs up the back of the ogre in the mines? That is what I have in mind. In order to encourage players to engage in that sort of show stopping action sequence, I want them to know that I have a hard and fast rule stating: it works!

This also adds a meager puzzle element to combat. Very exciting.

Caveats

First, the biggest problem with instant kills in my opinion (and explained in the sidebar in the old 3E DMG) is that PCs are susceptible to many more instant kills over a career than monsters and NPCs. The very nature of the game gives a lifespan of one encounter to almost all non-PCs. I’ll fix that right away by saying this: PCs are not subject to instant kill rules.

True too is that it will take a lot of work and encounter planning to strike a balance between not giving the instant kill away (and making all the encounters too easy) and not obfuscating it so much that the players never figure it out.

Another thing, mentioned by JN, is that this mechanic could get old-hat fast. He suggested saving it for big encounters, special occasions, etc. I agree that it runs the risk of becoming mundane. So, implementation is important. Also, I want the main idea to stand: players can do wacky things in combat, and I will reward cinematic displays of combat prowess.

Finally, between the 30 second rule and active defense rule, I am working hard to give players very little downtime during an encounter. While I am generally blessed with intelligent friends whom I think are up to what is essentially the speed chess of D&D (puzzles on the clock), I am admittedly asking a lot. On the flip side, other than my wasted effort concocting an instant kill scenario they don’t figure out, there is nothing lost in playing out the encounter normally. This doesn’t preclude good old hack-n-slash. And well thought out instant kill scenarios that aren’t discovered can be reused later.

Magic Items Status: Optional edit top

What is the rule?

This is an enhancement to the magic item creation rules as presented in the PHB and Enchant Magic Item ritual.

Power Limit

The maximum level of an item PCs create will not be limited by the PCs’ levels. Rather, it will be limited by the highest power level of the components. For instance, if 10th level characters slay a 16th level dragon, they can use the dragon’s hide to create level 16 magic armor.

Acquiring Components

Magic item construction requires more than gold pieces. The GP costs set in the appropriate source books will serve as a starting point for determining the required value of components in a magic item’s construction.

At some point, it is too much of a burden on normal play within the story to track every piece of this and that going into construction of a magic item. Currently, I am setting the rule at one major, named component per item created. Also, it is an accounting headache to make players track things to which their characters presumably have easy access. For example, characters may have easy access or procurement channels for components up to their own level. Acquisition of such components can therefore take place “off-camera”.

Otherwise, the major component for a magic item construction ritual will require special effort to acquire. See Quests. I hope to build some of these quests into the story and make others optional side excursions for individual characters or subgroups within the party.

Disenchanting

Converting old magic items to cash via disenchanment and residuum is too mundane. At the same time, potentially too much time is lost to accounting headaches if characters don’t have an easy way to dispose of old items in exchange for something of value. On paper, it sounds cool that PCs search out bazaars and eccentric goods dealers and trade old items. In reality, I can see players tiring of 30 levels worth of this behavior.

My point is that something will change here, I simply haven’t figured out what yet.

Why do we have it?

I want to bring back some of the old 2E magic item construction flavor. I intend to do this without burdening the current approach too much. Magic items were too hard to make in 2E and are too easy to make in 4E. I want to strike a balance.

I hope that allowing PCs to make items above their level provides the appropriate incentive to go out and find components. Further, this eases the DMs job in dolling out treasure. Under the normal rules, the really special magic items are the ones that are found adventuring; these are two to five levels above the PCs’ level. Everything lower level the PCs can make for themselves with zero effort, to the limit of their budget.

The above requires that the DM stay in tune to what items the players want to have, so that such items can be found in treasure. No matter the power level, magic items suck if the PCs never find anything big they want to use. For example, I don’t want the fighter to always use a bastard sword of his level enchanted by the party wizard because they never find any enchanted bastard swords lying around that have the enhancements he wants. There is still coolness to random miscellaneous items found (head and neck slot items and rings especially, in my opinion). I digress…the point here is that allowing characters to custom make higher level items ensures they have access to the gear they want without the DM spending all his time looking through the AV 1 and 2. Plus, plopping down items in treasure requested by players is too contrived.

You really want that +4 Fireburst weapon? Go kill a red dragon and temper the steel in the thing’s blood.

I want to add a new caveat now that I am starting to actually design the world, and not just the mechanics. The players might never find a magic item. They are that rare. Just finding a well preserved steel weapon should get their hearts beating fast. And the few they do find may well be as cursed as the defiling magic that created them.

Caveats

As a counterpart to allowing characters to quest for components to create magic items of high levels, I may lower the limit for items constructed with non-quested components (adjust the “off-camera” access to level-2 for example). I don’t like how mundane magic item construction is in 4E. At the same time, I don’t want to limit characters too much in their ability to produce items they want to own. So this might end up depending on how much characters are questing for higher level stuff. If the answer is never then I am going to force some questing and component gathering for all (most?) item construction.

Another point worth noting is that this is Dark Sun. That makes it a low magic campaign (or, I will make it a low magic campaign). There won’t be a lot of magical gear lying around. This, by itself, will encourage players to go about creating their own magic items to supplement their power.

Finally, the DM needs to monitor the effects of this carefully. If the PCs start skinning and partitioning every magical beast they encounter “just in case” its flesh might be useful later, the DM must adapt. Bottom line: players won’t get out of questing for components by slicing up every foe into mason jars for later use. Two immediate solutions, if this becomes a problem, are sell by dates on those mason jars and making the required component something they don’t have (no matter what they have).

Marking Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

Whatever the means (power, class feature, feat, etc.), a PC may only mark one opponent at a time.

