Friday, February 3, 2012

Dungeons and Dragons 4E

Game Overview

Apologies, this section will be short and the previous section was omitted entirely because by and large Dungeons and Dragons 4E is the same game as 3.5. I'll be making a lot of references to my previous post, especially in regards to mechanics. Released in 2008, the (not exactly) fourth edition of the world's most popular roleplaying game was and still is the subject of much contention.

Probably its most notable feature was the focus on balance. As great as 3rd edition was, the sheer volume of rules material meant a lot of unintentional disparity in power between classes. I saw this crop up from time to time in my own games. In an effort to fix this, 4th edition attempted to ensure that all classes could contribute to most challenges. In my opinion they succeeded quite admirably. There are many who feel that in an attempt to ensure no class would outshine the others that a lot of creative spark was lost. The other major aspect is the addition of much tactical depth to the combat system. The language of the rules, particularly the use of Squares as a measure of distance was also a way of pushing people towards using a battlemat and miniatures (although it is quite simple to run the game without either), another turn off for many.

There are people who claim that 4th edition is a miniatures boardgame with roleplaying rules, that it is a game of combat, all combat and nothing but combat or nothing more than a tabletop iteration of World of Warcraft. I'm going to be generous and call these people misinformed. 4th edition is a perfectly serviceable RPG, one that I enjoyed playing and no doubt will enjoy playing on occasion in the many years to come.

The Character

Step 1) Choose Race

Race in 4th edition follows a far more standardised template. They'll get a +2 to two different Ability Scores (racial penalties have been done away with entirely), +2 to two different Skills, some kind of Racial Power and a few extra misc bonuses. All of the mainstays are here, although Elves have been conceptually split into two different races, with the race bearing that name being your typical tree-hugging archers and the Eladrin as immortal, otherworldly mages.

I'm going to create a Dragonborn, because I absolutely adore them. Why did it take so long for an edition of D&D to let you play a dragon person from day one. Dragonborn are big, strong, honourable. In the default setting (which doesn't have an official name, but has been nicknamed Points of Light or PoLand) they once controlled a gigantic empire which feel into decline after an extended war with the Tiefling empire, a race of humans who sold their souls to infernal beings for power. They're now mostly nomadic wanderers who serve as swords for hire. I'll cover most of their bonuses in the following steps, but I will note that they get a +1 to all attack rolls when they are Bloodied (when they have lost at least half their Hit Points) and they get to add the Constitution modifier to their Healing Surge Value (which I'll get to later).

Step 2) Choose Class

Once again, your Class is your professional adventuring role. 4th edition brought back all the previous classes (although some, like the Druid and Monk, were left out of the core game and introduced in source books) as well as introducing the Warlord (tactical commander who motivates and inspires) and the Warlock (person who has made bargains with supernatural entities for arcane power). I think, just like my previous character, I'm going to play against type and make my dragonborn a Rogue. After all, who would expect a member of a big-strong warrior race to be a cutpurse? Rogues are good at sneaking about, stealing everything that isn't nailed down and dealing with traps. In fights they tend to lurk in the shadows, looking for a good opportunity to stick a dagger in an enemy's back.

Each of the classes has both a Power Source and a Role. The power source serves no real mechanical purpose but gives you an idea of how the class does what it does, be it power from the gods, nature, magic or pure skill. In my case, the rogue's power source is Martial., meaning that my powers and abilities are all the result of intense training and skill rather than some supernatural force.

The Role of a class helps explain what kind of ways the character excels in a combat situation. It bears some similarities to terms like Tank or DPS in MMORPGs, although they function a bit differently. Rogues are Strikers meaning they concentrate their attacks on big single targets. In the rogue's case, this is achieved through the use of their Sneak Attack ability, which lets them do extra damage when they have Combat Advantage against an opponent. Combat Advantage is obtained in a number of ways, such as when your opponent has been Flanked or has been knocked Prone off their feet and normally only give a +2 to attacks against them.

I should also note here that Rogues get the First Strike ability, which means they automatically get combat advantage when attacking any opponent who hasn't acted yet in the fight and Rogue Weapon Talent, which gives me a +1 to attack rolls with Daggers and increases the damage of Shuriken (ninjas stars) to 1d6.

One last thing I need to do here is pick which Rogue Tactic I use. Rogues fall into one of two broad types (at least in the core), Artful Dodgers, who tend to be dashing, swashbuckler types and Brutal Scoundrels who are more like back alley thugs. I figure being a big, hulking dragon person lends itself well to the latter, so that's what I'll pick. The benefit here is that I get to add my strength modifier to damage whenever I sneak attack and I may get some added bonuses to certain powers later!

Step 3) Determine Ability Scores

Ability Scores haven't changed in 4E the old six are still there, performing the same function. While we rolled last time, in this iteration Point Buy is the standard method, so we'll be using that. I start off with the scores 10,10,10,10,10 and 8 and have 22 points to improve them.

