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How You Play the Game

Last night, I posted what was supposed to be a positive post about what I like about 4th edition.  However, it’s clear to me from one of the more recent comments that some folks don’t understand that everyone plays the game differently.  Now, I may be calling maestrod out, which isn’t my intention, but it was a catalyst that forced me to realize that not everyone knows how I, and my group, play D&D.  I’ve mentioned before that I think a fair amount of the problem between we pro-3.5 folks and the 4e crowd is how we play.  So, in order to lay out why I feel the way I do about certain things, I’m going to lay out how we create characters and our approach to playing the game.

First, characters are created almost in a vacuum.  Each player is free to create whatever character they want to, with DM approval.  There is no pressure to take any particular class or skills.  Anything lacking has to be overcome in some other manner, usually by players being very creative or just praying like hell.  If we’re lacking a rogue or a cleric, so what?  In all honesty, we’re usually lacking one or both of those.  So far, we’ve been having a blast playing like that.

The idea of “party balance” is, to us anyways, a silly concept.  The party has always been balanced well enough for our enjoyment and we usually have a blast figuring out how to find traps without a rogue, to heal without a cleric, or whatever else we’re lacking.

In addition, the wizards can be hardcore damage dealers, and the fighters can be stealthy killers with archery skills out the wazoo, but none of the ranger’s nature-based skills.  In short, everyone plays their character as they see fit.  Party unity is typically done completely in character, despite differences and difficulties with shortages of certain skills.

In my opinion, this adds to the realism, since a perfectly meshed party is unlikely to spontaneously form.  There will be gaps in skills and knowledge, so why not role play that?  We do, and have a lot of fun with that way.  A rogue who’s a con artist rather than a lock picker is a blast, and doesn’t fill that niche at all.

The way we play is a blast for us, and until/unless something new and interesting comes out from Wizards of the Coast that makes us change our mind about how well 4e will fit our play style, nothing is going to change about what system we play.

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September 3, 2008 Posted by | RPG | , | 12 Comments

4e Ain’t All Bad

I’m a holdout.  I still don’t play 4e and frankly I don’t see that changing in the near future.  The most read post on this blog is my review of 4th Edition.  However, not everything sucks about 4e.  There is some good there, and I figure it’s high time that a pro-3.5 guy like myself point some of them out.  Especially since I’ve mentioned plenty of the flaws I’ve seen in the system.  I try to be fair here, and why not give the new kid on the block (edition wise anyways) a chance to show his stuff.

First, there is one class that is the awesome for my in 4e, and it’s not my beloved fighter.  Nope…it’s the warlock.  There is nothing about this class I can’t stand with the possible exception of the paragon paths.  And besides, they look to be pretty minor so far as annoyance, so the 4e Warlock wins The Geek Emporium Award of Awesome just for being.  Why, you may ask?  Simple.  The class has a great blend of crunch and fluff.  It all but begs for a great backstory about how the pact was made, and I’m sure you all know how much I love back story!  And this says nothing of a decent skill selection with RAW, nor the fact that they can pretty much kill everything!

Another thing I like, which has been touched on previously, is that wizards never run out of spells.  Never.  They always have at-will powers to use, which are spells.  I like this so much, in fact, that I’m in the process of blatantly ripping it off for my 3.5 campaign that will me starting at some point in the future.  The downside of playing a spell caster has always been running out of spells at first level, and now that threat is completely and totally gone.  Finally!  Spell casters are cool again!

Next up, the dragonborn!  Seriously, I love this race.  I love it more in 4e than the 3.5 alternative.  Frankly, I want this race to be converted into 3.5 terms with the 4e fluff.  A race of honorable monsters, for lack of a better term, with a natural ability to inspire and lead?  What’s not to like?  So what if the female dragonborn have boobs or not (apparently a point of contention for many).  The race itself is seriously awesome as written.  Think 2e half dragons but cooler.

One thing a lot of pro-3.5 people have an issue with is rituals.  Basically, with the right skills and the ritual caster feat, anyone can perform acts which required a spell caster to do in earlier levels.  However, most of those rituals are utility spells, rather than combat spell, so why not?  It’s not a bad thing to have someone who can work a little magic to cast Knock, even if you don’t have a wizard in the party.  Frankly, I see this as one thing that actually works toward removing the idea that you need X members to form an effective party.

I’m sure there’s plenty more “good” in 4e than I’ve written about here, but I figured “What the hell…play nice for once” and talk about those things that popped into my head that I actually liked about the system.  Who knows…I may do this again with new stuff I discover 😉

September 2, 2008 Posted by | RPG | | 17 Comments

Party Versus a Group of Folks

I think part of the division in the D&D community between 3.5 and 4e may boil down to this simple preference. Some prefer the idea of a party over a group of individuals, and some prefer it the other way. While many of the rules are annoying to me, they could easily be house ruled and make 4.0 a game that would be worth trying for my group. However, it’s the emphasis that I think gets people fired up. Now, while I’m not a 4e lover by any stretch of the imagination, I think it’s important to understand where it’s coming from and why.

