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D&D Burgoo (4.0): Action point, smaction point

Posted By Troy E. Taylor On September 8, 2008 @ 6:06 am In GMing Advice,Specific RPGs | 16 Comments

Swordgleam is looking at the 4E rules, and wonders about this:

“If something in a core rulebook looks like it won’t work for your group, should you still give it a fair shot? For example, action points in 4E look stupid. My group, in other games, already uses a version of action points that are a lot more powerful and allow for more cinematic action, and it would be silly to have two different kinds of action points. But I only know that the 4E version of action points LOOK stupid. I haven’t tried them yet. So, do I owe it to the game designers/my group/the universe to try a few sessions with the action points as written? Or is it totally fair to just say ‘we’re not doing that’ and use the version of action points that my group has been having a ton of fun with?”

(In)conveniently forgotten

Well, I’ve played the 4E version of action points, and I can attest to the fact that they are, indeed, less than spectacular. But I’ll be honest, I find very little within the entire sub-system of action points — in whatever form — underwhelming. In my experience they tend to be like familiars: all but forgotten by the players until they are conveniently needed.

There’s no reason to take my word for it, though. Which is why my suggestion is to give the 4E version of the mechanic a spin. I think it’s fair you can devote one session (free of lasting consequences to any of the PCs) to testing it out. The reason being is this: Until you see how the rule interacts with the entire system, you might miss out on something that could be as fun as what you are doing now. 

But don’t do it because you owe the game designers (you bought the book, that’s enough), or the gaming universe (unless you’ll be DMing in organized play settings, it’s not even a consideration). But I think you owe it to your group to see how it works. Let your players, then, decide for themselves whether they like the 4E version or the one you’ve been using, once  you’ve given it a fair shake. 

Prolonging play

Let me say this, though, about the 4E version of action points — they no longer exist simply to simulate “cinematic” action. The real purpose of action points is to serve as a mechanic that will deter players from settling for the 15-minute adventure day.  You know, run an encounter, then call it a day so your characters can regain their full strength. The new action points encourages parties to play through, even after some character resources have been expended. That’s how your earn action points. The simulation of cinematic action is really secondary under the 4E version.

And that reason, more than any other, may be why you’ll probably decide to stick with the version of actions points you like best.  You “want” something specific from the gaming experience — in this case, action points that convey really heroic actions on the part  of the PCs.  And there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do something that is “fun.”

The fact the d20 system is so widespread, it encourages this cross-pollenation of rules from game-to-game. And this rules mastery should empower DMs to experiment freely. Even though 4E is largely a completely different game from 3E, I think we’ll see in the future a melding of what is best from both versions. And because the heart of both games is a d20 mechanic, that’s easily realized. 

On the whole, I think you should at least try things out as they’ve been written. A taste-test, if you will, to see if the game is palatable. If you want to get the most out of a game, discover those parts that are most fun, I think you owe it to yourself to see how the rules play out before making adaptions and implementing house rules, as you suggest. And I think that’s true even if you end up right back where you started, wanting to tweak things from the beginning.

Still no one should fault you for doing otherwise. Make changes from the start, if  you wish. And let the dice roll where they may.

That said, I’m curious to see what other Gnome Stewers think about this.

About  Troy E. Taylor

Troy's happiest when up to his elbows in plaster molds and craft paint, creating terrain and detailing minis for his home game. A career journalist and Werecabbages freelancer, he also claims mastery of his kettle grill, from which he serves up pizza to his wife and three children.

16 Comments (Open | Close)

16 Comments To "D&D Burgoo (4.0): Action point, smaction point"

#1 Comment By Rafe On September 8, 2008 @ 6:53 am

Test then change. I’m not sure why, but those I’ve talked to who have small issues with 4e and thus won’t play it have a folder of house rules for 3.x. I say, with force:

If you don’t like it, CHANGE IT.

This is a huge pet peeve of mine – people’s perceptions of 4e and an unwillingness to create house rules for it, so I apologize if I sound snarky or curt. The rules are there to set the core guidelines. If you don’t like them, alter them or, if you can’t find a decent alternative, drop them. People do this for every other RPG out there and yet, for some reason, people are reticent to do this with 4e and then say that they don’t like X aspect of it.

