Category Archives: 4e D&D

Guest Post by anarkeith- Homebrewing an Alternative to 4e Powers

Many of us know anarkeith, but don’t really know him (oooo that sounds so deep I hope some of you are clicking your finger in appreciation while I continue this beat man). While anarkeith doesn’t have his own blog he IS an active participant of RPGbloggers! Many of you will probably find, through past reflections, that anarkeith has visited your blog and commented, offering positive and constructive feedback or his own inspirations/aspirations pertaining to your post.

anarkeith and I have been chatting for quite some time now and I have talked with him on his homebrew systems and was more than happy to offer him the chance to do a post about it here.

So without any more preamble here it is!

I’ve been a DM running various editions of Dungeons & Dragons on and off since 1979. I soldiered through the transition between 3rd edition and 3.5 because the 3.5 books were so much better organized, I could more easily find the vast amount of rules information I needed access to. Eventually, I burned out on the overhead. The game had become too complicated to prep and run for my available time.

Just before 4th edition was released I ran a spontaneous game for a group of kids. We had a d6, a pencil, and a few sheets of paper. We all had a blast for about four hours. That experience rekindled my interest in D&D. But I was determined to play something rules-light. I worked up some d20-based rules that, while imbalanced (I’m a graphic designer by trade and training, not a mathematician), ran fine. My old 3rd edition group dove into it enthusiastically, and a new campaign was born.

Even with internet access, PDFs, and a myriad other resources, the task of converting monsters, traps, and other game elements soon began to chew up too much time. In addition, as the players leveled their PCs, it became apparent that the imbalances were getting worse. Most encounters were relatively non-threatening, and there was little tension in the game.

By this time 4th edition had been out for a while, I’d had some hands-on time with it, and my players were open to trying it out. The conversion went pretty smoothly, and we enjoyed continuing the campaign using the same characters, but with different game mechanics.

A number of factors influenced my encounter design for our early experiences with 4th edition. I had played some World of Warcraft, as well as several single- and multi-player console games. Early published materials used the combat-heavy “delve” format. The powers attributed to PCs in 4th edition had a distinct combat orientation. So, we ended up with a lot of combat encounters. In general, this was fine. Most of the group had fun. The watchers and the tacticians were content. The storyteller and the explorers, not so much.

Over time however, the group lost a bit of its fascination with the proceedings. I launched a second play group of more “focused” players to see if there was something I could do better. I emphasized the story and exploration, but spiced it with regular combat encounters. Still, I was running the game with the delve-mindset. Finally, one of the players arrived at the table with a freshly-leveled PC and announced that his new daily power was probably broken. When he easily wiped out an elite monster several levels above his, this seemed to have been confirmed. 4th edition had morphed into what troubled me about 3rd: Too complex. And, seemingly too complex for its own designers, who were (perhaps) losing the balance they’d originally set out to bring to the game.

As all this was going on, I resolved to have another try at home-brewing rules. This time however, I had the modular components of 4th edition to use as a framework. The Dragon Age RPG from Green Ronin, and ideas from the many great blogs that can be found on the RPG Bloggers Network also influenced me.

Looking at the powers in 4th edition, I identified a number of key conditions that they applied to enemies and/or allies in combat. I reduced the number of conditions in the published materials to a more limited list (grouping the existing conditions under these headings to aid in roleplaying.) For example, Blind, Deaf, etc., became “No Sense”. The player could supply the flavor behind “No Sense” as part of describing their action. Throwing a cloak over the orc’s head. Detonating a thunderclap beside the kobold’s ears to deafen it.

Next, I assigned numerical values to encounter, utility, and daily powers. Each PC in my home-brew system has a number of points, depending on their level, and in some cases modified by their ability scores. During combat encounters, they spend the points for dice of damage, or tactical options like applying conditions to enemies. The key is that they decide, based on the situation, what conditions to apply, or how many dice of damage (up to a level-based limit) they want to inflict. I felt like this overcame the artificial feel of once-per-encounter or once-per-day effects.

