D&D: The Spent Condition

In my blog “Acting to Exhaustion” I played around with the idea of using levels of exhaustion in Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition as an additional resource for limited-use abilities, those that reset following a short or long rest. That got me thinking about about resource management in relationship to rests, and a character’s condition being “spent” in terms of those resources, differentiated from mere exhaustion. Essentially:

Spent

  • A spent creature has no use of abilities that recover following a short or long rest.
  • The condition ends if the creature completes a long rest.

Spent is a condition that can be achieved simply by using up all of a character’s limited use abilities, but it may also be imposed by some conditions or effects. Other effects may also lead characters to becoming spent if they deny them the benefits of completing a rest. Without the opportunity to rest, characters eventually use up their abilities and are spent.

The spent condition strips characters down to their essential at-will or constant abilities. It definitely places them under duress, but can be used to reflect characters who have been imprisoned, tortured, or otherwise debilitated to the point where they are spent and need time to recover in order to use their abilities.

For example, in the drow prison of Velkynvelve in Out of the Abyss, characters might be spent as a result of their treatment at the hands of their captors, who prevent them from completing a long rest so they cannot remove the condition. They have to rely largely on their wits and most basic abilities in order to escape. The same might be true of a crew of characters who survive a shipwreck or other disaster: Initially, they are spent, and their challenge is finding the time and opportunity to complete the long rest needed to eliminate that condition.

Note that spent differs from exhaustion and characters can have either condition separately or both together. A spent character might still be perfectly capable otherwise (no exhaustion) but they just don’t have the resources (physical, mental, or mystical) for some of their abilities. An exhausted character may likewise still be able to draw upon their limited use abilities, if they are not spent.

This condition combines in interesting ways with the Acting to Exhaustion option: A spent character’s only means of using their limited-use abilities is by taking levels of exhaustion, giving them a small pool of uses at a cost. In this case, the DM may want to consider adding “with no more than 1 level of exhaustion” to the recovery requirement for spent, meaning characters trade-off extending their spent state (by taking on more exhaustion) for immediate additional uses of certain abilities.

Invigoration

The notion of a spent condition also suggests the possibility of “invigoration” effects that grant characters the benefits of a short or long rest without the need to actually rest. They can range from miraculous blessings and magical charms to a burst of determination or a surge of success. They offer Dungeon Masters a useful tool in managing the pacing and dramatic tension of an adventure: There might, for example, be a series of challenging encounters leading up to a climatic fight, and it’s less interesting if the characters camp-out for a good night’s rest on the villain’s doorstep, but also a less interesting encounter if they come to it nearly spent in terms of their various abilities. So the DM might “invigorate” the characters at the start of the final encounter, either providing a resource that does so, or just telling the players that their characters feel a rush of power and determination as they confront their final foe, letting them recover some or all of their limited use abilities.

D&D: Acting to Exhaustion

The fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons breaks abilities down into those usable at-will and those which recover their uses after a short or long rest. Naturally, the more powerful the ability, the less frequently characters can use it. A part of game-play is resources management: Should you use your big long rest ability now or wait until a more opportune moment? Do you know when the next opportunity for a short rest will come, or is the next encounter arriving on the heels of the current one, without a break in between?

Ordinarily, if a character is out of uses of an ability that’s it. It is no longer available to them until they have completed the necessary rest. However, there are times when it may be dramatically appropriate for characters to push their abilities beyond their normal limits, when they really need the use of an ability they’ve already expended. Fortunately, the fifth edition system offers a useful resource in that regard: Exhaustion.

Detailed in appendix A: Conditions of the Player’s Handbook, exhaustion is a condition that measures increasing levels of fatigue as characters expend their physical and mental resources. Each level of exhaustion imposes increasing penalties on the character, and finishing a long rest reduces a character’s exhaustion level by 1, conveniently making a level of exhaustion roughly equal to a long rest in “value.” This sets up the potential for the following variant:

Exertion. You draw on inner reserves of strength and determination to accomplish something. As a bonus action, gain 1 level of exhaustion, and choose from either gaining advantage on your next ability check, attack test, or saving throw, or regaining one use of an ability regained by completing a short or long rest. You do not gain any of the other benefits of rest from exertion.

One use of exertion is largely “free” as the character will remove the level of exhaustion after completing their next long rest, although they’ll have to deal with disadvantage on ability checks until then. Uses beyond the first have diminishing returns, since the exhaustion will take multiple long rests to recover. By level 5 exhaustion, the character is spent, speed reduced to 0 and unable to do much more than collapse against something and rest. Exertion past that point to level 6 means death, although the GM should consider delaying that penalty until the end of the character’s turn, allowing them one last glorious effort.

