Hunter’s Dreams – The Nexus’ Needs

This is more work on Hunter’s Dream, a 4th Edition D&D-compatible mod made to enable a Bloodborne style of game, where players take on the role of hunters, who have to first research their prey before going out to the tactical combat stage of things where players get to have cool fights with werewolves and whatnot.

One of the funny things about this game design process so far is that one of the biggest ‘new’ systems the game includes is going to be building hutns, where players get to interact with some more board-gamey elements. And as with almost all big things, it’s easier to instead peck around the outside, to work with the smaller things, until you get to the bigger thing. There’s value to that, though, especially because when you’re aware of what your small systems can do, you can use them to adjust the bigger, more complicated ones.

With that in mind, let’s talk about a thing that gives the games a rules patch: The Nexus.

Okay, the purpose of the Nexus is to be a sort of ‘group sheet’ that represents the commonality of the adventurers. Imagine a party sheet, or a gang sheet in Blades in the Dark. This is a sheet that represents stuff that the whole party has access to, and I want to use that to try and address three basic problems.

First problem is access to gear. There’s stuff in D&D 4th edition that makes sense in its general world but doesn’t necessarily fit every variant you can make. One example is the economy. In most 4th Ed D&D, the economies don’t make sense as you approach them, because they’re kind of not meant to. In the game, the conversation about how economies work are all swept under a rug. Back in third edition D&D there were attempts to make trade based on the scale of cities and talk about money in terms of day labourer’s wages, and that stuff is more setting information that was entwined around the mechanics.

See, if you know a +1 sword costs 2,000 gp, the immediate question that implies is: What is 1 gp worth? Is this like yen, where 2,000 could compare to a home-delivered pizza? Is it like the pound sterling, where 2,000 can be about three months’ worth of rent? Is it like a in 3.5, where 1 gp represents ten days’ wages for a hireling, or to translate that into rough Australian values, around 2,000 dollars, and therefore that 2,000 gp sword represents about four million dollars?

4th edition D&D doesn’t really nail that down, and one of the details it goes for in the late game is to turn the cash value of equipment into a raw material for the process of other materials – things that don’t have a lot of material value to common traders, but are valuable to people who manufacture magic items, and that means ten swords may become one piece of armour, then that piece of armour may become two swords and a pair of boots, and all this system is just constantly eating and churning magical items and there’s this specialised class of crafters who are able to turn ‘player effort’ into things without necessarily translating into a player wandering around with an actual country’s economy stuck to their butt.

Okay, so we need a way to handle the equipment system without turning it into a magic store. At the same time, magic items are a big part of how a player customises how their character works, their powers, the way their powers and their feats and weapons all interact – it’s not something you can cut out without impoverishing a lot of player options, and those player options are often really interesting! What’s more, in the style of game like a Hunter’s Dream game wants to evoke, these characters are often defined by having cool gear and neat toys – pump-action stake-guns and swords that do cool things, like the aforementioned trick weapons. It stands to reason, doesn’t it?

That’s problem one: Gear distribution. Good news, is that there’s a good, solid, in-universe lore reason for how Hunters get their gear, and that’s making it yourself. Which means that instead of GP values resulting in purchasing power, heroes can return to the Nexus, and they can have ongoing crafting projects of upgrading or testing their equipment. This would want some sort of careful packaging and balancing – but fortunately, the GP system exists and I can just give the breakdown and provide that math. Easy peasy. I also can limit the number of default, present magical items in the rulebook, giving standard references to give an idea of the ‘typical’ magical items avaialble, which are important to make sure that players aren’t overwhelmed with the most ridiculous burden of gear in normal D&D.

That might need some careful examination for legal purposes, mind you.

Okay, that means we need a place for players to make things for themselves. That seems to exist on a different pace for the rest of the adventures and combat. That’s need number one.

Next up, there’s a bit of rules bridging, a bit of a patch for the game as designed. See, in D&D 4th Edition the monster math is built around – generally – players having a tohit that’s this high and defenses that are that high. Players’ tohit and defenses increase naturally over time, too, but they do it at a different rate, and this is good, because it means the areas a player doesn’t focus, the player gets remarkably weak. The problem comes that as you pass certain level thresholds, that smoothly scaling monster math and the smoothly scaling player math disconnects.

The solution the game uses is to pick up certain feats that rebalance the math a little – even just little +2 to a defence, +1 to a tohit, so that you just keep pace with the natural depletion of your progression versus the monster progression. This is not an inherent ill – it can mean that a player has to make choices about when they take those feats, or if they take those feats, and what the possible trade-off is. The problem is, as you level up, hitting becomes so important that even a 5% increased chance to hit represents an enormous return on the investment of a single feat, and those feats come so easily and you wind up with so many, skipping these feats is unwise.

The result then is these feats are just perfectly balanced to be too valuable to skip, and yet they occupy the space for interesting choices. But at the same time, they are part of the game math.

Now, I want to offload these feat taxes to a common space; if everyone in the party has the same feats of a small collection, then making it so those feats are a group purchase makes makes me wonder why I don’t make those feats part of a pool of ‘necessary’ feats that the group chooses to take that represent the group’s growing together, a commonality.

Finally, there’s the question of tone. One idea I like about Hunter’s Dream is that the players get to have things that they have common investment in. Stitching a party together in conventional D&D can be seen as a tricky thing. It’s not that hard honestly – you need to get the players to have a common purpose and motivation and then get them to like each other, which is usually pretty easy if your players realise that everyone at the table is there to play together. That said, I do love the idea of giving the players a big, complicated part of the world – their workshop, their base, their network of spies and informants and laborers – and tell them that what they’ve got has its boundaries defined, so anything they want to do within those boundaries works.

Okay, that’s what our Nexus mechanic needs. It needs workshop and gear mechanics; it needs feat slots; and it needs a way to encourage the players to keep adding to it but to do so together.