Here are the tactical options available for weapon-users. Each costs one point, and the maximum number of points a 1st through 8th level character could spend per attack is four. Note that I’ve divided them into specialties that are restricted by class/role:

1) Universal (available to all weapon users)
a. 1[W, where “W” is a die that varies by weapon] damage
b. Grab (range: melee 1; target restrained until it escapes or you end the grab)
c. Knock Prone (range: melee 1; no move)

2) Martialist (e.g., your typical D&D Fighter)
a. Cleave (strike an additional target; target must be adjacent to attacker)
b. Disarm (no attack)
c. Press (push target 1 square and shift into the space that the target occupied)
d. Intimidating Charge (when you charge, target suffers -2 on next attack)

3) Skirmisher (e.g., your typical D&D Thief/Rogue)
a. Blindside (gain combat advantage)
b. Switch Positions (exchange positions with adjacent target)
c. Tumble Past (shift 1 square)
d. Fusillade (no sense)

4) Hunter (e.g., your typical D&D Ranger)
a. Volley Fire (strike an additional target; target must be adjacent to, or the same as original target)
b. Vulnerable Prey (when target has no adjacent allies, target suffers -2 on next attack)
c. Hit and Run (shift a number of squares equal to 1 + Wisdom modifier)
d. Hunter’s Fury (strike an additional target with off-hand weapon, attack is Dex vs AC, target must be adjacent to attacker. Special: You can use this option only once per round.)

Note that durations of all effects are until the end of your next turn, unless otherwise defined.

So, a fighter on scoring a hit might choose three dice of damage (3 points), and the Disarm option (target unable to attack until the end of the fighter’s next turn.) Or, if the circumstances are favorable (e.g., a nearby yawning chasm), the fighter might choose to spend a point (or two) on the Press option, effectively harrying the creature into the chasm (or at least prone on the edge.)

Thus, tactical considerations are part of “building” the attack. And, there’s no artificial constraint on duplicating specific options, other than the “fatigue” modeled by running out of points.

The point-recovery system I developed basically says that during a short rest PCs automatically recover points equal to their unspent points in hand. You’re allowed one short rest after an encounter. In addition to the automatic recovery, players may elect to make a DC 12 Constitution or Wisdom check to regain 50% of your used combat or magic points (respectively), rounded down. I use a similar system for hit point recovery. My design goal was to give combats more serious, and potentially lasting consequences. I’m still playtesting these options, as they may be a bit generous towards the players. Ideally, PCs will deal out more damage, and should recover a bit more slowly than standard 4e. I’m using D&D Monster Vault and Monster Manual 3 monsters almost exclusively as enemies, as they tend to deal more damage and seem better designed from a play perspective.

In combat, weapon users roll to hit, and if successful, then they decide how they want to apply points. Spellcasters are required to expend their points in advance, and then roll to hit. I did this because I handled spells similarly to the tactical options I provided for the weapon users. The result is a pretty powerful approach to magic use, in which spellcasters can literally create spells on-the-fly. There is a menu of duration, area of effect, dice of damage, and other options that spellcasters use to construct their spells. I’ve provided each of my players with converted versions of their 4th edition spells, and in addition, I’ve converted some spells from previous editions as examples of how my home-brew rules can be used. Rituals are treated just like other spells. When their effects fall outside the menu of options I’ve created (which is, admittedly combat-oriented), I use the level of the ritual or previous-edition spell as a guideline to determine casting cost.

My two groups each have a couple of sessions under their belts, and as I gather more data, I may alter some of the numbers. My goals for it were to replace the Library-of-Alexandria list full of 4th edition powers with something more playable, to make combat faster, more dangerous, and more heroic, and to give my players a sort of “essential” form of their character to play with. Taking those goals into account, I’ve also resolved to continue to incorporate opportunities for exploration, storytelling, and role-playing into my game sessions. I will include opportunities for combat, but my encounter design is taking into account other options for resolution that the players might choose.

You can find the specifics of what I’ve done so far in the house rules section of the Obsidian Portal wiki for my campaign, in the empire of the Dominium.

