Sunday, August 1, 2021

Crimson Escalation


The full title of this blog post should be Crimson Escalation while playtesting the Cremza'amirikza'am megadungeon, but I think that might break the internet.

Speaking of internet breakage, I didn't want to overpromise on this little mechanic until I had properly playtested it.  

Even though I've only tested it once, I believe this could be the single greatest combat-related system improvement since 5e came out with Advantage and Disadvantage.

I'm calling it Crimson Escalation.  In the simplest terms, it's a progressive critical-hit range.  The first round, crits happen on a natural 20.  The second round, crits happen on a natural 19 or 20.  Third round, it's a natural 18-20, etc.

Some optional fiddly-bits could be added, but that's the basic premise.  As I theorized, here are the results...

  • Combat was shorter - without it, combat would have dragged on longer.  More misses and lower damage leads to longer combats.  Boring!
  • Combat was more brutal - I think we can all agree, watching someone whittle away at the trunk of a tree is less satisfying than seeing it chopped in twain with a battle-axe. 
  • Combat was more tense - as combat continued, the stakes grew higher because every round it became easier to hit with a higher probability of greater damage.

I assumed that last one (heightened tension) might be the case, but as mentioned, I didn't want to promise it before seeing for myself.

When I was asking for feedback on social media, a couple people wondered if PCs would delay their action in order to attack later in the battle, which didn't make any sense to me then and still doesn't now.  

Another point was raised about reinforcements - if a couple fresh goons rush into the battle halfway, how do you account for that, regarding crits?  Personally, I'm not going to track multiple crit ranges during combat, so everyone's at the same range.

As soon as the Cha'alt After Dark PDF is released, I'm asking my layout team to include Crimson Escalation in Crimson Dragon Slayer D20.  I'm not going to wait for next year's revision - it's that good.

I'm not going to go into detail about delving into the Cremza'amirikza'am megadungeon below The Lost City, but I'm going for a mix of Stuart Gordon's From Beyond and my Metebelis III interpretation of Lovecraft's dreamlands.  It's still very much a work-in-progress.

However, the session culminated in an epic battle between a local warlord death-priest and his guards versus the two 3rd level PCs (both fighters).  It lasted 5 rounds, which is kind of the max for a routine (but still thrilling) combat, according to my sensibilities.  As you'd expect, there were multiple crits.  It was an exciting battle as we anticipated the outcome - the longer combat lasted, chances increased that it would get exponentially bloody!

By the way, the two PCs won the battle.  They were both injured, but survived thanks to being 3rd level.

A short combat is usually a round or two (usually over in 10 minutes).  Medium combat is somewhere between three and five rounds (somewhere around 15-25 minutes).  Anything more than five rounds is long (at least a half-hour) and considered too much, unless it's some kind of major boss battle.  

A primary reason I enjoy old-school D&D is shorter combats.  That leaves more time for adventuring... and even more battles each session!  Dear God, when I think back to my time running 4e and 60-90 minute combat [shuddering].  Never again.

Anyway, my mind blew-up (in a good way), and this is my life going forward - Crimson Escalation now and forever, hoss!


p.s. Want the deluxe Cha'alt and Cha'alt: Fuchsia Malaise hardcovers?  Boom!  Want to attend VENGER CON next July?  Shazam!


  1. I want to see it tested in a bigger combat, but even in the small group you ran today there was a feeling of increasing desperation on the part of the combatants. Very cinematic, like a Hong Kong slugfest when you know that as the heroes get more ragged and bloody that they are about to unleash some epic level whoop-ass.

    I agree that it should be tracked to the melee, not individual combatants. Yes, fresh troops coming into a battle that's already joined will have an advantage. Shouldn't they?

    1. I think so. If we look to cinematic battles, fresh henchmen or the super-beast don't start at the bottom of the fury bucket, but at the level of everyone around them.

      Also, Crimson Escalation should incentivize PCs to plan before attacking forces of equal or greater strength. The battle starts 5 minutes before the first round!

      Yes, I'm also anxious to see what this would look like on a larger scale. Hoping other gamers can playtest that aspect for me.

      Thanks again for playing today, hoss!

  2. Does this work better then just adding +1 to hit every round past the first? I'm seen that mechanic before.. the expanding crit range is new.

    1. I think it's bigger and better than an extra +1 to-hit per round.

  3. "I'm not going to go into detail about delving into the Cremza'amirikza'am megadungeon below The Lost City,"

    Umm. B4 The Lost City?

    Cuz I was gonna make one for my Upside-down B4 campaign...but I won't if I don't have to!

    1. Not *that* lost city... I was channeling Land of the Lost.

  4. 13th Age (a great game) uses an Escalation Die. Starting in the second round of combat, PCs (and really nasty monsters) add +1 to their attacks. Each subsequent round, the bonus increases by +1, to a maximum of +6 in the seventh round of combat.

    Not giving the bonus to most monsters means that the referee can present more challenging encounters, since the PCs have a better chance of pulling out in the end, assuming that they survive the initial onslaught.

    Meanwhile, those monsters that DO take advantage of the Escalation Die tend to generate an "Oh Shit" response from the players.

    1. So mooks and minions don't benefit, but champions and bosses do? I like the sound of that!

    2. That would be an interesting option.

  5. Loving this idea was thinking also exploding damage on the crit rolls could be devastating and awesome a lot of ideas to swing around

    1. Exploding damage can be lots of fun, but combat becomes even more swingy.

  6. If you already need a natural 20 to hit how does the expanding crit range help you?