Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Triple X Depletion: A Unified Depletion System

Everyone else is writing good posts about depletion so here's my take on it.

Here are the expendable/depletable resources that adventurers rely on:

1. Food, water

2. Torches, lanterns

3. Arrows, sling stones, weapons?, armor?

Triple X

Whenever something gets depleted, put an X next to it.  After three Xs, it's gone.  This is pretty close to "each slot can hold a bundle of three rations" but is more unified and probably more elegant.

Food - Depletes when you eat lunch or sleep.  Replenishes when you buy more: 1 silver to remove 1 X.

Water - Depletes when you eat lunch or sleep.  Replenishes automatically when you are out of the dungeon, unless your DM tells you otherwise.  (It's assumed that water sources will be available, or at least, it isn't usually interesting to track down where the nearest creek is.)

Note: When you eat lunch, you can choose to mark off either food or water.  When you rest for the night, you need to mark off both.

Torches - Depletes according to the depletion die (rolled every 30 minutes in a dungeon).  Replenishes when you buy more: 1 silver to remove 1 X.

Lamps - Depletes according to the depletion die (rolled every 30 minutes in a dungeon).  Replenishes when you buy more: 50 silver to remove 1 X.

Note: For simplicity's sake, I'm just going to assume that all of the lamps are basically slow-burning molotovs, where the fuel container and the lamp are the same thing.  A lit lamp can be thrown just like a molotov.

Bow - After every combat in which you used arrows, flip a coin. On tails, your arrows deplete.  Replenishes when you buy more: 1 silver to remove 1 X.

Sling - Whenever you fire a sling stone, you gain a single depletion.  Replenishes whenever you have a moment to pick up some stones or stony debris.  (Basically as soon as combat ends, in your average dungeon.)

Melee Weapons - Whenever you roll a 1 or a 20 on an attack roll, a melee weapon gains an X (in addition to the other effects of the fumble).  It breaks when it gains the third X.  Replenishes whenever you stop by a blacksmith: 1 silver to remove 1 X.

Armor - Whenever you roll a critical fumble on a Defense roll, your armor gains an X (in addition to the other effects of the fumble).  When you gain 3 depletions, you lose two points of AC, erase all of the Xs, and your armor takes up one slot less.  (Basically, your plate just turned into chain.)

Simplified Armor

This is what I'm running with these days.

Leather - 1 slot, AC 12, swim automatically
Chain - 2 slots, AC 14, Str check to swim
Plate - 3 slots, AC 16, sink automatically, must be custom-made

Each character has a number of slots equal to Str.

You can also build your armor as a hodgepodge, from armor pieces.  Each regular armor piece gives you +1 AC, while well-fitted armor pieces can give you +2 (usually requires time and proper tools), up to a maximum of AC 15.  Only custom-made plate can give you AC 16.

Depletion Rolls

Every thirty minutes of dungeoneering, the DM rolls a d20.  On a 1-5, all light sources deplete.

Note: I've played around with more complicated versions of this.  6-10 used to be spell expiration, 11-15 used to be a morale challenge (e.g. hirelings get scared).  I might bring those back, but this seems sufficient for now.  Light is what I care about most.  (Although the morale challenges were interesting.)

(Brian Harbron write one that I liked, based on some Chris McDowall stuff.)

Encounter Rolls

While the DM rolls for depletion, the players roll for wandering monsters.  Basically, roll a d20:

1-3 - encounter
4-6 - tracks

Encumbered characters increase the chances of a wandering monster.  Rangers increase the chance of finding tracks.  A full explanation is detailed here.

More Rules

Whenever you use an item for a special use, it automatically depletes.  Using a sword to chop through a door, using water to put out a fire, dropping food to distract monsters, etc.

If you loot the arrows off a dead archer, your bow regains one depletion.

Magic arrows take up inventory spaces.  You can bundle them, though, as long as they're the same type.

Magic weapons and armor last twice as long, so one depletion gives an '\', while the second depletion turns it into an 'X'.  Magic weapons and armor can only be repaired by insane blacksmiths.  The price for repair is never money.

Shitty weapons and armor break instantly as soon as they gain their first X.  Scavenged weapons have 0-2 depletions when they are looted.

If you need to convert depletions into exact amounts for some reason, then assume that each X equals
  • A meal's worth of rations.
  • A pint of water.
  • 5 arrows.
  • 1 sling stone.
  • A torch (2 hr).
  • A pint of lamp oil (2 hr).
Attack Roll Fumbles

It is possible to deplete your weapons and armor by rolling fumbles on your Attack and Defense rolls, respectively.  That sword might break sooner than you think!

Here's what I'm running these days.

Critical fumbles represent a tactical misstep that gives an opening to an enemy.  When you roll a critical fumble, the most threatening adjacent foe takes advantage of it.  Yes, this means that is possible to fumble against a goblin and get whacked by the ogre adjacent (perhaps you turned your back on him, or stumbled).

Enemies have three basic options, and intelligent enemies will choose whichever one makes the most sense at the time.  Stupid enemies will behave more randomly.
  • Free Attack (by the most threatening adjacent opponent).
  • Free Combat Maneuver (such as tripping, disarming, etc).
  • Free Sunder Attempt (a type of combat maneuver).
If a weapon would gain a fourth depletion, it instead shatters into pieces.  

If you show up with a dragon-killing spear, expect the dragon to spend a turn biting that shit in half (assuming they don't just knock it out of your hand and then stand on it).

The number of depletions depends on the size and strength of your opponent.

Human (HD 1) = 1 depletion
Ogre (HD 4) = 2 depletions
Giant (HD 7) = 3 depletions (instantly breaking a brand-new weapon)

Regular weapons accumulate these depletions automatically, but magic weapons have a 3-in-6 chance of ignoring them.  Roll each separately.  (So if a dragon attempts to sunder your magic spear, roll four times, with each roll having a 3-in-6 chance of resulting in a depletion.)

Golems specialize in destroying weapons, and will always choose to sunder your weapon if you roll a fumble against them.  They are terrifyingly good at it.

Golem (HD 5) = 5 depletions

Special Weapons

This also opens the door to modulating weapons according to durability.

Chargale blades are made from a special type of clay that is baked for years (or decades).  They deal damage as a regular sword, but they will never break.

Crysmere blades deal damage as if they were a magic sword, but they have the durability of a regular sword.  They cannot be repaired.  You can cast spells (of any range) through crysmere weapons.  (Crysmere arrows are especially coveted for this reason.)

Both of these types of blade are immensely valuable.  You may just want to sell them.


  1. It's always great to have a new dimension of special weapons or tools in general. Here's my input:

    Quicksteel: An alchemical metal that retains a razor sharp edge, but will soften when struck the wrong way. Deals enhanced damage but has reduced disability, and can be repaired by a smith or alchemist if broken.

  2. A lovely system, though I don't know if I'd use it. My Players might think I'm stealing from Zelda or something.

  3. Looks great to me! I'd consider using the food mechanic, but how do you deal with starvation in your game?

  4. I like weapon/armor damage as fumble rules