June 28, 2009

On Anti-Abilities

This thread about D&D 3's rogues stirred an old memory about anti-abilities. Anti-abilities are abilities that does not so much give one class an ability, but takes it away from everyone else. The one being discussed in the linked thread is Trapfinding, which protects the Rogues trap-disabling ability in spite of the skill system by making every other class unable to find or disarm traps.

From the D20 SRD:
Rogues (and only rogues) can use the Search skill to locate traps when the task has a Difficulty Class higher than 20.

Finding a nonmagical trap has a DC of at least 20, or higher if it is well hidden. Finding a magic trap has a DC of 25 + the level of the spell used to create it.

Rogues (and only rogues) can use the Disable Device skill to disarm magic traps. A magic trap generally has a DC of 25 + the level of the spell used to create it.

A rogue who beats a trap’s DC by 10 or more with a Disable Device check can study a trap, figure out how it works, and bypass it (with her party) without disarming it.

In other words, a fighter who invested in Disable Device might be able to disarm a crude (DC 20) non-magical trap - but he can't find it in the first place. Since everyone gets skills, the 3:rd Ed rogue needs this rule to avoid being made obsolete.

D&D 4 solves this by making the rogue just as good at fighting as the fighter (and giving the fighter just as many skills). Earlier editions (or is it house rules) give everyone a decent chance at disarming traps, while the rogue gets an excellent chance.

The other example I saw was a discussion about a feat for D&D 3 that allowed a character to crashland into an enemy and deal falling damage. Something that people felt should be doable without that feat. Ergo: another example of an anti-ability. There are probably many more feats that do this.

Feats seem to be the problem here - or rather feats that enable too mundane things. Again, the solution seems to be to give people a basic success chance and let the feat/power/schtick improve on it. Everyone can land on other people, WWE style, but only people with the feat get to ignore the falling damage themselves.

Oddly, the powers in D&D 4 don't bother me. Probably because there are rules for improvised actions, and the actual "learned powers" can then be taken as more powerful than anything a hero at the level of a power could improvise.

Time Investment in Online Games

Plenty of online games claim to be "casual". You can just log in once per day or so, do your business, and get back the next day, and still be on par with the people who live, eat and breathe the game.

Lies. All lies. And some statistics.

Anything with production caps breaks the casualness. Nile Online caps your wares depending on how much you have upgraded your warehouse - and if you're not overleveling the warehouse, the caps are pretty close to what you need to upgrade your palace (and if you're still following me, upgrading the palace is pretty much the goal of the game). So log in often, or waste production.

Production queues are the other bugbear. Nile Online (again) only lets you upgrade one building at a time, with no queuing. In the early game, upgrade times are between 15 minutes to an hour. Log in, upgrade, log out, wait 15 minutes, upgrade. Better not have a life away from Nile Online. EVE Online players might recognize this pattern to skill upgrades, but EVE is hardly "casual".

Cantr II handles it a lot better. You log on, tell your character to pick weeds, and then he does that until you log on again (or until your inventory is full, but that takes days in Cantr II).

Kingdom of Loathing is also nice like that. You get a bunch of "turns" every day, but they stack so you can get back in everyfew days. Unfortunately, funny games suck, but KoL kept me interested a long time.

Some online games are just way more suited for casual play than others. Random thoughts over.

June 21, 2009

Wishes in D&D 4E

The Wish spell is an interesting concept. In D&D 3, it had a number of useful applications, plus anything you could convince the DM of. In D&D 4, it's just... gone.

Which is to expected. As a spell, it's just far too powerful since it literally does anything (can duplicate most other spells even from the cleric spell lists). Even as a ritual, it breaks too many potential plots (all of them).

My solution would be to make Wish rare. Incredibly rare. Like:

  • Wishes are granted by powerful beings such as gods, demon lords, lords of Hell and high-ranking efreets. Even they don't have total control of the ability - it's usually contingent on them first "granting" a wish and then having to follow the letter of the wish, making them reluctant to grant it in the first place.
  • Wish should never appear as a power or ritual.
  • A Wish can be much more powerful than in earlier editions, due to it's rarity. Wishing for level 30 items, large tracts of land or equivalent sums of money isn't out of order. Raising the dead, curing diseases or transporting the party anywhere in the Planes is almost a waste of the Wish.
  • Ironically, I also feel that the DM is more free to pervert a Wish, since the player didn't pay a spell slot and XP for it. The degree of perversion should depend on the source, of course - efreets and devils will mess with you.

