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[4E House Rules] Plot Twists & Power-Ups

Tigerbunny

Registered User
Validated User
I like a fair amount of melodramatic soap opera in my games sometimes. I also like a bigger-than-life action hero style. I'm always looking for ways to encourage it - particularly when running D&D, which seems to have something of a oversupply of players who are reluctant to take any narrative authority without strong prompting.

Herewith, my latest effort in that direction. I'll describe in brief here, but you can get the rules [EDIT: Oh dammit, that's a draft version. Will update in the morning.] and the Option Deck here and try it out for yourself.

The Action Dice System is intended to add a little bit of over-the-top drama and heroics to a D&D 4th Edition game.

It won’t be appropriate for every game – I have included plenty of powerful effects that will give PCs big advantages, and a whole lot of big narrative-control twists that players can use to turn your cleverly plotted campaign in a whole new direction. The goal is to encourage players to take control of the game, and to drive the kind of big, bold heroics you might see in action movies, manga, anime, or video games.

The Action Dice System was inspired by

Basically, there is a deck of cards which contain ways to earn "action dice" that can be used to enhance d20 rolls. Most of those ways to earn dice hinge on either encouraging a specific kind of heroics in play or in contributing new ideas, plot twists, and background to the campaign. There are also "power up" cards that give enhanced ways to use those bonus dice for particular types of actions, keywords, or character types.

A few example cards (I have 120):

Murphy’s Revenge
Achievement
Score this card at the end of a round.
When you or an ally:
- miss by 1
- spend an Action Point to attack and miss
- miss with a daily power
- roll minimum possible damage on an attack

Gain 1 Action Die (d6) per condition fulfilled during the most recent round.


Seven At A Blow
Bounty
Score this card when you resolve an attack, or at the end of the encounter.

Gain 1 Action Die for each creature you bloodied (d6) or took out (d4) with your most recent attack.


I Have a Cunning Plan
Challenge
Reveal this card when a combat encounter is laid out or initiative is rolled. The party may attempt a knowledge Skill Challenge to try to avoid the combat.

Gain 1 Action Die (d4) if you fail and must fight anyway
Gain 1 Action Die (d6), plus full XP for the encounter, for other outcomes.


There’s A Big Difference Between Mostly Dead and All Dead… (*)
Declare
Reveal this card instead of making a Heal check with a nonzero chance of success. Don’t roll; narrate what happens.

Gain 1 Action Die (d4) for simply claiming success
Gain 1 Action Die (d6) for entertaining the table and/or introducing significant new information.


Limit Break Cutscene (*)
Event
Reveal this card when you hit with an encounter or daily attack power or use an encounter or daily utility power. Narrate its effects in detail.

Gain 1 Action Die (d4) for brief “flavor text”
Gain 1 Action Die (d8) for entertaining the table with your mighty power.


Dream Sequence (*)
Flashback
Reveal this card and describe a dream or vision your character has had. Some portion of this dream will reflect the current or impending situation.

Gain 1 Action Die (d4) for a brief description
Gain 1 Action Die (d6) for details that imply lots of mysterious weirdness with their trippy symbolism.


Cosmic Harmony
Power Up!
For the remainder of this encounter, Action Dice spent to improve attack rolls are upgraded 1 die step if the attack has both:
Primal keyword
Implement keyword


Impenetrable Guard
Power Up!
For the remainder of this encounter, Action Dice can be used AS AN IMMEDIATE INTERRUPT to increase a single defense until the end of your next turn.


Face Heel Turn (*)
Twist
Reveal this card to declare that an existing NPC friendly towards the PCs is actually an enemy (or has turned to evil).

Gain 1 Action Die (d6) if you just name the person
Gain 1 Action Die (d8) if you say how their betrayal directly screws the party



You could add your own cards to the Option Deck easily enough, or take some out. Just try to keep the ratio of dice-earning cards to dice-spending cards at about 3:2 (or slightly higher). I've posted a plain-text version of the card list here if you'd like to mess around with customizing them.

This has NOT been extensively playtested. Similar concepts to each separate component (Action Dice and Option Deck) have been in some past games, to mixed success. Please let me know if you try it in your game and how it works for you – especially if you made some changes!
 
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Dormammu

Sorcerer Supreme
Validated User
I like this idea. I'm not clear on how cards are earned: do you just pull them out whenever someone fulfills a condition and hand it to them, or are they drawn and held by a player who then gets to use them when appropriate?

If the latter, they seem well-balanced (ie, easy to use). If the former, they would seem too easy and players would expect to use action dice on every roll.

Also, you mention "dice-spending cards," but I didn't see any examples of those.
 

Tigerbunny

Registered User
Validated User
I didn't do myself any favors by posting an old draft of the rules when I originally put this up. That's all better now.

You deal them out at the beginning of a session, 1 per player, and they can be played at the player's discretion - but unused ones go back into the deck at the end of the session. When you resolve one, you replace it.

The "Power Up!" cards are the dice-spending ones. You can always spend AD to improve attack or skill rolls, but the Power Up! cards give you other options or make some uses more effective than others.
 

atminnie

Retired User
I'm glad you just recently posted this system. I'm the DM of a very creative DD4e group and I believe we will try these out. We all have a taste for flair and heroics, and don't like metagame optimization to discourage brash or fantastic behavior. Also, I'd love to see the players own the story more. They do already pretty well, but I think this is a good incentive. Also, I've pretty much stopped using EXP so I can't bribe them with EXP rewards for things, but now I could give intangible rewards as Action Dice. I'm also considering a bigger reward of allowing a player to have 2 cards in hand for a session. What do you think of that option? Primarily I like it when the players write about the story or add to the campaign wiki out of the game, and that'd be what the rewards are for.

I also am curious, do you think Action Dice the party earns should stay available for use from session to session or reset at the beginning like the cards?

I've been trying to find a way to implement Limit-break dynamics in our game, and this might be good enough. I'm considering combining it with the limit Break system here. Perhaps a number of Action Dice can be traded for Drive.

I'll let you know my reflections as we begin to use them.
 

Tigerbunny

Registered User
Validated User
I'm also considering a bigger reward of allowing a player to have 2 cards in hand for a session. What do you think of that option? Primarily I like it when the players write about the story or add to the campaign wiki out of the game, and that'd be what the rewards are for.

I also am curious, do you think Action Dice the party earns should stay available for use from session to session or reset at the beginning like the cards?
I don't think there'd be any big problem with increasing the hand size to 2. I kept it at 1 mostly because a number of my players suffer from analysis paralysis way too easily and giving them more than one option would probably lead to hoarding the "bad" card until session end, whereas having only one card in hand means that they'll try to play it quickly or just hold it altogether. So 1-card hand basically encourages playing cards more often, even in less-than-optimal conditions.

I think AD carry over without trouble. Session-end resets are probably a bit harsh for those kind of resources. Perhaps at the end of an "adventure" when the deck is reshuffled, though.

Thanks for your comments!
 
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