Monday, April 22, 2013

Hard Core 4E D&D

For my 4E readers, I'm posting this old DM Guideline for what I called "fixing 4E", see what you think.

Rest and Recovery (Revised)

The recovery system in 4th edition DnD is such that you simply can't have a single "All-Out" battle, characters simply can't tap into more than a handful of surges, which means beyond any Daily Powers that they've spent in the battle and a few surges, after a 5 minute rest they are back ready to do this again.  There are few long term effects that linger after a battle is over, and the party returns to full strength too rapidly.  In previous editions this might have been too extreme in the other direction, where even at 10th level you would only recover a d6 Hps in an overnight rest, though complete recovery in a 6 hour (4 hour for many races) rest seems too quick...I realize that the character are heroes  but so were the characters in previous editions, and the fact that a party may have to rest a few days after an epic battle with a dragon didn't seem to blemish their "Hero" status...I 4th Edition a party could do an Epic battle every day for a week or more and never suffering any fatigue after they wake up the following day.

This causes DM's to be creative in ways to simulate an exhausting or difficult journey on the way to a remote dungeon.  For the party there are no Game Effects for marching 3 weeks through a swamp, then up the side of a 10,000 foot cliff to battle a dragon in it's lair, even if every day of the journey involved a number of battles with Ogres, Trolls, or Giants...So long as they survive the encounter and get their extended rest, the next day they are bright-eyed and bushy tailed ready to face the days next encounters.  The DM is reduced  to arbitrary Healing Surge losses, or Endurance checks resulting in more Healing Surge losses or failure to get the effect of the last extended rest, even these penalties may not have any effect on an encounter where a Fighter with 13 Healing Surges, even if they suffered a lose of 7 surges, the 6 they have remaining would be difficult to expend in a single encounter without multiple potions or powers that grant addition surges to be spent.

Addition to little long term effect, the continuous battles that the DM throws at a party might have little long term negative effects, but a weeks journey with semi-difficult encounters every day will surely rocket the party up levels.  The results of this will cause the party to gain multiple levels, in a few days of game time.  So, The party may leave town 3rd level then a week later come back at 5th, only to do a similar feat and maybe two weeks later have already gained an additional two levels.  So, in less than a month of game time they will have gone from battles where goblins would be challenging, to taking down ogres.  That's one hell of an training program...This makes recurring NPC opponents or party foes to have to undergo a similar transformation, and begs the question what was the character doing for the last 18 years, when in the past few months they may have gone from 1st level to 8th.

Hardcore Mode

In comes the solution, by essentially shifting Powers up a level, i.e. making Encounter Powers to Daily Powers and Daily Powers to near Weekly Powers, this can solve many of the issues about recovery time being too fast, as well as slowing level progression (in game time, not play time).  With this "Simple" change the DM now has the option to have multiple encounters that are essentially chained together (no "Short-Rest" between them), and additionally stack more encounters into what would have previously been a day ("Extended-Rest") previously.  Obviously other changes need to happen in game terms to make this game mechanics game, these will all be addressed below.

Healing and Healing Surges

Healing Surges are viewed as sort of a global currency for characters stamina and health, so in addition to being able to spend these for healing a character can spend a Healing Surge as a mechanism to recharge Encounter Powers, or two Healing Surges to recharge a Daily Power.  Also, In core 4e rules, every character can spend as many healing surges as they want in the 5 minute Short-Rest that follows an encounter.  In Hardcore, Healing Surges can be spent at the rate of one per hour, outside of those granted by using 2nd Wind or character Powers.
The recharging of powers can only be done in the period between encounters, i.e. if a Cleric uses Healing Word on your character, you can not use the granted expenditure of a Healing Surge to recharge an Encounter Power.  However, continually recharging powers this way (outside of a Short-Rest) will severely limit a characters healing potential, since Healing Surges are only replenished upon the completion of an Extended-Rest.  Note, that once a Healing Surge is spent to recharge a Power, it can not be regained even if the Party continues on to get an Short-Rest.

