prince_corwin: (Default)
[personal profile] prince_corwin
This is a continuing review section of the new 4e rules. There is a running score sheet at the end, and links to previous review sections, but the bulk is under the cut, to spare your flist view.

These are also kept unlocked.



...And a little bit of mechanics, thrown in.

After reading the class details, I can make the following general observations about the basic mechanics of the system. Some of these are stated outright, others are general observations and impression:

  • These rules are unified and simplified
  • These rules are exception-based
  • These rules support primarily combat
  • These rules are designed outright to give every character class a particular role in combat
  • These rules describe a movement, position, and manuever-based style of combat
  • These rules were designed by CCG designers


The first two are the easiest to explain, because they're stated design goals from WotC, and are not only presented in the book, but commented on in the book. By unified and simplified, what I mean is, there's exactly one advancement track for all character classes, now. This is also farther along the trend-line of 3e and 3.5e, where 3.5e saw unified XP tracks, and consolidated saving throw and attack charts, consolidated (if not unified-- I don't remember) spell bonuses for INT/WIS/CHA bonuses, etc.

When I say consolidated, I mean there were templates, so that for example, even though there were bunches of classes, the attack bonus progression was not unique to each class. By 3.5e, there were only two or three-- a crappy one, a decent one, and a kick-ass one. When I say unified, I mean there's one progression, and it's really damn simple-- an attack is always a stat check, e.g., a strength check vs an armor class. And those stat checks are always the same: Half your level, plus relevant stat bonus, plus situational modifiers. (That's not just combat, by the way. The rules describe attack rolls, stat checks and skill checks, but it's all the same damn rule, just called a different thing.)

Another way the rules are unified is in the class level powers and feats. In 3.5e, at least, it was generally understood that spells were the Mages and Clerics' Thing, feats were largely the Fighters' Thing, and skills were generally the Rogues' Thing (even if that blurred a lot at the eddges.) Here, class powers are Everyone's Thing, and to a lesser extent feats, and to a trivial extent, skills. Everyone, absolutely everyone, has the same progression based on class-- class powers are given on the exact same schedule and in the same numbers. The difference is in what those powers are meant to do.

So here's the extreme summary on Class Powers: They come in three flavors: At-will, encounter, and daily.

These are self-explanatory-- At-will powers are basically your standard attacks, that you can do as often as you like, and you're picking two from a template of, usually, four. So fighters are picking between an attack with an attack bonus, vs an attack with no bonus, but still does glancing damage even if he misses. Wizards are picking between individual attacks and area effect attacks, some of which push the targets around, etc. Encounter and daily powers are also just those-- "Encounter" is a power that's enough of an effort that you can do it once per combat, and daily means once per (game) day. Encounter is meant to be more powerful than at-will, and daily is more powerful still.

There's a second major axis here, as well, in that some powers are attack powers, while some are utility powers meant to help your allies in various ways. (Some attack powers are both, e.g., on a successful attack, you'll rally your allies and give them a bonus to attack for the rest of the round or encounter.)

The concept here is simple and in one sense, elegant: Each class power is basically a short and temporary exception to the basic rules. An attack is supposed to be a stat vs armor class check. But some of these give bonusses to the stat, or change the stat, or attack something other than armor. Attacks are supposed to do weapon-based damage, or miss. Some stipulate extra damage, either as a bonus or a multiplier (up to a stupefying seven times weapon damage as a daily power for a 29th level fighter) or attack multiple opponents, or move them around the battle field (a first level wizard encounter power gives him a chance to push each adjacent opponent away from him by a number of squares equal to his wisdom bonus, which is nice for a scrawny mage) or give bonuses to the character, an ally, or all allies, etc, yadda. Some of these are complicated (some give additional actions or chains of additional actions) but most are not.

A great many of these are movement based, either moving yourself or moving others. None that I've seen are instant-death, which is good because that's a definite flaw in 3.5e and all prior editions-- sometimes, spellcasters could just fuckin' kill you, with a good roll. That's vile and pernicious and I have seen no trace of it here. (I have not read every class power, though.) This is why I say this is a game of position and maneuver. I can't say, without playing it, whether or not it's a good system of position and maneuver. A good one would make these meaningful choices and actions on the battlefield, and just from reading them through, I can't make that judgement. It seems like it would be fun. (People who have played the sample module, chime in, but bear in mind you've only played first level.)

This is also why I say this is a system designed by Collectible Card Game vendors: To a degree, I have just described building your character and advancing it as an exercise in deck-building. I cannot get the image out of my mind of showing up to a game, as a fighter, with a deck of cards describing each power and throwing it down on the table when I use it, to remind the GM of the effects in play. Then, if it's At-will, pick it up next round. If Encounter, pick it up after the fight. If Daily, pick it up when the party sleeps. I didn't see a description of that in the book so far, but I know I will not be the first, nor the last, reviewer to say that. The parallel is obvious, strong, and deep.

Does it work? Not sure. It is scrupulously fair. It is a simplification across all the classes, and a ruthless simplification of spell-casters, at least as far as combat goes (although, see more in further reviews.) It certainly allows for character customization: 1st level characters get two At-wills, an Encounter, and a Daily, usually from a list of four, four, and three; so just from that standpoint, there are six dozen odd ways to select class powers at first level. (Some are a little more broad; and feats and races broaden this farther.) Despite this, the act of picking the powers is simple, and they seem like actual choices leading to different strategies.

There's at least one major fail for me, though: Note the Encounter vs Daily powers. There's a major, major assumption in there, that you're running a game so combat heavy that it is normal for your characters to be having multiple fights per game day. That's demonstrably not how my current group plays, where we either have zero or one combat per session, which breaks the difference between Encounter and Daily powers completely. I mean, it's just dead. It is a distinction which makes absolutely no damn difference. I suspect that it will blur the difference between character combat roles, also.

Additionally, despite being ruthlessly fair and simple, as well as extensible just by adding more class powers in later supplements, it still feels... flat. It especially feels flat around the spell-casters, because they're so much less complex than they were before. There's no more spell memorization, and the spells now available are typically much much simpler. There are ritual spells, though, so that might compensate. I haven't read enough to really say, so that'll be a later review.




I haven't yet mentioned combat roles, either, but that's a class by class concern, so will be in the next review segment.



So at this point, I grade things as follows:

  • Character Stats: B- (Needs a hack to allow dramatic flaws, but it's an easy hack)
  • Character Races: C (Too much genre dependence over almost half the choices, some of which can't be fixed except by banning.)

  • Class Fairness: A- (I feel like I'm giving this against my will)
  • Class Simplicity: B (Too simple, in some respects. I'll flesh that out more in the next reviews, as it includes feats and skills)
  • Class Aesthetics: C- (This balances out that A- grade, because the spellcasters, while fair, just seem flat)
  • Class Powers: C- (This would be higher, but the Encounter/Daily thing is broken for my style, and because I can't tell without playing whether these class powers are really meaningful on the battleground. Probably would have been a B- without that former.)


Other reviews:
PHB: Characters, Preliminaries and Basics

Date: 2008-06-13 11:47 pm (UTC)
immlass: (Default)
From: [personal profile] immlass
The encounter/daily thing tells me that this game is designed for dungeon crawls.

Date: 2008-06-13 11:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] prince-corwin.livejournal.com
INHERENTLY.

Or raids on a fort, or defending the mountain pass, or any other sustained but rapidly episodic fighting situations. This is in my mind the single biggest flaw in this part of the review, and it almost earned a D+, except it might not be as fatal a chest wound as it seems. I'm just not sure.

Date: 2008-06-13 11:56 pm (UTC)
immlass: (Default)
From: [personal profile] immlass
Yeah, I'm reading this review and going "this is a game I never want to play, ever." I mean, I already knew that, but you're ramming it home for me.

Date: 2008-06-14 03:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] princejvstin.livejournal.com
It definitely presses the G in GNS hard. It knows it clearly wants to do this and has a clarity of vision on that score. 3.x seemed to be a weird hybrid of G and S, this is chucking the S and embracing its inner G. Thus "at will, encounter and daily powers."

Powers are described strictly in terms of squares. Battlemats and the like look like they are absolutely necessary.

Reading on the boards, the heavy Simulationists in the D&D community hate this new iteration with each breath.

Date: 2008-06-14 04:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] prince-corwin.livejournal.com
Meh. I was there at the dawn of the GNS model, meaning not the Forge, but rec.games.frp.advocacy, so the meanings of the terms may have changed some. And I cannot possibly express how very little I want to see another flamewar about the intricacies of the threefold model.

But.

The way I remember those terms, 4e is indeed heavily gamist in the short term, and at the combat level; simulation-neutral, as long as you realize it's simulating a cross between a four-color comic book and a Conan movie; and somewhere between apathetic and hostile to narrative concerns.

Even going by Edwards' 2001 definitions, I can't see what the Sims are complaining about, compared to 3.5e. D&D has always been heavy on Game.

