Monday, July 6, 2009

Role play or Role-play

I'm beginning to come around on 4E. That is to say that I'm starting to see the forest for the trees. While it still feels very generic and has some annoying restrictiveness there are some elements that are welcome and enjoyable. With enough time and a few more books like "Arcane Powers" etc... it could turn into a thoroughly enjoyable game. For sure it'll have some flaws but 3.5 was flawed in numerous ways but it was still fun to play. It's not hard to imagine that 4E will be the same.

However, I'm beginning to feel like we're running out of time. We've been playing 4E for over a year now and we're only just barely 4th level. In other words, we've only just begun to scratch the surface of what 4E can really be. To really plumb the depths of the game will take us several years, at which point WotC will be releasing 5th edition. We're toying with a couple of solutions. Either double xp from now on, or sampling one-night adventures of various levels.

In the meantime, I thought I'd do a series of posts about each of the major issues I have with 4E. I do this because it helps me to reason these things out in written form. Plus, I can often go back and re-read what I wrote and see where my logic left the rails. Finally, any feedback I get from different viewpoints can be very enlightening.

The first of my grips with 4E is the whole irrelevance of character class.

I have written on my character sheet that Tycho is a fighter/wizard, but in play neither of those words ever really matter. The wizard part is especially meaningless to me. I mean, other than having a spellbook and an orb, he never does anything "wizardy".

Oh, he "casts" (to use the term very loosely) Chill Strike and Thunderwave, buys up rituals and components whenever he gets the chance, and identifies magic items thanks to his training in the Arcana skill, but so what? Every class has powers that can do essentially the same things as Chill Strike and Thunderwave. That is daze or push opponents while dealing some modest damage. With feats or skills chosen at 1st level anyone can use the Arcana skill and cast the same rituals.

Therein lies the problem. Nothing really feels exclusively "wizardy" or "spellcasty".

To be fair, there are a couple of real differences between his wizard powers and his fighter powers. The former are opposed by the target's Reflex, Will, or Fortitude while the latter are versus AC. The wizard powers have longer range (10 squares or burst 3) while the fighter powers are all pretty much adjacent targets only. Another difference is that the wizard powers can provoke attacks of opportunity.

Yes, I'm aware that there are lots of differences between the fighter and wizard classes. The Hit Points, healing surges, defense bonuses, etc... are not universal and do have an impact on the game. However, in my opinion the real heart of the 4E class lies in the powers and those don't seem to have any concrete ties to the actual class. In fact, I think that the powers are more strongly related to the role than the class.

So much so that I would argue that instead of picking a character class, one could pick a Role and perhaps a power source. Powers would then be selected from whatever classes fell under that role and power source. An arcane striker would pick from the lists of both the sorcerer and warlock. A martial defender would have the fighter and paladin (I think?) lists to chose from. The end result would be a much more satisfying and customized character.

As it stands now, I find that when creating my character I undergo a series of trade-offs just to fit my concept. A swordmage might be more accurate but the powers don't quite fit the image I have in my head. A wizard doesn't fit either but the powers do. In the end I'm left with a character that's still fun to play but less than satisfying in a number of ways.

Then again, I might be placing too much emphasis on the powers.

At any rate, while I can understand the reasoning behind the whole any-character-can-do-anything philosophy of 4E. No one likes sitting there doing nothing while the player of the rogue searches the hallway for traps and disarms them all. Or while the wizard casts a bunch of Dispel Magic spells. Or while the fighter rolls five attacks and checks for criticals. It can be tedious and boring.

However, there's something to be said for having specialists with an expertise that only they can have. It makes a choice of class meaningful. It gives one a feeling of real contribution. It gives one a moment to shine. Shine on you crazy diamonds. Shine on.


Crwth said...

"To be fair, there are a couple of real differences between his wizard powers and his fighter powers. The former are opposed by the target's Reflex, Will, or Fortitude while the latter are versus AC."

I think this is bigger than you give credit for; our party's paladin has already noticed that, since her attacks are all against AC, certain targets are just less appealing to fight. Being able to identify the weakness, and then bring the appropriate power to bear on it, is something our party really needs to learn how to do.

"Then again, I might be placing too much emphasis on the powers."

I'd say we're placing too much emphasis on the name. As you said, "wizard" doesn't fit, so let's call you an "arcane warrior", a home-brewed class that happens to match the rules for a hybrid fighter/wizard.

Francis Bousho said...

"So much so that I would argue that instead of picking a character class, one could pick a Role..."

It's funny you should mention that. In an interview with Mike Mearls on Theory from the Closet, Mike and Clyde actually spent some time talking about how you could indeed play the game this way.

That having been said, you'll notice some trends as you progress along the levels. Rogues for instance have many abilities that that make their enemies grant combat advantage, or otherwise allow them to take advantage of their foe's weakpoints. They are also the only class that gets a large amount of counter attacks as they level up (from the at-will Clever Riposte to the encounter Nasty Backswing and so on).

Ranger, the other martial striker are very different in what they do. Whereas the rogue can weaken their opponents on a regular basis, or punish them for daring to attack back the ranger gets his kicks from performing multiple attacks that allow him to also maneuver around the battlefield. Whereas a rogue might strike an opponent in such a way as to cause massive bleeding (Deep Cut) a ranger would instead rush run through two opponents, slashing them to ribbons as he went (Two-Wolf Pounce).

The biggest problem is that you came from playing a wizard in 3.5, and that class, more than any other felt the nerfing ray with the new edition.

Griff said...

I couldn't agree more Francis. It does cross my mind from time to time that I ended 3.5 with an epic level sorceress/shadow adept/thrall of yadda yadda yadda. There's no doubt that still colors my perceptions of the martial slant of 4e.

Did they make every class a "spellcaster" with the powers system? Yeah, I'd say so.

Do spellcasters suck as much as I think they do? Prolly not. I just need to give 'em time and remember that sorcs & wizs sucked at 4th level in 3.5 too.