Well, those are my thoughts on Wishing in 4E.

June 20, 2009

Part Of The RPG Bloggers Network...

...since over a week ago, actually, but now I've been able to set up a link and mess around with my blogger tags to fit better with theirs. All is proceeding according to schedule.

My Gygax Number? No Idea.

It was only a matter of time, of course. Mathematicians have the Erdőz number, actors have the Bacon number, Go players have the Shusaku number and now Jeff Rients have taken the logical step and invented the "Gygax number" for measuring how connected you are to the late Gary Gygax.

Gygax himself would have a Gygax number of 0, anyone who played in a game with him has a Gygax number of 1, anyone who played with any of them (but not with Gygax himself) has a number of 2. Rients is better at explaining than me. Really.

My own Gygax number? Dunno, probably pretty high since I've never gamed with Americans face-to-face.

June 14, 2009

Optimization Leading To Interesting Class-Race Combinations

Optimization leads to accusations of powergaming. Accusations of powergaming leads to flamewars. Flamewars lead to anger. Anger leads to the dark side.

Ahem. Despite that, optimization can lead to interesting things. Take, for example, the various combinations of race and class in D&D 4E. Dragonborn make good paladins, dwarves make decent fighters and good clerics, elves are good rangers. All as expected. But there are other interesting combinations. I'll just scratch the surface a bit:

  • Tieflings, drow, goblins and hobgoblins have a charisma bonus and make decent paladins. You wouldn't expect that from the average member, but it makes for interesting redemption stories.
  • For that matter, halflings and gnomes make decent paladins too. Isn't the halfling paladin practically a meme, starting with Mazzy Fentan from Baldur's Gate 2?
  • Githzerai (that's the less bad Gith, for those who can't keep track) and shifters get Wisdom bonuses and make decent clerics. Decent monks too, when that class comes out, which makes sense for the 'zerai but will be interesting for the shifters. Who knew the shifters were so devout?
  • Devas and Doppelgangers have Intelligence bonuses and end up good at all arcane classes (Wizard, Swordmage, Artificer and to a lesser extent Warlock and Bard). Lots of other races do too, but they all have some kind of arcane theme (Tieflings, Githyanki, etc).
  • Warforged (strength bonus) make good fighters, but also decent warlords and rangers (and anything else that uses strength). A Warforged leading an army! Who would have thought it? Great potential for Tin Woodsman jokes too.
  • Eladrin get a dexterity bonus which makes them good rogues. Their teleport ability also helps. High elves being good thieves kind of dates back to D&D 3.0 though, where the default elf fluff made them out to be great mages, and the crunch then scrapped all that and made them better off as rogues or rangers.
  • Finally constitution. Good stat in general, but mainly useful for warlocks with the infernal or star (Cthulhu) pact. Plenty of "monster" races have it, but half-elves, warforged and dwarves stick out. Maybe that's why dwarves distrust magic - those dwarves that go arcane tend to literally make deals with the devil.

So, is there a point to this post? Well, don't get stuck in classical archetypes when making characters. Mix it up with an elven monk sometimes. This applies to any game, not just D&D 4E.

June 07, 2009

On Empty Rooms in Dungeons

One common criticism of Wizards' D&D 4E dungeons is the lack of "empty rooms". Empty rooms are supposed to provide both flavour and a time sink so the DM can roll for random encounters if the PC:s waste time searching unintelligently. Random encounters were taken out somewhere around the 3:rd edition of D&D, but flavor is still a worthy reason to put in empty rooms.

Verisimilitude is a good reason too. Especially in D&D 4E, where there are fewer encounters, empty rooms are ofter a useful way to flesh out the dungeon without adding much effort in creation. Of course, they may still be used - as storerooms and the like.

Of course, if one grabs existing maps, the empty rooms probably place themselves. Consider this map from Wizards' Map-a-Week. (The Dungeon Level in Expedition to Undermountain, supposedly.) If one were using this, one'd probably just place encounters in a tenth of the rooms and leave the rest empty. Gives some perspective to just how big it is compared both to the party and to the inhabitants.

The other approach is of course to have an abstract dungeon. It's implied to be a vast network of caves, but only the places where anything happens are mapped, and navigating the rest is handled by skill checks. (Dungeoneering to keep your bearings, Perception to avoid roaming monsters, etc.)