Certain abilities have very interesting effects, but are accompanied by damage. In combat, this is no problem. But say you want to use the ability outside of combat, for role-playing reasons.

Can you specify whether or not to apply the damage of a power, while retaining the other aspects? Are there any rules covering this, or does this rely solely on DM discretion?

Example: Psion class's at-will ability Memory Hole removes the mental representation of yourself from a target, brutally. I'd like to RP this without potentially killing/injuring something.

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ This sort of thing is exactly why I can't get into 4th ed. This isn't an acceptable answer, but have you considered stepping back an edition? Many spells and abilities from 2nd or 3rd ed had use outside of combat to encourage role play. \$\endgroup\$
    – Macona
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 8:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Heh, I'm actually fairly fresh into role-playing (aside from video-games), and the group I joined is using 4e. It's all I've really looked into so far, but from what I've read it seems like a fun system. Just stuff, like this question, has me wondering how far the system can go. \$\endgroup\$
    – UraAuran
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 8:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ To me, I would say this is at DM's discretion. I mean, my Warmage (in 3.5) once fixed a hole in my ship's hull by casting either Ice Ray, or Otiluke's Icy sphere to freeze the inflowing water and seal the breach. DM allowed it. \$\endgroup\$
    – acolyte
    Commented Jun 28, 2013 at 18:56

3 Answers 3


The thing to realize about 4e is, it's a combat system. 90% of it is to do with fighting, which is why the aren't any rules for integrating powers into other parts of the game. This is not to say you can't use them outside of combat at all, but that you'd have to rely on your own (and GM's) judgement. So there's nothing wrong with discarding damage in general.

With regards to the specific power in question, I'd probably rule that ripping memories out of someone's head may very well result in hit point loss representing migraine they get, up to unconsciousness. I'd offer a skill check to mitigate that damage, as rolling to-hit against commoners is pointless.

As medivh points out, damage is a fickle abstraction. 4e is not made to "make sense". Ability to do more damage (and, in fact, hit points and damage as such) doesn't really correspond to anything in-world, so saying a character loses the capability to do less damage as they gain levels is meaningless. See also my old blog post.

For bonus points, here's a more generalized approach we've used in our campaign. Very broadly defined skills of 4e take care of most of the out-of-combat "fluff". Arcana lets you do magic-y stuff, Athletics lets you get places and break things. On top of this, some powers provide exceptional capabilities, extending what skills can do. Some people teleport, others rip out memories. Finally, even things like Paragon Path or feats may suggest what a character can reasonably accomplish, again, extending skills use.

When it comes to a more structured form of out-of-combat tasks, skill challenges, at-wills enable usage of a skill that would otherwise be inappropriate, or grant +2 to the skill if they're particularly fitting to the task at hand. Fitting encounter powers grant a +5 bonus, and fitting dailies grant an auto success.

This is, of course, entirely a house rule.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I wouldn't say that damage doesn't correspond to anything - it corresponds to how close you are to being defeated - and is a far more reliable indicator of this in 4E than it is in earlier editions where it only counted "How close are you to being defeated by damage-dealing effects" and was circumvented by everything else. This is a very narrative thing though, so not everybody wants it in their game. \$\endgroup\$
    – shieldfoss
    Commented Jun 27, 2013 at 14:06

There is nothing explicit within 4e's rules against using powers out of combat..

Some powers, such as the Executioner (Assassin)'s class dailies, have out of combat uses for the power written on the card. Further more, 4e allows you to choose whether you are dealing lethal or non-lethal damage if you damage an enemy to 0 hp without any penalties to you as a player.

For any power that doesn't have this, such as the example you give, you could still use it out of combat and use of the power and specifically state you are dealing non-lethal damage, if any is dealt by the ability. From an RP perspective it completely makes sense to me and if its a daily or encounter then the power should be expended for an appropriate amount of time if you use it in this way, much as if you were using it during a combat encounter.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I was not saying that damage dealt either way affected HP differently, rather that at any time you can be dealing non-lethal damage in so much as you won't kill someone if they go unconscious. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27, 2013 at 18:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ It might be worth explaining what you mean by dealing non-lethal damage then, since this is a game where non-lethal damage previously had mechanical significance in the form of a separate HP bar for non-lethal damage. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27, 2013 at 21:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Edited to reflect that. I honestly have never played 3.5 beyond trying to make a character for it so any resemblance between my wording and 3.5's mechanics was unintentional. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2013 at 14:52

Remember that in D&D, damage is very nebulous - and in 4E particularly so: You reduce it not to kill but to defeat - whether through imprisonment, eternal slumber, knocking them unconscious or, ok, murder.

Additionally, your damage reflects your skill - it increases as your experience increases. As such, you can decide to deal less damage than your maximum - it makes no sense that if you have the ability, at level 1, to deal 1d6+2 damage, you lose this ability when you level up and can only deal 2d6+22 damage.

EDIT: I should add that this DOES rely on DM discretion, but there's an entire Dragon article about it so it's not something I'm pulling from thin air.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good answer, but indicating which Dragon article it is that discusses these issues, perhaps with a quote or two, would make it a better answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 13:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ It should also be mentioned that HP is a resource in 4e. And as such things have a cost. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 13:48
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan: I agree entirely (And upvoted your comment for it) but I'm not near my gaming computer and don't have DDI access any more. If anybody wants to edit the source in, go for it. \$\endgroup\$
    – shieldfoss
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 13:58

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