Monday, March 30, 2009

Playing your own character

Hot on the heels of Griff's last two posts, I'll mention that I've been playing with the Character Builder a lot lately, getting to know the different classes out there. I find that this is a lot easier than trying to read through thirty levels of powers for a class, where they all blur together...

To test out the Builder, I took all of my various 3.5 characters over the years, and attempted to recreate them in 4e. It should be noted that, while I might complain about the lack of choice in 4e, I very rarely multiclassed in 3.5, not counting prestige classes. I thought that this might have made these recreations a little easier.

I started this experiment after reading the article on the Shadar Kai in Dragon #372, where they also provided some feats specific to the spiked chain. This brought to mind my 3.5 character Placide DeMorgan, and I thought I'd give a spin recreating him.

This was actually a lot of fun, and quite the challenge. The idea of Placide was that he had reach, and that he could Trip and Disarm well. Trip and Disarm are no longer general attack types in 4e, so my goal was to take any power that came along that provided "...and target falls prone" or any mention of disarming. Then I decided that anything that might grab a target would fit in with the concept (wrapping them around with the chain), and, if none of these choices was available, I'd go for the idea of a sweeping attack, such as a close burst smack-everyone-around-you attack. And if all else failed, I'd take a power that provided a slide or pull effect, as Placide tugs his opponents around the battlefield.

But it was tough! There were many choices of powers that fit with this idea. It also "helped" that, with the right choice of feats, the spiked chain was considered a flail, a two-handed weapon, two weapons, an off-hand weapon, a light blade, a double weapon, and reach weapon, which meant that any powers that offered up bonuses to use of such a weapon became appealing.

To level Placide through level 30 probably took two hours, on and off, of flipping back and forth between power descriptions and even feat descriptions. It was probably the most engaging character I've made in 4e.

On the heels of such a success, I tried to make Raven, my Druid/Shifter (and by far my favorite 3.5 character to play). Not having the Shifter prestige class was going to be a blow, but because the beast form was such a large part of the 4e druid, my idea was to focus on powers and feats that would allow 4e Raven to remain in beast form and be at her most powerful, with little regard to her human form. Also, going with the more feral build, I was going to avoid taking any powers that did energy damage, staying instead with claws, teeth and primal savagery.

Well I was successful, I suppose, in that I made a 30th level druid. But it wasn't nearly as fun, or interesting, or engaging, as making the fighter. I kept thinking that I wished I could have a little bit of a Rage effect, to really let the primal nature take over, or some stealthy creeping beast form to then sneak attack with -- but of course, I can't multiclass barbarian or rogue here. While I was able to apply my build "rules" and choose from my options easily, I ended up whipping through the 30 levels without really noticing it, without much thought.

You might be thinking, then, that it's my fault for coming up with this restrictive build, that made this character easy and uninteresting to make. But this is my point. I summarized this feeling to one of our group on Saturday night: that 3.5 allowed you to come up with some completely-custom idea for a character -- a stabby, lightning-casting, gnome who's good at tripping and throwing hammers -- and you could find a combination of classes, feats, spells and equipment to realize you very specific character concept. In 4e, you can try to do this, but in the end, are given only a handful of choices, and you have to try and be creative based on those (or perhaps in spite of those).

I got lucky with building 4e Placide, because there were lots of feats and powers that accentuated the idea behind him. But not so much with Raven. And perhaps the next book or Dragon article will give me the flexibility I need -- even 3.5 didn't have every bit of content available in the beginning -- but generally new content in 4e is for the new race or new class, not something that gets added to an existing class. Feats, sure, are available to most characters, but powers are always tied to a specific class. And if I can't take that power, then let me take that class *at any level I decide to*.

As Griff just mentioned, the Paragon Paths are helping to provide a few extra branches to the thin evergreens of the class progressions, but even those are limited, and the Epic Destinies are, as Griff believes, a bit limited.

Today I just tried another remake, this time recreating the ever-doomed Ish'us'q. Had Ish'us'q seen more years in 3.5, he would have focused on DR, SR and regeneration, likely going down the path of the forsaker. In 4e, I decided to build him similarly to the Dungeons & Dragons Online version of him, with heavy concentration on raging, a falchion, and taking out multiple foes at once. There are various powers that focus on raging, and when there wasn't one available, a close burst power was usually available. The choices were there, and I got my character, but, as with Raven, it just wasn't very satisfying. There's my barbarian, all made up and ready for 30 levels... but apart from the initial "choice" of my theme, it was a no-brainer at all 29 level-ups. The glimmer of hope I had for 4e character creation that I had when making Placide still wasn't recreated.

I'm not done yet -- I've got more classes to try out in the builder, both old and new. But instead of coming up with a theme and then sitting down to realize it on a character sheet, I will be browsing through the powers of my chosen class, and trying to come up something interesting, to stand out from the others.

What colour do you want your Ford Model T in?

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