Thursday, September 16, 2010


(almost done with the direct reposts from LJ. This one is from July, and linky here.)

So, had our first introduction to Paragon tier 4e D&D last night. As I had hoped, Standing In Fire did an excellent write up of it here, and I've some reflections about this aussi, as well as D20 in general, just at the moment.

So, there's no question-- 4e does low level gameplay right. I'm probably going to start my D&D game (which I ought to be picking up next month as a 2Xmonth game) at 1st level, because I /can/ and the power level seems right. 1st level in a 4e game /feels/ roughly equivalent to 3rd level in a 2e/3.x game, largely due to the fact that in previous editions, that's when wizards start to feel useful at all.

As for high-level gameplay... well, we'll see. It's completely changed the game, that's for sure, for both GM and players. For starters, there was already a ridiculous amount of stuff resolving at any given time-- this is especially true for my Revenant Assassin, which I would possibly have a better handle on if I had not started her at 10. Lemme 'Splain.

I adore this character. I cannot stress this enough. She is an awesome undead-dwarf of the badass with the stealth score from the Grim Prison, and probably the first character that I just gave up and min-maxed to all hell, with no hedging. Fortunately, she also seems to work okay in the world, but I digress.

Assassins are these terribly gross, terribly brutal strikers who have a pretty neat not-exactly-marking mechanic-- that is to say unlike marks, it doesn't care whether or not the target makes an attack that includes you or not. It's pretty much a damage-widget that gets a kick at 11th level. Also, they have a built in at-will teleport (you have to begin it and end it next to a creature) that goes up a square at 11th. Also, especially if they are revenants, they can do a whole shit-ton of necrotic damage, because they are the only class at the moment to use the Shadow power source. Combine this with Revenant-- no really, you want to combine this with Revenant. For starters, revenants have the correct stat bonuses-- dex & con-- and there are a bunch of feats specifically for Revenant Assassins, most of which have to do with the Revenant racial power, Dark Reaping. I have a ton of things that resolve when I use Dark Reaping-- first off, I can drop an extra shroud (yon mark-not-mark damage kicker) on my shroud target when I invoke the power (someone within 5 of me drops to 0 hp). Then, when I actually invoke the power (next hit I make before the end of my next turn), then dark reaping does 1d8+5 necrotic damage, and my shroud target takes the full damage of the shrouds on them-- 1 d6+3 (since I am 11th level) per shroud, up to 4 shrouds max. Those shrouds do not disappear, as they normally do when I invoke them. Ja, awesome. I neglected to have anything else happen when I use dark reaping for my feat, but believe me, it was possible. Instead, there's a metric shitton of stuff that happens when I use an action point, including crap that lets me phase through walls and go insubstantial and yeah... it's a mess to keep track of. And worse for the GM, who is doing his best to keep up with all of the monsters that are hitting us at the same time, and well...

Nonetheless. We got to a point where the huge and nasty Minotaur was about to charge a red swath through the whole lot of us-- and lo, but it triggered every nasty thing under the sun-- the hybrid barbarian/runepriest used an immediate interrupt to do some radiant damage and blind it, putting it at -5 to hit everyone, in an already pretty high defense party. This was on top of the 10 ongoing untyped it had from my Shared Suffering Armor, and some fire damage (less, because it was resistant to fire) that it took from an ability of our Mageblade's, that did damage when it moved.

All of this resolved at about the same time. And I don't hardly blame B for throwing up his hands in frustration and amazement. We hadn't expected to be quite as awesome as we suddenly were either. 4e apparently tells you, as a GM, that yes-- at Paragon you've got to increase your game in some pretty specific ways-- but here you run into a serious problem that has scared a lot of people I know off of 4e-- information presentation. The main of the books you'll find are all character stats-- huge lists of powers and feats and racial stats and OH GOD, for crying out loud just download DDI Character Builder already and not have to deal with this madness. Because you're going to miss something. Without question. Or else you're me, and you're going to want to play a class that is only found in Dragon Magazine anyway. I'm starting to feel like releasing PC class books ought to be seriously de-emphasized-- or at least set up for what it is-- and the emphasis switched to getting folks hooked up with DDI, and making it more houserulable (it isn't. At all. Dear Lord.) But the PHBs are pretty much all stat blocks, and that's kind of eye-crossingly frustrating to look at.

the DMGs, the Planes books, and some of the Setting Guides are better, but not explicitly so. Clearly, there's a fall-through when it comes to explaining the balancing math from Heroic to Paragon tier, so it still feels as though you have to fudge things around a lot-- the biggest issue I've seen in 4e is that most DMs will under-stat their monsters in Heroic, thinking that they're throwing stuff that is /way/ too powerful at the PCs... only to have the whole encounter mopped up out of hand. And then there's the one or two who run encounters straight, and nearly wipe the party out of hand. Which leads into my first point of advice for folks who have never run 4e before-- START AT 1ST LEVEL. Getting a feel for how your party plays, and getting them used to using their powers at lower levels is vital, and not something you can do easily if you jump into high level encounters. Modding an existing game without resetting it is a bad idea as well, methinks.... this is not going to feel like the games you've played before. For me anyway, that was /awesome/. I have hated 2e/3.x combat for ages while sort-of enduring it, without being able to put my finger on why I hated it. The answer has to do with economy of action. In earlier editions, you don't have it. Everything is a standard action. Heaven forbid you heal anyone and hit anyone in the same turn! You've got to make a choice between working on killing a d00d, and maybe keeping your other middling damage dealing friend from getting killed-- depending on if you're a cleric, or a wizard with heals (like an Arcana Evolved Magister, which conceptually I do really like), or what. And this frustrates me hugely, even more than the whole running out of spells idea (and don't get me started on spell prep. I am one of those who never got used to trying to gauge how many of what spell I was going to use in a day. When they came out with Sorcerer, I never went back). So...

If I were running this game in 3.x again, I would probably houserule a lot of healing to be minor actions, as long as that is all that they do. I have a much more complicated short-run Dawning Star game (d20 modern) that I seriously need to work on, and the biggest obstacle I have run into is considering how I want to deal with combat, as I really suck at running it (thusfar), and I really hate most d20 combat mechanics. A lot will depend on the nature of the creatures that the players will be fighting, but... hrm. I know, this has gotten fairly far afield of high level 4e maundering, but meh.