So I’m over on WOTC’s site, where their advice on making 4e combat take less time is to not do any of the things that 4e combat is designed around, such as using interesting terrain, or giving monsters cool powers. One thought occurred to me that a problem with 4e combat is that, since most of your key abilities are encounter based, for a fight to be challenging, it has to actually force you to use most of them and then press you to use your dailies or to drain enough healing surges that the fight actually “counts” — if you can plow through a battle in one round, you won’t use 1/5th of the daily resources you might use in a 5 round fight, you’ll likely use no daily resources at all. Thus, a “real” fight must be a full-on affair, with multiple monsters and all of their synergies, or you might as well just say “A fight happened, you won, here’s your XP and loot”.
Older versions of D&D had most powers as X/day, or (especially in Pathfinder) X rounds/day, so a series of short, 2-3 round fights consume as many rounds/day resources as a longer, 10 round, fight. Because of the way encounter powers work, there’s no reason for players to hold them back in any fight, if they can reasonably assume even five minutes to catch their breath… if they encounter a lone “standard” monsters of their level, they will unload with encounter attacks without a second thought. Why not? Using anything less means a greater risk of damage, which means a loss of healing surges, one of the few non-recoverable resources.
So, what if — and be aware this is a random thought and not something I’ve really considered in depth as to its implications — encounter powers didn’t refresh with a short rest, but refreshed only X rounds of combat after they were used, no matter how far apart those combats were during the day? Lets say, totally arbitrarily, that the ‘average’ power recovers after five rounds of combat. If you use that power in Round 2 of the first fight of the day, and that fight ends in Round 3, you can’t use it again until fight 2, round 4. (A Reliable power would not ‘discharge’ until it hit, of course.)
So let’s say the a party of 5 encounters a single level-appropriate elite monster, or two level-appropriate standard monsters. This is well below an ‘easy’ encounter and it would be exceptionally bad luck if anyone lost more than a healing surge, at most. However, unloading with encounter powers, under my system, would mean that those powers would not be available until late in the NEXT fight, so players might hold back a bit, with perhaps one or two players using their encounter powers to end the fight fairly quickly. This would let a typical “Adventuring day” contain a wider range of encounter types, and probably the same total rounds of combat, but broken up in much more interesting ways than the standard sequence of fights. Further, if we eliminate the short rest to recharge encounter powers, a particularly long fight doesn’t mean a tedious sequence of shooting at-wills… if a fight drags on long enough, the earliest used encounter powers in the fight come back, allowing a sudden surge of ability just as the enemy is weakest.
Thinking further, you can make this a way of balancing powers… weaker powers might recharge after three rounds, stronger powers after eight. Daily powers might go away altogether, just make them recharge every 20 rounds or so, so they’ll be unlikely to be used more than once a day, but, you never know… A chaos sorcerer might have their powers recharge 3+1d4 rounds after use.
Bookkeeping becomes more complex, because you need to track total rounds of combat in a day and which round of which fight each power was used. This adds one more annoying thing to keep track of, so it’s a serious concern.
Like I said, a random thought.