I’d like to thank Mike Evans for providing input, and the space to talk about this project, and I hope to be able to provide more details as we proceed and evolve these house rules. I’d also like to thank my players, especially Randy who has his own fantastic, and completely home-brewed set of rules, which inspired the magic system. And to Dave and Adam who are quick to point out exploitable weaknesses and relish the opportunity to exploit them, while doing so with playful spirits. In the spirit of the internets, I’m open to comments and criticism. As the robots of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation like to say, “Share and Enjoy!”

A Great Set of Rules for DnD 4e, Pathfinder, and 3.x! Take a Gander!!

So yesterday I was shown a link that I thought is well worth passing on!

Here it is!

E6 is a set of easy rules to keep DnD (3.x), Pathfinder, and 4e fun and epic at lower levels.

I really enjoy the lower levels of DnD, where creatures and the unknown are still frightening and the players must keep there wits about them.

I feel that once you get past level 10 things get really bogged down with mechanics, weird spells, effects, and the Save VS death spells start creeping in more often.

Really check out these PDFs! They are free and awesome!

Looking Forward to Dark Sun

Oooh Dark Sun

First off here are three great reviews about Dark Sun.

Here is one on RPG.Net.
This one is by the awesome NewbieDM.

And here is one by Points of Light.

I have to say that I am really excited for the Dark Sun Campaign Setting?

“Gasp!” you say? “How can this be?! You do not play 4e! Poser! Heretic! Sinner! Atheist!”

Well I am a Heretic, Sinner, and definitely an Atheist… but that isn’t the point of this post.. or is it?

Focus Mike Focus

Yes.. Dark Sun.

I really didn’t get to play much of the original setting when I was younger, but what I did get to play and what I heard of the setting made me really appreciate it and want to play more of it.

With the 4e setting release I plan to take it and convert it to either Savage Worlds or Pathfinder.

I may not like the direction that Wizards has taken DnD, but I am not against purchasing a product from them if I feel that it is worth while or has something cool in it. That is why I got the DMG 2 (here’s a review I did for that- Part 1 and Part 2).

Honestly there was quite a bit of useful stuff in the 4e DMG 2 for any aspiring or veteran DM/GM, as is the case with the Game Mastery Guide for Pathfinder having something to offer any DM/GM who doesn’t play Pathfinder/3.x.

From what I’ve read, it sounds like WotC has done a good job (for the most part) preserving the feel of Dark Sun, and I think my players would like to be in a world that tends to be one of gray where the moral compass is pretty low.

I can already tons of adventure in this kind of inhospitable world where the players have to have their wits about them to survive.


I can see Dark Sun being fun with both Pathfinder and Savage Worlds. I just need to debate on what kind of feel I want for the game. I think that the setting would be particularly brutal using Savage Worlds.

I can also see it being fun to do Pathfinder and utilize all the yummy goodies that have been incorporated into the system with the addition of the Advanced Players Guide.

I’ll just have to see after I read the book fully which system jumps out at me.

What about you? Are you looking forward to Dark Sun? What system would you convert Dark Sun to, if you so choose to?

Is it Only an “Essential” Reaction?

Note: This is a post to pose a question, not challenge what version of a game someone wants to play, or say that their enjoyment/choice is any less deserved or important. No trolling, only actual discussion please.

I’ve noticed many people on RPG Bloggers and others whom I talk to regularly via email seem to be unsatisfied with 4e Mechanics, especially once the players get to higher level. Some say that the easy prep and manageability of adventure crafting when the game was first released and at lower levels disappears once the game reaches Paragon level and beyond.

There have also been posts made about the clutter of errata, changes and fixes, etc.

Many people are wondering if the Essentials line is basically 4.5 using smoke and mirrors to hide its true purpose. Others say it is just another way for WotC to pull in revenue, and I am very inclined to agree with this statement.

WotC keeps saying that this game is a way to lure in new blood and refresh players who feel the game has grown too complex, overburdened and stagnant.

While I don’t doubt that WotC wants to pull in new blood and keep old blood buying their products, I think the real smoke and mirror here is to cover up what WotC has done.

They have errata’d and released and pushed till peoples eyes roll up in their heads, blood trickles down their nose, and they are found dead in their basements. Cheesy poofs still clutch in hand.. Oh so sad.

