Biblyon the Great

This zine is dedicated to articles about the fantasy role-playing game Gods & Monsters, and other random musings.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

Swashbuckling and survival points

Jerry Stratton, April 11, 2008

Mark of Zorro movie poster

Survival points measure the character’s likelihood of surviving damaging events. The higher a character’s survival, the more likely they are to survive things that can kill. Survival points don’t literally mean that the character can withstand that much direct damage; they mean the character can survive situations that cause this much damage.

The survival point system is designed to very simply mimic the effects of getting hurt in a pulp fiction setting. A character with many survival points is likely to survive to the end of the story. The more survival points they have, the harder it is for even massive harm to take them out of the story. The high level character is “deeply embedded” into the story.

One of the things that has long bugged me about this explanation is that survival points are heavily skewed towards warriors. In general this is okay, because the most common use of survival points is surviving a fight. But there’s no reason that a warrior should be any better than a thief at surviving, say, a fall from a cliff.

One of the optional rules that I’ve never used are light vs. deep survival points from the Adventure Guide’s Handbook. I intended to, but our group never got around to it. The goal of light survival was to bring something like Men & Supermen’s “Virtual Damage Points” into Gods & Monsters: survival points that return more quickly than deeper damage, removing the need for constant healing spirits.

Verve points combine these two ideas: that each archetype should have the same number of survival but get to use them for different things; and that some survival should return more quickly than others. This optional rule will replace the light vs. deep damage optional rule in the Adventure Guide’s Handbook. It might even go into the main rulebook in some form or other.

Gaining verve and survival

At first level, each player character has 5 survival points and 5 verve points before abilities modify them.

At each higher level, each character gains d10 points. On even levels, these points go to verve. On odd levels, these points go to survival.

Endurance continues to modify survival points as a major contributor. It does not modify verve points. The character’s archetypal ability modifies verve points as a major contributor.

Verve points are fully restored at the beginning of each game day. Because verve points return much faster than survival points, it will almost always be better to use verve points if they’re relevant.

Is verve relevant?

Whenever a character loses survival points, the player can choose to have the damage come from survival points as normal. However, if the damage was acquired in an archetypal activity, the player may instead choose to have some or all of the damage come from verve points.

If there are not enough verve points to handle the entire survival point loss, the remaining loss comes from survival points or adds to injuries as normal.

What kind of survival point losses count as from archetypal activities?

  1. Loss from a source or action that requires a roll against the character’s archetypal saving roll.
  2. Loss from a source or action that requires a roll against the character’s archetypal ability.
  3. Loss that is the direct physical or rule consequence of an archetypal action, including specialties.
  4. Loss to a warrior when the warrior is in combat.

Basically, when you are being your archetype, you get more survival. So, for example, warriors will be able to use verve points in combat. Thieves can use verve points if they fall after failing to successfully climb walls. Monks will be able to use verve points for survival point losses incurred because of a failed perception roll.

On the other hand, warriors will not be able to use verve points for damage that isn’t related to being a warrior. A warrior in combat will be able to use verve points in defense against any spells cast into the combat. (Almost any damage in combat is likely to be relevant for a warrior, because damage is what combat is for.) But a warrior playing poker with a mage would not be able to use verve points to defend against spells that mage casts, unless one of the other criteria came into play.

A thief tossed off of a thirty-foot wall cannot use verve points to defend against that damage, even though they could use it if they’d been climbing that wall and failed their Climb Walls roll. Climbing walls is an archetypal activity for a thief. Being tossed off of a wall is not.

Being ambushed is probably not archetypal for a warrior. Triggering a trap accidentally isn’t archetypal for a thief—unless they set it off while using their thief fields. Nor is being hit by a spear from that trap archetypal for a warrior.

A warrior that kills a Crown of Eyes in combat can use their verve points when the Crown explodes. Combat is part of the warrior’s domain and the combat caused the Crown to explode. But if the warrior attacks an unconscious Crown of Eyes and it explodes, verve points will not apply. Hitting inanimate objects is not inherently part of the warrior’s domain.

For all purposes verve points are survival points if the survival point loss meets the criteria. For example, characters run the risk of death if they receive injury points in excess of their survival point total. Under rare circumstances characters can gain injury points even when they still have survival points. If the injury points were the result of archetypal damage, verve points count towards the survival point total that is compared against the injury point total.

Healing spirits

Add two to the levels required for any healing spells or spirits that heal damage. For example, the spirit manifestation “Restore Vitality” will now require a third-level spirit.

Healing spirits will only restore survival and remove injuries. They will have no effect on verve.

Multi-type characters

Characters with more than one archetype will have only a single verve total.

Mental Fatigue

Verve points replace Mental Fatigue. Classical sorcerors use verve when they cast spells. Monks use verve when they use their psychic powers.

Psychic combat damage can come from a Monk’s verve points.

Mnemonic Sorcerors use verve when they memorize spells. Memorizing a spell costs verve equal to the level of the spell plus two. Loosing a spell costs one verve. Remove the limit on number of spells of each level.

Prophets use verve when they call spirits: 1 point per spirit level for each spirit called. They also use one point to manifest a spirit.

Any of them can use Survival, or even gain injury points, in place of verve for any of those actions.

This will probably mean that the “rest” requirement can be removed.

What does this change?

