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 Retraining (a soon to be outdated and needless concept) is now a core rule?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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I too am a feat whore (and a spell whore as spellcaster) and am surprised that WotC has not done a better job "monetizing" this audience as there are many people like us.

At 4.0 launch I would have had a $35 Feat Compendium and a $35 Spell Compendium for folks like us.

Having choices among a large variety of feats and spells adds so much richness and depth to D&D. (The way Multiclassing has been nerfed also takes away richness and depth but I'll leave that aside for now.)

The biggest issues I have with Retraining is that it is free. This is bad enough when it comes to Skills but ridiculous when it comes to Feats.

One day I have Mounted Combat and then *poof* I can't ride creatures worth a damn but I'm one heck of a long jumper having swapped in the Long Jumper feat.

A feat is supposed to be something bordering on extraordinary. The idea that you can swap one feat for another (so easily) diminishes the status of feats and unhinges character development from any real-world (or fantasy world) bearings.

The 4.0 Players Handbook says "Sometimes you make decisions when you create or advance your character that you later regret." Uh ... yeah, life's like that and, in fact, it makes the time and effort put into developing an extraordinary power a choice that should be HIGHLY-considered rather than something that is a throw-away.

I do think Retraining is an excellent concept and I have modified it for the games I DM. Here are the changes I have made:

1) If it's a player's first adventure under 4.0 rules, I allow Retraining as described in the PHB up through and including 4th Level. The rationale here is that there are enough changes in 4.0 (e.g. Healing Surges, Action Points, Daily Powers) that a PC should have time to get a feel for the rules and how they play out. For example, it's completely reasonable that a PC who chooses the Healing Hands feat but, upon seeing how others in the party can self-heal with healing surges, realizes that Healing Hands is not as great as thought.

2) For PCs who opt for Retraining on a trained skill from their class list, I allow it but impose a cost and a time element. The PC gets only +3 in the new skill and gets -3 in the skill they are giving up. The next time the PC advances in level the skill bonus and penalty go to +4/-4. And then the next time the PC advances in level the skill bonus goes to +5/-5. My mental model for this is that a player invests time and effort developing a new skill and it takes some reasonable amount of time and "on-the-job" experience for that skill to be learned and for the PC to be truly proficient in that skill. Likewise, while the PC is investing significant time developing this new skill, he's spending less time honing a skill he already has (the one he's chosen to give up). That's a reasonable way for a PC to "swap out" a skill.

3) When it comes to Feats, I don't allow Retraining, period (beyond what I covered above for people new to 4.0).

4) For Retraining on Feats, an option a DM could make available (I don't do this but consider it reasonable) is to remove the PHB rule on feat retraining and replace it with an Epic Tier Feat I will now call "Feat Whore." Selecting this feat gives the PC feat retraining as described in the PHB. It's reasonable to me that a 21st level PC is so extraordinary that he could swap out feats with this level of ease. An additional twist on this would be making Race=Human a prerequisite for selecting Feat Whore. This would consistent with a primary racial trait of Humans in that they are the most adaptable, flexible, and versatile race of all.

5) For the most part, the ability to swap in Powers of the same level via Retraining bothers me less. I apply a relatively small penalty to the new power (e.g., -1 to hit, -2 to damage) and that penalty goes away after the Power has been used successfully (to hit)three times.