Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Economy of actions

When 4e first came out I immediately noticed that they had upped the importance of managing the economy of actions during combat. This would be the "second economy" with regards to my last discussion on the topic. First, actions themselves were more formalized. In hindsight the "full round action" was sort of odd and the late introduction of the swift action made the mechanics surrounding it often unbalanced. Having a standard, move, minor from the outset provided greater clarity and balance, but also introduced more power to each action. This is the second impact--with more power embedded in an action comes greater importance to use that power prudently.

I designed a character sheet for my very first 4e character to help facilitate the process of maximizing actions. It worked awesomely and helped me quickly select my actions and be effective. My table-mates, though, weren't quite as quick and bogged the game down in trying to find the combination of actions that would be most effective. It was really slow.

I am working on a hypothesis that the game would operate more quickly if actions did more reliable things. Naturally, something will always break the mold and exceptions are part of the fun of D&D, but if most actions fall into reliable routines, it might help people choose by smoothing out the selection process.

Here's the outline:
  • Standard actions. This is the most important of the actions. The majority of the round's output is tied up in the standard action. It is the attack or spell or whatever that *defines* the round and it is enhanced by the other actions. Most standard actions require a check to resolve.
  • Move actions. Move actions provide access and effects. By access, I mean that they often allow you to move, bringing a target into range. Effects can be a bit more broad and is stuff like providing flank, ending the Prone condition, or similar. Because move actions serve a less important function than standard actions, move actions shouldn't jeopardize standard actions.
  • Minor actions. Minor actions should be declarative, but still be a source of power. Minor actions could be powers ("I use Warlock's Curse"), usages of items ("I apply Viper Venom to my blade."), interactive with the environment ("I cut the rope on the chandelier"), or interactive with characters ("I pick his pocket").
This outline is different from the current rules in two key respects. First, 3e and 4e routinely had move actions jeopardize the standard action by making it easy to fail at moving and lose the rest of your turn. That is silly and just encourages people not to move. Second, they try and empower all actions. Someone sometime got the impression that making movement complex would reward skill-based characters in combat. Instead, it just pushed combat towards stand and swing. I think design would be improved and streamlined by acknowledging that the standard action is the main action, and designing options for the other actions to fuel the standard action.

Alright, so that's the general direction I'm headed. What do you think?


  1. While there are positives to calling it the "move" action, it was actually the first thing I changed in my own creation, purely because of the perception it gives to players of what it should be used for. I suggest standing back and having a look at these things from a distance so as to focus on what you are really doing with your suite of actions rather than overtly tying them to the legacy of 3e/4e mechanics.

    For my own game I have done the following:

    Primary vs Secondary
    You have the Primary Action and you have Secondary actions. Primary actions (read for you standard action powers or for me Major actions) use the primary modifier. Secondary actions use a lesser secondary modifier. For example, you can make an opportunity attack as either a primary or a secondary action and that is the action expended for that round (and the modifier used).

    Secondary Actions
    Secondary actions are broken up into a single Minor action and multiple Swift actions. A novice character starts the game with a Major action, Minor action and two Swift actions. A highly experienced character has a Major action, Minor action and up to seven Swift actions. Extra Swift actions in a round represent greater skill and experience, the capacity to more expertly react or maybe just plain dexterity, wisdom or reflexes.

    Why all the swift actions?
    One of the key issues I have with 4e is the bonus until the start of your next turn and the raft of "conditions and bonuses and penalties" that are sprinkled damn everywhere. By having these modifiers exist for more than a moment (up to a whole round of play), you are severely complicating something that should be easy and fun. Thus, what you do is you contract the lifespan of these modifiers to an instant. If you offer opportunity, then in that instant other relative combatants may react, be it an enemy using a secondary action to opportunity attack (a minor action normally or a swift action if you are martially orientated and select this "feat"); or a swift action to shift 5ft away or some other opportunity action.

    If an ally gives you a bonus to attack a combatant, then you can use a swift action to take advantage of that - and thus it is resolved in that instant and does not have to be remembered later. By having more swift actions, you have more opportunities to react but your capacity to "do" things on your turn by using a Major or Minor action remains unaffected (although more skilled characters and creatures can use swift actions on their turn for special character-based stuff).

    Just a quick explanation anyway that might help give you some ideas.

    Best Regards
    Herremann the Wise

  2. That's pretty neat. I actually planned to go with a major, minor, move designation to better highlight the relationships but so far am sticking with familiar terminology. I also agree with the syncing up of effects and their resolution (sort of discussed it here: http://runeward.blogspot.com/2011/06/onus-of-rules.html) but hadn't thought about additional actions as the constraining resource.

  3. I really like the fact that my idea for the economy of actions (namely that move actions should provide access and don't jeopardize you getting to take your standard action) works well with zones.