Monday, January 28, 2008

One ring to bind... oops, sorry, hobbit, you're not l33t enough

Ever since they mentioned that 4th edition is going to attempt to reduce the need for magic items, I've been a bit concerned. Granted, there were some issues with the current 3.5 system, with so many slots, remembering that you have such items at the right moment, and trying to decide, as a DM, whether to tailor the treasure (even once in a while) to the players, or just give them random junk which they're going to be laden with and will just have to sell to then try and find what they really do want.

In the latest Design & Development article, they talk about the magic item slots, and start off my saying they've reduced the number of them, yet still have the rule of one item per slot. Right off the bat, this, to me, means a weaker character, but I have to remember that the idea is that the race and class play more of a role now in a character's abilities. So does that mean that some of these racial and class abilities can truly take the place of a magic item? We shall have to see.

They've left your hands in as a slot, which is a bit of a relief. *:^) To armor they've added the cloth armor - the sense I get from this is that a wizard can have +5 cloth, to at least get an armor enhancement bonus to AC (or whatever the new 4e terms will now be). This is good for the general need of wizards for a little more defense, and I suppose this just means that all of the fancy robes they used to wear will now come in +1 to +5 versions?

"An item in the neck slot increases your Fortitude, Reflex, and Will defenses". Only? There has been an unwritten (unless, perhaps, the Magic Item Compendium spelled it out and I didn't notice) set of rules about what kind of effects should go where (speed-boosts are on your feet or rings; mental abilities were helms/crowns/tiaras, maybe necklaces, and of course rings; strength or dexterity was usually in the bracers, or the gloves, or ... yep, the rings). But I don't think it was a strict rule. Having a crown of fleet-footedness didn't make sense, but if the DM allowed it, then fine (of course, the DM can do whatever he pleases, 4e rules notwithstanding).

Bracers and shields are in the "arms" category now. Can't have both. Interesting that the start of the "secondary slots" section states that "[t]hese items don’t have enhancement bonuses." No enhancement bonus on shields? Tell me more!

There we go - feet are movement and speed. Again, is this a strict hard-and-fast rule? Sure, it makes sense, but I'm curious whether that's an official stance now.

Ioun stones have lost their special place around the head, now taking up the head slot (as a new item type called an "orbital"). And only one allowed! What a shame. What happens to those 3.5 characters with a solar system around their head now?

Rings. I don't like this at all. "A starting character isn’t powerful enough to unleash the power of a ring. You can use one ring when you reach paragon tier (11th level) and two when you’re epic (21st level)." What is this power that they have that lets them unleash this? Base it on intelligence, or your will save, or ... something more tangible than "you've done a lot of adventuring, and now this ring will work for you." Item level requirements are a CRPG concept that have no place in pen-and-paper. If rings are too powerful for low-level characters, then they just shouldn't be available to them. Boo. Hiss.

Waist. Yeah, belts, whatever. I'm still miffed about the rings. Oh, what's that? Protection and healing is in the belt? Yeah, whatever. Give me my rings.

Oh ho; see how even the author laments at the end of the article?:

Rings: None right now, sadly

Sad indeed.

The detail is in the devil

I know what they're doing... they know that the pit fiend is one of my iconic monsters from my experience computing monster stats, and they're just trying to suck up. But it won't work. Will it?

Pit Fiend Level 26 Elite Soldier (Leader)

We've known for a while now that it was coming, but this just reeks of a computer RPG stat, not our loving D&D. Level 26 - CR was something that belonged to D&D, and now we're just levels for everything. Elite Soldier. Leader. I could go on and on about the roles, but Griff has done that justice. Time to embrace it -- it's here to stay.

Large immortal humanoid (devil). Outsiders are now immortal humanoids - I think we knew that. Are they all? Does the "humanoid" portion of that type mean that they're more susceptible to spells and effects that target humanoids?

XP 18,000. Hrm. For everybody? Regardless of their level? The XP chart in 3.5 was needed to represent the Law of Diminishing Returns in a levelling-up game. If the XP granted upon defeating a monster is fixed, then grinding becomes a possibility in D&D: "Hey, let's go wipe out a few planes of Hell so we can all level up and get an extra feat!"

Initiative, Senses, Auras. All nice and familiar. "aura 5"? Just kill me now -- I'm sure that's "5 squares".

HP 350; Bloodied 175. I actually like this idea of "bloodied", where the monster gains/loses certain abilities based on how wounded they are. It does make me worry a little about that "line" -- if I smack the pit fiend down to 170hp, and realize I've given him some extra-nasty ability (I have to wait until below to see what those might be), can I actually heal him to take back that ability, until my party's ready to wipe out that last 175hp in one big attack?

