|Mearls! *shakes fist*|
Mearls' presentation is fallacious from the very start. He references 1st edition D&D as a paragon of a sliding scale, in which a Fighter (Fighting Man? Warrior? Call it whatever you want...he's still a guy with a sword) is essentially like playing on "easy mode" for the entry levels. "You had more hit points, better AC, access to weapons," Mearls says, "...when it came time to use the rules to determine if you lived or died, the fighter had a leg up at low levels. He continues this assertion with the progressive rise of the magic-user (mage/wizard/etc.) in power, as they begin to be able to cast world-breaking spells like Wish, Shapechange, and *gasp* Fireball.
|Illogical penguin is illogical.|
Truth be told, 4e's done a fairly admirable job of finding the elusive sweet spot--wizards don't feel as frail, and can occasionally even take a punch, while fighters and other warriors have abilities that keep them on par with their mythic and literary counterparts. But, Mearls' argument seems to fly in the face of this logic, as he compares this inversely-proportional relationship favorably to deck-building in collectable card games: where some decks are built to win now, others favor a slow build-up and a powerful endgame.
The problem with Mearls' ideas stems from the fact that no player plays D&D in a vacuum. If I were playing a video game--let's use Blizzard's seminal Diablo II as an example--it would be fine for me to place myself on that continuum. If I wanted, I could build a character in DII that would do very well in the act that I'm currently in: given a Barbarian, for example, I could put points in the level 1 skill "Bash" and pump up the Mastery skill for whatever weapon I wanted to wield. It wouldn't necessarily be very good for the end-game, but for the start of the game, I'd be a powerhouse. Inversely, if I wanted to build a character to succeed in "Hell" difficulty, I would reserve my skill points for some of the later, more powerful skills like "Whirlwind" or "Berzerk". Yes, I'd be crippled for the time being, but I'd be able to take on Diablo and Baal with better high-level skills.
That's great for playing solo, because it's my choice, but D&D doesn't work like that. It's a social activity. It's not fair or even remotely reasonable to implicitly ask one, two, or more players to essentially step aside, because "your class isn't important yet/anymore". True, the role-playing aspects of D&D and other games place a limit on this, but the idea that this sort of thought-process is still pervasive, even celebrated, at the world's largest rpg-publisher is baffling.
|Pitiful 3rd level cult sorcerers are |
no match for Conan'smighty Cleave feat!
Mearls' argument also runs on the assumption that most campaigns start at 1st level and run through the gamut of the game. This strikes me as particularly confusing, as Mearls and others at WotC have cited in the past numerous times, that this is not the case. In fact, it's an exceptional rarity. As it turns out, most home games take place between 6th and 15th level, in that aforementioned "sweet spot", and only run in a given campaign for about a year to a year and a half. If that's the case, and the marketing department knows this....why support a paradigm that intentionally deviates from what the market is telling you that it wants?!
All the data in the world doesn't do any good, if you don't actually do anything with it. If the people want game balance, then that's what your design aim should be. If people are going to play as a group, then you need to accomodate that as a goal. And, if you're going to shoot for a "sweet spot", don't build mechanics that inherantly defy that aim!