Most D&D is played with a group. Solo and two person campaigns happen all the time, but usually they are secondary to the “big game” for most groups. As such, WotC decided to make the game more about the party. Is this bad? It really depends on your style of play. I read in an interview where one of the developers said that while rogues get all these skill points, they’re expected to blow 2/3rds of them on a specific set of skills (typical thief skills), so they revamped the system so they wouldn’t have to do that. Granted, it still depends on the rogue having these skills, but the cost is less.

On the other hand, my groups have always had a tendency to create each character in a vacuum. No one knows what your character’s skill set is until the game has started. This prevents players being urged to take specific skills to appease the rest of the group. Now, this creates problems. For example, your party’s rogue could be more of a con man than a disable traps kinda guy. This creates a less than ideal situation when you’re in a dark and scary dungeon and need to disable the pit trap before the whole party falls the hundred or so feet to their deaths.

4e is about the party over individuals within a group context. This isn’t necessarily bad either. For example, if the campaign is based on the hook of a military commander selecting a group of people to carry out a mission, he would try to fit together a party that functioned as a party rather than two fighters, a ranger, and a wizard that gets called a “party”. On the other hand, it can also feel a bit contrived when four people who randomly meet in a tavern fit together like cogs in a clock. Sure, it can happen, but after a few times, it feels off to me.

Of course, understanding this principle may make it easier to understand why some people love 4e and some don’t. Perhaps if we all made the effort, some of this animosity would die a horrible death.

July 23, 2008 Posted by | RPG | , | Leave a comment

4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons – Part 4

For the final post on 4th Edition, I want to talk about the powers. For those who don’t know, each class now has “powers”, though they’re called different things depending on the class. Still, a rose by any other name and such. The powers are, however, designed to be balanced between all classes and all levels. For example, a 20th level wizard is no longer more powerful than a 20th level fighter or a 20th level rogue. In short, 4th Edition has made everyone equal.

Equality and balance are good things, right? Not necessarily. If the game were against other players, then certainly it would matter a great deal that everyone be equal. However, you’re not playing against the other PCs. You’re playing with them, and that’s the crucial difference in my mind. So long as everyone is equal in enjoyment, what does it matter?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t consider the powers to be all bad. Wizard’s powers are now called spells, but a fighters are called exploits, and a fighter can supposedly do nifty stuff in combat with these exploits. That’s not a bad thing at all. Unfortunately, they also depowered the wizard to the point that he’s nowhere near as powerful as before, and no matter what level he becomes, he’ll still only have X number of spells. Same with all the other classes.

With the roles that each class is assigned, a major sticking point for me, the powers are set up to help the character fulfill that function. A fighter’s exploits are often geared toward making himself the target so he can defend the other characters, a wizard’s spells are a lot of area affect spells, and a clerics are about buffing the party. This is not a bad thing necessarily. The problem comes in, when the powers don’t fit the role the character wants his character to fulfill. For example, strikers are the damage dealers to a single foe. But what if I want my fighter to do that? Well, they’re called Rangers in that case, despite the fact that rangers and fighters have different skill sets.

Another problem with the powers is the difficulty in making high level NPCs from a homebrew world fit within the 4th Edition context. While it can be done to some extent, it’s far from a simple conversion. Instead, it can require hours of work trying to build up powers that will work within the context of what your world requires. From what I can tell, many DMs with significant investment in their worlds are passing on 4th Edition.

Me personally? I’ll be passing on it as well. While it may work down the road with the new books to come, it doesn’t work for me now, and I damn sure don’t want to have to spend even MORE money just to play the classes my world calls for when they’re already in 3.5. Some people will disagree I’m sure. But that’s the great thing about our world…we don’t have to agree. Just so long as we enjoy what we’re doing, who gives a damn?

July 16, 2008 Posted by | RPG | | Leave a comment

4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons – Part 3

First, I want to clarify one thing. A significant amount of this post is going to be about a generic complaint regarding fantasy role playing games. No edition of Dungeons & Dragons has gotten the arms and armor right, so far as I’m concerned anyways. However, there are some specific complaints to 4th Edition that I’ll address, and a few things I actually think they got right. So, without further ado, here’s Part 3!

My pet peeve in regards to arms and armor in almost every fantasy game out there is the nomenclature they use for the various pieces of armor. Chain mail, plate mail, banded mail, scale mail; it all gets downright annoying. The term maille is a medieval term for interlinked armor that D&D called chain mail. This misunderstanding didn’t start in Gary Gygax’s basement or anything, but about a hundred years earlier. Victorian ear historians interpreted the term maille to mean armor, so chain mail was maille, plate armor was plate mail, scale armor was scale mail, etc. This annoys me that TSR continued using it, and WOTC continues. It passes along bad information and I constantly find myself correcting people’s use. Yeah…I can be an asshole at times about stuff like that. Sorry.

