5th Edition Musings: Playing With Powers

Note: There is no official information about 5th Edition, here. This is merely some thoughts on the direction I would like to see WotC take. I guess think of it like me throwing ideas around to see if any stick (or if anyone else has a better idea).

Powers are a really nice 4th Edition addition, especially for classes previously that did not get many options, were rapidly eclipsed by spellcasters, and/or lacked the "scalability" to remain viable for more than a handful of levels (coughfightercough). It was nice being able to make a fighter, rogue, or ranger and have interesting things to do that helped separate you thematically and mechanically from each other instead of spamming a routine melee attack over and over. My problem with the power system was that for all the powers that exist, there are still occasions where I cannot create the character I want without having to invent my own powers. This is fine for me and mine, but I know that groups that only allow "official" content (and not even all of it) are legion.

What would really fix this whole power bloat issue, while helping ensure that players still get what they want, would be for WotC to just give us a formula or system that would help us create our own content. Like, recommended damage, conditions, ranges, effects, etc. It could be a point system, where you just buy everything with a power budget based on the level and power frequency. Keywords could be used to restrict effects based on power source, so that martial cannot get their grubby hands on teleportation. Also, a shitload of examples with components would be handy (and allow for drag-and-dropping other elements) would be handy.

They could also try moving away from the power system as-is. I would not mind seeing something along the vein of Essentials, where martial characters can choose effects or kickers that they could add to their attacks like power strike. They could adopt a power-point like system, so that martial characters utilize "stamina" or something to boost their attacks. This would make things more flexible and help avoid the whole "argument" of why you can't hit something really hard more than once (not that I paid any heed to the latter). While I wouldn't use it for every class, I could also see this being applied to wizards using a magic point system, and there could possibly be a mechanic for burning healing surges to give you a stamina/magic boost (kind of like 3rd Edition's Body Fuel feat).

Someone also suggested using pre-reqs for various powers, which sounds similar to how Exalted works. Some powers might require a combination of ability scores, so fighters would need a good Strength and Dexterity for heavy blade powers, or good Strength and Constitution for hammer and axe powers. Hell, you could just make a huge-ass list of martial exploits and let rogues snatch up exploits thematic for them, while allowing characters with good Intelligence or Charisma nab leader-like exploits. Want to take it a step further? Skill training could open up more stuff, or if you want skill ranks (whether numbers or descriptors).

What do you think?


  1. I love it! I have been working on a suggestion for 5e specifically along these lines. One thing I hated (you mentioned) was that melee classes specifically just did weapon damage in editions past, and this one - made them fun IMO.

    My thought was something like this for ALL classes (I call 'em power sources in my edition) (note everyone has at-will basic attacks and you start with 1 of each - encounter and daily):

    Every 2 levels you gain 1 encounter double power damage. Every 4 levels you gain 1 daily triple power damage.

    The "power card" concept can then be fluff / style, and simply be suggestions of how to describe what your character is doing. (content expansions galore without bogging down the system - they become role playing guides.)

    Here are some examples:

    Level 2 Rogue: At will melee and ranged - weapon damage, 2 encounter martial attack at double damage, 1 daily martial attack at triple damage.

    Level 4 Cleric: At will melee and ranged - spell damage, 3 encounter divine attacks at double damage, 2 daily divine attacks at triple damage.

    Level 8 Mage: At will arcane - spell damage, 5 encounter arcane attacks at double damage, 3 daily arcane attacks at triple damage.

    It allows you to grow evenly, and assign the implement / weapon the actual "damage". This allows you to add the flavor you want (or don't want), but still gives each class composition the power to keep up with the others.

  2. The above of course doesn't accommodate utility type features of each character, I don't see that as a natural fit to wiggle into what they can do in combat. I think those should be a slightly separate system.

  3. I like the idea of a sort of Effective Power Level to make custom powers, telling you at which level that particular power should be acquired.

  4. imho - I pray to a god that powers are removed from the game, at least from the basic version of whatever is released. To me, the better and more efficient way to thematically separate characters is in the player's hands, not the rules. Describe through your character's actions how they are unique or do things differently. Mechanically? Well, whether its "Twin Strike!" or "Deadly Barrage of Arrows!" I think we all still know it's an attack with a bow, so, roll damage. Again I feel you can drop the power rules bloat and just have a player RP how he wants the other party members (players) to perceive his character. This way you will allways have the character you want at a significant reduction in rules page count.

    Now I could see something along the lines of a player saying, "I have a Northlander Bowman who once a day/encounter can fire a shot so ferocious that it drives the enemy back 5 feet when it hits. Don't put it in the rules! Because then you'd have to put all kinds of other instances in the rules. Don't make a point buy system! Just talk to the DM, compromise (maybe the target gets a skill check to avoid being driven back) voila', done. This is a one-line rule; Talk to your DM about a unique ability you want your character to have and compromise until you come to an agreement.

