Hi everybody. If you didn't know, my "Trimming the Fat" series is all about stuff that I omit from 4e in my personal games. I've mentioned sunrods, skill challenges, backgrounds, and revenants in the past. Today I found myself motivated to write about the ultimate suckage condition: stunned.
I haven't run a lot of 4e lately to be honest, I have been going back to the well of 1e and 2e AD&D. That said, I have still been filling holes in my 4e collection via Amazon and Ebay. Books that I completely ignored before, I find myself wanting now for completion's sake. The chromatic and metallic dragon books are among these.
Its another conversation entirely as to why I shunned these books before, but a lot of it is because they are filled with weak solo monsters that every DM worth their salt already houseruled prior to their improvement in post-MM3 publications. Still, I think they have worth. Some of the delves, items, rituals, and the like are interesting, and much of Richard Baker and Bob Schwalb's lore succeeds. But I digress.
What really triggered today's entry was the common dragon power "Frightful Presence". In most cases this is basically a stun. The flavor isn't bad: the dragon scares you so bad a little trickle of urine empties in your boot. In practice though, its horrible for gameplay. How I wish I had seen that sooner.
When you start off with a new game or version of a game, its natural to trust the designers, at least at first. That is, I typically make an effort to at least play a game by the rules before deciding something sucks, or taking it into my own direction. I realize I was wrong about that now. I should have known that the stunned condition sucked at first glance, but at least now I am learning.
The stunned condition has long been the bane of 4e DMs. Solos being stunned is the subject of many a blog post from many a blogger. Even elites being stunned has always been a bridge too far in my book. That's why on my blog and zine you see rules about elites and solos always being immune to the effect. So what if the fluff can be sloppy? It simply breaks the game for the most powerful creatures to have to sit out the fight.
And here is where I must apologize. I recalled an epic tier game I once ran, still learning the system, in which I allowed a demon to stun one of the party. The poor bastard had to wait like 20 minutes to even do anything. I could feel his seething as he took his next turn. It was my bad.
Here's the deal. In classic editions, spells like Hold Person, Sleep, and the like are familiar and expected. Magic behaves differently. In 4e, magic is usually balanced against the other classes. Some love this, some hate this. I personally look at 4e as one of many different flavors of D&D ice cream. I don't make fun of others and berate them for liking rum raisin. But I digress again.
Being stunned in 4e sucks for everyone. Its also a condition that inherently slows down combat, adding to another of 4e's woes. "Why then", I asked myself, "did I ever allow stuns in the first place?"
That's the solution. Stuns don't exist. Not any more. Not for PCs, not for monsters.
You could just announce well before your game or campaign starts they don't exist, or if you want to delve deeper, come up with an alternate condition to substitute. After all, some paragon paths or epic destinies could incorporate the stunned condition as a partial element, or a player could love most elements of a single power only to have it completely nerfed by taking the condition out. I personally think dazed + immobilized is a solid substitute, but I am certainly open to ideas. One thing I am sure of, the standard 4e stun will never appear in my 4e games again. It just sucks too bad.
Heartfelt apologies to all I have stunned out there.