AC, Fortitude, Reflex, Will. Phew -- I think I'd have to kill someone if they decided saving throws had to change.

Saving Throws +2. A bonus? Then why not just add them in to the above numbers? Curious.

Speed/fly/teleport - will I ever get used to this squares terminology? Should I just switch the D&D Miniatures now and throw my pencil away for good?

Action Points 1. Well good on you, pit fiend! Why should players be the only ones that get to have those.

They've changed the layout of the attacks a bit, but they're readable. The to-hit is interesting to see - "+31 vs. AC". It is what it has always been, but it's actually nice to see if standardized in this way. What I don't like about this new attack format is that it's not consistent with spelling out the source of the attack. The first one says

Melee Flametouched Mace (standard; at-will) • Fire, Weapon

Okay, good, it has Weapon on the end there. But the next one has

Melee Tail Sting (standard; at-will) • Poison

with no sign of "Natural Weapon" or anything. How do I tell the difference between that and

Melee Pit Fiend Frenzy (standard; at-will)

where as far as I know, "Tail Sting" is just a special attack that the pit fiend does, and doesn't really mean that it involves his tail at all. Perhaps it's just an oversight, and there should be a Natural Weapon on that one, but if not, they're losing some consistency in their drive to label everything (which, don't get me wrong, I'm all for).

The Flametouched Mace and Tail Sting have "Fire" and "Poison" respectively, and both mention that a save ends the effects, but there's no in-line mention of what the save DC (if that's even a concept in 4e) is. Perhaps it's later on, but statblocks are meant to be concise sources of information, and that's some pretty important info.

Ranged Point of Terror (minor; at-will) • Fear
Range 5; +30 vs. Will; the target takes a –5 penalty to all defenses until the end of the pit fiend's next turn.

I think it has been mentioned before, but I'm old and forgetful - "to all defenses" means to saves as well, doesn't it? "Minor"? Is that like a free/immediate/I've-lost-track-of-them-all kind of action?

Ranged Irresistible Command (minor 1/round; at-will) • Charm, Fire
Range 10; affects one allied devil of lower level than the pit fiend; the target immediately slides up to 5 squares and explodes, dealing 2d10+5 fire damage to all creatures in a close burst 2. The exploding devil is destroyed.

Cooool. Well, except for the "slides" bit. Is this some sort of miniature terminology, where "slide" requires an unobstructed path, yadda yadda? "close burst"? I'm sure it affects how it works around obstacles, etc.

Infernal Summons (standard; encounter) • Conjuration
The pit fiend summons a group of devil allies. Summoned devils roll initiative to determine when they act in the initiative order and gain a +4 bonus to attack rolls as long as the pit fiend is alive. They remain until they are killed, dismissed by the pit fiend (free action), or the encounter ends. PCs do not earn experience points for killing these summoned creatures.

Interesting about the initiative. Scary about the +4 bonus. I'd saddened that they have to spell out that the PCs do not earn XP for them -- this is a rule about summoned creatures, and is just going to take up line after line throughout every book that the idea appears in.

Tactical Teleport (standard; recharge 4 5 6) • Teleportation

I can guess what "recharge 4 5 6" means, but what happens after the third use? Does it stay at 6 rounds to recharge? Does it run out? Does it start back at 4?

Alignment: Evil. I remember hearing that alignment was changing -- does this mean no second axis?

Languages: Supernal? Superwhat?

Skills: Religion +24. I have to admit, dumping the Knowledge (xxx) style makes programming D&D a bit easier (you had to handle "subtype" for skills). Have they done the same for Profession, Crafting and Perform?

Str 32 (+24) Dex 24 (+20) Wis 20 (+18)
Con 27 (+21) Int 22 (+19) Cha 28 (+22)

This is interesting. So much for ((ability - 10) / 2) for bonus? Now it's (ability / 2) + 8? Okay... I wonder if they'll explain the reasoning? It gets my developer sense tingling!

Darn. No mention of what happens when the pit fiend is bloodied. Over all, I'm happy with this; it's still the pit fiend, and none of the things we've gleaned from this block have upset me any more than I already was (about squares and roles and ...)

Christmas elves - just in time for Valentine's Day?

Wow, what a slow month. Okay, sure, real-life has gotten in the way, and the lack of informative posts by Wizards doesn't help, but I have to embarrassingly admit that I haven't finished reading the Races and Classes sneak-peak book yet, which might have something to talk about.

