Tearing 4E a New One Addendum

February 22, 2011

Between comments, Twitter conversations, direct messages, and e-mails, it turns out I struck a few nerves and raised a few questions with my latest article (Tearing 4E a New One: Short Rests and Encounter Resources), so I’ve thrown together a hasty sort of clarification/defense/justification/apology/further insult. If you haven’t read the article, this won’t make much sense. But the article is awesome and you should go read it.

Where Do I Get Off Calling it a Bug? Isn’t That An Opinion?

I know that there is a difference between something you don’t like and something that’s broken. You might not like the skill challenge system, for instance, and you have a right to that opinion. But if you are going to call the skill system broken, you had better be prepared to prove that its not doing what it is supposed to do.

Well, here’s the breakdown of my reasoning:

  1. The designers said they wanted to end the fifteen minute workday.
  2. The designers included the encounter resource system.
  3. The encounter resource system strongly emphasizes efficient, high damage output as the hands-down most optimal strategy.
  4. The designers also included a set of efficient, high damage output powers as daily resources, requiring extended rests to recover.
  5. The fifteen minute workday remains an optimal form of play.

Points 2-5 have been covered in the previous article at great length. If you disagree with that reasoning, that’s fine. If you don’t find the fifteen minute workday problematic, that’s also fine. But it doesn’t matter. This is not about opinion. This is about point 1 and point 5. If point 1 didn’t exist, I would just be saying that I personally don’t like a certain playstyle. But even if that playstyle is totally fine with you (and with everyone), the contradiction between 1 and 5 would still exist.

But I didn’t make a big thing about this. I didn’t try and “prove the bug.” And, toward the end of the article, I lightened up and gave the designers a pass. Why? Because D&D is a complex system. It is very easy to analyze a single mechanic with the benefit of hindsight after the game has been played to death by lots of people. Its much, much harder to build a complex system and predict exactly how every piece is going to interact. Beyond that, design decisions are complex. As I noted, every decision is a trade off and designers have to decide which things are priorities and which ones aren’t. Game balance is a huge deal in 4E. A huge, huge deal. And that’s to its great credit. But part of enabling DMs and adventure designers to build balanced encounters was finding a way to ensure every party would approach every encounter with the same resources. So, that may have had a stronger influence than the “lasting impact” problem or the “fifteen minute workday” problem. You know what? Remember what it took to balance encounters in 3rd Edition (which I also love), I probably would have agreed at the time.

When all is said and done, I don’t care why it happened or what informed the decision (okay, that’s a lie: I am extremely interested in the entire thought process), because it doesn’t change what’s in front of me. Either I play it or I don’t. Either I fix it or I ignore it. And if I fix it, I’d better be prepared to adjust my game balance accordingly because I’m probably going to mess that up. And I need to be ready to experiment to find a sweet spot that works for me.

I also don’t want to complain about innovation and experimentation. Encounter mechanics (for D&D) were fairly innovative and, love them or hate them, they are a game changer. They show a marked shift away from the heavily simulationist ways of 3rd edition and a willingness to experiment with abstraction and to challenge preconceived ideas and biases in the system. That, my friends, is how we get better games.

So, at the end of the day, the designers have a bug in the system. The impact of the bug is going to vary based on personal opinion. The bug may have been let through intentionally or it may have been overlooked. But now that we know what its doing, if we care about it, we can fix it. If we don’t care, we don’t have to. But I’m not calling anyone a moron or a jerk or throwing bricks through any windows or screaming 4E sucks. If 4E sucked, I wouldn’t have wasted thousands of words on this.

The DM’s Responsibility

I knew I was going to take a lot of flak for this one, but what surprises me is that no one called me on the hypocrisy. The DM has a lot of responsibilities. I agree. Meaningful choices, engaging experience, risk, rewards, incentives, the whole shebang. And the DM should own the game and make whatever changes he wants or needs to get the play experience he is looking for. Or leave the game and play a different one if that will give a better experience. And when there is a flaw or problem in the system, ultimately, the DM needs to analyze it. The DM needs to decide whether it can be ignored or worked around or whether a fix needs to be made. And if a fix is needed, he’s going to have to come up with a good fix or else do some research see how others have dealt with the issue. That’s all part of a DMs job.

And that’s exactly what I’m doing here. I found a flaw. I analyzed it. I decided that I, personally, could not ignore it. Now I am thinking about ways to fix it. The reason I’m writing about it and encouraging folks to try to fix the problem is so that other DMs who run into the same issue can skip some work and jump ahead to the part where everything is running smoothly. So, how can I do that while claiming that the DM shouldn’t have to this. Isn’t that hypocrisy?

There is a big difference between saying “if a problem comes up, the DM has to fix it” and saying “there are no problems because the DM can fix anything.” I think the second line of thinking is extremely dangerous. And just to be clear, I am talking here about actual problems: places where there is a demonstrable conflict between the way the game is intended to work and the way it actually works.

First of all, that line of thinking shuts down any useful, critical discussion. “Hey guys, I found a problem, let’s talk about it,” can easily be countered by “there are no problems because the DM can do anything.” Either that immediately shuts off the conversation or else it lends to a “shut up and fix it” mentality where the critical analysis is shut down and a slapdash patch is thrown over it. Or, worse, the DM just wings it and hopes for the best.

Second of all, it amounts to asking for lazy design. The most extreme outcome of the “there are no problems because the DM can do anything” mentality is a game that consists entirely of a box, a pad of paper, and a pencil. Because the DM can do anything, there doesn’t need to be more than that. There’s a reason we pay money for these games (and, thanks to DDI, a reason we keep paying for the game every single month – sorry, that was low). Now, I don’t think anyone at WotC is really planning to release a sourcebook that consists entirely of blank sheets of note paper, but I do know the creators listen to what the players are saying. And if the players are shutting off their own conversations because “the DM can do anything,” a lot of innovation might get lost.

Third of all, it keeps new blood from joining the hobby. There is a default play experience in every game. A simplest expression of D&D. You can find it easily. Get out the three core books one hour before your next session and write an adventure with no house rules or modifications. Write using only what’s actually in the book. That’s the heart of the game right there. And that’s the first experience any new player is going to have with the game. Its easy for experienced DMs to forget how complicated these games really are and how different they are from any other experience. We forget how many skills we’ve had to learn just to make these games work. A DM is a writer, storyteller, referee, psychologist, director, producer, game designer, teacher, administrator, and on and on and on. Its an overwhelming thing, but it promises an incredible experience. If the game doesn’t deliver on that experience, that player is lost after a few sessions. Gone. And the hobby loses a potential member. I don’t know about you, but to me, that sucks.

More importantly, the new DM is shaped first and foremost by those first few experiences. While he will eventually learn to fiddle with the system and make it his own, he’s also going to form biases based on what’s already going on. If the system has in-built incentives for certain styles of play, new DMs and players are as likely to internalize them and accept them as part of the game as they are to get frustrated by them and leave. That’s why the game has to make the intended experience, the desired experience, also be the easiest one to discover. Even if players and DMs are going to grow beyond those formative experiences, the intended experience needs to be the first one they trip over.

Fourth of all, sometimes I get lazy as a DM. Sometimes I need to do something quick and easy. Sometimes I find myself with very limited prep time. Sometimes I just want a throw down or a one shot or I just need to fill a session with something simple while I recharge my creative juices. I assume I’m not the only one. It is at those times when I want the system to just kind of work by itself so that all I have to do is throw a dungeon in front of my players and let them explore. And sometimes I get blocked and have a hard time coming up with this week’s “reason why things are risky” or “alternative goal” or “reason why you can’t take a rest.” And that’s why I think that even experienced DMs need the default experience to be the intended experience. If every adventure I write needs to work around some problem in the system, frankly, I get burned out. If there is an extra, creative restriction on extended rests, it should be because the story demands it, not because the system needs it. Eventually, I’m just going to be forcing it.

