Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Redundancy, thy name is Warlord

As much as I appreciate the reasonably detailed preview of the "new" Warlord class, I really don't see the need for it. I just don't see anything that this class brings which isn't or can't be covered by the paladin or cleric.

Sure. I should really wait to see the nitty gritty details on the paladin and cleric before flying off the handle. But where's the fun in that?

Anyways. Regardless of which "build" (might as well say "cookie cutter" or "road map") of Warlord is chosen it all smacks of paladin and cleric. It's like those two classes hooked up after a night of heavy drinking and nine months later the Warlord was born. And now we're all forced to pat this ugly little bastard on the head and gush about what a beautiful baby it is.

Seriously. Does the Warlord bring anything new to the game?

The other redundant classes; the sorcerer, barbarian, and bard all brought something different to the table. A different method of choosing and prepping spells, rage and DR, and inspiring songs (yeah, the bard is just a super gay class). Admittedly those things really aren't a lot but they are something at least.

From the preview article, "Warlords are accomplished and competent battle leaders. Warlords stand on the front line issuing commands and bolstering their allies while leading the battle with weapon in hand. Warlords know how to rally a team to win a fight."

Sounds like a Fighter, or Paladin, or even a martial focused Cleric. Not sure why we need another class issuing commands in battle.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Retrain this

Retraining. A quaint idea. Started in some MMO I think. Worked well when some new module or update added a "must have" skill or whatever. Great idea in those circumstances. Saves paying players a lot of frustration.

It even fit with 3.5 DnD when it was introduced in the later stages of the game. At that point the optional source books were coming fast and furious. Every time I turned around there was a new book with new classes and feats.

Oh the feats!

I'm a feat whore. I'd flip through them endlessly, picking out the ones I wanted to try at some point. A few times I even contemplated having my current character commit suicide in some reckless or noble act. Maybe Crwth noticed. I dunno. It never worked out and instead I waited for the inevitable TPK.

Even when Retraining was introduced I never really embraced it. Sure, I could see the value in it, and considered petitioning Crwth once or twice. I just didn't like the idea of rewriting history unless something was a perfect fit for my character concept. The whole "Oh that flying kick thing? Yeah, my character has had that feat since like 6th level or so. Seriously." wasn't my cup of tea. As much as I understood the rationale, I didn't really like it.

Naturally (or should I say naively) I figured retraining to be a part of the past with 4e. There's only one book. Where's the need for retraining when there's only one book to pick from? Does WotC really think we're so dumb that we're constantly screwing up our characters?

There must be something there, because according to this "5. Select Feats. You generally don’t have to worry about the level at which you gained a particular feat, since retraining allows you to have the feats you want at any given level." (from this article)

Okay. What? Retraining (a soon to be outdated and needless concept) is now a core rule? Right from the start? Despite being only three core rule books? With new books planned on a yearly basis? Odd.

I would love to know the thinking behind this design decision. I find it hard to believe that following their little Talent Trees is that complicated. I mean, you just pick your flavor and follow the map. Couldn't be simpler. Right?

Yet, apparently there is quite a bit of room for error. And gods forbid you should nerf your character by picking the wrong feat. You'd have to quit playing and spend your money on some other roleplaying game. Or worse, kill your beloved character off and make a new one. Or worst of all, scrape the bottom of the barrel, bite the bullet and try to reach some fair compromise with the DM. *gasp!* Horrors!

Oh. But before you do that, have you seen this rule on "Retraining"?

You probably have. It's in most of your favorite video games.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Look before you leap

Okay, yes, I should have finished reading the latest articles posted on Wizards before posting myself, but I was just trying to be a responsible blogger by blogging when I could! Today's excerpt talks about customizing monsters.

It's all a hack, it seems. In the same way of advancing monsters the simple way in 3e, we're instructed to just increase or decrease by 1 for every level adjusted. The numbers don't hold up that that's the actual formula (that is, that attacks and defenses have a full representation of level in them), and they say as much, pointing out that this only works for plus-or-minus five levels.

When talking about adding armor, they tell you how to figure out how much AC comes from "its thick hide". There's the natural armor bonus I was wondering about. It's spelled out, now, that worn armor and natural armor don't stack. Interesting.

Down when talking about the Templates, which I'm looking forward to reading in the Dungeon Master's Guide, it talks about the hit points:

Hit Points: Add the stated number of hit points for the monster’s new role, and then also add its Constitution score to the new hit point total.

For player characters, they get their Constitution score added at 1st level, but assuming the monster receiving this template has already gotten similar treatment, we'd now be adding it again. Or do we assume "regular" monsters don't get this bonus, but templated ones do? Looking at the two samples provided, we find out that controllers get +8 per level, but the wizard class (which is a controller), according to dnd4.com, gets +4 per level (plus constitution bonus.) Is it based on their tier?

I'll keep plugging away at it, hoping there's something to be found. The hitpoints, for now, are definitely the biggest question I have.

I can count to 11 if I use my tail...

