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Specifically, does this system allow characters to deal damage far beyond what would typically be expected from characters of their level?

I'm working on a techno-fantasy setting for a campaign, and want to have a system of magical 'implants', for want of a better word, which will allow characters to temporarily boost a stat at the expense of a debuff for a significant cooldown period afterwards.

What I'd like to know is if this system has any exploits that allow characters to deal game breaking amounts of damage.

For example: A first level character with a battle axe and strength of 16 can do a max of 11 damage per round using a standard melee attack. Using this system the character could potentially do 21 damage every three rounds with that same melee attack.

Are there any situations which do perform better than not using the system? The goal is to allow characters to be able to trade more damage spread over time (vanilla) for short burst damage.

In a nutshell: A character could use a bonus action to boost their base stat for a number of rounds, followed by an identical but negative modifier to that stat for twice the number of rounds.

For example: A character with strength 10 could boost to strength 12 for one round, gaining a +1 modifier. They end the boost at the end of their turn, and for the next two turns are on cooldown, and debuffed to strength 8, taking a -1 modifier to strength.

Specifics

Limits: The limit on how much/long a character can boost is determined by their base stat. The total benefit gained can never exceed that stat. This is calculated by adding together all of the benefit gained thus far. So a boost of 2 for 4 rounds is a total of 8.

For example: A character with 14 dex could boost to 28 dex for one round, or to 21 dex for two rounds, or 18 for three rounds.

Save: At the end of every turn using a boost, roll a d20. If a 20, the turn doesn't count against the limit, though the turn does count towards the cooldown period. If a 1, immediately enter burnout. If less than 10, the turn counts double towards both the limit and cooldown.

For example:

  • A character has a dex of 14 and is boosting to 28, and at the end of their turn they roll a 6. They enter burnout.
  • A character has a dex of 14 and is boosting to 16. They can maintain this boost for 7 rounds. At the end of turn one they roll 20, and still have 7 turns remaining. At the end of turn two they roll 6, and have 5 turns remaining. They decide to end the boost, and go on cooldown for 6 turns at a dex of 12.

Burnout: Immediately make a save vs. your reduced stat, passing if you roll lower than the stat. If you fail, take direct damage equal to your unmodified stat. On a pass, take half as much. You may not boost again until you finish a short rest, and your cooldown time is doubled.

For example:

  • A character with strength 18 is boosting to 36. They roll a 4 on their save, and enter burnout. They roll a d20 for their burnout save, but as their modified stat is 0 they cannot pass. They take 18 direct damage and have strength 0 for 4 rounds.
  • A character with char 13 if boosting to 14. They roll a 1 on their save, and enter burnout. They roll a 6 on their burnout save, which is under 12, so they pass. They take 6 direct damage, and are at char 12 for 4 rounds.

Misc and edge cases:

  • Only one stat can be boosted at a time.
  • In the case of a con boost, temporary hit points are added for the HP the character would have gained. On cooldown, the hp max is reduced as if the character were at the new lower con as if the character had been hit for that much damage by a wraith. Any hp lost in this way are regained after cooldown ends. If this were to take a character below 0 hp, they will end cooldown but immediately enter burnout.
  • The time increments are standard rounds when in combat (i.e. 6 seconds). Out of combat the time increment is one minute. Any carryover is directly converted. The rationale here is that the intensity of energy use is about the same for these periods.

    For example: A sorcerer has boosted char from 16 to 20 to sweet talk a guard. Getting past the guard the party is recognized by their target and they enter combat. The sorcerer had been boosted for 2 min, so they can continue the boost for two rounds of combat, or immediately end the boost for four rounds of cooldown at a char or 12.

