Monday, November 21, 2011

The Problem with Skill Checks

I don't like skill checks. In fact, I don't really like skills either. To me, skills are part of that glorious part of roleplying that is tertiary to actual play, but essential to character development. That is, it feels that, by having rules based access to skill checks, all you do is prevent characters who otherwise have good reason to have those skills from having those skills.

To me, skills feel like something that's not part of the challenge, but rather part of the narrative. To be part of the challenge, it really has to be something where players make active informed decisions. And when your skills boil down to "I have X% chance of doing this," that element doesn't really apply.

Skills, in my mind, should not be part of the challenge of the game. They are pass fail. That's not to say that your character may or may not play differently based on what skills they have. But rather, it's to say that if you distant skills from gameplay, then it doesn't matter what skills a character has, it's not going to be gamebreaking. It may break the *narrative,* but I think it's unwise to try and shoehorn protections against the destruction of narrative structure into the game-this is the same reason why I feel rituals, rather than being explicitly codified, should be vague and subject to the DM's whims. It's less about challenge and more about narrative.

That being said, I absolutely love skill powers. A DM can completely ignore skill checks altogether, yet skills can still be a useful part of a character's build. I feel like there's something to that. In the same way that you're technically permitted to select as many backgrounds as you want, but only get one background benefit, I feel that the same should apply to skills: you get as many as you want, but when it comes to gameplay, you gain one bonus skill power.

I'm not going into specifics here.

One other issue with skills is that there's an implication that because it's a d20 roll, a high enough roll should be able to pull off any task. So you get skill monkeys with +50 to diplomacy, expecting to talk the main villain out of their plot. It's a problem with narrative. Players feel entitled to their skills, because it's part of their build. The point is, that's where the problem lies: you shouldn't have to sacrifice your gameplay for the sake of your narrative. Your narrative should be able to flow without sacrifice.

But I'm rambling a bit more than usual.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Problem of Entitlement

Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to think arguments surrounding people being "entitled" are ridiculous. Unfortunately, when it comes to 4th Edition, I think the issue of entitlement really is a strong one.

Look at the off-line character builder. When Wizards of the Coast decided (rightly or wrongly) that they weren't going to offer everyone a permanent access to all the game's rules (up to a certain point) for the cost of a 1 month subscription, they pulled it. And there was backlash. A lot of backlash. People felt entitled to it.

But, even ignoring Wizard's concerns (that range from digital piracy to just how much they're really charging for content), entitlement is what Essentials is all about. Rather, it's about fighting that entitlement. Players feel entitled to artifacts. Players feel entitled to Slidespam builds for wizards. Players feel entitled to this and that.

If you take a look at an Essentials Only game-rarity rules, no pre-essentials classes, etc-you really don't see that. And surprise surprise, there's complaints about how the content sucks. Because it doesn't live up to the pre-existing expectations. And that's intentional: the game can't meet those expectations.

Wizards is releasing a lot less crunch, and a lot more fluff these days. And that's partially because it's easier for them to catch up with that much. But in the current market, I ask all players of the game: If you hadn't been given so much before, would you really think what you're getting now is inadequate?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Not Exactly Top Tier

So apparently Sly Flourish is a popular site for Dungeon Mastering advice on 4th edition. They realized the same things about solo monsters I did, though taking a bit less of an issue by issue systemic approach to it.

I don't qualify for their top blogs, as I haven't been releasing posts weekly (inspiration is so hard to find~) but it's worth checking out, at

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Problem with Published Monsters

It's always been tacitly understood that different parties have access to different resources. So, if the party "just happens" to have Mass Resistance in store, then they can make a battle become utterly boring. Alternatively, you can design monsters that are basically impossible without Mass Resistance. This actually works if you're tailoring monsters for the party-it rewards players for their choices without threatening a TPK (because you know they have that choice). The problem, of course, is that any such monster inherently has to be ad hoc.

It's rather like having trolls that are entirely impossible to kill without fire or acid damage. If the party has access to fire or acid damage, there's no issue, but if you run such a troll against an all-melee party with nothing but sticks and stones, you'd better make sure you drop some torches on them.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Not Joking Anymore

You know, originally, Fifth Edition Now was just a way of saying that things need to change. I wasn't really suggesting we release 5th edition. But the more I think about it, the more I think the game really does require a few fundamental changes that ultimately I don't think can be accomplished within the 4th edition framework.

It's unfortunate, but perhaps it really has become time for us to launch into 5th edition. Over the coming days, weeks, centuries, whatever, I will be explaining some basic frameworks going forwards.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Defenses are like a Dollar Store...

Price-point marketing. You look at a demand curve, and it's either a straight line, or convex. But you think of it as Price-Pointing, the line kind of bumps, with peaks and valleys.

Defenses are like that.

When you hit 21st level, BOOM! Improved Defenses (and its ilk) suddenly increase by one. Your ability scores are all (well, the important ones) even again. You're in reach for +5 armor, which for heavier armors can lead to yet another +1 to AC.

There are lots of "Price Points" for defenses, and some of them are spread out, making it look like a straight line from a distance. But if you zoom in, you can really see the texture of the curve.

I just thought that was something interesting.

Friday, September 9, 2011

How Plato Speaks of Dungeons and Dragons

I recently had a conversation with a friend who, by all means, radically diverges with me on what he think makes for optimal game design. His criticism of my manner was to suggest "There's no Plato's Perfect Form of Dungeons and Dragons."

Which pretty much sums up his opposition to my position-the position that, there is indeed a theoretical "best" or "perfect" model, and that the purpose of game balance discussions is to move us closer in that direction.

Of course, there was no argument as to why there is no Plato's Perfect Form of Dungeons and Dragons. But to be fair, that would have been a lengthy philosophical conversation in and of itself.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A change in tone

You may have noticed the change in header. 5eNow hasn't particularly had anything going for it to distinguish itself from other Dungeons and Dragons blogs. It doesn't have the hard-hitting numbers like Square-Fireballs, or the ... ... ... actually, I don't currently follow anyone else's Dungeons and Dragons related blog.

So, I'm going full acid damage. Expect to see more complaining about people I disagree with in a totally unjustified and hateful-but still utterly rational (and presumably correct?)-manner. Why? Well, everyone has to have a hobby.

I've already unconsciously undergone this transformation (as you'll notice in my Fallacies posts) so I figure, why fight the tide.

Not a Fallacy: Just Plain Wrong

In response to "minor action attack powers have changed the balance of the game:"

"Changed it, despite having been there from the start."

Though it's technically true that Dragon Breath existed in the good old PHB1, this was not a crowd pleaser at the time. With low damage, low area of effect, and a moderate attack bonus, it was by no means the level of gamebreaking you see with rogues who take Low Slash up through 30th level (and Snap Shot, and Tumbling Strike, and you get the idea).

And all those other minor action attack powers? All of them, with only one exception (unless the compendium is lying to me, which is possible) are daily powers. The one exception? Daggermaster's 11th level encounter power. Paragon Paths have often been the source of some of the best (and worst) encounter attack powers, but when coupled with paragon paths with bad to moderate features, this tends to even out-they don't crowd out options in the same way general class powers do. Moreover, Daggermaster's attack power A.) Requires a dagger (low damage dice) and B.) Requires that you have critically hit that round. It is altogether still inferior to Low Slash.

As for the dailies, well, certainly a lot of those are as overpowered as anything, I'll grant you that. There have been a number of options even from the PHB1 that have dominated the charts. But hey, they got around to nerfing Rain of Blows pretty quickly. We can go back to "It's Only a Daily" for why daily powers shouldn't have nigh infinite power, but it's clear that the ability to access multiple minor action powers, and to easily access immediate action powers, was initially very restricted (rangers were the only ones to have Immediate Action attacks back then, excluding a single 27th level Paladin attack).

