Monday, April 13, 2009

So you wanna play an Arcane Archer

Normally I don't pay a lot of attention to the "Character Concept" articles in Dragon, but the one from Issue #374 provides a perfect example of the one thing that robs the enjoyment from 4E.

The Arcane Archer.

Anyone who played 3rd edition is probably familiar with the Arcane Archer. It was a nice little prestige class from the DMG that was most likely overshadowed and forgotten under the deluge of later releases. Of all the prestige classes the Arcane Archer and Shadow Adept are the two that I'd most like to see as classes in 4E. Since we're going to get so many classes anyways, why not port some of the better Prestige Classes?

In the meantime this Character Concepts article offers up a way to build a makeshift version. All well and good so far.

If you are thinking at all like I was, you naturally assumed that they'd start with a Ranger. The author, Matthew Sernett, does indeed address that assumption. "When it comes to archery, no class holds a candle to the ranger, but the ranger doesn't have much that seems like magic in terms of ranged attacks."

Okay. Agreed. So what do you suggest Matthew?

"Fortunately, Arcane Power provides the bard with a number of ranged weapon powers that hit the target."

What? The bard? Are you fucking kidding me?

This is precisely why the prospect of my gaming group sticking with 4E fills me with such loathing and dread. The whole I have character concept "x" but the only way I can come close to doing it is through some half-ass compromise. I might not want to play a bard but if I want my Arcane Archer, well... I've gotta suck it up because there's no other way to do it.

And it's not a question of whether the bard class is "better" than the ranger class. It's about options and choice and imagination. You know. The parts of DnD that are far more important than streamlined combat rules. The parts that make the game fun.

Say I want to play a rogue or stealthy type who likes to coerce enemies into following him around the battlefield. A taunting type with a splash of swashbuckling. In 3.5 I'd probably start with a rogue or bard and then work in some fighter levels for the feats. Easy peasy and fun.

In 4E this character probably needs to be able to "mark" so... what? A paladin multiclassed with bard? I honestly don't know. So I guess I'll shelve that concept and just cookie cutter myself a generic rogue or fighter or whatever. What difference does it make? Really?

Honestly, I could probably roll a die to generate a class, slap on a name, and start playing. If I want to put some thought into it I need to forget about the class name and focus on the powers it offers. It's the menu of powers that are important. So what if being a paladin makes absolutely no sense for my character concept. I mean, it's not like there's room for any sort of character development. God forbid that I should try to develop a backstory and personality for my character. Picking a name is about the limit of creativity allowed in 4E.

But I suppose that if we jump straight into combat it'll be fun. Right?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Is the world leaving without me?

It came to my attention today, thanks as usual to Crwth, that WotC is pulling the rights for third parties to sell pdfs. The WotC party line is that it's a move to curb piracy. The conspiracy theorists see it as an evil plot to force 4E on the non-adapters.

Personally, I'm somewhere in the middle. Mainly because I can't quite believe that they'd cut off even a small trickle of income. Not in this current economic climate when any income is good income.

Mostly I find it hard to believe that my fellow "hangers on" would spend their money on 4E products simply because we can't buy 3.5 (or older version) pdfs. The way I see it, if I can't get 3.5 material I'll be happy with what I have and keep my money, thanks.

So, ideally WotC's little game of "I'm-taking-my-ball-and-going-home" will backfire.

Yet, realistically I have little doubt that without 3.5 pdfs to buy more than a few gamers will shrug and buy a 4E book or two. A few of them might even like it enough to stick with it. A few others will continue to shrug and just buy the game that's currently supported.

The rest might buy 4E soley because of some odd fear of "falling behind". Like there's some sort of natural selection taking place among gamers, where the early adapters thrive and multiply with their roles and powers.

Meanwhile the players like me cling to our anachronistic multi-classing and Vancian spellcasting systems.

In ten years time when my son is playing (5th edition?) will I be unable to relate to his Spellscorched Paragon Striker? Will DnD themed web-comics cease to make sense to me?

Will I find myself extinct from the gamer gene pool?

Monday, April 6, 2009


Today's Dragon articles included a Playtest article on Hybrid Characters. In a nutshell, this is multiclassing for 4e.

But wait, doesn't 4e have the multiclass feat? Sure, but did anyone really think of that as multiclassing? Not around here, surely. It let you dabble in a second class, getting a little taste of it, just enough to wish for the old days.

Hybrids, though, let you do more than that. As you advance, you advance in your two chosen classes equally; in fact, you get the hit points for both, the bonuses for both, the weapon proficiencies, the surges... sounds too powerful, right?

Well not quite. There are "hybrid" versions of the classes, which lessen the impact of these combining rules: clerics get 7 surges a day, hybrid clerics get 3 (plus their other hybrid class's); clerics get healing word, hybrid clerics get a hybrid version that's once-per-encounter.

The powers are as usual, though, which means that you have the same number of powers at each level, but can now choose from both of your hybrid classes. There's a small restriction - that if you have more than one type of power (daily, encounter, etc.) you must have at least one from each of the classes, much the same as the druid class requires you to take at least one beast-form and one non-beast-form power.

The article starts off pointing out that if you choose two classes that fill different roles, then your character is not going to adequately fill either. This means that if you're in a larger party, you might want someone else to also be a leader, or controller, along side you; but is also means that in a smaller party, you can help fill in roles that might have gone absent.

An interesting side note also mentions that "[t]he system of classes and roles in D&D is designed to ensure that every character has a clear purpose at the table and that no character can easily become marginalized by poor choices made in character creation," and goes on to warn that "[t]he hybrid character system discards many of the safeguards built into the normal class system."

Unfortunately, until this playtest turns into official rules (having ironed out what we Insiders might send them in commentary), we won't have access to the hybrids in the Compendium or the Character Builder. Being my preferred method for trying out 4e builds, I don't know that I'll be trying out this hybrid very soon, even though I could just do it by hand. I think that hybrids between similar roles will turn out to be better characters in general, because they're not splitting their attention, so much as their methods. A ranger/rogue is still a striker through-and-through, even if only half of the abilities are rangery and half roguey.

However, having read Griff's opinion on the wizard, and how you just end up using the same at-will power over and over, perhaps having a second, completely-different type of at-will at your disposal might be the key to livening up a character. In fact, Griff's wizard fancies the bastard sword, so having a controller attack of a wizard as well as a defender/striker attack when up-close might be the key to turning Griff to the dark side of 4e. Perhaps he'll let us know.

One last thing I should point out is that you can still take the multiclass feat when a hybrid, letting you dabble in a third class. I think that this, if balanced properly, might just allow those of us addicted to countless classes and prestige classes from 3.5 to get closer to the customization we miss.