Fakiness: Bring Back Tripping in 4th Edition!

This post is not about old vs new school. It is not about game balance or appropriateness. Nor is it about ho accurate the rules are in simulating “reality” in 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. It is about fakiness.

A Tripping Victim
A Tripping Victim

“Fakiness” is my term for the ability of any role-playing game to accurately simulate the completely unreal fantasy worlds that players aspire to experience. If you are playing in the standard elf-ridden, high magic, medieval England clone, then the role-playing game system needs rules to accommodate the tropes and trappings of that world, such as elves, magic, impossible combat maneuvers and other feats of derring-do.

These rules allow players to experience the world that lives in their heads, based on their personal experience and cultural inputs, like movies and books. Should the game system omit a key point, say magic as an example, the game is worse for it.

Herein lies my complaint; why the hell can’t I trip anyone in 4th Edition? Wait, before you start flaming me in the comments about how you can trip in 4E, read on. I do not want to hear about some “Dragon Magazine” article, supplement or feat that allows a “once per encounter” trip attempt by a specific character. I want every single character to have tripping. Look at the source material! Virtually every movie or book in the fantasy genre has at least one character at some point in the story tripping a bad guy at a critical moment. Usually the tripper is a non-combat character who just gets lucky, saving the designated hero in the process.

Fakiness demands that the peasant child should be able to trip the villain as he runs past to slay the designated hero. What are beautiful, but non-combatant princesses to do without a comely leg to hinder an attack? What about the dark stranger with a mission that does not want to reveal himself to the PCs just yet? How can he help them in combat? Easy, stick out a leg and foil a back-alley ambush.

All of which is impossible in 4th edition without a specific character class or a feat chain. I am especially annoyed because of the list of “universal” combat maneuvers that all PCs get.

PCs may:

Bull Rush

A halfling can try to grab a mighty knight, but he cannot trip him? Where is the fakiness in that? Yes, I know trip is relatively powerful, since it can limit actions in the next round. In the overall structure of a 4E combat, I cannot fathom how it would make a huge difference. It costs the victim a move action to stand up, annoying certainly, but not game breaking.

Let us all inject some fakiness back into our 4E games and bring tripping back to the table.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

12 thoughts on “Fakiness: Bring Back Tripping in 4th Edition!

  • March 25, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    You make an excellent point. I’ve always been really fond of those sorts of maneuvers, and I tend to take them for granted in any given system.

    (And fakiness is a really awesome technical term.)

    Tripping for everyone! *gets tripped and falls off the podium gloriously*

  • March 25, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    I am pretty sure you have seen it, but I will state it anyway. Anything that the players can come up with is possible in 4e and is covered in the DMG on page 42. This is the Infamous Rule on 42. Some people don’t like that you have to default to it for so many actions in 4e. I think it is fine. Check it out if you haven’t. It will open up your game if you are willing.

  • March 25, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    @Ravyn 🙂

    @Precocious–I am just annoyed that so many powers knock you prone, but PCs cannot do it at all. Of course a DM could errata on the fly and kludge something together, but it just strikes me odd that trip was overlooked in favor of (relatively) exotic maneuvers like bull rush.

  • March 26, 2009 at 2:34 am

    I don’t recall Tripping being explicitly covered by any other D&D iteration that 3.x. And for that matter, White Wolf, Shadowrun, etc, etc. As PrecociousApprentice says, in 4e, you page 42 it. In most game systems this would be some sort of Rule 0, GM’s call (and probably a skill roll).

  • March 26, 2009 at 2:15 am

    Bull rush isn’t really exotic. It’s a fancy term for shoving someone.

    Tripping isn’t that hard to improvise. I’m a little puzzled about it getting left out myself, but there are a couple ways of doing it, so maybe they wanted to keep the designated maneuvers straightforward, and handle the “you can do it this way or that way or the other way” stuff through page 42.

    The main methods I can see are Dex vs. Reflex or Str vs. Fort.

  • March 26, 2009 at 7:54 am

    Tripping at will would be far too powerful, since the tripped would grant combat advantage to all opponents until the tripped’s turn comes back around and can stand. I would let people narrate \knock prone\ powers as a trip, if they like.

