Friday, June 27, 2008

Where's the magic?

I just don't feel it any more. Maybe that "new car smell" has worn off of 4th ed, but I'm becoming increasingly disenchanted (pun intended) with the magic system. This past level up has been the most boring level up ever. It was just one ho-hum after another.

Now, I'm hoping that later levels will get better. The addition of the big hitter spells, err, sorry "powers" should help. But so far at least I've got very little to look forward to.

Sure, it’s nice that my wizard never runs out of his at-will powers, so he can reliably drop Scorching Bursts on bunched up enemies. Or Thunderwave them away if they get too close.

Next round? More of the same. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

I understand that their game design called for giving the melee classes something “cool” to do each round. As opposed to simply picking your target and rolling a couple of dice. Maybe, once in a while, a feat would come into play. Or some special ability from a magic item. I guess that the designers felt this was boring, for some reason.

Well, congratulations WoTC. Fourth edition has given the melee classes a bunch of powers to use every round. Now instead of just “attacking orc ‘A’ with my sword” you “attack the orc skulker ‘a’ with my at-will ‘Powerful Strike’”.

But seriously, is this really any different?

Worse yet, they’ve reduced spellcasting to the same wash-rinse-repeat cycle. Instead of carefully planning my spells and choosing just the right moment to use them, I now blast away with the same one over and over. Someone wake me when combat is over.

Oh! We leveled up? Woot. I guess. I get what? A utility power? Woopdeedoo.

The magic is gone.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Adventures in 4e

We finished our third session of 4th edition last night.

So far, this campaign has been very combat heavy, partly by the design of the module, but also based on the choices the players are making. This means we've been putting the combat system through the loops, and so far, I'd say it's standing up.

The issue of level one characters and their meager hit points in earlier editions (such as the ever-vulnerable wizards and sorcerers) is long gone, and good riddance. With the new starting hit points, everyone can take a smack or two. Granted, with the new role idea, the controllers such as the wizard really shouldn't be taking too many smacks anyway, with the defender supposed to be, well, defending, but everyone has their own play style, and it hasn't turned out dismally for that.

We've had a lot of close calls, a few characters on their way to dying, and I think all in all the level 1 encounters have been very balanced for how involved they have been. This last encounter had many more foes than you could ever shove into a 3rd edition encounter, no matter how small you made the enemies. This gives a very nice realism and flexibility that I've mentioned before -- early encounters are not limited to four or five maximum.

The healing issue is still a sticky point with me. It was nice that each character could use a second wind during the encounter, and Crwth the cleric expended every bit of healing magic he could muster -- which isn't much at first level. I suppose I need to remind myself that even in 3e, I wouldn't have that many Cure Light Wounds spells at my disposal either, so given the amount of damage being dealt to the party, I don't know that we would have fared any differently. Still, for a cleric, the iconic healer, to be able to do nothing for his party members except stabilize with a skill check that anyone might have made, it felt disappointing. Some sort of at-will gain-one-hitpoint power or something would be nice. As it is, the paladin is just going to rest there for a bit as she recoups.

I think action points have become welcome to everyone. In this last back-to-back set of battles, every character used an action point to persevere, which helped demonstrate the heroic nature of the party, beating all odds by tapping every resource they have. And tap they did -- I think every Daily and Encounter power was used up as well.

Some of the new combat rules were used effectively by both the enemy and the party. Using party members as cover for the strikers worked well, and the ability to knock a target unconscious with the final blow, instead of killing them outright, was also used -- perhaps a bit oversimplified, but definitely less of a hassle than trying to do subdual damage to accomplish the same thing in third edition.

The party also had their first skill challenge last night, which was barely successful. I can safely admit now that it was an impromptu one, not anticipated by the module, but which played out well, until someGriff who shall remain nameless got a bit greedy.

The talk of combat being faster, though, I do not agree with. There are still tactics to be decided, things to look up (even once it's a familiar ruleset, that won't fully go away), and other tricks (on the enemies' side) that prolong things just when the party thinks they're done. Even with a late start, the back-to-back combats lasted until after 2:00am.

All in all, a very accomplished night. The party has reached second level, which isn't as exciting as it was in older editions; no class-choosing, rank-ascribing, hit-point-rolling... everything is very simple -- too simple, in my opinion -- and quick. I planned the next 20 levels of Crwth in a few minutes, which does take a bit of fun out of it. One feat, one utility power, add some static hit points, and increasing a handful of values up by one. That's it!

