View Full Version : Original System New Action Economy: 3 Actions Per Turn + Tics + Fatigue

2018-02-19, 03:20 PM

I enjoy playing D&D 5e, but there are several parts of it that bother me either because they're so unrealistic that they break my suspension of disbelief, or because they are so fiddly that they break up the flow of the game. Here they are:

High-level characters can absorb large quantities of fireballs to the face and then continue fighting at full effectiveness.
Even low-level characters can swing a battleaxe for hours on end without getting any mechanical penalty for being tired.
There is no quantitative way to think about the action economy...how do you compare a free action, a move action, a standard action, an attack of opportunity, an extra attack, an attack with an off-hand weapon, and a bonus action? How do you compare a 2nd-level spell slot to 5 points of Qi or a use of Wild Shape? There are too many different ways to measure what a player is allowed to do in a turn or in a day, and it's too easy to get confused about your total power level.
When it's your turn, at least 90% of the time, all you will do is launch your most powerful attack against the most fragile enemy you can reach. Because HP work on an "all-or-nothing" system, you have a huge incentive to focus on knocking out one enemy at a time. If you wound an enemy, the enemy can still fight back at full strength; nothing changes mechanically about the battle until you actually knock someone unconscious. There's no sense of a duelist slowly and methodically gaining a massive advantage over an opponent -- you cannot, e.g., knock someone off balance, and then disarm them, and then trip them, and then stab them to death in one blow. Instead you have to stab them and stab them and stab them and then stab them to death. All the stabbings are interchangeable, so there's rarely any point in rescuing an ally in trouble: instead you just want to kill the enemy in front of you as quickly as possible. Killing an enemy is virtually the only way to influence the bad guys' total Damage Per Round.
The dice can dictate the outcome of your battle no matter what strategy you choose. It's possible to be killed in a single attack by an enemy who's won Initiative against you before you even have a chance to act, even if you're creeping along with your shield in front of your face and maximizing your defense. Similarly, it's possible that you can win Initiative, miss your attack rolls on your first two attacks, and then get knocked out of combat before you're allowed to make any more choices. This is perhaps realistic, but it's not fun or dramatic -- for a heroic Player Character, being knocked out of combat should be the result of reckless choices or being slowly and gradually worn down, not the result of a couple of bad rolls.
So, rather than just complain about it, I've developed a new action economy that I believe can fix all of these problems at once. I want a system where characters have real flexibility about how to spend their turns, where characters who max out their actions every turn quickly grow fatigued, where being fatigued and/or wounded has an important negative influence on your fighting ability, where characters can usually guarantee their survival as long as they have some stamina left, but where an exhausted character who is surrounded by enemies can be easily killed if he's unable to dodge a heavy blow or a high-level spell.

Main Concepts

Combat consists of rounds; in each round, each player and each NPC gets one turn. On your turn, you get up to three actions. Spending an action will cost you a few points of Energy, depending on how strenuous the action is. For example, sprinting burns more energy than walking. You're not required to use all of your actions! Each action you don't spend lets you recover Energy equal to your Level. For example, a Level 5 character can recover 5 Energy per action, for a total of 15 Energy per turn if they just stand there catching their breath. When it's not your turn, you can spend Energy to make a defensive response to someone else's attack (e.g. dodge, parry, counter-spell), but you can't initiate any new actions when it's not your turn.

Once you run out of Energy, you start taking penalties on all of your rolls: attack, defense, damage, spells, etc. You get -1 on each roll for each point of negative Energy.

There are similar mechanics for running out of Health and running out of Mana. If you have negative Health, you get -1 on each roll for each point of negative health. If you have negative Mana, you get -1 on each roll for each point of negative Mana. These penalties are harsh, but they're not quite as harsh as a rule that says "if you hit zero HP, you lie motionless on the floor and do nothing" or a rule that says "if you run out of spell slots, your only choices are to cast cantrips or hit people with a stick." Part of the fun and the challenge in this system comes from deciding when to push your character's limits (leaving you vulnerable and exhausted) and when to rest and recover (giving the enemy time to consolidate an advantage).

The total penalty you are taking from negative Energy plus negative Health plus negative Mana is called your Fatigue. When you have at least 10 Fatigue, you are too tired to stand up, and you must fall to your knees. You can continue fighting, but you can't run, charge, or use a Power Attack, and you have disadvantage when trying to dodge or parry. When you have at least 20 Fatigue, you are unconscious, and all you can do on your turn is recover 1 Energy (total). If you accumulate 50 Fatigue, you die.


Health: Are you dead yet? You start with (5 + CON) Health. If your Health drops below zero, all your rolls are at -1 per negative Health because of your debilitating wounds. You can lose health by taking damage from enemies, traps, poison, and forced marches. You can regain health from healing potions, hours of rest, clerical magic, and medicine.

