The Distinguished Gentlman from Ultima, Lord British

This is the first part of a series of blog posts about DragonCon. Part 2 and 3 will be up soon!

I was at DragonCon this weekend and addition to staying up way too late and dancing way too much, I was also a panelist. The panels at DragonCon are different from the ones at gaming conventions because…well, people attend them. 

(For those of you who don’t know the Forbeck Rule—named for Matt Forbeck—”When the panelists outnumber the attendees, the panel moves to the bar.”)

The rooms were packed to capacity. Standing room only. In fact, on many occasions, there were people standing. I ran a 7th Sea panel that was full of fans eager to hear about the game. I was also on a “Making a Great Character” panel and a “How to Make a Game for Everyone” panel. (Short answer: Don’t.) I got to sit next to Lord British on that one, and let me tell you, the man is nothing short of the archetypal gentleman. I also got to hook up with the ever-brilliant Keith Baker (of Gloom, Eberron, and Phoenix: Dawn Command fame) and Clint Black (systems developer for Savage Worlds) and we all chatted about ways to make games more fun. There were a ton of D&D questions, and one suggestion I gave seemed to haunt me for the rest of the convention.

A GM started asking a question about the right way to handle hit points and before he could get to the end of his question, I stopped him. “Ditch hit points,” I told him. “They’re a redundant system. They do the same thing as armor class and saving throws. They all do the same thing. Instead, you should replace hit points with peril.”

I explained how this little system worked and the room seemed to light up. And for the rest of the convention, people asked me about it. “John,” they’d say, “I heard about this thing you use to replace hit points. Is it written down anywhere?”

“Nah,” I’d answer. “If you heard what it does, you know what it does.”

Well, after this blog entry, I can’t answer that question the same way. “Yes,” I’ll say. “It’s on my blog.”

The Always Wonderful Clint and Jodi Black

How It Works

PCs have peril instead of hit points. Just replace any hit points a character may have with peril. If your fighter has 34 hit points, she now has a peril threshold of 34. That means she can take 34 peril before hitting her threshold.

Whenever a character would normally lose hit points, they gain peril. If your character gets hit for 8 hit points, instead of losing those 8 hit points, she gains 8 peril. 

Your character can also take peril for non-combat actions. If you’re trying to sneak around and you get seen by a guard, take 1d6 peril. (I just made that up. If the situation calls for something less drastic, use a d4. However, I seldom use more than a d8 for peril, unless under really dire circumstances.) 

As soon as your character hits her peril threshold, the DM announces some sort of perilous consequence for your character. For example, if your character is in a duel, you may lose a finger or an ear. Or, if you’re fighting on a rooftop, the villain may throw your character from the roof to the cold waters below.

In essence, peril is a way to get around the humdrum, boring death mechanics D&D (and other games) have. “My character died? Fine, the cleric will pay 5,000 gold and I’ll be back.” May as well do a console restart, my friend, because at that point, you’re playing a computer adventure game. 

It opens options for players and DMs for when your character hits zero. It isn’t just death, it’s sometimes something much, much worse.

Fighting a vampire and you hit your peril threshold? Guess what? You’re a vampire now.

Sneaking across the city and you hit your peril threshold? Now, you’re in jail.

Dueling a man with six fingers and you hit your peril threshold? Now, you’ve got two scars on your cheek and your father’s sword.

Once you hit your peril threshold, it resets to zero. Lucky you!

The Very Brilliant Keith Baker

But What about Healing?

I have to admit, I have an answer for this one, but Keith Baker’s was better. When he heard about peril and someone asked about healing, he brought this up. I think it’s brilliant and I’ll be stealing it (and putting Keith’s name in the thank you section) of my next game.

My answer goes something like this: healing is gone. It’s a narrative thing now. Can a cleric heal peril? No. But he can restore your confidence! A bard can do this, too. Restoring a character’s confidence is pretty much the same as healing, but once you’ve taken a wound such as a lost eye or limb, that’s it. That’s a permanent injury. And you can’t get rid of it. Just like Raistlin can’t get rid of his silver skin and bloody cough. Just like Elric can’t get rid of his albinism. Just like Jaime Lannister can’t regrow his hand. (Or Tyrion regrow his nose, if you’ve read the books.) 

Clerics (and bards) gan restore confidence. That’s it. And I usually only allow a d6. If you’re generous, anyone can restore confidence equal to their charisma bonus, but clerics and bards get to add a d6 to that. And only once per day. 

But Keith brought up a rather brilliant healing thing that I really liked. In a nutshell, he said his clerics can heal wounds, but they have to put the wounds somewhere. Good clerics take the wounds unto themselves or share them with the group. Evil clerics heal their own wounds and put them onto someone else.

I really liked that idea. So, I’m sharing it with you. 

Next?

We finished today talking about gods and next time, I’ll be talking about them again, but I’ll be putting on my Play Dirty hat. A young man asked me for some advice about a player of his and I improvised an answer. He liked it enough to take it back to his table. I’ll be sharing it with you the next time we meet.

And get a helmet. This one is rough.

DragonCon Part 1: “Can’t I Have Just a Little Peril?”

2 thoughts on “DragonCon Part 1: “Can’t I Have Just a Little Peril?”

  • Excellent post.

    Most of my players are too new to our system of choice (GURPS) for me to yank the training wheels off (yet). But, they’re getting better at it. As soon as they’re more comfortable with the basics, I’ll see about throwing them curves like Peril (still working that one through for GURPS, and especially for supers).

    I let one of them read my copies of Play Dirty and he understood a lot of what I was doing better. I’ve offered the opportunity to read Play Dirty 1 and 2 to all of my players, but most of them turn me down . . . seems they’re afraid of you.

    The player who did read them told me (after the first arc) “John Wick is way more evil than you.”

    I simply told him the truth: “John Wick lies.”

  • An intriguing concept! Feng Shui 2 has a similar thing. Characters don’t have a fixed number of hit points, they accumulate wound Points. At a certain point, the character becomes impaired, or the might get a Mark of Death.

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