Author Topic: [TheoryCraft] Let's talk about Free Actions.  (Read 1332 times)


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[TheoryCraft] Let's talk about Free Actions.
« on: October 30, 2015, 02:07:24 PM »
Hi, I'm Gatac and I don't like Free Actions.

Yes, yes, gasp in a shocked manner, I deserve it. How can you hate Free Actions, Gatac? They're free! But it's true, I dislike them, and here's why:

  • How many Free Actions do you get per round? As many as you can get away with. That's convenient wiggle room for the Game Master, but is also really difficult to arbitrate. I wouldn't call getting three or four Free Actions per round abusive, nor would I argue with a GM who says "Your proper actions take up your whole round, you don't get to do that". It's not some epidemic of tears and bloodshed in practice. But being one of those jerks who's always asking "Why?" and would rather tap my finger onto Page 497 of The Rules, this irks me.
  • It feels like every Free Action comes with its own limiter, usually 1/round. Why? Precisely to add that clear arbitration that the basic rule lacks. No, Hank, you can't Quick Draw five shotguns this round. On the other hand, Hank's gonna have a pretty damn good point that he can do whatever the heck else he wants and also draw one weapon this round as a Free Action no matter what, because the text says so and the GM is not going to argue with Hank when Hank taps his finger onto Page 497 of The Rules.
  • The dreaded Bonus 5-ft. Step. It's not a Free Action, even though it doesn't take away your Two Half Actions / One Full Action allotment. So you can use it whenever. But only if you don't take any other movement action! If anyone has a good reason why this limitation exists, please raise your hand. If anyone can clearly enunciate why this is a separate thing instead of a 1/round Free Action, please raise two hands. If you can actually take a 5-ft. Step in real life, please raise your feet, too.
  • Am I the only one who thinks that there are some Actions that are hardly worth it as Half Action, but would also clearly be open to abuse as Free Action? My favorite example is Aim: unless bolstered by feats or other abilities, the basic Aim action...kinda blows. +1 to all Standard Attacks - as long as the target doesn't move more then 5-ft. per round. I don't want to spend a Half Action for something my target can so easily neutralize. On the other hand, I wince at the thought of how much mayhem a player could inflict if his ability to stack +1s (Unnamed bonus, no special rule that says we can't stack Aim actions on one target) was directly linked to just how many Free Actions he can talk his GM into allowing. See, the problem is that Aim's utility comes from bolstering all your Standard Attacks going forward - slightly, but the bump adds up. It's an investment. It's just usually a bad one. And unlike other stuff you can do with a Half Action that is not a direct attack - like, say, Trip or Feint - Aim does nothing to help anyone but you with your Standard Attacks - of which you just gave up one. Also note that as per RAW, while your target can't move more than 5 feet, there's absolutely no limit to what you do while you're Aiming. You could Run across the battlefield and still get the bonus. Throw yourself to the ground, be thrown to the ground, or even turn around and attack an entirely different target - nope, still get the Aim bonus, probably because it would be entirely too weak if it limited your other actions, too. Now, before this turns into Let's talk about Aim, though, let's move on.
  • On the flipside, what the heck is up with Delay? What other Free Action can be taken literally more than a dozen times for anyone with a half-decent Initiative bonus? I admit to talking out of my ass here, but if I took a poll of GMs and players around here, how many Free Actions per round would you guys say are reasonable? I'd say that, barring extreme circumstances, I would have said like two, three? But Delay slices things so finely that it throws this out of whack by inference. If Hank can take the Delay Free Action a dozen times (and the rules explicitly say he can), is that a reasonable number of other Free Actions to allow him? Or is Delay the opposite of Bonus 5-ft. Step, something that is a Free Action but should be its own thing?
  • The book describes Free Actions as minor, incidental stuff that doesn't interfere with what you're really doing. Okay, cool, sounds wide open and really flexible. Now, quick, name three Free Actions that are not explicitly listed as examples in the book. Then argue amongst yourselves whether it should be a Half Action Handle Item. (It's always a Half Action Handle Item.)

