Monday, July 30, 2012

Fixing the D&D Fighter

I've never been particularly fond of playing fighters in D&D. I've done it a number of times, but usually for one-shot games. I'm a bit of a caster at heart, but there are ways to play a warrior with a little magic that satisfies my cravings. Except the fighter class is rather dull. I think we find some of the insight to fixing the fighter in the 4e essentials line, the Book of Nine Swords, and also back in the Complete Ninja's Handbook.

Simple is good, don't get me wrong. But there aren't a lot of options one could opt into. My real beef, mostly, is that fighter options tend to force them into being one-trick ponies. And even Pathfinder really didn't do much to fix the lack of real options for the fighter. Some of these ideas are there, but they're overshadowed by a focus on weapons and armor.

Look at weapon specialization, for example. In earlier editions of the game, it is just plain superior to some basic magic weapons. Meaning its better to just keep using your longsword (or upgrade to a magic +1 longsword) than that +2 battle axe that you found. In some iterations of the game/class, you might focus on all axes, rather than just the battle axe, but the effect is the same: every fighter becomes the kensai or weapon specialist.

These specialist feats say: use the flail for bonus x. Use the spear for bonus y. Use the axe for bonus z. In and of itself, this isn't bad. Except there's multiple feats or options for each weapon. So you stack them all up until your fighter really isn't nearly as awesome without his specialized weapon.

Now, some of this comes about from all weapons being functionally equal as well. In 4e, there's no difference between slashing, piercing, and bludgeoning weapons. In third edition there is, but I'm not sure if it ever came up in play for me, except maybe with skeletons. At any rate, the fighter should be able to switch weapons as needed and still be pretty awesome, unless he consciously chooses an option to be the kensai.

What does that leave for fighters to specialize in? Fighting styles. And I don't mean styles that emulate weapon specialization like a spear and shield, rapier & main-gauche, or sword & board type specializations. I'm talking about martial arts.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Spellcasters, Spellslots, and Quadratic Wizards

Archmages don't bother with puny magic missiles.
One of the thing that irks me about D&D Next is the bizarre spell slot system. Not that it exists, because it seemed to function just fine in earlier editions of D&D. No, what grinds my gears is the idea of applying the Heightened Spell feat (in some way) to every caster class.

See, in the beforetimes, a wizard could memorize a number of magic missile spells, a number of fireballs, and so forth. Even with Spells and Magic, a wizard had a sort of finite spell memory.

The idea of Heightened Spell is using spell slots of higher level to cast more potent lower level spells. But what's missing is the theory for why a wizard can memorize Magic Missile as a third level spell for greater effect.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Overcoming the D&D 15-minute workday

The Heroes of the Lance didn't have a 15-minute workday.
One of the often cited problems of the magic system in D&D (along with many class powers) is that it suggests that adventurers should use all their powers to solve their problems, wait a day to regain them, and do it again. In my experience with D&D, we rarely had this sort of problem, though occasionally there were discussions about waiting another day to regain spells and such. This is generally a problem of thinking about the resources over the story, but I can see how it could really be a major problem for certain players.

A further complication with this problem is that it means some types of adventures (i.e. journeys) might be played completely differently than short delves or investigations. Part of this, in 3.5 and 4e where map-and-mini combats are the norm, means that DMs are less inclined to have many encounters a day during wilderness treks (or just star-wipe to the dungeon's entrance and skip the journey altogether) because of the set-up involved. But adventures based on longer units of time will have this issue.

I think there are a few ways to alleviate this problem, but not all of them are equally good:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The trouble with themes

When I read about themes in D&D Next, I can't help but cringe a little. I'm not opposed to the idea in principle, but they seem quite nebulous at the moment. And ultimately, I'm not sure that they'll do much for the game.

First, what are themes? The latest news from the playtests is they are a feat delivery mechanism. So, your wizard can be a guardian or a slayer or a thief or a healer by choosing the right theme, which is presumably a list of pre-determined, thematic feat choices.

So here's the first concern. What makes for a good theme and how many will there be? Its presumably anything you want, from Archer to Zymergist, with stops at demonologist and knight along the way. Nice to be able to customize a character, but I can't help but feel that themes are going to be the new prestige class, paragon path, or kit. There'll be an overwhelming number of them scattered throughout a bunch of books. Assuming each theme might come with 3 feats, that's either a lot of feat permutations (how many will grant cantrip access or two-weapon fighting?) or a lot of new feats (let's face it, there's going to be hundreds of themes eventually, right? There's 93 currently in the character builder for 4e and 574 paragon paths...).