Encounter powers & realism

June 1, 2008 at 10:15 am
filed under Roleplaying
Tagged ,

A concern I’ve heard is about how you rationalize an encounter power in terms of the world. This matters more in the context of martial stuff— it’s at least a bit easier to rationalize needing to rest after divine or arcane powers, mainly because it’s magic and you get a lot more license when it comes to magic.

Here’s my take.

Martial characters are semi-aware of their powers. They’re trained in a series of maneuvers or techniques that are mechanically equivalent to Passing Attack or Tide of Iron. They know that, through a combination of blows or by positioning their enemy just so, they can produce a result such as forcing an opponent to back up, or attacking twice very quickly.

So perhaps most of what a fighter is doing is trying to set his opponent up. He’s trained to look for opportunities to trip someone or force them to move. This doesn’t have any real basis in mechanics— you don’t roll perception to do this. It’s part of your training, and the fact that you have that power means you can, in the right situation, make somebody fall flat on their ass.

So why can’t you do it again right after that? Here are a few rationalizations you can imagine, alone or in combination with one another.


Encounter or Daily powers are maneuvers that are difficult to pull off. That you even manage to do them multiple times a day or once a day is a feat in itself.

It may be that, as described above, all of your moves are trying to maneuver someone into position. In the chaos of battle, though, you don’t manage to pull it off all that often— you try and fail to get as much leverage as you need, the monster sees through your ruse and compensates, or what have you.


This one’s obvious and not particularly compelling if used alone. You do a move once and you’re tired. You could try again but you’d really be pushing yourself, and it’s not good to overextend.

In the absence of mechanics that would allow you to voluntarily push yourself, this rationalization feels the weakest to me.


Hit points are abstract enough that you could play off of them easily enough. Without getting too much into them, pretty much everybody rationalizes them as wounds.

The inability to use Encounter or Daily powers could be one effect of taking a beating: after you pull off a maneuver, you pull a muscle. Or perhaps the next blow you take is the rationalization. You can’t knock the guy’s legs out from under him you took an arrow, and now your sword arm feels stiff.

Of course, if you get a chance to patch yourself up, you’re all set. You patch the wound, pull out the arrow, walk it off. Until you have a chance to walk it off or rest, it hurts too much to do it.


When a character uses one of these powers, that simply means that the character saw an opportunity to use the power and took it. The fact that he doesn’t get those opportunities more than once in a fight is due to a combination of factors, possibly some of the above factors.

Let your imagination run wild! Maybe the enemy was distracted by something else that happened in the fight. Maybe you catch a hole in the ground that lets you pivot in a particularly advantageous fashion. The sun glinted off of someone’s breastplate, which allowed you to do this.

This isn’t exactly luck: you exploit common occurrences in battle to great advantage. You’re good enough that you make your own luck.

That’s all I got

As one final note, I am curious as to how much the books will address this topic. I don’t expect much, to be honest— D&D has never been big on purely in-character explanations. On the other hand, they’re doing enough differently this time around that maybe we’ll see a blurb about this in the DMG.

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