Saturday, November 6, 2010

Hero System 6th Edition – Notable Ideas

Continuing my analysis of the changes in Hero System 6th edition, I'm writing down some of the notable "toolkitting" or rules suggestions I thought were interesting. Many of these aren't actually concrete rules, they are just comments that the GM might want to change the rules in a given situation, or invent new rules to solve a certain problem. Since these suggestions are optional, I didn't bother to analyze suggestions I didn't like.

Notable Ideas I was positive about:

You can now specialize a skill for half cost, or buy limitations on skills. Limitations on skills were technically allowed in 4th Edition, but they required GM permission and I never saw anyone use them except for the most obvious cases. It occurs to me that you could use these changes to do a much better job of customizing your character's skills by purchasing bonuses in specific areas you specialize in, or using limitations on skills which would otherwise give you more than you need.

I like the "Skill Combinations" idea a lot. This is the idea that you could take a bunch of specialized skills and bundle them into one meta-skill. Note that this is only a suggestion, not a really formalized rule, but I like it. I don't know how far they intend to go with this in their sourcebooks, but I'm tempted to run pretty far with it. One of the problems of Hero System has been breaking down the skills into far too much detail for campaigns not based on those skills. For instance, Cryptography skill. In a game where everyone is an espionage agent, having this skill be separate allows one character to be the cryptography expert. But in a superhero game, this skill is just something the secret agent character ought to have but will rarely use. So you end up having to pay lots of points to give your secret agent a laundry list of rarely used skills that clutter up the character sheet, or you skip some of the skills but then you don't have them in the rare cases that you need them. Giving the option of breaking down espionage skills for espionage games, but then combining them into an overall "espionage" skill for superhero games, is great. The combination can cost less than the individual skills, so you can put a bunch of highly specialized skills into one skill combination for a reasonable price. This is like an extension of the rule that useless skills cost nothing; in this case skills of very limited use have a small cost and don't clutter up the character sheet.

There is a suggestion to the effect that you if you want a power to work a certain way that doesn't exactly fit within the rules, you just buy the closest power you can, then say it works that way. This sounds like a good suggestion to me. It is often a lot easier to match a complex character conception by designing powers with custom rules. But typically it is very difficult or impossible to assemble these powers by combinations of the standard powers, advantages, and limitations – it is either illegal or prohibitively expensive. This suggestion could be interpreted to let you just find an equally effective legal power, and redefine it to work the way you need. Also, this rule could really help when transferring complicated characters from one GM to another. In the past, you had to worry that the GM would rule that your power didn't work the way you wanted it to under his rules interpretation. Now you can just tell the GM how the power works, and he just has to decide that the power isn't unreasonable and that the point cost is appropriate. However, I have to point out that this suggestion is just a small one that I'm reading a lot into.

The absolute effect rule covers the problem that you can't purchase immunity to specific effects. It says that the GM can define a certain amount of defense against a certain special effect, and if you get it, you become totally immune to the effect. The only problems involve things like determining how you buy "immune to poison" when many different game powers can have the special effect of poison. And, of course, that the cost is likely rather high for some types of effects. But at least there is a rule to do it.

Cool idea – get rid of the points from complications and give out hero points whenever a complication appears in the story and is overcome. Actually, I'm thinking this could be simplified to "whenever a complication hinders the character". This is clever, I don't know if this comes from another game, but I really like this idea, it takes the onus of the GM to find ways to make a complication actually be worth its point cost. I really have to think about this, I've never thought of doing this before (at least not for Champions – Torg's Nile Empire sourcebook had a version of this rule, but the execution of the rule was quite awkward and didn't inspire me to transfer it to other games). I should point out, though, that this idea is presented as a throwaway concept, not something fleshed out into proper rules.

There is a helpful suggestion that the GM should only let PC's wake up from unconsciousness, not NPC's. This is one solution to the annoying problem that under Champions rules, after you knock someone out you have to hit them again to keep them out, a rather unheroic thing to do.

There is a suggestion that objects should be easier to break in superhero campaigns, and that the GM may want to have "real weapons" cause less damage in superheroic campaigns. This is exactly what I have done and always thought Champions should do. In 4th edition the recommended power level of tanks and guns was reasonable for heroic campaigns in which you want big guns to be totally lethal, but way too strong for superheroic campaigns. I was always annoyed that tanks were far, far tougher and more damaging than any superhero, it just didn't fit the comics at all.

There is a nifty optional rule for critical hits and fumbles.

There is a section discussing the problems about how the Hero System rules cause minor opponents to be rather tough and hard to kill, and in particular how they all tend to be unconscious rather than dead at the end of a battle, forcing the players in heroic campaigns to break the dramatic conventions shoot all of the unconscious opponents to finish them off. I like the discussion of the problem, and they have some suggestions for how you might fix it that are sketchy and primitive, but probably workable.

There is a revival of the old 3rd edition idea of a discount for multiple enhanced senses, in the form of an optional suggestion. This directly acknowledges that the high cost of many enhanced senses is based on their usefulness in avoiding sense-affecting attacks; once you have one, the rest have diminshing returns.

Notable Ideas I am positive about, with reservations:

The GM is advised that he may want to forbid use of martial arts to do other ridiculous things like break out of steel prison cells. This suggestion exemplifies what I feel about a lot of the little "toolkitting" type rules suggestions they have. On the one hand, it is a revealing and intelligent observation of a problem that can arise when you use the rules literally. On the other hand, this is pretty far from being a rule to fix the problem. I mean how do you decide what he can break, and what he can't, and what to do when things are on the edge? You would need to improvise, as this is basically a GM'ing suggestion.

Optional Healing rules has a nice preamble about how inconvenient it is for players to take BODY damage in a campaign that lacks magical healing, and all the problems this causes. The suggestions for fixing this seem weak, however – they are most effective at helping characters with heavy armor, which isn't very appropriate for many of the genres which have this problem.

Notable Ideas I am neutral about:

There is a "toolkitting" suggestion that you could have skill rolls be derived from your characteristics divided by 3, for instance, instead of by 5. This would solve the problem that there is very little "granularity" for statistics like intelligence – very few values that are actually different from one another, since the only really meaningful values to buy are 8, 13, 18, and 23. However, this is just a sidebar, it doesn't give actual rules for how to change point values to match. And it makes your skills tied even more closely to your stats, an effect I don't like. Although they have a contrary suggestion in the same section that the GM could untie all skills from statistics completely – they have a lot of interesting little ideas for how skills could work in a game.

One of the many ideas for skills presented is to base skill rolls off of different statistics depending on how you are using them (as is done, for instance, in the Storyteller system of Vampire). Interesting, but this adds to complexity and I would prefer to just purchase the amount of skill I want and stick with it.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hero System 6th Edition – Key Changes

Last article I described the major changes in Hero System 6th edition, changes that were general in nature. This article I'm describing changes which are specific, but which are likely to affect many characters or come into play in many adventures, or otherwise are pretty likely to be noticed.

Key changes I feel improve the game:

Elemental Control is gone, replaced by the limitation "Unified Power". This is good, because Elemental Control was really just a random way to save points if you had certain specific powers and certain special effects, and clearly didn't belong within the logical Hero System framework, especially the 6th Edition view of that framework. The Unified Power limitation causes adjustment powers which affects one of your powers to affect all of your related powers. This seems like a very minor limitation (drains vs. specific powers are really rare), so Unified Power still looks like a random point break. But it is a much simpler, small rule, and is a more blatant point break, easily banned by the GM if necessary, so I think it is a great improvement. The one small advantage to Elemental Control was that it tended to give a point break to Energy Projectors, who were overpriced compared to Bricks and Martial Artists. But I think the other point cost changes in the system have already addressed this issue.

The rule that combat skill levels can be used to boost damage is now a general rule, not limited to hand-to-hand attacks in heroic campaigns. I've already been doing this for quite some time; it is more fun and not unbalancing.

The rules are clear that pushing can only be done in heroic situations, not just any time you have the extra END to spend. I've always used that rule in my games, I think this is was a fairly common interpretation. But the 4th Edition rules weren't really specific about this.

Sense-affecting powers (like Flash, Invisibility, and Darkness) are now much cheaper (usually half cost) when they only affect non-targeting senses (i.e. when they don't affect sight). This is great, making powers cheaper when they are less useful. Actually, the truth is that affecting non-targeting senses is usually far less than half as effective unless you have some sort of devious power combo; but half price is much better than full price!

There is a rule for untrained skill rolls! Previously, there was no real rule for what happens when you need to make a conversation check and you don't have the skill. This issue occurs in certain other game systems as well, and leads to a common problem. The general solution for the lack of a defined skill roll was that characteristic rolls be used. But characteristic rolls are quite high compared to the pitiful 8- roll for a familiarity in the skill. Unless the GM was really on top of this, it was all too easy for characters who were familiar with a skill to end up less capable than characters who were totally untrained, because the GM would say "make a driving roll" if the character had the skill, or "make a DEX roll" if he didn't. Even a DEX roll at -3 would be better than the 8- for a familiarity. With the new rules, an untrained character has 6-, fixing this problem. However, it does present a small trap for the unwary GM. Mathematically, the 6- roll works fine. But it means that whenever a character tries a skill roll which an untrained person should have a decent chance of succeeding in, the GM needs to give a huge bonus (like +5). Since Hero System skill rolls are presented as an "absolute" ("13-" instead of "+3"), GM's who don't know the mathematics well may have a tendency to ask for unmodified skill checks. This can result in situations in which ordinary characters are treated as comically incompetent because they routinely miss their skill checks by 5 or more.

