Harbinger’s post reminded me of a couple of the things I don’t like about D&D 4e’s power structures: combats become samey as you blow through the same encounter powers each fight, and it’s annoying when you miss with them. I also really like the way powers tend to work in the Dragon Age video games, so here’s an attempt at a hybrid (examples are changed as little as possible from the core for illustrative purposes, though I’d probably make additional changes were I to actually use this idea).

Basics

All player characters have an Energy score that’s depleted by using special abilities. It replenishes to full during a short rest, and certain actions during combat can recover one or more points. Persistent powers can “reserve” a certain number of Energy points, essentially requiring the character to expend that many points and lower the maximum number of points until the power is turned off. Energy is equal to 5 + 1/2 level (number obviously subject to much playtesting).

Many attack powers reference [Weapon] damage. Unlike normal 4e, this is the entire damage expression for a standard attack: for example, a first level fighter with Strength +4 and a +1 longsword would have [Weapon] = 1d8+5. The purpose of this is to reduce having to constantly update damage calculations for each power; in most cases, only the main damage expression should have to be updated as characters level and gain gear. Characters choose a class-appropriate ability score to assign to attack and damage bonus and that remains consistent across all uses of powers (rather than bonus being variable based on power).

Most powers have a trigger and an Energy cost. The trigger is an event that causes the power to become available; when triggered a character may choose to pay the power’s cost to initiate it.

Many powers can be upgraded (with upgrade points coming from leveling up). Each point spent on upgrading the power increases its potency by the amount described in the power listing.

Example Powers (Paladin)

Basic Attack

  • Trigger: Character spends a Standard Action
  • Cost: 0
  • Effect: Attack vs. AC, on hit: [Weapon] damage
  • Upgrade: Damage changes to 2 x [Weapon] (only upgradeable once at level 21)

Critical Hit

  • Trigger: Character rolls a natural 20 on any attack roll that successfully hits
  • Cost: 1
  • Effect: Attack deals damage as if all dice had rolled their maximum (player does not roll); magic items may add additional dice that are rolled
  • Upgrade: Each upgrade increases the “threat range” of the attack (e.g., first upgrade makes criticals usable on 19-20)

Charge

  • Trigger: Character spends a standard action
  • Cost: 1
  • Effect: Character can take an additional move and then immediately gains a free Basic Attack against an adjacent target
  • Upgrade: Each upgrade increases the attack bonus of the Basic Attack by +1

Divine Challenge

  • Trigger: Character spends a minor action
  • Cost: 0
  • Effect: One target within 5 squares (with clear line of effect) is Marked (with the usual game effects); in addition, the first attack the target makes each turn that does not include the character immediately subjects the target to 6 Radiant Damage
  • Special: The Divine Challenge expires at the end of the character’s turn if the character is not adjacent to the target and did not make an attack against the target this turn; if the Divine Challenge expires in this way, it cannot be used on the following turn
  • Upgrade: Each upgrade increases the damage dealt by +1

Bolstering Strike

  • Trigger: Character spends a Standard Action
  • Cost: 0
  • Effect: Attack vs. AC, on hit: [Weapon] damage and attacker gains 3 Temporary Hit Points
  • Upgrade: Damage changes to 2 x [Weapon] (only upgradeable once at level 21)

Enfeebling Strike

  • Trigger: Character spends a Standard Action
  • Cost: 0
  • Effect: Attack vs. AC, on hit: [Weapon] damage and target takes -2 penalty to attack rolls until your next turn
  • Upgrade: Damage changes to 2 x [Weapon] (only upgradeable once at level 21)

Holy Strike

  • Trigger: Character spends a Standard Action
  • Cost: 0
  • Effect: Attack vs. AC, on hit: [Weapon] Radiant damage (+3 if target is marked)
  • Upgrade: Damage changes to 2 x [Weapon] (only upgradeable once at level 21)

Valiant Strike

  • Trigger: Character spends a Standard Action
  • Cost: 0
  • Effect: Attack vs. AC (+1 to attack roll for each enemy adjacent to the character), on hit: [Weapon] damage
  • Upgrade: Damage changes to 2 x [Weapon] (only upgradeable once at level 21)

Fearsome Smite

  • Trigger: Character hits with Enfeebling Strike
  • Cost: 2
  • Effect: Add [Weapon] to damage, target takes an additional -1 penalty to attack (-3 total) until your next turn
  • Upgrade: Each upgrade increases the attack penalty by an additional -1

Piercing Smite

  • Trigger: Character attacks with Valiant Strike
  • Cost: 2
  • Effect: Attack targets Reflex instead of AC, on hit: add [Weapon] to damage and mark the target and up to 3 adjacent enemies until your next turn
  • Upgrade: Each upgrade adds a +1 bonus to the attack roll

Radiant Smite

  • Trigger: Character hits with Holy Strike
  • Cost: 2
  • Effect: Add [Weapon] to damage and target becomes the subject of Divine Challenge if it was not already (thus gaining Holy Strike’s bonus damage against marked targets)
  • Upgrade: Each upgrade adds a +1 bonus damage

Shielding Smite

  • Trigger: Character hits with Bolstering Strike
  • Cost: 2
  • Effect: Add [Weapon] to damage, one ally within 5 squares gains a +3 power bonus to AC until your next turn
  • Upgrade: Each upgrade adds a +1 AC bonus

On Pain of Death

  • Trigger: Character spends a standard action while a target is the subject of character’s Divine Challenge
  • Cost: 5
  • Effect: Attack vs. Will, on hit: target takes 3 x [Weapon] damage (treat weapon damage as 1d8+Cha if unarmed) and takes 1d8 damage after making an attack on its turn (save ends), on miss target takes half damage and 1d4 damage after making an attack on its turn (save ends)
  • Upgrade: Each upgrade adds a +1 attack bonus

Paladin’s Judgement

  • Trigger: Character hits with any Smite power
  • Cost: 3
  • Effect: Add an additional [Weapon] to damage and one ally within 5 squares can spend a Healing Surge
  • Upgrade: Each upgrade adds a +2 healing for the surge

Radiant Delirium

  • Trigger: Character spends a standard action while a target is the subject of character’s Divine Challenge
  • Cost: 5
  • Effect: Attack vs. Reflex, on hit: target takes 3 x [Weapon] damage (treat weapon damage as 1d8+Cha if unarmed), is dazed until the end of your next turn, and takes a -2 penalty to AC (save ends), on miss target takes half damage and is dazed until the end of your next turn
  • Upgrade: Each upgrade adds a +1 attack bonus

Astral Speech

  • Trigger: Character spends a Standard Action (can be activated out of combat)
  • Cost: 2 (Reserved)
  • Effect: Characters gains a +4 power bonus to Diplomacy while power is active
  • Upgrade: Each upgrade adds a +1 to power bonus

Martyr’s Blessing

  • Trigger: Character spends a Standard Action (can be activated out of combat) and designates a target
  • Cost: 2 (Reserved)
  • Effect: Whenever the target is adjacent to the character, the character may choose to be hit instead by any attack that successfully hits the target
  • Upgrade: Each upgrade reduces damage suffered from this power by -1 per hit

Sacred Circle

  • Trigger: Character spends a Standard Action (can be activated out of combat)
  • Cost: 2 (Reserved)
  • Effect: Character and all allies within 3 squares gain a +1 power bonus to AC
  • Upgrade: Each upgrade adds a +1 square to the range of the circle
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