Thursday, May 26, 2011

In Which The Warlock Needs Larzuk to Socket his Weapon...

One of the biggest attractions for me in terms of 4e D&D is the varied and unique nature of the power system.  When nearly every class gets new Encounter and Daily powers at various levels, one would think it would become hard to itemize all of the different bonuses, cookies, and wound dice that get tossed around between powers. 

To be honest, for all of the flak that they take (from yours truly, even), the guys at Wizards of the Coast have done a pretty solid job of both keeping things balanced and in maintaining the flavor of each class.  A fighter gets powers that mark and punish enemies for moving away.  A paladin, while in the same role, gets more healing and buff cookies, and deals a lot more radiant damage--fitting, for a holy warrior.

But, there are other good ideas out there, too...what say we come up with some creative plagiarism, shall we?

A game that I've been slowly, agonizingly anticipating is Blizzard's upcoming Diablo III.  Yes, friends, I was a DII junkie--I still have a level 70-something Holy Shock paladin around here somewhere, decked out in uniques and rares.  Last night, though, Blizzard debuted some new videos demonstrating a new mechanic to Diablo III:  that of skill-based runestones.  You can check out the full series of videos here (Diablo III--Runestones)  to get an idea of how this works.

Diablo III's Witch Doctor casts an Acid Cloud
Essentially, each type of runestone changes trappings and effects of the skill.  While remaining mechanically similar--in each case, the Acid Cloud deals ongoing damage acid damage, followed by an additional, smaller effect--the change in the cookies makes all the difference.  One rune changes the skill to a puked-out cone of acid, while another turns it into an immediate burst, stemming from an exploding corpse!  While in all cases, those cookies are still a tasty delicious treat, it's like replacing your chocolate chip with white chocolate and cranberries!

Imagine, my lovelies, if D&D could manage to work this way!  Rather than taking a set Encounter power at each level, you could instead assemble your own from a table.  The runestones in Diablo III are separated into seven tiers of quality...much like D&D has Encounter powers at levels 1-3-7-13-17-23-27.  Let's say that, for example, you're building a level 1 Wizard.  You might start with a base level 1 Encounter power that deals 1d8 damage of a specific it lightning, for the time being.

Then, you'd get to pick a an option or two from a table of choices, based on what you'd like that power to do.  Among other things, perhaps you could:
  • Push X squares.
  • Daze the enemy
  • Deal an extra d8 damage.
  • Make the attack into an Area Burst 1 or a Close Blast 3.
  • Slow the enemy.
  • Attack two creatures, rather than one.
In each case, no two powers would look alike!  You could easily start off with a "Chain Lightning" type spell that attacks two creatures, dazing them, or turn the spell into a more druidic "Call Lightning", calling down a column of lightning from the heavens in a burst, knocking enemies backwards.  Two spells, relatively equivalent in power, that come from the same pool...and the options are left in the hands of the player.

At higher levels, you'd get more "sockets" that you could use for customizing your powers, as well as be able to pick from "better" tables.  You'd still be able to pick from lower tables, but would be able to name, customize and prioritize your powers based on what you want!  Naturally, the table should be customized for each "archetype"--a rogue-type would probably have to make a much more significant investment to be able to teleport than a mage-type would, simply because it's out of their purview. 

While I really love this idea for its customizability and its flexibility, I can't imagine ever seeing something like this take effect.  It's simply too flexible, too individualized to fit into tournament-style or "sanctioned" play.  Unless there were a way to standardize the selection process--which a good solid Character Builder could do, but I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon--it'd be too difficult to implement.

But, maybe...someday...


  1. Thunderforge12:33 PM

    Actually, your proposed idea reminds me a lot of the HERO system. Admittedly I've never actually tried it, but as I understand it, superpowers are built in much the same way you have described. You pick a power level, and a point buy system lets you decide how many effects you want to tack on to a certain superpower. Granted, there are a WHOLE heck of a lot more options for powers in HERO than the six you mentioned up there for D&D. But it seems to basically be the same principle. Whether that's a good or bad thing is up to each individual I suppose.

    I could see pros and cons to this theory. For one, it could be a lot easier to create upper tier characters from scratch (since you just have to make X number of At-Will, Y-number of Encounter, and Z-number of Daily powers without worrying about lower level powers) and presumably players would have a better idea of how they work.

    On the other hand, it would be far more difficult to keep certain combinations from getting out of control. Right now, when one power is over-powered, they errata the power. Imagine how messy it would be to errata if one power effect was generally fine, but over-powered in certain combinations.

    Another issue is that it would really throw a monkey wrench into the difficulty level. A party full of characters with powers with the "Deal an extra d8 damage" option would perhaps breeze through encounters far more easily than a party full of powers that push an enemy. I think already there's a bit of a difficult making published encounters challenging for optimized, yet winnable for sub-optimal characters. The gap might grow much bigger with this as well.

    I'm not sure that either issue is an insurmountable problem, but I think it would take bigger changes than Wizards is willing to make in order to pull it off correctly. But who knows?

  2. Anonymous8:51 PM

    Thunderforge has the right of it, and you touched on it as well. It'd be too hard to keep the munchkins in line; tournaments would be out of the question entirely. But I feel like for a casual gamer, it needn't be that way. Just customize your character and play. The only way I could see you balance it is that certain tables to choose from impose penalties. The table with extra 8 or so would inflict a substantial penalty on the player, maybe reduce him by a healing surge, max hp, or even defenses or skills.

    Overall, it reminds me a touch of Magicka, and that's Not a Bad Thing...

  3. I would have replied earlier, but Google/Blogger's been having some issues regarding staying 'signed in' to make comments.

    Mutants and Masterminds 3e works in a similar fashion, though is much more convoluted than my idea, as their options aren't on a table so much as spread out through paragraphs of text.

    With your hero-creation points, you first pick up ranks of powers, which you can then modify in various ways. If you wanted to make Black Canary's "sonic scream", you'd pick up a Blast power, then modify it to be a Cone, which also Deafens (Affliction) and knocks foes back. If you wanted Superman's heat vision, you'd take that same blast, add the Heat/Fire descriptor, and add some Utility properties (to weld things together, or melt objects/catch them aflame).

    I feel like the damage issue wouldn't be too hateful due to the opportunity cost involved. If the party only deals damage, with no marking/control/healing effects, they essentially become a walking group of glass cannons. If they go first and if they hit early and often, yes, they may breeze through the encounter. But, if even one or two people miss, and the monsters are left standing, the encounter can quickly become a swiftly-sinking ship.

    Plus, while it'd be difficult to keep the tournament-players balanced, it'd be no different than combinations of various Magic: the Gathering cards. And hell, there'd be less of those than there would cards!

    Thanks for the comments, guys!