D&D 4th Edition: from Healing Surges to simply Surges

I think that healing surges in D&D 4th Edition are too limited as they are written. Putting my thoughts about having them overall aside (which I talked about in a previous post) if we must have them, I wish they did more. Part of this is from my experience of running D&D 4th Edition where all of the characters ended the action-packed session with most of their healing surges unspent – except for the defender, who had used all but 4 of his. I also like fiddling with systems to make them more fun for me to play and run.

It is implied that a healing surge represents a bit of extra effort – one recommendation in the DMG is that you have failed skill challenges in the wild cost healing surges, representing the party getting banged up and having to spend some of their reserves recovering. I’d like to go further, however, and shoe-horn in a but of the Action Points of the previous edition. I like systems that give the players a way to give one roll more “weight” than another – a way to say “as a player, I want this roll to be more likely to succeed, or to e more baddass if it does succeed”. This gives players some say in creating drama when they want it, even in a traditional game like D&D where the DM comes with a bag-full of “story” which is unloaded on the players, who function as a participatory audience.

So, instead of healing surges, let’s just call them “surges” – they could be surges of adrenaline, or surges of inspiration, or surges of willpower, or whatever. You get the same number of them per day as is listed for healing surges in the PHB, but there’s more you can do with them. What a surge represents is extra oomph, extra effort, loaded into an action. In combat, these surges can be used to catch a second wind just as written. Some powers require that they be spent or lost in order for the character to benefit from them. All that remains the same as written for healing surges.

In addition, (1) you can spend a surge to add a d6 to any d20 roll you make. You have to choose before you make the roll, but it can give you just the little edge you need. (2) You can also spend a surge to add one die to a damage roll of the same type you’re rolling anyway – just like the first use, this is a little extra oomph, and you can spend this surge after you know whether the attack roll succeeds or not. Lastly, (3) you can spend a surge to “fail forward“. If you fail a roll that means catastrophe for your character, you can spend the surge and move the bad news one step back. Instead of dead, your character is unconscious from damage. Instead of in a horrible spot, your character is dangling by their fingertips. The requirement here is that your character must require outside assistance to get out of their predicament. This solves the problem of succeed-or-die skill rolls, and also pulls at least one other player-character into the fun you’re having…

4 thoughts on “D&D 4th Edition: from Healing Surges to simply Surges

  1. I like this idea in principle, but it may leave defenders hanging while over-favoring wizards, as those are the classes that usually spend the most and least healing surges in combat.

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  2. Thanks for the comment. I'm not sure – I'd like to playtest the idea. The goal would be for players to have to make hard decisions about when and how they will use surges – will I save them for heals later, or use them now for an extra edge? As it is now, your healing surges almost might as well not exist at all. I don't feel any pressure with them or feel like I'm making a tough decision…

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  3. That could be a way to balance out the concern you brought up – I'd be worried that the controller might not feel the impact of spending the point. What I'd want to do is start with a d6 for spending the surge, and playtest that through a couple of sessions and see how all the players feel about it. If no one used surges for this purpose, then I'd want to retool the idea. If one role or class used them all, then I'd look at whethere the benefit is unbalanced.

    All with an eye toward giving the player a chance to add bang to particular rolls, which is the desire behind the whole idea.

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  4. I know what you mean when you say no one really uses them. The idea of yours is pretty good too. Now what I think what you need to put into this is what comes easy for the class and race. Like what skills they are trained in, what Stats are bonused, and etc. With these they get a extra 1d8. Then as the skill in it lowers or the score lowers so does the die, But then you would have to put into thought if it would change depending on level. Like the number of dies increase per 5 levels or something. but that is the idea I would put into affect with this idea.

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