Role Review

I was poking around the homebrew forum over at Giant in the Playground when I noticed this post on role design for a custom system inspired by 4th edition D&D.  I got a into how each of the roles turned out and what functions they ended up serving, so I figured I’d relay that here.

Strikers in 4e are the only strictly offensive role in game as their focus is strictly on reducing the enemy team’s time to defeat. They are especially good at delivering damage precisely where they want it. This makes focusing fire easier for them as well as making them good at landing finishing blows. Note that high offense and ease of targeting are independent but synergistic features, with ease of targeting often being accomplished by some combination of ranged attacks and mobility.

Leaders in 4e help their group stay at full strength by helping allies recover, acting as a kind of life line for those running out of hit points. This helps mitigate focused fire somewhat as it let’s the group shift defensive resources to anyone who’s being focused on. Since the need for this is small when the party is at full health, leaders often have secondary jobs as well. If fully defensively oriented, their secondary focus will be on providing protection to mitigate damage before it happens. If they’ve got a somewhat more offensive bent, they’ll act as an enabler, making allies better at performing their jobs.

Defenders in 4e actually seem to have discouraging focused fire as their unofficial job. Their high hit points and defenses make them unappealing focus targets. By itself, this would just result in their allies being taken out first. However, their marking mechanics let them counter that by making themselves more appealing targets to an enemy of their choice. In effect, this lets them peal a specific foe of the group that might be trying to achieve focused fire. The selective nature of marking and punishment mechanics make them less “everyone attack me” like classic “tanks” and more about making sure attacks are distributed around the party so nobody falls. From there, they tend to mirror leaders somewhat by either proactively setting up protective measures or increasing their offense. The main difference being that these defensive and offensive boosts tend to be self oriented as opposed to the leader’s more ally oriented focus.

4e controllers are bit of mess in that their focus is split between acting as artillery and manipulating the opposing side’s options with few class features directly supporting either. Granted, either of those can be made to support the other. For example, if the character was primarily artillery they might want strong manipulation options as back up plan for when limited targets cuts their total damage output. On the flip-side, area attacks can be used to discourage grouping, making it a situational way of altering enemy plans. From what I’ve seen, the online community tends to favor the focusing on the manipulation side, with the artillery side mainly used as a way to distribute control effects over multiple enemies. One side effect of the system is that “minion popping” became a secondary job of the role due to the availability of multi-target powers for this role. It’s interesting to note changing enemy plans overlaps with defender’s deciding who attacks them, which lead to occasional comments about defenders being a specialized type of melee controller.

On a side note, things have been pretty busy over here.  I started a new job in a new city this year, which is admittedly part of why posting has dropped off.  That being said, things are getting a bit more stable now so as time frees up I may start putting more things up here.

Published in: on January 7, 2016 at 10:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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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Projects and Variants

Hi folks. I’d like to mention I’ve finally finished the reworking of the hidden menace playtest. I’ll do some early testing over the next few weeks, but I’m planning to put it through its paces over the Christmas break.

In the meanwhile, I’ve been tinkering with some rules variants in a 4e colonization game I’ve been running. Here’s a variation my wife is trying out.

Scout Variant – Whirling Stalker

Feature Swap

Trade Dual Weapon Attack for the following features.

Warding Slash — Ranger Attack
Any foe foolish enough to stay within reach of your blades will feel their sting.
At Will — Martial, Weapon
Opportunity Action — Melee weapon

Requirement: You must be wielding a melee weapon in your off-hand.
Trigger: An enemy ends their turn adjacent to you.
Target: The triggering enemy.
Attack: Dexterity vs. AC (off-hand weapon)
Hit: 1d4 damage and the target takes a -2 penalty to its attack rolls until the end of it’s next turn.
Level 15: Change damage die to [w].

Thrill of the Chase — Ranger Feature
The sight of your enemies fleeing before you fills you with renewed vigor.
At Will — Primal
Opportunity Action — Personal

Trigger: An enemy that started their turn adjacent to you ends their turn not adjacent to you.
Effect: You gain a cumulative bonus to the damage rolls of your weapon attacks equal to half your Dexterity modifier until the end of your next turn.
Level 9: Raise bonus to Dexterity modifier.
Level 25: Raise bonus to Dexterity modifier + 2.

Play Style

These features are meant to discourage grouping and encourage repositioning. The idea is to make the enemies only good choice to try spreading out and staying away from the ranger. Much like a defender, this feature set is meant to give targets several bad choices. If they stand their ground, they suffer extra damage and find their own attacks deflected. If they shift away, they may be able to save their own hide, but the ranger becomes stronger and may either pursue them or take it out on their buddies.

