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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Titan in the Playground
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    Default [d20] [Discussion] Rage is a super awkward mechanic. What would fix it?

    So just to set up, I'm looking at this from the perspective of D&D/d20-based games that either are D&D 3.5 or are later than D&D 3.5 (so D&D 4e, Pathfinder, Legend, and D&D 5e). I'm also not sure which forum this makes the most sense in, but if we're talking about dissecting and theoretically fixing game mechanics, homebrew seems like a good start.

    Anyway. Rage. It's a fairly iconic mechanic (if perhaps wildly different in implementation across systems) that's usually associated with a "Barbarian" or something similar: you have your On Mode and your Off Mode, and you want to be in your On Mode, because your On Mode gives you all kinds of bonuses that differentiate you from other folks who don't have access to the same On Mode.

    It's also kind of problematic. Many of the implementations of Rage that I've encountered are so into it that they load most of the tricks the character is supposed to get from the class (or from the source of Rage) into Rage, which is fine and dandy on the first encounter of the day, but it means that the character is generally uninspiring as hell when you can't Rage for some reason. Like being out of uses or being out of duration. 5e is an extremely bad example of this, but it's not entirely alone. I personally find that to be kind of awkward game design. I mean, sure, resource management is all fine and dandy, but why put all the eggs in one basket like that?

    4e, I will admit, kind of swings the pendulum completely the other way. 4e's Rage mechanic is to tie the Rage keyword to most of the Barb's daily attacks, but out of the box (before spending feats and such), just "raging" doesn't inherently do anything; each power with the Rage keyword puts you into a unique Rage with unique effects. The problem here is that the Rage powers still tend to be very lackluster, and in fact back when WotC's forums were active for 4e, there was a very prominent school of thought saying that optimized Barbarians were often hybrid characters who traded away as many Rage powers as possible (because daily powers from other classes helped the Barb do its primary job—raw damage—better). So the On Mode isn't so much better than the Off Mode that you're awful when you're Off, but the On Mode now is sufficiently lackluster that it's basically ignored.

    Legend's take on Rage is to not limit the mechanic to a certain number of times per day or even to impose much of a cost at all. You're assumed to enter Rage ASAP, and the duration is beefy enough that it'll last for the majority of most encounters that aren't super-duper long with a million waves of enemies to them. The numbers you get out of Rage are definitely meaningful, but in general, they're not head and shoulders above what you'd get from most tracks with similar roles (namely boosting general attack power—though Rage has more of a defensive component to it than some other tracks). It's actually quite balanced. But that just makes the fact that it technically can be waited out all that much weirder. It truly does have the On Mode and the Off Mode, and the Off Mode is so Off that you're basically never supposed to be in it. You're supposed to just be On, and the track's numbers are balanced around that assumption. So why even have it such that it can be off?

    3.5 seems a bit murkier because the actual mechanical appeal of the Barb is the fact that they get Pounce at level 1, so Barb is a common dip class without really paying much attention to Rage most of the time. But if playing the class "straight" (and not sinking enough juice into charging that you're just going to be an AC-based save-or-die whether you're Raging or not), then the vast majority of the class's advancement after level 1 is allegedly tied to Rage, and the class is actually obnoxiously stingy with Rage. The feat Extra Rage is a band-aid, but it really just underscores how incredibly stingy the class itself is: a level 1 Barb with Extra Rage can Rage as much and as well as a level 8 Barb without Extra Rage. Technically as much as a level 11 Barb because Rage uses per day increment at 8th and 12th, but the comparison to level 8 is perhaps more honest because it's not intentionally disadvantaging the featless Barb. But there's going to be a lot of time where the majority of what you're getting from your class is tied to a state that you don't happen to be in. I don't really like that much. Especially because it's not like you're a god among men when Raging. You're a few points better at physical stuff, but that's about it.

