Friday, January 30, 2009

Insider treats you like an outsider

I recently hinted towards my dislike for the way that the D&D Insider handles their authentication. The problem is that logging in only seems to last a short time, perhaps 15 minutes? 30 minutes?

I'm not sure, because I tend to browse Insider throughout the course of a day (yes, I'm bad, I read it while I'm at work). Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, when there is new Insider content, I pop up every new article in a new tab in my browser, so they are then available for reading and for adding to wizardslinks. If these articles require Insider access to read, as most do, then each of these popped-up tabs only gives a preview; I then have to log in in one tab, and refresh the other.

Okay, that's fine, but I don't read these pages right away... they can stay in their tabs for hours, days, weeks (I currently have 13 of them open as "to-do" tabs). If I've already loaded the article, then it doesn't matter if Insider has logged me out, of course -- it's now in the tab, and I can read it fine. But if the article was a link to a PDF, and I haven't opened the PDF soon enough after popping up the article, then my attempt to open the PDF fails because I've since been logged out.

This happens all the time. ALL the time, because, as I said, I don't read these articles immediately. The webpage that comes up, instead of the PDF, helpfully tells me that I have to log in. But, even if I do so on that page, the URL is for the "hey, you need to log in" message, so now I'm logged in, but getting that message. Back button, etc., etc. and I can finally get my PDF. This is the headache I've lived with for months -- ever since Insider subscriptions were required for most of the articles.

And now, the Compendium gives me the same problem. I can go to the Insider Compendium page, log in, and pop up the Compendium window. What I cannot do, however, is hope to come back in 30 minutes and use that window, because my session will have logged out. Worse, as I mentioned in the last post, the authentication screen that is offered in that Compendium window doesn't successfully log me in -- it just keeps helpfully telling me that I need to log in, probably in a similar manner to the PDF problem mentioned above.

So now I have to close the Compendium window, go back to the Insider Compendium page (which I've wisely left open in another tab), hit refresh to get a login area (because that page unhelpfully claims that I'm logged in.) I then have to log in again (oh, and if you mistype your password, it just quietly redisplays the login section again, with no little "sorry, that username/password don't match" message or anything), and once I've logged in, I can re-launch the Compendium window. All this, because I wanted to look up the wording on some feat that I'm discussing with Griff. And I'm going to go through it all again in a few minutes, when he asks about a certain power or class.

The reason behind this short login session is clear; they want to ensure that the reader is really the paying customer, that I cannot go to Griff's place, log into Insider, and leave him with access until he reboots. Fine, I can accept that. But if you have to have a timed logout, make it longer. Make it 24 hours. Better yet, don't have a timed logout, but instead let me keep my session open on this browser for as long as I like. If I go home, fine, make me log in there, and log out my other session. I'll understand. But if I logged into this machine, and I access it again, you're being overzealous in assuming that I might no longer be the subscriber. If I choose to go to Griff's and log in as me, and let him play with Insider, then I've screwed myself from using it when I get home. THIS IS NO DIFFERENT FROM BUYING A BOOK. Granted, books have an inherent permissibility to be shared, and my Insider account does not. But those hours that my account is logged in at Griff's could very well be me using them, too, and assuming it isn't is offensive.

Perhaps your (and Wizards') response will be "then use your book". And I used to, bringing my PHB to work (don't worry, they already know I'm a geek) when I think I'll need it. But that's not a viable defense for Dragon and Dungeon magazine, not anymore. My only access to those is through my subscription, and I'm being prevented from reading these by these authentication issues.

This may be Dungeons & Dragons, but that doesn't mean that your authentication system needs to be draconian.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Character Builder redux

I recently commented on the Character Builder demo. They just released the full version this week.

I still really like this program. I can bitch and complain about WotC's methods about many things, predominantly their website, but this standalone tool is very well done.

It has a few little niggly things, of course; if you're rapidly levelling up a character (say, to make a 30th level character), then after each level up, the save step always prompts for overwriting the old file. It's something you should want it to do, of course, so as not to overwrite the wrong thing, but perhaps this should be a Save versus a Save As... feature, so by default you do reuse the same file.