By way of example, imagine if druids could only use their primal powers underneath an open sky and outside of a city. If I have a player playing a druid, I now have to find a reason for almost every adventure to take place in the wilderness, outdoors. After a while, its just going to start seeming forced.

Fifth of all, while I am not a big fan of a sense of player entitlement, players do have a right to expect the rules to apply most of the time. The DM has some leeway, sure, and a rule can be modified or suspended, but even players have their limits as to how much they’ll accept before it starts feeling like they are getting screwed. If the rules create certain expectations, its not cool for the system to secretly advise the DM to subvert those expectations every time. Its just not fun for players to be forbidden from taken short rests every second encounter. Eventually, some players will get pissed. So, a system fix is preferable to DM handwaves whenever possible. Obviously, in this case, the system has already failed, so a house rule in the system is the next best thing because at least it is something the players can understand and plan around.

Last of all, that mentality (nothing is a problem because the DM can fix it) erodes the common ground between different tables and prevents DMs from being able to talk shop. Many DMs modify the game for a variety of reasons, but we can still talk about the game because there is a common ground: the default core game, the rules as written. Without that as a starting point, we have no context for discussing ideas, changes, fixes, flaws, whatever. As it now stands, if I want to discuss my game with someone else, I don’t have to start by discussing the changes I’ve made unless they are substantial and relevant to the topic being discussed. Imagine again if D&D really were just a notepad and a pencil in a box. How would two DMs ever have a conversation about it? They’d first have to spend hours describing their respective systems. Now, again, its an extreme case, but the more a game system relies on the DM to create the basic experience, the less connection any two DMs are going to have. In short, the community starts to break down. And D&D is a social game. Community is everything.

The Proposed Fixes

I want to make sure I was absolutely clear on this: those two “rules” were not a proposed fix. They are not tested, I’ve never used them, they pretty much appeared on a whim. They are a thought experiment. And I take no responsibility for them other than the fact that I will try them as soon as I have an opportunity, just to see how they work out. More than anything, they were intended to demonstrate how to create incentives within the system. I just don’t know how they will work. But I should have spent a little more time on why I chose those two rules. In the end, I was trying to do a little more than just patch a problem. I was seizing an opportunity to create a meaningful choice.

Now, that phrase is bandied around a lot and I have some very specific criteria for what I consider to be a meaningful choice. If some of you are fans of Extra Credits on The Escapist, then you might see a similarity between my ideas and theirs. We’re talking about the same thing, essentially, even though I use some different words. By the way, if you are a DM, you need to give Extra Credits a chance. They talk about video game design, but they talk about a lot of high concepts that very directly relate to everything a DM is trying to do. And besides, frankly, RPGs have more in common with video games than books and movies: they are both interactive storytelling after all. Start with this one: Choice and Conflict. If you watch it right now, you can probably skip two paragraphs.

First, a meaningful choice has to have an impact. Whatever the players choose, there needs to be a consequence and the players need to eventually become aware of the consequence. Second, a meaningful choice cannot simply be a matter of recognizing the best alternative.

This second one is important. Suppose you have two at-will attack powers. They both have identical ranges. They both cause the same conditions. But one of them deals 1d6 damage and one deals 1d12 damage. Which one do you use? Obviously, the one that does more damage. That’s not a choice. That’s just recognizing the best alternative. Interestingly enough, if you accept my argument that damage is of the utmost importance in 4E, ask yourself how many decisions in combat are actually meaningful choices.

Now, choosing the best alternative is not always easy. Sometimes there’s a lot of information to cull through. But, in the end, its still not a meaningful choice because any two people of similar intelligence with access to the same information should arrive at the same conclusion.

There are two easy ways to create meaningful choices. The first is to make the alternatives impossible to compare so that, even if there is a best alternative, it can’t be recognized as such. The second is to put two different goals or motivations in conflict. And that’s what my two rules do.

As it stands, the decision to take an extended rest in 4E is a simple calculation. It is always best to take an extended rest when (a) the party does not have enough healing surges to restore themselves to full hit points and power all of their healing options through the next fight or (b) the party has expended any daily resources.

The reason I proposed the two rules is because it creates a conflict at the end of every encounter. If we rest, we lose our momentum. If we don’t rest, we have lower hit points. The choice has impact because the party is certainly going to feel the results either way and it is going to change the way they deal with the next encounter.

If this looks familiar, that’s because that’s exactly what milestones were trying to do. But the incentive they created wasn’t strong enough to cause a conflict. And ultimately, they got hamstrung by their own complexity and have kind of vanished from the game.

Beyond that, though, the healing surge limit creates an incentive to handle each fight well. If a party can handle each fight well, they don’t have to worry. They just keep adventuring and their daily powers unlock, so they become more powerful. If they handle a fight badly, they have to make a choice between tackling the next one at reduced HP or losing their momentum. But, if they handle the next fight well, they can make up the ground they’ve lost and keep going. If they handle the next fight poorly, now things become an emergency.

Beyond even that, the two rules match the normal pacing and flow of tension in the game. Tension is supposed to rise. Even if encounters don’t get more difficult, the party has a feeling that they are pushing themselves because they know that each encounter can weaken them. But at the same time, they are also gaining access to more abilities. They are digging down deeper within themselves to face stronger challenges.

Even further beyond that, the daily power thing is a strong incentive because no player wants to have powers on their sheet that they never use. If they can’t push through four encounters, they will never get to see their biggest, coolest power. That’s a powerful force. And using that power is going to feel damn good. The party will have managed their HP well, unlocked their best abilities, and pushed through a hard day. When they finally settle down to camp, they know it was a good day.

In terms of pure power, I am hoping that it sort of evens out, so that not much of the game balance benefit of the encounter mechanic is sacrificed. But it may require tweaking. Part of me wants to toughen the limit on healing surges and drop it to one. Part of me wants to explore other options. For instance, after you become bloodied in an encounter, you can’t use healing surges outside of an encounter to get you up past bloodied. Or perhaps if you get reduced to 0 HP in a fight, you can’t bring yourself past bloodied outside of combat. Something like that. I want to fiddle a lot. Maybe I’ll have some better ideas to share eventually.

Overall, though, the key is to put more emphasize on how well the party handles the fight so that the 4E combat engine can really shine and to create a strong incentive for pushing beyond the point where it is safe. And to accomplish those things without giving up too much balance in the process.

By the way, I am a sucker for this sort of a mechanic that lines everything up: the system’s incentives, the expected play style, the narrative structure, and the player’s own incentives and desires Because, really, that’s a powerful way to create a very good default experience. What’s most fun is also the best mechanical strategy and fits well with how the game is structured and paced.

At the end of the day, though, putting in a default system to overcome the encounter resource side effects does not replace the ability of the DM to create his own risks and incentives within the story. It does mean that DMs don’t have to force them into every adventure. Moreover, it makes the story-specific risks and incentives more interesting. Why? Because there is another layer of conflict. If the party really needs an extended rest, but they know taking one is risky, the choice is more meaningful. If the party knows a powerful dragon waits at the end of a long series of encounters, that changes their resource management and makes them more likely to push. If there is a time constraint in an adventure, the combined power of the time constraint and the daily powers might urge the party to make dangerous, reckless decisions, and force them to compensate with defensive tactics that slow their fights down and thus put them on a knife’s edge balancing speed, defense, and offense. If the party is escorting someone through hostile territory, will they push their quarry too hard because they want to keep their momentum going? Will they face tougher challenges because the quarry needs to rest frequently? These are interesting questions. Far more interesting than “you can’t rest here” or “your NPC buddy needs to sleep now” or “you only have two hours.” All of the tools experienced DMs have already developed are not only still in the toolbox, they get shinier and prettier, and they can be less heavy handed to boot because the system is already creating the incentives you want.

