Slowing it Down

I discovered a new (to me) blog with some interesting content at Against the Wicked City.  One of the posts, The long haul: time and distance in D&D, discusses the author’s desire to play the game and advance PCs on a different timescale, so that campaigns take place over the course of years of in-game time rather than days of in-game time.

I agree with pretty much all of the author’s reasons for wanting to do this. I too have wrestled with the unreality of having a first level nobody become a demigod in as little as 60 days. I have just worked on the solution at a different angle.

In fact, there were several things I was trying to work on at the same time.  I was trying to find a way to slow down levelling.  I was trying to find a way to support a game that included having castles and troops such as are granted at “name” level in 1e.  And I was trying to find a way to support player desires for character optimization using in-game PC choices.

To understand how I got to where I got, you need to consider four elements:

  • In 1e, PCs have to train between levels.  Training takes 1-4 weeks and is very expensive; we eventually changed this rule to require training only when the PC gained a new feature, advanced a column on the “To Hit” table, or advanced a row on the saving throw table.
  • In 1e, at “name” level (usually 9th to 11th) many classes get the ability to clear land, erect a stronghold and gain followers, leading to a campaign centered around that position rather than just the pure dungeon delve.  I always wanted to run and/or play in a campaign like that, and as it turns out, so did at least one of my DMs, but we could never figure out how to do it.  Lets call this a “macro” campaign.  Most of my thoughts and partial solution to the macro campaign will have to wait for another post, but some of those thoughts cross over into this topic.
  • In 4e, not all options (powers, feats, paragon paths etc.) are created equal.  The CharOp folks generally rank options as red (crappy), purple (not totally useless or conceivably useful for corner-case builds), black (workable), blue (good), sky blue (very good) and gold (must-have’s unless you have a very good reason for not taking them).
  • In 4e treasure functions primarily as a resource for purchasing a level-appropriate number of magic items.  Mess with the types of things money gets spent on, and you have to mess with the whole system.
  • One of the traditions in my gaming group has always been that, if the player wants something specific, the PC needs to quest for it.

What I came up with was a system where, whenever a PC gains a level and is entitled to select from one or more options, said PC must find someone to teach the option and spend a certain amount of in-game time learning the option.  The better the option, the harder it is to find a teacher and the longer it takes to learn.

When you gain a level, you get the associated non-optional benefits of levelling right away.  This includes gains to hit points, 1/2 level bonuses, and rule elements you gain automatically like power strike.  For any element for which there is an option, however, you can only automatically take an option if it is ranked “red”.  If you want something better, you have to find someone to teach you, and you have to take the time to learn it.

A red option is automatically available and can be learned right away (there are exceptions for options that are ranked “red” not because they are bad, but because another option is clearly better at the same thing).

A purple option is commonly available and can be learned almost anywhere, and takes 1 unit of time to learn (I was initially using weeks, but that changed for reasons you will see below).

A black option is less commonly available, but can probably be learned at any school (or monastery, or whatever), or from graduates of a school, and takes two time units to learn.

A blue option is available at certain schools and takes three time units to learn.

A sky blue option is only available at one school and takes four time units to learn.

A gold option can only be learned from a particular grandmaster, who must be convinced to teach the PC, and takes six time units to learn.

A “time unit” was originally a week, keeping in step with the 1e training rules.  However, I decided to change it when I read the “Long haul” article to accommodate one of my other objectives, namely, to hand-waive the cost of training whenever possible.

See, my thought was and is, the length of training should assume that the PC has acquired a day job, or was doing odd-jobs, and that the training was part-time.  The day job supports the PC and pays the cost of the training, and the PC never has to dip into his hoard (and the player doesn’t have extra bookkeeping, and the DM doesn’t have to figure out how much extra treasure to award to make it all work).

But what if the PC was in a rush, and wanted to pay?  How much would it cost, and how much less time would training take?  I had been struggling with finding a shorter time, when I read Manola’s article and realized that what I really needed was to lengthen the time for part-time training.  If training took months, not weeks, it would really slow down the adventuring year, and make a macro campaign more doable.  If the PC wanted to pay for it out of his share of the loot, it could take weeks instead, since he could train full time.

So here is the current beta version of the rule:

  1. When a PC gains a level, he automatically receives any benefits that are not optional.  He also receives either any available “red” option, or any option for which he has pre-trained (see paragraph 5 below).
  2. In order to gain an option better than red, the PC must find someone to train him in the option, and must spend time learning the option as follows:
    • Purple Option – teacher:  common; time:  1 unit.
    • Black Option – teacher:  uncommon; time:  2 units.
    • Blue Option – teacher:  rare; time:  3 units.
    • Sky Blue Option – teacher: very rare; time:  4 units.
    • Gold Option – teacher:  unique; time:  6 units.
  3. The PC may re-train any option at any time, provided he qualifies for the option, has a teacher and takes the requisite time (this in in fact how he gets a better option when he levels if he automatically received a “default” red option).
  4. If the PC is training an option he previously held but re-trained out of, he does not require a teacher and may do so in 1 time unit, regardless of the difficulty of the option.
  5. The PC may pre-train for options that he will take the next time he levels.  For instance, when a PC is 9th level he may pre-train for the utility power and feat that he gains at 10th level.
  6. If a PC trains more than one option, the time taken is cumulative, not concurrent.  For example, a 9th level character pre-training for 10th level must spend the time to pre-train the utility power plus the time to pre-train the feat.
  7. If a PC trains part-time, a unit equals one month, and cost nothing.  The PC is deemed to support himself and the cost of his training through some sort of employment during the training period.
  8. If a PC trains full time, a unit equals one week, and costs one-fifth of the cost of a magic item of the PC’s level for each week of training.  The PC is training full time and cannot defray the cost of training and living expenses with other income.
  9. A PC may attempt to train himself without a teacher.  Such training must be full-time training, but takes four times as long.  At the end of the training period, the PC makes a hard skill check using a skill deemed by the DM to be related to the option.  If the check succeeds, the PC has learned the option; if the check fails, the training must be repeated.

The DM has more control over the timing than you might think.  For instance, if the PC has a patron who needs the PC to be out in the world, the patron may pick up the cost of accelerated training.  Consider also this take on a 1e magic item:

Manual of Puissant Skill at Arms: rare level 10/20/30 consumable.  Effect:  you study the Manual during an extended rest.  At the end of the extended rest you may re-train any feat, power or other option which can be retrained, to a martial option of your choice for which you meet the prerequisites.   If the feat, power or other option has a level, the new option must be of 10th/20th/30th level or below.  Feats must be of the Heroic/Paragon/Epic tier or below.

Note this allows for significant amounts of retraining if there is a long period of time between adventures.

Note also that since PC’s have to find teachers and convince them to train them, options are hooks, and teachers are potential patrons, quest-givers, sources of information or McGuffin people.

And for the types of campaigns I want to run, the time frames are just what the doctor ordered.

 

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