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Does your D&D 4e Character have enough NADs?

 “A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.”  ~ Douglas Adams

OK.  So, maybe it’s not the best acronym in the world, but it is certainly eye-catching.  And I will do my best to keep the double-entendre to a minimum, but I’m not making any promises.

There has been a lot of debate on various Message Boards, like the EN World and the Official Wizards of the Coast 4e forums, about the seeming discrepancy between the Rate at which Monsters gain Attack Bonuses and the Rate that the Non-AC Defenses (NADs) increase, particularly during the Paragon and Epic Tier.  The Fortitude, Reflex, and Will Defenses start to fade noticeably beyond the Heroic Tier, and unless actively bolstered by Magic Items and Feats.

The NAD Discrepancy must not have been too obvious to the Designers at the release of 4e, as there were only a few Feats presented in the PHB to bolster the Non-AC Defenses, such as Combat Anticipation for area and close attacks, and the Great Fortitude/Iron Will/Lightning Reflexes set, which bolstered individual defenses separately.  But these were only Paragon Tier Feats, and there were no additional Non-AC Defense Feats to be had in the Epic Tier.

But clearly, the design issue revolving around that Character NADs vs. Monster Attack Bonuses must have finally been noticed, because several more Feats were added in PHB 2, in what many seem to feel was a “hot fix”.  While the Paragon Tier received only the Paragon Defenses Feat which boosted all Non-AC Defenses, the Epic Tier was suddenly bursting with NAD improving Feats: Robust Defenses, Epic Fortitude/Reflexes/Will, Indomitable Will, Opportune Reflexes, and Unyielding Fortitude.

Surprisingly, some Players and DMs object to this fix, declaring the necessity of using NAD Increasing Feats to bolster a Character’s lagging Fortitude, Reflex, and Will Defenses as a “feat tax”.  The basic premise behind the protest is this:

If nearly all Characters have to waste Feat slots on these NAD Bonus Feats to avoid a virtual auto-hit by a Monster of equal Level, then it must stand to reason that there is something wrong with the Rules regarding the advancement of Non-AC Defenses.

So rather than force Players to have to spend Feat after Feat in order to have some chance of withstanding Monster Attacks against their NADs, some DMs have been looking at House Rule solutions to fix the problem.  There has been some great brainstorming and posts to the message boards, and I’ve tried to gather the most logical suggested home-brew rules here.

Each of the recommended House Rules below can be stacked together in order to shore up the NADs of the Characters in your individual campaign.  As every campaign is different, DMs will have to decide for themselves how much or little Non-AC Defenses need bonuses.  And it is probably not a good idea to use all these House Rules and allow the NAD Bonus Feats, or you will have Monsters incapable of doing real damage against your Heroes. 

House Rules for Increasing Non-AC Defenses
  1. Increase NADs +1/+2/+3 at levels 5/15/25.
  2. Increase NADs +1 at Level 11 and +2 at Level 21.
  3. Change the Class Bonus to NADs from +2 to one Defense to +2 to all NADs.
  4. Allow both Stats to modify the NAD (ie. STR and CON add to the Fortitude Defense).
  5. Increase the Stat Increases at Levels 4, 8, 14, 18, 24 and 28 from +1 to two Stats to +1 to 3 Stats.
  6. Increase NAD Bonus of Neck Items by +1 without changing the Item Level (ie. A +1 becomes a +2, a +2 becomes a +3, etc).

Obviously, the use of official NAD Bonus Feats, and some combination one or more of the House Rules listed will have to be carefully adjudicated by DMs.  I am personally not in favor of outlawing all Feats that increase NADs, as not every class will achieve a desired level of defense against these types of attacks.  Rather than banning all Feats, I would recommend to DMs that they should evaluate whether the average “hit” chance against NADs is around 50%.  If that Character has reached an average of 50% hit, then further bonus Feats should be discouraged.  This should be determined on a Character by Character basis.


A 15th Level Rogue has defenses of AC 29 / Fort 21 / Reflex 32 / Will 26. 

The Average NAD is (21+32+26)/3 = 79 / 3 = 26.333, or round down to 26. 

The Attack Bonus for a 15thLevel Monster vs. NADs ranges from Level +1 to Level +5 depending on role.  But for both the Average and Median Attack Bonus = + (Level + 3.5) = +18.5. 

This can be rounded to +19 Average Attack Bonus for a 15th Level Monster.

AveNAD=26 vs. AveAttBonus +19 => Hit Chance of 70%

In this example, the Rogue in question would be eligible for NAD Bonus Feats.

In my own two D&D 4e Campaigns, I am going to be using House Rules #1 and #2.  I may try #6 if NADs are still not at a reasonable level, and Players resort to assign too many Feats to their Characters.  While House Rule #5 is an interesting solution, I am concerned about the ramifications to Characters “to hit” bonuses of adding too many Stat Points.

Of course, the alternative to House Rules, such as those above, would be to just accept the “feat tax”, and allow Characters to use the NAD Bonus Feats to bolster their defenses.  While this is the simplest method, it does detract from the development of individual Characters by reducing a number of feat slots available for more interesting selections.

I would welcome feedback and further discussion about other House Rules to fix the Non-AC Defense Issue.  And want to thank Posters to the EN World and WotC Forums for such lively debate concerning the “NAD Deficiency”, as well as their recommendations for repairing the design problem. 

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

About The Author

Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.


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