Why do we have it?

I like the idea of marking, and I dislike the implementation in 4E. This rule variant corresponds with the idea that, when marking an opponent, the PC is focusing tremendous effort to harry and anticipate that opponent. If the opponent does not return that level of attention (by, say, attacking a different PC from the mark holder), it creates an oppening that the marking PC may exploit (and deliver whatever class feature goes with the mark, such as an immediate reaction attack). This formulation makes good sense to me, preserves the mark nearly as written, and does not require any case-by-case adjudication to individual PCs.

Caveats

Actually, none? This weakens the mark a bit. The one additional thing I wish I could do: specify a level limit on marks. E.g. PCs can’t mark opponents 5 or more levels higher (or with 5 or more defense ranks than the PC has attack ranks in the Whoa! No levels? variant). This rule fixes 90% of my marking concern with no overhead. Additional details wouldn’t be worth the accounting.

Modified Level Progression Status: Dead edit top

What is the rule?

Flatten the level progression by removing the 1/2 level mechanic. In other words, you don’t add half your level to everything.

Why do we have it?

I read about something that struck me recently. It was a synopsis of a story about a group of personalities that carved out an existence over a long period of time. They never became demigods or heroes of world shattering might. But they changed the landscape nonetheless by participating in and manipulating events of the world around them. And, because they never became unto gods, the world in which they lived never stopped being dangerous.

And that is the part I like and think is applicable. I don’t want Athas to stop being dangerous once the PCs hit level X. Where suddenly the only thing left for them to do is start offing Sorcerer-Kings in toe-to-toe combat. Higher level characters would still have more hit points, deal more damage, and have accrued bonuses from other sources (increased abilities, more feats). But we wouldn’t hit a point where the power disparity is such that they become godlings untouchable by nearly everything in the campaign world.

Also, to have PCs achieve Epic levels, we need epic level beasts and villains. But if the world is populated by 30th level beasts, especially on a world like Athas where everything is scarce, why haven’t they eaten all the lower level life forms? In a world where survival is this harsh, the breeding rates of humanoids can’t be sufficient to sustain the population against such monsters. Maybe the Sorcerer-Kings can take these beasts, but then how would life outside the cities exist?

Caveats

First of all, maybe such a flattened system is mundane or becomes repetitive and boring. I certainly understand wanting to grow a character into a badass. Also, this really pushes the fundamental assumptions of D&D. Perhaps, if that is the kind of game I want, I should switch to another system. A friend tells me that Warhammer is one such system, where “high level” PCs are still very vulnerable to the lucky roll of a meager villain.

Modified Level Progression 2 Status: Proposed edit top

What is the rule?

Flatten the power curve by removing hit point increases. In other words, your starting (1st level) hit points do not increase as a result of level. As a minor variant, we might add the typical hit point increase, by class, at each tier change (e.g. Fighter gains 6hp at 11th and 21st).

Why do we have it?

First, this is an alternative proposition to Modified Level Progression. To implement both would be suicidal. Second, the thought process behind both modified progressions is the same: this is a way for the “grittiness” of my Dark Sun campaign world to manifest in rules that concretely convince the players they are relatively fragile. This rule does it a little differently.

As to inspiration, the thought process is the following scenario: say two people fignt one another armed with longswords. One is a master swordsman, the other is a novice. What do we expect to be the outcome? We expect the skill of the master swordsman to dominate almost all of the time. The thing is, a longsword is a deadly weapon. If we repeated their duel dozens of times, every once in a while the lowly novice might get a lucky break. Whether the master trips or misreads the novice’s thrust and fails to parry, given enough independent trials that novice will get in a stab on the master. And that stab is with a deadly weapon, so it may end the fight with a very unexpected result: victory for the novice.

The original Modified Level Progression proposal seeks to flatten the D&D power curve by recognizing that, when adding 1/2 level to all d20 rolls, eventually high level characters become nearly untouchable to low level opponents. Given the standard hit point rules, even if the lowly PC gets a hit on the Epic PC, the Epic PC simply takes it unflinchingly, and slays the lowly PC thereafter. So, that proposal removes the 1/2 level mechanic. Higher level PCs still have higher stats, more feats, (presumably) better weapons, and lots more hit points, so they are much tougher than low level PC counterparts. But not comparably invincible. The new modified progression takes an alternative path to a similar combat outlook: keep the 1/2 level mechanic but remove the massive difference in hit points. In one version, fights between high and low PCs have lots of hits on both sides, but the high level PC can take more hits. In the new version, fights between high and low PCs have few hits from the low PC to the high PC, but any hit from either side is potentially devastating. Either way, I have the “grittier” and more deadly (as compared to stock D&D) world that I want my Dark Sun to be. Most importantly, either way PCs of all levels need to be mindful of the deadliness of combat, even against outmatched foes.

If they are so similar, why bother with one over the other? The reason is twofold. First, is combat specific, and relates to the interpretation of one system versus the other. Since they are abstractions, if the result is the same it is potentially valid to require that players “map” their imagination to the system. Players could see the large hit point total of the high level PC in the original proposal as representing skill at parrying, dodging, etc. and thus the low level PC isn’t actually “hitting”, so much as wearing down the high level opponent when scoring a “hit” via the d20 roll. This corresponds to Gygax/Arneson hit points as they were originally imagined: high level PCs aren’t 10 times more physically durable (which is a ridiculous notion – the human body does not support this differential in damage absorption simply through combat training), instead the increased hit point total represents the ability of the high level PC to turn “hits” into “glancing blows” dozens of times. That is all great and works in the abstract, but it is dissociated with my view of typical imaganitive interpretation of the mechanical abstraction. Perhaps because of nomenclature, “hitting” is associated with the d20 attack roll, not the damage roll, and this portion most readily “maps” to the notion of attacker weapon skill. It is therefore less of a strain to imagine a world where weapon skill is represented on a scale roughly from 1 to 20 (the attack bonus less ability and enhancement bonuses) instead of 1 to 5 (profiency and feat bonuses only). The reason is because a d20 is added to everything; if skill is only represented 1 to 5, luck has far more to do than skill on every swing of the sword. It is similarly easier to imagine that, when the master (at “skill” 20) fights the novice (at “skill” 1), when the novice does get lucky (and rolls a 20) and stab the master with a longsword, the fight might be over.

