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Andrunes Mechanics (And what might be good to change about them)


I've been thinking a whole lot on how NWN works as a platform for roleplay and the role the mechanical combat system plays in that. The following is a lengthy analysis about what I think makes a combat system good or bad. I'll be making a list of particular suggestions based on those thoughts that might be good to implement for Andrune below the lengthy blurb. I think there's a lot of room for improvement!



Combat in NWN has three core functions. For a roleplaying server the most important of these is that the combat system compliments storytelling, allowing whatever tale is being told through the actions of PCs and DMS to be at home with the game, enhancing the drama of what's happening without breaking heavily with immersion. A second element of combat mechanics is to promote intrinsic fun, making combat itself something entertaining and enjoyable for its own sake both through strategic depth and in scope and spectacle. Third is replayability. A dungeon on any server, even a roleplaying one, does well to have encounters that remain interesting, enjoyable and challenging even after repeat playthroughs. For a roleplaying persistent world we ideally want to promote storytelling with combat while not diminishing the intrinsic fun or replayability as a result.

What's needed in the mechanical system to compliment storytelling? The key to this is seeing the value of dramatic tension. Dramatic tension is created when something the stories characters value is on the line and those characters must work to get their way. Almost every compelling work in any medium is driven by this core element. Frodo Baggins wants to save the shire and his friends and Sauron and his minions want to take that away. Luke Skywalker wants to protect his friends, free the galaxy from the iron fist of the empire and eventually save his father from the corruption of the dark side of the force while the empire and Darth Vader do their utmost to stop him. In the movie Taken, Bryan Mills wishes to protect his kidnapped daughter and wages a ruthless and bloody conflict with a human trafficking ring to find her.

Examples of good dramatic tension are very easy to find and the best uses of it share some things in common. First they are evitable: the character has a say through the choices they make in how the story develops. There exists an attainable possibility that their goals will be furthered by their own decisions while also sporting a chance of failure also contingent on their choices. If either failure or success are impossible then the dramatic tension is disarmed and the characters choices don't matter at all. If there is no evitability the character may as well not even be part of the story as their presence makes no difference in the end. Evitability also implies some measure of understanding and control: you can't make a meaningful choice without knowing the rough outcomes each course of action might produce.

Second is risk. This ties in with the possibility of failure: Risk illustrates the scale and likihood of failure should it come to pass. Make things too risky and the goal becomes too close to impossible but eliminate risk and there's no sense of urgency or challenge. On the one hand if a task is as easy as walking to the store then the action is stale and boring but on the other hand if it's as difficult as scaling mount Everest naked then the situation is hopeless. In order to reach Rivendel Frodo must travel by road through reasonably pleasant countryside with a group of wraiths hunting him. By contrast in order to reach Mount Doom and Sauron forever he must pass through a hellish, inhospitable wasteland full of enemies. A healthy level of risk appropriate to what's at stake keeps the optimal amount of dramatic tension.

Third is resource management. This ties in with the meaningfulness of choices: any given character has a limited set of resources determined by their strengths, weaknesses and material possessions. A character with infinite material wealth and skill with no weaknesses of note makes a story boring and trivial (these sorts of character are often referred to as a Mary Sue) while a character too flawed and poor in wealth and skill compared to their goals has no chance to succeed. In The Dark Knight, the antagonistic Joker thrives against the methodical and solitary Batman by forcing him to make hard choices about where, when and how to invest his A need for resource management allows for decisions to have strong and tangible consequences in a story.




---
DM: CR 40 Housecat
PC: Vera Smith
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Re: Andrunes Mechanics (And what might be good to change about them)


Now that we have a grasp on what good dramatic tension entails and why it's important we can look at NWN and the way its mechanics can enhance or diminish this crucial aspect to fostering roleplay. Just as in the action of movies and books, the action in a story on Andrune best serves to move the story forward and to build dramatic tension while doing so. In NWN what decides the victor in combat is a number of fixed and pseudo-random checks eventually culminating in one creature dying. The fundamental units of combat effectiveness are hitpoint (HP) and damage, all other things being equal if a creature that has a better damage output and HP pool will very often defeat one with less. Depth is introduced with further buffers to hit points (such as armour class) and further offensive measures (such as enhancement bonuses) to improve damage capabilities.