Mike Shea’s post over at Critical Hits had a couple of statements that really jogged my brain on this:

4e has changed a lot over the past two years. The mechanical design we see in later books is quite different from the design we see in the early releases. For DM’s, I think these design changes are clearly seen when comparing monsters at the paragon tier and above across all three Monster Manuals. I’ll talk more about this in a bit. For players, it’s seen clearly in the huge number of updates to the core classes and powers in the original Player’s Handbook. The core classes today are very different from those in the original Player’s Handbook. The recent change to Magic Missile is one such example.

The one thing keeping players sane is the Character Builder. Because it’s constantly updated, we don’t have to worry too much about keeping up with all of the updates. Of course, it makes us look at our core rulebooks and wonder why we bother to carry them around. I know I’ve stopped doing so. I might as well be bringing a Laura K. Hamilton hardback for all the good they’d do me at the table.


While current players have the character builder to keep them updated, DM’s don’t have it as easy. Unlike the Character Builder with it’s continued updates, WOTC never actually updated the original monsters with the updated math we find in the Monster Manual 3. Our first Monster Manual is pretty useless above level 10 and there’s no other way to update the monsters within other than to do it ourselves.

*scratches head* I like the idea of the character builder and can understand and appreciate the ease of it.. but to MAKE it essential to play a game and make the books you’ve spent your hard earned money on in just 2 years really just boggles my mind.

So I’m wondering if WotC is launching the Essentials line to combat this. To hopefully get players who are turned off by the whirlwind of information that has been placed before them.

What about you? Is Essentials more of a plan of action or a reaction to how 4e is now currently being perceived? Especially in light of Pathfinders success?

Mass Effect on Paper

Like so many other people I have seen on RPGBN, I have fallen prey to Mass Effect 2. I’m nearly done with my first run through of the game and am honestly loving EVERY minute of this game. It amazes me how deep the character development goes for, not only Shepard and his crew, but the histories of the difference species and planets. I love it and am totally immersed.

Oh God…. He’s Thinking Again.

For a bit now, I’ve had a hankering to play a Sci-Fi game and I DO want to play a Star Wars game, but I think that (and part of my soul is dying by typing this out) it would be nice NOT to play in the Star Wars universe.

I feel that way because with Star Wars there is such a HUGE preconceived idea of what should and shouldn’t be in Star Wars, how it should be ran, etc (this may also depend on your players and how you or the GM feels about Star Wars, cannon, and whatnot). I also acknowledge that Mass Effect that preconceived idea may also exist.

But I think a game in the Mass Effect setting could have real fun potential.

Where to Start?

First thing I started thinking about was, most importantly, system. Feel free to chip in a different opinion here. Two systems (and there are MANY I am not familiar with) that I think could fit the Mass Effect feel would be Savage Worlds or 4e DnD (most readers and friends who follow my piddily writing know I am a 3.5/Pathfinder lover, but for Mass Effect, I think 4e would work better).

An Aside: I don’t deny the good of 4e, but I am not a huge fan of it. I am a HUGE fan of Savage Worlds though, as you can see as I am gushing about it here.

Savage Worlds-

The pacing of Savage Worlds is simple, fun, and combat can be deadly. I think that having a “classes” type system would be a definite strength, and I love it for player creativity.

As far as powers go, Biotics would be a type of Magic Background edge and the powers would be purchased like normal; warp, overload, push, pull, etc.

I think that weapon abilities like the ones in Mass Effect 2- cryo, armor pen, and other types of ammo, or concussive shot could operate using Weird Science mechanics. A weird scientist or engineer (in Mass Effect) would invent the item and it would have a number of Power Points (PP), and the player could use the ability and the PP would replenish as normal (1 PP per hour).

4e DnD-

On the opposite end of the spectrum of Savage Worlds is 4e. Using classes and the powers system of 4e would probably work wonderfully with Mass Effect. Having a Biotic class that learns “x” powers over time or a soldier who learns tactical training either as a leader or defender, a medic class that operates like a Cleric, or a rogue or ranger that operates as a bounty hunter, sniper, assassin, or scoundrel. With the classes you can implement the weapons and armor restrictions (you can also do this in SW by having a min STR requirement.

