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Currently, if you're a summoner wizard, necromancer, or a beast master - summons are just not that good.. you have to spend an entire action to move/act with them and most the time it's just not worth it.

As a DM I want to allow my players to be able to control each of them separately (having their own turns). I realize this will make them stronger but I can always throw harder combat encounters at them to counter this.

Has anyone else done this? Do you think this is a good idea?

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Welcome to the site, this question seems a bit opinion based... –  Ze Demon Pyro Feb 24 at 19:19
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@ZeDemonPyro there are answerable mechanical questions here. Just because something is opinion based, does not mean that it is not a good question. The prohibition is on primarily opinion based questions. This one is primarily objectively answerable. –  wax eagle Feb 24 at 19:36

5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted
+100

Summons that have Instinctive Effects

Your players should choose (or you could create) summons with Instinctive Effects. The are actions which trigger of the summon hasn't been told to do anything by the end of the player's turn.

For example, the Druid Level 1 daily, Summon Giant Toad has:

Instinctive Effect: If you haven’t given the toad any commands by the end of your turn, it attacks the same creature that it attacked during your previous turn. If it can’t do that, it attacks an enemy within 3 squares of it if it can. Otherwise, it moves its speed to a square within 3 squares of the nearest enemy.

Be sure to check out this question (Is there any way to get multiple standard actions for Summoners in D&D 4E?) for other related suggestions.

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Houserule: Auto Attack Current Target

I've used the following variant with three different groups, and it's a lot of fun.

Here's the card I generate for summoned (or companion) creatures (see the house rule text at the end...)

Houserule Companion Card

Here's the generic version:

House Rule: As a standard action - a summoned creature may commanded to repeatedly use the same basic attack against the same target each turn without any further action required. The basic attack will repeat until the summoner, companion, or target is incapacitated - or the companion ordered as a standard action to do something else.

In terms of combat, this makes the companion/summoned creature something like a drop-dead-simple, but 50% effective, player-controlled second character and much more fun to play.

This slightly increases party strength against small numbers of foes, but against large mobs (like minions) really doesn't change things much. As a DM I slightly increase the difficulty of the combats. When designing encounters, add half the XP budget increase for another PC in the group. This kind of companion is about as effective as two minions.

It's a great way to burn those plentiful healing surges!

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I haven't done this, so cannot answer from experience.

Do you think this is a good idea?

As usual it depends on the group. It is worth going to the apparent reasons for the way summons work in 4E, to decide whether these issues would affect you and your players:

  • In 4E there is by design a strong balance factor maintained between PCs, irrespective of class. This attempts to ensure that all players get equal opportunities for "screen time" and effectiveness in battle. A powerful summoner is going to look maybe twice as effective as other non-summoning characters in combat, because the companions are direct result of that PC.

  • A core resource in 4E combats is your number of actions. That is why Action Points are such a limited resource, and the reason why getting side-benefits on Minor actions is useful etc etc.

  • 4E combats are quite slow, and the pace slows down for each action that needs to be described.

  • Un-restricted actions for summoned creatures are something that makes the Druid (or other summon specialist) characters top-tier classes in edition v3.5 - all else being equal, it can be a game changer in terms of PC-to-PC balance (after level 5 or so, a Druid can be equivalent to 2 or more Fighters)

The above are IMO drivers for the more restrictive summons powers in 4E. Daily summons powers often add small extra attacks, because Daily class powers provide encounter-long buffs in many cases. But adding that effect to constant companions enlarges the turn of players who have companions, and skews balance in favour of classes, feats and backgrounds which grant them.

If you have power-players in your group, they might pick up on advantages from having more actions, and you will find yourself running slow encounters with 10 sets of actions on the player side.

If your group is more RP heavy, then it would be less of an impact. But the counter argument to that is if the motivation is "I want my Necromancer to command the living dead in battle" well then he/she already does. The actions are just mechanics, and shouldn't spoil your RP.

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Keep in mind that the main feature is supposed to be that even though the character isn't the powerhouse themselves, the summon is. Thus, they act through the summon/pet/whatever. Keep in mind that a Warlord can be treated the same way by using other party members to attack in their stead. Typically the way that I use extra critters in games I run is to give them personalities and let them become more of the RP aspect itself. In combat 4e treats them as a weapon/medium most traditionally and it's just simply a feature of the system. I would recommend trying 3.5e if you want them to be more dynamically separate but I do realize that it's not always that easy.

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"Why have one when you can have many"

While I agree with some of the above posters that instinctive effects can make for more enjoyable summons, the problem is you're converting your summoned creatures into a "throw and go" style of play. It's definitely better than the alternative of having to waste a standard action to do something, but there could be an alternative.

When I used to play Diablo II, I was in love with the necromancer. He would summon skeletons and lots and lots of them. If one of your players wants to go hard as a summoner, my suggestion would be to keep the summons functioning the way they normally do but with one slight rule change...

When a player uses a standard action or move action for his summon, he does a standard action or move action for ALL of his summons. Each summon will still do whatever it is they're good at, but it will provide a more dynamic and fun experience. This allows the player to essentially have multiple summons on the field at the same time where there is actually an incentive to have as many dailies as possible as summonings. In all likelihood, his summons will end up defining who his character is.

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+1 this would make it more fun. :-) –  F. Randall Farmer Mar 7 at 20:56

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