View Full Version : Using HP To Determine Conditions: Solving Save-Or-Lose Spells

2012-11-01, 02:04 PM
The problem of powerful, binary save-or-die spells is fairly well-known, but there has been no consistent solution. I think a core problem is that save-or-X spells exist on a totally separate spectrum from the rest of combat; they can render hit points and a monster's abilities irrelevant, ending fights very quickly. Inspired by Just to Browse, I present the idea that almost all save-or-X spells should be brought into the hit point system, ensuring that damaging foes and engaging in combat is always a priority, preventing casters (whether PCs or NPCs) from rendering combat unnecessary.

To support this, almost all spells which allow saving throws against some negative effect will have two possible effects. The first effect will take place if the target is above half health, and the second effect will take place if the target is below half health (or "bloodied"). In general, conditions that deny actions will only be allowed to affect bloodied targets, while conditions that impose penalties will be used on healthy targets. For example:

Hold Person will normally slow the target. If the affected creature is bloodied, it is paralyzed instead.
Stinking Cloud will normally sicken affected targets. If an affected creature is bloodied, it is nauseated instead.
Fear will normally shaken affected targets. If an affected creature is bloodied, it is panicked instead.

You may wonder what happens if an affected creature is bloodied after the condition is originally applied. The answer is that the creature will always be affected the condition appropriate for their current hit points. For example, if a creature affected by Hold Person is initially healthy, but during the duration of the spell the creature is bloodied, it immediately becomes paralyzed. If that creature is then healed to above half hit points, it reverts to simply being slowed. This represents the fact that the magic is always exerting a restraining influence on the character, but they have more ability to resist its effects when they have more hit points.

This system requires that a fairly large number of spells be changed. However, the changes are not extensive; most spells will simply need a "mini-condition" added to represent what happens to healthy creatures affected by the spells. This task is made easier by dividing conditions into three broad categories, to decide what feels most appropriate for each spell. These divisions are totally abstract, out-of-game concepts; they should not be referenced by spells. However, they provide a useful framework for understanding how to use conditions. Level 1 conditions are those which impose minor penalties. Level 2 conditions impose severe penalties, but still allow affected creatures some degree of action. Level 3 conditions totally prevent the affected creature from taking a standard action. They are listed below:

Level 1 conditions: Checked, dazzled, deafened, entangled, fatigued, immobilized, shaken, sickened.
Level 2 conditions: Blinded, exhausted, fascinated, staggered.
Level 3 conditions: Confused, cowering, dazed, frightened, nauseated, panicked, paralyzed, petrified, stunned, unconscious.

Generally speaking, healthy creatures should only be affected by level 1 conditions, until you reach high level spells. Action-denying conditions should be restricted to bloodied creatures.

There are spells that I am still unsure what to do with. Color Spray, in particular, is troublesome, and I'm open to suggestions. But this fix should go a long way towards making conditions more fair. It's not fun for anyone when dramatic or difficult fights are spontaneously decided (often before the fight has even begun) on the basis of a single roll. Nor is it fun for a PC to get locked out of a fight because he or she failed a save right at the start. Integrating conditions into the HP mechanic is better for everyone.

2012-11-01, 07:53 PM
The essential problem I have with this sort of fix is that it feels very strongly dissociated; the idea that you can't knock someone out with a sleep spell, say, until you've first beaten their ribs in a little or given them some good gashes down their leg, is frankly bizarre. (Yes, I hold to a fairly physical view of hit points; "divine favor", "plot armor", and "luck meter" all seem like terrible models in most cases, and even "stamina and dodging" doesn't quite seem to work for the majority of gained HP.)

However, I do think using a HP-like system to govern when binary spells take effect could work well it merely has to run on a different track than hit points (and, obviously, allow roughly equal access from all types of characters). I've been meaning to revisit my old Will Points ideas for a while, but haven't gotten around to it totally just did. :smallwink: