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It’s been six months since my last post, and I’ve been busy. Points of Light is still far from complete, and of two minds: I’d love to keep the game to myself until it’s completely tinkered up and ready to play all the way to 20th. But I’m getting frustrated that Points of Light is effectively still only an idea — I’ve been working on it for three years now, and I want to play it! So without further ado, I present to you the Points of Light roleplaying game, albeit in an incomplete form. From the PoL Foreword:

Join the Adventure!

Create and play a unique character of your own creation, explore fantastic realms, encounter strange cultures, slay tyrannical monsters, perfect powers and craft magic that others will remember for ages, carve a demesne out of the wilderness and old Tyrannies, found enduring guilds and orders, lead Mortalkind out of the Age of Tyranny and into a new age of hope, and after all is said and done…perhaps even become part of the divine pantheon!

What is Points of Light?

Points of Light (PoL) is a fantasy role playing game. Its default setting is a world of both promise and danger, where mortalkind is transitioning to an uncertain future. The Epic of the First Heroes relates how the First Heroes freed mortalkind from the dominion of the monstrous Tyrants, became the first mortal lords and dynasts, and then finally ascended to godhood. Of course, you can also use PoL to play within a setting of your own creation!

Whether you want to experience heroic tales of tragedy and triumph or you want to play out anti-heroic adventures of plight and plunder, Points of Light is for you!

If you’re a veteran of role playing games, Points of Light will not be a revolutionary new game experience, nor will it be a best-of-the-classics experience. It’s not going to make you rethink the way you role play, or take you back to your childhood memories of your first game. What it will do is provide a fresh twist on fantasy action-adventure role play, and create a kind of fun that comes from years of lessons learned from the world’s most popular role playing game. I hope you like it as much as I do!


1d20-Based Rules: Conflicts and challenges are resolved with the d20 die, with damage being determined using everything from d4s to d16s.

Class-Based Characters: Basic character-creation involves six to seven simple and meaningful choices, yielding a great variety of options in one smooth process.

Level-Based Advancement: PoL has four distinct five-level tiers, so that players can experience the adventure as anything from local laymen to epic exemplars.

Balance: Game balance is a top priority for PoL, both between PCs and between the PCs and their challenges.

Ease of Play: Despite its tactical combat and many role play options, PoL is easy to both GM and play.

Tactical Combat: PoL excels at deceptively simple team combat, like that of The Lord of the Rings and other fantasy fiction, with both predefined powers which players can rely upon and guidelines for improvising stunts.

Modularity: PoL’s fine balance makes it easy to play in different ways, and to modify to your taste! For example, players in the same group can roll their basic abilities and/or personalities, or they can customize their abilities and/or personalities as they wish, all without compromising the game’s fine balance.

Customizable: Customizing your PoL campaign is not only tolerated; it’s expected. After 5th level, PCs can no longer learn from their initial training, and players and GMs are expected to collaborate with guidelines in creating unique signature powers!

There are also monster-creation guidelines, which you can use to create unique allies and enemies!

Golden Heart-Breakers

Like many role playing games, Points of Light has a few heartbreakingly hidden innovations that set it apart from similar games.

Power- and Monster-Creation Guidelines: PoL includes practical, detailed guidelines for GM and player use. Is this because gamers writing their own material is more fun than using stock options, or because writing many powers and monsters is a lot of work for a single writer?


Four Archetypes: Each archetype has a clear role within combat encounters, and more importantly, each has one or two powers which clearly fulfil that role.

Condition Tracks: Many harmful conditons (staggered, enchanted, penalized, etc.) in PoL are part of condition tracks. Condition tracks are a device which help both the censor archetype and monsters play well in combat.

Monster Castes: Depending on relative level, any PoL monster falls into one of five castes: minion, goon, standard, elite, or master. Together, the castes form a kind of conflict hierarchy: Lower castes are weak and suffer more from harmful conditions, while upper castes are powerful and suffer less.

Easy Combat Tracking: From use-it-or-lose-it powers and turn-to-turn durations to attack and damage tokens, PoL makes combat easy to manage despite its tactical nature.


If you’d like to give PoL a spin — and even better, let me know what you think afterwards — email me at and ask for the links to the PoL PDFs!


Just yesterday a fellow gamer kindly linked to this very blog, but followed up with “…but it looks dead.” Clearly, I am yet again far overdue for an update. So what’s changed in the nearly-a-year (!!!) since my last update?

Well, I’ve done a lot of work with monsters. Maybe a bit too obsessively. :/ Due to a personality quirk of mine, I can’t simply translate a bunch of individual monsters from other games. No, that would be too efficient! Every monster has to be part of a ‘family,’ or progression of monsters, much like dragons in D&D. And I spent more than a tad of time obsessing over two families in particular — the six feirs, manifestations of mortal-kind’s greatest fears, and the six allouri, living embodiments of mortal-kind’s greatest desires. I’m very pleased with the results though, so I like to think it was time well-spent. 🙂

Each family of monsters (feirs, allouri, and others) has a strong theme, and family members for characters of every tier to interact with. Oh, and I plan to give many monsters the ability to grant warlocks any characters power. At a cost, of course. Not sure how I’m going to implement this yet.

Currently I’m working on magical items. I’m working on a crafting system, and trying to strike a fun balance between simplicity and crafting requirements that create adventure springboards and unique characters. Consumables will be relatively easy to make; if you’ve got the coin and the appropriate skill, you can make your healing potion, poison, or whatnot. Permanent items though — which come in the form of gems which can be quasi-freely swapped between socketed weapons, armor, and whatnot — require special ingredients. Like dragon hearts and giants’ bones. And residuum magical dust. You need magical dust to craft magical gems, and you can’t just buy it.

