OnlineDM’s house rules – Part 1

Every DM has some house rules that they like to use at their table, so I thought I’d share some of mine here on the blog.

If a creature is force-moved into hazardous terrain (fire, off a cliff, etc.) they get a saving throw to fall prone instead of going into the hazard. This is a standard rule. However, it’s annoying when a character has a power that force-moves the creature multiple squares, but a single saving throw negates those extra squares entirely.

  • House Rule: If a forced movement power would move a creature extra squares into hazardous terrain, the extra squares of movement can be applied as a penalty to the creature’s saving throw. Thus, if a creature is at the edge of a cliff and you push it three squares, you can push it one square (off the cliff) and give the creature a -2 penalty to the saving throw to avoid going over the edge (so it needs a 12 or better to save itself).
A related issue comes up with diseases from creatures like rats and lycanthropes. If you are hit by one of these creatures’ diseased attacks, you make a saving throw at the end of the encounter to avoid contracting the disease. It doesn’t matter how many times you were exposed to the disease; a single saving throw will save you.
  • House Rule: If a creature is exposed to a disease multiple times in an encounter, each exposure beyond the first imposes a -1 penalty to the creature’s saving throw against contracting the disease at the end of the encounter. Thus, if a creature is bitten four times by Dire Rats in a combat, the creature will make a saving throw with a -3 penalty at the end of the encounter to avoid contracting Dire Rat Filth Fever (needing a 13 or better to avoid the disease).
Lots of people have complained about action-denying conditions like Dazed, Stunned and Dominated. I have my own way of running the Dominated condition:
  • House Rule: If an effect would dominate a creature, instead that creature takes a free action to move up to its speed (provoking no opportunity attacks along the way) and then use any at-will ability of the dominator’s choice against a target of the dominator’s choice. Any attacks made in this way have a +2 bonus to hit and +5 bonus per tier to any damage (+5 at heroic tier, +10 at paragon, +15 at epic). If the dominated condition is “save ends”, then the creature still makes a saving throw at the end of its turn to end the condition. If it fails the saving throw, it takes another free action at that point to move and use an at-will ability of the dominator’s choice with the appropriate bonuses. It can still take opportunity attacks and flank and does not grant combat advantage (basically, the domination only applies while it is taking its dominated action).
I’m always looking for other suggestions for cool house rules to make the game more fun, so if you have any that you like, please share them in the comments!

The Hidden Condition in 4th Edition

(Pardon the rhyming title)

Related to my earlier post about line of sight and line of effect is the “condition” of being Hidden in 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons.  This particular post owes a debt of gratitude to the excellent “Hidden Club” post on the Wizards of the Coast message boards by LordOfWea.

What is Hidden?

A question that often comes up when there’s darkness or magical fog or blindness or invisibility is, “Does my character know where Monster X is, even though I can’t see him?”

The answer: Yes, you know exactly where everybody on the battlefield is, UNLESS they are Hidden from you.

Hidden does NOT just mean “you can’t see it.”  Hidden in 4th Edition is basically a state, a condition like Blinded or Dazed or Bloodied – you have it or you don’t (though it’s possible to be Hidden from one creature but not another).

When you are Hidden from another creature, that creature is unaware of your presence and doesn’t know where you are.  They can’t see you, hear you, smell you, feel the breeze of your movements or taste the acrid smoke that comes off your body (or they can’t do those things well enough to pin down your location).  You are undetectable to them.

If you do NOT have the Hidden condition against a creature, that creature knows EXACTLY what square you are in.  It might not be able to see you (in which case you have Total Concealment against that creature and its ranged and melee attacks will have a -5 penalty to hit you), but it can at least aim at the right square if it wants to attack you.

Think of it this way: All creatures in D&D are assumed to have super-sensitive hearing.  Even if they can’t see you, they can hear your movements and therefore know where you are.  Hitting what you can’t see is still tricky with melee and ranged attacks (-5 penalty from Total Concealment), but it’s no problem with close or area attacks (refer back to the earlier post about line of sight).

Getting Hidden

So, how does one go about getting the Hidden condition?  One makes a Stealth check  for free at the end of a move in which they end with Superior Cover or Total Concealment against a creature.  If your Stealth check exceeds the Passive Perception score of the creature you’re trying to hide from, then you are Hidden from that creature. (You should write down the result of this Stealth check so that you know whether future Perception checks from your enemies succeed in finding you or not.)

That’s it.  If you’re out of sight of a creature at the end of a move, you can roll Stealth to try to become Hidden.  If you don’t do that successfully, even if you’re invisible or anything like that, you are not Hidden and the creature knows where you are.

Losing Hidden

  • If you attack, you end up losing Hidden (though you’re still Hidden until the end of the attack action, so you have Combat Advantage for the attack).
  • You also lose Hidden if you end up with no cover and no concealment – if you’re standing out in the open, the bad guys can see you again.  Partial cover or regular concealment is enough to keep Hidden once you have it, though hiding behind your buddy doesn’t provide enough cover to stay Hidden.
  • If you move more than 2 squares on your turn, you’re making noise, which means that you’ll have to make another Stealth check – this time with a -5 penalty from the noise.  If that Stealth check fails to beat your opponents’ Passive Perception, you’re no longer Hidden.
  • If a creature spends a minor action to make an active Perception check and beats the Stealth roll that you made to become Hidden, you are no longer Hidden from that creature.
  • Note that if one creature on the other team can see you (good Perception), it’s allowed to cry out to its buddies, “He’s in THAT square, right there!” and they’ll all know where you are, even though you’re still Hidden from most of them.

