HD&D is Dead. Long live HD&D!

I think we all knew this post was coming, it was just a question of when I would get around to writing it.

It has been a month since my last post on HD&D, and during that time I have been looking at our new rules-base with a critical eye. My conclusion: it isn’t finished. It isn’t even nearly finished. For all that we’ve done over the last eighteen months, there is still so much more to do. I can’t say that the combat rules are ready until I can adequately reconcile the interaction of weapons and armour. I have yet to go throught the spells properly, and as for monsters… well, there aren’t any monsters. The magic system also requires more work.

Now, I could run myself ragged and scrape together a bare-bones system for a playtest in January. But what happens then? Am I realistically going to have a complete system with sufficient options ready in time for the Retreat in April? And if I’m not, then how long do we wait for HD&D to be ready?

This last year, I wasn’t planning to run a regular game. I’ve been having a break. But now, I want to get back behind the screen. I know from experience I can’t run a campaign at the same time as developing the rules for a campaign (those who remember the Campaign of ’99 take note). As I said in the post on Iourn’s tenth anniversary, I want to stop tinkering with the rules, and start tinkering with adventures.

So, I have made the decision to step away from HD&D, and concentrate my efforts on building a new campaign from rules that already exist. However, this does not mean simply washing my hands of everything we have discussed and talked about on this blog. Creatively speaking, nothing is ever wasted. Many of the finished HD&D rules will still find a home in the new system, by they’ll be layered onto a rules system that is already tried and tested.

So this will still be HD&D. It will still be Hybrid Dungeons and Dragons. It will just be a little less ‘hybrid’ than I originally intended.

Third Edition and Pathfinder

I don’t think it’s any great secret that I prefer the third edition D&D over the fourth edition of the game. There’s some good things in 4e, and the Essentials line seems to be heading more in the right direction, but the core conceits and assumptions of the system are just not what my campaigns are about. Therefore, if I’m going to use an edition of D&D to build upon then it has to third.

To all intents and purposes, Pathfinder is third edition D&D. There are a few small tweaks and changes, but this is effecively the same ruleset. Pathfinder is a little more polished, although in some respects I prefer the originally 3.5 or 3.0 rules to the changes that Paizo have made in their game.

So Pathfinder will be the new base game for Iourn campaigns. However, I cannot bring myself to run Pathfinder as it is published. There will be changes. Some of these changes will be small, others will be huge. Some changes will be because I prefer Wizard’s third edition rules to what Pathfinder has come up with; some changes will be because I’m going to be using new rules we have dicussed on this blog.

In any event, what we will be left with is a rules system removed from Pathfinder just enough to make running the game from the Pathfinder core rules as rather problematic. I’ll address that in a moment.

What we can salvage from the blog

The main rules I want to salvage from our work on HD&D is the rules for magic. Pathfinder uses the old memorisation rules that I have never liked, but we’re also going to move away from the spell point system that has dominated my D&D games since time began. I fully intend to carry on with my conversion to a recharge/languor mechanics for spellcasters.

It’s a contentious move, but I have done a lot of work on the magic system in the last few weeks and I think I can see everything coming together. The bare mechanic for recharge or languor casting cannot be taking in isolation. It interacts with spell descriptions, the way that foci like wands and holy symbols work, as well as with the characters’ class abilities and magic items.

A full post on magical traditions, mechanics and spells will follow in the next few weeks. I’m quite pleased with it so far.

Beyond magic, I want to keep much of the text and utility of the HD&D skill descriptions. Some of the skill mechanics and explanations work a little better for me. However, all the DCs will change to work with the way the third edition game is structured.

There will be a significant overhaul of magical items along HD&D lines. I want a character’s defining elements to come from class and race, and not from the trinkets that he totes around. Magic items should be optional extras, they shouldn’t be required to simply keep pace with with the threats your level throws at you. Magical item creation will work through a series of spells, not through feats.

Rules for Movement will be very similar to those already posted to this blog. Obviouly, there will be no rules support for miniatures or a battle grid in the new game.

And I think it goes without saying that I’ll be using my own rules for Experience from this point onwards.