These buffers make things complex but can still be measured in a reliable way in the form of EHP (Effective Hit Points) defensively and DPS (Damage Per Second) offensively. In a game where only hit points, damage, attack and armour class feature, then the DPS of a character would be their damage divided by the average frequency they will breach the opponents armour class score. Their EHP will be their raw hit point total multiplied by the average frequency their armour class will negate an attack against the opponent. As we add more layers of defense (e.g. damage reduction) and attack (e.g. separate damage types) as well as the capability of increasing (mage armour, expertise) or decreasing (called shot, flanking bonuses) these elements a richer mechanical basis develops.

What does this multi-layered game of attack versus defense mean for the evitability, risk and resource management so important to dramatic tension? The crux of its effectiveness lies on the situational and permanent aspects of these numbers and how players control them. A creature always has at least one non-situational source of EHP in their health pool and all others by themselves function situationally: An extremely high armour class will do nothing to help against a magic missile whereas spell resistance protects well. Now we can identify one of the main causes of uninteresting and bland combat in High Non-Situational EHP/DPS. Although defenses like armour and resistances are on their own conditional they can be stacked together on a single creature without any intrinsic penalties associated with that. A player can have a high value of armour class, resistances, spell resistance, regeneration and other conditional defenses given the gear that's often available, effectively multiplying their EHP unconditionally, several times over in some cases.

As a crude example consider Joe Fighter. Joe enters combat with a goblin and has 100 hit points along with 20 armour class. The goblin strikes for 5 damage every round. It works that out his armour class is high enough to negate half of the goblin's attacks, meaning he can expect to survive 40 rounds against the goblin attacker instead of a mere 20 if he lacked any armour class.

Now let's consider Bob Fighter. Bob doesn't have any armour class at all but sports the same 100 hit points and an addition 2 hitpoints per round regeneration. With this regeneration factored in Bob can expect to survive 34 rounds of combat.

Finally there is Steve Fighter. Steve is richer than both Bob and Joe and is lucky enough to have the same armour score as Joe while regenerating 2 hitpoints per round just as Bob can. When calculating how long Steve can expect to survive we first halve the goblin's damage and then factor in regeneration. Instead of a simple addition of round length survived (~53) these two defenses multiply his EHP and give him a life expectancy of 200 rounds(!). If Steve instead only had one point of regeneration per round this would be reduced drastically to 67 rounds.

This effect extends to all aspects of combat. Magic has spell resistance to stack with saving throws to stack further still with regeneration, immunities and damage resistance. Offensive stacking features enhancement, strength, attack and passive weapon feat damage bonuses with some loot tables even offering skeleton key weapons: items that can pierce almost any damage reduction, grant high enhancement bonuses and flat damage increases effective against every foe.

Part of what makes this EHP/DPS stacking phenomenon so jarring to the excitement of combat is that it removes evitability: the character can either kill something or they cannot with no real chance of affecting the outcome either way in their choice of defense and offense since none of that is conditional. There is absolutely no reason not to stack multiple defenses and offense when it's an option. The strict win-or-lose nature of a battle with such enormous universal EHP and DPS totals is sometimes derogatorily called a gear check.

It also creates a dangerous precedent around the management of risk. In order to make dungeons and quests threatening, creature designers must expect players to take advantage of this EHP/DPS stacking and since these offensive and defensive traits are all they have to build with it's extremely difficult to make monsters that are neither trivial nor so powerful they are unstoppable. Monsters created with EHP/DPS stacking in mind will inevitably make encounters either instagib for the player or an easy walk-over as they in turn stack their own EHP and DPS to keep apace. Players confronted with these sorts of battles regularly learn to take a cynical view of risk management, removing a sense of control from combat other than deciding whether to commit to the end of a fight or not.

Here we find the first thing that can help foster dramatic tension in combat; making conditional offense and defense such as armour and enhancement bonuses prohibitive to stack. If there is loot that offers either armour class or resistances instead of both at once then the player must make a choice that will affect their future battles. This pre-combat decision making can be made intrinsic by featuring items that offer bonuses in a particular conditional defense while giving penalties to another; these bonuses could exceed items that offer only bonuses with no penalties at all. On-hit status ailments and debuffs on weapons can feature as heavily as conditional attack and damage bonuses with universal benefits such as enhancement bonuses being relatively weak by comparison to make up for their versatility.

