Core Mechanical Changes

Tactical and Strategic Play

How do you simulate the decades or centuries it will take to rebuild the world without taking real-world decades? Clearly not everything can be run on an adventure’s timescale – just ask anyone who went from peasant to god-slayer in a few months of game time. Our solution was to split gameplay into tactical and strategic modes. Tactical games proceed like any normal session of D&D: your characters are in the middle of the action investigating a dungeon, overthrowing a tyrant, or what have you. The exact dungeon or tyrant, however, is determined by your choices in strategic play.

Once your characters are out of the dungeon and back in their seats of power, you will generally have a few decisions to make before everyone goes home: what your nation will do in response to the events of the tactical session, how the characters intend to spend their personal downtime, and such. The period between tabletop games is known as strategic play. Soon after the tactical game ends, the DM calculates the results of the players’ decisions, does similarly for other nations, and posts the results to the wiki. You do have a campaign wiki, don’t you?

Time marches on, measured in seasons, until some event comes up which requires the players’ attention. At this point, the DM posts the situation to the wiki and allows the players to respond. If the players decide to become personally involved in this matter – or are forced to by circumstance – resolving this event becomes the next tactical game. In-game years may pass between tactical adventures as your nation re-settles the ancient city you just excavated, consolidates its power over recently-conquered lands, or just figures out how to feed itself more effectively.

As an example of the way tactical and strategic play influence one another:

The nation of Examplus is in bad shape at the moment. During the last tactical play session its queen was eaten by a dragon who was (understandably) offended that the party had entered her lair on Mt. Badi’dea in search of the last known philosopher’s stone. The rest of the party, having barely escaped the dragon, return to their capital to plot how to handle the transition of power and what to do about the toxic lands to the south, which would make perfect farmland if they weren’t so toxic. They had originally wanted to use the philosopher’s stone to discover an alchemical formula for purifying the land, but that option doesn’t seem so appealing anymore.

At the start of strategic play, the players decide that Tim the wizard has the strongest claim to the throne and put their support behind him. They decide not to change what technology the nation is researching, nor what aspect of economic growth it focuses on. Tim chooses to spend his personal downtime – when he’s not vying for the throne – enchanting a nifty new Crown of Charisma. The druid decides to change her personal project from mastering the Giant Doom-Squirrel spell to discovering a plant that can survive in the toxic lands. Nobody else does anything of note.

The DM then wakes up entirely too early the next morning and runs the “simulation” for a few seasons. The players’ Diplomacy and Administration checks were sufficient to sway the populace to support Tim, so he posts congratulations to the new monarch on the wiki. He also decides that one of Tim’s rivals is not above regicide and files away that character for a future adventure. That same season, the party cleric finishes the mace he was working on and decides to devote his downtime to discovering a plague cure. During the first summer of the reign of King Tim, the druid makes a breakthrough and discovers that the silverwood tree is supposedly able to leach toxins out of the earth and destroy them. Better yet, she knows where a surviving silverwood might be located. Since this is a potential adventure hook (and because he should have been at work half an hour ago), the DM posts this and “stops the clock” while he waits for the players to respond.

The players decide to jump on this chance, so strategic play ends until the next tactical session. If they succeed in taking viable cuttings from the silverwood tree and planting them in the toxic lands, the next strategic session will likely involve orchestrating a way to magically accelerate their growth so that the toxic lands can be purified more rapidly. There’s also an assassin to consider – if he gets close enough to attempt Timicide, the strategic session will end immediately and the next game will involve surviving the assassination attempt.

Repeat as needed until the world is restored or the players accidentally destroy it. Players do tend to do that…

Hit Points and Wounds

The hit point is a useful abstraction for speeding up combat, but it fails at modeling the long-term effects of bloody combat – a few cure light wounds and nobody would ever guess that you were just impaled. If it was the cleric who got impaled (bad teamwork, boo!) and you don’t have access to healing magic, anyone with a single hit point left can walk back home and sleep off his near-fatal injuries. That’s not particularly realistic, nor does it mesh with the survival elements of this campaign, so we have introduced the concept of wounds – escalating penalties inflicted by damage.

Wounds represent long-lasting physical injury and come in two categories: serious and crippling. These are applied at one-half of the character’s maximum hit points and at zero hit points, respectively. The first time in a given battle a character drops to or below a wound threshold, they receive a wound of the appropriate type. The player or DM in charge of the character rolls a d100, then the DM checks on a table corresponding to damage type and severity for the exact wound (often while snickering). If a character is healed above a wound threshold and damaged back below it in the same encounter, they do not receive a second wound. Wounds only result from lethal damage.