Mana: Are you crazy yet? You start with (5 + Level + WIS) Mana. If your mana drops below zero, all your rolls are at -1 per negative Mana because of your maddening tension. You must spend Mana to use spells, cantrips, smites, Wild Shape, Qi, and all other magical abilities. You can regain a little bit of Mana by meditating for a moment, but mostly you regain Mana by taking a long rest.

Energy: Are you tired yet? You start with (5 + Level + DEX) energy. If your energy drops below zero, all your rolls are at -1 per negative Energy because of your crippling exhaustion. You must spend energy to move, attack, dodge, cast spells, and fight. You can quickly regain energy simply by passing one or more of your actions in combat.

Actions on your turn:

Equip (1 action / 0 Energy): Pick up or put down a piece of equipment
Interact (1 action / 0 Energy): Open or close a door; light or extinguish a torch, etc.
Load (1 action / 0 Energy): **** a crossbow or fit a stone to a sling
Recover (1 action / 0 Energy): Recover Energy equal to your Level
Stand (1 action / 0 Energy): Stand up or fall prone; alter your posture

Walk (1 action / 1 Energy): Move 1 hex in any direction
Run (1 action / 3 Energy): Move up to 2 hexes in any direction
Sprint (1 action / 6 Energy): Move up to 3 hexes in any direction through flat terrain
Crawl (2 action / 2 Energy): Move 1 hex while remaining prone
Swim (2 action / 3 Energy): Move 1 hex through water
Climb (2 action / 4 Energy): Move 1 hex up a wall or boulder

Attack (1 action / 1, 2, or 3 Energy): 1 energy for light weapon, 2 energy for medium, 3 energy for heavy weapon
Power Attack (2 action / 2, 4, or 6 Energy): Energy cost depends on weight of weapon
Charge (2 action / 4 Energy): Move up to 2 hexes and then attack

Shove (1 action / 1 Energy): Attempt to push an opponent one hex in any direction
Grapple (1 action / 2 Energy): Attempt to gain an advantage by restraining or escaping
Trip (1 action / 3 Energy): Attempt to gain an advantage by knocking your opponent prone

Cantrip (1 action / 1 Energy / 1 Mana): Cast a simple spell
Spell (2 action / 3 Energy / ? Mana): Cast a more advanced spell; mana cost depends on spell
Meditate (3 action / 1 Energy / 0 Mana): Recover 1 Mana on the battlefield

Spending Energy on other players' turns:

Brace (1 Energy): Reduce one enemy attack by X damage [effectiveness depends on armor/shield]
Cover (2 Energy): Reduce one enemy attack by 25% / 50% / 100% damage [effectiveness depends on how much cover is available]
Parry (1, 2, or 3 Energy): Add STR + 1d4 to your AC [depends on weapon; heavier weapons need more energy to parry]
Dodge (3 Energy): Add DEX + 1d4 to your AC
Counter-spell (2 Energy / ? Mana): Roll INT to try to cancel opponent's spell; spend mana equal to the spell you want to counter.

Application and Commentary

This means that, e.g., a Level 18 character (demigod) can repeatedly dodge multiple enemy assaults every round and still swing a big 'ol sword around without getting out of breath. However, if you actually manage to *hit* the Level 18 character, they still don't have that many HP, and so they'll be quickly wounded. Meanwhile, lesser characters can be quickly exhausted from using all three of their actions each round, especially if they plan on doing any dodging or parrying during enemy turns, and so they will need to either use (at least one) action most turns to recover, or plan on spending a few rounds out of the fight to catch their breath if the fight lasts for multiple rounds.

Unless you have special feats, each weapon you are holding can only be used to attack once each turn. This means that even if you are dual-wielding or power-attacking, you will usually have one action left over to move, recover, cast a cantrip, and/or try a wrestling move like grappling, tripping, or shoving. This encourages tactical variety and increases the extent to which different "equipment setups" will feel different to play. If you're a standard fighter carrying a sword and a shield, you'll usually have plenty of extra actions for recovering, moving and wrestling -- your character will do best in longer fights. If you're a spellcaster carrying two swords, you will constantly be running short on actions and on energy -- you will have massive damage-per-round for a couple of rounds, but then you'll get tired and become less effective.

Note that these incentives work without the need to track "uses per day" or anything strange like that -- if you're in a combat situation, whether you use your special powers will come down to how tired you are, not to whether you already blasted someone with fire earlier in the morning.

Finally, note that spending more energy to swing or parry with a heavier weapon allows us to cleanly distinguish between "two-handed" weapons and "heavy" weapons. A quarterstaff needs both hands (you can't fight effectively with a shield and quarterstaff), but a quarterstaff is still a light weapon that can swing around and make multiple attacks in a few seconds. A spiked mace only needs one hand to wield, so it works just fine in conjunction with a shield or dagger, but a mace is heavy enough that you'll get tired very quickly if you try to hit your opponent with two maces every turn.