Heroes of Hesiod

Wizards has a new thing out, Monster Slayers, which is marketed as D&D For Kids!

Really, “D&D For Kids” is like “Jobs For Adults” or “Pince-Nez for Affected Fops!” D&D is already for kids, or was when I was a kid. But I see what they mean. It’s D&D for kids too young for D&D!

It’s an interesting take on D&D: a 14-page PDF, of which about 2 pages are rules, and the rest are monsters, pregenerated characters, an adventure, props and art. The adventure is supposed to take 30 minutes. Imagine running a D&D adventure in 30 minutes! This would be awesome. You could play D&D during lunch hour at work! You could play D&D 8 times in the time it usually takes to play once!

It’s interesting to look at a stripped-down D&D ruleset, especially in light of my earlier thoughts about what I thought was essential to D&D at age 8. D&D gets overcomplicated sometimes. It might be valuable to strip out a bunch of rules and see which ones you miss.

Here’s some notable D&Disms not found in Heroes of Hesiod:

Rolled damage. Apart from crits and a few special powers, most hits do 1 point of damage. (Sneak attack does 2 damage.) Characters and monsters generally have less than 10 HP.

Damage rolls strike me as a good place to trim off extra fat: damage is a weird mechanic, because it is a second roll determining the degree of success of an action that has already been successful (an attack roll).

Opportunity Attacks. Your character moves his or her speed and attacks: there are no shifting or other strategic options. Opportunity attacks add interesting tactical decisions, but are difficult to explain to new players and therefore good rules to drop in an introductory game. Also, opportunity attacks punish people for moving. Why are you punishing little kids for moving? Kids gotta be free!

Death. When a player drops, they are revived by the Gandalf figure and don’t suffer any penalties. They still get a medal at the end of the adventure. Of course they do! This adventure is probably being run by an adult for children, and permanently killing the PCs would seem a lot like an adult being mean to kids. You have to be a certain age before “your guy died” stops being upsetting. That age is NEVER.

D&Disms that made the cut:

Bloodied (or “half hit points”). There aren’t a lot of mechanics in the adventure that rely on this, so I was surprised to see it was included. It is used as part of a formula for determining when to attack the PCs with another monster, but I think I would have dropped Bloodied altogether – especially since the game recommended that monster HP always be visible.

Beholder! Interestingly, the beholder looks, on paper, to be the weakest of the monsters. Most of the monsters do 1 HP on a successful attack; the beholder gets two gaze attacks per round, but each has only a 1 in 6 chance of doing damage.

All in all, the thing I found most exciting in Heroes of Hesiod was the 1 HP per hit rule. It maybe “isn’t D&D” anymore without rolled damage (although it might be Chainmail) (and it might also be the starter adventure in the Red Box). It’s reminiscent of the mechanic used for minions (1-hit kill) and could be expanded for other unimportant combatants: creatures a little better than minions, or allies and companion characters, for instance.

In our D&D game last week, the party tried to convince an ogre to join them. They didn’t succeed, but I thought a little about how I would handle an NPC ogre joining the party. I don’t like the DM spending time rolling attack and damage rolls on NPC’s; it’s too much like solitaire with an audience. One way to speed things up would be to say that the ogre had, say, 10 HP and every hit on the ogre did 1 damage.

You could improve on this, I think, by using the benefit of the cool saving-throw-as-random-duration-counter mechanic that removed a little bookkeeping from 4e: say that any hit on the ogre does 0 damage, but an attack roll of a natural 19 or 20 kills it. Thus the ogre lasts against average of 10 attacks, but you never know when he’s going to drop – and you don’t have to keep track of HP, roll damage, or even compare the attack roll to AC. Good enough for a guy who’s of secondary importance to the PCs and their adversaries!

So that’s D&D for kids. There’s probably more game-simplifying ideas in here, but that’s what I got out of it.

By the way, the author bio claims that the author’s favorite bedtime book was the Monster Manual, which is great D&D geek cred in one sentence, and also makes me want to have a kid of my own to mold.

3 Responses to “Heroes of Hesiod”

  1. baf says:

    If I’m not mistaken, one point of damage per hit is fairly common in miniatures wargaming, where there’s a lot more going on at once than in a typical D&D combat. Thus “hit points”: it’s how many times a unit can be hit. It’s also common in wargames for most units (as in, everything except special “hero” units, which you’ll have only one or two of in your army) to have only one HP, like minions. Like your hypothetical ogre, units that are difficult to kill tend to simply have a higher armor class. That way, there’s no per-unit state to keep track of: everything is either alive or dead, and that’s it. So it seems like D&D is retruning to its roots, or at least learning from them.

  2. paul paul says:

    Yeah, I believe that Chainmail was a one-hit-point-per-hit system.

    Stateless creatures are a great idea. Keeping track of a million states is not one of the areas of D&D’s complexity that I particularly enjoy. I like D&D as an exercise of imagination and decisionmaking (since I’m capable of both), not memory and organizational skills (since I’m competent in neither).

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