on Jul 8, 2008
I recant on yesterday’s complaints about the combat in 4e. Part of my complaint was based on the misconception that once-a-day powers reset at midnight, which is arbitrary and mechanical. (Part of the problem is that I’m reading both the PHB and DMG at the same time, scattershot, instead of just sitting down and reading them in an organized or responsible manner.) But the main reason I objected to the powers was that I couldn’t see the cinematic / dramatic / possibilities it opened up, because I’m so used to combat being a break in the roleplaying.
The fact that players can try tricks and stunts and improvise with the environment is exactly the sort of thing I’ve always wanted to do, but found the books got in the way. Early in my DM career I tried a few fights with epic scenery (like a rope bridge in a storm, which is right out of the 3.5 DMG) and while they were nice, the setting didn’t really translate into more interesting combat. It was just something cool I described before we began the fight on a stark grid, standing next to each other while we rolled lots of dice. If a player had decided to cut the bridge, or attempt to push their foe over the side, I would have been at a loss. First we’d have to muck about with attacks of opportunity, then I’d have to figure out if this sort of thing was already covered and if there were rules governing it, and then (assuming they didn’t) I’d make up some ad-hoc way of resolving it and the mechanics would feel rudderless. Are we setting precedent here? Am I going to regret doing this? Is this going to imbalance things later?
The page 42 rule – where page 42 of the DMG gives you rough guidelines for all sorts of improvisational situations – is something we could have done in 3.5, but having it in writing gives a certain sanction to this sort of business, and gives players the assurance that while the current action isn’t provided for in the books, the DM is still being governed in some way by the rules and not surrendering to anarchy or capricious whimsy.
I like Rule 42 so much I’m going to drag it along with me – as best as the rules allow – on our Star Wars campaign. (We’re using d20. I understand there is a d6 version as well, but the d20 is the sourcebook I have, so we’re going with that.)
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.