Qu3stion and 4nswer, Part 4

As part of his continuing series wherein he skewers so-called conventional wisdom regarding 4e, Gamer Bling presents a rebuttal of sorts against the statement that “4e is just an MMO on paper.”

Actually, this statement has a fair amount of truth in it, but there is still much analysis to be performed.

The main fallacy of the above statement is a lack of comparison. By stating that 4e is based on an MMO, those who put forth this argument leave out any basis for comparison. As a relatively recent corollary, let’s take the Sarah Palin wardrobe story. Gamer Bling heard on the news that the RNC had spent $150,000 on a campaign wardrobe for her. But Gamer Bling never heard what was spent on any other candidate. Furthermore, women’s clothing typically costs more than men’s, so perhaps the most accurate comparison would be to find out what the DNC spent on Michelle Obama’s wardrobe and compare that to Sarah Palin’s expenditures. And how many changes of clothing were included, anyways? So the net upshot is that the press hung out the $150,000 figure on its own, without any comparative figure to provide Gamer Bling a sense of perspective. Most people therefore compared Sarah Palin’s costs with their own clothing costs, and were suitably appalled (pun intended). It certainly seems high, but Gamer Bling has no clear idea if $150,000 is considered large, small, or average for national public figures involved in hot presidential campaigns. He does know that Liberace wouldn’t have worn anything that cheap. So in the end, having never heard a clear comparison, Gamer Bling opted for “no opinion.”

Similar tricks are used by congress, who, by eschewing zero-baseline budgeting, can claim to have cut spending when spending continues to rise. Or by the band Spinal Tap, whose amp goes up to 11. “11… what?” is irrelevant; 11 is bigger than 10.

Yes, it is clear that 4e drew inspiration and design ideas from MMOs. But shall we take a quick review of the history of D&D? First, there was Chainmail, a set of miniatures rules that included a fantasy supplement. That was extracted and evolved into White Box D&D, and the basics of design carried forward through AD&D, 2nd, 3rd, and even into 4e.

Therefore, if 4e drew its design ideas from MMOs, the necessary comparison for perspective is that 3rd drew its design, traced all the way back through various iterations, to a miniatures game. And, as already mentioned, many of these miniatures-game themes still persist in 4e. So, to speak accurately and with a clear and equitable comparison, 3rd is based on a miniatures game, while 4e is a hybrid of miniatures and MMOs. That at least gives us a clear comparison: 4e has more MMO concepts than 3rd, but more miniatures concepts than a pure MMO.

Skewering part one: complete.

The second part of this argument that Gamer Bling must skewer is the gratuitous addition of the word “just” in the statement (and Gamer Bling has transcribed the argument here precisely as he heard it). “Just” in this case does not mean righteous and fair—as Gamer Bling is in all his reviews, especially punitive reviews of the behavior of Expansions #1 and #2, unless said behavior involved his game materials in any way—but instead means “nothing more than,” as in “4e is nothing more than an MMO on paper.”

This gets back into basic assumptions upon which this argument is founded; the diminution here is designed so that if you agree with the statement that 4e has MMO influences, therefore you must also agree that the MMO basis diminishes 4e; that because of drawing upon MMOs for design considerations, 4e has been somehow fallen from the pinnacle of design achievement represented by 3rd (cue ang3lic chorus).

But has the MMO influence worsened the game? Gamer Bling believes not.

The MMO inspiration has resulted in the creation of actual teamwork within the 4e adventuring party.

Gamer Bling has spent some time playing MMOs, mostly City of Heroes since it can run on the decrepit and febrile processing system that Gamer Bling calls a “computer.” In City of Heroes, there were five basic classes, based on the whole superhero genre:

• Tanks draw aggro to themselves, acting as frontline fighters (Wolverine).
• Blasters act as archers, dealing large damage from safety (Cyclops).
• Scrappers act as assassins, dealing massive damage to single targets (Night Crawler).
• Controllers change the playing field to give their side an advantage (Storm).
• Defenders buff their teammates or heal them from wounds (uh, Jean Grey, maybe?).

You can see that they have done a pretty good job of dividing the work between those on the team, while maintaining the brand imagery of the comics genre.