Exertion and Spell Slots. Exertion specifies “one use” of an ability that recovers after resting. This is incompatible with the recovery of spell slots, all of which recover from a long rest. On the other hand, recovering just one spell slot seems a poor trade-off for a level of exhaustion, so it’s recommended that spellcasters be allowed to recover up to half their class level (rounded down) in spell slots from exertion, with no spell slot greater than 6th level, or recover a single spell slot of 7th level or greater at a cost of 1 level of exhaustion for a 7th-level slot, 2 levels for an 8th-level slot, and 3 levels for a 9th-level slot. This is a version of the Natural Recovery and Arcane Recovery abilities of druids and wizards, respectively, but available to any spell-casting character through exertion (whereas wizards and circle of the land druids can still use it simply by taking a short rest).

Game Masters can fine-tune the requirements of exertion to suit the game, possibly increasing its cost to 2 levels of exhaustion per use, rather than 1, effectively limiting it to two uses (since a third would be 6 levels of exhaustion and death) and eliminating the “free” aspect of one use, since it would take a minimum of two long rests to fully recover from a use of exertion. An even more limited version would require the character to have inspiration in order to use exertion: They expend their inspiration and immediately regain one use of an ability that recovers after a short or long rest. In this case, the GM may or may not also require that the character gain a level of exhaustion. See Acting on Inspiration for more on this notion.

Icons AE out-of-stock at Green Ronin

Icons Superpowered Roleplaying: The Assembled Edition is currently out-of-stock and unavailable from greenroninstore.com. Interested parties can still get the Assembled Edition book, and all other Icons products, from DriveThruRPG, as usual. The Assembled Edition is available there in both softcover and hardcover editions, and comes with a free pdf edition, character sheet, short sample adventure (“Grudge Match”), blank character figure silhouettes, and an add-on index.

Re: Animated • Avengers Retrospective

 

Ten years ago today, the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes animated series premiered. It was just the start of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, but “EMH” (for short) packed a lot into its two seasons, before the Marvel/Disney juggernaut took plans for animated series and content in a different direction.

A little less than ten years ago, I also started reviewing episodes of Avengers with an eye towards superhero roleplaying games and game design. In recognition of the 10th anniversary of one of my favorite animated series, I wanted to share those reviews of the complete first season of Re: Animated • Avengers. I hope you enjoy and … Avengers Assemble!

Icons Menagerie

A Creature Collection of Iconic Beasts!

Icons Menagerie provides a collection of beasts, creatures, monsters, and foes for use with Icons Superpowered Roleplaying, giving you a ready-made resource for your games. It includes:

  • Creatures! Dozens of creatures defined in Icons game stats, from ordinary animals to prehistoric beasts and dinosaurs to fantastic and speculature creatures, all ready to use. 
  • Creature Creation! Information on how to create your own creatures for your games, along with expanded details on creature abilities, from size to attributes and powers.
  • Animal Powers! A look at unusual creature powers for animal-themed heroes, including options for the Animal Mimicry power for those who draw upon the abilities of the Animal Kingdom. 
  • Fearsome Foes! Use the creatures from this book as minions, models for animal-based powers and abilties, or foes in their own right, such as the Demon Lord or the Vampire.

Icons Menagerie also offers creature overlays, letting you quickly and easily modify the game abilities given here to create robotic, undead, or spirit versions of these creatures (to name just a few). They turn this into a potential source for hundreds of creatures for your Icons games!

Available now on DriveThruRPG!

Christmas in July Sale!

It’s the annual Christmas in July sale over at DriveThruRPG where you can get Icons Superpowered Roleplaying products for 25% off, a great opportunity to pick up those books and adventures you’ve had your eye on, get the most recent releases, or fill those holes in your collection! That includes all print-on-demand and third party products as well. Your support of Icons and Ad Infinitum Adventures (and small-press gaming in general) is greatly appreciated at this time.

Black Lives Matter Charity Bundles

DriveThruRPG is hosting a set of Black Lives Matter Charity Bundles supporting the cause of racial justice and benefitting Black Lives Matter, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the National Police Accountability Project. Icons Origins is included in NPAP Bundle 1.

There is also a massive fundraiser bundle over at itch.io — over 1,000 products for just $5! This is a mix of video games and tabletop games, but a tremendous bargain, regardless of your interests.

If you have the means, please consider supporting these worthy causes through purchases of these bundles: get some great games while also doing some good for racial justice and equality.

Polar Vortex

It’s a Cold Time in the Old Town Tonight!

