Warrior Gambits

I’ve been mulling over martial encounter powers lately. While encounter powers are good at varying actions between rounds, they do encourage throwing out your strongest stuff until you’re down to grinding away with at wills.

On approach I came up with the use of “gambits”. Basically how they’d work is you’d declare them when making a weapon attack. If the attack hits, you get a minor perk and a free secondary attack based on the gambit used. It the initial attack fails, the target instead gets a bonus to defend against further that gambit for 1 round, as they’re on guard against it.

That should create an interesting flow overall. At around 50% accuracy, the player would be looking at a 50% chance of needing to change gambits, 25% chance of an at-will level hit, and a 25% chance of an encounter level hit. I’d have to work out the numbers, but that does seem to be a workable approach. Give the player 3 gambits to start and they’ll have a choice each round even when a gambit is down.

One potentially issue I see is that the chance of heavy hits gets really badly hit by low accuracy. To counter that, I might add a “feint” option. If you take that, a miss triggers the secondary attack instead of a hit. The result would be higher accuracy at the cost of removing the chance to double hit.

4e Adaptions: Damage Fixes

One of this problematic points in 4e is that anything that allows multiple attacks to the same target within a round are extremely effective damage dealers, to the point they tend to hedge out other options. This is largely due to the fact each such attack effectively multiply static bonuses to damage rolls, which make up the bulk of damage totals at higher levels.

This imbalance has been a bit of a mixed blessing due to the hit point inflation enemies get at higher levels. I’ve run some numbers and a fight that takes around 4 rounds at heroic tier can stretch out to 8 to 9 rounds in epic due to this inflation.

As such, I suggest the following two pronged attack to reduce the effectiveness of these multi-strike attacks without having high level fights drag to a crawl.

Tap Capping Damage Bonuses

The Rule: Once a bonus to damage rolls has been applied to a target, that bonus can not be applied to further damage against the target until the start of the attacker’s next turn. If multiple attackers share the same bonus, track this separately for each attacker.
The Reason: Looking over the damage entries for multi-strike and off action attacks, it looks like the designers largely ignored any bonuses to damage rolls. Most multi-strikes do a comparable number of damage dice to powers of similar levels. The dice are just distributed differently. This rule prevents multi-tapping of damage bonuses to bring those powers on par with their single strike, standard action counter parts.
Gameplay Effects: Resetting bonuses at the start of the turn favors attacks that happen during the players turn, with each following attack having less of a chance of gaining the damage bonus. One problem with this rule is it also reduces the potency off opportunity attacks. This is mitigated somewhat by opportunity attack specific damage bonuses. However, to counter this more strongly you’d want..

Reduced Hit Point Scaling

The Rule: Monster gain half the normal hit points per level. This does not effect the base number of hit points they get.
The Reason: As mentioned earlier, fights in epic can easily double in length with applying damage bonus multipliers. Halfing the hit points from levels counters that effect, keeping fights at more reasonable time frames without damage abuse.
Gameplay Effects: With reduced hp, an at level fight in epic will often be over before at will come into play (barring characters who focus on them). However, that’s not necsessarily a bad thing and overuse of at-wills can make combat more tedious.

Published in: on June 3, 2014 at 6:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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4e Ability Score Progression

I’ve noticed some issues with ability scores in 4e D&D. Here are a couple suggested fixes to help smooth things over.

Rounded Growth

The Rule: At every level the player would gain +1 to 2 ability scores, they instead gain +1 to all ability scores.
The Reason: Only increasing 2 abilities at 6 different levels puts the modifier for those two 3 points higher than any other score. Since the boosted abilities are usually the character’s strongest, this widens the divide between high and low scores even more as the character progresses. That in turn makes it harder to set a worthwhile DC for even two character with similar training but different ability priorities. Due to difficulty scaling, this has the net effect of making characters worse at everything else outside their focus as they reach higher levels. This rule change still keeps the range between high and low scores, but keeps that gap from widening at higher levels.
Gameplay Effects: While this does make higher level characters better overall, it’s mostly an increase in versatility over raw power. It doesn’t make them better at their strong suits, it just keeps their weaknesses from getting exaggerated at high levels.

Practiced Growth

The Rule: When you get a chance to raise all ability scores by 1, you can forgo raising one scores that’s at 9 or higher to raise a second score by 2. The score being increased this way can not be raised beyond 19. If the ability is used by one of the character’s powers or trained skills, raise the maximum to 21. Increase these limits (including the minimum score) by 1 for each previous time all scores could be raised by 1.
The Reason: This one is actually meant to counter the dominance racial ability modifiers often have on race selection. By giving races without a bonus to their primary ability the chance the catch up at higher levels, we can hopefully reduce the prominence of those bonuses a bit.
Gameplay Effects: The net effect should be pretty mild. In general, it’s roughly equivalent to letting the player swap their racial ability score bonus to a different stat at a certain level.
There is one possible side effect of combining this with Rounded Growth in that a player could choose to go with lower starting score to get more efficient use out their point buy. If that’s a big concern, consider limiting how many times this option can be selected.

