By Dwip May 10, 2009, 1:17 pm Comments (14) RSS Feed for this post

Today’s post brought to you by viral invaders, which are at this very moment having a nice chat with my immune system. As of right now, my immune system appears to be getting the better end of the deal, thanks to our friends Advil and Robitussin.

So instead of doing what I set out to do last night, namely find some 4th edition D&D tables to speed my prep work, I got sucked into a bunch of people talking in various places about the various editions of (A)D&D, why they were good, why they were bad. Since it occurs to me that I have yet to talk about 4th edition in any meaningful sense, I’ll use that discussion as a springboard to talk about the game as a whole, culminating in the various 4e games we’ve played thus far.

AD&D 1st Edition:

I more or less skipped 1e by, coming to D&D as I did in the 90s. The exception to this is my beloved 1978 Player’s Handbook, which got me into the hobby even though I had barely any idea of what it was saying. Still don’t. You’ll hear a lot of guys that still love and play 1e because they love the Gygaxian prose and somehow feel that 2e killed off something in the flavor of the game. I wouldn’t know. I like to be able to find my rules in the book, thanks.

AD&D 2nd Edition:

So, plus sides to 2e were the cleaned up rules, which were good for the time, the fast, clean and simple rules and play (still the only edition where I could confidentaly make up stats for guys on the fly), and the preponderance of supplements, which are some of the best the game has ever seen. Kits were a great idea, and so were specialty priests, and we’re still suffering the lack of both of them.

On the bad side, some of those mechanics in this day and age really are that bad. I can’t begin to tell you how much I don’t miss the saving throw charts, THAC0, or the non-unified XP mechanic. Every time I think about reprising 2e in some form, all I have to do is think about these things, and I am immediately satisfied with with not running it.

On the ugly side, well, balance was…what balance? My memories are pretty colored by the fact that we were all munchkin powergamers back in the 90s, but no matter how you cut it, it was bad unless you rode very strict herd on your players.

D&D 3rd Edition/D&D 3.5 Edition:

So, the plus sides of 3e are pretty great. Fixed more or less all the balance issues, gave the game great flexibility, and made it a fantastically playable game as long as you were willing to deal with all the math.

On the downside, well, PrCs still aren’t kits or specialty priests. Book bloat wasn’t 2e sorts of bad as long as you stuck to WotC stuff, but it got bad over the 8 years of its existance.

On the ugly side, the math ultimately kills the whole deal for me. It’s moderately bad as a player, but speaking as somebody who spent 8 years DMing it…never again. I just can’t deal with spending an hour per NPC anymore. Just can’t do it.

D&D 4th Edition:

I’ll skip the in depth review, because if you’re reading this, you either don’t care that much, or you’re one of my gaming group in which case you’re already playing, so. However:

Lots of plus sides. Speaking as a player, the way they structured powers is pretty great for the most part. I’d like more of them, but they’re mostly pretty great. They’re fun, they make me think, and they promote teamwork, and that makes me very happy. It’s pretty hard to find a place in character creation where I’m annoyed so far, although there are a couple things we’ll get to.

As a DM, this may be the best edition to DM ever. Very clear guidelines for XP, rewards, and providing challenges, the challenges mostly (hi level 3 skeleton!) are about as challenging as they say they are, and it’s pretty much back to the days of slapping down some monsters and pushing play. If I need bigger or smaller monsters, it’s really easy to make them, unlike in 3e where you got the option but ease of use was a huge lie. Minions are fantastic, and it’s actually possible to run a reasonable mass combat – we’ve had multiple 10+ combatant fights now, and they’re a breeze. There are a lot of people out there whining about 4e combats must take longer now because of all the 1 round bonuses, and I kind of wonder what crack these people are on, because as long as you’re moderately prepared, it goes very fast, albeit we’re playing online for the computer-assisted win.

That said, there are plenty of aspects I am rather more ambiguous about. I miss 3e multiclassing, and am not really sure I love the feat method of doing things. Now that each class has like 80 powers, making new ones is that much harder. The economy is completely bogus, and magic items aren’t so much gutted as drawn, quartered, and hung. I remain moderately ambiguous about the new skill system, although I admit that I love how it speeds up creation and play. I continue to find the healing surge mechanic a little whack, as well as other things like identification.

That said, there’s nothing really deal-breaking here, though I may come across things as I continue to play, and for now, I’m enjoying running a game where excessive stat creation isn’t repeatedly getting in the way of story and dungeon design.

Off the Cuff 4e Fixes:

Since I’m moderately sure most of my issues are easy enough to house rule:

– Multiclassing: I don’t think there’s a really good way of getting 3e style multis that isn’t totally game-breaking. It’s concievable that you could skip the power swap feats entirely (or leave them as an adjunct), and simply rule that you can take levels after 1st as a second class. You’d gain all the benefits of the second class, except you would gain hp as a 2nd level character in that class, etc. Obviously you wouldn’t gain a paragon path. On the downside, you’d be roughly half as powerful as any given non-multiclass. How much of an issue that is, I am unsure. You’d need to run some builds to test it.

Another way to do it might be to drop the prereqs for the power swap feats to 2/4/6, and then at 11th you can freely pick powers between your two classes. I’d also be tempted at 11th to allow the per day usage of things like Hunter’s Quarry, etc to expire, but maybe not. Alternately, create feats to allow more usages. These things seem fairly reasonable to me.

– Kits: It occurs to me that kits would be pretty easy to house rule, and you could throw down specialty priests pretty easy by swapping in powers from another class. The PHB feat idea is one way, but…

– Various specialist ideas: People are talking about doing all cold mages (or whatever) by simply changing the power types on various powers, so that acid arrow (for example) becomes a cold spell but has all the same effects. This strikes me as being a pretty great flavor idea.

– Skills: Got me. There’s not really a good way to factor in Int bonus without being broken that I can think of, given the small number of skills.

– Economy: Similarly, got me. Start by ignoring the dumbass “PCs only sell for 1/5 book price” idiocy, ditch astral diamonds, but the inflation is still strange. Suspect that this can be solved with vigorous handwaving, as my players don’t actually give much of a shit.

– Magic Items: Surprisingly easy to house rule in new ones, which is good. I suspect that the healing surge + potion mechanic could be applied to a lot more things than it currently is, and that in newer books it may well be. I further wonder if dropping all the daily item powers down to encounter powers wouldn’t get us closer to the magic game we’re used to without being 3e chromatic weapon overpowering. As it stands, +1d6 fire and ongoing 5 is what feels like a really great encounter power, but a little light for a daily. I may be wrong about this, but suspect it wouldn’t be dramatically overpowered.

– Identification: Easy. Keep it all short rest (or maybe extended rest) based, but require some level of Arcana check. DC 15 or 20 + (2 * item level) or some such. Add in a low level (call it 5th) Identify ritual. Costs 100 gp to cast, automagically identifies up to your level in magic items. Woosh. Done. This is pretty much the mechanic that exists in the BG and NWN games, which is one that I like a great deal.

Other than that I think it more or less works out.

Dungeons and Dragons Comments (14) RSS Feed for this post
Comments on Editionitis
avatar Comment by Whir #1
May 11, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Yes, the multi-classing facet definitely isn’t what it could be. However, I figure they did what they did for a reason, and until we actually get characters high enough to test it out, it’s hard to form a good opinion on it.

I’m not sure how to fix magic items. Making some of their daily powers into encounters powers would seriously make them OP. On the other hand, you could say something like daily (3) so you could still use it in multiple fights, but not every fight. Use it when it counts, not just to mop up flavor fights. I can see it totally backfiring when I try to put in a flavor encounter and some mage just wades through it with some uberstaff power he would have otherwise saved for an actual fight of significance.

Maybe more later.

avatar Comment by Tim #2
May 11, 2009 at 1:41 pm

So far 4th is not anything like D&D in any form. But please keep in mind I am one of those fat greybeards that used to bring the 1st ed DM’s guide to school to read during math… uh, study hall. I not only liked, I ENJOYED getting lost in the complexity of the rules and having to figure stuff out on my own.

I also enjoyed ignoring most of it and just coming up with cool stories and fights. I liked getting smoked by something too powerful for me, it made me learn to think before I act. I liked giving my monsters any damn power I wanted because magic items fell out of the sky and everyone had a +1 dagger stashed somewhere.

2 was cool with skills, but I never fully played 2, I always played a home-rule mix. 3 was complex and rigid, but 3.5 opened up a ton and became my fave version. I liked the math, and after a few years learned to ignore it. I went back to 1st ed style hitting the players with whatever I felt like.

So, 4th ed so far. It’s a decent fantasy setting, and seems to work well enough as a game.

Actually, that’s a lie. It sucks as a gameset, the whole concept seems to be, “Give the player classes and races tons of powers to choose from so they feel tough! But make sure they can only be good at one thing so they have to play in groups to get anywhere! And make it complex enough that everyone in the group has to have a book to play their character efficiently!”

Sorry, but 4th ed is a marketing scam, nothing more. It’s a set of rules written for computer set into book form. It thrives on power gaming and squashes role playing. Why are there no magic items? Because they make the game unscaleable. The powers don’t, every level is known and equal.

The problem with 4th ed is the reason I got into the Storyteller system from bloated 2nd ed. The power in Storytellers is in the players hands, not the books. To this end, 3.5 was easy to scale monsters to meet the level of the group, and it kept all the flavor of 1st and 2nds fantasy setting.

Most people don’t like the openness, they want boundaries and definable power levels. I just want to tell a cool story and and do whatever I want with my character. 4th ed ain’t for me.

avatar Comment by Whir #3
May 11, 2009 at 2:45 pm

I have to say I find it amusing that you’re claiming that it squashes roleplaying when 3/4s of our last session was nothing but. In fact, I fail to see how it affects the roleplaying aspect at all. No system can govern that, only the players and the GM.

I’m pretty sure you’re still not liking it simply because you don’t want to. Seemed pretty okay with it last week.

avatar Comment by tRANIS #4
May 11, 2009 at 4:37 pm

It seems to work and all that but it feels soulless and they consistently pigeon hole me into doing what they want and fitting into their groove, rather than me making my own.

Mechanically, it is a very reduced, simplified version of a RPG with extra large shoes. Very playable and easy to learn it will be a hit with the kids who love video games, since it emulates one on tv.

The WOTCRPG is just that a role playing game system that is very balanced across the board, is a dream for DMs to run and allows you to play pretty quickly, but a kobald can take out a party.

I am still waiting for like 20th level then I will make a determination on if I like it or not. For now I’m a gametester testing a new RPG system and not a Dungeons and Dragons upgrade.

avatar Comment by Gormican #5
May 12, 2009 at 12:29 am

Hrm how to answer without going on for pages.

The first real serious campaign I played in was a 2 e campaign as a lvl 1 Ranger. Everything was new I had not been tainted by years of powergamming campaigns where as stated above magic items fell from the sky like rain. It was a great adventure. I never found the rules that confusing to me they were just a means to an end.

So our great adventuring party set out Swords, Axes, Bows, Hammers etc… all those cool aspects of our imagination. No one was really worried about DPS (damage per second or per round depending on system) So there we were a Warrior, Wizard, Cleric, Thief and Ranger.

We fought many amazing creatures as we explored this world. As eventuality would have it we did find some of the mythical rare items, Magic items. Items more powerful than our current weapons.

I found a flaming sword +1. I loved it, I used it for every purpose I could imagine. Sure it was only slightly more powerful than a regular weapon but so what? It was awesome.

The campaign was fun and challenging

Eventually however all good things come to an end and nerdy teenagers and drawn to powergamming like moths to a lamp.

The next few campaigns got worse and worse more expansions came out soon we were regularly destroying monsters of massively higher level than us with too much ease.

3e came along and it was even worse. Suddenly munchkins were even easier to make. My old nostalgia for a +1 flaming sword became, Everyone buys a Flaming Shocking Freezing weapon because an extra 1d6 is huge.

