Thursday, November 29, 2007

Smite for the camera

Twice in one week! The latest Design & Development article has yet more sneak-peeking into the 4th edition mechanics.

These info blocks that appear in the article give us an idea of the layout of special abilities that are available in 4th edition. The third line,
Encounter • Weapon
seems to say when the ability can be used (or perhaps the type of "per" power it is, per-day, per-encounter, etc.) and how the ability is used. I'm hoping that the format is still in transition - having just a dot between two words doesn't really lend itself to understanding to the casual player.

Melee weapon
line is reminiscent of the latest stat block (with their lack of colons). So Melee means it's a melee ability (and implies that it's an attack? Or that this is the range? Or some other use of "melee" as a term in 4e?) and that, err, it's still a weapon. An example where the Weapon in the third line and the weapon in the fifth line weren't the same might give some insight to each of their meanings.

Attack: Charisma vs. AC
(Oh look, the colon is back.) This is interesting, and grows from the idea of static saves, as discussed previously. Attack rolls have been merged in with saves and probably difficulty checks, to be all the same style of check. I'm assuming that the "Charisma attack" mentioned in the text block isn't just what 3rd edition would call a Charisma check, unless armor class calculations have changed; somehow the base attack needs to be added in there, unless of course that has gone by the wayside.

I don't know what I think of the Hit: and Miss: labels. I think I prefer the old succeed/fail nomenclature that you would see with skills and such. For abilities that aren't combat-specific, they're going to have other terms anyway, so why not share them? Especially if you've turned to-hit into a difficulty check.

I like the idea of the damage calculation:
Hit: 2x[W] + Cha
But not the notation. It works fine for geeks like me, but I'm hoping it's going to get reworded a little better. One interesting point is that that's the weapon's base damage, no strength, or other bonuses that might arise.

The Hit-or-Miss text says "an ally", which then gets amended to include the paladin itself, which is just a nitpick, but I don't think of myself as an ally.

Wow, all that from the first block.

Encounter • Healing, Weapon 
Okay, so everything after the dot is a ... subtype? And Encounter is the type? That might make sense, but I think I preferred the older bracketed method, and would want
Renewing Smite [Encounter • Healing, Weapon]
Nitpick? Perhaps, but what was broken with the old style?

Seeing Paladin 27 on the third smite made me pause for a second, having briefly forgotten about the 30-level base to 4th edition.

Here we see
Attack: Charisma vs. Will
which is like the old-style saving throws (many people, unless having done monster design, don't realize that the DC of effects is based on an attribute). With the static saves, the rolling is now done by the "attacker" instead of the defender in third edition. I'm starting to warm to this. Again, it's not clear whether there's a base attack that gets thrown in, because now you wouldn't expect it in a "saving throw" versus a "to-hit". Is there some base 10 that gets added into saves? Are the numbers completely different from what we've become accustomed? Are we going to feel disoriented as those coming from THAC0 did when going to d20?

"cannot gain line of effect". Does this mean just for targeted effects such as ranged attacks and rays? Or does this somehow prevent cones and area effects from affecting anyone but the paladin? And interesting ability regardless. Interesting that it's also until the end of your next turn, where in 3rd edition we got used to "the start of your next turn" as the usual mantra.

As usual, this glimmer of 4e has created more questions than answers, but it does show us that June is getting that much closer.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A nod to Tweet

Okay. I have to admit that Jonathan Tweet's last blog was actually useful. In a way.

The link he posted to an essay written by Slanderpanic posted here was a good read.

It was well written, and I completely agreed with the author. I also have a big problem with these "at will" powers and never ending supply of anything. I see it as the dumbing down of the game I love. The MMOification (hate that term but it is appropriate) of DnD to give it more appeal to the masses.

By the way, what masses are they trying to appeal to? It seems to me that anyone over the age of ten (give or take) should be able to manage their resources. And if they go and unload every spell they have at the first kobold they see, then they deserve to roll up a new character later on. After a few character deaths maybe they'll begin to learn. I believe that's a tried and true process.