    And yet I find something a bit distasteful about the idea of just having Rage truly be always on and baked into the class. If we were to just assume that Rage is always on all day every day no matter what level the character is, that doesn't feel right. Which seems like a direct contradiction of what I'm saying I like, and that's why it's confusing to me. I don't actually have an answer. I like the idea of the self-buffing warrior, and Rage is, conceptually, a fine way to address that without dipping into explicit magic. Even if we ignore the fluff (who's always angry all the time? You've gotta have the "you wouldn't like me when I'm angry" moment, right?), then just having the numbers all the time doesn't seem like you're doing anything. Remove the resource management and you make the character concept feel like it has less agency. (Again, self-contradicting here: who really has less agency, a Barb who's always got their cool stuff or a Barb who can't use any cool stuff because they've run out of angry for the day or because they don't feel free to actually use their Rage for fear of running out? Obviously the latter. So why can't I shake the perception?)

    This is a very unsatisfactory place to be. I like the general idea of Rage, and yet I don't actually like much about the actual implementations I'm seeing in the games I'm familiar with, and I don't seem to like the solution that just axes the most obvious problem. I don't have an answer (other than perhaps to just get over myself, I guess) and I'm not really sure what a proper solution would feel like, but I think I've said enough that it might be worth having a discussion about this sort of thing. So whatcha think, Playground? What might a good implementation of On Mode/Off Mode look like that doesn't feel like it's unduly punishing the player for not being in On Mode but that also isn't entirely forgettable?
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  2. - Top - End - #2
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: [d20] [Discussion] Rage is a super awkward mechanic. What would fix it?

    I can think of a couple of options.
    -Carefully limit the amount of On Mode that is available. I actually like the 3.5 barbarian and dislike the Pathfinder barbarian, because the 3.5 barbarian is basically "babby's first resource management"- it's something that you have to choose to do or not do. At the same time, it's not something that overpowers an encounter- it's +2 to some stuff, and -2 to some other stuff, on par with Bull's Strength or Enlarge Person to start with(ignoring splats). If the 3.5 barbarian had some Pathfinder rage powers, but could use them without raging (Raging Leaper/Swimmer, come on...), it would be close to my ideal- you're a solid fighter normally, but when the gloves come off...

    -The ability to go On or Off is at least partially out of the player's control. There was a barbarian ACF that did something like this, where you had a variant Rage as long as your health is below a certain threshold. I might borrow the 4e bloodied condition for this, for example. If a player deliberately hurts themself to power up... I actually think that's OK.

    I'm going to dig through my bookmarks for rages and rage-like powers.

    Barbarian fix. Rage assumed always-on, upgraded versions available over time, but with moderate behavioral drawbacks.
    "Rage points" generated by taking damage. Spend them for Rage or special abilities.
    Pathfinder-type duration, but escalates over time.
    Escalating effect over time by spending actions; has drawbacks. Reduce level of effect to power abilities.
    Increase power/drawback whenever hit or hit others. Abilities gained add additional effects to this escalating effect.
    Many uses (1/level) per day of ability. Requires constant movement to maintain.
    Assumed to last entire encounter. 90% of class power concentrated here
    One of a number of things ki can be spent on is an escalating rage-like effect (up to a cap). Generated by attacking.
    Daily pool of power, spent to "build-your-rage". Spend some of it to build effect, more to extend duration- assumed to last entire encounter.

    Another useful comparison point is spell slots. There are two general equivalencies:
    -Precombat buffs, where you spend your daily resources to increase your chances of winning the fight. Rage-like effects equivalent to this are assumed to be used whenever possible (and so "off-mode" is much weaker), and usually have a long duration, lasting for a whole fight. The limiting factor here is almost entirely resource based.
    -Midcombat buffs, where using the ability is a trade-off- either in actions, or weaknesses suffered. This isn't so much On Mode so much as Aggressive Mode. I see a lot of drawbacks on abilities (especially AC penalties) otherwise used at will, but very little in the way of daily limits. I might also lump here abilities that ramp up over time based on doing something (especially combat), or trigger automatically in certain circumstances. Think of martial maneuvers- the primary cost is an opportunity cost or a conditional effect. In my bookmarks, I see a lot of abilities where points are generated by hitting people, and can be spent on rage, or on one-off abilities.
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    Default Re: [d20] [Discussion] Rage is a super awkward mechanic. What would fix it?

    I've given some thought to escalating bonuses as you get lower in health. But I'm not sure it would be good to motivate characters to turn down healing.

    To some extent, I feel like Crusader's furious counterstrike ability fits the rage mold.

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    Default Re: [d20] [Discussion] Rage is a super awkward mechanic. What would fix it?