Friday, June 20, 2008

PHB - Equipment

This was a large chapter, and I'm slow, and busy, and ... well, anyway, here are my opinions.

1pp = 100gp? Why. The. Hell. Why on earth would you change such an iconic part of D&D? If, as Griff suggested, money is more prevalent (to adventurers, anyway), then add more units, such as the astral diamond. But why change the platinum piece? Changing magic in an ongoing world is one thing -- some cataclysmic event, yadda yadda; but what, hyperinflation hit Faerun, and the Waterdahvian rupee and Cormyr peso got revalued? Just bring back electrum pieces and shoot me.

That being said, the things I can spend with my gold pieces and over-valued platinum pieces is interesting. With armor specialization being broken up more than in other versions, the various types of armor are more appealing, or at least considered. I like that the higher-end materials needed for Paragon and Epic armors innately provide more protection.

Most of the weapon specialness has been taken away, moved into powers that focus on weapon groups. I think that's okay, because I always forgot which weapons could trip, which could disarm, which had reach, etc... The weapon sizes have been simplified a bit from the player's point-of-view, even if halflings are getting screwed for their size. We still haven't figured out the advantage to being Small in 4e.

I think we universally agreed that the Standard Adventurer's Kit is a good idea, easing the purchasing of a character's starting kit. The "gear" list is still too long for me -- I never know what I might need, and find I either fill up on useless stuff, or run out of money trying. Still, it's there for those who have the foresight to buy that rope.

It's nice that the price of magic items is directly tied to the level of the item, making that easy to figure out. But, this means that items are restricted to exactly their 30 levels, whereas the older 3e rules could have some static values added in when you add a little ability here or there. And this is what I'm finding lacking in the magic items of 4e.

I know that they wanted to reduce the reliance on magic items, and boy have they ever. The armor and weapon selection is arguably decent, but the other equippable items are meager. Nine rings? Four potions? What game are we playing here?

I definitely liked the consistency of "theme" across items. Armor always gives a plus-bonus to AC, of course, and weapons to attack rolls and damage rolls. But now, ever neck item gives a Fortitude/Reflex/Will bonus. And the idea of the kind of power that an item can give you seems to be a little more enforced than it was in 3rd edition, where it was more of a suggestion.

The Daily powers on many of the items, whether armor, weapon or other, are what took me a while to get my head around. You look at these Daily powers, and almost every one of them seems to be better suited as an encounter power. But what I had to realize was that the primary ability of the armor is the AC bonus, or to the weapon the attack bonus, and that these Daily powers were just something to spice it up and increase the price a little. If you subtract the base price of that +1 Curseforged Armor, you can see how much you're paying for that Daily power, and if it's worth it. And I think in most cases, it is. But when you first look at the Angelsteel Armor and see that it has a Daily power, albeit an until-end-of-encounter one, it's still 105,000gp (sorry, 1050pp) and hard to justify -- until you see that it's also at least +4 armor, which is 450pp of it.

Over all, I'm disappointed with the magic item section, with both its paucity and its lack of instructions on creating your own. There are no hints on figuring out the relative value of abilities you might want to create, nor instructions on how to stack abilities onto an item if you so chose. What if I want a ring of true seeing that gives a +3 item bonus to Perception? What's that worth?

Monday, June 16, 2008

PHB - Skills and Feats

I think I've mentioned this before, but I really like the way that some of the skills have been consolidated. Acrobatics and Athletics, Perception and Stealth, these have grouped together many skills that used to go hand-in-hand anyway.

No more ranks - this threw me for a loop. You now pick which skills you're trained in, and that's it - you have training in it, and the only regular increases come from the 1/2-level bonus. Since many people picked the same skills every level-up anyway, this makes things easier, but gets rid of the fun some people had with dabbling here and there in many skills. The loss of synergy bonuses is a consequence of the loss of ranks, but I think the idea of synergy now comes into play during the skill encounters, which can often require various skills working together to get around the obstacle, whether a physical trap or a diplomatic meeting of minds.

I like that Detect Magic is now a skill check, instead of a spell that takes up space. The knowledge checks for various creature types and environments are a continuation of them in the 3.5 rules, which made the esoteric skills of that version useful, and help provide additional usefulness to the reduced skill set.