It doesn’t change much for warriors. They’ll continue to get, basically, d10 “survival” in combat situations. However, they’ll lose half of their survival for non-combat, non-warrior things such as falling off of cliffs or damage from Cold Flame. This loss is offset by the more rapid return of verve points after a combat.

Thieves gain quite a bit, at least when they’re doing thiefly things. A thief will be a lot better at evading a Great Ball of Fire, for example. Assuming that the thief chooses to make an Evasion roll against the spell they’ll be able to use their verve points. Thieves do lose 3/4 of a survival point per level, however: instead of getting an average of 3.5 points (d6’s average) they'll be getting an average of 2.75 points (half of d10’s average).

Because evasion is a common defense against damage-causing spells, situations, and attacks, thieves will on average gain quite a bit. They’ll be able to use their verve points fairly often.

Monks and Prophets, who also get d6 survival points per level under the main rules, will also lose 3/4 of a survival point per level in exchange for getting verve points. Willpower and Perception will sometimes be used to avoid damage, so these archetypes will get to use their verve points regularly, although not as often as thieves and not nearly as often as warriors.

Sorcerors don’t lose anything. They gain a quarter survival point per level, because the average on d4 is only 2.5 points. However, neither Intelligence nor Learning are commonly used to avoid damage, so they won’t get to use their verve points very often. The most common use of verve points for Sorcerors will probably be to soak damage from their own spells.

Classical sorcerors lose some mental fatigue. Where they once gained d10 mental fatigue they now have to use verve and survival. They’re “losing” 3 mental fatigue per level on average. However, they can use survival to power their spells if they really need to, and this doesn’t take into account that their Intelligence will be a major contributor to verve instead of Wisdom for fatigue.

For sorcerors and psychics, while the numbers don’t change the conception does: not using supernatural abilities can keep you alive longer. This is one of the things I’ll be paying especially close attention to during playtesting.

Finally, there is more paperwork involved for everyone (unless you were already using the light vs. deep survival optional rule). Instead of keeping track of survival points and injury points, the players will need to track verve points, survival points, and injury points. And they’ll need to pay attention to what constitutes archetypal damage.

Upgrading existing characters

Upgrading existing characters is easiest done in steps:

  1. Remove the character’s endurance modifier (per level) from their survival.
  2. Determine the character’s new combined point total (see below).
  3. Half the combined total: half will go to survival and half to verve. Odd numbers go to whichever the player prefers.
  4. Add the character’s endurance bonus (per odd level) to their survival.
  5. Add the character’s archetypal ability bonus (per even level, plus first level) to their verve.

In each case, first remove the survival point bonus (or penalty) for endurance. You’ll add them back to the new survival points once the new points are calculated.

Upgrading warriors is easy: their new combined point total is the same as their survival points with endurance modifiers removed. A warrior with 32 survival after endurance is removed will have 16 verve and 16 survival.

For monks, prophets, and thieves, multiply their current total survival (after removing endurance modifiers) by 1.6. A monk with 13 survival would end up with 21 for their new combined point total: 13 times 1.6 is 20.8. This character will have either a 10 verve and an 11 survival, or an 11 verve and a 10 survival.

For sorcerors, multiply their current total (after removing endurance modifiers) by 2.2. A sorceror with 12 survival would end up with a new combined total of 26: 12 times 2.2 is 26.4. This character will have a 13 verve and a 13 survival.

If a player has a classical sorceror or monk and has been rolling well on mental fatigue, you can just throw out the verve portion of the above calculation and replace it with half of their mental fatigue (after their ability modifiers have been removed).


Animal Form, Aquatic Animal Form, and Restoration will restore all verve rather than half survival.

Stout Heart applies only to survival rolls. Stout Mind will have to be completely rewritten but can for now apply to verve.

Tough Upbringing applies specifically to survival points. All of the extra die goes to survival, not to verve.

Non-player characters

What does this mean for non-player characters? Pretty much nothing. Only player characters get verve points. Non-player characters with archetypes will receive d10 survival (warriors) or d6 survival (non-warriors). Monsters receive the survival they normally receive. Creatures receive however many survival they normally receive.

Non-player characters will receive half of however many survival they lose following their first rest after losing it. Otherwise, they regain survival as normal.

Compatible with AD&D?

So what does this mean for the claim that Gods & Monsters is “mostly compatible with first and second edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”? It shouldn’t make much of a difference. Since non-player characters don’t get verve points, you’ll still be able to use AD&D adventures with Gods & Monsters.

Name that verve contest!

My original name for this stat was “swash”, short for “swashbuckling points”. That sucked. Verve is a lot better, but I’ll bet there’s a better name out there I’m not thinking of. So, here’s a minor contest. While writing the experience point series, I also filled out my Judges Guild collection, and ended up with a few duplicates. Whoever comes up with the best name for these points (even if I don’t end up using it) by November 30, 2008 will win a copy of Portals of Twilight.

Portals of Twilight isn’t particularly rare (Noble Knight sells it for $9-$10) but it’s a fun little world-hopping expedition in the old-school Guild style. I’ll pay postage up to $10, which looks like it will cover just about anywhere in the world. The book is three-hole punched but otherwise intact and in fine condition.

I’ll judge the best name. Remember the criteria: this resource will be used to soak up archetype-related physical damage, and to power supernatural abilities that the archetype has access to (such as spells and psychic powers).

  1. <- The Prophet
  2. Nisus Encounters ->