For the last word on this topic, check out A Final, Angry Word.

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41 Responses to Tearing 4E a New One Addendum

  1. hvg3 on February 22, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    Hey ADM, another interesting read – thankyou! :)

    I’m still not 100% sold on your point #5, though. I don’t think you can remove the solid rules from the settings that much – after all, the rulebooks say nothing against going into a shop, slaughtering the shopkeeper, and stealing all his stuff, yet we know it’s not generally the wisest thing (though, wouldn’t it be “optimal”?)

    If you play in a game where you can rest for 24 hours after every short encounter, I still think that is a failing of the DM, not the system. Or, you might have a DM who loves giving epic encounters of level +5, and stretching them out, making them actually two or three encounters, and you need to long rest…but I don’t think that’s what we are getting at here :)

    Ultimately, the rules don’t state how the world reacts to the players – that *is* the DM’s job. The rules state that you can have a long rest once a day, and if you find a DM that allows the world to remain unchanged whilst you dance in and out of it each day, again I say: bad DM, not bad system!

    I know it’s anecdotal, but I have yet to come across anyone in any of the games I have played in wanting to do this. If a party (or some individuals of a party) get smashed badly in a battle, and are on shaky legs, then there’s cause for a long rest. But I do not see it being an “optimal” choice, as it has never been carried out.

    Perhaps that’s because we rate other things (such as “fun”) in our idea of optimal, and having a long rest after a single encounter makes the game a whole lot less fun? For us, anyway. I’m sure that there will be some people out there who want a single encounter a day, and find that fun.

    Finally – as to your “two at-will attack powers”, I’d have to say the mistake was in choosing them :D Why would you choose such powers (if they did indeed exist)? Surely a player would be choosing a variety of powers to cover different situations?

    Anyway, still enjoyed your two options, and your articles, and look forward to trying them out at some time. (Perhaps the restricted-surge one would do well as a curse that the party have to fight off?)


  2. The Angry DM on February 22, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    Fair enough. I’m happy to let my points stand there and agree to disagree. I’ll never agree that creating an in-system incentive for one behavior and then asking the DM to prevent it is a good idea, though. I’d much prefer the system create incentives that drive the behavior that is intended. Or, to just have it both ways. If fifteen minute rest is not a problem for you, I’m glad. Its actually not a problem for me either because, again, I don’t let it happen. But I still don’t see any good reason why the system should work in such a way that it is the best mechanical behavior. Because it is. In the absence of any other influence, the absolute strongest strategy is to go to bed after every encounter. Anyway… doesn’t matter.

    The at-will thing is … geeze… it was an illustration of a simple calculation decision. For the love of pete, do I have to debate the validity of those too now? Just kidding. I was just trying to illustrate that there is no actual decision in such a situation – its a simple calculation. It doesn’t mean anything. The player doesn’t have to decide anything more than which number is bigger.

    In the end, if the game works for you, I’m glad it does. If you don’t think it needs fixing, also glad. But now the people who think it does need some fixing have some help so they can play too. Everyone wins. And even those who don’t agree with the problems might get some benefit from the ideas. That’s why I always try to throw in extra stuff – creating choices, historical perspective, critical analysis, jokes, whatever. My goal is to make sure that whether you walk away agreeing with me or disagreeing with me, you’ve maybe gotten something out of reading, even if its just a fresh perspective or a good punch line.

  3. hvg3 on February 22, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    “I still don’t see any good reason why the system should work in such a way that it is the best mechanical behavior. ”
    Still – the best mechanical options upon entering a town are to kill everyone and take their stuff (or, at least, take their stuff). You see it happen in the computer games (NWN, Baldur’s Gate, etc), people would all suddenly become chaotic and go about looting every house they came across. You hopefully don’t see it happening in your own games (or, if you do, the player’s second character learns, as he watches the sheet of the first character go up in flames :) )

    “The at-will thing is … geeze… it was an illustration of a simple calculation decision.”
    :D There’s an angry DM response! Yeah, my “big grin” smiley was meant to show that my comment was largely in jest, too ;)

    On suggestions: one thing I did for one of my epic level adventures is every long rest reduced the number of surges they had by one. That is, their first long rest only restored them to (total surges -1), their third long rest only restored them to (total surges -3), and so on. Story wise, it was because there was no “nice, easy” rest spots; it was dry, barren, and taking a lot out of them to rest there. But it had the added benefit of encouraging the players to push through each day as far as they could!


    • the scattman on May 9, 2014 at 10:56 am

      Because attacking a town full of guards is certainly the optimal choice. That carries no risk or anything.

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dean Gilbert, Scott. Scott said: #dnd Tearing 4E a New One Addendum at http://tinyurl.com/4fwfs33 . Because 4,500 words just aren't enough for some people. Apparently. […]

  5. Steven Avery on February 23, 2011 at 1:37 am

    Heyya ADM, you probably recognize me from on twitter.
    Anyway, just wanted to say, this was a very good article and addendum about the shortcomings you’ve spotted in 4e.

    (Admin – I have shortened this post. The main point remains intact, but this blog will not become a front in the edition wars. Sorry. The commenter agrees that there is a problem and contends that 4E’s mechanics may make it even worse than in previous editions.)

    How can this be fixed? I’d say a new mechanic needs to be introduced along the lines of the Stun and Body damage features of Champions. Where there is stun damage (which is what 4e is using hitpoints like) and a body damage feature which takes time and effort to heal up. In short making the whole daily recharge less effective by wearing the pc’s down and having body damage cumulatively reflect the actual wounds and long term injuries and strains they are under. Have it tie into the powers of the pc’s too. Where extended use of big powers over and over takes a toll on the physical health of the characters. That way physical powers effectively overstress the body, or magical powers deplete the spirit or magical capacity of the spell casters unless they rest and recover for extended time. But frankly even this would be a cludgey patch.

  6. hvg3 on February 23, 2011 at 2:13 am

    (Admin – I’ve removed this post. This blog will not become a front in the edition war. Sorry.)

  7. Steven Avery on February 23, 2011 at 2:43 am

    (Admin – I’ve removed this post. Hey, guess what? Edition wars thing.)

  8. C. Steven Ross on February 23, 2011 at 10:08 am

    I, for one, welcome our new Angry DM overlord.

    Seriously though, great article. I was thinking that for martial Essentials characters, whom have no Daily attack powers, that you could apply the same restrictions to their usage of Power Strike (or similar damage-boosting feature). The further they go adventuring, the more times they can use Power Strike per encounter, up to the maximum. For example with a 13th level character, the first encounter of the day they get no Power Strikes. By the fouth encounter of the day they can use Power Strike up to their maximum of 3/Encounter.

  9. atminn on February 23, 2011 at 11:23 am

    I second C. Steven Ross’s suggestion for Martial Essentials characters and Power Strike.

    I’m wondering if the restriction on surge usage penalizes the beefy defenders (with lots of surges) more than others. Or is it assumed that they can/should be using more surges during combat because they’re theoretically taking more damage than other PCs?

  10. AlioTheFool on February 23, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Comments to this post include some of the same things I had a problem with in the comments on the last one.

    I’m a pretty n00b DM. I’ve collected D&D manuals for every edition going back over 25 years to the old Red Box, but I never played BECMI, AD&D, 3.0, and only played a single afternoon’s worth of 3.5 for a D&D Game Day. I played 4E for 7 months before I took over DMing for my group. I DMed for just over 13 months (but recently had to leave the group for personal reasons).

