[4e] Not Your GM’s Keep on the Shadowfell: Magic Surges

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As I related in my previous post, our old DM from a multi-year 3.0 homebrew has taken over running a regular 4E game for my Thursday night gaming group, and being who he is, can’t help but change things.  Last time I discussed identifying magic items, and withholding their abilities until worn for at least 24 hrs.  This time, I’m going to try and figure out how replacing Milestone refreshes of Daily Magic Item uses with Magical Surges changes things around.

Since the DM took over just as I was having the group remake their characters at level 2, we stuck with the new level, but the past was ‘wiped clean’.  As such we got level appropriate money to buy gear, and started over with magic items.  I pointed out the standard distribution of magic items (which was actually much better than they had had, anyway, since we were dealing with published adventures, which seem kind of understocked), but the DM decided to go with a single lvl 2 item each, and several potions (healing, resistance, clarity and a gravespawn or two).  We got to choose, with approval, and I was pleased with my +1 Mnemonic Staff (and I love the fact that as a Wizard MC Druid, I get to use it for both classes – even if MC druid has some peculiar limitations).  When we discussed the potions to take, the DM discovered the limits on magic item use per day – a concept he didn’t care for at all.  I know it was an idea it took me awhile to wrap my head around, but I think I understand why it was done (to keep the character from being a magic item delivery system as could occur at higher levels in 3.x), and the exceptions to it for reaching milestones and the like.

Our DM decided to take a different route, proposing the idea of Magical Surges that refresh like Healing Surges do, after an Extended Rest.  The idea being that one could use a Magic Surge to activate a Daily Item Power (only once per day per power, he didn’t change that concept), or drink a Potion (letting us replace a Healing Surge in that case with a Magic Surge, if called for) and then be able to activate another, different, Daily Power (or Potion, Elixir, etc.) as long as you had magic Surges left.  And the number of Magic Surges was determined by class pretty much as the inverse of what that class got in the way of Healing Surges.  If your class gets a lot of Healing Surges, you get a few Magical Surges, and so on, modified by your Charisma Bonus.  Which makes sense, since he always saw Charisma as the power source for magic in his 3.0 game.  Of course, that throws the attribute choices for each class out of whack (not that we changed our scores since this was added later, as we were equipping), and some (like the Warlock) benefited more than others (such as my wizard 😦 ).

Overall, though, except for that, I didn’t see any immediate reasons to fight back, and we agreed to try it out.  So far, it’s been OK.  We haven’t been consuming more potions than I think we would otherwise, and since we don’t have a lot of magic items to start with, the difference hasn’t been great.  It benefits us by leaving us with more Healing Surges to spend on non-potion healing, and we have the crutch of extra potions (assuming we can find them) if a battle goes bad.

Where we could get into trouble, I think, is at higher levels, since this Magic Surge doesn’t scale like a Healing Surge does.  We have lots of unused ones at this level, but at some point, when the number of encounters we struggle through increases and we have more powers to activate, we may see the unused ones dry up without a chance for a refresh before taking our Extended Rest.  I can see the kernels of this issue in the way our DM has been customizing the magic items he passes out.

To wit, our initial 2nd lvl magic items were pretty much straight out of the book, the exception being the warlock’s rod. This he modified to have a daily druid power instead of the usual arcane one, since he had a notion to group the players into ‘divine’ (paladin, cleric, avenger) and ‘elf/nature’ (eladrin warlock, wizard/druid, elf ranger NPC) groups on two separate quests and this fit.  Swap one Daily for another (not normally available to the warlock, but no big deal).

Fast forward to after our initial fights with the Keep goblins, and an ambush by kolbolds on the way and we make our first visit to Winterhaven.  Being old school D&Ders, and low level, we brought back as much of the enemy’s gear as one of my Floating Discs could carry, and dumped the lot on the local smith.  We had planned to get the smith to make a nice fire-resistant sheath for the magical hot poker we liberated from the hobgoblin torturer we slew at the keep, so the Teifling cleric would have a decent close combat weapon, but the DM gave us another option.  Trade.

The dwarven smith was taken with an everhot poker, and gave us a deal on a magic sword he had no use for these days – a +1 thundersword which had TWO daily powers (besides the enhancement and crit) – daze and a +1d10 thunder damage.  This was telling, and the start of a trend.  I’ve since found ‘Bracers of the Beast’ which give me more options in beastform (thankfully) in the form of a property, an Encounter Power, and two Dailies.

Throwing out the limits on the number of built in powers will probably cause us to gravitate towards the walking magic store syndrome, especially once our ritual casters hit 4th level (and Enchant Item), and since we have Magic Surges, we’ll get more use out of multiple powers than a standard 4E party, but it means the DM will have to up the opposition to compensate. Which is NOT something he has an issue with.  We have yet to have a TPK under him, but we’ve come close a few times.

With the finely balanced level system as it is, I wonder what the cumulative effect of all of these changes will be.  So far I am having fun, but it is interesting (and necessary) to try and exploit these changes, as it will undoubtedly affect our opposition as well.

