Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Game Design (VII): Character conditions, patch notes

On my previous article, I dropped a ton of variant rules with very little in the way of comments or explanation (though the broad guidelines had been established before). Furthermore, it may be hard to make out what has really changed from anything but a very in-depth read. What follows is a list of changes, with some design comments along the way.

1. Miscellaneous changes

Total defense: Defense bonus increased from +2 to +4, is now typed (power).

This is intended mostly as a way to weaken attack-denying conditions. Losing a turn worth of attacks should be slightly less painful now, and stunning a character over several turns should be significantly harder. Note also how I gave the bonus a type - I want to really cut down on stacking bonuses.

Condition source: No functional changes. Introduced new keywords and definitions for clarity: ‘condition source’, ‘dominator’, ‘grabber’, ‘marker’, ‘swallower’.

I wanted to be able to reference the source of a condition in a clear way, for the definition of marked, dominated, and other conditions.

Multiple instances of a condition:

Two reasons for this change. On the one hand, I wanted to change how dominations, grabs, and especially marks work when applied by multiple characters on a single target. On the other, I intend to provide Elite and Solo monsters with built-in ways to remove conditions (which I’ll describe on a future article), yet allow PCs to counter this by applying several instances of a given effect.

  • Defined ‘condition instance’. Now a character can be subject to multiple identical effects (previously, only the longest one applied). Each condition only applies once, but multiple instances are relevant for determining duration, and impact of effects that end conditions.
  • Rules now support characters being dominated, marked or grabbed by multiple enemies.

Penalty types and stacking:

Typed bonuses work great for the game, and I see no reason why penalties shouldn’t follow the same principle. In this new framework, ‘untyped’ penalties should be reserved for self-inflicted penalties (e.g. power attack).

  • Penalties now have a type: cover, concealment, power, or untyped. Penalty stacking is resolved like bonus stacking.
  • Cover and Concealment modifiers now treated as typed penalties.

Opportunity attacks: Opportunity attacks can now be made against unseen enemies.

This is here to make the blinded condition a bit less harsh. Note that the -5 concealment penalty would apply to these opportunity attacks, and that a character could use stealth to become untargetable by them. This also weakens invisibility, which is fine by me.

2. Condition changes


Opportunity attacks were changed to make the condition weaker. The perception change is just to make the modifiers more reasonable.

  • Perception penalty changed from -10 to -5
  • Blinded characters can now make opportunity attacks


Dazing was previously way too effective, considering how common it was. Removing combat advantage here not only weakens the condition, but also goes a long way in making combat advantage less ubiquitous in the game. Dazed characters now also enjoy an extra minor action, which is particularly important for healing leaders and characters with sustained powers.

  • No longer grants combat advantage
  • Can now use a minor action on top of the single action per turn


This was previously irrelevant, but also given almost for free in some powers. Combat advantage is an effect with an adequate power level, and the condition is scarce enough that this will not significantly hurt my goal of minimizing combat advantage overall. Again, perception modifiers were changed in order to work better.

  • Now grants combat advantage
  • Perception penalty changed


The strongest condition in the game receives a vicious nerf that leaves it as... the strongest condition in the game. I wanted to prevent the easy exploits of dominated characters provoking opportunity attacks and violating marks, which I have played with for a long time - but that was only the beginning. I never liked how domination breaks the economy of actions, so I changed dominated actions to work like those of summoned creatures. Finally, I took away the combat advantage from the condition, and added a clause to break the condition upon receiving damage - so no more dominating a foe while beating down on it. Despite all these changes, if you want to stop someone cold, domination is still your best bet.

  • No longer grants combat advantage
  • Damage on dominated character now grants save vs. domination
  • Dominator now needs to spend actions for the dominated character to attack or move
  • Movement and attacks while dominated count as forced (don’t provoke, violate marks, etc.)
  • Dominated characters can’t attack themselves


A rare condition, I tried to make its use a bit clearer, and make it slightly weaker by allowing exiled characters to use actions to heal or defend themselves.

  • New name (was “removed from play”)
  • Clarified that character does not occupy space, returns to previous position when condition ends.
  • Character can now take actions (previously couldn’t take any actions).


One of the rare conditions that actually got better, grabbing was rendered almost useless by forced movement under the previous rules. It should now be much more competitive with straight immobilization.

