Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Bard Drinking Game

I've never been happy with the intoxication table in the DMG (p.82).  It is a classic example of fuzzy game design, put in the book to give the semblance of some thought on the subject with no practical usefulness.  To begin with, the rules make no distinction between slight, moderate or great intoxication; nor any rules on how any might be achieved.

The table gives a rule for effects on "bravery," a stat that has no statistical application to any defined trait possessed by characters.  There is a d8 roll on p.101 that enables the DM to give fuzzy bravery attributes to NPCs ("normal," "foolhardy," "brave," "fearless," "cowardly" and "craven"); but since these are mixed up and the intoxication table offers a +1, what is this supposed to refer to?

Great intoxication is so debilitating that of course no player seeks to be there unless they can't wait to die in the campaign (or there's an implied house rule that greatly intoxicated characters are funny and therefore should be allowed to stumble around town with euphoric immunity).  Strong stimulants have a 5% chance of permanently lowering the character's constitution by 1 point permanently, ensuring that only the stupidest of all possible players would play the card, since it gives zero real benefits (no morality there, uh uh!).

Since the matter came up in my game last Saturday, with the party finding various caches of sealed drink in the adventure, it has been in the back of my mind.  Then I had an interesting thought, one that has led to the title of this post.

First, let's rebuild the intoxication table:

I'll leave the making of a drugs table
for another day.

Most of these are straight forward.  Morale is covered by my wiki; obviously it has no effects upon player characters.

Stranger for some is the potentially massive increase in hit points.  I like the idea of a character truly feeling immune to pain and having the wherewithal to withstand a combat, despite their reduced hitting ability.  Of course, if a 7th level fighter is willing to accept the same THAC0 that was once had at 4th, that's not much of a penalty.

Those who dispute the hit point gain will be unfamiliar with my HP/BU formula for the way that hit points work.  Effectively, intoxication simply puts more hit points in between the number of body units that players possess.  Of course, a very strong argument could be made for players suffering an injury that would be felt afterwards for a long time . . . but these are rules that work in my game because I have carefully built up a structure for what really happens when hit points are lost or when legs and arms break.  Following the links on this post will serve as an outline - but I imagine only a few will consider adopting such ideas.  I think they work for my world, if only because it allows a party to survive one more combat past their ordinary hit points and healing potential (a sort of 4th edition surge with payback after the fact).

None of this thinking would have happened this morning, however, if it hadn't been for a thought process I had about the bard class.

Just now I have a bard in my campaign that is on the verge of getting a 4th level spell - the character's first spell of this level.  I have done no work on bard spells above the 3rd level and so I am on the hook for putting together a list before the character levels.  For me, this means finally getting around to putting the bard up on the wiki, something I started yesterday after a whirlwind effort to write 6,000 words of my book (I'm in the second act now).

I came to the page where I account for how bards get spells.  Truth is, the word 'spell' is one of convenience.  What a bard does in my world is a manipulation of magic, but it is a manipulation accomplished through creativity and inspiration.  The bard consigns the actual magic to a muse, who intervenes in the moment to produce the effect the bard desires; the muse in turn is motivated to take action through the bard's artistic expression.  It is similar to the way that a cleric casts a 'spell' by asking the god to do something, then enjoys the god's grace by seeing a creature healed or cursed or otherwise affected.  With a cleric, it is religious; with a bard, it is aesthetic.

When I wrote the page on illusionist spell use and acquisition, I provided a detailed account of how the spellcaster's magical process worked.  It was something I planned to copy at a later point into the clerical, druidical and magical pages for the wiki as well.  Just now, in the midst of working on the bard, I realized I needed something distinctly different for the bard than simply 'memorizing' a spell. Bards don't memorize, they don't have spell books and they don't study old work.  The creative process is about creating new things - so the restoring process for bardic magic must reflect the bard's crafty nature.

How does a bard - or any artist - become inspired?  Ah, some readers will have made the leap.  If an artist can't make inspiration happen by digging in and working at the problem from every other angle, an artist will drink.  Intoxication frees the mind and improves the imagination; it enables perspective, breaks down the brain's tendency to frame things in rigid lines and promotes lateral thinking.  Or so I am told.  I personally drink occasionally but I am never drunk.  I don't like the effect - but it is undeniable that many artists drink daily to produce the associative thought processes they adore.

Imagine, then, that the bard does regain their spells through my process - patient innovation and trial-oriented experimentation, where I rise every day and write, then write some more, then end the day with writing, thus turning out long posts like this one before going off to write my book (oh, and harassing readers for donations while pitching for some kind of day job that will keep me and my partner fed).  Bards don't get many spells, however . . . and there is a way to fix that.

Suppose that a bard doesn't have to sleep to recover a spell.  Suppose instead that a bard that has cast a spell can turn to the bottle to restore that spell.

My game has six spell levels for bards.  This is nicely arranged for the intoxication table above.  I can see an intoxication/spell acquisition rule working like this:
  • A bard casts a 1st or 2nd level spell and wants that spell back; by drinking to become flushed (the equivalent to just enough drinks to make a driving test iffy), the bard can restore a single 1st or 2nd level spell (the bard's choice).  Not one of each level, but one from among the total number of 1st and 2nd level spells the bard has.
  • The bard has also cast a 3rd or 4th level spell and wants that spell back, as well; the bard drinks more, until tight (the point where you feel you can pull yourself together to fool your mom or the police officer, when its obvious you can no longer focus).  The bard can then restore a single 3rd or 4th level spell.
  • Finally, the bard has cast a 5th or a 6th level spell.  The bard keeps drinking, until smashed (no longer able to remotely pretend you're not horribly drunk).  The bard can then restore a single 5th or 6th level spell.
In total, in this manner, three spells can be restored.  It means bards will have to seriously debilitate themselves to achieve the benefit, even risking injury the next day, but it will also greatly reduce the potential power a bard can have while differentiating the class greatly.

Note than on the intoxication table above that there is an asterix (*) next to charisma.  That is to indicate that bards are not affected by those penalties.  Bards remain exactly as charismatic as they are, regardless (others may wish to grant a +1 bonus to bards who are sloppy drunk, but I decline to do so).

All I have to do now is figure out some sort of rules comparing amounts drunk to constitution to determine how many drinks it takes to hit each level of intoxication.


Tim said...

Brilliant. This adds a wonderful flavour to the bard.
I assume other drugs could conceivably be used for similar purposes? A bard could use opiates for instance. I wonder how the rules would differ: maybe some spells could even be affected by how you intoxicate yourself.

Beyond that, you'd probably want a way for bards to recover should they find themselves in the frightening experience of having no booze left. Sounds a bit like you basically have that: seek out inspiration by studying just about anything to achieve some kind of creative epiphany.

Maxwell Joslyn said...

I'm feeling it. Gathering my hirelings and getting them all tipsy before battle is a great mental image. Coming out with a little bonus HP and morale for all of them in the bargain? Too fun.

Maxwell Joslyn said...

I love this! I don't have a bard class in my world but if/when I do, I'll incorporate this for sure!

Jonathan said...

As a long time lover of both the bard concept and intoxication, I find this quite neat.