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8 Responses to “[4e] Not Your GM’s Keep on the Shadowfell: Magic Surges”

  1. Bryant Says:

    I think if anything magic surges will benefit the party. At higher levels, you’ll still be doing 3-6 encounters per day.I ran some paragon tier this last weekend and by the end of the third encounter the party was pretty damned spent. As long as you start out with (say) 5 or more magic surges, you won’t be losing daily magic item uses.

    I would lobby pretty heavily for magic surges to be based on your choice of Wisdom, Charisma, or Intelligence, however. There’s some precedent for this — see the racial power of the dragonborn, for example. Fighters will still be a bit hosed, but you avoid the problem of all the elves being better at using magic items than the wizard.

    The multiple-power magic items are just ridiculous. +1d10 and dazed would be overpowered as a single ability; letting you split them up is uber. It’ll get harder for him to accurately scale encounters up as you get closer to paragon tier. If he’s the kind of DM who reacts to cakewalk encounters by getting really creative, you could be in trouble.

    Short form: he’s removing the built in balance, so it’ll wind up harder for him to DM.

    • Jack Kessler Says:

      I think he was handing out Magic Surges as 6 + CHA, 5 + CHA and 4 + CHA, so my Wizard has 6 total (0 CHA mod), the Warlock has 9, and I think our Paladin and Avenger did OK. The Cleric may have been stuck with fewer.

      So you are saying that having two separate Daily Powers in an item is worse than combining them into a single power?

      I’ve been trying to gauge the relative ‘level’ strength of various facets of the published items, to try and give him some guidance as he goes along, and it can be confusing at times.

  2. Syrsuro Says:

    FYI: The magic item limit in 4E applies to daily powers on items – not to items in general – and thus does not apply to potions. You can drink as many healing potions as you can afford in 4E (although each does burn a healing surge).

    So what this does is exchange one limited resource for a different limited resource. Personally, I don’t think I like it – if you have many more such uses you end up less restricted in how many daily powers you can use and if you don’t have significantly more uses than using healing surges ends up cutting into your daily magic item uses.

    What I would do instead is to keep the idea of their being a single limited resource (the healing surge) and allowing players to burn a healing surge if they want to exceed their daily magic item limit. Healing potions would, of course, continue to work as they do now – costing a healing surge but not affecting the number of daily magic item powers you can use.
    Carl

    • Jack Kessler Says:

      No, but it does apply to most elixirs and other consumables, which is where I was going with that. Healing is just what we use most of at this level, and he’s letting us use either the usual Healing Surge, or one of his ‘Magic Surges’ to power it. But it was discussing the differences between most potions and elixirs that the concept first presented itself to him.

      I would prefer the standard rules as well, but as Bryant points out, at least for now we’re no worse off, until he modifies the opposition in response. But I’m more immediately concerned with the other changes to magic items (identifying, custom powers, etc.)

      It’s an interesting idea you have, lumping these uses both into the standard Healing Surge pool. But unless he modifies the way he going, we’d just end up running out of those trying to keep up, and have to rest more often.

      I suppose if he wants more magic flying around, this is one way to allow it without sapping our healing.

      But he hasn’t run any Skill Challenges yet, so maybe he’ll change his mind once he runs into some of the alternate penalties (Or maybe he’ll just embrace Magic Surges as another resource to drain on a Skill Failure).

  3. Kameron Says:

    As I mentioned at the end of my comment to your other post, there is already a mechanic for recharging some daily powers with a healing surge, so this houserule dangerously imbalances not only the use of Daily Powers, but also the healing mechanics behind 4E.

    I love to tinker, myself, but as a general rule, I tend to run my first campaign in a new ruleset by the book so I can get a feel for how all the pieces fit together. I’d consider making that same recommendation to your DM.

    • Jack Kessler Says:

      Again, I think i gave you the wrong impression. His Magic Surges are used to replace the Milestone Refresh of a Daily Magic Item Use (i.e. a character can use 1 Daily Item Power at heroic Level, regardless of how many items with Daily Powers they actually have. After a Milestone is reached, the Daily Power Use is Refreshed, similar to an Action Point refresh).

      Of course, he is playing with the number of daily Powers and other properties he’s putting into his custom items, which I will get to in my next post in detail, as I try to examine item levels. This is probably more immediately troublesome than the Magic Surge idea.

      • Kameron Says:

        Right. By replacing the Milestone refresh with Magic Surges, he is, in effect, giving all magic item Daily Powers the equivalent of the “healing surge renewal”. Not only does this break powers that were balanced against the lack of renewal, but it also removes the risk for the player who has to decide between recharging their magic item or saving the healing surge for healing.

        • Jack Kessler Says:

          Not at all. That’s not how Daily powers in a magic item work. Once you’ve used a Daily power in an item, that power can’t be used again until after you’ve had an extended rest. He’s not changing that. What he’s changing is the Daily Magic Item Power uses a character has (one during Heroic Tier, 2 for Paragon, 3 for Epic), and the Milestone Refresh of those uses.

          Per PHB p 226: “Each time you reach a milestone (see page 259), you gain one additional use of a magic item daily power. This benefit can be used to activate any magic item daily power that you have not already used this day (even if you’ve already used a different daily power from that magic item).”

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