4E D&D: House Rules

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!

12 Responses to “4E D&D: House Rules”

  1. badmojojojo says:

    Im going to have to steal these! Clever use of healing surges.

  2. Dean says:

    I’m trying out your Reliable powers rule but with action points (along with adding 1d6 to an attack or skill roll). I’m also going with a rule that gives PCs a set amounts of APs per session that don’t carry over.

    I was hoping that it’d speed things up a bit, but it wasn’t apparent, at least so far.

  3. My group left D&D4 behind a long time ago, but just before we gave up on it, we played around with some of the mechanics. One of the things we did was use healing surges to power rituals and other non-combat special abilities. It worked quite well, and seemed more “natural” than the weird money-based method in the core text.

  4. Keith Baker says:

    There are things I like and dislike about rituals, and I’ll post about that in the future. But when Eberron is involved, I actually like the monetary component of rituals, because it fits Eberron’s industrial use of magic in a way that Vancian magewrights never did. Under 3E, we had the idea that a magewright might work as an arcane locksmith, but when he could only cast arcane lock twice a day, it’s hard to imagine this as a serious occupation. As it is, performing a ritual takes a certain amount of time and a certain monetary value of components. As such, it’s easy to imagine it as a service in an economy: the locksmith can do six locks in an hour if he has enough residuum, and he makes his profit with a service charge on top of the component cost. It’s easy to see it as the basis for occupations.

    With that said, I do have some problems with rituals as they stand – but I’ll address that later in the week.

  5. mike says:

    I let my PCs reroll missed dailies if they spend an action point.
    After reading this, I’ll probably allow them, if they miss, to lose the daily for that encounter but not the day (if they decline the ‘miss’ affect when they miss)

  6. Kristian says:

    Here’s another option for Action Points borrowed from Savage Worlds.

    Grant a set number of Action Points per game session rather than per encounter. These can be used in the manners described above. To prevent hoarding and promote using Action Points, start using them as a secondary reward system. If a player attempts something really cool, pulpy, and cinematic or even just does something creative or witty, award an Action Point for the session.

    Also remind the players that any Action Points not spent during that session are lost and not carried over to the next session.

  7. Mark K. says:

    You stole all of your house rules from me and Chris while you were in Buffalo, didn’t you?

    He does the healing surge/Action Point push, and I allow max versatility.

    I was actually just thinking about what it would mean to allow characters to have access to all of the at-will powers for their class at all times. It doesn’t seem like it would be unbalancing, but it would be a lot of book keeping.

  8. Keith Baker says:

    But I ran for you twice while I was in Buffalo USING my healing surge/action point rules, Mark – i think Chris stole them from ME! ;-P

  9. Food Flyers says:

    Hey Keith, this is Sam from Fred Meyer, we met the other day in the paint department. I couldn’t find an email address for you, but I figured I’d drop a line and say what’s up. If you want to check out some of my artwork, you can use the link I posted. Thanks man, it was nice to meet you!

  10. Mark K. says:

    All joking aside, you are correct. Chris got the healing surge push from you. I was talking with him about it last night and he called it the ‘Keith Baker’ rule. I did a double-take and asked why, and he said that he got it from you when you were here.

  11. Bennett S says:

    I will probably use the Reliable rule and healing surges for +1 rule (I’ll call it Desperate Surge or something).

    As for recovering dailies – My players like to take extended rests frequently. It’s an urban campaign in Sharn, so (relatively) safe places to rest are easy to come by. I wanted to encourage them to stretch their resources a little further, so I was trying a method where you only regain a number of daily powers equal to the number of milestones you reached since your last extended rest. This worked okay, but does involve some long term bookkeeping. Still looking for alternatives.

  12. Robert W. Calfee says:

    I have no idea how this would affect things but I find the repetition comes from the limited selection of At Will powers. I wonder what would happen if each character had more?

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