Now, I'm not saying the Player's Handbook was somehow gold in terms of game balance and everything else is power creep. But saying that minor action attack powers "can't have changed the game because they've always been there" is just plain wrong.

Of course, even if they were, that doesn't change whether they're a good idea or not.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fallacies that prevent game balance.

In arguing over the nature of balancing the game, I am often met with a few fallacies, most of them in regards to strikers.

You're taking something away without adding anything
  I hear this a lot from people who basically just want to have their cake and eat it too. You can't, for instance, declare "multiple damage rolls per round subvert the basic assumption of how damage in 4th edition works and thus should be regulated heavily" for these people. As far as they're concerned, you're limiting options-regardless of whether those options are balanced or not. Unless you arbitrarily add options, you're somehow a tyrant.
 Obviously, the fallacy here is that you're not making the game any different than it was before these overpowered options were introduced in the first place. Maybe rogues needed something more before Snap Shot and Low Slash were introduced (just to give a couple of examples), but that doesn't mean that those two powers aren't disproportionate powerful or in need of nerfing.

He's being a striker-stop punishing that
I get this one a lot. Basically, "he's doing his job." Well yes, of course, the striker is intended to deal damage. But that's completely missing the point that he's not supposed to deal infinite damage. Just how much damage a striker should deal compared to any other class is too complicated of an issue to go into full detail here, but the point is that it's supposed to be a ratio.

Note that the same basic fallacy applies to protecting Pacifist Clerics ability to heal infinitely with Astral Seal and whatnot. The bottom line comes down to the fact that a character's abilities are basically a resource, but those resources come from a limited number of builds. If you have one character that heals infinitely, then you can basically accomplish as much with two characters as you could otherwise with five. Balance doesn't begin and end with everyone "doing their job."

Damnit Tom, you tell everyone to twink and then punish them when they do!
This one is a bit more personal. Basically, it comes down to the assumption that you are, to use TV Tropes terminology, either a Scrub or a Stop Having Fun Guy. Being a power gamer doesn't mean that you can't recognize where the game is fundamentally broken. It also doesn't mean you don't obtain a level of dissatisfaction from interacting with the more broken elements. There's a qualitative difference to optimizing, and breaking the game.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Slipping through the cracks: Slidespam and autodamage powers

For whatever reason, Wizards seemed content to release the playtest for the Arcanist last. However, they decided to change the design of powers radically when doing so. What this means is that now there's an army of zone powers that deal damage based on the old model-making newstyle Arcanists crap in comparison.

Here is a non-exclusive list of powers that either still have Minion Ganking (meaning, they deal damage at start of turn) or Slidespam (meaning you can slide an enemy into and out of a zone numerous times to theoretically get massive damage).

Predatory Shards (Artificer 5): No slidespam, but minion ganking. Immobile and party friendly.
Wall of Shadows (Assassin 9): Small area, but allows both slidespam and minion ganking. Immobile, not party friendly. Low ability synergy.
Wall of Death (Assassin 25): Small area, but allows both slidespam and minion ganking. Immobile, not party friendly; non-damage roll.
Wall of Sound (Bard 15): Small area, but allows both slidespam and minion ganking. Ideal for Enchanters to multiclass into.
Consecrated Ground (Cleric 5): Small area. Minion ganking. Impractical for controller abuse-probably not an issue.
Blade Barrier (Cleric 9): Decent area, both minion ganking and slidespam. Superior to old Firewall in many ways. Seriously needs to be nerfed.
Flame Seed (Druid 1): Pre-nerf Cloud of Daggers, but with less damage.
Wall of Thorns (Druid 5): Similar to pre-nerf Wall of Fire in damage capability. Increased movement cost makes it difficult to abuse with slidespam, and lack of adjacency damage limits minionganking to those in the wall.
Flurry of Stingers (Druid 9): Adjacency slidespam possible. Static damage.
Pummeling hail (Druid 19): Static damage, but slidespam and minion ganking.
Thorns of the Hinterlands (Druid 19): More Wall of Fireishness. Slidespam and minion ganking.
Avian Clouds (Druid 25): Start of turn only, static damage.
Creeping Doom (Druid 25): Start of turn, mobile, large area of effect.
Whirling Firestorm (Druid 29): Start of turn, variable size, also comes with a decent minor action attack power.
Rain of Steel (Fighter 5): Start of turn adjacency. Surprised they didn’t nerf that.
Unyielding Avalanche (Fighter 15): See Rain of Steel.
Reaper’s Stance (Fighter 25): See Rain of Steel.
Invocation of Ice and Fire (Invoker 5): Very limited damage, but slidespam usable.
Wall of Blades (Invoker 15): Minion Ganking and Slidespammable.
Plague of Poison (Invoker 23): Minion ganking.
Eye of the Sun (Invoker 25): Minion ganking. Mobile.
Invoked Devastation (Invoker 29): Minion ganking, static damage.
Invoke the Absolute Dark (Invoker 29): Minion ganking, static damage, grows.
Burning Flux (Psion 3): Minion ganking, at will. Like a wildly powered up pre-nerf Cloud of Daggers.
Shredding Ribbons (Psion 5): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage. Better off with Burning Flux at this rate!
Ectoplasmic Servant (Psion 7): Slidespam, static damage.
Malicious Lightning (Psion 9): Minion ganking, static damage.
Forest of Exclusion (Psion 25): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage.
Reality Meltdown (Psion 27): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage.
Rime Strike (Seeker 1): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage.
Black Arrow of Fate (Seeker 19): Minion ganking, static damage. Enemy controls zone’s position.
Rending Vines (Seeker 19): Minion ganking, static damage.
Dust Storm Binding (Shaman 1): Minion ganking, static damage, low area of effect.
Spirit of Endings Begun (Shaman 19): Minion ganking.
Shocking Magnetism (Sorcerer 1): Minion ganking. You control the zone’s area of effect.
Explosive Pyre (Sorcerer 1): Normally, I wouldn’t put “requires a hit for this effect to occur” powers in place, but due to the damage roll, slide-spam possibility, and potential for sorcerer damage buff (which can be accomplished by hybriding), this power gets the extra attention.
Flame Spiral (Sorcerer 3): Minion ganking, slidespam.
Ice Stalagmites (Sorcerer 9): Minion ganking.
Spitfire Furnace (Sorcerer 15): Minion ganking
Cloak of Winter Storm (Sorcerer 25): Minion ganking, slidespam, can benefit from a hybrid sorcerer’s damage boost. Utterly ideal for an Enchanter.
Fury of Dragotha (Sorcerer 25): Minion ganking.
Deep Freeze (Swordmage 5): Minion ganking, slidespam. Target determines positioning, but party friendly.
Flamewall Strike (Swordmage 7): Minion ganking, slidespam, absurdly low area of effect. Theoretically possible to use at-will at 30th level by going Arcane Sword, though I question the wisdom of doing so.
Winter’s Grip (Warden 5): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage.
Creeping Brambles (Warden 19): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage.
Armor of Agathys (Warlock 1): Minion ganking.
Vestige of Ugar (Warlock 5): Minion ganking, slidespam.
Feast of Souls (Warlock 9): Minion ganking, slidespam. Mobile.
Plague of Frogs (Warlock 15): Minion ganking, slidespam. Mobile
Forbiddance of the Ninth (Warlock 29): Minion ganking.
Cloud of Daggers(???) (Wizard 1): Oddly enough, this power does not limit its damage to once per turn. The static damage makes it low intensity for slidespam, but it’s still one of the slidespammable powers out there. Give an enemy vulnerability to force damage (… somehow) or change the damage to cold, and you can actually wrack up the damage, post nerf!
Orbmaster’s Incendiary Detonation (Wizard 1): Minion ganking. Slidespam, but for two damage, it’s unlikely to be disastrous.
Acid Mire (Wizard 5): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage.
Grasp of the Grave (Wizard 5): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage.
Corrosive Mist (Wizard 7): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage.
Furnmace of Sand (Wizard 17): No Minion ganking, but this is one of the strongest slidespammable powers there is, and it’s an encounter power!
Bubbling Acid (Wizard 25): Minion ganking, slidespam, static damage.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bigotry and hatred!

You know, there's a certain subsection of players who seem to dislike Epic play not for anything reasonable (and let me tell you, there are reasons to dislike epic play), but out of some sort of almost hipster-esque distaste. The type of person who insists that even an Essentials build at that level is "too complex."

Being that I'm in the staging process for building a new planes hopping campaign that starts at 21st level, I've found myself having to ask how to deal with this problem.

BTW: for those of you wondering whatever happened to my "NEVER AGAIN!" mentality, well, let's just say old habits die hard.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

When Is a Basic Attack Not a Basic Attack?

You know, it's really nifty to have things like Power of Skill in the game, letting you use At-Wills as basic attacks. But it's fundamentally a bad idea.

So many other items, feats, feature, etc, are all based on the idea of affecting either Melee basic attacks specifically, or affecting only powers of a certain category. With the latest Hybrid rules for Executioners, we get to see this again-a hybrid build that's supposed to apply only to melee basic attacks but, combined with powers from another class (such as Warlock), makes for a hybrid striker that basically has the striker features of two different classes.

And it's not just hybrids. A Knight Half-elf with Eldritch Strike and a staggering weapon can essentially automatically hurl opponents away, negating enemy attacks against allies entirely.

When something calls upon a melee basic attack, it's making the assumption of what a melee basic attack does-namely, damage, and precious little else. When you have ways of applying everything from slide to daze to melee basic attacks by having melee basic attacks not be melee basic attacks, that dynamic fundamentally breaks down. It's an awesome game mechanic, but it's a Pandora's Box of imbalance.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Selling Out: Helping the destruction of Wizards

So, if we're going to jump on this "Nerf Wizards!" bandwagon, let's see some other nerfs.

First of all, all powers that deal damage upon entering the zone should be limited to once per turn. Note that this should apply not just to Wizard powers, but to powers in general. I'm not going to go through and itemize them however.

Furnace of Sand also needs to be nerfed to a static value, probably 5 + Intelligence modifier.

Stonewrack can serve as a passable exception to the once per turn rule as long as we modify the text to read "Whenever a creature that is not prone enters or moves within the zone-" that way, the first time the target suffers damage, it falls prone, which would mean it's immune to suffering the damage again while prone. Due to its smaller area and immobility, we can accept the Prone element, so it makes sense to give the damage a Cloudkill esque level, at a flat 10+Intelligence modifier.

If going through with all these nerfs, I strongly recommend changing Summon Marilith to instead make melee attacks against all enemies within reach, rather than the intense damage of multiple hits. Possibly add a rider that increases the Marilith's defenses for every hit (in order to compensate for the fragility of summons).

Wizard Playtest: Farewell Slide Shenanigans

Well, that's not entirely accurate. There are still plenty of powers out there that deal damage dice of damage upon entering a zone, and the new cloudkill is actually pretty potent. If anything, this spells the end of the Staff of Ruin necessitation for zone wizards.

For those not in the know, you can find out here:

Honestly, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this. Letting non-essentials wizards pick their own cantrips is a nice bonus, and Elemental Maw actually got an UPGRADE depending on how you look at it (Hint: It requires Spell Accuracy), but all in all, the Slide Spam build-aka the one I'm playing in another game I'm in-took a seriously heavy hit. Not only that, but wizards can no longer auto-obliterate minions left and right, with the vast majority of powers that deal damage from a zone being changed from start of turn to end of turn.

It's certainly true that the existing wizard powers were way too strong, and the modifications to Stinking Cloud and Cloudkill, not to mention Flaming Sphere, do address the Wizard's propensity for insane amounts of autodamage. But I'm left wondering if it isn't a little too much. What's odd is that since the article couldn't address every power, anyone who's playing with anything outside of Core will just take Furnace of Sand, which is now demonstrably more powerful than most daily powers.

I think it's a step in the right direction but also most likely a step too far. Damage once per turn was definitely necessary. ALSO making damaging zones into static damage, so that Cloudkill can deal a maximum of 20 damage if you just happen to end your turn in it, was probably too much.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Staying on One's Guard

It just occurred to me that, in addition to your standard "Spend actions to make perception checks" when you suspect something is up, wouldn't it be prudent to be persistently using the Total Defense action? With a defensive weapon, you're actually very resilient to surprise attacks.

Not sure why I haven't thought of that before.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Solos: Hecatoncheires (Test Build)

I don't have any campaigns going on at the moment, but I was toying around with some various concepts. Here's the Hecatoncheires I was working out.

Level 31 Solo Skirmisher
XP 115,000
HP 1290; Bloodied 645
AC 47; Fortitude 43; Reflex 42; Will 41
Speed 10
Saving Throws +5; Action Points 2
Initiative +27
Perception +22

Fifty Heads, a Hundred Swords
The Hecatoncheires acts on its initiative and on an initiative count of its initiative +10, and regains the usage of its Immediate Action whenever it takes a turn. If the Hecatoncheires is stunned or dominated at the end of its turn, that effect ends.
A Hundred Mistakes
Whenever the Hecatoncheires fails to hit with any attacks while using Scimitar Barrage, any effects currently present on the Hecatoncheires end.
Infinite Actions
The Hecatoncheires has Threatening Reach, and can take an unlimited number of opportunity actions each turn. The Hecatoncheires is still limited to one opportunity action per trigger.
Ignore the Challenge
Whenever the Hecatoncheires attacks a creature that has marked it, that mark immediately ends.
Standard Actions
m Scimitar • At-Will
Attack: Melee 3; +36 vs. AC
Hit: 2d10 damage (Crit: 3d10+20), and the target suffers ongoing 10 damage (save ends).
M Scimitar Barrage • At-Will
Target: One adjacent creature
Effect: The Hecatoncheires makes five Scimitar attacks against the target. If the target is suffering from ongoing damage and all five attacks hit, the target's ongoing damage doubles.
Scimitar Dance • At-Will
Requirements: The Hecatoncheires must be bloodied.
Effect: The Hecatoncheires moves its speed. During this movement, it does not provoke attacks of opportunity and can enter enemy spaces. The Hecatoncheires makes a Scimitar Barrage attack against any enemy whose space it enters.
Minor Actions
Rage of the Chained One • At-Will 1/round
Requirements: The Hecatoncheires must not have attacked this turn.
Effect: The Hecatoncheires gains a cumulative +10 damage to its next usage of Scimitar Barrage. The Hecatoncheires cannot attack before the end of this turn.
Triggered Actions
M Blade Ward • At-Will
Trigger: An enemy makes a melee or ranged weapon attack against the Hecatoncheires.
Attack (Immediate Interrupt): Melee 3 (The triggering creature); +36 vs. AC
Hit: 2d10 + 0 damage and the Hecatoncheires gains a +4 bonus to defenses against the triggering attack.

This solo monster doesn't have a dedicated cleanser power that it can use on its own, but has some various ways to counter immobilization and restraining effects. Most notably, any attack penalty effects can result in the triggering of it's cleanser power, so there's a trade-off in applying them.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Trials and Tribulations of a Leaderless Game

So, last night-that would be Monday evening, I suppose, though it's somewhat seeing as how I pen this in the wee hours of the morning-I took part in the game wherein I am a player. We were faced with a Long Fight in a pokemon stylized battle. But the significant element of the battle was that, like the battle before, we were without a leader. That is, our healing consisted of a single potion of vitality (each), Second Wind, and whatever other personal heals we had availible (which to the best of my knowledge was "none.")

Frankly, it was awesome-part of the reason we were able to win (sort of: technically we had to stop mid-fight since the DM had to head to bed, but it's clear that we're going to nuke the enemy before it acts again) is because of ridiculous terrain features (and myself, the overpowered this-should-seriously-be-nerfed-but-no-not-really-because-I-don't-want-to-suck forced movement user). The other half is probably due to the Monty Haul style of treasure usage for the campaign.

Sadly, we didn't make it out unscathed-the party avenger bit the dust when in phase three, a plant based pokemon (I told you it was a pokemon stylized battle didn't I?) used a really nasty "Unconscious (Save Ends)" attack. With all the Coup De Graces going on, there was really nothing we could do to save her. Not sure we could have had we had a leader though.

My thoughts on the matter are that, you can really quite wildly reduce the overall difficulty level of monsters just by removing healing from the game-or rather, severely limiting it. It creates such a tremendously different play experience, which can be refreshing if you've gotten tired of the "Defender drops to 0, healer drops a Healing Word" style of play. But the flip side is, everything is suddenly a lot more lethal, making the game ultimately more swingy.

Kind of reminds me of 3rd edition.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Level Thirty

I am a huge fan of epic play. To quote one of my own quotes (as vain as that may be), "I thrive on needless complexity." And nothing is quite so complex as an epic level build.

But somewhere along the way, the developers seem to have decided that "Epic" means "Outside of the domain of balance." It's true that 4th Edition is far more balanced than third edition ever was at epic, but I'm often left wondering "what were they thinking?" when I see a class feature or power that's above 23rd level. Though honestly, with some classes, it's not even limited to that high level, but I digress.

There is an inherent thinking in most people's minds, in my experience, towards wanting to start campaigns at lower levels-namely, level one. The reduced complexity means it's easy to get into the game and play from scratch, and it allows for more room to grow. But campaigns are finite entities, and advancement is relatively linear. In short, the higher level something is, the less often you're likely to see it in real play. Which means the less playtesting it gets. So when something at epic is nerfed, you can pretty much bet it's because it was just flat-out broken.

By far the worst offender in this department is the aforementioned level thirty. After all, when you're 30th level, why are you still playing? You've maxed your XP, and have only one level's worth of treasure to gather. Perhaps you wish to beat the crap out of Tiamat. Which shouldn't be hard, considering you're laden with the features I'm about to describe! A lot of destinies also have overpowered 26th level utilities, but that's a bit different of an issue, and almost universally is limited to 1/day (which because it's "Only a Daily" means it doesn't count, am I right?)

It's the Top X of Y overpowered Epic Destiny 30th level features list! You'll notice that a lot of these destinies are of the "WTF that's worthless" variety if you were to ignore these features. Go figure-I guess that constitutes "Balance."

Glorious Spirit (Bearer of Doom): Reading over this, I was really blindsided. On the one hand, you'd think it'd be relatively useless-after all, who wants to miss with a power, right? But it's actually really quite insidious. Bearer of Doom works in junction with any single target power-including daily attacks. Here we have a good way to get unlimited rages, unlimited heals, unlimited who knows what! All you have to do is attack unarmed and you're fighting at -9 to hit. Throw in Power Attack for good measure and you're at -11. If you can figure out any other way of crippling your attack bonus, that goes a long way. Also useful for when you want to hit-Storm of Blades comes to mind

Arcane Sword (Spellsword Perfection): Holy Frack on a Frackertonbox. Whatever that means. Arcane Sword is the quintessential "Playing for 30" Epic destiny. Level 21 is mediocre (roughly equivalent to an average epic feat), 26th level is utterly useless, and I've no idea how to interpret 24th level-does your sword automatically win the battle, since it can't be attacked? But the Coup De Grace is At-Will Lightning Bolt Charge. And let's be frank-there's maybe one or two other powers that are even remotely as useful, but under virtually all circumstances? Lightning Bolt Charge is where it's at. Deal more damage per round than a ranger! Unless said ranger managed to find one of these epic destinies. What's great is that this one feature can take a build that has no viable at-will attacks-because it has no Intelligence based attacks and only multiclassed Swordmage-and give it a viable at-will option. It's absurd.

Archlich (Essence of Undeath): You know, to be honest, I don't even know if this is overpowered. It feels overpowered to me, but that's a bad barometer. It doesn't really belong on this list-at least not as long as I'm keeping Archmage, Archspell, and Lorekeeper off the list. Still, with the Archlich's autoplinkage of minions, a bard lich can have a crapton of heals per encounter. Fair warning: due to the unique dynamic they incur, Rules As Written disallows an artificer from actually being able to use this feature to regain Curative Admixture uses. Go figure.

Avangion (Avangion Rising): Who needs leaders anymore, am I right? With a Ring of Tenacious Will or, hell, just playing a shielding swordmage, you can always get up to twenty surges per day. Not that that much matters, seeing as how you can just use a ritual to trade surges back and forth between encounters. Avangion Rising wouldn't be even remotely overpowered if it weren't for the fact that, unlike Invincible Mind and War Master (the latter of which is actually a leader destiny), it does not require an immediate action to trigger.

Ceaseless Guardian (Never Again): This has a similar problem to Avangion but probably shouldn't make the list for two reasons. One, unlike Avangion, the healing is flat surge value, not Surge value +Ability Modifier. Secondly, it doesn't help you unless you're preventing death. I know that seems like it's small but really, if the entire party falls unconscious, as long as no one actually dies, they'll remain unconscious. You can't use Never Again to really keep your DPR up most of the time. Ceaseless Guardian deserves honorable mention for having the same issues as Avangion, but honestly it probably doesn't deserve being on this list.

Cosmic Soul? (Cosmic Connection): You know, I look at Cosmic Soul and don't really see (snark snark) it as an overpowered destiny. But honestly, all attacks are Range Sight? Imagine using a telescope to blast away with magic missile. This one is definitely a widget technique, so it gets an honorable mention. In practical play, the feature and rest of the path are mechanically next to useless.

Dead God Avatar (Sacrifice): I really hate to have all these borderline issues. With Dead God Avatar, it's not overpowered at will, but for at least three encounters per day, you can basically have unlimited encounter attacks. Imagine using Tumbling Strike every single round. Or more practically, Sever the Source. The surge cost makes it only useful for limited builds though, so don't expect this destiny to be ruining too many games.

Elf High Mage (Empowered By Life): Another widget build. This time, it involves having someone willing to trade surges to you after the end of every encounter, again seriously reducing the practicality of the power. But being to automatically get yourself a critical hit can't be ignored. After all, imagine a Basilisk Soul monk automatically critically hitting and petrifying enemies left and right. If nothing else, using the feature to trigger a healing daily power means that the end cost is virtually nill.

Magister (Magic's Master): Did you know that there's a ritual that gives you the effect of an extended rest? Meaning, once per day, you can gain the benefits as if it's tomorrow. I'm reminded of how a 21st level Wu Jen in 3.5 could use Persistent Time Stop. Aside from the blatant exceptions though, it's not a big issue.

Perfect Slayer (Perfect Killer): This is probably one of the most absurd features on this list. You take a multiclass feat that gives, at best, 2d6+12 damage per encounter (well, maybe not at best) and turn it into a class that lets you deal 4d6+24 damage per attack. If you have brutal barrage, Bam-your damage per round just got upped by 16d6+96. Yes, that's 152 on average. This is almost exclusively useful against solo monsters mind you, since you'll only be able to place your shroud twice, and only one of those will max that to four shrouds. In addition, if your DM is using the Cleanser rules for solo bosses, don't expect your shrouds to last even that long. Though, it's time to invest in a way to regain an encounter utility power (if you can find one).

Planeshaper (Shape Reality): This power is only "Totally awesome" on its own, but when you consider the possibility to "Box in" enemies without any attack roll, saving throw, etc-that's when the sheer brokenness kicks in. Not as effective against huge or larger enemies though.

