Off the Grid: Using your powers in roleplaying situations.

Off the Grid: Using your powers in roleplaying situations.

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When I’m talking about 4e in real life, you know what I hear all the time? All. The. Time?

“Powers limit what you can do. Powers make roleplaying harder.”

I politely try to explain the ways that powers can be used creatively in and out of combat. Welcome to my blog, where politeness occasionally takes a nap.

This is rubbish.


The truth is that powers can dovetail right into roleplaying. Now I can say that and you can read it, but it doesn’t explain why this is so. “Show don’t tell”, right?

In “Off the Grid” we choose a power and then show you how to use it in roleplaying situations.

In the first installment we present two powers. The first is sort of cheat, being a utility power. Utility powers are meant for non-combat usage so naturally lean over into roleplaying scenarios. The second power is a straight up combat power, a daily that I’m sure you are all familiar with.

One Heart, One Mind

One Heart, One Mind allows the paladins and his allies to speak to each other telepathically. The mechanical benefit is that aid another becomes a +4 bonus instead of a +2 bonus, but digging deeper into the power and what it enables in your character from a roleplaying perspective:

Recite telepathically to a character a speech, allow him to recite your words in a situation where you couldn’t otherwise speak.

  • Lead a ritual, and tell everyone the words in your mind as you recite them out loud.
  • Have a second dialogue between characters in the midst of another conversation.
  • Have a real “mind to mind” with a PC your paladin is having a disagreement with
  • Coordinate surveillance.

One Heart, One Mind is a great power. It’s strong on and off the grid. But again, we’re cheating, right? This is what utility powers are supposed to be, isn’t it? You know, useful?

Fair enough. and that’s why the next power is Split the Tree.

Split the Tree

This power does absolutely nothing for you outside of a fight, right? It doesn’t have to be that way.

First, you have to buy into a different way of thinking about powers.

Powers as Personality

Your class is what you do. It’s your “job”. The powers you choose define how you do your job. I’m not a person who believes your job defines you as a person. How you do your job does however tell us a lot about who you are. Are you a wild-eyed dreamer who comes up with brilliant plans at the last minute? Are you a risk -taker? Are you meticulous and controlled? Do you like flash or measured gains?

I know at least half of you reading this think I’m crazy, but looking deeper into the powers you picked gives you insight to who your character is. Many people disconnect ability and personality, mechanics and story. There is no disconnect between these and in fact they often converge –if you let them.

So….Split the Tree. The flavor text says:

You fire two arrows at once, which separate mid-flight to strike two different targets.

What sort of training did it take to be able to do that? Most importantly, at that moment, what is the shape of your thoughts? Are you supremely focused, taking in two targets and all the variables then releasing both notched arrows to strike with incredible accuracy? Do you go “Zen”, emptying your mind of all thought and letting flow take over?

Let’s assume the former. Your ranger fights with skill and grace, but most importantly, she uses her knowledge and razor sharp wit to make the right choice in confusing situations.

You and your party are lost in a maze. The maze is built to confuse. It’s walls are mirrors and its passages look the same. You stop for a moment. Take in everything that you’ve seen and know about this place. Others don’t remember the pebble on the ground three turns ago, but you do. They also didn’t notice the cracked mirror-wall to your left. While every one else has been confused, you’ve been collecting the tiniest bits of data as landmarks and guides. You turn left twice then right once. You build a path in your mind, seperating out all the red herrings and confusion, holding everything you’ve observed in your mind all at once. You’ve split the tree, and you’ve lead your party out of the maze.

Maybe (thanks to skill training) you are the party’s trapsmith. A delicate yet dangerous trap is what stands between you and the pile of treasure. With your lockpick, you hit a sensitive point. You freeze for a moment and assess the situation. A moment later there is a terse click! and the trap disarms. Split the Tree.

The Power Rule

To make powers work for roleplaying, there’s only two things you have to do :

  1. Make your players explain how the power fits. Sometimes just the name of the power alone will fit the situation, but allow your players flexibility. As long as they explain how that power represents the character’s approach and mindset, everything is going well.
  2. Give them a bonus. Don’t give anything for at-wills, or your ranger is going to constantly be “twin-striking” in conversation. An encounter is worth +2 to a skill check, and a Daily is worth +6. Why so much? Because the PC is going to expend that power, and if they are expending a daily power to accomplish something, they should stand a good chance of success.

So, any power that you want to suggest we cover? We have some in mind, but I am soooo up for a challenge. Any power that you think is completely useless when not used in combat? Bring it.

Conversely, have you already used powers in this way? Please share.

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About the Author

A Jack of All Trades ,or if you prefer, an extreme example of multi-classing, Gamefiend, a.k.a Quinn Murphy has been discussing, playing and designing games straight out of the womb. He is the owner and Editor-in-Chief of this site in addition to being an aspiring game designer. As you would assume, he is a huge fan of 4e. By day he is a technologist. Follow gamefiend on Twitter