Sunday, May 24, 2020

Non-Play Report: Upkeep and Carousing

Well, I didn't get to play D&D this weekend.  I was on Zoom, and raring to go, but none of my crew showed up.  I guess that's the trouble with trying to keep things casual for this campaign: I've said that I'm willing to be there every Saturday, but it doesn't mean I'm always going to draw a crowd.  It's depressing, but on the scale of problems I have going on right now, a week without D&D is small potatoes.  I'll just show up again next week, and hopefully some of the guys feel like playing too.  If there's a silver lining to missing a week, it's that I'll be even more prepped when the next game comes around.

As to what I did have prepped, part of that involved some new house rules I came up with for PC upkeep.  One of the bigger problems old-school D&D has is with its economy.  Giving experience points for treasure is all well and good, but it means that by the time players hit 2nd or 3rd level they're already basically rich.  They can buy pretty much anything they want from the equipment list, especially in the various forms of Basic (which is what I'm currently running in modified form).  I sometimes wonder why adventurers bother advancing to higher levels, especially thieves and fighters.  They could retire in comfort well before reaching name level.

So I'm thinking up means of divesting the PCs of their cash.  Training costs are an obvious money sink, but I feel like they go against the free-wheeling vibe of Basic D&D.  Besides, when thinking of training, the way I'd like to implement it is as a benefit rather than a necessity.  Players would still be able to level up without training, but those that did train would be at a potential advantage: better Hit Die rolls, more access to spells, that sort of thing.  To work this out I'd need to sit down and figure out the advantages for each class, and I haven't done that just yet.  And anyway, as I said, it's not something I want to do when running Basic D&D.

Another option I've seen floating around is to only award the PCs XP for gold spent.  This has potential, and would be good for encouraging that pulp-fantasy scenario where the hero strikes it rich but manages to lose everything before the next adventure.  One thing I've always wondered with this system, though, is whether this only counts for gold found through adventuring.  Could PCs work a day job and earn XP buying their daily meals?  Could a Lord just sit back after setting up his barony, and collect XP along with his taxes?  I'm inclined to say no, but then eventually you get into a situation where every PC needs to keep track of two separate treasure totals, and I'm not a huge fan of that.

Similar to the way I want to incentivise training by offering benefits, I want to do the same thing with my upkeep and carousing rules.  So I came up with the following house rules, which I was hoping to spring on my players on Saturday.  Alas, it'll have to wait until next week (hopefully).


For every in-game week between game sessions, each player must decide what lifestyle their PC has been leading.  The lifestyles are as follows:

  • Destitute - Costs nothing
  • Poor - Costs 1 gold piece per character level per week
  • Moderate - Costs 10 gold pieces per character level per week
  • Wealthy - Costs 100 gold pieces per character level per week
  • Extravagant - Costs 1,000 gold pieces per character level per week

I figure that a PC's expenses go up as they gain in level, as they have more equipment to maintain, and their tastes get more exotic.

Depending on what the PC choose (or are forced into due to low funds), their hit points may be affected by their lifestyle.  Each character rolls 1d20, adds their Constitution modifier, and consults the relevant table below.

  • Roll 1-10 - Hit points unknown*
  • Roll 11-20 - Hit points as normal
  • Roll 1-5 - Hit points unknown*
  • Roll 6-20 - Hit points as normal
  • No roll required.
  • Roll 1-2 - Hit points unknown*
  • Roll 3-15 - Hit points as normal
  • Roll 16-19 - Hit points as normal, plus one bonus Hit Die**
  • Roll 20+ - Hit points as normal, plus one "exploding" bonus Hit Die***
  • Roll 1-5 - Unknown hit points*
  • Roll 6-15 - Hit points as normal
  • Roll 16-17 - Hit points as normal, plus one bonus Hit Die**
  • Roll 18-19 - Hit points as normal, plus one "exploding" bonus Hit Die***
  • Roll 20+ - Maximum possible hit points****

* Hit Points Unknown: This result means that, for whatever reason, the PC isn't feeling good.  Perhaps they're sick or undernourished (for those living poor or destitute lifestyles), or perhaps they've overindulged (for those living wealthy or extravagant lifestyles).  Whatever the reason may be, the PC is under the weather, and they begin the game not knowing how many hit points they have.  Only upon taking damage will they roll their hit point total (using their regular number of Hit Dice and Constitution modifier).  The damage they just sustained will come off the total rolled.  If the PC rolls higher than their regular hit points, they start with their regular hit point total.  (A player might try to get healing before the adventure starts, and this should be allowed, but they still don't get to roll their hit point total until they first take damage in a dangerous situation.  The healing is then added on top of that.  Also, a character can't learn their hit point total by cutting themselves with a knife or running into a wall or whatever other dumb way they come up with to circumvent the rule.)

** Bonus Hit Die: Indulging in the good life has agreed with the PC, and they're feeling great.  They begin the game with their regular hit point total, plus an extra hit die and Constitution modifier's worth of hit points.  Once those bonus hit points have been lost, the PC can only be healed back up to their regular total.

*** "Exploding" Bonus Hit Die: The PC gets their regular hit points and a bonus Hit Die as above, but if they roll the maximum on that die they get to roll another bonus Hit Die.  If that roll is the maximum, they get to roll again, and so on as long as they keep rolling the maximum.  In any event, they can't end up with more hit points than the maximum possible for their class and level, plus one extra Hit Die.  For example, a 7th level fighter with no Constitution modifier would have a maximum possible hit point total of 8 x 10, or 80.

**** Maximum Possible Hit Points: The character has had some wild nights, and is feeling invincible.  They begin with the maximum possible hit points for their class and level (as shown above).

I'm hoping this system encourages the players to spend some of their hard-earned gold.  It does a few things that I like.  First, the Moderate option allows players to completely opt out of it.  I've seen games ruined because the DM came up with some crazy house rule that they loved, and forced it on the PCs.  I don't want to do that, and I always like to give the players the choice of just not engaging with it.

Second, it gives the players a reason to go out looking for gold, and punishes unsuccessful adventures.  If you head into the dungeon and come back with nothing, there's a good chance you won't be feeling so hot after a week or two on the skids.  Obviously, this is likely to affect low-level PCs moreso than high-level ones.

Third, there's always a risk factor to living the high life.  Sure, you could come out the other side feeling fantastic, but the chance is there that you might not.  My only misgiving is with the numbers under Wealthy: as written, a high-Constitution character is in no danger of suffering drawbacks.  I might institute a rule whereby a natural 1 always results in "Hit Points Unknown", regardless of the character's Con modifier.

I have two worries about the system.  The first is that it might make the PCs a little too powerful.  I'm not all that stressed about this one; old-school D&D characters are fragile enough, and some extra hit points now and then aren't going to make a huge difference to that.  My second and larger worry is that the potential penalties outweigh the benefits, to the point that the players will opt out of the system entirely.  I mean, there's always someone who's going to be willing to take the risk, but if in the first few games the rolls come up badly, most players will avoid it from then on.  That's what play-testing is for, I guess.  If it sucks I'll get rid of it, or try to come up with something better.

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