Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Try this at home kids

Here's a quick little exercise that came to mind yesterday.

Look around at the other characters in your party. Now ask yourself, "how is he/she/it different now than at 1st level?"

Here are my answers after just finishing fourth level.

Our ranger uses Twin Strike by default and has had that since 1st level. Nothing I'd call new there. Unless his Bear Trap is new. Could be but I'm pretty sure he's had that for quite a while.

Our rogue has used Bait & Switch twice recently, both to cool effect. Is that a recent addition? I don't remember seeing it a month ago so I'm guessing yes.

Our paladin used a smite of some kind that I thought was new.

Our cleric is pretty much a Lance of Faith guy. Recently he used another burst effect which was pretty cool and I don't remember seeing before.

Our warlord uses Wolfpack Tactics to good effect, but I'm pretty sure he's had that from the get go.

Now, having just leveled up to 5th and gaining a second Daily Power, I'm predicting that a month from now the answer to the above question will be different. Sure, it's only a Daily so it won't ever become a signature move like my Thunderwave. But with two Daily powers at our disposal we might not be so stingy with them either. Ergo we should finally begin to see some noticable advancement in our characters.

As a second exercise I'd like to ask my group to name even one of my character's Encounter powers. Or a Daily. I'm pretty sure I'd get blank stares. Maybe some drooling.

To be honest, the only ones I can think of are the ranger's Bear Trap and the rogue's Bait and Switch.

I guess the bottom line is that the first four levels are pretty much defined by one or two At-Will powers. There are some Encounter powers and some feats in there, but they never seem to truly stand out. That seems... odd, somehow.


Francis Bousho said...

You know what, you raise an interesting point, I run two 4E games, one for a party of 7-9, and the other a party of 6-7.

The level 7 ranger almost always uses twin strike, although she also loves to wait for the right moment to use Hunt's End and Disrupting Strike.

The level 6 warlock uses Eldritch Blast almost exclusively, although she has recently thrown in a pretty cool damaging darkness attack that has the bad guys (and unlucky allies) quaking with fear.

The level 8 fighter uses Reaping Strike, and pulls out Griffon's Wrath and Rain of Blows for the tough guys.

Level 7 rogue...sly flourish, all the time.

Level 6 Warden...not an at-will that defines him, but his favorite daily, Winter's Herald.

Level 6 Artificer...thundering armor and shield of faith.

I'm seeing a trend here...

Alexandra Erin said...

My experience suggests that you're right in thinking that the second daily power will be memorable... but I think if you're looking for the level where the at-wills don't matter as much, you're going to be waiting for something that never comes.

At-wills pretty much fill the role that "I attack." filled in old school D&D. I think I've read quotes from the dev team to the effect that your at-wills do a lot to define your character because you will use them far more often than your encounters and dailies.

And really, they do... if you take two melee at-wills, you're a melee character even if all your encounter and daily powers are ranged ones. They form the core of your style, with the "artillery" being special moves.

It can get a little blah sometimes if you dwell on it, but I find I enjoy it more than previous editions just for having two (or three) base choices instead of "I attack."

As a player, I look for situations where each of my at-wills can score a bit of an edge and as a DM I set up varied combat situations so the Ranger's got a reason to switch from Twin Strike to Deft Strike and the Wizard has to pick between range and area of effect, for instance.

I think of it like this: if combat is a conversation between the PCs and the monsters, encounter powers and daily powers are the punctuation. Much less common, but they should demand notice.


Ah Winter's Herald. The Warden in one of my games loves that power. Really sticks it to kobolds and goblins... I couldn't tell you what her level 5 daily is, she uses her level 1 one as often as she can.

Crwth said...

As a player, I look for situations where each of my at-wills can score a bit of an edge and as a DM I set up varied combat situations so the Ranger's got a reason to switch from Twin Strike to Deft Strike and the Wizard has to pick between range and area of effect, for instance.

As a party, I think we've really only started to touch on this kind of thinking. I'm not sure if it's because we're more comfortable with our characters, or because the encounters are getting more interesting -- "interesting" being a euphemism for "challenging", and requiring a little more thought.

