Health, Stealth, and the Home Stretch

There’s less than 24 hours to go on the kickstarter for my Five Moons RPG! Time for some game design discussion.


If you looked at the Example of Play blog post, you saw that the prototype warrior character has 6 Health, and the prototype wizard and rogue have 4 Health. And in the video, the orc opponents have 10 Health. There are several things going on here.

1) First-level characters in Five Moons RPG are basically apprentices. To make a Harry Potter analogy, they’re probably third-year students at their school; they know enough to get into trouble and face off against some dangerous opponents, but aren’t “graduated” fully-trained members of their profession (which is about 3rd level in game terms, comparable to a 1st-level 3E/PF character).

2) That means they’re still pretty fragile.

3) However, it sucks to play a character who goes unconscious or dies with a typical hit. And you don’t want low-level character to only be able to fight rats and angry dogs (creatures that can only deal 1–2 points of damage on a typical hit).

4) The warrior was the first prototype character I built with the most recent version of stats, and 6 Health isn’t bad for an apprentice sort of character… but the other two characters (created later) really suffer by comparison because it’s reasonable for them to have less Health than the warrior.

5a) I didn’t want to boost the Health of the prototype wizard and rogue and not change the prototype warrior as well, as I didn’t want it to look like the warrior was getting hosed (yet again).

5b) However, changing the warrior’s Health after the fact would be confusing (“Didn’t she used to have 6 Health?”).

6) So I proceeded with the (low) values for the wizard and rogue, knowing that the Example of Play was a scripted scenario that I could control, and none of the characters would actually die.

7) I also wanted the Example of Play scenario to show what the PCs could accomplish when they didn’t need to spend boosts, when they could spend boosts for extra effects, and when they had to spend boosts to keep themselves alive. For that purpose, having the PCs have low starting Health values worked, as the orc encounter was very difficult for them.

8) The Example of Play is not intended to show the expected danger level of a typical game.

9) Overall, starting at 1st level, Health numbers will get a boost before the Five Moons playtest.

Rogue Stealth


The Stealth rules in 3E/PF are a weird thing, mainly in that they don’t actually allow a character to use Stealth. Here’s why:

1) There’s no “facing” for a character in the game. It doesn’t track what your front and back are, so there is no “behind” you. All creatures are treated as if they can and are looking in any direction at any particular moment.

2) This means they’re observing their surroundings in 360 degrees at all times, including creatures within those surroundings.

3) Because you can’t use Stealth if you’re being observed, any creature who has an unobstructed line of sight to you means you can’t use Stealth: they’re automatically observing you.

4) So the only way to sneak up on someone is with cover, like being around a corner, or with concealment, like being in darkness or fog.

So, under most circumstances, you can’t use stealth to sneak up on someone.

Fortunately, Five Moons RPG is a new game, and doesn’t have to abide by strict interpretations of the 3E or PF rules.

(The following assumes a humanoid creature, of course.)

(And to make this discussion easier, let’s use “rogue” to mean “creature trying to use stealth,” and use “sentry” to mean “creature the rogue is trying to sneak up on.”)

(And this uses PF terminology, as that’s what you’re familiar with.)

The first step is to realize that all sentries are not constantly whirling in all directions so they can observe in all directions at all times. You don’t have to assign a “front” or “back” to a sentry for this to work, you just have to acknowledge that sentries do indeed have fronts and backs (or at least eyes on the front of the head, and no eyes on the back).

And unless that sentry is an automaton fixated on a single spot (like “the end of the one hallway leading up to my guard station”), that sentry is going to spend some of its time looking to the left or right, blinking, tying its shoes, and otherwise not looking exactly in the direction of the rogue.

So, unless the sentry has a very good reason to be looking exactly where the rogue is standing when the rogue comes into view, the sentry is not automatically observing the rogue.

This means the rogue can attempt a Stealth check against the sentry, even if there is open space between the rogue and the sentry.

  • If the sentry wins, the sentry happened to look in the direction of the rogue, and the rogue is observed, which means no stealth.
  • If the rogue wins, the rogue managed to time it so the sentry wasn’t looking in the right direction, and the rogue is still unobserved, which means stealth is working.

By discarding the “whirling observer” premise, you allow Stealth to work. And you still don’t have to specify which direction the sentry is looking, other than “not where the rogue is.” This allows a sneaky rogue to creep up next to, behind, or past the sentry without being observed… just like you can do in real life by taking advantage of the sentry being distracted or facing the wrong way.

A more detailed discussion of this will be in the Five Moons RPG playtest; for now, I just wanted you to know that the game’s stealth rules will actually allow you to use stealth.

(And it of course assumes the rogue is trying to be stealthy. If the rogue isn’t trying to be stealthy, you skip all of this stuff and the sentry can automatically observe the rogue.)