    Quote Originally Posted by aimlessPolymath View Post
    I can think of a couple of options.
    -Carefully limit the amount of On Mode that is available. I actually like the 3.5 barbarian and dislike the Pathfinder barbarian, because the 3.5 barbarian is basically "babby's first resource management"- it's something that you have to choose to do or not do. At the same time, it's not something that overpowers an encounter- it's +2 to some stuff, and -2 to some other stuff, on par with Bull's Strength or Enlarge Person to start with(ignoring splats). If the 3.5 barbarian had some Pathfinder rage powers, but could use them without raging (Raging Leaper/Swimmer, come on...), it would be close to my ideal- you're a solid fighter normally, but when the gloves come off...
    That actually makes a lot of sense. Rereading my initial post, I see that I kind of immediately fell into the same trap as a lot of the designers of the games I was discussing in that I immediately assumed that most or all of a Raging class's power should be tied to Rage. But why should that be the case? Having a full suite of options that still work in Off Mode means that you're not just a block of tofu when you're Off, but it still lets On Mode be noticeably cooler. You don't have to swing the pendulum so far until you push "On Mode" and "Off Mode" into "God Mode" and "Suck Mode" (with the extremely problematic implication being that averaging between being sometimes way overpowered and sometimes way underpowered means that you're balanced or something). Just make it so that being in On Mode isn't the only cool thing you can do. It's so obvious, really.

    Quote Originally Posted by aimlessPolymath View Post
    -The ability to go On or Off is at least partially out of the player's control. There was a barbarian ACF that did something like this, where you had a variant Rage as long as your health is below a certain threshold. I might borrow the 4e bloodied condition for this, for example. If a player deliberately hurts themself to power up... I actually think that's OK.
    [snip]
    Another useful comparison point is spell slots. There are two general equivalencies:
    -Precombat buffs, where you spend your daily resources to increase your chances of winning the fight. Rage-like effects equivalent to this are assumed to be used whenever possible (and so "off-mode" is much weaker), and usually have a long duration, lasting for a whole fight. The limiting factor here is almost entirely resource based.
    -Midcombat buffs, where using the ability is a trade-off- either in actions, or weaknesses suffered. This isn't so much On Mode so much as Aggressive Mode. I see a lot of drawbacks on abilities (especially AC penalties) otherwise used at will, but very little in the way of daily limits. I might also lump here abilities that ramp up over time based on doing something (especially combat), or trigger automatically in certain circumstances. Think of martial maneuvers- the primary cost is an opportunity cost or a conditional effect. In my bookmarks, I see a lot of abilities where points are generated by hitting people, and can be spent on rage, or on one-off abilities.
    I feel like it's worth mentioning 4e's Berserker, which is slightly different from the standard 4e Barbarian (Berserkers can take Barbarian powers and vice versa, but they have extremely different class features and very different playstyles most of the time). I respect the Berserker as being an admirable attempt to make the Berserker's "fury" feature not be pure On/Off in that being On is Always Good and being Off is Always Bad. See, when not in a fury, a Berserker is a defender (as opposed to a striker): they have better AC (quite noticeably better, in fact) and they have a constant aura that focuses attention on them and lets them punish nearby enemies who try to get away or who try to attack the Berserker's friends instead of the Berserker. Once they use a power that flips them into fury, though, they lose the defensive boost and the defender aura and instead gain a noticeable but not overwhelming bonus to damage with certain powers, allegedly making them into a "striker" for the duration of the combat. Notably, you have absolutely no way to turn fury off while the encounter lasts; flipping the switch is permanent until you're not fighting in the same combat anymore.

    The Berserker fails by being overly cautious in its design. See, the bonus to damage from fury only applies to very specific at-will attack powers, and after the very lowest levels, you aren't relying on your at-wills that much under normal circumstances. A striker using only at-wills without some kind of really weird gimmick is not a good striker long-term. You do more damage with a well-executed encounter attack than with a fury-boosted at-will, so being in fury mode is actually a pretty big drawback, because your defenses are lower and your actual high-damage attacks don't care one bit if you're in fury or not. (Compounding the problem is that the Berserker basically only has one in-class choice of attack per level that doesn't flip them into fury mode, so if they want to stay as a defender and ignore their fury option, they either have an extremely narrow—and not incredibly inspiring—set of powers or they need to spend a lot of resources poaching off-list powers, which is often disappointing long-term.)