What’s so great about being Hidden?

Two things:

  • You have Combat Advantage against anyone you’re Hidden from.
  • Your enemies don’t know what square you’re in, so it’s really tough for them to attack you.

The latter point brings up the “Targeting what you can’t see” rules.  If you don’t know what square your target is in, you’re allowed to guess and target “that square.”  If you guessed wrong, you miss (but the DM doesn’t have to tell you that you guessed wrong, just that your attack missed… mwoo ha ha!).  If you guessed right, you might hit, but keep in mind that the target does still have Total Concealment, which means that if you attack is melee or ranged it will have a -5 penalty (remember, though, that this penalty doesn’t affect close or area attacks).

Wrapping up

Being unseen is not the same as being hidden – D&D creatures can hear well enough to know where another creature is, even if they can’t see it.  If you’re Stealthy enough, you can perhaps become Hidden, in which case your enemies are unaware of your existence.  This goes away when you attack, become visible or make too much noise from movement, or when an enemy successfully searches for you.  Until that time, though, sneak into those shadows and Hide!

Line of sight and line of effect in 4th Edition

Line of sight and line of effect are two concepts that can confuse new players and dungeon masters for Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition.  I know that I have personally struggled with these, and it feels like there’s always something new to learn.  Below are some basic pointers to help you understand line of sight and line of effect and what they mean for you and your game.

What is line of sight?

Line of sight means exactly what it says: You’re able to see a thing from where you’re standing.  What blocks line of sight?

  • Solid, opaque objects (walls, doors)
  • Complete darkness
  • Blindness
  • Invisibility
  • Certain magical effects that specifically say they block line of sight (such as a wizard’s Stinking Cloud)

An interesting case of an object that does NOT block line of sight is a solid, transparent object such as a pane of glass or a transparent crystal.  If you can see through it, it doesn’t block line of sight.  Also, dim light and fog and similar things might grant some concealment, but they don’t block line of sight.  You can still see through them, even if only dimly.

Creatures also don’t block line of sight.  It’s assumed that the creature is moving around enough in its square that you can still make out what’s on the far side of it (even though the creature in the way might grant cover if it’s your enemy).

What is line of effect?

Line of effect means that something going from point A to point B won’t get stopped by anything.  What stops line of effect?

  • Solid objects, whether opaque or not (doors, walls, even glass or crystal)
  • Certain magical effects that specifically say they block line of effect (such as spells that generate solid walls)

Things like darkness and blindness and invisibility don’t matter one bit for line of effect – an object would not be impeded at all if it were going through a cloud of magical fog or darkness, so line of effect still exists through them.  Creatures also don’t stop line of effect (again, they’re assumed to be moving around in their squares), though they may grant cover.

The canonical example of something that blocks line of sight but not line of effect is darkness.  The canonical example of something that blocks line of effect but not line of sight is a pane of clear glass.  Keep those examples in mind, and you should be able to figure out what’s what.

Melee attacks

In order to make a melee attack against something that’s in range of your melee attack, you must have line of effect to the target but you don’t have to have line of sight.  As long as your axe can get there, it doesn’t matter if you can see the target or not – you have line of effect and are allowed to attack.  If you can’t see it (you’re blinded, it’s totally dark, etc.) then the target has total concealment from you, which means your attack has a -5 penalty to hit.  But you can still make the attack.

Ranged attacks

As with a melee attack, you only need line of effect to the target with a ranged attack, not line of sight.  If you’re shooting an arrow through a cloud of magical darkness at a creature on the far side, the darkness does nothing to stop your arrow.  Again, if you can’t see the target it has total concealment – a -5 penalty to the attack roll.

The hooded archer can shoot the goblin through the black cloud of magical darkness with a -5 total concealment penalty; he can't shoot the rat on the far side of the glass wall

Close attacks

With a close attack, you only need line of effect to the target.  Your Thunderwave doesn’t care if you can see something or not – it just has to be able to get to it.  In addition, concealment doesn’t matter for close attacks, so even if the target is invisible in a completely dark room, your close attack has no penalty to hit it.

Area attacks

Somewhat surprisingly to me, area attacks work pretty much as close attacks do.  With an area attack, there are two different things to consider – the line from the caster to the origin square of the burst, and then the lines from the origin square of the burst to the targets that will be hit by it.

In order to put an area burst’s origin in a particular square, the caster only needs line of effect to that square, not line of sight.  If the wizard closes her eyes and points, she can still have the magical burst originate exactly where she wants it to.  If she’s shooting through an arrow slit , that’s good enough – the magical energy can get through the gap and erupt right where she wants it.  She can’t place the magical effect on the opposite side of a pane of glass, though – she does need line of effect to that origin square.

Even if the green wizard is blind and the cloud of gas blocks line of sight, she can still have her Area Burst 2 attack originate in square 1 and hit the fungus creature

As for the burst itself, it works just like a close attack.  As long as there is line of effect from the origin square of the burst to the target, the target will get hit.  This lets the wizard “shoot around a corner” as well – she can place the burst at the intersection of two hallways, and the burst will shoot down the side passage to hit any creatures within range.

Wrapping up

The basics of line of sight and line of effect for attacks are that you always need line of effect and you never need line of sight.  However, if you don’t have line of sight, then your melee and ranged attacks will suffer a -5 penalty from total concealment (but your close and area attacks are unaffected).

In a future post I’ll talk about a concept that has some connection to line of sight – being hidden.