[D&D 4th] Developing a scenario negotiation overlay

As I've mentioned in other threads lately, we've been gearing up to play 4th edition D&D here in Upper Savo. This has to do with the Chronicles of Prydain microcampaign from last year; it sort of got under our collective skins, so when a serious run of 4th edition came on the table, I decided to revise that material for a deeper take.

Although I'm doing a much more complete campaign prep for this than last year, I'm still limiting myself to applying the 4th edition rules system, rather than rewriting everything from the ground up. This implies a certain sense of restraint in the whole affair. I'm not doing anything to the combat rules or the way character classes work, for instance.

At this writing we've done character creation and played the first session of the campaign, but I'm still working on some pretty central mechanical conceits that I need to get in place for next Monday's session. One of these prep tasks is finishing out my concept for a mechanized scenario negotiation point-buy system of sorts. Because it's a pretty tricky thing, I'll just lay it out here in case anybody has any further pointers for me.

Operational Points

The campaign does not involve Milestones from the 4th edition rules - their implementation is useless rules trash as far as I can see. The fictional and strategic parameters of the "long rest" are also changed to make it a more dramatic decision: a long rest takes several days, and it advances the campaign "chapter clock" by one step. (The "chapters" are basically a dramatic timing device for stuff occurring outside the immediate control of the PCs. For example, at the start of the campaign the bad guys are five chapters away from winning the war that starts the campaign.)

The Milestone concept is replaced by an abstract currency that I hope to make a meaningful and central tool in the way combat encounters are set up during play. Let's call this currency "operational points" (OP) for now. The current OP score of the adventuring party represents the amount of operational leeway they have gained by stealing the march on their enemy. Taking a long rest discards any OP the party has gathered by default, as whatever operational initiative they have is lost during the break from the action.

The party gains OP equal to the XP budget of any successfully resolved scene that advances their quest goals. Both combats and skill challenges count: as long as it's successful and it takes the party towards their goal, it counts.

Spending Operational Points

There are two types of boons that I want the players to be in control of via the OP system:
* Minor rest actions that are more elaborate than a short rest, but less than a full rest. Essentially, a more modular and mechanically interesting Milestone. A way to gain Action Points and an encouragement to push on instead of taking a long rest even after a hard encounter.
* Seizing partial control over the terms of a combat encounter with operational maneuvering: choose your battleground, fine-tune combat goals, gain surprise, make it easier, etc. My ideal of 4th edition combat is not that it's something the GM imposes: rather, it should be something that the group collectively finds appropriate.

I'm still working out the specifics of what I'm selling, exactly, and at what price - ideas and observations are welcome here, especially if you have expertise with the 4th edition math. I'm particularly uncertain about whether I've priced this stuff correctly. Here's what I've got so far:

("[A]" indicates the XP value of a monster of the [A]dventure's level. "[H]" indicates the XP value of a monster of the relevant character's level. "[C]" indicates the XP value of a monster of the relevant combat encounter's level.)


  • edited July 2018
    Camping Actions

    Set Up Camp: The party takes the opportunity to rest and recuperate. This is essentially like the by-the-book long rest in fictional terms, although it doesn't provide any benefits in itself except allowing one to use the other camping actions. Cost: 500 + [A] OP

    Enjoy Hospitality: As "Set Up Camp", except the party has an opportunity to rest at the dwelling of some friendly party. It's cheaper, which is the point. There might also be further discounts on camping actions, etc. depending on the host. Cost: 500 OP

    My reasoning on having the camping itself require an overhead cost I encourage the players to do a bit of light strategizing on when to camp; it's more effective to do it less often to do multiple actions at once, rather than camping after every combat.

    Character Play: One of the players has their PC share their thoughts, past or ideals with the party. The character gains an Action Point and spends a healing surge. (If they have no surges, they nevertheless gain the healing.) Cost: [H]

    The cost of a single Action Point increases for higher-level characters, which should help prevent inflation a bit as more OP flow in at higher levels. The healing surge bit is in there to provide a slightly more interesting constraint on over-use of AP; using the option is slightly unoptimal for an unwounded character who's not out of healing surges.

    Maintain Arms: The party repairs their armaments. Everybody regains an equipment daily power, and characters who succeed on their maintenance skill checks gain a +2 operational bonus to their attacks until they are hit, and [Level]*2 temporary hit points. Cost: 500 + [H] for each participating character

    The overhead cost is there to encourage everybody to participate. The maintenance skill check is probably Medium difficulty in Dungeoneering (otherwise a bit under-used in the campaign) or a class-appropriate skill (Religion for Clerics, etc.). The cost again scales by level to keep it relevant at higher levels.

    Revive the Injured: A character tries a Medium-difficulty Heal action to revive an ally. Success removes a lingering status effect and heals the target to a minimum of their Bloodied value. If the spend a healing surge, they are healed to their max HP instead. Cost: [H] for the target

    The "lingering status effects" thing relates to some vague theories I have about how to deal with "dying" in battle.

    Treat the Wounds: A character tries a Medium-difficulty Heal check to double the hit points gained by a healing source. Cost: [H] for the target

    Work Out the Tale: A Bard may expend OP on a 1:1 basis to enchant a magic item or a memory (a type of itemless magic item Boon as per DMG2) relating to the recently experienced adventure. The item has to be present, and has to be one that was used in the adventure. The maximum level of the item is the Bard's level. The item design should reflect the events, of course. Cost: As per magic item creation costs

    This last one is rather campaign-specific, relating to the Cymric fantasy world of Prydain. It produces an advantage that lives beyond the current adventure, but I think I can live with that - particularly as the party doesn't have any bards, the fools.

