Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Second Wind + Rampage = a Heroic Moment? or Action Points revised.

D&D 4e introduced a lot of interesting elements to the game. Despite its focus on math and balance, I think some of these features are really good, because the add to the narration as well as being viable in combat. Some of these disparate features could be linked, however, and I've got an inkling of how to do it.

Second wind allows PCs to spend one of their own healing surges in combat, so its basically a self heal. The concept doesn't quite match the mechanic though, because one doesn't necessarily control a second wind in real life. It does, however, capture that heroic moment when the protagonist manages to shake off their pain, stand up again, and whump whump whump. So over all, I think its a good mechanic, though it might be better with a little tweaking. Depending on how HP works, it may be divorced from surges. I'd also be interested in seeing how it might work as slightly random. It also might be a good candidate for an actual daily power, as it makes some sense that you might not be able to catch a second wind multiple times a day.

This brings me to a random class feature: the Barbarian's Rampage. When he scores a critical hit, the barbarian can make a free charge attack. This is a neat feature, but I don't know that I really saw it come into play. Its also not really modifiable, except by what boosts critical hits. So barbarians with Rampage get an extra benefit from their critical hits, meaning they ought to get things to boost those.

As I was thinking about this, these two mechanics seem like they do the same sort of thing. They represent that heroic moment when someone pushes through the pain and tries to pull off a minor hail mary.

There's another class that comes into the equation though too. The sometimes-maligned Warlord is built around enabling people to do just this. Ok, the Bard too, and other leader-type classes. So wouldn't it be great if those classes could use their inspiring auras, songs/poetry, or prayers to help bring about these sorts of heroic moments?

The idea for the mechanic becomes relatively simple. You have a short list of conditions where you can roll for a heroic moment. You probably only get one per encounter, but some classes might modify that. And everyone can use a heroic moment for a second wind. Everyone gets to roll for a heroic moment on their turn after an ally is reduced to 0 HP, or they are bloodied. Race and class features might grant bonuses to the roll, or give additional conditions. So dwarves might be able to start rolling for their second wind each round when they're bloodied. Barbarians might have a rampage option when heroic moments arise, in addition to second wind. Warlords might grant their charisma bonus to allies rolling for a heroic moment, while Clerics or Bards might use some spells to do the same thing. Barbarians might be able to roll for a heroic moment when an enemy leader is reduced to 0 HP or retreats. Druids might be able to roll for heroic moments when nature or their guarded lands are threatened, or they might be able to regain a spell slot in lieu of hit points when spending their second wind.

The idea is still only half-baked at the moment, but I think it's promising. I think the key would be to restrict heroic moment conditions so each player only had a couple to look for. And most characters would only have second wind as a method to take advantage of that heroic moment, though the more primal/intuitive/passionate classes like the barbarian, druid, or sorcerer would be prime candidates for having alternatives to second wind. This system might also be an alternative to action points, so maybe you gain the action point when your heroic moment come up and then you try to spend it.

All of these ideas sound a little more baroque than the basic action points. Ultimately, I'll probably look at implementing it without rolls, because that'd be simpler and give the players a bit more narrative control. But I think something along these lines (a system that represents grit and rage and heroism that multiple classes interact with in different ways) would buy just a little more drama or suspense in the game, and that's worth it in my book. So, revised action points, just with more flavor. And different classes will interact with the system in different ways.


  1. I like these ideas for heroic moments. One thing that I'd like to fix in 4E is the way Action Points are used and earned. Sometimes they just become a little bland, a player just going "Oh, I guess I should use an extra action" or "Welp, this is near the end of the second encounter and I'm going to get another action point soon, so I should use this one up" and action points became just another resource to manage instead of being used to create heroic moments in a combat.

    The other thing that I never quite liked was the use of APs to just re-roll at will attacks or to make a second attack after an encounter or daily missed. I much preferred when they were used to rush in and stand fighting over a fallen comrade or to pile a second attack onto a faltering foe.

    1. The 3.5 action point rules are actually a lot more complex than the 4e ones, and I like the older usage a bit more than 4e. I think it could be simplified and streamlined a bit though.