The VPP rule explicitly allows you to buy a control cost for more active points than the real cost, so you can have a variable power pool with 30 real points that allows powers of 60 active points. This is something I have always allowed and used, it is mathematically logical (it is as if you bought a 60 point power pool and declared that 30 points of it are fixed in place). This is very useful in practice when you want to create a VPP of attack powers, something quite common. With attack powers, you usually only want one power in the pool at a time, and trying to create an interesting power with advantages and limitations didn't work because the limitations only saved you real points, and you couldn't do anything with these real points. Now you can buy up your active points and have more options for playing around with your VPP.

5th Edition merged Public/Secret ID into a new, more general complication called Social Complication. I like this idea, and the new symmetry of having physical, psychological, and social complications. There were definitely some complications that were hard to represent properly before. Most notably, "subject to orders" was previously represented as "watched by military", which isn't really the same thing.

Martial arts are now fully effective when used with weapons. In previous editions martial maneuvers gave only half the damage bonus when used with weapons, so a fencer would get the same combat penalties for performing an offensive strike as a hand-to-hand fighter, but would only get half the damage bonus, and thus fencers would avoid this maneuver most of the time. This change evens the playing field.

There is no more Package Bonus – you don't get a point break for basing a characer off of a standard template. I didn't particularly object to the package bonus, but this changes seems reasonable, why reward characters for being standardized and penalize creativity. The main justification for the package bonus was that you got a point break for having to buy useless skills, but 6th Edition has fixed this problem by specifying that useless skills no longer cost character points.

Find Weakness is gone. I didn't hate this power, but I never used it either. I found it way too extreme; one roll would determine whether you were devastating or impotent against the enemies. And the game mechanics for how the power worked were rather fiddly and didn't seem to match any power of any character in any genre I was familiar with. It was sort of a funny Hero System-specific gimmick, and I won't miss it.

Many powers and modifiers have been broken down into much more detail, allowing characters to be crafted more precisely. Examples include how you can now use invisible power effects to make something inobvious instead of fully invisible, or how the value of the Linked limitation depends in more detail on exactly how the linking works. These changes are individually small, but overall, I like the breakdowns and added power modifiers, they usually make a lot of sense, and they increase the richness of the character creation system, which is at the heart of the Hero System.

A lot of rules sections are much larger than the corresponding sections in 4th Edition, and in a good way. A lot of things which were unclear before are now explained. Examples of expanded rules sections, include perceivability of powers, constant powers, Adjustment Powers, and Mental Powers, but there are many others. I think a lot of work has gone in to making the rules more clear and comprehensive, and I found the expanded rules sections enlightening on many points.

Key Changes about which I am positive, with reservations:

There is a big new rule, the Multiple Attack rule. Finally, there is a way for a character to make multiple attacks simultaneously – to shoot a gun in each hand, or to trip a foe and headstomp him without letting him get up in between. The maneuver is quite powerful but requires a high OCV and gives you 1/2 DCV. I put the maneuver as a positive because it lets you do something that you just couldn't do before, and sometimes wanted to do. But I have reservations about whether I'd really want to use or allow this maneuver in a game. First, I feel like the characters who would thematically most want to use this would be highly skilled characters fighting minions – but these are exactly the kind of characters who would really hate being reduced to ½ DCV and wiped out by counterattacks from all the remaining minions. Second, it seems like a new way to beat on the poor fools who have been knocked prone or otherwise reduced to ½ DCV. It is bad enough getting auto-hit by normal attacks when you are on the ground, but potentially taking triple damage from a massive multi-attack seems just cruel.

Missile Deflection is gone, replaced by a rule that anyone can block ranged attacks based on special effects. And the rules for Block are nicely expanded. The key to my commentary here is to understand that I'm always thinking of Block as an alternative to Dodge. And the truth is that if your OCV and DCV are equal, Block is only slightly more effective at avoiding a single attack than Dodge, and has many more limitations. It does let you go first next round, but only in certain circumstances. So I feel that the ability to Block isn't worth that much, since you could have just dodged instead. So I am quite happy that Missile Deflection no longer costs a large number of points. And I think the new block rules are swell. My reservations are two. First, since I never really used Block much at all, I'm just not that excited by all the page space spent on it. Second, under the new rules, you can only block range attacks (i.e. Missile Deflect) if you have an appropriate special effect. My opinion is that if you think Block is useful enough to devote all that page space to, why isn't it useful enough to cost at least one point to be able to block ranged attacks? It seems tempting to say "Oh, my character carries around a trash can lid just so he is eligible for this extra combat maneuver".

The Grab rules are much more detailed and better described, and make a lot of sense. A character who is grabbing someone is now at ½ DCV; the -2 DCV penalty only applies if you miss. The grabbed characters have -3 OCV, which seems rough, but the grabber is still ½ DCV against their attacks. If you grab one target, you are ½ OCV against other targets. There are scary optional rules about letting super-strong grabbers really dominate weaker opponents. It is clarified that most martial maneuvers aren't allowed when grabbed. My only reservation is that some aspects of the new rules seem even more favorable to bricks and less favorable to martial artists, and I had already thought that grabs were too good for bricks and not that great for martial artists.

Mega-Scale is a new advantage that lets you create powers with immense area, range, or speed, at a cost that is large but not overwhelmingly huge. I like this idea, it makes it straightforward to buy certain powers that were awkward to buy before, such as the power to fly at the speed of light, or turn an entire city into zombies, or purchase a spaceship with guns that fire millions of kilometers. This acknowledges that in many cases, once you pass a certain amount of scale, increasing the scale of a power is largely for color and shouldn't cost an overwhelming number of points. After all, a sleep spell that covers an entire battlefield is enough for any combat use, increasing it to cover an entire county is probably just something you do when making some special magic ritual for storytelling purposes. However, while I think this is useful, I have reservations about the cost structure. I think the power is great improved over the 5th edition rules, in which it was absurdly cheap, but had annoying little limitations that often forced you to create a multipower for it. Now the cost is much more satisfying. But the cost system is still really weird. The first strangeness is that there were already ways to logarithmically increase the scale of powers, and megascale isn't integrated into the existing system. This is most obvious with area effect; you can get an area effect of 4m radius, or pay more for 8m or 16m; but once your power is 64m radius, you can just decide to make is 4000m radius for the same cost. This probably won't hurt the game balance if the GM is careful not to allow abusive megascale constructions, but it sure is weird. What is really odd is how megascale works with movement powers. Say you have 60m of teleport. It you buy megascale on top of it, you pay a staggering number of points to be able to teleport 60km. Or you can buy a small teleport with megascale in a multipower and be able to teleport anywhere on the planet for a handful of points. Megascale is a clear example of just how arbitrary the Hero System point costs really are; mega-scale is either very expensive or dirt cheap. And in particular, even if the GM and players are trying hard not to abuse the rules, it still isn't obvious which way is the "right" or "fair" cost. The planetary teleport multipower seems unfairly cheap, but if you use the megascale rules totally "straight up", then characters with large amounts of combat teleport pay far more points in order to have the same amount of noncombat teleport, and this seems pretty unfair the opposite way.

Key Changes I am neutral or conflicted about:

The ability to use EGO to defend against PRE attacks is now an optional rule. I don't have much opinion on this either way. In any case, if you really wanted your strong-willed but quiet character to resist PRE attacks, you could buy PRE with the limitation "only for defense".

Haymaker is substantially changed. First, it now gives a fixed damage boost of +4d6. I think this is good as it matches the way martial maneuvers work and reduces that massive benefit of haymakers to super-strong bricks, although my reservation is that it is weird and awkward that characters of ordinary human strength gets such an overwhelming benefit from the maneuver. The second change is a more of a clarification. A haymaker takes extra time between launching it and landing it, and if the foe moved out of range it would miss – but what if they just moved to a different place in your range? Now it is specified that if the foe moves at all, the haymaker misses, even if you have stretching or can otherwise still reach the target. I like this clarification. Third, and most importantly, any power can now be Haymakered, even if it is ranged! I like this because in the past, Bricks were much better at performing finishing blows or damaging inanimate objects than Energy Projectors, and now this evens the playing field. My big reservation is that I have never liked the Haymaker rule and never use it in my games, I don't like how it is far more effective than a regular attack unless the opponent has the correct meta-game knowledge of how to defend against it, in which case it is totally neutralized. So I'm not really thrilled that far more characters can now use it!

Flashes were changed in 5th edition to give you twice as many dice for the points, but the effect lasts for segments rather than phases. I can't decide if this change is good or bad. It means that 5 points of flash defense doesn't neutralize almost all flashes completely, and makes it more straightforward how long flash lowers your DCV and Perceptions, and makes flash slightly less devastating, and doesn't give as much penalty to low SPD characters. But what you really care about with Flash is how many phases you are affected for, and now that varies based upon arbitrary meta-game considerations: the segment your foe goes on compared to you. And the idea of a delaying your action when you are flashed to a later segment in which you are unflashed seems odd and slows the game down.

Breakfall lets you stand up as a zero phase action. Hmm, I foresee a lot of characters with breakfall skill. This rule isn't bad, it has the advantage of creating a way to ignore the prone effect, makes people with breakfall skill feel more distinctive, and gives breakfall a benefit even when you are knocked into obstacles. But in practical terms it makes me uneasy in two ways. First, I find the ability to delay people by knocking them prone feels appropriate, but don’t much care for the ability to reduce them to ½ DCV just long enough for your friends with reserved actions to annihilate them. The new breakfall rule takes away the first part without removing the second, I'd rather have it remove both or neither. Second, this is one of those rolls you have to make a lot but won't likely fail very often, and my experience with activation rolls is that such rolls can be somewhat of a nuisance.