This design philosophy creates a specialist/jack-of-all-trades effect that lets players distinguish their characters. Joe Fighter might choose to have moderate defenses all around, making him versatile but weak to foes with particularly powerful offensive abilities. Steve Fighter may decide he is paranoid of mages and stocks up on spell resistance, saving throw bonus and elemental resistance gear at a cumulative penalty (on several pieces of gear) to armour class and to discipline against combat feats. He will not fare so well in a brutal melee but will outshine Joe Fighter against spell casters. Creature designers can also exploit this system to make creatures with various strengths and weaknesses that are strategically rich and boss monsters that are overwhelming in their overall prowess but who don't need to resort to uninteresting instagib tactics.


---
DM: CR 40 Housecat
PC: Vera Smith
8/16/2013, 4:18 am Link to this post Send Email to ASlapForJoffrey   Send PM to ASlapForJoffrey
 
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Re: Andrunes Mechanics (And what might be good to change about them)


The Universal/Conditional EHP/DPS lessons apply not only to permanent gear and feats but also to temporary items and features like potions, scrolls, active feats and caster spells. These features are accessible by creatures and players and serve to alter the EHP or DPS of themselves or another for a time. Resource management was identified earlier as a key to keeping dramatic tension and it's in this field that this comes into play. One way resource management can be diminished is to give too much of an abundance of consumables and spell slots. This is done by way of access to shops that sell these and giving players access to a theoretically infinite supply of gold; when you can grind a dungeon twice a day and keep up a hundred healing potions on hand at any given time then it no longer becomes a choice based in resource management but an exercise in passing a threshold of wealth to qualify for success.

Supply therefore must be limited enough so that using the consumable come at an opportunity cost. Potions have an inbuilt opportunity cost in that they provoke attacks of opportunity but this cost rarely outweighs the choice to drink one if you have access to a practically inexhaustible supply. Practically this implies that the supply of consumables like potions and scrolls must be limited at one or more points in the acquisition process: shops must sell limited quantities (or none at all), gold must be limited or they must drop only in particular and restricted circumstances.

Spell slots are governed instead on a per-rest basis, meaning that the opportunity to rest must be controlled to be infrequent enough that expending a spell slot is meaningful and cannot be trivially replenished. The acquisition of gear that increases the number of raw spellslots for a character as well as slot-enabling attributes bonuses (Cha, Wis, Int) can also be integrated with other loot considerations, making them costly and difficult to acquire in proportion to the power and usefulness of the spellslot. These factors serve to grant more control to players, to allow them make meaningful choices in how they spend their wealth and in when to use their precious commodities.

The intrinsic power of consumables can also be used as a tool to manipulate their opportunity cost. On some servers consumable power varies widely, from extremely potent barkskin potions with a duration of several real life hours and a strong bonus to natural armour class to near-useless resistance potions that increase saving throws by 1 for one minute when character commonly have bonuses in the thirties. Once more the dichotomy between too much asn too little rears its head: On the one hand if a consumable lasts too long and is too powerful or universal in application then it stops being a choice players make and turns into a mandatory buff for every dungeon crawl or quest. On the other hand a duration and power too scarce or niche and nobody will bother to use it or purchase it in lieu of other options.

The ideal niche for consumables to occupy is one that makes them very useful and cost-effective in a number of particular situations as opposed to general all-around usefulness. Compare a buff to all saving throws with a large buff to fortitude saving throws. They also need enough power to stand out from the background of gear a character is wearing. Durations should be no shorter than the span of a battle with one creature and no longer than one encounter with multiple creatures is expected to last. In this way the need for fire-and-forget buffs like bull's strength potions is eliminated while keeping away from the uselessness characteristic of the common resistance cantrip potions. When Joe Fighter drinks a spell resistance potion he needs to do so for a good reason, to help change the course of a battle by investing a precious resource in its outcome.

In the end what this all comes down to is considering the dramatic tension combat needs to create to help present a compelling story. This is done through creating risk, evitability and promoting meaningful resource management. These three factors influence item design to the core and give strong guidelines for feats, monsters and other aspects of combat.