Published in: on December 6, 2012 at 2:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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Delver Design: Ascendant Adventurers

Lately I’ve noticed another round of the classic “linear fighter, quadratic wizard” (LFQW) threads popping up again. Here are some musings on how you might get around this.

Adventurer Progression


Each adventurer gains a class which grants them access to a pool of common abilities. These abilities are roughly limited to effects an ordinary person might be capable of with training. Some of these abilities may let the character produce these effects through extraordinary means.


When an fully fledged adventurer forms a strong bond to some part of the world, they may become a champion. Each champion gains an allegiance which gives special perks such resources or limited access to extraordinary abilities. Some of the stronger perks may also come with certain duties and responsibilities.


When a champion has mastered their craft, they may find or discover a gift that lets them become a paragon. This gift grants access to extraordinary abilities. These abilities exceed what a normal person is capable of, but stay with in the limits of what’s conceivably possible for exceptionally talented individuals like geniuses and world class athletes.


Should a paragon manage to push themselves beyond mortal limits, they may become a legend. In the process of doing so, they become more than human. This places a mark on them which grants access to wondrous abilities while also making their superhuman nature evident. Wondrous abilities are not constrained by mortal limits, though their impact rarely extends beyond the local area.


Should a legend find a way to shed even more of their mortal limitations, they may become an ascendant. Each ascendant is defined by the path they follow. While paths may occasionally let an ascendant stretch the scope of their wondrous abilities, most of their emphasis is on changing the nature of the ascendant. As such, many of these features will be more about removing limitations than changing the world.


Should an ascendant remove their final limitations, they may become a power. In the process, each power largely leaves behind mortal concerns. Each power gains an ascension and a legacy. Their ascension determines what they become, while their legacy determines what they left behind. As with ascendant paths, ascensions improve the character’s very nature. However they also may grant occasional use of world altering cosmic abilities. While legacies are less likely to outright change the world, they can leave behind things or groups that are more than capable of doing so.

Magic Items

Ideally in this set up magic items should primarily grant extra abilities. If each class can use items which grant a given ability tier, that could help cut down the LFQW problem by quite a bit. If wizards can only do “common” spells on their own (barring promotions) and require a magic item (spell book) for extraordinary and wondrous spells that put them on par with a fighter who’s stuck with common maneuvers (again barring promotions) but can gain extraordinary and wondrous abilities through things like magic weapons and armor.

Published in: on September 18, 2012 at 8:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Martial Reactions

I’ve been tinkering with setting up a one-shot style game with emphasis on finding a hidden threat. While I puzzle that out, here’s a “mixer” idea I’ve been toying with for making fighter actions more varied.

Special Techniques

At 1st level, a fighter gains 2 flourishes and 2 reversals. As they advance, they may gain more of both.

Flourishes are special rider effects that can be triggered when the user hits with an appropriate attack. Only one flourish can be used be used per action. Each flourish also has a special feature that reduces its effectiveness is used too often, due to enemies adapting to and anticipating that flourish.

Reversals are similar to flourishes, but are activated when the user misses. As with flourishes, they are limited to one per action and lose effectiveness if overused.

Sample Techniques

Here’s how the above techniques might look in a 4e style format.

Deadly Threat
Free Action – Martial, Flourish
Your mighty blow puts your foe on the defensive, making it that much harder for them to fight back.
Trigger: You hit with a weapon attack with no other flourishes.
Effect: The target of the attack is distracted (-2 to all attacks) until the end of your next turn.
Special: If you’ve used this power since the start of your last turn, the target is only distracted until the start of their next turn.

Unstoppable Force
Free Action – Martial, Reversal
Your powerful strikes can break through the heaviest armor.
Trigger: You miss with a weapon attack with no other reversals.
Effect: If the failed attack would hit the target’s Reflex, you can still do half the attack’s normal damage. If not, you can push the target 1 square.
Special: If you’ve used this power since the start of your last turn, the target may shift 1 square as an opportunity action to avoid this power’s effects.

Published in: on August 17, 2012 at 6:09 am  Leave a Comment  
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Stunting Redux

Today I’d like a look at how improvised actions and effects could be handled in D&D. I’ve already mentioned “called shots” as a way to handle this, but that does tend to limit possible stunts to minor effects for anyone but specialists.

What if instead we trade damage for special effects? It’s a pretty straightforward idea. You can find an excellent example by Upper Krust of the boards here. What I’m thinking of doing is scaling those cost by the target’s hp total. This makes it easier to put debilitating effects on mooks and lower level foes while giving boss type a lot of resistance to shut downs.

Sample System

Here’s an example of how you might set up this damage cost system in 4E, using the “page 42” rules for “Actions the Rules Don’t Cover” as a starting point.

