Delver Stunts

Today I’ll be looking at pulling off stunts in combat. Let’s start by looking at how it’s been done.

DM Rulings

The classic old school approach leaned heavily on narration and DM rulings. It works out roughly like this:

  • Describe what you want the character to do.
  • The DM decides if it’s viable and tells you what modifiers to apply.
  • If viable, roll using the provided modifiers.
  • DM makes a ruling based on the results of that roll.

Called Shots

Called shots are basically a standardized version of the above DM rulings. Basically you’d have a penalty to hit (typically -4) to gain special perks if the attack hit.

This could work nicely for characters with a high attack bonus such as a high level fighter. At higher levels, attack bonuses could outpace AC so having a way to add some risk back and take advantage of that bonus was nice. It also meant the fighter could be even more effective against low AC enemies as they could use called shots with greater impunity.

Page 42

With 4E, actions that had previously been stunts were now formalized into powers. This created the impression that you couldn’t do something if it you didn’t have a power for it.

A work around to this problem was added in the Dungeon Master Guide on page 42. The simplest part is rule about granting a +2 bonus or combat advantage for appropriate stunts. The more complex approach involves a table which shows difficulty and damage values for a given level range. Basically it runs as follows:

  • Find the character’s level on the table.
  • Pick the difficulty (easy, medium, or hard) and use the listed entry to set the DC.
  • Decide whether it’s easily repeatable or not and use the appropriate columns.
  • Within those columns, decide if the damage should be low, medium, or high
  • Roll for damage as normal.

By itself, this system does a fair job at letting you use skill and unusual attacks to damage a target. However, it takes a bit of house ruling if you’re looking to anything beside damage the target. There’s an excellent example of that on Some Space to Think.


DM Rulings is probably the most robust approach and one that should be in every game in some form. However, the formalized called shot rules make a very nice tool for DMs who are less confident in making those rulings. The basic mechanics behind them are also relatively simple.

The Page 42 rules do a good job of handling improvised attacks, but they’re less effective at adding special effects to those attacks. They’re also more complex than the other options and require a look up table. However, they do also allow for situational or limited use attacks being especially effective, which is a nice touch.

Alternate Approach

For this class revision exercise, let’s start with DM Ruling as our default system as that’s the most flexible approach.

Next, lets add some rules to help the DM make their rulings. The called shot approach works nicely for high accuracy character, but becomes more chancy the base accuracy decreases. At 90% hit chance, a -4 to hit still leaves you better than 2 to 1 odds (70% chance). At a 50% hit chance, the same penalty takes you from 1 in 2 to under 1 in 3 (30%).

Let’s try using the attack penalty but let the players trade in damage to raise their accuracy back up. This also allows for jabs and probing attacks which can help against hard to hit monsters. It also means you can mimic something like a “bull rush” by indirectly trading damage to get a push effect.

So what we’d have at this point is a list of special effect that can be added and the associated accuracy cost for each. This would be followed by a quick rule for lowering damage to raise accuracy.

Now let’s swipe an element from Page 42 and say that unexpected stunts are worth +2 accuracy and stunts that use up a limited resource are good for another +1 to +4. We might want to use some of the damage ratings too, but that’s more useful for non-weapon attacks like throwing a chair at someone.

Finally, in old school games a lot of special descriptions would be reserved for critical hit or failures. Let’s bring in the critical hit side by saying you can trade the extra damage from crits for special effects after the hit has been made. That way crits can always have added special effects if desired.

Published in: on June 9, 2010 at 8:31 am  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] you’ve got a strong system for combat stunts in place, it’s an easy enough matter to make fighters especially practiced in these […]

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