Why can’t you buy magical dust? I’m glad you asked!

At some point, I’d love to make domain management an optional part of PoL. I’ve never played in a campaign where the PCs became lords or archmages or guild-masters, but I think that making this a part of the assumed game has some great advantages. It gives players something to work toward and get excited about, and when their PCs finally become the game world’s movers-and-shakers, it really emphasizes their place in it and gives the players a strong stake in their home game world. I’ve gamed with players who cringe at the very mention of domain management though, so this will definitely be an optional part of PoL. I have no idea how I’m going to implement domain management though. :/ Dust? Oh right! You can’t just buy magical dust because lords spending all their tax money on magical bling is too much of a temptation. I’d rather avoid a heavy-handed “Gold pieces are for personal use, and build points are for domain use” rule, so I’m going with “Magical dust is super-rare, so you can only get it via adventure. Mostly.”

I’ve also come up with a truckload of rules-variant ideas that I plan to implement, from mapless-combat to extra feats to narrative play options. I’ve even come up with a way to randomly generate abilities that doesn’t compromise the game’s fine balance! (Hint: It does not involve d6s.)

I’ve started to think about how I’m going to present PoL for its public playtest. Originally I had figured that I’d just pdf it, as is, but I’m starting to feel that PoL deserves a coming-out party. So at some point I may ask for artwork submissions, and then hire an artist to give PoL a makeover. Not sure what to ask for though, as I’m simultaneously very finicky about art and unable to explain how.

To create interest, I’ll also be offering to incorporate playtesters’ homebrew powers into the final PoL game. Does this make my job easier? Also yes. 😉

Perhaps the most frustrating phase I’ve gone through thus far is rethinking the third and fourth tiers, and then losing steam during the implementation. In the third tier, characters become masters/members of prestigious organizations. (Sound familiar?) In the fourth tier, each character becomes a living embodiment of some ideal. (Such as knowledge, strength, love, etc..) I’m very psyched about these ideas, but because they tie into my domain management goal, I haven’t made much progress here. Ah well, I figure I can deal with higher-level stuff after I get the lower-level stuff off the ground.

And finally, I’ve decided that PoL will be classical fantasy with a twist. Instead of an aged world littered with ancient empires and forgotten dungeons, PoL will be a young world. Thanks to the Company of the First Heroes, mortalkind has just escaped its bondage to the Elder Masters — dragons, titans, and various other sorts — and is ripe with both promise and threat.

Whew, it’s been two years since my last post, so I’m clearly overdue for an update! I knew this was going to be a long process, but the reality has been an awakening of sorts. Points of Light is still an evolution and a spiritual successor to 4e, and I’m still making the highest-quality game I can, but I’m no longer calling it a ‘clone.’ I’ve changed enough facets of the game that I now think of it as a 4e spin-off. Here are the major changes:

Attack bonuses remain at +8ish and defenses at 16ish throughout the game. There is an official variant to scale the math up per level, at the GM’s discretion. I personally like scaling math, but it’s easier for me to add levels to flat math than it is for others to subtract levels from scaling math. (See: Every thac0 argument ever.)

Attack power damage auto-scales with level, so lower-level powers are not traded out for higher-level ones as a character gains levels.

Instead of three ten-level tiers, there are four five-level tiers: the Lay Tier, the Adventurous Tier, the Dauntless Tier, and the Epic Tier. Because attack powers auto-scale, the game needs only eight ‘gain another attack power’ levels, and I decided that eight of those levels don’t justify thirty whole levels!

Everyone, both characters and monsters, have a minor-action role-based power to use every turn. Virtually nothing else in the game uses minor actions. This change brings a few advantages to the game: It eliminates the minor-action related analysis paralysis that afflicts some players. It also makes the Dazed condition useful in and of itself. And lastly, it makes multiclass feats and hybriding much easier to balance!

Every leader now has two basic class features: A per-encounter feature that allows an ally to spend a surge, and an at-will feature that grants an ally a minor boost. Leaders are now leaders every round!

Instead of each class deciding a character’s role and power source both at once, I separated these choices into two separate decisions: class (power source) and archetype (role). So there are four basic layers to chargen: race, class, archetype, and theme (weapon style, elemental specialty, divine patron, etc.).

So this is shape that Points of Light has taken on. Despite real life’s best efforts to keep me distracted from it, though, I’ve been slowly typing away and I remain dedicated to completing Points of Light.

It’s been a while since my last post, so I figure it’s time for an update. I’ve done a lot of work, though not nearly as much as I’d like.

Real life strikes again. *sigh*

Anyhow, I’ve done some work with monsters, with rituals, and with general rules tinkering. But mostly, I’ve been working on classes and builds:

Power Sources: In the end, I decided to go with martial instead of ki. The other power sources are of course divine, primal, elemental, and arcane.  (Thematically, arcane classes are the sorcerers and warlocks of 4e.) All classes in each power source share one primary ability, with the exception of martial which is split between Strength and Dexterity. Divine classes focus on Wisdom, primal on Constitution, elemental on Intelligence, and arcane on Charisma. Every power source has at least one build option for every ability other than its primary ability.

Build Powers: Unlike 4e builds, which are defined by an assortment of features and/or odd powers, PoL builds are each defined by a thematic pair of powers — a signature encounter power, and a signature daily power. (These powers take the place of 4e’s level 1 encounter and daily powers, and scale with level.) Each signature power gains potency at least in part from a non-attack ability, and in this way each build’s secondary ability is determined.