That is half the argument. The other half is skills, and those follow logic already presented. If we remove the 1/2 level mechanic, then we are affecting the skill distribution also. Once again, this puts the skills on a scale of 1 to 5 instead of 1 to 20, roughly. When compared to the result of a d20 roll, this again means that too much of a skill check has to do with luck, even with “high level” PCs. A “master” acrobat (skill 5) is not significantly more likely to accomplish some acrobatic feat (DC, say, 20) than a novice (skill 1). Such a system also fails to allow for PCs to become so skilled that once difficult tasks are now trivial. That notion dissatisfies me. Even in the non-fantastic thing known as real life, it is easy to imagine skillful exploits that once seemed impossible, but become “second nature” with sufficient practice. Further, or perhaps restating, I think a 1 to 20 “skill” ranking system better reflects the spread of proficiency or training in a skill than 1 to 5.

Back to combat for a moment, one other interesting result is high level combat gets extremely dangerous. Since damage output increases faster than hit point accumulation under this proposal (the opposite of the stock system), by the time we get to Paragon tier it is likely that two solid hits from an equally powerful foe could end a fight. Even Epic PCs would find the Dragon instantly deadly. That jives with my imagination: imagine an epic warrior fighting a five story, fire breathing behemoth. The epic warrior might hold his own for sometime with brilliant use of shield, armor, dodges, etc. But it only takes one mistake against that kind of foe and the fight is over. How exactly does one “roll” with the crushing jaws of a man sized maw? Fail to dodge that bite, and the fight is done.

Caveats

Caveats of the previous Modified Level Progression proposal stand: mundane or boring, etc. On the flip side, what if we expanded this proposal? Marrying some of the ideas from Modified Skills, what if we decided to keep the stock skill and attack spread (~1-20), but stopped using 1/2 level to everything? Instead, characters would have skill points, a la 3E, and attacking would be a “skill” also? Max ranks for any skill would be 1/2 character level, to match the stock progression. And there would be one attack skill per ability (STR, DEX, etc.). Fighters would obviously level STR attacks, Clerics WIS attacks, etc. This would solve the seeming anomaly of high level, nonproficient Wizards using swords more effectively than low level but proficient Fighters. And since we have feats for swapping the base attack ability for a melee Basic Attack, the current system handles this idea well for characters that will still use melee Basic Attacks frequently, but would otherwise never level up a STR based “attack skill”. Or perhaps there would be an attack skill per weapon group and per implement. All PCs would get the same number of skill points by level, thus giving players the decision of how much to invest in combat versus skills. This last point reveals something that worries me about Rogues. If I truly intend to make a skill based campaign, Rogues may have an unfair advantage because they have many more skills. This new approach alleviates that concern, and class individuality is still specified by At-Wills and class features. Very interesting.

Why is it dead?

Modified Level Progression 2 was better, and even it eventually died in favor of no rules variant.

Nonferrous Armors Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

Nonferrous armors have the following characteristics:

  • Ichcatl is a woven hemp armor found mostly in Draj. It breathes well and is flexible,+2 AC, no check penalties, 9kgs. Expensive outside of Draj, and banned for non-military personnel within Draj’s territory.
  • Erdlu hide creates a supple leather that breathes well. +1 AC, +1 Ref, no check penalties, 5kgs. Double layered erdlu leather (separated by hemp padding) is a cheap, if heavy way to get some extra protection, +3 AC, -1 armor check, 12kgs.
  • Crodlu hide is relatively costly and stiff compared to Erdlu, but provides better protection. +3 AC, -2 check penalty, 8kgs. Makes a good material for light shields, +1 AC, +1 Ref, 1kg and heavy shields, +2 AC, +2 Ref, -2 check penalty, 5kgs.
  • Inix scale is completely unaffordable. Which is unfortunate because it is very breathable for the protection it provides. +4 AC, -2 check penalty, 12kgs.
  • Kank plate covers vital areas with carved chitin from kank farming. Very affordable and light weight for its protection. +5 AC, -3 check penalty, -1 speed, 14kgs. Also available in breast plate only, +2 AC, -1 check penalty, 6kgs. Warriors often strip to their breastplate for marching and don the other plates for battle. Kank chitin sheilds are small, light, and affordable, +1 AC, +1 Ref, 2kgs.
  • Mekillot hides are too expensive to carve into small pieces for indivual plates. Most mekillot hide is made into heavy shields, +2 AC, +2 Ref, -2 check penalty, 4kgs. Breast plates are also made from the valuable material, +3 AC, -1 check penalty, 7kgs. The ultra rich could commission full mekillot plate, +6 AC, -3 check penalty, -1 speed, 15kgs.
  • other more exotic stuff…wait and see.

Subtract the armor check penalty from the Dexterity or Intelligence bonus to AC, with a floor of zero. All armors have a secondary, hidden penalty: encumbrance. While not nearly as heavy as metal armors on other worlds, they are still possibly the heaviest gear PCs own. Endurance penalties for encumbrance under the Athasian sun should also be considered in the armor decision. See also Encumbrance. See also Flanking for additional discussion relevant to armor choice.

Finally, metal armor is available on Athas. It is often made of bronze instead of steel. It is unfathomably expensive; only Sorcerer-Kings and the richest Nobles and Traders could possibly afford it. Per the 2E rules, wearers of metal armor during daytime suffer a cumulative -1 attack penalty per round until a number of rounds equal to the wearer’s Constitution score. At that point the wearer collapses from fatigue and burns. We can mess with this, or keep it as is.

PCs start play proficient with all armors above that are equal to or less than the protection of the armors they start with in the stock 4E system. For instance, Rogues start with cloth and leather proficiency. This grants them ichcatl, erdlu hide, and kank breastplate proficiency.

Why do we have it?

Because nonferrous armors dominate the barren landscape. Athasians make their armors out of whatever material is at hand; that basically means carving up the carapaces of domesticated animals. What makes this rule really cool is that it is mostly flavor – on Athas you don’t just wear “Hide Armor”. That hide came from somewhere – an Erdlu? A Crodlu? And each animal hide gives different characteristics to armors based on it.

Caveats

This one seems pretty easy, but I’m open to a catch a didn’t foresee needing some work. As mentioned above, I like that the armors are not generic but instead reflect the setting. Also, the balance is a little different here and is open to discussion. I find that the armor check penalties in the stock rules are low and seemed tied to the light/heavy armor dichotomy. With the adjustments of the Flanking rules, the addition of the encumbrance rules, and our new approach to skills I think we have room for a “grittier” approach to armor.

Nonferrous Weapons Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

Nonferrous weapons have the following characteristics:

  • Bone: 50% the weight of steel, -1 attack, -1 damage.
  • Bronze: 100% the weight of steel, attack and damage normal.
  • Obsidian: 75% the weight of steel, -2 attack, -1 damage.
  • Stone: 75% the weight of steel, -2 attack, -1 damage.
  • Wood: 50% the weight of steel, -3 attack, -2 damage.

See also Weapons Break.

Why do we have it?

Because nonferrous weapons dominate the barren landscape. Athasians make their weapons out of whatever material is at hand; that usually means bone, stone, wood, etc. We need a rule to recognize the limited utility of these weapons compared to their iron based variants.

Caveats

The rules here come directly from the 2E sourcebooks. We may decide we need to modify them. The obsidian in particular is likely to change. Also, some common sense is required. For instance, should a wooden quarterstaff really have a -3 to hit? No, a normal quarterstaff is just a stick! Etc.

No Daily Powers Status: Dead edit top

What is the rule?

Really? You don’t get it? :)

All daily attack powers are banned. Other daily powers, like utility and skill powers, are fine. PC daily progression:

  • 1st: choose an additional at-will attack power from your class list instead
  • 5th: choose a feat, skill power (<=5th), or utility power (<=5th) instead
  • 9th: choose a feat, skill power (<=9th), or utility power (<=9th) instead
  • 15th: choose a feat, skill power (<=15th), or utility power (<=15th) instead
  • 19th: choose a feat, skill power (<=19th), or utility power (<=19th) instead
  • 25th: choose a feat, skill power (<=25th), or utility power (<=25th) instead
  • 29th: choose a feat, skill power (<=29th), or utility power (<=29th) instead

Players may still select daily powers as normal, if they choose. However, these powers are no longer attack powers, only grant ongoing effects, and require a standard action to use. E.g. Barbarian Rage. Select Barbarian rage power as normal. Use standard action to enter rage and receive all benefits thereof but no attacks. No Rage Strike.

Everything else will be case by case.

Why do we have it?

I want to emphasize the power of magic over other disciplines. This is still in the works in my mind, but wizard and sorcerer will probably be restricted classes not available to PCs, so it shouldn’t interfere with party dynamics. It adds mechanical meat to the notion that everything else pales in comparison.

Caveats

I just thought of this, so it may evolve a lot before the final iteration. I really like it, and it has a good chance of staying regardless of player input (so long as it doesn’t make people not want to play at all). I’m trying to envision this from the player perspective, and I’m not sure I would mind that much. There are tons of cool encounter powers available, and these powers are generally easier to pull off given the time constraints of the 30 second rule.

Also, I have some plot ideas swimming in my head that I won’t be revealing that are greatly abetted by this mechanic. You may be wondering what a rules change like this could have to do with the plot. And to be sure there are other ways, but I think this ties well. Enough about that.

But really, my favorite part is the purposeful manipulation through meta-game knowledge. If and when the PCs come up against a magic wielding bad guy, they will have a very measurable understanding of what that NPC can do that they can’t.

After putting some more meat to this mechanical idea, and looking at the way it interacts with certain classes (most of the primal classes, for example, which are important choices in this campaign), my support for it is waning. If we played through epic levels, players could amass 13 utility powers, which is hard to keep track of. Mostly, it gets pretty wonky in the implementation with the primal classes. And that sucks.

I am trying to ratchet down the “magical” nature of the world to make it grittier, and also emphasize the deadly advantage magic users have over everyone else. Maybe there is a better way…

Why is it dead?

