D&D 5E Making Combat Mean Something [+]


We use death at 0 bloodied hit points (wound points), which is separate pool (and heal very slowly). It has had a similar effect to what your are looking for my group. They are very cautious of combat.

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Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
Er...why not? It's far more concrete than someone sayng "Well, going by what I've seen I think the death rate for warriors is x but the death rate for casters is y".

Sure, but that's a pretty low bar. I'm with @Ruin Explorer on this: your data tells us something about what it's like to play at your table, but nothing that can be extrapolated to the game in general.


Victoria Rules
Okay. For examples 1+2 though, you're talking non-material value, things valued for themselves, not their utility.
Er...isn't that what investment in a story is - something of non-material value that has value only for itself?
The given purpose for the proposed rules is to make survival motives categorically outweigh everything else.
A purpose which I support in principle; the devil is clearly in the details of how this purpose might best be accomplished.
Chosen for being in-thread, not for quality. Better but not seen in-thread: Buffing allies. Even buffing max-level 5e Fighters is weak. Consider elemental weapon, a stock "Wizard makes Fighter better" spell. Even over two rounds with Action Surge both times, that's only (hit rate)x(16d4) = (hit rate)x20 bonus damage. With a generous 70% hit rate, it's only 28 damage. One enemy hit by fireball (same level) takes 28 damage up front. At 2nd level, scorching ray's 2d6 with 3 hits. Even at a rather bad 50% hit rate, it does almost as much damage in one round (10.5 vs 14) as elemental weapon does with zero other resources invested.

Buffing < directly solving problems. Treantmonk's (in?)famous "God Wizard" guides expressly note that you should keep these buff spells, not because they're good, but because they keep the "BSF" (Big Stupid Fighter) from feeling left out of the game.
A few things here:

First, thank the gods I don't have to worry about one aspect here: in my game "concentration" isn't a thing except for a very few spells, mostly illusions Result: all the buff spells in my game are fire-and-forget, meaning a caster can buff an ally and still contribute directly to the battle.

Second, I've played many a Big Stupid Fighter in my day and as long as there's something in front of me to whale away on I don't feel left out. This points to a bigger issue, though: if a player is "feeling left out" just because a character isn't doing as much damage as another, IMO that's a player problem. Not everyone's contribution is going to be equal. Ever.
I took mind-loss mostly out because that wigs out one of my players (long story, not mine to tell.) Haven't considered limb loss, just...hasn't come up? I'm not opposed (love "silverhand" stuff!), it just hasn't followed from the fiction thus far. Party's adventures tend toward a political or social edge rather than pure combat.

Major item loss has happened. Most losses involve allies, resources, reputation, or especially morals. Someone faces an agonizing choice/difficulty every 3-4 months minimum. Giving in to dark temptation, revealing terrible secrets, debts to hated enemies, violating your own principles to succeed. Facing horrors that shake the players deeply (a recent big one there). Giving up chances for answers or power etc. to do the right/needed thing. No physical scars, but still losses.

In part, it seems you define "true-loss condition" in a narrow, purely material way.
Intentionally so, as true-loss conditions (or, put another way, mechanical loss conditions) apply reasonably equally across most if not all tables: a character death at my table has much the same effect as a character death at most other tables, etc. Therefore, they serve as a useful point of comparison.

However, what I call soft-loss conditions - you detail some here - don't apply anywhere near equally across all tables. At one table giving in to dark temptation might be seen as a major loss condition while at another it's utterly irrelevant. Moral losses don't exist when there's no morals to begin with; and if reputation doesn't matter to you then any loss (or gain) of it is immaterial. Etc.

