Page 42

I’ve been thinking a lot about my difficulties with 4E and reading a lot of blogs and forums about the solutions, houserules, and work-arounds that some people use in their games. One thing that has come up more than once is Page 42.

If you don’t know, this refers to page 42 in the DMG, covering Additional Rules. Specifically, page 42 is about Actions the Rules Don’t Cover. The rules here are meant to provide guidelines for PCs doing things not covered by their powers, with an emphasis on combat. The section gives a table with check DCs, Normal and Limited damage expressions, and suggestions for how to implement them.

Page 42 gives DMs a crutch should a player, say, decide to swing on a rope and kick someone. The interesting thing here is that, while this is designed to reward interesting play, I’ve also read some writers who are concerned that the page 42 rules mess up the balance of encounter powers in the 4E system. Players can get effects similar in power to an encounter power by simply doing something out of the ordinary. While I certainly agree with this complaint, and I think it was even in the minds of the designers, who warn (with their example on the page),

“Use a normal damage expression from the table, because once the characters see this trick work they’ll try anything they can to keep pushing the ogres into the brazier.”

As I said, I agree with the criticism that this system will throw off the balance of powers in encounters, especially with a lenient DM. Oddly, this problem has aspects of the Bad Side of Balance and Always Saying Yes.

Sorry, aside over. My main complaint is that this page 42 system doesn’t really even make a stab at internal consistency. First of all, by this system, a “brazier of fire” does, say, 1d10+3 damage at levels 1-3, but that same fire does 3d8+10 at 30th level. Odd, but so what, right? Well, for me it represents a problem because it’s so outside of expectation. After all, an improvised weapon, like picking up a chair in a bar-fight, or hitting a bad guy with a rock, always does 1d4 when you make a basic attack with it. (The numbers for normal damage expression represent damage similar to what you’d expect from an at-will). And then, falling damage. Why doesn’t falling damage scale the same way? Falling damage is always 1d10/10 feet fallen.

The point is, Page 42 was probably meant to be a quick answer to all the other stuff that was left out of 4E. It was probably meant to be there in case a DM needed a hard mechanic to improvise in limited situations, but it was poorly thought out, and poorly realized (as much of the first three books of 4E proved to be). Unfortunately, it is a game balance nightmare (which only really matters since 4E is so centered on its balance) and immersion breaking (for me) because of the oddities of scaling.

So, were it me, I’d want to encourage PCs to do some unique things, but I don’t think Page 42 is a very good answer, and if I were re-writing 4E, it would be gone.

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One response

  1. cauldronofevil | Reply

    Don’t take this the wrong way – I’m just curious on your thoughts and haven’t played D&D since 2nd edition – but isn’t the whole problem precisely because Levels exist? Wouldn’t all these scaling issues and most of the balance problems go away if you got rid of levels?

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