[4e] Not Your GM’s Keep on the Shadowfell: Semi-Stackable Temp HP

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This week’s bone of contention turned out to be how Temporary Hit Points are handled in 4E.  During the last session we ended up getting Temporary Hit Points from several sources.  In addition to Clerical and Avenger powers which grant Temp HP, the scenario itself had a magical source for Temporary HP that the party tapped – a magic circle outside the kobold waterfall campsite.  Those of you familiar with the Keep on the Shadowfell as published will notice some customization here, as the original magic circle only gave a slight attack bonus. Since the party was third level at this point (and had previously completed the original waterfall scenario when I ran my truncated campaign), the DM had to change things up and increase the opposition.

One way he did so was to make sure the second encounter was automatically triggered by having a hidden kobold slinger which could run from concealed cover outside and into the caves to rouse the rest of the tribe before we could act (grumble, grumble, trying for a TPK, grumble) or consequently take a short rest.  Another change was to have the magic circle able to grant bonuses to the allies of the arcane user ‘controlling’ it. These bonuses included allowing certain Minor Actions to be taken as Free Actions (really annoying when dealing with shifty kobolds) and a one time grant of 5 Temp HP when control over the circle was established.  All fine and good, though by the ‘start’ of the next encounter we figured out the only way we could hope to survive was by commandeering the circle ourselves and had managed to give ourselves these Temp HP 2-3 times (twice if you were one of the 3 PCs who attempted to control the circle, and 3 times for the rest).   At the time, we were under the impression that Temp HP were stackable, which is a good thing, as we needed every one of them (and no doubt the DM was counting on us having them when he formulated his double encounter).  But in the week since, I had a chance to review the rules, and pointed out the rules as written in 4E had Temp HP as not stackable.

If we had run it as written, without a 10-15 HP bump before the second wave of kobolds, several of us would have had to drop and start making Death Checks we had not made during the session.  When I pointed this out, so that the DM could adjust his changes for future scenarios, he didn’t like it (and neither did the Avenger, who had been benefiting from multiple Temp HP for a few sessions now).  So after giving it some thought, he proposed a compromise – what he called ‘semi-stackable’ Temp HP.

What he meant by this is that he would be allowing Temp HP to stack up to twice the max value of the source.  So if our Avenger was at full HP value, and got 5 Temp HP from drinking a Fire Beetle Potion, and then struck with an Avenger power that would grant 4 Temp HP, he could benefit from an additional 3 HP from that 4 (for a total of 8 Temp HP – twice the amount he could get from the Avenger power).  This adds a little calculation to figure out how much you can benefit each time Temp HP are applied, but it isn’t onerous, so I don’t see much of a downside to this aspect of the ‘Semi-Stackable’ nature of Temp HP in our game.

What may have potential ramifications is the second adjustment our DM made.  As part of the new ‘semi-stackable’ definition, he’s decided that he doesn’t want to track Temp HP separately from HP.  So they are lumped together.  As a consequence, if a character is wounded when receiving Temp HP, we have been instructed to treat the Temp HP essentially as healing, and it brings our HP total back up by that amount, up to our normal total.  So it is only the amount of Temp HP over the normal HP total that is limited by the 2x max value limit – so that same Avenger, once wounded, could potentially benefit from several applications of his Temp HP power before it is limited.

And to top it off, our Cleric specifically asked if he then could add his Healer’s Lore to the Temp HP he gave to a wounded Ally.  The answer was no, so the DM doesn’t intend for the powers to gain the Healing Keyword, even though they have, for all intents.  I’m not that familiar with Healing powers, so I don’t know what downstream consequences this might have.   The situation we had between a double encounter, gaining multiple Temp HP while being otherwise healed is going to be a pretty uncommon situation (I hope!), so perhaps it isn’t a big deal.  Once one of us gets Temp HP, it’s seldom long before an attack reduces our HP anyway that was certainly true this week.   So the actual effects might not change all that much, in general, other than give those with Temp HP powers the feeling they are getting more bang from their powers.

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7 Responses to “[4e] Not Your GM’s Keep on the Shadowfell: Semi-Stackable Temp HP”

  1. Foxtown Says:

    Hrm…I think is a much more worrisome change than the Magic Surge one, and that had me squirming a bit.

    Temp HP is a minor part of 4th Ed. It is a little boost that helps, but only at the edges. It doesn’t swing fights majorly. That is under normal circumstances.

    There are a lot of ways to get consistantly get small amounts of Temp HP. Many fighter at-wills grant them to the fighter, some cleric at-wills grant them to allies (you mention Avenger, which I have not read, and I am sure there are others), and there are a host of encounters and dailies that give them as well.