For example, an archer can choose one of the following combat styles at 1st level: Arrow Storm, Bullseye Bolt, Dancing Spear, or Hurling Marauder. Each combat style comes with a pair of signature powers, so let’s say an archer player chooses the Dancing Spear style. (Obviously, class names aren’t strict definitions of specializations.) This style comes with Dancing Strike, an attack that allows the character a free shift, and Dancing Spear Stance, a stance that allows the character to shift several spaces as a move action. Both powers gain potency from a high Constitution, and since Dexterity is important to all archers, the player will want to prioritize Dexterity and then Constitution.

Build Themes: As I mentioned, martial build themes take the form of combat styles. Divine build themes are divine patrons, elemental build themes are elemental specialties, primal build themes are spirit guides, and arcane build themes are arcane talents.

Stance-Like Powers: The first daily powers I wrote for PoL were the martial signature dailies, and I thought it’d be neat if they were all stances. When I moved on to the other power sources, it occurred to me that stance-like daily powers could be a great way to cut the 5 Minute Workday off at the knees; characters can’t use two stances at once, which creates a big fat carrot for players to continue adventuring. At least until they run out of stance-like dailies, that is.

I ended up writing all daily powers as stance-like effects, though I’ve only written signature dailies so far. Divine dailies transform the character into a kind of divine avatar, primal dailies transform the character into a wild animal, arcane dailies grant the character strange traits, and elemental dailies turn the character into a living manifestation of their favored element.

Stance-like dailies could eliminate the need for action points — which would mean one less thing for players to think about in combat — but would pretty much require every single daily in the game to be stance-like.

Worth it? I haven’t decided yet…

I’ve been busily working away at Points of Light, and I’m pleased so far.


I realized as I was doing the races that I really like races that come in pairs or threes, so here is the current line-up: aasimar (aka deva), tiefling, dragonborn, kobold, dwarf, duergar, elf, eladrin, drow, human, halfling, goblin, hobgoblin, shifters (raven, jaguar, wolf), living golem (aka warforged or modron).

Instead of Second Winding as a minor action (remember everyone can do that in PoL), dwarves and duergar have actual racial powers! The duergar’s stoneguile power grants them tremorsense and total concealment, while the dwarf’s stonewise power grants them tremorsense and a +4 defense bonus.

I almost renamed the shifters as [animal]-folk, because they’re much more animialistic than the eberron guys. (Or at least, the eberron guys as they appear in 4e. I don’t know what they look like stat-wise in 3.5e) The raven shifter actually flies!

I’m planning to throw changelings into the mix as the living golem’s other oddball half — I think changelings and other shape shifters should have been natives of the old Limbo plane, rather than the “RAWR I EAT UR FACE!” slaad. Anyway, the changeling’s ability to impersonate others will be more limited — probably an “after each extended rest” racial power.


I’m still working on the classes, but I will say a few words on them. I’m aiming for not quite so many classes, but each being versatile flavor-wise. For example I’ve discarded concepts like bard, barbarian, and artificer as classes because I think they’d make better themes, feats or paragon paths.

Divine: Avenger, Paladin, Cleric, Invoker. Nothing really new, although I made sure that each class has a build option for ‘divine champion in heavy armor’ and ‘divine seer in nothing but robes.’

Primal: Warden, shaman, druid, ranger. Yes, the ranger is now primal! Nothing really new other than that.

Arcane: Sorcerer, wizard, mage (leader), war mage (defender). Unlike D&D’s traditional grab-bag of every-magical-effect-imaginable, the arcane power source is focused on blasting foes with cold, fire, and lightning.

Ki (Martial): Rogue, warlord, archer (controller), duelist (defender). I renamed this power source because I think ‘martial’ gets in the way of too many gamers’ imaginations; “How does my warrior pull off impossible wuxia stunts? Why can he only do it once a day or once an encounter?” Because he’s not just a warrior, he’s a ki warrior. Think fantasy!

Sionic: Ardent, battle mind, enchanter (controller), soul blade (striker). I chopped the P off of this word because let’s face it, it’s always been ridiculous, and also because there are no power points involved in PoL sionics. Instead, this power source is all about subtle mind-magic and oddball effects like force and teleportation. Sionic characters are never unarmored and can summon their bonded weapons/implements, making these the jedi-type characters of PoL. This power source has a strong connection to fey and shadow creatures. (Not sure if I’m happy with the ‘sionic’ title; opinions?)

Others: There may be room for other power sources, but these five are going to keep me more than busy for a while.

Attack & Damage Tokens

I’d also like to talk about tokens, or in other words, my new way of handling those “Someone gets +something to their next attack/damage roll before the end of your next turn” effects. Here’s how it works:

A PoL power might say “One ally gets four damage tokens.” When the power’s user triggers this effect, he or she simply hands the player of the ally four tokens. They can be coins, poker chips, or whatever’s lying around your game room. (I suggest your group designates one type of coin or chip for attack tokens, and another for damage tokens.) The holder of these tokens can then convert them into a power bonus before making the next appropriate type of roll. The tokens are lost when they’re used or at the end of the holder’s turn, whichever comes first. Oh, and tokens don’t stack; if a second effect would grant the previous example player five damage tokens, he only adds one token to his pile of four.

Pretty elegant, right? Nothing to track, and nothing to lose!

First, an announcement: HB4 will henceforth be known as Points of Light!

