My game design notes are awash with the term “encounter equivalent” to the extent that I feel I should share my thoughts on the matter. Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons dabbled primarily in Daily and At-Will resources, while Encounter resources fluctuated wildly in utility. Fourth Edition really codified the Encounter resource.

But with that being said, Fourth Edition is really inconsistent as to what an Encounter resource can and should be able to accomplish. I’m trying to create a baseline at which Encounter resources can be measured, and make them more-or-less even across the board. In the process, we need to make some assumptions.

First Assumption: The Skill System is a joke. As such, an Encounter resource that simply grants X bonus to a skill is wildly underpowered. It doesn’t matter how long the bonus lasts, it’s just ridiculously weak on principle. There may be some fantastic benefits, but those tend to come from the utility of the skill itself.

A couple quick examples: Stealth can be used to gain invisibility (bonuses to defense per Cover and Concealment rules), and is a highly effective Skill in combat. Intimidate can be used to force a surrender out of a bloodied creature, which is effective. Arcana, History, Nature… any Knowledge skill is unbelievably useless in combat.

Second Assumption: Some Effects are rarer or more useful. Fourth Edition made real strides in making every member of the team feel effective in combat, but even still, some effects are more effective than others, not all characters are equal. Similarly, not all encounter effects are as useful as all that.

Your typical leader heal is way more useful than Second Wind. In the case of the latter, you spend a healing surge, get back your surge value in hit points, and you get a +2 bonus to defense until the start of your next turn. You give up your attack to take a breather for a turn. Seriously, it’s nice that you can, but it’s way too little.

The leader heal, by comparison, can usually target any ally within a burst 5 (some leaders get longer range, others get more effective heals, some grant temporary hit points instead, and so forth), require the expenditure of a minor action, and often sweeten the deal by throwing in some extra hit points. Oh, and the leader gets two.

There’s a clear advantage of a leader heal over the standard Second Wind. Now, depending on basic the Encounter resource, this can be an acceptable break. If everyone gets Second Wind, but only leaders get that heal, that’s cool. If everyone gets Opportunity Attacks, but defenders do it better, that’s also cool.

That’s where “Encounter Equivalent” starts to come in — when the players have access to resources that are the equivalent of a good Encounter power. Sometimes, like the leader heal, you get two, which one-ups the standard Second Wind option. Second Wind isn’t a bad power, everyone gets it. Leader heals are specialized.