The feats, talents and traits that have appeared on the blog to date, cannot survive in the quite the form that they currently have. This is not to say that the ideas behind those talents won’t live on as class abilities, feats, or alternative class features. As I said, nothing is ever wasted.

Where we use the Pathfinder Rules

The third edition/Pathfinder rules will apply to the fundamental structure of the new system. The way you build characters and progess them, the DCs, and the combat system will all be Pathfinder-based. So we’re back to Fortitude, Reflex and Will being solely saving throws, and not defences. We’re back to Armour Class making you harder to hit, not harder to damage.

Some of this will seem like a step back. Some of it will be hard to swallow, but the fact is that we know the system works. It’s been playtested ad infinitum. And the rules already exist, which is more than you can say for HD&D.

Changes to Pathfinder

What I’m keeping from HD&D necessitates altering aspects of the Pathfinder game. Using my own rules for experience, magic, spells and movement will obviously replace those aspects of Pathfinder. This in turn will lead to the modification of character classes, races and other elements of the game that utilise those rules.

In addition to all of that, here are some other elements of Third Edition/Pathfinder that are for the chop:

  • Spell Failure. The percentage chance of spellcasters losing a spell if they try to cast it wearing armour will not exist in the new game.
  • Spell Resistance. The current mechanic of having to make caster level checks to overcome spell-resistant foes will disappear. Creatures that used to have Spell or Power Resistance may get a bonus to their saving throws against magical effects. Immunity or special resistances to certain types of magic will still apply.
  • Attacks of Opportunity. No grid makes these things horrendous to adjudicate anyway. Some elements of the mechanic may live on in the rules for Reach and Withdrawing from combat, but Opportunity Attacks themselves are dead. This will necessitate changing many other rules, especially feats.
  • Concentration Checks. Whether you use a specific Concentration skill (as 3rd Ed) or the Spellcraft skill (as Pathfinder) concentration checks just bug me. These will be completely removed. Note, it will still be possible to disrupt the casting of a spell, but the mechanic will be different.
  • Spell DCs. I’m going to bring all spellcasters in line with the same mechanic for calculating the difficulty class of their spells. The DCs are worked out as 10 + half class level + ability modifier, and not 10 + spell level + ability modifier. That means a charm person from an 18th level wizard has the same save DC as a dominate monster from the same wizard. The power is in the caster, and not in the spell. That’s the way it already works for non-spellcasters such as monsters with supernatural abilities, or warlocks. It’s a playing field that needs to be levelled.

There may be more changes, but those are the ones I’m think about at the moment. Considering how I run the game, I don’t think any of them are going to be terribly contentious. Maybe the Spell Reistance one. Specificially intended to upset INdran, that one.

What happens next?

Because of the excessively hybrid nature of these rules, no one published book is going to be that helpful in running and playing the game. Therefore, I’m going to create a website that combines all these rules together into one handy source. The site is going to look a bit like the Hypertext d20 SRD or the Pathfinder PRD. Most of it will be a cut-and-paste job, and I’ll try and have the site live early in the new year.

Once the site is up and running and properly proof-read, I will extract what I think are the core rules and turn them into a PDF. We’ll need something in hard copy at the gaming table.

Between then and now, I’ll make sure that I continue to post new rules and suggestions up the blog. The magic system is my first goal, followed by the Cleric Class – which needs some serious attention. But, after that there’s not really much left to do except get the rules on line and start running a game.

There will still be a playtest next year, although it will more specifically be testing the new magic system than the game as a whole.

Final Thoughts

I have known that HD&D would never be finished as I intended for some time now. I kept producing material because it was fun, and because I wanted to carry the game as far as a playtest; but in my mind I began envisaging the playtest as the end of the road, not the beginning. In light of that, it just seemed a terrible amount of effort for fairly little return.

I think the decision is pragmatic, you may think it a cop out. Regardless, of what it is I have found writing this blog post cathartic. I am excited to get on with the creation of a new HD&D, where most of the work is already done for me, and I can get on with the rules changes that matter.

Then I might even write some campaign logs.