Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Overreaction Tuesday

Stuff from EN World and various WOTC sites about Next:

From this week's Legends & Lore:

Assuming you start at level 1, at what level do you feel that you're ready to leave behind your character and start a new one?

Eh? How is this tied to level progression? People I know seem to get tired of playing characters due to the length of time spent playing them, not because of what level they have reached. If levels are coming regularly then people tend to stay happy once they've found a character that fits them. Recurring character-switching may also be a sign of too-slow advancement for that group. It may also be a flighty player, but if several people are doing it then maybe the campaign has stagnated and needs a shakeup - regardless of what level you're playing.

Let's say you're playing in a strictly by-the-book D&D campaign. You play for two hours each week. How long should it take to reach level 10?

Two hours per week seems really really short. Taking it literally I think it should take a couple of years because I don't think I've ever played something that limited. I suppose if you look at it as 4 hours every other week it starts to look a little more reasonable, but even then it's on the short side. Most of my regular groups have been say, six to midnight every other week or seven to ten one night a week. That's been a pretty consistent pattern for about 12 years now, which is probably why the example seems short.

At 12 hours a month (my time) that gives us 144 hours per year. Let's round it off to a 100-150 hours per year range of playing time. I think if you can get to 10th level in that time that's pretty good. If they go with a 20-level range for Next then a two-year campaign would run you from 1 - 20 over 100 shorter (or 50 longer) sessions. I think that math works. Call it roughly a level a month at 2-4 sessions per month.

There's more on the focus of a session and that kind of thing in this article too.

 Should the typical campaign change at high levels to take on a different tone?

This is referring to the castle and followers option in AD&D (and BECMI) and the focus on planar travel at Paragon and (especially) Epic in 4th Edition. My answer was "Yes" because I always liked that option in AD&D even though it didn't get as much attention as it could have. I'm sure this will end up as one of those optional modular rules they keep mentioning, probably alongside some kind of mass-combat system, but there is certainly room for it and precedent for it in the game.

I also think the planes are clearly the place for high-level adventuring because a) that's where all those nasty demons and devils live and b) because they're there, it takes higher level spells to get to them. The planes are the obvious place to go for high-level dungeoneering type adventures if a party chooses to focus on those while having an option to focus on ruling an area or running a thieves' guild gives everyone a chance for some interestingly different kind of game after a certain point.

From last week's article:

Character Roles: This one is bound to be controversial, but I don't think roles belong in D&D as specific, mechanical elements that we design toward. Instead, I think roles are a great tool to help players focus on how they want to play a character. Veteran players should be free to create the character they want, however they want, instead of feeling that they must take on a job to "help" the party.

Yeah, I used to think that way too but then I started playing 4E and saw how nice it was to have Roles with specific classes designed to fit them instead of Classes and Sub-Classes like we had in older editions. If they're going to add classes throughout the life of the game (like they've been doing for the last dozen years) then I think having a large loose framework like a "Role"  helps keep things organized.

I'd much rather see roles cast as advice that highlights some basic strategies that players can follow. For instance, the advice for the cleric might explain how the class excels at healing. If you're playing a cleric and want some guidance on what to do, that advice can suggest some spells and abilities, along with tactics for use during the game.

"Clerics are good at healing" - who comes fresh to the game saying "I want to be a healer"? Seriously? How about "Clerics are arse-kicking warrior priests who swing first and patch up the survivors later" - why isn't that the advice for a new cleric player? Are we relegating the Cleric to the heal-bot of days gone by? I hope not. In 4E they were tagged with the "Leader" role which covered a range of capabilities that were far more than just healing. Let's stay with that.

From one of the designer blogs:

The rogue in the current playtest document has sneak attack, and it’s a combination of the 3rd Edition and 4th Edition rules. The extra damage as of right now goes all the way up to 10d6 at the highest levels, but a rogue can use the damage against anybody. At first glance, this feels right, but the more I turn it over in my head, the less satisfied I am with how it works. For starts, an extra 10d6 damage whenever the rogue hits with advantage? At the highest levels, a rogue’s dishing out 20d6 damage a round before we even get to weapon damage and other damage boosters. Sure, this is fun for a while, but I know people who trip up adding together 4d8 or even putting a d20 result with a single number.

Sounds fine to me. Then again, I did play a lot of Champions.

The other thing I’m having a hard time with is that we want monsters to retain their relevance longer. Rather than have player characters graduate from orcs and move on to some other humanoid to fill the same niche, we want higher-level characters to simply fight more orcs. 

Ah...OK...but what if, as the DM, I don't want to run more orcs? If they're going to combine them into some kind of "Orc Swarm" stat block like some creatures in 4E then I might be OK with it but I'm perfectly fine with letting orcs mostly fall by the wayside at 10th + level.