It also doesn't help that I rely on the Wizards RSS feed to tell me about new articles being posted - silly me, thinking that something like that might be correctly set up. But no, I've now missed two Ampersand articles because of this.

Oh, and did I mention that I haven't seen a developer blog for about a month, because they've gone and made a mess of Gleemax yet again? No? A shame I haven't mentioned that...

But this isn't just a post to gripe. I don't think. Let's go look at the that missed Ampersand article and see.

The older article was on the elf racial block from 4e, apparently a Christmas gift from Bill Slavicsek -- one that he forgot to put the name tag on. Or even wrap in wrapping paper. No ribbon. Shoved behind the tree.

Let's see: height, weight, ability scores (extra wisdom, no constitution penalty - very nice), size, speed... let me help you out here, since if you're a D&D fan, you're obviously mathematically challenged and can't do feet-to-square conversion on your own. 7 squares = 35 feet. Interesting that they've gone against the grain with units of ten.

Vision, languages, skill bonuses: +2 Nature, +2 Perception. Okay, we've seen that Perception is the new Spot/Search/Listen/whatever, but Nature? Is that the old Survival? No, wait, it was Wilderness Lore. No, wait, Knowledge (Nature)? Huh.

But here we go. Elven Accuracy (Elf Racial Power). Encounter/Free Action/Personal - so per-encounter, the timing/speed of it, and the range of effect. Nice and clear. "Reroll an attack roll. Use the second roll, even if it's lower." Not too bad, not too powerful.

Wild Step: You ignore difficult terrain when you shift (even if you have a power that allows you to shift multiple squares).

Perhaps I've lost track of things, but "shift"? Is that like a five-foot step, but now possibly multiple squares five-feets if you know what you're doing?

Group awareness is interesting, and I'm sure it will be continually forgotten. It's bad enough trying to remember that you're under the effect of a bard song in the current rules -- who's going to remember that they have an elf in their party, that it matters, and that they might be close enough to get a bonus?

Elven Precision [Elf]. Prerequisites are "elf" and "elven accuracy racial power" and "heroic tier". Don't the "elf" and "elven accuracy racial power" go together? Or are they still blurring the lines between the name of a race and the subtype, so a drow might still be "elf" for satisfying prerequisites, but might now have "elven accuracy"?

All in all, mildly informative, and it looks like they've kept the elf recognizable. Huzzah?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Today's "Ask Wizards"...

And I quote....

"Will the Hollywood writer’s strike have any effect on D&D 4th Edition?"





Are you fucking kidding me? Seriously? This is a valid DnD related question?

I must have missed the announcement that 4th edition DnD is being produced as a movie instead of in book form. Or maybe they're doing it as one of those play along DVD things, like "Scene It". I dunno. I don't even know why I still care.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Condition: Critical

Just finished this Des&Dev article from Jan 4, 2008.

I'm not impressed.

Basically, they've done away with confirming your critical threat. Now a natural 20 is a critical hit. Every time.

And there's no more doubling (or tripling or whatevering) of your damage. Instead a critical results in maximized damage. It's just that simple.

And just that boring.

Logan Bonner says "Yes, the confirmation roll is gone. So why did we get rid of it? Because we, like so many players, had rolled crits only to have the confirmation roll miss. And we didn't like it. We don't think that many people did."

Okay. I'll agree that having that natural 20 followed by a pitifully low d20 roll dims the original excitement a bit. I mean, you go from the high of having that "20" sitting on the table to seeing a "7" and it kind of sucks. But you know what? That's part of life. Sometimes highs are followed by terrible lows. You accept it and move on.

Only with 4th Edition WotC has decided to not only dumb the game down but to eliminate any chance of a player feeling sad for any reason. It's all a big happy love fest full of Care Bears and gum drops. No more of that icky hard math. No more missing criticals. No more losing characters to the random chance of that ogre rolling a nasty critical. No more worries and no more need for thought. Just figure out the maximum damage a bad guy can do, and keep your hit points at or above that. Easy peasy.

Now, I'm not a "math guy". Big numbers make me wince. But I've never had any problems totaling up my pluses and minuses and adding that to the result of a die roll. Sure, rolling a second attack roll to confirm a critical is a bit of a pain, but it takes all of 3 seconds. For starters you've already done the math. Just replace the natural 20 with a new number between 1 and 20. That's not so hard. And that feeling of confirming a critical more than makes up for the critical opportunities missed.

As I've said before, the randomness is what makes this game so great. Having the chance of a critical hit and then failing or confirming is, in my opinion, a lot more fun than simply maximizing damage whenever fate gives you a natural 20. Talk about sucking the fun from the moment.