When a character performs a stunt they can declare they’re going for a special effect. Roll damage as normal. However, once that damage is rolled the player can reduce it by the values in the tables below to buy a special effect. If they don’t have enough to buy the effect they want, they can choose a related lower cost effect or “bank” the points. These banked points can be cashed in on future stunts to reduce the cost of the target special effect.

For example, one player might bank a few points of “stun damage” on a standard stunt so an ally can finish the stun with their own stunt.

Condition Damage Cost Restrictions
Combat Advantage 4 + 2 * character level
Dazed 8 + 2 * character level + enemy level
Immobilized 3 + enemy level limited use*
Prone 4 + character level / 2 + enemy level
Slowed 2 + enemy level / 2
Stunned 13 + 2 * character level + 3 * enemy level limited use*
Weakened 4 + enemy level limited use*

*Anything marked “limited use” should not be available at will. Stunts with limited damage expressions or expending encounter powers may let the character add these effects.

Extra Options

Instead of using page 42, the DM may allow you to buy a special effect on one of your powers, provided you describe using it in a creative way. When doing this, you may also be allowed to “cash in” an existing special effect to offset the cost of a new effect. This trade in is especially useful for character with lower damage but strong rider effects.

Another thing the DM may want to allow is offering special effect purchases on a critical hit, even if they didn’t declare the stun ahead of time. This can help make crits a bit more flavorful instead of being just high damage.

Expanding the System

The above table is pretty rough, but it does give some reference points to work from. In addition to adding extra effects, you’d probably want to make stunt damage scale better. At present, it doesn’t keep up with monster hp inflation.

Behind the Scenes

Here’s a quick run down of the math I used to fill the table for anyone interested in doing their own tinkering.

Lose a Turn

The tricky part about trading damage for a turn loss is by reducing damage we potentially give the enemy a chance to act later by letting them live longer. In effect, this stunt effectively delays enemy actions by 1 turn.

While it’s hard to really tell how much a stun will help without repeated testing, we can make some estimates. Let’s assume turn loss is roughly balanced when the time lost is equal to the enemies lifespan extension due to the reduced damage.

Assuming 60 accuracy against same level foes, we’re looking at a 0.6 expected round loss for the target enemy.

Now lets assume a 5 monster group of such enemies should take 4 to 5 rounds to drop without dailies. For individual enemies, that works out to around 4.5 rounds with scattered fire and just over half that with focuses fire. Assuming roughly even odds of both, that works out to around 3.4 rounds per enemy.

Over that time, the enemy was taking an average of 29% of their hp in damage each round. So 0.6 rounds of extra lifespan is roughly equal to 17% of their hit point total. On the other hand, damage sacrificed would also be multiplied by hit chance, so we divide by 0.6 to get back to 29%.

Combat Advantage

Using the number from stunning, we know combat advantage is worth a 33% damage increase. (60% accuracy to 80% accuracy). Since enemies are taking 29% hp damage each round, this work out to 9.7%. For granting combat advantage to everyone, assume just over half will be able to focus fire and at least one of those will likely have combat advantage already, so double the values (to 19.4).

Condition Breakdowns

Stunned = 19.4% character level + 31.9% enemy level (Combat Advantage 19.4% + turn loss 29% + Can’t flank (assume flanking gives 33% output increase from CA about 1 time in 3, apply loss (1/1.11 = 0.9) to value of lost turn) ~2.9%)

Dazed = 19.4% character level + 12.6% enemy level (Combat Advantage 19.4% + Reduced to 1 action (~2/3 output?) ~9.7% + Can’t flank ~2.9%)

Immobilized = 9.7% (Can negate melee enemies (~50%?) if allies stay out of range (~2/3?), so ~33% turn loss?)

Prone = 4.9% character level + 9.2% enemy level(halve CA values for melee only and halve again for ranged penalty 4.9% + -2 attack rolls (20% dpr loss, but usually trivial to recover from (x1/3?) 1.9% + usually costs most action (price at 1/4 full action?) + 7.3%)

Slowed = 4.8% (treat as effective turn loss maybe 1 time in 6?)

Weakened = 14.5% (treat as half turn loss)

Published in: on July 12, 2012 at 5:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Delver’s Legacy Goals

In my recent lurkings around the boards I’ve seen interesting postings for a couple 4e retro-clone projects. Right now the top two are Magic Sword and D&D4.5. This has gotten my own creative juices flowing, so I’ve been taking a closer look at my own Delver’s Legacy posts. If I do go ahead and follow suit, I’d have the following goals for the system.

