Optional Strain Rule

Discussion on game mastering Earthdawn. May contain spoilers; caution is recommended!
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Optional Strain Rule

Post by ManDrake » Sat Oct 19, 2019 1:24 pm

I've recently picked back up on Earthdawn, because my daughter is finally old enough and interested in playing the RPG's I enjoyed in my youth. I'm not ready to invest in 4th edition yet, mostly because I have all the books for 1st and 3rd, and most of the books for 2nd, even though I never actually played it. Anyway, as I started digging back in, I started finding a bunch of my old rule changes to make the game more playable. And I've come across the changes I made around strain and I wanted to bounce them off the group. Basically the standard problem with strain is that when you do a bunch of complex actions involving strain, your character ends up burning through most of their durability before they are hit. That's a player's over dramatization mind you, but it did take a good quarter of the average players available hit points per fight, which made it fairly dangerous.

Originally, I created a talent knack off the Durability talents that allowed characters to create a strain pool. I tried two versions, first was just a flat, your durability rank was subtracted from all the strain that you took per round. Which was way too OP, but it did allow for more thematically pleasing battles. But every combat round became an insane long set of chained events, which is normal for mid to high level characters. The second version, I made it a static pool that could be subtracted from until it was gone or until the next recovery test at which time, it was immediately reset. Combat focused classes felt that they should get more than the base because they had more strain causing talents in their disciplines, I've gone through varying levels of generosity with the multiplier, but it was usually somewhere around 2 or 3 times their durability level.

After I stopped playing regularly, I was going over the 3rd edition rules in detail and I came across the stun damage rules. They'd existed before that, I'd just never dug into them very deep because I wasn't overly interested in those kinds of affects. Anyway, the critical part was the notion that stun damage is different from regular damage. Basically it doesn't allow you to die from stun damage. And that got me to thinking about the nature of strain. Basically strain is pushing your body beyond health limits trying to cause an affect. It seemed like to me that is almost the same sort of damage as stun itself. So I came up with this new rule.

Rule: Treat all strain damage the same way you treat stun damage in the game.

You have to note strain and stun damage separate from the regular damage the character takes. But the total damage taken is still subtracted normally.

If a player takes damage that drops them below the Unconsciousness or Death rating, they are knocked into a coma if the difference between the total damage minus the stun damage is higher than the death rating they are still alive. Per the normal stun rules.

I also changed the stun damage recovery rules slightly. The current rules say if you focus on eliminating just stun, you get to roll a recovery test, plus your willpower step to it to heal just stun damage. Which seems a bit restrictive to me, if the damage is so easy to recover from why shouldn't you get that bonus on any recovery test. So I altered the rule that says anytime a player uses a recovery test to heal damage to themselves, they get to roll their willpower step to heal only stun/strain damage that they've incurred.

Example: 1st Circle warrior has a Toughness of 14, giving him a 36 Death rating 26 Unconsciousness rating. He goes into combat, a combination of 4 aggressive attacks (1 strain), 2 jump ups because of knockdown (2 strain), 5 uses of Avoid Blow (1 strain) and 3 rounds of Air Dance (1 strain). So he's collected about 16 points of strain damage in combat against say a couple of Cadaver Men. So he's setting at 10 hit points from unconsciousness and 20 from death. Under normal circumstances, lets say he scored a wound on one of the Cadaver Men and took 25 points of damage from the frenzy. He'd be just dead. But in this case, he'd still just be in a coma and after a minute, he would get a recovery test to see if he could wake up. At which time with my new rule, he'd roll his Step 6 toughness to recover which would be the 1d10 per normal. Probably wouldn't wake him up most likely but would definitely put him going in the right direction. But with the Step 5 willpower, he'd get an additional 1d8.

So what do you guys think about this rule? Am I on the right track here? Has anyone else experimented with ways to make strain more balanced?

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Re: Optional Strain Rule

Post by ChrisDDickey » Sun Oct 20, 2019 2:16 am

I tend to consider that a character that chooses to take strain is damaging themselves, is a feature and not a bug.

Strain is optional. There is almost always an option to do the same thing without strain. The non-strain option is usually slower or in some other way not as good, but you can choose to ether spend the strain for the good stuff, or not. It is your choice. A character can choose to fight full out for a small number of rounds, or less aggressively for longer. That is a tactical choice a player makes and both your "pool" rules do nothing other than to shift combat power in the Adepts favor which I think is both unneeded and not desirable.

