Friday, March 16, 2012

Picking Nits From Mike Mearl's Blog Post - Save or Die II - Die and Die Again!

Tell Me This Isn't a Save or Die Situation
Mike posted this on Tuesday as a follow up to his weekly column post on Save or Die - lets see what his further thoughts are, shall we?

Last week, I wrote about save or die mechanics in D&D and how I might approach them in my home campaign (let's call it what it is - a test to see if these mechanics will work in D&D 5e). There have been a lot of interesting discussions online about the mechanics and the general role of save or die in campaigns (yep, on a few blogs that I noticed- might be nice if you would link some of the discussions Mike).
Regarding 4E-Style Save or Die: The hit point threshold actually follows this model fairly closely. It simplifies things by focusing only on hit points rather than leaning exclusively on status effects (but it complicates things compared to regular / classic Save or Die effects). Status effects can come into play as needed rather than as a default. (this makes no sense to me.  does this mean we have a choice in when to use them?)
Using hit points also makes the steps between the beginning of a save or die sequence and its end less predictable.  Sometimes an effect might take a while to overwhelm you, while other times it takes a few attacks or failed saves for it to set in (sweet - I love extra stuff to have to track as a DM). It also means that healing a character is a good way to ward off a save or die effect that is wearing him or her down (so as long as I'm being healed I can stare the basilisk in the eyes?).
Save or Die and Scaling: The really nice thing about using hit points is that it allows monsters to scale much better. If a basilisk is a mid-level threat, it poses less of a threat to a high-level adventurer or a powerful monster (it would be less of a threat even without the "hit point power save or possibly if you are really unlock die".  As you level your chance to kill it quicker goes up, as well as your chance to save.  So I again fail to see the need to redefine Save or Die). In terms of world building, it helps explain why there is a hierarchy of monsters. (HUH?  WTF?  That needs an explanation). In terms of spells or other character abilities, it means that save or die can exist at lower levels without crowding out other options, even higher level ones. (okay, don't bother to explain)
Save or Die in Campaigns: Ideally, we can find an expression of stuff such as a medusa’s gaze or a ghoul’s touch that adds tension to the game without distorting things (I don't understand.  Heck, there's a lot I don't understand with Mike's approach). Things that are strictly save or die can be kept in a few monsters, allowing DMs to use them as they see fit (if you don't like save or die in your campaigns, don't use monsters or poisons or magic that has that effect). For character abilities, I have a hard time seeing a strict “roll well or die” ability in the game short of the very highest levels. One of the headaches of high-level D&D is that a caster can load up on save or die (or its cousin, save or suck), load up on feats to mess with saving throws, and take out creatures with a single action or a short sequence of actions (spells that cause damage aren't going to have the same effect at high levels?  am I missing something?). I much prefer abilities that require a build up or some sort of threshold, rather than leaning on a single die roll on the first round of combat to determine who wins.
Ideally, players don’t have access to “I win” buttons and DMs can use save or die as they see fit in their campaigns  (isn't it the same thing if the DM has access to "I Win buttons"?).
Why Hit Points? I have to admit that the idea of using hit points came from my 4th Edition campaign. In one adventure, the characters explored a temple of an evil earth deity. In the main temple, there was a set of statues with glowing, gem eyes that turned heretics to stone. The 4E mechanic of characters slowly turning to stone worked well, especially when combined with the earth elementals and skeletons that attacked the party.
I felt that in play, however, the threats posed by the trap and the monsters were too separate. The cleric was using actions to heal other characters and grant them more saves. A character could be in danger from one source but safe from the other. The encounter felt a little disjointed. My hope is that by focusing on hit points, that sort of encounter would feel more dangerous (I don't know 4e from shine-ola.  Healing grants more saves?  I thought Second Wind was healing in 4e.  I'm really fucking lost now)
In game terms, I imagine that the statues would either attack or force a saving throw from a character, inflicting damage as the character is slowly turned to stone (so they can attack OR force a save for damage?  how does that work?) If the damage reduces the character below a certain threshold, he or she has to make another save or be petrified (I'm really so not looking forward to having to track yet another thing during the game as a DM.  I thought 5e was going to simplify things).
In Summary: Save or die is obviously a topic that polarizes people (no shit!). It’s one of the many areas where we’re looking to players and DMs to give us feedback (no you don't.  you just want people to take stupid polls so they can be happy with the stroke job.  The polls are worthless). The material I wrote about earlier this week, and the ideas I put forward in later columns, are starting points. The game is a work in progress, and it won’t be complete without a thorough play test. (here's the thing though - we only get these little snippets that they throw out there for "discussion" and "polling".  What about the other 99% of the tweaks that we won't hear about until it's too late to make a change?)


  1. I'm sure the polls are conducted very scientificamolly.

    The core problem is that these guys have been doing design for a very long time. They need fresh blood mixed into that senior expertise if they want a fresh perspective. Happens all the time in the computer world - seniors need juniors to invigorate them. And get them coffee.

    Besides, if they said "hey let's use 1e (or 2e or w/e), but we're just gonna change these 3 things to streamline them" they would all get fired.

  2. I must really be out of the loop these days. I read through your post and have no idea what Mike was talking about!!

  3. What concerns me is that the way Mearls is talking about these things, he is very "invested" in them.

    It doesn't just sound like something to try and see if it works. He sounds sure this is the way to go. Which is what a lot of 4E previews sounded like.

    When people get invested in a mechanic and they are sure it's sound, if playtesters don't like that feature, it seems like the "solution" is make minor tweaks to show that you are listening, and then keep more or less the same system intact.

    I could be wrong, but it's the impression that I'm getting.

  4. To be completely off topic.. Is that Velah from DDO?

  5. @the dave - definitely from DDO ;)


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