---
DM: CR 40 Housecat
PC: Vera Smith
8/16/2013, 4:21 am Link to this post Send Email to ASlapForJoffrey   Send PM to ASlapForJoffrey
 
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Re: Andrunes Mechanics (And what might be good to change about them)


TL;DR Version:

*The effective hit points and damage per second of players is influenced enormously and aversely by stacking defenses that give players a huge pool of effective health and damage output regardless of what situation they're in.

*This leads to dungeons and monsters built around these stacked characters, causing fights to be either trivially easy, impossibly hard, or a complete and inevitable coin flip.

*This is bad because it destroys dramatic tension, the main thing that gives the combat a meaningful role in storytelling.


Concrete Suggestions:

Based on the main points above there could be a wide variety of possible amendments. Here are my own and why I think they'd be good to make:


Permanent Loot:

*Item loot should strictly avoid allowing players to stack conditional types of defense, especially those that exponentially increase effective health; Armour bonuses and Damage Reduction should not feature on the same item, and come at a cost if they feature on multiple items.

*The closer an item property is to the heart of a player's hitpoints, the less potent it should be due to its enormous potential. Regeneration is a clear case of this as it synergises with saving throws, armour class, damage reductions, damage immunities etc.

*Items should frequently offer conditional bonuses, such as armour versus slashing damage, and infrequently offer universal bonuses, such as straight armour class. In cases where universal bonuses are available, conditional properties of the same loot tier should offer greater bonuses. The more particular the bonus, the more powerful it should be. A sword that deals bonus damage to aberrations should really pack a punch.

*So long as the potential power of certain properties is taken into account, there is no fundamental reason why most sorts of properties should not feature in loot, including powerful traits like Keen, Immunity: Knockdown and Cast-On-Hit.

*It may be prudent to relegate certain properties to certain item slots, such as damage resistances only being available on armour, or spell slots only being available on amulets. This would reduce the potential to stack to absurd levels even further.

*Attribute bonuses should be treated as they function, so a +2 constitution bonus actually amounts to +1 Fortitude and +1x HitDice Hit Points.

Examples:
Some rough examples of what I mean. Though not definitive nor balanced hopefully they'll give an idea of the theory in practice. Ideally players would find an overall bonus for actually equipping the items, but only gain immensely high effectiveness in building toward particular foes or situations.

Shank-Stoppers (Boots): +3 Dodge AC vs. kobolds, halflings and goblins

Weighted Dwarven Greaves (Boots): 5/- Slashing Resistance, -3 Reflex

Witches Curio (Amulet): 18 Spell Resistance, -2 Natual AC

Medic's Bulwark (Large Shield): +1 Regeneration, -3 All Saves

Spike of Nightmares (Dagger): -2 Piercing Damage, DC 16 Sleep on Hit

Band of Attunement (Ring): +1 Level 2 Spellslot, 15% Vulnerability to Fire, Cold, Lightning and Acid

Harvester (Greataxe):+6 Damage vs. Elves, Animals, Plants, Beasts & Magical Beasts

Visor of Truesight: See Invisibility 3/Day, -6 Saves vs. Illusions

Great Visor of Truesight: Permanent See Invisibility, -4 All Saves

Cord of Brute: +2 Strength, -9 Discipline

And so on...


Obviously these would need to be coupled with some moderate rules on item swapping in combat to avoid exploitation, though coming prepared with multiple types of weapons and gear is not necessarily bad. I refer to occasions where someone might, say, keep a belt of 15/- of slashing resistance, another of bludgeoning, and another of piercing and then swap between them constantly. This seems to me poor practice and verging on out-of-character (unless the PC is really that compulsive emoticon ).

A more comprehensive system would need to be figured out but there's little point at the stage of speculation.



Consumables, Magic & Recuperation:

These three need to be lumped in together. As mentioned above consumables should have a power that feels tangible and meaningful in combat but also a duration and availability that turns the use of them into a stategic choice. Potions, charged items and wands are the biggest consumable basis, with spell scrolls occupying a small and unique niche.

There isn't much more to say on the why of consumables except that they should parallel the principles behind weapon design: More specific effects should be more powerful than more general ones (though most potion effects are quite general in effect). My favourite default-type potions are shield potions; long lasting and powerful enough to matter, but not ludicrous.

