Campaign of the Month: October 2010
Wyrmshadow Campaign Setting
This “Rules” page will eventually carry more detail on the other aspects of my system as time goes on. I plan to release core data, like character generation and combat rules, under the “Core Rules” banner, and other, tertiary materiel in different categories. I would like to add a DM’s Guide with some of my DMing strategies, which will also appear in the Fantastinomicon. I also want to make a Monster Manual, an Artifacts and Arcana Guide, and perhaps a few more supplements. As I add articles under a specific heading, I will make new phony book covers to represent what fictional, not-real, imaginary books these items would have been found in if I ever actually had a prayer of publishing my campaign in a physical tome.
Wyrmshadow Core Rules
Experience & Leveling
A more organic, gradual experience system
I have always felt that the traditional experience/leveling systems in place were a bit odd. A character will fight, bleed, retreat, lick their wounds, plan, love, laugh, and do all the many lovely things an adventurer is wont to do, but it is only after they have achieved some seemingly arbitrary goal that they see any kind of benefit from their toils and troubles. In fact, this goal isn’t even an in-game event or condition to be overcome, but a simple mathematical threshold to be reached. Imagine how odd it would be to actually live in a world where your actions don’t benefit you until you’ve satisfied some invisible numerical requirement, and then all of those benefits (which you should rightly have been achieving gradually during the course of your adventures) suddenly ‘pop’ into place! That would be a bizarre world to live in. It is not natural progression. It is not organic. It’s easy, and efficient, but it’s not the way I wanted to handle character progression.
Therefore, I have developed the Micro-leveling system of character advancement. It is intrinsically linked to the Wyrmshadow world, and was never meant to be used elsewhere, but after some interest was expressed to see how this system works, I have decided to make this page and explain how Micro-leveling functions as a viable replacement for classic experience/leveling systems (for me, at least).
There are two main types of experience in Wyrmshadow: Violent and Non-violent. I prefer to reward creative roleplaying that takes into account a character’s natural desire to avoid getting hurt. All too often, players will throw their characters into ridiculous danger without care, because the danger is not real, and neither is the character. I wanted to encourage my players to feel more like they are responsible for the survival of a living, breathing person. This experience system is based on the same idea; I would rather encourage a player to sneak around a fight, or find another clever way to avoid placing his character in direct danger, than encourage the player to make some brave leap into every battle, regardless of whether there is a dramatic purpose behind such a sacrificial attack.
Therefore, I don’t just give kill experience, but “defeat” experience. Players can defeat enemies without shedding a drop of blood, and they still stand to gain a substantial amount of experience from their clever approach to the situation. This kind of a solution prompts me to ask players to consider appropriate improvements to their character when it comes time to micro-level (which I will explain in greater detail later).
Generally, non-violent solutions will grant 75% of the experience of a more direct approach, mostly to account for the physical punishment their characters endure as a result of violent actions such as this, but I will make exceptions and grant full experience in situations when a player’s plan is particularly ingenious.
Experience is tallied at the end of every session of gameplay according to the following criteria:
! Minor enemy defeats = 75 xp
! Minor enemy kills = 100 xp
!! Standard enemy defeats = 150 xp
!! Standard enemy kills = 200 xp
!!! Elite enemy defeats = 375 xp
!!! Elite enemy kills = 500 xp
Note that this accounts only for enemy interaction experience, not roleplaying experience, which I handle on a case-by-case basis. If a player, for example, solves a puzzle or riddle, resolves a potentially violent scenario in a clever non-violent manner, or gives a rousing speech, I will usually grant standard defeat experience for such a feat.
I also make use of the Character Monologue technique prescribed by Ben Robbins.
In every session, I ask everyone to share what is going through their character’s head. If they say two sentences, they get nothing. If they treat us to a five minute explanation of their character’s ethical quandaries or moral crises, they earn an automatic 500 xp. I chalk that experience up to the growth one experiences by reflecting on one’s life.
In Wyrmshadow, I have foregone levels in favor of a more gradual improvement system based upon the idea that as a character endures hardships, they should not have to wait for an arbitrary moment in the near-future to reap the benefits of character growth.
Imagine yourself seated at the table in the Heroe’s Haven (the room of my house devoted to Wyrmshadow). In the previous week’s game session, you earned a total of 2,250 experience points. Before we begin to play, I open an opaque sack and tell you to reach within and pull from the sack four crystals, one for every 500 xp you have accrued. Every crystal you take from the bag removes that experience from your pool, leaving 250 xp to carry over into the next session’s tally.