In addition, 3rd Edition started this idea of armor proficiency. I’ve personally worn several types of armor and frankly it didn’t take a lot of time to get comfortable in it. In truth, historical armor was custom made for the individual wearing it many times. I have a photograph in a book of a man in 15th century plate armor doing a handstand even. So much for maximum dexterity bonuses, eh?

As for 4th Edition specific criticisms, the first thing regards plate armor. For example, only the paladin is proficient with it without burning a feat. WTF? Since when can a fighter not wear any and all armor on the board? In truth, it makes absolutely no sense, since plate armor was worn by anyone who could afford it. Of course, 4th Edition has made plate armor significantly cheaper as well. Really, it’s just a tease to fighters. Now that they can actually afford plate armor early in their adventuring careers, they’re unable to use it. Go figure.

One good thing I feel WOTC did was streamline the weapon selection. Now, that’s not to say the list is perfect, but all the core weapons are there, along with a few to add some spice to the mix. Most of the exotic weapons in 3rd Edition, while looking cool, were impractical to say the least. The double sword, which gave a PC the chance to play Darth Maul in a medieval-esque setting, is thankfully missing. However, greatsword, long sword, bastard sword, falchion, all there. Pole arms have been cut down to just two, the glaive and the halberd, also not exactly a bad thing either.

The great thing about the weapons is that they do about the same damage as 3rd Edition weapons, so it’s actually one of the rare cases where 3rd Edition converts to 4th edition easily. So, if your character uses a kama, just take the kama’s damage and call it a 4th Edition weapon. Easy enough. Granted, I’d recommend you still play 3.5, but that’s just me.

There’s plenty of things out there that can be used to blast 4th Edition. I can see many flaws in the system myself, and frankly I’m uninspired by the rule set. If this thing didn’t say Dungeons & Dragons on it, a lot of people who are now loving it, wouldn’t have even bothered. WOTC counted on brand loyalty and it’s paid off to some extent. Unfortunately, the community is divided. Personally, I didn’t see this when 3rd Edition came out, although I wasn’t really on the net much back then either.

In time, there will be 4.5 or 5th Edition that will address many of the complaints folks have with 4th Edition. There will always been new editions, and the question is, will people keep spending all their money every few years for a new edition? Well, for what it’s worth, the kid’s money won’t be going to WOTC for a long, long time.

July 16, 2008 Posted by | RPG | | Leave a comment

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition – Part 2

In Part 1, I discussed my feelings over the changes WOTC felt it needed to change in 4th Edition. However, it’s far from the only issue I have with 4th Edition as a whole. In this post, I’ll talk about classes and issues associated with them in 4th Edition.

First, if you’re a gamer who hasn’t heard anything about 4th Edition, I hope your favorite classes aren’t Bard, Barbarian, Monk, Sorcerer or Druid…because they’re not there anymore. While the monk class is not the most fantasy based class out there and the Sorcerer was introduced in 3rd Edition, the other’s are staple Dungeons & Dragons. Barbarian made it’s return in 3rd Edition, sure, but it was a very popular class. Druids and Bards are two classes that I have always enjoyed seeing played well (and they can be played well), but apparently I’m alone in that assessment.

None of these classes were broken in my opinion, and each had great role play possibilities. It feels as if WOTC has tried to suck the role play possibilities out of the game at the same time they feel the need to “encourage” role play. Now, in all fairness, I must point out that there’s great role play possibilities in all the classes, including several of the new classes in the 4th Edition Player’s Handbook.

The class that got me excited in the build-up was the Warlord class. In the class description, reference is made to the character’s previous life commanding troops, and somehow he finds himself adventuring. This along gives a player something good to build on. However, the way the class is set up annoys me to no end. First, the best armor the character is proficient in is chainmail. Now, despite my pet peeve about the term chainmail (in history it was just called maille, chainmail and platemail came from a Victorian era misunderstanding), it’s just wrong. When in the hell have you ever seen the commander wearing lesser armor than the very best available? And the armor issue is minor. In my humble opinion, the Warlord is nothing more than a martial based bard (as opposed to arcane) with a dash of cleric thrown in for good measure.

Another new class is the Warlock. The character has made a pact with outside forces for tremendous power, and they are certainly bad ass. This is the only class in the entire book that gets me excited. The only way I’d play 4th Edition is if I got to play a warlock. If the DM nixed the idea, then I don’t play. It’s that simple. I can’t dog this class to much. I still haven’t checked out the 3.5 version of the class though, so that may change down the road.