Variety is also easy to accomodate given strict controls on availability. There's no particular reason why potions of greater spell mantle, greater bull's strength, spell resistance and greater stoneskin couldn't become a thing.


Magic is one of the more daunting things to alter in NWN and heavy changes probably require tampering with the intrinsic mechanics of magic. I feel this would actually be necessary to remove the ability of very powerful mages to stack their effective HP in the same way items and consumables can. Making spell slots and spellcasting attribute bonuses costly and difficult to acquire helps mitigate this heavily but probably not to an ideal extent.

If magic is to be changed it should be to work against the multiplicative stacking of EHP and DPS. Spells with long duration buffs should have their durations diminished to last the length of a single encounter, scaling in power with level moreso than duration except in niche cases (increasing the duration of summoned creatures is fairly harmless in itself for instance).

Spells that buff attributes, armour, immunities and saves directly are particularly nasty culprits. Cat's Grace would do better to last two or three turns, giving the caster a defensible reason to pick alternate spells in a slot or at least making the spell more interesting than casting it at the beginning of a quest, refreshing it only once it wears off halfway through.

Healing and Recuperation:
Here's the big and radical change that I think would make everything else slot in together so much more nicely. Healing consumables (bar healing kits) should be removed from the game entirely, or strictly rationed out in very rare circumstance. In-combat healing should be provided only by costly item properties or the healing spells some casting classes provide.

To counteract this every PC should begin to recover HPafter a short time out of combat and recover from status ailments after a length of time irrespective of combat. This could be based on the HD of the character, their constitution and fortitude modifiers and/or other considerations but the point is that when a PC walks into combat they know they will have to be mindful and likely not unscathed in any given fight.

HP could recover at a moderate, steady rate as if using regeneration. Minor status elements might have their own threshold time before vanishing. An attribute drain might last a shorter time than a level drain, but both will in this system have a dire and lasting effect even if they're cured right away.

Trivialities like poison and disease would gain a lot more weight by this system where spell slots are scared and restoratives are non-existent. The attribute penalties associated with these effects could be mitigated over time out of combat but being posioned or diseaed in itself perhaps might not wear off without being able to rest in a safe area.

This change also gives healers a function besides being a superfluous potion dispensory. Their spell slots (rationed by limited bonuses from equipment) used on healing now mean something and contribute to the intensity and depth of encounters.

Healing kits could be modified to accomodate to this system too. They could only work outside of combat and reduce the times to recover from ailments according to healing skill as well as hastening out-of-combat regeneration.

They could also raise someone from death but with attribute/level drain penalties according to the lack or presence of heal skill. An accomplished healer might be able to bring their fallen friends back with 1 hit point and nly a -1 to all attributes that fades after some minutes whereas an unskilled healer might barely get their friends on their feet with a crippling -5 penalty.

Clerics with raising magic will always have the upper hand over a skilled healer because they can return friends without any penalties at all: Penalties that will make for a more difficult mission. Revive can even return all lost hitpoints on the fly and all cleric revival spells work in combat whereas healing kits do not in this system.




Last edited by ASlapForJoffrey, 8/20/2013, 3:07 am


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DM: CR 40 Housecat
PC: Vera Smith
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Re: Andrunes Mechanics (And what might be good to change about them)


Firstly, excellent nod to Taken, best film ever and you can take that to the bank!

Youve made some good points here I think but for me, by far and away the biggest hinderence to tension is the horrendous amount of money and therefore potions that people have. One can get potions for anything these days, with no limit on how many you can carry.

Admittedly it is handy when soloing but from an rp point of view, for me its ridiculous. The most frustrating thing i saw was a duel were my opponent jugged a good half a dozen different potions at the start whilst i was attack, who would do that in reality? its nonsense. Or imagine running around with a hundred bottles in your bag, yea ok the weights might not be high but you sure wouldnt want to be running...

Fixing the economy wouldnt be easy, and by and large at low levels, the potion prices i think are about right. What I would do is limit the number of potions a character is able to carry, say with some special potion bag which all potions must be in. Characters could i guess buy additional bags but at a penalty to movement or something?