If combat is a conversation between the PCs and the monsters, encounter powers and daily powers are the punctuation.

Ahh, a metaphor after my linguist's heart. I agree, and I think our group's biggest problem is we're not sure how long the conversation is going to last, and thus never know when a comma, semi-colon or full stop are best used. Perhaps as we continue to write our own destinies, we'll have a better sense of our "meter".

Alexandra Erin said...

"interesting" being a euphemism for "challenging", and requiring a little more thought.

Ooooh, you just touched on why I love 4E... the fact that a challenging encounter is one the PCs have to win by thinking and using tactics and teamwork, instead of rolling well (or having the Wizard make the right laundry list when he wakes up in the morning.)

As much as I do unabashedly love 4E, though, it is a fact that the at-wills get repetitive and that even if you're actively searching for advantages, it's very easy to have one at-will that's useful 90% of the time (Twin Strike!).

I have a couple of possible solutions, ranging from the really simple to the really complex.

The "really simple" is house rule that characters gain a new at-will power at level 11 and 21. Shouldn't cause any balance problems because unlike giving PCs more dailies or encounters it doesn't increase their firepower. Possible issues include a dilution of character identity as higher level characters of the same class will end up with more overlap in their most frequently-used abilities and issues with classes that don't have as many at-will powers defined and with a big divide among which are appropriate for which builds.

Then there's the complex. I just posted on my gaming blog a really rough draft of a "Maneuvers" system that gives extra encounter powers, some of which are defenses but a lot of them are things that can be stacked with attacks or movement actions. Part of the idea behind them is to give people another way to differentiate their character and create a unique fighting style, which would also hopefully make combats more interesting by giving each character a few twists on their common moves.

It's sort of like the feats from 3E, but with the encounter power mechanic of 4E to cut down on munchkinism.

Griff said...

My (waning) hope was that the Paragon Tier would shift away from At-Wills towards the Encounters or Dailies, or even feats and weapon selection. Somehow the idea of my 20th level character still using Thunderwaves and Reaping Strikes is anathema to me.

That said, I do like how the Encounter and Daily Powers provide the "punctuation" (to borrow Alex's analogy). It definitely feels "heroic" to bring out that Brute Strike at the perfect time to finish off that powerful foe.

Unfortunately the rest of the time is somewhat repetitive.

Not that 3.5 didn't suffer from the same "I-attack-itis". Early levels in particular were just as repetitive with few options for the melee types beyond trying to disarm or sunder or grapple.

Still those few choices along with the various combinations of feats and spell use and healing potions all added up to a system that seemed full of options and tough choices. That could be just the rose colored glasses of nostalgia, but that's the feeling I get.

Really, the point of this post was that characters in 4E don't seem to change much as they level up. There's been no feeling of getting better or stronger or more varied. They were pretty heroic right off the farm and other than some more HP and an extra Encounter power they're still much the same.

That's not necessarily a bad thing but I do think that it robs a certain aspect of the game. Character development and more importantly, attachment to that character.

In 3.5 a character had to be smart and lucky to make it past 3rd level. By simply surviving a character becomes endearing. I cheered him or her through those levels when death could come from a single swing of a goblin's axe. Then, at third level when HP hit the double digits and we gained that new feat and access to a new level of spells, it was like Christmas morning. A whole world opened up, ready to be explored and plundered.

I didn't get that sense in 4E. It just feels like another level to slog through.

That's all strictly character speaking. I can't argue with 4E being a much better edition when it comes to playing out combat. It's more demanding of solid strategy and good teamwork. The encounters are interesting, varied, and engaging. Our group tends to split into a pair of triads but even then the roles clearly support one another.

In short it's a great skirmish game and a nice intro to DnD or roleplaying in general (since the RP aspect really doesn't have anything to do with a rules system). I'm sure that when my boy is old enough it's the edition I'll start him on. For me, it's simply not "wowing" me enough to make me forget the bookcase full of 3.5 material sitting in Crwth's basement.