Power Options, Status Effects & Mutual Assured Destruction

Last week’s Legends & Lore column by Monte Cook discussed issues related to rule complexity. Many have suggested in that past that 4th Edition is too complex, which is one of the primary reasons for combat encounters grinding to a halt. The problems with complexity become more prevalent as the players advance in level to the degree that DMs face problems creating combat encounter that can challenge the party. This week’s Legends & Lore column expanded on the issue of complexity by asking, “What can you do on your turn?” The topic of 4th Edition’s complexity and how a rumored 5th Edition will resolve those issues is hotly debated, and the Legends & Lore columns only add to the speculation.

It is at these times that I enjoy delving into data and analyzing things before adding my two cents of opinion to the conversation. There are several assumptions that are behind claims that 4th Edition is too complex and becomes increasingly unmanageable as the party advances in level, which culminates in Epic Tier combat encounters that take longer to run and longer to design. Let’s examine a few of the assumptions:

  • Combat includes too many moving parts and the parts move more dramatically as the players advance in level.
  • Players gain more options in combat as they advance in level.
  • Players gain more powerful options (i.e., status effects) in combat as they advance in level.

Below, data is presented that address these assumptions.

Continue reading “Power Options, Status Effects & Mutual Assured Destruction”

Do You Know Your Role?

My article next week will address several combat-related issues. Before that time, I compiled preliminary data to obtain feedback from readers. The following tables were created by coding the powers for three character Classes found in the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Character Builder.

To code the information, I went through each power (At-Will, Encounter, Daily) and coded the type of Status Effect it could apply to an enemy (or enemies). For example, if a power caused an enemy to be knocked prone and dazed, then the power was coded to have 1 Prone and 1 Dazed Effect. If a power did not apply a Status Effect, then it was coded as a 0; however, I have removed the zero values in the hopes of creating a table that is easier to view and understand. After each power was coded, I totaled the Status Effects by Tier (Heroic, Paragon, Epic).

For example, the first table below states the character has a total of 40 possible Status Effects that can be applied with the various powers (At-Will, Encounter, Daily) available during Heroic Tier. Obviously, a player cannot choose all of those powers, but this presents the options that are available. Of those 40 Status Effects available in powers during Heroic Tier, one causes an enemy to be Blinded, five cause the enemy to be Dazed, and so on. The values in each Tier are independent from the previous Tier. For example, the four powers that create a Dazed effect in Paragon are independent from the five powers that create Dazed in Heroic.  

As a prologue to next week’s column, I would like to see if players and DMs can correctly identify the Role of the three characters presented below. Please take the time to look at the tables below and determine if the results were created from a Leader, Defender, Controller or Striker.

Please leave a question in the Comments below if the tables are unclear, if you have thoughts about the data or how you arrived at the answers.

And please return next week for the results!

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Role for Initiative

Last week, I wrote about how I often fall into a variety of traps that limit the amount of roleplaying during combat encounters. One such trap is focusing on poor die-roll results. Combat in Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition is a tactical endeavor, and a DM has to go out of his or her way to include and promote roleplaying during the encounter. It occurred to me that the disconnect between roleplaying throughout the rest of the game and combat encounters begins immediately. Think about the most common way you introduce combat; what is one sentence that cues the players that combat is starting.

Roll for Initiative.

DMs can say this phrase with a certain level of panache and enthusiasm, but the phrase is unrelated to roleplaying in any way, shape or form. There are many factors that remove players from a roleplaying mindset during combat. Roll for Initiative is the first factor, and I believe there are methods a DM can implement to increase the level of roleplaying during the start of combat encounters. Below, I briefly discuss how initiative has changed over the years and why I find the current system problematic.

Continue reading “Role for Initiative”

Iddy Approved: Fourthcore Alphabet

A detailed review of Fourthcore Alphabet follows, but I believe my thoughts can be summarized effectively with a visual representation. First, look above at Iddy the Lich. He’s the mascot for my blog. He’s cute, he’s cuddly and you just want to pinch his cheek and squeeze him.

Now, take a look at Iddy the Lich after he spent a few hours reading through Fourthcore Alphabet.

"You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

Good god almighty! Iddy has been forever changed!

I had previously commissioned the viciously-talented Cat Staggs to draw an image of Iddy the Lich, and I received the art just a few days ago. I’m scared of the image above! Many thanks to Cat for taking on the project, and as luck would have it, the image is a perfect representation for my review of Fouthcore Alphabet. The review below is structured by the questions a DM may ask before committing to the product.

Continue reading “Iddy Approved: Fourthcore Alphabet”

Iddy Approved: Pen & Paper Games

Ideally, the DM receives help organizing the game, but one of the biggest challenges is finding players. Other than direct referrals from players already participating in the gaming group, the best source for new players I have found is – without a doubt – Pen & Paper Games. Below, I discuss why Pen & Paper Games is so useful in another installment of Iddy Approved.