    I’m good at creating stories that draw in my players. I’m good at sitting in front of Masterplan for hours and building challenging encounters. I’m good at coming prepared and full of energy to game night.

    I’m AWFUL at putting my foot down and telling the players that they can’t do something that isn’t explicitly prevented by the rules.

    My players have “gamed” me on a number of occassions. They never have a problem burning through dailies, item powers, encounter powers, and healing surges. Everything they have available as expendable, they expend. Then they find a nice place to barricade, hole up, and get some rest.

    Sure, you could sit there and blame me for “allowing” it, but what is my reasoning for disallowing it?

    Here is an example: I had a whole dungeon crawl mapped out for them, where every room had a different challenge. They fought a group of kobolds right outside the dungeon. Then they napped. When they entered they fought two gargoyles, figured out how to disable a trap, then came to a door. They opened the door, and saw an “empty” room. It turned out there was a huge gelatinous cube in the room, which they then had to fight. They went into that fight practically full since the gargoyles weren’t much of a challenge (they were supposed to waste some resources but failed) and the trap did nothing to them. They unloaded on the cube. They all went nova and shredded the thing.

    Well, then they had an easily defensible room with a door available to them. They walked inside, shut the door, drove spikes into the ground to prevent it from being opened, and took a nap.

    Sure, I could have gone and been a jerk DM and had an ogre smash the door in, or have the room outside fill with enemies waiting for breakfast, but that would be jackassery. Not to mention the group would go nova again, then either fix the door and nap again, or just leave the dungeon rendering all my work on it useless.

    This attitude that it’s “the DM’s fault” is ludicrous and a bit off-putting to me. The players are acting within the confines of the rules. I, for one, really appreciate Angry’s posts on this topic. I think they’re helpful, and necessary. As he said, if you don’t have a problem, great for you! And I mean that sincerely, not sarcastically. However, some of us do have problems that need addressing, so rather than be dismissive, either help, or hush.

    I see a lot of people complain about how we need to keep bringing new players into the hobby to keep it alive, but at the same time, the system grows more complicated and the established player base grows more impatient with those who aren’t immediately comfortable with it. You can’t have both. Either you want to welcome new players in, or you want to play with professionals.

  11. Patrick on February 23, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    My group is an Essentials-free party, so with that in mind what would be the repercussions of instituting the following rules?

    * Encounter Powers only recover on milestones. Second Wind and any Racial encounter powers you have recover.
    * When you use an action point to make an attack roll, you may use any encounter attack power you haven’t used this combat.

  12. […] Angry DM crafted an excellent article the other day (“Tearing 4e a new one” and an addendum) that has spurred some discussion and debate. Particularly he pointed out the possibly unintended […]

  13. Draco on February 24, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    (Admin – This comment has been removed for violation of the “no blaming DMs for not fixing the problem” rule. Specifically, for blaming a specific DM by name. Come on, guys. Not cool.)

  14. Mark G on February 24, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    I’m lucky enough to have myself and two other DMs that I game with all the time 10 feet away from me, as well as a slow work week :) We read both articles and discussed at great length the points and suggestions. I think the consensus we came to on the daily powers was this: As your characters go for more and more encounters, they would become increasingly tired, and not more powerful, so the daily powers option wouldn’t work for us.

    We tried positing several other ideas, including the clarification that death saving throws reset after any rest, be it short or extended. This helped remove one of the incentives to take an extended rest, as 2 of the three of us were under the impression they lasted until an extended rest.

    We argued a lot about whether penalizing the players(restricted access to powers) or rewarding the players(more powerful attacks, etc) was the way to go. One idea we had was not to limit the choice of dailies, but the number per encounter to 1(unless used as an action when spending an action point, then you could use two). We find that our parties often take extended rests more to recover dailies than to get back surges, but again, this felt like punishing the players.

    The problem I have in both campaigns I run is that my players all like to twink their characters out. DPR is king, and as you said, this tends to be the main strategy: Forget tactics, forget role, just kill it with as much fire as possible. In one group this is a constant issue, but we’ve just been ignoring it and doing the 15 min work day(though that will be changing soon). The other it’s never really come up. In the course of a year, the story I’ve had them on has never put them on an extended time without resources(though this will be changing). Entirely unintentional, and I didn’t even realize it until reflecting on this article.

    I love the idea of reducing total surges until a proper rest can be had(not in a dangerous situation), but I would modify it a loss of 1/5 of the total surges, rounded down, with a minimum of 1. This would help scale across all classes and stat choices.

    ld;dr: Awesome article, hard to come up with a good solution, I like reducing total surges

  15. The Angry DM on February 25, 2011 at 12:33 am

    Mark – thanks for taking the time to post the results of your round table. Its three opinions for the price of one. And while whatever works for you works for you, I would like to offer a few counterpoints. Take them for what they are, an alternate viewpoint.

    1) Part of me wants to make a joke about realism in the abstract world of 4E, but only because I totally understand where you are coming from. Suspension of disbelief and verisimilitude are extremely important to me, actually. And I have struggled with the existence of non-magical Daily Powers from day one for precisely that reason. I sympathize.

    From that end, I don’t view unlocking Dailies as terribly unrealistic. After all, if we want to really model human power/energy levels, it should be lowest when you first wake up, peak around the middle of the afternoon, and wane. But beyond that, there are phenomena based on adrenaline and endorphins that support the idea of growing power as you push yourself. As you put your body under increasing strain, it responds with all sorts of chemicals to keep you going. This is by evolution or design (depending on your beliefs). The body assumes that if you are under stress, something important is happening, and it works hard to keep you going. It diverts energy from processes like digestion, vents heat via sweat, flushes muscles to prevent the buildup of lactic acid, releases adrenaline to keep you strong and endorphins which work as painkillers. All of these factors (and others, I’m not a biologist) lead to things like a “runners high.” In point of fact, they are so powerful that they can keep a marathon runner going strong until the moment his heart bursts from overexertion. I’ll let you Google some relevant articles.

    Anyhoo, long story short, the harder you push yourself, the harder your body goes. Until you die. Which would be an awesome mechanic, come to think of it.

    Beyond that, you can also model them as factors of increasing recklessness or desperation if you are more into narrative/cinematic reality than real reality. Heroes in books and movies, as the story goes on, keep finding their wells of strength and power running deeper and deeper.

    But all that aside, if it doesn’t work for you, that’s cool too. I respect where you are coming from.

    2) I don’t think limiting the total number of surges per day really speaks to the issue rather than just making the rest come earlier, but I think I may be misunderstanding you and I’d love for you to clarify a bit.

    3) My point, as far as a resource that grows during the day is concerned, is this: you have to have something. There has got to be some incentive or reward to keep the party pressing forward past the point where resting is the optimal choice. Otherwise, resting is always the optimal choice and you haven’t gotten anywhere. I chose daily powers because they are valuable, the system doesn’t expect people to use more than one per combat anyway so I know its balanced to use that as the incentive, and the level restriction and the risk that you might not see your best powers every day is very strong – strong enough to overwhelm the desire to always be at full HP. After all, you need an incentive that offsets the risk that someone will die. It has to be strong.

    As far as the healing surge thing – the key again is that there has to be some effect of the fight that affects the game after the fight is over. Healing surges, by themselves, aren’t going to do that because, provided the party has enough of them, they don’t have an impact on the next combat. If the party doesn’t have enough, they won’t push forward. Healing surges really live outside of combat. HP seemed like a logical thing there, especially because I had moved daily powers from “incentive to stop” to “incentive to keep going.”

    Whatever you do, there are two problems to address if you agree with what I’m saying. One is: how can you create consequences within the system so that the party is rewarded for handling fights well instead of simply winning them? The other is: how can you create an incentive for the party to keep pushing forward even when they aren’t at their best? One is about getting things past the short rest. The other is about rewarding players for not taking an extended rest.

