Youth as a Resource

Yesterday, The Dragon’s Flagon had a post about using hit points as spell points. One of the common (though not insurmountable) problems of a system like this is that it increases the utility of healing effects, which are already potent. In addition to allowing adventurers to take more punishment, healing would also allow magic-users to cast more spells. I call this the “mana battery” problem.

When thinking about this, the following idea came to me: what if each hit point of magical healing aged a character by one day? I have PCs recover one HP per day when tracking natural healing, though hit dice are re-rolled between adventures. Thus, there would be a symmetry between magical and natural healing. At one stroke, healing magic becomes problematic while still being available, a reason is given for why healing magic is not used frivolously, and magic gains a greater sense of enchantment. I am considering implementing this even in games that don’t use HP to power magic.

Also, this morning while reading John’s answers to my 20 rules questions, I came across this:

Level-draining monsters: yes or no?

No. Monsters that would normally drain levels instead age you.

This is much better, in my opinion, than ability score damage (the 3E method), which is both not very scary (because it recovers quickly) and a hassle (because you need to recalculate several other derived statistics). Aging is irrevocable without being catastrophic in most instances. And, you have adventurers returning from raiding barrows strangely aged, which fits the atmosphere of undead. 2E (and maybe AD&D, I’m not sure) sort of did this with the restoration spell which restores drained levels at the cost of aging. I might even use level drain and aging together if I was running a game using a proper traditional rule set (as opposed to the 4E hack I’ve been playing recently).

There are some other spells that traditionally age spell casters as well. Gate, for example, ages the caster five years, as does wish. I’m sure there are more.

The downside is that you need to track an extra number per character (effective age). This was sort of true before, but it has come up so infrequently in games that I have played in as to basically not be required.

12 thoughts on “Youth as a Resource

  1. John

    Have to say, not my idea originally; this one’s all Alex of ACKS’ fault. On the other hand, having used level drain as aging in play, it’s worked quite nicely – people are very afraid of it, especially repeat exposure, but it’s not quite as bad as having your hard-earned levels threatened.

    One oddity of draining 1 day per point of healing is that high-level characters, with access to more potent magics, will age faster (ex: 3.5 Heal could take nearly half a year off your life in a stroke). At low levels, it’s pretty insignificant.

  2. newsalor

    I use hitpoints as spellpoints as per Akrasia’s rules. They solve the problem by dividing hitpoints into hitpoints and real wounds. Healing heals wounds, but not hitpoints. Hitpoints also regenerate fully after a nights rest, but the real wounds heal slowly.

    I really like the emergent properties this system has with magician characters. They can have D6 hit dice, but they still avoid combat like the plague. My elves are good at both fighting and magic, but have a D4 for hit dice. 🙂

    The downside is that the characters need to rest more often.

  3. Hedgehobbit

    If magical healing and natural healing both take 1 day for each hit point all you’ve done is create a meaningless choice. It’s one day either way. Not only that but you’ve managed to punish players for taking damage. Each point of damage is a day off their lives.

    Do you want the campaign to end just because the characters have grown too old to adventure anymore?

    1. Brendan

      Why should the campaign end because a particular character can no longer adventure? Does the campaign end if a character dies? No. Also, aging brings with it physical deterioration, so ability scores would be lowered before a character was actually out of the game. I’m not sure exactly what aging table or system I would use, but there are plenty out there.

      What this does is present a trade-off. The player must decide if the long-term cost is worth the short term benefit. If a character is in imminent peril, it probably will be worth it, but it presents a drawback so that magical healing is not the first recourse. Also, you will note above that there is an exception: hit dice are re-rolled between adventures; 1 HP healing per day is only tracked during adventures (presumably during travel, when resting in a dungeon, or in other times when time is of the essence). So the equivalence is not exact. For example, maybe the black knight abducted someone and every day of rest allows her to get farther away.

      I don’t see anything wrong with punishing players for taking damage. Isn’t that what damage is supposed to do? You should be incentivized to not take damage, I think.

      There may also be unnatural ways to escape the curse of mortality. Lichdom, for example, or vampirism.

    2. John

      That really isn’t true, though. In most 3/4e games, PCs go from zero to demideity in a couple of years, tops. Taking a year or five off of their retirement is irrelevant because they hit epic and have the magic to stop their own aging. Whoop-de-doo. In old-school games, PC mortality is high enough that “hit points and survival now, and a couple days off my life later” is a really appealing choice. Odds are you’re not going to survive to old age anyways… and you certainly weren’t without that cure spell. Basically, I’ve never seen a game run long enough for aging to actually be a concern without some extra mechanism (in my case, level drain) artificially inflating PC ages, so if you want the aging rules to be worth the page space devoted to them, you need something extra to crank up those age counts.

      Also, I fail to see any problem with punishing players for taking damage… Damage, after all, is supposed to be a Bad Thing, no? Granted, I also don’t think this particular system is punitive in its severity; this seems more like a slight quirk, whereas punishment would be losing limbs or points of ability scores.

    3. Brendan

      Well, I can’t speak for other games, but my games certainly aren’t several years to demi-diety. Mostly because advancement tends to be rather slow and organic. I’ve never played with the expectation of “four sessions to level up.” That was the expectation of 3E, right?

      In old-school games, PC mortality is high enough that “hit points and survival now, and a couple days off my life later” is a really appealing choice.

      That’s true, but it doesn’t stop people from disliking demihuman level limits, though they are also not likely to ever see play.

      I have been trying to bring the dimension of time into my games at many different levels, from wandering monsters as a cost for searching, to tracking the passage of time between adventures and events in the world at large. I would love to see a campaign where characters grew old, founded strongholds, retired, had children, whatever. It hasn’t happened yet, but a referee can dream, right?

      I’m not sure exactly how this will play out. Many rules like this that seem good on their face have unintended consequences. Talysman suggested that it might be better to have a small chance of large aging rather than tracking days of aging. See here:

      I think his example might be a bit too punitive, but the math could be modified (maybe with something like a crit confirmation roll) so that the expected value of aging could be whatever is considered appropriate.

    4. John

      Yeah… the problem is that 3.x’s default assumptions are pretty messed up. The default assumption in 3.x is 13.3 encounters of CR == average party level to level. There’s no real notion of encounters per session there. Then there’s also the notion that each such encounter should deplete about 20% of the party’s resources, so you can handle about four of them per adventuring day. The question then becomes one of “what percentage of days are adventuring days?”

      On the extreme end, you have “every day’s an adventuring day!” Under that assumption, you tend to level every 3.3 game-days-ish, in which case you can do 1 to 20 in 66 days. Even if you only adventure one day a week on average, you level once a month and can do 1 to 20 in a bit under two years of game time. I’m not sure where we want to put the bar for demideityhood, but having seen 20th-level 3.5 characters in action, I have little doubt that they could find a way around aging (technically you can do it with Reincarnate at 7th, since you come back as a young adult of your chosen species, but side effects may include level loss and becoming a badger).

      As for time, I’ve been doing similarly. ACKS’ item availability rules have new items coming to market at the beginning of each month, so I’ve had PCs stalling in town in order to buy holy water and horses. So far we’ve gone through 3-4 months of game time in five sessions, I think. Overland travel time, spell-copying time, and bed rest from mortal wounds all helped, too. And yeah, I’m hoping some of them hit stronghold level, but I don’t think it’s going to happen – too much casualty churn.


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