    The basic concept isn't inherently flawed, though, even if the execution was disappointing. The idea that you have some kind of a button to press that flips you from one fundamental playstyle to a different fundamental playstyle is pretty interesting and has some good potential if it's designed in a robust manner.

    I did play in a 3.5/E6 game once where the GM worked with me to homebrew something similar; the character was basically a Warblade who had two different maneuvers written on each maneuver card. He had access to different martial schools when Raging and when not Raging, and basically going into a Rage had him flip over his maneuver cards from one side to the other (I think Tiger Claw turned into White Raven and Iron Heart turned into Diamond Mind, for example). That was actually a really fun character that I wouldn't mind exploring again in some nebulous hypothetical future game.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maat Mons View Post
    I've given some thought to escalating bonuses as you get lower in health. But I'm not sure it would be good to motivate characters to turn down healing.

    To some extent, I feel like Crusader's furious counterstrike ability fits the rage mold.
    After I posted this, I thought a little bit about various video games that let you "earn" your On Mode (like the adrenaline mechanic in Guild Wars or the magic/focus mechanic in various Warriors games like Hyrule Warriors, or really any game where you've got some kind of bar that you're trying to fill over the course of normal play). It's a compelling concept, but the more I think about the realities of combat in the particular RPGs that are within the scope of this topic, the more I realize that it's not likely to be worth keeping track of everything involved by hand, and it's tricky to balance the expected number of turns that you're "supposed" to have before you've earned your big toy.

    What you're talking about seems to be somewhat related, if I'm not mistaken. Different, and I don't dislike the concept (Furious Counterstrike is actually pretty fun if you don't mind fiddly numbers), though I do feel like tying it only to damage taken kind of costs you some player agency and even some ability to plan ahead. Still, worth exploring, I think.
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    Default Re: [d20] [Discussion] Rage is a super awkward mechanic. What would fix it?

    Before anything else, I'd like to commend you on eloquently portraying the current state as well as outlying your question.
    It is so nice to read a well established post.

    I also think that this could be split to two threads on their own: The first about when to qualify for the ON MODE. And the latter for what kind of benefits does the Rage ability(ies) entitle. But it's not necessary.

    Aaaaanyway. I'll tell you how I'm treating rage in my games and you could take it from there.
    In my play setting I actually use two items that can be considered part of the 'Rage' group:
    1. Rage: When the character suffers multiple wounds and gets strengthen.
    2. Berserk: When the character inflicts multiple wounds and gets strengthen.

    I nicked those two, unceremoniously from Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning where these two classes, Dwarven Ironbreaker and Chaos Blackguard are using both systems respectively.
    At large, I agree with your assessment. Playing rage resource management could be cool but the times per day is so low that it's more inconvenience then anything else. Plus the, "oops, I can't be angry anymore today" which throws you completely out of game head space. For those reasons I wanted to unlimit the number per day along with making the raging part feel more impactful. I think the mentioned classes fit this requirement.

    On the flip side, as you said, there needs to be some sort of payment for the power. It can't be simply on all the times, otherwise why not simply bake it in. That's why I (with inspiration from the classes above) used other parameters to decides when a person is in rage. For the classic barbarian it would be after suffering some hit points loss. So there's a price to the power, and you can indirectly control it. But sometimes it's just too risky and you wouldn't want to do it.
    As for actual powers - there are none. The class doesn't give you powers that you can't use if you're not raging. You can use everything you have, including temp' hit points even when you're not raging. You'll simply be on par with the same level fighter. What rage gives you is +/- to abilitys. Mainly, physical aspects vs. defenses. You'll get lower Ref saves but more damage output and that sort of stuff.
    To that sort of affect. I think.

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    Default Re: [d20] [Discussion] Rage is a super awkward mechanic. What would fix it?

    I've made some simplifying assumptions to make it easy, but I did some math, and it looks like in 5e, rage isn't as much of an "On" mode as it might seem.

    I took a totem barbarian and a champion fighter (because simple to do attack math) at 5th level, both wielding a greatsword and with a Strength of 18. Each fights 8 combats, each combat lasting 4 rounds, during an adventuring day, and takes the Attack action each round. Each makes its attacks against AC 14 (which I calculated is the mean AC of all the monsters in the MM). Crucially, I left out both Reckless Attack (for the barbarian) and Action Surge (for the fighter) to start.