    Now compare that to healing…there is one healing at-will that requires an ally to hit the target the at-will was cast upon. Otherwise, I do not know of any other at-wills that grant healing. This just vastly increased the power of Temp HP, and in quite a hard to measure ways.

    I would look at the invigorating powers for the fighter in Martial Power as an example of how this could get broken very quickly. While of course that type of fighter looses his specialness, since it no longer matters that his Temp HP can stack (only his powers adds to the value, any other sources replace if higher). Still being heal every time I attack with an at-will is grossly powerful. Especially since it doesn’t take a healing surge.

    Again, as always, your DM can compensate by adding power to those you fight, but it does make his job harder, since some of the PCs will be able to last a lot longer.

    • Jack Kessler Says:

      We don’t have any fighters or even Martial characters (2 arcane, 3 divine, with me MCing into Primal, but no healing powers). If it could be limited to messing up the balance with some of those classes, i wouldn’t worry too much, but I have the feeling you are right – this, along with adding a new resource we can use for healing (Magic Surges powering Healing Potions) and the characters become a lot less fragile. and the DM has to make the opposition that much more powerful to challenge us.

      And if the last two weeks are any guide, he will be uping the power level of the opposition blindly, since he’s making so many changes. Given the extra healing buffers we have, he can probably get away with this for awhile, but it going to get frustrating pretty quickly, as we are reduced to At-Wills at the end of EVERY battle to finish off the big bads.

      • Foxtown Says:

        Good point. At-will fights are no fun, especially since most monsters have recharge powers that can kick your ass if you extend things too long.

        This all falls on the DM to avoid this becoming an annoying mess, and I have known some that were up to it, but man would I be worried for campaign longevity here.

        • Jack Kessler Says:

          Yes, the recharge can be a bitch. That nearly cooked us (literally) last session. a There was a Large cross between a Kruthik and a salamander or Fire beetle that had a close burst 5 doing initial and ongoing fire damage that kept recharging!

          Of course, since the tribe of kobolds we had befriended (after nearly wiping them out – it was all a setup, you see) provided us with a bunch of Firebeetle Potions, we were able to survive. But there’s only so many times that can happen before we look at each new gift or discovery of treasure parcels as ‘oh, no… we have to fight WHAT?!’ 🙂

    • Bryant Says:

      There are two cleric at-wills that grant healing: Astral Seal and Recovery Strike. Both have the Healing keyword, FWIW. They’re pretty much the same, just one’s for the Str cleric and one is for the Wis cleric. There are currently no other at-wills that grant healing, although there’s a warlord at-will that boosts healing.

      Kirby is correct in his summation in all ways, however. Astral Seal is problematic enough as it stands; if you let something like Sacred Flame grant effective healing to a target of the cleric’s choice, your characters will become substantially tougher. You won’t be upping their damage output, though, so combats will in general get longer. Boo.

      I think your DM is making the right call from a mechanics standpoint by not adding the Healing keyword to cleric powers that grant temp HP, because that would make the problem much worse. However, it would annoy me greatly from a game feel perspective, since there’s no practical difference between temp and real HP in his system.

      • Jack Kessler Says:

        Yes, longer combats, since these effects apply to the other side as well (though they have less options, and the DM will just make them tougher as a result) and leaves us with finishing every battle with At-Wills without seriously depleting our Healing Surges. Though we may run out of ways to actually SPEND those surges to get HP back in-combat. This new semi-Healing doesn’t require them.

        And you’re right, they shouldn’t get the healing keyword – even if they actually do healing. It just irks me since it DOES do healing. That’s what i was attempting to say. And it wouldn’t fit, in any case, as these are ‘occasionally’ healing powers. Sometimes they heal (if you are wounded) and sometimes they don’t (if you’re not). I suppose the same is true, though with true Healing powers applied to someone not wounded, so maybe I’m reading too much into that.

        I think this discussion is giving me fuel to take back. And if not switch back to separate HP and Temp HP, then maybe use the ‘no bookkeeping’ consideration a reason to get rid of separate magic Surges. I think he can accomplish almost the same thing if he just gave everyone a bonus to healing Surges equal to your Prime Attribute modifier, and let Healing Surges fuel both Healing and Magic. As your modifier goes up, this would increase to keep pace in Paragon and Epic tiers, and might just make the characters run low and make choices after an encounter or two. Save it for Healing, or power that item?

        • Bryant Says:

          Less temp HP for monsters, too.

          I think your ideas for getting rid of separate magic surges make sense. That’s not a horrific modification.

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