Anyway, thank you Johnathan for finally contributing something, in a weak second hand way.

More on the glimpse into feats

Originally started this as a comment to Crwth's "Odiferous Feats" post. But it got so long that it became a separate blog...

I chalked up the "Heroic" vs "Paragon" tiers as nothing more than terminology, but now that you mention it, I think it probably will be tied to character level. Which sucks!

I think the roles of "sniper", "controller" etc... are just loose descriptors and not an actual game mechanic. The only place I'd expect to see them is in the MMs.

I caught that Action Points will be core. No big surprise but I did forget to mention it in my blog (despite my mental note to do so).

At first glance I like the new version of Toughness. The current 3.5 version is blah, but this one gives a continuous benefit, which I like. I'll probably take it on most of my human casters.

I can't believe I missed the "squares" thing under the Golden Wyvern. Goddamn! I hate that! How about "omit a number of 5' gaps...". WotC can push their fucking "squares" on us all they want, I ain't buying their fucking minis. In fact I'm boycotting them just out of spite.

As for prerequisites, I can't see the Golden Wyvern feat having none. It must be part of a specific tree or path. In fact I'm sure I've seen that "Golden Wyvern" phrase somewhere else. Tome of Battle maybe? Another dev blog?

Anyways, it's looking more and more like everything is tied to level & class. In fact, I can see why character creation has been touted as much simpler in 4e. All you do is pick a race and a class then plug in the Lego blocks as you go. No decisions. No resource management. No strategy or tactics. No creativity. With the talent trees and feat design it's just plug'n'play.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Odoriferous feat(s)

While I agree with Griff about the feats losing some of their appeal by not being available to everyone, what really got me about this latest Design & Development article was the peek into some 4th edition design.

The four feats all have a Tier field. Now, I might be losing track of the few bits of information that they've let out, but aren't "heroic" and "paragon" similar to the terms they've been using when talking about the level ranges? Are these Tiers stating that this is a feat that can be (only) taken in the 1-10 range, or the 11-20 range?

Given that the description blocks don't have "leader", "sniper", "warlord" as any kind of field, does this mean that feats aren't going to be listed in one place, having their separation into classes defined in the text block, but rather they're going to exist under the class description, much like class abilities do now?

Toughness is missing the text that you can take it multiple times. I suppose this new version is better than the old one, but is this really the case?

"You don't grant enemies combat advantage in surprise rounds." Is this just flavor text, or is "combat advantage" a 4e term for "opponent is flat-footed"?

Perception checks -- we've merged Listen and Spot? I can't remember if we'd read that somewhere. (And Move Silently and Hide -- were those now a Stealth skill?)

A feat bonus. Nice to see that the bonus from feats isn't unnamed, but does that mean that feat bonuses don't stack? Or are they added to the list of stackable ones, like Dodge and (sometimes) Circumstance?

Action point. Okay, fine, I guess they're a core rule now.

"You can omit a number of squares...". A number of squares. A number of SQUARES. Fine, it'd be awkward to have "a number of 5'x5' areas...", but perhaps that means that it shouldn't be a feat. I've ranted about squares versus feet before, but I can't help it: creatures/players/NPCs do not have to stand in a grid. They can stand in a completely arbitrary space. They do not have to fit between some imaginary lines on the ground. THIS MECHANIC HAS NO ROOM IN A ROLEPLAYING GAME.

"...wizard powers. This number can't exceed your Wisdom modifier." Wisdom mattering for a Wizard? Is this a rare occurrence (a non-core ability score mattering to a class feat), or is this going to be typical, where you will have a primary ability, a secondary, and maybe a tertiary, much like Monks and Paladins seem to in 3rd edition?
Or, perhaps, based on the name of this feat, the Golden Wyvern "focus/path" is an Intelligence/Wisdom hybrid?

"...close wizard powers." Is this talking about range, as we think of it in 3rd edition? Or is this a category of wizard powers that may or may not have the same range (though, you'd figure they're "close")?

