With several dozen sessions under my belt, I feel like I’ve got a good understanding of what sorts of feat/power/item/class/ability combinations are “overpowered” in the sense that they make noticeably more powerful characters than already powerful and solidly built characters. These types of characters can really hurt the game, both trivializing the game experience for encounters and making other characters feel left out or almost useless in comparison.
With that in mind, I use several house rules in my game. Normally I shy away from house rules because they often cause unintended consequences in the game or are an attempt to fix an already hopelessly unbalanced game.
I made an exception for 4th edition for a few reasons, however:
1. It feels reasonably balanced!: With several exceptions, the game feels like the designers really put a lot of thought into balancing various classes, feats, and abilities, so house ruling should be able to help!
2. It’s modular: A lot of the problems in 4th edition aren’t problems with the basic system or HUGE inequalities between classes. They’re problems with SPECIFIC feats, items, and powers! It’s much easier to house rule by simply removing things than it is to come up with new rules to take their place.
My house rules are below. General principles are listed first, followed by specific changes:
Danger Areas: If your build takes advantage of one of these qualities then it might be overpowered! I’ll be adding to this section as new combinations occur to me.
Ongoing Damage Rolls: These “fire and forget” or “fire and maintain” abilities are so powerful because not only do represent an extra source of damage beyond what you would normally do every round, but they often end up doing even more damage, since no attack roll is needed.
Multiple Attacks: The simple fact is that as a player progresses in level, the majority of a player’s damage comes from bonuses to the damage roll, not the roll itself. Consider a fairly innocuous at will attack that does 1W worth of damage. By level 11, a typical character is probably adding at least 5 (for their ability) + 3 (for their weapon or implement) on top of that and could easily be adding an extra +2 for weapon focus, extra bonuses from other feats, item bonuses (if allowed), and numerous other bonuses from weapon powers (if allowed). Thus an attack that allows multiple attacks suddenly becomes noticeably more powerful than a similar ability that gives a 2W or 3W damage roll. The thing to keep in mind with ANY power that gives multiple attacks is that every single thing that gives a bonus to damage is applying two or more times to the multiple attack, and that includes increasing the critical hit chance of a weapon! House rule accordingly!
Critical Hits: Critical hits are another danger area. Not only does a high Crit range combine very powerfully with multiple attacks and other powers that allow multiple attack rolls or rerolling of attack rolls but critical hits also max out extra damage like sneak attack or similar striker abilities. When you factor in the extra damage from a vicious (arguably overpowered) and a blood iron (probably should be banned) weapon, the damage is just too high to ignore. Builds that take advantage of critical hits are sometimes very interesting, however, since the damage is focused in infrequent bursts of massive damage which makes for exciting combats, so some leniency can be taken with many of these builds. Still, be careful!
Penalties to Saving Throws: Powers with saves are roughly balanced, in that even powerful effects, such as stunned, aren’t likely to affect a powerful (elite or solo) enemy for too long. But when you start stacking modifiers from feats, items, and other abilities, things start to change pretty rapidly. As the negatives stack up, as is quite possible with certain builds (such as the original orb wizard), powers with saves become exponentially more powerful, as the enemies chances of saving sink closer and closer to the 5% that will leave an enemy stunned or even helpless for an average of 20 rounds!
Sliding in and out of Damaging Terrain: The official ruling on sliding in and out of damage terrain (that does damage when you move into it) is that a player can use forced movement to affect a monster multiple times. This has to be one of the sillier rulings in D&D, making already powerful zones and effects ridiculous, providing the player has a good method to milk out a lot of extra forced movement. Better to save yourself the annoyance and house rule that a monster can only take damage from sliding into a specific effect once per each of its turns.
Versatile Master: This half-elf feat that gives an at-will power from another class as a permanent at-will for the half-elf is probably the most powerful feat out there (don’t hold me to that!). The game was definitely not designed with this kind of ability in mind and some pretty broken combinations are possible. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to a player who proposes some wildly broken use of this feat.