Treating wounds requires long-term care or powerful healing magic. If left untreated, a wound may worsen or prove fatal. By making a DC 10 Heal check as a standard action (which provokes attacks of opportunity) or a DC 20 Heal check as a swift action, a character can identify a particular wound, its mechanical effects, and its difficulty to treat with magical and mundane methods.

Wounds can be given either long-term care or first aid; the former permanently removes the injury, while the latter suppresses its penalties for ten minutes and prevents it from worsening for that period. First aid can be repeated after that time to give the character another ten minutes. The Heal DC and time required for both options depend on the specific injury, but first aid is usually a full-round action which provokes attacks of opportunity.

You can also attempt to treat an injury magically, either with certain specialized spells or with generic healing. Each injury costs a number of “virtual hit points” to heal, which are not applied to the character’s HP total. For example, a cleric casting Cure Light Wounds and getting a result of 7 hp restored could choose to restore 7 hp to the subject or restore 2 hp and cure her right leg’s muscle wound.

Some injuries such as amputation do not heal naturally (and a few exotic forms cannot be healed magically!) or require a specific spell such as regenerate to cure. Death in particular is a tricky one… returning from the dead will require more than a simple raise dead spell, and the exact method will depend on the circumstances of the character’s demise – anything from chasing her soul across the world and capturing it in a magical crystal jar to the blood sacrifice of a close relative. Hopefully you never have to find out…

Character Training

All prestige classes will have story requirements attached. Generally this involves retrieving lost knowledge related to the magic involved – if you decide you want to add the Whatevermage prestige class for your next level, you’d be advised to seek out the ruined towers of ancient whatevermages to see if they left the secrets of the class behind. Or perhaps too little written lore remains, and you’ll have to seek out the spirit of an ancient whatevermage, imprisoned in a gemstone buried deep in some forgotten dungeon. You may even discover knowledge of entirely new, never-before-published prestige classes…

After level 5, characters generally require one week per level in personal downtime in order to level up. Downtime may take the form of spell research, communing with one’s deity, or even a sorcerer taking a wide variety of hallucinogenic drugs to test his powers in different mental states (yes, it happens). Interruptions do not reset completed days, but do prevent the current day from being useful. You’d be well advised to find a safe haven before trying to master the next level of magic.

Fate

Some observers have noted that the most heroic adventurers occasionally experience bursts of unbelievable fortune – as though fate itself had intervened on their behalf. These rumors are true. Should a character accomplish something worthy of fate’s notice – an action that shakes the world, the culmination of a long personal quest, or simply some damn good roleplaying – the character’s player is allowed to draw from a deck of standard playing cards (which will be simulated using roll20 for our campaign). Each card has its own unique effect which can be used only once – anything from rerolling a save to mitigating a natural disaster in the player’s nation. Using a Fate Card does not require an action.

Characters with a backstory – and I mean a real backstory, not the sentence “he hates orcs because they killed his father” – begin play with one free Fate Card.

Other House Rules

  • Ability scores are not assigned by rolling dice. Use the point buy method on page 169 of the DMG. You have 32 points to spend.
  • The XP system has been thrown out entirely. Characters level up at the speed of plot (though unusually brave or clever actions can accelerate this pace) – generally every two adventures from levels 1-3, every three adventures from levels 3-5, and every four adventures thereafter. Spells and abilities with an XP cost now carry material components which cost (XP x5) gold. Favored classes no longer exist.
  • The concept of cross-class skills has been abolished. You may purchase all skills as though they were class skills.
  • Fractional BAB rules for multiclassing are in effect.
  • Characters gain average hit points upon leveling up rather than rolling a hit die; first level still grants the maximum number as usual. Since the average roll of a d(2n) is (n+0.5), odd levels grant (n+1) hit points. For example, a wizard (who has a d4 hit die) gains 4hp at first level, 2hp at second level, 3 hp at third, 2hp at fourth, and so on. Apply the character’s Constitution bonus on top of this as usual.
  • Instant death effects are not quite so instant. If a spell or effect states that a character instantly dies, they are instead reduced to -9hp (suffering wounds as appropriate) and will die one round later. Casting a healing spell on the character in the meantime can save them, but for the spell to succeed an opposed caster level check must be made against the caster of the death effect.

Core Mechanical Changes

From Ashes Kentington