Punisher of the Gods (Bringer of Dooms): How does this interact with Vorpal Weaponry?! In any event, maximum damage is a whole lot like getting an automatic critical hit. Just imagine the synergy with Rage Strike. Though a more practical approach is for an Executioner to try it out-your encounter attack now deals +90 damage. Cool story bro.

Saint (Golden Halo): As if divine healers weren't already insane enough, now you have the ability to heal an additional 25 HP. Unlike every other source, this isn't surge specific. Meaning that Astral Seal does, in fact, still heal about 35 or more HP.

The sad thing is that, most of the paths that didn't make this list, really do kind of suck. Oh, there's a few exceptions-Archspell, Archmage, Demiurge, just to name a few. But it just seems like someone decided somewhere down the line that 30th level is for suckers. Go figure.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Now you're thinking with instances!

There's a term that I tend to use when describing mechanics in Dungeons and Dragons, and near as I'm aware, it's not used anywhere in the game rules. That word is "instance."

Damage comes in many forms, but a lot of these aren't even officially reconized. You have the "Base damage" that a power deals, ala the [W] damage and dX damage of weapon and implement powers, respectively. You have the ability damage many powers give. You have "Extra damage," which comes from a number of sources.

The significance of a damage instance is that, whenever you gain a bonus to damage, or a bonus to damage rolls, theoretically, it would apply once per damage instance-rather than once per "attack." The significance here is that you'll often have situations like Draconic Arrogance, where pushing or knocking an enemy prone deals damage-not in addition to existing damage (Extra damage), but rather, in and of itself. Any Extra Damage that applies to damage instances (rather than attacks) would apply to Draconic Arrogance's damage.

In short, a Runepriest is a monk's best friend. Pelor's Sun Blessing can be really useful for a Radiant Fist. And don't get me started on the Morninglord paragon path.

But what is most interesting is that sometimes, extra damage occurs when you least expect it, and other times, what you would expect to be extra damage isn't. For instance: Hellish Rebuke appears at first glance to deal damage that is then effectively doubled (sans Warlock's Curse) if you're damaged. But this isn't correct. Hellish Rebuke deals extra damage if you're damaged, meaning it doesn't create a seperate damage instance. But what's utterly freakish is that this non-seperate damage instance occurs at a different time than the power initially deals damage-so a creature effectively retroactively takes more damage, which can create the rather confusing paradox where a creature attacks the warlock, thus meaning that it had effectively suffered more damage than originally anticipated, and drops dead because of it! In practice, the Extra Damage nature of Hellish Rebuke just means that it doesn't benefit from Implement Focus or other bonuses to damage rolls-no matter what, the only damage the target will suffer above and beyond the original damage of the attack will be 1d6+Constitution modifier (or 2d6+Constitution modifier if you're epic).

For the flip side, sometimes you expect damage to be extra damage but it isn't. For instance, a Firestorm Arrow deals 1d6 fire damage per enhancement bonus to the target-which you would expect to be extra damage. But since it also deals fire damage to adjacent enemies, in reality, it's actually a separate damage instance. If you're using a fire damage attack with firestorm arrows, the target's resistance (or vulnerability!) to fire is going to apply not once, but twice! Likewise, a Lightning Weapon's daily item power deals lightning damage to the targets-not extra damage.

Perhaps the most bizarre example I've found is the Tempest Whetstone-dealing extra damage to a target that wasn't damaged in the first place. Theoretically, this would mean that vulnerability and resistance don't trigger-or maybe that the original target's resistance and vulnerability trigger for them! But that's absurd; a more reasonable assumption would be "This doesn't trigger bonuses to damage" (such as Headsman's Chop).

Hybrids: Admitting that you have a problem

It is time for an admission. I am addicted to hybrids.

Rather, it's probably more fair to say that I am addicted to complexity. Building characters with a large amount of interlocking parts is simply more fun-for myself-than building characters that don't have a large amount of interlocking parts. So much for "Elegance in Simplicity."

As thus, it pains me to say this but, "Hybrids are fundamentally broken."

Fundamentally, the game was not designed with hybrids in mind-feat requirements have assumed you're one class, possibly two, not three. But it's worse than that-the root underlying concept of hybrids doesn't hold up.

Here's the idea: When you're a hybrid, the obvious intention is that, in order to get the benefit of your hybrid, you have to be doing something that covers that half of the hybrid. Ranger quarry? Gotta use a ranger power. Sneak Attack? Rogue. Combat Challenge? Have to use a fighter power.

Except that, in practice, there's just way too many ways of getting around this restriction. Minor action attacks, MORE minor action attacks, marking an enemy through a means other than Combat Challenge-hybrids aren't "Two different characters as one" so much as "My class And More!"

Is there a solution? Probably. Have I determined what it is just yet? Not really. Is the mere existence of hybrids a threat to the very solidity of 4th edition? Not really. But when the root is rotten, you can expect to get some twisted results. As they say: Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

"It's Only a Daily" my foot

I tend to find that a lot of players have this strange notion that as long as a power is only usable once a day, it should be allowed to do anything and everything.

Take Platinum Scales, for instance. By the level a character can take platinum scales, the power grants a +8 or higher power bonus to all defenses for the entire duration of an encounter. Depending on your defenses relative to your opponent's attacks, this can be the equivalence of half damage to one fifth as much damage. Of course, it's only for one's person-so the enemy will just focus on someone else, right?

Well, not if you're a defender. And not if the entire party has similar mechanisms. The thing about daily powers is that, everyone has them. Everyone has three attacks, and as much as seven daily utilities by 26th level. That's a most severe case scenario obviously, but ultimately, even if in order for an encounter to be "fundamentally changed" every PC has to burn one daily power, that's still three encounters per day that are totally dominated by the presence of dailies, and many more if a party has access to a number of daily utility powers. Fortunately, there's a psychological impact in taking a daily utility compared to an encounter utility, which in my experience leads to daily utilities being less frequent, but the point stands.

Of course, as long as daily powers are not in and of themselves broken, there's no issue. The point is to demonstrate that, even as something only being usable once per day, that doesn't mean it won't fundamentally change the game-because there are a large number of them. In the same way I "only" use an at-will attack power twenty times per day.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Problem with Interrupts

Interrupts are a really nifty concept. But frankly, they can create issues. For instance-Opportunity attacks interrupt actions. So, if you happen to be able to slide an enemy when making an opportunity attack, you can potentially make their attack invalid. And frankly, that's how it's supposed to work. But occasionally, it becomes a little too easy to invalidate attacks entirely.

Imagine a Knight that multiclassed monk and now has an Abduction Ki Focus. Suddenly, his Knight's Defender Aura can slide enemies if they attempt to shift, or if they attempt to attack anyone else. This can invalidate entire movements. And this is an unbelievably simple combination-requiring exactly one item, and one feat.

Relocating enemies on the battlefield is not a problem in and of itself. Having attacks resolve before the effects that trigger them is not a problem in and of itself. But when an interrupting attack suddenly comes with the promise of enemy relocation, you negate an entire attack. If this is an intended game mechanic, it really seems that the designers intended to sacrifice balance for the sake of "Doing something really awesome."

And make no mistake-it's really really awesome.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Feats I have a problem with

Am I the only one who has a problem with Epic Fortitude, Epic Reflexes, and Epic Will? With Improved Defenses or-gawd-Superior Fortitude/Reflex/Will, it seems like these feats are a good way to get ridiculously high non-armor defenses. Add in that the main common items for Head/Waist/Feet are all +1/2/3 Fort/Ref/Will items, and it feels like there's a lot of math-fix type bonuses.

I almost think we need to reintroduce "Competence" as a bonus type. Circlet of Indomitability, for instance, could give a +1/2/3 Competence Bonus to Will. Epic Will could add a +4 competence bonus. Makes the feats give an incentive to avoid the most obvious +Defense items.

Speaking of, maybe change Staff of Ruin and the like from item bonuses to competence bonuses, and grant a feat? Of course, then you have the problem of any remaining item bonus to damage roll powers.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Bonuses: Too many is a lot, but too few is far too many

Third Edition had this fun thing where there was an incentive to build every foreseeable type of bonus possible onto every stat. Insight, Sacred, Holy (why you need Sacred AND holy is beyond me), Enhancement, and so on. The result was long strings of effects that stacked because there were just so many different types of bonuses that you could be using mere +1s and still end up with a net +8 bonus or whatever.

Forth edition got rid of that-mostly. Indeed, as we entered into the forth edition of the game, we found our bonuses pretty limited: Feat. Item. Power. Enhancement. And that was about it. Everything else was untyped.

But that's the rub. When everything is untyped, everything stacks. The entire point of removing the "Twenty seven types of bonuses" was self-defeating. Of course, most feats use feat bonuses-but a good many of them use untyped bonuses.

Ultimately, it's a question of what's mutually exclusive. I look at feats like Slashing Storm or the +Damage paragon path features and think "Well, that's not a problem on its own" but then you see builds stacking up bonus after bonus after bonus, and everything gets out of hand. The problem is that builds that don't take advantage of these sorts of bonuses end up coming in wildly behind. That's what happens when your best features aren't mutually exclusive-you want all of them.

So what's the solution? Feat bonuses with higher values, I would imagine. Untyped bonuses becoming power bonuses. Converting certain feats to at-will stance powers. Unfortunately, there's not an easy and simple This Fixes Everything answer.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

All Bark and no Bite

It is time for a confession.

I actually do not much care for Dungeons and Dragons as a Dungeon Master. Much of this is likely due to the fact that I've been unable to play off-line games, and have been involved in inferior means of online play involving trading a bunch of IRC chat rooms and Maptools-needlessly complexity that makes the game slow to a grinding halt.

I enjoy encounter building. I do not enjoy encounter running. But it is disingenuous to build a blog on "How to build a proper encounter" without simultaneously having the ability to test the theory that's being proposed. I am unable to test my own theories. As thus, I cannot in good conscience continue this blog.

That being said, more than likely, I will anyway. I'll leave testing up to others though.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Apologies for a Brief Hiatus

My apologies for the recent total lack of updates. What do you mean "It's only been about a week?" I try and keep a very tight update schedule! This blog will not rest until every generalized failing of 4th Edition has been remedied.

Next post should be sometime next week.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Turn Shenanigans

An interesting trick was opened up to the Rogue with the introduction of Essentials. Because sneak attack was revised to once per turn, rather than once per round, a Rogue who had one of the dreaded minor action attack powers (I'll talk about those later) could use Sneak Attack on his turn, and then ready an action-probably waiting for an ally to attack (Since readying for an enemy's action means they can negate your Ready an Action by not triggering it). Because the Immediate Reaction occurs on another character's turn, you can benefit from Sneak Attack twice per round. Before accounting for Lazy Warlords (yeah, we'll talk about that later too).

I once presented the question "Is there a name for this tactic?" dubbing it Turn Shenanigans. Indeed there was.

"A bad idea." After all, for all the benefits of getting around 1/turn restrictions, when you open up the door to using Readying an Action in order to affect how "turn" effects relate, you can have monsters attacking PCs on their own turns; suddenly, the fighter can't use Combat Challenge because you can't use immediate actions on your own turn!

The conventional wisdom is to just have a gentleman's agreement against this kind of tactic but honestly, when has "Everyone agrees that it's broken so don't use it" been a proper excuse for broken gameplay in the first place?

Before isolating the "proposed solution," I would like to identify something that I do not inherently consider a problem that is along the same vein of thought: delaying one's turn until after that of an enemy who has a status effect that will then expire. For instance, the Wizard immobilizes the enemy until the end of the wizard's next turn. The enemy, who originally acted immediately before the Wizard, now acts after the wizard. Because the status effect is relevant to the Wizard's turn, not the target's, the target can delay in order to negate the effect as it pertains to his own turn. It's unclear if this would work with Daze, and Domination and Stun obviously prevent this tactic. Now, many of you are probably crying foul-

-but I don't see it that way. In order for this tactic to work, the monster necessarily has to be granting the Wizard an additional turn relative to the target's turn. If the wizard and the monster were the only two creatures in the encounter, delaying until after the Wizard is nearly identical to simply abandoning his turn!

On the other hand, delaying your turn when you are suffering from a Save Ends effect prevents you from making that saving throw until the actual end of your turn-but, likewise, it prevents you from having to make that saving throw. This means that if you're one step away from being petrified by a "Second Failed Save" effect, you can wait for your best buddies to apply some pluses to saving throws. Technically, the Delay rules don't state what happens if you lose your turn due to delaying too long as it pertains to saving throws. Conventional wisdom would suggest that at the start of your next turn, you basically resolve the end of your previous turn.

This Save Ends Turn Shenanigans is a significant gameplay decision, but I'm not convinced that it's broken in and of itself. Rather, it just suggests that perhaps Save Ends effects should be increased in danger when it pertains to failing saving throws, because characters do in fact have options to negate their failed saves. Of course, once a creature has been stunned, that's the end of it.

But let's get back to the basic problem of Turn Shenanigans-readying an action. The problem arises because it means that actions originally not intended to take place on anyone else turn end up occurring on their turn. Thus, the solution is simple: with the exception of "You cannot take an Immediate Action on your own" clause, for the duration of the readied action, it is considered the readier's turn, and not the turn of anyone else. Thus, you can utilize Immediate Actions if an enemy readies an action to attack you on your turn, but you may only use said Immediate Action in the course of the enemy's action. The same goes for Opportunity Attacks.

The reason this is the solution is that the purpose of Readying an Action is not to get around the fact that your own actions occur on your turn, but rather to take part of your turn at a later point in time; that is, the Immediate Action is merely a mechanism to accomplish this task. Though it is admittedly somewhat inelegant to put such an ad-hoc solution to the problem that flies in the face of the definition of a creature's "Turn" as being a single connected period of in-game time, it's also important to realize that rounds and turns are abstractions to begin with.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Side Effects: Hybrid Swordmages

Those who pay close attention to the blog may notice that at one point, I was "rather dismissive" of Hybrid Swordmages. Hybrid Swordmages, as far as swordmages go, are nearly universally better than their non-hybrid breathern. Swordbond is by and large a relatively useless feature, Swordmage's Warding can be regained through Hybrid Talent, and unless you hybrid into a class without leather armor proficiency, you're not losing anything on AC (and even if you are, it's another feat). In short, except for being marginally feat starved, hybrid swordmages have one-and only one-downside:

Their defender feature is usable only "once per encounter." That sounds like madness! And if that were really the case, it would be. But rather, Aegis of <Whatever> Is usable once per encounter to mark, but usable at will to trigger, and can even mark multiple enemies at once.

An ordinary swordmage gains very little by repeating his usage of Aegis to mark enemies, because he unmarks previously marked enemies. Since Aegis lasts until the end of the encounter, this means that in a lot of cases, unless the "Face of the battlefield fundamentally changes," there's not a lot of difference in the mark feature of a hybrid swordmage compared to a non-hybrid.

The bottom line is that, it doesn't take anything to "Remain a defender" as a hybrid swordmage. This means that, unlike the Fighter, you can actively pursue your other class (usually a striker) while simultaneously being roughly as potent of a defender as a full class swordmage.

Prior to my Solo Monster rules, Hybrid Swordmages were particuarly effective against solo monsters-after all, they literally marked the entire encounter from the outset. With the universal ability of solo monsters to negate marks though, hybrid swordmages are hit with the harshest rules scenario since third edition-not quite akin to a wizard facing an Iron Golem, but running a bit close.

