Reducing the Suck

So I got to play Organized D&D this weekend for the second time ever– the first was the Dark Sun Game Day a couple weeks ago. I had to drive over 2 hours in both cases; I’m currently in Texarkana, TX and absolutely nothing happens here.

An interesting thing happened on Saturday. In addition to me having a great time at Lone Star Comics in Dallas, I ran into a House rule I really, REALLY like, and will talk about another that I use in my home 4E game that helps quite a lot.


  • Definition: When a roll of any kind is a tie, the player receives the benefit of that roll. If an attack roll ties a character’s defense, the attack misses. Likewise, for a player’s attack hitting a monster’s defense. Yes, I totally grok that it effectively gives the PCs a +1 to all defenses. But seeing it in play, the number of Moments of Awesome it induced in the game totally overbalances any mathematical game effects it might have.  I have always–as long as I can remember roleplaying, and that goes back 20 years now– GM’d with the rule “tie goes to the attacker”. It seemed fair. PCs attack 50% of the time, right? So that should mean that 50% of the time the PCs get the benefit of a ruling, and 50% of the time the monsters do. Well, Dear Reader, it’s not. As soon as I changed the rule (the weekend of the Dark Sun Gameday was when I saw it used and promptly yinked it for my own game), I realized how much more the PCs get attacked as opposed to how much they do the attacking. That means that for 20 years my PCs have been on the losing end of a ruling by me. Makes me feel kinda crappy about it, but I can’t do anything about it except move on with a better policy. In seeing the “Tie Goes To The Player” ruling in effect, I won’t go back. and as validation, not that I need any, I cite the 4E saving throw rules: a saving throw succeeds on a roll of 10 or above, effectively giving a PC a 55% chance of success, not a true 50%. This is a core rule of the game, and it is obviously character-favoring, as they will be making drastically more saving throws than a monster will. So there. Neener neener.


  • Definition: If a character uses a Non-Reliable Daily power and misses all applicable enemies, he may spend a Healing Surge to regain use of that power. The action is still spent, and the action still counts as an attack for any applicable target powers, but the character does not lose the power. Daily Powers with an Effect on a miss cost 2 surges to regain, and also have no effect. If a character uses this rule, they may not spend an Action Point in the same round. Missing with a Daily power just blows. They are the Big Guns, the totally cool, “Eff You I’m Awesome“, defining powers for a character. And rolling to hit with one and missing is just awful, really. I’ve personally seen it take a group of players from standing up around a table invested and cheering into a downward spiral of suck that just…well, SUCKED… the fun out of the moment. I thought about this for a long time and I realized that is because the kick in the nads is doubled up– not only did you waste your standard action for the round, you also lost a precious resource that you’re not gonna get back any time soon unless you punk out and call for a rest like a 1st level 1E Wizard. So I came up with a simple rule to soften the blow while still letting it have game impact. It has had a powerful effect on the level of action my games had in them. It’s a kind of safety net that players know they have to ensure they’re not totally screwed. And as the adventuring day goes longer and longer in 4E, it becomes a truly tactical decision. Try it– your players might just start adventuring longer and harder. Mine did, and the game was increased in Awesome for it.
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12 Responses to Reducing the Suck

  1. Sersa V says:

    Both are being used in my home games immediately. 🙂

  2. Shinobicow says:

    The first of these two rules I really like. Tie goes to the player seems like a really good idea. However, I dont think I can get on board with spending a healing surge to regain a daily power. From the way you describe it, it sounds like a free action, if they actually have to spend a standard action to do something like a second wind for their power, I might be on board with that, but again, I think it would be a little too powerful a rule. Why not make them take damage instead of spending a surge? If you take damage equal to your healing surge value when regaining the power, I could see that as being very good, but also potentially threatening in combat – this actually makes the character think in combat about whether or not he/she can risk it. If it were me, I would spend a healing surge every time to get my daily back, no thought involved. Just my 2 cents. If you are having good luck with it, great. I would be interested to hear more about how it works in your game.

    • The character gains no benefit from spending the surge except for being treated as not having spent the Daily power. The action is still spent. No hp are regained. I noticed that unless they really push themselves, characters don’t use up a lot of healing surges, meaning that they were an under-used resource. I gave the players another use for that resource, and when you’re double-dipping, they burn quite a lot faster.

  3. Joseph says:

    After all, it’s only fun when you win, right? So, if it’s always supposed to be fun, you should always win. Because that would be all kinds of fun.