The simulated sense group rule. When you buy an enhanced sense, you can say what sense group it is part of (such as sight or hearing) and it gains some of the benefits of the natural sense in that group, for free. The biggest effect of this rule is that enhanced senses which allow you to ignore sight-group flash, darkness, and invisibility cost more than those that don't, since senses based on sight get Targeting for free. This is good, because the ability to ignore sensory attacks is often the primary combat effect of an enhanced sense. On the other hand, the rest of the rule just seems awkward. You have to pay a bunch of points to make your mystic treasure sense ranged, but the ability to "smell" treasure is ranged for free, this just seems arbitrary to me. It seems like this whole rule would be more naturally replaced by limitations or advantages when you buy senses that are more more or less affected by sensory powers. Another point I should make is that it seems like it would be very common to imagine some sort of special vision that is affected by sight-based flashes but not affected by sight-based darkness or invisibility. The simulated senses rule doesn't cover this, it assumes flash and darkness/invisibility work the same way.

Dive for Cover makes you prone, and you suffer extra knockback if you try to dive for cover and fail. This makes sense if you think of the maneuver as literally diving to the ground to escape a grenade blast or an exploding car, and that sort of thing certainly happens in the movies. On the other hand, I'm somewhat skeptical of the literal interpretation. When you are diving from a grenade, you want to land prone because being prone inherently protects you. It seems a little odd that under the Dive for Cover rules, you run 8 meters, then decide to fall prone even though it doesn't protect you in any way under the Hero System rules. I liked the idea that Dive for Cover could be used to simulate the fact that it is difficult to hit fast-moving superheroes with area effect attacks. But the maneuver is rather difficult to use in superhero combat (they can just throw another area attack next phase), and the changes just make it even less effective. But perhaps I'm asking too much of the maneuver, and should just consider it to be designed to simulate characters trying to avoid single massive explosions by running away, leaping, and landing on the ground.

Key Changes I feel are detrimental:

The cost structure of combat skill levels has changed in a negative way. In 4th Edition is was noticeable that combat skill levels in highly limited areas were too cheap and versatile skill levels were too expensive. In 6th Edition, the cost of versatile skill levels was made even more expensive and the cost of limited levels stayed the same. Now a skill level in all combat costs 10 points! This means that the ability to gain +1 in OCV or DCV costs as much as buying both +1 OCV and +1 DCV! The combat level does allow you the option of increasing damage, but this is a small benefit compared to doubling the total combat bonus. Yet a level that applies to your 3 favorite maneuvers you use almost all the time is still a measly 3 points. Basically, 6th Edition increased the cost of levels in all combat or all h-to-h combat so that "1 level in martial arts" could now cost more than a level in 3 specific martial maneuvers and less than a level in all hand-to-hand combat. Inserting this new level is logical, but the specific way the costs were changed is not.

Also, the cost of mental combat levels was changed to work differently from physical combat levels, to match the fact that +1 OCMV is cheaper than +1 OCV. So gaining +1 in one mental attack is now half as expensive as +1 in one physical attack. This makes no sense. It isn't clear whether OMCV really should be cheaper than OCV, but if it should, it would be because it covers fewer powers. Once you are restricting your level to only a single power, +1 to hit is +1 to hit, it should cost the same to get +1 with a single mental power as it costs to get +1 with a single physical power, as they are both equally useful. Certainly it isn't like mental powers are weaker than physical powers – quite the opposite, at least for mental blasts.

The killing attack STUN multipliers for hit locations were NOT changed, even though the general STUN multipliers for killing attacks were changed. This means that killing attacks do far more stun damage if you are using the hit location rules. I find this very puzzling, especially since a few pages later in the rules is a discussion of how it is a problem in heroic campaigns that killing attacks tend to knock foes out instead of killing them. It is as if the hit location rules (indeed, almost all of the optional combat rules) were simply copied verbatim from the previous editions without being re-edited.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Analyzing Hero System 6th Edition – Major Changes

I've been hard at work reading and analyzing the rules for 6th Edition Hero System. I've played Champions for a long time, and it has traditionally been what I consider to be my favorite roleplaying game, though I haven't played it a whole lot recently. I remember how pleased I was with the 4th Edition, and I played that for a long time. I wasn't too pleased with the 5th Edition; while it was not without its good points, it seemed "fiddly", and had twice as many pages without much improvement to the game. I played it a bit, but didn't really see it as supplanting the 4th Edition rules. Now the 6th Edition has come out, and I have to say I'm much more pleased. This seems like it really is an improvement to the game, something that could make me want to put away the old Big Blue Book of 4th Edition.

It should be understood that while there are substantial changes, the game was not "recreated" in the sense of 4th edition D&D, this is an evolutionary modification and most of the rules are still the same as 4th edition Hero System. So I think I shall analyze it in terms of how the system has changed. Since I was not that impressed with 5th Edition, never wrote an analysis of the 5th Edition changes and have many friends who never played 5th Edition, I shall compare the changes to 4th Edition Hero System, with maybe a few mentions of 5th Edition here and there.

For this article, I will be looking at the really broad changes to the game, those changes you would be likely to notice regardless of what powers or maneuvers your character uses.

First, since I will be using these terms later, I'll mention the major nomenclature changes.

  • Ego Combat Value is now called Mental Combat Value (MCV), and in general the word "Mental" replaces "Ego" when referring to mental combat, rather than your Ego characteristic. I think this change is great. I always felt that the use of the word "Ego" instead of "Mental" was a bit of Hero System-specific weirdness.
  • Disadvantages are now called Complications. I never had a problem with the old term, but agree that the new term is just as good or better.

Major changes I feel improve the game:

  • The pricing system for characteristics was changed to remove the concept of secondary characteristics from the game. This is a big change, and is just a good thing. A well-known strangeness of previous versions was that purchasing STR and CON actually gave you more points worth of figured characteristics that you paid for the primary characteristic. This meant that, in some sense, these characteristics had a negative cost – increasing them could make the character cheaper! To deal with this, it was necessary to put limits on how many figured characteristics you could buy down, artificially limiting your character design. There were other minor drawbacks as well related to the fact that the "active points" of these characteristics were not equal to their "real cost". The one minor advantage of the old system was that it gave you a nice simple way to compute default values for your REC, END, and STUN, so that you didn't have to think about them. But in my opinion, the new system is far superior.
  • OCV and DCV are now characteristics, rather than being calculated from DEX. I highly approve of this, and in fact, had been moving strongly in this direction in my Champions house rules. When designing how a character will work in combat, it was cumbersome that base OCV, base DCV, and base Dex roll were all inextricably linked together. Sometimes I would want to make a character who was very skilled in combat, but not necessarily a great acrobat. You could do this with levels in OCV and DCV, which was OK, but levels and base CV are not quite the same thing. Other times, I would want to make a character who had been gifted with superhuman reflexes but didn't really know how to fight. There was no elegant way to do this (you would have to simulate it with a complication), but now it is easy. Also, it is quite normal to want a character's combat "style" to be more defensive or more offensive, and as mentioned above, having this be represented by setting your base OCV or DCV directly is more natural than buying levels in OCV or DCV. There is one tiny downside to this – Adjustment powers that affect your "agility" are more cumbersome to purchase, as adjusting DEX no longer adjusts OCV and DCV. But this is a very minor drawback.
  • The separation of OCV and DCV from DEX also has another potential benefit. An old Champions tradition is that superhero characters have much higher dexterity than their conceptions would indicate. If you wanted to be a slow, clumsy brick, you would have DEX 18, and if you were just average, DEX 20. Yet these would be considered quite high values for normal people. And superhero characters had normal, conception-appropriate values for other characteristics like INT and STR, so the high DEX was an oddity. The high DEX was actually a good thing for balance purposes. Some superheroes really do have good reason to have superhuman DEX. But if some characters had DEX 30 and others DEX 10, this meant some characters would have CV 10, others CV 3. This is way too much difference in a combat system in which even a few points of CV have a huge effect. Also, the high DEX meant that superheroes had a much higher CV than normal people. This isn't essential, but was part of the game balance and had some nice effects, letting characters do some fancy things and really feel impressive against ordinary mooks. The problem with the boosted DEX was that it also meant that superheroes had very high DEX rolls regardless of real conception. It was just weird that a superhero of average intelligence and average dexterity would have 11- in his intelligence-based skills and 13- in his dex-based skills, for no really good reason. With this new change, it is finally practically to really fix this strangeness; you can give superheroes abnormally high DCV and OCV but give them DEX on the same scale as INT. They don't do this with their sample superheroes, but I plan to with my campaign.
  • OMCV and DMCV (the mental combat values) are also characteristics. Not only does this have the benefits listed above for OCV and DCV, it also has point benefits. DCV and ECV used to have the same cost when you factored out the points of SPD given to you by the DEX. Now MDCV costs less than DCV, which is appropriate as it is less often useful. And in the past, EGO was expensive because it was a key statistic for mentalists, so characters without mental powers were really charged a lot for it even though all they wanted was to be strong-willed to fit their conception. Now characters who don't have mental powers don't even have to pay for OMCV, only characters who actually gain benefits from OMCV have to pay for it. There is, however, a drawback to the new system; mentalists can refuse to buy OCV and actually end up cheaper than non-mentalists, which is peculiar because mentalists are usually more effective than OCV-based characters, not less. And it sort of puts a high price tag on characters whose multipowers include both mental attacks and normal attacks, and thus need both OCV and OMCV. But overall, I like the new system.
  • The Comeliness characteristic has been replaced with the Striking Appearance advantage. This is interesting because I'd been thinking for a long time that if I wanted to rewrite Hero System, I would do exactly this. Nobody really cared about Comeliness too much, so it shouldn't be a characteristic. And the numbers had little game meaning anyway. It makes a lot more sense to either say "my character has average appearance" and forget about it, or to say "my character has an extraordinary appearance" and actually describe what game benefit you want to get from that.
  • The way that the base points for characters is described has been changed. In previous editions, a standard "250 point" Champions character was described as having 100 base points plus up to 150 points of disadvantages. Now such a character would be described as a 250 point character with 150 points of matching Complications. This works the same way, but better matches the fact that Champions players have always described such a character as 250 points rather than 100 points. Also, all powers and abilities which refer to the point cost of a character (such as Followers or Multiform) refer to this total cost, 250 points, rather than making a hard-to-remember distinction between base cost and total cost.
  • A longstanding complaint of mine has been that Champions demands that you take enormous numbers of Disadvantages, more than most character conceptions would naturally want to take, and more than most players or GM's would really want to use in play. 6th Edition has met this complaint straight on the nose! They directly acknowledge in the rules advice the problems of having to take too many Complications, and the recommended Complication points for a superhero has been halved, from 150 to 75.
  • There is now a rule that "background" powers and skills which don't really have any game effect, don't cost any points. I love this rule (just as I loved it where I first saw it, in 4th edition D&D). I have often noted that background skills, like being a master violinist, are way overpriced because they very rarely come up in play, and thought they should be far cheaper. Making them free certainly simplifies the situation! I also like how they mention that even skills with clearly listed values, like Bugging, can cost few or no points if the GM doesn't expect them to come up in the game. This is exactly what happens in real games. You are making some superhero whose background is that he was a secret agent, and you figure he ought to have bugging. But if you buy the Bugging skill, it is a waste of points, because it never comes up in your superhero adventures. But if you don't buy it, then there just might be one point every 5 years that you actually need Bugging – perhaps in some minor way – and you won't have it, even though it would be so cool to finally use your spy skills. The new suggestions are entirely on point to fix this problem.
  • The frequency concept for Complications such as Hunted has been greatly improved. In previous versions, you were supposed to make a random roll every adventure to see if the disadvantage showed up. I never played with anyone who actually followed that rule. First, the randomness would screw up your ability to create properly planned, believable adventures. Second, the hunters would show up far too frequently; the "medium" freqency would have them show up in more than half of the adventures! 6th Edition has done a great job addressing this. The random rolls are gone, and the recommended frequencies have been reduced. And the repetitive attacks by hunters are reduced even further by helpful advice that even when they do "show up", it doesn't have to mean they attack or directly interfere with the character, or even that they show up – it may just mean that the character's behavior is influenced by his knowledge of being hunted.
  • Another longstanding complaint of mine about Champions has been the ridiculous randomness of the stun damage caused by killing attacks. It meant they were just as good as normal attacks of the same point cost at causing stun damage – and better if the target's defenses were high. And they were certainly much more likely to stun the opponent. A rifle bullet could be more effective against a bulletproof superhero than an energy blast, directly contrary to the comics. This has been fixed in 6th edition by making the stun multiplier for killing attacks 1d3 instead of 1d6-1. They are still very random, but they are now clearly inferior to normal attacks at causing stun damage, with their advantage being that they cause more body damage. I still find the killing attack rules awkward in various respects, but I think this is an improvement.
  • Also, there is no longer a rule that you have to have at least one point of resistant defense in order to use your non-resistant defense against the stun damage of a killing attack. Now you can always use it. It was silly that there was a "magic cutoff" between having one point of resistant defense and having none – characters who took zero resistant defense were hosing themselves and not getting any points back in return. Now, it must be said that the old rule seemed like a logical way to prevent totally unarmored characters from shrugging off the stun damage from small killing attacks. But the truth is that the rule that you always take at least one STUN for every point of BODY damage already prevents this – and with the new killing attack rules, you don't necessarily expect killing attacks to cause a whole lot of STUN damage anyway.
  • Heroic Action Points. Champions is a very old RPG, and it did not have any form of "hero points" to give the players some sort of narrative control over the luck of the dice, save their characters from disasters, and let them rise to heroic occasions outside of the rather limited-purpose pushing rules. This became a noticeable omission when newer games had hero points, and Hero System didn't, despite the fact that the core of the Hero System has always been the sort of dramatic, cinematic adventures in which hero points are most appropriate. Well, now the Hero System has hero points! They are called Heroic Action Points, and they let you do a variety of things, most notably to retroactively modify your dice rolls. The rule isn't too sophisticated, but I'm not inclined to critique it. It seems like a perfectly workable rule, and it has been added to a game system that never had it before!
  • 4th Edition suggested restricting characters using active point limits on their attacks, and 5th Edition really took this to heart (their sample superteam, the Champions, seemed to have a 12d6 attack for every single character!). I was pleased to see that 6th Edition makes an about face, and has a very realistic discussion of the disadvantages of this approach, how it encourages sameness and discourages creative powers, how not all advantages that increase active points really count as boosting the combat effectiveness, how powers may be more or less powerful than their points indicate, and how the GM may be better off evaluating the real effectiveness of powers.
  • The Hero System has a history of good GM suggestions, and 6th edition definitely keeps up the fine work. Aside from the usual fine material about making campaigns and running games, I was impressed to find sections that explain how certain game mechanics really work and what they do to the game – just the sort of things I write about in my blog. There seems to be real understanding of the implications of various game mechanics, and even explanations of some of the weaknesses of the system and how you might work around them.

Major Changes about which I am positive, with reservations:

  • The characteristic costs were changed around. Some of the old primary characteristics had to be changed due to the removal of the figured characteristic concept, but it is interesting how they changed. STR was not made cheaper at all, despite the fact that it used to give you enormous numbers of figured characteristics. DEX had its cost adjusted appropriately to 2 for the removal of the SPD benefit, but got no discount at all for losing its most important function, providing CV. CON was reduced appropriately reduced to cost 1 after losing its figured characteristics. BODY was adjusted to 1 for losing its Stun benefit. EGO now costs the same amount if you want only the Ego roll and DMCV benefit, but costs more if you also want OMCV. Finally, the cost of REC, END, and Stun was just flat out chopped in half. Why I think this is positive: While it may be odd that no-range STR is as expensive as ranged Blast, Bricks get all sorts of combat maneuvers and benefits that energy projectors don't have, so this seems plausible. DEX is a skill stat just like INT, and also gives you some extra combat benefits, so it is reasonable that it costs more than INT. Mentalists are really, really effective, so charging them more for their EGO is not a bad idea. People rarely bought up REC, END, and Stun very much, and they were a bit pricey compared to Def. That isn't the case anymore! My reservations: Ego rolls are fairly rare, and I always felt EGO was too expensive for non-mentalists, so I think EGO should be cheaper. STR is now more fairly priced for bricks and fantasy warriors, but is now overpriced for characters who don't use it for their combat attacks. Stun was a bit pricey compared to super-efficient point expenditures like increasing your PD, Dex, or STR, but it was actually quite reasonably priced compared to most expenditures, like buying skills or life support, so I'm not all that excited by making it just as dirt cheap as the other optimum ways of increasing your raw combat power.
  • The minimum cost rules are gone, or rather are relegated to a note that the GM can optionally impose whatever minimum costs he thinks are appropriate. This is good because there are many perfectly valid power constructions which require less than the minimum points from a power, and the minimum points rule was just getting in the way. My only reservation is that there are a few cases in which having a power at all gives you some fixed benefit, and now that benefit can be had for really cheap. For instance, 1" of flight lets you walk on air, and 1" of teleport lets you escape from grabs automatically. But the minimum cost rule wasn't the mathematically correct solution to this problem anyway, so this really isn't much of a reservation.
  • The new rules have a number of sidebars about "Toolkitting". These are suggestions for how you might want to change the game to create house rules to address certain problems that might crop up with the regular rules. I think it is great that the game openly admits that its rules may have imperfections or need to be changed based on the situation, and encourages the use of house rules. I'm certainly a big fan of house rules! And I like the suggestions for what to do, many of them are fairly sensible. My only "reservation" is to note that many of the suggestions are pretty vague, and suggesting that you might want to solve a problem is not the same as actually having rules to fix the problem.

Major Changes I am neutral about:

  • The entire system for measuring distance has been changed from "game inches" to meters. Actually, I quite like getting rid of "game inches", that was confusing. But the change could have been to use the term "hexes", and instead they switched totally to "meters". I view this as a stylistic change, neither good and bad. Measuring in hexes is better for tactical combat, measuring in meters is better when you are playing without a map. It is more pleasing to read everything being described in meters, but the tactical rules are still the same underneath and are easier to play with hexes. As a side note, I find it interesting that D&D 4th edition made the exact opposite change – from feet to squares.

There are no major, sweeping changes which I dislike. They seem to have done a pretty good job with 6th Edition!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cooperative Games – Solitaire Games?

I'm very fond of the new style of cooperative board games. I have Pandemic, Lord of the Rings, Ghost Stories, and Vanished Planet. These are games in which the players work together against a nemesis controlled by automatic game rules. A complaint I've sometimes heard from players who aren't fond of this type of game is that they are "just solitaire games". I started analyzing this claim to see what it means, and whether it is true.

A classic solitaire game involves one player against a nemesis controlled by automatic game rules. Sounds pretty similar to a cooperative game so far. Imagine, as a thought experiment, playing an old solitaire game, but instead of one player deciding the moves, having a group of 3 players discuss among themselves what moves to make. I think that if this situation is truly equivalent to a modern cooperative game, that would be the essence of saying a cooperative game is actually a solitaire game. So is a modern cooperative game simply a solitaire game where the moves are decided by committee? If not, what are the differences?