After much discussion, I realized that Points of Light is the perfect title for my project: it points directly toward the design pedigree that I’m refining, and it does so without beating anyone over the head with a title full of 4’s. And as an added bonus, it has a convenient abbreviation. (PoL)

Today’s topic is attack powers. Thanks to forum inspiration, I’ve decided that all paragon path attack powers will be last-resort diehard kind of powers. E attacks will require the user to be bloodied, and daily attacks will require him to be bloodied and down to half (one-quarter?) his healing surges.

To the meat of today’s topic: a few martial attacks. MBAs will look pretty much the same:

Melee Basic Attack

At-Will + Weapon

Standard Action       Melee weapon

Target: One enemy

Attack: Strength vs. AC

Hit: 1[W] + 1[Strength] damage.

Level 11: 2[W] + 1[Strength] damage.

Level 21: 2[W] + 2[Strength] damage.

Note: Light weapons will use Dex for MBAs instead of Str. Defenders without Str as their primary ability will use their primary for MBAs instead.

Next, a couple of renditions of 4e’s possibly most notorious at-will, Twin Strike. In Points of Light, TS will be available to all martial classes. Both renditions nerf this attack in two ways: it’s no longer a quasi-control attack (single target only), and it’s not a two-in-one attack (melee only). For the sake of simplicity and gameplay, neither require the user to keep track of which d20 is for which weapon. This is where the similarities end.

TS #1 is much like 4e’s TS in other regards, except for a proviso that prevents damage-stacking cheese. Damage will be harder to stack in PoL, due to fewer untyped bonuses, of course. But all the same, I think it’s a reasonable restriction. (And any DM who doesn’t think so can lift it with trivial ease.)

Twin Strike #1

At-Will + Martial, Weapon

Standard Action        Melee weapon

Requirement: You must be wielding two melee weapons.

Target: One enemy

Attack: Ability vs. AC, two attacks

Hit Once: 1[W] damage (main-hand).

Hit Twice: 1[W] damage (main-hand), and 1[W] damage (off-hand).

Level 11 (Hit Once): 1[W] + 1[Ability] damage (main-hand).

Level 11 (Hit Twice): 1[W] + 1[Ability] damage (main-hand), and 1[W] damage (off-hand).

Level 21 (Hit Once): 1[W] + 1[Ability] damage (main-hand).

Level 21 (Hit Twice): 1[W] + 1[Ability] damage (main-hand), and 1[W] + 1[Ability] damage (off-hand).

Special: Extra damage and damage bonuses of any type apply only to your main-hand damage roll.

TS #2 is another option; instead of a damage-stacking proviso, it generates off-hand damage in the form of extra damage. (Which doesn’t gain damage boosts by default.) The downside is that this rendition interacts weirdly with resistance and vulnerability; these damage modifiers apply only once because TS #2 acts as a single attack, even though the user is wielding two weapons. This can potentially lead to bizarre in-game conclusions like “So…I guess my second sword always stabs the exact same wound as my first sword…”

Twin Strike #2

At-Will + Martial, Weapon

Standard Action       Melee weapon

Requirement: You must be wielding two melee weapons.

Target: One enemy

Attack: Ability vs. AC, two attack rolls

Hit Twice: 1[W] damage (main-hand).

Hit Twice: 1[W] damage (main-hand), and you deal extra damage equal to 1[W] (off-hand).

Level 11 (Hit Once): 1[W] + 1[Ability] damage (main-hand).

Level 11 (Hit Twice): 1[W] + 1[Ability] damage (main-hand), and you deal extra damage equal to 1[W] (off-hand).

Level 21 (Hit Once): 1[W] + 1[Ability] damage (main-hand).

Level 21 (Hit Twice): 1[W] + 1[Ability] damage (main-hand), and you deal extra damage equal to 1[W] + 1[Ability] (off-hand).

And here’s an example of what daily attacks will look like:

Brute Strike (level 1)

Daily + Martial, Weapon

Standard Action       Melee weapon

Target: One enemy

Attack: Ability vs. AC

Hit: 2[W] + 2[Ability] damage.

Miss: Half damage.

Note: Players can take higher-level versions of Brute Strike. If a player wants, s/he can fill every daily attack slot with Brute Strike. (That second sentence will not be standard to all attack powers.)

Level 5 Brute Strike (Hit): 3[W] + 3[Ability] damage.

Level 9 Brute Strike (Hit): 4[W] + 3[Ability] damage.

Level 15 Brute Strike (Hit): 5[W] + 4[Ability] damage.

Level 19 Brute Strike (Hit): 5[W] + 5[Ability] damage.

Level 25 Brute Strike (Hit): 6[W] + 6[Ability] damage.

Level 29 Brute Strike (Hit): 7[W] + 6[Ability] damage.

Until next time, folks!

Part IV is a follow-up to Part III, which I ended with the skeleton of HB4’s attack power guidelines. Now I’m going to flesh out those guidelines a bit with conditions, and other effects that make powers more than just a way to pile on more damage. So first, I’ll explain the tweaks I’ve made to HB4 conditions:

Slowed and Immobilized: Slowed applies to shifting in HB4, because this condition can use some love. Both of these conditions now create CA, because both can use a little love. And because, really, how does not being able to dodge and weave not put you at a defensive disadvantage? CA is just a fringe benefit, but I’ve always thought it odd that these two conditions don’t create it.

Restricted and Restrained: Restrained no longer imposes an attack penalty, because it’s always seemed odd to me. (If it’s about realism, why doesn’t pretty much every condition apply an attack penalty?) There are already enough attack penalties floating around the game; and if a monster or power really calls for a restraining effect that also makes attacking difficult, both can be built into that power. So Restrained is Immobilized with no forced movement allowed.

