Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fatigue: An optional rule for characters without healing surges

Edit (19/10/10): Modified fatigue to affect skill checks

In a recent article, I commented on the shortcomings of healing surges as a player resource, and how I felt existing patches to be lacking. Today I present a house rule I’ve been tinkering with that intends to allow characters to keep fighting after they run out of surges, though at a significant disadvantage.

The following house rule extends the healing section in Player’s Handbook, p.293. (and its equivalent in the Rules Compendium - can’t give a page reference since I don’t own the book).

Running out of surges

When you would be allowed to spend one or more healing surges and regain hit points, if you are out of healing surges and not fatigued, you can choose to regain that many hit points instead. If you do, you become fatigued until you take an extended rest.

When you would be allowed to spend one or more healing surges and regain hit points, if you are out of healing surges and fatigued, you can choose to regain that many hit points instead. If you do, you become weakened and grant combat advantage until the end of your next turn. You cannot do this while weakened.

  • Can’t run
  • -2 to attack rolls
  • -2 to skill checks and ability checks
  • -2 to defenses against attacks with combat advantage.


The rule above allows DMs to plan for long adventuring days without having the players accidentally forced into an untimely long rest. The intention is that fighting when out of surges is possible and somewhat effective, but not desirable. Inevitably, some characters will be affected more by fatigue than others - a Warlord, for example, could Commander’s Strike all day long regardless by it. Nevertheless, even if a character can somehow minimize the impact of the penalty to hit and the occasional weakening, the defense penalties should still prove painful enough.

I have attempted to cover as many loopholes as possible with the wording, but it is very likely that something has slipped through. As far as I know, this rule allows for fair use of healing potions (which would grant the same number of HP), and prevents exploits related to expending surges you don’t have for non-healing purposes. Any insight on possible improvements would be appreciated.


  1. That's a neat fix. I think you may have other options available, depending on what sort of story you're trying to tell (per the previous post). Quinn over at At-Will has a mechanic called the Horizon that disassociates the extended rest from 6 hours of sleep very nicely that might do what you're looking for. (http://at-will.omnivangelist.net/2010/09/dont-rest-here-menace-and-the-horizon/)

    Also consider making healing surges a per-encounter resource (2 for controllers, 3 for leaders/strikers, 4 for Defenders) and then CON bonus uses of Second Wind per day. 4E is most lethal when you're put down with no surges, which can happen a good bit more often if there's a surge cap per encounter. On the other hand, if surges replenish during a short rest, your characters can theoretically continue their adventuring day indefnitely, within the restrictions of power refresh, of course.

  2. What about adjusting "daily powers" so that instead of working as-written, a PC can use one and only one daily per encounter, but chosen from the list of known powers? (Wizard's Spellbook would let them swap out the list of currently memorized powers as normal.)

    I know this would be kind of a substantial power boost at the early levels, but by level 5 or 9 would tend to even things out by balancing the ability to use a daily every encounter with the inability to save them up for a boss fight.

  3. Adjustments about dailies could also be made, but I'm afraid simply giving them one per encounter isn't the right approach. Too often, the right choice would be to always use your best/highest level power, effectively turning that power into an encounter one. Also, bad things can happen when you get to build around daily effects available on a permanent basis - I'm not entirely familiar with them, but I know there was an entire school of optimization/abuse based on Salves of Power, before they got errataed.

    Anyway, I think one of the coolest things about dailies (the whole point of the mechanic, you might say) is the resource management and flexibility they provide: do you spend them regularly, or hoard them to unleash them all at once at the feared boss encounter? I'd keep in mind that not all adventuring days end on such an encounter, so the greedy approach often leads to wasted, unused dailies.

    There's also the fact that many of the strongest dailies have encounter-long effects that don't easily stack in multiples, such as stances, rages, or sustainable spells. So using all your dailies in a row may not be possible, unless you build your character for such novas, usually by taking some weaker, one-shot dailies.

    Finally, the existence of surges acts as an incentive to spend at least some dailies early, since saving them for more difficult encounters naturally results in more surges lost during the easier ones, so you might get to the dragon with your full spellbook, but an alarmingly low reserve of surges.

    That said, if I were to implement a daily-recovery mechanism, I'd try to meet the following requirements:
    - Encourage regular use, but support saving dailies and using multiples at once.
    - Prevent reliable reuse of single specific dailies. This can be achieved through random mechanics, or by requiring you to cycle through all dailies in order to recharge one.
    - Have them recover at a slower rate than 1/encounter. Dailies become a bit less special when you know you'll have at least one for every fight.

    With all of the above, one first shot at daily recharge could be the following rule: "After each milestone, your character rolls a d6 for each spent daily attack. On a roll of 6, you regain the use of that power."

  4. I haven't thought very hard about how to adjust daily powers, but when I was DM-ing I was rather annoyed on how the dailies system strongly encouraged a particular type of flow that often didn't jive very well with the narrative. I mean, when your combat encounters are spaced far apart, for example during a long distance overland trek or one at a time in between days of role playing/investigation, you can end up with a string of combats that might not be any farther apart in real time (that is, time experienced by the players), but are far enough apart in game-time so that the PCs will be at full power at the start of every single encounter. The game isn't balanced so well for that, but it could really use an alternative system of some sort that is.

  5. Ah, I was worried about long adventuring days, but I see that you were thinking in the opposite. For your single-encounter days, I'd structure the adventure in chapters (with 4-5 encounters each) or something like that, so that extended rests don't recharge dailies or action points until the end of each chapter. Preventing the extended rests from recovering HP might be too hard to justify, but you might put a limit on surges regained.

  6. You can also use in-story methods of tweaking recharge. For example, so solve the problem I was discussing you can simply declare by DM fiat that by the time they get to the encounter that they are somewhat tired and therefore have less surges and, let's say, have lost a daily power of their choice. (The amount of spent power can be based on a skill challenge, as is often done for surges alone.) Of course, this approach is harder to justify if the PCs have been engaged in nothing but light banter and sleeping over the preceding days...

    Conversely, in a super long adventuring day, one can try and shoehorn in an excuse to recharge the PCs a little. "Say, is than an abandoned altar of Pelor in the corner of the dungeon? Maybe a quick prayer will leave us feeling a little more energized." And they get the benefit of a long rest while only taking a short, for example. I admit, it does feel a little video-gamey, but it might work for some situations.