First of all, I have to say that a lot of games really do have a strong "committee solitaire" element, in that the players tend to get together and debate what everyone should be doing. This isn't necessarily a bad thing – it can be fun to have a big discussion about what the best move is for the group as a whole. But it does create a certain sense that you don't control your own character.

Here are some potential differences I can see between a modern cooperative game, and a solitaire game where the moves are decided by committee:

1. The sense that each player identifies with and executes the actions of his or her own character. When playing cooperative games, even when the everyone mutually agrees on what moves everyone else is doing, each person's character has a turn, and the player moves the pawn, draws cards or tiles, rolls dice, or does whatever else is necessary to execute the actions of his or her own character. I think this is sort of the minimum step for making a game seem cooperative instead of solitaire. I tend to remember better the actions of my own character and put together a mental narrative of what happened to my own character during the game, rejoicing in my successful moves, even when I wasn't the person who came up with the idea for the move.

2. A second step beyond this is the degree to which each player personally controls his or her own character. In most cooperative games I've played in, even when there is a lot of group discussion and very strong teamwork, each player ends up with more control over his or her own character than over the other characters. One reason is that the owning player ends up "breaking ties" – if the group can't decide between two reasonable strategies, it isn't actually put to a vote, but rather the owning player decides. Indeed, this isn't a formal decision, but rather the basic process of making group decisions is that each player kibitzes on the other players' turns, and the owning player then chooses what to do. Another aspect of individual control is that some decisions are too minor to bring up for group consensus – it would waste time. So the owning player just makes the decision.

3. This individual control goes further when the game complexity is such that it is hard for each player to totally keep track of the situation of every other player, so the group "delegates" responsibility for controlling each player's character to the owner of that character. I'm thinking of how a government might delegate control of specific jobs to specific people, even when the government retains the right to override any decision. In a cooperative game, even when everyone is mutually agreeing on the best group strategy, each player may be expected to champion his own character, examining his own character's unique situtation in the game, and making his specific tactical needs and capabilities known to the other players. For instance, a player says "I need this resource" or says "Hey, I see a situation here to use the special action card I drew."

4. Players may have different information that they cannot share with each other. When this is true in the game, we reach the point at which the game is clearly no longer identical to a solitaire game, as it can no longer be properly played solitaire. Many cooperative games specify that you cannot show each other your hands, you can only talk about them, or possibly you can only hint about what you have. Although this would make the game non-solitaire, I have to say that in my gaming groups, we don't find this rule appealing and generally throw it out. Apparently we aren't all that concerned about whether we are playing a "solitaire" game, we would much rather work tightly together and not have to worry about self-limiting ourselves by trying to conceal our hands instead of just trying to win the game.

5. Characters having differing side goals, as well as a common goal. This element isn't really present very much in the kind of cooperative games I listed, the purely cooperative games I'm thinking of. There is a different type of cooperative game, in which one or more persons are traitors, but I think of that as a rather different type of game than what I am discussing here. However, in all of the purely cooperative game I listed earlier except Pandemic, there is one personal goal of each character – to stay alive until the end of the game. The players aren't required to try to do this, and you can certainly play a game where everyone ignores such considerations. But it isn't much fun to have your character knocked out of the game early, and everyone playing is aware of that. So each player tries to stay alive, and also to keep the other players alive. This makes the game play a little bit differently than it would if a single player were controlling all the pieces and had no qualms about sacrificing them.

The extent to which the "soft" elements 1-3 have an effect really depends a lot on the social dynamics of the players. If one player is totally dominant and the others all passive, one player can end up analyzing the situation and telling everyone else exactly what to do, and it really becomes a solitaire game. If the players don't communicate much with each other and just do their own thing, it will play very differently from a solitaire game except insofar as everyone has the same goal. I'm envisioning that most gaming groups fall in the middle. Actually, for purposes of my analysis I was ignoring the possibility that players would simply refuse to follow the group consensus, as I don't think the complaint that "cooperative games are just solitaire games" is meant to apply to that play style.

It is interesting to compare the modern cooperative board game with an older type of cooperative game, the roleplaying game. If you ignore the fact that the gamemaster is live rather than controlled by automatic rules, there is a lot of similarity – the players in an RPG are totally cooperating in the style of a cooperative game, at least in roleplaying styles emphasizing heavy teamwork rather than inter-player conflict. Thinking of this style of RPG gaming – where the players are totally focussed on working together to succeed in the mission – what makes it not feel like a solitaire game?

Actually, in the most degenerate case, a roleplaying game really can have a lot of the feel of a solitaire game. This happens when one player is really dominant over the others (and usually expert in the rules), and ends up telling everyone else exactly what to do in order to maximize the chances of party success. But I think this happens to a lesser extent in roleplaying games than cooperative board games because classic RPG's are strong in the points I listed earlier. You certainly identify strongly with your own character in a classic RPG, especially after going through a length character creation process and following your character's progression throughout numerous adventures. And RPG characters can be pretty complex, and what is happening in the game can be pretty complex and involving, so that it is not easy to try to figure out exactly what other people's characters should be doing, even when you are inclined to do so. And once the game starts to involve even a small amount of actual roleplaying, it becomes clear that individual characters have individual motivations which can only be interpreted by the owning player, not by a committee.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

D&D4 Updates Overview – Specific Powers

This is a followup to my previous article, where I gave some overview of general changes made to D&D4 via online updates. Here I'm going over the more specific changes. A number of changes have been made to game balance specific, abusive powers. The number of changes to individual is pretty large, so I'm not going to read and understand them all; I'll just mention those I'd actually noticed myself, or seen or participated in forum discussions about. I was impressed that I could recognize so many of the fixes to powers I'd discussed in the forums, as if they had actually been looking at the feedback and fixing the problems discussed.

Changes to at-will powers are particularly interesting, because they are used so often, and thus may need even better balance than other powers. The cleric's Righteous Brand scaled faster than your level, and became very potent at high level, despite being at at-will power, allowing another person to practically auto-hit; now it has an effect that is equally good at all levels. The tempest fighter's Dual Strike made him seem awfully good compared to a ranger; this was weakened by making it two attacks that must hit different targets, which is a pretty substantial limitation for a melee fighter. The ranger's Careful Strike, which was useless, was made better. That would seem like a good idea, but I'm still not sure it as good as Twin Strike. In any case, it seems to me that Careful Strike just isn't very interesting; when rangers already have Twin Strike to make themselves better at generic damage output, it doesn't seem that interesting to have a second at-will power that just generically increases damage output.

A number of encounter and daily powers have received straightforward balance adjustments. The amazingly good Rain of Blows fighter power was weakened. Stunning Steel was made less strong, so it didn't get two opportunities to stun the opponent. To me, it seemed strong, but not as strong as many other powers that weren't fixed. But perhaps there is a lot of concern with the ability to abuse stunning when using certain builds and fighting solo monsters. One of the first powers fixed was Blade Cascade; it is one of those powers I look at and think, "Doesn't seem all that great when used straight-up, but boy, does it beg to be abused". Spitting Cobra stance allowed enormous numbers of free attacks, which have now been more limited. Dance of Steel was flat out made better. I wonder why this was singled out for that treatment, when so many other disappointingly weak powers have been left unchanged. Maybe it was a misprint?

Some powers allowing surgeless healing were toned down. Unicorn's Touch allowed surgelesss healing as an encounter power, so it was changed to a daily. Spirit of Healing, which seemed to allow a stupendous amount of healing, was toned down. A couple of spells immobilized foes until they both made a save, and you missed your next sustain attack, and thus creating a real possibility the foe could never move for the rest of the fight; these have been corrected. A teleport spell, Maelstrom of Chaos could cause massive damage by teleporting you into the air; they fixed this simply by reducing the distance it could teleport you, to reduce that damage. I was somewhat surprised they didn't make a rule that you have to teleport the foe onto a solid surface;

Some adjustments have been made to Paragon and Epic powers; I haven't paid much attention to high levels myself, but I did notice a couple. The Demigod power to use encounter powers without limit was pretty confusing when combined with utility powers; now it is restricted to attack powers, which seems much more sensible. Arcane Riposte was made better by basing it on Intelligence instead of Dexterity. That is nice, but the power still seems practically useless.

The main power of the Battlerager fighter class was changed totally. I certainly felt that the class was overpowered when I first saw it. But the change notes mentioned the problem was worse than I had realized – that because the class had a sort of shield to reduce damage, they were practically immune to minions.

Magic items with encounter powers are much, much better than those with daily powers, because you aren't limited by your total number of daily magic items you can personally use. The Adventurer's Vault balance on many items with encounter powers didn't seem to recognize that, making such powers awfully tempting. Many of these were fixed, such as Swiftshot Weapon, and Tigerclaw Gauntlets. Interestingly, though, it seems to me that the fixes were mainly focussed on items that one can carry multiple of. I think the concern was not so much with how good encounter powers are, but with the abusive potential of carrying a dozen items with encounter powers and using them all. Reagents were somewhat limited for a similar reason; high-level characters could buy limitless amounts of low-level reagents and use them on every single attack.

The Quickcurse Rod was an example of an item which had an encounter power that was still effective when you reached a very high level. You could abuse this by getting a dozen of them and running through them with Quickdraw. This was fixed by requiring you to actually attack with the item in order to use its power.

Rod of Reaving was an item that allowed you to auto-kill minions without a hit roll. It was fixed, but only because it combo'ed with another item to let you kill vast hordes of minions instantly.

I don't really use the mount rules, but I noticed that the Giant Lizard had the most amazing mount power, allowing massive numbers of extra attacks; that power was fixed.