Or increase the risk with potions, have a chance that they dont work or cause odd side effects, im sure old abfleck isnt the potion master he used to be, a few duff brews would spice things up! you could also limit his supply, but how to do this effectively and fairly im not sure. Maybe by the PCs having to supply him with ingredients or so? must be having a hard time of it what with the recent troubles...

In short, restrict potions in some way, combat becomes more risky and tactical, have abfleck retire to some tropical paradise, he must have made millions by now!

Thats my two pence
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Re: Andrunes Mechanics (And what might be good to change about them)


quote:

supergeddes wrote:
...for me, by far and away the biggest hinderence to tension is the horrendous amount of money and therefore potions that people have. One can get potions for anything these days, with no limit on how many you can carry. ...



Agreed wholeheartedly that it's a big problem. In the above posts I point that out. Theoretically infinite access to any potion is going to trivialise its strategic use, and make the powerful ones mandatory instead of crucial and interesting to use.


I think your proposed solution to the potion-thing is interesting, and probably a lot of fun, though it might be a nightmare to implement. I'll be posting my own thoughts on what to actually change later on.



Last edited by ASlapForJoffrey, 8/16/2013, 5:35 am


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DM: CR 40 Housecat
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Re: Andrunes Mechanics (And what might be good to change about them)


Oh yea no doubt the implementation could be very tricky! a simple method would just be to up the weight of a potion but thats not so elegant. But i leave that to the powers that be!
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Re: Andrunes Mechanics (And what might be good to change about them)


Minor point: I don't think adding bad potions would be a solution at all though - people would just chug the first one, see of it's good, then chug another if it's not, finish off with a Lesser Restoration to get back to normal. emoticon

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Re: Andrunes Mechanics (And what might be good to change about them)


ahh yea good point, hadnt thought of that. would be amusing though!
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Re: Andrunes Mechanics (And what might be good to change about them)


I'll play a bit of devil's advocate on consumables...

It's important to remember that changing the balance of mechanics can have more reaching consequences than just dramatic tension in RP. I've played on a lot of servers. Almost universally places where potions or other consumables were regulated and limited too much, people didn't use them, they hoarded them. Hoarding something doesn't actually add much to the RP. Hoarding, is a problem I want to avoid. I don't mean that its' bad that some players may have a lot in their inventories, but if we have consumables, I want to see them used.

In general, every server will have players who are much more dedicated to farming up gold/potions/etc. Those characters tend to be more powerful, richer, and with greater access to consumables. They also consume less, because they've out-leveled some of the best places to farm gold in the module. (Shadowpine, for example.) Players like this aren't a problem, the problem is when newer people have no hope in ever being competitive with them. Keeping some of the more basic things such as healing potions and buff consumables available means that people are able to solo when they want, or go out and hopefully make money off adventuring- provided they made smart choices.

On the subject of consumable buffs, one of the reasons they were added across loot tables in the module is to help break the dependency on caster classes for non-casters. For some gold, you can obtain potions of barkskin, mage armor, true strike, and a few lower level spells. Those spells become less useful as characters obtain gear with the same bonuses. If you head into dungeons, you can find consumables that do much more.

Speaking of dungeons... Part of the ways to make consumables consumable, but used, is to make them re-obtainable. I think of the drops in Haderus, where you can get single or multiple uses of spells. You might have 2, maybe 3 in your inventory. But you use them, sure that they can be obtained again, even if your character can't do that on their own. You may not have them now and you may run out in the middle of an event, but you didn't just use your only ragewood sap you'll get this month, or this year. I think this setup helps preserve the dramatic tension, while not punishing people for using what they've got.

This all plays into the risk/reward aspect of the game. When I take risks, I want a chance to have it pay off. I want that chance to be good enough that people take risks, but that failure isn't totally uncommon, or crushing when it happens. If failure in a mechanical sense (total party wipe in a dungeon, for instance) loses me a great deal (used consumables, lost gold/exp, lost time) I want to be able to make it back with a reasonable effort, but not have it handed to me.

---
Characters:
Isania Jalitana- The Huntress (and Mistress Egofantastic.)
Calisto - Gryphonrider
Nyx Talonbite- Amazon Crystal Champion of Death By Snu Snu
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