Question & 4nswer, Part 1

Well, right before Christmas we started our first official 4e campaign, with Gamer Bling more than adequately fulfilling the role of supreme dictator of all things gamishness, and the others fulfilling the role of assorted cannon fodder.

They had assembled a much more balanced party this time, being comprised of Jason (reprising his role as Bard of Violent Singing), Mark (reprising his role as Blow-Them-Out-from-Behind-Cover Invoker), Chandler (reprising his role as a guy who can’t get the night off and is thus absent), and Chris (reprising his role as a min-max goober, though this time as a Warden).

And therewith we started through WotC’s prepackaged adventure H1: The Keep on the Shadowfell, which may well require a review in and of itself, because it’s about as blingy as an adventure can easily get. The party endured a couple of ambushes, did some role-playing, and launched an attack on a kobold lair. A great time was had by all, and the time flew by faster than a speeding deadline.

And herewith Gamer Bling shall address the first of the bold statements he has heard about 4e from its detractors.

In case you aren’t aware, there are a number of 3e RPGers (henceforth “gam3rs” in homage to the D&D logo that had 3e worked into the word Dungeon) who don’t like 4e because it’s not 3.75 Edition, but a game with many mechanics cut from whole cloth. It’s as radical a departure from 3e as AD&D was from the White Box, or 3e from whatever edition there was before that, said edition being one that Gamer Bling cheerfully ignored, opting instead to play Paranoia and kill PCs almost as fast as the current administration spends money.

Many of the gam3r comments Gamer Bling has heard about 4e ring of inexperience or rationalization. Or, as those who try to circumvent actual debate would say, “that’s their fear and ignorance speaking.”

Leaving aside personal preference—play whatever game you want, whether it’s 3e or 4e or White-Box D&D or Dangerous Journeys with all its GFLAs—Gamer Bling feels compelled to take any blatantly foolish statements and skewer them like a chicken satay and roast them over the brilliant heat of his wit and perception. In case you can’t tell, it’s almost lunchtime as Gamer Bling writes these words.

One of the first gam3r statements Gamer Bling heard was that 4e restricted what you could do, compartmentalizing and delineating every action. In contrast, 3e was wide open.

Gamer Bling understands how this opinion could arise, assuming you glanced at the 4e books in fear and ignorance and then did no further exploration or gedankenexperiments.

4e has powers for just about everything. Even the basic melee attack (basic attack bonus versus AC of target to inflict damage) is now defined as a power. Does this restrict the basic melee attack in any way? No. But it does take something that was inherent in the rules and pull it out and make it cleaner, clearer, and more precise. If you think about it, the difference between having an ability written in the rules (like the monk’s flurry ability, say) and having it tabulated as a power a la 4e, is primarily cosmetic. But to the casual observer, it could easily look restrictive.

The secondary effect of singling out abilities as powers is clarity, which is always a good thing.

The third effect is that you can have a cool product like this one, which is Gamer Bling’s new review this week.

Please don't make me try something new!Now the drawback with having everything delineated as a power is that it can, among timid gam3rs, lead to inside-the-box thinking: “If I don’t have a power card for it, I can’t do it.” Nothing could be further from the truth. You can still swing from chandeliers, sweet-talk the serving wench, or cast magic missile at the darkness. And it’s still up to the DM to decide how to handle those things.

But as far as actually restricting what you can do, this statement, like much of so-called conventional wisdom, is exactly wrong.

As far as Gamer Bling is concerned, providing only one effective option is restrictive. 3e does this. Let’s take a look at what a first-level character can do in combat with a melee weapon, shall we?

In 3e, you can

  • attack, which is a strength-based attack against AC,
  • grapple, which people rarely do because it’s too complex and dangerous, and
  • bull rush, which Gamer Bling has never seen used ever.

In 4e, you can do the grapple and bull rush. Whatever. And a first-level character also gets the basic melee attack, which will be rarely if ever used, because in a very unrestrictive design choice, characters have better options. Oddly enough, fighters end up with no reason to use the basic attack—each of their options is unequivocally better than the basic attack—while members of other classes may have reason to resort to a Strength-vs.-AC attack at some point (wizards, for example, have no at-will attacks that use either strength or AC).

Regardless, characters get two special attacks based on their class and preference, and can use these attacks in place of a basic melee attack. Two cool examples of these attacks include:

Tide of Iron (Fighter): Just like a basic 3e attack, but if you hit, you push the target 1 square back and you can advance. Think of it as a bull rush with damage, and without all the rules.

Riposte Strike (Rogue): Dexterity vs. AC (which itself would require a Weapon Finesse feat in 3e, despite the fact that a rogue is supposed to be a finesse character), plus an immediate attack of opportunity if the target attacks you before your next turn.

There are other choices that you can make with the powers you choose. For example, rangers can choose between making an attack with a +2 bonus to hit but only doing base weapon damage, or an attack with no bonus to hit that does weapon + strength bonus damage. Choose them both, and then (gasp!) adjust your tactics as the situation warrants.

Then there are the attacks that you can only make once per encounter. As one can imagine, they pack more punch. For example, a two-weapon ranger can make an attack against every adjacent enemy. Or a warlord can make a double-damage attack and then switch places with the target. Great for penetrating enemy lines, or for getting your chief foe flanked.

And that’s all just at first level. 4e is a more powerful game, both for players and for monsters.

In other words, you can do more than wave your pointed stick at the other side.

“More restrictive.” Pfft!

~ by Gamer Bling on 6 January 2010.

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