This is emphasized by the fact that the save file keeps track of all of your decisions at each level-up, which I think it great. It lets you go back and see what you did, and when; it lets you go back and retroactively change something if you so choose; and it lets you make a 30th level character and still get access to what he or she looks like at the lower levels - something that can be handy for a recurring NPC.

There are a few Feats, specifically from Dragon #368, with a bunch of "styles" that affect some of the powers (exploits) you might have; these feats just display as "Augment at-will exploits" on the character sheet, but these augmentations don't appear on the power cards that are generated, which means you need to keep that issue of Dragon handy -- oh wait! It's digital, so I can't have that issue just sitting on the game table.

When you get to the point where you don't get MORE powers, but just the opportunity to swap out old ones, the interface requires that you lose a power before even getting to see what your list of choices is. This is a problem if you're hoping to swap out a low-level power for a higher-level equivalent. It slows down what is otherwise a very efficient, fluid action.

The Builder also has a link to the Compendium for everything, but the horrid authentication system makes this ineffective; unless you've just authenticated to your Insider account in the last few minutes, the window that the Builder pops up will not be logged in. It kindly offers to let you log in, but doesn't honour the attempt, and in the end you're forced to just pop up your browser and view the Compendium the old-fashioned way, breaking the usefulness of the link in the Builder. This isn't a fault with the Builder, it's the fault of the Insider site which keeps your login for, what, two minutes before expiring it?

But except for these little things, it works very well. I meant to time how long it took to create a character from 1st level to 30th, but I ended up doing it over a long span of a day, so I really couldn't say how long it took. Because the decisions at each level are so few, however, I'm sure it doesn't amount to much - reading the power descriptions is the most lengthy part. I don't mean this as a criticism of how simplistic the levelling-up is (that was in previous posts), but on how the Builder takes care of the "uhh, what else increases at this level?" stuff that you find yourself doing by-hand. Many of the incorrect totals we had before we tried the demo were because we forgot to add 1/2-level here and there, or recalculate this here... the software does all that for you, which is nice.

Doing this levelling-up exercise also gave me a pass through the paragon and epic feats, which I only glossed over when I first read the Player's Handbook, and it let me see the high-end powers for the Ranger class, which I hadn't read at all. In fact, I can see myself making a 30th-level character of each class as a way of learning the powers for them, because as odd as it seems, I'm finding it easier to read them in the software than browsing through the book -- reading page after page is what gave the glassy-eyed "these all look the same to me" feeling about the powers. As I build this Ranger, and formulate a "style" to her, I'm starting to realize that you CAN customize your class to be different from every other member of the class. Or perhaps that's just the ranger, because it has it's two very separate paths built-in -- the melee and ranged versions.

One thing that seems almost backwards, though, is that I have access to all of the material out there. Our group has a copy of Martial Power, but I've not looked at it yet; however, I've just read through most of the powers from that book that are available to a Ranger. Is this going to affect sales of books for Wizards? The old E-Tools required that you bought each of the books' data separately (or in packs), where the single Insider fee for access to the Builder gives me access to books I might never buy. I'm not complaining, mind you! I just hope it works out for Wizards. It's a great gesture, and anyone who has played 3.5, and had access to all of the extra source material (I think our group is missing half-a-dozen, tops?) will know how time-consuming it can be to go through them all, making sure that you've got in mind all of the options available to you (I'm not saying options are BAD!). Having all of the feats and powers available in one place, and also filtered for what you are able to take, is definitely a boon for any player.

I haven't been paying attention to how much the various parts of the Insider subscription cost, or the bundles, or whatever, but I definitely recommend this tool if you've got room in your budget, or if not, the group should pitch in and buy a subscription for the DM, and get him to punch in the character data for the party.

Monday, January 26, 2009

What manner of sorcery is this?

Thanks to Crwth I got a look at the Sorcerer class coming in the PHB2. It’s a class that’s been near and dear to me since the early days of 3rd Edition for a variety of reasons.