One item fixed which I had noticed was impressive was the Veteran's Armor. Not only was the power great, but it was cheap. Also fixed was the Healer's Sash, and a couple of at-will weapon enchantments – Bloodclaw and Reckless. The one thing I notice here is that although these powers were too strong compared to the others, they could actually let you make some fun characters. One of the themes of D&D4 is that the magic item powers are pretty weak, in order to make the feel of the characters come mostly from race and class. It could be fun making a character who was totally different because they had an "extreme" magic item. However, in D&D4 the emphasis is on the idea that anyone can have any item they want, so it causes problems to have magic items that everyone would want to have.

Various monsters were adjusted. A number of monsters whose attacks were too weak were made more reasonable early on, like the Hill Giant. The insanely mighty Needlefang Drake swarm was made less sick; I have commented before about that. I actually was involved in an obscure little thread on how the Magic Crossbow Turret was an usually potent trap for its level, and was amused to see that it was toned down.

It is interesting that the Fey Crocodile's swallow power was changed. I had noticed when reading it that it was a little out-of-sync with the general design of D&D4 in that it restricted what kind of weapons could be used to break out, and thus potentially would make characters who use the "wrong" weapons incapable of properly escaping. That would be totally appropriate with earlier versions of D&D, but seemed out of place in D&D4. It now was changed to use only "basic strikes", which is in keeping with the general balance philosophy of D&D4.

P.S. The July Updates have come out, so I thought I'd append some comments on that. When I was noticing that Righteous Brand was fixed, in the back of my mind I thought it strange that Lead the Attack, which at epic level let the entire party auto-hit for the entire encounter, wasn't fixed. Well, what do you know, it was fixed. Another bit of oddly-scaling weirdness that was fixed was Improved Armor of Faith; no longer does it give Avengers huge armor bonuses at epic level. Bless and Shield the Faith were changed from standard to minor actions. They were sort of wimpy before, now they seem amazingly good for mere level 2 utility powers. The astonishingly scary Legion's Hold spell was weakened. Free attacks were restricted to one per round, apparently they were having trouble with some sort of recursive combos (I don't know what they are).

The rogue power tumble was improved from letting the rogue shift half speed to letting him shift his full speed, in order to let the rogue "reliably gain combat advantage." I thought the rogue gained combat advantage pretty easily already, and that shifting half your speed is almost always enough to flank the opponents anyway. And it seems odd to imply that this power is practically required to be taken in order to be a good rogue.

Magic Missile was totally changed to be an auto-hit power just like in the old days. I suppose this is a good thing in terms of making the wizard's somewhat wimpy single target at-will attack more impressive. Interesting that they are putting in the updates, not only game balance and rules fixes, but total redesigns of powers as well.

Finally, the recommended damage values were changed. Interesting that it is the same as the old value at 1st level, but gets higher and higher compared to the old values as you gain in level. Seems good to me, damage values certainly seemed pretty low at high level before. Actually, they still seem pretty low, the recommended damage values still seem to go up more slowly than the hit points and healing abilities of the characters.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

D&D4 Updates Overview - General

I've been impressed at how Wizards of the Coast has issued online updates to correct issues with D&D 4th Edition. The question of issuing rules changes is always a tricky one. On the one hand, it means the rules are constantly changing, and your books you purchased soon becomes obsolete. On the other hand, it allows the rules to be constantly perfected, rather than having mistakes be carved in stone, making the game become slowly more and more obsolescent. As a lover of game design, I prefer the game to be updated and improved.

They seem to have changed their update philosophy. When the game was first released, there seemed to be no sign they would correct any rules imbalances, as they didn't seem to give much feedback. Then they started issuing fixes to badly worded rules and gross game balances. Recently they seem to have become more aggressive, really trying to solve game balance issues, as if they were a MMORPG.

Since I'll need to explain the rules changes to my players and friends, I decided to call attention to the rules changes I think are most significant, and what I think of them. Since there are a lot of changes, I'm concentrating in this first article on the more general rules changes and major racial/class feature changes. A lot of these changes were made in the recent May update, but I'm not restricting myself to those.

An extensive change in May was to change the tieflings racial power to some quite different. Instead of getting a bonus to their next counterattack after being wounded, they instead get automatic fire damage on the attacker. This is certainly a lot more potent than the old Infernal Wrath, which I considered to be a rather minor racial power. The other tiefling racial powers seemed pretty decent. I suppose the tieflings were not one of the more powerful races, but I really don't know why they decided to make such a major change.

Zone and Aura attacks no longer have the restriction that the damage they cause isn't cumulative. On the plus side, this is good from a game balance perspective. Before, if you had two creatures with damaging auras (say, 2 howling hags), the second creature was clearly not worth as many points as the first, because you could only take damage from one of the auras. It meant that one howling hag was a pretty scary addition to the fight, but a sisterhood of howling hags was pretty ineffective. Really, if you were a monster, you wanted to hang out with some totally different monster – having a fire aura and a cold aura together was a deadly combination, rather than cancelling out as you might expect.

On the other hand, this change doesn't necessarily improve game play - the GM can always make encounters with multiple identical aura creatures a little tougher to compensate, and you end up with an interesting tactical problem that killing one of them doesn't stop the aura. Also, the game is still chock full of things that don't stack, anyway. It is still the case that monsters with similar ongoing damage don't stack well. And creatures with dazing auras still don't stack. So I'm not sure why it was so important to issue a change to just how damaging zones and auras work.

The clerical power Healer's Lore was weakened so that it only applies to healing that spends a healing surge; the stated reason is to "reduce the potency of surgeless healing, such as astral seal". This seems like a good change, because many of the clerical powers to which it applied seemed more balanced without it, and adding Healer's Lore to a small amount of healing boosts it massively.

However, this did make me notice that I hadn't paid too much attention to the new clerical powers in Divine Power, such as astral seal. It always appeared to me that an unstated design premise of D&D4 was that healing that does not require a healing surge must always be a daily power. This is necessary to fit into the design of the healing surge system. The rule that healing requires use of healing surges gives you a resource that can only be restored by an extended rest. This means that, in an adventure with time pressure, the damage you take from a fight has meaning, if you take too much damage over multiple fights you will be forced to take an extended rest. Allowing surgeless healing that is still daily doesn't change this, it is still a resource that needs an extended rest to recharge. But if you allow surgeless healing with an at-will power, then you can forget the healing surges almost entirely and bypass this aspect of the game.

Now, astral seal comes with the limitation that you can only use it in combat, so normally you can't use it for unlimited healing. But allowing this sort of power creates an incentive for perverse tactics, like intentionally leaving a monster alive but helpless so you can beat on it until you heal. So it is puzzling that they removed the unspoken prohibition on non-daily surgeless healing.

The Aid Another action was fixed. Before, it required a check against DC 10, regardless of level, which made aiding easier (indeed, virtually automatic) at higher levels. This was too easy, and violated the general D&D principal of making things scale regularly with level. Now the DC is 10 + ½ level, and if the check fails, the aid gives a -1 bonus instead of a +2 bonus. It also mentions specifically that the DM should sometimes limit the number of creatures that can give aid. These changes make the actual skill level of the creature giving the aid meaningful and reduce the extraordinary ease of aiding another, so I think they are clearly an improvement.

The dominated condition was reworded to not make the dominated creature dazed, but has about the same effect. I'm sure there was a reason for the change, but I don't know what it was. Similarly, the restrained condition was reworded to not be based on immobilized, and to prevent even forced movement. This is cute, but I'm not sure why it was done. I think it is a fine rule, but I usually figure that published rules shouldn't be changed unless the new rule is a substantial improvement, and I don't really see how this qualifies.

Forced teleportation now gives a saving throw if you attempt to teleport a foe into the air or into hindering terrain. Seems like a good rule for balance. Also, a peculiar interaction with immobilized/restrained was changed. In general, a huge change between D&D3 and D&D4 was that effects are now controlled by game rules rather than trying to apply real world logic. So sleep spells work on the undead, poisons can slow you down in terms of movement without inhibiting your fighting ability, pole arms can be used at close range even when the monster is bear-hugging you, and so on. Some people didn't like the change, but it was consistent – no need for arbitrary GM interpretation of what works and what doesn't, the game rules say exactly what works. But teleportation would cancel being immobilized or restrained if it was a physical effect, but not if it was an effect on your mind or body. These terms were not defined in the game. The new rules say teleportation cancels being immobilized or restrained if it is an effect location in a specific square, such as a monster grab. I'm still not sure this is perfectly well clarified, but it is a big step in that direction.

The wizard's Orb of Imposition was totally nerfed; it now only gives a penalty to the next saving throw a monster makes against an effect. I feel the problem with the Orb was that it got proportionately better as you gained in levels, plus it was better when used on more powerful high-level status effects, plus you could combine it with other saving-throw penalty effects. When all of that combined, a high-level Orb wizard could totally neutralize a monster forever with a good attack. The change is good for game balance, it certainly fixes that. But I always felt that the Orb was conversely rather weak and disappointing at low levels, when the effect was weak and there weren't many choices to combine it with. Now I really feel like the power is disappointing at low levels.

Skill Challenges were changed so that "higher complexity" (longer) challenges are also harder. This is good and bad. Many sections of the original DMG rules implied that higher complexity challenges were harder to succeed at, when in fact they were not. So the new change fixes that problem. On the other hand, it isn't clear why a lengthier skill challenge should be harder to succeed at; it seems more intuitive to be able to decide the difficulty separately from deciding the length.

The Avenger's Armor of Faith ability was modified to work only with cloth armor, to make sure they wore cloth armor instead of upgrading to better armor. This is sensible, but what seems funny to me is that it was changed now instead of being that way all along. If the intent was for the class to wear cloth armor, why clearly specify that the Armor of Faith works with "light armor"? It seemed obvious to me the first time I saw the class that they would certainly want to spent the feat to get leather armor.