  • Characters are now pulled adjacent to grabbers, when grabbed
  • Forced movement now allows escape check rather than automatically breaking grabs.
  • Escape check no longer grants free shift.
  • Multiple grabs now possible.

Helpless: No changes

Immobilized: No changes

No direct changes, but the new rules for Total Defense impact this condition quite a bit.


Changed to better support multiple defenders in a party. A character can now be subject to several marks (and/or defender auras), without each defender stepping on each other’s toes. Also, defender auras will now work properly with any rule that references marks. The mark violation clarifications are intended to make multiattack powers interact with marks in a similar way to how areas and bursts work, and to prevent some cheesy exploits involving interrupts.

  • Multiple marks now possible
  • Defender Aura now treated as a mark
  • Defined ‘mark violation’. Clarified many confusing or broken mark scenarios
    • A power with multiple attacks now only violates a mark if each individual attack violates it. This applies to multiple attacks made simultaneously as well as in sequence.
    • Target redirection effects no longer cause marks to be violated.
    • Marks inflicted while interrupting an attack are no longer considered to be violated by that attack.

Petrified: Petrification resistance changed to match new resistance rules - damage is now simply halved while petrified.


The status of Prone has changed quite a bit since the original rulebooks - originally a somewhat rare condition, it is now often present in at-will attacks, which does not really match its moderate power level. I made minor tweaks to the combat advantage and defensive bonuses, but the big change is a free square of movement upon standing up. This makes it much harder to lock melee characters out of attack range by knocking them prone.

  • Standing up now allows 1 free square of movement.
  • Combat advantage now granted to adjacent enemies, rather than on all melee attacks.
  • Defense bonus is now cover bonus, applies against all attacks from non-adjacent enemies, rather than just ranged attacks.
  • Attack penalty is now typed (power).

Restrained: Attack penalty is now typed (power).

Slowed: Now each square moved costs double (previously reduced speed to 2).

This one got a bit better in some scenarios, and worse in others. The fixed speed of 2 didn’t work well with a variety of movement-granting powers (e.g. “shift 3 squares”), so I went for a more general effect. Slowed characters can now move slightly farther than before when not running, but they lose the ability to shift 1 square. This means that slowed is no longer such a one-dimensional effect, since it becomes quite useful against characters already engaged in melee.

Stunned: Can now take a single action per turn (no attacks or movement) - previously couldn’t take any actions.

Though getting stunned is still not by any means a pleasant experience, it no longer just reads “skip a turn”, which is important in my opinion. Characters can use total defense (now an actually pretty decent option), but also use Second Wind, sustain powers, or use utilities, if any.

Swallowed: New condition

This effect was previously just present on a handful of monsters, but with inconsistent rulings that didn’t work as well as they could. This is well worth its own condition, in my opinion, which makes it easier to use it more liberally in monsters, and potentially make for some truly awesome PC power.


Non-dying unconscious characters now wake up when damaged. The condition still provides potent action denial, but can no longer be used to enable a whole party to severely beat up on a foe, which was too strong and, in my opinion, didn’t have the right feel.

  • Condition now ends when taking damage, if above 0 HP.
  • Removed defense penalty

Weakened: Added new effect - healing on character halved

A bit of an experiment here, by adding a completely new dimension to the condition. Characters that don’t really care about damage, or that attack through others using leader powers can no longer completely ignore the condition. Also, I wanted some common mechanic to interact with character healing (now that monsters also get it), and this looked like a good place for it.


  1. I want to give these variant rules a try in my next game. Thanks for all your work with this game, man.

  2. I think you went a bit overboard on dominated; the forced movement rule is fair. I also think any attacks they make should be considered forced, and not violate marks.

    But between the break on damage and having to use your own actions, I'd very rarely ever use dominate. Multi-target dominate is now useless, because you don't have the actions to take advantage, and single target takes three turns to give action advantage (the first round you lose a standard to apply dominate, the second they lose a standard, the third round they lose a second standard)

    1. I don't think dominate needs to grant a lot of action advantage to be playable. The way I see it, using it as a stun effect with a small upside and a small drawback is still quite valuable. The dominated attack will rarely come up, but the dominated movement (even if you lose all the freebie opportunity attacks) is very easy to get, and can make the target lose half a turn, when it recovers.

      That said, it's possible that some domination powers that were previously auto-picks now become overshadowed by stunning powers (though Stun also took a serious hit). I'll need to take a look at balance between specific powers, one of these days, and see if either Stuns or Dominations need further tweaking.