Notes: I'm fairly confidant that this system doesn't unfairly advantage one class or race over another. In cases where AC is dex dependent (dragon sorcerer, monk, some armor) the AC can be boosted, but this is balanced out by the reduced ac on cooldown. There is the potential for casters to be incredibly powerful for short bursts, as their spell save dc would be modified as well, but this would not be terribly reliable, and would realistically only deal with one wave of enemies, making them dead weight for the rest of an encounter. I see the system as fostering teamwork, as characters could take turns boosting and defending those on cooldown, adding a lot of versatility in the types of threats that they can deal with. I also think that it scales fairly well, as at higher levels the effects of burnout become more manageable, allowing for higher boosts given the risk/reward.

For further consideration: Should a boost require a bonus action to shut off? Should a boost require a bonus action each round to be maintained? Should the boost only be allowed in increments of 2, so that a character has to take some sort of penalty, or is the potential for burnout enough (as in the second burnout example)? What level would these implant's be appropriate for? I'm currently planning on introducing them at level 5.

I welcome any feedback, even if not specifically answering the question! Thanks!

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closed as primarily opinion-based by LegendaryDude, Slagmoth, inthemanual, Oblivious Sage, Pyrotechnical Mar 13 '17 at 18:36

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is interesting @MasterArcanist, but I recently voted to keep it closed. With your edits it no longer looks so opinion-based, but it still strikes me as far too broad. If only for the fact that it'd require an analysis of all twelve classes, perhaps severally when thinking about archetypes. (That's something like forty different class-archetype combinations to consider!) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Mar 13 '17 at 22:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's fair. I've got what I needed out of it anyhow. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – MasterArcanist Mar 13 '17 at 23:24
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This is a significant change to the balance of the game.

First, the way this system works is that it allows you to 'boost' and thus attain a Burst of power. The classes that will benefit from this the most are the ones who already focus on Bursts.

For example, a Paladin, when they choose to, can hit you like five tons of bricks...but they can only do that a few times per day. A Barbarian is focused on the boost they get from Raging. Classes like this are already focused on being extremely potent for a short period of time...and one Archetype of Barbarian already takes penalties after his more potent Rages.

On the other hand, classes like the the Fighter are mostly focused on sustained, reliable damage...rather than massive bursts. They would still benefit from this, but not as remarkably. Their benefit would mostly be a slight curve up in their to-hit chance.

The other primary impact of this will benefit classes with Single Attribute Dependency (most Fighters, Wizards, Rogues, etc) over classes with Multiple Attribute Dependency (Paladins, Monks, any half-caster Archetypes). Single Attribute Dependent classes can boost their one Attribute, and gain a benefit across their entire Class's Capabilities. Multiple-Attribute Dependent Classes can still only boost a single Attribute, and thus they can only enhance part of their class's capabilities.

So, a SAD class can use their Enhance to boost everything they can do...a MAD class can use their Enhance to boost about half of what they can do. Clearly, a SAD class is going to benefit from this more.

A few other callouts that are worth mentioning...

DEX characters will get a greater boost from this than other melee classes. A high-Dex Class uses their Dexterity for both Offense and Defense (AC). Therefore, a STR character boosting their attack stat is only boosting their Offense...but a DEX character boosting their attack stat is boosting both their Offense and Defense. DEX also happens to be the most common Saving Throw against spells, so they are boosting against that as well.

Light Armor (or Mage Armor or Unarmored Defense) will be better than Medium or Heavy Armor...because you can Boost DEX to increase your AC when needed. If you are wearing Medium or Heavy Armor, you're stuck with Bounded AC, and are going to get hit a lot by anything that can Boost.

Characters with limited resources would gain a greater benefit from this based on the ability to, essentially, guarantee a Hit. The spell Disintegrate, for example, deals phenomenal damage....when it connects. If it misses, it does nothing. Spiking your casting stat basically guarantees a hit. This is one of the limits of spellcasting. Spells generally hit harder than melee attacks, but if you miss...you are down a spell slot anyway. Being able to hike up your Spell Save DC or To-Hit roll by up to +10 for a single round means you aren't likely to miss unless your target boosted the defensive stat you chose to target.