Unfortunately, two sessions into the first module hasn't had too many skill checks, and no skill encounters yet. It's quite a combat-heavy start, which is good for getting to know the combat system, but I'd like some variation!

The feats are a bit disappointing, coming from a 3rd edition background. They're very light, which makes sense if you consider how many skills you get as you advance. But when you're used to feats defining your character, these piddly things hardly seem worthwhile.

In 3rd edition, you could plan ahead for the feats you wanted/needed, always wishing you had room for one more. I found it difficult to pick something while planning a few levels of my cleric, because they all feel so powerless. The proficiency paths are a good use for the feats, if you need them (as a cleric does if they want armor), but so many of the feats are class- or race-specific, and even then feel like a waste of a choice, even when you're struggling to find anything at all.

The only feats that were interesting at all were the ones for Divinity, which basically give an extra use to your Channel Divinity ability. This reeks of the Dungeons & Dragons Online system where a cleric's turn undead uses could be used for other purposes (short-term regeneration, removal of negative conditions, etc.) Not that I don't like this alternate use of this occasionally-used ability, but it's yet another thing that feels stolen into 4e instead of innovated.

Many of the feats seem at first glance to require outrageous ability scores as a prerequisite, but considering the number of increases that are gained through the levels, it's not really so bad. Those who want to stray from the stereotypical can still have wizards with melee-boosting feats if they so choose.

The multiclass feats, which really sum up the multiclassing ability of 4th edition, take up all of two pages. I'm still not sure about this system, much preferring the openness of 3rd edition, but I suppose I should try walking a character through a multiclassing scenario to see what the end result is like - to see if the character really feels anything like a multiclassed character, or just a character that has no focus in either of the two classes.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

PHB - Rituals

Since I was at the end of the book for the Combat chapter, I figured I'd read the last chapter, which is on Rituals.

Rituals were definitely a good move. The long casting time and occasional utility of certain spells in 3rd edition meant that they were something that you only memorized (as a cleric or wizard) if you really knew you were going to use them, and often led to delays in adventuring when you had to rest to get that one utility spell you needed. Sorcerers were pretty much left out of the whole deal, not wanting to waste on of their precious slots on an occasional spell. Granted, scrolls were possible, but who thought ahead for those?

I was bit disappointed, though, that the rituals are being restricted to the arcane and divine powers. With the idea of power sources being stretched across all classes, it seems unfair that those with martial powers are denied rituals.

At first I thought that perhaps it was to let the "spellcasters" keep themselves special from the brawlers, but the role is supposed to dictate how the character contributes to the party, not restrictions because of your career choice.

Why couldn't fighters have rituals? Some sort of meditation, or calisthenic routine, or focused weapon practice? Benefits could include a 24 hour bonus to AC, or to to-hit; Leaders could give a morale bonus to the party members that witness their amazing prowess during this training ritual. An hour of deep, focused breathing could give the striker a bonus to their ranged attack or opportunity attack.

It wouldn't make sense to allow these rituals to exist on scrolls, of course. The idea of a scroll is that some of the arcane or divine power has been stored within the parchment. But a ritual book for martial adventurers doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

Perhaps the idea of practice, meditation and deep breathing is planned more for a different power source, such as the ki power source hinted at for a future monk class. And I'm sure the psionicists will have rituals of the mind. In fact, it seems that as more power sources are introduced in further sourcebooks, the martial character is going to be left out more noticeably.

I've not really given any thought to cost, level, or anything else except for the end result for this proposed martial ritual.

Weapon Familiarity

You hone your primary weapon to perfection, making its keen blade an extension of yourself.

Level: 3
Category: Attack
Time: 1 hour
Duration: 24 hours

Component Cost: 25gp
Market Price: 150gp
Key Skill: Athletics

You focus all of your training on one weapon you possess, getting a feel for every little nuance. For the ritual's duration, you get a +1 ritual bonus to attacks with this weapon only. This does not carry across to another weapon of its type; practicing with one longsword does not give this bonus when using any other. A new weapon may be chosen each time this ritual is performed, but you lose any Weapon Familiarity you previously had when you perform this ritual.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

PHB - Combat

Because we were playing this weekend, I skipped a bunch of chapters to read Chapter 9 - Combat.