While looking at the latest few excerpts from the upcoming Monster Manual, and got thinking about a previous post I made regarding monster creation.

It has been mentioned that the creation of monster stats was going to become less algorithmic than it was in 3rd edition, which doesn't sit well with me. But looking at the sample monsters, it looks like it might not be so bad. Let's consider the succubus (sorry for you who aren't math nerds).

It's a level 9 "immortal humanoid". There are certain stats that we will always assume are calculated, such as Initiative; we're told that ability bonuses are still calculated as

ability bonus = (ability score-10)/2

but that all ability bonus calculations also add in level/2, so the succubus's Dexterity bonus is ((18-10)/2 + 9/2) = (4 + 4.5) = 8. And there's the Initiative +8, so it looks like it's calculated the same way as 3e. The same goes with Perception: no ranks listed below, so just the will bonus, also +8.

Hitpoints. This is what made me wonder if these were still being calculated. The succubus has 90hp, so that would be 10hp per level. But would the monsters progress like the player classes seem to, where on the first level, they get X plus their Constitution score, and on the other levels, they get Y plus their Constitution bonus? Or is it something simpler? Some playing with a spreadsheet can get me a few possibilities, but we'll have to try the same formula with other monsters to get an idea on which might be correct.

Armor class is 23 on the succubus. 10 is the base AC, so where's the rest from? According to dnd4.com/phb, we get our ability modifier (we'll assume with the half-level bonus), for 8 from our Dexterity, for a total of 18. Is there some natural armor in there? Do devils, or shapechangers, or immortal humanoids get a racial/type bonus to AC -- insight, infernal, etc.? Hrm.

The Fortitude save is base-10 plus 4 for the ability (either Str or Con, according to dnd4.com), and another 3 from ... somewhere. Reflex has base-10 plus 8 for ability, and another 3 from ... somewhere. Will has base-10 plus 10 for ability (higher of Charisma or Wisdom), and another 3 from ... somewhere. That "3 from somewhere" is nice and consistent; is it a racial bonus? A "type" bonus? A made-up bonus? Does this same bonus contribute 3 of the 5 points to AC that we don't know about (still leaving 2 other unaccounted, maybe natural armor, points)?

The to-hit calculations are interesting. The two melee attacks, Corrupting Touch and Charming Kiss, look like what would have been previously known as "touch attacks", though they don't seem to use the term. Before, that would mean that the target's AC would have to be modified, but perhaps the touch aspect is somehow being incorporated into the to-hit, instead? That doesn't really make sense, as the attacker would be getting that bonus against ACs based either on full armor or full Dexterity equally.

The succubus gets +14 on the two melee attacks. It's not clear whether we should use Strength or Dexterity for this -- there's no mention of a Weapon Finesse-like feat (if such a thing exists anymore), so either +4 or +8 is being contributed from the ability bonus (plus half-level bonus). Where does the other +10/+6 come from? Could this all be from weapon proficiency?

The ranged Dominate attack has +12. Something tells me that this isn't based on Dexterity, considering it's a mind-affecting ability, and that it attacks Will, so it's either going to be the succubus's Wisdom or Charisma bonus, +8 or +10. Where's the other +4/+2 coming from? It doesn't seem to be the same bonus as the unknown melee one. Different levels of proficiency?

Skills: Bluff = 10 for Charisma + 5 for, according to dnd4.com, "trained" skills. Diplomacy = 10 for Charisma + 5 trained, and Insight = 8 for Wisdom + 5 trained. Assuming I'm right that those are the succubus's trained skills, then it seems she gets no skill points. Was that mentioned somewhere - that monsters get no skill points? I remember they're not getting any feats... poor guys.

And finally, the ability scores themselves. In 3e, monsters had a starting array of three 10s and three 11s, modified by levels and class and such. If we assume the same starting array, then the succubus has +8 Dex, +8 Wis, +4 Int and +10 Cha. Some as racial gains, some as level gains? According to the chart at dnd4.com, there's racial bonuses at level one, and increases at 4 and 8. This is really arbitrary for now, but we can say that the succubus race gets +8 Dex, +8 Wis, +4 Int and +8 Cha as racial bonuses (wow!), and that the extra +2 Cha is from levelling up.

Okay, so we're about 50/50 on explaining the numbers so far. Let's look at the next monster on that page, the War Devil.

Initiative - check, it matches the Dexterity bonus. Perception - check, matches Wisdom.

Hit points. 255 doesn't divide into 22 very nicely, which means the number is either arbitrary (either to the war devil specifically, or to 22nd level monsters generally), or there's a bonus somewhere. Since the war devil is also an immortal humanoid, like the succubus, then we might assume that they have the same hit die. But no matter how I've tried to slice it, I can't come up with a formula that gives the same results for both the succubus and the war devil, discounting bonus hit points from somewhere. This might be a problem of having too few datasets, so let's leave it for now, and see if the rest of the war devil makes sense.

