Monday 24 August 2015

The Rise and Fall of a Hero

I've been reading more Tom Holland history - Persian Fire. Tom Holland's books are always great gaming inspiration, and I ended up on Google Plus I was asking about Bronze Age-inspired (or at least Antiquity-inspired) OSR games/supplements. By way of a few recommendations, that led on to me asking for opinions on Barbarians of Lemuria (which has a mythic Greece supplement, Heroes of Hellas), which prompted Alex Schroeder to say:

“Ah, the magic system was another thing I didn't like too much. It's too freeform for my taste. I like well defined spells because these are part of the ever changing nature of a long campaign. We know that eventually we'll fly, be invisible, walk the planes, speak with the dead, and all that. We don't do that right away, and it doesn't depend on referee fiat. It's a "promise" that is made by the rules themselves. Free form games just don't offer that.”

Alex has written about this before on his blog. He has a point. It is important for long term campaigns – for my tastes anyway – that the game itself offers the mechanics for different sorts of gameplay. Which was why one of my questions was does Barbarians of Lemuria handle Conan the King as well as Conan the Adventurer...


But changing gameplay over time is almost always imagined as ever increasing power. What about the decline of the hero? The decline of the hero is a venerable feature of fantasy and legend – the once unsurpassed hero is challenged by upcoming warriors, or must face one last quest with fading capabilities. And then there is the other trope – the once proud champion grown fat, lazy, or drunk.

Cohen the Barbarian

D&D is bad at representing this. A 9th level Fighter is still a 9th level Fighter, even if you use aging rules to knock a few points off her Strength. I presume it is even worse in later D&Ds, in which Strength etc. increase as PCs level up. A BRP-based game should do better, as with things such as Damage Bonus and Hit Points being directly derived from a PC’s Attributes, these will dwindle even as her Skill percentages remain high. WFRP, in which Skills are binary (you have them or you don’t) with success governed by Attributes should do even better, though I’ve never seen any ageing rules for 1e or 2e, even if a collection of old wounds might do the trick for most PCs.

So my question is this; which game is best able to handle the decline of a PC as well as they do the rise?


  1. Ars Magica? Getting old, powerful, and decrepit is built right into the system.
    Gurps has lots of flaws for aging that can be added to characters at the GMs fiat.
    Traveller perhaps? I know there's costly anti aging drugs, it would seem to me that you'd use them to avoid the effects. Although perhaps that's driven during the character generation phase....

  2. I've never played (or even seen Ars Magica). The GM fiat thing, of course, could be added to any game - and wouldn't a player of GURPS demand the points cost of any flaws and end up a super-powered decrepit old adventurer?

    Traveller did come to mind, especially as the PCs tend not to develop mechanically. PCs, through their actions, could lose their wealth, their connections, their influence etc., which would at least make for a 'fall' of kinds. In D&D, strip a high level character of all that and he or she is still vastly more powerful than they were when they started out.

    1. I think with Gurps you don't get the points from a game driven flaw (only at character creation). Instead your character is worth less points (which I guess drives GM decisions about the opposing forces).

      Ars Magica has a very cool setup for the game. Definitely different enough you may have challenges with players 'getting it', but fun indeed. The campaign revolves around the covenant (base of operations) with the magi being the strongest most 'interesting' characters. They get stronger through research though, so there is an incentive for them to not go adventuring. Instead they will send out one representative (magi) assisted by 'companionions' (interesting lesser characters) and 'grogs' (mooks). The players take turns running different levels of character. i.e. one game you'd play your magi, another you'd run your companion, and the third you may take on 3 mooks/grogs during the adventure. The time passes in seasons, so death of grogs and companions is a given. Magi can extend their life with potions, but even they will grow old and expire. The core of the campaign is the evolution (rise AND fall) of the covenant.

  3. Ars Magica for definite. As the campaigns are designed to last well over a century, character age and wither and die. One of the adventures we played was one PC who was close to the end and wanted to go on One Last Quest and go out in a blaze of glory. they did, and then the campaign moved on, but he lived on in legend.

    1. That sounds like just the ticket. I'll have to add it to the list...

  4. Hello Andy,

    my name is Mattia, I am Italian and have recently joined your blog, which I find very interesting.
    I am leaving here a comment to your House rule “Ascending Hit Points” as I do not know exactly where else insert it.

    I find this rule fascinating and I am wondering to use it in my next adventure, with a few modifications which I would like to share with you.

    First - I do not think it is easy to keep in mind the bonus hit points derived by the Constitution, I will adopt an easier way: each plus +1 is a are roll that the player can apply to each HD test. For example: a lv3 fighter with Con 15 will be allowed to throw 3 D10 and re-roll one of them. The second result must be accepted. I think this variant rule is more elegant.
    Second – When the Character does not pass the HD check, he must roll a System Shock percentage roll with a malus equal to the negative hit points. If he pass the test he loses consciousness, if he fails the test he is dead. Passing the test means the character can act just after the event that brought him to fall on the ground. In this event optionally the DM can drop the Constitution of the character by one of inflict any other permanent damage (scars, etc) Example: the same lv3 fighter with Con 15 (resulting in a System Shock 90%) receives a blow inflicting him 12hp. Summed to the 18 he already received, he got a total of 30. Player rolls 3D10+1D6 (I would use the option to add a D6 as you suggest to help 1st level character) for a 5, 7, 3 + 2 = 17! The character falls on the ground. Now the player need to check his System Shock 90-(30-17)= 90-13= 77. He rolls a 34! Character is out for the combat, but is still alive.

    Hope you like this addings.


    1. Last comment (sorry!).

      Differently from what stated above, I think the Re-roll due to high Constitution should not result in negative effects. When you re-roll a die, in case this second roll is lower that the previous score, you are entitled to keep the highest result. Again regards.

  5. Ah, obviously in the second example the player woul have had the choice to re-roll one of his HD.