The Cold War returns, with a vengeance! Why are Soviet-era supervillains Tungusk and Arsenal (one of them believed to be dead) trying to steal from the heroes’ headquarters, and why is former heroic sidekick Kassie Kelvin helping them? Who or what is the Ghost Chapter and what do they want? Can the heroes find out and put a stop to things before the city is blanketed in an eternal winter, or will they be draw into the Polar Vortex?

Polar Vortex is s sequel to Cold War Conundrum and the exciting first chapter of the Fall of the Phalanx series, but can also be played as a stand-alone adventure.

Available now on DriveThruRPG!

The Ol’ One-Two: Icons Fights

A new Icons GM inquired: How do I make villains enough of a challenge for the heroes? I put two villains up against them and they each got taken out in one hit!

As said GM noted, Icons is meant to be a fast-paced, fast-playing game, but not necessarily that fast! In general, most characters should be able to take a couple of hits before dropping to 0 Stamina, although the definition of “a couple” can vary with the character and the attack. Still, that’s the reasoning why Stamina for the Average (3) person is 6, enough for two Average attacks.

There are a number of tips and tricks to consider when it comes to helping your Icons bad-guys hang in there a bit longer:

Defense: As they say, the best defense is not being there when the attack lands. Consider how effective your villains are at defending themselves (see Reactions in the Taking Action chapter of Icons). Keep in mind that equal attack and defense levels mean a 58% chance of a marginal success and a 42% chance of a moderate success. Just a 2-level shift in the defender’s favor means a 28% chance of a marginal success and just a 16% chance of a moderate, and only a 2% chance of a major success. Since the heroes have and get Determination Points, there’s nothing wrong with initially putting things a bit in the villains’ favor. Also remember that the Defending action sacrifices a character’s panel for that +2 level shift in defenses.

Damage Resistance: A little Damage Resistance goes a long way. Even if a villain only has 1–3 levels of Resistance, that can blunt some of each attack, making it take one or more extra hits to take them down. A villain with a substantial amount of Damage Resistance can be much harder to take down, while bad guys like Troll (with Damage Resistance 9!) are nigh-invulnerable. Lots of villains may wear light body armor of the like to get a couple levels of Damage Resistance, and you can also Limit that resistance to, say, bashing or blasting (or slashing or shooting) damage.

Regeneration: Like Damage Resistance, Regeneration can allow a villain to recover Stamina more quickly to hang in a fight, especially if they are Defending for a page or two, avoiding getting hit, in order to bounce back.

Trouble: While villains do not have Determination Points like the heroes do, they can gain advantage (and any of its benefits) as trouble for the heroes! That includes a use of the Recover option to regain Stamina. Likewise, villains can also use Maneuvers and Tactics to activate qualities for advantage, including Recover, or Improved Effort for their defense. You don’t just have to use trouble to pump-up the villains, either. It might make a hero’s attack ineffective (Disability), cause a distraction (Challenge) or grant the villain some other advantage. Be creative!

Numbers: Try to pit a roughly even number of equally capable villains against the heroes, a larger number of less capable ones, or a smaller number of more powerful villains. If the bad guys are outnumbered, then they should definitely have some or even all of the advantages on this list to help make up for it! Otherwise, sheer numbers go against them if the heroes can attack, say, two or three times for every one of their panels. An added benefit of making a singular villain much better at evading? They also counter-attack when the heroes miss! (see Evading under Reactions in the Taking Action chapter of Icons) This is the sort of thing that happens when a group of heroes fight a ruthless Fantastic combatant and get their clocks cleaned without their foe even taking any extra panels!

Options

So that’s where you can start. If you want even more options, take a look at some of the material in Icons Presents, particularly the Minions & Masterminds chapter. It looks at minion rival, and mastermind status for villains, complete with special actions and options. One easy one to apply is:

Evening Odds: If the heroes outnumber the villains, divide the number of heroes by the number of villains to get an odds modifier, then adjust the villains as follows:

  • Stamina: Increase the villains’ Stamina by (50% x the odds modifier).
  • Fast Attack: Give each villain the Fast Attack power with a rank of (the odds modifier x 2) to a maximum of Supreme (10).

Example: A pair of villains are up against a team of five heroes! The GM divides five by two, getting an odds modifier of 2.5. Therefore, the Game Master increases both villains Stamina by (50% x 2.5) 125% and gives them each Fast Attack (2.5 x 2) 5, sufficient for another Good (5) attack action for each of them.

Other resources from Icons Presents may also be useful, including Fists of FurySituational Qualities, Taking Initiative, and Tell Me the Odds.