Within the sack are 30 clear crystals, 10 blue crystals, and 1 red crystal.
The clear crystals represent the ability to take an entire extra turn (Move, Minor, and Standard actions) at any point during the player’s phase of combat (in Wyrmshadow, I have enemies, players, and neutral groups act in phases, but that is a topic for a whole different discussion). It should be noted that a player can opt to use two clear crystals to take a full turn during the enemy phase of combat, treating it as an interrupt round specifically for that individual character.
A blue crystal allows a player to make a permanent improvement to their character. In fact, this is the only way to make such improvements in Wyrmshadow, as I do not use traditional leveling at all. You may be wondering how it is that I do not use levels when so much of 4th Edition D&D is dependent upon levels; most specifically, you may be asking how I handle powers and their progression without levels. The answer is simple. I do not use stock classes or powers. Classes are all unique to the individual character, as are their power sets. Everyone who plays in my game has to begin with two at-will powers, one encounter power, and one daily power of their own devising, with some input and guidance from myself. These powers can be based on those featured by a specific 4th Edition D&D class, but they are customized to fit the personality, history, and physique of the individual character. I find it wholly unrealistic that people in a world would classify themselves so rigidly as they do in D&D, and I feel that this makes every character more unique, and in my eyes, more realistic. This practice also gives the player a greater stake in the survival and growth of their character; a player is more inclined to grow attached to a character whose every molecule was of their own devising.
A red crystal acts essentially as three blue crystals, allowing for an instant, major set of improvements to the person fortunate enough to pick the red crystal. Of course, the odds of that aren’t that great, but they get better the more crystals one has to pick, which is my favorite aspect of this system over the use of specific numerical results of a dice roll. The odds change as one removes crystals from the sack.
So, back to our scenario: you pick four crystals from the sack at a cost of 500 xp for every pick. The first three crystals you picked were clear crystals. Now, instead of 30/10/1, the ratio of clear/blue/red is 27/10/1. I have found that people who pick three clears are quite likely to pick a blue on their next pick. So, let’s say that you do so. You now have three clear crystals and one blue crystal.
I now offer you the opportunity to exchange those three clear crystals for another blue crystal. Such an exchange can be made, or you may save up your clear crystals (marking them down on your character sheet) and add them to the pool for your next session’s picks. I have found that players are more likely to make the exchange immediately, however. Seeing improvements on one’s character sheet between every session of gameplay has a tendency to be a powerful motivator.
- You opt to take my offer, and you now have two blue crystals with which to make improvements to your character. I ask only that you make improvements that are in keeping with the following criteria:
- 1 – The improvements make sense considering what you had to do to earn them. If the last session was very combat-heavy, the improvements you make should be combat-based. These improvements are supposed to be implicit of physical, mental, or magical growth brought on by what your character just went through, and how he or she will learn from and deal with like situations going forward.
- 2 – The improvements make sense considering your character’s history, personality, and physique. Everyone at the table is the main protagonist of their own story, just as much as they are all main characters in the story we are collectively telling. Your character’s progression should take this into consideration. Where did you come from? Where are you going? How will you get there? Does this improvement somehow aid you in overcoming some past or present adversity, or to achieve some personal goals your character is working toward? If so, then go for it. If not, then maybe you should reconsider this particular choice. Don’t make improvements based solely on how low a number looks on your character sheet. Low numbers are not shackles that hold your character down. They are flaws that make your character more real, and make his or her struggle all the more compelling a story to tell.
- 3 – The improvements are in-line with the current climate of the game. The fact is, the monsters that surround you are getting tougher, and you need to get tougher still if you are to survive the growing hordes that gather against you. However, I reserve the right to make mathematical adjustments that keep the game challenging, yet fair. Every goal should be achievable, but not a piece of cake. Almost nothing should be impossible, but many things should be improbable. Otherwise, there would be no glory in achieving them, right? So, keep your improvements balanced. If you have trouble with this, believe me, I’ll be there to straighten things out for you.
The following represents how blue crystals can be spent to make improvements to a character:
- 1 Blue Crystal:
- +5 skill points – spread out into any five skills of your choosing. Stacks of 2 are allowed (meaning two skills can go up by 2 and a third skill can go up by 1, if that’s what you want).