Likewise, Restricted is Slowed that allows only 2 squares of forced movement.

Partially and Totally Blinded: I renamed the Blinded condition Totally Blinded, and created a new one called Partially Blinded that works just how you imagine it does. (Targets have partial concealment, -5 to Perception, etc.)

Distracted and Disoriented: -2 and -5 to attack rolls, respectively. I keyworded these penalties for reasons I’ll get into below.

Dazed, Staggered, and Stunned: I poached the Staggered condition from an ENworld poster whom I can’t recall at the moment. Staggered is Dazed, with the added restriction that you can’t take a standard action. Essentially, it’s Stunned-Lite. And speaking of the Stunned condition — in HB4, it will allow free actions so that you can at least use an action point while Stunned. Smoke ’em if you got ’em!

Calcified(?) and Petrified: Petrified now grants resist all based on the target’s level. Because epic characters and monsters are made of sterner stuff than everyone else, right? Calcified is a combination of Dazed, Slowed, and not quite as much resistance as Petrified. Not really satisfied with the name, though.

Confused and Dominated: I decided to keyword an effect that became more common during late 4e design, and turn it into a condition. Here’s how it works: You grant CA, you can’t flank, and the enemy who confused you (the confusor) gets to dictate a single action at the start of your turn. After you take that action, you take your regular turn as normal. (You get all three actions, as usual.) Confused is essentially Dominated-Lite.

Very Confused and Truly Dominated: These two conditions are exactly the same as Dominated and Confused, sans the single-action restriction.

Weakened: This condition slows down 4e combat in two ways; one obvious, the other more subtle. The obvious way that weakened slows down combat is by halving the target’s damage. Duh. But the more subtle way is that it discourages the target from using anything but at-will attacks by penalizing higher-damage attacks more. (Losing half of 10 damage only means losing 5 damage, whereas losing half of 20 damage is a loss of 10! No thanks, I’ll save my encounter attacks for after I recover my strength!) But there are some monsters and powers that call for draining a target’s damage potency.

So instead of the Weakened condition, HB4 simply has damage penalties. Damage penalties still slow combat down of course, but they don’t eliminate anyone’s incentive to use encounter and daily attacks.

Condition Tracks: I’m sure you’ve noticed by now how I’ve arranged all of these condition in pairs, or ‘tracks.’ That’s because I’ll be using these condition tracks in minion/elite/solo design and PC controller design. How, you ask? Well let’s say an evoker (an arcane controller) casts Ray of Frost. Thanks to his Ice Metamagic class feature, the condition that the spell imposes moves up on its condition track. A target of the evoker’s Ray of Frost is immobilized, rather than slowed. Cool, right?

Now let’s say the evoker tries to immobilize an elite monster. This foe is smarter, faster, stronger, or simply more badass than the evoker is; so Ray of Frost’s condition moves down on its condition track. The elite is only slowed, and a solo wouldn’t even take that condition. (Restrained is paralel to Immobilized, rather than above it.) To slow a solo, the evoker will need a spell that immobilizes to begin with. Meanwhile, even a non-evoker can immobilize a minion with Ray of Frost.

This is the beauty of condition tracks; they create a great design space for controller class features that actually improve control, and provide a way for all monsters to be appropriately affected by conditions without clunky save bonuses. I’m very excited about integrating these features into HB4, and I hope you are too!

Durations: Conditions and effects imposed by encounter and at-will powers should last until the end of the target’s next turn, and should be negatable by bonus saving throws. Conditions imposed by daily and recharge powers should last indefinitely, until the target succeeds a saving throw. (The only possible exception being rogue powers that gain CA for the rogue, which become useless if they don’t last past the target’s turn.) So HB4’s typical Hit entries will look like “X[W] + Y[ability] damage, and the target is [condition] until the end of its next turn (save ends)” or “X[W] + Y[ability] damage, and the target is [condition] indefinitely (save ends).”

Designing Attack Powers: So, how do you and I build conditions and effects into attack powers? Well, remember that each power begins with a number of Power Points (PPs) based on its level and usage. You then ‘spend’ those PPs to add damage, conditions, and/or effects. Here are some guidelines that I’ve come up with; the number after the colon is the fraction or number of PPs that you must spend on the condition or effect, and the number after the semicolon is the minimum number of PPs that the power must begin with to add that condition or effect.

Slowed: 1/5 PPs; 2 PP min.

Immobilized: 2/5 PPs; 3 PP min.

Restricted: 1/5 PPs; 2 PP min.

Restrained: 2/5 PPs; 3 PP min.

Partially Blinded: 1/5 PPs; 2 PP min.

Totally Blinded: 2/5 PPs; 3 PP min.

Distracted: 1/5 PPs; 2 PP min.

Disoriented: 2/5 PPs; 3 PP min.

Dazed: 1/5 PPs; 2 PP min.

Staggered: 3/5 PPs; 4 PP min.

Stunned: 4/5 PPs; 5 PP min.

Calcified: 2/5 PPs; 3 PP min.

Petrified: 4/5 PPs; 5 PP min.

Confused: 4/5 PPs; 5 PP min.

Dominated: All PPs; 6 PP min.

Very Confused*: 4/5 PPs; 5 PP min.

Truly Dominated*: All PPs; 6 PP min.

-5 Damage Penalty: 1 PP; no min. (As a guideline, don’t spend more than half of a power’s PPs on damage penalties. Also, damage penalites aren’t a track so they’re not affected by minion/elite/solo targets.)

Push or Pull 5: 1/5 PPs; 2 PP min.

Push or Pull 10: 2/5 PPs; 3 PP min.

