[4e] Not Your GM’s Keep on the Shadowfell: Magic Surges


As I related in my previous post, our old DM from a multi-year 3.0 homebrew has taken over running a regular 4E game for my Thursday night gaming group, and being who he is, can’t help but change things.  Last time I discussed identifying magic items, and withholding their abilities until worn for at least 24 hrs.  This time, I’m going to try and figure out how replacing Milestone refreshes of Daily Magic Item uses with Magical Surges changes things around.

Since the DM took over just as I was having the group remake their characters at level 2, we stuck with the new level, but the past was ‘wiped clean’.  As such we got level appropriate money to buy gear, and started over with magic items.  I pointed out the standard distribution of magic items (which was actually much better than they had had, anyway, since we were dealing with published adventures, which seem kind of understocked), but the DM decided to go with a single lvl 2 item each, and several potions (healing, resistance, clarity and a gravespawn or two).  We got to choose, with approval, and I was pleased with my +1 Mnemonic Staff (and I love the fact that as a Wizard MC Druid, I get to use it for both classes – even if MC druid has some peculiar limitations).  When we discussed the potions to take, the DM discovered the limits on magic item use per day – a concept he didn’t care for at all.  I know it was an idea it took me awhile to wrap my head around, but I think I understand why it was done (to keep the character from being a magic item delivery system as could occur at higher levels in 3.x), and the exceptions to it for reaching milestones and the like.

Our DM decided to take a different route, proposing the idea of Magical Surges that refresh like Healing Surges do, after an Extended Rest.  The idea being that one could use a Magic Surge to activate a Daily Item Power (only once per day per power, he didn’t change that concept), or drink a Potion (letting us replace a Healing Surge in that case with a Magic Surge, if called for) and then be able to activate another, different, Daily Power (or Potion, Elixir, etc.) as long as you had magic Surges left.  And the number of Magic Surges was determined by class pretty much as the inverse of what that class got in the way of Healing Surges.  If your class gets a lot of Healing Surges, you get a few Magical Surges, and so on, modified by your Charisma Bonus.  Which makes sense, since he always saw Charisma as the power source for magic in his 3.0 game.  Of course, that throws the attribute choices for each class out of whack (not that we changed our scores since this was added later, as we were equipping), and some (like the Warlock) benefited more than others (such as my wizard 😦 ).

Overall, though, except for that, I didn’t see any immediate reasons to fight back, and we agreed to try it out.  So far, it’s been OK.  We haven’t been consuming more potions than I think we would otherwise, and since we don’t have a lot of magic items to start with, the difference hasn’t been great.  It benefits us by leaving us with more Healing Surges to spend on non-potion healing, and we have the crutch of extra potions (assuming we can find them) if a battle goes bad.

Where we could get into trouble, I think, is at higher levels, since this Magic Surge doesn’t scale like a Healing Surge does.  We have lots of unused ones at this level, but at some point, when the number of encounters we struggle through increases and we have more powers to activate, we may see the unused ones dry up without a chance for a refresh before taking our Extended Rest.  I can see the kernels of this issue in the way our DM has been customizing the magic items he passes out.

To wit, our initial 2nd lvl magic items were pretty much straight out of the book, the exception being the warlock’s rod. This he modified to have a daily druid power instead of the usual arcane one, since he had a notion to group the players into ‘divine’ (paladin, cleric, avenger) and ‘elf/nature’ (eladrin warlock, wizard/druid, elf ranger NPC) groups on two separate quests and this fit.  Swap one Daily for another (not normally available to the warlock, but no big deal).

Fast forward to after our initial fights with the Keep goblins, and an ambush by kolbolds on the way and we make our first visit to Winterhaven.  Being old school D&Ders, and low level, we brought back as much of the enemy’s gear as one of my Floating Discs could carry, and dumped the lot on the local smith.  We had planned to get the smith to make a nice fire-resistant sheath for the magical hot poker we liberated from the hobgoblin torturer we slew at the keep, so the Teifling cleric would have a decent close combat weapon, but the DM gave us another option.  Trade.

The dwarven smith was taken with an everhot poker, and gave us a deal on a magic sword he had no use for these days – a +1 thundersword which had TWO daily powers (besides the enhancement and crit) – daze and a +1d10 thunder damage.  This was telling, and the start of a trend.  I’ve since found ‘Bracers of the Beast’ which give me more options in beastform (thankfully) in the form of a property, an Encounter Power, and two Dailies.

Throwing out the limits on the number of built in powers will probably cause us to gravitate towards the walking magic store syndrome, especially once our ritual casters hit 4th level (and Enchant Item), and since we have Magic Surges, we’ll get more use out of multiple powers than a standard 4E party, but it means the DM will have to up the opposition to compensate. Which is NOT something he has an issue with.  We have yet to have a TPK under him, but we’ve come close a few times.

With the finely balanced level system as it is, I wonder what the cumulative effect of all of these changes will be.  So far I am having fun, but it is interesting (and necessary) to try and exploit these changes, as it will undoubtedly affect our opposition as well.



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