Fourth Edition D&D Long Term Test: Powers

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16 Responses

  1. I like and dislike powers simultaneously.

    When combined with physical power cards, it greatly eases book keeping and the need to remember rules. It is a great game mechanic and anyone playing 4e for the first time should be given power cards.

    What really bugs me about powers is the “Encounter” powers.

    I can just about accept that a magic user needs 5 minutes to recharge a particular spell before they can use it again. This is no different from having to weight until the next day.

    What I cannot rationalise when I play 4e, is why a fighter can only use their non-magical attacks only once every five minutes. If I know how to knock an opponent down, why can’t I do it whenever I want? Every time I play 4e this breaks my suspension of disbelief.

    The similarity in mechanics between spells and attacks is another bugbear.

    It makes perfect sense from a game design point of view and makes the game a lot easier to learn and play. But sitting around the table, it is hard to distinguish between the classes because everyone’s actions seem the same. Especially with Magic Users being able to repeatedly cast the same spell in the same way fighter can repeatedly hit something.

    This is where (further to your post the other day) I think 4e breaks from the tradition of D&D. I want a magic to be notably different from non-magic. In 4e magic has lost everything that made it special, or to put it another way, magic is no longer magical. Though to be fair to 4e, this trend was well established in 3.5 as the designers sort to introduce more game balance.
    .-= Chris Tregenza´s last blog ..Running Back-to-Back D&D Sessions =-.

  2. EltonJ says:

    I wonder how much Feng Shui (the RPG) has influenced D&D 4th edition. Feng Shui is a roleplaying game designed by Robin D. Laws that is based on the shadowfist card game. At its heart, it’s designed to replicate the Hong Kong action movie.

    In short, everything blows up real good at the end of an adventure (which is, a Hong Kong action movie :).
    .-= EltonJ´s last blog ..World Building, Pt 1 =-.

  3. WolfStar76 says:


    Don’t think of it as “my fighter only knows how to knock someone down once per combat”.

    As stated in the article – but something that does need clarifying (in 4E rules and here) – is that powers can/do also represent opportunities in combat.

    Many martial powers (especially in later books) say things like “You spy an opening in your opponent’s attack” or use similar language that indicates your Encounter/Daily power isn’t so much about you walking up, hitting the opponent then adding in a shove to knock them prone.

    It’s about waiting for the right moment to strike your opponent when it’s already that little bit off-balance, or has swung too wide so you can step in close to deliver your blow.

    And of course, if you’ve pulled that trick once, your opponents for that combat are all going to be a little more wary to make sure you don’t try it a second time.

    Maybe that rationale will work for you, maybe it won’t. But it works for me. :)

  4. drow says:

    why can’t jackie chan knock everyone down whenever he wants? because set-ups like that don’t come often. you get to use that trick once, then your opponents get wise to it and do something to keep it from working again.

  5. It’d be rad if 4e came out w/ a power construction toolkit.
    .-= Mike(aka kaeosdad)´s last blog ..Losing balance =-.

  6. Roger says:

    Back in the day, “All weapons are the same and it sucks!” was a very common complaint. When all weapons do 1d6 damage, I’m inclined to have at least a little sympathy for them.

  7. Kelly says:

    “What a Power looks like and how it works is entirely up to you and your DM.” This is a great explanation of what powers are and I really liked what you wrote at the end of the article. The flavor you give a power is totally up to you and if you are really into role-play and imagination then you can spice it up however you want. My husband plays a tiefling wizard and he has come up with unique and creepy descriptions for all of his powers that add his own flavor but all the mechanics stay the same. Adding your own spin on the power description is a great way to show the party what your character is all about.
    .-= Kelly ´s last blog ..The Trader’s Trellis =-.

  8. j_king says:

    Powers tend to shift focus away from making creative choices in combat, IMO.

    It seems that whenever my players get into a combat, their most difficult choices are: where to move and which power to use. And perhaps whether to use an action point once in a while. I find that it’s rather rare that they think of clever ways to gain the advantage over a monster; especially if the encounter is balanced so that the party is likely to win. More often than not, once an encounter gets past the 15 minute mark it devolves into “Great cleave, 18 — hits, 12 damage. Marked.”

    Could just be uninspired players. However, I think the system could do more to encourage more imaginative thinking rather than purely tactical. Perhaps DMs should throw encounter balancing out the window. Or perhaps we should contemplate using CON as some sort of stamina system for using Powers; further limiting their use in combat (especially at-wills, those are just annoying). Either way, I think the lack of inspiration is encouraged by the rule system — it doesn’t mechanically offer any bonus for creative thinking; at-will powers alone are probably more powerful than tipping over the flaming pot of oil onto the bugbear. Heck, when falling 60ft will do less damage than my strike with a sword… I start to wonder what the point is? Why do the monsters and forces of darkness even come together anymore?
    .-= j_king´s last blog ..Programmer Competency Matrix =-.

  9. greywulf says:

    So many comments, so little time! Thanks, all. Taking each in turn……..

    @Chris One of these days I will sit you down and GM you through Coppernight Hold. I’ll keep going through the entire of Dungeon Delve until you finally admit that 4e is the second best version of D&D ever, or I die trying :D

    Seriously though, I do think that 4e suffers from the Curse of Over-Consistency. All of the classes’ abilities are presented in a near-identical way, so look and read far too much the same. In play though, there is a big difference between a Fighter (close combat specialist who uses Melee weapons) and a blasty Wizard (controlling spellcaster who manipulates friends, foes and the battlefield) – and any other class, for that matter. That’s not apparent though until you’ve played it a fair amount.

    @Elton I’ll add it onto my growing list of games to try!

