My Reaction to Immediate Reactions in D&D 4.0

One of the things our group missed when we first started playing Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition was that players could only perform one Immediate Action per round. The rule that defines this is not all that hard to locate, being found plainly under the explanation of what an Immediate Action is it states, “You can take only one immediate action per round”. Mostly, we just overlooked it.

When we discovered our mistake there was some complaining as some classes seem to require their Immediate Reaction more often than others and in the case of Fighters, Immediate Reactions are built directly into the basics of the class. The argument of course could be made that some classes require their Minor Actions more than others as well and certainly some require their Move Actions more than others (melee vs. ranged) but the Immediate Action rule caught us more off guard than the other rules. However, we have adjusted and while it does make a difference thus far that difference has not been game-breaking.

What ended up being confusing from my perspective was how this rule impacted monsters. The only thing I could find in the Monster Manual about Immediate Actions was under types of actions which stated, “Most immediate actions trigger on a specific event, which is described following the action type.” It seems most players assumed that monsters, at least in this case, worked the same as players. Personally I see little reason that this assumption should be made.

The use of second person in the Player’s Handbook is really the kicker in my opinion. The writers are specifically speaking to a player in their description of Immediate Actions, and PCs and Monsters do not obey the same rules in 4.0. One of the basic mental changes needed to go from 3.5 to 4.0 is to forget the way the game used to play, as back in the day monsters were the same as PCs and followed all the same rules. Now, monsters operate quite differently but apparently in this case we are supposed to assume that they operate the same way.

I will admit that I tend to over-analyze things and this tendency has lead me to have some difficulties with the new Dungeons and Dragons. Essentially the writers want you to read the rules in the most simple way possible and any attempt to “read into” any aspect of them will generally confuse the reader and cause misunderstandings of the rules. Still, I do not feel it would have been that hard for them to write the PH differently and simply not use second person in their explanation.

The real reason this became an issue to me was Solo Monsters and, to a lesser degree, Elites. I have already written about Solos and explained that I consider them to be a bit gimped because of things such as daily powers and the accessibility of Daze as a status effect. My assumption was that Immediate Actions, specifically Immediate Reactions, were the way that Solo monsters were intended to stay involved in the fight rather than it degrading into a 3.5 encounter where the players wail on the monster and then the monster hits back and then sits around while it gets wailed on some more. Obviously my assumption was mostly wrong.

I say mostly wrong because monsters, and in the case of this discussion Solos, do still get one Immediate Reaction per round. Even though this will not result in them being as involved as I was thinking they could be they will certainly still be involved more than if Immediate Reactions had not been included in the game at all. To add to this there are very simple ways to give your own monsters ways to interact with the players.

The easiest way would be to give a monster a Free Action that happens on a trigger. While a DM would need to be careful with this kind of thing, making certain that the action is not going to make the monster overpowered for its level, it does allow for the rules to stand as-is without truly limiting creativity, with a good example of free actions being actions that occur when a creature becomes bloodied.

Perhaps this is a bit more than needs to be said on the topic. I do know that Solos have not been very popular in our play group as the fights tend to be less interesting and as long as daily powers (another thing that has been questioned by some in our play group) are available, less challenging. For me, Elites are pretty cool, even with the RAW limitation of one Immediate Reaction most Elites stand their own and make the fight more interesting or at least make the fight stand out a little bit as compared to those fights which do not include an Elite.

The more I learn about Solos however, the more I feel they should have been given a different name. “Solo” too often makes players and DMs immediately assume that the monster will be encountered alone and I honestly believe the fight would be better if you simply used a lower level Solo and gave it some backup rather than having it stand on its own. Though I guess this is kind of beside the point.

Feel free to chime in about any of the topics I touched upon and for more on Immediate Reactions pop over to the official forums where I started a discussion on it.

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    Matt Says:

    What exactly counts as interesting when it comes to Solos? If you are talking about the ability to do something when it’s the player’s turn, or the ability for it to hold it’s own against the players, taking them to their limit. I think the problem is how our group tends to think what is interesting and what isn’t. The big thing is we want action and a bunch of things happening at once. That’s never going to happen with Solos. Also we want a challenge, yet we don’t want to see character deaths. Combined with the fact that besides the one immediate action and the turn which the Solo actually acts the DM won’t have much to do, I can see the point of the Solo being uninteresting.