Slide 2: 1/5 PPs; 2 PP min.

Slide 5: 2/5 PPs; 3 PP min.

Slide 10: 3/5 PPs; 4 PP min.

*This condition is better than some other similar condition, but not enough to warrant spending more PPs. Instead, impose some minor limitation on a power that imposes this condition, like reduced range.

And that’s all for today, folks! I hope this has made as much sense to you as it does inside my head.

Cassius Foreman, signing off.

As promised, Part III is issue-specific, although it’s a bit dry. There will be much talk of dpr, hp, and general mathery, so consider yourself warned.

Combat Length: After crunching a few standard 4e dpr and hp numbers, I realized just how quickly combat length explodes as levels increase. At 1st level, the typical combat lasts 3-4 rounds, assuming no terrible luck on the player’s part and assuming that there are no healbot clerics or other major combat-extenders. Which I think is a good ‘target length’ for combat.

But by the end of the heroic tier, combat length roughly doubles; and it only gets longer from there. Again, this is assuming nobody is stocking up on standard action heals or stun powers. (This is also assuming that nobody is cheesing out on damage boosts.) So I crunched yet more numbers, considered PC powers advancement for quite a while, and came up with my target combat length for HB4…

Heroic combats should last about 3 rounds. PCs should beat on-level monsters in 3 rounds and, not accounting for Second Wind, monsters should beat on-level PCs in 3 rounds. This raises the standard danger level a bit, but keep in mind that Second Wind in HB4 will be a minor action for everyone.

Paragon combats should last about 4 rounds. Again, PCs and monsters will run a fairly close race.

Epic combats should last about 5 rounds. Again, the goal is to run a close race for victory.

Now I’d be lying if I claimed to have all the math worked out to a T; daily attack and item powers are a kind of wild card. The higher level the PCs get, the more dailies they get, and the more influence the players have on combat. But I think that’s as it should be; more player empowerment means a DM can challenge them with a wider scope of opposition, and ‘take off the gloves’ so to speak. In any case, when I crunched the hp numbers I came up with the same progressions for both sides of the DM screen:

Low hit points (PC controllers, monsters artilleries) will begin at 12 + Con hp at 1st level, and increase by 4 hp each level afterward.

Medium hit points (strikers, skirmishers) will begin at 15 + Con hp at 1st level, and increase by 5 hp each level afterward.

High hit points (defenders, brutes) will begin at 18 + Con hp at 1st level, and increase by 6 hp each level afterward.

As I mentioned in Part II, there are only ability modifiers which means that 1st level hps will range from 12-22 rather than 20-33.

Now before I get into damage, I have to talk about the guidelines that I, and hopefully you gamers at home, will use to write HB4 attack powers. This may sound bizarre, but bear with me; it’ll all make sense soon. (I hope!) When designing a power, you start with a certain number of power points (PPs), depending on the power’s level and usage. You then spend those PPs to add damage and effects to your power. These are the PP guidelines:

A PC At-Will attack has 2 PPs at 1st level. At 11th level and again at 21st, it gains another PP.

A 1st level PC encounter attack has 3 PPs. Higher level encounter attacks have more:

3rd: 4 PPs

7th: 5 PPs

13th: 6 PPs

17th: 7 PPs

23rd: 8 PPs

27th: 9 PPs

A paragon path encounter attack starts at 6 PPs, and gain more as a PC gains levels. (Par Path powers are supposed to be a little more character-defining, so I’ve always thought it’s a shame how they become an epic PC’s bottom-of-the-barrel trick.)

A 1st level PC daily attack has 4 PPs. Higher level daily attacks have more:

5th: 6 PPs

9th: 7 PPs

15: 9 PPs

19: 10 PPs

25: 12 PPs

29: 13 PPs

And much like Par Path encounter attacks, Par Path daily attacks start at 10 PPs and scales with PC level. Now let’s talk monster attacks:

The At-Will attack of a 1st level monster has 2 PPs. Higher level at-will attacks have more:

3rd: 3 PPs

7th: 4 PPs

13th: 5 PPs

17th: 6 PPs

23rd: 7 PPs

27th: 8 PPs

33rd: 9 PPs

The recharge attack of a 1st level monster has 3 PPs. Higher level recharge attacks have more:

5th: 5 PPs

9th: 6 PPs

15th: 8 PPs

19th: 9 PPs

25th: 11 PPs

29th: 12 PPs

35th: 14 PPs

Note that [normal] monsters will have 1 recharge attack per tier.

Now how do all of these PPs translate into damage? Well to explain that, I need to explain how HB4 notation is a little different than that of 4e. Because HB4 has no ability boosts or enhancement bonuses, I had to make that damage up somehow. And the way I decided to make it up is by using ability multiples. For example, instead of a power reading say, 2[W] + Strength modifier, it might read 2[W] + 2[Strength]. A long sword-wielding fighter with a +3 Strength using such a power would deal 2d8 + 6 damage, rather than 2d8 + 3 + enhancement.

Okay, back to PP-talk. (Hehe, that was immature!) *Ahem* When designing a straight-up damage power, each PP becomes one damage die or one ability multiple. I suggest ‘building’ evenly, favoring more damage dice when you don’t have an even number of PPs to spend. Oh, and the standard monster damage die is d10 and the standard ‘ability’ is +5.

In short, HB4 PCs will deal a little more damage with encounter and daily attacks, and a little less with at-will attacks. (Remember though, that fewer rounds per combat means less at-will ‘clean-up.’) HB4 monsters will deal quite a bit more damage than 4e monsters; even by MM3 standards.