Whatever approach WotC used to do their design work, the result from a CoH perspective was that they combined Blasters and Scrappers (both of whom deal massive damage), and Controllers and Defenders (both of whom work on the battlefield as a whole, not individual enemy targets). Tanks remained under a new name, and they added one role that works far better in tabletop games than online: Leaders.

So in an ideal world, the new 4e party is comprised of one or more of each of the following:

• Defender (fighter, paladin, warden) to protect the others and take the punishment.
• Striker (rogue, ranger, sorcerer) to whack down major threats.
• Controller (wizard, druid, invoker) to tilt the playing field and deal AoE damage.
• Leader (cleric, warlord, bard) to control the flow of battle and exploit weaknesses.

The key here is actual teamwork. Get a good party together, and it’s scary what can happen. If you’re a monster, that is. In contrast, the teamwork in 3rd is not integral to a character’s powers; the party is a group of people accomplishing individual things together.

Consider, for example, which classes in 3rd have the inherent ability to help others as part of the exercise of their powers. Fighters? Rogues? Sorcerers? Umm… no. The only one that immediately comes to mind is the cleric, who can bless an area around him… only to get chastised by the other members of the party for wasting a spell that could have been used for healing. Gamer Bling does it himself in his post Know the Plan. Paladins get a smidge of teamwork later when they get an aura. Aside from that, the only real teamwork Gamer Bling saw in 3rd was flanking. The actual use of the “aid another” rule was only in the rarest of circumstances used in combat.

In contrast, many 4e powers have secondary effects that directly or indirectly benefit others in the party. For example, front-line defenders have the ability to “mark” opponents by challenging them. If a marked creature attacks someone other than the one who marked them, they suffer a -2 penalty to their attack. In addition, some can turn the squares around them into rough terrain, which slows those trying to slip by the defender to get to the soft-bellied casters in the back. That makes an effective front line: rough terrain, marking, and opportunity attacks.

But Gamer Bling’s favorite class is now the warlord (a class that could not readily be reproduced online). As a leader, he controls the flow of battle. How? Well, for example, as one of his at-will attacks, the warlord can pass his attack to another character by barking out a quick command. How cool is that? How much more of a team player can you get? If someone has an enemy on the ropes, if a rogue has combat advantage and thus gets extra damage, if someone is in dire straits and needs a sorcerer to zap his foe… the warlord can make it happen. This is especially effective when a character uses a power that gives him an advantage until the end of his next turn – that extra attack with a bonus can make a world of difference.

As an extreme example, consider this:

A rogue is battling the climactic enemy boss.

• On the rogue’s turn, he foregoes his attack to bluff the enemy with a feint, getting combat advantage until the end of his next turn.
• Then he uses an action point to get another attack. He uses Riposte Strike.
• The warlord gives his attack to the rogue. The rogue attacks again, say with Dazing Strike.
• The warlord spends an action point and forwards that attack to the rogue as well.
• When the enemy attacks, the rogue gets to use the second half of his Riposte strike, attacking the enemy again.
• Then when the rogue’s next turn comes up, he still gets one more attack with combat advantage.

Granted, this is an extreme example; it requires a successful bluff, two action points availabel for spending, and assumes that the rogue hits with his attacks. But seeing a rogue get four additional attacks all with combat advantage and therefore bonus damage, that’s pretty awesome. That’s teamwork. And that’s heroic.

And isn’t that what D&D is all about? Being heroic?

Of course, the monsters can do similar things. Attacks that let allied monsters shift a square, which utterly changes the battlefield. Proximity bonuses. Things like that. Be prepared for smart, devious monster teams.

Thus a pitched battle is much less about how much damage you can inflict each round and whether or not you might be able to take a 5′ step to get into a flanking position, but how you and your team can maximize the impact of your particular skills. Add to that the fact that every party member can now play a role in combat every round (in contrast to a halfling wizard who’s shot through his spells), and you have a highly tactical team game where everyone has options and can provide assistance to each other through the exercise of their unique powers.

So Gamer Bling asks you: How is this MMO influence a bad thing?

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~ by Gamer Bling on 3 March 2010.

5 Responses to “Qu3stion and 4nswer, Part 4”

  1. It isn’t bad, in fact a good point to attract mmo players. But what I am wondering is why the 4e fans get so defensive about it like mmo’s are an abomination and want nothing to do with it.

