Down And Out In Old Dungeon Town

Thanks to the combined might of Tiscali and BT, we’ve been sans connection for the past 48 hours, which is fun. Especially if by “fun” you really mean “tearing your hair out with frustration as you’re trying to set up a new business and this is a very, very bad time to lose ‘net access”. In the end I’m shouting at some guy in Bangladesh. This has the desired effect, and we’re back online again. Customer care my hat.

But anyhow.

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Amid visits to accountants, etc, I’ve read pretty much all of the 4e D&D Core Books and spent far too much time in Poser creating character portraits and concept art for the game including this rather nifty Tiefling Wizardess:

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My laptop has been behaving itself with only one or two complete lock-ups per day, which is just about at the acceptable side of annoying.

When it comes to 4th Edition D&D I guess it all comes down to the question of whether it’s a better game than 3rd Edition, and the answer to that has to be a qualified yes. Take Powers out of the equation and you’ve a system with an improved (though entirely miniatures dependant) combat system, simpler Skills and better Feats. The choice of Races in the PHB isn’t my cup of tea, but the entries in the Monster Manual more than solve this. The game plays better and is more dynamic overall.

Then add in the Powers. The Powers system is brilliant – it adds a whole new dimension to the game which improves over what we had with 3rd Edition. The idea of at-will, encounter and daily abilities is a simple concept but it add so much to the game. Even my hard-core players who aren’t big fans of combat keep itching to crack skulls using their Powers, and they do a terrific job of enforcing and encouraging teamwork.

But.

There’s two problems with Powers, as presented in the PHB: there aren’t enough, and they aren’t varied. There’s too much emphasis on melee-based Powers – if you want to play a Fighter who specialises in missile combat, you’re completely left out in the cold – and too many Powers have the same mechanic with slightly different swishy effects.

Sure, the lack of Powers will be solved by throwing Yet More Cash at Wizard’s for more books, but it’s a problem that shouldn’t exist at all, and largely it could have been solved by fixing the PHB’s broken layout.

Here’s the thing: take the Powers out of the Character Classes chapter, collate ‘em and strip out the duplicates. Stick them in a chapter on their own so that the Classes chapter just contains the Classes themselves complete with a summary of available Powers. As it stands, with Classes chapter reads more like a huge list of Powers with a few pages about the Classes inserted at random. That’s messy. Fixing that will bring the Classes chapter in line with the Races section with a few pages per class, easy to check through to and make your selection, and bring Powers in line with Skills, Feats and Rituals (more on those, later) as more of a Rule Compendium resource that’s easy to check mid-game – especially if they take the Powers out of the other sections too. Having Powers slotted in the Races and Feats section where they’re mentioned is sloppy. Put a reference in there instead, and stick all the Powers together. The PHB layout is dumbass. There. I said it.

By collating and removing duplicates (and near-duplicates like all of the “Marked” Powers), we should be able to have 3 or 4 new Powers at 1st level for each class, with a couple more for each level above.

Then we have Rituals, and seriously, I don’t know why they bothered. Rituals is the new name for Spells, because Spells was taken. Rituals are kinda like Powers except they cost money to use and take longer to cast. There’s also ridiculously few of them listed in the PHB. Rituals would have been better handled daily/weekly or monthly-use Powers (continuing the Powers theme) that can only be used out of combat (or in-combat, with considerable difficulty). This would have eliminated an unnecessary mechanic, kept things consistent and meant more room for more Powers. As it stands, Rituals smacks of being too much of an afterthought to add anything meaningful to the game, and re-inforces the impression that this Edition of D&D was designed by committee.

Criticisms aside, I do like 4e, a lot. Perfect, it isn’t. But it’s a damned site better than it could have been. Which is nice.

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