    @Wolfstar76 Quite so. You put it better than I ever could.

    @drow Exactly. There’s an element of the movie action scene in 4e’s design, by design. Each class gets the big showpiece stunts, but there’s a fine art to knowing when and where to use them.

    @Mike I’d love that too – or at least a Big Book of Powers so it’s even easier to create your own Monsters, Races and Classes.

    @Roger I don’t remember people complaining about all weapons doing d6 damage when they did d6 damage, but I do recall folks later complaining they did when it was. So maybe they did complain after all – or didn’t, but said they did later. I dunno. Either way, it’s not a complaint anyone should make of 4e :D

    @Kelly Thanks! The Powers’ effects are just the starting point – how you interpret them can make for some terrific role-playing opportunities. Way to go!

    @j_king You make a great point, and one I can’t disagree with at all. 4e does rather hand it to you on a plate, doesn’t it? I think the key is for the GM to present situations that can’t be solved using their Powers alone – a 100′ chasm or trap’n’monster setup, for example which just begs for the players to stretch their imagination a notch. Once they get the hang of using their brains rather than just what’s written on their character sheet, it will soon become second nature.

    That’s the theory, anyhow.

    Thanks again, all!

  10. Elda King says:

    Great article… I agree with every word.

    Most people misunderstand the powers. They believe that when you spend a power you are simply “too tired” to do it again, they believe “powers” are supernatural abilities that martial characters can use, they see a bunch of blocks with powers in the game and see no fluff in that. Worse, some people have even said that “previously, you could do everything you wanted because it wasn’t in the rules, but in 4E all you can do is a bunch of powers”. And some of those people pretended to have played the game.
    @j_king: it depends on the players. I have had players like that, but also players that used psychic effects to cloud the minds of NPCs during dialogs, used a dragonborn rogue’s acrobatic power to jump over enemies and breathe fire from a better position, and other cool tricks. You need not choose to do something creative, or use a power – you can do both, to amazing effect (both visual and mecanic).

  11. anarkeith says:

    Great article and I vote for appending Wolfstar76’s comment into the main post. I’ve heard various complaints about powers, but many of them are answered here. I’ve been doing some thinking recently about messing with the frequency of use (making them rarer) with the intention of elevating the basic melee attack a bit. I’d like to see if that makes 4e combat go a bit faster. My thinking is that if players have a fewer tactical options tied to their attacks, they’ll get through their turns faster. That said, it’s a fine line to walk. The tactical options add a lot to combat and are part of what makes 4e special.
    .-= anarkeith´s last blog ..Dungeons and Dragons 4e Encounter Planner =-.

  12. @anarkeith: If your goal is to speed up combat, I would recommend cutting out the middleman and just enforce a time limit on decision-making. In the game world, the PC knows his/her/its abilities so well that he/she/it makes a decision and executes it within 6 seconds. The players should know their PC’s abilities well enough to make and execute a decision without taking 10x that long, with allowances made for new players and shifting physical props (minis, dice). I’d prefer a table rule limiting time to decide rather than a mechanical rule limiting the range of choices. Push the player’s reaction time rather than nerfing the PC.

  13. Nifelhein says:

    Awesome post!

    @ anarkeith The problem with reducing the frequency of power usage is that you also make the combat options more repetitive and will end up with less movement, simply because there is little reason to move.

    Combat length is only a problem when the group is not having fun, insert more terrain, scenarios and encourage them to have fun with their tactics, design unique scenarios for important fights and always present them with cool options to their bread and butter.

  14. Nifelhein says:

    @ Icosahedrophilia I agree, though I found out a while ago that having people announce their action before going through round actions makes for a life saver.

    1st they will already get their minds around what they will be doing.

    2nd If they don’t see any reason to change their tactic they will just use that choice.

    A comrade falling, a spectacular opening are all breaking the pre-planned course but they are probably gonna be spot so fast that they won’t take a minute to decide.

  15. d7 says:

    I think the key is for the GM to present situations that can’t be solved using their Powers alone – a 100′ chasm or trap’n’monster setup, for example which just begs for the players to stretch their imagination a notch. Once they get the hang of using their brains rather than just what’s written on their character sheet, it will soon become second nature.

    I think this gets at why the Powers system falls flat for me. To my mind, the core system of a game shouldn’t be an obstacle to creativity that needs to be GMed around in play to make the game good, and the contents of the character sheet should be inspirational rather than creativity-damping.

    An AD&D character sheet doesn’t have many things on it that a player can “pull” on—most if it is just a quick reference of numbers that are useful in specific circumstances, rather than lists of abilities that could be hauled on like a lever to solve a situation. I think this is good, because most of the levers that are there—2e skills—are rarely inspiring of creativity. Few uninspiring levers is good.

    Conversely I really like some other non-D&D games that have lots of things on the character sheet to “pull”. In all the ones I can think of, the pull-ables all inspire or demand creativity before they can enter play. Burning Wheel’s beliefs and instincts, for example, and even its special way of dealing with skills, all require a creative interpretation before they can apply to a situation.

    So part of my trouble with D&D 4e might just be that it has a lot of levers to pull on (making it easier to opt out of being creative), and those levers don’t ask for creativity before they’ll do mechanical work. (This is why 3.x Diplomacy is so, so bad too.) I can even see how that factors in to my dislike for gridded combat regardless of edition, but that’s a whole ‘nother ramble.
    .-= d7´s last blog ..A comment on POD and shipping =-.

  1. January 23, 2010

    […] which Greywulf replied: 4e does rather hand it to you on a plate, doesn’t it? I think the key is for the GM to present […]

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