A common issue for gaming groups is player turnover. The players in my group over the past two years have ranged in age from early-20s to mid-40s. That age range is not the most conducive to consistent periods of free time. Players have multiple commitments, including (but not limited to) their education, family and occupation. Forming a gaming group of five or more players is a challenge. But keeping that group together for an extended campaign is damn-near impossible.

It is often on the shoulders of the DM to organize and schedule gaming sessions. It is helpful if the DM enlists another player in the game to assist with campaign management and organization. The percentage of DMs who host is likely high, but I have the good fortune of playing in the awesome game room of one of my players, AJ (who has his own blog, Dungeon Maestro. Continue reading “Iddy Approved: Pen & Paper Games”

Roleplaying Failure

“I missed again? Uh! Sonnofa . . . !”

Failure in the form of rolling poorly is unpleasant. It can lead to irrational behavior, such as conducting research to determine if a specific d20 is faulty. It can drain the fun out of an otherwise pleasant gaming experience. Rolling poorly in skill challenges is annoying, but rolling poorly on attacks – especially Encounter and Daily powers – is mind-rattlingly frustrating. The reactions to poor rolls run the gamut of emotions, which are often expressed through wild gestures, foul language and thrown polyhedrals.  However, perhaps the most dangerous outcome of failure is disengagement from the game itself. I’ve seen this happen to players, and I’ve experienced it personally as a DM.

The dreaded Critical Failure. (Art from Penny Arcade)

The amount of rolls a DM executes during any given gaming session is significantly more than all of the players combined. The DM is running a variety of monsters. The DM may have spent hours creating a perfectly balanced encounter with monsters who compliment each other only to have the encounter shattered by consecutive rolls of 2, 5, 1, 6, 3 and 4. The DM could certainly fudge die rolls but the game is structured so level-appropriate monsters fail to hit with attacks approximately 30-40% of the time.  

Although a wise sage once offered that two out of three is more than satisfactory, monsters only survive for a few rounds so a barrage of poor attack rolls can result in an unbalanced encounter and a frustrating time for the DM. But fear not, there are ways to take those poor rolls and channel the resulting negative energy into a positive for your game – roleplay the failure.

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Ego Check: Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Freelance Editor and Designer for Wizards of the Coast

Over the summer, I ran my group through the first adventure in Tomb of Horrors, and it was an enjoyable experience for everyone that culminated in our departing Paladin (leaving town for graduate school) sacrificing himself so the party could escape. I look forward to the group uncovering the remaining adventures in Tomb of Horrors throughout the campaign, so I was eager to interview one of the designers for the book, Scott Fitzgerald Gray.

In a sprawling interview, he offers advice to freelance writers in the roleplaying-game industry. He speaks about his design work for Wizards of the Coast (e.g., Tomb of Horrors, Seekers of the Ashen Crown) including a candid exchange about the level of lethality in 4th Edition and why some new DMs may not fully appreciate the fine art of customization and improvisation. He speaks about his latest book, A Prayer for Dead Kings and Other Tales, details his writing and editing process and comments on the growing mainstream acceptance of the fantasy and science-fiction genres.

Settle into a comfortable chair and enjoy my interview with Scott Fitzgerald Gray.

Thank you for agreeing to spend some time discussing your work. The bio on your site answers several questions including the veracity of your name, and states you have been able “to make a living doing exactly what [you] want to do by way of creating and shaping words.” You have identified yourself as a writer, screenwriter, editor, story editor, script consultant, writing teacher, and designer and editor of roleplaying games. So I must ask, how did words become so important to you?

Happy to be here, and thanks for the opportunity.

That’s a tough question, insofar as I can’t really remember a time when words weren’t important, so it’s hard to judge. However, I think the easiest way to sum it up would be to describe myself as an imagination addict, and to say that words continue to feed that addiction. Everyone who has kids knows that very early stage, ages 2 to 3, where everything is imagination. I remember that stage in my own life, in faint and scratchy flashbacks. I can remember even as i was learning to talk, making up my own stories and my own little worlds in which those stories took place. I can remember learning to read a few years later, and the mind-blowing revelation that reading suddenly gave me access to other people’s stories and worlds. I can remember starting to write my own stories in fourth grade and the incredible feeling of accomplishment, as unaccomplished as those stories were. I can remember my first exposure to speculative fiction and fantasy, the first time i saw “Star Wars”, my first exposure to Dungeons & Dragons — all of these seminal moments of imagination which, taken as a whole, kind of underline a hunger for the worlds and experiences that all start with words.

Continue reading “Ego Check: Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Freelance Editor and Designer for Wizards of the Coast”