Alternate uses of Action Points in 4e:

- use 1 action point to gain back an encounter power
- use 2 action points to gain back a daily power
- use 1 action point to gain a +1d6 (Heroic tier) bonus to a d20 roll (attack, save or skill), rolling 2d6 and taking the higher for Paragon and 3d6 pick the highest for Epic (or go with d8, d10, whatever)
- use 1 action point to take 10 in a strenuous situation that would not normally allow it
- use 1 action point to reduce the action “time” of a power: standard becomes movement, movement becomes minor (but minor cannot become free)

Etc. There’s a reason the three or four paragraphs at the beginning of the Players Handbook are called the Core Mechanic. That’s the fundamental. The rest is yours to do with as you like.

#2 Comment By tman On September 8, 2008 @ 7:31 am

Your table. Your game. Your fun. So, give it a try and see how it works. If it isn’t as much fun, then go back.

Me, I’m enjoying finding new uses for Action Points (since we’ve never used them in my group) which extend the fun.

#3 Comment By LesInk On September 8, 2008 @ 8:23 am

@Troy: If I were you, I would still try a couple of game sessions using the rules as written. Why? So you can get a feel for what the original game designer wanted, and even if weak by comparison to your standard system, it would give you an idea of how weak.

If it still felt flat, I would then bump it up a notch and add in one part of your existing action point system (if possible). Feel free to experiment to find the right balance that you already found with the previous action point system.

If the standard 4E action point system is not enough, here are a few suggestions:
- Allow more than one action point per turn (allowing the player who has stored up several points to do a very cool combination of actions when needed).
- Grant 1 action point at the end of each encounter instead of once per every other encounter. Put that with the above rule and you will get some interesting hoarding.
- Make bonuses granted from action points (such as the suggested 1d6 adder to d20 rolls) last for several rounds effectively treating the action point as a ‘power up’.
- Don’t forget to give/use action points on your creatures — it’ll keep the players wondering if the creature is about to do the same combo on them.

#4 Comment By Patrick Benson On September 8, 2008 @ 9:24 am

My group and I have been playing 4e straight in the game that I run, and I don’t think that the game is very balanced the more that I play it. Combat is long and repetitive, and the rules are poorly written when compared to other games (IMO).

That said, I’m ready to start making the house rules and Action Points is on my list of things to tweak. For my group they don’t really enhance the game, and currently we all feel that the game needs some enhancing.

Yet I had to play the game straight several times to reach this conclusion. It allowed me to see how overall the game could be improved upon, and that is why I always play new games straight for a few sessions. I can’t fix what I don’t know is broken, and fixing what you suspect to be broken is probably just breaking things further.

#5 Comment By Martin Ralya On September 8, 2008 @ 9:42 am

My group played Keep on the Shadowfell over the course of six sessions, and while I missed the ability to improve my odds on key rolls (the 3.x/d20 Modern version of APs), I like the 4e mini-Haste APs quite a bit.

We’ve played a couple of campaigns with the old version of APs, and nearly every PC winds up with scads of unused points — they’re just not as valuable in mid- to high-level play, IMO. With 4e’s version, I love the refresh mechanism, and only being able to use 1/encounter strikes just the right balance between needing to save it and wanting to use it — they feel precious.

On the broader topic, I think you should a) go with your gut when it comes to changing things before playing the game for the first time — but also b) poll your players beforehand and c) when in doubt, err in favor of giving the game designers a chance. Give APs a try as written, and tweak from there — and I’d say the same thing for any general case like this.

#6 Comment By Scott Martin On September 8, 2008 @ 10:01 am

I’ve played with standard action points a few times, and enjoy them as what they are. They’re not huge, but they’re very nice and make a good minor temptation to extend adventuring a little longer between rests. They really don’t provide large doses of awesome… but that’s not their role. That’s what your dailys are for!

#7 Comment By itliaf On September 8, 2008 @ 11:07 am

the 4e version of APs is probably my favorite subtle change to the combat system over 3.5. I too felt that the ‘Eberron’ AP system was underwhelming, and not interesting enough to be used. The extra action granted truly shines when it is used to set yourself up for a truly spectacular daily (like getting an alley-oop pass from yourself) or to have a turn that is extra special and showoffy every once in awhile. Though I haven’t done any paragon play, the enhancements to action points from certain paragon paths look like some serious incentive to keep them in the game and to make good use of them.