For starters I’ve always liked the Charismatic hero. More importantly I love the open ended spell selection that allowed (encouraged) a customized theme and spared me the tedious book keeping of the Wizard. Plus there was the challenge of picking those spells knowing that they’d be locked in (at least until WotC introduced the swap rule). Whether it was my Graz’zt worshipping thrall or my greatsword wielding dwarf I loved mixing the sorcerer class in new and weird ways.

So it was that when the 4E PHB was released my biggest initial disappointment was in the omission of the sorcerer class. The fact that the Warlock was there taking up the pages that rightfully belonged to my Sorcerer was just a kick in the junk. But I more or less shrugged it off and settled for a Wizard.

In the early days I was pleasantly surprised by the Wizard. The powers reduced the book keeping so it wasn’t all that bad. In fact I was starting to think that the 4E Wizard was just a Sorcerer by another name. Of course it didn’t take me long to realize that thanks to the powers every class is another class by another name.

Anyways, the preview of the 4E Sorcerer looks promising. But, that said, I'm not sure why they plugged the Sorcerer into the Arcane Striker role. First the Warlock steals the Sorcerer's pages in the PHB, and now the Sorcerer has to share a role with the upstart? Especially when the Elemental source seemed like such a natural fit. So, WTF?

As an aside, am I the only one feeling like WotC has us on a cycle of “hey, this is new and cool” to “blah blah blah” to “yay another power source book” to “blah”?

The “Spell Source” is interesting. The Dragon Magic source is reminiscent of the 3.5 version of the Sorcerer, with it’s Draconic blood in the veins thing. The details are more of the usual bonus to this, gain this when bloodied, schlock that I’ve seen everywhere before.

However the Wild Magic is refreshingly novel. The Chaos Burst is fun in that it gives you a round to round benefit depending on what you roll to attack. Then again, I thought we weren’t going to have to keep track of that sort of thing anymore. And what happens in a round where I don’t roll an attack?

The Unfettered Power is another perk to Wild Magic and this one is without flaw. The natural 20 result is all well and good, but I’m practically giddy with the result of a natural 1. Pushing every creature (enemy or ally) within twenty five feet is hilarious. I can foresee times where I’ll actually want to roll a 1.

The rest of the article is the usual drivel of powers ad nauseum. Some interesting stuff but nothing that stands out as truly unique or class defining.

All in all, I’ve actually got a little something to look forward to.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Onward ho!

Our group recently came to the nearly unanimous decision to continue on with 4th Edition, at least through the next module in the WotC series. Guess who the lone dissenter was.

Anyways, I’ll carry on, even though I feel like the kid being forced to eat his vegetables before he can leave the table. The thing is, I’ve tried cauliflower before and I don’t like it. Trying it again isn’t going to change my opinion. Its not going to suddenly become good. Even putting melted cheese on it won’t hide the underlying yuckiness.

Same thing with 4E. I’ve tried it for several months and it simply isn’t as much fun as 3.5. Another several months isn’t likely to change anything. The addition of the PHB2 and the Powers books might help, or they might be the melted cheese.

At any rate, I’m going to “retrain” my Dragonborn wizard into a fighter. My thinking is that part of the problem might be the expectations I’ve carried over from 3.5. Namely in that when I play a spellcaster, I want some actual choices in what spells he knows. By switching to a fighter, a class I never got around to playing in 3.5, I’ll drop that expectation. Then we’ll see if it’s just the spellcasting classes that are boring or if it’s all of them.

So I’ll have another bite. Pass the melted cheese please.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Powers, feats, and innate abilities

I read the latest Design & Development article a few days ago. It was interesting to hear about the design decisions that went into the feats of 4e, and how they compare to those that appeared in 3rd edition. But for fear of beating a dead centaur, I'm going to open up old wounds and mix metaphors.

In recent posts, we've talked about how the powers have made the various classes feel the same, since everyone has them. In 3rd edition, you had your spellcasters (and as mentioned before, they were varied enough to easily feel different); you had your Fighter, who dominated the feat selection throughout their progression, giving them a definite martial feel; and the remaining classes had their numerous class skills -- Barbarian with rage and DR, Rogue with a dozen skills and sneak attack, Monk with all sorts of goodness, Ranger with different paths, and the Bard... yeah.

And everyone felt unique. Every character played differently. And, it has to be said, multiclassing let you stir that up even more. The new feats, though, have pretty much taken the place of class-specific abilities. Sure, you don't get them automatically, but you get to choose them often enough, and they're very narrowly focused that you can label most of them as class- or race-specific. This came up when I last levelled up my Cleric - I think there were four feats that I could choose from, for which I qualified.

And speaking of multiclassing, as I have before, I've gone all hypocritical and multiclassed my Cleric, going with a bit of warlord just to powergame the healing aspect a bit. But is this going to make me feel any different from any other Cleric? Make me feel anything like a Warlord?

The Des&Dev article breaks down most of the 4e feats into four categories: static improvements to stats, situational improvements to stats, racial power mods, or class feature mods.

The first two are generally available to everyone, and thus don't help to differentiate anyone; the racial power modifications are minor, as all racial powers are; the last group, which focuses on each class's meager differences, is the only group that really makes an effort to "customize" the characters, to decorate them once they leave the cookie cutter. But does this little bit of icing help, or are they, in the end, equally indigestable, all tasting the same and making a mess on the table?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Some things never change

We've focused a lot on the class changes, the combat changes, and the general change in style of 4e compared to 3.5. We even mentioned how the new treasure parcel system might make loot a bit easier to handle, and that it might make payout in adventures, especially in Wizards of the Coast ones, properly balanced.

We were wrong.

Our group just finished The Keep on the Shadowfell, the first 4e adventure. The parcels for their progression can be found on p126 of the Dungeon Master's Guide. Rounding down to just the first three levels (the party hit fourth level a few encounters before the end), the characters sure ended up short.

By my calculations, they were short over 400gp during level 1. Level 2 was missing a level 6 magic item, but had some extra gold and a level 1 magic item, to account for about half of that. Level 3 was missing a level 4 and level 7 item, had an extra level 2 and level 3 item, and had a bunch of extra gold to only partially compensate.

All told, converting to gold, the module is short almost 3000gp worth of treasure. Add in the various optional rewards reduces that by 750gp, and adding in the Side Treks could boost that by another 350gp (the party did all but one of these). That's still almost 2000gp short in treasure.

Why is this so important? Well, for one thing, our party's cleric died once early on, and party gold had to be pooled to pay for a ritual to bring him back. Rituals in general appear to be a good gold sink in the game, once they become a little more available and familiar to the party. And, having played through all 8 of the original 3rd edition adventures and belly-aching about the paucity of treasure there, I think we'd like to see our adventurers rewarded with a little more than gratitude from the local villagers for a change.

I guess I'm so surprised because the 4e rules and the new Dungeon Master's Guide go to all the effort of making loot doling so easy -- here are ten packages of loot, spread them out accordingly. Why can they not follow their own instructions?

We're starting the second adventure soon, the Thunderspire Labyrinth, and I think the module is going to need a once-over for the loot before we start, so the DM (which might not be me this time around) can pad a few things, including making up for the poor showing in the first module.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Epic destinies

Going back through all of the older articles, I found the December Ampersand article in Dragon magazine which ends with a peek at a new Epic Destiny, the Primal Avatar from the Player's Handbook 2.

Browsing through it, I remembered the section on epic destinies in the Player's Handbook, and what I thought about them. This was furthered by listening to the backlog of podcasts that I've been ignoring, where some of the team talk about their epic-level characters.

A few things struck my about the epic levels. First, there aren't many bonuses to being there. Sure, you get the usual progression at each level, as detailed in the front of the book, and your powers lists continue to advance in power. But considering this Epic Destiny is portrayed as some sort of, life-defining choice that you're making, it's seems surprisingly lacking in actually defining you.

Second, there's this sense of finality to an Epic Destiny. The "immortality" that each Destiny has basically shelves your character from that point on, which might be okay for some, but might feel like a huge loss to others. Yes, this Epic Destiny is meant to be the culmination of everything this character has lived for, but... but... I wanna keep playing!

Of course, the Player's Handbook has a paragraph discussing exactly this, and mention that the "notes that appear in each of the epic destinies below are entirely optional." But even so, without something *else* beyond 30th level, what do characters do? Take on a second Epic Destiny - the D&D equivalent of a midlife crisis?

