Sunday, September 25, 2011

Death Systems, and Long Live D&D


These are observations about some recently completed polls - one about which set of rules people use at the table, the other about death and dying.

DO YOU (USE) ORIGINAL RULES ONLY, HOUSE RULES, A RETRO CLONE, A SEQUEL, OR A MASH-UP?

D&D or AD&D Original Rules  (3%), Original Rules w/ House Rules  (17%), I run a Clone (OSRIC, LL, S&W) (17%), I run a Sequel (LOTFP, ACKS)  (10%), Frankenstein (mix of the above)  (50%).

There are a few interesting numbers here:  Only 3% of us use a printed version of the rules as written, without any house rules.  That's surprising.  50% of folks that are now cherry picking across rules sets and house rules to truly run the game they want at the table.  How awesome is that!  Long live D&D.

I used to hang around D&D message boards more, and it seemed there was more bias against clones, house rules, and combining bits and pieces across editions - or the system purists were just more vocal in those places.  I'd say the big reason for the 50% vote in favor of mash-ups is the DIY attitude in the blogosphere.

HOW DO YOU HANDLE DEATH, DYING, AND ZERO HIT POINTS?

Dead at zero or lower (31%),  Dead below zero (3%), Dead below the character's level (13%), Dead at -10 (27%), House rule - see comments (24%).

Most D&D systems use death at zero or lower - 31% folks use the official rules - although Gary's house rule (unconscious at zero, dead at negative = character level) was built into Swords & Wizardry and comes in at 13%.  The long shadow of AD&D is also seen, with it's rule of dead at -10 gaining 27%.

For myself, I always thought the -10 rule was the norm for *all* D&D systems, so it was a revelation that I was carrying around the AD&D rule as mental baggage and just using it in OD&D systems.  I like the house rule suggestion to make dead = 0 hit points or lower, but give a death saving throw to be unconscious instead.  However, my players are in revolt!  Years and years of using the -10 rule has them feeling anguish about the proposed change; I'm considering using the Swords & Wizardry approach to get the group used to less of a death cushion.

Here's the Swords & Wizardry rule:
"When hit points reach 0, the character is unconscious. The character actually dies if he reaches negative hit points equal to his level. In other words, a fifth level character only actually dies at -5 hit points."

I like the S&W rule quite a bit.  I don't have to worry about zero-level men or low level characters hanging on until -10, but it also gives higher level guys a better chance of being unconscious and able to be saved; seems like a good compromise between -10 and death at zero while my players get more adjusted to old school play.

ACKS has an interesting approach to the problem of death and dying - I need to get around to previewing it, after seeing it in action at a playtest last weekend.