Monday 16 January 2012

Drowning in Rules

Have at you, internet! (thanks to Tjaart for the pic)
Eh? What’s that? You didn’t know they’re making a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons? There now, I’m sure we’ll still find a use for you around here somewhere. Sharpening our pencils, perhaps.

Of course, you should have heard the internet exploding. Just when we thought the Edition Wars had reached an uneasy impasse - its soldiers settling down to a peaceful Christmas dinner in the trenches, perhaps even a spot of footie on no-man’s land – then, blam, here we go again. 

Here at Beholder Pie we remain optimistic. We’ll be participating in the play-test, and I’ll be reporting our findings. As the rules get clearer, we may even start playing a few one-shots between campaign sessions. I'm looking forward to it. If "D&D Next" succeeds in reconciling our community's fractious differences, the hobby as a whole benefits – and for that, I’d happily see a few of my sacred cows slaughtered.

My predictions? Well, loads of people are saying they’ll be able to “port” their 1E character into a 5E game, or pitch a 2E thief against a 3E rogue, but personally, I think that’s reading too much into it. When Monte Cook says “your 1E-loving friend can play in your 3E-style game and not have to deal with all the options he or she doesn’t want or need”, I believe he’s talking about play styles, not rules. I’m guessing what we’ll see next year is a core set of rules heavily based on 3E and 4E - but just very, very basic. An “Essentialising of Essentials", if you will. Then, a bunch of optional modules to cover all the varying situations a campaign throws at you, presented for varying levels of simulation (which is where 3E sensibilities come into play). As for playing highly-customised characters alongside simpler characters, compare the Essentials Slayer to the Weaponmaster fighter. I think we’ll be seeing more stuff like that.

Still, in this time of reflection it’s interesting to compare how some of those older rules sit alongside the new ones. Take drowning, for example.

In 4th Edition, swimmers last three whole minutes before running out of breath. Thereafter, they need to pass a DC 20 Endurance check each round or lose a healing surge, followed by Hit Point loss. If we assume our swimmer is a 1st level wizard with no skill training, that’s a 95% chance of failure every round. Even if he fails every check, it’s still going to take him twenty six rounds to drown after running out of breath. To put that into perspective, with a swim speed of 3 our wizard can swim 512 metres underwater before drowning – or just over ten lengths of an Olympic swimming pool.  

I’m no athlete by any means, but I grew up near the sea and I’m a relatively good swimmer. Diving underwater, I can hold my breath for thirty, maybe forty seconds before I start to freak out. Three minutes? Not a chance. Now, I’m not opposed to bending the rules of reality if the payoff is good – but here, I’m not sure what this rule is actually doing. For determining how long you can hold your breath out of combat, it’s simply broken. In underwater combat, that three minute “buffer zone” is meaningless – a single blow and you’re onto the endurance checks. So why have it at all?

According to my Rules Cyclopedia, an average swimmer in Basic D&D lasts fifty seconds before he runs out of breath. After that, he could drown any round (50% chance first round, with a -5% penalty each round thereafter).  In Basic, each round equals 10 seconds, so the longest he could go after running out of breath is one minute forty. 

This is a great example of Basic doing it better, but it doesn’t take into account skills. For 4th Edition, I’d use something like this...

Given a few moments to prepare, an adventurer can hold their breath for a number of rounds equal to their Constitution score (or half their Constitution score if they are performing a strenuous activity such as swimming). Once out of breath, the character must succeed on a DC 10 Endurance check. Success buys them another round, but raises the DC of their next check by 5. If they fail any of these checks, the character is now dying.   

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