No prerequisites are listed. Is that because they're in some tree to which you must refer to find prerequisites? Is it based on the Tier alone? Can it be that none of these four have any?

No feat "type", such as [General] or [Fighter]. Perhaps omitted for clarity, or perhaps a sign that these definitions don't exist?

Okay, that's about all I could glean from 100 or so words. "Yay" for the snippet of info, but in general the article rated a "boo" for what it told us.

Just shut up already.

Dear Jonathan Tweet, please, I'm beggin' you, just stop already.

I realize that your boss is probably telling you that part of your job is to blog for the community. I understand that it's part of the marketing effort to be 'in touch' with the dnd fans and consumers of WotC's product.

That's all well and good. I applaud the effort and appreciate that the game designers have an open channel of communication with us, the fans.

But, seriously, stop blogging Jonathan. Just. Stop.

I don't care about your feelings on chocolate bars, or polls, or what animal you like to game with. Send those inane ramblings off to some other remote corner of the blog'o'sphere.

As Crwth said to me the other day, we want developer blogs, not blogs by developers.

Give us some insight into 4e, of which you must have tons to offer, or just go silent. Please. Pretty please.

You must be this class to take this ride.

After reading the latest Dev&Des article I am both encouraged and discouraged. Disencouraged? I dunno. Whatever.

The article gives some sweet insight into the role of feats in 4e. First of all, applause for keeping feats in the new edition. I love feats. I'm a whore for feats. I like to map them out. I like to use them. I think they add tons of versatility and uniqueness to a character. As far as game mechanics go, the feat system in 3.5 is probably my favorite.

So, while I'm glad to see that feats will be a part of 4e, I'm not so thrilled by the implementation. As per Andy Collins, a guy who probably knows, the majority of feats are being rolled into each class.

My reaction to this can be summed up in one cute little acronym. WTF?

This is exactly what I feared losing in 4e. The versatility and freedom to make any character I can imagine. No longer will I be able to mix up archetypes and concepts through choice of class, feats, skills, and spells.

Instead, if I want Spring Attack, I'll have to play a ranger or rogue. If I want Power Attack, well, that's under the Fighter and Barbarian class only. Think a sorcerer with a spiked chain and Improved Trip would be fun? Sorry. You'd need the Exotic Weapon feat and Combat Expertise, both of which are buried in the fighter type classes.

Maybe multi-classing will save the day. I'm certainly not above dipping into second or third classes for an extra feat or some proficiencies. However, I'm not willing to hamstring my character at later levels for a feat I should have been able to take at 3rd, 6th, or 9th level regardless of chosen class.

So I'm miffed.

Then there's this thing called "Tiers". As in...
Tier: Heroic
Benefit: When you take this feat, you gain additional hit points equal to your level + 3. You also gain 1 additional hit point every time you gain a level."

In the article Collins lists two kinds of tier. Heroic and Paragon. Interesting in that it's somewhat concrete proof of the whole talent tree concept. Cool, I guess. I'm just too pissed off about the feat thing to care.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Wishlist, part 3

Continuing the series (and my train of thought)...

3. Get rid of Alignment.

At best it's a clumsy mechanic that serves no real purpose in game. At worst, it's a set of handcuffs we don't need.

Okay. It defines things for clerics. Gives the paladin class a prerequisite and something to detect. And adds all those nice Protection from Evil type spells or effects.

None of that is reason enough to carry on with the alignment system. Not when it could be so easily dropped or replaced.

Think about it. How often do you stop and wonder if your Neutral Good rogue would really be okay with stealing? Never? Yeah. Same here.

In fact the only time I ever pause to consider alignment is at character creation, and even then only if it's applicable to the class I want or a Prestige that's down the road. Once in a while I even try to match up with a god's alignment. Otherwise it's only use in game is to rationalize my selfishness and greed. "Sorry I left you guys to die to that dragon while I ran in, grabbed that badass sword, bag full of jewels, and fled. But my character is chaotic neutral."