Short-Rest (Redefined)

By increasing a "Short-Rest" to a 6 hour period, it is instantly apparent that most adventures, especially the Dungeon Crawl type, have developed encounters assuming that the Party is coming into these with all there other Encounter Powers.  In Hardcore Mode, it's as if the party is running from battle to battle with no rest between them, which they essentially will be, since there is no benefit to resting until they can get a 6 hour block of time in order to recover their Encounter Powers.
Simply running a typical 4e Adventure in Hardcore Mode would inevitably result the death of the part (a.k.a...Total Party Kill, TPK).  Players used to Hardcore mode will be more conservative with their powers, so they may not use them when they could have ended a battle early thinking it best to save them, which could lead to them taking additional damage, or players not used to Hardcore may expend their powers too recklessly resulting in not having any special powers in later encounters.    Ultimately the DM will need to alter the adventure continuity, think more like earlier editions of DnD or Pathfinder, smaller more frequent battles.
Often, adventures are geared to Min-Maxed characters, so they often include nearly every Encounter being the party level or up to 3 levels higher.  Encounters are most often adjusted by the DM by removing combatants from the opponents side to adjust the encounter level to 1 or 2 level beneath the party level.  Remember in Hardcore, every battle is relevant  even one goblin jumping out firing an arrow that does 5 damage, is 5 damage that the character will have going into the next battle, so while getting used to Hardcore, its better to err on the "Too Easy" side than "Too Hard".  If encounters are simply not being as effective as the DM planned, then this can be easily rectified by maybe not reducing the next encounter by as much.
Since the incentive to rest is largely taken away from the party, and battles are smaller and easier  the party can do more with their At-Will powers, and will need to be smart about their Encounter and Daily Powers and use them when "good enough" situation comes up to attempt to maximize their effectiveness, such to ultimately end battles sooner, thus reducing the damage that the party will carry into the next encounter.

Extended-Rest (Redefined)

If Short-Rest is 6 hours then what happens to the Extended-Rest?  Well, this is redefined as the Party's "Weekend Off", so only after 48 hours of rest does te Party recover their Daily Powers.  This may seem a bit unfair, especially to the players, but this ultimately has little bearing on game play for most typical adventures.  This being most are designed as a single shot from a Party's perspective, they know its going to be done without an Extended-Rest so the Party is typically conservative on their Daily Powers anyway.  So, if they go out complete 3 to 5 (typical crawl) then come back to town and rest it's doesn't matter how long they stay and wait for the next adventure to fall in their lap, or if the adventure is designed such that there is an extended rest in the middle, then it doesn't really matter if its one nights rest or two...if the Party has time to take a break, then they have time to take a break.
What this redefinition allows for is a much more flexible adventure design scenario.  Rather than skipping the journey (or doing this as a skill challenge) and then ending with a 2 to 4 Encounter crawl ending with the climatic "Boss Battle".  The DM can now integrate the journey as part of the adventures encounters.  A skill challenge can still be used, but success or failure along the way could determine which encounters they face before arriving at the dungeon site.  Then the Dungeon could essentially be much more exploitation  with maybe 2 or 3 encounters, or even just a single climatic battle.
Typically, a "Boss Battle" is required to be at least 2 levels higher than the party, and if the party is full power (All Daily Powers and some potions) they can win battles up to 5 levels higher if well played.  In Hardcore, even having two minor battles before the "Boss" would make an encounter of the Party's level be difficult.
The effects from battle to battle and day to day are not so easily wiped away by a rest that it takes less of an encounter to have an effect and little artificial urgency tactics need to be applied to the Party.  While running core 4e adventures as the DM I found the need to always have to create a sense of urgency, as if I didn't the Party always wanted to extended rest, nearly after each battle.  This required more work on the story lines as a DM, and always interrupting their rest attempts.  In Hardcore, there is no need for create these "hurry-up" story lines, since the Party realizes that them getting a 6 hour rest, or a 48 hour rest may not be likely, so they tend to hurry up themselves, as the less time they are out in the wilds the less encounters that they will face, and since every encounter has lasting effects, they are self motivated to hurry.