- +1 minor feat – minor feats include those which grant conditional skill bonuses or even defense bonuses versus specific enemy types or under certain circumstances. For example, the feat “Agile Archer” grants a bonus to saves versus opportunity attacks triggered by using a ranged weapon in melee. That would count as a minor feat.
- +1 to any stat – Str, Dex, etc… I only allow any stat to be raised by one point per session as a rule, and I apply a maximum score limit based on the physique of your character and the current climate of the game (usually 20, with some mitigating exceptions).
- +10% of your maximum HP – until you reach 100 HP, in which it becomes 5% instead. Every time you spend a blue crystal in this way, you get a Temporary Healing Surge (THS), also known as a “Lifeline.” The lifeline is a healing surge that may be used at any time as a free action (even during an enemy phase), but once used, it is gone forever.
- +1 bonus to any save (AC, Reflex, Fortitude, or Will). Again, this change has to make sense considering what prompted the change, and your character’s physique and personality.
- +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls against any one type of enemy. This makes the most sense if your character has been fighting the same monster types for a few sessions, and has grown accustomed to seeking out their weaknesses and exploiting them.
- +1 bonus to attack rolls with any one power. This allows you to reflect improvement through repetition of any one specific power. I apply a maximum bonus based on current game climate, of course. Like stat bonuses, one cannot use more than one blue for this purpose unless it is used on a different power. Also, it has to make sense based on your character’s history, physique, and use of the power in the past. You can’t improve an ability you’ve never seen fit to use. That’s part of what I don’t like about 4th Edition. Too many powers and abilities languish, yet improve despite disuse.
- Two Blue Crystals:
- +1 Encounter Power – First, you have to have a concept for the power. Is it based on a new weapon you just found? Did you develop this power as a result of a recent situation that your character has vowed to never let happen again? The choice is yours! Use the 4th Edition powers as a guide, and make the power to suit your individual character. I don’t care if your character is based on the druid, and you want to use an avenger power. If you can make it make sense based on your character’s personality, history, and physique, as well as account for how he or she would have developed this power as a result of his or her recent encounters, then the sky’s the limit. I’m the sky, by the way. I ask that you keep the game’s climate in mind while developing any new powers. I’ll help you keep things balanced and challenging, while making the power rewarding to use.
- +1 major feat – These feats are the big ones, which grant substantial damage, attack, or defense bonuses, or access to new or different kinds of powers and abilities.
- +1 to your critical threat – This is the big one, and the thing I get the most positive feedback from my players about. I use critical hits a bit differently than most GMs. In Wyrmshadow, when someone rolls a critical (by default, a 20 on a d20), they roll their attack again. If they miss, they still get an extra 1d6 of damage on top of their initial hit. If they hit, they roll both the damage rolls for the initial hit and the secondary hit. If they somehow roll another 20, they roll again, and repeat the process until they stop rolling crits. Don’t get too excited, because the enemies can do this, too. It happens a lot more as the game progresses, and people drop their critical threat down to my lower limit, which is currently set to 17. So, if you dropped your crit range to 17-20, every time you roll within that range, you are guaranteed at least 1d6 additional damage, if not substantially more. I liken this to a scene in a film or a video game where a protagonist just flies into a series of amazing maneuvers too fast for his enemy to counter. However, as a warning, every 2 points of critical threat increases your mishap threat by 1. Therefore, with a 17 crit rating, you roll mishaps with a 2 or lower, instead of a 1. When you roll a mishap, your opponent gets an automatic counter attack (Melee or Ranged Basic) against you. If they crit on this counterattack (which happens quite often), you’re taking a lot of damage, and on your own turn. So, use this at your discretion (but it does make for some incredibly exciting combat experiences).
- Three Blue Crystals (or 1 Red Crystal)
- +1 Daily Power – The same goes for this as went for adding encounter powers, except that daily powers tend to be quite a bit more powerful. Again, this can be whatever you want it to be. It just has to make sense. Like all of these improvements, I reserve the right to alter or outright deny them if they run counter to my requirements, which are only in place to make your character’s progression as organic and natural as possible.
! Minor enemies include any minions (1 HP enemies) or enemies significantly weaker than the player.
!! Standard enemies are those with statistics and abilities that would make them a challenge for a player to defeat in a one-on-one scenario.
!!! Elite enemies include those with the “Elite” tag in the 4th Edition D&D Monster Manual, as well as any foe that is significantly more powerful than the player.