Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Making a Class

Griff's earlier post about the Arcane Powers got a bunch of comments from readers, including one from Francis Bousho who was talking about designing a martial controller class. This got me thinking about how his idea would fit well with one of my 3.5 characters, but then got me thinking about how tough class design is in 4e.

Back in the days of 3.5, you could think up your class's theme (or more likely, prestige class), pick an appropriate hit die and save(s), think up a couple of class abilities that likely progressed every few levels, and otherwise fill in the "balance" blanks with concepts from other classes. Just look at the 3.5 fighter: pick d10, pick Fortitude, give him a bunch of proficiencies, and then add "extra feat" every even level. Done! Even spellcasting classes or prestige classes were easy -- the spell choices were from the "arcane" or "divine" list, and you either gave a select list from which to choose (e.g. the assassin) or just say "+1 to arcane spellcaster level" and be done with it. Easy!

But now look at the 4e class. Any class. There's no shared list of powers. Anywhere. Not a single one. This means that you've got to come up with new powers for THIRTY levels. The cleric has 79 powers to choose from, not counting the actual class feature ones (like Channel Divinity) or Paragon/Epic prayers. Assuming the cleric is typical in count, that's a LOT of work. And don't forget about class-specific feats...

This got me wondering, then, about how many powers you could possibly have. Even considering the at-will powers of every class, you've only got so many variables, which I've talked about before, and this means a finite amount of different powers. We may not have hit that amount yet, but how many can there be? Push/pull/slide, knock prone, daze/stun/immobilize, ongoing effects of various kinds... you can only combine so many of these together before you run out of new ways to do so -- and then you have to start sharing powers. Myself, I don't see that as bad, but it seems that this is verboten in 4e design.

So what challenges does Bousho face? Not only NOT coming up with an attack that exists already, but also being able to balance the strength of 1[W] vs. stun vs. slide-#squares-equal-to-Ability-modifier vs. ongoing Somekindof damage, at each level, compared to the other classes. All of them. Utility powers? Easy in comparison! But it's all of the combat ones that, frankly, seem unbearably numerous to be able to tackle such a task.

Trying to imagine how I, or the Wizards developers, would go about this, I picture multiple spreadsheets, or a versatile database (the Compendium just wouldn't cut it) for finding all (level X to Y) powers (at-will or encounter) (vs. Reflex, say) that deal (X)[W] and also (stun/daze/etc.) until (end of your next turn / save ends). So if you think you want a stunning attack, you can see all of the powers that have it, what range their levels are at, how many [W] they deal -- all to figure out whereabouts your power should be (and if it's at-will, encounter or daily) and, more importantly, if it already exists.

Or maybe you *could* use the Compendium... maybe I'm thinking too much like a DM. A search for "stun" in the powers brings up a single one. "Daze" brings up two. more appropriate to the monster I'm used to running, perhaps? Okay, but what about "prone"? 191. "slide"? 178. 156 if I filter by "attack", and only 10 if I filter "at-will" out. Now we're getting somewhere. Eight of the ten are level 1 (which makes sense, since that's where most at-wills appear).

Those eight are all different, but some not by much... the Footwork Lure of the fighter and the Luring Strike of the swordmage are very close -- but different enough to be different powers. So maybe I was wrong, maybe there ARE enough variables to keep making variants of the same idea for years to come - but I wouldn't want to have to go through every existing power to make sure I haven't overlapped. Eight at-wills are one thing to look through, 76 sliding encounter powers is another. Computer please!

Of course, there's nothing saying that home-made classes can't steal existing powers, intentionally or not. It might hinder their adoption outside of your group, if posted to a forum as a proffered donation to the community (and really, I should have checked out the Wizards forums before writing this -- I'm sure there's a forum dedicated to hand-made classes), because there will always be people who are sticklers about such things like overlap. Also, not allowing overlap means that future official classes might invalidate your handmade class, if Wizards, too, realizes that an at-will power that slides the target 1 square, and deals 1[W]+Intelligence modifier damage hadn't been used yet.

I don't see myself trying to create a class any time in the future, because of all of this. A paragon path or an epic destiny, maybe, and monsters for sure, but I definitely have respect for the Wizards developers (or their software which helps them manage these things), and for any players willing to take a stab at it. Francis, if you do follow up with making your martial controller class, do send it to us!

1 comment:

Francis Bousho said...

Wow, 79 in the heroic tier alone. *laughs* This is going to take awhile.

I am most assuredly going to make a martial controller class. I was actually inspired by your description of one, and I think the name Dervish is the way to go. Combining the idea of my chain-wielding close burst/blast attacker with your mobile skirmisher idea sounds like a good basis for two builds.

I've made races and classes before (which you can see on my blog) but a full class is a daunting task that I think will take me some time to complete. When it is finished however, you can expect an advance copy and I'd love to hear your feedback.