Trying to frame loss conditions as, to put a generic term to it, "loss of heroism" fails to take into account the many tables where heroism just doesn't matter, and thus also fails as a useful point of comparison.
Even 4e? Few are so willing to give it a break on that front! Most complain bitterly "you can't be a Fighter who does damage" (even though you totally can.) IMO, niche protection requires both roles that aren't shared (without major effort) and chars who can't do everything.*
It's a while since I looked at my 4e books but I seem to recall it offered (almost?) unlimited multiclassing, chooseable feats, and additive levels. Boom - by 4th level I've got an F-1 C-1 W-1 R-1 jack of all trades who can do anything, even if not as well as some of his more specialized friends.
Plus, are you sure that the sneaky stuff was hard Thief-only? Because people have usually told me that that is a misconception or even outright falsehood, that the old Thief skills were meant only to offer a guarantee of certain competencies, which anyone could attempt but would usually be much less good at (e.g. the difference between "you have a 55% chance to unlock locks" vs "if you roll 6 on a d6, you can unlock it.")
In 0e that was true, I forgot Thief was a later addition. But fairly early in 1e - I think it's even in the Dragon issue whose look-back is currently on the site's front page - Gygax went on record as saying non-Thieves simply couldn't do that stuff. (it's bollocks, mind, but that was the mindset). Personally, I have it that anyone can try (often at rather poor odds!) to sneak or hide or listen at doors or even pick a pocket, but specialized stuff such as removing/disarming traps or picking locks does require a trained professional.
Conversely, "chars who can't do everything" forbids old-school Clerics, because Clerics can take and deal hits very nearly as good as the Fighter, dish out spell damage almost as good as the Wizard, and do healing that no one else can provide.
Clerics can take hits to a point but after very low level become kinda crap at giving them out. I know this from currently-ongoing experience, I'm playing a C-12 right now and while his AC is great his damage-dealing is - well, let's just say his usual tactic is just to hang on and soak attacks for long enough that a real Fighter can get there and bail him out. :) (in 4e terms he'd be a full-on Defender, at least in playstyle)

Their direct-damage spells aren't much to write home about until 5th-level spells come online and they get Flamestrike.
Then it is on you to defend why this specific, ugly, unpleasant part of reality should be part of it. It seems you agree realism is but one tool in the toolbox; a strong one, but not the only or even the best, valued because it makes things relatable/sharable/etc. Other concerns exist besides how relatable/shareable the fiction is. If realism can be piecemeal (include realistic things A, B, C, but not X, Y, Z) and is instrumentally valuable rather than intrinsically valuable (valuable because it adds other qualities, not because realism itself is inherently needed), then responding to "that's an ugly, unpleasant thing I don't want in my game" with "well it's realistic!" is a total non sequitur. You need to defend why this element ought to be included despite the stated instrumental faults, and why other alternative sources of realism (perhaps socioeconomic class divides or anatomical realism) could not be employed to make up the difference.
This is why I'm such a fan of Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. They get it. The world is, with some very few exceptions, an ugly place - far uglier and way less forgiving than our modern-day real world - and all we're trying to do is survive in it.

That's the vibe I'm going for, and it's my default assumption of any game world until-unless shown otherwise.
If you want the players to not be murderhobos, to value their fellow PCs, to care about the world they're in, to treat laws and those who enforce them with respect (even if they dislike/oppose them), to recognize that there are serious and deleterious consequences for reckless and dangerous behavior, then you need to provide rules which reward the things you want players to do and punish the things you don't want them to do. When you do that, and especially if you can do it while also making it fun/cool/exciting/neat, you no longer need to worry about whether the players will play along. They'll do so enthusiastically, because the effective action is the one you desire them to take.
Thing is, I really don't care whether or not the PCs are (or become) murderhobos or anarchists or any of the rest of that stuff - other than the in-game "deleterious consequences" piece, which also happens the only one of those pieces legitimately under my control as DM. There's some limits around what a character can be in terms of species, class, etc.; but once it's in play it's yours to play any way you want, preferably doing exactly and only what the character would do and following where that character leads; and if consequences arisign from those actions are warranted, they too will try to happen.


Victoria Rules
Sure, but to me something you call "hard data" is not merely gathered in a non-transparent way which is essentially anecdotal and dependent entirely on the DMs involved and what sounds like a game system which isn't D&D, isn't specified, and maybe isn't publicly available at all, but some kind of home-built system?