So what's the solution? Again, it's not just important to realize what the problem is, but to realize why it's a problem. The essential solution is to look fundamentally at how hybrids are "supposed" to function (assuming that they're even supposed to-I'll look at hybrids more generally later, but for now, let's just look at the concept). Striker features only apply to the class powers of said striker class. If you look at the Defender, instead of triggering whenever the defender attacks, it triggers when using Fighter attacks.

Seeing a pattern? The basic premise is that, in order for the Hybrid Swordmage to make sense, instead of arbitrarily limiting how often the Swordmage can mark in terms of encounter resources, we need to make the Swordmage play like a swordmage.

My fix is simple: Aegis is an at-will power. The immediate action related to Aegis is not. You can only use Aegis of Assault's Immediate Reaction, for instance, once per encounter. The trick, however, is that whenever you hit or miss using a Swordmage attack power, you regain the usage of your Aegis power. What's really nice about this build is that it stops hybrid Swordmage/Avenger (or I guess hybrid Swordmage/Paladin) that uses Power of Skill from being the only reasonable option for an Assault Swordmage-after all, now those Swordmage Encounter Attack powers that can be used in conjunction with Aegis of Assault actually recharge Aegis of Assault.

If enemies are triggering your aegis every round, you're going to have to be using Swordmage powers every round. This prevents "Archery Shielders" so to speak from standing back from 10 squares away and using Aegis of Shielding every round; there are no super long-range Swordmage attacks, because Aegis of Shielding wasn't intended to be used at super long range as a rule of thumb.

If you happen to have Rapid Aegis Reaction, you may find you can't use Aegis of Assault for both your bonus immediate, and your standard. But on the other hand, if you're a hybrid defender and you only have one option for Immediate Actions per round, you're probably not hyper optimized in the first place

Not Quite Broken: How to Get People To Not Use Daily Powers

Personally, I have no intention of ever utilizing the following rules, but it goes into the Game Design theory I was talking about earlier:

Daily powers, and encounter powers, are used partially on a Use Them Or Lose Them basis. This can be contrasted to consumable items and powers, which are not Use Them Or Lose Them. My own (FULLY ANECDOTAL) experience has been that players tend to be a lot more willing to use the former than they are the latter-though, in a total pinch, because they have to use consumable items to win, they will, as no one wants a TPK. The exception to this is when consumable items are so cheap-as is the case with low level reagents at mid to high paragon and beyond (prior to the rarity rules)-that the real expected cost of the consumable is so low that it might as well be something akin to an At-Will.

As I said, I don't have a problem with this mechanic-it encourages players to use every part of the character build, so to speak, but if you happen to like the idea of there always been a trade-off between using a power or not, at the end of an Extended Rest, consider rewarding characters who have unspent daily resources. The reward should be proportional to the number of encounters faced over the course of the day, the power (probably simply related to level) of the power, and any other factors concerned. This has the result of making burning off daily powers a little less desirable because of the associated opportunity cost. It does, however, put martial Essentials classes (barring the Assassin) in a bit of a pickle, especially considering how controversial they are to begin with.

That being said, it's not that it's complicated-a daily power that goes unspent is a one-time resource that wasn't used and as thus is wasted. Consider giving a "bonus" consumable power of comparable level, with a rarity based on the difficulty of that adventuring day. Obviously, common consumables are little more than worth 1/5th their level as bonus treasure, but uncommon and rare consumables are a major benefit.

But be prepared for the last fight of any given adventure to be a lot more difficult-your characters may start hoarding consumables, but whether or not they actually use them depends on their response to Use It Or Lose It free resources.

When is an Encounter Power not an Encounter Power?

In my upcoming Dungeons and Dragons game, Sands, Serpents, and Scales, I'm using a number of variant rules regarding daily power usage and healing surges. The reason being that with the style of narrative I'm using, it's more difficult to create Extended Rest time periods that conform to the dramatic narrative, which tends to run to the unhappy situation where every even remotely difficult encounter can be rendered irrelevant by dumping a whole bunch of daily attack powers. Whatever-that's not what's at issue here.

What's at issue here is that, reading the Vampire Preview, I find that the mechanics of the Vampire Class are actually remarkably similar to the mechanics that I'm utilizing-very few "daily" healing surges, but the ability to regain (or rather gain) healing surges upon successful attacks. In the utilized system (which can be found at ; I have the wiki set to open due to the complications of having my players sign up, so please don't abuse the wiki), characters get a certain number of healing surges per encounter. So, what does this have to do with the topic?

Well, in addition to making healing basically impossible when you have 10 encounters per day (or however many), many of whom are more than EL (yes-you level up more than once per "day"), characters are able to use daily powers less often than normal. To allow characters to "Nova" a little bit more often, you'll notice the Finishing Move rules. Once per encounter, a character can use a daily attack power at the cost of healing surges.

Surges per encounter are use them or lose them. That means that, if you're not damaged at the end of an encounter, or if you're damaged only such that one surge (along with the bard's Song of Rest capability-good choice, By the Way) and you have a pool of two surges left over, that's a wasted resource-a resource that, had you used them differently, perhaps you could have prevented someone else from having spent resources.

In a standard campaign, barring the knowledge that certain enemies are more powerful while bloodied (and as thus should be engineered to spend as little time being bloodied as possible), it's natural to unleash one's encounter powers up front, to be sure that you're doing "as much as possible." After all, if you hang on to your strongest attacks, there's a heavy chance you'll have basically wasted them. Daily powers are the same way, except that the calculations are based on whether or not the power will be available this encounter, or available next encounter-so the "Use it or lose it" sense doesn't trigger until the last encounter of an adventure.

Of course, a Killer DM ( may be a master at setting up "False" final battles for an adventure, perhaps throwing a Purple Worm encounter on the way back home. This distorts how much information a player has for making decisions about when to use powers or not, but that's more an issue of Transparency As It Relates To Game Theory (of which I'm sure there are many books on the subject that I am only semi-qualified to even comment on).

But the interesting point is that we're looking at a binary state of Use or Don't Use as it pertains to being Wasted or Not Wasted. When you have something like the new Vampire Class that can utilize healing surges to power other abilities, suddenly, spending a healing surge isn't just an issue of whether you heal or not-it's the opportunity cost of those options you no longer have. Likewise, with the aforementioned Finishing Move rules, the information about how much those surges costs you changes over the course of a battle.

That's the beauty about having multiple Use it or Lose It resources that can interact together in different ways. Instead of dropping Fireball (a 2 surge Finisher) in the first round because, if you don't, you lose the ability to use a finishing move for that encounter, you wait to see just how valuable two surges are going to be to you over the course of the encounter. So if, as the fight is winding down to a close, you notice "Holy crap, I'm at full health and have two encounter surges left and haven't used my finishing move," you know that the opportunity cost of using Fireball goes from "Healing myself to full or not" to "Jack Squat."

They're called Finishing Moves for a reason.

Overlooked: Dungeon Master Spotlight <- Read that Article. Now tell me, what is Mearls forgetting here?

It's certainly true that balance isn't about how much DPR one character deals compared to another, but about how every character feels that they're contributing equally. But I think what Mearls is overlooking is that balance is not just described between different character classes, but also between the party and the Dungeon Master.

If the Wizard blows up armies, the Fighter has duels, and the Bard talks everyone out of forming armies and starting duels in the first place, then those are "Spotlights" for each of them. And the intensity of each spotlight, and frequency of each spotlight, can be measured against one another (Unfortunately, I'd love to use the word frequency to refer to the "color" of the spotlight to better serve the analogy, but it serves better in terms of "how often" here. Sadness).

