Empower Your Players for Flexible Encounters

Having been both a player and a DM I understand both sides of the struggle for power.  The players want to be strong and powerful so they can handle whatever the DM throws at them.  The DM wants to keep their power in check so they don’t become too powerful and just bulldoze over all the encounters he’s worked so hard on.  At the same time he doesn’t want to utterly crush them so he ends up holding back on challenges The struggle is back and forth and I’ve come to understand that it is a balancing act.  In the end the DM holds every single card in the deck, but it isn’t fun playing by yourself.  Giving your players some power actually increases how hard you can be on them since it adds to their flexibility.

She must have a really high armor class!

Remove Feat Taxes

I’ve always felt that feats are the powers you get that help define your character and help them fill out their role.  There are some feats, however, that have been added just to act as a math fix for some miscalculations on the game designer’s part.  These have come to be known as feat taxes as they are essentially a requirement to stay on par with the enemies.  We’ll remove this tax by giving these feats to the players for free.

1. Inherent Expertise – At level 5 you gain a +1 feat bonus to all weapon and implement attacks.  This bonus increases to +2 at level 15 and +3 at level 25.

  • As a player levels up their accuracy increases by 1 every 2 levels (half level bonus), 1 every 8 levels (skill increase bonus), and 1 every five levels (magic item bonus) for a maximum total of +25.  Monsters defenses increase by 1 every level which puts players behind the curve every so often.  To compensate for this they created expertise feats such as Weapon Expertise, Implement Expertise, and eventually Versatile Expertise.  Giving your player this feat for free will allow them more freedom

2. Inherent Defenses – At level 15 you gain a +1 feat bonus to your fortitude, reflex, and will defense.  This bonus increases to +2 at level 25.

  • A bit more math fixing.  Player’s NAD (Non-Armor Defenses) don’t increase as naturally as they should and, in nearly possible builds, one defense lags far behind since it’s relative ability scores aren’t increased.  For example, a strength/wisdom warpriest will end up with a somewhat weaker will defense since they raise their strength and wisdom every 4th and 8th level.  A charisma/wisdom paladin will end up with low fortitude and reflex as they will be focusing on raising their charisma and wisdom.  Because monster accuracy scale linearly, as well, this helps bring NADs back in line.  AC is already compensated with masterwork armor

Let All Races be V-shaped

Player’s Handbook 3 introduced what have become to known as V-shaped races, though Changling was the first.  A V-shaped race is a race that has one primary ability score bonus along with a choice of two others for the second.  For example, Have +2 str, +2 con or +2 wis.  They can have (+2 str +2 con) or (+2 str +2 wis).  If your players chose a race from the PHB1 or PHB2 consider figuring out which ability would be their primary and what abilities fit as secondary and let them choose.  You should see a lot more interesting permutations as well as much happier players.

Alternate Death Option

I’ve always felt that the idea of death has held me back as a DM.  As a player I know what to do when I’m face with my mortality: run away. When I am in full control as the storyteller I feel worse about killing off characters.  They know you’re the one doing it and they have a lot invested into the character, especially if they built a better background.  It is harder to kill players in 4th edition due to the much more lenient rules but with my small party even a single character dying will cripple them to the point where they must immediately stop the adventure and fix the situation.  My current solution is the Dragon Age style solution in which a character that is dead, that is they’ve reached negative bloodied value or failed 3 death saves, is incapacitated.  They cannot be healed and they are considered out of the encounter.  If the party manages to survive to take a short rest I allow that dead player to spend 1 healing surge per death counter to remove the incapacitation.  At this point they are at 1 health and must spend healing surges or use powers to recover.  With this my party is not dead until everyone is down.  It is a significant punishment but doesn’t mean the end of their beloved character.  I’ve also modified the rules so that death counters do not go away until an extended rest or until a healing surge is spent to remove them.  This brings death a bit closer to the level of fear I want it to be.

Additional Daily Item Allotment

It is my opinion that most daily item powers are rather terrible.  Because of the limit on daily item usage my players rarely look for items with daily powers and when they have them they rarely want to use them.  To fix this I increased the base allotment to 2 with an additional 1 per tier and 1 per milestone.

With these few changes your players should see a considerable increase in power without going overboard.  This extra power allows you to turn up the fire and increase the challenge.  You’ll hold back less and the game will be more of a challenge without fear of ruining your entire campaign.

Michael McElrath

2 Responses to “Empower Your Players for Flexible Encounters

  • Have you already developed a list of V-shaped adjustments for the older races? If so, I’m curious to see it.

    Also, where is that picture from?

    • I have, actually! I’ll post my makeup for the older races in a few days. I’ll try to have it up on Saturday.

      The picture is some artwork for the game Golden Axe. I found that image here.

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