    With those assumptions in place, what I got was that the barbarian does:
    - 16.1 damage per round when not raging, and 18.9 damage when raging
    - 64.4 damage per combat when not raging, and 75.6 damage when raging
    - Over the adventuring day noted above, with 3 rages, 548.8 damage per day

    The fighter does:
    - 18 and 2/15 damage per round
    - 72 and 8/15 damage per combat
    - Over the adventuring day noted above, 580 and 4/15 damage per day


    Adding in Reckless Attack and Action Surge, we get the below.

    To keep it easy with Reckless attack, let's assume the barbarian uses it in each combat in which it rages, and in one other combat despite not raging.

    To keep it easy with Action Surge, let's assume we split the day up as 3 combats -> short rest -> 2 combats -> short rest -> 2 combats -> long rest (end of day), so the fighter has three combats in which one round is an Action Surge round

    With Reckless Attack, the barbarian does:
    - 21.385 damage per round when not raging, and 25.025 damage when raging
    - 85.54 damage per combat when not raging, and 100.1 damage when raging

    With 4 non-rage, non-Reckless Attack combats, 1 non-rage Reckless Attack combat, and 3 rage & Reckless Attack combats, the barbarian does:
    - 643.44 damage per adventuring day

    The fighter does:
    - 18 and 2/15 damage per normal round, and 36 and 4/15 damage per Action Surge round
    - 72 and 8/15 damage per normal combat, and 90 and 2/3 damage per combat containing an Action Surge
    - 634 and 2/3 damage per adventuring day

    (Incidentally, if the barbarian used Reckless Attack in all combats, but didn't rage at all, in an adventuring day, its damage over the day would be 684.32.)

    Keeping all those simplifying assumptions in mind, it sure looks like what makes the 5e barbarian tick is, in fact, Reckless Attack, and that is a feature the barbarian can use all day if it wants.

    Sure, the numbers will look different when you add feats and multiclassing, or compare different subclasses, or compare different levels, or constrain the use of Reckless Attack differently, but I suspect that they'll still show the greater relative importance of Reckless Attack in keeping the barbarian's damage numbers up compared to rage.

    All that's to say that I don't think that in 5e this issue is quite as much of a problem as it's being made out to be.
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    Default Re: [d20] [Discussion] Rage is a super awkward mechanic. What would fix it?

    Quote Originally Posted by Composer99 View Post
    Keeping all those simplifying assumptions in mind, it sure looks like what makes the 5e barbarian tick is, in fact, Reckless Attack, and that is a feature the barbarian can use all day if it wants.

    Sure, the numbers will look different when you add feats and multiclassing, or compare different subclasses, or compare different levels, or constrain the use of Reckless Attack differently, but I suspect that they'll still show the greater relative importance of Reckless Attack in keeping the barbarian's damage numbers up compared to rage.

    All that's to say that I don't think that in 5e this issue is quite as much of a problem as it's being made out to be.
    Ahh, but the trick is that Reckless Attack opens you up to enemies, so unless you're raging, you're gonna take a lot of damage. Bear Totem Barbarian isn't considered very good for nothing - it counterbalances the constant Reckless Attack's advantage against you by doubling your EHP against almost everything.
    Last edited by Ignimortis; 2018-07-29 at 10:27 PM.
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    Default Re: [d20] [Discussion] Rage is a super awkward mechanic. What would fix it?

    Part of the problem, I think, is that Rage is very much the Barbarian's defining feature. Saying "what does the Barbarian look like when he's not raging" is like saying "what does the Wizard look like when she's out of spells?" A Barbarian without Rage is just a Fighter with some low-grade nature-type abilities.

