While this is written for D&D, it could theoretically be repurposed for any system that supports a running series of fights.

I’ve been playing Heroes of Neverwinter lately on Facebook: it’s an isometric video game using a stripped-down 4E system to run party-based dungeon battles. One of the things about 4E that got stripped out was the ability to spend healing surges between encounters. Consequently, without using healing potions, your party will often slowly get worn down past what per-encounter and per-dungeon healing abilities are available, making the last room far more difficult than it would be if it were the first room. This is, of course, how pre-4E D&D often plays when fighting a series of encounters. It also reminds me of Pendragon mass combats, where players receive a series of encounters with enemy knights who have to be knocked unconscious or unhorsed in one shot to count as a real victory… and new opponents tend to come in fresh all battle long while the PCs are slowly ground down every time they lose a roll.

This kind of thing is a major cause of the 15 minute adventuring day problem: players know that they’re going to be constantly fighting encounters with fresh enemies that don’t give out any more exp or treasure if the PCs aren’t fresh as well, so do everything possible to enter every fight at full power. Most MMOs have flat out embraced this behavior such that PCs recover to full HP and other resources very quickly outside of combat, making most dungeon crawls a series of completely unrelated battles: for the most part, you bring precisely the same resources to encounter 6 as you did to encounter 1.

Some MMOs, however, include mechanics that incentivize quickly rolling from encounter to encounter rather than resting back to full health in between. The ones I’m most familiar with are City of Heroes and Champions Online. CoH has an archetype that builds a damage bonus meter during combat that quickly drops when out of combat, encouraging blitzing through multiple fights. CO has several powers that build stacks of some kind of buff in combat that quickly fall off to nothing outside of combat. Additionally, most characters in CO only recover energy up to a very low threshold outside of combat and have to be attacking to get more, such that certain high-cost powers can’t be used to lead off a fight… unless you’re rushing from one battle to the next while your energy bar is still full.

The following system is a rudimentary attempt to do something similar in D&D to encourage players to keep up momentum in a series of encounters rather than doing their utmost to enter each one fresh. It’s the carrot to Dungeon Inertia’s stick, and either or both can be used to whittle down the 15 minute adventuring day.

Basics

  • Every character has Adrenaline points and an Adrenaline bonus (these are per character and not shared across the group).
  • Adrenaline points are earned one per round in which a character makes at least one attack or casts an offensive spell (i.e., not a buff or heal).
  • Whenever Adrenaline points reach a certain threshold, the character’s Adrenaline bonus goes up. By default, this is every 5 points (e.g., 1-4 points is +0, 5-9 is +1, 10-14 is +2, etc.). This threshold can rise past a certain point if it’s becoming very easy to get a really high bonus (e.g., past +5, the thresholds change to 1/10).
  • The character loses one Adrenaline point per minute outside of combat. The GM may choose to have this loss halted or slowed when the between-fight time is tense and/or outside of the player’s control (e.g., in a Pendragon-style mass combat, Adrenaline wouldn’t decay at all during the battle even though there’s theoretically a lot of time in between fights, because the player can’t do much to make these fights come quicker).
  • The Adrenaline bonus applies to several types of roll. Suggested applications include Initiative, physical skill and ability checks, and critical hit confirmation rolls. Limited use situations (such as feats) might let a character apply it to even more rolls.

Feats and Abilities

Once players have become accustomed to using the system, it’s entirely possible to allow Feats and other special abilities to selectively extend the benefits of Adrenaline, and even use it as a new resource. For example:

  • Momentum Blow: a feat that requires Power Attack as a prerequisite and allows you to spend Adrenaline points equal to your current Adrenaline bonus to add that bonus to your next attack roll.
  • Berzerker’s Adrenaline: a Barbarian special ability that allows the character to get an extra Adrenaline point for each round in Rage (but lose all these bonus points when the Rage ends).
  • Exciting Explosion: a feat that allows a spellcaster to gain an one Adrenaline point for each enemy caught in an AoE instead of just one point for the whole attack.
  • Better Part of Valor: a feat that allows a spellcaster to spend all current Adrenaline points to cast Expeditious Retreat, Fly, or Dimension Door as a Swift action.

Enemy Adrenaline

As a counter to the idea that enemies are almost always completely fresh on being encountered by the PCs, the GM can choose to sometimes expend their HP or other resources in exchange for Adrenaline as if they’ve also been involved in a running fight. A suggested tradeoff is 10% of their HP or major limited-use ability lost per 5 Adrenaline Points/+1 Adrenaline bonus. For many enemies, the greater chance at winning initiative and making an extra attack for the battle may offset the loss.

The GM might also start a completely fresh group of enemies at a small Adrenaline penalty when surprised by the PCs (and, vice versa, might do the same to PCs surprised while resting at 0 Adrenaline).

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