Date: 2008-06-14 04:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] princejvstin.livejournal.com
Well, if you look at the sheer number of "environment" books put out for 3.x, it is clear that along with the gamist stuff, they were heavily trying to put out models of fantasy worlds in D&D.

These two tastes, the tactical "wargame" and the "let's simulate a fantasy world" have co-existed uneasily in D&D. This version seems to have hearkened back to pre AD&D where it was much more of a gamist game and not so concerned with the ecology of the rust monsters.

I'm no acolyte of L Ron Edwards, I just find the vocabulary useful sometimes.

Date: 2008-06-14 04:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] prince-corwin.livejournal.com
I find the vocabulary very useful to focus my own thoughts. But gamers are a fractious, easily offended group (with me as no exception) and I have seen far too many examples of people using those terms to tell people they're playing wrong, and far too many examples of people interpreting statements that way unfairly.

I was tired of it way before Edwards wrote his '01 essay, to the point of allergy. Not your fault, but I really was there at the dawn of those terms.

Anyway, yes, to a point you're right. But I've never considered D&D's strength to be campaign-wide sim rules. Also, I'm not an expert on 3.5e, since I play, rather than run, but bear in mind that 3.5e needed supplements to put in even mediocre sim tools. It shouldn't be surprising that with only the 4e core books out, they're not there yet.

This is an area where I won't hold incompleteness against the writers. Other areas, I will.

Date: 2008-06-14 12:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] princejvstin.livejournal.com
My apologies.

And I think just about every gamer, be they GM or player, have been told at some point, with or without vocabulary, that they are doing it wrong. I certainly have been told, by people I consider friends.

Date: 2008-06-14 02:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] montoya.livejournal.com
The two complaints I've seen from 3.5 Sim fans are:

1. Healing Surges ("You can just HEAL YOUR WOUNDS seven times a day?!?") which strikes me as wrong-headed if you think of hit points as fatigue and what-not, which you apparently should.

2. Everything in the game is expressed in "squares" where it used to be feet, and going along with that things like fireball are now squares instead of circles, which is easier to handle from a gaming perspective, but arguably kind of weird.

Date: 2008-06-14 05:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] prince-corwin.livejournal.com
I find myself surprised you even know what those terms mean, newbie.

Bear in mind, there's always been an argument over whether hit points represent actual damage, or mostly fatigue. The former is realistic, the latter cinematic, and the descriptions of healing surges, bloodied effects and others now make it pretty clear that 4e considers them as fatigue.

The burst/blast rules are now inherently stupid, but it is stupid-- insultingly so-- to have eliminated circular effects, cone effects, and others.

Date: 2008-06-14 05:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] montoya.livejournal.com
They seem pretty self-explanatory. Besides, the ludology/narrative debate is a big thing in videogame circles...

As for the circular/cone effects, that's what I mean when I say it's clearly designed for people instead of computers. Computers can do circles easily; people have a harder time with them. Descent (a tactical minis boardgame) has circular effects and if they didn't provide overlay templates for them, they'd be a damn pain in the ass.

Date: 2008-06-14 12:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] montoya.livejournal.com
CCG: I was actually thinking that I wouldn't be surprised if WOTC does release power cards with the text of the power on the card, and you can tap them when you use them, and they untap during various upkeep phases.

That said, most people on the internets compare it not to CCGs but to WOW, and refer to them as "cooldown times", which strikes me as inaccurate and muddy-headed, but it's pretty inevitable that anything related to fantasy roleplaying is going to get compared to WOW right now.

Meaningful and interestingness: Okay, I only played 1st level, and only three combats, but I think it's excellent. As a tactical minis game, this is absolutely first rate, more interesting and deeper than Heroscape, Clix, or even the D&D Minis game. The powers were useful, interesting, and distinctive, and different classes felt very different.

Combativeness: The game is clearly and inarguably oriented toward the dungeon crawl, combat-oriented gameplay, yes. If you don't want that, you probably don't want this -- I mean, you could use it, but you're basically playing minimal rules freestyle RPGing at that point. I find it interesting precisely because it's NOT some artsy twinky drama club thing, but a great framework for a long-running tactical combat game.

Date: 2008-06-14 12:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] scifantasy.livejournal.com
it's pretty inevitable that anything related to fantasy roleplaying is going to get compared to WOW right now.

The claim has been made that 4e was intentionally designed to be a MMORPG on paper. That probably mostly takes from the revamped combat system.

(Not saying whether I agree or not.)

Date: 2008-06-14 12:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] prince-corwin.livejournal.com
Having read a few minor comments to that efffect, I can see what they're getting at with a few particular mechanics, but I have no expertise with MMORPGs, and don't really want any.

