Tuesday, December 11, 2012

More Saving and more dying

The Wizards team building DnD Next regularly puts out blog posts about their design ideas along with their actual playtest documents.  They have a lot of interesting thoughts, and MAN am I jealous of their art department (since my art department consists of just one dude, and he isn't any good at drawing).  Their latest post talks about spell design, in particular the save or die (SoD) mechanic.  In the old days Fireball was absurd but in 3rd edition people focused more on SoD attacks because of monster HP inflation.  That lead to some weird stuff, where beating monsters down was useless because at some point they would fail a save and just die regardless of their HP total.  The article talks about changing SoD spells into spells that slowly kill the enemy over several rounds and with several rolls; eventually turning the monster to stone or somesuch.

The trouble is that when wizards have effective ways to kill monsters that entirely bypass HP and everyone else is forced to just do damage the party is going to end up with bizarre situations.  The wizard can start casting a '3 rounds and you die' spell and according to the article the party will then spend their time trying to slow down or hamper the enemy from coming to kill the wizard.  Unfortunately this is going to be a complete mess because if the party isn't trying to hurt the monster, just slow it down, and the monster makes its saving throw, then the party is no further ahead after three full rounds.  If instead the party just beats the monster down while the spell does its work then the spell is probably terrible - using a SoD spell against an opponent who is already dead or nearly there is wasteful and pointless.  Simply put, if the party doesn't need to SoD a monster because they can beat it down then SoD is awful.  If they can't beat it down and they need to SoD it to win, then the party dies if the monster makes its roll.  These are poor options.

SoD spells are going to work best when they directly interact with HP.  For example, a SoD spell that only works when the enemy is bloodied (below 50% HP) would be fine.  It won't let you beat something that is totally out of your league, nor end a fight on round 1.  It will, however, let you do nasty things to enemies that are already beat down, which is fine because it interacts nicely with the rest of the party.  "Get that dragon's attention and wear him down a bit so I can line up my KILLYOUFOO spell!"  Of course you need a mechanic like bloodied from 4th edition DnD for this so players know when opponents will be vulnerable to a SoD attack.  This makes the wizard a team player instead of a boss killing machine.


  1. Wouldn't that make players even more conservative? There are many, many RP reasons to keep going into the fray even when your resources are nearly spent and still players choose to take a break and replenish at the drop of a hat. If hp % a fundamental protection vs save or die effects then progressing anywhere under 100% hps, or even without a couple of spare healing spells, is much more riskier.

    If it was for me I would just remove save or die. How, I am not certain of :)

  2. I guess I have never seen a group of players that willingly kept on getting into fights when down on HP and out of healing. (Aside from my 4th ed. group that was trying to do entire modules spanning 4 levels while only resting once in the middle, but that is not the norm!) When people can't get healed to full they because they don't have enough healing they stop completely in my experience.

    And regardless I think it is much safer to have a system where players have to be beat up before they can get hit with SoD - that means they get to take part in the fight at least. :)

  3. You are starting from two axioms: that SoD effects need to be there, and that players will stop the adventure to replenish when it is mechanically suitable. From there your conclusion (there is no added harm, and at least players have a safety cushion from SoD effects) is sound.

    I (would like to) reject the first and think the second should be discouraged, which the game clearly does not as it stands. It is not very heroic, and only makes sense in the game world when there is no clock ticking anywhere or people are barely on their feet (80%+ hps for example I consider 'just a flesh wound!'). Now, how often that is true depends on the GM and the gameplay the group likes, of course.

  4. Well, I wouldn't say that I buy into the axiom that SoD must exist. It doesn't exist in the RPG I am building! I was starting from the axiom that SoD exists in DnD and then tried to find ways to make it palatable. I don't like pure SoD but I can live quite reasonably with some SoD lite mechanics such as the one I suggested, or polymorphs that require concentration, like in DnD Next, or stuns with a new save every round.

    What you are describing is debated fiercely (see the 5 minute workday) because some people think the DM should constantly force the players to fight to discourage constant resting and some feel like the players should have control. I think either can work, but I have found that even when the clock is ticking the players tend to heal themselves when they have healing magic and rarely go into fights injured. If they truly are injured and also out of healing then yes, they are vulnerable, but running out of HP and dying is more what I would be paranoid about rather than SoD I think. As you said, this will vary quite a bit based on group style.