Published in: on May 21, 2014 at 1:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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4e Option: Expanded Defense

One of the interesting features of 4th edition D&D is how it pairs abilities to determine defenses. The nice thing about this is that you only need to pay attention to 3 ability scores to have well rounds defenses. The downside is if your two highest scores are in the same pairing, you’ll have weaker defenses than some one with the same values in different score. This means things like being strong and tough, smart and graceful, or wise and charming poor choices, despite being good thematic combos. To help address this, I present the following feat.

Expanded Defense
Heroic Tier
Benefit: Select two of your defenses when you take this feat. You can use the lowest ability modifier assocaited with first defense as the ability modifier for the second defense you chose.

For example, if some one wanted to play a strong and tough warrior type, they might pick fortitude and will with this feat. That would let them use the lower of their strength or constitution modifier as the ability modifier for their will defense in place of their wisdom or charisma modifier.

Since this is essential a bug fix feat, DMs may even want to provide this as a free feat. It’s main effect is to let you swap a score into another pairing, so it’s impact is fairly low outside of shoring up certain ability score combos.

Published in: on April 24, 2014 at 6:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Character Creation and Twists of Fate

I’ve been thinking about randomized character creation lately. It seems to me the most enjoyable part of that is ending up with something unexpected. I’m less interested in gambling on the character’s power level than I am in being given a handful of interesting traits an potential hooks.

After a bit of tinkering, here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Start each character with a luck pool that can be spent on rerolls.
  • Roll up some “twists of fate” for the character. These can include background elements, talents, flaws, personality traits, special events, and so on. I’m probably start with 3 twists per character.
  • Players can spend luck to reroll any of these twists.
  • If the player isn’t satisfied with their rerolls, they can spend a little select a twist. I’d likely put a “once per character” limitation on this. That way if the player has a concept they really want follow they can push for it, but they’d still need to leave some element up to chance.

So the final results would be that if a character leaves their initial rolls as is, they get to go into play with a full pool of rerolls. On the other hand, if they want to pick and choose their traits, they have some leeway to do so, at the cost of having fewer rerolls during play. Hopefully that’s a good level of enticement toward leaving things to chance. I want to encourage players to stick with their rolls as those random traits can help the player explore new character concepts they might not normally go with. On the other hand, making the reward overly potent can penalize existing character concepts and encourage fudged dice rolls.

As for the twists themselves, I’m thinking of covering a wide range of traits, but building some flexibility into each one. For example, a species / racial twist might give you an advanced trait package if you pick that species or let you act as a hybrid if you pick a different one. I’d also like to have flaws a possible twists. However, to avoid the issue of randomly rolling a weaker character, I’d likely go with a Fate like approach and have flaws benefit the character after they’re turned against them.

Published in: on August 19, 2013 at 5:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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Power Stunting

I’ve been mulling over the stunting rules and would like to try something that’s a bit more streamlined. This is at least partly inspired by Eternity Publishing’s entry on a Revised 4e Fighter. However, in this case we’re take that power building approach and generalize it before building class features on top of it.

Power Stunts

Whenever a character wants to use their powers in an unusual way, they may attempt a power stunt. To perform a stunt, simply describe the effect your going for and select perks that match that effect. You should rarely need more than 2 perks, though you may select the same perk multiple times for an improved effect. Once all perks are selected take a drawback for each perk. As with perks, you should focus on one or two and just take them multiple times if needed.

At any point in this process, the DM may step in with some changes. This should be done sparingly and generally limited to when the stunt described isn’t feasible given the situation or tools used. If a given stunt seem unworkable or exceptionally difficult, the DM may choose to alter it’s effects or charge an extra drawback. In general, even a poorly planned stunt should have something happen, even if it’s not what the character originally intended.

Note that common maneuvers such as basic attacks count as powers and can be modified by these rules. However, stunts are normally only performed during the characters turn, so stunting doesn’t apply to opportunity attacks.

Common Perks

The following perks are generally easy to apply to physical attacks and are should be readily available to most characters.

Barrage
Effects: If the initial attack misses, you may still deal damage to the target equal to your ability modifier.
If you purchase this perk a second time, you can reroll the attack roll if the initial attack misses.

Crushing
Effects: The modified attack may target Fortitude instead of AC.

Distracting
Effects: If the initial attack hits, the target grants combat advantage until the end of your next turn.
A second purchase denies the target their next minor action in addition to having them grant combat advantage.
A third purchase lets you daze the target on a hit instead of having them grant combat advantage.

Ensnaring
Effects: If the initial attack hits, the target is grabbed until the start of your next turn. While grabbing them, the hand, weapon, or item used in the grab can not be used for anything else.
If purchased a second time, the grab no longer ends automatically.

Evasive
Effects: You may shift 1 square before or after making the target attack.

Fierce
Effects: If the initial attack hits, add your choice of ability modifier to the damage dealt. If that ability modifier already applies, you must choose another ability.
For each additional purchase, you can choose to add another ability modifier to the damage roll. If the attack has a damage roll, you may instead choose to increase the damage die rolled by 1.
For powers with no damage die roll, you may use two purchases of this perk to grant 1[W] or 1d8 damage to that attack.
Special: This perk can not be combined with the weak drawback.

