Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More on Tools

It has been a slow month for blog posts, but speaking for myself, it hasn't been because of a lack of D&Ding... when not trying to keep up with the articles from Wizards of the Coast, I've been playing some more with the tools, mainly the Character Builder and the Compendium.

In the past, usually while discussing multiclassing, I've complained that making a "themed" character is much more difficult in 4e, because you don't have the flexibility that the plethora of prestige classes gave in 3.5. With the poor-man's multiclassing that came with 4e, you couldn't accomplish much, but the hybrid rules are another matter...

In 3.5, I was never a multiclasser, just a prestige classer -- some might quibble about the difference, but I think it's significant, especially for the spellcasting classes whose pretige classes often had that familiar line: "+1 level of arcane spellcasting" or what have you. Otherwise, I was a one-class kinda guy, always seeing multiclassing as weakening the original class, because you were sacrificing something for every level you didn't take in your original class. The gestalt rules were a nice solution to this, because they meant you didn't sacrifice anything, and they allowed for a high-powered campaign -- as long as that was something you wanted.

The hybrid rules for 4e, though, do a pretty good job about giving you your two classes without making you any more powerful that a single-class character. Granted, our actual playtest experience with hybrids has been limited to Griff's wizard/fighter dragonborn, but I have now had quite a bit of experience making hybrid characters using the Character Builder, and none seem over-powered.

This is, of course, if you ignore the fact that I am a serious min-maxer when I put my mind to it, thus making a character "over-powered" in certain areas, almost certainly at the expense of something else. Crwth the cleric has, whether in pen-and-paper, Neverwinter Nights or Dungeons & Dragons Online, been a healer before an undead fighter, boosting Wisdom as high as it will go and ignoring Charisma completely. And a DDO Bard that completely maxes out the Haggle skill, just to game the auction house, is sure to sacrifice in other areas -- like melee fighting of any kind.

But to me, that's what a themed character is -- something that focuses on a particular idea (or two), at the expense of everything else. If I'm making a "healer", they're not as good at any of the other roles that this class is known for. If I'm making a "divine warrior" (always choosing powers that deal Radiant damage before any other power), I'm making a character that will be at a large disadvantage to anything that can resist Radiant damage. I go into this willingly, ready to take on that challenge if it arises, for the focused direction of the character's build.

And this brings me to the real point: the Character Builder and the Compendium make this a HELL of a lot easier to do that it was in 3.5. Granted, the idea of a themed character is a bit different now; you would browse a bunch of splat books in 3.5, find an interesting prestige class or two, and build around that as your goal. In 4e, I find myself seeing the occasional power description, class variant or paragon path, and get an idea to focus upon.

The Character Builder ensures that I have, at my fingertips, every power or feat that is available at any given level, instead of having to have a stack of books to check, and the Compendium lets me filter out certain keywords ("radiant", "prone", "necrotic", "heal") to help choose from my selections. This let me quickly try my "healing monk" (really a cleric/avenger hybrid) focusing on healing while at the front line; my "protector" (cleric/shaman hybrid) my attempt at a completely maxed-out healer; my "divine warrior" (revenant cleric) based solely around the Revered One epic destiny's Manifest the Divine feature of using each Channel Divinity power per encounter, instead of just one; and my "beastflanker" (beastmaster ranger) that could solo (with companion) quite effectively.

Unfortunately, my forays into rapidly building character concepts could have gone smoother. Sure, figuring 30 levels of a character in about 20 minutes is pretty good, but there are ways that it could still be improved. The search functionality in the Character Builder is only for actual names of powers, feats, etc., which doesn't seem that useful - no one knows the name of what they're looking for, they just know some of the terms that it contains. I had hoped that I could type in "heal" or "undead" into the power list, or feat list, or even equipment list, and get the Builder to filter things out. I suppose it DOES say "search" and not "filter"...

The Compendium does help here, as it has a single word filter (could use a second, in some cases), and lets you further filter by other criteria, depending on the item. Going back and forth between the Compendium and the Builder is a bit incovenient, though (I say while on my four-monitor setup); I think having the compendium embedded in the builder window would be very handy indeed. Also, being able to leave multiple search results open would be handy -- I'd like the list of powers with "resist" in them as well as the list of feats, available at the same time, if I'm making a this-guy-gives-crazy-resists character. And, I really don't like the obscuring window that the Compendium uses when you look at a specific entry -- are frames so uncool now in web development?

These are minor gripes, though, when I have to admit that these computer-based resources are making 4e a lot more interesting to use. When I got the Player's Handbook, my eyes glazed over seeing the same block format for power after power -- and I LIKE that there's a template for them! It just isn't a good browseable format for getting a feel for a class. I still have no clue what kinds of powers warlords, paladins, fighters, rangers, etc. have, because I just can't imagine reading the powers list right through. Having a means to search through them saves me from that, provided I know what to search for.

And, I hate to admit it, but access to all of the content online might be a bad thing for book sales... while I like having a physical book over an digital one in general, for my purposes the online version is more worth it right now, and a few books have now gone unpurchased because of this. Does this mean that Wizards should require "activation" of online content, using a key that comes with the hardcover book, to unlock the data? I thought they were going to do that, and am obviously glad they haven't. Perhaps the marketing people decided that seeing the content online would drive people to buy books they wouldn't otherwise consider?