OF course, it's comparing apples to oranges. A Red Spotlight is not the same thing as a Blue Spotlight, and who knows when the social skills character feels like he's contributed (I'll have an article on that later). But there is one thing that we can look at: the intensity of red, blue, and green taken together, let's just call it white. If each of those lights have an intensity of one, they're balanced against each other. If each of them has an intensity of three, they're balanced against each other. But a white light of intensity one, is not the same thing as a white light of intensity three.

It's very easy to give every player their own "I Win" button, and have them hit it at a relatively fixed frequency. You build a game like that, and every player feels balanced with every other player (at least in theory). But the game isn't just five players-there's also a Dungeon Master involved.

An argument can be made that "If the Dungeon Master wants to win then he should probably be a player, now shouldn't he? The Dungeon Master has to be the one who provides the spotlights, not the one who competes with them." I understand where this argument is coming from, but it's losing sight of the issue. If the balance of the Dungeon Master is rejected entirely, it doesn't matter what the net sum of intensity of balance between the players is. When you account for the balance between players and DM, the overall "difficulty" of the campaign, you have enough information that you can get closer to the "Perfect Game Formula" that we're all striving for.

After all, my redesigns to Solo Monsters aren't intended to rebalance Defenders and Controllers versus strikers-after all, Controllers and Defenders both lost out pretty substantially, and I'd already mentioned that Strikers gain a pretty substantial benefit in fighting solo monsters as is!-but rather in Party/Monster dynamics. It's not enough for the PCs to each be overcoming the same amount of challenges-they have to feel like they're being challenged and, just as important, the Dungeon Master has to feel like he is challenging them.

As a DM with a somewhat "Railsy" style of gameplay, I occasionally hear complaints (from people not in my campaigns) that "If I wanted to follow a linear story, I'd just go play a CRPG." But likewise, if there's no one interested in enjoying the Dungeon Master's side of the story, you really are playing a computer game. And no, Asimov, I Not Robot.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Solos: Purple Worm (Test Build)

My players read this blog, so you can be sure that they'll be expecting to see something sneaky soon ('cause purple's da sneakiest)

Incidentally, I didn't include the cleanser or Save vs End of Next Turn effects into the stat block, as those are a bit more ad-hoc fixes. I'd generally recommend using Save at Start of Turn (as normal-that's implied in all my builds). For the Purple Worm, Cleanser should probably be usable once per encounter at most.

The purple worm is a straight up damage dealer, and not truly suitable for an end-boss to an adventure, so it's best not to make the party feel like they have to throw a whole bunch of daily resources at it just to take it down. Proceed with caution.

Purple Worm (14th level)
Level 14 Solo Brute
Huge natural beast
XP 5,000
HP 560; Bloodied 280
AC 28; Fortitude 28; Reflex 26; Will 24
Speed 6, burrow 6
Immune gaze, illusion
Saving Throws +5; Action Points 2
Initiative +9
Perception +8
Blindsight 10, Tremorsense 20
Mouth and Stinger
A Purple Worm either uses Poison Stinger or Burrows its speed as a free action on an initiative count equal to its initiative +10. Whenever the Purple Worm uses this action, it gains an additional Immediate Action for the round.
Whenever a Purple Worm would be dazed, stunned, or dominated, it instead loses its next Mouth and Stinger turn count.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
If a Purple Worm begins its turn marked and underground, it is no longer marked.
Standard Actions
m Bite • At-Will
Attack: Reach 3; +19 vs. AC
Hit: 4d8 + 8 damage.
M Devour Whole • At-Will
Attack: +17 vs. Fortitude
Hit: 3d10 + 7 damage, and the target is swallowed (Escape DC 21). While swallowed, the target does not occupy a square and has neither line of sight nor line of effect to anything except the worm and other creatures swallowed by the worm; in addition, nothing has line of sight or line of effect to the target except other creatures swallowed by the worm. If the target attacks the worm using a close or an area attack, that attack targets all other creatures swallowed by the worm. While swallowed, the target takes 30 acid damage at the end of its turn.
M Poison Stinger • At-Will
Attack: Melee 3; +19 vs. AC
Hit: 2d8 + 0 damage, and ongoing 15 poison damage (Save ends); if the target is already suffering from ongoing poison damage, instead increase the ongoing damage by 10.
Minor Actions
Regurgitate • At-Will
Effect: One creature Swallowed by the Purple Worm appears in a square of the worm's choice within 4 squares of it. That creature is no longer swallowed and takes 3d10+8 damage.
M Fling • At-Will
Requirement: The Purple Worm must be bloodied.
Attack: +17 vs. Fortitude
Hit: 3d10 + 8 damage, and the Purple Worm slides the target 4 squares.
Triggered Actions
Thrash • At-Will
Attack (Immediate Reaction): Melee 3 (one creature); +17 vs. Reflex
Hit: 3d12 + 5 damage and the Purple Worm must push the creature five squares.
Str 17 (+10)
Dex 15 (+9)
Wis 13 (+8)
Con 25 (+14)
Int 1 (+2)
Cha 3 (+3)
Alignment unaligned     Languages
© 2010 Wizards of the Coast LLC, a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc. All rights reserved. This formatted statistics block has been generated using the D&D Adventure Tools. Failure to post this line probably deals 2d6+8 Legal Damage, but that depends on your Resistance to ™ defense, now doesn’t it?

In all seriousness, let's dive right in. At first glance, the design probably looks a bit overwhelming. After all, not only does it have a fairly crippling standard action, it also gets a really nasty ongoing poison damage attack once per round. That combined with Regurgitating enemies already leads us to the desired 3 attacks equivalence per round. But then there's Thrash! If you've kept up with the Monster Vault, you know that Thrash normally targets up to two creatures, but seeing as how this Purple Worm can theoretically get Immediate Actions, it seemed appropriate to scale that back to one. But even ignoring thrash, when the creature's bloodied, you can expect to see it use fling as needed even if it hasn't managed to hit with Devour Whole!

So, what's the secret? The bottom line is that the Purple Worm is a melee-only build; this means even its bonus actions are useless if the party is sufficiently spread out. Obviously, when you have two or more melee classes, you can't really "do" the sufficiently spread out thing, but sometimes it pays to let the controller move the enemy so you can do hit and run tactics. In this case, however, forcing the Purple Worm to miss its Stinger attack means that you also give it the chance to burrow-meaning you're going to have a full round of doing absolutely nothing but defending or delaying. Or readying an action, but that's a dark dark road I'll explain later.

It's true that the Purple Worm being able to burrow gives it a certain level of immunity to all attacks-but it's important to remember that this isn't without cost to the Worm. Before being bloodied, the Purple Worm in this design doesn't have access to fling, and as thus can only use minor actions to regurgitate, but once the Purple Worm is bloodied, it'll want to use as many minor actions as possible. If the Worm has to retreat, that means that's also a move action it's going to need to spend-meaning a move action it won't be able to convert to a minor action. Playing the field and making sure that when the Purple Worm burrows rather than attacks it's on your terms, not the worm's, is the key.

Of course, the other fact is that the Purple Worm is still fairly easily to optimize against. Poison Sting is fairly harmless if you can somehow pre-negate the ongoing poison damage, and all attacks are melee attacks-leaving the Purple Worm particuarly vulnerable to slowing, immobilizing, and similar effects.

Overall, my redesign of the Purple Worm from Monster Vault really isn't that radical-the Worm has a bit more ability to respond to the changing circumstances around it, but overall can probably be considered to actually be a weaker design (due to the inability to simply use Fling or Poison Sting three or four times per encounter). If you're interested in using the Solo Rebuild rules, consider using the Pruple Worm to experiment, as it's deliberately designed to not be earth shattering, but to show the difference between Solo Monsters (Yes, even Monster Vault solo monsters) and 5E Now solos.

As for my crew, Level 14 is just the level of the Purple Worm as it appears in the Monster Vault-I can raise or lower it as needed.