Thursday, November 22, 2012

Playtesting SF: Initial Package

After the first batch of articles on game design and variant rules, I now have enough material for an initial playtest. At this stage, the game is little more than a glorified 4E mod, so what follows are a bunch of rules changes you can apply on your D&D games. If this goes well, we will then proceed to work on more substantial systems, like character conditions, and the mathematical framework.

These rules have all been introduced in previous articles, but are put together here for your convenience. I am interested in all kinds of feedback, including obviously game experience, but also general impressions, and theoretical considerations. Note that, although I keep falling behind in answering article comments, I still read them, and intend to provide answers as soon as I can.


Proposed rules changes

1- Monster Healing

Introduction and discussion

Monster Commander: Before every encounter, the Game Master selects one of the monsters (usually the most powerful of intelligent one)as the Commander of that monster party. The commander gains the Commanding Word power:

Commanding Word. Minor Action (2/encounter, 1/turn). Close burst 5. Target: You or one ally in burst. Effect: The target regains hit points equal to 5+ (2.5* its level).

2- Last Effort

Introduction and discussion

Last effort: Whenever a character starts a turn, if the majority of characters in their party are bloodied, dying, or dead, that character becomes desperate until the end of the encounter.

(Desperate is a new character condition, defined below)

Desperate: A desperate character gains:

    • A +2 bonus to all attacks

    • A -2 penalty to all defenses

    • For each of the character’s attacks that hits but doesn’t crit, roll 1d20. On a roll of 19-20, the attack becomes a critical hit.

3- Action Points

Introduction and discussion

Action point usage: Once during each character’s turn, that character can make an Action Point Check. This is a d20 check with a DC determined by the current combat round (see table below). If the check succeeds, that character can spend an action point that turn, unless he has already spent an action point this encounter.

If a character is allowed to spend an action point outside of his turn (e.g. from a paragon path feature), he makes an Action Point Check. If the check succeeds, the character can spend the action point that way. A character can never make more than one Action Point Check per round.

(Note: A character cannot spend an action point unless he has succeeded in an Action Point Check that turn).

Round- Action Point Check DC
1 - Impossible (no check)
2 - 15
3 - 10
4+ – Automatic


4- Encounter Attacks

Introduction and discussion

Encounter Attack Usage: A character that uses an encounter attack power becomes Fatigued until the end of his next turn.

Fatigue: A fatigued character cannot use encounter attack powers. Certain types of powers can also be affected by the fatigued condition.


Attack powers not causing fatigue. The following powers do not make a character fatigued, and can be used by fatigued characters:

  • Racial Powers

  • Channel Divinity Powers

  • Magic Item Powers

Non-attack powers affected by fatigue. A character using any of the following powers becomes fatigued until the end of his next turn; these powers cannot be used while fatigued:

  • Backstab (Thief Utility)

  • Bladesong (Bladesinger Utility)

Augmentable psionic powers are affected as follows:

  • A character that uses the most expensive augmentation of an augmentable at-will attack becomes fatigued until the end of his next turn.

  • The most expensive augmentation of an augmentable at-will attack cannot be used while fatigued.

  • Any other augmentations or unaugmented powers do not make a character fatigued, and can be used by fatigued characters.


5- Daily Attacks

Introduction and discussion

Daily Attack Usage: A character can only use one daily attack power each encounter.

Exceptions: The following powers do not count towards the limit of one daily attack per encounter:

  • Magic Item Powers


6- Short Rests 

Introduction and discussion

Healing in a Short rest: During a short rest, any player character can spend a healing surge to regain all hit points. A player character with no healing surges regains hit points up to his bloodied value at the end of a short rest.


7- Healing Surges

Introduction and discussion

Running out of Healing Surges: A player character with no healing surges left cannot use daily powers nor action points. If an effect causes that character to lose a healing surge, he takes damage equal to half his bloodied value instead.


8- Dying

Introduction and discussion

Replace the following rules related to dying characters with the text below:

Characters reduced to 0 HP: When a character takes damage that leaves him with 0 or less hit points, the character is knocked prone and dying, and must make a Death Saving Throw.

Death Saving Throw: Some game effects require a character to make a Death Saving Throw. The character makes a saving throw: on a success nothing happens, and on a failure, the character loses a healing surge. A dying character rolling a result of 20 or higher becomes stabilized.

Healing a Dying Character: A dying character that receives any amount of healing becomes stabilized. In addition, the effect of healing on that character depends on the character’s current hit point total:

  • If the amount of damage healed is equal or greater than the character’s negative hit points, the character’s hit point total becomes equal to the amount of damage healed. The character is no longer unconscious, and is weakened until the end of his next turn.

  • If the amount of damage healed is less than the character’s negative hit points, subtract that amount from the character’s negative hit points. The character remains unconscious.

Coup de Grace: When a character targets an adjacent unconscious enemy with an attack, the attack is considered a Coup de Grace against that enemy. In Coup de Grace attacks, missed attack rolls are treated as hits.

(Other death-related rules are left unchanged. Notably, dying characters still roll death saves each turn.)


  1. Nice! I've posed the idea of doing some playtesting to my weekly RPG group, hopefully they'll bite. I'm a little concerned about adding lots of extra procedural bits (desperation crits, Action Point checks), but would have to play to see how it goes!

  2. Cool to see everything laid out in one place! I have no idea when the next time I'll play 4E will be (so many good games!), but if I manage to squeeze it in in the near future, I'll try some of this stuff.

    I linked to this post in my own blog as well; maybe it'll bring in some more playtesters.

  3. Thanks for putting together your ideas on this. I've been following your blog and find it pretty interesting. After reading your Healing, AP and Encounter power posts I've been trying some stuff out. I took it in a bit different of a direction but I thought I'd let you know what worked better for me.
    First, I'd rather encourage players to make tactical decisions rather than adding mechanics to force them to act certain ways. So I dropped the action point checks and fatigue and instead combined Action Points with Healing Surges. Essentially, a character has to choose between potential healing and doing something awesome (they only come back on an extended rest, so it takes away the expend every other fight need). I then added advantage to Action Points when the target or character is bloodied (or when it was cinematic-ally cool!) to encourage use at the right moment. I also renamed the points to Heroic Reserves to avoid confusion and we just use tarot cards for everyone's pool since they are more fun to throw down.
    The net effect is players tend to use their pool to turn the tide in dangerous fights and also take more risks. I've seen players turn down offered healing to get one more awesome assault in and also turn down a big attack to take some healing (even craft an elaborate scene to earn it through cinematic expression). It makes HS and AP both more meaningful and the players seem to really like it.
    My next idea is to do a similar thing with encounter powers. Instead of desperation as a blanket effect I was thinking of applying it in a stronger fashion (advantage and 18-20 crit chance) on encounter powers only or perhaps against bloodied opponents or while bloodied. This would incentivize keeping those powers in hand until the right time and making that last slow leg of combat end quickly and with a bang.
    Any thoughts on these ideas? I'm not a math guy like you so I could be a bit overpowering the expressions but the players really liked the strategy.