Monday, December 31, 2012

Back to 4e, the wizard, 2nd amendment

Welcome back, and Happy New Year!

Hope your holidays have been enjoyable! We’ve had a very nice Christmas, even if it’s been a bit soggy—one of the hazards of living in the Seattle area, I suppose. On the bright side, the ski slopes have had plenty of snow.
Not much new to report this time around. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be helping the folks at Goblinworks with the Kickstarter for their Pathfinder Online game. Even if you’re not a MMO fan, you ought to check out what they’re giving away in tabletop game materials for participating in the Kickstarter—it’s a fantastic deal even if you never play a minute of the MMO.

Gaming: Well, my experiment in returning to 3e and running a 4e adventure in a 2e setting is wrapped up. There were many things I loved about 3e, but playing that rule set again after years in 4e was more challenging than I thought. It’s a much swingier version of D&D, and encounter building is tougher than I remembered.  For example, the druid in the party blew up two big encounters with a 1st-level spell (entangle); in 4e, that spell would be (save ends) and maybe a burst 3, as opposed to a burst 10. Anyway, I started working up some house rules and patches to 4e-ify my game a little bit around the edges—say, adding save-each-round versus status effects--and it wound up being a lot more involved than I would have thought.  And my group missed the Character Builder.
Anyway, I’m now thinking about just sticking to 4e. But now I’m thinking about what I might want to houserule in 4e. The two things that bug me the most: Grindy combat, and bland wizards.

By grindy combat, I’m referring to fights where everyone’s used all the encounter and daily powers they care to expend, but the monsters still have more hit points to go through. I’ve seen too many 4e combats stretch out 10 rounds after the fun was finished. A simple patch is to cut monster hit points in half, but that of course just reduces the danger to PCs since monsters drop before they achieve their expected threat against the PCs. If you halve monster hp but double monster damage, you’d get pretty close to balancing it out, but I worry that might actually be too swingy—the effect of a monster getting just a little lucky and rolling a hit three rounds in a row instead of miss-hit-miss or hit-miss-hit would be too severe, especially if it’s a high damage monster like a brute. I’m almost wondering if I could quietly apply something like a +4 attack bonus on my side of the screen to increase damage output without quite so much swinginess.
By bland wizards, I mean wizards that look too much like other classes. This is really an aesthetic issue for me, not a game balance issue: in 4e, wizards just aren’t “different” enough from other characters for my tastes. I feel like 4e wizards would be more true to the D&D idiom if, say, they had maybe 60 percent of the hit points they currently do, but their damage output or offensive power increased in some way. Wizards should be glass cannons, and protecting wizards from enemy attack is a classic D&D tactic that gets short shrift in 4e. IMO, it should be the case that the scariest thing that can happen to you in D&D is to get targeted by an enemy wizard’s highest-level spell… but in 4e, that’s generally not the case.  The striker is way more scary. So what kind of offensive benefit would I give wizards to make them more like glass cannons? Well, I’m not sure yet. I think it could be something like this:

Metamagic: Three times per day, you can use metamagic on a spell you’re casting. Choose one of the following effects: increase a burst or blast by 1; add 10/20/40 damage by tier; change “save ends” to “2 saves end.”
Making it a daily resource is interesting to me, because managing an important daily resource is what wizards have always been about. I want to find a happy medium between the 3e wizard’s ability to absolutely blow up an encounter, and the 4e wizard’s lack of ability to do so (in my experience, the 4e wizard doesn’t kill many foes, although there are certainly obnoxious orb builds that can stun lock foes).

