January 27, 2010

On Cursed Items In 4E

Save Versus Death just joined the RPG Bloggers' network, and one of his articles is about cursed items in 4E. That reminded me that I should get working on my own article on the subject.

See, cursed items in D&D are weird with their universal badness. The One Ring was evil in all sorts of ways, but it was still a perfectly usable ring of invisibility. Stormbringer too... well, a perfectly usable sword of murderation +5. But in D&D, cursed weapons are almost all bad. You touch one, it gets stuck to your hand (head, body, whichever), and there's never an upside to the item.

(As an aside, Nethack handles this in an interesting way. Wearables can be cursed, non-cursed or blessed, but their effects can be good or bad, and have no bearing on the cursedness.)

Anyway, I figure that if I add cursed items to my game, I would want there to be an interesting choice to make. Take the classic Backbiter spear, for example. A perfectly functional +X spear, but on a natural attack roll of 1, it curves around to hit the wielder. Or the Armor of Arrow Attraction - I wouldn't quite use a -15 penalty vs ranged attacks, probably just say that the attraction cancels out the enchantment bonus of the armor against ranged attacks. Armor of Rage is a third option.

Even funnier would be an "Armor of Rage" that gave you bonuses for reckless combat behaviour and penalized careful tactics. Oh wait, that's the Berserking Sword.

(Seems there are a bunch of semi-useful cursed items anyway. Still, the concept is totally absent in core D&D4.)

Anyway, interesting drawbacks to otherwise useful items, not huge minuses making you want to get rid of the item ASAP. Those are my five cents on the matter.

January 18, 2010

Old-School Multiclasses in 4E - Are They Viable

AD&D had a rather different multiclassing system than 3.x and 4E. You picked two (or three) classes and leveled up in a gestalt of those two, splitting XP between both. 4E works a lot differently, but having just multiclassed my fighter into the cleric class (which is perfectly viable), I wonder what else works really well. So let's go through the multiclasses AD&D2 allows:

Fighter/Thief don't line up the prime stats nicely, but is still nice. A tempest fighter can get the dexterity to qualify for the Sneak of Shadows feat, giving him training in Thievery, and is probably using light blades that work with Sneak Attack. That's a nice burst of damage once per encounter. Going the other way around, a Brutal Scoundrel easily qualifies for Student of the Sword, giving him a +1 to hit with a (one-handed) weapon once per encounter (which also marks the target, but eh). You probably don't want to multiclass much further, except maybe to take utility powers from your other class - making a rogue a little tougher, or the fighter a little more sneaky.

All in all, playing a sneaky fighter is quite possible.

Fighter/Cleric is an excellent choice. Your prime stats can match perfectly, not that it matters much for the initial feat. A fighter can (and should) take Initiate of the Faith to heal an ally once per day. A battle cleric won't mind a +1 to hit once per encounter and an extra skill. Neither have to bend over backwards to get the stats to qualify either.

The future for a tough guy who didn't qualify for paladin school is still bright in 4E.

Fighter/Mage is a tough one. Neither gets much use out of the prerequisite for the other's multiclass feat, and the feats themselves are pretty non-synergistic. However, Arcane Power introduces the Learned Spellcaster feat, which gives you ritual casting. That and some useful wizard utility later on could give a fighter a dash of wizardry. He still has to scrounge up 13 Int for the feat, but that's doable.

Seriously, I'd recommend a Swordmage.

Mage/Thief No stat synergy here either, and the rogue has a harder time justifying both 13 Int and 13 Wis to qualify for Learned Spellcaster. I suppose a Wizard could be slightly interested in the Sly Dodge feat - giving him a bonus against OA:s.

I'd look into playing a Rogue/Warlock or even a Rogue/Sorcerer. Those feats aren't fabulous, but the stat requirements mesh well with what you already have. The Assassin is also relatively magical, though in another way than a wizard.