  • Gameplay: Inspired by D&D, especially 4E.
    • Automated Balance: The system should take care of as much character balancing behind the scenes as it can.  Players should be able to pick options without worrying about being underpowered.  Any “taxes” to be on par with expected values should be folded into existing features instead of being presented as choices.
    • Tactical Focus: The core rules should focus primarily on overcoming immediate challenges with the tools at hand.  Strategic concerns such as supplies and long term resource management should largely be treated more as add-ons that can be used as needed.
    • Versatile Heroes: Each PC should be able to participate in a variety of challenges.  While being specialized in a certain field should be supported, PCs should still be able to do interesting things outside of a single speciality. This likely means putting options in bins.
    • Party Oriented: Each PC should be more effective as part of team than they are individually.  I’m planning on intentionally leaving a certain amount of design space for supporting party member synergy, such as improved effects for following up on an ally’s actions.  When combined with the automated balance and versatile heroes, this should lead to an emphasis on optimizing the party over optimizing the character.
    • DM Friendly: The system should have tools for making it easy to run the game and come up with new material on the fly.
    • Few Restrictions: Characters should not need to jump through a lot of hoops to get access to new options.  The amount of preplanning a character needs to expand in a new direction should be kept to a minimum.
    • Stunt Friendly: Improvised actions should be well supported and kept fairly on par with normal actions.
  • Mechanics: Rebuilt from the ground up.
    • Trimmed Down: The amount of core content should be kept low, both to make it easier for new players to pick up and to reduce my own workload.  This will most likely mean toolkit systems in the core book with flesh out examples provided in supplements.
    • Diverse Origins: Rule sources will not be limited to D&D.  I will pick freely from mechanics in other sources, including a few original ideas.  The focus will be on replicating the experience over copying the rules.  Likely alternate sources include Fantasy Craft, True20, Old School Hack, and possibly FATE.  Other suggestions are welcome.
    • Transparency: I will likely “show my work” for the game’s math and mechanics, either in posts or in a supplement.
  • Legal:
    • Open Source: I’m not interested in keeping a tight legal reign on the system.  The core system will likely use OGL or a similarly flexible license.

I’m planning on fleshing out some of these ideas over the next couple weeks. At worst, it will clear my head and get me back into practice with my games designs. Who knows, I might even get a full game out of it. I’m not particularly attached with tying this to the identity of 4E, so it’s likely this will end up having a similar relation to the above retro clones as Gamma World does to 4th edition D&D.

Published in: on July 9, 2012 at 9:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Wizards at the Gate

Now that I’ve done a first pass on warrior, I’d like to look at the classic book bound wizard.

Spell Gates

Central to this reworking is the idea of “spell gates”, magical constructs that release potent arcane effects when opened. These gates can be bound to a number of things, including arcane writing and even complex mental constructs.

Wizard Features

Basic Features

Tome Adept

When you spend an action to study writings, you can raise your affinity to any spell gate stored within the text. This affinity let you determine the nature of the gate and it’s effects. More powerful spell may take more affinity to fully comprehend.

You can only maintain affinity with one gate at a time. The amount of affinity generated depends on your level and the type of action used. The maximum affinity you can build up also increases with your level. Affinity fades when you focus your attention elsewhere for more than a round.

Arcane Key

You can use an action to open a spell gate. The cost and effects of opening a gate varies with the spells bound two it. Opening gates usually cost a point of stamina and an amount of affinity determined by the gate. Each gate will also have certain conditions that close the gate.

Arcane Gatekeeper

You can use an extended action to create a mental copy of a spell gate you have affinity with. The copied gate is then stored in your mind indefinitely or until dismissed with an extended action. You can build affinity with these gates at an accelerated rate by spending an action to focus on the gate. The gates can also be opened to release a spell effect. However, these mental gates are imperfect copies and will break when they close. Broken gates can not be reopened.

Most people can store only a small handful of spell gates within their minds. However, other features may increase this limit.

Advanced Features

Spell Expertise

Choose an area of expertise (ex. attack, defense, or exploration) and a spell school (ex. illusion or necromancy). When opening of that type and school, you can ignore the base stamina cost for doing so. You can also open and build affinity with those gates with the same action.

Arcane Immersion

You can expend this ability while building affinity with a spell gate. If you do, you must spend a point of stamina, but gain extra affinity with the gate and have your maximum affinity raised until the gate closes. This ability can be replenished by taking a few minutes to rest and refocus.


This gives us a nice flexible base for reworking the wizard. As is they can cast straight from tomes, but doing so is slower than casting from their held spells. They have a good amount of versatility, but must spend stamina and often take longer than a mundane skill user. Spell expertise brings them more on par with a mundane skill user, but only in a specialized field.

The “15 minute workday” problem is taken care of by the Arcane Immersion ability. It opens the way for storing spells more powerful than they could normally use (due to the affinity limit), but ensures that only one such spell can be unleashed per encounter. In fact, it’s likely that wizards in this system will only normally store 1 or 2 powerhouse spells, while keeping the rest of their slots “low level” to retain flexibility when they’re not using Arcane Immersion.

Published in: on May 2, 2012 at 9:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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