Saturday, 20 August 2016

Waiting Out Sleep (etc.) Non-Boringly

A good game-runner, tester, designer, stays alert to the signs of boredom around the table. Like the rules that everyone forgets, the experiences that don't lead to fun or meaning need to be identified, diagnosed and dropped.

One non-fun experience in D&D and its ilk is the use of enemy powers that take a player's character effectively out of the game. Who has not succumbed to the touch of a ghoul, the tentacles of a carrion crawler, or the icy grip of a hold person spell?

All these paralytic effects, however, last longer than the typical combat does. (Actually, AD&D never gave durations for monster paralysis, but 2nd edition has ghoul touch lasting 3-8 rounds and carrion crawler paralysis lasting at least 2 turns.) This mean the affected character is warming the bench until the combat ends. Visible boredom results.

Taking paralyzation effects out of the game is not an option for me. They're an important part of the monster arsenal, much more forgiving than save-or-die, but still scary and threatening. One of my players who was concerned that his combat-machine character might be unbalanced received a healthy reminder to the contrary, when in the midst of pitched battle a hold person spell overcame his puny save against mind magic. A relentless press turned into a chaotic retreat, with the other characters having to manhandle the stiff body of the hapless warrior. The stuff of legends!

Why wait ten, twenty, thirty game minutes for the stiff to wake up can be turned into a procedure, a very simple game.

During combat, the player rolls a new saving throw against paralyzation each combat round, keeping track of successes, and also keeping track of rolls of a natural 5 or less.

  • A natural 20 means they roll again, keeping only success. 
  • A natural 1 means they roll again, keeping only failure.
  • After three successes, the paralyzation ends.
  • After three 5-or-less rolls, the paralyzation sets in and lasts for 10 minutes.

Taking the character out of danger (by ending or successfully fleeing the combat) means the character is no longer *trying* to wake up, and takes the full 10 minutes. Also, you can rule that each roll to wake up costs the character 1 hit point. This is not terribly unfair; usually attacks that paralyze don't do a lot of damage.

This rule give s a character the potential - if very lucky - to get back into the fight almost immediately. More importantly, it gives hope and something to do in what is otherwise a deadly boring situation.


  1. I like it. A nice modification of the "death save" mechanic from 4/5 D&D.

  2. Interesting approach. I may look at adapting it for things the paralyzing gas I just hit the PCs with at the very end of the last session.

  3. Genius! 5e usually has the character save at the end of each round to wake up. Given the relatively low save threshold of 5e, that often means one or two rounds of paralysis, which to me seems way off brand. Even just adapting the death save mechanic from 5e as a paralysis save would do the job.

    1. Yep, it seems that 5e had the same (good) idea but pitched it too easy.

  4. I do quite like the idea of a battle of wills allowing you to overcome paralyzation - and gamifying here is a nice touch. But then, I do feel an onus on the player of the PC who gets paralyzed to still take an active interest in the battle his friends are engaged in - so I've only a passing empathy for player boredom

    Hmm.. got me thinking that paralysation wearing off at a different rate for different body parts could be an interesting way to bring them back into the game....

  5. In Classic D&D, and IIRC AD&D too (not sure, but probably not in OD&D), a Cure Light Wounds spell will remove paralysis, but not restore hit points if used for this purpose. So getting paralyzed forces a tactical choice on the party.

    Do we need to waste a precious healing spell (if we still have any) to free up this member of the party now? Or can we manage the encounter without that PC, and wait it out?

    I rather prefer this approach, as there should be some monsters (ghouls, gelatinous cubes, carrion crawlers) that players should be wary of, even if they are fairly advanced in level.