I now advocate a stronger version of the rule, 4E Lite wherein classes generally only have at-will powers. As perhaps stated best in the “Campaign Goals:http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaign/new-campaign/wikis/campaign-goals#contents pages, I am after a particular style of play. That style emphasizes non-combat encounters, skill challenges, and fast “cinematic” combat. I am a fan of 4E’s decision to give all classes lots of cool options (in times past, warriors had one thing they could do, while spellcasters had bunches). In practice, I’ve seen PC actions limited by instead of expanded by the class powers list. My hypothesis: the reason for this emphasis on the written rule instead of impovisational combat style is because players spend so much time managing lists of powers there is no time to think about anything else on one’s turn. This campaign will test that hypothesis by boiling classes down to feats and at-will powers and giving everyone a bonus at-will power: do something cool. Additionally, by keeping combat crisp we should have more time to spend on other areas of our game, like skill challenges.

Percentile Damage Status: Optional edit top

What is the rule?

Substitute your normal damage dice for a single die and assign values on the die to represent damage percentiles; maximum damage (the 100% damage percentile) is always represented by a critical. For example, use a d6 for all damage rolls with all powers. On a roll of 1, 2, or 3 you do damage at the 33rd percentile. On a roll of 4, 5, or 6 you do damage at the 67th percentile.

Pre-compute your percentile damage for all pre-assigned percentiles for a power and use it in place of a damage roll for that power. Pre-compute your average critical damage for a power (in case you have dice to roll on top of your maximum damage; e.g. magic weapon crit) and use it in place of a critical damage roll for that power.

To figure percentile damage, do one of the following:

  • Use a linear approximation. For example, say the power does 2[W] damage, your weapon uses d8 giving you 2-16 points of damage (a 15 point range), and you chose the above 33rd and 67th percentiles. 33% of 15 is 5 and 67% of 15 is 10; add the “missing 1” back to get 6 and 11. Add your damage bonuses and you are done.
  • Compute the actual, interpolated percentiles. Or fit to a normal curve and approximate. If you know what either of these mean, you don’t need an example. Otherwise, just use the linear approximation.
  • Don’t forget about things like the Brutal property and how it affects the curve.

Why do we have it?

Strictly to speed play. This option offers more variability than the Average Damage option, but is still far faster than calculating damage on the fly, especially at higher levels with lots of dice.

Caveats

I might change the rule to rounding the final fractions UP to encourage uptake on this rule. One hit point is unlikely to sway combat, though it is also unlikely to sway player opinion on the rule. More likely, this rule will become a way to cope with the 30 Second Rule, especially on burst/blast powers that take more time to execute.

Some people love grabbing fist fulls of dice. Some people don’t care. Some people think the random element the damage dice provide is fundamental to the game’s evocation of the random ebb and flow of momentum in battle. Others find criticals and the randomness inherent in the to-hit rolls sufficient for this.

Why is it dead?

It isn’t anymore. This rule was resurrected after playtesting revealed a disadvantage to Average Damage, which subsequently was retired.

The old text under “Why is it dead?”
If someone really wants to use this, it will be allowed. But really, I think players will either pick average damage or they won’t. And if we stick with 4E Lite then it probably won’t be necessary.

Weapons Break Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

Any time a weapon of bone, obsidian, stone, or wood deals critical damage or MAX damage (e.g. roll 8 on a damage that deals 1d8) the PC must make a successful save for the weapon or it breaks. Anytime a nonferrous metal weapon deals critical damage or MAX damage the PC must save for the weapon or it loses its edge. Such dulled weapons take a -2 penalty to attacks AND damage.

See also Nonferrous Weapons.

Why do we have it?

Nonferrous weapons dominate the Athasian landscape and they aren’t nearly as durable as their steel counterparts. This rule imitates the original 2E Dark Sun mechanics, more or less, and provides a fairly simple method for adjudication that shouldn’t slow down play much. Also, I like the idea behind the implementation. When you really hit hard is when you are most likely to break the weapon. This represents that better than something based on e.g. when a natural 1 is rolled.

Caveats

We might decide weapons break too much under this mechanic and adjust the weapon’s saving throw, or have it only on a critical instead of also when rolling max damage. Yup, it was too much. I did the numbers in a spread sheet, and assuming a 50% hit chance for simplicity, the original version (crital OR max damage, e.g. 8 on a d8) had weapons breaking on almost 10% of hits and, therefore, 5% of attacks. Dialing it back to only criticals gives more like 4% of hits and 2% of attacks result in weapon breakage.

Also, case by case, some weapons should still be somewhat useful even when they break. My thinking is that when bone and stone cutting edges mounted on a wooden shaft break, the combatant still has the wooden shaft to use as an improvised weapon. Bone spears that break might be treated as quarterstaffs. That sort of thing.

Whoa! No levels? Status: Implemented edit top

What is the rule?

This rule requires Everything as Skills and Modified Level Progression 2. In this variant, points are used to purchase everything: skills, abilities, feats, even hit points. Points are awarded after each session, perhaps five at a time. Proposed point costs as follows.

Skills:

  • from 0 to 1 (untrained to trained): 3 points
  • Heroic Tier (ranks 1-5): 1 point per rank
  • Paragon Tier (ranks 6-10): 2 points per rank
  • Epic Tier (ranks 11-15): 3 points per rank

Feats:

  • Heroic Tier: 3 points
  • Paragon Tier: 4 3 points
  • Epic Tier: 5 3 points
  • Feats that provide unconditional bonuses (e.g. Improved Initiative, Weapon Focus, etc.) are banned.
  • Skill Training: subsumed by system (3 points to train 0-1, Heroic Feat = 3 points).
  • Skill Focus: choose a skill from PC class skill list. Receive +2 class skill proficiency bonus.

Abilities:

  • Max(2 + destination mod, 2). So it costs 2 points to go from ability 8 to ability 9. It costs 3 to go from 11 to 12. To go from a +2 bonus @14 to a +3 bonus @16, it costs 4 to go from 14 to 15 and 5 to go from 15 to 16, for a total of 9 points.

