|image by David Wilcox|
(aka Humorous Endeavors)
So sometimes (okay, alot of times) I share stuff about D&D with my wife. She's a player in my game and she's been super patient with my fascination with role playing games, but this past week she went beyond mere patience and absolutely stunned me with her insight into a simple mechanic into 4E game design. My wife studied Kinesiology in college and knows a ton about exercise and nutrition (which is why I've lost 30 pounds since we got married +5 to Charisma for the win!). Her insight gave me a really cool perspective on something I've been wondering about for a long time, specifically since Essentials came out and renovated the way that player powers are distributed. So I asked her to type it up so I could put it in here! So here's my wife, Brittany. :)
Always consult a medical doctor and/or certified fitness trainer before applying any of the below concepts to your own body.
Between the two of us my husband is the true Dungeons and Dragons aficionado and much more deep in the melting pot of RPG enthusiasts. I myself play a Raven Knight Paladin whom I have grown quite fond of, and prefer playing defenders overall. As a Dungeons & Dragons nerd-adjacent I hear about a lot of the discussions and squabbles over D&D 4E. One of which is the practicality of rechargeable powers. Some people had a hard time understanding why a fighter or rogue could only accomplish specific tasks once per day. “It’s just a physical activity, shouldn’t they just be able to DO IT again?” My husband mentioned the debate and I gave him my opinion based on my knowledge of the human body in motion, which was my college major. My husband blinked at me and offered me a high-five, and now I have been asked to share my opinion here. I would like to put my college education to use and give my two cents on this topic. I will give a physiological account in support of why certain classes should still be held to a limited amount of “awesome” they can dish per day.
For many classes it makes sense that you wouldn’t be able to do certain powers more than once day. I would like to meet the wizard who has enough energy to cast Closing Spell twice in 24 hours. However, the question has been raised as to why some classes (such as fighters) are held to the same “at-will”, “encounter” and “daily” restrictions. Fighters are, for the most part, a one trick pony. They hit things, they hit things hard. BUT, sometimes they can hit things with a strength that commands awe from fellow party members. And on VERY special occasions they can hit so hard that their foe’s fall to their knees in a “we are not worthy” fashion. Does this make sense? If someone’s specialty is bashing faces in, why can’t they go full speed all the time and continually pull their most devastating moves as at-will powers? Please, follow along with me as I break down my physiological understanding of at-will, encounter and daily powers in relation to actual human capacities. For the purposes of this article I will assume all playable races function similarly enough to humans to be included.
Our body functions off of ATP molecules as energy. I won’t go too crazy in details here but the body has a few major ways of synthesizing ATP including: ATP-PCr system, fat, carbohydrates and protein. Protein is known to contribute much less than the other systems (McArdle, 38) and since D&D combats are supposed to last a matter of minutes we will not go into protein metabolism.
As you read this you are probably sitting, maybe standing. This means that your body is using fat as it’s primary fuel source. Your body can do this for a very, very, very (etc) long time. Even when doing light exercise (i.e. walking and light jogging) your body will continue to pull most of its energy from fat because it has the oxidative time to do so (McArdle, 30). We will call this light activity “at-will”. As a trained adventurer you can deal good blows to a “minion” type enemy without putting yourself in a tizzy and you can do this for a long time before getting significantly winded.
Once we start really moving (i.e. running) and getting our heart rate up pretty high our bodies will stop pulling energy from fat and start using predominately carbohydrates in our blood stream and liver (McArdle, 15). These carbs are a much quicker energy source for a body in significant motion, but we have a much more limited supply on hand (McArdle, 148). Hence, the invention of the sugary sports drinks to fuel athletes who train and compete for hours on end. You know how Michael Phelps has to eat obscene amounts of bread and pasta in a day? He needs every bit of it to maintain his ability to do hours upon hours of high aerobic training. Lets look at this high aerobic activity as an “encounter power”. Encounter powers suggest difficulty, but are easy enough to gain back once an adventurer takes a five-minute breather and sucks back a trail ration. You’re dwarf has replenished his carb stores with hardtack, yum. Bring on the horde!
Hopefully everything so far has been easy enough to follow. Here we tackle the ATP-PCr system. Here I will spare you the minute details of a very fascinating and intricate metabolic process. Lets just say that ATP is a valuable molecular product of metabolism, a ton of work is in play just for the production of a few precious ATP molecules. We only have enough ATP in our bodies to last about 2-5 seconds of all out sprinting, and PCr chimes in with about 5-8 second to simultaneous boot. In unison we get about 6-8 seconds max of bursting energy output (note: these numbers vary slightly depending on the resource, but you get the idea). The body is moving at such a rate that is splitting on-hand ATP and oxygen utilization isn’t even necessary (McArdle, 131). This activity cannot be repeated until your body replenishes it’s ATP-PCr stores. Although ATP is constantly being synthesized PCr stores do take a few minutes of rest to rebuild. This is a very good example of a “daily” power. Your fighter companion has been swinging his long sword at goblins all afternoon and breaking a light to moderate sweat. Now you’ve run into a big bad solo and you see the defender go into a complete flurry of movement and in a matter of seconds has dealt three or four weapon damage. Or maybe he wound back his weapon and released a blow that appears supernatural in strength. This is ATP-PCr at work, it has been used, and now your body is working to make more. I hope you hit! It's okay you do half damage on a miss anyway!
Obviously this is not a perfect match up between fantasy and physiology, but it is a decent answer to the question, “if I’m capable of hitting this hard, why can’t it be my at-will?” If your character is doing something that is limited to once a day usage (magical or material) it’s probably because the amount of energy expended to do so is greater than the amount of energy you can regenerate within the next few seconds or couple of minutes. Mr. Universe may be able to bench press over 500lbs. but he only works out 3 or 4 times per week, and when he is training he’s not doing his max capacity. Conclusively, rest is pretty essential whether your’re a body builder, track star, wizard or fighter.
I believe that the at-will, encounter, and daily restriction on all classes are appropriately equated with the human body’s natural fat, carb and ATP-PCr fuel sources. The harder the activity you try and do, the less available your energy stores are per that activity. This is not a perfect analogy and players are still entitled to grump about daily powers feeling limiting if they wish. This is only how I wrap my head around the limitations set upon classes that do not have an arsenal of widely different types of powers.
McArdle, W.D., Katch, F.I., Katch, V.L., Sports and Exercise Nutrition 3rd Edition. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins. 2009