Cleric/Mage gets you a Wizard with a daily healing ability, or a Cleric with rituals (this one has to take some Int it doesn't need much). Again, you probably don't want to take attack powers from the other class, but utilities can be useful.

Cleric/Thief - no stat synergy, consider whether you want a healing Rogue. A cleric that can sneak attack with a light blade isn't all bad, but there's nothing amazing here.

Fighter/Druid... Fighters get no benefit from turning into a beast at-will, unless your DM is generous. Druids don't use weapons, and thus can't use the +1 from Student of the Sword. Hilarious. Battle Awareness - slap an adjacent enemy that shifts or attacks an ally - is at least moderately useful, but if your druid is in melee with enemies, they probably want to beat on him anyway.

Consider a Warden.

Fighter/Ranger doesn't even exist (thanks to Anonymous for pointing out that I had misread "Cleric/Ranger" in the comments), but it could work. Admittedly, the tempest fighter is close already, but what Ranger would say no to a +1 to hit once per encounter? A Fighter can pick up Warrior of the wild and kick arse with Hunter's Quarry. Stats line up perfectly.

Still, I wonder what the point is, fluff-wise, since the tempest fighter is already there.

Cleric/Ranger is the last of the two-class multiclasses. A ranger has the Wis to take the multiclass cleric feat, and a Battle Cleric will easily qualify for Warrior of the Wild (ranger multiclass) which doesn't have weapon restrictions and thus works just fine with cleric weapons. The character can then go on to take attack powers if he's going for battle cleric (both use strength), but note that many (but not all) ranger powers require two weapons, a beast companion or a ranged weapon.

Verdict: Cleric multiclass is as awesome as always, not huge potential for further multiclassing.

Fighter/Mage/Cleric is hard to do straight, since you can only take multiclass feats for one class. There is a background (Windrise Ports) that lets you multiclass into two classes, and of course the Bard can take as many as he wants (but then you have to start as a Bard). Given the background, starting as either Fighter or Cleric and taking the other two could be useful, as shown above.

Fighter/Mage/Thief has the same issue as the other triple-class, but works as stated above for class pairs if you can pull it off.

Verdict: Not shabby. Meleeist/Caster has issues that can be worked around sometimes, sometimes not. Druids are just weird, being melee beasts based off Wisdom. If you want to say that you're playing a Fighter/Thief, it is doable.

January 04, 2010

How Few Encounters Before Levelling Up?

So I've pondered how fast you can level up in D&D4. The base assumption is that the PC:s will have ten "encounters" before levelling up. That falls apart right away as at least the climactic fight should be higher level (and grant more XP). Let's say you use mostly hard encounters at character level +2 or +3. That's roughly 50% extra XP for each such encounter.

Then there are quest rewards. One major quest reward gives XP equal to that for one encounter. It's pretty easy to say that each adventure gives one of those.

Let's not forget skill challenges. They grant XP just like an encounter.

So if a DM wanted to level up the party rather quickly, it wouldn't be hard for him to design adventures for that. Let's say he wants to use the 5-step method, which actually has four legit encounters since the last step is the "aftermath". It might run thusly:

  • Recieve a Quest in town - eventually grants XP for one encounter.
  • The PC:s find their way to the dungeon through the wilderness - skill challenge, XP for one encounter.
  • Entrance and First Rooms - one skill challenge, two normal-level fights. XP for three encounters.
  • Setback - major fight. XP for one-and-a-half encounters.
  • The PC:s work to mitigate the setback and get back in gear to take on the final fight. Skill challenge, XP for one encounter.
  • Climax fight - major fight. XP for one-and-a-half encounter.
  • Cleanup - skill challenge as the PC:s investigate what to do next. XP for one encounter.

  • Total: XP for ten encounters.

There you go, new level after only four fights (and you can make that three by turning one of the normal-level fights into one more skill challenge in a puzzle-heavy dungeon). Who said D&D was only about fighting?