  16. Mark G on February 25, 2011 at 1:25 am

    Thanks for the response!

    The realism in the discussion we had comes from the way that the three of us view the 4E system: Based on the current laws and applications of science to the real world, with additional laws and rules applied. We use this as a basis for most of our arguments, in the fashion of “While the stone goliath can jump a maximum 40 feet away and 10 feet into the air for some reason, if he actually wants to hit the 10 foot mark to make it over that large creature, he needs to go the full 40 feet, or the arc of his movement 10 feet away wouldn’t take him that high”. Silly, yes, but gives us common ground for our arguments over “Well, it’s magic! Of course he can do that!”.

    I like the increasing desperation and recklessness angle. That makes good sense to me. Let’s see if I can argue it on Monday :)

    The less number of surges was in reference to an earlier post by hvg3 where he said:
    On suggestions: one thing I did for one of my epic level adventures is every long rest reduced the number of surges they had by one. That is, their first long rest only restored them to (total surges -1), their third long rest only restored them to (total surges -3), and so on. Story wise, it was because there was no “nice, easy” rest spots; it was dry, barren, and taking a lot out of them to rest there. But it had the added benefit of encouraging the players to push through each day as far as they could![/quote]

    The players are provided an incentive to go through ALL surges if possible before resting, as the next day they’ll have less of them at their disposal. I’ve just read your Slaughterhouse article tonight, and I can see a group finding a room tucked away in a building with groups of orcs respawning outside not providing the most satisfying of sleep, and affecting them the next day. This give more of a long term incentive, and may work on long dungeon crawls, but less so if after 3-4 encounters they can curl up in a nice warm bed safe in the dwarven stronghold.

    In all three groups I’m involved in, we’ve created a third type of rest: The battle Rest. This would be analagous to taking a lunch break. All players may recover 1 surge worth of HP without spending a surge, regain 1/4 of their total surges(rounded down), but not powers. They are allowed on of these per day, same as an extender rest, and we think makes some sense: Taking the time to have a meal would recharge you, but not near what a night of sleep and food would.

    We’ve found this addresses the need to extended rest as often to regain surges in preventing the 15 minute work day.

    This doesn’t really encourage them to push themselves, however. I think in our groups the issue is that we play with half of each group being casual players. They don’t really want to take the time to investigate, design, and become familiar with a new character, so like to play it safe. The less casual of us want some tension and risk, but for the sake of not bickering at the table don’t press the issue.

    We’ve bandied around other incentives: a growing XP modifer for each battle: second battle is 105% normal xp, the thirdis 110%, etc, but dismissed it as likely being OP. We also discussed other fight-to-fight effects, like a much higher use of diseases, but this is very situational and still requires extra work on the DMs part each time. I’ve also considered giving each player a wonderous item/boon that becomes more useful as they accumulate milestones: First milestone might give them a 2 square teleport, second might give +2 attack until end of the next turn, and the third might be +2 to all defenses for the encounter.

    This addresses your second question, and I’ll have to think on the first.

  17. Draco on February 25, 2011 at 1:51 am

    Angry –

    That pushing beyond your limit idea is interesting. Maybe if you’re out of surges, once per day you can regain a surge value in hit points, but you lose 1/4 or 1/3 the surge value in permanent HP?

    Doesn’t really fit with my understanding of the rest of the 4e system (Essentially, everything always favors the PCs, always and forever.) but I think it’s a cool idea.

  18. Tony on February 25, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    I commented late on your first point on this topic, basically saying, yeah I see where you’re coming from because I get conflicted sometimes too over the “choice” of resting, especially extending resting, in relation to game balance and challenge.

    This time though, I want to thank you for pimping The Escapist. Never heard of them till tonight, but I loved the two videos I watched. I feel a hell of a lot smarter about games and the integrity a gaming company that wants to be a leader should carry: the Choice and Conflict and Open Letter to EA videos were simply outstanding.

  19. Justin Alexander on February 27, 2011 at 1:50 am

    First, I agree with you that 4th Edition didn’t solve the 15 minute adventuring day. When you boil it down, 4th Edition’s designers apparently believed that they fixed the first problem by making sure that every class was given at-will and encounter abilities — things they could continue doing for as long as they wanted to without ever taking a long rest. But the nova-rest-nova cycle of gameplay isn’t driven by a character’s least powerful abilities, it’s driven by their most powerful abilities — the things that are designed to be used rarely, but which the nova-rest-nova cycle allows to be used frequently.

    “I’ll never agree that creating an in-system incentive for one behavior and then asking the DM to prevent it is a good idea, though.”

    Couple of thoughts on this: First, resting after every encounter intrinsically makes sense from a character perspective. Historically, armies that tried to engage in multiple battles in the same day were basically screwed. Boxers don’t fight two opponents in the same day. And so forth. In the absence of other incentives, nobody goes looking for a second fight until they’ve recovered from the first one.

    So solving this problem means either (a) applying highly dissociated metagame incentives; (b) somehow justifying near-instantaneous total recovery of all abilities and health after each encounter (and rebalancing the game accordingly); or (c) shaping the game world in such a way that the PCs have incentives to “push on”.

    That final option, it should be noted, doesn’t have to be extra-mechanical. For example, in OD&D wandering monsters are just an assumed part of the game. They were part of the game’s mechanical balance (in addition to being part of the game world). And, speaking from experience, I can tell you that if you use by-the-book OD&D wandering monster rules then the 15-minute adventuring day is vanishes. If you go to the dungeon, fight one encounter, and then retreat you will never get anywhere; you will never find treasure; you will have an incredibly difficult time leveling up (since XP was predominantly awarded for treasure and not for killing stuff); and you will never achieve any of your goals.

    (The OD&D mechanics, for those unfamiliar with them, were 1 in 6 chance of an encounter per turn. In a turn, a typical party will move about 120 feet. Completely brutal. Fortunately, you can get very similar effects even while using a much lower chance of occurrence.)

    Of course, wandering monsters don’t work all that well when your encounter design (in the latter days of 3rd Edition) results in combats taking 45-90 minutes in a trend that has now been reinforced into the design of 4th Edition’s core mechanics. So this is certainly a sort of cascading problem from a system design standpoint.

    But this all serves as prelude to my next point…

    “But none of this changed the fact that the system had an optimal strategy built into it and the DM was forced to find ways to deny it to the party.”

    Which is that I think you’re inadvertently mischaracterizing the situation.

    The reality is that the 15-minute adventuring day exists if and only if you play the game in a very specific fashion in which time is not factor, opponents won’t reinforce their positions, enemies won’t come looking for the PCs, retreat is always achievable, and so forth.

    It’s not that there’s this huge, pervasive problem and the DM has to find the handful of solutions which avoid it. It’s that 95% of the available game-space for D&D doesn’t feature the problem. 5% of it does.

    And most of that 5% is the section that simultaneously trivializes the player’s decisions by designing adventures which are strings of My Perfect Encounters(TM) strung together — so that whether they retreat or push on, that next encounter is going to be the same.

  20. The Angry DM on February 27, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Justin, thanks for commenting.

    First of all, we shouldn’t try to bring history and a desire to represent the real world (to avoid highly disassociated, meta game mechanics) into this? The designers certainly didn’t. In those terms, it would take well more than a five minute breather for a character to recover from being knocked to near death by an armored, fire breathing lizard, and no amount of being shouted at by a highly charismatic martial commander with no magical ability is going to change that.

    There are a lot of highly disassociated, meta game mechanics in 4E (and 3E and 2E and every other role playing game in existence, even the very realistic ones). We accept the fact that you can have a strategy that, for some reason, you can only use once a day. Or that, at the end of the encounter, you’re fighting fresh. Or the incredible healing powers of a charismatic leader. Or the fact that no matter how many times you get injured, you are never debilitated until you suffer that one last hit point of damage. I’m not complaining. If I were, I wouldn’t play the game on those grounds. But the fact is, the game is built as a game first and a simulation second.

    For that matter, as I noted above, there are ways in which growing martial power, despite continuing injury and stress is realistic. There are always plenty of ways to call it bullshit.

    As for the idea that I am characterizing the situation, let me turn this around. What I am saying is that the problem arises UNLESS you are playing the game in a very specific way. That is, unless you choose to make time a factor, the problem can come up. I am not even saying the problem will come up: just that the system leaves the same opening for it as previous editions did. And I’d let that slide, except that the designers – and the system itself – are built around the opposite assumption.

    And I would also characterize the “time incentive” as a workaround. It really isn’t discussed in the original DMG. At least not anywhere I could find it. Nor are any other possible incentives.

    And that is the point where I again call this a failure of the system. The game isn’t meant to be played on the Nova-sleep cycle. It trivializes encounters, for one thing. And there are a lot of other bits of the game that are designed around the assumption that you won’t Nova-sleep.

    Honestly, the DMG should at least discuss the issue. Its a very strong incentive, a very strong way to play, and a new DM needs a warning. Advice. A sidebar, such as the one included on DMG41 (When is an Encounter Over) wherein a DM is warned that short rests are something that the assumes will always happen and the DM shouldn’t fiddle with them. And if the DM fiddles with them, he needs to adjust difficulty accordingly. If a sidebar like that had been included that was about Extended Rests and how difficult they should be to take, I’d say it was addressed. Now, I haven’t memorized every page of the DMG and I can always overlook things, so if you can find places in the book where this is addressed, please let me know. As it stands right now, the DM is left on his own to just figure out how to deal with it, if the problem arises. And because the problem itself arises because of rules the designers chose to include, I call it irresponsible of them not talk about it.

    As for designing adventures as strings of “Perfect Encounters,” I don’t know if you’ve read the same DMG I have, but the entire chapter on combat encounters pretty much says exactly that. Here is how to build an encounter and the safe tolerances. Here is the budget. Here are some templates that work well. Now, I’m not saying anyone HAS TO play that way. I sure as hell don’t (when I play 4E). But the system thinks that that is the best place to start. All I’m asking is for the system to be consistent within itself. If you’re going to say this is the best place to start, don’t include rules that invalidate that.

    End of the day, I can’t talk about how different DMs will handle different issues that crop up. I can’t talk about the best way to build beyond the system or whether DMs should use mechanics or narrative fixes most often or anything else. Those are all matters for individual DMs. Which isn’t to say that a well-designed system could include a few pages devoted to some different options, either as tools to be used or as examples of how to build tools. All I can talk about is whether the system the is consistent with itself and whether the system gives the DM enough tools to get the baseline experience.

  21. […] by “Tearing 4e a New One.” Of course the nerd rage was so fierce, he ended up posting an addendum.  Also, be sure to check the pings and trackbacks at the end of the comments for other blogs that […]

  22. Natespank on March 3, 2011 at 1:55 am

    Could you elaborate for me on how to effectively use time constraints in 4e games? I’ve been looking for ways to incorporate it but I’ve encountered a few challenges:

    1- My current campaign is highly sandbox-y. There’s an overall lack of quests and missions in the first place- and assigning them time limits seems suspicious since they don’t expire until the PCs find the quest.

    2- I’m unsure how much time to allot for this or for that; what sort of time penalties to implement- basically the nuts and bolts. This will come with practice, but you could give me a big head start!

    3- I’d like to incorporate time limits into a greater concept of “adventure win/lose conditions” and degrees of success. I need mechanical rewards/punishments for the different degrees of success or failure- I think that a purely character/story reward lacks something from a design perspective.

    Cool blog btw.

    • Jon on March 17, 2013 at 1:08 pm

      Not angry dm but I may have something useful. Combat should not always be a fight to the death. See run a game, here http://runagame.blogspot.com/2013/02/combat-resolution.html

      Time constraints exist to stop players from taking more than a day. So if the players have an objective like get the treasure, save the hostage, or stop the curse, you add a time constraint that starts with “before” and describes any event that will come within a day or two.

      Before the monsoon floods the valley.
      Before night falls and the vampires awaken.
      Before the hostages are cooked and eaten at the feast tomorrow night.
      Before your ship leaves.
      Before your rivals find the treasure first.
      Before the curse becomes permanent.
      Before the king dies without an heir.
      Before the festival in two days time.

      Or you make bad things happen every extended rest, to keep them from doing it unless there is no other choice…

      Each night the werewolf kills another villager.
      Each night the blighted lands creep a few miles closer,
      Each day at passes under the curse, more crops wither and die.
      Each day, the curse at the princess another ten years.
      Each day the orcs ransack 1d4 outlying farms.
      Each day another ten percent of the town leaves to become penniless refugees devoid of hope…

    • Mediaprophet on July 19, 2013 at 1:33 pm

      I pointed out how plot penalties accrue with time. What about game penalties?

      – each day that passes, another champion comes to join the evil overlord (adding another monster to one of the encounters)

      – each night that passes, the curse grows stronger (PCs have necrotic vulnerability 1, +1 per night that passes)

      – the bandits are spending the gold on wine and brothels every night (reduce the GP that the bandits have by 50 each night)

  23. Mike Karkabe-Olson on March 7, 2011 at 8:04 am

    The more I think of it, the more I like the idea of a possible solution focused on milestones and doling out action points as an incentive for “pushing on” rather than penalizing PCs of their daily powers if they don’t. For more on this, see my previous posts on your initial article. In a nutshell, though, here is the idea again: Don’t give PCs an action point for taking an extended rest; in addition, have them lose all existing action points they’ve accumulated when taking one (the rule mechanic that is already in place). In other words, the only way to get an action point is to complete a milestone without undergoing an extended rest. In addition, I would suggest granting a milestone after every encounter instead every two encounters (so PCs gain an action point after every encounter, if they push on) to provide an even greater incentive. In this way, it creates the same “need to build adrenaline or momentum or whatever you want to call it” to gain action points (as you mentioned for daily powers) but without limiting the use of daily powers. Knowing that they will only gain an action point following every encounter, and not having any if they take an extended rest, will make for a tougher choice and give them a lot of incentive to push on. In fact, you could stretch this mechanic even further to say they don’t gain an action point for the latest encounter if they take ANY kind of rest (short or long). This will make them think twice about taking short rests as well. In other words they would have the following options to choose from after each and every encounter: 1) no rest = gain one milestone for each encounter completed without a rest in between; 2) short rest = keep all existing action points accumulated, but don’t gain a new one for the last encounter completed; 3) extended rest = lose all accumulated action points and start the day fresh with none (they must complete a milestone/encounter to gain their first action point).

    This mechanic would not create a balancing issue, I don’t think, because the PCs would still have to “use them or lose them” like stated in the original rules (you can only use one action point per encounter).

    Anyway, I’m interested to hear what you think, or if you have any additional ideas for tweaks before I implement this into my own campaigns.

  24. Ranoik on March 8, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    This is my first time posting, and I just want to start with a huge thank you. I believe that your article highlighted what ones of the major problems that my group and I have had over the past year of 4e (for us). I’ve only been our group’s DM for 4 months, but our previous DM ran the system as is with little house rules (preferring to get his pleasure from creating harsh, uncaring, and hostile worlds, that made us cry), and while we were still in our honeymoon phase, this was fine, but we soon learned that offense is king, and battles soon got long, dull, and meaningless, when they used to be fun and exciting (but always long…). By the time I took up DMing, we had regulated battles to the “RP” realm, which while made them significantly faster and more flavorful, most of the time were still not exciting.