    In order for one monster to be interesting it just needs to push players to their limits and that only equates to possible death of one or more members. This has to be done not by the one-hit kill but through a battle of survival. Solos do this by having high HP and the ability to get rid of status effects (pluses to saves). Other ways should be built in like and Aura that give those within a certain range -2 to attack rolls (no rolls it just happens). Basically some negative the players have to overcome in order to prevail (debuffs, resistances, immunities, etc). In any case there seems to be mechanisms to give monster these kinds of abilities without needing to use their turn or immediate actions. Also the Solo need a way to affect multiple opponents during its turn. At-Will powers with Close or Area effects (which players have access to as well) and powers of that nature are a definite tool a Solo needs in their arsenal.

    The daily issue certainly does rear its ugly head here more then in other types of battles. But I think it’s the perception we have of dailies that may make this more of an issue then it really is in practice. For instance we have only seen two Solos (if memory serves me right). Most Daily power use has been on “lesser” monsters, those that have a lot less HPs and are supposed to be less powerful then their Solo counterparts. Daily powers used on these monsters are just going to be more devastating then on a Solo. Granted the Solo will be soaking up all of the powers, but (most of the time) not all of them will hit. All of the powers may not be available due to previous use on a different encounter. Some Daily powers are just less powerful on a single target. As a Wizard I just don’t have access to powers that I would find useful in a Solo encounter. My Daily powers are almost useless on a Solo for the simple fact that there will be no way I can use them without also affecting my teammates as well. In fact I have only 2 powers that affect only a single target (an at-will and an encounter). I think the Wizard might be the only class that has that issue, but it is possible for other classes to have selected Daily powers that don’t hold up against one target. Don’t get me wrong, I agree if all Daily powers are available, used, and hit, the fight isn’t going to be much of one. However the same could be said of any battle the DM sets up for a group where the players hit with all of their Daily powers, thus the issue in that case isn’t a Solo one, but more of a Daily in general issue, which is a different topic.

    In short any battle against a Solo should feel like a Boss battle in a video game or a main villain taking on the whole group of heroes in a movie. In order to do that, that one monster needs to be powerful enough to withstand the onslaught of the 5 or 6 heroes or else it’s not a very good Boss battle or memorable scene. In order for a monster to possess that kind of power it will as a side effect have the power to take out an individual in the group. It makes for good story telling and it also builds suspense that our heroes might not make it through this. That is what will make a Solo encounter interesting to me. I want to see that single monster go onto the battle map and then have my heart race knowing that I may not survive this battle. Obviously no one wants’ to have their character they’ve worked on and developed to parish, but honestly if that element doesn’t exist where is the excitement. I don’t mind that not being there in every battle that we have, but when fighting just one thing, I think that’s the only way it’s going to stay interesting. Of course it may be the very thing that keeps Solos out of our game as well.

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    Of course, in a battle with a Solo most of the time the only character(s) that have a chance of dying are the Defenders as they will almost certainly be taking the brunt of the damage.

    I think other fights can be just as interesting and just as “OMG we might die!” as a battle with a Solo. Certainly that has been the case thus far.

    There have been three encounters with Solos in our current game. The first two were quite lame while the the third, the big demon at the end of the last story line, was kind of nasty. Mind you, he was a number of levels higher than the party as well.

    I should comment again that a party of six changes the dynamics of Solo encounters quite a bit. This is something that needs to be considered because our current party has six in it.

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    Colin Says:

    Well I wouldn’t say that ONLY defenders have a chance of dying to solos.

    They have a greater chance at first, but if they DO drop then the death of everyone else becomes a lot more likely.

    …or you could roll like three critical hits in a row on me, as you have a tendency to do.

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    Matt Says:

    An interesting thought I had was that, it seems to me that most Solos are forced to be melee based. The reasoning behind that is that seeing as it is the only target, it is assured that you melee characters will be standing next to it thus any Ranged attack would provoke attacks of opportunity. Granted against 1 melee the monster just needs to shift and shoot, but in our group we have 4 melee characters, not an easy task to get away.

    You could have a bunch of Close burst or blast skills elminating the opportunity attack problem. However hitting multiple party members would make healing tough and in some situations difficult for the party to survive. Also that doesn’t really make much of a ranged-based monster either.