Associating Powers

Posted: 16 June 2012 in House Rules
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One of the things that bothers me the most when it comes to 4th Edition D&D is how difficult many of the mechanics (and descriptions of those mechanics) make it for me to envision the situation.  A lot of the mechanics make the world seem inconsistent, and that makes it difficult for my to really portray my character. And one of the key offenders is the Attack and Utility Powers characters get.

Ostensibly, each class is based off of a given ‘power source,’ be it Magic, Divine, Primal, Psionic, Shadow, or Martial.  Each class then learns a number of At-Will, Encounter, and Daily powers.  At-Will powers can be used whenever the character wants, Encounter powers can be used once before needing a 5-minute “short rest” to recharge, and Daily Powers can be used only once before needing an 8-hour “long rest” to recharge.  This system easily lends itself to balancing classes against each other, and it’s nominally straight forward to envision using up energy to perform these feats and then needing to ‘recharge,’ not unlike a video game.  The problem is that the system breaks down if you inspect it from the point of view of the characters; this is especially problematic for Martial characters who, traditionally, don’t have a consumable pool of energy.

For example, one of the rogue’s daily powers lets him inflict the target with a bleeding wound.  Why is this something he can only do once a day?  The answer is “because of game balance” (I’m told 4E had a very top-down design, starting with desired effects and then moving to probable causes) but that has no meaning to the character.  It becomes a dissociated mechanic that the player has to make choices on but that the character can’t make choices on.

The first adjustment I want to make to 4th Edition is changing the way Powers work so that they can more meaningfully be translated into terms the characters can understand and reason on.

So, characters have power sources, and they have powers which use a lot (Daily), a little (Encounter), or almost none (At-Will) of that power.  we could be meticulous and say that Dailies cost 10 Energy, Encounters cost 3 Energy, and At-Wills cost 0 Energy, then give each character an amount of energy each day based on how many Daily and Encounter powers they’re expected to have, and finally determine some kind of constant “refresh rate” for that energy, like 1 per minute (or maybe a percentage of the total per minute).  We could do this (and I’d be interested in hearing about it if anyone has or does) but it’s more work than I want to put in to it.  I don’t need the Powers system to be exact, I just want it to be rational.  So I’ll stick with the vague measures we’re given.  Now I need to have it make sense.

As written, if you have three Encounter powers, you can use each one once between short rests; once used, you can’t use that power again until you rest, despite the fact that you still have enough energy to pull off two other Encounter powers.  this seems silly.  So the first thing I’m going to say is that if you have 3 Encounter powers, you can use any combination that adds up to three between short rests; maybe you use Power 1 three times and neither of the others, that’s fine.  This extends to Dailies as well, so if you have 2 Dailies you can use each of them once or one of then twice before you need to take a long rest to recover.

Two points to make here.  The first one is to note that some (all?  most?) Races provide Encounter or Daily powers to members of that race.  Because these are feats available as a result of your physiology or heritage, rather than your Class and Power Source, a Racial Power should be treated as separately — it doesn’t give you a 4th use of one of your Class Encounter powers, for example.  An Eladrin may be able to teleport a short distance every 5 minutes, but she can’t forgo that in order to invoke more of her God’s divine favor.

The second point is that Utility Powers span the whole range from At-Will to Daily Powers.  I think these should be included in the pool of powers we’re discussing, but that does give potentially greater utility to Daily Utility Powers than Encounter Utilities (since a Daily Utility can be “traded” for another of the character’s strong attack powers).  I don’t want to have Utilities be separated out (that defeats my intent here), but DMs should be aware of potential abuses.

So now our Rogue has a pool of energy (we might call it “Fatigue”) which he consumes to pull off his neat tricks.  He can make his bleeding-wound-attack a couple times a day, but it’s a complicated maneuver that takes a lot out of him, and using it now means he won’t have the strength to use it later.

The next adjustment I’d like to make (in a later post) is to answer the question: why can’t I use a Power if I’m out of energy (or more to the point, what happens if I try)?

  1. dhlevine says:

    I always read 4E powers a bit differently, from an “author stance.” It’s not that, e.g., my Warlord can only Lead the Attack 1/day b/c she gets tired. Rather, finding a critical weakness like that only happens rarely. So, my character is just thinking, “aha, lucky break!” I’m thinking “let me use the bit of authorial power this move gives me to declare that the dragon has a weak spot.”
    I take it you don’t like that sort of solution, and cool, whatever, de gustibus.non disputandum. But I don’t really understand why (esp. given other mechanics that involve both character and player choice, like the way what I get xp for drives what my character does).

    • Jack says:

      Actually, the way that XP can lead to meta game decision making does bother me; the only solution I’ve been able to come up with is to expand what you can get XP for.

      But yeah, I don’t like authorship-style solutions; it’s a realization I’ve been coming to gradually. I dislike things that require me to step out of my character.

    • Jack says:

      To build on my last comment, I don’t think we’re reading the 4E powers differently, it’s just that the conceit that satisfies you (“I have authorial power that lets me declare that a rare even happens”) doesn’t satisfy me (“I want mechanics that my character can reason about so that my in-game decisions can be in-character decisions as much as possible). The realization that I’ve been coming to is that, contrary to what I would have thought five years ago, to me The Narrative and storytelling take a back seat to simulation and playing a role. “The story” is still important, but not primarily what I’m interested in.

  2. […] gets me, or how much Disadvantage hurts.  And like I’ve mentioned elsewhere, uncertainty and inconsistency are not things I find endearing in a system. Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  3. […] update on my attempt to “fix” Fourth Edition.  After my last post where I posit an abstract system of “energy” that you can use to […]

  4. […] I can play 4E with her. I started thinking about a fix for the Powers system a while back, but after I started looking at it in more detail it occurred to me that there’s the potential for abuse because the game doesn’t expect […]

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