The biggest problem I have is that each class has a “role” assigned to them. Defenders (fighters and paladins), Controllers (wizards), Leaders (clerics and warlords) and strikers (ranger, rogue and warlock). The problem is everything is slanted toward these classes performing these roles. Strikers are the ones who are supposed to deal massive damage to a single target. However, in 3.5 my fighters were often the “strikers” of the group if viewed in this context, and occasionally served as the actual leader. The term leader is misleading in 4th Edition however, since they are not necessarily in command, but instead give buffs and all kinds of spiffy things (much like a bard).

Where much of the “role” thing goes off-track for me is that players can often feel that a class can only fit that role, rather than letting the player be creative with it. In addition to that, the skills (as mentioned previously) are set up so characters are nothing more than a job description. It becomes difficult to tailor a character to fit a specific role. All rogues are, in essence, the same thing. The same is true of fighters, rangers, and wizards as well.

Another thing missing from 4th Edition is multiclassing. That’s right. For the first time in a long, long time, multiclassing is effectively gone. Instead, you can take feats that give you a couple of benefits from a second class, but not to truly multiclass. I keep hearing that multiclassing was “broken”, but frankly I never saw that. Yes, a high level multi-class is uber powerful. However, he’s not unbalancing. He had to earn those levels after all and frankly, but the time he’s a 20/20 Fighter/wizard, he’s still not necessarily more powerful as a 40th level fighter or a 40th level wizard IMHO. Of course, if he is, it’s because of the earlier sacrifices made to reach that level.

In all fairness to 4th Edition, the idea of dabbling in a second class without going wholesale multiclass is a good one. I’m thinking about implementing some of these ideas into my own campaigns. Imagine a fighter who has learned to cast magic missile, or the bard who has a favored enemy. It opens up some really interesting possibilities on many levels, and frankly this is one idea from 4th Edition that I like. It would have been far better, in my humble opinion, to add it to a modified 3.5 rule set than to revamp the whole system, but to each their own.

In truth, I’m not real happy about classes in 4th edition. Even with the awesomeness of the warlock, it’s just not enough to justify the exclusion of the druid, bard, barbarian, monk and sorcerer. Of course, they made the sorcerer redundant with the modifications to the wizard, so that one at least makes some sense. The others? I can’t justify nearly as easily.

Check in again next time for Part 3, which will deal with armor and weapons.

July 15, 2008 Posted by | RPG | | Leave a comment

4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons – Part 1

In the last month, the internet has been aflame with news of 4th Edition. Well, I decided “what the hell” and started my geek blog and where better to start running my mouth than on the game system that helped make me the geek I am today. Father’s Day was the day I got all three current core books, and after checking them out, I have formed my opinion, and it ain’t pretty.

First, no suspense. I do not like 4th Edition at all. Some do, and that’s their headache, not mine. Me? I’d rather play 3.5 instead. Here’s the first part of my multi-part series dealing with 4th Edition and why I don’t like it.

One of the big reasons is the new approach to skills. As opposed to the skill point system in 3rd Edition, which was far from great, the new approach lets a character have X number of skills per their class. They can burn a feat for an additional skill that’s not a class skill for them, but that’s about it. Not only that, but the skill list has been chopped worse than Britney Spears’ self-done haircut. Say goodbye to craft and profession skills, and cherry picking thief skills is gone as well (they’re all lumped up into Thievery…a class skill for rogues and WARLOCKS of all people). Also gone are the various Knowledge skills that I was so personally fond of.

Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) apparently wanted to streamline the process, and they succeeded. Unfortunately, I find fault with their approach. First, skills exist as a game mechanic to support the idea that Player X’s character can do Y. They allow a player to add depth to their character by adding in various skills that their character would have, and the mechanics of 3.5 support this. But in 4th Edition, to develop a character with game supported depth, you’re pretty well out of luck. Instead, 4th Edition seems, to me at least, to be supporting the idea of one dimensional characters who are nothing more than Fighter or Wizard.

Then, we have skill challenges. From what I understand, there are groups that actually need something like a skill challenge to get involved in non-combat stuff. The skill challenge supposedly encourages role play. Granted, it bugs me a little that role play needs to be encouraged in a role playing game, but so be it. My issue with the skill challenge is that it gives a false impression, one that says this is the only way to solve an issue. While experienced players will figure out that it’s only needed in certain instances, new players will assume this is how WOTC expects them to solve problems. Yeah, it’s a minor annoyance, but since I’ve never been in a group that needed crap like this, it’s hard for me to grasp that someone needs to be encouraged to role play a role playing game.

Previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons has always built upon the previous editions. 4th Edition, on the other hand, is a complete and total revamp with little surviving the purge. Ability scores remain the same, and there is still Armor Class and hitpoints, but little else remains. To some this is a good thing, to others, it ain’t.

Part 2 will deal with classes.

July 14, 2008 Posted by | RPG | | 1 Comment