"Bob, what have you done??"

"Honey, I killed Tiamat and got the heads stuffed for over the fireplace. Oh, and I bought a Porsche."

With all of the grumbling from Griff and me lately about the sameness of the powers and classes in 4e, there has been talk of going back to 3rd edition. But I'm still hoping to hang on and try out the Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies, to see if the powers start to stir things up or the Paths and Destinies can lend a uniqueness to the individual characters in the party.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Character Builder

I downloaded the Character Builder Beta program when it was first released. I was excited to see how well it managed things, because I've taken a stab at the problem before.

The easy part of a character program is representation -- storing the numbers and the text and laying it out in a manner that's esthetically pleasing and well-organized for play. This is why there are myriad spreadsheets and programs that exist that let you keep track of your character, many of them decent.

It's another thing entirely to get a system that knows the rules, so it can ensure that your character is legal (read: that you're not cheating) by ensuring that you've got the right number of feats, right number of powers, and that your numbers add up.

For 3.5, the best commercial program was probably E-Tools, which did a reasonably good job at calculating your character sheet for you, but of course required you to purchase all of the source material in add-on modules, to get the classes and races and magic items that your hardcover books gave you. E-Tools could possibly be considered the grandfather of the Character Builder.

On the free front, Heroforge was amazing for what it was. Probably the most complicated Excel spreadsheet in existence, it had quite the following and was a remarkable accomplishment for what it was. Last I looked, the Heroforge team were doing a complete rewrite and were going to support 4e.

But what about this Character Builder? Could it really be useful, and free (with subscription)? So far: yes.

The beta only lets you play with the first three levels of character development, which works out great for our group, because they only JUST hit fourth level last play session. A few sessions before that, however, I had grabbed everyone's character sheets and punched them into the Builder, to see how well it handled a real-world sample of characters.

I'd say that every character had something wrong. Wrong on OUR end, that is, whether it was a missed bonus here or a forgotten feat there. Right away, the benefit of getting a computer to do your math for you, especially when it has access to every formula in the game, is evident.

If we were sticklers for this sort of thing, the Builder also keeps track of whether the character is "house-ruled" or not, marking it so based on whether you've got extra feats, too much loot, or ability scores out of whack. In our campaigns, we tend to allow point-buy or 4d6 rolling, and thus the two 4d6ers ended up as "house-ruled", since that's not a verifiable way of getting your abilities (for purposes of the RPGA, for instance).

Your powers (see below) are all presented with the math all done for them, adding in proficiency bonuses, ability bonuses, feats and implements. Very handy, especially as you level up and increase the chance of forgetting to advance some number or another.

It's unfortunate that you cannot set up different equipment configurations, to get stats for shield-and-sword, as well as two-handed-spear, etc. I believe E-Tools supported this.

The level-up feature in the software is nice, because if you enter each level separately, then you can, at any time, go back through and see the character in previous levels. Once you level up, it gives you a checklist of things that you need to decide -- new power, new feat, ability scores, etc. Very easy to use. Granted, levelling up in 4e is so easy that even *I* can do it.

The best part of the Builder, though, might very well be the cards at the end of the sheet. These 2.5"x3.5" sheets give you your powers and other effects in a nice succinct layout, providing the math for the power and giving you the to-hit and damage numbers you need. They have the rules for the power summarized right on the card. And they even provide a cheatsheet to give the DM so he or she has all of that character's useful information printed out instead of on a ratty piece of paper. Assuming the players play along, these sheets allow you to keep track of your dailies and encounter powers that are used (flip them upside down or "tap" them), and I use the cheatsheets as the characters' initiative order during combat.

The programmer in me wonders how they encode all of the rules, of course, and wish that that data was available for use, but I guess we have the Compendium for that. All told, though, I've quite impressed with this tool (more than I thought I'd be), and am looking forward to the full version to be released, not only so we can update our party to fourth level, but to also play with it a bit to make some 20th and 30th level characters, just to see how well it does (and to see what a 20th/30th level 4e character looks like!)


Yet another old article, one that I hadn't even perused when it first came out. That's surprising, since I'm playing a Cleric right now, and in hindsight I should have been more curious as to where the line was between Leader and Controller for the Divine power.

Right off the bat, I like the look of the Covenants. They let you customize what the Channel Divinity does for you (something that I'm very bad at remembering to use), and give you the extra Manifestation, which is a nice boost to your significant powers (if you remember to use them).

The Invoker spell Summon Angel of Fire confused me; it wasn't clear how long the summoned angel stayed around. One round? The end of combat? Until it gets bored? Forever? There are no rules that I recall for summoning in the 4e Player's Handbook, and the Compendium doesn't return anything that might help.

I liked the Shroud of Warning prayer. It basically gives your party an initiative bonus once per day. It may not sound like a lot, but at least it's different from most of the powers we see. Granted, that's because it's a Utility power, and not an Attack power.

The rest of the powers, though... pull, push, slow, daze. Weren't these the same thing we saw in the Warden? Are these Controller things or Defender things? Oh, right, the Controller does it with bursts, while the Defender tends to stick to individuals.

It started off a bit interesting, but in the end, this class didn't impress me. This *is* just a sneak peak at the first three levels, but I don't really see where it's going to get its own personality to keep it separate from the Cleric and Warden in theme and role.

Powers for everyone

Having read the Warden and Druid classes, I get the feeling of a bit of similarity. True, the Warden doesn't have the burst powers the Druid has, and the Warden has its Marking. Perhaps it's just the effect that Griff and I have mentioned in the past, how all of the powers seem to be the same thing, for every class, with just a little change here and there -- it's like there's a formula for making powers:

Pick an attack ability (Wisdom)
Pick a defense (Reflex)
Pick a range (10 squares)
Pick damage (1d6 fire)
Pick one of the following extra effects: push, pull, slide, stun, daze, combat advantage, zone of effect (zone of effect: fire)

Based on the above, determine whether this is at-will, encounter or daily, based on some formula (at-will)
If Daily, determine the Miss effect, if any (none)
Based on the above, determine appropriate class for this power (Druid)
Based on that, determine the power's name (Flame Seed)

I wonder if every combination of every variable has been crunched into a database, and the last few steps just need to be done for the lifetime of 4e. New classes could be determined that way:

"I was browsing through the database, and found a Dex vs. Fortitude Range 5 2d6 + stun encounter power - what should we do with it?"

"Sounds like some sort of deftly-thrown implement that knocks someone out -- sounds like a Martial Controller to me. Let's call it the 'Flying Dagger' class. Next!"

Now I understand that, given the mechanics of the game, there are only so many combinations of things: we have six abilities to "attack" with, four defenses, four attack types (melee, ranged, burst, close burst), and then some creative damage and effects. So you might say of *course* they're going to start feeling similar.

And that's the point: in previous editions of D&D, those with "spellcasting" differed in large ways: arcane vs. divine, holy vs. nature, innate vs. learned. That let you easily tell the difference between them, and playing each of these classes was quite different. But now every class has spells ( any other name...) and that's what's making these classes blur together.

Even just having the 3rd edition fighters and rogues using Feats instead of Powers was enough. Even having one defense score and three saving throws was enough for the classes' abilities to feel different. And this is the feeling that we seem unable to shake - that I'm casting Divine Leader attack at the goblin, that Griff is casting Arcane Controller attack, then a Martial Leader attack, a Martial Striker attack, etc. And while my numbers might be slightly different than Griffs, probably not much so, because my Cleric has his best score in Wisdom, and his in Intelligence, and so our rolls are coming out the same.

I've mentioned in the past that I've not read all of the powers for every class, and that certainly goes for those in the 10+ level range. So perhaps I'm speaking too soon, and perhaps this similarity between the classes will disappear as we progress. The danger, of course, is that we don't choose to progress, but instead return to 3rd edition, because 4e can't keep our interest.


Okay, the Sneak Peak article came out over a month ago, and I'm only commenting on it now. But as mentioned before, Druids have been one of my favorite classes for a while, and I thought I should take a look at what 4e has done to/for it.

