Sunday, September 6, 2009

Not so impressive features of 4th edition D&D

Previous related article

Since last article I wrote about some of the great features that really impress me in 4th edition D&D, now I’ll write about the things I didn’t like. But really, it is hard to find too many concepts I didn’t really like. So this is more of a list of things that don’t particularly impress me.

1. Feats. The idea of picking a feat every other level to customize your character sounds like a fine idea. But although I like the feat selection better than in third edition, I still find the execution of the feat concept to be not very exciting. When I look at the feats, especially in the powers books, I see a vast sea of weird, specialized abilities that I'm not really interested in taking, and a bunch of small bonuses that are almost more trouble keeping track of than they are worth. Even with the abilities they really mean something, it tends to be the case that some characters need a bunch of feats in order to complete their character conception, and others don't. So I find it frustrating that there is no way to "give up" anything to get more feats at low level; some character concepts just can't be implemented until the character reaches, say, 6th level. I think that part of the problem is that, for balance reasons, the effects of the feats have to be very small, but I'm not all that interested in having a large number of very small abilities. If I wanted to customize my character, I'd probably rather do something more dramatic, perhaps giving up one strong ability to gain a different strong ability, as is done with the alternate build options in the powers books.

2. Magic Items. The issue I have here is pretty much the same as with feats. For balance reasons, the powers of the magic items need to be pretty small. But having a whole bunch of specialized little powers just seems like a nuisance to keep track of. I'd rather consolidate 4 of my obscure little magic items into one big macho magic item. One problem is the idea of restricting the daily use of magic items. I think this idea is clever, but I'm not so thrilled with the execution. The number of daily uses you have is so limited that it really makes you prefer magic items with non-daily powers. In fact, it is often the case that finding a daily magic item is practically worthless if it's daily power is less good than that of the magic items you already have. Of course, some of the magic items (and feats) are actually quite good, but that appears to be a balancing mistake since the great majority are not so good.

3. Skill Challenges. I really like the idea of skill challenges, of trying to put in a full-featured noncombat skill resolution system like the awesome dramatic skill resolution system of Torg. But the skill challenge system seems to be very much a work in progress, a series of ideas and experiments about how a skill challenge might be made to work well. There doesn't seem to be one concrete finished system for me to analyze. So I await completion of the skill challenge rules so I can see how much I like them.

4. Action Points. This is probably one of my least favorite features. I certainly very much approve of the idea of adding something equivalent to "hero points" to the system. But I'm not very excited by the action point concept. There are a few situations in which being able to perform two big powers in the same round lets you do something cool and useful. But otherwise, the action point is just giving you an additional at-will attack. This just isn't very interesting. It is so uninteresting that many of my players seem to have a difficult time deciding when to use action points, because the effect is so bland that there doesn't seem to be much of a tactical reason to use it in one situation rather than another, or in one fight rather than another. And since you can use an action point in more than half of your fights, but can't use more than one per fight, they don't really have very much ability to let you save up your resources for the big fight. I like the special powers you sometimes get from spending an action point, especially from paragon paths, but tying these powers to taking an extra action just seems like a bit of a nuisance to me.

1 comment:

  1. 1. I'm with you on feats. Never really liked 'em. I like that in 4e they are much easier to choose, with more straightforward mechanical benefits and I appreciate the options to flesh out a concept in appropriate ways (making a frost themed mage or a big weapon fighter feel as such). They feel like less a complete necessity in 4e than in 3e, that they don't bother me. Now, I don't agree with you wishing there was some way to give away something for more feats. Flaws for feats/traits systems are my most loathed RPG mechanic. About the only system I like them in is Savage Worlds, and that's because its not a real trade-off. Everyone takes 1 major and two minor hindrances at character creation and gets the four points to spend on traits and edge, so it's not really trading one for another and it only happens at creation.

    2. I'm with you. Magic items have lost a lot through 3e and 4e. I miss the wonderous-ness of older edition items. Probably something worth house-ruling here. 4e has room for it, it's not as item dependent as 3e was, and where weapon bonuses are somewhat expected, they could be easily extracted and stuck into the leveling mechanics somewhere (every 5 levels you get +1 to hit or something like that). Then, items could just have unique and interesting effects.

    3. Here we part ways, my friend. I love skill challenges to pieces and use them constantly. The way I see it, it's not supposed to be a concrete mechanic. It, like the overall framework for a combat encounter, is a loose, not rigid frame for hanging an encounter on. Basically, the PCs take turns approaching the challenge at hand, the goal is obvious and the DM has some numbers in th terms of DCs and successes/failures to adjudicate the whole thing. Off of that skeleton, do anything you want to and let the players do anything they want to and roll with it. The structure is just a skeleton.

    4. My players are deadly with action points. Fighters or a striker with a mean close burst power can use an action point for an extra move to cross the entire battlefield and deliver some devastation before the other side even knows what hit them. A wizard player loves to charge into the middle of a group, drop a big close burst spell, then action point and expeditious or fey step away. I don't there would be much harm in tweaking action points to be a bit more available and allowing PCs to do more with them. I don't have the Eberron books yet to see what they are doing with them, since Eberron brought the action point to D&D.

    All in all, a good list.