Rogues really want a good Dexterity score, so I'm going to spend 16 of my points straight out of the gate to improve that to 18. As a Brutal Scoundrel I also want a decent Strength score, so I'll spend a further 2 points to up that to 12. I'd also like my character to have a good force of personality, so I'm going to put 2 points into Charisma, upping that to 12 as well. I don't really want a penalty anywhere, so I'm going to put the final 2 points into that 8, which ups it to a score of 10, which means 10s for my Constitution, Intelligence and Wisdom scores.

Dragonborn are both hulking reptilians and also confident and assertive. This is reflected in their +2 bonuses to Strength and Charisma, which means my total for those score goes up to 14 each.

Step 4) Choose Skills

How Skills work tends to change from edition to edition. Not only did 4E consolidate a lot of skills from 3.5 (for example, Swim, Climb and Jump are now all functions of the Athletics skill), skill ranks are gone completely. Instead, characters in 4E are simply Trained or not, with training giving you a +5 in the skill and making you eligible for certain Feats and exclusive functions of the skill.

One thing that hasn't changed is that rogues get more skills than anyone else. I automatically get training in Stealth (sneaking about) and Thievery (all purpose larceny from picking locks to disabling traps to picking pockets). I then get training in four more skills from the list. I want my dragon person to be more of a 'member of society's criminal underbelly' rogue than 'dungeoneering trapsmith' rogue, so I'm going to pick Streetwise (getting info off the streets and general city knowledge) and Intimidate. I'm also going to grab Athletics and Perception, to ensure that he's alert and ready for anything. I'm also going to note here that as a Dragonborn my character gets a +2 to History and Intimidate.

Step 5) Select Feats

Feats haven't really changed since the previous edition, although characters do get a lot more of them (one every couple of levels). I'm going to take Dragonborn Senses, which along with giving me a +1 to Perception checks also gives me Low-Light Vision,.which lets me see twice and far as a human in conditions of low-light, like torches or moonlight.

Step 6) Choose Powers

Every class gives your character a selection of Powers, abilities that are primarily certain combat maneuvers but can also be used elsewhere. Powers come in four categories, depending on how often they can be used, At-Wills, which can be used all the time, Encounter, which can be used once within an abstract, self-contained conflict or challenge like a fight, chase scene or negotiation, Daily, which can only be used once before a six-hour rest is required and Utility, which is not time dependant but is a non-combat ability. What your powers are depends on class, although this is just assistance for visualising them rather than having any mechanical effect. Martial classes, for example, get Maneuvers, Arcane classes Spells and Divine classes Prayers

At first level I get two at-will powers, an encounter and a daily. Because I'm a rogue, all my combat powers will get to add my Dexterity bonus of+4 to attack rolls and will get to add my weapon's Proficiency Bonus. For my at-wills, I am going to pick Riposte Strike, which not only damages my opponent but lets me perform a brutal counter-attack if they attack me before my next turn and Sly Flourish, an attack that adds my considerable Charisma bonus to damage. For my encounter power I'm going to pick Dazing Strike, which Dazes my opponent for a single turn, letting them only perform a move or attack action (normally they could take one of each). Finally, my daily power will be Easy Target, which not only does considerable damage, but means that my opponent grants combat advantage and Slows them, reducing their movement speed to 10ft per round until they successfully Save. Unlike the previous edition, saves this game are a flat 10 or more on a d20 roll which are made at the end of each turn.

Finally, I'll note here my racial power, Dragonbreath. This power, which can be used on an encounter basis, lets me breathe a gout of some kind of elemental energy that damages a bunch of people. I have to decide what ability score I use with this power, in this case Dexterity. I also have to pick what kind of damage it does and I'm going to choose Acid. I like the image of my dragon person spraying a gout of melting acid at opponents, Jurassic park style.

Step 7) Purchase Equipment

Every character in 4E starts off with 100gp to spend on starting equipment. Right off the bat, I'm going to be grabbing my rogue a Short Sword for 10gp. Because I'm proficient with it, it gives me +3 to all attacks, it deals 1d6 points of damage and as a Light Blade can be used with all my rogue powers. Next up I'll grab a suit of Leather Armour for 25gp, which gives me a +2 to my Ar4mour Class. As a rogue, I'll definitely need a set of Thieves Tools fir another 20gp. Finally, I take a Standard Adventurer's Kit for 15gp, which includes all the basics I'll list later. That leaves me with 30gp to spend on sundries later.

Step 8) Fill in the Numbers

In this step we work out all my character's combat statistics.

First, let's tackle Hit Points. Characters in 4E have more hit points than ever before, but then again, so do monster. As a rogue, I start off with 12 hp plus my constitution score, for a total of 22.

The main way characters recover hit points is by expending Healing Surges. Since hit points are an abstract mechanic of your fighting readiness, healing surges are a measure of your inner reserves and spending them allows you to gain hit points. This can be done once per combat independently, but surges may also be spent through use of abilities like a cleric's spells or a warlord's motivation. I get a number of healing surges per day equal to 6 plus my constitution modifier, so 6. My Surge Value, the number of hit points I regain by spending a surge, are equal to half my bloodied value (remember, that's half my total hit points), rounded down, for a total of 5. As a dragonborn I would normally get to add my Constitution modifier, but that's +0, so no chance.

