I’ve mentioned that I use a variety of house rules, and some people have asked me what those are. Some (rituals, dragonmarks) really call for individual posts. But here’s a few things.
Alternative Uses For Healing Surges. I like the concept of healing surges, but there’s consistently a lot of characters in my games who don’t come close to using all of their healing surges in an adventure. One option is to burn healing surges as penalties in skill challenges or find other ways to force characters to spend healing surges. But I also like to provide more uses for healing surges. A few options:
Pushing the Limit: I hate when people miss an important roll by one point. If they do, I’ll offer to let them spend a healing surge to push the roll by one point – turning failure into success. This is sort of like the 3E action point, except you know when you spend it that it’s going to work. The idea is that the PC is pushing themselves to their limits – when the enemy blocks the strike, they find that surge of energy they need to push through the defense, or the surge of willpower to overcome domination. This option is only available if I offer it, and you can’t spend more than one surge this way on a single roll.
Try Again: As noted below, I’ve been experimenting with reliability. One option I’m trying is for people to be able to spend a healing surge to make a power reliable (after they miss all targets with it). Fail with your Avalanche Strike? If you call on your inner reserves, you can keep going.
All of these options depend on how you handle extended rests. I tend to play games where time pressure is high and you can’t just stop to take an extended rest in the middle of an adventure; if players are always stopping to take extended rests, you might want to raise the “cost” of spending healing surges.
Action Points To Do The Unexpected. In combat, you can use an action point to take a standard action. I like the way this works. But I also like to use action points in a more flexible manner. We introduced action points in 3E Eberron to try to capture some of the flavor of the pulps – the moment when the hero does something seemingly impossible. As such, if players want to do something that just doesn’t fit the rules, I may let them do it by spending an action point. One example of this would be one character flinging himself in front of another to shield his friend from a lethal attack. The first character may not have any defender-style powers that let him do this – but it’s a perfect pulp-movie moment. “Noooooo!” This sort of thing is ALWAYS at my discretion; it’s a question of whether the action fits the scene and how much it disrupts things. In the case of Player A throwing himself in front of Player B, first off, Player A is going to take the damage, so damage is still going around – and second, I’d need Player A to be close enough to B to make it seem possible. Players can ASK if they can pull something off with an action point, but they quickly learn just how far they can go.
Action Points Every Encounter. Tied to this, I like players to USE action points. having one action point every two encounters adds book-keeping and also encourages hoarding – “I’m not going to spend my action point in this encounter because I might need it in the next one.” As a result, I simply say that each player can have one action point, and that it refreshes at the start of any encounter. Thus, there’s no benefit to saving it because you can never have two at once. Note that this does give the PCs an edge in combat; as a result, I’ll push the challenge in an encounter a little further, to make up for the fact that they are getting action points each encounter.
This works fine for combat, but action points aren’t always about combat. Again, I like letting players us APs for dramatic flair or to try to push themselves to the limit. So I give each player one noncombat action point per session. This doesn’t tie to number of encounters and doesn’t refresh in the session; it’s a chance to have one dramatic moment per session.
Playtesting: Reliable Powers. This is something I’m still trying out; I haven’t settled on a particular approach yet. I like the limited-use power structure of 4E… but I hate when someone winds up to use a cool daily power at a dramatic moment… and misses. I’m experimenting with the following approaches.
All powers are reliable. Just what it sounds like. If a reliable power has an effect on a miss, then you have to choose whether to accept the miss and gain the associated effect, or use the reliable aspect, in which case there is no effect whatsoever – just as if you hadn’t used the power – but you can use it again. In the case of daily powers, my rule is that you can’t use the power again THAT COMBAT, but you don’t lose it. So it’s not all about trying the same power over and over until you hit with it… but you’ll have another chance for your master move. If the daily power is naturally reliable – like many fighter powers – you can try it again right away; thus naturally reliable powers still have an edge.
Healing Surges to Retain. As mentioned above, the idea here is to let people spend a healing surge to retain a power after a miss. This doesn’t add the reliable keyword, and thus keeps reliable powers as special. You can retain a daily power in this way, but you can’t use it again in the same encounter. You can only do this if you miss all targets with the power.
Break Out Effects. In my last few games, I took a lot of encounter powers that have effects associated with a Hit – Setup Strike, Guarded Attack – and made the non-damaging aspect of the Hit effect an Effect that happens whether you hit or miss. Thus Guarded Attack may or may not actually do damage, but you WILL be on your guard. Overall, I preferred this to the reliability experiments, because it lets the player do the thing he wanted to do even if he doesn’t hurt the opponent doing it. But it’s obviously something that doesn’t work with every power.
Playtesting: Versatile Powers. This is something I just thought of this morning. A few weeks back, I wrote about how I see encounter and daily powers as being like a Jackie Chan movie – he doesn’t just do the same move over and over. And yet, a 4E character DOES do the same move over and over, from adventure to adventure. Add to this the huge bloat in number of powers out there and it’s kind of sad to be locked into a particular configuration. Recently most of my gaming has involved running the same one-shot adventure for different groups of people. But when i start my next long-term campaign, I want to experiment with character versatility. A few things I’m considering:
Player Choice. One option would be to make all classes work in the same way as the wizard. Give each player an extra daily per level at which they get dailies and let them choose which to “prepare” at an extended rest. In most cases this wouldn’t actually represent conscious preparation as you see with a Vancian wizard; it’s simply the idea that the Warden can do one big channeling of primal power in a given chapter of this story… this time he’s calling on the ice spirit instead of the thunder spirit he’s used before. I’d try this with dailies first, then if it works consider extending it to encounter powers.
Maximum Choice. The idea above would be to let each character have a two choices per level – some versatility, but still within a basic theme. Another option would be to open it up completely, allowing characters to retrain all of their powers each adventure. Personally, I wouldn’t expect most people TO do this, because powers often tie to the flavor of a character… and with that in mind, I wouldn’t be having people change their builds. The Artful Dodger may do a different big move this time, but he’s not becoming a Ruthless Ruffian. I don’t want to lose character identity – I’m just thinking that if people get bored with their powers I might give them more flexibility to try something different.
Essentials obviously changes this completely, as many classes have fewer powers… and in some cases no daily powers whatsoever. I don’t know how this will work with that – and again, I don’t know if I’ll even like it with regular 4E classes. It’s just a thing I’m experimenting with. If you’ve tried something like this before or have other ideas, let me know your thoughts!