For those who have played 3rd edition, the round/turn idea is still present and familiar, as are surprise rounds and the limited actions available there. The biggest addition is that the standard and move actions (and free actions) have been joined by the minor action. This was a sorely needed piece of a character's turn, but one that I probably couldn't have put my finger on if asked.

No longer are characters using move actions to draw a weapon (or feeling like they ought to move just to take advantage of drawing for free); drinking potions is more reasonable; and opening a door doesn't seem to take forever. It's such a minor thing (ha. ha.), but this was a much-needed addition.

The terms "interrupt" and "reaction" have been added into the immediate action section. These are obvious carry-overs from Magic: The Gathering and Jyhad/Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, both WOTC properties. But they fit here, if only because the idea they represent was around in 3rd edition Ready actions anyway; we now have formal terminology for such actions.

Also seemed to be carried over from the Collectable Card Game universe are the explicit Start of Your Turn and End of Your Turn "phases". These phases will be useful to help remember all of the ongoing effects that need to be handled; I know that regeneration and fast healing were often forgotten in 3rd edition.

The actual act of attacking is a little more involved now. Third edition kept the idea of a melee/ranged attack separate from casting a spell; now they're all the same thing. The close attack blurs the two, including both an arcing swing with a blade along with a pulsing magical aura. With the change to the saving throws, spell casting and other effects is now considered an attack (we voiced our opinions about this in previous posts), which I think we've warmed to. While playing on Saturday, I kept thinking, "they automatically take this damage?? Where's the save?", but of course the save was in the Defense score that the attacker beat. Saving throws are now relegated to the removal of ongoing effects. As mentioned here before, this does simplify the flow of combat (attackers roll, not defenders), but I think it will take a bit of time to get used to one of six ability scores versus one of four defense scores, though I suppose there are some combinations that don't make sense (Strength vs. Will?)

The part that most complicates combat is the fact that, unless you're doing some fancy charge or other combination move, you are unlikely to use the Melee Basic Attack or Ranged Basic Attack -- one of your character's at-will powers will almost certainly have a better effect. This might be harder for seasoned D&D players to get used to than newcomers, but it took effort to NOT "just swing my mace" at the kobolds. The character sheet isn't quite designed for laying out your various attacks, showing the X vs Y roll, the damage and the typical extra effect, so I found myself flipping back to the cleric level 1 at-will powers page all the time. I'm sure I'll get used to what I have, and it will become quicker, but for now, it slows down combat having these choices available.

The page on Conditions was nice to see, better laid out than in older versions, and helpfully spelling out all of the effects of the condition. No more do I have to flip back and forth trying to figure out which of stunned or dazed is worse, which stops you from taking an action, which leaves you vulnerable for a sneak attack, etc.
Now, we see that Dying implies Unconscious, which implies Helpless, which has its list of penalties. Much simpler.

I'm torn about the critical hits. Max damage - yay! No extra dice - boo. I rolled my criticals in my role as DM than the party did, so it really comes down to the players whether they prefer getting beaten consistently or with that sense of randomness. *:^)

I'm also confused with the ongoing damage. One of the tenets mentioned early on about 4e was reducing bookkeeping, yet many of the powers have ongoing damage and effects, which means you need to keep track of them. Interestingly, we didn't seem to have much of a problem there - one PC was on fire and immobilized, and we never forgot to roll the saves. I suppose players are more likely to remember to shake off effects than they are to remember to remind the DM to ascribe more damage from that ongoing acid arrow... Also confusing this issue is that some powers are removed with a saving throw, some are Until the Start of Your Next Turn, some Until the End, and some Until the End of the Encounter.

With the move of the traditional saving throw into an attack roll, it's nice that what's left of saving throws is a static value, rolling 10 or higher to succeed. As the PHB says, "[w]hat makes a giant snake's poison worse than a normal snake's is not how hard it is to shake off the poison's effects, but how easily it affects you in the first place (it's attack bonus) and what it does to you while it remains in your system (its ongoing damage or other effect)."

Cover and concealment have been simplified a bit, so there are only two types of penalties, -2 and -5, that apply to attacks. No more percentage miss chances, and no more defense bonus - just an attack penalty. This is nice, and I agree that this was needlessly complicated in 3rd edition.

Diminutive and Colossal have been lost as sizes. That's too bad, but I suppose there's no reason to keep them, especially since it seems that size no longer affects your armor class. The new Squeeze action is interesting, allowing a creature to suck in its gut to squeeze into tight spaces, with listed effects. Most of the movement rules are similar to the older version, with a few exceptions.

