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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
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