New Powers:

  • Heroic Tier: 5 points
  • Paragon Tier: 7 5 points
  • Epic Tier: 9 5 points
  • Attack powers must be At-Will. All Skill Powers and Utility Powers are legal.
  • Requires ranks in associated skill(s) by tier. E.g. Fighter wants 22nd level Utility? Must have 11+ ranks.
  • Paragon requires 17 ranks in primary and 13 ranks in secondary (if applicable) associated abilities. E.g. PC wants Revelatory Strike (Ardent 13). This power is Cha vs AC, so Cha is primary. It has a lingering effect equal to Wis bonus at Augement 1, so Wis is secondary.
  • Epic requires 21 ranks in primary and 17 ranks in secondary (if applicable) associated abilities. E.g. PC wants Daggers of Pain (Psion 23). This power is Int vs Will, so Int is primary. It has a lingering effect equal to Cha bonus, so Cha is secondary.
  • Powers with no primary ability have no ability prerequisites. Powers with only primary have only primary prerequisites.
  • Maximum number of powers, primary class: 1 per attack skill level tier, plus 1, before racial adjustments. E.g. 6 ranks in Melee? Fighter may have up to 3 (2@Paragon + 1) fighter powers.
  • Maximum number of powers, non-primary class: 1 per attack skill level tier. E.g. 11 ranks in Psionics? Fighter may have up to 3 (3@Epic) psionics powers.
  • Paragon Path bonus power may count as primary or non-primary depending on Paragon Path chosen. This power must be purchased as normal and is part of the cost of attaining a Paragon Path. See caveats, below, and 4E Lite.
  • Certain Daily powers will be converted to At-Will versions for classes as needed. These can be purchased as normal. E.g. Barbarian rage powers. This mostly affects Primal classes. See Silent Spirits.

Hit points:

  • Purchase hit points as a Feat (stock Toughness is banned). Each purchase provides hit points equivalent to a level increase in the stock system (e.g. 6hp for most Defenders). The 1st purchase has a Heroic Feat cost no requirement, the 2nd Paragon requires 6 ranks in either AC or Ref, and the 3rd Epic requires 11 ranks in either AC or Ref. Related: powers don’t level up; e.g. At-Will attacks don’t increase damage at Epic tier.
  • Purchase extra healing surges as a feat. Each purchase provides one extra healing surge. The 1st purchase has a Heroic Feat cost no requirement, the 2nd Paragon requires 6 ranks in Fort or Will defense, and the 3rd Epic requires 11 ranks in Fort or Will.

Starting Skills:

  • See Proposed Skill List.
  • One rank in each skill from the class skill list at PC creation.
  • Choose class skills normally. PCs receive +2 class skill proficiency bonus to selected skills.
  • Choose ONE Attack Skill. This skill starts at one rank. All others start at zero ranks.
  • All other skills, including initiative and Defense Skills start at zero ranks.

Multiclassing and Power Swapping:

  • There are no buying restrictions! Any PC may purchase any skill, feat or power if prerequisites are met.
  • PCs may swap class powers with few limitations! Racial powers may not be swapped out. Paragon Path powers may not be swapped in.
  • Power swapping costs a feat. Feat cost determined by power swapped into. E.g. swapping into a Paragon Tier power costs four.
  • Power swapping: must meet appropriate prerequisites. E.g. to swap into an Epic Psionic At-Will, you must have Epic ranks (11+) in Psionics and meet primary and secondary ability rank requirements.
  • Power swapping: powers need not be like in kind (e.g. At-Will Attack for Encounter Utility).
  • Power swapping: ask DM for case by case adjudication. Expect certain limitations. For instance, Fighters that swap into Psionic powers cannot mark with those powers (a la the hybrid rules). Generally, if there is any ambiguity to effects, expect the least powerful/advantageous to be the adjudicated response.

Magic and Psionics:

  • There are no PSPs. Magic draws its energy from surrounding life, psionics draws its energy from the life force of the psionicist.
  • Augment psionic powers by spending healing surges. E.g. Mind Thrust (Psion Attack 1), the Psion must spend two healing surges to achieve the Augment 2 effect.
  • Manifesting psionics and casting spells provoke opportunity attacks as normal. If the OA hits the triggering caster/manifester, the triggering power is lost, similar to 2E rules.

Prescribed Limitations:

  • Story considerations rule: some skills may not be purchased at certain times, some skills will receive bonus ranks as DM reward, etc. Also, if game time passing between sessions is short, no skill may change more than one rank.
  • Feats, training new skills, and power swaps require case by case adjudication and story relevance.

Why do we have it?

This is a variant that strengthens the proposal under Everything as Skills and has some basis in common sense. Once everything becomes a skill with ranks to buy based on points, the original leveling system is an anachronism.

I noticed a problem in my original point scheme: compounding costs. I don’t want that, I want linear costs. Take feats as an example. Feats got more expensive by Tier. They also have heavier requirements by Tier. To get an Epic feat, a PC needed to spend all the points to get to Epic in the required skill, all the points to get to the required abilities (which are high and expensive) and then spend 5 points on top of that!. It was too much. Feat and power costs are now flat. Paragon and especially Epic feats and powers are still radically more expensive than skills alone because of the prerequisites, but the compounding is removed. Why is that important? Simple: if you make feats and powers too expensive, players will just dump all their points into skills. Why buy a feat when you can spend the same points to level your skill up three or four times? Generally, the system needs internal efficiency to keep these decisions meaningful. If a power costs 5, it needs to be worth 5, as defined by the opportunity cost of where those 5 points could’ve been invested.