Run is now just +10', instead of triple- or quadruple-speed. This is good to prevent long over-ground chases, of which we've had a few. The terrain has taken on Miniatures terminology and effects, costing an extra 5' to move through difficult terrain, and taking a certain amount of movement to move atop obstacles. The Push/Pull/Slide idea seems to be quite prevalent; sliding nee five-foot-adjustment is needed for the feel of fancy footwork in combat, but the pushing and pulling ideas are more than just bull rushing being put into concrete terms. Many powers have these effects, which lends to a more strategic feel to combat in general. And having kobolds that can slide in response to the characters' movements is great.

As for the other miscellaneous actions that are available, Crawling now lets you go at half-speed instead of just 5'. Grappling (Grab, now) and escaping are simplified, which is nice. They were always good mechanics to use in combat (monsters crushing PCs, or PCs grappling NPCs when they couldn't do anything else effective), but always required going to the books to find out the order of the checks, who-could-do-what, etc.

We've yet to try out the new death and dying rules, but they definitely seem designed to help the PCs live to see another day, provided their companions can finish the battle without them, or heal them quickly. The dynamic lower-limit for death is definitely an improvement, using the bloodied number as a negative instead of the static -10. No mention of massive damage that I could see, though. I don't think it'll be missed.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Forget guesswork. It's finally game time!

After nearly six long months without any DnD, our group finally got together to kick off the 4e version of the game. Here then, are my first impressions.

First off, character creation is very much a step by step follow the recipe kind of process. The only thing that really slowed me down was finding where everything was on the character sheet. After that it was just following along and plugging in the numbers and picking powers. The latter was a little disappointing in terms of the sparse selection.

I understand that it's just the first book and that next years PHB2 will have many more powers to pick from, but for now I found that there was very little to get excited about among the powers. For my wizard it was pretty much a choice between a 1d6 + Int mod close burst versus a 1d8 + Wis mod range 5 blast. Certainly nothing to make him stand out amongst the other first level wizards in his graduating class.

"I majored in Scorching Blast while my buddy Dave majored in Magic Missile." Ho hum.

Feats are another disappointment. For me, feats were the defining element of 3rd edition. Feat selection alone could differentiate every fighter from every other fighter. In 4e that's gone, or at best very underdeveloped. Sure, my wizard gets a billion feats thanks to one coming every other level, but there's very little to pick from. Armor and weapon proficiencies will be nice. An extra trained skill or two might come in handy. I might even dabble in a Warlock pact. Otherwise nothing to really look forward to. Again, this will no doubt be expanded upon in further releases but for now it gets a Boo-urns.

On the other hand, skills seem much better now. At first getting a one time +5 for being "trained" seemed, well, stupid. But I now see the real beauty in the design. It keeps those set DCs from becoming obsoleted by ranks. No longer can I put 20 ranks into Tumble to move through the battlefield without ever drawing an Attack of Opportunity. So huzzah to the new skill system.

(Side note: why the hell did they have to change the term "Attack of Opportunity" to "Opportunity Attacks"? Did they think that we're all so stupid that we might mix up the rules of 3rd and 4th editions because they share a common term? Attack of Opportunity (or AoO) rolls off the tongue and has a cooler acronym. "Opportunity Attack" falls from the lips like a brick and just sucks.)

Weapons and armor selection are just as sparse. Only six types of armor? Not much in the weapon lists to choose from either. It was all very simplistic too (once I got past the terms like "versatile" and "high crit" and the new range deal). Not a knock that, but not really a plus either. The inclusion of the "adventurer's pack" in equipment was a nice touch, especially since I buy the same routine items for every character. The simplification of encumberance was a sweet deal too. So I'll call this area a draw, mostly because it continues to give me the feeling that WotC held back about 35% of their material solely to fill other books that are soon to be released.

The game itself felt like a beloved pair of old boots. We ran through two seperate combats with an "extended rest" in between and while they took as long as any 3rd edition encounter (possibly longer) that was just because we're still getting familiar with our powers etc... In the long run, I see combats being considerably faster after the learning curve is climbed. Mainly thanks to no more saving throws in response to attacks/spells. While I still felt a little powerless (and robbed of my hand in fate) when that caster fired that gob of acid at me, I can appreciate how much easier it must be on our DM Crwth to be freed from rolling saves for all the various monsters.

