Monday, June 11, 2018

A Quick Post on Ghosts and Gold

Much of the nonsense that's kept me busy this past month is at last starting to dissipate.  I've applied to another grad program (here's hoping I get in), mostly finished cleaning my apartment after many months of neglect, and I just gave Engines & Empires another once-over for typos.  Probably didn't catch 'em all, but there are always a few every time I go over it.

Between doing that minor revision (which should, hopefully, segue me back into working on Retro Phaze VI again) and continuing to run my Barrowmaze campaign, I've noticed two interesting things about (A) treasure and experience points and (B) the undead, as I've implemented their life-drain ability.

A) In the last Engines & Empires campaign that I ran, I awarded XP for treasure not just found or even spent, but wasted to no effect.  If the PCs spent their treasure on gear or spell research or whatever, that treasure wasn't worth XP.  It led to the PCs being poor all the time.  As I run Dungeons & Dragons now, I'm using the standard even division of XP to all player characters in the party for treasure that they get back to town.  This has led to the party always being rich because they don't spend their treasure on anything; it's also led to the group being filthy rich as a group because they have no incentive at all to divide the treasure among themselves.

In other words, the player characters are being a little too "band of heroes" and not enough "gang of mercenaries" about their gold.  So after the last game session we played, where the party actually slew a red dragon and took a decent chunk of its hoard back to town before other scavengers could descend upon the lair (they got, at most, a quarter of all the gold in that mountain, simply because they couldn't carry any more), I rolled morale for all the NPC retainers in the party, as you're supposed to do following each adventure, and this time around, instead of a bunch of easy passes, everybody rolled 10–12 and left the party.  Aside from the oddity of that (which left us all gaping as the dice kept turning up fives and boxcars), I had to have each NPC demand their share of the treasure not just from the dragon's hoard, but also from the party's collective gold fund, roughly estimated based on the amount of XP they'd earned with the group before defeating the dragon.

This left a few of the players (well, mainly one of the players) surprised and annoyed that mere NPCs would have the gall to want their fair share of all the treasure taken so far.  But eventually the NPCs got what they were owed, for the most part, and left the party.  The NPCs that got all of what they'd earned departed on good terms; and those that were stiffed on not-so-good terms, but them's the breaks and it will probably have consequences for the party further down the line.

But I digress; the point is, the players still don't divide treasure up among themselves, they just pool it, and that's a little weird to me, because dividing the treasure has always been part of the basic D&D experience.  So perhaps what I need is a happy medium between XP for treasure earned and XP for treasure spent: and it occurred to me that since I'm not using +5% or +10% XP bonuses for characters having high prime requisites, I could always grant the player characters a 10% XP bonus for any treasure that they spend as a lump sum on some carousing and dissipation after the adventure.

For example, suppose that a party of six characters finds a hoard of 6,000 gp and gets it back to town.  Each character then gets 1,000 XP for finding that treasure (6,000 XP divided six ways).  Further, assume for the sake of simplicity that they also divide the treasure the same way (1,000 gp to each character).  Now any character who blows some or all of that treasure on carousing and wenching and drinking and partying will get 10% of that treasure value back in XP (up to 100 XP for all 1,000 gp spent).

I don't know, maybe that's not enough of an incentive, but I wouldn't want the bonus to be any higher than 10%, since that's already the maximum XP adjustment in the original rules for having a 16+ prime requisite score.  I know that I wouldn't want characters gaining levels any faster than that, at any rate.

B) On another topic, I think I've finally figured out how I want to run energy-draining undead in my Barrowmaze campaign (which only came up this last session because the PCs returned to the Barrowmoor and encountered a group of wights in the swamp).

I won't do level drains.  I just won't.  I know, I know, it's supposed to be old-school macho to be hard on players like that, but it's just no fun.  Macho is bullshit anyway.

For the original version of E&E, I had the undead cause damage plus temporary Con drain, so that wights caused 1d4 damage + 1 Con, wraiths 1d6 damage + 1 Con, spectres 1d8 damage + 2 Con, and Vampires 1d10 damage + 2 Con.  That was honestly never dangerous enough to make the undead feel scary.  Constitution drained away a point at a time meant that wights and wraiths were no more dangerous than shadows, and spectres and vampires only a little more dangerous.  No good.

So for the revision, I changed it to enervating hit points, and I doubled the dice: the touch of a wight would cause a character's maximum and current hit points to be temporarily reduced by 2d4, and for a wraith 2d6, for a spectre 2d8, etc.  But this is, frankly, far too dangerous, particularly when such undead are encountered in groups.

But I think I've found a happy medium.  Drop the damage down to one die again (1d4 for wights, 1d6 for wraiths, 1d8 for spectres), and then have these undead usually attempt to grapple instead of just hit, so that if they manage it, they hang on and start to drain the same die-size worth of hp on following rounds.  This gives other characters time to react (attack and drive off the undead, turn them, whatever), and it also has the fortunate side-effect of making life-draining ghosts act like, well, like you'd expect life-draining ghosts to act.  They wanna grab ya and getcha and suck ya dry.

And vampires?  They bite you in the neck, which is just 1d4 damage, on that first round; but then they automatically latch on and start sucking (like a stirge; no roll needed), life draining 1d10 hp per round that they have you.  D&D vampires that feel like vampires (even more so than the nosferatu variant vampire from the Creature Catalog)—imagine that.


  1. If I ever get the chance to include a vampire in my game, you can bet I'll also have them suck blood. There's a germ of an idea in my head about having the rate of draining be tied to their age and/or Hit Dice, but having it at a flat 1d10 - or whatever the Hit Die for a fighter is in the given rules set - is scary enough.

  2. Which grappling rules do you use?

  3. Hey, I'm considering introducing E&E to my group. But I live in a poor country and rune stones are a no-no. Tarot cards are tricky but findable.
    What do you recommend I do to replace the rune stones? Since they are more than 20 so a d20 roll isn't the same.

    1. Probability-wise, a dice roll -is- exactly the same. You just have to simulate a d22 for tarot cards, and a d25 for rune stones.

      For a d22, roll a d12 (counting "12" as "re-roll") and flip a coin (heads = +0, tails = +11). For a d25, roll 1d5 twice, once for the base result (1 through 5) and once as a control die (+0/+5/+10/+15/+20).

      Or, if you want to keep the flavor of drawing for a result, use an ordinary pack of playing cards. To simulate the tarot draw, take the pip cards Ace through 10 and the Jack of two suits (say, clubs and spades, treating spades as "high"), and you have a 22 card deck that you can cross-reference with a chart of tarot trumps. With the leftover red cards, do the same thing, but add in both red queens and a joker (to represent the blank rune), bringing the total up to 25. Keep the two decks separate, and you have a trump deck and a rune deck. Easy peasy.

    2. Hey that's pretty cool, thank you!