  • March 26, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    @Gary Ouch. That’s not cool man. Realism (or Fakiness) out the door for mechanics’ sake. Tripping is powerful, that’s why it works. Remind me to avoid your table, I think I’d get up and leave. No offense, but that kind of focus on tactical combat advantage and nitpicking balance at the expense of reason irks me. (I suppose that’s why I’ve never liked D&D in any iteration)

    @Trask Yeah… that makes little sense. But why do we need to have every physical action possibly undertaken in combat to be reflected in some kind of power or feat or mechanical system? The GM coming up with a way to handle it is part of being a good GM. Having to rely on some explicitly printed feat or maneuver or some such for every significant combat action is the mark of someone who can’t think on the fly.

  • March 27, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    I’m with Gary. Also, what are all these fantasy books with noncombatants tripping people? The only fantasy world I can picture that happening is Gummi Bears.

  • March 27, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    Gary: It’s only too powerful if you (assuming you’re the GM) don’t balance it.

    It’s not “tripping at will,” but “attempting to trip at will.” You get to decide what the attempt involves.

    For instance, you could rule that a Str-based trip attempt must follow a successful grab — you need to get a good grip on your target before you can throw him to the ground through brute force. That means you’ve now spent two standard actions to achieve that prone condition, and you haven’t caused much (or any) damage. Fair trade.

    Meanwhile, a Dex-based trip could take only one action, but prompt opportunity attacks from the target or from any adjacent enemy — that maneuvering to get the right position and leverage to sweep the enemy’s legs out from under him is basically just like movement, and you’re paying attention to your target’s stance and balance instead of keeping an eye on all the surrounding threats. You could even rule that a successful hit on those OAs ruins the attempt.

    It’s just a matter of what you decide the character has to give up in exchange for making the attempt.

  • March 28, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    Page 42: “You make it possible for the players to try anything they can imagine.”

    Seems pretty clear to me.

    Now you just need to decide how you think it ought to work and implement it.

    Personally, and off the top of my head, I’d probably have it work with mechanics similar to Bull Rush (Strength vs. Fortitude) – although perhaps I might go with an approach analgous to 3.x in which case it would be Strength versus the opponents choice of Fortitude or Reflex.

    Off hand, it doesn’t seem too imbalancing since the character is choosing to take this action rather than an action that would more directly harm the opponent. You are trading your own damage for the ability of others to do more damage.

    And the benefits of that “extra damage” are offset by the fact that – if there are multiple players attacking the creature -they most likely already had combat advantage due to flanking.

    And it is not as powerful as it was in 3.x because it you no longer draw OAs when you stand up. So its other major effect is hampered movement – and it is not significantly more useful in that regard than bull rush or grab.


  • March 29, 2009 at 2:14 am

    I don’t know if I agree that non-combatants tripping bad guys is a common trope of fantasy fiction. I might agree that an NPC performing some sort of action to distract the villain during a fight is common enough though.

    One example that jumps into my head at the moment is Maid Marion throwing candle wax on the sheriff during the climactic battle in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”.

    In a 4E game, I would probably just adjudicate these as an improvised attack (p. 42 of the DMG) which either adds a circumstance modifier to the next attack or causes the opponent to grant combat advantage until the characters next turn.

    An example “Maid Marion candle wax attack” might be:

    Make Dex vs Fort melee attack while wielding the candle. Hit: Opponent takes 1d6+3 damage from the wax. All attackers gain a +2 circumstance bonus to their attacks against the target until the end of your next turn.

    Also, since she is an NPC, I might just build in an encounter power that does something similar when I am designing the encounter. Something like this:

    Distracting Presence -(Standard; Encounter; Melee) +7 vs Will. Marion can do something distracting (throw something, attempt to trip the opponent, etc) that will cause the target to grant combat advantage against one opponent of Marion’s choice until the end of her next turn.

    Despite all of that, I am not opposed to tripping rules being added back into 4E. Now that the prone condition is not as detrimental as it was in 3E, it seems much less likely to unbalance the game.

  • March 31, 2009 at 12:14 am

    I myself was building a whip-tripping goblin to use in my game and found out they didn’t exist. So I just made their ability (and characters could mimic it quite well), as a STR based check vs Reflex. The harder you pull on the whip, the more dexterous your opponent needs to be not to fall off…

    Could also be applied vs Fortitude.

    My monster’s ability was a little stronger in the sense that it had reach 3, knocked prone then pulled you next to him so his minions could cut you to pieces.

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