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.