    That said, I think this
    Quote Originally Posted by Zaq
    That actually makes a lot of sense. Rereading my initial post, I see that I kind of immediately fell into the same trap as a lot of the designers of the games I was discussing in that I immediately assumed that most or all of a Raging class's power should be tied to Rage. But why should that be the case? Having a full suite of options that still work in Off Mode means that you're not just a block of tofu when you're Off, but it still lets On Mode be noticeably cooler. You don't have to swing the pendulum so far until you push "On Mode" and "Off Mode" into "God Mode" and "Suck Mode" (with the extremely problematic implication being that averaging between being sometimes way overpowered and sometimes way underpowered means that you're balanced or something). Just make it so that being in On Mode isn't the only cool thing you can do. It's so obvious, really.
    is a good point. If the Barbarian is to have a distinct identity, he does need more than just "Rage." In my fix (which aimlessPolymath linked), I did something similar-- you always have access to Invocation-style strongman abilities (lift huge objects, punch through walls, hit dudes with other dudes, etc), while Rage is set up more as a risk/reward option-- you can always use it, but the harder you Rage, the more drawbacks you have to deal with.

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    Default Re: [d20] [Discussion] Rage is a super awkward mechanic. What would fix it?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ignimortis View Post
    Ahh, but the trick is that Reckless Attack opens you up to enemies, so unless you're raging, you're gonna take a lot of damage. Bear Totem Barbarian isn't considered very good for nothing - it counterbalances the constant Reckless Attack's advantage against you by doubling your EHP against almost everything.
    Yes, I'm aware: hence why in my simple calculation the barbarian only used Reckless Attack in one combat when it wasn't raging (out of 5).

    The point is that a 5e barbarian's primary means of putting on the hurt is not inextricably tied to rage; it just needs to be judicious in its use of those means.

    I might add that, of the barbarian's core class features other than rage, only two are tied in to raging.
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    Default Re: [d20] [Discussion] Rage is a super awkward mechanic. What would fix it?

    I'd like to add my favorite 2 things about Rage mechanics. I don't think either of these have been brought up yet.

    Rage is a Downside
    One big drawback for Rage is how many synergistic abilities are off-limits:

    Quote Originally Posted by 3.5
    While raging, a barbarian cannot use any Charisma-, Dexterity-, or Intelligence-based skills (except for Balance, Escape Artist, Intimidate, and Ride), the Concentration skill, or any abilities that require patience or concentration, nor can he cast spells or activate magic items that require a command word, a spell trigger (such as a wand), or spell completion (such as a scroll) to function. He can use any feat he has except Combat Expertise, item creation feats, and metamagic feats.
    Quote Originally Posted by Legend
    All bonuses from this track are fury bonuses, which do not stack with other tracks’ fury bonuses. A creature benefiting from a fury bonus may not benefit from sources of [Precision] damage
    In 3.5 where spells are the key to ultimate power, your duskblades, abjurant champions, etc can't use the Barbarian class effectively. In Legend where basically everything is measured in damage, you can't just fold a [Precision] based track into your Barbarian path for level-inappropriate damage.

    As an experienced D&D 3.5 player - unless you playing a simple "charge and attack em" build, rage isn't that great for you. You can't buff up mid-combat, you can't activate most magic items, and you can't use a bunch of skills (which in turn can stop you from initiating useful maneuvers). You will probably get some use out of rage, but it offers diminishing returns when combined with other cool stuff. On the other hand, new players won't be exploring manuevers / spells / [Precision] tracks / etc, and they will get the full benefit of their rage mechanic.

    Rage is Resonant
    Rage is one of those abilities that everyone can understand at a glance. That's why so many variations on it end up granting a bonus to attacks and some resistance against damage -- those benefits are intuitive for most of us. The downsides are intuitive as well. This isn't like D&D 3.5's immunity to crits where animated statues inexplicably have no weak points. It actually makes sense that someone in a state of fury can't clear their mind and cast a spell.

    Rage is easy to wrap your head around, and it brings a downside that is far more painful for experienced players than beginners. As a result, I think Rage-based classes should be mostly as an onboarding platform for new & casual players. I'm a big fan of the Barbarian fix from Races of War for that reason.

    To bring this full circle:
    • If you use this philosophy in class design, there is a clear(er) division between Rage & non-Rage abilities. You should require Rage Mode for all combat contributions and allow other effects to show up outside of rage.
    • This philosophy also gives you a lot of freedom to play with the length of rage. The two things you care about most are "is this resonant?" and "is this simple?". Having rage last X + ConMod rounds is resonant and pretty simple. Having rage last forever is simpler, but a little less resonant. But both of those options are probably OK.
    Last edited by Just to Browse; 2018-07-30 at 01:33 PM.
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