By now I figure you're either nodding along or have about two pages of detailed mechanics talk to dissect my scattershot ramblings, so let's dispense with talking about The Problem and start by offering up A Humble Flailing In The Suspected Direction Of A Solution. Note that, as the thread tag indicates, this is pure TheoryCraft at this stage and has not been playtested at all.


Let's introduce a new type of Action. I call them Shifts for ease of typing, but they might as well be "Awesomings" or "The Spice on Your Action Meal" (kind of a mouthful, though) or "Minor Actions Not Entirely Unlike D&D". Every Special Character gets a couple of them, ideally about as many as I would allow as significant Free Actions, i.e. somewhere in the 1-5 range, I reckon. How many? Well, shit, you already got me - it would map really well to an Attribute Modifier, but I think we can all agree that there's too much hanging off of Dexterity or Wisdom already. Maybe Constitution? Constitution never gets to shine, and it kinda makes sense when you think of it in terms of how much stamina you have and how many distinct things your body can handle doing in a short amount of time under stressful conditions. But I'm open to better ideas, maybe something level-based like starting action dice, convince me.

How does it work, then? Well, take a look at these sample Shifts:

Focus: You gain a +1 bonus to your next attack roll or skill check.
Defend: You gain a +1 Dodge bonus to your Defense against the next attack that targets you or +1 to the next Saving Throw you make, whichever comes first.
Swerve: You move 5 ft. in any direction.
Surge: You regain 1 point of Vitality.

All Shifts reset at the start of your Initiative Count. And...I think that's it. These are the rules.

And you can go from there! Any feat or ability that used to say "You may do XYZ as a free action 1/round" can now say "You may do XZY as a Shift". Why is this better? Because now you've created a system of trade-offs that the player engages with on the fly. Hank can potentially fire off all kinds of 1/round Free Actions and argue with his GM until they're both blue in the face that yeah, he can do all of those in the same wink of an eye as per RAW because Hank is the kind of guy who has all the "Once per round as a Free Action..."-type feats and class abilities, but if Hank gets three Shifts per round, that's it. Is he gonna Focus twice, do a Bull Rush (at +2 to his Athletics roll) to slam his opponent into the next wall and finally Swerve once to roll out of the way at the end and let the next player get his licks in? Is he gonna Defend with all of his Shifts because he knows that enemy archer is gonna try to nail him as he runs across the battlefield? Is he gonna Swerve once to step out of cover, Quick Draw a shotgun, fire twice and Swerve back into cover? Yeah, sure, go hog wild.

Would I allow players to save Shifts from turn to turn? Eh...I might be convinced to allow it under some special rules, but I'm leaning towards super-no. The intent is very much to encourage players to use them now to "fill in the blanks" of what they're doing this round.

The really big advantage you get from this is that Shifts don't compete with your proper Actions but are not lumped together with the odds and ends of Free Actions, either. A small set of (to my eyes) simple rules adds enough options for the player to pick something cool. You're not spending one of your "big" Actions on this piddling stuff, so it's more open to experimentation. No matter which option the player picks, it's probably gonna be useful - not like gambling a Half Action on getting an Aim bonus your opponent's going to nullify next round if he has any sense. (Sorry to keep ragging on Aim, by the way. It's just such an easy target. *badump-tish!*)

Problem Corner: This stuff is gonna kick the power curve upward a bit. It's also one more number to keep track of in an already crunch-heavy system. The added decisions might paralyze your players especially because there's an economy involved. Hey, this doesn't fix the Delay problem. All of that is true. Let's address this.