    Before I read your article, we solved our problem by turning Mechanical battles into a game of Russian roulette, by making monsters do incredible amounts of damage and adding a “gimmick” to each of them, so they couldn’t be Nova’d so easily. While it did fix our problem, it made us scorn frequent usage of the system, since they all had to be carefully, planned, balanced, and designed correctly. Pretty soon, when my players were asked to roll initiative, they knew that they were in for some sort of Boss fight, since it was the only time I was using mechanical rules. My last one was an epic magically enhanced Troll that used players as a weapon against their allies…literally. The Gimmicks I liked to use forced the party to work together or take epic damage. The mentioned Troll (Let’s call him Tiny) picked up a party member and swung him at his fellow adventurer for 3d20+10 in damage. The target of the attack always had the option of moving out of the way, even on a hit (in which case, the damage was doubled), while the poor beat stick took the full damage of the attack, or they could choose to do the right thing (God forbid!) and split the damage, as the system allowed for other players to jump in the way and absorb some damage. As you can see, this kind of style of play lent itself to too much influence of luck, but I could never quite put my finger on it until you pointed it out.

    I think you are spot on about what short rests do to the game, trivialize combat. What’s more, for our group, the combat system ruined more story lines than I can remember. We used to be consistent Risk players (We’ve since switched to Axis and Allies due to our new found cooperative nature), and we still have the “I’m going to —- you over” mentality that the constant adversary combat afforded us. The way that the first couple of games I’ve ever DM’d went something like “Party Arrives in Town due to some kind of Hook –> Party Kills Shopkeepers and Town Guards –> Short Rest –> Party Kills Army sent to backup Town Guards –> Short Reset –> Party Kills Elite Imperial Guard sent to back up Army; Party finally runs out of Surges and Daily Powers –> Party takes an extended rest somewhere safe :( –> Party comes back the next day to finish the Job –> Wash, Rinse, Repeat”. As you can probably imagine, this didn’t lead to fun stories, nor could I work very hard on engaging storylines, because I knew the party could simply roll initiative and mess things up for me. At first I thought it was because I wasn’t doing an adequate job as DM (I wasn’t doing an adequate job as DM btw), but as I gained DM proficiency (Superior Weapon), I learned that it wasn’t just me, or at least not all me, but that the system itself had something wrong with it.
    Fast forward to your analysis, and I have to say you hit the nail on the head. After reading this, I thought about ways to improve our game, and I came out with a solution that worked really well for us. I basically took your idea of limiting healing surges and ran with it, taking it to the extreme. I know it does cause some balance issues, but the game is more fun than it has been for a long time, and I’ve been able to actually make stories without threatening my players with near certain death in less than 2 rounds.
    Basically, I added a new concept, based on “Points of Healing” and “Healing Surge Rewards”. Players can only spend healing surges by Powers (Second Wind, Healing Word, and ECT) or by resting in certain “Points of Healing” Healing surges, by comparison, don’t ever get renewed…period. They are now given out as rewards for completing skill challenges, engaging in RP, and for Good tactics in battle, though they can be taken away for dramatic failures in any one of these situations.
    It’s not as subjective as you might think either, as I never take surges away if the party want to be idiots or decided to genocide a small nation. The party is still as free as ever to go mess up my storyline and game as they wish, but they do so knowing that taking a short rest, or an extended rest for that matter, will never heal their precious HP. Even having multiple leaders in a party, means that though the party might have access to healing, their surges aren’t guaranteed unless they are actively engaging in the game or storyline. So if they just go out, decided to stupidly rampage, and run out of surges, it’s usually very entertaining to see what they do to make up more. I also added (yes, added) the idea of an espirit d’corps to my party by linking surge gain (and sometimes surge loss if I’m feeling evil). If everyone helps one person kick some ass, everyone gets a surge!
    As for points of rest, they aren’t so much saving points as they are class specific resting points. Basically, every class gets its own “Point of Rest” that the rest of the party can then use, to heal to full HP, or whatever they desire, since surges still aren’t regained. Obviously, I haven’t thought of all the classes, but in my most recent game, the party composed of a Ranger, a Fighter, two Rouges, and a Bard. The Ranger could rest in an tranquil outdoor meadow, the Fighter could rest in a Barracks, the Rogues could rest in a Jail/Alley, and the Bard could rest in a Tavern. Each party member allowed every other party member to rest in their own “Point of Rest”, but a point of rest could only be used once. It was also fun watching the party argue and try to create recreations of their respective “point of rest”, some of which (The Rouge in a dirty subterranean Passage, the Fighter in a Dragon Thrall Den) were successful, others which were not (Bard entertaining a host of enemy Goblins, which didn’t count as a point of healing, did earn his party 2 healing surges).
    I know this won’t work for everyone, and I know that it’s still broken as hell until we get it balanced and just right (Party couldn’t really explore outdoors, since they could only heal with the bard every 15 minutes, and there was only 1 character that could use a truly outdoor “Point of Rest”), but I also know that it was the most fun we’ve had in a few months of D&D, not just the battle system. I could finally go back to not using stacked encounters, and the party really used tactics and strategy to fight, since they knew how important every point of HP was now. On top of the outside of the mechanical battle, the party’s attention was focused on the “Side Quests” and Main Quest, because success in those things meant healing surges, which meant more killing, more loot, moar XP.

    Thank you once again for this article; I think more than anything, it’s really salvaged a workable battle system for us.

  25. Jeremiah on March 9, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Hi Mr. Angry DM-
    Found your post via a link from initiative or what- and you’ve got a new follower. I find your points interesting and valid. For a look at what another DM did to account for the 15 minute adventure day, check out the enworld link attached here. This amnuxoll character went the route of creating a hybrid system- and was kind enough to include a document detailing the major changes without having to dive into the whole ruleset at first setting. Thought it may be of interest to you.

  26. Paul on September 30, 2011 at 12:41 am

    Old post I know, but I would really love to hear if you ever play-tested your proposed changes and how they went. I’m getting ready to start a new game and am toying with attempting them. Maybe I missed a page somewhere, but I would love a link–might be a good idea to comment on it here or on the previous post?

  27. […] Angry DM crafted an excellent article the other day (“Tearing 4e a new one” and an addendum) that has spurred some discussion and debate. Particularly he pointed out the possibly unintended […]

  28. Jon on March 17, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    I think you have a perfect fix. Your post, “5 rules for dating my teenage skill system” post explains how to solve the full refresh / no consequences combat problem.

    Just replace “roll” with “fight” in the “5 rules” post.

    See, heroes fighting desperately and not holding back in every fight is cool. And realistic. If you had a gun with three bullets, and a lion attacked you, would you try to save some bullets because you somehow knew you were “supposed” to fight four or five lions a day? No! Realistically, in any fight, a real person holds nothing back, or else he gets his ass kicked.

    D&D created the expectation that a band of heroes would have four or five fights a day if they had one. It doesn’t exist in fantasy literature. Most of the combat a party has is unnecessary – just evaluate it with your skill post rules! If the only thing that makes combat interesting is damage carrying over, I’m afraid *nothing* will make combat interesting because damage carryover is accounting, not story. Each fight should have a win condition, a lose condition, and a consequence for losing. And the lose condition shouldn’t always be TPK. You said it best in “5 rules” – there is no point if there is no f@&$@ing point.

    The fifteen minute workday is only a problem if the DM has created five combats for the sake of having five combats. If a Minotaur is guarding a legendary treasure, the first four fights against gnolls and oozes leading up to the dramatic Minotaur fight are just filler. What 4e does better than any edition is it makes the fifteen minute workday actually still fun and challenging. It is a lot easier to design one or two challenging encounters in 4e than 3.x, and leave it at that.

