User:Tarkisflux/Rants/Damage as a Status Condition
In trying to work up a list of conditions that are appropriate for various levels and balance ranges (see my comments on Aarnott's proposal), I ran into the problem of trying to fit damage into such a framework. It's also been a concern in side projects of mine. So I tried to look at it through the lens of things that are easier to place into a framework, conditions. The dazzled condition is weak, but the dead condition is pretty awesome.
Since stabbing a dude is just trying to make him dead in a less direct way than casting [Death] stuff at him, it seemed reasonable to write them up along similar lines. So I tried to map damage onto the big list of conditions, and came up with a few groupings that can be put together to get a different look at damage.
Damage can be broken up into two different identifier sets:
Number of Types
- Single Type: X
- Dual Type: X and Y
- Untyped (or Unresistable like Force)
There's support for Single and Dual Types in the DR entries of creatures. There's not really support for Triple Types or greater, so I went with Untyped instead to round things out. Triple would be basically unresistable anyway.
- 0-20% Max HP
- 20-60% Max HP
- 60-100% Max HP
- 100-150% Max HP
These breakdowns are not going to be justified, and they could easily be replaced with others. The idea is simple enough though, damage can come in chunks so small you don't care or so large that it might as well be a [Death] effect.
Rider effects are excluded, because they're basically a second condition on top of the damage condition. That includes effects that are 50% X damage and 50% Y damage, since they're basically two different smaller than the total damage conditions.
Number of targets is also excluded, since that applies to all conditions equally and doesn't help us with damage at all.
And This Does What?
So, if these breakdowns (or similar ones) hold, we've got about 12 different categories of damage including things like piddly shit single type or near dead unyped. And we can categorize those in a big damn table and then look at where abilities fall when we're sorting their balance.
For a lot of these, like Fireball, it's pretty easy to categorize. It's a single type moderate damage long range AoE (where these last two get their own breakdowns) ability. We can compare the level that it comes online for a given class or feat to our big damn balance table and read off where it's supposed to be. For abilities that grant multiple potential damage opportunities in a round (like Full Attack), we can take an average over all of the attacks take a look at where the damage types and totals fall. What goes into those damage numbers is an argument I don't want to have because it's all gear dependent, but it looks entirely solvable for some given set of gear and optimization assumptions.
Ok, so while this has implications for balance design, it also has implications for ability design. Fireball, for example, doesn't stay in the same damage category as you level up. It gets worse. Part of this is because of the scaling cap and part of it is because of hit point inflation. At some level though, it stops being as good as it was despite your enemies not acquiring some new defense against it. This doesn't happen if you're throwing around Blinds. Your enemies might pick up some immunities or workarounds, but the spells don't get worse even if they don't. The scaling structure of damage makes it the only thing that fails to consistently keep up with enemies.
So what if we changed the scaling? What if instead of scaling in the spell itself, damage scaled with damage type of spell and CL? If Fireball is supposed to be a moderate damage single type, we can just let it deal moderate damage against enemies from level 1-20. And lightning bolt deals the same amount of damage. And so does cone of cold, despite being two levels higher (it should include rider effects or be larger in area or whatever to make up for that level difference). That sort of things requires a bit of hit point standardization, but it keeps damage spells and effects as relevant as the non-damage spells and effects you got at the same time, even long after you've acquired them.
Just to be clear, I'm proposing eliminating the spell level tie to damage of a spell, and making it entirely dependent on the intended category of damage and your caster level. A level 9 minor damage spell and a level 1 minor damage spell would deal the same damage at level 20, and it would be around 10% of the expected maximum hit points of your foes (whatever that works out to be). Damage becomes kind of like ranges are now, something you look up based on descriptor and caster level. Other things, like dual type damage or more targets or other rider effects would need to make up the differences in spell levels. Does this sound like the sort of thing that would help bring direct damage spells back into usefulness?