Tactically it played out quite nicely. The extra slides some of the baddies had made the battlefield much more fluid, which was fun. It made picking my spots for dropping those burst spells that much trickier. Small compensation for having only two to pick from but whatever. My 3rd edition sorceror didn't have much to pick from at 1st level either. Also the question of when to use that precious Daily power kept things interesting. I thought both of my fellow players used theirs too early in the day, but then I followed suit and wasted mine as well.

I'm still mixed on Action Points. I don't think they really add any value to game play, in that it would still be fun without them. The extra action is nice and since they recharge after two "milestones" (why not call them encounters?) I can spend them whenever I want to without worry or regret.

The module "Keep on the Shadowfell" has been good so far. While we only just barely dipped our toes the encounters were varied and interesting. Also there seem to be two or three seperate storylines that we can follow, and it'll be interesting to see if any of the threads converge or cross as we go along. I'm definitely looking forward to exploring Winterhaven more as it seems to be nicely fleshed out with some interesting NPCs.

All in all, while 4e was disappointing in some areas it also provided some surprising goodness. Enough goodness that my 3.5 books will stay tucked away and continue to gather dust. For now.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Roles and classes

The day is finally here -- it's official release day! And I'm without my Monster Manual. *:^( Karma for gloating that I had the other books early, I suppose - I'm told it shipped this afternoon, so I'll probably see it Tuesday.

While flipping through the class chapter again, to read the powers, I noticed that each of the class blocks had, right at the start, the role and the power source, and that you could possibly refer to a class by that combination; a cleric is a divine leader. This got me wondering about which combinations are currently presented:

Role \ Power source














Ranger, Rogue

So, we've already doubled up on one, which shoots my theory out the window. But what might be planned for those empty spots? A martial controller could be someone who mesmerizes with fancy moves? What would a divine striker be - a terrorist?

And of course, we have other power sources coming - psionics, elemental, ki, etc., which open up even more possibilities. Possibilities that could be filled by PRESTIGE CLASSES...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

PHB - Classes


This chapter starts off defining a lot of terms that will be used in the later class entries, explaining the different fields that will appear (role, power source, key abilities, etc.) and also explaining the long-term goals of classes, including the paragon paths and epic destinies. It is explained that the paragon paths do not stop your progression in your original class, which makes it a little different than prestige classes were - that is, you don't stop advancing as a cleric to become an angelic avenger, but instead an angelic avenger is a cleric who's getting a few other powers as they go. And also mentioned is the ability to take "paragon multiclassing" instead of a paragon path. I still don't know what I think about the lack of true multiclassing, but I think some play will help determine whether the flexibility is still there.

Also before the class entries is a good-sized section on Powers and their entries. A lot of terms are thrown around here, such as the power sources, damage types, effect types and attack types. I think this is going to overwhelm a newcomer to the game, but will make a good reference to go back to once they've flipped through a few powers.

The class entries have what you'd expect from the preceding section, their list of abilities and role and so forth, as well as their defense bonuses, such as the +2 Will that a cleric gains. There are also builds provided in the class entries, in the same vein as in 3rd edition where they suggest your starting feat(s), skill choices, and (in 3rd edition) equipment. I felt it was at a better place in the older books, finishing off the entry with a suggestion or two. Here they're one of the first bits of info, and might be misconstrued as a list of two choices that one must choose from, if the word "suggested" is overlooked. Granted, it's there four or five times, but still...

One of the key features mentioned along with the talk of paragon paths is that they provide expanded use for your action points. These are still new to me, having only played one Eberron campaign, so I don't yet have a feel for how often you use them, when you decide to, etc. But I think it's going to be the same kind of thing as when to use your encounter power, and moreso when you use your daily power.

Each paragon path seems to have one ability that enhances your action point use, and then provides a few other small abilities, and a small list of paragon powers. I have to keep reminding myself that the paragon path is NOT a prestige class, and that it does not preclude the advancement of your main class. It's more like the ranger choice made in 3rd edition (dual-wield vs. range fighter).

Overall, I found the paragon paths disappointing. They introduce very few new abilities and only a handful of powers each. They seem to be presented as these big decisions and changes that your character goes through at 11th level, but really they're just a small variation.