Player Complaints..."All I can do is At-Wills...I guess I'll At-Will, again"

When a DM decides to run a campaign in Hardcore mode, the common complaint for players is "All they get to do now is use At-Will Powers".  However, to help alleviate this argument, i.e. stop the whining, to allow all non-level based Encounter Powers to return every encounter, triggered on Initiative being rolled.  These would include the Class Features that are Encounter Powers as well as Racial Powers and the initial bonus Theme Encounter Power.  This still restricts the use of all higher level powers, but provides Class and Race feeling to the character, so that these typically stronger abilities are the most often used by the characters.  Note, this typically includes the returning of 2nd Wind to characters as well each encounter, as this is a non-level based Encounter Power.
In this model DMs that have when out of their way to break an Adventure into may small encounters may want to chain these battles together, as the triggering mechanism for restoring the non-level based encounters is the rolling on initiative.  So to avoid this creatures from the next area could hear the battle or be warned via an alert of the near-by battle and come to join in.  Doing so the new arrivals would roll initiative when they enter the fray, but the party keeps their current initiative, thus not re-gaining any used powers.

Action Token

Characters still begin following every Extended Rest with a single Action Token, even if they previously had accumulated more.  As per Core 4e rules Action Tokens can be spent to gain a character an extra Standard Action during an encounter (only once per encounter by characters).  Upon achieving a Milestone or other event that would have traditionally awarded the character an Action Token, the character can alternately instantly recharge an Encounter Power that is currently exhausted or even recharge one Healing Surge to the character.
The ability to recharge Healing Surges in this fashion can be used by a DM on a particularly difficult Dungeon Crawl or when the character have a long time in between Extended Rests could really aid in the Party's survivability.  Adventure Milestone, with Action Token rewards is a good way to give the characters a little surge, and it's often easier to give these out then some of the other rewards listed below.
Characters will however need to get used to the fact that they used to get these every Milestone, which was every 2 to 3 Encounters (my experience told me that the characters expect to earn these every-time after only two).  However, in Hardcore Mode, a Milestone is typically achieved after a given amount of Experience Points have been earned, typically 2 x (Level plus one) XP worth of smaller encounters, or upon reaching a given place/point in the adventure.  If XPs are used as the guideline  then this may not be for many encounters, like three to six depending on how small the DM is chunking them out, so get used to saying, "No you didn't reach a Milestone yet."

Hardcore Rewards

With the above changes to the recovery system there are additional items and rewards that a DM can offer the players, when dungeon crawls need to be played more like regular rules and you don't want to drastically alter encounters to more suit hardcore you can hand out the following rewards to the party, which will allow them the ability to more from difficult encounter directly into another difficult encounter.  The reward are listed below:

Action Token: When the party completes a Milestone award them with an Action Token.  For Core 4e rules this is recommended after 2 or 3 encounters, but in Hardcore Mode this is typically 3 to 5 encounters ( 2 x Lv+1 Encounters), as the Hardcore encounters are more in number, but each are easier that Core 4e.  Milestones are most often Minor Quest completions, half-way points or other points designed into the adventure about where the Party may be needing some recovery.

Combat Rally: There's a definite break in a major battle, the leader is bloodied, the boss enters the room, another wave of opponents joins the fray, a trap is disarmed, or activate...What ever it is, the party should feel a definite pause in the combat as the favor pendulum swings more to one side or the other for the given insistent.  This should include a "Box'd Text" description of the event with some dramatic flare, the game effect is that the character feel a renewed sense of hope, or call upon there heroic nature to rise to the challenge.  All party members gain an Action Token (and the ability to spend it during this encounter, even if they already have spent one), or they can immediately cash this in to recharge any Encounter Power, including 2nd Wind, or even replenish a Healing Surge as described up Action Token rules above.

Mana Potions / Mana Effects: These magical elixirs can be sprinkled around a long dungeon crawl as a mechanism to recover Encounter Powers and avoid having to do an extended rest.  Rather than actual vials that the Party can carry around to use at their whim, this can be some ancient one time beneficial effect triggered by some Characters skill check.  When used this way it's common to be a zone effect, such close burst 5 from the idol the rogue was messing with, the effects could just as easily be a trap, so party members will need to decide how close they want to be when the rogue begins fumbling with mechanism, or the wizard attempts to activate a glyph.

Potions of Vigor / Stamina Effects: These potions recover spent Healing Surges, which can be spent immediately to Heal or recharge an Encounter Power.  As mentioned under Mana Potions, a Potion of Vigor is a significant find, and runs the risk of being held onto when you think the party should consume it now.  Plus, a potion is only helpful to the one that consumes it, where a Vigor Effect will hit multiple persons in the party, even if the effect is a magical fountain (only water drank immediately from th fountain grants the reward).

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