I observed a positive feel-good moment among the players in my offline campaign on the weekend, doubly precious since my party seemed to completely miss that it had happened. Then again, it was very much in their own interest - yet, it was heartening to see them recognize it.
A few house rules I have to explain. First, that I don't have any rules about having to "train" to increase levels. When you've accumulated enough experience, you've had a revelation or an epiphany, you've figured out how to cast that spell at last that your master used to harp upon day and night to no avail (until now) or you've gotten a better handle on your weapons.
Second, when you go up a level, you gain the hit points of that level to your previous hit points, even if you are injured. Thus, if you have 26 out of 34 hit points, and your level gives you 8 more, then you now have 34 out of 42 hit points. And the campaign moves on.
Finally, if you are a spellcaster, or you have some natural ability limited by the day, such as a bard in my world does, you get that all back, instantaneously. It may not be real; it may not reflect some people's concept of play - but it is easy, it is friendly, it makes my players happy. Therefore it makes me happy.
Saturday I killed two characters: a 3rd level ranger and a 6th level paladin. Both were already hurting when an invisible ogre mage appeared and hit a convenient line of characters, in combat, with an 8 hit dice cone of cold for 30 damage. The ranger and paladin failed save, took the whole damage, and died.
It was proving a tough night.
To show my sincerity, at the beginning of the combat, knowing it was going to be a bitch, I wrote on a piece of paper, sealed it in an envelope and stashed it in sight of the party, not explaining. I did not want to be accused of any last minute DM pity. I knew the party was going to have a rough time; I knew that ogre mage was going to be waiting invisible until the worst possible moment. I knew I planned a nice stack of treasure, and that treasure was going to include a Rod of Resurrection with 8 charges. The party has been in this dungeon for 10 runnings now, leaving dead behind as they've gone, and I knew the number of dead was getting depressing.
The rod of resurrection was in the sealed envelope. The party opened it and was pleased with the results.
When it came time to distribute the treasure, however, the 6th level illusionist made an impassioned plea for treasure and experience. The illusionist has been hopelessly short of experience since the invention of my experience system - and in case you haven't run an illusionist in it, let me explain.
Illusionist's don't have a lot of spells that cause hit points of damage, so they don't generally get much experience from combat spells. Their spells also highly depend upon creatures "with eyes," as the illusionist often complains about - and dungeons, sorry to say, tend to be fairly short on creatures with eyes. Those with eyes tend to be blind or much more dependent on hearing or smell in finding their prey. So the illusionist, who has been casting spells through the adventure, has been somewhat less effective than he would have been in a city or outdoor campaign.
Because the battles have been one after another after another, with little time to rest, regain spells and so on, the illusionist has also suffered from not getting recharged. And because the needed experience for 7th level is 60,000, the illusionist has just had a bitch getting there with the 200 to 300 experience a night. He's been short on hit points since forever, can no longer rush in and take a hit and gain any ... so basically he's been throwing darts and watching others get the glory.
At the end of Saturday's running, the illusionist was 4,500 x.p. from levelling. The treasure was going to give around 2,700 per party ... but the party, in the spirit of generousity, offered the two largest magic items to the illusionist - the rod of resurrection (which I have always allowed any class to use, not just clerics), and the scroll of protection against undead (I rule any spellcaster can use a protection scroll).
The logic was, let the illusionist go up, the illusionist will gain all his spells back. But it was still a give of tremendous generousity - the illusionist gained 5,000 experience, compensating for the great disparity between he and the party's gain ... and no one in the party pissed and moaned about it.
Here's a fact about D&D that many people don't seem to quite get. Between "rules" that stop players from fighting players, which I have only in the sense that I'd rather you'd leave my table if you want to play that way, the game truly works best when players don't act like squabbling children, but as a unit towards creating the strongest possible party for the strongest possible defensive and offensive capacity. We hear so very, very much about the desires of individual players to be individual assholes ... there isn't enough said about parties that play together as friends IN THE GAME.
It is the reason why some DM's can't keep a group of players, and why some people can. The DM is one of those friends, too. Maybe I will kill characters with a cone of cold. I might have killed the whole party - it was close for them, getting rid of that ogre mage. But I also remember they were my friends, and I sealed the envelope in their favor.
It isn't enough to say, I'm a DM so fuck you, and if you're my friend you'll understand. As a DM, I have a responsibility and a desire to take care of my players. And as players, they have a responsibility and a desire to take care of each other.
Don't EVER play with people who don't think this way.