Griff said...

Or... and this is just a shot in the dark...

WotC is aiming to discontinue hardcopy prints in their entirety.

Make everything digital and subscriber based.

Just a thought.

Crwth said...

They would have to start supplying all of the flavour text in digital form, then; while I have access to the stats of monsters and the class layouts in a Player's Handbook, I don't get the paragraphs of descriptions about playing the game, etc. The DM's Guide is a better example - very little of its content is something that fits into a Compendium or Builder.

Perhaps they are, though... I really don't know what the business model for a full digital library is like... how many people would not be willing to move that direction (and would move on to Pathfinder)...

Hrimgrimnir said...

Or maybe people who enjoy D&D may not have computers?

Francis Bousho said...

I like my fluff, so I'll still be buying the physical books. That having been said Bill Slavicsek said they were working on a new pdf solution (whatever that may mean) so maybe I'll go digital.

Here is my major gripe with the idea of subscription over books. When 5th edition inevitably comes out, the cost of maintaining the old 4e tools will eventually become a problem for WotC, essentially bleeding them of their capital. They will someday have to drop the subscription based tech, and then there will be no way to acquire the material without buying hard copies.

Alexandra Erin said...

I don't think they're trying to phase out print, but to be perfectly honest I don't think they're going to lose sleep over the digital customer who never buys a single non-core book.

That's recurring income, man. That's the dream. That's the goal. That's the shiny brass ring. That's the thing that has eluded the book industry for time immemorial. This is why it seems like no one has yet figured out how to make a real profit, as corporations reckon things, off a hobby where people spend upwards of $300 for the privilege of pretending to be elves in somebody's basement: the company gets your money once and then you never need them again.

They have the books for flavor, the online content for ease of access. As long as each side has its pros and cons, there will be a lot of people who choose to go each route and more than a few who go both.

Anyway, as for the main topic of the post: hybrid builds = fun. I have a mystic monk character who's a Cleric/Wizard hybrid using Staff of Defense via Hybrid Talent plus Staff Fighting feat and Two Weapon Defense to get a nice AC boost just for picking up a walking stick... Magic Missile + Reaper's Touch + Wizard's Fury = Flurry of Blows! All the Cleric melee powers work nicely for staff strikes, and there are ample defensive interrupts on both classes and Wizard utilities for things like jumping and climbing... there are so many choices for a Wuxia/Wire-Fu charater using those two classes that it's actually hard to pick which ones I want the most.

I also like the mix of Paladin and Avenger to get a character who's the ultimate solo dueler/boss-killer. Divine Challenge plus Oath of Enmity - although this is one case where I think multiclassing beats Hybrid, because the once per encounter multiclass Oath can be used with Paladin powers while the full strength Oath the hybrid gets only works with Avenger powers. But if you've got Radiant Touch, Abjure Undead, and Demonbane and Devilbane (and the new paragon feat from the Bahamut article, Dragonbane), you've got some excellent single target encounter attacks that can target about half the Monster Manual.

My pride and joy themed character is my "wolfpack" character, Hybrid Shaman/Ranger with Beast Mastery Hybrid Talent, and multiclass Initiate Druid. :)

I really can't wait for the Hybrid/Multiclass Monk and Hybrid Artificer rules to come out... soooo many concepts that those will open up.

I had the brainwave yesterday that Artificer with Longbow proficiency rather than Prescient Bard is the best way to make an arcane archer... you can pretty much pick Artificer powers that are nothing but channeling spells and elements through a weapon, and they work as well with a bow as with anything else. But if the Artificer could be blended with a Ranger or Prescient Bard, you could focus more on the archery and leave more of the Artificer baggage behind.

Griff said...

@Francis, that's an excellent point as support costs for outdated systems is a real issue.

But... if 5th edition is all digital, then 6th edition has a ready made excuse for forcing everyone to update. Or buy up every 5E pdf they can before those servers are taken offline.

@Alex, I actually wrote up a dirty Monk hybrid. I haven't done much with it since the initial write-up since my current character refuses to die (is death still a factor in 4E?). I wonder if I should post it here...

Francis Bousho said...

Death in 4e is most definitely still a factor. The first encounter my group ever had was against two kobold slingers, six kobold minions, and two kobold dragonshields.

The paladin dropped in the first round of combat, having failed initiative against the kobolds. They swarmed the character, and after their first slinger friend glued him to the spot, and the second lit him aflame the minions rolled in, attacked, and then shifted out of range. The dragonshields set up a blocking maneuver so the rest of the pcs couldn't get within 5 squares of him (and thus the cleric couldn't heal).

As long as the opponents work well together, and the terrain is used well, combat is every bit as lethal as older editions.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, death is still very valid. In one instance I remember that ghouls dropped from the roof and were going to gank the wizard in the group. The dragonborn warden jumped in to save him and marked them all. The wizard used both his standard and move action to flee. The dragon born died.

It could have been avoided had the wizard attacked one of the ghouls, but human error was in play. If foolish mistakes are made, and little support from the team is there, someone will most likely die.