Generally, Arcane >> Psionic > Primal > Martial when describing power sources in my game. This is on purpose, and owes to the flavor I want the campaign to have. Balance is still important, and has several important components. First, Arcane isn’t available to PCs, so we don’t need to worry about it. It is owned by Defilers and Sorcerer-Kings and they should be feared by the players. Psionics is available to everyone, and everyone will be a wild talent. So this diminishes (a little) the advantage of psionics users. Also, psionic characters will blow through their healing surges and are vulnerable to manifestation disruption like in the old days of 2E. Also, Primal PCs need to be careful that their powers won’t even work, see Silent Spirits. In other words, everyone will need to have a mundane combat fallback, and everyone will have access to the bigger effects. That seems balanced enough.

Caveats

Oh, there are a bunch. Some are easy, some are not:

  • “Your point costs are all messed up!”
    These point costs may need adjustment. That is the hardest part of creating this type of system.
  • “This is totally unbalanced! So-and-so could make a God with these rules!”
    Yes, another good point. I will say this: remember the player introducton on the wiki main page? This campaign is an experiment. I’m not trying to create rules that every 13 year old in America can use and understand. I’m creating rules for a group of about six people in and around 30 years old. Players that intend to exploit numerical idiosyncrasies over interesting character design don’t belong here, and will be told as such.
  • “How do I qualify for Paragon and Epic feats?”
    You need at least six (or eleven) ranks in all applicable underlying skills. The easiest examples are martial combat feats. These require at least six (or eleven) ranks in Melee or Ranged as appropriate.
  • “What about Paragon Paths?”
    That one is easy. You did read about Quests, didn’t you? In order to qualify for a Paragon Path, you will need paragon level skill ranks (6+) in all relevant skills (determined case by case – just ask, and they will make sense). Then you will need to quest for your paragon path.
  • “OK, but what about Epic Destinies.”
    Sorry, Epic Destinies have no place in this campaign. We are playing a gritty setting with a flattened power curve, remember? I have some ideas about how to replace the Epic Destinies with Athas specific stuff, and players will get those ideas when the time comes.
  • “Why doesn’t my dude’s damage increase ever? It’s like he never gets any better with his axe!”
    This is nonsense, you baby. Look at it this way: if hit points don’t increase, damage doesn’t need to either to “keep up”. In fact, this is one of the realizations driving many of the proposed rules on this page. Stock 4E has ~50% hit percentage at all levels. What happens when PCs gain level is the powers involve more dice, do more effects, hit more enemies, and are generally harder to keep track of. So the relative numbers (attack versus defense, damage versus hit points) vary almost not at all, but the game slows down. We are changing that paradigm. Deal more damage by hitting more (level up your Attack Skills) and buying Feats that give you more moves. The Feat chains for interesting combat maneuvers are getting fairly awesome with the newest material.
  • “Shouldn’t there be a cross-class training penalty? Classes are underemphasized!”
    I don’t agree with this. In my opinion, cross class training penalties are a mechanical manipulation that isn’t realistic. For instance, take a Rogue and a highly dexterous Fighter. While the Fighter would initially (level one) be behind in something like acrobatics because he spent his formative years training in weapons, what is preventing him from learning acrobatics with as much ease as his dexterity dictates? Why should there be an additional learning penalty? That doesn’t make any sense. Also, the PC’s initial class determines what skills and powers it starts with (essentially providing between +4 and +7 ranks, cumulating the class skill bonus and nonproficiency penalty). That is huge. Further, the class features one starts with can never be replaced, making initial class choice forever relevant.
  • “Why are we even playing D&D if you are going to change everything?”
    I spent the last six months creating this wiki. You could spend a few hours reading it before you get critical. Seriously.
Whoa! No levels? OLD FORMAT Status: Proposed edit top

What is the rule?

This rule requires Everything as Skills. In this variant, points are used to purchase everything: skills, abilities, and feats. Points are awarded after each session, perhaps five at a time. Proposed point costs as follows.

Skills:

  • from 0 to 1 (untrained to trained): 3 points
  • Heroic Tier (ranks 1-5): 1 point per rank
  • Paragon Tier (ranks 6-10): 2 points per rank
  • Epic Tier (ranks 11-15): 3 points per rank

Feats:

  • Heroic Tier: 3 points per rank
  • Paragon Tier: 4 points per rank
  • Epic Tier: 5 points per rank

Abilities:

  • Max(2 + destination mod, 2). So it costs 2 points to go from ability 8 to ability 9. It costs 3 to go from 11 to 12. To go from a +2 bonus @14 to a +3 bonus @16, it costs 4 to go from 14 to 15 and 5 to go from 15 to 16, for a total of 9 points.

PCs start play with one rank in every skill from the class skill list. PCs choose class skills as normal at creation. PCs receive a +2 proficiency bonus in chosen class skills that are trained. Attack Skills provide proficiency bonus as in the stock rules. PCs start with one rank in ONLY ONE attack skill. For some PCs (e.g. Fighter) this choice will be obvious. For others (e.g. Ranger) they must choose (e.g. Melee or Ranged). All Feats that provide unconditonal bonuses are banned. Examples include Improved Initiative, Weapon Expertise, Jack of All Trades, etc. Skill Training, which normally would be on that list, has been subsummed by the system: notice it costs 3 points to train a skill from 0 to 1, and a heroic tier feat is also 3 points. In this variant selecting the Skill Focus Feat allows the PC to select another skill from the appropriate class skill list; in this way it gives PCs +2 to any one skill from the class skill list.