So here we are at 4e and the munchkins are having their massive damage toned down. Classes that were left out such as lvl 1 wizards with thier 1 magic missle now get included in the story.

I’m not worried about the tone down in magic items, I think we all just got used to the only way to survive was off massive huge damage.

As for as multi classing? Well I’m currently playing a lvl 1 Warlock multi Ranger and having no problems (well Erik won’t put a bow in the dungeon) but really it’s working fine in a few levels it will be even more visible.

Multi classing works as soon as you realize that the secondary class is Secondary. You can be a WIZARD/fighter or a FIGHTER/wizard but never the 3e or 2e FIGHTER/WIZARD if that makes sense?

I’m really happy with 4e so far. The more I mess around with it the funner it is. Every round I can do something no matter what class I play. There’s always decisions and strategy in every fight, deciding which skills to use and when.

avatar Comment by Tim #6
May 12, 2009 at 12:29 am

We didn’t even drop a die!! What we accomplished could have been done with any system ever.

As for the game: I was forced to make a character that worked in the system not something I wanted to make. I find it silly that I had to make a Ranger to get close to the Fighter I wanted.

As for me wanting or not wanting to like it, after playing it twice I have seen NOTHING in the game that is an improvement over 3.5, and NOTHING that would make me want to buy or run the system myself. There aren’t even any other characters or races I’d like to try, if we make new chars again I’ll probably just have you make me something and use whatever.

avatar Comment by Tim #7
May 12, 2009 at 1:15 am

Wizards with magic missles nonstop all day isn’t power gaming?

Giving 1st level characters 32 hit points and 1/4 total hit point healing surges isn’t power gaming?

Giving these characters Action Points on top of all the other powers they have isn’t power gaming?

Come on. This game is a power gamers dream! You don’t even NEED a magic weapon to smoke bad guys, all you need is an angle on the rules (5 foot step and double shot with the bow anyone?). Wait until someone figures out that the overblown Cleric power that lets you spend a healing surge and still attack can be exploited til no end and Cleric becomes THE class to play. 1 fighter class and 3 cleric classes would chew through any bad guy in the game. A heavy hammer to smash apart the traps and locked containers and you don’t need a thief even, clear the place and drag it all back to town.

This system has made mages and thieves pointless secondary characters, someone you buy the services of in town after the raid is over.

1st Ed lived by the bell curve. Sure you could hit level x and have Artifacts hovering about you, but if you got out of line the other 4 beings as powerful as you took care of you if you stepped out of line. This system is flat as can be from start to finish. No matter what level you hit there is something for you to fight. It’s easy to run, but so unnatural.

4th ed is Disneyland, or a haunted house at the fair. No matter what, as long as you follow the rules they have set out you will be safe and have a good time. That’s fun once or twice a year but if you go there every week it gets boring fast.

avatar Comment by Whir #8
May 12, 2009 at 9:42 am

It’s not power gaming in any way shape or form. You guys had a party of four and were killed by kobolds. Kobolds. Show me this power gaming you speak of. If it were, you’d have danced through them all with your whirling blade feat and not even breathed hard. Methinks our definitions vary here.

And 4e is so flat it’s silly. You use cleric powers and healing surges in general to say that it’s an overpowered system, but that didn’t stop level 1 monsters from eating your faces off.

No, what the system does is forces people to be smart and work together. Could you do anything with a fighter and four clerics? Possibly. Would it be boring? Yes.

You could have easily played the fighter you wanted to play, but at that time neither of us had a good understanding of the system. I do agree that it does pigeon hole you into playing a certain class to _easily_ accomplish a certain role in a group or play style, but it doesn’t limit you to those things.

I dunno. I understand that you prefer 3.5 and I can see why. I don’t really have a problem with that, I still like 3.5 in fact. I just think you’re selling 4e short based on the three games we’ve played where we’ve barely scratched the surface of the system. And also because I underestimated the monsters versus players and killed everyone. That usually ruins everyone’s day.

avatar Comment by Whir #9
May 12, 2009 at 9:54 am

I don’t really understand how 4e multi-classing works yet, but I did some pondering last night while falling asleep.

If you wanted to house rule MC characters, it seems to me that just letting them take new level would work fine, but limit skills to primary class and limit available powers to class level just like 3.x while feats would progress based on total level.

For example, if I started out as a fighter, I’d get my fighter power, fighter skills and my feat as normal. If I wanted to go into wizard with the next level, I’d only get the required wizard skills (arcana). But I would be able to swap in whatever wizard powers I wanted.

Ultimately you could power game this and end up with a wizard wearing plate and a big bump in hit points at the beginning, but you could do the same thing in 3.x and no one cared.

To further balance it, you could restrict it in the 2e way where you had to designate your two or three classes at the beginning and level them all one by one, keeping each level within one of eachother. Or you could do it the 3e way and say that if any level got more than one away, 10% xp nerf. Either worked okay, though 2e’s sucked with the combined XP shit.

Though feats and such would go up with total character level, you could only take class powers that your class level allowed, with the restriction that you could not have more encounter, daily or utility powers that your total character level allowed. This forces you to actually multi-class, and not just pick up a level of fighter so you can use a fullblade and plate armor while tossing fireballs all day long. I mean, I suppose you could just only take wizard powers, you’d be gimped in such a way that not taking more levels in fighter or taking at least some fighter powers would slow your progress versus the rest of the group.

I don’t know, there’s a lot to examine, but it sort of works in my head.

avatar Comment by Tim #10
May 12, 2009 at 4:43 pm

1st level chars have ALWAYS been at the mercy of any well stacked challenge, even more so when the dice suck. Housecats can kill Mages in 3.5. The big thing that stopped us from winning that fight was the tactical disadvantage we had from being stacked up in hallways attacking 1 at a time while the bad guys were in open rooms able to concentrate fire. I tried to use real world tactics, but if I would have just said, “Stand behind me and tank me with potions and spells.” I could have held that opening all day, tactics aside.

Look what happened when just 2 of us went in AFTER we learned how the system worked. Todd didn’t even get hit if I remember right, and my Archer went toe to toe with multiple bad guys, never even entered melee. We didn’t play the game, we gamed the rules. It was EXACTLY like playing a video game, real world tactics went out the window. We power gamed our way through the whole thing.

Not the way I like to play.

avatar Comment by Dwip #11
May 12, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Where to start. Rules fixes first.

Identify – Talking it over with Jason last night, it would seem the best entry point to this is DC 20 + 1/2 item level Arcana checks like it is for most other Arcana checks including ritual identification. I’m not entirely sure where an Identify ritual tacks on to this, but I’ll work it out.

Multiclassing: Pretty sure I can shoot down the 3e style multiclassing, insofar as things like stacked Warlock’s Curse/Hunter’s Quarry/Sneak Attack are incredibly broken as standard things. I think to be done, you need to do it something akin to my abbreviated feat path plan, with or without the idea Jason had of letting your first multiclass feat ALSO let you do a single power swap. Could be reasonable.

Now to Tim.

We read the 2e Tome of Magic and the Horde box during class. It was fun. Alas they don’t let you do that in grad school. Although my last class ever was today, so what do I care? But anyway.

I think you’re somewhat right about the pigeonholing aspect of the classes, or at least some of the powers, and if there’s one issue I’ll probably have with 4e going forward, it’s that aspect. No matter what it ever does, 4e just isn’t going to be 3.5 like that. There are things to be done about it, but YMMV as to if you care to do them.

I don’t really think you’re being fair to the combat system/system balance, though. A few thoughts:

– The group I’m DMing now has a fighter, a warlord, a fey warlock/ranger, an infernal warlock, and a wizard. I can’t speak to thieves, but so far (2 games/just hit level 2) every class has had something to recommend it, and has done so in basically the role WotC said they ought. The warlocks dish a ton of damage, the fighter tanks, the warlord does crazy tactical shit, and the wizard does a different kind of crazy tactical shit mostly involving area attacks and herding guys. Given teamwork, these guys are now hitting above their level, and everyone has had a role to play.

– You’re correct about the 3 clerics and a fighter dynamic, but so what? That’s been true of every edition of D&D ever, going straight on back to 1e. In some ways, 4e actually alleviates the situation somewhat, since no matter how many clerics you have, with how many healing surges, the most healing surges that fighter is ever going to have per day is 14, and I’ve got enough experience at this game to know that you can burn through 14 surges REAL fast and then get slaughtered. On the flip side of that, it doesn’t matter how many surges you have, there’s not that many ways to use them, and if you lack one of those ways, you’re dead. Again, I’ve played that one out.

– Further, the tactical powergaming aspect you described has been present at least since 3.0, and while there’s a bit more of it in 4e, it doesn’t feel miles and miles different from the 3.x tactical game, insofar as the same stupid things will still get you killed, and the smart ones are still smart. Then, I’m used to playing with some pretty tactical-minded people, so YMMV.

– I’m kind of with Levi on this that the power scale is pretty flat in 4. Characters start with a lot of hp, but then they just don’t gain as many as they used to. As a DM, I appreciate it because my players can go a bit longer instead of getting killed in the first orc encounter as was frequently the case back in the day, and why we always used to start at level 3 or higher. In turn, the encounter challenge is less based around uber monster powers now and more around player vs monster skill, which I think is fine.

It’s also absurdly easy to tweak. If you’re following the monster guidelines as written, and I mostly am, then the idea is to provide a variety of challenges per level – an easy fight, a few normal fights, and at least one super tough possibly killer fight. So far that’s been my experience. My players have been reasonably challenged in their fights, varying between a narrowly averted TPK and a fight that they won pretty handily by having their act together.

Allllllll of that having been said, I do have my issues:

– As we’ve been talking about, I’m a little iffy on multiclassing. It’s not as bad as it could be (see also: 2e), but it’s not what it used to be, either.

– As I said, the treasure economy is completely broken in that it defaults to waaaaaaaay more than I want to be giving, and in any case isn’t nearly as robust as in previous editions. Then again, I’m used to a custom 3.5 system using multiple books of stuff with various bits of 2e stuff (the last great treasure system) house ruled in from the Forgotten Realms Adventures hardcover.

– The skills thing is a minor quirk.

Probably I forgot a few, too, but that’s enough.

avatar Comment by Gormican #12
May 13, 2009 at 1:56 am

Well as the only one playing a multiclass so far I’m enjoying it. At first I was really iffy about and and it doesn’t seem to be designed to be true multi till tier 2. I’m not sure why they wait till paragon to give a real multi option but it’s there and it’s balanced imo.

So yeah my only thought is give the tier 2 switch of 1 at will power at lvl 1 and suddenly you have a real viable multi class.

avatar Comment by tRANIS #13
May 13, 2009 at 7:23 pm

Nice talk about it at any rate.

I just think there were really strategic issues with the other editions that is drastically reduced. Shooting magic missles all day is nice but it doesn’t make me have to think about how many spells I have left (daily, enc, and utility), but they don’t have that same feeling as “Oh shit I am out of spells!”

Wizards should be able to switch implements for situations and I think having a big list of at wills that you could pick two for the day would be nice.

I just don’t feel like a wizard I feel like Gauntlet running around with the elf dwarf whatever the other guy was.

avatar Comment by Gormican #14
May 13, 2009 at 11:36 pm

Actually you really do think about how many powerful spells you have left. As you level this becomes more of an issue. The at wills like magic missile just mean that after one fight the poor wizard doesn’t have to sit around with his thumb up his bum.

He gets to do something all the time, he just has to carefully choose how to use his most powerful abilities. The changes give the wizard a much more active role than in previous editions where low level wizards were forced to wait until large battles before joining the fun. Fun is the name of the game here. But…. if you’d rather only be able to participate in 1 fight a day to make you feel more “wizardly” I’m sure you can roleplay it :)

As a fantasy fan in general I never understood why DnD was the only fantasy world out there where wizards could only use magic for a few seconds out of the day.