In the original Adventurer's Vault book, double weapons were introduced, and were so clearly superior to actually wielding two hand weapons that they supplanted that idea entirely, and made classes using two weapons, such as melee rangers and tempest fighters, much more effective. These have since been toned down to be less powerful, which seems good. The urgrosh changes were a bit odd. Before, the urgrosh was clearly superior to most of the other weapons, as it did the same damage if you attacked with both ends, but was better on attacks that only required attacking with the main end. Now the urgrosh has been made even better relative to the other weapons, but the two ends count as different weapon groups, making it harder to get bonuses from Weapon Expertise and similar feats. Odd, but I guess it is sort of appropriate for it to be the "most superior but hardest to use" of the double weapons.

The charge rule was clarified to work the way I had been playing it, that every square of movement during a charge must bring you closer to the opponent. The mount rules were rewritten, and the rules for move skills were clarified. The rules for flight were simplified even further, so that flying monsters don't have to worry about moving around in order to stay in the air.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Running Away is Hard

I was recently reminded of something I've long found true in most roleplaying and wargames – running away from a combat is very difficult, much more difficult than it is in the source material.

There are really three sorts of situations I'm thinking of where the players might run away from a tactical combat. They might run away as soon as they see the monsters, they might run away as soon as they realize how powerful the monsters are, or they might run away near the end of a difficult combat once they realize they are going to lose. There are many other situations where the players might decide to flee due to story reasons or interesting complications in the encounter, but I'm sticking to the basics here.

For this article, I'm going to concentrate on the third situation, running away during a pitched battle as an alternative to being defeated by the enemies, as this is the most problematic time to retreat.

The primary reason that running away is difficult in roleplaying games is the problem of fallen comrades. In order for the players to be losing badly enough to consider retreat, they generally have to have taken a lot of damage and lost significant fighting strength. Since damage is not dealt at exactly the same rate to all characters, this usually means at least one of the characters has been knocked unconscious. This is a severe problem, as unconscious characters cannot run away.

Another character could try to pick up the unconscious character and run away, but this is usually quite difficult to do. How difficult depends on the game rules, but usually it is going to take a whole turn for someone to move over and pick up the fallen character – and you can count yourself fortunate if the game rules do not then give you a movement and/or combat penalty for carrying someone as big as you are.

In games with healing, you might be able to revive the unconscious character. But if you are losing badly, there is a good chance you have already used up all of your healing powers much earlier in the battle, while attempting to keep everyone fighting and maximize your chances of winning.

However, even if you do heal your ally, there is a good chance he is still surrounded by the same deadly enemies who defeated him in the first place, and they may just do so again. And if an ally picked up your unconscious comrade, he may go down too. After all, if the fight is that tough, he is probably pretty thrashed too, and now the opponents are getting uncontested attacks against weakened characters. There could potentially be a domino effect in which the whole party would be trashed trying to save one character.

To go further into the issue of being surrounded, it can very easily happen that in an interesting and well-roleplayed combat, one of the bolder characters has pierced the "enemy lines" and is flanking the front ranks or attacking the vulnerable back ranks. Or the desperate fight has broken down into a wild melee, and one character is separated from the others. In either case, once a retreat is called, the character now finds it is pretty tough to get out with enemies in between him and the rest of the group.

Worse, the combat may involve characters simply being in situations which specifically prevent them from moving. One of the characters might be encased in webbing, or hobbled by leg wounds, or grappled by a giant bear.

Even if the players can get into the situation where they are grouped up and trying to run away as a unit, they aren't out of the woods. Now the characters have to either outrun the enemies to a point that they can't be attacked anymore, "lose" the enemies (in a car chase, for instance), or move the fight to a point where the monsters won't follow.

If you can't plain outdistance the enemies, the tactical nature of the combat really becomes a problem. In a typical tactical combat system, the battle map can be seen very plainly, and the movement of all units is very plainly specified. Every time the characters move, the enemies can simply move to follow. A common strategy is to switch to some sort of non-tactical chase rules at this point, because if you don't, there often isn't much opportunity to shake off pursuers on a tactical map.

A further reason for this is the fact that tactical combat often has a very short time frame. In many games an entire combat takes place in less than one minute of game time. This means that if the enemies can continue to attack the charaters during the chase, there just isn't enough time for the characters to get anywhere that the opponents wouldn't want to follow. There may not be enough time to run from one street corner to another, much less to have a complicated chase.

So the characters are going to need to run away in a fashion that prevents the enemies from attacking them efficiently during the chase. Whether this is possible really comes down to the precise rules of the game in question.

If the game rules say that you can move full speed and attack, running out of range is pretty much hopeless unless all the PC's are faster than most of the enemies. But in the typical mixed party of adventurers, at least one character is going to be slow enough for the main body of the enemies to catch.

Many games have the rule that you can move twice as far when you are not attacking. This rule is what would seem to give a real fair shot at escape. But they may also have rules that circumvent this. Two games I'm thinking of, Champions and 4th edition D&D, both have "charge" rules that let you move at full speed and still attack, at least with melee combat.

Even if the PC's are fast, they may not be able to open the range fast enough without the aid of favorable terrain. In a game system with decent weapon accuracy at range, there is practically no chance of escaping beyond bow or gun range before being mowed down. If the enemies have range, you need to find terrain to block them off – and given the compressed time scale of tactical combat mentioned above, that terrain had better be really, really close by.

Furthermore, even if the characters are all conscious and all faster than the opponents and running away such that the enemies only get one or two shots, we return to the fact that if the players have decided to flee from a tough combat, they are probably pretty badly wounded. In most games, a lot can happen in one round of combat, and the process of running away doesn't give you any better defenses. So even one or two volleys from the enemies can wreak havoc with the wounted party, defeating or hindering one or more of them so they can't properly escape.

Finally, some notes about a couple particular games.

In Champions, you can move at full speed and still perform a Move-Through, potentially making escape difficult. However, a majority of opponents cannot effectively perform this maneuver, so that is not the primary problem when escaping. More pertinent is that the extremely varied nature of superheroes and supervillains means that even though you may be able to move twice as fast when escaping, it is quite possible for a character without movement powers to be half as fast as everyone else, and thus be incapable of escaping. There is some relief by the fact that the really fast characters are probably more than strong enough to pick up the slow people and escape at full speed. But Champions combat is also pretty violent, if you don't have the right powers the chance of being clobbered while attempting to return to the fight to pick up a fallen comrade is pretty high. The good thing about Champions is the genre; since the comics say that heroes get captured all the time, losing fights is not a big deal.

In 4th edition D&D, a fleeing character can take two run actions per turn and escape from a typical range 10 monster in a pretty short period of time. Escaping from a melee monster is a different matter, however. Some of the players are likely to be slowed by wearing heavy armor, and a melee monster than is even one point higher speed than the character can run/charge and keep pace while attacking every turn. The attack is at a penalty, but not enough of a penalty to be ineffective when you make it every turn against a foe who doesn't fight back. And all of the other monsters who can't do this can at least double run to keep up and make sure the party can't stop and fight. Actually, though, the situation for running away is much worse than this, because of the opportunity attack rules. Once you are next to a melee monster, trying to run away at full speed will provoke a free attack from the monster. You can run away at reduced speed to avoid this, but then you really aren't getting away from the monsters.

I am try to recall situations in games I've played in which tactical escape was actually possible. One time was in Car Wars, when one enemy car was defeating two trikes. The two trikes split up, the enemy followed one, and that trike was specially equipped with massive rocket boosters that let it pull out of range before being destroyed. In Champions, there were a couple classic fights in which our party was outmatched and called a retreat, but we soon discovered that retreat was tactically impossible while the enemies were still around, so we started fighting super-efficiently and abusing as many game rules as possible in order to get rid of the pursuers, and ended up winning the battle instead. But I can't seem to recall a successful tactical retreat in a roleplaying game.

Even my successful example shows that if you want to realistically escape from a tactical combat, what you need is some sort of "Deus Ex Machina" power, some sort of extremely powerful effect that allows you to escape from combat. In some cases, the effect has to be so powerful that you wouldn't allow it if it was usable to win combats rather than simply escape them. Something like "When the characters say the mystic word, the entire party and all of their possessions are instantly transported back to their home." Now, that's a way to escape from a combat!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Hybrid Classes

The idea I thought was really cool in the Player's Handbook 3 was the idea of hybrid classes. Basically, this allows 4th edition characters to imitate 1st edition dual-classed characters, where you choose two classes as part of character creation and are equally good at both classes. In 4th edition, each of the two classes is called a "hybrid" class. You get all of the powers are both hybrid classes, but each hybrid class has only a portion of the powers of a full class. Numeric values like hit points and defense bonuses are, in general, half as much as a full class, so the final character is more or less the average of the two classes. Hybrid characters have the same number of total powers, but must split the powers within each category between the two classes.

An additional interesting concept is that for strikers, and some defenders, they came up with the idea of tying certain class features to class powers, so that hybrid strikers can only use their primary "striker ability" to pump up the powers derived from that striker class.

Here are a list of things I thought were pretty cool about the hybrid classes:

1. The idea of constructing specific half classes for every class seems really clever for game balance purposes. Instead of having to make some sort of generic rules and hope that they aren't totally unbalanced when applied to specific classes, you can craft each hybrid class to be half as powerful as a full class, and design the powers in that hybrid class to work well when combined with another class, while still having the freedom to design the powers in the main class without worrying so much about whether they will be balanced in a multi-classed character.