These are just some initial thoughts of mine. Any feedback, interest, etc? Thanks much!

Acing the Damage in DnD

Damage Potential

I’ve heard/seen many people complain how damage in DnD isn’t that dangerous, which makes it come to a crawl, especially at higher levels when players have buckets of HP, higher AC, oodles of feats, magic items, potions, and better saves.

The other day I got to wondering what if DnD combat took a page out of Savage Worlds? In SW whenever damage is rolled and the maximum number is achieved it is called an Ace. The die gets to be rolled again, and the next number added to the amount, this can keep Acing until you no longer hit the highest number (IE- Roll a d6, get a 6. Roll again, get a 6. Roll again, get a 4= 16).

Now imagine that kind of damage in DnD off of one die roll. Over at Geek Life Project, there is an excellent post on how players have to rethink combat once you pick up your SW character sheet, as opposed to say 3.5/4e DnD.

Acing damage in DnD would force players to rethink how they charge in, make them ask about their environment, asking for things like tables and bookcases for cover. Even though wizards and sorcerers will still have the chance to vastly out damage rogues, fighters, and rangers, the ability to ace gives the martial classes a chance to do more heavy damage at later levels than is the norm.

I will try this experiment with my current DnD game to see how it pans out.

Anyone else have thoughts on this?

What does a 4e DMG2 offer to a 3.x player? Part 2.

For the first part, go here.

In the previous post, I introduced the book, my initial feelings, and covered chapters one and two. This post will be shorter as there is little to nothing that a 3.x DM can use in the following chapters. As stated in my first post, however, that there might be something that a 3.x player would find useful, and I believe that I should cover it for 4e fans as well. We may play different version, but we all love DnD!

Chapter Three

This chapter is all about the skill challenges, and offering alternate rules and suggestions on how to run them. The chapter seems well written, and for those who love skill challenges, I’m sure that this portion of the book will come in handy. I really can’t comment on skill challenges since don’t use them in 3.5. There is something that bothers me about them.. Something I can’t quite put my finger on. I would like other people’s opinions on skill challenges and how they utilize them and if they are something worth incorporating in a 3.5 game…

Chapter Four

This chapter deals with altering monsters and creating your own. I like the templates and how to create interesting and difficult encounters. I have made it clear that while 4e isn’t my preferred game, that I don’t outright hate it. To me it is a personal choice, like eating meat as opposed to being a vegan (and no this is not a simile that 3.x has more “meat,” than 4e). One thing I will say about 4e that I really enjoy is the monsters (for the most part). I think that monsters are easier to manage with their powers labeled out the way that they are as opposed to 3.x.

Chapter Five

Mostly has magic items and rewards are in this chapter, however on page 161 it starts getting into Organizations. How to create them, their motivations, and power struggles, etc. There is very interesting info in these few pages.

Chapter 6

The final chapter of the DMG 2 focuses on Paragon campaigns. This is something of a blessing, from what I understand, for 4e players. Many players and DMs complained of lack of adventures or guidance during this stage of play. The ideas, even though for 4e, can serve as inspiration for 3.x DM’s as well.

Final verdict: While chapter one and two are well written and offer the most for a 3.5 DM, I don’t feel that the book is worth the cost for just those two chapters. The first two chapters, I really did enjoy reading, but they do not offer anything revolutionary or novel, to me.

However, I do think that the book would be great for 4e DM’s. It has a fountain of information that will enhance their games, make their lives easier, and offer possible new insights to a blossoming game or starting DM.

What I want: If there is such a thing, by all means comment and let me know.. I am looking for a book on Advanced DMing/DM Theory. I have hopes that the Pathfinder GameMastery Guide will provide deeper insight, but I’m not placing high hopes (this is not a knock against Pathfinder, because I believe that the game is amazing).

I just want a book that really goes in-depth with the intricacies of DMing, out of the normal that seems to now be the staple topics that are covered in the DMG and DMG2. So if you know of such a book, by all means, let me know! Thanks!