Tobold's Blog
Friday, June 29, 2012
The action economy of D&D Next

Another post in the D&D Next developer's blog is about the action economy, that is the rules that govern how much stuff you can do in a turn. In 4th edition you can do one standard action, one movement action, and one minor action during your turn, as well as an unlimited number of immediate interrupts and immediate reactions. In D&D Next you can do one action and one movement during your turn, and one reaction between turns. I really like the latter part; I might use it as a house rule for my 4E campaign to keep combat flowing smoothly.

While you might think the rules for actions are clear in 4E and leave little room for interpretation, you would be wrong there. That's why I love watching YouTube live sessions of D&D, because seeing how other DMs handle situations can be very interesting. For example the 4E rules state that taking a healing potion is a minor action. So in my campaign I let players quaff a potion as a minor action, in a turn where they already did a standard and a movement action. But in one of the D&D videos the DM ruled it as: Put away your weapon as a minor action (unless you want to drop it as a free action), search your backback for the potion as a minor action, quaff the potion as a minor action, and re-equip your weapon as a minor action. The player managed to negotiate that down from 4 minor actions to 3, by claiming to have his potions ready on his belt. But that still took him all the actions of his round, as he had to transform his standard and movement action into minor actions to get 3 minor actions that turn.

Having only one action per turn ends up with two possibilities if a player tries something minor, like drinking a potion: The minor action can be "free", or it can consume the action for the turn. D&D Next leans towards the former solution, but then has to rely on the DM's judgment to decide how many of these minor actions a player can do during his turn. But of course if doing something minor would require a player to basically skip his turn and not attack, he would be unlikely to want to do it. Imagine the same DM ruling that drinking a potion takes 4 actions in D&D Next, and you effectively eliminated the use of potions from the game. On the other hand you probably don't want a player to define his action for the turn to be "I put away my weapons, take a running leap to jump over the table, grab the chandelier, swing on the chandelier over to the other side of the room while quaffing a healing potion, drop behind the enemy, pull out my weapon, and backstab him". Different DMs will most likely require different amounts of actions to pull this stunt off. That is the disadvantage of having rules with phrases like "a DM could reasonably expect you to use an action". Interpretations of what is "reasonable" tend to vary widely, especially in a fantasy game.

Just as a small point of order: 4ed rules actually call for 1 Standard, 1 Move, 1 Minor on your turn, 1 opportunity attack per player's turn, and 1 immediate (reaction/interrupt) per round.

You can still do an infinite number of Free action interrupts, if you have access to them, but they purposefully limit how frequently you can interrupt with Immediate powers.
Kyre beat me to it! *laugh* Yep, your house rule is basically Rules as Written. See pages 195 - 196 in the Rules Compendium.

By the way, speaking of the action economy, this is my table's main objection. My son very much likes the breakdown of the action economy in 4e, and feels that the proposed D&D Next setup opens the door to serious ambiguity.

Mainly, I feel like Wizards is trying to implement the same effects, without actually writing rules for them. In your turn you can "do one thing" (a standard action, we might call it) and "move" (a move action) and maybe such minor things as don't warrant such notice (a minor action and some number of free actions). And you can only "react" once a round (just like in 4e).

I'm not sure how I feel about all of this just yet. I want to get my hands on something besides the "bare bones." But overall I still haven't seen much that makes me want to move the mechanical core of my game from 4e.
Ah, good to know, I hadn't seen that rule. I'm wondering why people complain that a multitude of interupts is messing up high-level combat in 4E.
I think it depends greatly on how much you think making the game complex and requiring participation and decision making in combat is a 'problem.' But picture your 6-man group having between 1 and 3 interupt type abilities each. Every single combat you run, the first three to four rounds have each player deciding if they want to interrupt whatever action the monsters have -- and some of the monsters have interrupts as well.

For the sort of player that looks at a Magic: The Gathering "stack" resolving it isn't very daunting. For someone that is interested in political RP and doesn't find combat very compelling it dominiates gameplay in a way they are not interested in.
I'm really disappointed at the way DDN is shaping up with its move/action approach....I really felt 4E hit the sweet spot with its move/minor/standard approach, and the reactions and interrupts provided awide array of unique opportunities for other players to remain engaged when it wasn't their turn.
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