2008-10-13 M20 Spellcasters Loose Hitpoints

In our last M20 Hard Core session – the second session of River Into Darkness by Greg A. Vaughan – I got the feedback from the level 4 wizard player Marco that he wasn’t enjoying the rule that spellcasting costs hitpoints.

Emotionally, there is not much we can do. He’s unhappy, and the rules are there to allow us all to have some fun. I guess one possible reaction would be to tell Marco that maybe the M20 wizards are not for him.

In terms of balance, I felt that the wizard was just right. He didn’t overshadow anybody using spells and yet the wizard didn’t suck because there was always things to do. Consider that Moni’s fighter spent four rounds below the ship destroying the trap – doing nothing at all, if you want.

In terms of comparison with a D&D 3.5 wizard I also felt that we weren’t doing too badly. Let’s assume a level 4 wizard in D&D 3.5 has 12 hitpoints and knows three 2nd level spells and five 1st level spells (add one each due to an ability bonus).

An M20 HC wizard would have around 24 hitpoints, and if he were to cast his favorite spells, he’d spend 12+10 hitpoints to cast three 2nd level spells and five 1st level spells.

Yes, in this situation the M20 HC wizard is living very dangerously with only two hitpoints left and no way to heal.

Then again, after 30 minutes the M20 HC wizard will be back with his full array of spells. There’s no rationale to demand a 15 minute adventuring day! This, I feel, is a great benefit.

At the same time, a wizard can decide to cast three 2nd level spells and leave it at that. He’ll have 12 hitpoints left just like his D&D 3.5 friend, and he’ll still be able join the next fight.

Plus a M20 HC wizard has the same attack progression as everybody else. Using a crossbow or a sling will continue to make sense later in the game.

When I compare it to my current level 3 dwarven wizard Gar I find that I need to play my D&D 3.5 wizard even more economically. I won’t be using my spells for most encounters, and I’ll use maybe ten charges from a wand per day – most of it being mage armor and burning hands. Personally I didn’t feel like the M20 HC wizard was significantly weaker than the D&D 3.5 wizard.

All of these arguments won’t really solve the problem for Marco. So here are some options.

  1. Use a house rule I’m using in my Sunday D&D 3.5 game: Level 0 spells can be cast at-will.
  2. Reduce costs of all spells by 1. That would mean that level 0 spells can be cast at-will as they cost no hitpoints, and other spells would also be easier to cast.
  3. Return to a Vancian magic system with spells per day, and less hitpoints for spellcasters.

I need to think about this some more. Right now I don’t feel like changing the rules because the result feels about right. But unfortunately the result just feels right to me.

Tags: – and


I’d suggest going with 0 level spells being at-will.

Alternatively, give him a Magic Point stat which is equal to 3/4 of his current max HP total, and set his new max HP equal to 1/4.

For example: if his current max HP is 24, that becomes 18 MP and 6 HP.

If he runs out of Magic Points, he can burn Hit Points instead.

Essentially it’s still the same (actually a little worse - one good hit and your poor 6 HP Wizard is dead meat) but with a little more old-school (ie, weak Wizard) style.

He’ll soon be demanding the original way back :)

greywulf 2008-10-14 00:01 UTC

Your writeup provokes several thoughts; some emotional, some logical.

Emotionally, I find it perhaps a little unfair to be told “wizards are not for me”. I think that blaming it on the player is little bit too easy to say. On the contrary, wizards are my class of choice above all other classes. Surprised? It’s true. To say “there’s not much we can do for him” is also untrue. This is play-testing, right? Feedback is the point, and evolving the game is a positive result of play-testing. Of course, you may be unwilling to alter the rules, in which case you have my feedback.

Logically, I find the “spellcasting costs HP” incorrect. Fighters don’t take damage when they deal it - at least, not directly. A fighter with a high AC, or an archer (even better example) doesn’t take 5HP damage for each bow he shoots. Wizards do.
For me, hitpoints represent your will and strength to live. Physical resilience and indestructability. Is spellcasting that harsh that you pour your life essence into each spell you cast? Perhaps, but it’s not what I imagine spellcasting to be.

What I propose is the Mana system we discussed last time. You have Mana equal to your hitpoints - in my case 20. The argument against it as I recall was twofold: Wizards have too many hitpoints anyway (1d6 per level), and the spell DCs are far too high, which compensates for only casting two to three spells per round. I would say reduce the hitpoints (make it 1d4 hit die for wizards, or something), and make the monsters harder to hit. Reintroduce the save perhaps? (magic attack = d20 + caster level + spell level + MIND modifier, magic defense = d20 + hit dice + appropriate modifier). In my case I would have 16HP instead of 20, and my magic attack bonus would depend on the monster’s skill and luck.

Important for me is that I can participate as a wizard for the entire combat (not a crossbowman or oil hurler or whatever).

With regard to Greywulf’s comment, I think you’ve hit on to the same idea I have except that, as you point out, it’s not an improvement. 6HP is not much - I suggest 1d4 per level like regular wizards.

Regardless, I’ve laid a few ideas. Take them, drop them, discuss them. I hope it helps develop the game.

– Marco 2008-10-14 11:25 UTC

Food for thought indeed. I’ll have to figure out what Mana means in terms of numbers of spells a wizard will be able to cast during a fight. It would seem to me that while melee fighters do not take damage while they’re dealing damage, they do need to put themselves into harm’s way in order to do it. Ranged fighters do not take damage while they’re dealing damage, and that’s why the hard core rules variant doesn’t grant a STR bonus to ranged weapon damage.

I thought that saves are equivalent to magic defenses, except that the attacker rolls the dice:

D&D: Attacker determines DC, eg. 10 + spell level + ability bonus. Let’s assume sleep spell by an Int 16 wizard and the DC is 14. Defender rolls d20 + save + ability bonus. Let’s assume a first level guy with a “good” save and no ability bonus, ie. save = level = +1. Mathematically that means roll 13 or higher on a d20 to “save” (40% to save).

M20: Defender determines DC, 10 + character level + ability bonus. In this case that would 11. Attacker rolls magic attack which is d20 + character level + ability bonus, ie. d20 + 4. Mathematically that means roll 7 or higher on a d20 to “succeed”, ie. 6 or less to fail (30% to save).

There will be larger differences as time passes because in a high level D&D game lower level spells have less chances of succeeding due to DC scaling with spell level, ie. caster level halved and good saves progressing at two thirds of your character level.

Changing this to a magic attack roll and a magic defense roll would be like changing AC to d20 + armor bonus + dex bonus (this option is in fact discussed in the DMG), ie. it would add more randomness to the result. I’m sure that’s not the intended effect.

Sorry about the wording regarding wizards and you. All I wanted to say was that maybe “M20 wizards as written” are not to your liking – I didn’t want to imply anything about D&D wizards or wizards in general. After all, I knew about your wizard character in Bev’s game!

AlexSchroeder 2008-10-14 12:09 UTC

Maybe I could suggest another way. I’ve recently started playing microlite74, and I’ve added a Vancian houserule to the mix. http://retroroleplaying.smfforfree4.com/index.php/topic,62.0.html

The twist is that a Vancian style Wizard can try and reuse the spell, but there are real dangers and very little chance that might happen. (I might, as my players get higher level, allow a bonus to increase the possibility, but I don’t know yet)

Not sure if this’ll help, the math you outline makes sense and it sounds like you’re working on a different approach.

Chgowiz 2008-12-01 20:08 UTC

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