  • Power curve: I think the most obvious thing Shifts let you do that you couldn't before is to take multiple Bonus 5-ft. Steps. Depending on how many Shifts you have, this might actually make up a decent percentage of a Standard Move. Question: is this a problem? One could easily say "You may not move in the same direction as the last Swerve", but that's an added complication to what I really really want to keep as lightweight as possible. Focus's + (whatever attribute mod determines your amount of Shifts) to your next attack or skill roll is nothing to sneeze at, either, but counterbalanced by only applying to one roll, as opposed to the more open-ended Aim. Defend similarly tackles only one attack or save. Surge is limited to just Vitality, but I think it'd be a good addition at that because as far as I can tell nobody really likes the RAW Refresh. I can live with that kind of added player power.
  • Added Complication: Ayup. My hope is that by doing this (and subsuming the Bonus 5-ft. Step), plus pushing a lot of stuff out of the catchall Free Action category, it'll still be easier to put together into practice.
  • Decision Paralysis: Always a legit concern when you're adding complexity and tradeoffs. My hope here is this: a), make sure there are no bad choices and b), make sure the players don't feel the need to min-max this. For players coming off RAW, that should be easy enough: it's an added benny, not an integral pass/fail part of your turn strategy. Eyeball it, do the same thing you did last turn, I want these kinds of snap decisions to still lead to workable results. No Shift should feel outright "wasted".
  • Delay is still totally weird: You got me, guys. I wouldn't do Delay as a Shift, either. But this is getting into a discussion about Initiative that I would prefer not to have here. We'll be here all night if we start talking about Initiative.

And with that, I open the floor to the discussion.


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Re: [TheoryCraft] Let's talk about Free Actions.
« Reply #1 on: October 31, 2015, 06:29:57 AM »
But I'm open to better ideas, maybe something level-based like starting action dice, convince me.
Why not just an arbitrary number the same way you only have 2 Regular Actions per round rather than "X based on number Y"?

My guess is that you set it based on what the biggest attack or defense boost you want to allow in one round is.

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Re: [TheoryCraft] Let's talk about Free Actions.
« Reply #2 on: October 31, 2015, 11:35:09 PM »
#1. --

#2. Point of order: Quick Draw only gives to 2 handle item actions as a free action. That said, I think there's a valid argument to be made that whether a weapon is 1 or 2 handed should make a difference on whether it takes a half or a full round to ready it. Tangentially, I have no problem ruling that if you're taking a standard move action, you can also ready a 1h weapon as part of that action
Spoiler: (I miss the incidental tag from 2.0) • show

Incidental (IDL): This action may happen in conjunction with movement. Once per round when the character is also taking a movement action, he may take 1 action with this tag as a free action.

#3. I got nothing, but I suspect the 5FS not being a free action is specifically so it can futz with with your ability to use it and standard movements together. I also suspect it exists at all as recognition of combat being far more kinetic than can easily be represented on a 5ft grid.
   The easiest way to deal with it would be to change movement rules so that everyone gets 5 ft of movement per round that isn't calculated into their maximum move for that round. So someone with a standard 30' movement would be able to move up to 65 ft a round.

#4. I hadn't realised how hilariously stackable Aim was, but it's that stackability that clearly earns it half action status for snipers looking to overcome range penalties. Clearly it needs to specify that the aimer is the one who can't move more than 5 ft a round, while the target should be limited to 5' per range increment before the effect is lost.

#5. Delay is clearly only a free action on a technicality that nothing happens when you opt to drop down the initiative list so you can't be said to have taken an action. So yes, it is effectively it's own thing.

#6. Talking is always a free action. :p But that's another bugbear.

You don't even need shifts to solve the problem of limitless free actions; you just impose the exact same limit you were going to use with shifts. Problem solved, no need for a new mechanic. About the only other thing that would need doing is renaming free actions to minor actions


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Re: [TheoryCraft] Let's talk about Free Actions.
« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2015, 12:37:51 PM »
  Seems like you could achieve most of what you want by changing the description of free actions from any number per round to "any number per round, but each free action may be taken only once unless otherwise specified."
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