This is a large chapter, but the majority of it is taken up by powers, which I think warrant their own post.

PHB - Races


This is a short chapter, giving a two-page spread for each of the races. Most of the content is for role-playing purposes, giving the general background of the race, and their typical motivations, with a few sample characters.

Two things stand out, though. One is that, unlike 3rd edition, where races had ability weaknesses to balance their ability strengths, no race in 4e has an ability penalty, only bonuses. This helps to steer players towards classes that are suited to that race, but also lets you go against this suggestion without completely suffering. Although this results in characters with higher overall ability scores (combined with the increased number of gains mentioned before), this really emphasizes the Heroic nature of the player characters compared to other people of the land. I haven't figured out what a 30th level character is going to look like with all of these bonuses, but it's going to be impressive.

The other thing that stood out was the encounter powers that some of the races get. It's the wording of the racial info block, and the power block, that gest to me, not so much the powers themselves.

For example, the dragonborn has

Dragon Breath: You can use dragon breath as an encounter power.

and the block below for the power has

Dragon Breath Dragonborn Racial Power

Encounter * Acid, Cold, Fire, Lightning or Poison

The reading of the first line, in the racial description, seems to imply that the dragon breath power is typically not an encounter power (more likely an at-will with a recharge), thus explaining the clarification that it's useable as an encounter power. But why, then, do we have a specific power description block following, that not only has the Encounter availability listed, but is very specific that it's a Dragonborn Racial Power, instead of some general power that the dragonborn has access to?

Or, the other way around, if this is a very specific power as suggested by the name and the availability, then it's already an encounter power, so why explicitly say so in the racial description? The same thing happens with the fey step power for the eladrin, the elven accuracy power for elves and the second chance power for halflings.

Perhaps there are other versions of these powers, under the same name? Or "levels" of powers, with different availabilities? I guess we'll see in later chapters, but this is another example of overwordiness in this book, where in general Wizards of the Coast is really good about defining things very explicitly and not having to repeat themselves or contradict themselves.

The class chapter is next, and is much longer - hopefully there's a little more to talk about there.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Player's Handbook

I received my copy of the Player's Handbook yesterday (see, the gods do smile upon me!), so I've put aside the Dungeon Master's Guide for now, to read a bit of that. I might alternate about them, though I'm going to try and get as much of them read for Saturday, which is when our group is hoping to give 4th edition a try for the first time.

Chapter 1 - HOW TO PLAY

This is the typical chapter on what D&D is about; what roleplaying games are like, the role that the player takes, the role that the DM takes, etc. It's pretty typical of the same chapter from earlier editions, explaining to the newcomer to D&D what the game is about.


Here we're finally getting to the good stuff - the tables, charts and rules that make up D&D, and specifically, this new version.

The races and classes are detailed lightly (they're done in more detail in later chapters), spelling out the three new base player races (dragonborn, eladrin and tiefling). This isn't anything new to those who have been following the sneak-peeks of 4e. The classes also have the two new base ones mentioned, Warlock and Warlord, and the absence of the sorcerer, druid and monk are a bit noticeable.

The roles are only very slightly mentioned here. I'm not sure if this is more the DM's area, and thus the PHB won't have much on the subject, or if that's just a later chapter.

Ability scores are nicely explained, both for the newcomer who might have an inkling on what each of them means, as well as their application to the most common rules, as well as the new rules, such as figuring out saving throws or how the powers are affected. There are three methods provided for rolling up your abilities: using a standard array (16,14,13,12,11,10) and assigning them as desired; using a point-buy of 22 on a base of 8,10,10,10,10,10 , which I found interesting (that you're only allowed to have one ability, maximum, at 8 or 9, not counting racial penalties that might exist); and of course the good old standby of rolling, using 6 4d6 rolls assigned as desired.

Skills, feats and powers are all glossed over here, guiding the player to the appropriate chapters. The new alignment chart is discussed, providing the typical explanation of how it might affect your character's outlook and attitude. Deities have always been closely tied to alignment, and the good ones are briefly described here for the players (where the evil ones are described in the DMG). The last touch-ups of character creation are also given a little attention, such as mannerisms, appearance and background -- all things that seasoned players probably do without thought, but a newcomer will find useful to know about.