In Part IV, I’ll get into designing powers that do more than just damage. Until then, good gaming!

Alright, part two of this series is about the rest of my HB4 to-do list: those complaints that haven’t appeared quite often enough to warrant being in Part I, plus a few peeves of mine that I intend to tweak.

Quick Combat: This is actually an addendum to Combat Takes Too Long from Part I. 4e could use some DM advice about how to keep combat flowing (making sure everyone is attentive and ready to take their turn, monster types that should be used sparingly, etc.). It could also use guidelines for quick, dare I say ‘old school’ combat (how to run combat as a skill challenge, and possibly minion-and-at-will-only combats).

Multiclassing: I revised the MC feats in C4, and these improvements will carry into HB4. I may or may not throw in hybrids too. (I’m not personally in love with the whole hybriding thing.)

Improvisation: Many DMs feel that players don’t improvise enough, and I’m sympathetic. There are a few reasons for this: 1) the guidelines on the famous page 42 are rather stingy, 2) page 42 is buried in the DMG where players aren’t likely to read it and get inspired, and 3) players already have cool stunts (powers) that are almost invariably better than anything they could improvise.

So here’s what I plan to do about it: my C4 improv guidelines are already more generous than 4e’s, which helps when players do think to improvise. For HB4, I’ll be dropping those guidelines right into my player’s guide to make them more accessible and inspiring.

Utility Powers: Another somewhat-common complaint is that utility powers aren’t well-defined — some are useful out-of-combat, but most are combat-oriented. So I’m going to make an effort to keep utility powers as just that — out-of-combat utilities. This shouldn’t be immensely challenging for utility magics, but I think martial utilities will make me grind my teeth. Using martial practices as inspiration should make this mini-project easier, though.

Adventure Carrots: 4e certainly made advancements when it comes to avoiding the infamous ‘five-minute workday,’ but players still have more incentive to take a lengthy rest after every encounter rather than adventure on, if they can. In C4, I made action points an actual incentive to adventure on, but there may be more carrots I can think of. I don’t use XP, but for those DMs who do, there’s bonus XP to offer as a reward for adventuring on.

Off-Turn Attacks: There are two problems with off-turn attacks. First, due to damage stacking, off-turn attacks are too tempting in 4e. If I can’t come up with anything more elegant, every off-turn attack will have this line: “Bonus and extra damage doesn’t apply to this attack.” Second, off-turn attacks can also be confusing for new and casual players; ever have to explain Combat Challenge and Combat Superiority to an innocent player? Ugh. I’d love to simply rip immediate actions out of the game, but that may not be possible. At the very least, no fundamental class feature will involve immediate actions.

Minor- and Multi-Attacks: Damage stacking strikes again! If you can stack up a few bonuses, Twin Strike wins the game and high [W] attacks become sadly inferior to minor- and multi-attacks. Luckily, fixing the problem won’t be too hard; multi-attacks need a new standard, and minor actions need the same proviso as off-turn attacks.

Charging: There are two problems involved with charging. First is the weird 1-square ‘no-charge bubble,’ which I’ve already solved in C4; and the lunge fix will certainly be carried over into HB4. Second is all of the charge-boosters that can turn a PC’s MBA charge into his best attack (aka Chargecheese). I’m not sure what to do about this second problem, other than strictly limiting charge-boosters to encounter/daily boosts.

V-Shaped Classes: For those who aren’t familiar with this term, a V-shaped class is one with two choices of primary abilities and one secondary. (Ex: paladins, warlocks.) HB4 will have only A-shaped classes; one primary ability, and two secondaries. (Ex: most others.)

The Controller’s Shtick: This is the one 4e role that has no defined thing that he does. The striker deals extra damage, the leader heals, the defender marks and punishes, and the controller…tends to have better powers than everyone else. (Ex: wizard.) This conflicts with 4e’s ‘less system mastery’ philosophy, so I’ve come to what I think is a great idea: instead of a better power list, the controller gets two class features. One feature expands the area attacks he makes, and the other adds/improves a hindering condition of thematically appropriate powers. Oh, and HB4 will have a true martial controller!

Powers: Speaking of powers, HB4 will have many fewer than 4e — at least until players and DMs decide to make new ones of their own. I’ll be writing a power list for each power source — you heard that right, a list for each class is just too much work! But I don’t believe in finite lists of options, so I’ll be including my power creation guidelines somewhere in HB4.

Conditions: I’ll be tweaking a couple conditions, and adding a couple more. For example, Slowed will restrict shifting too. (Slowed is weak enough as it is, and it doesn’t make much sense that shifting bypasses it.) There are others, which I’ll get into later.

Second Wind: This is a peeve of mine, but one with merit I think. SW is supposedly what makes leaders not strictly necessary, as they are in previous editions, but using a standard action to heal yourself is usually a waste of a surge and a turn. So it takes up space on the character sheet and in brain space, but hardly ever gets used. In short, SW isn’t pulling its own weight. So in HB4, Second Wind will cost a minor action for everyone. It will lose the +2 defense boost, and I’ll think of an actual racial power to give the dwarf.

Size Matters: D&D has this weird attitude that size matters…except when it doesn’t. If D&D’s reach rules were consistent, Smalls wouldn’t threaten any spaces, but because gnomes and halflings are popular, the whole size category is basically Medium-Lite. Tinies don’t threaten, except for pixies because they have to be playable! Oh, and monsters like the imp, who went from Tiny to Small when re-statted in the Monster Vault. With all of this finagling of sizes to get everyone the Reach 1 they need to be melee-capable, why bother with 0-reach at all? So Tiny creatures in HB4 will join the ranks of the Medium-Lite, and gain Reach 1 by default. Now size really doesn’t matter…until you get Large, of course!