    • I don’t see it that way at all. In both theory and practice, it has ended up being a means of preventing the “I’m out of resources, we need to hole up and cower for a while.” style of gaming so prevalent in previous editions that annoys both myself and my players. It works for us. If it doesn’t for you, don’t use it.

  4. justaguy says:

    For the record, I like these… I need to add them to my “When I run 4E…” files.

  5. OnlineDM says:

    I think these are interesting ideas. For the second rule, what daily powers require just 1 surge in this scenario? I thought that pretty much all dailies did something on a miss (either half damage or some other ongoing effect). Are there dailies out there that truly do NOTHING on a miss? Those sound like no fun at all!

  6. Morten Greis says:

    Those are good ideas. I too noticed the annoying effect of losing a Daily Power with no effect, so I gave the players the option to earn a reroll for a wasted Daily Power.

    You can read about it here:

  7. Tom Allman says:

    Not sure about the Tie thing, but I’m going to try the healing surge one tonight in the last Encounters session. I think it might add to the suspense in this instance, because it’ s the big boss fight. I will let you know.

  8. Mr. Kemp says:

    These are both pretty good rules. I especially like the first one; I haven’t played yet, so I am unfamiliar with how the resources actually run out in D&D4e, but your second house rule looks good in theory.

  9. JoJa says:

    I like both of these a lot. I would probably fudge them both a little bit before I dropped them into my next campaign, though. In my experience characters have more trouble hitting than with getting hit, so I would probably say PCs win all ties except when an enemy rolls equal to their defenses. Then the attack is resolved as normal. 4E characters are already Beefcakes, imo, I don’t think they need +1 to their AC and NADs.

    Although this wasn’t covered in your post, where I think this rule would play out best (be the most fun) is in opposed checks for things like stealth, perception, bluff, diplomacy etc. Winning ties there is just a little added benefit that comes with being a hero, and could help in skill challenge situations.

    Now, for the second rule, I agree that missing with a daily power can suck the fun out of an otherwise edge-of-your-seat encounter. Not only for the player that missed but for the rest of the party. One thing I have noticed in the games I have played recently, though, is folks spending their surges like water, and (especially with all the new ways to grant surges to allies) some players are not even keeping count until they run out — then its nap time, same as it ever was.

    This new mentality to me means that players given the option to spend a surge to regain a daily are always going to do it (and I’m not saying they shouldn’t) and they’ll worry about the consequences after the fight. And the way the rule you presented is designed now, the only mechanical draw back for missing becomes you waste a turn.

    To make the decision just a little more interesting (and to explain the situation with some good fluff) I would rule that you can spend a healing surge to regain a just-missed daily power, but you grant combat advantage until the beginning of your next turn, and your turn ends immediately.

    Here’s why: A daily power is you strongest spell as a wizard, your most devout plea as a cleric, your most brutal maneuver as a fighter and most cunning trick as a rogue. To capture the essence that you attempted one of these, but at the last moment were not able to pull it off (a distraction caused you to miss the proper intonation on that last magical syllable, your foot slips just before you launched your sweeping leg strike, etc.) I would say that a character would basically have to stop what they’re doing and concentrate solely on recapturing that moment in order to use the power again.

    As the magical spell you’ve called forth is about to dissipate around you because of a misspoken word, you stop what you’re doing and concentrate solely on re-capturing the magic before it is lost and rebinding it to your will. It’s the ultimate mind over matter to essentially change your fate by turning a bad situation around in your favor (as all heroes should be able to do) but it’s going to take some time to recapture your concentration before you continue fighting.

    It’s still advantageous to utilize the option in most situation, but it presents a slightly greater disadvantage for doing so (and clearly explains why this is so in a way that is plausible even in a world of pointy eared sorcerers and fire-breathing lizards). It’s a tad more interesting tactically — and could even lead to some good role playing in a tight group. The other characters, aware that the wizard is desperately trying to summon forth a fireball but for the moment is standing in the middle of a raging battlefield with his eyes closed, might spend their next round trying to support the wizard, distract the enemies targeting him or protect him from attack. After all, they know that if that spell goes off it’s going to be a game changer.

    But I’m probably just over thinking it . . .

    Thanks for the cool ideas. Cheers!

    – JoJa

  10. HolyHair says:

    If you are worried about players napping when the going gets tough just enforce the 12 hour between rests rule. Rigourusly. >:)

    PS please come back?

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