    If you have a story that really does involve a lot of fights, I’m willing to wager that you already have a reason why the heroes can’t take extended rests every other one. And I’m willing to bet that the premise of your plot comes with failure conditions other than TPK for those fights. Zombie survival horror comes to mind. Each fight is a struggle to protect innocent people from zombies. Keep the zombies from getting through the door to the inn that you’ve barricaded the townsfolk in. Keep the zombies busy while the family runs for shelter. Kill the zombies in the crypt before night falls and they start leaving to prey on the villagers… Just fighting zombies because that’s what you do is just as lazy as just making a skill check because that’s what you do.

    • gaynorvader on July 17, 2013 at 10:31 am

      And if you’re invading a dungeon, you should be able to have one fight at a time and rest up in between? How does this fit into your perception that warriors only ever really have 1 fight per day? An archer defending city wall from an invading army is unlikely to use all his arrows on the first day and try to make his shots count as he knows there’ll be more than one fight, a warrior invading a castle is unlikely to assume he can rest after capturing the gate, a marine in Vietnam is unlikely to expend all of his ammo in the middle of the jungle. I really disagree that people in real life throw everything they have into every challenge, burning every resource.

      • Mediaprophet on July 17, 2013 at 10:54 am

        To quote myself:

        “If you have a story that really does involve a lot of fights, I’m willing to wager that you already have a reason why the heroes can’t take extended rests every other one. – See more at: http://angrydm.com/2011/02/tearing-4e-a-new-one-addendum/comment-page-1/#comment-7590

        That would be the examples you gave.

        Exploring a dangerous jungle or dungeon is not the same as defending a wall against an army.

        In the former, you’re likely attacked by unknown, exotic monsters who will threaten your life, forcing you to fight to survive.

        In the latter, the plot of the story is an unrelenting force that will attack you repeatedly throughout the day.

        As I explained in the next comment, “If time pressure is not part of the story, explorers making multiple staged forays into a ruin or whatever is actually pretty normal. That’s what real world explorers do. They don’t rush it unless the grant funding is about to run out (time pressure) or they have competitors also exploring (time pressure) or its almost monsoon season (time pressure)… – See more at: http://angrydm.com/2011/02/tearing-4e-a-new-one-addendum/comment-page-1/#comment-7590

        • gaynorvader on July 18, 2013 at 4:11 pm

          Or if you’re lost/behind enemy lines/in a hostile environment. And even in idyllic situations such as what you’re describing, it should be large swatches of time eaten up by healing, etc, not mere minutes. Someone throwing everything into a fight makes sense if they’re in a relatively safe world and can get to safety easily (like today’s, modern world) but does not hold true in the setting of many/most D&D worlds.

        • Mediaprophet on July 18, 2013 at 5:21 pm

          You explore a ruin, and encounter a dangerous monster. You fight with everything to survive. Do you expect there is another dangerous monster every fifty feet or so?

          If so, why do you press on? Why not regroup, recharge, and prepare carefully for the next one? What’s the rush?

          If not, why do you press on? Why not recover your ammunition (so to speak), bandage your wounds and spend the night just in case?

          After danger, there is never a reason not to be extra cautious… unless there is.

          Wandering monsters attacking to punish PCs for camping is bad GMing. If you want them to hurry against caution, give them a STORY reason to.

          Combat with no plot to it, just to manipulate your players, is just the kind of thing Angry here seems to hate. I hate it because it’s dishonest. You want the players to take reckless risks, but you don’t want to give them any reason to except “there might be wandering monsters” which is a cop out that wastes everyone’s time (unless your players LIKE wandering monsters, in which case the players won’t be motivated to AVOID them, will they?).

          (Note that I don’t hate all wandering monster or night ambush encounters — if they’re part of a story, that’s different. If the players are itching for one, like my group OCCASIONALLY does, that’s different.)

          So that leaves two situations: Give the players a story reason to hurry and take risks, or don’t, and let them be as cautious as their characters are. If their characters are supposed to be reckless or bold or brave or prideful, they’ll go on longer. If they’re paranoid or wise or cautious or cowardly, they’ll rest more often. But that’s their story, not yours.

        • gaynorvader on July 18, 2013 at 5:54 pm

          Again, I don’t see how it makes sense to rest in a ruin full of monsters. A world without any wandering monsters makes no sense, creatures shouldn’t just stand in one place slowly starving to death waiting for some opportunistic adventurer to come along and kill them.

        • Mediaprophet on July 18, 2013 at 8:34 pm

          “Again, I don’t see how it makes sense to rest in a ruin full of monsters – See more at: http://angrydm.com/2011/02/tearing-4e-a-new-one-addendum/comment-page-1/#comment-7596

          It doesn’t make any less sense to rest after having exhausted yourself to the point of not being able to fight any more monsters, either.

          And why rest IN the ruin? My players are smarter than that. If you’ve only been battling for fifteen minutes, use the rest of the day to find a safe place to camp.

          Or perhaps the DM has sealed the place up and there’s nowhere safe to camp no matter what. In which case you won’t be camping at all and the DM has once again used story to create a sense of tension.

          Point: If there IS somewhere safe to rest, why not use it? If there isn’t, you shouldn’t be resting anyway (and presumably the scenario is designed with this in mind).

          Compounding problem: Rope Trick. 3.x/Pathfinder made it easy to camp safely anywhere except in the middle of a battlefield full of canny wizards who somehow thought of everything. And not every dungeon is one of those. So you might as well roll with it or play 4e.

        • gaynorvader on July 19, 2013 at 4:06 am

          Assuming you are so exhausted. Where do you go to rest then? In the wilderness? Back across the several day trek back to the safety of the nearest settlement? I really don’t understand how your players find it so easy to discover safe places to rest. Rope trick is only useful if the party has no bags of holding or mounts, which I’ve yet to see in a party. Perhaps if you let them blink across vast distances because “Wandering monsters attacking to punish PCs for camping is bad GMing” (apparently) and carry whatever they like so that the loot from the dungeon is trivial to bring back the leagues to the nearest town without bags of holding or pack animals/mounts.
          I’m not disputing that if there is a safe place to rest the PCs are likely to use it, I’m arguing that if you’re dungeon delving it’s highly unlikely such a place is easily accessible and it’s the sign of a poor/new DM if players are resting after every battle in complete safety.

        • Mediaprophet on July 19, 2013 at 10:58 am

          So I could take time to express myself more clearly, I posted my thoughts in clearer detail on my blog (click the link to visit). runagame.blogspot.com

        • gaynorvader on July 19, 2013 at 1:07 pm

          I disagree, for the reasons I’ve already stated. I think we’re just going to have to agree to differ on this.

  29. Jon on March 17, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    To explain further… If I create five combats and each one has a real chance of loss and a consequence of loss, then I don’t care if my players rest between each and every one, unless time is part of my story, in which case I have already applied that pressure. If I created five encounters because I just wanted five encounters, then the problem is my lazy planning, not the players using the realistic strategy of “hold nothing back and kill them fast before they kill you.”

    If time pressure is not part of the story, explorers making multiple staged forays into a ruin or whatever is actually pretty normal. That’s what real world explorers do. They don’t rush it unless the grant funding is about to run out (time pressure) or they have competitors also exploring (time pressure) or its almost monsoon season (time pressure)… See where I’m going here?

    All that said, I think I would welcome a mechanic in 4e, if there ever would be a 4.5e (ha!) that had damage carry over, but I think it would just make players take more extended rests instead of less, unless the DM applied time pressure. I mean, unless there is no reason not to, why not take a nights rest instead of going into battle fifteen HP down? The carryover mechanic would have to be designed to avoid that problem, somehow.

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