Plug the Darn Hole!

While ruminating over his planned ascent from novice adventurer to trans-level-30 epic immortality all without shedding a single drop of mortal blood (or amorphous ochre ichor, or what have you), Gamer Bling encountered an obstacle that revealed a surprising blind spot on the part of the vaunted 4e design team.

To wit: every holy symbol that Gamer Bling has seen written up does extra dice of damage on a critical. This also applies to almost every other implement (orb, rod, staff, tome, and wand) that he has investigated. The sole exception he has encountered thus far is the PHB’s Rod of Death’s Grasp, which, since it only appears in one variant, is easily designed to have unique properties.

But it still does extra damage on a critical. You just don’t roll dice for it.

“So what?” you cry?

G4mers across the globe, even as they read these words, accuse Gamer Bling of using one very niche PC archetype (that being the utterly nonviolent cleric) to impugn the design for an entire role-playing game.

Meanwhile, in other parental basements across the globe, the hat3rs are cackling gleefully, shrieking, “See? We told you that 4e was evil and not worth playing!”

You hat3rs need to get off your hobby horse high horse and read the Qu3stion and 4nswer series, which starts here.

Everyone else, tag along and Gamer Bling will show you that he is not being merely narcissistic about his one little kewl idear.

In 4e, every weapon and implement has an additional effect when its wielder scores a critical hit. This is a good thing, because a critical hit should be a time for rejoicing and gloating and high-fiving and ordering extra pizza and such. It should feel cool. And it does.

With weapons, which have a primary purpose of killing things, the obvious additional effect is additional damage. So on a critical, not only do you score the maximum regular damage for your weapon, but you get to roll additional dice on top of everything else you’ve rolled. This runs from one or more additional d6s for basic enchanted weapons to extra d12s for vicious and vorpal weapons. Chop chop! This is all fine and dandy, because no one swings a sword at someone’s face unless one wishes to remove that face… and the head behind it. And scoring big whacks of damage feels like a critical hit where weapons are concerned (but see below anyway).

However, there are many classes that wish to use magic items for effects—gasp!—other than damage. Wizards with their Orb of Imposition are a prime example of such a class. Unlike Gamer Bling’s concept, this is not a niche character build, but one of two basic build archetypes suggested in the PHB. Illusionists from Arcane Power are another, and select builds of other classes also count. Basically, one can assume that half of all Controller builds are mass damage builds, while the other half are SFX/domination builds. And some leader builds tend toward the controller, as well.

But, for the sake of an example accessible even to those who haven’t graduated beyond the original White Box D&D, let’s consider orb wizards. By the suggested build profile given in the PHB, their daily spell is sleep: a spell that does no damage at all.

Now consider this: you are a control mage. You have a cool magical enchanted +1 orb of goodness badness awesomeness that helps you cast your spells. You cast sleep on a pack of goblins. In 4e, when you cast an area spell, you make attack rolls against every target. And let’s assume you score a critical hit against one or more of those targets. What’s your first thought about the critical hit?

a) The sleep effect should last longer.
b) The sleep effect should be harder to shake off.
c) The sleep effect should cover a greater area.
d) The goblins should get severe nosebleeds.

If you’re like Gamer Bling, you’d be happy with any of options (a) through (c). Sadly, what you are given is option d. What, did some pixie dust get up their nose or something? Can even a wizard truly sleep someone to death?

Worse yet, the sleep power itself doesn’t even get an internal bonus for scoring a critical. If you use get a critical hit while casting magic missile at the darkness, you at least get max damage. But sleep? Nothing. Nada. Nichts. Zilch. Zippo. Zero. And other assorted N and Z words.

Why is this?

Gamer Bling doesn’t know. But he will conjecture. He suspects that it is because “additional damage on critical” was used as a balancing factor for magic items. That’s why you see weapons doing d6, d8, d10, and d12 extra damage on a critical; it’s a way to fine-tune the value of the weapon as a whole when compared to another weapon that has a different special effect. Since upping a dice size adds one extra damage average (per plus) to a mere 5% of the rolls, that allows for some fine cost balancing.

But why not different effects, effects other than more damage? Why not a magical Wand of Inevitability that, on a critical, subtracts 1 from the target’s save per +1 level of enchantment? What about an Orb of Statis that, on a critical, extends a power’s duration for an additional round per +1 level of enchantment? Such impacts will still be of use to mass-damage builds like war mages, but also of extra special benefit to SFX controllers.

For that matter, why not step back and review the weapons? Even when you’re trying to kill someone, special effects can nonetheless be cool, and are ofttimes cooler than extra damage. How about this for a weapon:

Nerve Hunter
Weapon: Spears
Property: Target suffers -1 to all attack rolls until the end of your next turn.
Critical: Target is slowed and suffers -1 to all attack rolls per plus; save ends. 

It would be nice if this little blog got Gamer Bling a modicum of attention from the fine folks in WotC R&D, as well as maybe a little freelance work from same, but in the meantime he will content himself with some house rules to assist those who pursue control over damage.

Because Gamer Bling wants critical hits to be fun for everyone.

Well, except for the one who got critically hit.

Sucks to be him.

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~ by Gamer Bling on 23 June 2010.

One Response to “Plug the Darn Hole!”

  1. Man, I knew I remembered one somewhere. In AV2, on page 113, you’ll find the Champion’s Symbol. It’s Crit effect is domination.

    This has been driving me nuts since it was first posted.

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