As for house rules in general, I say try out RAW for awhile first, But I already have a bunch of little house rules in place for 4e. I think the tight constructed system behind 4e may be a liability for fun, and a healthy distrust of RAW can go a long way to remedy that.

#8 Comment By Swordgleam On September 8, 2008 @ 1:03 pm

Good advice, and just what I was looking for. I might try them the first sesson. My only problem with that is, since it’s a new system for all of us, that’s just one more new rule to learn, and if we’re not going to use it again, it’ll just confuse everyone.

Maybe I should explain how we use action points, since it seems different from how everyone else does with d20. I’ve heard that the Buffy game has a mechanic kind of like it, and that might be where this originally came from. We use action points to do things like take an extra cleave after dropping one of three ogres who are tearing down the town gates, even though the third ogre is four squares away and I’ve already used a cleave that round, or charge through the ring of fire to attack the sorceror (without taking fire damage), and end up with my buddy charging right next to me so we’re both already flanking when we attack. Cinematic things that go beyond “bonus of X to roll Y” or “use power Z an extra time in W situation.”

#9 Comment By mattereaterlad On September 8, 2008 @ 2:17 pm

One thing to consider, in addition to the action point synergies in paragon paths already mentioned, is that your characters can get a little of that “action point rush” at early levels, too.

Humans (and Half-Elves) can take the Action Surge feat for a +3 to attack rolls during the standard action granted by an action point; the Warlord’s Commanding Presence class feature can grant either restored hitpoints or a bonus to an attack roll when an action point is spent, etc.

The way I see my players reacting to this is to often save their action points for a devastating “setup-and-payoff” combo, or occasionally in dire straits to take a Second Wind & still be able to attack — possibly with bonuses! — or perform some other action, even a minor action like most healing spells. (For the non-Dwarves, anyway. Second Wind as a minor is huge!)

One personal house rule I have established for the future is that, like in Eberron, action points will get slightly better for you as you level. In 4e terms, each new tier will allow for one more action point to be spent per encounter (i.e., 2 in paragon, 3 in epic). Still only one per turn, though — three standard actions in a row might get a bit wooly. ;)

#10 Comment By LesInk On September 8, 2008 @ 2:50 pm

@Swordgleam – no wonder why the 4E action points would seem flat — they’re too rigid in comparison to the free form action that you can choose to do with your group’s method of action points. Its like turning on god-mode in a game for a very short period of time to get past that one bad spot — only to set you up for a more dramatic encounter.

In short, yeah, that’s pretty cool — but it’s just different.

It may seem even strange that I suggest you consider using BOTH systems. Yeah, I know, weird — you’ll have to call one action points and the other … uh … deus ex points (DX?). Could be pretty interesting and … well .. awe inspiring.

But more seriously, 4E’s action points are intentional controlled and limiting while still giving players a tactical advantage. I believe they did this so it can be easily part of the rules and part of any RPGA/competitions that 4E used in. Your form of action points really rely on the GM and what he wants to accept or not.

But now I’m curious, when does your group know when an action point is invoked that it is too much? or not enough?

#11 Comment By Swordgleam On September 8, 2008 @ 9:07 pm

@Lesink: The game we’re using them in is an Iron Heroes game that a friend of mine runs, and both situations I described happened. In the first one, I was playing the man-at-arms, and said, “I just dropped the first ogre, and I know that one of the other two is really low on HP. He’s kind of far away, but.. Can I leap over the middle ogre, cleave the almost-down guy, and then try to get in a hit on the third one, because it would be totally awesome?” and the DM said, “Spend a point and go for it.” I still had to roll for everything after spending the point, but the rolls came out great except for the very last hit.

The other one, I said, “The fire would be narrowest at this point, so I’m going to charge, leap through the fire, and then hit him with my greataxe.” The DM said, “That sounds really interesting, and I think I have an idea to make it even cooler. Spend a point and you can do what I’ll call ‘Charge of the North.’” He wouldn’t tell me what it was until after I spent the point, but it turned out awesome so I was happy.

