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What is Threshold?

Threshold is a system for running fights through the basic form of a skill challenge. It can be used anytime that you would like a combat that is more cinematic than tactical, or if you have special dramatic needs of a scene too difficult to implement on the grid.

Why Threshold?

If you’re familiar with the fluid rules, you can see that it’s a good attempt to translate the grid-based 4e system to a grid-less context.  Even Fluid might be too crunchy for some when they want to go off the grid, however.  People want something even faster and simpler.  In response to that need, I built this system.  Also, I wanted a demo for my new approach to skill challenges called the Action Box.

The Action what?

Don’t worry about that now.  Just know that the concepts of that are used to build this skill challenge structure for running combats.


To build a system like this required more parts of 4e be sacrificed to fit.  Where Fluid only sacrificed some precision and peculiarities of the movement system, Threshold needs even more imprecision.  It assumes that your group has equal measures of trust and communication to fill that gap.  Threshold sacrifices more movement precision, and also abstracts area of affect spells.

It is assumed that, though you may not use a tactical battlemap, you will make a rough map divided into zones.  Zones are abstractions of range that allow us to group opponents as needed.

It is suggested that you use a rough map with counters to track combatants when there are more than 10 combatants in a fight.

Threshold rules.

Play proceeds similar to a normal combat as described in the Player’s Handbook.  Each combatant rolls initiative to determine the order of action, and each combatant has a move minor and standard action.

There are two phases per turn in the Threshold system:  The obstacles phase and the actions phase.  In the obstacles phase, initiative is preserved, but the players only have one free action to make an appropriate check against the obstacle they must face.  In the action phase, order is preserved once again, and each player gets the standard complement of actions to take the actions listed below under the Action Phase.


Play is divided into zones.  A zone is a section of the battlefield where combatants are close enough to each other to attack with melee attacks.

When determining distances through zones, consider a standard zone 5 squares.  This mean a typical character can cross a zone in 1 round.  You can alter the size of zones as well.  A large zone could be up to 10 squares while a small zone could be as low as 2 squares.

Moving through Zones

To move through a zone, a combatant must take one of the movement actions listed below.  If the amount of squares that movement would create is greater than the distance of the zone (5 by default), your character can move to an adjacent zone.

If the zone is hindering, a character must make a maneuver check before making the move.  If the zone has a hazard, a player must make the hazard check when entering the zone.

If you do not have enough squares to cross zones, the squares moved are added to the movement in subsequent turns.  When there is a total high enough to leave the zone, this total is reset to zero and the character can move to the next zone.

Example:  Jervis the ranger is slowed, and tries to move across a standard zone (5 squares).  He doesn’t have enough movement to cross, but adds 2 to his movement total.  Next turn he is still slowed, and adds another two for a total of four.  The thrid round he is still slowed, but now adds 2 movement to the total of four, leaving him with six movement.  He crosses into the next zone and his movement total is 0.

Area of Effect in zones.

Area of Effect abilities can only target creatures in the zone that it strikes.  The number of targets that a burst or blast can affect depends  on the size of the blast and is determine randomly.  A burst 1 ability for example can affect 1d4 creatures in the zone.  Roll 1d4  and then select that many legal targets in the zone for the ability to attack.

The chart is below for how many creatures are hit with AOEs.  Use either the die roll or the static number in parenthesis.

Burst 1/Blast 2 1d4 (2)
Burst 2/Blast 3 2d4 (4)
Burst 3/Blast4 3d4 (6)
Burst 4/Blast 5 4d4 (8)
Burst 5/Blast 6+ 5d4 (12)

If there are not enough enemies to target with an effect, the player must choose allies to be hit with the effect.

Zone Effects

A zone  with a hazard effect requires a skill check to be made or else an adventurer will fall victim to that effect.

Hindering zones require a check to be made when moving or else movement is halved.

Opportunity Attacks and the Opportunity Check.

In Threshold, Opportunity Attacks are not given by default. Certain actions you take will provoke or allow you to take Opportunity Attacks.  Opportunity attacks are typically provoked by “Bold Maneuver ‘ (see move actions, below) or  by making ranged attacks when there are enemies in your zone. An opportunity check is made with either Athletics against the highest enemy fortitude in the zone, or with Acrobatics against the highest enemy Reflex in the zone. Failing the opportunity check allows one creature in the zone who is eligible to take an opportunity action against you.

Order of play

Each turn consists of an obstacles phase and an action phase. Each phase is detailed below.

Obstacles phase

The obstacle Phase is where we can make any overarching terrrain effect  or environmental hazards spring forth and attack the players, ot to at least provide a threat.  There are many ways to implement an obstacles phase.  We will provide an example of one here.  Further information on building this part of the encounter will be detailed in other articles on At-Will.
Each player will have a chance to make one or more skill checks that can affect his performance in this turn.  An example of an obstacle phase:
Obstacle:Tide of Shadows

Goal: Earn 10 escape before the shadow tide earns 10 shadow points.

Each Obstacle phase the shadow tide gains 1d4 shadow points.

A wave of shadows washes over the battlefield.  Any PCs caught within the tide will suffer effects for this turn and the following turns.    Each player must make an escape check to avoid the darkness.  Each successful check is worth one escape point unless otherwise noted.