Ultimately, what this idea of yours is doing...is making combat much more lethal. You are giving people the ability to override Bounded Accuracy (an important design feature of 5E) and only giving a few Classes the ability to override Bounded AC (Anyone who wears Light or No Armor). Even non-bursty classes can reliably boost their To-Hit rolls for the entire combat...while most other creatures and classes have no way to boost their AC to defend against it. Significantly Boosted spells become Unsaveable against unless you are boosting the right Save Stat. And, let's face it...an unsaveable Mass Suggestion would end most combat encounters instantly by enchanting the entire enemy force to surrender.

As the game progresses, this is going to get more and more unbalanced. At the most, a failed Burnout Save is going to hit you with 20 damage (unless you're a Barbarian, or have magic stuff that puts you above 20 in a stat). A Wizard with a +2 in Con (pretty common) would have 122 hp. Sure, I'll take a 50% chance of taking 20hp of damage in exchange for Guaranteeing a Hit with Disintegrate (avg. 70 damage), or ensuring that nobody can save against a Crowd Control or Enchantment spell. At Low Level, Burnout could kill you. At high level...that's a fair trade.

To give just one more example of this sort of boost being terribly unbalancing...

A high level Open-Hand Monk can guaranteed kill nearly anything without Legendary Resistance in a single strike. Assuming a Monk with maxed out Wisdom, they can spike their Wisdom score to 40 (+15) for a single round (assuming they are willing to risk suffering Burnout and...why wouldn't they?). This puts the Save for Quivering Palm at 29. Even Demogorgon (highest Con Save I can find) has less than a 50% chance of surviving it without having to pop a Legendary Resistance. A Player proficient in Con Saves caps out at +11 to their Save, meaning they have only a 15% chance of survival. The vast bulk of the MM, and most player classes have a 0% chance of survival. And because you can set Quivering Palm off any time you like after 'setting it up,' Boosting won't save you from it. You set it up, run away....then boost your WIS and set it off when you're having dinner (or boost your WIS when you hit, if that's how the DM mandates it should go).

So, to finally answer your question. This is going to significantly alter the balance of the game. It will make combat more dangerous as To-Hit bonuses outpace Armor Class. It will benefit Bursty damage dealers, Classes with Single Attribute Dependency, and (especially) people who use DEX as a primary stat over everyone else. So, not a particular class gaining the benefit...more like an entire class playstyle. Anyone who wants to wear anything but Light Armor, and focus on Burst Damage is going to be at a disadvantage.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you're right on just-about all counts, but I would have put more focus on SAD vs. MAD impact of the proposed change. To my mind this risks a reader getting lost in the trees (your on-point examples) and missing the contours of the forest (some systemic advantages the change confers). \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Mar 13 '17 at 19:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 Good point, I added that near the top and in the recap at the bottom. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Mar 13 '17 at 20:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel like you don't address the limitations.For the monk, if they boost to 40 and do set up the quivering palm, they drop to dex 0 for the next two turns, completely incapacitating them. They will not be able to take actions, their ac will drop to 5 + wisdom, and they will fall prone. So the opponent will have two turns to eliminate them without the chance for the monk to activate quivering palm. This makes it good for single targets that can't kill a prone character being defended by the party for two turns, but only if there aren't supporting creatures. \$\endgroup\$ – MasterArcanist Mar 13 '17 at 20:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Would you say that burnout damage equal to the modified stat would be a good starting point? \$\endgroup\$ – MasterArcanist Mar 13 '17 at 20:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MasterArcanist The Monk is spiking their Wisdom, not their Dex. And if dropping to Zero incapacitates you, boost to 39 instead of 40...leaving you with a 1 in your necessary stat. A Save of 28 is equally unattainable by most opponents. Yes, this is going to put a big hole in the Monk's AC...but virtually nobody catches a Monk that decides to run away (minimum speed of 55', can shut off their target's ability to take Reactions as part of the same Attack that set up Quivering Palm in the first place.) So you Attack and Flee, then set it off next round. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Mar 13 '17 at 20:51

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