    Please, no stamina or magic points to track as combat is already too slow. Also, no multiple additional damage options per the above. Giving additional damage means having to increase monsters health to accomodate these attacks, which means, again, longer combats.

    If scalability and/or spell-casters are causing a need to add additional rules to play catch up then scale the spell-casters and opponents back to meet the classes, fighter, that don't compete. Again, less rules instead of more.

    Options seems to be the hangup. It seems that quite a few players need written rule options for their characters. They can't take a simply created character of a few abilities and skills and feel they have something complete, unique and with the potential for "growth." In my particular group the players seem to be happy describing who, what and how their characters operate, giving them a uniqueness all their own, without having rules to sort of do this for them. But, there appears to to be a need for this and hopefully a new edition can meet these players desires.

    This, of course, is all just my opinion and play-style.

  5. [imho - I pray to a god that powers are removed from the game...]
    A simple bow attack is something that I expect of anyone capable of picking up a bow and firing it. In other words, characters with bow proficiency. /Twin strike/ is more of a “specialized” attack, like how fighters in 2nd Edition could drop two slots on bows to make multiple attacks in a round. If a player describes his attack as “I fire two arrows at the same target” (or one arrow at two separate targets), but only let him make one attack and damage roll there is a disconnect between the description and mechanics.

    As a minor nitpick, it is not role-playing but simply describing an attack. Also if there is not a broad enough foundation to work with, players will ultimately end up just going with one of a handful of concepts and just going with whatever comes the closest, even if it is nowhere near close enough. For example, in OD&D you get fighter, wizard, and cleric. What if I want to make a summoner, who can conjure a demon? Or a druid, who can use nature magic? What about a stealthy character, or a human fighter that knows a bit of magic?

    Granted later editions gradually expanded on this flexibility bit by bit, but there were still plenty of things that players could not do, and I cannot think of many DMs that would let you just build a class from scratch.

    [Now I could see something along the lines of a player saying...]
    The benefit of a system by which players build their own powers. Instead of having to make a ranger exploit that lets them make two attacks, and a fighter exploit that lets them make two attacks, and a barbarian exploit that lets them make two attacks, you just make a Twin Strike feature that can be applied to any Weapon attack.

    The problem with your proposal is that a DM will probably just say no, or have to okay other players’ descriptive additions. One player might want to be able to knock targets prone with a mighty swing of his hammer; is that as good as pushing someone around 5 feet? Also…let the target make a check to avoid it? Okay…but what is the drawback? It really bugs me when proponents of older editions pitch that “solution”, as it is basically a player saying, “I want to do this, and more.” There is no risk or sacrifice. There is no reason to not try to do that all the damned time.

    [Please, no stamina or magic points to track...]
    Combat /can/ be slow in 4th Edition (especially as characters gain levels and have more shit to do and track). I like the idea of having a system where players can pick their own kicker effects and then apply them dynamically. Instead of having ten different exploits that are slight variations of “attack 2 targets” or “add your Con modifier to damage” or “the target is dazed”, you just pick the kicker effect once and can use it on a limited basis.

    Also, why would you have to increase monster health? That is like having a rogue specialize in Thievery, and then just boosting all the DCs to pick locks. Why? The point of specializing is that you are really good at certain things. Just ramping up the difficulty defeats the purpose. At that point why even have ability modifiers?

  6. [If scalability and/or spell-casters...]
    It is more than just a wizard’s scaling spells, but the fact that older edition wizards just blatantly ignored the whole hit point mechanic with save-or-die effects. I don’t mind giving fighters scaling abilities, because I know /I/ like rolling lots of dice for a big attack. Call it a numbers thing. If WotC can fix it so that damage does not scale but keep wizards from overshadowing everyone, then I’ll bite.

    [Options seems to be the hangup.]
    This statement kind of confuses me. Are you suggesting that players be allowed to do whatever they want and let the group figure it out? No game I can think of operates like that; there are always examples and limitations, even in games like Mage: The Ascension. Also, you can do everything you said in 4th Edition. Rules and lots of options does not limit you. In fact, I find that it can also inspire you. It is editions like the ones before 3rd telling you that you can only be a dwarf, or that you could only be an elf wizard with these stats, or you cannot be a paladin cause you rolled poorly that limited things.

    Looking at a OD&D fighter, I feel that nothing about me mechanically differentiates me from any other fighter out there. Yeah, my name and personality might be different, but mechanically there is no reason to use one weapon over another, and frankly I ultimately feel like I am playing a wargame like Warhammer Fantasy, which ironically felt like it had more options what with wargear and all.


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