On the other hand, I like the "strain is stun" rule. With the Strain is stun rule, taking strain moves you closer to unconsciousness, but not directly closer to death.

In fact, the 1879 game, that also uses the Step System, anticipated your house rules, and what you proposed is very, very similar to the strain rules for 1879 except that they don't change the rules for healing Stun like you do. That, once again, just seems like a gift to make the game less challenging. The logical compilation "(1) If you choose to heal only stun, you can get a bonus to your recovery test. (2) If stun damage is so easy to heal, why don't you get that bonus even if you are not focusing solely upon healing stun? (3) Therefore you get the bonus with every recovery test", is utterly uncompelling to me. It just assumes that the answer to (2) is "no reason at all" without examining the issue at all. I mean if the GM comes to a determination that the players need a way to heal off their stun damage faster, then having EACH recovery test trigger a TOU roll that can heal any damage, and a WIL roll that can only heal stun damage is one way to do it. But there are also lots of other healing options available that don't require monkeying with the rules to grant a permanent healing bonus. I am not saying it can't be done, it just seems like a drastic step to a minor problem.

I see no reason why the Strain is Stun rule could not be incorporated into Earthdawn without any problem. It makes Strain considerably less lethal, without totally removing the tactical challenge for the players of figuring out if it is more dangerous for them to take the strain and fight full out, or not take strain but run the risk of combat lasting longer.

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Re: Optional Strain Rule

Post by Sharkforce » Sun Oct 20, 2019 3:04 am

i tend to view strain as something you take because you hope that it will prevent further damage.

that is, you're using avoid blow and taking some strain in the hope that it will protect you from the damage that would be caused by not avoiding the blow. you're using second attack in hopes of killing your target faster so that it can't hit you back.

so from my perspective, you're not damaging yourself when you take strain, provided you do it right. you're taking a chance on reducing the damage to yourself at a bargain cost. if you're spending one quarter of your hit points per fight on strain, it should be because not spending those points would likely result in losing significantly more than one quarter of your hit points in that same fight.

or, in other words, if you're nearly dying in a fight because of strain, the fight was presumably rough enough of a fight that you very likely would have died had you not spent the strain, and you should be thanking your lucky stars that you only last as many hit points as you did, not grumbling because you lost so many.

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Re: Optional Strain Rule

Post by Michael » Sun Oct 20, 2019 3:31 am

I always thought that strain was your imperfect attempt to channel astral energy through your pattern. There's a cost that has to be paid and that's what strain is.

I agree with Shark, 1 pt of strain for the chance to use avoid blow and not take any of the damage seems like a small price to pay.

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Re: Optional Strain Rule

Post by ManDrake » Sun Oct 20, 2019 10:28 pm

To be clear, I wasn't suggesting to remove strain damage or that it wasn't valid damage to take. This rule is only to change the kind of damage it is. For all practical purposes, it would change nothing about combat, except when calculating when a players death rating reached. Pretty much everything else would remain the same.

I wasn't aware of the 1879 game ChrisDDickey, that's interesting. I agree with you I don't have a strong case for the WIL roll to be added more generally. But I know the WIL roll by itself, doesn't make sense because the existing rules say if you use a recovery test and focus only on stun damage, you get TOU+WIL rolled for the removal of the stun damage. So that's already canon, so we don't need to try to separate them. That's sort of what got me to thinking it should be happening automatically all the time. If you can focus on only Stun damage, when you don't your WIL is still there and having an effect just on a much smaller scale. And part of it's also a practical thing. Without healing aids, players basically are good for as long as they keep their 3 recovery tests per day. So three battles requiring recovery tests and they are basically done for the day or taking a major risk. It could once again represent a unique issue with the players I had, where they were just terribly unlucky and suicidally brave, but the combat system was extremely dangerous for them. So this stuff came around to try and offset some of that.

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Re: Optional Strain Rule

Post by Slimcreeper » Mon Oct 21, 2019 2:38 pm

I’ve thought about using the 1879 rule in Earthdawn too. I think it plays well. Only thing I don’t like is tracking it separately. So I subtract stun damage from the Uncon rating to put it on a separate track.

So someone stabs a fellow in the back for 20 dmg. Fellow takes 20 dmg as usual, but his uncon rating is 25, so he’s fine, or at least conscious. Then someone cold-cocks the fellow for 10 points of stun. Uncon rating drops to 15, which is less than current damage. Fellow drops. Uncon rating can then be recovered separately from damage.

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