It's organised data, but that doesn't make it "hard". Like, I gathered the DPR and kill data for an entire D&D 5E campaign one time, and even if I'd done it for, say, 10 or 20 campaigns, I wouldn't call that "hard data".
I would. It's complete, neutrally-gathered, organized numbers on a page, which makes it hard data; as opposed to best-memory guesswork or estimate, which isn't.
It's anecdotal, it's highly specific, it's non-transparent, and so on.
You (hypothetical) telling me a tale of there being a bunch of deaths in your game is anecdotal. You telling me there were 21 deaths over 97 sessions, and that you can show the records to back this up, is hard data.
Like, for example, does your data set include "cause of death" in every single case? Does say whether they were in combat, to traps, to disease, to poison, to falling, to judicial execution?
You may not believe this, but yes! :) I did this a while back as I was curious if the numbers could tell me which monsters or foes were in general the biggest threats and-or whether non-monster threats were a big deal; they did tell me, and I admit the results were somewhat surprising*.

For many deaths there's both a primary cause (what actually kills you) and a source. For example, a character who died to an Orc's sword thrust would be listed as "Melee - Orc" while a character who died to a poisoned trap would show as "Poison - Trap". Some aren't that easy to classify and aren't always fully recorded e.g. if a character dies to an Orc's poisoned blade is the source "Melee" or "Poison"?

* - a shockingly common source of character death was "Own Party", be it through mis-aimed AoE spell or wild magic surge or fumble or (in quite a few instances) intentional action.
Or does it just include who got killed and so on? Is it manually logged?
Manually logged. The game logs are online; if you really wanted to* you could plow through them and glean much of this data for yourself: certainly frequency by adventure, by class, and by species for death, level loss, petrification, and limb loss. By-session would be harder as session numbers are only shown in the log of one major game out of six, but I-as-DM have that info on paper; ditto for cause of death, which isn't always obvious in the online logs (particularly those from the early days) but is usually noted on paper here.

* - and I can't blame you if you don't. :)
Is from a VTT? Which VTT if so? Hell we don't even know the mechanics by which characters get downed/killed in your system. And even with 5E, anyone playing at home is going to massively bias things by what they're running, group size, group composition, preferred encounter difficulties and so on - so we need all that data as well to consider it in any way "serious data", let alone hard, as inarguable.
You're giving a much tighter definition to "hard data" than I am. To me, hard data is anything both a) verifiable and b) written down with at least a shred of organization behind it.


Victoria Rules
Sure, but that's a pretty low bar. I'm with @Ruin Explorer on this: your data tells us something about what it's like to play at your table, but nothing that can be extrapolated to the game in general.
Whcih is why I'm asking if other people have similar data for their games!

Yes, my data by itself doesn't say much - but at least it exists. Similar data from 100 games and we might start to see some patterns, if nothing else.

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
Whcih is why I'm asking if other people have similar data for their games!

Yes, my data by itself doesn't say much - but at least it exists. Similar data from 100 games and we might start to see some patterns, if nothing else.

Yes, that would be interesting.


Hang on, I may have missed something: Do you mean they can choose the injury, and then a severity is applied to that injury?

I ran that rule myself for a while.

''Once per short rest, when dropped to 0 HP and not killed outright, you may choose to remain on 1 HP and roll on the Lingering Injuries chart for a specific injury. Unless permanent (missing limb) the injury remains until you take a Long rest''

It's an optional buy in from the players. They can choose if they get crippled, in exchange for a benefit (remaining up at 0 HP).

It was cool, but I just found it led to the players wanting to take more Long rests more often, and that was a consequence that wasnt worth the benefits to the game.

I'm just looking into implementing the system in Rolemaster's 10 Million Ways to Die.

The thing with Rolemaster is that along with the hundreds of critical charts it had, it also had a gazillion healing herbs.

So at the end of every combat, you'd guzzle down some Akbutege and heal those broken bones/ sprains/ regrow limbs/ bleeding/ nerve damage etc.

The penalties were largely limited to inside the combat itself, and it was only ever an economic issue to resolve (those herbs were expensive, and securing supply was equally important).

You didnt have to struggle through suckage for the rest of the session after getting walloped.

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