An Utterly Random Thought On 4e Combat

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.

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4 Responses to An Utterly Random Thought On 4e Combat

  1. Philo Pharynx says:

    This is a way of negating one of the glorious parts of 4e. In 3e it was always a pain to keep track of the durations of all of the round by round spells and effects. Now, not only would you have to track many more effects, you’d have to keep track of 20+ powers this across battles. And since many groups don’t always end with an extended rest, you’ll have to keep this information between sessions – hard on monthly groups. Each turn will take longer because you’ll have to keep track of each power used. And the long challenging combat you mentioned earlier won’t require the use of daily powers or consumables because they’ll get to use encounter powers multiple times. It sounds like a big pain in the rear to solve a minor problem. A problem that doesn’t come up in all games. While some players save daily resources, others will use them as they feel appropriate.

    • Lizard says:

      Glad to have feedback!

      Like I said, it was a random idea. :) There may well be a different, better, solution to the “all or none” nature of 4e combat… I know a lot of players prefer “many small, short, encounters” to “three or four full-sized encounters”, and there ought to be a means of providing that within the system.

  2. Pedantic says:

    To be honest, I’m not really sure what the benefit of having encounter powers is at that point. I mean, that feels more like 3.X style binder abilities that recover every 1d4 rounds at that point.

    Oooh! Actually, ignore that thing I just said altogether. You know what this reminds me of? Iron Heroes. You could just use a token system to keep track of assorted powers, or, you could go whole hog and assign all powers some kind of token cost and differentiate classes by their method for gathering tokens. Then you could treat power lists more like a series of 3.X style sorcerer spells.

    Mmmph. That gives me excited chills. I could behind that sort of abstraction in a way I cannot get behind the encounter recharge mechanic, and better yet, there’s potential mechanical benefits.

  3. Simon Gill says:

    Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying does this in 3rd edition. All the discrete actions you can take come in the form of printed cards. Each one has a refresh value on it and that is the number of turns you have to end before you can use it again.

    One bonus of this is that ongoing effects are tracked in the same way, they keep going so long as the action is recharging.

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