Battle Mat Variants: How to play with a hex mat, or no mat at all!

Abilities: This is one of the sacred cows that I was disappointed 4e hadn’t butchered in 2008; ability scores. So there will be only ability modifiers in HB4. Further, I’ll probably be shaking up the secondary functions that the three physical stats have. Basic attacks will key off of your best stat, extra hp will come from Str or Con, and initiative bonuses will come from Dex or Int. I’d like to find a secondary function for Wis and Cha too, but haven’t thought of anything yet.

Name Levels: And lastly, it’s been a dream of mine to see name levels reappear in D&D. I came into the hobby during 2e AD&D, and I think that becoming a world player (gaining/building a stronghold, attracting followers, and waging war) is a great way for players to feel a part of the game world — and to truly change it! Now I’m never going to suggest “Stop adventuring here so you can retire to your castle and entertain banquet guests for the rest of your lives.” Becoming a lord (and later the founder of a dynasty or a church!) should provide additional adventure springboards and an occasional change of pace from D&D’s usual fare of small-party adventuring in the form of court intrigue and mass warfare, not replace it.

But this is an extremely ambitious mini-project, so I’m not sure anything will come of it. As always, we’ll see.


This finally concludes my to-do list; next time, details!

I haven’t come up with a snappy title for my 4.5e clone, so for now I’ll call it Heartbreaker 4, or HB4. Over the next few weeks I’ll be brainstorming the changes and tweaks that will separate HB4 from the D&D 4e (and my C4) that we know and love, and posting my thoughts here for personal reference and public comment. First, a brief mission statement.

Mission Statement: Over the past week, I’ve been gathering opinions on what needs fixing in 4e – and opinions vary widely. I’ve read everything from “Just fix the math” to detailed analyses to long and specific laundry lists of things to change. Which has forced me to consider how far I’m willing to go with HB4.

In short, I’m not willing to turn 4e into something that it wasn’t intended to be, or something that I won’t love to play and DM. I ask for public opinions, I’ll be asking for help as I go, and I’ll freely share my final game – but it will be my game, and it will cleave to original 4e ideals. What does this mean specifically?

Well here are the major 4e issues, and what I intend to do about them…

The Math Is Off: This has been by far the most common complaint about RAW 4e. I used a few tweaks to fix C4’s math, but making the math work right still feels somewhat like filling out a tax form. “I get half my level, my stat mod, my expert bonus, my weapon’s enhancement bonus…oh wait, what’s my inherent bonus again?” Not as bad as the 3.x Edition tax form character sheet, but still more than many players want to deal with.

Luckily, there’s a simple solution: no stat boosts, no enhancement, inherent, or expert bonuses. PCs, like monsters, will get a straight +1 to attacks and defenses per level. This makes everything easier for new and casual players, and additionally makes it easy for DMs to adjust the math. (Like 5e’s flatter math idea? Simply dial the bonus down to half level, or even no level bonus at all!)

Combat is Too Long: Another big complaint, and one that I’m prone to agree with…at least after the heroic levels. While I like the pace of heroic combats, monster hit points scale a bit too quickly and monster damage a bit too slowly for comfort.

I’ll also be taking a variety of measures to cut down on real-time drag. To cut down on condition tracking, “until the end of your next turn” conditions will be few to none, and I’ll be standardizing leader attack boosts into ‘attack tokens.’ (I’ll get into this in a future post; all you’ll need to play your warlord is a few pennies.)

Magical Items Are Boring: This has been a common but nebulous complaint, and it seems to be at odds with 4e’s “It’s you, not your gear” philosophy. A philosophy that I fully embrace; I hate high level PCs needing their favorite magical toys to beat the opposition. But I’ve come to a solution that I think will work.

Instead of each PC getting about one rather ‘meh’ permanent item per level plus a bit of gold and the odd consumable, each PC will instead gain one fairly powerful permanent item every five levels and lots of consumables and/or cash in between. Non-permanent items will be cheaper and more consistently useful, so players will have less incentive to hoard every stray copper for their next sword upgrade.

Instead of having possibly dozens of permanent items (and their relatively minor powers) by 30th level, PCs will have just six permanents with more memorable powers and lots of potions and whatnot.

Too Many Feats & Powers: As 4e progressed, more and more options were added to every category; and inevitably some of those options proved to be clearly superior to other similar options, which became obsolete. And that’s no fun for anyone, so some pruning is in order.

But what to prune? Dealing with powers won’t be so much a matter of pruning as a matter of generating all new HB4 power lists. (Not quite as big a project as it sounds; I’ll talk about this later.) But feats…do I prune away the obsolete ones, using E-feats as my golden standard, as some have suggested? Or do I prune away those same super-feats, and make the formerly-obsoleted ones my golden standard? I’m prone to do the latter because I like feats filling a smaller charop role.

Rituals Stink: I have to admit, I’ve never personally experienced this gripe. But I think I’ve finally condensed all of the assumptive complaints I’ve seen into a workable list:

  1. Many rituals are inconsistently balanced, in terms of cost and effectiveness.
  2. Magical item upgrades make cash too valuable to spend on rituals and other consumables.
  3. It requires too much investment for non-ritualists to become ritualists: 2 feats, Int boosts, and the cost of the rituals themselves. Whereas ‘natural’ ritualists, namely wizards, get most of these advantages for free.

And it’s clearly possible to improve on these points, so I’ll do what I can!

There’s so much more to think about, but I’ll leave that for another day. Good gaming!