Escape Checks

Embrace (Hard): Become one with the darkness for a time.  Ignore the biting cold, ignore the mind-dumbing dark; Merge with the darkness and give it no target to strike.  Skills:  Stealth, Thievery, Bluff, Insight.  Success: Chose one: You gain combat advantage against all shadow creatures for this turn or you take no damage from the shadow tide this turn. Failure: You gain vulnerable 5 necrotic until the end of the turn. Special:  A player who successfully embraces the darkness can also attempt shadow enlightmentment (inform them of this option)

Flee the Darkness (Moderate): The only true way to avoid the shadow tide is to outrun it.  You press forward with all your strength to do so.  Skills : Athletics, Acrobatics, Nature.  Success: You do not take damage from the shadow tide this turn. Special:  Any encounter or daily powers that allow moves or shifts can be used for an extra escape point.  A player can determine whether to do this after the check is made.

Stand Against the Darkness (Hard): You use your will as the blade to cut through the darkness.
Skills: Endurance, Heal, Arcana, Religion.  success:  take half damage from the shadow tide this turn, and all shadow creatures gain 5 vulnerable radiant, or add 5 to radiant vulnerabilityi f they have it.  Failure.  You  lose 1d4+1 healing surges.

Shadow Enlightenment(Hard DC+4, Only after a successful Embrace check): You have embraced the ways of shadow, and feel that you understand it now.  That understanding blossoms in the thick of the assault into a wicked form of enlightenment. Skills: Insight, Stealth, Arcana. Success: Gain an extra escape point.  Take 1d6 extra necrotic damage from the shadaow tide Failure: Lose 1d4+1 healing surges, and the shadow tide gains an extra shadow point this turn.

After checks have been made, the shadow tide deals 2d6 necrotic damage to each player.

Escape:You create sufficient space to be  free of the shadows once and for all.  The Shadow Tide Obstacle is destroyed.  Go directly to the Action Phase for the rest of the encounter.

Shadow: The shadow tide is on the verge of enveloping the party.  Though able to  avoid being completely consumed, proximity has left nightmare images and an unnatural chill that will haunt the PCs for some time.  Each member of the party gains shadow sickness.

More on designing Obstacle Phases will come later on At-Will.

Actions Phase

In the actions phase, participants take turns in initiative order.  Each participant has a move, minor and standard action, but only the following set of actions may be used for each of the actions. Immediate and Interrupt actions are used as normal with a rare few exceptions.  Opportunity checks work differently as well.

Move Actions

Bold Maneuver: Move your full speed and make an opportunity check.
Cautious Maneuver: Move half your speed.
Guard: Choose one ally.  Once per turn you may take an opportunity attack against an enemy in the same zone who attacks that creature.
Advantageous Maneuver: Make an Athletics check versus an enemies’ Fortitude or Acrobatics versus Reflex.  If the check succeeds, that target grants combat advantage to you until the end of its next turn.

Move Action Powers can be taken as normal.

Minor action

Skill Action:  Depending upon the encounter, there will be skill checks that your character can take as a minor action.

Minor action abilities and powers can be taken as normal.

Standard Action

You may use standard actions and powers as normal.

Example of Threshold Action Phase

Having just finished the shadow tide obstacle phase, the characters are fighting shadows that have emerged from the tide and are attacking.

The shadows’ leader is first in the initiative.  He is one zone away from the players, so he spends a move action to cross into the zone where the party is.  It is hindering terrain, but the shadow flies and it does not effect it.  The shadow moves the full speed., then spends a standard action to attack Herg, the party’s fighter.

Herg gets initiative next.  He has taken some damage from the shadow leader, but feels it is most important to protect the party’s wizard.  He spends a move action on Guard, nominating Delfini the gnome wizard as his target. He then takes a standard action to attack the shadow leader with tide of iron.

The shadow minions go next.  Each moves into the zone where the players are. There are three shadow minions, and each one attacks a different target amongst Herg Deflini and Jervis.  Herg and Jervis are hit, but because Herg is guarding Delfini, he gets an opportunity attack against the minion attacking the wizard.  He strikes and kills the shadow with a strong axe sweep.

Delfini goes next.  The wizard wants to use magic missile against the shadow leader.  Since there are creatures in the zone, Delfini must make an opportunity check before making the attack.  He rolls Athletics versus the fortitude of the shhadow boss (the best fortitude in the zone) and fails.  The GM chooses who makes the opportunity check, and chooses the shadow boss to make the attack. The shadow boss attacks and hits, then Delfini strikes back with magic missile.

Jervis goes last.  He uses  a movement power that allows him to shift.  Shifting does not provoke opportunity checks, so he does not have to make an opportunity check to leave the zone. He marks an enemy in the zone as his quarry and then attacks it with his bow.  The range on the bow is 20 squares, which is more than enough distance to cover the squares from Jervis’ zone to the zone with his enemies.  Since there are no other enemies in his zone, the ranger does not to make an opportunity check before attacking.

The round ends.  The PCs go through another obstacle phase against the shadow tide and then have another action phase immediately following that, repeating the cycle until the encounter ends.

Ending a Threshold Encounter

Threshold encounters often end like a normal combat does.  The party is defeated or its enemies are.  The structure of threshold encounters allows you to alter the paths to victory and win conditions.

The Threshold system can implement system for morale, escort scenarios or protection encounters easily, as well as more exotic situations.

Different obstacles and victory conditions will be detailed on At-Will.

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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