The Making Checks section seems a bit wordy. Given that there's no more Base Attack Bonus, and that they, for the time being at least, are avoiding the term "rank" when discussing skills, the checklist for making an attack, a skill check or an ability check all look like:

<type of check>
To make a <type of check>, roll 1d20 and add the following:
o One-half your level
o The relevant ability score modifier
o All other modifiers (see page xxx)
The total is your <type of check> result.

This is repeated three times, making me feel like I should be wearing a helmet while reading this section. Okay, I get it. There's a roll, my half-level, a relevant ability, and other stuff.

The leveling up section was more interesting. Obvious was the missing "choose what class you're taking a level in", since multi-classing is basically gone, or, rather, faked through feats and powers. What I didn't know, and would be surprised if was previously mentioned (and missed by me), is every four levels you don't just gain a point in one ability score, but two. Plus one more at levels 11 and 21 -- the entrance to Paragon and Epic status.

Also mentioned here is the choosing of powers, which brings up the Retraining at later levels. To me, retraining doesn't fit, and doesn't make sense. I used to know how to spin around and hit two foes, but today I've completely forgotten how to do so -- but can now trip as a free action? In online games such as Dungeons and Dragons Online, I can see retraining (or respecking) being used because the game introduces new feats, new classes and new races as it goes. And I realize that the retraining could have been intended not as a "I've changed my mind" type of change, but meant to be an advancement. But that's not the case:

Sometimes you make decisions when you create or advance your character that you later regret.

Perhaps retraining should only improve upon like powers, so I go from hitting two to hitting three? And of course, while I'd like to say "House Rule: no retraining!", but it's such a core rule, I don't know that that will work. In fact, the retraining paragraph goes on to mention that "when the class table tells you to replace a power you know with a different power of a higher level, that doesn't count as retraining". I think this is a design weakness, but for now I think I'll let it play through. It might turn out that my players never take advantage of it. We've already heard what Griff thinks about it.

The chapter ends with the three tiers explained, showing the progress of your character from mere Hero to Epic saviour of the planes, and a point-by-point explanation of the layout of the character sheet found at the back of the book.

Monday, June 2, 2008

DMG - Building Encounters

The chapter starts off with Monster Roles, a popular topic of discussion here, and right off it starts off poorly:

In the context of monsters roles (here and elsewhere in the game rules), the terms "controller" and "leader" have meanings and applications that are different from the class roles of controller and leader, as described in Chapter 4 of the Player's Handbook.

This would explain the problems I had while trying to figure out some of the numbers between the classes and the monsters that we've seen so far. It's a shame that they designed this brand-new system of terminology and couldn't work their way around ambiguous naming.

It didn't occur to me before, but the idea of the Elite monster, which counts as two monsters of its level, and the whole idea of putting together an encounter based on the roles of the monsters, is a lot like spending the points in D&D Miniatures to put together your warband.

I've posted before about the difficulty I've had with some adventures, trying to provide enough encounters of enough value so the story can progress with the characters at an appropriate level (provided they survive), and how 4e seemed to have solved this with their various monster roles and level mixing. No more will I be putting four CR5 creatures together to make an EL4 encounter. Assuming the playtesting has revealed that their numbers work -- that four minions are equal to a regular monster, and that a solo monster is equal to five regular monsters -- encounter creation should be a lot easier and a lot more fun.

There is a good handful of templates that seem useful for newer DMs, and in fact, I might use them myself once in a while. They do the math for you, figuring out how many of what kinds of roles you want to make up a variety of encounter types, from Commander and Troops to Wolf Pack. I just hope that people don't stick to these templates religiously to the point that a player can count the number of foes and say "this is either a standard difficulty Commander and Troops encounter, or a hard difficulty Double Line encounter."

Terrain is being emphasized as a large part of any encounter. I think this is another case of Miniatures leaking into the game (without terrain in Miniatures, you'd have a pretty dull game). But terrain is definitely something that should be considered more than it was in the past. As pointed out in this chapter, encounter after encounter in a 20'x40' room (that's right -- feet, not squares) as you go through a dungeon will get boring quickly. I've always tried using blocking terrain in my encounter design, whether it's pillars in a dungeon or trees in a forest, but haven't given much thought to difficult terrain, challenging terrain, hindering terrain, etc. Remembering this chapter will be valuable for future adventure designs. There's also a nice list of "fantastic terrain", such as Choke Frost and Ember Moss which allow you to spice things up a bit more.