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The Curmudgeon's Lair

Non-heroic 4e D&D, or a Viscious New World

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Does the assumption that we all want to play "Heroic Fantasy" bother you about 4e? Well it does me, I've complained about this before so I won't go over it again. What I will do is talk about a possible way around the default Heroic Fantasy setting.

So the other day I was messing around with the character builder and I happened to leave the character's class empty. This had an interesting effect on the character.

Gone are the never ending escalation of HP, gone are the characters Encounter, Daily and At-Will powers (with some exceptions). Most characters start with no skills, no weapon proficiencies, and no armor proficiencies. In order to obtain any of these items the character must use a feat. So not surprisingly, feats become way more important. Characters can still use weapons and armor that they are not proficient in but receive no proficiency bonus or in the case of armor, a penalty to strike based on the type of armor, and a skill check penalty.

I would also limit starting funds to 10gp, as this plays into the gritty feel to any campaign so structured. Also limiting the weapon proficiency choices to simple melee weapons to start, then military, then superior melee weapons would be a must. Otherwise every character with a weapon proficiency would be wielding a superior weapon out of the box.

A characters starting HP, are equal to his Con. They would also have very few healing surges, and those being quite low in the HP they give back. Suddenly that lousy healing potion nobody ever wants as treasure in a regular game, just became a much sought after item.
Also HP do not increase as the characters level. So a 1st, 5th, and 9th level character all have the same amount of HP. Except for the attribute bonus increase at 4th and 8th level, if they take Con as the stat, but it's only a minor boost.

As a result of the HP loss, you can use the monster builder to dial all the monsters down to 1st level to even the playing field. Now I haven't done this with every monster. I've done a few, but I think the basic concept works, but you may have to play around with the fiddly bits some. A 1st level adult white dragon would have around 130ish HP, which would be a challenge for 5 or 6 characters with 8 - 20 HP.

Occasionally you have to use the "house rule" icon to get things to work, but other than that, I think this concept is totally workable, and very interesting. As it takes the game back to its roots and makes being a low level character extremely dangerous.

I still have a while before I finish my current campaign. When we finish with that I had planned to try out the Dark Sun setting and I think this would be great addition to that game. Making it uber gritty and dangerous. Now, if I could just talk my players into it.

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  1. yukonhorror's Avatar
    I REALLY think you should look into 1st Edition and hybridize them a good bit. The thing you'd probably like is that monsters are much more treacherous (their to-hit tables are WAY better than the players). Our DM also gave them max hp (and not us) so they were grueling.

    But the mentality of 1st edition design is fairly straightforward, so could give you the rundown.
  2. kirksmithicus's Avatar
    LOL. I played 1st edition for 12 years and surprisingly, I don't like it so much. Don't get me wrong, I like 4 edition on a basic level, otherwise I wouldn't bother playing it. I just think they made it too rigid with the archetypes and it has to many HP's, and (even as a player) the exception based thing gets old. The powers are fine, in moderation, but they slow down combat too much.

    I have played a 1st edition game where nobody had more than 3 hp. I've also played a 4e game where no one had less than 30. So on one hand, everything will kill you with one hit, on the other, nothing can kill you with one hit. Seems there might be some happy medium? I dunno, probably not.

    Also 1st edition has the same problem with HP and the level, and AC increase making monsters no longer a threat. I think it's pretty much hardwired into every edition of D&D. We played a 1st edition game once where the characters each killed about 24 gnolls each. Due to the fact that low level monsters aren't dangerous one you hit higher levels.

    My philosophy is that everything should be a threat, regardless of your level, and no opponent should be beyond your ability to kill (with some sound tactics, skill and a little luck thrown in).

    Don't take it personally, I'm like this with every game I play or have played.