15 thoughts on “Health, Stealth, and the Home Stretch

  1. You guys use a lot more open meaning of “being observed”. I always played that the being observed was when you could not hide, but if you where already hiding and unless like you said in the above the sentry only observes you if he has a good reason to see you. (e.i. if he beat your stealth check with his perception, if someone warns him that you are there, etc, etc).


    • Unfortunately, that’s not how the PF rule works. Paizo actually wrote a blog about revising Stealth, and did a playtest on it, and ended up making (entirely different) changes to the Stealth rules, all because the “if you don’t have cover or concealment, you are being observed” rule. :/


  2. Thank you Sean for taking the time to make mention of this, the pathfinder rules for stealth have ALWAYS been a thing of spite to me as my favourite class from 2nd onwards has been the dashing rogue who now thanks to several archetypes / new classes are useless as a base class. When I tried to ask about why stealth failed in paizo I was rebutted by countless fanboys and lost hope quickly, to see a game such as yours make a simple change that redefines stealth and brings it back makes a huge difference to me and Im truly grateful for it.


  3. “9) Overall, starting at 1st level, Health numbers will get a boost before the Five Moons playtest.

    Understandable that others wouldn’t have the context, thus the explanation, but I was really hoping when you got to the point at hand, you’d have an idea of a new model for HP in mind. Currently it looks like the Warriors 5HP/lv seems to scale well enough, CON in regards to it takes it as a strong, but decent pace. I imagine ye could make that the base for everyone else, and possibly just give the warrior a superior HP progression (be that 6 or 7/level). For low level survivability, I’d imagine ye want to make sure PC’s have double digit HP, so possibly double their base HP (5/lv =10), or a 10+CON at 1st, X/level every other. Many ways to go about it yeah, I imagine be easier to commit to numbers once got an idea of Monster capabilities at given levels (similar for the PC’s), though I assume you’ve a strong idea of those already.

    Not saying ye need it, but I remembered this and found it nifty the double-digit starting HP notion was in there (second set of Bulletin points what I’m referring to)

    “more detailed discussion of this will be in the Five Moons RPG playtest”
    I look forward to this information, for now I will ponder if there’s anything I’m leaving out, sounds fine, and basically like an opposed roll, or “Passive Perception” DC type thing (Stealth vs. Perception take-10 or roll).


    • I’ve had mixed experiences with having passive perception be a take-10 roll for Perception. It encourages you to NOT take active Perception checks because you’re 50% likely to do worse than if you took 10.


      • In my games, an active roll gets you more detail than a passive roll. And there are some things you simply can’t see with a passive roll.


  4. Sean, any advice for group stealth/group observer situations? Do you roll everybody on both sides? Do you roll just the best observer and lowest stealth? Something else?


  5. For stealth, you could still ignore facing and simply state that initiating Steath requires Cover and/or Concealment, but maintaining stealth requires successful stealth checks, with various levels of penalties based on what the sentry is doing. This puts a bit of narrative control on the players side as they don’t have to wait until the DM decides the sentry is looking elsewhere… the stealth roll determines that.

    This merges well with the various ‘hide in plain sight’ abilities as those abilities would simply lower the penalties based on the sentry and allow initiating Stealth without cover {Ideally with the full penalty.. hide in plain sight shouldn’t be magic invisibility, IMHO}

    I hope this is the way you are headed, but please ensure that the penalties ramp up pretty significantly the more ‘in your face’ the rogue gets. It should be pretty hard to sneak up to someone who is in melee combat.


  6. Wait, this isn’t how you’re supposed to run stealth in Pathfinder? I’d say this is how I always ran stealth in my games, but the PCs in my campaign are as perceptive as a beholder and as stealthy as a train full of screaming macaws. I seen you touch on this several times, but my biggest pet peeve with many games (not just 3.5e/PF) is that many rulebooks don’t actually teach you how to use or run the mechanics. This seems obvious in the trap section of PF’s CRB, which provides a large set of rules for crafting and designing traps, explaining how they work and the different categories, but not actually explaining how a GM is supposed to run a trap encounter.

    As for health, that raises a question. How do dying rules work? That might dramatically change the impact of the low health values. I personally never liked any of the dying rules in PF and any edition of D&D. Dying rules strike me as an opportunity to make the game feel dramatic, but all they do is take one player out of the game. At higher levels, the rule rarely comes up as most mortal hits will simply kill you. Something like Justin Alexander’s variant rules* or something like Left 4 Dead where a dying character can perform limited actions. In addition to heroic drama and increased design space, this would enable additional gameplay possibilities. Should a dying character focus on staying alive? Should he keep fighting at a distance to try to end the fight? Should he put his own life at risk to help an ally? Should he fake his death to deter enemies from finishing him off (which might play well into the stealth rules)?

    I bumped up my pledge. I look forward to hearing more!


    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Sneaking, Class Skills | Five Moons RPG

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