Untyped Damage Bonuses: Typed damage bonuses exist to put a cap on the reasonable amount of damage players can do (I think!). Untyped damage bonuses allow certain characters to break those rules! A +2 damage bonus here and there probably won’t break the game, but since they’re untyped, there aren’t any real limits on how many a player can stack up. Be very wary of a character who has a mountain of untyped damage bonuses backing up their character and be prepared to scale them back accordingly.
Synergy from Hybrid Classes: This is a danger area I’ve identified because it seems like such a potential risk. Surprisingly hybrid classes seem somewhat balanced from my experience with them so far, but one should always be wary when powerful ways to manipulate the game rules are introduced to the game some time after its initial release.
Multiclassing: If a build gets A LOT of extra power from multiclassing, be wary. Multiclass feats are just another way to sneak into not fully considered combinations in the game, allowing a player to cherry pick the best powers or feats and paragon paths from other classes.
Specific House Rules:
Giant Lizard, Riding (fixed with errata)
-Weapons and implements only apply properties associated with attacks if used with that attack.
-Expertise: All heroes start with this feat at 1st level: Heroes gain a +1 feat bonus to hit for all attacks at 5th level, a +2 at 15th, and a +3 at 25th.
-Sliding in and out of damaging terrain: An enemy can only be affected if they did not start in damaging terrain and then slide into it.
-Dilettante: Can only be used with powers that use Constitution or Charisma as primary (may make list of allowable powers if really broken Con or Cha powers are released.)
Bloodclaw Weapon (fixed with errata)
Bloodiron Weapon (Does this still need to be banned with latest errata?)
Reckless Weapon (fixed with errata)
NOTE: Any weapon that gives an un-typed damage bonus is suspicious.
Orb of Mental Dominion (fixed with errata)
Orb of Ultimate Imposition (fixed with errata)
Orb of Fickle Fate
Phrenic Crown (fixed with errata)
Salve of Power (fixed with errata)
Anything that gives an Item bonus to damage!
Paragon Path Changes:
Dagger Master: Rogue Tactics required (no multi-class rogues) + Critical chance only applies to daggers used as weapons. (Fixed with errata)
Stormwarden: Twin-Blade Storm replaces Blade Storm (Am I being too finicky banning this?)
Sleep: Subject wakes up automatically if they take damage.
Hurricane of Blades (fixed with errata)
Storm of Blades (fixed with errata)
Wintertouched: Weapon keywords do not apply.
Lasting Frost: Weapon keywords do not apply.
Feyborn Charm: Static +1 feat bonus (fixed with errata)
Gnome Phantamist: Static +1 feat bonus (fixed with errata)
Dual Implement Spellcaster
Epic Paths Changes:
Demigod encounter refresh only happens once per round.
Banned Class Paths:
Battlerager Vigor (fixed with errata)
Should we just ditch item bonuses to damage or make new items or leave them as is?
Notable Items that give item bonuses to damage:
Iron Armbands of Power. (+2/+4/+6)
Bracers of Archery (+2/+4/+6)
Staff of Ruin +1-6
Staff of Missile Mastery +1-6
Wand of Psychic Ravaging +1/+2/+3
Hellfire Wand: +1/+2/+3
Ring of the Dragonborn Emperor: +3
Reasons to Ditch:
1. They restrict item choices since they are so powerful.
2. They restrict melee/ranged/implement versatility.
3. They make ongoing damage rolls even more powerful.
Reasons to Keep:
1. Class balance isn’t a huge issue since most classes have at least one answer to the problem.
2. More damage means faster combats.
1. A generic ring that gives a +1/+2/+3 item bonus to damage for all attacks. Thus, it takes up a non unique slot and solves versatility problems while answering issues with slow down of game.
2. Ditch them altogether except for situational circumstances from some items.
Answer: Ditch item bonuses to damage for the time being!
What do we do about the ability bonuses of epic paths?
Issue: More and more epic paths give ability bonuses. Ability bonuses are VERY powerful, impacting the class in numerous ways. Do we want to dissallow those classes (thus cutting off A LOT of epic path choices), allow them (thus accepting that those that don’t give ability bonuses will not be very popular), or change the ability score bonuses into something else (thus potentially destabilizing the game)?