A number of great bloggers have written commentary on the use of action points in 4e, and many have made good suggestions as to how to make the use of action points a bit bolder. Ameron’s “Putting More ‘Action’ in Action Points” on Dungeon’sMaster.com, “Other Uses for Action Points” on Polyhedral, and “Fun with D&D 4e Action Points” by the Chatty DM come to mind. I’ve been struggling with this question myself as my group hits our one year anniversary of play. More often than not, action points are being used as a simple re-roll which gets the job done mechanically, but fails to create the big moments that I’m looking for in our encounters.
So, David and I put together a set of simple house rules that attempt to encourage bold play without nerfing the flexibility of the system as a whole. These ideas definitely build upon suggestions others have already made but, hopefully, take them one step further.
Action Point Combo Rules
- First up, Action Points must be spent as part of a declared “combo”. I think of a combo as a “moment” described by a player in advance of rolling and including two or more actions). This eliminates the boring “reroll” usage and asks the players to describe what they are looking to accomplish in context of the battle around them. It could be used to attack two enemies, or one enemy twice, or to run across the battlefield to disarm an artillery trap, or just about anything really.
- In addition, Action Points can be spent as a free action at any time, including on another combatant’s turn. This opens up the possibility of creating an orchestrated combo with other party members. There’s a lot of runway for pure awesomeness here, and it gives the party an opportunity to create signature cooperative moves. I also consider this an opening for multi-action-point-mega-combos across the party. One note, while the action point can be used as a free action, it is still not an immediate interrupt or reaction.
- Finally, I’ve seen it suggested elsewhere that the DM might reward particularly awesome actions by tossing a bonus action point into a pool for the party to spend as they see fit. I like this idea and have started awarding a party action point if a particularly cool combo is successful.
We’ve started play-testing these ideas and I like the results. More importantly, I saw more creative uses of action points in the very first session. So far, I’m happy to accept the possibility that I’m making action points more powerful if it results in more engaged storytelling by players around the table. I say let the “reroll” powers come from racial feats and magic items and let’s reclaim the action point for BOLD ACTION and combo-move awesomeness! What say you?
The Players’ Perspective
So what is the player’s perspective? As the two players in our group with the longest D&D history, and the most hours logged listening to podcasts, reading blogs, and analyzing every aspect of the game, John and I have worked collaboratively outside the game over the past year to try to enhance the experience for everyone at the table, most of whom are first time players. That said, we decided it would be fun to collaborate on the blog as well, and provide a he said/he said kind of exchange. So, this is the first installment of “the players’ perspective”.
On the use of action points…We’ve spent a lot of time lately talking about how to speed up our combat, and streamline play, and at the same time, make things more engaging and exciting. Big, bold moves, right? So a few sessions back, we focused on the option to hold an action, or even a full turn, in order to come up with more interesting combos. As the controller of the group, I’m always looking for other PCs to push people into my bursts, or opportunities to immobilize or daze the enemy so my ranger can “Cut and Run” while still rolling clear at the end of his turn.
In the end, the concept of holding turns and actions proved a bit confusing, and slowed things down quite a bit. After analyzing the session over our traditional Taco Bell lunch, we hit on the idea of changing how action points were used. We had already come up with a new system for using them in skill challenges (likely the subject of an upcoming post). What if, when I saw an amazing opportunity to provide an assist to another PC in combat, I could just DO IT, rather than see the opportunity slip away as I wait for my turn in combat? After a few revisions, we came up with the system John outlined above.
In game, we immediately saw generous use of APs, resulting in teamed attacks, set ups, forced movement, etc. No longer did players hem and haw over whether to use the AP or pass their turn on. The typical “Move, Minor, Standard, Oh yeah, I’ll use my AP for a second wind” became “I pick myself up off the ground, summon every last bit of energy I have, and smack the Troll with my axe.” I think this is a great addition to our game. It’ll likely need some tweaking here or there – namely, I think the DM will need to level-up monsters a smidge, as I do think this makes us a bit more powerful. It has however, already made combat more interesting, and, I dare say, a bit quicker.