4th Time’s the Charm

So Gamer Bling has railed against the systematic 3e and 3.5e abuse of arcane spellcasters. In doing so, he has managed to avoid posting any actual reviews for several weeks, which is, in fact, part of his master plan, because the Gamer Bling Official Companion and he are busily trying to launch a business, which takes a lot of time, and railing against an RPG system takes less time than creating a detailed review.

This trend continues this week, but will hopefully stop next week, as Gamer Bling works toward finishing a review. It would also help if Paizo would get Critical Hits decks back in stock, since he wanted to review them and the Critical Misses decks together, thus he is left with a half-finished, half-filled, half-funny review that he might post anyway.

In any event, after a couple weeks of denigrating 3e, Gamer Bling thought he should explain why 4e gets magic right.

First, as previously mentioned, magic is an inherent attribute of a 4e wizard. They can cast mage hand and light at will, and generally do magical things whenever they want. In other words, they can actually practice magic the way the PHB describes it.

Additionally, because their magic is treated as inherent and not as mystic ammunition, they can use their magic throughout combat instead of firing off a spell or two and then resorting to missile weapons that have little chance of damaging armored opponents, especially since you’re probably firing into melee.

Gandalf didn’t carry a crossbow.

“Wait!” some may say at this point, which, if they do so out loud, may alert their boss to the fact that they’re surfing the net instead of working. “What about 4e Encounter spells? Wizards can’t use them all the time!”

To which Gamer Bling replies thusly: What’s the difference between a 4e wizard using an encounter spell, and a 3e wizard firing off his sole high-level spell in combat? About eight hours’ sleep. 

However, the best thing that 4e did, both in terms of making the game flow and in terms of creating a magical feeling, was to divorce utility spells from combat spell by use of rituals.

One of the great decisions facing all 3e spellcasters was whether to take survival spells or utility spells.

Go into a dungeon with nothing but combat spells, and you can get stymied by a door. Then you sleep, awaken, memorize knock, open the door, sleep again, rememorize the combat spell, and continue on your way. Assuming you can get eight hours’ rest in a dungeon, let alone sixteen back to back.

Go into a dungeon with lots of utility spells, and you can do lots of things… except provide any help when a pack of heavily armored gnolls attacks the party. Then the other players all look at you and wonder what the heck you were thinking when you chose to memorize tongues instead of fireball. (Answer: “So I can say ‘I surrender’ after all of you guys die.”)

The 3e solution for this is for wizards to create scrolls of utility spells. Since they’re not needed in combat, you can take your time to pull out the scroll and read it. But this requires a chunk of cash and (even more offensively) XP.

That’s right, folks, to improve your utility and do what you should be able to do inherently, you must spend money and retrograde your advancement.

Why is the XP cost even in there? Arguably it is because of Tolkein, who pioneered the “pour your soul into your magic items” concept. But Sauron made One Ring, and poured half his soul into it. He didn’t linger in Middle Earth because he’d spread his smidgeons of his essence like grape jelly across the pages of ten thousand scrolls.

For that matter, name another magical item in Middle Earth that had the essence of the maker. Did Elrond suffer for reforging Anduril? Nope.

So from a design standpoint, why is the XP cost there?

If the cost is supposed to be onerous, that’s just cruel. Make enough magic items, and you’ll lag behind the others in the party. Are magic items powerful to justify that? Not with the frequency that they can be found or purchased. On the other hand, if the cost is supposed to be inconsequential, then take it out!

Think of it: by making a magic item, you are effectively converting XP into gold (either by selling it, or by not paying as much to buy it). Is that a fair trade? Would anyone do that voluntarily? Yet wouldn’t everyone get on the bandwagon to convert gold into XP? You betcha!

In fact, NPC spellcasters that make scrolls for hire are actively putting themselves out of business by degrading their own abilities as they make stuff. Once they run out of XP, they can’t make any more scrolls. Then what? “I’ll make the scroll you ask for, noble hero, but first you must capture a rabid sheep and a couple rats and let them loose in my house so I can kill them. Only then shall I be able to scribe the magic.”

Ritual books allow wizards to do large utility spells. Yet the time they require, and the fact that the wizard must refer to said book, prevents them from being of any use in a frantic situation. Or, in rare occasions, makes the frantic situation even more frantic, wherein the players have to hold off the monster for ten full minutes while the wizard works his magic.

Ritual scrolls allow anyone to complete a magic ritual, although anyone who’s read enough Lovecraft should know better.  

And, as an aside, the 4e spellbook holds 128 pages. This is both a 28% improvement over 3e spellbooks, and also more realistic besides. See, bookmakers do not bind individual pages into a book; they take large sheets of paper and fold them over and over, then bind the folded part into the book and trim the edges to create the pages. That’s why the page count of books is typically a multiple of 16 (when you count actual pages, not numbered pages). This is why you can often find RPG sourcebooks with several blank pages at the end labeled “Notes.”

As an aside to an aside, Gamer Bling has a book published in 1873 in which some of the sheets were misfolded, being enough asymmetric that they escaped being trimmed. Thus the pages were still attached at the flyleaf. Kind of funny.

And finally, wizards use implements. Staves, wands, crystal balls, and presumably more to come all enhance the imagery of using magic in an RPG.

Well, Gamer Bling’s wrath is spent. This should be the last of it on this particular subject. While Gamer Bling prepares for next week, he has a simple question for all his loyal readers:

What products would you like Gamer Bling to review next?

~ by Gamer Bling on 11 February 2009.

7 Responses to “4th Time’s the Charm”

  1. Nice review. When 4e first came out, I had two benchmarks I planned to use to make an initial snap judgment – two of the things most near and dear to me in D&D gaming. They were related – 1. fix the fighter (the poor class really hit rock bottom in 3e) 2. leave the wizard… wizardly. They did. The fighter is awesome again, able to actually fight, and not just act as a damage soak while the big bad casters scorch the earth in a 120′ radius. And wizards came off better than before. As you say, they get to be wizards all day long, from 1st level. Spellbooks give them a unique property shared by no other class (so far) – power choice. While others can use rituals, wizards are masters at it. They are knowledgeable, powerful, never have to physically open a door or lift a drink or light a lantern. Lastly, and most importantly, they do all this without running off with the game, and thereby the fun, after about 5th level.

  2. Well, jeeze, Thad. Here RPG Ike was all ready to play devil’s advocate, but then you went and convinced RPG Ike how awesome the 4E wizard really is. Hm.

    RPG Ike can’t argue with Gamer Bling about XP costs though. Just an imperfect answer to a question of being able to choose what you make.

    RPG Ike is going to go roll a 4E wizard.

  3. I honestly can’t disagree with your assessment of the 3e/3.5e wizard, but if use the new Pathfinder rules (www.paizo.com), it really does solve a lot of problems. I have a 4e wizard, but I just haven’t enjoyed him like I was hoping to (he’s only 2nd level though, so I’m keeping an open mind). I still have a love of 3.5 wizards though, so long as I can use the PF rules.

  4. Suggestion: review FFG’s Bag of Cthulu

    • Send me the link, and I will add it. Gamer Bling has many reviews that he is behind on, most egregious of which is the stuff from Mages Guild, which prompted them to write to yours truly, although with a return email address that bounced as “full.”

      Nonetheless, Gamer Bling expects to start reviewing again anon.

  5. I eagerly await your upcoming reviews 🙂

    • Don’t we all. But fear not, Gnoble Gnights! A lame excuse– er, full explanation is coming Wednesday!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: