Thursday, September 18, 2008

A not-so-brief summary (after 3 levels)

Having just hit 3rd level I figured it was time to sum up the things that I love and the things that I hate with 4e.

The Good:

Everything to do with Encounter design. I just love this. Everything from the mixing and matching of monsters, to their roles (as an aid for the DM only), to the use of terrain. It’s all just good shit. I mean it. WotC knocked this one out of the park.

The skills system. I was lukewarm on the untrained vs trained thing at first, but I’ve really grown to love it. It’s simple, elegant, and best of all dumping ranks in doesn’t outgrow the curve of the DCs, making what should be an incredibly difficult show of skill (ie, tumbling around a dozen ninja warriors without getting hit) into a can’t be failed exercise in boredom (ie. that DC 15 never goes up).

Racial abilities. They add a nice little kicker to choosing a specific race. Great idea.My only knock against them is that they just don’t go quite far enough. I’m putting this under a good thing, with the presumption that future books will push this great idea to the heights it deserves.

The monsters. Another homerun for WotC. From the foundation of their design being for one encounter (ie. no more abilities/spells that won’t be used during a fight) to the stat block layout, it’s all much improved. A special favorite of mine is the use of signature powers for every monster. The kobold’s free shift and the goblin’s shift after a miss etc... Just awesome.

Races. Love the new races. The Dragonborn are a perfect addition, and the split of the elves into Eladrin and Elf is beautiful. The Tiefling... well, three out of four is pretty damn good. And the re-tooling of the other core races are all very nicely done.

The Bad:

The multiclassing (or lack thereof). Part of the fun in DnD is mixing and matching existing classes to whip up my own perfectly tailored “class”. Was it powergaming and unbalancing? Sure. Was it potentially nerfing yourself if you took the wrong class or feat? You betcha! But it was fun and challenging and I loved it. (The added perception that they nerfed multi-classing solely to justify the creation of future books, as in “don’t make up your own class, buy this book which has a bunch of new classes that almost fit your concept instead”, well, that kinda pisses me off.)

Spellcasting is just boring. It’s all just different powers now and that, in some vague way, robs me a little. Okay, my wizard can drop “Scorching Bursts” every round, but whoop-dee-doo. It’s dulls-ville.

Action points. It took me a while but I’ve decided that I hate the way they implemented these. When they first appeared in the 3.5 Eberron world, I thought they were quite cool. A nice little 1d6 boost to any roll to change defeat into success strikes me as “heroic”, which was the intent. In 4e getting to do an extra action in a round might be heroic, if you fighter uses it to make an extra attack and topples two ogres at the same time. More often than not the result of the Action Point is pretty mundane. A healing surge gets burnt, or a bad guy gets hit for an extra 5 damage. Yawn. Worse yet, I’ve used an Action Point for the extra move to get away from danger. Yeah. That’s “heroic”.

The magic items. I know they felt that players were far too dependant on magic items. But so what if they are? At least it gave us something to aspire and save up for. Something to quest for even. Now they’re just lame.

Retraining. WotC should take this concept and shove it up their ass. I hate it. 'Nuff said.

The “yeah buts”:

The assortment of powers. I like them overall, and the fact that every class gets them is both a good and bad thing. It makes every class unique in way, which is good, but it also (in an admittedly weird way that I have trouble defining) makes every class feel the same. I wish I could elaborate on this but it’s just my subjective feeling.

The feats will surely fill many a book (while emptying many a wallet) and every character gets a shitload of them, which is good. I suppose. But I’ve yet to see anything that I want to aim towards. They’re just so watered down now. A piddly bonus to a pair of skils, or the ability to wear armor and such are just... blah. Where are the Whirlwind Attack type feats that required levels of planning and then provided an exciting in game payoff?

The overall streamlining of the game. This came really close to being up with the good, but for one thing. There are times where I get the feeling that “time wasters” of the past (ie. confirming critical hits etc...) have simply shifted to new time wasters. This could be simply because our play group hasn’t gotten a complete grasp on the rules and powers but everyone’s action starts with opening the PHB to check on the details of our char’s powers. I’d rather be rolling dice thanks.

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