If this rule is used with Modified Level Progression 2, there will be no hit point increases. Want more hit points? Level up your Constitution. Want more than that? PCs may purchase the Toughness Feat multiple times. Each time the Feat provides hit points equivalent to a level increase in the stock system (e.g. 6hp for most Defenders). The first purchase has a Heroic Feat cost, the second Paragon, the third Epic. Also, powers don’t level up; e.g. At-Will attacks don’t increase damage at Epic tier.

There will be certain buying limitions driven by the story and determined in play at the time. For instance, if game time passing between gaming sessions is essentially nil, there may be a limit that nothing may change more than one rank. In this way PCs will see incremental improvement during episodes and potentially larger improvements between episodes, where there is time to “train”.

See also Proposed Skill List. One other important note: there are no buying restrictions! PCs are better at skills within their class and begin with certain skills already at one rank because of class. After play begins, only story considerations govern what skills can and cannot be purchased. For instance, Fighters may level Psionic, Primal, Thievery, or any other skill so long as they can find suitable instruction. In this way PCs might eventually find acess to magic via the Arcane skill. A consequence of this is an unlimited form of multiclassing.

Powerswapping and multiclassing. PCs may swap powers with no limitations. Remember that, under 4E Lite only At-Will class powers are legal (you may not swap out racial powers). Powers must be like in kind, e.g. At-Will Attack for At-Will Attack. Swapping costs a feat to purchase. The destination power determines the cost. E.g. swapping for a Paragon Tier At-Will costs four. You must meet appropriate prerequisites. E.g. to swap into an Epic Psionic At-Will, you must have Epic ranks (11+) in Psionics. Players must check with the DM for case by case adjudication. Expect certain limitations. For instance, Fighters that swap into Psionic powers cannot mark with those powers (a la the hybrid rules). Generally, if there is any ambiguity to effects, expect the least powerful/advantageous to be the adjudicated response. Also, (since I don’t know where else to put it), manifesting Psionics and casting spells trigger opportunity attacks as normal. If the OA hits the triggering caster/manifester, the triggering power is lost, similar to 2E rules.

There are no PSPs. Magic draws its energy from surrounding life, psionics draws its energy from the life force of the psionicist. PCs may augment any available psionic power by spending healing surges instead of PSPs. For instance, using Mind Thrust (Psion Attack 1), the Psion must spend two healing surges to achieve the Augment 2 effect. PCs may purchase a feat that grants one extra healing surge. This feat may be taken multiple times; the first purchase has a Heroic Feat cost, the second Paragon, and the third Epic.

Why do we have it?

This is a variant that strengthens the proposal under Everything as Skills and has some basis in common sense. Once everything becomes a skill with ranks to buy based on points, the original leveling system is simply an anachronism.

Caveats

Oh, there are a bunch. Some are easy, some are not:

  • “Your point costs are all messed up!”
    These point costs may need adjustment. That is the hardest part of creating this type of system.
  • “This is totally unbalanced! So-and-so could make a God with these rules!”
    Yes, another good point. I will say this: remember the player introducton on the wiki main page? This campaign is an experiment. I’m not trying to create rules that every 13 year old in America can use and understand. I’m creating rules for a group of about six people in and around 30 years old. Players that intend to exploit numerical idiosyncrasies over interesting character design don’t belong here, and will be told as such.
  • “How do I qualify for Paragon and Epic feats?”
    You need at least six (or eleven) ranks in all applicable underlying skills. The easiest examples are martial combat feats. These require at least six (or eleven) ranks in Melee or Ranged as appropriate.
  • “What about Paragon Paths?”
    That one is easy. You did read about Quests, didn’t you? In order to qualify for a Paragon Path, you will need paragon level skill ranks (6+) in all relevant skills (determined case by case – just ask, and they will make sense). Then you will need to quest for your paragon path.
  • “OK, but what about Epic Destinies.”
    Sorry, Epic Destinies have no place in this campaign. We are playing a gritty setting with a flattened power curve, remember? I have some ideas about how to replace the Epic Destinies with Athas specific stuff, and players will get those ideas when the time comes.
  • “Why doesn’t my dude’s damage increase ever? It’s like he never gets any better with his axe!”
    This is nonsense, you baby. Look at it this way: if hit points don’t increase, damage doesn’t need to either to “keep up”. In fact, this is one of the realizations driving many of the proposed rules on this page. Stock 4E has ~50% hit percentage at all levels. What happens when PCs gain level is the powers involve more dice, do more effects, hit more enemies, and are generally harder to keep track of. So the relative numbers (attack versus defense, damage versus hit points) vary almost not at all, but the game slows down. We are changing that paradigm. Deal more damage by hitting more (level up your Attack Skills) and buying Feats that give you more moves. The Feat chains for interesting combat maneuvers are getting fairly awesome with the newest material.
  • “Shouldn’t there be a cross-class training penalty? Classes are underemphasized!”
    I don’t agree with this. In my opinion, cross class training penalties are a mechanical manipulation that isn’t realistic. For instance, take a Rogue and a highly dexterous Fighter. While the Fighter would initially (level one) be behind in something like acrobatics because he spent his formative years training in weapons, what is preventing him from learning acrobatics with as much ease as his dexterity dictates? Why should there be an additional learning penalty? That doesn’t make any sense. Also, the PC’s initial class determines what skills and powers it starts with (essentially providing between +4 and +7 ranks, cumulating the class skill bonus and nonproficiency penalty). That is huge. Further, the class features one starts with can never be replaced, making initial class choice forever relevant.
  • “Why are we even playing D&D if you are going to change everything?”
    I spent the last six months creating this wiki. You could spend a few hours reading it before you get critical. Seriously.

House Rules Discussion

To Kill a Dragon Gravedigga