From Monte Cook's WOTC blog:

To feel the thrill of victory, there needs to be some possibility of defeat. This concept has led previous versions of the game to include serious penalties for a character if he or she dies and comes back—anything from ability score drain to a loss of a level. Many players found this too harsh, and this led to people wanting to make a new character instead. In the very early days of the game, character death led to a different choice than creating a new character, because players always created 1st-level characters. So having your 10th-level fighter come back as a 9th-level fighter was still preferable to bringing a 1st-level fighter into the game. But as soon as DMs started allowing creation of characters above 1st level, the choice became “bring in a new 10th-level fighter or play your now-9th-level character.” This isn’t much of a choice at all.

In the "very early days" of what, 3rd Edition? There's no level loss in Original or AD&D 1st or 2nd edition. In AD&D you had to make a Resurrection Survival roll (which occasionally failed) and your Con score was the absolute limit on how many times you could be raised. In 2nd (at least) you lost a point of Con every time you were raised, a severe enough penalty that stung and made players hate having to do it!

The level loss in 3E was a huge pain, wreaking havoc with party dynamics and sometimes the DM's whole campaign if the party started moving backwards. I instituted a negative level rule that went away upon the next level-up but it was still a pain. if someone died multiple times before leveling up - and yes that did happen a few times. I think a simple Con loss was probably better.

One way would be to separate raising the dead into two different things. One, I’ll call “revivification.” This is magic that the mid- to high-level PC cleric likely has access to, and basically if the caster can get to a fallen friend very quickly and use the magic, the character comes back immediately and without muss, because the character was never really dead. It’s more resuscitation than resurrection. The “dead” character’s soul hadn’t quite left the body. He or she was merely on “death’s door,” but so close that only that powerful burst of magic could bring the character back. This avoids both the story and the gameplay issues because the character is not really dead. 

I'm fine with this. However, doesn't it leave unanswered the question of how the rich still manage to die that was raised in the first part of the blog? If mid-level clerics can do it, then people with money are going to be very big patrons of the local temples and a lot of NPC priests are going to be on retainer in rich households. Eliminates the gameplay issue but not the story issue I think.

The other type of raising the dead in this scenario is actually bringing characters back to life after they’ve been dead for a while. This kind of thing has been common in D&D games in the past—toting your dead pal’s corpse out of the dungeon and back to town to get brought back so you can go back in to finish the adventure. With revivification of some sort in the game, this type of magic could be very high level, with some extraordinarily expensive and rare components.

If it's high enough level then I'm not sure it needs to use rare components. If it takes a 16th level Cleric to do it (for example) and there isn't one in the kingdom, well, you're just out of luck, regardless of the exotic garden you have access to.

Further, and perhaps most importantly, this latter type of magic could be purely optional. Rather than putting it right on the spell list or whatever, we could put the whole matter in a discussion for the DM only, who could decide whether he or she would even want to deal with it.

And here's where it all falls down - no no no! It's been in every edition of D&D! The default for this should be "IN" and then you can put in a discussion about how to remove it if you want to run an unusual game! A high-enough level cleric (with exotic components if you want to add that barrier) should be able to resurrect a character that's been dead awhile without need a special optional rules module. That's one of the things a high level cleric does, traditionally! It's part of the final tier of cleric spells, the most powerful expressions of the most powerful divine servants on the material plane! You limit it by keeping the number of NPC clerics high enough to cast it to a minimum, probably zero, and let the PC Cleric grab some glory!

I have really liked a lot of Monte Cook's work in the past, but this is one more small thing in a pattern I see where they're calling it an edition-uniting version of D&D but still trying to change little parts of the game that for some reason they don't like. Going to a silver piece standard is another example of this. I'm no longer a huge fan of Vancian magic, but there's no way I would argue that it doesn't belong in the game. Certain class abilities should be in there, regardless of story considerations. Quit looking for reasons why they don't make sense and start figuring out why they do, because they've always been there.

And finally, from a questions column, multiclassing:

...here's what we have in mind. When you gain a level, you can choose any class and gain a level in that class, much in the same way that it functioned in 3rd Edition. 

OK, I suspected as much, and I liked it when I first saw it in 3rd Edition...

Of course, those of you who play or played 3E know that there can sometimes be issues with this, and if you aren't careful you can build a character that struggles with effectiveness at higher levels. 

...and that's one reason why I disliked it after several years of using it. The other reason was that you also had characters that were significantly more powerful than others through optimized multiclassing, and it tended to emphasize mechanical advantage over concept - something they're supposed to be improving with this edition.

While there are certainly challenges with this system, a few other changes in the game make it more viable in the next iteration. As I mentioned last week, we're looking at a bounded accuracy system where accuracy (of everything, from attacks to spells) does not automatically go up with level. The discrepancies in base attack bonus between classes in 3E made some multiclassing combinations more difficult to pull off; absent those discrepancies, with the right ability score mix, the fighter and wizard classes mix together without that difficulty.

I'm really more concerned with the combinations that worked together far too well, but if they can eliminate that problem AND make it possible to build a decent fighter/magic-user then I'm interested.

Anyway, there's the rant/exhaustive D&D Next discussion for the week. Next up - the new campaign!