Flurry
Effects: Use a single target at-will attack power against a secondary target. This secondary attack has 2 drawbacks applied to it. The secondary attack can not be used on the target of your primary attack.
For each purchase after the first, you can choose to remove a drawback from the secondary attack or repeat it against another target.

Forceful
Effects: If the initial attack hits, the target is pushed 1 square.
Each additional purchase increases the push distance by 1. You may sacrifice 2 squares of push to knock the target down instead.

Guarded
Effects: The user gains a +2 power bonus to a defense of their choice until the start of their next turn.

Hindering
Effects: If the initial attack hits, the target is slowed until the start of your next turn.

Lingering
Effects: If the initial attack hits, the target takes ongoing damage equal to an ability modifier of your choice. The chosen ability can not be the one used to hit the target.

Piercing
Effects: The modified attack may target Reflex instead of AC.

Common Drawbacks

Clumsy
Effects: The modified attack suffers a -2 penalty to it’s attack roll. This can be taken a second time to increase the penalty to -4.

Reckless
Effects: The user grants combat advantage until the start of their next turn.

Weak
Effects: Each time you select this drawback, you must sacrifice one die of damage. If this sacrifice removes all damage roll bonuses from the power, count it as an additional drawback. If the power lets you add an ability modifier to the damage roll, you can sacrifice that instead of a damage die.

Published in: on July 10, 2013 at 3:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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Combat Styles: The Siren

A while ago I was talking to friend about bards. We got to talking about how it’s a shame that people often think of it as a “fiddle while my friends fight” class when there are some powerful character types that can fall within the class. Here’s one example and how it might work in play.

Siren (Combat Style)

Sirens have honed their voices to be extremely compelling, even mesmerizing. With a few melodic words, they can weaken and bend the minds of their opponents, draining their very will to fight.

Inspirations: The sirens from the Odyssey are the style namers, tough the vocal powers of the Bene Gesserit from the Dune series are a classic science fiction example.

Attacks

Sirens attack the minds of their foes through speech and song. Such attacks usually radiate out from the siren, though they can also be focused in an arc or even on a single target.

They also tend to gain an increasingly strong grip on the targets mind as these attacks are sustained. Initially, the target may simply be distracted, finding it difficult to complete their tasks. From there they may find their perceptions and actions manipulated, making misstep and possibly confusing friend from foe. In the final stages, the target will forgo other actions to pursue the sirens calls.

However this progression is hardly inevitable. With enough help or if compelled to act against their nature, characters may break out of the grip of the sirens sound. So long as the target has some will remaining, they may struggle against and potentially break free from the siren’s grasp. When that happens, the siren generally has to change tactics as newly freed targets find their minds and hearts hardened against the siren. Entering a state of fighting fury is a common alternate plan, but other options are certainly possible.

Defenses

A Siren’s best defense is to quell any desire to attack them. In any game with defense pools, this can mean being able to spend defense points to prevent an attack from being attempted. In other games, this may fall on distraction penalties to hit the Siren while they’re using their abilities.

Published in: on May 26, 2013 at 4:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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HP Musings

I’ve been thinking over the classic portrayals of hit points as raw toughness vs hit points as skill and luck. That in turn got me thinking about using a more general “defense pool” that lets you shift the number to ensure the character’s safety for an otherwise debilitating or deadly hit.

In fact, you could easily take this even further and let the defense pool fuel more indirect forms of defense. For example, you could give a character the ability to spend defense points to remain hidden. For character with the right abilities, like binds or manipulation abilities, you could even spend points to keep an opponent from attacking you at all. To make things more interesting, such abilities should probably have varying cost so the locked down character’s player has a way to up the cost if they stay engaged in the action.

You could potentially expand this to a more general “cheat point” approach. That could work nicely as it would let major push to accomplish extraordinary things at the cost of making them more vulnerable. However, I would want to limit this, both to keep these points from dominating character competence and to keep players from blowing all their points in a single “bidding war”.

Published in: on May 18, 2013 at 6:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Project Links

Hi folks. I’ve gotten an early version of Hidden Menace up. It’s pretty bare bones, but the rules are complete and there’s a brief intro in place. I’ve also got the Lua version of my combat sim program up here. Things have been a bit busy on this end, so I’ll probably be posting smaller scattered snippets over the next few weeks as I figure what to focus on next.

Published in: on May 4, 2013 at 7:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Project Update

Hello all. I things have been a bit busy on this end, but I’ve still got some projects going forward. The “Hidden Menace” playtest has been trimmed down to a lean 6 pages. I’ll likely pad that out with some intro text before release, but we’re still looking at less than a dozen pages. Given it’s small size, it’s likely that system will be released as a free, open source project.

While that’s in the works, I’m teaching myself Lua by building a monte carlo style combat simulator. That will let me test things like the effectiveness of certain tactics and abilities. Once the script is ready, I’ll share it through the site so you folks can do you own tinkering.

Between these bigger project, I may start putting up some setting material I’ve been tinkering with. It seems like it might work well with the Fate system, as there are certain elements that work nicely with compels.

Published in: on February 6, 2013 at 11:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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