The Age of Worms adventure path being serialized in Dungeon magazine lately has piqued my interest and I’m hoping to run it in the Eberron setting, which I’m beginning to take an interest in again. I’m beginning to get a better feel for the tone of Eberron, and Dungeon’s going to great lengths to write up Eberron conversion notes for the adventure – something I’m glad about because the second installment makes heavy references to the deities of core D&D, which really don’t fit anywhere in Eberron.
On the surface, I’m a little worried that the Age of Worms Adventure Path is starting off too similarly to Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. Underground temples to evil deities, esoteric and mad cultists carrying convenient letters explaining what they were up to before you killed them, multiple types of elemental guarding separate areas. However, I’m expecting that a closer examination will turn things out to be more innovative.
I’m not entirely sure when to run Age of Worms, although since it only comes out once per month I’m not in the greatest of hurries to begin it for fear of the players completing adventures quicker than they’re released. I generally play once per week, while the magazine only releases monthly. Thus, it’ll be around this time next year before the magazine publishes the final scenario in the Age of Worms path.
There’s also the matter that my current online game, in which the players are level 7, and in which I much assume that the players would prefer to continue and level up, than to start over at level 1. Since I can’t guarantee that the 3pm-7pm Monday time slot will be free after the summer, I’m hoping to level the guys up perhaps once per session, so that if I have to end the game in mid-September they’ll at least be level 14 or so, which is pretty respectable and a fine level at which to bring the campaign to a satisfactory end.
In further D&D rambling, I’m finding the Wounds and Vitality variant hitpoint system to be quite interesting lately. For the uninformed, here’s the basic overview. Hitpoints under this system are renamed to “Vitality”, and represent injuries you avoid taking by virtue of survivability – rolling with punches, being hella tough, taking minor wounds and what not. You additionally have a Wounds score equal to your Constitution score, which you take damage to once your wound points are depleted, and these represent actual, serious wounds – you are fatigued once you take actual Wounds. Critical hits don’t do double damage under this syetem, but instead deal damage directly to your wounds score.
There are a few things I like about this system. Now, being really injured actually imposes a penalty to your fighting, and creates an intermediate category between “Alive and effectively uninjured” and “Mortally wounded, bleeding to death”. Standard D&D typically lacks this, save for the highly unlikely event that you’ll ever drop to exactly zero hitpoints – on 1HP out of 58 you continue to fight without penalty, on zero you’re disabled and on -1HP you’re unconscious and are likely to bleed to death in minutes. Now you’ve got a nice wide zone of maybe ten or sixteen hitpoints in which you can define a character as “somewhat seriously injured”, which works both ways, meaning that unless your enemy is intent on fighting to the death, there’s a good chance that he will surrender if able. This is a good thing, in my opinion, since the PCs are more likely to survive if defeated by human opponents who have no need to kill them, and likewise, the PCs should feel encouraged not to kill quite so indiscriminately.
Another thing I like about the system is how it seems to fit better into Eberron than in another setting. It makes rapiers more deadly since the increased critical hit chance means you have an excellent chance of running a guy through in a single hit, and this kind of action along with the popularity of a rapier strikes me as fitting well into the setting. This also makes combat tend to be more lethal, so players might, quite sensibly, think twice before leaping into combat. Having a high number of hit points is no longer a guarantee of safety in a moderately challenging fight, since a lucky critical hit can bypass the Vitality points (hit points) which in a normal game provide an immutable safe buffer. As Eberron is typically lower-level than a normal game, it might be considered that the Wounds and Vitality system favours low levels, since at high levels a single critical hit is more likely to deal more damage than the player character’s Wounds score (Constitution score) can survive, meaning at least instant knockout. Conversely, of course, the addition of one’s Constitution score to overall “hit points” improves survivability considerably at first and second level. The increased lethality of combat encourages players to get struck less often in combat, which encourages a swashbuckling style which fits Eberron as opposed to the typical toe-to-toe “I don’t have to worry, I still have ninety hitpoints left” mentality, while placing more emphasis on noncombat encounters and subtle approaches.
Addendum: I also like how the separation of “damage that doesn’t really injure you” and “damage that seriously injures you” feels more like less of an abstraction than D&D’s hit point system, which leaves it to the imagination as to what exactly each amount of damage represents. It also helps that in the Wounds and Vitality system, PCs heal their level to their Wounds score after resting and heal their level in Vitality every hour. It makes clerics less necessary for healing, which suits Eberron in which not every group of adventurers ought to have a cleric in there linking them to a church, and presumably few clerics are simply free to roam adventuring as they please. Potions from House Jorasco could replace the need for the cleric’s in-combat healing, and the cleric’s role as an important spellcaster at high levels is less significant when Eberron focuses on lower levels. Since warforged do not heal naturally there is the interesting prospect that they might not regenerate Vitality, but seeing as they still add their Constitution score to hitpoints under standard rules, I’d allow them to regenerate Vitality, but not Wounds.