I think I might also houserule a ritual bonus of some sort, like “you have 2/3/4 ritual slots in addition to your utility slots.” Tracking ritual components is no fun, but it’s a shame that rituals just don’t get used in play. I miss the occasional Knock spell.
Politics/Current Events: I’ve been thinking more about the question of gun control and the right to bear arms, and I got to someplace I didn’t expect. Many people don’t realize that the Second Amendment was created specifically to serve as a check on the government’s power. The Founding Fathers were revolutionaries who recognized that a people oppressed by their government had the right to take up arms and free themselves. They wanted to assure the people of the various states that, if the federal government became oppressive, the people would retain the means to protect themselves against tyranny. Of course, in the 18th century, it was possible for individuals to provide themselves with current, military-grade gear. A farmer’s musket was equal in firepower to a soldier’s musket.

In the 21st century, it’s no longer possible for individual or small-community effort to field a modern military force. Not many private citizens can afford to own tanks or jet fighters. However, our country does have militia organizations that do exactly that—the National Guard. While it’s true that we don’t really have town or county militias anymore, the Guard of today is what the Founding Fathers were protecting in the 18th century. So if the National Guard meets the need foreseen by the Framers when they created the Second Amendment, what does that mean for private gun ownership?
I find myself thinking that private gun ownership actually has very little to do with the Second Amendment—and I say this as a gun owner who would absolutely refuse to comply with any kind of confiscation program. Private gun ownership isn’t about the right to bear arms, it’s about the right of self-defense.  The principle of self-defense is enshrined in our legal system in many places; it’s one of those “natural rights” that form the philosophical foundation of our legal and political systems. In a world where you might be attacked with lethal force, you have the right to use lethal force to protect yourself (and your property, to some extent). And that means you can make sure the means of self-defense are close at hand.

So, I think it’s not unreasonable to tighten up gun regulations, but it’s important that people can arm themselves for self-defense if they want to. I don’t think there is a Constitutionally mandated right to own a Hellfire missile or a heavy machine gun—but I think there is a natural right to own a hunting rifle or a pistol, and that right shouldn’t be infringed or limited by government without very good reason.  Let’s just make sure that the regulations we create for gun control are logical and effective, and don’t wind up taking guns away from responsible people while leaving them in the hands of criminals.

The Finer Things: The Twilight Zone. There’s a marathon on the Sci Fi channel today. Man, these shows are great. Best part? My daughter is a real aficionado, too. Nice to know that I’m raising her right.




  1. This guy worked up a 4E damage table that pretty closely matches the lethality of 1st level through all levels:

    And if everyone has burned their encounter and daily powers and there's still enemies on the table, someone is doing it wrong. The strikers aren't striking, or your monsters need to retreat.

  2. Interesting to hear you came to the same conclusion on 3e/4e as I did :-)

    Couple of suggestions for your issues:

    - 13th Age has a nifty idea for an "escalation die". This is basically a + to hit (tracked on a die) for the PCs that escalates as the fight progresses, increasing effective damage as time goes by. This at one swoop shortens combat and makes saving encounter and daily powers for later in the fight interesting.

    - There is an ENworld thread on revisions to 4e right now that might give you some ideas:


  3. Thanks for the thread link, Andy! That was an interesting discussion. And I was gratified to see that I was pretty well "up" on the issues--I was kinda afraid that my game designer muscles might have atrophied from not working on 4e system stuff in more than a year. I ran my first 4e session on Thursday, and it went well, but I had a *hard* time getting the Caesars in my group to understand that I wanted them to develop 3-dimensional characters who fit into the world, and that maybe they ought to throw some utility power or feat selections toward *roleplaying* and *exploration* support.

    I liked the short discussion about "nonsense" powers. Thinking about whether I should warn the group that I may apply a harsh amount of common sense to power adjudication.


  4. I am wondering how you felt playing in Birthright again.

  5. Hmm, it's an interesting area, but I have pretty much come to the conclusion that trying to persuade "Caesars" to play a particular way is fruitless. I just focus hard on the decisions I have the players make during play - on making sure they are meaningful, in the sense that they have clear and noticeable repercussions whichever choice is selected.

    As a GM leading the horses to water, you can't make them drink - but you *can* throw them into the middle of the river, and maybe they'll swallow the odd mouthful while they're busy trying to keep themselves from drowning... ;-)