    Operational Actions

    Seize Operational Initiative: The party gains some kind of forewarning of an upcoming combat encounter; work out the specifics with the GM. This is a necessary precondition to being able to use the other operational actions, unless the party knows to expect the combat encounter by some other means already. Cost: 500 + [C] OP

    The action can be used well in advance, or just before the combat begins - I don't care. If used before the combat encounter is introduced, the GM either starts revealing the encounter well in advance, or tells the party if there is no up-coming combat encounter. In the latter case the party wastes their OP in paranoia, of course.

    Scout the Terrain: The party gains significant input into terrain and figure placement for the combat; not total control, but a roughly equal say with the GM (who is not out to maximize monster advantage, note). If you want a ravine to use with pushing powers, this is the way to get it. Cost: [C]

    Stage an Ambush: The party gains a fair chance to surprise the enemy. If the enemy knows about the party they still get a roll to avoid the ambush, though. Cost: [C]

    Scout the Enemy: The party gets to increase or decrease the encounter level - the encounter XP budget, essentially - by stealing the march on them. Additionally, a character may make a Stealth check to learn the tactical deployment and battle goals of the enemy in advance, at the cost of starting the encounter early if they fail. Cost: [C]

    That one might seem counter-intuitive if you think of combat encounter as a challenge the GM presents to the players. I'm more of the mind that the 4th edition combat is a matter of showcase entertainment, so why not let the players have a say in how many enemies they battle. They might even wish to increase the number of enemies to reap more rewards out of the encounter.

    Make a Plan: The party develops a plan of action in advance for the combat. Roll the initiative scores for the party early, they get to take those into account. The party can also use the Prepare Action action before the combat begins. Any clearly pre-planned combat actions get a +3 operational bonus to attack or skill checks as long as the plan holds together. Cost: [H] for every character with planned actions.

    You only gain the bonus for prepared actions if they're clearly sequential or conditional of something else happening. "I use Twin Strike at some point against somebody" is not a plan, while "I open with Twin Strike against the closest enemies" is.
  • As might be imagined, my greatest uncertainty here concerns the pricing of these options. I make heavy use of the idea of overhead to encourage the players to go into most encounters "cold", saving up their OP to spend them one or two times per adventure. I opted to use 500 points as my standard overhead because it's what a 5-man party gains over a single encounter on early levels; this means that the overhead is a massive concern over the first few levels, fading in importance at the end of the Heroic tier. (The campaign is not much concerned with Paragon tier, but it does not bother me if characters use camping and operational actions more often at that point.)
  • edited July 2018
    One more specialty function for operation points. It's neither a camping action or an operative action, but important nevertheless:

    Create Ritual: After a skill challenge, one of the characters creates a ritual version. The ritual associates with one of the key skills of the challenge and shares the challenge's level. The ritual enables the character to accomplish an essential task related to the skill challenge in the future. Cost: The cost of a magic item of the ritual's level in OP

    The 4th edition ritual rules are sort of shitty, but a few small changes should work to make them actually relevant to the game. A core improvement is to connect rituals into skill challenges. This brings some important hygiene principles into both ritual and skill challenge design, as allowing something to be a skill challenge implies an equivalent ritual, and any time a ritual might be useful in the game it can be instead replaced by a skill challenge. It goes without saying that e.g. characters create magic items by first succeeding in a skill challenge to create their first, after which they can learn the ritual and skip the skill challenge when the need comes up next time. In this way skills actually become guarantees of ritual access: your not having some ritual merely means having to skill challenge for it, rather than playing mother-may-I with the GM; assuming that you have the skills to beat the challenge, you'll get that ritual.
  • Find the "Obsidian Skill Challenge System" by Stalker0 on ENWorld. It fixes all the math in the 4e skill challenge system.
  • The two line paragraph that explains how the dorx get their op is a little hard to understand. How does that part work?
  • Obsidian came out years before the RC, is it still the most uptodate? :confused:
  • The campaign doesn't use experience points, but the OP gain is basically the same number that you would get as XP for any given encounter: the monster XP budget, or the complexity-derived equivalent for skill challenges.

    The only exception is that you only gain OP from scenes that actually benefit the party's quest goals. This makes sense when you remember that OP is supposed to represent how far "ahead" the party is compared to the forces of darkness at any given time. If you do a side quest scene of some sort that doesn't advance the plot, that's not worth any OP.
  • I am just about to start Gloomhaven with my kids and it has long rest and short rest mechanics, although these are tactical rather than strategic.
  • Obsidian came out years before the RC, is it still the most uptodate? :confused:
    I haven't compared the skill challenge rules in Essentials to the original 4E rules.

    The math in Obsidian is really solid though. I doubt Essentials got it as right as Obsidian did.
  • I like much of what I see here. My only concern would be that it seems a little bookkeeping intensive on the players' part and I think you could accomplish the same effect by establishing a standard cost across levels and using considerably smaller numbers.

    So, as an example, an "easy" encounter/challenge/quest (by which I mean one that is 2 or more levels below the party) is worth 1 OP, an "average" (one within a level of the party) is 2 OP, and "hard" (2 or more levels above the party) is worth 3 OP. Most of the actions in your tables would cost to 2 OP if its a C/A/H by itself and 3 or 4 OP if its 500 + C/A/H. Just something to consider.

    I'm considering doing something similar in my 4E game except this would function as both an operational currency as well as XP and I would lower the XP cost of leveling up (normally it would be 20 OP under this framework but I would decrease that to 10 for the purposes of my game).

    I really like the idea of tying rituals to skill challenges, as well.

    I've seen a lot of the alternative skill challenge systems online but I still think the best implementation of the framework is found in 4E's DMG2 and SWSE's Galaxies of Intrigue.

    The Obsidian system is a good alternative to DMG1/RC style skill challenges though.
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