AC: 10-base, 17 from Dexterity... we're short by 8. Fortitude: 10-base, 18 from Constitution, or 19 from Strength - we're short by 6 or 5. Reflex is short by 5 if Dex is used, as is Will. A similar pattern to what we saw on the succubus. So where are these extra numbers coming from? They seem too low to be level-based, if they're only 5 over 22 levels for the war devil. Racial? Class based? I still suspect natural armor being the discrepancy between the AC missing bonus and the one for the saves.

To-hits on the war devil are in a similar position: the two melee attacks have the same bonus, which gives some promise to a formula in there somewhere, but how do we get to +26 from the +19 of Strength? +7 from weapon proficiency?

Skills: Intimidate +20. Looks good for +15 from Charisma and a +5 trained bonus.

And finally the ability scores. Assuming, again, a 10/10/10/11/11/11 array, we've immediately got a problem: the war devil doesn't have three even/three odd stats. Working backwards, the 22nd level war devil should have received 6 ability score increases (4,8,11,14,17,20), so we can reduce two of the extra odd ability scores down to even ones, and use the other four elsewhere. We're just guessing anyway, so let's say our bonuses are Strength +17 (14 + 3), Dexterity +13 (12 + 1), Wisdom +8, Constitution +14 (12 + 2), Intelligence +4, and Charisma +8. Why these numbers? Because even back in 3e, and as above on the succubus, bonuses tended to be in multiples of +4. The only exception is the Strength.

Okay, so some things make sense, but others are still unknown. I've made a lot of assumptions, and also used a lot of the stuff on dnd4.com (which I should really read all the way through, since they're more diligent than I am). Perhaps the standard array isn't so standard anymore. Perhaps monsters don't gain ability points at all. And yes, though I refuse to accept it, perhaps monsters are not generated in the way I want them to be. This won't stop me from trying to shoehorn them into a formula, though, and if that requires changing some monsters' stats, so be it! But damn it, if I want a Savage Species book for 4e, I'm damned well going to make one.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Good points. Bad points.

Today I have points on my mind. Hit Points. Action Points. Experience Points.

For starters I love having lots of Hit Points. For pretty obvious reasons. So I`ve certainly got nothing against getting some extra HP at 1st level. A little cushion might come in handy against that dreaded critical hit.

That aside, 4e seems to be going a little overboard.

Now I don`t know how much damage a ``1st level`` monster is going to be capable of, or how easy it will be to hit my character in his starting studded leather, but come on. Based on the sample character sheets 1st level characters start with HP in the 20 to 35 range. Nice.

But then they also get Healing Surges. At least 6 per day and most have in the area of 10 or so. That's 6 to 12 surges of 5 or more HP. Add that onto the starting 20 HP and your 1st level character basically starts with 50 HP (at the low end). The sample fighter gets 137 HP.

137. I had an epic character who didn't have that many HP to burn.

"But Griff, this is a good thing. More HP is awesome."

Sure. But 137? At first level? My god. How much damage can a goblin striker or orc controller do?

"But Griff. It's not about that. The idea is for Healing Surges to replace all those Cure Light Wounds spells cast by the party cleric."

Fair enough. They want to give clerics (and the players who like the cleric class) more to do during combat than just casting cure spells. The thing is, if you don't like "wasting" rounds casting cures and heals, then DON'T PLAY A CLERIC. Duh!

Pushing that obvious logical solution aside, let's give every character Healing Surges to replace the Cure Light Wounds spell/potion/wand. That way, instead of the cleric doing his job, or ROLE if you prefer, every character now has to "waste" a round per encounter on a "Second Wind" for healing. Yeah. That makes sense.

The good thing here is that the player only gets one Second Wind per encounter. What I don't get is why the rest are used during the Short Rest that happens between each encounter. I suppose this will encourage DMs to design encounters in waves, and pack more into each adventuring "day". This in turn should mean faster level ups. I just wonder if a bit of the tactical planning will disappear as players with their nearly limitless HP plow through dungeons like a chainsaw through cheddar.

The jury is out on the change in Action Points too. I was never a huge fan of the Eberron setting, but the concept of Action Points was pretty cool. Every gaming session includes a roll or two that falls into the "I think I made it but I'm not sure it was quite high enough" category. Or a critical save throw or skill check that you just want to be sure of. Perfect times to spend an AP and get an extra d6 added on.

Nice mechanic and simple to keep track of since they replenish every level. For some reason they're changing that in 4e. Instead of a pool of APs you get 1 per day, plus 1 for every other encounter (or "milestone"). Keeping track of the number of encounters in a "day" strikes me as a little awkward and a needless headache. But whatever. An extra action sounds pretty sweet (I'll use 'em mostly for the Second Wind) but I think I'd prefer the old 3.5 mechanic.

Finally Experience Points. My personal favorite. And from what I've seen, there's not a whole lot to be written. Sounds like it'll take a few extra encounters before getting that delicious level up. However, all those phat HP will make that easy enough. The best thing about XP in 4e is in terms of encounter design. Even as a player I'm excited about everything I've seen in regards to encounters. The mix of monsters with varied roles in each encounter, along with social and trap encounters promises nothing but positives.