Besides being a handy tool for rationalization, every other redeeming quality for alignment can easily be replaced.

That sword of good that gives a +2 to hit and extra damage vs evil? Um. Have you heard of Bane weapons?

The Protection from Evil spell? Change it to Protection from Outsiders. Or undead. Or giants. Etc...

The paladin and monk? Make 'em stick to a code or philosophy instead. Chivalry or Buddhism or whatever.

Detect Evil? That spell/ability is a thorn in the side of any DM. Think they'll miss it? Guess again. Better yet, use roleplaying to figure out if something or someone is evil. "So Mr. Ogre. Would you rather help build an orphanage or eat the orphans?"

Easy peasy. No more alignment. No major changes to the game. We can even keep the cosmology as it is with Lawful vs Chaotic being just a concept as opposed to a hard and fast set of rules. As an added bonus it also eliminates one of the hardest concepts for new players to grasp. And best of all, it makes a certain dual wielding ranger Drow almost believable.

Aligning the Unaligned.

Rich Baker's recent blog (from Nov 17th) has the following quote. "We'd like to see most fey move from Good to unaligned and somewhat perilous."

The reasoning behind that is to give DMs the option of throwing the occassional Fey type creature at the players. With most characters being of good alignment (or at least neutral) the typical Fey encounter is roleplay only. A Smokey the Bear type thing or an encounter with that give a hoot and don't pollute owl.

So, I'm all for opening up the Fey so that the traditional good aligned party can dust it up with an evil Fey. As it stands now the best thing about the Fey are the sexy pictures of the nymph and dryad (hubba hubba!). So let's make all the monsters in the Manual useful and/or fightable.

The part that struck me however, is the "unaligned" thing.

For the same reason as above I'm okay with monsters in the MM being "unaligned". I'm just curious about where they'll draw the line.

As I see it, about 99% percent of the monsters could easily be tagged as "unaligned". A few like the demons, devils, DMs, and slaad are unequivically chaotic and/or evil. But the rest? Dragons maybe, depending on whether they are metallic or chromatic. Still, if you can have a chaotic evil pixie, why not a tainted and lawful evil silver dragon? Or a fallen Solar who's lawful evil? Maybe even a good aligned Drow ranger who dual wields scimitars.

Nah. That last one is just too stupid to be believable.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Crafting dilemma

Phew! Finally finished making this uber magic item of sheer awesomeness! Now I'm gonna kick some serious ass. What? Whaddya mean I lost a level?

That's the crafting dilemma. You buy all those feats. You gather up the gold pieces. You might even do a few side quests to collect the materials you'll need. All so you can have that dream magic item. The one that'll make your character truly l33t.

But then you get the bill. As in the cost in experience points. It's a price that makes any gamer turn a ghastly pale. We work so hard for those xp, losing them for any reason... seems, well... blasphemous.

To be honest, I do see some merits behind having an xp cost for crafting magic items. Besides the time (either of which can easily be glossed over with the DM's magic wand of instant time advancement) and the money, crafting a magic item should involve some sacrifice. No more waiting for the capricious treasure tables to spit up what you want. For a bit of xp you can have that magic item you really need for a fraction of the market price. I'd even suggest that it's a little more realistic in that there's a visible drain on your power.

On the other hand, I think that the downside is pretty severe. Casters, and the wizard in particular, don't really shine until the upper levels. To handicap that advancement so that they can craft items is borderline cruel. If the party wizard churns out custom items for all his buddies he could easily fall a level behind. Or more. Sure, everyone has shiny armor and protections and vorpal blades, but the poor wizard is still two levels away from Power Word: Kill.

Now, 4e promises to make magic items far less important than they currently are in 3.5. So this whole crafting issue might be totally irrelevant. However, I'm hoping that they do something other than just adding nifty new materials you can use, or tinkering with the math.

