September 30, 2009

Waaa-mbulance Revisited

Now that I've got some of the gripes about Star Wars: Saga Edition out of my system, I wanted to focus a bit on a couple things about D&D 4th edition that really grind my gears. Neither of these are so bad that I want to give up and go back to 3rd edition, mind you, but they can quickly turn a fun session into a grind from hell. With some considered adjustments, we'll try to create a way to smooth these edges, and keep the fun in the game without shattering the delicate balance of power!

Gear grinder #1: Weapon Proficiency Bonus
Initially, this seemed like a great idea to me. Then I realized that not only were many of the Fortitude, Reflex, and Will defenses often as high as AC, but even when they weren't, they were only one, or possibly two lower. When +2 is the low proficiency modifier, and +3 is the high, before factoring in class abilities (the Rogue's Rogue Weapon Talent, and Ranger's Prime Shot) and flanking, and therefore +2 to hit from combat advantage, is plentiful for these strikers a disparity begins to grow. Suddenly, the rogue is looking at an attack roll modifier that is 4 higher than any implement power. And then, he can take Piercing Strike and he's attacking Reflex instead of AC. And only losing a few points of damage if his other at-will is Sly Flourish. If not, he gives up nothing.

Sure, there are plenty of creature for whom their AC and reflex are equivalent, and so the advantage of Piercing Strike and similar powers are not universal. However, most monsters have a single weak defense. Their AC, Reflex, and Will for example will all be within 1 point of each other, and their Fortitude will be low. This is a terrible way to make implement-using classes "balanced." Now, they have to try targeting several defenses to try to figure out which is the lowest and most readily hit, which is complicated by the fact that a hot streak, or cold streak on the dice could make several rounds of combat uninformative, not to mention unproductive. Additionally, even when the character has determined the most effective defense to target, that now limits the powers they can use effectively against the creature during the encounter. WIth the limited selections of powers a character can have at their disposal at any time, this further restriction makes implement-classes feel even less fun, and harder to play. And if you happen to play a bard, or another implement class that focuses heavily on a certain defense (such as Will in the case of the bard) there will often be fights where you simply feel like you can't attack certain monsters because you can't seem to hit their defenses.

The Fix:
While it's more work for a DM, I suggest making all defenses 2 lower than AC. If they already are, leave them alone. To counter the additional advantage that this gives to classes who can use weapon powers to target non-AC defenses, I would remove weapon proficiency bonuses from those attack rolls. Class features, feats (such as weapon expertise), and weapon enchantments should still apply. Alternately, attacks such as Piercing Strike could do 1[W] damage rather than 1[W] + Dexterity modifier damage. This reduced base damage would likely be a fair offset for the higher hit chance. It would be similar to the penalty imposed on the Ranger's Twin Strike power in exchange for its higher chance to do damage on any given turn.

Another idea that just came to me as I considered how complicated this all felt, was to add an implement proficiency bonus. If you are proficient with an implement that you use for an attack, gain a +1 to that attack roll. This will provide a much needed boost to the hit chances of an implement user while having no effect on other classes. Also, it would not overbalance any class against a low defense.

Gear Grinder #2: Hitting to Heal
Perhaps a large part of the reason this is getting to me is that I am playing a bard in my current campaign. Many of my encounter powers require me to hit a target to grant healing, saving throws, etc. While this has the positive effect of making me feel like I'm in the action, instead of standing back like some healbot and just keeping everyone else in the fight, it also means that until I get a utility power that heals allies, I have two reliable heals, outside Daily Powers. There is nothing more frustrating than being out of majestic word uses for the encounter, having a bloodied ally who is barely on his feet, using my Theft of Life power, and rolling a 2. Not only did I not heal the ally, deal any damage, or create any other positive effect, but I managed to squander the majority of my turn in the process unless I spend an action point. Having not yet played a class other than a leader for the long term, and therefore having a somewhat myopic view, I will go so far as to say that there is a great deal of stress on the player who is responsible for healing the party. My friends that I play with in my current campaign assure me that I'm not responsible when their character collapses into unconsciousness and starts making death saving throws, but I feel it keenly, and that stress can quickly turn even my favorite session into an Antacid-gobbling, anxiety-ridden, guilt-fest.

The Fix:
People who play leader characters, for the most part, are looking to buff and heal their allies. It's the main purpose of that class. Sure it's nice when we get to deal some damage, but most of the time, we just want to fill our role and keep everyone else humming along. So I'll propose a little fix that I don't think is terribly unbalanced: Small consolation effects for certain encounter powers. So, I would suggest the following two rules. If these two tweaks seem to powerful, they could be made into one or two feats. However, I feel that they are so necessary to leaders that they would become "must-take" feats, which is something I don't particularly care for (Slaying Action and Predatory Action being two examples) so I am presenting it here as simply a rules modification:
Leader's Assurance
When you miss with an encounter power with the healing keyword, you can choose an ally who would have been eligible for healing from that encounter power to regain hit points equal to your Charisma modifier or Wisdom modifier, this healing may not be increased in any way. [*Note* I've added this caveat to avoid the Summer Rhymer paragon path and similar PPs from making this change truly broken. This is supposed to be a small consolation heal, not something that is just as good as the healing granted by the power itself.]

Leader's Relief
When you miss with an encounter power that grants a saving throw, you grant one ally who would have received a saving throw a +2 bonus to their next saving throw.

So there we go, a couple tweaks to the game that shouldn't be too broken, but will assuage some of the frustration of certain classes. Let me know what you think, and if you try them out and you find something I didn't think of that results in a broken play or combination, let me know!

Tune in next week for a review of a game a friend lent me: The Marvel Universe Roleplaying Game!

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