The odd armor availabilities are something that any Druid player has come to expect, but it's nice to see that the weapons are no longer limited. The Primal power source, as with the Warden and Barbarian, nicely extends the 4e concept, and lets the Druids step away from their association with the Cleric and their divine magic.

I'm a bit disappointed that the Wild Shape ability doesn't confer any bonuses from the form you take, especially speed. Perhaps there will be Feats that allow this?

The Druid has a special condition on their At-Will attack powers -- that at least one but not all of them must have the Beast keyword. I can see the reasoning behind it, but I think this is a rule that will be forgotten by players and DMs alike. 4e has been trying to get rid of the exceptions, and this is a step backwards, especially for those who have gotten fully into that mindset of 4e -- the "regularity" of the rules.

I like the Wild Shape power, though. Being an At-Will Minor action that has a built-in shift from beast- to humanoid-form, a character could essentially get three shifts in a round if needed -- minor, move and standard actions -- perhaps to get out of a sticky situation, or to help sneak behind a foe to give a party member some flanking.

The Beast keyword powers and the non-Beast ones make a nice balance for feral, animal-form combat and the raw, natural, elemental powers. At first I wasn't really sure about the Controller role that these powers were supposed to provide, but as a whole, I suppose they do the job; the Burst powers are what come to mind for Controllers, for me: someone who is affecting large numbers at once. Each of the single-target powers instead "control" their target by forcing them to move, either willingly (to avoid ongoing damage) or not, which I suppose, too, is a form of control.

It's not a bad class, so far, but I have to admit, it doesn't pique my interest as much as the Druid has in the past. I think part of it is, again, the fact that everyone has powers now, so the wizard/cleric/druid don't feel as special. The Druid, like the Cleric, was always the hybrid spellcaster, designed with a little bit of melee combat in mind. But I'm not feeling the uniqueness of this class over any other. The Primal power source gives it the bestial flavor, but my beast form isn't anything other than the key to unlocking half of my powers and a source of lice.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Save vs Negativity Failed

Long time, no blog.

My lack of posting isn’t from a dearth of material to look at. There’s plenty for me to go over (at least when I get the chance to read through Crwth’s digital Dragon magazines) so I’m sure I could pick up a topic or two if I took the time to read it all. The holidays make for a handy scapegoat in the gap in writing but in all honesty I had plenty of time to make up a post.

Case in point. I’ve had the following saved on my computer since late November or early December. I could have posted it at just about any time but hesitated for one big reason. I’m tired of being so negative all the time.

Honestly. I want to like 4e because at it’s core it’s still DnD, it’s still the game that I’ve loved since I rolled up my first dwarven ranger in 1984.

I want to find and focus on the gems of the game. Things like the monsters and encounters. The design of those two areas is greatly improved. I like the rules on disease, poison, and traps. Those rules have been improved over 3.5 by leaps and bounds. I like the emphasis on terrain. The skill system is another tweak that I really approve of. I’ve even grown to like the roles. There are lots of other things that I like that I aren’t coming to mind at the moment, so suffice to say that overall 4E is a good game.

Actually, more accurately, I still have a lot of fun when playing DnD. Is that fun a result of the rule set? No. Absolutely not. Definitely and emphatically no.

The fun comes from our DM ‘s ability to spin a tale and run the game with a nice pace. It’s fun because of my friends. It’s fun because of the off track tangents that inevitably veer us away from the game. It’s fun because of the mom jokes and the pop culture references and Simpsons quotes.

If anything, there’s just one small trifling detail that holds my weekly gaming back in terms of pure enjoyment.

The classes.

I hate them.

Seriously. They bore me. To tears.

I’ve been trying to leave this poor dead horse alone but the classes are all just so cookie cutter. The names of the powers and abilities are all different but the core of their effects are all the same. Some classes lean more heavily on one type of power but everyone seems to have a the same generic options. The extra feats don’t add any spice to the mix. It’s just more salt in an already salty soup. Spellcasters are so dumbed down they are beyond the point of banality.

Even the release of some new classes has done nothing for me. The Swordmage in the FRPG is interesting but barely different from the sword wielding wizard I’m currently playing. The sneak peek at the upcoming Barbarian was ho hum. Do I dare hold out hope for the PHB2?

Sure, there’s no more mindlessly hacking away with sword or axe. Instead we mindlessly flail away with “Holy Smites”, “Twin Strikes”, and “Scorching Blasts”. Whee.

Sure, there’s no more accidentally nerfing your character by multiclassing or missing out on a pre-requisite for a feat. Instead there is no multiclassing, and if you miss a feat, take it next level. Or “retrain”.

Leveling up used to be the penultimate in excitement as all new paths and options opened up. Now it’s just a matter of changing some numbers on the character sheet. The only reason I even bother with bugging our DM about leveling up is for the running joke.

The bottom line is it’s still nice to get out of the house and do some gaming with my friends. It’s just that I’d be just as happy if we were to play d20 Modern or VtM or just about any other RPG out there. The only thing that currently keeps me with DnD is the familiarity factor. That and the high fantasy setting of battling monsters with sword and spell. Other than that avenue of escapism, 4th edition has nothing to hold my interest.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Future classes

I just started reading the article on the Warden class, which, as when new classes are introduced, had me thinking about my post here on the role/power-source pairings.

Since that post, Griff and I mulled around the ideas of classes that would pair up the future power sources, the ones that didn't make it into the Player's Handbook but had been mentioned there or elsewhere, such as Primal, Psychic, Ki and Shadow. We took our inspiration from the splat books of 3rd edition, trying to decide what existing classes would fit which roles.

The resulting table is too big for the blog's format, but you can see a live version (which might not match what I'm saying here, if you are looking at it in the future), here. The bold class names are ones that have been defined in rulebooks or other articles; the italicized entries are ones that were our guesses. For the Arcane Defender we had the Spellsword from Tome and Battle; and the Barbarian we had put into Primal Defender, not because we thought it fit perfectly, but because we wanted to place Barbarian somewhere, and had already put a Striker in (forgetting, of course, that we have two Martial Strikers from the get-go.)

Got any guesses for this chart?

Back to the Warden class. Right off the bat, I like the class features; they're nicely in line with the Defender concept and the title of "Warden", finding resistances and defenses where others do not.

The "marking" idea of 4e is one that I haven't fully evaluated. It gets used during our campaigns, but I think we've still got some time before we really see it shine. I like the concept, but it's contrary to the "not having to keep track of things" mentality of 4e -- luckily my players are good at reminding me when they've marked something (just as I'm saying that the target is attacking someone else). The Warden, rightly, gets powers based on marking, which helps cement that Defender role by drawing the enemy to her (or at least penalizing them if they don't).

Lots of the Warden powers deal with movement: pushing/pulling, slowing, sliding, shifting. Again, that works well with the Defender idea -- if the enemy can't move, they can't get to the rest of your party.

And of course, they have the requisite bit of polymorphing in there. In 3.5, I was strongly drawn to the Druid, and the Shifter, and the Verdant Lord... everything that the Primal power source is going to encompass (not counting the Barbarian). Right now, I think that the Warden would have my vote if I was to play a Defender role.

Until we get psionics, right Griff?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

We're still alive here at the blog, but have been frightfully absent.

I won't bore you with tales of family, work and holiday obligations. We've both been negligent towards posting here, and it's my resolution, at least, to change that.

We do still play D&D, although the fact that we're still on the first 4e module should hint towards how often we get to play. We're a group of six thirty-somethings, and with family, work and other extracurricular activities, trying to coordinate 4 out of 6 -- my minimum for a session -- is a bit of a challenge.

There is plenty of 4e content to talk about, as Wizards is doing a really good job of keeping pace with Dragon and Dungeon magazine articles. Even if I don't have gameplay experiences to talk about, I'll talk about these more often (which I've said before, but resolve to do again).

Not that Griff and I are yet sold on 4e. We talk about whether we'll return to 3.5 or not, because there are some things that we still miss. We've often talked about a hybrid set of rules, the best of both, but haven't dug into how well that would actually work.
I've been working on a single-player 4e campaign idea that I'm going to take Griff through, so we have another view at the rules; I think 4e is well-designed to handle a single-player campaign, moreso than 3.5 at least.