    • Gamer Bling believes that this is because MMOs are accused of sapping many warm bodies away from pen-and-paper role-playing.

  2. “Classes in 3rd have the inherent ability to help others as part of the exercise of their powers…”: Bards? Monks (Stunning Fist).

    Also anyone who takes improved trip/bull rush, etc. And the most common spell I see cast at the start of a battle is Haste. I think those are better examples than cleric’s casting Bless – as good as that is, particularly at higher levels.

    For me, the effect of the MMO influence comes down to believability, and the fabrication of powers. “Marking” someone for instance, while an interesting and tactical effect, makes little sense, particularly as a universal ability. A chaotic little goblin will gleefully answer your challenge, by stabbing your friend in the back – and probably should get a bonus to it too.

    It seems – to me – that the MMO influence as caused the fabrication of powers as such: 1) See an MMO ability the designer likes; 2) Design the effect, how it interacts in the game, tactical rules; 3) Add flavor text, that hopefully will somehow emulate the ability as defined.

    Perhaps that’s fine for you, and many, but it makes my teeth ache. I’m also sure it’s not universal, and I’m sure there are D&D (and prior) rules that were built the same way (minus the source). But I believe most were built from a Flavor -> Rule basis, or at least {gap in rules} + many attempts at flavor -> Rule. Perhaps 4E will evolve similarly (replacing iffy flavor elements with more appropriate ones).

    • See? Now this is a reply from someone who has actually looked at the 4e rulebook. This is not a hat3r. Although Gamer Bling disagrees with some of the conclusions and examples.

      Bards… well, Gamer Bling has a bias against bards, and never once looked at bards in 3rd. Nary a single time. So whatever.

      Monks’ stunning fist? Gamer Bling finds that said power is not an “inherently ability to help others” any more than killing something. If stunning a foe helps others, then killing a foe helps others, and picking locks helps others, and bartering for a cheaper room rate helps others. But that’s an incorrect assessment. Stunning a foe doesn’t help others on your team, it hurts the opposition. Some of you may find this a fine distinction, but it is there.

      Haste would seem to fit, but the question is whether a character has an “inherent ability to help others as part of the exercise of their powers.” Haste is designed to help others, so its effect is not a part of the exercise of the powers, but the whole purpose of that power. In that respect, Gamer Bling’s use of bless as an example was bad. Very very bad. And wrong. Bad and wrong. So bad and wrong that it needs a new word, like… badong. No cookie for Gamer Bling.

      Now if 3rd’s cleave allowed an ally adjacent to the cleaved foe to take a five-foot step, that’s an inherent ability to help others as part of the exercise of a power. The fighter would cleave whether or not the bonus was there, just to get the extra damage dealt, but the bonus helps teamwork and can lead to seriously tactical gaming.

      As for translating an extant MMO power into the RPG, Gamer Bling issues a challenge: find one. This goes for Majuba and all other gam3rs. Maybe we can even arrange a prize; Gamer Bling has some 3rd excessories that he’s no longer using.

      Gamer Bling believes that the design process for most powers was to (a) assign abilities branded to the class, (b) work out tactically interesting effects that demonstrate that ability, and then (c) slap some flavor on it. ABC. For many powers, however, it’s clear that the process was ACB.

      As an example, consider the powers of the warlord, Gamer Bling’s new fave class. Look at how few of those powers are (a) nothing more than basic attacks without someone to lead, and (b) impossible to implement in a real-time MMO.

      As for believability of power flavor text, it’s clear that 4e is more inherently magical than 3rd, but that’s a blog post for another day.

  3. I think the reason people get defensive about the MMO comparison is that (in my experience) it’s generally used as a slur by the people against 4E. Personally I tihnk peopel should treat it as a compliment regardless of how it;s intended… I mean, 4E is like WoW? The game with 11million subscribers that changed the face of gaming? AWSOME! Thanks!

    And while I understand the certain mechanics break realism for people, I have a hard time really empathizing when I’m already dealing with dwarves and fire shooting from my mage’s finger tips. But I guess it’s just like vancian magic for me, where I could never really wrap my head around the concept of “forgetting” spells after you cast them…

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