2. It is clever that the construction of 4th edition D&D, based on a common level progression concept for every class and bonus powers based on class, really works well with the hybrid concept. Each class can just have half the bonuses of the full class, and the level progression bonuses are either owned by the character as a whole, or divvied up between the two classes in a natural way.

3. Tying class features to powers makes the design of hybrid classes much simpler. Instead of having to figure out how to cut a feature in half (and many features don't really have a natural way to be cut in half), you just give the full feature and restrict it to combining with half of the hybrid character's powers.

4. Tying class features to powers seems very entertaining if both hybrid classes have tied powers. In particular, I like the idea of a fighter/rogue who can choose each round whether to "lock down" the enemy with his fighter attack, or backstab him with his rogue attack. It adds an interesting tactical dimension to the simpler alternative of a character who tries to both backstab and lock down the enemy, both with half effect.

Things that are not so great:

1. Tying class features to powers is cool when both classes have a tied feature, but is awkward when one does and the other doesn't. If you have, say, a striker/leader, you have a striker ability that can only be used with your striker powers, and a once per encounter healing power that is not tied to your powers in any way. This is OK with your encounter and daily powers; you will get to use the striker ability on about half of these (more like 2/3 in practice if you put your "odd" picks in the striker class). But with the at-will powers, you have two at-wills you can pick from, but one has a big bonus the other one doesn't. So it is tempting to use that at-will power an awful lot and skip the other one, which makes the character less interesting rather than more interesting.

2. Not only is having only one class with a tied feature less interesting, it is unfortunately also more efficient. A striker/striker can use only one striker power at a time, but a striker/leader can use a full striker power every round (abeit with somewhat less flexibility), and a half leader power on top of that.

3. What to do with armor is, and always has been, a tricky question. I really don't see a simple, elegant way to do this in 4th edition rules. I guess my best idea is to average the number of armor feats each class gets, then let the character buy extra feats without the statistic prerequisites until he reaches the armor type of the better class. Anyway, what D&D4 chooses to do is to use the weaker armor type of the two classes, then allow the character to spend his one and only hybrid talent to get the better armor type instead. This actually seems like a pretty decent way to solve the problem given the fact that averaging armor types just doesn't fit cleanly into the system.

4. The way that classes are tied very tightly to certain statistics in D&D4 is not very friendly to hybrid classes. With single classes this is relatively harmless, since you just pick your class first, then take whatever statistics it requires. But an awful lot of hybrid class combinations that might sound cool require incompatible statistics and just aren't practical (especially at high level, when you are going to fall seriously behind if you try to advance more than 2 statistics).

Each hybrid class has a "half-powered" role feature. The role feature is what gives strikers extra damage, defenders the ability to mark and tie down opponents, and leaders healing. Note that, in many cases, half of a role feature is more than 50% as good.

To see this clearly, consider whether a hybrid character with two classes of the same role is better or worse than a single class character.

A hybrid leader/leader has a slightly better healing ability than a regular leader. This is because, although he gets the same 2 healings per encounter, he can choose to use both on the same round. However, at 16th level he becomes worse, as he does not gain a third healing.

A hybrid striker/striker would have a very useful flexibility advantage over a regular striker, in that he can choose the better striker ability for each situation. As many of the striker abilities are situational and don't always work, this is a significant benefit. A rogue/ranger, for instance, could use hunter's quarry/twin strike whenever he was unable to arrange a sneak attack. The hybrid character does lose the ability to gain striker damage on basic attacks, but that doesn't seem a big enough penalty to offset the flexibility advantage.

Controllers don't have "role features" in 4th edition D&D. Presumably, in order to be game balanced, they have better powers. So, in effect, a controller's role feature is always "baked" into his powers, just like the role feature of a hybrid striker. However, a controller/controller doesn't seem too exciting; after all, all controllers have two at-will powers from a substantial list, the only difference with a controller/controller is that the two powers come from different lists. This just isn't as exciting as having two large striker powers with very different activation criteria. This is a good time, though, to consider the case of a half-controller, half-something else. In this case the one controller power starts to seem pretty good. A controller/striker, for instance, really would have two very different at-will powers, each with a very different situation they are good in, and would thus seem better than either a controller or a striker (in terms of the role feature).

The fighter hybrid has a role feature tied to class powers, and thus works like the striker. The other defenders work in a variety of different ways that are hard to describe in a generic way; each power has to be considered separately whether it is half as good as the full power, or more. My impression is that most are more than half as good as the full power.

The upshot of all of this is that a hybrid striker class feature seems rather better than half a striker class feature, and the same is generally true with controller and defender, but not with a hybrid leader class feature, so hybrid leaders seem to need more other stuff to really be equal. I guess the one saving grace of a hybrid leader is the ability to use your one healing per encounter to revive the real leader; but it seems like there are a lot of other, easier ways to get this ability.

Looking at the game balance as a whole, the advantage of a hybrid character is having better role features that a standard character, and more flexibility in selecting powers. The numeric values will be essentially comparable, except for minor things like having to round down, and the fact that the hybrid characters have one less skill. The hybrid character may, or may not, have inferior armor, and may, or may not, have more difficulty choosing optimum statistics. The real balancing factor is that a regular character will generally have two or more strong class features which are better than most feats; the hybrid character generally has few or none of these class features, but can get one (and only one) by spending a feat. This seems to me like a good overall balance, steering in the conservative direction of making the hybrid characters a bit weak, to make sure they don't overshadow the traditional classes.

Then there is the question of the balance of specific hybrid classes, whether they are strong or weak, looked at purely by themselves. That sort of thing is always an interesting exercise for me. There are two ways to do this – analyze each hybrid class from the ground up, or compare it to half of the real class. The latter is far easier, so I will do that.

My impression is that the typical hybrid class keeps a half class feature which is better than half as good as a full class feature, and loses two strong class features and half of the remaining features (if any).

Avenger: Typical half striker feature. Loses two strong features, Avenger's Censure and Channel Divinity. Loses Armor of Faith as well, which leaves the Avenger with pretty poor armor no matter what he combos with, instead of his usual fairly strong armor. Seems harsh.

Barbarian: Typical half striker feature (baked into the at-will powers). Loses Feral Might, which is really two features in one – seems tempting to get it back with the Hybrid Talent. Loses Barbarian Armored Agility, but this may not be too bad if the character can end up qualifying to buy a feat to wear heavy armor. Keeps the Rampage feature. Seems favorable.

Bard: Half healing power. Loses strong features Bardic Training, Bardic Virtue. Also loses minor features Multiclass Versatility, Song of Rest, Words of Friendship. Does get one extra skill, just like a full bard, and keeps the little Skill Versatility feature. Seems unfavorable.

Cleric: Typical half leader feature. Keeps the strong Healer's Lore feature, but effectively only half of it, since it only applies to cleric powers in the first place. Loses the strong Channel Divinity feature and the ritual caster feat. Can only get back half of the Channel Divinity feature. Seems OK.

Druid: Loses 3 decent powers - a third at-will power, +1 speed, and ritual casting. Seems OK. The loss of the Primal Aspect may make Con-based hybrid Druids less practical.

Fighter: Has a striker-like half defender feature. Loses the strong Combat Superiority and Fighter Weapon Talent features. Doesn't lose a skill, like a normal fighter. Has very nice armor proficiencies which will probably be lost in most hybrid combinations. Seems OK.

Invoker: Loses the strong Channel Divinity power, plus Ritual Casting. Keeps the pretty good Covenant Manifestation power. Seems favorable.

Paladin: The Divine Challenge defender feature does about half damage or a little more, and is clearly rather better than half as good. While the damage is halved, it is every bit as difficult for the monster to avoid the damage. So either it inconveniences the monster just as much to have to attack the paladin, or the monster takes damage more often. The paladin loses two strong class features, Channel Divinity and Lay on Hands. These are pretty good, and the paladin is likely to lose his massive armor as well. On the plus side, the loss of Lay on Hands may allow the paladin to skip the Wisdom statistic entirely. Seems OK at best. On the other hand, the Divine Challenge is exceptionally easy to abuse with a ranged character, so who knows, maybe the hybrid Paladin is quite deadly.

Ranger: Standard half striker feature. The ranger has three mediocre class features – Prime Shot, a free feat, and a free skill. The hybrid keeps the free skill, and only loses two weak class features. The ranger seems like a pretty sweet hybrid.

Rogue: Standard striker half feature. Loses the strong Rogue Tactics and First Strike powers, plus the ability to fight well with daggers and shurikens. Seems OK.

Shaman: Standard leader half feature. Loses the strong Spirit Boon and opportunity attack powers. Keeps the Speak with Spirits power. Seems OK.

Sorceror: Standard striker half feature. Loses a couple nifty but not all that strong powers. Seems pretty favorable.

Warden: The half defender power affects one adjacent enemy instead of all of them – this certainly seems more than half as good. Loses the strong Font of Life power. Also loses Guardian Might, which is odd, as this is a small power combined with an AC feature needed to balance the class. So you have to find a way to get a good armor class, which may or may not be difficult, depending on what other class you choose. So it is hard to say how favorable the Warden is.

Warlock: Standard half striker feature. Loses the strong Pact Boon and Shadow Walk powers, and the Prime Shot power. Ouch. The poor warlock never seemed that great to begin with, and just gets to keep the weak striker power and loses all the cool warlock stuff. Seems weak.

Warlord: Standard half leader power. Loses the very strong command presence feature, but keeps the solid combat leader feature. Not sure if this is good or bad.

Wizard: Loses two lesser features – ritual casting and spellbook – and keeps Cantrips. Loses the one primary class feature, Arcane Implement Mastery, but can get it back. Seems pretty good.