Generally, though, I've avoided reading too many reviews before posting these. (Although tonight will only cover part of the PHB. There will be several more, although doubtful more than one each for DMG and MM.)

Date: 2008-06-14 02:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] montoya.livejournal.com
I know it has, and I think it's basically wrong. I think this is one of those "trees!" things.

Date: 2008-06-14 12:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] theweaselking.livejournal.com
There's a major, major assumption in there, that you're running a game so combat heavy that it is normal for your characters to be having multiple fights per game day. That's demonstrably not how my current group plays, where we either have zero or one combat per session, which breaks the difference between Encounter and Daily powers completely. I mean, it's just dead. It is a distinction which makes absolutely no damn difference. I suspect that it will blur the difference between character combat roles, also.

Daily powers are actually "recharged only after an extended rest", which a good night's sleep happens to be. Encounter powers recharge after a short rest.

So if you don't get your 8 hours uninterrupted, or you're out in the snow and don't have a fire, or whatever, your Dailies don't recharge.

You could also fix this by making Dailies recharge on a different scale for your game - instead of recharging per extended rest, have them recharge per significant story chunk, or per 3 Encounters, or whatever.

Date: 2008-06-14 12:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] prince-corwin.livejournal.com
Daily vs Encounter: I get what you're saying, but it still doesn't matter for the 3.5e game I'm in, or the style I tend to play.

Hacking this: Yes... theoretically. I am mildly in favor of this sort of distinction, but making it all focussed on combat makes it less appealing. I'm a Nobilis vet, and they had similar mechanics that were not combat-related, and recharged on longer scales. I need to check my rules, but I believe they were story-chunk or narrative-chunk related... and they were a hell of a lot harder to manage than you make it sound.

There seem to be minor rules in this system (action points) based on story-chunks, but I have no read that section in detail yet, so I'm not commenting. The hackability is another reason I gave it a C- rather than a D+.

(My instinct is to guess-- merely guess-- that the four session per level target is still in effect, and make dailies into twice per level unless GM dictates otherwise.)

And believe me, there are some outright F's coming up.

Date: 2008-06-14 12:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] theweaselking.livejournal.com
Action Points: You get one to start with. Once per Encounter, you can spend an AP to take an extra action, or use a feat or Path power that requires it.

Every two encounters that you succeed on before an Extended Rest, you "reach a milestone" and get an AP.

When you take an extended rest, you lose all unspent AP and reset back to 1.

The four sessions per level: Not sure. I saw an "X Encounters per level" thing somewhere, but don't see it now.

Date: 2008-06-14 03:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] scifantasy.livejournal.com
(My instinct is to guess-- merely guess-- that the four session per level target is still in effect, and make dailies into twice per level unless GM dictates otherwise.)

The listed rate is ten encounters per level. Which, if you're right, lends more credence to the "lots of fighting" style.

Date: 2008-06-14 04:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] prince-corwin.livejournal.com
That's at least partly misleading, because encounter does not always mean combat. It can also mean (at the very least) a trap-type encounter, or a role-playing encounter. There are some support mechanisms for actual role-playing, here, but they take a back seat to combat.

Date: 2008-06-14 12:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] montoya.livejournal.com
Also, I don't know that losing the encounter/daily distinction would matter that much. I haven't read through the PHB, but if you don't have the opportunity to trade dailies for encounters, then it just amounts to having weak and strong encounter powers.

Date: 2008-06-14 12:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] prince-corwin.livejournal.com
But it also means that powers intended to be Dailies, not Encounters, for some classes become de facto Encounters. This is both an unintended escalation in power, and bleed through of one class role to the next.

Date: 2008-06-16 05:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] silmaril.livejournal.com
This is why I say this is a game of position and maneuver. I can't say, without playing it, whether or not it's a good system of position and maneuver. A good one would make these meaningful choices and actions on the battlefield, and just from reading them through, I can't make that judgement. It seems like it would be fun.

Yes. By its nature the parts of the trial module we played were combat-heavy (ambush to town, ambush to dungeon, shouldn't have been but was an ambush at dungeon entrance because we were stupid). And placement mattered, and movement rates mattered, and direction and terrain mattered, and people were making obvious tactical decisions on the fly, and it was serious fun actually.

Profile

prince_corwin: (Default)
prince_corwin

November 2011

S M T W T F S
  12345
6 789101112
1314151617 1819
20212223242526
27282930   

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Jul. 24th, 2017 06:29 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios