With Great Power Comes Great… Confusion

Advice Cabin Trip DnD 4E Organization Tech
With great power comes great responsibility (and a dose of radiation)


This weekend we played the latest installment of our epic quest across the desert sands. We’re using Fourth Edition D&D in this game, so I should specify that I’m using “epic” in a plot sense, not in the sense of the 4E tier. The game was certainly a lot of fun.

We’ve written previously on how confusing it was to build 16th level characters, and play them from scratch. It’s very possible that it would be easier if we’d played these characters up from first level. My character, however, printed from the Character Builder with more than twenty five cards, and fifteen of those were powers. That doesn’t even count feats or class abilities. To top it off, I haven’t played this character in seven months.

This time around, though, I came prepared. Before we headed off on our RPG pilgrimage, I put together some tools to help me keep straight all those character features. In this post I’ll describe how I handled all that power!

I ran into two distinct areas of confusion with this character. Each required its own unique solution. First off, I had trouble remembering when to use conditional features. The second problem was remembering all those powers, and what they did.

Conditional Effects and Bonuses

Conditional Cheat Sheet

Conditional Cheat Sheet

This was the problem I was originally trying to solve when I made my on-the-spot cheat sheet seven months ago. I just could not seem to remember that my character slowed an opponent if he Pushed, Pulled, or Slid them. I constantly forgot to apply my bonus to opportunity attacks, or, just to make it even more confusing, that I could Push the opponent if I hit with one (thus triggering all the Push effects.)

For this second session, I compiled all those confusing little features into a more legible and better planned document. I also added in all the Trigger powers, that could be kicked off by various circumstances. After putting it all together, and printing it off, I was ready to go.

How Did It Work?

It worked OK. The problem was that I still had to remember to look at the damn sheet when one of these things happened. For instance, I never remembered to use the “Hit with Combat Challenge Attack” item. I blame the beer.

Still, when I did check the sheet, it worked great. It was a matter of seconds to figure out which trigger power I could use when an opponent was reduced to zero hit points. I could never have kept this stuff straight without it. In fact, I usually avoid conditional stuff in characters exactly because I know I won’t remember to use them. This tool makes using these much more feasible.

Powers, Powers Everywhere

Powers Cheat Sheet

Powers Cheat Sheet

During combat encounters in the previous session, it seemed that I spent the whole time between my turns searching through my powers to figure out what the heck I would do next. This made it much harder to do other things, such as pay attention. That was just days after I’d made the character, so I knew it would be much worse this time around. I needed a way to keep track of what powers were useful to which ends.

So, being a software engineer, I made a database. OK, you don’t have to go to that length. It was mostly an excuse to learn LibreOffice’s Base tool. The outcome of all of it was a chart summarizing what each power did.

How Did It Work?

This one worked very well. Once I figured out the result I wanted, I just consulted the chart to figure out which powers would work. It still required reading the powers, but it usually narrowed down the field to one or two.

However, it had one flaw. It could tell me which powers I needed, but it didn’t help me find them in the field of cards on the table. To solve this, I grabbed a map marker, and color coded each entry. Then I sorted my cards into piles by type (At Will, Encounter, etc), and then by name. Together, this system worked amazingly well. The sheet linked here is the 2.0 version.


Both my tools worked well. I’d say good for the conditional one, and great for the power chart. The better question, I guess, is why do I need them?

Admittedly, I have a horrible memory for this sort of thing. I had similar problems with other RPG systems, and I’ve long avoided conditional character features. However, I think 4E brings it to a new height. I love character options as much as the next guy, but damn. I don’t think I even came close to using all that stuff.

Still, D&D 4E is a fun game, and it’s not like I’m going to refuse to play it. I’ll have to deal with the feature overload somehow. I think these tools are a good start.

Have you found ways to deal with feature overload in your games? Do you think 4E gets a little overwhelming at high levels? Think these ideas are evidence that I have way to much time on my hands? Let us know in the comments!

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