Specifically, I think that with the talent trees there's a real possibility of having something pretty cool and light on mechanics. Basically make a crafting tree available to certain classes. Then as the character advances up the tree he can make bigger and better items, or add powers to existing items. Make the character hunt down certain materials (might make for some fun side quests) and gather up a bunch of cash, but let him keep that hard earned xp.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Teh warlock is teh suxx!

When the warlock first appeared as a class I barely noticed. As a dedicated player of spellcasters it caught my eye but only as a novel new twist. I didn't even give it much of a read as I was much more interested in Pact Magic and Dragon Magic which Crwth had also added to the library around that time.

So for a long time the Warlock simply flew below my radar.

Recently however, I returned to gaming at the play-by-post boards over at WotC (Real_Adventures if you're curious). As such I'm seeing a lot of warlocks being put forth as player characters. That and the fact that every playtest party seems to have at least one warlock (usually a tielfing I might add). So, okay, the class has my grudging attention now.

If for not other reason than the possibility that the warlock is as preview of the magic system we might see in 4e. The invocations thing, the uses per day thing, the whole 90 degree departure from the spellcasting system used for sorcerors and wizards.

All in all, I think that the warlock is a viable and interesting class, for 3.5 edition.

I say again... for 3.5.

What I don't see is how it'll fit in 4th edition. If the 4e magic system is more or less like the current warlock, then the one thing that seperates it from the sorcerer is suddenly gone. The warlock becomes a sorcerer with a darker background. A Goth version and nothing more.

It seems to me that the warlock could be better used if rolled into the sorcerer. Give sorcerers the option of the traditional draconic heritage, or a warlocky devilish background.

Better yet, make it a middle ground between the sorcerer and druid. The DMG has the witch (aka warlock) as an example of how to make your own prestige class (can't recall the page but it's at the start of the PrC chapter). That's the warlock I think of. That's the kind of class I can picture in 4e. Save the heavy eyeliner, black lipstick, and white face paint for some other game.

If you kick a vampire in the junk, does it really care?

Critical hits versus undead.

I'm still wrapping my head around this one.

Critical hits with spells, even area of effect ones, I can picture and accept. Maybe that fireball is especially well placed so it burns a little hotter. I'm not thrilled with it, but I can at least rationalize it to some extent.

The undead being affected by critical hits though. That's a proverbial burr under the saddle for yours truly.

Not that I'm complaining. The undead have always been my most feared of monsters. No chance of getting a lucky critical. No sneak attack. Immune or highly resistant to most of my favorite spells. They definitely rank among the things I least like to face.

I guess my problem is that I have a set idea of what a critical hit looks like. In my mind, when my character scores a critical, I see the blade hitting that sweet spot (the spleen for instance, or perhaps the groin). At the same time the undead aren't using their spleens anymore and probably don't worry about wearing a cup while playing hoops at the local Y.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Hints about the nth-level wizard

Griff and I had a brief discussion about the latest Rodney Thompson blog (I'm still refusing to link to the Gleemax horror), where he talks about his wizard in a new 4th edition playtest.

He didn't mention the level of his character, but we started guessing based on the few hints given. The start-up seemed to hint that they were newer characters, but I guess introductions among the characters need to take place even in higher-level campaigns.

The "short teleport" is what made Griff think that this wasn't a first-level character, but then the wizard stuck to casting Sleep and Magic Missile, which reeks of low-level arcane blustering.

The critical hit that this wizard takes, though, doesn't kill him outright, so this made me suspect that either his attacker criticalled with minimum damage, or the party's not first level after all.

My take on the "short teleport" is that it's a fine power for a first-level wizard to have, perhaps as a 1/day ability, but maybe even more often than that; if it's only a 30' jot, and perhaps line-of-sight, then it's not going to be too powerful for the sake of getting around traps and such, but lets the wizard avoid melee combat, which is what they're likely looking for.

So in the end, we couldn't really decide what level this wizard was. Just tell us, Thompson! Then we can take these little bits of info you've given and know something about the nth-level wizard.