A multifaceted blog on RPGs

Other Uses For Action Points

In D&D 4E on February 6, 2009 at 9:43 am

Action Points were introduced with the Eberron setting, allegedly to smooth out some of the catastrophic failures that typically are part of any dice-rolling mechanics so that the game would better simulate the high action theme of that setting. The Eberron action points refreshed on a per-level basis and basically allowed you to add a d6 to any roll if you did it before any other rolls were made. This mechanic always struck me as a bit clunky. After every failed roll, the players had to stop and think if they wanted to expend their hard earned AP, hindering the flow of the game.

Action points in D&D 4E have been reworked and now actually live up to their name. The mechanic where you get one more action is very easy to use, easy for players to remember and gives the characters a possibility to go that extra mile (or at least that extra Move action). Also, the fact that they are replenishable on a daily/milestone basis gives them a “use them or lose them”-feel. So AP in D&D 4E are generally a good thing. But for those who can handle a bit more complexity in their games, there is the nagging feeling that they could be used for so much more. Read on for some examples of other uses for action points in D&D 4E.

Skill challenges: The obvious extension to action points is in the skill challenge resolution. Being the “other kind of encounter”, skill challenges should get some action point love as well. My suggestion is to use the simplest way. An action point lets you re-roll a failed skill check during a skill challenge. If you think this upsets game balance, add +1 to the difficulties of the skill checks in skill challenges.

Saving throws: An action point lets you make a saving throw as a minor action. This would be especially useful for those Dominated or Stunned conditions that can be very boring if you get stuck in them for too long.

Regain a daily power: This one is a bit more experimental. For those long strings of encounters, where the milestones just seem to rack up, it’s kind of boring not to be able to use your daily again. This leads to a situation not quite unlike the spells-per-day one of yore where the party doesn’t want to push on because they want to regain their dailies. If you want to avoid this situation, I suggest that the players’ be able to spend an action point as a minor action to regain the use of a daily that they haven’t used in the current encounter. If you think this is too cheap, add a healing surge to the cost.

Myself, I’ve gone for the first rule about action points in Skill Challenges, but I’ve extended it to include any skill check. I’ve always had a problem with trained characters failing on their main skill because of a botched die roll; it happens a bit too often. With this rule, it doesn’t have to happen quite as frequently, at the expense of some simplicity in the rules. Do you use action points in any special ways in your campaign?

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  1. Does my group use action points in a special way: No, we don’t, but that being said…

    Action Point for reroll in Skill Challenge: I don’t think there is any need to increase the difficulty of the reroll, just as long as the Skill Challenge is mixed in with other Encounters in between each extended rest. As long as the players know that the AP they use in the Skill Challenge is one they won’t have when who-knows-what happens later, their hesitation in using one will go far in keeping Skill Challenges challenging.

    AP for extra saving throw: Good idea–having your character shut down for even two or three rounds at a stretch can be terrifying–but when exactly does this happen in a turn? Regular saving throws occur at the end of a players turn, after they have already used all their actions or chose not to use them.

    AP to regain a daily: Adding the cost of a healing surge will unfairly penalize defenders, I think, because even though they have more healing surges, they also use a lot more, especially if they’re doing their job right and keeping the mobs away from the strikers and controllers. What I might do for long dungeon delving days is just let them trade an AP to get a daily back during a short rest, but only once every two milestones. Of course, this would benefit low-level characters far more than high-level, because regaining a daily is a lot more significant when you only have one or two (in the heroic tier), as compared to a half-dozen or more (in the epic tier).

  2. I’ve been experimenting with APs in my gaming group recently, too! One of my players, after four sessions, has not managed to land her daily power once yet (they’re only level 4, so everyone has just one daily). It’s kind of saddening. So, I house-ruled that an action point lets you turn a missed daily into a non-critical hit. End result: happy player!

  3. I like these too, though I agree– I’m not sure if 1 AP to regain a daily [almost wrote deadly] power is right or too much. I’d probably try it, but let the players know the cost might go up if it proves too good a deal.

  4. Doug: The extra AP for a saving throw can be used as a minor action, the saving throw comes immediately and if successful, the effect ends and the character can act out the rest of his turn. This is more or less like the saving-throw-by-heal-check-rules where another character can help a character make extra saving throws. The latter rule, by the way, works excellent, especially when the healer tries to break the ranger’s Dominated condition (“Calm down, your with friends ok, that hurt, but calm down sigh, now I have to heal myself”)

    Mike: Seems like a good use for AP according to the golden rule “Keep Them Happy”

    Scott: A thought I had was that the players may trade in an AP for regaining a daily. But when they do so, the DM gets an AP in return, to use in that encounter (cue maniac laughter).

  5. Thanks for clarifying that. However, please note what “dominated” entails (Player’s Handbook page 277): the character only gets one action (because they are dazed as part of being dominated) and the creature that dominated them gets to pick what one action they perform.

    If a character is dominated, and at the beginning of their turn they burn an AP as a minor action to attempt a saving throw against the domination and they fail the save, does the monster that dominated them still get to control them for one action, or is their one action already spent?

    Please don’t think I’m just nit-picking your ideas here–homebrew rules can have far-reaching consequences, and having been both a DM and a PC, personally I would rather not be forced to hash these things out during the game session.

  6. True, you wouldn’t be able to break a domination with these rules, but that’s ok by me (use the healing checks as per above!). The DM should be very careful with domination anyway, not being able to control your character can be dramatically correct, but can also be very boring 🙂

  7. Agreed. While having to deal with, for example, a mind flayer’s domination abilities once in a while can add some healthy tension to a campaign, I can easily see how this sort of thing (taking control of a PC from the player, even for a short time) would get really frustrating if used very often.

  8. […] 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 […]

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