Half the time, we come up with it and the DM okays it. Well, a third of the time, we come up with it, and the DM okays it, another third, we come up with it and the DM nixes it, and the final third, he comes up with it, and offers us the chance to do it. None of the players mind anyone else using the points to do cinematic stuff, since it always helps the party, and we /all/ get a chance to shine if we want, so it’s not like one person is monopolizing the spotlight. Sometimes, the DM will say, “That sounds awesome, but I’m going to charge you two points for it because it’s pretty powerful” and we have to agree if that’s fair or not. Sometimes, we will turn him down on a chance to spend points if we don’t think it’s worth it. “I’d have to spend a point just to make in there in time to hit him before he casts the spell? Not worth it, I’ll just throw a javelin.”

#12 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On September 8, 2008 @ 10:43 pm

I’ve only played in a few 4E sessions, and I find the 4E Action Points to be rather weak sauce, too. I prefer the Eberron/UA/Savage Worlds approach of “This is important to me, so I’m going to expend a very valuable resource on it.”

That said, definitely try it before you mod it. Try it enough times that you get a feel for how it impacts the system forst. (I wish I had done that with some of my own game tweaks.)

Bruce Lee had a quote about trying out everything you can, and then adopting what works for you. He counterpointed his own statement with a reminder that you don’t always know why things are done a certain way, so keep your mind and options open.

#13 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On September 9, 2008 @ 7:31 am

When my group first started playing 4E, we had missed the line in the rules stating you could only use one action point per encounter, so we saved them all up and then beat down big challenges in a round or two. It was pretty heinous. However, I’ve found that once we KNEW that rule, action points became a lot more fun because they come out much more often, and they ARE tacticly very interesting.
As a cleric (That’s me!) I find that 4E action points are VERY useful because it allows me to intersperse healing into the battle plan seamlessly or to pull off a round of several heals (providing I use different abilities). I’ve seen my fellow players use them for essentially the same thing, essentially streamlining “other” actions to not break into the rythm of battles.

As a sidenote, if battles are getting too slow in 4E, make sure you have the capability to damage several targets simultaniously (mages are best for this, obviously but other classes can do it in a pinch or to limited effect) and encourage the DM to make more use of minions. Minions are fantastic! They’re a real threat (ask anyone who’s gotten bogged down in a group of them) but they’re easy to take down (one hit and they’re out for the count) so they add real threat without adding lots of rounds.

#14 Comment By Plotter On September 9, 2008 @ 12:50 pm

“So, do I owe it to the game designers/my group/the universe to try a few sessions with the action points as written?”

Reading a rule and playing a rule are quite different. You should house rule it if you don’t like it, but until you’ve actually used it and hated it, it’s just a theoretical understanding not a practical one. I always try to start a new game system plain vanilla, and go from there.

I don’t think house ruling out action points will break anything, but there are some game balance issues around them. Elite and Solo monsters have them too and it’s one of the things that makes them scarier. Solo monsters especially need some way of doing more than one thing per round.

#15 Comment By Sampy On September 10, 2008 @ 12:24 pm

From running a lot of 4e recently, I’d recommend keeping Action Points as is and adding a Drama Points system on top. Action Points are baked pretty deep into the system as a lot of the posters here have pointed out: feats, paragon path powers, monsters, warlords, powers that grant you temporary action points, magic items, etc. They also give a great tactical advantage to the players that a lot of the math assumes they have.

By putting in another system on top, Drama Points just being a suggested name, you can keep the great feel you have in your game now but not have to get down in the mucky-muck of finding all the little rules that talk about Action Points and figuring out how to change them. APs were tacked on to core 3/3.5 but in 4e they are a crucial core mechanic and while there’s no reason you can’t house rule them, it’s going to be a headache to do so especially as new books come out.

Basically what I’m saying is take the easy way out :)

#16 Comment By Swordgleam On September 11, 2008 @ 5:51 pm

I think I might call the 4e action points Tokens, and do it that way. My players are all used to Iron Heroes, so that’ll make more sense to them. (This idea comes from the fact that one of my players, who borrowed the PHB, is already calling them tokens.)

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