In 4E, the previous edition's Armour Class and Saves have been rolled into a standard statistic called Defenses. When an opponent rolls an attack against you, it targets the appropriate defense. Like AC, defenses start off at 10 and then get to add appropriate modifiers. Armour gets to add the higher of dexterity and intelligence as well as my armour bonus, for a total of 16. Fortitude adds the higher of Strength and Constitution, for a total of 12. Reflex adds the higher of Dexterity and Intelligence, not to mention the +2 I get from being a rogue, for 16. Finally, Will gets the higher of Wisdom or Charisma, for 12 again.

Last bit, Initiative. Nothing special here, it's equal to my Dexterity bonus of +4.

Step 9) Roleplaying Character Details

So, I know my character is a sneaky, street-smart dragon person, but who do I actually want them to be. Well, I've decided that my character comes from a large city, the Greyhawk, Sharn or Lankhmar of whatever world the game would be set in. His parents (yeah, I've decided it's a he) are accomplished adventurers. They decided that when they had their clutch they'd leave the eggs in the care of old adventuring contacts and associates around the city, leave them to fend for themselves and see how they turned out. My dragon dude was given to their rogue buddy and thus was pretty much destined for a life of shady doings. He mostly works as a strongman for legit gigs, but he's not afraid of helping out a protection racket or tomb robbing here and there.

In terms of appearance, he's a bit skinny for a dragonborn, but he still easily tops 6.5 ft. He's covered in glistening black scales and his 'hair' (they're a bit closer to those things an axolotl has) is a murky brown. His snout and claws are oddly elongated for a member of his species. He quite likes dressing up in understated clothes that manage a nice contrast with his scales.

Oh, I should probably give him a name. Looking at the example names in the book, I'll go with Balasar. Let's add an honorific, he's known as Balasar of the Biting Wit, a coy reference to his acid breath. He's a bit of a smart-ass and

Alignment in 4E has been stripped down to five points, doing away with Chaotic Good, Lawful Evil and all Neutral alignments, replacing them with Unaligned. That's the one I'm picking for Balasar. He's not particularly fussed about helping people or hurting them, just enriching himself off rubes.

Balasar worships Erathis, goddess of civilisation. This is because he's a creature of civilisation and even sees crime as a natural part of the city ecosystem. Why he wouldn't call himself religious, he's weirdly philosophical about this sort of thing, a by-product of many debates with a cleric of the goddess who tried to push him and other young vagabonds towards the straight and narrow.

The Finished Product

Balasar of the Biting Wit

Level 1 Dragonborn Rogue; Unaligned

Strength 14 Dexterity 18 Constitution 10 Intelligence 10 Wisdom 10 Charisma 14

HP:22 Healing Surges:6 Surge Value:5

Armour Class:16 Fortitude:12 Reflex:16 Will:12

Skills: Athletics +7, History +2, Perception +6, Intimidate +9, Stealth +9, Streetwise +7, Thievery +9

Feats: Dragonborn Senses


At Will: Riposte Strike (+7; 16d+4, if opponent attacks, immediate interrupt +5 1d6+4), Sly Flourish (+7; 1d6+6)

Encounter: Dazing Strike (+7; 1d6+4, opponent dazed until end of next turn)

Daily: Easy Target (+7; 2d6+4 opponent grants combat advantage and is slowed (save ends))

Equipment: Short Sword, Leather Armour, Backpack, Bedroll, Flint and Steel, Pouch, 10xTrail Rations, 50ft Rope, 2x Sunrods, Waterskin, 30gp

Languages: Common, Draconic

How I'd Run It

I guess I should elaborate on that whole kaiju idea I briefly mentioned way back when I started this blog. So, 4E's tactical combat element as well as the fan community's penchant for reskinning (that is, using the mechanics and changing the fluff, for example saying a crossbow is a gun or dwarves are mole people or what have you) made me think it would be perfect for a game about giant monsters messing up each other's shit and causing a lot of collateral damage. The game, titled Kaiju Megateam Go! would be about a United Nations team of government controlled monsters who are deployed against similarly sized threats, alongside Kamijira, the king of lizards, who isn't controlled but shows up anyway (in mechanics terms, he's a dragonborn sorcerer). Instead of treasure, monsters get Infamy, which is gained by beating giant monsters and “accidentally” destroying important structures. I'm still working out the kinks, but I think the idea has potential.

Also, while I'd use 3.5 to run the Xcrawl idea in my last post, for running that setting straight I'd definitely use 4E. The tactical depth of combat would allow for some amazing set piece encounters. Monsters being built as individuals works well too. In what other edition would a troll wrapped in barbed wire with the ability 'Give me a V!' work so well?

Finally, I promised my best friend when 4E came out I'd run a campaign for him. I still haven't fulfilled that promise. Maybe I'll get around to running a straight fantasy game with it. Or, maybe I can just make the same promise with the next edition and hope I can get away with it then as well. ;)

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